Saturday 22nd November 2014 – Bromley FC 2 – 1 Sutton United FC
Conference South @ Hayes Lane, Bromley
An opportune and unexpected ground tick, and a pleasant way to fill a Saturday afternoon. Hayes Lane (I think, seen it referred to also as Courage Stadium, Fortress Stadium and Bromley Arena…) offers excellent value for non-league football at just £12 for adults (cap tipped) complete with not one, but two bars!
Bromley itself is situated in the far south of London as it sprawls towards Kent. My intention was to have a couple of drinks in the town itself to start with, but my mate was late, and there also wasn’t very much in terms of options; we did sample however the Richmal Crompton on the way back to Bromley South station, an agreeable and well sized Wetherspoons just across the road. I would recommend however you drink at the club itself, which has two bars next to the main stand, where pints cost an amazing (for London) £3.50 a go…! The ground is about a 15 minute walk from the station.
There is a great family atmosphere at Bromley FC with both sets of supporters (Sutton brought with them a good number) mingling freely and enjoying the afternoon. My first surprise at Bromley was the size of the crowd (1,043 in total, though it felt like more given the compact nature of the ground) and the great support from both sets of fans; I’m a big fan of the non-league game and it was great to see such an interest being taken at a game being played at the sixth level of the football league pyramid.
Left: Bromley fans making some noise. Right: travelling Sutton fans with flags.
Bromley were knocking on the door of the Conference Premier last season (ultimately finishing 3rd and losing in the play-offs); the club certainly felt like it was ready for it. A quick look at the teamsheet threw up one familiar name in Adam Birchall – as well as his goalscoring heroics at Dover a few years back, known also to many football fans as being the first player you signed on the old Championship Manager if you wanted to get Whitby Town into the Premier League in record quick time.
Also noteworthy that Bromley are managed (and I believe owned) by none other than Mark Goldberg, the man who put Lombardo in charge of, and lost his entire fortune at, Crystal Palace. A long time since 1997 though……
The ground itself is accessed via a short road which runs alongside some fields (smelled of farm on the way in, not something you normally get at a match…!). Upon entering you are alongside the main stand, where aforementioned club bars are located. Pleasingly you can sup along the side of the pitch by the main stand, removing the need to neck the final 1/3 before kick off. At either end of the ground are two ‘sheds’ behind the goals, were the more vocal home and away supporters were stood. Across from the main stand is an uncovered terrace, which even in the rain had people stood on.
Bromley were 3rd at the start of the match, Sutton bottom half of the table. Any ‘gulf’ in class wasn’t at all evident, with the game played at a fast tempo and with gusto – some very tasty challenges going in (as the Sutton goalkeeper experienced early on) and two very vocal captains. It was Sutton who took the lead, however Bromley were back in it before half-time. Sutton seemed to mellow a bit in the second half and Bromley started to take more control over the game. I thought 1-1 would have been a fair result, but the sucker punch was delivered late on; 2-1 Bromley, home fans heading off with a spring in their step, Sutton with zero points.
A very enjoyable day out; not sure why I was surprised at the number of people there – Bromley play some exciting, attacking football, the tickets are reasonably priced, and the club very welcoming. They also notched up over 4,000 for the FA Cup 1st Round match against Dartford a few weeks back. I will be back.
One tip if you are visiting over the festive period; at the end of Hayes Road you turn right onto Hayes Lane to get to the ground. We accidentally turned left, but if you have some time, make the left turn also. You will be met with this (a sign of the times when Santa takes a helicopter rather than sleigh) – my only regret is we didn’t go back in the dark: