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.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Magic Magpie Moments 2011

2011 was hardly a vintage year in the history of Maidenhead United but it had its moments:

1. Steve Williams' penalty save at Basingstoke - Maidenhead were winning 4-3 when Basingstoke won a penalty in the dying minutes. Williams dived to his left to save and win the game. Had Basingstoke scored they may well have gone on to win the game, if not Maidenhead would still have been looking for their first league win in three months and relegation would probably have followed.

2. Anthony Thomas scores against Aldershot - a goal worthy of the occasion which allowed Maidenhead fans to dream of FA Cup glory. Only marginally spoiled by a late equaliser and given new life for ten days by the prospect however unlikely of a trip to Hillsborough in the next round.

3. Max Worsfold's winner at Thurrock - amazing stoppage time strike in the context of the game and the season. Essentially condemned Thurrock to relegation and meant Maidenhead were safe with games to spare.

4. Half time against Woking in the Cup - no challenge as the performance of the season. 4-1 up against the league leaders in the FA Cup. Second half was good enough to preserve the score line. Sadly it was a pretty much unique feat in 2011.

5. Anthony Thomas' winner at Truro - great goal to win a good game of football and most importantly made the nine hour round trip worthwhile.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Hennessey Gold

Wayne Hennessey gave what must have been one of the best goalkeeping performances of 2011 to earn Wolverhampton Wanderers a point that hardly seemed likely when Gervinho gave the Gunners a lead in the eighth minute. A subsequent lack of ruthlessness in the passage of play following the goal meant a Wolves equaliser put them very much back in the game and en route for a point. All of which did little to salve my Christmas cold.
Having struggled up the Piccadilly line through heavily laden tourists and shoppers I filled myself up with one of Fat Harry's delectable hot dogs, and after pausing to picture the fine statue of Herbert Chapman headed into the ground. I guessed it was going to be one of those days when I had to turf someone out of my seat (since when does 12 mean 14) and discovered I was sitting next to Master Angry who had clearly not had a good Christmas such was his eagerness to jump up and vent his fury at every opportunity.  As kick off approached the big screen replayed Arsenal's 1998 semi-final which only served to question why Wolves wouldn't be wearing their fine Old Gold colours this afternoon. Although The Wonder of You was played again pre match in favour of Good old Arsenal, at least the call and response reading of the Arsenal line up seems to have gone for good.
As my sinuses started to throb I began to contemplate an early exit which looked a possibility when Arsenal scored. The goal started with a piercing run by Matt Jarvis down the left wing but as the move broke down Arsenal counterattacked swiftly through Rosicky and Benayoun, the latters perfect pass allowing Gervinho to show off a delightful trick before to the surprise of everyone in the stadium rounding the keeper to score. Surely this would be the start of a goal avalanche that would allow me to depart early with the result safe? Far from it. Apart from one passage of play where Arsenal strung over twenty passes together they seemed to lack the diligence to patiently tear Wolves apart, tending to snatch at goalscoring opportunities.
Thus when Wolves found themselves with a free kick on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area, the Berkshire Hunt somewhat fortuitously created an equaliser. Putting his lucky heather aside his kick deflected off Vermaelen and landed at the feet of Fletcher who deftly diverted the ball into the net with any chance offside disappearing with Song's tardiness in coming out.
With many around me morbidly willing a time wasting approach from Wolves as a fait accompli, aside from a short tetchy period which saw Song subbed after a booking and Milijas sent off, Arsenal pretty much did everything but score. Referee Stuart Attwell literally blocked the Gunners advance when he witlessly stood in the way of Van Persie's run up. When the path to the goal became clear Van Persie's effort became one of several long range efforts that Hennessey was equal too. It was at closest range that the keeper was most impressive though, instinctively blocking efforts from Mertesacker and Van Persie on the line meaning it was the fans from the West Midlands who were celebrating an unexpected point at the final whistle.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The English Disease

Receiving an early Christnas present in the form of an Amazon voucher I was running through my wishlist when I noticed that a copy of the long deleted album "The English Disease" was available. Pouncing on this gem straightaway, it soon arrived and I was transported back to a time when those at the cutting edge of music saw no contradiction in applying their talents to what was regarded in polite society as the most anti-social of pursuits - watching football.
Arriving from the East London base of the On U Sound record label, "The English Disease" took its title from the tag liberally applied to the behaviour of English football supporters and cast its net over English football in the late 80s. Naturally the location of the record label led to the album having a heavy West Ham accent, with tracks dedicated to Leroy Rosenior (Leroy's Boots), Alan Devonshire (Devo backed by Italian House) and Billy Bonds (featuring I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles of course), but in keeping with a more collectivist era there were many others featured.
I had first heard the tracks played on the John Peel show at the time of release. At the time my budget didn't quite stretch to a release which I classed as fitting under the novelty banner although I made an exception for the peerless Flair. Listening again after more than 20 years I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the music and the high level politicisation in the lyrics. The music is emblematic of a time when to record something about football was to be on the cutting edge, a creative peak reached when New Order made it to the top of the charts with "World in Motion". 
Echoing the likes of I Ludicrous the tracks mount a determined stand in defence of terrace culture, which has now been all but lost.Produced by Adrian Sherwood and aided by Doug Wimbish, Skip McDonald and Keith Levene the music generally takes a turn towards dub/reggae most obviously in a reworking of The Liquidator and most fittingly in the protest anthem "Civil Liberty" which features Neil Kinnock arguing the case against ID cards, hardly a comfortable stance for a Labour leader these days.
A dub version of Land of Hope and Glory backs a lament from the England manager Robson on "England Just Can't Win", whilst its Alan Ball's turn to give excuses on "Mind the Gap". Brian Clough has now regained his national treasure status but "Brian Clout" reminds us of one of his more controversial episodes, with Vinnie Jones' instant impact on the game being reflected by "Psycho and the Wombles of Division 1".
The stand out track for me though is "Sharp as a Needle", the one I could clearly remember from the 80s. The words "Glory, Glory" repeated over a Cup Final day recording of "Abide With Me" interspersed with commentary from the late great Peter Jones paying homage to the Liverpool team of that era (no wonder Peel played it so often!).
The album finishes on an optimistic note with a rendition of "Que Sera Sera" so its sad to think that what this recording does is to provide a coda to what is fast becoming seen as a different time, from Post war to Premiership. However before the rose tinted spectacles descend the liner notes end with: "No thank you to those who put profit before safety and comfort, and are disinterested in the voice of those who pay the wages". Strange to say that might be more true then than now.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Yossi reunites the sunshine band

The far from Christmassy sound of KC and the Sunshine band rang round Villa Park at the final whistle hailing the late goal from Yossi Benayoun which gave Arsenal a hard fought win which had looked unlikely til the latter stages when the Gunners extra desire drove them on to victory.
The 2-1 win neatly reversed the scoreline from my first and hitherto only trip to Villa Park way back in April 1983 when despite going into half time ahead, Arsenal succumbed to a rampant Manchester United en route to winning their first trophy under Ron Atkinson. That day I had sat in what was then called the Witton Lane Stand next to two kindly old ladies who spent the afternoon eating sweets and cooing every time Norman Whiteside touched the ball. Last night I was sat in the same part of the ground which had been rebuilt as the Doug Ellis stand in a seat with a view so restricted it merited a £1 discount! Handily placed at the end of the row in front of a gangway the only obstacle to seeing the night's entertainment was fortunately just the odd passing steward.
I'd travelled up to Birmingham the scenic way from London Marylebone, taking advantage of a superb £5 one way offer on that bizarre British paradox the privatised nationalised railway. Privatised by the British government but owned by the nationalised German railway who proved the efficacy of their operation with a smooth journey on a full train, accommodating everyone in roomy, clean carriages by dispensing with first class.
Alighting at Birmingham's most attractive terminus, Moor Street, I met up with a Villa supporting friend who was to be my guide to pre match hospitality. After negotiating the bustling crowds around New Street we headed up to Aston and after one false start settled down in the faded glory of the Swan & Mitre, an impressive facade clothing a dingy old fashioned boozer which had clearly seen better days. Still it provided a quiet corner to catch up, the only noise being the clink of dominoes at an adjacent table. As the football crowd started to filter in we moved onto the New Adventurers a virtual Aston Villa theme pub, £1 giving you access through their claret and blue portal. Full of fans steeling themselves for the match, talk centred on the prospects for play which were generally downbeat following the weekend's surrender to Liverpool, the mood only lifted by a badge seller touting "McLeish out" pins.
The short walk to the ground felt subdued and notably short on expectation, not uncommon at this time of the year when football takes second place to festive preparations. The kick off shook the cobwebs off though, the first half seeing Aston Villa the better team only denied an early lead by a splendid save by the Pole in the goal from Gabriel Agbonlahor. With injuries and suspensions hitting Arsenal hard it was not surprising that they lacked the fluidity of Sunday's draining defeat at Middle Eastlands but a steely resolve was characterised by the way they hung on in the opening stages then grabbed their chance with both hands when it came.
A quicksilver dash into the penalty area by Theo Walcott induced Ciaran Clark to throw out a grabbing arm in panic giving the referee no choice but to point to the spot, a really soft penalty both in terms of the threat that caused it and the foul that led to it. With Robin Van Persie eager to break the much talked about, if statistically meaningless, record for goals scored in calendar year, the kick was a formality. The goal changed little in term of the pattern of play though, Arsenal's awfully inappropriate away kit reflecting an uncharacteristically workmanlike first half performance.
Villa regrouped at half time and deservedly equalised with the goal of the game when Marc Albrighton capitalised on Arsenal defensive hesitancy to run clear and score. This turned out to be an ultimately abstract 20,000th goal scored  at the top level of English football since 1992, unless you buy into the hubristic insistence that Rupert Murdoch invented the game.
Attacking substitutions by Arsene Wenger were reflected by a growing intensity from Arsenal going forward as they forced a succession of corners which ultimately brought about the late winner when Van Persie inswinging kick was met by the head of Benayoun three minutes from time. The inevitable eruption of joy in the Arsenal end really rattled the Villa players Alan Hutton taking his leave early for a couple of needless misdemeanours.
The final whistle soon arrived to the backing of Jingle Bells, the euphoria sending me bouncing back to Witton station and home through the night sustained by a splendid Thai Yellow curry from Wok Your Way which meant I was still talking football with the black cab driver in the small hours.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

