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HISTORY OF T&MUFC 
SANDY LANE

The History of Sandy Lane

 

Many Tooting and Mitcham supporters will have their own personal memories of old home Sandy Lane together with the many groundhoppers who would have visited it.

 

In1922 the ground at Sandy Lane was purchased by the Committee of Tooting Town with the support of local businessmen such as John (Jack) Beard who managed to secure a mortgage to enable the club to have a home of its own. At this point in time it was an unfenced field in Sandy Lane which was quickly enclosed. A local firm of contractors would erect a wooden stand which seated 360 which suited the club’s needs at the time.

 

In 1932 Tooting Town amalgamated with another local team Mitcham Wanderers to form a new club Tooting & Mitcham which would play at Sandy Lane. United was added to the name in 1935. Almost immediately the existing stand was extended to increase the seating capacity to 600 which is how the ground remained until the Second World War.

 

The first home game for the newly formed club would be in August 1932 when Shepherds Bush were defeated 9-1 in a London League fixture. During the War bomb damage affected the grandstand, the clubhouse and dressing rooms. The 1945-46 season saw the club in the Athenian League and our opening fixture was at Sandy Lane as we thrashed Leyton 8-3, with the great Bob Parker scoring five times. Increased terracing would be added at the Sandy Lane end in 1946 together with new fencing and turnstiles. A year later further terracing was added and it was put to good use as we entertained Leytonstone in an Amateur Cup tie which attracted over 10,000 fans.

 

In December 1949 a bit of history was created at Sandy Lane when a white ball was used in an official match for the first time against Bromley in an Athenian League fixture which was televised by the BBC. Later in that same season there would be celebrations at Sandy Lane as the Athenian League title was clinched for the first time. In 1950 President of the club John Beard who was instrumental in the purchase of Sandy Lane passed away aged 80. His ashes would be scattered on the pitch.

In the same year Sir Stanley Rous CBE, Secretary of the FA opened the Club’s new dressing rooms which cost in the region of £3,500 a considerable amount of money back in 1950. Prior to that the players had been forced to use some army huts after the original dressing rooms were damaged during the War. In November 1950 Tooting and Mitcham would receive Football League opposition at Sandy Lane for the first time as we entertained Brighton and Hove Albion in the First Round Proper of the FA Cup going down 2-3.

 

The club was so successful financially that the mortgage of Sandy Lane was redeemed and by June 1950 the ground and amenities were fully owned. In 1956 we joined the Isthmian League and our first home game was against Walthamstow Avenue which ended in a 2-2 draw. Later in the season we reached the Second Round Proper of the FA Cup and played host to Queens Park Rangers, but are beaten by two goals to nil. During the summer of 1957 the main focus was on ground improvements including the stand which was extended and the envy of many clubs although there was no cover on the other three sides of the ground. Our last league game of the 1957-58 season saw us entertain Woking safe in the knowledge that we were Isthmian League Champions for the first time. It was a cracking game as we came out on top 3-1 against the Amateur Cup Winners. The following day however tragedy would strike the club as Tooting’s goalkeeper Dave Moore who had been an ever present during the Championship winning campaign would be killed in a car crash. On Saturday 3rd May 1958 there was a moving tribute at Sandy Lane in our Challenge Match versus neighbours Sutton United to our young keeper who was aged just twenty-one. All the Tooting players and fans being stricken with grief and disbelief following the tragic news.

 

During the 1958-59 season (one of the greatest in the Club’s history), record crowds flocked to Sandy Lane as our famous FA Cup run took off receiving national acclaim. Crowds of 10,000 or more saw Football League outfits Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic and Northampton Town beaten at Sandy Lane. It was then that over 14,000 packed into the ground to witness that never-to-be-forgotten match against mighty First Division giants Nottingham Forest in the Third Round of the competition. The tie being played on a frozen Sandy Lane pitch ended 2-2 with the Terrors leading 2-0 in the closing stages only for an own goal and dubious penalty to save the Midland side.

 

More ground improvements followed including a new £3000 clubhouse. There would be celebrations on Cup Final night in May 1960 as we received Oxford City at Sandy Lane knowing victory would see us become Isthmian League Champions for the second time, this was duly achieved following a 3-1 victory thanks mainly to a Dave Hyde hat-trick.

 

In March 1962 our new floodlights were switched on with a game against Arsenal the lights were fantastic and lit up the sky, the game was excellent too as we beat the Gunners 4-2.

 

The 1962/1963 campaign will be remembered for the big freeze which lasted for a couple of months. Eventually when the inclement weather cleared, we got back to playing football registering our record victory in February 1963 when we hammered Welton Rovers 11-0 at Sandy Lane in an Amateur Cup tie. More alterations to the ground followed including a white brick wall around the pitch which seemed dangerous and it was no long before a player crashed into it and ended up in hospital.

