Non League Club

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on December 14, 2014

15826233910_5e3bb2333b_kAfter the euphoria of the last-gasp win in the Sussex Senior Cup it was time to return to Ryman Premier League action with a trip to the purveyors of fine free-flowing football, Billericay Town. Those of us who made the trip to Horsham on Tuesday night were rewarded with a smorgasbord of the elements as well as some late drama to pitch The Rooks into the last eight in the race to reach The Amex.  So what better way to follow that than to spend a cold, damp afternoon in mid December than in deepest, darkest Essex craning our necks in the air as the ball by-passes the midfield?

At least you know what to expect when you play The Blues.  Their manager, Carl Griffiths has modeled his side on those of Beck, Basset and Taylor, leading them to the Ryman Premier League title two years ago before they fell from the Conference South just a year later.  Whilst The Blues are one of a large pack of “middling” teams in the third tier of English football, they do hold the honour of being the first club to win the FA Vase three times (ticks box of doing research on Wikipedia). Matches between the two sides have hardly been dull in recent years, and if I was a betting man (which of course thanks to The FA I’m not allowed to be) I’d have a sneaky £10 on a red card. Last season it was our captain fantastic, Jack Walder, who saw red. Walder was back from his long-term injury although he would be soon be missing again after picking up a red in his comeback game, playing for a Ringmer last week.

15391229254_3a4fe1075e_kThis was to be my last outing to watch the Rooks before Christmas, so there was bound to be plenty of festive cheer as we descended on New Lodge, Billericay’s ecletic ground on the edge of the Essex countryside. Despite the Rooks lowly position, you have to go back to the 19th October for the last defeat in the league.  In fact, that bizarre game at Oxford City two weeks ago aside, it had been a pretty impressive run with wins in the FA Trophy and Sussex Senior Cup to go with the unbeaten league run.

Deaks had done his homework and found a decent pub in the town centre with a few new ales to sample, including possibly the best toilets this side of the West End.  Two (2!) types of hand lotion in the toilets.  As Dave said, you expected a little chap to pop out from behind the door with a squirt of Kouros.  Not what you’d expect from the location.

A swift pit stop on the walk to the ground at Greggs ended in disappointment as they had run out of sausage rolls.  That’s like a bank running out of cash, a pub running out of beer or Michael McIntyre managing to actually say something funny. It’s just not British is it?

The winter sun was causing us a problem as we walked down to the ground, meaning the toss could be a match decider.  Of course, we lost that and Rikki Banks was soon regretting leaving his baseball cap in his car glove compartment.

Billericay Town 2 Lewes 2 – New Lodge – Saturday 13th December 2014
Six minutes into injury time the ball is launched into the Lewes area, surely for one final time.  The initial four added minutes that the referee had said he was adding on have come and gone. The ball falls to Lewes’s stalwart Chris Breach, he slips, allowing a Billericay player a sight of goal.  Lovegrove dives in, taking one for the team and it’s a penalty.  One final hope of all three points stands 6ft 4inches tall.  Rikki Banks dives the right way but Richard Halle’s spot kick has too much pace and the wild celebrations from the home side just shows the relief of grabbing a point.

Of course we could complain.  But on at least four occasions this season the Rooks had benefited from extra injury time to grab valuable points or progress in the cup competitions.  As they say, these decisions even themselves out over a season.  It hurt – don’t get me wrong, but that’s football.

15987708636_9d934316be_kDespite dominating the opening exchange, including hitting the woodwork before we’d even picked up our chips from the refreshment kiosk, Billericay faded in the first half as Lewes simply out-passed them. There was no surprise when The Blues took the lead, although it wasn’t the long ball that led to the goal, rather than a powerful run from Sappleton through the middle of the Lewes defence before slotting home with ease.

Despite the state of the pitch, the Rooks looked to play the ball behind the Billericay back line with new signing Fraser, Davis and returning skipper Walder dominating the middle of the park.  Confidence grew, chances came and finally so did the equaliser.  Davis to Fraser to Cole, running onto the ball in the area and the ball was in the back of the net.

Tails up we went for another.  Davis showed his dancing feet when the ball appeared to get stuck in the mud, shifting his weight from left to right, wrong-footing the defence and calmly slotting the ball into the net.  Lewes were rampant. Blewden beat the offside trap but the final obstacle, the pitch, beat him.

