"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 24 April 2011

Club defend Michael Jackson statue at York Road

A defiant Maidenhead United spokesman has told Magpie fans they can "go to hell" if they don't like a new statue of Michael Jackson erected outside their York Road ground. 

The Chairman of the East Berkshire club unveiled the bizarre Eighties-era statue of Jackson, commissioned following the singer's death in June 2009, prior to yesterday's game against Dorchester Town.

Many football fans have been left bemused, believing the so-called link between the singer and team isn't strong enough to warrant such a statue. However, speaking at the unveiling yesterday, the spokesman laughed off suggestions it was 'bizarre'. 

He said: "Why is it bizarre? Football fans love it. If some stupid fans don't understand and appreciate such a gift this guy gave to the world they can go to hell. We don't want them to be fans. If they don't understand and don't believe in things we believe in they can go to Marlow, they can go to anywhere else"

A Maidenhead United player, who didn't wish to be named, defended the decision to erect the statue. He said: "Some of our players are Michael Jackson fans, some aren't, and that's the same in the general population. His music has been on in the dressing room a couple of times. I'm sure we won when his music was played"

Although it has been claimed that Jackson 'loved Maidenhead United', the American singer actually only attended one match in 1999. And more recently in 2002, Jackson attended an Exeter City game with friend Willie Tucker and became an honorary chairman of the Devon club. 

Speaking about Jackson's relationship with Maidenhead United, the club spokesman said: "The last game he attended here with me, he was running like a child, he loved the place. He loved Maidenhead United, probably because we are a family club, and he wanted to attend all of the matches. People will queue to come and visit it from all over the UK and it is something that I and everybody else should be proud of"

Despite fans' reservations, the statue may have proved a lucky charm - the Berkshire Magpies drew 1-1 with the Dorset Magpies to extend their unbeaten run to six games. 

Sunday 17 April 2011

Away Day (sort of) Diary: Thurrock 1-2 Maidenhead United (16/04/11)

Bad luck. Injuries. Referees. Financial constraints.

All of the above excuses reasons have been used to explain why Maidenhead United have struggled so badly this season.

Well, they say things even up throughout a season, and it would seem that the Magpies were repaid in kind at Ship Lane on Saturday for eight months or so of not having the "rub of the green". Indeed, the Maidenhead Advertiser should be a "bad luck, injuries, referees, financial constraints" free zone this week. However, the same might not be true of the Thurrock Gazette.

With Jefferson Louis (widely regarded by Gasheads as THE worst player to wear the blue and white quarters of Bristol Rovers ... and that's some statement!) out through injury, Craig Faulconbridge got the nod - ahead of Alex Wall - to start up front for United. Rainey had commented, in the car on the way to the game, that he would rather Kieran 'I run faster off the pitch - at the end of the game, having not clapped the fans - than I do on it' Knight than either Woking loanee Faulconbridge or yellow card magnet Wall. Bob the Plumber agreed in the bar pre-kick-off and went so far as to say that even he was quicker than Faulconbridge!

However, less than five minutes gone, and Faulconbridge was in the thick of the action: manhandled as a cross came into the Thurrock penalty area. The ref had no option but to point to the spot, allowing a striker with convictions for animal cruelty and affray to squeeze the free shot under the keeper. I was able to play Nigel Keene and get a decent photo of the action (below, top). I didn't join in the celebrations of the twenty or so Magpies fans behind the goal (below, bottom) owing to the identity of the goalscorer; I'm still not happy that we signed Anthony Thomas (family club, my arse).

On a dry and patchy pitch, Thurrock was the better side after that, increasingly forcing Maidenhead onto the back foot. Nevin Saroya (who was presumably picked instead of Grant Cooper because the 'Male Model' cannot play too many games in a short space of time) looked distinctly uncomfortable against Danny Hockton, while the ever-impressive Matt Bodkin was enjoying himself against Bobby Behzadi (out of position at left-back). Will Hendry looked less than match-fit, and Faulconbridge, although sure of touch, was ponderous and failed to win (m)any headers against the towering Paul Olima.

Therefore it was no surprise when Thurrock equalised. Maidenhead keeper Steve Williams (who flapped several times throughout) palmed a shot straight into the path of ex-Magpie midfielder Dean Cracknell, who made no mistake from close range. Indeed, Thurrock should have led at the interval, but an unmarked player headed wide at the far post as the goal gaped. A bout of shoving between Williams and Saroya perhaps best summed up Maidenhead's first half.

The Fleet, cheered on by their small but boisterous band of followers (who made themselves heard throughout, in contrast to those who had travelled from Berkshire), continued their dominance into the second period and would have taken the lead if it were not for some bad luck; the ball hitting the Maidenhead bar and then being cleared off the line after another Williams flap and an almighty goalmouth scramble. They were then hampered by injury when Bodkin was forced off, severely reducing their attacking threat.

Then the referee began to take centre stage (never a good sign). First, he decided the 'Alex Wall (on for Faulconbridge) yellow card sweep stake' and then, on the advice of the linesman, awarded Maidenhead a free kick just outside the box after the aforementioned young striker had thrown himself theatrically to the ground upon minimal contact. If it was a foul (and it shouldn't have been, IMO), then the offending Thurrock defender should have walked, no question. Instead, he followed Wall into the book. Before the resulting free-kick was taken (below, middle), Hendry became involved in a slanging match with irritant Thurrock full-back (and Bez-from-Happy-Mondays lookalike) Lee Flynn, sparking some minor fisticuffs (which continued at the final whistle). The ref, rapidly losing control of the game at this point, spoke to seemingly everyone bar Flynn!

Thurrock's major gripe with the ref came after the game's winning goal, though, which in turn followed the belated introduction of Ashley Smith (how he cannot get into this Maidenhead side, I'll never know ... Well, I do, Drax doesn't like him). The goal was also preceded by several Maidenhead fans, including me, lamenting what a dreadful game we were witnessing (one particularly aimless Saroya hoof brought audible groans) and saying that we'd happily take a draw (bearing in mind Thurrock's difficult run-in). As it was, the hitherto ineffective Max Worsfold (tidy but a bit lightweight) cut inside a defender onto his heavily favoured left foot and lifted a delightful curler into the goalkeeper's top right-hand corner, sending the travelling support into raptures (Leicester Les ripping my coat in the celebrations!). As soon as he hit it, we knew it was in. A great feeling!

The perhaps-overly-dramatic PA man announced the goal as coming in the 91st minute, so we naturally assumed the final whistle was imminent. However, it wasn't until after 5pm that the game ended; the official inexplicably found several extra minutes (of 'Fergie time'). During this nervous period, he nearly gave me and several other Magpies fans, I'm sure, a heart attack when blowing his whistle as a cross went into the Maidenhead box and a loud appeal went up. It initially looked like he had given a penalty, but instead, he had awarded us a free kick. Mr Logic spoke to the noisy Thurrock lads in the bar afterwards, and they were adamant it was a clear handball by a Maidenhead player before any Thurrock indiscretion.
As such, our relief was palpable at the end of the game. Chants of "we are staying up" were tempered somewhat by the realisation that we had played a 'get out of jail, free' card, robbing the Fleet of (at least) a point. To be fair - in stark contrast to Dartford - Johnson Hippolyte was quick to applaud the fans, followed by most of the players (the irony being that the vocal support at Princes Park was significantly more impressive than the comparative whimper at Ship Lane). Hats off, performance-wise, to Ashley Nicholls - who was comfortably the best Maidenhead player - and full-backs Leon Soloman (a good outlet on the right) and Bobby Behzadi (tireless, as ever). John Scarborough was also solid, while Worsfold's goal was a beauty. Everyone else, to varying degrees, had games to forget.

Still, the result, rather than the performance, was the (vitally) important thing. Thurrock is more or less down now, and the desperate look on their fans' faces in the bar afterwards told their own story. Even though they were probably the better side on the day and (at least) deserving of a draw, IMO, this is the worst Thurrock side I can remember. Well, perhaps not the worst, but certainly the most timid. Bodkin going off didn't help them (he destroyed us at York Road last season and had the beating of Behzadi on Saturday). But the days of Cliff Akurang, Tresor Kandol, Jimmy McFarlane, John Purdie, etc. bullying other teams seem long gone. There was a sense as we left the ground that we might not be back again any time soon. Good riddance, some might say. And while I certainly won't miss visits to Thurrock - I've always quite liked the ground, if not the journey around the M25 to get there - I wish their supporters, particularly the (relatively) new ones who clearly like a sing-song, all the best.

