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, 26 January 2014

Six gun shootout at the QE II

With Maidenhead's match inevitably falling victim to Havant's notoriously wet pitch early Saturday morning I hastily scoured the internet for a list of potential alternatives. With West London options Egham and Walton Casuals being struck off for respectively a rail replacement bus service and a long walk from the station, I started to cast my net further afield, dropping an inquisitive tweet to The Cold End about the ease of getting to Enfield Town's newish QE II ground at the wonderfully non league address of Donkey Lane.
A swift response revealed several convenient options and so I found myself sitting on a train on platform 1 at Liverpool Street ready for a journey to Enfield Town. The Town were playing Canvey Island, and I had conflicting feelings about both clubs, something which hadn't changed by the final whistle, however a realisation of dread when I remembered the ground also served as an athletics stadium was to soon be allayed as the good ship QE II revealed itself to be a delightful curio of the Isthmian league.
As the train crawled through the suburbs of North East London a cold clammy feeling came over me as Seven Sisters was followed by Bruce Grove and that den of iniquity White Hart Lane, one I was to be reminded of throughout the game by the Enfield strip of white shirts and, be thankful for small mercies, light blue shorts.
On arrival Google Maps proved useful for once taking me on a mile walk to the ground along the New River Path which tended to avoid the road in favour of a trail down the back gardens of the semi detached houses which filled my route to the game.

Accessory of an Enfield style icon
Shortly after crossing over a rather harshly fenced New River I arrived in the playing fields which hosted the QE II stadium and joined the queue to get in, a reflection of the fact that however many turnstiles are required by the ground grading there is rarely more than one open.
A friendly welcome greeted me on the other side from the programme sellers with most of the attention focused on my lunchtime shopping which appeared to give me the rare status of style icon. If it was flattery they needn't have bothered as I'm a compulsive programme buyer. 
My first impression of the ground was shaped by the beautifully designed club house. Built in the art deco style which I guess reflected the age of the athletics stadium, the structure presumably inspired or was created in response to the cruise ship which shares it name with the ground and our current monarch.
The bow of the QE II?
Funnel fueled by alcohol and the viewing deck
This immediately reduced the worry of watching a game behind a running track and seemed quite in keeping with the radical nature of a club that had rode out three decades of vicissitudes to fight another day.
The story of Enfield football is little known outside of non league circles and therefore worth repeating. Back in 1986 they were the top club in non league football winning the Alliance Premier League (now Conference) seven points clear of another football name to have fallen on hard times, Frickley. However the title only brought them the unwanted one of the last team to win the Conference before automatic promotion was introduced the following season. There followed a slow and depressing decline, chronicled by one of the original football fanzines, The Talk of The Town End
My path crossed with some of their misfortune. I can remember being at the 1995 Berks & Bucks Senior Cup Final when Slough Town fans erupted in joy at the news that Isthmian League champions Enfield had been barred from promotion back to the Conference due to financial irregularities opening the door to the Rebels, who ironically would soon go into decline themselves.
Sir Barry Di Rakeio
By the time Maidenhead United made it into the Isthmian Premier at the turn of the century, Enfield has sold their Southbury Road ground, and so it was a deserted Boreham Wood (no change there) where I saw Barry Rake score a sublime brace of goals to win the game 2-0.
Around this time though the long suffering fans had had enough and exasperated by the actions of chairman Tony 'Papa' Lazarou became the first to breakaway and form their own club, opting for the quietly unassuming epithet of Town. Well before disenchanted fans of Wimbledon and Manchester United discovered non league football and set up similar breakaway clubs, Enfield fans blazed a trail of what it meant to own a club, demonstrating that spirit and memories could trump whatever was written on legal documents.Without the support of media which has always been in thrall to AFC/FCUM, putting a patronising spin on how some liberal minded individuals were showing us all how to run a football club, Enfield Town quietly set about their task of rising from the bottom of the football pyramid and moving back to their own ground in Enfield. Ironically the old Enfield club eventually folded and ended up having to tread the same path as Town, adding 1893 to their name, and now play at Town's old ground in Brimsdown in the Essex Senior League. That Town attracted 435 to yesterday's game despite being deep in relegation trouble reflects why they tend to be seen as the "real" Enfield club nowadays by me at least. 
Town have been playing at the QE II ground for a little over two years and have quickly made the best of the location. Although temporary terracing in front of the clubhouse is rather pointless due to the view being obscured by the dugouts, the way in which the covered terracing behind each goal is adjacent to the pitch in front of the running track meant a sufficient atmosphere was generated by both sets of fans. 
Cheered on by the vociferous Town End Ultras, Enfield started the game well inspired by the Tiggerish attacker Tyler Campbell who was brought down in the penalty area in the fourth minute to set up the games opening goal.
Campbell was at the heart of most of the positive Enfield play for the most part, linking up well with right back Sam Griffiths. He was joined up front by the portly pair of Liam Hope and Mark Kirby, prime examples of players at this level whose talent is just enough to compensate for their less than trim physique. It was Hope who scored the spot kick to put Enfield in front, and was unfortunate not to get a second opportunity a few minutes later when he himself was brought down right in front of me as I passed through the Town End Ultras.
Settling down to watch the game in the small stand opposite the club house it became clear that the elements were going to have a big influence on the game with a strong westerly wind initially at the backs of the Canvey players leading to their best chances of the half through a couple of swirling long shots, one of which was tipped over the bar by goalkeeper Noel Imber, the other grazing the crossbar.
My vantage point was directly opposite the dug outs from where I could see George Borg up to his usual tricks, leaping from the dugout to swear at the referee. I've never had anytime for Borg since his Aldershot team smashed up the York Road away dressing in a tantrum following a game in which the Isthmian league champions elect had been humbled in a 3-0 defeat to the Magpies. Still his managerial record is impressive, particularly with regard to Enfield and on the evidence of the first hour it looked like his team had the wherewithal to grab a vital win in their fight against relegation.
Opponents Canvey Island had trod a not dissimilar path to the home team. Following a climb from the Essex Senior League to the Conference and FA Trophy glory at Wembley, Owner/Chairman/Manager Jeff King tired of subsidizing the club and moved to Chelmsford City. Those that remained sensibly applied for a demotion back to the Isthmian League. Since then they have won promotion to the Premier Division and despite being eclipsed in football terms on the Island by Concord Rangers still boast bigger and more vocal support as was displayed yesterday, cheering on a team kitted out in a rather smart 80s style yellow kit with pale blue pinstripes.
The far side of the ground also had additional entertainment in the form of young ball boys who did not hold back in supporting their team, joining in with the songs of the Town End Ultras and dancing to the regular renditions of Yankee Doodle Dandy. Not that this impressed one ageing Canvey fan whose response to one ball boy's shout of " Come on Enfield" was "Fuck off you little shit".
After the break the main show was an apocalyptic storm complete with driving rain, thunder and lightning. Soon after the restart Enfield used the wind to their advantage with testing crosses, one of which was cleared off the line and another pushed round the post by the hand of the goalkeeper.
Canvey though absorbed the pressure well and their playing style proved better adapted to the weather as they counter attacked with pace, keeping the ball on the floor to expose a flat footed defence. After equalising with a header from Jason Hallett from a near post cross which Imber should have dealt with, Canvey raced into a 3-1 lead with good finishes from Jay Curran and Hallett.
All seemed lost for Enfield as the board indicating five minutes of stoppage time was raised, and in the fourth of these a second goal from Hope seemed nothing more than a consolation. As the clock ticked into the 96th minute though, Enfield got a corner. Joe Stevens hit the ball into wind and watched as it curled back into the net with what proved to be practically the last kick of the game, the final whistle sounding as Canvey kicked off. 
This was a thrilling end to a game that wasn't exactly a classic but nevertheless was great entertainment in what were at times appalling weather conditions.
View from the clubhouse side

