"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

Monday 30 April 2012

"It's not rocket surgery!"

An interesting article in today's Daily Mail.

It seems the football clubs of Hyde and Maidenhead have several things in common:

Both were formed in the late 19th century and added 'United' in 1919.

Both avoided relegation from the sixth-tier of English football on the last day of the 2010-11 season.

Both have links to the Glenn Hoddle football academy.

Both have, apparently, (relatively) limited budgets; "We'd be bottom-half of the division in terms of budget"

Both have, thanks to the generosity of benefactors (Manchester City FC in Hyde's case; Pharmalink Consulting Ltd in Maidenhead's), been able to reduce six-figure debts and now owe nothing.

Unfortunately for Magpie fans, though, the similarities seemingly end there ... for now, at least.

Hyde will be playing in the Conference National next season, Maidenhead in the Southern League (unless reprieved from relegation for the second time within a decade).

The former have plans for a new clubhouse, a 3G community pitch and an academy.

They also apparently have no staff and rely on 'graft and short-term contracts'

Good for them.

As George Walker Bush might say, "It's not rocket surgery!"

Sunday 29 April 2012

Too little, too late

Last season, MUFC Ltd lost on the final day yet stayed up. This season, we won on the final day but went down. This oddity doesn't do yesterday's drama justice, though. I was at a surprise 30th birthday BBQ (don't mention the weather!) and therefore glued to Tw@tter. At about 16:50, the following tweets appeared on my feed, all within seconds of each other (read from the bottom upwards):

Some people used words such as 'gutsy' and 'heroic' to describe yesterday's performance. Meh. 'Too little, too late' was another - and, IMO, a more appropriate - comment. As is quickly becoming the norm, though, @therealdrax gave the best summation:

The Chairman - the real one, not the scamp who wrote this ...

... has previously accused me of revelling in MUFC Ltd's failure. That isn't true (if it were true, though, I'd have had much revelling to do, of late!). I hope we survive in the Conference South. And that remains a possibility, as no team finishing 20th has ever been relegated (which probably explains why the general quality of the division isn't much to write home about). Darlington, Kettering Town and Truro City are among the clubs in financial trouble who could yet go bust/ be demoted and see us reprieved. Paul Semakula's injury-time winner, which ensured we finished above Humpton, could still prove crucial.

However, despite the inevitable excuses and the spin (check out the rather vapid final sentence of this particular blog post written, incidentally, by someone who was at the Emirates last weekend for Arsenal vs Chelsea while we were on our way to Dover), repeated misjudgements in the boardroom and the dugout - over a prolonged period - lead me to conclude that Maidenhead United doesn't deserve Conference South football next season. 

Then again, my liver doesn't deserve Southern League football, either!


Friday 27 April 2012

Away Day Diary: Dover Athletic 2-2 Maidenhead United (21/04/12)

Fancy Dresslemania XII

*** Outward Journey & Pre-Match Pints

The 12th consecutive instalment of a now-storied and proud KSG tradition. I, for one, was very happy with Dover as the fixture: a club with a sizeable fan-base; a decent ground that we've visited before but not often; a reasonably lengthy but not too complicated nor expensive train journey and the opportunity to go via London in costume for the first time since Fancy Dresslemania VI at Histon in 2006.

The weather leading up to the big day had not been good, and the forecast was for more heavy showers. Bearing this - and the fact that we were on the rather early 09:32 train from Maidenhead - in mind, we decided to forego the 'Walk of Shame' from Chez Macleod. Instead, there were two 'pick-up and drop-off' car journeys involving a 3-door Ford Fiesta, operated with military-like precision befitting experienced Fancy Dressers. Dick Dastardly, Kermit the Frog, Zippy from Rainbow and John McEnroe were, in fact, so organised and prompt that we were able to catch an earlier train than originally planned.

The first photo of the day was up on Facebook by 09:30 (I still haven't worked out how to upload on Tw@tter), and the 'Likes' were flooding in within seconds (literally). The additional time we had made for ourselves allowed extra photo opportunities - for tourists and Londoners alike - at Paddington and Edgware Road, en route to St Pancras. One Scandinavian family, sitting opposite us on the tube, requested and took a photo before pointing out (in perfect English, of course) that the young daughter was carrying a Bjorn Borg bag. John McEnroe was not amused, cue the first "You cannot be serious!" cry of the day. Others, meanwhile, would ask the inevitable question as to why we were dressed in costume ... 

