About Me

My photo
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, 28 April 2013

Out with a whimper

A welcome stress free trip to Billericay yesterday due to the rare occasion of Maidenhead United being safe on the final day of the season. As such it was carnival time with the welcome tradition of the final away trip made in fancy dress. Despite the reservations of some this to me is a perfect antidote for the overbearing pomposity of those who cannot acknowledge that football is nothing more than a leisure pursuit. It also demonstrates a refusal to conform to the half scarf, full kit wearing consumer identity becoming depressingly familiar throughout the English game.
Although the Magpies could not match the marvellous penguins of Hartlepool United (above) , there was a good showing in a range of outfits, including two Noddy Holders. 
Don't fear the reaper
On a more serious note, with Billericay already relegated, the services of the Grim Reaper were still required and he spent the train journey silently meditating under his cowl to prepare for the solemn rites which he would have to perform that afternoon.Arriving at Billericay we had plenty of time to enjoy the High Street with its many pubs. Everywhere we went we were greeted warmly aside from the woman who was worried about the soul of the reaper and wanted to open his heart to Jesus which was worrying as I would have thought she would have been aware of the key role he has to play at Armageddon as detailed in the Book of Revelations. The raggle taggle army of Maidenhead fans ebbed and flowed towards the ground with unfortunately the final walk to New Lodge being showered with rain. Inside the ground just ahead of kick off it was clear that this would be a match too far for United, with Curtis Ujah injured pre match leading to Tom Gilbey being called into the team in what was the definition of a makeshift defence. Having something of a point to prove after their narrow defeat at York Road in February, 'Ricay were on top for  most of the game, Billy Lumley being called into action early on to tip a Jay May shot over the bar in the fifth minute. With just over a quarter of an hour gone May went on to score what proved to be the only goal of the game when he took advantage of a defensive mix up to smash home the winner off the cross bar.
The Great Dictators
As befits a relegated team, Billericay weren't exactly solid at the back but Maidenhead spurned a golden chance to equalise when following some good work from Daniel Brown and Reece Tison-Lascaris, Chris Flood somehow managed to snatch the miss of the season from Richard Pacquette's grasp by ballooning the ball over from virtually under the crossbar. It really did seem easier to score. Later in the half Michael Pook had a free kick tipped over the bar but Billericay could well have doubled their lead just ahead of the break when a Lumley block fell to an attacker who blasted the ball wide.
After the interval the game continued in a similar fashion, but as the half drew on Maidenhead fought harder to find an equaliser, a lovely pass from Brown putting David Pratt in the clear only for his shot to hit the cross bar with seventeen minutes remaining.
Cum on feel the noize
A late free kick cried out for the watching Alex Wall to leap onto the pitch and score but it was somehow appropriate that the game finished 1-0 to Billericay to leave Maidenhead in a final place of fourth bottom. A win would have seen the Magpies rise to fourteenth but this would have been a false reflection of a season which promised much in patches but sadly only served to deliver a fourth consecutive campaign of struggle. Many a time over the last nine and a half months, the comment "we're a top ten team" has been made. That may have been true on the occasion of some of the better performances but the league table doesn't lie.The fact is that better discipline and fitness has led to the improvement required to stay up, but without consistency the feats of the similarly supported and funded Weston-super-mare in challenging for the play offs are far away.The first priority must be to build a defence which is capable of lasting the season to avoid the problem caused by patching it up with loan signings and itinerant players looking for match fitness to secure a move. Today's signing of Curtis Ujah is a step in the right direction. All things being equal the first eleven might be good enough on paper for this level but without the fringe players challenging for places its all too easy to slip into the losing runs which are an unfortunate trademark of Drax's reign at York Road. A positive element of the Conference South which has now developed is that all the sleeping giants in the feeder leagues seem to have risen back to their natural level leaving a division divided into three: those with serious title ambitions with the appropriate support and infrastructure, those whose status is secure and the stragglers. This has seen the division take on the characteristics of the Isthmian League Premier which preceded it, Maidenhead's position in the latter group at least helped by the fact that the newly promoted clubs also look destined to struggle. With this likely to continue next season, the club must prioritise the two FA competitions. As the team is likely to lose more league games than it wins, cup runs in these national high profile competitions are vital to raise the morale of everyone at the club. The prize money is not to be sniffed at either. The best eleven must play in these games, regardless of up coming league fixtures, with midweek games being moved where possible to accommodate proper rest and recuperation. A little bit of glory goes a long away in salving the pain of dropping points week in week out.
Where's Wally?

