About Me

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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 1999-2000

23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Part 6: 1999-2000
“There was something in the air that night, you scored, so right, Ferdinando”
Elation was coursing through my veins as I vaulted the fence at the Bell Street end at the final whistle of the promotion clinching match against champions Croydon. This turned to panic as I realised I was first on, only to be carried forward by the crowd and into the arms of Ferdy.
This season, where for the only time I witnessed every single Maidenhead United match, satisfied the cliche of marathon rather than sprint, as a feat of endurance equal to last season’s title. The sense of relief surrounding York Road was palpable. Alan Devonshire’s men had succeeded in reaching the promised land of the Isthmian Premier Division despite facing an even bigger fixture pile up than the near miss of two years previously, with one game spare to boot.
New signing Chris Ferdinand had marked his debut on the opening day of the season with a goal. That day it was in vain as Leyton Pennant responded by romping to a 3-1 win, but when Ferdy scored the final Maidenhead United goal of the season to win promotion he made it a night when Magpie men became Magpie gods.
Determined to take the club into the Premier Division for the first time, manager Alan Devonshire made a slew of other signings to upgrade the squad. Goalkeeper Garath Ormshaw was signed permanently, Joining Ferdinand in midfield was Rolls-Royce playmaker Barry Rake. Maidonian centre back Steve Croxford returned to his alma mater to create a formidable defensive bulwark with Tim Cook and Brian Connor, whilst upfront Chuk Agudosi would now be partnered by Boy’s Own Centre Forward Billy Cove. Youngster Craig Webster had impressed as a combative midfielder towards the end of the previous campaign, and would now be Obi Ulasi’s opposite wing back on the right flank. The promotion team was completed in October with the arrival of iron man midfielder Tom Hickey, with the remaining squad providing strength in depth.
United shrugged off the opening day defeat to go unbeaten until the leaves started to fall in October. A 3-1 win over eventual runners up Grays Athletic in August served notice that the Magpies were stepping up to the challenge of maintaining a promotion bid.
Early promise was shown in the FA Cup before United again exited in the 3rd Qualifying Round thanks to a fluke goal from opponents Salisbury. Significantly all the cup competitions were over by January bar the League Cup. The focus on the league was therefore sharper this time around and by the turn of the year there were only two addition to the “L” column of the table.
The first two matches of the new millennium demonstrated the team’s best aspect, it’s indefatigable spirit,  a deep well from which to be drawn when the pressure was on. A home match against Braintree saw the Magpies bogged down on very wet pitch, only for Croxford to literally dig his team out of the mire with two late goals to secure a win by the odd goal in seven. This was followed by the Battle of the Yeading, an away trip to the Warren which saw the home team finish the game with only four of the players who started it.
Agudosi had given United the lead in a game which Mick Creighton doubled midway into the second half. As United again attacked through Agudosi, the gangly striker found himself stopped in his tracks illegally by a defender. Agudosi reacted to this angrily and a confrontation ensued. Then as Brian Connor described to me years later “Ferdy did his Bruce Lee impression” and all hell broke loose as an unsightly melee broke out involving every single player and eventually both benches. It was the most extraordinary spectacle I have ever seen on a football pitch, and once the dust had settled the referee sent off five players: Agudosi, Ferdinand and three from Yeading.
Remarkably Yeading managed to halve the deficit but then found themselves down to seven players following another red card, causing the result to be threatened by an abandonment but it finally finished 2-1 to Maidenhead, and if ever a match summed up the all for one, one for all ethos of the Magpies that season, it was this one.
In the short term, four games without a win followed and on a Tuesday night in February at York Road United were trailing again. Once again though they turned it round in the latter stages of the match to beat Bromley 3-2, the first of six straight wins, the last of which at Wealdstone seeing Rake acting as a matador with the finest example of his keep the ball in the corner routine to wind down the clock.
This run included League Cup wins to set up a semi-final against Billericay Town. The first leg in Essex was drawn 1-1 thanks to a thumping strike from distance by Cove. A key figure in this performance was Reading loan signing defender Adam Lockwood. He went off injured in a goalless second leg which meant a penalty shoot out  where Ormshaw did his bit in goal before scoring the winning kick at the Bell Street End, my enduring memory being Lockwood waving his crutches at us as we celebrated another cup final appearance.
Off the pitch the Canal End was soon to be out of bounds as it was resurfaced and capped with a roof. To support the fundraising for the new structure, 28 supporters including Chairman Roger Coombs walked the fourteen miles to the match at Staines on April Fools’ Day, raising £2,000 for the British Heart Foundation at the same time.
As well as the League Cup run, wet weather had created a late season fixture pile up and with eighteen days of the season left, United still had to play seven league fixtures and the League Cup Final. This provided three games in hand of the Magpies’ closest rivals for promotion but the worry was that once again it would be a case of one game too many.
