A love of Tembling Madness


downloadI’m showing my age by sharing a joke from my adolescent years that is tenuously connected to this year’s annual Northern Capricorn adventure.

“What’s the difference between Joan Collins and a KitKat?”

Answers on a postcard to the usual address and if you don’t know who Joan is, have a look in your Dad’s shed in his collection of video tapes in those fake book covers for The Bitch or The Stud. If you need to Google what a video is then give up now. As a hint, KitKat has either two or four fingers of chocolate-covered wafer.

After the excitement of Hucknall Town, Sheffield, Farsley and Jarrow Roofing Borough in recent years, Northern Steve and I had gone all upmarket for our trip this year, dipping our toe into the Football League with a visit to York City. It’s been over 20 years since I’d last visited Bootham Crescent, in which time the Minstermen had been taken over by a mad American chap who seemed to think he’d bought an American football team and tried to rename them York City Soccer Club, almost gone to the wall, been relegated from the Football League, almost gone bankrupt again, renamed their ground after a chocolate bar, played at Wembley and lost, played at Wembley and won the FA Trophy, bounced back in the words of Alan Partridge and finally regained their place in the Football League.

Memories of York City? Has to be Keith Houchen’s goal in the mid-Eighties to beat Arsenal in the FA Cup. Back then Arsenal were a poor side, frightened by the looming presence of the opposition’s goal and constantly moaning that their artistic flare was being stifled by brutish tactics from the opposition. So nothing’s really changed.

16302323235_8ed47d705a_kThese days York is a trendy weekend break city for tourists (shameless plug for our new non-football website). Quaint lanes lined with Ye Olde Worlde-type shops rub shoulders with some superb pubs, whilst the traditional industries of the city, railways and chocolate, are honoured with respectful museums. The city is watched over by the Minster, making sure all those boys and girls on their nights out behave themselves.

Our annual January trips follow a similar pattern. We deposit the Current Mrs Fuller and Sister of CMF at a ‘classy’ bar in the city centre (by SoCMF standards, classy means they wash the unused cherries they put in drinks before re-using them), pop along to the nearest Step 7 or below football match, return to hotel where the girls will have tried, but miserably failed to do the whole minibar (it’s always the rum that does them in). A slap up meal somewhere before we end up in a nightclub that plays Now That’s What I Call a Music 13 on a loop whilst Cyndi Lauper impersonators mime out of time on a vomit streaked dance floor. Harsh? That’s what an afternoon in South Shields can do to a rational man.

16301470792_14048c50ce_hBut York was going to be different. We, well CMF and SoCMF had family in York. Aunt, an Uncle and cousins who love nothing better than trying to take the piss out if our southern ways, accents and mannerisms whilst looking jealously at how we could use a knife and fork. Of course they’d be joining us in our Saturday night out – who in their right mind could refuse that opportunity although they were less than eager to join Steve and I at Bootham Crescent. Dave (Uncle) even went as far as saying he was going to see Grimsby Town v Barnet. As if anyone would believe that?

This was also likely to be my last trip to Bootham Crescent as the wheels now appeared to be back on the new stadium bandwagon after 10 years of delays. The new stadium at Monks Cross would be a similar design to Princes Park in Dartford but with a 12 foot Viking instead of the Wooden Man I assume. Planning permission for an 8,000 capacity ground was submitted late in 2014. Whether the notorious Jorvik Reds would be welcome is another question after a spat with the club a few years ago.

16300532721_765221ee86_kYork has a fair few decent pubs including a Ossett Brewery outpost and possibly the best named pub in England, The House of Trembling Madness and England’s most haunted pub, the Golden Fleece where ghostly apparitions still happen on a nightly basis, especially after ten pints of old Wallop. With a few hearty lunchtime Yorkshire ales inside us, we headed along to Bootham Crescent, ready to watch some Viking fire. And drink beef-flavored hot drinks.

