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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, 26 October 2014

Beating Gonzalo

Fifteen pounds to watch the visit to Gillingham by the one and only Preston North End seemed like a bargain when I bought the ticket, complete with original price overwritten in pen. The warm weather in September had persisted making midweek football a pleasant evening out to the extent that I wasn't troubled by the prospect of standing on the monstrous carbuncle on the face of legendary commentator Brian Moore, which is the permanently temporary open air stand named in his honour at Priestfield.
Monstrous Carbuncle
However as I joined the cavalry charge for a seat on the late running 17.57 from Victoria to Gillingham I was regretting not having a scarf to give me a modicum of protection from the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo blowing itself out over the British Isles. Still these thoughts remained at the back of my mind as I made the short anachronistic walk from the railway station to the ground along narrow terraced streets.
Delightfully amateurish
As I passed through the turnstile, witnessing yet more delightful amateurism as the gateman ticked off every entry with a pen on a tally chart, I was rewarded with the news that the away fans had been upgraded to the corner of the smaller stand which runs along one of the wings and thus was able to settle in to a sheltered spot to watch a game which saw both teams battle against the elements.
This was a stark contrast to my only other visit to Priestfield, on the opening day of the 1997/98 season, when the two teams ground out a goalless draw in sultry heat which had the airwaves bursting with cliches about mercury rising and thermometers bursting. That day Preston had given debuts to four close season signings from Manchester United in the form of Jon Macken, Colin Murdock, Michael Appleton and David Healy, and were well on the way to the brink of regularly failing to get to the Premier League thanks to the country's worst play off record.
Now North End were once again looking to bounce back from financial ruin, under the cautious stewardship of Simon Grayson who after 18 months in charge has seemingly got the knack of turning draws into a wins. Still a pre match warm up injury to Scott Wiseman  and the ongoing fitness concerns of Tom Clarke had seen the unpopular Paul Huntington drafted in to the line up at the back along with forcing Scott Laird to play out of position at right back.
Give us a G...
The Gillingham line up replete with some of Manish Bhasin's favourite names in the form of Leon Legge, Jermaine McGlashan and Cody McDonald took to the field in a stylish strip reminiscent of Phil Dwyer era Cardiff City. Unsurprisingly given the weather and live Champions League Football, the crowd was sparse and the game started with little atmosphere despite the game efforts of some weatherbeaten cheerleaders.
It was 7.45 the ground wasn't alive
As is the style at this level both teams set up with two banks of four, and tried their best to feed their couple of creative players. For Preston this meant Paul Gallagher and Villa loanee debutant Callum Robinson, with the Lancashire team trying to keep their attacking play channelled down the left wing to avoid exposing Laird's lack of a right foot on the opposite wing. Conversely Gillingham were eager to set right winger McGlashan free at every opportunity and throughout the first half he regularly disappeared in the twilight zone created by the pillar on my right. 
Where's Jermaine gone?
With the wind at their backs Gillingham had the better of the first half, but a frontline led by Danny Kedwell, who looked no different from when he was a regular at York Road with Welling United, could not find a way past goalkeeper Jamie Jones, ably supported by a resolute defence.
Jones made a super save at point blank range at close range from Kedwell, and when the striker later beat Jones, David Buchanan was able to clear off the line. At the other end Joe Garner was denied by the woodwork which also came into play when a Brennan Dickenson cross caught the wind to fox Jones who was then able to divert the ball to safety with the help of the crossbar.
The half time whistle signalled the end of Gillingham's advantage and after the restart Preston gave it the kitchen sink treatment to make the most of the wind. It was all North End and although Gillingham's defence initially resisted, twice clearing off the line and keeper Stuart Nelson tipping over the bar, they were broken just ahead of the hour mark when Huntington headed home the only goal of the game from close range.
From this point on Preston looked pretty secure for the three points but couldn't find the second goal which would have confirmed their superiority, again being denied by the woodwork in the dying minutes.
All in all a night to step back to the cheap, straightforward world of the lower divisions of the Football League which is becoming rarer due the steady growth of identikit out of town stadiums.

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