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, 29 September 2013

KO at the OC

Mind the gap between the dugouts
Oxford is a city of two halves: the dreaming spires of academia, and the local working population some of whom will have been dreaming of Wembley yesterday. Alighting the train with what turned about to be for the third week in a row a sizeable but different Magpie contingent, the long walk into town to find a pub felt anything but like going to a football match as we waded through the hordes of tourists in the city centre. It was some consolation that Oxford seems to be the Amstel capital of England but being a football supporter in a pub here felt weird, unsurprisingly very much like Cambridge which also keeps the proletarian pursuit of football at arms length.
On first reflection this is strange given the leading role the Universities played in developing the sport in the 19th century, but is better understood given that this was the FA Cup with its corinthian amateur roots, rather than the professional league competition which was to take over the game.
My first visit to Court Place Farm was in the mid 90s. I distinctly remember watching Maidenhead play against a backdrop of the Manor Ground floodlights hovering above the John Radcliffe Hospital at the top of the hill. The illumination has long since been banished to another unloved corner of the City, leaving little to note in a functional ground hugging the bypass.
Notwithstanding Oxford City's current status is a fine achievement. They faced extinction in the 80s after being evicted from the White House ground by their University landlords, but responded by building a club that is as good example as any of one fully bonded to the local community with a plethora of different teams, some of whom were in evidence in the clubhouse yesterday, although Maidenhead United Reserves' Hellenic League rivals the Oxford City Nomads seem to have a dodgy status of a club within a club. 
Top of the tree are the City first team who due to the vagaries of the geography of Non League football ply their trade in the Conference North, so what used to be an Isthmian League clash today was a north v south battle.
On paper Maidenhead United looked like favourites going into this game as the home team had yet to win a game, however with injuries to key players like Matt Ruby, Mark Nisbet and in particular Richard Pacquette, the longer the game went on a replay looked like the Magpies best outcome. This was in spite of the boost following the draw for this round of the news that midfielder Michael Pook had turned down a lucrative move to City, money aside maybe he decided to remain at York Road to protect his neck such was the route one nature of the bidders.
For an hour or so this was to be a tale of two left wingers with City sticking to a plan which saw everything fired directly to Tom Winters on the left flank with the aim of delivering a cross into the penalty area, whilst Maidenhead aspired to finding Winters' counterpart Reece Tison-Lascaris to dance through the defence. The latter promised much but was unable to successfully meet the twin challenge of a bobbly pitch and a determined defence. The Magpie's impotence was compounded by the absence of the wily Pacquette with his raw replacement Tony Mendy lacking the nous to translate a pass into an assist.
Thus although Maidenhead looked the better team in the first half it was Oxford who looked more likely to score, with headers connecting with crosses on more than one occasion. These were comfortably dealt with by Elvijs Putnins aside from one which was cleared off the line by Wada Ahmidi.
After the break though it was Oxford that took command of the game with Maidenhead's forward line stuttering to a stop. Tison-Lasacris and Danny Green managed to conjure up the odd tantalising cross but the absence of someone to apply a finish was conspicuous.
For their part Oxford stuck with their method of launching the ball up to Winters. This was mystifying given as it not only effectively cut the talented ex Magpie Jamie Cook out of the game on the right flank, but also did little to exploit the introduction of former Southampton striker Steve Basham at half time. Oxford persistence was to pay off in the end though as with four minutes remaining a ball to Winters finally eluded Bobby Behzadi with the cross being met at the far post by the head of Cook.
Despite the introduction of Harry Pritchard Maidenhead had no response to the goal meaning Oxford were soon celebrating their first win of the season and a place in the FA Cup third qualifying round.
The result leaves Drax with a headache of how to balance an injury hit squad with the need to firstly secure the defence and then create chances. Oxford look doomed to a season of desperate struggle. I won't be in a hurry to go back to their ground, reached by expensive taxis and not a good place to watch football despite the warm welcome and decent facilities.All in all this was a reverse of the cliche of a "good advert for non league football". I'm sure Conference Chairman Brian Lee would have preferred to watch a more entertaining game elsewhere.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Magpies in need of a dose of Dr Feelgood

