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 liked to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. These days I tend to write about the matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Yesterday's Hero

York Road is no stranger to the silver screen with our FA Cup tie against Port Vale last November giving rise to memories of the early 1950s when it was used as the setting for a pivotal scene in the Ealing Studios production, The Card, starring Alec Guinness. 
In 1979 the cameras returned, this time for the Ian McShane film, Yesterday's Hero.  This was something less of a cinematic accomplishment than The Card and I only saw Yesterday's Hero for the first time this summer courtesy of the new Freeview channel Talking Pictures TV which specialises in screening what are, quite frankly, pretty mediocre UK produced B movies from the 50s, 60s and 70s.
To be honest you could move Yesterday's Hero a bit further down the alphabet, as its a story packed with cliches as hackneyed as any other football drama. Scripted by Jackie Collins, the story is centred on Rod Turner (McShane) a washed up alcoholic football star playing for Windsor (insert own joke), and features a host of familiar faces from contemporary sitcoms and soaps.
McShane at least had a claim to having the footballing talent required for the role, with his Scottish father Harry having had a long career as a Football League player with spells at Bolton Wanderers and Manchester United. The use of locations and the way real match footage is used is also creditworthy reflecting Frank McLintock's role as football adviser, with the off field action letting the film down.
York Road's role is over and done with in the first three minutes of the film which opens with a shot which pans down Bell Street with a train in  the background. The famous Bell St End then comes into with a handful of spectators watching a game, presumably between Maidenhead (in red) and Windsor (blue and white stripes). I understand the director requested that the pitch be flooded to give it an authentic glue pot appearance, which despite the sizable facility fee rather ruined the playing surface for the remainder of the season and arguably cost the Magpies promotion as they fell five points short in third place.

The action is played out over the intro song, with contemporary Maidenhead players featuring as extras. There are some magnificent shots of the ground, with the cameras on the York Road side. You can see what was the covered terrace on the railway side, plenty of grass beyond the perimeter and some tantalising shots of the stand that sadly burned down in 1986. The wall at the Bell Street end is a pre mural plain, with the scene feeling very recognisable as the club shop, tea bar and shelf come into view,
After the game Turner heads out for a drink with his father and friends at the Ivy Leaf club and the action switches to a concert by singer Clint Simon (Paul Nicholas) and partner known enigmatically as Cloudy (Suzanne Somers), a beta version of Dollar channeling the Dooleys and the Brotherhood of Man.
In the style of Pete Winkleman, Simon is the music impresario owner of third division club The Saints (no location but the players wear Southampton's away kit). who have just won their FA Cup quarter final against Birmingham Rovers at a cost of an injury to striker John Snatcher. Despite the misgivings of manager Jake Marsh (Adam Faith), Simon decides Turner is the answer to the Saints problems and sets out to recruit him at the next Windsor home game.
In the meantime, in between regular sips from a ubiquitous whisky bottle, Turner also coaches boys from a children's home whilst fending off any thoughts of commitment to girlfriend Glynis Barber and hoping for a move to the US from dilettante agent Alan Lake.
Turner meets Simon meet after a game at Stag Meadow, which looks pretty much unchanged 37 years later, and ends up going straight into the Saints semi-final line up to face Hamilton United (wearing the Ipswich home kit). at Portman Road.
All is going to plan, as inspired by Turner's presence, the Saints go into half time 2-0 up with Turner scoring the second. However a half time dram signals trouble with the manager and although the scoreline remains the same, once John Motson has left the post match dressing room celebrations, Marsh issues Simon with a "him or me" ultimatum.
Just in case his fate was in doubt, Turner goes on to punch Marsh at a nightclub later that evening before spending the night with Cloudy, which ensures Barber moves to the Marsh corner.
Returning to the back pages for all the wrong reasons, Turner is shunned by one of the boys at the children home and at last resolves to win his place back, pacing the mean streets of Windsor to get fit. This provides him with a place on the bench at Wembley as The Saints attempt to become the first third division team to win the Cup. Opponents Leicester Forest (in the tricky trees' red) stand in their way and using footage of the actual 1979 League cup final, Forest race into a two goal lead before Saints pull one back just before half time.
Following an unbelievably uninspiring half time talk from Marsh, the Saints do little to threaten a comeback until with eight minutes remaining Tony Keys has to make way for Turner due to injury,
Can you guess what happens next?

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Small talk

My small talk q & a from the last programme of the season:

What is your Twitter name?

