Into the Lions Den


photo 2 (3)Every year Dave Hartrick and I have the same conversation around Christmas time. “Stu – you going to stop travelling next year?” He would ask me and I would always reply with honesty, “that’s the plan…”. And then every year my travel boundaries are pushed wider, not always through choice…well, OK perhaps with a slight nudge in the work sense.

Copenhagen, Stockholm, Munich, Zürich, Paris. That’s been my regular monthly circuit over the past few years with an occasional stop in New York. Add in the occasional trip overseas with Mr Last et al and all of a sudden I’ve raked up more air miles than Judith Chalmers (kids – ask your Dad). But 2014 had started in line with my annual affirmation. Trips had been restricted to these shores. Was I happy? Of course (that’s one just in case CMF is reading).

But then gears shifted at work and all of a sudden I was being asked to visit new far-flung places for work. Nottingham, Worksop and Amsterdam didn’t really get me too excited but Gibraltar, Singapore, Hong Kong and China gave me the opportunity to travel somewhere new. Was there any football on in these places? The thought never crossed my mind, honestly. The fact that the trip to Hong Kong co-incided with the final round of games in their domestic league was pure luck, I’m sure you’d agree.

Last week I was in Gibraltar, watching one of the lowest supported leagues in the world. This week it was Singapore. Travelling 12 hours to the other side of the world wasn’t 100% fun but a stop in between in Dubai where I met up with Ben in the Emirates lounge helped dull the pain of life 40,000ft above the earth.

photo 3 (3)When I did my search for “Things to do in Singapore”, would you believe it that number two on the list after a trip to The Long Bar in Raffles Hotel was a trip to watch the Singapore Lions. The meant the football team, right? And not the big cats in the Singapore Night Safari? I mean who’d want to see that?

Football in Singapore is massive. Everyone you meet knows more about the Premier League than your average English fan and TV coverage is almost wall to wall. There are shops in the dozens of shopping malls on Orchard Road that are temples to football shirts (one shop Football@313 has over 500 different club/country shirts) and Saturday night prime time TV revolves around live games from the Premier League. Continue reading

Non-League Players and Their Aspirations


If you were to speak to any non-league footballer, you would quickly learn that their ultimate ambition would be to play at a much higher level. Some would be content just to become a fulltime professional at a club in say League 2 or 3 but most would admit they would love to be playing for a Premier League club.

PicThere have been many examples of non-league players that have managed this and there is certain to be more in the future. Most of these players were either deemed not good enough by the bigger clubs in the country at a younger age or have come into the game a bit later than the average footballer.

So it is up to these players to keep plugging away in the lower leagues in the hope that one day a bigger club will come knocking on the door. Hard work on the training ground will improve a players overall ability, hopefully enough for somebody to feel that they have what it takes to play in a league higher up against players who also have the ability to be playing where they are.

It can be tough but football is very similar to many other industries where in many cases you have to start from the bottom and consistently prove that you are able to move up.

One such comparison with this rise up the leagues would be with a low stakes poker player that is grinding away trying to increase his bankroll sufficiently enough so that he too can have a crack a bit higher up the ladder. The idea is to try and consistently beat the stakes that you are on, regularly proving that you are a better player than most that you play with before deciding to move on up.

It is about gradually working yourself up, improving your skills, strategies and mindset to be able to compete successfully at the higher levels. Most of the top poker players today have had to grind through the stakes. Yes some are more naturally talented and so have had an easier rise but anyone can achieve this rise if they are willing to put the hard work in and have the desire to be among the best in the world.

A players life and career is about ambition and just how far they want to go, many footballers fail, as do poker players and it is the drive that separates the great from the mediocre.

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