Such is the nature of football that the puffed up feeling engendered by a five match unbeaten start to the season can be swiftly deflated by taking one point in nine in eight days.
The first defeat wasn't exactly unexpected as it came at the hands that could generate plenty of commission for league sponsors Skrill, the current version of "lets throw loads of money at a football club in a meaningless attempt to accrue prestige which is bound to all end in tears" that is Eastleigh.
More or less a year on since manager Richard Hill arrived at Stoneham Lane, the massive investment in playing personnel is starting to pay off for the Spitfires as they looked the part of champions elect in their 3-1 win at York Road.
In the same way that the win at Gosport felt like a Cup tie at a County league club, the visit of Eastleigh resembled a visit from a club playing in a higher division which is not surprising when you read their pen pictures.
The away team set off at a high tempo from the first whistle but fortunately unlike fellow Southern moneybags Ebbsfleet, they did so with some style, matching their pace with some slick passing. As United struggled to keep up Elvijs Putnins was in his element fighting to maintain a clean sheet, diving full length to tip a Stuart Fleetwood free kick around the post.
Then against all odds, and backed by a cow bell liberated from the erm Bell, Maidenhead took the lead as Richard Pacquette applied his usual consummate finish to a lovely pass from Wada Ahmidi. Eastleigh equalised virtually from the kick off, but having smelt blood the Magpies showed no fear in looking to retake their lead, and all but did so when Reece Tison-Lascaris rounded the keeper. As is his wont, the young dasher attempted to stylishly pass the ball into the net which sadly allowed a defender to get across and clear the ball.
Still the point had been made that United were to be no pushovers and made a good fist of it until conceding the lead following a defensive mix up which saw an Adrian Clifton clearance deflected by a team mate into the path of Yemi Odubade to score his second goal. The scoreline then ended up a little unbalanced as Maidenhead pressed for an equaliser allowing Craig McAllister to slip through the defence to pick up a through ball and score the Hampshire club's third. All that was left was for a handful of Eastleigh fans to play out a bit of glory hunting before the final whistle saw United beaten but unbowed.
Spirits remained high as Maidenhead travelled to Canvey Island following a decent point in midweek at Weston-super-mare. This second leg of Magpies in Europe promised much but delivered little on a grey day on the Thames Estuary.
Benfleet for Canvey
Meeting up with the Maidenhead contingent of travelling Magpies in the deserted square mile in preparation for a rare trip out of Fenchurch Street, there was not the same buzz as the first leg in Hampshire, the rather perfunctory transfer into a taxi at Benfleet for the short ride to Concord's Thames Road ground being capped by the sight and smell of a gas terminal across the road from the car park.
Rangers were named after a youth team that used to play adjacent to Concord beach and having only transferred to senior football in 1967, the club should be justly proud at the progress they have made which includes a tidy ground which puts Whitehawk to shame.
Welcome to Concord
The island, cut off from the mainland until a bridge was built in the 1930s, feels like its in Essex rather than of Essex, the predominance of one storey dwellings adding to an aura of otherness wonderfully captured in Julien Temple's fine documentary Oil City Confidential about Dr. Feelgood.
Certainly the support Gosport mustered was lacking with the official crowd of 295 lending itself to an updated version of the rumour about Thurrock counting its hotel residents in the attendance, in this case it may have been the residents of the (im)mobile homes overlooking one touchline.
The game itself saw the home team in charge throughout as Maidenhead struggled under the burden of injuries to Mark Nisbet, Curtis Ujah, Wada Ahmidi and Harry Pritchard which led to full back Leon Solomon moving to the centre of defence. It was good to see Sam Collins back in action in the Concord midfield, and it was his corner which led to the game's opening goal when his ball to the far post saw Putnins make an uncharacteristic slip allowing Sam Higgins to poke the ball home from close range.
The goalkeeper soon redeemed himself with a great save which spurred the Magpies onto equalise, the mercurial Danny Green travelling forward before releasing the ball to Tison-Lascaris who scored with a shot which deflected off a defender.
A tiring comeback
After the break Maidenhead almost took the lead when Bobby Behzadi ran half the length of the pitch before unleashing a shot from distance which was tipped round the post. From here on in though it was all down hill for the Magpies. Firstly Higgins was given too much time and space in the penalty area to double his tally and return the lead to Rangers then a double injury to Matt Ruby and Pacquette saw United denuded of key players at either end of the pitch.
With a defence now made up of three full backs and Daniel Brown, Maidenhead were opened up twice more, Leon Gordon scoring the goal of the game with a finish from a tight angle on the right wing before Steve King completed the scoring with a free header at the far post.This left Drax a growing injury list ahead of next Saturday's cup tie with at least a blank week to allow for some recovery. Likewise off the pitch some were feeling the pace with Mr Logic clearly not fully fit on his comeback after missing the first leg in Gosport whilst Popejoy was reported missing last seen in the Paddington area late on Saturday night.
View from the clubhouse

