About Me

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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For nine seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The original 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. In August 2010 I also decided to write posts about all the matches I have attended. At the end of the 2010-11 season I stood down from all my duties at Maidenhead United due to an exciting development in my teaching career, but remain a director of the club and will continue to blog as time allows and inclination demands.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Absolute shower in Bath

The Bath goalkeeper cuts a lone figure in his own half
An away day in Bath is always a pleasure if only because of the beautiful scenery and general ambience of the city and its suburb of Twerton where the ground is based. Results however have conformed to a pattern that has long become exasperating. Maidenhead United played Team Bath three times in Somerset and won every time, despite the opposition being a superior league opponent on each occasion. Sadly those results are fast fading in the memory and therefore its the Magpies 100% losing record against Bath City on their home turf which was the first thing that came to mind when previewing the fixture.
Who knows why this is. Maybe its a joke being played on the travelling Magpies who have seen the team in black and white stripes win on every visit. In previous years a defeat was generally seen as the most likely result given the two teams relative positions but this season with Bath struggling a little more than usual, and Maidenhead in fine form away from home in the league hopes were high that the losing sequence could be broken with at least a draw.
The return of DJ Campbell and Simon Downer to the starting eleven furthered boosted hopes but as it turned out it was the absence of midfield talisman Adrian Clifton through suspension which had the biggest impact on the United performance on an afternoon where it felt like if it could go wrong it did.
From the kick off Maidenhead attacked, Danny Green's effort going over the bar, and that proved to be pretty much it for the Magpies in terms of chances to score, on an afternoon where the paucity of their performance was only matched by that of referee Chris O'Donnell.
Once Maidenhead's optimistic early burst of enterprise had blown itself out Bath took charge, serving notice on the United goal when Frankie Artus had an effort cleared off the line by Devante McKain. With Downer fit again, McKain resumed his role in midfield as a defensive screen but it was his counterpart in the Bath team Chas Hemmings who stole the show managing to both protect his defence and regularly set up attacks by firing passes deep into either corner. This was the hallmark of Bath's performance, disciplined defence and simple forward play which was capitalised on by strikers Dave Pratt and Nick McCootie who worked like trojans to fetch the ball from wide positions to create opportunities to score.
It was this tactic which set up the game's opening goal when Andy Watkins cut in from the right to shoot. Goalkeeper Will Britt dealt with the shot pushing the ball wide across the face of the goal only for the onrushing Leon Solomon to head the ball into his own net.
Bath were not shy to capitalise on their good fortune, Mark Nisbet being forced to clear off the line, and then McCootie forcing a good save from Britt. In the meantime Maidenhead lost their topscorer Dave Tarpey who was bundled over by a clumsy challenge from Artus which would have looked more in place at the City's famous rugby club. After receiving treatment, Tarpey was helped off ultimately to hospital with a suspected dislocated shoulder, his pain added to by moronic jeers at his plight from the home supporters in the paddock in front of the main stand. Maybe their view of the incident was unclear give the lack of first half floodlights on a gloomy afternoon.
After the break Maidenhead showed signs of a recovery but all was lost when Bath doubled their lead just after the hour mark when McCootie applied a fine finish to Pratt's cross from the right. Within minutes Maidenhead's task was made nigh on impossible when Tarpey's replacement on the left wing Harry Pritchard was inexplicably sent off. 
The incident began when Dan Bowman, who had just been booked, raced to block a throw in being taken quickly by Maidenhead on the right, well advanced down the wing. This should have resulted in a second caution and a red card for Bowman but the referee ignored this and then as Bowman tussled with Pritchard in anticipation of receiving the throw in, the red card was brandished in Pritchard's direction much to the surprise of all concerned. This was reportedly for an elbow, which judging by Bowman's ability to comfortably maintain his stance seemed rather ridiculous.
The rest of the game all felt a bit matter of a fact from that point with the scoring being completed by Pat Keary with a header from a corner, and inevitably Pratt in the last minute with the goal of the game all much to the delight of the handful of free loaders watching the game for nothing in the far corner.
All in all on the pitch the worst ninety minutes of the season with consequences to follow from Tarpey's injury and Pritchard's red card. United now have a break from league football for three weeks with just a couple of cup ties in between. With the last home game a distant memory, a home draw tomorrow for the Trophy tie on 29th November would be most welcome to hopefully inspire a return to the form shown at York Road in October.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Magpies knock on Wood

