Playing away in Dreamland


13804963363_e4a9f3df14_b“Well I’ve been working hard to reach me sales target
To earn a few quid for an away trip down to Margate
I’m gonna blow my commission tomorrow on all me football family
We catch the train at eight so don’t be late, were off to see the sea”

We are the luckiest fans alive today. Who else wouldn’t want to be spending a day at the sunny British seaside today. It is fair to say that prior to the release of the fixtures back in July, Margate away in either the earlier part of the season or towards the end would have been perfect.  In the last two season we had been down to the Isle of Thanet in October and January, so it was time that the fixture computer was kind to us. What better way to celebrate our promotion than a knees up on the golden sands and sewage outflow pipe of the Costa del Thanet.

Well, as our big sweaty transatlantic friend still warbles, two out of three ain’t bad. We were going to get our day in the sun in April at Margate, and ‘that’ sign was still warning us about staying away from the pipe carrying ‘stuff’ into the sea, but alas there was to be no promotion party. In fact our recent, and by recent I mean the last half of the season, has been a bit of a mystery. With a third of the season gone we were one place and two points outside the playoffs. However, the harsh weather, which first kicked in in October for us seemed to throw a spanner in the works and since then we have taken on average a point a game.

I still get the “sack the board” chants aimed in my general direction by those who still don’t quite get this community club aspect and realise that I can’t be sacked by the fans (voted out in October, indeed) but we will finish the season in a stronger position both on and off the field than last season and can look forward to next season when the regeneration project will commence on The Dripping Pan which will ultimately give us a new viable revenue stream.

photo 4 (5)Our hosts today will also be looking forward to next season. Next chairman Bob Laslett has already shown his intentions by bringing former AFC Wimbledon manager Terry Brown. Rumours of weekly budgets in excess of £5k will certainly make them the favourites come August, but I hope the club don’t go down the all too familiar road of Non-League boom and bust.

Whilst the ambition for the owners may be a rise up the leagues, it has to be sustainable. Redevelopment work continues at Hartsdown Park and that will give them a solid base, but if they do “build it” who will come? Only twice this season has the attendance at home broken the 500 barrier and both of those were due to the sizeable away support of Dulwich and Maidstone. Success on the pitch will bring people through the gate – in their one season in the Conference Premier where they played in Margate (as opposed to the two seasons in Dover) they did get over 1,100 on average, fuelled by away fans making a new ground visit. Today that number has decreased by 66%. With three other Ryman teams almost on their doorstep, plus Gillingham and Dover playing at higher levels close by, it is hard to see where these new supporter will come from.

“Along the promenade we spend some money
And Cynical finds a spot on the beach that’s simply sunny
Big Deaksy will enjoy himself digging up the sand,
collecting stones and winkle shells to take back home to Dan”

But today is all about a bloody good day out.  With our final away game on Easter Monday at Harrow Borough not really ticking all of the boxes for a “Jolly Boys Outing”, today was all about a few beers, some sunshine, dare say a couple of giggles and if we were lucky, a Non-League dog or two. Heck, even a long overdue three points would be as good as a Kiss Me Quick hat, a lick of a lolly and memories of the Radio 1 roadshows down here as teenagers….happy days.

It is fair to say that the walk from Margate station to the town centre has seen better days.  It is a crying shame to see so many places that I remember as a kid boarded up.  Dreamland, still home to bits of the UK’s oldest rollercoaster stands desolate, like a Scooby Doo spooky location.  There has been years of talk about turning it into an interactive museum of the rollercoaster but that day seems along way off.

photo 2 (28)Thanks to ClubSec Kev’s inside knowledge we bypassed the Pound shops and arrived at The Lifeboat pub, possibly the best secret in the town with its range of over 20 local ales. Lunch consisted of a few pints from the Westerham and Whitstable Breweries, sharing our memories of what we had been doing on the 15th April 1989, the day of the Hillsborough disaster which every club would be respecting today.