As for Maidenhead, (belatedly) splashing the cash on a plethora of experienced players (in addition to a plethora of inexperienced players) in a bid to beat the drop is seemingly paying dividends. Some clubs in this division might have more financial muscle than us, but complaining about being unable to compete with the likes of Farnborough CVA misses the point. Bristol Rovers, for example, cannot compete financially with the likes of Southampton in League One. However, they can compete (and some) financially with Dagenham & Redbridge and Exeter City, for example, in the same way that Maidenhead United can compete financially with the likes of Weston-super-Mare and Thurrock. The artificially-created Conference South is starting to 'right itself', however. As aforementioned, Thurrock will more than likely go this year. Who else, among the 'have nots', will be left? Not many. For "real sense of achievement", if/when we beat the drop this year, read "blowing another £125K on merely delaying the inevitable".

Enjoy it while it lasts, they say. Well, the only things I enjoyed on Saturday were the pre-match cheeseburger (are the famous Fleet burgers still available? I didn't see them advertised), Worsfold's superb strike, the fact that Maidenhead won (albeit undeservedly, what was a pretty dire game between two poor sides, which cost a rather steep £12 to watch) and the chance to meet with some friends who I hadn't seen for a while (Bobby P, for example, was regaled during the first half with anecdotes from last month's trip to Berwick). 

I suppose this is why I usually drink at games! (I was the designated driver on Saturday.) 

Hey ho, here's to Fancy Dress away day at Truro next season!

P.P.S. While the Maidenhead fans didn't make much in the way of concerted noise on Saturday, there were several expletives shouted, especially in the first half. I trust a certain MUFC Ltd Director has been busy writing letters today and that a certain MUSA Secretary made notes of names and faces, so he can admonish people unrelated to these events, in years to come ...

P.P.P.S. I read on the forum today that, in a bid to beat the 'York Road curse', the manager urinated in each corner of the ground after our goalless draw with Humpton (which preceded our 1-0 win over Eastleigh, our first home win in more than seven months). Apt. As some might say that Drax has been taking the piss all season!

Saturday 16 April 2011


On Monday 30th August 2010 Maidenhead United beat St Albans City 2-1 at York Road in front of a bumper Bank Holiday crowd of 307.

Next home league win?

Tuesday 12th April 2011, when a Will Hendry goal against his former club secured an unlikely 1-0 win over Eastleigh.

For anyone interested in the figures that's 225 days or over seven months - approximately 19,440,000 seconds, 324,000 minutes, 5,400 hours, 32 weeks (rounded down) - without a league win at home.

Indeed, a few days after the win in August my good friend Terry and his partner Natalie announced that they were expecting their first child. They were proud parents to a baby girl by the time Maidenhead United had next won a league game at York Road! (forget bad luck, injuries, referees and financial constraints, perhaps Tel and Nat are to blame for the Magpies poor season??)

We've also seen a royal engagement, regime change and revolutions across North Africa and the Middle East, England retaining the Ashes in Australia, and natural disaster in Japan.

Umpteen games, numerous players used (only four of last Tuesday night's starting XI were even at the club in August) and countless goals conceded.

Still, not as bad as that season under Carl! ;-)

Joking aside, the monkey is finally off the team's back and it's 'game on' in the race for survival. Before last Saturday's goalless draw with Humpton, the Magpies hadn't kept a clean sheet in over three months; now they have two in a row ... and eight points from the last five games. Tomorrow's match at Thurrock (just one place and two points above us in the table, and with a nightmare run-in) is now massive for both sides.

^^^ Huge game at Ship Lane tomorrow. Crowd probably as pictured, however!

'Drax eyes great escape' was the headline on the back page of the Advertiser this week.

"I've said for a long time that on paper, when we turn up, we're not far off being a very good side" commented the gaffer.

Let's hope that we turn up at Ship Lane tomorrow (and we're on paper!). Otherwise this recent revival (of sorts) could ultimately prove as fruitless as the nine-points-out-of-a-possible-12 run of form under Dennis Greene in 2004/05, that gave us a chance of survival going into the final day of the season at Newport County (where we capitulated, pathetically, and were subsequently only saved by Hornchurch's demotion due to financial problems).

That aforementioned sequence under Greene included a 2-1 win at Thurrock on 9th April, with Craig O'Connor scoring a penalty and Guy Ekwalla proving the unlikely match-winner

With, admittedly, my black and white-tinted specs on, I fancy a similar result tomorrow. Here's hoping ...

Away Day (sort of) Diary: Bristol Rovers 0-2 Exeter City (09/04/11)

Football for me is often basically just the excuse to meet with like-minded friends for a few beers and a sing-song. If the day out includes a journey to a nice part of the country (or further afield, if we're lucky), perhaps somewhere we've not been to before, then all the better. 

As such, Bristol Rovers vs Exeter City last Saturday was unusual for me. Unusual in the sense that, as I'm currently on a self-imposed drinking ban (after the liver and wallet damaging 'Mad March'), I would be journeying to the game by car and not hanging about for any length of time either before or after kick-off.

I, for one, was surprised by how excited I was on the morning of the game; like a child at Christmas! Murdo had decided to keep me company (he admitted, when I picked him up from his house, that he didn't really know why!) and, unlike me, he has experience of driving significant distances merely to watch a game (Leeds United being his team of choice). Strangely, he didn't seem so excited ...

The sun was shining, traffic on the M4 non-existent and finding a parking space close to the Memorial Ground was remarkably easy; I had a very good feeling about the game as we supped on pre-match drinks (non-alcoholic in my case) in the pub (well, we did arrive rather early, thanks to the aforementioned clear roads!). The pub in question, BTW, was the Royal Oak on the Gloucester Road; tastefully decorated, a good range of beers, generous food portions, an impressive garden and clearly popular with the locals (including families). Remarkable, considering that this used to be the notorious John Cabot!

I had attended this same fixture, with Willie, in December 2009. Exeter dominated the possession that night, playing some neat football in the process, but created very little in the way of clear-cut chances and lost, undeservedly, 1-0. Their Arsenal-esque 'pleasing on the eye, but lacking a cutting edge' style of play clearly hadn't changed much. They passed the ball confidently (helped by a surprisingly excellent pitch), their play was fluid and characterised by a carefree attitude; in stark contrast to the one-dimensional and apprehensive-looking Rovers line-up. I'm sure that I wasn't the only Gashead present who would've bitten your hand off for a another lucky 1-0 win. It didn't seem likely this time, however ... either Rovers scoring or Rovers stopping Exeter from scoring!

The home side's defence looked nervous and slow (not helped by instant fans' favourite Danny Senda limping off early, to be replaced at right-back by a third lumpen, leaden-footed centre half). The Gas lacked width and players with guile in midfield (certainly in comparison to ex-Bristol City 1982 Ltd and Weston-super-Mare play-maker Ryan Harley - the love of Willie's life - and David Noble, who was easily the MoM, IMO).

Upfront they had the dwarf-like Jo Kuffour leading the line on his own. Now, top scorer Will Hoskins (who accounts for a ridiculous proportion of Rovers' goals this season) was out injured and Kuffour is, IMO, a tricky and more-than-useful lower league striker. But leading the line is not one of his specialities and it is safe to say that Rovers weren't playing to his strengths, which has often been the case since the departure of Sir Richard of Lambertshire, to Southampton, at the start of last season.

Exeter's target man Richard Logan looked exactly the type of player that Rovers needed upfront (as did Peterborough loanee Rene Howe, when I saw him wear the blue and white quarters at Brentford, but he had subsequently - and rather bizarrely - been sent back to London Road) while ex-Gashead Jamie Cureton caused Danny Coles and Jamie Tunnicliffe no end of problems with his constant movement. I breathed a noticeable sigh of relief when Cureton was substituted with a quarter of an hour remaining but, within minutes of his departure, Exeter were in front (largely thanks to poor positioning/ judgement from the otherwise excellent Rovers keeper, Conrad Logan). The goalscorer was ex-Manchester United trainee Daniel Nardiello, who would add a second in injury time (not long after Rovers had come close to equalising; Kuffour having an effort cleared off the line following a goalmouth scramble).

The Grecians had started the game with Logan and Cureton and ended it with Nardiello (a half-time substitute) and Gas legend Marcus Stewart upfront. Rovers, on the other hand, were reduced to sending on 19-year-old youth team graduate Eliot Richards (yet to score in the professional game) to support Kuffour. This, alone, probably explains why one team is 9th and the other 21st.

