About Me

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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Monday, 12 February 2018


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

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

With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

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


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


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


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

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

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

Sunday, 31 December 2017


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Part 13: 2006-07
If the previous campaign was the worst of Magpie times then this one was the best of Magpie times, indeed you could distil this series down to a Tale of Two Seasons.
Despite relegation, the new Pharmalink regime decided to keep faith with manager Carl Taylor, which was repaid when he recruited well, signing proven talent in Dominic Sterling and Dwain Clarke as well as promising youngsters Ashley Smith, Danny Burnell, Richard Witt and Mark Nisbet.
United were returning to the Southern League for the first time since the nineteenth century. It had evolved into a division broadly spanning the strip of England from the wash to the Bristol Channel and thus offered a season’s worth of trips to hitherto unknown clubs.
This middle England journey began with a trip to Gloucester City in a match which summed up Taylor’s spell in charge, Beginning impressively the Magpies looked good value for their lead from a Clarke strike only to lose to two late City goals. Five draws followed before the first win came at Halesowen. A replay was required to beat Hellenic League Carterton in the FA Cup and then disaster struck when lowly Clevedon came to York Road and left 5-0 winners.
The inability to consistently realise the considerable potential of his team finally saw Taylor pay the price, as Chairman Una Loughrey elected to dispense with his services following the big defeat. With no ready made placement, Richie Goddard (pictured right) again took the caretaker role, making a great impact by winning all four of his games in charge. Most memorably this included a win at Stamford on Apple Day, his team talk advising that if the team make their opponents turnover they would crumble in the box. Most importantly he also made progress in the FA Cup, John Dreyer returning to assist him lead the team to a tight win at East Thurrock.
A strong field of experienced candidates emerged for the manager’s post including the likes of Craig Edwards, Gordon Bartlett and Alan Devonshire. Eventually the board plumped for Johnson “Drax” Hippolyte who had had great success in his first post at Yeading.
He arrived in time to beat Dover in the Trophy, before a fourth and final FA Cup qualifying tie at York Road against Southern League Premier Division rivals Merthyr Tydfil. The Welshmen were unbeaten in the league and brought a raucous following to Berkshire. In an electric atmosphere, Maidenhead edged home thanks to a Lee Newman goal (pictured celebrating right), despite finishing with ten men.
This meant Maidenhead were in the FA Cup First Round for the first time for a generation. The post match draw may have only produced a trip to Conference Stafford Rangers but the all new experience of being in the public eye saw 176 fans make the trip north.
The home side took an early lead, and a Craig O’Connor red card left little to hope for as the second half kicked off but a headed equaliser from new signing Dwane Lee (pictured top), got United back into the game. All seemed lost though when captain Sterling joined O’Connor in the dressing room for a professional foul only for Chico Ramos to save the resulting penalty and earn a player of the round nomination. The Magpies managed to hold on for a replay, with the ten day run up to the second match allowing Cup fever to take hold in the town.
On an unforgettable night two thousand fans flocked to York Road as Stafford again took an early lead but an O’Connor missed penalty meant this time there was no way back for United, so it was Stafford who travelled to Brighton in the second round. Nevertheless the tie had revealed the club’s potential if the latent local support base could be mobilised. Reality hit a few weeks later when only 52 turned up York Road to watch a League Cup defeat against Thatcham, as an FA Cup hangover hit league form.
For my part I was weary after two years of bearing witness to all the turbulence on and off the pitch and indicated I would stand down from my duties at the end of the season. Imagine my surprise when I was asked to become a director, an honour I proudly accepted.
Meanwhile  two defeats in five days to bottom club Corby saw the Magpies plummet to 17th in the table. Drax had brought with him some of Yeading’s finest talent in the form of Errol Telemaque, Bobby Behzadi, Darti Brown and David Clarke but as yet they hadn’t been blended successfully into the current squad.
It all began to click on a chilly night at Adams Park at the end of February with a 1-0 County Cup win against Wycombe. This started a run of nine consecutive wins. The number of clubs serious about promotion was minimal but included some non league big guns in the shape of Bath City and King’s Lynn as well as the professionally funded Bath University team.
Helped by the arrival of classy centre back Grant Cooper, the team really sensed an opportunity for a late run to the playoffs, and despite back to back defeats to the Bath clubs, the momentum returned with two more wins.
Both the final two matches would be played against Banbury United, the first on a Thursday night was won to set up the final day visit to the Spencer Stadium knowing that another win would secure a playoff berth. Three points were duly delivered for a final finish of fourth and a play off semi final trip to Norfolk.
In front of a partisan four figure crowd at the impressive Walks stadium, Maidenhead played out of their skin to firstly deny a rampant King’s Lynn, and then defend a second half lead provided by an exquisite finish from the edge of the penalty area by Mark Nisbet (pictured left celebrating at the final whistle).
It was scarcely believable but within the course of less than a week, Maidenhead had moved into the play offs and were now one match from promotion. A surreal evening ended as I conducted an interview with BBC Radio Berkshire around midnight on the lonely last train back to London.
Team Bath were waiting in the final at Twerton Park, with the Magpies benefiting from the black and white striped landlords having little time for their tenants, and turning out to support the away team.
I had been invited to act as summariser for the BBC Radio Berkshire commentary. Never have I concentrated so much watching a Maidenhead match, doubly tense at the size of the prize on offer as well as not wanting to make a mistake. There was nothing to split the teams apart from a Telemaque goal (pictured right) within seconds of the start of the second half. It was the fifteenth win in seventeen outings, a truly fantastic run of form to return the Magpies to the Conference South at the first attempt.
There was still a County Cup Final to contest two days later, but a 2-1 defeat to Milton Keynes Dons mattered little as the promotion prize continued to burn bright.Thus concluded a breathtaking season with the FA Cup run and league success at last taking the focus away from the revolving managers door. A season summed up when, as the final whistle blew to signal promotion at Twerton Park, Chico Ramos collapsed with exhaustion, John Urry rushing on to the pitch to cloak him with a towel James Brown style. Looking on I couldn’t help but whistle I Feel Good.
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
Peter Griffin, Una Loughrey & Drax pictured after promotion at Bath

