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.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

European Nights

One of the few drawbacks of being a Maidenhead fan is that our away trips rarely see us travel outside of the South of England. The prospect of a game overseas barring a trip over the Severn bridge or to Canvey Island is non existent. Yet growing up during an age when English clubs ruled Europe gave me a sense that a midweek tie on the continent was the height of glamour and sophistication with even the home leg providing a taste of something different.

Up until this season watching European games has been an almost exclusively armchair pursuit for me but in the summer I decided I would spend my free Tuesday nights sampling the best live European fare the capital had to offer.
Perhaps because of blanket TV coverage European football seems to be of less interest than the Premiership a fact borne out by the cheaper prices for tickets.
Thus over the last few months I have seen Chelsea, Fulham and Arsenal take on some of Europe's top teams for what was in the case of the West London teams a cheaper price than visiting the QPR's championship boutique.
Of course the attraction of seeing foreign players in the flesh has somewhat lessened with their preponderance in the Premiership but the massed ranks of opposition fans doubtless boosted by ex pats based in London has ensured that the games are something of a spectacle.
This was certainly true of the Porto fans at Chelsea although the strong showing of the red and green Portuguese colours suggested this was more of a cause for national celebration for the strong West London contingent from the Iberian peninsula.
Nevertheless they gave tremendous support to their team with a long song to the tune of Bonnie Tyler's Heartbreak being the highlight. This proved to be in vain as the influence of Ancelotti was already showing with a 1-0 win to the Blues in classic Catenaccio style.
My seat in the middle tier of the iconic East Stand gave me a perfect view of the action and also allowed me to observe Chelsea fans old and new in the next row. The strains of Blue is the Colour and the Liquidator were received with much excitement by a 40 something couple who were clearly being transported by the music back to a youth spent in the Shed. Meanwhile a few seats along some nouveau soccer fans bemoaned Essien's completion rate. The stand itself althoughh cutting edge 30 years ago is beginning to show its age. Particularly when contrasted with the splendour of the Emirates (pictured), definitely the best modern ground I've been to and a perfect setting for the epicurean stylings of Wenger's footballing aesthetes.
Although Olympiakos and Alkmaar were well beaten their supporters impressed, the Greeks eager to prove their title as Europe's air punching champions whilst the Dutch offered a well rehearsed Ring of Fire sung as a round. It was surprising then that the only hail hail from the much vaunted Celtic support was the hail of bottles which greeted Eduardo's penalty winning genuflection.
Perhaps Europe will be the North London Mozarts' best chance of glory this season, Fulham however don't quite seem to have the quality in depth to sustain a Europa league run. Their clash with Roma did provide the best match atmosphere, the capacity Craven Cottage crowd ensuring the game remained at fever pitch throughout.
I sat in the Stevenage Road Haynes stand, reputedly the oldest in the world, nevertheless I seemed to have a better view of proceedings than the two goalline assistants who remained superfluous despite some controversial goal mouth incidents and will surely go the same way of kick ins when the competition ends. The match was thrilling to watch with goals, a dismissal, a penalty miss and a stoppage time equaliser to exemplify the great entertainment a European night has to offer.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Poles Apart