York City 0 Stevenage 2 – Bootham Crescent – Saturday 17th January 2015
16302340645_9aeb09bc97_kUnless they were completely blinded by the low winter sun, there could be few York fans who wont begrudge the visitors all three points.  As a few Stevenage fans started a conga at the far end, the York fans put their heads down and walked out into the night, shaking their heads about another performance where they simply weren’t at the races.  Two superb shots, one that found the cross-bar and was then followed in, and another that flew into the top corner saw Stevenage’s fine recent run continue as the home team fell a few steps further down the ladder towards the Conference Premier.  York’s manager, Russ Wilcox summed up the mood in his post match interview:-

“Not good enough, that’s the bottom line really. I feel for the supporters. The last two home performances have been outstanding, but today we just didn’t perform.  The lack of quality today was eye-catching – we just looked lost and it was a really bad day”

Despite being fairly well matched in terms of possession and early chances, Stevenage just seemed to want to win more than the home side.  I’d taken the opportunity to grab a Bovril when the crowds “oooh’d” in the 39th minute as Charlie Lee’s superb volley hit the bar.  Adam Marriott looked to be in an offside position when he headed the rebound home, but there was no doubt in the officials mind.

16116492777_75638e0d6a_oThe York fans tried to raise a pulse from the team with the beat of their drums early in the second half.  Three quick corners produced some scary moments in the Stevenage box but then Stevenage re-asserted themselves in the game and wrapped up the points when Tom Pett, playing for Wealdstone in the Ryman Premier League this time last season, struck a peach of a shot into the top corner in the 64th minute to wrap up the three points with the only attacking chance from York coming in the 85th minute when Morris’s shot was somehow kept out by the keeper and a post.

Whilst none of the York fans will want to return to the bizarre days of Soccer City or the dark days of Conference football, they probably do want to be playing League Two football as and when they move to their new stadium. For now there was the bitterness of defeat but as the fans filed into the fantastic pubs in the city centre, the beer would soon soothe all of those pains.  It is only a game after all.

Seagulls brought down to earth by busy Boro


This week has once again seen the cost of watching the beautiful game hit the headlines with the release of the BBC’s annual cost of watching football survey.  Like last year (and the years before that) the results of the survey simply proved a platform of out-of-touch politicians to bleat about how unfair it was on the average fan and their family whilst not actually having the balls to do something about it.  Football clubs on the most part hid in a corner, not prepared to justify the true reasons behind the rise in the whole matchday experience.

The situation wasn’t helped by the comments of rent-a-gob Robbie Savage who added fuel to the flames by saying that “To be completely honest, during my 20-year playing career, I never once thought about how much it was costing fans to go to game”.  Why did he think that would be a good thing to say?  Why not just keep his mouth shut.  Comments like this just make him look even more out of touch.  His frequent responses on Radio5Live’s 606 to fans phoning in of “have you played the game?” to try and put down people’s valid opinions have simply added to the irritant factor that he developed as a player.  In all of the years I have been watching football I have never found anyone who has a good word about Savage.

The main reaction to the results for the English clubs was to compare it to watching football in Europe.  The BBC somehow managed to concoct a figure that 1,000 (an amazingly exact figure) watch Borussia Dortmund at every home game.  How on earth do they know that?  Having been a relatively regular visitor to the Bundesliga, you rarely hear an English voice.  With demand for Dortmund and Bayern Munich far outstripping supply, where these 1,000 tickets come from is still a mystery. Likewise, the mythical sub £100 season tickets are on available to those on a long waiting list.  Of course there are some English-based fans who do own season tickets with overseas clubs and make frequent trips overseas, but these are in the minority.

Arsenal came out of the survey poorly, once again, with their cheapest season ticket the most expensive in British football three-times more expensive than Premier League Champions Manchester City.  In their AGM, held just 24 hours after the result of the survey were released, the club tried to justify that paying over £1,000 for a season ticket or £97 for a seat was value for money.  After all, they did beat Wigan Athletic and Hull City in the FA Cup last season.  According to the survey, you can buy a ticket for West Ham for £20.  That is correct.  For the Leicester City game only.  For seven other games in the Premier League this season that same seat would cost between £50 and £60.

Nowadays my viewing pleasure is almost exclusively restricted to the Non-League game…and European matches.  But today I would be making a rare excursion in the SkyBet Championship.  According to the survey, a trip to watch Brighton & Hove Albion is the most expensive in the whole Football League, and five pounds more than a trip to Upton Park.  Exactly. That’s why some of the results of the survey cannot be taken on face value, a comment echoed in the match day programme by CEO Paul Barber.  What you cannot fault The Seagulls for though is the imagination they put into their match day catering.  For this game we had the choice of a Sausage with Cheezy Beans Pie and a pint of Hobgoblin.  Take that Pukka and Fosters!