Wednesday, 27 December 2017


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United

Part 12: 2005-06
Exceptional is the football club that has avoided a financial crisis since the game reaped the neo-liberal economic whirlwind sowed in the 80s which is still with us today.
The whistling sound of impending upheaval had been growing, reaching a crescendo in December, and was inevitably accompanied by a disastrous season on the pitch.
The heart of the problem was the absence of a financial benefactor to make good the deficit between the revenue earned and the costs required to compete in the Conference South. A solution was pursued to release the property value of the ground with negotiations taking place with Tesco to sell them York Road and move to an alternative site on the other side of the railway line owned by Thames Water off Stafferton Way.
However by the summer of 2005 the deal was dead, with the absence of end of year accounts at the AGM reflecting the black hole in club’s finances. A small financial injection from a groundshare deal with homeless Slough Town also foundered as the Rebels elected to stay at Windsor. The club’s officers continued to search for an answer to the mounting crisis, with an approach to former Chairman Roger Coombs to return, which again came to nought.
All of this left manager Dennis Greene with something less than a shoestring budget with which to build a squad, and on the opening day at Sutton United, only three players from the previous season remained in the line up. The match was over as a contest before half time, finishing 4-1 to the home team, and by the end of August only one point, against a ten man Newport, had been earned. Matters barely improved in September, Greene’s position placed in further jeopardy when a threatening message was sent from his forum account to a prominent supporter.
A home defeat to Yeading proved to be the final straw, and little more than 48 hours later Greene was replaced by Carl Taylor (pictured right) who had been a popular assistant manager to Alan Devonshire.
This was Taylor’s first job as number one but he brought with him Tony Choules who had previously had extraordinary success at Northwood, and worked with Taylor at Hornchurch the previous season. The pair had plenty to do with a vital match at fellow strugglers Carshalton the following Saturday.
With some players departing in Greene’s wake, there were six debutants in the starting line up at Colston Avenue, with one of them, Dominic White (pictured top), scoring the only goal of the game.
The win boosted morale throughout the club but had no lasting effect. The FA Cup and Trophy were exited at the first time of asking, and a second league win, this time at Dorchester was followed by two thumping defeats by an aggregate score of 12-1, the first of which seeing 8 goals shipped at Bognor.
The poor form was still outstripped by declining finances, with the club now reliant on sponsors Pharmalink to maintain the weekly playing budget. Although the previous year’s accounts were finally accepted at a stormy egm in October, the members club was clearly no longer viable and rather than continue to plug the gap, Pharmalink made an offer to takeover.
Such was the desperation for this to go through, a virtual death notice was placed on the back page of the Maidenhead Advertiser ahead of another EGM with one item on the agenda: to wind up the members club and replace it with a new Limited Company funded by Pharmalink.
With the scale of the club’s debt at last out in the open, there was a sense of disbelief which soon turned to anger at the way it had been covered up although I had inadvertently discovered how serious the problem was when I received a final demand from the Bank via the website mailbox.
With the very future of the club at stake, the members had little option but to accept the Pharmalink offer, with the vote carried with just one nay and a few abstentions to fold the members’ club.  
Although the manner of its passing was by necessity hasty, in truth the Victorian ideal of a club run by and for members had long outlived its utility. There were neither elected officers with deep enough pockets to subsidise semi-professional football nor a membership able to hold them to account. The long term security afforded by limited liability was long overdue, and with a group of 21st century Entrepreneurs ready to take the club on with all its manifest problems, it really was a case of the darkest light being before the dawn.
Una Loughrey was the new chairman, with husband Peter Griffin (both pictured left), brother Stephen Loughrey along with his wife Suzanne joining her on the new board of directors together with existing club officers Bob Hussey, Ken Chandler and Paul Carney.
With off the pitch matters settling down, Carl Taylor was provided with the funds to mount a relegation fight, with a first home win of the season coming at last in early January. Two more soon followed at York Road and at the end of February a win at Yeading saw the Magpies clear of the bottom three and in with a real chance of survival.
 Unfortunately everything fell apart from this point, as Taylor’s naive faith in a disparate but talented squad to execute his complex game plans crumbled as the season reached its climax. There was to be no last gasp battle for safety this time as relegation was confirmed by Easter. The sorry shambles of the team was exemplified in the final match at Histon when Chris Wild and Nana Badu failed to turn up in time to play, meaning coach Matt Gore (pictured right) had to make an impromptu debut. Only a last minute penalty save by Chico Ramos stopped the Magpies goals against column finishing on 100.
There was however an odd postscript to the season which almost saw United decide the title when it was discovered that midfielder Solomon Taiwo, who only played the first six matches of the season, had not received international clearance having previously played abroad. He went on to sign for champions Weymouth who also didn’t check his status and almost cost them the points which gave them the title.
Thus Maidenhead also lost the two points gained when Taiwo played. Another depressing statistic, outdone by the total of 63 players who wore the black and white stripes that season. All of which was dwarfed by the massive debts which almost blew the club away before the white knights of Pharmalink arrived in the nick of time. Things could only get better.
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com

