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.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Allez Allez

Just how I like it on Wednesday night. I alighted for the first time at Drayton Park station which must be even closer to the ground than Arsenal underground station. Crossing over the railway on the bridge adjacent to the ground presented possibly the best approach to the Grove. I didn't realise the famous clock could be seen from the outside of the stadium too. 
A keenly contested game between two well organised teams ensued, with Arsenal's superiority telling in the second half, the much maligned Olivier Giroud setting up goals for Jack Wilshere and Lukas Podolski, whilst his replacement at Montpellier Gaetan Charbonnier looked like a French Dave Kitson. An Arsenal clean sheet completed a satisfying evening although the Podolski goal was so good it gave rise to pangs of loss, recalling as it did the magic of Robin Van Persie.
With the result settled long before the end entertainment was provided off the pitch by the excitable antics of the Montpellier fans. Having caused a stir on their visit to Olympiakos earlier in the season there were plenty of active stewards in what was a smaller than usual away section. Their attempts to prevent  the Frenchmen turning the block into a mosh pit proved fruitless, and for once a drum coupled with an original repertoire of songs provided some much needed atmosphere. As the game drifted into stoppage  time  they repeatedly launched crazy goal celebrations which eventually influenced every one else to join in as Arsenal qualified for the knockout stage once more.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

One for joy two for sorrow

As has now become a worrying custom Maidenhead lost the battle of the southern Magpies at York Road in a game which they opened in unstoppable form.
A typically grey autumnal afternoon had begun with a stop at Bar Sport Maidenhead to watch the North London Derby, a rare opportunity to watch that strange breed of football fans who access the game solely through TV, cheering and applauding at the screen as if at the stadium itself. This fine hostelry seems to be prospering whilst pubs across the town falter which is unsurprising when you consider the investment to ensure everyone can see a screen and their televised sport of choice. The draught Amstel could not taste better as Arsenal capitalised on Emmanuel Adebayor's dismissal, the pair of Tottenham fans sharing a table with me disappearing at half time. I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn't the only person heading for York Road at the final whistle, testament perhaps to their commercial support of the club.
The game at York Road sadly had shades of that in North London as Maidenhead tore Dorchester apart in the first part of the game, taking the lead when a Bobby Behzadi cross from the right was headed goalwards by David Pratt. The header took a slight deflection, enough to ensure goalkeeper Jason Matthews was unable to hold onto the ball with Daniel Brown reaching it first to score.
A few minutes later Pratt took the ball round Matthews to shoot from a tight angle, the strike well positioned but without the power to cross the line before Aaron Pugh cleared off the line. Pugh, alongside central defensive partner Charlie Clough proved to be a formidable barrier to any further Maidenhead goals. At the time I felt this reflected Maidenhead's lack of width but the introduction later on of Harry Pritchard didn't really change matters.
Having survived the opening onslaught with just a small deficit, Dorchester worked their way back into the game, serving notice of their intentions to level with a free kick that Billy Lumley pushed round the post. Whilst Maidenhead remained a threat, Mark Nisbet heading narrowly over from a corner, Dorchester equalised with the goal of the game, a Mark Jermyn pass finding Ben Watson who applied a super finish to score.
Dorchester were straight out of the blocks after the interval and would have taken the lead but for an outstanding reaction save at the far post by Lumley from Sam Malsom. Lumley was again at his best to deny a second from Watson tipping the shot onto the post when the striker ran clear on goal. That Matthews could only parry another Pratt effort served as a reminder that Maidenhead were still in the game but a double substitution just ahead of the hour mark seemed to upset United's equilibirium.
This unwelcome turn of events was compounded by Dorchester's winning goal to which the Dorset club contributed little. An innocuous through ball seemed to be destined for Lumley's welcoming embrace before James Regis diverted it into the top corner with his head from the edge of the penalty area.Whatever was or wasn't said by anyone in a black and white shirt remains conjecture as I was up the other end but certainly this goes down as a defensive mix up and a frustrating one to concede with Maidenhead seeming to have weathered the early second half blitz.
There was plenty of time to recover but Maidenhead offered little threat apart from a cross which Chris Flood fired across the edge of the penalty area from the right wing which eluded goalkeeper, defender and Alex Wall.
Not a good start to a run of at least five Saturday home games in the next six weekends. With the league table as tight as it is, goals are precious and cannot be given away lightly, certainly the likes of Danny Burnell and Ben Abbey won't need asking twice when they return to York Road with Slough on Tuesday night.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Magpies Win 'Nam War

