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, 30 December 2013

Down by the Riverside

Middlesbrough architecture ancient & modern
The busy festive schedule always presents an opportunity to visit a new ground providing the weather is reasonable and the decision of the Football League to move their entire Christmas weekend programme from Saturday to Sunday offered ample choice. I plumped for a first ever trip to Teesside along with my friend, chauffeur and Reading season ticket holder Dave.
The stormy weather which has engulfed England recently fortunately abated for the day to present ideal driving conditions for the elementary route up the M1/A1. The dual carriageway which scars its way through the town of Middlesbrough deposited us right outside the Riverside stadium with time enough to take a short detour to the suburb of North Ormesby to find free parking and a pleasant walk towards the ground.
The Riverside
Middlesbrough is England's great nearly club. More successful in my lifetime than illustrious neighbours Newcastle United and Sunderland but without their status. For me the 'Boro's Cinderella sterotype is summed up by George Camsell's record breaking season of 1926/27 when he scored 59 goals, a record that stood for just twelve months before it was beaten by Dixie Dean by just one goal, the latter's mark of course standing almost certainly in perpetuity.
Gates open to all
The Riverside boasts that its the country's first new stadium built to the specification required by the Taylor report. The location is ideal being just a short walk from the town centre with a magnificent backdrop of the famous Transporter bridge. The main entrance is protected by the iron gates from Ayresome Park, infamously locked in 1986 when the club nearly went out of business, the gates themselves watched over by perhaps the 'Boro's two greatest players Wilf Mannion and George Hardwick.
Wilf Mannion
George Hardwick















A wander around the ground revealed evidence that industry still exists in Middlesbrough, along with the entrance to the Willie Maddren Education Centre before the familiar sight of the Horseman coaches came into view to signpost the entrance to the away section.

The Secondary Sector
One reason why I could not attend Football League matches every week is the predominance of all seater stadia, particularly those newly built in out of town locations. The impossibility of rolling out of a cosy pub and passing through the turnstiles onto a terrace, packed or otherwise is the reason why. Yes the sightlines from the seats might be great, the beer and food in the ground reasonably priced and of fair quality, but the cavernous concrete areas under the stand, the rows of empty seats on top and the need to manufacture an atmosphere means attending football at this level is a thoroughly uninspiring experience.
The game at the Riverside ticked all these boxes. The lager was flowing at (Southern) pub prices which you could drink whilst watching the live game on TV. The local speciality of a Parmo (chicken schnitzel topped with cheese) was possibly the best thing I've ever eaten in a football ground if that's not damning it with faint praise. The 195 (great individual commitment but collectively poor) travelling Reading fans were confined to a small block in the North East corner of the ground, resembling a dark button on a festive red winter coat, surrounded by empty seats in a ground that was less than half full. The North stand ultras to our left tried their best to create an atmosphere but from where we were sat it felt like we were looking in to the match rather than part of it as I'm sure would have been the case at Ayresome Park with a 16,000 crowd.
There was little for Reading fans to get excited about throughout the ninety minutes. Both clubs have new managers committed to playing football but it was Aitor Karanka whose values paid the greatest dividend with a comfortable 3-0 win taking advantage of some powder puff Reading defending to take a two goal lead into half time.
This state of affairs was exemplified by the goal of the game which gave 'Boro the lead in the twelfth minute. A long ball into the box by Emmanuel Ledesma was headed down by Lukas Jutkiewicz into the path of Albert Adomah who drilled his shot into the back of the net, a training ground move aided by the lack of challenge from the opposition. Jobi McAnuff almost conjured up an equaliser when he dribbled through the 'Boro defence only for his shot to be saved by the experienced goalkeeper Shay Given. This proved to be the closest Reading came to scoring, the poverty of the Royals' attacking play punished with nine minutes to go before half time when Grant Leadbitter was given the time and space to pick his spot and fire home the hosts second goal from fully twenty five yards.
After the break, Reading at least showed the determination to get back into the game but their comeback was almost over before it began when a reckless challenge from Casper Gorkss led to his second caution to reduce the Royals to ten men. The three points were sealed in the dying minutes when Leadbitter scored from the penalty spot after Ledesma had been brought down by a clumsy challenge from Alex Pearce.
This was the third win in a week for Middlesbrough who look set to soon pass a moribund Reading team in mid table as the Basque Karanka mounts a possible play off bid.



Saturday, 28 December 2013

Can we play here every week?

The approach to Woking's Kingfield stadium could not have been any more different to that of Maidenhead's last destination of Holker Street, Barrow. Over 300 miles separated the two, the latter a stereotypically grim northern industrial town whilst Woking is the epitome of leafy suburbia. Indeed there was a spring in my step as I wandered through the park en route from the station to the ground as I remembered the excellent results achieved by the Magpies against the Cards in recent years, which added to last season's draw at Kingfield against today's opponents Hayes & Yeading United is part of a six game, thirty year unbeaten run on this ground.
Reaching the car park, the home of Westfield FC came into view, set against the backdrop of Woking's anomalous big stand. Windsor & Eton were the visitors to the Combined Counties league club, twenty years on from when the Royalists last visited York Road for a Christmas fixture, the last time both clubs shared the same league status (Isthmian League Division One). Despite the juxtaposition of the Royal Borough's rival clubs there was no need for kick offs to be moved or local police leave to be cancelled with the combined crowd barely challenging the figure at York Road that day.
Hayes' continued presence at Kingfield shows no sign of ending as their sorry tale of a botched relocation continues, the attendance of 159 being slightly above the average for the season. In this context it was surprising to read Phil Babb's manager's notes speaking of pushing for promotion, given the rumours about the size of the Kingfield rent.
The corresponding fixture at York Road in August had been Maidenhead's last home win until Boxing Day, and as the long suffering Magpie fans are used to, that opening run of six games without defeat have at last been followed by a similar run of four from mid December, with the last three games all won.
Today's victory was founded on a first half display in which Maidenhead could have been accused of profligacy in only going into the break two goals to the good. In an open first half Maidenhead took the lead in the fifth minute when a searching cross from left back Leon Solomon found Richard Pacquette at the far post to apply a textbook header into the back of the net. Six minutes later Pacquette turned provider, flicking on a long ball with his head to put Reece Tison-Lascaris through on goal, only for the returning winger to scuff his shot wide. Tison-Lascaris had replaced Harry Pritchard in the Maidenhead line up, the other change from Boxing Day being Matt Ruby for Jacob Erskine in central defence after the attacker turned defender had picked up a knock in the win against Staines.
With Maidenhead finding it easy to make their way through a porous Hayes' defence, the home team were also able to cause problems at the other end, with Elvijs Putnins' knee injury clearly hampering his movement as he failed to collect a couple of crosses cleanly. These errors went unpunished and it was soon time for Tison-Lascaris to atone for his earlier miss. He was about to go clear again when pulled back by a Hayes defender, the referee generously adjudging that the offence took place outside the penalty area and only being worthy of a yellow card.This mattered little to Danny Green though who stepped up to deliver a perfect free kick which beat the despairing dive of goalkeeper Jamie Young to double the Magpies' lead.
Maidenhead could and should have sealed the points before half time, Pacquette making a mess of an opportunity to double his tally when he dollied up a one on one chance into the arms of a grateful Young, the half closing with Hayes going close to grabbing a goal back.
After the break the game looked to continue in a similar fashion, but as the half drew on Hayes gained the upper hand as Maidenhead defended in ever greater depth with ever fewer counter attacking opportunities. The introduction of substitutes Pritchard and Bobby Behzadi did little to alleviate the pressure which eventually told with four minutes remaining when Kamaron English pulled a goal back with a fine finish.
The announcement of five minutes of stoppage time raised the spectre of a late comeback but it was Pritchard who came closest to scoring with a shot that Young pushed wide for a corner. The final whistle soon followed to signal what will be a rare double for the Magpies this season, although New Year's Day presents another opportunity for a second win over Staines. With most of the other struggling teams picking up points, leading to Maidenhead actually dropping a place in the table, something approaching New Year's Day 2013's 6-0 win at Wheatsheaf Lane will be most welcome.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Elm Park Years Part 2: Branfoot out!

