Chapter Nine – London Unity Champions 2017/18

A season that started and finished on a rain soaked muddy pitch at Barn Elms. A new name, new colours but the same Invicta!

To say the hard work began during the summer would be incorrect. In fact it had started early 2016. After a horrendous start to the 2015/16 season which saw the Club routed to the foot of the table with 10 defeats after 10 LUL games, players leaving, a broken squad, no home Ground,  – it was clear things needed rejuvenation. 

The end of the 2016 season and summer saw a new home and player recruitment ahead of attempting to be more competitive in the LUL. After a slow start the 2016/17 season turned out to be the Clubs best with a 4th place LUL finish. The last game of the season away to London Romans saw the team switch to 3 centre backs – something which the manager had been contemplating but not trying for a while. It proved a turning point despite an unlucky 4-3 defeat. 

An end of season trip to Paris saw the guys relax, enjoy some football, win a trophy and celebrate what was a successful season. Once July hit it was time to knuckle down. Pre-season training began in mid-July which included midweek running, weekly training, the much disliked bleep test, a couple of friendly games and some extreme sessions including training twice over the August bank holiday weekend with a combined 4.5 hours of training in a few days! One thing was sure the player’s fitness would not let them down! 

The Bexley Invicta FC Teams ahead of the Tournoi International de Paris 2017.
The team and supporters doing some sightseeing in Paris in Summer 2017.

To throw into the mix the rebrand to CACT Invicta F.C., a launch day at the Valley supported by the CEO Katrien Meire, Manager Karl Robinson, Assistant Lee Bower and Club Captain Johnnie Jackson along with significant media coverage abd followed by an after party at KU Bar and much hype both on the TV and social media. We’d established ourselves as a target for every other team … 

The Invicta players on the pitch at The Valley for the CIFC launch!

Read all about the launch and affiliation of CACT Invicta FC as covered by Sky Sports here.

Before the campaign began and head of the re-branding to Charlton Invicta – the Club would add some last silverware under the ‘Bexley’ name when they wont their own 7 aside birthday tournament. With developments on going over the summer at Sparrows Lane – Invicta hosted the tournament at the University of Greenwich. 6 teams took part in total – 2 from Invicta, 2 from the newly formed Muswell Hill and 1 each from Soho and East End Phoenix.

The winning team at the 2017 Birthday Tournament.
K Moir, M Lisney, S Timms, B Hemmings, R Houghton,
D Goodwin and G Ginnaw.

The format was that each team would play one another with the top two teams competing in the competition final and the 3rd and 4th placed teams would compete for the Plate. The Plate final was contested by Muswell Hill and Soho with Muswell Hill running out victorious and earning their first ever piece of silverware.

Invicta 1 finished with 4 wins and a draw in top position and thus making the final against second place East End Phoenix. After a cagey start it was East End Phoenix who struck the opening goal with around 5 minutes of the match left. But Invicta’s never say die attitude meant they kept going until the very last second with Dan Goodwin smacking home a ferocious drive to take the final to penalties with virtually the last kick of the game. Invicta won the resulting shootout to lift the coveted trophy for the third year running.

The fixture list couldn’t have been harder on the Invicta boys – away trips to reigning Champions London Falcons on the opening day followed by an away trip to runners up London Romans on match day 3. The manager knew the outcome of those two early games would be pivotal – either the team would be in a commanding position early on or playing catch up once again. 

Player recruitment had eased up – Tommy Whelan came in and Sam Fordham joined up after spending the previous season only partly playing and training with the Club. Other new recruits from the first training session were Kieran Allen and Nick Coveney. The rest of the squad remained the same as the 2016/17 season. Familiarity was key to the season being a success.

The last ever game played in the Blue of Bexley Invicta – with the manager just out of surgery the team went down 4-2 during pre-season in August 2017 against Soho FC.

The goal keeper situation caused much headaches for the manager during the summer months. The Clubs number 1 Rob Perrett – an Invicta mainstay had injured his cruciate ligaments during a game in April and was out for a significant period. Alex Hill had contacted the Club during the week leading up to the London Romans game and ultimately made his debut during that game. The first two games saw Antony Krstic and Greg Bennett fill the void. 

The manager always insisted on a grueling pre-season schedule.

