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, 29 January 2012

Good Old Sussex By The Sea

Unlike Hampshire, Sussex is a favourite footballing county of mine, the disappointment of Lewes' relegation last season being salved by their replacement by Eastbourne Borough. My train journey down to the game reflected this county of contrasts: beginning with Gatwick Airport, then followed by the lush green fields and rolling hills best viewed from the Balcombe viaduct before arriving at bohemian Brighton. A change of trains saw me heading across the flatlands just behind the coast pausing at arty Lewes before arriving at Eastbourne a town that I can find no other adjective to use but nice.
A billboard near the station advertising the game was the only sign that it was taking place the busy shopping centre being devoid of any noticeable local football fans. A stop in Greggs for lunch brought a wry smile as the French couple behind me in the queue asked for some croissants. I wonder if Britain's national boulanger was up to scratch?
Eastbourne Borough's Priory Lane ground is at the very edge of the town and was reached after a long bus ride through a succession of pleasant valley Sunday housing estates. Maidenhead United's plans for an out of town relocation may be dead but if they had come to pass Eastbourne Borough had the template for success. A bustling social club  is bettered by a pretty much perfect ground for this level particularly considering its a new build. Covered terracing on three sides is complemented by a stand with unobstructed views. Corporate hospitality is neatly accommodated above one goal, tidied away from the throng.
At kick off, the strong low winter sun saw the teams switch ends, Maidenhead presumably winning the toss so that Borough keeper Clark Masters would be forced to squint for 45 minutes. The country end of the ground was far enough away from civilisation to have no trace of a phone signal which meant my tweets disappeared into the ether.
So the Twittersphere was unaware of Maidenhead's strong start to the game which led to the Magpies taking what turned out to be an unassailable two goal lead. With Eastbourne managerless and losing key central defender Gary Elphick to Eastleigh, they were a team ready for the taking and after ten minutes of stating their intent the Magpies struck twice before the quarter hour mark.
The first goal came from a free kick, the ball being swung over from the right flank to the edge of the six yard  box where it was met by the head of Leigh Henry whose firm contact guided the ball wide of Masters and into the back of the net. Little more than a minute had passed before Alex Wall made it two nil with a shot from the edge of the penalty area which scuttled in at the far post.
As both teams came to terms with the state of the match attentioned turned to the terraces where Maidenhead fans were sporting a splendid monochromatic flag and were joined behind the goal by a group of One Direction wannabes. They proved to be our companions throughout the game and although their vocabulary was largely limited to two words they provided good entertainment with their anthems of internecine Sussex rivalry. When questioned as to the fortunes of their beloved Borough though they revealed they were actually Crystal Palace fans as shown by their Eastbourne adapted renditions of the Holmesdale tifosi's songbook.
As the half drew on Eastbourne worked hard to get back into the game but the Magpies determination meant the score remained the same. Two events exemplified this attitude: a brave block by Reece Tison-Lascaris which saw him winded by a ball blasted at him at point blank range then disappointingly booed by the home fans for having the temerity to go to ground. Then as the clock was about to tick into stoppage time a superb last ditch challenge from Jon Scarborough prevented a good goal scoring opportunity.
After the break Eastbourne continued to push to get a toehold in the game, Billy Lumley dealing efficiently with anything that breached the backline in his customary no nonsense fashion. It was Maidenhead and specifically Alex Wall who came nearest to scoring, testing Masters enough to come close to a hat trick. Now joined by ex Lewes manager Steve King behind the goal, there was much food for thought if he is in the frame for the Eastbourne job as rumour and circumstance suggest. Deep into stoppage time Eastbourne almost scored a consolation, Carl Rook's effort rattling the wood work, but just like at Salisbury the electronic scoreboard remained at 2-0 throughout the second half to give Maidenhead a January double over the team from Sussex. There seem to be enough poor teams in the relegation places to buffer Eastbourne's worrying slide down the table, and Maidenhead's nine point advantage over the third bottom spot should cover the up coming double fixtures against promotion chasing Woking and Dartford in this season's bizarre fixture list.
So I was able to scurry off into the night across the fields to Pevensey & Westham station with Maurice to enjoy a journey home basking in the warm glow of another win on the road for the Magpies which should last until I see the Magpies play again in a month's time.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Good luck Tumble