Poland is a country in thrall to the eighties in much the same way that Britain seems to venerate the 60s.
This is mainly due to it being a great era of hope and change, something that the casual visitor to Poland will pick as soon as he hears the 80s music streaming from every radio station.
However as I found out recently the love of the 80s also extends to football. Staying with relatives in the East of the country at Easter, I didn't need asking twice if I wanted to go along to a match on Saturday.
The game in question was LKS Lomza against Sandecja Nowy Sacz in League Two East, roughly equivalent to the English Football League One/Two.
To get me in the mood for the 80s we travelled the 25 km to Lomza in a tiny Fiat known as a Maluch, the Polish equivalent of the Skoda or Lada. We ditched the car on the outskirts of town, transferring to another vehicle as my companion for the afternoon Piotrek advised me that the sight of a number plate from a rival town might lead to vandalism.
Things got stranger when we arrived at the entrance to the ground which was simply a narrow pathway blocked by a phalanx of security guards. To gain entry we had to buy a ticket (pictured below) from a woman sitting a car. Entry was a very reasonable 15 zloty (about £3.50). The ticket was then torn apart by a steward whilst we were thoroughly searched. This caused a problem when Piotrek's water bottle was discovered and he was advised that they should really confiscate the cap in case we threw the bottle onto the pitch, fortunately the steward thought he could trust us so we were able to walk into ground.
If an English ground grader hadn't already broken into a cold sweat at this point, he certainly would have done once he'd walked down the narrow path to the ground.
Like most stadia on the continent it was based on an athletics track although this seems to have fallen into disuse. Neither end was in use. All the spectators were confined to an open seated terrace along one length of the pitch. There was a similar one opposite, which was empty, topped by a Lords style media centre.
The 80s theme was maintained by an eight foot fence in front of our accommodation complete with locked gates and fire extinguishers manned by yet more security guards who were augmented by a vehicle from each of the emergency services. It was clear that 80s style hooliganism was still a problem in Poland although there was no sight of it due to there being no away fans.
The game began with the away team adopting a bold 4-2-4 formation whilst the home team put ten men behind the ball. It soon became clear that this was rather a mismatch, literally men against boys, Lomza not having the necessary sponsor to pay players of the standard required unsurprisingly fell to a 6-0 defeat, not helped by having their smallest player in goal.
Throughout their 700 or so supporters urged them on with fanatical support, and an increasing number of flags and instruments which continued to arrive throughout the match. The songs were all English in origin with the words adapted to local needs. Their display reached a climax just after half time. With the fifth goal about to go in the fans gathered in the centre of the terrace to co-ordinate a fantastic red and white tableau.
This was all to no avail but everything seemed cordial enough at the finish with the Lomza players queuing up to shake the hands through the fence of their supporters who really had given them whole hearted support in a lost cause.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Planet Football

Stood in the rain at Braintree during a goalless and largely uninspiring first last week I did have one of those “what am I doing here moments”. This feeling was exacerbated by the fact that seven days previously I was watching another team in yellow beginning with B in rather more auspicious circumstances.
I’d taken advantage of London’s status as the capital of planet football to take a trip to Ashburton Grove to watch the International friendly between Brazil and Italy. Arsenal has been hosting Brazil ever since they moved to their plush new stadium over the railway from Highbury and the exalted setting of the Emirates certainly is worthy of the occasion.
Indeed in recent years London has begun to take advantage of its wonderfully rich mix of cultures and nationalities by regularly hosting international fixtures its neutral nature ensuring a good crowd of supporters from either side along with voyeurs like me.
With tickets cheaper than an Arsenal home game in the Premiership the opportunity to watch some of the best players in the world was too good to miss, and they certainly didn’t disappoint, both sides taking part with an attitude which suggested this was a friendly in name only.
This was reflected in the strength of the two teams with only injuries to stars such as Kaka preventing the best elevens taking the field. Reading through the pen pictures was like being given a roll call of the finest clubs in Europe, and Manchester City.
I sat back into my vast seat, (Arsenal seem to have taken on board the fact that the population is becoming more corpulent) and soaked up the fantastic atmosphere. Fans of both countries were unsegregated throughout the stadium and worked together to produce a carnival atmosphere in the run up to kick off. For once the scarves split between both teams seemed appropriate as they lined up for the national anthems, Italy strangely wearing white overcoats as though they wanted to acknowledge the stereotype of coming from a nation of ice cream salesmen.
Kick off saw both teams immediately revert to type, Italy fanning out in disciplined fashion carefully building from the back whilst on first reflection the Brazilians seemed to be going for the primary school model of all running around the ball. On further inspection, aside from two wide men it was clear that there was method in their madness, a circular pattern emerging which enabled virtuosos such as Ronaldinho to exhibit their silky samba soccer skills.
This tactic proved to be key to unlock the Italian back line, a defence splitting pass putting Elano through to clinically score past Buffon after thirteen minutes and put Brazil one goal to the good.
The key moment of the match came in the 26th minute. Pirlo the peerless Italian playmaker swung in a perfect cross from the right wing which his strikers did not make the best of. Brazil swiftly counterattacked and although Pirlo rang the length of the pitch to get back and defend he fluffed his clearance to enable Robinho to set off on a mazy run which ended with the perfect result to double Brazil’s lead.
The Italians came back into the game after half time but were left to vent their frustrations at the British contribution to the evening, the team of match officials led by Howard Webb who disallowed two Italian goals and ended up booking two of the Azzurri on a night that firmly belonged to Brazil.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Comforts of Madstad

