"As for Maidenhead, the conga (which was amusing) aside, quite a strange bunch really – some the oddest chants I've ever heard at a football match" ~ localboy86, Amber Planet forum, 26th April 2015

Sunday 20 February 2011

(Black and) White Flag ... plus other bits and bobs

*** Magpies reputation tarnished at Welling?

The behaviour of certain Maidenhead United players and management have come in for a bit of stick on the Welling United forum following our 2-1 defeat at their place yesterday, which put us in the bottom three. Some choice comments:

Maidenhead are absolute filth. They,re giving Braintree a run for their money. I hope Maidenhead go down - horrible team ~ Moo

They only brought one (fan), and the bastard wouldn't stop having a go at the ref! ~ Dogme

Great result. How the ref never sent anyone off is beyond me and how he, or the lino, put up with Maidenhead boss Hippolyte is a mystery. He constantly swore and berated the officials non stop (i was  behind him in the stand in the first half). I know he might have passion, and to be fair he doesn't have a pop at the fans, but he did overstep the mark. Weak officials who should have had a word early on. Team of cloggers ~ Gary H

Yes a Maidenhead player should have been sent off, specifically the spikey haired big lump of **** up front in the number 10 shirt! He was a dirty bastard and shouldn't have made half time. I didn't actually have a problem with anything the Maidenhead manager said, just the frequency of his comments to the referee, and for that reason he should have been sent to the stands. The referee had quite a good game until the later part of the first half, then he totally lost it and put up with Maidenhead's dirty tactics ~ Dogme

To call what we saw from the Maidenhead side today football is an insult to the game. No wonder they have so little support I certainly couldn't watch them week in and week out ~ Bruno

They were a very poor team who just foul and moan at the ref. Their 7 is horrible and 5 aint far behind him ~ JgFc

Horrible team Maidenhead. What a pity they have such a top bloke as Derek Brown on the staff ~ Alan S

Its a shame that Derek Brown who is a a nice guy and was a gifted player has ended up with a team who are simply a bunch of thugs. They would not be ought of place on a Sunday morning representing a pub team. How the 5 stayed on the pitch is beyond me and the fact they subbed the 7 was probably a good move before he took a red card. If Leon Soleman has moved here he would be better off dropping a league to a team who plays football and not basketball ~ Bryan Kings Knee

Maidenhead's lack of discipline even led to their manager instructing his players midway through the second half that any more cautions for dissent would lead to a fine of one week's wages ~ kentonline

They were out and out thugs - no other term comes close... let's hope justice takes it's course and Maidenhead go play in the Ryman where they belong ~ Cynical

Obviously there are (at least) two sides to every story - Stevie G's thoughts on the game are here - but our antics at Park View Road certainly provoked a strong response.

I will note that some players mentioned (number 10 was Alex Wall, for example, and number 5 Jermaine Hinds) have a history. And our disciplinary record under Drax has been poor for a number of seasons. As for the manager apparently swearing, repeatedly, at the match officials, can we assume that Mark Steward (who wasted little or no time writing, on behalf of the club, to the 'Ebbsfleet 3' after our ejections on the opening day) will be having a strong word in the manager's ear?

A metaphorical tongue-up-the-backside is more likely.

*** Stopped Caring: My final word(s) on Ebbsfleet

As it is, I'm conscious that my recent MUFC Ltd-specific postings on here have perhaps been overwhelmingly and disproportionately negative. I imagine people have become as bored about reading the post-Ebbsfleet bad vibes as I have about writing them. As such, I have decided to belatedly draw a line and vow that this will be the final post to mention the 'E' word.

Do I feel we were treated harshly by the EUFC stewards at the ground and subsequently by the MUFC Ltd Board ? Yes.

Do I feel let down by the subsequent attitudes of certain members of the MUSA committee? Yes.

Do I think deciding to abstain from attending league games at York Road in protest was/ is the correct course of action? Yes.

Do I want MUFC Ltd to lose games and get relegated? No.

Trevor Kingham was a passionate QPR fan, but he walked away from the club he loved in the early 1990s out of principle (he was unhappy with the introduction of all-seater stadia). Having taken the time to think about the stand (geddit?!) that TK made - and also about Stevie G's comment on his blog that I need to put things into perspective - I have decided to put this blog's title into practice.

As such, I have written to MUFC Ltd to transfer my (handful of) shares to MUSA (the current incarnation I co-founded in 2006). I will resign from the MUSA committee and won't renew my membership next season. I also won't be attending the upcoming MUFC Ltd AGM or the MUSA open meeting. I will refrain from posting what Stevie G calls "emotive polemics based on half-truths and rumours" on the MUFC Ltd forum. In fact, I'll refrain from posting full stop if I can help it and will *try* to bite my tongue, as it were, if/ when Drax continues his "Taylor-isms" in the Advertiser. Go Mad or Stop Caring. For the sake of my sanity, it'll have to  be the latter.

*** Darti 'Scrappy-Doo' Brown at it again

So then, what to write about instead ...

How's about the embarrassing tantrums of ex-Maidenhead United captain Darthaniel 'Darti' Brown?

In his younger days, by all accounts, Darti was an all-action, box-to-box midfielder and inspirational captain of Drax's successful Yeading side. During his time at York Road, however, he was more likely to be seen hands-on-hips in the centre circle, moaning. At the Ref. At the opposition. At his teammates. For England. I was surprised but definitely not disappointed when Drax allowed his on-field lieutenant to leave (for Staines Town, as it happens) the summer before last. I don't think I was the only one to view his departure with a sense of "good riddance".