Eight points were taken from the four matches played in April, the last ending as a jittery draw at Whyteleafe when despite late season signing Adrian Allen’s goal looking to have given the Magpies the three points, a late equaliser led to panic in the United ranks.
This set up a tumultuous last week of the season with the final four matches to be played on the first six days of May, starting with the League Cup Final on the May Day Bank Holiday against Premier Division Farnborough at Basingstoke.
This ended in the worst of all circumstances. Ormshaw’s season ended following injury, whilst with his opposite number Stuart McKenzie in outstanding form, the match went to extra time, only for Keith Dublin to score the winning goal for the Hampshire side just two minutes into the additional period.
Now able to focus solely on the league the task was clear. Six points from the three matches, all to be played at York Road over four days. The first hurdle was easily negotiated as on Wednesday lowly Romford were thrashed 4-0, however 24 hours later champions Croydon were the opposition whilst on the final Saturday it could be a case of winner takes all against the only team able to pip the Magpies for the final promotion spot, Thame United.
A dank Thursday night began with the Maidenhead players forming a guard of honour as Croydon received the Division One Championship Trophy from League Chairman Alan Turvey.
From the kick off The Trams showed no sign that they would give the Magpies an easy ride, and almost took the lead with an early effort being cleared off the line by Ferdinand. They also made sure deputy keeper Kieron Drake was properly tested from the outset.
Then in the 25th minute, Maidenhead struck. A long ball forward from Croydon was intercepted by Connor. The loose ball was picked up Hickey who found Ferdinand in the centre of the pitch. A tackle saw the ball return to Hickey. This time he fed Agudosi on the right, who travelled cross pitch to deliver the ball to Ulasi on the left. He drove goalwards laying the ball off to Rake who tacked left again, sending a cross over to the far post from the edge of the box. Ferdinand met the ball with his chest and it rebounded into the back of the net in front of the empty Canal End, still being rebuilt. Rushing off to celebrate with the fans temporarily gathered in front of the railway embankment, the team now had something to hold onto.
As darkness descended the 300 crowd felt like 3,000 as they moved into the Bell Street End and roared the team on through the second half. With one last effort required, the Magpies managed the game perfectly, conserving energy to see the result through to full time and avoid the need to take anything from the final match.
Eventually the final whistle sounded, emotion took over. Elation at the achievement, relief at laying the ghost of 1998. Magpie men became Magpie gods. Later in Stripes Alan Devonshire quoted Churchill to me “this is not the end, this is the end of the beginning”. With hindsight, how right he was.  
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 1998-99

23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
Part 5: 1998-99
Having come tantalisingly close to promotion a few months earlier, the mood around York Road definitely had an air of “one more heave”. The squad had been strengthened by the signing of prolific striker Michael Banton and a brace on his debut in a 4-0 opening day victory at Canvey Island, clearly stated the Magpies’ ambition. The scale of the win was helped by an early injury to Canvey goalkeeper Brian Horne, but it was the bad back of his opposite number Trevor Roffey which was to have a lasting impact on United’s fate this season, which ended with the Islanders as champions.
Since signing for the club in December 1992, Roffey had been the undisputed number 1 at York Road, missing only one match since Alan Devonshire took over sole control of the team in March 1997. Club captain, Roffey had hoisted the Magpies’ first silverware in a generation, but suddenly his career was all but over.
A replacement was sourced by new assistant manager Carl Taylor in the form of Michael Bolger but the hapless youngster couldn’t make the grade, and most of Banton’s goals were in vain as United slumped to five defeats by the end of September.
Solace was sought in a promising FA Cup run which included a thumping 5-0 win at Uxbridge which was much enjoyed by the United players following the ungracious way the Reds had celebrated a league victory at York Road in August. This brought Conference opposition to York Road for the first time in the shape of Kingstonian. In front of a bumper crowd of 717 the Magpies went toe to toe early on exchanging goals with the Ks, before West Ham bound Gavin Holligan inspired his team to stretch the gap and see them run out 4-2 winners.
Bolger’s last appearance in the green jersey was a Full Members Cup defeat at Worthing, where he sustained an injury which saw veteran outfield player Dave Harrison taking over in goal for the next match against Yate in the FA Trophy.  
By now helping out Alan Devonshire on the coaching side “Harry” assured his legend status at the club by playing every minute of the Trophy tie which was won with a Peter Terry goal in the final minute of extra time in the replay on a very wet night in Gloucestershire.
This provided the time to sign a replacement for Bolger, and the services of Garath Ormshaw were secured on a loan basis from Crystal Palace. Considered by many to be the best Maidenhead goalkeeper of the era, Ormshaw’s arrival coincided with an upturn in form with only two of his eleven appearances ending in defeat. Unfortunately his first match was also Banton’s last as, like Roffey, the ageing striker succumbed to injury having scored sixteen goals in nineteen appearances, and although new signing Freddie Domingos marked his debut with a goal, it was the only time his acrobatic celebration was put on display.
