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.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

De Fener strated

When I bought my ticket for this Champions League Play Off tie I was anticipating a tight tie with an exciting second leg. Following Arsenal's comfortable win in Turkey though the match in London promised little and ultimately proved to be a totally Pyrrhic victory with Fenerbahce being banned from European competitions the next day and Arsenal counting the cost of injuries to Aaron Ramsey and Lukas Podolksi, not to mention a couple of yellow cards which may come back to haunt the Gunner later in the competition.
The match itself saw Fenerbahce make Arsenal fight every inch of the way for the elementary win, the Turks urged on by their finger pointing, fist waving supporters right to the final whistle. With Bruno Alves defending so deep he was virtually sitting next to me in the first half, Arsenal struggled to create chances beyond the one that Ramsey took to score. At the other end Wojciech Szczesny was kept busy, needing the help of the woodwork on more than one occasion. The result on the night was decided by Ramsey's second deep into the second half but long before that the home fans thoughts inevitably turned to the size of the Arsenal squad which is currently insufficiently big for the twin challenges of Premier and Champions League football.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Ebb and Flow

My run of decent away games continued yesterday with a trip to that bastion of non league tradition, Kent. The Javelin train projected me over the Thames in barely quarter of an hour to Ebbsfleet International, where once I had worked out how to leave the station I was presented with the pleasing sight of Stonebridge Road, a ground set against the backdrop of the Thames Estuary which almost looks like its been transplanted from the industrial north rather than grown in the garden of England.
Following a perfect start to the season, Maidenhead’s prospects appeared rosier than Cheryl Cole’s backside, particularly when reflecting on my two previous visits to the ground to see the Magpies play which had seen two wins, the latter with only nine men at the beginning of the season which saw the Fleet promoted.
In the meantime Ebbsfleet has staggered through to the end of the ultimately failed experiment of MyFC ownership to be taken over by a Kuwaiti businessman. This led to an impression of a club still getting to know itself again under new owners. Good points like cheap admission, fairly priced Fleet lager which you could drink on the terrace, mixed with a £3 programme and £500 kit sponsorship. There were also  some odd comments from vice chairman Peter Varney about the lack of money available (in contrast to the relatively vast funds that Ebbsfleet would have available announced in the summer) and manager Steve Brown about the scheduling of games which appear to reflect an unfamiliarity with non league football.
This point was further exemplified by a start to the season which was winless, but with just one defeat by a single goal which again suggests the new team of non league Galacticos is still trying to find its feet.
This was certainly the story of this Bank Holiday fixture, which once Maidenhead had survived the Fleet’s early high tempo bombardment settled down into a tame draw. Based on the initial shock and awe tactics from the home team this was a pleasing outcome for the Magpies who continued to be without full back Leon Solomon and have lost Harry Pritchard for up to two months due to a ligament injury. This saw Tom Gilbey continue at left back whilst Reece Tison-Lascaris moved over to the left wing, Danny Green moving into his favoured right wing slot giving Tony Mendy his full debut up front alongside Richard Pacquette. Also making a first start was Wada Ahmidi who came in for Michael Pook.
I always get worried about playing teams on a winless run as I have the pessimistic outlook that Maidenhead will end it! These fears seemed to be justified from the kick off when in the second minute an Anthony Cook free kick was headed goalbound by Michael Thalassitis which Elvijs Putnins did well to tip around his right hand post. Within in a minute Putnins was called into action again, racing out of his goal to thwart an Alex Osborn effort.
The pressure finally told in the tenth minute when Osborn forced a defensive error allowing him to feed Thalassitis who drove into the penalty area where he was brought down by Putnins in a frustratingly similar position to the one which led to the spot kick against Hayes. Thalassitis made no mistake with his penalty kick to give Ebbsfleet the lead but rather than signal the start of a home team romp it rather proved to be the beginning of the end of Ebbsfleet’s threat as they struggled to maintain their high tempo in the hot weather and second game in 72 hours.
As the game slowed down ‘Fleet’s methodical process of pumping long balls forward became easier to defend and United began to show signs that they could equalise when Richard Pacquette headed a corner down into the ground in text book fashion only for the ball to bounce over the bar. Maidenhead’s goal came three minutes ahead of the break, a lovely pass from Danny Green allowing Reece Tison-Lascaris to time his run to perfection, breaking the offside trap, and then rounding the keeper to score.
After the break Michael Malcolm finally made his bow for the Magpies, replacing the raw Mendy up front. Malcolm had an instant impact, being fed by Green in a great position. The striker lifted the ball over the keeper but also the crossbar.
Ebbsfleet eventually regained their dominance but lacked the quality to break Maidenhead down, the Magpies always maintaining a threat on the counter attack. Johnson Hippolyte then acted to secure the draw by switching to a five man defence when Curtis Ujah replaced Tison-Lascaris, the Magpies seeing out the game with little cause for alarm, the orange shirted Putnins flying across his goal to deal with Fleet’s best chance, a Cook free kick.

