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, 25 March 2012

Carpetmen inspire Magpie relegation fears

A beautiful sunny day and a half price promotion at York Road set the scene for the Magpies to take the three points which would take them to the brink of safety from relegation. Needless to say a disciplined performance from visitors Salisbury turned this scenario on its head, once again exposing United's impotence in the opposition penalty area as for the third game in a row the Magpies drew a blank. 
A whiff of Premier League glamour was given to proceedings by referee Sian Massey but in contrast to previous weeks she never looked likely to display a red card to anybody in a black and white shirt. 
Maidenhead started positively. Kicking down the York Road slope, with Jermaine Hinds sat in front of the defence the rest of the midfield was able to assist the attack, but for all the admirable approach play United were unable to conjure up a decent chance. Thus as United's dominance faded Salisbury took charge of the game scoring in the twentieth minute when Stuart Sinclair burst into the penalty area and beat Billy Lumley with a shot which initially hit the post before ending up in the back of the net.
With sole striker Robbie Matthews causing United's defence enough problems for two frontmen, only the save of the season from Lumley kept the deficit to one at the break, the stopper pulling off a superb diving save when seemingly unsighted from a Ben Adelsbury long shot.
After the break Maidenhead showed great endeavour in their quest for an equaliser but as they committed more players forward Salisbury looked as likely to score on the counter attack. The best opportunity for a Maidenhead goal came just after the hour mark when a corner led to a goal mouth scramble. The ball was scraped off the line twice and this rearguard action proved to be enough to secure all three points for the Whites as despite continuing attacking intentions, Maidenhead only went close once more when Mark Nisbet diverted an Alex Wall free kick past the post.
The result leaves Maidenhead three places and three points clear of relegation, looking forward to a tumultuous Easter Saturday fixture at Staines. With scoring the key problem for the Magpies it looks like being a tense drawn out end to the season unless they continue where they left off in March against their two toughest opponents Dartford and Woking.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Question Time

Paid my first visit to the rebuilt Wembley on Thursday night courtesy of The Blizzard, a fantastic quarterly journal celebrating its first birthday. As a subscriber I received a free invitation to a question time style event held in the Club Wembley suite. After some trouble locating the main entrance, I ascended three escalators, and assisted along the way by several security personnel found my way into the venue. Greeted by a welcome sight of a complimentary beer and pie, I sat down to listen to the views of some of the most articulate commentators around. They were Blizzard founder Jonathan Wilson, French journalist Philippe Auclair and familiar pundit Gabriele Marcotti. The conversation was led by ESPN's Dave Farrar who opened the evening by asking for memories of Wembley. As a Reading fan, Farrar's were predictably the Royal's two enthralling Play Off Final defeats in 1995 and 2011 and after this light opener, conversation moved onto more weighty matters such as the strength of the England national team, the viability of trans national leagues and the prevalence of tactical analysis in the English media. The latter prompted a perceptive comment from Wilson (the godfather of the subject) about the importance of tactics in general, with in his opinion the best managers having to be equal parts man manager to tactical genius. Towards the end of the discussion I got in on the act with a question about Marcotti's faith in UEFA's Financial Fair Play initiative which allowed him to show why he is one of the few non footballers allowed on TV and radio as a pundit by giving a fiery response.
The evening ended with a quick tour of the Wembley dressing rooms and tunnel and it is clear to see this is a fantastic stadium for specatators as well as players now, unlike old version with its dreadful sightlines and facilities. I wasn't surprised to hear that the architecture shared much in common with the new Arsenal ground, certainly the impression inside and out was of "Emirates plus" so I'll look forward to my first visit to a match here whenever that may be.
All in all a great midweek evening out, hopefully the first of many that this welcome edition to football publishing will be hosting.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Firing Blanks