Not much room at the Town End

The view from behind the goal

Looking towards the Eastern end

Looking across the pitch at the clubhouse

A Quiet Night Out

Pedal faster the lights are going out
Maidenhead's winter break from league football came to a temporary end on Tuesday night when somewhat miraculously Staines Town were able to get the game, originally scheduled for New Year's Day, on thanks to the superb Wheatsheaf Park pitch.
So much to my surprise I found myself crushed on a commuter train out of Waterloo heading to the Magpies' first league match in over three weeks. Taking the long walk down Laleham Road I pondered the longevity of this fixture with the two clubs making fairly even progress over the last twenty years. Tonight though saw the Swans go into the game thirteen places ahead of United in the Conference South table which led to a rather bullish preview of the game from the home side with plenty of comments about "Fortress Wheatshef Park" and a rather dismissive attitude to their comprehensive defeat at York Road on Boxing Day.
Approaching the ground it was clear that the floodwaters from the nearby Thames had subsided although there was much talk of garages and the like still holding water in the surrounding residences. The car park revealed that the Thames Club had reopened and I mused about the practicality of hooking up the floodlights to the treadmills, something Ecotricity is surely investigating after Forest Green, owed by Green energy CEO Dale Vince, had to abandon a recent game due to a power failure. 
After catching up with the latest club news over a pint in the sterile bar, I didn't venture far outside as like Chelmsford, Staines is one of those grounds where the action is best viewed from the main stand, in this case due to the lack of any raised standing anywhere in the ground. The inevitable rain that arrived midway through the first half confirmed the veracity of this decision, my vantage point giving me a view of a well contested game which despite the quality of the play was relatively short of goalmouth action.
Perhaps it would have been different if Staines' star striker Dan "son of Huggy" Brown had been playing. His form had apparently attracted the presence of top non league scout Willie Wordsworth, although it was his namesake in the Maidenhead side who was a driving force in a resilient performance which saw United leave with a well deserved point.
That Staines could have been said to had the upper hand was a marginal call, with Maidenhead coming closest to scoring as early as the fourth minute when Danny Green fed Harry Grant to shoot from close range with the ball kept out well by Swans goalkeeper Jack Turner. With both teams having been stood idle for much of 2014 so far, the game maintained a high tempo throughout but aside from a Green free kick which hit the stanchion midway through the first half, neither keeper was troubled much apart from the occasional long shot which was gathered comfortably. Thus there was plenty of time for my mind to drift and wonder why Harry Pritchard was virtually playing as second left back (presumably to counter the threat of the right winger), to hum Hi Ho Silver in my head everytime I saw the name of the family firm which sponsors and runs the Middlesex club up close emblazoned on the back of the Town shirts, and to chat to the 1927 club
The game was summed up with half an hour left when Grant committed a cautionable offence by kicking the ball away after the whistle had gone. Having been booked at the start of the game for blocking a free kick, some referees would have applied the letter of the law and sent him off but instead captain Mark Nisbet was called over for a chat, and a minute later, Grant was substituted pre season friendly style.
This ensured the game would wend its way to a goalless draw allowing me a gentle walk back to the station and early arrival home.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Magpies have their chips