Ormshaw’s stand out performance was at Wealdstone on New Year’s Day. Chuk Agudosi and Mick Creighton had given United a comfortable half time lead at the Stones then home of Edgware. Following the restart though, the Stones threw absolutely everything at Ormshaw who pulled off a series of spectacular saves to keep a clean sheet against an equally spectacular backdrop of a thunderstorm complete with lightning bolts. This was also the first meeting of Maidenhead and Wealdstone fans who after breaking the ice post match in the White Hart pub have got on famously ever since.
Due to the terms of his loan, Ormshaw could not play in the FA Trophy, but his long term replacement Kieron Drake kept a clean sheet on his debut at York Road in a 1-0 win over Clevedon Town to ensure the annual visit to Aldershot continued as they were drawn out of the hat in the next round. In a tight game, Drake was only beaten by a Garry Abbott free kick, but in a season of league disappointment, this was not to be the last chance Cup glory.
The key problem which persisted in the league was home form. The travelling support was rewarded with one of the best away records in the division but only a few home league games ended in victory, two in early autumn and a final one in February against eventual runners up Hitchin Town. To say the league season petered out was something of an understatement. United did finish just above halfway in eleventh place but in April the Magpie faithful suffered back to back goalless draws against Croydon played out in front of a grand total of 188 spectators over the two matches. In between just 83 turned up at York Road to watch a defeat to Yeading, with those staying in rewarded with the live coverage of Manchester United’s awesome comeback in Turin en route to winning the Champions League.
Fortunately Alan Devonshire’s ability to produce Cup runs meant there was much to cheer in the latter half of the season. Following enjoyable runs in the FA Competitions, the Magpies made it all the way to the Isthmian League Cup semi-final. Michael Banton was required to come off the bench to fire United to an extra time win against lowly Lewes at York Road in September, with the next minnows Croydon Athletic comfortably despatched in South London in November. This set up a belter of a tie with Slough Town coming to York Road in February. Slough were then in the Premier Division, with serious intentions to recover their Conference place lost the previous summer due to ground grading. New chairman Martyn Deaner had repeated his trick at Newbury by signing a string of ex Reading players, but on the night it was Slough resident Mick Creighton’s two goals which were the difference between the clubs in a 4-2 win for the Magpies.
This brought Sutton United back to York Road, and as with the 1997 Full Members Cup Semi-final they left defeated, this time by the odd goal in a nine in an absolutely thrilling tie, Agudosi celebrating the extra time winner by dropping his shorts.
The semi-final against a Boreham Wood team featuring Kerry Dixon was a two legged affair, and after a 3-2 win at York Road in the first leg, Wood completed the job at Meadow Park with a 1-0.
Still the Magpies were left with the defence of the County Cup. Progress to the semi-final at Windsor was smooth but a stormy night at Stag Meadow ensued with Maidenhead’s 3-1 win being tainted by accusations that a  Magpie player had racially abused a home player to spark an incident which turned the game in United’s favour. All this meant that once again the season would end with a cup final. This time Chesham was the venue, and Wycombe the opponents. With the score level at ninety minutes, extra time was required. Throughout the afternoon the Chairboys fans vocally suggested Garry Attrell should be drawing his pension, but the winger had the last laugh in extra time, inspiring United to a 4-1 win, whilst taunting the Wanderers’ fans by slapping his head.
Thus another exciting season under Alan Devonshire ended with me invading the pitch to celebrate more silverware, this time it being Tim Cook’s turn to hoist the Cup. A grand day out but promotion remained the ultimate goal.      
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.

To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 1997-98

23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
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Part 4: 1997-98
With a trophy in the cabinet for the first time in a generation, expectations of a promotion challenge were again raised as Alan Devonshire began his first full season in charge of the Magpies. The change in the dressing room had been followed by a similar one in the boardroom as after Jim Parsons had stood down to become President, he was replaced by Roger Coombs who had previously looked after the club finances along with wife Jean.
However this season was to be the second part of a Star Wars style trilogy and thus the following nine months were to be critically acclaimed if ultimately unsuccessful.
Personally having moved up to London to study for a teaching qualification the season remains fondly remembered, missing only one game due to my sister’s wedding which just happened to be the biggest win, 6-1 at home to Croydon.
As Isthmian Full Members Cup holders the club enjoyed a rare high profile in the town which was capitalised on pre season when a crowd of two and a half thousand flocked to York Road for a friendly against West Ham. That there was still much work to do in converting locals into supporters was illustrated when just 191 turned up to the opening league game against Thame, despite everyone at the West Ham match getting a discounted voucher. Nevertheless a 5-0 win, followed by two more three point hauls in the opening week of the season set out Alan Devonshire’s promotion stall. The final win on a sun blessed day at promotion tipped Romford was particularly memorable for the way the Magpies dominated in a 1-0 win to a backdrop of Phil Tufnell spinning England to a rare Ashes test win on TV in the clubhouse.