The opening day 4-4 draw away to London Falcons had everything you could have wanted. Two very good teams battling out, neither wanting to lose, neither doing enough to win, 8 fantastic goals, 3 comebacks from the Reds, no cards, a game played in very good fashion. The Reds had lined up with a 352 formation – giving Dan Goodwin a much needed strike partner but also enabling the team to control matches through the middle of the park. Both teams seemed happy enough walking away with a point knowing that they’d be hoping to be challenging for the title at the end of the season. 

The first home game of the season, the first as CACT Invicta and the first wearing the new Red kit was against Titans 2Brewers. With quite a few fans down to watch the game the pressure was on – but the Reds didn’t disappoint. A comfortable 3-0 half time lead saw the Reds wrack up their first league win of the season – the final score being 4-0. The Reds were up and running.

First LUL win as CACT Invicta FC – vs Titans 2 Brewers October 2017

The first trip to White Hart Lane saw the eagerly anticipated clash between London Romans and CACT Invicta. When the two teams had met just 6 months prior – the first LUL game to be played midweek under the floodlights – Invicta showed their opponents, despite having nothing to play for – that their intentions were focused on challenging the top two. On Sunday 22 October 2017, Invicta made no mistake in declaring their title challenge was for real. A thrilling game once more in which Invicta raced into a 2-0 lead only for Romans to peg them back around 15 minutes into the second half. With the match eagerly poised at 2-2 and firmly in the balance – it was the away side that scored twice more to wrap up a 4-2 win and make it 7 points from the first 3 league games and with that the Club’s best ever start to a campaign.

Next up was a trip to Leicester for the GFSN Cup 1st round game – a comfortable 5-0 away win for the Invicta boys. The result being the Clubs first ever GFSN Cup win and advancing them into the quarterfinal with a trip to Bristol to face off with Village Manchester. When the LUL games reconvened a week later – back to back home games over consecutive Sunday’s against Stonewall 3rds and Soho. The manager had made it his intention that anything short of 6 points would be lost points.

Invicta and Leicester enjoying some post match food and drink after the GFSN Cup game

The two matches were complete opposites. The first against Stonewall 3rds saw Invicta twice squander an early lead being pegged back at 1-1 and 2-2 before going in at half time with a commanding 4-2 lead. The second half was a very tight and cagey affair for the first 20 minutes – it was only once Invicta scored their 5th goal of the day and the manager made 4 changes bringing on fresh legs that the Reds scored 5 more goals. A 10-2 final score being Invicta’s biggest ever win! The second came against Soho a week later saw Invicta race into a 2-0 lead before Soho switched formation and brought a goal back before half time. The second half looked to be petering out with the Reds having a goal ruled out and then scoring two late goals to end with a 4-1 win. The 6 points the manager had required and a huge bonus in increasing the goal difference by a whopping 11!!

At Sparrows Lane ahead of the 10-2 win against Stonewall 3rds in November 2017.

With the prospect of the GFSN Cup quarterfinal to look forward to the following weekend along with a night out in Bristol – all attention was on the away game at Dukes Meadows against Titans XXL. Titans had started the season as the early pace setters. It wasn’t going to be an easy game. No game is ever easy against our friends from West London. But with the added incentive of London Falcons not playing and knowing a win would put the Reds top of the table for the first time – the players were in a determined mood. Two early goals from Dan Goodwin had put the Reds in a commanding position at half time. But a switch in formation from Titans made for a difficult spell for the Reds until the 3rd and killer goal arrived from Adam Lisney late in the game. A 3-0 win moving the Reds into top spot.

With Karl Robinson at the Rainbow Laces launch in October 2017.

Off the pitch the Reds were busy supporting various events including a Rainbow Laces and Quadrant Housing launch at Sparrows Lane. Then a midweek trip to North London for Gary Ginnaw and Samuel Timms to be part of the official Stonewall Rainbow Laces launch.

The Cup quarterfinal in Bristol was more about enjoying a break from the demands of the LUL – a win would have been fantastic but having been hampered by the M4 traffic problems – the team started the match with only 9 players. Despite the cavalry arriving – a 3-0 loss was a disappointing end to the cup run. Even though the drinks and night out in Bristol helped to soften the blow!

Proudly support Rainbow Laces at the GFSN Winter Get Together and Cup Quarter- Finals.

