The game: Peckham Town v. Bexley.
The ground: The Menace Arena.
The conditions: erratic and unpredictable, just like myself after eight pints of Veltins.
It was the evening before Election Day, and a crucial question was about to be put to the British people. That question was: who is going to win this season’s Kent County League Division One West title? First-placed Halstead United? Second-placed Bexley, level on points with the leaders? Or third-placed Peckham Town, only a point behind both? With Peckham and Bexley about to contest the last match of the campaign at The Menace Arena, the answer would soon be apparent.
As the Menace Ultras arrived in unprecedented numbers and started singing about their dislike of Dulwich Village, their contempt for Long Lane and their approval of Bryan Hall’s considerable height – it’s not often that the club chairman gets his own tune – Peckham kicked off on the Arena’s uphill slope. Despite a touch of panic in the Menace’s back line during the earliest exchanges, it was the home side that took the lead in the eighth minute; brawny wide man Michael Jeff won a corner, delivered the ball in and found the head of defender Michael Keen at the near post – he nodded in.
The goal preceded some more good chances for Peckham. In the twelfth minute, front men Rotimi Oladunni and Schaveize Williams combined well just outside the area; the latter fired wide from fifteen yards. A minute later, a good pass from Menace midfielder Ali Amisu set Matthew Cusack away on the right side of the box; he also dragged his low effort wide.
Bexley should have equalised moments afterward. A long ball forward broke for striker Tom Peck ten yards out; his driven shot was saved brilliantly by Peckham stopper Tope Okeowo. Josh Armfield followed up on the rebound, but Okeowo made the double save at his near post. The resulting corner was cleared. The keeper had kept Peckham ahead.
After that, the half settled down into a well-fought midfield wrangle. Bexley midfielder Joe Neil put himself about quite a bit, resulting in several bouts of mild chest shoving; Menace full back Bolaji Olatunde was just as up for the contest, impressing as he battled all comers out on the right. The Menace did create a couple of half chances before the break, Cusack, Williams and Taiwo Ikponosa firing high or wide one after the other. There were no more goals to be had, however; the referee blew up at one-nil, before everyone desperately tried to find some information on the Halstead game. All attempts were unsuccessful. The Kent County League Division One West needs an app, or something.
The beginning of the second half was somewhat choppy. Peckham nearly scored via a forty-ninth minute free kick, won by Jeff after some powerful running through the middle of the park; Jeff took it himself, saw his shot deflected to Williams, then could only watch on as his teammate smashed wide of the near post. The next ten minutes constituted a succession of fouls on both sides, before Bexley’s Josh Armfield pinged a decent attempt just over the crossbar from fifteen yards.
In the sixty-second, Peckham let a great chance to double their advantage slip. Jeff charged up the right before cutting inside and bamboozling the Bexley defence; he then played a perfect pass to Williams, who found himself completely clear on the left. Bearing down on away goalie Sam Armfield, his timing was just a split second out. His attempted chip was too close to the keeper. Saved. Sighs of relief on the visitors’ bench.
These became howls of anguish within five minutes. The chance seemed to re-energise the Menace, who suddenly got on top of the game. After a cool dispossession on the left, Peckham’s Dwayne Simpson dribbled down the touchline before leathering a cross over the Bexley back four; Williams rushed through, controlled and – despite futile cries of offside from his opponents – tucked away to Sam Armfield’s left. Two-nil, and the home side looked to have won the tenacious tussle.
Bexley did give the Menace a scare in the seventy-fourth, though it was entirely of the home side’s own making. An innocuous away corner was floated into the box, before Lukmon Mojeed gave the officials a decision to make with a rather obvious handball. The decision was a penalty. Alex Legge stepped up and slotted it home. Two-one.
To the relief of the anxious Ultras, this only revitalised the Menace once more. Williams stepped up his play, bullying the Bexley centre backs, while Jeff continued to influence the game from the wing. Indeed, it was his influence that eventually wrapped things up for good; in the eighty-fourth minute, he traded passes with Amisu on the right before playing a sweet cross-field ball to substitute Sulyman Bah – Peckham’s number seven zoomed to the left of goal before rocketing a shot across Sam Armfield and into the back of the net. Celebrations with the Menace faithful ensued. For all they knew, Peckham might have won the league.
At the final whistle, it sadly transpired that this wasn’t the case. Phoenix Sports had ceded three points to Halstead, meaning that the latter ended the season as champions; Bryan Hall shared commiserations with the fans, before the players came over to dance, sing and generally have a jolly with the soon-cheery Ultras. The joy was temporarily marred by some unnecessary and vaguely homophobic jibes from a couple of Bexley players, but their comments were mainly ignored in favour of toasting a good season for the Menace – and a second-placed finish at Bexley’s expense. On the whole, another top game at the Menace Arena. Next season, top spot.
Result: Peckham Town 3 Bexley 1.
My MoM: Michael Jeff (Peckham Town). Two assists. Jeffinitely the main man.
Best fans: the Menace Ultras. The Kent County League Division One West has never known anything like it.