"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 26 January 2015

Misty-eyed nostalgia

Maidenhead United on YouTube - an alternative guide

Credit where it is due - some cracking stuff has been uploaded in recent weeks to the Bell St End to Boardroom (BSE2BR) blog.

My Grandad first took me as a toddler in the early 80s. But it was in the late 90s/ early 00s - in my late teens/ early twenties - when I began to enjoy going to football for the reasons that still keep me engrossed today. We have reached this era* (the Born and Bred generation morphing into the KSG) on BSE2BR, perhaps explaining why interest has been piqued. 

I spent much of last Saturday morning watching various archive match highlights on YouTube. Nowadays, in the digital age, these types of packages are commonplace. I rarely pay much attention to them - as I find that watching Maidenhead United games just the once, in the flesh, is more than enough - but realise that they can be good; for double-checking a goal was as good as you initially thought (e.g. Devante McKain @ Dover Athletic during Fancy Dresslemania XII ... and, yes, it was), for appreciating a virtuoso individual performance (e.g. Fat Phil Wilson's heroics at Halifax Town** ... with the aid of lady luck it must be said, while Steve Hale's strike was another good 'un), for reviewing game-changing game-ruining refereeing decisions which you missed (e.g. Andy Dugdale's early red card for handball in the FA Trophy QF @ Canvey Island ... no real arguments) and for laughing out loud at 'did that really happen' curios (e.g. a cricket ball on the pitch at Welling United ... superb 'long barrier' fielding technique by Steve 'Barmy Army' Hale, on the touchline, after a loud shout - from Macleod (C) - that the referee should 'stick it up yer arse').

For me, though, these packages fail to tell the whole story; the on-pitch action is only part of a day out at football. Also, there's no context. As such, I thought I'd share some other - more alternative - Maidenhead United clips from YouTube, with additional commentary that will hopefully help 'set the scene'.

Please feel free to make known any other 'hidden gems' that I've missed, and - if I have the time/ inclination - maybe a follow-up post will result. Or maybe not.

* A time when Maidenhead United was Maidenhead United if that makes sense? People will accuse me of misty-eyed nostalgia. Of having an agenda. Of being anti-club and anti-Drax. Maybe all of that is true (at least to some extent), but others will know what I mean. And they will agree. Incidentally, watching John Dreyer's side in action on YouTube re-affirms my view that sacking him - let alone appointing Dennis Greene as his replacement - was a terrible mistake. If only Tumble could've persuaded Lawrence Yaku to turn up - and on time - more frequently. Alas.

** Ever wondered why Modern Romance's 'Best Years of Our Lives' can sometimes be heard at Maidenhead games? No? Well, tough! It's because, after the minibus ride back from Yorkshire, Macleod (C) and I ended up in some nightclub - likely Smokey's - and the UK #4 chart hit from late 1982 was playing. 'Oh oh oh oh, makes me wanna dance; Oh oh oh oh, 2-0 to the Mags'. So, if the Magpies are winning 2-0 - especially away - then get singing. 1-0, a la some heathens at Salisbury the other year? No deal. #tradition

Stafford Rangers 1-1 Maidenhead United
FA Cup 1st Round 2006/07

Before - A narrow 1-0 win over Merthyr Tydfil at York Road had secured our first appearance in the 1st Round of the FA Cup since the 1971/72 season. (The Merthyr game was the one after which a pink jumper-wearing skinhead punched Willie T, full in the face, in Stripes ... before being allowed back in for the league fixture only a few weeks later.)

We got drawn away to higher league opposition, and there was much excitement. Pharmalink kindly paid for several supporters' coaches (five or six?) to the game. A recently-appointed Drax was still in his honeymoon period. Pre-match Churchillian speeches in the pub preceded red cards for both Craig O'Connor and Dominic Sterling; a Chico Ramos penalty save; a heroic 1-1 draw; on-pitch punch-ups with some Stoke City top boys at the final whistle (see Tremendous Mike P for photos of the current MUSA Secretary going toe-to-toe - sort of - with the cap-wearing hoolies). Days like this - also Blyth Spartans (Whitley Bay), Plymouth Parkway and others - make me want to find the time for a 'Retrospective Away Day Diary' series! 

After - Once the vociferous travelling hordes had finally finished singing their collective praise of a gutsy display, it was a race against time to catch the coaches back to Berkshire. Some of us would be left behind (thanks, very funny). Yours truly, the Macleods, Willie T and Craig would have the last laugh, though, as the latter had just bought a crate of lager from the pub we'd been in before the game! We returned to the ground and had drinks with the players and club officials. After some consternation, we were eventually allowed onto the team coach (the players  - unlike KLP - were very keen on us being there ... thanks, no doubt, to the large quantity of booze accompanying us!)
The replay, ten days later, was the biggest game at York Road for some time. 1,934 crammed into the dilapidated ground. A lack of turnstiles down the Canal End (still not sorted) meant that the away fans got half - later all - of the Bell End. Sacrilegious. As if that wasn't bad enough, O'Connor failed to make amends for his early dismissal in the first game, wasting an opportunity to equalise by hitting the bar with a penalty kick (another Magpie heading the rebound wide, with the goal gaping). Then, in the second half, a male streaker would cause everyone, players and supporters, to lose focus. A second Stafford goal immediately afterwards 'turned out the lights'. Figuratively. Soon after the final whistle, meanwhile, Paul Carney (proto-Rasher) literally turned out the lights; the remaining Maidenhead fans - pushed back by the police and forced to stand on the (then crumbling) terrace next to the Magpies Megastore - had to navigate the bottle-neck, by the covered car park, in near total darkness. Some Maidonians (not York Road regulars, I'm sure) took their frustrations out on the Stafford supporters' coach: bricking the windows. (#familyclub) However, after waiting more than 30 years to reach this stage, the Magpies would do so again the following season. More on that later ...
MK Franchise Dons @ W@nky
Berks & Bucks Cup Final 2007

