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.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

A Shot At Glory

The world of cinema has regularly tried to translate the thrilling spectacle of football to the silver screen with mixed results. With the game often being stranger than fiction, football drama tends to err on the side of contrived and predictable. Nevertheless football films are usually an enjoyable watch although not always for the right reasons.One recent classic of the genre doing the rounds on Freeview at the moment is "A Shot At Glory", a bizarre Hollywood attempt to capture the magic of the Cup.Featuring the marquee names of Robert Duvall and Michael Keaton, the film follows the fortunes of lowly Scottish team Kilnockie. Wealthy American owner Peter Cameron (Keaton) has bought the club and has a dream to move the club MK Dons style to Dublin. To prevent this wily old manager Gordon McLeod (Duvall) has to bring success to the moribund club. To help him do this Cameron buys star Celtic striker Jackie McQuillan, who just happens to be the estranged husband of McLeod's daughter Kate.Here the fun and games start off screen as McQuillan is played by Rangers legend Ally McCoist. This leads to some bizarre footage of McQuillan's early career inserted into the early part of the film. This footage shows McCoist scoring goals for Rangers from his real career, but because the Director wants to show McQuillan's past the famous blue Rangers shirts are coloured green! This was an alleged pay off for acceding to McCoist's request that the top team in the film was Rangers!Anyway back to the film. Of course Kilnockie despite being behind in every game somehow manage to secure promotion and a place in the Scottish Cup Final despite Duvall's strange attempt at a Scottish accent and team talks limited to "If you score more goals than the other team, then you will win".The match footage shot at Dumbarton, Queen of the South and Kilmarnock is not bad with the extras being supplied by Raith Rovers. Several real life football stars had speaking roles including John McVeigh, Peter Hetherston, Didier Agathe, Ally Maxwell, Owen Coyle and Claudio Reyna. Unfortunately the scenes on the terraces isn't quite so convincing with actors dressed in all manner of Kilnockie merchandise not quite getting it right.I won't spoil the ending by telling you what happens in the Cup Final, but I doubt you need me to tell you that everyone is reconciled off it, including Duvall and his managerial Nemesis Brian Cox who plays Rangers head honcho Martin Smith.All in all a wonderfully wasteful way to spend a couple of hours of the festive holiday once you’ve gorged yourself on mince pies and sherry. Ally McCoist is by far the best thing in the film. You would be hard pushed to tell he wasn't an actor and his footballing ability speaks for itself. Duvall on the other hand whilst looking like the stereotypical craggy Scottish Manager spoils the illusion every time he opens his mouth. All set to a score by Mark Knopfler, Local Hero it ain't, but it is head and shoulders above some of the other football films of recent times.
Watch It: A Shot At Glory is probably still available in the budget section of your local DVD emporium.

The Damned United

Literature and football have never been easy bedfellows. Unlike say cricket there has always been a shortage of wordsmiths willing to describe the beautiful game. Indeed Basingstoke Boy John Arlott who wrote many a fine piece on both sports described football as "the craft without an art". Although things changed in the 1960s with the likes of Arthur Hopcraft and Hunter Davies writing about the game, its still a challenge to find anything stimulating on the bookshelves beyond the trashy "my story" biographies. Thus when a gem such as "The Damned United" comes along it really stands out from the morass. The Damned United was published in 2006 and written by David Peace. It is the sixth novel written by Peace, all of them an attempt to write a fictional account (faction?) of events in Yorkshire in the recent past. The first four, known as the Red Riding Quartet, chronicle the eventually successful investigation to catch the Yorkshire Ripper. The fifth provides an account of the 1984 miners' strike, whilst The Damned United takes on Brian Clough's disastrous 44 day spell in charge of league champions Leeds United.Divided into 44 chapters, Peace provides a day by day account of Clough's quick failure to stamp his authority on the team, who were to go onto reach the European Cup Final under his successor Jimmy Armfield.This is no staid procession of results and reports however, as intertwined with the story is Clough's tale of his career, a prolific goalscorer in the North East with Sunderland and Middlesbrough, a playing career cut tragically short by injury, the slow rise to managerial glory with Hartlepool United and Derby County with partner Peter Taylor, the sacking from County and return to the lower divisions with Brighton.The fact that the book describes a time when Derby and Leeds were not only amongst the best clubs in England but also Europe, makes it simple to slip into this almost fantasy world of Clough as Peace imagines how Old Big 'Ead would tell his story. A swift look at the history books confirms the fantastic facts of this portion of Clough's career, but what Peace does so well is to explore the psyche of a man who against solid opposition from all quarters of the establishment rises to become the hottest managerial property in football.This is no hagiography though, as Peace endeavours to uncover a man with such a strong drive to succeed that he will destroy anyone who stands in his way with his cutting comments, with even friends and family not spared the wrath of his tongue. This provides Peace with a route into Clough's alcoholism, as for all his success and hero worship, Clough appears as a man haunted by his failures, with only a whisky providing succour.Of course this particular story ends in failure, but Clough's belief remained indestructible, battered but unbowed, the epilogue reminding us that he would go on to take a second rate midlands club to championship glory and not one but two European Cups to take his place in the pantheon of English managers accompanied in my view by only Herbert Chapman, Alf Ramsey and Bob Paisley.How did he do it? By not knowing when he was beat, by relishing seemingly impossible challenges and achieving them, by having utter faith in his ability as a leader and manager. Quite simply his credo can be summed up in The Damned United by his answer to the question "Do you believe in God Brian?"
"No I believe in Brian Howard Clough".
Read on: The Damned United by David Peace is available from all book sellers of distinction.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

