Chris NeeComment

THE UNLIKELY OLYMPIAN KING OF TOOTING

Chris NeeComment
THE UNLIKELY OLYMPIAN KING OF TOOTING

The south-west London district of Tooting sometimes seems to have a character all of its own. Often externally derided, this pulsating hub instills within its residents a disproportionate sense of pride that lingers in their being long after they're drawn away from its rough-hewn charm. It's a muddle of old and new, of lifelong locals, student nurses and affluent newcomers, but it's never anything more or anything less than Tooting.

If Tooting's chief icon is a fictional revolutionary played by a man now in his mid-60s, its hidden gem is very much a work of the real world, albeit a part of the real world that isn't exactly in Tooting. Tooting & Mitcham United Football Club, now based a short bus ride from Tooting Broadway in the less lively environs of Morden's Bishopsford Road, was formed by a merger of clubs in 1932 and has rarely achieved anything beyond local renown.

But when Welsh striker Craig Bellamy found the net against Senegal at Old Trafford during the 2012 London Olympic Games, it was Great Britain's first Olympics goal since a Tooting & Mitcham man scored against Taiwan at the Stadio Olimpico Comunale in Grosseto in 1960. Paddy Hasty's eventual winner came with five minutes to go but it wasn't enough to keep his team in Italy into the latter stages of the competition.

Terrors striker Hasty had already scored in the Games, equalising against Italy in Great Britain's second outing, and also played in their opening match in Livorno against Brazil, a 4-3 loss that proved too much to overcome in the remaining matches. Jim Lewis, a serial Olympics goalscorer, also scored twice in 1960, and Barnet's Bobby Brown scored four.

The British team in 1960 was, like those before it, built around the English amateur football team, but Hasty was one of the representatives from Britain's other constituent parts. Born in Belfast less than two years after the formation of the club where he would make his name, he moved with his family to Hampshire at a young age and went on to become a highly regarded contributor to the amateur game.

Due to their failure to qualify for several tournaments consecutively after 1960, and with English football's professional/amateur distinction soon removed, Great Britain's participation in the final tournaments of Olympic Games football ended with Hasty's goal in Grosseto, returning only when London hosted the event in 2012 and provided the incentive to overcome the reluctance of at least some of the respective Football Associations to throw in their lot under a British banner.

Hasty also won five amateur caps for Northern Ireland and had played a vital role in the British team's 3-2 qualifying victory over the Republic of Ireland in November 1959, scoring all three goals at the Goldstone Ground.

He was the only Northern Irishman on the pitch against the south, starring in a team that featured eight colleagues from England, but it was one of the last times such a team would be assembled. Ian King of twohundredpercent wrote in 2009 that the end of amateurism's golden age coincided with the height of Tooting & Mitcham's powers, and Hasty was the inspiration for that side as well as a reliable goalscorer at amateur international level.

Diminutive but good in the air, slight but lethal, Hasty is said to be the Terrors' greatest ever player. Bedecked in their famous black and white stripes at the Sandy Lane ground that they departed in 2002 - a move that plunged the club into a complicated ownership arrangement that arguably still holds it back to this day - Hasty's Tooting soon got used to winning, thanks in no small part to his 113 goals in 142 matches.

He joined the club in 1954 and became an Athenian League champion in 1955. Although he also played as an amateur for Leyton Orient and Queens Park Rangers towards the end of the 1950s, he was part of the Tooting team that went one better and won the Isthmian League in 1958. The London Senior Cup followed in 1959 and then, to cap off the proudest run in the history of the club, they won both in 1960.

In amongst it all the club's most famous achievement brought with it no trophy. While Wimbledon succeeded in splitting Tooting's pair of titles by winning the Isthmian League in 1959, the Terrors were otherwise engaged by a headline-grabbing FA Cup campaign.

They beat Bromley 5-1 at the second time of asking in the First Qualifying Round before defeating Redhill (7-1), Sutton United (8-1) and Horsham (4-0) on their way to the First Round Proper. There, a 3-1 win over Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic - now better known as AFC Bournemouth - set up a Second Round tie against Northampton Town. Tooting won 2-1 on December 6th 1958 thanks to a Hasty winner and Nottingham Forest were waiting for them in the Third Round.

What followed was remarkable. On January 10th 1959, Tooting took a 2-0 lead at a frozen Sandy Lane only to be pegged back by an own goal and then find themselves on the end of the highly contentious penalty that is still referred to at their new digs as the robbery of 1959. Forest scored, eased past Tooting in the replay and went on to win the competition. Nevertheless, Hasty and his colleagues have gone down in history for their incredible FA Cup success.

Having declined several opportunities to turn professional before the Olympics, Hasty finally did so when he joined Aldershot soon after Jimmy Hill and the players' union had brought about the abolition the maximum wage, which for many made turning professional a costly choice, early in 1961. He died the all-time Tooting & Mitcham hero, and still Great Britain's last Olympics goalscorer, in the summer of 2000.

Tooting have rarely come close to matching what they did in 1958/59. They reached the FA Cup Fourth Round in 1976, the best in a run of consecutive seasons in which the Terrors made it to the First Round, and one of the defenders in that side was Billy Smith. He fired in a screamer against Northampton in the First Round the following season, the last player to score for the club in the competition proper despite his own efforts as a manager.

In 2009 his Tooting team reached the First Round the hard way, dealing with replays, late goals and sensational comebacks - both in their favour and against them - to set up a trip to Stockport County. They were beaten 5-0 and Smith left the club at the end of the season, but he, like Hasty, is a genuine Terrors legend.

The Irishman's legacy has now stretched over more than half a century but supporters still consider his name to be synonymous with the club's peak. References to 1959 are unavoidable of a matchday and barely a Saturday afternoon goes by without mention of Hasty, by memory or reputation, by the club's older supporters.

They haven't had much to cheer about lately and the high points of the last decade were provided by Smith's fondly remembered team. The club's young manager, Craig Tanner, looks to have steadied a ship dangerously listing in the wake of Smith's departure, but he'll do well to match what he achieved. Hasty's legend, meanwhile, is a relic. What he did for club and country in 1959 and 1960 will remain untouched, his shadow looming large over a club whose history he shaped like nobody before or since.

Chris Nee is an IBWM content editor and hosts the Aston Villa Review podcast. He is also a former editor of the Tooting & Mitcham United matchday programme.

Stadium image by James Boyes via Flickr.

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