Stewart had announced prior to the game was he was to retire with immediate effect after it. He got a rousing reception when coming on (and also when being mistakenly introduced as Marcus Browning by the PA man pre kick off; typical Ragbag!). The lifelong Bristol City 1982 Ltd-fan began his career with Rovers and was an integral part of their successes under Gerry Francis and then Ian Holloway in the early-to-mid 90s, before embarking on successful spells in the Premiership with Ipswich Town (19 goals in 2000/01 leading to speculation of an England call-up) and Sunderland. He would realise his dream of playing for Sh!tty in 2005 and it was during this spell back in Bristol that I found myself standing alongside him outside the Marriott hotel in the city centre, waiting for a taxi in the small hours, one Sunday morning. He had a kebab in his mouth and an attractive blonde on each arm! Good work.

Back to last weekend and the M4 was, mercifully, still clear on the way home but news of wins for Tranmere, Swindon and Dagenham & Redbridge (albeit over free-falling Notts County) were tempered only by defeats for Yeovil and Walsall, the latter meaning that Rovers remained out of the relegation places, at least until the Saddlers 3-2 win over Brentford the following Tuesday.

Once more, after a few decent (and rather fortunate?) results, it's not looking good for the Gas (next up Southampton; cue a Lambert hat-trick and a heavy defeat). Will they escape? I am hopeful, but wouldn't bet on it. On the topic of bets, earlier in the season (when Rovers had first slipped into the drop zone, and were only a few points behind Exeter) I had invited Willie to name his price on the Gas finishing above his beloved Grecians come the end of the campaign. He declined (which was very surprising, bearing in mind his apparent addiction to fruit machines!). He must surely regret that now!

Speaking of Willie, we went corporate at Exeter vs Oldham last March for his stag do and Paul Tisdale impressed those of us who had contact with him that day* There was further praise for him from several Rovers fans on their Alternative Forum after the game. One individual posted an interesting article which gives an insight into Tisdale's hitherto successful methods. 

Other posters on the Rovers forum suggested that Exeter City are headed for promotion next season. While I certainly think that the often outlandishly-dressed Tisdale is the best young manager in the English game (anyone who can get a side up to 9th in League One with the hopeless Steve Tully at right-back must be a borderline genius!), I would hate for the Grecians to over-stretch themselves. 

Without wishing to sound patronising, it should perhaps be remembered that not so long ago they were playing one division above the likes of Maidenhead United and Thurrock, while they exist in a city where the local rugby club has a better ground and a higher average attendance. They also only have to look at fierce neighbours Plymouth Argyle to see where a couple of seasons punching (or trying to punch) well above your weight in the Championship can get you. Relegating the Pilgrims (or, more likely, compounding their relegation) on the final day of this season, keeping hold of Tisdale and 'enduring' another year in the top half of League One would surely be more than enough for the Devonians?

Whatever happens at St James Park, the club is owned by it's fans and that, I would've thought, is great comfort to Willie and his cohorts. That said, as the ever-excellent Martin Samuel points out in a recent spot-on article (with specific emphasis on supporter-owned German clubs such as Schalke 04, amongst others), ownership models that value local and grass roots involvement do not, of course, guarantee financial stability.

The Exeter City manager is Guy Ritchie
<insert Madonna/ two upfront joke here>

*The story of Willie's MoM nomination at the stag do game would've made for a great blog post, BTW:

Sunday 3 April 2011

Away Day Diary: 'Mad March'

After a quarter of a game in August, none in September, three in October (including two during one weekend in Hamburg), one in November, one in December (again, in Germany), one in January (two if you count North Leigh B vs Freeland A) and one in February - i.e. just seven games (more or less) in seven months - the fixture list conspired to present us with three games in four weeks during the month of March; my 'spare' Saturday to be spent in various pubs in Clapham, celebrating a mate's birthday. 

This liver and wallet-zapping extravaganza was quickly (and, as it turned out, accurately) termed 'Mad March'. 

Check out the numerous photos (too many to post on here) on the GMOSC Facebook page, and the one of Murdo and me on the GLC Tour Blog!