15825991210_fbe3729e06_kThe second half was a tighter affair with both sides struggling with the conditions. Billericay were reduced to ten men when Sappleton went in late on Fraser, the subsequent handbags essentially costing Lewes their victory with the time being added by one of the better referees we’ve seen at this level this season.

The final drama certainly gave us our money’s worth and no Lewes fans can really complain at the last gasp decision. We’d done our homework, stuck our game plan and came away with a moral victory if not with all three points.

Postscript: the title of today’s report relates a line from the song All Together Now, describing the events in The Somme from 100 years ago. 

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them

A double dose of Essex United

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on December 28, 2011

What a day this promised to be.  Three (well two and a half) fiercely contested local derbies, either side of the River Thames, which thanks to some fortuitous scheduling, that I could go to, as well as still putting in some “Fuller Festive Family Fun”.  Christmas is all about spending time with your loved ones, catching up on the events of the year and generally being around those nearest and dearest to you.  But when the words “Let’s go to the sales” are mentioned, all love goes out the window and football becomes a viable option.  Hence, when the three Fuller girls all expressed a wish to go shopping, I played the football get out of jail free card and planned my day of hot and spicy local derbies.

First up was a trip under the Thames to Essex for the “Battle of the M25 junction 28” as they call it in these parts. Billericay Town sat proudly on top of the table before a ball was kicked.  Despite their nearest rivals all winning yesterday, their amble goal difference of plus 27 saw them safely sit in first place.  Visitors AFC Hornchurch lay in fourth with a game in hand and just four points below.  So a win for either side today could be pivotal in the final shake up.

Whilst most football leagues will boast “this is the most difficult division to get out of”, few can claim that at the halfway point in the season there has been five different leaders, or that the top if they won their games in hand would be separated by just five points.  The Ryman Premier League has proved to be a great league for the neutrals to follow, but a bugger if you are the follower of one of the clubs.  With the Christmas period throwing up the odd derby or two, we would have been a fool to miss this one.  Billericay Town versus AFC Hornchurch.  Two teams separated by the M25 just a few miles apart and by just four points at the top of the table.

This was hard to miss.  With Lakeside just a few miles away I was able to deposit CMF and The Little Fullers at the Cathedral of Orange Tans and head northish through the vineyards of Essex to Billericay, home of Steve Davis, Alison Moyet and Lee Evans.  All three would surely be at New Lodge for this top of the table clash? I cannot think what else they could be doing on a post Christmas afternoon.

Billericay Town have surprised many this season with their rise to the top of the table.  Just two defeats, one of which was in the first week of the season to Lewes, has seen them jump above the likes of Lowestoft Town, Hendon, Lewes and visitors Hornchurch.  Their success has been built on a strong goal scoring record that has seen them average over two goals a game this season, and seen them put the likes of Kingstonian Wingate & Finchley, Tooting & Mitcham United and Canvey Island to the sword this season at home so far.  Their style has come in for some criticism as being too direct, whilst visitors Hornchurch had been called “too physical” in the past. Frankly, football is about results and so if a style works for a team then they deserve their success.  The facts suggest that whatever style works in this division as they are top of the league, with 46 goals scored to their name.

The Club have also been scratching their heads as to what they can do to get more people through the gates.  I sympathise with them and this was my whole reason for writing my Blueprint last year.

One player who unfortunately would not be gracing the pitch was Billericay keeper Nicky Morgan.  Morgan was involved in an incident outside a nightclub in Essex in October and received injuries that resulted in him being paralysed from the waist down.  The police have now arrested a man in connection with the injury.  The club have been incredibly supportive of Nicky and we also wish him well.

As we drove up through the Essex countryside we came across a line of parked cars on the road.  Surely this couldn’t be for the football?  After all, here was a team who were averaging 300 give or take a few.  According to my good friend TomTom we were still nearly a mile away.  But yes, it seemed that the locals had all read the article on the website and had put on their Christmas jumpers and hot-footed it down to the biggest game in Essex.

Billericay Town 0 AFC Hornchurch 1 – New Lodge – Tuesday 27th December 2011
Rule number 1 – when you moan about not having enough fans and then they turn up en mass, make them welcome.  The attendance of over 1,100 put strain on every aspect of the club.  The one turnstile struggled to cope in the lead up to kick off, the hot food ran out in the 44th minute as we were queuing, the bar had queues of fifteen minutes.  I appreciate it is a chicken and egg situation but some forethought could have avoided hundreds of people going away from the ground with a poor impression.

