Chapter Seven – The New Guard – 2015/16 Season

The 2015 close season brought with it some changes off the pitch. Following a successful trip to Hamburg for the IGLFA European Championship III, Brian Silk and Anthony Greenidge stood down as Chairman and Coach, respectively, and a new Chairman and Manager was appointed. Paul Driscoll took over as Chair and Gary Ginnaw as Player-Manager. Most of the squad had remained in place with a few exceptions deciding to call time on their Invicta careers.

With no pre-season arranged – the team struggled early on. The first game of the new season was a GFSN cup preliminary round away to Birmingham Blaze which saw Invicta making their debut in the competition. In total 13 players made the trip by car and mini bus with Mark Price the dedicated mini bus driver. Invicta had a tough day at the office against a very confident and prolific Blaze team. The final score ended 6-1 to the hosts.

A Gary Ginnaw and Daniel Jenkins selfie in the mini bus to Birmingham.
James Harper poses on the trip to Birmingham.
The final preparations for the start of the 2015-16 LUL season away to Stonewall 3rds.

The LUL season kicked off with two games away to Stonewall followed by Soho at home before a lengthy early season break in games. The game away to Stonewall 3rds could have gone Invicta’s way had an early Ross Houghton penalty not been saved with the scores at 0-0. In the end a goal either side of half time saw Stonewall kick off with a win and Invicta facing an opening day defeat.

The following week at Hall Place in Bexley – Invicta hosted Soho and saw a 1-0 lead through a Dan Goodwin penalty get wiped out with two late strikes from Soho in the last quarter of the game. A smash and grab that saw Invicta pointless after 2 games.

In October 2015 the Invicta team took part in the annual London Titans Birthday Tournament at Clapham Common. Invicta won 1 drew 2 and lost 1 of their 4 group games against LeftFooters, Titans, Soho and Leicester Wildecats thus ensuring a quarterfinal match against Stonewall Firsts. In a very difficult game Stonewall ran out 5-0 winners.

The team line up at the Titans Birthday Tournament in October 2015.
Enjoying the Titans Birthday after part at Two Brewers, Clapham

With results not being great on the pitch – player-manager Gary Ginnaw decided to speak to the local press, the Newsshopper about his own personal story and the story of Bexley Invicta FC in an attempt to encourage more LGBT footballers to come forward. You can read the full article here.

After a break in games Invicta embarked on what can only be described as a nightmare run of away games and results. First up was a 7-1 hammering away to early pacesetters Romans Manor House, followed by a 6-1 defeat away to Romans Gladiators the following week, then a 5-1 defeat away to London Titans XXL and then a 5-1 away defeat to Soho. Rooted to the foot of the table at the end of November with zero points and a goal difference of -22 wasn’t quite the start the new manager had hoped for. Perhaps the turning point came with a narrow 2-0 home defeat to Romans Manor House (who were still top of the table going into Christmas 2015) and with Gary’s pre-match instructions being to ‘make sure they work hard for any result’ coming to fruition. A defeat but certainly signs of progress and more organisation.

The team at the England v France game.

The players enjoyed a rare visit to Wembley Stadium for the England v France friendly international in November 2015. For some it was their first visit to the new Wembley Stadium. The game came days after the Paris Attacks. It resulted in a poignant affair between the two nations with both sets of fans joining in for the French national anthem. The match finished 2-0 to England with Dele Ali scoring a worldy.

Prior to kick off Samuel Timms was interviewed outside the stadium for a french news channel – with the statement ‘solidarity for our neighbours across the channel’ coming across on a frequent basis.

Prior to Christmas Invicta played an annual friendly with Kent FA at Maidstone United’s football ground. 18 players took part with Kent FA running out 13-3 winners. The new year couldn’t come soon enough. In fact the manager decided to head off to Cape Verde for Christmas.

The pre-match photo between Kent FA and Bexley Invicta FC in December 2015.
Gary and Rob Perrett pose during a break in training at Hall Place.

Training continued weekly at Dartford FC on Thursday nights despite the poor English winter weather. On one occasion the players training for an hour in the snow. On non-match day Sundays the players gathered at Hall Place to continue their training regime – although numbers were hard to find. With the squad rapidly decreasing after the turn of the year and new recruits hard to find.

The manager missed 3 games out injured after suffering a fractured toe in a freak training ground accident. The boots these days just offer no protection whatsoever.

Some reinforcements were brought in to maintain a playing squad. But weekly numbers were struggling to hit more than 12 with the team still rooted to the foot of the league table.

Invicta enjoying a weekend off with a night at the Bowling.

January started in slow fashion with heavy (light) snow in SE London and the scheduled game against Romans Gladiators being called off. Only one game took place – an eventful 6-3 defeat at home to Titans 2 Brewers. With Invicta going 2-0 down before pegging the visitors back to 2-2 shortly after halftime. The away side restored their 2 goal advantage before Invicta pulled it back to 4-3 and then missed a chance to draw level for the second time when Anthony Jenkins missed a penalty. Titans went back on the front foot scoring two more on the break in the final quarter of the game as Invicta chased after the equaliser. More signs of progress.

The 2016 Bexley Invica FC Charity Calendar.

The annual Bexley Invicta FC charity calendar was by now a regular thing. This year the players had decided to go all out to make it something to remember. After a not so productive first photo shoot at one of the players homes – a local sports venue was hired for the ‘real’ shoot to take place.

The players arrived early one cold Saturday morning in south-east London for the shoot the photos in the changing room and showers. These things always start off slow – no one wants to be the first to get their kit off with everyone else watching on haha. But with Gary telling everyone time was against them and the photographer now growing impatient – it was off with their kits and a few beers to get the morning flowing.

