The Errea South West Challenge Cup
Tournament played in North Devon 22nd to 27th July 2008
Chertsey Town may have been the rank underdogs when invited into the pre-season Errera sponsored South West Cup tournament but they played well above their weight in beating off first team challenges from luminaries such as Kidderminster Harriers and Torquay United with host sides Barnstaple Town and Bideford to not only to reach the semi final stage but also win the affection and admiration of the local population.
The competition, spread over six days and played in north Devon's Barnstaple, Bideford and Appledore, attracted eight clubs which were split into two four team groups. Chertsey Town were paired with Barnstaple Town of the Western League, Eastleigh from Blue Square South and League One club Yeovil Town, all of whom fielded a full strength squads. Kidderminster Harriers also featured in the section but did not meet the Surrey side. The second section featured Bideford, also from the Western League, the academy side from Crystal Palace, plus the first team squads from Blue Square South, Eastleigh and Premier Division Torquay United.
The three hour plus journey, plus time needed to be spent away from base resulted in Chertsey Town having to mix and match in all their games with players, hampered by home commitments, having ferry back and forth along the M4 corridor, some on daily basis. But such was their commitment, alongside some tremendous local logistical and dressing room support, the Chertsey side maintained a consistently high standard of football on the park and dignity off it, and never looked to become the whipping boys of the competition that the chain of pedigree suggested might occur.
Having arrived the previous day, to be accommodated and fed by their hosts in three start hotel luxury, Chertsey began their tournament on Tuesday 22nd July by visiting a very spruce Barnstaple Town ground. A loan goalkeeper from Bideford's reserve side was found for the keeperless tourists. He fitted in well and pulled off a magnificent save at a late critical moment to eventually leave Barnstaple up the creek with the tide out.
The home side started brightly but Chertsey soon took control with crisp passing. Seventeen year old Musa Ladan was nominated man of the match for his electric turn of speed and ball control that ran the host defence ragged. This was highlighted on 22 minutes when he precociously dribbled through a tight defence to poke the ball home off the left post. Lee O'Leary came close soon after with a rasping 25 yard shot that the goalkeeper only just managed to tip onto the same upright but this time the ball sped away to safety to underline Chertsey's edge at the break.
The second half continued in the same vein except that Barnstaple, with fresh legs off the bench, began to press harder towards the end. Chertsey, with their meagre back up of just one 'on loan' substitute, began to concede territory but still remained a coherent defensive formation. The Dan Elson save kept Chertsey on top, a position that was set in concrete two minutes from time when Dale Marvell sent substitute Jack Jenkins away to ably slot home low for a moral boosting two nil home counties win.
Chertsey Town team: Elson, Gibson, Barrett, Smille, Langley, Muldowney, Nasir, O'Leary, Ladan, Marvell, Gillard, Jenkins.
Two hours earlier, Bideford opened the competition at their spacious ground but lost, also 2-0, to Torquay United to make the group evenly balanced. Wednesday saw the Chertsey contingent busy with a light ball play session, sunbathing, swimming and the taking advantage of a well appointed fitness centre supplied by the accommodating organisers. Later in the same day, the other section kicked in with Eastleigh beating Crystal Palace 2-1 and Kidderminster Harriers succumbing to Yeovil Town by the only goal.
The unique points scoring system of the competition meant that Chertsey could afford to lose their next game but needed only to score a goal for a bonus point to secure a place in the semi final. The task was clear as the Thursday arrived and with it the sternest test with a match against top seeds Yeovil Town at the picturesque rural ground with its stunning elevated view of Lundy Island across the sun spanking sea. The playing surface was also excellent despite the rolling downs effect in a locality that sported next to no level land until the expansive nearby beach could be reached.
Chertsey struggled only for ten minutes in an otherwise balanced encounter. Elson again was called upon to make a stunning save from a dipping shot but that first half moment was the only time either side looked under serious threat. The Glovers then revealed their hand and took the lead 12 minutes into the second half when Andy Kirk headed home a cross from the right.