What is your earliest memory of Maidenhead United?
Seeing the glow of the floodlights from my bedroom window in Courtlands.

Where will I find you on a York Road matchday?
Around the ground

What do you like to eat and drink at York Road?
Tea and Mr Kipling’s finest in the boardroom at half time

What is the most memorable match you've seen Maidenhead United play?
Our FA Trophy tie at Blyth Spartans in February 2001. Unforgettable memories on and off the pitch.

What is the most memorable goal you've seen Maidenhead United score?
Tim Cook’s kick in which became an own goal at Aldershot in 1995, Mark Harrison against Aylesbury in 1996, Chuk Agudosi at Yeovil in 1997, Francis Duku against Sutton in 1997, Chris Ferdinand against Croydon in 2000, Adrian Allen against Aldershot in 2001, Mark Nisbet at Kings Lynn in 2007, Sam Collins against Wycombe at Marlow in 2010, Max Worsfold at Thurrock in 2011, Paul Semakula’s winner against Eastleigh  in 2012, Danny Green at Barrow in 2013, and of course James Mulley at Port Vale in 2015

Who is your favourite Maidenhead United player of all time?
Garry Attrell. When he ran down the wing he should have been accompanied by an orchestra playing Mozart.

What has been your favourite season watching Maidenhead United so far?
This one is pretty good along with 2006/07, 2003/04 and 1999/2000 but my favourite would be the epic 1997/98 season for many reasons, chiefly for the very British sense of plucky failure sweetened by the best County Cup win I have seen, beating a very strong Reading side at Adams Park thanks to an amazing goal from an unexpected source.

What is the best ground you've seen Maidenhead United play at? 
Not so much best as favourites are Penydarren Park (Merthyr Tydfil), Sandy Lane (Tooting & Mitcham United), Twerton Park (Bath City), and The Walks (King’s Lynn)

Other than Maidenhead United who are the team to watch in the Vanarama National League South this season?
Maidstone United are the best team I have seen this season, based on their performance at York Road in September.

Other than Maidenhead United's players who is the player to watch in the Vanarama National League South this season?
Anthony Acheampong (Ebbsfleet United) & Justin Bennett (Gosport Borough).

What are your hopes for Maidenhead United for the season?
We’ve done it – 1st round of the FA Cup and a top ten league finish.

Who is your favourite current Maidenhead United player?
David Tarpey, a Garry Attrell for the 21st Century. More Beethoven than Mozart though.

What do you love most about York Road?
The first view of the ground as my train approaches Maidenhead, particularly if it’s an evening match.

If you were in charge of Maidenhead United for a day, what one change would you make?
Build a bespoke entrance from platform 5 down the embankment through a back door in the club shop.

What is your favourite Vanarama National League South awayday?
Eastbourne Borough. Decent ground and facilities. Lovely people and we usually win.

If you were in charge of non league football for a day, what one change would you make?
Merge the Conference with the bottom division of the Football League, regionalise them as north/south, then start non league with four regional divisions below that.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The County Cup Winners' Cup

The County Cup competitions of Britain are made up of anachronisms as layered as puff pastry and yet they persist with varying degrees of success throughout the country. Only supported by die hard fans of the clubs involved here in Berkshire we look over the border enviously at the likes of Oxfordshire and Hampshire with a Senior competition that embraces all football in the county rather than a select few which gives our own competition a permanent feeling of deja vu.
A few seasons ago at one tie a friend extemporised about extending the concept further by invoking the spirit of European Competitions past by suggesting the introduction of a County Cup Winners' Cup. The idea soon gained some traction on social media so armed with a copy of Russell Grant's Real Counties of Britain, I obtained a full list of 2015 winners from the non league matters forum, and using the National Village Cricket Cup as a template devised the 2015/16 draw. 
The Village Cup divides the country into four on a regional basis. Obviously with separate FAs Scotland and Wales would have their own competitions with all the winners coming together to contest a Home Nations County Cup Winners Cup before taking on the top French Departement Cup winner.
So here live from Lancaster Gate is the draw:

Preliminary Round (North)
1. North Yorkshire - Middlesbrough v East Yorkshire - Bridlington
2. Cumberland - Carlisle United v Westmorland - Keswick

Preliminary Round (Midlands)
3. Derbyshire - Matlock Town v Leicestershire & Rutland - Leicester City
4. Nottinghamshire - Basford United v Lincolnshire - Grimsby Town
5. Northamptonshire - Peterborough Northern Star v Huntingdonshire - Godmanchester Rovers

