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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.

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.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Hawks winded by Tarpey

A happy trip to Hampshire has prompted me to end my winter break from this blog to report on a decent day out to the south coast which fairly represented the football I have seen so far from Maidenhead United in 2015 with a draw which ended with both teams feeling they may have taken all three points and therefore perhaps being the best result all told. 
Thus a sequence continued which began on New Years Day when a fantastic finish by DJ Campbell (now training with the Nottinghamshire branch of the Magpies) from a cross whipped in at pace from Adrian Clifton (whose driving influence in the midfield has been much missed since he has been sidelined with a knee injury) gave Maidenhead an early lead over tenants Hayes and Yeading. HAYU fought back to earn a point as did Bath City a few days later when they held onto a one goal deficit in the face of a first half onslaught from the Magpies before turning the tables after the break. 
A pulsating FA Trophy tie saw the number of goals scored doubled but still shared as super subs David Tarpey and Reece Tison-Lascaris turned a potential defeat into victory before 10 man Farnborough scored a last gasp equaliser. A potentially historic board meeting meant I didn't have to suffer the replay defeat but misery followed at the weekend with a comprehensive defeat at York Road at the hands of struggling Bishop's Stortford. 
The weather intervened to break up the relentless stream of matches at HQ interrupted by what was now becoming a very familiar result this time in fractious circumstances in a tetchy draw with St. Albans characterised by two ill disciplined dismissals which sadly led to the departure from the club of Tison-Lascaris.
A odd game at Basingstoke saw sloppy defending in the opening stages at the Camrose see United concede two goals to make the two well worked goals scored at the other end, as a third sealed the points for the home team, a 3-3 draw only being prevented by a string of good saves by the home keeper, his woodwork doing the job when he was beaten.
IIlness meant I didn't see the County Cup semi-final win over Chesham. No news yet on the final date or venue although I understand Amy Lane is the appropriate favourite to host the game against Bedfordshire based Aylesbury United, depending on the Generals play off fortunes. It appears a falling out with the Chairboys means the game won't be at Wycombe. Personally I would like the game to be played at Marlow in a repeat of the 1997 Isthmian Full Members Cup Final.
Three points were won for the first time in 2015 last weekend, in an exciting game against Chelmsford City where a superlative performance from Ashley Timms meant the Clarets were unable to turn their dominance into goals whilst his opposite number's inability to hold on to a couple of shots meant Maidenhead were able to pick the pocket of the visitors. 
I was gladly sitting in a warm pub in Cornwall when the Magpies were humbled 3-0 at York Road by Basingstoke in midweek, a result which left United in a thoroughly disappointing 17th position. Unlike previous seasons the quality of bottom markers Farnborough and Staines is such that the relegation places may well be set in stone with perhaps only homeless HAYU offering hope of an escape thus as Drax was quoted as saying in the Advertiser recently we may well continue plodding along to the end of the season  with a County Cup final to finish rather as used to happen at the start the century.
As long as Saturdays are like yesterday I'll settle for that after a decade of promotion and relegation fights as both teams contested a decent game on a sticky surface, the final score of 1-1 carrying on the 2015 trend of draws which hitherto had been at York Road.
An easy journey down to Westleigh Park, with the only distress coming when a solo Magpie came into view, saw me met by the sight of the new Pub, naturally called the Westleigh which has been developed out of the existing clubhouse. Sited next to a large housing estate and industrial estate this seems to be a sensible move to provide a steady stream of revenue for a club, ably managed off the pitch by ex Hampshire wicketkeeper Adrian Aymes, and on it by Lee Bradbury, with the Hawks for once making a sustained attempt at promotion after so many seasons flattering to deceive. They'd not been helped by a troublesome playing surface due to drainage problems which had commonly led to a fixture pile up. The purchase of a £25,000 pitch cover to ensure the FA Cup tie against Preston North End would be screened on TV in November, was continuing to pay dividends, yesterday's game going ahead against a background of postponements across the non league programme in the south of England.