Thus the game ended satisfactorily for the Magies with a point on the road against one of the pre season favourites, whilst the Fleet fans looked on from the ominously named Liam Daish stand, possibly wondering what their talented former manager would have done if he had had the Kuwaiti riches to spend.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Men of Kent beat Kentish Men

Sporting Club Thamesmead
Following the midweek postponement of Maidenhead United's fixture against Farceborough, I was struggling for replacement entertainment with an invitation to play cricket falling foul of the weather and a late check for seats at Craven Cottage revealing only options which were not undercover but definitely overpriced, so I decided to head for a part of London with which I was unfamiliar to watch the Isthmian Premier Division match between Thamesmead Town and Margate.
View from the stand
Arriving at Woolwich Arsenal via the Docklands Light Railway I walked past the former entrance to the Royal Arsenal en route to the bus stop. This was appropriate as it was on the former Arsenal firing range that the modern post war suburb of Thamesmead was built. My destination became recognisable when I saw the flats featured in Stanley Kubrick's notorious film adaptaion of Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange.
However thoughts of ultraviolence faded and as I alighted from the bus and wandered up Bayliss Avenue to the ground entrance in surroundings more reminiscent of Brookside. The brand new development known as Sporting Club Thamesmead soon came into view. This consisted of an artificial pitch and other leisure facilities with the building topped by a stand facing onto the Thamesmead Town pitch.
Entry was £10 with £2 for an excellent programme, the same as charged at Maidenhead United. This was the third home game of the campaign so with a season's best attendance of 94 mainly consisting of Margate's travelling contingent clearly a lot of marketing needs to be done to make the club viable at this level. With a fair sized local population isolated by unsympathetic roadways surely the best way to boost these paltry crowds is reduce prices?
Margate free kick with a backdrop of the Eastern way
The keynote element of the development, the stand also revealed a major flaw as two of the three rows of seats got soaked in the rain that persisted all afternoon. At least a standing area behind the seats was provided, an option that is being considered as part of the development of the new stand at York Road.
The all Kent clash provided something of a David and Goliath affair with Margate's men of Kent featuring virtually an all ex Conference South line up most notably including last season's title winner at Welling Scott Kinch, whilst John Scarborough aside Thamesmead's team belied its lowly origins.
Whilst Sussex might be my favourite football county for the nature of its grounds, Kent have the history and tradition, and it looks like Margate are shaping up for another tilt at a return to the Conference South after last season's effort was derailed by manager Chris Kinnear leaving for rivals Dover in January. He was replaced rather unusually by goalkeeper Craig Holloway who is still in his 20s, ably assisted by veteran Simon Osborn. 
Certainly Margate showed their superiority in the final result of 2-0 but the wet conditions helped Thamesmead to make a real fight of the game, the points only being sealed in stoppage time. With both teams opting to line up in 4-4-2 formation there was an element of cancelling each other out which once the rain had slowed the game down and the referee made it clear he was not going to let play flow, meant it was hardly a classic game to watch.
Margate attacked with much more incisiveness and were frequently denied by man of the match, goalkeeper Rob Budd. Thamesmead although enjoying long periods of pressure in the second half had a significant lack of quality and pace up front, striker Michael Power resembling a taller version of Lee Devonshire. Perhaps their best chance of a goal came in the opening minutes when an innovative corner kick routine reminiscent of George Graham's Arsenal, led to a headed clearance off the line by Kinch. This was quickly followed by Margate's first goal, a doubly deflected Phil Walsh strike.
Thamesmead first half corner
Unlike other local games at Charlton and Thurrock there was no chance of the game being interrupted by the at times torrential rain. Despite the Thames being just a short walk way there did not appear to be so much as a puddle on the pitch. 
Thamesmead second half pressure
Extra pace in the form of substitutes Lanre Azeez and Warren Whitely ensured Margate maintained their attacking threat and indeed it was the former who confirmed the result deep into stoppage time with virtually the last action of the game.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Pacquette swings it for Maidenhead