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Mick Jones resolves culture Clash

Spot the ball
As a new town, on first reflection Crawley seems to be quite incongruous in its Sussex setting, but unlike its ugly sisters over the border in Hampshire, things have turned out rather well not just for the town but also its thriving football club.
Helped by a backdrop of early summer sunshine Broadfield stadium proved to be the ideal location for a meaningless end of season middle of the table lower division match between the hosts and Preston North End.
The short walk to the ground provoked the thought that this was the town, Basingstoke wanted to be, the approach to the stadium lined by appropriate art and accessed by a pedestrian subway which hardly evoked the dystopian terrors associated with its counterpart in Wolverhampton.
No subway army to watch out for
Being a modern football ground, cash was not accepted at the turnstile, but purchasing admission via a short walk around the main stand to the ticket kiosk was simple enough with a programme rounding up the charge to £20. This part of the stadium was the showpiece with the Blue Square Bet Premier Champions sign still proudly displayed two years after the Red Devils left non league football.
No beer in sight of the pitch
The tidy away section of the ground, catered fully for the visitors, even including a bar modeled on one of those hastily erected smoking areas which sprung up in pubs all over the country when the smoking ban came in. This clever erection allowed beer drinkers to comply with the "no alcohol in sight of the pitch" dictum whilst still remaining firmly in the ground which only served to illustrate how ridiculous this rule is, as once  I had finished my reasonably priced half litre of Carlsberg (the metric measure only serving to increase the feeling I was at a game in Europe), and with the alcohol still coursing through my veins I managed to avoid the incredible hulk like transformation into a football hooligan as the pitch came into view within a couple of short steps.
The stadium itself showed little signs of its non league past with the main stand being flanked by two terraces at either end. However the gazebo which ran the length of the opposite touchline was not obviously temporary although pretty much a bigger version of the kind I'd last seen at Truro.
Nice gazebo
As the teams warmed up I was pleasantly surprised to see former Magpie manager John Dreyer leading North End through their paces. I assumed he had followed sacked manager Graham Westley out of the door , but it was good to see he had broken his link with the Stevenage boss and had now paired up with new Preston manager Simon Grayson.
Tumble takes the warm up
The build up to the game had been so laid back it was shame it had to kick off. From the start Crawley, wearing a smart modern take on Southampton's classic 80s Patrick kit, took control with some slick passing which quickly bewildered a leaden footed Preston defence. A goal came early, Mike Jones' strike from distance bouncing unkindly over the dive of goalkeeper Thosten Stuckmann. Crawley continued to dominate and should have pressed home their superiority with at least another goal. Preston offered little in return beside hopeful long balls up to lone striker Jack King (ex Woking and Farnborough), thus as Crawley's early burst faded the game became a dull affair, worse in comparison to the non league fare I'm accustomed to, due to the faster pace.
After the break Preston's tempo saw them make inroads into the Crawley penalty area on a regular basis, and they looked capable of an equaliser, particularly when winger Lee Holmes entered the fray. Indeed Crawley were only saved by the cross bar from a King header, and Preston were denied a good claim for a penalty when a defender hauled down his man on the blind side of the referee.
Still based on the first half a draw would have flattered Preston and its clear Grayson has a lot of work to do to transform Westley's squad into a promotion chasing outfit next season. Crawley continue to progress with what will be their highest ever finish. Assuming they will build on an impressive base of 1,700 season ticket holders they could well be challenging for the play offs next season.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Harry's Game

