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, 25 September 2016

The Men Who Made Modern Football #3

Charles Miller

As explained in part 2 it was in Argentina that football first took root in South America. Inevitably Brazil was not far behind and again it was Scotsmen who played the leading role in developing perhaps the world’s foremost footballing nation.
The predictable title of father of Brazilian football is commonly attached to Charles Miller (pictured) and as you will read he certainly played the biggest role in establishing the sport. However it is Thomas Donohoe, originally from Busby in East Renfrewshire, who organised the first match.
A dye expert, Donohoe arrived in Bangu, a suburb of Rio De Janeiro in 1893. In April the following year he organised a five a side match. Aged 31 he became part of a small British community in the neighbourhood but missed playing football so when he invited his wife and children to cross the Atlantic he asked them to bring a football which was then used in the first football match to be played in Brazil on a field next to the textile factory where worked, with the British factory workers making up the teams.
Sadly a manager at the factory banned all games for fear of a detrimental effect on the workforce. Thus the fledgling game in Bangu was still born and football did not return for ten years but they still continued to innovate as in 1905 the new Bangu Atletic Clube included Francisco Carregal, the first black player to play for a Brazilian club.
Thus it was left to Charles Miller, based a few hours down the coast in Sao Paulo, to establish the first league having arranged the first eleven a side match in Brazil in 1894, a few month after Donohoe.
Miller was a Sao Paulo native with a Scottish railway engineer father, and a Brazilian mother of English descent. He was sent to Southampton to complete his education, and whilst at school he played for and against Corinthians and St. Marys, the clubs now known as Corinthian Casuals and Southampton respectively.
Miller returned to Brazil, aged 21 in 1894, bringing with him two footballs and the Hampshire FA rule book. In April 1895 he organised a match between British workers of the Sao Paulo Railway and the Gas Company, acknowledged as the first proper football match to be played in Brazil as opposed to Donohoe’s small sided affair. He went onto set up the Liga Paulista and the Sao Paulo Athletic Club for whom he featured as a striker and won three consecutive championships from 1902. To this day the state championship remains the foundation of the Brazilian game.
The club had folded for good by 1912 but he left his mark on Brazilian football by suggesting the name Corinthians for another Sport Club Paulista. Corinthians remain one of the foremost clubs in world football.
Other notable figures in early Brazilian football include Oscar Cox and Harry Welfare. Cox was born in Brazil but as his surname suggests had English ancestors. He introduced football to Rio De Janeiro and founded Fluminese. He learned his football whilst being educated in Switzerland, and like Miller, returned aged 20 in 1901to set up the first match in his native city. Hearing about Miller’s efforts in Sao Paulo, Cox went on to set up fixtures featuring teams from each city.  In 1902 he founded Flu, a club Welfare would go on to star for as a striker.
Born in Liverpool, Welfare played professionally for both the Reds and Tranmere but aged 24 decided to emigrate to Brazil. A teacher, Welfare joined Fluminese and went onto score 163 goals in only 166 appearances. After a decade of service he was elected a life member of the club.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