"Planning a trip to Cleethorpes tomorrow: 
Endless Lincolnshire skies,
Sea like a friendly stain,
Fish, chips, mushy peas,
Onto the pier again.

Following the epic trek to Barrow before Christmas I couldn't have been happier that the FA Trophy draw produced another trip to a former league club particularly one like Grimsby Town. For me they still counted as a proper football league club, endlessly flitting between Divisions Two and Four throughout my childhood to a commentary of fishy puns such as "Sing when we're Fishing" or "Cod Almighty". Grimsby presented Maidenhead United's first opportunity to play a competitive fixture against a club which had previously played at the top level of English football (the scoundrels from Milton Keynes don't count), with minutiae of information well known from regular perusals of countless big books about football.
Thus I knew I was going to Blundell Park to see the Mariners, the only club to play in a town that does not bear its name. Regardless of the fact that this was only the FA Trophy, this trumped the 1st Round FA Cup tie with Aldershot, a club whose familiarity through their years in non league football bred contempt for their briefly Football League recovered status.
Having fought my way through the stress of the Underground, ticket machines and jobsworth staff I was delighted to discover my reserved seat on the 9.48 train north saw me share a table with two other Maidenhead United fans so well done to Hull Trains for sorting that out.
Doncaster in the sun
A quick change at suitably sunny Donny saw us head out through what was left of the South Riding and into the flat lands of Lincolnshire. The change of county was confirmed by the sight of Scunthorpe United's matchbox stadium, an Eastbourne Borough of the north, whilst the realisation that we were in a very different England which had been signalled by the tower blocks of Doncaster, was proved by the sprawling steel works passed as we left the home of the Iron. Despite the sunshine the black residue covering the earth and the flames flickering in the background revealed why Ted Lewis had set his novel Jack's Return Home here before director Mike Hodges changed its name and location to Get Carter and Newcastle.
Arriving in Grimsby and the industrial focus switched to fish, a ubiquitous theme for the rest of the day. The train looped past the fish dock and into New Clee, past Blundell Park before arriving at our final destination of Cleethorpes, a fading resort still vainly trying to offer a glamorous day out. There was a big wheel on the front which if stood next to London's millennium one would have suggested a giant penny farthing. The walkway leading from the station presented a shed offering Barcelona nightlife, which couldn't have looked further from the Ramblas before we found the town's true highlight the plentiful supply of Fish and Chip shops.
Little appealed about any of the pubs so we settled on the Fiddler on the basis that it was next to bookies, was showing all the football and offered three pints of lager for under £8. The number of Magpies inside slowly grew although those on the supporters coach were delayed after the driver got stuck in one of the side streets near the ground.
View from the Findus stand
Heading up the Grimsby Road there was a virtually unique sight for a Maidenhead fan of an ever increasing number of people in black and white favours parking up in side streets and walking towards the towering floodlights, before a right turn brought the Findus stand into view. Entering the stadium I was directed to McMenemy suite for a great view of the ground and some magnificent hospitality with no one complaining about the single item on the menu presumably provided by sponsors Youngs.
Venturing out into the stand the other three sides of the ground were rather pale in comparision, with tell tale signs of seats having been hastily placed on terraces when Town played in the post Taylor report Division Two. Indeed part of me hankered for those of us in the away end to be placed in the triangular corner section confined by nets and fences 80s style.
I can see the sea
The game kicked off with Grimsby big favourites starting with six of the eleven who had almost shocked Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup seven days earlier. With the Magpies missing top scorer Richard Pacquette through suspension, Reece Tison-Lascaris replaced him in something of a false nine role. It was clear that Maidenhead's main threat was going to come through wingers Harry Pritchard and Danny Green and the early signs were promising despite Grimsby naturally having the upper hand but as the half drew on the home team took complete control scoring twice.
Alex Rodman, the substitute whose cross set up the goal to deny Maidenhead a famous Cup win over Aldershot a few years back, was given the space and freedom to torment the Magpies, unleashing a terrific shot which Elvijs Putnins did well to tip onto the crossbar. Two minutes later Lennell John-Lewis hit the post after connecting with an Aswad "don't turn around" Thomas cross.
Just at this point, with fifteen minutes to go to half time, Maidenhead appeared to have rode their luck well, but they seemed to cowed by the Mariners' superiority and it was disappointing that this was translated into two soft goals.
In the 35th minute a John-Lewis cross was collected on the right side of the penalty area by Jack Colbeck who turned left back Leon Solomon inside out before squirting his shot inside Putnins' near post. Six minutes later the lead was doubled when Shaun Pearson rose at the far post unchallenged to head home a Paddy McLaughlin corner from the right with Putnins stuck in no mans land.
Two good saves from Putnins in stoppage time kept the game alive but the writing looked to be on the wall for United.
View from the away end
Walking round to the away section at the start of the second half it soon became clear that something had happened in the Maidenhead dressing room at the interval as the Magpies started with much verve and positive intention. This produced results within three minutes when Tison-Lascaris halved the deficit with a shot drilled into the corner from outside the penalty area. Now with their tails up the Magpies sensed the opportunity for an equaliser and an exciting cup tie ensued for the rest of the second half, the game opening up to produce chances at either end.
As it turned out the next one proved to be the crucial one. A Tison-Lascaris cross was volleyed goal bound by Harry Grant. Despite taking a deflection en route goalkeeper Jonathan Hedge managed to get a hand on the ball before a team mate put the ball behind for one of many second half Maidenhead corners.
Putnins did his part to keep United in the game by saving well from Jack Colbeck before the Magpies again took the initiative,
A Pritchard cross flashed across the face of the goal with Green inches away from tapping it into the net, Green then went on to test Hedge with a shot but despite substitutions and twenty three minutes remaining Maidenhead couldn't manage to turn any further pressure into chances and the Mariners ran out stoppage time fairly comfortable winners.
Now was the time to exchange mutual thanks with the players and officials for a wonderful FA Trophy run of which I had seen every minute despite completely dismissing any chance of even getting past the first tie at Eastbourne. The run was put into perspective by Keith Jackson, making a rare visit to a game now he lives in Hull, but a regular home and away in the 80s and 90s. "I'm just amazed we're playing a cup match in the New Year" illustrates how valuable this competition is for bringing light to the often mundane bread and butter of league football. Days like this and Barrow will last in the memory long after all the league matches this season have been forgotten, and that's why managers like Richard Money need to start respecting this competition to give those who spend their time and money watching non league football week in week out something to cheer. Football is an entertainment business and the FA Trophy entertains like nothing else apart from the FA Cup.
Wandering back down the Grimsby Road, we arrived back in Cleethorpes where we stopped for a couple of pints in the Swashbuckle, an amusingly constructed pirate theme bar, before heading for Seaway to finish the day with fish, chips and peas. Getting back on the train the day was summed up by a comment from a fellow passenger who as I tucked in to possibly the most delicious haddock I have ever eaten, informed me that at £5.95 I'd been ripped off, although this was nothing in comparison to the day out which was priceless.