Preliminary Round (South East)
6. Buckinghamshire - Aylesbury United v Berkshire - Maidenhead United
7. Bedfordshire - Barton Rovers v Hertfordshire - Hemel Hempstead Town
8. Essex - Concord Rangers v Suffolk - Whitton United
9. Cambridgeshire - Cambridge City v Norfolk - Wroxham

First Round
10. Cheshire - Macclesfield Town v West Yorkshire - Bradford Park Avenue
11. Winners 1 v South Yorkshire - Frickley Athletic
12. Winners 2 v Lancashire - Chorley
13. Northumberland - Blyth Spartans v Durham - Shildon
14. Winners 4 v Winners 3
15. Herefordshire - Ledbury Town v Shropshire - Shrewsbury Town
16. Warwickshire - Birmingham City v Winners 5
17. Worcestershire - Kidderminster Harriers v Staffordshire - Stafford Rangers
18. Winners 6 v Winners 7
19. Winners 8 v Winners 9
20. Surrey - Metropolitan Police v Middlesex - Harrow Borough
21. Sussex - Whitehawk v Kent - Charlton Athletic
22. Hampshire - Gosport Borough v Wiltshire - Highworth Town
23. Devon - Plymouth Argyle v Cornwall - St. Austell
24. Dorset - Weymouth v Somerset - Taunton Town
25. Gloucestershire - Cirencester United v Oxfordshire - North Leigh

As you can see Berks and Bucks are already ahead of the game here by playing off already as do Leicestershire and Rutland (I couldn't work out the best team in each county for an extra preliminary round). All ties would take place on a Saturday, taking priority over league fixtures, kick off 3 pm. Highlights would be broadcast on the relevant regional BBC station. 
The competition would proceed from these regional quarter-finals with regional semi-finals and a final, the winners of which would contest the national semi-finals (Midlands v North, South East v South West) to set up a north(ish) v south final. Can I suggest the county ground Letchworth Garden City as a suitably neutral venue for the final? See you there in May.