As always the Conference god of fixtures decreed that United's trip to Boreham Wood would be on a Monday night, but here the similarities with previous years ended. Usually what happens at Meadow Park is that the Magpies get a toehold in the game early on before comfortably succumbing to a superior Wood team in front of a crowd struggling to reach three figures. However tonight this was far from the case as Maidenhead did enough to win the game and even came close to rescuing a point after the home team had overturned the deficit. For once the official attendance of 256 felt accurate, with although it seems few locals coming out to see their team defend their position at the top of the table, the fact that it was one of the only games on attracting plenty of groundhoppers. For example at the station on the way back I met two season ticket holders from Leyton Orient, a group of seven Norwegians on a week's trip of English football grounds, in addition to the Bracknell fan I'd met in the ground.
Wood's position as front runners is testament to their tightly run operation. They are very much a football business with their own academy and well oiled links with professional clubs such as Arsenal, Reading and Luton. This has ensured a steady flow of talent into a small but effective squad with one loanee from  Lee Angol going on to score the vital equaliser. 
Good, but not as good as ours
As well as having playing staff of the requisite standard, the pitch has always been of top quality and this is now looked over by an impressive new stand which is almost as good as the one at York Road. Even though they have built it, still they don't come. Surely the missing piece in the Boreham Wood jigsaw is a support worthy of a club bidding to take their place in the Conference Premier. Perhaps the £13 entry (inclusive of a £2.50 programme which ran out before kick off) is a deterrent. With no concession for students there is one market segment lost. Certainly the town's population seem ripe for plucking from the bosom of the bigger clubs they doubtless follow giving the current climate surrounding pro clubs and value for money.
Still the welcome from all at the Wood is friendly enough, the barman kindly changing the channel at my request so we could watch the FA Cup draw, his customer service skills then being rewarded by the bloke behind me who offered "one for yourself" after ordering two coffees.
As expected the game began at a high tempo with both sides giving everything to win the game throughout. Both sides had chances to take the lead as the first half drew on. Adrian Clifton had a great chance to open the scoring for United but goalkeeper James Russell did not commit himself to the last second and was able to palm the shot wide. At the other end Will Britt made a good save from Junior Morias and then had Devante McKain to thank for clearing a Callum Reynolds effort off the line. 
With seven minutes to go to the break, Dave Tarpey received the ball in space on the left, ignoring claims of offside to fire the ball home in his trademark style to give Maidenhead the lead. Britt then earned his half time cup of tea by tipping a Matthew Whichelow long range shot over the bar.
Maidenhead started the second half determined to justify their lead and just ahead of the hour mark had a chance to double it as Clifton burst clear through the middle only to be denied once more by Russell. The swift wing play of Morias and Whichelow then started to wear United down. A couple of crosses across the face of the Maidenhead goal served notice that Wood were not going to settle for a defeat and with fourteen minutes remaining Angol converted one from Whichelow at close range to equalise. The goal was Angol's eleventh in fourteen appearances, a remarkable transformation given his uncertain spell at York Road a year ago.
Showing no side effects of playing two games in three days, Wood now pushed for a winner, Morias hitting the post and Ricky Shakes having a shot tipped wide by Britt. Maidenhead still harboured ideas of taking all three points though and it proved to be this ambition that was their undoing as from a Magpie corner, Wood counterattacked, the ball finding Morias on the left wing.  He just about stayed on his feet following a desperate challenge from Tarpey and then regained his composure to cut inside and score.
With three minutes remaining Maidenhead did all they could to rescue a deserved point from the game and deep into stoppage time Russell again proved his worth with a tremendous last ditch save from substitute Sam Barratt.
Maidenhead left the field then beaten but unbowed. They had matched the league leaders for ninety minutes and can consider themselves unfortunate to take nothing from the game. Wood on the other hand had shown with their persistently high quality attacking play that they are made of the stuff of champions. The highlights of the game would have been a great video to market their talents but I doubt if even the most loyal of supporters will pay the £4 requested to watch them.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Guerilla Groundhopping

