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.

Friday, 31 December 2010

Jingle all the way

Maidenhead kept up their fantastic recent record at Hayes Lane with an accomplished 2-0 win, the first reverse Bromley had had at home in the league this season.
This hastily arranged fixture clearly served its purpose by attracting a fair crowd at short notice who seemed as eager for football as the teams that had been denied action for a fortnight by the snow.  As always the crowd included a big number of floating voters which included a sizeable group of young Germans and local youth who couldn't decide if they were Millwall or Palace but were sure they lived in a place called Brommerley.  The latter group were obviously new to non league football as they declined to change ends at the start of the game until politely encouraged to do so by a steward.
The game itself neatly mirrored the corresponding game at York Road on non league day way back in September when an entertaining game ensued although short of chances, with the away team taking the points with two second half goals.
Both sides were happy to play home and away stereotypes with Bromley taking the game to Maidenhead who were a constant threat on the counter attack.  Both were denied by the woodwork in the first half but in the second half the best chances all fell to United, who took two early on to assume an unassailable lead.  The second goal from Ashley Nicholls was amongst the best I have seen on any stage this season a sublime chip from nothing.
This result means Maidenhead have taken seven points from their three visits to Kent so far this season, so roll on 2011 and trips to Welling and Dartford.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Decline and fall of Roman's Empire

Although the media focused on Arsenal's win as a landmark in beating one of the top two teams of recent years, in truth this game was all about the demise of Chelsea, the Gunners merely accepting the opportunities presented by woeful defending to comfortably take all three points.  The relief this win spread over the Emirates was tangible, in stark contrast to the tense beginning of the game and the desperate body language shown by all in blue at the final whistle.
Add in a dash of schadenfreude at the thought of what the group of Chelsea fans singing vile songs about Arsene Wenger on my tube ride up to Arsenal would be going through (ironically they got on at Russell Square, the seat of English education), and you had the makings of a perfect evening.
Not that this seemed to be in prospect at the kick off, with Arshavin dropped to the bench in favour of an initially ineffectual Walcott, his teammates only offering uncharacteristic hopeful long balls interspersed with one man cavalry charges forward in the opening stages.  In contrast, Chelsea, in front of a backdrop stating "play the Arsenal way", comfortably passed the ball across the defence and built steadily from the back. One such move drew Djourou out of position leading to a great chance for Drogba which went just wide.
As the half drew on, Arsenal remembered their pass, pass, pass mantra and at last looked the home team, scoring the goal of the game when Song, Wilshire and Fabregas combined in an intricate move on the edge of the penalty which eventually saw Song score and the hithero passive spectator to my right grabbing me in a huge bear hug.
This edge notched up the atmosphere which reached fever pitch in the first ten minutes of the second half when Fabregas and Walcott pounced on defensive errors to give Arsenal an unassailable lead although Ivanovic's instant response produced a few jitters, and Nasri, Chamakh and Diaby all spurned good chances to turn a win into humiliation.
All this left Ancelotti cutting a forlorn figure on the edge of the technical area, backed by a chant of "you're getting sacked in the morning".  However despite an ageing team fading from the title race, he's unlikely to follow Rainieri, Mourinho and Scolari into the Chelsea history books due to the need to avoid costly compensation payments adding to their outgoings as they attempt to meet the new Fair Play financial regulations in 2012.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Big Mal, Big Influence

Coverage of the death of Malcolm Allison inevitably focused on his flamboyant attitude to life which produced  many tabloid headlines, not least when he invited 70s soft porn star Fiona Richmond to join his Crystal Palace squad in the team bath.  
I first came across Allison in the late 70s when he returned to Manchester City for his ill fated second spell which was characterised by spending huge sums of money on relative unknowns.  This proved to be his swansong from top flight English football, but a subsequent spell in Portugal when he won the double with Sporting Lisbon revealed why he had been held in such great esteem.
Thus when ploughing through the reams of coverage produced in the wake of his demise, I enjoyed, but quickly passed over the salacious bits, and disappointed by the puritanical tone of Brian Glanville's obituary I settled down to watch an excellent interview, in which Allison talked through his career with the guidance of interviewer Garth Crooks for an episode of the Match of their Day series.

Having learned that the outrageous transfer fees raised at Maine Road were down to egotistical Chairman Peter Swales, rather than Allison I dug further and found a story of a man who should be hailed in English football history as being a model of enterprise and willingness to absorb and develop radical tactical methods.
Always something of an iconoclast, Allison allegedly failed his 11 plus so he could attend a school where football rather than rugby was the winter sport, but proved this was no educational failing when on national service in Austria.  
Known as the Wunderteam, Austria was one of the leading lights in the pre war football world but the 1938 Anschluss forced them to integrate with the German national team, and robbed them of the chance to shine at that year's World Cup with the team's star,  Matthias Sindelar, meeting an sinister untimely death the following year.  The footballing principles of coach Hugo Meisl lived on though and planted a seed in the young Allison's mind that initially caused problems at the start of his career at Charlton:

"We were all standing there after one of these sessions," he recalls, "and I said: 'Mr Trotter, the training's effing rubbish.' And all these players turned round: 'Who is this young upstart, like?' I said: 'All we do is run around the track, up and down the terracing and play 11-a-side. We don't do anything.'
"Next morning I had to go to see Jimmy Seed, the manager, and he said: 'Malcolm, you insulted Mr Trotter yesterday.' I said: 'No I didn't, I just told him the training was rubbish.' He said: 'You can't say that to Mr Trotter, and, anyway, I'm going to transfer you to West Ham United.' So I said: 'Can I shake your hand, Mr Seed? I want to thank you for teaching me the art of communication, because you've just spoken to me for the third time in seven years.'"


This move proved fortuitous as it meant he arrived at West Ham in the time to join the famous Academy of Football, where Allison could cogitate with his peers on the influence of the new force in European football, Hungary.  Sadly Allison's career was ended by tuberculosis, but after a short spell as a professional gambler he started his long coaching career enjoying early success at Bath City (whom he brought to York Road for an FA Cup tie played in front of 4,628). 
He got his lucky break when appointed as number two to Joe Mercer at Manchester City in the mid 60s and in one of those accidents of history the pair developed what is still a relatively unique method of running a football club in this country although common on the continent.  Mercer became what would now be known as a Director of Football, with his increasing years leading him to leave Allison in a head coach role with free rein over the dressing room and training pitch.  This led to a purple patch for City producing a list of honours which the current owners can still only dream of despite their financial munificence.
The end of the managerial partnership as often happens ended the run of success, but the argument for a greater emphasis on technical proficiency through preparation was given credence by Rodney Marsh, who though cited as the reason Allison lost his best chance to win the league on his own, revealed the stark difference between the depth and frequency of training at Maine Road compared to his previous clubs.
The rest of Allison's career accentuated the celebrity aspect, particularly during a famous cup run with Crystal Palace when he adopted his famous Fedora hat.  Sadly this seemed to obscure his radical footballing intellect, his wit saved for his critics such as his final successor at Manchester City:

"John Bond has blackened my name with his insinuations about the private lives of football managers. Both my wives are upset."
His later life saw only controversy catapult him back into the limelight, which was sad as his level of analysis would show many of those who lounge on modern day panels to be pale in comparison.  Hopefully his passing will see a reappraisal of his legacy  to show that its possible to develop home-grown forward thinking managerial talent.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Eddie Hapgood - Footballing Ambassador