Havant & Waterlooville must win the title of the biggest transformation since the Conference South started in 2004. All four sides have been redeveloped, along now with the new pub. Innovation has now even extended to an A6 sized programme which accurately fits the description of pocket sized.
Maidenhead took to the pitch in rather different shape to which they had started the year starting with goalkeeper Ashley Timms. In front of a defence of Van Der Hyde, Nisbet, Downer and Solomon, sat new signing David Hunt in a midfield holding role. Hunt's arrival had prompted a couple of admiring messages from sources at two of his former clubs in Oxford and Orient, with his home in the St. Marks area of the town perhaps enabling the Magpies to sign him from under the noses of Conference front runners Barnet with whom Hunt had been playing for on loan from the Us.
Hunt's presence at the base of midfield gave more freedom to Upward and Nicholls to go forward to complement wingers Green and Tarpey, and lone striker Strutton.
Havant took the early initiative, dominating the early stages, but a patient approach which saw the central defenders remain very deep throughout saw the absence of the high tempo which had seen Chelmsford threaten to blow Maidenhead away seven days previously. Thus Timms was not unduly troubled and increasingly Green and Tarpey began to utilise the space in front of the home defence. 
This ultimately led to the game's opening goal but Maidenhead had already showed they had a goal in them as early as the twelfth minute when Tarpey's corner was headed down by Strutton to Nisbet whose shot was cleared off the line by Warren Cummings. The attempt lifted the spirits of the Magpies behind the goal which were also helped by a bizarre rant by the goalkeeper following the corner as he screamed offside at the linesman oblivious to the fact that his teammate Cummings on the line made this an impossibility.
Tarpey gave notice he was going to continue his excellent scoring record, only being defeated by the sticky surface when well placed. He then cashed in nine minutes ahead of the interval when a trademark mazy run through the midfield by Green was finished by a beautifully weighted pass to Tarpey's whose shot delightfully nutmegged the goalkeeper en route to the back of the net. This was much to the delight of a local transvestite who was keen to lend his support to United.
The second half started in similar fashion to the first with Havant taking the upper hand. This time their pressure led to a goal as the hour mark approached when a cross to the far post was met unchallenged by the head of Daniel Blanchett to score. 
At this point I was expecting Havant to go for the jugular but they continued with their measured approach to the game, Maidenhead happily taking the opportunity to get on the front foot to create the chances to restore their lead. This came closest with fourteen minutes remaining when Upward unselfishly squared the ball to Tarpey on the penalty spot. The left winger took care to take the pace off the ball to avoid a reaction save by the keeper but as the ball bounced over the prone custodian he managed to get something on the ball and divert it over the crossbar.
The departure of Leon Solomon for a second yellow card then gave Havant fresh impetus with the entry onto the field of play of JJ Hooper leading me to fear he would continue his goalscoring run against United which started last season with Farnborough. That he didn't was down to an amazing one handed reaction save by Timms to save his back heeled volley in the 87th minute. Maidenhead then saw out the game for another draw founded on the security Hunt gave the team in front of the defence ensuring the quality of Tarpey's strike was worthy of point at least.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Jacob levels cracker of a match

Football at Christmas seems to have converted even sceptics like Arsene Wenger and the three games I saw over the festive period demonstrated why, as they provided a more entertaining spectacle than you would usually expect of a Saturday afternoon at other times of the year.
The first two at Arsenal and Harrow (for Hendon v Wingate & Finchley) were characterised by unforced errors and indiscipline which in the former allowed QPR a sniff of a point in a game where they were woeful for 80 minutes, whilst in the latter Hendon were gifted the points as Wingate & Finchley's enterprising forward play was let down by sloppy defending. All in all I saw three red cards, four penalties (two scored, two saved) and seven goals, the pick of which was a delightful curling chip from outside the penalty area by Wingate & Finchley's Karl Oliyide. The best was saved til last though as Sunday's trip to Eastbourne to see the Magpies was rewarded with an outstanding game of football typified by opening attacking play. 2-2 was a fair result as although both teams could have won, any further score would have seen one snatch the three points to the other's chagrin.