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Elm Park Years Part 4: Where's Our Eddie Gone Then?

"Where's Our Eddie Gone Then?" was the question fired by one of the more aggressive looking Reading fans at John Madejski, as the Chairman ventured in to the away end at Brisbane Road on the penultimate  sunny Saturday of the season. The Eddie referred to was Welshman Niedzwiecki, placed in charge of the Royals after Ian Porterfield was sacked, with the assistant now joining his former boss in the dole queue. The new man in charge, but not the final change of the season, was physiotherapist John "healing hands" Haselden. Madejski himself was the second Chairman of the season but had rather a longer stint in post than the loyal Haselden who reverted back to his physio role the following Saturday under new manager Mark McGhee in a chaotic end to a tumultuous season which remains something of a nadir in the modern history of Reading Football Club. A low point from which, barring the odd stumble, everything improved exponentially to the point of selling out a shiny new all seater stadium on a regular basis in the Premier League.
This end to the season didn't bear thinking about on the similarly sunny Saturday on which the season began, way down in Devon at St. James Park where Reading confirmed early season optimism about promotion by systematically taking apart 1990 Division Four Champions Exeter City 3-1, the Grecians first defeat at home in over a year. Standing on the distinctly non league terrace which masqueraded as the away end we saluted the team and in particular the scorers of the three goals the triple strike force of Trevor Senior, Craig Maskell and Steve Moran before getting back on the coach to avoid the attentions of the locals who wanted to fervently discuss the outcome of the game. 
Porterfield had bet the farm on Maskell, a striker prolific in the previous two seasons at Huddersfield in Division Three, a classy ball playing forward that any supporter would want to watch. The problem was the squad was already congested with attackers, the always reliable Trevor Senior playing alongside a number of partners who all remained at Elm Park over the summer, with no form to attract other clubs. Presumably Moran would have also been on a contract as big as his waistband hence his presence in the line up on the opening day. David Leworthy was a permanent bench fixture, George Friel was one for the future and at least Michael Gilkes' pace could be devastating anywhere on the left hand side. Porterfield attempted to convert the hard working Mike Conroy into a midfielder, but the Scotsman's application lacked the finesse to augment Mick Gooding's dynamism in the centre, and with hindsight this is where the investment should have been following the summer departure of Stuart Beavon and Mick Tait. This would have complemented the neat bit of business in defence which saw Darren Wood swapped for Keith "Tom's Diner" McPherson who fortunately exceeded expectations as the other defender brought in was the frequently injured "Oops Up" Floyd Streete.
Still the feeling of bliss to be in the heaven of an season opening day tour de force persisted until the middle of October when the Royals held third spot after drawing at home to Birmingham City following an exciting midweek win at Elm Park over Bournemouth. League games with the Cherries were the closest the Royals had to a local derby at this time and it was Reading's turn to claim the bragging rights in a somewhat fortunate fashion when goalkeeper Peter Guthrie let a Maskell shot through his legs to complete the comeback from a 1-0 half time deficit before second choice Reading goalkeeper Phil Burns sealed the points with a world class save to stop Efan Ekoku snatching a point.
This play off placing proved to be a temporary one as the next four games were all lost but promotion hopes were kept alive by a 1-0 at Stoke in November. This was my first trip to the Victoria Ground and last one on the supporters coach. Standing in the abysmal fenced away end which at the front was below pitch level, we just about saw Moran give Reading a very early lead and then saw the Royals heroically hold on for the rest of the game to win the Football League performance of the week. This proved to be another false dawn though as form continued to slump up to Christmas.
However if the league form suffered, the Cup matches were a complete write off and I saw every minute of each of the five knockout defeats. Earlier in the season Reading had lost both legs of their first round tie against deadly local rivals Oxford United, whose top boys contribution to the atmosphere at Elm Park was to vigorously rattle the gates at the front of the away end.
Hopes that another great FA Cup run was in prospect were raised when Reading were drawn away to Colchester United, the Us then battling for promotion at the top of the Conference. This proved to be a great day out spoilt by ninety minutes of football. Travelling up by train from Liverpool Street, we joined the Reading fans wholly occupying one carriage and marshaled by one supporter with an Ed the Duck glove puppet. Welcomed by the local constabulary on our arrival in Essex we made the long walk to Layer Road to the dire covered away end consisting of wooden terraces. Everything was going to plan at half time thanks to a Martin Hicks goal, but the Col U came back to create a cup upset and leave us with an uneasy walk back to the station with the locals eager to engage us in conversation about the result.
Any chance that the Leyland Daf Cup would provide any joy were quickly crushed in an embarrassing 3-1 defeat at soon to be defunct Aldershot where once again the locals were keen to start a post mortem asking me if I was part of the "Reading scum". Needless to say the final group game ended in a 4-1 defeat to promotion chasing Southend at Elm Park, the Shrimpers second win at Elm Park in a fortnight. In the league they had thoroughly exposed Reading's shortcomings by going 4-0 up. At this point we decided to de camp to the Tilehurst End where we saw Reading score two consolation goals, the second giving Dave the opportunity to be captured for posterity on TVS by giving the finger to the United goalkeeper.The only bright spot on the horizon was the continuing development of young talent such as Ady Williams and Scott Taylor with Stuart "Archie" Lovell announcing his arrival with the only goal of the game on his debut at home to Fulham.
By now Mark had passed his driving test to signal a change to our trips to Elm Park. Although the long walk down the Oxford Road had stopped when we discovered our train tickets were valid to Reading West, and the 17 bus could get us back to the station in time for the 17.08 train back to Maidenhead, Mark's mum's spacious saloon car made the journey even easier, with the only problem trying to find a parking space somewhere between the Bath Road and the Tilehurst Road which didn't infringe resident parking restrictions.