The Men Who Made Modern Football #2
Alexander Watson-Hutton

A series of 25 articles looking at football innovators with a lasting impact on the global game
Watching the 1986 World Cup Final I was struck by the surname of the first Argentinian goalscorer. It was Brown, and as I found out when researching this article thirty years later, his name is evidence of the lasting influence of Scotland on the development on one of the world’s footballing super powers and indeed the South American continent’s football as a whole.
This is hardly surprising when you consider the influence of the British empire on that part of South America in the nineteenth century and I think it’s rather appropriate given the footballing relationship between Argentina and England, that it was men from the auld enemy Scotland who built the foundation for La Albiceleste, chiefly a man from the Gorbals, Alexander Watson-Hutton.
Destined to become known as the father of Argentinian football, Hutton, the son of a grocer was orphaned before he reached the age of five. Incredibly he graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a degree in Philosophy and found his vocation as a teacher. The earlier death of close family members from Tuberculosis, colloquially known as consumption, is thought to have led to his desire to seek a new life in warmer climes, so aged 31, in 1884 he began an appointment as rector of St Andrews School in Buenos Aires, which had been founded by the first wave of Scottish immigrants in 1838 and still exists today.
Hutton was an adherent of muscular Christianity, the belief that sport, especially as part of a team, has spiritual value. His preferred form of sporting expression was association football which was initially at odds with his fellow expatriates’ preference for rugby. When it became clear that the presence of football on the curriculum of his school was unwelcome, he elected to resign and found his own institution, the English High School of Buenos Aires which quickly flourished.
With football now at the heart of the curriculum, Hutton persuaded William Waters, the son of his old landlady back in Scotland to join him and bring a bag of leather footballs. ‘Guillermo’ Waters went onto become a successful importer of sporting goods to South America but before that captained St Andrews Scotch Athletic Club to the Argentine Association Football League title, the first such competition to be held outside of the UK.
The team consisted entirely of Scots, as did runners up the Old Caledonians which predominantly featured employees of a British plumbing company, Bautaume & Peason, which was laying a new sewage system in Buenos Aires. The league soon collapsed but it was Hutton who re-established in it 1893, a body regarded as South America’s first national football association, the eighth oldest in the world. Hutton was President and refereed games.
When the Argentinian government made PE compulsory in all schools in 1898, football spread in popularity amongst the native population. Hutton founded the Club Atletico English High School for his pupils, ex-pupils and teachers, and joined the new second division of the Argentinian League. Over the next decade, Alumni as they were known, dominated the national game winning ten first division titles between 1900 and 1911. A star member of the team was Hutton’s son Arnold, better known as Arnoldo who not only became an international footballer but also represented Argentina at cricket and polo.
Another Gorbals boy, tea magnate Thomas Lipton gave Hutton junior a chance for more glory when he donated the Copa Lipton, a trophy to be played for annually between Argentina and Uruguay, Arnoldo scoring in the second game in 1907 which Argentina won 2-0. In 1910 the competition was expanded to include Chile, and renamed the Copa Centenario to commemorate the 1810 Argentinian revolution. Arnoldo scored in the final again as Argentina lifted the trophy that was in time to become the Copa America.
Alumni’s strength was augmented by seven members of the Brown family, whose ancestors had left Scotland as early as 1825. Five of the Browns also won regular caps for Argentina but in 1912 Hutton decided to disband Alumni. This marked the end of the British period of Argentinian football, giving way to futbol criollo, the indigenous population setting up more familiar clubs such as Boca Juniors and River Plate.
Hutton died in 1936, just six years after Argentina had finished runners up to Uruguay in the first World Cup final. His role in the early development of the South American game is not forgotten with the Argentinian FA’s library being named after him and a 1950 film, Escuela de Campeones commemorating the story of his great Alumni team to celluloid.

The Scottish and by definition Hutton’s influence continues to be represented in Argentinian Football with 1986 goalscorer Jose Brown being a directed descendant of the Caledonian pioneers. Following his retirement he has become a successful domestic coach. If it wasn’t for Hutton’s persistence perhaps it would have been as a rugby player that Brown would have found fame.

