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.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Tuesday night and the gates are low

When this season's fixture list was issued one home game stood out for all the wrong reasons, a midweek game in February against the worst supported club in the division. Add in live football on free to air television, and gridlock on the surrounding arterial roadways and a season low gate was inevitable, but the 178 aficionados who it made to York Road were well rewarded for their loyalty with a superb Maidenhead United performance to beat promotion chasing Boreham Wood.
The traffic problems forced the kick off back to 8 pm but it was worth the wait as with just a minute on the clock David Pratt returned a weak James Russell clearance to Alex Wall, who shrugged off the attentions of a defender before blasting the ball past the keeper. The early strike signalled the start of Maidenhead's best first half this season as they set up camp in the Wood half whilst comfortably dealing with any counter attack.
Only the crossbar prevented Pratt from doubling the lead with an acrobatic volley from a Harry Pritchard free kick, leaving Wood at sixes and sevens, assistant manager Luke Garrard taking advantage of a starting place to dish out forthright reminders about his team mates shortcomings face to face.
On Saturday Maidenhead were made to pay for not making their first half dominance count but this was not the case last night as the Magpies made it 2-0 in the 27th minute with yet another goal from a free kick. This time though the scorer was Daniel Brown rather than Wall as the midfielder's strike deflected off the wall to loop over the hapless keeper's head and sail into the back of the net.
Both sides then proved there was more to their game than luck when Wall connected with a delightful cross from Leon Solomon to lash the ball goalward at point blank range only for Russell to throw himself across the face of the goal to pull off a brilliant save. All this excitement coupled with a slug from Timmy Mallett's hip flask served to warm the cockles on a cold night.
The half time break provided the visitors with breathing space to formulate a response to United's goals and it was no surprise that they turned to the veteran striker Cliff Akurang on the bench. Although Maidenhead felt aggrieved not to get a penalty when Wall was hauled to the ground, the main action continued to take place at the York Stream end as Wood put the young centreback pairing of Alfie Mawson and Devante McKain under ever increasing pressure. However apart from a shot tipped over the bar by Billy Lumley, the defence held firm leaving me feeling comfortable to make an unimaginable early exit with five minutes remaining confident that Maidenhead would see out the win. Boreham Wood did find the net with what was reportedly the last kick of the game but the way the Magpie defence in the second half matched the Magpie attack of the first meant three points were secure at what is fast becoming an unfamiliarly fortress like York Road.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