"We're running the London Marathon" was our initial response

"But that's not until tomorrow"

"WHAT?! You're joking, right?" 


^^^ We're off!

^^^ Thumbs up! (Do frogs have thumbs?) 

^^^ Keep your head down, Luv, and there's a chance he might not talk to you

St Pancras was, as expected, packed ... and, also as expected, the crowds were loving the Fancy Dress. We made a bee-line for the champagne bar if only to enjoy the nervous looks on the faces of customers and staff alike. However, before we'd had much of a chance to browse the menu and feign interest in finding a table, a group of loud Liverpudlian females appeared on the horizon, waving and shouting at us. 'Hen Party' was the immediate thought, but it transpired the group were celebrating a 60th birthday. They demanded photos. We obliged (and inserted the obvious taglines to immediate Facebook uploads). They had clearly been on the lash since the early hours, and the smell of alcohol-on-breath made me crave the first can of G. Luckily, we didn't have long to wait for our super-fast train to Kent; Kermit was soon declaring the bar open (and making a mess). The train journey passed serenely - despite a moment of crisis when it became apparent we only had two cans left (13 down) with 25 minutes still to go - and we arrived in Dover before 12:30, as scheduled.

^^^ < Insert 'Mutley' joke here >

^^^ Don't worry. These three will NOT be competing in the Olympics

^^^ Ebbsfleet: BOO!!!

^^^ Waste not, want not

We've been very, very lucky with the weather on Fancy Dress Away Days in recent years, and, despite the aforementioned predicted rainfall, the skies were remarkably clear. We decided to 'make hay while the sun shines' and head straight up the High Street/London Road to the Old Endeavour, a 20-odd minute walk. I note that a nearby area of Dover is called Tower Hamlets. Without wishing to sound too unkind to the general vicinity and its inhabitants, the notorious 'other' Tower Hamlets - in London - cannot be much worse! Despite the unappealing surroundings - and a desire to get to the pub before the weather turned - we still found the time to stop for photos ... 

^^^ Bit of sight-seeing; yer actual culture, innit.

^^^ Already preparing for next year

^^^ Who are ya?!

^^^ Stop the pigeon!

We must have arrived at the Old Endeavour around 1 pm. 'Punk Can Save Us' (PCSU) had previously mentioned its cheap drinks and welcoming atmosphere on the Conf South forum ... and he's not wrong. The place was, by then, already heaving with home fans. Several had sombreros, ponchos and fake moustaches as the pub was throwing a Mexican-themed party. Four pints of G cost only a tenner. Which more than made up for no Arsenal vs Chelsea on TV. 'Beautiful Boy' - another Conf South forum regular - introduced himself immediately. PCSU was more circumspect. TBF, I think his priority was sorting out some energy drinks to make a round of Jaeger bombs. The Dover lot sure like a drink! Kindred spirits *boom tish*

One of the barmaids came round and mentioned a chilli con carne-eating contest, 50p entry with proceeds going to charity. We immediately handed over £20 from the kitty and nominated Zippy for the challenge (much to his disgust!). Without going into too much detail, Zippy is the last person who should be eating spicy food ... in his condition ;-) Anyway, he managed just the one mouthful, thereby disgracing himself, the KSG, his family and the people of Maidenhead (no change there then!). He could, however, console himself with the knowledge that he clearly had the most popular costume. In contrast, Mr McEnroe had to explain to some of the more intellectually challenged home fans why he wasn't wearing his 118 number. He would also have to laugh off suggestions that he WASN'T wearing a wig! :-O

Some of the stragglers on the later train - the Grim Reaper, Hannibal Lecter (great costume) and Logic the ass-riding Mexican - joined us just as the entire pub was finding its voice: Dover teasing us about impending relegation, the KSG responding with self-deprecating ditties such as "We're going down, we're going down, you're not, you're not", "The Conference South is upside down ... " and others. As kick-off approached, the last strains of "Dunston is a Magpie" (don't ask) died down, and the pub emptied. The friendly gent photographed below, with Mr McEnroe, walked with us to the ground. His story was familiar; a club chock-full of mercenary players, with talented youngsters who can identify with the fans (and vice-versa) never given much of a chance. Attendances, entertainment, and enjoyment dwindling. 