Monday, 29 August 2016

The Men Who Made Modern Football #1
C.W. Alcock
A series of 25 articles looking at football innovators with a lasting impact on the global game
 On thinking about a series of programme articles to span the season I ended up channelling Rudyard Kipling via CLR James viz “what do they know of Maidenhead United who only Maidenhead United know”, and helped by a subscription to the Blizzard, have decided to write twenty five thumbnail sketches of footballing innovators who have had a lasting impact on the global game.
I begin the series with a man who has become known as not just someone with a lasting influence on modern football, but is also described as the “father of modern sport”, Charles W Alcock. This is fair comment given he had a hand in the first FA Cup, the first football international, the creation of cricket’s county championship and the first test match between England and Australia which of course in time became The Ashes. He was not just an administrator but a player and tactician of a note years before the concept of the manager coach became an established role.
Born in Sunderland in 1842, he moved to Chingford at an early age, being educated at Harrow, the famous footballing public school. Eschewing the family shipbroking business he became a sports reporter and looked to carry on his playing career as a centre forward by forming The Wanderers in 1862, a club created for Harrow old boys. A year later the Football Association was created with Alcock joining the committee in 1866, publishing the first ever football annual two years later. He was appointed FA Secretary in 1870, making his mark by organising the first international match between England and Scotland in March of that year, captaining England at Kennington Oval in a 1-1 draw against the Scots.
This was the first of five games leading up to what FIFA have since recognised as the first official international which was played at the West of Scotland cricket ground in Partick, Glasgow in November 1872, the earlier matches being discounted as the Scotland team were all London based and selected by the English FA!
In the meantime in 1871 Alcock proposed:
 'That it is desirable that a Challenge Cup should be established in connection with the Association, for which all clubs belonging to the Association should be invited to compete'
Based on Alcock’s experience of inter-house knockout football at Harrow, this turned into the world’s first national football tournament, the FA Cup, with Maidenhead and Marlow two of the fifteen clubs which entered the first competition. Alcock went onto captain The Wanderers to victory in the first ever FA Cup Final, beating Royal Engineers 1-0. Following retirement, Alcock refereed the 1875 and 1879 finals.
Alcock was as much an organiser on the pitch as off it. Having become in 1866 the first player to be penalised under the new offside law, he went onto become a leading advocate of the “combination” (i.e. passing) game which advocated teamwork especially defence linking with attack. This had been developed by the Sheffield club formed in 1857 and reflected Alcock’s lack of class prejudice. Unlike many of his former school mates who sought to denigrate the status of professional clubs like Sheffield from the north who favoured team work, in favour of individualistic amateur clubs who saw football as self-expression with players taking it in turns to make solo runs, Alcock argued that professionalism in sport was not a problem, rather that shamateurism or in his words “veiled professionalism is the evil to be repressed”.
Alcock continued as FA Secretary until 1895, combining the role with that of secretary of Surrey County Cricket Club. It was in this latter role that he organised the first England v Australia test match in the northern hemisphere in 1880 and formalised the County Championship in 1890.
The FA Cup, international football and professionalism, the first two suggested by Alcock and the latter strongly supported by him in the face of wholesale opposition from his peers, prove him most surely to be a man who made modern football.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Not Art - A Story of one woman's football obsession.

The irresistible rise in the importance of the role of women in football, has to date been largely reflected by their participation in the game. This is understandable given it was only in 1971 that the FA lifted their ban on women's matches being played at any affiliated club, a jealous measure originally introduced in the face of crowds of over 50,000 being drawn to watch Dick Kerr's Ladies team in the 1920s.
The lifting of the ban had been preceded in 1969 by the formation of the Women's FA and quickly followed  by introduction of the Women's FA Cup and national team. In more recent years the astoundingly obvious move to introduce the game into schools to replace the likes of hockey has led to the current, more equitable, state of affairs with extensive media coverage.
Increased participation has naturally been reflected by a greater presence in all aspects of the game, with writers such as Amy Lawrence following the trail blazed by Julie Welch, but despite the boom in football literature a paucity exists in telling the stories of women, such as Helen 'The Bell' Turner, who have watched the game throughout it's history, in contrast to the shelves of memoirs detailing the male experience. 
Fortunately, with thanks to blogger Beyond the Last Man, I found one such example, Not Art by renowned Hungarian author Peter Esterhazy. An autobiographical novel, it tell's the author's story of the relationship with his mother who is obsessed, more so than her son, with football. Unlike his preceding work, Journey to the Depths of the Eighteen Yard Line, Not Art has been translated into English by Judith Sollosy, although in line with the Hungarian language's reputation as the most complex in Europe, it is quite a difficult read as the writing jerks jazz style from the narrative to the author's present day thoughts on often unrelated topics.
The novel begins with Esterhazy talking to his mother on her death bed, where she insists on him talking her through the intricacies of the offside rule. We quickly learn though that it's the son who has spent his life as a student of the game, taught by a woman with an epicurean appreciation of the Hungarian footballing values established by the Magnificent Magyars of the 1950s.
With the help of footnotes, the novel paints a picture of life growing up in post war Hungary and its troubled status in the Soviet bloc represented by a father distanced by his relationship with the secret police and an aristocratic mother working in a factory. The latter's dominant voice is constantly projected through the prism of football, peppered with references to the likes of Jozsef Bozsik, Zoltan Czibor and of course Ferenc Puskas who we learn is known ubiquitously in his homeland as Junior.
The joy of the novel is perfectly captured in the retelling of a family anecdote where mother comes across teenagers Puskas and Bozsik playing with a rag ball on a patch of wasteland next to a factory. Spotting the poor state of the ball she insists the boys turn around whilst she whips off her stockings to refashion it, thus demonstrating her absolute commitment to the game which would be rewarded when the boys became prominent members of one of the greatest national teams the game has ever seen.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Yesterday's Hero

