The FA Trophy starts to get serious


The Buildbase FA Trophy will enter its third round qualifying stage later this month, with the draw made at Wembley on Monday morning. There will be a total of 40 ties at the next stage, with games scheduled to take place on Saturday 23rd November 2019.

While Chester FC may not have an FA Cup draw to look forward to this evening like some non-league sides, they do have the not so small matter of the FA Trophy to look forward to. Chester joined the draw today at the third qualifying round stage, which is regionalised, and were handed a tough assignment away at fellow National League North side Brackley Town after the draw was made at Wembley HQ at 1 pm.

The tie will be played at St James Park on Saturday, November 23 and will be Chester’s second visit to Northamptonshire in the space of a month after the two sides played out a 1-1 draw in the league on November 2.

Chester managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley are keen to do well in the Trophy this year. It’s also true that today’s manager has seen his authority weaken to the point of not really being able to wield influence in some cases. Unfortunately, an early exit means blank weekends and a run in the competition can generate some welcome funds. With the bosses keen to keep their whole squad sharp for when the National League North season really kicks in, they view the Trophy as an excellent way to keep up the momentum.

So, regarding Chester FC’s upcoming match against Gateshead, the Blues are odds-on favourite for this match. Gateshead goes as a clear outsider in the game and we have absolutely no doubt about who will win this at the end of the match. So we think there´s no reason to cover this bet with a possible draw.

With games scheduled to take place on Saturday 23 November 2019, winning clubs at this stage will pick up £3750 from the competition’s prize fund, while the losing clubs will take home £1250.

The strange case of the Saarland National Football Team


The who many of you will probably say. Indeed up until a few months ago I would have been in that group that would have struggled to place the region on a map of Europe. But thanks to the day job I’ve become quite familiar with the South-Westish corner of Germany and the Federal State capital, Saarbrücken. Saarland is the smallest non-city state in Germany and from a footballing point of view has lacked a top flight team for some years. FC Saarbrücken were actually invited to take part in the inaugural Bundesliga (hence why today they can use the “1” before their name) with some controversy as they weren’t seen as one of the better sides or having the historical success that other sides in the region had.

In that first season they finished bottom and were relegated, and bar a two year spell forty years ago, have been yo-yoing between the lower tiers ever since. Today they play in the fourth tier of German football, the Regionalliga SüdWest.

But go back further into the history books and you find a story that is as confusing as it is bizarre in today’s current climate.

Due to the post-war partition of East and West Germany, Saarland was separated and handed to the French to administer.

The Saarländischer Fußballbund (SFB) was founded on 25 July 1948 in Sulzbach and a new league structure was created under the name of the Ehrenliga (rough translation – The Honour League) with clubs taking part from across the region. That was except FC Saarbrücken who accepted an invitation to join Ligue 2 in 1948. The club won the league at a canter (playing under the name of FC Sarrebruck). In order to compete in the top flight they needed to become members of the French Football Federation and were put forward for election than none other than Jules Rimet. But the other clubs were having none of it and voted overwhelmingly not to accept them.

Without a league to play in and not fancying the Ehrenliga they thought outside of the box and arranged a tournament where some of the best sides in Europe were invited to play in a knockout tournament in the 1949-50 season known as the Internationalet Saarland Pokel. Unsurprisingly, the home side won the inaugural tournament, beating Stade Rennais 4-0 in the final.

They followed that win with high-profile friendliest with the likes of Liverpool (won 4-1), Real Madrid (won 4-0) and a Catalan XI (won).

The tournament only ran for another season but three years later the European Cup was born. Whilst the in were now back playing in the German football pyramid, Saarland was still considered a separate state (more of that in a minute) and campaigned UEFA to be given one of the 16 places in the first ever European Cup. Friends in high places perhaps had the final say and FC Saarbrücken were included. Their campaign was short-lived as they lost 7-5 on aggregate to AC Milan.

One reason why Saarland had been able to get a place in the tournament was down to them being officially recognised as a nation by FIFA. After that vote by the French Football Federation to decline their membership back in 1949, they struck up the idea of applying direct to FIFA to be a member of the world footballing family and surprisingly their application was accepted in June 1950. The twist here was that at the time neither East or West Germany Football Associations were recognised by the world’s footballing governing body.

Their first game was played in Saarbrücken in November 1950 when they beat Switzerland 4-2. They played a handful of games in the next couple years but their crowning glory was their involvement in the qualification for the 1954 FIFA World Cup to be played in Switzerland. Irony (or warm balls?) saw them drown in the same group as West Germany and Norway, with only the group winner progressing to the final tournament.

In the first group match they travelled to Oslo to face the Norwegians and took all two points (as it was back then) coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2. Their positivity was then dampened by a 3-0 defeat in Stuttgart to West Germany and a goal-less draw back in Saarbrücken to the Norwegians. But as there was only two points for a win, West Germany’s 5-1 victory over Norway didn’t secure them the top spot but instead set up a win or bust game between Saarland and the Germans in Saarbrücken.

The watching world were forced to wait for the long footballing winter break to finish before in March 1954 they faced each other. A win would have made Saarland possibly the most unlikely World Cup qualifier ever but it was not to be. West Germany won 3-1, progressed to the tournament in Switzerland and four months later won the World Cup for the first time, beating Hungary 3-2 in what became known as the Miracle of Bern.

