Dons down Caley to win their first silverware this century

Six weeks ago, The Daggers Diary team were fortunate enough to attend the semi final between Inverness and Hearts, while on a weekend trip to Edinburgh. As one of the more attention grabbing games that they had attended in a long while drew to a conclusion, they were offered tickets to the final if Inverness (down to nine players at this point) held on and won the tie.  Of course it was a no-brainer that they would go. 

1926863_10153907861090223_588616766_nAs we strolled back into the city centre with the game still very fresh in the memory, we wondered how we were going to break the news to Dan’s wife that we would be attempting to head to Glasgow for the final. Those twenty minutes or so were spent trying to come up with kind of story that would tug on the heart-strings, and at least allow Dan out of the house for a day trip to Scotland’s second city.

Unfortunately, the walk produced nothing of note, and so when we all met up, Dan just asked outright. Luckily, there was swift agreement, and so it is how we find ourselves on a flight up to Glasgow from Stansted on a bright sunny Sunday morning.

Our main concern was tickets. The average Inverness home gate isn’t huge, and so while we were assured by our contacts that tickets wouldn’t be a problem, I always like to be a bit on the cautious side. Dan though found a decent flight and so went ahead and booked it. Confirmation of the tickets came through a few days later, and now we were off to the 68th Scottish League Cup Final. Continue reading

New kids on the Rock

Three weeks ago the European footballing world officially welcomed its 54th member when Gibraltar were included in the draw for the 2016 European Championship qualifying.  Their journey for acceptance on the world footballing stage has been a tortuous one, filled with inconsistencies and back-stabbing that has dogged the governing bodies for years.  Despite not being “at war” or even military-ready against any other nation, it has taken longer for Gibraltar to be allowed to compete than the former Balkan states, Armenia-Azerbaijan, Russia and Georgia or even Greece and Turkey.  And that has been because one nation has disputed their authenticity to be considered an equal member.  One against fifty-two other nations – no brainer? Well, it would be in most circumstances but when that nation is the most successful footballing country of the last fifty years then the rules change.

13173336393_571287081d_bFormed in 1895 by British sailors, The Football Association of Gibraltar first applied to FIFA back in 1997 and despite not actually having a stadium capable of hosting an international game the Swiss big cheeses said a big Yes in 1999 and passed the manilla folder down the road to Nyon to UEFA.  Immediately Spain started to throw their castanets out of the pram.  Whilst the rest of Europe was moving to closer, forgiving not forgetting the conflicts of the past, Spain were creating a problem over a 2.3 square mile rock that they hadn’t owned for over 300 years ago.  It seemed that their lobbying worked as in 2001 UEFA changed its statutes so that only associations in a country “recognised by the United Nations as an independent State” could become members. On such grounds, UEFA denied the Gibraltar’s application.  Of course that ruling should have meant the immediate expulsion of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales but that never happened.  Whilst the rest of Europe started qualifying for the 2004 European Championships hosted by Portugal, Gibraltar consoled themselves with a trip to Guernsey to take part in the Island Games Tournament.

There was still a hope that FIFA would allow them to take part in qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.  Other British Overseas Territories such as Bermuda, British Virgin Islands and Anguilla were allowed to line up in the qualifying tournament but the invite to Gibraltar got lost in the post it seemed.  Instead of a shot at a trip to Bavaria to enjoy a month of football, Fräuleins and frikadellen, Gibraltar headed to the Shetland Islands for another shot at the Island Games title. Continue reading

Highland thing

Faced with the prospect of a trip to Exeter for the Daggers League Two match, the Daggers Diary team headed north of the border to see what is happening in the Highland League.

The Highland League is over one hundred years, but it is arguable that it faces one of its biggest challenges in the coming years. Following the re-organization of the professional game in Scotland, the Highland League (along with the newly created Lowland League) was going to become a feeder league to the SPFL. It was proposed that the winner of the two respective leagues would play off against each other, in order to provide the opposition in another play off against the team finishing bottom of the SPFL.

Founded in 1893 (at the working mans club in Inverness) there were originally seven clubs, although by the time the league celebrated its centenary, this had expanded to eighteen, which is the number maintained at the present time.