The game in truth failed to live up to its top of the table billing.  An over fussy referee tried his best to antagonise the players, managers and fans alike with some strange decisions and a pitch that made playing the ball on the ground impossible but few can argue with the result in the end.  Hornchurch were the stronger team in the second period and before they had scored the only goal, hit the bar with a well taken free kick.

Billericay had been likened to Stoke City simply because they have someone who can hurl the ball in from the touchline.  Sam Berry’s talents were used whenever there was an opportunity in the game and once or twice his throws caused chaos in the Hornchurch area and the odd controversial moment when the referee automatically penalised the home side irrespective of the outcome of the throw.

Both teams are strong, well organised and that seemed to cancel out their attacking threat.  As someone had said to me prior to the game “It won’t be one for the purists” and it certainly wasn’t. Glen Poole had the best chance of the first half for the home side but his shot was well saved by a confident, if bruised Hornchurch keeper, Joe Woolley.

In the second half the momentum swung to the visitors and on the hour they got their goal.  Michael Spencer was sent away down the wing and his cross was met by Tommy Black.  His first effort was somehow scrambled off the line but he followed up and turned the ball home.

With time running out, Billericay pushed forward, first putting one centre back up front, and then another.  Finally, keeper Dale Brightly was added to the attack.  However, from one set piece Hornchurch broke quickly and with the goal empty. Hunt shaped to shoot from the half way line but was brought down by a Billericay player.  Technically he was the last man, even though he was in the Hornchurch half.  The referee decided to give a yellow in one of those decisions that nobody will ever agree on.

Three points to Hornchurch gave them their ninth consecutive win and lifted them up into third, above Lewes and mean that the top four in the Ryman Premier are now separated by just four points.  As Glenn Frey once said – “The Heat is On”.

As the crowds tried to make their way home, we headed through the country roads of Essex, avoiding the eight mile traffic game on the M25 to Mill Road, Aveley for our second slice of Essex United in an afternoon.

Aveley 0 East Thurrock United 3 – Mill Road – Tuesday 27th December 2011
Well, sort of.  We arrived just as the teams came out for the second half, with East Thurrock United holding a 3-0 lead thanks to an eleven minute hatrick from Sam Higgins.  More was sure to follow to warm up the cockles of the bumper 250 people in the crowd.

Aveley’s ground is hard to love.  It looks as if the pitch has shrunk, or that it was once home to an Aussie Rules team.  The huge grandstand with its paddock in front looks like it belongs to a racecourse somewhere and with wasteland behind the other side of the ground it begs for some love and attention.

However, it is home to them (and Romford FC) and is more than adequate for their needs.  Alas, hot food had also run out here as well-meaning that Lolly had to go without her chips (for her Non League chip survey).

It seemed like all of the energies of the players had been spent in the first half as both teams failed to find any rhythm, demonstrating why both had started the day in the bottom three.  The Aveley keeper, David Hughes, was the busier of the two in the second period, making a fine save from Newby and Smyth, underlining the dominance of the away side.

A vibrating in my pocket meant that it was time to leave.  CMF had finished her shopping and it was time for me to return to the safety of South of the River.  Ryman  Premier League scouting assignment completed for the day.

Malcolm in the Middle of the park

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on August 28, 2011

After Wednesday’s win against Met Police where the result was more important than the performance, Steve King had put the pressure on the team by promising that this would be a better spectacle.  However, the worry for all those involved in the club was the first ever “head to head” game with Brighton.

Just five miles down the road in their shiny new Amex Community Stadium, high flying Brighton & Hove Albion would be taking on Peterborough United at exactly the same time as Lewes were kicking off against Billericay Town.  Many fans had called for the Rooks to move their kick off to try and accommodate those “floating voters” who support both teams (mentioning no names Mr Last!), but it was decided to “wait and see the impact on the crowd”.

After a morning on a 30 footer in Brighton Marina, soaking up the sun I arrived in Lewes at 1.30pm.  First immediate problem.  No parking spaces anywhere near the ground.  Many Seagulls fans who live this way had chosen to park in Lewes and get the train one stop to Falmer.  So I was forced to park up in the town centre and walk down.  Not that any of the pubs near the station will mind Brighton’s new ground being so close as they were doing a roaring trade.