"Been away Ted?
 Yes just got back from 'Nam.
No Cheltenham"
Ted Chippington

Gloucestershire is one of my favourites places is England although the uncomfortably busy train ride provided ample reminders of some days out at football I would rather forget. Yes the scenery just gets better and better when you leave Reading but the view is scarred by memories at Didcot, Kemble (i.e. Cirencester), Stroud (i.e. Forest Green Rovers), and finally Gloucester, where on a glorious sunny day in 2006, we confidently felt that we were going to walk all over the Southern League as Dwain Clark ran the show and gave the Magpies the lead before two late Tiger goals won the game, punctured our ego and signalled the beginning of the end for manager Carl Taylor.
Fast forward six years and one young debutant from that day, Mark Nisbet was leading a team looking for revenge, this time in the FA Trophy. Having arrived at Gloucester though we stayed put on the train as the driver changed ends and continued the journey to Cheltenham where the Tigers are forced to play their games. Still unable to rebuild their flood damaged ground at Meadow Park due to the local council's intransigence and preference for egg chasing, City have led a nomadic existence for a few years now, firstly playing at Cirencester before moving to Whaddon Road.
Taking a taxi from the station we found ourselves dropped off in the middle of a housing estate, which our driver Dick assured us was a cheaper option than going to the ground itself. Sure enough walking down the alley as directed saw us arrive at Cheltenham's footballing Narnia. A swift pint in the cosy supporters bar was enough refreshment before taking my seat in the Directors Box to take in yet another picturesque sporting view in Cheltenham, though not quite up to the standard of the College cricket ground or famous racecourse.
A pattern of a open game contested by two committed teams was quickly laid out, with the officials from the West Midlands being happy to keep their cards to themselves for the time being despite a few full blooded challenges from either side. Leon Solomon, switching to the left full back slot to cover for injured Derek Duncan, showed much promise going forward finding David Pratt with a great pass just ahead of the quarter hour mark, the striker turning well before shooting narrowly wide. 
Gloucester came close to opening the scoring when Lewis Hogg rattled the woodwork with a free kick but it was Maidenhead who scored the only goal of the game in the thirtieth minute. Reece Tison-Lascaris instigated the move with a trademark dribble but seemed to have lost the ball only for two Gloucester defenders to tackle each other in their haste to recover possession on the edge of the penalty area. This gave the youngster the opportunity to shoot and with goalkeeper Mike Green unable to hold the shot, Tison-Lascaris was first again to the ball to score from close range. As the tackles continued to fly in both sides saw a yellow card, the half finishing on a sour note after a nasty challenge by Hogg on Nisbet.

After the break a change of viewpoint was in order to see everything the 7,000 capacity Whaddon Road had to offer with the view behind the goal revealing a couple of interesting floodlights, one of which also served as a site for an old fashioned clock.

It also proved to be a good place to watch the Magpies soak up wave after wave of Gloucester pressure, the team working well as a unit to stop any clear cut chances and launch an increasing number of dangerous counter attacks. As the game drew on the bookings continued to pile up whilst Maidenhead got closer to a decisive second goal, Daniel Brown feeding Pratt with a Hoddlesque pass which the striker was unable to convert, whilst Harry Pritchard announced his arrival on the pitch by hitting the inside of the post with his first touch.
Gloucester lived up to their nickname and showed why they have done so well in the FA Cup this season by battling all the way to the end, almost snatching a draw in the dying minutes. Firstly they returned a botched Billy Lumley clearance goalward only for Nisbet to ahead away from the empty net, and with virtually the last kick of the game fired in a half volley which fizzed past the post.

A hard earned Cup win for the Magpies then, which made the thought of an arduous journey home worthwhile as we wandered off down the alley to find Dick the taxi driver.