United drew 1-1 at Staines in August 2009. Darti came on as a sub for the home side. As the game was winding down to the final whistle, he was to mis-control a ball out of play right in front of the travelling fans (four of whom had, incidentally, walked the c. 14 miles or so between the towns to the game in aid of charity). A shout of "You've still got it then, Darti" was clearly audible, followed by more than a knowing guffaws.

Always an 'excitable' character, it was certainly no shock to see the ageing yellow-card magnet completely overreact. While virtually foaming at the mouth and squinting to try and make us out - Glasses required? That might explain some of his wayward passes! - he was to repeatedly swear and 'offer us out', even as the ball was back in play.

The referee soon called time on the game and, after checking there were sufficient people between him and the travelling support, Darti 'attempted' to come over, ranting uncontrollably whilst - rather conveniently - being held back. "Lemme at 'em! Lemme at 'em!" he yelped - in a perfect impression of Scrappy-Doo - before being ushered away, arms failing, by Bobby Behzadi and the Staines Town physio, among others.

"See you in the bar" was his parting threat. Was he aware, I wonder, that the clubhouse was closed for supporters due to a private party? Probably.

"You're sub in a sh!tty team" was the loud and repeated chant during the return game at York Road (a 2-1 home win, largely thanks to the erratic keeping of ex-Magpie Louis Wells). I don't think Darti left the dugout.

Anyway, earlier today, I stumbled across the following threads on Cardsweb and Conf South concerning yesterday's Woking vs Staines Town match-up. No prizes for guessing whom the following comments are about!

One of their subs warming up (or attempting) couldn't take the banter and started swearing and giving the two fingers. He then started on a fan walking past and the steward stepped in. Went on for a while untill the player was taken away still giving it the "Ali G Staines masssivveee". Basically a twat who can't handle loosing ~ Cardinal cavey

The sub was the one who was giving it the big 'un at Staines earlier in the season. When he was given some back, he didn't like it. If you can't take it mate, don't dish it out. Great pantomime entertainment though! Spotters Badge

He was all puff and bluster. At one point the steward lost contact with him and he was free to get stuck in, instead he moved closer the steward, wanting to be restrained. Comedy Gold! ~ Spotters Badge

the stewards appeared to find it utterly ridiculous - it was definitely a case of 'hold me back'... if his effort on the pitch matched his effort off the pitch, no wonder he was an unused sub ~ Spoon

Embarrassing. Get yourself involved in a cheap row with fans whilst warming up and then play the race card? Disgusting ~ Kanu's Nan

*** Prediction & Positivity

FWIW, my gut feeling is that United will get at least a point on Tuesday night at home against Woking (assuming, of course, that the pitch passes any inspection and the match goes ahead). I might even bet on it (although I did get ID'd in the bookies the other day, just months before my 30th birthday!). Furthermore, I'm very much looking forward to my next Magpies away game, confidently predict that we won't finish in the bottom three, and expect Drax to lead us to a second successive B&B Cup win. And, yes, I am humming a certain D:Ream song as I write this!

Come on, you Magpies!

Friday 11 February 2011

Trevor Kingham - an update

As promised, the latest...

Having tried to register on the QPR LSA messageboard, and having not had any response for a couple of days, I managed to find a couple of mobile numbers.

The first one went unanswered, but the second one proved more successful. The bloke I spoke with knew of Trevor, although he didn't know him personally. Thankfully, though, he still knows his ex wife, Joanne, and he promised to contact her and pass on my details.

I was extremely grateful to hear the phone call within the hour. It was Joanne.

She remembered my name (can't think why?!) and indeed had recently been looking through some photos of us, including Trevor, when we did Fancy Dress at Grays nearly 10 years ago. She'd also called as she knew how much MUFC had meant to him, when he had been living locally.

Joanne then proceeded to tell me that Trevor had suffered a heart attack a couple of years ago, whilst living in Turkey. You may recall that he'd come back over in 2007 when Maidenhead had finally got through to the first round of the FA Cup, only to meekly surrender to Horsham. Typical. Although he'd recovered from this - the heart attack not the defeat - and I hope no one minds me mentioning this, it had cleaned him out financially. Turkey's not currently in the EU, so has no reciprocal health agreement.

He'd also been having some treatment in the UK, so had been periodically coming back here as a result.

Having done this in September, he had just arrived back in Turkey when he started feeling unwell. His brother Peter, who still lives locally, advised him to get straight back on a plane to the UK. He did this, but apparently had a stroke whilst flying back. Although the paramedics met him at the plane and took him straight to East Surrey hospital, his brain had been starved of oxygen for a while, causing severe damage. He ended up in a coma and, to be honest, the doctors gave him no chance of recovery.

However, this is Trevor Kingham we're talking about here, and he's made of sterner stuff. I'm being polite, as Joanne called him 'stubborn'! I knew what she meant though...

He eventually came out of the coma, moved around various hospitals and, over 4 months later, he's now in a specialist hospital for stroke victims in Putney. Apparently he still forgets things and can sometimes become confused. He can talk and has some movement in his arms and legs but, suffice to say, he's unlikely to be the same again. A truly sobering thought, considering what a 'tour de force' he was during his time at the club. Think about him the next time you sit in the blue seats at the back of the stand, which we got from the old Den. He put them all in...

Apparently his brother still sees him a couple of times a week, and I'd dearly love to see him again, but it's immediate family only for the foreseeable future.

Joanne has promised to pass my details on to Peter, and I'd really like to hear from him at some stage. If I do, I'll let everyone know, after reminding him how popular he was with us.

Trevor - the KSG owes you a lot...

MUSA and GMOSC announce commemorative shirt auctions

Was Nike about in 1871? Maidenhead United FC wasn't ...