A Christmas Gift For You

Long suffering is certainly an epithet that can be applied to Maidenhead supporters in 2011 as those of us who follow the club home and away in the league have had to endure two long winless runs in the Alliance South this calendar year. The first in the New Year was only stopped by a miraculous run of results in the Spring to avoid relegation, the second in the autumn at least offered light relief in the form of cup glory regularly punctuating the league gloom. Thus it was in forlorn hope rather than expectation that the Magpies made their way to Wiltshire clutching at the clichéd straws of a Cup hangover for the home team following their arduous but ultimately successful midweek FA Cup replay at Grimsby. There was also the memory of warming performances of Christmas past with the record breaking win at Hayes Lane a year ago still fresh in the memory.
The trip was also something to look forward to at the end of a long week and having managed to convince the ticket staff at Paddington to sell me a ticket for a less than direct route to Salisbury, I met up with five other Magpies at Reading who had just about made it after Mr Late As Usual lived up to his soubriquet. The Logician redeemed himself by relaying his cultural knowledge en route comparing the height of cathedral spires in Ulm and Salisbury. The latter was only glimpsed as we left the station to look for a welcoming pub with only the Wetherspoons' Kings Head providing satisfactory refuge.
Ignoring the comedy ales on offer (Russian Revolution stout?) I decided pre match conversation would be sponsored by Amstel in an attractive glass which sadly proved less than practical in standing up to a glancing blow meaning most of the third pint ended up on the floor.
The excellent 505050 taxis provided an A team style van to transport us to the out of town ground. Salisbury had moved from their centrally located Victoria Park stadium to the new Raymond McEnhill one in Old Sarum. Old Sarum is a place burned into my brain from school history as the most rotten of rotten boroughs abolished by the Great Reform Act of 1832, an iron age hill fort which returned two members of parliament.
Passing this now heritage site we entered the new development which seemed to consist of a growing estate of eminently respectable faux mansions some of which lined the appropriately named cul de sac which led to the ground, Partridge Way.
The stadium was something of an odd construction, a hotch potch of staircases and rooms backing on to a muddled arena. As we ascended the steps up to the social club we were presented with a poster advertising Salisbury's forthcoming Cup trip to Sheffield in a Bullseye style what you could have won moment.
With admission matching that of Fulham last Wednesday night, a seat (£15), a programme (£2.50) a drink and a bite to eat comfortably broke the £20 barrier. Regardless of value this was in keeping with Salisbury's full time status which at least was reflected by a fair playing surface in view of the recent weather.
Supporter accommodation was lopsided with the main stand roof continuing round by behind one goal to provide covered accommodation. The other half of the ground was just bare terracing, bar a regulation complying small seated stand on the halfway line. Bizarrely much of the terrace was prohibited yellow stripe territory.
The game itself offered several parallels to the last Magpies league win I had seen back at the start of September at Truro. It was a trip west to a new ground, the home team's white kit forced Maidenhead to wear their yellow away strip, both teams tried to play football, and Maidenhead were anchored at the back by the reassuring presence of Leigh Henry and Billy Lumley.
Although the Maidenhead performance didn't reach the level of that in Cornwall, it was accomplished enough to be offered up as an early Christmas present to those who travelled to the game and had suffered many of the defeats in between.
The opening goal saw a seemingly innocuous ball into the penalty area by Richard Pacquette send the Salisbury defence into disarray, Martel Powell deftly despatching the loose ball into an empty net in the 26th minute. Two minutes later Pacquette doubled the lead when picked up defence splitting pass from Powell and beat the hapless keeper with a delightful lobbed finish. This double blow seemed to induce panic in the Salisbury ranks leading to a swift double substitution. This turned into frustration by the end of the half as their inability to offer any threat beyond the odd set piece was summed up by one of the Whites bench being sent off.
The second half provided more goal chances with both sides spurning opportunities to score. Maidenhead looked the most dangerous on the counter attack with Pacquette failing to seriously test the keeper when well placed on two occasions then getting into a tangle with Alex Wall at the far post when a point blank header was on offer. At the other end Lumley dealt competently with the Salisbury efforts being most extended by Tom Fitchett, having to use his feet to parry the shot.
It soon became clear though that the only Christmas cheer was to be had at the freezing open end where the Maidenhead fans were gathered, lapping up the rare opportunity to roar the team onto three points and enjoying the winning feeling at the final whistle before heading for home. Let's hope its not another 105 days until the next time.


The week before Christmas provided an opportunity for another dose of European football at London's loveliest ground, Craven Cottage. With a ticket in the main Riverside stand costing just £15 for a great view of the action (see above) and the game being very much alive due to Fulham needing a win to guarantee qualification from the Europa League group stage, it was a suitable occasion to meet old friends for a Christmas drink. Entering the Temperance pre match the tone for an odd evening was set when a large group of OB fans set themselves up for the game by playing Scrabble.
As the game got going there seemed to be nothing to stop Fulham strolling to a win against a seemingly compliant Danish team. Despite fielding a weakened team the likes of youngsters Marcel Gecov and Kerim Frei created the foundation for Fulham to take a half time 2-0 lead through Clint Dempsey and Frei with consummate skill in an impressive first half performance which gave little cause to check what was going on in the other group game in Poland.
Half time brought the reassuring presence of David Hamilton on the touchline and after the break little changed with the only criticism being a rather harsh judgement that Fulham were guilty of overplaying their attacks without getting a shot in. The game turned just after the hour when Hans Henrik Andreasen pulled a goal back from a free kick which exposed the defects in a badly constructed Fulham wall. This triggered an attack of nerves in the Fulham ranks especially when the mighty Eric Djemba-Djemba entered the fray for OB.
With Wisla winning in Krakow an OB equaliser would knock the Cottagers out and this outcome started to have an inevitable feel about as the goal transformed the Danish performance. Still time ticked away and the three minutes of stoppage time were almost up when OB mounted one last attack. In the simplest of moves down the right wing a cross was swung into the penalty area where it was met by the head of Djilby Fall to score with what proved to be the last touch of the game, the referee blowing for full time as OB celebrated with their small but hardy support and Fulham fell to their knees in as sad a state as the woeful Michael Jackson statue we humbly filed past on the way out.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Nostalgia for an age yet to come

