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.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Captain Markvel leads Magpies second half turnabout

Welling United always prove to be a good benchmark against which to measure progress and so it proved on Saturday as one of the better teams to play the Magpies this season were turned over in the second half despite being well in control at the break.
The game started slowly but soon settled down into a pattern which saw Maidenhead's attempts to attack snuffed out by an efficient defence led by the impressive Fraser Franks in the centre whilst the Welling front two Theo Fairweather-Johnson and Ross Lafayette maintained a constant threat. 
The threat was realised a quarter of an hour into the game when a Scott Kinch long ball found Fairweather-Johnson on the right, who hooked in a cross to Lafayette. The striker then turned and shot for goal in one beautifully smooth movement, Finnish goalkeeper Jesse Joronen momentarily raising hopes of a save but his magnificent effort could only push the ball into the net.
The goal pretty much settled matters for the first forty five minutes, with Welling looking comfortable holding a lead. They came closest to doubling it when a long shot was almost dropped into his own net by Joronen having collided with the woodwork when making the initial save.
After the break Welling looked well set to consolidate their lead into a victory using the wind and the slope to pressure the Maidenhead penalty area, but Joronen and the defence were equal to everything the Wings and the elements could throw at them and thus after having survived the initial second half onslaught the Magpies were ready to turn the tables on the visitors.
With the hour mark approaching a shot from outside the penalty area by Michael Pook was pushed around the post for a corner by Welling goalkeeper Sam Mott. Following the kick the ball found its way back to Pook on the left wing and his cross was headed goalward by David Pratt. Mott could not hold the ball and captain Mark Nisbet was first to bundle it over the line for an equaliser.
After a month in the doldrums the Magpies at last began to recover some of their vim and vigour getting the upper hand in the game for the first time. With nineteen minutes left this translated into what proved to be the winning goal, an almost identical move to the first. This time Pook took a free kick from the left wing which Nisbet headed past Mott. Full of confidence again United saw out the remaining time with little alarm, helped by the early departure of Kinch for two fairly innocuous challenges. Further entertainment was provided by a Welling fan who charged from behind the goal to challenge the linesmen on every decision with the final whistle soon coming to signal a satisfyingly unexpected victory to end the Magpies recent poor run of form.
The win left me pondering the power of confidence. The first half felt little different to the other defeats of late but the second half goal led to a visible transformation in the authority of the Maidenhead team to produce a win. A key factor must have been the return of captain Mark Nisbet, not least with his two goals, his leadership linked with the tenacity through the middle of the team with Bobby Behzadi in the centre and Pratt up front seeing the Magpies return to their resilient character shown earlier in the season.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Schalke exploit Santos clause

Thirty years ago I attended my first Arsenal match at Highbury. Birmingham City were the visitors and as was the style at the time Arsenal offered little goalscoring threat against a back four featuring debutant Noel Blake. It was an era when defences were on top, a trend exacerbated at Highbury by the presence of Don Howe in the dug out and the absence of a top class striker following the departure of Frank Stapleton to Old Trafford in the summer of 1981. With immediate replacements John Hawley and Ray Hankin not up to the job the board's cheque book had come up with Tony Woodcock and Lee Chapman but neither was firing on all cylinders when I made it to N5. Of course the dominant team at the time was Liverpool, midway through a triple title win, their playing style characterised by their ability to soak up long periods of pressure before overpowering the opposition in the latter stages of the game.
It felt like history was repeating itself on Wednesday night.German champions Schalke 04 were the visitors to North London, like Birmingham in 1982 wearing a blue shirt (although the Germans were rather more stylish than Small Heath's Patrick kit), and like Liverpool working like terriers to snuff out all Arsenal's attacking ambition before taking the points with two clinical moves late in the game.Arsenal's impotence in part due to Robin Van Persie's replacements being wholly inffective.
Off the pitch I was left a little disappointed by Schalke's tifo. Their chanting monotonous, and backed by a drum and megaphone was pale in comparison to their great rivals Borussia Dortmund's display last season. On the pitch though their relentless pressing of Arsenal, with two or even three players harassing the Gunner on the ball, proved more successful than Dortmund's more open approach. This came at the expense of much entertainment particularly in the first half, with the bloke sitting next to me regularly complaining that he hadn't driven all the way from his home in Dorset to be bored stiff.
Arsenal's inferiority was symbolised by the two full backs. On the right Carl Jenkinson though industrious provided no threat going forward in stark comparison to the man who lined up opposite him, Christian Fuchs. On the left, Andre Santos had what the Sunday People used to call a stinker. Whether by accident or design he conceded the whole of his flank on a regular basis staying too close to the central pair. His night was capped when he played Klass-Jan Huntelaar onside as the Dutch striker ran through the middle to open the scoring. Santos then failed to stop Jefferson Farfan's cross which found Ibrahim Afellay free at the far post, Jenkinson having been subbed for an attacker in a bid to salvage the game.
So Arsenal's long unbeaten home record against continental opposition was over after nine years. Beaten by an accomplished Schalke team that demonstrated the organisation that had enabled them to reach the semi final of this competition in 2011.The only men in red to emerge with much credit were Per Mertesacker and Francis Coquelin and its their discipline which the rest of the team needs to emulate to turn around the current losing run.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Weston S&M

