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.

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


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.  

Last of the Mavericks

Conformity must be the watchword of the modern professional footballer.  To appear in any way different from the herd is to invite at best ridicule or at worst persecution from the 24/7 CCTV kindly provided by the world's media on behalf of planet football. Gone are the days when any player of renown could be said to have a private life in the truest sense of the phrase as every nightclub incident, extra marital affair or even late night cigarette is presented for us to shake our heads at in hypocritical moral tumult.  On the pitch anything less than beetroot faced boot flying commitment runs the risk of being convicted of football's greatest crime of "not trying" in the kangaroo court of 6-0-6 or Talksport.  Sadly people seem all to keen to take Shankly's tongue in cheek "life or death" comment literally.
Time was though when the Premier League was in its infancy that there remained a coterie of footballing characters who defied the social mores of the day.  Often given the better label of maverick, by chance I picked up the autobiographies of a couple of players who certainly fitted this description from the hotel library whilst on holiday recently. The texts were hardly literary epics but they both provided a diverting window from which to look at the recent past for a couple of hours.
The first was "Who Ate All The Pies" by Mick Quinn (pictured right) and told the tale of how a kid from a broken home on one of Liverpool's toughest estates (which coincidentally was also the source of the band called The Farm) built a career in football which ended in the Premiership via a lot of pubs, clubs, women, bookmakers and for 14 days a prison.
Quinn was the sort of player who would never have made it to the top in the current climate and indeed his two younger brothers failed to make the grade even in the 80s.  They all shared a hedonistic live fast attitude to life but fortunately for Quinn senior he never lost sight of the fact that football was his sole route to the lifestyle he enjoyed and therefore was always first in for training. Yet throughout the book as his career wends its ways through the lower divisions from Derby to Wigan to Oldham to Stockport and Portsmouth it is clear that his reputation as a trouble making hell raiser is growing.  This would have been confirmed for some when he was sent to prison for driving whilst disqualified in the middle of Portsmouth's 1988 promotion season.  He is released in time to help Pompey reach the top division after two near misses and is full of praise for the way manager Alan Ball successfully led a squad so notorious it was known as the dirty dozen.
Quinn soon fell out favour at Fratton Park, clearly deemed as not good enough for the top flight and so ended up moving to relegated Newcastle United where he scored four goals on his debut and went onto hit the net with a regularity only matched by the likes of Cole and Shearer since.  Unsurprisingly the end was nigh for Quinn at St James Park when the clean living Kevin Keegan took over but a much publicised falling out proved to be a blessing in disguise as it led to a move to Premier League Coventry, then managed by Bobby Gould.  An opening day hat trick against double Cup holders Arsenal in August 1993 saw an improbable bandwagon gather pace for Quinn to be selected for England.  However his career soon ended when Gould was replaced by Phil "Yes boss" Neal and Quinn now runs his own racehorse stables supplemented with a Talk Sport show.
The best virtue of the book is Quinn's honesty. He makes no attempt to cover up his failings particularly in terms of his relationships with women and his approach to financial management.  It seems fair to say though that his behaviour was generally in keeping with his peers as suggested by a couple of tales of lewd Christmas parties which involved acts that would make David Sullivan blush.  All in all his honesty means that he does not necessarily come across as a likeable character but certainly one who made a football ground a more enjoyable place to visit.
In contrast Taking Le Tiss by Matthew Le Tissier paints a picture of a well mannered shy individual who was only given to exuberant self expression when he set foot on the pitch. Indeed the title of his autobiography is as rude as its gets, a fact that becomes clear when this lifelong Malibu and Coke drinker refuses to disclose the identity of his teammate who brought a ladyboy back to the team hotel on a trip to the Far East.
Yet this hardly matters as the nature of his one club career provides an interesting and sad tale of how Southampton slipped from being an established top flight club to one that almost went out of business when relegated for the second time.  Quite rightly the impression is given that Le Tissier's prodigious talent played a leading role in keeping the Saints up throughout the 90s and it is clear that the ability of the manager to get the best out of the leading Saint was the key to the club's success in any particular season.  Thus the book does get monotonous as the annual struggle to beat the drop is described chapter after chapter when footage of his best goals is all you to need to know about why the Saints survived the 90s in the Premiership.
The sheer number of players and managers Le Tissier encountered in his time at the Dell mean there is the odd insight worth reading. Like Quinn he praises Alan Ball's spell as manager and on this evidence it seems the World Cup winner was much underrated although this is balanced by Le Tissier's account of the day Ball told his Manchester City team to hold on for a draw on the last day of the season, a result which sent them down and kept the Saints up.  The book's funniest anecdote recalls one of Alan Shearer's first games for the senior team.  When ordering his pre match meal, Shearer is asked what he would like in his omelette, he replies "egg".  Readers will be unsurprised to learn that the appointment of Ian Branfoot, a stubborn adherent to the long ball game, signalled the beginning of the end for Southampton's successful brand of football and sparked a succession of short managerial terms which saw the club drift inexorably to relegation soon after Le Tissier's retirement.
Whilst Le Tissier uncontroversially blames Chairman Rupert Lowe for the continual mismanagement of the club he is generally respectful of all his managers, even Branfoot who he describes as a decent man despite their clashing football philosophies.  He was particularly fond of Strachan but was left perplexed by the reign of his childhood hero Hoddle whom he praised for the way he developed the team but was left cold by his own relationship with him.
The description of this relationship proves central to answering the question of why Le Tissier remained at Southampton to the detriment of his bank balance and perhaps his England career.  Like Quinn, Le Tissier's emotional development seems stunted by football as he lives a kind of manchild existence, protected from the mundane reality of adult life.  In Quinn's case football provides the income to prevent his high living leading him to bankruptcy.  Although Le Tissier also proves hopeless with his financial affairs (like Quinn he incredibly sold property at a loss), his comfortable middle class upbringing in Guernsey means he lacks the naked ambition of Quinn to fulfil his potential.  Thus he turns down a move to Tottenham as his then wife felt unable to move to London, and is left to rue the way in which his salary is dwarfed by even that of mediocre talent at Southampton by the end of his career although he clearly feels the homely atmosphere and security provided by a small club punching above its weight was a price worth paying. Certainly it was this fear of the unknown rather than a lack of commitment which prevented him fulfilling his potential at the highest level.  Perhaps today even Le Tissier would not find a starting place in the Premiership with his preference for motivational rather than tactical coaching and a wholly unhealthy diet.