Before - A superb run of form after Delroy Preddie kicked a divot vs Wealdstone at Northwood saw us into the Southern Premier playoffs. A legendary midweek victory in deepest, darkest Norfolk ('Nisbet scored at King’s Lynn') preceded a relatively comfortable and straightforward 1-0 win, over Team Bath, in the final at Twerton Park. Cue delirious on-pitch celebrations and the iconic image of Macleod (C) giving Bobby 'The Daddy' Behzadi a piggy-back. A real sense of togetherness had developed (see photos from that season's Fancy Dresslemania at Banbury United for proof; players, management and club officials all posing for photographs with the supporters).
The B&B Cup Final was on a Bank Holiday Monday, 48 hours after the aforementioned playoff final. As such, legs were tired, and voices were hoarse. Sore heads all around! Probably. We should've won this game, but no one was too bothered that we didn't. The following video, believe it or not, was captured by an 80s TV superstar … as you can probably tell from the superior production values! The great and the good (and yours truly) can all be spotted: Club Shop Guy, Rainey, Rasher, Dickie West, my Mum and Dad, and Educated Left Foot. Also, interviews with The Daddy, the manager and Yashwa Romeo before the end. Macleod (M) can be heard throughout, leading us through a catalogue of chants (incl. 'Berks & Bucks, w@nk, w@nk, w@nk'). An enjoyable conclusion (result aside ... but who cares about the county cup?!) to an enjoyable season.
AfterI've written previously, on here, that the display against King's Lynn in the playoffs is the best I've seen from a Maidenhead United side. All that squad needed, IMO, to compete - if not thrive - in the Conference South was an out-and-out goalscorer. As it happened, we (inadvertently) got one: Emmanuel Williams. The story goes that Manny - who knew Drax from their (not altogether fruitful?) time at Yeading - asked to train with the club, ended up signing, and banged in 30 goals in 47 games. (Nb. the 'SuperManny Williams' chant was first heard on a rainy afternoon in September 2007, during a 6-0 FA Cup win at Brockenhurst.)
Regrettably, the unnecessary dismantling of the team and, ultimately, the aforementioned spirit of togetherness was underway. Louis Wells signed to replace Chico; we paid a transfer fee for Wes Daly; Dominic Sterling got shunted to left-back; Dwane Lee played wherever he liked; Carl Wilson-Denis started upfront; The Daddy seriously injured his knee (vs HAYU in the FA Cup) and rarely played CM again. I could go on. Instead, one word: Horsham.
Dwane Lee's penalty @ Horsham
FA Cup 1st Round 2007/08

Before - Many of us (incl. yours truly) celebrated when we got drawn against Horsham. And why not? They were a lower-league team. I remember that their supporters got the arse about that. Bell ends. Anyway, we travelled in (relatively) huge numbers - the KSG's spiritual leader coming all the way from Turkey! - and the pub directly opposite their ground (the Queen's Head?) was spilling over, pre-kick-off, with Maidonians. You could barely get through the doors, so the KSG went to the off-licence across the road and came back with a crate of lagers to drink outside! Memorably, an old boy showing off in his classic Ferrari convertible was left as red-faced as his car when it conked out - loudly and seemingly in slow motion - as he drove past the throng. Superb!
They say that 'history is written by the victors', and that rings true; all the post-match reports - in print and on TV - highlighted a 'tremendous 35-yard effort' from Nigel Brake to open the scoring, but, for me, Wells really shouldn't have been beaten from there. (I'm sure the BBC Radio Norfolk commentator would agree that Chico - on the bench at Horsham - would've saved it). Furthermore, while the 3,379 attendance was certainly impressive, it goes unrecorded that the sizeable away support made much of the noise. Bitterly disappointing, therefore, that the performance from Drax's boyz was so lifeless. Painful to recall, actually, even to this day. However, the following video cheers me somewhat; the rather desperate cry of 'come on' heard at the very start is very likely me ... even though, by design, I had recently positioned myself towards the back of the stand. It was rather obvious, you see, that if Dwane Lee's penalty went in, there would be a surge forward as part of wild - and relieved - goal celebrations. Others - e.g. the Macleods - recognised the same. Steve H - for one - didn't. He was writhing in agony on the ground as the rest of us sensed hope after halving the deficit.
AfterSteve H recovered, but Maidenhead didn't. 4-1, the final score. A deserved defeat. Capitulation. Humiliation. Irrevocable damage to Drax's reputation. For me, things have never really been the same. Horsham played Swansea City in the next round, losing 6-2 in a replay (with both games televised?). The Swans would then lose to Havant & Waterlooville, who in turn lost - despite memorably taking the lead - at Anfield ... with Richard Pacquette on the score sheet (he got the opener) and Rocky Baptiste also in the starting XI.
The day after the aforementioned 6-2 game, we lost 4-1 in the B&B Cup at MK Franchise Dons (263 witnessing a masterclass from Bally Smart and a remarkable consolation strike from Darti 'hold me back' Brown). We would then exit the FA Trophy at the original Dons in our next match. Season effectively over at the turn of the year. Sound familiar? Six consecutive league defeats in springtime saw us flirt dangerously with relegation; we would eventually end up 17th after an unbeaten run to finish the season. That was no doubt celebrated as a 'great achievement'. Again, sound familiar?
Rant Zone in the Anchor
November 2008