Maidenhead FC (founded in 1870) and Maidenhead Norfolkians (founded in 1894) amalgamated to form Maidenhead Town after WWI, with 'United' replacing 'Town' in the name from 1920. How exactly it equates to MUFC celebrating their 140th anniversary this year, I'm not too sure, but - as it is - Oxford University will be the visitor to York Road on 15th March for a commemorative game.

(EDIT: the game is to commemorate York Road's 140th birthday and has nothing to do with the creation of the/ a football club)

MUSA has organised that the team will wear retro red and black hooped shirts (the colours worn by Maidenhead FC from 1871) embroidered with the club crest and the match information. These shirts will be auctioned afterwards to raise money for the ring-fenced ground fund. The link to the relevant News Item on the Mothership is here.

Now, there are far too many photos of me on Facebook, full stop. And in far too many of these, I am wearing the same clothes - not least my 1970s Bristol Rovers shirt or the 1978 Argentina replica I purchased for my Diego Maradona costume of Fancy Dress IX. As such, it's fair to say that I'm all for retro football shirts. However, calling a shirt 'retro' when it has a Nike logo emblazoned on it is laughable, methinks.

I realise that the shirts are to be worn first by those playing in the game before being sold off, and this presumably explains why they are manufactured by Nike rather than, for example, Toffs (polyester rather than cotton).

And the ring-fenced ground fund is, of course, a worthy cause.

But surely we could've sorted red and black hoop shirts that didn't have a prominent logo on them?

As it is, I am pleased to announce details of our own commemorative shirt (below):

GMOSC are offering spectators (and any other non-interesting parties) the opportunity to acquire one of these shirts, post-Murdo's ban, auctioning them via a sealed 'made-up accusation' method. Your 'made-up accusation' should be placed in a sealed envelope with your name, address and contact details and handed to the Yes Man of the Year (at the merchandise stall by Stripes) or Club Shop Guy (at the Magpies Megastore).

The closing date for bids is Tuesday, 15th March 2011 and the minimum 'made-up accusation' for a shirt is "attempting to bring alcohol into the ground". Please note that in the event of a tied bid, misspellings will be looked upon favourably. The decision of GMOSC is final and may be contrary to the submissions received. Correspondence is welcomed but will not be replied to.

Good luck and happy smearing!

Thursday 10 February 2011

Please excuse me

Further to my first blog post of this week, I was interested to read - on the back page of today's Advertiser - the thoughts of Johnson 'No Excuses' Hippolyte on last weekend's 2-2 home draw with Bishop's Stortfort (particularly as the away side's equaliser came from a penalty kick, the award of which the local rag does describe as 'dubious').

Under a headline of “Drax: We Were Robbed”, the manager surmises that - 

“It was a joke. The bottom line is that the ref has cost us”.

Here's hoping for three points this weekend, against bottom-of-the-table Lewes, otherwise GMOSC will be officially opening a book on what/whom Drax will blame next. The weather is an early favourite.

What a stinker

The front page article of this week's Maidenhead Advertiser tells of a guilty verdict, being reached in court, following a local murder. Two weeks ago, the subject matter was rather more trivial: the theft of the water boiler at York Road (also reported on the BBC, with comments from our very own Stevie G).

“We are all volunteers” is one of the quotes attributed to Peter Griffin in the above article.

Obviously MUFC Ltd – always keen to point out how professional they are when the situation suits (e.g. multi-year contracts to the manager, no supporters on the team coach etc., etc.) - were now playing the ‘poor little Maidenhead’ card.

Good spin? Perhaps.

Except that I’m not sure the article gave a particularly good impression of the club.

When I first picked up a copy of the paper - in Windsor library, as it happens - I didn’t realise initially that the front page story concerned MUFC Ltd; the headline (‘What a stinker’, as shown above) and the accompanying photo (showing the Chairman standing amongst weeds, badly stained brickwork, rusted machinery, and with various bits of concrete and piping lying about) lead me - genuinely - to think it was instead an article highlighting a local resident’s complaint about the council allowing a public convenience to lapse into a state of such disrepair that it had attracted junkies and other delinquents. Or something similar.

The article also went onto state that ...

“thieves had already tried to break into the shed a few weeks ago and that he (Peter) knew metal thieves were ‘rife’ at the moment”

Why then, did we not make upgrades to our security after the first attempted break in, especially in light of a similar incident at Oaken Grove before Christmas?

In all seriousness, obviously it’s terrible that the club have fallen victim to a crime - which, before someone suggests otherwise, I do not condone - but isn’t all this talk about potential lost revenue, the cost of a replacement tank, and higher insurance premiums, a bit of a sob story? 

The public of Maidenhead were supposed to feel sorry for us - and to a certain extent they should - yet most will do so without being aware that the manager is driving around in a company car, we have previously spent five-figure sums getting our accounts signed off, and that the expected cost (£5K) of a replacement boiler probably equates (give or take) to the weekly playing budget.

‘Poor little Maidenhead’

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Keeping up with the Abramoviches ~ RIP Windsor & Eton FC

This time last week our local rivals Windsor & Eton FC (or Loser & Beaten, as we liked to call them) were wound up in the High Court, after 118 years, with reputed debts running into six-figures. A couple of days previously, Chelsea FC had announced a pre-tax loss of £70.9M ... before spending £76.5M in just one day, on two players, as the January transfer window drew to a close.

On the very same day that W&EFC was being read it's last rites Martin Samuel wrote an article in the Mail, entitled 'Fair Play to Roman Abramovich, his £75M reaches the needy', that criticised Michel Platini's Financial Fair Play initiative (which, I agree, is a barely disguised ruse to woo Eastern European votes, as the Frenchman aims to cement his position as UEFA's head honcho) and claimed that the 'trickle-down' effect of a Russian oligarch spending his money on footballers, rather than on yachts or artwork, would "increase competition ... improve standards ... promote interest".

