About Me

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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Usual March malaise sets up annual April relegation pantomine

Whereas Julius Caesar only had to worry about the Ides of March, Maidenhead fans have had to suffer for the entire month in recent seasons as a regular Spring time Conference South collapse under Drax leads to a nervy end to the season of varying proportions.
Looking at the evidence of the Magpies' league record in March, yesterday's defeat means 2013 has topped the lot with at least 2008 having a draw (albeit abandoned after 87 minutes, with the replayed game in April lost).
2008 P5 L4 A1
2009 P7 W2 D2 L3
2010 P7 W2 D3 L2
2011 P7 D1 L6
2012 P7 W1 D2 L4
2013 P6 L6
There is no rhyme or reason for this and at least this season's plight does not seem as dire yet as the previous two with this term's relegation battle being a seven way fight for the two spots to join doomed Truro City. Maidenhead also still have the consolation of a positive goal difference which remains for the time being ten goals better than any of their relegation rivals. This is of course thanks to the Magpies putting nine goals past Truro without reply whose continued existence until May everyone at York Road will be very grateful for.
Any chance that the inevitable end to March was to be avoided was jeopardised by the  visit of Bath, a club which have never lost a league match to Maidenhead. Add a Magpie defence of which 75% had two United appearances between them and I had little confidence of the form table being upset.
Bath themselves are not having the best of seasons on and off the pitch, suffering the usual Conference relegation hangover. Although their financial worries seem grave, for the moment they look set to avoid the fate of Lewes, Weymouth and St. Albans by dropping down again, keeping their heads just above the relegation dogfight. 
City just about earned their win by virtue of dispatching one of the chances that came their way and working hard to deny Maidenhead any joy at the other end. On a surface which showed the effects of frost following flood, caution on the ball was the watchword but the game was open enough to enjoy, at least until it became clear Maidenhead were again going to end up rivalling Alexander Armstrong for Pointless appearances in March.
The first half set the pattern for the game with both teams enjoying spells of pressure but Bath being just a little more potent in front of goal. This was typified midway through the first half when an Adam Connolly shot from outside the penalty area was expertly pushed around the post by Billy Lumley at full stretch. Maidenhead responded with some good build up play but could only trouble the Maidenhead Advertiser sign with the end product. Lumley was then beaten by an Elliott Chamberlain effort only for the ball to rebound to safety off the inside of the post.
Half time saw Bath fans reposition their fine flag tifo behind the Maidenhead goal, (not only black & white but also one sporting the legend "terraces not armchairs"), and it was to good hear that in this season of adversity they have found a collective voice loud enough to back their team. The Bell Street End then looked on as the match was effectively decided within ten minutes of the restart. First Richard Pacquette came closest to scoring for United only to be denied by the feet of Jason "chocolate orange shorts" Mellor, then Chamberlain broke the deadlock by being first to the ball when Lumley could only parry a Josh Low shot.
As always Maidenhead could not be faulted for effort but the result seemed inevitable when with seventeen minutes remaining three Magpies queued up ahead of the Bath backline to head home a free kick only for the ball to be nodded wide.Similarly with nine minutes left following a Michael Pook corner which Mellor tipped over the bar take two saw the otherwise impressive debutant Curtis Ujah head narrowly wide.
It was clear that a moment of quality was required and this was provided by the eternally Stakhanovite David  Pratt with a turn and shot which deserved a goal only for Mellor's super tight shorts to again direct his legs to divert the ball to safety.
The final whistle soon at last brought relief that the next match would be played 48 hours later in April which hopefully will provide some sort of respite as I don't want any more last day dramas particularly against this season's meta Stoke experiment at Billericay.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Mike's Momentary Lapse For Reason

