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.

Monday, 14 May 2018


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Epilogue: The last twelve months
When promotion started to become a reality last season, I was often asked how worried I was about playing in a national division. My reply was one of uninterest. What mattered was enjoying the glory of winning the title. Anything that came as a result would be sorted out in due course.
Thus the day I stepped onto an open topped bus to tour the streets of Maidenhead with the champions will live long in the memory. It was a day to enjoy the moment of being associated with the best, made complete by the return of Dave Tarpey, fresh from turning down a move to Coventry City.
This summer of celebration continued into the following pre season by winning the Berks & Bucks Cup in July.
In the meantime there had been two important additions made to the squad in centre back Jake Goodman and prodigious midfielder Harold Odametey. Also striking options were strengthened by the return of Adrian Clifton and Jake Hyde.
Off the pitch almost five hundred season tickets were sold, more than the total opening day attendance of the previous season. The ground was augmented by the Devonshire hospitality suite, and new food and drink outlets, including one for the new away end in front of the Maidenhead Advertiser office.
The publication of the fixture list brought home the nature of United’s brave new world as the season started with a run of matches against former Football League clubs.
Many were reticent about our chances and were keen to peddle a survival narrative but I was confident of a mid table finish as the team carried through their title winning momentum.

That the club now had a higher media profile became clear as I sat on a beach in Costa Rica and tuned into live commentary of the first home game against Wrexham. Then, on my return to the UK I had to get to the next game at York Road a little earlier than usual as BT Sport had chosen the match against Hartlepool for their lunchtime live broadcast.
Fortunately, after a stuttering start, my arrival coincided with the match the Magpies season clicked into gear, comfortably beating Hartlepool with Tarpey announcing himself on the National League stage with two goals. The following Tuesday, Tarpey hit four at Fylde and he was hot property again. A deadline day move to Barnet for a club record fee again saw the doom mongers out in force but in the next match United won at table toppers Sutton to firmly dispel any thoughts that they were a one man team.
Now nicely settled in mid table the season became a fantastic journey, with wins, defeats and draws in equal measure as the Magpies visited hitherto unknown parts of the country.
Memories were made most matchdays, even if it was for peripheral highlights such as the Three Pigeons pub in Halifax, or the time the supporters made it to Torquay way ahead of the team after the coach driver refused to avoid a traffic jam.
A home match against Aldershot, saw six goals shared in a thrilling draw and proved to be a swansong for terrace hero Dean Inman as he came off the bench to equalise before accepting the non league deal of a lifetime to sign for Billericay.
One aspect of higher status was only having to play one FA Cup qualifier although a very late winner was required from Ryan Upward to set up a first round trip to Coventry, an occasion when James Comley commanded the stage only for the team to slip to a defeat.
Although the squad’s talent wasn’t in question, this was a league of fine margins with no easy rides as Eastleigh showed when they retrieved a two goal deficit with minutes remaining in November.
With the matches coming thick and fast there were chances for fringe players such as Sam Barratt, Remy Clerima, Max Kilman, Christian Smith to establish themselves, with fellow midfielder Upward also coming to the fore.
An epic trip to the north east two days before Christmas saw the double completed over Hartlepool courtesy of the masked assassin Sean Marks.

The New Year started with the promise of a Trophy run but despite a triumphant return to Halifax, in the last sixteen Stockport went one better than Eastleigh as the Magpies let slip a 2-0 lead at Edgeley Park to lose the replay in extra time.
Despite the mid table position being maintained, doubts once again started to creep in about sliding league form, the erection of anachronistic fences on the Bell Street terraces, a visual symbol of the less attractive aspects of the National League.
Eventual champions Macclesfield were pushed all the way into stoppage time at Moss Rose before they finally finished ahead against United who had held their nerve for over three hours against the division’s best team.
Everything came crashing down though at Gateshead as I had the displeasure of describing every goal of a 7-1 humbling to BBC Berkshire listeners. However just when the season threatened to get interesting at the wrong end of the table, Alan conjured up the spirit of the champions to win three home matches in eight days against Woking, Dover and Sutton before ending the away campaign perfectly on Tuesday night by beating Orient to guarantee a top half finish.
All in all a perfect end to this series and a true measure of the contributions of Peter Griffin off the pitch and Alan Devonshire on it, and one totally inconceivable way back in 1994.
Over the summer there will be improvements to floodlights, the pitch and hospitality facilities, but as the club is required by the league to show gradual progress towards developing a 6,000 capacity stadium with 2,000 seats, challenges on a whole new scale will present themselves.
In twelve months time the question of whether to go full time will become ever more insistent, perhaps a pivotal moment in the club’s long and proud history.
In another twenty three seasons time will I  view this as a high water mark or the start of the next volume of memoirs? Only time will tell but whatever happens I’m sure it will remain an altogether more splendid kind of life supporting the Magpies.
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


