Non League Club

At last, the wait is over…

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on July 8, 2012

Apart from my trip to the dark side a few weeks ago to watch the New York Red Bulls, my season ended over two months ago.  Last season I managed to shoe-horn in 104 games in 14 countries between 1 July and 7 May.  Nine weeks is a lifetime in football.  But finally we had football back in our weekends.  Our first game of the season ticked so many boxes.  Lewes game; new ground and the chance to win our first bit of silverware for five years.  Bring on the Supporters Direct Shield!

Supporters Direct do a fantastic job across all levels of football.  Many fans of the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City or Chelsea will probably never have heard of them.  But they work tirelessly in helping clubs rebuild and create sustainable business models for the future.  They have focused their efforts on clubs who have gone through financial “trauma” but their assistance is available to everyone and to celebrate their work each year they hold a conference where clubs, fans, members, owners and just about anyone who cares about the game attends.  Last year it was in Chester and had an address from William Gaillard, UEFA’s Director of Communications no less at the conference.  This year it was the turn of London to host the show.

The highlight of the event is the Supporters Direct Cup which is contested between two clubs that are owned by their members.  In the past this has featured AFC Wimbledon, FC United, Chester and Brentford.  Two years ago they also added the Supporters Direct Shield as a double-header to make the event even better.

Participation is by invite and Lewes were lucky enough to receive their golden ticket back in March to take part.  With over 800 members now about to renew their faith in the Rooks for the first time it is clear to see the benefits of a community ownership model – after all who wouldn’t want someone like me on their board!  Lewes would be playing Fisher, whilst Enfield Town would be taking on Wrexham for the Supporters Direct Cup.

It was fitting that the venue for the festivities was Enfield Town’s new(ish) ground at Donkey Lane.  The Queen Elizabeth II Stadium to give it its full name opened it’s doors to football in November 2011 after the Towners eleven years nomadic existence.  Enfield Town, as I am sure you know from reading David Hartrick’s excellent book 50 Teams That Mattered, were the first ever supporter-owned club.  They made the mould that the likes of FC United, AFC Wimbledon and of course Lewes are now following.  As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Out of great adversity comes opportunity” and that is the story of Enfield Town’s existence.

Back in the day Enfield FC were one of the most feared Non League teams around.  They won the Conference in 1983 and 1986 as well as the Trophy in 1982 and 1988.  Today they would be promoted into the Football League (in fact in 1987 they would have been promoted as the system we have today was brought in), but back in the 1980’s it was up to the League clubs to determine if a non league club could and would be voted in.  Consequently, teams like Enfield, Altrincham and Wealdstone never got the chance whilst the likes of Rochdale and Torquay United propped up the rest of the Football League.

The story then turn an all too predictable turn.  The club was sold, ambitions were unrealistic, financial meltdown ensued.  In Enfield’s case they actually split into two, with Enfield 1893 and Enfield Town going their separate ways.  The latter have now climbed back up the leagues and this season will play in the Ryman Premier, at last after years of groundsharing with Brimsdown Rovers and Cheshunt, in their own stadium, the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium whilst their old ground is now a Cineworld.

Our opponents Fisher had also been through the mill in recent years.  Twenty five years ago the club were playing in the Conference National and were the “premier” non league side in London.  But chasing the dream of league football ultimately cost their ground in Bermondsey, their Conference place and ultimately their own existence.  Like Enfield Town, they reformed a few years ago when the dawn was at its darkest and are now climbing back into the sunlight.  Last season they finished 10th in the Kent League, reformed and stronger under Supporter ownership.

This was to be the first of a demanding pre-season for Lewes which will see them play ten games in just five weeks.  The squad was slowly taking shape with player-manager Simon Wormull retaining the services of some of the stars of last season including Nathan Crabb and Chris Breach.  But there were also some new faces including the likes of Carl Beckford and part-time model Jay Conroy.  The team(s) were introduced to the public on the day before the game at the club’s Open Day, proudly showing off their sparkling new SpecSavers sponsored kit.