IMG_3534Every couple of weeks I drive past the monument to the Seagulls on my way to The Dripping Pan. The Amex is one of the best new stadiums built in this country in the last fifty years.  A bold statement but one backed up by the views of the fans who flock there every two weeks. In the first season the “sold out” signs were a frequent occurance leading to the club increasing the capacity by adding an additional tier on the East Stand leading to the club having the highest average attendance in the Championship for the last two years.  Part of the reason for the growth has been the expectations set on the pitch – two consecutive appearances in the Play-offs have been bitter-sweet rewards for the fans who have experienced the pain of defeat and the subsequent loss of their manager.

The club will have looked on enviously as Leicester City, Burnley, Hull City and especially bitter rivals Crystal Palace move up into the land of milk and honey.  With the new TV deal in place for the lucky twenty clubs in the Premier League, The Seagulls acted quickly in the summer to bring in a manager with top league experience, recruiting ex-Bayer Leverkusen manager Sami Hyypiä.  Results haven’t so far been stellar, with four draws in their eleven league games so far.  Depending on how you look at results, they came into the game against Middlesbrough on a five game unbeaten run, including a win in the League Cup that has taken them into the last sixteen and a game against Spurs, or they had only won once in the last eight.  Football, eh!

The visitors also had their eye on the Premier League, having endured the last six seasons in the Championship and dispensed with the services of club legend Tony Mowbray last year, replacing him with Spaniard Aitor Karanka.  So far, so good this season as Boro’ arrived in East Sussex just one point of top spot.  Had a score draw written all over it.

Brighton & Hove Albion 1 Middlesbrough 2- The Amex – Saturday 18th October 2014
Despite the late, last-gasp rally by The Seagulls they were clearly the second best team on display at The Amex despite what the stats say.  Brighton had 62% of the possession and sixteen shots on target yet it Boro’ keeper Konstantopoulos hardly got his gloves dirty as the the visitors defence held firm and threw themselves at everything heading their way.

The visitors, starting the game with just one up front, could have possibly been down to ten men in the first fifteen seconds when George Friend’s “welcome” to Brighton’s Teixeira was late and high.  Ref Andy D’Urso (remember him?  The stress of refereeing has turned him grey) elected not to play the advantage despite Teixeira’s pass having sent one of his colleagues free on goal.  D’Urso adopted the “well, it’s early in the game” rule meaning Friend escaped any censorship at all.  Fifteen minutes he finally went in the book after another “robust” challenge.  Teixeira would only go on to last half an hour.

The visitors took the lead in the 7th minute when a well-worked move saw Tomlin sweep the ball high into the Seagulls net after Brighton had failed to clear any danger.  Whilst Albion huffed and puffed around the edge of the box they lacked the cutting edge that put the Boro goal under pressure.  The half-time break couldn’t have come quick enough for Hyypiä, nor by the look of the queue for beer on the concourse the vast majority of the Seagulls fans.DCIM100GOPROHyypiä made a change at half-time and for the first few minutes they played with some pace, but then in the 52nd minute they were undonw by a Middlesbrough counter-attack and when the ball was played into the danger area Adomah reacted quickest.  Although his first effort was well saved down at the near post, he Boro’ forward was on hand to squeeze the rebound home from a tight angle.  Two-nil and it appeared game over.

With just ten points separating the promotion from relegation positions in the Championship, teams can move up and down the table quickly and the in-play score saw Middlesbrough heading to the summit whilst Brighton headed towards the League One trap door.  Some fans around us high in the West Stand started to vent their frustration and headed for the exits…although in truth they were really going to the bar and would watch the rest of the game on the TV screens.  There’s almost 3/4th of the season to play for – plenty of time for things to go right (or wrong).

A late spell of pressure on the Boro’ goal resulted in Greer heading home after a spell of aerial pinball to give Albion hope but even with five added minutes to play they never really looked, or in truth, deserved an equaliser against a very well marshalled Middlesbrough team.

To relate back to the BBC survey – had we had value for money?  Absolutely.  Whilst the cold, hard stats suggest The Amex is not the cheapest place to visit, it certainly is one of the best in the Football League and certainly a favourite among away fans, especially when they don’t have to work too hard to come away with three points.

