Non League Club

Invasion of the (friendly) Vikings

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on February 3, 2011

As you dear readers will know, a few weeks ago we popped down to the Keith Tuckey Stadium to take in a game at one of the most newsworthy sides in the Non Leagues, namely, Croydon Athletic.  Unless you have been living in Ignorance, Texas then you will have seen the recent take over of the club by a Danish organisation called Fodboldselskabet A/S. My superb Danish skills can tell you that the literal translation is Soccer Company. And that is essentially what they are.  A limited company formed to invest and run a football club.  Many questioned their potential involvement in English football, so we went round the corner from TBIR’s Copenhagen office to speak to Morten Madsen, Communications Manager for the club and ask him Vad är poängen?

What are the general aims of Fodboldselskabet A/S
The aim of Fodboldselskabet A/S is, according to our articles of association, to own and run an English football club no later than 2013. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve managed that!

Why have you chosen to invest in the non leagues in England? Are there not any similar opportunities in Denmark?
That is a mix of availability, our financial options and an interesting club that we can help develop on and off the pitch.

We’re not in this project to pour neverending big numbered checks into the club. Instead we’re going to work hard in cooperation with the fans, the manager and the management in the club to ensure growth through economical responsibility, and hopefully secure a rise through the ranks of the leagues – not that we’re in a rush to do so. It must be done properly.

Regarding the opportunities in Denmark for a project like this, they don’t exist. It is really hard to explain, but most sports clubs in Denmark are formed as associations, and the clubs will generally have a wide presentation of sports such as handball, badminton, athletics, gymnastics etc. Therefore the clubs are not seen as businesses, but as associations that offers the local population an opportunity to play a lot of different sports.

Why didn’t the attempted take over at Chester City work out?
Well, the council estimated that the fan clubs (CFUs) idea was the best way to go and decided to go with that. We put in our best effort and had the best intentions for the club, the fans and the local community, but that wasn’t enough. We have to accept that, and we of course wish Chester and the fan club the best of luck.

During that process, we of course also made some mistakes and there’s no need to deny that, but what is important is that we’ve learned from these mistakes. Now we’re in Croydon Athletic and the clubs got our full attention.

Did you look at any other clubs before Croydon? And is this the end of your ambitions in terms of investment into English football? Before Croydon we looked at several clubs. However, none of them presented the same opportunity as Croydon, which we believe offers great opportunities and potential for economical development, local cooperation and just the right gut feeling.

Why Croydon? And why only a 51% share?
Well, the reason we did choose Croydon Athletic I just stated above. The possibility to cooperate with Mazahr regarding the clubs future was a great opportunity. You have to remember that he’s invested a lot in the club and has already got the knowledge of the club, of the fans and of the non league system, that we would have had to use a lot of time to acquire. If you ask me, the cooperation with Mazahr is the perfect opportunity for Fodboldselskabet.

Did you start the process before the Pakistani match fixing allegations break in the press? What impact did this have on your decision making?
We entered the takeover negotiations with open eyes. That means that we were aware of the match fixing allegations but also that Mazahr has been completely honest with us regarding those allegations.

What can fans expect from your involvement on and off the pitch?
The fans can expect commitment, professionalism and honesty. As I’ve mentioned earlier, our key focus is on economics. We’re not going to jeopardize the club and the economics in the search for rapid promotion. As you’ve seen in many other clubs, success on the pitch does not guarantee economical success. Economical success however, can be the base for success on the pitch.

Bacon rolls are famous non league snacks yet few clubs get it right. The Danes produce the best bacon in the world so can you re-assure fans you will try and bring a real taste of Denmark to South London? I don’t really think we’ve got any of the best bacon left in Denmark. Most of it is actually exported – I know you benefit from that in England. To be honest I was actually looking forward to fish and chips and a mince pie. (We will settle for a Carlsberg then – ED)

How is Fodboldselskabet A/S funded? Is the principal the same as the “Myfootballclub.com” concept here in England?
I’m really not to acquainted with Myfootballclub.com, but the participants had a vote for the match squad as long as they paid a monthly fee or so, yea?

