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, 17 December 2008

Howay The Mags

The renaissance of Blyth Spartans’ FA Cup ginatkilling form will rekindle memories of Maidenhead’s trip to the North East almost eight years ago.The occasion was the last 32 of the FA Trophy, the furthest the Magpies in the competition to this date and in this case literally the furthest the Magpies have ever travelled to a game ever.The Trophy remains something of a Cinderella competition, lacking the glittering prizes of the Cup but nevertheless providing a real chance of worthwhile glory for the higher echelons of non league football.The 2000-01 season was Maidenhead's first in the Isthmian Premier, and rather like last season, United were struggling to establish themselves after promotion.The Trophy provided something of a distraction from league woes. In the first round old enemies Hampton were summarily despatched 4-1at the Beveree thanks to a superb second half display from the much maligned Lee Channell who after missing a first half penalty went onto hit a second half brace to put United in front before setting up goals for Steve Croxford and Freddie Domingos to secure victory.Next up were Enfield and after two postponement, United prevailed by a single goal from Joe Nartey. Unfortunately the game was marred by a double sending off Andy Morley and Nartey both seeing red with the consequences being felt two rounds later in Northumberland.Round three was played just five days later, with Nartey again proving to be the difference, this time in deepest Essex as he hit a late winner at Braintree after Obi Ulasi had levelled the scores.So the scene was set for a 650 mile round trip to Blyth on Saturday February 3rd, and with some trepidation due to the wintry weather, coaches and hotels were booked for a weekend away.The team left on Friday to stay the night in Newcastle, with the supporters gathering at 6am at York Road to hit the north. A trouble free
journey saw the Magpie fans arrive in good time to have a pre match pint and catch up with fellow fans who had sought alternative means of transport.The teams took to the field in front of a bumper crowd of 902 on a stereotypically icy winter's afternoon in the north east.The Magpie contingent earned their spotters badge early on when a Byker Grove extra informed us that we were Cockney unmentionables and spirits were lifted further when Matt Glynn gave United the lead with a stupendous goal after 21 minutes.The scheming midfielder struck a sweet volley from just outside the box which flew into the top corner, striking the stanchion enroute, giving a glimpse of a talent which promised much but sadly delivered little.Spartans struck back before half time but Maidenhead stuck manfully to the task before the game ended with a tragic denouement which sums up cup football. Four minutes were left on the clock so a draw looked favourite but Maidenhead pressed hard for a second winning a corner. Croxford rose highest to head goalward only for a Spartan to clear off the line and set up a counter attack down the left wing.The cross was too hot for Richie Barnard to handle, the ball falling invitingly for a Blyth player to fire home the winner from close range.So a day that promised much ended in frustrating defeat, but rather than wallow in defeat a strong cohort of Magpies elected to stay over in nearby Whitley Bay. After being given a standing ovation on leaving the Blyth club house the Magpies boarded their coach for the short trip down the coast, time enough for a quick game of room bingo.Then it was out for a night on the town, ignoring the snow blowing in horizontally from the North Sea which ended in a bar hosting the overdue final of Miss G String 2000. One individual got a bit carried away, using his black and white scarf to snare unsuspecting young ladies. To protect the innocent he will only be known as Mr Logic.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Voodoo Economics

Away from York Road, finance or rather lack of it seems to be the prevailing theme in non league circles this season with a number of our Blue Square South rivals in reportedly serious difficulties. With some clubs in the Blue Square Premier also facing problems it already seems inevitable that relegation issues will yet again not be sorted out on the pitch.As with society as a whole football’s free market model of a super rich class trickling down their wealth to the supporters seems to be conforming to George H. W. Bush’s label of “voodoo economics”. Undoubtedly the next season or two will see a bit of a sorting out as clubs find their financial equilibrium. Will this lead to an era of fiscal sanity? Well I’m not holding my breath but as the amateurs of Fisher showed on Saturday who needs money!

Friday, 14 November 2008

Walter Tull

Growing up in England as a football fan in the 70s, one of the most exciting developments of the time was the emergence of black players as a force in the game.
Ironically it was Ron Atkinson who blazed the trail by making Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis, Brendan Batson and Remi Moses an integral part of his attractive West Brom team. Viv Anderson and George Berry became the first black players to represent England and Wales respectively with the likes of Luther Blissett, John Barnes and Mark Chamberlain not far behind. Beyond the top clubs the likes of Cec Podd, Bob Hazell, Tony Sealy and Terry Connor were real stalwarts whilst visitors to York Road will have been entertained by the Cordice brother Godfrey and Alan (still the Magpies' biggest transfer fee received at £5,000 from Norwich City), and of course Ben Laryea.
But do you know who the first black player for Tottenham was? Garth Crooks? Chris Hughton? In fact you have to go back almost 100 years to 1909 when Walter Tull signed for Spurs to become the second black professional footballer to play in the Football League first division following Arthur Wharton of Sheffield United in the 1890s. Incidentally Andrew Watson, an amateur, was the first black international when he played for Scotland in 1881.
Tull was born in Folkestone in 1888, but following the death of his parents he was brought up in an orphanage in Bethnal Green from the age of 10. He served an apprenticeship as a printer but found success playing amateur football for Isthmian League Clapton. Impressing in a team which won the FA Amateur Cup, Tull was signed by Tottenham in 1909. Tull only made seven first team appearances for Spurs and left White Hart Lane in October 1911 when Herbert Chapman signed him for Northampton Town for what was described as a substantial fee.
Tull flourished at the County Ground making 110 appearances for the Cobblers in the Southern League which was the equivalent of League One today. However when he was reportedly on the verge of a transfer to Glasgow Rangers World War One intervened. It is at this point that his story takes on a real Boys Own quality.
Tull abandoned his football career to join the 17th (1st Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. His battalion arrived in France in November 1915. Taking part in such historic events as the Battle Of the Somme, Tull rose through the ranks to become the first black officer in the British Army. Receiving his commission in 1917 Lieutenant Tull was sent to the Italian front where he was mentioned in dispatches for his "gallantry and coolness" while leading his company of 26 men on a raiding party, to cross the fast-flowing rapids of the River Piave into enemy territory. For bringing his men back unharmed Tull was recommended for a Military Cross.
He was then sent back to France in 1918 where, at the age of 29, he was shot leading his men on an attack on the German trenches at Favreuil. Such was his popularity, several of his men made valiant efforts under heavy fire from German machine-guns to bring him back to the British trenches. These attempts were sadly all in vain and he is remembered at The Arras Memorial, Bay 7, for those who have no known grave.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Modern Football Is Rubbish

