Chapter Eight – Sparrows Lane Awaits – 2016/17 Season

Invicta continued to train throughout June at Dartford FC with their last weekly session taking place on Thursday 30 June 2016.

Ahead of the move to Sparrows Lane, player-manager Gary was invited to speak at the University of Greenwich ‘Building Our Communities’ conference in July 2016. He spoke about the history of Bexley Invicta FC and the plans for the future.

Gary attempting to build connections in July 2016 as he presented at the University of Greenwich ‘Building Our Communities’ conference.

On Tuesday 5 July 2016 Invicta walked into Sparrows Lane in nervous fashion not really knowing what to expect. Only 9 made the effort on the opening night due to holidays. With the manager hard at work to bring in new recruits, established a grueling training program and ensure everything was in place for a good start to the new season .

Training under the floodlights at Sparrows Lane
The players pose following the 2016/17 AGM and first Training session.
Invicta celebrate the Diversity Games 2016 win!
The Invicta Team : Rob Perrett, Dan Goodwin, Gary Ginnaw, Samuel Timms, Ross Houghton, Tony Garrett, Anthony Jenkins, Josh Reed, Ethan Reed.

In July 2016 Invicta took a trip to Brighton for the Pride Diversity games 7 aside annual football tournament and came home with the winner’s trophy. The group games saw Invicta record narrows victories against Soho FC and host team Brighton BLAGGS but a heavy 5-0 defeat to Titans 2 Brewers gave the manager cause for concern as Invicta headed to the tournament semi-finals. With the mindset of being more defensively sound as the knockout stages approached Invicta drew 1-1 against East End Phoenix in the semi finals and won a place in the final via a penalty shootout. The final itself saw a rematch of the group game against Titans 2 Brewers. Invicta switched to 3 defenders, 2 midfielders and just the 1 striker. With Titans not able to find a way through and Invicta being clinical on the counter – it was the Invicta boys who struck two goals either side of half time to record a 2-0 victory and a well earned piece of silverware to add to the trophy cabinet.

Check out this video of the Invicta team receiving their winners medals and the Pride Diversity Games 2016 Trophy.

Pre-season victories against local opposition showed the team were on the right tracks despite a heavy 4-1 defeat away to Romans Gladiators. Several new faces were emerging on a weekly basis as training numbers grew to around 18-20 every week.

The teams pose following the 3-2 pre-season win.

The opening game of the new season saw Invicta take the trip to Dukes Meadows on a very hot Septembers day to face Titans XXL. Invicta were still lacking in defence and had not narrowed down the exact formation or style of play but went into the game in optimistic fashion – despite knowing they had never won an opening day game. Titans grabbed two early goals to give themselves a great lead at half time. Invicta pushed for a way back into the game but were unable to take their chances and eventually Titans grabbed a 3rd goal on the break to seal the points. The journey home from Barnes was not pleasant.

With a two week break between games, a much needed family holiday for the manager and the arrival of the brand new Nike Invicta kit – the lads returned to action at Wandsworth Common to face off against top of the table London Falcons who had managed 10 goals in their opening 2 games despite conceding 6. With no referee making the game it was down to the teams to appoint an ‘official’ for each half. Tom Leach stood in as ref for the opening half which saw Falcons race into a 2-0 lead before Invicta pulled a goal back. With the scores at 2-1 at half time it was vital Invicta scored the next goal. However, it was Falcons who struck first to make it 3-1 before Invicta pulled it back to 3-2. With Invicta on the front foot Falcons restored their 2 goal lead. As the final 10 minutes approached Invicta made it 4-3 and were hoping for a grandstand finish when Falcons sealed the points on the break making it 5-3.

Gary issues some last minute instructions before the team face Stonewall FC.

With the first home game at Sparrows Lane scheduled for 23 October 2016 – a big crowd watching on – the lads were hoping for a win to kick start their season. One thing the players needed to get to grips with was the dimensions of their new home venue. The pitches at Sparrows Lane are fantastic quality but very long and wide and therefore tiring. Stonewall 3rds were the visitors that afternoon. Invicta went all out from kick off and hit the bar numerous times without taking the lead. At half time the scores were still level and the manager made changes to freshen things up. Invicta missed a glorious chance early on in the second half which was followed by Stonewall making the breakthrough against the run of play. An Anthony Jenkins penalty brought Invicta level but a late penalty for Stonewall saw the away team leave SE9 with the points with Invicta scratching their heads as to how that game slipped from their grasp. Three games, no points and bottom of the table. History was repeating itself – or was it?!

The first ever Bexley Invicta FC game at Sparrows Lane in October 2016.

The turning point seemed to arrive on Sunday 30th October 2016 with the team away to Romans Manor House FC. Whilst the Club was 2-0 down after about 10 minutes, the team dug in and managed to grind out a solid 2-2 draw.  In fact, the Club almost managed to nick the 3 points late on but it wasn’t meant to be. A week later saw the return match against London Falcons as they became the second away team to visit SE9 and leave with the points in the bag having completed a league double over Invicta with a 3-2 win. Five league games into the campaign and only the solitary point to show for the efforts.