Now, Samuel is an excellent football writer - one of the best in the business for my money - but this piece was not one of his finest, IMO. It was too top-level-centric and didn't take into account the negative effect Abramovich's spending (of course, he can afford such extravagances) has on others, lower down the football food chain. Whilst most of the online reader comments that followed the article were in support of Samuel's arguments, there were a few that seemed to concur with my general viewpoints:

Martin, I think a valid point is missed here -- the working class fan and how they are being ousted from the game. Financial controls, living within your means could actually mean we see lower transfer fees, lower ticket prices, lower wages and more fans who can afford to see a live game. This won't change the twice yearly merry go round but it will all be done at lower price levels, which in this current economic climate MIGHT just endear football a little bit more to the working man... The sugar daddy's inflate the market, there are some great advantages, but there is also very much a downside, something you have spectacularly failed to see. YING and YANG.
- Joyce, Salford

The point the article fails to make is how this apparent trickle-down effect to smaller clubs is in any way beneficial to the game. Does the money invested from outside sources make football a more exciting sport? Does it improve stadia for fans and academy facilities for players? Does it make the sport cheaper to watch? No, it makes a small number of already obscenely wealthy footballers and agents even richer. In 2008/09, the first season the UK was in recession, Premier League wages grew 11%. A small increase in revenue from taxes is no substitute for a much-needed cut in ticket prices and television subscriptions for the now unemployed City-supporting ex-Manchester Council worker who cannot afford to watch his team play in a stadium constructed using public money.
- Edin, Manchester

What a shocking piece of special pleading, once again, by Martin Samuel. The age-old "trickle down" defence of gross abuses of wealth and privilege. Abramovich acts like a Monopoly player who has access to an additional, massive stash of Monopoly money under the table. He dips into it to buy up Park Lane and Mayfair and put his hotels on them. And of course, it puts extra money onto the board that will trickle to other players, as they get beaten and beaten at the game they think they're playing. Wenger has it right, and so does Platini. It's financial doping, it's unsustainable, it's a cheat, and it stinks out the game of football to high heaven.
- Dezza, Liverpool

Sorry Martin, but you're wrong. The tiny benefit to clubs in England - bear in mind that most of Abramovich's money has been spent abroad - is dwarfed by the inflation on player salaries and supporter expectations. The norm is presently £200,000 a week. What next? £250,000? Half a million? £1m a minute doesn't make them better players. It seems many correspondents supporting your view with their green arrows are from far flung corners of the world. Many UK based fans will disagree with you when their tickets rise again, and again. All this does is raise the bar and many clubs can't reach it. Good, decent, solid clubs like Everton for example, who can't keep up because they lack a billionaire. Great support, massive history, wonderful youth team? Who cares! You need a billionaire!! And if you don't then you fall behind, or go bust trying to keep up, like Leeds & Portsmouth. But who cares about Portsmouth? Maybe all the firms who lost money when the club went bust? Ask them.
- Steve Norman, Bexleyheath

Edin from Manchester - in particular - has it right, methinks, when he/she asks ...

  • Does the money invested from outside sources make football a more exciting sport?
  • Does it improve stadia for fans and academy facilities for players?
  • Does it make the sport cheaper to watch?

The point about Sugar Daddies inflating the market is also valid, as is the the one about the bar being raised to levels that other clubs cannot reach. Some try ... and that, it seems to me, is when the problems start.

More analysis (or waffle) later. First, some memories. One of the things that has always bugged me somewhat as a Maidenhead United fan is that, whilst we were slumming it in the lower reaches of the Isthmian League throughout much of the 90s, other local sides like W@nky Wanderers and Slough Town were battling it out in the Conference; Marlow were playing at Tottenham in the FA Cup; Windsor & Eton, Aylesbury United, Chesham United and Wokingham Town were all playing in higher divisions (or it certainly seemed that way, anyhow). When we were paired with any of these sides in the County Cup, we would as likely be swatted aside as put up much of a fight. Then, as we began our rise under Alan Devonshire in the late 90s, they all started to fall apart and nose-dive down the divisions (aside from W@nky, who had long since been promoted to the Football League).

As such, aside from the odd memorable encounter (an Obinna Ulasi goal giving us a Christmas time 1-0 win over Slough Town at York Road; a Richard Barnard error gifting them a revenge win by the same score at Wexham Park; Chuk Agudosi getting booked after jumping into the Bell End to celebrate putting us two-up against M@rlow, only for them to stage a comeback win ... with Brian Connor flicking v-signs to the crowd, at the end, before signing for us later the same week!) we very rarely seemed to play each other in meaningful league fixtures. So, while the W@nky/Slough and Slough/Windsor rivalries appeared comparatively natural and relatively storied, our 'dislike' of them was born out of a sense that we'd been (perhaps understandably) ignored and excluded for so long; infused with a heavy dose of Schadenfreude, as we went from being also-rans - an afterthought - to the highest-placed senior football club in Berks & Bucks. And it transpired that it was rather lonely at the 'top'.

That's how it seemed to me, anyway. Kind of like the Ashes of late; thrashing the Aussies recently after years of being on the receiving end of such beatings was great, of course, but was almost too easy and didn't seem right, somehow. I wasn't old enough, I suppose, to be one of the 20 or so who took half-days off work, ahead of a midweek Cup tie at M@rlow, and hung Murdo's MUFC Union Flag from the roof of the Donkey public house! Perhaps that was our Edgbaston 2005? (although I'm not sure MUFC won that particular game, it obviously meant something to our fans).