Visitors to Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena last April were greeted to the sight of a huge banner on the Sudkurve proclaiming "Gegen den modernen Fussball”, literally “Against modern football”. The banner represents the frame of mind of a significant and growing minority of football supporters expressing disenchantment with the bright and shiny world of 21st century football.
This mood is wonderfully captured in a new book by Nick Davidson and Shaun Hunt, suitably titled “Modern Football Is Rubbish - An A-Z of all that is wrong with the beautiful game”.
They have tapped into the feeling that modern football at the highest level, rather like a McDonalds takeaway, although looking and feeling good initially, often leaves you feeling sick and not a little hollow afterwards.
Put simply the dizzying progress in the development of the game has been at the expense of football’s essential spirit, the baby being cast out with the bathwater.
Yet this is not some hectoring tome lusting after times past, more a joyous romp through the features of the game which inspired a lifelong devotion in the thirty something authors.
As such it will provide an ideal Christmas present for any fan over 30, allowing them to while away the festive period in the fuzzy haze of nostalgia.
This is perfectly encapsulated in the frequent entries relating to Roy of the Rovers and his comic book associates such as Johnny “The Hard Man” Dexter and Mike’s Mini Men. The authors wax lyrical about a simplistic childhood mindset when the most gallant players were always victorious although not without few scrapes along the way and I’m sure there is no one here today who is not transported back to the playground by the phrase “Got, Got, Swap” which we are reminded of in the entry about Figurune Panini.
Magpies fans will particularly benefit from Davidson’s background as a stalwart player with the Maidenhead Nomads which lends itself to a few local references such as the problems of playing football at the other mudbound Upton Park in Slough.
As the book wends it way through the alphabet though the sheer weight of the evidence pleading in support of the verity of the title becomes overbearing. We learn of the key moments from the period 1989-92, such as the “Tears of a clown” at Italia 90, and the real legacy of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch which ultimately led to Murdoch’s “Year Zero” with the introduction of the Premiership in 1992 with its “Stupid O’Clock Kick Offs”.
The book ends with a Frenchman, Zinedine Zidane, but it is left to his countryman Michel Platini to sum up what we have a lost: “Football - It is a game before a product, a sport before a market, a show before a business.” Fortunately he’s now in a position to recover it. Let’s hope he does so.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Back On The Road To Wembley

With Maidenhead's premature cup exit, coupled with my wife's resolve to beat the global financial crisis and carry on shopping, giving me a free Saturday, I elected to get back on the road to Wembley. The easiest game to get to from my West London home was at Ashford so I jumped on the tube and headed west on the Piccadilly line to the dystopian city of the future that is Heathrow Airport. Having been buzzed all the way by planes approaching the runway, I was pleasantly surprised that Ashford's ground, despite sitting adjacent to the airport, is off the main flight path, indeed from my seat in the stand which meant I had my back to terminal 4, it was only the huge oil tanks behind the goal which gave the location away. Ashford's Short Lane ground actually sits in the village of Stanwell, which brought happy memories of a famous cricketing victory on the pitch next door when I led Pinkneys Green to a win against the odds (note to any England selectors reading I am ready to assist in recovering the Ashes next summer). Ashford main claim to fame is that they have to put their county after their name to differentiate themselves from their elder Kent doppelganger, maybe they could change their name to Stanwell and save a lot of hassle. However on current form they could well eclipse their namesake as like the Magpies they have had a surprisingly good start to the season and on the basis of their performance in this game could well mount a serious challenge to play Blue Square South football next season.
Arriving at the ground, I found the typical functional Isthmian League set up, just like the semi detached houses which predominate the outer London suburbs it had everything but you felt they could do better.
Their opponents were Chippenham Town, who following a thrilling replay win over Truro City had managed to fill a coach with supporters for the trip up the M4. Wearing the blue and white club colours, flying the red and yellow Scottish standard, and possessing a troupe of drummers they looked like extras from Braveheart until given away by their broad west country accents.
Not to be outdone, the orange, white and black colours of the home team were well represented behind the other goal and the game started in a suitably passionate FA Cup atmosphere for a crowd of only 277, with songs resounding from either end, the virtues of the West country being contrasted with the "tits, fanny and Ashford" which apparently make Middlesex wonderful.
The tie provided an opportunity to continue the Isthmian v Southern debate which continues to rage amongst the Blue Square South fraternity. This episode saw a victory for the Isthmian, the decisive blow arriving as early as the seventeenth minute when a trailblazing run by Ricky Wellard led to the ball arriving at the feat of striker Scott Harris (oddly wearing the 19 shirt) who made no mistake with his finish. Despite this being the only goal of the game it was an entertaining contest, with Ashford only having themselves to blame for the small margin of victory. They played much the better football thanks in the main to slick midfielders Wellard and the mercurial Paul Johnson, indeed but for Chippenham keeper Chris Snoddy, Ashford would have had the game sewn up by the hour mark.
In contrast Chippenham stuck to the guileless Southern League template (Chippenham were ironically sponsored by "Art", presumably in honour of Le Corbusier's school of brutalism), working hard and threatening from set pieces without ever looking like they could do more than scrape an undeserved replay. The Bluebirds approach was exemplified by centre back Cortez Belle who spent the game either cynically fouling the Ashford attackers or moaning to the ref, and but for the busy efficiency and stabling influence of his captain, left back Kev Halliday, could well have finished the game early. As the game wore on an indeterminate intervention by an Ashford steward behind the goal where the away fans were stood, sparked a war cry of "Chippenham aggro" which translated into a last ditch Chippenham attempt to level the score. Ashford fans responded to this "I love the 70s" revival with a round of "Zigger Zagger" with their heroes showing they could mix it by firmly digging in, in defence of their lead. Chippenham gave it the kitchen sink treatment in the last quarter of the game, but despite a lengthy period of stoppage time with referee and linesman disputing the precise number of minutes left, Ashford held on to make it through to the final qualifying round for only the second time in their history.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Half Man Half Biscuit

