Non League Club

Conditional Decisions

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on January 3, 2016

Up and down the country teams who haven’t had the best of starts to the season will be encouraged by the fact they come into the first game of the new year unbeaten in 2016. Yep, we’ve all said it, more out of hope that our team’s fortunes will miraculously change simply because the calendar has rather than through any other event. Of course, for those fans who follow a team in the top four leagues the prospect of the transfer window now being open brings the hope that you may sign someone who will turn your season around, or get an opportunity to offload someone who has been the root cause of your problems.

Down here in the seventh tier of English football we don’t have the same type of transfer window. Ours is more of a fly screen which can be opened at will. Few players at our level are on anything more than a nod and a wink contract, with the mystical 7 Day Approach process often the only thing standing between that key player shooting you up the table or seeing you fall through the relegation trap door. I don’t really deal with that side of footballing affairs. Give me a notebook, a pen and a little video camera and send me off to watch a game and I will give you a full tactical analysis of a team, their strengths and weaknesses, set-piece routines and quality of pies on a nicely presented PDF within 24 hours. But ask me which form needs to be signed by our new Spanish winger (no word of a lie by the way) and where to send it then I’m lost. Thank goodness for Club Sec Kev and his magic cardigans is all I will say.

Suffice to say that if someone puts in a “Seven Dayer” you have a week to convince the player to stay with you. My idea would be to play on the ‘caring, sharing’ perception of our fantastic community club. A bunch of flowers delivered to Mrs Centre Forward, some sweets for Holding Midfield junior or a case of Becks for Goalkeeper’s flat mate. It’s all very well the club’s chairman trying to lay on the charm but when it comes from their nearest and dearest it tends to resonate more.

Alas, it normally comes down to cash. You will have managers who are simply better negotiators and persuaders than others but nothing peaks the interest of a footballer than money, especially at this level of the game. By money I also mean opportunity costs – the reduced time (and cost) of getting to training, the fact we never fail to pay players on time, that we have a very cool shirt manufacturer and sponsor.

But back to today. It’s the start of a New Year and a win could put us top of the first 2016 table. Well, when you’ve had such a desperate 2015 you will cling to any hope.

FullSizeRender (25)The first victory of the day was over the elements. Heavy rain overnight may have dampened the pitch but not the spirit of everyone at the club. Alas, in true Lewes style the elements rallied and scored a late equaliser. At 1pm when the referee arrived, the pitch was playable. At 1.45pm after over half an hour of heavy rain it wasn’t. By the time I arrived at 2pm and congratulated myself at being able to park outside the ground for the first time this season fans were heading in the opposite direction.

At 9am the pitch was playable. At 11am it was almost good enough for a garden party. At 1pm when the officials arrived it could have hosted world championship bowls. Then it started to rain….and rain…and rain. At 1.45pm the referee decided that the conditions were bad enough to warrant an inspection, and consequently, postponed it. “You should have communicated the game was in doubt” said one fan. But the game was never in doubt until the referee said it was. Five minutes later it was called off. You can’t make decisions on contingent liabilities. The heavy rain was forecast from 9am. It didn’t materialise until 1pm. Of course, we could have communicated that the 3pm kick off was subject to final approval of the officials but then that’s the same for any game. The pitch could be too hard, the snow could obliterate the lines on the pitch, the wind could cause structural damage, the ice could make spectating areas dangerous. Only the referee can determine how the weather conditions impact on the game. I totally get the frustration of anyone who travelled to the game but we could only work with absolute facts and not what ifs.

FullSizeRender (25)So instead of watching The Rooks I headed down the road, along with a fair few other Rooks fans plus a smattering of Whitehawk fans also without a game, to watch over the young ex-Rooks (Peacehaven & Telscombe) play older ex-Rooks (Hastings United). Not quite the afternoon I had in mind but having travelled so far, I couldn’t go home empty-handed.

Peacehaven & Telscombe 0 Hastings United 4 – The Sports Park – Saturday 2nd January 2016
Just before Christmas, Peacehaven announced that they were going to cut their playing budget. The announcement went on to explain that the decision, whilst a very difficult one to make knowing the potential ramifications for the team, was in the best interests of the club. Most of the senior, and potentially bigger weekly earners had departed, leaving manager Simon Colbran with a very young squad. However, despite their age and experience, and Colbran’s absence due to illness, Peacehaven put up a strong fight against a Hastings side who would still consider a play-off spot as a realistic ambition this year.

