Road to Wembley: Invitation to pre-match meal, being fined and becoming a new signing

Monday 21 Aug 2023
I didn't make much of Lordsword's new signing! Having a mock new signing photo with manager Matt Barman was just one of the enjoyable moments during my trip to a real community club

Part of the reason for undertaking this journey was to delve into parts of the English game that I hadn’t explored to date. 

Those of you who read my initial piece will remember I followed Bearsted for the extra preliminary round, partly because they are my local side entering the Emirates FA Cup this season. I am a little ashamed to say that I was unaware that the nearby village even had a football team prior to the draw. However, this boosted their case for me to attend.

The same is largely true of Lordswood. Although located a little further away from me on the outskirts of Chatham, once again I can honestly say I had not heard of the club until I made the decision to visit. 

In fact, I still might not have done were it not for them reaching out to me! My planning had me leaning towards another fixture in the South East but the invitation from a club directly certainly piqued my interest. With geography again being on my side, I took the opportunity to visit two days prior to the match where they would welcome Cray Valley PM, a team from one level above. 

Lordswood v Cray Valley PM

Emirates FA Cup 2022-23
Preliminary Round
Saturday 19 August

Arriving at the lively Lordswood Sports and Social Club, I was welcomed by director of football Jason Lillis and the club’s new chairman and vice chairman Ray Broad and Gary Peck. 

Broad and Peck have only been in their roles for a matter of weeks but have already overseen improvements to the facilities at Martyn Grove. The modest-sized stand has been refurbished, new dugouts have been installed, pitchside advertising has been introduced and a smart new astroturf area in matching Lordswood colours greets the players as they enter the pitch.

All three have played for Lordswood in the past although both Broad and Peck returned to the club having developed their own businesses outside of the game since their playing days. It is clear this is a club that wants to develop and represent the community with pride.

“Community is a big thing for us,” explains vice chairman Peck.

“If you can create a safe environment for a family with a bit of entertainment and a bit of food, they will enjoy it and they will keep coming back. That is our focus, to make the revenue work.”

And Broad is clearly singing from the same hymn sheet with his thoughts. The club also has a rugby division and the stadium is sandwiched between two cricket pitches, all attached to the clubhouse. He is hopeful of gaining more support here and in the wider community too.

“We just want the support and to see where it takes us,” expresses the chairman.

“Obviously Chatham Town have got a good fanbase but we want to say that if Chatham are away and Gillingham are away, come and watch Lordswood!”

And if there were any doubt about how important the community is for this club, Lillis soon puts it to bed.

“It’s a lovely club,” he adds.

“We want to make that environment where if you come here and watch us, it’s a free-for-all. Come and enjoy yourself. Have a bit of fun! Obviously we are competitive, don’t get me wrong. We want to win every game. But we don’t want that to overtake what we are about.”

As I depart, Lillis invites me to attend the squad’s pre-match meal on Saturday. It’s a welcome surprise. Not wanting to intrude, I ask if he is sure and check that manager Matt Barman - another former Lordswood player - won’t mind. I’m yet to meet the man in charge and don’t want to tread on any toes. I need not have worried.

Public transport serves me well on Saturday and I arrive on time for the meal, welcomed into the clubhouse by Barman himself. As he takes me up for my lunch, one of his assistants, Dan Tanner, immediately jokes that I need to pay a fine for being a minute late! It’s a sign of things to come as I enjoy a thoroughly warm and friendly day at the club. 

Barman gives me an insight into proceedings by letting me into the pre-match meeting too. He instils positivity in his young squad, reminding them that this is the FA Cup and how special it is to play in the competition. Suitably psyched up, the players head for the changing rooms.

Kitman Jeff Dodsworth takes charge of me then and sets me to work, helping to tidy some bits but also showing me around the ground. He is popular amongst the squad and a sensational ambassador for the club. He gifts me not one but two Lordswood shirts from previous seasons. It was obviously not expected or necessary but it was a hugely appreciated gesture. I can already feel the warmth in this club.

I spend much of the first half with Dodsworth. Owing to the extra substitutes allowed in the FA Cup, he loses his spot on the bench but enjoys mingling with some of the regular faces at Martyn Grove.

He tells me to watch out for the high press and it isn’t long until I see it for myself. The youthful hosts harass their visitors and mistakes are made at the back, creating a chance for the lively Artem Kuchkov but his effort is high of the target.

Lordswood don’t have to wait much longer though before they are in front. A defence-splitting pass finds its way to James Jeffrey and the forward makes no mistake, slotting beyond the onrushing Sam Freeman.

It serves as a bit of a wake-up call for Cray though and they soon start to find their way into the game. 

Their probing is rewarded on the half-hour mark as a deep ball into the box is not dealt with by the home defence and Kyrell Lisbie manages to prod home. His father, former Charlton Athletic forward Kevin, is a pleased onlooker in the crowd.

Despite the best efforts of both sides, there are no further goals meaning they will do it all again on Tuesday night in search of a place in the first round qualifying draw.

Although they surrendered their early advantage, Barman and his staff are rightly proud of their side after a close contest.

“We’re happy with the result,” the manager says. 

“I think we should have made them work harder for their goal. We were very much in the game until we scored, performance wise. Instead of us going into the ascendency I think we were almost in a little bit of shock. 

“But when your squad is aged from 17 to 23 I think you have to deal with that. We have to learn from that as well, we can’t just say that that is acceptable. So we need to learn from that and push on and drive on.”

Assistant Joe Denny pointed to the work rate of the Lordswood players.

He explained: “Against a step four side I think we applied ourselves fantastically in terms of our press and our intensity. 

“I don’t think we gave them too much respect in terms of this being our home ground and they were going to have to earn a win.”

It was the words of Tanner though that were left ringing in my ears as I made my way out of Martyn Grove, joining his colleagues in emphasising the pride in the performance but also pointing towards the development of this young squad and the importance the staff place on this.

“I am proud of the boys. They keep learning every game. I think that is eight games unbeaten now, five wins and three draws and two of them away against top-five sides from last year. We just seem to get better and better. 

“As soon as we start cutting out the little silly mistakes, making the right decision with that pass and if we can keep these boys together for the next two or three years then we could go anywhere. 

“We have just got to keep digging at it and keep educating them - that’s the most important thing - and not just on the pitch, but educating them in life. But we are just so proud.”

A final visit to the clubhouse before I took my leave was in order where I once again found Dodsworth. The fine gentleman that he is, when he heard I’d be running for a bus in order to catch my train, he insisted on driving me to the station himself.

Much like with Bearsted in the previous round, I think I might have found another gem of a club right on my doorstep.

The magic of the cup continues.
By Matt Bass