I Ludicrous

Football is a dangerous topic for songwriters, with the aura of parody always lurking round the corner. New Order just about maintained respectability with World In Motion, although the John Barnes rap element was pretty near the knuckle. In my view only one musical act has treated the beautiful game with the right balance of levity and realism, south London duet William Hung and John Procter, better known as I Ludicrous.
Meeting at work in the early 80s the pair discovered a shared passion for Crystal Palace and The Fall, and began to record songs which reflected their love of a wry take on the life’s everyday trials and tribulations set to a post punk backing track.
Naturally much of their subject matter concerned football, their first single “Preposterous Tales in the Life of Ken McKenzie” referring to such unlikely events as “the Palace score 4 goals away from home”. Follow up “Quite Extraordinary” was a damning verdict on the work of David Coleman “It gets worse in the winter with the god-damn videprinter, That's Stenhousemuir's 13th game without a scoring draw, Incredible, Remarkable, Quite Extraordinary”.
However this was just the tip of the iceberg. Flip over to the B side of “Ken” and you would find “3 English Football Grounds” a simple guide to what you could find at The Den, Craven Cottage and Burnden Park. The fact that two of these grounds no longer exist (indeed the third was almost abandoned) reveals that this song was written in a different age, 1987 in fact. A time prior to the embourgeoisification of football post Italia 90 and Sky, when revealing yourself to be a supporter put you firmly in the gutter. Including vital statistics such as the cost of entry and a pint, “Fulham - £4 to get in and the beer is mediocre “, there was also a guide to the nature of the locals with Millwall summed up as “We are not animals, we are human beings, Whose fans only resort to violence in the face of immense provocation”.
More football was to follow in the paean to cliché “At The End of The Day”, musings on the fate of the bench warmers “Bring On The Substitute”, the state of the game in the Premiership era “English Football 2003”, and most recently an investigation of Scottish Non League Football in “The Highland League”.
However all this stands in the shadow of the pair’s awesome summary of the lot of a supporter, “We Stand Around” which I make no apology for reproducing in unabridged form here:

“We stand around in wind and rain, locked in voluntary,
All ages, all male, all swearing, all cold.
We sing and sway we punch the air,
We chant out names, we seek a wave,
In pens we huddle in corners too,
We shout out names we shout abuse.

We travel every Saturday,
We go wherever we play and pay,
Spending money we can’t afford,
We are the fans we go everywhere.

In groups of two we punch the air,
We sing and sway and dance and swear
We taunt the home fans humorously
The policemen eye us with ill disguised contempt.

Our best players all get sold,
Their replacements old and slow
The manager raids the Sunday leagues,
We have no youth team anymore.
The team defends most of the game
We cheer every breakaway, three in the box
In goes the cross, we hold our breath
Goal kick.

The keeper does his level best
He's overworked and overdressed
The shots rain in we hold our breath
No offside flag the bulging net.
No time to restart

We turn up every Saturday
We know every motorway
We travel miles we don't complain
We stand around in wind and rain."

Read on: www.iludicrous.co.uk
Listen up: The compilation “20 years in Show Business” is available on iTunes and at all musical retailers of distinction

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Proper Football?