Last game at York Road for a while and the final episode in a quartet of matches against some of the top teams in the league. Fortunately the heavy rain stopped early enough on Friday night to allow the ground staff time to get the pitch ready for visit of the Bank of England club Eastleigh.
Last Tuesday Dover arrived at York Road with a well financed team of all talents sourced with some of the best players at this level, but Eastleigh have gone one step further using a rumoured £20,000 a week budget to build a squad with substantial Football League experience.
Thus the game largely mirrored its predecessor with both teams keen to get the ball forward quickly creating plenty of goalmouth incident. However Eastleigh were unable to dominate to the extent of their promotion rivals from Kent and didn't secure the three points until the last minute of the game.
Indeed the outcome may have well been further in doubt but for an extraordinarily generous penalty award in the first half when a cross from the left struck the raised hands of Bobby Behzadi on the byline whilst the full back was in the act of slipping over. The spot kick was converted by the wonderfully named Jai Reason with the Magpie fans ire only increased a couple of minutes later when a similar ball to hand incident outside the penalty area saw referee Mike Blackledge wave play on.
The game began with Eastleigh going off like a train, with the over eagerness of striker Chris Zebroski leading to an early booking. Zebroski then almost drew first blood with a stinging shot which Billy Lumley pushed past the post. The Spitfires commitment to attack left plenty of gaps at the back for the Magpies to exploit although Chris Flood wasted a chance to score against his former team from a well positioned free kick. 
As usual David Pratt was in fine form showing a different side to his game when he allowed the ball to pass between his legs to put Daniel Brown through only for the midfielder to pull his shot wide.
An injury to Harry Pritchard gave Richard Pacquette the opportunity to come off the bench, the formation changed to accommodate a two man attack. The new signing looked keen to mark his return to Maidenhead colours with a goal and but was denied a chance to do so when Ross Flitney just about collected a shot from Pratt.
The source of Eastleigh's goal rather spoilt what had hitherto been an even contest as it forced Maidenhead into a greater commitment to score to get back on level terms. In attempting to do so Pratt enjoyed a battle royale with centre back Dean Beckwith but could not fashion a chance to continue his recent return to hitting the back of the net. United's best chance of the second half fell to Pacquette but he was denied an opportunity to shoot when well placed by a perfectly timed last ditch tackle by Mitchell Nelson.
At the other end only an outstanding double save by Lumley from Damian Scannell and Dale Binns kept the deficit to one only for the Magpies achilles heel of a set piece cross from the right to be exposed once more in the final minute when substitute Alex Lacey headed home at the far post from a corner.
So three defeats in a week again leave Maidenhead looking over their shoulder at the relegation zone. Yes the Magpies were underdogs in all three games and feel sore at the outcome of two of them but the temptation to look back at what might have been must be ignored to focus on accumulating the points required to ensure a tension free end to the season. Eastleigh may well squeeze into the play offs but they will need to find another gear to obtain the momentum for a run to promotion. Certainly if their financial subsidy is sustainable they will be title favourites for next season although experience tells me its a case of when not if these vanity projects run out of steam.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Away From The Numbers

"Away from the numbers, that's where I'm going to be" - Paul Weller

Depspite Jose Mourinho's insistence that the world would be watching the game at Old Trafford, there was plenty of other football on offer across the country and there was no doubt in my mind that based on recent form a Maidenhead United match was not to be missed.
So I joined the small crowd at York Road, boosted by a commendable following from Dover, to watch a game in which the visitors were largely on top although the Magpies never quite gave up the ghost.
Starting at a terrific pace with both teams seeking to get the ball forward as quickly as possible, Maidenhead had a half chance to take the lead when Harry Pritchard just got ahead of the backline but with David Pratt following to his right, the young winger seemed caught in two minds and the ball was comfortably collected by goalkeeper Mitch Walker.
Boasting a team of all talents, Dover's defence, marshalled by Ian Simpemba, proved to be hard to penetrate all evening and the attack was just as effective, Ben May giving the Frenchmen the lead with a neat flick at the near post. At this point Dover looked poised to run away with the game but the United defence held firm and as the tempo slowed the Magpies came back into the game.
After the break a similar pattern ensued, both teams starting strongly before Dover took charge once more, Barry Cogan atoning at the midway point for missing a sitter ten minutes into the half by beating Billy Lumley with a shot from distance that bobbled cruelly in front of the keeper.
Just when the result looked done and dusted, Maidenhead showed the resilience that has been such a feature of their play since 2013, when Chris Flood returned a throw to Leon Solomon whose cross from the right found Pratt at the far post, leaping athletically to head the ball downwards in textbook style to score. A goal so pleasantly surprising I flung my phone in the air and watched it separate into three pieces on impact.
Although Maidenhead continued their hunt for an equaliser, Dover had an ace up their sleeve to make sure of the three points, bringing Moses Ademola off the bench. Ademola who starred for champions Woking up front last season did everything but score and the only surprise was that the winning margin wasn't greater.
In my opinion, despite their stylistic simplicity, Dover are the best team I have seen this season. This is to be expected given the size of investment in their squad, which even extends to an executive coach complete with tables, and look a good bet to win the play offs.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Winning Isn't Everything

