Non League Club


Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on October 10, 2010

Integrity versus loyalty.  Always a very difficult decision.  For the TBIR team we faced a big dilemma this weekend as to where we should nail our FA Cup colours.  Our heart said Lewes v Thurrock, our head said Whitehawk v Hendon.  We are committed to bringing you the best in the Non League action across the country and the qualifying rounds of the biggest cup competition in the world allow us to rove to pastures new.  The 3rd Qualifying round was a perfect example of this, but we now have our deep affiliation to Lewes and so when the draw threw up a winnable home tie with Thurrock I felt a pang of guilt that I wouldn’t be going.

But then the full draw became clear in the FA’s crystal ball and just 6 miles away as the Rook flies was a new ground, a new club and potentially a new adventure.  Whitehawk.  We immediately contacted our Head of Research and Development as to how we could be at two places at once without affecting the Time/Space Continuum and after a few Fuller’s Honey Dew Ales he came up with the solution.  Unfortunately a pending patent stops us revealing the actual solution here, but rest assured there was no smoke or mirrors.

When I told people I was heading down to Whitehawk everyone who knows Brighton looked at me as if I was mad and shook their head.  “Lock your car doors“, “Make sure you don’t wear your watch“, “Don’t forget your bullet proof vest” were three such comments.  But as a veteran of Zagreb, Bratislava and Arbroath it was water off a ducks back to me.

We drove down the Falmer Road, past the impressive new American Express Community Stadium which will be Brighton & Hove Albion’s new ground in just a few months time on a beautifully sunny day.  The road takes you high above Brighton, with the road falling down towards the sea.  A quick right along the top of Brighton racecourse and the a left literally across the track and down the hill.  So far all I saw was neat bungalows and smiling children playing in the sunshine.  As you get near the bottom of the hill you through a left, drive past the Caravan Club (a code word for a massive orgy according to Jay in the Inbetweeners) and there is the ground, hidden behind the trees.  So where exactly was this war zone?

We parked, paid our £8 and walked into one of the most rural grounds in England.  From all parts of the ground you simply cannot see anything apart from greenery.  The club after nearly 50 years since their formation had at last left the county leagues, having won the Sussex League last season.  They were also just one game away from Wembley in the FA Vase last year, losing to Wroxham in the semi-finals.  They were also managed recently by ex-West Ham legend George Parris.  This game against Isthmian Premier League Hendon marked their joint furthest progress in the competition.

Fanny’s was the obvious choice for a quickie prior to the game, and full sated we took our place behind the goal.  The pitch must be a nightmare to play on.  It seems to slope in all directions, and is bloody wide – a fact that the home team tried to exploit from the first minute with long cross pitch balls.  FA regulations meant that no alcohol could be taken out from the bar, but that didn’t stop a number of fans who simply brought out the cans from their bags as if it was part of a normal country picnic.

Whitehawk 1 Hendon 2 – Wilson Avenue – Saturday 9th October
The game started at a pace with some full blooded tackles flying in.  The winners of the game would get £7,500, which is the equivalent of an additional 10 games gate receipts for Whitehawk and they made the best of the early play, putting the young Hendon keeper Laurensin under pressure.  Whitehawk’s main threat up from came from Joe Gatting, son of Steve and nephew of Mike giving him something to live up to.  He had the first chance of the game after being put clean through in the tenth minute he let the ball over run and couldn’t get his shot in.  Almost immediately Hendon went up the other end, and with their first chance Ate-Ouakrim slotted home when given too much room in the area.

One thing that did strike me as unusual about the ground was the “paddock” area in front of the main stand.  This fenced off area simply caused problems when the ball bounced into it, and no one could get it back easily.  It was almost like a gold enclosure at Ascot with us mere silver ticket holders having to stand outside it to watch the game.  But five minutes before half time the home fans forgot about such trivialities as Paul Armstrong levelled the scores.

Lewes 2 Thurrock 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 9th October
So whilst the sun was shining in East Brighton, just across the downs Lewes were kicking off against fellow Blue Square Bet South strugglers Thurrock.  The Rooks only league win this season was against “The Fleet” back in August, and they intended to do the same, starting with two men up front for the first time in a while.

And the tactical switch worked early on as Tom Murphy headed home a pinpoint cross from Kane Wills.  Director Patrick Marber whispered in my ear that Lewes haven’t lost after taking a lead for six months and thoughts started turning to the next round, and the dilemma of a winnable tie, or a big team at home such as Luton Town or Cambridge United. The atmosphere had been boosted by the presence of the Cliffe Bonfire Society drummers, who drummed their life out, taking the team into half time with a slim lead.

Back over in Whitehawk it was Hendon who started the second half the stronger and substitute Aaron Morgan put the greys ahead before many of the fans had withdrawn from Fanny’s.  Morgan then picked up an injury and was replaced by Michael Peacock.

