‘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

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport / Fa Cup -

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)

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