Margate 1 Lewes 1 – Hartsdown Park – Saturday 12th April 2014
One taxi ride later and we were at Hartsdown Park.  You can see signs of the foundations being laid for the redevelopment and I’d hope they retain the existing structure at the Hartsdown Road, although essentially it is only a two-sided stadium with nothing at the far end bar the railing around the pitch and portakabins on the right hand side.

The minute’s silence was impeccably observed and it was fair to say that reflective atmosphere was adopted by Lewes in the first half as they struggled to make any impact at all on the game.  They lacked fight, bite, bustle, hustle and thrust.  Margate, with their megabucks budget didn’t really dominate, although they forced over ten corners yet really made little chances in the opening period.  In fact their opening goal came direct from a Sunday League style mistake by Malins who perfected an air shot when trying to clear and 31-club (THIRTY ONE!) Jefferson Louis made no mistake from ten yards.

13804975605_0100422596_bLewes were forced to shuffle the pack once again with an injury to Andy Pearson meaning midfielder Logan had to drop to centre-back and Jack Dixon coming on. Sometimes such events turn games and this is exactly what happened in the second half.  Lewes started to believe that they could get something from the game and pushed forward, using Crabb and Wheeler out wide.  In the 65th minute the ball found its way to Wheeler on the edge of the box, he shimmied, twisted, turned and dropped his shoulder to confuse the defender, putting him on his arse and then slotting home.

13804968985_3accd6dc40_bMargate were rattled and Cynical Dave smelt victory and told the Margate keeper and centre-backs so.  A few minutes later a miss hit shot from Dixon/Malins/Crabb (we can’t remember who exactly) bounced up on the hard surface and into the net.  Referee gave the goal but the linesman deemed the retreating Nathan Crabb and Luke Blewden in an “active” offside position despite no appeals from the Margate team.  Even the keeper agreed it was a harsh decision.

A point apiece was probably a fair result for a game of two halves.  The Lewes Lunatic Fringe partied like it was 1999 on the way back to the station.  It had been a great away day and our reward was a family size bag of imitation Frazzles and a few bottles of Pedigree whilst we reminisced about the season.  Days out like this make the wind, rain, snow, sleet, floodlight failures, abject defending and poor refereeing decisions all worth it.

“Down to Margate, you can keep the Costa Brava, I’m telling ya mate I’d rather have a day down Margate with all me Lewes family”

Honigkuchenpferd and all that business


Grantham Town v Frickley Atheltic…this wasn’t in the original plan.  If I could have followed that dream then I would have been recovering from Energie Cottbus v Dynamo Dresden, nursing a hangover and preparing for Hallescher versus Hansa Rostock along with Danny Last, Kenny Legg and The Real Stoffers.  Unfortunately work has got in the way recently and so I was swapping a “lively” atmosphere in the old East Germany for Lincolnshire.  Whilst Stoffers was sending me pictures of a heaving Erdgas Sportpark, I would be rattling around in the South Kesteven Sports Stadium with 200-odd other fans.

13647168185_be468d3211_bI could have been watching thousands of pissed-up German fans singing, chanting and waving stuff around in unison.  I could have been watching the Dresden fans trying to take on the finest German riot police.  I could have been wolfing down bockwurst, brautwurst, bierwurst and the odd knackwurst.  I could have been indulging in Hefeweizen, Helles and a cheeky Dunkle.  But who really wants that when, and I quote the oracle that is Wikipedia about Grantham:-

“Grantham has the country’s only ‘living’ public house sign: a beehive of South African bees situated outside since 1830″

Grantham is also notable for having the first female police officers in the United Kingdom, notably Edith Smith in 1914, and producing the first running diesel engine in 1892, and the UK’s first tractor in 1896.  Take that the EFW turncoats! I can see you seething with jealously from here.

But I am focusing on the positives.  I’m in the English sunshine, with Northern Steve enjoying a game at a new ground.  Yes, it may be an athletics stadium, and the crowd may be a bit on the thin side but I am doing what I love most, well almost.  And if I really am bitter and twisted about not being in Germany I can have a wander down Sankt Augustin Way, named after Grantham’s twin town in Germany and feel marginally better. Continue reading

South Shields FC


imagesContinuing our look at ex-Football League sides that simply faded into obscurity, we head up to the North East, home of David Milliband, the birthplace of Ridley Scott,  the legendary night club Glitterball and the mosque where the great Mohammed Ali had his wedding blessed.  Today, it is best known for being at the end of the Metro line, where many a pissed-up person has woken after a night out in Newcastle and having missed their stop.  The faded dignity of a once prosperous seaside resort are all too clear to see as you drive through the streets today, but it wasn’t always that way.

