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The Imperial Fields Era


Life started at our new home Imperial Fields (which was only a short bus ride away from our previous ground Sandy Lane) in July 2002 with a friendly against Chelsea which was also a joint testimonial for loyal servants David Gabriel and David Taylor the game ending 2-0 in favour of our illustrious visitors.

The first home league game at Imperial Fields was on August 17th 2002 when we entertained Croydon Athletic in the Isthmian League Division 1 South and the local derby ended all square at 1-1, with Lee Doherty getting the first Tooting and Mitcham United goal at Imperial Fields in a competitive match.  The first victory on our own patch came on August 26th as we defeated Leatherhead by two goals to nil. Elliot Onochie would get the first Terrors hat-trick against Bognor Regis Town on 4th February 2003, he would get another treble in the demolition of Chertsey Town later in the campaign with Dean Canonville going one better bagging four goals in a 7-0 victory. During the season Dean Forbes became the first Tooting & Mitcham player to earn a Full International Cap when he played for Guyana in the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament and Dean would score the winning goal against Netherland Antilles. There would be sad news with the passing of a great Tooting & Mitcham servant Les Walters who served at all levels he was a former player, coach, chairman and president who did so much for the club. At the end of that first season we finished in 11th position and recorded victories over the top two sides in the division namely Champions Carshalton Athletic and runners up Bognor Regis Town.

In our second season we would reach the London Senior Final losing to Dulwich Hamlet 2-0. Also worthy of mention a fine 6-0 league success as we travelled to Bracknell Town and a 2-1 victory at League Champions Lewes. Tooting would again finish in 11th position.

 In 2004-05 one of our early home league encounters would result in a thrilling 8-3 victory against Ashford Town (Kent), star striker John Hastings with six of the goals which obviously created a bit of history. John would go onto join MK Dons. For the only other Tooting player to get a six goal haul you have to go back to 1934. In April there would be a record home attendance of 2,637 at Imperial Fields when AFC Wimbledon paid us a visit in the league. The game ending 1-1, the return fixture earlier in the season also finished all square at 2-2. This was no mean feat by the Terrors as AFC were the runaway Champions of the Division. Our league position improved as we finished 8th.

In 2005 the Supporters Club celebrated their 50th anniversary.

In the 2005-06 campaign we travelled to league leaders Horsham in January and incredibly ran out 6-1 winners. We managed to string some good results together in the latter part of the season and crept into the play-offs having to face Tonbridge Angels whom we had beaten back in February on their own ground but there would be no repeat performance as we went down by two goals to nil.

John Buffoni would step down as Chairman.

The 2006-07 season heralded the arrival of a new striker who quickly become a fan’s favourite his name Paul Vines. He would endear himself to the home faithful even further when he bagged a hat-trick against Lancing in an early FA Cup qualifier at Imperial Fields when the Sussex outfit were routed by six goals to nil. In October there was an FA Trophy replay at Dulwich Hamlet which will live long in the memory of Tooting fans a13 goal thriller which the Terrors narrowly won 7-6(aet). Little did we know as we entered January and lost the first league game of the New Year away to Hastings United that we would go on an amazing 31 game unbeaten run. This took us into the play-offs and a home meeting with Fleet Town at the semi-final stage. For much of the game we were trailing, but goals in the closing stages from the Vines brothers Joe and Paul would break the visitor’s hearts and saw United through. In the final we had home advantage as we faced the last team to defeat us Hastings United. Both the previous two league meetings earlier in the campaign had resulted in a 1-0 home win. So how would the Final pan out not good from a Tooting prospective as we went down to a 2-0 defeat.

Later in the season there would be a programme fair at the club.

