ConIFA 2018: The Venues
The 2018 ConIFA World Football Championships begin in nine days time, so we’re kicking off our preview of the tournament with a quick look at the venues that will be used for the finals. This is the third iteration of the tournament and it differs from previous tournaments in that, whereas the 2014 competition was entirely played at one stadium and the 2016 competition was played at two, the 2018 version is being played across ten grounds in London and the Home Counties. Under CONIFA election criteria, the “host” nation is the CONIFA member that heads the organising committee for the tournament, so this does not necessarily mean that it needs to be played in the host’s territory. This year’s host is Barawa, which is in Somalia, but as the Barawa team represents the Somali diaspora living in England, this year’s host venues are spread across London, Essex and Berkshire. The vast majority of these venues may well be familiar to seasoned non-league football watchers in London and the south-east of England. The full schedule for the tournament is available on the ticket page of ConIFA’s website.
The Queen Elizabeth II Stadium, Enfield: When we consider that a desire for (at least a degree of) independence runs so strongly through this tournament, it’s probably appropriate that this year’s final should be held at the QE2 Stadium in Enfield. Enfield FC was one of the more illustrious names in non-league football throughout the 1970s and 1980s, winning the FA Amateur Cup, the FA Trophy and Football Conference twice each between 1967 and 1988, as well having several runs in the FA Cup. However, a spell of financial difficulty in the 1990s led to the club’s former ground at Southbury Road being sold. The club left in 1999, and in 2001 its supporters trust became the first to vote to break away and form their own club under the name of Enfield Town.
Work originally started on the QE2 Stadium in 1939 before being suspended on account of the war, and it was eventually completed in 1953, being named for the Queen on account of her coronation. In 2008, Enfield Town reached agreement with the local council to renovate the by now dilapidated athletics stadium and the club moved into its new home in 2011. Its main stand is a Grade II Listed Building, and it will host five matches from Group B of this year’s competition as well as two placement matches and both the third/fourth place play-off and the final.
Colston Avenue, Carshalton: On the other side of the city, close to the border with Surrey, sits Colston Avenue, which will be hosting both of the semi-finals for this summer’s competition. Carshalton Athletic played their first match here on New Year’s Day 1921 and continue to call it home to this day. A main stand was purchased from nearby Epsom racecourse in 1926, though this collapsed during gales in 1968. An arson attack in 2000 destroyed the clubhouse, and a “temporary” one has been in use at the ground ever since. n August 2003 the club submitted plans for a £12 million rebuild of the stadium, but this was withdrawn after complaints from local residents. The club did, however, install a 3G surface in 2015. Colston Avenue will host one match from Group A, two from Group D, and both semi-finals in the competition.
Gander Green Lane, Sutton: A short distance from Carshalton, one of non-league football’s better known grounds is also getting reading for ConIFA 2018. Gander Green Lane has been the home of Sutton United since 1912, and is probably best known as the venue at which the Sutton team beat Coventry City in the Third Round of the FA Cup in January 1989, and it was also the first ground played at by the then newly-formed AFC Wimbledon for a friendly match against Sutton United in the summer of 2002. The distinctive bowl shape which some may associate with the ground from the Coventry match has gone since then, replaced by covered terraces behind each goal, and a 3G pitch was installed here in 2015. Sutton finished last season in third place in the National League, making them the highest-ranked club to be hosting matches in this competition. Gander Green Lane hosts six matches this summer – one from Group A, one from Group C, two placement matches and two quarter-finals.
Hayes Lane, Bromley: These are heady times for Bromley FC. Last season ended with a ninth placed finish in the National League for the second highest-ranked club to be hosting matches in this summer’s tournament, though a trip to Wembley ended in disappointment when the team were beaten on penalty kicks by Brackley Town in the final of this year’s FA Trophy. Still, the summer of 2018 also sees the club thrust into the spotlight as a result of a film adaptation of Dave Roberts’ “The Bromley Boys”, a book charting Roberts’ reminiscences of supporting the team during the early 1970s, starring Martine McCutcheon and Alan Davies. Hayes Lane is another ground with a 3G playing surface, and is also distinctive on account of the open terrace that runs an entire length of the pitch. Hayes Lane will host one match from Group A of the competition, one quarter-final match, and three placement matches.