A desperate day in Middlesex yesterday with neither teams or even the officials showing the composure in the final third of the pitch to score the goals this game desperately required.
Struggling Hampton had kept just one clean sheet in the league all season, in the corresponding fixture between the clubs at York Road, and whilst Maidenhead did everything but score the result had an inevitability about it. 
A grey day saw me crawl through the rugby traffic in Richmond, the town centre a sea of green plastic thanks to presumably liberal distribution of Irish favours particularly those odd pointy finger things. Sleepy Hampton village felt a world away from the crowds at Twickenham, the homely Beveree being a reminder of quieter times in the Isthmian League. 
Maidenhead fans gathered under the new roof at the far end as the game kicked off hoping for a first Magpie league win here since 1997. One player remained from this match, centre back Darren Powell. Fifteen years ago Powell was an exciting fresh talent bound for the Football League, now he had returned to Hampton to wind down his career.
Games between the two clubs have always been tetchy affairs. Both tend to be at the same end of the table with all the players very familiar with each other. The pitch, tightly wedged in between the terraces seems to create a frenzied atmosphere with a red card being displayed more often than not. In 1997 Powell saw red and history almost repeated itself just before half time when he was booked for an off the ball challenge on Alex Wall. An hour later David Tarpey kicked out and this time the referee felt a dismissal was in order. The game was far from dirty though and instead these incidents reflected the bitty, stop start nature of a contest which neither team was quite good enough to win.
Hampton had the better start to the game firing some testing balls into the Maidenhead area without finding the target. The Magpies first half was hampered by two forced substitutions in the first half an hour but they grew in stature as time went on, Alex Wall hitting the bar with a cross come shot, and Reece Tison-Lascaris scoring only for the referee to frustratingly pull play back for an earlier foul on a United player.
Both teams seemed poised to score, Reece Jones having a long shot tipped over by Billy Lumley so despite the game remaining goalless at half time a promising second period looked to be in the offing with Maidenhead having survived a few close calls looking best set to take the three points.
The second half though essentially mirrored the first. Hampton took charge from the restart, Charlie Moone drawing a great save from Lumley just ahead of the hour mark but as the game entered its final stages, it was Maidenhead who seemed set to score.
In a frenetic six minute spell Maidenhead had four great chances to take the lead. The first saw Alex Wall go clear, his shot was parried by goalkeeper Craig Ross. The loose ball was collected by Manny Williams but with the goal at his mercy he was clearly impeded by a Hampton defender, the ball rolling out for a corner. Despite good views of the incident both referee and linesman saw nothing of note. As the corner swung in, a Maidenhead head met the ball and was goalbound before being scraped off the line by a defender. With the bit between their teeth Maidenhead upped the tempo and in the move of the game Wall headed the ball onto Tison-Lascaris only for the youngster to scuff his shot when well placed to score.
Once this momentum faded though the game drifted to a goalless conclusion, with neither team having the quality up front to earn three points. This will be of less concern to Maidenhead who continue their crawl to safety whilst Hampton are now looking down the barrel of relegation particularly as they will now be deprived for three games of play maker Tarpey.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Arsenal foil Krul intentions

According to the programme Newcastle were (Woolwich) Arsenal's first ever opponents on joining the Football League in 1893. Monday night's fixture certainly gave the impression that the intervening years had provided the opportunity for much enmity. Newcastle had got much of the good luck in famous clashes such as the ball over the line goal in the 1932 Cup Final, a win over an Arsenal team effectively reduced to ten men due to an early injury in the 1952 showpiece at Wembley, up to last year's surrendering of a 4 goal lead courtesy of a couple of dubious decisions.
On the face of it both teams had everything to play for. A win for Arsenal would secure fourth spot and leave them breathing down the neck of Spurs in third whilst Newcastle needed the points to get them back in the race for Champions League qualification. The first half promised much with strong running from Obertan and Ben Arfa providing a strong threat from United which ultimately gave them the lead. This was swiftly clawed back by Van Persie's instant equaliser and the game remained in the balance until half time.
A clue to the second half though was the way Martin Krul slowed the game down at every opportunity, a pattern which spread through the Geordie ranks after the break as they defended deep and tried to hang on for a draw. Aside from an enthralling midfield tussle between Rosicky and Tiote, Arsenal dominated the second half and should have secured the points long before the 90 minutes were up. Several chances were passed up whilst Krul pulled out a great save to tip a Vermaelen header over the bar at the death.
As the fifth and final minute of stoppage time approach, with Newcastle in possession deep in the Arsenal half, all looked lost but the Gunners turned the ball over and raced into a counter attack, Vermaelen running the length of the pitch to score the winner.
What followed were bemusing scenes which called to mind the amazing France v Kuwait game in the 1982 World Cup. 
All that seemed necessary was for Newcastle to kick off but with Krul haring up the pitch after countryman Van Persie most of the players were gathered in the centre circle as Howard Webb struggled to regain control. Van Persie received a yellow card after he gestured to the crowd to make some noise, as did Krul for completely losing it. This almost doubled the amount of stoppage time and meant  I was still queuing outside the tube station at 10.45 pm. 
Still it was worth it for the last minute win, with Arsenal looking unstoppable at the moment. Another break of over a week should be time enough to prepare for Everton away with some more players to return from injury to provide cover for the home game a few days later. Newcastle meanwhile look well worth a top ten finish but lack the ambition to step up to the holy grail of the top four.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Magpies Fall in One Ton Dupe