Anyway, enough of that bitterness.  The reason I wanted to park close by was that I was James Boyes for a day and thus had to carry my camera equipment.  Now those of you who know James will remember he is a Lewes fan.  And a Brighton one.  And a Manchester United one, oh and also a FC United of Manchester fan.  But it also appears he is a Rugby League fan and had decided to treat Mrs Ginger Action to a day at the Challenge Cup Final instead of being at The Dripping Pan. So I was filling that little portable stool for the day.  I did ask to borrow the “magic trousers” but apparently I wasn’t deemed worthy enough.

The visitors Billericay had brought a few more fans than Met Police.  In fact if Pepsi and Shirley would have turned up in Town’s colours it would have been more than Met Police.  Hitting the bar early, the club soon ran out of Blue WKD drinks and fizzy pop bottled lager.  I am a firm supporter of the notion that the club should only sell Harvey’s beer and do its bit in educating the masses to proper beer.

Whilst we were only two games into the season, midweek games had thrown a few spanners in the works.  Lowestoft, installed as firm favourites after their win against Lewes last week, lost away to Wingate & Finchley, Carshalton drew with Wealdstone and Bury Town had lost at home to Hendon.  Billericay Town arrives a win against Leatherhead and a draw at Harrow Borough.

Steve King announced an almost unchanged side, with big Stuart Robinson back in goal having recovered from injury.  Unfortunately King was still serving his touchline ban so had to make do with a seat in the stand and get his instructions down to the bench by throwing paper airplanes.

As 3pm approached a quick scan of the crowd showed how difficult the “head to head” games will be as there was certainly less than on Wednesday night in the ground.  Yes, some people are still on holiday but there is no denying that having the same kick off time probably impacted the attendance by 20% at least.

Lewes 2 Billericay Town 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 27th August 2011
Feel good football.  That is what King had promised pre-season when we interviewed him for Viva Lewes and what better way to put the smiles back on the faces of the fans than another win.  Back to back wins are something of a rarity in these parts in recent years so it was a good feeling when the final whistle eventually went, and as promised the performance was almost as good as the result.

Lewes had the better of the opening exchanges and nearly opened the scoring in the eight minute when an innocuous shot from Michael Malcolm somehow confused the keeper and the ball rebounded at a snails pace into his arms off the post.  Just a minute later Jamie Cade crashed into my photographic colleague a few yards away, causing a massive panic that we didn’t have “high vis” jackets on.  As if that would help.  If a player is bearing down on you they are hardly likely to be able to swerve at the last minute just because you are glowing luminously.  One duly arrived for me with the name Kevin on.  Thanks for that.

Fifteen minutes on the clock and almost a carbon copy of the near miss from Wednesday saw Malcolm lift the ball over the Billericay keeper from twenty yards.  This time the ball bounced kindly and into the net as opposed to over it.  One nil Lewes.

Fifteen minutes later one became two when Malcolm controlled the ball in the area, looked up and picked his spot in the corner of the net.  The Rooks fans had to pinch themselves.  Were we really playing good football and scoring goals?  As if to remind us who was boss, the heavy rain started to fall and I regretted not being more insistent with Mr Boyes on getting his magic trousers.

Half time, and the draw was made for the naming rights to the main stand.  An ingenious idea, even if I say so myself, and whoever thought of the idea should be given a CBE.  Every company that bought a Business Supporter package was put in the hat and one would be pulled out at random.  Poetic justice that in a town famous for its brewery the lucky recipient was a local pub.  So now when you come to The Dripping Pan you can take a seat in The Gardeners Arms Stand.

The second half saw a slight change in tactics.  Lewes’s midfield tightened up on their opposing numbers, meaning the forward momentum was not so strong.  In the past few years this inevitably led to a nervous period of play, and all was fine until Billericay scored with just eight minutes to go.  Tense, nervous, headache?

But the final whistle put us out of our misery.  In truth apart from the goal, the Essex side hadn’t really threatened Robinson in the second half.  Which is more than can be said for a couple of their fans who seemed to be a tad unhappy with their team, and it took a few words in the bar afterwards from the manager with the fans to calm things down.

So a 100% home record is just what the doctor ordered.  Next stop, the local derby with Horsham before a trip next Sunday to Wembley to league leaders Hendon.

As a walked back to the car I overheard a group of Brighton fans complaining about having to wait nearly 45 minutes for a train.  “You should have come to Lewes” I told them….”Yeah but they never win and the ground is shit”.  Yep, looks like it doesn’t it.

For more pictures from my day on the sidelines, click here.