There had been various incarnations of a team in South Shields since 1889.  First was South Shields Athletic, then one with the unusual name of South Shields Adelaide formed in 1899 by Jack Inskip who took the team into the Northern League.  In 1913 the club applied for election to the Football League but received no votes.

Ten years later after a successful local campaign where they garnered the support of Newcastle United and Sunderland they were elected into the extended new second tier of English football, making their debut in August 1920 with a 1-0 defeat at Craven Cottage to Fulham.  Despite the proximity of Newcastle, Sunderland and Gateshead, who they had replaced in Division Two , the club often got five-figure crowds at their Horsley Hill ground.  They finished eighth in their first season, following it up with a sixth place finish the following season, their highest league position in their history.  Despite finishing in the top half of the table in the next six seasons, they finished bottom in 1928 and were relegated to the Third Division (North).  By this time the crowds, and investment, had started to desert the club.

They only lasted two seasons in the third tier before the club called it a day.  They had finished in an respectable seventh place in 1930 but the crushing realism was that football had moved on significantly in the ten years they had been in the Football League and were “absorbed” the following season by rivals Gateshead.  The stadium was finally converted into a greyhound track before making way for a housing estate in the 1970′s in an all-too familiar tale.

A new club were formed in 1936, thanks to the backing of the local newspaper but they never hit the heights of the Football League days and history repeated itself in 1974 when they relocated to Gateshead and became Gateshead United.  Today, the third iteration of the club are back in the Northern League.  However, for a glorious decade ninety years ago they stood on the brink of being the third team of a football-mad region.

The tournament that freedom forgot


Back in the late 1980’s Europe’s political landscape was changing.  The Eastern Bloc was crumbling. Football was one language whereby different political ideals could be set aside for 90 minutes.  That was unless you lived in the divided Germany at the time.  It is hard to imagine today when we look at Germany that it was still a country partitioned by a wall into the haves and the have-nots. No place on earth saw this divide more than Berlin where the wall completely cut off a section of the city, known as West Berlin, which was a West German isle surrounded by a sea of the Eastern Bloc, a capitalist island in a sea of communism. Football was being suffocated by the political situation.

Whilst the ageing, yet still impressive Olympiastadion, was still one of the biggest stadiums in the country, and its tenants Hertha Berlin were still able to cross the wall to compete in the Bundesliga, it was deemed a journey too far for the West German national side.  The team featuring the likes of Harald Schumacher, Andreas Brehme, Lothar Matthäus and captain Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had finished runners-up to Argentina in the 1986 World Cup Final in Mexico and would go onto win the trophy four years later.  This was a golden generation of West Germans, yet the West Berliners were denied the opportunity to see their national team play in the city for nearly four years from 1983 as the political situation took priority over the beautiful game.

During this period, West Germany had won the right to host the 1988 European Championships ahead of a joint Scandinavian bid from Norway, Sweden and Denmark and an expression of interest from England. However, political arguments kicked in from day one about the initial West German mutterings of hosting some of the games during the tournament in the Olympiastadion. The Eastern Bloc disagreed with the fact that West Berlin were part of the Federal Republic of Germany (despite Hertha Berlin’s participation in the Bundesliga and Oberliga) and concerns were expressed that should games be held there, the Eastern Bloc may withdraw their membership from UEFA.  Despite three games being played at the Olympiastadion in the 1974 FIFA World Cup, including East Germany versus Chile, it was now a footballing hot potato that the West German football federation, the DFB,  did not want to handle.

After significant political debate on both sides of the Berlin Wall, West Germany relented and agreed that the host venues would be Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Gelsenkirchen, Stuttgart, Cologne, Hanover and Düsseldorf. West Berlin would have to look over the wall with envious eyes.

