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.

Monday, 12 February 2018


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Part 18a: 2011/12
The narrow escape from relegation the previous April meant a rebuilding job was required by Drax in the final year of his current contract. Most of the players drafted in for the successful battle against the drop left although Anthony Thomas, Jon Scarborough and Leon Solomon remained to play a significant role in the campaign ahead along with  youngsters Alex Wall, Martel Powell and Reece Tison-Lascaris. The exciting talent of the latter was complemented by more experienced new blood from the previously untapped source of the West Country. Goalkeeper Steve Williams encouraged former teammates Leigh Henry, Chris Taylor and Ashan Holgate to try their luck at York Road, and they were followed later in the season by Michael Pook. Ironically Williams was unable to agree a new deal and left before the season started, Billy Lumley taking the gloves for the lion’s share of the season. The squad was completed by the return of striker Manny WIlliams, and although he made it into the Sierra Leone national squad, he did not recapture his prior free scoring form from his first spell at York Road.
A long hard season appeared to be in prospect when the first two games were both lost 4-0 but this was followed by a run of five wins in the next seven outings to settle the team in mid table. Sadly one of these wins at Farnborough on August Bank Holiday Monday ended the season of creative midfielder Taylor who was stretchered off with a broken leg. He was followed onto the casualty list by captain Mark Nisbet, whose presence in the centre of defence was much missed as United went onto ship four goals in a game a further five times before the season was over.
For the second season in a row, league form slipped as interest in the FA Cup took hold. The run that followed secured Drax a two year extension to his contract thanks to performances which turned out to be his highpoint in the competition at the club.
First up were Farnborough, who took the Magpies back to Cherrywood Road for a replay, but were left ruing the chance to win the tie at the first time of asking when they had a man advantage after goalkeeper Sam Beasant was sent off in the first half. The ten men of United actually finished the match the stronger team, and won the replay by a more comfortable margin than the 3-2 scoreline suggested.
This win led to the daunting prospect of a visit from Woking  to York Road. The Cards were already well set on a course to win the Conference South but were blown away in the first half of the Cup tie thanks to some breathtaking attacking play from Thomas, Holgate (right) and Tison-Lascaris. In what was probably the best 45 minutes of Drax’s ten years in charge of the Magpies, his team went into the break 4-1 and the tie all but won.
The final scoreline was unchanged to set up a final qualifying round trip to Godalming Town, who despite their lowly status were having an invincible season. This proved to be no cause for concern for the Magpies who romped home 5-0 thanks in part to a hat trick from the unlikely source of full back Leon Solomon.
For the first time in the club’s history Football League opposition were drawn to play an FA Cup tie at York Road in the First Round Proper. That it was Aldershot took the sheen off the glamour of the tie a little given the frequency of the Shots recent visits to York Road since they had reformed, but all this was forgotten once the tie kicked off before a packed house of over 2,281.
The majority roared with joy when Thomas put United ahead with an audacious chip from distance in the sixth minute. Maidenhead more than held their own and as time drew on a place in the second round for the first time since the nineteenth century became a distinct possibility.
However Shots manager Dean Holdsworth decisively introduced winger Alex Rodman from the bench, and he managed to get around the back of the United defence to square the ball to Michael Rankine to equalise with thirteen minutes left.
The match ended 1-1 but the Magpies’ chance was gone as they were easily beaten 2-0 in the replay.
Back in the league a relegation battle loomed despite a brief rally over Christmas when ten points were taken over four games including a win at Salisbury. This change in form was inspired by the brief return of Richard Pacquette whose three goals in his five appearances earned him a move to Lincoln City.
United continued their dalliance with the relegation zone but a tremendous 2-0 win at the start of March at champions elect Woking thanks to a superb intervention on his debut by sub Charlie Strutton suggested that there would be a somewhat less stressful end to the season this time round with eleven matches left to play.
However no further wins followed in the next ten games, with even a visit to the wooden spoon contenders Hampton only returning a point. The nadir was reached over the Easter weekend against fellow strugglers Staines and Farnborough.
On the Saturday at Wheatsheaf Park, combative midfielder Jermaine Hinds was sent off minutes after coming on as a second half sub for the second consecutive match, as a dire game ended goalless.