This meant the lack of public transport on Boxing Day wasn't a barrier to getting to the game at Elm Park although very few bothered on a horribly wet and windy day in a crowd of just over 3,000. Grimsby were the unseasonal visitors for a match that started a run to raise hopes that the second half of the season would be better than the first. Mick Gooding scored both goals in a 2-0 but it was his new midfield partner Danny Bailey who sparked a five game winning streak. Bailey a man as wide as he was tall stomped around the midfield daring anyone to come near him and became the source of endless conversations starting who would win  in a fight between Bailey and Vinnie Jones, Mike Tyson, a sabre toothed tiger etc.
Mansfield were up next at Elm Park with my main man Linden Jones forcing a last minute winner over the line. Maskell scored the only goal of the game then got sent off in the return fixture against Exeter and by the time Wigan were comfortably beaten at Elm Park at the end of January the Royals stood on the brink of the play offs once more. Confirmation that they were serious promotion contenders then followed on a midweek trip to Southend. Everything looked lost at half time at Roots Hall, with the home team one goal up thanks to Ian Benjamin. Worst was to come after the break when Gilkes was stretchered off with a broken leg but Reading rediscovered their resilience of the previous season with goals from Moran and Bailey winning the game, the latter climbing the fence at the away end to receive the acclaim of us travelling faithful.
This upturn in form coincided with a change of ownership. In the autumn former Chairman Roger Smee had revealed that weekly losses were running into five figures which he was unable to subsidise. Just when it seemed Reading might be on track to follow local rivals Oxford and Aldershot into financial oblivion a local businessman stepped forward to take up the challenge of getting the club back on its feet. Despite a professed lack of interest in football John Madejski was man cast in the better aspects of Victorian civic philanthropy. Founder of the publishing empire which produced Auto Trader, Madejski was one of the country's richest men and perhaps because of his antipathy towards the beautiful game, unlike many a new football club owner, he managed to hold on to the sound business principles which had made him so successful, seeing the virtue of parsimony (which reportedly led to the break down in his relationship with Porterfield) and being ready to play the long game. He also had the nous to show a genuine interest in the concerns of supporters in stark contrast to the previous regime which led to his pioneering terrace walkabout at Brisbane Road.
The Orient match came almost at the end of a nineteen game run which included just three wins and four draws. Porterfield had tried to plug the gaps in the team with loan signings, some of whom (Mark Smith and Steve Morrow) were more successful than others (Garry Brooke, Matthew Edwards and Brian Statham), all of which contributed to an ever growing sense of desperation which ultimately saw home crowds plunge below the 2,000 mark.
Still hope sprung eternal after the Southend win, with another good point on the road at Fulham spoiled by the over zealous Met police who decided to stop the half time lets all have a disco bundle by ejecting the only non white Royal involved, leaving us to return to making fun of Bjorn Borg the groundsman. A trip to the Cottage always gave rise to the feeling of faded glamour as a celebrity was taken onto the pitch by Diddy David Hamilton to make the half time prize draw. To show that sublebrity is not a new phenemon I can remember Oxo Dad Michael Redfearn and Duffy from Casualty being wheeled out in consecutive visits in the early nineties.
Serious promotion hopes hinged on a midweek trip to fellow play off hopefuls Bournemouth in mid March. After analysing the league table all day at school, Mark made the snap decision to borrow his mum's car at 5 pm and we got to Dean Court just in time for kick off which was all to no avail as the Cherries won comfortably 2-0 under the horror show management duo of Harry Redknapp and Tony Pulis. This result hit me so hard I had to bunk off school the next day to recover but a win the following Saturday over Rotherham at Elm Park saw me and Mark take the train up to the midlands seven days later to stand at the top of the steepling away terrace at St Andrews. Welsh wonder Jones repaid our loyalty by scoring in a 1-1 draw to leave us to walk back in silence to New Street in the middle of several thousand Blues.
Two points out of the next eighteen though spelled the end for Porterfield a decision which at the time upset me although as I type these words two decades later seems evidently sensible. I never lost my trust in a manager for whom the Reading spell must have been a low point in a fairly admirable career on and off the pitch. Stories emerged that he was sacked as a result of unprofessional conduct in terms of transfer dealing and a drink driving charge which seemed to point to opportunism on the part of the club to get rid of an employee on a sizeable salary. A more obvious reason for dismissal due to performances on the pitch would of course necessitated paying up his contract.Still us vocal South Bank right siders were placated by "our" Eddie being placed in temporary charge.
Niedzwiecki was backed to the hilt by us loyal Royals in a tumultuous end of season trip to Griffin Park. Whilst the Met found it necessary to search my turn ups before allowing me entry they missed someone else in the away end bringing in a smoke game which was let off in the first half. The atmosphere grew more febrile as the game which remained goalless moved into injury time. Brentford then scored and Reading were reduced to ten men following a bad tackle by Statham at the far end. The usual melee on the pitch followed whilst Brentford keeper Graham Benstead turned round to inform us of the score, prompting one fan to jump on the pitch to seek more details, meanwhile Eddie tried to do likewise with the referee but was led away by a policeman. The final whistle sounded soon after signalling the end of any Reading fight on or off the pitch.
Seven days later a supine team looked after by Haselden were thrashed by Orient and although new manager Mark McGhee's first home game a week later ended in another 1-0 win over Stoke, the naughty 40 invaded the South Bank at the end of the game and we all ran away never to be seen again for another three months. Things could only get better.

