Adventures in Football #36: Hayes Lane (Bromley FC)
November 20, 2021
BROMLEY vs. KING’S LYNN (National League)
I apologise for not writing about QPR vs. Luton from Friday night but it was just impossible.
After an adventure in West London on Friday night, one of the most memorable games I’ll ever go to for all the wrong reasons, we headed back to Luton to plan the Saturday. After the throngs of people and police presence I wanted something a little more… low key, so we plumped for non-league Bromley. The Lillywhites were the subject of Dave Roberts’ autobiographical book “the Bromley Boys”, which is an excellent coming-of-age read about a boy’s commitment to his local football team set against one of their worst seasons. When I tweeted about going to the club I included a picture of the tea hut that features in the book and Dave gave me a cheeky retweet. Lovely bloke.
Bromley was established in 1892 and have played their home games at Hayes Lane since 1904. The new (comparatively) ground was built in 1938. The record attendance was set in 1948 for a game against a Nigeria XI who played barefoot. Bromley is to the south of London and is home to 87,000+ people so isn’t quite as quaint as I think I was expecting. They’re currently enjoying their best league run, ever. They were promoted to the top flight of non-league football in 2015, a far cry from their last place finish in the Isthmian League in 1970. Bromley are actually good now. They even made the final of the FA Trophy a few years ago, losing on penalties to Brackley Town.
Over toast and coffee we (myself and Mike) decide on Bromley. It’s partially to do with the book and partially because it exists at the level we fancy. Mike gets the tickets online and they’re literally just “ticket to game”. Get scanned in and go where you want. We head into Blackfriars and miss our connection so it’s time for beer #1 of the day at the Founder’s Arms. It’s a lovely little tourist trap right on the river. A Young’s Winter Warmer sets us up for the chilly trip ahead. There’s a massive trek to the toilets in there, along a corridor and up a narrow flight of stairs and also a sensational view of the Thames and St Pauls Cathedral. It’s a nice kick off to a more relaxing day than yesterday.
We get to Bromley and have bags of time so it’s beer #2 at the local Spoons; the Richmal Crompton. From there it’s a pleasant stroll across town to the ground, down a pathway covered in leaves and a paddock with a few Shetland ponies in it. It comes out at the back of the car park and as we stroll across a pothole covered, gravel and dirt car park we can hear a football ground. It’s the King’s Lynn fans who are already in good voice way ahead of kick off. From the outside it sounds like they’re well represented.
The ground is bigger than I was expecting. I know they’ve made strides of improvement since the late 70s but the National League has been kind to Bromley. The red brick walls have grey metal above them with the club name emblazoned across it. This is my favourite level of football. It’s competitive enough to attractive interest but it’s low enough down the league pyramid that it doesn’t attract hooliganism. There’s a friendly atmosphere and the banter with the visiting King’s Lynn contingent is light-hearted. There are only around 40 visiting fans but they’re very loud.
You can just about see them behind the sprinkler here. Sad news on the pitch front; it’s a 3G all-weather pitch, which Bromley will have to rip up if they get promoted. I’m not really a fan of the 3G pitches, especially at National League level. The ground is at a nice standard though. There are two stands. The massive home end Glyn Beverly covered stand and the John Fiorini Stand, which is a half size stand along the side of the pitch we stood on.
Alongside us is the legendary tea hut that Dave Roberts worked in during that ill-fated 1969-70 season. I asked him on Twitter if it looked the same as it did back then and he said it was unrecognisable. His faulty, deafening, tannoy system was still in use. Belting out music before the game from the corner of the John Fiorini, which we kept our distance from in order to maintain a conversation. Pre-match rituals included a “We’re Bromley” song that I sadly don’t know the name of and incredible strength corner sprinklers. “Welcome to the splashzone!”
Bromley’s mascot is a Raven (Bromley are also nicknamed “The Ravens” as well as the Lillywhites) somewhat unimaginatively called Raven. More on him later as he went in goal at half time. I love me some half time entertainment. King’s Lynn has a dozen or so ultras, who are the ones making the noise. “Somebody’s got to be related to Martin Brundle over there” says Mike. Is Brundle the favourite son of King’s Lynn? Or is it now George Russell?
The game gets underway and second bottom of the league King’s Lynn get off to a quick start. On loan from Millwall, and a tricky blighter, Jayden Davis slips the full back and strolls towards goal to smash it in at the near post for 0-1. There’s controversy as it looked as if the ball had gone over the goal line before he cut back inside. It’s Jayden’s first senior goal but he took it like a seasoned pro. There are grumbles already around the locals who are chasing promotion. The visiting ultras are having a lovely away day by comparison. “How shit must you be? We’re winning away”.
The locals amuse me by chanting “you dirty Northern bastards” at King’s Lynn. It’s in Norfolk lads! I know everything is north from Bromley but even so. I wonder if Dover chant “you dirty northern bastards” at Bromley? Bromley huff and puff throughout the first half and King’s Lynn look a lot better than billed. It looks like Bromley will go into the second half behind until Michael Cheek scores. I’m not sure how he did that because we were looking at the cat.
Bromley has a cat! It just strolls around the ground presumably catching mice and being adorable. It’s Cheek’s eleventh goal in fifteen games for Bromley and his goals are firing them closer and closer to the football league. Half time sees the U10s team come out and take penalties. In goal is club mascot the Raven. He fails to save any of the penalties, mainly due to his big clog feet, but when they hit some shooting drills afterwards he starts palming them away to boos from the crowd. A heel mascot. You love to see it.
I’d take a grumpy bastard dressed up as a bird over a dancing cat grabbing his dick to Michael Jackson songs every day of the week. The second half gets underway and Bromley look enthused at their chances, which are dashed by a sensational rocket from Ross Barrows. 1-2 with just five minutes of the second half played. I’ll have to make a note of Barrows’ name for goal of the season because that will take some beating. It was a Cowley-esque strike. The Bromley fans have all swarmed down to the end behind the goal now and it’s packed out there. We’re right next to it, having posted up in front of the tea hut. It ends up being prime real estate as Bromley spend the rest of the half attacking.
Bromley pour forwards with the left wing being a source of some success against poor Fernandez, the KL #2, who’s under constant pressure. A free kick gets headed back across goal and stabbed in on the rebound by James Alabi. 2-2. Bromley keep the pressure on score again with Chris Bush playing a sensational cross in from the left. It pings around and Cheek helps himself to goal twelve of the season! 3-2 Bromley.
The game faded a bit after Bromley took the lead with a deflated King’s Lynn having nothing left but it was still interesting right to the end. Is it the best game I’ve been to this season? I think it is. Goal of the year contender, game of the year contender? I think that’s a successful comeback after a bad day on Friday.
I’ve said it before but football is what you make of it. As with any other hobby; if you put the time in the rewards will come. It’s worked for Bromley as a club, who are finally knocking on the football league door for the first time in their lengthy history. I legitimately hope they are successful. They’ve earned it.