As the leaves started to fall from the trees to signal the end of the 1988 cricket season, a return to Elm Park was in prospect. It was time though to leave the North Stand behind and take my place on the South Bank, the covered terrace which stretched the length of the touchline. With the big roof capped by the Courage sign and clock obscuring the faces of those within, it looked a dark mysterious place from which sound would emanate throughout the game, the volume reflecting the intensity of the action on the pitch.
Officially it was known as the Network South East Enclosure, and could only be entered with an electronic membership card, a move championed as visionary by the club in the face of the government's growing demands for football to "to put its house in order" by introducing a compulsory ID card scheme. At Elm Park at least this proved largely a cosmetic measure as a card was easily obtained and tended to be passed around friends regularly. Even at the turnstile if the reader gave a red signal the turnstile operator would merely shrug his shoulders and wave you through, and of course traffic between the South Bank and Tilehurst End was fairly free flowing.
The first time I turned off Norfolk Road and walked up the steep hill through the car park at the back of the away end to the South Bank was for a midweek game against Southend in September 1988. Although on the surface hopes were high of a quick return to Division Two, the fact that the only close season signing was lower division utility player Karl Elsey rather gave the lie to Chairman Roger Smee's claims about having the biggest budget in the division. So the response to starting the season without a league win in the first four games had been to sign another uitility journey man Irvin Gernon and non league boy wonder Keith Knight. Striker Billy Whitehurst had quickly departed under a cloud prompting a mercifully brief return to the first team of Colin Gordon. 
Starting the game bottom of the league, my appearance at the game clearly inspired the players as they ran out 4-0 winners, man of the match Knight scoring on his debut.More importantly the game enabled me to take stock of my new surroundings and decide where I would be watching most of my football for the next three seasons. On passing through the turnstiles you were presented with a letter box view of the pitch and could pass yourself through exits to the right or the left side of the terrace. 
On first impression the left side offered the better prospect, with no fence to obscure the view, but this was contrasted by a distinct lack of atmosphere, aside from when a controversial decision was made by the officials and the moral majority that occupied this part of the ground roared into life. 
Much more exciting was the right side, fenced in with spikes to deter anyone thinking of invading the pitch, the roof echoing to the sound of the Elm Park songbook. With crowds normally amounting to just four and a half thousand during this period there was no trouble finding a spot which just about allowed you to see the whole pitch and feel right in the middle of the atmosphere, singing along until the ball hit the back of the net. 
If Reading scored it was time to jump around and watch the charge down to the front to see who could clamber up the fence and punch the air whilst hanging on to the spikes, waiting for the stewards we knew as Chief Chirpa and Pigsy to come along and wave everyone down with a broad grin. An opposition goal though sparked howls of outrage and aggression directed at the usually sparse away end, all couched in an environment where anything goes secure behind a fence and a line of stewards and/or police.
Every game the ritual was the same. The mythical Gerry was our leader, though I never actually knew who he was. Every game we would try in vain to get Ray Ilsley arrested as he did his weekly safety check, though we never saw Chief Steward Clive Goddard attempt to escort his colleague from the ground.. A newcomer in our group would lead to a running gag about who brought the song sheets after one occasion when someone asked how people knew what to sing. Occasionally there was an introduction to part of Reading's recent past when an infamous player returned to Elm Park for example Ron Futcher (boo), Nicky Cross (up the bum) or Clive Walker (flasher). In short it was an education and once I'd sampled a game from the right side of the bank I wasn't going to watch Reading anywhere else.
After Southend results picked up and my next visit coincided with the return of local hero, Trevor Senior. A lower division goal machine, Senior had made the inevitable move up to Division One, but unlike his predecessor Kerry Dixon could not continue his form, so returned home after disappointing spells at Watford and Middlesbrough. Any doubt about the esteem in which he was held at Elm Park was removed by the way the gate increased by 50% for his re-introduction to the Royal colours against Mansfield. As he ran out he was stopped by a young fan offering a good luck charm. The game was won with a Stuart Beavon penalty (a rarity this season as the once reliable spot kick taker seemed to lose his killer instinct after being required to miss in the climactic episode of the Manageress drama series filmed at Elm Park), Micky Tait seeing red in the dying minutes.
The attack was further boosted by the signing of Scotsman Mike Conroy and both him and Senior were to play vital roles in what was the first genuinely thrilling game of football I had seen at Elm Park. Bristol Rovers were the visitors, with their sizeable travelling following meaning the game felt like a derby. Conroy scored twice in a 3-1 win but what made the game was the departure of Steve Francis with a broken arm in the second half. Who else but Senior pulled on the green jersey, making some decent saves as the Royals continued their rise up the table.
Going into November in 5th position it seemed that promotion was on but the evidence of the following month showed the real limitations of the squad, not least when the hapless Gary Phillips was brought into replace Francis. On his home debut against Brentford he squandered a first minute lead by throwing one in against the club he had joined Reading from in the summer. Knight rescued a point after the Bees had gone into the lead, but when the next home game against Preston took a similar turn it was clear that although the pace of Michael Gilkes would unsettle any team, the defence was too shaky to secure all three points on a regular basis.
This became all too clear in Reading's distinctly shambolic FA Cup run to the 4th round. First up were Hendon who despite going 2-0 behind found a way back with young striker Iain Dowie leading the line. An equaliser spurred Reading to reassert their superiority and go on to win 4-2, but in the next round Football League bound Maidstone United earned a replay, the only benefit of which was that it attracted the Sportsnight cameras down to Watling Street which meant I could watch Reading sneak past the Stones 2-1 from the comfort of my living room.
The run of fortunate draws continued as Fourth Division Tranmere Rovers were held at Prenton Park before being narrowly beaten at Elm Park in a replay. John King's nascent team from Birkenhead ran Reading ragged for much of the game but the warning went unheeded as when once again a fourth division team in the form of Grimsby were held away in the fourth round, even the prospect of a tie away at FA Cup holders Wimbledon couldn't inspire the Royals to produce the goods. 
Confident that a win was elementary I had already worked out my route to Plough Lane in the couple of days between the first game at Blundell Park and the replay but a weak Gilkes backpass provided Grimsby with the chance they needed to deservedly win the game and send the Harry Haddock inflatables in the away end skyward, whilst the South Bank exploded in rage at the loss of an opportunity to liven up an increasingly mediocre season. 
In the meantime, league form had stabilised with the addition of centre back Mark Whitlock to the team, whose portly appearance belied the fact that he could play a bit, at last plugging the gap left by Keith Curle's autumn departure to Wimbledon. Still the visit of Wolves in January showed the deficiencies in the Reading team as the men in Old Gold brushed aside the Royals in a 2-0 win en route to back to back titles. They didn't even need the services of goal machine Steve Bull, with strike partner Andy Mutch scoring both goals. Bull though showed his talent in flashes brushing aside the Reading defence with his big frame at walking pace.