Nostalgia fest yesterday. With a ticket to the New Order reunion concert in the obscure location of Stepney and a friend travelling down from Scotland to see it I opted for the safe bet of tickets to Arsenal's 125th birthday and an easy day in London.
The day hopefully set the seal on the Arsenalisation of the new ground which has now become a cross between a museum and a football theme park. Putting the dates of trophy wins around the stadium was the first stage in removing posterity from the current squad as the achievements of their predecessors lurked ever larger in the new environment. The dates also hang like something of an albatross round the club's neck, a constant reminder of the growing time since the last trophy. I really don't like the burgeoning trend of football statuary, and feel that people should be only commemorated in this way once they have shuffled off their mortal coil.
Certainly the fact that I was off to see arch modernists New Order concentrated the mind on  the future and led me to ponder what the Gunners great visionary Herbert Chapman would have thought. Although a listed building now the old Highbury ground was state of the art when it was built and the worry is that the futuristic nature of the new ground may be strangled by the past.
The game itself long looked like it would be overshadowed by the pre match celebrations, the nadir of which was MC Tom Watt's babbling inability to turn his stream of consciousness into a question for the legends he introduced before kick off, most of whom would have been at the game anyway in a PR/media role. At least "Good Old Arsenal" replaced "The Wonder of You" as the warm up music and the embarrassing call and response of the team line ups was dropped. Unfortunately I guess the club is contractually obliged to play the indie rock dirge of the Premier League anthem.
Still it was good that Everton with their pleasingly simplistic all blue kit and unbroken top division status (only beaten by Arsenal), were the opposition particularly as despite their lowly position manager Davie Moyes set out to win the game. Early on the unusual Arsenal defence with centre backs filling the wide roles looked as though it might be undone by the powerful wing play of the likes of Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman. This focus on attack forced the blue defence up the pitch and Arsenal had ample opportunity to exploit the high line only for Gervinho (again) and Theo Walcott to be especially profligate when through on goal.
As the game wore on Everton's confidence was symbolised by the way Marouane Fellaini played progressively further up the pitch but the game was won with a moment of quality to reflect the historic occasion. Alex Song's delightful pass found Robin Van Persie to fire home and take everyone's breath away with a strike which was executed when the Dutchman was fully airborne, a move that was ripe to end in farce perfectly carried out with a volley that rocketed into the back of the net. As usual any hope that Arsenal would quietly see out the win were in vain as Everton went for broke, but there was to be no match for Van Persie's coup de grace so Arsenal completed their comeback from their early season turmoil with a win that lifted them into the top four.
If Van Persie stays fit maybe this season will see the Emirates see silverware for the first time, the quality is evidently there to achieve it.

Saturday, 3 December 2011


Had a bad feeling about Dorchester's visit to York Road when Portsmouth goalkeeping legend Alan Knight was appointed manager of the Dorset Magpies in midweek. Just the boost they needed going into the game at Maidenhead. To be honest he didn't need to do much bar organise the team to ensure live wire forward Rico Wilson saw enough of the ball to score as Maidenhead lacked any creativity.
Perhaps it would have all been so different if Alex Wall had scored with a move straight from the kick off, catching Dorchester cold only to see his shot pass just wide. For the rest of the half bar a couple of striving runs from Mark Nisbet and Reece Tilson-Lascaris, Maidenhead offered little going forward. Dorchester on the other hand took the lead when Wilson skipped through the defence to score in the nineteenth minute and almost doubled their lead ahead of half time when a free kick was scraped off the line by Billy Lumley then hacked away by Nisbet.
After the break Maidenhead showed a bit more purpose going forward but still did not look like getting on the scoresheet, a late Manny Williams effort from close range in stoppage time which was blazed over the bar was the closest to an equalizer. Indeed Dorchester looked as likely to secure the points with a second. All very disappointing but predictable in what has become a Jekyll and Hyde season following the start of the cup competitions. Even a change in formation with three at the back to allow wide men Solomon and Worsfold the chance to get forward bore little fruit and the less said about the dearth of creativity and dynamism in the midfield the better. Still the lack of action provided a chance to catch up with friends on the terraces and no regrets that I'll be going to just one more Maidenhead United game in 2011. Nice to see the Advertiser have replaced their sign at the York Stream end too.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Once in a Blue Moon

Going into last night's League Cup quarter final, Manchester City were winless at Arsenal for over 36 years. Playing for Arsenal in that last victory was Brian Kidd. The European Cup winner moved onto City the following season, a nice contrast with the rather more exotic talent drain flowing up the M6 in the 21st century. Two ex Gunners were on show last night, the universally admired Kolo Toure and the universally derided Samir Nasri, who after his ill-judged comments about Arsenal supporters when he left the club, and least gave Gooners all round the ground the opportunity to get ready for Pantomine season by booing his every move. This added to a real cup tie atmosphere in and around the ground with everyone in red ready to give Arsenal their full support as underdogs.
Both side fielded a very much second choice eleven, with Arsenal as usual opting for youth whilst City's line up was sprinkled with star dust with the likes of Toure, Nasri, Zabaleta, De Jong, Hargreaves, Johnson and Dzeko, not to mention Aguero who ended up coming off the bench to play two thirds of the game. Yet despite the gap in fully developed talent it was Arsenal who looked most likely to score for most of the game Park and Oxlade-Chamberlain bring the best out of the Blues keeper Pantilimon in the first half.
Whilst City seemed happy to sit back in the second half Arsenal continued to try and force the issues, driven on by promising performances in the midfield from Frimpong, Coquelin and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Yet even when Gervinho entered the fray the goal would not come, the attacking threat of Chamakh being easily snuffed out.
With Arsenal doing the utmost to avoid extra time the crucial goal came from the Maidenhead United counter-offensive, a Gunners corner being turned over quickly by Dzeko who set in motion a move which Aguero finished with ease.
A late Gervinho cross almost found the head of Chamakh but the Moroccan ended up heading fresh air and the  final whistle soon sounded to spark the worst kind of gloating from some of the City fans on the way out. Still well worth a tenner.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Billericay feeling Dickie

Billericay Town is a club that automatically takes me back to the Magpies' days in the Isthmian League. They were always a good yardstick to measure how good United were in any one season with stand out memories being the wins home and away against the Blues in their 1998 Division One promotion season, the latter win in Essex being inspired from the unlikely quarter of Clayton Whittle and the heroic Andy Robertson who ended up in hospital with a broken arm. There were doubles of different varieties in future seasons. Firstly in 2000 an amazing Billy Cove strike at the Lodge was United's only goal in two League Cup semi final legs which were both drawn, Doncaster Rovers' Adam Lockwood featuring in the Maidenehad defence as a loan player from his then employers Reading. The tie therefore went to penalties with goalkeeper Garath Ormshaw firing United through to the final by taking the last kick himself. A few months later and Maidenhead had joined Billericay in the Premier Division but this time it was the Blues who gave the Magpies a memorable footballing lesson in the standards required to prosper at the new level.
Fast forward to 2011 and a Maidenhead team without a win in November was set to face a Billericay side top of the Isthmian League on the back of a 5-0 demolition of Horsham in midweek. The scene was set for Billericay to establish their Alliance South credentials against the team bottom of the form table, a positive outcome for Essex looking likely as the Maidenhead team was weakened by the suspension of Bobby Behzadi and injuries to the likes of Jon Scarborough and Will Hendry. Add in overnight illness to Joe Crook which prevented him from making his full debut, a seventeen year old starting a first team game for the first time at centre back in Devante McKain and Nevin Saroya being prevented from getting game time lower down the pyramid due to Leigh Henry's new fatherhood,  and you had on the face of it a Maidenhead team there for the taking.
As is the style in the Isthmian league Billericay tore into their opponents with a high tempo approach, displaying a penchant for set pieces in the final third with full backs from the Delap school of throw ins. They regularly threatened the Maidenhead goal throughout the first half with balls across the six yard box but couldn't quite get on the end of any of the crosses to trouble Billy Lumley in the United goal.
After 20 minutes Maidenhead launched what turned out to be the crucial attacking phase of play. It started with a rehearsal, Ashan Holgate laying the ball off to Alex Wall whose shot was turned round the post by the beautifully named Town custodian Dale Brightly. Two minutes later Reece Tison-Lascaris was the recipient of a Holgate short pass and this time the promising youngster finished his tricky run with a finish to match to score.
The rest of the half was characterised by Billericay furiously claiming every infringement no matter how minor. A surprisingly lenient referee Nigel Lugg seemed happy to subject himself to a barrage of effing and jeffing every time he ruled in Maidenhead's favour, with Richard Halle on the pitch and manager Craig Edwards off it fortunate not to be cautioned for their frequent protests which were mirrored by the away support.
At the restart Billericay pushed hard for an equaliser but their early efforts came to naught. The introduction of Manny Williams and Martel Powell saw Maidenhead enjoy a spell when they might have doubled their lead but the stage was set for Billericay to give it the kitchen sink treatment in the final stages to try and force a replay. Most of their attacking endeavours were now coming from either wing, Junior Luke blazing a trail down the right whilst Harrison Chatting was left in acres of space on the other flank. The defensive unit of Rose, Saroya, McKain and Solomon held firm for the most part although the post was required to deny Chatting, and Worsfold cleared off the line from a corner which followed soon after.
Billericay had one card left to play in the form of Chris Wild who must have been eager to prove the law of the ex after finishing his Maidenhead career in ignominy at Histon in 2006 arguing mid game with supporters who unlike Wild had managed to arrive by kick off despite having to endure a rail replacement bus journey. This symbol of the club's most Fred Karnoesque of incarnations almost had the last laugh though with a powerful header from a last minute corner. Fortunately Lumley was up to the task of catching the ball with a graceful dive and Maidenhead survived four minutes of stoppage time to earn £4,000 and a place in the first round proper of the FA Trophy on Saturday December 10th. After a much awaited midweek break the team must bring their cup form to the table next Saturday against Dorchester to try and start climbing the table again.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