And so it came to pass that Maidenhead United secured their position in the "Title Sponsor Vacant" South for next season with a full seven days to spare thanks to a fairly comfortable win over a shambolic Bromley outfit. 
It was one of those rare days when everything comes together. The sun was shining, the biggest crowd of the season turned up and the players delivered when it mattered. Add in the results elsewhere and Maidenhead United will have the uncommon privilege of a last week of the season which matters little beyond the odd move up or down the table.
Going into the game both sides were woefully out of form, Bromley having lost seven consecutive games and not even managing a goal in the last five, whilst Maidenhead had a record of nine defeats in their last ten outings. Bromley's disastrous form was rumoured to be down to off the field problems leading to a demotivated team and in truth what took the field at York Road was the worst team I had seen since Truro City visited back in September. This is very unusual for a Mark Goldberg eleven and its clear much needs to change at Hayes Lane if they are to start next season in better shape than they are finishing this one.
Maidenhead if not quite able to score at will were certainly able to freely create chances throughout the game, with just the usual Magpie defensive frailty meaning the result remained in doubt to the dying minutes. Harry Pritchard was the man to shine for United with a dazzling performance of wingplay, alternating between firing in deadly crosses with some old fashioned mazy Charlie Charles style dribbling.
Kicking off down the slope Maidenhead took the game to Bromley from the outset, Bobby Behzadi creating an early chance typical of the match with a long ball over the top which found Richard Pacquette only for the striker to balloon his shot over the bar.
The first goal arrived on the quarter hour mark when Pritchard danced round the defence in the penalty area to set up David Pratt who swept the ball home from close range. Obviously being Maidenhead this was not the start of a comfortable afternoon and Bromley equalised five minutes later when Darren Waldren headed in from a corner.
With Pritchard in his pomp though there was little chance of Maidenhead being pinned back, the winger rattling the crossbar before delivering a free kick which eluded everyone. Not to be denied he then lobbed the ball over the top to Reece Tison-Lascaris who rounded the keeper with typical aplomb to score before collecting the plaudits from the crowd behind the goal.
After the break Pritchard continued where he had left off, firing a humdinger of a shot goalward which forced a great save from the feet of the goalkeeper, he then delivered a corner onto the head of Pacquette to double the margin of the lead. As Maidenhead started to relax the game looked in danger of turning into a rout as Pritchard again set up Pacquette twice more, the first effort going wide, the second hitting the back of the net only to be disallowed for a push by another United player.
The lack of discipline shown by Bromley all afternoon boiled over with twenty minutes remaining when captain Waldren was sent off after tussling on the ground with Tison-Lascaris, but the ten men showed the resilience to pull a goal back with nine minutes to go from another set piece, a free kick from the right side of the halfway line finding Pierre Joseph-Dubois who applied a deft finish to beat Billy Lumley. Any terrace jitters were soon dispelled though when within two minutes Tison-Lascaris set up to Pacquette to restore the two goal lead. There was even time for Pacquette to miss a chance for a hat trick before the final whistle went and the result from Sutton United more or less confirmed Maidenhead United had beaten the drop again.There will be plenty of time to reflect in May on a season which promised more than it delivered in league terms so for now its best to enjoy the moment when everyone did their bit to ensure the three points were won. There was James the mascot leading the team out (perhaps the sight of him holding hands with Michael Pook defused a little tension), injured Mark Nisbet wearing his lucky pink shirt and tie, and most importantly Charlie the dog whose York Road record now reads attended three won three. I think I'll buy him a season ticket in the summer.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Emirates Stalemate

Top quality game at Arsenal on Tuesday night which began at least in warm Spring sunshine for a change. With both sides in need of three points it was good to see an open game. Although for Everton it was certainly a case of no quarter asked or given, the Toffee's up and at 'em approach initially discombobulated Arsenal as they appealed in vain to the officials for protection. However once the Gunners realised that Everton knew exactly where the referee's line was and how to sidle alongside it, they stepped up to the plate and from then on looked most likely to win the game. That they didn't was down to the absence of a top drawer striker. Last season Robin Van Persie earned the three points with a sublime piece of skill to score the only goal of the game. This time around no one was quite good enough to make the most of the few goal scoring opportunities that were created. With the ever impressive Fellaini in the cockpit, Everton also maintained a threat leaving the draw a fair result which reflected the clubs current status in the chasing pack.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Mustard finish sees off negative Norwich

