A BAND of non-league fans from South-East London raised a toast to Marc Guehi on Saturday as he made his England debut.
Cray Wanderers, the capital’s first-ever club and one of the oldest in the world, is where defender Guehi started out as a six-year-old before he joined Chelsea.
Marc Guehi made his England debut in the win over Switzerland on SaturdayCredit: Rex
He started out with Cray Wanderers in South London (middle of bottom row)
The Isthmian League Premier side hail from Sidcup and have an army of 15 supporters who travel home and away.
Dubbed the ‘Cray Massive’, they will be watching proudly on Tuesday in the hope their former youth star — now at Crystal Palace — gets another chance against Ivory Coast.
But they also have some exciting news that has taken their entire 162-year history to achieve — they are finally going to own their home.
After more than a century and a half of sharing a ground, building of a £5million stadium is hoped to start in May.
No longer will their nickname of the Wanderers be so fitting, as it has been throughout its roving existence.
Chief executive Sam Wright played for Cray during the 90s, while two other directors turned out in their amber and black in the prior decade.
Wright, 52, told SunSport: “I don’t think any of us ever associated the Wanderers with the fact that we have been nomadically going from ground to ground through our long history.
“I don’t think we’ll be changing any names. We certainly won’t be calling ourselves The Crays — people might get the wrong idea!
“We’ll always be the Wanderers. But having our own ground will be a game-changer.”
The club were formed in 1860 by labourers who were building a rail viaduct in the Cray Valley.
Among their travels in the absence of a permanent home, they spent 1898 to 1936 at a new ground, Fordcroft, until it was turned into a bakery.
They went to a pitch that became a Coca-Cola factory then had an 18-year stint at Grassmeade, which was converted into housing.
Cray Wanderers are hopeful of starting work on a £5million new stadium soon
Marc Guehi could feature against Ivory Coast on TuesdayCredit: PA
Oxford Road, where Wright played on a “nightmare pitch”, was their home in the 90s until the league said they needed floodlights.
They have ground-shared with National League side Bromley ever since but have been trying to build a stadium at Flamingo Park, near Sidcup, for 14 years.
Boris Johnson signed off on the plans when he was London Mayor but they were rejected by his successor Sadiq Khan.
The proposal was approved in 2017 but there have still been issues, including concerns over a bat population.
Covid struck and now there have been materials supply delays.
But Wright and the club’s long-serving owner Gary Hillman feel they are almost there — and should be in the new venue by the start of the 2023-24 season.
Wanderers hope it will attract more fans and better players — and boost ‘football tourism’.
The club have 21 Dutch students due to come soon, while a number of Rapid Vienna fans recently attended a game.
Wright wants to reach the National League although they are in a relegation battle now hoping Neil Smith — their third boss of the season — can save them.
The whole squad left when the first boss of the campaign quit.
But the thing Wright is most excited about is how the move can boost the academy, so one day they can help produce another star like Guehi.
He added: “It flips back to Marc . . . to be able to think that in the future we can bring players through who will go on to be pro footballers and hopefully represent their country.”