A philosophical title to this blog post, provided by the excellent Welling United fanzine, and inspired by a magnificent game of football when for a change Maidenhead were on the wrong end of an injury time winner.
Park View Road is a ground I always look forward to visiting with its mixture of terracing and stands old and new. The sunshine that greeted us as we alighted the train at Welling station made it a brighter than usual walk down the High street and with plenty of time to spare we popped into the pub next to the ground, Guy, Earl of Warwick. Despite a growing football crowd inside, the rock music blasting out within prevented prematch conversation so after spotting the Maidenhead United Saltire in the away end at Ibrox on TV we moved into the ground.
At the club gate I was pleasantly surprised to see the aforementioned fanzine on sale, a bargain at a £1 as it contained The Wingsaurus, an A-Z guide to Welling United who are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary this year. Moving into the bar I flicked through its pages whilst drinking Welling United lager, very drinkable at £2.50 a pint. Amongst the references to the luminaries of the Wings past such as Andy Townsend and Tony Agana, there was a reference to my first visit to Park View Road, an FA Cup second round replay against Reading in 1989. This was a typically rambunctious affair with the home crowd serenading Reading striker Steve Moran with a reminder of an off the field incident. I was in the away end, with access gained by walking across the adjacent cricket pitch then handing a paper ticket to a man standing in a gap in the fence. In the good old days of unlimited replays there was not conclusion to the tie with a twice taken Reading penalty in front of the away end meaning I was on South East news the next morning. In the previous round I had travelled with Reading to Twerton Park to see them play Bristol Rovers so I pondered the fact that twenty plus years later I have now been to both venues many times with Maidenhead United, reflecting both Bath and Welling's slip from the highest echelon of non league football and the Magpies rise from the depths of the Isthmian League.
Despite Welling's overnight elevation to the top of the table with games in hand due to another off the pitch deduction for Salisbury City, I was quietly confident about the Magpies' prospects as not only were they six games unbeaten but have also turned in a few decent displays on this ground.
This confidence was justified by a first half performance which saw Maidenhead go deservedly into the break one goal to the good. Billy Lumley had been largely untroubled by Welling's attacks which were generally confined to long shots from distance which went wide. Maidenhead on the other hand shrugged off the loss of Alex Wall, with the dynamic David Pratt moving into the Luton bound striker's central role serving notice that he would be a persistent thorn in the Welling defence in the sixth minute when he collected a Harry Pritchard cross from the left and fired in a shot that went narrowly past the post.
Pratt's battle royale with centre backs Ben Martin and Anthony Acheampong continued all afternoon with Pratt drawing blood just ahead of the interval. As the final minute of the half drew to close a high ball from left back Bobby Behzadi found Chris Flood in the midfield, who carefully trapped the ball then found Pratt with a pass. The striker turned Martin then slotted in an exquisite shot which beat the keeper then curled inside the post.
So it was job done at half time and time to ponder on Twitter who composer Edward Elgar supported. Stuart Maconie plumped for Wolves but surely Elgar would have been a regular at St. George's Lane home of Worcester City? There was no rush to decide as during the break the match referee has declared himself unfit and there was a worrying delay whilst announcements asking for a replacement from the crowd were repeated. Fortunately someone came forward to run the line and performed admirably in contrast to his Sunday League appearance.
It was clear that Welling would produce a fearsome response in the second half and almost immediately Lumley produced a good save from a Scott Kinch header. He was soon beaten however as Maidenhead's perennial achilles heel, the far post header, produced an equaliser, Martin atoning for his earlier error by heading home from a Jack Obersteller corner.
Maidenhead's unbeaten run has been characterised by their resilience so it was no surprise that they took the goal on the chin and set about re-taking the lead. A thirty yard Flood free kick was pushed wide by Sam Mott in the 62nd minute but the source of the goal three minutes was somewhat unusual. There was no surprise in the goalscorer, Pritchard, but the fact that he was the corner taker stunned everyone in the ground as the ball sailed into the box before swinging into the net in the far corner along with the goalkeeper and two defenders. 
With neither side ready or able to settle for a point the game continued as before with plenty of goalmouth action at either end. Lumley again being called into action to save well to prevent Kurtis Guthrie from adding to his three goals scored against the Magpies for Bath back in August.
There were fifteen minutes left on the clock when Lee Clarke again exposed Maidenhead's defence to head home, this time from an Obersteller free kick on the right hand touchline. 
This set up a tumultuous climax to the match, Lumley making sure he wouldn't be caught out by a cross by tipping one over the bar in the  final minute. There was plenty of stoppage time for a winner though but this time it wasn't to be Maidenhead as Pratt's charge forward ended with a shot which Mott parried but crucially took all the pace off the ball to allow a defender to clear before Reece Tison-Lascaris could pounce on the loose ball. It was then Maidenhead's turn to fall for a three card trick as another free kick from the right to the far post, this time from inside the Magpies' half led to a goal. Appropriately this was delivered by player manager Jamie Day and it caused chaos in the penalty area, the ball bobbling around until Jake Gallagher poked it into the net.
There was still time for Maidenhead to attempt to replicate this goal but the Welling defence held firm for a victory which confirmed their credentials as title contenders due to their refusal to be beaten, whilst Maidenhead can take much heart from this post Wall performance as there appear to be plenty of goals in the team to ensure they cross the safety line sooner rather than later.