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, 10 December 2017

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 2004-05

23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
Part 11: 2004-05
It was bliss to be present at the dawn of the new Conference South era, as in a pleasing contrast to his first campaign at the club, John Dreyer’s team started the season in style.
On a beautiful sunny day at Park View Road, Maidenhead beat Welling 2-1 in a tightly contested match thanks to goals from the new strike partnership of Lawrence Yaku and summer signing Craig O’Connor.
By the end of August, United’s points total had already reached double figures giving rise to optimism that life at a higher level suited the Magpies.
As well as O’Connor, Dreyer had further augmented his squad with new blood by signing wingers Barrie Matthews and Jamie Cook, whilst young talents Chris Elsegood and Rod Saunders returned to York Road after a one year sabbatical.
Following the departure of Phil Wilson though, the key position of goalkeeper remained unfilled, with the replacement of the fragile Nick Hart with the hapless Michael Watkins leading to an appalling run of league form which led to Dreyer’s dismissal in November.
After a run of six matches without a win which spanned the length of September, morale was boosted with an FA Cup run. A tortuous three and a half hours of football against Kent League Whitstable was ended by a penalty shoot out in Maidenhead’s favour which set up a cracking local derby in the next round at York Road against Windsor and Eton.
The Magpies edged the tie by the odd goal in three to set up a final qualifying round match at old foes Aldershot Town. League form had not improved in the meantime, leading to a move to dismiss Dreyer in the lead up to the Cup tie which was halted when his team won three points for the first time in nine attempts, beating big spending Havant and Waterlooville at York Road thanks to a goal from the mercurial Cook (pictured right), on a memorable night for captain Brian Connor as he marked former Premier League star Dean Holdsworth out of the game.
United’s 33 year quest to return to the rounds proper of the FA Cup remained unfulfilled in a honourable failure at the Recreation Ground when Conference Aldershot won 2-1, any disappointment salved when the post match draw sent the Shots to Canvey Island.
Whilst the goalkeeper role now looked a little more solid thanks to the arrival of Australian Andy Goldman, the defence in front of him was weakened when Andy Jennings decided to leave following a head injury which led him to decide to focus on his teaching career at Eton, fearing the impact of a serious injury on his working life. His presence in the team over the last year or so was accompanied by the regular attendance at home matches of a group of his students who became known as The Eton Rifles (pictured top). I often wonder what became of them when they turned into Old Etonians, and whether a captain of industry or financial wizard might return to York Road to help ease Peter Griffin’s financial burden.
The world of work also had a detrimental impact on the Magpies attacking options as a promotion for London Underground’s Lawrence Yaku made it difficult for him tomake a timely arrival on matchdays.
None of this helped league form, and following heavy defeats at home to Cambridge and away to Grays, Chairman Jon Swan elected to dispense with the manager’s services. Sadly this was handled in a hamfisted way with Dreyer travelling to the next midweek match unaware of his fate, turning up to a County Cup tie at home to Burnham only to be ushered into the boardroom to be told he had the evening off. This was an unseemly way to dismiss the gentlemanly Dreyer, probably the friendliest manager I have encountered in my time at the club. Some said this meant he was too nice to succeed, so it was with some pride that I looked on at Wembley in 2015, as he stood on the touchline as assistant to Simon Grayson when Preston North End won the League One play off final.
