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Sunday, February 7, 2021


The last year or so has brought a great deal of misery, hardship and uncertainty for many people, and it is in large part thanks to the Corona virus. Football has not escaped its clutches, with league of all standards the world over being cancelled or, at best, interrupted. Due to the financial constraints heaped upon them by losing revenue because of the footballing hiatus currently being experienced in a number of countries, large number of clubs have mothballed or simply ceased to exist. 

Yet, for other clubs, 2020 was a time to regroup and, in some ways, expand. One of them is a Sunday League side from the English county of Berkshire, just to the west of London, who have emerged as the kings of Twitter thanks in no small part to their dynamic social media presence, which has seen them increase their following on the social media giant from a couple of thousand to more than 11000 in the space of two years or so.

The club hails from Caversham, now a suburb of Reading but once a town in its own right which was in southernmost Oxfordshire until 1911, when it was transferred to Berkshire and became part of Reading county borough. Caversham United, nicknamed the Billy Goats, were founded in 2015, but can trace its history back to 1996 when it was founded as RBC Unison. The club joined the Reading and District Sunday League, later going under the name FC Brettle, and was also known for a time as Miah's FC before yet another name-change in 2010, when it went under the name AFC Palmer.

Club manager Paul Gutteridge, one of only two remaining Caversham United members from its time as AFC Palmer and the man behind its social media boom, explained the reasoning behind the most recent name-change from AFC Palmer to Caversham United, which turned out to be much more. "In June 2015, the current management took over the club following the worst season in the club’s history, achieving just 4 points in the bottom division. Just two players from the 2014-15 team remain at the club now, both of whom now form part of the club committee. June 2015 saw the club change management, name, badge and kit, so essentially formed a new club."

On the pitch, the club's name might have changed but its fortunes didn't, remaining in the lowest reaches of bottom division of the Reading and District Sunday League and on the verge of folding once and for all. In the autumn of 2018, during the club's promotion season, Gutteridge, who described himself as being "a bored commuter-cum-Twitter admin" back then, decided to ramp things up a bit on social media, and this ultimately brought results on the pitch.

"The idea of using social media was initially to increase our recruitment of players, following a challenging 2017-18 campaign which decimated the squad. Then, seeing the engagement from teams like AS Roma’s English account, we thought we would try to become more active too. The club began to pick up a few verified followers, with the likes of AS Roma and Bayer Leverkusen among the ranks, and never looked back!" 

Gutteridge, who not only leads the way on Twitter but is also the team's player-manager, has a Twitter partner-in-crime in striker Joe Hales, who, in his manager's words "tends to head up the brilliant graphic design and illustration work" social media-wise (and, like Gutteridge, sits on the club committee). Having successfully attracted enough new players to bolster their squad for the new season to twenty-six, they and the rest of the committee decided to give the club a bit of a Twitter-inspired overhaul as well: "In November 2018, we launched a series of Twitter polls to decide a new club crest, club nickname and also a new home kit."


The new club badge featured the River Thames, which splits Caversham from Reading "proper", Caversham Bridge, which links the two parts of the city, and a goat, representing the club's nickname The Billy Goats. The club kit's main feature is, unsurprisingly, the shirt, which is a wonderful mix of purple, blue and white. 

Gutteridge, Hales and everyone else involved with the club haven't let up since, on or off the pitch. They gained promotion to the RDSL's third division in 2019, and find themselves in its top level this year after a bit of reorganisation in the league. Their fortunes off the pitch have mirrored those on it in that time, too.

Two years ago, they had fewer than 100 followers on Twitter. Gutteridge: "In September 2018, we had just 50 or 60 followers. It's just sky-rocketed from there!" Now, Caversham United have over 11000, with the majority of followers linking up in the last year or so since the advent of the Corona virus thanks to the club maintaining a near-constant media presence, connecting with fellow clubs who were unable to play due to lockdown or various other reasons, holding and taking part in many a Twitter poll and posting some eclectic posts. They've also done a lot of charity work, as Gutteridge explains. 