The following Sunday saw the top two go head to head at Sparrows Lane. With two points separating the sides and London Falcons having not lost a game for 9 months – it was all to play for. The manager was ruing missed opportunities at half time. The Reds started the game in dominating fashion and failed to take several key chances whilst Falcons were on the back foot. Slowly during the half Falcons grew into the match and scored shortly before half time to take a 1-0 lead into the break.

The half time talk wasn’t the easiest. The Reds hadn’t managed to win a game having conceded the first goal since November 2014!! History was against them.

The red hot strike partnership of Dan Goodwin and Michael Lisney both helped themselves to a goal each as the Reds turned the game on its head. Despite some late pressure from London Falcons it was the Reds that held on for that all important win and eased into the Xmas period with a 5 point cushion at the top of the table.

With the Soho away game called off due to snow shortly before Xmas it was time to ease up and enjoy the festive period in true Invicta fashion. First a team night out, following by several smaller drinks and New Years events between the group and then the LUL drinks in early January.

The team enjoying the 2017 Xmas Night Out in Central London.

The Soho game was re-scheduled for the first game of 2018 and despite heavy pressure from the Reds petered out into a scoreless and forgetful occasion. For much of the second half the Reds were camped in the Soho half but some good saves coupled with some unusually bad finishing meant the Reds had to settle for a point and clean sheet. The manager new the home form was going to be key and picking up a point away from home wasn’t a bad result.

Half time team talk at Regents Park with the scores level at 0-0 against Soho FC.

The following weekend saw the Reds host East End Phoenix at Sparrows Lane. The rest of the LUL fixtures had been postponed due to the bad weather. This could have worked for or against Invicta depending on the result. The manager knew the focus had to be maintained for the full 90 minutes against a rejuvenated Phoenix side that had been proving difficult to beat and score against. It was actually the away side that found the net first with a strike against the run of play midway through the first half. The Red equalised with one of the last kicks of the first half to draw level going into the break. A regroup and inspirational team talk saw the Reds dominate the second half scoring 5 more goals to comfortably win 6-1 with the Reds improved fitness levels proving a key difference.

With the games coming thick and fast next up was a return trip to Dukes Meadows to face Titans 2Brewers. The Reds started in dominant fashion scoring within the opening 2 minutes of the game to take an early lead. They failed to add a second goal and the home side grew into the game as the half progressed. A deserved equaliser was scored midway through the first half and it was the home side who looked more as ease. The second half was one way traffic. The hosts took the game to the Reds and the pressure was at times relentless. A series of corners tested the best defence in the league but with Alex Hill in command along with a solid backline the Reds ground out a well-earned point in what had turned out to be their most difficult game.

Successive away draws had appeared to leave the door open for the Reds nearest title challengers. But that door was slammed firmly shut with back to back home wins in the space of 7 days. First a 6-0 win against Titans XXL and then a week later the crunch game at home to London Romans. It was Romans who took a deserved early lead. But the Reds showed what they were made of with 2 clinical finishes to secure a vital win despite some late nervy defending. The mood after the game was one of jubilation. The players now firmly believed the title was heading to SE9. The manager knew 9 points would wrap up the title. However, next up with 3 consecutive away games and the Reds hadn’t managed to win away since the end of November.

Supporting FvH2018 at the Training Ground ahead of the game with London Romans FC.

On Sunday 18 February 2018 the Reds sat back with no fixture and watched on as the two nearest title challenger took points off one another following a 2-2 draw in Barnes. That result gave the Reds further impetus as they headed into the run of away fixtures.

In between games player-manager Gary Ginnaw was invited to speak at the first ever LGBT meet up hosted by the PFA in their offices in Central London. Gary spoke about Invicta and his own personal journey. A few weeks later Invicta were in attendance at the FA Chairman, Greg Clarke’s first ever reception for LGBT History month.

Ahead of the next game and amidst the month of action for the FootballvHomophobia campaign – Invicta took part in a special training session run by Charlton Athletic Manager Karl Robinson, his assistant Lee Bowyer and Club Captain Johnnie Jackson. The first team coaching staff put Invicta through their paces and gave the manager further ideas for the weekly training sessions.

The Invicta players listen carefully to the Charlton Athletic FC first team coaching staff for the FootballvHomophobia 2017 training session at Sparrows Lane.