Berkshire may be many things but its certainly not a hotbed of football. Consider the evidence: it's not even an independent FA being merged with Bucks, and Maidenhead is the second biggest club in the county by a long chalk. Yet Reading is trying their hardest to change this state of affairs.
It's not too long ago that Reading were a professional version of the Magpies. They hovered around the lower divisions, lived in a lovable but tatty old ground, and all their greatest feats were in the dim and distant past.
Perhaps like York Road is today, Elm Park was somewhere you could go along with your mates every so often to one of the handful of big games in a season. It was cheap, accessible and required no commitment. How things have changed!
Over the last twenty years they have transformed into a bona fide big club, not just satisfied with consolidating a place in Football League Championship but settling for nothing less than a Premiership place.
Central to this transformation was the move to that modern equivalent of a statue of a Victorian factory owner, the Madejski stadium, known locally as the Madstad.
This shiny new stadium has attracted the local populace in numbers that were pre war memories at Elm Park. The burgeoning bourgeoisie of Silicon Valley evidently preferring the meal deals and antiseptic concrete of the Madstad to the smell of tobacco and stewed onions that would envelop Elm Park on any given matchday.
I witnessed all this for myself a couple of weeks when with York Road like most of the rest of the South of England snowbound, Reading v Preston North End presented virtually the only tempting football option.
However it wasn't simply a case of pitching up to the South Bank at five to three with a couple of quid as was the case at Elm Park. Detailed research showed that although tickets were available they could only be bought by members which could only be obtained by prior application (funny I thought football supporters stopped all that members only business twenty years ago). Fortunately there was plenty of space in the away end for anyone with £26.50 (to be fair it was about £9 cheaper in advance).
Once inside I resisted the temptations of the meal deal (£6 for a pie and a pint) and admired the basic functionality of the Madstad with its clean and sufficient facilities, including seats which provided a clear view of the action.
In the run up to kick off the Preston fans instinctively arranged themselves with people wanting to sit and watch taking the forwards whilst the youngsters who wanted to jump around and sing heading for the back. After kick off this was not good enough for the stewards who pointlessly wasted time pleading with people to sit before bravely dragging out a non compliant young girl whilst ignoring her burlier male peers.
The football was not dissimilar to what you would see at Conference South level. Two well organised teams largely cancelling each other out, with a yawning creativity gap preventing goals. The under soil heating whilst making the game playable had combined with the rugby to make the surface unhelpful to the lonely talent of Stephen Hunt, and a stalemate ensued.
For the most part it was Reading who showed the wherewithal to break this but after about an hour they seemed to lose heart and it was Preston who almost snatched it near the end, only for pub footballer John Parkin to blast a chance over from close range. Despite this opportunity Preston opted to play for a point taking the ball to the corners as the minutes counted down, their joy at earning a draw shown when captain Sean St Ledger gleefully threw his shirt into the crowd at the final whistle.
The most stunning statistic of the day was that the game was watched by 19,500. At the end some of them shouted “Premiership you’re having a laugh” at each other. Definitely right in terms of the evidence on the pitch, probably wrong in terms of the evidence off it.