My memorabilia from this season can be found here: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/elmparkyears

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The Elm Park Years Part 3: Ian Porterfield's Blue & White Army

The managerial vacancy at Elm Park coincided with my decision that it was time to be a hardcore loyal Royal and start going home and away every Saturday. This would be without most of the friends who I had originally started to go to Elm Park with as we had all got jobs at the new Maidenhead branch of Waitrose but I was the only one wise enough to negotiate two evening shifts and thus avoid working on Saturday. Fortunately the previous season we had been joined on the South Bank by another school friend Mark who was to be my travelling companion for the next eighteen months. This proved to be doubly fortunate as he was the first of my friends to pass his driving test, and had access to his mum's rather nice saloon car, for the time being though we would have to make do with the supporters coach.
The coaches were run expertly by the official supporters club, with the transport provided by Horseman (Horseman coaches and Reading FC, coaching at its best). Tickets could be booked at the club on a matchday, or by ringing Denny Fulbrook at home, the Don of Reading Supporters Club. Fares provided excellent value and you could get dropped off at the station which was a bonus for evening games to get back to Maidenhead. 
First up under caretaker manager Lew Chatterley was a trip to Gigg Lane, Bury. Unsurprisingly there was just the one coach to this game full of the regulars. As well as Denny, you would have his right hand man Peter Brown, always a popular passenger as we would all sing "Its not unusual" when he walked up and down the aisle in acknowledgement to his doppelganger Tom Jones. For games a bit closer to home when more than one coach ran, we prayed Colin Bishop wasn't coach leader as he was a stickler for the no cans or bottles rule even if the contents contained nothing stronger than coke. Other characters included an old chap who was always keen to get back to the local wrestling hall to see his favourite the Mongolian Mauler, whilst a Fagin type character known as Tav always seemed to have a group of kids hanging around him, gleefully reminding another regular passenger of his resemblance to Billy Connolly.
Despite a win at home over Mansfield in Chatterley's first match in charge at Elm Park, the team had gone on to lose to Wigan and Birmingham, and were well and truly beaten at Bury 4-0, with one Royal who appeared to have travelled to the game on his own spending ninety minutes berating young full back Ady Williams, shouting "not good enough Mrs Williams" every time the unfairly maligned youngster touched the ball.
This proved to be the end of the interregnum with the appointment of Ian Porterfield as manager. This appeared to be a sound decision with Porterfield coming across as a real football man having experienced a decent playing career including scoring the only goal for Sunderland in their 1973 FA Cup Final win, and more pertinently substantial managerial experience in particular leading a similar size club to Reading, Rotherham United, to the Division Three title.