Easter Monday brought initial joy as the Magpies raced into a 2-0 lead against Farnborough at York Road only for the visitors to retrieve the match after the break and eventually run out 4-3 winners.
Next up were Woking, who sealed the title at York Road with a 1-0 win from the penalty spot in front of a large away following.
A point at Dover in the penultimate match denied them a playoff spot but this meant that even a win in the final match against Eastleigh at York Road would require other results to go the Magpies way if they were to stay up.                                       To be continued...

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


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Part 17: 2010/11
As a new decade got underway, Maidenhead United found itself at a crossroads. Established at Conference South level but without the infrastructure to actively pursue promotion, the target was to maintain divisional status whilst continuing the fruitful process of developing players for transfer higher up the ladder. Although seeds of the fully fledged community club which would emerge later in the decade had started to bloom in the form of a Ladies team, the Junior Magpies scheme providing free entry for under 16s and a genuine development team for under 23s, there was a long way to go before this would feed through to bigger attendances which for the meantime hovered around the 300s. In addition, although the case for a new stand was uncontestable, it would take a few drafts before a plan of sufficient quality and value was found for the ideal location.
The youthful squad which promised so much during the previous season was augmented in central defence by Andrew Fagan, whilst Ashley Nicholls returned to provide experience in the centre of midfield. Steve Williams replaced Chris Tardif between the sticks.
All went well to begin with as the season started with a terrific win at relegated Ebbsfleet, Martel Powell coming off the bench to score on his debut despite the Magpies being reduced to nine men. This was followed by three more wins in August including a 2-0 victory at the new big guns in the division, Woking.
This impressive start could not be maintained but the football remained entertaining if a little frustrating when a 2-0 lead at home to Staines was squandered in stoppage time, as the Swans equalised then won the game. League form deteriorated as the fruitful left wing partnership between Jamal Fyfield and Sam Collins was broken when the former was signed by York City leaving the latter as a shadow of the player who had won the 2010 player of the year award.
Fans were initially distracted by a brief but enjoyable Cup run which ended in defeat in the final qualifying round at Forest Green Rovers after an unforgettable day out at Cinderford at the previous stage. United then crashed out of the Trophy with a humiliating defeat at home to lowly Uxbridge on a day to forget for rookie goalkeeper Dexter Burt.
This sparked a mini response in the league with a run of five matches without defeat starting at Dover as a forward line boosted by the veteran striker Cliff Akurang squared the match at Crabble with two goals in the last ten minutes. This was topped by a superb 2-0 win at Bromley at the end of December, Nicholls sealing the points with an exquisite chip from the edge of the penalty area.
Two days later the New Year started with a more accurate taste of things to come though as despite opponents Basingstoke going down to ten men in the opening stages, and Alex Wall then giving United the league, ‘Stoke rallied to take a well deserved point away from York Road.
The win at Bromley proved to be the last league win for over three months, a run lasting seventeen matches. As the club celebrated its 140th anniversary with a representative match against 1870s FA Cup rivals Oxford University, the spectre of relegation loomed large.
Chairman Peter Griffin loosened the purse strings in a bid to change fortunes on the pitch as Drax imported a string of experienced heads in the form of Leon Solomon, Jon Scarborough, Grant Cooper, Nevin Saroya, Will Hendry, Anthony Thomas, Jefferson Louis and Craig Faulconbridge although it was a young winger on loan from Aldershot, Max Worsfold who was to have the biggest impact.
A point at Hampton stopped a run of nine straight league defeats and gave cause for optimism as April began with a trip to bottom markers Lewes. However in an awful match with virtually no shots on target at either end, the Rooks won the game with a penalty and a return to the Southern League beckoned for the Magpies.
Little more than 48 hours later I travelled to Basingstoke with next to no hope never mind expectation, an attitude confirmed when the home team took a two goal lead after only ten minutes. By the hour mark though the Magpies led 4-3 then hung on for dear life to the elusive win, a late Williams penalty save  securing the three points.
A point at home to Hampton was followed by a first league win at York Road since August when a Will Hendry goal defeated Eastleigh to leave the away fans calling for their manager’s head.