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Part 23: 2016/17

“We were able not only to get back on top, but to have enough character, enough desire, to still want to win, We got to two minutes from the end. They looked OK. They had every reason to think they were OK. We got a free kick which I knocked into the box… Alfie nipped in, and bang! Goal! GOAL!... To get out of a situation like that and get a result you have a have a special quality: character, belief, desire.”
EAMON DUNPHY (1976), Only A Game 
Character, belief, desire. Dunphy’s marks of a team bound for glory, demonstrated time and time again by the Magpies last season. Welling United (A), Hungerford Town (H), Ebbsfleet United (A), Poole Town (H), Whitehawk (H), Eastbourne Borough (H). Points earned when all seemed lost. The difference between champions and play off contenders.
Title winning squads are made not born. They are the product of an intricate web of relationships between players, all selected by the manager because they are deemed to be able to fulfil a particular role, and subscribe to those virtues of character, belief and desire. United they prove an irresistible force, enabling each other to achieve hitherto unexpected feats, inspiring support which only serves to drive them on further.
The scale of the achievement in Maidenhead United’s season of seasons lies in statistics. From forty two matches: thirty wins, four defeats, ninety three goals scored, twenty nine conceded, ninety eight points. First place. Two million pounds lost in the failed pursuit by the runners up.
The story of the achievement lies in those tests of character passed with flying colours time after time.
Many a manager when interviewed will talk about being a player or two away from a title challenge. In the summer of 2016, Alan Devonshire had a rock solid defence martialled imperiously by his leader on the pitch Alan Massey. The permanent signing of ball playing svengali James Comley completed the midfield. A centre forward named Sean Marks proved to be the missing piece required to solve the United promotion puzzle. He was the one new player who would go on to make the final eleven in terms of total starting appearances at the end of the season. His seventeen goals justified his place alone. His wholehearted performances always played with a smile on his face, lifted teammates and fans alike. His best supporting striker role lifted his little mate Dave Tarpey into the ranks of Magpie immortals.
A clutch of squad members also played important cameo roles along the way, whilst the mid season introduction of new signings Remy Clerima and Joe Parkinson provided important stimuli. Above all though the first choice eleven with its sound defensive base, incessant midfield engine and lethal attack led the way from start to finish.
In August a perfect opening day win at home to Gosport was followed by a midweek setback at Poole. The response was five consecutive wins (and ten goals for divisional player of the month Tarpey) to take United to the top of the table by the August bank holiday, a position which they rarely left until the title was confirmed at the final whistle in April.
Every time a challenger laid down the gauntlet, the Magpies simply raised their game. First up was a trip to Hampton in October. Despite showing much spirit the Beavers were beaten 3-2. In November it was time to visit the pre season title favourites Ebbsfleet. With all eyes on freescoring Tarpey, Marks scored a hat trick to win his own player of the month award as again Maidenhead won 3-2.
As Christmas approached Dartford arrived at York Road having won eight of their previous nine league games. Maidenhead responded with their best performance of the season. Marks departed early with an injury, but his replacement Jordan Cox maintained the supply line, as Tarpey scored his third hat trick of the campaign by half time, and his second four goal haul by the final whistle. His second of the four, saw him become a global youtube sensation, “el sensacional talento goleador”.  
With half the season now gone, what had been a firm hope at Concord in August when United went top of the table, now in my mind became a certainty. Barring an unforeseen injury crisis, this team would fulfil its destiny to become  champions.
This was encapsulated in Tarpey’s first goal, initiated by a crunching challenge by Christian Smith. A tackle replete with character, belief and desire.
Points dropped over Christmas and into the New Year, briefly saw Ebbsfleet take over at the top but two games won in four days in February at York Road in Dunphyesque last minute fashion against Whitehawk and Eastbourne restored United to their rightful place at the top of the tree.
Two draws followed against promotion contenders Hampton and Hungerford which prompted some to raise questions ahead of a Monday night trip to a third successive opponent with ambitions to go up. In the end Chelmsford proved to be the fourth and final major test of United’s title credentials. They fought as hard as they could to take something from the game, but they couldn’t best the Magpies. This was Comley’s night, dubbed “the non league N’Kante” by the home fans at Melbourne Park, he drove the team on as Chelmsford huffed and puffed but could not force United into blowing their lead.
This was the first of nine successive victories, all but one other won by a margin of two or more goals as the Magpies kicked for home.
On Easter Monday, fans travelled by planes, trains and automobiles to Truro, as for the first time an opportunity to seal the title presented itself. It didn’t quite happen mathematically speaking, but now only one win was required from the two remaining matches to make certain.
The first saw Ebbsfleet make their final bid to unseat the champions elect. They won that battle but seven days later Maidenhead won the war at bottom club Margate. On the way to the furthest corner of Kent, those of us on the train passed through Ebbsfleet, where the league in their wisdom had elected to take the championship trophy. Never mind. An inflatable would suffice when the goals arrived. We knew our players had character, belief and desire. We knew our manager would send his team out to finish the perfect season for him and for all of us.
Thank you Alan.

