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 September 2012

Lunchtime Indulgence

An early kick off yesterday, at the somewhat self indulgent offering of Arsenal v Chelsea, the media styled most expensive Premiership game ever.
This fixture was Arsenal's first Category A game since they restructured their match pricing in the summer and so the first where the minimum adult admission was £62. This naturally led to something of a furor in the press with a re run of all too common arguments about people being priced out of football. However the question people seem reluctant to answer is how best to allocate tickets at a match which is virtually guaranteed to be sold out, if not by market forces? An Olympic style ballot? The fact is the pricing of football at the top end is wholly down to its popularity. When, post Italia 90, the middle class felt safe enough to return to the match, they colonised grounds and forced prices up in the same way as happened to the housing market. As was shown a couple of years back less popular clubs such as Blackburn and Wigan reduced prices below £20 to attract support. What is illogical is to set prices at a level which leaves swathes of empty seats. When I clicked the button to part with £68.50 for this match I could only soothe myself with the delusion that my three visits to Arsenal in September had cost an average of £38. At least I got a good seat.
Ahead of kick off the watching media were given an easy opening paragraph when before national punchbag John Terry led his Chelsea team up the tunnel, national hero Mo Farah was introduced to the crowd complete with twin gold medals and babies. 
To be honest though the pantomine booing for Terry and ever ready Arsenal hate figure Ashley Cole soon subsided as attention focused on an enthralling contest between the two teams attempting to make a London challenge to the current Mancunian domination of English football. 
With both sides set up to attack goals felt inevitable and the final return of three was more a reflection of striking profligacy rather than defensive efficiency.
Arsenal had the better of the opening exchanges but the early departure of Abou Diaby through injury tipped the game in Chelsea's favour. Almost immediately the Blues took the lead from a free kick when Fernando Torres neatly flicked in a free kick which Arsenal allowed to sail into the area without challenge. The absence of Diaby's engine in the Gunners midfield then left Chelsea in control and they had ample opportunity to double their lead before, against the run of play, Gervais of the Arsenal equalised with a superb turn and finish just ahead of half time.
Chelsea soon retook the lead after the break with a free kick which was even more poorly defended than the one in the first half, Mata's strike floating through the red shirts into the back of the net with Laurent Koscielny's attempt at a clearance only blocking the view of Vito Mannone. 
Before the game Koscielny's presence in the team was seen as preferable to that of Per Mertesacker due to the speed of Chelsea's forwards but it seems the BFG was the source of Arsenal's much touted renewed defensive resilience. Certainly his calm but decisive actions at set pieces could have only helped matters, the lack of a truly world class goalkeeper at the club notwithstanding.
Following the goal Chelsea were a little more careful to protect their lead which left Petr Cech to play a leading role in the second half. He made two superb saves from Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud then did just enough in stoppage time to force Giroud wide enough so the Frenchman could only shoot into the side netting. All in all a case of close but no cigar for the Arsenal. For the future much to ponder for Arsene Wenger about the dichotomy of keeping a winning team together versus rotating players to maintain fitness, whilst Steve Bould needs to increase the number of set piece drills on the training ground.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Capital Punishment

As usual the League Cup provided a first midweek visit of the season to Arsenal and a new journey to the Grove from my new workplace in Southwark, one of those virtually hidden routes through London, up the Northern Line then a train from Moorgate. I could have alighted at Drayton Park, right next to the ground, but with time on my hands I headed onto Finsbury Park where I was met with a large crowd gathering to make their way to the ground. I joined them walking down St Thomas Road, past an endless line up of fast food vans. For me pre match victuals were waiting at the last one, although tempted bWojciech Szczęsny pointing me to Piebury Corner (wonder if he gets image rights), a trip to Arsenal is always enhanced by one of Fat Harry's foot long hot dogs.