F in Fulham


“Let’s all laugh at Fulham” was one song I thought I’d never hear in England (apart from at Loftus Road) but it seems that the Cottagers are quickly becoming the butt of jokes due to the going’s on at Craven Cottage.  Our roving reporter, Mike Miles, took the short trip to West London last week to see what was going on.

Fulham 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 – Craven Cottage – Saturday 20th August 2014
Craven Cottage is only a 40-minute walk alongside the Thames from my Chiswick home, and for that reason alone has long been one of my favourite grounds to visit. Fulham were the last team to have standing accommodation in the Premier League, as Craven Cottage included terraces as late as the 2001/02 season-eight years after the Taylor Report outlawed terraces at that level. I have a fond memory of seeing Freddie Kanoute score a winner for West Ham whilst standing at the Putney End.

8431476952_3bbe5b4b42_zAs with terracing, the statue of Michael Jackson, like its subject, is alas no longer with us. The original Craven Cottage site was covered in woodlands, and allegedly, one plane tree survives today in a corner of the Putney End, the sole tree to be found in any senior British senior football stadium. Not the least of Craven Cottage’s continuing charms is the Johnny Haynes Stand. This wonderful structure is the oldest remaining football stand in the Football League, originally built in 1905 , designed by Archibald Leitch,  and is even a Grade 11 listed building. It even features the original wooden seating. You may not be as comfortable as in say The Emirates, but you are sitting on history.

Alas the current team show no signs of matching their historical surroundings. Pointless and ponderous, this is not how the season was meant to begin for Fulham. The club that slipped out of the Premier League in May are now joint bottom of the Championship after three matches, the latest defeat inflicted by an accomplished Wolves side who secured victory thanks to Bakary Sako’s early effort.

A penny for the thoughts of Shahid Khan the Fulham owner who was making one of his infrequent visits to the Cottage. It has been a summer of upheaval at the Cottage – skipper Scott Parker was the only player to start here who featured on the day Fulham were relegated at Stoke – and the results so far have been disappointing. £11 million was spent on Ross McCormack, but he was a pale imitation of the striker who had scored 29 goals for Leeds United last season.

There were some glimpses of quality but the new players and many youngsters have yet to gel. This division is no place for rookies to learn their game. In the end, Sako’s goal was enough but Fulham were in more danger of conceding again than scoring an equaliser, surviving a late penalty miss from Sako who hit the post in injury time.

Predictable cries of “Felix Out” (Fulham fans are a very polite lot) greeted the final whistle. And though I would willingly make that 40-minute walk to the Cottage again, I have a feeling it will be to see a Fulham team playing under yet another manager. Since Roy Hodgson took the Cottagers to the Europa Cup Final in 2010 they have had four managers, including three in 2013/14 alone, and the cumulative effect of all this chopping and changing was relegation to the Championship. Based on tonight’s abject performance they could be taking a similar downward trajectory to that once experienced by tonight’s visitors.

All is wet on New Year’s Day


New Year’s Day was supposed to be a day of celebration.  Since the fixtures were released back in July we had been looking forward at welcoming Maidstone United at The Dripping Pan today.  With an expected four figure crowd, a special bumper edition matchday programme written and enough organic burgers to feed at least a dozen people we were ready to put on a show.  On Saturday our pitch team battled against the elements to get our game versus East Thurrock United on and we all did a collective sigh of relief when the final whistle blew and over 650 fans applauded the efforts of those who had not only performed but had got the game on.

photoAlas, the forecast for the days before the New Year was poor, and so it was.  We put “Pitch Watch” in place via Twitter, with images of the ground posted regularly to give us all hope.  Alas, the torrential rain on New Year’s Eve meant that the standing water on the pitch wasn’t to the referees liking and with a very heavy heart our game was cancelled.  The cost to us?  Thousands of pounds.  Instead of welcoming a crowd of 1,200, we will be lucky to get 400 when the game is squeezed into a midweek slot in February.  Gate receipts will be down by £8,000.  Programme sales down.  Catering down. Bar takings down.  Yet our costs don’t change.  Players still need to be paid this week, utilities have to be paid, printers still want their invoices paying.

We weren’t alone.  In fact every game in the Isthmian Premier fell by the wayside, and only one game in the Conference South made it to 3pm.  But with a “free game pass” I had little options as to where to go.

