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, 27 April 2014

Staying Up

I dislike relegation matches more than anything else in football. Being a Maidenhead United fan I've seen more than my fair share in recent years and there is nothing worse than the utter despair felt at that the final whistle which confirms that there are no more chances left to beat the drop.
I accept I'd given up the ghost of Maidenhead United surviving after the Farnborough defeat. I was however correct in my assertion that at least seven points would be required from the final three games of the season. Two amazing wins against the odds over Ebbsfleet and Havant had set up the possibility of a great escape on the final day at Bishop Stortford, if anything the easiest of the three games particularly as the Blues had played their County Cup Final on Wednesday, a game which went to extra time and penalties.
Nothing of course is ever easy for Maidenhead United though and a pitch showing the wear and tear of the wet season, and a strong wind meant it was going to be a real battle from every angle. The influence of the wind was shown early on when Jonathan Henly uncharacteristically dropped a cross under pressure from Cliff Akurang only for Sean Francis to shoot wide.
The Magpies soon settled with the central defensive midfield bulwark of Bobby Behzadi and Mark Nisbet helping to soak up the attacking threat. With 27 minutes gone Maidenhead won a free kick about ten yards outside the penalty area. With my usual foresight I confidently advised Advertiser journalist Dan Darlington that Maidenhead never make anything of set pieces. So Harry Pritchard swung the ball in from the right and Jacob Erskine rose highest to direct a glancing header into the back of the net to put the Magpies ahead. With Hayes and Whitehawk both losing all we needed was the final whistle to blow.
In the ubiquitous words of Manish Bhasin though, there were plenty more twists and turns in this relegation battle yet to come. Henly was again beaten by a cross, this time from a corner, Callum McNaughton heading the ball over the bar. News then emerged that Whitehawk were leading and Hayes were drawing. No panic though as Maidenhead looked pretty comfortable leaders and now sat fifth bottom.
The half time break was interrupted by the confirmation that Sutton had once more taken the lead down in Sussex, the game seeming to be five minutes behind everyone else (sharp practice by the home team?) meaning United kicked off with even more security.
Anyone thinking that Stortford would take it easy on their opponents were swiftly denuded of their misconception as within minutes of the restart Akurang twice went close to an equaliser, squandering two golden chances to seriously test Henly. As the half drew on both teams went close to scoring. With the Magpies now kicking into the wind, Reece Prestedge headed against his own crossbar from a United corner whilst Harry Grant had an effort cleared off the line whilst Henly was forced to push away a Sam Cutler free kick.
Off the pitch events took a surreal turn as some Maidenhead fans in fancy dress embarked on lap of honour in conga formation. As they approached the home end, panicking stewards rushed to form a human barrier to stop the two sets of fans meeting. Only for, in the style of Paul MacCartney's Pipes of Peace, the Stortford fans to reach across and then breach the divide to shake hands and dance with their comrades. The procession was then allowed to continue untrammelled, receiving a well deserved round of applause as they danced along the front of the main stand, the noise rippling along like a Mexican Wave.
As many as ten minutes remained when the Magpies started to try and keep the ball in the corner to waste time as it became clear that Stortford would finish the stronger team. With two minutes left Leon Solomon cleared off the line whilst Whitehawk equalised again. It was a relief to see that only three minutes of stoppage time were indicated but in the second of these an Akurang shot looped goalward, dipping late to force Henly to tip the ball over the bar. As the clock ticked into that deadly 93rd minute two Magpies conspired to divert the corner over their own line to gift the home team an equaliser from which there was no time to respond.
At this point I'd had enough and disappeared into the bar on my own as everyone else waited outside to hear what fate would bring. In a supreme twist of irony, Whitehawk could not force a win, whilst Hayes lost to a late penalty to leave Maidenhead safe in eighteenth position. I say ironic as just two years ago a last minute winner for the Magpies proved to be in vain as Havant went on to score in their game to save themselves.
So United had completed their greatest of escapes with an unbelievable set of results in the last week of the season. Personally I was pleased Erskine had scored the vital goal, as for all but a couple of games since he arrived in October, he had played out of position in central defence, acquitting himself admirably for a striker.
Speculation then inevitably shifted to the manager's position but that news will wait for another day...

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