Yateley's home ground is situated just to the North of Yateley town centre, in Sean Devereux Park, an area of sports facilities, parkland, gardens and lakes named after a local charity worker who was assassinated in Somalia in 1993. There is ample parking at the centre including a large parking area adjacent to the football ground and a smaller one sandwiched between the pitch and cricket club.
The over-riding feeling around the club is one of community spirit. Everyone I met, the man on the gate, the club officials who were also there chatting, their Comms/IT guy (Lee I believe). All were friendly and helpful. It's also a progressive club. Green, white and orange signage everywhere and something I've not seen anywhere else, an electronic noticeboard as you enter the club. None of this posting a written team sheet on a wall somewhere (if you are lucky), it's all part of a presentation flashing up on a six foot high electronic board.
It's good to see that, even though the club embraces technology, they are still producing a printed programme rather than just posting online (which they also do). At £2 the 24-page, full colour magazine is at the high-end of the price bracket but, if that is what it takes to keep it in print, I am all for it. There are plenty of colour action photos, statistics, one page dedicated to the visitors and, of course, squad lists. Well worth the purchase. Adding to the club's coffers as well as, hopefully, guaranteeing the continued publication of the programme.
Although football has been played in Yateley for over 100 years the current club is only 10 years old. Yateley United were formed in 2013 as the result of a merger between four local teams, Yateley, Yateley Green, Yateley Youth and Beaulieu. They started off in the Surrey Elite Intermediate League. After four seasons they dropped into the Surrey County Intermediate League but then joined the Hellenic League, in Division Two East for the 2018-19 season. After finishing fifth in their first season, the next two seasons were abandoned and Yateley started 2021-22 in the Thames Valley Premier. They went on to finish third before, last season, winning the league with an astounding 100% record last season.
Their Combined Counties Division One campaign couldn't get off to a much more challenging start as they welcome the team that finished in the third spot last season. London Samurai Rovers are only in their third season at this level but made a massive improvement last season. They were only formed in 2017, as London Samurai United, and joined the Middlesex County League in Division One. A merger with JL Rovers added the name to their title and joined the premier League.
Incredibly, after the weather I had driven through, the game kicked off in bright sunshine with spectators in t-shirts and sunglasses.
It wasn't only the weather that was bright either. Less than two minutes into the game, Yateley announced themselves at Step 6. Josh Mynard's corner from the right was punched up into the air by visitor's goalkeeper Pedro Barreto. The ball looped down inside the six-yard box where a group of players challenged for it. Jordan Robertson won that battle, heading in off the underside of the bar. 1-0
Eight minutes in and it was almost two for United. Charlie Westell was set free on goal but a good recovery from a defender smothered the chance. There were muted calls for a penalty from the home side, but the referee was unmoved. However, the penalty shouts were much louder two minutes later when Barreto came flying out of his goal and seemed to clean out a Yateley striker without getting anything on the ball. The ball was running away from goal, which may have swayed the referee's decision, but from my angle it looked like a penalty. Once again the referee was unmoved.
Oddly, given that Yateley were a goal up and had already had two penalty shouts, the eye-catching football was being played by the visitors. Their philosophy appears to be the short, sharp passing game. It's very easy on the eye and they have a few midfielders (sadly I can't name check all of their players because the team sheet I had didn't match the numbers they were wearing. I'm happy to address this if someone sends me the actual sheet) who have the skills to make it happen for them. Unfortunately for Rovers, they couldn't replicate their build-up play inside the final third. Adrian Giles in the home goal, was not being stretched at all.
Having said that, it certainly wasn't one-way traffic. Yateley's slightly more direct style was also causing problems for Rovers and, the big difference between the sides was that when Yateley got close to the Samurai goal they looked dangerous. Westell's runs were keeping the Samurai back-line busy all afternoon and, with seven minutes to go until the break, it was one of these intelligent runs that created the second goal. Warren Clark broke through the middle and found Westell, who had created himself some space between the centre-halves. The ball was perfectly into the strikers stride and he finished well, low to Barreto's right. 2-0.
It looked as if The Greens were going into the break well ahead. That was until a minute into added time when Samurai won a free-kick midway inside the Yateley half, out on the right flank. The ball was delivered deep towards the back post by Watanabe, where defender Soh Yokoi climbed above everyone to loop ahead back across the goal that Giles could not quite keep out. 2-1
HT Yateley United 2 London Samurai Rovers 1. An interesting half of football. Both sides played some good football on a pitch made for the passing game. Samurai edged the possession stats, but Yateley looked the more dangerous in the final third.
The game was even in terms of possession at this point and, eighteen minutes into the half, it was even on the scoreboard two. Reece Jones burst down the right-wing and delivered a beautiful cross on the run. Sho Oyama rose perfectly to direct a header down past the left-hand of Giles into the net. 2-2
It was around this point that I spotted someone wearing a white 1968 West Brom FA Cup winners shirt with a number 8 on the back. Astle truly was King in those days and with the current batch of Baggies losing at Blackburn, it made me wish we still had Jeff Astle up front. Whilst I was researching this game, I discovered that the shirt was not the only local connection to West Brom. Current club captain Jed Wallace was a pupil at the local Frogmore Community College, just over the other side of town.
The turning point in the second half came on the 82nd minute and it was a fairly bizarre incident that sparked it all off. The referee blew for a handball against the Samurai number 5 some 30 yards from goal. It looked very harsh and even the locals standing next to me were dumbfounded by the call. Number 5 protested that his hands were by his side and that he made no movement towards the ball, which had skipped up off a skiddy surface. Midfielder Jugert Binaj joined in the protests and presumably said something the referee took offence to, earning himself a sin-bin. With less than 10 minutes to go, this was effectively a red card, leaving Rovers down to 10 men for the remainder. To make matters worse for the visitors, a minute later Yateley took the lead again. Dan Gosling delivered a dangerous corner that dropped inside the six-yard box before being diverted over the line by an unfortunate Samurai defender for an OG. 3-2.
Rovers tried to push for another equaliser but, a player light, they found it harder to make inroads into the home half. Then, a minute into added time, Yateley added the icing to their league-debut cake. Baretto was unlucky after making a superb diving save to push Westell's effort against the post, only to see Harry Lee react quickest to smash the rebound home. 4-2.
FT Yateley United 4 London Samurai Rovers 2. An enjoyable watch for a neutral. Both sides like play attractive football. You could see how Samurai managed third place last season. They have some skilful players, especially in midfield. With an added cutting edge, they could cause any team problems. Yateley play slightly more directly but do have a cutting edge. Starting their season with a 4-2 defeat of a team that finished third last season is a massive boost to them. Not only that, but after winning every league game last season, they keep their 100% record going which can only add to their confidence.
Both sides are back in league action on Tuesday evening. Samurai Rovers make the trip to Northwood to face Spartans Youth who also lost their opening game, 2-0 at Oxhey Jets. Yateley make the short journey to Woodley who, after their game was called off, had many of their team watching this game.
Yateley United: Giles, Bolton, Mynard, Gosling(c), Boutros, Lee, Clark, Robertson, Westell, Ludlow, Ruddal. Subs: Hanger, Garrett-Skinns, Scott, Timson, Cairns
London Samurai Rovers: Baretto, Jones, Iguchi(c), Yokoi, Corr, Watanabe, Shinsei, Binaj, Ramirez, Oyama, Debney. Subs: Goduyn, Olayinka, Olubokun, Mendes, Majeed
Ground Number: 369