About Me

My Photo
Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For nine seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The original 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. In August 2010 I also decided to write posts about all the matches I have attended. At the end of the 2010-11 season I stood down from all my duties at Maidenhead United due to an exciting development in my teaching career, but remain a director of the club and will continue to blog as time allows and inclination demands.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Bad Moon Rising

I've never seen Maidenhead beat Farnborough. I've managed to miss the few Magpie victories in recent years, and even though the visitors arrived at York Road on the back of a 5-0 defeat, the red moon shining like a beacon in the east for me did not suggest an omen of delight for the Stripes.
A quick glance at the opposition forum ahead of the game yielded little in the way of information tonight but an astonishing glimpse into their finances which to my untutored eye seemed to suggest they were £3 million in debt, and having repaid a lump sum of £10,000 to gain re-entry into the Conference South a year ago, had continued to pay down the debt at a grand total of £1 a month. Clearly one to watch in next summer's AGM Cup.
Maidenhead started the game in a similar mood to which they finished the one at Staines three days beforehand. However this time they found an implacable barrier to taking the lead in the form of on loan Leyton Orient goalkeeper, and ultimate man of the match Charlie Grainger. 
Follow the Hound
With eighteen minutes gone, Grainger denied the Magpies two full debutants in quick succession. Firstly he pushed a Tashan Adeyinka shot round the post, and then from the resulting corner tipped a Ryan Upward header onto the crossbar. Soon after Upward again went close with Grainger parrying his shot. Maidenhead continued to have the upper hand, with Mark Nisbet having an effort cleared off the line within two minutes of the restart after half time.
A substitution on the hour mark paid dividends for Farnborough as Dan Bennett came off the bench to fire home a loose ball after a Phil Page shot was blocked. 'Boro were then able to effectively stifle Maidenhead's attacking efforts and indeed for the remainder of the game looked most likely to score with Fey Okenbarmie drawing a couple of fine saves from Elvijs Putnins. 
One factor in the Magpies lack of threat was the substitution of effervescent Upward who suffered concussion following a blow to the head. This was part of a triple switch with twenty minutes left which had little effect on the game.
Deep into stoppage time a chance for an equaliser finally came when a ball into the box found Danny Green in space. The winger patiently waited to place his header wide of Grainger only for the keeper to keep his focus and pull off another excellent save to preserve his team's lead an ensured they took three points home.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Chappell leaves Maidenhead without a prayer

Not totally sure why, but I really enjoy a trip to Clarence Park, St. Albans. Easy to get to, nice walk through the park to the turnstile, and a few happy memories of Maidenhead wins. With the sun shining as well this afternoon all seemed set fair for a repeat of last Saturday's victorious trip to Staines. Initially everything went to plan. 
Passing through the turnstiles I met Peter Knock on the other side, exactly where he always was when I last went to Clarence Park before the Saints were relegated. Following Peter's customary warm welcome I took in the familiar scene of this neat little non league ground, only marginally spoiled by the grey metal fence which surrounds the perimeter.
In the lead up to kick off I learned that Drax had decided to tinker with his team, giving a full debut to Melchi Emmanuel-Williamson and Bobby Behzadi a rare start as a defensive midfielder. With Behzadi replacing Reece Tison-Lascaris, this looked like a move to bolster the defence, one which looked wise from the start as St. Albans looked to get on the front foot. In the early exchanges Maidenhead gave as good as they got though and took the lead in the seventh minute. A Danny Green free kick swung into the box. The defence were unable to clear it and the ball found its way to Adrian Clifton on the edge of the penalty area who fiercely struck the ball to score.
This did not deter St. Albans, with Elvijs Putnins soon saving well at the feet of Sean Shields. The home team were not backwards about coming forwards and their was an urgent directness to their play. It soon became clear that the touchlines had been brought in significantly to provide Lee Chappell with a long run up to unleash a throw in straight into the penalty area. This up and at 'em attitude extended throughout the team, which led to a niggly match, well controlled by referee Lloyd Wood. 
The Saints managed to get under the skin of the Magpies for much of the game, and this boiled over into a confrontation in the nineteenth minute between Tom Ward and Clifton. With Ward getting into Clifton's face, the midfielders response was to push the defender over, with the inevitable consequence of a red card. The dismissal hit Maidenhead harder than merely going down to ten men, as with the player whose strong running has done so much to link the midfield with attack missing, United retreated and then crumpled under a revitalised onslaught from St. Albans.