Pausing to eat I was struck by waves of passers by bearing a slightly different character than usual. It was clear that the fact that tickets were cheap and freely available had attracted a crowd which was much more reflective of London. The benefits of Arsenal's continuing commitment to this League Cup ticketing policy were plain to see and later shown by a crowd of 58,351 with the only gaps to be seen in the top tier of the away end (Coventry being given the rare privilege of having access to virtually all of the Clock End). The attendance was in stark contrast to several poor figures in other ties but also a reminder of how popular football has become in the last 25 years as I can recall from personal experience a league match between the two teams at Highbury in 1986 a crowd not even half as much as this one to see Arsenal Reserves and the worst Coventry team in my life time.
With Arsenal lining up in a 4-2-4 formation which included a forward line of Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud, Andrey Arshavin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a thrashing seemed inevitable for the Sky Blues but it seemed like there was too much congestion in the Coventry penalty area until Giroud scored with practically the first chance of the game six minutes ahead of the break. Much was made of the summer signing's lack of a goal, a usual desperate media angle as he was starting only his fourth game.
The expected onslaught arrived after half time with Arsenal who appeared to be playing 2-4-4 when going forward with the ball at last began to profit from the midfield industry of the impressive central pair of Francis Coquelin and Nico Yennaris (the team mascot the last time Coventry visited N5).
A penalty for a clumsy foul on Arshavin presented an opportunity for Giroud to double his tally, but before the penalty could be taken, events took a farcical turn as the referee stopped the game due to an unwelcome incursion from the stands. A Coventry supporter wandered onto the pitch at the other end, calmly disrobed and waited for the stewards to give chase. In the meantime he was joined by a fellow fan and it became clear it was the Stewards' development squad on show as they hesitated before sending on the eldest member of the team with the two pitch invaders seemingly deciding themselves when to leave the stage. All this led up to a Giroud penalty miss or rather a penalty save by Joe Murphy.
Nevertheless the Ox soon doubled the lead and soon it was 3-0 as Arshavin who had been showboating all night scored with a delightful trap and finish. The Russian stood head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch and although its unlikely he will find a way back into the Arsenal first eleven he will surely find a stage for his amazing talent sooner rather than later. Another player with his Arsenal future in doubt made it 4-0, and it was interesting to see Walcott left on his own to celebrate by the rest of the team. Callum Ball scored a consolation for Coventry before the classy Ignasi Miquel and another goal from Walcott completed the scoring to leave the result as 6-1.
As expected an easy night out for the Gunners maintaining my recent record of watching goal fests with 28 coming in my last four football matches, a record which surely can't continue this lunchtime in North London. An outcome which would leave me in need of the services of the shock Doctor, Chris Kamara.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Get Your Rocks Off

An outstanding FA Cup tie at York Road yesterday contested by two teams who attacked with vim and vigour throughout whilst both defences had a game to forget. Maidenhead had their noses in front all afternoon and deservedly take a place in the third qualifying round draw tomorrow but Bognor made sure the Magpies had to work hard all the way to the end of the ninety minutes to ensure victory.
In a pleasing symmetry with last season's corresponding tie the sun shone throughout adding to the warmth radiated by the memories prompted by the competition. Adding to the nostalgia was the grand old man of non league football, Jack Pearce, still General Manager of the Rocks and striding the pitch pre match preparing his injury hit team. Likewise Maidenhead were down to the bare bones of the squad with Bobby Behzadi making a rare appearance in the centre of defence.
Nevertheless both clubs raced out of the blocks and the tone of the game was set in the ninth minute when Alex Wall whipped in a superb cross from the right wing which was finished by David Pratt to the delight of both players' fathers who stood either side of me in the media centre. Bognor gave notice they weren't about to lay down and die soon enough when Terry Dodd hit the post three minutes later. Later in the half Billy Lumley was called into serious action, saving once with his feet and then pulling off a sublime one handed save, denying Steve Harper on both occasions.
Maidenhead were well worth their half time lead though Pratt doubling the lead midway through the half, this time converting a cross from the left by Harry Pritchard. Indeed everytime the Magpies crossed the half way line they looked like scoring with Wall and Pratt displaying some delightful interplay which saw Wall go close to getting his own name on the scoresheet a couple of times.