Fodboldselskabet A/S is a PLC, and the shareholders only influence is to elect the board of directors. The team selection is the responsibility of Dave Garland, Bob Langford and the team. The dealings on the pitch we’ll leave to the players.

How do you want to be seen in England and Denmark?
We want to be seen as what we are. Football interested people with a particular interest in English football and football culture. Besides that, we want to listen to ensure a close cooperation between Croydon Athletic, the fans and the local community, and that is an area that we’re working really hard on. We believe in a symbiotic relationship between the club, fans and local community as a starting point for long term success.

 

What sort of players in terms of level of skill and capability do you think you will bring to Denmark, and where will they come from?
Bringing players from Croydon Athletic to Denmark is not part of our plan, but the other way we hope to bring young Danish talent, that has the necessary skill and commitment to play for the Rams. First of all we’ll see how Lasse Weber and Stefan Rasmussen cope, and then we’ll see if other options emerges later on, and then we’ll make a decision in cooperation with the gaffers..

How will you determine whether the project has been a success?
Our first priority is to ensure a sound economical plan and to avoid relegation in this season. The completion of a healthy economical plan takes first priority, but we understand that these two priorities influences each other. However, with the recent signings of players, and when the two Danish signings reach full match form, we are confident that we’ll be placed well above the relegation zone at the end of the season.

What is your impression of football at Croydon’s level? Did you see many games before you came to a decision to buy a stake in the club?
We didn’t see that many games before the decision was made. As I’ve stated before, our main reason for purchasing the stake in Croydon was the potential in the club. Prior to the purchase, we obviously investigated heavily into the possibilities for the current season and whether the potential to ensure finishing above the relegation zone existed.

How have the first few months been in charge? What have been your first impressions of the club, the league and English football?
The first few months have been quite a ride. We met a lot of positive comments from people in Denmark and there’s been quite a bit of press attention. Besides we were very disappointed that the first few matches were cancelled due to weather conditions, but with the momentum we’ve picked up in the last few games we’re really looking forward to the rest of the season.

We’ve also planned a trip for the shareholders to come and watch a home game, which we think will have a large support among our shareholders. A few has already been at Keith Tucket for a game.

Was you surprised how cold it got in Croydon before Christmas compared to Denmark?
I guess you could say that. We had a lot of snow in Denmark as well, and I think we all just thought that England was all about rain and no snow.

Foreign club owners have got bad press in England. What can you do to improve this view?
We’re definitely not in this because we lack a toy to spend millions of pounds on. Most of us have followed the Premier League and the Championship and before that the Football League, the FA Cup and the League Cup. I think most of us – at least that’s how I feel – are impressed by the raw sincerity and commitment that exists in English football.

But we’re in this because of our interest in English football and the culture in particular and I think that’s going to be the major difference – This is not a prestige project but a result of our long term interest in English football.

Accepting the tongue in cheek when setting the ambition at Champions League trophy in 2019 which incidently would require 6 promotions in 8 years, isn’t it still either somewhat naïve to the current levels of the conferences to have a target of 2-3 promotions in 5 years or can we expect significant further investments in players and supporting staff?
It might be a bit too optimistic as we need to develop the club economically simultaneously. But we believe that there’s a lot of unexploited potential in Croydon Athletic FC, and I guess only time will tell whether it’s naive to target 2-3 promotions in 5 years time. First of all though, we’ll need to secure the club from the relegation zone.

Croydon will be a club where football fans own 51% of the shares. Will that lead to initiatives trying to focus more on the fans enjoyment of the club than on the financial returns? If no, how then will Croydon differ from all the other clubs and if yes, how will this be turned into an advantage trying to progress through the leagues?
We are working with several ideas to strengthen the relationship with the fans, and that is really important to us. Our shareholders are football fans and we’re going to act like football fans and focus on how to improve the fans and the local communities experience with the club, without losing our focus on a economically healthy business.

Many thanks Morten for taking the time to answer our questions, honestly and as candidly as possible.  I am sure that a number of clubs, as well as fans will be looking on with interest to see how the partnership works, and of course, good luck for the rest of the season and we all hope that Croydon Athletic will next season still be in the Ryman Premier League.

