They think It’s all over 2

I wrote a post on 28th March last year titled “They think It’s all over” which confirmed that all results for step three football leagues and below were to be expunged and unfortunately we are close to that again 10 months later.

The F A have confirmed that all step three and below league results for the 2019/20 season have been expunged. This followed a lot of media quotes from league and club officials who could not see a way to finish the season within time and financial constraints and the ethical position of the need to put all resources and time in fighting the pandemic. This is sad for teams like South Liverpool, Vauxhall Motors, Jersey Bulls, South Shields and others but these are difficult times.

With the Covid pandemic sadly still with us causing personal and economic tragedy and a national lockdown until mid February and most probably beyond, or replaced by a tier system, it has meant there has been little or no Non League step 3 and below games since mid December. With fewer than programmed games completed and none planned it looks impossible again to complete the season and all leagues and county associations are contacting clubs for their views although the organisers of the leagues just below the national leagues have stated their position that the season cannot be completed.

Football in general faces lots of issues that will be faced in 2021. Premier league media rights for 2022 to 2025 will be finalised this year and as so thoughtfully discussed by John Nicholson in his book ‘Can we have our football back’, there could be a reduction in bidding. This may well again lead to the super six looking for their own media rights deal or the often floated European League.

If fixtures are again ended and the F.A. do not implement their structural reforms, which should have been in place this season, will those league administrators of Leagues that were to be disbanded who agreed to continue for this season do it again for another year.

Is the public falling out of love with football, televised games are often sterile, the attempt to get extra income from fans to be able to stream their team only created resentment and anger.

Have a new generation been further inveigled by the games industry and not football. Has the game shown the wrong image during the pandemic.

Players have flouted Covid restriction rules, teams have gone away to Dubai, players continue group celebrations and fixtures are disrupted due to Covid outbreaks in squads.

There have been some positives to counter this, Marcus Rashford’s campaigns to counter child poverty a shining example.

The weekends F.A. cup tie round produced some high points, Aston Villa’s Louie Barry grabbing an accomplished equaliser for their youth team against a strong Liverpool before being overwhelmed, Crawley Town’s magnificent 3 nil win over Leeds, Jose Mourinho not devaluing the Cup by puting a very strong team out against the Marine minnows and Chorley defeating a Covid ravaged Derby County.

The big issue though is will all football clubs survive and a recent article by Simon Stone on the BBC Sport website gave an inside view, https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/55575536 We cannot afford to lose a part of our community that ties us together and for many improves general welfare both physically and mentally.

Finally a report from the Derbyshire Times (Chesterfield), about a man being issued a Covid 19 penalty ticket and given a strong warning after being stopped in Lincolnshire and explaining that he had left his house the previous day and was touring football grounds.

payonthegate 2021

looking forward to 2021

Having reached my 150th blog in just over two years and slowly seen the number of people who read them grow from all over the world it’s a good time to reflect and look forward.

I have enjoyed passing on my current football experiences and sometimes looking back to explain what has moved me to be curious about football. What surprises and excites me is that it is not just a match that gains my interest but the journey of the club, its ground, players current and past, facilities and fans. Those who have read my match reports will know that I also have an interest in the chips which is a different angle on football ground food rather than pies which have had millions of words written about them. I have been contemplating also writing about tomato soup as this was the mainstay food for my son and I to eat with white bread rolls filled with luncheon meat before a Villa game. We did this for nearly 15 years (10 as season ticket holders) in the Holte End. This was brought back into focus as for a pre Christmas present my daughter presented me with a cache of different branded and supermarket tinned tomato soup. So far working through them I am impressed with Morrison’s value range. If I start to include tomato soup as well chips it will become a food blog rather than a football one.

So looking forward to 2021 the world is holding its breath hoping that the vaccines now becoming available world wide will stem the Covid 19 pandemic and reduce the disheartening death toll.

I cannot get entrance to watch a game at the moment which could last for a few months and expect the season, especially for Non League clubs to be extended to fulfil all of the fixtures.

Luckily I have built up a horde of football books and films to read and watch to sustain my passion along with a few televised games.

An entrance to a new world.

I look forward to creating more blogs in the coming year. I wish everyone a Happy New Year and hope you all stay well and achieve your own goals.

