Alfie Rutherford – the striker who ignored FA advice to give up playing - on brink of incredible achievement as he makes first Westleigh Park return

For someone once advised by the Football Association to quit playing during their teenage years due to a medical condition, Alfie Rutherford is doing pretty well.

By Simon Carter
Friday, 31st December 2021, 12:29 pm
Moneyfields Under 10s, 2007/08. Back (from left):  Hew Richards, Kaleem Haitham, Jake Cooksley, Alfie Rutherford, Jarod Leat.
Front: Tom Fripp, Chad Musslewhite, Sheldon Green, Connor Bowen, Will Swatton.
Moneyfields Under 10s, 2007/08. Back (from left): Hew Richards, Kaleem Haitham, Jake Cooksley, Alfie Rutherford, Jarod Leat. Front: Tom Fripp, Chad Musslewhite, Sheldon Green, Connor Bowen, Will Swatton.

And for someone who played most of their youth football in the Pompey Academy in defence, he is doing fantastically well as one of the most in-form strikers in the higher echelons of non-league football.

The Portsmouth-born striker was denied a Fratton Park scholarship in the summer of 2014 due to a heart condition – a two-year deal was withdrawn after he was diagnosed with aortic stenosis during a routine medical.

The condition is defined by an unusually narrow valve which consequently decreases blood flow from the heart.

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Moneyfields Under 9s celebrate a youth tournament win in Devon. From left - Connor Bowen, Chad Musslewhite, Sheldon Green, Jarod Leat, Alfie Rutherford, Kaleem Haitham and Will Swatton.

As strenuous competitive sport is not recommended to sufferers, Pompey were unwilling to take a risk on Rutherford and the Football Association strongly advised him to quit the sport.

Ignoring that advice due to his love of the game, he rejoined Moneyfields - where he had played at youth level prior to joining Pompey - and made his competitive debut in a Wessex League game in August 2014, the day after he celebrated his 16th birthday.

The goals promptly flowed for Moneys, Bognor Regis and Havant & Waterlooville, where Rutherford returns on Sunday on the brink of a very rare achievement.

In the history of the Football League, only eight players have ever fired hat-tricks in three successive league games. The last time was in 1946.

Alfie Rutherford playing for Moneyfields in 2014. Picture: Neil Marshall

Rutherford, now 23, has the chance to equal that feat, albeit at non-league level, when Dorking Wanderers run out at Westleigh Park in a fascinating National League South encounter.

On Boxing Day, playing against Hawks for the first time since his departure in May 2020, Rutherford fired a first half treble as Wanderers opened up a barely believable 5-0 lead after 36 minutes against their fellow promotion hopefuls.

With the visitors down to 10 men following Paul Rooney’s fifth minute red for a foul on Rutherford, Dorking refused to take their foot off the pedal and ran out incredible 8-0 winners.

Rutherford certainly enjoyed his goals, racing over to celebrate in front of the travelling fans who used to cheer him during a career which brought him 41 league goals in four seasons at Hawks. Some of whom, he would no doubt have noted, were brandishing inflatable snakes - an obvious reference to himself and Dorking’s other ex-Havant players.

Alfie Rutherford in action for Moneyfields in 2014. Picture: Neil Marshall

Prior to that sensational humbling of his former club, Rutherford had fired his first Dorking hat-trick in a 4-2 league win at Oxford City on December 14.

The Boxing Day treble took his seasonal tally to 17, of which 12 have come in his last eight league and cup appearances. Only two players have scored more than his 12 NL South goals, half of which have come in his last 151 minutes of action.

A feature published in The News in 2016 revealed Rutherford’s family were made aware of their son’s medical condition shortly following his birth, a bout of tonsillitis leading to an early discovery.

Keyhole surgery was necessary at the age of 14 to open up the problematic valve, but Rutherford was back playing within a month.

Alfie Rutherford in action for Bognor in a pre-season friendly against Pompey in July 2015.

‘I know the risks and personally don’t think there are any because I never feel in danger when I play. I don’t get out of breath easily, if anything I was probably one of the fitter players at Bognor,’ Rutherford told The News in the summer of 2016 after he had swapped Nyewood Lane for Westleigh Park.

Rutherford’s football career began at Moneyfields when he played in youth teams managed by ex-Fareham Town skipper Bjay Green.

After Pompey spotted his potential, he joined the Blues aged nine and impressed during seven seasons. Not as a striker, though; he was used more frequently at the centre of defence or as a right back.

Following his Blues release, Rutherford returned to Moneyfields to get his first taste of men’s football under the watchful eye of his dad Miles, who was first team manager at Dover Road.

On August 5 2014, Rutherford junior was handed his competitive debut when he came off the bench during a 2-1 home loss to Horndean.

The following Saturday he was again introduced off the bench, and this time netted twice in a 5-2 success against Totton & Eling.

Alfie Rutherford, right, celebrates a Hawks goal in the 2019/20 season. Photo by Dave Haines.

They would be his only two sub appearances for the club. Three days later, handed his first start in a Wessex League derby at AFC Portchester, Rutherford struck again in a 5-0 romp.

The following weekend, he netted another brace in a 4-3 FA Cup loss at Bradford Town. Four appearances - two as a sub - and five goals. He has continued to score regularly ever since.

Rutherford ended the 2014/15 season with 28 goals from his 36 starts and two sub appearances. Remember, this was a 16-year-old playing in a decent standard of men’s football.

The following season, 2015/16, saw just seven Moneys outings and two goals - the last in a 2-0 Hampshire Senior Cup win at US Portsmouth - before stepping up two divisions to join Bognor.

On September 9 2015, still only 17, Rutherford struck his first Rocks goal - the winner in an Isthmian League Premier game at home to the Met Police.

He went on to enjoy a prolific partnership with Jason Prior, which remains to this day at Dorking.

Rutherford netted 20 times as Bognor finished runners-up in the Isthmian Premier - a point behind champions Hampton & Richmond - and enjoyed a glorious run to the semi-finals of the FA Trophy. Prior netted 37 times in all competitions.

Hawks boss Lee Bradbury signed both Rutherford and Prior in the summer of 2016, and was rewarded as the pair helped the club win the Isthmian Premier at the first time of asking after relegation.

Rutherford’s contribution was 15 league goals, while he netted a further five in cup ties.

After a hat-trick against Grays Athletic just before Christmas, Bradbury told The News: ‘Alfie is certainly the best youngster I have seen at this level.’

The following season, 2017/18, Hawks completed back-to-back title wins by lifting the National League South silverware on goal difference.

Due to the arrival of ex-Pompey striker Matt Tubbs, Rutherford wasn’t a regular starter - he only made seven NLS starts plus 20 off the bench, scoring five times.

Prior and Tubbs both departed in the wake of Hawks’ elevation to the top tier of non-league football. But the arrivals of Nicke Kabamba and Alfie Pavey kept Rutherford on the bench for the first few weeks of the 2018/19 National League campaign.

Fortunes changed when he dropped back into the NL South for a loan spell at Eastbourne Borough, who were managed by his former Rocks boss Jamie Howell. A run of six goals in five games, including a hat-trick against Hemel, came at the same time Hawks stopped scoring.

Rutherford was recalled following Hawks' 4-0 defeat at Leyton Orient, the club’s fourth successive game without a goal.

He made a stunning return. Coming on as a second half sub against Maidenhead, Rutherford netted twice as Hawks romped to a 7-0 win - the visitors’ cause not helped by the 36th minute dismissal of keeper Carl Pentney when they only trailed by a single goal.

Handed his first Hawks league start of the season, Rutherford provided the decisive second goal in a 2-1 home win against Halifax, and on his next Westleigh Park outing fired a hat-trick in the 5-2 victory over Maidstone.

A fortnight later, in front of his home fans once more, Rutherford’s double - including a last-minute winner - gave Hawks a 2-1 success over rock bottom Braintree. It also allowed them to open up a three-point cushion in front of the four-club drop zone.

Eventually, of course, Hawks spent just the one season dining at the top table of non-league. But Rutherford’s star was rising after finishing the season with 15 league goals - only six players scored more in the entire division, and they were all full-time professionals - for a relegated side.

A change of manager at Westleigh Park, with Paul Doswell replacing Bradbury, led to Rutherford again relegated to the bench more often than not. Jonah Ayunga and Danny Kedwell were the preferred starters up front, and only four times in the first half of 2019/20 did all three start the same league game.

In all, Rutherford was limited to just 15 starts in Hawks’ 34 league games - though he also made 16 appearances - before the pandemic brought an early end to the campaign. He scored six league goals plus another seven in cup ties.

His last start for the club was, ironically, against Dorking, where he impressed on the left side and set up Nicky Bailey’s goal in the 2-1 win at Meadowbank on March 14 - Hawks’ last game before lockdown.

Subsequently Hawks received an ‘unbelievable offer in the context of non-league football’ from Dorking for Rutherford. And, in the middle of lockdown, the money was too good to turn down. Rutherford, so I have been told, didn’t want to leave what was almost a home-town club.

On Sunday, he will return to a place which holds lots of happy memories. Apart from helping the club to two promotions, Rutherford was also part of four cup-winning sides in his time at Westleigh Park.

Hawks lifted the Hampshire Senior Cup in 2017/18 and 2018/19, and he scored the winner in the final against Basingstoke in the second of those wins.

Rutherford also struck a hat-trick when Hawks lifted the Portsmouth Senior Cup in 2016/17 with a 5-0 final thrashing of Petersfield Town.

He also netted 12 months later when Hawks defeated AFC Portchester 3-0 in the final - completing a trophy hat-trick with the National League South title and HSC silverware previously collected.

Goals - 58 in all competitions, only James Taylor, Rocky Baptiste and Paul Wood have ever scored more for the club - titles, cup wins: Surely Rutherford will get a good reception on his first Westleigh Park return?

Obviously, I write those words with tongue placed slightly in cheek. In different times, maybe, but these are abnormal ones - Rutherford has only recently belted a hat-trick against his former club, heaping embarrassment and humiliation on them in the process. This is probably not a good time to expect a healthy reception, and the same goes for Prior and Josh Taylor too. Expect, instead, ‘banter’.

This is a good time, though, a very good time, to appreciate Rutherford’s desire, his love of the game, to carry on after the crushing blow he was delivered in the summer of 2014 during his mid-teen years.

To appreciate a fine scoring record, too; since notching his first one against Totton & Eling aged 16 years and eight days, he has scored over 130 competitive goals for clubs in the first, second, third and fifth tiers of English non-league football.

And as he bids for a hat-trick of hat-tricks, in front of family and friends on the nearest he will get to home soil (ok, a 3G surface) this season, that is certainly worthy of applause.

Alfie Rutherford has just scored against Bath City in November 2019, which turned out to be his last league goal at Westleigh Park for Hawks. Photo by Dave Haines.
Alfie Rutherford celebrates after scoring his first goal in the 8-0 hammering of Hawks on Boxing Day. Picture: Dave Haines.
Alfie Rutherford completes his first half hat-trick against Hawks on Boxing Day. Picture by Dave Haines.
Alfie Rutherford loops a header over keeper Will Mannion for the first of his hat-trick goals on Boxing Day. Picture by Dave Haines.