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, 12 November 2017

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 2002-03

23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
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Part 9: 2002-03
Change was in the air, not only at York Road but across the non league scene as a process began which would drastically alter the fortunes of Maidenhead United in particular and the aspirations of middling non league clubs in general.
At the start of the season, husband and wife team Roger and Jean Coombs, who had effectively led the club through the Devonshire era as chairman and treasurer respectively, announced their intention to stand down from their roles the following May.
Their decision enabled the club to engage in a proper process of succession planning, with Jon Swan installed as chairman elect, whilst the finances were lined up for Paul Carney to take over.
This coincided with plans for two new regional divisions to be created to feed into the Conference, to reduce some of the promotion bottleneck whereby only the champions of the current feeder leagues could move up to the pinnacle of the non league pyramid.
Thus much discussion, particularly following the turn of the year when it became clear that relegation was not on the agenda, focused on the plans for the following pivotal season.
On the pitch, Alan Devonshire’s team were now very much at home in the Isthmian League Premier Division, eventually finishing tenth, but the virtual impossibility of a title challenge meant that once again the season had a feeling of marking time.
Thus much hope for the season was invested in the Cup competitions, initial failure generating much ire before an ultimate silver lining.
The squad was freshened up in the summer with a triple signing from Northwood. Prolific striker Lawrence Yaku arrived alongside midfielders Andy Cook and Ryan Ashe. The addition of classy young sweeper Chris Elsegood led to a refashioned team that was exciting to watch, its potential realised in a 5-0 demolition of Chesham United in the first week of the season.
Having won five and losing just three of the opening eleven league matches, including a win at recently relegated Hayes, hopes were high that the Magpies would at last have a run in the FA Cup.
Such was the desire for Cup glory an understrength team was sent out to play Hitchin on the Tuesday prior  to the initial tie against Welling. The sacrifice of points looked to be worthwhile with Maidenhead beating the Wings as injury time loomed. An amazing turnaround in the dying minutes though saw the Kent team leave York Road as winners and unprecedented criticism of the Magpies from Chairman Coombs in the local press.
An injury to goalkeeper Richie Barnard, who had been virtually ever present since his debut in August 2000, coincided with a drop in form which saw only one win in fourteen matches.
Barnard’s absence at least allowed Trevor Roffey a swansong in the number one jersey in a unforgettable 4-4 draw against Kingstonian.
Interest in the FA Trophy ended on a gloomy afternoon in Tonbridge, which at least provided the opportunity to sample the many pubs lining the long walk from the station to Longmead.
The nadir was reached in a 4-0 defeat at home to Ford United, with former Chelsea Champions League star Mark Nicholls filling in between the sticks for Maidenhead in the second half. Following the defeat Alan Devonshire issued a sincere apology and league form immediately perked up with ten points taken from the next four games.
The last of these was a super 3-1 win at promotion chasing St. Albans City, in the last match of 2002, and after the turn of the year the team never looked back, finishing the season in a best ever finish of tenth.
The league form was accompanied by County Cup wins over Slough and Windsor to reach another final in defence Devonshire’s favourite trophy.
However as the end of the season drew near he decided that it was time to seek pastures new, announcing that he would resign after the County Cup Final.
Following his announcement his team saw him out in style winning their final three league games before delivering the perfect send off with a 4-1 win in the County Cup Final against Aylesbury United at Chesham.
Yaku’s final hat trick, celebrated with trademark back flip (pictured above), saw him finish the season as Devonshire’s best ever marksman with 28 goals, as the trophy was lifted for the fourth time in six seasons.
Thus the end of the season was absolutely the end of an era, as Alan Devonshire celebrated seven and a bit seasons in charge which placed him in the pantheon of the all time top three Maidenhead United managers, and arguably the top one. Simultaneously Roger and Jean Coombs took their bow at the summer AGM, receiving a standing ovation for their equally important role in maintaining the structure for Devonshire’s success. Although it was certainly heartfelt at the time, the fondness for these seven seasons has only grown with age, helped by its status as a belle epoque when contrasted with the four seasons of upheaval which followed.
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, 29 October 2017

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 2001-02

23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
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Part 8: 2001-02
Management 023.jpgAfter several seasons of non stop excitement and achievement it was somewhat inevitable that something of a fallow season was due. Thanks to the self aggrandising move by the Isthmian League hierarchy to expand the divisions to 24 clubs to accommodate more clubs in 2002-03, the 2001-02 season had a feeling of marking time.  With only one club promoted and one relegated, it wasn’t long before the Magpies and many other clubs in the Premier Division knew they would be neither and so the league season lacked a competitive edge.
This meant the knockout competitions had a higher profile, and having gone without silverware in 2000/01 for the first time in his York Road managerial career, Alan Devonshire was certain to put that right.
The squad continued to improve with the signings of right back Andy Rose and midfielder Paul Kelly, whilst striking options were widened with the addition of Ricky Ibe and Paul Scott.  As the season drew on further enhancements were made with the signings of centre back Orlando Jeffrey, hard man midfielder Jamie Jarvis and creative youngster Rod Saunders.
The season began in the same way as the last one with a comfortable win by a three goal margin over Harrow Borough, this time at Earlsmead. By the end of August these remained the only points gained, with a further blow to progress coming when a broken leg at St. Albans ended the season for inspirational midfielder Matt Glynn.
However one month later by the time the Cups started, fifteen points were in the bag when a super volley from Barry Rake secured a 2-0 win at Enfield who were ground sharing at Boreham Wood.
The FA Cup saw United pull possibly the toughest draw out of the hat in the shape of Aldershot Town. The problems at the previous season’s league match meant Thames Valley Police decided to treat the match as training exercise, the unusual sight of police horses trotting up and down York Road sticking in the memory as a late Ibe equaliser took the tie to a replay which was won comfortably by the Shots.
The Magpies fared a little better in the FA Trophy, winning at the League’s fastest rising club Northwood, with the day dominated by speculation that Wood’s star striker Lawrence Yaku would be joining United the following summer. Interest in the competition was ended by a defeat in the next round at home to Hendon.
In between the two ties, Jarvis had arrived at the club and made an instant impact on home debut against Sutton. A combative player in the mould of Vinnie Jones, Jarvis barely lasted ten minutes of his York Road bow, seeing red after running half the length of the pitch to floor a Sutton attacker who had clashed with United keeper Richie Barnard.
A Lee “Porno” Channell hat trick at Hungerford meant the first stage of the League Cup was comfortably negotiated, only to fall at the next hurdle, losing 5-3 at Hampton just before Christmas.
December also saw my personal final “home” game as I left Maidenhead to move up to London, where I still live sixteen years later.
At the turn of the year Gravesend & Northfleet and Canvey Island were already well ahead of the chasing pack meaning there would be a two horse race for the title, with Maidenhead coasting in mid table with Croydon already looked marooned in the one relegation spot.
With their Premier Division status all but assured, United embarked on a run of ten defeats in twelve matches from February, the start of the run coinciding with the departure of club captain Tim Cook for Chesham.
Aided by the arrival of the internet message board, the run sparked a period of introspection at the club, with supporters airing criticisms of the team’s rigid 5-3-2 playing style, a sense of ennui enveloping York Road which would remain for the next year, as having achieved so much in a short period, the club searched for its next challenge.
This feeling was not helped when Cook returned to York Road with Chesham in April taking all three points in a resounding 4-0 win, crowds falling by 21%  by the season’s end. This brought with it two wins to ensure Maidenhead maintained their sixteenth final placing  of the previous season, with once again a County Cup Final to look forward to.
jarvis Goal v Slough 19.03.02.jpgThis had been reached thanks to a straightforward win over Flackwell Heath in the quarter-final, and a terrific 3-2 win over Slough in a thrilling semi-final at York Road.
Midway through the second half, goals from Channell, Ibe and Jarvis (pictured right celebrating) looked to have returned the Magpies to the final once more, but with all hope seemingly lost, Slough somehow revived, scoring twice then pushing United all the way to final whistle.
The final itself was played at Wycombe against holders Chesham United, and ended in a goalless draw. A fact that somewhat helped my mood having missed the match thanks to being bumped off a flight home from Barcelona. Maidenhead regained the Cup thanks to a 4-2 win in a penalty shoot out, to ensure that once again Alan Devonshire had put silverware in the United boardroom.  
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, 1 October 2017