York Road is no stranger to the silver screen with our FA Cup tie against Port Vale last November giving rise to memories of the early 1950s when it was used as the setting for a pivotal scene in the Ealing Studios production, The Card, starring Alec Guinness. 
In 1979 the cameras returned, this time for the Ian McShane film, Yesterday's Hero.  This was something less of a cinematic accomplishment than The Card and I only saw Yesterday's Hero for the first time this summer courtesy of the new Freeview channel Talking Pictures TV which specialises in screening what are, quite frankly, pretty mediocre UK produced B movies from the 50s, 60s and 70s.
To be honest you could move Yesterday's Hero a bit further down the alphabet, as its a story packed with cliches as hackneyed as any other football drama. Scripted by Jackie Collins, the story is centred on Rod Turner (McShane) a washed up alcoholic football star playing for Windsor (insert own joke), and features a host of familiar faces from contemporary sitcoms and soaps.
McShane at least had a claim to having the footballing talent required for the role, with his Scottish father Harry having had a long career as a Football League player with spells at Bolton Wanderers and Manchester United. The use of locations and the way real match footage is used is also creditworthy reflecting Frank McLintock's role as football adviser, with the off field action letting the film down.
York Road's role is over and done with in the first three minutes of the film which opens with a shot which pans down Bell Street with a train in  the background. The famous Bell St End then comes into with a handful of spectators watching a game, presumably between Maidenhead (in red) and Windsor (blue and white stripes). I understand the director requested that the pitch be flooded to give it an authentic glue pot appearance, which despite the sizable facility fee rather ruined the playing surface for the remainder of the season and arguably cost the Magpies promotion as they fell five points short in third place.

The action is played out over the intro song, with contemporary Maidenhead players featuring as extras. There are some magnificent shots of the ground, with the cameras on the York Road side. You can see what was the covered terrace on the railway side, plenty of grass beyond the perimeter and some tantalising shots of the stand that sadly burned down in 1986. The wall at the Bell Street end is a pre mural plain, with the scene feeling very recognisable as the club shop, tea bar and shelf come into view,
After the game Turner heads out for a drink with his father and friends at the Ivy Leaf club and the action switches to a concert by singer Clint Simon (Paul Nicholas) and partner known enigmatically as Cloudy (Suzanne Somers), a beta version of Dollar channeling the Dooleys and the Brotherhood of Man.
In the style of Pete Winkleman, Simon is the music impresario owner of third division club The Saints (no location but the players wear Southampton's away kit). who have just won their FA Cup quarter final against Birmingham Rovers at a cost of an injury to striker John Snatcher. Despite the misgivings of manager Jake Marsh (Adam Faith), Simon decides Turner is the answer to the Saints problems and sets out to recruit him at the next Windsor home game.
In the meantime, in between regular sips from a ubiquitous whisky bottle, Turner also coaches boys from a children's home whilst fending off any thoughts of commitment to girlfriend Glynis Barber and hoping for a move to the US from dilettante agent Alan Lake.
Turner meets Simon meet after a game at Stag Meadow, which looks pretty much unchanged 37 years later, and ends up going straight into the Saints semi-final line up to face Hamilton United (wearing the Ipswich home kit). at Portman Road.
All is going to plan, as inspired by Turner's presence, the Saints go into half time 2-0 up with Turner scoring the second. However a half time dram signals trouble with the manager and although the scoreline remains the same, once John Motson has left the post match dressing room celebrations, Marsh issues Simon with a "him or me" ultimatum.
Just in case his fate was in doubt, Turner goes on to punch Marsh at a nightclub later that evening before spending the night with Cloudy, which ensures Barber moves to the Marsh corner.
Returning to the back pages for all the wrong reasons, Turner is shunned by one of the boys at the children home and at last resolves to win his place back, pacing the mean streets of Windsor to get fit. This provides him with a place on the bench at Wembley as The Saints attempt to become the first third division team to win the Cup. Opponents Leicester Forest (in the tricky trees' red) stand in their way and using footage of the actual 1979 League cup final, Forest race into a two goal lead before Saints pull one back just before half time.
Following an unbelievably uninspiring half time talk from Marsh, the Saints do little to threaten a comeback until with eight minutes remaining Tony Keys has to make way for Turner due to injury,
Can you guess what happens next?