"Since those early days of social media, we’ve gone from strength to strength and aim to use our social media reach in a positive way to engage with and inspire fellow grassroots clubs and to raise money for charity. To date we’ve raised £5,000 for Balls to Cancer in the last 24 months." 

(Balls to Cancer is a British charity which raises money for, amongst other things, male cancer awareness and education, and also for chemotherapy packs to help alleviate somewhat the side-effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The charity also has a couple of holiday homes which, subject to availability, house those cancer sufferers and their families in need of a short break, donates some of the money it receives to hospitals and research organisations, and has also set up a fund with the intention of helping cancer sufferers and their families suffering from financial hardship.)

But, the Billy Goats let their hair down on Twitter as well, with the Wheel of Misfortune being rolled out on occasion and lots of cheeky banter being flung around. And then there's the one and only Skid, Caversham United's record signing at a cost of..£25. Gutteridge again: "As well as the charity work, we do like to have a lot of fun with the platform and a cracking example of that is signing a goat, named Skid [see below photo], upon reaching 8,000 Twitter followers. This went down really well on the social media and even featured in Four Four Two magazine and BBC Radio 5 Live!" 

The manager is enthusiastic about the present, and also about the future. The club has plans, but they also remain realistic. "There are definitely plans to expand this football club. 2021-22 should see the emergence of a second Caversham United team, but the details are still being finalised and the specifics are under wraps for now... This is almost certain to happen now, though! 

"Scaling the English Football pyramid, maybe in the style of our friends Hashtag United, isn’t quite on the cards quite yet. The current Caversham United team plays in the Reading and District Sunday League, which in fairness, we have scaled a fair bit. In 2018-19 we were in Division 4 (Tier 6) of the Reading Sunday League. In the current 2020-21 season, we are up to Division 1 (Tier 3). Maybe one day we will make that switch to Saturdays and the official tiers, but not yet.

"Off the pitch, we have loads of plans of course. To continue to raise money for our partner charities is of course high up there. We would also love to hold another charity tournament one day but this summer may come to soon to do it the way we would want to. One thing is for sure though, we will not be quiet and will remain very active!"

Caversham United have just completed a World Cup of Twitter Admins, won by quite possibly the only English non-league club who have had a more meteoric rise on Twitter, Marine AFC, and are now busy whittling down the designs they have received for their proposed new kit. They received some 140 designs, and are currently, yup, holding another poll for the Twitter public to decide which kit the Billy Goats will wear next season. 

Gutteridge would not be drawn on whether his club will hold a World Cup of Blogs, but you can be sure that they will have something else up their sleeves fairly soon. They have helped keep the spirits of many a football fan and many a football club high during the past twelve months, and have helped out charities, too. (They have given their sponsor space on the front of their new shirts to Balls to Cancer, and will be donating money from their shirt sales to the charity.) There is much to admire about the club, both on and off the pitch. They are trailblazers for the smallest of small clubs everywhere, not least on social media. All hail Caversham United, the Kings of Twitter.







AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to Paul Gutteridge, Caversham United player-manager, committee member and Twitter hero, for his help with the above article, and for also for submitting the photos contained within said article.

To find out more about Caversham United, visit:

To find out more about, or donate to, Balls to Cancer, kindly go to:



Life on an island can be difficult, especially on those which are more isolated than most. They are hard places to get to and travel costs are often ridiculously high, as is the cost of living. Think of places such as Saint Helena, which has the most expensive internet service anywhere in the world, and Tristan da Cunha, the most remote permanently-inhabited island on Earth. Many of the world's most isolated islands host tiny populations. 

Another tiny island with an equally tiny population, but one which is rather less isolated, is Australia's Lord Howe Island, part of New South Wales and situated some 420 nautical miles north-east of Sydney. Using the data from the last Australian census, dated 2016, it is home to just 382 people. The island is tiny, just over five and a half square miles in area, but is renowned for its pristine beaches and having the world's most southerly barrier coral reef. It is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site, a place with a varied landscape and one which is predominately covered in pristine forest. Small is indeed beautiful in Lord Howe Island's case.