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


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Part 22: 2015/16

“We need a plan B”, was my response to Peter Griffin’s news that he was making an approach to Alan Devonshire about a return to the manager’s post he’d left in 2003. The intervening years had seen Alan go on to great success at the highest levels of non league football with firstly Hampton and then Braintree so I was sure that his announcement that he planned to leave Cressing Road at the end of his contract in May 2015 would lead to a string of suitors from the professional ranks. Indeed the resulting press release about his departure did lead to the Devonshire hashtag trending on Twitter but with comments such as “unfinished business” and “going home”, Alan was true to his word and arrived at York Road in mid May,
Having assessed the current squad, he deemed only six worthy of retention, namely Mark Nisbet, Sam Barratt, Ryan Upward, Harry Pritchard, Dave Tarpey and Adrian Clifton, although the latter opted for a lucrative move to Havant.
A whole new defence was imported in the shape of Carl Pentney, Ryan Peters, new captain Alan Massey, Dean Inman and Rene Steer. There were new midfield options in Josh Huggins, Kieran Forbes and James Mulley, with Ben Wright and Jake Reid the new strikeforce.
With virtually all of the new signings possessing substantial experience at a higher level there was a real sense of intent about the new set up, that this was a team that would deliver on its potential and establish the Magpies in the top half of the Conference South.
This was backed up by a super start to the season, winning at Eastbourne on the opening day despite a much delayed coach journey, and following this up with a comfortable win at York Road against Bishops Stortford on the first Tuesday. By the end of August only one match had been lost of the first seven fixtures, to get the Devonshire Era part two off and running.
Three defeats followed including a disastrous reverse at Whitehawk in a match where the Magpies led 2-0 with well over half the game gone.
The FA Cup revived fortunes but only after a last minute equaliser at Winchester from substitute Gavin James had avoided an embarrassing defeat for a United team weakened by the early dismissal of Dave Tarpey. This red card was overturned on appeal as the Magpies won the replay then edged past Blackfield and Langley in the next round to set up a final qualifying stage tie at home to Woking.
This was the match when Devonshire’s team came of age. For the first time in the club’s history, home supporters saw a national league team defeated at York Road, Forbes early opening strike stunned the Cards, and in the second half goals from Tarpey and Pritchard sealed a comfortable win and a first round tie at Port Vale.
It was Pritchard who best summed up the immediate impact of Devonshire’s return, winning the divisional player of the month award as the Cup wins were accompanied by four consecutive league wins, the final one over Basingstoke containing a Tarpey hat trick.
Pritchard had joined the club in the spring of 2012, as a highly touted local prospect. Yet despite displaying much potential as an attacking left sided midfielder, he had struggled for a regular place in the starting eleven, never making more than 30 starts in any one season.
Responding perfectly to his manager extolling the virtues of hard work and following instructions to the letter, he accepted the challenge of starting the season at left back whilst Steer achieved match fitness. He impressed to the extent that Steer’s belated debut saw him continue in midfield, finishing the season with 48 starts and the supporters’ player of the year award.
Over four hundred Magpies made their way to the Potteries for the FA Cup tie, and in a thrilling match, United held onto the coattails of the impressive League One outfit, conceding just the one goal. The stoppage time equaliser by Mulley saw him run the length of the pitch to celebrate at the away end, his boundless energy reflecting the never say die attitude of the Magpies supported by Devonshire’s focus on fitness which time and again paid dividends with late goals.
The replay was selected for live coverage by BT Sport with tickets selling out quickly, and despite the eventual 3-1 defeat, the stimulus of hope injected by Massey’s opening goal, made it a night to remember.
That the cup glory would inspire further feats in the league seemed likely following a stunning win at Maidstone on a chilly Tuesday in December. Stand in captain Mulley, was a tour de force in midfield against a team bound for promotion and one of just three teams to take three points from York Road all season.
However what followed was a run of ten league games without a win as well as revenge for Woking with a 6-1 win at Kingfield to end United’s interest in the FA Trophy. Five of the ten matches returned a point, including an amazing, and long, day out to Truro to share eight goals, half of them being scored by player of the month Tarpey.
A neutral onlooker may have considered the season as conforming to the usual pattern of a promising start, then a Cup run before faltering in the league but this was a pattern that was to be broken once and for all.
A recruit for the long term had been made in November when Christian Smith had arrived, but it was a second signing in February, initially on loan, that spurred a late season push for the play offs.
James Comley’s creative ability in the centre of midfield was a welcome complement to the work ethic already present throughout the team, and it helped to spark a run of nine games with only one defeat. This spell of good form built to a crescendo at York Road over the Easter Weekend. At the instigation of the manager, the match against Bath City was brought forward to Good Friday. On a beautiful sunny day, the public of Maidenhead, tempted by a cup run and solid home form, at last came out in their droves to support the town’s team. With no incentive but the increasingly popular York Road experience a crowd of 899 turned out to see the Magpies first ever league win over Bath. This was followed on Easter Monday by the “away” match against tenants Hayes, the ensuing 5-2 win leaving Maidenhead lying in the final play off place of fifth with six games left to play in the final month of the season.
A Jake Reid hat trick won the next home match against Whitehawk but this proved to be the only three point return as the season petered out to a seventh placed finish, still the highest for eight seasons.
More importantly though, crowds had risen again to their highest for over forty years as good home form at last matched the many years of hard work off the pitch to build the new stand, grow the Junior Magpies membership, and engage the local community.
With everything at the club now working in harmony, the challenge was to continue to meet raised expectations.