After the break the game continued in riproaring fashion, Dodd ratcheting up the tension when he pulled one back from the Rocks nine minutes into the second half. The goal only served to fire up Maidenhead, Pritchard hitting the post as Bognor were blitzed until Leon Solomon restored United's two goal advantage with a cheeky chip over goalkeeper Craig Stoner's head.
With an hour gone there was still plenty of life left in this Cup tie and Mu Maan made sure no one would want to leave early by scoring from the penalty spot with twenty five minutes to go. Maidenhead continued to strive for a fourth goal, and when Pratt's cross found Pritchard with the goal begging it was only a herculean effort by the clearly injured Stoner which enabled him to deny the young winger with an outstretched foot.
Pratt who put in another tireless performance then won a late penalty to seal the win which Bobby Behzadi despatched with aplomb, the striker going close to a hat trick before departing a few seconds early.
With both teams just about spent the final whistle confirmed a result which reflected Maidenhead's superiority up front and Bognor's resilience to stay in the game, qualities which should stand each club in good stead for the rest of the season.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Gervais of the Arsenal

After an exclusively non league season so far it felt strange to be heading up the Piccadilly Line to Arsenal and the heady world of the Premier League. A strange journey it seemed too for the Southampton fans in my carriage who were worried whether the train would be stopping at all stations and so missing the stop at Gillespie Road. Leaving the train I walked up the tunnel behind a Soccer! couple who enlightened me with the following conversation:
Woman: I don't actually know who we're playing today
Man: Neither do I, I don't know any of the players either
Emerging into the fresh air I saw the old adage about fools and money proved again as I followed a man in his 50s wearing a purple away shirt with Podolski 9 on the back. Grow up man! The rules of football merchandise are quite easy: adults should never wear replica kit unless actually engaged in sporting activity.  A scarf and woolly hat is permissible providing the temperature has fallen beneath 10 degrees celsius. Otherwise you run the risk of featuring in the hottest timeline on Twitter at the moment.
Most puzzling of all was the person sitting on my left wearing one of those split friendship scarves showing the colours of both teams. Rules are a bit different here: souvenirs scarves are permissible at a Cup Final with  details of the match but only the colours of one team.
Anyway onto the football and for the second Saturday in a row I saw a goal fest. Having lost in two winnable situations late on against Manchesters City and United, Southampton looked a bit more circumspect going forward but this only served to heap more pressure on their frail defence and it was no surprise when Arsenal took the lead, Lukas Podolski powering through the midfield having initially appeared to have lost the ball before laying a pass left to Kieran Gibbs whose return was bundled over the line by Jos Hooiveld. Podolski soon doubled the lead with the goal of the game, a free kick bent round the wrong side of the wall which left Kelvin Davis grasping thin air. With the Saints in disarray Gervinho collected Mikel Arteta's pass to charge at goal down the right wing beating the hapless Davis inside his near post. Gibbs then completed an usual double when another cross was diverted into the net for an own goal, this time by Nathaniel Clyne. At this stage I was seriously contemplating another 8-0 win but as half time approached Wojciech Szczesny decided to join in the fashion for defensive lapses by dropping a cross at the feet of Daniel Fox who fired the ball into the empty net.
This sparked something of a Southampton revival after the break but normal service was resumed with nineteen minutes to go when a superb piece of play by substitute Aaron Ramsey saw the Welshman turn his man and hare towards the byline where he squared the ball for Gervinho to add his second. The Ivorian departed soon after following the best performance I had seen from him in an Arsenal shirt. If you added his consistent wing play to Theo Walcott's pace you really would have a player. The programme revealed that Gervinho's real name is actually Gervais. I wish he would revert to it. It seems a suitable nod to the making of the Gunners in the 30s by Herbert Chapman.
Walcott himself scored the final goal picking up the loose ball after Thomas Vermaelen's shot was blocked. Speaking of the Belgian, it was impossible to see if he was wearing his captain's armband due to the blue band on the new Arsenal strip making it appear as if the entire team had entered into the kind of democratic Socratic experiment which the late bearded Brazilian embarked on at Corinthians in the early 80s.