With the Magpies doing the business against St Albans at the first attempt last Saturday, I was left at a loose end on Tuesday night. Deciding that a night on the sofa asking the wife to explain what was going on in CSI, and wondering just what you had to do to qualify to become a celebrity and get a free jungle holiday, I opted to go and watch some football played by full time professionals in a bona fide stadium. Proper football as some of my anti non league friends would call it. In my case a chance to measure the value of what I usually watch at York Road.One fixture jumped out at me. Crystal Palace v Preston North End. I try to get to one or two PNE games a season as I used to be a regular at Deepdale during my salad days at Lancashire Polytechnic. With permatanned Palace grand fromage Simon Jordan tempting fans with a third off usual prices, it seemed a bargain too good to resist at £20.I've been to Selhurst Park just twice previously but I like the feel of the trip to the ground, walking up the hill to the stadium, hemmed in by suburban streets. A real football club at the heart of the community, a concept which is slowly ebbing away as the drift to out of town industrial parks grows apace.The persistent drizzle meant my allocated seat on the front row of the Arthur Waite stand held little appeal so I moved back a few rows, strategically placing myself in front of one of the many pillars but out of the rain and right on the half way line.Three pound for a programme was well spent, on a publication consisting of eighty pages with plenty to read ahead of this Division Two relegation battle (anyone born post 80s see me after the game for a history lesson).In front of a half full stadium (an unchanged average figure to show the inelasticity of football support), the teams walked out from that odd entrance in the corner to the strains of the theme tune from the Long Good Friday leaving me to reflect on that awfully prescient vision of Thatcherite spivvery. I wonder if they play it to remind them of the early 80s recession which led the Eagles to sell off one end of the ground to Sainsburys? Naturally the club song Glad All Over then rang out to whip up the fans.A small but vociferous following had travelled down from Granadaland to cheer on the Lilywhites and as they were situated between two sets of self styled Eagle Ultras there was a real edge as the game kicked off.Sadly this faded as Preston's lack of confidence led to their footballing approach bearing no fruit whilst Palace predictably displayed the signs of becoming the latest team to be moulded by Warnock's Protestant work ethic, all toil, long balls and lets hope to get something from a set piece.With ten minutes of the half remaining the game sparked into life with the first shot on target, when a Kevin Nicholls effort was touched over the bar, Preston scoring from the resulting corner. Just when the home fans were about to turn on their team Palace were gifted two goals before half time and that was that, the second half seeing no change to the score.As I wandered away from the ground I felt like I had been to a real football match but with no change out of £30 once I'd paid my online booking fee and had something to eat on top of admission and a programme but was it really twice as good as an evening at York Road? On the minus side compulsory seating and no beer, but that Long Good Friday's a good tune though!

Thursday, 22 November 2007


The fanzine movement proved to many in footballing terms at least the "spark that lit up reality", as increasing numbers of supporters began to "do it for themselves" in the face of opposition from the football establishment telling the truth about watching the beautiful game in Britain. Although some fanzines such as When Saturday Comes remain in one form or another many faded as the internet took the mantle of providing a more immediate means of exchange between supporters. This was the normal trend for club based fanzines, but niche publications tended to persist.One such publication which is still going strong is Groundtastic, now very definitely a professionally presented magazine, which nevertheless retains the enthusiastic tone of the dedicated amateur.Groundtastic is purely concerned, as the title suggests, with the arenas that the game is played in whether that be in the Premiership or County League. This interest in the architectural environment was first brought to a wider audience by Simon Inglis with his landmark book, published in the early 80s, looking at the Football League Grounds of Britain. A few years later Kerry Miller produced a companion tome focusing on non league football, which revealed to me at least the debt Maidenhead United owes to its supporters of times past who provided the funds and the manpower for much of the ground you are standing in today.Still there was no periodical cataloguing the fast changing football grounds in the post Taylor report world. The growing group of football supporters known as groundhoppers who specialise in visiting in as many football grounds as possible (and let's admit there's a little groundhopper in all of us) proved there was a constituency to provide a readership. So it was no surprise that on a groundhopping weekend in the Northern League in Easter 1994 that the idea for a magazine was hatched.It was founded by Vince Taylor, Jon Weaver and Paul Claydon and the first issue was published in March 1995. One of the main outlets for the new publication was the late lamented "Sportspages" bookshop in central London where you could find Groundtastic alongside Maidenhead United fanzine "Born and Bred" in the non league section. Very much a home made operation in the beginning, the early issues contained actual full colour photographs and was well worth the high cover price.Published quarterly ever since, the magazine is the only one in the UK solely dedicated to football grounds and has built up a reputation as an authority on all grounds whether new, old or defunct, with a four figure circulation.This September the 50th issue was reached and a special 100 page full colour issue was produced. Virtually free of adverts Groundtastic represents excellent value for money.For more details including back issues and subscriptions visit http://www.groundtastic.co.uk/

