Non League Club

Making a point

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on February 16, 2014

12520209934_e738e1d69e_oIt’s Saturday and of course that means there isn’t a game for Lewes.  It actually could be any day of the week at the moment and the game wouldn’t be on.  The rules state that we actually had to wait until Friday to officially call the game off, although the persistent rain during the last week had left a lake the size of the a swimming pool across the pitch.

The latest postponement, the fifth in succession, means that the club have played just two games at the aptly named Dripping Pan since November.  Somehow, somewhere we have to fit in nine games that have now been postponed.  Lewes aren’t the worst hit team by any means – Grays Athletic have played four games less than us and are still in the Ryman League Cup.

The debate over 3G continues to rage with over 550 games now postponed in the Ryman League.  Whilst all of the clubs (bar Maidstone United and Harlow Town) are trying to think of ways to recover the revenues that they have lost, the Ryman League sit silently, waiting for someone to do something.  The one thing that is certain is that next season they will have to act differently.

12557923993_23bbba4781_oMost clubs and their fans expressed concern about the decision to increase the league size from 22 to 24 teams last year.  Winter’s have been harsh in the Non-Leagues in recent times, resulting in some huge fixture pile ups which devalue the whole point of playing a league over nine months.  The answer?  Well, we could opt out of the Ryman League Cup if we wanted – hardly a compromise in most club’s eyes.  Surely the most logical option would have been to start the season a week earlier (as the Football League did) or even extending the season into May (as the Football League do).  Common sense?

My Saturday mornings recently had taken on a similar theme.  Draw up a list of potential games to go to, watch them all slowly fail pitch inspections via Twitter and then at 2pm scramble around for a game to go to.  These days it’s not just about watching a game for a game’s sake (cue corporate line here for the sake of the Current Mrs Fuller), I had the opportunity to do some secret scouting on one of our forthcoming opponents.  With three of them managing to have a game within half an hour of TBIR Towers I had my afternoon mapped out.  The lucky winners were Thamesmead Town who were hosting high-flying Wealdstone.

12544128995_53187b8cdf_bRomance was still in the air when I arrived at Bayliss Avenue.  The club was handing out roses to any ladies coming through the turnstiles to mark Valentine’s Day.  The club have made massive strides in recent years, converting the basic ground into a real community facility.  The installation of their 3G pitch adjacent to the ground has given them an ongoing revenue source.  In harsh times like these, many clubs in the lower steps of the Non-League structure in Kent have been using the facilities here to play their games.  No irony here at all that clubs with fewer resources are the ones who have the means (and are allowed) to continue to play their games.  Despite having the facilities at their ground, Thamesmead Town aren’t allowed to use the pitch for themselves if the main pitch is unplayable.

Wealdstone were the visitors, almost doubling the average attendance at Bayliss Avenue and boosting the takings over the bar.  You cannot fault their loyalty to following the Stones away from home, with well over a hundred fans making their first visit to Thamesmead to see whether they could make up ground on the top two, Dulwich Hamlet and Maidstone United.

New Picture (52)With so many teams having played different numbers of games, it is hard to really see what the true league positions should be.  Lewes had dropped down the table from 7th in late November to 12th before this game, both as a result of a serious lack of games, but also due to drawing six of the eight games in that period.  So what would the real league table look like if we had been able to play all of the scheduled games?  Well thanks to my complex financial modelling I can now exclusively reveal what the true Ryman League table would look like.

So the visitors would be sitting pretty at the top if all things were equal.  But we know that football isn’t that predictable, otherwise my weekly accumulator would see me dine on Filet Steak and drinking Adnam’s Ghost Ship every week.

Thamesmead Town 0 Wealdstone 2 – Bayliss Avenue – Saturday 15th February 2014
Prior to kick off, Thamesmead manager Keith Mahon was recognised for the performance of the month for January with regard to Mead’s fantastic 4-1 victory over league leaders Maidstone United.  Any hopes of a repeat performance over another Stones team dissolved within 90 seconds of kick off in the bright sunshine when James Hammond overlapped down the right hand side, whipped his cross in and Michael Malcolm swept the ball into the net.  The romance was dead.

12544118925_cd1ef047fe_bIn truth this was a walk in the sunshine for Wealdstone who were rarely troubled.  Thamesmead got stronger as the game progressed, playing the ball around midfield well although without any threat up front, the Wealdstone centre-backs had an easy afternoon.  At half-time Bartlett saw a weakness in the Thamesmead backline (he must have been reading my notes) and changed the 4-3-2-1 to a more traditional 4-4-2 with Malcolm pushed in from a wide position to play alongside McGleish up front.  Sorry, tactical analysis over.

Fifteen minutes into the second period Wealdstone were awarded a penalty.  No real complaints on the decision, although the referee had let worse challenges go at the other end of the pitch and so you could understand the frustration of the Thamesmead bench.  Cronin stepped up and smashed the ball home to double the lead.