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Small talk

My small talk q & a from the last programme of the season:

What is your Twitter name?

What is your earliest memory of Maidenhead United?
Seeing the glow of the floodlights from my bedroom window in Courtlands.

Where will I find you on a York Road matchday?
Around the ground

What do you like to eat and drink at York Road?
Tea and Mr Kipling’s finest in the boardroom at half time

What is the most memorable match you've seen Maidenhead United play?
Our FA Trophy tie at Blyth Spartans in February 2001. Unforgettable memories on and off the pitch.

What is the most memorable goal you've seen Maidenhead United score?
Tim Cook’s kick in which became an own goal at Aldershot in 1995, Mark Harrison against Aylesbury in 1996, Chuk Agudosi at Yeovil in 1997, Francis Duku against Sutton in 1997, Chris Ferdinand against Croydon in 2000, Adrian Allen against Aldershot in 2001, Mark Nisbet at Kings Lynn in 2007, Sam Collins against Wycombe at Marlow in 2010, Max Worsfold at Thurrock in 2011, Paul Semakula’s winner against Eastleigh  in 2012, Danny Green at Barrow in 2013, and of course James Mulley at Port Vale in 2015

Who is your favourite Maidenhead United player of all time?
Garry Attrell. When he ran down the wing he should have been accompanied by an orchestra playing Mozart.

What has been your favourite season watching Maidenhead United so far?
This one is pretty good along with 2006/07, 2003/04 and 1999/2000 but my favourite would be the epic 1997/98 season for many reasons, chiefly for the very British sense of plucky failure sweetened by the best County Cup win I have seen, beating a very strong Reading side at Adams Park thanks to an amazing goal from an unexpected source.

What is the best ground you've seen Maidenhead United play at? 
Not so much best as favourites are Penydarren Park (Merthyr Tydfil), Sandy Lane (Tooting & Mitcham United), Twerton Park (Bath City), and The Walks (King’s Lynn)

Other than Maidenhead United who are the team to watch in the Vanarama National League South this season?
Maidstone United are the best team I have seen this season, based on their performance at York Road in September.

Other than Maidenhead United's players who is the player to watch in the Vanarama National League South this season?
Anthony Acheampong (Ebbsfleet United) & Justin Bennett (Gosport Borough).

What are your hopes for Maidenhead United for the season?
We’ve done it – 1st round of the FA Cup and a top ten league finish.

Who is your favourite current Maidenhead United player?
David Tarpey, a Garry Attrell for the 21st Century. More Beethoven than Mozart though.

What do you love most about York Road?
The first view of the ground as my train approaches Maidenhead, particularly if it’s an evening match.

If you were in charge of Maidenhead United for a day, what one change would you make?
Build a bespoke entrance from platform 5 down the embankment through a back door in the club shop.

What is your favourite Vanarama National League South awayday?
Eastbourne Borough. Decent ground and facilities. Lovely people and we usually win.

If you were in charge of non league football for a day, what one change would you make?
Merge the Conference with the bottom division of the Football League, regionalise them as north/south, then start non league with four regional divisions below that.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The County Cup Winners' Cup

The County Cup competitions of Britain are made up of anachronisms as layered as puff pastry and yet they persist with varying degrees of success throughout the country. Only supported by die hard fans of the clubs involved here in Berkshire we look over the border enviously at the likes of Oxfordshire and Hampshire with a Senior competition that embraces all football in the county rather than a select few which gives our own competition a permanent feeling of deja vu.
A few seasons ago at one tie a friend extemporised about extending the concept further by invoking the spirit of European Competitions past by suggesting the introduction of a County Cup Winners' Cup. The idea soon gained some traction on social media so armed with a copy of Russell Grant's Real Counties of Britain, I obtained a full list of 2015 winners from the non league matters forum, and using the National Village Cricket Cup as a template devised the 2015/16 draw. 
The Village Cup divides the country into four on a regional basis. Obviously with separate FAs Scotland and Wales would have their own competitions with all the winners coming together to contest a Home Nations County Cup Winners Cup before taking on the top French Departement Cup winner.
So here live from Lancaster Gate is the draw:

Preliminary Round (North)
1. North Yorkshire - Middlesbrough v East Yorkshire - Bridlington
2. Cumberland - Carlisle United v Westmorland - Keswick

Preliminary Round (Midlands)
3. Derbyshire - Matlock Town v Leicestershire & Rutland - Leicester City
4. Nottinghamshire - Basford United v Lincolnshire - Grimsby Town
5. Northamptonshire - Peterborough Northern Star v Huntingdonshire - Godmanchester Rovers

Preliminary Round (South East)
6. Buckinghamshire - Aylesbury United v Berkshire - Maidenhead United
7. Bedfordshire - Barton Rovers v Hertfordshire - Hemel Hempstead Town
8. Essex - Concord Rangers v Suffolk - Whitton United
9. Cambridgeshire - Cambridge City v Norfolk - Wroxham

First Round
10. Cheshire - Macclesfield Town v West Yorkshire - Bradford Park Avenue
11. Winners 1 v South Yorkshire - Frickley Athletic
12. Winners 2 v Lancashire - Chorley
13. Northumberland - Blyth Spartans v Durham - Shildon
14. Winners 4 v Winners 3
15. Herefordshire - Ledbury Town v Shropshire - Shrewsbury Town
16. Warwickshire - Birmingham City v Winners 5
17. Worcestershire - Kidderminster Harriers v Staffordshire - Stafford Rangers
18. Winners 6 v Winners 7
19. Winners 8 v Winners 9
20. Surrey - Metropolitan Police v Middlesex - Harrow Borough
21. Sussex - Whitehawk v Kent - Charlton Athletic
22. Hampshire - Gosport Borough v Wiltshire - Highworth Town
23. Devon - Plymouth Argyle v Cornwall - St. Austell
24. Dorset - Weymouth v Somerset - Taunton Town
25. Gloucestershire - Cirencester United v Oxfordshire - North Leigh

As you can see Berks and Bucks are already ahead of the game here by playing off already as do Leicestershire and Rutland (I couldn't work out the best team in each county for an extra preliminary round). All ties would take place on a Saturday, taking priority over league fixtures, kick off 3 pm. Highlights would be broadcast on the relevant regional BBC station. 
The competition would proceed from these regional quarter-finals with regional semi-finals and a final, the winners of which would contest the national semi-finals (Midlands v North, South East v South West) to set up a north(ish) v south final. Can I suggest the county ground Letchworth Garden City as a suitably neutral venue for the final? See you there in May.