Anyway, the sun was still shining. Would a (thus far) good day out be ruined by 90 minutes of football?

^^^ He managed one mouthful. One. (TBF, it was hot.)

^^^ Trevor McDonald's wayward offspring?!

^^^ John McEnroe looks OK - albeit somewhat inebriated - but Ivan Lendl has really let himself go

*** The Match (highlights here)

This was a game that both sides needed to win (for differing reasons). The fact that neither did so says much about them, IMO. Johnson Hippolyte left the contracted Ashan Holgate and Manny Williams on the bench and was true to 'his' word: 

Despite the diminutive Barney unsurprisingly getting little or no change from the Dover centre-halves, I actually thought MUFC Ltd looked relatively neat and tidy. They did, however, once again lack penetration in the final third. And they also opened up at the back to allow the home side to take two simple chances and a seemingly insurmountable lead. No wonder we are where we are, in the league table. The away fans, including an impressive and pleasantly surprising amount in costume, responded as they saw fit: chants of "We're Maidenhead United, we're not very good", "We're going down, we're going down, you're not, you're not" and "Are you Taylor in disguise" getting ever louder (TBF, thanks to the acoustics of the River End - and the copious amount of pre-match alcohol - we'd been pretty loud before the goals). It looked like it was going to be a long and uncomfortable afternoon, particularly for the seemingly hapless Hippolyte. And then, just before half-time and out-of-nothing, 17-year-old Devante McKain scored a wonderful half-volley from the edge of the box. Perhaps it wasn't all over ...

^^^ First half 

^^^ Second half

Well, no, it wasn't. Within minutes of the re-start - and the introduction of Williams and Paul Semakula for Barney and Harry Pritchard - Maidenhead were level; Semakula heading in from close range. Drax's half-time team-talk marks out-of-ten obviously doing the trick! Maidenhead dominated the rest of the game and probably should've won; the (once again) stand-out Reece Tison-Lascaris side-footing wide when it seemed easier to score. We were mid-way through a prolonged and thunderous rendition of "Johnson Jonathan Hippolyte's black and white army" at the time and would've been on the pitch for sure had RTL put us ahead.

At this juncture, I'd like to praise the Dover stewards. Seriously! One of the first things the home fans said to us upon arrival in the Old Endeavour was that Mr McEnroe wouldn't be allowed to take his tennis racket into the ground (they were wrong, it would transpire). Crabble's fluorescent-jacketed jobsworths aren't popular with the home fans, but they were fine with us last Saturday; certainly, in comparison to others we've encountered in the past (Ebbsfleet, obviously, but also Basingrad, Humpton, Bath etc., etc.). One came in for some stick - from both sides - for halting our conga, clockwise (from the Dover Port End) around the ground, but he was smiling when an even longer one passed him going the other way. The Dover fans seemed to love the conga'ing and us in general. Some illustrative comments: 

Maidenhead Fans. Best ever, didn't see that coming. Top lads. ~ Beautiful Boy

Funniest moment (of the season) - Maidenhead fans fancy dress and conga, simply superb. ~ Beautiful Boy

while we're on the subject, fair play to the Maidenhead fans. That is what non-league is all about, in my humble opinion. ~ White Lightning

Maidenhead fans' conga - Highlight of the afternoon for me. ~ Striker

Maidenhead fans' conga - It did make me laugh. ~ James79

the highlight of the day was the conga, by zippy a frog and batman and robin amongst others. ~ Mike Oxlong

Would like to mention the fancy dress fans of Maidenhead, good luck to them in their battle to survive and thank you for making us smile today, my favourite image the full size Mr Zippy jumping about when they scored very funny!! ~ bevsie

The highlight of the day was definately the Maidenhead fans who demonstrated what football at this level is all about. ~ Nord Pas De Calais

^^^ It's conga time!