 

CROYDON FACELIFT – Croydon Athletic v Folkstone Invicta

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on January 16, 2011

“In English slang, a Croydon facelift  is a particular hairstyle worn by young women. The hair is pulled back tight and tied in a bun or ponytail at the back. The supposed result is that the skin of the forehead and face are pulled up and back, producing the effects of a facelift. Traction alopecia, a type of gradual hair loss, can result from using this hairstyle.

This hairstyle is frequently worn by certain young women in the United Kingdom, and is portrayed in the media as belonging to young women from the lower social classes, particularly the Chav subculture . The term is thus considered derogatory because it portrays people from Croydon as being lower class. Croydon can be replaced by the name of any other unfashionable residential area.”

Not my words before the lawyers from Croydon come a-knocking but those of Wikipedia, the font of all truth and enlightenment and ten years old today – Happy Birthday old chap.

The term could equally be applied to the goings on at Croydon Athletic football club, the town’s premier sporting attraction.  Sure, we all know that Crystal Palace are on the doorstep, but who really wants to watch Edgar Davids, Steffen Iverson and Julián Speroni play in front of 20,000 fans when just a mile or so away down the B266, hidden behind a cemetery and some allotments is the Keith Tuckey Stadium, home of the real team of Croydon.

Founded in 1986, the club was a merger between Wandsworth F.C. and Norwood F.C. and was initially named Wandsworth & Norwood until 1990 when the club’s name was changed to Croydon Athletic FC. The merged club initially played in the London Spartan League, where they were promoted to the Premier Division in 1986-87. In 1988-89 they missed out on the Premier Division title on goal difference. In 1993-94 they finished as runners-up again and applied to join the Isthmian League but were rejected due to the state of their ground. The following year they finally won the league title but again were refused promotion. In 1996-97 they finished in third place and after extensive ground redevelopment were finally able to join the Isthmian League.  After a few seasons of consolidation they stormed to the  Isthmian League Division Three, scoring 138 goals in 42 games in 2001/02. Due to league reorganisation, this saw them placed in the new Division One South where they remained for the next few seasons hardly pulling up any trees.

In September 2008 the club was bought by Mazhar Majeed, a UK based property developer and agent for members of the Pakistan national cricket team.  He brought in the management duo of Tim O’Shea and Neil Smith and they set about building a squad that would take the division by storm, winning the league from Folkstone Invicta by some seven points in the end.  All looked rosy in CR7 as the club took its place in the Ryman Premier in August 2010, the highest level they had ever played at.  Ironically, their first game was away at Folkstone where they came away with a 2-0 victory.  A further four points from the next two games saw the Rams top the league at the end of August.  And then on the last Sunday of August the News of the World dropped through the letter box of houses all up and down the country, changing the whole goddamn shooting match.

Majeed was implicated in the NOTW’s sting operation uncovering massive match fixing allegations in the Test series between England and Pakistan. Croydon Athletic were investigated by HM Revenues and Customs due to allegations that Majeed had been using the club for money-laundering purposes, after Majeed was recorded by an undercover journalist stating that that was the only reason he had bought the club.  ToSh and Smithy left the club, as too did most of the players.  The Isthmian league gave the club some breathing space, and few thought they would ever survive this, especially when a month later the club’s chairman was found dead in tragic circumstances.

But four months later they are still fighting.  inevitably they have lost the majority of games and dropped to the foot of the table (ironically with Folkstone Invicta one place above) but a win at Margate a week ago had completed a remarkable double over the Kent side and given everyone around the club a shot in the arm. However, a three point penalty given for fielding an ineligible player against, yep you’e guessed it, Folkstone Invicta put them back on the bottom of the league.

Oh, and did I mention the club had been bought out by a group of Danes?  No?  Well please forgive me!  Let me give you the official press release:-

“Croydon Athletic are pleased to welcome Fodboldsekskabet A/S as joint owners of the Club with effect from 1st January 2011. The Danish football fans’ company, led by Palle Katring-Rasmussen and Christopher Baadsgaard, have joined forces to take the Club forward both on and off the pitch. The papers were signed, sealed and delivered today and the Club are looking forward to a successful partnership between Fodboldsekskabet and Mazhar Majeed.”

