Jeffinitely, maybe

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.

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Jeffinitely, maybe

The merchant of Menace

The game: Peckham Town v. Halls Athletic.
The ground: The Menace Arena.
The conditions: increasingly cool, just like the fresh-baked focaccia I’ve got on the worktop.

There was a chill breeze blowing through SE21 as I strolled through Dulwich Village and towards the home of Peckham Town – the club ominously nicknamed ‘the Menace’. Arriving at the leafy borders of The Menace Arena, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was nothing ominous about the place at all; a developing non-league ground with a bowls club bar and a tidy pitch, it was the perfect spot to watch a bit of late-season Kent County League Division One West football – free of charge, to boot.

Owing to the postponement of several winter matches, Peckham were in the midst of some major fixture congestion going into the game with struggling Halls Athletic; after an already-hectic month, this was to be the first of three league games in just over a week. Nonetheless, the Menace were only four points off top spot with a game in hand on leaders Halstead United; win against Halls, and they’d go into the last two matches of the season with a very good chance of snatching the title.

The match didn’t exactly start as planned for the home side. After only a couple of minutes, a Halls hoof was pumped forward to giant, blonde Viking-striker Connor O’Flynn; he brought the ball down deftly to the left of goal before smashing a neat finish into the far corner of the net. As the Halls players celebrated, a small but determined group of attendant Peckham Ultras got songs going for the Menace, completely undeterred. The home players seemed similarly unruffled. Before long, they were well on top.

Transitioning quickly from pass-and-move attack to harrying defence, the Menace settled themselves down steadily; bar a seventh-minute blast over the bar from nimble Halls forward Craig Farmer, it was almost all Peckham from this point onward. In the twelfth minute, Menace forward Rotimi Oladunni combined with Bolaji Olatunde before making the first of many ghosting runs through the Halls defence; he eventually dragged a shot wide from fifteen yards. Not long afterward, Oladunni charged up the left flank before looping a cross in for star frontman Schaveize ‘Troy’ Williams. Rising above his marker, Williams headed over the bar from close range.

With the Menace attackers combining well up front, chance after chance came the home side’s way. In the seventeenth, Taiwo Ikponosa rocketed a long-range effort just over the crossbar. A minute later, burly winger Michael Jeff exchanged passes with Ali Amisu before crossing in for Oladunni to belt past the upright; Peckham’s number nine nodded a Jeff corner high just after.

In the twenty-ninth, the home side could have conceded again through a freak effort from Halls full back Robbie Foreman; he hit the post with a swerving cross from the left, but the ball bounced out and was cleared. That was the closest Halls had come since the opener, and it prompted a well-deserved Peckham equaliser. Just over five minutes later, with Oladunni, Williams and Matthew Cusack all having seen opportunities go begging, Jeff took aim from ten yards. Visiting keeper Ray Marshall managed to save his smarting shot, but could only push the ball back into the danger zone. Williams reacted fastest, latching on to the loose ball. Marshall clobbered him. Penalty.

Menace midfielder Lukmon Mojeed stepped up, then pinged the spot kick into the bottom left. The Peckham Ultras went ballistic, so much so that the referee ordered them to move from behind the away goal. Bloody hooligans.

Cusack had the last chance of the first forty-five, anticipating a sweet chipped pass from Oladunni before volleying across the face of goal. The referee then signalled for the break at one-all; as the sides rested and had their team talks on the turf, I pondered whether or not Peckham could climb closer to the league summit over the course of the second half.

They did so not five minutes after the restart. A great run by Oladunni wreaked havoc on the Halls back four; as he burst into the right of the area, Marshall rushed off his line and nicked the ball off his toe with a sprawling challenge. Unfortunately for the beleaguered keeper, the deflection came straight to Williams fifteen yards out. From there, he finished with a nonchalant lob over several scrambling bodies. Two-one to the Menace.

The Peckham dominance continued over the next twenty minutes, even if Craig Farmer’s endeavour did create the odd chance for Halls. Jeff continued to boss his wing, Williams looked ever on the verge of scoring while Oladunni’s running was at the heart of everything the Menace did going forward. Fittingly, it was Oladunni who scored his side’s third in the sixty-ninth. The number nine floated past a couple of markers on the edge of the box, slid the ball through Halls defender Louis Glazebrook’s legs and fired low under Marshall. That looked to have wrapped things up.

Peckham did get a scare ten minutes from time. The home side had perhaps become a tad complacent when a long ball fell to Halls midfielder David Stevens in the box; he headed onto the post from five yards before following up with a clean strike over clambering home goalie Tope Okeowo. Three-two. Halls piled on the belated pressure, and this very nearly paid off in the eighty-ninth. A corner delivery fell to Farmer almost on the penalty spot, yet he could only crash a half volley against the woodwork. The unlikely comeback wasn’t to be. The Menace held on for the win.

An entertaining game ended with an amicable exchange of views between the officials and one mildly peeved fan, a trip back to the clubhouse and a good chat with both the Ultras and highly hospitable Peckham chairman Bryan Hall. All in all, then, it was an excellent evening of football. More importantly, it was an excellent result for the title-chasing Menace.

Result: Peckham Town 3 Halls Athletic 2.
My MoM: Rotimi Oladunni (Peckham Town). The merchant of Menace.
Best fans: the Peckham Ultras. Menace to society. But not really.

The merchant of Menace