About Me

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

Sunday, 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!