By Tony Attwood
Royal Arsenal played their first ever FA Cup match against Lyndhurst on 5 October 1889 and I’ve covered the story before – and that earlier report has details of the team.
I won’t go over all the issues from that article, but there was a debate therein as to which Lyndhurst FC Arsenal played. The BBC were adamant that it was Lyndhurst in the New Forest. Last year I corresponded with that club and they confirmed that yes, it was them.
Andy Kelly set out a different view for in Arsenal in early Cup competitions he noted Lyndhurst as being Surrey Champions (and the New Forest is most definitely in Hampshire). But that club is no more, there are no records of the club, and there is no independent evidence of them playing Royal Arsenal.
But Lyndhurst FC in Hampshire still exists, so I’ve stuck with them as being the club we played, and this week, two of us went to find the club. We stayed overnight in Beaulieu (home of the motor museum) in one of the most stunning hotels I have ever stayed in: the Montague Arms.
The next morning we were off at 9am through the New Forest to Lyndhurst. (The New Forest is a unique part of England; the ponies have free range, and often wander across the roads. We witnessed four in a procession up the main road in Beaulieu, with all the traffic backed up behind them, waiting patiently. The ponies rule.)
Anyway we got to Lyndhurst (population 3000) and there being no signpost to the football club (what with me having forgotten to take the directions, and expecting at least one signpost to the ground – which there isn’t) went to the Tourist Information Bureau at about 9.45. The lights were on, there were people inside, but the doors were locked. It was chucking it down with rain, so I ventured to pull the door marked “pull”. A lady inside turned round, faced me and bellowed “Ten O’clock” and turned away. So much for a desire to help tourists.
I wonder what real benefit it was to the staff of the Information Office not to show any flexibility, or indeed the first modicom of polite behaviour. But that’s not my line of business, and I am sure Lyndhurst council knows what it is doing.
Fortunately there was a map of the little town in the window and it did show the football ground, so off we went, and there it was. (Unfortunately we were not able to find the grave of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland).
The BBC review of the Lyndhurst club from 2002 states that Lyndhurst was founded in 1885, and that report included this sign.
However today (2015) it looks shabbier – although it has grown in size.
But the club most certainly is still there and still playing in the Hampshire League Division 1. Here is the league table at the time of our visit.
|Netley Central Sports||10||5||1||4||18||14||4||16|
|Michelmersh & Timsbury||11||2||0||9||17||57||-40||6|
And here is the ground. Note the crowd control barrier, as per FA regulations.
Next to the ground are the changing rooms – the sign in the centre proclaims the sponsor and the league, the door to the left is marked “home” to the right “away” and the brown door (which is very shabby) “Referee”.
Here is a second picture showing the right side revealing the full extent of the referee’s facilities
And there above we have the tea bar, inside which, I am told is a plaque commemorating the match against Arsenal.
The club has a website – but unfortunately there is nothing about the Arsenal match on it, and even its history section focuses on this century. Which for me is a shame – to have kept a club going in such a small community for at least 126 years is a stupendous achievement, and even if most of the history is missing, it would be nice to have it recorded. At least this article, and the earlier one adds a little.
However there is a report on the site of the first league match of this season, and I repeat a little of that, from the end of the report…
Sadly, a game punctuated by stop -pages and producing 20 minutes (6 first half + 14 second half) of injury time boiled over at the end after O’Connor had a third goal chalked off by an assistant’s flag.
In the aftermath, O’Connor was dismissed for calling the assistant “a cheat” and, before the game could restart, his teammate David King talked his way into a second yellow to follow O’Connor for an early shower.
Sounds like the Premier League. I do hope Lyndhurst FC keeps going, and indeed that someone one day (perhaps when the tourist information office staff are in a slightly more welcoming mood) might work on a history of this small town’s club.
And leaving the club and football aside, I would say that the area is an environment quite unlike anything you are likely to see anywhere else in England.