Tuning in for the Apprentice final, I caught the inevitably over running overblown pomposity of the BBC's sports personality of the year programme.  This of course featured David Beckham's lifetime achievement award which prompted immediate connections with his forebears in terms of caps and captaincy.  How many steps could you go back?  Peter Shilton, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton probably, Billy Wright possibly, but how about Wright's predecessor Eddie Hapgood? A pleasing benefit of the Arsenalisation programme, which is seeking to imbue the Gunners' new home with a sense of history and tradition befitting the club, was the very much nostalgic tone of the annual members pack.  Included inside was a copy of Eddie Hapgood's autobiography "Footballing Ambassador". In this era of ill fated FIFA schmoozing by the likes of modern day ambassador Beckham, it was a joy to read this account of  a real ambassador who in the role of representing his country in the 1930s came face to face with the forces which sought to shape the world in the most appalling way.  
Hailed as the first football autobiography, the book is no literary classic and in essence is actually a memoir due to the lack of any real narrative.  However as it has been reproduced without revision since it was originally published in 1945 it gives a rare window on the era without any attempt to filter it through the kaleidoscope of historical perspective.
Hapgood's football career in itself is the stuff of boy's own fantasy from an early memory of being find 2/6 at the age of ten for breaking a window playing football to setting records for the most England caps won and most as captain.  He was born in Bristol, and earned a living driving a milk cart before opting to join Kettering in preference to local club Rovers on the basis that the latter would have forced him to forego his milk cart for one carrying coal to earn money in the close season.  Quickly snapped up by Arsenal, despite losing his £10 signing on fee to a gang of card sharks on the train up to London, he quickly settled in as a full back in the Gunners 1930s side which swept all before them.  This produces many tales of life at Highbury and the likes of former Maidenhead resident George Allison, and "The Old Boss" Herbert Chapman, but the focus of the book is quite rightly his time spent in an England shirt, most of it as captain alongside pioneering administrator Stanley Rous.
International football really began to take off in the 1930s, with the institution of the World Cup which was contested three times in the decade.  England declined to take part, leaving one to wonder how they measured up against the top teams of the day, although the succession of friendlies described by Hapgood gives us a few clues, particularly the clash against Italy in the midst of their successive World Cup wins, which became known as the battle of Highbury.
The venue proved to be appropriate as the England team contained seven Arsenal players (pictured left) in a contest so vicious that one report in the press was scribed by "our war correspondent". England won 3-2 but this seemed secondary to the violent conduct on the pitch which saw Hapgood depart with a broken nose early on.  With no substitutes, he was patched up and returned to action finding it "a bit hard to play like a gentleman when somebody closely resembling an enthusiastic member of the Mafia is wiping his studs down your legs or kicking you up in the air from behind".
England though responded in kind as Hapgood recalled: "Wilf Copping enjoyed himself that afternoon. For the first time in their lives the Italians were given a sample of real honest shoulder charging and Wilf's famous double footed tackle.".
In a return game in Italy England came face to face with fascism, Hapgood doing his best to rile leader Mussolini with an ill directed clearance which hit Il Duce.  Matters took a more controversial turn when England visited Berlin and were requested to "Heil Hitler".  As captain Hapgood told the FA that the players would not co-operate but was eventually forced to do so in the name of diplomacy.Other destinations produced more mundane complaints such as the amount of garlic in the food in "Skodaland", and some old fashioned tomfoolery when Ken Willingham accepted a dare to go into a Ladieswear shop and ask to see a set of what are described as "unmentionables".  However throughout the tales of European tours the overriding impression is of a pioneering team, playing an important role in international relations.
Back on home turf, Hapgood conceded the first ever penalty awarded at Wembley.  With the opponents being Scotland, the importance of this foul led to him receiving abusive letters.  With the onset of World War Two, Hapgood joined the RAF, describing his joy at discovering he would be serving with Bill Shankly.  Active service did lead to another brush with the law though when Hapgood went AWOL in order to play in a North London derby.
The end of the war brought with it the end of Hapgood's football career and thus the end of the tale of this teetotal vegetarian who led his country with distinction for the princely sum of £8 per game.  Unlike Beckham he therefore lived a modest life following his retirement having played a much more politically important one in his career due to the exigencies of the time.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Dover hangover

Great afternoon in Kent yesterday. I eschewed the modern rapidity of High Speed one preferring to take the leisurely stopping service to the coast, which allowed me to alight at Kearsney and take a pleasant walk to Crabble through the chocolate box village of River.  With the sun shining, the laidback rural idyll was complemented with the smell of a Camberwell carrot wafting out of one of the cottages on the banks of the River  Dour.
This proved to be a fitting metaphor for an entertaining game played at a lilting tempo which held the attention throughout.  Although all the goals came in a mad thirteen minute spell at the end, if they had been more evenly spread it would have only been a more accurate reflection of the game.
With Maidenhead missing the talents of Bobby Behzadi, Mark Nisbet and Will Hendry through suspension, this outcome was hardly what the travelling Magpies had expected with opponents Dover playing their first home game since beating Aldershot in Kent in the FA Cup.  Perhaps all the pre match talk of air travel to the next round, along with announcements about ticket sales went to the players heads and contributed to an FA Cup hangover as they scarcely looked like a team that had between two Football League teams in recent weeks.    Certainly the locals seemed to anticpate this with over 3,000 going missing in the fortnight since the Cup shock to produce a season's low crowd of 754. Still mustn't grumble as this entertaining game played out in front of Crabble's countryside backdrop raised the spirits and gave me hope that I will see the team in red deliver against opponents in Black & White for the third Saturday running next weekend.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Freezing Partizans

Very cold night at the Emirates on Wednesday which seemed to translate into an icy atmosphere and a stilted game.
That Arsenal needed something from the game was a bonus as at least there was an edge to proceedings, which after a dull first half, was accentuated by Partizan's equaliser.  This at least spurred Arsenal into giving it the gun and peppering the Belgrade box with balls until Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri were able to produce finishes of a decent enough quality to score and ensure qualification.
As usual on a European night the away fans provided visual entertainment.  Plenty of empty seats in their section which is testament I guess to Serbia's absence from the EU and subsequent lack of their citizens who live and work in London.  However those that did go gave us a good show with plenty of chanting accompanied by dance routines, and a few interesting banners.  At least they saw a goal and had hopes of their first point for a good portion of the second half.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Must end soon! Ashley clears out Hughton

When sportswear sale specialist Mike Ashley took over Newcastle, the word at York Road was that it was a shame that the reclusive millionaire from Burnham had picked the wrong Magpies.  His Goldbergesque ability to lose a fortune living the dream of running a Premier League football club means that his preference for the Geordie Magpies can now be seen as a lucky mistake, particularly following the baffling not to mention shoddy treatment of the man who restored at least some pride to the Toon, Chris Hughton.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Happy Feet

Samir and his happy feet
The nation must have spluttered over their porridge on Saturday morning when the press release ahead of that night's episode of Strictly Come Dancing revealed that Ann Widdecombe's favourite film was Happy Feet.  A headline catching choice for the hapless hoofer, but one that would fit the bill for Samir Nasri's display against Fulham in the afternoon.  The little man from Marseilles proved himself to be the personification of the footballers' holy grail of quick feet as he twice skipped through the Cottagers defence to win the game for the Gunners.
This was but part of the tale though in a London derby which Fulham could well have taken something more tangible from than the post match hopes of Mark Hughes that the fighting spirit his team showed could be taken into their next game.
I found myself with a manager's eye view of the game having picked up a last minute ticket following Maidenhead United's postponement which deposited me in the front row of the lower tier on the halfway line.  My joy at this stroke of luck was literally dampened when I discovered that my afternoon would be spent below the dripping roof but this was small beer compared to the opportunity of seeing the cut and thrust of the days action up close and personal.  This proved to be no distraction to most of my colleagues sitting on this row whose weekly familiarity with their surroundings has seemed to have led them to engage in an eating and drinking competition of a Saturday afternoon.
Andrey gets ready to pull the strings
The opening staged were dominated by Arsenal for whom Andrey Arshavin (on the receiving end of some good natured booing for his part in Russia World Cup winning bid) pulled all the strings to create half a dozen chances of which Nasri took just one to open the scoring.  Having survived the opening onslaught Fulham repeatedly executed a well worked routine where a through ball split the Arsenal defence and was collected by Diomansy Kamara.  This was more often than not flagged offside but the frailty of the back line was plain to see.  Thus it was no surprise that the equaliser was scored by Kamara although this was thanks to a stroke of good fortune as it came about following a collision between centrebacks Koscielny and Squillaci.
Five to Five and top of the league
After the break Arsenal pressed hard to retake the lead, but in its absence Arsene Wenger decided to throw caution to the wind and virtually abandon the midfield by bringing two more attacking players in the form of Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott.  This ultimately led to Nasri's winner but the end of the game saw Fulham do everything but score, as they took advantage of the gaping space between Arsenal's front and back line to pepper Fabianski's goal. With the result in the balance even the junk food scoffers around me began to take an interest and even contribute to a tense atmosphere, the final whistle providing relief coupled with elation as the news from Stamford Bridge led to the realisation that Arsenal would be top of the league going into their trip to Old Trafford in nine days time.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Too much show not enough business