United then escaped the relegation places thanks to the goal of the season from Worsfold in stoppage time at Thurrock. Another later winner, this time from Ashley Smith at Staines stretched the margin of safety to four points but a point in the penultimate match at home to Dorchester left the relegation trap door open on the final day of the season.
The required point was not forthcoming but defeat to Dartford was matched by a similar failure for Thurrock meaning the Shoppers took the final relegation spot.
Such was the skin of the teeth nature of another great escape for Drax, the small matter of the defence of the County Cup was almost an afterthought. Having sailed through to the final against Wycombe at Chesham, a crazy first half saw United retrieve a two goal deficit by half time and after a more sedate second period the Chairboys finally won by the odd goal in five seven minutes into stoppage time to avenge a similar defeat twelve months earlier.
End of season thoughts though were very much concentrated on the way the club had gone backwards in the league, with a summer of serious repair work required by Drax to improve his squad.
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


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
Part 16: 2009/10
As a decade of extremes drew to a close there was one clear target for the Magpies, maintain Conference South status. It was achieved with relative comfort after a testing start to the season and was followed by a County Cup win allowing all at York Road to end the season with a sense of ease, as after all the ups and downs which two and a half promotions, one and a half relegations, five and a half managers and four chairmen entailed, United were entitled to feel established at the highest level of semi professional football and secure in their much loved old ground.
The summer of 2009 had seen a high turnover of playing staff as the previous winter’s budget cut took a firm hold. Mark Nisbet was rightfully awarded the club captaincy and would remain a steadying influence in defence, this was complemented by one new experienced signing for every other part of the team in the form of goalkeeper Chris Tardif, midfielder Bradley Quamina and striker Kieran Knight.  
The overriding tone of the squad was youth, with right back Jack Bradshaw, midfielder Daniel Brown, and strikers Kieran St. Aimie and Alex Wall all playing a significant role. However the standout young talent was to be found on the left flank where player of the year Sam Collins (pictured right) forged a fruitful partnership with full back Jamal Fyfield.
The season started with promising goalless draw at home to highly fancied Dover, the raw talent of Wall almost producing a late winner on his debut. A first win though did not arrive til the Magpies ninth outing and another season of struggle looked to be in prospect, especially when big spending Truro flew up to Berkshire to cause a Cup upset with a 5-2 win in the second qualifying round.
United’s fortunes changed with the arrival of creative midfielder Will Hendry who was looking to resurrect his career after a failed move to Dagenham. Arriving at the start of October he earned the divisional player of the month award by scoring five goals in seven matches. The first three games all ended in wins by an aggregate score of twelve goals to nil. The pick was a 3-0 victory at ambitious Eastleigh, Hendry sealing the three points with a superb virtuoso goal.
This short burst of form gave United the boost they required to draw clear of the bottom three and were now well set to finish in lower mid table whilst Hendry had earned a move to Wimbledon.
League progress was accompanied by a short but enjoyable FA Trophy run to the last 32. Bath City were defeated for the first time, and then the Magpies won at exciting tie at Bishop’s Stortford. This brought Barrow to Berkshire in the next round. A cold snap which left the York Road snowbound delayed the tie for a week or so with the Bluebirds snatching a tight 1-0 win en route to winning the Trophy at Wembley.
Similar progress was made in the County Cup with a trip to Thatcham standing between the Magpies and a first final appearance in three seasons. This looked unlikely when the Kingfishers took a 2-0 lead in the first half and almost put themselves out of reach early in the second half, only for the woodwork to keep Magpie interest alive.  A triple substitution set United on the road to recovery, two quick goals leading to extra time. This saw Thatcham reduced to nine men, with Maidenhead finally winning the game with two more goals as penalties loomed.
Back in league a 4-1 win at Weston-super-mare calmed relegation nerves and sparked an eight match run when only two matches were lost. This included a 4-1 humbling at recently crowned champions Newport but ended with another win at Bishops Stortford which guaranteed Conference South status for the following season with four matches in hand.
