Chapter Four – LUL Debut – 2012/13 Season

After a break for the summer and with the prospect of a programme of competitive football ahead of them, Bexley Invicta Football Club held a programme of pre-season training throughout August and into September.

9th September 2012 marks the date of the club’s first-ever fixture in the LUL and Liam Cooper’s first match as Club Captain, away to Brighton and Hove. A 9-0 defeat was disappointing, but worse was to come.

The following LUL fixture, on 23rd September, was at home to Romans Gladiators and Bexley Invicta lost 14-1 in unremitting heavy rain. The weather reflected feelings on the pitch. Towards the end of the game, some of Bexley Invicta’s players were so fed up they did not want to see out the match to the final whistle. This was a low point for the club and reflected underlying issues, as Brian Silk recalls: “The chemistry between Del, the coach/manager, and the players was not right. Something needed to change.” The Committee decided to replace Del with Anthony Greenidge, who had taken informal training sessions for the club.

New coach/manager, Anthony Greenidge, with the players
New coach/manager, Anthony Greenidge, with the players at the Titans Tournament

The first match under their new coach/manager saw Bexley Invicta lose 2-1 away to London Falcons in the LUL, on 7th October, and then go on to the Titans’ Birthday Tournament the following week and win two, draw two and lose two. For Brian, the club was going through a turning point: “To narrowly lose away to a good team like the Falcons and then come out evens at the Titans’ tournament showed the club was on an upwards curve and heading in the right direction.” And the club certainly was …

On the 21st October 2012, on a muddy pitch in north London, history was created when Bexley Invicta Football club won their first-ever competitive match, beating Romans Manor House 5-1in the LUL. Coach/manager, Anthony Greenidge, posted on the club’s Facebook wall, ‘What a great day in history of Bexley Invicta FC. We were superb from start to finish. We dominated in large part of that game fully deserved our win.’ Brian recalls, “Winning that match was an incredible feeling. It had taken 21 months, from the formation of the club, to finally win a competitive match. The frustration of defeat after defeat, of playing so well in matches but not getting the result we felt we deserved, all disappeared with the blow of the referee’s whistle to end the match. Our celebrations at that point are a memory that will live with me forever. It was like winning a cup final and that is how we celebrated.”

Next match up was London Falcons, on 11th November. Would the Romans Manor House result be a fluke? A clean sheet for Bexley Invicta as they hit two goals past the south west Londoners showed it was not. And the next LUL fixture was a victory for Bexley Invicta, too, with a 6-2 result against Stonewall 3rds at the beginning of December. By this point, the improvement was so marked, that Anthony Greenidge was to post on the club’s Facebook page, ‘we dominated the game from start to finish with a mad 5 minutes in between.’

At Bexleyheath Goals, promoting anti-homophobia
At Bexleyheath Goals, promoting anti-homophobia
Post-Match food and drink at the Holiday Inn Express

As 2012 came to end, Bexley Invicta Football Club was in good spirits and it wasn’t all about the LUL results or what was happening on the pitch, as Brian recalls: “A lot more was going on. From September, we had started holding informal sessions for potential players who perhaps lacked the confidence or ability to play competitive football, as a route-in to the club. In the autumn, we had entered into a league at Bexleyheath Goals, playing against local mainstream teams. This was important for the visibility of the club and for breaking down barriers.”

Brian continues, “It was also during this period that post-match socialising with our opponents reached new heights with food back the Holiday Inn Express Dartford. We had our ‘Holly Jolly’ Christmas meal and pub crawl around Bexleyheath. Spontaneous socialising had become part of the club’s DNA. We were a regular fixture around the pool table at the Golden Lion after 5-side, training and where bad weather had meant no training or a match. Post-match hospitality with the other team had become just the starting point for an extensive evening of drinking and partying. Also, the friendships and relationships formed within Bexley Invicta, meant that people were meeting each other for meals, drinks and cinema etc. week in, week out. I should also mention that this was a time when vociferous support at the matches took off, all adding to the sociable feeling of the club.”