Throughout the autumn United’s fine performances often reaped reward with seven league wins by three goals or more but there was also inconsistency. Despite an early lead at Newport, the Magpies went out of the FA Cup at the first opportunity, losing 2-1 in Wales. This score was repeated in the Trophy at Cambridge albeit with the consolation of a goal of the season contender from Mick Creighton, a lob from distance which he modestly ascribed to being too tired to run any further. Likewise a stunning display of attacking play at Leatherhead with Garry Attrell to the fore ended in a 2-1 defeat thanks to a man of the match performance from future Magpie keeper Scott Tarr.
Latest news of United’s promotion bid was now conveyed on my first mobile phone, as having programmed the numbers of all the clubs in the division into the memory, I found myself surrounded at the end of each match as I rang around to gather the results of our rivals.
Once again it was the minor cups which boosted league form. A first County Cup final in 28 years was reached with little fuss whilst the defence of the Isthmian Full Members Cup led to high drama and perhaps ultimately raised the promotion stakes too high due to a backlog of games.
The Cup defence almost fell as soon as it started only for a last minute equaliser at Bromley by Tyrone Houston to take the tie to extra time when Andy Eaton was able to win the game to beat the Premier division club. Next up were promotion rivals Hampton who were swept aside 4-0 just before Christmas at the Beveree, Obi Ulasi producing an astonishing burst of pace to knock the ball along the line, then run off the pitch to clear the linesman, collecting the ball again ahead of the full back. The corresponding league match was a few days later on Boxing Day only to be called off due to the weather. Had it been played, the end to this story may have been very different.
It appeared the Full Members Cup defence had ended for good when the Magpies lost at Leatherhead in the next round, only for the Tanners to be disqualified for fielding an ineligible player. Back in the competition, United won their quarter-final at Carshalton on a Thursday night thanks to a header from Steve Brown inches off the ground.
This set up a semi-final at Hendon in March, then flying high in the Premier Division. Going behind within a minute, United initially struggled to step up to the pace but gradually worked their way into the game, deservedly equalising through Attrell. Magpie hearts were then broken in the last minute when Freddie Hyatt scored the Hendon winner, leaving the players finally out but defiant not down.
This was the first defeat in twelve matches since the Leatherhead Cup loss and so by this time a promotion charge was well under way. This momentum was created by a team settled to Devonshire’s preferred 3-5-2 formation which saw Trevor Roffey in goal, Houston and Ulasi on the wings, Tim Cook now withdrawn into the defensive three alongside a pair from Brian Connor, Luke Evans and Vernon Pratt. “Ambling” Peter Terry, Steve Brown and Attrell filled the midfield, behind Chuk Agudosi and Creighton up front.
There was solid back up too, as shown on an unforgettable night at Billericay in February when despite losing Andy Robertson with a broken arm, Clayton Whittle came off the subs bench to play his part in a fine 2-0 against the eventual runners up. This was the score when Maidenhead again won at eventual champions Aldershot, these clean sheets reflecting the defensive steel that had been added by Cook’s new withdrawn role.
This set up a tumultuous April with eight league games to be played in 23 days. The double was completed over Billericay, whilst Hampton were held to a point at York Road. Hopes were hit by a defeat at Croydon but three successive wins in five days set up the rescheduled return to the Beveree perfectly.
The second of these two wins came at Whyteleafe, with callers to the clubhouse phone told the score by Jonathan Pearce, at Church Road to cheer on his Capital Radio partner and Magpie player coach Tony Gale.
With a final match to follow at relegated Abingdon, United knew a draw at Hampton should be enough to win promotion in third spot. Before a bumper crowd of 564, including Brentford manager Micky Adams who would sign Beavers defender Darren Powell at the end of the season, the teams entered the fray.
I held much stock in the fact that the final song I heard through my headphones as I walked up to the ground was “Nothing Could Stop Us Now” by St. Etienne but it was to no avail as the brave Magpies held on but within touching distance of the final whistle went down to a Francis Vines goal.
Gutted, having applauded the team off, I headed for the nearest pub with my Dad and Bob Hussey. We knew, rightly, that the unlikely set of results needed to now win promotion would not happen.
Yet a few days later at Abingdon the mood was one of celebration as the team notched up a 4-1 win, including a penalty goal given by referee cheerful Charlie Breakspear, deciding not to bother awarding  a spot kick after a defensive handball on the line, giving a goal instead.