The BBC's Football League show has come in for some harsh criticism recently in a polemic on its own 606 message board that went viral.
Although the article goes a bit over the top in its denouncing of the show there is an undercurrent of veracity in its tone that should be acted on with regard to the extra bits of dressing that surround the reason we all tune in - the highlights themselves.
Firstly its worth mentioning that the BBC's coverage of the Football League is streets ahead of what was offered on ITV year after year in its Football League Extra programme which tended to show the absolute minimum, basically just the goals with a heavy emphasis on the top division.  However the BBC seems to be trying too hard to differentiate the Football League show from the Match of the Day programme that precedes it. 
MOTD gets it just right with a simple formula of action, post match interviews and studio analysis, that the Football League Show would do well to copy.  Instead it sees it self as some sort of community programming by wasting airtime with viewers comments and the short fat bald goatee phenomenon which is Clem, a man who seems to alienate the manager of every club he visits.  Cut all this show and get down to the business of the football.  There is so much credit to be given by the BBC's commitment to its coverage of every single team to the extent that a blank weekend in the Championship makes no difference to the depth of coverage, it would be a shame if it were ditched due to the parts which were wholly disposable.

Bale Out

Bale mania reached ridiculous heights this week when ITV commentator Peter Drury exclaimed "at last he shows some humanity" after the Welsh winger missed a penalty against Werder Bremen.
Already we've had Richard Keys applying the "better than Bale" test to any player deemed worthy of praise by his co presenters, now Drury seems to be saying he thinks he's either an alien or an unfeeling tyrant!
All disregard the fact that Ryan Giggs might have something to say about Bale being the best left winger in his country let alone the rest of the world.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Choules Rules

One of the minor what ifs of recent Magpie history came during the short reign of Carl Taylor at York Road in 2005.  The former assistant to Alan Devonshire returned as manager with Tony Choules coming in as assistant having previously achieved amazing success at the helm of Northwood.  The season ended in relegation leaving many to ponder what would have happened if the pair had stayed in the roles that had brought them success.
After leaving Maidenhead Choules ended up at Uxbridge where he has been ever since.
This season has been disappointing for the team from Honeycroft but they ensured the dismal weather would impact most on the mood of those favouring black and white stripes on Saturday.  Despite being two divisions below United they thoroughly humbled them, racing into a two goal lead, then after Maidenhead had clawed their way back into the game to level the score, the Reds pulled away again with two more goals, much to the delight of the bench. Maidenhead meanwhile were left pleading to the referee for set pieces such was their inability to fashion the goals their status suggested they merited.
At the other end events were reminiscent of an almost embarrassing trip to Swindon Supermarine in the same competition a few years back when young keeper Nick Hart almost threw the game away only for the Magpies to pull back a 3-1 deficit with only ten minutes on the clock.  This time there was to be no second chance for Dexter Burt.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Our Wayne

Looks like Wayne Rooney might return to action this weekend if only on the bench.  The media is alive with speculation as to what sort of reaction he will get from the crowd.  During the week long drama of his threat to leave and subsequent agreement to an improved contact many United fans expressed a feeling of betrayal that "Our Wayne" might be leaving perhaps for their biggest rivals.  Regardless of the irony that the same sentiments still emanate from Goodison Park about the fact that Rooney only became a United player because he was willing to leave his hometown club for a shed load cash and the prospect of honours its time football fans woke up to the reality that football is a career and therefore footballers will behave in exactly the same way we do at work.  Yes we may enjoy our job but we will always be looking for a better deal/promotion elsewhere.  So time to stop getting sucked in by badge kissing, "dream to play for this club" type statements and instead pass judgement on a players value by how they perform on the pitch, nothing more, nothing less.

Gulls Pipe Down

I'm not an opponent of music at football grounds per se, but for me once the whistle blows for kick off the action  should speak for itself.  If there is a resulting lack of atmosphere then that's down to either what's on offer on the pitch and/or apathy off it.
As the man in charge of the PA at York Road I'm happy to pledge that I will play celebratory goal music over my dead microphone, and I'm no Nick Clegg.
In future I just want to hear Chelsea Dagger by The Fratellis played at the Darts.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Maidenhead back in business

Good to be back at York Road yesterday after an unwanted three week break due to various cup clashes.  Maidenhead followed up their win at Dorchester with a committed hardworking performance to earn a point against a well organised Ebbsfleet outfit.  As with the first day of the season the Kent team looked favourites to win but lacked a quality striker to score more than once.  Attack aside they look quite calm and composed and will certainly give Wimbledon a good game on Thursday night.  For my money Bruce Wilson's equaliser was the best Maidenhead goal I have seen this season whilst Ashley Carew's deft free kick showed how much Ebbsfleet must have missed him at set pieces following his early dismissal at Wimbledon the previous Saturday.  Great to see Will Hendry back in Maidenhead colours, adding much needed creativity in the forward midfield role.  The referee played a key role yesterday, supervising some pre match repairs to a small section of the York Road pitch, then appearing poised to give a penalty for a challenge on Alex Wall before changing his mind.
Depending on their cup fortunes Ebbsfleet look a good outside bet to return to the Premier at the first time of asking, whilst Maidenhead look set to climb back to midtable safety once they catch up with their games in hand.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Blinded By The Light

Much discontent in N5 today as a disciplined Newcastle team conducted a smash and grab raid from the Arsenal.
Always seemed like it was going to be one of those days from the moment I sat down on the tube next to a couple of men, one of whom was taking the other to the game although he confessed to his friend that he didn't really like football and would be giving up his season ticket at the end of the season. This was compounded when I took my seat in the stadium next to a woman who put her head in her hands for the entire game, moaning from the first whistle about the quality of the Gunners' performance. This was in stark contrast to the atmosphere in Shepherds Bush pub The Green the previous evening when I found myself surrounded by a group of Swedish and Norwegian QPR fans sporting beatific smiles fuelled by alcohol and a win which maintained the Rs top spot.
Although Newcastle's accomplishment is to be admired, their win came at the expense of killing the game as an entertainment spectacle. The attritional nature of their play with concomitant timewasting tactics was justifiable in the context of Arsenal's league position but scarcely helps the Premiership's lofty claims for excitement.
The Magpies' win came as a result of their only chance of note at the end of a first half which hitherto had only seen the Gunners look like scoring.
A free kick was launched high into the box and was headed in by Andy Carroll whose run was not only unchecked by the Arsenal defenders but also met by the inferior physical presence of goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski who also had sun to deal with.
After the break Arsenal briefly threatened to equalise before Newcastle's strategy of compacting their defensive unit to allow the Gunners width safe in the knowledge that they could deal with the inevitably aerial crosses that resulted, led to a clean sheet for the Toon and more fully deserved acclaim for manager Chris Hughton.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Last Song Bursts the Bubble