The Southampton supporters reacted with little grace to their thrashing and it was a pity that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's last minute shot went narrowly past the wrong side of the post having been booed by some of the away fans throughout. Instead the Ox and Walcott showed real class at the end of the game by going over to applaud the followers of the club which gave them such a great foundation to their career.
Overall a good run out for Arsenal in a match trickily wedged between an international week and the first Champions League game. Aside from Gervais' performance the highlight was Per Mertesacker, so classy at the back and a real threat with his head from corners. Furthermore it was a million miles away from the last time I saw this fixture, a frustrating 1-0 win for Southampton at Highbury in a game where a young Niall Quinn faced the embarrassment of being substituted after he himself had come off the bench.

Sunday, 9 September 2012


York Road proved to be the venue for Kevin Heaney's chickens to come home to roost as Truro's financial troubles finally spilled over onto the pitch as Maidenhead United annihilated the Cornish club by scoring seven times without reply in the second half. The ex chairman and his Rolls Royce were of course nowhere to be seen with as usual the faithful supporters left to bear witness to the damage Heaney had wreaked on their club.
Although the previous week had seen Truro slip into administration with a subsequent deduction of ten points, and remained under a transfer embargo, they were still able to field most of the team that had started the season in fair form going into the game in tenth place. Thus the first half, following an early Maidenhead blitz, developed into an even match, leaving BBC Radio Cornwall listeners to my regular updates, which punctuated the commentary of Redruth's rugby match, with the hope of taking something from the game. Maidonians unable to attend were disappointingly not afforded the same service as BBC Radio Berkshire felt unable to take up my offer to do the same during their London Irish commentary.
Maidenhead kicked off buzzing from two wins in the week leading up to the game, David Pratt going close in the 4th minute when his shot was parried by Tim Sandercombe. For all the United pressure though, the Truro defence marshalled by manager Lee Hodges, held firm, and as the half passed the mid point City started to come into the game with Billy Lumley being forced to tip a long range Hodges free kick over the bar. 
It was somewhat against the run of play then that with seven minutes to go to the break Reece Tison-Lascaris gave Maidenhead United lead when he collected a pass from Daniel Brown and thumped the ball passed Sandercombe into the back of the net from just outside the penalty area.
Within four minutes of the restart the young midfielder doubled the lead with a trademark dribble round Sandercombe signalling a second half onslaught which saw my Colemanballs going into overdrive on the radio, ably supported by the massed ranks of the MMS.
Ironically, Pratt with five goals already this season, was the only striker not to get on the scoresheet, his next effort being tipped over the bar by Sandercombe before Tison-Lascaris squeezed in this hat trick to make it 3-0 before his usual departure from the pitch on the hour mark.
His replacement Alex Wall picked up where Tison-Lascaris left off by scoring United's fourth shortly after a Harry Pritchard corner was punched off the line by Sandercombe. Martel Powell then put Paul Semakula in to make it 5-0 with twenty two minutes still left to play. 
By this time it was clear that the fight had gone out of the Truro players. Hardly surprising considering they weren't paid on time in August and given the uncertainty of their short term future. They held the line at five though until the final ten minutes when cliches such as "cricket score" and "throw the towel in" were in order.
First up was the stand out goal of the game when Wall was hacked down by Sandercombe. Bobby Behzadi stepped up to take the spot kick and delivered a Panenka to add insult to injury.
Wall then made it seven himself, but after Pritchard was again denied with a finger tip save by Sandercombe, the striker unselfishly spurned the chance for a hat trick himself by unselfishly squaring the ball to Lee Barney to get on the scoresheet for the first time this season in stoppage time. The final whistle left the scoreline forcing the videprinter to use brackets at 8 (eight) - 0.
The Truro team then creditably walked over to their fans to thank them for their support before exiting the field of play to applause from the Maidenhead supporters in that typically British fashion that never quite crosses the line into being patronising.
