Non League Club

Maldon and Tiptree Assalted by Jammy Motormen

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on January 27, 2013

Headlines should tell a story, but be cunningly cryptic to entice the reader in for more.  Today I had so much to play with, especially as the result was a foregone conclusion.  But this is the game we all love so much for its unpredictability so I had to rethink.  Therefore before we start I thought I would explain what my title actually means:-

8417916964_cde8056997_b“Maldon and Tiptree” – home team
“Assalted” – not a misspelling but a pun on the fact that Maldon is famous for its sea salt production
“by” – preposition meaning near to or through a medium
“Jammy” – a pun on the fact that Tiptree is globally famous for its jam still manufactured today by J Wilkins & Sons
“Motormen” – nickname of the away team Redbridge FC

So there we have the full explanation, you can read on.

With the cold snap giving way to rapid melting, for what seems like the millionth weekend in a row, the Non League football calendar was decimated once again.  Many games hadn’t even made it to Saturday and by lunchtime my options were being decreased by the minute.  However, my first option (after Lewes’s inevitable postponement away to snowy Wingate & Finchley) was still on, and on without a pitch inspection planned.  I was off to the deepest corner of Essex to the home of salt and jam.  Welcome to Maldon and Tiptree.

The two towns aren’t really next to each other.  In fact Maldon and Heybridge are neighbours, divided by Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation, one of the closest rivalries in the Isthmian league.  But Maldon Town and Tiptree United decided to join forces instead back in 2009 through the vision of the Tiptree Chairman who saw an opportunity to be THE premier footballing team in the South-Western Chelmsford area.  Who said football chairman were power-hungry meglomaniacs?

8417916964_cde8056997_bAfter seasons of mid-table performances in the Isthmian league, this year saw the start of something special.  The Blues started the season with a bang of gigantic proportions.  After draws in two of their first three league games, they went on a winning run of fourteen consecutive Ryman League matches.  Their run was only ended in the Boxing Day derby at Heybridge when they suffered their first defeat of the season, and indeed was the first time they had failed to score a goal in ninety minutes.  The league title still seemed all but wrapped up.  And then for some unknown reason they took the effect of the defeat into the New Year.  An unconvincing 3-0 win away at bottom of the table Ilford was followed up by a nil nil draw to Waltham Abbey, the first points the team had dropped at home all season.  Surely lightning wouldn’t strike twice with the visit of Redbridge, themselves desperately trying to stay out of the relegation zone?  The stats suggested a banker home win.  Maldon & Tiptree were a mere 47 points above their visitors, with a goal difference of 90 between the two.

In the run up to the game, Maldon & Tiptree had strengthened their squad with the signing of Lee Boylan.  Anyone who knows anything about Non League football will know the name.  Lee started off at West Ham, playing in the same youth team squad as Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard.  I remember seeing him terrorise Liverpool in the 1996 Youth Cup final at Anfield which included the likes of Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard for the home side.  Once released by West Ham he gravitated to the local non leagues, scoring goals for fun including 148 in 178 games for Canvey Island.  Whilst coming to the end of a “what might have been” career, he was a great addition for the club and his goals would undoubtedly help them get back on track.

On the other side of the pitch would be a player who was an even bigger name in non league scoring circles.  Redbridge’s manager these days is none other than Steve Portway, a man who was one of the most feared strikers in the non leagues back in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  We were lucky to interview Steve a few years ago about his record-breaking scoring at Gravesend & Northfleet (read all about it here, as Emeli Sandé would say) but he still hadn’t hung his boots up just yet as in recent weeks he had been called upon to play, even starting in the game a few weeks ago against Waltham Forest despite the fact he was now 50 years old.  Now that is what Non League football is all about!

8417004685_1a96f73aeb_bI arrived early, just in case any snow moving was required, but it seems all the hard work had been done so I headed for the bar.  ITV were showing the Stoke City v Man City game live.  It had also been on BBC 5 Live and Talksport, complete overkill but something that we have come to expect these days.  I mean there was only a small matter of Non League v Premier League in two other FA Cup ties.  I took up a place at the bar and was soon joined by a chap in a vest and shorts.  Whilst it was warm in the bar, I felt he may have been under dressed for the occasion.  Of course, he was probably going to stay in the bar whilst the game went on, or slip into a large onesie?  Nope, at 2.55pm he wandered outside as he was, into the freezing afternoon and took his season in the stand.

Welcome to Essex.

Maldon & Tiptree 2 Redbridge 2 – Wallace Binder Ground – Saturday 26th January 2013
As the final whistle blew the Redbridge players celebrated as if they had won the cup.  This was a massive shock in terms of league position and even current form.  Whilst the home side had “wobbled” recently, they had still won 3 of their last 5 games, whilst Redbridge had managed just one win and had been thumped 11-0 at Heybridge a few weeks previous.  The away side could also only name 3 substitutes and confidence in the first half seemed to have taken the wrong turning off the A12.  But from somewhere they hauled themselves back from 2-0 down with fifteen minutes to play.  Yes, they had a slice of luck, but the home side also needed a fair portion themselves to stop Redbridge taking all three points in the end.

Maldon & Tiptree started as you would have expected in this game.  They wanted to win the game as early as possible.  They battered Redbridge in the opening exchanges, creating chance upon chance for Boylan but a combination of inspired goalkeeping and the linesman’s flag kept him out.  In the first period they hit the woodwork three times, and Redbridge took every advantage to slow the game down.  Somehow the game was scoreless at half time.

8418100532_082f9d4d78_bAfter some liquid refreshment at half time and a communal laugh at Harry Redknapp’s performance at Loftus Road, it was time for the second period.  Surely Maldon and Tiptree would now exert their superiority?  Yes, they would, although it took a controversal decision to see them take the lead.  Lee Boylan’s header was ruled to have crossed the line by a linesman.  I had been joined by Ipswich Town fan Alasdair Ross and we were pretty much level with the goal line but it didn’t look in to us.  Apparently these things even themselves up at the end of the season which is one of the biggest load of bollocks spoken in football, along with “it’s harder to play against 10 men than 11”, and “2-0 is the most dangerous scoreline in football”.  I mean, a two goal advantage, dangerous? Whatever next.

Maldon increased their lead when that man Boylan made no mistake after a neat through ball and it appeared that Redbridge’s spirit was broken.  But out of nothing with just ten minutes to play Jacob Cleaver slotted home from close range after a cross from the left wasn’t cleared.  Game on?  Surely not.  Maldon & Tiptree still looked in control and with the daylight vanishing over the lowlands of the Essex savannah they prepared themselves for one last assault to bury the game.  A backpass to keeper Joe Wright was to be launched upfield, but the ball hit a divot just as he went to kick it and it appeared to bend like a banana (it may have hit a defender bit from our distant appearance) behind him and Cleaver who had chased the ball down slotted the ball into the net.  Two-nil had indeed been the most dangerous scoreline in football for Maldon.  It could have been worse as in injury time as Cleaver nearly had a hatrick, seeing his effort tipped onto the post.

8418106766_abd0b5f848_bSo you can understand the jubilation at full time.  They came into the game with a depleted squad, already written off by everyone, fell two goals behind with just 15 minutes to play against the runaway leaders.  But spirit, resolve and a slice of luck saw them come away with a point.  Don’t you bloody love football?

I am sure the Maldon & Tiptree wobbles will be righted soon.  They had a strong looking team, and with the addition of Boylan, they will score bundles of goals.  I fully expect to see a revisit here next year when Lewes are playing.  Perhaps it could be in the Summer or Spring though when it’s not so cold, or the thawing slush doesn’t leave your feet soaking wet.  But then again, what on earth will Mr.Vest and Shorts be wearing then?  I shudder to think.

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.

RUNNING LIKE CLOCKWORK – Thamesmead Town

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on January 3, 2011

The word Thamesmead normally drives fear into the heart of South East Londoners.  The town was seen as innovative when it was constructed in the late Sixties on the old Royal Arsenal site by the GLC.  Flooding had been an issue in the area so the initial developments were built so that the flats were on the first floor and linked by a series of walkways and bridges.  Sounds idyllic right?  Well not quite.  Mismanagement of the whole project that initially was planned for 100,000 was rife from the start. Promised transport links never materialised (even today with 50,000 residents there is not train station), instead replaces by a dual carriageway that dissects the development, a sewage works and of course Belmarsh high security prison.

To me the word Thamesmead means five things.

1. It was used by Stanley Kubrick to represent the desolate and lawless future in his classic film A Clockwork Orange.

2. It was supposed to be the starting/ending point of the third London river crossing, and a ground breaking ceremony was arranged.  Unfortunately today commuters still have to suffer the daily queues at the Dartford and Blackwall Tunnels.

3. Thamesmead was exposed by the BBC in 2009 as the “fraud capital of England”.

4. 2010 The Apprentice winner Stella English was born and grew up in Thamesmead.

5. Andy “The Viking Fordham, once BDO Darts World Champion has a pub, The Cutty Sark, there.

But we are not here to discuss more trifling matters of society.  Today is all about football.  Football and Thamesmead are hardly two words that people fit together naturally, but I think that soon they will.

At last – 200 words in and I can stop my social lecture and start talking about football.  Thamesmead Town are currently in their third season in the Ryman League North, having been promoted in 2008 from the Kent League.  What is remarkable is that the club have simply continued to grow year in year out, and it can only be a matter of time before they end up in the Isthmian Premier League.

The club made their debut in the Isthmian League Division 1 North in 2008/09 with great anticipation, but also trepidation. It turned out to be a long season, which took time for the team to adjust to losing games by just the odd goal, it was a steep learning curve in season where the club avoided relegation and which was followed behind the scenes by BBC London in their fly on the wall documentary, “The Gaffa”.

However, in 2009/10, the first team consolidated their Isthmian League Division 1 North status finishing the season in the highest position in the clubs history, in 7th place, just outside the play off positions.