Four lads who shook the Wirral, Half Man Half Biscuit have been quietly peddling their wry observations of British life for over twenty years now.
Hailing from the less fashionable side of the Mersey, their sound remains defiantly indie in the original mid 80s sense of the word, and as you would expect from a band led by a lyricist of humble origins born in the 50s, the songs touch on the subject of football more often than not.
This was apparent from their first album Back In The DHSS which closed with "All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit", the title being something of a red herring as Dukla were the favoured team of the Soviet backed Czech regime so never had to change their kit. It is a tale of childhood jealousy which I'm sure we can all relate to:
"So he'd send his doting mother up the stairs with the stepladders
To get the Subbuteo out of the loft
He had all the accessories required for that big match atmosphere
The crowd and the dugout and the floodlights too
You'd always get palmed off with a headless centre forward
And a goalkeeper with no arms and a face like his
And he'd managed to get hold of a Dukla Prague away kit
'Cos his uncle owned a sports shop and he'd kept it to one side
And after only five minutes you'd be down to ten men
'Cos he'd sent off your right back for taking the base from under his left winger
And come to half time you were losing four-nil
Each and every goal a hotly disputed penalty
So you'd smash up the floodlights and the match was abandoned
And the dog would bark and you'd be banned from his house
And your travelling army of synthetic supporters
Would be taken away from you and thrown in the bin"

The follow up long player "Back Again in the DHSS" returns to Eastern Europe with "I Was A Teenage Armchair Honved Fan" whilst "Dickie Davies Eyes" contained the line that the spawned the title for Gillingham fanzine "Brian Moore's head (looks uncannily like the London Planetarium)".
Football pundits are fertile ground for ground for the band, "Gubba Look-a-Likes" conjures up a disturbing image whilst you may hear the following on York Road FM today:
"Lord I've tried the best I can
I've asked everybody in Kazakhstan
but I still don't understand
Bob Wilson, anchorman"
The band are firm fans of Tranmere Rovers and are known to schedule gigs to avoid missing games. On "Friday Night and the Gates are Low" they mourn the arrival of the new breed of football fan:
"When I had my loft
Converted back into a loft
The neighbours came around and scoffed
And called me retro
But they are the type
Who never used to go to the match
Until the family thing got big
In the late eighties"

Appropriately in this supposed era of respect on there is sympathy for the match officials, for example on "Paintball's Coming Home" the band opine "If I were a linesman I would execute defenders who applauded my offsides" whilst who can argue with "The Referee's Alphabet" which ends "Well the Z could be for Zidane, Zico, Zola, Zubizaretta, Zoff, Even Zondervan, but is in fact for the zest with which we approach our work, without this zest for the game we wouldnt become refs, and without refs, well zero"

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Floodlit Dreams

According to Ian Ridley, renowned football writer and author of Floodlit Dreams, a football supporter goes through three stages.
Firstly he wants to play for his club, secondly he wants to manage his club, and finally he wants to run his club. It is the third option that Ridley explores in this book, a personal memoir of his time as Chairman of his team since boyhood, Weymouth.
A story which is familiar at least in part to Maidenhead fans as it covers our original doomed foray in the Blue Square South, it is a rare expose of how clubs at our level are run.
True to the dreams alluded to in the title, Ridley bravely describes his journey with Weymouth as a romantic crusade which ends up with him having spent thousands of pounds and with the club in a worse financial situation than the dire one they were in at the start of the story. He cranks up the sentiment with frequent reference to the arts such as the film “Field of Dreams” and the U2 song “One”, but his sharp writing prevents the book from becoming nauseatinly saccharin.
Ridley is a football journalist by trade, much respected for his thoughtful columns in the likes of the Observer and the Mail om Sunday, not to mention his distinctive biographies of Tony Adams and Steve Claridge.
The tale begins in the spring of 2003 with Ridley sat in the Weymouth car park waiting for the verdict of the board on his takeover proposal. With the Terras a quarter of a million pounds in debt they surprisingly rebuff him at first but eventually give in to his persistence in time to see the team struggle to avoid relegation from the Premier Division of the Southern League.
Grasping the nettle Ridley sacks incumbent manager Geoff Butler despite an attempt by his predecessor in the chair to stymie his progressive plans by awarding Butler a new contact. Thus Ridley his left with a blank canvas on which to paint his dream for the club. The move from his Home Counties home back to Dorset is given added poignancy by the sad sub plot of the ailing health of his father who dies before he can see his son transform the club.
This transformation comes astonishingly quickly, Ridley assembling a team on and off the pitch which catapults the club from the fringes of relegation to potential champions within twelve months.
The man who delivers this in the dressing room is new manager Steve Claridge but his appointment perhaps sowed the seeds of Ridley’s swift demise.
Faced with a choice of two ex players in Claridge and Shaun Teale he opts for the Hollywood option of Claridge. That the irrepressible nature of the striker leads to the club being invigorated and virtually reborn cannot be denied, but the money that was required to attract him from the professional game only serves to increase the need for outside investment. This is readily available thanks to the raised profile of the club but unfortunately Martyn Harrison wins the race to be the man to take the Terras to the next level.
One cannot help but wonder if Ridley had opted for the more conservative choice of Teale, already schooled in the mores of non league management, then the club would have progressed at a more manageable rate.
Yet in trying to “Live the Dream” with Claridge Ridley nearly pulls off an unbelievable championship win which would have given promotion to the Conference.
Instead its entrepreneur Harrison who with funds unavailable to the salaried Ridley ultimately takes the Terras up, at the price of mortgaging the future earnings from a ground move that never materialised.
Packed with fascinating financial details of a non league club at our level, ultimately the books serves as a reminder of the thin line between success and bankruptcy that we all know so well.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

SHOOT!