So they were essentially a Danish Myfootballclub.com who of course own Ebbsfleet United. The whole deal threw up a mass of questions, which I am in the process of asking the owners, thanks to my extensive knowledge of Danish.

“Palle and Christopher head a group of over 400 Danish football enthusiasts who are fanatical about English football, and whose dream was to own a British club. These are formed of skilled professional people who are able to offer commercial skills to the running of the Club, and form an extensive network who can offer a lot to the Rams. They had previously been involved with a possible takeover at Chester City eight months ago, but this did not come to fruition.”

Palle himself is quite well known in Denmark for the muscle he brings, having once been voted Mr Universe.  He recently spoke with the Croydon Guardian:-

“More than 400 scarves and 300 t-shirts have been sold in Denmark – more merchandise than the club has sold in the last decade. Croydon Athletic is very big in Denmark, it’s like a cult or a phenomenon.”

I have to say that being out in Copenhagen four days a week I am yet to see any evidence of that, and FCK and Brondby scarves still dominate the street.  Their plan is to turn the club into a Blue Square Bet Premier one by 2016 and they have started by bringing in two Danes, Lasse Weber, a striker, and defender Stefan Rasmussen.  We shall see.

This wasn’t just a normal Saturday afternoon either.  This was the non league outing equivalent of Sky’s Super Sunday.  The planets had amazingly aligned to give us a smorgasbord of Twitterers attending the game. Disappointed that Lewes were playing away at Braintree Town on one of his rare visits to the UK from the USA, Lugewas as pleased as punch to be attending a game.  Perhaps he wont be so impressed when he sees that the KT Stadium wasn’t exactly the “scaled down brother of Hull’s KC Stadium as I had described it to him as.

Next up was Scottish Ross.  A die hard Wolves fan, who is a Silver Member at the Emirates who is confused about what he is, where he is and when it is. Remember the heart warming story of the woman@theashes who during the cricket was mistaken for someone who a) understood the game and b) gave a shit about it ?  There was a happy ending in that one when she was flown to Australia to spend 5 days trying to get her head around what a “googly” was.  Why do I mention it?  Well our next special guest was Gary.  Or@gDMcdowell on Twitter.  He lapped up the tens of thousand of new followers moments after Europe won the Ryder Cup in September whilst Graham McDowell started receiving tweets about PHP scripting conferences.  No all expenses paid trip to the Celtic Manor Resort for our Gary – just to prove that life isn’t fair.

Next up we had Mr Football, Jamie Cutteridge. Now Jamie loves nothing more than a game a day, as we all would, but he is a one man football machine so he was of course up for a game in CR7.  Terry Duffelyn, on the other hand is a Crystal Palace fan so consequently knows nothing about good football..only joking again Eagles fans I love you really (and watch out for an exclusive interview with ex-Palace striker Derek Possee very soon).  .  Terry is one of the sages of Football Blogging and is the driving force behind Socrates, a regular meeting of some of the finest minds in independent football writing, which ironically would be coming to the Dripping Pan next weekend.

The KT stadium isn’t exactly the easiest place in the work to get to by public transport considering it is in an area densely populated by train stations.  Tram seemed to be the best route from East Croydon and following the instructions from the club website saw us walk through a cemetery and then down one of those alleys that Danny Dyer would describe as the scene for something “Pwapper Nawtie” about to happen.  We had our wits about us – we had heard some bad things about the Invicta crew.  A climb over a fence (apparently this is the official way in) and we were in the car park and officially the first paying guests in the KT Stadium.