Typically tight London derby at Arsenal yesterday.  Russell Green was superb in almost securing a point for the Hammers with a string of saves.  A well organised defence supported by a great performance in midfield by Scott Parker who even when knocked senseless by the ball managed to stagger to his feet to continue to try and frustrate the Guners. Sadly the prospect of a point began to lead to time wasting tactics with players substituted from the wrong side of the pitch taking a slow walk to the bench although of course this changed of Alex Song's deserved winner with the final West Ham sub sprinting off!  The Premier League's very own Stan Ogden, Avram Grant, was great comedy value on the sidelines gesticulating at every decision and almost getting hit by a misdirected pass.  Unfortunately my seat was in the middle of a load of Emirates daytrippers, three Frenchmen to my left and a family four to my right, all their to witness the experience rather than contribute to it.  Sadly their presence only reinforced the away fans "library" taunts.  At least the bloke behind me tried to inject some passion to proceedings, clearly enjoying bringing his son to the game, he seemed keen to impress that he was on good terms with the players (Chammers?) but I could only cringe when he started to explain why he was calling the West Ham fans inbred.  Also walked past a miserable looking Hardeep Singh Kohli on the way into the ground, wearing one of his trademark brightly coloured (pink) turbans, hope the result cheered him up!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Oh my devotchkas

I've often perused that, perish the thought, Maidenhead United are relegated back to the Southern League, I would play the theme to "A Clockwork Orange" before the teams ran out, such would be the barbarous English fayre that would be witnessed on the pitch following kick off.
My prejudice was confirmed by what I saw at the Southern League Cup tie at Hayes on Tuesday night.  The football to be fair was entertaining considering the status of the teams, but the aggressive confrontational manner of the Hayes droogs towards the match referee Steve Rea left a nasty taste in the mouth.
Hayes are the senior team of Brook House, who opted to change the name of the first XI to capitalise on the merger of Hayes and Yeading.  The ground is in the appropriately pleasant sounding Kingsfield Avenue, in the part of West London that seems to sprawl on forever without any defined focal point.
The floodlights make it easy to see the ground but difficult to find, the turnstile being down a footpath from club house.  Entry was £8 (as the bloke behind me said: "I didn't want a season ticket"), which although standard for this level is overpriced (cf £6 at Cinderford) but the programme was just a £1.  The pitch looked OK but what surrounded it was poor for this level.  There was one step of covered standing at one end, a tiny covered terrace on one side opposite a small stand, which was alongside a covered toilet block (looked like it had been plonked on another tiny terrace).  The changing rooms were portakabins which were so close to the touch line the players virtually stepped right onto the pitch.
The absence of a PA meant I had to rely on the shouts from the pitch to identify the players but with their scarcely being more people off it (officially 31) than on it this wasn't a problem.
Vistors Bedfont Town lay comfortably in midtable in contrast to bottom markers Hayes, and with Bedfont adopting a positive approach from the kick off the early exchanges went to form.  Town soon took the lead from the penalty spot converted by Leon Jarnie following a goalmouth scramble which a few players end up in a heap.
Hayes quickly equalised when a thumping free kick by man of the match Dominic Rhone was only parried by the keeper and Burton was first to the loose ball to score.
Despite this rapid response it soon became clear why Hayes were bottom of the table as they regularly reacted to the referee's decision with complete indiscipline punctuating the night air with a Sittonesque volley of effs and jeffs.
Sadly although Bedfont were playing the better football Hayes' direct approach proved to be much more profitable in the first half on a slippery surface, compounded by a jittery Bedfont goalkeeper.  Another free kick long into the box led to a Hayes penalty which was scored by Rhone to complete the comeback before half time.
After the break substitutions led to Bedfont taking control of the game with their man of the match Gavin Hart scoring the best goal of the game to equalise.  As the game drew to a close a deserved red card was at last brandished at Phil Merritt, but the dismissal seemed to inspire Hayes and they almost won the game in normal time with only the woodwork saving Bedfont.
Hayes then went onto win in extra time, Rhone capping a good night by scoring the winner.

Magpies lost in the forest

As the seasons go by and your footballing wisdom matures, the contrasting emotions experienced by victories and defeat tend to dim as a "seen it all before" mindset takes hold.  Yet for all sagacity of experience there comes a time when you are transported back to impetuous youth and hang your hat on the fortunes of your football team.  The FA Cup always has this effect on me as the dream of seeing Maidenhead United have a taste of the glory so often tasted by so many of our non league becomes all consuming as the first round proper gets tantalisingly closer.
For the fifth time in my life Maidenhead had an opportunity to make it into the big time.  Two of those previous attempts had been successful and although Saturday's opposition had home advantage and a higher status I travelled to Gloucestershire full of confidence.
I was joined on my journey by a train full of Harlequins fans en route to their game at Gloucester, some of whose supporters also board en route to reinforce my confidence of a United triumph in this rugby hotbed.  Alighting at Stroud, a culture clash was provided by Cameron's country set sharing the cobbles with ageing busking hippies  singing Woody Guthrie songs.  The Cotswolds as theme park image continued as I made the bus journey to Nailsworth through Tolkienesque countryside, then up the hill to the New Lawns.
The stadium is a surprising sight.  A modern, sleek construction, ideal for the needs of Forest Green Rovers, its overlooked by a hill presenting the benign gaze of a flock of sheep, with an amazing view north of the wayback to Stroud.  A pint of Marston's EPA was shared by a gathering group of United fans and who for once hugely outnumbered the home fans in the Green Man pub which is part of the stadium complex.  Forest Green's Alliance Premier status meant the travelling Magpies were ushered into an all seater stand behind one goal for the game.  A fine stand containing all the social and administrative facilities ran the length of the pitch, with the Forest Green faithful standing behind the other goal under a covered terrace. The other side was open terracing but housing the cameraman whose view would have avoided the only ugly aspect of the ground.
Hopes were high as the players emerged from the dressing room complex in the far corner but what ensued was a desperate game of football which reflected Forest Green's dire start to the season and Maidenhead's inability to create goal scoring opportunities.  The game was appropriately decided by a controversial penalty in a non threatening position in stoppage time ahead of the break.
Following the restart Maidenhead at least stopped punishing lone striker Alex Wall, who had been forced to chase countless lost causes flying over his head in the first half, and gave it the kitchen sink treatment.  For their part Rovers were so grateful for something to hang onto that they frequently packed their penalty area with all eleven men to stop an equaliser.  
With United cheered on by magnificent support they huffed and puffed but could not find a way through the Rovers defence, buoyed by the Darby and Joan singalong in the main stand.  The referee provided ample stoppage time but even the presence of goalkeeper Steve Williams in the opposing penalty area could not create the chance for an equaliser, so it was that the home team made it through to host Northampton Town in the next round.  Maidenhead United were left to the bitter disappointment of defeat with no chance of redemption for twelve months, one that left me glad that I would have three weeks to the next game to get over it.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

More Soviet than Samba

Disappointing night at the Emirates yesterday where much fancied Shaktar Donetsk flattered to deceive.  The Ukrainian club with its origins in the mining industry have pretensions to join the European elite, with a new stadium set to host the Euro 2012 final and a host of Brazilian imports.  Following their UEFA Cup win in 2009, they seem to have eclipsed their main rivals Dynamo Kiev, and with an impressive run of form behind them this game was touted as one to decide the group.
Unfortunately Donetsk's performance owed more to the inefficiencies of the old Soviet regime that used to govern the Ukraine than the silky soccer samba skills of most of their players.  They started with a clear plan to frustrate Arsenal with the outcome of playing football in and around their penalty area then knocking long balls into the right and left channels in an attempt to exploit the space behind the Gunners' full backs who had been sucked into the attack.  This was in contrast to their performance at Craven Cottage earlier in the year when they played Fulham off the park at times.
This may have worked as Arsenal found it hard to create an opening until the Donetsk goalkeeper dropped the ball on the line at the feet of Alex Song.  This forced Donetsk on the attack, and Arsenal took advantage to double their lead through Sami Nasri before half time.  In the second half the game was soon all over following a mysterious penalty converted by Cesc Fabregas, a virtuoso goal from the young player of the season so far Jack Wilshere, and a fifth from an offside looking Marouane Chamakh.  Only then did the Ukrainian side show glimpses of their flair, the end product being a fine goal from ex Gunner Eduardo.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Kentish Man