Anyway, it is perhaps a measure of this rather half-arsed and often mismatched rivalry - and also the contempt in which the Berks & Bucks Cup is held (how many other county competitions give everyone a bye in the first round?!) - that our two final competitive meetings with W&EFC were dour, nondescript occasions. To the best of my knowledge, our last competitive meeting came on 10th March 2009, when they beat us 1-0 in the B&B at York Road. It was a dreadful game, especially from a MUFC point of view, with Bobby Behzadi missing a penalty with 15 or so minutes left when the game was goal-less, before Wallace won it for Windsor late on. The crowd was a pathetic 175 and the atmosphere only enlivened by sporadic chanting from a reasonably decent (but nothing to write home about) away following.

Our last competitive game at Slag Meadow, meanwhile, was a 2-1 Berks & Bucks Cup win for us in January 2007. I spent all but the last few minutes of the match in the pub over road from their ground, watching Arsenal run out 6-3 winners at Anfield in the Carling Cup with a hat-trick from Julio Baptista (who might actually have scored four goals, that night, on further reflection).

I wouldn't want to give the impression that there were no memorable games with 'them' (Loser & Beaten). One of the first times I remember ever speaking to Macleod (M), for example, was during a midweek (league?) fixture at Slag Meadow when he came over to defend a teenage Willie and I whilst we were getting stick from some locals for offering encouragement to Magpies full-back Tyrone Houston.

Then there was the time that Windsor (specifically Dennis Greene?) gave it the big un in the press prior to a B&B Quarter-Final in April 2003, only for Dev's team to hammer them at Slag Meadow with Lawrence Yaku grabbing a hat-trick. Former Magpies youngster Rob Saunders was on the bench for the home side that night and we only gave it one, quick, subdued burst of "You're sub, in a sh!tty team" before aborting and singing "Nil-5, in your Cup Final" instead.

THE classic MUFC/W&EFC game for me, though, was an earlier, B&B Cup encounter. I'm not sure when exactly it took place but it must've been prior to the 1999/2000 season (as I can't find it detailed in the online archive of match reports, which goes back to that year). Playing them at that time was still rather novel, for me at least, and therefore rather exciting. Willie and I were in our teens, travelling to games on our own, and at that carefree stage that you don't appreciate - as much as you should - at the time (post-'being picked upon by opposing fans' but pre 'being picked upon by your own Directors').

Anyway, United came from behind (I think) to draw 2-2 at Slag Meadow in a fiery encounter with one of my favourite MUFC players, Steve Brown (pictured below), scoring an absolute scorcher from midfield. There was also a heated altercation between Chuk Agudosi and home keeper Kevin Mitchell(?) which sparked a mass brawl. I remember missing the replay through illness as United cakewalked into the next round courtesy of a Garry Attrell hat-trick.

Happy days! But probably more than enough nostalgia for one blog post!

^^^ Willie T (far left) and me, with ex-Magpies Steve 'Huggy' Brown (red shirt) and Adrian Allen (far right), at a charity game last year

Obviously it's sad when any football club gets wound up, even when it is one of your local rivals! In all seriousness, one could argue that something like this happening so close to home brings everything into sharper focus. Now, I don't profess to know too much detail about the precise problems that beset W&EFC, but I did read an article in a local rag recently in which Kevin Stott - seemingly the prospective Chairman of the Phoenix club - stated that he first became involved in the club back in 1990 (before leaving, only to return to try and save it in recent months) after a large debt had been built up. It would seem as if it the debt-problem had never really gone away (and reached increasingly critical levels after ground-share money from Slough Town and then Bedfont Green had dried up).

For those that don't know, W&EFC won the Zamaretto League Division One South & West league last season with 101 points. Highly-rated striker Michael Chennells (one of five contracted players currently in limbo after last week's High Court ruling) bagged an impressive 29 league goals, and notable appearance makers included Marcus Richardson, Matt Seedel, Bruce Wilson, Ryan Parsons and Andrew Fagan. Their average attendance? 175 (7th highest in the division). Not sustainable in itself. Someone must've been putting a load of money in ... or not, as it would transpire.

Rumours of unpaid wages had seemingly dogged their title run-in and manager Keith Scott plus members of his coaching staff left at the end of the season, with players such as Wilson and Fagan also subsequently departing. That said, it didn't seem as if the budget was slashed, and W&EFC were more than holding their own in the higher division when the death knell sounded last week. Chennells had bagged another 14 goals and the likes of Fiston Manuella (ex-Staines Town and Her Majesties, among others) and Delroy Preddie, Dwane Lee, Adam Bernard and Paul Robinson (all ex-Maidenhead United) had represented the Royalists during the current campaign.

Why, if money was becoming increasingly tight (as it presumably was), did the Board not cut back on the wages and, if need be, put out a team made up of supporters, with the tea lady in goal (she'd have been better than Preddie)? It could be argued that, if the debt was so big (as aforementioned, I have read that it was in excess of £100K), saving the wages of Manuella et al wouldn't have made much of a difference, long-term. Maybe. That said, it still seems strange to me that they didn't at least appear to make a concerted effort to save every penny that they could.

Things must've spiralled out of control. The bar had been raised. They had tried to reach it (an admirable show of ambition, some would say). And, ultimately, failed. Like they were always likely to, at some stage, on average gates of 175. Roman Abramovich's doing? Not directly. But the exorbitant pay-rises given to the likes of Fernando Torres do filter down the leagues. Is it Torres' fault that he gets paid so much? No, you're only worth what someone is prepared to pay you. And Abramovich can afford it. Windsor, on the other hand ...

