‘Fraud Squad’ set to direct Met Police raid
The historic club face tomorrow’s FA Cup tie with a team devoid of cops, writes Jim White
As they prepare for their first FA Cup firstround engagement in six seasons, everyone at Metropolitan Police Football Club has become reconciled to the nickname that has latterly been hurled in their direction.
“Rival teams have started calling us ‘the Fraud Squad’,” says Des Flanders, the club chairman. “Good banter that. You have to laugh.”
Sarcastic as it might sound, there is a reason behind such a moniker. Despite the badge on their blue shirts bearing the Met Police logo, despite being financed largely from the force’s staff lottery, when the team steps out on to a pitch owned, naturally, by the Metropolitan Police Authority, to play Newport County tomorrow, not a single player will be a policeman. Indeed, the last serving officer to turn out for the side was Craig Brown, in 2012. These are cops in name only.
“We’re no longer a works team,” explains their manager, Gavin Macpherson, the only person associated with the first team still in the force. “What we are is a community club with 26 age-group teams, including a girls’ section and a full-time academy. We are a first team of ambitious young players. We are a club that believes it has a chance of getting to the FA Cup second round for the first time in nearly 100 years of history.”
Hints of the long association with the force can be found all around the club’s smart Imber Court Stadium at East Molesey. It is there in the trophies in a cabinet on the wall and in framed programmes of previous appearances in the first round (against Northampton Town in 1931, Dartford in 1984, Crawley Town in 1993 and Crawley again in 2012). And it is there in the fact that everyone calls Flanders, a former Met Police commander and chairman of the club for the past 26 years, “Sir”.
Indeed, it is clear talking to Flanders that the dislocation from the body whose name they still carry has come at an emotional cost. When established in 1919, one of 55 sporting operations run by the authority, this was a club who served two functions: providing an opportunity for policemen to play the game and serving as a substantial public-relations exercise, allowing officers to mix with members of the public on the same terms. But around 2003, the club, faced with the prospect of slipping from the Isthmian League, opted to open up to non-employees in search of talent. There was much division at the time. This was a decision as fractious as Yorkshire Cricket Club allowing in players not born in the county.
But it turned out to be farsighted. As financial constraints in the age of austerity bit, the hierarchy of the Met refused to allow officers time off to train or play. Gradually, the numbers of police able to play dwindled, until Pc Brown was the last man standing.
“So, now we rely on guys who have nothing to do with the force prepared to wear the badge and take the insults that come with it,” says Flanders. Two such incomers are Ethan Chislett, 20, and Bayley Mummery, 21, a talented pair of central midfielders.
“You do still get the occasional terrible jokes, the ‘thought you lot played at Letsby Avenue’ type of thing,” says Chislett, who joined the club’s junior section for the simple reason his father was the youth-team coach. “But I think everyone has adapted to the fact we’re not cops.” “I think what drew me here,” says Mummery, “is how professional the set-up is compared to other clubs at this level.” Mummery, an air-conditioning engineer, is typical of the club’s new recruits. A former junior at Woking, he sees it as a chance to step up and make the grade as a full-time professional. “All I think about all day when I’m putting in heating systems is football. I want the chance to play it instead of what I’m doing now. And for most of the boys, this Saturday is a massive shop window.”
Indeed, what Newport can expect when they arrive at the stadium is something rather different from the traditional image of the team. Back in the old days, this was a club renowned in non-league circles for the robustness of their approach to the game. In short, the filth were known to be filthy.
“I think there did used to be a siege mentality when it was an all-police side,” says Macpherson, diplomatically. “They probably thought they needed to look after themselves. It’s not like that now. Newport won’t be in for a kicking.”
Though, for all the skill and in-depth preparation (Macpherson was watching a video of Newport’s last outing against Carlisle United when The Daily Telegraph visited the ground) the one thing the League Two side will not encounter is much of a crowd. A legacy of their days as an outlet of the force, when nobody thereabouts wanted to admit to supporting them, match days at Imber Court are played out in front of no more than 100. Tomorrow, Flanders is hoping as many as 800 might come along. “This Cup run [they have already negotiated four preliminary rounds] has brought us in £50,000, money we hadn’t budgeted for,” he says. “If we made it to the next round, it wouldn’t be a game changer but it would be terrific.”
It would, in other words, be the fairest of fair cops.
Police line-up: Metropolitan Police in training; Gavin Macpherson, the club’s manager, makes a point (below)