Katelyn and Jo-Jo, Super Supporters
Katelyn and Jo-Jo, Super Supporters

Cold and wet weather in early 2013 saw a delay in Bexley Invicta FC resuming their LUL campaign. But the weather did not affect the indoor Leftfooters Gaydar Cup on 2nd February, where Bexley Invicta’s performance reflected that of their previous tournament, with two wins, two defeats and a draw. This tournament was notable as the the first occasion Bexley Invicta were pitched against teams representing major European cities, such as Berlin and Rome.

The day following the Gaydar Cup, the club travelled to Wood Green to play Romans Gladiators in the LUL, losing 11-1. With an away 2-0 defeat away to London Falcons in the LUL Cup, on 17th February, were Bexley Invicta heading back to a long series of defeats?

Before the answer to that question, more club history was made when Bexley Invicta FC won their first silverware as Runners Up in the Bristol Challenge Cup, hosted by LGBT-friendly club, Bristol Panthers on 23rd February. See this report in the News Shopper. This resulted in the club’s first ‘champagne moment’ as the players celebrated the feeling of lifting a trophy having played in the club’s first-ever Final.

Coach and chairman with the club's first silverware
Coach and chairman with the club’s first silverware
Champagne to toast their success in Bristol
Champagne to toast their success in Bristol

Perhaps buoyed by this first taste of Honours, the club returned to the LUL the next day to draw 3-3 at home to Pheonix FC, as result described as a ‘desperately unlucky’ by Anthony Greenidge. Another draw was to follow – 1-1 at home to Romans Manor House in the LUL on 10th March. The club wasn’t exactly back to winning ways, but at least there was no return to the heavy defeats at the start of the Season.

The next event and a notable chapter in the club’s history was kicked off by a posting on the club’s Facebook page by Elliot Toms, soon-to-be club Vice-Chairman and Treasurer, at the start of the year: ‘Anyone fancy dong something radical, like playing in a tournament in France?’ Twelve people did and so, on the 29th of March, they set off in a minibus for a 12-hour journey to Lyon, to take part in ‘Tigaly 2015,’ a multi-sport international LGBT tournament in that city – the club’s first trip outside the United Kingdom. Brian recalls some of the highlights of that trip abroad: “It’s fair to say we were the stars of the football tournament – not because of results on the pitch, which I can’t remember (we didn’t win it), but because we were the only non-French team taking part, perhaps the first-ever.”

There were many other reasons why Tigaly 2015 was memorable for Bexley Invicta. Brian: “This was the club’s first experience of a spectacular opening ceremony, we went to see Olympique Lyonnaise at home, we made friends with a women’s team from Paris called Les Pinpines, there was much drinking into the early hours and some of the players played football in a car park during the long journey home! This really was a fantastic and enjoyable trip that will live in my memory for a long time.

Bexley Invicta and Less Ninepins fell in love
Bexley Invicta and Les Pinepins fell in love
Elliot and Liam in a carpark in France
Elliot and Liam in a carpark in France

“Perhaps the final words on Tigaly should go to Les Pinpines, who posted on our Facebook page: ‘Our team, “Les Pinpines”, would like to thank all of you for the moments we spent together in Lyon. It was nice to play against you, you were the kindest to us … we would like to share the Fair Play Award we won with you!’”

Tidally 2013 Fair Play Trophy
Tigaly 2013 Fair Play Trophy

You can see pictures from Tigaly 2013 here.

The weekend after Bexley Invicta returned from France, they returned to LUL action and fixtures throughout April: 7th – 2-1 win away to Titans 2 Brewers, 14th – 5-0 loss away to Brighton and Hove, 21st – 8-0 win at home to Titans 2 Brewers and 28th – 3-1 loss away to Stonewall 3rds. These were typical results for what was, by now, a typical football club – winning some matches and losing others, and with highs and lows. Anthony Greenidge wrote about the result on the 21st: ‘Our best ever result since the club formed … We were brilliant from start to finish and … a clean sheet for Rob!’ Following the match with Stonewall 3rds – the last LUL fixture of the Season – Robin Lee, Stonewall 3rds Manager, posted: ‘you should be proud of this season and look forward to the next.’

Overall, Bexley Invicta won six matches, drew two and lost six in their first season in the LUL. 20 points was enough for a mid-table finish. Brian Silk was to say, in his Review of the Season: “It would have been great to have won the league or the cup, but that would have been astonishing for a first-ever season in a competitive league. When I think about where we’ve come from, in going into this season – not having ever won a match, and those defeats at the beginning of the season – I think to finish mid-table is a good performance by this club.”