Here Comes The Car Crash

The all too predictable decline of Arsenal continued apace yesterday with a result and performance which squarely places the Gunners in the growing pack of clubs secure in their Premier League status and chasing the fourth qualifying Champions League spot. 
Since moving to Ashburton Grove Arsenal have regularly lost world class players, with their good but not great replacements seeing a title challenge fade further onto the horizon. The presentation of the dates of trophy wins around the new stadium seems to have frozen the honour roll in aspic, as Arsenal have fallen victim to a modern football malaise, the fetishisation of history and tradition. In this way the club has become a theme park where spectators buy a ticket to bathe in the warm glow of history before watching the men in red destroy the opposition in style.
Unfortunately the latter half of the equation is becoming an increasingly rare occurrence as the current playing staff do not have the ability to work within a formation which puts a premium on attacking play. Thus when the much maligned centre forward Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski had propelled Arsenal into an early two goal lead, Fulham had no fear in their capacity for a comeback. With Bryan Ruiz and Dimitar Berbatov mystifying the Arsenal defence with their free running across the Arsenal half, and the painful exposure of the red flanks by Podolski and Walcott's defensive deficiencies when required to protect their respective full backs, Berbatov's swift response was met with a comment from a weary season ticket holder in front of me of "here comes the car crash".
His words were a response to not just the Schalke comeback in midweek but the regular house of cards quality Arsenal now display when they don't have the ball. Sure enough Alex Kacaniklic soon equalised and Fulham almost took the lead before half time.
However when Berbatov completed the fait accompli from the penalty spot Arsenal sparked back into life, equalising straight away when Giroud redeemed himself for hitting the post when well placed by getting on the end of a Walcott cross when the ball was put pack into the box. Yet although Arsenal looked capable of taking the lead the aforementioned defensive frailty and the way in which the central midfield pair Arteta and Ramsey were regularly caught in possession meant Fulham looked equally threatening. All of which might seem to have created an all action environment beloved of the champions of the greatest league in the world theory but left me mourning the domestic death of the art of defending. Then again judging by the criticism of Spain and their perfect game plan of keeping the ball to ensure the opposition do not score, whilst waiting for their opportunity to arise, I guess I'm of a minority view.
Deep into stoppage time it was Arsenal who were provided with the chance to take all three points, somewhat harshly it seems, when they were awarded a penalty for handball. This gave Arteta the perfect opportunity to redeem his sin of giving a spot kick to Fulham earlier, but his spot kick, although well directed into the corner, did not send Schwarzer the wrong way, and with the ball fizzing along the ground the keeper was able to keep it out with the final touch of the game.
This was a match neither team decided to win or lose, with the main conclusion being that they are two very equal elevens, with plenty of attacking flair but no security at the back.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Championship Class

Hosting West London's top social function last night meant football had to wait until Sunday this weekend so I took advantage of Reading's visit to Queen's Park Rangers to walk to a game for a change. Although the nearest ground to my home I much prefer to visit Craven Cottage or even Griffin Park rather than trudge through the side streets of W12 to Loftus Road. I've never warmed to the London Rs and their subbuteo stadium, a feeling apparently shared by most of my fellow locals judging by the way they struggle to sell out games even in the top flight. Likewise Reading were unable to sell out their top tier allocation at the school end, hardly surprising with seats priced £40-£45 with just about enough leg room for a child and a restricted view of the goal beneath. Still at least I had a perfect sight of the touchline where Mark Hughes and his coaching staff waved their arms with ever frantic impatience as the game went on.
This seat was also adjacent to the block of home fans where Moroccan Ben Lauroa sits at the front proudly sporting a custom made sombrero in club colours. A common complaint about football is that there are no characters in the game anymore. Well with this guy spending his time either waving his rattle or blowing a horn, not to mention Djibril Cisse and his blue mohawk, Loftus Road is bucking the trend.
Both clubs have famously acquired new rich owners in the last year or so but on today's evidence neither looks like getting any immediate pleasure from their new toy. At least in Reading's case this has not been the result of fiscal stimulus yet, however serious questions must be asked about how Tony Fernandes has broken up a team that looked like they were built to survive by Neil Warnock when I saw them play at Arsenal last Christmas. Certainly with the likes of Alejandro Faurlin, Bobby Zamora and Shaun Wright-Phillips on the bench Mark Hughes cannot complain about a lack of resources. Reading however lined up much as they had done in the Championship and had much the better of the first half as their well organised team efficiently got the ball forward down the flanks and created plenty of opportunities in and around the box, mainly as a result of set pieces.
In reply QPR had little to offer relying on the individual flair of Adel Taarabt and jinkin Djibril Cisse to create a chance with the only end result being the odd long shot which did little to trouble Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy.
Reading took a deserved lead just after the quarter hour mark, unsurprisingly from a corner. First to the ball was Sean Morrision who at the second attempt headed the ball against the bar. Kaspars Gorkss was first to the rebound and acrobatically volleyed the ball into the back of the net.
As the half drew on QPR began to get a little bolder with Jose Bosingwa taking a more advanced role on the right wing which accompanied by the crowd getting on the referee's back to influence the award of a few soft free kicks saw Rangers enjoy their best spell of the game, only being denied an equaliser when Esteban Granero (who only seemed to touch the ball at set pieces) saw his free kick touched onto the woodwork by McCarthy.
After the break QPR took the upper hand, taking advantage of both Reading full backs conceding their flank next to the penalty area. This inevitably led to the equaliser midway through the second half when a Bosingwa cross eluded the Reading back line allowing Cisse to nip in and score.
At this point the stage seemed set for QPR to go on and win the game but instead it was Reading that dominated towards the end although QPR came closest to scoring. That the score remained level was reflective of the lack of quality in both teams' forward lines. Reading showed plenty of energy and drive in their attacking moves spearheaded by Jimmy Kebe and Noel Hunt but had no one capable of troubling goalkeeper Julio Cesar even when a Royal head was more often than not first to the ball at several set pieces late on. Rangers counter attacked quickly mainly through Taarabt, but he lacked the composure to beat McCarthy when through one on one, the keeper pushing his effort round the post.
The final whistle left both teams win less having produced a display which was more akin to the Championship rather than the Premier League, as shown by the man of the match, Jay Tabb, a tireless engine of perpetual motion in the midfield but hardly a player you pick out as top class. Over to the club owners now, but I would say Reading's current approach shows the most long term prudence, if only because Rangers cannot attract the support to justify further outlay.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Goals Goals Goals