The travelling supporters from Welling would have had a good day out at York Road yesterday, watching their team sweep Maidenhead aside with a second half performance which could have easily resulted in double the the three goals they finally settled for.  They would have delighted in the free flowing attacking play from the likes of Andrew Pugh and Loick Pires which shredded the Maidenhead defence time after time.  They would have also felt rewarded for travelling in numbers and making themselves heard with some interesting choices from the Park View Road song book. I noticed many wearing something related to cricket, always a good sign in my book, and perhaps an indicator of the erudition included in their barracking from behind the goal.
This was in contrast to one individual standing on the side who seemed to be a stranger to irony by relentlessly upbraiding the referee for not protecting the Welling players more, whilst responding to similar complaints to the man in black from the Maidenhead bench, by shouting at them to "get on with it, its a man's game"!

Celebrity Squares

One of the disappointing trade offs of having so many cameras at football matches these days is that the director seems to instruct one to focus on picking out faces in the crowd.
I can understand the simplistic function of showing a supporter crying when their team have lost or showing a manager in thrall to anger or sadness depending on whose net the ball has ended up in, it reflects the patronising commentary which treats viewers as idiots, but at least its connected to the action.
What I can't stand is the way that if any celebrity of note happens to be spending their free time watching their football club, its deemed to be a highlight of the day.  Thus yesterday I saw Stephen Fry on TV three times watching Norwich at QPR. Yes he is a national treasure whose intelligent wit is a boon to TV of all kinds, not to mention his literary skill or cinematic flair, but it does not enrich my consumption of Football League action to know he is watching at Loftus Road proudly wearing his Canary colours.  Norfolk's only league club is doubly damned in this respect as of course Delia Smith's presence in the Directors' box at Carrow Road is an easy win for the camera, but rather like seeing Frank Skinner watching his beloved West Brom or the Gallagher brothers at Eastlands, this fascination with who is watching diminishes the primacy of the game in a way I'm sure would appal those caught on camera.
By inextricably linking clubs with a celebrity, TV reduces the importance of what is happening on the pitch to a mere sideshow, and I dread the day cameras arrive at York Road only to spend the afternoon focusing on the presence of Timmy Mallett watching the action from the shelf.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Having a ball with Cinders

The lure of the FA Cup may lend itself too readily to cliches usually invoking the "magic" of the competition but anyone looking for any evidence that it is waning would have been disappointed at Cinderford yesterday.
Maidenhead travelled with fifty supporters to the game, five times as many as made the more straightforward trip to Chelmsford the previous weekend.  With many taking the train it was clear that this was a great excuse for a day out, with the excitement fuelled by the take out on the train and with excited predictions in the The Famous Pint Pot in Gloucester.
Cinderford is perhaps the most remote ground I have been to, burrowed away in the Forest of Dean which unfortunately yesterday was shrouded in murky drizzle.  My party opted for a taxi and I'll take this opportunity to warn  off anyone from using five star cabs in Gloucester unless they like lateness and odd charges.
The town came across as a northern pit village, not surprising given the existence of an old mine in the area, the drab stone reflecting the weather.With the taxi driver unwilling to go any further than the high street a walk up the hill through a housing estate took us to the ground nestled away on the hillside.  With kick off fast approaching there was a long queue at the only turnstile.  Once inside the ground presented itself as something of a curio.  Three sides were undeveloped, although one goal offered a raised view courtesy of a grass bank, whilst the fourth side had three different structures.
Using the hill, the first was a raised terrace, in the middle was a stand and the last was a subterranean terrace resembling a dugout..  Views from all of which were blighted by posts but the cold wet weather hardly made the open air an enticing option.
Maidenhead fans of anything more than a recent vintage harbour a great dread of the FA Cup such is the manifold nature of disappointment which has come far too often, but once Alex Wall had put the Magpies into the lead they did not look back.  Wall's second was a timely goal just after half time which nipped any potential Cinderford comeback in the bud, goals from Ashley Smith and Kieron Knight in the dying minutes gave the scoreline a slightly lopsided look.
Returning to the social club afterwards we found the tiny bar closed, but as the bouncy castle had been deflated in the main function room there was plenty of space for a drink.
Once a taxi was located it was back to Gloucester and a swift pint in the Station Inn shared with a Czech gypsy wedding party before boarding a train back to the South East.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Another Grey day at the Gulag

Another trip to Chelmsford, another drab game.  The Clarets Melbourne Park home has been dubbed "The Gulag" by the locals and its one of those grounds where even a 5-5 draw might not be much fun.  This is mainly due to the athletics track which means even the sizeable crowds attracted to the ground do not feel as big as they would at York Road.  The Ro Ro campaign for a roof over the terraces behind each goal seems to be bearing financial fruit, certainly the Chelmsford fans deserve the chance to stay dry whilst getting as close as they can to the action.
Yesterday the biting wind of previous seasons was replaced by grey drizzle, with the climatic conditions conspiring with an over fussy referee to spoil the game despite the best efforts of both teams.
Chelmsford look as solid as ever, perhaps their attacking players had an off day for if they were on form then there seems little to stop them building a promotion campaign at fortress Melbourne Park where City have won every game thus far this season without conceding a goal.
Yesterday's win came courtesy of a goal at the end of either half, the first seeing Stephen Reed's shot squeezing under Steve Williams' dive whilst the second came in the 95th minute when Ricky Modeste and Takumi Ake took advantage of the Maidenhead team fully committing themselves to scoring an equaliser at the other end.
In between both players lost a man to a red card, the second being Chelmsford's Sami El-Abd who pulled down Sam Collins as he burst clear.  As I left the ground I heard a Chelmsford fan say that the ends of a win justified the means of a professional foul which is difficult to argue with.
Highlight of the day was the excellent programme which with 100 full colour pages stands fair comparison with those I have bought from Premiership clubs in the last twelve months (Arsenal, Chelsea, Fulham, Spurs).  One wonders at the time taken to produce it, let alone the cost, but unlike many other clubs at this level its well worth the purchase price and a credit to its editors.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Finchley not for turning

