Pitchside Europe

Amateur football teams make history in first ever match at Buckingham Palace

Pitchside

View gallery

.
The amateur football team invited to play the first ever match at Buckingham Palace have been honoured by FIFA for their contribution to the game.

Civil Service FC, a Glemnet Southern Amateur League first division side from West London, were invited by none other than Prince William – who is the president of the FA – to host the Palace’s maiden football match on October 7.

The Duke of Cambridge will commemorate 150 years of the Football Association, with its anniversary coinciding with the formation of Civil Service FC, officially the oldest amateur club in the world.

"The Prince wanted to celebrate grassroots football and, as the only remaining founding members of the FA, he asked us to host the first match to be played at Buckingham Palace," Neil Ward, Civil Service FC’s 150th anniversary committee chairman, told us in Zurich.

"He insisted it was a competitive match and not a friendly, so we decided to invite our rivals Polytechnic FC, who are also one of the oldest amateur teams in England and happen to be in the same division as us.

"We first played Polytechnic 120 years ago, so it is a fitting way to commemorate the occasion.

"And, as a league match, it’s also worth three points."

View gallery

.

Prince William is a keen supporter of grassroots football

Ward was in Zurich to meet FIFA alongside representatives from his team, including players. The club were invited to meet world football’s governing body after notifying Sepp Blatter of their 150th anniversary celebrations.

It is hard to believe now, but the pay-to-play club from Chiswick were considered as one of the top teams in European football back in the days when amateurs and professionals played roughly at the same level.

"FIFA was among the first organisations to respond when we notified people of our anniversary plans 15 months ago," Ward added.

"Sepp Blatter invited us over and hosted a presentation in the FIFA headquarters in Zurich.

"He commemorated three things – our role in the original development of football from 11 clubs to thousands of leagues around the world, our contribution to amateur football as the oldest amateur club in the world, and for our pioneering work across European boundaries in the early 20th century."

View gallery

.
Civil Service FC in 1893

This pioneering work saw Civil Service tour Europe extensively from 1901 to 1926, initially to Eastern capitals such as Prague and Budapest, and latterly comprising trips to Spain and Portugal which saw them claim wins over Barcelona and Real Madrid.

"Mr Blatter emphasised the word 'service' in our name, referring to our great service to football during the life of our club. It has been a fantastic day, and we couldn’t have been better hosted.

"Our club president Ian Hunter gave him a little token of our gratitude – replica shirt manufacturer Toffs reproduced the 1893 jersey that we wore in our first match against Poly, so we presented Mr Blatter with one. We will give the Prince a shirt too."

View gallery

.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter is presented with a 1893 Civil Service FC jersey by club president Ian Hunter in Zurich

But what of Civil Service’s opposition? Polytechnic are another club with a long history, who like Civil Service are based in Chiswick. Formerly the team of the now defunct Polytechnic of Central London, they became independent when the institution converted to the University of Westminster.

Known as ‘Poly’, they have a dozen teams of varying age groups and ability, with most of their players working men living in the local area. And with London being a cosmopolitan city, several of this year’s first XI hail from abroad, with some having experienced games of great if not similar magnitude.

"We have several former New Zealand youth internationals, who came over to try living in London and have carried on playing football," said Poly coach Geoff Brown, himself a Kiwi who played in the old national league.

"Most of the guys have pretty good jobs, meaning they don’t have the time to train – otherwise they’d probably be playing at a higher, semi-pro level. One of the guys was on Liverpool’s books as a youth, another Bournemouth’s, and one of the Kiwi lads played in Finland for a year. But all are fully amateur now, so this will probably be the biggest game of our lives.

"Certainly, when the players were told about it on Monday everyone was excited. It’s pretty surreal for us – in a way it’s even more prestigious than playing at Wembley, because no-one has done it before and plenty of amateur players have been at Wembley before.

"Everyone is determined to get in the team that day – it’s all we’re talking about and, assuming there’ll be a decent crowd, it will be the first time this team has played in front of more than girlfriends and the old boys with their dogs."

While it’s a feel-good story for all concerned, the event does highlight the struggles of grassroots football teams outside the professional system. With pitch hire increasingly expensive, and time at a premium for all those involved, it is becoming difficult to maintain amateur sides.

Both clubs are hoping to use the match as an opportunity to get financial help or sponsorship in the future.

"We’re having difficulty in funding the club so hopefully this will give us some spin-offs," Barry Madigan, Poly’s chairman, said.

"We don’t have any real security of tenure as we just hire pitches from the University of Westminster. We used to be part of the old London Poly but, after the change, the University focused on its academics and the sports teams became independent.

"So if anyone is interested they should get in touch."

His Civil Service counterpart had a similar message.

"If anyone is interested in playing for or even sponsoring us they should contact us through our website," Ward said.

"We told the players on Monday night and they were a combination of really excited, dedicated to getting in the team for the game of their lives, and proud at making history for a club that has a football heritage second to none.

"It’s the icing on the cake for us but it doesn't end here."

Reda Maher / On Twitter @Reda_Eurosport

View Comments (45)
Fantasy Premier League