100_7650However, in a new year address posted on their clubs website, one Highland League club chairman explained that their view was that any club winning promotion in this manner should have their finances checked to see if they could cope with the monetary pressures of promotion to the SPFL. He also expressed concerns about the potential fall out of any club not being able to continue in the division.

I can see what he means. In England, we have had Chester City and Rushden & Diamonds go out of business in recent years having occupied a Football League in the none too distance past. However, I am not sure that their demise was directly linked to chasing promotion or staying in the league. From what I can remember, it was more than just that. No one wants to see a club go out of business, less so one that has started to play in that country’s top leagues.

Which is all well and good, but surely the point of any sport is to be able to test yourself at a higher level? A (pre-emptive?) counter argument was posted by Niall Slater back in June 2013 on the Two Unfortunates website, in which he argues that the powers that be in the lower echelons of Scottish football are completely disinterested in footballing merit, and are wholly focused on maintaining self-preservation. Continue reading

Falling in love with you

Six years ago I was a happy Hammer. Happy because I didn’t know what the joy was in watching football without Big Brother(s) watching over me, telling me when to sit, stand, shout and be quiet.  My epiphany came when I started going to watch Non-League football on a regular basis.  One of the first games in my “new life “was at Grays Athletic at Their New Recreation Ground against Canvey Island (how life has changed for all partied involved!).

During the next few seasons I started going more regularly to Non-League games, discovering new places that were almost on my doorstep.  Once I chose a Forest Green Rovers versus Oxford United over West Ham v Fulham I knew I was on a slippery slope.

397502_10152258011760853_1378592530_nMy first game at the Dripping Pan was a Conference Premier game against today’s visitors Grays Athletic.  It was the club’s one and only season in the highest level of Non-League football.  If ever there was a club that were a fish out of water, then it was Lewes during the 2008/09 season.  Just six wins and six draws all season, including just seven points taken on their travels the team were relegated by Easter.  Speaking to those who experienced the whole season tell the tale of not only the club being out of their depth but also of the joyless environment of playing at this level.  The club had to implement segregation, stop people drinking on the terraces and even have a sponsors board to facilitate live interviews post match.  Anyone who has visited the Pan since knows that is not how we do things.

Last year I was asked to contribute to a book – the task being to write “How I fell in love with my club” in less than 3,000 words.  I didn’t choose West Ham, the club I had supported for the best part of thirty years of my life.  I chose Lewes.  Last week the book was finally published by Ockley Books and not only features a chapter on Lewes, but similar ones on Weymouth, Tooting and Mitcham and the 1990 Cameroon World Cup Squad.  What the book tells me is that I am not alone in upgrading my footballing pleasure.

Lewes v Essex 2014Today the club is very happy playing two levels below the Conference Premier.  Crowds are increasing, bar takings are up and the football is making people smile once again.  Our ambition is to play at a higher level but as a board we will always make sure every step is a sustainable and financially viable. Today we welcomed Grays Athletic, a club who had endured a similar annus decadus.  Whilst Lewes’s free fall had been almost terminal, we always had the parachute of our ground.  Grays haven’t had that luxury and have endured somewhat of a nomadic existence since the heady days of finishing third in the Conference Premier and back to back FA Trophy wins.  Their Recreation Ground was sold to developers in 2010 and since they have ground shared with East Thurrock, West Ham reserves and now Aveley.

It had only been ten days since we last faced Grays, losing 4-2 in an entertaining game at Mill Field.  Since then both sides had played two league games, winning them both as too had Lewes.  Two weeks ago both sides would have put the file “Play Off Chances” in the filing cabinet but with games in hand over those above both sides who knows what could happen, especially as the respective home form has been so strong. Continue reading

Moore than just a footballer

559881_557443577622196_396737540_nLast year marked the twentieth anniversary of the death of Bobby Moore. The date was marked with numerous events and presentation across the footballing landscape, especially in the East End. I never saw Bobby play in the flesh, but I have heard enough stories of his playing career from my Dad and brother to know that he was a special player. It is all too often in life that we only really remember the contribution of someone to our lives when they are taken from us.