Wingate & Finchley deservedly edged a tight Isthmian League Division one contest at Summers Lane when Leon Smith headed in a winner in injury time.
This was my first visit to the Harry Abrahams stadium and I think I can safely say its the neatest non league ground I have ever been to. Entry was a little steep for this level at £8, although I guess that's standard for this division, and a professionally produced programme set me back a fair £1.50.  
The verdant pitch, despite its slope was unsurprisingly judged to be one of the top two in the whole of the league last season, and to their credit the home team were keen to use it, regularly exhibiting some neat passing moves.
The ground is dominated by a 500 seater stand (mainly benches) which is double sided so it can be shared with the back to back rugby pitch.  This means it is set well back from the action with a hedge & palm trees unfortunately obscuring the view of the near corners if the pitch corners.
The terraces are likewise well constructed with two sections of cover although there is barely room for more than one person to pass in most of the surround.  Not that this is a problem as I counted just 70 people watching when the game kicked off.
Wingate & Finchley bear their Jewish origins with pride as shown by a cursory glance at the badge and the impressive clock in laid with the Star of David.  This is quite appropriate as the Wingate name is taken from the General who created the Israeli army. The club was formed by ex soldiers post World War 2 to battle anti semitism on the field of play. In historic terms Wingate were very much the junior partner compared to the Finchley club which dates back to 1874, however these days it seems the second part of the name merely reflects the club's location.
The PA played Magic FM which topped off the sleepy suburban feel of the area, backed by the hum of the north circular in the background, and the sweet briar smell of a pipe smoking spectator.  Even the name Wingate & Finchley sounds like a Building Society.
Their opponents Redbridge are of course descendants of Ford United, with the club's fall from being founder members of the Conference South to bottom markers of the Isthmian league acting as an apt metaphor for the fortunes of the Ford Motor Company.
Following a slightly delayed kick off Wingate & Finchley took the early initiative with some great football, Leon Smith hitting the post early on, with Marc Weatherstone proving himself to be a well spring of inspiration at right back.
In reponse Redbridge opted for the direct route, trying to hit target man Anton Agdomar at every opportunity.  Thus the first half fell victim to the English disease of high tempo, Redbridge's superior strength and fitness enabling them to get a foothold in the game.
The game was goalless at the break with all the action taking place in the second half.
Wingate & Finchley took the lead through a clever back header from Smith following a corner.
The man in the middle Steven Rea gave a good display exhibiting clear commands and signals, using assistants well to work as a team.  This was exemplified when a nasty incident midway through the half saw him give due consideration before dismissing a man from either side.
Unsurprisingly the game developed into a niggly affair and when Smith missed a gilt edged chance to seal the points when through on goal, Redbridge equalised with the goal of the game.  A swift counter attack seeing Perry Christian deliver a perfect cross for Alex Read to convert at the far post.
This fightback came in vain though when Smith took advantage of a goalkeeper error to restore Wingate & Finchley's lead deep into stoppage time.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

A Result That Matters

Maidenhead ended a run of three FA Cup defeats against lower division opposition when they beat Truro in a match that was instantly forgettable.
Truro seem every inch as ambitious to continue their march up the non league pyramid as they were when they visited York Road at the same stage of the competition twelve months ago, with their squad having an equally good provenance.  Most of the players have well established reputations at a higher level, none more so than their new signing Barry Hayles.  However the Magpies are a year older and wiser and so were able to stifle the Cornishmen and prevent a repeat of the 5-2 thrashing of last season. Unfortunately the three officials had a poor game leaving the abiding memory for all concerned the number of cautions and controversial decisions.  Truro will probably claim a foul for the Maidenhead goal, but from where I was standing the keeper did not have control of the ball.
A fair number made the long trip to Maidenhead and I hope they can manage to win promotion so we can travel to the South West next season, a third consecutive meeting in the FA Cup notwithstanding.
Also at York Road yesterday was well know chronicler of Sussex football (and dugouts nationwide!) David Bauckham, taking pictures for a new book on non league football.  A publication well worth looking out for.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Samir Nasri and the Sunshine Band

Two Samir Nasri extra time penalties sent Arsenal fans into rapturous song at White Hart Lane, reviving KC's 80 classic hit to an increasing number of empty seats as the Tottenham fans made an early exit.
This Carling Cup tie provided the 36,000 crowd with a typically bombastic North London derby as both managers went against recent practice by fielding strong teams for this stage of the competition.  Arsenal's line up was certainly the stronger on both paper and grass so it was no surprise that they won comfortably, playing the role of home team throughout by keeping on the attack.  Thus Tottenham's main threat was on the counter and they seemed to be keen to test hapless goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski from distance, their strategy paying off when he fumbled Robbie Keane's shot over the line to give Spurs an equaliser at the start of the second half..  Arsenal had earlier taken the lead when Henri Lansbury had finished off a terrific move initiated by a visionary crossfield pass by Emmanual Eboue.  
Tottenham's defence seemed to grow in strength as the game wore to the extent that Arsenal were increasingly frustrated in normal time with a late Spurs winner not out of the question.  However within minutes of the start of extra time Nasri had converted two penalties so by the time Andrey Arshavin made it four, the Gunners could have virtually declared with fifteen minutes left.
With bragging rights secured the 4,200 Arsenal fans who serenaded White Hart Lane with the full Gooner songbook would have left feeling they had seen a good night's work but the real consequences of the night's full blooded encounter may be felt over the next ten days when both clubs face a Champions League tie in between two league matches.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Ask the Family

Second crowd promotion at York Road in as many games and for the third game in a row the crowd goes up by about 100.  This family centred promotion was basically a grassroots effort, with the hard yards put in by volunteers pounding the local pavements in the weeks leading up to the game.  Its success proves what can be done by hard work, although a dividend in terms of a longer term increase in crowds is hard to measure.
The idea of families at football is a very modern one.  Although traditionally people of all ages attended matches the trend was definitely one of fathers taking their sons, or if there was was no son, a daughter.  Hence my wife was exposed to many a lower division Polish match until her brother came along.  Perhaps non league has a real opportunity here to present itself as a community based option, unlike a matchday at a professional club which I imagine would be beyond the regular means of the average family.  Certainly the familiar (pun intended) environment of a non league game could give parents the peace of mind that their offspring are safe for the afternoon.
As for the game, once again any newcomers would have got value for money with Staines overturning a two goal deficit in the last twenty minutes to win by the odd goal in five.  Staines fans must have left on cloud nine, diehard Maidenhead fans looking to drown their sorrows whilst the newcomer hopefully will consider a second visit to York Road.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Arsenal have plenty to Braga about

First time this season at the Emirates last night where I was treated to what is fast becoming the customary footballing tour de force as the Gunners swept away what on paper looked like challenging opposition in the form of a Sporting Braga team largely imported from Brazil.
Enough has been said about Cesc Fabregas in the past to know that his exceptional talent is now considered the norm but those commentators who say the fact that he stayed at Arsenal in the summer means the club can challenge for honours ignore the stunning development of Jack Wilshere.  He has clearly benefited from time on loan at Bolton Wanderers and working with Fabregas in tandem, pulled the strings that enabled the likes of Arshavin, Chamakh and Vela to destroy Braga.  England need to look after Wilshere, if he is treated right and depolyed effectively England will be able to build their team around him for years to come.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Farn better

My first visit to Cherrywood Road since the Town club was wound up left me with the impression of a club transformed since its predecessor was dissolved in the courts.  There has clearly been investment in all aspects of the club, on the team, the pitch, seated stands, social facilities and even a tarmaced car park.  The financial demise of the last club is like an elephant in the room though, particularly with manager Steve King providing a visual reminder of the rise and almost fall of Lewes.  The sustainability or otherwise of the club will be proved in the long term, with the completion of the potentially impressive half built stand behind one goal perhaps ready to act as a thermometer of the club's financial health.  Standing in isolation though yesterday's game against the Magpies provided more evidence that an afternoon watching Blue Square Bet South football is one well spent.
On yesterday's performance Farnborough are the most creative and exciting attacking team I have seen this season at this level, but their defensive frailties mean it may well be a year of consolidation after their promotion last term.  Their approach led to an open game with manager King providing a visual symbol of their footballing style by being perhaps the first boss since Edwardian times to wear a cravat on the touchline.  Action swung from end to end but there was a distinct lack of atmosphere in the crowd, perhaps due to the fact that standing accommodation was only available at one end, with the new stand effectively closing the other.
All four goals were well worked with the final scoreline of 2-2 being secured by a man of the match display by the Maidenhead goalkeeper Steve Williams.  He was apparently third choice at Farnborough last season which was surprising as he hasn't put a foot wrong for the Magpies this season and was a safe as his opposite number was clumsy.  Farnborough are of  course something of an all stars team at this level, featuring a few of the Lewes championship team from three season's ago.  They will need to acquire the Sussex club's defensive strength from that season if they are to mount a promotion challenge in the new year.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Do You Know The Way To Malden Vale?

