CHAMPIONES! – CRAY WANDERERS REVIEW OF THE SEASON 2018-19 – PART 1
With thanks to Jon Hilliger, Chris Bushe, Heidi Fang, Andy Dovey & Jerry Dowlen for photos and Carl Newnham & Capturemast for videos
The summer of 2018 was a good one for English football with the national side defying the usual expectations to go within 20 minutes of the World Cup final and that buzz of expectation and optimism welcomed Cray Wanderers into pre-season with hopes high of a tilt at the new Bostik South-East or at least a repetition of the previous season’s playoff place.
The management team of Tony Russell and Joe Vines remained at the club and during the summer break the majority of last season’s squad remained with the only departures that of Lea Dawson, Michael Freiter, Charlie MacDonald, Kyron Farrell and Brandon Scott were negated by some high quality signings. Two popular players from the 2017-18 season returned, Mitchell Nelson and Jerome Federico while the midfield was bolstered with the arrival of Bradley Pritchard from Greenwich Borough, Sean Roberts who had won the Bostik North title with AFC Hornchurch and ex Ebbsfleet & Tonbridge man Tom Phipp who had taken time out of the game while the pre-season friendlies saw full-back Archie Johnson come to the club on a loan deal with Welling United.
Returning to Cray Wanderers in the summer – Mitchell Nelson, Jerome Federico & Sean Roberts
New Arrivals – Bradley Pritchard, Tom Phipp & Archie Johnson
Another change off the field and at the top of the club was the acquisition of a CEO for Cray Wanderers with ex-player and successful businessman Sam Wright taking on the role and was a look ahead to the future of hopefully a new ground at Flamingo Park. The club were still awaiting at the start of the season news of a decision from the Mayor of London on the ground approval.
Sam pictured with Gary Hillman, Richard Dimmock & Sam Wood
The Bostik League now had a new 3 division step 4 with 20 clubs and Cray Wanderers were placed in the newly created South-East division and were quietly fancied to do well but were happy to remain under the radar and let the other clubs do the talking as the season got under way.
The Wands started the season on August 12th with a local derby at a new look Greenwich Borough managed by ex-Cray striker Luke Medley. With Jay Leader injured and Mitchell Nelson suspended Cray began with Marcus Evans and Tom Phipp at the back but last season’s top scorer Michael Power was razor sharp and Federico made a lively return and Cray sent out a statement of intent with a 3-0 win. A first half penalty converted by Power was added to with a clinical finish twenty minutes into the second half and Federico scored a third to give Cray their first win to start a season for 10 years.
Pic: Jerry Dowlen
The following Wednesday a Freddie Parker double saw Cray edge past Ramsgate at Hayes Lane in the 1st Round of the Kent Senior Cup in a 2-1 win and set up a second round tie at home to Charlton Athletic.
The first home league game of the season was one of six Sunday matches during the course of the season and saw the Wands entertain newly promoted Whitstable Town on 20th August. The game was pre-ceded by a celebration of the Cray Wanderers Youth sides and on a sunny afternoon there was a feel good factor around the whole club. Cray not for the first time during the season had to be patient to break down stubborn opponents and after a goalless first half mainly due to the Whitstable keeper Cray finally made the breakthrough on 68 minutes when Junior Dadson followed up Ben Mundele’s parried shot to score. With two minutes to go, Aaron Rhule scored a second to wrap up the points and give Cray six points from the first two games.
The following Saturday saw a first with Cray Wanderers facing Rusthall from the SCEFL Premier in the Preliminary Round of the FA Cup at Hayes Lane. Quite how the visitors survived a battering in the first 20 minutes no-one could quite believe but weathered the storm and took the lead in the 39th minute. Cray levelled through an own goal early in the second half but in the end the game ended in a draw and a replay beckoned on 5th September.
The final league game of August was two days later on Bank Holiday Monday, 27th August and a difficult trip to Sittingbourne. Looking back this was one of Cray’s most complete performances of the season and took the sting out of the game with two goals in the opening 20 minutes. Firstly Power set up Bradley Pritchard for his first Cray Wanderers goal and then Power scored his third goal of the season with a superb individual goal to make it 2-0. A resolute defensive display from Evans and Nelson and good game management saw Cray complete a 2-0 win and make it three wins out of three to start the season.
Michael Power puts Cray two nil up at Sittingbourne
At the end of August, Cray were one of six teams with maximum points and were second on goal difference behind Ashford United and tied with Hastings United, Whyteleafe, Phoenix Sports and VCD Athletic.