The Curfews twice thought they had secured their vital point scoring goal soon after, in one bizarre incident when a Chertsey free kick had been awarded on the edge of the Yeovil penalty area. With both sides set to recommence play, the referee took an interminable time to signal for play during which time John Hamsher exploited a gap in the Yeovil wall to plant the ball into the net. Both sides thought the goal was good but not the referee who was working in his own bubble.
Amazingly, a repeat performance took place two minutes later with the retake. Again all at the ground thought the goal was good but again the former Conference referee said otherwise. The third take saw a very fortunate goalkeeper Corin Brook-Mead, tip Hamsher's so called 'successful' effort over for just a corner. A resultant demoralised Chertsey fell away in a fifteen minute spell that resulted in three quick fire goals being conceded to the boots of Nathan Jones, Ren Turnock then Turnock again.
Heads began to pick up again as normal service was resumed towards the end and Chertsey looked more vibrant in attack that at any point in the game. They were rewarded at the death when Musa's speed fooled Lee Peltier who clipped the heels of the goal bound forward to set up the last kick of the game; a successfully executed spot kick from John Pomroy which deservedly give Town that bonus point and a guaranteed semi final place.
Teams: Chertsey Town: Elson, Gibson, Barrett, Smille, Langley, Muldowney, Hamsher, O'Leary, Pomroy, Ladan, Marvell, Cooper, Nasir.
Yeovil Town: Brown-Mead, Alcock, Jones, Paltier, Guyett, Forbes, Bircham, Smith, Owuju, Kirk, Dowen, Tomlin, Brown, Irish, Murtagh, Hewitt, Tomlin, Turnock
With Yeovil also going through, the academic Barnstaple Town versus Kidderminster encounter went to the midlanders 3-1 after the home side had taken an early lead. In the other section, Crystal Palace beat Bideford 4-2 and Eastleigh and Torquay fought out a goalless draw but Eastleigh won through 3-2 in a penalty shootout. This meant that Palace should have gone through to the semis but they withdrew, citing a plethora of injuries, to set up a Torquay United v Yeovil Town semi final that Riviera side edged after a 5-3 penalty spot climax to a 1-1 draw.
Meanwhile, the Chertsey squad which had been based at the excellent Royal Hotel in Bideford and shared with rivals Eastleigh, was transferred to the more lively Barnstaple town centre, but equally well appointed Royal Fortescue Hotel from the Brend chain. So the side had to be ferried back to Bideford for the Eastleigh Saturday semi final. The match was played in blazing sunshine and once more, despite their underdog status against a side three steps higher, Chertsey matched their Blue Square opponents.
Just one second half goal, scored by Jason Matthews, was all that separated the two sides although the Chertsey penalty area did experience the greater amount of traffic, particularly in a ten minute spell midway through the second period, just after the breakaway goal had been conceded. Town had a couple of half chances but it was another demonstration in the heart of the formation that impressed the most. The side avoided being truly railroaded by the Hampshire side, and in doing so gave out strong indications that a successful competitive season is almost guaranteed.
But, at the limit of their resources at such a great distance from home, an equalising Chertsey break through could not be mustered against Eastleigh who were able to send out seven new pairs of legs from the bench to shore up their narrow advantage against the rapidly tiring, but gallant Combined Counties League side who set out on the long Saturday night trek home, happy but exhausted.
Team; Hall, Gibson, Moody, Muldowney, Reive, Fontain, Marvell, O'Leary, Ladan, Cooper, Chinn, Nasir, Fennell.
The Torquay United v Eastleigh final, played at Bideford the following day, resulted in Eastleigh winning 5-4 on penalties after 2-2 draw in open play, so with it, the opportunity to return in 2009 to make a defence of this intriguing and well supported competition. Chertsey Town officials also earnestly hope that the Curfews will also be given the opportunity to again compete next year in such an excellent competition.