Coles Park, Tottenham: Next season will see Haringey Borough start in the Prmeier Division of the Isthmian League for the first time, after they won promotion from Division One North by beating Canvey Island in the play-off final. Their Coles Park home has been in place since 1930 and was formerly the home of Wood Green Town, the club’s name prior to a 1973 merger to form Edmonton & Haringey, changing its name to Haringey Borough three years later. Last season was also significant for Coles Park in one other way: the 1,177 people that turned out for their FA Trophy First Round match against Leyton Orient was a club record attendance. In this year’s ConFIA World Football Championships, Coles Park will host one match from Group A and four from Group C.
St Pauls Sports Ground, Rotherhithe: East London lost one of its football clubs when Fisher Athletic folded in 2009. However, a new club was formed in its place under the name of Fisher FC was formed and still competes in the Southern Counties East League. The old club’s traditional home had been the Surrey Docks Stadium in Rotherhithe, but Fisher Athletic left this site – although they retained plans to redevelop it – for Dulwich Hamlet’s Champion Hill in 2004 and the new club played there as well, until a new ground was built, just short distance from Surrey Docks, in 2016. After a difficult first few seasons of existence, Fisher ended lasted season in third place in Division One of the Southern Counties East Football League. The St Pauls Sports Ground will host one match from Group A of this summer’s tournament, as well as two placement matches.
The Bedfont Recreation Ground, Bedfont: Bedfont Sports FC were founded as a Saturday outlet for a Sunday League team, and they’ve made steady progress ever since then, rising up from the Middlesex County League to the Combined Counties League and then ending last season with promotion to the South Central Division of the Isthmian League after having finished in second place in the table at the end of last season. First developed as a park, the club’s growth has enabled the construction of a 500-seater stand and a 3G artificial plating surface at The Recreation Ground. The ground will host one Group C match and one placement match during this tournament.
Parkside, Aveley: Just outside the boundaries of London in Essex sits Parkside, home of Aveley Football Club and the newest ground being used to host matches during this tournament. Aveley had taken their nickname of The Millers from their previous home, Mill Field, at which they played from 1952 onwards, but the club moved to the well-appointed Parkside in the summer of 2017. The ground has seated accommodation on both sides, covered terracing behind each goal, and is yet another with a 3G surface. Aveley – who currently play in the Division One North of the Isthmian League – reached their high point with winning the Athenian League Division One title in 1971. They host three placement matches in this year’s tournament.
Larges Lane, Bracknell: A little over thirty miles from central London sits Bracknell in Berkshire, a market town with a population of just over eighty thousand people. The town’s football club, Bracknell Town, has played at Larges Lane since 1933. At the end of last season, a runners-up spot in the Hellenic League was enough to secure promotion into the South Central Division of the Isthmian League. The club had rattled around this level of the game from the middle of the 1980s until 2009/10, when a calamitous season in Division One south and West of the Southern League saw them win two and lose forty of their forty-two games, conceding one hundred and eighty-seven goals into the bargain. After a further couple of difficult seasons – a further relegation followed in 2012 – the club has slowly revived its fortunes, and in 2016 a new 3G pitch was laid and a new main stand completed at Larges Lane. The ground will host one game from Group B, one from Group D, one quarter-final match, and one placement match this summer.
Arbour Park, Slough: The completion of Arbour Park in 2016 marked the end of one of non-league football’s longest spells in exile. Slough Town had played at the Dolphin Stadium until 1973 and then Wexham Park until the end of the 2002/03 season, when financial disagreements with the stadium’s owners led to the club’s eviction. They spent the next thirteen years sharing with Windsor and then Beaconsfield before finally returning home at the end of August 2016. This new ground, yes indeed, is another with a 3G artificial surface, and it’s proved to be something of a lucky charm for the club, so far. Last season marked the most successful in the club’s recent history, with the team reaching the Second Round of the FA Cup before losing at home to Rochdale in front of the cameras of BT Sport, whilst promotion was achieved at the end of the season when a third placed league finish in the Premier Division of the Southern League led to play-off wins against Kettering Town and King’s Lynn Town to secure promotion to the National League South for next season. Arbour Park will host three matches from Group D of this summer’s tournament.
Next up here on Twohundredpercent in relation to this tournament, a group by group look at each competing teams. It all kicks off at noon on the thirty-first of May, with matches between Ellan Vannin (the Isle of Man) and Cascadia at Gander Green Lane, between Abkhazia and Tibet at the QE2 Stadium, between Szekely Land and Tuvalu at Coles Park, and between the United Koreans in Japan and Western Armenia at Colston Avenue. Tickets are available from the link above.