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, 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.