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, 31 December 2017


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Part 13: 2006-07
If the previous campaign was the worst of Magpie times then this one was the best of Magpie times, indeed you could distil this series down to a Tale of Two Seasons.
Despite relegation, the new Pharmalink regime decided to keep faith with manager Carl Taylor, which was repaid when he recruited well, signing proven talent in Dominic Sterling and Dwain Clarke as well as promising youngsters Ashley Smith, Danny Burnell, Richard Witt and Mark Nisbet.
United were returning to the Southern League for the first time since the nineteenth century. It had evolved into a division broadly spanning the strip of England from the wash to the Bristol Channel and thus offered a season’s worth of trips to hitherto unknown clubs.
This middle England journey began with a trip to Gloucester City in a match which summed up Taylor’s spell in charge, Beginning impressively the Magpies looked good value for their lead from a Clarke strike only to lose to two late City goals. Five draws followed before the first win came at Halesowen. A replay was required to beat Hellenic League Carterton in the FA Cup and then disaster struck when lowly Clevedon came to York Road and left 5-0 winners.
The inability to consistently realise the considerable potential of his team finally saw Taylor pay the price, as Chairman Una Loughrey elected to dispense with his services following the big defeat. With no ready made placement, Richie Goddard (pictured right) again took the caretaker role, making a great impact by winning all four of his games in charge. Most memorably this included a win at Stamford on Apple Day, his team talk advising that if the team make their opponents turnover they would crumble in the box. Most importantly he also made progress in the FA Cup, John Dreyer returning to assist him lead the team to a tight win at East Thurrock.
A strong field of experienced candidates emerged for the manager’s post including the likes of Craig Edwards, Gordon Bartlett and Alan Devonshire. Eventually the board plumped for Johnson “Drax” Hippolyte who had had great success in his first post at Yeading.
He arrived in time to beat Dover in the Trophy, before a fourth and final FA Cup qualifying tie at York Road against Southern League Premier Division rivals Merthyr Tydfil. The Welshmen were unbeaten in the league and brought a raucous following to Berkshire. In an electric atmosphere, Maidenhead edged home thanks to a Lee Newman goal (pictured celebrating right), despite finishing with ten men.
This meant Maidenhead were in the FA Cup First Round for the first time for a generation. The post match draw may have only produced a trip to Conference Stafford Rangers but the all new experience of being in the public eye saw 176 fans make the trip north.
The home side took an early lead, and a Craig O’Connor red card left little to hope for as the second half kicked off but a headed equaliser from new signing Dwane Lee (pictured top), got United back into the game. All seemed lost though when captain Sterling joined O’Connor in the dressing room for a professional foul only for Chico Ramos to save the resulting penalty and earn a player of the round nomination. The Magpies managed to hold on for a replay, with the ten day run up to the second match allowing Cup fever to take hold in the town.
On an unforgettable night two thousand fans flocked to York Road as Stafford again took an early lead but an O’Connor missed penalty meant this time there was no way back for United, so it was Stafford who travelled to Brighton in the second round. Nevertheless the tie had revealed the club’s potential if the latent local support base could be mobilised. Reality hit a few weeks later when only 52 turned up York Road to watch a League Cup defeat against Thatcham, as an FA Cup hangover hit league form.
For my part I was weary after two years of bearing witness to all the turbulence on and off the pitch and indicated I would stand down from my duties at the end of the season. Imagine my surprise when I was asked to become a director, an honour I proudly accepted.
Meanwhile  two defeats in five days to bottom club Corby saw the Magpies plummet to 17th in the table. Drax had brought with him some of Yeading’s finest talent in the form of Errol Telemaque, Bobby Behzadi, Darti Brown and David Clarke but as yet they hadn’t been blended successfully into the current squad.
It all began to click on a chilly night at Adams Park at the end of February with a 1-0 County Cup win against Wycombe. This started a run of nine consecutive wins. The number of clubs serious about promotion was minimal but included some non league big guns in the shape of Bath City and King’s Lynn as well as the professionally funded Bath University team.
Helped by the arrival of classy centre back Grant Cooper, the team really sensed an opportunity for a late run to the playoffs, and despite back to back defeats to the Bath clubs, the momentum returned with two more wins.
Both the final two matches would be played against Banbury United, the first on a Thursday night was won to set up the final day visit to the Spencer Stadium knowing that another win would secure a playoff berth. Three points were duly delivered for a final finish of fourth and a play off semi final trip to Norfolk.