Where am I?
With no Maidenhead United game to go to and a free afternoon I opted to eschew the hoopla of the FA Cup first round and continue my quest to visit every senior football ground within the M25 with a taste of the white heat of the East Surrey derby between Chipstead and Redhill.
Chipstead is a remarkable place in urban football terms, a mile from the nearest bus stop with dire warnings on their website about walking a similar distance from the nearest railway station due to the perilous nature of a pavement free road connecting the two. A bit of a mission to get to and if you will a case of guerilla groundhopping, trekking through the wilds of the Surrey countryside to find a tidy little ground in a surprisingly bucolic setting. 
Walking up a steep hill it was clear that this was going to be a big tick, a feeling which grew as I headed onto a footpath and then a virtually deserted village green, the lonely church and war memorial looking particularly poignant given the time of year. At this point I realised I was lost so with no tell signs of floodlights to guide I opted for the right hand fork of a country road which eventually brought me to semi civilisation in the form of a pavement and the shouts of footballers warming up for the forthcoming game.
Despite their location Chipstead FC appear to be a thriving institution with an FA Charter Standard. This reflects a busy junior section and their commitment to the wider community further shown by the cover of the programme (complimentary with £9 entry) showing a Zambian team wearing a hand me down Chipstead strip lining up for a game alongside their opposition wearing presumably a similarly donated Manchester United kit.
Evidently the people living a few miles away in suburbs such as Coulsdon and Purley not to mention the village of Chipstead itself (again a good mile or so away) have a local club to be proud of, although the crowd at the tidy, functional ground numbered not much more than 60 with a good proportion travelling from Redhill.
Chipstead pride
Both teams are struggling for form in the Isthmian League Division One South so it was not surprising that the opening stages of the game were very tight, with little in the way of goalmouth action. Naturally the home team's 4-4-2 was trying hardest to be 4-2-4 but the Redhill defence marshalled by the lanky Jordan Anderson soaked up the early pressure and began to try to exploit an obvious of ploy of an early ball forward to pacy gloved striker Javlon Campbell.
View from the main stand
This option bore fruit midway through the first half when Campbell ran clear only to miss his one on one opportunity. This proved to be a cause of regret within minutes as the Stakhanovite industry of Derek Tieku was rewarded when he was fouled in the penalty area, Dan Moody converting the spot kick.
Despite the deficit, Redhill looked to have the better of the first half and deservedly equalised just before the interval when Connor French broke through the offside trap to score.

Does this seat count towards the ground grading?
After the break it was Chipstead who played the better football, with some slick passing in the final third which gradually wore down the Redhill defence. Man of the match Moody who was an inspirational presence on the right wing almost completed the comeback when his deflected shot was well saved by Redhill goalkeeper Michael Hunter. The home team then had a let off when Joe Bingham missed an open goal from ten yards out with Chipstead goalkeeper Milan Stojsavljevic stricken on the ground.
My sympathy for the home team was starting to waver due to Jack Buckle's constant moaning at the referee, but their claim for a first win in seven games was fully justified by an absolute thronker of a goal from twenty yards by Adam Willis.
With Redhill also on a poor run of one win in nine matches the dying minutes were a little desperate with pained shouts of "keep it in the corner". By this point I was standing under the roof behind the goal ready to make a quick exit. I soon realised I was standing in front of someone who doubtless calls himself the Bantmeister General, judging by the way at half time he had announced his arrival in the Gents with a comment to no one in particular of "this is where it all hangs out", and provided the final minutes with a background commentary of the Mike Hunt scene from Porky's, all of which made the sound of the final whistle something of a relief.
Can you see Mike Hunt?

