TWO of my most unusual football expeditions came when I obtained special permission to watch prison football….
Phoenix 2-1 Hanworth Villa Veterans
When: Wednesday 21st December 2011
Where: HM Prison & Young Offender Institution Feltham, Bedfont Road, Feltham, Middlesex TW13 4ND
Competition: London Airport Midweek League Premier Division
Attendance: 1 (ONE)
I received written authorisation by email to attend this fixture, but I was unequivocally told not to bring a phone or a camera into the prison with me. No chance of live betting at this place!
Phoenix FC were a team for members of the Young Offender Institution at Feltham. They played all their fixtures at home for obvious reasons.
I was asked to arrive in the main external car park at precisely 1.50pm along with the match referee and visiting players from Hanworth Villa Vets. The kick-off was originally scheduled for 2.30pm.
We were met by members of the prison staff who brought us all in together…via an airport-style metal detector, a body search, numerous locked gates and then a path to the changing rooms.
This arduous process took 45 minutes. Once the players and ref had got changed, we were escorted through more locked gates out to the playing area.
Ground Description: Situated behind the imposing prison building, a high mesh fence with barbed wire on top surrounded the two football pitches and a rugby pitch.
Managerial dug-outs adjoined one touchline and I avidly watched the match from there as the only spectator.
The Match: The London Airport Midweek League was a (now defunct) midweek afternoon competition mainly for energetic shift workers at Heathrow Airport. But it also included teams of postal workers and police officers as well as Phoenix FC.
My match didn’t kick-off until 2.48pm due to those long delays in getting into the prison. Because the young offenders had to be back in their block by 4.30pm, the ref opted for two halves of 37 minutes plus a five minute half-time.
Prison policy meant I couldn’t note down the team line-ups and goalscorers like I normally do. Phoenix played some good stuff courtesy of young, enthusiastic players bolstered by two muscular prison officers who filled the centre-back positions.
The prisoners saw it as a real privilege being allowed to play competitive football so fine sportsmanship prevailed throughout featuring no dissent or swearing and very few fouls. Hanworth opened the scoring but Phoenix fought back to win 2-1.
After the match, the ref and Hanworth players showered and got changed. We were then escorted out of the prison together with more lengthy security checks before the heavy gates slammed behind us.
Colchester Crusaders 2-0 Holland Sunday
When: Sunday 11th October 2020
Where: The Military Corrective Training Centre, Berechurch Hall Road, Colchester, Essex CO2 9NU
Competition: Colchester & District Sunday League Division One
Attendance: 1 (ONE)
The Military Corrective Training Centre (MCTC) in Colchester is a rehabilitation facility which retrains and educates servicemen and women from the Army, Navy and RAF.
They may have made wrong choices in offending against military law and are therefore sentenced to periods of detention. The site was formerly a wartime Prisoner of War Camp before being re-opened in the current format back in 1988.
Before kick-off, Colchester Crusaders FC’s enthusiastic manager Jack Calver greeted the referee and opposing Holland Sunday players at the main security barrier entry gate - ticking everyone off on his clipboard list. Again, football betting was out of the question here.
As I was the only external spectator arriving for the match, he gave me a very friendly welcome. Jack checked out my credentials since everyone visiting the MCTC for this fixture had to provide full ID and contact details.
I also had a decent chat with Crusaders’ goalkeeper/assistant manager/secretary David Kerr who told me about the club’s short history. He explained that Colchester Crusaders were founded as recently as 2018 by staff at the MCTC.
There was a well-maintained football pitch within the centre which wasn’t in use so they decided to form their own team playing in the local Colchester & District Sunday League.
Ground Description: The pitch was enclosed by a wire fence and there was a mini assault course for prisoners behind one goal.
Programme Details: A nicely presented eight pages containing the manager’s notes, playing statistics, line-ups and a player profile. Crusaders issued programmes for all their home and away fixtures.
They were very active on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram too. In addition, matches were filmed for their YouTube channel.
I was impressed to see a Sunday League club working so hard to enhance their profile through an assortment of online outlets. They were attracting plenty of interest with the names of their club sponsors displayed on a board near to the dressing rooms.
The Match: Crusaders cantered to a 2-0 victory. I noticed that 10 MCTC prisoners in uniform were led out pitchside by military staff to watch the football. Several of them wrote match reports and talked about Colchester Crusaders’ performances as part of their rehabilitation courses.
It was a more relaxed environment than my previous trip to Feltham Prison so I was permitted to take action photos.
*Credit for the photos in this article belongs to Tony Incenzo*