Festive Football

With having to self isolate due to a case of Covid in the family there was no festive football for me this year although with the tier restrictions it would have been difficult.

In the last few years I have seen the Boxing Day derbies between Buxton and Matlock, always a hard fought game with a good crowd and friendly banter.

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Boxing Day derby between Matlock and Buxton 2019 with Ryber Castle looming out of the mist.

The first festive football match I really remember was Tottenham v Chelsea December 30th 1961.

Using a rover ticket with my Dad we took the number 84 from St Albans bus station to Arnos Grove and from there other buses to White Heart Lane Tottenham. What I remember as a 11 year old were the turkey sandwiches we had and being bought some blue stars with the pictures of Chelsea players in them. My particular favourite was Bobby Tambling but it ended in a 5-2 defeat. My Dad had watched Chelsea when he had worked in London and always retained an interest in their results. I also remember games being played on Christmas day which often seemed to end in some high and unpredictable scores.

One unusual match I attended was on Christmas Eve 1979 when Portsmouth played Wimbledon in a FA Cup second round replay at Fratton Park. The game ended 3-3 after extra time with Portsmouth going on to win the second replay at Wimbledon. It was unusual for a match to be played on Christmas Eve and the 7.30 kick off was queried in the local press with fans from the Isle of Wight having to leave early to catch the last ferry back to the island or miss Christmas Day. For me it seemed like a great start to Christmas.

A few years later I attended Luton v Watford on Boxing Day (26th December) 1986 when Watford won 2 nil. The interesting thing here was it was the first match I had taken my son to but he only lasted till half time and we spent the second half on the top floor of a multi storey car park with him on my lap steering the car around for amusement while I drove until his Grandfather met us from the game.

It would be a shame if these fixtures are eventually stopped for a mid season break or to give the players more rest time between games. If you research some of the highlights of games at this time of year you will find a great depth in iconic moments.

The one most written about is the football match between the trenches of the Germans and English at the first Christmas of the 1914-18 war. I was reminded of it again this year through a Christmas card that was sent to us. Whether it ever happened or not, it was a fact that at certain areas along the lines of conflict soldiers of both sides wanted to mark the time of year and demonstrate their friendship for each other in contrast to those who wanted the war.  

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An amazing game took place on Boxing Day 1920 at Goodison park where circa. 53000 fans attended a women’s football match between Dick Kerr Ladies and Preston Rangers. This friendly was to raise money for wounded soldiers but was not unusual for women’s football to get such great attendances as their football had become very popular during the war. It has been thought for some time that the popularity was seen as a threat to the men’s game that was just getting going again and the FA banned women the following December supposedly because the game was “quite unsuitable for females”.

The women’s game also features in another key Boxing Day match when in 1917 a game was played on that day in Belfast between teams from England and Ireland. The crowd here was an amazing 20000 but because it was not recognised by the official governing body.

My final festive football thoughts go to those fans in Bury who are strongly reviving football in that town and I hope Bury AFC manage to gain promotion this year. They can look back and dream of some time soon repeating their 1925 exploits when they beat Manchester City 6-5 at home on Christmas Day and won the reverse fixture 2-0 at Maine Road the day after (Boxing Day).

Lastly from a Christmas cracker this year: ‘How do you keep cool at a football match — Stand next to a fan.

Lets hope we all have a much happier 2021 and we can look forward to the 2021/22 season having few if any restrictions.

‘A Lover’s Guide to Football Shirts’

‘A Lover’s Guide to Football Shirts’ Written by Neal Heard

Published by ‘A Lovers Guide Publishing’ 2016

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This was again a Charity Shop find and what a find. Neal Heard has put together a book about football shirts that was 25 years in the making in his head. He had intended to write a book about the development and history of football shirts back to footballs inception but it has turned out to be his personal view of a subject he feels passionate about. It starts in the mid 1960’s when he explains that the viewing of football became a worldwide phenonium due to more televised games even if some were in black and white.

It is fascinating how the sports brands took over football shirts and tried for domination through changing styles, designs and the use of their own name and logo’s to further this cause. From the clubs getting income from the shirt brands came the bigger income stream of sponsorship on shirts. Football shirts have also been used to push political allegiances but the thing that came through to me was the designs that represented the times in which they were worn. Some have become iconic and hugely collectable and Neal points out that this is sometimes not due to the shirt but a specific game, season or individual.