The season ended with a thrilling 3-2 County Cup Final win at Marlow against a strong Wycombe Wanderers team, future Scottish international Matt Phillips equalising for the Chairboys after Kieran Knight had given the Magpies an early lead.  Sam Collins capped a brilliant season early in the second half by restoring United’s lead with a superb dipping strike to score his eleventh goal of the campaign. Wycombe again equalised to take the tie to extra time when Alex Wall (pictured right) then won the cup and the club’s Golden Boot award with what proved to be a lucky thirteenth goal of the season.
Thus the season ended in an atmosphere of hope and expectation at the potential of Magpies young talent.
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


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
Part 15: 2008/09
Despite a best ever Conference South finish in 2008, survival was seen as a scant return for the investment in the playing squad. However an unbeaten run in April to secure safety would act as a foundation for a season when United would raise the question of promotion.
Top score Manny Williams moved up to the Conference with Woking but a replacement in Richard Pacquette (pictured right) was already in situ, and he was joined up front with exciting young talent Mustafa Tiryaki (pictured left).
Their supply route would be provided by classy left winger Dale Binns whilst the defence was shored up by new goalkeeper Shane Gore and full backs Tyron Smith and Narada Bernard. Ashley Nicholls improved the central midfield with his tireless running from box to box.
The Magpies hit the ground running, a Lee Newman brace at Bromley securing an opening day win, and the first three points of seventeen earned from the twenty available in the first seven matches. The last three of these at Fisher Athletic on September 1st, saw United hit top spot in the Conference South for the first time.
This set up a top of the table at resurgent Wimbledon, the Dons disabusing United of any title notions with a comfortable 3-1 win.
For once there was little joy in any of the knockout competitions but the pleasure derived from watching improved league form week in week out meant this was shrugged off.
The team peaked perfectly on my birthday, destroying Worcester City 5-0 at York Road, new signing Rocky Baptiste notching his first goal for the club. This set up a real promotion clash with Chelmsford City for the next match at York Road, a crowd of almost 800 turning up only to once again see the Magpies found wanting when it came to a stiffer test, the Clarets winning 2-0.
At the turn of the year though, the playoffs was very much a realistic target and a plan was hatched to renovate the existing stand to ensure it could accommodate the five hundred seats required to meet the criteria to qualify off the pitch.
However heavy snow at the start of February stalled the season, and in the unexpected winter break Chairman Peter Griffin announced three decisions which would have consequences for both the short and long term future of the club. Firstly he decided to cut the playing budget. Initially this only led to the departure of Dale Binns to Hayes & Yeading United, and a loan to Histon of top scorer Richard Pacquette to test his Conference potential, but it signalled the break up of a promising squad over the summer. This naturally led to  a second decision not to install the extra seats in the stand and therefore ended any interest in the playoffs. Finally after three years of discussion with the council, it had become clear that planning permission for a new ground in the Maidenhead area of the standard required for the Conference and beyond would not be forthcoming. Therefore Griffin announced that the club would no longer seek to move away from York Road, bringing to an end twenty five years of speculation.
The air of initial disappointment around the club at losing the opportunity to seek promotion was compounded by the confirmation that popular striker Lee Newman had been jailed for drug dealing. However as the season drew to a close results matched those at the start, helped by the burgeoning talent of Tiryaki, as five wins and two draws in seven matches meant the final game of the season at home to Hampton would offer the possibility of a top five finish. This hope ended when Pacquette was sent of early in the match, as the Beavers secured their runners up place with a 3-0 win.
The fledgling partnership of Pacquette and Tiryaki which saw both of them score prolifically quickly came to an end as they were snapped up by York and Havant respectively. They were joined on the way out by player of the season Ashley Nicholls who moved to Bishops Stortford to herald a summer of rebuilding with tighter purse strings for Johnson Hippolyte. Having at last consolidated their position in the Conference South and at York Road, another milepost was reached in stabilising the club as a traumatic decade started to draw to a close. With average crowds breaking the 400 mark for the first time in a generation thanks to winning football, the dilemma for the club was how to develop hand in hand the playing side with a ground fit for the twenty first century.  It was a problem that would take six years to solve.  
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


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Part 14: 2007/08
Having made an immediate return to the Conference South, the first target was to stay up on the pitch for the first time in this division. Stability off the pitch was also the watchword as the club continued to recover from the lasting effects of the three turbulent seasons that had just passed.