Bobby Moore epitomised the image of West Ham during the 1960′s and early 1970′s.  Few footballers back then lived their life on the front pages of the newspapers like today, and the standard of behaviour (George Best aside) was that of a group of people who saw playing football as a privilege rather than a right.  Moore made 544 appearances for the Hammers before he moved onto Fulham.  He became the first man at the club to ever lift a trophy, when West Ham won the 1964 FA Cup final, and then just a year later leading the Hammers to a famous European Cup Winners Cup victory at Wembley.  Of course, he was also responsible for winning the World Cup twelve months later.

Despite playing a further 150 games in his career he remained a Hammer.  Few will know that he actually ended his career playing in Denmark, for Herning Fremand before he ventured into an unsuccessful career in management at Oxford City and Southend United. Continue reading

The bigger they come, the harder they fall

In terms of great days, few can beat the combination of beautiful sunshine, a win against the league leaders and winning some money out of the blue.  Oh, and a choice of 20 different guest ales.  So perhaps I should have simply called it a day at 5.30pm on Saturday in terms of supporting Lewes.  But football just keeps sucking you back doesn’t it?  So here I am, pint in hand watching us take on Maidstone United, currently second place in the Ryman Premier League on a chilly Tuesday evening.

Thanks to the weather it is Saturday-Tuesday for Lewes until the end of the season, with nearly twice as many games still to play at home than away. Only Wealdstone have lost fewer games than Lewes this season, leaving us to think about the “what-ifs” from earlier in the season when we drew games we could have won (other the other hand we were drawing games than last season we would have lost). The re-arranged fixtures meant that the top four teams in the Ryman Premier League had to visit The Pan in the space of four weeks in March. Dulwich Hamlet opened the festivities on Saturday with Maidstone United following quickly behind.

1380099_10152275799706240_720740824_nToday had been another good day even before I reached the Lansdowne for the pre-match warm up. Being Pancake Day I headed up to Borough Market in my lunch hour to see if I could grab a sweet treat. As I walked around the market I saw a familiar face albeit one that was a lot thinner than usual. Television is supposed to make people look fatter but Man versus Food’s Adam Richmann looked as if he had shed his twin brother. Thanks to Luge Pravda’s eagle-eyed twitter search he had discovered Richmann was in town to do some pancake judging and lo-and-behold he just happened to be standing next to me.

Richmann is a big Spurs fan, although he admitted he had always had a soft-spot for the Hammers. “Oh, my God. Frankie McAvennie. Now he was the Brad Pitt of the 1980′s. I loved his Capri Sport”. A few tourists came up and WE, yes WE posed for photos. As I walked away someone even asked me who WE were. Of course five minutes later when my mobile rang and I had to field another question about DPML exceptions (one for the real techies) I was brought back to earth with an almighty bump.  Head down, work finished, it was finally time for some football. Continue reading

Guaranteed a Kick-in

“The only thing that will redeem mankind is co-operation” – Bertrand Russell

Back in December 2009, Arsene Wenger, a man seen by many as a guardian of football purity,  came out with the ridiculous idea of replacing throw-ins with kick-ins.  When asked for his thoughts on how the game could be improved, he came up with the idea of abolishing throw-ins. In no other part of play are outfield footballers allowed to handle the ball, he argued, and using kick-ins as a way of restarting would be quicker and more logical.  Unsurprisingly, his idea was derided with many “experts” suggesting that it would make the game worse, rather than better.  But few will remember the summer of 1994 when this rule change was actually made reality for a short time.

l4855643On Saturday 5th March 1994, twenty years ago today,  at FIFA Headquarters, the policy makers of the beautiful game met to discuss a number of tweaks to the laws of the game.  Many will not know that it is not FIFA alone who make up the ridiculous laws, but actually the International Football Association Board, which is made up of representatives from the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish Football Associations as well as FIFA, so we cannot always blame Sepp for some of the more bizarre rules. Item number 6 on the game, proposed by FIFA was “Experiments with the Laws of the Game”.  A very ominous sounding item indeed.

In that graveyard shift after a heavy lunch of Rosti they revealed their plans to revolutionise our beautiful game.  First up was the agreement that the Golden Goal would be used in the forthcoming FIFA World Cup in the USA.  And then came the radical idea to replace the throw-in with the kick-in.  You can imagine the scene around the table as the rest of the room picked their jaws up off the floor and sniffed the water to see if it had been swapped with vodka. Continue reading