A solitary Tonbridge goal settled the game yesterday on a humdrum day in Kent notable only for the pleasant Spring weather.
This was in contrast to the Magpies' first visit to Longmead back in the dog days of Alan Devonshire's reign. This FA Trophy tie was full of incident with the result leading to rancour on and off the field, all set to a gloomy backdrop of teeming rain straight out of a Ted Lewis novel. The day was accompanied by a pub crawl the length of the long walk up the High Street from the station to the ground, with a visit to the pubs on the west side of the street on the way there and the east on the way back. Memories are naturally hazy as there was no shortage of stopping points in either direction. Ten years later a similar expedition would have been a more sober experience with many of the watering holes shut down and inevitably a Wetherspoons being one of the few survivors. This at least provided the opportunity for pre match refreshment with a taxi taking us out of this rather down at heel part of town past the more auspicious sites of the Castle and public school before entering the housing estate which enveloped the football ground.
For a relative new build Longmead reflects much of what is good about non league grounds. A clear case of piecemeal development as finance allows, the highlight is the two steep covered terraces behind each goal which ensured that the 591 crowd created a better atmosphere than at Kingfield last week. Unfortunately the game itself produced less incident.
Despite Tonbridge's opening day humbling of the Magpies with a 4-0 win, the teams were as well matched as their midtable positions suggested. Tonbidge tore into Maidenhead from the kick off but after this opening blitz the Magpies gradually got back into the game and as half time approached were applying enough pressure to suggest they were gaining the upper hand. Throughout the half a clear area of United advantage was their delivery into the penalty area from set pieces but sadly there was no one able to apply a finish, the sole save being a Lee Worgan block from a Harry Pritchard shot from a tight angle.
The second half followed a similar pattern only this time Tonbridge sustained their opening burst and were rewarded with a goal, ironically from a set piece. In this case a looping Sonny Miles cross found an unmarked Ollie Schulz who headed home with what was one of the few genuine goal scoring attempts of the whole game. The rest of the game saw Maidenhead throw everything forward coming closest to an equaliser when Jermaine Hinds was well placed in the penalty area only for the rangy midfielder to be harshly penalised for handball. For the most part the Tonbridge defence proved unbreachable, marshalled by captain Ben Judge who has proved a regular stumbling block to Magpie progress since his time in the Croydon defence at the end of the last century. 
As the United commitment to attack naturally increased this inevitably produced opportunities for an Angels counter attack but there seemed little danger of this being anything other than a one goal game. Indeed they merely showcased Maidenhead man of the match Mark Nisbet's ball skills, the captain often recovering the ball then leading the charge back up the pitch. He seemed revitalised following his recent return from injury, adding much needed pep to the flagging Magpie cause as the game drew to a close.
So Maidenhead now face an odd set of four games, with Saturday fixtures against Hampton and Salisbury offering great opportunities for points whilst Tuesday nights see an uphill struggle against promotion chasing Dartford and Welling. Tonbridge seem to have adjusted well to their new level and with a series of announcements yesterday about contracting well established Angels players for next season look to be setting themselves up for a promotion push in 2013.