The return of Richie Goddard from his annual winter retreat to South East Asia brought news that he'd been in contact with former Maidenhead manager John "Tumble" Dreyer about his move from Stevenage to Preston North End as assistant to new manager Graham Westley. Richie was keen to pass on John's best wishes to everyone at the club which reflects his conscientious attitude whilst he was at York Road and doubtless has led him to an increasingly successful career off the pitch. Likewise I'm really happy that he's continued his move up the English football ladder, which began when he led the Magpies into the Alliance South in 2004.
Having said that it looks like he's in for a hell of a job at Deepdale, a club deep in debt and seriously underachieving. My view on the appointment of Westley and his team is that it has parallels with  that of  John Beck in the early 90s when he replaced caretaker Sam Allardyce (wonder what happened to him).  Both had great success in the lower divisions gaining a reputation as a tough operator playing no nonsense football. Hopefully there will be the same transformative effect at a club for which I have a great affection. If  history repeats itself Westley won't quite win promotion and he will be replaced by Tumble who will go on and win the title!

Lumley leads relief of the Alamo

With Man of the match Billy Lumley in the John Wayne role Maidenhead worked their socks off this afternoon to earn a point against a powerful Sutton side. With this season's memory scarred by a first half humbling at Gander Green Lane, I approached this match in trepidation of a repeat particularly with Mark Nisbet on the sidelines, the centre back's withdrawal through injury at Havant last week being seen unanimously by those who went as being instrumental in the Magpies' late collapse.
Guided by Paul Telfer at the back, Sutton again looked set to swamp Maidenhead having an early penalty shout turned down, and almost catching Lumley out with a speculative cross come shot, but it was the Magpies who took the lead in the seventh minute. With the Sutton defence pushing up, Alex Wall slipped through the offside trap, haring down the right wing before crossing to Manny Williams who scored with ease. Sutton responded instantly when Anthony Riviere ran through the Maidenhead defence to score.
Sutton then set up camp in the Maidenhead half until the break, the Magpie midfield providing only a buttery blockade for the pacy Sutton knives to run through. With Maidenhead effectively playing two wingers on either midfield flank in the shape of Max Worsfold and Reece Tison-Lascaris, the defence was afforded little protection from the amber onslaught but held up admirably, particularly when full backs Leon Solomon and Bobby Behzadi were switched over.
Despite their penetration up the pitch Sutton lacked a finisher and Lumley dealt comfortably with their frequent goal attempts which tended to be shots from the edge of the penalty area. Thus there was little for the massed scouts from Cambridge, Watford and Wycombe to see in the Sutton front line, the best chance being spurned when Craig Watkins ran clear only for Lumley to save with his legs. 
The Maidenhead forward pairing of Wall and Williams worked like trojans to chase down the Sutton missiles repelled and returned by the defence, Williams applying a delightful finish from distance which unfortunately meant nothing thanks to an offside flag. Wall went close to scoring two minutes ahead of the interval but the overall feeling at the break was one of relief that Maidenhead had hung on to keep the score level.
The introduction of Daniel Brown and Paul Semakula for the second half bolstered the Maidenhead midfield enough to make the game more of a balanced contest albeit one in which Sutton remained on top and so genuine attempts on goal became rarer. The roar of the large travelling support wasn't enough to convince the referee to interpret Michael Pook's last ditch tackle on Moses Odubajo as illegal early on in the half and by the time Harry Beautyman's free kick deep in stoppage whistled past the angle of post and crossbar Maidenhead had done enough to earn a point and continue the Magpies excellent league record against the Us at York Road, unbeaten in the clubs' last six meetings.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Return of Le Roi

They say never go back. How many comebacks see the fans watching an idol have feet of clay, leaving them to pine for his glory days? Probably most them, but not Thierry Henry. Helped by a hard working but shotshy supporting cast of 21, Henry emerged from the shadow of the touchline to take centre stage with twenty two minutes to go then steal the show with his 78th minute.
To be honest the game was in desperate need of this injection of Hollywood heroism. I say Hollywood rather than Roy of the Rovers as in this case top special effects were required to make a statue come back to life! Prior to Henry's arrival the game had reached stalemate. An Arsenal midfield led by the masterly Arteta accompanied by Ramsey and Song snuffed out any hope of an upset but despite having all the play the Gunners attack rarely troubled Andy Lonergan.
On the plus side this would have been a valuable experience for the young Oxlade-Chamberlain who was harried all night whilst although Arshavin's endeavour only revealed a woeful lack of form at least he might have played himself in for a Premier League stint to cover Gervinho's absence. As for Chamakh he might as well have joined up with Morocco for the African Nations Cup on schedule, his evening reaching a nadir when he missed an open goal, fortunately not mattering much due to an earlier linesman's flag.
The other plus was the lack of Arsenal potency meant there was little to ratchet up the Leeds fans' seemingly permanent state of indignant anger, particularly after they had to put up with an extreme close up of Savage and Keown when ESPN set up in front of the away end pre match.
The story of the game then was the entry of the man with the longest socks in football. With Henry kept waiting on the touchline as the ball remained in play for a long spell, the ground rose in ovation at his arrival, the bloke on my left almost priapic in his anticipation which following the goal led to the inevitable explosion of exuberant joy in one of those hug strangers moments when everyone is happy to dispense with the usual English reserve.
The last word almost fell to another ex Premier League striker when a Mikael Forsell shot brought a good save out of Szczesny but the night belonged to Henry with a result which must have had the bookies in tears.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Last minute Wall breakthrough gives Magpies hard earned win