One Song

A solid performance from Arsenal to complete the amazing feat of becoming the only English club to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League with one group match still to play. I wonder what the odds were against this happening before Arsenal took the pitch in the Dortmund away game? Since then the new signings have started to blend, particularly the midfield triumvirate of Arteta, Song and Ramsey who were instrumental in Wednesday night's win. Arteta has found a new role for himself as anchorman following years of being the playmaker at Everton, Ramsey was spraying passes all over the final third whilst Song seems to be recapturing his form of a year or so with his admirable attribute of winning the ball whilst staying on his feet.
Going into the game as the top German team Dortmund had a strong start. Shinji Kajawa provided the biggest threat, playing in the hole behind striker Robert Lewandowski, and inspiring a couple of attacks that split the Arsenal defence open. Any chance of being impressed by highly rated winger Mario Gotze was lost when he went off injured midway through the first half but he does look like the small tricky attacking wide player that Arsene Wenger tends to favour. With Thomas Vermaelen and Mats Hummels in control in either defence the first half ended goalless with no clue to the final result.
Half time presented an opportunity to reflect on the huge German support which had been giving the rare opportunity of some upper tier seating to compliment the usual lower tier away section, the first time I had seen this at either the old or new ground. There were also pockets of support all over the Clock End keen to join in with the Wagnerian choir that looked like a hive of bees in their yellow and black striped hats. Many bloggers pay homage to the German fanschau of choreographed singing and hand clapping/waving but I can't help seeing it as narcissistic, a group activity convened to say look at me rather than to reflect the main event on the pitch. For me the crowd should respond to events on the pitch noise levels reaching a crescendo as either team attacks or an incident takes place. Add in the organised march from station to ground (which resulted in a rare command for the away support to remain behind) and you have a phenomenon of people seeking identity regardless of the football.With Dortmund's financial woes over the last decade giving a cautionary tale to those seeing the German game as some kind of model to aspire, my view is that you have a football culture that is interesting to observe but not one I would want to inhabit.
The braying teutonic voices surrounding me were silenced soon after the start of the second half when Song's inspirational run and cross was finished at the far post Van Persie. As those in red jumped up in celebration the Clock End must have looked a strange sight with small groups of glum looking Germans sitting in between bouncing Gooners. A second similar goal at the far post must have given rise to Schadenfreude in the Arsenal ranks as these are the sort of strikes that Arsenal succumb to all to often. The German's last minute consolation gave the scoreline a more accurate reflection of the game and left Arsene Wenger the liberty of being able to send a weakened squad to Greece in a fortnight's time.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

No Doubting Thomas

The last word on yesterday's momentous cup tie went to the referee. At the end of the game he turned to one of my fellow directors and said "this club is a credit to non league football". A comment no doubt reflecting the smooth running of what was the most challenging matchday at York Road for five years.
I had no role in this so can only pass on my thanks and admiration to those off the pitch who gave their time freely to sell tickets, attend meetings and generally prepare the ground for the two thousand and more guests at the game. 
My day began at five to nine with a bizarre interview with Radio Berkshire, who's breakfast show presenter was from the Partridge school of broadcasting asking me how I'd slept and whether I liked curry?! Dead batting her best efforts at patronising me I marvelled at the picture she was painting of Maidenhead High Street which supposedly was full of people with black and white scarves. Still I was miles away in Hackney, spending the morning at work.
As the afternoon arrived I began my arduous trek across London to Paddington which is no easy task at the weekend as London Transport were playing their usual trick on the thousands of day trippers by closing half the underground network. Still I made in time to catch a train which got me to Maidenhead just after two o'clock.
As usual I glimpsed at York Road as the train pulled into the station to see a crowd building nicely with some supporters already staking out their territory behind the goal. Leaving the station I was confronted by several police including two on horses, a sad consequence of intelligence received by the local constabulary that a number of known hooligans from outside the town were planning on going to the game. Later I discovered police spotters inside the ground had identified as many as thirty of these faces but the show of strength outside the ground seemed to have the desired effect and the game passed without incident off the pitch. Full credit to Thames Valley Police who showed a keen desire to help the club in any way shape or form to ensure the day passed peacefully without any threat of the associated crippling costs.
The spirit of non league football was alive and well when I got to the ground and found Fixture Secretary Roy Bannister hand writing the team sheets. As I bought my pre match pint I had a long wait for my change as the till remained shut due to a power cut caused by a small electrical fire. Fortunately supporter and electrician Dino "The Hat" Borge was on hand to sort everything out and I could join the throng in Stripes discussing the prospects for play. 
I was certain Maidenhead would score and felt we had a good chance of getting something from the game. The sight of an Aldershot team always seems to bring the best out of the team regardless of who the manager and players are. Many of my most memorable moments watching the Magpies had come against the Shots and I was confident this would be another one.
One of the great aspects of a big game like this is the way you bump into people you haven't seen for a while and so I spent some time before the game with Magpie great Mick Creighton listening to his stories of attending the infamous Slough v Millwall FA Cup tie in the 80s and how he still turns out for his son's Sunday team.
For the first half I decided to stand in the media centre which for once was being used for its proper purpose of accommodating supporters in wheelchairs. With plenty of room behind them I was greeted Hawaiian style as Mike Payne placed a black and white scarf around my neck.As the teams took their places for the kick off I fully expected an early Aldershot blitz, with the ability of Maidenhead to weather the early storm being crucial to their hopes of a result. Yet what transpired was a rather subdued opening which gave the game the feeling of a pre season friendly rather than a high octane Cup tie. This seemed to be the result of Aldershot's inability to deal with Maidenhead's game plan to sit deep and stifle the Shots attempts to find League Two topscorer Danny Hylton. The game was played at a much slower tempo than usual Alliance South affairs at York Road and so Jon Scarborough was imperious at the heart of the Maidenhead defence.
Yet the Magpies defensive endeavour would have been nothing without a lead to hold on and this came in the sixth minute when Anthony Thomas scored with yet another superb strike chipping Shots' reserve keeper Jamie Young from the edge of the area. It was a goal fit for the occasion and it was a good job it hit the back of the net as the game was bereft of goalmouth action for the most part as Ashan Holgate cut a lone figure up front for United whilst the Shots got continuously swamped in the Maidenhead defence.
As the second half began I joined the Twyford Royals on the shelf, watching an unchanging game, the belief in a Maidenhead victory growing with every minute. With Drax looking to have trumped his Aldershot counterpart Dean Holdsworth, the ex Newport manager played his last hand by making three substitutions. This opened the game up and remarkably looked like offering the chance for a second Maidenhead goal, FA Cup warrior of old Bobby Behzadi drawing on all his experience when he moved into the midfield from right back to keep the United engine going.
With thirteen minutes to go Aldershot finally found Maidenhead's achilles heel, a vulnerability to defend against pace. Alex Rodman sprinted down the right wing, riding two tackles sucking defenders towards him so that his pass found Michael Rankine unmarked and able to comfortably sweep the ball home for the equaliser.Still this did not prove to the shot that loosened Maidenhead's foundations and a fairytale finish was set up for the Magpies with a free kick deep into stoppage time. Alex Wall's blast came to naught though and the game finished all square both sides deserving to fight another day in what should be a great replay with the prize of a trip to Hillsborough for the winners.
Regardless of what happens at the Rec in ten days time though this day will join the likes of famous York Road Cup ties against West Auckland and Bath City, proving the late great Stan Payne's adage: "Maidenhead United, it's a great club".

