SATURDAY SUPPLEMENT: A former Croydon school teacher has been ever-present in the relentless rise through the divisions of a Surrey non-league club. DAVID MORGAN interviews football photographer Steve O’Sullivan, who took the pictures…
Whatever the dramas involving the super-rich footballers of Real Madrid and Liverpool in the Champions League final in Paris tonight, it has already been a very big week for non-league football locally.
Bromley won the FA Trophy at Wembley last Sunday, and Dorking Wanderers secured a place in the National League for the first time with a dramatic 3-2 extra-time win over Ebbsfleet United in the National League South play-off final last Saturday.
Next season in the National League – effectively Division 5 of the English game – Dorking will be facing the likes of former Premier League club Oldham, along with Scunthorpe, sides which both dropped out of the Football League this season.
That’s a meteoric rise for Dorking, a club that was only formed in 1999 to play in the Crawley and District League by a few mates. One of them was Marc White, who has gone on to become the driving force of the club, managing it from its inception through the many promotions to the top of the non-league pyramid.
For the last five and a half years, Dorking’s progress has been recorded on camera by a former Croydon teacher. Steve O’Sullivan finished his teaching days at Parish Church Junior School in December 2016. Always a keen photographer and sportsman, his hobby took a different direction when he became the official club photographer.
He remembered his first Dorking match back in September 2016.
A Tuesday evening fixture under floodlights at Westhumble and a 2-1 win for Dorking.
“I was a little nervous about the game,” O’Sullivan said, “as I hadn’t done that much photography under lights at that point.”
He needn’t have worried.
His results behind the camera were just as spectacular as the results on the pitch.
Life for a football photographer isn’t all plain sailing though. Sitting in the pouring rain in Hastings, being so cold on a freezing night in February that you wonder if you can ever feel your feet again, or the frustration of sitting on a coach for hours in a traffic jam on an away trip to Lowestoft are just part of the deal.
There are those occasions, too, when things don’t go just as planned. Tracking the ball through the small window of the camera lens requires some anticipation of what might happen next.
In an FA Trophy replay at Stockport, one of the Dorking players was accelerating down the wing. Anticipating a cross, O’Sullivan repositioned his camera to try and pick out the shot or header on goal. Yet to his surprise, the crowd erupted around him. Cheers were everywhere.
The player had chipped the ball over the goalkeeper for a sensational goal. The poor lensman had missed it.
“Did you get that one?”
If O’Sullivan got a fiver for every time a player asked him that question, he would be a rich man by now.
It’s been said on many occasions that a football club manager “kicks every ball” and “heads every cross” during the course of a match. For the photographer this is certainly true as well, but the chance for a great photo goes much further. Fans and players arriving for the game, the official line ups before the kick-off, goal celebrations and conversations at the end of 90 minutes all feature in O’Sullivan’s galleries.
Being part of a successful club creates a special atmosphere and O’Sullivan has relished that.
He recalled one of his first meetings with boss Marc White. “I am going to get this team into League 2,” White said then.
At the time of that meeting, Dorking needed four promotions to achieve that status.
None of them were easy to achieve, yet within five years they have managed three of them and are now on the verge of the Football League.
“Are you the lucky mascot then Steve?” I asked him.
“Of course you need some luck,” he replied, “but the vision, desire and passion that Marc shows, together with his forward planning, has been the key.”
O’Sullivan is one of a growing band of helpers and volunteers who have joined the club. One of those who helped out in the early years was the former Liverpool, Tottenham and England striker, Peter Crouch, who says he “remains a fan”.
O’Sullivan’s own role has expanded and he has a seat on the club’s senior management team.
He visits schools in the Dorking and Reigate area with members of both the men’s and women’s teams to talk about the club and promote it in the locality. He has a role as supporter liaison officer and also helps produce the club programme, too.
While soaking in the heady atmosphere of the play-off victory, O’Sullivan is already planning ahead to next season, with all those away trips to clubs Dorking has never played before, in historic stadiums some of which in the past have hosted games in the top tier of the English game.
“Away to Gateshead will be our longest journey, over four hours. Playing clubs with a great Football League history like Oldham and Notts County will be immense.”
Previously by David Morgan:
- The bitter 18th Century court battle over a pew with a view
- This mayor in the Minster earned his impressive memorials
- Restoration royal connections of Minster’s marble mausoleum
- Lost at sea: the selfless sacrifice of a young Croydon life-saver
- Minster’s cricketing cleric had a decent innings at the crease
- David Morgan, pictured right, is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster, who offers tours for groups or to provide illustrated talks on the history around the Minster for local community groups
- To read his previous articles on the history of Croydon Minster and the people connected with it, click here
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