Sunday 13th November 2016 saw the team travel to play Soho FC in Regents Park. History was not on Invicta’s side as the Club had never beaten Soho FC in the league. With only 12 players able to make the trip, the pressure was on the boys to put in a performance against one of the toughest teams in the league. Did they disappoint? No they did not. At one point the score line was 4-1 to Invicta but after a couple of late goals, the final few minutes proved to be a trickier end to the game than had appeared. A 4-3 win against a tough team proved invaluable and the season was up and running at last!

The result away to Soho FC gave the team some belief that the hard work at the training ground was starting to pay off! Whilst there was a minor setback the following week, at home to the reigning league champions, (Romans Gladiators FC), this proved to be the Clubs last league reverse before embarking on the clubs best ever winning run.

The night before the home game against Romans Gladiators the team entered the Soho FC annual quiz night. The Invicta team was made up of Gary Ginnaw, Samuel Timms, Anthony Jenkins, Daniel Jenkins, Dan Goodwin and Paul Driscoll. The guys had a great night out and finished joint second – with only a couple points off from being crowed quiz champions – a close call!

The Invicta Quiz Team – Gary Ginnaw, Samuel Timms, Daniel Jenkins, Anthony Jenkins, Dan Goodwin and Paul Driscoll.

The final game before Christmas was a trip to bottom club, Titans 2Brewers, which saw the Bexley boys grind out a 2-1 win to lift them up the table.

Rob Perrett returned from his travels to make some man of the match performances as Invicta began their run of 7 consecutive LUL victories.

The lads were in a positive mood as the Club celebrated Christmas in true Bexley fashion (some might say ‘a big one at Zens’). No fewer than 20 faces turned out for the Club’s annual Christmas Party.

A very late drunken group photo at the 2016 Xmas Party.
A bitterly cold winters night at Sparrows Lane for Invicta’s training session.

With no league games scheduled for the first 2 weekends in January – Team Manager, Gary Ginnaw felt it only appropriate that two friendly games were scheduled to keep match fitness up – especially after the Christmas festivities (Turkey and Wine and all). A home friendly against Trowbridge Tigers FC on Sunday 8th January 2017 provided a stern test and enabled some much needed squad rotation. The end result was a very enjoyable 5-4 victory with Colin Ginnaw (the current assistant manager and father of the player-manager) scoring his first Bexley goal with his first touch of the ball after coming on from the substitutes bench – not bad for a 60 year old!

Friendly vs Trowbridge Tigers – Jan 2017

A week later two Bexley teams lined up against each other to mark the Clubs 6th Birthday! The final score will remain a secret! But a full 90 minutes for all players concerned was all important as the team prepared for a vital run in! A further development during the Christmas break was Colin Ginnaw being unveiled as the Clubs assistant manager to his son Gary. It meant both the Club and Gary could have someone constantly on the touchline and for Colin to pass on some of his 45 years of football experience (both playing and coaching). A move that would turn out to be invaluable as the Father and Son combo became an instant success!

Back to the league and Sunday 22nd January 2017 saw the Clubs first league victory at Sparrows Lane – a solid 3-2 win at home to Titans XXL. This saw the Club rising to 5th place in the league. A week later and the team got a third successive league win – 2-0 away to East End Phoenix. This result marked Invicta’s first ever away league clean sheet! The Club had climbed to 4th in the table! After breaking one club record the week before, there was the task of breaking another; 4 successive league wins. The setting was Barn Elms, home to Stonewall FC, and the date was Sunday 5th February 2017. On a day when both clubs showed support for the Stonewall Rainbow Laces campaign, the FootballvHomophobia campaign, and for one another. The end result was 2-1 to Bexley Invicta and with that came a 4th successive league win for the first time in the Clubs short but proud history. A remarkable achievement! But the run of wins didn’t end there.

Next up was the return fixture against East End Phoenix just 7 days later on Sunday 12th February 2017. The Sky News cameras were on site to record pre-match interviews with Gary Ginnaw and James Mabbutt to discuss the FootballvHomophobia campaign and the work being undertaken by CAFC, Invicta and East End Phoenix FC. You can watch the piece that went out on Sky News by Enda Brady later that evening here.

The match also marked the first time that CACT Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Dr Michael Seeraj had been to watch the team play – he couldn’t have picked a better game! After a cagey opening 10 minutes it was the home side in control – a 2-0 half time lead then turned into a 4-0 lead midway through the second half. Two quick goals in reply by East End Phoenix saw a nervous 10 minute spell before a 5th goal wrapped up another 3 points and the Clubs 5th successive league win.

The day sky news visited the training ground
The proud manager after 5 successive LUL wins

After a 2 week break Invicta was back in action and back at home again as they faced Romans Manor House FC. The Invicta team was in a dominant mood – a 3-0 half time lead with some of the best football of the season on display. The end result a 5-1 win which saw the club record its 6th successive league win and with that establish a firm grip on 4th place.