BB = MW all squared

Odd game yesterday where both teams looked poised at one point to win comfortably but overall a draw was very much the right result. This was a satisfactory outcome for the Magpies not only given the way they folded in the second half but also in terms of taking another step towards safety by preventing a rival from taking three points. Although the supposed importance of the game had led local journalist Charles Watts to succumb to "massiveitis" in his pre match tweet, six points from the last two matches meant the pressure was off the Magpies yesterday.
In a game that had BBC Radio Berkshire been interested they would have called a derby due to their assertion that Basingstoke is in their broadcast area, Maidenhead had much the better of the first half with only the woodwork and a splendid performance from goalkeeper Ashley Bayes restricting United to a single goal lead at the interval.
Harry Pritchard was first to go close hitting a shot against the post with the loose ball being fired into the sidenetting by David Pratt. Pratt then hit the target with a snapshot from distance which was palmed by Bayes over the bar although the referee gave a goal kick. Bayes proved to be one of the most entertaining features of the game, not only for his impressive goalkeeping but also for his running commentary on his team's performance, not least his defence. His effusiveness was rather more enlightening due to its candid nature about Town's shortcomings rather than his manager Jason Bristow's constant focus on making the referee aware that he was the reason that Basingstoke did not take all three points.
As well as Bayes' heroics, Billy Lumley proved his worth at the other end saving well at full stretch from Delano Sam-Yorke when the striker had the goal at his mercy. 
Inevitably it was an Alex Wall free kick which led to Maidenhead taking the lead. This week though the set piece wizard's effort was partially stopped by the Town wall only for the ball to fall to Bobby Behzadi who finished well to score.
After the break, David Pratt who was having a decent game in the right wing position usually filled by Chris Flood, looked to be continuing the pattern of the first half when his cross hit the far post but almost immediatley Basingstoke took charge of the game, scoring twice in eight minutes. There was no need to check the programme to look for the scorer in either case as Manny Williams marked his return to York Road with a brace of goals which transformed the game. Both were deft finishes, the first from a well worked move down the left wing, the second when put through by Sam-Yorke who seized the initiative turning over possession from a dithery Maidenhead defence.
The transformation in the game  now saw Basingstoke in complete charge with Maidenhead starting to show the all too familiar defensive frailty which had characterised the autumn downturn in form. Still positive substitutions by Johnson Hippolyte saw a greater emphasis on attack with the return of Flood, releasing Pratt from his dutifully performed defensive duties into a more central attacking role.
After Mark Nisbet had signalled notice of Maidenhead's intent to equalise with a volley which fizzed narrowly wide, Pratt did the next best thing to scoring against his old club by winning a penalty which must have been frustrating to watch for the away fans as the striker looked to be heading away from goal as he drew the foul. After much chatter from the Basingstoke team about the position of the ball on the spot which led to one caution for dissent, Behzadi shrugged off the background noise to score from the spot with trademark aplomb to neatly square not just the score but the scorers.
Despite five minutes of injury time, largely caused by a case of just desserts when Jay Gasson was carried off on a stretcher after diving in for a late tackle, neither side looked to have quite enough in the tank to win the game leaving Hippolyte the happiest of the two managers thanks to the late comeback and sealing a point advantage with two games in hand over fellow strugglers Basingstoke.

The Football Grounds of Funchal

A recent short break in Funchal, Madeira led to me discovering two football grounds of contrasting import. The first revealed itself as we took a cable car ride from the sea front up to Monte. It came into view just after we took enough and may well belong to a school but is a suitable addition to the series of obscure grounds seen from unusual viewpoints which began in Lindos in 2011 and continued in Rye last year.
Later that day I took a short walk from our hotel to take a look at the more famous home of CS Maritimo, Dos Barreiros. Although currently under reconstruction you can only wonder at its magnificent setting.
Cranes battle floodlights in one corner whilst another accompanies the club.
When buying tickets you can choose between the hillside or seaview.
A couple of days later we passed through the village where Cristiano Ronaldo grew up. I have a feeling the hilly environment must have helped hone his dribbling skills. They've already built a statue next to the Cable Car station.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Glimpsing a game