At first Putnins was able to stem the attacking tide with a flying save to deny John Frendo but within ten minutes Steve Wales had equalised with a goal remarkably similar to Clifton's.This was swiftly followed by a second when Putnins pushed a Chappell free kick from the halfway line into his own net. Chappell then completed the comeback by collecting a pinpoint crossfield long ball on the left hand side of the penalty area, beating Emmanuel-Williamson with his first touch then Putins with a fine finish.
Blown away by three goals in ten minutes, Maidenhead rallied slightly before half time and should have pulled a goal back when Stefan Brown hit the cross bar from close range. 
The interval provided time for reflection. On the pitch Maidenhead had failed to deal with St. Albans' direct approach and looked quite unsettled by the home team's aggressive approach. Off it City looked a resurgent club. The crowd was a season's best 707, significantly helped by free tickets distributed to local schools, with many youngsters enjoying half time on the pitch in their kit. I wasn't so sure about the mascot, supposedly a Roman which looked like it had the head of a lion, but liked the fine array of big flags being re-hung at the home end, even though some of the imagery was a little incongruous given the leafy suburban surroundings.
As the teams trotted out for the second half, Drax brought on Daniel Brown for Emmanuel-Williamson, moving Behazdi into the right back slot. Maidenhead made a better fist of the second half, with Ryan Upward in particular driving the team forward in midfield. With thirty minutes left, United then saw a way back into the game as Upward was brought down by Ward in sight of goal. With Ward already cautioned for the incident with Clifton he now followed him into the dressing room. However with a two goal cushion St. Albans were able to sit back and soak up Maidenhead's attacking endeavours which were now reinforced by Reece Tison-Lascaris and debutant Sam Barratt. 
Stepping up from the Hellenic League, the teenage Barratt showed no signs of being overawed with some nice touches on the left wing, whipping in a couple of decent cross. Yet it was St. Albans that looked most likely to score when they counter attacked and two minutes into stoppage time Chappell completed his hat trick. There was still time for Ashley Nicholls to test goalkeeper Joe Welch with a shot from distance but the die was cast for a comfortable win for St. Albans.
Once again the absence of key players Simon Downer and Dave Tarpey was keenly felt, whilst the unscheduled departure of Clifton showed his importance to the team.An apology from the latter was swiftly forthcoming, although he will now be suspended for the FA Cup tie in a fortnight's time, and probably the two games following that. Tarpey will be available next Saturday and its to be hoped that Downer will be fit enough to join him, with the Magpies being unbeaten in every game the defender has played so far.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Magpies headed onward by Upward

Rather brighter and more importantly drier weather accompanied Maidenhead's visit to Staines yesterday. Fortunately the Magpies' good 21st century record at Wheatsheaf Park persisted with a 2-1 win despite the absence of United talisman Dave Tarpey.
Of greater importance was evidence that lessons had been learned from last week's failure to beat ten men, as Maidenhead won more comfortably than the result suggested.
This outcome seemed far distant when Staines were gifted a lead in the third minute when Louie Theophanous took advantage of a defensive mix up to skip into the penalty area and score. The goal raised fears that Maidenhead's defensive frailty of last season had re-appeared but within four minutes the Magpies were back on level terms when an Adrian Clifton shot hit the back of a net helped by a deflection from a defender.
At the kick off I initially scoffed when someone asked if the game was a local derby but the niggly nature of the game suggested that this might be the case, perhaps reflecting the West London origins of a lot of the personnel from both clubs. The referee, who spent the afternoon distributing cards like a postman at Christmas, had already put a few Staines names into the book when the main talking point of the game occured with twenty minutes gone.
The incident which led to two red cards, appeared to start innocuously when Reece Tison-Lascaris chased  hard in vain to keep the ball in play. When his mission finished in front of the Maidenhead dug out, Drax went to retrieve the ball only for Sanchez Ming to wrestle it off him. Given the proximity of both dugouts the sterotypical bout of handbags was inevitable and when the pushing and shoving had stopped the referee dismissed Drax from the dug out. After much discussion and pointing to the tunnel it became clear that the referee was to be as merciless with Ming and so for the second weekend in a row Maidenhead's opposition was to be reduced to ten men for the majority of the match.