Bexley Invicta FC and Romans Manor House FC proudly supporting FvH 2017.
At the Valley for the FvH2017 dedicated game

A rare break in the season with no league fixtures taking place in March – resulted in a few friendly games and extra training sessions including a Bexley Blue v Bexley Green internal friendly at Sparrows Lane.

On Tuesday 7th March 2017, the manager gave the players the night off from their weekly training as they attended the Charlton Athletic FC v Walsall match at the Valley. The match was Charlton Athletic’s first ever dedicated match in support of the FootballvHomophobia campaign.

Excellent support all round resulted in CAFC winning 2-1!  A game that was very much enjoyed by Invicta.

April saw the remaining 3 league games of the season. First up was Titans 2 Brewers at home. The Titans 2 Brewers team had picked up form since the beginning of 2017 having won 4 successive league games including wins against the top 3 teams – the match was billed as the battle of the ‘in form’ teams! Titans had shown in recent weeks that they were becoming a well organised team that was hard to break down and Invicta struggled to create many chances. A close encounter that was separated by two Dan Goodwin goals in the first 45 minutes. A nervous end following a late Titans goal but the team held on to record their 7th successive league win! Just 7 days later saw 3rdplace Soho FC visit Sparrows Lane with the Clubs tied on 25 points. Another close game between two very evenly matched teams. But it was Invicta who again struck first with two first half goals to establish a lead. As the match entered the 86th minutes Soho managed to pull a goal back and just minutes later scrambled home an equaliser. The sun was beaming down on SE9 on what was the hottest day of 2017 so far. The Invicta boys had to settle for a draw however on another day they’d have earned all 3 points which would have sealed a top 3 finish!

The Team taking part in the 2017 Charlton Upbeats Walk in April 2017.

And so to the final game of the 2016/17 league season – an away trip to Romans Gladiators FC. Wednesday 12 April 2017 saw the league’s first match to take place under the floodlights – another historic occasion. The team arrived at the New River Sports Centre (near White Hart Lane) knowing that there was a tough game ahead. Romans Gladiators FC had to win if they were to stand any chance of retaining their league crown. For Invicta, the pressure was off and it showed. Despite going 2-0 down early on in the match, the team managed to draw level at 2-2 going into half time. Romans threw everything at Invicta at the start of the second half and established a 3-2 lead before another equaliser went in with 15 minutes left on the clock. With just under 10 minutes left to play, Romans Gladiators FC managed to restore their lead at 4-3 and then hung on for the win – a first league loss for Invicta for the first time since November. Credit to theInvicta team as their performance had earned some very positive comments and feedback from the opponents who were quick to congratulate the team on a fantastic performance and turnaround since the first few games of the season.

Following the end of the LUL campaign on 9 April 2017 – Invicta could look forward to some relaxing and enjoyable events. They won a comfortable home end of season friendly against AFC Portrait 3-0 and then finished second in the 2nd annual Charlton v Homophobia Tournament at The Valley.

Posing after finishing as runners-up in the 2nd annual Charlton v Homophobia Tournament.

On Friday 5th May 2017, Invicta hosted their annual end of season Awards dinner at The Valley, home of Charlton Athletic Football Club. With close to 30 attendees on the night including some family and friends – everyone toasted a successful season both on and off the pitch. And with the prospect of a trip to Paris to look forward too.

The players and supporters line up for a photo at the 2016-17 Awards night.

Reflecting on a successful season Invicta Team Manager, Gary Ginnaw said:

I would like to go on record and give my thanks to all the players for their continued hard work. The form since November has been unbelievable. A run of 7 successive wins and only 1 defeat in the last 9 games is fantastic! It’s no fluke either. The players have worked hard in training, they turn up week in and week out and in all weather – they don’t let their heads drop, they’ve bought into what we are trying to build at the Club and everyone supports one another. We didn’t have the best start to the campaign but we kept going – and together we have turned our season around. This has been the Club’s best season since formation in 2011 and a 4th place league finish is very satisfying. It’s been great to be part of something special and the Club has been receiving very positive comments from opposing players, managers and the league. We were unlucky in the final 2 matches of the season but we showed that we are more than a match for all sides in the division. We have a positive dressing room and everyone is enjoying their football.

There is no doubt that the link up with the CACT has had a fundamental impact on Invicta and the season as a whole. Special thanks have to be given to the CACT and in particular, Dr Michael Seeraj, for the continued support in what has been a landmark season for the Club – with real progression both on and off the pitch. I was also keen that we showed our commitment to the CACT by taking part in the Upbeats Walk on 8 April 2017 and playing a series of friendly training matches against Charlton Athletic Deaf FC. The Invicta players cannot wait to get going again in pre-season and the 2017/18 campaign promises to be even better than this season – with the further support of the CACT there is real optimism that we could be challenging for the league title in 12 months’ time and with that set even more Club records!”