Cray began the month on Saturday 1st September against East Grinstead Town at Hayes Lane and the Wands remained with a 100% record with a professional 2-0 win with a goal in each half. Firstly, Federico’s cross shot was turned in by ant East Grinstead defender and Ben Mundele who was playing at centre-half scored a second with a header from a corner and Cray had made their best start to an Isthmian League season since 2005-06 by winning their first four games and were now one of four teams with maximum points and stayed second behind Hastings United.
No-one could quite foresee at this early stage of the season but something was just starting in the FA Youth Cup and in the Preliminary Round, Cray Wanderers U18s edged past Holmesdale 4-2 after extra time with a Joe Barber hat-trick and a Ronnie Payne goal putting Cray through to the 1st Round.
The FA Cup Rusthall adventure moved to the Jockey Farm on 5th September and saw Cray have to go through a torturous evening and Cray led through a Michael Power goal before the home side levelled through a Dadson own goal taking the game to extra-time. Power scored again from a penalty to seemingly give Cray the win but Rusthall levelled again straight away and the finished 2-2 and on to a penalty shoot-out. The Wands were clinical with their spot kicks through Power, Pritchard, Barney Williams and Nelson and Nick Blue saved the final Rusthall penalty and Cray were through to a 1st Qualifying Round meeting with Met Police at Imber Court in just three days time.
Not ideal preparation for Tony Russell’s side against Step 3 opponents with Jay Leader making his first appearance of the season but Cray rallied after going a goal down after barely a minute and levelled with a cracking strike from Dadson and took the lead before half-time through Power. Cray couldn’t quite get a third goal and the Police fought back to score twice in the second half and win the game 3-2. There wasn’t much to choose between the two teams and the Police would end up reaching the 1st Round Proper of the competition before losing to Newport County who went on to the 5th Round.
With the FA Cup out of the way Cray moved back to league action on 15th September with the first real heavyweight contest of the season and a trip to the Homelands to face Ashford United. This was another excellent Cray performance and went in two nil up at the break with another sublime finish from Power on 10 minutes and six minutes before a well worked corner routine led to Nelson flicking on a header to Leader to score a second. Ashford pulled a goal back just after half time and was the first goal Cray had conceded in the league. However, Ashford were reduced to ten men before the end and on a breakaway Power stroked home his eighth goal of the season and the Wands went top and were now the only side with a 100% record after five games. Alas for Cray, due to a persistent nagging injury Power was sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Michael Power gives Cray the lead at Ashford United
The FA Youth Cup adventure was continuing to build momentum and the Wands won 6-0 at VCD Athletic on 18th September with Robbie Daye scoring a hat-trick and Cray were now into the 2nd Qualifying Round and a trip to Folkestone Invicta.
The big games were coming thick and fast and Cray took on Hythe Town on Saturday 22nd September in one of the key matches of the season. Hythe were one of the highly fancied teams at the start of the season and contributed to a fine match. The Wands went two up after 21 minutes through goals from Leader and Parker but Hythe turned it round to level at the break. Sean Roberts put Cray back in front before Hythe levelled again ten minutes from the end. However, the Wands struck again three minutes from time when Pritchard’s corner was gleefully headed home by Leader and Cray made it 6 wins out of 6 with a 4-3 win and a six point lead at the top.
Freddie Parker puts Cray Wanderers 2-0 up against Hythe Town
Midweek matches would be rare in the 2018-19 season due to the restricted number of matches but the following Wednesday saw Cray face another potential promotion candidate in Whyteleafe at Hayes Lane. Whyteleafe became the first side to take the lead against Cray from a fifth minute free kick but Federico levelled two minutes later and despite a ding-dong contest which ended with both teams down to ten men the game finished in a 1-1 draw which was about right and after seven games Cray had won six and drawn one and led the table by four points.
Jerome Federico levels for Cray against Whyteleafe
There was one more league match to play in September as Cray travelled to Oakwood to face VCD Athletic who had made a decent start to the season themselves and were third in the table. VCD took the lead after two minutes when ex-Wand Charlie MacDonald tucked home a penalty. Cray were finding them a hard nut to crack and trailed at the interval. Cray though got off to a powerhouse start to the second half and within five minutes had gone in front firstly through Freddie Parker’s well taken goal and then Pritchard fired home and despite a Parker penalty kick being saved, Cray had made it four wins out of four on the road with a 2-1 win.
Bradley Pritchard scores Cray’s winner against VCD Athletic
At the end of September, Cray led the table after 8 games with 22 points, seven clear of Hastings United, Phoenix Sports and VCD Athletic and looking in very fine fettle. Week 8 Table
Onto October and the FA Youth Cup run continued as Mark Dacey’s U18s headed to Folkestone Invicta on 4th October and stunned the unbeaten hosts with a 4-1 win with Kyrique Garvey-Williams, Neil Spencer (2) and Ronnie Payne scoring and setting up a home tie with Raynes Park Vale in the 3rd and final Qualifying Round.