Richie Goddard was on hand to step in as caretaker manager whilst a replacement for Dreyer was sought. Swan planned to entice Wealdstone’s Gordon Bartlett to take over, but after some thought Bartlett elected to stay with the Stones. With crowds plummeting below the 150 mark, the eventual appointment was the somewhat surprising figure of Windsor manager Dennis Greene.
Unlike Dreyer, Greene was not shy of asserting himself either in the local press or at the club. Bringing defender Lee Kersey and midfielder Guy Ekwalla with him up the A308, he immediately set about taking the by now bottom placed Magpies up the table with a six match unbeaten league run which included a 1-0 win at top placed Basingstoke.
A more important relationship was formed at this time when two local entrepreneurs knocked on the boardroom door and enquired whether the club might like some financial assistance. Peter Griffin and Stephen Loughrey agreed to a lucrative shirt sponsorship for the following season between the club and their Pharmalink business. As the saying goes it proved to be the start of a beautiful friendship!
On the pitch another Australian in Reading’s Adam Federici solved the goalkeeping problem for the rest of the season, his clean sheet in a 4-0 over fellow strugglers Carshalton at York Road in mid February suggesting the relegation battle might be a successful one. This failed to be a springboard to further wins although an outstanding smash and grab raid at promotion chasing Cambridge City in March thanks to a Lewis Cook goal kept hopes alive.
On Easter Monday a 4-1 humbling at bottom placed Redbridge suggested the writing was on the wall, the pressure starting to show as Greene (pictured left) made some ill judged comments to a journalist which alienated supporters.
This meant virtually every match in April was win or bust. The month started well with the double completed over Welling and a first ever win at Thurrock’s Ship Lane.
Pharmalink then threw their commercial weight behind a campaign with the Maidenhead Advertiser to boost the York Road crowd for the final two crunch home matches. The people of Maidenhead responded in kind with over 500 turning up to see Lewes beaten followed by over 600 for the visit of champions Grays Athletic. A valiant performance was not enough to stop the Essex team leaving with all three points to set up another final day showdown.
This came in the form of a straight shootout at Newport County, with the winner guaranteed to escape relegation. A four figure crowd at Spytty Park saw the Exiles ease into a two goal lead thanks to Welsh international Jason Bowen, and although O’Connor pulled a goal back in the second half from the penalty spot, there only ever looked like being one winner.
The final whistle signalled that desperate sinking feeling that only relegation brings. Newport Chairman Chris Blight offered me his profound sympathy in the boardroom, whilst in the club house Friar Tuck and a Beefeater took Greene to task over his failure to keep United up.
On the return coach journey to Berkshire, treasurer Paul Carney confided the dire state of the club’s finances, confessing a step down to the Hellenic League might be a more sensible option than a return to the Isthmian.
One club had already had had enough though as the inevitable Hornchurch bubble burst, their Billericay style financial model collapsing as their larger than life benefactor Uncle Urchin disappeared with the cupboard left bare. This meant Maidenhead won the inaugural AGM Cup, accepting the offer to remain in the Conference South due to a reprieve offered by the fiscally crippled Hornchurch’s request for demotion.
Thus the season closed in a strange atmosphere at Brian Connor’s testimonial (pictured right).  Any sense of relief at living to fight another day in the Conference South being tempered by the realisation that another season of struggle was in prospect.
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com