^^^ Has Zippy found the Crabble glory-hole?!

Good publicity for the club? Don't bank on it! Incidentally, I may have been mistaken, but Cloughie didn't appear to be at the game. I suppose if you're the MUSA Secretary, yet can't be bothered to turn up for the MUSA Race Night taking place after a home game in the pub opposite York Road, then a two-hour each-way car journey to Kent isn't going to appeal ... certainly not when it's last away game of the season and 'that lot' are gonna be singing and having fun! For the record, there was little or no swearing last Saturday (plenty of 'ginging ginge' though!). TBH, I'd have more respect for Cloughie if he had turned up at Dover ... sporting a green jumper and red face! Alas.

It says a lot about the Conference South, IMO, that an alien visitor to Crabble would have found it hard to identify the side chasing the play-offs vs the one staring relegation in the face. In this week's Advertiser, Drax stated in one article that "It was another very good performance from us" and "Dover had the support behind them". Bollocks! (as in, That Man Talks ... ) Maidenhead played OK and, as aforementioned, probably should've won. But the manager shouldn't let the 'Dover are a club with a big budget' and 'Poor little Maidenead' mindset cloud his judgment. In the article on the opposite page, he gave a more accurate account, coming as close as he is probably ever likely to, of admitting he's not worthy of an even longer contract extension and an upgrade on the Toureg:

To re-cap, we needed to win, and Dover weren't great (to put it mildly). We played OK but only drew. Fail. Despite this, the away support was relatively decent in number, loud throughout and good-humoured. Thankfully, Bobby Behzadi led the entire team over to applaud the fans. He really is 'The Daddy'. In stark contrast, the manager didn't even bother to acknowledge us. Not even a two-fingered gesture, nor a Darti Brown-esque (who was Drax's captain at Yeading, can anyone remember?) "hold me back/see you in the bar afterwards" rant. 

Say what you like about Carl Taylor - who, let's not forget, wasn't immediately sacked by Peter 'Chairman who knows his football' Griffin, following our most recent humiliating relegation - but at least he spoke (sometimes argued!) with the fans. At least he didn't shy away and instead attempted to justify his (usually ill-judged) decisions. Hippolyte appears aloof and cocksure. Thinking about it, he always has done. The key now is that he appears aloof, cocksure AND increasingly clueless. The hilarious, aforementioned spoof Tw@tter account shows how far his stock has fallen ... and not just among those oft-derided as being 'anti-Drax'.

However, just like David O'Leary at Leeds United - for example - the manager can/should take only a portion of the blame (as if Drax would take any!). The manager doesn't write the cheques. The manager doesn't award himself multi-year contract extensions (on the back of one Cup victory and lengthy win-less runs in the league). The Chairman does. Peter Ridsdale, in Leeds' case. Peter Griffin, in Maidenhead's. They're largely at fault, IMO, especially if they've done little else to cement a worthwhile legacy. "What a waste of money," the travelling support - almost to a man - bellowed at Griffin, sat alongside Rasher in the Directors area. The former didn't seem to like it. 

Truth hurts.

*** Post-Match Pints & Return Journey

The Dover fans lead us on a post-match stroll (still in the sunshine!) to the rather decent Three Cups. Kermit and I sat outside and chatted with PCSU. He describes this discussion, on his blog, as "one long whinge fest about who's club is more sh!t" ... which is pretty much spot on! :-)

Safe in the knowledge that T*ttenham Hotspud's implosion was continuing, at QPR, it was back to the Old Endeavour. While Dick was suitably Dastardly ...

^^^ "Don't tell George!"

... and the KSG were introduced to the fledgeling flag-bearers of the LCG, Kermit began to struggle. He complained about not having eaten all day, but he wasn't the only one who had gone without food. I blame old age ... or the fact that Miss Piggy had given him the boot! Not even a kiss from an attractive MILF in tight jeans could rouse him from his impending slumber (nor turn him into a prince). He would suggest getting our scheduled train home. The majority rule meant we delayed by an hour and instead followed the Dover fans - as rain finally began to fall - to the apparently recently re-opened Eagle Inn (which, not coincidentally, was en route to the station). Sadly, while 'Beautiful Boy' and the rest were busy planning a visit to local nightclub Funky Monkey's (great name), we only had time for one in here before a mad dash (via a petrol station for lard and booze) to catch the last train. 

