About Me

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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Sunday, 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.