Neal has also written a new book on shirts in 2017 and had previously published ‘Trainers’ in 2003.

Neal is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable people on football design and culture and is best described by himself on his Twitter feed.

“Brand Consultant – Pop Culture Historian – Author of: Trainers’ & ‘The Football Shirts Book – A Connoisseurs Guide’ – I’m not as boring as I make myself sound.”

To pick the best ever football shirts is all very subjective and everyone will have their own favourites often on partisan lines depending on who they support. The book made me think what my three favourites are and I have chosen the following.

No.1 Juventus 

I perhaps should have chosen Real Madrid’s all white strip of the 1960’s but to me the Juventus strip was top. This non branded, non logoed shirt states that they are Italian and the vertical stripes gave their players stature that reflected their no nonsense style of play. To me this says we are who we are.

No2 Huddersfield Town FC away kit !991/92

Huddersfield Town 1991/92 away strip is in Neal’s book. It just says to me flair, different, lets just be fun. Also worn in Disco’s of the time.

Classic Football Shirts | 1991 Huddersfield Town Old Vintage Soccer Jerseys

No 3 Aston Villa home and away kit 1993/94

Excuse me an indulgence in picking a season for my third choice Aston Villa’s 1993/94 season of which the black red and green one was my favourite. The claret and blue one will be remembered for Villa’s 3-1 League cup final win over Manchester United and the amazing semi final two legged 4-4 draw and a victory through penalties. The Villa fans at Wembley were in good spirits and put their more fancied rivals in the shade, this was brought to a higher level when they noticed Gary Shaw sitting amongst them just two rows down from me. As Gary Gary Shaw rang out he stood and waved to his adoring fans and all seemed good. Villa never looked back as the silky smooth Dalian Atkinson loped through on the right for the lead.

For me the most memorable part of the game was with the final whistle a bunch of jubilant fans went off on a Conga but with my ten year old son on one of their shoulders. My fear of how I would explain that I had lost her son to my separated wife was banished when in great spirits they returned him some minutes later.

Aston Villa 1994 Shirt | eBay
Aston Villa 1994 Away shirt | Aston Villa FC Retro Jersey | Score Draw

Great book Neal, great memories.

‘Paying on the Gate’

‘Paying on the Gate’ by Jason McKeown

Published in 2011 by Peakpublish

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With the blog named ‘payonthegate’ I couldn’t resist this book. It was not my usual charity shop find and I had to pay over the cover price to get a copy.

The book is about a schoolboy Manchester United fan who has little if no chance of ever getting a ticket for Old Trafford and by chance gets to go to Bradford City then in the championship. He is immediately smitten and embarks on a journey into the Premiership and then a quick decline to end up in league 2. This roller coaster of the clubs journey, that includes near death experiences for the clubs finances, is mirrored by Ian’s schoolboy to college, to Uni, to looking for a job, finally getting a job he enjoys, girlfriends to marriage all in a little over 10 years.

It is breathless but shows how the passion for your team grips you and determines your mood and life. It was worth paying over the odds for it and I applaud Ian’s frankness in the writing. Supporting your local team through thick and thin is certainly not boring and is more rewarding than clicking up trophy win after trophy win with a team you will never experience the physical relationship with the club.

Jason has written some of the history of the club since but again the prices seem too harsh for me so I will not follow that up. I wish Jason well and Bradford City who are now down there at the foot of League 2 with a very real danger of dropping into the National League. Their near neighbours Halifax will attest to the difficulty of getting out of that League.

There are green shoots of optimism out there too.

More than ten years ago I went to a local. evening game at Glapwell in Northern Derbyshire very close to the Nottinghamshire border. It is one of a cluster of town’s and villages in this part of Derbyshire that grew up due to local pits which are today almost impossible to find any trace of apart from symbolic statues or artefacts to a long lost hard, dangerous and often tragic life.

Glapwell is straddled on either side of the A617 midway between Chesterfield and Mansfield, It’s population today hovers around 1500 and like those other villages/town’s is coming to terms with proposed expansion of housing but without the increase in infrastructure and amenities to cope.