Coming into the Christmas period the club were again in 7th place.  As with most clubs at this level, December was a terrible month with just one game being playable meaning not only a potential fixture pile up but also a loss of revenue from a lack of match day activities. With so much money being invested into the Bayliss Avenue ground, it has been a crippling time for the club.  Building work on the new stand and club house had been delayed due to issues with the builders, rendering the club’s car park more like the Hippo enclosure at London Zoo.

So, New Year, new weather?   Absolutely, so we made to short hop across from SE9 for the game against the Motormen of Redbridge.  As the crow flies this was the second closest ground at this level or above to TBIR towers (Welling United being the closest) so it was quite amazing that we had not yet made the trip to see the Mead.  It would also be a chance to meet their coach “Baldy1974” aka Hugo Langton who loves his banter and doses of realism via his twitter feed.

Thamesmead Town 0 Redbridge 2 – Bayliss Avenue – Monday 3rd January 2011
Thamesmead has certainly changed over the past few years.  Smart new houses had gone up on the land around the outside of the “town” and driving down to the ground you could see that at last the authorities were putting in some infrastructure for the residents.   After negotiating the mud bath car park, we went into the cavernous club house for a swift half.  This was possibly the most unusual room we had seen.  It was essentially a bar, but on one side were doors marked “home”, “away” and “referee”.  Players and coaches kept popping in and out, tempted by the smell of beer and bacon rolls.

The ground will be dominated by the new stand and club house when it is finally finished.  For now the “main stand” is a five row temporary structure behind the north goal, with just standing around a barrier for the rest of the ground.

With the A206 passing almost overhead to the south, and planes coming into land at City Airport it was refreshing to see  both teams keeping the ball on the muddy ground.  Thamesmead would have fancied themselves for the win in this one, but in a cagey first half it was Redbridge who created the best  chance when Hyun-Jin Lee pulled his shot across the goal when put through near the end of the half.  Lee was lucky to be still on the pitch after appearing to stamp on a Thamesmead player right in front of the bespectacled “Assistant” referee, who of course didn’t see it.

During the first period we saw the return of the snow, albeit quite light but enough to have fixture secretaries crying into their beer with the prospect of more games to re-arrange.  It is bad enough as it is that at this level clubs will be expected cram in two or three games a week, simply to adhere to the League’s rules about when the season has to finish.  Flexibility is not a word in their vocabulary.

We ventured back into the warmth of the bar at half time, and caught up on events down at The Dripping Pan where Lewes were losing 3-1.  Amazingly enough, as perceptive Lolly pointed out, Lewes could be visiting Thamesmead in a league game in just eight months based on current form.  Three seasons ago the Rooks were heading for the Blue Square Premier, whilst Thamesmead were still in the Kent League.  Football is a cruel game sometimes.

The second half was already under way by the time we headed back out of the warm bar.  Whilst both teams were committed in midfield, spread the ball wide when they could, and looked assured at the back, there was few chances going begging.  If I could get bloody T-Mobile to actually work then I would have had a bet on 0-0 there and then.  Lolly, bless her, after her 30 minute queue in the pouring rain on Saturday for chips, was not on tip top form and so being a great Dad (I was accused otherwise on Saturday for letting her queue up whilst I was in the dry and warm bar) I suggested she went back to the warm bar.  Just as I came back into the ground Redbridge took the lead as Hyun-Jin Lee powered the ball home after Thamesmead had failed to clear the ball into the penalty area.

One became two a few minutes later, although I really cannot tell you what happened.  In a game where the attendance looked less than 100 one of the 2 or 3 people actually taller than me decided to stand in front of me.  Apparently the ball went over the line, although the home team appealed for a foul on the keeper, who lay prostrate on the floor.  When I asked the chap in front of me what happened, he told me he had no idea as he was on the phone.  Thanks for that!

Thamesmead threw the ball forward in a more direct style in the dying minutes but the Redbridge keeper, Nathan Fletcher, was rarely called into action.  For a game that was played at such a pace, and along the floor with tackles flying in from all sides it was amazing that the referee did not have to reach into his pocket at all.  Full time brought some big cheers from the Motormen, and some long hard looks into the ground from the Thamesmead.  Whilst they have games in hand, they would have expected to have beaten Redbridge and pushed themselves into the play off spots.

After the game we caught up with Hugo to talk about all things Non League football. Here is a man who lives and breaths football.  Every name I dropped into the conversation he seemed to know.  I would hate to see his phone bill at the end of the month, but without men like Hugo there would be no football at this level. We could have chatted for ages about football but we had to get back to TBIR towers.  But don’t fret dear readers, we will be back to see and chat to Hugo soon as part of our “Unsung Heroes of Football” series.

So a chilly January afternoon in SE28 brought to an end our Christmas treble of games.  From Carshalton to Thamesmead, via Copenhagen and Gravesend it had been an eventful few days.  But would we do it all again?  Hell yes!  Bring on the Easter extravaganza!

More pictures from the afternoon in Thamesmead can be found at our Flickr stream here.