Which FA Cup team will run out to I Fought the Law? Met Police, of course

Ben Fisher on 9 November 2018

Metropolitan Police FC, a team shrouded in myth and misunderstood in some quarters, are dreaming. The seventh-tier side, mid-table in the Southern League Premier Division South, host Newport County on Saturday hoping to reach the FA Cup second round for the first time in 99 years, when they were formed as a works team, part of a recreational department for the force’s officers and staff.

No ordinary team, there are plenty of quirks. The running of the club is funded by a £1-per-ticket weekly lottery for staff past and present and at home games they walk out to The Clash’s version of I Fought the Law. “It is a fantastic tune to run out to,” says the manager, Gavin MacPherson, whose assistant is the former Barnet winger Jon Nurse. “I don’t take a lot of notice at what other clubs do but most clubs certainly take notice of ours.”

They train twice a week and play home games at Imber Court in East Molesey, one of the areas which fell out of the Met’s jurisdiction at the turn of the millennium. Just over 100 supporters attended their last home match, against Farnborough, with more than 10 times that expected against Newport. This Cup run has made a club who make a loss each matchday feel like kings, having pocketed £55,000 and counting.

Nevertheless, drawing fans to their ground, between Hampton Court and Sandown Park racecourse, has been a struggle. “I don’t know what the magic formula for that is,” MacPherson says. “It has traditionally been very difficult to attract people. It’s a lovely place to come and watch football but the name of the club and the fact it’s not a town maybe makes it more difficult for people to identify with us.”

Fifteen years ago they reached a tipping point, faced with permitting non-police personnel to play or folding. “We couldn’t get a goalkeeper for love nor money and it was no good playing at that sort of level in the Isthmian League without a goalkeeper of substance,” the chairman, Des Flanders, says. “It became impossible really to field a team of policemen as we had done and wanted to continue to do. We realised the writing was on the wall.”

The manager adds: “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.”

Imber Court in Molesey, where Met Police play their home games. A crowd around 10 times larger than usual is expected against Newport.
Imber Court in Molesey, where Met Police play their home games. A crowd around 10 times larger than usual is expected against Newport. Photograph: Lee Ludlow/Metropolitan Police FC

They may no longer be a works team but they have not lost sight of their history. The legacy lives on in the boardroom, with the club run by a four-man managing committee of former senior officers, including Flanders, a former deputy assistant commissioner in south-west London, and Victor Olisa, a former chief superintendent and the former borough commander of Haringey, a post he took less than two years after the 2011 riots there.

Since opening the club to all, they have built a structure akin to any other team. An emphasis on youth has been particularly rewarding, with the first-team players Ethan Chislett, John Gilbert, Louis Birch and Nesta Guinness-Walker all graduates from the youth side. “We went into a transition of what I describe as a community club,” Flanders says. “We have 26 junior clubs, from under-six to under-16s. We also have a substantial youth-team setup and we have had some joy in the FA Youth Cup over two or three seasons.”

Olisa adds: “People say the police do not get on with young people, that there is a clash and they don’t understand young people, but if you look at the some of the boys who turn up to play for the Met Police without any concern or ambivalence, it’s brilliant. It’s a seamless collaboration of different people working together under the brand of the Met Police football club.”

They have not had a serving policeman in the team since 2012, when PC Craig Brown had to miss their previous first-round tie, against Crawley Town, having used up his annual leave. Also gone are the days of tours to Hong Kong, Barbados and beyond. Four players are on small contracts while the rest claim travel expenses. The squad includes electricians, estate agents and a male model. In years gone by players have joined the police as a result of signing for the team.

MacPherson’s father, Christopher, was the longstanding kit-man until last season and will play a lament to mark Remembrance Sunday as the teams walk out of the tunnel. Only after that, and a minute’s silence, will The Clash sound. Christopher MacPherson was appointed as piper to the Queen Mother in 1999 and played on her 100th birthday in the Clarence House gardens.

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“A lot of people have said to me ‘enjoy your day’, which almost signifies to me it will come, it will go and we might not get it back for many years,” the manager adds. “We are not going into it like that, we are going in planned and prepared, and seeing if we can bridge the three-division gap on the day. The enormous size of the task is not lost on me.”

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