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.