Chapter Eleven – Goals, Growth and Curtailment – Season 2019/20

The 2019/20 season started within weeks of the end of 2019/20. The team had a few short weeks off to recuperate before training resumed in late June ahead of the trip to Rome for the 2019 edition of the EuroGames. This would be the Club’s first international tournament since affiliating with CACT in 2017 and first ever EuroGames event.

Only 12 on the Invicta team made the trip to Rome with 2 additional players joining them out in Italy. The team won the opening two games – a 2-0 win against Paris Arc En Ciel followed by a 3-0 win against London Titans x2 made for a successful opening day at the EuroGames in scorching heat.

After a team meal and early night – day two proved a harder with 3-0 and 2-0 defeats against London Titans x1 and Panamboyz United. This left Invicta in 3rd place in the group with a division 2 semi final against the Italian National LGBT team the following morning. An early start saw the Invicta team travel to the venue on time with a good pre match warm up only to be informed that the opposition had withdrawn. This meant a bye and a final place later that day against the winners of the other semi final between G Madrid Sports and Stockholm Snipers.

After a tense semi final and penalty shoot out it was G Madrid Sports who made the final and lay in wait for Invicta. Invicta made a bright start to the game going a goal in front in the opening minutes courtesy of a Daniel Crump penalty. The team from the Spanish capital equalised soon after as the game was tied 1-1 at the break. The second half saw the opposition strike twice in quick succession – first a penalty and then a long range effort to give them a 3-1 lead. Owen Maher pulled a goal back but the reds search for an equaliser to force penalties evaded them. In the end a 3-2 defeat saw the team settle for runners-up medals.

The team with their Silver Medals in Rome at the EuroGames 2019.

Once the team returned from Rome it was straight into pre-season with several new recruits joining to bolster the squad. Friendly games saw the Reds draw 1-1, lose 4-2 and then suffer a bad day at the office conceding double figures in a one sided game against much better opposition. But pre-season is not about the results haha.

The league and cup season started with four consecutive away games which all ended in defeat. Back to back away games to London Titans in Barnes seemed a little unfair as the Reds made their longest LUL trips in quick sucession. The opening day 3-1 defeat was a case of not taking chances and conceding three identical goals from set pieces. The following week and with several holidays – the Reds travelled with just the 12 players and came unstuck losing 5-0 on a very hot day.

The games didn’t stop with a trip to Glasgow for the GFSN cup preliminary round – for the second successive September – to face Saltire Thislte. The Reds didn’t travel well and only 10 players saw the confidence drain after a tight opening 20 minutes where the score remained goalless. The Reds were on the receiving end of some clinical finishing as the host won in comfortable fashion.

The following Sunday it was back to LUL action with a trip to Hackney Marshes to face East End Phoenix FC. With injuries mounting up – new recruit Nicky made the squad for the first time. The Reds set up with a first half tactical mastermind to deny the host any opportunities to penetrate. Maxwell Anderson was deployed to man mark the hosts striker and main goal threat and it worked to perfection. The Reds grabbed the opening goal when Josh Eaton struck to give them a deserved 1-0 half time lead – although it could very well have been 2-0 had luck gone for the Reds.

Maxwell receives his Player of the Match Award for his man marking job

The second half saw the Reds tire as East End Phoenix grabbed two quick goals – one an own goal from Sam Bushnell as he sliced his clearance beyond Alex Hill and the second which went in off the hand of the striker – and later admitted by the player. The Reds huffed and puffed and saw a late equaliser ruled out. Despite going down 2-1 the improvement from the whole team showed. The fitness levels however let the team down as well as a few unlucky decisions which went the way of the hosts.

The Reds didn’t have long to put things right. The following Saturday they hosted Village Manchester Thirds at Sparrows Lane in the Clubs first ever GFSN national league fixture. The Reds were short on numbers but a squad of 13 took part in the historic occasion and were relentless on day. Nicky grabbed 5 goals and winger Michael bagged himself a brace. A comfortable 7-1 victory gave the Reds the confidence to kick on and grab that elusive LUL victory.

With a three week break until the next game the Reds took some time to rest up and recover from injuries that had plagued their opening month of the season. Even the gaffer took time off and spent four days in a Shepherds Hut in Devon!