Monday, 16 November 2015


Mild! Oatcakes! Saggar Makers Bottom Knockers! My head span with the glamorous possibilities of a trip to Burslem when United were the fourth ball to be drawn in the FA Cup 1st Round draw.
While some sneered about an underwhelming draw, I couldn’t have been happier. York Road may be the cradle of the originally amateur game, hosting FA Cup football since 1871, but the industrial north and midlands represent its heartlands, the origin of the Football League which effectively created the template for the professional sport we know and love.
More to the point Port Vale were a proper league club, founder members of Division 2 with their Vale Park stadium a chance to claim that the Magpies were on their way to “Wembley” (of the North).
There was also the opportunity to remind the wider world of the unusual way in which the first video footage of York Road came to pass, when it doubled as the home of Bursley FC, to all intents and purposes Port Vale, United even wearing the correct black and white colours. Watching again the pivotal match at the climax of The Card I was struck by an unmistakable Potteries background painted behind our old main stand, sadly destroyed in an arson attack in 1986. If any local councillors are reading this it was as good a vision for the town centre as I’ve ever seen in the Advertiser.
The lead up to the game involved much correspondence with the One Vale Fan website. James Smith who I hope to meet tonight has provided some great online conversation in recent weeks and exemplifies the friendship which has sprung up between fans of the two clubs, something I’m sure will bloom this evening regardless of the result. All of which only heightens my healthy dislike of Vale’s deadly rivals Stoke City which began after a visit to the Potters’ old Victoria Ground in the early 90s when on leaving the away end I was advised to take a lift back to the railway station in a police van for my own safety. Stoke beat Reading 3-0 that day. I dread to think what they’re like if they lose.
I elected to take the train up to Stoke from my London home for the Magpies Cup tie. The journey bought a few hours of quiet contemplation of the day to come and a few memories.
First up was Wembley Stadium where last May I saw Arsenal deliver the perfect performance to win the FA Cup 4-0 against Aston Villa. My love of football started with Arsenal’s awesome cup runs of the late 70s when the Gunners reached three consecutive finals under Terry Neill.
Images sprang to mind of a bloodied John Wile, my first taste of footballing disappointment in the 1978 final, Jack Charlton ordering the Hillsborough Kop to stop throwing snowballs at Pat Jennings, the jaunty theme tune of Sport on Two followed by the passionate Welshman Peter Jones or the more authoritative tone of Bryon Butler, the five minute final, cramp, bottles of milk, Brian Moore knows the score, Brooking’s header.
Passing Wembley at speed I was taken back to Maidenhead United when I saw Harrow Borough’s unusual Earlsmead floodlights. A reminder of the many points Alan’s teams won there at the start of the 21st century to maintain the Magpies’ hard won place in the Isthmian League Premier Division.
Soon the train stopped at Berkhamsted, like United a station next to a football ground, where Tim Cook once literally scored direct from a throw in.
Further up the line and I glimpsed Rugby Town’s ground my only visit coming at the start of Johnson Hippolyte’s time as manager, where a point was earned en route to promotion.
A draw in somewhat different circumstances was the result at Stafford Rangers, the penultimate stop recalling that heady first ever appearance in the FA Cup First Round in my lifetime by the Magpies. A glorious encounter where the nine men of Maidenhead held on for a draw thanks in the main to Chico Ramos’ penalty save. That led to the first outbreak of cup fever in the town as people poured through the gate at the replay. I stood incredulous with microphone in hand in front of the dug outs as the flood of spectators continued unabated up to kick off and beyond.
After several years of turmoil on and off the pitch that match signalled the start of better times for United, the fruits of which were in plentiful evidence in Burslem, as over twice the number who went to Stafford made the trip to Port Vale.
A slight delay meant I emerged from Stoke station to see my bus disappearing into the distance. Never mind the occasion justified a taxi which delivered me outside the Bull’s Head which was thronging with home and away fans alike. As I made my way through the Titanic Brewery menu it almost seemed a shame to leave a venue which was warm in every sense. Not that I regretted it as the Brixton Academy like doors to the away end at Vale Park opened to reveal the Magpies tearing into their opponents.
Looking around it felt like the whole of York Road had made the trip in addition to few exiles like Keith Jackson who now lives in Hull.
The acoustics were perfect for the Bell Street choir to deliver their non stop vocal encouragement which was unceasing in its support, growing to a crescendo as the match drew on despite Port Vale taking the lead and the post denying a Ryan Upward equaliser in the first half.
In a funny sort of way I think remaining behind at the interval helped United. Port Vale were left in no man’s land, do they stick or twist? Going into half time level may well have provided manager Rob Page with the spark to fire his team to greater efforts.
As it was Vale still dominated proceedings but Maidenhead stuck to the task reflecting Alan Devonshire’s great strength as a manager, the ability to devise a successful playing method which gives every player a specific role in the team. With a sharp eye to identify and motivate the right player for the right role, the eleven become the personification of the word team, effectively greater than the sum of their parts. All for one and one for all, every one a hero.
And so it came to pass that it was the home team who were the ones trying to wind the clock down. Sensing the opportunity that it was now or never the away end rose to the occasion notching up the volume as Vale tried to keep the ball in the corner.
Looking to my left I saw former Chairman Rob West doing his bit to make more noise as the yellow shirts retrieved possession and hared off into the distance.
The ball pinged around the Vale penalty area. Tarpey must score! Saved! It’s in! Mulley’s running towards us and the team are following. We ran down to the front to meet them and after the referee politely but firmly insisted the game finish formally the final whistle blew. Never has a draw felt more like a victory. I staggered back towards the exit hugging Timmy Mallett, Bob Pritchard and countless others in a delirious stupor which would last for a day or so.
Years ago Alan revealed to a group of supporters at York Road in his first spell as United manager, the unbelievable feeling when he scored in the Hammers’ 1980 semi-final replay against Everton. “I just ran” he told us, after a goal scored portentously in the 94th minute. I wonder if James Mulley ever heard that tale?

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Back to the Non League Future

