Between the Sticks
We invited James Shaw, Tooting & Mitcham’s number 1 and a regular reader and sharer of South London is Black and White to write a piece for the site, and he was kind enough to oblige us. We hope to hear more in future from ‘Between the Sticks...’
I’ll introduce myself - I’m James Shaw, the Tooting & Mitcham goalkeeper who (at the time of writing) has played every game so far this season. I was brought into the club over the summer by Cornelius & Ashley, which was a marriage that suited everyone involved. I moved to South London in February this year, having had a brief stint in North London after moving out of Mid Sussex (“home home”) to London for work reasons, so I wanted a local club and the management were after an experienced goalkeeper – which, given the amount of clubs on my CV, I suppose I now am!
What a good few people won’t know is that I nearly joined The Terrors in around March this year. I’ve known Rooney (Daryl, or the Grey Iniesta to some) since we played together at Dorking Wanderers earlier in our respective careers and he got in touch with me, knowing that I was based in South London. From what I understand of last season, it seems that the goalkeeping position was a bit of a revolving door and, barring two serious injuries in my 12 years of senior football, I’d like to think I’ve built a reputation as a fairly reliable custodian. The 7-day approach came in to my then club, Three Bridges (Bostik South East division) a week before the non-league registration deadline, but nothing came of it - not an unusual scenario in non-league.
At this stage I’d like to say thanks to SouthLondonIsBlackAndWhite - a great creative platform for fans (and now players, seemingly) to express their views. As the social media interaction probably tells you, we’re all big fans of the articles that get posted up there, and I can safely say that it makes us feel like a million dollars to know that people are spending their spare time thinking, writing and publishing all sorts of content about us. The start to this season owes a lot to many contributing factors, but the support from the Bog End and online has (in my opinion) been a huge part of it. We’re glad you’re on the journey with us and hope you stick with us through the sticky patches.
I don’t know how things have been in previous years, but I hope the fans can see that we’re very keen to keep the close relationship we have with you guys going, because it’s going to be so important to anything we achieve this season. Some people have commented to me that the simple act of shaking people’s hands on the pitch after the game means an awful lot to them, but that’s the least amount of respect we can show for people who spend their time and money following us. As I said above - please stick with us, because we’re still a team learning and improving.
What I hope you can also see from the stands is the collectiveness we have as a group - managers, coaches, players and support staff. The balance of a dressing room is an incredibly underrated part of football, and we all have the greatest amount of respect for each other, which means the ability for every member of the squad to recognise the best way to get the most out of their teammates, whether that be by an arm round the shoulder or a stern word. The hard work you see from every one of the outfield players in chasing anything and everything is fostered from a joint desire for success and a togetherness that runs deeper than just turning up on a Saturday to play football. I’ve been in a lot of dressing rooms over the years, and Cornelius & Ash have done an outstanding job in bringing together a squad that is not only talented, but who all want to be at the club and have the hunger to improve themselves and drive the club forward - all while maintaining an understanding and respect for the social group and the extra-curricular stuff that is so often the difference between a good team and a very good team.
A bit more about my background for those that are interested - I’m 28, studied sports journalism at university and currently work in sports sponsorships & marketing. I literally love football and spent most of my early life trying to become a pro, obviously. I was in the Charlton Athletic system until I was 16 before dropping out and coming through the youth team ranks at my local club, Burgess Hill, and making my Isthmian League debut aged 17 (a 2-0 home win against Whyteleafe that helped us avoid relegation that season). I joined Eastbourne Borough as an 18-year old to develop in their reserves and was involved in the first team squad for a while, before I dropped back out and ended up playing professionally in the Philippines for a very short stint - what an unbelievable experience.
On returning home, I eventually settled at Dorking Wanderers and helped them get promoted to Step 4, before winning the same level with Horsham a season later. While at Haywards Heath the following year, I was given the chance to return to my home town club, Burgess Hill, at Step 3, and was part of the most ridiculous final day survival you’ll ever hear of - the legend Sam Fisk scoring a 98th minute winner against Merstham to keep us up. We somehow survived the next year as well at the expense of my current club (sorry), before the only personal issue I’ve ever had with a manager forced me to leave and join Hayes & Yeading last year. Rotation was frustrating, so I ended up at Three Bridges to help a very good friend out - and here I am.
For me, football and life have always held a very close relationship with one other. I completely get the importance of football within people’s lives - whether that’s getting out the house to play 6-aside once a week, getting some air in the lungs singing on the terraces on a Saturday afternoon, or using it to grow and develop as a person. All the mental elements of the game can be re-applied into other areas of life and work and I’ve always enjoyed trying to help people get what they want out of the game. I’m involved in sports sponsorships for work because I see what investment from brands and work at grassroots levels can do for communities and individuals.
I hope you’ve found this interesting and if there’s any questions you have for me, I’ll happily answer them in another one of these! As you can see from the results on the pitch, we have a very good team, some very good individuals, and an incredibly strong foundation and structure for us to perform and achieve that’s been put in place by Cornelius + Ash and their team, amongst others. I don’t say it lightly when I assure you that the passion and understanding that those two have for the club and the game is up there with the very best I’ve ever come across and I have already learned so much from them, even as a ‘senior’ player.
Please keep supporting us and singing the boys names, home and away, and please start celebrating clean sheets like goals. Will never turn down a pint after a clean out!
See you all soon.