From a Maidenhead United point of view the game followed a perfect script yesterday. The Magpies slowly taking control of the game, increasing the pressure in the second half to the point where the goal finally arrived in stoppage time at the death. Aside from the the three points the win also ensured there would be no slipping back to the awful form prior to Richard Pacquette's arrival, the striker having left again in midweek to join Lincoln City.
Eastbourne had the better of the opening stages with some deep crosses slicing open the Maidenhead defence. One of these led to a one handed save lowdown by Billy Lumley from the head of Carl Rook in the twentieth minute which turned out to be the closest Borough came to scoring all afternoon. By this time Martel Powell was starting to make his presence felt on the right wing feeding the trademark powerful runs of Alex Wall. The salient feature of the half though was a running battle between either sides creative outlets Ashan Holgate and Gary Hart, both wearing the number ten shirt. Holgate received a caution which may have been deserved but nevertheless it was still disappointing to see Hart encouraging this by waving an imaginary card at the referee. The feud was ended when Holgate was withdrawn at the interval in favour of Paul Semakula.
Kicking down the slope in the second half the Magpies gradually set up camp in the Eastbourne half, with goal attempts instigated by Wall free kicks or right wing crosses from Powell or Reece Tison-Lascaris. These often led to corners which ultimately paid dividends however Eastbourne also provided a counter attacking threat to keep the Magpie defence busy.
At times though it looked like being one of those days when the ball just wouldn't cross the line. Semakula wasted two great chances to score from close range, one flashing past the goal the other being cleared off the line. With fifteen minutes to go the crowd gasped when the ball fell to Leigh Henry on the edge of the box and his rasping shot hit the post. Jermaine Hinds netted the rebound but was clearly offside.
As the clock ticked past the ninety minute mark Wall stepped up again to take a free kick. Having blasted several earlier attempts low, this time he bent the ball around the wall only for goalkeeper Clark Masters to tip the ball over the bar. Wall was waiting on the line for the resulting corner bundling the ball in to score the winner and receive an odd caution for celebrating with the corner flag.
The final whistle soon arrived to signal a tireless Magpie performance fully deserving of the three points with their opponents looking dead on their feet. With the win allowing United to scale the dizzy heights of fourteenth place, a whole seven points above the relegation zone, hopefully 2012 will see a more comfortable league position maintained by the Magpies.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Crafty Cottagers