Thursday, 3 November 2011

French Connection

Thoroughly enjoyed this goalless Gallic affair on Tuesday night. Quick dash from work, leaving at 7.15 and making it to my seat on the Upper tier of the Clock End as the teams walked out meant I felt a little breathless. This was soon replicated on the pitch as the ball flew from end to end with rapid regularity. In a break with the this season's tradition though the centre of defence was tight enough for either side to avoid conceding. For Arsenal Thomas Vermaelen summed up the importance of his return with a Mooresque intervention midway through the first half to deny a Marseilles goalscoring opportunity, whilst at the other end Souleymane Diawarra gave a similarly composed performance.
Following last week's laboured victory over Bolton the game provided another opportunity for some fringe players to get time in the middle. For Carl Jenkinson this still looks a little early to judge him, particularly his distribution whilst Andre Santos' tendency to wander up the pitch led to the right wing being a fruitful furrow for the French to plough. Up front Ju Young Park again wanted too much time on the ball, unfortunately when he was replaced by Robin Van Persie, the Dutchman didn't seem to have enough in the tank to repeat his heroics of previous weeks.
Still top of the group, and four points taken from the nearest challengers, Arsenal look better placed than last year to win the group. An impressive display from the French fans too, looking forward to more of the same from Dortmund supporters at the end of the month.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The King's A Leon

The fourth and final qualifying round of the FA Cup must be the best day in the Non League calendar. If you're lucky enough to still be in the competition you can wallow in all the hopes and dreams of glory to come in the competition proper in the knowledge that the tie you must win to get there offers a realistic chance of success. Everyone travelling to see a Cup tie yesterday must have done so in the hope that their team would win or at least be in the hat for the next round. Everyone would have had a team in their head who they wanted to draw in the first round. Everyone would have had a least of flutter of pride at the stirrings of extra media attention.
All this was true for me as I set off on the short journey to Farncombe to see Godalming Town host Maidenhead United for the right to join the forty eight Football League Third and Fourth Division clubs. So although inconvenienced by joining a train jam packed full of Chelsea fans at Shepherds Bush, I could only smile as they whined about "glory hunting" QPR fans from the previous week's match. Pausing to check Twitter as I waited for the the train at Clapham Junction a wry grin crept onto my face at the chutzpah of the nation's favourite Spoonerism Jeremy Hunt who billed the match as Culture Sec v Home Sec in reference to the Gs and Magpies' MPs.
Arriving nice and early I was stopped by the day's fourth official Dele Sotimirin, who had travelled on the same train and needed directions to the ground. I accompanied him part of the way, filling him in on each club's form before stopping off midway to Wey Court at the Freeholders, a welcoming pub from which to watch the day's support act, the Chelsea v Arsenal game, in the company of a flock of Royal Magpies who had eschewed a trip to Selhurst Park in favour of cheering on United.
Suitably buoyed up by proceedings at Stamford Bridge, an experience enhanced by being in a pub full of Chelsea fans in Ashley Cole's home town, next stop was Wey Court home of Godalming Town. The Gs have had a short but labyrinthine history encompassing name changes and an admirable approach to ground development using second hand structures no longer required by other clubs. Their recent elevation from county league football was plain to see by the limited but tidy ground which was just right for the game as the crowd stringed themselves round the perimeter in an unbroken chain one person deep.
With the tie being Town's first at this stage they had rightly received plenty of attention from the BBC and the FA, and their excellent form going into the game, particularly the recent defeats of Worcester and Kingstonian suggested they had more than a puncher's chance with some of their names on their team sheet being quite familiar with Alliance South football. The home manager was keen to play up the kidology saying the pressure was all on Maidenhead, but the Magpies shouldered this well dominating the opening stages . However with no end product to United's attacking endeavours, Godalming visibly grew in confidence.
Town twice went close with headers but their failure to hit the target was soon punished as Maidenhead responded by scoring twice. The first in the thirty first minute saw Ashan Holgate hold up a Bobby Behzadi free kick before laying the ball off to Martel Powell to fire home the opening goal of the game.With seven minutes to go before the break Leon Solomon made it two with an extraordinary finish from the left wing, the ball sailing over the goalkeeper's head into the top right corner, as good as any chip in from the fairway on the adjacent goal course.
Stunned by the prospect of an exit in their seventh FA Cup match this season it was clear Godalming's response after the restart would be crucial in helping them to maintain a toehold in this season's competition but they hadn't even got out of the blocks before Maidenhead made it 3-0.
Within seconds of the second half kick off, Solomon hared down the left and delivered a cross which Anthony Thomas launched himself at but could not even give it the eyebrows, nevertheless the ball hit the back of the net again.
Godalming refused to give up but with Sam Beasant equal to any of their attacking efforts the Magpies were the only likely scorers. So with twelve minutes to go Solomon completed a hat trick finishing a well worked exchange of passes with Holgate. A rout now seemed inevitable particularly when Manny Williams pounced on a slip by the hapless keeper to make it five. Deep into injury time though the Godalming number one restored some pride with a great double save from Will Hendry and Holgate. The final whistle soon sounded to cue elation from the black and white ranks at another first round appearance.
As we trailed home on the train, talk was naturally about Sunday's draw. Surely Maidenhead will overturn a run of five consecutive first round draws against non league opposition even if we don't get the likes of Charlton or Sheffields Wednesday and United. The wonders of social networking saw me meet up with @OrientMeatPie on the train, think we would both settle for the Os visiting York Road in November.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Bolton the blue

Half term week and the League Cup is in town to offer thousands of kids on holiday, not to mention two teachers a cheap night out watching two Premier League teams. Arsenal's tie at home to Bolton fell on my birthday  - 29 years after my first visit to Highbury give or take a day (goalless draw against Birmingham since you ask) - so an ideal opportunity for my wife Ewa to make her first visit to Ashburton Grove.
Accompanying a far from regular football watcher showed me how easy watching Arsenal has become, wander up to the turnstile, insert ticket in the reader, walk through the gate then across the concourse to our comfortable seats in the lower tier on the halfway line.
Early first impressions could have come straight from the media "why do the Arsenal players look like kids?", and "why do Arsenal keep passing to each other instead of going for goal?". By half time two well matched teams looked like producing another first stalemate. Bolton fielded a stronger team which meant they were the equal of the Gunners more blended selection.
Ten minutes of the second half changed all that. Bolton kicked the game into life when Ivan Klasnic combined well with Fabrice Muamba to give the former Arsenal striker the chance to prove the law of the ex and give the Trotters the lead.
Fortunately this was the spark Arsenal needed. Andrey Arshavin, with Ewa's favourite number 23 on his back, levelled with an excellent shot threading the eye of the needle to elude a host of defenders and the goalkeeper before hitting the back of the net. He then turned provider cleverly drawing the Wanderers' back to the centre of the pitch to give Ju Young Park the time and space to receive the Russian's pass then curl his shot around Adam Bogdan.
That seemed to be that as Arsenal settled for a one goal lead but Bolton pushed them all the way to the end, and will consider themselves a little unlucky not to extend the game to extra time. One slip aside Lukasz (note from Ewa to PA the L is pronounced as a W) Fabianski had one of his better games to keep the Trotters out and offer the opportunity of another cheap night out at the Grove in a month's time.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Woking on Sunshine

Sometimes in football everything just works as intended, not very often and certainly not at York Road for Maidenhead United in an FA Cup tie, but yesterday it did. 
A reminder of how things stood at 3 pm yesterday. Woking arrived at York Road having lost just once all season, at second place Welling. Maidenhead were missing a goalkeeper, full back and star striker through suspension not to mention three influential players to injury. Even I the eternal optimist could only hope for a 1-1 draw and a replay on Tuesday night, which would be Woking's worst result at York Road since relegation to the Alliance South.
Yet from the kick off Maidenhead executed a brilliant plan to win the game, flooding the midfield with five men to stifle Woking's counter attacks, and provide the width to create their own goal scoring opportunities. This left Ashan Holgate alone up front but he manfully stepped up to his solitary task, just like Craig O'Connor did at Cambridge City more than five years ago in another splendid win. Holgate however was far more cultured in his approach than the feisty O'Connor, with his range of deft touches starring his favoured back heel. Thus Maidenhead dominated the opening stages and took a deserved lead in the seventeenth minute.
The architect of the goal was the man of the first half Anthony Thomas, who shrugged off the inconvenience of playing out of position on the left wing, picked up a pass from Will Hendry then beat three players before bending a shot around Aaron Howe which hit the far post. The loose ball then fell to Holgate to score from close range. 
Woking were quickly handed a way back into the game when Holgate was harshly judged to have fouled Joe McNerney in the penalty, Jack King equalising from the spot.
This proved to be a temporary setback for the Magpies as they quickly reclaimed the lead when a blocked Bobby Behzadi shot was fired in by Reece Tison-Lascaris. Woking again responded instantly in true Cup tie fashion but the post denied Moses Ademola a second equaliser. This proved to be a crucial miss as Maidenhead went out of sight with two more goals before half time.
Once again it was Thomas who pulled the strings, as firstly his cross was turned in by Holgate, then a lob pass found Tison-Lascaris to score the goal of the game, deftly the taking the ball past Howe before hitting the target. 
Thomas was keen to indicate his influence to the Maidenhead bench and with five goals to his credit this campaign as well as the assists, he must the star of the early season.
Before the break there was just time for Woking to show they still intended to fight for their place in the competition, giving a taste of things to come when Ademola was first denied by the feet of Jordan Clement, then saw an effort tipped over the bar.
Dale Binns had also joined the fray shortly before the interval after being surprisingly left out of the starting line up and as expected he gave makeshift right back Andrew Fagan a torrid time as Woking set up camp in the Maidenhead half from the restart. The score remained the same though Clement saving well from Elvis Hammond. As the game drew to a close Woking manager threw on Giuseppe Sole as a last throw of the dice but Clement was ready pulling off three superb saves from Sole to claim the man of the second half award and strangle any lingering hopes of a comeback. Sam Beasant will sweating about reclaim his place after this performance from the Aldershot loanee.
At the final whistle the Maidenhead players deservedly took their ovation from Bell Street and the Shelf, having given certainly the best FA Cup performance since the away tie at Stafford in 2006. 

