In each issue we’ll be travelling to different parts of the grassroots world to uncover and explore a local derby. First stop, Medway in Kent to watch Lordswood FC host their town rivals – Chatham Town.
By Mike Backler. Image By Allen Hollands
There’s a warmth that you feel when you slide through any turnstiles on any matchday or evening, no matter the level of football, or the weather. It’s the warmth that you feel when entering a ground and noticing and being greeted by volunteers. This season you feel it more than ever as these are grounds that have missed that buzz throughout the pandemic, and are pulling together to get things back to normal.
The first of our Local Derbies series saw us head to the Martyn Grove, home of Southern Counties East Football League side Lordswood FC, as they geared up for the derby de la Medway against Chatham Town. Lordswood sits in a southern woodland suburb of Chatham and are very much the more modest side in the area in comparison to their illustrious non-league neighbours. On a dark autumn night in a dimly lit wooded area, it’s only when you see the turnstiles through the trees that you realise you’re in the right place. And this is definitely the right place to be for an evening’s grassroots football. A squeeze through the turnstiles, a warm welcome and a quick exchange for a programme are followed by the immediate and familiar smells of the tea and burger hut before the floodlit pitch comes into view.
We head to the boardroom – which at this level is always essentially just somewhere with a roof where you can keep warm and get the kettle on – and say hello to Vice Chairman Paul Caulfield.
Paul’s grounded, affable and, by the sounds of things, an incredibly dedicated volunteer. A skim of the programme sees his name pop up in the credits as Vice Chairman, Press Officer, Website Manager and of course, Programme Editor. As with many grassroots clubs, Lordswood FC are indebted to volunteers like Paul, without whom the club wouldn’t be sustainable.
Paul’s been involved with Lordswood since he was seven years old and played throughout the youth teams growing up. Paul’s dad helped manage the teams and his involvement in the club is inspired by his father, who not only helped to manage the teams Paul played in, but also took on roles as Matchday Manager and Chairman, as well as having no concerns in helping out in the tea bar serving up the hot drinks and burgers. The apple has fallen directly next to the tree in terms of work ethic and a love of Lordswood FC.
“After I finished uni I went with a bit more regularity to games to the point where I was asked if I wanted to join the committee in the mid noughties,” says Paul. “I joined the committee as Vice Chairman – a position I have held continuously since then. I set up our Twitter page in 2010 and developed our social media pages on there as well as Facebook and, more recently, Instagram. I also created and maintain the club website at www.lordswoodfc.club and am responsible for creating and editing the matchday programme for home games. I also create the artwork and graphics used on our social media as well as advertising boards around the ground.
“I think if I’d have met my wife before I took on the role I wouldn’t be doing it! But she understands that I’m committed to it and it’s a big part of my life.”
Paul’s under no illusions of the undertaking of roles such as his, and what it takes for grassroots clubs to survive, and hopefully thrive, especially in the ongoing pandemic. He’s also under no illusions that when it comes to this local derby, they are the lesser team in what is quite a hotbed of grassroots clubs in Medway.
“Chatham are the big hitters at the moment in the area, their facilities are second to none and with the attendances they are getting they are able to attract higher level players with a wage bill to match. We have a very young squad and these games are just about having a go. We don’t focus on getting points in games like tonight.”
Chatham Town are an established club with a rich history, having only recently come out of the Isthmian League. We recently visited their Bauvill Stadium and the facilities are first class, with a fantastic clubhouse complete with “Beach Bar” and a state of the art 4G artificial pitch. All of this, alongside links to local business and partnerships, have seen “the Chats” with an exciting level of infrastructure and investment.
Imran is Assistant Manager at Lordswood, overseeing the link between the manager and their young squad, having been a player at the club since 2007.
“I only ever played Chatham Town in ‘friendlies’, as they were a league above us at the time, but needless to say they were extremely hotly contested. I’m not sure they could be quite as fiery in today’s football or there would be quite a few less than twenty-two players left on the pitch!”
The match under the lights goes to form. Chatham Town dominate in a 5-1 win and their class shows, but the spirit of the Lordswood lads is clear to see and their hard work pays off with a consolation goal that is greeted with huge cheers by the home fans. Imran, in line with the humility of the club, takes heart from it.
“Our main aim is to compete and use these types of games as a learning curve and a level to aspire to. These boys will take a lot from playing against players of their quality and will use it as motivation to better themselves on and off the pitch.”
And that’s it with Lordswood. The club seems to be about more than designs on the higher leagues but a place to develop young players and understand its role within the community. Everything is now in place for Chatham to succeed, but Lordswood are fighting a tough battle for attendances and their future. Paul mentions that it’s always been difficult to engage the local community due to their location, but an incident of devastating and costly vandalism to the ground during lockdown seemed to galvanise the community into helping out, donating money, time and professional skills to get the ground back into shape before the return of football.
And we’re glad they did, because it’s a brilliant place to watch grassroots football. If you’re in the area and you fancy taking a game in, picking up a pint and a programme and supporting a club doing things the right way, get down to the Martyn Grove and cheer on the Lords.