I finished my Arsenal themed festive football programme with a stroll down the River Thames to see the Gunners visit to Craven Cottage. As I wandered along the riverside, the crowd growing as we got nearer to ever looming floodlights I pondered a couple of firsts: the first time I had walked to an Arsenal game, the first time I would see a side play at each of the top four levels of the English game. I had first visited the Cottage when Fulham were marooned in Division Three, worse was to follow and I saw them at their nadir as they flirted with the bottom of Division Four. This was followed by the arrival of Mohamed Al-Fayed and his millions to send them back to the top and I made sure I popped in during their brief stay in Division Two. The ground was then transformed whilst the Cottagers moved in with QPR when I saw them play in Europe. The transformation of the Cottage into an all seater stadium managed to keep the homely nature of the ground with the closeness of the pitch and the large crowds attracted by Premier League football creating a suitable atmosphere. The support has changed too, the hardcore of locals now augmented by the well heeled residents of this wealthy borough attracted by seeing the best English football has to offer. I suppose the longevity of Fulham's stay in the top division has converted many of the new arrivals into supporters but the creativity employed by the club's Marketing department to fill the ground every week reflects the non stop effort required to maximise income and minimise reliance on the loans from Chairman Mo. One of the ticketing innovations has been the introduction of a neutral area next to the away section at the Putney End. Taking my seat here there is clearly a proper mix of home and away fans with no problems throughout the evening. Unfortunately although I had as good a view of the pitch as Wojciech Szczesny all the action took place at the Hammersmith end. 
In summary Arsenal had the better of the first half whilst Fulham dominated the second. Yes Gervinho could have had a penalty, with the referee perhaps dissuaded by his exaggerated fall to earth. Yes Arsenal should really have scored a second after Laurent Koscielny's headed opener, despite David Stockdale excellent last ditch saves. But Bryan Ruiz provided a real threat from Fulham and the half was characterised by two tired teams frequently giving the ball away with Arsenal doing most to profit from the mistakes. Fulham's approach to the second half was admirable. Unlike Wolves and QPR in Arsenal's previous two games they were not cowed by the deficit and went for broke to get back into the game. Wenger's response in withdrawing attacking wingers for more defensive midfielders merely served to facilitate Fulham setting up camp in the Arsenal half. There were early bookings in the half for Johan Djourou and Alex Song but neither player moderated their behaviour so it was no surprise when the former departed early. Likewise although going down to ten men hardly helped the Arsenal cause there was an inevitability about the Fulham equaliser and subsequent winner with the Gunners looking played out. 
I suppose it was unlikely that Arsenal would be left out of the festive shock defeat club with the four games in quick succession seeing the Premier League turn into the Championship for a fortnight. Whereas some might see this as a good thing with the mistakes caused by fatigue meaning unexpected defeats on every matchday, this is at the expense of quality and if anything I would prefer it if all of the top four divisions slimmed down by at least two clubs (four in the Championship's case). If nothing else at least there would be more time for Cup competitions which might mean they are taken more seriously.
Regardless a trip to Craven Cottage is highly recommended and as I wandered home in the moonlight I pondered their place in my selection of Desert Island grounds, deciding they should be elevated to join the likes of York Road, Highbury, Elm Park, and the pre renovation Deepdale and Turf Moor.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Lone Ranger

It was left to Robin Van Persie to again secure Arsenal three points with the much maligned Andrey Arshavin playing Tonto to the Dutchman's lone ranger by setting up the only goal of the game.
It was a contest that on the face of it had much in common with that played four days earlier here against Wolves but whereas in that game it was a superb goalkeeping performance that stopped a comfortable Arsenal win, on this occasion it was the Gunners' profligacy in front of goal that prevented a greater margin of victory.
The game opened with the opposition looking solidly set to do all they could to earn a goalless draw with a backline so deep they might as well have stayed in West London. This allowed the Dutchman sitting next to me to get on with sorting out his emails on his iPad, with Szczesny the only goalkeeper being called into action. Thus I was given time to ponder similar New Year clashes, with a mid 80s fixture between the two clubs when Ian Allinson was the unlikely star in a 3-1 win not looking favourite for a repeat. Instead it was a goalless draw at Elm Park when Huddersfield manager Neil Warnock celebrated as if he'd won promotion by holding the mighty Reading that seemed most likely to play out in front of me.
As the half drew on though Arsenal created a number of chances and should have converted at least one before half time, being unfortunate on a couple of occasions when Joey Barton cleared off the line and Matthew Connolly handled the ball without penalty in the box. Barton of course had earlier introduced himself by upending Mikel Arteta, going onto try and ensure he wasn't alone in the referee's book by rolling around on the turf whenever he was challenged.
With Aaron Ramsey pulling the strings Arsenal continued to dominate after the break but Theo Walcott lack of match fitness was reflected by the way he spurned the best chance of the game one on one with Cerny. QPR  were beginning to look like they might get something out of the game before shooting themselves in the foot when a misplaced pass from Shaun Wright-Phillips found Arshavin who fed Van Persie to score.
Aside from Gervinho missing a sitter it was a nervy finish from Arsenal with QPR raising the tension every time they attacked but the scoreline remained the same at the final whistle leaving Arsenal fans to scurry off down the Holloway Road to their New Year's Eve celebrations in the knowledge that at the halfway stage of the league season the Gunners had completed their comeback from a disastrous start to end 2011 in the top four.
The journey home was enlightened by a programme article about former Arsenal player Dave Bowen who holds two club records more noteworthy than the irrelevant one Van Persie broke with his goal. Firstly Bowen, along with Jack Kelsey, was the first Arsenal player to play in the World Cup Finals when he represented Wales in the 1958 tournament in Sweden. Secondly Bowen is the only Arsenal player to have a stand named after him, at Northampton's ground, the club he took from Fourth to First Division as manager in the 1960s.