Sunday, 26 November 2017

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 2003-04

23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
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Part 10: 2003-04
A radical spirit ran through a season which was to be pivotal in the outlook and fortunes of Maidenhead United Football Club.
New chairman Jon Swan’s first act was to appoint player manager John Dreyer. He beat fellow central defender Paul Parker to the post, with it being felt that the latter was not quite the right fit due to his plans to bring a new squad over from his Essex base.
As it turned out this may have been a better short term option when Dreyer started pre season training with only four members of the previous season’s first team squad remained: captain Brian Connor, young defender Adam Durrant, midfielder Ryan Ashe and contracted striker Lawrence Yaku.
Richie Barnard moved to Aldershot, Matt Glynn signed for St. Albans and player of the year Andy Cook went to Hendon, whilst the rest followed Alan Devonshire to his new post at Hampton.
Off the pitch an FA Financial audit had raised some important matters which required immediate attention
On a personal note I made the decision to return to editing the programme, as well as taking over the PA and the hotline information service. This came with a place on the committee beginning my transition from terrace to boardroom.
On and off the pitch everyone was infused with a clear sense of mission driven by the  plan to create two regional divisions below the Conference for the 2004/05 season. To qualify the Magpies would need to finish in the top thirteen in the Isthmian League Premier Division as well as fulfil criteria relating to the ground and club finance.
It was the former which looking the more challenging obstacle as the team made the opening day trip to Heybridge with a starting line up listing eight debutants, with a further four on the bench including Dreyer and his assistant, Northern Ireland international, Phil Gray.
After seven league matches, the team had yet to win, but had a stylish aesthetic to their play. This was particularly marked in an early season defeat at Kettering’s impressive Rockingham Road ground, which helped to keep the faith until Harrow Borough provided their annual service of donating the first three point haul of the campaign.
This sparked a run of seven wins from the next nine league outings, helped by the reunion of Yaku with his former Northwood striker partner Steve Hale. The duo were able to capitalise on the exciting play on the left flank of full back Brendan Gallen as well as the midfield creativity of Ryan Ashe and Martyn Lee, shored up by the bulwark of Kelvin McIntosh and behind them a new central defensive pairing of Connor and Eton schoolmaster Andy Jennings.
An FA Cup thrashing at Dover didn’t shake the league form, and although the League Cup and County Cup provided no more in the way of success, it was the FA Trophy which provided the mid season highlight.
This run was almost over before it begun, as with ten minutes remaining United trailed 3-1 at lowly Swindon Supermarine but a couple of late goals forced a replay which was won 2-1. This set up a trip in the New Year to up and coming Histon. This time the Magpies won in style 3-1 to set up a home tie against Wealdstone.
The weather then intervened delaying the match until a Tuesday night in February with Stones crumbling to a rampant United performance which saw the Magpies into the last sixteen with a 5-1 win.
After some delay due to weather and a replay, a first ever trip to Yorkshire to play Halifax became the Magpies fate and on Valentine’s Day, Conference opposition were beaten for the first time in United’s history thanks to the double act of Yaku and Hale scoring in a 2-0 win.
Maidenhead’s first quarter-final appearance in a national competition since the 1930s proved to be something of an anti climax. Travelling to eventual Isthmian League Champions and FA Trophy runners up Canvey Island, the tie was over almost as soon as it begun when Andy Dugdale was penalised for a handball on the line in the second minute leaving United a goal behind and down to ten men. Canvey ran out 4-0 winners.
During the Trophy run, league points continued to be collected with the squad bolstered defensively by the twin signing from Egham of Andy Dugdale and Bryan Smith.
As the season entered its final chapter the Magpies were jockeying for position in the mid table pack.  In a bid to get the top half finish required to qualify for the Conference South Dreyer made a triple attacking signing of Ben Hammond from Hemel, Danny Bolt, and Rob Haworth (both from Sutton). The latter seeking inspiration by posting a supporter comment from the club forum labelling him a donkey on the back of the dressing room door.
Form remained patchy with a worrying trend for heavy defeats at home but three straight wins at the end of March including a crucial 2-1 victory midweek at Bedford meant there was still all to play for in April.
0304.jpgHowever just one win in six matches (thanks to a solitary Yaku strike at Hayes) led to a must win final match on May day. Fortunately the opposition were bottom markers Aylesbury United. With shades of 97 and 17, the long relegated Ducks put up something of a fight but eventually succumbed 4-2,  Yaku hitting the twenty goal mark for the season with a brace.
This left Maidenhead in a final position of twelfth and a place in the Conference South to look forward to in August. Qualification was subsequently made more comfortable when Hendon elected not to take their place fearing the financial implications of the higher division.
Maidenhead had already gambled on taking the step up by spending money to the improve squad mid season. As admirable as this ambition was, the long term consequences would be as serious as Hendon’s decision suggested.
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com

