About Me

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

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

No Hiding Place

There’s not much that I feel the younger generation should envy in their elders but one footballing phenomenon that seems to have passed that is worthy of regret is the chance to watch highlights of a match without a clue of the final score.
Growing up in the 70s and 80s live football was initially restricted to the FA Cup Final and the odd international then some live league games which were planned so far in advance they rarely were of great import. This meant that most of the football you watched was in the form of highlights. Naturally radio coverage and Final Score meant that you knew what had happened on a Saturday afternoon, particularly if you were lucky enough to live in a part of the country which published a Football special newspaper at Saturday tea time. However, come midweek, if you ignored the commentary provided by Radio 2 it was more often than not the case that you had no way of knowing the football scores unless you had teletext. This meant it was often almost unintentionally possible to get to the late night highlights and enjoy the game without knowing the outcome even if you had to run out of the room when the immortal phrase "and if you don't want to know the score look away now" was read on the news. With midweek coverage usually restricted to cup matches or vital league games this only served to ramp up the excitement as you waited until long after the final whistle to find out what actually happened.
This feeling was captured perfectly in an episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, entitled No Hiding Place. This 70s sitcom, set in Newcastle centred on the trials and tribulations of Terry Collier (played by James Bolam), and Bob Ferris (Rodney Bewes). Naturally football played a big part in their lives. This series focused on their reunion after several years apart whilst Terry served in the army. During that time he'd got married to a German ("about as likely as Hartlepool getting promoted"). The marriage was doomed following England's defeat in the 1970 World Cup following their late capitulation which left Terry who'd been "dancing on the sideboard singing Rule Britannia" when England were winning 2-0 little option but to slink away in humiliation when faced with his in laws who were so happy at coming back to win that "they looked like they were going to invade Poland again".
This episode found the eponymous lads in a hairdressers at the hands of the proprietor whose clients included Bobby Moncur and Malcolm MacDonaled. They explained that they were looking forward to watching the highlights of the Bulgaria v England game at 10.20 pm, a game that was actually kicking off at 1 pm UK time. Their friend Flint (Brian Glover) got wind of this and threatened to tell them the score. They managed to escape to a local pub but once again Flint found them with the additional threat of a radio broadcasting live commentary of the game which was now about to kick off. Forced to escape once more they bet Flint £5 that he couldn't tell them the result and they resolved to hide until late evening.
Sanctuary was initially found at Terry's sister Audrey's house, then a church. A car drive saw them forced to duck down to avoid seeing the newsstand and TV showroom. There followed a visit to the Women's Institute then the hospital to give blood before they made it to Bob's house with minutes to spare.
At this point Terry revealed that when he fainted after giving blood he glimpsed a copy of the Evening Chronicle but only saw the headline "England F". A conversation ensued about what it could mean. England flop, fail, fiasco or fade? England fightback after early setback, forge ahead, five? They were then finally caught by Flint but paid him off so they could sit down to watch "England flooded out". The match was postponed with all that anticipation wasted.
Still what had been a mission almost 40 years ago would be impossible today with the all pervasiveness of the internet, Sky Sports News, text messages and so on. See if you can do it tonight. Avoid the 5.30 kick off and try and get to Match of the Day without knowing the score. I guarantee that if you do that a modern day Flint in the form of Gary Lineker will spoil your efforts by clearly signalling the result.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Off Kilter

