Time drags when you’re hiding from a pandemic, and after six long months of staying indoors, hoarding loo roll and watching every single episode of Come Dine With Me, I was gagging for a goal-fest. So, this 0-0 draw wasn’t quite what I had in mind. Still, if there’s one place that’s guaranteed to re-kindle a passion for groundhopping, it’s Peckham Town’s gleefully named Menace Arena. This is a ground where the fans are welcomed with a smile and the players are greeted onto the pitch with the theme music from Only Fools and Horses. What’s not to love?
Having added my deets to the now obligatory sign-in form and treated my hands to lashings of sanitiser, I made my way pitch-side to stand in the sun and enjoy just being … at a football match? Outside in public? Alive? All of those things, probably. At one point, a man came over and stood frighteningly close to me, so I had to sidle subtly away from him in a tricky attempt to balance the risk of social awkwardness with my preference for not dying. So that’s what Boris meant when he told us all to “stay alert”.
As it turns out, me and that guy standing way too close to me weren’t the only ones who’d been desperate for a live football fix. The 159 fans who rocked up to see this season opener might not look like much on paper but, significantly, it was the ground’s record league attendance. It would seem that, with clubs higher up the English pyramid still playing behind closed doors, there are trickle-down benefits to be lapped up for smaller non-league outfits like Peckham. It might not go on like this for long enough to be considered a “new normal” (as the cool kids are saying these days), but clubs at this level will hopefully be able to make the most of it while it lasts.
Peckham, in particular, have had a rough old time of it during the covid-enforced break. Shamefully, the Menace Arena has been repeatedly broken into and vandalised over the last few months. The club has had its goalposts smashed, its advertising boards ripped up and its pitch used as a dumping ground. That’s all on top of the money lost as a result of last season’s premature end.
So, as odd as it felt to be back in a football ground, being here to see this terrific little club get back up and running felt like a genuinely uplifting experience. Even the admittedly dreadful match, between two very rusty-looking sets of players, couldn’t put a dampener on the occasion. As they probably never said on Hooky Street, “c’est magnifique!”.
The Menace Arena
Peckham Town 0 Borden Village 0
Kent County Football League Premier Division
Saturday 5 September 2020
A fundraising campaign has been set up to help Peckham Town get back on track following the coronavirus shutdown and the vandalism done to their ground. To donate, click here.