A week or so ago the 30th anniversary of the release of the first Back to the Future film prompted many people to look back to 1985 and ponder the changes in between. The Football League released some statistics showing how far their clubs had risen or fallen over the period so I thought I’d do the same for non league football.
With just a page to fill I’ve chosen to focus on the clubs currently in Maidenhead United’s division and those in the Berks & Bucks FA area. Obviously the Conference South didn’t exist in 1985 so I’ve opted for a best fit model when considering the relative status of the leagues in 1985 compared to 2015.
Down in the Thames Valley Wycombe Wanderers were finding their first Gola Alliance Premier League tough and would end up returning to the Vauxhall-Opel Isthmian League Premier Division in May to be reunited with Slough Town, Windsor & Eton & Wokingham Town. Aylesbury United were over in the Southern Premier.
Alongside the Magpies in Vauxhall-Opel Isthmian League Division One were Chesham United whilst Burnham (& Hillingdon) had parity in the Southern League Southern Division One.
Bracknell Town were on their way to the Vauxhall-Opel Isthmian League Division Two South title, with Hungerford Town a long way behind and Marlow rock bottom.
Thatcham was on an odd sojourn in the Spartan League Premier Division whilst bringing up the rear was Didcot Town in Hellenic League Division One.
As a last Berks & Bucks word Milton Keynes Borough was plodding along in the South Midlands League Premier Division before football history took a darker turn in that part of the world.
Four Vanarama National League South clubs were playing one level higher in the 1985/86 season. This was the final season of the Gola Alliance Premier League prior to summer rebranding (plus ca change) into the GM Vauxhall Conference.
Wealdstone were the reigning Gola League Champions having done the non league double in 1985, and they were joined at the peak of semi-pro football by Maidstone United, Bath City and Dartford (who would be relegated). This was the final season of election rather than automatic promotion to the Football League, from which Maidstone eventually benefited, although of course the Stones ended up bankrupt along with the Darts whose Watling Street ground they shared. Along with the Middlesex Stones who also lost their Lower Mead ground, all three clubs faced a long hard road to get back to their current level whilst its good to see Bath remained in relative good health at their wonderful Twerton Park ground.
In 1985 the Vauxhall Opel-Isthmian, sponsor free Southern and HFS Loans Northern Premier Leagues all promoted one club into the Gola League, making their top division the 1985 equivalent of the Vanarama National League South.
In the Southern Premier playing at the same level in 1985 as they do today were Ebbsfleet United (known then as Gravesend & Northfleet), Basingstoke Town, Chelmsford City and Gosport Borough, the latter two spending much time in the doldrums and in Chelmsford’s case homeless exile before they returned to this level.
Meanwhile Sutton United was en route to the Vauxhall Opel-Isthmian Premier Division title and a place in the Gola League ahead of Bishop’s Stortford and Hayes (more of Yeading later).
One level beneath where they are today, in 1985 in the Southern League Southern Division One was Margate who had temporarily changed their name to Thanet United, and Waterlooville (but not Havant). Whilst over in the equivalent Vauxhall-Opel Isthmian Division One were Maidenhead United, Oxford City and eventual champions St. Albans City. Oxford City was soon to be evicted from their Brasenose College owned White House ground but after a few years in the wilderness soon returned to this level.
Two levels down in 1985 from their current placing we find Hemel Hempstead Town in Vauxhall-Opel Isthmian Division Two North, Whitehawk in Sussex League Division One, Weston-super-mare in the Western League Premier and Havant Town in the final season of the Hampshire League Division One before it became the Wessex League. Finally in only their second season in senior football Yeading were in the Spartan League Premier Division.
Truro City were plying their trade in 1985 three levels below where they are in 2015, in the South Western League and we have to go down one level further to Sussex League Division Three to find Langney Sports who are now known as Eastbourne Borough. This only leaves Concord Rangers from the current Vanarama League South division as they were yet to make the transition to senior football which I guess proves that as in the Back to the Future film, in non league football anything is possible!