Sunday, 10 December 2017


23 Seasons watching Maidenhead United
Part 11: 2004-05
It was bliss to be present at the dawn of the new Conference South era, as in a pleasing contrast to his first campaign at the club, John Dreyer’s team started the season in style.
On a beautiful sunny day at Park View Road, Maidenhead beat Welling 2-1 in a tightly contested match thanks to goals from the new strike partnership of Lawrence Yaku and summer signing Craig O’Connor.
By the end of August, United’s points total had already reached double figures giving rise to optimism that life at a higher level suited the Magpies.
As well as O’Connor, Dreyer had further augmented his squad with new blood by signing wingers Barrie Matthews and Jamie Cook, whilst young talents Chris Elsegood and Rod Saunders returned to York Road after a one year sabbatical.
Following the departure of Phil Wilson though, the key position of goalkeeper remained unfilled, with the replacement of the fragile Nick Hart with the hapless Michael Watkins leading to an appalling run of league form which led to Dreyer’s dismissal in November.
After a run of six matches without a win which spanned the length of September, morale was boosted with an FA Cup run. A tortuous three and a half hours of football against Kent League Whitstable was ended by a penalty shoot out in Maidenhead’s favour which set up a cracking local derby in the next round at York Road against Windsor and Eton.
The Magpies edged the tie by the odd goal in three to set up a final qualifying round match at old foes Aldershot Town. League form had not improved in the meantime, leading to a move to dismiss Dreyer in the lead up to the Cup tie which was halted when his team won three points for the first time in nine attempts, beating big spending Havant and Waterlooville at York Road thanks to a goal from the mercurial Cook (pictured right), on a memorable night for captain Brian Connor as he marked former Premier League star Dean Holdsworth out of the game.
United’s 33 year quest to return to the rounds proper of the FA Cup remained unfulfilled in a honourable failure at the Recreation Ground when Conference Aldershot won 2-1, any disappointment salved when the post match draw sent the Shots to Canvey Island.
Whilst the goalkeeper role now looked a little more solid thanks to the arrival of Australian Andy Goldman, the defence in front of him was weakened when Andy Jennings decided to leave following a head injury which led him to decide to focus on his teaching career at Eton, fearing the impact of a serious injury on his working life. His presence in the team over the last year or so was accompanied by the regular attendance at home matches of a group of his students who became known as The Eton Rifles (pictured top). I often wonder what became of them when they turned into Old Etonians, and whether a captain of industry or financial wizard might return to York Road to help ease Peter Griffin’s financial burden.
The world of work also had a detrimental impact on the Magpies attacking options as a promotion for London Underground’s Lawrence Yaku made it difficult for him tomake a timely arrival on matchdays.
None of this helped league form, and following heavy defeats at home to Cambridge and away to Grays, Chairman Jon Swan elected to dispense with the manager’s services. Sadly this was handled in a hamfisted way with Dreyer travelling to the next midweek match unaware of his fate, turning up to a County Cup tie at home to Burnham only to be ushered into the boardroom to be told he had the evening off. This was an unseemly way to dismiss the gentlemanly Dreyer, probably the friendliest manager I have encountered in my time at the club. Some said this meant he was too nice to succeed, so it was with some pride that I looked on at Wembley in 2015, as he stood on the touchline as assistant to Simon Grayson when Preston North End won the League One play off final.
