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.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Magpies get the Summertime Blues

So a trip to Gosport has once again provided the coda to the Magpies opening season burst of good form. Central defender Simon Downer was perhaps the key absentee in the two Bank Holiday weekend defeats, nevertheless on balance 7 points was a welcome return from what looked like a testing set of five fixtures from the start of the season.
On Saturday Hemel Hemsptead made their first trip to York Road for 8 years following their Southern League title win last April. The Tudors had not made the best of starts to their first Conference South campaign but on Saturday showed many of the qualities of a champion team on the pitch as well as some interesting sartorial choices off it.
The first half was fairly even with the crucial action being two top drawer saves by Hemel goalkeeper Laurie Walker. Around the half an hour mark he had to be on his best form to firstly deny an Ashley Nicholls volley from the edge of the penalty area, and then a Reece Tison-Lascaris effort from close range. The second save was the pick of the two as Lascaris took the time and space created by his pace to pick his spot but Walker steadfastly refused to go to ground and stretched out a hand to scrape the ball away to safety.
Hemel had made regular forays into the United half but seemed to become preoccupied by the performance of the referee and their perception of his lenient treatment of Jacob Erskine as three Tudor players were booked by the interval.
Emerging from the dressing room for the second half, the phrase "keep a clean sheet" was repeated by the away team to the extent of virtually sounding like a mantra, and it was their defensive discipline which proved to be the foundation of their eventual win. Maintaining a tight offside trap, Maidenhead quickly ran out of attacking ideas and the increasing use of Leon Solomon's pace on the wing as a forward option led to a gap opening on the left side of the United defence. 
With captain Jordan Parkes running the midfield efficiently this opportunity was exploited twice to give Hemel an unassailable lead with fifteen minutes to go. Oliver Hawkins led the line impressively for Hemel forcing Elvijs Putnins to palm his header off the line seven minutes into the second half. The tall striker then showed some deft skill to play in forward partner James Simmonds with a defence splitting pass which Simmonds collected in space to convert for the opening goal of the game.
By this point Maidenhead's own big front man Tashan Adeyinka had entered the fray, his debut since receiving international clearance from the Finnish FA, but he was well marshalled by central defenders Kieran Murphy and Jorell Johnson. Hopes of a Magpie comeback were then dashed when Johnson rose highest to head home at the far post, connecting with a Daniel Talbot free kick from the right wing.
Hemel went onto show some less appealing qualities of a champion team thanks to Murphy's whining, all round tasting and some unneccessary abuse from the bench (is there any need to call the referee a "fucking cheat" when you're 2-0 up in stoppage time?).
All in all a deserved victory for the visitors and a reminder for Maidenhead that every point in this division has to be hard earned.
Travelling to Bromley on Monday, the main opponent to a result of any kind looked to be the incessant rain. The spray kicked up by every touch of the ball seemed to increase throughout the first half but the rain waned in the second half to remove any doubt that the game would finish. 
Bromley very firmly give the impression that they are a club fully intent on promotion to the Conference Premier, from a professional but warm welcome off the pitch, to the massive investment on it which gave the squad list something of a Conference South Galacticos air to it.
The highest quality of attack though came from the Magpies starting from within minutes of the kick off. Stefan Brown, who had missed the game of Saturday with food poisoning, forced goalkeeper Seb Brown to tip a long range shot over the bar, and soon had another effort from distance well saved.
Once again though it was the inability to keep it tight at the back which proved to be United's downfall. Adam Birchall picked up a loose touch from Erskine, the star striker moving the ball quickly via Moses Ademola to Ali Fuseini on the right side of the penalty area, Fuseini using the time and space afforded him to beat Putnins with an accomplished finish.
With Erskine having earlier blocked an Ademola effort from point blank range there were fears on the away terrace that this might spark a deluge to rival the weather and last season's 6-1 thrashing at Hayes Lane. Within two minutes though Maidenhead had levelled the score with a goal to rival any I have seen following Maidenhead United. Receiving the ball with his back to goal on the edge of the penalty area, Eddie Hutchinson audaciously flicked the ball over his shoulder in the style of  Dennis Bergkamp, to beat his marker before firing the ball into the back of the net through Brown's legs.
The goal gave Maidenhead all the encouragement they needed to make their mark on the game and midway through the half the ball was in the back of the Bromley net once more thanks to a fatal touch from Ugo Udoji only for the referee to chalk the goal off due to an obvious push on the defender by Dave Tarpey. Strangely the referee saw nothing wrong with a similar challenge from an opposite source in the same part of the pitch a few minutes later.
Deep into stoppage time United shot themselves in the foot, undoing their hardwork by conceding a goal on the stroke of half time. A Joe Anderson free kick from the left wing saw Ademola rise without impediment just inside the penalty area to loop a header into the top corner.
Bromley then repeated the trick just ahead of the hour mark to seemingly seal the three points when Anderson, this time from the right, floated his free kick across the penalty area where it was met by Danny Waldren to score with his head. 
Soon after Mark Nisbet limped off to leave Maidenhead missing 75% of their first choice backline, but the Hayes Lane ground always seem to bring the best out of the Magpies and they did not stint in their efforts to get back into the game. This bore fruit when a driving run from Danny Green enabled Tarpey and Stefan Brown to exchange passes in the Bromley area, Tarpey finishing the move with a tidy finish.
Following the goal Maidenhead sustained their pressure with a series of set pieces but were unable to find an equaliser before Bromley took advantage of United's need to attack when they broke quickly, substitutes Reece Prestedge combining with Jamie Slabber to enable the latter to score a fourth goal and make the final scoreline appear a little lopsided.
The goal ended a frustrating afternoon for the Magpies when they showed that they have the quality going forward to compete with the best the division has to offer. Next week the top priority has to be achieving a first clean sheet of the season.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Maidenhead fight back for a point