The view from the Bell Street End as the clock ticks down
Hayes & Yeading United have provided in the last decade the closest approximation of a local derby for the Magpies. They possess all the qualities that the hypothetical derby against Basingstoke lacks, plenty of overlap between the playing staff, decent fans, and their Woking sojourn aside, an easy to reach crowd just up the M4/Great Western Mainline. Arguably the ludicrous abeyance over their move to the revamped Warren has only heightened the atmosphere as York Road provides the opportunity for the Hayes fans to attend a match that is as close as they are going to get to a home game at present. Joining the visiting fans were plenty of faces old and new, contributing to a crowd that at 460 topped last season's best by 10%.
Before the kick off all the ingredients for a great night were in place with old friends sharing good news. The first half saw Hayes on top as they presented a much sterner challenge in the midfield than Whitehawk had on Saturday. This led to plenty of pressure on a Maidenhead defence which had Bobby Behzadi back at right back, with Mark Nisbet moving into the middle to replace Curtis Ujah who missed the game for personal reasons.This pressure was applied most strongly down the left where it was enough to lead to errors at the back. One of these led to the game's opening goal when Behzadi committed a foul in a far from threatening position in the penalty area, Jake Reid converting the spot kick with aplomb.
Maidenhead had to work hard to build the momentum required for an equaliser, with Michael Jaimez-Ruiz in the Hayes goal dealing with the Magpies' rare efforts with relative ease. Firstly he pushed wide a Richard Pacquette shot from distance, then stood up well to block a Harry Pritchard shot when the left winger received a through ball from Michael Pook. A well worked free kick routine found Adrian Clifton at short range of the goal but Hayes got enough bodies behind the ball to deflect the shot wide.
After the break Hayes continued to look good value for their lead, until with only eight minutes of the second half gone, United manager Johnson Hipployte made a double substitution which revitalised his team. Reece Tison-Lascaris and Michael Pook were replaced by Tony Mendy and Wada Ahmidi, allowing Danny Green to slot into his more familiar wing position. 
The resilient character that was much in evidence on Saturday was shown once again as Maidenhead persisted in the search for a goal until Hayes cracked. The equaliser came with twenty one minutes remaining when a Pritchard corner saw the winger get a second chance at a cross, the ball finding its way to Matt Ruby on the edge of the six yard box, the defender forcing the ball over the line at the third attempt. Three minutes later, another former Hayes player completed the comeback with the champagne moment of the night. Pacquette fired off another shot from the edge of the penalty area which appeared to be going wide until it swung in like a Jimmy Anderson delivery to nestle in the corner of the net.
Just to rub salt into the wound of Hayes' collapse Adam Everitt was sent off for a second caution although his teammates managed to keep the deficit to one clearing a Tony Mendy effort off the line after the young striker had rounded the keeper.
The final whistle signalled the end to one of those memorable nights at York Road with even the International Space Station popping by to watch as it flew in orbit over head, the attraction of football at this level continuing as I caught the train home with fans and players alike. Bring on Farceborough!