Profound thanks to BB, PCSU, and the others. Top, top lads. See you again next season, perhaps. Somewhere! As a gesture of appreciation for your hospitable welcome, here's a photo of Dover legend Dave Clarke in a silly wig: 

^^^ " Gobbed all over. You've been, gobbed all over ... "

As the return train sped through the Kent countryside, Zippy and Kermit caught up with their beauty(!) sleep while Dick and John chatted with the LCG. Soon we were back in London. We then got on the wrong tube train (I blame Zippy) and had to undertake a 15-minute walk from Royal Oak to Paddington. More waving! En route, we - bizarrely and randomly in equal measure - picked up (not like that!) the sister of ex-Magpie defender Simon Daley, who was also on her way back to Maidenhead. I think she enjoyed our company ... at least until someone(!) deliberately started getting her name wrong! At Paddington, we would then bump into a doppelganger of ex-Hollyoaks actor Paul Danan, who performed a superb Zippy impression (significantly better than this one, anyway!). Inspired by this, the costumed Zippy took it upon himself to stand up and read out - in his (i.e. Zippy's) voice, to the absolutely jam-packed train carriage heading towards Maidenhead - the classified football results. A pant-wettingly funny moment! I don't think there was one person who wasn't laughing ... aside from Kermit, who was asleep again!

^^^ Hands up for Smokey's!

^^^ The ball was on the (train) line!"

^^^ Macleod (M) asleep on a train = 0 points
Macleod (M), dressed as Kermit, asleep on a train = 100 points 2 points

Upon arrival back in Maidenhead, Kermit headed straight for a taxi ride home, and the remnants of the KSG inadvertently lost the LCG. Our delayed departure from Dover meant that the Anchor would now be closed, so Dick, John and Zippy headed for Noctor's. Landlord Joe and Malcolm, from T'chor, were there, and we would later accompany them to the Rose. Then, for the first time since Fancy Dresslemania IX, we hit the Smoke in costume. Handing over my racket at the top of the stairs with a "look after that, it's the one I used to win Wimbledon in '81" line had even the normally sour-faced bouncers in stitches. The Smoke was packed, and, as usual, the costumes went down a storm. 

Towards the end of the night, we lost Dick (rather suspiciously, some might say!). Mr McEnroe, meanwhile, ended up trying to talk an ex-colleague out of having breast reduction surgery; Zippy pestered her rather gorgeous - but very drunk and completely bonkers - younger sister. After putting them in a taxi (aren't we chivalrous?!), we stumbled home in spitting rain, making it through my front door almost bang-on 5 am. Despite him having a free house (his wife had taken their four-and-a-bit-month-old firstborn to stay at the in-laws as he was - and I quote - "going out with the drunken reprobates"), Zippy stayed at mine. Mrs McEnroe would get a nasty surprise in the morning (must've been that mouthful of chilli!). As did I, when switching on the TV: Kermit was running the London Marathon! No wonder he'd wanted an early(ish) night! 

^^^ Go, Kermie!

In conclusion: another great Fancy Dress Away Day. And while PCSU now seemingly echoes my thoughts about the dullness of the Conference South, I really hope we manage to remain in this division (either by us defeating Eastleigh tomorrow - and Havant not winning against Staines - or finishing 20th and possibly getting reprieved) ... as I don't think my wallet and liver can handle the Southern League and the increased amount of away days I/we will be tempted to attend!


Final word to a Dover supporter, posting on their forum ... the KSG (and more and more at York Road, it would seem) share your pain!