At 11am there were some serious doubts that the game would not go ahead.  Rain had pounded South East England since the early hours and we were staring at an almost unheard of pre-season game cancellation (well, apart from Danny Last’s trip to Winchester City v Havant yesterday that was abandoned at half time).  This should have been an easy trip around the North Circular but the rain had flooded the Dartford Tunnel (that’s not worrying at all – a tunnel under a major river flooding), the roads north of the Blackwall Tunnel were being designated as “Olympic Lanes” (oh how commuters will laugh at the chaos that will cause) and shoppers were driving aimlessly around Stratford looking for a car park for Westfields (as the main ones have been closed to stop people parking there for the Olympics – the bare-faced cheek!).

But we arrived in time to see the squad being put through their paces in the park opposite the ground.  Worm’s had brought a squad of 18 with the intention of trying out as many as possible.  We headed inside the magnificent main stand and up to the cafe for a swift half, bumping into Non League Day’s Mike Bayly spreading the word of this year’s event on Saturday 13th October as well as the Dagger’s Diary team, Brian, Dan and Liam.  It seemed the “floating” fans outnumbered the Lewes fans – not a good sign for the season to come.

Fisher 0 Lewes 1 – Queen Elizabeth II Stadium – Sunday 8th July 2012
So our first game of the season saw the Rooks take home their first silverware in five years.  It wasn’t a classic – few opening games in pre-season are, but the squad weathered the torrential rain, hot sunshine and the occasional clap of thunder to beat a determined Fisher side.

The only goal came just after the break when a hotly contested Lewes corner was swung over by Beckford and Chris Breach showed why he is still one of the best attacking centre-backs in Non League football with a towering header into the net.  I for one could breathe a sigh of relief thanks to Breach’s excellent header.

To demonstrate the importance of fan involvement in their team’s progress drawn games in the Supporters Direct cups are decided by a fans penalty shoot out at half time.  So if the game is heading for stalemate, both teams will know who will be crowned the winner.  So at half time I donned the keeper’s gloves to see if I could save more than Joe Hart and win us an advantage in the a game.  Alas, the theory that the side that misses first goes on to win did not hold true as I missed my spot kick, although I redeemed myself by saving the next one.  However, young Sam’s miss in the final spot kick meant it was advantage Fisher going into the second half.  You can relive the drama of the spot kicks here.

After a very tight first half and the drama of the spot-kicks we headed inside for a beer.  Unfortunately, the crazy licencing laws in this country meant that because Wrexham were playing later in the afternoon, alcohol could not be taken out of the bar area and onto the terrace.  This was despite the fact Wrexham had brought down an under 18’s side.  If ever there was a law that directly impacted the ability for small clubs to make money, this is it.  No more than 100 fans were watching this game, yet the licencing laws are the same as if it was a 90,000 capacity game at Wembley Stadium.

The second half was punctuated by a number of stoppages for substitutions.  Simon Wormull brought himself on after an hour and came the closest to scoring with a couple of long range efforts that the Fisher keeper(s) had to get down well to save.

As the bright sunshine was replaced by more torrential rain the referee blew the final whistle.  Lewes had won the Shield that had been held for nearly two years by Scarborough Athletic.  There was a small presentation to skipper Steve Robinson and time for a quick team photo before the players left the pitch.

This is obviously early days, but pre-season games are all about the performance and there can be few complaints about the Rooks efforts in this game.  Lewes finished last season with 8 wins from 10 games and so it was important to get back on the winning bike as soon as possible.  For me, well it was game number one of the new season.  105 is a tough ask, but we will have a go at beating it!

More pictures can be found from the afternoon here.

MAKE WAY FOR THE MOTOR MEN – Redbridge FC

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on January 30, 2011

Possibly one of the most confusing Non League family trees belongs to Redbridge FC and one of the clubs we have been wanting to visit for some time.  The opportunity arose with a free pass on Saturday and we thought we would spend a few hours on Ancestory.com trying to trace the roots of a long line of football clubs.  Fortunately Redbridge fan Adam Dennehey stepped him and agreed to write the history of The Motormen to save us getting all confused.  Over to you Adam:-

“If you were to ask football fans who Redbridge FC are, I’d be willing to bet a substantial amount of money that those fans will answer that question by giving the following answer: ‘Don’t you mean, do I know who Dagenham & Redbridge are? There’s no team called Redbridge!”

Well believe it or not, there is actually a football team called Redbridge FC. They happen to play in the Ryman League Division 1 North and have a chequered past that most Non League clubs would be proud to look back on.

The sad part about Redbridge FC and to a lesser degree their past, is that nowadays not many people even know about us. Why would I be saying ‘us‘ there , well because I happen to work for Redbridge FC as their Press Secretary and I’d go on record as for saying that they are ‘my’ team.