Monday, 19 August 2013

White Hawk Down

A good start to the new season with a trip to my favourite footballing county of Sussex to Whitehawk, the Brighton suburb whose football club steamrollered their way to the Isthmian League title last season thanks to their owner's largesse.
A quick dash to the sea by train is followed by a walk along the front in weather far removed from the heatwave in which the country found itself when I went on holiday in late July. With Whitehawk's ground being a good hike from the centre I was glad that the weather was not so bad as to stop the operation of the Volk's Electric Railway which sped me along the coastline to the Marina from which it was a ten minute walk to the ground.
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside
Whilst walking up the interminable drive which led from Wilson Avenue to Whitehawk’s enclosed ground I considered there would be two possible outcomes to the opening day of the season: either the home team’s galacticos would play the Magpies off the park, or Maidenhead would catch the new boys cold and come away with an unexpected three points.
Fortunately it was the latter scenario which came to pass. This was pleasantly unexpected as reflected by pre match odds of 7/2, a gamble that would only have been greater had the bookies heard the team news which saw both stalwart full backs Bobby Behzadi and Leon Solomon withdraw through illness and injury respectively, and striker Michael Malcolm ruled out after failing a late fitness test.
However virtually from the kick off it was clear Maidenhead had the capacity to upset the odds when a Reece Tison-Lascaris through ball set up Richard Pacquette only for the striker to pull his shot wide. It wasn’t long before Whitehawk replied in kind and an entertaining game ensued, the crucial difference being United’s ability to hit the back of the net.
Land of a thousand scaffolding poles
In contrast to the excitement on the pitch the surroundings were quite desperate with the only change to the ground since United’s last visit in 1999 for an FA Cup tie being two temporary stands at either end, with one having a half finished roof and innumerable scaffolding poles. At least the addition of a white hawk on the hill above drew attention away from chalk bank which ran the length of one touchline and was off limits to supporters. Incidentally this was the bank (then covered with grass) where Lee Channell was christened “Porno” back on that sunny summer’s day at the end of the last century.
The White Hawk and Porno's bank
Back to the football, and an intriguing contest was developing with each side taking a different route to goal. The home side exploited the wings, whilst Maidenhead with impressive debutant Adrian Clifton to the fore, passed their way through the centre of the midfield. This approach saw Clifton emulate Pacquette’s miss in the opening minute whilst up the other end Elvijs Putnins did well to tip a Jake Robinson shot around the post.
My view of the first half
Maidenhead then opened the scoring in fortuitous circumstances when a Pacquette cross from the right was met by Danny Green. His effort struck defender Tom Cadmore so the ball looped over the hapless keeper and into the back of the net midway through the first half.
The game continued as before with United still looking dangerous whilst Whitehawk hit the woodwork twice by the interval. The second occasion seeing Tommy Fraser rattle Putnins crossbar with a free kick.
After the break Whitehawk laid siege to the Maidenhead penalty area, but the Magpies responded in kind, showing a great unity of purpose, literally barring the way to goal with black and white shirts. With Clifton moving to right back to replace the injured Mark Nisbet, the Hawks ramped up the pressure but could not quite fashion an equaliser, coming closest when a diving header found its way through a forest of legs only to be met by a tremendous save at full stretch by Putnins.
Inevitably gaps began to open in the home team defence as they committed more and more men forward, giving Maidenhead the opportunity to seal the win. This became a reality with fifteen minutes remaining when Green returned the favour for his goal by swinging a corner from the right to the far post to Pacquette to head home.
Ten minutes later Harry Pritchard applied the coup de grace with the goal of the game, a typically classy strike with his right foot from the edge of the box which curled its way into the far corner.
Thus the final whistle signalled the end to a great opening day performance by the Magpies which by virtue of the margin of victory sent them to the top of the league to provide an opportunity for much celebration in the countless pubs of Brighton.
As for Whitehawk I'm sure this will be a wake up call as to the nature of the standard of Conference South football. The quality of their squad suggests they will be a top half side and surely their aim will be to consolidate on the pitch so they can bring their ground up to standard. Their neighbours Brighton & Hove Albion are the best supported club in the Football League, whilst just up the road Lewes have attracted two 500+ crowds to their opening home games despite being relegated last season. With clearly a keen appetite for football in the area Whitehawk must be embarrassed by a crowd of 150, with Brighton playing up north and Maidenhead providing 20% of the crowd. Surely some covered terracing would help although I guess they are a bit stuck with the currently closed chalk bank along one touchline.I just hope they don't turn into the new Truro.
The original stand set well back from the touchline