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, 9 May 2018


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Part 21: 2014/15

Early in the 2014/15 season as I waited for kick off I stood outside the changing rooms next to long serving supporter Chris Raine (who could write a series more than twice as long as this). He was gazing in awe at the view opposite, and I realised I was doing the same. It was a very visual symbol of a new beginning for Maidenhead United.
The significance of architecture on the environment where we live, work, travel and relax cannot be underestimated and York Road is no different. For too many years the temporary stand had stood as a symbol of a club trying its best to make do and mend, as memories of the original one grew ever fainter, sustained only by trips to Marlow and its similar structure.
What was built in the summer of 2014 was a statement of bold intent, of a club prepared to invest in the future. Nestling under Brunel’s embankment, it stood congruent with the rest of the ground, fulfilling its function admirably by affording over 500 spectators a perfect view of the match and the urban decay of the town centre.
Despite another 18th place finish, crowds rose by 35% as the stand quickly became the adopted home of those who preferred to watch from a comfortable dry seat.  For the rest of us who walked past it, virtually beneath it due to the clever way the first row had been raised above head height, it served as an inspiration that the Magpie train was bound for glory.
This would have to wait though for Drax’s long goodbye. Following another last gasp survival in April, he was allowed to continue in post albeit without a contract. Once again he signed well in the summer, acquiring exciting young attacking talent in Tashan Adeyinka, Sam Barratt, Stefan Brown and Ryan Upward, along with proven quality in Simon Downer, Eddie Hutchinson, Ashley Nicholls and Dave Tarpey. The services of Adrian Clifton and Danny Green were retained, which when allied with Harry Pritchard, Leon Solomon, Mark Nisbet, Jacob Erskine and Reece Tison-Lascaris, suggested a squad well equipped to do more than survive.
As usual the season began well with back to back wins, the first at home to ambitious Sutton featuring a debut brace from Dave Tarpey, who immediately lived up to the expectations raised by many an impressive performance against the Magpies for his previous clubs.
An amazing goal by Eddie Hutchinson at Bromley in the style of Dennis Bergkamp suggested a more entertaining season was in prospect, a notion sent sky high by the arrival of former Premier League striker and Drax protege DJ Campbell. His impact could scarcely live up to the hype that his presence generated but he impressed with his humility as he quietly tried to resurrect his career.
Ten goals in four days in wins against Whitehawk and Weston, the latter featuring the first of many Tarpey hat tricks, meant an early exit from the FA Cup in a replay at Gosport wasn’t overly painful. The defence was bolstered by the arrival of international goalkeeper Will Britt on loan from Southampton and full back De Reece Van Der Hyde, and after a Boxing Day win against tenants Hayes & Yeading the Magpies sat in the relative comfort of thirteenth place.
However the season soon began to unravel as only one league match was won in the next seventeen and FA Trophy hopes were ended in a replay defeat at the financial wreck of Farnborough. Drax chose to publicly disclose that Peter Griffin had informed him that this season would be his last as manager, and although the league experience of Maidonian ex professional midfielder David Hunt helped to steady the ship with eight matches of the run drawn,  relegation once again loomed large on the horizon.
The last of these draws was an eight goal thriller on Easter Monday at home to eventual champions Bromley. Two goals from the freshly capped international Clifton sent United into an early lead only for Bromley to be 4-3 ahead as the game entered stoppage time. A lightning volley from Tarpey levelled the score for the final time, and buoyed up by the equaliser, safety was secured at Weston the following Saturday thanks to two more Tarpey goals. This game had an odd postscript as goalkeeper Ashley Timms, literally left the club when the coach arrived back at York Road, following an altercation with a teammate on the journey back.
Two weeks later the league season ended at Sutton. Way back in August 2007, Drax achieved his first win for the Magpies at this level, with a 3-2 success at Gander Green Lane. Almost eight years later he signed off on his final league season with Maidenhead with a similar victory which clinched a double over the following season’s champions. club captain Mark Nisbet featuring in the line up for both games.
Drax left with a proven track record to pick and nurture talent, the club receiving many a transfer fee as players moved onwards and upwards. He had an ability to motivate players for big games which led to promotion through the play offs, FA Cup glory and some nerve wracking escapes from relegation. His affability along with the entertainment his teams provided (often in a losing cause) attracted neutrals to the club and turned them into fans. However long standing supporters, suffered endless poor home form due to a consistent failing to build a sustainable defence with a goalkeeper. Coupled with a lack of strategic nous, this led to long winless runs when the only tactic was to change the team, creating a revolving door of long since forgotten players.
Happily Drax left on a high, in his final match winning the County Cup final 4-0 against Aylesbury United at Chesham, his son Jonathan Hippolyte coming off the bench to score. Looking on was a man who would have remembered how his final game in charge of the Magpies had been at the same occasion, at the same ground with a similar result against the same opponents. However his thoughts were certainly more focused on how he would reshape the club to which he was about to return.
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