Spring saw my first away trips in more ways than one. A short trip up the M4 to Brentford with Dad's work mate Bill led to my first meeting as an away fan with the Met Police, their aggressive attitude to football supporters giving an inkling of the awful events to follow in April. On a packed uncovered terrace behind the goal I could just about see Senior's stunning volley from a tight angle to equalise but Reading went on to lose by the odd goal in five. 
Two weeks later and I had rather more room when I went in to the away end at Elm Park for the first and only time as Dave and his Dad wanted to reconnect with their Welsh roots. Naturally Reading won 2-0 so I had to keep silent with my abiding memory being looking over the wall behind me to see a urinal open to the elements.
This was Easter weekend so Monday was derby day and a trip to Aldershot by train. This game went to stereotype with the relegation destined Shots playing above themselves to hold the Royals to a draw as I stood on a packed Kop split between the two sets of supporters.
These three away experiences were totally uneventful in contrast to the bleak picture painted by the media of football supporters as some kind of lower life form which made fans social pariahs at the time. This was brought home to the population at large in the most appalling and tragic way at Hillsborough on 15th April when Liverpool fans were crushed to death in what was literally a death trap. The mendacious response of the establishment to this loss of life served to increase the pain of those who suffered a loss, a response which took the best part of a quarter of a century to redact. 
Reading had a home game the following Wednesday against Wigan and all I could do was attend and bear witness to the fact the sport would continue, pointlessly throwing coins in a collection bucket before observing a minutes silence. I have never felt worse at a game of football. No one cheered or sung, everyone seemed to stand there in reflective silence, doubtless pondering their own fate looking at the tiny couple of gates that had appeared in the fence at the front of the South Bank. Two tiny exits four feet off the floor. Barely room for me to scramble my small frame through, whilst hundreds would have been behind me also trying to get, out with no thought given to what happened pitchside once I'd flopped out the other side. An utterly shameful state which was allowed to arise by those responsible for spectator safety seeing their charges as little better than animals, a fact even more horrifying considering what had happened at Bradford and Heysel only four years earlier.
Wigan won the game 3-0 which in terms of the league table meant the season would end as a relegation battle. This was unexpected as when goalkeeper Francis had returned to the team at the start of April the season seemed to be winding down nicely with consecutive wins over Port Vale and Huddersfield pointing to a final place in the lower mid table. Another home defeat the following Saturday against Gillingham revealed the league position of fourteenth was something of a false one.The run of losses stretched to five by the time of the final home league game of the season against Bristol City and now supporters were either voting with their feet as the crowd dipped below the four thousand mark or voicing their displeasure if they continued to attend. Protest was very much the theme of the day as Reading lost their sixth consecutive game. Not only manager Branfoot but also chairman Smee were targeted as following a mid game sit down protest everyone stormed round to Norfolk Road to continue to vent their spleen after the game. When it became clear this was something of a pointless gesture, the mob quickly dwindled much to the content of the policeman stood near me who expressed a concern that the dogs would be let loose "and they can't tell the difference between a uniform and a pair of jeans".
The following week I tuned into Radio 210 and by half time it seemed that all was lost as relegation rivals Chesterfield had a two goal lead but manager Ian Branfoot earned his corn with his interval speech to send the team out to score four goals and rescue the season with a last ditch comeback.
Despite the general air of frustration at the mediocrity that was being served up on a regular basis however my friends and I only grew in our devotion to cause. As I finished my GCSEs I got a job at Maidenhead's brand new Waitrose, so flush with the prospect of disposable income for the first time in my life I ignored the fact that Ian Branfoot was allowed to continue bumbling along with a raggle taggle squad of journeymen, and bought a season ticket.
Of course the fact that this was only £40 helped, I was also now guaranteed a ticket for all the big Cup games that would follow, fully foreseeing a return trip to Wembley. Naive optimism aside, the Elm Park crowd was one which was good to be part of, full of knowing cynicism and gallows humour, reflected in the fanzines that had sprung up. The first one to catch my attention was Elm Park Disease, a good read but rather earnest. This was soon eclipsed by Taking the Biscuit a publication which fully fitted the Private Eye style satire which was the stock in trade of the best of football fanzines, and one which was completely at odds with the petty officialdom which characterised Reading FC as much as any other club across the country.
The nemesis of the fanzines at Reading was the club's General Manager Annie Bassett, whose ardently Thatcherite approach in seeing the price of everything and the value of nothing was accompanied by a frequent sense of humour failure. Frequently expressing in strident tones that terrace revenue only made up 40% of the club's income, her gaping deficiency in the customer relations department was revealed when fans turning up to watch wearing a Reading FC 1989/90 Tour T Shirt were turned away on the basis that it came with the headline "Mission Impossible", which despite the evidence of the previous twelve months was deemed to be too negative. 
It didn't take long to see who was right as Reading won just two of their opening twelve league games. This was hardly surprising as the only summer additions to the squad had been David Leworthy and Darren Wood. Leworthy who started his career with Tottenham was one of those likeable hardworking strikers who never scored goals. Centre back Wood was a little more promising but did have a worrying habit of standing off the attacker and gambling that the ball would land before he played it. Add in deadline day buy Lee Payne, as uninspiring a left winger as the Labour leader at the time Neil Kinnock and there was little to give confidence that a promotion run could be mounted. There was hope though in a couple of promising players from the youth set in Ady Williams and Scott Taylor.
Any lingering discontent from the previous season's great escape disappeared briefly thanks to a couple of thrilling League Cup ties.In the first round Reading were drawn against Bristol City and the first leg saw my first trip on the supporters coach. Against the odds Reading won 3-2 at Ashton Gate with Michael Gilkes scoring a hat trick in his new position up front partnering Senior. Gilkes scored again in the second leg as Reading scraped home with a 2-2 draw to win 5-4 on aggregate to draw Newcastle United in the next round. The Magpies were then in the second division but it was still something of a shock when Reading ran out 3-1 winners in the first leg at Elm Park. Buoyed with the enthusiasm at this win my friends Mark and Simon decided to bunk off school to travel up to St. James Park for the second leg and were duly rewarded with a 4-0 thrashing.
Back in the league it wasn't until mid October that Reading managed their second league win and that was only thanks to a last minute Ronnie Mauge own goal in a 3-2 victory at home to Fulham. The following week a trip to Leyton Orient provided the added opportunity to stock up on fanzines at Sportspages but this provided to be the highlight of the day as Reading were soundly beaten 4-1. One fan summed up the state of affairs by shouting out "Ian Branfoots Blue & White Boxer Shorts" and a few days later the sack followed. 
Having missed all of his success apart from the Simod Cup I was not sorry to see him go. Along with Smee and Bassett he seemed part of a club establishment that seemed rooted in the past. Something had to change. The question was, would removing the weakest part of this unholy trinity make any difference?