Luge didn’t seem too disappointed that John Topliss (designer of the KC Stadium) had not gone wild with his design for the ground and snapped away ready to amaze his employees back in New York this week of what real football was like.  Grass roots means something completely different to a 25 year old resident of the Bronx apparently.  We settled down to watch the remainder of Crystal Palace’s spanking at Swansea in the very plush club house.  Players and fans alike mingled and on one of my frequent trips to the bar (Luge only had dollars on him of course) noted two suited gentlemen speaking in foreign tongue.  Well of course it wasn’t alien to me with my almost fluency in Danish.  Sensing an exclusive interview opportunity I pounced, asking my question in perfect Danish.  “So tell me, why is there such an interest from Denmark in Croydon?” was what I thought I had asked, but judging by the funny look and then the answer I got I think I actually asked “What is your sister doing shopping in Primark in Croydon?”.  They were two fans, who were members of the new organisation.  They were simply here to wear the scarf and watch the game.

Croydon Athletic 2 Folkstone Invicta 1 – The Keith Tulley Stadium – Saturday 15th January 2011
So beer in hand we went and took our place along the side of the pitch.  Terry had arrived earlier than expected, simply not able to take the pain of watching the Palace game anymore. The first thing to note was the lino.  Not your average “ignore the crowd, concentrate on the game” type of chap.  He loved the banter and joined in with conversations going on both on and off the pitch.  Talking to Ross about Robert Plant’s boardroom role at Wolves, our cheeky chappy told us that he once saw Led Zeppelin play in “disguise” at the Red Lion in Northfleet (he may well be right as we once saw Iron Maiden play in very same pub back in the late 80’s under a different name).

The standard of play, was, as Luge summed up “7th level”.  Both teams were desperate for the points and all too frequently the yellow balls sailed out of the ground though mistimed clearances, over ambitious shots on goal or simple John Smith style “have it” ‘s. So many in fact that they ran out of yellow balls and for a period the traditional white ball made a rare winter appearance.  I am sure there is a league rule about this and Croydon will probably see themselves docked 20 points for “failing to have enough winter balls”.

However, you have to admire the spirit of The Rams.  They have had more knock backs this season than a fat bloke on a Saturday night in Zens in Dartford.  Both teams equalled each other out in the early exchanges, although if one team was going to score first, based on possession in the final third it was surely to be the visitors.  And so unsurprisingly it was Croydon who took the lead.  Five minutes before half time and the linesman’s flag stayed down as Frankie Sawyer was put through and he hammered the ball home.

Half time and of course it would have been rude not to spend more money in the clubhouse.  I would give Croydon’s bar a 8/10 – decent screen positioning, comfy Ikea chairs and a hot food counter.  Walls are a bit bare but I am sure they could give Danny or me a call and we would be happy to decorate the walls a la Rooks Inn style.

Second half and it was a time for a wander around the ground.  We passed through the bongo playing home fans and around to behind the dugouts.  For Luge this was an “awesome” experience.  As he said, it’s like being a real 4th official.  Folkstone went to make a substitution and he gave him some words of encouragement. “Go on 14.  We’ve heard good things about you lad”.  The linesman wasn’t too impressed and banished him to the stand.

Croydon doubled their lead in the 83rd minute when the red armed (he was wearing a strange under garment with long red sleeves under his short sleeve shirt) Sawyer again scored, set up by new Dane Lasse Weber and reacting the quickest to a loose ball in the six yard box.  This didn’t go down well with the Folkstone fans who started making accusations that the goal was somehow created by Croydon Chairman Majeed and his business practices.  A call to one of their defenders to “bit the bloody ear off” of scorer Sawyer was also a strange one, but a minute or so later they did have something constructive to cheer about when Austin pulled a goal back.

But this was a day for the Rams and a 2-1 victory sent us on our way through suburbia to the tram stop.  We’d done our bit to support the club – well Ross and I had, whilst Luge kept his bucks in his pocket.  The night was young, we weren’t and that can only end in disaster.  And sure enough it did after I woke up at 2am on the sofa with QVC on the TV and my lovingly cooked dinner from 8 hours previous on my lap.  Well, if you are going to be late home, make it spectacular.

More photos from the day can be seen on our Flickr feed here.

 

A SMALL WHITE LIE IS ALRIGHT, OK? – Harrow Borough

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on November 20, 2010

For what I am about to write  may the Lord forgive me.