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Part 20: 2013/14
A typical Drax season with some Cup excitement and a last day escape provides ample material for this weeks chapter but the long term consequences of what happened during the calendar year of 2014 were to be some of the most significant in the club’s recent history.
On the pitch, Drax’s annual midsummer foray into player recruitment produced varying results. There were a couple of players on the slide in Michael Malcolm and Elvijs Putnins, two competent but injury prone defenders in Matt Ruby and Curtis Ujah, promise for the future in Wada Ahmidi, and two erstwhile hidden gems in the shape of Danny Green and Adrian Clifton.
The latter two made their presence felt on debut at Whitehawk on the opening day of the season, winning 3-0 in Sussex to upset the bookies. This was followed by two more wins and two draws in the first five matches of the season, as once again, fired by the goals of Richard Pacquette, the Magpies promised much for the season to come.

Sailing home with three points from Gosport in the last of these matches, confidence was high for the visit of hot title favourites Eastleigh. United went toe to toe with the full time Spitfires but eventually lost 3-1 and that first defeat followed by Pacquette limping off injured a week later at Concord, signalled the end of any pretensions at a top half finish.
The lack of firepower saw an FA Cup exit at the first opportunity at hitherto winless Oxford City, ex Magpie Jamie Cook scoring from virtually the game’s only goal attempt in the last minute.
This was followed by embarrassing home defeats to Slough in the County Cup, and bottom of the table Dorchester, as for the first time, Drax’s tenure at York Road was thrown into serious jeopardy.
An eventful afternoon at home to Bromley proved there was still life in the Magpies, who fought back after a delay in play caused by an injury to one of the match officials. Pacquette had returned as a make shift centre back, reportedly losing two teeth for the cause, only for new signing Jacob Erskine to miss a penalty which would have rescued a rare point.
The season’s salvation was to be found in the FA Trophy. The squad was revitalised by a number of temporary signings, in defence in the form of Leslie Thompson and future England star Alfie Mawson, along with attacking midfielder Harry Grant.
All three travelled down to  Eastbourne for the first Trophy tie of the season as part of a squad that had gone eleven matches without a win, including a sound defeat at Priory Lane just two weeks previously.
Watched by literally a handful of United fans, a second half goal from Grant was enough for a shock result and place in the first round proper.
The draw produced a visit to Daventry Town, two divisions lower than United, but boasting a proud home record which had seen every game end in victory bar one draw. Yet again though, a single goal for the Magpies, this time from the unlikely source of Malcolm was enough to secure passage to the next round and the exotic prospect of a pre Christmas trip to Barrow. 

As the fog descended in the midweek match at home to Chelmsford prior to the trip to Cumbria, the away support looked set to increase to the full eleven with substitutes.
On a never to be forgotten dank day at Holker Street (pictured top), second half goals from Green and Pacquette won a memorable match and the reward of a trip to Grimsby Town in the last sixteen of the competition.
In between these ties, the first league wins since Gosport arrived as a Christmas gift with all six points taken over the festive period.