Appropriately enough first on the agenda for Porterfield was the FA Cup 1st Round. The subsequent run to the fourth round was unforgettable and securely wedded Porterfield and his assistant Eddie Niedzwiecki to the hardcore Reading support, such was the resilience quickly created and the results achieved which in terms of the number of games played, was more than was needed to win the Cup itself.
First up was possibly the toughest draw of the round, a trip to title chasing Bristol Rovers. A sizeable Reading following travelled down the M4 to Rovers' temporary home in Bath at Twerton Park. To a background of constant noise from the Gas heads, encouraged by the Sinatra loving PA man Bob, Reading worked hard to earn a replay at Elm Park. The rematch went to extra time and the Royals were only saved by a last minute strike from who else but Trevor Senior. This was a time when replays were still unlimited and Reading lost the toss for the third game so we all traipsed back down to Somerset the following Monday. In an unsurprisingly tight affair Reading scored the only goal of the game midway through the second half although Stuart Beavon still needed two attempts to fire his penalty home, a goal I could enjoy again  the next day on BBC Breakfast.
The win provided a reward of a home tie against non league Welling United but despite beating superior opposition in the previous round Welling proved something of a tough nut to crack. Having ground out a goalless draw at Elm Park, Welling were well up for the replay at their tight Park View Road ground.The night was a memorable one but not for events on the pitch. Taking the train up to London was a bit of a mission caused by a serious accident earlier in the week just east of Maidenhead station. Having taken the long walk down Welling High Road to the ground we were then directed on into Kent, racing across a muddy cricket pitch next door to get in for kick off. Fortunately the entrance was nothing more than a gap in the fence where a bloke just ripped our plain cardboard tickets in half. Beavon again was the man to secure Reading's future in the competition although he had to take his penalty twice due to a team mate's encroachment. The goal only secured a 1-1 draw though and this time BBC Breakfast news focused on plucky Welling with me clearly visible behind the goal by virtue of Mark wearing his gold Simod Cup winning replica away kit. Unbelievably the second replay at Elm Park produced no goals in 120 minutes of football so it was back to Kent for the fourth attempt to settle the tie. Welling went into half time a goal up but two rare strikes from Steve Moran in the second half at last sent Reading through to the third round.
Inevitably Wearside folk hero Porterfield was to host his old club Sunderland at Elm Park in the third round in what was probably my favourite ever Elm Park match. At the time Sunderland were resurgent following a dismal time under the management of Lawrie McMenemy which had seen the Mackems fall into Division Three for the first time. McMenemy's replacement Denis Smith had led them to the Division Three title in 1988 and Division One football was to return to Roker Park in 1990. Thus given the struggle to dispose of little Welling, Reading were given no chance even at home, particularly in the face of Division Two's hottest property Marco Gabbiadini. However on a day for heroes the two smallest men in the Royals' line up stood tall to win the day. Firstly left back Steve Richardson was recast for the day as a sweeper and he took to his new role with gusto, effectively marking Gabbiadini out of the game. Right back Linden Jones however set the bar high for heroism when he put through his own net in the first minute. This set off one of his harshest critics who was stood behind me. I quietly seethed as Jones was my favourite player at the time. I loved his all action approach to the game whether selected as a right sided midfielder or at right back In typical FA Cup fairy tale style, Jones went onto score an unusual hat trick, going on to equalise then score the winner, which certainly shut up the bloke behind me. I would love to find footage of this game somewhere more than any other I saw at Elm Park, sadly there is nothing on Youtube to date.
Having disposed of Sunderland, ironically at one go having spent seven games getting past Bristol Rovers and Welling United, logically Newcastle United were drawn to play at Elm Park in round four. With almost twelve thousand in Elm Park the Toon Army were in rather more combative mood than in the League Cup tie back in September. A replica FA Cup made out of silver bottle tops bounced around the away end, whilst a Sid the Sexist look a like skipped around blowing kisses at the South Bank, mocking us as we insisted "We love you Reading we do". The game was a six goal thriller, only interrupted when the Newcastle fans charged into the wall separating them and the South Bank. Fortunately it held firmer than the two defences, with in a neat reversal of the fourth round tie at Elm Park twelve months earlier, Michael Gilkes latching onto a lax back pass in the dying minutes to take the game to a replay. This time though Reading had met their match at the Magpies ran out 4-1 winners at St. James Park, the only game of the ten game FA Cup run I missed.