A quick Google search on W&EFC's demise brings up a thread from a Wealdstone FC forum that tells of how the Stones had lost midfielder Ryan Spencer to W&EFC in 2005 after he was apparently offered three times what he was then earning. At that stage Windsor obviously thought they, too, could afford it. Not on average gates of 175 (and without access to most of Russia's oil and gas reserves) they couldn't. If the Spencer story is accurate - and typical of lavish W&EFC spending - then it is little surprise to me that they were, eventually, to pay the ultimate price.

Now, I'm not a Maidenhead United fan crowing here. Our gates aren't significantly bigger and we too have been more than generous (read frivolous) re wages in recent years. Heck, our reputed debts were well in excess of £200k when the members club bit the dust in 2005. The difference between us, then, and W&EFC last week? Peter Griffin and Pharmalink were willing and able to save us in our hour or need and so we got an indefinite stay of execution. As such, we can continue to overspend (in relation to our income) and will presumably do so until Pharmalink can't or won't fund us any longer (Pharmalink will have already spent a sizeable six-figure sum in order to keep the club 'debt-free')

Going back to questions posed earlier by Edin (Manchester), though, has the Pharmalink money made the football at York Road more exciting? Has it significantly improved the facilities for supporters and players? Has it made the football cheaper to watch? No is the answer, IMO. The likes of Cliff Akurang, Will Hendry and Ashley Nicholls might currently be 'gracing' the York Road turf, but the difference in the standards between the Conference South and the Southern Premier is minimal, IMO, while our terraces are still crumbling, the toilets on the railway side of the ground still don't have any running water and teams several leagues below us have bigger and better clubhouses (Cinderford Town, Herne Bay and North Leigh are three that I have visited this season that are superior to Stripes).

Legacy, what legacy?

We still exist, and for that we should be (and are, I think) thankful, especially bearing in mind events in the High Court last week, but we are completely reliant on a wealthy benefactor paying - and continuing to pay - the bills. Just like Chelsea are with Abramovich, Man City are with Sheik Mansour, Newbury Town were with the bloke who owned coffee plantations in Rwanda (things were going swimmingly for him until the genocidal uprising of 1994) and Windsor were with whomever it was that, eventually, let them down (for one reason or another).

Hopefully Windsor's sad demise will be a wake-up call to those at Maidenhead United ... and at other clubs above and below us in the pyramid. Self sufficiency (or, at least, concerted attempts to make yourself less reliant on handouts from wealthy benefactors which may, of course, one day run dry) should be an aim of each and every football club. The alternative - spending money that you have today, but might not have tomorrow, on 'intangibles' such as players and management rather than facilities and infrastructure, in an almost crazed quest for short-term, instant (on field) success - is jeopardising the very existence of clubs that have been part of our communities, in some cases, for over a hundred years.

Forgive me if I don't hold my breath.

Welsh wizards Goldie Lookin Chain wrote a song sometime in early 2009 called 'Who's Next' which, rather morbidly and in rather bad taste, ran through the runners and riders re the next celebrity death. 'Who will be next to be pushing up daisies/I put my cash on Patrick Swayze' went a line from the chorus and they were either spot on, or Keith Floyd pipped Swayze to the post and ruined an ultimately 'close but no cigar' prediction (both Swayze and Floyd passed away on Monday 14th November 2009 and I have been unable to establish who died first). As it is, I reckon the Chain could re-write the song about football clubs. 'Who will be next to be pushing up daisies' ... there must be countless contenders (no thanks to Roman and his kind or, more specifically, those trying to emulate them).

Martin Samuel finished his aforementioned article as follows:

"All that has happened in this transfer window is that some very rich men have pledged to keep us entertained for another year or more. Make the most of it, for when Platini and his legions of dullards get their way you will be expected to find amusement in a spread sheet, as the accountants take over the asylum"

Accountants taking over the asylum? If only they would. Then, at least, MUFC Ltd would be saved from feeling compelled to pay five-figure sums to get their accounts signed off!

Further Reading:

Murdo went to Portsmouth vs Leeds United last month (when Callum, Steve H and I were at the Herne Bay vs Whitley Bay game). He subsequently emailed me this scanned copy of an article from the programme, written by a PFC fan who also follows Bognor Regis Town. The Rocks seem to be prospering - both on and off the pitch - lower down the non-league pyramid. Good luck to 'em.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Away Day Diary: North Leigh vs Cinderford Town (29/01/11)

In early October we had travelled to see MUFC Ltd play at Cinderford Town in the FA Cup. As detailed in my subsequent Away Day Diary we found ourselves struggling, big time, to make it back to Gloucester for our return train, only to be saved by the generosity of long-standing home fan Ray and his wife, Beryl. As the former played taxi driver and very kindly dropped us off after a mad dash through the country lanes, we said that we would attend another Cinderford Town game, before the season was out, as a 'thank you'. A promise is a promise.

Having checked the Foresters' fixtures, a train away day to see them play at Paulton Rovers in March was initially pencilled in. It was a case of 'back to the drawing board' just before Christmas, however, when the Goldie Lookin Chain gig in Camden that we were scheduled to attend was postponed, due to the snow, and re-arranged for the very same Saturday that Cinderford is in North Somerset (as it is, we're now planning on heading to the gig in London, wearing full Chain regalia of course, via Ascot United vs Pegasus Juniors).

After consulting the recently collated GMOSC 2011 fixtures spreadsheet (which looks like it might've been prepared by an Accountant at NASA, who has a compulsion to colour code and trades Futures Contracts in his spare time), it became apparent that there was only one Cinderford game - North Leigh away on 29th January - that wasn't going to clash with prior commitments. Research (i.e. Wikipedia) indicated that North Leigh is an Oxfordshire village on the main road between Witney and Long Hanborough. The latter, crucially, had a train station nearby (called Hanborough, rather than Long Hanborough, as it happens) - served by the Oxford-Worcester line - and Stagecoach ran a bus service between Long Hanborough and Witney, with the No 242 stopping in North Leigh. Game on. Or so we thought ...