Sadly in our local area, we have virtually no public profile to speak of. It’s something that really annoys me and is something that the club are working to correct, now that they are in a better financial situation to do so.

There was a time not so long ago, under our previous name of Ford United that we were a really strong Non League team who had success on and off the pitch with a good following of supporters as well.

Ford United formed as a result of a 1958 or ’59 merger between Briggs Sports FC and Ford Sports FC (Dagenham), both of which were formed in 1934. The decades that followed saw the club enjoy some good times at the Ford Sports & Social Club in Rush Green, which was owned by the Ford Motor Company.

After gaining promotion to the Isthmian (Ryman) League in 1997, on the back of winning the Essex Senior League for the second time, things were really looking up. With changes to Rush Green being made and the team growing year on year, Ford United was beginning to make a name for themselves.

A 5th placed finish in their first season was followed by the team winning the old Ryman League Division 3 in 1999, as they racked up an astonishing 110 goals in 38 games in the process. Two years passed before the team won the old Ryman League Division 2 where they earned promotion to the Ryman League Division 1.

Importantly during that time outside of the league, two monumental and contrasting points in the club’s history occurred. Firstly in 1998, we reached the second round of the FA Cup where we faced the mighty Preston North End at Deepdale. Had we somehow got through in that tie, we would have faced Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal in round three which would have surely been a money spinning televised game.

More importantly though, in 2000 we were forced to move away from Rush Green as the ground was ruled unacceptable in the eyes of the Ryman League and to make matters worse The Ford Motor Company would only grant us a year’s lease on the property meaning that redevelopment was impossible. With that the club were forced to leave their spiritual home and move into the Oakside Stadium next to the Central Line, which at the time was owned by Barkingside FC.

The Oakside was quickly renovated to Ryman League standard, and unbuckled by the move of ground Ford United went on to win the old Ryman League Division 1 title in 2002.

That saw promotion to the Ryman League Premier, where the club secured 15th and 13th placed finishes to maintain themselves in the division amid the uncertainty of Ford Motors future with the team. During that time the club’s support had also began to fade with a lot of the ‘old’ supporters choosing to follow Dagenham & Redbridge, who were really making strides in the Conference, the highest level on Non League football.

Due to the restructuring made by the Football Association to the  Non League pyramid, the club’s 13th placed finish in the 2003/2004 season secured them a place in the new Nationwide Conference South for the following season.

That season also saw the side reach the first round of the FA Cup for the second time in their history where they came up against Port Vale, after drawing 2-2 away in the original tie, the team gallantly lost the replay at the Oakside 2-1 to a late goal after extra time.

An interesting fact here worth sharing is that the game was going to be shown live on Sky Sports. Ironically as we were sponsored by Sky Sports at the time thanks to the help of our Vice-Chairman George Adams, the game was switched last minute much to our disappointment as it was deemed to be “anti-competitive” in terms of advertising.

We stood to get £50-60,000 out of TV money for having the game televised, which would have been a huge amount of money for the declining club to have at that time. Around 1,300 fans turned up for the game with Vale brining down 200-300 fans.

Sadly though those fans who had come down to the game  never have really returned since and disappointingly our next match saw only 25-30 fans turn up. All the ‘glory-hunters’ to be fair to them had had their moment in the sun and simply buggered off back to Upton Park, White Hart Lane or most probably their front room with Jeff Stelling, much to the disappointment of everyone involved at the club.

In an attempt to try and get some of those fans back upon the club attaining Conference South status the board decided to rename the club Redbridge FC. In our first two seasons under our new name we suffered back to back relegations as we slipped from the Conference South to the Ryman League Division 1 North.

Dean Holdsworth, now manager of League 1 Aldershot Town was our manager for one memorable season back in 2007/08 where he led us to a memorable 3rd place finish and within a penalty shootout of promotion back to the Ryman Premier. Both before and after Dean’s season in charge the team has struggled with several managers coming in and out of the club as well as a constant search for additional funds.

It’s hard to explain what it’s like to be a Redbridge fan.  Firstly there are not many of us really and the majority of fans we do have are friends and family of the playing and coaching staff. I would just say being a ‘Motorman’ is never ever predictable, let’s just put it that way. We are though a club looking to move forward now thanks to the investment our new chairman Dan Holloway has put into the club so far.