Credit: Richard Rundle's Football Club History Database

Monday, 4 May 2015

Futures and Pasts

The win at Weston-super-mare ensured that the end of the season would be, if not quite a lap of honour for Drax, at least a reign ending in calm contemplation of his eight and a half years at the club, much of which I'm sure will be committed to type in the next seven days.
Two league games remained and both saw the away team win backed by supporters en fete. The visit of Wealdstone reflected the universal truth that the function of football is to bring people together with the events on the pitch a mere sideshow. 
The Wealdstone fans provided an object lesson in what football supporters actually are, rather than how they are often portrayed. Raucous, intoxicated and fun to be around. Doubtless if the new Cambridge approach had been taken, many would have been forbidden entry to the ground. That they weren't ensured and end of season was more akin to a promotion party following a second half which saw Wealdstone blow United away with goals from Jonathan Wright, Matthew Ball and Jefferson Louis. Earlier Jacob Erskine had ensured an even first half heading the equaliser after Shane Lucien had given the Stones an early lead from a free kick. With Maidenhead competitive if not indeed the better team in the first half, the second half collapse only served as a final reminder for the home support of a squad that promised so much but couldn't quite deliver. At least the goal led to Erksine winning a deserved man of the match award, recognition for his sterling efforts over the last eighteen months wherever on the pitch, whenever required.
Post match the pleasing shambolic end of season awards took place in a drunken haze, to a backdrop of FA Cup semi-final extra time, Peter Griffin's promise of a free bar if Arsenal score meaning any chance of holding the crowd was lost when ex Magpie Adam Federici became the new Dan Lewis.
Seven days later the positions were reversed when Maidenhead United fans celebrated the end of the season in familiar style. Personally it was simply a blessed relief going to a match on the final day knowing there was absolutely no consequence to the result. Meeting up in Wimbledon proved a good move, as The Alexandra near the station provided an uncharacteristically old school venue for an aperitif, Young's London Stout being served in appositely white striped glasses.
Sadly the Plough opposite the ground was best vacated as soon as a glass could be empied, an enquiry for draught beer being met with a response of "nothing til Monday".
As the game kicked off with the unlikely sight of Wayne Shaw in the Sutton United goal, reportedly sacked after an altercation with an opposition fans the previous season. Naturally just like Jefferson Louis in the last game, former Magpie Dale Binns managed to find the back of the net, but his opening goal proved to be the high point for Sutton as Maidenhead deservedly took the three points with a goal in each half from Harry Pritchard and Stefan Brown respectively.
So the league season ended in 18th place, exactly as it had done twelve months earlier but with a lot less stress. The return to Sutton next season should see an artificial surface in place although that won't alter my view of a ground I never really enjoy visiting, largely I think because of the poor sightlines from any vantage point other than the stand.
In between the two first team games I had taken advantage of the absence of the usual end of season fixture pile up to make my first trip to Ascot United to see the Youth team attempt to reach the League Cup Final.
Ascot's a strange place, the high street dwarfed by the grandstand of the world famous racecourse which dominates the village. Indeed I had to pass under the track to get to the ground which lies inside the course in a bucolic setting, surrounded for the most part by woodland aside from a set of stalls and a furlong marker behind one goal.
I had barely set foot in the ground when I received messages from Mark Smith requesting programmes but it wasn't that sort of occasion. The only team sheet was on a whiteboard next to tea bar serving hot drinks in china mugs. My sort of club.
The match reflected the fact that the teams faced up as Under 17s and Under 18s, the elder Maidenhead eleven showing their physical maturity to make it almost a men against boys contest. A the small, sloping pitch did not lend itself to attractive football and following the initial burst of energy from both sides the match went to form with Maidenhead going into the break two goals ahead.
Kai Walters was at the centre of most attacking Maidenhead play and it was he who dribbled through the Ascot defences to open the scoring and was also thought to have a got a touch to JC Etienne's long throw to the near post which deflected into the net.
In between the goals David Rogalski was brought down in the penalty area but his subsequent spot kick was saved. 
After the break as Graham Aldred warmed up with his flask of soup, Ascot made a good fist of getting back into the game but a combination of a good save from Sam Gray and the post meant that once this counterblast had petered out, Maidenhead ran out easy winners.
Resistance was effectively ended when man of the match Calum Ferguson fed a through ball to Etienne who ran round the keeper to score. Olly McKoy scored a spectacular, if fortunate, fourth with a cross floated in from the left hand touchline before Rogalski took advantage of sharp work from substitute Andy Ali to dispossess the Ascot keeper.
The game wound down against a backdrop of two Ascot mothers, who were evidently from the nursing profession. neatly summing up the moribund election debate with talk of casualisation, immigration and the profit motive in the NHS, with their sons' team eventually scoring a consolation.
This means the Maidenhead boys will playing for a League and Cup double when they contest the final at Windsor against Bracknell on Wednesday. This will be another fine achievement for Sam Lock who has now won silverware for four years. Let's hope the new first team manager will find the trick to developing young talent into first team material.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Sunshine and Happiness