A lot of laughter was had taking the shots which came out excellent. The players always enjoyed doing their bit to raise vital funds for local charity.

The final production from our good friend Kiattisak Thepsuriya was better than we could have hoped for. The players taking part in this years calendar were Daniele Gallace, Samuel Timms, Michael Horwood, Dan Goodwin, Sam Thorpe, Gary Ginnaw, Daniel Jenkins and Alex Whitfield.

After the Bexley Invicta annual birthday tournament was won by one of the three Bexley teams – Invicta travelled to Dukes Meadows for the quick return clash against Titans 2 Brewers. Invicta made the long trip on Valentine’s Day with only 12 players and defender come Goal Keeper Greg Bennett in between the sticks. Aidan Barlow went off injured midway through the first half with Invicta leading 1-0 through a Sam Thorpe header. The hosts went in at halftime 2-1 up after scoring two quick goals before half time – first an own goal from a corner was sliced into the net and then a deflected free kick went in. With no further subs available there was no options to change things. Despite the effort Invicta went on to lose 4-1. However, some very positive comments post-match from 2Brewers player-manager Paul Reagan left Gary Ginnaw in a positive mood.

Only 7 days later at Eltham Rugby Ground – Invicta were back in action and hosting 3rd place London Titans XXL. With a thread bare squad due to injuries and some departures – the Committee worked hard to bring in some new recruits. The nucleus of the team that day was made up of Rob Perret, Gary Ginnaw, Anthony Jenkins, Daniel Jenkins, Tony Garrett, Sam Thorpe, Ross Houghton and Dan Goodwin. With new additions in the form of Adam Lisney, Michael Lisney, Joe Goodwin, Nick Goodwin and ‘Dixie’. A quick start saw Invicta race into a 2-0 lead before being pegged back at 2-1. Further goals before half time saw Invicta comfortably take a 4-1 lead. The second half with a few fresh legs brought into the fold saw Invicta run out emphatic 6-1 winners and record a first win of the season!

Further disruption to the season meant another break in games with home games against East End Phoenix and London Falcons needing to be rearranged. Next up was an away trip to London Falcons with Invicta winning 4-2 despite the managers absence (away running the Silverstone half marathon). Back to back wins and off the foot of the table for the first time in months.  Next up was East End Phoenix away in Hackney Marshes with the teams on 3 and 6 points respectively. It was simply a game neither side could avoid to lose. With leading goal scorer Dan Goodwin missing it was down to others to chip in with the goals. Phoenix started well and took a 1-0 lead into half time. Invicta saw 2 goals disallowed but took a 2-1 lead going into stoppage time only for Phoenix to equalise in the dying seconds of the match. 2-2 was probably a fair result but an opportunity missed to distance Invicta from the bottom placed team.

With four games left to play and all of them being at home – Gary knew points were there for the taking to ensure a pleasing end to the difficult season was achieved. Off the pitch meetings were taking place and developments occurring to ensure Invicta established a platform from which to grow the team going into future seasons. There had been a lot of off the pitch upheaval over the course of the season with 4 different venues used for home games and mid-season a number of key departures from the playing squad meant significant recruitment was needed over the summer.

Invicta hosted Stonewall 3rds in mid-April in Eltham. In the managers own words it was the most pleasing performance of the season against a very strong Stonewall team. The half time scores were level at 0-0 despite Invicta missing a penalty and Stonewall seeing an effort cleared off the line. The second half performance saw Invicta take the game by the scruff of the neck and scored 3 well taken goals and even managed to keep a first clean sheet of the season despite a goal mouth scramble which saw several Invicta players throw their bodies on the line to keep the ball out. With 10 points from 4 games it was more a case of teams worrying about Invicta than Invicta worrying about them.

In early May and with 3 games still to be played Invicta hosted Romans Gladiators in Eltham. Invicta only had 12 players available for the game due to holidays. The game saw Gary Ginnaw play at left back for the first and last time. Romans were still chasing the league crown and so victory was vital for them. A Jay Lemonius hat trick was enough despite Invicta pulling a goal back and going close on several occasions – the final score a 4-1 win for the away side.

The Invivcta team line up ahead of the home game with Romans Gladiators in May 2016.

With the season still not drawn to a close Invicta took part in the first ever Charlton Athletic FC v Homophobia tournament at the Valley alongside the Proud Valiants and the University of Greenwich team. You can read the press release from the landmark event set to take place at The Valley here.

Invicta recorded a 2-2 draw and a 1-0 loss across the two 40 minute games. After the game came the real treat when player-manager Gary Ginnaw made the announcement that Invicta would be playing their home games and taking their weekly training at Charlton Athletics’ training ground in Sparrows Lane from the start of the 2016-17 season. Something the manager had been working on off the scenes for several months. With that an exciting new dawn was on the horizon for the team.

The 18 strong squad for the inaugural Charlton v Homophobia Tournament in May 2016.
The manager announcing the partnership with CACT in May 2016

With London Falcons failing to fulfil their scheduled fixture with Invicta at Eltham the points and 3-0 win stayed at home. The players took part in an inter squad friendly to keep the lads in shape with 20 taking part in total. All whilst the manager relaxed himself in Montego Bay. Less than 12 hours after he had returned from the Jamaican sun Invicta hosted East End Phoenix for their final fixture of the season a comfortable 5-1 win despite the away side missing an early penalty. The team finished the season with 5 wins 1 draw and 1 defeat from the final 7 league games. Excellent form to take into the new season.

There was a sense of optimism in the air in Bexley as the summer approached.

BY GARY GINNAW, PLAYER-MANAGER 2015-PRESENT