"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 22 September 2014

Away Day Diary: Braintree Town 2-0 Bristol Rovers (06/09/14)

^^^ Maidenhead United and Braintree Town were regular opponents between 1998/99 and 2010/11, playing each other nearly every season during this time period in various competitions (Isthmian League Div One, FA Trophy, Isthmian League Premier, Conference South). I remember travelling by train with Willie T and my sister (!) - passing Chelmsford City's old New Writtle Street ground; was that close to the railway line? - to the final league game of the 98/99 campaign: a 2-2 draw in glorious sunshine, with Mickey 'Vialli' Creighton and Tim Cook goalscorers for the away side. Willie and I would return the following season - journeying by team coach this time - on his 18th birthday. I distinctly recall the travelling hordes making an almighty din, particularly in the second half, with a Billy Cove strike and an own goal helping account for another 2-2. It's safe to say that Willie and I - both newly able to drink (in the legal sense) - were suitably refreshed as we sat behind Brain Connor ("Connor for Anguilla/ Connor's a gorilla*") and Steve Brown on the return trip. Someone - who shall remain nameless - needed to relieve himself and so urinated into an empty drinks bottle ... only to accidentally drop it after finishing, with the bottle rolling slowly down - and emptying it's contents all over - the aisle, much to everyone's disgust (I think that most people thought it was drink pouring out as well, not you-know-what!). The corresponding fixture, on 3rd January 2000, was another truly memorable encounter: the Magpies winning 4-3 on a surface that was equal parts mud and sand. Steve Croxford scored two, including a remarkable overhead kick down the Canal End, with Chuk Agudosi and Chris Ferdinand also among the goals.

* Jamie 'Gonna Get Ya' Jarvis apparently misheard the original chant!

Our manager during these games - and those up until the end of the 2002/03 season - was ex-England international winger Alan Devonshire (just mentioned by Stan Collymore, as I write, on TalkSport's live radio commentary of West Ham United vs Liverpool), York Road's most successful gaffer since Len Townsend and Jimmy Price in the 1950s. Alan Dev - after leaving us for a similarly distinguished spell in charge of Hampton & Richmond Borough - is now boss of Braintree, leading them to a highly commendable 6th place finish last campaign. Macleod (M) and I had long been planning a visit to see the Irons in Conference Premier league action (particularly whilst Kerthney Carty - "KC drove us up, drove us up, KC drove us up!" - was on their coaching staff). Bristol Rovers' near-scandalous relegation to this level made the decision - of when to actually get off our arses and finally go - an easy one. Saturday 6th September. Non League Day. Haha!

Steve H and Dickie W joined us on the 10:02 from Maidenhead. We stopped for refreshments in Hamilton Hall, the Wetherspoon's pub at Liverpool Street station, as we had en route to Billericay (FDXIII) and Stortford (FDXIV). I was able to enjoy a pint of Windsor & Eton's Parklife (having never previously seen any of my favourite brewery's ales sold in a pub outside of the Royal Borough). As in April, we were serenaded by the songs of Northampton Town fans drinking outside. I say songs, but the youthful Cobblers seem to have succumbed to the recent 'Ultra' craze. I love watching football in Germany but, as aforementioned on this blog, I find the lack of improvisation and spontaneity in their chanting rather bizarre. Crystal Palace or Clapton FC Ultras - with their tifo and pyrotechnic displays; singing "We Love Ya" over and over, regardless of what's actually happening on the pitch - might win hyperbolic praise on Match of the Day and from Educated Left Foot, but not from me.

I read this blog post in the summer and it pretty much mirrors my thoughts; thoughts subsequently entrenched by the 'Dirty Northern Bastards! And Other Tales from the Terraces: The Story of Britain's Football Chants' book - written by the Sky News Diplomatic Editor, no less - that I was given as a recent birthday present. Aside from the fact that I can well imagine the fall-out if the KSG decided to indulge in 'a little bit of pyro' at York Road, I think we should take heed of the fact that Maidenhead United had a well-earned reputation - in our Ryman League days - of punching well above our collective weight (!) in the noise-making stakes. Crucially, we had/ have an array of (relatively) original and witty songs, some of which I am pleased to claim responsibility for ("Behzadi, he's the Daddy", "Dereck Brown's my Grandad", "Kieran Knight Fever" among them). Give me a lusty rendition of "Soggy Sombrero", for example, or "Oh Logic pulled in Whitley Bay",  "John Urry, rub your hands all over my body", "Who's the Marlow in the black?", "Cheer up Dennis Greene", "Makes Me Wanna Dance", "I think we're at home now ... ", "You are my Bell End", "Nisbet scored at King's Lynn", the Youth's RTL song, the circus theme ditty, the Preddie medley, the Binnsy medley - any/ all of them, or countless others - every time, over the Ultra equivalent of choreographed flag-waving, letting off of smoke-bombs and loud-speaker-initiated dirge ...