If it wasn’t for Dan, we wouldn’t be around due to the club almost going under last year. We now really want to open up to the community, but only so much can be done. Last summer we had to focus on getting our once laughable clubhouse fully renovated and the next phase will see redevelopment work to the ground itself.

Only that way will people in the local area then perhaps want to get involved as if they see that we’re trying to make an effort then they might want to be involved. Maybe only that way will the club start to get known in the area and more people will know the difference between ‘Redbridge’ and ‘Dagenham & Redbridge.’ At least that’s what I hope!”

So we now know who Redbridge are, thanks to Adam.  But could they deliver on the pitch for our visit?

After Tuesday’s 2-1 away victory at Ware, Redbridge were looking to secure their fourth league win in a row. Sadly for them, they came up against a good Enfield Town side who were well worth their victory at the Oakside.

Enfield controlled the game from the start and but for Elliott Justham in goal would have had the game won in the first half. Redbridge’s in-form keeper made several stunning saves to keep the visitors at bay, that even had Enfield’s supporters applauding his actions.

Enfield’s frontline of Liam Hope, Adam Wallace and Leon Osei caused the Redbridge backline problems the whole game. Wallace was denied twice inside the opening 20 minutes by Justham, once from close range and once from the byline.

Kevin McLeod was doing his best to get Redbridge into the game, and a moment of brilliance from the ex-football league pro almost put Redbridge ahead, against the run of play. Good link up play with Hyun-Jin Lee presented McLeod with some space on the edge of the box.

After neatly skipping past his marker, the talented forward shot a low powerful shot goalwards. Darren Bonfield in goal did well to get a finger to his shot and unluckily for McLeod his shot hit the inside of the post and was cleared to safety.

Not long after that, Enfield’s Andy Jones thought he’d put his side in the lead, but his low drive from inside the penalty area went the wrong side of the post and into the side netting, with Justham beaten for once.

On the stroke of half-time, Enfield scuffed more chances to go ahead as their grip on the game grew stronger. First Osei caused problems down his flank and sent a peach of a ball into the box. Richie Morton at the back post intending to head the ball goalwards only headed the ball back across goal where Jon Moore headed over.

With half time looming, a lapse by Nathan Fletcher in defence for Redbridge prevented Hope with a chance on the edge of the area. Hope sidestepped Fletcher before bending the ball goalwards. Justham though got his hand to the shot on it’s way to the top corner and somehow Redbridge got into half time on level terms. It was a stunning save to say the least.

The Motormen would ideally have wanted a comfortable start to the second half. Enfield however attacked right from the word go in a half that ultimately they would dominate. After a spell of pressure which saw Hope head wide and Wallace drag a shot over the bar, Enfield took the lead just before the hour-mark.A good ball in midfield from Osei split the Motormen’s defence allowing Hope to break the offside trap. Unselfishly the striker threaded the ball back across goal where Wallace tapped home. Justham in goal stood no chance.

Jody Brown was forced into making changes after that with Kevin Coyle and Shane Stamp brought on to add a bit of energy to Redbridge’s midfield. Stamp made an immediate mark on the game and some good play by him down the byline appeared to set up McLeod up in the box with a chance on goal. Just as McLeod was seemingly about to hammer the ball into the net, the linesman put his flag up much to the frustration of the forward and his team mates. It was a tight call and one which dented the Motormen’s hopes in their hunt for an equaliser. Not long afterwards Enfield wrapped the game up with Moore scoring a nice goal inside the area after good play by Wallace. Justham in goal alike Wallace’s opener could not be blamed.

Overall though Enfield were deserving winners as Redbridge failed to test Enfield in the final third despite a decent performance in general. February will be a tough month for Jody Brown’s men, but there is enough quality within the squad for the boys to cope with the testing fixtures ahead.

After the game I caught up with boss Jody Brown and spoke with him about the game.  You can hear his thoughts here.

Redbridge: Justham, Artun, Stephen, Glowacki, Fletcher, O’Leary, Golby, Kayembe, McLeod, Lee

Enfield: Bonfield, Lockie, Bardle, McKay, Kirby, Jones, Morton, Moore, Hope, Wallace, Osei

Many thanks to Adam for the report above. You can read more of his thoughts on the game on his website or by following him on Twitter.