The summer of 2008 marked the passing of Shoot! Magazine, a title that was a weekly must buy for the pocket money of any football obsessed youth of the 1970s.
This was an ironic end as when it first appeared on the newsstands in 1969 it as the fresh faced rival to Goal, the weekly project of the long established Charles Buchan Football Monthly. By the late 70s, Goal had disappeared and Shoot! stood alone in the marketplace.
It was at this time that I started to get the magazine and it was a vital passport to the world of soccer at a time when you were lucky to see the highlights of more than four games at the weekend, and newspapers were printed in black and white.
Colour was Shoot's big advantage, whether in the form of the standard pen picture pose or in the action picture. The photography stands up to this day as you will doubtless agree if you dig out your old Christmas annuals from the attic.
The journalism on the other hand was strictly from the typewriter of Colin Cliché, with players always sick as a parrot or over the moon. This was most apparent in the ghosted exclusive columns of the stars of the day such as Kevin Keegan and Bryan Robson.
However that is a minor gripe as there were plenty of features to entertain, inform and educate the young fan, with the "You are the ref!" cartoon quiz of Paul Trevillion being the best example.
Each issue contained a couple of team pictures, and with players less mobile then, over a season you could build up your own library of mug shots for the entire football league. That was really the limit to the scope of the magazine, apart of course from coverage of the international fortunes of the home nations, and the odd feature from Scotland.
"Focus On" provided a weekly window into the mind of a top player with a comprehensive series of questions. Notts County player David McVay stereotyped the responses as "Steak Diana Ross" in the title of his 70s diaries but this at least provided players with scope for humour. For example: "Most Difficult Opponent" would often be "The Missus" whilst "Who would you most like to meet" might be "the person who dented my car". Still from memory there were an awful lot of players eating pizza and listening to George Benson in 1979!
One other essential feature for the statto that lurks in all of us was the Line Ups/Results pages which provided comprehensive details for the professional game in Britain. Looking back now with everything you need at a click of a mouse it is hard to remember how difficult it was to find this information outside of the Rothmans' Annual.
It was this feature though that proved to be Shoot's weak spot, as regular print strikes meant it was often several weeks out of date. When Match came along in 1980 with stats only a week behind, Shoot suddenly found itself playing catch up. At least it still had the league ladders to win your custom at the start of each season!
Throughout the 1980s competition slowly grew with more grown up publications such as 90 minutes and Four-Four-Two appearing, not to mention the fanzines, a phenomenon which Shoot responded to by including a tongue in cheek feature "Ray of the Rangers". It was ironic then that the magazine merged with Roy of The Rovers in the mid 90s, but even a change to a monthly issue could not stem the slide in circulation which ultimately led to its demise in the summer with sales at 33,000 well down for its 250,000 70s heyday.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

JB Priestley

As has been noted before in this column, football lacks something of a literary tradition, particularly when compared with cricket. This dearth grows the further back you look with the shining exception of the work of JB Priestley who came to prominence as an author during the inter war years.
Perhaps most famous for his play “An Inspector Calls”, Priestley was born in Bradford and first tasted success with the publication of his 1929 novel “The Good Companions” which contains within its opening pages a description of a football match in the fictional town of Bruddersford.
The passage that follows bears no relevance at all to the rest of the novel but almost eighty years later still represents a perfect exposition of the attraction of football and a ready made speech for any of us who feel the need to justify our love of the beautiful game to sneering acquaintances.
"To say that these men paid their shillings to watch twenty-two hirelings kick a ball is merely to say that a violin is wood and catgut, that Hamlet is so much paper and ink. For a shilling the Bruddersford United AFC offered you Conflict and Art; it turned you into a critic, happy in your judgement of fine points, ready in a second to estimate the worth of a well-judged pass, a run down the touch line, a lightning shot, a clearance kick by back or goalkeeper; it turned you into a partisan, holding your breath when the ball came sailing into your own goalmouth, ecstatic when your forwards raced away towards the opposite goal, elated, downcast, bitter, triumphant by turn at the fortunes of your side, watching a ball shape Iliads and Odysseys for you; and what is more, it turned you into a member of a new community, all brothers together for an hour and a half, for not only had you escaped from the clanking machinery of this lesser life, from work, wages, rent, doles, sick pay, insurance cards, nagging wives, ailing children, bad bosses, idle workmen, but you had escaped with most of your neighbours, with half the town, and there you were cheering together, thumping one another on the shoulders, swopping judgements like lords of the earth, having pushed your way through a turnstile into another and altogether more splendid kind of life, hurtling with Conflict and yet passionate and beautiful in its Art. Moreover it offered you more than a shilling's worth of material for talk during the rest of the week. A man who had missed the last home match of "t'United" had to enter social life on a tiptoe in Bruddersford."
Five years later, Priestley wrote a travelogue called "An English Journey". Cited as an inspiration for Orwell's "Road To Wigan Pier", on arriving in Nottingham, Priestley attended the local derby between Forest and County.
Writing in a similar vein to the Good Companions, Priestley paints a beautiful picture:
"Men who looked at one another with eyes shining with happiness when County scored a goal. There were other men who bit their lips because the Forest seemed in danger"
Yet appropriately enough in the context of the last money mad seven days, looking back at Priestley's writing shows just how little has changed:
"Nearly everything possible has been done to spoil this game: the heavy financial interests;... the absurd publicity given to every feature of it by the Press; ... but the fact remains that it is not yet spoilt, and it has gone out and conquered the world."