Almost exactly a year ago, Maidenhead fans sailed back triumphantly over the Solent from Gosport having seen the Magpies win to extend their unbeaten run since the start of the season to five games.
Sadly this proved to be something of a false dawn in terms of prospects for the season, and indeed perhaps a high point in league form with the next win not coming until Boxing Day.
Thus there was plenty to reflect on as the ferry left Portsmouth behind yesterday with the main question being at what point could supporters start to believe that Drax's boys of 2015 would produce a vintage year.
In the last twelve months Gosport themselves had made remarkable progress. Having had their transfer embargo lifted and survived the worst of the winter weather which had left its mark on their Privet Park ground, Borough had gone on to reach the FA Trophy final and romp through their backlog of league fixtures to comfortably avoid relegation.
Over the summer Gosport had overcome the theft of turf purchased to relay their pitch and a Carry on Camping style trip to Guernsey to substantially improve their ground, with the bulk of the investment most commendably being spent on the pitch with the aforementioned turf and a new sprinkler system.
The game itself had been put back seven days in order for the pitch to properly settle in, leaving the Magpies with four games in ten days. Thus it may have been a blessing that Simon Downer was unable to play due to work commitments, giving the influential centre back a rest until the weekend, whilst fresh legs were provided on the bench in the form of Tashan Adeyinka following his long awaited clearance from the Finnish FA. Surprisingly there was no place for Danny Green in the squad, despite the winger travelling down on the team coach, the only changes to the starting eleven being Reece Tison-Lascaris for Lanre Azeez in addition to Jacob Erskine replacing Downer in defence.
Gosport dominated the first half from the kick off with their high tempo, whizz bang style not allowing Maidenhead to settle. Borough should have taken the lead as early as the third minute when following a good save by Elvijs Putnins from Matt Patterson, Paco Saez blasted the loose ball over the bar. 
As the half drew on United were able to make some headway and won a few set pieces around the Gosport penalty area on which they were unable to capitalise. Thus it was frustrating that having weathered the worst of the storm the Magpies went in to the break one goal down. 
Turning over possession in the midfield with four minutes to go, Gosport quickly worked the ball out wide on the right where Saez fired in a textbook cross to Justin Bennett at the far post to tap in the opening goal of the game.
Drax was left to earn his corn in the dressing room at the interval, and the impact of his half time team talk was plain to see as United tore into their opponents from the off, equalising within five minutes.
This time the source of the goal was the left wing with Mark Nisbet and Ashley Nicholls combining to give Tison-Lascaris the opportunity to bundle the ball in at the near post after the cross had fooled goalkeeper Nathan Ashmore with a slight deflection off a defender.
Having got back into the game so early in the half, Maidenhead's tails were up, coming close to a second goal when Tison-Lascaris produced his trademark shuffle to create space on the edge of the penalty area only for his shot to lack the venom to seriously trouble Ashmore.
In a mirror image of the first half Maidenhead dominated the second half but in the end were happy to settle for a point after losing Dave Tarpey to a red card with twelve minutes to a controversial decision by referee Derek Eaton. Tarpey had seemingly won a 50/50 ball cleanly only for his opponent Brett Poate to go to ground having arrived second to the challenge. Eaton dismissed Tarpey without hesitation, but then lost his grip on the game by awarding a succession of free kicks which prompted Gosport's defender Steve Ramsey to ask him whether the man in black was trying to turn the match into a non contact sport.
The Magpies successfully negotiated four minutes of stoppage time to head back north with a record still identical to last season of seven points out of the first nine, to leave them lying a heady second in the table.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Magpies storm Stortford