Before - The other night, before the Cambridge United vs Manchester United game in the FA Cup, I heard the home side's CEO - Jez George - comment in a radio interview that the football club is all about 'the fans and the youth academy'. Amen, brother! Time, now, for an ode to one of Maidenhead United's bona fide 'real' fans. Bobby P - aka Pintjoy; Rant Zone - is one of those who cuts across both the 'Born & Bred generation' and the KSG.
There was a time, meanwhile, when the post-match atmosphere in the Anchor made home games as much - if not more - enjoyable than away games. Maidenhead United 0-2 Chelmsford City in November 2008 was during this period and, believe it or not, a top-of-the-table clash. 782 the attendance, and I'm sure that the Anchor was buzzing afterwards. Significantly emptier towards the end of the night, admittedly, just as Bobby P was hitting his stride ...
After - The Anchor was a sh!thole, for sure, but it was our sh!thole. The story of Merthyr Tydfil fans - the majority of whom were presumably residents of the reigning 3rd worst place to live in the UK - refusing to go in because it looked 'too rough', is oft repeated to this day (#whatwouldmerthyrdo?). As aforementioned, Saturday nights in there, post-match, were - for a time - really rather brilliant: continuous loop of football matches on the various TVs, 80s music (Collins, Wham, John, etc.) on the jukebox, football scarves on the wall, loads of family and friends discussing the game (and likely moaning about Drax; I remember a straw poll, after a 1-1 draw with Sutton in December 2007, that resoundingly concluded he should be sacked). Admittedly, not all of the comment was as well-informed and life-affirming as the Rant Zone interviews. But still. It was a sad day when, last February, property developer Michael Shanly made Landlord Joe an offer he couldn't refuse (not like that) for the remaining piece of Maidenhead he didn't already own (well, almost).
The Anchor remains open, but the scarves are gone, and, despite much-needed new seating (plus the fact that the wife will now go in there when she wouldn't before), it is best avoided. As such, if you wanted some post-match words of wisdom from Bobby P these days, you might have to try Stripes(!). Or the Greyhound. Or the Bell. Or Bar Sport. Or the Rose. Who knows? Actually, it was in the latter where Macleod (M) and I whiled away a Saturday night with the man himself in early December. The usual topics were discussed - and sparks flew, at times, for sure - but it was an enjoyable evening. His tale of the team coach's journey to Whitehawk earlier this season certainly raised a few eyebrows! Would Lawrence Yaku, for example, refuse to travel on the team coach and instead drive behind in his Chelsea tractor with the manager - John Dreyer - in the passenger seat? Perhaps he should've! Anyway, my Facebook timeline was awash last Saturday night with status updates - and photo uploads - regarding the fact that the Wealdstone Raider was making a public appearance in Bar Sport, Maidenhead. It's remarkable to think of the Raider's success, basically ripping off Bobby P's shtick … without the nuances, thus appealing to the LAD bible masses. Jokes aside, much of the money he raises is donated to charity, so good luck to him. In a parallel universe, however, Bobby P was entertaining a load of Saturday night revellers in a northwest London sports bar. Hey ho … that's more than enough quantum theory for one post!
Rocky Baptiste's free-kick conversion vs Thurrock
March 2009

BeforeThe Magpies had topped the table early in the 2008/09 season. However, our seating shortage meant playoff participation wasn't possible, and, in any case, we fell off the pace after slashing our (presumably sizeable) budget in the new year. Whispers of Rocky Baptiste's signing emerged at Bashley in September as we were dumped out of the FA Cup by a team struggling in the division below. He would supplement a group of strikers that included Richard Pacquette, Lee Newman, Gavin James and Mustafa Tiryaki. Manny Williams, meanwhile, would later re-join on loan from Woking - an embarrassment of riches that saw James and Tiryaki farmed out on loan, the latter to Potter's Bar and then Godalming. The relatively high-profile Baptiste was clearly past his best but reputedly commanded more-than-decent wages ... which his cumbersome displays didn't warrant; some of his misses had to be seen to be believed!
With Drax bemoaning 'financial constraints' - Dale Binns sold to Hayes & Yeading, and Pacquette on loan to Histon - the long-suffering York Road faithful had to endure more Baptiste than they would've liked. Drax - in typical fashion - was quoted in the Advertiser as saying that, during training sessions, Rocky resembled Dimitar Berbatov. It was, I think, intended as a compliment. Hungry youngsters like James and Tiryaki were the future, though. We could see that. 'We', at the time, included a group of 30-odd youngsters - presumably encouraged to attend by the admirably low £1 entry fee for kids - who were loud and witty with their chants, inspiring the KSG (sans Macleod (M) ... still on self-imposed exile following his ban, post-Cirencester?) and making meaningless York Road fixtures significantly more entertaining than they otherwise might've been. The 1-1 draw with Thurrock on 3rd March was one such occasion; 186 people - incl. four vociferous away fans - generating a far superior atmosphere to anything I've experienced at York Road more recently, despite average attendances now topping 400. The video below is, sadly, only two seconds long, but one of my favourite clips on YouTube. Baptiste wallops a free kick into the stratosphere - the ball now circles Jupiter alongside the one Chris Waddle spanked over the bar during the penalty shoot-out with West Germany in Italia 90 - and the crowd falls about laughing. I love the horn sounding (Nb. you might actually have to view on YouTube for this), like something you'd hear at a circus!
After - Rocky would be substituted - to loud cheers - before play was re-started with the goal kick! Comedy gold. By the end of the month, he was gone for good, signing for AFC Wimbledon and scoring(!) in his one and only game en route to the Conference South title. He joined Harrow Borough next and, according to Wiki, scored 50 goals in 76 games for them ... but is perhaps best remembered for an extraordinary miss that has been viewed on YouTube more than 4.6 MILLION times! Baptiste's belated departure reopened the door for Gavin James, and GJ showed promise upon his return to the team before a horrific double leg break at Dorchester Town. He was out for a considerable time and now plays for Flackwell Heath.
With Rocky gone and GJ sadly crocked, it was left to Tiryaki to fire us to our highest-ever league finish (#spin). The previously unheralded Turk quickly formed an almost unplayable partnership with the returning Pacquette and scored seven goals in seven games as the Magpies ended the campaign in sixth. That earned him a summer move to Havant & Waterlooville, and Drax claimed him as another 'find' - the reality being that the manager didn't play him until the budget cuts meant he more-or-less had to). I'd have liked Bristol Rovers to sign him to replace Rickie Lambert. Instead, he had (admittedly goal-shy) spells at Tranmere Rovers and Cambridge United before returning to Turkey. He now plays for G√∂ztepe SK. The 30-odd youngsters who helped make home games good fun for a time? Only a handful remain. Why not more? I don't know. You'd have to ask them. But put it this way, if Macleod (M) and the rest of the 'Born & Bred generation' weren't about during my formative years, then I wouldn't be writing this! (#blamemurdo) As mentioned in a recent post on here, another group of vocal youngsters can now be heard at Maidenhead home games. Will they be encouraged to last longer? Don't hold your breath.
Aldershot Town replay
FA Cup 1st Round 2011/12
Before - Horsham in 2007. That was our time. When we finally got round to playing a league team in the FA Cup - for the first time since a 5-0 defeat at Colchester United in 1960/61 (Nb. my Grandad was there) - I was unmoved. In my eyes, Aldershot barely counted as a league club; we'd played them twenty-odd times since they re-formed as a non-league side in 1994, and nothing would likely surpass our 2-0 Isthmian League Div One win at the Wreck in December 1997 (Att. 2,112 - Chuk Agudosi running the length of the pitch, Adebayor-style, to celebrate his goal ... and goad the home fans!) or our legendary 3-0 Isthmian Premier win at York Road in January 2001 (Att. 1,213 - Shots fans fighting with Reading in Stripes at HT; one aiming a Nazi salute, in the general direction of Carl Taylor, near the end; Barry Rake juggling the ball on his head, taking the piss as was his wont; Adrian Allen scoring an absolute worldie on a pitch part mud, part sand ... is this game not on YouTube yet?! UPDATE: It was already there! Allen's worldie is at 20:20)
Anyway, I was away for the weekend in Bognor Regis, so missed the 1-1 draw (Att. 2,283 - Anthony 'Family Club' Thomas with our goal; we should have won by all accounts). A trip to Hillsborough to play Sheffield Wednesday (#properleagueclub) would be the reward for the winner of the replay, a game that I was willing and able to attend ...
After The above video is indicative of the exceptional vocal support provided by the travelling Maidenhead fans (and, TBF, the East Bank's superb acoustics). As at Horsham, however, the on-pitch display paled in comparison. As mentioned in the previous link, a couple of posts on ShotsTalk provide the best summaries:

"2,181......with 261 from Maidenhead......their team may not have shown up - but at least they have - fair play"

"Fair play to the 261 Magpies fans who came last night...they did their best to make the atmosphere and did their team proud with their singing - especially the last 15 - 20 minutes"

While the Shots were losing 1-0 to the Owls in the next round of the Cup, the Berkshire Magpies were losing 1-0 at home to the Dorset Magpies in the Conference South. We wouldn't win another league game until beating Salisbury on 17th December.
In fact, we went from 13th September (2-0 vs Havant & Waterlooville) until 17th December without a league win. Sound familiar? It should. I think Drax had his contract extended around this time! (#stability) Knocked out of the Trophy by Staines and the B&B Cup by Chesham (3-0), we would get relegated that season ... then reprieved after 'winning' the subsequent AGM Cup. And yet some people - Advertiser SportsTALK podcasters, this is you - find it necessary to question the fans' 'negativity' re Drax. Long win-less runs in the league, avoidable cup exits and 'miraculous' relegation escapes. We've seen it all before, lads, seen it all before. But keep buying those excuses. I suppose that someone, apart from the Chairman, has to. Anyway, I'll end on a happier note (#glasshalffull) ...


Tuesday 20 January 2015

Away Day Diary: Woking 0-0 Bristol Rovers (17/01/15)

One of the wife's colleagues is the partner of a Woking player. She (the wife) met him during a meal out, the night before Bristol Rovers' 2-0 home win over the Cards last September. He offered her complimentary tickets for the corresponding fixture. After a week spent painting and decorating our new home (including two visits to IKEA) - and the fallout from Maidenhead's Trophy exit - I was rather looking to forward to the game/ day out (despite the fact - as recently highlighted by 'Jinxy' Macleod - that he and I have witnessed two of Rovers' four league defeats this season!) and hoped that it would be at least as enjoyable (result aside) as our trip to see Portsmouth vs Rovers last April. As per that occasion, we would be getting the train down there - via Reading and Guildford - although Willie T would be giving us a lift home; the Exeter City/ Maidenhead United 2CW works in Woking (for the moment, at least) and, after finishing his shift at the bank, he would be joining us at HT. Well, that was the plan …

After a hurried walk to the station (which, owing to our new location, now takes about twice as long), we were able to catch the 12:04 departure as intended. Sandwiches purchased from Boots at Reading - and a coffee from the barista near the platform - before the 12:34 to Gatwick (just before; we were virtually the last people onto the train - thanks to the lethargy of the bloke pouring the latte - and only made it by a whisker). As we waited to change at Guildford I shared, on Facebook, the photo I'd taken there - in 2013, en route to Gosport - of a certain someone and a (sadly non-soggy) sombrero. It still makes me smile! We arrived in Woking shortly after 13:20 and headed into town. There was a Yates' and an O'Neill's - directly opposite each other; which must be fun, at kicking out time, on Friday/ Saturday nights - with a plethora of police riot vans outside. We carried on walking and entered a much nicer looking chain pub, close by, called the Ogilvy. Conversation, as I ordered a pint of Brains SA and half a cider, went as follows: 

Barmaid: 'Why all the police; is there a football match on today?'

Customer (who turned out to be a Rovers fan): 'Yes, there's football'

Barmaid: 'Who's playing?'

Customer: 'Woking vs Bristol Rovers'

Barmaid: 'Who?'


I enjoyed our time in here - Brains is fast becoming a brewery of choice; whilst we had an ideal spot for watching the world go by watching a twenty-something bloke spend an eternity eating a KFC as his mate stuffed Argos catalogues into plastic bags in the boot of their parked car - but, after an hour or so and a couple of rounds, it was time to embark on the 20 min walk, back past the station (and a couple of lampposts, newly plastered with Rovers stickers), to the ground. I'd previously been to the Kingfield Stadium to see Maidenhead play (and so did wonder where all the away fans were gonna go!), but travelled by car on that occasion. The route on foot was simple enough, however, and - despite being slowed somewhat by mud in around and the nearby park - we arrived in good time. Mrs Goggins ticked our names off the guest list, and we were in. 

We were stationed in the home end; the covered terrace behind the goal. We were, after all, £30 better off thanks to the generosity of a Woking employee. The travelling hordes were stood to our immediate left (on the uncovered terrace) and seated opposite (in an allocated section of the impressive main stand). 

The talk on the Rovers forums, in the build-up to the game, had been that between 1.5K and 2K would make the relatively easy journey. Decent form (no league defeat - although too many draws - since October … when the KSG were in Arbroath), new signings (ex-Wales international striker Jermaine Easter and Leicester City loanee Adam Dawson), and the fact that next Saturday's home game with Braintree has been postponed (owing to Alan Dev's charges continued participation in the Trophy), were thought to be other contributory factors. Whatever the reason(s), the away end was heaving. Less than ten mins into the game (Nb. it wouldn't even have been 15:10, at this point, as - for possibly the first time in my football-watching lifetime - I noticed that the referee had kicked off a few mins early) it became apparent that something was up. Chants, from outside the ground, of 'Let us in' - followed by 'Let them in' from those in the away end - identified the problem …

Some Rovers fans were locked out! I estimated about 50, but there may have been more out of sight. TBF, they weren't missing much (which probably explains why one bloke, who climbed a tree, didn't last long up there). The game was dreadful; worst I've seen in some time (and this includes Hayes & Yeading vs Maidenhead on New Year's day). Both goalkeepers could've stayed at home, and the result would still have been goalless. That may be a bit harsh (Will Puddy had to adjust quickly, in the first half, to stop a deflected shot; while Matty Taylor had a goal, either side of the break, chalked off by the Assistant's flag) but, generally, both teams cancelled each other out. Woking (who once again featured - in Adam Newton and Kevin Betsy - more RBWM bred players, in their starting XI, than Maidenhead United?) were hard-working and solid throughout with centre half Joe McNerney not undeserving of his MoM award. I was, however, disappointed by Rovers. Aside from a flurry of late corners (which amounted to nothing), they never put the home side under concerted pressure. I had written, in the aforementioned Portsmouth blog post, that the team were 'bereft of creativity in midfield and pace upfront … also conceded sloppy goals … a recipe for disaster'. They've seemingly cut out the sloppy goals, but the lack of creativity and pace upfront remains an issue. No longer a recipe for disaster, but neither is it a recipe for (automatic) promotion. Still, the gap to table-topping Barnet would be reduced to five points, thanks to the Bees' 3-1 defeat at Grimsby earlier in the day, while a promising cameo appearance from Easter - his touch looked a class above - was another definite plus (I am sure that he will score goals if someone - perhaps the aforementioned Dawson, rather than the decidedly one-footed and therefore rather predictable Jake Gosling - can provide the chances). Stuart Sinclair - Player of the Year elect - will also return after missing Saturday's game with an injury. So, not all doom and gloom. Far from it. [EDIT: I'VE JUST READ THIS]

TSOF sticker spotted in the gents at HT. On the subject of stickers, I've since seen a photo of a Bristol City 1982 Ltd one that was freshly attached to the stand we were in on Saturday; presumably, a group of London-based sh!theads didn't fancy Scunthorpe away (which helps explain the 'one team in Bristol' chants that could be heard throughout, if not '0-0 and you f**ked it up' at the end). The interval also saw the arrival of Willie … yet he wasn't allowed in! The (Head?) steward said that the ground was 'full'. Obviously, it wasn't. The away end might've been, but Willie wasn't an away fan. I think that they - the stewards (and/ or  the police) - were worried about upsetting those Rovers fans hanging around outside. (I've since read that only those with WFC season tickets were permitted entry.) We gave Willie the chance to go home, with us getting the train back, but he insisted on waiting. A good job that his wife doesn't read this blog! (At least I assume she doesn't?!)

Regrettably, I missed the opportunity to photograph Willie while he was locked out, behind the front gate, and surrounded by police. Subsequently cheered, however, after he sent a pic - from the Sovereigns - of him with a couple of Rovers fans … including, it would appear, comedian Sean Lock! (who, coincidentally, went to school in Woking)

While those denied entries were hanging around outside or being talked at - and photographed with - Willie, in a nearby boozer, there was plenty of room in the home end. More so, in the second half, as many of the Cards fans moved to be nearer the goal that their team was attacking. The group of middle-aged men, behind us, didn't move. Lamentably. Now, I'm someone who has previously been reprimanded for swearing (or allegedly swearing) at football - and I will defend the right of adults to use swear words (as a form of expression) at football grounds, in pubs, after the watershed on TV etc. - but the language from these blokes was, quite frankly, embarrassingly pathetic. The linesman was a 'faacking caant'; the Rovers fans were 'faacking mugs' who should 'jog the faack on'. 'Faack this'. 'Faack that'. Faacking tedious. Particularly as they were, quite evidently, more interested in the Chelsea game: 'Cahill has started', 'Costa has scored', 'Fabregas has another assist', 'Willian has hit the post', 'Swansea have a throw-in' etc., etc. A couple of them left before the end. One - a Scot - resembled a balding, grey-haired Liam Gallagher; glaring at the (impeccably behaved) away support before swaggering off. 'His missus is expecting him home, sharpish, to finish the weekly chores and babysit the grandkids,' reckoned the wife. More than likely.

It was something of a relief - as the temperature continued to plummet - when the final whistle sounded. 'Thank goodness we didn't have to pay to watch that'. We met up with Willie, outside the ground, and then spent much of the next hour trying to get out of the adjacent leisure centre car park (trust Willie to move his car there!). At least I had the time to catch up with the goings-on at York Road (TBF, when Drax said recently that the 'results will come,' he didn't specify when!) and the fallout from the Rovers contingent - now thought to total 200 - being locked out. A Woking spokesperson initially stated that Rovers had declined an offer to make the game all-ticket, but this has since been corrected. I've also read reports that the stewards OR the police (opinions vary) offered to form a human barrier to let the Rovers fans onto a hastily-segregated covered terrace. The 'other' group of fluorescent-jacketed jobsworths apparently declined. I very much doubt that it was the police being proactive in trying to help … not if the 11 (ELEVEN) who were stood in the car park, doing bu88er all, were any indication!

Willie dropped us at the Bell, and we had pizza. The wife was wrongly served a vegetarian one, instead of a meat-flavoured one - days after getting a meat-flavoured one, instead of a vegetarian one, following a visit to the cinema in High Wycombe - which, I think, rather summed up her day! I'm trying to persuade her to accompany me on a weekend trip to Newcastle - featuring Gateshead vs Rovers - scheduled for the same weekend as the second leg of the Trophy semi-final. The Heed are, for the moment, still in the Trophy; their replay with Grimsby has now been postponed on two occasions. The continued uncertainty is not helping, but neither did Saturday's bore-fest. 'Woking seem, generally speaking, to be more like Maidenhead than Rovers,' mused the wife. Indeed, but Rovers didn't beat them (and could, conceivably, be 'back again next year'). Gateshead in February, meanwhile, might be a (millennium) bridge too far …

Further reading HERE. Oh, and buy THIS book. Ta.

Thursday 15 January 2015

Away Day (sort of) Diary: Farnborough 1-0 Maidenhead United (12/01/15)

The Trophy has provided us with some great away days over the years: last season's highlights - along with Fancy Dresslemania XIV, of course - were trips to Grimsby, Barrow and Daventry, for example, whilst games at Blyth Spartans ("Whitley Bay, Whitley Bay. We're the famous Maidenhead and we went to Whitley Bay"), Halifax Town ("Oh oh oh oh, makes me wanna dance ... ") and Canvey Island in the quarter-finals one year (featuring an overbooked supporters coach, Scouse Mick's short-lived Dooley's dependency and the pre-match taking of the Admiral Jellicoe pub) are legendary. Missed 'em, missed out.

As such - and following our 2-2 draw with Farnborough at York Road on Saturday (the away side played more than 45 minutes with ten men and forced a replay with a late equaliser) - I was eager to check the FA website at 11 am on Monday, to see who 'Maidenhead United or Farnborough' would be playing in the next round. I was hoping for 'Stockport County or Wrexham' away. North Ferriby United away would've done (Les and I attended a few of their games at the turn of the century whilst we were studying at the University of Hull - back when the Villagers really did live up to their nickname). As it would transpire, North Ferriby United at HOME would be the carrot. I happened to note, in the Fixtures section of the website, that - for some reason - our replay at Farnborough was to take place that very evening. I texted Macleod (M) just as he was emailing me (and getting my Out of Office). Good minds think alike.

After an afternoon spent in IKEA Wembley and then a tortuous drive home - rush hour; North Circular; torrential rain - I made it to Chez Macleod just as the result of the pre-match pitch inspection was announced on Twitter. Game on. Thanks to Macleod (M)'s superior knowledge of Berkshire B-roads, we made it to Cherrywood Road Paddy Power Park with minutes to spare. The ground was unrecognisable from my last visit: a 3-1 defeat on Boxing Day 2005 (our strikers on that occasion, incidentally, were Eric Kwakye, Lee Newman, and Stephen Hughes; Evangelino 'Ali Dia of Maidenhead United' Valentim would make his one and only appearance, a week later, in the New Years day game at Eastbourne Borough). Despite the covering at one end only sheltering about two rows of terracing - a la Slough Town's old Wexham Park ground - there can be little argument that Farnborough's home is now a rather impressive non-league football stadium. It's galling, then, that they - the epitome, in recent years, of financial tomfoolery - probably paid 1p in the pound for it. Or some other piss-take amount.

The aforementioned 3-1 defeat was not untypical; our record against Farnborough is abysmal. Four wins, apparently, in 30+ games. This game would be our fourth meeting of the current campaign, and Maidenhead had yet to record victory. A fair bit of needle had also developed in recent weeks. In no particular order:

  • Educated Left Foot pulled up the official Farnborough Twitter feed for a 'lack of class' (after they mentioned that Drax swore at the referee?)
  • Farnborough players claimed, following an on-pitch altercation, that a Maidenhead opponent suggested they 'Google him'
  • The official Farnborough Twitter feed DM'ed @MaidenheadUtd to complain about remarks allegedly made by some home fans at York Road (#familyclub)
  • Farnborough fans bemoaned what they perceived to be Maidenhead play-acting, and the state of the York Road pitch (fair enough, especially as their playing surface is immaculate ... although, TBF, their groundsman probably doesn't make sandwiches for a living)
  • Maidenhead fans, meanwhile, bemoaned Farnborough's roughhouse tactics and their unbelievably good fortune - apparently, they should've been three or four down at half-time on Saturday
'This could be tasty,' said I, 'or embarrassingly dull'.

Maidenhead were shooting towards the Woking-esque Main Stand in the first half, so we stood underneath the covering down the far side. FOG to our right. Farnborough Old Gits. Banter ensued. In voices that resembled Alistair McGowan performing a decidedly ropey impression of Ray Winstone, they harangued Adrian 'Yaya' Clifton (Yaya/ Bernie Clifton chants at the ready for Fancy Dresslemania!) as he lay injured on the turf after being brazenly hacked down by their captain. "It's a miracle!" they proclaimed when he finally returned to his feet. Arf. We replied in turn when one of their players went down. Double arf. "Sign him up for Marlow," we implored after their #6 hoofed another clearance straight out of touch. "Sign him up for Marlow," they mimicked shortly afterwards, following a misplaced Maidenhead pass. Tedious. They seemed to enjoy it, though, saying as much when we moved at half-time and then reiterating the sentiment on their forum. It takes all sorts, I suppose.

Following on from Saturday (apparently), Farnborough racked up fouls and yellow cards as Maidenhead racked up possession and missed chances. Several times, a black and white-shirted player whipped in a dangerous cross, with no one in the middle to capitalise. We were clearly missing an orthodox centre forward; the line-up, in general, seemed confused: Harry Pritchard at left back and an interchanging front three of Danny Green, Reece Tison-Lascaris, and Lanre Azeez. Fluid attacking formations are/ were all the rage, but - while I rate Green and, in particular, RTL - I think that we were being too cute. These are Conference South players, not Lionel Messi or Alexis Sanchez Barry Rake or Garry Attrell (Dave Tarpey, incidentally, needs his own chant). Play 442, 352, 433 - whatever you want. But, crucially, with players in their best positions and STRIKERS (at least one) up front.

Let me refer back to the three frontmen from 2005: Messrs Kwakye, Newman and Hughes. Kwakye was Carl Taylor's equivalent of Jonathan Hippolyte (they weren't related, but you will know what I mean). Newman, in contrast, was a firm fans' favourite whose name is still sung to this day ... albeit not in a context that one would have envisaged. So, it is left to Hughesy to make my point. He was a goal-scoring substitute for Welling United against us, in our very first Conference South game; a scintillating first spell with the Magpies ensued (earning a move to higher division Grays Athletic, IIRC). So-so upon his return, though, and only a bit-part player during our promotion campaign from the Southern League (playfully swigging from a can of Stella Artois at Clevedon whilst warming up as a substitute!). He'd have scored at least one of those chances on Monday night, however, and - whilst I'm not suggesting that we should re-sign him (I'm not sure where he's playing now or even if he's still playing) - a striker of his ilk would've made all the difference. Some will mention DJ Campbell's name, but I don't think he is the answer (even in the short term, given his injuries/ lack of fitness). As per the terrace talk on Monday night, what price another return for Richard Pacquette? #thattimeofyearagain

In any case, the game was scoreless at half-time. Thanks in part - it must be said - to the referee. This one had probably just finished a stint of panto (small or far away?). The main talking point came with the interval fast approaching: a Maidenhead player, put clean through on goal, brought down by a Farnborough carthorse combo. The ref went to blow for a penalty - red card surely to follow - but instead waved advantage as the ball fell to another Maidenhead player with the goal gaping ... only for a fluffed kick and the chance smothered. Facepalm. Annoyingly, the ref again waved play on in the second half, this time after a foul on a Farnborough player ... only to blow for a free-kick when the advantage had dissipated. #refereesarekillingus

The man in black, though, shouldn't cop all of the flak. With the flags proudly hanging behind the goal - and more than 20 Maidenhead fans congregated together(!) offering decent, if not ferocious, vocal support (Nb. the manager's name chanted, as always, on multiple occasions) - I was expectant hopeful that we could press on after the break and maybe nick a winner (to prevent extra time and penalties and keep the Wembley North Ferriby dream alive). Instead, the Magpies were disappointingly flat, allowing Boro to gain the upper hand. Their play improved noticeably - it couldn't get much worse, TBF - with a couple of shots deflected just wide (Elvijs had 'em covered, I'm sure) before Louie Theodopolopodous broke the deadlock. Last season's Conference South top scorer was recently called up to train with the England C team and cost a reputed £7k to sign from Staines Town. Now, I'm not a big fan of Conference South clubs paying transfer fees - and certainly not Conference South clubs like Farnborough paying transfer fees - but we are crying out for a half-decent striker and coughed up for Wes Daly in the past. Just sayin' ...

