About Me

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

Sunday, 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.