It is a year since Bexley Invicta FC (“BIFC”) and the Charlton Athletic Community Trust (“CACT”) formerly announced their working football partnership. The official announcement came at the Charlton Athletic v Homophobia Tournament in May 2016. Much excitement was in the air on 5th July 2016 when BIFC held their first ever weekly training session at the Charlton Athletic FC (“CAFC”) Training Ground and, despite only 9 players attending the session, it was clear the club had lots to look forward to and was moving in the right direction.
Over the following months numbers grew at training as the Club recruited around 12 new players and by mid-October the Club was averaging 18-22 players at training every week. After finishing the 2015/16 season with 5 league wins in 7, new training facilities at the CAFC Training Ground and the influx of players joining the squad, there was optimism around BIFC – and rightly so! The Club appeared to be on the up. The pre-season had seen BIFC winning the Pride Diversity Games in Brighton on Saturday 22nd July 2016, along with friendly wins against FC Biggin Hill and AFC Royal Borough of Greenwich. BIFC also played a friendly against Concept Old Boys (one of the most successful local Veterans teams around) which ended as a 2-2 draw. In all, the pre-season showed some positive signs that the team was progressing and was ready to start the season.
However, ask any manager – bringing in that many new faces and gelling a team together takes time and games. After a tricky start which saw the Club lose 3-0 away to Titans XXL on the opening day – a game which could have easily finished 3-3 – and then following that disappointing result a 5-3 loss away to pace setters Falcons, the Club was firmly rooted to the foot of the table. A home game against Stonewall 3rds came next – the Clubs first match at the CAFC training ground – and despite hitting the woodwork no less than 5 times in the first 45 minutes, it was the visitors who left SE9 with the points in the bag. 3 league games and 3 defeats – not the start the Club had hoped for.
The turning point seemed to arrive on Sunday 30th October 2016 with the team away to Romans Manor House FC. Whilst the Club was 2-0 down after about 10 minutes, the team dug in and managed to grind out a solid 2-2 draw. In fact, the Club almost managed to nick the 3 points late on but it wasn’t meant to be. A week later saw the return match against Falcons as they became the second away team to visit SE9 and leave with the points in the bag having completed a league double over BIFC with a 3-2 win. 5 league games into the campaign and only the solitary point to show for the efforts.
Sunday 13th November 2016 saw the team travel to play Soho FC in Regents Park. History was not on BIFCs side as the Club had never beaten Soho FC in the league. With only 12 players able to make the trip, the pressure was on the boys to put in a performance against one of the toughest teams in the league. Did they disappoint? No they did not. At one point the score line was 4-1 to BIFC but after a couple of late goals, the final few minutes proved to be a trickier end to the game than had appeared. A 4-3 win against a tough team proved invaluable and the season was up and running at last!
The result gave the team some belief that the hard work at the training ground was starting to pay off! Whilst there was a minor setback the following week, at home to the reigning league champions, (Romans Gladiators FC), this proved to be the Clubs last league reverse before embarking on the clubs best ever winning run. The final game before Christmas was a trip to bottom club, Titans 2Brewers, which saw the Bexley boys grind out a 2-1 win to lift them up the table. The lads were in a positive mood as the Club celebrated Christmas in true Bexley fashion (some might say ‘a big one at Zens’). No fewer than 20 faces turned out for the Club’s annual Christmas Party.
With no league games scheduled for the first 2 weekends in January – Team Manager, Gary Ginnaw felt it only appropriate that two friendly games were scheduled to keep match fitness up – especially after the Christmas festivities (Turkey and Wine and all). A home friendly against Trowbridge Tigers FC on Sunday 8th January 2017 provided a stern test and enabled some much needed squad rotation. The end result was a very enjoyable 5-4 victory with Colin Ginnaw (the current assistant manager and father of the player-manager) scoring his first Bexley goal with his first touch of the ball after coming on from the substitutes bench – not bad for a 60 year old! A week later two Bexley teams lined up against each other to mark the Clubs 6th Birthday! The final score will remain a secret! But a full 90 minutes for all players concerned was all important as the team prepared for a vital run in! A further development during the Christmas break was Colin Ginnaw being unveiled as the Clubs assistant manager to his son Gary. It meant both the Club and Gary could have someone constantly on the touchline and for Colin to pass on some of his 45 years of football experience (both playing and coaching). A move that would turn out to be invaluable as the Father and Son combo became an instant success!
Back to the league and Sunday 22nd January 2017 saw the Clubs first league victory at Sparrows Lane – a solid 3-2 win at home to Titans XXL. This saw the Club rising to 5th place in the league. A week later and the team got a third successive league win – 2-0 away to East End Phoenix. This result marked BIFCs first ever away league clean sheet! The Club had climbed to 4th in the table! After breaking one club record the week before, there was the task of breaking another; 4 successive league wins. The setting was Barn Elms, home to Stonewall FC, and the date was Sunday 5th February 2017. On a day when both clubs showed support for the Stonewall Rainbow Laces campaign, the FootballvHomophobia campaign, and for one another. The end result was 2-1 to Bexley Invicta and with that came a 4th successive league win for the first time in the Clubs short but proud history. A remarkable achievement! But the run of wins didn’t end there.
