In the leafy foothills of Surrey, just South of the hazy metropolis known as Croydon, snakes a small country road called Church Lane. Halfway down this track lies Whyteleafe FC.
Perhaps the best known feature in the area is RAF Kenley, merely half a mile away and described as “The most complete fighter field associated with the Battle of Britain”. Maybe it’s a coincidence, or maybe fate that today I go and watch Whyteleafe play Hendon FC, home to RAF Hendon, the London branch of the Royal Air Force museum.
Surrey was bathed in sunshine as I left my house and started the short journey to the ground. Rather strangely, I lived opposite the club for nearly five years but had limited opportunities to attend a game. In that space of time, The Leafe had been on somewhat of a rollercoaster. Relegation from Ryman Division One South to the Kent league had been a massive shock for the club. Boasting one of the best grounds in the league, it was a bitter pill to swallow with many of the faithful wondering whether the club would wander the wilderness of Step 5 football for years to come.
However, the club bounced back and was promoted at the second attempt. Since the promotion, the team have maintained their Ryman league status, but more towards the bottom of the standings.
As I approached the gates, the first thing that struck me was the facilities the club has to offer. With a large clubhouse and a separate “all weather” pitch for training, it was already shaping up to be one of the best grounds I had visited.
Through the turnstiles (interestingly enough, bought from Stoke City when the club moved to the Britannia stadium) and again, the sheer size of ground is breathtaking. A large main stand is situated behind the goal with a smaller stand on the halfway line which seats home and away directors, as well as a small section for the press. However, the most striking characteristic of the club is the newly laid 3G pitch. I had played on these surfaces myself, but it was the first time I had come across one at this level of the game. For those who don’t know, the ground is at the bottom of a valley, sandwiched in between two ridges, one where the aforementioned Kenley sits, the other Warlingham. During the winter months, many games had been called off at Church Lane due to severe flooding. The 3G pitch has all but negated that.
The club are also a mainstay of the community, offering Kids Soccer Schools, youth teams and Womens football. At a time where the whole country has bemoaned the lack of development in various parts of the game, especially in youngsters getting a chance to play first team football, Whyteleafe FC really are doing their bit. I was also impressed with the use of social media by the club, which is always clear and concise but more importantly, is regular. Too often clubs at this level lack a basic twitter news feed, which is tantamount to the success of a club off the field.
Despite going down 5-2 against todays opposition, the club really is worth visiting. If you’re in the area, why not pop down and cheer on “The Leafe”.
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