 

The 1960’s were a disappointing time for the club as attendances fell and the club’s finances began to suffer. Although we did equal our record club victory as we thrashed Hounslow Town 11-0 in a home Premier Midweek Floodlight League encounter in May 1969. A decision was then taken to sell part of the training pitch/car park for housing, after several applications were rejected permission would be granted to build a terrace of six houses. This led to a revival of the club’s fortunes in the 1970s and the ground was bursting at the seams as we entertained Crystal Palace at a muddy Sandy Lane in a FAC First Round tie in November 1974. Incredibly we took a first minute lead to a deafening Sandy Lane roar when Steve Grubb scored from a corner but the Eagles hit back to win 2-1. Later in the campaign Tooting would register their record Isthmian League victory beating Clapton 9-0 at Sandy Lane.

 

In January 1976 history was rewritten at Sandy Lane as Football League opposition were defeated once again as Swindon Town were accounted for 2-1 in a FA Cup Third Round replay before a crowd of 7,500. The Alan Ives winner brought a tremendous roar from the home faithful which was probably heard miles away. In 1977 Northampton Town revisited Sandy Lane in the FA Cup gaining revenge for their defeat back in 1958. Those halcyon days would fade away and little would change at the ground until 1985 when new lighting was installed, this would be the last major development at the venue.

 

In March 1988 the club hosted two matches at Sandy Lane to celebrate the centenary of Tooting Town’s formation in 1887. The ground would then deteriorate with the terraces crumbling and weed strewn. Ground regulations and restrictions meant that the capacity would be greatly reduced should a big match occur but we would not have that problem.

 

On May 3rd 2001 the club would be presented with Isthmian League Division Two Trophy and thumped Wivenhoe Town 5-0 in the process. Sandy Lane was something of a fortress that season as we only lost once there and that was the last home game of the season against Horsham. It was not surprising the team ran out of steam as due to a fixture back-log, in the final week of the season we played on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  

 

A new ground would eventually be ready for us to move into for the start of the 2002/03 situated at Imperial Fields, Bishopsford Road. All that remained was our final competitive match at Sandy Lane on the 20th April 2002 which was an Isthmian League fixture against Wealdstone played before a crowd of 968. With many of our former players from different eras in attendance. The kick off was conducted by life-long Tooting official Frank Jannaway, a fitting reward for all his loyal service to the club. Tooting would win the game 3-2 with Nigel Webb getting the last ever goal scored by a Tooting and Mitcham United player at the old sacred home.

 

Looking back at Sandy Lane there was the legendary terrace tea-bar and its dedicated crew who served the famous square sausage burgers. All the important football related issues would be discussed in or around the hut. There was also Buster the cat who lived over the road, who always turned up at games and was made an honorary supporters club member. He must have been confused when the club moved out of Sandy Lane.

 

As is often the case several bizarre incidents occurred at the old home, when playing Woking in the fog someone was riding a bicycle on the pitch, in another match a player was being stretched off the pitch when one of the steward’s trousers fell down, during an FA Cup tie against Whitehawk a huge gust of wind blew one of the lights down from the stand hitting the visitors substitute who had to go to hospital. In another encounter a hedgehog ventured onto the pitch and was removed from the field of play on a shovel. Supporter Hector Cook wandered onto the playing surface to collect the corner flags with the game still going on. A match against Walthamstow Avenue was abandoned early on when a monsoon hit the ground and the pitch resembled a paddy field. The pitch itself in later years was not one of the best and was aptly named Sandy Lane. There was often more sand on it then grass and the drainage system was not great. In a Surrey Senior Cup tie against Westfield in December 1997 the match was abandoned after 30 minutes when a pot hole appeared in the penalty area at the Sandy Lane end and all attempts to fill it in failed!

 

Various clubs have staged home matches at Sandy Lane, including Crystal Palace who played many Football Combination matches there, Corinthian Casuals ground-shared with us for many seasons, Dulwich Hamlet played the 1991-92 campaign there, plus Kingstonian and Croydon both played one “home” game there. In 1997 Danny Baker hosted a BBC TV programme called Match of the 80s which was filmed at Sandy Lane.

 

The quickest goal ever scored in a match at Sandy Lane was netted by Ian Hazel in an Isthmian League clash against Metropolitan Police timed at four seconds in May 2000. The last football to be played at Sandy Lane was the annual game for the Jayne Bullock Memorial Trophy (Players and Staff versus the Supporters) on 3rd May 2002.

 

The following Tooting players were awarded testimonial matches at Sandy Lane namely Alan Berrecloth, Danny Godwin and John Robertson. Teams from seven different countries have played friendlies against Tooting and Mitcham there. Due to a national state of emergency and a resulting floodlight ban Tooting and Mitcham entertained Redhill in the PMFL on a Sunday in March 1974 which was the first competitive Sunday fixture to be staged at Sandy Lane. Tooting’s record defeats at Sandy Lane were both 0-7 against Hayes in the Athenian League in 1951/52 and St Albans City in the Isthmian League 1970/71.

Over the years Sandy Lane hosted various Cup Final’s including the London Senior Cup and Surrey Senior Cup Final’s. There were a number of Football League and International players who graced the hallowed surface, too many to mention. Summing up Sandy Lane was a traditional ground and probably the last of the big non-league stadiums left in London in the early 2000’s before closing its doors in 2002, the wonderful memories of it will be everlasting. The site would be turned into a housing estate with the roads being named after former Tooting and Mitcham players.

Article written by Ian Bullock TMUFC Members Club Vice President

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