Initially the dismissal fired up the home team, Elvijs Putnins having to be a full stretch to paw away a Chris M'Bongou header. In the ten minutes ahead of the break though, Maidenhead gained the upperhand, thanks to someone lovely passing in the midfield around the fulcrum of Clifton. Time and again he combined with Tison-Lascaris to create a handful of chances before the break, although goalkeeper Jack Turner was not seriously tested.
Maidenhead continued in similar fashion after the interval, helped by Staines' manager Marcus Gayle's decision to ignore Ming's absence and go with three at the back. This enabled Tison-Lascaris, and later his replacement Lanre Azeez, to exploit his freedom on the left wing on a regular basis, but having danced their way into the penalty area, neither player could quite make the breakthrough to score. Another source of forward movement was Danny Green, whose performance approaching his form of last season.
All this was set against a rapidly deteriorating performance by the man in black who waved away two decent penalty shouts from Clifton and Green, and with his erratic decisions regarding the issue of cautions almost saw the game slip out of his control more than once in the second half.
Maidenhead came closest to taking the lead, just ahead of the hour mark when a Clifton shot from distance was spilled by Turner, Stefan Brown missing the opportunity to fire home the loose ball. 
The introduction of Ryan Upward provided some fresh legs in the Maidenhead midfield, helping United to wear down their opponents by keeping the ball, at one point encouraging a few shouts of "Ole" from the travelling support. Upward then reinforced his impact by heading in what proved to be the winner at the far post from a Green free kick eighteen minutes from full time.
Maidenhead then could and should have extended their lead to a more comfortable margin of victory. Substitute Tashan Adeyinka let fly with a spectacular shot  which Turner punched away, and then in stoppage time couldn't quite apply the finish to s swift counter attack. Sadly the only notes for the record books in the last ten minutes were yet more bookings.
So three deserved points for the Magpies against a Staines team which surprisingly seems to have lost the steely discipline which saw them emerge as play off dark horses last season.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Maidenhead can't quite wing it

I finished my summary of the previous weekend's football with a suggestion that a first clean sheet of the season should be a priority for the Magpies. That this came to pass against the early season pace setters Eastbourne on Saturday shouldn't be dismissed but was overshadowed by the literal missed opportunity to take all three points courtesy of a penalty early on in the game.
Likewise a watching crowd, perhaps as much as three time what was expected due to the offer of free admission, would have been suitably entertained despite the result stating a goalless draw.
With Drax fielding what perhaps is his strongest eleven, Maidenhead started the game strongly and with Eastbourne naturally confident following their good start to the season, it looked like a open game would ensue. 
For my money Borough were the best footballing team in the division last season but lacked a cutting edge up front. In the summer, manager Tommy Widdrington had remedied this by signing Richard Pacquette, Elliott Charles and Gavin McCallum, all attacking players with a good pedigree at this level. Pacquette looked a mite unfortunate to be adjudged offside as he sought to breakthrough the defence early on, and regardless or maybe because of what was soon to happen at the other end, the trio proved to be a handful for the United defence all afternoon.
The game's crucial incident occurred in the eighth minute. Adrian Clifton drove into the box only to be brought down by Marvin Hamilton. The only matter of conjecture appeared to be the location of contact so with Hamilton the last man a red card was produced. The referee concluded that it was also a penalty and after a little discussion Danny Green stepped up to take the spot kick. Goalkeeper Lewis Carey guessed right by diving to his right, and with Green's kick lacking pace and height, Carey was able to push the ball to safety.
Green almost made amends for his penalty miss five minutes later when his curling shot from the edge of the box beat Carey, only to hit the post. By this time Widdrington had reorganised his team, welding two midfielders to the front of the defence, virtually sacrificing midfield by keeping his three front men well up front. The result of this move led to a frustrating afternoon for Maidenhead as they struggled to find a way through the defence, whilst Eastbourne maintained an attacking threat which only grew as the game went on.
On the stroke of half time both Pacquette and Dave Tarpey were denied only by saves at full stretch from Elvijs Putnins and Carey respectively to preserve both teams' clean sheets and set up an intriguing second half.