All the action over the three games could have only been helped by the coincidence of Christmas with I'm sure players rushing around to see family and friends, if only over indulging a little, and the wet weather producing heavy pitches which must have sapped the energy further to open the play up more than is usual.
The final game down in Sussex was of course the second in three days for both clubs, with Drax managing his squad well to cover those not quite fit to go again. This involved Harry Pritchard coming in at left back, with Leon Solomon moving over to his preferred right back slot, allowing Devante McKain to replace Simon Downer in the centre of defence. In midfield Ashley Nicholls replaced Ryan Upward whilst Jacob Erskine got a rare run out upfront, replacing DJ Campbell. Finally Reece Tison-Lascaris came in on the left wing for Dave Tarpey.
Both managers set up their teams in an enterprising fashion, which from the kick off led to an open game which swung from end to end for ninety minutes. Overlapping full backs meant the home team practically defended with three at the back which was met smartly by United's 4-3-3 formation which saw Green and Tison-Lascaris pin the defence back, feeding off the powerful presence of Erskine at centre forward.
Fired up by a Boxing Day defeat at south coast rivals Whitehawk, Eastbourne drew first blood by taking the lead in the fourteenth minute. Will Britt managed to tip a Frankie Raymond shot over the bar but from the resulting corner on the left by Simon Johnson, Gavin McCallum headed in. However having seen signs of vulnerability already in the home defence, the goal only served to push United harder in search of an equaliser.
The pace of Tison-Lascaris was the chief worry for the home defence, and the winger went close to a goal when breaking clear only for goalkeeper Lewis Carey to deflect it wide for a corner, from which McKain had a header cleared off the line by Johnson. It was then Green's turn to go one on one but a hesistation to check for an offside flag saw the chance lost.
The equaliser finally came just after the half hour mark when a long kick forward by Britt caused chaos in the Borough box, Tison-Lascaris taking advantage of Carey going awol to whip in a ball across the face of the six yard box which Marvin Hamilton could only turn into his own net.
Despite the game returning to level terms the desire of both teams to attack was not quenched and a topsy turvy game continued with the second half essentially a replica of the first.
So it was that Eastbourne regained their lead within six minutes of the restart when Britt could only parry a shot from Dean Sinclair, McCallum sweeping home the loose ball. The Magpies were level again by the hour mark when a Tison-Lascris cross was powered in by the head of Erskine.
The big forward then almost won the game from Maidenhead as he manfully stood shoulder to shoulder with defender Matt Aldred, staying on his feet to unleash a powerful shot from distance which was pushed wide by a fully stretched Carey.
At the other end it was the tricky wing play of McCallum which was giving the United defence the most problems, to the extent that Sports boss Tommy Widdrington could afford to leave strikers Richard Pacquette and Kane Haysman on the bench. Still it was United who almost had the last word when deep into stoppage time substitute Lanre Azeez fired in shot from the right which was pushed behind by Carey. From the corner Maidenhead elected to keep the ball in the corner and the final whistle soon blew.
The outcome was fair to both teams with perhaps Maidenhead feeling they could have snatched the three points although Eastbourne enjoyed the lion's share of the play in the final third of the match.
The result once again reflected Maidenhead's resilience away from home, but any FA Trophy replay aside there will be no trips away from York Road until February, so its in SL6 that the Magpies must cash in and power up into the top half of the table.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Elvijs dives way down to save Maidenhead

I really don't know what to make of yesterday. Farnborough should have completed taking six points off Maidenhead for the season on the balance of play and chances, even if you disregard the last minute save. Yet it wouldn't have surprised me if Maidenhead had completed a smash and grab victory against the odds on a eerie afternoon played out in front of the lowest crowd I have ever seen at Cherrywood Road (reportedly accurately as 250) and in the second half a beautiful sunset which captivated everyone where I was standing as Farnborough laid siege to the Maidenhead goal at the other end.