The first game back after the break was the start of a run of competitive and somewhat surprising results for the Reds. Sparrows Lane was a fitting place to win the first LUL game since March 2018 with a 3-1 win against Muswell Hill on a day that the Club remembered Linda Ginnaw. The following week the 10 player team (yes TEN) made the trip to Edinburgh to play Hotscots FC in the GFSN and came home with a 3-1 victory. Just 8 days later London Romans FC made the visit to Sparrows Lane and despite taking an early 2-0 lead were made to work for the points as the Reds battled back and almost forced a draw later on. And only 6 days later the Club were back on the road with 17 players making the trip to Liverpool to face off with Mersey Maruaders FC – a very tight contest was decided by a 90th minute penalty from Nicky which saw the Reds win 2-1 and go top of the GFSN with three straight victories.

The Reds and Mersey post match after a gruelling battle

The run towards Xmas started with a very difficult game away to LUL newcomers Stokey FC. On a day when the Reds were missing several key players – the team battled hard but in the end had to settle for second best as the home side ran out 3-0 winners in a game played in great LUL fashion. With three games to play in December – the Reds were using the squad rotation to their benefit. First the Club’s biggest LUL win for two years when they saw off second placed Soho FC 5-1 in the LUL, the following week the Club hosted Nottingham Lions FC in the GFSN and went down 5-3 despite a very tight opening 45 minutes in which the scores were tied at 1-1 and then 7 days later with Stonewall Thirds unable to fulfill the fixture – the Reds were handed the 3-0 win.

Away from the football the Reds were busy supporting World Aids Day, running the RedRun 5k and 10k to raise money for METRO Charity and also had an exciting Saturday morning on Sky Sports Soccer AM show winning £300 for the Club and promoting both Invivta, CAFC, CACT, the LUL, GFSN, Football V Homophobia and Rainbow Laces in the process.

The team sit proudly on the Soccer AM sofa.

The team enjoyed a well earned Christmas break with lots of social events and a few holidays for the team. There was a record number of members out for the Club Christmas Social at new bar Pope Street in New Eltham. Lots of yummy food was consumed with plenty of drinks as the team enjoyed a night off following a busy period of football.

The new year started with 4 games in a busy January. First a narrow 3-2 defeat at home to East End Phoenix in the LUL in a game which could have gone the home sides way had it not been for a made two minutes towards the end of the first half. The Reds had opened the scoring in the game to give them a 1-0 lead but Phoenix hit back with two quick goals in succession to flip the game on its head. The second half the Reds battled but went down by the odd goal.

The following week it was back to GFSN action as the Reds travelled North of the river to face London Left Footers. With players missing and a huge game at The Valley with several players departing at half time – the gaffer used the opportunity to freshen up the team and even gave himself the first half off. A 343 formation was soon reverted back to a comfortable 442 with the Reds winning 2-0 at half time. The second half saw more goals with a 7-1 win for the Reds and even Chair Colin grabbing himself a goal with a 15 minute cameo.

The month was finished off with successive 2-2 draws against both London Titans FC teams in the LUL. Both games were complete opposites but with the same outcome. The first against Copa90 saw an end to end contest with the away side taking the lead only for the Reds to battle back to take a 2-1 lead midway through the second half. Alex Hill then made an outstanding save from the penalty spot before a late own goal cost the home side 2 points. Just 7 days later against 2Brewers with some players missing through suspension and injury – and a late withdrawal (from playing) from the Gaffer – saw a much changed lineup. With Gary coaching from one side and Samuel the other side of the pitch – the Reds put in a real team performance. A goal less first half sparked into life early in the second half with the Reds taking a 2-0 goal lead. But with tiredness in the legs and the rain pouring down – it was the away side that battled back with two very late goals to deny the home side all the points.

February began with huge success on and off the pitch as the team were announced as inaugural Football v Homophobia Grassroots Club of the Year at the 2020 Football v Homophobia Awards in Altrincham. The team was presented with the Award at The Valley in front of a sell out crowd ahead of the Charlton Athletic FC game vs Barnsley later that month. The Clubs Committee was also present (for the third year running) at the FA Chairman’s Annual LGBT History Month reception at Wembley Stadium with Colin, Gary, Samuel, Daniel and Naomi all attending the eagerly awaited event with lots of networking.

Daniel, Gary and Samuel at the Football v Homophobia Awards

On the pitch the Club secured their biggest LUL victory of the campaign with a 5-0 win against Stonewall Thirds as they looked to secure a mid table finish. The table was so tightly contested with London Romans FC on the verge of securing the title any of the next 5 teams could eventually grab the runners – up spot. Invicta was right in the middle of the chasing pack in very competitive division.

The reds pre-match team photo during the 5-0 win against Stonewall Thirds

The Club were also venturing out and support local pubs and bars as they looked to find a regular post match hang out as 2020 began. The opening of Pope Street Bar & Kitchen in New Eltham late in 2019 which was a mere stones throw from Sparrows Lane ticked all the boxes. This would eventually become the Reds regular post match spot to entertain opponents. It would also allow the team to meet for pre-game brunch and also host regular social events and attend the weekly quiz night.