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Green Street

The post 1990 football publishing boom has led to an industry boasting branches into every perspective on the game and its subcultures.
One of the most profitable of these avenues is the hooligan memoir. Although with the subsequent decline in terrace violence you could be forgiven for thinking this is a passing phenomenon, the groaning shelf devoted to the genre in your local bookshop tells its own tale.
Beginning with virtual home made affairs from the likes of Jay Allan and Colin Ward, the major publishers soon jumped on the bandwagon and soon it seemed all the major clubs had at least one account devoted to tales from the terraces in the 70s and 80s. One of the most prolific authors is Dougie Brimson. Professing himself to be anti violence, Brimson has written thirteen books on the subject, earning himself the dubious title of "Yob Laureate".
Beyond the written word, Brimson was responsible for the screenplay for the film Green Street, a fictional tale of clashes between West Ham and Millwall fans.
The film title refers to the gang of West Ham fans who are the film's main focus, the Green Street Elite, which although reflective of a real East End location has no basis in fact.
This last sentiment can be applied to much of the film, a vehicle for Elijah Wood, fresh from defeating the forces of darkness in the Shire, to try and establish himself as a serious actor with normal feet.
The set up sees Wood expelled from his journalism course at Harvard, after being found with drugs planted by his roommate. Unwilling to face his father, he flees to England to stay with his sister and her West Ham supporting husband.
Anxious to live life on the edge, Wood readily accompanies his sister's brother in law to Upton Park to watch the Hammers play Birmingham (although the footage used in the film is of Gillingham), and soon becomes initiated in the world of the GSE.
There then follows a pretty predictable turn of events as we see the GSE cause havoc up and down the country, led by Pete who is keen to live up to the legendary reputation of his predecessor "The Major".
The main theme develops of Wood, the American outsider, edging aside Bovver from Pete's affections to the extent that Bovver crosses the water to offer Millwall fans the opportunity to avenge the death of their leader Tommy's son. Helped by an FA Cup tie between the two clubs the film reaches it's inevitably bloody climax as all involved descend into an orgy of violence with a heavy handed twist or two along the way.
Despite the evidence of a big budget (in Wood's fee if nothing else), to the British eye there are too many obvious errors to give the film the authenticity it would need to bolster a paper thin script.
For example although based in East London, many of the main locations such as the local pub are in West London. Presumably this would not matter to the foreign viewer; neither would they worry about the most obvious bloomer when Bovver goes to meet the Millwall fans. This is signified by him driving past a sign saying "Welcome to Millwall" despite this actual location being north of the river, well away from the Den.
Ultimately the film's final fight scene sums it up. With the director opting for balletic Peckinpahesque slow motion violence to a tear jerking orchestral soundtrack it becomes clear that what we are being presented with is more akin to pornography than social realism.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Cricketing Footballers

The return to our screens of the game show Superstars, in which sportsmen and women from differing backgrounds compete in a range of disciplines, brings to mind a different age when it was possible to play more than one sport at the highest level.Cricket and football provided the ideal opportunity to do this with until relatively recently there being little overlap between the seasons.

Supporters may recall that the likes of Dave Harrison, Steve Croxford and Andy Morley had a twelve month presence in the local sports pages thanks to their performances for local cricket teams, but did you know that up and until the 80s it was not uncommon for players to pursue a career playing professional football and cricket. There is even a select group of individuals who played for England at both sports.

Appropriately enough the double internationals number twelve. They are headed by the Edwardian superstar CB Fry (pictured right). Fry excelled in the summer game scoring over 30,000 runs for Sussex, and captained the England team. His record of eight consecutive centuries still stands. His football career was somewhat shorter but nevertheless in 1902 he led Southampton to the FA Cup Final and was selected for the England team. He also found time to equal the world long jump record, and following retirement sought a solution for world peace by trying to teach the Nazis how to play cricket! It’s hardly surprising that the Albanians asked him to become their King.

Fry was slightly outdone by one of his peers Tip Foster (Corinthians and Worcestershire) who is the only man to captain England at both football and cricket.

The other double internationals, a club to which I guess membership is now closed, were Andy Ducat (Surrey and Arsenal), John Arnold (Hampshire and Southampton), Leslie Gay (Somerset and Corinithians), Billy Gunn (Nottinghamshire and Notts County), Wally Hardinge (Kent and Sheffield United), Alfred Lyttleton (Middlesex and Old Etonians), Harry Makepeace (Lancashire and Everton), Jack Sharp (Lancashire and Everton), Willie Watson (Yorkshire and Sunderland, and Arthur Milton (Gloucestershire and Arsenal).

Milton was the last double international, and was a teammate of Denis Compton at Highbury. Compton, a member of the 1950 FA Cup winning side and the Kevin Pietersen of his day, was only denied double international status by World War Two which deemed his England football caps unofficial.

Following Milton, cricketing footballers tended to fall into the category of solid professionals rather than international stars. Notable names of the 60s and 70s included Jimmy Cumbes (Lancashire and Tranmere Rovers), Phil Neale (Worcestershire and Lincoln City), Chris Balderstone (Leicestershire and Carlisle United) and Ted Hemsley (Worcestershire and Sheffield United).

The odd superstar did mix his sports though, Geoff Hurst played the odd game for Essex, whilst Ian Botham gave rise to the perennial 80s quiz question “Name three England captains who have played for Scunthorpe” when he played a handful of games for the Iron. Viv Richards even played in the 1974 World Cup qualifiers for Antigua before he focused on becoming the best batsman in the world.In latter years cricketers have often trained with football clubs to maintain fitness in the close season, Graham Gooch and Steve Harmison being two famous examples.

