Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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History of the Metropolitan Police FC

Metropolitan Police FC badge (via Wikipedia)The latest Portsmouth-Southampton derby, a League Cup clash ending in something of a trouncing for the hosts, was deemed notable by local media not just for the one sided nature of the scoreline but a comparative lack of trouble on the terraces given the pall of violence that has hung over the fixture in recent years. But footage subsequently emerged of a Pompey fan aiming a punch at a police horse, Luna, in an act of wanton cruelty in the aftermath of his side's heaviest defeat by their red & white neighbours from down the road in some years....



Of course, the incident attracted unwanted attention- but does not seem to have been chased up as urgently as it might have been had the target of the wayward fist been a visiting supporter. Although Hampshire Police were reported as having started to review footage, in the days following what the Portsmouth News reported as their biggest ever football- related operation, a man was arrested & later released. The RSPCA perhaps inevitably took the whole thing a degree more seriously!


‘We're concerned to hear about this, and understand the police are looking into this further. We would appeal to those who take part in such events to treat these animals with care and respect and to remember that their actions can have serious effects on the animals’ welfare. Anyone with any information relating to this is urged to contact the police.’


All a far cry from the glory days of Billy, Luna's illustrious forebear/horse who lent his colours to the “White Horse” FA Cup final of 1923 between West Ham & Bolton Wanderers, the first played at the original Wembley. The crush to be present for the maiden footballing showpiece at the Empire Stadium called for a degree of order, as around 300,000 spectators jostled their way in & made something of a mockery of the official capacity of 125,000.


Anyone bristling at the modern day length of the build up to a game, might consider the fact the gates were thrown open at 11.30 on the morning of this cup final with kick off still three & a half hours away! They would not close until 1.45 that afternoon, a massive crush forward by those still outside led to a sort of forced entry & only the arrival of King George calmed things down, a singalong of God Save The King easing the collective mood of the crowd.


Billy entered proceedings as part of his service with the mounted police, clearing people off the pitch alongside PC George Scorey, who later gave much of the credit for the success of the venture to his noble steed! Speaking to the BBC, he would go on to say “As my horse picked his way onto the field, I saw nothing but a sea of heads. I thought, "We can't do it. It's impossible."


But I happened to see an opening near one of the goals and the horse was very good – easing them back with his nose and tail until we got a goal-line cleared. I told them in front to join hands and heave and they went back step by step until we reached the line. Then they sat down and we went on like that... it was mainly due to the horse.”


Contrary to popular belief, though, he wasn't actually white- that in itself a myth embellished by the contrast on the black & white newsreels of the day. Anyone who caught sight of Billy going about his duties on crowd control that day would have seen that he was grey. His rider was a former serviceman invited to join the Metropolitan Police by an old army colleague (Percy Laurie) who'd worked his way up to the rank of deputy assistant commissioner. The fact that Scorey was shorter than the minimum height requirement for the time, of five foot eight, seems to have been brushed over!


November of 1919 found him as a constable in the mounted division, where he struck up a bond with Billy- assigned to his care in June 1920. On the day of the match he was part of a 200- strong reserve of officers on the beat along Wembley Park Road expecting a crowd of 100,000 supporters before finding that a gross underestimate! In light of his service to the force that day the Football Association offered him tickets for every final played in its aftermath but he declined, having little actual interest in football outside of its involvement in his day job before he was forced to retire in 1939 on health grounds.


Following the final he also declined any public appearances, preferring a quiet return to normal duties with his four legged colleague. Not all his fellow officers were so indifferent to a kickabout, though- Metropolitan Police FC were founded in 1919 & spent their first nine years of existence playing friendlies before a Middlesex Senior Cup win during the 1927-8 season led to a league place, a home found for them in the eastern First Division of the Spartan League. Home matches are played at Imber Court in Surrey, on land purchased by the force, the team running out to the Clash's cover of I Fought The Law before games in a display of winning humour by the boys in blue!


And until a ruling from then Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson that time off couldn't be granted for matches, players had to be Met Police employees. As manager Gavin MacPherson told the Guardian- “Sometimes when kick-off came people were still travelling or finishing up with things at work. It was not only that struggle of getting players there, but players having worked nights or having two or three hours’ sleep before getting up and travelling long distances to games.”


Making professional managers' complaints over travelling long distances seem like petty squabbles, the club chairman Des Flanders is also a former serving officer, one of a committee of four involved in the day to day running of things. A serving member of personnel hasn't played a match since 2012, when PC Craig Brown had to give an FA Cup tie against Crawley a miss. Why? He'd used up his annual leave! Fittingly they now describe themselves as a community club- and as Flanders told the Telegraph, “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”.


Park any gags about that being a fair cop at the door! The old rules on players did at least open doors for the odd comparatively more glamorous fixture, according to former detective inspector & defender Pat Mullings. "We used to represent the Met against police teams around the world: Hong Kong, Barbados, France, America and Italy. Really good tours".


It would seem, though, that support from their non- playing colleagues is slim. Why? “Some don't like the fact that it's not all cops playing any more, and I get that. But we couldn't have stayed a work side or we'd have ceased to exist – we'd be playing Sunday league. We've got no geographic identity: we play in Thames Ditton but we're not from here, we're the police!”


MK Dons take note?

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