Tooting and Me
When I was three years old, Dad took me to my first Football game. It happened to be Tooting and Mitcham against fierce rivals Dulwich Hamlet. I have little recollection of that game, not even the score, all I remember was the 22 man punch-up, with every player on the pitch being booked, and two players from each team being sent off. A fitting introduction to the rivalry!
I can’t say, other than that game, I have even a vague memory of football at Sandy Lane. One photo hanging in my living room does place me at the scene of the crime though, the infamous last goal scored at Sandy Lane, could not tell you who the goal scorer is, all I know is that he has a gloriously bald head! Apparently he came down to a Tooting game last season (a subtle point from my uncle alerted me of his presence) and I was able to recognise that head in an instance. That head glissens as majestically on the terraces at Imperial Fields as it does peering over my TV as I watch The Chase.
I have to admit there were a few years growing up when my interest in Tooting fleeted, where I veered towards video games and the like. As many kids my age, the draw of playing FIFA and singing my heart out to Ceasar Palace’s “Jerk it out” outweighed standing in the cold watching Tooting! The Premier League (for my sins) also got the better of me for a few years! It can be hard to get kids at primary school to be interested in the 8th tier of English football, so you either sit in the corner reciting the weekends events on your lonesome or join the pack in admiring the latest Drogba goal. I chose the latter. I even managed to convince my Dad to get Santandar, and yes, I do know how to pronounce it, thanks to that painful advert, thusly got my one Premiership game a week, which nowadays feels like childsplay, but was more than enough to sway a 10 year old me.
Although I was still getting dragged along to Tooting matches in the intervening years, my love and passion for the club kicked in around the time I started high school, just in time for hundreds of kids to whack me with “Who?” and incredulously wonder, “The 8th tier of Football?!”. I persisted with the explanations, and to my surprised, kids weren’t suddenly swayed from watching the likes of Rooney score wonder goals! They weren’t convinced with “But Paul Vines has a solid right peg on him!”
Luckily my heart was fully back on board with the Terrors, in time for the one thing all non-league fans dream about...An FA Cup run, and my god, what a run! A run good enough to be stuck on the back on a plain black T-Shirt (although I haven’t seen one float around Tooting for awhile). The run involved an iconic game, a game that will never be forgotten, Tooting and Mitcham FC at home vs Eastbourne borough. A two league difference between the sides, the poetic underdog story, with Tooting leading 2-1 going into the dying minutes of the game...and then BAM!! Tooting bag a third, the glee! The ecstasy! Even Kingo (Tootings keeper at the time, and the only keeper I’ve ever seen score a goal from his own half) jumped into the bundle of celebrating players! I distinctly remember my Dad shouting “KEEP CONCENTRATING” as Kingo leaped into the pack, and boy did they not listen a shred...in typical Tooting fashion we blew the lead, ended 3-3 and had to have a replay away at a Conference Premier side. Sadly, I was away in spain so couldn’t attend the replay, but stayed up late to receive a text of the final score...4-3 TOOTING! I couldn’t believe it! A tie away at a League one team, albeit Stockport County, who were rock bottom of the league and at the start of their major decline, but a league One team nevertheless!!
“See” I tell my classmates, “Following Tooting isn’t all relegations, frozen feet and sadness, there’s a little spark of joy mixed in their too!”
Judgement day had arrived, we had booked first class tickets (Yep, you read that right, poshboy Tooting fan coming through) I would love to say it was a beautiful day out, sun shining high with spirits to match, but sadly the day did not match the rest of the cup run. It was pissing it down with rain, we stood in a stand with no cover, completely drenched watching Tooting lose 5-0, but trust me, it’s was sooooo much better than it sounds! Barring a couple “Tooting Fans” who I’d never seen before nor after that game, trying to fight with the Stockport Stewards, it was brilliant! Non stop chanting, a conga line, all we needed was a goal to top it all off. The game ended with handshakes all around, “We’re proud of you Tooting” being sung at the top of everyone’s voices and it was the true to the core. The pride was recenating on the 18:43 from Stockport back down south.
It’s been a fun time supporting Tooting, filled with many heartbreaks, relegations and a ton of injury time goals conceded. But the bad times make the good all that sweeter, and I can see a ginormous victoria sponge in the not so distant future.