Johnson Hippolyte strengthened his squad over the summer to be better equipped for the higher level, signing goalkeeper Louis Wells, midfielder Wes Daly, and attacking pair Carl Wilson-Dennis and Manny Williams (pictured right). It was the latter who despite his small stature had the biggest impact, scoring thirty goals, a beacon of consistency in a season which promised much but only just delivered the minimum requirement. 
This was reflected in microcosm in the opening match against Fisher Athletic. The chairman’s innovative approach to engaging the local community to support their team continued to develop with this match being deemed “pay what you want”.  A season’s best league crowd of 691 flocked through the York Road turnstiles to see Williams score on his debut, but a classy Fisher outfit, replete with players bound for a bigger stage, won by the odd goal in five. This heralded an opening period of struggle for United with only one three point haul, at Sutton United on August Bank Holiday Monday, in the first eleven matches.
It was at this time that the club heard the news of the sad death of former committee member Richard Jackson who had retired down to south Wales. I had happily taken on many of Richard’s responsibilities since he stepped down from his club duties a few years previously. In no particular order these included the programme, the PA, the telephone hotline and having a stopwatch to hand on the terraces, hoping he saw imitation as the greatest form of flattery!

As with the previous season, it was the Cup competitions which brought light relief from league woe. The County Cup produced a first ever trip to Stadium MK (Jason Stewart pictured above enjoying the room), which although ending in a comprehensive defeat to MK Dons, gave the Magpies a taste of playing in a modern arena which was at the time part of England’s World Cup bid. Ironically the FA Trophy brought AFC Wimbledon to York Road, in front of the only four figure crowd of the season, most of which cheered the Dons to a comfortable 2-0 win.
For the second season in a row, the Magpies reached the FA Cup 1st Round proper, following easy wins over minnows Brockenhurst and Shortwood, before squeezing past Hayes & Yeading United at York Road thanks to the ubiquitous Williams goal. The win came at the cost of a broken leg to Bobby Behzadi which ended his season. Watching the 1st round draw in the clubhouse afterwards, there were rapturous scenes (pictured top) when the Magpies were drawn away to Isthmian League Horsham. This turned out to be a great display of hubris as United yet again failed to make the second round, humbled 4-1 in Sussex, with Match of the Day rubbing in the humiliation by using footage of the Hornets first goal in their opening titles.
League form improved a little but only four games had been won by the turn of the year as Drax continued to shuffle his squad in a bid to find the right formula. The main problem was home form but a publicity stunt at the end of January when a coach picked up the squad at York Road for a drive around the town before the home match against Braintree (pictured left), failed to increase the solitary home league win total.
This hadn’t changed by the end of February and the five consecutive defeats that followed in March meant that the drop was once again a likely prospect. Matters weren’t helped by disruption to crucial trips to relegation rivals Dorchester Town and Weston-super-mare.
United were holding on for a vital point at their fellow Magpies in Dorset when referee Antony Coggins abandoned the match with three minutes remaining due to a waterlogged pitch. The match, rearranged for midweek on all fools day became the sixth consecutive defeat.
The following weekend supporters travelled by train for the six pointer at Weston. This meant they made it to Somerset unlike the team which was stuck on the M4 after a lorry shed its load. The referee refused to wait a minute past 3 pm to kick off, postponing the match despite others in the area starting as late a 4:30 to accommodate the delay.
Everyone returned on a Thursday night for the rescheduled date and in the meantime United had finally come good at York Road, thrashing Bishops Stortford 5-0. Despite then going behind at Woodspring Park, Maidenhead came back to beat Weston 2-1. A third successive win at Havant two days later all but sealed safety, the season ending in an unbeaten run of five matches after the final two games ended goalless.
This late run to survival earned Drax (pictured right) the manager of the month award  for April, thanks in part to temporary signings goalkeeper Chris Tardif and striker Richard Pacquette. Although small beer, there was some cause for celebration for the Magpies at not only surviving on the pitch in the Conference South for the first time in three attempts, but also avoiding a change of manager for the first time in four season, something of a legacy for chairman Una Loughrey to hand over to husband Peter Griffin in the close season.  
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