The island was seemingly unknown to the inhabitants of Australasia, Aboriginal and Polynesians alike, before it was discovered in February 1788 by Henry Lidgbird Small, commander of the British vessel HMS Supply, who came across it whilst on the way to Norfolk Island with a cargo of prisoners to found a penal colony there. Lord Howe Island was finally permanently settled only in 1834 and became part of New South Wales in 1855.

Tourism is the principal industry on Lord Howe Island and in order to protect the island's environment, only 400 visitors are allowed on the island at any one time. in spite of the island's size, there is plenty for them - and the locals - to see and do. Peter Adams, CEO of the Lord Howe Island Board, which governs the island at a local level, explained that even the small number of children domiciled on the island have plenty to keep themselves occupied sports-wise, both in the water, obviously, and on dry land.

"There is a Bowling Club and a Golf Club, which has a juniors programme, and they even play in the annual pro-am tournament here. The Bowling club has regular competitions. There is an annual week-long bowls competition, and some of the teenagers form teams and compete with local and visiting bowlers.

"Most young people [visitors included] surf, snorkel, dive (free and scuba), kayak and fish as well as go bushwalking, etc. [For the island's young swimmers,] there is a Nippers Club with a strong membership learning ocean swimming, safety and rescue skills. A couple of swimming coaches usually visit the island each year and run classes in the beautiful lagoon, which are very popular. There is [also] a fishing club, and young people often go game fishing as well and [enter fishing competitions]."

Lord Howe Island also has a tennis club, which hosts an annual clinic held by a visiting coach. A couple of the locals paraglide and kite-surf. Adams adds: "There is a sports field with combination soccer and Rugby League posts. [There is] an artificial cricket pitch within the field. An annual Discovery Day sports carnival takes place [every 17th of February] to celebrate the discovery of Lord Howe Island. It is typically held in the evening and is preceded by a traditional island fish-fry. A crane is set up to light up the sports field. [The sports carnival] runs late and is often held on a week-night. Running races, bike-balance competitions, sack-races, relays and barrel-rolling races are just some of the events which take place."

In spite of the range of activities on offer, team sports aren't really an option on the island, bowls excluded, perhaps, as Adams admits. "There is not a lot of organised sport on the island. There are very small numbers of children here, and therefore regular team sport is not feasible. There is no football or rugby league competition. There is a weekly touch [rugby] game that is informal rather than any scheduled competition."

Rugby has been played on Lord Howe Island for decades, and the island does have its own rugby league team, the Lord Howe Island Woodhens, which competes in tournaments abroad on an irregular basis. Meanwhile, football has scarcely made any sort of a mark on Lord Howe Island. Apart from the very occasional kickabout, football of sorts was played after school from time to time, involving most of the school-age children - plus those from the island's play school - and their parents, though even these after-school kickabouts seem to have fallen by the wayside over the past few years. 

The island's sports ground's dual-purpose goalposts, used for football or rugby matches, are where the influence of the round ball game on the island currently begins and ends. Lord Howe Island is a stunning location, by all accounts, with a lot to see and do, in - and on - the water and on dry land. You probably won't need to bring your football boots and shinpads with you, though.


AUTHOR'S NOTE:  Many thanks to Peter Adams, CEO of the Lord Howe Island Board, for his assistance with the above article. Other information was obtained via the website and Wikipedia.

Friday, February 5, 2021


The American state of California is renowned for a great many things, but what is slightly less well-known is that it is a traditional hotbed of football, and that the game has been played there since at least the 1890s, when the California Foot Ball League and the Western League came into being. The California State Football Association was founded in 1902, as was the Southern California Football League. (The California State Football Association later became the San Francisco Soccer Football League, and is the longest continuously-running football league in the United States.)

Two years later, in 1904, two of the United States' oldest cup ompetitions, the California State Senior Challenge Cup (State Cup) and the John O Belis Perpetual Trophy began, and, further north, the Sacramento Soccer League also came into being at around this time.