No sign

Biggest crowd of the season yesterday but as usual this means that there was a very large travelling support. Hopefully the Maidenhead public will come out in numbers to support the Magpies if we get a home draw in the next round. It would be nice to think that some local institutions will help to get people through the gates. At the moment this is far from the case. With the noble exception of the Advertiser and in particular Charles Watts (best since Richard Copeman?) who continue to provide great coverage, particularly in the sports section despite having many more clubs to cover, the continuing ignorance from the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead and BBC Radio Berkshire is a poor verdict on their duty to serve the public.
At the start of the season I noticed the sign pictured above at the junction of Queen Street and York Road. Excellent I thought, a sign to the historic York Road ground at last? Not at all. Yes you will be helped to find the Railway Station, The Green Way, The Heritage Centre, The Town Hall & Library and the The Register Office, but if its football you want good luck. Then again as the mayor and MP never seem to find an occasion even once a season to show support to the club at a game that is hardly surprising.
Then there is BBC Radio Berkshire with just one league club to cover you would have thought Maidenhead United, as the premier non league team in the county might get some coverage, particularly in the universally known FA Cup? No chance. In spite of most visiting clubs bringing their local BBC radio commentary team with them to York Road on a regular basis, our local station can't even make it to a home game as important as yesterday or even find space on their website to mention the game.
Oh well at least we won't notice the public sector cuts at York Road.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Chelmsford left looking Ashan

To date Chelmsford's visits to York Road have followed a familiar pattern: a hard fought game of fair quality with the Clarets finishing with daylight between themselves and the Magpies. No wonder the Essex club's fans rate their trip to the Royal County as their favourite in the league. 
This season the script was followed faithfully in the first half. After a bright United opening, Chelmsford scored with their first attack of the game when a Cliff Akurang left wing cross was turned in by Kezie Ibe.This set the tone for the first half with Chelmsford always looking dangerous when they counter attacked swiftly whilst Maidenhead made little headway going forward, the Magpies cause not being helped by the untimely departure of Will Hendry. Hendry had shown flashes of his best form before hobbling off after a tackle by Max Cornhill and the Magpies sorely missed his flair. Meanwhile Sam Beasant kept Chelmsford at bay, pushing a Sam Corcoran shot wide then making three interventions in quick succession to keep the deficit to one as the clock ticked past the half hour mark.United were given hope on the stroke of half time when Anthony Thomas beat three men on the left hand side of the penalty area and fired a shot which whistled narrowly past the far post.
After the break the game went flat until the introduction of Ishmail Kamara ten minutes into the half. He livened up the Maidenhead attack and from this point on an equaliser looked likely. As the Sweeneys stood behind me engrossed in a game of iChess maybe there was some sort of psychic interplay with the black & white pieces on the pitch finding a more effective formation.
With fifteen minutes to go the way forward was signaled when a Thomas free kick from the right wing was headed onto the underside of the bar by Ashan Holgate. Leon Solomon cleared an Anthony Cook header off the line with four minutes left to keep the result open and as the third and final minute of stoppage time drew to a close the pieces rearranged themselves for a final play, another Thomas free kick, this time from the left wing. With ten seconds left Holgate again rose highest and this time hit the target to earn a deserved point for United and maintain the improved home form in preparation for the visit of league leaders Woking in the Cup next Saturday.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

CSI Maidenhead

A criminal investigation should have started at the final whistle yesterday after the Magpies were robbed of £4,500 and a place in the third qualifying round of the FA Cup by some mysterious officiating in stoppage time at the end of the game. A forensic team would be required to find the scraps of evidence necessary to legitimate two key decisions as their rationales were invisible to the naked eye.
Despite being down to ten men for over half the game Maidenhead were looking most likely to score a winner as the ninety minute mark was passed. The Magpies had stretched the Farnborough defence all afternoon with some penetrating long balls, quite apt as Glenn Hoddle was watching from the shelf, with Martel Powell in scintillating form. His pass deep into the right corner of the pitch was hared after by attacking dynamo Manny Williams and under pressure the defender chipped his diminutive keeper to score an exquisite own goal from a tight angle but the celebrations were cut short by the linesman who waited until the ball hit the back of the net and the players had long parted to raise his flag for a presumed foul in the build up. Who knows what this was but the big question was why didn't he flag the instant it happened? Did he take pity on the miserable sight of an embarrassed defender at his feet?
Within a minute the Powell/Williams double act worked again on the opposite flank. This time Williams had the ball at his feet and an arm around his chest as the defender tried to jostle him off the ball, Williams stayed on his feet and after the defender, having failed in his Machiavellian mission, collapsed in a heap leaving just the keeper to beat the referee awarded a free kick to Farnborough when surely he should have let play continue then dismiss the defender for a professional foul?
Then again this was par for the course in Maidenhead's encounters with Farnborough. I missed the win in August over the non league kings of financial doping, but was reminded of it just before the kick off when a Farnborough fan chose to scream abuse at the Maidenhead bench for being whingers that day when Chris Taylor was stretchered off having been crippled for the season by Ashley Winn. Its this sort of thing that put Farnborough on my games to avoid list, not quite eclipsing an incident in the 2000 Isthmian League Cup Final  in that other loathsome part of Hampshire, Basingstoke, when a woman standing behind me informed Chuk Agudosi that he should "go back to the jungle".
Anyway back to the football. This tumultuous FA Cup tie began in whizz bang fashion with both teams launching balls forward at every opportunity. One punt from Nevin Saroya found Williams whose shot hit the post whilst at the other end Reece Connolly went close for 'borough. Maidenhead suffered an early set back when Max Worsfold limped off injured having forced a great save from Sam Somerville. Then with half time in sight United went down to ten men when Sam Beasant was sent off. His onlooking dad Dave must have winced as for third time his son came out of his penalty area and failed to deal adequately with a long ball. The first two attempts saw long shots on an open goal go wide but this time Beasant got his hands to the ball to allow Andrew Fagan to tidy up behind him and a red card was inevitable.
Earlier Maidenhead had taken the lead with a glorious sweeping move which Ashan Holgate instigated with a deft back heel to Anthony Thomas who drove inside from the left wing, passing to Williams who helped the ball onto Powell on the right to score with a drilled shot inside the far post.
This proved to be a mixed blessing for both teams. After the break Farnborough used the extra man to briefly run Maidenhead ragged and it was no surprise when Adam Bygrave eluded a statuesque Magpie backline to convert Connolly's cross. Instead of going for the jugular they then sat back and Maidenhead slowly worked their way back into the game, an approach exemplified by the tireless Fagan who often doubled up on his defensive duties on the right side of midfield. Following the dismissal Drax had surprisingly opted to replace the hard working Thomas rather than the languid Holgate with Jordan Clement and the young Shots keeper pushed his claim for the number one spot in the replay with three good saves from Tony Garrod and Reece Connolly (twice). This enabled the fitter Magpies to press for the winner which was cruelly denied them in stoppage time by the men in black and so go into the replay without suspended talisman Williams and Bobby Behzadi. Time for Will Hendry to return and inspire a win at Cherrywood Road?