Re this thread and the Conga thread elsewhere - just about sums up what an awful, soulless place Crabble is at the moment. We have mercenaries playing for the cash and not the shirt. Most of them had probably merely passed through Dover on their hols previously. We have a harmless bit of fun stopped in its tracks for no reason at all. As others have said the highlight of yesterday afternoon if not the whole season. Poor product means increasing lack of return business. And the Crabble experience is as bad as it's been for some time. No excitement, no passion, no player ownership, no empathy between the board and the supporters, no not very much at all. ~ dachshund

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Requiem for a team: "We could say 'I love you' because we were talking about Magic Johnson"

My recent visit to Seattle was the middle part of a three city North American tour which also took in Boston and, latterly, Vancouver. I found all of them very much to my liking, although Seattle probably ranks as the favourite for both me and the wife ... and I can't really explain why. It was pouring with rain on our first day, but come the end of our four night stay the city had got under our skin; it had a vibe, an edge, that neither the equally (or perhaps more) spectacularly scenic and laid-back Vancouver, nor the (relatively) historic and sports-mad Boston, could match.

Like it or not, Oasis were the UK's defining band of the 90s. I loved em. Still do. My favourite Oasis song? Tough one. Very tough. The top five would certainly change from day-to-day. If pushed, though, I nearly always go for 'Supersonic' as my No 1. This perhaps explains why, despite not having enjoyed playing basketball at school (not least because I was rubbish at it!) and having little or no sustained interest in the NBA, I had a definite soft spot for the Seattle Supersonics.

As such, whilst browsing in the Emerald City's famous Pike Place Market, I felt compelled to buy, when I saw it, a $3 fridge magnet from one of the stalls -

I was aware that the Supersonics had been re-located to Oklahoma City and re-named the Thunder (currently one of the best teams in the NBA, incidentally) but my new-found love of Seattle and it's partially public-funded football stadium - and the fridge magnet - prompted me to do some in-depth research into how and why this move came to fruition. I stumbled across the the following documentary and watched it in full - 

Although it is perhaps over-long and (understandably) lacks the streamlined editing of the excellent ESPN 30 for 30 films, I would certainly recommend people watch it, regardless of whether they are fans of US sports (generally) or basketball (specifically). It's an interesting, poignant and sadly-predictable story involving too-clever-by-half lawyers, self-serving politicians and unscrupulous mega-rich businessmen, all successfully (to varying degrees) navigating the murky waters of big business (capitalism, if you will).

The fans? Who cares about the fans??

I love US sports - particularly the NFL - and, while alien concepts such as salary caps and a lack of relegation I can just about get my head around, the issue of 'franchise' re-location has always grated somewhat. This film sheds some light on how things work.

More pertinently, regarding this blog, certain parts of the documentary really resonated for me as a football fan (generally) and as a Maidenhead United fan (specifically). 

Barry Ackerley, for example, was seemingly a popular, low-profile owner who sold up after becoming "tired" of running the club. He was followed by Howard Schultz, a smooth-talking salesman who cocked things up with poor personnel decisions, then sold the club down the swanny and irreconcilably damaged his reputation in the process. Next came Clayton 'married into money' Bennett, who was strongly suspected - rightly or wrongly - of having a vested interest upon taking ownership.

Sound familiar?

Some quotes really jumped out at me (especially those below, in bold, from the noted Native American writer Sherman Alexie; replace basketball with football and Magic Johnson with, say, Didier Drogba or Mustafa Tiryaki, and he could be talking for me) -

13:49 "They gave him the money, he took the money. I would've took (sic) it too"

14:24 "I wasn't upset about us losing. I was upset about us breaking the team up"

18:13 "He tried to run a basketball team like his coffee business"

19:06 "One of the things that all pro sports owners fail to realise is what an incredible energy suck owning a sports franchise is. When you come into the sports arena, you get criticised .. .and he was a successful businessman ... I think the bloom came off"

42:55 "We were for more important things than using taxpayers dollars to fund a stadium for an enterprise that was not only private but ... paying millions of dollars ... if they were paying that kind of money for their employees, obviously they didn't need taxpayers dollars"

49:58 "Key Arena, if (you) really take a look at it ... there's literally not many NBA arenas that are located in a neighbourhood"

53:29 "In order to get fans to pay these premium dollars (for stadium redevelopment) you've gotta have some kind of a goal. You've gotta have hope. There was no hope"

53:47 "The moves that were being made ... that last season they were just atrocious. It just seemed like it was all part of a plan to make people not interested ... to make people not attend games"