Back into the league and Cray Wanderers cranked up the gears on October 6th to score seven past Faversham Town at Hayes Lane. An early blockbuster from Barney Williams was added to by two first half goals from Junior Dadson and Freddie Parker claimed a hat-trick exactly a year since his first against Horsham in the FA Trophy. Ben Mundele scored a sixth and Cray finished 7-2 winners and were starting to look serious title contenders and moved nine points clear of Hythe Town and Phoenix Sports at the top.
The first and seventh goals against Faversham Town scored by Barney Williams and Freddie Parker for his hat-trick
October 12th saw an unlikely visitor to the club with Ed Graney from the Las Vegas Review Journal coming over to do a piece about football in London and a possible link to the NFL having a franchise over here. Ed wanted to see London’s oldest football club and after visiting Hayes Lane, St Mary Cray and Flamingo Park the following day Ed and his entourage travelled to Canvey Island to watch the Wands in the Preliminary Round of the FA Trophy. To be fair, Ed’s presence was probably the highlight of the game and in a dour struggle, Canvey won the game 2-0 with both goals coming in the last seven minutes and brought an end to the FA Trophy story for the season.
Ed Graney from the Las Vegas Review Journal interviews Gary Hillman and picture from Canvey Island – Credit Heidi Fang
Four days later, the U18s made history for Cray Wanderers by reaching the 1st Round proper of the FA Youth Cup after a hard fought 3-0 win against Raynes Park Vale at Hayes Lane. Goals from Kwame Poku, Robbie Daye and Lee Lewis saw Cray thr
ough and earn a trip to Worthing in the 1st Round in November.
Lee Lewis scores Cray Wanderers third goal against Raynes Park Vale to reach the 1st Round of the FA Youth Cup
The final league game on 20th October saw Cray take their 100% away record to Herne Bay who had yet to win at home. After the players presented a signed shirt to one of our great supporters, Jon Smith on his 60th birthday, Cray settled down on a warm afternoon to create many chances in the first half but somehow remained goalless at the break. Not for the first time this season, the game opened up after the break and a cracking strike from Ben Mundele opened the scoring and Tom Phipp added a second from a penalty. Herne Bay pulled one back also from a penalty but Cray held out for a 2-1 win and make if five wins out of five away from home.
Ben Mundele gives Cray the lead at Herne Bay
At the end of October and with teams playing catch up after cup ties, Cray had an impressive 28 points out of 30 and led the table by seven points from Hastings United who had two games in hand. Horsham, who would end up having a great season were 11th at this stage but had two good cup runs so a bit behind the others.
It’s hard to remember a better month than November 2018 for Cray Wanderers certainly in their most recent history.
It couldn’t have started better than on 1st November the U18s keeping their remarkable FA Youth Cup run going into the 2nd Round Proper after a come from behind 2-1 win at favourites Worthing to advance to a stellar home tie with Portsmouth. Second half goals from Lee Lewis and Ronnie Payne turned the game on its head and a stunning victory.
Back to the league and Cray took their 100% away record to Haywards Heath Town and a first ever meeting. As tough a game as the Wands had faced on their travels so far and Cray certainly didn’t coast to victory in this one. Cray had chances and the home side were reduced to ten men but it looked like with time running out a goalless draw was in the offing. However with a minute left on the clock, Cray grabbed a stunning winner when Nelson and Dent combined to set up Mundele who down the right crashed a low cross shot into the net and a huge three points and make it six wins out of six.
A late winner for Cray Wanderers at Haywards Heath Town scored by Ben Mundele
Victory at Haywards Heath put Cray seven points clear of Hastings United who had two games in hand and set up the league game at Hayes Lane on Sunday 11th November perfectly and simply. With the outstanding Two Men In Search of the Beautiful Game present at the game to record for their You Tube channel and a bumper Sunday crowd the scene was set for a classic and didn’t disappoint. A new name appeared on the Cray Wanderers teamsheet in Charlton Athletic Academy player Wilberforce Ocran and after a titanic first half in which Hastings had two efforts cleared off the line, Ocran opened the scoring before half time for a debut goal. A quite special goal from Tom Phipp after the break made it 2-0 but although Hastings pulled a goal back, Cray played superbly in the second half and registered a 2-1 win to move ten points clear of Hastings and at the same time register a big win against a serious championship contender.
The cup interest for the first team came to an end on Wednesday 14th November as Charlton Athletic U23s were simply too good for a fairly strong Cray side and were 3-0 nil up inside 21 minutes and went on to win 5-1.