Friday, 9 March 2012

No Doubting Tomas

I've seen a couple of awe inspiring second leg comebacks in my time. The first was Preston North End's 4-1 win over Torquay United at Deepdale in the 1994 Division Four Play Off Semi-Final Second Leg, to date the last senior English football match played on a plastic pitch. The other, a little more pertinent to my night's viewing, was Fulham's epic 4-1 win over Juventus en route to their 2010 Europa League Final appearance. Both comeback's followed a similar path, the task initially became more difficult when the opposition increased their lead with an away goal, which was swiftly followed by the dismissal of a domineering centre back, Darren Moore and Fabio Cannavaro respectively, both of whose early baths proved key to their team's ultimate demise.
Pondering this correlation as I walked up Holloway Road the former factor would surely prove fatal to Arsenal's cause, a 6-1 win simply out of the question, the latter meanwhile would be most welcome. Neither came to pass in a game where Arsenal's stock rose by appealing to that peculiar human trait, the love of a gallant loser.
With, as Arsene Wenger neatly surmised, a 95% chance of failure, Arsenal had almost nothing to lose and this feeling seemed to imbibe their approach with a joyful, irresponsible attacking abandon. This in turn was reflected and reinforced by a watching crowd who bellowed their support throughout, as my croaky voice paid testament to the day after.
This was my first visit to Arsenal since the FA Cup win over Leeds and the recent win over Spurs seemed to have infused the ground with a renewed sense of belief which was soon rewarded by Laurent Koscielny's opening goal, an unchallenged near post header from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's corner. The early goal served its purpose by ensuring atmosphere remained at fever pitch. 
The Gunners sustained their lung busting start, inspired in the middle of the pitch by the flying Czech, Tomas Rosicky. Only guaranteed a game by the absence of others since returning himself himself from long term injury, and seen as a symptom of the club's demise by his unfortunate habit of grinning when Arsenal conceded a goal, his return to form in recent weeks has been a remarkable renaissance, perhaps helped by Wenger being forced to play him in the centre of midfield. This saw him ideally positioned to pick up a weak clearance and thump home Arsenal's second, again nicely timed to keep the comeback bubbling nicely.
Milan had no answer to the red rampage, clearly seeing no capacity for improvement in their opponent's woeful first leg performance, and when Oxlade-Chamberlain was cynically squashed in a Milanese sandwich, the tension created by the subsequent penalty award was palpable. The spot kick provided the opportunity for the come back to cross the rubicon from dream to reality, placing the teams just one goal apart. Robin Van Persie showed great nerve to ignore Mark Van Bommel's attempts at gamemanship, before despatching the ball like a missile into the back of the net.
On the face of it this was the perfect set up for the second half but the question remained how Arsenal could sustain their breathless tempo, with little to sustain it available on the bench. Still chances were bound to arrive at either end and now it was the goalkeepers' turn to shine. 
Any straw poll would have certainly selected Van Persie with the chance to equalise, but from close range his too clever by half flick was matched by the mighty paw of Christian Abbati. Milan's more realistic approach to ensuring their win, may have led to accusations of cynicism but their spoiling tactics were a natural response to the first half onlslaught and almost created a chance to put them out of sight but Antonio Nocerino couldn't quite do enough to trouble Wojciech Szczesny from close range towards the end.
Hope sprang eternal amongst the men in red shirts who sunk to the ground in agony at the final whistle, none more so than man of the match Rosicky, part of a team fully deserving of a standing ovation for producing a performance which almost erased the memory of that in the first leg.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Magpies Strutton to victory