This was as fine a squad as I have ever seen in the black and white stripes, typified by the joie de vivre of the way they played. Personified by the boundless energy of Tyrone Houston at right wing back which saw him score eleven goals, it was reflected one last time by the whole team in the final match of the season, the County Cup Final at Wycombe against Reading.
The day started in farce when the team coach failed to turn up leaving the players to travel in their own cars. A very strong Reading line up selected by new manager Tommy Burns took the lead through Neville Roach but in their 57th match of the season United would not be denied.
Midway through the second half Attrell fed Creighton whose effort beat the keeper only to cannon back off the crossbar where Pratt arrived on cue to head home in front of the Maidenhead fans. Then with extra time looming the unlikely figure of Brian Connor stormed forward, collected the ball then fired the mother of all shots from thirty yards into the back of the net to win the Cup.
A bittersweet victory of course given that promotion had been missed by a single point but a second piece of silverware in as many years and a first County Cup since 1970 meant that as I grabbed a lift back to York Road with Vernon Pratt I did so in absolute hope that the good times were here to stay.
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com

Sunday, 20 August 2017

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 1996-97

23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
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Part 3: 1996-97
The summer of 1996 echoed to the refrain of thirty years of hurt, an ailment that persists to this day after Terry Venables’ England team bowed out at the semi-final stage of Euro 96. At York Road the talk was of twenty seven years of pain, a trophyless span dating back to the 1970 County Cup win. The previous season’s run to the semi-final of that competition had like Baddiel & Skinner had done to the nation, raised Magpie hopes that the drought might be ended, with the appointment of a new management team only raising expectations.
The final shortlist for the post provided a good range of options. There was solid non league experience in ex Magpie Jim Kelman, an up and coming manager in Steve Roberts, and a duo of highly respected ex pros in Martyn Busby and Alan Devonshire.
Chairman Jim Parsons, in what was to be his final year at the helm, plumped for the duo of cultured midfielders despite their lack of managerial experience. Busby had been at Feltham whilst Devonshire was even lower down the pyramid at Osterley, although was appointed on the back of winning a Middlesex League treble.
Initially Busby was seen as closer to the number one role, although it was very much a joint enterprise, and both brought with them players who would have a lasting impact on the club’s fortunes.
Another new appointment was that of yours truly into the programme editor role, quite a different experience without an internet connection.
The season began with a bizarre draw with Canvey Island at York Road, Maidenhead scoring whilst Canvey goalkeeper John Keeley left the pitch to retrieve the ball. The referee signalled to the Magpies that they could use a replacement for the throw in, which led to the sight of Keeley standing hands on hips on the touchline as Garry Attrell walked the ball into an empty net.
New midfielder Steve Brown caught the eye from the opening day but most of the terrace talk was about new strike duo Chuk Agudosi and John Ruggins who had rewritten the Middlesex League record books the previous season. The latter, although not short of effort, was unable to make the step up, but Chuk marked his debut with a goal at Molesey on the second Saturday of the season, the first of six strikes in four consecutive league wins, to suggest a promotion bid might be in the making.
However as the autumn leaves fell, so did the league placing, as wins started to become scarce, the wheels well and truly coming off the promotion bandwagon when a 2-0 lead at home to Marlow turned into a 3-2 defeat.
Still the squad continued to improve, left wing back Obi Ulasi marking his arrival with a hat trick in an FA Trophy win against Corby. The defence was shored up by the signings of Francis Duku and Brian Connor, whilst Devonshire brought in ex Hammer team-mate Tony Gale to steady the midfield. By the turn of the year though the Magpies had exited all but one cup competition and had won only two of their last twelve league matches.
Salvation came in the form of the little regarded Isthmian Full Members Cup. Imitating the unlamented Football League version, it was a competition restricted to the top two divisions of the Isthmian League.
The first tie in the competition, at Molesey on the first Tuesday in January, provided a real “I was there” moment, mainly due to everybody being told the match was off due to a frozen pitch.
This was the message left on the main medium to get up to date information about the club, the hotline. This premium rate service was invaluable to pick up the score if you couldn’t get to the game although people didn’t tend to listen to the reports provided by the “voices of hotline” Jon Swan and Richard Jackson for fear of raised eyebrows when the phone bill arrived.
It was Swan who left the fateful message that the game was off but as luck would have it I worked with Richard’s son Keith who heard the news that in fact the game would go ahead. Thus I was one of only four Maidenhead supporters to go to Walton Road (official attendance 50) on that chilly evening to watch an instantly forgettable 2-0 win.
For the record the others were Keith, Richard and Mark Smith, and to this day I will respond to talk of arduous away trips from fellow Magpies with the words “ah yes but did you go to Molesey away in the Mickey Mouse Cup”?
In the next round in February a few more supporters travelled to Premier Division Walton & Hersham to see United cause a Cupset thanks to Steve Brown’s only goal of the game at Stompond Lane. This set up a plum quarterfinal tie at Huish Park, home of the eventual Isthmian League Champions Yeovil Town.