In front of a partisan four figure crowd at the impressive Walks stadium, Maidenhead played out of their skin to firstly deny a rampant King’s Lynn, and then defend a second half lead provided by an exquisite finish from the edge of the penalty area by Mark Nisbet (pictured left celebrating at the final whistle).
It was scarcely believable but within the course of less than a week, Maidenhead had moved into the play offs and were now one match from promotion. A surreal evening ended as I conducted an interview with BBC Radio Berkshire around midnight on the lonely last train back to London.
Team Bath were waiting in the final at Twerton Park, with the Magpies benefiting from the black and white striped landlords having little time for their tenants, and turning out to support the away team.
I had been invited to act as summariser for the BBC Radio Berkshire commentary. Never have I concentrated so much watching a Maidenhead match, doubly tense at the size of the prize on offer as well as not wanting to make a mistake. There was nothing to split the teams apart from a Telemaque goal (pictured right) within seconds of the start of the second half. It was the fifteenth win in seventeen outings, a truly fantastic run of form to return the Magpies to the Conference South at the first attempt.
There was still a County Cup Final to contest two days later, but a 2-1 defeat to Milton Keynes Dons mattered little as the promotion prize continued to burn bright.Thus concluded a breathtaking season with the FA Cup run and league success at last taking the focus away from the revolving managers door. A season summed up when, as the final whistle blew to signal promotion at Twerton Park, Chico Ramos collapsed with exhaustion, John Urry rushing on to the pitch to cloak him with a towel James Brown style. Looking on I couldn’t help but whistle I Feel Good.
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
Peter Griffin, Una Loughrey & Drax pictured after promotion at Bath

Wednesday, 27 December 2017


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Part 12: 2005-06
Exceptional is the football club that has avoided a financial crisis since the game reaped the neo-liberal economic whirlwind sowed in the 80s which is still with us today.
The whistling sound of impending upheaval had been growing, reaching a crescendo in December, and was inevitably accompanied by a disastrous season on the pitch.
The heart of the problem was the absence of a financial benefactor to make good the deficit between the revenue earned and the costs required to compete in the Conference South. A solution was pursued to release the property value of the ground with negotiations taking place with Tesco to sell them York Road and move to an alternative site on the other side of the railway line owned by Thames Water off Stafferton Way.
However by the summer of 2005 the deal was dead, with the absence of end of year accounts at the AGM reflecting the black hole in club’s finances. A small financial injection from a groundshare deal with homeless Slough Town also foundered as the Rebels elected to stay at Windsor. The club’s officers continued to search for an answer to the mounting crisis, with an approach to former Chairman Roger Coombs to return, which again came to nought.
All of this left manager Dennis Greene with something less than a shoestring budget with which to build a squad, and on the opening day at Sutton United, only three players from the previous season remained in the line up. The match was over as a contest before half time, finishing 4-1 to the home team, and by the end of August only one point, against a ten man Newport, had been earned. Matters barely improved in September, Greene’s position placed in further jeopardy when a threatening message was sent from his forum account to a prominent supporter.
A home defeat to Yeading proved to be the final straw, and little more than 48 hours later Greene was replaced by Carl Taylor (pictured right) who had been a popular assistant manager to Alan Devonshire.
This was Taylor’s first job as number one but he brought with him Tony Choules who had previously had extraordinary success at Northwood, and worked with Taylor at Hornchurch the previous season. The pair had plenty to do with a vital match at fellow strugglers Carshalton the following Saturday.
With some players departing in Greene’s wake, there were six debutants in the starting line up at Colston Avenue, with one of them, Dominic White (pictured top), scoring the only goal of the game.
The win boosted morale throughout the club but had no lasting effect. The FA Cup and Trophy were exited at the first time of asking, and a second league win, this time at Dorchester was followed by two thumping defeats by an aggregate score of 12-1, the first of which seeing 8 goals shipped at Bognor.
The poor form was still outstripped by declining finances, with the club now reliant on sponsors Pharmalink to maintain the weekly playing budget. Although the previous year’s accounts were finally accepted at a stormy egm in October, the members club was clearly no longer viable and rather than continue to plug the gap, Pharmalink made an offer to takeover.
Such was the desperation for this to go through, a virtual death notice was placed on the back page of the Maidenhead Advertiser ahead of another EGM with one item on the agenda: to wind up the members club and replace it with a new Limited Company funded by Pharmalink.