The state's clubs have had a lot of success in the famed US Open Cup competition, though it took until 1955 for a Californian team to reach the final, when Danish American SC lost the final on home ground in Los Angeles to New York's SC Eintracht. It wasn't until 1958 that a Californian club finally got their hands on the trophy. Los Angeles Kickers were that team, and they won it again in 1964; in the years since, they were involved in a series of mergers and are now known as Los Angeles FC. San Pedro's McIlvaine Canvasbacks won the trophy in 1959, defeating Fall River SC 4:3 in a pulsating final, but have since faded into obscurity. 

Maccabi Los Angeles trumped them all, winning the trophy in 1973, 1975, 1977, 1978 and 1981 before folding in 1982. In between times, the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club won the cup in 1976, defeating New York Inter-Guiliana 1:0; the team from the Big Apple lost to Maccabi LA by the same score the year before.

San Francisco's Greek-American SC lifted the trophy in 1985 and 1994 before they, too, became defunct in 2005. San Jose Oaks brought the cup back to California in 1992 before another San Francisco club, El Farolito, which was founded in 1985, won the US Open Cup a year later under the name CD Mexico. Greek-American SC's triumph in 1994 ended the penultimate competition before the MLS big guns joined in in 1996.

Los Angeles Aztecs won the ill-starred NASL in 1974, and, more recently, LA Galaxy lifted the US Open Cup twice in the early 2000s as well as four MLS Supporters Shields. San José Earthquakes have also lifted the Shield twice, and Los Angeles FC won it in 2019.

So, there has been plenty for Californian football fans to celebrate down the years, but for those teams and players operating outside the auspices of the USSF, targets have been few and far between, but that is all about to change, if a chap called Sven Serrano has anything to do with it.

Serrano has spent much of the last three decades living in China, but had travelled to two World Cups - in 1998 and 2002 - to cheer on the United States team. After the team were knocked out of the 2018 qualifiers, he had, by his own admission, no-one to support at the 2018 World Cup. So, from his home in Shanghai, Serrano got in touch with some designers and a Chinese clothing factory to release a line of California "National Team" apparel in 2018.

He also discovered that there was a fledgling movement for Californian independence, something he himself had been advocating for many years, and he got in touch with them; between them, they launched a project to create a bona-fide California representative football team. The California Football Federation was born. Now, a small group of volunteers from across the state have joined Serrano to help the CFF become more than a pipe-dream, holding weekly meetings via Zoom. The city of Bakerfield, some 110 miles to the north of Los Angeles, has been designated as the CFF's base, at least to begin with.

But why was the CFF set up in the first place? Do Serrano and his team advocate an independent California, or are they more concerned with football? Like the CFF itself, perhaps, the state of California is in perpetual flux, as Serrano explains: "California is unique and distinct in its identity. We, as a people, are rapidly morphing into a nationality and our 'state' into a nation. In this regard the project of a California national team is a direct exercise in nation-building."

"Not all of us in the CFF are committed to the idea of independent California but we all think a California [Football] Federation could a better job of promoting the sport here in California. The US Soccer Federation with its current system and bureaucracy doesn't see the whole picture when it comes to soccer - and people, though that varies from state to state. Scotland has an independent FA and team and it is still, when we last checked, a part of the UK. Why not us, too?

"But..the last thing we want is any backlash from USA fans. We are critical of the USSF because of its [many shortcomings, including] pay-per-view for matches, there are few opportunities for low-income, minority players, no promotion/relegation, etc., but if we were to discover a prospect who played for our team and then got on a US men's national team, we would be overjoyed."

The organisation is still very much in its infancy and has a tiny core of support, but it is looking to grow in as many areas as possible. Serrano again: "We have fourteen active volunteers, but we are looking for ten more in order to make this a permanent working entity. We are waiting for women who would want to help us build a women’s national team. We now have a working Board of Directors with five members. Our base is in southern California, but two of our members are in the north, in the [San Francisco] Bay Area."

Salvador Torres is the CFF's media and communications representative, and he has been encouraged by the response from footballers in the Inland Empire area, a region to the east and south-east of Los Angeles, and also by the response from football fans on social media hailing from California and beyond. 

"We had players from my neck of the woods in the Inland Empire who have an interest in the idea and are excited for the idea to come to life", he said. "We [haven't] played a game yet but we have around 600 followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so it's growing for a future time during the pandemic.