Despite losing their Conference status, Yeovil, then managed by Graham Roberts, were possibly the biggest non league club in the south of England at the time with a fine new stadium.
With supporters cars divided on Anglo-Scottish lines, an afternoon in a local pub was thought to be the limit of the day’s excitement but we were determined to make the most of the occasion, demanding that the Glovers open their away end for us. They did so escorting us the length of the pitch to get there so we could witness in splendid isolation a resolute Maidenhead performance.
Seventeen minutes into the second half Chuk Agudosi got on the end of Garry Attrell’s cross to score in front of us, and then United held on to win a famous victory and passage into the semi-final.
In the meantime league form improved enough to secure a mid table finish of thirteenth, the highlight of which was beating Hampton by the odd goal in seven at the Beveree. There were also two departures of note. Firstly winger Paul Dadson decided to try his luck elsewhere, personally saying goodbye to us on an emotional night on the York Road terraces. This was coupled with Martyn Busby’s decision to stand down, with fortunately Alan Devonshire electing to go it alone.
The Full Members Cup tie was played against Premier Division Sutton United at York Road in front of a bumper crowd of 438. In the early stages the Magpies struggled to keep up with the pace and went a goal behind, but from the moment Francis Duku headed home the equaliser United’s presence in the game grew, taking the lead before half time through Obi Ulasi with Tyrone Houston sealing a place in the final in the dying minutes. The final whistle sparked amazing scenes of celebration as we all ran on the pitch then surrounded the dressing room to cheer our heroes.
Events then took a fairytale turn as our opponents in the final were revealed as last season’s Nemesis Aylesbury United, with the game to be played at Marlow, ironically a club no longer qualified for the competition after their final day relegation which was greeted with glee at York Road when the news came over the PA.
Such was the confidence and power of support at Oak Tree Road that the result never seemed in doubt once Mick Creighton had given the Magpies the lead in the first half. Attrell doubled the score with fifteen minutes remaining and a Duku injury time strike prompted premature celebrations leading to Chairman Parsons being called to the PA to halt the race of young fans to the centre circle led by a thirty something Scot.
Smiles came no bigger than captain Trevor Roffey’s gap tooth grin as he lifted the cup that we would soon be drinking out of as we all celebrated long into the night, the end of the Chairman Jim era and the start of Manager Alan’s.        
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com

Monday, 14 August 2017

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 1995-96

23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
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Part 2: 1995-96
Ahead of the first league match of the season I took the short walk from Courtlands to Bell Street season ticket in hand and full of confidence that I was about to witness the first steps of John Watt’s team marching to promotion in what was bound to be a glorious 125th anniversary season for Maidenhead United.
Following the promise of the previous season, Watt had been given the resources to sign experienced players from the division above in defender Mark Harrison, midfielder Tony Dell and strikers Paul McKinnon and Colin Tate. An exciting pre season friendly defeat to the Reading team just denied promotion to the Premier League only raised expectations. Ninety minutes later Barking had won 2-0, one of just four three point hauls all season as they finished bottom.
Never mind there was a much anticipated midweek derby to come at falling fast from grace local rivals Marlow. Hopes soared again as scores of Magpie fans flocked to the patch of grass outside the Plough for a pre match pint and a sing song. Final score 3-0 to the home team.
Never mind the following Saturday saw a chance to kick start the season in an FA Cup tie at Thame United. Final score 4-0 and the road to Wembley had reached a dead end in August.
So began the long final act of John Watt’s managerial career, albeit one that almost had a decent climax thanks to one thoroughbred player who was not ready to be put out to pasture. However Garry Attrell did not arrive at York Road until the new year.
In the meantime Mark Smith provided the opportunity to wallow in the club’s rich history with the publication of his first book looking at the seasons since United came into being in 1919. His research also meant a fine looking striped programme boasted a different Maidenhead line up from the past on its cover for every issue.
The FA Trophy provided a flicker of hope when Colin Tate scored his one and only goal for the club in a 4-2 win at Fareham Town. This prompted such delirium in the travelling faithful that the occupants of supporters car two (of two) persuaded pilot Logic, ably guided by navigator Keith Jackson, to make a seventy five mile detour for a celebratory curry in Southampton.
The next round brought a chance for revenge against Thame. After a 5-0 defeat at York Road, Watt was given a rather farcical points ultimatum for the next three league games to save his job. Losing the first 3-0 at home to Wokingham, another local club on the slide, fate left Watt’s job hanging on another trip to Thame, this time the first ever league meeting between the two clubs.