What followed after the break set out the Maidenhead United conundrum which Drax has not consistently been able to solve for over twelve months now, that is how to mould a fine array of attacking wide players into a formation which will produce a steady stream of goals. Last season Green, Harry Pritchard, Reece Tison-Lascaris and towards the end Lanre Azeez all showed in varying quantities their ability to breakdown defences and score. In the close season they were joined by Tarpey and Stefan Brown who already have proved to be real assets to the team. Naturally this type of player tends to exploit his talent in a counterattacking style which maybe reflects the fact that Maidenhead have achieved better results away from home over the last season. Certainly this contributed to the win at home to Sutton, who went all out to win the game on the opening day of the season. In contrast when confronted with the resolute defences of Hemel and Eastbourne, United were unable to maintain a goalscoring threat after early promise. Some people see a big centre forward in the style of Tashan Adeyinka as the answer. Personally I think you need to play to the strengths of the wide players and utilise a passing game with the emphasis on keeping the ball to wear the opposition down. Even at this level the pitches have improved to allow this, all you need to add is the superior fitness to complement the approach.
Thus the second half saw the defence earn their stripes as they soaked up increasing pressure from the visitors which was enhanced by the introduction of Darren Lok and culminated in a Sam Beale free kick in stoppage time which hit the woodwork.
So a hard won point for the Magpies. As they say if you don't concede you won't lose, but unfortunately the early penalty miss and red card will lead to the game being seen as a missed opportunity although on this evidence I fully expect Eastbourne to sustain a title challenge this season.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Magpies get the Summertime Blues

So a trip to Gosport has once again provided the coda to the Magpies opening season burst of good form. Central defender Simon Downer was perhaps the key absentee in the two Bank Holiday weekend defeats, nevertheless on balance 7 points was a welcome return from what looked like a testing set of five fixtures from the start of the season.
On Saturday Hemel Hemsptead made their first trip to York Road for 8 years following their Southern League title win last April. The Tudors had not made the best of starts to their first Conference South campaign but on Saturday showed many of the qualities of a champion team on the pitch as well as some interesting sartorial choices off it.
The first half was fairly even with the crucial action being two top drawer saves by Hemel goalkeeper Laurie Walker. Around the half an hour mark he had to be on his best form to firstly deny an Ashley Nicholls volley from the edge of the penalty area, and then a Reece Tison-Lascaris effort from close range. The second save was the pick of the two as Lascaris took the time and space created by his pace to pick his spot but Walker steadfastly refused to go to ground and stretched out a hand to scrape the ball away to safety.
Hemel had made regular forays into the United half but seemed to become preoccupied by the performance of the referee and their perception of his lenient treatment of Jacob Erskine as three Tudor players were booked by the interval.
Emerging from the dressing room for the second half, the phrase "keep a clean sheet" was repeated by the away team to the extent of virtually sounding like a mantra, and it was their defensive discipline which proved to be the foundation of their eventual win. Maintaining a tight offside trap, Maidenhead quickly ran out of attacking ideas and the increasing use of Leon Solomon's pace on the wing as a forward option led to a gap opening on the left side of the United defence. 
With captain Jordan Parkes running the midfield efficiently this opportunity was exploited twice to give Hemel an unassailable lead with fifteen minutes to go. Oliver Hawkins led the line impressively for Hemel forcing Elvijs Putnins to palm his header off the line seven minutes into the second half. The tall striker then showed some deft skill to play in forward partner James Simmonds with a defence splitting pass which Simmonds collected in space to convert for the opening goal of the game.
By this point Maidenhead's own big front man Tashan Adeyinka had entered the fray, his debut since receiving international clearance from the Finnish FA, but he was well marshalled by central defenders Kieran Murphy and Jorell Johnson. Hopes of a Magpie comeback were then dashed when Johnson rose highest to head home at the far post, connecting with a Daniel Talbot free kick from the right wing.
Hemel went onto show some less appealing qualities of a champion team thanks to Murphy's whining, all round tasting and some unneccessary abuse from the bench (is there any need to call the referee a "fucking cheat" when you're 2-0 up in stoppage time?).