My memorabilia from this season can be found here: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/elmparkyears

Monday, 16 December 2013

Magpies Roll Out The Barrow

When looking forward to a draw in the FA Cup or Trophy, a common hope is for a Football League club whether current or former away from home to experience a touch of the big time. Barrow AFC was not what I had in mind when the draw was made two weeks ago but as things turned out it proved to be the setting for one of those days in the club's history that will live long in the memory.
The bungling manner of the FA's calendar for the competition meant that there was little time to organise group travel to York Road, which coupled with the scheduling right in the middle of the Christmas shopping season, meant that a few lucky Maidenhead fans made it to Holker Street with the consensus on the number travelling in no official capacity whatsoever being twelve. 
I took up Peter Griffin's offer of a lift up north, setting off from Maidenhead station at 8.30, speeding up the M40/M6 to the edge of Granadaland where we picked up Andy to increase our company to five.Stopping for a break a bit further on in the bona fide north, I earned my spotters badge by spying the West Cornwall Pasty concession and a group of Barrow players heading to the game. This reflected the Bluebirds remote location with the squad coming from far and wide (one of the starting eleven was rumoured to have come from Skegness), reminding me of past tales of the team never training together. 
As we turned off the M6 the countryside continued to grow more beautiful, the scenery calling to mind Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon's Trip with any worries about the rain threatening the game disappearing as Morecambe Bay appeared with a sunny backdrop. Reminders that we were in the north continued as we followed a car sporting a rear window sticker stating "no pies left in this vehicle overnight" but it was something of a surprise to be confronted by the evidence of the manufacturing industry as we entered Barrow, for once a set of magnificent floodlight pylons drawing  us towards the football ground.
Stiegl time
Arriving at the ground at the same time as the team, who had stayed overnight in a nearby hotel, we made our way up the stairs to the Crossbar to sip Stiegl Lager to the backdrop of the goal fest at Eastlands and the Holker Street stadium.
Venturing out to the ground ahead of kick off we were greeted by absolutely grim weather, a strong wind and driving rain to see a functional ground, clearly of a different scale to the usual non league structure. After initially heading for the popular side covered terrace, it soon became clear this would provide little in the way of shelter so we returned to watch behind the Barrow goal, the brutalist clubhouse building cutting out the worst of the weather.
In a dull first half where the only excitement came from a couple of Barrow efforts which caused a tremor of excitement by hitting the side netting, and an Adrian Clifton shot which dipped just over the bar, I took the opportunity to chat to a couple of long time Barrow fans who joined us behind the goal. They explained how the ground used to look very different with cover on all four sides and a speedway track which they felt was the cause of their failure to be re-elected to the Football League in 1972 as opposition teams did not like the way the track cut into the corners of the pitch. They certainly conveyed the image of a club once worthy of the Football League which probably in no small part to their location became like Workington a few seasons later, persona non grata. Indeed the programme detailed a time in the late 70s when the Holker Street pitch was perfectly playable but the opposition were simply unable to make their way to the area.
One aspect of their potential status was the fine club shop and decent vocal support in the face of a league season where they stood at the foot of the Conference North, losing 6-0 at home on their previous outing. The £13 admission and £2.50 programme further suggested higher expectations but you could have forgiven the locals if they snubbed this pricy entertainment.
Earlier in the week the Bluebirds had appointed Darren Edmondson as manager. He had pledged to build a squad based on local talent. This will naturally take time to come to fruition but in the short term he sent out a team which played methodically, with at least showing signs of a goal threat. Our local company advised that the team kicking towards Holker Street and into the wind was usually on top, and so it proved as early in the second half having changed ends Richard Pacquette gave the Magpies the lead. 
Halftime entertainment next door floodlights by ASDA
I'd already been and gone from this end of the ground as having worked out how to gain entry to what would normally be the away end by drawing back a bolt from a yellow gate, two minutes in the wind and rain was as much as I could take so I retreated back undercover.
Packed away end
This location provided additional entertainment due to the background commentary from a professional northerner who did actually utter the phrase "southern softie" when a Magpie went to ground. Pacquette's goal signalled the start of Maidenhead taking the upper hand but the slender nature of a one goal lead meant Barrow efforts for an equaliser were always a worry.
video
With five minutes left though Maidenhead sealed the win when a mazy run by Harry Pritchard saw him deliver his second assist of the afternoon with a cross to Danny Green whose exquisite finish meant that the second goal represented an upgraded version of the first.
As the clock ticked down the rain abated so I returned to the away terrace to milk the applause of the players at the final whistle, the magnitude of whose achievement only became clear on the walk back to the railway station where the wind was so strong it was struggle to stand up and walk never mind run around. Taking the train home, after a brief stop for a pint in Lancaster and an odd meeting with the Queen of the South first team squad en route to their Christmas night out in Liverpool, it was now time to wallow in the drunken haze of an epic win away from home. Regardless or indeed because of the shortcomings in the Magpies league form, this FA Trophy run has been a great tonic with three superb wins on the road against the odds. The last round may not have presented much in terms of opposition but the sheer distance travelled and the biblical weather conditions mean this will go down as a day when a select few will say "I was there".
Brutalist clubhouse

Grandstand

The Popular Side
Proper floodlights

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Foggy Notion

I was determined to attend the Tuesday night game at York Road and was rewarded with a spirited performance by the Magpies, earning the first point I had seen them win since September 7th having missed the other three league draws in this period.
As the train pulled into Maidenhead station there was the unusual sight of some fog rolling across the pitch, nothing to trouble the referee and the first thought which came to mind was that the Chelmsford ultras had been a bit premature in unhooking their pyro.
Walking up the drive the presence of a supporters coach confirmed that indeed City had travelled in good numbers for a Tuesday night match in December and the fog seemed to be initially something of a local phemomenon.
Drax unveiled yet another formation for the first home game in over a month, this time returning to the 4-2-3-1 used in past seasons. This meant there was room for both Harry Pritchard and Danny Green, and both wingers were to go on and play a key role in the game.
An open game ensued from the first whistle in damp conditions, Chelmsford taking the lead in the thirteenth minute when Luke Callendar headed in a free kick. On first impression this looked like a foul on goalkeeper Elvijs Putnins, such is the stringency referees apply to physical contact on the number 1 but the man in the middle waved away the protests of the Maidenhead players, and on reflection perhaps the Latvian custodian should have put in a stronger challenge.
Maidenhead soon played their way back into the game with the best moves being channelled through Green displaying his early season form. Midway through the first half Green had a shot from distance tipped over the crossbar and from the resulting corner Jacob Erskine also hit the woodwork.
United got a just reward for their attacking endeavour eleven minutes after the restart when Green dashed down the inside right channel before pinging in a perfect cross behind the defensive line which was met by Pritchard at the far post to score.
Adrian Clifton came closest to winning the game when his long shot was tipped around the post but as the final whistle drew nearer concerns shifted from the destination of the three points to whether the game would finish as the fog slowly got thicker. 
As the far goal disappeared from view visibility shrunk to the halfway line, with a stoppage for an injury in the Maidenhead half leading supporters to wonder if the game had indeed been stopped such was the lack of visual information from the pitch. However the referee to his credit ensured the match was played to a finish with stoppage time, and with honours even no one could complain about the outcome.