This chant is generic, generic, generic. 
And every fucker sings it, sings it, sings it. 
Wank, wank, wank, wank, wank.
Wank, wank, wank, wank, wank.

^^^ Whilst we're on the subject, one of my favourite chants so far from the aforementioned 'Dirty Northern Bastards!' book has been the Boston United re-wording of Sheffield United's 'Greasy Chip Butty' song (not least because I love John Denver and Batemans' Black & White!). How's about a Maidenhead United version?

You fill up my senses
Like a gallon of Smuggler
Like a turkey from Copas
Like a long, Thicket walk
Like a night out in Smokey's
Like a Kebab Elite burger
Like Maidenhead United
Come fill me again

Not having it? Fair enough. No harm in trying. Some, if not most, song ideas will of course be more 'Ashley Smith' ("He plays on the wing, he's not from Yead-ing") than 'Andy Smith' ("Who needs Cantona ... "). Still, I'd encourage Magpies to get their thinking caps on, in order to supplement the existing songbook and help maintain OUR football culture and identity. Failing that, follow follow follow the hipsters and fire up a flare or two. This would seemingly meet with the approval of at least one MUFC Ltd Director ... and also keep Mark Steward on his toes! ("We are a family club, sponsored by lap dancers") ;-)

Bristol Rovers unsurprisingly feature relatively prominently in Tim Marshall's book - with the random but rousing 
'Goodnight Irene' discussed in detail on pages 131-133 - and I was already looking forward to hearing their adopted anthem belted out, both in the pubs and at the match, as our train journey reached it's conclusion shortly before 1pm. We disembarked and, in light rain, walked to the nearby Wagon & Horses pub, as recommended by Amber Aleman on the Conference South forum, with a group of middle-aged men - seemingly familiar with the old Tote End - in tow. Amber Aleman knows his stuff and this pub didn't disappoint; Red Fox's Coggeshall Gold going down an absolute treat. The conversation and drink flowed, and we were cutting it fine to make kick off in the end (especially as our pre-booked taxi was a no-show). As it was, we did manage to arrive in time, after fortunately flagging down another ride on the street outside the pub. No thanks to Yelo Taxis. Avoid.

^^^ 'AD IS GOD'. Quite.

^^^ No comment required.

^^^ No idea.

^^^ I had wanted to go in the away end, but Steve H was worried that this might hinder our chances of a post-match chinwag with the Devonshire clan and so, after encouragement from a steward, we entered the home enclosure (£17 each). The strange-looking, post-war, pre-fab housing immediately outside the entrance had helped rekindle memories of the away games mentioned at the beginning of this post, but I was shocked to discover that the ground was looking shabbier than I remembered … and certainly than I expected. The vast majority of the Rovers support, for example, were stood on an uncovered terrace ... which had been covered as made ourselves heard with our feet and fists, as well as with our voices ("Billy Cove Cove Cove, Billy Cove Cove Cove"), back in 1999. Braintree wore blue and yellow back then, a la Basingstoke Town, but were now resplendent in burnt orange shirts. A solid looking (at least on paper) Rovers XI, meanwhile, were wearing white and black. All rather bizarre.

^^^ We stood down one side, on a covered terrace, between the two dugouts. Being Non League Day - 'a patronising load of wank', as accurately described by Callum the Dover Athletic fan - there were more than a few West Ham United regulars in attendance. I scoffed loudly as one, behind me, claimed it 'unlucky' when the Braintree #3 (above, waiting to take a free kick) hopelessly misplaced a pass straight into touch. "You've gotta encourage 'em, inch ya". A load of patronising wank.

^^^ "Sign a striker, Devonshire!" I bellowed, at one point, in honour of the Bell End Old Gits. Meanwhile, to the left of this photo, prowled Braintree's white plimsoll- wearing Assistant Manager, whom I later discovered is ex-West Ham and QPR full back Keith Rowland. #superannoying

^^^ It was a fairly even first half, with Rovers shading it by virtue of a couple of half-chances (a glancing header straight at the keeper, that sort of thing). Then the referee determined the course of the game by awarding one of the very worst penalty decisions you'll ever see. No-one really knew what for. It was the type of decision that could incite a riot. I've since read that a couple of Rovers fans allegedly punched - or at least swung at - a Braintree player in the ensuing melee. I didn't see anything at the time, though, indeed I was rather surprised by how lightly the officials got off (more on the Rovers vocal support - or lack of - further down). Even Mr Unlucky, the aforementioned West Ham regular, commented that it was a joke decision: "You get one of them, at most, per season," he lectured his young son (and all those within earshot). Tom Parkes - the alleged penalty box culprit - then had a goal disallowed for offside, shortly after Kenny Davis had converted the above spot kick. Evidently, it was gonna be one of those days ...