Monday, 16 November 2015


Mild! Oatcakes! Saggar Makers Bottom Knockers! My head span with the glamorous possibilities of a trip to Burslem when United were the fourth ball to be drawn in the FA Cup 1st Round draw.
While some sneered about an underwhelming draw, I couldn’t have been happier. York Road may be the cradle of the originally amateur game, hosting FA Cup football since 1871, but the industrial north and midlands represent its heartlands, the origin of the Football League which effectively created the template for the professional sport we know and love.
More to the point Port Vale were a proper league club, founder members of Division 2 with their Vale Park stadium a chance to claim that the Magpies were on their way to “Wembley” (of the North).
There was also the opportunity to remind the wider world of the unusual way in which the first video footage of York Road came to pass, when it doubled as the home of Bursley FC, to all intents and purposes Port Vale, United even wearing the correct black and white colours. Watching again the pivotal match at the climax of The Card I was struck by an unmistakable Potteries background painted behind our old main stand, sadly destroyed in an arson attack in 1986. If any local councillors are reading this it was as good a vision for the town centre as I’ve ever seen in the Advertiser.
The lead up to the game involved much correspondence with the One Vale Fan website. James Smith who I hope to meet tonight has provided some great online conversation in recent weeks and exemplifies the friendship which has sprung up between fans of the two clubs, something I’m sure will bloom this evening regardless of the result. All of which only heightens my healthy dislike of Vale’s deadly rivals Stoke City which began after a visit to the Potters’ old Victoria Ground in the early 90s when on leaving the away end I was advised to take a lift back to the railway station in a police van for my own safety. Stoke beat Reading 3-0 that day. I dread to think what they’re like if they lose.
I elected to take the train up to Stoke from my London home for the Magpies Cup tie. The journey bought a few hours of quiet contemplation of the day to come and a few memories.
First up was Wembley Stadium where last May I saw Arsenal deliver the perfect performance to win the FA Cup 4-0 against Aston Villa. My love of football started with Arsenal’s awesome cup runs of the late 70s when the Gunners reached three consecutive finals under Terry Neill.
Images sprang to mind of a bloodied John Wile, my first taste of footballing disappointment in the 1978 final, Jack Charlton ordering the Hillsborough Kop to stop throwing snowballs at Pat Jennings, the jaunty theme tune of Sport on Two followed by the passionate Welshman Peter Jones or the more authoritative tone of Bryon Butler, the five minute final, cramp, bottles of milk, Brian Moore knows the score, Brooking’s header.
Passing Wembley at speed I was taken back to Maidenhead United when I saw Harrow Borough’s unusual Earlsmead floodlights. A reminder of the many points Alan’s teams won there at the start of the 21st century to maintain the Magpies’ hard won place in the Isthmian League Premier Division.
Soon the train stopped at Berkhamsted, like United a station next to a football ground, where Tim Cook once literally scored direct from a throw in.
Further up the line and I glimpsed Rugby Town’s ground my only visit coming at the start of Johnson Hippolyte’s time as manager, where a point was earned en route to promotion.
A draw in somewhat different circumstances was the result at Stafford Rangers, the penultimate stop recalling that heady first ever appearance in the FA Cup First Round in my lifetime by the Magpies. A glorious encounter where the nine men of Maidenhead held on for a draw thanks in the main to Chico Ramos’ penalty save. That led to the first outbreak of cup fever in the town as people poured through the gate at the replay. I stood incredulous with microphone in hand in front of the dug outs as the flood of spectators continued unabated up to kick off and beyond.
After several years of turmoil on and off the pitch that match signalled the start of better times for United, the fruits of which were in plentiful evidence in Burslem, as over twice the number who went to Stafford made the trip to Port Vale.
A slight delay meant I emerged from Stoke station to see my bus disappearing into the distance. Never mind the occasion justified a taxi which delivered me outside the Bull’s Head which was thronging with home and away fans alike. As I made my way through the Titanic Brewery menu it almost seemed a shame to leave a venue which was warm in every sense. Not that I regretted it as the Brixton Academy like doors to the away end at Vale Park opened to reveal the Magpies tearing into their opponents.
Looking around it felt like the whole of York Road had made the trip in addition to few exiles like Keith Jackson who now lives in Hull.
The acoustics were perfect for the Bell Street choir to deliver their non stop vocal encouragement which was unceasing in its support, growing to a crescendo as the match drew on despite Port Vale taking the lead and the post denying a Ryan Upward equaliser in the first half.
In a funny sort of way I think remaining behind at the interval helped United. Port Vale were left in no man’s land, do they stick or twist? Going into half time level may well have provided manager Rob Page with the spark to fire his team to greater efforts.
As it was Vale still dominated proceedings but Maidenhead stuck to the task reflecting Alan Devonshire’s great strength as a manager, the ability to devise a successful playing method which gives every player a specific role in the team. With a sharp eye to identify and motivate the right player for the right role, the eleven become the personification of the word team, effectively greater than the sum of their parts. All for one and one for all, every one a hero.
And so it came to pass that it was the home team who were the ones trying to wind the clock down. Sensing the opportunity that it was now or never the away end rose to the occasion notching up the volume as Vale tried to keep the ball in the corner.
Looking to my left I saw former Chairman Rob West doing his bit to make more noise as the yellow shirts retrieved possession and hared off into the distance.
The ball pinged around the Vale penalty area. Tarpey must score! Saved! It’s in! Mulley’s running towards us and the team are following. We ran down to the front to meet them and after the referee politely but firmly insisted the game finish formally the final whistle blew. Never has a draw felt more like a victory. I staggered back towards the exit hugging Timmy Mallett, Bob Pritchard and countless others in a delirious stupor which would last for a day or so.
Years ago Alan revealed to a group of supporters at York Road in his first spell as United manager, the unbelievable feeling when he scored in the Hammers’ 1980 semi-final replay against Everton. “I just ran” he told us, after a goal scored portentously in the 94th minute. I wonder if James Mulley ever heard that tale?