First up was the short trip to Victoria Park to face East End Phoenix. The hosts controlled the game early on failing to make the most of some desirable opportunities. With the scores goalless at half time the manager knew a big 45 minutes was on the cards. They say when you’re not playing good it’s best not to lose a game. If you’re hard to beat then you only need to nick one goal. That proved to be the game with the wintry sun glaring down in East London. The Reds defence never looked like conceding a goal. All the team needed was to create one killer opening and take their chance. That opportunity came to Michael Lisney just inside the box with 80 minutes on the clock. He calmly slotted the ball to the right of the onrushing keeper and into the bottom corner. Cue the jubilation of the rest of his team both on and off the pitch. The mark of champions they say – winning games when you may not have fully deserved.

Charlton Athletic Community Trust put themselves forward for the EFL Community Club of the Year Award using the launching and affiliating of Invicta as the first affiliated LGBT friendly football club as the key strand of their community work for the year.

Gary with the EFL Community Club of the Year London Award.

Charlton Athletic Community Trust were awarded the regional award for London. The other five regional winners were Bristol City, Portsmouth, Middlesboro, Derby County and Blackburn Rovers. Representatives from all six regional winners were in attendance at the Houses of Parliament to recieved their regional award.

With more snow and match disruption the Reds faced a number of weeks without any fixtures. Next up was the first meeting of the season with Muswell Hill at White Hart Lane Community Sports Stadium. The Reds were due to play Muswell Hill home and away in the space of 7 days which could define the season. With it being Mother’s Day a number of the first team players were missing from the squad for the away game. The reds were forced into a reshuffle at the back also bringing in a loan signing to bolster the squad.

An early lead from Michael Lisney was cancelled out as half time approached. The second half saw the home side take control after dispatching a penalty. Alex Hill literally kept the Reds in the game with a string of point back saves. With the scores at 2-1 to Muswell Hill and the Reds facing defeat for the first time in the League with just 18 minutes left to save themselves – the manager made two decisive substitutions bringing on Kieran Allen and Sam Thorpe. The rest they say is history. First Dan Menter scored a rather fortuitous equaliser. They all count! 2-2! Next up the move of the day, a sweeping pass out to Sam Thorpe down the right wing for him to control and then whip in a delightful cross to the far part, Sam Timms lept higher than we’ve ever seen him before to head back across goal and Kieran Allen stormed in at the far post to put the Reds 3-2 up. A late 4th goal from Dan Goodwin capped off a remarkable late turnaround. The Reds required just 1 more point from the final two games. The challengers were throwing in the towel.

Sunday 18 March 2018. The day the title was secured. The venue – Sparrows Lane, SE9. However, the game almost didn’t go ahead. Following some heavy snow fall during the course of Saturday and overnight – a team effort was required to clear the pitch. This involved 6.5 hours of work from Gary Ginnaw and Sam Timms plus significant help from other members of the Club. With a point only being required – the manager knew a home win would put the icing on the cake. They say don’t get carried away. The Muswell Hill keeper was in fine form denying several clear cut chances for the Reds to take a half time lead. With the match on a knife edge the manager refused to make any chances during the interval. It wasn’t long before the Reds found their rhythm with two great finishes – the first from Dan Goodwin and the second an absolutely peach from outside the box on the half follow from Scott Anderson! Despite Muswell Hill grabbing a late consolation the Reds held on to complete a 100% home record and with that wrap up their first LUL title! Champagne, banners and Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’ bellowed around the training ground as the Reds celebrated after a long hard campaign!

Cracking open the champagne as Charlton Invicta FC are crowned LUL Champions.

With the title in the bag the Reds eased up during their final game against Stonewall which coincidentally took place at Barn Elms – the scene of the opening day 4-4 draw with London Falcons. With changes to the starting 11, no training or games for a 3 week period and the opposition having more to play for – the Reds played out the game with a tired look to their performance. The final score was 2-0 to Stonewall despite the Reds having some decent chances. Prior to kick off LUL Chairman, Brian Silk and LUL Secretary, Robin Lee presented the LUL Shield to Player-Manager, Gary Ginnaw.

LUL Chair Brian Silk presents Gary with the LUL Shield.

Following the completion of the LUL campaign it was time for the Reds to ease up with a series of friendlies, tournaments and planning for 2018-19. First up Invicta played a home friendly against Trowbridge Tigers FC in April 2018 – a day when the lads could enjoy running out as League Champions at Sparrows Lane for the first time. The final score in a pulsating end to end game finished 8-3 to Invivta.