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 2000-01


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
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Part 7: 2000-01
Life in the Isthmian Premier Division seemed a piece of cake for the newly promoted Magpies as they trounced Harrow Borough 4-1 on a sunny opening day of the season at York Road. The loss of striker Chuk Agudosi to Croydon and goalkeeper Garath Ormshaw to retirement was shrugged off as debutants defender Andy Morley and midfielder Matty Glynn started their Maidenhead career with a goal.
A third summer signing, Richard Barnard, proved to be a more than adequate replacement for Ormshaw but it took eight matches for him to keep a clean sheet as United struggled to adjust to playing at a higher level.
Only three days after their opening day triumph, the Magpies were taught a footballing lesson at Billericay, one of four consecutive defeats before fellow strugglers Dulwich Hamlet were beaten by the odd goal in five, the highlight being  a trademark strike from distance by Billy Cove.
A second win on the road in September at Croydon was much enjoyed. Not only as another defeat of the previous season’s champions but also as a first clean sheet shutting out Agudosi.
However this win barely stopped the rot. A cup tie at Hitchin which saw a goal from substitute Lee Channell, ended in acrimony with assistant manager Carl Taylor upbraiding fans for their lack of support for the striker who had replaced Agudosi. Hitchin were beaten on penalties in the replay at York Road which set up a somewhat exotic trip to Nottinghamshire in the next round which ended in defeat at Hucknall.
By the time Christmas had arrived there were just two more wins, one in the FA Trophy at Hampton and three points earned at home to Basingstoke, but the tide turned with a Boxing Day derby win over Slough. Despite the freezing conditions, there was an electric atmosphere at York Road with an Obi Ulasi goal the difference between the two teams.
Seasonal weather looked likely to halt the revival but a sterling effort by HItchin supporters to clear the Top Field pitch of snow four days later, allowed the Magpies to claim another three points. A week later I joined in the operation to make the York Road pitch playable for the visit of Aldershot, the title favourites being trounced 3-0 in front of a season’s best crowd of 1,213, the win capped by an absolutely stunning individual goal by Adrian Allen.
Having made some headway in the fight against relegation, United were entitled to be distracted by the FA Trophy, two wins in a week over Enfield and Braintree setting up an unforgettable trip to Blyth Spartans. Matt Glynn’s early goal at Croft Park was worthy of winning the tie, but Spartans prevailed with a late winner, leaving the supporters to enjoy the delights of Whitley Bay, later that evening.
Progress was also made in the County Cup as Slough left York Road with nothing again, followed by Reading and Windsor to see the Magpies reach the final once more. Whether this would be a consolation prize following relegation, or a party to celebrate staying up remained in the balance with the wet winter combining with cup runs to create the by now traditional fixture backlog.
Twelve matches were still to be played with twenty six days of the season remaining, with the league firm in their insistence that the full programme be completed by May 5th. This left the threat that the final day might see some teams play twice but the results were such that this was not necessary leaving a curious final table with four clubs short of the 42 game mark.
The outlook was starting to look bleak  for the Magpies when they lost the Easter Monday return derby against fellow strugglers Slough. Another defeat at eventual runners up Canvey Island two days later meant just four points had been earned from five fixtures in April with the following weekend bringing two games over the two days.
The first at home to Purfleet provided the ideal opportunity to for a much needed win, as the opposition were so short of personnel that they had to put an outfield player in goal for the whole match. Maidenhead were unable to take advantage though and lost 2-1. Only 24 hours later, hopes rose with a hard fought 1-0 win at Gravesend & Northfleet. Reading loan striker Nathan Tyson giving the Magpies an early lead which they hung onto.
Completing the double over bottom markers Dulwich set up a match on the final Tuesday of the season against Carshalton, who were also battling to stay up. Two goals from Glynn made sure that yet again Maidenhead fans were celebrating at York Road in May as the three points meant the Magpies had made it into a second season in the Isthmian League Premier Division. Carshalton were relegated alongside Dulwich and Slough, although the Rebels Wexham Park curse over the Magpies held good to the end, as United lost the Berks & Bucks Cup Final to Chesham in their last appearance at the ground.
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, 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