The last word however falls to referee Martin Bodenham who has this season graduated as a first class umpire.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Birth of the Football Fanzine

When the football historians come to assess the latter decades of the twentieth century, the role of the fanzine will be judged to have played a significant part in the evolution of the administration and culture of the sport.
Their heyday was a brief one, lasting from the mid eighties to the end of the century, but their impact in inspiring a generation of football supporters to take a more active role and influence the game they love will surely be felt for many a year to come.This alternative press has led to a consideration of the supporters' viewpoint becoming compulsory with many clubs now giving a seat in the boardroom to a supporters' representative, and some clubs even being wholly run by supporters.
This locates the fanzine in a political setting, and the use of a do it yourself press to agitate for reform is a fine British one, dating back to the early nineteenth century when publications such as the Black Dwarf scurrilously challenged the established order. This tradition re-emerged in that great liberal decade, the 1960s, when the likes of Private Eye, IT and Oz finally began to demolish Victorian values with daring humour.
At this time football was run by autocrats such as Alan Hardaker, at a national level and club level, with players and spectators expected to shut up and be grateful. Jimmy Hill and the players' trade union the PFA took the first step in the players gaining their freedom, by successfully campaigning for the overturning of the maximum wage, but there was no equivalent for the supporters who found themselves expected to pay ever increasing admission in shoddy stadia. With the established press dominated at all levels by tabloid hackery, a gap existed to articulate an alternative supporters' eye view. In the mid 70s a publication called Foul tried to fill this gap but proved to be a lone voice perhaps because of its origins at Cambridge University, a world away from football's working class support base.
Instead it was left to the Punk revolution in the word of music to spark a publishing boom. This movement was spread by a plethora of home made fanzines such as Sniffin' Glue, and the ease with which these bedroom operations spurned a vibrant and entertaining alternative press led by the beginning of the 80s to the conclusion that many young men decided to produce a football version.
Usually club based, the likes of City Gent (Bradford City) and Talk of the Town End (Enfield) had spurned hundreds of imitators by the end of the decade.With the lot of the football supporter becoming an ever more arduous one thanks to grounds which were downright dangerous, not helped by the over zealous attentions of the police, many were inspired to put pen to paper, and with all the publications laced with a healthy dose of humour there was a hungry readership desperate for material more entertaining than the somnolent match programme.
Non club issues also came out such as Off the Ball, The Absolute Game (Scotland), Hit The Bar (North West - a personal favourite) and When Saturday Comes. The latter, originally produced by Juma who now print this programme, assumed a kind of leadership by devoting pages of each issue to a directory of all available fanzines.The movement was spurred on by evidently hitting a nerve as livid officials countrywide tried to stamp it out, the ultimate treatment being meted out to Wealdstone's The Elmslie Ender when it was banned from every ground in the non league pyramid for daring to complain about a last minute penalty!
Naturally Maidenhead United was not immune to this cultural explosion and over the course of this season this programme will look at each issue of the twenty that were produced, starting with Issue One of The Shagging Magpies.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Flair 1989 The Other World Of British Football










1989 was an amazing year for history, the end according to Francis Fukuyama with the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was of course a truly tragic one too due to the Hillsborough disaster an event which kicked off the transition from old to new football as embodied by the Premiership.
One item of ephemera which was lost in the change was the football song which makes this collection of 46, released in 1989, all the more special.
This was no greatest hits though instead its an attempt to capture the spirit of the post war period the records were recorded in. Thus the tracks are all selected for their unique value rather than chart success or the club that recorded them. It's a celebration of the musical maverick and individual which is reflected by the cavalcade of players who graced the cover.
Lovingly packaged in gatefold format with a complimentary fanzine the tracks are spread over two discs.
Disc one side one starts with Fisher Athletic's "Come on The Fish", a cry backed up an insistent chant of "dead right". This is followed by the Nolans urging us to come and watch Blackpool, due to one of the singing sisters being married to striker Dave Bamber at the time. Norwich City unshamedly demonstrate pride in their roots to celebrate promotion saying who'd have thought those country boys would ever have "something to shout about", whilst Plymouth Argyle admit with the backing of the Mount Charles Band that its a long way to Plymouth Argyle, something the clubs they were saying "Farewell 3rd Division" to would surely agree with.
The 1967 League Cup Final gave QPR star Mark Lazurus more than a winners medal as he was given the lead role in singing "QPR The Greatest" to celebrate their win along with a rather posh sounding bloke who obviously didn't hail from White City.
Hartlepool had nothing to sing about but you can't fault their honesty: "11 lads from the far up north, you notice we're still bottom of the fourth, we seldom win... we're not very flash and we haven't the cash".
One Sunderland fan goes all Eurovision to announce "Sunderland are back in the first division" whilst Wealdstone's "defenders" demonstrate a quality of production far better than non league as they revel in their 80s glory days on "We Are The Stones".
Side One closes with some spoken word courtesy of Arfon Griffiths, manager of a Wrexham team that was something of a force in Europe.
Flipping over to side two and we hit a seam of traditional football songs from Portsmouth (Pompey chimes), Charlton (Red, Red Robin), and Rangers (Follow, Follow). Gravesend & Northfleet supporters treat us to a rousing chorus of "Here Comes The Fleet", whilst West Bromwich Albion tell a great tale of their 1968 FA Cup win which really was "Albion's Day".
In similar vein singing about a similar time are Jimmy Hill's Sky Blues, whilst marketing is the aim of Crystal Palace's "Power to the Palace" as they request listeners to "bring a pal to the Palace today".
A folkish tinge is introduced from celtic cousins in Clyde and Newport County, the latter reminding us of County's erstwhile league status. Cover star Stan Bowles leads the Brentford effort with side two ending on a comic note thanks to Ipswich's Edward Ebeneezer and Sheffield United's Bobby Knutt.
Throughout the four sides the songs are bursting with an innocent joy which captures the way hearts and hopes were lifted by the league and Cup successes which led to these recordings. It is an even playing field as although the bigger clubs having slicker production values, the rhymes are always awful and the format of mentioning as many names and facts about the club remaining.
Side three begins with the MUFC Club song, not Manchester or even Maidenhead but Maidstone. They declare that "Maidstone has the cream, they're Kent's best football team", but what's that up next? "Here come the Cherries and they're heading for the top of the tree, Bournemouth are the team that's going to show Division Three".
Peterborough employ an innovative use of their nickname to declare "its Posh we are and Posh we feel, United we all stand". Burton Albion are the only club to have two tracks on this compilation and they begin with the seemingly neverending story of how they "Hit The Road To Wembley" although you have to admire the songwriter for making Northwich Victoria scan.
Stomping is the only way to describe the beat which backs "Scunthorpe United, they are the greatest".
Ron Harris leads his Chelsea team mates in a chorus of C-h-e-l sea which maintains a nice nautical theme throughout, with a clever departure to include a couplet linking Bonetti to McCreadie.
It falls to Orient to provide the highlight of the side with Fantastico, a lilting Mediterranean melody which skilfully avoids any stress in the writing by adding an O to the end of each line as they attempt to sing the team to Wembleyo.
Aston Villa remind us that "we've got Andy Gray he gets better every day" sadly something that cannot be said in his current post, although that's because his current squad isn't ruled by "Ron Saunders with an iron rod". Supermac features heavily in the Newcastle effort before the side ends with two awful efforts from individual Kilmarnock and Northampton supporters.
We quickly get back on track as Side Four begins with a rousing chorus of "We'll be with you" from Stoke City, a song sung for real on the Potteries terraces right up to their demolition.Leicester City tell us that they "are playing great in front of every gate" before Arsenal remind us of the time when the big Willie at the back was Young rather than Gallas.
In an EMI backed production Bradford City "know we're gonna win, we never give in". Rocky Johnny Austin gives us a hymn of praise to "the greatest number five" Roy McFarland whilst "The Old Brighton Rock" takes us back to the day when Albion almost won the FA Cup which proved that "the boys in the old Brighton blue, won't give up until the game is through".
After a pause to hear that in "the town of Kirkcaldy there is a football team, the proud side of Scotland, Raith Rovers is their name", we move to the album's tour de force Mansfield Magic. Employing commentary extracts, keyboards, brass, a guitar solo and a drum break, with a dutiful nod to Status Quo's Rocking All Over The World, this is a musical triumph, a fitting monument to their 1987 Freight Rover Trophy win.
The end is now in sight, and after a quick couple of Here We Gos, and two curios from Notts County and Kingstonian, we end with the Kop Choir.
I would find it impossible to sum up the appeal of football, all I can say is I always feel it when listening to Flair 1989.