The 2007-08 campaign would be the 75th anniversary of the amalgamation between Tooting Town and Mitcham Wanderers. There were several events planned on various Saturdays which would see players from different eras attend to help commemorate the anniversary. There was also a reunion dinner in April 2008 with our former goalkeeper Alex Stepney the guest speaker. He was a local lad who made good earning one full England International Cap. When the season started how would the team fare after the heartbreak of play off defeat at the end of the previous campaign. The answer pretty good, league results were encouraging and for the second season running the play-offs were reached and as in the previous year the added luxury of home advantage. Facing the Terrors in the semi-final from the Sussex coast were Worthing and on a very wet evening we soon raced into a 2-0 lead courtesy of a Paul Vines double and that’s the way it ended. On the same night the other semi-final was postponed and played two days later on the Thursday night with Cray Wanderers the victors. With the Final being played on the Saturday and with Cray having less then 48 hours to prepare this looked like a real advantage for the Terrors. The match itself was hard fought and a Paul Vines goal late in the game settled the issue in our favour before a crowd of 939. At the final whistle there was joyous scenes. A member of the squad was a certain Jamie Byatt who knocked in a lot of important goals in our promotion push.

It was now back to life in the Isthmian League top flight and it would be the Michail Antonio season 2008-09. It didn’t start to well as the first three league games were all lost which included a 7-0 hammering at Ashford Town (Middx). The team however steadied the ship and achieved a very commendable top half finish. Michail Antonio was a very hot property and many clubs were after his signature and it was no surprise when Reading snapped him up and then proceeded to loan him back to us. In all he made 12 appearances in the season scoring ten times. Michail would go onto star for West Ham United in the Premier League.

The 2009-10 season will be remembered for our FA Cup run which resulted in the club reaching the First Round Proper, after a gap of many years dating back to the 1970’s. To get to that stage there was some notable victories along the way including Horsham, Canvey Island, Slough Town and Eastbourne Borough after a replay. Our reward being a long trek up North to face Stockport County and the score-line of 5-0 rather flattered the home side. The management team of Billy Smith and George Wakeling who had overseen an upturn in the club’s fortunes would then leave in the close season to be replaced by Mark Beard.

The 2010-11 term was an average one with a bottom half of the table finish. The defence being the main problem conceding far too many goals.

The 2011-12 campaign would be one to forget also as we suffered relegation with several heavy losses. In our last two home league games of the season we conceded no fewer than 13 goals. Wealdstone getting six, plus on the last day we suffered our worst home defeat at Imperial Fields at that time when Bury Town took us to the cleaners by seven goals to one. It was hard to comprehend that back in January we had beat the League Champions Billericay Town 4-2 at Imperial Fields.

It would be back to the Division One South Division in 2012-13 and we did not come out of it to well having to settle for an unacceptable 16th position. We started and ended the campaign with wins but in between was simply not good enough.

The 2013-14 season saw a mid-table finish in the Isthmian League Division One South the club winning as many games as they lost. The highlights a 6-0 home victory over Whitstable Town and an honourable draw at runaway league champions Peacehaven & Telscombe. There was sad news during the season with the passing of club legend Frank Jannaway who was aged 103. Frank was on the General Committee for many years and responsible for the maintenance of the old ground at Sandy Lane. He would be made a life member of the club for his past services. In a private gathering his ashes were scattered on the edge of the Imperial Fields pitch.

In the 2014-15 campaign the London Senior Cup Final was reached and yet again we had the pleasure of facing old rivals Hendon who despite having a player sent off won by the old goal in five after extra-time. In the league we had to settle for 11th spot.

The following season 2015-16, we again made it to the London Senior Cup Final and gained revenge over Hendon by beating the Middlesex side 2-0 both goals coming from top scorer Jake Baxter. In an earlier round of the competition there was a ten-goal thriller against Erith Town Jake Baxter with a treble in the 6-4 success. The club would however suffer one of their worst home league defeats at the hands of Chatham Town by a 2-7 margin. In the Surrey Senior Cup, we were thrown out of the competition for fielding an ineligible player. In the league we finished well down the field in 17th position.

The Walking Football group started during the season.

The club’s fortunes would take a turn for the better in the 2016-17 campaign when under Frank Wilson’s leadership we would win the Isthmian League South Division on goal difference from Dorking Wanderers. Another highlight was the 1-0 victory over third placed Greenwich Borough at Imperial Fields what made it all the more remarkable was when Mike Dixon fired in the late winner we only had nine men on the pitch Quincy Rowe had been sent off in the first half and star striker Danny Bassett had to go off injured after the break and all the Tooting subs had already been used.