Honours Even

Nothing like a good score draw to stir the blood. Sunday's match at the Grove was a fine example with both teams on top form. Everton with Ross Barkley in his young pomp may have dominated possession but for the most part were restricted to long shots which were dealt with fairly comfortably by Wojciech Szceszny whilst Arsenal were more methodical in their forward play supplying plenty of decent final balls which Tim Howard just managed to intercept before the likes of Giroud were able to apply a finish.
As the game drew on the frustration with referee Howard Webb waned as the players tired and the quality of the chances increase but when Arsenal took the lead through a Mesut Ozil goal with ten minutes remaining it looked like game over. Everton though dug deep to fashion a fine equaliser courtesy of Gerard Deulofeu which cued up the blue flare, the smell of which reached me in my seat at the top of the Clock End.
Olivier Giroud almost snatched it at the end with a wondrous strike which had it gone in, would have been one of those moments that win league titles. That it didn't was fair to Everton who had firmly established their credentials as the best opponents to face Arsenal this season. That Roberto Martinez had added attacking flair so soon to the steely structure created by David Moyes must be worrying for Manchester United fans.
For Arsenal the impetus given by the entry into play of Mathieu Flamini with half an hour remaining surely shows why he should be first pick ahead of Mikel Arteta as the defensive screen, the fiery dynamism of the Frenchmen trumping the ageing Basque metronome.Certainly this position will be vital to Arsenal's fortunes in the big three games coming up in which three more draws would be most welcome.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

A Sketch for Winter

Glad I made a late decision to attend this game yesterday. In the first place an hour of bumping into people wearing novelty Christmas hats and jumpers was all I could take in Central London, but more importantly the game itself was great entertainment, and certainly more wholesome than spending the afternoon in the pub. So I found myself at 2 pm on a train crawling through the South London suburbs accompanied by the wistful guitar musings of Vini Reilly.
With the temperature warm enough to leave my long johns at home, the sun vied with the floodlights to light up a dank and sparsely attended Gander Green Lane. After a great end to last season, and backed by the heavyweight financial resources of manager Paul Doswell it seemed that this season's Conference South title race would be played out between Sutton and Eastleigh, but the Us form has dipped of late leaving them outside the play off places with presumably the sub par Borough Sports Ground crowd of 472 a consequence of deflated expectations.
In selecting his team Drax continued to juggle the squad with their varying levels of fitness, wisely opting to repeat his decision which worked so well at Eastbourne of opting for a back three (Mark Nisbet, Jacob Erskine and Devante McKain) with wing backs Les Thompson and Leon Solomon complementing Daniel Brown, Adrian Clifton and Danny Green in midfield, leaving Richard Pacquette and Michael Malcolm up front.
The extra man in central defence was certainly required in the opening stages of the game as Sutton started strongly, Jamie Slabber showing his intent to continue his role as a thorn in the Magpies' side with an early effort that was tipped round the post by Elvijs Putnins. 
Sutton's early dominance was confirmed in the twentieth minute when inevitably Slabber giving the home side the lead with his amber colleagues virtually queuing up to score. However this was not to prove the cue for a thrashing as Maidenhead played their way back into the game. Within four minutes of going behind Clifton took his time to pick his spot before firing through the defensive line to equalise.
Sutton continued to threaten, Slabber hitting the crossbar with a header just after the half hour mark, but Maidenhead were up for the fight with Pacquette back to his snarling best, bumping the goalkeeper over to leave the moral majority in the covered terrace on the far touchline baying for his blood.
Sutton skipper Jamie Stuart's response to this incident was to indicate that his goalie needed to lead with a combination of his elbow and knee in future so it was ironic that minutes later he found himself on the deck after an aerial challenge with Pacquette. The Referee correctly awarded a drop ball right in front of the covered terrace which sent the moaners into apoplexy, and yet if anything it was Maidenhead who had reason to complain as the game had been stopped with the Magpie attack in full flow.
The game now turned to resemble a boxing match of the footballing kind with both teams trading blows in front of goal in the last minutes ahead of the interval. Firstly Slabber rose salmon like at the far post, hanging in the air to head home at the far post, but any hastily rewritten team talks had to be rehashed once more as Pacquette equalised with the goal of the game.
Receiving the ball outside the penalty area, the striker hit the ball on the half volley. the strike dipping into the back of the net as Pacquette rushed off to collect the plaudits of the covered terrace.
The game changed after the break with Thompson being replaced by Harry Pritchard, and once Craig Dundas had returned the lead to Sutton within six minutes of the restart, the home team took a more conservative approach to the match, working hard to stifle any hope Maidenhead of getting back on level terms for a third time.
Drax's response was to pursue his recent Wengeresque predilection for wingers by introducing loan players Harry Grant and Josh Clarke into the fray, the former appearing for the last time, whilst the latter's debut was characterised by a pleasing tigerish approach to the game.
video
Despite a few set pieces Maidenhead failed to seriously trouble goalkeeper Tom Lovelock and so the result eventually ended as expected. So as I made my way back to the scenes of enforced fun in Central London, not much to ponder to the sound of the Durutti Column as Maidenhead continue to vie with Alexander Armstrong for the most Pointless appearances this season. 
video
The next three games will be vital for the club's prospects in 2014. With Barrow losing 6-0 at home yesterday, hopes must be high that United can continue to enjoy life away from the league with a third Trophy win in six weeks to progress to the last 16 of the competition. The team will certainly be well rested, travelling up on the Friday with an overnight stay up north ahead of the game. Furthermore the league games either side of this tie present ideal opportunities to get out of the bottom two with opposition in struggling Chelmsford and Tonbridge. The former though will be buoyant after two wins in two games following the wise appointment of Heybridge Swifts manager Mark Hawkes, whilst Maidenhead have lost all three games they have played at Tonbridge's Longmead ground.Time for the team to deliver on their promise of August.