2013's Essex theme continued on Saturday with a rare trip to Hornchurch. With the prospect of a game viewed from afar behind a running track this wasn't exactly something I was looking forward to, the Urchins' location in sleepy Upminster coupled with their struggle to cope with life in a higher division following promotion meant it was one that could be enjoyed.
The perils of weekend engineering works led to a lunchtime rendezvous at Liverpool St with what turned into a five a side team of Magpies as one by one we struggled across central London. In contrast a brisk train journey east followed by a short walk to the ground meant any earlier delays were inconsequential, so we wandered out onto a balcony wedged between the dressing rooms and bar behind the goal, the elevation provided meaning this was the best vantage point to watch the whole game.
Before kick off there was time to reflect on the last Saturday visit to Bridge Avenue when the previous incarnation of Hornchurch funded by what turned out to be the equivalent of magic beans, comfortably beat current Preston North End manager John Dreyer's Magpies who were battling hard to qualify for the brave new world of the Conference South. As is the custom this last away game of the season led to some United fans attending in fancy dress which created a wonderfully surreal moment when the priest (pictured bottom left) took such exception to one of the linesman's decisions that he vaulted the barrier and pursued him up and down the running track waving a bible.
Since then after a few ups and downs Maidenhead remain in the Conference South whilst Hornchurch opted within twelve months for bankruptcy and a restart in the Essex Senior League. Their climb back to this level is thus admirable under former Thurrock duo Colin McBride and Jimmy McFarlane, but its clear that like last week's opponents Billericay they may not stay very long.
The game passed remotely, watched in an Amstel induced blur, with Maidenhead eventually looking fairly comfortable in what was an open entertaining game. The man fast becoming one of non league's hottest properties, Alex Wall, again stepped up and converted a free kick from outside the penalty are, this time low and hard through the wall. His strike rate is up there with Gareth Bale at the moment and I have never seen a Maidenhead player with such a scoring record from set pieces as Wall. Perhaps the best comparison lies with Stuart Pearce whose pugnacious approach is a good comparison with the power Wall applies to the ball.
However Wall's goal came after Hornchurch missed a sitter and they went onto hit the post before Harry Pritchard ended the half by drawing a great save from the Urchins' goalkeeper.
The second half turned into a tale of two penalties as firstly Bobby Behzadi scored at the deserted far end of the ground to double United's lead,
and then Billy Lumley made sure there was no way back into the game for Hornchurch by diving low to his right to save the home team's spot kick.
Pritchard again went close late on when his shot was tipped over the bar before the final whistle signalled another three points to lift Maidenhead up into tenth position but still only five points ahead of Hornchurch who lie third from bottom.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Wall dogs Essex boys again

Was over the moon just to be able to go to a Saturday football match again yesterday after bad weather and illness had kept me housebound for the last month. Despite the hyperbolic pre match assertion from the Advertiser that this was a must win game for Maidenhead, I would have been more than happy with a draw as I felt it was more a case of "must not lose" to a Billericay team who have struggled to make the transition to Conference South football and like United were mired in the morass which has seen as many fourteen teams consistently fail to remove the threat of two defeats potentially leading to the opportunity to knock boots with Truro City in the bottom three. As things stand there are so many clubs involved in the scrap to avoid filling the other two relegation positions its clear nothing will be settled for a while with United's return fixture at Billericay on the final day of the season likely to carry more weight.
As it happened, perhaps because of rather than in spite of the sticky dog that is the York Road pitch, the match almost turned out to be as thrilling as my last visit to York Road on the first Saturday of 2013. Coincidentally this was also against opposition from Essex and watched in the presence of Charlie the dog who must be sniffing at moans about Maidenhead's poor home form as he now boasts a record of attended two won two at York Road.Once again it was Alex Wall who proved to be the key man for the Magpies, but this was a more rounded performance than the one against Chelmsford as the striker, despite being up front on his own for most of the game, showed his value not just as a goalscorer but also as a player prepared to go out wide looking for the ball to provide opportunities for his team mates.
Wall's presence was felt from the kick off as he inspired an opening Magpie onslaught that was unfortunate only to finish in a one goal lead. Within three minutes the stage was set for him to continue his recent run of scoring from a free kick, a thumping drive being blocked somewhat unwittingly by goalkeeper Sam Beasant. I suggested to his dad Dave that this was a good save, his only response was "good strike" but minutes later Beasant Junior showed rather more intention with a save at full stretch from a second Wall effort from the edge of the penalty area. By the eighth minute though Wall was determined not to be denied, this time taking the ball around Beasant to slot the ball into an empty net. Wall almost got the opportunity to double the lead soon after only for top map reader Chris Wild to get just enough on a Chris Flood cross to nick the ball away from the striker.
Maidenhead's rampage now ran out of steam and it was Billericay's turn to assert their rather ugly imprint on the game. In a style that would have met with the approval of former crazy gang member Beasant senior, the ball continued to be pumped into the United penalty area at every opportunity with the long throws of Wild ensuring there was no let up in the pressure. These attacks were invevitably accompanied with a background of outrage from the good travelling following behind the goal, as they vainly appealed for a foul at the merest hint of a  Magpie transgression.
Billericay were characterised by the ugly sisters of Rob Swaine and Wild in the centre of their defence. Two mountains of manhood, forthright in their views about the shortcomings of everyone including their teammates, and invariably involved in most of the games key incidents.In Wild's case this included a case of indecent exposure when he changed his shorts on the touchline. It was then the turn of the ardent Swaine to make his mark, heading the equaliser from a corner after Billy Lumley had tipped Dave Collis' free kick over the bar on the half hour mark.
It was now very definitely game on and although it was Maidenhead who were the better team on the ball, Billericay looked more threatening, Jay May running clear to draw a great save from Lumley, Paul Semakula capping a dire afternoon spent mostly moaning at the referee by firing the loose ball into the side netting seventeen minutes into the second half. It was at this point that Drax opted to change Maidenhead's shape bringing on David Pratt to support Wall up front.
Although the score remained deadlocked the heavy going underfoot and the attacking intention of both teams meant more goals were on the way, particularly when Town were forced to bring on Antone Douglas at right back, a player for whom the Billericay bench looked to be the height of his potential. The first to strike were Maidenhead who regained their lead with thirteen minutes left when Michael Pook swung a corner in from the left which was flicked on by Pratt at the near post to Wall who took advantage of his freedom granted by a sleepy left back to sweep the ball home. Yet given the history of this fixture more goals were due, it was simply a question of which memory would be evoked? Would it be one of John Watt defiantly punching the air after Mark Harrison salvaged a deserved point in December 1995, or the despair of Alan Devonshire when Billericay scored twice in stoppage time to steal a win in December 2000?
Billericay staked their claim to posterity with four minutes left when in between appeals for a penalty Town concluded a goal mouth scramble successfully when May put the loose ball in the back of the net to equalise. Still neither side settled for a point and as the clock ticked into injury time Lumley launched the ball forward to Wall on the left who played a lovely pass to put substitute Reece Tison-Lascaris in the clear, the young substitute curling in a delightful finish which saw the ball beat the keeper then arc into the corner to nestle in the back of the net to the cheers of the Bell Street end.
Three points for the Magpies was a fair reward for their continued attacking endeavour perpetually inspired by Wall although Billericay will feel hard done by having worked so hard to get back on level terms twice. The result may have lifted United up to eleventh but the key statistic remains the number of points above third bottom which still remains uncomfortably small enough for Billericay who now lie twenty first to have plenty of hope of survival.