At Blundell Park, the Mariners looked good for their 2-0 half time lead but a goal just after the break from Reece Tison-Lascaris inspired a fight back which could not quite produce an equaliser.
Longer term hope for the future was kindled at the start of 2014 by the finalising of plans for the Magpies in the Community scheme, and over 27 years since arson destroyed the old one, a permanent new stand. Building works for this would start as the season drew to a close, a visual reminder that regardless of what was happening on the pitch they was much progress going on off it.
This was particularly true with that age old bugbear of home form holding back the fight against relegation. Away from home there was something to cheer, Adrian Clifton revelling in a new deep lying forward role, driving his team on to a 3-0 win at Chelmsford, whilst on a wet Tuesday night at Tonbridge, Danny Green scored all the United goals in a thrilling 4-2 win. Green’s performance reflected a season which saw him thoroughly deserve his player of the year award. His darting bursts inside from his right wing berth, full of elan, entertained and delighted United fans when there was little else to cheer.
Any remaining faith in Drax departed for good with five consecutive home defeats lost by late goals, split only by a 6-1 thrashing at Bromley.
The arrival of Reading goalkeeper Jonathan Henly on loan shored up the defence and set up three wins in a week, two of which were at home. The latter against promotion chasing Sutton suggested survival would soon be confirmed but a goalless draw in a vital home match against Tonbridge saw Green sent off and banned for the final match of the season.
United utterly collapsed at moribund Farnborough on Easter Saturday and now found themselves requiring seven points from the remaining three matches to stay up.
Against all the odds the Magpies rose again on Easter Monday against Ebbsfleet in their first season of new found oil money riches, a Green goal winning a tense match against a team bound for the play off final.
Next up was an away trip to another team in the play off hunt, Havant. Thanks in no small part to the electric pace of winger Lanre Azeez, Green and Clifton scored the goals in an unlikely 3-1 win which meant Maidenhead would travel to Bishops Stortford on the final day of the season with their destiny still in their hands.
A win would secure safety, and an Erskine goal in the first half eased the nerves. With Hayes and Whitehawk both losing all that was needed was the final whistle to blow. In the second half though both drew level, and when Stortford did the same deep in stoppage time, survival hopes were hanging by a thread, the final whistle leading to an agonising wait for the other results to be confirmed before a final finish of eighteenth could be celebrated.
This time round though celebrations were tinged by a healthy dose of realism as chairman Peter Griffin discreetly canvassed opinion on the manager’s position. Drax got a stay of execution and within weeks of the end of the season had made one of the most important signings in the club’s history.

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, 8 May 2018


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Part 19: 2012/13

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Albert Einstein.
Two seasons of decline may well have been arrested in 2012/13 but the die was well and truly cast for the latter half of the Drax era. A well worn path containing at least some of the following mileposts: a promising start, an exciting cup run, a long barren league run mid season, a relegation battle at the end, a player or two signing for a higher level club.
With relegation avoided before the final day, and no cup run to speak of, the 2012/13 season was not quite as exciting as the previous two but perhaps all the better for it given what was to follow twelve months later. Instead there was a chance to mark time, and as the club slowly moved towards setting up its community arm and building a new stand, reflect on a nationwide development that was to have a significant impact on the York Road crowds.
Despite the continued poor form, particularly at home, league attendances remained stubbornly above the 300 mark as an increasing number of supporters began to appreciate an afternoon at York Road, regardless of the result. Waifs and strays disillusioned or disconnected from a lifetime going to watch the likes of Chelsea, Spurs, WIgan, Orient, Cardiff, started to make York Road their home, a symbol of the wider against modern football sentiment manifesting itself across the land. At York Road, you could turn up when you want, stand where you like, enjoy a pint whilst watching the action and after the match share a conversation with the participants. In short it was a window to a world lost in the wake of the professional game’s eager adoption of commercialism which coupled with its contemptuous or even downright aggressive treatment of supporters led many to look elsewhere for their football fix.
Naturally these newcomers tended to be men of a certain age but their numbers were more than matched by the growing number of Junior Magpies who took up the offer of free football. A membership list from this season revealed a growing number travelling east from Twyford and suburbs of Reading, sometimes with their Dad, reflecting the valuable job the Royals were doing in introducing youngsters to the game although not being an attractive enough location to sustain interest. Indeed the town centre location of York Road was another positive feature of the matchday, with its easy public transport links and access to local pubs. Its historic aspect was formally recognised with the unveiling of a blue plaque by the Mayor.
On the pitch, initially the malaise of the previous season was forgotten with only one defeat in the first seven matches. Particularly impressive was new signing, striker David Pratt, whose incredible work rate was matched with goals. He provided a fulcrum around which the youthful talent of Harry Pritchard and Reece Tison-Lascaris could develop, whilst Alex Wall blossomed.
They blended perfectly on a sunny September afternoon at York Road, to score seven second half goals against the hapless Truro, to add to one from the first half. Sure enough though as the leaves started to drop, the points dried up, and this time there was little to cheer in the Cup as a trip to Didcot ended in a humbling defeat. The Trophy at least provided a day out to Cheltenham on a Sunday to beat tenants Gloucester before defeat against Sutton in the next round.
Young central defender Devante McKain impressed enough to earn a move to Gillingham before Christmas, and this spurred Wall onto a goalscoring run which would pique the interest of visiting scouts.
This began at the end of the year with one of the six that the Magpies put past Staines at a very wet Wheatsheaf Park and was followed up a week later with a brace which beat Chelmsford 2-1 at York Road, the winner a howitzer of a last minute free kick.
Six more strikes by the end of February were enough for Luton manager John Still to sign Wall and break the Magpies transfer record.
League form remained patchy however, so Drax turned once again to Richard Pacquette, who returned to replace Wall, scoring five times, with United securing safety on the penultimate Saturday of the season with a 4-2 win over a shambolic Bromley outfit at York Road.