Every so often I make bold statements.  “I will not use my Blackberry after 7pm at night”, “I wont use my laptop in bed”, “I will have a weekend without watching any football”.  What, can you repeat that last one again? I WILL NOT WATCH ANY FOOTBALL FOR A WEEKEND.  Yes, in a mad moment some months ago I agreed that I would not go to any games for one weekend in a year.

I once agreed never to lie to my Mum, agreed that I would never kiss another girl whilst I was with my first love (aged 8), agreed that I would only have “one more” on a night out (frequently) and that I would not ever, ever open that box under CMF’s side of the bed.  So why on earth did I agree to this.  With West Ham away to Liverpool and Lewes starting their almost certain run to the FA Trophy final I agreed to go with CMF to an old work reunion (hers not mine) in Hampstead.  Fat chance of even getting to a pub to see a match, let alone an actual game – that area of North London is hardly teaming with football clubs.

After driving up to North London, smiling at people I had never met, laughing with people I had met before and generally being the perfect husband/Father I was pulled to one side at 2pm. “You have been so good, do you want to go off somewhere to watch the rugby with Tom on TV?”.  Sod the rugby I thought….Could I get to a game anywhere?  A quick check on the TBIR iPhone app revealed the nearest club we had never been to was some 8 miles west-south-west in Harrow.  And they were at home.  Could I?  Should I? Would I?  Silly question really.

“Erm….what about if we went and did a bit of Christmas shopping?  There are a few things I want to get for you and the girls actually.  Brent Cross is only 20 minutes away and I can be back to pick you up about 5ish.”

Now I am not admitting to this being a pre-planned strategy but somehow a number of carrier bags  from shops such as Marks & Spencers, Currys and Hotel Chocolat padded out with old clothes somehow managed to find their way into the boot of my car on Saturday morning. I have no idea why I would have done that.

SatNav said it was 13 miles and 34 minutes.  When the trusty TBIR taxi is fed information on a new ground it somehow miraculously finds its own way there, using short cuts and back doubles so it was no surprise that at 2.34pm we pulled up at Earlsmead, home of Harrow Borough FC.

Harrow Borough had been in the headlines this season.  Amazingly considering their league position in the Ryman Premier, their small supporter base and a seemingly difficult run of games, they reached the FA Cup 1st round for only the second time in their history.  And to make the story even better they had been given a home draw against high flying nPower League Two side Chesterfield.  On the day some 1,000 fans (BBC website suggests this figure was 2,500 but then again they make most things up) squeezed into Earlsmead for the game where they saw a spirited Harrow performance although the visitors eventually ran out 2-0 winners.

It has been a bit of a mixed bag in the last decades for the club.  Twice the club turned down promotion to the Conference, fearful of the financial commitment that would have entailed promotion.  Then they came within one penalty kick of making the new Conference South in 2004 when they lost in a play off.  Since then they have held their own in the Ryman under the guidance of David Howell who has now been in charge for 7 seasons, an incredible achievement for any manager in football, let alone one in the Non Leagues.

Last season the club also got worldwide exposure not perhaps for the right reasons.  Well travelled forward Rocky Baptiste joined the club from AFC Wimbledon, and whilst he has scored ten goals for the club he will be for ever be known for THAT miss.  Surely you have seen that?  No, well watch away and join the 1.12million who have seen it across the world to date.

If Rocky thinks he has problems, then spare a thought for visitors Croydon Athletic.  Promotion at a canter last season from the Ryman South seemed to signal the start of an upward journey for the club.  Under the guidance of Tim O’Shea and Neil Smith the club started well, winning two and drawing one from their opening three games.  And then events in a different world changed everything.  A number of Pakistan players were involved in match fixing, the “fixer” was none other than the man who bought the club back in 2008, Mazhar Majeed.

The club were then investigated for money laundering due to his stewardship.  With finances withdrawn the club lost its management duo and most of its players too.  The club were forced to cancel a number of games and withdraw from the FA Cup and things looked very black for their existence.

However, Non League football is all about unsung heroes so its testament to these people who the club were still here today.  Whilst results have been unfavourable they came into this game off the back of an impressive 5-3 win against Margate.