^^^ York Road-esque toilets. The Rovers second half performance was also toilet. As, quite frankly, was the vocal support. I'd never seen/ heard the travelling Gasheads like that. Near silent. Barely a whimper of 'Goodnight Irene'. Braintree assumed on-field control and secured an unassailable two-goal lead, around the hour mark, following great work from the impressive Simeon Akinola. He had caught the eye long before setting up a teammate to score. "I bet that Dev got him from somewhere like Northwood," I said to Macleod (M). It transpires that Akinola was actually making his full debut after signing, for a small fee, from Harrow Borough! "This must be depressing for you," said an empathetic Macleod (M). It was.

^^^ Maidenhead United legend (Alan Dev, not Steve H!). Dev was looking older, largely attributable to the wearing of an apparently lucky flat cap #lastofthesummerwine (And the fact that he is older!) The ever-friendly Mrs Dev, in contrast, was looking years younger. Lee Dev was also in good shape, noticeably slimmer than when Macleod (M) and I had last seen him at Wealdstone vs Barrow in the Trophy in January 2012 (scouting Britt Assombalonga; whatever happened to him?!). As ever, it was good to chew the fat with Lee and his Dad. We - indeed, Maidenhead United fans in general - certainly didn't always see eye to eye with them (the 'full and frank exchange of views' with self-appointed Devonshire mouthpiece Assistant Manager Carl Taylor, post-match at Hitchin Town one year, is the stuff of legend), but I think that they both recognise us (at heart) as impassioned non league fans who know our stuff. And the feeling is mutual (Alan Dev, let us not forget, started his playing career at Southall). As such - and unlike at least one other non league manager that I can think of - we were able to have an open and honest conversation about budgets, players, teams, fans, ambitions, Chairmen etc. Braintree, apparently, were interested in signing Harry Pritchard this summer. Ditto Ebbsfleet United. Of course, Pritchard ended up re-signing with Maidenhead. Make of that what you will. Lee commented that Rovers shouldn't be embarrassed about losing at Cressing Road, as "many good teams will get beat here this season". He's not wrong. I wish him and his family all the best.

^^^ Lee Dev also mentioned that Martin Allen's Barnet are his tips for this season's Conference Premier title. Macleod (M) and I witnessed the Bees deservedly beating Rovers 2-0, at the impressive Hive Stadium, on the first Tuesday of the campaign (above) and I concur with Lee. 'John Akinde's Stray Elbows', BTW, could be another entrant, re this long-forgotten list.

^^^ Another family club. This one, though, don't have any lap-dancing club advertisements in their programme. How novel! The clubhouse, where the above photo was taken, was a bit 'meh'. Reasonably-sized but an unusual queuing system for the bar and a poor selection of drinks. I settled for a Guinness, which tasted OK.

^^^ Taxi back into the town centre and a visit to the highly-regarded Wetherspoons; a converted cinema. Regular readers of the blog will know that Macleod (M) is big fan of art deco. Usual array of reasonably-priced, well-kept ales - and an interesting lay-out - but Steve H, for one, was keen to return to the Wagon & Horses. More Coggeshall Gold, before our train ride home, so no complaints from me.

^^^ Far from the best 'stuff we've scoused' item. Hey ho. Upon our return to Maidenhead, Steve H got a taxi straight to the Ark and Dickie headed to Coco (after agreeing to give up smoking, for a month, in aid of charity). Macleod (M) and I, meanwhile, went to the Rose. Here we drank a couple of bottles of Smirnoff Ice (!) and talked house prices, surrounded as we were by a group of lesbians (including a 42-year-old, recently-divorced mother from Didcot, with an alluring derriere and decent signing voice, who reckoned that Macleod (M) was 32 - haha!), a group of blokes from Marlow a stag do from Marlow (including a garrulous gentleman from Dubai, wearing a hideous novelty shirt featuring multi-coloured guitars ... and he wasn't even the stag!) prevented from entering Smokey's, plus a bevvy of well-dressed, late twenty-something females - seemingly all with midriffs trendily exposed; including my dodgems partner from this year's Let's Rock The Moor festival! - en route to a birthday party. A rather surreal end, then, to a rather surreal away day. No disrespect to Braintree, but surely this was a nadir for Rovers, rather than yet another low point in a series of many? I sincerely hoped so, but readily admit that I wasn't at all confident ... (Did someone say four wins in a row?!)

^^^ U R M Y B E L L E N D

^^^ "Brian … BRIAN! You've dropped your sign". Classic quote from a passer-by at Paddington Station, to a typically butter-fingered Willie T, during the return journey from our 1-1 draw at Humpton - then managed by Alan Dev ... and due to play Braintree next - in September 2007. You really couldn't make this stuff up! :-D

P.S. How were the Magpies getting on, I hear you ask, whilst you lot were off watching Bristol Rovers in deepest, darkest Essex? Winning 2-1 at Staines Town. Red card for Drax! #familyclub

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