Richie Goddard was on hand to step in as caretaker manager whilst a replacement for Dreyer was sought. Swan planned to entice Wealdstone’s Gordon Bartlett to take over, but after some thought Bartlett elected to stay with the Stones. With crowds plummeting below the 150 mark, the eventual appointment was the somewhat surprising figure of Windsor manager Dennis Greene.
Unlike Dreyer, Greene was not shy of asserting himself either in the local press or at the club. Bringing defender Lee Kersey and midfielder Guy Ekwalla with him up the A308, he immediately set about taking the by now bottom placed Magpies up the table with a six match unbeaten league run which included a 1-0 win at top placed Basingstoke.
A more important relationship was formed at this time when two local entrepreneurs knocked on the boardroom door and enquired whether the club might like some financial assistance. Peter Griffin and Stephen Loughrey agreed to a lucrative shirt sponsorship for the following season between the club and their Pharmalink business. As the saying goes it proved to be the start of a beautiful friendship!
On the pitch another Australian in Reading’s Adam Federici solved the goalkeeping problem for the rest of the season, his clean sheet in a 4-0 over fellow strugglers Carshalton at York Road in mid February suggesting the relegation battle might be a successful one. This failed to be a springboard to further wins although an outstanding smash and grab raid at promotion chasing Cambridge City in March thanks to a Lewis Cook goal kept hopes alive.
On Easter Monday a 4-1 humbling at bottom placed Redbridge suggested the writing was on the wall, the pressure starting to show as Greene (pictured left) made some ill judged comments to a journalist which alienated supporters.
This meant virtually every match in April was win or bust. The month started well with the double completed over Welling and a first ever win at Thurrock’s Ship Lane.
Pharmalink then threw their commercial weight behind a campaign with the Maidenhead Advertiser to boost the York Road crowd for the final two crunch home matches. The people of Maidenhead responded in kind with over 500 turning up to see Lewes beaten followed by over 600 for the visit of champions Grays Athletic. A valiant performance was not enough to stop the Essex team leaving with all three points to set up another final day showdown.
This came in the form of a straight shootout at Newport County, with the winner guaranteed to escape relegation. A four figure crowd at Spytty Park saw the Exiles ease into a two goal lead thanks to Welsh international Jason Bowen, and although O’Connor pulled a goal back in the second half from the penalty spot, there only ever looked like being one winner.
The final whistle signalled that desperate sinking feeling that only relegation brings. Newport Chairman Chris Blight offered me his profound sympathy in the boardroom, whilst in the club house Friar Tuck and a Beefeater took Greene to task over his failure to keep United up.
On the return coach journey to Berkshire, treasurer Paul Carney confided the dire state of the club’s finances, confessing a step down to the Hellenic League might be a more sensible option than a return to the Isthmian.
One club had already had had enough though as the inevitable Hornchurch bubble burst, their Billericay style financial model collapsing as their larger than life benefactor Uncle Urchin disappeared with the cupboard left bare. This meant Maidenhead won the inaugural AGM Cup, accepting the offer to remain in the Conference South due to a reprieve offered by the fiscally crippled Hornchurch’s request for demotion.
Thus the season closed in a strange atmosphere at Brian Connor’s testimonial (pictured right).  Any sense of relief at living to fight another day in the Conference South being tempered by the realisation that another season of struggle was in prospect.
With thanks to Mark Smith’s book One For Sorrow Two For Joy for the statistical content of this series.
To read more about this season visit www.mufcheritage.com