Behind the goal

Cross pitch

The Far Corner 

Looking toward the club house

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Ferry Good

Hail the conquering heroes home
Anticipation was high yesterday as Maidenhead came as close to a trip into Europe as they're ever likely to get with a trip overseas from Portsmouth island to the Gosport peninsula. With the match conveniently scheduled for good weather in early season, it felt like a return to the days when United had to play in the earliest FA Cup qualifying rounds with lots of infrequent travellers joining the usual flock of Magpies away from home. Helped perhaps by the lack of any top flight football due to the interlull, and more likely by the prospect of a first ever visit to Privett Park, I knew that my time alone on the train down from Waterloo would be short.
The London terminus was jam packed with people off to sporting events at venues as august as Twickenham and Ascot, and the real meaning of non league day was brought home to me when police swooped on a group of England fans presumably heading home after a Friday night at Wembley. On face value the group looked guilty of nothing more than having criminally short haircuts. Maybe this was part of the clampdown on anti social behaviour on public transport announced at the start of the season, but it came across as another example of criminalising going to the match. The freedom to enjoy football as you wish, without advance tickets, police escorts, over zealous stewards and regulations is the real value of non league football. It is not as some would have it a different sport, it is a way of watching football that has been lost to the professional leagues, and that's why sometimes its a better way of spending your leisure time.
Getting on a fairly empty train felt a relief which grew as the train sped away from the capital. The second stop at Guildford saw one contingent of Magpies who had travelled from Maidenhead join me, John and Bob rather optimistically dressed for the seaside, whilst Maurice introduced everyone to a vital matchday accessory, a chiller bag for beer.
Correct change only
HMS Warrior
Where's the duty free?
Arriving at Portsmouth Harbour, we could see the Gosport ferry coming towards the Portsmouth shore giving us just enough time to wander down the gangway to purchase tickets (£2.90 return from a correct fare only machine - wonder how many people pay £3?) and take for many of us the first trip by boat to a Maidenhead game.
Goodbye Portsmouth
All aboard for the short trip which just about gave everyone time to sample the view, starting with the sight of HMS Warrior, before contemplating the game in prospect.
As we set foot on dry land, Andy proved to have the most effective beer antennae, spotting the Castle Tavern, just a short walk away. It was a perfectly friendly pub offering cheap food and beer, but the way all the tables were set for lunch meant it felt compulsory to stand, a brief attempt at sitting outside ending once the wind and rain began to bite.
Soon enough our numbers doubled as the second Maidenhead train party joined us, and the prematch stories started to circulate before taking a taxi from the rank handily placed between pub and ferry terminal.
Any worries that our presence would attract the attentions of the local constabulary were assuaged when it looked like all the boys in blue were busy looking after a tiny animal rights march, and we sped through the nondescript peninsula town swiftly arriving at our destination, Privett Park.
The ground was pleasant enough, belying its recent county league origins, one club official confessing that two promotions in a row were something of a surprise to all concern. They clearly have some work to do to, due to the Conference's irrational dislike of grass anywhere other than the pitch, but the two stands stretching alongside each touchline were impressive enough, the more modern of the two giving a glimpse of what will be built at York Road in the coming months.
View from the clubhouse end
The one downside was the complete absence of terraces, covered or otherwise which did little for my view of the game, stood as I was on the level behind each goal.In the first half there was also the distraction of a steward insisting everyone who had a drink in their hand, return inside, something of a mixed message considering alcohol was served in plastic glasses. However there was no doubting the outcome, with the home team being the weakest I have seen at this level for sometime, which is not surprising considering that they were in the Southern League Division One eighteen months ago.
Maidenhead's most fruitful line of attack came down the left wing with Reece Tison-Lascaris leading full back Dan Woodward a merry dance all afternoon.United should have opened the scoring in the fourteenth minute when Michael Malcolm received a gift of an opportunity only for his far post header to hit the post.
In reply Maidenhead seemed happy to give Gosport ground to attack, but the home team could find no way through the defence to effectively test goalkeeper Elvijs Putnins. Any thought that this might be the day when Gosport would win their first Conference south match was dismissed when Tison-Lascaris skipped through the defence as he had done at Ebbsfleet, calmly rounding the keeper to score.
Maidenhead remained on top for the rest of the first half, with former player Steve Claridge having seen enough with ten minutes remaining, leaving his seat in the stand to head for the bar.
Boardroom art
After the break brightened up by a fine painting in the boardroom, the Magpies made a concerted effort to make sure of the three points. This time it was right winger Danny Green's turn to shine, having a shot blocked by goalkeeper Nathan Ashmore. Minutes later Bobby Behzadi set up Richard Pacquette to fire home the second goal from just inside the penalty area with typical aplomb.
This proved to be the most entertaining passage of play with Green again denied by an Ashmore parry before Putnins took his chance to impress, flying across his goal like an orange flash to stop an Andy Forbes header, repeating the trick a minute later.
Borough worked hard in the time remaining to find a way back into the game but could create no chances of note and there was little danger of the points heading anywhere else other than back on the ferry.
The final whistle is about to blow
Thus the post mortem saw a happy Magpie band wend their way back north via a pub on either side of the ferry reflecting that awaydays don't get much better than this, and even looking forward to the visit of league leaders Eastleigh to York Road next Saturday. Gosport however look like they've got a lot to do to avoid sharing the fate of Hornchurch and Billericay, by having the briefest of stays in the Conference South.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Victory Through Harmony