Post script: Seeing Dave Beasant at the game reminded me that Maidenhead fielded two sons of the 80s crazy gang yesterday both in goal!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The raw and the cooked

Arsenal edged a third successive win last night, beating Olympiakos 2-1 in an entertaining open game. With Arsenal fielding what could almost pass for a Carling Cup XI, such were their injury problems, this was quite predictable although the opening ten minutes suggested a smooth ride for the Gunners.
Mikel Arteta in particular was given the freedom of the midfield from the kick off and it was no surprise when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who already looks set to eclipse Theo Walcott, scored the opening goal. This delighted the person sitting next to me who must have been related to Harry Enfield's Arsenal loving kebab seller Stavros. The night was initially punctuated by his shouts of "come on Alex my boy" in a strong southern European accent, which soon became overshadowed with his interjections of "bloody hell Arsenal" as Olympiakos fought their way back into the game. Still after Arteta had cleared off the line, Andre Santos doubled the lead. 

The Greeks soon pulled one back when they exploited Arsenal's achilles heel, the set piece, David Fuster heading home from a short corner. The goal, coupled with some great fist pumping action from the away fans, was all the encouragement Olympiakos needed to go in search of an equaliser. They went close on more than one occasion and throughout the second half it seemed another goal for either team was likely but there was no further score.
For Arsenal three important points towards qualification for the knockout stages and some valuable experience for raw youngsters like Chamberlain and Frimpong. I'm yet to be convinced by any of the deadline day signings with Santos particularly disappointing from a defensive viewpoint, Dani Alves he ain't. Add in the likes of Tomas Rosicky, Marouane Chamakh and Andrey Arshavin all off their game to some degree and its clear that the Arsenal recovery has a long way to go yet.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Deep Blue Day

An afternoon to forget yesterday. One that would have been better spent wandering around Westfield, it really was that bad. The blue theme began when I stepped onto the train at Shepherd's Bush. There was barely standing room on board as it was full of Chelsea fans going to their game at Stamford Bridge. However I was surrounded by blue shirts once more on arrival at Gander Green Lane as wearing one seemed to be a way of gaining entry to that modern footballing beast, the family fun day. Hardly surprising as I was in Surrey and good to see a larger than usual number watching their local team. I draw the line though at the liberal distribution of a device which made a vuvuzela type sound which destroyed any chance of atmosphere. Perhaps this was part of an African theme with Sutton fielding a mascot dressed as a giraffe but the kick off saw the game as a sideshow to everything else going on at the Borough sports ground which had the feeling of a summer fete with a football match going on somewhere in the middle.
Sutton took charge from the word go, with Maidenhead barely making it past the halfway line in the first forty minutes. With Sutton manager Paul Doswell fielding a cast of ex Eastleigh players, Maidenhead's poor record against the Spitfires crossed my mind, and by the break it felt like one of our many defeats against the Hampshire club.
Maidenhead's shortcomings were the inability of the midfield and attack to keep the ball and thus relieve pressure on a makeshift defence. This created the environment for Sutton to ruthlessly turn the defensive errors that ensued into goals. The first saw a stray pass picked up by Craig Watkins whose shot was saved by Sam Beasant only for Watkins to pick up the loose ball again to finish from close range in the seventh minute. He doubled the score ten minutes later when he nonchalantly finished at the far post from a Leroy Griffiths cross from the right.
Any doubt about the destination of the points was removed ahead of half time when Sutton scored two more goals to notch up the Magpies' fourth four goal deficit this season. The first came from the penalty spot, a soft award given for a challenge by Bobby Behzadi on Anthony Riviere, Watkins taking the opportunity to complete a thirty minute hat trick. Then to thoroughly depress the Maidenhead mood the final goal of the half followed a Magpies attack which saw a Max Worsfold cross find Anthony Thomas whose shot grazed the crossbar. The ball then moved swiftly to the other end where Griffiths caught Beasant off his line with a lob which hit the inside of the post and was flagged as a goal despite a Marcus Rose clearance.
This passage of play was a dress rehearsal for an open second half after an interval which saw the visiting Met Police contingent focus on monitoring celebrity penalty taker Tim Vine's criminal use of puns leaving Drax to deal with the felonious first half performance from the Magpies. Thus Gordon Strachan and everyone else in the bumper four figure crowd had, despite just the one goal, a more entertaining second half to enjoy.
The Maidenhead front six showed much greater invention and desire in the second period, creating enough chances to mount an unlikely comeback. This change in performance was typified by Will Hendry and Ashan Holgate whose machinations provided opportunities aplenty for the likes of Martel Powell and Andrew Fagan. Worsfold came closest to scoring when he hit the post  before Anthony Thomas pulled one back as the hour mark approached. However this resurgence was counterbalanced by further chances for Sutton, Harry Beautyman hitting the post following a good save by Beasant from Joel Ledgister. So by the final whistle the depression was barely lifted as I made my way back home to West London through the blue hordes trailing away from the Bridge.
So with twelve league games gone the first chapter of the season closes with Maidenhead United in a satisfactory mid table position, the joy of some great wins tempered by the scale of the defeats which call to mind John Dreyer's first season when a similar placing was achieved despite regular thumpings. Two games a week over a six week period has taken its toll in suspensions and injuries which will have a real bearing on selection in the second quarter of the campaign up to the festive season with the nature of the fixture list largely dictated by the two FA competitions.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Taming of the Shrews

Could Arsenal's start to the season get any worse? It would cost just £10 to find out as they took on Shrewsbury Town in the League Cup.Taking my seat thirteen rows behind the Town dugout, the aura of excitement, usually so prevalent on these cut price evenings which allow many a rare opportunity to watch an Arsenal game live, was in short supply save from the massed ranks of the Shrewsbury fans behind one goal who needed little prompting to remind everyone of the strange name of their region, Salop.
With the ground little more than two thirds full, an early goal was required to lift the atmosphere. In the opening ten minutes Arsenal scarcely went into their own half as Marouane Chamakh was twice denied by goalkeeper Ben Smith. Having survived the early onslaught though Shrewsbury took the game to their hosts, serving notice of their intent by hitting the post before Jamie Collins opened the scoring with a header. Cue much celebration at the Town end and a smidgen of congratulation all round for their manager Graham Turner, a great unsung hero of the lower divisions with a managerial career spanning over twenty years.
Naturally the goal also sparked a few boos and panic from the Arsenal ranks, with Shrewsbury continuing to dominate. In particular Town defender Reuben Hazell looked like a chip of his old uncle Bob. The tide turned when Francis Coquelin ran half the length of the pitch to make a great tackle in his own area, and thanks to Smith fumble Arsenal drew level when Kieran Gibbs' header crept in at the near post.
In the second half a powerful strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain completed the comeback before Yossi Benayoun capped a good night's work with a third.
Game over and the post mortem in Che Guevara's produced the consensus of a good night for Ignasi Miquel, Benayoun and Coquelin. However Johann Djourou despite being captain looked a man broken by his Old Trafford experience, as did Carl Jenkinson, whilst Ju Young Park gave little cause for optimism. Still job done and the chance of another cheap night out in the next round.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