Macleod (C) was skiing in Switzerland, Steve H entertaining (hosting the father of an ex-Maidenhead United full-back and the former manager of the Anguilla national football team, among others, with no word as to whether kebabs were on the menu ... ) while Willie was at Swindon Town vs Exeter City (no doubt he'd have been working ... or attending his wife's sister's best friend's neighbour's goldfish's christening ...  or something/ anything) and so, in the immortal words of Bill Withers, 'just the two of us' were on the 11:25 train from Maidenhead.

I'd dragged myself from my sickbed to be there, having missed Ibiza Caledonian Thistle FC's 6-a-side Championship title-winning night out in town the previous evening, after falling ill at the last minute (and thereby foregoing the opportunity to talk with an Edinburgh girl who was studying in Bournemouth to become a pilot, while working one night a week in the Honeypot - yes, she did know Roy the Boy - while Tel prepared for impending fatherhood by devouring enough tequila to make Terrorvision wince). As such, I gave my now customary pint of milk at Reading station a wide berth and there was no carry out on the train, which was shortened at Oxford meaning that we had to shift to the front three carriages. Ironically, it was only after a couple of pints that I started to feel significantly better ...

Although quite a few passengers left the train at Hanborough, the station was pretty small (it would later be pointed out to us, by two teenage girls, that there was only one platform and one line, being used for both up and down trains) with an A-road, a deserted bus stop (note I didn't write bus shelter), and one row of decent-sized houses outside. The majority of cars seemed to be of the 4x4/ off-road variety and many were mud-spattered, which seemed to tie-in with the expanse of fields that were also in view.

Macleod (M) had done his homework and was aware of which direction we were to head to reach the village, the first of three pubs (all of which, he informed me, were relatively highly-rated on Beer In The Eveningand the relevant bus stop. After a stroll of less-than-five minutes, past a few larger properties (at least one of which was a B&B with 'Farm' as part of the name), we arrived at the rather smart looking George & Dragon. An expensive pint of Kirin followed - not sure of the last pub I was in that had Japanese lager on tap - in a saloon bar complete with twig lamps, sturdy wooden furniture and thick, intricately-patterned cushions ('rustic charm', I suppose you could say). We weren't the first, or indeed the last, customers to enter the bar, while the adjourning restaurant (which clearly accounted for most of the establishment's trade) was already busy. While rather pricey, the place felt more homely than other recently-refurbished pubs - I presume this one has been done up in the not-too-distant past - and I can imagine it being very popular in the summer.

Location #2 on the mini-crawl was the Bell. Another 'new' pub which (understandably, bearing in mind the location) would also seem to rely on clients paying for food, more so than ones paying for liquid refreshment. It was surprisingly big, rather draughty, and seemingly popular with groups of late twenty/ early thirty-something parents with loud, infant children called Alfie or Alexa or suchlike. The choice of lagers was rather mundane and the Kronenbourg we had - it was that or Carling Extra Cold - seemed dull and unexciting after the Kirin. I wouldn't want to give the impression that this was a horrible boozer - in no way did we hurry our drinks, for example (far from it, in fact) - rather it paled somewhat compared to the previous one. Indeed, it soon became clear that we were smack bang in the middle of the 'three ages of pub' (think of the famous 'An Understanding of Class' sketch - starring Cleese, Barker and Corbett - on the Frost Report in the 1960s)

After exiting the Bell we continued up the main road, passing a delightful row of thatched cottages and a tiny, funny-looking Cycle Shop & General Store (that sold, among other bizarre things, the tin foil trays in which takeaway curries are contained ... in packs of five!). The spectacular views over the Cotswolds, a passing tractor, and a dead field mouse on the pavement reminded us that we were in the countryside. Then, very suddenly, the housing alongside the road went rather 'Shameless', with Russian-branded satellite dishes protruding from pebble-dash walls. Our third pub - the Three Horseshoes - was located nearby, on a roundabout. Some people might describe this pub as 'rough and ready'; perhaps accurately so. That said, it had a large TV screen (showing the closing stages of the Everton vs Chelsea FA Cup tie), one of those modern, touch screen-operated jukeboxes with thousands of songs (including precisely six each by Goldie Lookin Chain, Hope Of The States, Little Man Tate, and Stiff Little Fingers) and Becks Vier on tap. A thumbs up from me, then! Returning to my 'three ages of pub' analogy from earlier, it knew it's place ...

We finished our third pint of the day (as Murdo pointed out, we were definitely on a 'go-slow'; Callum is obviously the KSG drink pace-setter!) in good time to catch the 14:28 bus from the stop opposite the pub (unlike previous buses this season - to Cinderford and Herne Bay - this wasn't a double-decker). After checking with the driver - an absolute spit (geddit?!) of legendary German striker Rudi Voller (greatest moustache/ mullet combo ever?) - that we were on the right one, we joined the only other passenger: an elderly woman wearing a knitted beret. After a less-than-five minute drive along the main road, towards Witney, 'Rudi' - who was aware we were going to the football ground - made an impromptu stop for us. Much appreciated. A small roadside sign indicated that the track before us, leading into woodland, was the entrance to Eynsham Hall Park Sports Ground; home of North Leigh FC.