Muddy boots tea bar on the far right

Sunday, 2 November 2014

United Colours of Football

Welcome to suburbia
That no one associated with either side would have gone home disappointed if not happy seemed apt on a day when the occasion itself overshadowed a so so match fairly reflected by the 1-1 result. The day saw football at its a best, a social context for bringing people together and enjoying a day off work, rather than the raging soccerist mania which wall to wall media eagerly whips up on a daily basis.
The source of the rosy tinted tinge to my reflection of yesterday was to be found in the pub opposite Ruislip Manor station which like the evocatively named Tropic of Ruislip bar at the ground served Amstel on tap. Certainly it made a change to enter a pub on a matchday containing a dozen or more Maidenhead United fans. It also provided a starting line for a joke that begins: a Scotsman, Welshman and an Englishman walk into a pub,  as I was only missing someone from Northern Ireland to make up a full UK set of Magpie supporters.
I joined the Welsh contingent, made up of 1927 club members who were sponsoring the matchball, for the short walk to Grosvenor Vale, former home of Ruislip Manor FC, who were the tenants on my last visit over 19 years ago. In between times I had seen Wealdstone play at Edgware and Northwood, as they resembled a non league Battlestar Galactica, a raggle taggle army on a nomadic trek to find a place called home.
At that time Wealdstone fans had something of a reputation as being "trouble" so it was pleasing to find that this could not be further than the truth, and as well as seeing them at games between the two clubs, I played in a supporters game and attended Stones Aid, which saw bands playing Wealdstone themed songs to help raise money for their abortive attempt to develop a ground in Canons Park which is now controversially Barnet's New Hive. In my role as programme editor I switched printers to Martin Lacey's Juma who had also produced the Elmslie Ender fanzine edited by Sudhir Rawal, who to neatly tie up this paragraph followed me through the turnstile at yesterday's game.
The dressing rooms were also full of links between the clubs which were best reflected by the comprehensive interview with Daniel Brown in the excellent match programme. Drax was a former Wealdstone player whilst one wonders how the history of both clubs might have changed had the rumours about Gordon Bartlett being offered the Maidenhead manager's job ten years ago following the departure of John Dreyer.
Pill Box
Bereft of a generous benefactor but blessed by a committed and sizeable support, Wealdstone replaced Ruislip Manor at Grosvenor Vale in 2008 and set about the not inconsiderable task of improving the ground sufficiently to move up the non league pyramid. To put this into perspective Ruislip Manor had been effectively forced to leave the Isthmian league in 1996 due to the state of the ground, with only one small stand and the odd piece of concrete terrace. There was a curio of a World War Two pill box and I was pleased that this remained whilst DIY improvements could be seen all around the ground.
Mind the poles
The blinding autumn sun prevented me from standing behind the goal in the first half which was just as well given the way multiple scaffold poles obscured the view. The ensuing game saw Maidenhead have the lion's share of the play but Wealdstone create the best chances. This trend began virtually from the kick off as Wealdstone stretched the Maidenhead defence with some quick wing play whilst United won the first of a series of corners which would number 15 by the final whistle. One of these was caused by a Danny Green effort which was blocked by goalkeeper Jonathan North and then cleared of the line by Sean Cronin. Later in the half North performed similarly heroics to block an Eddie Hutchinson shot whilst Devante McKain went close with a text book header into the ground which bounced up over the bar.
Whereas the feature of these chances was overbearing pressure, Wealdstone's goalscoring opportunities were marked by their quality. Luke O'Nien should have done better when he received a decent cross into the box from Connor Calcutt. United's on loan goalkeeper Will Britt then showed his prodigious talent with a superb save low down from a free kick expertly chipped over the wall by Matt Ball.
The second half saw more of the same as Wealdstone defended with depth and discipline to prevent Maidenhead finding their way through to goal. It was clear that patience would be the key to success for the Magpies, with a Wealdstone fan telling me at the interval that they had been plagued by late goals all season.
Midway through the half it was Ashley Nicholls' turn to have a shot blocked on the line and it began to look like one of those days for the Magpies as the youth of Shane Lucien on the left wing began to get the better of the experience of Bobby Behzadi at right back.
With seventeen minutes remaining Lucien took advantage of the space created by his pace on the left to cut inside and beat Britt with a delightful chip in to the far corner. Any thoughts that this would see Wealdstone shut up shop for their first win of the season, were dispelled when Lucien almost repeated the trick within two minutes of the restart. With the Magpies having nothing to lose the last part of the game resembled an enthralling cup tie, the play swinging from end to end.
The equaliser arrived with four minutes left as Maidenhead broke quickly, Adrian Clifton shrugging off the challenge of a defender and then finding Dave Tarpey free at the back post with his cross, Tarpey drilling the ball into the back of the net.
However rather like at Concord a fortnight ago, Maidenhead's relief at a late goal was soon replaced by panic as Wealdstone threw everything into attack to retrieve the lead. Fortunately Britt had been watching his counterpart North's last ditch blocks, and managed to save a Scott McGleish shot with his face to preserve the status quo. A couple of penalty shouts later the final whistle blew to end a game which either side could have won and therefore both would have been disappointed to lose.
Without the talimanic defender Simon Downer, Maidenhead will be happy to have earned a point, particularly in the way they carried on knocking on the door of the Wealdstone defence until it opened. This was in contrast to performances against similarly lowly opponents such as Hemel Hempstead and Farnborough. Wealdstone on the other must wonder when their luck will change although their work ethic shows them as better placed to survive than Weston-super-mare and Staines.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Taxi for Orient