In one of those amusing for the fans but bloody annoying for the team moments, Peacock lasted just three minutes before he picked up an injury, and the player we had all come to see play came on – Danny Dyer.  Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on what you think of his work) it was not the cockney actor who thinks every situation is going to get “a bit naughty soon”, but Hendon’s midfielder.  There was time though for Jamie Busby to pick up a second yellow in injury time and give Whitehawk a glimmer of hope but it was not to be.  With the afternoon walkers descending the hill above the ground, the referee brought an end to proceedings and the hopes of a famous home win.

Meanwhile, back in Lewes City (a nod there to Batman for those not old enough to remember Adam West in tights), the Rooks were still playing with confidence.  In a day for namesakes, Lewes full back Lewis Hamilton fell awkwardly and was taken off with his arm in a sling (later diagnosed as a break).  Our sponsored man David Wheeler came on as sub, himself still getting back to full fitness after a stop/start campaign and teed up Tom Murphy perfectly for the second goal with fifteen minutes to go.  The Wheeler curse struck again a few minutes later as he was injured in a tackle with the Thurrock left back, and Lewes were down to ten men to hang on.

Every Thurrock attack was greeted with mass nail-biting but Winterton in the Lewes goal seemed to be unbeatable.  It would take something special to beat him, and that is exactly what happened in the 87th minute.  James Boyes, Lewes’s man on the ground summed it up perfectly – “It was a goal fit to grace any level of football, with the winger chesting the ball down in a goal-mouth scramble, before sending an unstoppable overhead kick past Winterton to give the visitors hope of snatching an underserved replay.”

Four minutes of added time were announced and we counted down every second.  When finally the whistle went, the 850+ crowd raised the noise another notch and the new owners of the club celebrated with the fans, as well as a big group hug.  This was progress, and whilst the Que Sera chants of Wembley may be a bit premature it could well be “Whatever will be, will be, we are going to Grimsby Que Sera, Que Sera.”

Two winners, two losers and a break through in trans-space particle acceleration.  Not a bad afternoon’s work!

More photos from our day of time travel can be found at our Flickr feedhere.


DIB DIB DIB – Bethnal Green United

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on September 14, 2010

After a weekend of FA Cup excess I returned to the office on Monday, looking forward to my next game, the class of the titans in the Swedish Allsvenskan when 1st place Malmo were due to take on 2nd placed Helsingborgs.  Whilst I love my non league games, and all of the quirkiness that comes with it I do enjoy returning to a packed stadium full of atmosphere (you can see why I stopped going to West Ham now!).  At 11.30am I had a routine email from Mr Boyes informing me that Lewes had been drawn at home in the FA Cup 2nd Qualifying round to Bethnal Green United or Harlow Town who had drawn 1-1 on Saturday.

Now I knew that because I noticed that this was the only replay in London and the South East from the crop of games played on Saturday which was in itself unusual.  For a few seconds I contemplated going to the game as it was so close to home but thought a third game in as many days, coupled with my weekly trip to Scandinavia may result in a straight red from CMF and a subsequent ban from the “bottom draw”.  And of course this particular Monday saw the long long awaited return of the Inbetweeners on E4.

But then my life turned upside down.  A simple email from Mr Marber.  “Could I just pop along to the game and take a few notes?”.  Of course I could.  He said an email would follow from Ibbo (The Lewes Manager) with what was required, and he kindly sent a “get out of jail free” email for CMF that read:-

“Dear CMF.  It is not your husband’s fault that he has to go to football.  The Club Board insist that he goes.  He has no choice in the matter.  He didn’t want to go to a football match on such an important night but circumstances commanded it”

She couldn’t refuse, and with a promise of some petrol station flowers, my pink note was duly signed.  I then got my instructions from Ibbo.  So much for “a few notes”.  He even sent me a template to fill in.  Of course not knowing who we could play I would have to complete one for each team until it became obvious who the winner would be.  Some of the things he wanted were:-

  • Formation – 4-4-2, 4-5-1 or 4-3-3
  • Attacking corners – Danger Men?  Anything special they do – e.g short corners
  • Attacking free kicks – anyone with a special shot or talent?
  • Defending corners – Any weaknesses? How do they handle different attacking styles?  What does the keeper do?

This was on top of a breakdown of strengths and weaknesses for each player plus a comment on their type of play – direct, physical, counter attacking.  And there was me thinking that all of these options in Championship Manager were irrelevant.

Bethnal Green United 0 Harlow Town 4 – Mile End Stadium – 13th September 2010
So at 7.30pm I walked into the Mile End Stadium, home of Bethnal Green United.  I put on my special Lewes hoodie to add some authenticity to the night, as well as carrying my clipboard.  Oh how well prepared I was – apart from one item.  My glasses.  I can see well enough on a bright sunny afternoon with a nice elevation in the stands, and the pitch close to the terraces.  But put me at pitch level, at night in an athletics stadium and I struggle a bit.  Well, OK not a bit, a lot.