Post match drinks with Stonewall FC at Pope Street Bar and Kitchen

Successive LUL and GFSN games were called off due to the storms battling the UK during February as majority of grassroots game fell due to the bad weather. The final weekend of February saw the Reds visit to runaway LUL leaders London Romans FC and despite battling back in the second half – fell to a 4-1 defeat.

March begin with much optimism. First East End Phoenix FC were dispatched 3-1 at Sparrows Lane in the GFSN which secured the Club a second place finish behind Nottingham Lions FC and a quarter final clash with London Titans FC. Just 7 days later the Club recorded one of their most complete team performances of the season with a 3-2 win away to Soho FC in the LUL. However, it was around this time that  COVID19 had hit the news and started to make a panic throughout the UK and Europe. The virus was spreading rapidly with many major sporting events being grounded to a halt.

Post match jubilation for the Reds after a 3-2 win away to Soho FC in March 2020

The professional game was drawing to a sudden halt but grassroots football was permitted to continue – for the time being at least. The team travelled to Barnes, West London on Saturday 14 March to face off with London Titans FC in the GFSN Championship quarterfinal first leg not knowing that it would be their last match for 5 months. The Reds had two withdrawals pre-game from the strong match squad with both Maxwell and Naomi withdrawing due to fears of COVID 19 and self isolating for safety reasons. Both Liam and Joe were out through injury but still present on the day to help the cause from the side of the pitch. What team spirit!

A tough first half against a strong Titans forward line saw the Reds lose Thomas through injury and conceded two goals to face an up hill second half battle. A year before the team would have buckled and lost heavily. But this Invicta side is made of sterner stuff. The Gaffer challenged the team to score the next goal and give themselves a chance in the second leg. Enter Samuel Timms – a second half substitute – and not long back from injury having faced a significant period on the sidelines following a knee injury suffered in Edinburgh in November – scored within minutes of the restart. Samuel’s first goal of the season and what a substitution. This was soon followed by Josh Eaton grabbing his third goal in three games as the Reds drew level. Late on it looked as though the Reds would seal a remarkable come back but were not quite able to grabbed the third and winning goal. But a 2-2 draw with both teams playing the game in the right manner.

The team pose after a hard working second half performance which saw them claw back a 2-0 deficit to draw 2-2

Just two days later the LUL was curtailed and the GFSN was stopped pending the COVID 19 outbreak. The UK was soon on lockdown as with much of Europe. All grassroots football was cancelled with immediate effect. It was not until mid June that Invicta begin training again – in small groups of 6 and with social distance in play in line with FA and UK Government guidelines.

After the season was abruptly called to a halt we caught up with the Gaffer during lockdown who had this to say :

The 2019/20 season was a remarkable year for the Club. After a great summer at the EuroGames in Rome we endured a really difficult start to the campaign. We lost out first four competitive games which were all away and conceded 16 goals in the process. It took us a while to settle down and find a winning formula. But the form and turnaround since October has been amazing to see. Some of the stand out results were the 2-1 loss to Romans, the 3-1 win in Edinburgh and the wins against Soho FC.

We recruited a lot of new faces including giving 15 players debuts through the season. We scored 59 goals in all competitions and had a really successful debut GFSN campaign. We were obviously disappointed that the season finished when it did but player and spectator safety is paramount at our Club.

When you go so long without winning a competitive game you kind of expect to lose every week. You go into games fearing the worst. You go a goal down and heads drop. That’s what kept happening to us. But we kept working hard and kept believing. The first two wins in the GFSN and LUL against Village Manchester and Muswell Hill were a huge relief to everyone connected with the Club.

What impressed me most was the character of the team this season. To come from behind and win in Edinburgh and Liverpool in the GFSN was a massive achievement for ourselves. We showed in a lot of games that we had what it takes to grind out results. I can think on only a few occasions where we didn’t put in the level of effort we expect at the Club and that was very much early on in the campaign.

We thoroughly enjoyed the GFSN season and gave ourselves a competitive edge in the ever growing LUL. We put ourselves in a great position in the GFSN with 5 wins from 6 in the group and tying the away quarterfinal leg 2-2 against a strong Titans side. So we were obviously disappointed not to complete the competition. In the LUL we improved so much that we were looking forward to the final few games and targeting maximum points to attempt to secure a top 4 finish.

We cannot wait to get back to playing regular football and seeing what 2020/21 has in store for our great Club.