Waiting to hail a Tijuana Taxi
The pleasing familiar tune of Tijuana Taxi heralded the entry of the teams onto the pitch at Brisbane Road as I took my seat for last night's match between Leyton Orient and Preston North End. However, iconic crest on the East Stand aside, this was virtually the only feature which had persisted since my last visit to E10 over eighteen years ago towards the end of the 1995/96 season to see Preston win what even then was no longer called the fourth division title.
My return had once again seen North End on the up, and on current form the Os could well be headed back to the bottom division. Three quarters of the ground had been rebuilt and in my opinion the renovation is a great improvement, particularly by removing the two characterless open terraces at either end, replacing them with purpose built stands with a steep rake to ensure a decent view of the perennially excellent playing surface. The new West Stand, containing all the club facilities also looked impressive with the only real loss being the paddock which used to be in front of the stand opposite, which now housed the away fans in the south east corner. 
However courtesy of a friend's season ticket I would once again be in the part of the ground where I had previously stood as an away fan, this time with the benefit of a plastic seat and a roof which wasn't needed thanks to the surprisingly clement weather. What essentially makes the ground though is the closed in close to the pitch feel, which resembles Brentford only better, the flats in the corner being unobtrusive as they are set back from the pitch but still do their job of making the ground feel wholly enclosed.
The two teams started as polar opposites in terms of form. Preston had won all of their last six league games whilst Orient had won none over the same span of matches. Thus it was no surprise that Preston took the initiative from the start, taking the lead when Callum Robinson finished Chris Humphrey's cross from the right wing in the nineteenth minute. It was almost 2-0 within a minute of the restart but Orient managed to smother the attack and from this point on created enough chances to go into the break ahead.
That they didn't do so was down to the inevitable law of the ex which saw Preston goalkeeper Jamie Jones do enough in the remainder of the first half to merit a man of the match award. Playing the more attractive football through the midfield, Orient created a number of chances only to be denied by Jones. First up was Jay Simpson who burst clear but was unable to convince Jones to go to ground before he shot for goal, Jones maintaining enough balance to flail a hand strong enough to divert the ball wide. Then from a corner Simpson had a shot blocked on the line by David Buchanan. Finally with half time in sight a Shane Lowry cross from the left found Gianvito Plasmati whose shot was stopped at close range by Jones, the loose ball running to the hapless Simpson who completed a hat trick of misses by striking the ball straight at the stricken Jones.
Thus a breathtaking half ended with Preston still in front, with both teams fully committed to their clubs' cause as shown by a minor melee early in the game following a series of full blooded tackles which saw Buchanan booked.
The second half revealed more about the character of the two sides and suggested their prospective fates this season. Preston showed excellent commitment to defend their lead increasing their defensive line to five to crowd out the Orient attack, North End seeking respite by pumping long balls down either flank with the aim of playing in Joe Garner to buy a foul in a handy position for a set piece free kick, the striker evidently a past master at getting under the skin of opposition defenders. 
Orient were able to maintain periods of sustained pressure around the Preston penalty area, but were unable to manufacture a clear cut chance, new signing Gianvito Plasmati clearly a stranger to his team mates up front. The introduction of young midfielder Josh Wright added an injection of pace to Orient's endeavours but the three points were sealed when Preston doubled their lead with fifteen minutes remaining from inevitably a set piece.
Unsurprisingly it was Joe Garner who won the free kick which was swung in from the right by Neil Kilkenny. A trio of players from either team tumbled over like dominoes at the far post, but Tom Clarke remained on his feet to knock the ball back into the six yard box where Paul Huntington had returned to his feet to tap the ball into the empty net. 
The final whistle saw the Preston players go over to thank their tremendous away support led at the front by a Sikh fan complete with bushy white beard and a turban in the same colour as the away shirt, who had the spent the whole game vigorously waving a North End flag. However even though they have now extended their league run to seven straight wins, Preston look hard to beat rather than unbeatable, with a stereotypically dour northern approach to the game which eschews quality for percentage football.
Leyton Orient though look to be in a sorry state, their performance carrying the air of a team able to lift their game for challenging opponents which may not be the case when they play the teams they need to take points from to preserve their third division status. Twenty years of good work by former chairman Barry Hearn, the stadium being testament to the benefit of his tenure, looks like it could be undone in a matter of weeks thanks to the Italian owner he decided to sell to. When I looked over to the home dugout last night I thought it was comedian John Bishop on the touchline rather than as it turned out temporary new manager Mauro Milanese. This would be an apt symbol of the tragi-comic series of events which saw manager Russell Slade leave Brisbane Road. The end of the relatively settled nature of Slade's reign has seen the end of the kind of stability which is too often undervalued by trigger happy owners keen to stamp their mark on a club.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Double and drop?