FullSizeRender (26)With the postponement of both Lewes’s and Whitehawk’s games, Peacehaven saw a significant increase in spectators – we simply cannot deal with a Saturday afternoon without our football – which hopefully translates into some additional cash into the budget for them.  The 250-odd fans will have seen a decent, open game, played in testing conditions.  Peacehaven certainly had their chances to equalise Billy Medlock’s early goal for Hastings in the first half, hitting the bar and missing a couple of great opportunities.  Players slipped and slid around the muddy pitch, with the referee letting the game flow as much as possible.  Hastings scored a second when former Rook Sam Cole finished off an excellent move that ripped apart the home defence to give them a comfortable lead at half-time.

The second half saw Hastings dominate, with conditions worsening.  The Peacehaven keeper struggled to stay on his feet on many occasions but he could do little with the two late goals.  First, a Sam Adams free-kick seemed to stick in the air due to the wind, and despite trying to re-judge where the ball would finally come back to earth, it slipped from his grasp and Richardson-Brown tapped home.  The scoring was complete when Cumming-Bart shot from the edge of the area after some neat build up play.

Whilst Hastings walked away with three points, Peacehaven can also pride themselves on being winners.  Not only did they manage to get the game on (or perhaps have a referee who wanted to officiate a game despite the conditions) but they also competed for long periods with a team short on experience and age.

Village People – North Ferriby United

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on December 30, 2015

My footballing year started on New Year’s Day with a dilemma as to where to head to.  AFC Goole or North Ferriby United.  A toss of a coin some 362 days ago determined our destination for the first game on 2015, The Victoria Pleasure Grounds in Goole, where we watched a 1-1 draw against Lincoln United.  Almost a year on and as we headed across The Humber Bridge we had the same options.  That was until Northern Steve checked the Interweb and discovered that The Amateurs (Lincoln United for those unfamiliar with step 8 team nicknames) game at Goole had fallen foul to the weather.  North Ferriby United v Bradford Park Avenue it was to be then.

It’s been quite a year for The Villagers.  Their penalty shoot out win over Wrexham at Wembley Stadium in the FA Trophy gained them national headlines, then just a few weeks later owners Eman and Steve Forster, Daughter and Son-in-Law of Hull City’s multi-millionaire owner Assem Allam announced they would be selling up, throwing the club into chaos.  Their investment into the facilities and squad gave the club a clear advantage, allowing them to compete with clubs with much bigger resources.  Their average attendance is just over the 300 mark and shows just how much the club has to fight to compete with the likes of Stockport County or FC United of Manchester who average crowds nearly 10 x the size.

FullSizeRender (23)During the summer the owners had a change of heart, deciding to stay put and that appears to have spurred the team on to push for promotion to Conference National.  Prior to this game they sat in 3rd place, just two points off the top of the table and on a decent run of form, although nobody wants to remind them about the defence of the trophy they proudly have on display at the ground, losing 2-1 in the FA Trophy First Round to Stocksbridge Park Steels from the Evostik League South.

The first thing that strikes you driving into North Ferriby is that it is tiny.  A one pub, two church village sitting on the banks of the Humber Estuary with a population of 3,893 to be precise and once the home to William Wilberforce.  Wilberforce, a man who fought against all the odds to see his dream of a slave-free British empire come to pass, would certainly approve of the dogged approach The Villagers are taking to make their mark on Non-League football.  The approach to the ground is still very county league – down an unlit lane alongside the allotments.

After a brief visit to the club shop to pick up some Official North Ferriby fizzy rings,  the smell from the snack bar enticed us. “Sorry luv’, we’ve not got any cheese for the cheesy chips.  I can do you them with gravy but they won’t be called cheesy chips?” Who were we to moan? Pre-match got even better when we were invited into the boardroom to “meet” the FA Trophy himself, possibly the biggest football trophy I’ve ever got my hands on and approximately 7 times larger than the UEFA Intertoto Cup which is still on display in the boardroom at Upton Park.