Harrow Borough 3 Croydon Athletic 1- Earlsmead – Saturday 20th November 2010
Despite the cup exploits from just two weeks previously where the home fans had come out in abundance when I paid my £10 to enter I had to double check that it wasn’t a later kick off than 3pm.  I counted around 95 people in the ground (official crowd was later announced as 112).  Sure it was chilly but surely the locals could get a bit more behind their club?

I had a wander around the ground, stopping to read the noticeboard on the wall.  Whilst we are in the digital age where the information superhighway puts the world at our finger tips, there was something nostalgic about the handwritten notes on the board and updates on the club’s progress.

After a minute’s silence impeccably observed by all present for one of the club’s Vice-Presidents the game started.  My first observation was the slope of the pitch.  Probably the most notable I had ever seen.  The second was the car park at the other end of the ground.  It was like watching a game back at Stamford Bridge in the 1970’s with the cars parked behind the goal.  This was the overflow car park, but with only a dozen or so drivers it was surprising empty.  However, on a number of occasions in the first half the ball struck the two vehicles with unerring accuracy and frequency.

The first twenty minutes was all Harrow. They had genuine pace up front and were trying to get Baptiste and Hewitt behind the big Croydon centre backs but surprisingly the opening goal came from a completely different route.  A miss timed clearance from the Croydon defence saw the ball fall to Troy Hewitt some 25 yards out and he smashed the ball into the net.  Hewitt is having a great season for the club after winning the FA’s player of the round for his hatrick against Eastbourne Borough in the 4th Qualifying round back in October.

I expected the home side to build on this but in keeping with their erratic league form this season they retreated, looked nervous and tried to hoof the ball long to the two forwards to chase.  I continued by wander around the ground, eavesdropping on a number of conversations.

Are Weaselstone losing yet?” (My powers of deduction suggest they were referring to Wealdstone FC from just down the road).

I hate noisy away fans” (Croydon had brought four fans, two of whom had bongo drums).

I recognise that referee.  He was on my plane back from Majorca in the Summer.”
“Was he on holiday too?”
Nah he was one of those stewardess blokes” (I kid you not!)

The home fans comfort soon changed when Croydon’s Elgar waltzed through the Croydon’s defence and then slotted the ball home.  The Croydon fans went wild whilst Andy Turner, Harrow’s stadium announcer who stood at the window of the 1st floor of the club’s offices overlooking the goal simply shook his head in disbelief.  He had seen this all before obviously.

The half seemed to go on forever.  In fact when the fourth official announced that there was one additional minute the time was 3.53pm.  Not sure what happened there but it was a welcome relief to head next door to the warmth of the bar for a beer.

It was very tempting to stay in there, Bombardier on draft and Soccer Saturday on the TV but that was not what I had committed one of the seven deadly sins to do.  I headed back out just to see Croydon come mightily close to taking the lead when the hit the woodwork.  The away tifosi went mad at the far end, reliving the moment time and time again much to the keepers annoyance.

It wasn’t the best of games and the veteran Harrow fans in the corner of the ground bemoaned the modern game and these “Fancy Dan boots” and players wearing gloves.  In fact it seemed like Harrow’s right back, Kwasi Frempong was only wearing them so that he could get better grip on the ball for his long throws.

I was on a short timer, knowing that I had to get back to Brent Cross tube station to complete my “diversion”.  I had promised to be there at 5pm so I was always going to have to leave before the final whistle, which is normally a capital punishment offence, but I did not see why I should be adding slothfulness to the ever increasing list of deadly sins I had committed on the day.  And of course as soon as I set foot outside the gates there was a cheer.  I peered over the fence to see Harrow’s players celebrating Walters goal.  Again, I could lie and say I saw it , but I didn’t so there.

I had hoped that Rocky Baptiste would get on the scoresheet so I could try and right a few wrongs but he hadn’t as I reached the car, ready to do battle with the North London traffic.  But of course he eventually did in injury time to make the final score 3-1.

I pulled up at the tube station.  Did I come clean?  Well I’d rather keep that one to myself, just in case there is a next time.