The sun shone once again on York Road yesterday as two goals in three minutes early in the second half set up what was ultimately a comfortable victory for the Magpies over Staines Town to complete an early season double courtesy of the arcane method of compiling the Conference South fixture list.
Maidenhead's win at Wheatsheaf Park in September was a lot easier than the 2-1 scoreline suggested, with United passing up a number of opportunities to increase their lead against ten men. Yesterday saw the opposite as by clinically taking the best two chances on offer Maidenhead made light work of a Staines team which promised much in the first half but visibly wilted once they went behind.
Drax had made a few changes to the line up that earned a point in Essex last week, with loan signings Will Britt and Connor Waldon going straight into the team, and Harry Pritchard resuming his left back role.
The first half saw both sides promise much going forward but offer little in the way of clear cut chances. With twenty minutes gone Elliott Buchanan had the best opportunity of the half to open the scoring but his header went wide for a corner. It was unclear quite how the ball went wide so the credit goes to Britt. At the other end Pritchard went close from the unlikely position of in front of the right hand post which may explain why the shot from his weaker foot hit the side netting. In between Stephane Ngamvoulou was a mite fortunate to stay on the pitch when a very late challenge floored Ashley Nicholls, the referee opting for a yellow card.
After the restart, kicking down the hill with the sun in Swans goalkeeper Jack Turner's eyes, Maidenhead soon gained the upper hand. I know I'm biased in millinery matters but Turner really should have worn a hat. With the young Maidenhead fans behind the goal showing a fine appreciation of popular culture, asking about the whereabouts of Ali G., the force was very much with United and they pushed harder and harder until the Staines defence cracked twelve minutes into the second half.
A Dave Tarpey shot was saved by Turner but the ball ran loose with Nicholls springing into action to reach it first. He then calmly beat the stricken Turner with a cool finish, which was damning in its delicateness. Staines had barely kicked off when Maidenhead won a corner which Tarpey took and placed perfectly onto the head of Adrian Clifton who made no mistake to score.
The lack of any real response from Staines to this double blow meant the game was all but over as a contest. So far this season the Conference South has been marked by its competitiveness and the absence of a real whipping boy, but with seven consecutive league defeats Staines are fast fitting the bill.

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.