When the hosts took an early lead at Windmill Road, a sacking looked inevitable but the Magpies turned the scoreline around and although Thame equalised, Maidenhead restored their lead within a minute to lead 3-2 at half time. Within ten minutes of the restart the win was sealed with two more goals, the final 30 yard strike from Kevin Brown after his penetrating run from the heart of defence, remains one of the best I have ever seen by a Magpie.
The 5-2 win secured Watt’s job in the short term but a week later normal service was resumed with a 4-0 defeat at the ubiquitously strange location of Barton Rovers. Light relief was then provided by a game in the snow at Aldershot in the Full Members Cup, the result irrelevant as we marvelled at the sight of an orange ball and cheered on the home fans when the referee threatened to abandon the game unless they stopped throwing snowballs.
A red card for Dell at Chesham ended his undistinguished spell in Stripes and he was soon followed out of the door by Tate. McKinnon and Harrison M were retained as their superior quality was clearly evident, as was the presence of the former’s most enthusiastic supporter, father Jock.
New recruits were signed in the form of my former schoolmate Steve Croxford and the legendary Attrell.
This was Garry’s second spell at the club and he soon found a place in the hearts of all supporters with his dazzling wing play. The rumour that he spent his rumoured £35 a week wage over the bar in Stripes after the game only added to his boys own status. His first home game back saw him inspire the team to a 4-1 win over Marlow as the club began to pick up the points required for another season of mid table mediocrity. Safety was assured with a 1-0 win courtesy of a Croxford header in front of an 1800 crowd at Aldershot.
Watt almost went out on a high though with a rare run in the County Cup. Wins at home to Bracknell and away at Windsor set up a semi-final tie at York Road with the mighty Aylesbury United. The previous season they had hit the national headlines with their Duck walk to a third round tie against QPR. Playing a division higher in the Isthmian Premier they had firm Conference ambitions with talent to match but could not handle a rampant Magpie team in the first half.
On the stroke of the interval Mark Harrison gave his team a deserved lead with a spectacular free kick from the half way line which perfectly embarrassed Gary Phillips in the Aylesbury goal grasping fresh air as the ball looped over his head into the back of the net.
Unfortunately as the players walked off for half time, Garry Attrell was assaulted by an opposition player. Clearly still dazed at the restart, Attrell was subbed, depriving Maidenhead of their talisman. The match officials did not see the incident but Aylesbury’s Gary Smith was replaced at half time. Unjustly remaining at full strength the Ducks equalised, Harrison then scored a second from the penalty spot but another Aylesbury goal took the game to extra time.
A measure of revenge was won when Trevor Roffey saved a penalty to take the tie to a replay but the final whistle left a nasty taste in the mouth. This was the cliched one chance to cause a cup shock. The team had proved themselves up to the task and Aylesbury could only resort to foul means to avoid defeat. Writing this article twenty one years later I can still feel the righteous anger coursing through my veins. The replay was lost 4-0 and to this day the very mention of the word Aylesbury will guarantee to raise ire in Magpies of this vintage.
Red mist descended again at York Road before the season ended, this time in rather more light hearted circumstances. The occasion was an Easter Monday derby against Abingdon. Three late goals from McKinnon and Mick Creighton secured a 4-0 win but when scoring his second Creighton picked up an inflatable sheep from a home fan for a rather candid goal celebration. This crossed a line for Colin Fleet in the Abingdon goal and he had to be restrained by his team mates from confronting Creighton. Any hard feelings soon dissipated though and a few weeks later at the return game, Fleet came out of the tunnel holding another inflatable sheep.
The Watt era ended in the calm waters of fourteenth position in Isthmian League Division One. The time was right for a change and appeared to be the cause of some relief for Watt who despite doing his best with limited resources was much maligned by a section of the Magpie support who would make the weekly request: “Resign Watt and take that clown Sweetman with you”. This was his last post but his assistant Derek went onto be a successful local manager lower down the non league pyramid.
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 1994-95

23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
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When deciding upon a new series of articles for this season the number 23 was forefront in my mind. My Mathematician wife’s favourite number, it represents the increased number of home league matches and therefore programmes  required this season. It also neatly matches the total number of seasons I have been watching the Magpies home and away, week in week out. With last season’s title the crowning glory of my time at York Road, I began to form a narrative laced with hindsight, of a club bound for glory. Of course like any good story there are a few setbacks along the way, but I have chosen “An altogether more splendid kind of life” as the title not only to reflect my enjoyment of this era but also as a nod to what we all worked towards and have now achieved.
The phrase comes from my favourite piece of prose, the introductory chapter to JB Priestley’s novel The Good Companions which perfectly captures the joy of watching football as an escape from the more mundane aspects of work or school. In my humble opinion it also sums up the benefit of watching the Magpies!
I had been an occasional visitor to York Road since my father took me to a match in April 1979 but although much of what existed here would be familiar to today’s young spectator, non league football was a very different world, almost a secret society.