All in all a deserved victory for the visitors and a reminder for Maidenhead that every point in this division has to be hard earned.
Travelling to Bromley on Monday, the main opponent to a result of any kind looked to be the incessant rain. The spray kicked up by every touch of the ball seemed to increase throughout the first half but the rain waned in the second half to remove any doubt that the game would finish. 
Bromley very firmly give the impression that they are a club fully intent on promotion to the Conference Premier, from a professional but warm welcome off the pitch, to the massive investment on it which gave the squad list something of a Conference South Galacticos air to it.
The highest quality of attack though came from the Magpies starting from within minutes of the kick off. Stefan Brown, who had missed the game of Saturday with food poisoning, forced goalkeeper Seb Brown to tip a long range shot over the bar, and soon had another effort from distance well saved.
Once again though it was the inability to keep it tight at the back which proved to be United's downfall. Adam Birchall picked up a loose touch from Erskine, the star striker moving the ball quickly via Moses Ademola to Ali Fuseini on the right side of the penalty area, Fuseini using the time and space afforded him to beat Putnins with an accomplished finish.
With Erskine having earlier blocked an Ademola effort from point blank range there were fears on the away terrace that this might spark a deluge to rival the weather and last season's 6-1 thrashing at Hayes Lane. Within two minutes though Maidenhead had levelled the score with a goal to rival any I have seen following Maidenhead United. Receiving the ball with his back to goal on the edge of the penalty area, Eddie Hutchinson audaciously flicked the ball over his shoulder in the style of  Dennis Bergkamp, to beat his marker before firing the ball into the back of the net through Brown's legs.
The goal gave Maidenhead all the encouragement they needed to make their mark on the game and midway through the half the ball was in the back of the Bromley net once more thanks to a fatal touch from Ugo Udoji only for the referee to chalk the goal off due to an obvious push on the defender by Dave Tarpey. Strangely the referee saw nothing wrong with a similar challenge from an opposite source in the same part of the pitch a few minutes later.
Deep into stoppage time United shot themselves in the foot, undoing their hardwork by conceding a goal on the stroke of half time. A Joe Anderson free kick from the left wing saw Ademola rise without impediment just inside the penalty area to loop a header into the top corner.
Bromley then repeated the trick just ahead of the hour mark to seemingly seal the three points when Anderson, this time from the right, floated his free kick across the penalty area where it was met by Danny Waldren to score with his head. 
Soon after Mark Nisbet limped off to leave Maidenhead missing 75% of their first choice backline, but the Hayes Lane ground always seem to bring the best out of the Magpies and they did not stint in their efforts to get back into the game. This bore fruit when a driving run from Danny Green enabled Tarpey and Stefan Brown to exchange passes in the Bromley area, Tarpey finishing the move with a tidy finish.
Following the goal Maidenhead sustained their pressure with a series of set pieces but were unable to find an equaliser before Bromley took advantage of United's need to attack when they broke quickly, substitutes Reece Prestedge combining with Jamie Slabber to enable the latter to score a fourth goal and make the final scoreline appear a little lopsided.
The goal ended a frustrating afternoon for the Magpies when they showed that they have the quality going forward to compete with the best the division has to offer. Next week the top priority has to be achieving a first clean sheet of the season.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Maidenhead fight back for a point

Almost exactly a year ago, Maidenhead fans sailed back triumphantly over the Solent from Gosport having seen the Magpies win to extend their unbeaten run since the start of the season to five games.
Sadly this proved to be something of a false dawn in terms of prospects for the season, and indeed perhaps a high point in league form with the next win not coming until Boxing Day.
Thus there was plenty to reflect on as the ferry left Portsmouth behind yesterday with the main question being at what point could supporters start to believe that Drax's boys of 2015 would produce a vintage year.
In the last twelve months Gosport themselves had made remarkable progress. Having had their transfer embargo lifted and survived the worst of the winter weather which had left its mark on their Privet Park ground, Borough had gone on to reach the FA Trophy final and romp through their backlog of league fixtures to comfortably avoid relegation.
Over the summer Gosport had overcome the theft of turf purchased to relay their pitch and a Carry on Camping style trip to Guernsey to substantially improve their ground, with the bulk of the investment most commendably being spent on the pitch with the aforementioned turf and a new sprinkler system.