With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com

Monday, 12 February 2018


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Part 18a: 2011/12
The narrow escape from relegation the previous April meant a rebuilding job was required by Drax in the final year of his current contract. Most of the players drafted in for the successful battle against the drop left although Anthony Thomas, Jon Scarborough and Leon Solomon remained to play a significant role in the campaign ahead along with  youngsters Alex Wall, Martel Powell and Reece Tison-Lascaris. The exciting talent of the latter was complemented by more experienced new blood from the previously untapped source of the West Country. Goalkeeper Steve Williams encouraged former teammates Leigh Henry, Chris Taylor and Ashan Holgate to try their luck at York Road, and they were followed later in the season by Michael Pook. Ironically Williams was unable to agree a new deal and left before the season started, Billy Lumley taking the gloves for the lion’s share of the season. The squad was completed by the return of striker Manny WIlliams, and although he made it into the Sierra Leone national squad, he did not recapture his prior free scoring form from his first spell at York Road.
A long hard season appeared to be in prospect when the first two games were both lost 4-0 but this was followed by a run of five wins in the next seven outings to settle the team in mid table. Sadly one of these wins at Farnborough on August Bank Holiday Monday ended the season of creative midfielder Taylor who was stretchered off with a broken leg. He was followed onto the casualty list by captain Mark Nisbet, whose presence in the centre of defence was much missed as United went onto ship four goals in a game a further five times before the season was over.
For the second season in a row, league form slipped as interest in the FA Cup took hold. The run that followed secured Drax a two year extension to his contract thanks to performances which turned out to be his highpoint in the competition at the club.
First up were Farnborough, who took the Magpies back to Cherrywood Road for a replay, but were left ruing the chance to win the tie at the first time of asking when they had a man advantage after goalkeeper Sam Beasant was sent off in the first half. The ten men of United actually finished the match the stronger team, and won the replay by a more comfortable margin than the 3-2 scoreline suggested.
This win led to the daunting prospect of a visit from Woking  to York Road. The Cards were already well set on a course to win the Conference South but were blown away in the first half of the Cup tie thanks to some breathtaking attacking play from Thomas, Holgate (right) and Tison-Lascaris. In what was probably the best 45 minutes of Drax’s ten years in charge of the Magpies, his team went into the break 4-1 and the tie all but won.
The final scoreline was unchanged to set up a final qualifying round trip to Godalming Town, who despite their lowly status were having an invincible season. This proved to be no cause for concern for the Magpies who romped home 5-0 thanks in part to a hat trick from the unlikely source of full back Leon Solomon.
For the first time in the club’s history Football League opposition were drawn to play an FA Cup tie at York Road in the First Round Proper. That it was Aldershot took the sheen off the glamour of the tie a little given the frequency of the Shots recent visits to York Road since they had reformed, but all this was forgotten once the tie kicked off before a packed house of over 2,281.
The majority roared with joy when Thomas put United ahead with an audacious chip from distance in the sixth minute. Maidenhead more than held their own and as time drew on a place in the second round for the first time since the nineteenth century became a distinct possibility.
However Shots manager Dean Holdsworth decisively introduced winger Alex Rodman from the bench, and he managed to get around the back of the United defence to square the ball to Michael Rankine to equalise with thirteen minutes left.
The match ended 1-1 but the Magpies’ chance was gone as they were easily beaten 2-0 in the replay.
Back in the league a relegation battle loomed despite a brief rally over Christmas when ten points were taken over four games including a win at Salisbury. This change in form was inspired by the brief return of Richard Pacquette whose three goals in his five appearances earned him a move to Lincoln City.
United continued their dalliance with the relegation zone but a tremendous 2-0 win at the start of March at champions elect Woking thanks to a superb intervention on his debut by sub Charlie Strutton suggested that there would be a somewhat less stressful end to the season this time round with eleven matches left to play.
However no further wins followed in the next ten games, with even a visit to the wooden spoon contenders Hampton only returning a point. The nadir was reached over the Easter weekend against fellow strugglers Staines and Farnborough.
On the Saturday at Wheatsheaf Park, combative midfielder Jermaine Hinds was sent off minutes after coming on as a second half sub for the second consecutive match, as a dire game ended goalless.
Easter Monday brought initial joy as the Magpies raced into a 2-0 lead against Farnborough at York Road only for the visitors to retrieve the match after the break and eventually run out 4-3 winners.
Next up were Woking, who sealed the title at York Road with a 1-0 win from the penalty spot in front of a large away following.
A point at Dover in the penultimate match denied them a playoff spot but this meant that even a win in the final match against Eastleigh at York Road would require other results to go the Magpies way if they were to stay up.                                       To be continued...