With the scale of the club’s debt at last out in the open, there was a sense of disbelief which soon turned to anger at the way it had been covered up although I had inadvertently discovered how serious the problem was when I received a final demand from the Bank via the website mailbox.
With the very future of the club at stake, the members had little option but to accept the Pharmalink offer, with the vote carried with just one nay and a few abstentions to fold the members’ club.  
Although the manner of its passing was by necessity hasty, in truth the Victorian ideal of a club run by and for members had long outlived its utility. There were neither elected officers with deep enough pockets to subsidise semi-professional football nor a membership able to hold them to account. The long term security afforded by limited liability was long overdue, and with a group of 21st century Entrepreneurs ready to take the club on with all its manifest problems, it really was a case of the darkest light being before the dawn.
Una Loughrey was the new chairman, with husband Peter Griffin (both pictured left), brother Stephen Loughrey along with his wife Suzanne joining her on the new board of directors together with existing club officers Bob Hussey, Ken Chandler and Paul Carney.
With off the pitch matters settling down, Carl Taylor was provided with the funds to mount a relegation fight, with a first home win of the season coming at last in early January. Two more soon followed at York Road and at the end of February a win at Yeading saw the Magpies clear of the bottom three and in with a real chance of survival.
 Unfortunately everything fell apart from this point, as Taylor’s naive faith in a disparate but talented squad to execute his complex game plans crumbled as the season reached its climax. There was to be no last gasp battle for safety this time as relegation was confirmed by Easter. The sorry shambles of the team was exemplified in the final match at Histon when Chris Wild and Nana Badu failed to turn up in time to play, meaning coach Matt Gore (pictured right) had to make an impromptu debut. Only a last minute penalty save by Chico Ramos stopped the Magpies goals against column finishing on 100.
There was however an odd postscript to the season which almost saw United decide the title when it was discovered that midfielder Solomon Taiwo, who only played the first six matches of the season, had not received international clearance having previously played abroad. He went on to sign for champions Weymouth who also didn’t check his status and almost cost them the points which gave them the title.
Thus Maidenhead also lost the two points gained when Taiwo played. Another depressing statistic, outdone by the total of 63 players who wore the black and white stripes that season. All of which was dwarfed by the massive debts which almost blew the club away before the white knights of Pharmalink arrived in the nick of time. Things could only get better.
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com

Sunday, 10 December 2017


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
Part 11: 2004-05
It was bliss to be present at the dawn of the new Conference South era, as in a pleasing contrast to his first campaign at the club, John Dreyer’s team started the season in style.
On a beautiful sunny day at Park View Road, Maidenhead beat Welling 2-1 in a tightly contested match thanks to goals from the new strike partnership of Lawrence Yaku and summer signing Craig O’Connor.
By the end of August, United’s points total had already reached double figures giving rise to optimism that life at a higher level suited the Magpies.
As well as O’Connor, Dreyer had further augmented his squad with new blood by signing wingers Barrie Matthews and Jamie Cook, whilst young talents Chris Elsegood and Rod Saunders returned to York Road after a one year sabbatical.
Following the departure of Phil Wilson though, the key position of goalkeeper remained unfilled, with the replacement of the fragile Nick Hart with the hapless Michael Watkins leading to an appalling run of league form which led to Dreyer’s dismissal in November.
After a run of six matches without a win which spanned the length of September, morale was boosted with an FA Cup run. A tortuous three and a half hours of football against Kent League Whitstable was ended by a penalty shoot out in Maidenhead’s favour which set up a cracking local derby in the next round at York Road against Windsor and Eton.
The Magpies edged the tie by the odd goal in three to set up a final qualifying round match at old foes Aldershot Town. League form had not improved in the meantime, leading to a move to dismiss Dreyer in the lead up to the Cup tie which was halted when his team won three points for the first time in nine attempts, beating big spending Havant and Waterlooville at York Road thanks to a goal from the mercurial Cook (pictured right), on a memorable night for captain Brian Connor as he marked former Premier League star Dean Holdsworth out of the game.
United’s 33 year quest to return to the rounds proper of the FA Cup remained unfulfilled in a honourable failure at the Recreation Ground when Conference Aldershot won 2-1, any disappointment salved when the post match draw sent the Shots to Canvey Island.