Full-time saw the Stones fans celebrate a decent win.  Their afternoon was made all the more sweeter by defeats for Kingstonian, Dulwich Hamlet and Maidstone United. It’s still not clear what the situation with Maidstone United is in terms of whether they will be allowed to even take part in the Play-offs but with wins for AFC Hornchurch and the form of Bognor Regis Town with seven wins out of their last eight games it may not yet be a done-deal.  Perhaps romance isn’t quite dead, although it may take the creative brain of Shelley, Byron or Audley to find a story that sees Thamesmead avoiding the drop at the end of the season.

Tagged with: ,

Well and truly Stoned

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on February 19, 2013

Twenty five years is a lifetime in football.  Back in 1987/88 Liverpool were being crowned First Division Champions (this was pre-Sky of course), Luton Town were still plying their trade in the top division of English football and Swansea City were floundering in the 4th tier.  But a look at the GM Vauxhall Conference tells so many stories.  Wycombe Wanderers, Cheltenham Town and Barnet are the only current sides from that season now playing in the Football League, although a couple of others have tasted the sweet smell of promotion upwards.

Kettering Town, Enfield, Northwich Victoria, Runcorn, Telford United, Weymouth, Fisher Athletic, Boston United and Stafford Rangers – all teams who would give their first-born to be competing at that level again today.  All have been to the brink (and in the cases of a few of them, actually over the edge and re-incarnated themselves) and yet to recover.  And then there are the likes of Dagenham (before they found the Redbridge behind the sofa), Maidstone United who are on the rise once again and then finishing in 21st place in that season was Wealdstone.

This was to be the last season they played at the top table of Non League football, but the club could be on the verge of taking another step back to the top table of Non League football.  Last season a great run to the semi-final of the FA Trophy built on the foundations of a season that saw them narrowly miss out on promotion via the play offs.  This season they are gamely trying to hang on the coat tails of big spending Whitehawk and will fancy themselves to have another shot at the play offs again, and hopefully promotion to the Blue Square Bet South.

photo (3)Standing in their way on this chilly Monday night would be the Rooks, who would be making the long journey north from the South coast.  Recent games between the two hardly inspired the stay at home fans to come out in their droves for this Monday night clash.  Two 1-0 victories for Lewes at the Dripping Pan (both thanks to debatable penalties) and a 1-0 win for Wealdstone at The Vale last season had the betters among us reaching for another 1-0 scoreline.  The current form of the two teams couldn’t have been more different though.  Wealdstone had taken 15 out of a possible 18 points from their past six home games, whilst the Rooks had won just twice on the road in the same period.

Monday night football has been a feature at Wealdstone for the past few years.  Whilst their groundsman may not like having just 48 hours in some cases (such as this week) to prepare the pitch, the fans seem to approve of it.  Their offer of half price entry for season ticket holders at Premier/Football League clubs has also boosted attendances on a Monday with very few clashes with professional games.

Wealdstone 6 Lewes 1 – Grosvenor Vale – Monday 18th February 2013
Sigh….where do I start.  The traffic around the north of London ensured that I didn’t park near the ground until 7:50pm.  As I walked into Grosvenor Vale I heard the distinct cheer and then the tannoy announcement of a goal.  I should have turned around and gone home at that point. All we could do during the first half was to hide behind our hands as it seemed every Wealdstone attack resulted in a goal.  When the fifth went in with still nearly ten minutes left in the half we genuinely thought the Stones would break double figures.

I’ve seen Lewes play much worse and win.  I have also seen teams play much worse and score more than six.  It was one of those games.  For twenty-five minutes Wealdstone were unplayable.  They exploited the flanks, got great balls into the area and ruthlessly took their chances.  Dean and Jolly were on fire and the Lewes back four were simple kindling.

However, there were glimpses of sunlight in the game.  Nathan Crabb had a great chance to open the scoring for Lewes, and after the break they pulled themselves together in midfield and started battling hard.  Whilst Wealdstone took their foot off the gas, Lewes certainly put theirs down.

photo (2)It seemed to be the best fixture in town though, with officials from the Ryman League in attendance as well as Dave Anderson (Harrow Borough), Alan Devonshire (Braintree Town) and Andy Hessenthaler (Gillingham) all in the crowd of nearly 550 including a small travelling contingent from Lewes.  There must have been bad omens in the air as even Cynical Dave decided not to travel to this one. Steve Brinkhurst’s effort before half time at least gave us some cheer and the chance for his Dad to remind Kev to “add that one to your KevPad”.

Despite Wealdstone finishing with ten men after their centre-back was sent off in injury time for a harsh professional foul, Lewes couldn’t score.  There isn’t a lot more I can add apart from that.  Well played Wealdstone, we wish you luck for the rest of the season. So much for my 1-0 prediction.  Next time I will keep my mouth shut and stay at home.

Happiness is a game at Hamlet

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on January 17, 2013

When London hosted the summer Olympics in 1948, the football tournament was spread around the capital with a few detours down to the south coast. At the time the amateur game had never been so popular, coming after the war when football-starved Londoners had been denied their regulars fix of the beautiful games, so the decision to use some of the classic old-school grounds was very popular with the public. Games were played at Lynn Road, Ilford, Green Pond Road in Walthamstow and Champion Hill in Dulwich.

dulwich 4The first two grounds no longer exist, their history buried beneath supermarkets and executive-style apartments. But football is still played every week at Champion Hill although the ground has gone through a number of changes over the past 65 years. Home of Dulwich Hamlet, and their tenants, Fisher Athletic, crowds are a modest few hundred rather than the thousands that flocked here in the old amateur days in the innocent age of football including that gloriously typical English summer’s day in August 1948 in driving rain when South Korea beat Mexico.

Dulwich Hamlet are one of the oldest clubs still knocking around the London Non Leagues. The club was formed in 1893, by Lorraine ‘Pa’ Wilson when Dulwich was an affluent village-like suburb of London, hence their rural name. Their greatest ever player was Edgar Kail, who scored over 400 goals for the club as an amateur who went on to win three caps for England in 1929, and turned down moves to professional clubs to stay playing for Dulwich, loving life at this level. Despite winning the Isthmian League just after the war, it’s been a story of near-misses characterised by the last few years which has seen play off defeats to Leatherhead and Bognor Regis Town in the past two seasons for a spot in the Ryman Premier League.

But this season it could be third time lucky for The Hamlet. The lead at the top of the Ryman League South seems like a two-way love-in between Dulwich and Maidstone United, swapping top spot on regular occasions. This Saturday the two giants are due to meet at Champion Hill in the biggest game of the Ryman League South season. But it’s not all about the league. The Ryman Cup gives all clubs a shot at glory, albeit on a small-scale, and a look at past winners just shows how open the competition is.  In the past five years, the winners in every year, bar Bury Town last year, have come from the lower divisions including the likes of Tilbury, Ramsgate, Leatherhead and Wingate & Finchley.  So Dulwich Hamlet were in with as much as a shout as anyone this season.  After beating Eastbourne Town and Herne Bay, they faced Wealdstone in a third round tie on a chilly night in Saarf London, with a home tie against Kingstonian in the quarter finals a prize for the winners.

With all of our work country managers over in London for a few days surely they would be keen on a Tuesday night slice of proper culture?  You can take your London Eye, your Madame Tussards and Buckingham Palace but what visitors, with limited time in London really want to see is an Isthmian League Cup game in South East London, right?  Well, apparently not.  Despite my best efforts to sell the game to the Danes, French, Germans and Swiss, the only takers I had were from Ben and Luge, both expats who actually lived a stone’s throw away from Dog Kennel Hill for many years.  Typical.  But never ones to turn down a trip to some Non League football we made the 13 minute train journey down to East Dulwich, only briefly stopping for some liquid refreshment at the Britannia along the way.  It promised to be a night of cup drama, intelligent conversation and freezing feet.

Dulwich Hamlet 1 Wealdstone 0 – Champion Hill – Tuesday 15th January 2013
In a mirror of games being played in the FA Cup, was this really a shock result?  Not really.  Unfortunately the shoppers next door in Sainsbury’s stayed in the frozen foods aisle which was a good few degrees warmer than the action on the pitch in Champion Hill. Neither side put out first string sides, with Dulwich taking the opportunity to field a much younger starting XI. The difficulty clubs have at this level in trying to field full sides twice a week was clear to see as Wealdstone couldn’t name a full bench, although there were a few familiar names on show including Rikki Banks, Richard Jolly and Chris O’Leary.

P1070013The home side always seemed to have that extra yard of pace, creating a number of good chances that saw Banks the busier keeper. Ellis Green nearly opened the scoring on the half hour mark for Hamlet when his shot from distance cannoned off the post. All this excitement drove us upstairs to the bar, and one of the better views in non league football. In fact the warmth of a radiator kept us there for the remainder of the game, despite Damon’s appearance with a prototype of the 500RTLF “Beerscarf” that he claimed kept him warm and his beer spillage free-standing on the terrace.

Five minutes into the second half and Dulwich scored the only goal of the game. Oztomer sent in a corner which was well met by Turner forcing Banks into an excellent save but he was powerless to stop Ryan James forcing in the rebound. The goal sparked Wealdstone into life with the veteran Jolly causing problems for the Dulwich defenders nearly half his age. But Wilson in the Dulwich goal was a virtual statue most of the half, frozen to the spot (he should’ve bought his beerscarf).

photo (1)The game ended more with a whimper as the sub-90 crowd trudged out of the ground and into the cold South East London night. Wealdstone won’t shed many tears about losing in this competition, with their eyes still on the major prize, promotion to the Blue Square Bet South. Dulwich too hope that promotion will be on the agenda come what May. But whether the stay-away fans would see any action on Saturday is another story. With temperatures dropping by the second the prospect of any games making it through the “beast from the east” are already slim to none.