Hullementary

Any worries about Arsene Wenger rotating the squad to face a buoyant Hull City side following their win over Liverpool were quickly allayed when, just as against Marseille a week earlier, Arsenal were straight out of the blocks and took an early lead through the unlikely source of Nicklas Bendtner.
This was a typically well worked goal which revealed the strength of what is happening on the training ground as an Aaron Ramsey pass allowed fringe players Carl Jenkinson and Bendtner to combine to score. As with the Marseille game though Arsenal were unable to score a killer second goal until it was Mesut Ozil's turn to convert a Ramsey pass early in the second half.
Towards the end of each half Hull began to threaten, although clearly Arsenal had plenty in the tank should they have needed to extend their lead. At least this was something to distract manager Bernard Cribbins from his ongoing banter with the home fans behind him, and for the away fans something positive on the pitch to cheer rather than their sanctimonious chant about supporting their local team (not at Boothferry Park you didn't).
So another three points setting up what will be the most important ten days of the season so far for Arsenal with home games against Chelsea and Everton, and trips to Manchester City and Napoli.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Magpies instigate Daventry Communications Breakdown

Even the words potential banana skin seemed out of place for Maidenhead United's trip to Daventry Town in the FA Trophy yesterday. Such was Daventry's form this season, particularly at home, in contrast to the Magpie's woeful autumn, that if anything my best hope was for a draw.
Having made a record breaking run to the first round of both national FA competitions Daventry were clearly on a high with the results to get so far combined with superb league form meaning they had won every single match they had played at their futuristic (if a little anodyne) named home, Communications Park, who prior to yesterday I would have assumed was the Korean cousin of Synthesiser Patel.
As often happens, Daventry's success hadn't quite led to the Town taking up the colours en masse with only 97 turning up to their last home game. Perhaps the out of town location of their smart little ground doesn't help, certainly my car load of Magpies had an unscheduled tour of the suburbs of Daventry as we tried to hunt down Communications Park. We eventually located the right exit off the right roundabout to drive up to the end of Browns Road to the ground entrance opposite the municipal recycling dump.
Arriving at the same time as the match officials, it was a relief to see the Maidenhead coach driver had not had any problems with navigation so there were plenty of familiar faces in the bar, which had an odd 80s design, all shiny black tiles and metal.
The ground itself reflected the club's recent county league status with both ends being just a small concrete walkaway with the side facing the club house boasting only a small shelter and two dugouts. Predictably most of the 203 crowd elected to watch the game as close to the bar as possible. A few sat in the temporary looking stands with the majority standing on the club house balcony, the only elevated point in the ground.
This bumper crowd, boosted by a fair few Magpies saw the programmes and even the hot dogs run out with the availability of chips in Emily's Tea Bar (The Talk of the Town) neatly conforming to the non league equation about the number of chips on offer being in inverse proportion to the size of the club,
The game kicked off with United fielding yet another central defensive pairing, injuries, suspensions and departures seeing Jacob Erskine continuing his new role in the middle at the back alongside Devante McKain who has returned once more on loan from Gillingham Town. Right back Bobby Behzadi also returned to the side for the first time in a month to resume his pairing with Leon Solomon on the left. There was a reshuffle in midfield which lined up as Danny Green, Daniel Brown, Adrian Clifton and Harry Grant, whilst up front Michael Malcolm got a rare opportunity to start up front with Richard Pacquette.
Watching the first half through the opposition goal net, I missed little as it became clear that Daventry's sound organisation and application proved to be a good match for their illustrious visitors, and it wasn't until the 34th minute that I registered the first serious on target goal attempt, Elvijs Putnins saving well from Adam Confue.With the bar beckoning for half time, Pacquette appeared to have a opportunity go one on one with Richard Morris in the Daventry goal but decided to chip in to no great effect. Thus the most notable point of the first half appeared to be the fact that Morris had his own sponsor in the local convenience store.
The second half started in much the same vein, with little to distract me from my copiously stuffed bacon roll accompanied by a generous portion of chips. However Maidenhead did began to threaten the Daventry goal, a Clifton effort just ahead of the hour mark forcing a save from the feet of Morris.This proved to be a portentous attack within minutes Maidenhead scored what from to be the winning goal. 
A free kick towards the left side of the penalty area was fired goal bound by Green. Morris was able to parry the effort but helpless to stop Malcolm's follow up, the striker swooping on the loose ball to score.That was pretty much it in terms of the action bar the inevitable last minute push for a equaliser which momentarily threatened to wobble the United rearguard. Pacquette then finished the second half as he had the first when presented with a golden opportunity to seal the win in stoppage time. Again with just the keeper to beat, his weak effort was comfortably saved by Morris.
This meant the scoreline accurately reflected an even game of few chances with the Magpies as at Eastbourne making a spell of pressure count midway through the second half. Thus as has often happened the FA Trophy has produced some light relief for the Magpies with the promise of some big fish in the draw for the last 32 helping to alleviate worries of a daunting trip to Sutton United next Saturday.



Marseilleasy

An elementary outing for Arsenal in the Champions League on Tuesday night as they earned the three points required to almost guarantee their progress to the knockout stages.
That Jack Wilshere's sublime opening goal came so soon after the kick off, did little for the competitive nature of the match but pretty much decided the result as Marseille offered little in terms of a response, indeed it was only Mesut Ozil's penalty miss later in the half that gave them the hope to battle on.
This miss was just in terms of the foul taking place outside the penalty area, and as soon as Ozil grabbed the ball from Olivier Giroud I knew a miss was on the cards, with the German disobeying the golden rule that the penalty taker stays until he misses, Giroud having scored on the previous weekend with usual penalty taker Mikel Arteta missing.
So we had to wait for Wilshire to double the score midway through the second half for the goal that effectively finished the game as a contest.
The state of the group now gives Arsene Wenger a headache about how to juggle the squad through a testing series of fixtures which sees Arsenal play two games a week including matches against Manchester City and Arsenal right up to the FA Cup 3rd Round on the first weekend in January.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Elm Park Years Part 1: Soccer As Family Entertainment