The Cup run pretty much summed up Reading's season. The Royals were a match for any opposition but too often no more than a match as they drew almost half of their league games, but their ability to sometimes rise to the occasion and beat the best in the division gave hope that a squad was being built to mount a serious promotion challenge in Porterfield's first full season. Thus the rest of the season was an enjoyable one with every journey to the match being made in expectation with many a new ground uncovered on the way. 
Thanks to the supporters coach I made my first trip to Deepdale, Northampton's three sided County Ground shared with the cricket club, Gay Meadow, Ashton Gate and Field Mill as well as the games mentioned earlier at Gigg Lane and Twerton Park. Unfortunately the New Year's Day trip to Ninian Park saw us only reach the Bluebirds car park before finding out the game was postponed. I also took the train to Craven Cottage, Brisbane Road and Griffin Park. The Orient game aside, Reading were never embarrassed and generally came away with a point much to the delight of those of us chanting "Ian Porterfield's Blue and White Army", whilst not forgetting his assistant with regular rounds of "Eddie, Eddie, Eddie".
Two of these trips, Shrewsbury and Mansfield were enlivened by the organised presence of the RDS, not so much a firm, more a jolly boys day out. Travelling on a double decker Reading bus, they allegedly negotiated their way past West Mercia police by claiming they were going brass rubbing at Shrewsbury Abbey, this game being memorable for the way everyone sang "we know a song that will get on your nerves" for the last twenty minutes. At Mansfield chaos ensued when the home team got a penalty in front of the away end. Everyone rushed behind the goal to wave at the penalty taker which seemed to sufficiently distract him as the kick was missed. Whilst delirium broke out behind the goal the referee signalled for the kick to be taken again as seemed to be the style that season so we all rushed back to start waving again only for the ball to hit the back of the net this time. Never mind the game finished as a 1-1 draw as usual.
At home results can be summed up as the veritable curate's egg with crowds often dropping below the 4,000 mark. Only four games were lost all season but nine were drawn. Added entertainment was provided by Mark's friend Andy who prepared for a future career at Sky Sports by regularly going to Reading games. Commonly the result would be in the balance in the second half so Andy would go down the front, stick his head through the fence and wish for a goal, which when it came would see him trampled in the charge for the fence leaving him to describe his pleasure at his pain afterwards. 
A favourite league game this season was a win by the odd goal in five over Porterfield's old club Rotherham, which was memorable for one supporter, clearly under a chemical influence, running along the right side of the South Bank at the front keeping up with play, randomly shouting "triangles" at the players.
Reading were at their best when playing the two Bristol clubs who were dukeing it out for the title at the top of the league. Reading drew either team in every single cup competition that season, playing them a total of ten times, losing just once, at home to Rovers in the league. Apart from beating Rovers in the FA Cup, the only Reading win came at Ashton Gate in February with a rare goal from substitute David Leworthy being the difference between the two teams, Steve Richardson reprising his super sweeper role to shut out the Robins. This proved the latent potential of the Royals who produced some excellent performances against the rest of the top six that season, beating Tranmere, Bury and Bolton at home, whilst holding Notts County in both games. Results against the bottom six however left a lot more to be desired but watching the news clips of the tumultuous final game of the season which saw Rovers beat City at Twerton Park to win the title with City promoted as runners up, it was clear that having matched or bettered these two teams for most of the season the future was bright for the Royals. Porterfield had made just one permanent signing at Christmas (but what a signing in Mick Gooding, "the Bryan Robson of the lower divisions"), so with a bit of tinkering with a half decent squad it was clear that Reading were going to walk the league in 1990/91.

My memorabilia from this season can be found here: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/elmparkyears