The Terrors stay in the Isthmian League Premier Division would be a short one as we ended up getting relegated on goal difference in our first season back. We only had ourselves to blame for this as our last two games at home to Harlow Town and away to Metropolitan Police saw us fail to score in both and lose both. What made it more annoying was the fact that neither of those club’s had anything to play for. Some of the results during the season made hard reading with Staines Town completing a 13-0 double over us. The visitors 7-0 victory at Imperial Fields being our worst home league defeat there until the last game of the 2023/24 season at home to Franham Town, where the visitors also equalled this scoreline.

With the departure of Manager Frank Wilson after relegation the club appointed joint managers Ashley Bosah and Cornelius Nwadialor who had much success running our Under 23 side. The 2018-19 season as a whole was reasonable in the Isthmian League South Central Division but the play-offs proved just out of reach. The club made it to the Surrey Senior Cup Final coming up against Metropolitan Police who themselves were involved in the Southern League play-offs. Tooting’s opponents rested nearly all their first team but the Terrors were unable to capitalise and went down to a 2-0 defeat. During the season there was a celebration in recognition of Billy Smith and George Wakeling’s long and successful involvement in football not only with Tooting & Mitcham but with all their other clubs. The event organised by Joe Vines and Jamie Byatt proved a huge success.

The club’s reputation for producing and recruiting young players was paying dividends and would lead to Isaiah Jones, Sam Folarin, Abraham Odoh and Lexus Beeden all joining Football League sides.

The 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons were declared null and void due to the coronavirus pandemic. But in the 2019-20 campaign two great stalwarts of the club sadly passed away Dave McCann and Nigel Sarson who both did so much in their various ways for their beloved Tooting & Mitcham. Another fine servant who passed away was Alf Paine father of Steve Paine he was Physio/Trainer for the club in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Moving onto the 2021-22 season there was not much to write home about as we ended up 15th in the Isthmian League South Central Division. One game of note was the home league encounter with Northwood which produced ten goals seven of which were netted by the Terrors. Andrew Sesay in his brief stay with the club bagged an excellent hat-trick one of his strikes being a goal of the season contender.

Tooting started and finished the 2022-23 campaign with a win, but ended up losing their Isthmian League status which we had held since the 1956-57 season with a string of disappointing results.

For the start of our new venture in the Combined Counties League in 2023-24 there would be a new management team consisting of old Terrors favourite Jamie Byatt a very popular choice amongst the fans. John O’Connor was Assistant Manager and First Team Coach was Mark Hams another former Terror. 

The season would see us finish in 13th position there were some good performances like our trip to Jersey on the opening day, where we soaked up the home team’s pressure and then proceeded to get the winner ourselves a great result. The double was completed over promoted AFC Croydon Athletic, plus we beat Guildford City 4-1 when they were top of the table and put five goals past Fleet Town. On the flip side some disappointing results especially against some of the lower teams. Our cause not helped by several injuries to key defenders in the first half of the season. Mention must be made of our star striker Shay Brennan who knocked in 34 goals and was one of the top goal-scorers in the League and the experienced Andy O’Brien who was a rock at the back.

When one thinks of Imperial Fields mention must be made of the excellent playing surface and how few games have been postponed there over the years. Thanks to the superb drainage system and our excellent groundsman Ric Ede.

The following clubs have ground shared at Imperial Fields, Dulwich Hamlet, Kingstonian, Tooting Bec and the Crystal Palace Under 21’s. Charity matches have been hosted there and either side of the main complex are two 3G pitches which are always in great demand.

Finally we must end on a really sad note, with the passing of one of Tooting & Mitcham United’s greatest servants both as a player and manager Billy Smith. He was a real gentleman who did so much for our club not forgetting all the other clubs he was involved with. He discovered many players and he will be sadly missed by all that knew him.

Article written by Ian Bullock TMUFC Members Club Vice President

Billy Smith RIP

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