About Me

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

Wednesday, 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.