"Players were off-limits to a great degree ... they were completely kept at arms length"

"Everything was so controlled. It was all to kind of turn us off ... their whole game plan was to ... create as much ill-will in the process as they could"

1:30:31 "First and foremost it (basketball) is really about my relationship with my father. My father was a huge professional basketball fan ... that was our primary means of communication. Emotionally. Physically. Athletically. Spiritually. Everything had to do, somewhat, with basketball. So, nearly every single conversation we ever had was related to basketball. It was our way of talking about anything ... we could say 'I love you' because we were talking about Magic Johnson"

"Most of my friendships in the city are based on basketball. Day after day, week after week, year after year; the way in which my friends and I related to each other emotionally - almost entirely - (was) through basketball. Everything we cared about, everything we loved, everything we did, was filtered through the lens of basketball"

1:39:55 "The Mayor said for so long that 'This is not about money. This is NOT about money'. And he said it time and time again. 'This is not about money'. But at the end, it was about money"

Sadly, it's always about money.

R.I.P. Seattle Supersonics.

R.I.P. Maidenhead United FC, members club.

Further GMOSC reading, re. Seattle, here.

Away Day Diary: Seattle Sounders 0-1 San Jose Earthquakes (31/03/12)

I belatedly realised that professional baseball teams play their preseason games in warmer climes, such as Arizona and Florida, rather than at their stadiums. That was offset somewhat by the fact that Seattle Sounders were at home whilst the family and I was in the city for my Mum's 60th birthday.

After an impromptu drive into - or at least towards - the Mt Rainier National Park (views of the 14,411 ft volcano obscured by the rain clouds), the sun immediately came out upon our (indirect) return to Seattle. We caught the Light Link rail for the short and inexpensive journey to the stadium.

The convivial bartender at our hotel had reckoned that we might struggle to get tickets. I privately scoffed at this as I knew that the centrally-located CenturyLink Field capacity was close to 70K, although I didn't realise that it was often limited - to less than 40K - for 'soccer' games. As it transpired, we would purchase tickets for $30 each (the cheaper end of the scale) and enjoy the carnival atmosphere - complete with brass band - before kick-off.

The Sounders 'ultras' - the Emerald City Supporters (ECS) - marched past us, singing songs (in what sounded like a mock English accent?!) and holding scarves aloft. I found it all a bit too choreographed for my liking, but it was an intriguing sight, and they did make quite a racket, both outside and inside the ground.

I had done my research on the stadium before our departure for the States and so was aware of the following:

Regarding the latter point, I can confirm that the CenturyLink Field crowd is loud - 'notoriously loud', I would say - during Sounders games as well!

I had doubts that an open-air venue could generate much in the way of an intimate atmosphere. These got quashed. And while I doubt that in the UK we would spend £550m (or thereabouts) on a stadium that doesn't have a retractable roof (let alone one that doesn't offer cover for all of the seats!), the views of Downtown Seattle - and the Puget Sound - were incredible. They more than compensated for being open to the elements as a drizzle started towards the end of the game.

Indeed, we were to have a pre-dinner drink the following night in the bar of the Hilton Hotel, which is on the 29th floor of that particular building. The views from the stadium were, IMO, just as good. In conclusion, CenturyLink Field is THE best stadium I have visited; yes, better than the Emirates, better than the new Wembley, better than the Allianz Arena ... even better than the Mem and York Road ;-)

The quality of the stadium meant that the football soccer had much to live up to. It failed, big time. The game was poor. Reading subsequent reports, it transpires that the Sounders were missing players through injury. Still, this was quite possibly the worst, most boring game I've had the misfortune to witness (live, in person) for quite some time. And this includes Maidenhead United games! (OK, that last bit is obviously an exaggeration.)

San Jose scored an early(ish) penalty, softly awarded (I'm still not sure what for) by the (slightly overweight-looking) referee and converted by top scorer Chris Wondolowski (otherwise anonymous). The away side barely threatened after that but looked like the better team. They certainly had the two best players on show, IMO, in combative, Diego Forlan-lookalike striker Steven Lenhart and speedy winger Marvin Chavez. The Sounders huffed and puffed, but, aside from one outstanding save near the end, the Earthquakes keeper had little to do.