Listen Up: Flair 1989 is no longer available but I will happily mail you MP3s of individual tracks.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Special K




The return of Kevin Keegan to Newcastle has predictably been greeted by a media feeding frenzy, and why not? I believe when the football historians come to writing the English story of this period, Special K will emerge as a pivotal figure linking old and new football. A prescient character who foreshadowed much of today’s planet football, whilst at the same time providing a reminder of times past.

For those of you born in the 80s onward, imagine a player who embodied the style icon qualities of Beckham, the sheer joyous exuberant talent of Rooney, and the wholesomeness of Owen. A man loved by millions who continually rewrote the rule book on the path a player’s career should take.For sure he was mocked by the more knowing pundits who took up Duncan McKenzie’s line that Keegan was the “Julie Andrews of football”, but this was to miss the point of the bepermed footballing Janus who on one side embodied the roots of the game with his earnest hardworking performances loved by supporters for playing for the badge whilst at the same time always looking after number one. Yes Kev was the archetype of New Labour when the old variety was in power, touching the heart strings of those yearning for a strong community whilst ensuring his market value was at a premium.
His rise to glory with Liverpool via Scunthorpe United is well documented, but it was at his highest point with the Reds, a man of the match performance in the 1977 European Cup Final that project Keegan kicked in, as he jumped ship and like the Beatles before him headed for Hamburg.
At a time when the England national team was at a real low (a twelve year period with no World Cup Final qualification), Keegan illustrated that this was in spite of his talent as he won consecutive European Player of the Year Awards with his German club, fitting in another European Cup Final appearance for good measure.He didn’t only rely on England appearances to keep his profile up in the motherland, as he was a regular on all kinds of TV programmes including a Green Cross Code spot. Perhaps the most notorious appearance was in the Brut advert where Little Kev shared one of the most homo erotic scenes this side of Brokeback mountain with heavyweight boxer Enery Cooper.


Next up was an appearance on Top of the Pops singing Head Over Heels, a top 30 hit. The cover showed Keegan’s main contribution to style, the shaggy perm.
All this while guiding England back to some sort of respectability whilst shocking the football world with a return to England at Southampton then dropping a division to take the mantle of messiah by guiding Newcastle back to the top flight as a player. This ended his career (leaving St James Park by helicopter at his final game) until he returned to management with the Magpies, but that was a mere postcript to his role in creating the commercial beast that is football today, with its nouveau riche celebrity footballers, who are often criticised for lacking Keeganesque commitment thanks to an upbringing in the brave new individualist world Keegan helped to create.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Escape To Victory


World War Two was to become a well spring which fed the film world a steady stream of inspiration. As the event itself faded further into history, so too did the cinema’s link to truth, with heroic tales such as the Great Escape and A Bridge Too Far giving way to star vehicles such as Where Eagles Dare in the 60s.
By the time the 80s arrived even fictional ideas were starting to run dry and so the screenwriters turned to football to create the film Escape to Victory.
Escape to Victory was in fact inspired by the 1961 Hungarian film "Half Time To Hell" which played fast and loose with the heroic true story of the Dynamo Kiev team which was forced to play the occupying Nazis.
Escape to Victory transferred the story to a German prison camp where a team of Allied prisoners is gathered to play the Nazis. One link with the original film is kept with the main action being filmed in the Stadion Hidegkuti Nador in Budapest.
Presided over by Oscar winning Director John Huston, the key attraction of the film was the presence of a galaxy of football stars to complement lead actors Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine and Max Von Sydow. Lending them authenticity were Pele, Bobby Moore, Ossie Ardiles, Kazi Deyna and the Ipswich Town squad. Before you start sniggering remember that under Bobby Robson Town were then one of the best teams in Europe and would end up winning the UEFA Cup in the year of the film's release.
Having agreed to play an exhibition match the Allied team are shocked to learn that instead they would be taking part in a Nazi propaganda rally in Paris against the finest German team of the era. Determined to scupper the Nazi plans the team aim to escape during the half time interval.
This means the team has to change to get the best escapees involved leading to the sickening moment when Town reserve keeper Kevin O'Callaghan has his arm broken to allow Stallone to join the team.
The match itself initially went to the plan as with the help of the referee the dastardly Huns took a 4-1 lead at the break. No matter the Allies were soon off down a very different kind of tunnel, but with escape in sight it fell to Russell Osman to utter the immortal line "Come on lads we can still win this" stopping his teammates in their tracks and after a surprisingly brief discussion heading back from whence they came to play the second half.