So went the Magpie take on Dionne Warwick's saccharine interpretation of Burt Bacharach's melody, back in the days when United's spell in the nether reaches of the Isthmian League was still a painfully recent memory.  It was sung to taunt those clubs who looked like being relegated from Division One and thus compelled to visit grounds such the Prince Georges Playing Field in Grand Drive Raynes Park which were far from the sunny climes of San Jose.
If you don't know the way to Malden Vale there is a sign directing you there from the main road although you will soon discover that the club has now been renamed Raynes Park Vale following a merger in 1995.  Wandering up the drive on an Indian summer of an evening, the leafy suburban surroundings were rather pleasant, with the only disruption being provided by the pre teen kids game taking place in the park with the attendant red faced coaches urging their young charges to hoof the ball upfield as hard as they could.
Vale's ground itself has a ramshackle, makeshift look, not helped by the plastic netting that surrounds it, presumably to stop people getting a free look.  I'm not surprised the ground is derided by some but to me the lack of clean plastic lines makes it curiously attractive, particularly the way in which the shelters at either end seem to be have been knocked up in a woodwork class.
The pitch can be benevolently described as undulating and the programme (£1) makes clear that the club are looking for a new home.  How this would be achieved is unclear as there is little or no discernible commercial activity on the shirts, around the pitch or in the programme.  It seems therefore that the club is typical of many at this level, run as a labour of love with the chairman based in Worthing.
This was my first experience of Combined Counties League football, and bearing in mind it was a lower table clash between Vale and Egham, the entertainment on offer was well worth the £6 entry fee.
A lack of PA meant the teams entered in silence with the only background noise coming from the kids game.  The players lined up to shake hands in front of less people than were on pitch before a late rush of spectators from the bar, most of whom seemed to be from Egham, boosted the crowd over the 50 mark.
With no PA the line ups weren't available but the squad list in the programme meant that the players could identify each other by their shouts and unoriginal nicknames.  This was exemplied by John "Pommers" Pomeroy who Egham boasted on their website about signing pre season.  It was clear he was expected to provide creativity in the midfield and didn't disappoint.  However the opening goal came when a long ball forward allowed Matt Graves to run through the Vale defence like a knife through butter, comfortably finishing as the keeper refused to leave his six yard box.
To their credit Raynes Park Vale worked hard to play themselves back into the game with some attractive football although the equaliser was somewhat fortunate coming from penalty spot following a harsh handball decision by Referee Hilary Achegenui.
The rest of the half continued to swing either way with the more powerful Egham team giving the Vale keeper the opportunity to redeem himself by making two excellent saves whilst Vale went close on a couple of occasions with efforts that whistled past the post.  It was clear the the Vale defence was having more problems with centre back Dre Grobler (I would love it if he has a Phd) being urged from the sidelines to "keep a lead" on left back Corey Holder.
All in all a good first half viewed from the stand which was made up of crude yet functional bench seating and certainly I was glad I was watching a great advert for football at this level, not to mention London itself with two female physios, and two ethnic minority match officials.
I spent the second half circling the pitch, arriving in the half Egham were attacking in time to see Pomeroy score what proved to be the winning goal.  Nobody from a neighbouring house whose garden had a great view of the ground took advantage of watching the game which was a shame as Vale gave it the kitchen sink treatment to draw level again.
However fitness levels started to drop as the game entered its final third, leading to a spate of niggly fouls which caused the players to expel their valuable energy moaning at Hilary.  One leading light in this activity was ex AFC Wimbledon player Gavin Bolger who must have a sense of humour as he is appropriately sponsored by Weightwatchers in the match programme.
With Vale pushing more and more men forward Egham missed several gilt edged chances to seal the points, allowing the home team hope until the final whistle.
Definitely a good first experience of Combined Counties football and as I was back home by 10.30, one I'll probably repeat this season at one of the other clubs in the West London area.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

What a day for Non League

Non League Day was a resounding success at York Road yesterday with a season's best crowd of 410 up by a third compared to the previous home game and by a much greater margin when matched against the corresponding figure for the same opponents and weekend in the previous season.  The attendance even beat that of Blue Square Premier neighbours Hayes & Yeading United who only attracted 359 to their game against Histon.
Fans of Premier League and Football League clubs were offered half price admission to the game with a season ticket or used ticket stub from the current season for the club they support, with the rules bent for one fan who presented his Glasgow Rangers ticket at the turnstile.
Those new to this level of football were treated to a great advert for the Blue Square Bet South with both sides committed to playing with an emphasis on passing the ball on the impressive looking York Road turf.  League leaders Bromley maintained their one hundred percent winning start to the season with second half goals from Warren McBean and Jon Scarborough, leaving Maidenhead United ruing their inability to create clear cut chances from the sustained periods of pressure the Magpies enjoyed.
However all present including a press box packed with representatives of eight media outlets, not to mention four scouts from the top two divisions of English football, must have felt they had good value for their afternoon out and surely will consider a trip to watch this level of football again sometime.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Magpies continue to soar

Maidenhead continued their match by match improvement although what looked like being a comfortable win over St. Albans with five minutes to go turned into something of a nailbiting finish as the Saints threw everything including goalkeeper Paul Bastock forward to level the score and maintain their unbeaten start to the season.
The Magpies continue to grow in confidence with a passable stab at some tiki taka in the first half albeit with a lack of end product.  St. Albans opted for the more direct approach and with a frontman well over six foot tall and built like a brick out house in the form of Inih Effiong, why not?
This sets up next week's visit of table toppers Bromley nicely.  The Lilywhites have a 100% winning record this season whilst the early season York Road selection crisis brought on by injuries and suspensions seems to be easing.  All in all a great prospect for Non League Day.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Goodbye Sky Sports News

Sky Sports News disappeared from Freeview last week, a move which is depriving football fans without the money or the inclination to buy the requisite equipment and subscription, of their excellent up to date news of football scores across Britain.
This seems to be part of a purely principled attitude from the Murdoch that nothing comes from free, following the move earlier in the summer to make The Times website subscription only.  It also follows the landmark Ofcom decision which forced down the price the of the Sports channels which means they are available for less money from BT.  
By righteous parsimony they have seemingly deprived themselves of what was really free advertising as Sky Sports could be perhaps labelled more truthfully "News about sport that is televised by Sky" as anyone who tuned in during their non existent World Cup coverage will testify.  Maybe they have sensed that with the number of subscribers stubbornly stuck at around the 40% of viewers mark, the savvy consumer can merely fulfil their TV sporting needs by watching the highlights provided on Freeview (I know I did!).
However they may have shot themselves in the foot as non league football clubs who cannot sustainably afford the excessive subscription levied on those who wish to broadcast pay TV in public, may turn to the many illegal options available.  Certainly those who can't or won't pay will continue to lose bar revenue as supporters troop straight out of the ground to the nearest venue showing all the sport.
Perhaps its time for the FA to stand up to their TV paymasters and demand all member clubs get a free subscription.  This would certainly produce a more equitable share out of funds if this money was abstracted from the prize money fund and would act as a real investment in grassroots football as it would incentivise clubs to make better use of their social facilities.
Alternatively this is a great opportunity for the BBC to fulfil their public service brief which they do so well with their Football League coverage, and extend their Red Button Saturday afternoon/Midweek evening service by using the audio resources of Radio Five, visual ones of BBC 3 and 4 before they start broadcasting at 7 pm, and then Channel 301 (Freeview red button) thereafter.