The game itself had been put back seven days in order for the pitch to properly settle in, leaving the Magpies with four games in ten days. Thus it may have been a blessing that Simon Downer was unable to play due to work commitments, giving the influential centre back a rest until the weekend, whilst fresh legs were provided on the bench in the form of Tashan Adeyinka following his long awaited clearance from the Finnish FA. Surprisingly there was no place for Danny Green in the squad, despite the winger travelling down on the team coach, the only changes to the starting eleven being Reece Tison-Lascaris for Lanre Azeez in addition to Jacob Erskine replacing Downer in defence.
Gosport dominated the first half from the kick off with their high tempo, whizz bang style not allowing Maidenhead to settle. Borough should have taken the lead as early as the third minute when following a good save by Elvijs Putnins from Matt Patterson, Paco Saez blasted the loose ball over the bar. 
As the half drew on United were able to make some headway and won a few set pieces around the Gosport penalty area on which they were unable to capitalise. Thus it was frustrating that having weathered the worst of the storm the Magpies went in to the break one goal down. 
Turning over possession in the midfield with four minutes to go, Gosport quickly worked the ball out wide on the right where Saez fired in a textbook cross to Justin Bennett at the far post to tap in the opening goal of the game.
Drax was left to earn his corn in the dressing room at the interval, and the impact of his half time team talk was plain to see as United tore into their opponents from the off, equalising within five minutes.
This time the source of the goal was the left wing with Mark Nisbet and Ashley Nicholls combining to give Tison-Lascaris the opportunity to bundle the ball in at the near post after the cross had fooled goalkeeper Nathan Ashmore with a slight deflection off a defender.
Having got back into the game so early in the half, Maidenhead's tails were up, coming close to a second goal when Tison-Lascaris produced his trademark shuffle to create space on the edge of the penalty area only for his shot to lack the venom to seriously trouble Ashmore.
In a mirror image of the first half Maidenhead dominated the second half but in the end were happy to settle for a point after losing Dave Tarpey to a red card with twelve minutes to a controversial decision by referee Derek Eaton. Tarpey had seemingly won a 50/50 ball cleanly only for his opponent Brett Poate to go to ground having arrived second to the challenge. Eaton dismissed Tarpey without hesitation, but then lost his grip on the game by awarding a succession of free kicks which prompted Gosport's defender Steve Ramsey to ask him whether the man in black was trying to turn the match into a non contact sport.
The Magpies successfully negotiated four minutes of stoppage time to head back north with a record still identical to last season of seven points out of the first nine, to leave them lying a heady second in the table.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Magpies storm Stortford

Reading the newspaper en route to Bishops Stortford I learned that scientists had discovered that contrary to popular myth magpies are not thieves. This new truth was reflected in Maidenhead United's win at Bishops Stortford yesterday as contrary to the away form of previous seasons when three points were stolen with some judicious counter attacking, the Magpies imposed themselves on the Blues from the kick off, dominating the first half and thoroughly deserving to travel back to Berkshire with all three points.
Despite last week's win over Sutton, manager Johnson Hippolyte opted to change a winning team, replacing Bobby Behzadi at right back with Luton loanee Brett Longden (available having completed a suspension), tinkering with the layout slightly to switch Jacob Erksine for Lanre Azeez. The latter change saw Mark Nisbet move back into the centre of defence alongside Simon Downer, with Azeez continuing in the right wing slot in which he had finished the last game.
With the home team barely getting a sniff of a chance at the United end, they instead scored the opening goal albeit in the wrong net when a vicious cross from the right by Adrian Clifton was converted at the far post by Ashley Miller in the tenth minute.
Fifteen minutes later, Clifton himself ensured Maidenhead's superiority was reinforced by heading in a Nicholls cross from the left. 
On the stroke of half time United almost sealed the points but were unable to capitalise on a goalmouth scramble which saw Eddie Hutchinson bravely throw himself into the fray in a bid to score amidst appeals for a penalty.
The interval gave Stortford manager Rod Stringer, serving a touchline ban, the chance to let his team know in no uncertain terms their first half shortcomings, and the Blues responded appropriately from the start of the second half. This saw an appeal for a penalty turned down in a frenzied attack, but once this initial burst of energy had blown itself out, the Magpies were able to comfortably manage the game to preserve their lead.
