Non League Club

A Christian Cracker

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on December 18, 2011

‘Tis the season to be jolly.  That is unless you are an out of work football manager.  Just two weeks ago Tooting & Mitcham United parted company with ex-Sheffield United player Mark Beard as their manager.  The life of a non league manager is a perilous one that is for sure.  Whilst the tenure of a league manager is at its all time low of 1.5 years, the non leagues tend to be even harsher.  Few managers below the Blue Square Bet Premier enjoy contracts in length of more than a season.  There is no loyalty in football, simple as.

The Terrors came into the Christmas special with Lewes on a horrendous run.  One point from their last eight league games, and twenty-three goals conceded put them firmly at the bottom of the current form table.  Despite Mark Beard being a “good all round chap”, any club owner would be compelled to act in such circumstances, mores the pity, especially when a new board had just taken over the club with grand plans that included “League Two football in a 14,000 seater stadium within 10 years”.

The non leagues are littered with clubs who thought they could change the world.  Few clubs have ever made it – Yeovil Town’s rise was built on being the biggest club in a huge catchment area, coupled with a well run club.  Accrington’s rebirth on community spirit and even Crawley Town had plied their trade in the Conference Premier for a number of years before the money appeared.  Whilst I admire the ambition of any club (and being a director of Lewes I know what our ambition is), there is a sense that someone needs to just remind them of reality.

They currently get crowds hovering around the 300 mark, sitting at the apex of a triangle with Sutton United and Carshalton Athletic just a couple of miles away, whilst AFC Wimbledon are just five miles to the west.  With thousands of people sitting on the doorstep you have to wonder why they haven’t been through the gates of The Hub (as their ground complex is called).

With their new owners came a new manager.  Kenny Brown, son of the legendary West Ham defender and Norwich City manager Ken, was last seen in the non league game at Grays Athletic working alongside Julian Dicks.  Kenny once cost Manchester United the league title with a goal for West Ham against them in April 1992 which handed the momentum to Leeds United.

Brown joined the club just a few days ago and had already brought in a number of new faces, some of which who met for the first time on the coach down to Lewes.  With the Rooks recent form (apart from the blip last week against Concord Rangers) being white-hot, few would have backed anything apart from a home win.

With this being the last game before Christmas and to celebrate our nomination as the Best Football Blog at the NOPA’s (Well done to In Bed With Maradona for winning the award btw) we agreed to be Matchball sponsors for the day.  My special guest, Sarah “Hotscores” Flotel was to decide the man of the match.  Little did we know that the choice would be so easy.

Lewes 3 Tooting & Mitcham United 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 17th December 2011
At 3:12pm, five miles away at Falmer, Brighton & Hove Albion had been reduced to nine men.  “Blimey” was the collective comment on the Jungle terrace as Lewes battered Tooting & Mitcham United (hereby called TMUFC for brevity).  Less than an hour later the visitors would have gone one better than the Seagulls, playing out the final period of the game with just eight men.  Anyone looking from the outside in would assume this was a dirty game.  The truth was very different.

In one of those instances where the planets align, the game was being attended not only by the Sussex FA but also by a referee assessor putting undue pressure on the man in the middle Saul Kay.  That can be the only reason why the official was far too quick to take action in a game where there wasn’t a malicious tackle.

Lewes started as if they meant business, carrying on the attacking intent from Tuesday nights win at Carshalton Athletic.  Early in the game TMUFC keeper Darren Behcet was called into making a couple of saves from Malcolm and Harding.  In fact Behcet earnt top marks for his banter with the crowd all afternoon.  It is rare that keepers bother to interact with the crowd, but when they do it creates a bond, and the fans appreciate it.  Even when Christian Nanetti’s cross drifted over his head in the 45th minute to give Lewes the lead we couldn’t bring ourselves to mock him even though it had to be his fault.

By this stage TMUFC were already down to ten men.  Midfielder Charlie Dove went to challenge Nanetti in front of the benches and the linesman.  He didn’t leave the ground in the tackle, his studs were not showing and contact with Nanetti, who was already trying to hurdle the tackle, was minimal.  A yellow card would have been harsh, but Mr Kay pulled out a straight red.  Even the Lewes players put arms around Dove as he walked off the pitch.

The second half started with a bang as within a few seconds of the restart Malcolm hit the bar with a thunderous shot and Harding’s follow-up somehow being kept out by the TMUFC fullback on the line.  With Lewes camped firmly in the TMUFC half things went from bad to worse when Jordan Wilson received a second yellow for a very soft challenge.  With the possessionometer (that must be a Sky inspired word?) firmly in the red for Lewes, and the visitors now two men down  only a fool would have put a bet on TMUFC scoring the next goal, but that is exactly what happened when Charlie Stimson was unmarked (how?  We had two extra players!) at the far post and steered the ball home.

If it wasn’t for Rikki Banks in the Lewes goal TMUFC would have then taken the lead as he made two world-class saves in quick succession.  Were the wheels about to fall off the Lewes juggernaut?  Cometh the hour, cometh the little Italian wizard.  Finally Lewes realised that there was more room on the pitch and started feeding Nanetti.  With full back Terry Fennessy already on a yellow, and a trigger happy referee, he started to take on the full back at will, getting to the byline on a number of occasions without the final ball finding a home.

Then with twenty minutes to go Malcolm managed to get on the end of one of these runs and despite Behcet’s initial save, he followed it up to stab it home.  Number three came again from Nanetti’s byline insertions although he had decided to swap wings.  His low cross was smashed home by Alex Stavrinou to make it three with ten minutes still to play.

It was inevitable that Nanetti would taunt Fennessy once too often and the full back brought him down, earning his second yellow and TMUFC’s third red card.  Can they claim they were “cheated” as their fans thought?  There was no doubt every single incident was a foul and perhaps under another referee (not being assessed?) they would have finished with a couple more men on the field.

With a few minutes to go I had to make the call on Man of the Match.  Banks for his brilliant saves?  Max Hustwick for his outstanding defensive performance?  Matt Somner for his solid performance in the middle of the park?  Stavrinou for his box to box running?  There really could only be one choice…..The referee.  No sorry, Christian Nanetti scored one, made two, had a hand in three sendings off and still had the most bizarre haircut on the pitch.  The lad is a real talent and when he is on song like today there are few teams who would want to face him.

So Lewes go into the Christmas period with six wins in their last seven games, back in the playoff positions and having two home ties in the quarter finals of two cups there was reasons to be cheerful.  For the visitors?  One point from a possible twenty-seven, three suspensions pending and a new squad to bed in mean things look a bit Bob Scratchit.

More pictures from an interesting day can be found here.

Terrors on the Northern Line

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on September 16, 2011

Don’t panic.  The headline is not meant to scare anyone.  It just sums up an evening of football in SM4.  The Terrors in this instance refer to Tooting and Mitcham United, the Northern Line, well, that black tube line that runs down from Borough to Morden. Back from behind the sofa?  Good, then I can begin.

This was no ordinary midweek game for Lewes. Well actually it was.  Let’s start again.  This was no ordinary midweek game for the Lewes away fans. It would be the first time that the Danish fan club would be seeing The Rooks.  In theory the fan club, formed back in July 2009 numbers over 60.  In practice making everyone in my Copenhagen office watch a Powerpoint once a month of the highlights of Lewes’s games probably didn’t endear many of them, and I think that one or two of them may have been responsible for grassing me up for importing Marmite and thus putting in place the ban as retribution.

So six weeks after I returned to the UK here I was taking a small group of them on the tube to watch Lewes play. Apparently they had been a small core of fans who missed their monthly slices of life in the English non leagues and so they used some excuse to wangle some time in the London office.  They may say it was co-incidence as they said they were really here to get up close and personal to The Shard, which is already Britain’s finest erection.

And also making his debut was my Partner in Carlsberg infused Crime Ben, aka Excession1, who used to live just a stones throw from The Hub and had managed to repair his relationship to the lovely Christina since I had come home.  Despite being a Spurs fan, he did know a thing or two about football and purred with excitement about seeing Nanetti in the flesh.

So off we hopped after work to the Market Porter.  Where else in London serves a better pint of Harvey’s Best to get us in the mood (well, apart from the Royal Oak)?  It is against the law to “only have one” at the Porter and so we departed a little bit later than expected.  7pm to be precise.  And one thing you have to remember is that tube and bus timetables in London do not exist.  The stated 33 minute journey actually took over 50 minutes so we were not walking into the ground until ten minutes into the game.

Tooting & Mitcham United 2 Lewes 2 – Imperial Fields – Wednesday 14th September 2011
And what had gone on in those eight minutes we missed? In the words of Frankie Goes to Hollywood – “Absolutely nothing”.  What was a pleasant surprise was the turn out from Lewes.  A very impressive number of fans, and quite a few neutrals who were slowly being converted to the ways of the Rook.  Game-a-day John had popped down, this being the only real option in the south, as too had Lizzy Ammon who loved our banter so much that by 9.45pm had signed up to be an owner of Lewes FC (as you, dear reader can too).  With her was a new face.  And what a lovely face to have watching our game – Sarah Flotel, aka SarahHotScores.  Her video pods are legendary and I was very encouraged to see her whip out the camera at various points, perhaps for a special Lewes episode.  Not that there was much to write home about in the first half.

The great thing about Imperial Fields is the view you get from behind the goals.  Quite steep terracing and old fashion crush barriers meant that the Lewes fans presented a wall of black and red for the team to kick towards.  Even with King back on the touchline after his ban, Nanetti and Ciardini working the wings well nothing really went to plan in the first period and for the first time this season The Rooks went in at half time without scoring a goal.

Results elsewhere on Tuesday night had meant that a win would take Lewes to within one point of the top of the table.  However, the talk in the bar at half time was of more pressing matters.  James Boyes and his fascination of going to a game by tram.  As a Manchester United “die-hard” you would have thought that he had been on countless trams to get to Old Trafford but apparently not.  So whilst he waxed lyrical about the nostalgic trip he had to get to the game, we disappeared to get some food.  Now here is a strange thing.  A football club deciding to stop selling food at the end of half time.  Not after 50 minutes or an hour, but as soon as the whistle went.  We had to persuade him to put on a few more burgers and even then when four more people arrived he couldn’t be arsed to cook them.

With a burger in hand it was the sign for the game to come into life.  Tooting, who had looked as blunt upfront as a the knives BA give you to eat your inflight meal these days all of a sudden realised that they were allowed to attack at home and from a dangerous cross that was cleared initially by Stuart Robinson but the rebound fell to Hall to drive the ball home.  In the time it took us to walk around the edge of the pitch to the far end it was two nil as Hall again smashed the ball home on the volley from distance.

Were the wheels coming off the Lewes machine?  After all Tooting had shipped six at the weekend, yet here they were comfortably holding a lead against one of the promotion favourites.  What we needed was a spark, and as if by magic it arrived.  The old Ciardini/Malcolm partnership struck again, as the centre forward did all the hard work in beating defenders in the box and playing a great ball across the six yard line for Ciardini to smash it home.

Just two minutes later it was all square as this time Ciardini didn’t need any help as his shot from twenty five yards took a slight deflection (although Nic claims the sound was his boot kicking the defenders – one for the dubious goals commission I think).

Lewes were on top and with just seconds left should have wrapped the game up when Nanetti’s cross was met by Malcolm inside the six yard box but his effort someone managed to go over the bar.  Sickening, but Malcolm has been on top form in the past few games so we cannot hold that miss that could cost us automatic promotion and a return to the Blue Square Bet South against him (Only joking MM!).

Full time and with Sarah kindly offering me a lift home it was all in all a mixed evening.  The Danes really didn’t know what to think, comparing it to a second level game back home, but not impressed by the lack of a sausage or two.  Our growing band of neutral Rooks still hadn’t seen us win but had at least see us score, and we had gained one more owner.  Bring on Chertsey and the magic of the FA Cup.

THE UNITED FRONT OF TOOTING AND MITCHAM – Tooting & Mitcham United 3 Harrow Borough 2

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on March 19, 2011

Wolfie Smith…The most lovable revolutionary in history, leader of the Tooting Popular Front.  Mitcham. Named after Robert Mitchum in honour of his fine performance in the 1944  film Mr Winkle goes to War.  Put them both together and what do you have? A united front, in fact a Tooting &Mitcham United.  It is amazing how the longer I write, the more tenuous my introductions can get.

Located in a golden triangle of Ryman Premier teams, you would think that business would be booming for Ryman Premier League Tooting & MitchamUnited. Sutton United, just two miles to the south west seem to be nailed on for the title this year, and Carshalton Athletic two miles to the south east seem to be back on the way up after a season in the wilderness. So why isn’t the story from down the on Imperial Fields more positive?

One of the issues is that the league is slowly being populated by teams with bigger budgets, higher attendances and a will to move up. Take the East Anglian duo of Bury Town and Lowestoft Town. Both were promoted last season, Bury from theZamaretto League as part the perennial geographical re-organisation, and Lowestoft Town from the Ryman League One. Chomping at the bit for promotion to the Premier this season is a third team from the region Needham Market, plus Whitehawk from the Ryman League South who stated their ambition by negotiating to play their games next season at Brighton and Hove Albion’s Withdean Stadium whilst their own ground is redeveloped (and of course Brighton moving to the brand spanking new AmexCommunity Stadium).

Last week we launched the first part of our Non League manifesto, our agenda for change for the grass roots game. Our ten point plan is designed to stimulate some debate as to how we all can inject some life back into the lowest levels of football. Some of our ten point plan is basic common sense, but since when did common sense and football go hand in hand? So we decided to see what the fans at this level thought of some of our ideas, and what ideas they had of their own.

As if I really needed an excuse to come to a game on a Saturday afternoon! After the long drive home from the TBIR Welsh office Christmas Party I did my chores, took Littlest Fuller to a party and was excused from duty at 1.30pm.

As a strange quirk of fate, or more so the result of the poor weather during the early Winter, this was the second meeting between the teams in just four days. Back then, Harrow Borough came out the winners.  However, it was unlikely that either team was going to be making their mark in either the promotion or relegation battle this season, so this game had a feel of an Italian end of season game, one of those where neither team has the motivation to win.