A funny day at the Grove yesterday which began with a massive sigh of relief when I discovered that the Maidenhead game at Dorchester had been called off at 2.45 pm. But for an early evening engagement, I would have made the pointless trip, but at least those that did could drown their sorrows with £1.50 bottles of Carlsberg.
As for the game in front of me, despite Arsenal's strong Spring league form I was full of worry about the result. I was sat in the North Bank where I rarely see Arsenal win, indeed I can remember watching Chris Hughton's last visit in 2010 when his Newcastle team won a dour game 1-0, shortly before he was sacked. Still at least the prospect of goals were on offer, having sat nearby when almost a year ago Norwich shared six goals in a great game of football, and also earlier this season when a late penalty missed by Mikel Arteta prevented the Fulham game being settled by the odd goal in seven.
The last ten minutes aside though what transpired was an awful game of football to match the miserable weather which even seem to dampen the spirit of the foam finger wearers and split scarfers. With Norwich struggling on the brink of the relegation zone, their approach to the game was entirely understandable putting ten men behind the ball. Arsenal's starting eleven was unable to break them down, with Gervinho lacking guile, Wilshire match fitness and Cazorla stuck out of position on the wing. With Giroud seeming to play in a withdrawn role (false nine? - cue joke), Arsenal offered little promise of scoring whilst the game remained goalless.
As usual it took an opposition goal from a set piece by Michael Turner to spark the Gunners into life, with at least Wenger having the option to bring on some quality attacking players in Walcott, Podolski and Chamberlain. With the first two of the three returning to fitness it was good to see the impact they had on the game and hopefully they will be deemed ready for selection in the crucial game against Everton on Tuesday night.
However Arsenal's salvation was late coming and in the time between the Norwich opener and the equaliser, the Canaries demonstrated some cynical gamesmanship to slow the game down and waste time. I have no problem with the goalkeeper moving the ball across the six yard box or waiting for an attacker to challenge before picking it up but I really detest the antics of Grant Holt who when on several occasions a throw was clearly awarded to Arsenal did everything to obstruct a resumption of play. Norwich were helped by a weak referee who acquiesced with their tactics as the temperature grew in the stadium with the boiling blood of the Gooners.
That the equaliser came from a controversial penalty made it all the sweeter although the controversy was somewhat manufactured as it centred on how far away the linesman was when he made the award rather than the actual foul itself. The game then threatened to descend into pantomime as the Norwich players refused to conclude their heated debate with the officials in the corner, and then goalkeeper Mark Bunn stormed off in a huff to leave an empty net. The referee would have had a lot of sympathy for allowing Arteta to put the ball into the unguarded goal but he waited for Bunn to return before the midfielder delightfully placed the ball just beyond the keepers reach in the far corner.
The last few minutes then made up for the dross that had been on show before with Arsenal taking the lead with what looked like an own goal claimed by Giroud, and Fabianski making a superb save with his feet from Howson in a Norwich move direct from the restart. Podolski then completed the scoring with the goal of the game, a computer style turn and Howitzer shot which gave the goalkeeper no chance.
Job just about done as the Gunners rise to third place in timely fashion, looking good to stay there with a lot of important squad members returning from injury.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Deja U

A disappointing follow up to Saturday's win over Havant as in a similar match to December's FA Trophy tie, Sutton comprehensively beat the Magpies 1-0.
Maidenhead continued with their five at the back formation which was so successful on Saturday but in contrast played into Sutton's hands last night as by conceding all but the penalty area, Maidenhead allowed Sutton to demonstrate the benefit of their extra morning training with the Us higher tempo meaning they dominated the first half.
With the central midfield duo of Daniel Brown and Michael Pook in danger of treading on the centre backs toes in what often appeared to be a 5-2-2-1 formation, Sutton struggled to find a way through the black and white defensive wall. Still they got closer as the half drew on, Sam Rents forcing Billy Lumley to tip his long shot over the bar after twenty three minutes, whilst the Us got the ball in the net four minutes ahead of the break only for the referee to chalk it off.
Just when thoughts started to drift into the realms of job done for the first half though Sutton were gifted the lead with a soft penalty when Craig Dundas was bundled over by Rhys Paul whilst shepherding the ball out for a goal kick. In stoppage time Dundas stepped up to take the kick himself to give Sutton a lead which reflected their domination of the game but was one to be rued by the Magpies having kept a clean sheet for forty five minutes.
After the break Maidenhead showed more attacking purpose which continued when substitutes Harry Pritchard and Reece Tison-Lascaris joined the fray. The Magpies had little to show for it, coming closest to an equaliser when a corner was pushed off the line by Sutton goalkeeper Tom Lovelock.
A Maidenhead corner heads goalward
Maidenhead's hopes of a point continued to diminished when Tison-Lascaris was carried off on a stretcher and despite some frenetic activity in the penalty area at the beginning of the long stoppage time created by the injury, it was clear that the game was up for the Magpies. Indeed it was Sutton who should have increased their lead, missing a sitter and being denied by Lumley before the referee blew the final whistle.
The result leaves Maidenhead deep in relegation trouble needing four points from the next two games to relieve the pressure on what looks likely to be a desperate final week of the season with two visits to Essex.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Two Pac Secures win at last

