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 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


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."