A perfunctory 2-0 victory in Somerset secured the Magpies' Conference South status for another season, the fact that this was only the second league win in 2015 and the first away from home since October reflecting a season marking time. Further confirmation of United treading water on the pitch came when consulting the programme post match and noting that the Seagulls had been beaten by an aggregate of 8-2 over the two games against United, and have taken just 1 point out of the last 21, yet remain one place ahead of the Magpies. Thus this was a journey made to Woodspring Park, not so much in a tense frame of mind, as in say 2008, but on the outward leg in expectation, and on the return in satisfaction that planning for the future post Drax can continue in certainty now that prospective managers know for certain which division Maidenhead will be in next season.
Two tightly packed trains heading west necessitated a stroll to the sea front on arrival in search of fish and chips, a strong wind laced with Saharan sand meaning we were happy to catch just the slightest glimpse of the sea before heading for the shelter of the Oxford Corner cafe, whose banquette seating was original rather than retro and therefore came with bargain prices to match. 
A dearth of town centre pubs saw us head back towards the station to the Bristol Hotel for a couple of pints before a taxi ride to Woodspring Park where as usual a warm welcome meant you could walk untrammeled into the ground which although now looking a little worn ten years into its existence had changed since my last visit with a sprinkler system greeting the teams on the pitch, whilst the big terrace behind the goal had sadly been blighted by the seats necessary for the play off challenge the Seagulls had tilted at during the years of over achievement in the charge of manager Craig Laird.
Waiting for kick off I reflected on the slight but necessary improvement I had seen from United in recent weeks.A few days away in Cornwall and work commitments meant that the only football I had seen of any description in mid March was Reading's replay romp to the FA Cup semi-final, beating a one dimensional Bradford City with such ease, as to make the Bantams stupendous third round win at Stamford Bridge mind boggling, in view of the Royals moribund league season.
No Pyro. No Party. Ugly Scenes.
Escape route Vauxhall Road
I returned to York Road for the Gosport game, where Borough's clinical strikeforce of Bennett and Wort meant Maidenhead's pressure was virtually in vain until a late strike from the Golden Tarp, giving if not hope at least a suitably reflective look to the scoreline. The pain of defeat was soon forgotten when it was discovered Farnborough had conceded twice in stoppage time at Bishop's Stortford to stack a 2-0 lead, and guarantee an even more entertaining than usual weekly episode of the Spencer Day post match interview.
Easter weekend saw United turn their good attacking intentions into points. On Saturday I made my first visit to Vauxhall Road, home of Hemel Hempstead Town. Alighting from the rail replacement bus at Apsley the long walk up the hill saw the surroundings become increasingly seamier. It was quite pleasing that the football ground was in the least desirable part of town and was properly non league, the differing structures surrounding the pitch reflecting a piecemeal approach to ground development, although I'm not sure about the Greek statues in the club house. I particularly liked the terrace at the top of the slope behind one goal, although a superb performance from goalkeeper Laurie Walker meant that Maidenhead couldn't hit the back of the net in front of it. 
Bottom of the slope
Top of the slope
Typically Hemel scored on the stroke of half time when lanky striker Oliver Hawkins rose unchallenged to head home. However Maidenhead redoubled their efforts after half time, Stefan Brown shaking off the curse of my player sponsorship to score his first goal for the club and deservedly equalise, a last ditch save by the feet of Ashley Timms securing the point. 
My chauffeur driven coach
The sole occupant of the rail replacement coach returning to London, I was satisfied with the point, confident that the rumours of financial strife emanating from Bromley would lead to us taking something from the game on Easter Monday. Not that I imagined the eight goal thriller that would ensue. 
The Bromley match was comfortably the best game of the season, it was just a shame that the quality of the Maidenhead goals contrasted with the clumsiness of those conceded. At least Tarpey's exocet equaliser was just reward for the timewasting tactics of the champions elect.
With Farnborough continuing to lose, in theory a point was required by the Magpies at Weston although in practice, the Hampshire club would relegate themselves. Nevertheless United strolled to a comfortable win thanks to a Dave Tarpey goal at the beginning of each half. 
Maidenhead took the lead in the eleventh minute. A lively Stefan Brown had already fired in two shots on goal to serve notice of the Magpies' intention before the extra power Tarpey was able to apply meant goalkeeper Dan Jackson was beaten for the first time. Six minutes later Tarpey beat him again with a rasping volley, only to be denied by the underside of the crossbar. With Danny Green unable to capitalise on free kicks around the penalty area, the second of which was surely for a foul committed inside the box. the lead remained a slender one but one that was never really challenged by the home team. Indeed the biggest threat to a win for Maidenhead came after half an hour when play was suspended by the referee. 
The action halted for no perceptible reason, the mere position of the referee by the dugouts suggesting something untoward was going on. A man standing behind us who turned out to be the groundsman was beckoned to the front where he was informed of a hole on his pitch. Worries that the players might start to disappear before our eyes were soon allayed when it became apparent that one of the sprinkler caps had popped open, so after a short delay play continued.
Logic channels Rodin's thinker
Within a minute of the restart, Maidenhead doubled their lead virtually from the kick off. Some neat passing across the midfield found Tarpey free in space on the left and he made no mistake with his shot from just inside the box to cue a synchronised celebration from myself and Russ.
From this point on the only threat to the lead came when Elvijs fell awkwardly following a collision with one of his defence, but he recovered, going on to save well from George King's shot from distance. In the meantime Maidenhead had been given a man advantage when Jake Mawford departed early for a second caution, the sunshine and end of season happiness allowing the game to play itself out quietly and a chance to congratulate Benjy Downster on his fine new flag.
The train ride home provided an opportunity to ponder the future at York Road, on and off the pitch, with my bold pre match prediction that Drax would repeat his feat of 2008 and close the season with a manager of the month award given further traction by the result. Something to play for before the season closes with the Berks & Bucks Cup final on May Day.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Wood leave Magpies Shakin' all over