"We do have a list of interested players, most are from the Inland Empire and High Desert and our list is still growing as we hope to reach our base from areas of the state that aren’t Los Angeles, San Diego or the Bay Area. We want to place our flag in the city of Bakersfield as being the center of both the northern and southern part of the state, so we want our fan base to start there."

Serrano expanded on this slightly: "Our plan is to recruit players in the Central Valley and ‘Inland Empire’ (1-2 hours due east of Los Angeles). This area, which is home to many immigrants and local football players who would never have a chance to play for [the United States], is key to our team. We will put out the call to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego based players too, but they will have to come to our camps in the Central Valley."

Torres admits that the CFF had had difficulty finding sponsors so far, and that media interest has been small to say the least, but they are intent on spreading the word on their existence amongst California's football lovers.

"Sponsors have been difficult to find at the moment as it’s not surprising people like to keep their money during these uncertain times. However, when the sun comes out we expect some sponsors to support our mission and come on board. We have been reaching out to spread the word about us joining WUFA this year and we’ve been on a podcast called Soccer Nostalgia which went very well. As our Federation is bilingual, we hope to get press in California’s vibrant Spanish-language media."

California, like almost everywhere else, is in the grip of the Corona virus crisis, but this hasn't stopped Serrano and his fellow CFF members from planning for the future and coming together via their Monday morning Zoom conference calls. Trials for the fledgling national team are a top priority, as he himself points out, but the CFF has a lot of things in its sights.

"As soon as a relaxing of COVID controls permit it, we plan to hold team try-outs and training camps for our first ever national team [from 30 March]. The CFF will offer places on our Board of Directors to California men’s and women’s professional and amateur teams so they can have a say in the team formation. 

"The CFF can also become a shadow association and a talking shop in hope of pressuring the USSF on issues such as youth development and promotion/relegation in California. A California FA Cup is another project for the future."

The CFF applied to join CONIFA last year under the organisation's Nakuma (Friend) status, but admitted that they were not ready for full membership. Nevertheless, they decided to join the World Unity Football Alliance, which was formed last summer. Serrano: "It has been decided that WUFA status is fine for us at the moment. We can build our team and put it on the field in July of 2021 in the Alliance’s ‘World Series’ round with Karen FA, Darfur United and Kuskatan. After this, should we have a strong organization set up we will most-likely re-apply for CONIFA status. However, under their current membership requirements we still do not qualify for full status, so ‘Nakuma’ or friend of CONIFA is our only place."

In the meantime, Serrano and his team are delighted to be members of WUFA, and it may well be a relationship that will last long into the future, but, for now, they are hoping that the proposed four-team tournament in southern California can go ahead: "We love our relationship with WUFA so far. We were immediately accepted and they, especially Gabriel [Stauring, WUFA chairman], have been most supportive. We are hoping the devasting effects of COVID-19 in Southern California will not cancel the July tournament although we are resigned to the fact that it may be played behind closed doors."

The CFF hope to be able to use the Centennial High School pitch in Bakerfield for their home matches, and the number of potential triallists is encouraging, but Serrano admits that the fundraising side of the whole operation is going a little slowly. "Nearly 30 players have expressed an interest in trying out for the team in March and April.  We hope to get highlight videos first from most of them. The goal is to organise three try-out camps, one each in northern, central and southern California. Our greatest challenge has been fundraising.  Merchandise has raised about USD1000 and I have contributed about USD2000 of my own funds.  Crowdfunding is still in its early stages."

Things may have got off to a slow start for the Californians, especially from a financial point of view, but they are planning for the long haul and remain positive. With WUFA, the CFF are in a place they feel happy with, they have more people involved in the running of the organisation and they already potentially have a full squad of players. They have a potentially huge player, sponsor, volunteer and fan base, and, although it will take time for word to filter out about the CFF's existence, the early signs are positive. As Serrano himself put it: "That’s us in a nutshell, taking toddler first steps, but remaining most optimistic."


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to Sven Sorrano and Salvador Torres for their help with the above article.

To find out more about the California Football Federation (and peruse their wares while you're at it), kindly visit their website: