"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

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

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