Top tip of the day.  Never believe SatNav’s.  As the crow flies Imperial Fields lays 11 miles to the west of TBIR towers.  So when TomTom tells me that the 13.1 mile journey should take 44 minutes who am I to argue with it.  I neglected to look at the route it was taking me on and so nearly 90 minutes later when I was still stuck in traffic on Streatham High Road it was so tempting to hurl the useless unit out of the window.  Not only did it decide to take me on the South Circular via Catford, but then down the A23 and then through every High Street in south west London known to man.

So my original plan of getting here to watch the second half of the Spurs v West Ham game went out of the window as we eventually pulled up at The Hub, the trendy name for the development where Tooting & Mitcham United now play their games at 2.58pm. Still £11 later (Nearly top marks TMUFC – surely you could let the Under16’s in for free and not extract a solitary pound off them).

With the sun shining even the most basic grounds look good, but Imperial Fields is one of the better grounds I have visited this year.  Sure it is modern and has a bit too much concrete here and there, but you certainly couldn’t say that the views weren’t good.  One big main stand that sat astride the half way line and then behind each goal there are raised terraces who two spaceships sitting on top.  The advantage here is if the game is crap you can watch the hockey on the pitch behind.

Tooting & Mitcham United 3 Harrow Borough 2 – Imperial Fields – Saturday 19th March 2011

It’s rare that you get to the 89th minute of a game and have to do a double take on your watch as the time has flown so quickly.  This was a cracking game that ebbed and flowed.  Full of quality it wasn’t but that made it more of an entertaining spectacle.

As we walked to the side of the pitch a ball was played over the top of the Tooting defence and when the ball was played across the area for an unmarked KarlMorlose to smash home.  Everyone in the ground to see that Morlose was offside, and the linesman flagged accordingly.  The home fans cries of “you thought you have scored” were quickly drowned out by cheers from the small travelling support as for some bizarre reason the referee over ruled his assistant and it was 1-0.

A few minutes later and Morlose should have scored a second but a post somehow got in the way.  This had all the makings of a rout.  Tooting simply could not live with the attacking threat of Morlose and Baptiste and if it wasn’t for a smart save from Jamie Butler it would have been another.

But then from nowhere Tooting found some belief and started realising that Harrow were as fragile as Mavis Riley. Big centre back Dean Marney (not the same ex-Spurs and Hull City Dean Marneywho is now at Burnley I assume) had enough on half an hour, raised his hand to ask the referee if he could go to the bathroom and never returned.  Tooting took this as a good omen and started pushing the ball wide.  From a corner soon after the ball fell to Reece Hall who smashed it home from twenty yards.  One all.

Four minutes later Pinnock got passed the full back and squared the ball and there was Jason Henry to put Tooting in front. It was so nearly three a few minutes later when three Tooting players conspired to miss from within the six yard box with the keeper already beaten.

We disappeared into the bar at half time and ran into Gary, one of the veterans of the EFW/TBIR Ocktoberfest from last year, and one of the travelling party for next week’s jolly to Antwerp.  The bar itself is as the rest of the group.  Functional but with promise.  Some comfy sofas around the edge, a big screen TV with Sky Sports, of course and plenty of space.  It just needed a bit of soul (maybe a few European scarves up a la The Dripping Pan’s Rook Inn?).

The second half never hit the highs of the first, although it was still as engaging.  One of the Harrow directors came over to say hello, and thanked us for visiting them earlier in the season and writing a positive report. That is what I like about Non League football – people are genuine.  He seemed to think that the team could get something out of the game, just as Harrow keeper Jupp spilt the ball into the path of Henry to make it three one. Oops.

Harrow looked dead and buried but then as usual football has a habit of producing the unexpected.  Or rather, footballers do.  For some mad reason only known to Osa Obamwonyi stuck out his hand and the ball hit it.  Referee Crouch annoyed the home fans for the umpteenth time in the afternoon by pointing to the spot.  Rocky Baptiste stepped up and ignored the home fans chants relating to THAT miss slotted the ball home.  Three two.

But it was too little too late.  Despite Harrow pouring forward Tooting simply used the old John Beck tactic and hoofed the ball long.  And why not.  A win was long overdue and gave them some breathing space from the teams at the bottom of the league.

We headed back to the car along with 233 others having thoroughly enjoyed the day, if not the result (them not me).  I programmed an alternative route into theSatNav.  14.2 miles – not bad.  First five miles went like a dream and then we came up against a wall of Red and Blue..stupid thing hadn’t factored in Crystal Palace playing at home had it, and had taken us right past the ground.  I thought these things were intelligent!

More pictures from the day in  the South London sunshine can be found here.