Invicta and Trowbridge show support for one another ahead of their match in April 2018.
Invivta at the EFL Awards 2018

In Mid April 14 members from Invicta and supporters attended the 2018 EFL Awards night at the Hilton Park Lane. Invicta were in attendance with over 20 representatives from Charlton Athletic FC and the Charlton Athletic Community Trust. With the Trust up for the nomination of Community Club of the Year for the work involved in launching and affiliating Invicta. The players enjoyed a champagne reception followed by a 3 course meal and then an opportunity to grab some photos with some of their idols from the footballing world. Some of the celebrity stars the players met included Chris ‘Kammy’ Kamara, Neil Harris, Chris Powell and Colin Calderwood.

Unfortunately the trophy for Community Club of the Year was awarded to the Derby County Community Trust for their great work in the past 12 months.

At the end of April 2018 a mixed Invicta and Leicester team took part in the East End Phoenix Graeme Moore Cup 2018. After navigating through the group stages undefeated and without conceding a goal – Invicta faced off against London Titans. The match ended in a draw but Titans won on penalties in the 5/6th play off match. A reasonably successful day – especially for stand in 61 year old keeper, Colin Ginnaw.

The ‘Charlton Wildecats’ team at the Graeme Moore Cup in April 2018.

On 22 May 2018, Invicta took part in the 3rd annual Charlton v Homophobia Tournament at the Valley. This year saw the event move to a midweek schedule under the floodlights. Invicta won the 5/6th play off match against Proud Valiants.

Preparing for the 3rd annual Charlton v Homophobia Tournament.
The players pose with the LUL Shield at The Valley.

A season to remember both on and off the pitch but the hard work starts now. How will the Reds ever live up to the 2017/18 season!

Upon looking back over the course of the season – player-manager Gary Ginnaw said “I’m not going to lie it feels fantastic [to be crowned champions]. It’s been something I’ve been striving to achieve for a number of years. Since I settled in at the Club during my first season I looked around the dressing room and could see the quality we had. What we needed was to work harder in training and work on some key areas. It never happened overnight either. It took 4 seasons to come close. 

The first season as player manager the Team lost the first 11 games!

I’m incredibly proud to achieve the feat of League Champions. To win any league is special. It’s a sign of a lot of hard work over the course of an entire season – not just during one match. We are still unbeaten with one more game left to play. 

We’ve scored the most goals, conceded the fewest, won the most games, lost the fewest, have the best goal difference and the leading goal scorer in the league. 

Last season we had a great second half of the campaign and won 7 straight games finishing a league high of 4th place. I looked at what we needed to do to improve on that. 

Firstly, we lost home and away to the top two teams – 2017 Champions London Falcons and runners-up London Romans. That simply had to change. 

We needed to ensure we hit the ground running. That wasn’t going to be easy with both Falcons and Romans away in the first 3 league games. We put in place a series of grueling pre-season fitness sessions to ensure everyone was in top condition for the league campaign. We managed to get 1 draw and 3 wins from those 4 games during this season. That’s the major difference for me. To beat your nearest challengers makes twice the impact on and off the pitch.

I think becoming CACT Invicta FC just took things to the next level. It never happened over night but we became more of a professional outfit both on and off the pitch, and in training. 

The Club was now in the spotlight and we had to perform. We all took every session and game very seriously. Plus we’d put ourselves out there for the other teams to target. As the season went on and we continued to remain unbeaten every team fought harder to become the team to end the run. It made all the games in the second half of the season very difficult – especially the away games. 

In the history of Invicta – dating back to 15 January 2011 – the Club had never won a game having been 1-0 down. That was a massive statistic that I always had in the back of my mind if we ever went behind in a game. During the 2017-18 season we have managed to draw the first game 4-4 away to London Falcons having been behind 3 times, and then win 3 games having been 1-0 down and win away to Muswell Hill when we were losing 2-1 with less than 20 minutes remaining. That showed the character we have at the Club. The never say die attitude.

It took a while to refer to ourselves as Charlton Invicta rather than Bexley Invicta. And to call out ‘Red Ball’ instead of ‘Blue’ haha. But from the first game we threw on the Red shirts – I had become very proud indeed. To wear the colours of my boyhood Club and during such a special season for me personally and the Club and CACT – it’s been fantastic. 

Wearing that kit week in week out whilst playing and winning the league was me truly living the dream”.