TSV Hausen and Bexley Invicta
TSV Hausen and Bexley Invicta

But Bexley Invicta FC were not through with 11-aside football for the 2012/13 Season. On 12 May, the club hosted German side, TSV Hausen, for a friendly match held on Dartford FC’s 3G pitch. The result was 1-0 to Bexley Invicta.

The club was going into a close season period properly for the first time. This was an opportunity to socialise and relax. Although the first activity was far from relaxing…

Anthony Ellison completing the Edinburgh Chase
Anthony Ellison completing the Edinburgh Chase

The Edinburgh Chase is a 20-miles night time navigation exercise to the south of Dartford, for teams of four. Bexley Invicta FC entered three teams in that year’s event on the night of 3rd-4th May. It was quite a challenging night, from Brian Silk’s perspective: “Whilst some of the lads seemed to take hours of trekking across fields and through woods in their stride, clocking up fast times, others of us found it challenging to say the least! I found I was putting one foot in front of the other like a zombie towards the end. Anthony Ellison was a hero for refusing to give up and Mike Horwood ended up hospitalised with a condition called compartment syndrome. This was a memorable night and an achievement for all who took part … but I vowed to never do it again.”

BIFC Dinner 2013 poster

 

Friday 24th May 2013 saw the club’s first full-blown End of Season Players’ Awards Dinner. This was a formal sit-down affair at the Holiday Inn, Bexley – similar to the fundraising dinner held there 14 months before, but even more glittering. Attended by James Brokenshire, MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, there was a red carpet and bucks fizz reception, followed by a three-course meal with en suite bar. Club chairman, Brian Silk, gave his review of the year and there was a full range of players’ Awards. In addition, the evening featured an auction of some players – ‘bid your way to a dream date!’, an extensive raffle of fantastic prizes, live entertainment and a DJ.

Action from the Quarter Final
Action from the Quarter Final

There was a brief return to competitive football the following weekend, when Bexley Invicta took part in the GSFN summer get-together 7-aside tournament in Manchester. A weekend away was an opportunity for the usual socialising, which took full advantage of what Manchester has to offer! In a creditable performance, the boys lost 2-0 to the Falcons in the Quarter-Final. You can see some pictures, here.

Back to the post-season fun with Pride 2013, where Bexley Invicta FC had official status as a walking group, taking its place fully amongst the other LGBT-friendly football clubs and other sports groups.  They handed out flyers and kicked footballs along the route, often having to retrieve them from the crowds that lined the streets of central London or from other footballers on the parade.

In the Royal Standard, with manager, Stuart Anthony
In the Royal Standard, with manager, Stuart Anthony

It was around this time that the club discovered that a gay-friendly pub had opened in Bexleyheath. The Royal Standard was now managed by former East Enders star, Stuart Anthony, who aimed the venue at gay and straight punters. The pub was to be an integral part of the club’s life for the whole of its time as a gay-friendly venue, as Brian Silk recalls: “Finding that a gay-friendly pub had opened in Bexleyheath was an unexpected bonus and an exciting opportunity for the club. And it was a match made in Heaven. Stuart and his staff were great friends of the club from the beginning. They displayed a picture of the squad and our trophies. We were to go back there for post-football socialising, we held parties and a quiz in the pub, we used it for a calendar shoot and for many other things on many occasions.”

A final notable event in the close season was the ‘BIG picnic’ after the AGM on 28 July. It was a warm sunny day and some of the players decided to play rugby, as can seen in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwmKW5MH5Vs

The 2012/13 Season was a step-change for Bexley Invicta Football Club. The club had many more players and supporters compared to earlier in its life; it was playing lots more football, including playing in competitive leagues; there was much more socialising, either organised or informal; and there was loads more activity across the board. The club also raised hundreds of pounds from both the Edinburgh Chase and the Awards Dinner.

As Club Chairman, Brian Silk, was to reflect in his review of the Season at the Awards Dinner: “When I really reflect on where we are now, compared to where we were this time last year, I would say we are a more successful club, we are a happier club and we are a club that is more at ease with itself – we know what we’re about and where we want to go.”

BY BRIAN SILK, FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN 2011-2015