The day of the amateur may have long gone, but there are still traces of the old Corinthian spirit to be found outside the non-league pyramid.
The Southern Amateur League has been around for over 100 years, and is still going strong today. There are some wonderful old names in the league, some of which evoke a gentler, more sporting time. No tweets on twitter about breaking someone’s leg or taunts about wages here! The SAL has a strong code of conduct that centres on sportsmanship and hospitality. One senses that it’s blazers all round!
There’s a host of Old Boys clubs that undoubtedly espouse such sentiments – Actonians, Blues, Esthameians, Finchleans, Garchonians, Salesians, Wilsonians and my favourite, Old Westminster Citizens.
Then there’s the Norsemen, who actually play in Edmonton, North London, rather than the frozen North. There’s also the Bank of England, HSBC and Lloyds TSB – the big banks used to have wonderful sports facilities, mostly in South London, and ran dozens on football and rugby teams every weekend. The first elevens of the banks were strong sides and played in the SAL. Speaking from experience, these sports grounds had a great atmosphere, notably National Westminster Bank’s Norbury and Lower Syndenham sites and Midland Bank’s at New Beckenham.
The Southern Amateur clubs form a crucial part of the Amateur Football Alliance (AFA) and the AFA Senior Cup was part of that very healthy body of amateur sport. In 1910, 1920 and 1930, the winners of that cup were the Civil Service.
The Civil Service Football Club, like the Football Association, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year – in fact, the Civil Service were part of that very first FA meeting in central London. They entered the first FA Cup in 1871, losing on the very first day of the competition 2-0 at Barnes. The club was also influential in the first international matches between England and Scotland, with three of their number playing in the first protype “international”, one for Scotland and two for England.
What’s even more remarkable is that the club, nicknamed “the war office”, once toured abroad regularly and even beat the now mighty Real Madrid and met clubs like Slavia Prague. They’re on the road again this season to celebrate a century and a half, touring Bulgaria in May.
The Civil Service was one of the founder members of the Isthmian League, finishing fourth in the six-team inaugural competition in 1905-06. They didn’t stay in the Isthmian for long, however, becoming one of the founders of the Southern Amateur League in 1907. As members of that league, they won the AFA Senior Cup three teams over 30-odd years, a trophy they didn’t win again until 1997, beating Lensbury 4-3 in a riveting final.
Today, the Civil Service runs eight teams and the first XI plays in the first division of the Southern Amateur League after winning promotion in 2012. The club’s home ground is in Chiswick. The “war office” has enjoyed some media coverage around the club’s 150th anniversary, and quite rightly so. It’s good to see that despite all the negatives surrounding football these days, the amateur game continues to thrive….on and off the pitch.