Left Foot Forward
On Sunday 21 November 1999, after gathering in the Black Cap public house in Camden Town, fourteen people had an informal kick about in Regent’s Park and Leftfooters Football Club was effectively born. The founder, Neil Caulfield, had already had an aborted attempt at this a few months earlier, but he persisted, canvassed for more interested people and this time he was successful. Indeed, this inaugural kick-about was announced in a pretty high profile article in Axiom Magazine - headlined LEFT FOOT FORWARD - which was later reproduced in the newsletter of the Gay Football Supporters Network (GFSN) to draw further recruits.
In the article Neil was quoted as saying: "The ethos behind the club is to have fun and play football in a non-competitive atmosphere. We are not picking a side based on people's ability but on their desire to have a fun knockabout game and maybe a few beers afterwards."
Neil felt that many people would be interested in rediscovering a game they loved but perhaps felt too intimidated to pursue elsewhere - and he was right. He named the club "Leftfooters" to indicate that it was for people with two left feet (rather than "kick with the other foot" in the manner of "bat for the other side"). It was the only name he considered and it meant that the initials would be LFC, just like his beloved Liverpool Football Club. From that day on sufficient people turned up every other Sunday to have a lot of fun - playing in all weather and stopping only to admire particularly attractive passers-by and on one notable occasion, a rainbow.
Initially it was thought that people would not want to commit themselves to playing any more frequently than once a fortnight, but after Brian Fenelon had taken over as manager the club began to meet weekly by popular demand. Brian, a committed party animal (and another Liverpool fan) also started "next goal wins", the now traditional way of ending kickabouts and heading for a few pints in the Black Cap.
The first "competitive" matches the club played were at the National 5-a-side Tournament, an integral part of the GFSN’s Annual National Get-Together, which in June 2000 was held in Manchester. "Competitive" matches presented the club with a dilemma. How could it be true to its ethos if it "competed"? In the end it was decided that the club would play because they wanted to play, but there would be no early nights, no laying off the booze and no "selection" - the teams were picked at random from a baseball cap on the eve of the tournament, and would play for the love of the game. Both of the teams managed to win a game but they didn’t trouble the trophy engraver. For the record, the first ever "competitive" match played by a Leftfooters team resulted in a 5-0 drubbing by a team of people who had never met before and went by the name of the Famous Five. One of the goal scorers, a little more than five years later, would score a significant goal for Leftfooters in Copenhagen.
Every GFSN National Tournament since Manchester 2000 has had Leftfooters representation, with an unprecedented four teams taking part in Glasgow in 2005. Those four teams took all the semi-final spots in the inaugural GFSN Vase – a kind of consolation tournament for the also-rans.
Yorkshire Terriers, Leicester Wildecats and Bristol Panthers have all held annual 5 or 6-a-side tournaments, and Leftfooters have usually sent teams to those as well. As Leftfooters steadfastly refuse to ‘select’ teams performance is traditionally unpredictable and bottom place is very often achieved. However, after missing out on a first tournament win in Leicester 2004 by a single goal a Leftfooters team was victorious at the same tournament in September 2005, which made a few people quite emotional. Individual players had received awards, the club had picked up several "Fair Play" trophies and had even won a pool tournament - but this was the first time a "proper" trophy had been won. It was a matter of particular pride that it had been achieved without compromising the ethos that makes the club what it is.
On 24 February 2002 Leftfooters played their first ever 11-a-side match against Yorkshire Terriers on the Astroturf at South Leeds Stadium – after a curry and a night out in Bradford. Footers first ever scorer was the singing centre forward, Antonio, and the game ended in a 2-2 draw.
The club had grown steadily in Brian's care but he felt that two years in charge was quite enough and he handed over the reins to Michael Hayes. Mike's arrival coincided with an influx of younger players, which was part of an accelerated period of expansion. It also coincided with the introduction of GFSN's National 11-a-side League and Leftfooters FC became one of the four founder members.
The first game was played on 16 November 2002 against Leicester Wildecats on Astroturf in Caledonian Road and Leftfooters came out on top by 6-5. Despite the winning start they ended up bottom of the table and concluded the campaign with a record 16-0 mismatch in Bristol in July 2003 - which left many wondering whether the club should continue in a league which was proving more challenging than anticipated.
On 23 July 2003 the Leftfooters Yahoo Group went live; it has proved to be a very successful communication tool and a good way of sharing photos and gossip and generally taunting one another. It had over 120 members by September 2005.
As its second season commenced, the league continued to prove difficult for Leftfooters as their random selection of players encountered increasingly organised opponents. However, despite the struggle, the number of people who wanted to play for London in these matches was growing all the time.
In November 2003, after a lot of planning and consultation by Richy Collumbell, Leftfooters were able to pose in their brand new red and white kit, complete with a new club badge and bearing the logo of the sponsoring pub, The Black Cap. The Cap's manger, Jimmy Smith, has been a faithful supporter of the team. The colour red was chosen in deference to the founder, Neil Caulfield and his Liverpool supporting ways. “‘Ave it“ – from the Peter Kaye adverts for John Smiths Bitter – was chosen as a motto because it was felt to be as succinct a way as any to represent enthusiasm over ability.
The red shirts have proved popular and a great number have been sold. Rather than taking the shirts from a pool as the other clubs tend to do, most Leftfooters’ players wanted to possess their own kit. Each player got a unique squad number and their name across the back (if required). The kit was worn in action for the first time in January 2004 in Bristol in a 2-0 defeat.