One down with 20 minutes to go, Maidenhead finally got their act together and dominated the rest of the game. Dave Tarpey (still recovering from surgery on his shoulder?) had been brought on shortly before the goal, followed by fellow attacking subs Jacob Erskine (immobile, but at least he provided a focal point) and - with minutes remaining and to loud cheers - Jonathan Hippolyte. It was, though, clearly one of those nights: Tarpey 'studding' the ball wide a la Gazza vs the Germans in Euro 96; Farnborough's dodgy keeper inadvertently punching a cross onto the back of his defender, only for the ball to rebound straight into his grateful arms; a glancing header from Pritchard being deflected off the line when the net should have bulged. The rain was heavy at the final whistle. Which rather summed things up.

Macleod (M) and I dumped the sodden flags in the car boot and, on a whim, decided to check out the clubhouse. Belhaven Black Stout was off and so I supped the Farney lager. Not bad and only £2.50 a pint. By the time of my second drink, we made up 50% of the paying customers! (The match attendance, BTW, was 177). The usual topics were covered, and the 'things have never been better' meme swiftly debunked (Nb. the brilliantly named De'Reece Vanderhyde - solid if unspectacular, at right back, on the night - has previously played for Welling and one of their fans mentioned that they would sing a modified version of D:Ream ... well, that is already in use at York Road and so I instead propose a slight re-wording of the Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three tune). Quelle surprise - no one from Maidenhead came into the bar (apart from, I think, the injured Leon Soloman). Indeed, I have barely spoken to Drax over the years, so should not be blamed for the comments that, according to the Advertiser, have upset the manager ...

'Everyone I speak to is so negative. It's starting to do my head in' is, I'm sure, an off-the-cuff remark. If not, it's a comment from someone who perhaps realises that his race is very nearly run (Drax really should have gone last summer, when his multi-multi-multi-multi-year contract expired. And don't take my word for it - I'm sure most supporters feel the same, but I think we all appreciate that both Rasher and the Chairman are in thrall).

'If you'd said to me before Christmas that we'd go six or seven games unbeaten before losing in an FA Trophy replay, I'd have taken that'.

Really?! #ambition

'There are a lot of people that can't be pleased no matter what we do'.

Well, I would've been pleased with a win on Monday night. But we lost.

The general consensus is that this is the worst Conference South since its inception (BTW, the division's 18-goal top scorer - Lee Angol - played just one game whilst on loan with us in 2013) yet, in November, our manager was quoted as saying 'I can't remember a league season as tough as this'. That is rather typical of Drax - getting the excuses in early and often. Under promise, over deliver. But staying up this season will not be a 'great achievement'. For me, mid-table obscurity probably wouldn't wash. Boreham Wood - average attendance below 300 - currently leads the division! Basingstoke Town - featuring Maidenhead rejects such as Manny Williams, Shaun McAuley, and Chris Flood - is third! Moneybags Ebbsfleet are bumbling around in 7th (13 points off the top). Sutton - 18th with 26 points, one place and 3 points above Farnborough - is having a disastrous season. They (Ebbsfleet and Sutton) will surely be much better next year. Dartford (and possibly Welling or Aldershot) will likely come down. Big spending Margate (another that seemingly never learns) and Maidstone will likely come up. This year was the time to go for it.

The thing is, I think that - with the re-signings of Green (who apparently agreed to join Chelmsford before a 'massive' offer changed his mind) and Pritchard (Braintree and Ebbsfleet were very keen), plus the additions of Downer, Hutchinson, Nicholls, Tarpey, and Campbell - we have gone for it. Yet for all the talk of only 'three four defeats since 20th September' - and claims (ad nauseum) that the 'results will come' - we've won just two league games in over three months and exited both the FA Cup and the FA Trophy once drawn against opponents from the same level (defeats to Gosport Borough and now Farnborough, after wins against the likes of Faversham Town and Metropolitan Police). The squad is lop-sided (and so the budget has presumably been mismanaged, once again). Important positions (e.g. goalkeeper, centre forward) have been neglected. Promising youth team players remain overlooked (LB Isaac Olorenfemi was the standout performer in the U18s penalty shootout defeat to Torquay in the FA Youth Cup - why not let him deputise for Soloman and play Pritchard in his natural position?).

In conclusion, all that the supporters now have left to look forward to is the Berks & Buck Cup (Yawn. Alan Dev seemed to win this every year. How many times has Drax won it?) and Fancy Dresslemania (a tradition that predates Drax's time at the club ... and will outlast it). 

Oh, and the end of the season. 

An underwhelming one. 

"It's the end of the season as we know it ... and we feel fine".

P.S. Not wanting to end on too negative a note, I thought I'd link to a round-up of a supporters tournament (#yourenotfittoweartheshirt) - penned by Macleod (M) and produced in a match day programme - recently uploaded to the Bell St End to Boardroom blog. I didn't play in this tournament, but remember hearing lots about it in the aftermath! Good times. I know first-hand how difficult supporters games are to organise, trust me, but - genuine question - when was the last time that Maidenhead United Supporters XI played a game? Perhaps more pertinently, when will be the next time? #supportersnotspectators