To be honest I could have happily stayed in the Prince of Wales all afternoon, a wonderful pub located amongst the town's seemingly endless suburban sprawl (where do people go shopping in these parts?). Two pints of Hophead went down very nicely and I was seriously contemplating the Dark Star Espresso Stout before duty called and we headed off to the match.
Walking completely unchallenged through the complimentary ticket entrance I emerged into the ground Mr. Benn style before shuffling across the face of the still not quite finished big stand to join the few who had travelled from Maidenhead under the covered terraced. Sadly we had to share this part of the ground with the local version of the Archbishop of Banterbury and his guffawing mates (sample quip when Reece Tison-Lascaris was receiving treatment "put him down").
Fortunately there was enough action for this to be only a minor irritation in a half which was characterised by individual defensive errors by Maidenhead United providing enough opportunities for Farnborough to have won the game by the interval.
By keeping two banks of four close together Farnborugh were able to suffocate most of Maidenhead's early attacking endeavours whilst by contrast the space afforded the home team in the middle helped them to force a number of errors as the United defence attempted to recover the situation.
Farnborough took the lead in the eighth minute. Some neat interplay on the left finished with a Michael Richens shot rattling the cross bar. A misplaced clearance by Ryan Upward saw possession return to Farnborough and Dan Bennett got in front of Simon Downer at the near post to head in Louis Theophanous' cross from the right.
Despite this setback Maidenhead began to get to grips with the opposition and once the midpoint of the half was reached they gave as good as they got and were unfortunate not to get a penalty when Ashley Nicholls went down following contact from a defender. This was quickly forgotten when a ball forward by Downer was met by an exchange of passes by Tison-Lascaris and Campbell, the latter scoring with an unstoppable shot from the edge of the penalty area.
Having got back on level terms, Maidenhead showed plenty of attacking threat, winning a series of corners, a Danny Green long shot exposing the poor handling of goalkeeper Dillon Barnes who fumbled the ball wide. However it was Farnborough who went closest to scoring a second before the interval. This was particularly true of a Duncan Culley header who capitalised on a clearance by Elvijs Putnins which was blocked at close range. With Putnins unable to clear the loose ball Culley headed goalward with Putnins somehow managing to scramble back an scrape the ball off the line. More of the same was to follow before half time, a loose pass from Devante McKain gave Harry Grant a chance which he put narrowly wide whilst when Downer was caught in possession Phil Page charged forward with the ball but couldn't quite take it round Putnins who was able to block his shot behind for a corner. The set piece saw Putnins make a flying one handed save from Page but the Latvian saved his best for the second half.
Johnson Hippolyte used half time to shore up the Maidenhead midfield by replacing Tison-Lascaris with Eddie Hutchison which certainly did the trick and had a Campbell effort soon after the restart not been cleared off the line by Lloyd Foot a classic smash and grab raid could have occurred. This made the next intervention of Putnins even more essential as he made the save of the match. A deep cross from the right hand touch line one was met by the head of Page, Putnins sinking like a stone to save the ball on the line.
This set the tone for the half as Farnborough continually tried and failed to find a way to score, whilst Maidenhead threatened the odd breakaway the best of which saw Green combine with Campbell to fire in a shot which Barnes could only Parry. 
With one minute left on the clock it seemed Farnborough had at last made the breakthrough when Theophanous went to ground under pressure from Leon Solomon but it appears that the weight of his rumoured £7,000 price tag was too much to bear as he was unable to give his penalty kick the necessary power and direction to beat Putnins who dived to his right and just about held on to the ball to seal his man of the match award.
So can't grumble with a point, but United really need to cash in on the run of home games coming up with just two points taken from the last fifteen, four of those games being away. 
There was time for a swift pint in the Thatched Cottage on the way back to the station as news filtered through of a series of tweets on the official Farnborough timeline which lacked class. At least we could ponder the karmic retribution of their blank Boxing Day thanks to Salisbury's demise, a just reward for the farce created by the Hampshire club at the start of the previous season which had led to a raft of unnecessary postponements.