A positive development in modern football has been the increase in goals scored, coupled with a natural rise in the frequency of high scoring games/amazing comebacks. This was taken to an extreme on Tuesday night in Berkshire, with a fair sequel in West London the following night. Maidenhead have been in their fair share of such games this year, giving up a commanding lead against Farnborough on Easter Monday to lose 4-3 then almost doing the same on the final day of the season against Eastleigh before winning by the odd goal in seven at the last gasp. Furthermore a few weeks ago the second half performance against Hornchurch showed all the necessary attacking threat to respond to a half time three goal deficit, but the loss of a further goal not to mention a goalkeeper raised the stakes too high.
All of this doesn't sit too well with a purist like myself who sees the perfect game as a win with a clean sheet not that I was complaining when Maidenhead did almost enough to salvage a point at Bromley when the game was all but lost with half an hour to go.
As a whole the game showed how competitive the Alliance South is this season. People may grumble about the perceived quality in relation to previous seasons but aside from the polarised positions of Salisbury and Truro there is little to choose between the rest, it would certainly be a brave pundit to predict with any confidence who will occupy the places between 2nd and 21st come May.
Certainly Bromley look like a team better than their position of 19th at kick off. Furthermore for a team playing in the FA Cup First Round on Saturday their minds were in no way distracted from the task in hand. 
Following Saturday's superb win over Welling I was travelling in hope as well as expectation having been to all of Maidenhead's matches at Hayes Lane since 1997, an unbeaten run totalling eight games.
I was not unduly worried by Bromley's dominant start in a game which was open and played at a frenetic pace as precedent suggested that Maidenhead would soak up the pressure then score on the counter attack. Thus although Bromley appeared to be causing the Maidenhead defence all sorts of problems, the reassuring presence of Jesse Joronen in goal and the regular Magpie attacking forays meant all was going to plan. However when Bobby Behzadi shot narrowly wide when well placed on the edge of the six yard box, and Danny Waldren drilled home the opening goal with a super shot from the edge of the penalty area, concerns that this wasn't to be Maidenhead's night began to rise.
Joronen then showed his true class six minutes ahead of the break to make an unbelievable save from a Richard Pacquette header at the far post when the Finn looked beaten by a cross from appropriately enough Tony Finn. Joronen was helpless though to stop Waldren doubling the lead two minutes later when his free kick was deflected into the net.
At half time Drax made a double substitution bringing on Paul Semakula and Harry Pritchard for Alex Wall and Reece Tison-Lascaris but their effect was not felt immediately as Bromley did not sit on their lead, responding to the continued inane drumming and chants borrowed from Crystal Palace by maintaining their siege on the United goal.Once again it was Finn who spearheaded Bromley's threat down the left wing, and eleven minutes into the half his shot could only be parried by Joronen allowing Pacquette to prove the law of the ex by firing in the loose ball.
Three up and with little more than half an hour left Bromley at last looked spent. Now it was time for Maidenhead to have their say. Moses Swaibu was somewhat harshly judged to have brought down the tireless David Pratt in the penalty area but it was not to be Behzadi's night in front of goal as Joe Welch guessed the right way and saved his spot kick. 
Nevertheless Maidenhead are nothing but resilient this season and soon another chance presented itself as a Leon Solomon chip was only kept out by the far post. Shrugging off a second slice of bad fortune the Magpies continued to penetrate the Bromley half on either flank through Solomon and Pritchard, and were finally rewarded with twenty minutes remaining when the right back's cross was headed in at the far post by substitute Semakula.
Three minutes later the comeback was definitely on this time as Pritchard delivered from the left wing to Chris Flood at the far post, the loan player heading in his first goal for the Magpies. Maidenhead were now in their pomp, sweeping all before them, a great move with nine minutes left seeing Pritchard shoot just wide from the edge of the box, the young left winger not quite catching his shot sweetly enough. 
My unbeaten record now hung in the balance and thoughts turned to Andy Eaton's stoppage time equaliser on my first visit, a Full Members Cup tie in 1997 when most of the crowd appeared to leave rather than stay for extra time. However despite five minutes added on at the end the Magpies were unable to conjure up a third goal allowing Bromley to hang on for a win which sets them up nicely for their FA Cup tie at Fleetwood.