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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, 14 May 2018


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Part 22: 2015/16

“We need a plan B”, was my response to Peter Griffin’s news that he was making an approach to Alan Devonshire about a return to the manager’s post he’d left in 2003. The intervening years had seen Alan go on to great success at the highest levels of non league football with firstly Hampton and then Braintree so I was sure that his announcement that he planned to leave Cressing Road at the end of his contract in May 2015 would lead to a string of suitors from the professional ranks. Indeed the resulting press release about his departure did lead to the Devonshire hashtag trending on Twitter but with comments such as “unfinished business” and “going home”, Alan was true to his word and arrived at York Road in mid May,
Having assessed the current squad, he deemed only six worthy of retention, namely Mark Nisbet, Sam Barratt, Ryan Upward, Harry Pritchard, Dave Tarpey and Adrian Clifton, although the latter opted for a lucrative move to Havant.
A whole new defence was imported in the shape of Carl Pentney, Ryan Peters, new captain Alan Massey, Dean Inman and Rene Steer. There were new midfield options in Josh Huggins, Kieran Forbes and James Mulley, with Ben Wright and Jake Reid the new strikeforce.
With virtually all of the new signings possessing substantial experience at a higher level there was a real sense of intent about the new set up, that this was a team that would deliver on its potential and establish the Magpies in the top half of the Conference South.
This was backed up by a super start to the season, winning at Eastbourne on the opening day despite a much delayed coach journey, and following this up with a comfortable win at York Road against Bishops Stortford on the first Tuesday. By the end of August only one match had been lost of the first seven fixtures, to get the Devonshire Era part two off and running.
Three defeats followed including a disastrous reverse at Whitehawk in a match where the Magpies led 2-0 with well over half the game gone.
The FA Cup revived fortunes but only after a last minute equaliser at Winchester from substitute Gavin James had avoided an embarrassing defeat for a United team weakened by the early dismissal of Dave Tarpey. This red card was overturned on appeal as the Magpies won the replay then edged past Blackfield and Langley in the next round to set up a final qualifying stage tie at home to Woking.
This was the match when Devonshire’s team came of age. For the first time in the club’s history, home supporters saw a national league team defeated at York Road, Forbes early opening strike stunned the Cards, and in the second half goals from Tarpey and Pritchard sealed a comfortable win and a first round tie at Port Vale.
It was Pritchard who best summed up the immediate impact of Devonshire’s return, winning the divisional player of the month award as the Cup wins were accompanied by four consecutive league wins, the final one over Basingstoke containing a Tarpey hat trick.
Pritchard had joined the club in the spring of 2012, as a highly touted local prospect. Yet despite displaying much potential as an attacking left sided midfielder, he had struggled for a regular place in the starting eleven, never making more than 30 starts in any one season.
Responding perfectly to his manager extolling the virtues of hard work and following instructions to the letter, he accepted the challenge of starting the season at left back whilst Steer achieved match fitness. He impressed to the extent that Steer’s belated debut saw him continue in midfield, finishing the season with 48 starts and the supporters’ player of the year award.
Over four hundred Magpies made their way to the Potteries for the FA Cup tie, and in a thrilling match, United held onto the coattails of the impressive League One outfit, conceding just the one goal. The stoppage time equaliser by Mulley saw him run the length of the pitch to celebrate at the away end, his boundless energy reflecting the never say die attitude of the Magpies supported by Devonshire’s focus on fitness which time and again paid dividends with late goals.
The replay was selected for live coverage by BT Sport with tickets selling out quickly, and despite the eventual 3-1 defeat, the stimulus of hope injected by Massey’s opening goal, made it a night to remember.
That the cup glory would inspire further feats in the league seemed likely following a stunning win at Maidstone on a chilly Tuesday in December. Stand in captain Mulley, was a tour de force in midfield against a team bound for promotion and one of just three teams to take three points from York Road all season.
However what followed was a run of ten league games without a win as well as revenge for Woking with a 6-1 win at Kingfield to end United’s interest in the FA Trophy. Five of the ten matches returned a point, including an amazing, and long, day out to Truro to share eight goals, half of them being scored by player of the month Tarpey.
A neutral onlooker may have considered the season as conforming to the usual pattern of a promising start, then a Cup run before faltering in the league but this was a pattern that was to be broken once and for all.
A recruit for the long term had been made in November when Christian Smith had arrived, but it was a second signing in February, initially on loan, that spurred a late season push for the play offs.
James Comley’s creative ability in the centre of midfield was a welcome complement to the work ethic already present throughout the team, and it helped to spark a run of nine games with only one defeat. This spell of good form built to a crescendo at York Road over the Easter Weekend. At the instigation of the manager, the match against Bath City was brought forward to Good Friday. On a beautiful sunny day, the public of Maidenhead, tempted by a cup run and solid home form, at last came out in their droves to support the town’s team. With no incentive but the increasingly popular York Road experience a crowd of 899 turned out to see the Magpies first ever league win over Bath. This was followed on Easter Monday by the “away” match against tenants Hayes, the ensuing 5-2 win leaving Maidenhead lying in the final play off place of fifth with six games left to play in the final month of the season.
A Jake Reid hat trick won the next home match against Whitehawk but this proved to be the only three point return as the season petered out to a seventh placed finish, still the highest for eight seasons.
More importantly though, crowds had risen again to their highest for over forty years as good home form at last matched the many years of hard work off the pitch to build the new stand, grow the Junior Magpies membership, and engage the local community.
With everything at the club now working in harmony, the challenge was to continue to meet raised expectations.

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

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