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Baker & Kelly

The media pack which leeches off football to all intents and purposes lives up to its parasitical nature which leads it to patronize, sensationalize and worst get it plain wrong, all in the name of attention and circulation. This state of affairs pretty much held sway until the fanzine movement took off in the 1980s, revealing to the world that the phrase "intelligent football fan" was not an oxymoron. Of course the media was eager to cash in on this phenomenon but unsurprisingly got it wrong by presenting egregious no marks such as Tim Lovejoy and David Baddiel as the face of the fans. This now flows through to non league football with the execrable journalism of the non league paper/today.Yet somewhere in the BBC lay a commissiong editor with the nous to appoint the one person who knew the score, schooled in the fanzine movement (albeit of the punk variety) and a steadfastly loyal supporter of an unglamorous lower division club. His name was Danny Baker of the famous Millwall (accent on the second syllable) and no one, I repeat no one was going to prevent him telling it like it is. Hosting the original 6-0-6 Baker quickly created a loyal audience with his weekly fare of referee baiting, revelling in the comeuppance of the good and the great, and most of all celebrating the everyday tales of football fans everywhere, who win, lose or draw, rain or shine would be at the match every week. Of course with attendance a given for Baker and his ilk, attention focused on the minutiae of the journey travelled by fans rather than simply measuring its worth in silverware. Thus conversations turned to the strangest sights you have seen at a match, bona fide characters and your club, and most of all anything that raised a laugh. All pomposity was banished with supporters who rang up from Devon to complain with outrage about how Liverpool/Arsenal/Man U etc had clearly by hard done according to the radio commentary being given the shortest of shrifts. These early days of 6-0-6 proved to be halcyon ones though as the BBC shied away from the iconoclastic Baker, instead opting for the literally conservative views of David Mellor. Although on the plus side this did lead to an unforgettable Bakeresque caller ringing up the man who traded his support for votes to inform him that he was a "tugboat"*. Baker flitted from station to station, initial bursts of enthusiasm fading quickly to lead to disillusionment as the station controller realised that he had a loose cannon on his hands. Fortunately for the time being at least, Baker has found a way of broadcasting his revolutionary streams of consciousness by taking hold of the means of production and recording regular podcasts with long time side kick Danny Kelly. These episodes provide little in the way of news about the world of football but plenty to make you laugh as week in week out the two Dans to the backing track of Led Zeppelin's Kashmir bring you details of: "fans who don't seem bothered during games", "getting in for free", "nicknames for football supporters you don't know", "fans who leave/arrive early", "have you seen a footballer shopping", and many many more.A particular favourite of mine at the moment is one line gags involving footballers, and fantasy dinner party introductions. Here are a few gems from Friday's show:
Is Ralph Coates related to Kenny Jackett?
Is Lucas Neill related to Peter Crouch?
Is Robert Green or did Keiron Dyer?
Wayne Rooney meet George Clooney
Julio Arca meet Sarah Jessica-Parker
Joleon Lescott meet John Prescott
Collins John meet Joan Collins
John Obi-Mikel meet Obi Wan Kenobi
Alan Hansen meet David Janssen
Dennis Law meet John Thaw
Peter Schmeichel meet George Michael
Nat Lofthouse meet Amy Winehouse
Lee Dixon meet David Nixon
Keiron Dyer meet Derek Guyler
Tommy Lawton meet Beth Orton

The Baker & Kelly football podcast is available to download free from http://www.bakerandkelly.com/ or iTunes.

* Dowload the 16/11/07 episode of Baker & Kelly to find out what was actually said.