Pre Season Training

It seems to be the style these days to visit South East Asia to prepare for the start of the season so always one to  keep up with the latest trend I decided to avoid three weeks of friendlies in England in exchange for a holiday in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
This trend was proved when I met the Burnley squad checking in at Heathrow (pictured).  Well to be honest I saw a group of sportsmen alighting from a coach as I emerged from the Underground and then spent ten minutes trying to work out who they might be.  As I reached the front of the queue I spied manager Brian Laws which gave the answer.  This caused me to reflect upon the fact that when faced with a large group of footballers who played in the Premier League last year I recognised no one.  Is this down to old age? As a schoolboy Panini stickers meant I could spot a Birmingham City right back at twenty paces but although I could tell you Burnley's star player last season was Chris Eagles and they had a veteran right back in Graham Alexander I couldn't pick them out if they nutmegged me with their luggage.  All this in spite of the fact that I watched them on Match of the Day every weekend last season.  I guess all footballers look the same these days.
As my wife and I wandered through security and headed for the boarding gate it suddenly clicked - Clarke Carlisle plays for Burnley.  Not that I knew what he looked like but he used to be in my wife Ewa's A Level Maths class!    Sure enough when we boarded the plane Clarke was sitting a few rows behind (in economy naturally following their demotion to the Football League) so Ewa tapped him on the shoulder.  I guess its not uncommon for a professional footballer to be approached by a member of the public but it must have been unusual to find that its unrelated to football.
We met up again on touching down in Singapore when queuing up for immigration.  Clarke told us they were due to play three games in a week and were concerned about the effect that the humidity would have on their performance.  A look at the Burnley website means I think Brian Jensen and Chris Iwelumo were with us in the queue too.  All associated with the club were good ambassadors for the game flying in the face of the stupid lout image which the media are keen to bestow on anybody with the ability to kick a football.
After they collected an array of kit of the luggage carousel that would have had Jon Urry weeping in envy they disappeared without a trace.  The only mention of football on Singapore TV was of local league results and friendlies being played all over the world by Europe's biggest clubs.
Indeed throughout my stay in the far east only five club shirts were worn: Arsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United.  Roughly Liverpool seemed most popular in Singapore itself, then Arsenal in Kuala Lumpur, Chelsea in Penang and Manchester United in Phuket.  More Spanish national shirts were in evidence as July turned into August, proof I suppose that everyone loves a winner.
What was puzzling though was why this oligopoly existed albeit for a large part in dodgy counterfeit merchandise.  Yes these four clubs have been dominant for about a decade but why no evidence of Tottenham, Everton and Aston Villa or any of the other bona fide big clubs?  If the Premier League is to extend its stranglehold on the attentions of supporters in countries with a weak domestic league surely its in their interest to market all twenty clubs as the NFL do?  Perhaps this is a view of a future when the united negotiating stance for TV rights is broken and clubs sell their footage individually?  This would follow the neo liberal economic trend beloved by those who run both Premier clubs and competition but would only lead to a few monolithic organisations controlling the game at the expense of creativity and diversity.