As the game drew to a close United made sure of the three points with the goal of the game. With six minutes remaining a long ball out of the hands of Elvijs Putnins was flicked on by the head of Stefan Brown into the path of substitute Reece Tison-Lacaris. The nippy attacker sprinted forward, beat the defence with a quick shimmy before beating the keeper from the edge of the are with a shot that squirreled its way into the corner.
This goal finally sparked Stortford into life, Putnins producing his best save of the game to foil Ryan Melaugh, with Nisbet tidying up on the goal line behind him before Ishmael Kamara scored a consolation goal in stoppage time.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Gone to the dogs

The close season theft of Gosport's pitch left Maidenhead with an unusual free opening midweek enabling me to make a long awaited visit to Clapton. Founders of the Isthmian League, Clapton were one of the early giants of non league football winning the Amateur Cup five times, but rather like the local area has become rather unloved in modern times, cast aside by the Isthmian League in the 2004 restructuring and left to fester in the Essex Senior League. Likewise the evocative named Old Spotted Dog ground looked like it should have long since been put to sleep. On arrival I was faced with the mock tudor buildings by the road entrance all boarded up and an unwelcoming makeshift passage to the turnstile.

Given entry and an 8 sheet black and white photocopied programme in return for £7.50, the social club was equally inhospitable so I settled for a seat in the functional stand for what was initially billed as a League Cup tie against Sporting Bengal United but after the event seems to have been a league match. This lack of information extended to an absence of a PA or any visible team sheet with the teams simply listed as squads in the programme without numbers.
As the game kicked off it was clear this lack of care would be reflected in a match of a poor standard for this level, as with the set up off the pitch, well short of what I am used to seeing in the Combined Counties/Hellenic League. The saving grace and indeed motive behind my visit was the presence of the Scaffold Brigada, the self styled Clapton Ultras who gathered in the covered terrace (or Scaffold) on the opposite side of the halfway line. Numbering 40-50, they somewhat incongrously given the lack of spectators elsewhere in the ground, went on to produce a tifo that would have embarrassed pretty much every club in the Conference South. Flags waving, a little bit of pyro and a songbook whose originality and creativity would put to shame any other club in the country, produced a support of a quality that was in stark contrast to what was happening on the pitch.

Sporting, playing their first game of the season, had the better opening with perhaps Clapton feeling the aftershock of their 5-1 opening day defeat at Haringey Borough. The Ton's cause was not helped by a badly organised defence with a miniature centre back who often saw the ball bounce over his head. The bloke behind me reflected on whether this was actually a 5-3-2 or 4-4-2 set up, with the main doubt cast by the irrational performance of the Kenwyne Jones lookalike on the left who would often charge forwards to leave a big hole behind him and was lucky to remain on the pitch after some rash challenges. Likewise their goalkeeper, dubbed Senegal's number 1, by the ultras hardly inspired confidence with his lack of composure in the face of Sporting's attack.
However as the game went on the industry of the Clapton number 7 in central midfield saw the home team gain the upper hand and they scored what was to be the only goal of the game midway through the first half. This did have an element of luck about it as the well placed cross found Ike Nzuba, who when faced with an gaping net, lent back and blasted the ball, only to prove that it was easier to score than miss when the effort went in off the crossbar.
In the second half Sporting quickly ran out of ideas and the die was cast allowing the Clapton manager to use a range of substitutes, a couple of whom I assume were trialists as they were an embarrassment to the term pub footballer.This left me plenty of time to reflect on why this club with such an enviable support was so shambolic and a cursory glance online makes it clear that there is a split between the club's self styled Chief Executive Officer Vince McBean, who spent the evening glaring out of the club shed window leaving it to the very last minute to switch the floodlights on, and the club's thriving support. The biggest signifier of this disconnect was the volume of cans of lager, purchased from the off licence over the road, being consumed in the ground. Particularly considering it was an evening game, the revenue from this source alone could be put to really good use and assuming it was backed by volunteering could see the club begin to restore some of its former glory. It would be great to see the Claptonites pitch up at a ground further up the non league pyramid in the FA Cup, but on the evidence of this evening that looks like a long way off at present.