"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 November 2021

'As featured in the Southend Echo'

^^^ As above, a Woking fan on Twitter nominated me to provide Chris Phillips, the long-serving Southend Echo sports reporter, with some thoughts and observations - from a Maidenhead fan's perspective - ahead of our upcoming relegation six-pointer at Roots Hall. The article is on the Echo website. My answers repeated below:

  • What have you made of the season so far?

It has been tough going, to be honest, particularly the last few weeks. Following an extraordinary 3-2 home victory over ten-man Wrexham - in front of their Hollywood owners - the Magpies have lost three four straight games and conceded 15 16 goals, including seven in a remarkable FA Cup tie at Halifax.

Injuries have not been kind to Alan Devonshire's squad since pre-season, but we appear to lack quality in crucial areas, and it does feel a little bit like the manager is throwing mud at the wall at the moment, hoping some will stick. Our lineup seemingly changes from game to game, which is obviously not conducive to success; our last win versus a fellow National League side, without the aid of a dismissal, came against relegation favourites Dover Athletic at York Road in late August.

  • What had been the expectations for the club this season? What do you feel is still possible?

Maidenhead United competing with former Football League clubs in the National League is a surreal experience. And each new season, for us at this level, starts with the same goal: stay up, keep the dream alive! That said, I do think survival is a realistic expectation - what with the points deduction for Dover and only three relegation places. We lost some key players from last season, though, with Josh Coley and Danilo Orsi-Dadomo moving to Exeter City and Harrogate Town, respectively, and Rohan Ince to Woking. Adequately replacing the likes of them was never going to be easy. As since proven.

Ex-Southend trialist Jamie Sendles-White made an unexpected debut in the 4-0 defeat at Boreham Wood on Saturday, after which the talismanic Devonshire gave a rare and perhaps telling post-match interview. He hinted at further personnel changes - possibly regardless of the outcome at Roots Hall on Tuesday night. However, our playing budget is dwarfed by that of most other National League clubs. So jettisoning underperformers and or signing worthwhile reinforcements is far from straightforward. Dev certainly has a big job on his hands to steady the ship, but history suggests that he will get things right at the end of the day.

  • You have quite a few ex Southend players. How have Sam Barratt, Emile Acquah, and Kane Ferdinand all been playing for you?

Kane Ferdinand signed from Woking in a de facto swap with Ince. He has chipped in with some vital goals - not least a last-gasp winner at Halifax on opening day - but, rightly or wrongly, has suffered comparisons with the ex-Brighton midfielder.

The physically imposing Acquah has seen more playing time of late - as Nathan Blissett struggles with his form and fitness - and scored a brace in the FA Cup defeat at Halifax. I hope that coming up against his former club will put some fire in his belly.

Much was expected of Sam Barratt when he signed a two-year contract extension in the summer. Frustratingly, he has again suffered disruptions caused by niggling injuries.

  • Some Southend fans may not know too much about Maidenhead. What can you tell us about your more recent history?

Southend United was crowned 2005/06 League One champions after beating Bristol City 1–0 at Roots Hall in front of 11,387 fans. In stark contrast, our final home game of that season was a 6-2 loss to Eastbourne Borough, watched by 217 people! We finished rock bottom of the Conference South back then, but have subsequently celebrated two promotions, most notably when a league record 44 goals from David Tarpey helped us win the Conference South in 2016/17 - our first title for 55 years. 

  • Who is the dangerman?

Youth team graduate Josh Kelly seems - touch wood - to have finally shaken off various long-standing injury concerns and, this season, is starting to fulfil his immense promise on a more consistent basis. I understand that his Dad hails from Southend. As such, presumably, the former Northern Ireland U21 international forward will be particularly keen to impress against the Shrimpers!

  • What is the team news?

Recent defensive woes have coincided with Will De Havilland - our best centre half - missing games with a hamstring complaint. I don't expect him back for Tuesday night, which doesn't bode well from a Maidenhead perspective.

  • What's your prediction?

This matchup has evoked memories of another potentially vital midweek six-pointer away from home when we beat Maidstone United in January 2019. It would be good for us to see a repeat scoreline: 4-2 to the Magpies - one red card apiece; Ferdinand, Acquah and Barratt among the goals - although that'd be a case of heart ruling head! Bearing in mind our wretched form and De Havilland's likely absence, I'd probably take a draw.

Monday 8 November 2021

Away Day Diary: Halifax Town 7-4 Maidenhead United (06/11/21)

Honestly thought, after our disappointing trip to Altrincham, that Southend in late November would be my next MUFC away game; I hadn't factored in (1) the Magpies beating Hastings United at the home of football, and (2) the subsequent draw made on ITV #MagicOfTheCup

A televised 90th-minute winner in front of the Bell End, and news of CWKHF kindly stumping up for a subsidised supporters' coach (which, lamentably, wasn't filled), confirmed that I'd made the correct decision to bin off a fireworks display on Saturday at Windsor Racecourse - I instead accompanied the wife and kids, on Guy Fawkes Night, to one in Henley-on-Thames - and commit to joining Craig and Macleod (M) on the trains (even though we would be travelling to an increasingly familiar destination, rather than the more exotic-sounding Ponte Carlo)

Like on opening day, we enjoyed a fried breakfast in Paddington before departing King's X on the 09:33 train; Macleod (M) pointed out both he and I had overlooked that our beloved Goldie Lookin Chain would be playing The Warehouse in Leeds later, which prompted a general sense of foreboding ...

I'd suggested we mix things up a bit with a pre-match mini-crawl in Leeds - before a customary stop in the Three Pigeons Pigeon Centre, obvs. - and that is what we did: Whitelock's Ale House (decent; "the very heart of Leeds," according to John Betjeman), the Head of Steam (we weren't planning on going in there, for a change, but [1] Tapped had bouncers on the door, which was off-putting, and [2] it's a good job that we did as, in addition to the usual fine selection of beers, there was a Maidonian behind the bar!), and the Scarborough Hotel (meh; topics of conversation included generational cohorts, which kinda summed things up!)

Frankly ridiculous first half (Emile Acquah with a brace!) ended 4-3, with the raucous away support asking both teams - genuinely - What the f**kin' hell was that?! The madness continued after the break, prompting the collective shaking of heads and scratching of chins (and, later on, the checking of record books): When was the last Maidenhead game with eleven goals? When was the last time that we scored four but lost? When was the last time that we were on the receiving end of a 7-4 beating?

After post-match drinks in the Three Pigeons ("We haven't made the 3rd Round Proper since 1988," lamented one home fan, rather misjudging the mood of his Magpies-oriented audience) and Meandering Bear (delicious pints of Tiny Rebel's Peloton Pale and Settle's Plum Porter; vibe reminiscent - in a good way - of a German bar); a supermarket sweep in Tesco Express (where, back in September 2017, we'd bought a Frozen cake to celebrate my birthday); a delayed train ride from Halifax (packed to the rafters with disconsolate Sheffield United fans); a sprint to catch our connection at Leeds; a carriage-wide sing-song to wish Willie T - self-isolating at home - a happy 40th; jovial conversations with the Rangers-supporting train guard ("like Steve Coogan channelling Brian McKendrick in an Armando Iannucci -penned mockumentary pilot"); and a regrettably unpleasant encounter with an accusatory, punch-throwing, silver-haired, silk scarf -wearing rugby fan with - he boasted - an architecture degree from Kingston University (year unknown; he couldn't remember); we stalked off - still more-than-a-little shell shocked, I think - into the cold Berkshire (mid)night

XII (i.e. twelve) successive post-WWII 1st Round Proper ties have now been lost by the Magpies, which is presumably an unenviable FA Cup record (UPDATE: nope!); we can perhaps write off the embarrassing 7-4 scoreline on Saturday as a freak - the result of a wide-open cup tie played in miserable conditions - but, it is crystal clear that Dev cannot put out a makeshift defence, with our tone-setting midfield dynamo shunted to full-back*, and expect to get anything out of games against above-average opponents such as the Shaymen (*Why haven't we signed a right-back on loan - if only for a month - with Remy Clerima busy modelling, plus Ryheem Sheckleford and Shaun Donnellan injured?)