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


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Part 17: 2010/11
As a new decade got underway, Maidenhead United found itself at a crossroads. Established at Conference South level but without the infrastructure to actively pursue promotion, the target was to maintain divisional status whilst continuing the fruitful process of developing players for transfer higher up the ladder. Although seeds of the fully fledged community club which would emerge later in the decade had started to bloom in the form of a Ladies team, the Junior Magpies scheme providing free entry for under 16s and a genuine development team for under 23s, there was a long way to go before this would feed through to bigger attendances which for the meantime hovered around the 300s. In addition, although the case for a new stand was uncontestable, it would take a few drafts before a plan of sufficient quality and value was found for the ideal location.
The youthful squad which promised so much during the previous season was augmented in central defence by Andrew Fagan, whilst Ashley Nicholls returned to provide experience in the centre of midfield. Steve Williams replaced Chris Tardif between the sticks.
All went well to begin with as the season started with a terrific win at relegated Ebbsfleet, Martel Powell coming off the bench to score on his debut despite the Magpies being reduced to nine men. This was followed by three more wins in August including a 2-0 victory at the new big guns in the division, Woking.
This impressive start could not be maintained but the football remained entertaining if a little frustrating when a 2-0 lead at home to Staines was squandered in stoppage time, as the Swans equalised then won the game. League form deteriorated as the fruitful left wing partnership between Jamal Fyfield and Sam Collins was broken when the former was signed by York City leaving the latter as a shadow of the player who had won the 2010 player of the year award.
Fans were initially distracted by a brief but enjoyable Cup run which ended in defeat in the final qualifying round at Forest Green Rovers after an unforgettable day out at Cinderford at the previous stage. United then crashed out of the Trophy with a humiliating defeat at home to lowly Uxbridge on a day to forget for rookie goalkeeper Dexter Burt.
This sparked a mini response in the league with a run of five matches without defeat starting at Dover as a forward line boosted by the veteran striker Cliff Akurang squared the match at Crabble with two goals in the last ten minutes. This was topped by a superb 2-0 win at Bromley at the end of December, Nicholls sealing the points with an exquisite chip from the edge of the penalty area.
Two days later the New Year started with a more accurate taste of things to come though as despite opponents Basingstoke going down to ten men in the opening stages, and Alex Wall then giving United the league, ‘Stoke rallied to take a well deserved point away from York Road.
The win at Bromley proved to be the last league win for over three months, a run lasting seventeen matches. As the club celebrated its 140th anniversary with a representative match against 1870s FA Cup rivals Oxford University, the spectre of relegation loomed large.
Chairman Peter Griffin loosened the purse strings in a bid to change fortunes on the pitch as Drax imported a string of experienced heads in the form of Leon Solomon, Jon Scarborough, Grant Cooper, Nevin Saroya, Will Hendry, Anthony Thomas, Jefferson Louis and Craig Faulconbridge although it was a young winger on loan from Aldershot, Max Worsfold who was to have the biggest impact.
A point at Hampton stopped a run of nine straight league defeats and gave cause for optimism as April began with a trip to bottom markers Lewes. However in an awful match with virtually no shots on target at either end, the Rooks won the game with a penalty and a return to the Southern League beckoned for the Magpies.
Little more than 48 hours later I travelled to Basingstoke with next to no hope never mind expectation, an attitude confirmed when the home team took a two goal lead after only ten minutes. By the hour mark though the Magpies led 4-3 then hung on for dear life to the elusive win, a late Williams penalty save  securing the three points.
A point at home to Hampton was followed by a first league win at York Road since August when a Will Hendry goal defeated Eastleigh to leave the away fans calling for their manager’s head.
United then escaped the relegation places thanks to the goal of the season from Worsfold in stoppage time at Thurrock. Another later winner, this time from Ashley Smith at Staines stretched the margin of safety to four points but a point in the penultimate match at home to Dorchester left the relegation trap door open on the final day of the season.
The required point was not forthcoming but defeat to Dartford was matched by a similar failure for Thurrock meaning the Shoppers took the final relegation spot.
Such was the skin of the teeth nature of another great escape for Drax, the small matter of the defence of the County Cup was almost an afterthought. Having sailed through to the final against Wycombe at Chesham, a crazy first half saw United retrieve a two goal deficit by half time and after a more sedate second period the Chairboys finally won by the odd goal in five seven minutes into stoppage time to avenge a similar defeat twelve months earlier.
End of season thoughts though were very much concentrated on the way the club had gone backwards in the league, with a summer of serious repair work required by Drax to improve his squad.
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