What’s this to do with football you ask. Well the local football team suddenly closed in 2009 and the ground, owned by the local Parish Council, has been sadly quiet since looking sadder by the day.

Glapwell football club had been a beacon for football in these parts rising in it’s history to the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League Division One South. No mean feat for the size of the village. This eminence was surprising due to the bigger local villages of this part of Derbyshire, Bolsover, Clowne, Barlborough and Cresswell having no teams that have competed to this level or at all. The oposite to this is nearby Mansfield where a thriving group of non league teams play within a few miles of the centre.

When recently passing the ground I was surprised to find a notice of activity and to my joy research showed that I had missed the fact that the community have reformed the football club and are trying to get it up and running for all ages in the face of a world pandemic.

Their senior team have in fact been elected to the East Midlands League Division 1 North and are undefeated this season having only played two games because of the retrictions.

It’s great to see this club and community fighting back particularly in these hard times and when I can again resume my passion for lower league football I will make sure I see a match there.

Beaten by the Tiers

Although some parts of England will resume with varying levels of spectators in their football stadia, after lockdown 2, unfortunately I will be grounded because we are surrounded by Tier 3 restrictions and there are no local games in the area.

My season so far has been eight games which I have thoroughly enjoyed but I still fear for the many local teams that are unable to generate their usual income streams. There has been support some government but much of it is in the form of loans which if there is no income they cannot repay.

The positive note is that of the eight games it was a joy to see that volunteers had spent lockdown cleaning, painting and improving facilities. Some have laid synthetic pitches that will reduce postponements and can be used by youth teams and rented out for casual users. Like many businesses Non League teams have had to re-assess their payment of players and how to generate future income.

I have followed St Albans City mainly from afar for too many years and they have been a beacon of light to me this year. During the first prolonged lockdown their twitter feed kept me engrossed with some great clips of past games, history articles and updates on their volunteers work schedules. What was very interesting and perhaps a masterstroke was achieved before these pressing times hit them hard.

The well respected Ian Allinson was hired to manage the team in February 2016 after a strong career as a footballer and manager. He has made St Albans into an attractive side that has maintained their National League South status and this year are the only undefeated side in the upper levels of football. Their style of play has meant that even in defeat they have managed to maintain a good level of support that has been vital for income because their grounds position [Clarence Park] is in a very leafy housing area with limited parking which excludes them from generating a good income from the bar facilities that is the life blood of many of their peers. The owners have proposed two strong regeneration proposals to move the club and build housing to pay for the move but as yet they have not been able to get local council approval.

In July 2019 Ian was employed to update their commercial activities and what a transformation. Ian had not only gone into football management after his playing career ended but also carved out a successful commercial business career as well. There have been numerous new sponsorships and commercial activity and the masterstroke this season was their shirt sponsorship. The shirts have been sponsored by Enter Shikari the world famous St Albans based rock band. It has been fascinating to watch City’s twitter feed to see the football and band fans post their delight at owning the new strip, sometimes the second as well. Surely this must have generated good income.

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Image copied from St Albans City Shop

To have the football manager also responsible for income generation makes good sense, their commercial achievements can be reflected in the squad that is assembled.

St Albans’ YouTube and match streaming activities have generated extra income that can continue well into the future and give those that watch from afar a chance to keep in touch.

With a vaccine program within reach hopefully I will be able to make a pilgrimage to Clarence Park.

I can’t wait for football to return locally but I hope that any restrictions that apply will be actioned by the clubs. It was patchy at the best with Frickley Athletic being my exemplar of those I experienced.

Helicopter Dreams

Helicopter Dreams – the quest for the Holy Grail.

Written by Ron Ferguson, Published by Northern Books.

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed ‘Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil’ by Ron Ferguson I looked into his other books and found two others that interested me. Firstly I read ‘The Reluctant Reformation of Clarence McGonigall’ from Steve Savage publishers 2003. This short (126 page) story about the last years of the Reverend J Clarence McGonigall MA BD in the Scottish Kirk. He rails against the church being taken over by marketing gurus who talk about customers and targets. His travails get him into trouble on lots of fronts but this grumpy, antagonistic man has a good heart and a great passion for what he believes. I won’t say more just buy the book and have a smile in a cosy chair by the fire with a wee dram.

