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.