So was this the last rites for Truro? Will the statistics from this day ultimately be expunged from the record? With league sponsors Blue Square refusing to price Truro's matches this season it seems like the odds are against their survival and really it must be in the club's interest to ultimately reform lower down  the pyramid. However before that happens there will inevitably be much wrangling off the pitch to clear up the mess left by Heaney. The ownership of both club and ground both appear to be shrouded in mystery. The final outcome will surely judge the ex Chairman as a man blinded by his own hubris, who in jeopardising the very existence of the club he ran, trampled on clubs throughout the south of England with his financial doping tactics. He's not the first to have done so, but with the ever increasing financial regulation of non league football will hopefully become a rare breed.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Eastbourne Pratt fall

A welcome end to the summer with a trip to Eastbourne. Having stayed in the welcoming Sports clubhouse as long as possible, we walked into the ground to the pleasingly unexpected accompaniment of the final pre match tune, French Disko by Stereolab. 
This naturally gave way to the brass strains of Good Old Sussex By The Sea as the teams walked out, a title that rings true for the Magpies who have generally been on the right side of results at Eastbourne and Lewes this century. Of course I don't like to talk about the day we ventured into inland Sussex.
The stand out sound from the PA though was the news that Borough defender Darren Baker was about to make his 950th full appearance for the club, a truly astonishing achievement which makes one wonder if there has ever been a better one club player.
At kick off confidence was high at Priory Lane that Eastbourne were going to continue their encouraging start to the season, a feeling reflected by the pre match odds which perhaps chose to ignore the Magpies resilient start to their campaign in favour of their bottom three finish in April.
This proved to be unwise as the Magpies started brightly, taking a deserved lead in the twelfth minute. Midfielder Michael Pook started the move with a slide rule pass to Leon Solomon, the right back driving into the penalty area, shrugging off the challenge of a defender to cross low into the six yard box where David Pratt won the race to put the ball in the net and shake the hands of the celebrating fans behind the goal.
Eastbourne's response did not lack effort but took a bizarre approach by firing a series of long balls forward, an odd tactic for a team full of players shorter than their opponents. Maidenhead punished this short sightedness with a second goal just after the half hour mark, a well worked goal of suitable quality for a team wearing the Brazilian colours.
This time Pratt started and finished the move, playing a 1-2 with Reece Tison-Lascaris, the striker collecting the return pass to burst clear into the box and apply a thumping finish which gave goalkeeper Danny Potter no chance.
The writing was on the wall for the home team when Tison-Lascaris himself spearheaded a counter attack five minutes later, but this time Potter was able to push the youngster's shot round the post.
The degree to which the Magpies were dominating the game was then shown when, following a break in play whilst Harry Pritchard received treatment to his ankle after a heavy challenge, Eastbourne manager Tommy Widdrington called his team over to the dugout and humbly ordered a change of tactics. This also put an end to some on pitch squabbling among the home team and set them up for a strong finish to the half although their best chance at the far post was put wide to leave Billy Lumley to reflect on an largely untroubled first forty five minutes.
The break saw Drax forced into a change as midfield playmaker Pook withdrew with a suspected fractured arm whilst Widdrington unsurprisingly opted to bring on a striker in the form of Gary Hart. The saw second half thus saw more pressure from Eastbourne, particularly when lively substitute David Knight entered the fray, but they were unable to profit from any of the openings they found in the Maidenhead United penalty area, whilst the Magpies remained a constant threat on the break. Indeed it was United who came closest to the adding to the score in the second half, a blistering strike from Daniel Brown from twenty yards hitting the post, and then following a period of sustained Eastbourne pressure in the closing minutes an Alex Wall shot was tipped over the bar.
So the final whistle brought an end to the best performance of the season so far by Maidenhead, but one that must be consolidated in the two home games which follow this week. A year ago to the weekend, the Magpies won a similarly thrilling contest at Truro, and back in January won by the same scoreline here at Priory Lane. Time for the squad to prove their assertions that they are a top half team, assertions that will be proved by following the example of the outstanding David Pratt, clinical in attack and so hard working that at times he was back in defence winning back the ball to launch another attack.