It is difficult (and possibly unfair) to compare, but I would estimate that the teams were of mid-table League One standard (with perhaps the best MLS teams able to compete in the Championship?). The Portland Timbers (managed by John Spencer and with Kris Boyd upfront) vs Real Salt Lake (who came up with these names?!) match we saw on TV the following night was much better entertainment. And not just because a lumberjack behind the goal took a chainsaw to a giant log every time the Timbers scored! My initial judgement regarding the league standard was backed up later in the trip when I caught some of the Montreal Impact vs Toronto FC game on TV. Reggie Lambe - ineffectual for an ultimately-relegated Bristol Rovers side last season - assisted for the latter's consolation and was arguably their outstanding player.

Enough of the negatives, though, and back to the crowd. As aforementioned, they made some NOISE! Although heavily orchestrated - like in Germany - the flag/ scarf-waving, pogoing, clapping and chanting seemed genuinely impassioned. They need a bit of work on a few nuances: spontaneous renditions of "Dodgy keeper", "The referee's a w@nker", "Is that all you take away?" (at the understandably small travelling contingent from California) or the circus theme ditty - when a player cocked up (although that would've been overused in this game!) - wouldn't have gone amiss, for example. I happily volunteer my services as Chant Consultant :-)

^^^ Spot the away fans

As for attendance, 38,458 was mightily impressive. I know that the Sounders are a storied and well-supported franchise, but I didn't appreciate to what extent. 64,140 attended the final match of last season (Washington native Kasey Keller's last game for the club). Their programme (which was free; packed full of decent content) illustrated that their average attendance would put them in the top five in Italy and Spain and just below Chelsea in England. What can't speak, can't lie an' all that!

However, will 38K people still be watching the Sounders play in years to come? Will attendance dwindle as the (relative) novelty of professional soccer (back) in the city wears off? It was a discussion I had, post-match, with my Dad and brother over a Manny's Pale Ale (or five) in one of First Avenue's many top-notch watering holes.

I do hope so. I suppose if the quality of the football had anything to do with it, no one would watch Bristol Rovers or Maidenhead United!

At least the League seems to encourage nurturing local talent this time, rather than relying heavily on imported, ageing superstars as they did in the late 70s/ early 80s with the likes of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best and Kenny Hibbitt (ex-Sounders). While David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and Rafael Márquez might be among the famous faces currently playing in the MLS, I'm not sure they are typical. Several of the Sounders players appeared to be Young Americans (*Bowie reference*), while Pennsylvania native Andrew Wenger - 1st pick of the 2012 MLS Super Draft, no less - was the match-winner for Montreal in the aforementioned game with Toronto.

Soccer certainly has much work to do, though, IMO. The number of females in attendance at the Sounders game was notable. And while this is no bad thing, I wonder whether the image exists in the States that soccer is a 'girls' game. Several of the players on show at CenturyLink Field were small in stature, and there were very few robust tackles. That got me thinking: if you were a highly-regarded, all-round athlete at an American high school, what sport would you pursue? In all likelihood, established sports such as football (despite concerns over concussions) and basketball will continue to dominate.

Furthermore, US sports, in my experience, are all about big moments. Big moments that are often contrived. The laws of the games seemingly exist to create such moments. A home run with bases loaded. A game-tying touchdown on 4th and goal. A timeout in a basketball game with just seconds left in overtime and a single-point differential. The crowd at CenturyLink Field would get themselves wound up (encouraged by the 'Capo' and big screens) when the Sounders won a corner ... resulting in an easy clearance for a throw-in. Too often, the atmosphere would build only for nothing to happen. That's a criticism of football itself, I suppose (or at least those trying to play it!) than it is of the fans.

Regardless, if I were a lower-league player in the UK, I'd get my agent to sort out a Stateside trial ASAP. Playing professional football/ soccer (whatever you want to call it) in Southend-on-Sea or Seattle?

No contest.

Meanwhile, this loud (and rather nasally-sounding) 'call and repeat' chant will stick in my head for quite some time!

Match 'highlights' here. Further GMOSC reading re Seattle here.