My camera phone - which has so many images saved on it now that it feels like it is going to spontaneously combust each and every time it is used - got a thorough work out, over the next ten minutes or so, as we were presented with various idiosyncratic sights (including what looked like a dilapidated cricket pavilion, Stig of the Dump's living room, a ready-made/ about-to-be-lit bonfire, a goal-post with several tyres hanging from it, a muddy football pitch with scorched sidelines, and fields of sheep in the distance). The turnstiles to the ground - which put those at York Road to shame and reminded me somewhat of Plymouth Parkway's Bolitho Park - were unmanned and, as the £7 entry fees were returned to our pockets, we stumbled upon what appeared to be two teams warming up (which, of course, is what you might expect at 14:50 or so).

The first thing that we noticed about the ground was the significant slope on the pitch; also the uneven stand on the far side. Soon after, though, we questioned why one of the teams was wearing red (North Leigh play in yellow; Cinderford Town in black and white stripes), why one of the players looked older than Macleod (M), why another had a flag and seemed to be preparing to run the line, and why the nearest goalkeeper to us looked as if he weighed close to twenty stones. When a referee appeared, as tubby as the aforementioned goalkeeper, and with a dyed-red mohawk - and we clocked onto the fact that there were hardly any supporters in the ground, aside from us - it became clear that something was not quite as it should be.

Subsequent conversations with the two elderly gentlemen to our right, and then the rotund keeper, shed light on the fact that the Zamaretto League fixture had been postponed, due to a frozen pitch, at around 10AM (I'd checked both club websites just before this time but, seeing no mention of a proposed pitch inspection, had thought nothing more of it). It transpired that we had instead turned up during the half time break of North Leigh B (their fourth team, basically) vs Freeland A (their third team) in the Witney & District League Division Three; a match that had originally been scheduled to take place on the pitch outside, that we had just walked across!

Just as we finished shaking our heads at the absurdity of it all, the passing North Leigh FC Chairman (pictured above, talking with Murdo) invited us for drinks in the newly-refurbished clubhouse. He was still livid at the match referee for calling the game off so early in the day. It transpired that the new facilities had only been opened the night before; the game with Cinderford Town was the first for which they were in use. The Chairman - who also doubled up as the barman, and various other things - seemed glad that there were at least two more mouths to help ensure that the post-match spread did not go to waste!

The new clubhouse was very impressive; it certainly sounded like a significant improvement on the club's previous one which, it transpired, was the dilapidated cricket pavilion - actually a listed building - that we'd passed earlier! Nice touches included a segregated boardroom off the bar area, plenty of club-related photos on the walls (countless team photos, newspaper clippings, a memorial to the club stalwart who had seemingly bequeathed at least some of the money that had paid for the new clubhouse etc., etc.), and Guinness being served - from ice-cold cans into glasses - via the use of a vibrating plate (the Chairman/ barman explained that the facility would only be open at the weekends, so no point in having pipes which would require constant cleaning; not rocket science, is it Rasher??). A patio area outside had picnic benches and offered a good view of the pitch, albeit one protected by neatly cut and properly secured wire meshing (preventing people/ pints from being knocked over by stray shots/ passes).

The quality of football, unsurprisingly, left much to be desired and so, after another chat with one of the elderly gentlemen from earlier (who filled us in with, amongst other things, the fact that Sholing - not to be confused with Sholing Sports - were top of the Zamaretto League Divison One South & West), we went for a quick scout around the ground. The covered stand behind the goal (which adjourned the new clubhouse facility) reminded me of a smaller version of the one at Halesowen Town. The turnstiles, as aforementioned, were neat and tidy (props to the handyman Chairman?). The pitch surrounds, perimeter fencing, and pathway around the ground were all similarly well-kept. Behind the uncovered end was a small wooden fence that backed onto fields, with the spectacular Eynsham Hall visible in the distance. The uneven stand was rather petite but, in keeping with the rest of the ground, perfectly formed; no broken seats, a leaky roof, or 'plywood-desk-passing-as-a-Media Area' here, that's for sure.

We arrived back into the clubhouse to learn that North Leigh B had added to their half time lead, running out comfortable 4-2 winners to go top of the table on goal difference (following West Witney Reserves' two-all draw at home to Chipping Norton Town Swifts Reserves; no, I'm not making these names up!). Macleod (M) was able to inform the red-haired Ref - as we munched on a plentiful supply of pizza slices, quiche, and sausage rolls - that, having passed a course and being over 18, he was a Level Seven Match Official. News reached us that MUFC Ltd had lost 4-2 to Boreham Wood, while Bristol Rovers' glorious comeback from 3-0 down away to bottom-of-the-table Walsall had failed to materialise (they'd lost 6-1), so I insisted upon another drink - to ease the pain of the inevitability of League Two football for the Gas next season - before we bid a fond farewell to the Chairman (who encouraged us to return for a first-team game next season) and to the Eynsham Hall Park Sports Ground.

As darkness fell we decided to walk back along the main road (don't worry, there was a path!) to Long Hanborough, rather than try and find the nearest bus stop. It seemed to take much longer than the earlier five-minute-or-so bus ride had suggested it would. The wind off the Cotswolds, meanwhile, was bitterly cold (not ideal conditions, in hindsight, for us to have embarked upon possibly our remotest away day yet!). Cockles were warmed, though, by a pint of Becks Vier in the Three Horseshoes ... and by Southampton scoring against Man Utd on the TV, much to the disgust of many of the locals (obviously). There was also time for one more in the Bell, if not the George & Dragon (which was a bit of a schoolboy error, thinking about it), before the train home.

I'll certainly be checking next season's fixtures, when they're released in the summer, for North Leigh vs Cinderford Town. If the spreadsheet permits it, then there's a good chance we'll be there. Failing that, there's always the hotly-anticipated re-match of North Leigh B vs Freeland A to bear in mind ...