It seems odd to say it now, but there was a time when going to watch a football match was a simple leisure pursuit, something to do in your spare time, rather than the lifestyle choice replete with rights and responsibilities which appears to be the case nowadays.
So it came to pass that me and a group of school friends started to watch Reading FC in the late 80s. Of course we all supported big teams for me it was Arsenal, for Dave QPR, Simon was Manchester United and most importantly for the start of this story James was Leeds United. All about the age of 15, we had the freedom, if not the money to do what we wanted with our Saturday afternoons and for a variety of reasons many of which I forget we started to spend them at Elm Park.
Attending Desborough School, it was likely that we heard that you could go and watch Division Two football for a £1 at Elm Park from one of our many peers who lived in the Twyford/Wargrave area under a scheme known by the acronym SAFE, where seats in the block nearest the Tilehurst End were sold for a pound. Certainly we weren't going out of any affinity to the Royals, indeed what united us was the fact that in an ideal world we would go and watch our own teams but with no one else to go with had to settle for a club that no one had anything against if not anything much in favour.
Despite growing up only twelve miles from Reading and spending much time in the town shopping or playing cricket the football club was something of a mystery. Like every schoolboy I knew three facts: they played at Elm Park, they used to be know as the Biscuitmen, and in 1985 had grabbed the national headlines by smashing Spurs record for consecutive wins from the start of the season. Other than that nothing. The ground was somewhere in the west of the town but I wouldn't have been able to pick it out on a map. I could name the odd player although of course the most famous one Trevor Senior, had recently departed, but realistically they might have played on a different planet. No one I knew in Maidenhead supported them or went to watch them play so it really was a journey into the unknown when James suggested we get SAFE membership and tickets for the visit of Leeds in December 1987.
The SAFE membership came in handy for this particular game as like all Leeds games at the time it was an all ticket affair.The rules were that anyone under 16 could join free of charge, and then buy tickets for a £1, as long as this was done before 11 am on the day of the match. This latter rule meant the odd early start and then a long time hanging around the town centre (often searching for vinyl treasure in Listen Records in the Broad Street Mall) waiting for 3 pm, but generally someone was able to get a load of tickets in advance anyway.
This would have definitely been the case on this occasion as we took the train to Reading which almost certainly Dave would have jumped on as it pulled out of the station such was his fine attention to detail when it came to timekeeping. We then made the first of many long walks down the Oxford Road with all its exotic sights and sounds, not least of which was the Lovecare sex shop.
I can remember little of the match itself which was settled by a John Sheridan penalty, indeed my only memory is of egging on James to run onto the touchline and pick up David Batty's discarded tie up (he didn't) but it must have made a sufficient impression on us all as over the next few seasons, as from this game on we all became regulars to a greater or lesser extent. Quite a few other friends were to join us at matches and I myself went on to be a season ticket holder in two seasons (1989/90 and 1994/95) whilst Dave remains a regular supporter right up to the present day, having held a season ticket for many years. All of which goes to show the value of these schemes, no matter how superficial they may appear.
Maybe it was simply the fact that Reading was a quiet unassuming club (Elm Park the least interesting ground in Britain at the time according to no less an authority Simon Inglis) or that there really was nothing better to do as a group of friends but we were all hooked, returning in the new year for the visit of Southampton in the FA Cup third round.
Oblivious to the fact that this was something of a derby the visit of Southampton offered a little glamour such was their status in Division One at the time wearing a bang on trend Hummel test card strip. In a tight game the Saints won by a single Matt Le Tissier goal in front of 11 and a half thousand. This mattered little to us though as two weeks later we were back for the visit of Shrewsbury, with Reading seeking their first league win in thirteen games.
This game against the Shrews typified the Reading experience and if anything signalled what was attractive about it. For some reason I chose rarely to buy a programme in my first two seasons watching Reading. In part this was due to the price which represented 70% of the cost of a ticket and thus I was at a loss when before the game we mingled freely with the players warming up in front of the stand (likewise at half time the stand would empty as smoking was banned in the wooden structure forcing everyone to puff away pitchside). Therefore unlike Dave I do not posses an autograph of Shrewsbury right back Wayne Williams. Thanks to a smart volleyed goal by Stuart Beavon and helped by a rare red card for opposition defender Richard Green, Reading won the game. This proved to be a rare three points in the fight against relegation.
Reading were in their difficult second season in only their second spell in Division Two, and having lost some key players in the summer were a team in transition. Initial replacements for Senior and Kevin Bremner, Francis Joseph and Colin Gordon were pale in comparison, resulting in a record breaking transfer fee being paid for Steve Moran, although his effectiveness turned out to be in inverse proportion to his growing waistline.More big money was spent to greater effect on the pacy centre back from Bristol City, future England cap, Keith Curle. The rest was a motley collection of journeymen, has beens and never weres, which could only in flashes lift themselves to produce the collective performance necessary to compete at this level. Some players I warmed to for example goalkeeper Steve Francis, full back Linden Jones and utility hard man Mick Tait. Others such as Les Taylor and Martin Hicks passed me by. The one stand out talent though for which it was worth turning out to see was the lightning quick left winger Michael Gilkes. He had pace to burn and even after breaking his leg at Southend a few years later returned to finish well in the nationwide sprint challenge. The "run, run, run, run, Gilkesy" was, along with the "you're so loud you sound like Aldershot" chant something that was definitively Reading regardless of the lack of achievement on the pitch.
As Winter turned into Spring, manager Ian Branfoot again raided the club funds to sign striker Billy Whitehurst, a footballer who seemed more animal than man. At least he was able to make his presence felt as Reading became if nothing else hard to beat as Bruce Rioch's Divison One bound Middlesbrough found out when they came to Elm Park in February and left with a point after a goalless draw.
Regardless of league form light relief was found that season in the form of the Simod Cup. This was a competition for Division One and Two clubs (official title Full Members Cup), notionally introduced to provide football in the absence of European football following the Heysel ban, yet subsequently boycotted by all the big clubs.
In the same way as the League Cup is treated today, the better teams fielded squad XIs and so my first trip to an evening game at Elm Park would be a quarter-final tie against Bradford City, reached after wins against Division One clubs QPR, Oxford United and Nottingham Forest.Despite an early setback when a lax back pass by Curle was punished by John Hendrie, Curle being roundly cursed for his error by the witches from MacBeth sat behind me, Reading equalised through Colin Bailie and won the tie in extra time with a goal from Dean Horrix to set up an Elm Park semi final tie against FA Cup holders Coventry City.
This match at the start of March saw seat tickets rapidly sell out which meant I had to double my outlay to £2 to secure a place on the Tilehurst End to watch Oggy, Speedie, Cyrille, Killer et al. At the time evening games at Elm Park kicked off at 8 pm, with the pressure of a fifteen and a half thousand crowd pushing the start back another fifteen minutes, a delay that would have consequences later on.
Neil Smillie gave Reading the lead early in the second half before David Speedie was given the opportunity to indulge in his favourite hobby of fence climbing by scoring the equaliser. This meant the game went into extra time and with no further score I was unable to stay for the climactic penalty shootout as I had to make the long walk back to the station to catch the last train back to Maidenhead just after 11 o'clock.
I reached home to the news that Reading had won their first semi final for sixty years and would therefore be going to Wembley for the first time in their history. At a time when the play offs were in their infancy this really was an achievement which necessitated a trip to the Post Office to withdraw £9 for a seat ticket, with a rosette purchased in the Butts market ahead of one of the home games in between.
What was ironic was that Reading had reached Wembley without their two first choice cup tied strikers in Moran and Whitehurst. Instead it was reserve Dean Horrix who led the way to Wembley, scoring three goals and despatching his spot kick against Coventry, only to be transferred to Millwall ahead of the final. Tragically Horrix, who grew up in Slough and played in the same Britwell boys team as Steve Richardson and Garry Attrell, was to die in a car accident two years later.
In the weeks leading up to the final Birmingham City and Aston Villa visited Elm Park, the former drawing a humdrum game 1-1 whilst champions elect Villa won comfortably 2-0 in front of a huge away support which ebbed and flowed throughout the game up and down the steepling away terrace.
Cup Final day came at the end of March with Reading given little chance against a Luton Town team poised to shock Arsenal with a sensational League Cup final win in April, and only bow out at the semi-final stage of the FA Cup to eventual winners Wimbledon. With Reading fielding a very makeshift strikeforce of Tait and Gilkes, it appeared to be a case of a simply enjoying the day out when Luton took an early lead.
Then roared on by a support which made up about two thirds of the 61,740 crowd (an astonishing number considering that barely 4,000 home fans went to Elm Park regularly), Reading swiftly overturned the deficit when Gilkes created the legend which led to the song "Gilkesy ran the Luton" as he firstly cut in from the left to score and then win a penalty converted by Beavon.
The second half saw further goals from Smillie and Tait to really cap a great day out, albeit one which proved to be the end of an era, the last flash of glory of the Branfoot regime, confirmed when old stagers Gary Peters and Jerry Williams came off the bench to end their Reading career by strolling around the Wembley turf.
Following the Wembley win the story should have ended with a successful fight against relegation, but the Royals could not reverse the downward league trend. The Simod Cup was paraded at the next home game against Ipswich, another draw of which the lasting memory was Whitehurst regularly laying out rookie Town defender Ulrich Wilson. Another draw on a warm April evening against fellow strugglers Bournemouth, reflected Reading's key problem of a lack of goals and so they were finally relegated in the final game of the season at home to Hull. By then I was back enjoying my summer passion of cricket, listening to the Royals demise on Radio 210, as I scored for Pinkneys Green at the Berkshire County Sports ground at Sonning Lane.
Relegation notwithstanding though, my friends and I would be back in the autumn for the delights of Division Three and ready to make our first visit to the Network South East South Bank enclosure.