As it is, summaries of each day below:

Mad March ~ part 1

When ~ Saturday 5th March 2011 

Where ~ Dartford (for Dartford 3-0 Maidenhead United)

Why ~ the chance to round-up a few 'blasts from the past' (Willie, Mick, Jonny Wah Wah) and have a good ol' MUFC sing-song at a new ground (which was very impressive, BTW). Cue fake goal celebrations, a conga when 3-0 down, and all swear words replaced by the word 'ginge' (after Stevie G accused us, on his blog, of chanting 'ginger c**t' at Cinderford, which is a load ginging bullginge).

^^^ Memorable line 1 ~ "Dartford FC, how can I help?" - customer service skills put to good use

^^^ Memorable Line 2 ~ "Is that Grim?!" - random meet up with Wealdstone's finest

^^^ Memorable Line 3 ~ "We should do this more often" - back in the Anchor, a shirtless Willie had clearly enjoyed the day!

What they (Dartford) had to say about our support:

Must mention the Maidenhead Massive, they sang through most of the match, and were still singing after most of us had gone home or left the pitch. As I walked out at their end they were doing a great rendition of " We'll score again, don't know where don't know when. But we know we'll score again some sunny day". Great support lads ~ Lol

watching the Maidenhead fans pretending to score a goal was probably more interesting than watching the first half ~ Levyify

I agree, although very few in number there supporters were good. However as was pointed out to me at the end of the game all but three of their players completely ignored them and went straight down the tunnel, very poor show from their players and management ~ Park Life

Massive credit to the 'Head massive who had clearly ".....drunk more than us, they'd drunk much more than us...."! Was impressed by their flags and HUGE banner ~ DA Mikey

Apart from the result i think their fans enjoyed their day out, about 10 of them were in the Ivy Leaf & the Malt Shovel until around 8pm!! ~ The future's White

That's the spirit!!! ~ Silverado

What they (MUFC Ltd) had to say about our support:


The (only) three players/management who came over to applaud us at the end, incidentally, were Mark Nisbet, Bobby Behzadi and Ashley Nicholls. Fair play to 'em. The others - Kieran Knight, for one, couldn't wait to get off the pitch; I've never seen him run so fast - should hang their hands in shame (although I suspect that they couldn't care less).

Mad March ~ part 2

When ~ Saturday 12th March 2011

Where ~ Goldie Lookin Chain @ Camden Underworld via Ascot United 3-3 Pegasus Juniors

Why ~ we were supposed to see the Chain in Camden the Saturday before Christmas. After Bromley vs MUFC Ltd. But both the game and the gig were postponed due to snow. The gig was rescheduled for the same day that the Yellamen were at home. We'd been planning on going to the Racecourse Ground for some time, not least due to the presence of ex-Magpie Rob 'Rod Hull' Saunders (AKA Heybridge Mirror Thief) and my work colleague Sam Mac in their squad. The stars had aligned.

^^^ Memorable Line 1 ~ "Got any gear" - local skag heads approach us before we've even entered the first pub!

^^^ Memorable Line 2 ~ "What the f**k are you lot doing?!" - Rob Saunders (who would later miss a penalty, above, in Ascot's 3-3 draw) spots us on the sidelines as he prepares to defend a first-half throw-in

^^^ Memorable Line 3 ~ "Football talk is now banned; 50p fine for each and every breach" - my reaction to the news that the Gunners were getting beat at Old Trafford in the FA Cup. The train journey from Ascot to Waterloo cost me £7.50 in fines!

^^^ Memorable Line 4 ~ "He's not in the band" - after the bouncers had cleared everyone, bar me, from the stage - after the gig had ended in a mass stage invasion - the club DJ had to pointedly inform them, via the PA system, that I wasn't actually a member of the GLC!

Mad March ~ part three

When ~ Saturday 19th March 2011

Where ~ Clapham

Why ~ annual all-day (well, all-afternoon at least) drinking session in South London to celebrate the 29th birthday of my good friend: former MUFC Ltd Reserve team player - and everyone's favourite Bognorian-Italian - B. T. Macari.