The pleasure of the first flush of the season has been abruptly replaced by the pain of an embarrassing cup exit and slump in league form. A slide which began with unsurprising defeats at Dover and Eastleigh has now started to ferment into a full blown crisis with league defeats in eminently winnable home games against Hornchurch and Weston-super-mare hardly helping to salve the wound of the Didcot cup exit.
With yesterday being non league day there was also a missed opportunity to win over converts to the cause dropping in on the international break, the game being the first at York Road this season when Maidenhead failed to score. This fact had little to do with the belated withdrawal of Alex Wall through injury as throughout the first half Lee Barney linked up well with David Pratt, the striker almost opening the scoring in the ninth minute only for Seagulls goalkeeper Irish to save well with his feet. Barney continued to feed Pratt from his left wing berth but on this occasion Pratt was unable to make a breakthrough with the visitors coming closest to scoring before the break when they hit the woodwork.
An open game continued after half time but as the hour mark approached Weston took a stranglehold on the game from which Maidenhead were unable to wriggle free. A one handed save by Billy Lumley temporarily kept the Seagulls at bay before Kane Ingram served notice that the Somerset club were intent on taking home all three points for the second year running by scoring with a shot drilled through a forest of players from the edge of the box.
From this point on although United worked hard they were unable to prise open the Weston defence, leaving the regulars in the crowd to ponder a return to the pain of last season, particularly for those who do not travel away from home, with the York Road fortress of August and September coming down with the autumn leaves.
Drax now has a fortnight to rethink his strategy before a challenging week which sees tough games against Welling and Salisbury with a trip to the usually happy hunting ground of Hayes Lane in between. A silver bullet is required to destroy the shroud of losing form which the evidence of the last two seasons has shown that once covering the Magpies is incredibly difficult to shrug off.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Railwaymen shunt Magpies into FA Cup siding