One of the upsides of being a Maidenhead fan in recent years has been the regular league "cup finals" for the Magpies when we make an annual trip to the one genuine big club in the division. This year Woking play that role, filled in the past by the likes of Aldershot, Newport and Wimbledon, and its always a fixture to look forward to because as often as not United take something from the game. Even if the game ends in defeat it tends to be of the heroic failure kind in the face of a promotion chasing team backed by a four figure crowd.
Thus I travelled to Kingfield in optimistic mood yesterday despite last week's depressing defeat. The sunny weather and pleasant walk through the park to the ground continued the positive theme. En route I was surprised by the development taking place near the leisure centre which included a floodlit football pitch suitable for the Hellenic League or similar, certainly it looked as if could accommodate some of Hayes and Yeading United's Alliance Premier games if Woking got fed up with the groundshare.
On arrival at Kingfield it had the buzz of a club chasing the title. A packed club house watch the end of the lunchtime TV game, the Albanian broadcaster providing a unique view of the crucial climax when it froze on Dirk Kuyt's angry face for several minutes, the screen jolting back into action to reveal Robin Van Persie peeling away in celebration at his winning strike.
An away win against the odds for Arsenal was a good start to the day and appeared to reflect a local meme, with a tangible sense of nervousness about the home club's chances despite their clear superiority against all comers with only three defeats all season and a nine point advantage at the top of the table. These fears were only reinforced by a programme article revealing that Maidenhead had lost just once in twenty two games at Kingfield in a period covering over a century.
Certainly the opening stages of the game showed Maidenhead had little to worry about as the hosts sat deep and relied on launching long balls aimless balls forward, a tactic which must have been meat and drink to Hampton trained centre back Alan Inns. A lack of any vocal encouragement from the home terraces hardly created the febrile atmosphere necessary to create the pressure for this simple but often effective plan to work although the number of goals scored by Woking in the latter stages of the game suggested that manager Garry Hill was happy to play an attritional game.
Maidenhead were understandably cautious given the hosts lofty status,so despite forward runs from debutant left winger Harry Pritchard showing promise, and an early Ashan Holgate effort from distance being deflected wide there was a natural resistance to fully testing a Woking defence whose lack of pace looked ripe for exposing.
So for the most part the first half descended into a game of cat and mouse save for the odd Woking hoof which found its target on the wing and enabled the plan of an incisive ball into the six yard box to be executed. When it did, any chance created went begging, a prime example being Kieran Murtagh's header over the bar with the ball at his mercy.
However with an early visit to the bar looking a safe bet, with two minutes to go before the break the game erupted in controversy when United goalkeeper Aaron Lennox was booked for a last ditch challenge on Paris Cowan-Hall at the edge of the penalty area. The referee then doubly defied the convictions of most spectators by awarding Lennox a yellow card and Woking a penalty. This gave rise to a prisoner's dilemma of a problem. Would Maidenhead have preferred a free kick and a red card which with Billy Lumley on the bench would have probably led to a goalless first half and uphill struggle with ten men in the second, or a penalty and the opportunity to fight for the points with a full complement of players? Game theory suggested the former option to be most favourable but for once the longer odds of the latter proved to be the better option as Lennox saved Jack King's spot kick.
The second half began with both sides showing more forward enterprise, Woking encouraged by kicking towards the one quarter of their ground which is Football League standard, the Leslie Gosden stand. As the game entered its last half an hour Woking's pressure tactics looked that they might pay dividends, Giuseppe Sole going round Lennox, only for his shot to hit the side netting. The half's turning point then came as King proved more effective a goal threat from long range than the penalty spot, his thumping drive parried well by Lennox. The ball remained live in the penalty area and found its way to Cowan-Hall on the left but his shot hit the post. Maidenhead then counter-attacked, Harry Pritchard's shot going narrowly wide and the scene seemed set for the opening goal.
Maidenhead manager Johnson Hippolyte then made his key intervention, sending new loan signing Charlie Strutton into the fray. The young striker who has spent his career at county level with Chalfont St. Peter, was totally unphased by the big stage he now found himself on and with the ball at his feet started to make the first of several runs which stretched the Woking defence to breaking point.
The first of these saw Inns stretch out an almost fatherly hand to the youngster's shoulder, almost a gesture by the veteran to the young pup to slow down, but downward pressure was applied as Strutton entered the penalty area and sent him to ground. The resulting penalty kick saw the referee aim to make two wrongs a right by awarding Inns a yellow card, but this time Bobby Behzadi made no mistake with his penalty kick to put Maidenhead into the lead with nineteen minutes to go. 
Two minutes later Strutton again burst clear, but this time the only problem he faced heading for goal was competition from Wall for the chance to shoot, but there was no stopping him as he fired home the second Maidenhead goal. 
Woking fought hard to get back into the game, although either side now looked likely to add to the score, and despite several goalmouth scrambles in the Maidenhead penalty area the score remained at 2-0, a visual symbol of the home side's frustration coming late in the game when Dale Binns was sent off for kicking an opponent off the ball.
So a return to winning ways for Maidenhead who have now taken eighteen out of the last thirty available points, whilst Woking seem to be a club willing themselves to fail. With everything going for them all that's needed is a positive mindset to secure the league title, which must be inspired by vocal support from the crowd which was markedly absent yesterday.