Inspired by Pele the Allies pull it back to 4-4 when Germany are awarded a last minute penalty. Needless to say the hitherto hapless Stallone pulls off a blinding save and releases the ball straight to the by now maimed Pele. With his bandaged arm switching between shots, Pele runs the length of the pitch to score only for a linesman's flag to rule out what would have been the greatest goal of all time.
Enraged, the watching Parisians begin to shout "Victoire", the stadium swiftly erupting with the chant with even Camp Commandant Von Sydow smiling and joining in. Soon some people are on the pitch despite the armed guards surrounding it and the spectators sweep the Allied footballers off to freedom without a hint of dissent from their captors. Isn't war great on the silver screen?

Watch it: Escape to Victory is often screened on TV, usually at Christmas. The DVD is still available from Amazon and your local video emporium.

Wear it: The Allies kit including Stallone’s goallkeeper jersey in available to buy from TOFFS www.toffs.com/icat/escapetovictory

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Football Programmes Post-war to Premiership


You can divide football supporters into two camps: those who buy a programme and those who don’t. For the former it is an essential souvenir of the game, a useful reminder in years to come of what happened, and an historical artefact. For the latter it’s just so much flotsam and jetsam, a item of floccinaucinihilipilificatiousness* whose presence adds nothing the central spectacle.
With a background in History I naturally fall into the programme buying wing and have shoeboxes full of evidence under my bed to prove it.
Bob Stanley of top 90s pop combo St Etienne is a fellow devotee, and in partnership with Paul Kelly has lovingly produced a compendium of programme covers from clubs at all levels in England and Wales.Almost all the programmes date from the period Stanley deems to be the golden age of the programme: 1945-1992.
Before 1945 programmes were little more than two sided sheets of printed paper with line ups and short comment from the home club. After 1992 and the advent of the Premiership, the Matchday Magazine came to the fore, glossy, in depth and thanks to modern printing techniques uniformly professional.
The period Post-war to Premiership was in Stanley's eyes an age of individualism and innovation, particularly in terms of the cover, something that I hope has come across in this programme's long running "Cover Story" series which ends today.In the book each league club from the period is allotted a page or two with a handful of copies on each in alphabetical order from Accrington Stanley to York City.
At the end in no mere postscript a smattering of non league clubs is given space (Altrincham to Yeovil Town). No room for the Magpies unfortunately, although Marlow, Slough and Wycombe make the cut, with the Chairboys cover featuring a picture of their old Loakes Park ground.
The only text is confined to the introduction. Guest Brian Glanville provides his usual fulsome commentary on his own programme favourites, whilst Stanley focuses on the, in his eyes artists, who created his favoured modernist masterpieces during the seventies.
Top of the tree in his opinion was the Midlands based Sportsgraphic agency run by John Elvin and Bernard Gallacher who produced design classics for Aston Villa, Coventry City and West Bromwich Albion.
Indeed the book cover itself (pictured above) is taken from the 1961-62 Aston Villa cover, the then uncovered Holte End steepling away at the top of the shot.The stadium provides just one option for the cover, other popular choices being a single or multiple photographic montage, a line drawing or sketch, the club badge or trophy up for grabs. The covers run the full gamut of typefaces and designs so be warned, if the cover of next season's Magpie looks a little outré or retro look no further than this book for the thinking behind the design!
Read on: Football Programmes: Post-war to Premiership is available from Amazon and all Booksellers of distinction.
Further education: educatedleftfoot.blogspot.com
* Pint of Guinness please Foz

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Frank Sidebottom


Many cities around the world can be associated with a particular band or musical movement. Liverpool suggests the Beatles, Detroit Motown and so on. You can't say the same for any villages with the possible exception of Timperley in Cheshire.Located on the outskirts of Altrincham, it is home to one man who is solely responsible for bringing to the world the Timperley sound.Based in a shed at the bottom of the garden which is home to his trusty Bontempi organ, Francis (he hates it when his mum calls him that) Sidebottom and his cardboard sidekick Little Frank (when he's not hanging out with Little Denise and Little Buzz Aldrin) have created a truly unique interpretation of the music of the popular era which often concerns the beautiful game.When he's not interpreting the likes of Queen and the Beatles Frank will often sing a football inspired ditty, and again is perhaps unique by focusing on non league football due to his devotion to Altrincham.Oh yes for Frank the Robins are most certainly not Bobbins and he is a regular at Moss Lane. His love for his local team was summed up in his seminal track "The Robbins Aren't Bobbins":

"On Saturday at five to three
There's only one place to be
Down at the Moss Lane football ground
The team come out, the crowd all roar
We come win lose or draw
The only team for me is Altrincham FC
Oh the Robins aren't Bobbins says me
The Alty!”



Over the years he has taken a role as mascot which meant when the Match of the Day cameras called on FA Cup day he was able to showcase his talents to a nationwide audience. This of course led to a song appropriately titled "Guess Who's Been On Match Of The Day". The answer to this question being “You have in your big shorts”.Of course it is in live performance that any musician proves his worth and Our Frank is no exception putting on shows that celebrate his career which now spans three decades.The aforementioned football based tracks are often segued into a "football medley" which are linked by some innovative football chants: "0-0",
"Wembley.. Its a big ground in London and they call it Wembley",
"One referee... two linesmen and four fantastic corner flags",
and "You're going home on a organised football coach".
All this to the scene of Sidebottom ripping off his trademark suit to reveal a full Altrincham kit.
Sidebottom has experienced a resurgence in popularity in the last year or so, with his work as an illustrator leading to an exhibition at Tate Britain. He continues to perform live at venues all over the country so make sure you catch him if you can.
You know you can, you really can.
Every way the wind blows.
I thank you.

Read on: http://www.franksworld.co.uk/ http://www.franksidebottom.co.uk/
Listen up: www.myspace.com/franksidebottom
The compilation Frank Sidebottom's ABC and D is available from Amazon and iTunes