WIth no internet to explain everything and keep you updated there was little context available to the curious youngster beyond the window opened up by the FA Cup, one which remained firmly shut to the Magpies til relatively late in my lifetime.
However my interest in life beneath the Football League grew thanks to Tony Wiliams’ non league annual and publications such as Team Talk, the Maidenhead Advertiser of course providing a weekly update on the local football scene.
Sadly much of the news reported about the Magpies in the eighties was that of a club in decline, culminating of course with the fire which burned down the lovely old stand. The club was something of an island with little attempt made to engage with the local community. No equivalent for example of the Junior Magpies.
The headlines made by the winning start to the 1990/91 promotion season proved irresistible though as crowds were drawn to York Road. I can remember watching close up the mercurial talent of Paul Canoville beating Cove virtually on one leg. There was also one of the best goals I have ever seen scored when a mazy run and wall pass by Harefield United’s Raoul Sam ended in a goal despite the fact that he lost the boot of his favoured foot along the way.
The boost from promotion faded fast though. By now at university I saw United win two home games in a row. Unfortunately they were separated by the autumn term.
Graduating in 1994 I saw the future of professional football and didn’t like what it had in store so somewhat presciently became amf twenty years ahead of its hashtag. Happily this coincided with what has turned out to be the permanent return of the black and white striped home shirt.
Encouraged to attend regularly by my friend Phil Adkins I found a welcoming community to which I knew I could contribute. In particular the late Trevor Kingham held out the hand of football friendship and an early season visit of newly promoted Aldershot Town drawing a four figure crowd showed the scale of what the club could become. This inspired me to write my first article for the match programme and fired by the indignity of the Maidenhead Advertiser relegating the Magpies to second place in its coverage behind Marlow, I started a fanzine which lasted for thirteen issues over three seasons, the production of which was made possible when I joined the programme team.
This involved going down to the club on a Sunday or Thursday evening to literally manufacture the programme using an unreliable photocopier and a long armed stapler. Trevor, Logic, Murdo and myself would copy, fold and staple every page. Fine when the usual circulation was little more than a hundred but a long night when Aldershot made their annual visit!
Thursday also offered the opportunity to chat to the players when they finished training and I was quickly drawn to become part of an institution which was so inviting.
This was helped on the pitch by a season of promise. John Watt’s team threatened to mount a promotion challenge in the late autumn, supported by Bob Hussey’s off the pitch team securing a hard earned Isthmian League A grade for the ground and its facilities.
New Year’s Day 1995 saw a bumper crowd of 247 witness a 2-0 win over Tooting & Mitcham United. League form faded from this point on but the team had character aplenty. This was reflected by the number of draws starting with the Aldershot match which ended 2-2 after the Magpies let slip a 2-0 lead.
The squad featured celebrity in the form of Sutton Cup heroes Trevor Roffey in goal and Vernon Pratt in centre defence. There was dressing room clown Franny Araguez, and hard as nails Scotsman Peter McNamee who would shout “chase it” as he launched another long ball forward.
Despite the season ending in mid table mediocrity it was replete with memories which are still vivid now. They include a home win over Bognor inspired by a  then midfield general in captain Tim Cook. A late fightback at the Camrose which ended with an injury time equaliser from Macca against Basingstoke. Four goals in the first twenty minutes at Wembley by young starlet James Pritchard. A County Cup giant killing over then mighty Wokingham Town, which brought a very strong Reading team to York Road in the next round. A victory by the odd goal in seven courtesy of a late flying header from distance by local policeman Kevin “Sarge” Brown, marred by a sickening leg break for striker Paul Dadson. An 8-2 thrashing at York Road by that season’s money team Chertsey Town featuring a QPR bound Lee Charles on a pitch virtually waterlogged which the Curfews were ironically reluctant to play on. A late season hat trick for fringe player Nick Ribeiro against Uxbridge.
All of these were capped though by the visit to the Recreation Ground when the Magpies stunned a crowd of 1877 to beat Aldershot 3-1. The key goal in this victory stemmed from the bizarre and unlamented experiment of replacing throw ins with kick ins. This had the unintended consequence of slowing the game down as any time the defending team put the ball out of play in their own half it became a set piece. Cook would thump the ball into the danger zone and on this occasion it caused such confusion in the Aldershot penalty area that the defence simply helped the ball into the net. Ultimately kick ins meant games commonly didn’t finish until about 5 pm as the game halted for the centre backs to jog up front. This led, partially in the absence of the injured Dadson, to defender Pratt ending the season as top scorer.
All in all a season to get me well and truly hooked on life at York Road. There was the hope that this was a club going forward on and off the pitch but more importantly the familial atmosphere that made me feel part of a common cause, the lasting effect of the latter emotion shown by the regular presence on the terraces nowadays of players from that season such as Mick Creighton, Andy Smith and Dave Harrison.
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com