^^^ Memorable Line 1 ~ "Woking? Not again!" - one of us journeyed more than once between Waterloo and Woking, on the train home to Walton-On-Thames

^^^ Memorable Line 2 ~ "Can you pick me up please?" - one of us ended up on Brentford High Street and had to call the wife for a lift home

^^^ Memorable Line 3 ~ "How much?!" - one of us ended up in Basingstoke and got a rather expensive taxi home, rather than wait for a train to Reading

Mad March ~ part four

When ~ Saturday 26th & Sunday 27th March 2011

Where ~ stay-over in Berwick-upon-Tweed, taking in: Berwick Rangers 1-1 East Stirlingshire (we missed the Shire goal, as we were drinking Bellhaven in the clubhouse, then Berwick equalised at the death, which was rather apt!), as well as several pubs (including the excellent Barrels Ale House), and Bedrocks nightclub.

Why ~ ever since reading Jeff Connor's excellent book 'Pointless' we said that we wanted to see the Shire play. One night in the Anchor, after an MUFC Ltd game, it was mentioned to us - by someone who would know - that Berwick was a decent night out. Berwick Rangers vs East Stirlingshire (rather than, it transpired, Whitley Bay at Poole Town in the FA Vase Semi 1st Leg, or Scotland vs Brazil at the Emirates) was pencilled in as soon as the fixtures came out last summer and booked in early February.

Memorable Line 1 ~ "Technically, Berwick Rangers is a league ground in England" - a comment to fellow MUFC fan and Macleod (M) schoolmate Richard C; on the same London-bound train as us at 06:47, on Saturday morning, en route to watch W@nky Wanderers at Morecambe. His 92nd - and final, or so he thought - English league ground (or league ground in England?!)

^^^ Memorable Line 2 ~ "Nae sing, nae win" - the Shire's Macleod (M) equivalent needlessly rallied the boisterous away following with this repeated, bellowed remark

^^^ Memorable Line 3 ~ "Let's get naked for the Shire" - some (almost) did!

^^^ Memorable Line 4 ~ "Nae bother; the car is fooked, and I can break into the house" - paunchy, bare-chested, inebriated Shire fan's response to our offer, at the end of the match, to help search for his missing car and house keys, which he had presumably lost rolling up and down a grassy bank

^^^ Memorable Line 5 ~ "Community Support Officers are a complete waste of time" - young policeman to us, on Berwick Main St, after we mentioned that we rarely saw proper coppers round our way. His face went as white as a sheet when I told him that we were undercover reporters from the News of the World and were recording the conversation, prompting both him and his more experienced colleague to run away from us!

^^^ Memorable Line 6 ~ "How is life on the run?" - question to two bouncers on the door of Berwick nightclub Bedrocks - complete with carpeted floors and £2-a-drink pricing policy - who, it transpired, were from Brighton and Harrow respectively. They both laughed ... albeit, I thought, rather nervously! ;-)

Anyway, what next?

Well, no booze 'til Binfield now ...


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Away Day Diary: Brentford 1-0 Bristol Rovers (26/02/11)

Whenever, as a youngster, we used to travel into London by road - on a family outing or school trip or whatever - I used to notice the floodlights aside the start of the elevated section of the M4. From an early age I was aware it was Griffin Park, the home of Brentford FC. I'd always wanted to attend a game there, particularly of late after learning that it was a ground with a pub on each corner! Bristol Rovers' scheduled visits always seemed to coincide with something else, though, be it a not-to-be-missed Maidenhead United away game (becoming increasingly rare) or, as per last season's 3-1 win in September, a holiday to Lesbos. This season was different, however, with Saturday 26th February long since pencilled in as the day that I would make my Griffin Park bow. And with the wife in tow!

The rain was slight as we exited Ealing Broadway, walked past Ealing Studios and several pubs along the South Ealing Road before stopping at the Ealing Park Tavern – once of the best gastro-pubs I've been in – for pre-match drinks with other fans (of both the red-and-white striped and blue-and-white quartered persuasion). After a Kopparberg or two - and then running a gauntlet crossing the Great West Road/Ealing Road roundabout - we soon arrived at at the ground, with a packed New Inn the first of the corner pubs. We walked down New Road past quaint terraced housing, a steady stream of home fans and then the second corner pub – a similarly decent-looking, if small,  Royal Oak – before entering the away end, standing in the lower section of the Brook Road stand with the majority of the other 856 travelling Gasheads.

Rovers entered the match on the back of a 1-0 home win over Oldham, which had been preceded by five straight defeats. Entrenched in the relegation places, new manager Dave Penney was struggling to integrate a plethora of loan and short-term contract signings. As is the Ragbag way, there were rumblings off-the-field as well, with some supporters wearing black and gold scarves in an anti-Glazer-esque protest at the continued incompetence of the Board.