The start of March has seen the return of the annual Maidenhead United spring slump with the prospect of a relegation fight growing with each defeat. The visits of Whitehawk and Boreham Wood promised to be nothing less than difficult. Last Saturday the Sussex club, perhaps scarred by a defeat in the reverse fixture by the odd goal in seven back in October, set themselves up to give nothing away, relying on their ability to counter attack at speed. This approach worked perfectly with two breakaways leading to two goals (the latter by way of a corner) and the game was won by half time. They were every bit the professional outfit in the second half, completely suffocating Maidenhead's attacking play, with Sergio Torres throwing himself to the floor with alacrity to raise my blood pressure.
Boreham Wood have a much more laudable method to building success than their big spending promotion chasing rivals from Sussex. The previous week someone tapped me on the shoulder, asking to look at the teamsheet. It turned out he was a Crawley fan and together with David Hunt playing for the Magpies, reportedly half a dozen Red Devils were on show, which perhaps explains their imminent slide back to the basement division of the Football League and Whitehawk's high placing.
Wood on the other hand run on a much more sustainable model, clever too, employing players as coaches on their various academy/PASE schemes, with I guess the contract including a requirement to turn out for the first team. Just a shame they don't do so much work in the local community to boost crowds to watch their stylish team. The reverse fixture in Hertfordshire was probably the best I have seen in the division all season, end to end stuff, with Maidenhead denied at the last, as indeed they were the last time the clubs met at York Road with the only goal of the game coming in stoppage time.
Sadly history repeated itself again yesterday with a valiant Maidenhead performance unable to overcome the ever vigilant goalkeeping of Wood's James Russell. The introduction of Junior Morias and Matthew Whichelow midway through the second half being the catalyst to tip the balance in favour of the visitors with a late goal taking all three points, delivering on Ian Allinson's plan, which he revealed to me after the game, to win ugly.
Maidenhead were much more potent than last Saturday, which was probably due to the return from injury of Adrian Clifton, whose presence in an attacking midfield position always seems to give the team an extra bit of oomph going forward. Clifton was the creator of Maidenhead's best chance, which came in the third minute when his driving run on the left hand side of the penalty areas drew defenders towards him, giving Tyrell Miller-Rodney the space to set himself for a shot on the edge of the six yard box which was brilliantly blocked by Russell.
Wood shook off this early scare to dominate the first half but despite sending a succession of first rate balls across the face of the Maidenhead goal, did not unduly trouble Ashley Timms, aside from a Daryl McMahon effort which Timms pushed round the post. This left the referee as the centre of attention, his decisions, whilst not game changing, certainly raising the ire of the spectators.
After the break, Wood continued where they had left off, Timms again saving well from McMahon, but the Magpies soon got on the front foot, enjoying their best spell of the game. Rodney again forced a good save from Russell around the hour mark so visiting manager Allinson decided it was time unleash his talent from the bench sending Morias and Whichelow into the fray in the games' final third.
With nine minutes to go Wood swiftly counter attacked, Lee Angol playing in Morias on goal. Timms rushed out to make a good save, but the ball ran loose and Ricky Shakes pounced on it to score. There was time left for United to salvage something from the game and deep into stoppage time, Timms joined the attack, floating a free kick deep to the far post. Tarpey eluded his marker to get a shot in but Russell was equal to it to seal the win for the visitors.
The defeat leaves the Magpies wondering where the next point will come from, a first ever win required over Concord on Tuesday night ahead of daunting trips to Ebbsfleet and Chelmsford.