Style council crushed by the wheels of industry

Merstham take a corner from the Albury End
Back in the UK from my holiday I found that the football season was in full swing in plenty of divisions so I selected a hors d'oeuvre last Wednesday night ahead of  Maidenhead United's opener at the weekend.
An Isthmian League Division One South clash between Merstham and Ramsgate offered the right combination of accessibility and a new ground with a hint of a Magpie connection in the shape of new Merstham captain Lee Newman or as he used to be known during my tenure as programme editor "the diminutive blonde striker". Merstham is also the setting for former Maidenhead United Chairman (and current President) Jim Parsons' oft repeated anecdote about it being the venue where he came closest to sacking a manager on the spot. The occasion was an FA Vase defeat in the autumn of 1989 and it was a good job he he didn't as within twelve months Martyn Spong was leading the Magpies on a record breaking run of wins which would ultimately lead to promotion.
TU Tea
Alighting from the train I found the expected leafy suburban Surrey stockbroker town so it was a surprise to find that the ground was located on the other side of the tracks in the middle of a council estate.The first person I met after I went through the turnstile was programme seller Bob McGillivray with whom I share the pages of For The Love of the Game (pic 3 on link). After a brief discussion about the new club captain I assured him I would be rooting for Merstham. Judging by the crowd of 119 which contained a fair contingent from Ramsgate, they needed my support but I didn't much persuading to favour the home team with their well appointed ground (excellent surface with both ends named cricket style), stylish Adidas strip and tea served in a trade union mug!
My support was secured soon after kick off when it became apparent that the game would be a real clash of styles with Merstham determined to pass their way to goal in the face a physical approach from the visitors. With Newman on the bench, ironically the home team's weak link was striker Aaron Stone who wasn't quite able to capitalise from the excellent right flank combination of Jordan Wilson (full back) and Troy Williams (winger) and the mercurial talent of Aaron Rhule on the opposite side.
However Merstham's style proved to be their downfall. After the portly goalkeeper from Kent Darren Hawkes had shown surprisingly agility and ingenuity to deal with a couple of attacks, Ramsgate started to expose a shaky defence exemplified by the poor handling of Hawkes opposite number Brannon Daly. Sadly it was centre back Liam Harwood who was guilty of the error which led to the opening goal, giving the ball away minutes after hitting a couple of tremendous pass forward, Darren Pilcher applying a neat finish to score. 
Ramsgate then gained the upperhand with their up and at 'em approach demonstrated when centre back Ollie Schulz ran the length of the pitch to confront an opponent after the referee had given the away team a free kick on the edge of the penalty area. A further incident of handbags before half team suggested the match might turn ugly before the interval.
Put your handbags away boys
After the break Merstham pushed hard for an equaliser and did everything but score, Hawkes again denying them a goal with two superb last ditch stops on the line. Ramsgate then scored a killer second goal when Andrew Miller was first to the loose ball to score after an initial shot from Ian Pulman had hit the post. Merstham continued to stick to their principles with Newman coming on to demonstrate he still has the knack of creating space in the penalty area with a short burst of pace. However this time they were continuously foiled by a well sprung offside trap which held itself together deep into the Ramsgate half. So the final score finished 2-0 to the visitors who depressingly will probably prosper this season. I hope Merstham carry on with their footballing experiment and get their just reward in due course.