House of Cards

Fantastic performance from the Magpies at Woking, reminiscent of the days when wins at Aldershot's Recreation ground were commonplace.  Plenty of pressure from the home team but the creativity came from Maidenhead, with Ashley Smith the star turn in the midfield, benefiting from selection in the pivotal midfield role behind the front two as Drax continues with his innovative attacking strategy to accommodate all of United's forward assets.  I get the feeling this could be a crucial season for Woking. They seem to have lost the impetus that almost won them promotion via the play offs last season, not to mention a couple of hundred supporters.  Despite the stories of financial strife in the Non League media I don't think we'll see a Weymouth style at Kingfield but they may well settle down to a strong mid table side at this level alongside former Conference counterparts Welling.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Beastleigh

Maidenhead once again slumped to a defeat against this powerful Hampshire outfit.  On the face of it they have everything.  Essentially a new ground and a well funded team that has risen from the Wessex League in a decade to be regular contenders for the play offs.  However both team and ground lack that X factor to propel them further.  The ground's location means it impractical to go there without four wheels, whilst an impressive stand aside there is no raised vantage point such as terracing to watch the game from thus a big crowd would be self defeating as many would be unsighted.
The team itself is geared to results, their approach typified by powerful centre back Tom Jordan.  Their direct approach means the creativity of Will Hendry is wasted and he must run the risk of sore neck watching the ball going repeatedly overhead.  That said they will probably win more games than they lose and come closer to the play offs than local rivals Havant.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

"Quote, Unquote"


“Arsene is outstanding.. He’s even got his name in their name - Arsene, Arsenal - and maybe I should change my name to Black or something."

Best stick to metaphors about badgers Olly...

Local Hero

Good to see Lee Barney score his first goal for the senior team on Saturday after banging them in for fun for the last few years for the Youth team.  This was a pleasantly surprising end to a second half which looked to be going to form in other words goalless.  Four out of the five games between Maidenhead and Weston at York Road in the past had ended goalless.  This was largely due to the obdurate approach of Weston to the game, typifying the traditional Southern League attitude of ensuring nothing is given away first and foremost before trying to win the game.  Yesterday however the Seagulls were much improved from the woeful outfit that collapsed to a 4-1 defeat against the Magpies in Somerset last March.  The lack of goals was not for want of trying by either side, Maidenhead in particular adopting an enterprising tactical approach to increase the number of forwards on show.  Employing a 4-2-3-1 formation did not always look like producing the goods particularly when the substitutions changed the personnel involved, but such innovation should be praised for attempting to create goalscoring opportunities.  This opens the question of tactics at this level.  Are, as Alan Devonshire infamously said whilst manager of Maidenhead United, semi-professional players incapable of the flexibility required to regularly change formations due to their lack of regular training?  He of course stuck to his beloved 5-3-2 strategy with religious devotion whilst at York Road and was rewarded with a bulging trophy cabinet.  However times change and surely a more flexible approach is required nowadays?

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Colin Murray - A Monstrous Carbuncle on the Face of an Old Friend

So long Adrian Chiles. You really don't miss someone until they're gone.  That's how I felt as the credits rolled at the end of the season's first edition of Match of the Day 2.
The Sunday highlights programme has carved out a niche at the end of the weekend, neatly providing highlights of the day's Premier league football with considered analysis of Saturday's talking points following 24 hours thinking time.
As the show has a lower profile than its big brother on Saturday it tended to be a better watch, with the feel that it was more for the aficionado with Kevin Day's comedy slot just about tolerable.
With the close season's TV transfer news being Chiles' big money transfer to ITV (motivated by the fact he wouldn't have to comment on his beloved Baggies during their biannual spell as Premier League whipping boys?) the BBC had the ideal opportunity to give a platform for a young up and coming presenter.  Fortunately the wide eyed earnestness of Manish Bhasin saw him remain on the Football League Show as an optimistic foil to the downbeat gutteral tones of Steve Claridge.  Unfortunately the BBC seemed to deem Colin Murray's spell on the World Cup highlights show a success and gave him the MOTD2 job.  Now everyone I know soon switched from the BBC to ITV for this summer's World Cup highlights not simply because of Murray's nasally whine or even the way he stroked John Motson's ego so effusively that you expected him to start fellating him after the show, but mainly because the highlights were kept to the bare minimum at the expense of silly video montages of such key talking points as for example the worst World Cup haircuts which then had to be followed by all the guests giving analysis of these crucial issues whilst Murray stifled schoolboy giggles.
Thus my heart sank when Murray's promotion to MOTD2 came along with the stupid footage slots.  Oh how we laughed as we watched for the umpteenth time Norman Hunter going toe to toe with Franny Lee.  Of course this came at the expense of the actual raison d'etre of the programme, the weekend's Premier League football.  Looks like I will confine myself to watching just the Saturday Match of the Day this season.  I'll get just as much footage of the Sunday football by watching the News.

"Quote, Unquote"

"I have thought about the Astroturf and it could just kill Ledley completely" - Harry Redknapp prior to Spur's defeat in Switzerland.
At least he didn't say literally

Eisen Braintree

Some things never change in football.  England falter in the knockout stages, Alec Ferguson thinks everyone is out to get him, and non league sides from Essex are strong, well disciplined result winning machines.
With the stars of Canvey Island and Grays Athletic fading its now the turn of Braintree to take on the role of the coming club from the east.  The two former clubs pretty much went as far as you can in non league football with their ruthless organisation reminiscent of the Germanic origins from which the county takes its name.  With Thurrock continuing to prosper albeit in a stable manner perhaps its Braintree's turn to carry the flag for Essex which flies so limply in the football league, along with Chelmsford who again look like being serious promotion contenders.
The Iron's strength derives from their wise move of appointing Rod Stringer as manager.  Stringer achieved  great things at lowly Aveley, taking them through the Isthmian league to the heights of third last season, and bringing him with him a number of the squad its clear that Braintree will retain their best underdog in show status that they have worn so discreetly in recent seasons.
Having the luxury of being able to confine David Bryant to the bench (one on my nominations as 2009-10 Blue Square South player of the season) shows that the Iron although not blessed with great financial strength can go all the way if they remain relatively injury free.
This was clearly illustrated by their second consecutive 3-0 league win, sweeping aside a Maidenhead side denuded defensively by injury and suspension.


Sunday, 15 August 2010

Stoned Love

Stonebridge Road has always been one of my favourite non league grounds so I was more than happy that it was the venue for the launch of Maidenhead's league campaign.  It was good to see that it had hardly changed since my last visit in 2002 when I was one of several thousand packed into the ground to watch Gravesend win what was effectively an Isthmian League title decider against Canvey Island.  
The 'Fleet managed to stay in the Conference until last season and the main legacy of their stay looks to be the ugly imposition of red seats on what was a fine covered end behind the goal.  Of course the interim has also seen the club's name changed to the geographically meaningless Ebbsfleet, but this crass commercialisation seems to have only been extended to the shirt sponsor.
The performance by the Magpies was as disappointing as the result was pleasing.  If Ebbsfleet are intent on fulfilling their prediction of a promotion attempt they will need to be more clinical at home as they will generally face more disciplined opposition this season.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Plain Easy

The sheer depth of club football in England is one of its most alluring aspects.  All across the land we are presented with differing football cultures and grounds. Thus we are offered a lifetime of discovery so when finding myself at a loose end and being offered a lift by a Reading Season ticket holder to their League Cup tie at Torquay earlier this week I found it impossible to say no to visiting a new ground (number 194 if you're counting  - I am) and completing the set of Devon's Football League Stadia.  
On arrival in Torbay we headed for the picturesque coastal suburb of Babbacombe.  After dining on award winning Fish and Chips we had a leisurely pre match pint in a pub where supporters of both clubs mingled freely.  
A ten minute walk brought us to the ground where without a policeman in sight we were able to enter the turnstile untrammelled by the intrusive hands of a yellow coat, and exchange cash for a place of our choosing on the away terrace behind the goal.
Plainmoor, which has been home to the Gulls for a century is tidy enough and split 50/50 between terracing and seating with the main stand just about offering the ideal set up of a terraced paddock in front of the seats. 
For perhaps the first time when attending a match between two Football League clubs I felt like I was at a non league game.  This was not surprising when the crowd of 2,832 (up to a third from Berkshire) is considered but the whole friendly tone of the evening contributed to a stereotypically laid back West Country atmosphere.