The crisp Humberside air was frequently punctuated by the rattle of a train passing above the far-side stand.  Ironically, the last ground I went to where the game could be watched from a passing train carriage was Goole’s Victoria Pleasure Grounds.  I’m sure there is a whole book out there somewhere, combining two of the least social past times.

FullSizeRender (22)There was a decent crowd in for the visit of Bradford Park Avenue, although it appeared the visitors hadn’t brought any fans with them, until I realised Bradford normally played in green and white, the same colours as North Ferriby United.  Bradford FC, as they are often referred to, are one of 35 clubs to have played in all four of the top tiers of English football, although they are along way from being able to compete at that level again.  The original club which competed in the Football League were replaced by Cambridge United in 1970 after failing to gain re-election and folded a few years later.  The new club have climbed up from the very bottom of the county league structure, and should be applauded for how far they have come, joining the Conference North in 2012.

Formalities over, it was time to enjoy the final game of 2015, cup of tea in one hand, non-cheesy gravy soaked chip in the other.

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North Ferriby United 1 Bradford Park Avenue 0 – Grange Lane – Monday 28th December 2015
This was one of those games that for an hour seemed as if it was destined to be goal less.  Despite the efforts of both teams, and the antics of both keepers, the goals seemed to be living charmed lives.  It is always interesting watching other Non-League clubs and trying to assess how we would fare against them.  North Ferriby’s centre-forward, the giant Tom Denton, may have looked like a stereotypical target man but the home side’s approach play was more subtle than that.  Denton threw himself at everything and if I was allowed to bet on football I would have had a tenner on him being he opening scorer.  Northern Steve, who can bet on football, suggested that it would be a waste of a tenner and backed Stoke City v Everton to have less than 1.5 goals.

FullSizeRender (24)The second half saw both teams have chances in the opening exchanges.  That man Denton should have done better when he was unmarked in the box but he put too much force into his downward header and it bounced over the bar.  However, he was on target in he 64th minute, finishing off a superb run and cross from Middleton.  Alas, the full back got himself sent off ten minutes later with a needless tackle from behind on the touchline that saw the referee brandish a second yellow.

Despite having the one man advantage Bradford PA couldn’t breakdown the stubborn North Ferriby defence in the last 15 minutes and the final whistle brought relief more than anything from the 500 plus crowd, as well as three vital points in their push for the top spot.

FullSizeRender (21)Despite the hype around the off-the-field set up at North Ferriby United you couldn’t visit a nicer club.  Everyone we met seemed to be proud to work for the club and the danger here could actually be promotion to a higher level.  Having seen what the step up actually means in terms on infrastructure for a club at this level I’m not sure they are ready for it yet.  Having to handle the logistics for the visit of Stockport County and FC United of Manchester twice in a season is very different to having to arrange segregation and policing for every home game. But that’s the pay off for progress I guess.

Merstham Tanned in Battle of M25 Junction 8 and 9

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on December 27, 2015

Since 1965 Christmas football has been the preserve of Boxing Day. One of the most eagerly anticipated days of the season, where crowds are bumper, especially in Non-League football.  This is despite the complete lack of public transport.  Take Brighton & Hove Albion’s trip to Brentford for a 1pm kick off.  The Seagulls fans had to set off around 8am, get three trains and a rail replacement bus to arrive by 12.30pm for the 60 mile journey.   Then, of course there is the weather.  Fortunately, the South had been spared, for now, the torrential rain that had caused widespread flooding in certain areas.

Every December there is a call from various Premier League managers that they play too many games and that there should be a winter break. This nearly always comes from manager’s who have just lost (again) and need to blame something other than the fact their team was actually crap.  The BBC News reported that “Even Premier League players had to train on Christmas Day”. So , someone who is paid up to £500k a month (and the rest!) has to work on Christmas Day? How is that a story? Policemen, nurses, firemen and soldiers also had to work. Did they get a mention? No of course not.

With an impending trip to the North and the need for a bit of intel on our opponents next week, I navigated around the shopping traffic, or as the BBC said “Millions braved the Boxing Day sales” (no hype there then) to take in the South M25 derby.  To sum up the game in five phrases – Muddy, End to End, Howling misses, No burgers, Late chested winner.

Merstham 1 Leatherhead 2 – Moatside – 26th December 2015