My memorabilia from this season can be found here: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/elmparkyears

Usual shower at Bath

Bath City away has become an unmissable date in the Maidenhead United fixture list despite the evidence of every trip suggesting it shouldn't be. Yesterday was no exception as Maidenhead United slumped to maintain their 100% record against Bath City at Twerton Park with a sixth consecutive defeat. This wasn't to be the only constant on a day which very much felt like a repeat in the life of the Magpies.
What could be a leisurely cruise by train down to Bath from Paddington was as usual interrupted by First Great Western incompetence, although at least Reg tried to make me feel better about having to shell out for a taxi to the ground after missing my connection to Oldfield Park.
The journey also brought worrying news of a Magpie defensive crisis which on arrival at the ground didn't get any better as it was revealed that in addition to Curtis Ujah failing to recover from his knee damaged at Eastbourne, Matt Ruby had woken up with an abcess, and Mark Nisbet had injured himself in training. At least the club captain was able to go to Slough to watch Trophy opponents Daventry, although of course he will miss next week's tie through suspension.
So it came to pass that Jacob Erskine found himself lining up as a makeshift centre back. The much travelled striker made a good fist of his new role as Maidenhead gamely hung on to ultimately forlorn hopes of a point against a Bath team which failed to build on an early lead.
Lining up in an abomination of the classic black and white stripes, which should have led to the home team being forced to wear their away kit so the Magpies could show everyone what a proper black and white kit should look like, Bath were on top from the word go. In the first twenty minutes both Alfie Mawson and Leon Solomon had to take last ditch action to clear the ball off the line after Elvijs Putnins was beaten, before inevitably David Pratt scored the only goal of the game with a header which went in off the post midway through the first half.
After the goal, Bath sat back but despite enjoying more possession Maidenhead were unable to fashion a goal scoring opportunity to test City keeper Jason Mellor. Meanwhile off the pitch any tedium was broken by an attempt to celebrate the news of the Monty Python reunion with the reenactment of a sketch from the Life of Brian.
The second half began with Bath again pushing hard for a goal to consolidate their lead, with again Solomon keeping the deficit to one with a goal line clearance. The game continued in fairly even fashion with the key moment in terms of the result coming with twenty one minutes remaining when Daniel Brown rose to meet a corner at the near post with a firm header. The ball was goalbound only to be blocked on the line by a somewhat unwitting Mellor.
This proved to be the only chance for an equaliser but with Bath failing to score on their repeated counter attacks, hopes remained until the final whistle which eventually confirmed the inevitable defeat allowing an excellent Maidenhead support to troop off to the bar and continue to sample the fine ales on offer across the city.
For me that meant the Old Castle Inn next to the ground where the locals hospitality was reflected by the orderly queuing system in place. A couple more in the hotel opposite the station offered the opportunity for reflection to ensure all the boxes of a day trip to Bath were ticked, I even managed the spotters badge of seeing Ken Loach on the Twerton terraces.
All in all a day which confirmed that this season will be a long slog to the finish and therefore opportunities that a trip to a place like Bath offer need to be taken to the full.At least the news about the new stand to be revealed at Friday' s Supporters Association meeting will give everyone something to hang onto through the dark winter months.



Sunday, 17 November 2013

Wing Backs of Desire

I see a bad moon rising for Eastbourne
It was Albert Einstein who said that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, thus it was a relief that Drax's response to the league defeat down at Eastbourne was to tinker with his squad and formation in the games that followed. This development continued yesterday when the presentation of the team sheet before the game revealed defenders stretching down to number seven.
The mystery over how the team would set up was revealed at kick off as Alfie Mawson, Curtis Ujah and Matt Ruby formed a three man defence, whilst full backs Leslie Thompson and Leon Solomon moved up the pitch to become wing backs alongside a central midfield of Adrian Clifton, Harry Grant and Mark Nisbet, leaving Reece Tison-Lascaris and Richard Pacquette up front.
We got a corner
Thus Drax's plan to combat Eastbourne's high tempo passing by packing the midfield was revealed and immediately paid dividends in a first half of few genuine chances which saw Maidenhead compete on an equal footing with their hosts in stark contrast to the last meeting between the two clubs a fortnight ago.
In Magpie terms this led to frequent substantial territorial advantage which translated into several set pieces, the best of which saw 1950s footballer Leslie Thompson drive into a gap in the penalty area and unleash a ferocious shot which flashed wide of the post.
At the other end the early departure of Curtis Ujah with a knee injury did little to upset the United line up, Mark Nisbet moving back in to his usual defensive role whilst Daniel Brown came on to replace him in midfield.
At half time, Eastbourne manager Tommy Widdrington clearly got to work, as after the break Borough displayed all the vim and vigour shown in their impressive win in the last match. They soon swamped the Maidenhead defence by upping the pace but could not find a clear cut opportunity to score.
The upside of this attacking purpose was that the game opened up and Maidenhead themselves began to threaten once they had weathered the opening storm of the second half. As the game passed the hour mark, a Tison-Lascaris cross went begging for a close range tap in across the face of the goal, then Pacquette split the defence with a ball heading for Thompson who was only denied a shot on target by a well timed tackle from a defender.
It was thus no surprise then when a goal arrived in the 66th minute when a Pacquette cross from the left was bungled by the goalkeeper, Grant being first to the ball to bundle the ball into the back of the net.
This was the cue for the inevitable siege on the Maidenhead goal as Eastbourne gave it the kitchen sink treatment in pursuit of an equaliser. Borough threw everything at the United goal but were unable to fashion a chance to score against a resolute defence determined to defend the team's first lead away from home since September 7th.
As four minutes of stoppage time were signalled, the pressure cranked up another notch and this time it was Elvijs Putnins turn to shine as he flew across his goal to tip a goalbound header over the bar with one hand.
In true cup tie fashion Maidenhead attempted to keep the ball in the corner when they broke out of the Eastbourne half and this was just enough to see the game through to a successful conclusion and the Magpies first win since that glorious trip down to Gosport in early September.
It will be interesting to see if this win has any lasting effect in terms of the team as for me the effective use of wing backs was a key factor in the victory, with Thompson in particular impressing by the way he genuinely played the role of a midfielder supporting the Magpies' attacking moves.
Despite the lack of points at stake,  this win could provide an important lift to the club with draw for the next round on Monday offering the potential of a meeting with any one of the plethora of ex league clubs in the Conference Premier. The win and the prospect of the potential opponents in two weeks time proved enough to send my Twitter time line spinning with activity on the long train ride home and distract me from the bizarre economics of the Southern railway buffet which charges £3.25 for an egg sandwich and only £3.50 for a half litre bottle of Harveys. The challenge is on for First Great Western to do better next week on the trip to Bath.