The Mile End stadium is one of the most basic grounds you will see an FA Cup game being played at.  Bethnal Green were playing regional football until a few seasons ago, moving up to the Essex Senior League after only 10 years in their existence.  This is essentially level 5 of the non league pyramid.  Facilities are in keeping with the status of the club.  So it was with some surprise that I entered the ground to find a programme and printed match tickets.  I went in search of a team sheet so I could start preparing my reports but was told there wasn’t one.  Instead a chap from the Essex Senior League wrote the numbers down in my programme – useful if it wasn’t for the fact that he listed visitors Harlow Town with two number 9’s and a number 31.

The original game had been Harlow’s for the taking, and it was only a last kick/head of the game that salvaged a draw for Bethnal Green.  The Isthmian League North team had obviously been firm favourites for the game and were probably none too happy to have to replay the game.

The game kicked off and I furiously started to take notes on both teams, on formations and who was playing who.  With a severely restricted view my eye sight stretched to about half way across the pitch and no more.  Fortunately a night in shining armour arrived, as long time fan of the blog Vinny turned up, shortly followed by his wife (what else would you do on a Monday night in London apart from come to an FA Cup 1st Round Qualifying replay eh?) who helped me on the simple things like shirt numbers.

The worst thing that could happen was of course a close game that went to penalties after extra time as I would have to continue to take notes on all 22 players throughout the two hours.  Certainly for the first half an hour it seemed like that would be the case as both teams.  I duly noted the formations and then tried to put shirt numbers against positions, only to realise in Harlow’s case that according to my notes they had 10 men.  I made extensive notes for the corner formation for Bethnal Green, describing their approach of all standing on the corner of the box and running into as the ball was delivered as a Shambolic shotgun tactic, and I described the home team’s as fat Peter Cech simply due to his luminous orange kit.

I was under no illusions about the importance of my task with emails flying in from Patrick, James Boyes and even Danny Last over in Spain, reminding me that the accuracy of my report could be worth £4,500 in prize money in the next round, and to “remember Leiston” from the Eastern Counties League who had beaten Lewes two seasons ago when they were a Blue Square Premier club.

It was certainly an interesting crowd.  Nearly 200 people squeezed into the old stand and along the side of the pitch and were certainly vocal.  The unusual but easily recognisable smell of cannabis was also a feature of most of the game, perhaps relaxing me more than normal as I soon got into the rhythm of delivering stinging critics on all of the players.  The first goal came just after the half hour mark.  A Harlow corner (big men up from back, man to man marking) was met by Jon Stevenson, not with his head as he initially intended, but with his knee – hmm how do I write that one up?

I had imagined half time would be spent with some of the big wigs from other clubs in a room somewhere discussing players and tactics but instead it was spent queuing up to use a vending machine for some cold tea.  I have seen on TV countless times Premier League managers at other clubs “having a look at future opponents” but none of them ever seem to be scribbling furious notes; Capello is always at games yet he just goes to look like a miserable Italian.  Who takes notes for him?

The second half started, fortunately with no changes on either side and gave me the opportunity to fill in the other half of the pitch on my sheets.  Harlow had adopted the traditional 1-11 numbering with the defenders using 2,3,4 and 5 but throwing in a spanner with their play maker and central midfielder Danny Cowley wearing number 9.  Bethnal Green, well let’s just say I used the word “fluid” to mask my deficiencies.

Fortunately my work got a little easier in the 47th minute when Cowley scored a magnificent free kick from 25 yards right into the top corner of the net.  A box ticked for me for “men to look out for at free kicks I think”.  He then added a third ten minutes later, finishing off a nice move that ran from box to box in just 5 passes (Counter attacking style – tick).  Vinny’s wife Becky provided the commentary as I was hastily scribbling down the defensive formations, trying to find other words for “He hoofs it”.

Three nil up and soon playing against ten men, when Bethnal Green’s captain Lee Ryan was sent off for dissent meant I could rip up one of the forms and just concentrate on Harlow for the last fifteen minutes, a fact further underlined by a fourth a minute later when Clark Akers slotted home from just inside the penalty area. But what else could I write?  The full backs “got up and down the line well”, the central midfield “has a good engine on him”, the centre forward Akers “held the ball up well”.  Let’s face it I was out of my depth.  There is a website called Zonal Marking.  It is one of the finest pieces of work known to man, dissecting every game in terms of positional play.  Do you know what I don’t understand a word of it.  I am not cut out to watch a game in such a theoretical way.  To me football games are won on a) luck, b) referees decisions and c) one team being better than the other.  I am sure tactics play a massive part – its just I cannot get how.

So a successful evening?  Well I was home in time for Inbetweeners at 10am but from a scouting point of view?  Ask me in two weeks when hopefully Lewes have beaten Harlow Town, are in the draw for the 3rd Qualifying Round and are £4,500 better off.  If not then I can see my new career coming to a premature end.