"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

Tuesday 27 October 2015

< insert unoriginal, Card-related pun here >

TBH, I wasn't 100% sure, at the start of last week, whether I'd bother going to York Road for the big Cup tie; #fencegate had been more than enough drama for one Cup run, while Woking didn't exactly make for exciting opponents. Then it became clear that, if I were to miss out, I'd be one of the few: quickly confirmed attendees, via our FB group, included LCG Dave, Will H, John G, Dickie W, Coxy, Macleod (M), Craig, Scouse Mick (ungrounded!); plus Fuzz, Gav Villa and Willie T (not working?!). Reasons behind such newfound enthusiasm? The 'magic of the Cup'? The *cringing as I write this* 'Devolution'? The fact that it was Bobby P's birthday?! For my part, nearly every re-tweeted post on my Twitter feed seemed to concern Wealdstone's upcoming clash with Bognor. The Stones were excited. It slowly dawned on me that I should be too. And, come the day, I was.

^^^ Dev's comments in the paper, which I didn't read until the morning of the game, certainly didn't hurt (click here for context re 'real fans').

^^^ We had a plasterer round for a quote, so I didn't start the walk into town until gone 1pm; belatedly meeting with Craig, Fuzz, Macleod (M), and Mick, in the Bear. It was packed - thanks, in part, to several wedding guests in 'interesting' attire. The Zulu Blonde was rather good, although the Stateside Rye - that Craig was supping - was even better. We knew that the MUFC turnstiles would be creaking under the pressure of a larger-than-usual crowd but still left the pub later than we should've. As such, we heard the cheers that greeted the opening goal as we crossed York Road outside the Anchor. The pessimistic realistic among us instantly feared the worst, although I did suggest that the roar - and it was loud - could've come from the home fans. Still, I was somewhat surprised to learn that we were one up …

^^^ I was also pleasantly surprised to hear a near word-perfect 'Soggy Sombrero', shortly after our arrival behind the goal. The Canal End was in fine voice.

^^^ 'Bell Ending' the Gandermonium sticker was, ultimately, far less of a hassle than peeling it.

^^^ Tucker Jnr in the house! The boy has got promising bin-throwing skills! Willie apparently asked him, the following day, for his York Road highlight. 'Pushing bins over,' the reported response! #familyclub, #lad

^^^ Match action. Safe to say that the Cards looked like a side low on confidence; the Magpies were keen to take full advantage. Woking seemed to be finding their feet, though, as the half wore on …

^^^ A (plastic) pint of Newcastle Brown Ale (yuk!) was awaiting me, in Stripes, at the break (thanks, Fuzz!). TBF, the Rebellion Relegation was off (Quelle surprise).

^^^ Sir Garry Attrell - MUFC Hall of Famer and, in Macleod (M)'s opinion, the 'greatest ever Maidenhead player' - happy to pose for a photo with his biggest fan. A quick trip to the Gents before we ventured back outside, and it was from here that we heard another goal-greeting cheer. Mallett Jnr, from the cubicle, reckoned it was an equaliser (although he seemed more interested in the goings-on at the Kassam #noteuphenism). Wrong! It was 2-0. Macleod (M) and I might've missed this goal - and the first - but we did see the quickly-added third, albeit just about, through the Shelf gap! We chatted with Roger and Jean (former Chairman and Treasurer, respectively) - painful defeats vs Salisbury in the 1999/00 3rd Qualifying Round, and particularly vs Welling in the 2002/03 2nd Qualifying Round, briefly touched upon - while Macleod (M) got a kiss from Mrs Dev. Another MUFC Hall of Famer, Andy Smith, also said hello. The joyous atmosphere was soon tempered, though, by an unsavoury flare-up. Some of the Woking Youth seemingly permitted to walk around the ground, past the Bell End, spitting and jostling as they went. A couple of the home fans took an understandable exception. I had to deploy all my persuasive conciliatory powers to defuse the situation. Yes, you read that correctly! But, of course, well done to the stewards. *rolls eyes*

*** Exhibit A (post on the WFC forum):

If Woking FC get in trouble for the muppets actions I hope Maidenhead get in trouble for a ridiculous failure to steward the game properly. We have been there before so they know it was likely to be a bit rowdy yet there was no one watching the noisy lot when they threw the smoke bomb, which then wasn't removed for quite a while. They then had two stewards who bottled standing near the rowdy lot, preferring to stand watching and discussing the game. Second half they didn't steward the Woking end at all. The muppets were chucking each other over the fence with total impunity.

*** Exhibit B (snippet from a groundhopper blog post; worth reading in full):

If the Woking players hadn't quite given up, some of their fans certainly had. A selection of the more idiotic of them felt that the only way to gain the respect of their fellow fans was to wade in to the home fans and try and start something. They were thrown out by those in yellow that were not on the pitch - although I'm not sure I would use the word "swiftly" as the whole thing seemed to drag on for an age before it was finally over.

^^^ "Shoes off if you love Maidenhead!"

^^^ It was party time on the Bell End. The KSG rolled out a few old favourites (e.g. 'Nisbet scored at King's Lynn') - and sang 'Happy Birthday' to Bobby P, stood on the Shelf - before collaborating with the LCG, the Youth, and the rest, in a booming rendition of 'Alan Dev's Chas & Dave's Black & White Army'. Fifteen minutes … then five more added on! No wonder LCG Dave's hands were bleeding - literally - at the end! The players celebrated in the goalmouth after the final whistle - my face obscured, by the crossbar, in the relevant photo! - and the gaffer punched the air several times; I sense that this one really meant something to him (Drax now got nothing!). Macleod (M) and I chatted briefly with Matty Glynn. He looks as fit as a fiddle. I've felt that, at times this season, we've lacked a bit of guile in the final third; creativity provided in days of yore by the likes of Glynn, Attrell and Barry Rake. Maidenhead didn't lack guile or creativity on Saturday, though, far from it; the Cards were poor, yes, but the Magpies were rampant.

^^^ To Bar Sport; absolutely drenched, despite the short walk. Reports that it had 'kicked off' back at the clubhouse. Nawty. Anyway … A PHOTO FROM YORK ROAD ATOP THE BBC SPORT WEBSITE! (above) THE SO-CALLED 'SPECIAL ONE' IN MELTDOWN! ARSENAL BEATING EVERTON TO GO TOP O' THE LEAGUE! GREENE KING'S EAST COAST IPA GOING DOWN A TREAT! Giddy times. It reminded me a little of the Anchor 'glory days' (albeit sans Landlord Joe, sticky carpets, ripped seats, tatty wallpaper, Macleod (C) monopolising the jukebox, impressive scarf collection, etc.) … and this was before Mad Fred turned up! The wife collected me, as planned, at 8pm. I wasn't the first to depart - indeed, I think that only the Macleods, Mick, and the birthday boy, stayed out. Probably for the best Definitely for the best, if the following FB video of Bobby P dancing - 'like a cat chasing a laser' - to 'Town Called Malice' is anything to go by! #raidergotnothingonpintjoy

^^^ My throat was sore when I awoke the following morning, and I was also suffering 'stand-banging thumb' (#noteuphenism). Small prices to pay. Thoughts immediately turned to the draw. The Stones had also won, so my FB and Twitter timelines were full of suggestions regarding which teams were desirable/ undesirable. My view was as follows:

Most people - including Alan Dev - would like a league team at home. Failing that, a lower division side at home.

York Road, however, can barely handle Woking, let alone the likes of Millwall or Bristol Rovers! Segregation would also mean home fans locked out of the Bell End (a la the Stafford Rangers replay debacle).

Plus we've lost to the likes of Didcot and Horsham - the latter at this stage - in the recent past.

As such, I'd be delighted with any league team - bar Newport and Wimbledon (and possibly Oxford; not sure I could stomach the Mallett media meltdown) - away.

^^^ As is evident, I posted the above message at 7:17PM. The euphoria lasted for about ten mins …

^^^^ FFS! Sunday afternoon would be OK, I suppose, but Friday night?! Bearing in mind that I'm unavailable for the weekend of the 2nd Round, a Friday night fixture - then - would be ideal. Hey ho, we're getting ahead of ourselves. [UPDATE: Sunday it is]

Back to Woking: there was much fanfare, in the build-up to last Saturday's fixture, re Drax's boyz fine 4-1 win over the Cards in the 2011/12 3rd Qualifying Round. However, the last time we'd played them - before the weekend just gone - was later that same season: a 0-1 scoreline at York Road, in April 2012, clinching Woking the title and pushing Maidenhead towards relegation (Nb. MUFC had publicly announced, in the build-up to this game, that the away fans were welcome to invade the pitch if/ when they won! #everyonesfavouriteawayday). Anyway, I've re-read my relevant blog post and think the closing 'emotive polemic' is worthy of reassessment:

It's been six years since Maidenhead's last relegation from the Conference South. Hundreds of thousands of pounds spent in the meantime. For what gain? The team and pitch are as bad now, as they were then. Any (minimal) improvements to the ground were likely paid for by MUSA. The average attendance is only up (by a small amount, if at all) due to the considerable away followings brought by the likes of Woking. The Youth and Reserve teams seemingly only exist to provide players for other clubs (if anyone at all, e.g. someone mentioned at the weekend that Jake Chance is quitting football). Debt-free? Undoubtedly a good thing. Aside from that? A promotion (which looks more and more like it was a fluke), a Berks & Bucks Cup win (meh) and an FA Cup replay against a League side that we have played nearly 20 times in recent years? Try and spin it whichever way you can; dish out the 'anti-Drax' and 'anti-club' labels - plus the bans - if you must. The inescapable truth is that it all looks like a monumental - and rather sad - waste of time and money.

Anti-Drax? No, not Drax per se. More so frustration re an aloof, underachieving manager who regularly hid behind BS excuses in the paper and was rewarded for mediocrity by countless unnecessary multi-year contract extensions.

Anti-club? No, not at all. More so indignation. Indignation towards a board of directors, featuring remnants from the failed Jon Swan regime (that ultimately brought the members club to its knees), which - possibly due to the fact I kept banging on about (1) spending money on the ground, rather than the manager/ team, and (2) imploring better links with the local community (PASE, Maidenhead Boys & Girls, etc.) - banned me (and a couple of others) for nothing. Or nothing compared with behaviours regularly overlooked by the York Road stewards.

We now have a likeable, capable manager and a ground that has finally seen real improvements (more required, though, i.e. turnstiles down the Canal End). We also have an official link-up with BCA, a ladies' team, and a Magpies in the Community scheme.

Great stuff; credit where it's due. Seriously.

'I suppose being proven right is the best gift of all' ~ Sherlock Holmes, Elementary, The Leviathan [1.10]

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Away Day Diary: Blackfield & Langley 0-1 Maidenhead United (10/10/15)

I was at Tegel airport, on the way home from a fabulous week in Berlin celebrating my father-in-law's birthday, when I discovered that Maidenhead had squeezed past Winchester in their FA Cup replay and would be playing at Blackfield & Langley in the next round. I think most of my free Deutsche Telekom WiFi minutes were spent trying to work out (a) where Blackfield & Langley is and (b) how you would get there. Macleod (M) had already suggested, on Facebook, going via the Hythe ferry and this was ultimately the chosen option; Les, in a forwarded email, cogently explaining why:

1. Upon arrival at Southampton, it's necessary to get across the Solent. As I see it the likely options for that are ferry, bus or taxi. Ferry is by far the least practical option since, unlike in the case of Gosport, it only shaves a couple of miles off the distance travelled as compared to taking a bus or taxi via the Redbridge causeway, and anyway, Hythe pier is absolutely not within walking distance of the ground. Then there's the matter of the ferry fare: at £5.80 return it would probably be quicker and cheaper to take a taxi from pier to pier than to take the ferry.

2. In spite of (1), if others are up for it I'm minded to take the ferry to Hythe almost on a point of principle. If I wanted a quick and direct journey I'd drive. The walk from Southampton Central to Town Quay passes plenty of boozers, and Hythe is a more than decent place to stop for light refreshments as well. I don't think there's much near the ground. And it would be good to get the flags out on the ferry, as we did on the way back from Gosport.

Ah, Gosport. Not my finest hour. Indeed, Craig messaged from Portugal on Saturday morning (ahead of the Gibraltar vs Scotland game) to say that, as we were taking the ferry, I should pack a spare pair of jeans. Arf.

^^^ Steve H, Woody, McKendrick and Scouse Mick joined Macleod (M) and I on the 09:53 from Maidenhead. My parents were also on the train, journeying to Winchester for a day out because they'd heard good things.

^^^ Into Southampton Central at 11:17, as scheduled, and then a short walk to Bar Street Above Bar Street. The plan was to head straight to the local Wetherspoons - the Standing Order - but certain individuals within our group couldn't make it past the first pub: Yates's. It was rubbish - no ales on apart from a substandard Doom Bar - and so we didn't stay long. I made sure that the 'Republic of Mancunia' sticker, on the street sign pictured above, got 'Bell Ended' as we left.

^^^ I'd printed out directions, for the walk to the Town Quay, but certain individuals within our group couldn't make it past the first taxi.

^^^ Southampton town walls; photographed by Mick from the window of the taxi. #yeractualcultureinnit

^^^ I thought that this rather irritable fellow looked a little bit like Arjuna Ranatunga, the former Sri Lankan cricket captain.

^^^ Hythe ferry ticket machines. Exact fare (£5.80) required. You were instructed to see the ticket inspector if you needed change. Although he only had £1 coins. Obvs.

^^^ Ferry. Great fun. Even the coffees tasted good ;-) It was around this time that we received word of severe delays on the railway; Les, for one, was stuck north of Winchester. Two differing reasons were given: a broken down train at Botley (is that not a different line?) and a fire at Eastleigh. Mick had nothing to do with the latter, honest!

^^^ Murder on the Orient Express Murdo on the Hythe Pier Express.

^^^ Twinned with York Road.

^^^ Hythe; the Lord Nelson is No. 5 on it's picturesque High Street. Excellent pub this; we sat out the back, overlooking the railway. A little blustery, but the sun was getting through the clouds; which rather summed up the day to this point. Then one of the locals, with whom we were chatting, asked a question: "So, you've come all the way from Kent?" *facepalm* My worst fears, that the day would quickly start to disintegrate, were confounded when the tasty Ringwood Best Bitter ran dry and we were forced back on the Doom Bar. A sign of things to come ...

^^^ The aforementioned local had recommended the Malt & Hops, despite it apparently being the 'roughest' pub in Hythe (#whatwouldmerthyrdo?). He said that he'd give us a shout when he left, so we could follow him there, but then went without us. After a quick photo of Macleod (M) outside a shopmobility emporium, imprecise directions from a young Goth couple, and a somewhat meandering walk, we caught up with him and his friends (#can'tgetawayfromusthateasy). Hop Back Brewery's Summer Lightning was far too fruity for my liking, but the pub was decent enough; if it really is the roughest boozer then this is testament to the fact that Hythe is a praiseworthy little town. Macleod (M) put a quid in the jukebox and I stuck on three Goldie Lookin Chain songs. We didn't get to hear them, though, as Take That played repeatedly until our taxis arrived. ("I feel like such a twat, cos I really likes Take That")

^^^ Gang Warily Community & Recreation Centre.

^^^ Pre-match kickabout. Didn't score past Mick once and think I pulled something.

^^^ Line-ups.

^^^ Hoof!

^^^ TBF, the pitch wasn't exactly conducive to sexy football. Indeed, the game was as uneventful as the queue for food was long. Macleod (M) said that the grub, when it finally arrived, was good ... unlike the service. He thought it apt that they forgot to charge him.

^^^ "Mother, I can never come home again, cos I seem to have left an important part of my brain somewhere. Somewhere in a field in Hampshire". Note the female assistant; tasteless remarks, from a member of the travelling contingent, were out of order and I told him so.

^^^ The travelling support at B L A C K F I E L D A N D L A N G L E Y

^^^ Flowers behind the goal! Like the old Eastville Stadium. Sort of. Note the scruffy-looking, curly-haired, paunchy bloke - top, right - sat behind the wire mesh fence, alone on a bench, next to a children's playground (make of that what you will). Apparently he was giving Macleod (M) and Mick the middle-finger before they'd even started hanging the flags …

^^^ Curly pulled down the saltire, ripping a tie from it in the process. He was unreasonable throughout the brief conversation I had with him (which ended with me suggesting that he return to his seat, next to the play area). Things continued to escalate, for reasons that remain unclear clear to me, after my attention had long since been diverted by the match restart. I shall defer to twitter …

^^^ Non League Day RUINED. TBF, when all is said and done, I think that this is probably the first time I've seen actual fisticuffs at a Maidenhead game since one of our coaches and the current MUSA secretary were both decked by some cap-wearing Stoke City hoolies on the pitch at Stafford Rangers (I missed the MMS' '60 second stramash' vs Eastleigh; have only heard rumours re two of our stewards beating up that Merthyr Tydfil fan). B&LFC's black bomber-jacketed security men - Max and Paddy - were helpful enough, after the event, but conspicuous by their absence prior to that. Where were the Ebbsfleet stewards, or Rasher, when needed?! ;-)

^^^ I missed much of the second half, incl. Maidenhead's winning goal, as I was in the clubhouse with McKendrick and Woody - who had been watching Scotland scrape past Samoa in the egg chasing - and Mick; reuniting the latter with his camera. Funnily enough, he didn't look out of place in here, bloodied and bruised, as it was packed with players from Fawley RFC. Bit naff that the bar is shared, particularly as it is on the small side. (Yes, I know, #potkettleblack coming from a Maidenhead fan!)

^^^ Alan Dev and Happy Bob both said 'hello', in the bar, whilst Dean Inman and Alan Massey asked after Mick as they were boarding the team coach. We ordered a taxi straight back to Southampton and headed, belatedly, to the aforementioned Standing Order. Much better than Yates's, but we had already decided to bolt for the station - to catch an earlier-than-planned train - when Les, Logic, Rainey et al arrived. Proposed meet with Wealdstone postponed, meanwhile, as the Stones lot had apparently enjoyed themselves a little too much at nearby Brockenhurst. 'I bet blackfield and whatever they are called didn't say nice things about you lot,' wrote Sudhir on Facebook; implying, I think, that our friends from Middlesex had made a good impression. They've changed ;-)

^^^ We went to Asda for a carry out, before leaving Southampton, and so the stragglers were able to catch up; indeed, the train contained more than its fair share of returning Magpie hordes. Also travelling on it was the Mail on Sunday's 'fulminator-in-chief' and I chatted with the Orwell Prize-winning journalist, stood in a vestibule, after Les had left the train at Basingstoke; one topic of conversation was 'sibling rivalry'. The passengers on the train from Reading to Maidenhead, meanwhile, were serenaded with lusty renditions of 'Soggy Sombrero', 'You are my Bell End', 'HEA, RTS' and suchlike; see, Virgin Trains, it's not just rugby fans who love 'jovial sing-songs'. Back on home turf; to the Vine (above). It's been done-up, since my last visit, but I'm still not a massive fan; the Anchor but not the Anchor … if that makes sense?

^^^ So, United's reward in Monday's draw? As I wrote in various text messages, and on the Conference South forum, normally I'd have everything crossed for an 'exotic' away tie but, after #fencegate, someone boring at home was probably for the best. I had Basingstoke in mind, but Woking will do. Rather apt, in fact, that we've been paired with them as it gives me an opportunity to belatedly highlight what Macleod (M) and I were up to as Drax's boyz were busy thumping the Cards at York Road in the 2011/12 3rd Qualifying Round: accompanying Trevor Kingham's daughter, Denise, on a five-mile charity walk from the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability (in Putney) to Loftus Road (ahead of QPR vs Blackburn Rovers)We didn't attend the game, instead drinking and chatting with Denise and her Mum in the Loyal Supporters Association's underground HQ - and then the Springbok - before going for a curry in the evening. If, unlike Rangers chairman Tony Fernandes (yes, that is him in the above photo; apparently making his very first appearance in the LSA bunker), you have yet to give generously to the charity, then please consider it; a very worthy cause. Trevor is missed. Always. And certainly last Saturday!