Reading the newspaper en route to Bishops Stortford I learned that scientists had discovered that contrary to popular myth magpies are not thieves. This new truth was reflected in Maidenhead United's win at Bishops Stortford yesterday as contrary to the away form of previous seasons when three points were stolen with some judicious counter attacking, the Magpies imposed themselves on the Blues from the kick off, dominating the first half and thoroughly deserving to travel back to Berkshire with all three points.
Despite last week's win over Sutton, manager Johnson Hippolyte opted to change a winning team, replacing Bobby Behzadi at right back with Luton loanee Brett Longden (available having completed a suspension), tinkering with the layout slightly to switch Jacob Erksine for Lanre Azeez. The latter change saw Mark Nisbet move back into the centre of defence alongside Simon Downer, with Azeez continuing in the right wing slot in which he had finished the last game.
With the home team barely getting a sniff of a chance at the United end, they instead scored the opening goal albeit in the wrong net when a vicious cross from the right by Adrian Clifton was converted at the far post by Ashley Miller in the tenth minute.
Fifteen minutes later, Clifton himself ensured Maidenhead's superiority was reinforced by heading in a Nicholls cross from the left. 
On the stroke of half time United almost sealed the points but were unable to capitalise on a goalmouth scramble which saw Eddie Hutchinson bravely throw himself into the fray in a bid to score amidst appeals for a penalty.
The interval gave Stortford manager Rod Stringer, serving a touchline ban, the chance to let his team know in no uncertain terms their first half shortcomings, and the Blues responded appropriately from the start of the second half. This saw an appeal for a penalty turned down in a frenzied attack, but once this initial burst of energy had blown itself out, the Magpies were able to comfortably manage the game to preserve their lead.
As the game drew to a close United made sure of the three points with the goal of the game. With six minutes remaining a long ball out of the hands of Elvijs Putnins was flicked on by the head of Stefan Brown into the path of substitute Reece Tison-Lacaris. The nippy attacker sprinted forward, beat the defence with a quick shimmy before beating the keeper from the edge of the are with a shot that squirreled its way into the corner.
This goal finally sparked Stortford into life, Putnins producing his best save of the game to foil Ryan Melaugh, with Nisbet tidying up on the goal line behind him before Ishmael Kamara scored a consolation goal in stoppage time.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Gone to the dogs

The close season theft of Gosport's pitch left Maidenhead with an unusual free opening midweek enabling me to make a long awaited visit to Clapton. Founders of the Isthmian League, Clapton were one of the early giants of non league football winning the Amateur Cup five times, but rather like the local area has become rather unloved in modern times, cast aside by the Isthmian League in the 2004 restructuring and left to fester in the Essex Senior League. Likewise the evocative named Old Spotted Dog ground looked like it should have long since been put to sleep. On arrival I was faced with the mock tudor buildings by the road entrance all boarded up and an unwelcoming makeshift passage to the turnstile.

Given entry and an 8 sheet black and white photocopied programme in return for £7.50, the social club was equally inhospitable so I settled for a seat in the functional stand for what was initially billed as a League Cup tie against Sporting Bengal United but after the event seems to have been a league match. This lack of information extended to an absence of a PA or any visible team sheet with the teams simply listed as squads in the programme without numbers.
As the game kicked off it was clear this lack of care would be reflected in a match of a poor standard for this level, as with the set up off the pitch, well short of what I am used to seeing in the Combined Counties/Hellenic League. The saving grace and indeed motive behind my visit was the presence of the Scaffold Brigada, the self styled Clapton Ultras who gathered in the covered terrace (or Scaffold) on the opposite side of the halfway line. Numbering 40-50, they somewhat incongrously given the lack of spectators elsewhere in the ground, went on to produce a tifo that would have embarrassed pretty much every club in the Conference South. Flags waving, a little bit of pyro and a songbook whose originality and creativity would put to shame any other club in the country, produced a support of a quality that was in stark contrast to what was happening on the pitch.

Sporting, playing their first game of the season, had the better opening with perhaps Clapton feeling the aftershock of their 5-1 opening day defeat at Haringey Borough. The Ton's cause was not helped by a badly organised defence with a miniature centre back who often saw the ball bounce over his head. The bloke behind me reflected on whether this was actually a 5-3-2 or 4-4-2 set up, with the main doubt cast by the irrational performance of the Kenwyne Jones lookalike on the left who would often charge forwards to leave a big hole behind him and was lucky to remain on the pitch after some rash challenges. Likewise their goalkeeper, dubbed Senegal's number 1, by the ultras hardly inspired confidence with his lack of composure in the face of Sporting's attack.
However as the game went on the industry of the Clapton number 7 in central midfield saw the home team gain the upper hand and they scored what was to be the only goal of the game midway through the first half. This did have an element of luck about it as the well placed cross found Ike Nzuba, who when faced with an gaping net, lent back and blasted the ball, only to prove that it was easier to score than miss when the effort went in off the crossbar.
In the second half Sporting quickly ran out of ideas and the die was cast allowing the Clapton manager to use a range of substitutes, a couple of whom I assume were trialists as they were an embarrassment to the term pub footballer.This left me plenty of time to reflect on why this club with such an enviable support was so shambolic and a cursory glance online makes it clear that there is a split between the club's self styled Chief Executive Officer Vince McBean, who spent the evening glaring out of the club shed window leaving it to the very last minute to switch the floodlights on, and the club's thriving support. The biggest signifier of this disconnect was the volume of cans of lager, purchased from the off licence over the road, being consumed in the ground. Particularly considering it was an evening game, the revenue from this source alone could be put to really good use and assuming it was backed by volunteering could see the club begin to restore some of its former glory. It would be great to see the Claptonites pitch up at a ground further up the non league pyramid in the FA Cup, but on the evidence of this evening that looks like a long way off at present.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Sutton get fooled again