Sunday, 12 November 2017

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 2002-03

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

Sunday, 29 October 2017

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 2001-02

23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
The Bell Street End 28.10.00.jpg
Part 8: 2001-02
Management 023.jpgAfter several seasons of non stop excitement and achievement it was somewhat inevitable that something of a fallow season was due. Thanks to the self aggrandising move by the Isthmian League hierarchy to expand the divisions to 24 clubs to accommodate more clubs in 2002-03, the 2001-02 season had a feeling of marking time.  With only one club promoted and one relegated, it wasn’t long before the Magpies and many other clubs in the Premier Division knew they would be neither and so the league season lacked a competitive edge.
This meant the knockout competitions had a higher profile, and having gone without silverware in 2000/01 for the first time in his York Road managerial career, Alan Devonshire was certain to put that right.
The squad continued to improve with the signings of right back Andy Rose and midfielder Paul Kelly, whilst striking options were widened with the addition of Ricky Ibe and Paul Scott.  As the season drew on further enhancements were made with the signings of centre back Orlando Jeffrey, hard man midfielder Jamie Jarvis and creative youngster Rod Saunders.
The season began in the same way as the last one with a comfortable win by a three goal margin over Harrow Borough, this time at Earlsmead. By the end of August these remained the only points gained, with a further blow to progress coming when a broken leg at St. Albans ended the season for inspirational midfielder Matt Glynn.
However one month later by the time the Cups started, fifteen points were in the bag when a super volley from Barry Rake secured a 2-0 win at Enfield who were ground sharing at Boreham Wood.
The FA Cup saw United pull possibly the toughest draw out of the hat in the shape of Aldershot Town. The problems at the previous season’s league match meant Thames Valley Police decided to treat the match as training exercise, the unusual sight of police horses trotting up and down York Road sticking in the memory as a late Ibe equaliser took the tie to a replay which was won comfortably by the Shots.
The Magpies fared a little better in the FA Trophy, winning at the League’s fastest rising club Northwood, with the day dominated by speculation that Wood’s star striker Lawrence Yaku would be joining United the following summer. Interest in the competition was ended by a defeat in the next round at home to Hendon.
In between the two ties, Jarvis had arrived at the club and made an instant impact on home debut against Sutton. A combative player in the mould of Vinnie Jones, Jarvis barely lasted ten minutes of his York Road bow, seeing red after running half the length of the pitch to floor a Sutton attacker who had clashed with United keeper Richie Barnard.
A Lee “Porno” Channell hat trick at Hungerford meant the first stage of the League Cup was comfortably negotiated, only to fall at the next hurdle, losing 5-3 at Hampton just before Christmas.
December also saw my personal final “home” game as I left Maidenhead to move up to London, where I still live sixteen years later.
At the turn of the year Gravesend & Northfleet and Canvey Island were already well ahead of the chasing pack meaning there would be a two horse race for the title, with Maidenhead coasting in mid table with Croydon already looked marooned in the one relegation spot.
With their Premier Division status all but assured, United embarked on a run of ten defeats in twelve matches from February, the start of the run coinciding with the departure of club captain Tim Cook for Chesham.
Aided by the arrival of the internet message board, the run sparked a period of introspection at the club, with supporters airing criticisms of the team’s rigid 5-3-2 playing style, a sense of ennui enveloping York Road which would remain for the next year, as having achieved so much in a short period, the club searched for its next challenge.
This feeling was not helped when Cook returned to York Road with Chesham in April taking all three points in a resounding 4-0 win, crowds falling by 21%  by the season’s end. This brought with it two wins to ensure Maidenhead maintained their sixteenth final placing  of the previous season, with once again a County Cup Final to look forward to.
jarvis Goal v Slough 19.03.02.jpgThis had been reached thanks to a straightforward win over Flackwell Heath in the quarter-final, and a terrific 3-2 win over Slough in a thrilling semi-final at York Road.
Midway through the second half, goals from Channell, Ibe and Jarvis (pictured right celebrating) looked to have returned the Magpies to the final once more, but with all hope seemingly lost, Slough somehow revived, scoring twice then pushing United all the way to final whistle.
The final itself was played at Wycombe against holders Chesham United, and ended in a goalless draw. A fact that somewhat helped my mood having missed the match thanks to being bumped off a flight home from Barcelona. Maidenhead regained the Cup thanks to a 4-2 win in a penalty shoot out, to ensure that once again Alan Devonshire had put silverware in the United boardroom.  
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com

Sunday, 1 October 2017

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 2000-01


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

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

Sunday, 17 September 2017

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 1999-2000

23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

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

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

AN ALTOGETHER MORE SPLENDID KIND OF LIFE - 1998-99

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

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