Saturday 17th November saw a rather turbulent and delay ridden flight to Guernsey for the next league match and a match that started half an hour late saw Cray have to work hard to get through a goalless first half before taking the lead early in the second through Bradley Pritchard. Guernsey though levelled shortly after and perhaps a draw looked on the cards but once again Cray summoned up vast degrees of energy to forge a winner taken with great style by Archie Johnson and Cray went on to win 2-1 and continued their unbeaten record away from home.
Archie Johnson scores Cray Wanderers winner at Guernsey
The following Wednesday (21st November) saw Cray Wanderers U18s superb FA Youth Cup run come to an end as an ultra professional Portsmouth side left no room for error and won 4-0 to set up an away draw at Liverpool in Round 3. The fact that Cray had even been in the same draw as Liverpool and Portsmouth was a great achievement in its own right but to be drawn out together left the club dreaming. As it was the young lads had nothing to be ashamed of and Portsmouth were beaten by a last minute goal at Liverpool who went on to win the trophy. So Cray Wanderers had made their mark on the 2018-19 FA Youth Cup.
A little lull until Sunday 25th November when a Cray Wanderers legends match preceded a first league meeting of the season with Ramsgate. Cray had chances in the first half but a red card for Tom Phipp before half time put the Wands on the back foot. Despite being a man short Cray threatened and almost won it at the end when Jay Leader’s fired just wide but in the circumstances a 0-0 draw wasn’t a bad result. With the league table being adjusted due to the sad situation with Thamesmead Town folding and results gained against them being taken away, Cray went back to a 10 point lead going into the end of November.
November still wasn’t over for drama and good news as on Monday 26th November came the announcement the club had been waiting for since March and that the Mayor of London saw no reason to refuse planning permission for the new ground at Flamingo Park and at around 4pm that afternoon came the tweet we were all waiting for that Cray Wanderers will have a home of their own. ITV London News came to the Bull Inn in St Pauls Cray and visited Hayes Lane for interviews with Cray officials and after the jubilation comes the realisation of the hard work involved but it had taken years of dedicated and tireless work from Gary Hillman, Dave Francis, Michael Paye, Jason Miller and many others who poured in expertise and capital to let the club live the dream.
In many ways December couldn’t really match November for drama but Cray continued to set the pace at the top.
After no game on the 1st December, the club before their next home game with Phoenix Sports on December 8th made a key signing to add proven goal power up front with Joe Taylor arriving from Margate. With Michael Power looking likely to be out for the season and to help lighten the load on Freddie Parker, Joe would turn out to be an astute signing. Phoenix were the first side to lead at half time at Hayes Lane after ex-Wand Alex Teniola gave them the lead but Taylor plundered a leveller two minutes after half time on his debut and the game finished in a 1-1 draw. The Wands lead at the top despite not winning for a couple of games was 11 points but Horsham had now put a great run together and moved up to 3rd ahead of the match at Culver Road on 15th December.
The game at Horsham was played in the teeth of a Wagnerian storm virtually throughout the game and if the Wands unbeaten record was ever going to come to an end than this was probably the day. Despite Cray not being at their best, and twice falling behind to Rob O’Toole goals they twice summoned up the quality amongst the quagmire to draw level through Mundele and Johnson but O’Toole completed his hat-trick and a worldy strike from Charlie Harris ended the unbeaten run at 15 but with Cray having an eight point lead from Hastings and Horsham going into the Christmas games.
On Sunday 23rd December, Cray completed a league double over Sittingbourne with an impressive display that merited more than the two goals one in each half from Pritchard and Mundele before a late goal for Sittingbourne reduced the arrears but the Wands were back to winning ways with a 2-1 victory as the rather staggered festive fixtures got underway.
Bradley Pritchard gives Cray the lead against Sittingbourne
The final game of a momentous 2018 saw Cray head to Sevenoaks Town and another a key match at the top of the table. A compelling battle took place and saw another newcomer to the club come on after half time in winger Daniel Uchechi. The Wands had their chances but so did Sevenoaks and Luke Coleman’s late first half penalty was well saved by Nick Blue in what could have proved to be one of the key moments of the season. Sevenoaks were defending well and looked good value for a point when substitute Freddie Parker in the 88th minute fired home from Federico’s cross and Nelson’ layoff and the Wands grabbed a 1-0 win and finished 2018 top of the table and eight points clear of Hastings United after the New year fixtures.
Another late winner, this time Freddie Parker scores for Cray at Sevenoaks Town
2018 was a tremendous year for Cray Wanderers on and off the pitch but what would 2019 have in store with so much still to play for and on the back of so many tremendous memories.