Sunday, 25 January 2009


Some aspects of British sport seem to have little point to them but at the same time their demise would lead to an outcry by those who don’t actually have any real interest in them.
A list would include events like the Boat Race and County Cricket, and perhaps the lower divisions of the Scottish League. Watched by similar numbers to English non league football and dwarfed in scale by the Scottish Junior system, the clubs are nevertheless regarded fondly by many who could scarcely find them on a map.
One team which spent most weeks going literally pointless at the start of the decade was East Stirling. With no relegation from the bottom division, the 'Shire bounced along in the basement, with little hope or expectation of even reaching second bottom, with Chairman Alan Mackin imposing a maximum wage of £10 per week.
Naturally things gradually got worse and in 2003/04 the Shire found international notoriety when they went 23 games without a win. With bookmakers refusing bets on Shire to lose, a record equalling 24th match without a win was avoided on the last day of the season when Elgin City were beaten in the full glare of publicity.
This infamy prompted sportswriter Jeff Connor to write a fly on the wall book about "a season with Britain's worst football team". The offer of £2,000 gained Connor access to all areas of the club for the 2004/05 and his reflections form a mildly diverting read.
The reader is deluged by the farcical events Connor encounters which seem more like Carry on Football. We meet a septuagenarian director who vetoes everything to spite his colleague, a Chief Executive who insists he is the manager, a manager who believes this is the first step of a great managerial career, supporters who insist on travelling to all games by public transport whatever the cost and a host of players hoping to get their lucky break.
Weight is given to the Manager Dennis Newall's ambitions at least as none other than Alex Ferguson started in the manager's chair at Firs Park. He soon left to bequeath on the Shire the curse of the lesser talented brother as his sibling started a trend for names such as Durie and Rae to be signed.
Unsurprisingly Connor is not the only person lured to Falkirk by a morbid fascination for a moribund football club and he recounts the arrival of a succession of lads' mags to poke fun at the unfortunate shire. The value of being good at being bad does pay dividends when Littlewoods lavish the club with sponsorship but this rather queers the plot when Dennis Newall wins the manager of the month award for November. Coming in the wake of three months when only two points were earned this was some achievement for the cigar smoking Newall who at least shared with his illustrious predecessor Ferguson a penchant for the hairdryer treatment. Unfortunately despite being wheeled out virtually every week it had little effect and well you can guess where the Shire finished the season.
Although the prose would have benefited from a clearer structure, it is worth a read to dig out the anecdotal gems which any non league fan would recognise. As a postscript East Stirling finally achieved their aim to finish second bottom last season at the sixth attempt. Sadly this proved to be the last at their Firs Park home with its infamous Land of Leather wall at one end, due to the pitch no longer being big enough to meet SFA requirements. However the move into a groundshare with Stenhousemuir seems to have worked wonders with the Shire sitting in fifth position.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The Big Match

The explosion of free to air TV channels sparked by the fantastic innovation “Freeview” has enabled the traditional broadcasters BBC and ITV to seriously expand their sports output.
Whilst the BBC sticks to using their additional channels to extend their coverage of events such as the Olympics, ITV has also used ITV4 to air some of their archive material.
In football terms this has largely come in the form of “The Big Match Revisited”, quite simply a repeat of an episode of the commercial broadcaster’s response to the BBC’s Match Of The Day.
However rather than pick a variety of episodes across the life of the show ITV has elected to stick with a particular season.
The reruns started about a year ago, going back fifteen years to the 1982-83 season. Some variety was offered by the fact that the different ITV regions broadcast different shows. At the time this gave ITV an advantage over the BBC who were stuck with three games nationwide whilst ITV would focus on a couple of local games with the added bonus of goals from other parts of the country. Additionally it also meant if you lived near the border of two regions you could catch two highlights programmes if the schedules were friendly, although to my eyes whatever the time of year it always seemed to be snowing in Southampton when my Dad tried to tune into the TVS version.
Maidenhead was home to London Weekend Television’s The Big Match hosted by the doyen of commentators Brian Moore (pictured top right with Jim Rosenthal). When I started watching TV in the 70s Match of the Day was out of bounds due to its late night scheduling (no bad thing as presenter Jimmy Hill was the stuff of childhood nightmares) whilst Moore would appear in the living room in the aftermath of Sunday’s roast dinner.
Coming across as a friendly Uncle, Moore was a product of the 50s, prone to hysterical outbursts such as “here come the madcaps” as the crowd invaded the pitch as was the style at the time.
Seen through today’s eyes the highlights shows are very tame, the extended highlights are quite dull compared to the delights we are served up today. Certainly football and I suppose the UK was a lot more pedestrian and much less exotic than today. The weekly episodes presented 1982-83 as the season Brighton got to Wembley,

and Fulham missed out on promotion to Division One when Derby fans invaded the pitch and got the game abandoned. Champions Liverpool barely featured so I guess they were mainly the province of MoTD that season.
The series started again at the turn of the year, this time going back to 1978-79, and already it seems to be rather more of a vintage year. The appetite was whetted by the classic Big Match theme full of brass, as opposed to the tinny electronica of 1983.

This had an unfortunate Pavlovian side effect of making me salivate for Roast Beef which was sadly not forthcoming from the kitchen. Instead I was served up a football feast: Manchester United 3 West Bromwich Albion 5, an astonishing game of football which saw West Brom’s Laurie Cunningham silence Old Trafford with a stunning performance.

Last week saw a big freeze with a studio debate about when games should be called off (plus ca change!), following Arsenal’s visit to Sheffield Wednesday which was most memorable for Pat Jennings being pelted with snowballs by the Hillsborough kop.

The series continues weekly on ITV4, with each episode shown on Thursday (twice) and Friday.