Whilst the goalkeeper role now looked a little more solid thanks to the arrival of Australian Andy Goldman, the defence in front of him was weakened when Andy Jennings decided to leave following a head injury which led him to decide to focus on his teaching career at Eton, fearing the impact of a serious injury on his working life. His presence in the team over the last year or so was accompanied by the regular attendance at home matches of a group of his students who became known as The Eton Rifles (pictured top). I often wonder what became of them when they turned into Old Etonians, and whether a captain of industry or financial wizard might return to York Road to help ease Peter Griffin’s financial burden.
The world of work also had a detrimental impact on the Magpies attacking options as a promotion for London Underground’s Lawrence Yaku made it difficult for him tomake a timely arrival on matchdays.
None of this helped league form, and following heavy defeats at home to Cambridge and away to Grays, Chairman Jon Swan elected to dispense with the manager’s services. Sadly this was handled in a hamfisted way with Dreyer travelling to the next midweek match unaware of his fate, turning up to a County Cup tie at home to Burnham only to be ushered into the boardroom to be told he had the evening off. This was an unseemly way to dismiss the gentlemanly Dreyer, probably the friendliest manager I have encountered in my time at the club. Some said this meant he was too nice to succeed, so it was with some pride that I looked on at Wembley in 2015, as he stood on the touchline as assistant to Simon Grayson when Preston North End won the League One play off final.
Richie Goddard was on hand to step in as caretaker manager whilst a replacement for Dreyer was sought. Swan planned to entice Wealdstone’s Gordon Bartlett to take over, but after some thought Bartlett elected to stay with the Stones. With crowds plummeting below the 150 mark, the eventual appointment was the somewhat surprising figure of Windsor manager Dennis Greene.
Unlike Dreyer, Greene was not shy of asserting himself either in the local press or at the club. Bringing defender Lee Kersey and midfielder Guy Ekwalla with him up the A308, he immediately set about taking the by now bottom placed Magpies up the table with a six match unbeaten league run which included a 1-0 win at top placed Basingstoke.
A more important relationship was formed at this time when two local entrepreneurs knocked on the boardroom door and enquired whether the club might like some financial assistance. Peter Griffin and Stephen Loughrey agreed to a lucrative shirt sponsorship for the following season between the club and their Pharmalink business. As the saying goes it proved to be the start of a beautiful friendship!
On the pitch another Australian in Reading’s Adam Federici solved the goalkeeping problem for the rest of the season, his clean sheet in a 4-0 over fellow strugglers Carshalton at York Road in mid February suggesting the relegation battle might be a successful one. This failed to be a springboard to further wins although an outstanding smash and grab raid at promotion chasing Cambridge City in March thanks to a Lewis Cook goal kept hopes alive.
On Easter Monday a 4-1 humbling at bottom placed Redbridge suggested the writing was on the wall, the pressure starting to show as Greene (pictured left) made some ill judged comments to a journalist which alienated supporters.
This meant virtually every match in April was win or bust. The month started well with the double completed over Welling and a first ever win at Thurrock’s Ship Lane.
Pharmalink then threw their commercial weight behind a campaign with the Maidenhead Advertiser to boost the York Road crowd for the final two crunch home matches. The people of Maidenhead responded in kind with over 500 turning up to see Lewes beaten followed by over 600 for the visit of champions Grays Athletic. A valiant performance was not enough to stop the Essex team leaving with all three points to set up another final day showdown.
This came in the form of a straight shootout at Newport County, with the winner guaranteed to escape relegation. A four figure crowd at Spytty Park saw the Exiles ease into a two goal lead thanks to Welsh international Jason Bowen, and although O’Connor pulled a goal back in the second half from the penalty spot, there only ever looked like being one winner.
The final whistle signalled that desperate sinking feeling that only relegation brings. Newport Chairman Chris Blight offered me his profound sympathy in the boardroom, whilst in the club house Friar Tuck and a Beefeater took Greene to task over his failure to keep United up.
On the return coach journey to Berkshire, treasurer Paul Carney confided the dire state of the club’s finances, confessing a step down to the Hellenic League might be a more sensible option than a return to the Isthmian.
One club had already had had enough though as the inevitable Hornchurch bubble burst, their Billericay style financial model collapsing as their larger than life benefactor Uncle Urchin disappeared with the cupboard left bare. This meant Maidenhead won the inaugural AGM Cup, accepting the offer to remain in the Conference South due to a reprieve offered by the fiscally crippled Hornchurch’s request for demotion.
Thus the season closed in a strange atmosphere at Brian Connor’s testimonial (pictured right).  Any sense of relief at living to fight another day in the Conference South being tempered by the realisation that another season of struggle was in prospect.
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com