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You will remember from my blog about ‘Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil’ that it was about Cowdenbeath FC and their disasterous season of 1992/93 when they were relegated having been promoted the year before. It was as much a social history of the club, the town, the religious and political scene and most importantly the players and people.

Well this is about the 2005/06 season which starts badly but the arrival of a manager from Finland transforms them into promotion battlers. This book is more about the games, team and past players as Ron Ferguson inducts ex players into his ‘Hall of Fame’. There is also some more local and family history. I do not want to give away the ending of the book but it’s a good read.

Reading all of the books Cowdenbeath has seeped into my conscioisness and I now have to check on their results. Perhaps one day I will visit.

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A new football experience for me.

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Missing the football experience I decided to watch a live streamed non league game. It was easy to chose one as St Albans City, unbeaten in the National League South, were playing away at the top team Dartford.

For £6.99 the game was good value although there were a few initial streaming issues. The fact that there was only one camera and no replays did need some adjustment. The commentary was also provided by Dartford supporters who didn’t seem to see the controversy of their penalty award midway through the second half although the disbelief from the St Albans players and a subsequent booking for arguing seemed to show a different side to the decision.

Charlie Sheringham’s penalty was magnificently palmed out by Michael Johnson diving to his right.

It all seemed to be playing out to a goalless draw when on 90 minutes Shaun Jeffers hit a 35 yard missile that hit the cross bar and bounced down and back into the net. This was almost identical to one he hit roughly ten minutes earlier that crashed back off the bar

There were four minutes more to play but two individual substitutes by the away team made this drift on to 6. St Albans retained their unbeaten start to the season but made little progress in the table having played less games than their near rivals.

Dartford had more possession throughout the game probing down the wings especially on the left. Throughout though St Albans were continually dangerous and often played some neat pretty passing moves that Dartford found hard to defend.

I would do this again and I can see this continuing when crowds are back. Particularly for fans like me who live a 130 mile drive away from Clarence Park.

I have seen on St Albans’ social media advertising that for their streamed home games you can also buy a digital program. Perhaps they can team up with a fast food company to deliver some food and coffee prior to the game and at half time, this would be the ultimate as long as there are chips.

Bloody Confused!

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Written by Chuck Culpepper

Published by Broadway Books; 2008

I am normally lucky in finding a football book in Oxfam and this time in Oban.

The book was a ‘Bound Galley – Not for Resale ‘ which I had never heard of before. It turns out a ‘Bound Galley’ is the pre-publication version of an upcoming published book that is a printed, perfect bound book. The cover of the Bound Galley may be the four color cover of the book to be published. In some cases the covers are printed on color stock and contain information useful to marketing the book to reviewers, bookstore distributors and buyers. This description is taken from The Country Press Inc. Website.

However this book had been sold at least twice. Once by a Community Thrift Store for 2 dollars in the USA and then £1.49 in Oxfam.

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Perhaps the reason for it being once sold in the USA is that the book is about a successful American sports writer who had attended the most iconic sporting events in the world and comes to Britain to absorb the Premiership football scene.

Initially Chuck Culpeper visits grounds and games to decide who to follow and stumbles on Portsmouth where he sees them survive a relegation battle in April 2006.

Chuck returns the whole of the next season and where possible follows them home and away. He not only reports on the games, the stadiums and locations but also the fan base culture that is the true soul of the English game. He was also tired of the stale state of reporting and organisation of the NFL, NBA and the MLB.

He finds a league structure that has ‘relegation’ some thing very strange in his home countries sports set up where franchising of clubs is the norm. Interestingly it is this franchising that has produced the recent proposals by the American owned Premier League teams as they try to protect their investment and dictate the future structure of our senior league or a European ‘Super League’.

He picked the best modern season to support Portsmouth who battle to achieve qualification to European football. How their fans would wish to be back in that position having endured so much frustration and trauma since these heady days.

Chuck makes friend with a group of supporters and is welcomed into their world which includes attending matches with a blue bear.

This is a well written book that is easy to read and drives you on the journey and you feel the emotions that the fans go through.

If you want a Football fix in these days of no spectators this book will take you there.