PNE's future's bright Phil Brown's orange

Phil Brown is one of those marmite personalities so prevalent in football. Equal parts admirable for what he achieved with Hull and derisible for his attention grabbing antics. Thus I had mixed feelings when he was given the job at Preston, a club I will always have a lot of time for. Relegation last season was inevitable prior to his arrival at Deepdale and I was surprised to see PNE highly tipped to bounce back with promotion at the first attempt but this early season optimism has been justified with a fine run of wins.
I last saw a Brown team play when Hull travelled to Arsenal for an FA Cup Quarter Final tie in North London. Hull were first out of the blocks and took a deserved lead but with the Gunners there for the taking Brown ordered the Tigers to sit back and kill time. Inevitably this came back to haunt them as Arsenal won the game with two late but the match hit the headlines for the wrong reasons when Brown and his assistant Brian Horton got involved in a post match incident with non playing captain Cesc Fabregas. So Brown's fate was sealed in my eyes as a chancer looking for publicity to mask his shortcomings.
Horton was equally damned by association but his role in yesterday's match at that West London football theme park in Brentford was cast in a positive light many years ago as it was whilst he was manager of Manchester City that he signed current Bees manager Uwe Rosler. With Brentford also showing early season promise the afternoon offered the opportunity for an exciting Football League encounter. So when invited to join old friends at the game I needed little encouragement to pick this fixture over a schlep down Welling High Road to Maidenhead's game against the Wings.
It was many years since I had visited Griffin Park and I had forgotten what a good, if a little expensive, day out at the match it presents. The word of the day was convenience. I was able to jump on a bus at the end of my road for a short trip down the A4 where I would find a welcoming pub to get something to eat, down a few beers and take in the early TV game. The three pints of Fullers Red Fox went down a treat with the unsubtly branded Victory burger in the Lord Nelson, but I was left with my head in my hands at the abject display by the Gunners at Blackburn. The pub filled up nicely with home fans, all proudly wearing red and white striped shirts of various vintages, and so we moved onto the main event at Griffin Park.
A short walk to the ground felt like entering a time machine as the best aspects of pre Sky football were on display. There were emptying pubs on every corner of the ground as fans of both teams wandered up to the turnstiles, offered up the requisite in admission in cash then proceeded unmolested by stewards to take their seat or place on the terrace as they wished. Football as it was, football as it should be.
I lost the vote in our gang of three so we headed for the covered home end which felt comfortably full. The best aspect of Griffin Park is the way all four sides of the ground sit tightly next to the pitch so a crowd of just over six thousand produced a good atmosphere for a suitably competitive game.
The scoreline of 3-1 slightly flattered Preston but they were worthy of three points with Brown winning the tactical battle over Rosler in a performance which saw the Lillywhites attack quickly and ruthlessly. Throughout the game they were always a shade better than the Bees who nevertheless worked hard to stay in the game until the third North End goal effectively sealed the result with seventeen minutes left.
Preston's superiority hinged on a midfield diamond which saw Graham Alexander screening the defence to allow Iain Hume a free role behind the front two. In contrast Brentford's more rigid structure saw them gain ground steadily without the snap of Preston's fast counter attacking to create chances. One of the first of these moves saw Mellor cut in from the left to shrug off a defender and score with a fine finish. Brentford soon responded when my ex student Marcus Bean played in Myles Weston on the right wing whose run and cross gave Nial McGinn the opportunity to equalise. 
Preston regained the lead just after the half hour mark when the Brentford defence gave Hume the time and space to score with a terrific shot from outside the penalty area. The second half saw Brentford push hard to get back on level terms but it was Preston who scored final goal of the game when a well worked free kick routine saw my wife's ex student Clarke Carlisle at the far post head the ball back across the face of the goal where Mellor was waiting to lash the ball home. Three points and a sixth consecutive win for Preston who on this evidence will mount a strong promotion challenge worthy of a team containing the likes of Carlisle, Alexander, Mellor and Hume. Brentford may well stay around the upper reaches of mid table but will always present a great opportunity to show anyone under the age of twenty what an afternoon watching professional football should entail, finished off of course by a return to the pub to chew over the day's action.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Captain Kirk leads Weston to boldly go

Maidenhead United v Weston-super-mare had become an utterly predictable fixture, with a fourth goalless draw in five York Road meetings only being averted by a stoppage time Lee Barney winner last season. This was largely due to Weston adopting a typically Southern League attitude of thou shalt not pass with Maidenhead lacking the guile to break down a ten man defence.
Having surprised many last season by effectively transplanting a Bridgwater team into the Alliance South from the lower reaches of the Southern League, Craig Laird now looks to shaping up his team for a tilt at the play offs. The sheer lack of height in the Seagulls line up suggested that the hoof to the trees philosophy had disappeared and so it was proved as they ran out 3-1 winners.
For their part Maidenhead were missing midfielders Craig Taylor and Will Hendry, with a lack of suitable replacements leading to the Magpies fielding a very attacking line up, with a predictably disjointed look. However with United in fine form with thirteen points from the last five games, the first half was a tight affair with both sides showing much attacking intent without end product. The exception to this was Weston captain Ben Kirk's startling strike from distance to break the deadlock midway through the first half. Kirk hobbled off injured before the interval but had set the game up nicely for his team.
After the restart Weston had a good claim for a penalty turned down which cancelled out two half claims earlier on by Maidenhead and seemed to have sealed the points when Jamie Price finished off a neat free kick in the 63rd minute.
Maidenhead struck back quickly though when Manny Williams capitalised on a collision between the Weston goalkeeper and a defender to apply a sweet finish to score. The diminutive striker should then have completed the comeback when Martel Powell supplied him with a pass inside the penalty area but Williams put his effort into the side netting.
Still there was plenty of time left with the referee rightly taking into account the Weston time wasting antics, particularly from the hectoring Kane Ingram. The man in the middle did not help himself by being all too ready to engage in conversation during the game but by indicating a minimum of seven minutes stoppage time ensured that the Somerset gamesmanship was accounted for. Drax threw on Nevin Saroya as a target man with time on the watch and although the keeper was beaten forcing a Weston defender to head off the line Maidenhead could not conjure up the equaliser so it was annoyingly Ingram who had the last word by scoring from a breakaway attack.

Sunday, 4 September 2011


Or as the marker above at Truro station more accurately put it 300 and 3/4 miles from London was the suitably novel journey facing me on non league day. Having made it to the top of the reverse L shape that is England to watch Maidenhead take on Blyth Spartans in the FA Trophy ten years ago, the promotion of Truro City to the Blue Square Bet South had presented the opportunity to travel to the westerly point with a first ever trip to Cornwall for the Magpies.
As I waited for the bus to take me to Paddington I received news of the Magpies that had already arrived in Truro, some by the Friday night sleeper train and as I approached Paddington I recalled the largely successful fortnightly trips to the west country during United's brief and ultimately glorious spell in the Southern League. Just how much further I would be travelling hit home when the train reached Tiverton in under two hours, the only Devon club Maidenhead faced in that promotion season. The lionshare of the journey was still to come with that great achievement of the nationalised railway, the High Speed Train being wasted as it crawled to my destination. Strange to think that this journey was unchanged in my lifetime although a Cornwall fixture would have been impossible without an overnight stop for the first century of organised football, a nice contrast with the previous Saturday's game against Staines, opponents for over a hundred years.
Still I wasn't alone with enough fans on this train to make up a team with those already in Truro. With the stunning coastal scenery between Exeter and Newton Abbot, time passed satisfactorily on a packed train although the grey mist shrouding Dartmoor gave no hope of an Indian Summer's day. Passing over the suitably battleship grey Royal Albert Bridge, the dark clouds deposited drizzle and on arrival in Truro there was nothing to lift the gloom thanks to a dull walk along the ring road to City's Treyew Road ground.
After some welcome pints of Tribute in the cosy clubhouse the approaching kick off lured me outside to a distinctly underwhelming ground that will need plenty of work on it to obtain the grading necessary to stay at this level of football. Clearly money had been spent on an impressive playing surface and the talent to play on it, but what surrounded it was a basic county league ground with a small stand and an almost complete lack of terracing which was particularly annoying as there was none under the only covered standing area. Two sides consisted of temporary seating (uncovered along the side, covered behind the goal) which gave credence to rumours circulating in the bar over a move to push the local authority into building a new stadium for both football and rugby club, a policy which had led to no little controversy surrounding Chairman Kevin Heaney which was augmented by his role in a protracted takeover of Plymouth Argyle. This had led to an internet campaign by Plymouth fans to disrupt the game but this proved to be nothing more than cyberchat, unlike goings on a the previous home game which had led to a seemingly knee jerk draconian ban on Truro Independent Supporters Merchandise being worn in the ground. This explained what proved to be an unnecessary police presence and so everyone was free to focus on the football.
The first half produced little incident but set the pattern for the second period with Truro looking dangerous from set pieces whilst Maidenhead looked most potent attacking down either flank. Some well timed interventions by Leigh Henry helped to stop the former whilst the Magpies couldn't quite conjure up a goal scoring opportunity with the latter.
This all changed within two minutes of the restart when Maidenhead took the lead with a well worked goal. A quickly taken free kick by Will Hendry went short to Bobby Behzadi who found Manny Williams heading for goal. Williams unselfishly laid the ball off to his right into the path of Martel Powell who stunned Truro keeper Tim Sandercombe with a delicate shot which went in at the near post.
This goal sparked a period of Maidenhead domination and they could have gone onto seal the points with Williams again pulling the strings to give Alex Wall the opportunity to strike a fierce shot which was parried by Sandercombe, Daniel Brown's follow up being deflected wide.
Truro then took the initiative, Scott Walker forcing a good save out of Lumley before beating him with a neat   free kick only to see the ball hit the inside of the post. The loose ball fell straight to Barry Hayles to equalise from close range and the points were up for grabs once more.
It was Maidenhead's classy counter attacks pivoting on the fulcrum of star man Williams that still looked most likely to produce a further goal and so it was that after the diminutive striker himself had been denied at close range by Sandercombe, he capitalised on great work from Brown and Powell to feed substitute Anthony Thomas on the left wing. Thomas then cut inside to unleash a shot from just inside the penalty area to beat Sandercombe with a strike worthy of three points.
Thus the final whistle sparked celebrations from the travelling Magpies as the players went off to a well deserved night out on the Cornish Riviera. Wandering back to the station  the day was made complete when my 50/1 treble of wins for Thurrock, Farnborough and Maidenhead was confirmed.
So the perfect non league day. A journey a bit too long to repeat but definitely one worth making yesterday.