I was literally driving around Essex and Cambridgeshire looking for a game to go to as my options reduced.  I had one last chance.  Dagenham & Redbridge.  Despite the appalling weather, it looked like the game at Victoria Road, or the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Stadium to give it its catchy shorter name was on, so headed down the A13 to meet up with the Daggers Diary team for the first game of what promises to be a great year of football. Continue reading

Daggers leave it late against the Shrimpers


The Daggers Diary team take the long road up to Morecambe to see whether their promising start to the season could continue.

Last weekend’s win over Bristol Rovers at Victoria Road was a first win in five league games for us. Granted, there had been three 1-1 draws in that run, but also a 3-0 defeat at Mansfield which was described as “not the best day out we’ve ever had” by those that attended. The defeat at the Conference champions was swiftly followed by a home tie in the JPT against Colchester.

Going one down just before half time had us facing up to another early exit from a cup competition, but a second half recovery, aided by a much better performance and a red card for former Dagger Magnus Okuonghae produced four goals without reply to earn a second round trip to Southend United.

Exeter City then provided tougher opposition a few days later. While the performance was good, the wasting of so many chances when we were on top meant that we never capitalised on our one goal lead, and in the end, were grateful to hang on to a point, as the visitors scored their first away goal of the season, and threatened to follow it up with a second.

It was a similar story last Saturday against Rovers. Once again, we scored first, and were playing quite well, but gradually it levelled out and soon we were under the cosh. When Brian Saah was penalised for handball inside the area, the feeling of deja-vu was the overriding emotion as the ball was placed on the spot. Matt Harold’s spot kick though was well saved by Chris Lewington, and despite a few more nervy moments, the game was settled by a second Daggers goal to produce that first win since York City visited in mid-August.

morecambe 1The new style of play is winning a few people round, although this is certainly not being reflected in attendances. For the last few years, we could take some small comfort in the fact that we were at least getting more people than Accrington. Last week’s gate of 1,423 was the lowest for some time, but follows a trend that started last season. In a week when Leyton Orient’s request for a review of the decision to allow West Ham to take up tenancy in the Olympic Stadium was refused (and with it, the possibility of cheap tickets flooding the area), it’s slightly worrying to see so many empty gaps appearing at home games. There are some deals on to get more people into places like the Boleyn Ground at the moment (the league cup tie on Tuesday against Cardiff is £15 for anywhere in the ground), but will this take floating fans away from clubs like ourselves and Orient? Mostly, ourselves and Orient are at home when West Ham are away, so it could be argued that they are not denying either of us supporters. However, I would suggest that perhaps the pricing structure at the lower level is turning people away. Continue reading

City go to Town in a real Away from Home


The Daggers Diary team head up the M1 to see what is going on at Northampton when Coventry are at “home”.

When it was announced during the summer that Coventry would be playing home games at Northampton, it was almost a given that we would try to attend. As the fixtures had already been announced, many of the games would be played on a Sunday, which also meant that it wouldn’t clash with our Daggers fixtures.

Of course, we waited to see what kind of attendance would be at the first game against Bristol City, before we could gauge what kind of crowds the club would be attracting, but the two thousand or so that paid to go in meant that we wouldn’t have too much trouble getting tickets.

1184954_10153209388545223_1887317190_nThere is though, a moral issue to be confronted about this. From an outsiders point of view, the whole thing is a minefield of opinion, what’s correct and what isn’t. From what I can understand of the whole issue, the point is that the owners of the club, SISU, won’t pay the rent on the Ricoh Arena, which is owned by a separate company, and it is this that has precipitated the move from the city of Coventry. There have also been two periods of administration, and you then have a club that has been in a right old mess in the last ten years.

It was late in the day that the Football League sanctioned the move but, and I may be wrong here, but does this have some of the hallmarks of when Wimbledon were allowed to move to Milton Keynes? I know that there is an agreement in place whereby the club have to be back in Coventry in three years time, but is there any chance that this will happen? Allowing a club to move out of the place that it represents is never a good move. It took Charlton six years to get back to their home town, Brighton took a couple of years (at Gillingham) to get back home, eventually pitching up at the Withdean and Rotherham spent some time at the soon to be demolished Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield before eventually getting back to town, just a few hundred yards along to road from the their original home. Continue reading