The rivalry between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur runs like a thread through their history. Although its only been a true derby for 100 years, the clash represents more than geographic coincidence as reflected by the two clubs' original mottos, "Victoria Concordia Crescit" and "Audere est Facere". Simply translated they mean "Victory through harmony" and "To dare is to do" and they symbolise the best of each club's history. In terms of Arsenal this desire for collectivism was best shown in the Bertie Mee and George Graham eras, whilst Tottenham's preference for individual elan sums up the Bill Nicholson period.
Yesterday's match was ultimately decided by Arsenal living up to their maxim and Tottenham failing to do the same. The unity of purpose shown by the men in red for ninety minutes brought back all the memories of "one nil to the Arsenal", a state of mind that meant that once a goal had been scored, no effort would be spared in protecting this precious lead, an attitude that started with Szczesny and ended with Giroud. 
This was not limited to determined defence but also a continued push for a second goal, although any misplaced pass saw a every sinew strained to regain possession. Therefore despite Tottenham's superior shape, the man of the match was their goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, not least for the perfect tackle to dispossess Walcott when through on goal.
As the match went on the number of tired legs in the Arsenal ranks began to grow and with four full backs on the pitch what appeared to be a defensive red line of eight. The harmony of this rearguard and the lack of derring do in the Tottenham attack meant the final whistle was the cue for one last round of one nil to the Arsenal.
Looking ahead, Tottenham can only get better as the players become more familiar with each other. It was easy to see why they had conceded no league goals but only scored from the spot thus far. For Arsenal its simply a case of increasing the size of the squad. The first eleven have quality in abundance but with a long season ahead more depth is required.