Giroud leads Clown rescue

The prices might have been premium but the Arsenal v Liverpool fixture is not what it used to be with this season the two teams contesting three points to go towards securing a place in the pecking order to lead a late season charge on the fourth and final Champions League spot.
Leaving context aside though the clubs presented an enthralling match which by the middle of the second half had developed a cup tie nature with the teams trading attacking punches in a bid to secure a win. However this point was only reached thanks to some Arsenal defending that would have disgraced Maidenhead United. Yes it might have been Liverpool with a Wisdom in their line up but it was Arsenal that provided all the slapstick comedy as they gifted the Reds a two goal lead which may have been more such was Szczesny's desire to live up to Brian Clough's old adage about Polish goalkeepers and clowns. 
The ongoing defensive deficiencies of Arsenal were made even more poignant in the light of their strong attacking performance. For their part Liverpool held out well for the most part, the experience of Carragher keenly felt in a well organised defence. Their one player of quality, Luis Suarez looked to be the man to give them the win, constantly ghosting in from a free role on the left wing to instigate another series of pratfalls in the Arsenal backline. 
However it was the insult of Jordan Henderson waltzing through the defence to double the lead which proved to be the spark that lit up the reality of Arsenal's plight and their ensuing blitz saw the frontline led by Olivier Giroud rescue a hopeless cause with two quick goals which suggested a win was possible.This would have been a little unjust on the visitors not to mention a let off for the home team and so although both came close to a winner the final scoreline of 2-2 was a fitting one.