One of the epicurean treats from BBC4 last year was a series entitled Off Kilter. This was a personal tour of Scotland written and presented by acerbic social commentator Jonathan Meades and was recently repeated on BBC 2.
The third and final episode was entitled "Football Pools Towns" focusing on those mysterious Scottish locations which have seeped into our collective football conscious following a lifetime of Saturday tea time recitations of the Scottish League results. Yet I challenge any of you to place these clubs on a map. Meades resolved to introduce us to the likes of the mythic East Fife, Albion and Queen of the South by visiting their home towns of Methil, Coatbridge and Dumfries.
Ever the sophisticate Meades bemoans the dull mediocrity of these one horse towns boasting semi professional teams weekly presenting "A contest free of gladiatorial yob gods, WAG roasting croesus kids who descend from their parnassian blingsteads to the golden arena."
Well I'm sure I'm not alone this evening in having spent many a Saturday afternoon and Tuesday night watching what can only be described as dull mediocrity although for my part this at least brings light relief from my high octane inner city working life.
I partook of my second taste of Scottish football last August when en route to stay with a friend in Perth (home of St Johnstone), I stopped off in Dumfries for the visit of Partick Thistle.
Leaving the elegant railway station I found Robert Burns' adopted home to be a pretty town on the banks of the river Nith. Naturally Palmerston Park was on the seamier side of the water, neatly obscuring the Dumfries Ice Bowl. The ground itself is something of a rarity with just the one new functional stand along one side where the away fans are housed. Thus as I am a part time Jag this is where I sat which had the benefit of giving me a great view of the action on a fine playing surface and the old stand with a paddock in front. The crowning glory is the covered home end or Portland Drive Terrace which boasts the title of the biggest standing terrace in Britain. Sadly the smaller Terregles Street open terrace at the opposite end is closed due to its poor state of repair.
Although the two teams were tipped to challenge for promotion to the Scottish Premier League (both are now marooned in midtable but the Doonhamers have a chance of the play offs should they win their games in hand), the match had the feel of an English non league game despite a crowd of almost three thousand. This ambience was confirmed when I ventured into the tiny social club for a pint before the game where home and away fans mingled freely.
An entertaining game finished 1-0 to the home team however this was something of a smash and grab raid as the Man of the Match was their goalkeeper Ludovic Roy. All in all a good day at the football and highly recommended if you facing dipping your toe in the waters of Scottish football at which I guess is the most southerly senior club north of the border alongside Annan Athletic who buck the trend which started this column by playing in the name of the town that hosts them.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Non League Media

Its often said that Non League Football is one of English sport’s best kept secrets. Sure a very bright spotlight is shone on our section of the national game when the FA Cup gets interesting as autumn turns into winter but judging by some of the email enquiries I get on a regular basis there is a lot of ignorance about semi professional football from the general football populace.
However this isn’t because all the fraternity gathered here today are like some sort of secret society, indeed the amount of media coverage has never been better its just that the major outlets ignore us.
Instead its left to a myriad of small publications and broadcasting outlets to get the message out. The reflects the democratisation of the media over the last twenty years which means there really is nothing stopping any of us letting the world know about our Saturday afternoon passion except our own indolence!
Barring coverage in the local press which has always been good this has been a slow process started by the publication of the non league football annual in the 1970s. This was followed in the 1980s by the introduction of Non League Football Monthly (latterly Team Talk) published by the annual editor Tony Williams. Suddenly it became possible to unearth stories of clubs all over the country whilst keeping an eye on their league position. Next came the fanzines which helped but news still lacked the immediacy until the end of the century.
It was then that the spread of the internet coupled with the introduction of the Non League Paper meant at least you could find out basic details from non league games all over the country within 24 hours of the final whistle on a Saturday.
Since then it has increasingly become easier than ever to keep tabs with what is going on almost a minute by minute basis, whilst also finding space to reflect on some of the wider issues affecting the game.
Online once you get past the official websites of clubs, leagues and local press, there are a few essential sources every self respecting non league football fan should consult regularly. Namely our wonderful strictly unofficial Blue Square South site with up to date stats, a lively forum and best of all a very good videprinter, all genuinely run by the fans for the fans and long may it continue. Next stop is always Non League Daily which by mid morning will be freshly stocked with a comprehensive round up of all the non league news from the last 24 hours. Elsewhere on the net you will find a plethora of blogs, sites and forums covering every aspect of the game. A couple to watch are the erudite forum from the site started by the late Tony Kempster and a site which follows in his footsteps from Mike Avery. Finally don’t forget there are loads of highlights available on you tube.
I’m not a fan of print media but if my internet was cut off I’d head straight for the newsagent to pick up the non league paper. New monthly magazine Non League 24 is not to my taste as its a bit too polished but I’m sure it would fill a train journey if needs be. I’d be more likely to have a copy of Non League Digest to hand, again this scores by being a wholly fan produced publication looking in all corners of the game at home and abroad. Its similar to Groundtastic and you can order a free copy from the website.
Finally whilst even local news programmes really aren’t interested unless the FA Cup is in town local radio often does the game proud. I say often as unfortunately our local BBC station Radio Berkshire is happy to take our license fee without giving the Magpies the time of day unlike so many of our Blue Square South colleagues who are given live commentary on a weekly basis as those of us who tuned into the Worcester game will gratefully testify. The jewel in the crown of Non League Radio is the Non League Radio Show which although ostensibly a BBC Radio London production basically covers the entire country with expert analysis from Willie Wordsworth and Dave Anderson. Its usually broadcast on Monday at 9 pm for one hour on 94.9 FM and is now also available within hours of the end of the show either as a podcast from iTunes or on BBC iPlayer.