The Road To Wembley Ends Here

Setting out from my West London home at 10.30, the feeling this year for our first round tie was very much expectation in contrast to the hope that we took to Stafford twelve months ago.My rendezvous with my travelling companions for the day was Victoria station, once Britain’s gateway to Europe via the Orient Express, but today perhaps the start of a Maidonian journey which had not been made for 121 years.I located friends Murdo, Craig, Callum, Foz and Terry, who had successfully negotiated Swansea’s Jack Army and their police escort at Paddington. We contemplated the bad omen of the cancellation of our scheduled train as we waited for the final member of our party, Keith who had travelled down from Lancashire.A phone call from Paddy to say that he had just landed at Heathrow from Glasgow, and would be following us on to Sussex, left us to ponder the events that we had witnessed at the club over the last twenty years.Words such as arson, relegation, rebirth, promotion and cup glory sprang to mind as we boarded the 11.32 for Horsham. As the train pulled out of the station and crawled over the Thames, Murdo announced that the buffet was open and distributed products from our sponsor Carlsberg.Arriving on time at 12.25 we ambled out of the station listening carefully to directions to the ground from a member of staff which were completely ignored as an empty pub was spotted. On entry to The Bedford we had a bit of luck as Craig happened to order the round his fellow countryman behind the bar offered a “Scottish discount”. We then settled down to watch the North East derby, regular cutaways to Newcastle owner Mike Ashley leading to derisive cries about him ignoring the Magpies on the doorstep of his Thames Valley home.Having finished my strictly nutritional pint of Guinness, I then opted to head for the ground. Another suggestion that perhaps it wasn’t going to be my day came when the turnstile operator had thrown my ticket away. Locating my fellow directors I got the team news and headed for the boardroom, my opposite numbers giving me the customary warm Sussex welcome.The importance of the day was highlighted when a member of the Horsham team that faced Tommy Lawton’s Notts County in the first round in 1946 appeared and was photographed with the “boot lace” ball used on that day. Other Sussex celebrities to appear were Bognor’s legendary manager Jack Pearce and cricketer Chris Adams.As kick off drew near I made a circuit of the ever filling ground taking time to talk to my fellow supporters for whom away travel is a given. Settling down in the directors box, the first half looked like finishing in Maidenhead’s favour despite the awful pitch before Nigel Brake’s Radfordesque strike right on half time saw the hosts take the lead.A big effort was required by the Magpies in the second half so to do my part I rejoined the mob in the cowshed and prepared to urge Maidenhead to victory. The vocal support never wavered but the game slipped out of reach and at the final whistle I was left feeling as flat as I ever have been at a Maidenhead game. As the Horsham fans enjoyed their moment in the spotlight the Magpies trailed silently out of the ground. I made a point of shaking Hornet’s Chairman Frank King’s hand and wishing him luck for the next round, before making a beeline for the Bedford.Back in the pub the recriminations began as we all vented our spleen over the usual issues of tactics and team selection. Joined by President Jim, we chewed the fat with some opposing fans for a while before restocking the buffet and heading home about 8 pm, wondering if Foz would be correct when he predicted that we could be rueing this golden opportunity to progress to the second round when we are old and grey!

Ripping Yarns: Golden Gordon

The Monty Python team, despite their Public School/Oxbridge background, were not averse to creating material relating to the working man’s ballet as shown by their typically surreal sketch "International Philosophy". Featuring in this sketch was Michael Palin, booked as Nietszche for telling the referee he had no free will ("Confuscious he say name go in book"). Post Python, whilst Eric Idle picked the easy target of football hooligans for a musical sketch on his Rutland Weekend TV series (thus securing endless royalties as it became a staple clip of nostalgia programmes about the decade), Palin chose to create an affectionate portrait of non league football in 1930s Yorkshire as part of his Ripping Yarns serious which was jointly made with fellow Python Terry Jones.The episode in question was called "Golden Gordon" and follows the heroic tale of football supporter Gordon Ottershaw, who when faced with the demise of his beloved Barnstoneworth United makes a desperate bid to salvage some pride by gathering together the legendary 1922 Yorkshre Premier Cup winning side for the final game. Although the episode follows the usual format of sporting fiction with a last win for Barnstoneworth in their last ever match, the enjoyment comes in the telling of the tale, with plenty of details to make the modern non league fan chuckle if not cringe. Barnestoneworth United are a team without a home win in four years. The episode opens with the latest defeat against Brighouse “8 bloody 1 and their centre-forward wears glasses during the match”. Our devastated hero Gordon returns home to his wife and son and proceeds to smash up his house in a fit of rage before returning to the frighteningly authentic Social Club to drown his sorrows. But even Brown Ale can’t salve his destructive urges as he breaks the honours board uttering the words “Useless, useless bastards”. Things get worse at training when the team lose their shorts driving the manager Mr Dainty crazy (“I didn't come here on a free transfer from Walsall to stand and watch a bunch of morons arguing about football shorts!”), leading to his arrest for “indecent exposure in a bakery”. This persuades the board of directors to close the club & sell off the ground to local scrap merchant Arthur Foggen. Back home when teaching his son Barnstoneworth (middle name United) the legendary Yorkshire Premier League Cup winning team of 1922, “Hagerty F, Hagerty R... McIntyre, Treadmore and Davitt”, Eric ignores his wife’s announcement that she’s going to have a baby, and instead sets about reuniting the team for the club’s last ever match. Needless to say the ground (again very authentic) ultimately resounds to cheers of “Barnestoneworth” as the team win at last prompting a celebratory orgy of domestic destruction by the Ottershaw family.