A member of the Havant Coaching Staff makes a start on the new stand
Top played bottom of the form table and as the cliche would have it the form book was upset, a change of tactics by Drax reversing the recent result in the corresponding game in Hampshire.
The decision to go with five men in defence was quite effective in snuffing out the attacking threat from the visitors for the larger part of the game, and even the early departure of Mark Nisbet with an injury simply led to substitute Tom Gilbey slotting in at the back.
Early on Havant had threatened with a Chris Arthur snapshot which Billy Lumley pushed over the bar but the stifling effect of the extra Magpie defender led to a cagey opening act of the game which gave me the opportunity to get a first recruit for my Anti Hampshire Alliance where a ground rule was agreed upon that the New Forest was excluded by virtue of being too nice.
One saving grace of Maidenhead's losing run was their ability to create goal scoring opportunities and in the latter two thirds of the first half they came at regular intervals.The first saw Reece Tison-Lascaris latch onto a wonderful pass from Nisbet. The youngster's shot ricocheted off the post to David Pratt who put his follow up effort wide leading to much shaking of heads at the thought that once again it was going to be one of those days.
That it wasn't can be put down to the power of Richard Pacquette's head. Twice, in the 29th and 41st minutes, he nodded in super crosses from the right. The first was supplied by Leon Solomon with the second seeing Pratt making amends for his earlier miss by swinging over the second. In between Pacquette didn't make the best of three chances with his feet so the message seems clear for the rest of the season - put it on his head son!
The perfect first half was completed deep into injury time when March's player of the month Ollie Palmer blasted the ball over from close range and that was more or less that in terms of goalmouth action for the rest of the game.
After the break Havant threatened occasionally to no great effect whilst Maidenhead won the odd corner (Exhibit A above) so the final result was barely in doubt which meant United climbed out of the bottom three and now need to repeat the trick at least two more times to be sure of a place in the Conference South next season.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Magpies left feeling like April Fools

Local aircraft beware of long high balls to Richard Pacquette
With the full intention of sounding like a broken record I don't like football trips to urban Hampshire and yesterday provided no evidence for the defence as Maidenhead slipped to another defeat by an all too inevitable late goal.
Take Courage!

The customary Easter public transport meltdown meant I opted to travel to Farnborough Main station, which despite providing a rather more upmarket residential approach to the ground remained in true Hampshire style unfriendly to pedestrians.
The traditional Courage sign still standing outside my pre match watering hole, the Ship Inn, correctly suggested a time warp of a pub which was confirmed when the pub TV displayed full coverage of the Bayern Munich v Arsenal match from a few weeks ago rather than the live FA Cup tie. 

The White Elephant
Arriving at Cherrywood Road in time for kick off it felt odd to see more ground improvements in view of Farnborough's continuing financial strife with non league football's biggest white elephant of a stand still closed to the public.
Following Saturday's defeat, Drax opted to change Maidenhead's wide attacking options by selecting Ramone Rose and Reece Tison-Lascaris in favour of Harry Pritchard and Chris Flood. Rose slotted straight into Pritchard's left wing position whilst David Pratt was placed on the other flank to provide Tison-Lascaris the opportunity to repeat his marvelous goal running from the heart of midfield in the corresponding fixture at York Road in September.
Farnborough took charge of the game from the kick off and almost took the lead as early as the third minute when a Richard Peniket shot was pushed wide by the outstretched hand of Billy Lumley. Just past the quarter of an hour mark though Peniket got his name on the scoresheet. The goal came from a corner which was headed onto the crossbar by Dean Inman. Peniket was first to the rebound and although a defender cleared the referee awarded a goal.
Farnborugh were now rampant and looked like doubling their lead on more than one occasion but as the half drew on, Maidenhead worked their way back into the game. Initially the Magpies attacks were made to look a little silly, not helped by another bobbly pitch and strong wind which led to several efforts only being worthy of a "mind the new stand" comment. 
We got a corner!
Yet with a minute to go before the break a rare corner from the right saw the ball end up at the feet of Michael Pook on the edge of the penalty area, his drilled shot flying low into the back of the net.
The lift of a goal persisted into the second half as Maidenhead enjoyed their best spell of the game, albeit after some committed defending denied Farnborough the opportunity to promptly restore their lead.
The United wide right players now really came into their own creating two golden opportunities for Richard Pacquette to complete the Magpie comeback within the first ten minutes of the second half. Firstly a cross from Pratt found Pacquette free near the penalty spot only for the striker to balloon the ball over the bar. Then more frustratingly good work from Leon Solomon created an even easier chance for Pacquette who collected the ball on the edge of the six yard box only to offer a meek back pass to the keeper. Its moments like this that lend themselves to pontification about their impact on confidence, with the obvious conclusion in this instance of a booking for dissent midway through the second half.
Maidenhead continued to have the upper hand but Farnborough's counter attacks became increasingly ominous with the inevitable sucker punch coming three minutes from time when Nic Ciardini fired home the winner from outside the penalty area. So the United faithful were feeling looking like April Fools for naively believing in the hope given by the equaliser as the end result saw the Magpies slip into the bottom three at the business end of the season.