THE AFA SENIOR CUP goes almost unnoticed among most non-league fans, but if you’re looking for one of the last vestiges of the old amateur football code, then it can be found in this competition and the Southern Amateur Football League.
On April 9, the AFA Senior Cup final takes place between West Wickham and Old Garchonians, both members of the Southern Amateur. The AFA Senior Cup is a wonderful trophy with a long and rich history and its past winners include no less than Hitchin Town, The Casuals, St. Albans City and Cambridge Town (later City). And oh yes, Barclays Bank, HMS Excellent, the Civil Service and, in 1923, a team called Aquarius.
In more recent years, it has been the dawning of the age of old boys teams from public schools, grammar schools and similar academic institutions. Four out of the last five years have seen old boys teams come to the fore, with Old Wilsonians winning the cup for the past two.
Old Garchonians cannot claim to be steeped in the history of the competition as the club was established in 2011 in memory of one Freddie Garcha, whose image is on the club’s badge. There’s a tragic story behind this as Garcha, a 22 year-old from Muswell Hill in North London, was shot dead in Colombia in a mugging incident in March 2011. His friends formed the club as a tribute to Freddie, a sentiment underlined by the Old Garchonians motto “Siempre Sera Amado” – always in our hearts.
West Wickham FC, by contrast, date back to 1901. It’s almost part of Bromley in Kent and best known for being the home of children’s writer Enid Blyton. The football club’s own story has been quite impressive – 10 Southern Amateur League titles and four AFA Senior Cups – the last in 2007. They are no strangers to AFA Senior Cup runs having also reached the last four in 2015, 2013 and 2012.
From the same stable, the Arthur Dunn Cup reaches the semi-final stage on April 2 – and it’s all about the old boys in this competition, which was started in memory of Mr Arthur Tempest Blakiston Dunn, an Old Etonian who won five caps for England between 1883 and 1892. I made a brief appearance in a competition bearing Mr Dunn’s name in the mid-1970s, playing for a National Westminster Bank side. In those days, the UK banks all had teams in the Southern Amateur League and countless teams playing in similar leagues across the south of England. The banks embraced the old Corinthian ideals and had some marvelous sports facilities.
In fact, if you flew across South London, Kent and Surrey in the 1970s, you would have looked down on acres of sports grounds comprising rugby, football and hockey pitches. NatWest had two fine grounds at Lower Sydenham and Norbury and all the other UK banks had similar temples devoted to fresh air and exercise. It was not quite the paternal hand of Cadbury’s or Port Sunlight, but they were splendid places. Needless to say, given the demographics of the City, the banks were heavy on rugby, but NatWest had a battalion of footballers turning out each week, the first team often including half-decent non-league players. Ian Cooke, of the famous Wimbledon side of the mid-1970s, was a NatWest man.
The game was, essentially, played for the sake of it – handshakes and back-slaps all round, and jugs of ale in the bar afterwards. Sadly, but inevitably, the day of the corporate sports ground has long gone as banks and other companies sold them off to cash-in on real estate prices in the region. And with that, some of the heart and soul of these institutions was transferred to the balance sheet. Symptomatic of the times and the end of a gentler, more innocent age that whiffed of wintergreen oil, old leather and muddy pitches.
But the AFA Senior Cup and Arthur Dunn Cup live on. In 1932, when Hitchin Town won the AFA, beating Derbyshire amateurs, something like 6,000 people watched the game at Dulwich’s Champion Hill. When West Wickham and Old Garchonians line-up on April 9, I wonder how many people will turn up – in fact, how many people will even be aware of the game’s existence? However many attend, I hope they realise they are watching the final of a competition that has a fascinating heritage
This is article appeared in the Non-League Paper on Sunday March 20, 2016