Not Rubbish Anymore
Indeed, it seemed that Leftfooters would lose every match in the second league season, for although the performances were improving, the results were not. On Bank Holiday weekend - 2 May 2004 - Leftfooters headed to Brighton for their last game of the season, staring a whitewash in the face. They had lost six games and one was deemed void due to a withdrawal by Bristol (for which Leftfooters received no points). Having been easily beaten by Brighton Bandits in London by 5-0, Leftfooters were not optimistic. With 25 minutes gone LFC were trailing by 3-0, but moments before half time, their debutant left-winger headed home – and everything changed. In the second half Leftfooters’ showed a collective determination to do better, ending with a 4-3 win, their first ever away from home. It is difficult to describe how it felt to be one of a motley crew of mixed ability piss-heads who turned the formbook on its head like that. The bewildered Brighton players were very magnanimous in defeat. It was very sunny, there were flowers on the pitch and an old fashioned windmill stood benignly on a nearby hill – but it really did happen! Honest! LFC still finished bottom again though.
Any new born optimism that had come from that victory was promptly smothered in its crib as LFC were battered 11-0 in the opening fixture of the third season against Yorkshire on a sunny September day in Wakefield. Leftfooterw were without their inspirational Manager/Captain and when texting him the result he was told it was 12-0 so that he would be relieved when he found out it was only 11. His response by text was "Remember, it is days like these that make the good times SO good."
Despite the poor start it turned out to be Leftfooters’ most successful campaign, four wins proving enough to lift the club clear of its traditional bottom place into third out of five. By the last two home games of the season, interest in taking part in the matches had become huge making it very difficult to administer. The club had fallen victim to its own success in a way, but it is great that everyone wants to play for the club knowing that its over-riding principles are not negotiable. At the end of the third league season Leftfooters had won three consecutive home games and a word which had never been applied to the club before became apt – consistency!
Leftfooters look forward to the fourth league season with optimism and some confidence – which could be fatal. Only one thing is certain - they will have a good time and get very drunk indeed.
During the league's third season, Leftfooters hosted the Football For All 11-a-side Tournament, which was supported by the Football Association. The domestic teams were joined by teams and individuals from France, Germany, Denmark and Spain in a frozen and eventually soaking wet Regents Park. The tournament was won by Bristol Panthers who narrowly defeated Paris Arc-En-Ciel in the final. Despite the inclement weather the tournament was judged a success both on and off the pitch from the official opening event at Comptons of Soho to the awards ceremony at the Black Cap. The tournament brought Leftfooters to the attention of the football press for the first time with an article appearing in 4-4-2 Magazine. It was nice to get coverage even if the item itself left something to be desired.
This was not Leftfooters’ first international activity, after a trip to Amsterdam in December 2000 (which was purely a piss up), teams had travelled to Copenhagen (August 2003), Berlin (March 2004) and Barcelona (November 2004) for tournaments and friendlies, and a trip to Paris followed in May 2005.
In June 2005, Mike Hayes handed over responsibility to Michael Collins after three years during which he had seen Leftfooters go from strength to strength. A presentation was made to him to express the club's appreciation and affection, during a pretty wild party at the Black Cap.
In August 2005, the new 'Gayczar' led a full Leftfooters squad to Copenhagen to take part in the ‘recreational’ level of the IGLFA World Cup for the first time. Several other Footers also went - to supplement two other squads - Sydney Rangers and the eventual recreational winners, Samurai of Japan. At first the main aim, besides getting drunk and having fun, was to avoid humiliation, especially when the club was drawn in the competition's "Group of Death" with the holders Florida Storm, the hosts, Pan Fodbold of Copenhagen, and Hotlanta Heat/Wild Westphalians. Leftfooters surprised many people, not least themselves, by what they achieved and had a really positive impact on a very enjoyable tournament. The club's record win in all competitions (6-0) was achieved against Prague, and an undreamt of semi-final place was secured with 'Footers gaining a surprise fourth place. But many feel that Leftfooters FC had its finest hour to date when they lost only 2-1 to the holders, Florida Storm. The Americans were fulsome in their praise. The match result on their web-site was annotated with the following: "Just a note to all the viewers back home...this single team had the most spirit and sportsmanship I have ever witnessed on and off the field! Good Job London looking forward to seeing you on the field and partying in Copenhagen!"
The tremendous Leftfooters’ supporters and the magnificent Yorkshire Terriers who roared encouragement throughout and added a lot of humour to the occasion share the accolade. Who could forget the Mexican Wave, which the Florida subs ended up joining? Such was the noise that players on far-flung pitches realised that something special was going on and the crowd grew steadily throughout. Sensing an upset, the Paris Arc-en-Ciel manager yelled "Allez Rouges! Allez Rouges!" passionately from the touchline. It was not to be, but the performance was so good that the players were anything but despondent.
Whether Regents Park is a sun-baked desert, a rain-swept swamp or a frozen wasteland, Leftfooters will still be found kicking a ball about on a Sunday afternoon from about 2pm. Even if there is a league match, or a tournament, there will still be a kickabout on Gloucester Green, by the side of London Zoo. Some players choose never to play competitively - but they are regulars - Leftfooters to the core. In the summer, when light permits, there is most often a smaller kickabout on Wednesday evenings.
The weekly kickabout on Sundays will always be the hub of Leftfooters activity. There were 14 at the first one in November 1999 but there are more commonly 20-30 nowadays. There have been up to 48 and one day there will surely be 50. For an informal group this can cause problems of organisation – but the club have coped – and will have to continue to cope. It would be wrong to turn people away and deny them the chance of meeting some brilliant people and having a great deal of fun. Leftfooters is a truly unique and wonderful football club.
http://www.leftfooters.org.uk/ Club website