The opening game of the season tends to have something of the showpiece fixture about it, despite the outcome being relatively inconsequential. This was certainly true of Maidenhead's opening day win at Whitehawk last season so only time will tell if yesterday's tremendous result is more portentous. However regardless of the longer term effect, there was much to ponder at the final whistle.
Sutton had lost just the one league game in 2014 prior to yesterday's game, the solitary defeat coming on their last visit to York Road at the end of March when both teams were desperate for points in their respective promotion and relegation battles. The game played out to form with Sutton dominating but the pace at which Maidenhead counter attacked enabled the Magpies to take all three points.
History repeated itself yesterday as Sutton again had the lion's share of possession but could not convert this into goals, unlike the Magpies who counterattacked to full effect once in each half. To add irony to injury both goals were scored by Dave Tarpey, one year to the day since he had scored a brace for Farnborough against the Us, albeit in a friendly.
Both sides were missing key players, but perhaps it was the absence of Jamie Taylor which hurt Sutton more than that of Danny Green for the Magpies such is the array of wide attacking options which Johnson Hippolyte now possesses. Yesterday, prepped by a scouting report from Sam Lock, Drax opted for a hybrid of the formation which he had used to great effect in the successful fight against relegation last season, with forward players Tarpey and Stefan Brown pushing wide with Adrian Clifton playing just behind them at the apex of a midfield diamond. Ashley Nicholls and Eddie Hutchinson controlled the midfield with captain Mark Nisbet playing in the space between this pair and the central defenders Simon Downer and Jacob Erskine, the one firm link with last season's squad being full backs Leon Solomon and Bobby Behzadi.
Inevitably eager to avenge their previous defeat Sutton had much the better of the opening stages. This culminated in a Kane Haysman effort in the eighteenth minute from the edge of the penalty area which hit the post with Elvijs Putnins beaten. The rebound looked to fall to a yellow shirt but Haysman's teammates could not capitalise on the opportunity and this incident appeared to be a turning point as within two minutes Maidenhead themselves had taken the lead.
The persistence of Clifton on the edge of the Sutton penalty area saw him win the ball for Brown who fed Tarpey on the left hand side of the box, the debutant striker beating the keeper with a classy finish. In response Sutton continued to make good progress, particularly down the right wing through Jack Evans but it was Maidenhead who came closest to scoring again before the interval, a snapshot from Tarpey being pushed away by Lovelock deep in stoppage time.
After the break Sutton pushed hard for an equaliser and although Putnins managed to parry an Evans effort at the near post from Evans ten minutes into the second half, he was soon beaten when Jessy Rheindorf rolled the ball into the empty net. As in March, the introduction of fresh legs into the Maidenhead ranks in the form of Lanre Azeez and Reece Tison-Lascaris was to tip the game back into the Magpies favour. Azeez constantly threatened to hurt Sutton down the right wing but it was Tison-Lascaris who was to have the decisive input with six minutes remaining.
Tarpey picked the ball up deep in his own half and found Clifton with his pass. When the ball found its way to Tison-Lascaris on the byline it looked to be a lost cause but the young winger showed the tenacity to shrug off the attentions of defender and hook the ball back into the dangerzone where Clifton and Azeez combined to provide Tarpey with the opportunity to finish once again with aplomb.
With five minutes of stoppage time to negotiate Sutton had ample opportunity to take something from the game and Maidenhead had to dig deep to protect their lead with Clifton in particular urging his teammates on with words and gestures. 
The final result possibly revealed little to either manager. Sutton had a reminder that if they are unable to take make the most of their possession then they need to protect themselves more effectively against the counterattack whilst Maidenhead proved again they have what it takes to beat the best teams in the division. There was no doubt that Downer will be a great asset for the Magpies as much for his leadership ability as his defensive attributes, whilst Nicholls merely illustrated what the team had been missing in the midfield in his absence. However the true test for Maidenhead will come when they play those middling teams with more limited ambition than Sutton who will adopt a more cautious attitude and thus require more patience to break down.