Two Teams in Tooting
I’m 2004, Steffan Wells decided to form a brand new football team. Alongside Oli Bone and Neil Jack, he co-founded Tooting Bec FC.
After turning out for a number of local sides, a positive experience in most cases, the founders of Tooting Bec felt that they could bring something different to the table. Bringing together local players, family members and old friends they set about creating a team where teammates could rely on each other on and off the field, a team that took the level they were playing at seriously and creating a place where friendships could be forged. As Steffan says himself, “we didn’t have any real ambition, which is strange to say, other than to play, to win and to head back to the Kings Head after the game!” In many ways these aspirations might not seem that lofty, but how does this differ to most football sides? Winning football matches is always the goal, as is building a community around your club that benefits all involved, plus these ideals have stood the club in incredibly good stead going forward.
When asked to define the culture of the club, Steffan reiterated that the club still holds on to these simple ideas, adding “our culture is... don’t ever think your special, fight for your teammates and enjoy doing it or go home”. Over the past 15 years, this mantra has shaped the team as it transitioned into a fully-fledged FA chartered club, Tooting Bec FC now boasts four men’s teams and one women’s side.
“Rightly the first team are the focal point, and while winning is huge we have learnt to ride the dips as well as not getting ahead of ourselves.”
A major factor in the progression of the club was the appointment of John O’Connor as manager of the first team in 2015. John was drawn to the club by the positive, the friendly atmosphere and how all the teams put the social element of the club at the forefront of everything they do.
“The first day I went down to see the Bec play, I ended up down the pub with them afterwards and I could just see the camaraderie on the pitch and in the pub after, so I was attracted to the social aspect. The togetherness.”
During Johns reign the first team have secured a league title victory in the Surrey Elite league and have transitioned into the Combined Counties. Joining Division One league at the beginning of last year. The season was undoubtedly a success, finishing third in their first season securing a place in this year’s FA Cup, a completion the club has never qualified for. The Bec endured a tough start to life in the Combined Counties, taking a few weeks to acclimatise. However from October the Bec went on a spectacular run, only losing once in 22 league games (with an impressive 16 wins and 5 draws). This is undoubtedly in no small part to the hard work of John, and his team Terry Tibet, Paul Golah and Rodger Mann and the playing talent that has gathered at the club.
Thinking back on the season, Steffan was keen to point out a remarkable fact about the Bec’s set up. A reality that shines an incredibly positive light on the players that make up the squad, “The fact the lads went on that incredible run, despite paying £10 match fees is a credit to their character as much as their talent.”
So let me reiterate that, and stress quite how unusual and impressive that is. The Tooting Bec first team players do not receive a wage, a stipend or even expenses. Not a pound, not a penny. In fact they pay the club a match day fee for the pleasure of playing for the Bec. In a league where many teams are paying players high figures a game, in some instances into the three figures, the Bec players pay to play! And they finished 3rd! I don’t know what you think dear reader, but that strikes me as a little bit special, and reflects very well on the set up those at the club have created and as Steffan said, the quality of the players character.
Now full disclosure, I had the pleasure of watching Tooting Bec’s first team play a number of times last year. I was even (happily) roped into running the gate for their home games when I was down at the ground. When visiting them at their home last year, a ground-share with Raynes Park Vale, I was made to feel immediately welcome and very much a part of the family. The name of this website itself, owes something to the infinity I feel, not only for Tooting & Mitcham, but also for Tooting Bec. A nod to the tone we want to create around the writing we do, plus the importance of the demographic reality of South London, but also a move to celebrate the only playing colours that matter.
On top of this I was always entertained watching the Bec play. In John’s own words he prefers a “nutty and exciting” approach, hoping that the team in some way reflect himself, “hardworking, passionate, unpredictable.” Encouraging his teams to play with pace and urgency balanced with a keen eye for organisational balance. To match last year’s exploits Bec appreciate that they have their work cut out, competing with much more ‘lucrative’ outfits in the league, but Steffan and John both feel the squad is up for the challenge.
Last year also saw the introduction of Tooting Bec’s first women’s team. Spearheaded by Simon Hancock and a group of talented players, the team settled into the club incredibly well, “they bring the club even closer together”, also achieving a respectable finish in their maiden season.
This season saw John lead the first team into the FA Cup pre preliminary round against Guilford City FC. This marking the clubs first ever appearance in the competition. An incredibly well attended game, hosted by Westfield FC, where the Bec faithful far outnumbered the Guilford support. When asked about the experience John said, “it’s fantastic occasion for the club… I wanted the boys to enjoy it, whilst making the most of the opportunity,” highlighting the pride he felt to be a part of the clubs historic moment. The Bec boys lost the game narrowly, with the game ending in an exciting fashion as they chased an equalising goal that would have bought them back to Imperial Fields for the replay. “Now we have a taste we want to come back and get our first win in this famous competition.”
As many of you are aware Tooting Bec FC are now Tooting & Mitcham United FC’s new tenants. This season seeing them move back to playing their home games at Imperial Fields, but with the marked difference being they will now share the main pitch. Steffan describes the move to centre stage at Imperial Fields, “as a dream come true”, adding “if dreams where played out on a green baize!” The Bec’s home games will fall when Tooting & Mitcham’s South Central league fixtures take them anywhere but South or Centrally. The Bec team hope that some of Tooting and Mitcham’s faithful, those who do not find the away fixtures palatable or logistically possible, might find themselves dropping down to the ground to enjoy a Bec game this season.
As Steffan puts it, “We hope we can grow this connection [between the clubs]... and hopefully we can also treat everyone to some good football. We have come from the Tooting Common so we are as grassroots as you can get, a welcoming atmosphere and a huge desire to win. If you think that sounds good come watch or even better volunteer!”
Both men were incredibly effusive with their praise for Rich (aka Rich the Pitch) for the excellent work he has done this summer to transform the playing surface at the ground. Steffan reckons a hoover is the only appropriate equipment for cleaning the ‘carpet’ Rich has laid out. John added, “what has been done with the pitch is absolutely amazing, it’s phenomenal. An absolute carpet, the workman ship is fantastic.”
I personally I think that this Sunday’s FA Vase game between Tooting Bec and Walton and Hersham at Imperial Fields, is an excellent opportunity to watch the Bec in action. No clash with our beloved Terrors, in a competition that invariably throws up exciting matches. Steffan has promised they will be printing a programme (for all your programme perverts😉) and they will be selling pin badges. And if that doesn’t sell it, John even promises to be in the bar after the game to share a beer and some post-match football chat.
Sounds good to me. South London is truly Black and White.