Skip navigation

Non-League Day: Fry-ups and pinball contests with Palace legends

Features

Surrounding south London’s only Premier League club is a range of non-league sides. In advance of Non-League Day on Saturday, 26th March, we catch up with some of the people who sustain south London’s rich non-league scene.

When Ian Muir was growing up in south London, there was only one thing on his mind.

“Football, football, football,” he remembers fondly. “We had one football – if the kid who had it was ill, we would go round to his house and borrow it. We were at the park every single day.”

Not that much has changed. Now in his late-60s, Muir goes home and away with Beckenham Town, the team he fell in love with as a boy.

Not allowed to play football on a Saturday because of the league fixtures, the 10-year-old Muir instead sat in the rickety old stand, the driving rain often billowing in and soaking the supporters.

Beckenham did try hanging a plastic sheet from the roof as protection: the rain issue was solved, with the unfortunate drawback that nobody could see the pitch. It was soon taken down.

Like all fans, though, he loved his club’s own unique foibles and even as a child was fiercely protective when new owners treated the fans poorly – he got his revenge in a unique way.

“[The owner] lived locally and his house was on my paper round,” Muir laughs. “I got my own back by leaving the delivery of his paper until last. He used to come running out of his front door in his dressing gown and slippers.”

It’s a story you wouldn’t find in the Premier League.

But for Muir there is also a unique Palace connection. Beckenham’s ground was next door to where the Eagles trained, and the players would through a hole in the fence to play trial games on the non-league side’s pitch.

“I can remember Bert Head shouting and swearing at everybody,” he says. “I remember finding Martin Hinshelwood’s shin pads. After training all the players used to go to Eden Park Café, have a fry-up and play on the pinball machine.

Quote Icons

After training all the Palace players used to have a fry-up and play on the pinball machine!

Ian Muir

“As a kid, we were seeing all their names on the highest scorers list for pinball for the week! Today they wouldn’t get away with eating a fried breakfast, but I remember them all tucking into bacon, egg and beans.”

Operating as something of a feeder club in the 1950s and 1960s, plenty of players at Beckenham Town had trials with Palace.

“One of the best players I’ve ever seen in non-league football is a player called Jan Wawrzewski,” Muir says. "He had a trial with Palace.

"He scored five goals in three games for their reserves, but he didn’t fancy it because he didn’t like training – so he came back to play for Beckenham!”

He may have had the potential to make the big time, but it seems for some people it’s too much of a wrench to bid non-league goodbye.

Muir knows the feeling. When Beckenham Town weren’t playing he was a Chelsea fan growing up, first heading to Stamford Bridge in 1966 to see Terry Venables and co try to beat Gordon Banks. He still popped down to Eden Park Avenue when he could, but not as often.

Quote Icons

To sum it all up, I think Beckenham means more to me now when I’m 67 than it did when I was 10.

Ian Muir

In the end, though, he couldn’t stay away, and in the late 1990s he returned, going home and away with his boyhood side.

“I go to Chelsea on midweeks and Sundays,” he explains. “But [Beckenham Town] is that eternal link to childhood, I would call it.

“I remember all the old players, and we get quite a lot of the players coming down to watch. It’s nice to reminisce with them. I’m 67 now and these players are in their 70s; I’m an old fogey and they’re old fogeys now…”

It’s a community club, and this is the community that Muir is so pleased to be a part of. “You’re close to the team,” he says. “You’re within touching distance of the players before the game. It’s just being involved.

“I know people that say: ‘I just came here once and I stayed, it grew on me’. We get a big group of Palace fans coming when Palace are away – a big group of Season Ticket holders come to our games.”

It’s clear what Beckenham Town means to Ian Muir: it’s community, it’s nostalgia, but most importantly it’s the place that he fell in love with football for the very first time.

Now associated with the club for more than half a century, his affection is only getting stronger and stronger.

“To sum it all up, I think Beckenham means more to me now when I’m 67 than it did when I was 10,” he says as our conversation draws to a close, and it’s impossible not to believe him.

Find out when your local non-league side is in action this Non-League Day by clicking here.

Photos courtesy of Philip Passey.