Next up was the return fixture against East End Phoenix just 7 days later on Sunday 12th February 2017. The Sky News cameras were on site to record pre-match interviews with Gary Ginnaw and James Mabbutt to discuss the FootballvHomophobia campaign and the work being undertaken by CAFC, BIFC and East End Phoenix FC. The match also marked the first time that CACT Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Dr Michael Seeraj had been to watch the team play – he couldn’t have picked a better game! After a cagey opening 10 minutes it was the home side in control – a 2-0 half time lead then turned into a 4-0 lead midway through the second half. Two quick goals in reply by East End Phoenix saw a nervous 10 minute spell before a 5th goal wrapped up another 3 points and the Clubs 5th successive league win. After a 2 week break the Club was back in action and back at home again as they faced Romans Manor House FC. The BIFC team was in a dominant mood – a 3-0 half time lead with some of the best football of the season on display. The end result a 5-1 win which saw the club record its 6th successive league win and with that establish a firm grip on 4th place.
A rare break in the season with no league fixtures taking place in March – resulted in a few friendly games and extra training sessions. Tuesday 7th March 2017 was a night off for the BIFC boys as they attended the CAFC v Walsall match at the Valley. The match was CAFCs first ever dedicated match in support of the FootballvHomophobia campaign. Excellent support all round resulted in CAFC winning 2-1! A game that was very much enjoyed by BIFC.
April saw the remaining 3 league games of the season. First up was Titans 2 Brewers at home. The Titans 2 Brewers team had picked up form since the beginning of 2017 having won 4 successive league games including wins against the top 3 teams – the match was billed as the battle of the ‘in form’ teams! Titans had shown in recent weeks that they were becoming a well organised team that was hard to break down and BIFC struggled to create many chances. A close encounter that was separated by two Dan Goodwin goals in the first 45 minutes. A nervous end following a late Titans goal but the team held on to record their 7th successive league win! Just 7 days later saw 3rdplace Soho FC visit Sparrows Lane with the Clubs tied on 25 points. Another close game between two very evenly matched teams. But it was BIFC who again struck first with two first half goals to establish a lead. As the match entered the 86th minutes Soho managed to pull a goal back and just minutes later scrambled home an equaliser. The sun was beaming down on SE9 on what was the hottest day of 2017 so far. The BIFC boys had to settle for a draw however on another day they’d have earned all 3 points which would have sealed a top 3 finish!
And so to the final game of the 2016/17 league season – an away trip to Romans Gladiators FC. Wednesday 12 April 2017 saw the league’s first match to take place under the floodlights – another historic occasion. The team arrived at the New River Sports Centre (near White Hart Lane) knowing that there was a tough game ahead. Romans Gladiators FC had to win if they were to stand any chance of retaining their league crown. For BIFC, the pressure was off and it showed. Despite going 2-0 down early on in the match, the team managed to draw level at 2-2 going into half time. Romans threw everything at BIFC at the start of the second half and established a 3-2 lead before another equaliser went in with 15 minutes left on the clock. With just under 10 minutes left to play, Romans Gladiators FC managed to restore their lead at 4-3 and then hung on for the win – a first league loss for BIFC for the first time since November. Credit to the BIFC team as their performance had earned some very positive comments and feedback from the opponents who were quick to congratulate the team on a fantastic performance and turnaround since the first few games of the season.
BIFC Team Manager, Gary Ginnaw said:
“I would like to go on record and give my thanks to all the players for their continued hard work. The form since November has been unbelievable. A run of 7 successive wins and only 1 defeat in the last 9 games is fantastic! It’s no fluke either. The players have worked hard in training, they turn up week in and week out and in all weather – they don’t let their heads drop, they’ve bought into what we are trying to build at the Club and everyone supports one another. We didn’t have the best start to the campaign but we kept going – and together we have turned our season around. This has been the Club’s best season since formation in 2011 and a 4th place league finish is very satisfying. It’s been great to be part of something special and the Club has been receiving very positive comments from opposing players, managers and the league. We were unlucky in the final 2 matches of the season but we showed that we are more than a match for all sides in the division. We have a positive dressing room and everyone is enjoying their football.
There is no doubt that the link up with the CACT has had a fundamental impact on BIFC and the season as a whole. Special thanks have to be given to the CACT and in particular, Dr Michael Seeraj, for the continued support in what has been a landmark season for the Club – with real progression both on and off the pitch. I was also keen that we showed our commitment to the CACT by taking part in the Upbeats Walk on 8 April 2017 and playing a series of friendly training matches against Charlton Athletic Deaf FC. The BIFC players cannot wait to get going again in pre-season and the 2017/18 campaign promises to be even better than this season – with the further support of the CACT there is real optimism that we could be challenging for the league title in 12 months’ time and with that set even more Club records!”
CACT Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Dr Michael Seeraj said
“Following the inaugural Charlton v Homophobia football tournament held at The Valley in May 2016, we were delighted to formally announce our partnership with Bexley Invicta Football Club (BIFC).”
“It has been an incredible year, with Bexley Invicta having their best season ever, as Gary highlights below; alongside the high profile campaigns to tackle homophobia – we hope the partnership grows from strength to strength”.