The game was a decent one, albeit with clear-cut chances few and far between. It was settled by a soft first-half penalty, converted by Brentford captain Gary Alexander after Rovers keeper Conrad Logan was adjudged to have brought down Bees winger Myles Weston. There looked to be minimal contact and one away fan - who carried himself in a manner befitting a mention or two in Chris Brown's 'Bovver' and stood alongside me in the toilets at halftime - was so incensed by the penalty award that he was imploring anyone who would listen to invade the pitch and get the match abandoned!

The aforementioned Weston was impressive early on although he later drifted out of the action as his every touch - after the dive for the penalty - was met with boos/insults from the Rovers support, and new right-back Danny Senda (whom I saw play for W@nky Wanderers against MUFC Ltd in a Berks & Bucks Cup Final several years ago) seemed to get up to speed with the game. Other Brentford players to catch the eye were former non-league defenders Leon Legge (who played for Lewes against the Magpies on more than one occasion), Sam Wood (ex-Bromley) and - in particular - Karleigh Osbourne (Hayes, amongst others). Midfielder Toumani Diagouraga was also busy and tidy throughout, whilst home keeper Richard Lee was MoM (indicative of a decent Rovers display - characterised by a committed performance from rotund loan striker Rene Howe - that deserved a point).

One player who didn't leave a positive lasting impression, however, was Brentford's diminutive winger Sam Saunders - another ex-non-leaguer (Carshalton Athletic and others) - who seemed inclined to needlessly incite the away support at every opportunity and clearly thought he was a better player than his frequently miss-controlled first touch would suggest. Speaking to Macleod (M) in the days afterwards, it transpired that Saunders acted up in a similar manner when Leeds United visited Griffin Park last season. Small man syndrome, methinks.

Despite Howe exhibiting superb touch and great hold-up play throughout - and top scorer Will Hoskins going close on a couple of occasions - Alexander's penalty was the only goal. The Rovers players - and the manager - were applauded from the pitch at the end, however, by a noisy away crowd and I left hopeful that this encouraging team display could be built upon in subsequent games. Instead, the Gas would lose 1-0 at home to Colchester United and then 2-0 at home to Dagenham & Redbridge during the next week. Penney was sacked less than two months after taking the reigns (having lost nine of his 13 games in charge). Captain Stuart Campbell has since been appointed player-manger until the end of the season and Rovers have taken ten points from his five games. The players obviously wanted the authoritarian Penney gone. Not very professional, but at least it looks as if Rovers now have a fighting chance of completing a 'Great Escape'. I really hope so, and not least because it'll mean another trip to Griffin Park!

If we do get to return next season, then I'm sure that the wife won't need much persuading to accompany me again ... so long as I promise her another visit to the Ealing Park Tavern, en route! I'd also like to actually have a drink in some - if not necessarily all - of the corner pubs. After the final whistle we turned left at the away end exit in order to complete a circle of the ground, and observe the two boozers we hadn't yet passed (to make sure it wasn't a myth!). The Griffin (complete with large plasma screens and heaters in the patio garden) looked the best of the bunch. The Princess Royal, in contrast, looked the type of place that you might want to give a wide berth, especially when with the missus.

After a Guinness & Black or three in the Park Tavern (where the Six Nations encounter between England and France was on TV, in the corner, largely ignored by the Bees and Rovers fans present) we met with my parents back in Ealing. They were travelling home, complete with hefty luggage, from a Eurostar trip to Lille. We drank in the lively and highly recommended (Fruli on tap!) North Star before making good use of a voucher discount offer in the local Pizza Express.

Not your usual away day, then (despite the result being a let down, as is often the case these days!), but enjoyable nevertheless. If Brentford weren't a contender for "everyone's favourite second team" - ie. they're a proper family club, all nice and quiet (I honestly didn't hear any noise from the home crowd until an uninspired chant of "Brentford, Brentford, Brentford" in injury time) - then I'd certainly consider going to a few more games at 'Four Pub Park'. As it is, here's hoping Rovers beat the drop and/or MUFC Ltd have a decent run in the FA Cup, resulting in an away tie in TW8.

Sadly, I'm not sure which scenario is more unlikely!