However, DFB committee member Hermann Neuberger came up with a compromise that would placate most parties. The Berlin Four Nation Tournament was announced in late 1987 to take place prior to the European Championships, in West Berlin. Invites were sent to World Champions Argentina, European Championship favourites Soviet Union (and thus getting the Eastern Bloc onside), Sweden and West Germany. Whilst there had been calls for the participation of East Germany, many observers suggested that the Eastern Bloc didn’t want an embarrassing and politically sensitive situation of the two German sides meeting and playing with a political football.

The tournament was arranged over Easter weekend in the simplest format. Two semi-finals were played back to back in the Olympiastadion on 31 March 1988, with West Germany drawn against Sweden and the Soviets against Argentina. With a disappointing 23,700 fans in the stadium for the start of the tournament, West Germany took the lead when Olympique de Marsaille’s Klaus Allofs netted just before half time against the Swedes. Their lead was cancelled out in the 75th minute when Peter Truedsson equalised. As the stadium at the time had poor floodlight facilities at the time, there was little time scheduled between the two games and so extra time was scrapped and the tie went direct to penalties which saw the Swedes run out 4-2 winners after Lothar Matthäus and Rudi Völler missed their spot kicks.

Just thirty minutes after the end of the first semi-final, Argentina and Soviet Union kicked off the second semi-final. Despite having Diego Maradona in their starting eleven, Russia underlined their promise as potential European Champions by racing to a three-nil lead after just fifteen minutes thanks to goals from Zavarov, Prostasov and Lytovchenko. Prostasov added a fourth late in the game after Diego had scored from a freekick. The Soviet Union’s 4-2 victory meant that the final everyone wanted to see, a repeat of the 1986 World Cup Final, would be a mere warm up to the final two days later. Ironically, the official attendance for the second game is recorded as 1,300 more than the West German game earlier in the afternoon.

Once again the soccer-starved public of West Berlin hardly flocked to the Olympiastadion. Just over 25,000 saw the 3rd/4th play off game between West Germany and Argentina two days later which was decided by a single Matthäus goal, and unofficially considerably more than that stayed in their seats for the final between Sweden and the Soviets. Two second half goals from Hans Eskilsson and Hans Holmquist saw the tournament won by the Swedes with a huge sigh of relief from the organisers that the weekend had passed off without any political incidents, although disappointed at the lack of attendance for both games.

By the time the European Championships kicked off in June the competition was long forgotten.  West Berlin had to look on with envious eyes as the huge crowds flocked to the West German stadiums and saw a tournament that crackled with passion, drama and talent the like we had not seen before in the European Championships.  Both West Germany and Russia made the semi-finals, although the hosts were beaten by eventual winners Holland, inspired by Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard.

The concept of the Berlin tournament was never repeated, perhaps because of the fall of the Berlin Wall eighteen months later and the subsequent fall of the Eastern Bloc in the proceeding few years, although it could be said that various attempts to resurrect a similar competition were behind such tournaments as the Umbro Cup held in England in 1995 featuring England, Japan, Sweden and Brazil or the Tournoi de France featuring Brazil, Italy, England and the host nation in June 1997.  But for one bright moment in Spring 1988 it seemed that football might break the political divide between the East and West in Europe. Alas, it was not to be.

Lennon’s European dream – haven’t we heard it all before?


Celtic’s emphatic 5-1 victory at Partick Thistle on Wednesday night ensured an equally impressive 45th Scottish league title with seven games to spare.

Unrivalled in the league since Rangers’ dramatic decline three years ago, the green half of Glasgow has dominated the Scottish top flight and there seems little sign of that ending.

Yet not all is rosy north of the border. Neil Lennon’s job remains in doubt despite a third straight league title because of another disappointing UEFA Champions League outing that saw Celtic win just one of six group games.

Although Lennon insists his side is ready to compete on the continent, a strong feeling among fans remains that the manager is not up to the task – and with Celtic forced to make the group stages through two tricky qualifying rounds, there is a lot at stake this summer.

Continue reading