FA Cup days have a palpable excitement which is largely missing from the rest of the season. The truly comprehensive national competition with its accompanying high hopes of future glory naturally holds emotions of deep disappointment in its locker for occasions like yesterday's trip to Didcot when Maidenhead failed to deliver a performance of sufficient quality to make it into the hat for Monday's draw.
This was Maidenhead's first visit to Loop Meadow, having made a couple of Cup trips to Didcot's old ground on the other side of the tracks in the 60s. The new ground, built on the Ladygrove development on reclaimed marshland, is a good little set up with the club's rise in the last decade from county league to senior level being reflected by the town itself which is growing fast. 
Despite leaving work in Southwark at 11.45 I was in the ground by half one, a quick trip from Paddington being followed by a short walk under a narrow bridge then through a park which presented an industrial view rather at odds with the town's setting in rural Berkshire (historic boundaries). Indeed the club presents a similarly odd brand with a badge containing an Arsenal style cannon to compliment a Gunners style strip of red shirts with white sleeves, a reference to a long closed local armaments factory in front of a railway wheel to reflect the history of the Great Western Railway which built the town and literally stares you in face throughout the ground.
Unfortunately the town's growing population does not seem very interested in its football club with today's crowd of 301 over one hundred in excess of any previous ones this season. Speaking to a longtime Didcot fan before the game, the feeling was this was due to people being spoiled by the constant success a few years back which culminated in winning the FA Vase, and so not being interested in the weekly grind of the superior but more challenging Southern League.
The team itself is improving fast, unbeaten in seven mainly cup matches, following the controversial exit of manager Dave Mudge. Facing a Maidenhead team on a three game losing streak with David Pratt and Harry Pritchard joining Michael Pook and Mark Nisbet on the unfit list, the stage was set for an upset.
The home team were clearly well up for the opportunity to break the club record for the furthest run in the FA Cup, tearing into United with gusto, their industry perhaps inspired by the marvellous array of transport  on view behind the Maidenhead goal, which included hot air balloons and trains ancient and modern. Maidenhead for their part were clearly struggling with a change of formation to 4-4-2 forced by Pritchard failing a late fitness test which led to Leon Solomon taking a role in left midfield whilst his counterpart on the right Martel Powell was unable to resist an instinct to carry the ball into the congested middle.
Still having survived a couple of early scares Maidenhead started to take the game to their hosts, Alex Wall putting the ball in the net twice only to be flagged offside twice, on the first to the bemusement of those standing on the sidelines The second was particularly frustrating as from my angle behind the goal, the Reece Tison-Lascaris shot appeared to have beaten the goalkeeper and be goal bound before Wall followed up to make sure.
Didcot then took advantage of Maidenhead's growing confidence which had seen the defensive line move up the pitch, a neat through ball from Brian Bowles finding Morgan Williams who, like Theo Walcott later in the day, ran clear and beat the keeper with a fine finish. Maidenhead responded instantly when Wall's effort was well saved by eccentric Brazilian keeper Marcos Bellolli-Perreira (wearing tights under his thigh high socks).
Half time led to little change in proceedings. Sure Maidenhead enjoyed the lion's share of the play, but lacked the wit and the patience to break down a determined Didcot side who continued to threaten to score on the break.
A "name on the Cup" moment then secured the lead with twenty five minutes left when with the goalkeeper beaten Wall shot from close range only for the ball to be stopped by the hand of defender Lee Henderson but either unseen or ignored by the well placed officials. Maidenhead then sought to up the tempo, a move which only served to heighten the tension, Henderson having the gall to call Solomon a cheat for taking a tumble in the penalty area. As the spot kick appeal was waved away Daniel Brown then crossed the line with his questioning of the decision to the referee, receiving a red card for dissent. This incident signalled the end of United's hopes of earning a replay, and reflected an afternoon when United failed to show the calm discipline to soak up and trump the endeavour of a team two divisions below them. Rather it was Maidenhead, unable to shrug off the slings and arrows of refereeing misfortune, who were deservedly beaten.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Hopes fade in the Twilight Zone

I can't remember the last time Maidenhead's unbeaten home record lasted into October and so had high hopes that this season's promising start could turn York Road into a fortress in the actual rather than cynical sense of the word.
All these hopes disappeared in an awful last twenty five minutes of the first half when the defence disappeared into a Twilight Zone in the gloom at the eastern end of the ground to leave Hornchurch seemingly able to score at will.
All this after the game started so promisingly, man of the match Harry Pritchard forcing two top saves out of Hornchurch goalkeeper Joe Woolley in two moves in the thirteenth minute. Yet once the visitors realise that a quick direct ball down the flank would expose the United defence it was all Hornchurch with the first goal coming when Martin Tuohy was given enough time to recover from almost tripping himself up to finish from twelve yards. Tuohy went on to miss an absolute sitter of a header but when Ben Bowditch cut in from the right to beat Billy Lumley at his near post to double the lead Maidenhead were looking desperately for the half time whistle.
Unfortunately there were still eight minutes left so even though Lumley saved well with his feet from Tuohy, and then tipped a Lewis Smith free kick over the bar, there was still time for Daniel Brown to turn the ball into his own net from a Smith cross.
After the break Maidenhead were full of the vim and vigour necessary to mount a comeback from 3-0 down and an enticing script was promised when Pritchard scored a deserved goal within eight of the restart. The game was over as a contest though two minutes later when Lumley received a red card for bringing down Smith when through on goal to leave Alex Tokarcyk's first duty as a Maidenhead player to pick Tuohy's penalty out of the net.
The ten men of Maidenhead gave it their all for the rest of the game and when Alex Wall tapped in a fumbled Pritchard shot there was enough doubt created to prevent the Magpie fans leaving early but the unbeaten record was a lost cause and so an uncomfortable feeling of deja vu hung around York Road with the next FA Cup tie up next.