Saarland continued to play games, mainly against B-sides or willing nations although their didn’t fare too well, losing heavily to Uruguay, Yugoslavia, France and Portugal in their next few games. In October 1955 they beat France 7-5 in the Ludwigparkstadion in Saarbrücken in what was to be their final victory and in June 1956 played their final ever game as a Nation, losing 3-2 to the Netherlands in front of 65,000 in the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam. Their final record as a FIFA member was: –

P 19 W 6 D 3 L 10 GS 36 GA 54

Saarland held a referendum in 1955 as to wether it should rejoin the Federal Republic of Germany or become an independent state under the guidance of a European Commissioner. Over 97% of those eligible to vote did so with 2/3rds rejecting the independent state option and thus starting the wheels in motion for Saarland to once again become a State within the Federal Republic. The date set for that transition was 1st January 1957 meaning that Saarland withdrew from FIFA prior to Christmas in 1956 and became part of the DFB where they remain to this day.

Head coach Helmut Schön went on to manage the West German National side and oversaw their 1966 and 1974 FIFA World Cup campaigns, becoming the first ever international coach to have held the UEFA European Championships and FIFA World Cup honours. He went on to be awarded one of the first FIFA Orders of Merit in 1984.

Saarland’s sojourn into International football may have been brief but the impact lasted for decades. They are one of only three national sides (East Germany and South Yemen being the others) where their FIFA membership and international record hasn’t been merged into the new national state.

Sutton United’s hopes for the FA cup end in Essex


The FA cup is well on its way with fans all around over England watching their favourite teams go against one another. As exciting as this already sounds, many fans also choose to bet on popular teams using betting websites. However, it seems like any fans betting on Sutton United may have lost their money recently.

Sutton’s failure to take advantage of their chances in Saturday’s first meeting returned to disturb them in the replay at New Lodge where, despite the boost of an early Harry Beautyman goal, they were on the end of a chastening defeat. It looks like their hopes for the FA cup have been crushed and their fans are left in dismay.

As might have been expected after the way they rescued their late equaliser on Saturday, Billericay started with energy and Jamie Butler had to react sharply to cut out a low Robinson cross, but in the 10th minute U’s won a free kick on the right and Rob Milsom’s inswinging delivery was saved by Harry Beautyman’s head.

If United hoped that the goal would take the wind out of Billericay’s sails they were to be disappointed. The home side attacked back, winning several corners before levelling when Sam Deering’s free-kick was headed down by Doug Loft and Robinson’s shot looped in off Jamie Butler, the far post, and possibly Milsom.

It was a huge hit for U’s but their response was what their supporters would have wanted. Will Randall, who had replaced David Ajiboye at half time, posed a pressing threat, with one shot deflecting to Wright, whose scuffed effort rolled against the foot of the post, and a low cross met by Omar Bugiel whose shot was scrambled off the line by Julian.

Wright did then score, following in after Bugiel’s low shot had come back off the post, and with over half an hour to go Sutton was right back in the game. Another goal in the next ten minutes would have set up a thrilling finish, but Beautyman’s low shot deflected over the bar off Julian’s legs, and Wright failed to direct a header when well placed and unmarked twelve yards out.

The game was still mostly played in the Billericay half, but U’s were unable to keep up the force and their last chance went when Kyel Reid, having done superbly to make space on the right, then shot over when a low ball into the crowded six-yard box might have yielded more success. Despite seven minutes of additional time, they couldn’t create any more opportunities, and at the end of the last of those Moses Emmanuel broke clear to set up Robinson, who took his time before lifting the ball over Butler and set off the home team’s victorious celebrations.

Notts County facing uphill battle to regain EFL place


Anyone thinking that Notts County would breeze straight back into the Football League received a major wake-up call on Saturday afternoon.

County’s long history counted for little as a physical Eastleigh side sent the Midlands outfit tumbling to a 1-0 defeat on the opening day of the National League season.

Neil Ardley’s side failed to muster a single effort on target and their misery was compounded as Michael Doyle and Damien McCrory were both shown straight red cards late in the game.

Read on as we look at the Magpies’ fall from grace and their chances of bouncing back into the EFL at the first time of asking.

Hardy folly leaves County in a pickle

Notts County went into the 2018/19 season strongly fancied to win promotion from League Two having missed out in the play-offs the previous year.

Fans inclined towards betting used the Coral promo code to sign-up and back County into favouritism, but the campaign turned into an unmitigated disaster.

Alan Hardy’s calamitous ownership of the club ultimately cost County their place in the league, but also nearly saw them go out of business.

Staff went unpaid for two months, while a transfer embargo left Ardley working with one hand tied behind his back after he replaced Harry Kewell.

Hardy’s antics on social media brought further shame on the club and supporters breathed a collective sigh of relief when he put County up for sale.

New owners bring a fresh approach

Danish brothers Christoffer and Alexander Reedtz have promised fans a brighter future after taking over from Hardy at Meadow Lane.

The pair, who own analysis company Football Radar, say they will use similar techniques to the ones that saw Brentford and Brighton & Hove Albion rise up the leagues.

The Reedtz brothers plan to use an analysis team of over 160 people to aid County’s bid to climb back out of the National League as quickly as possible.

Brentford’s data model has helped them find players who have sparked a jump from League Two to establish themselves as a solid Championship club.

Brighton have also used data analysis to enhance their traditional scouting methods and now find themselves in the Premier League.

Ardley the right man to take County forward

The National League is littered with clubs who have struggled to make it back into the league and County will be eager to avoid a similar fate.

However, in Ardley they have a manager whose experience around the lower leagues should stand the club in good stead this season.

Ardley saved AFC Wimbledon from relegation to the National League on the final day of the 2012/13 season, before guiding them into League One via the play-offs three years later.

He was sacked after a poor run of form at the higher level, but the job he did at Kingsmeadow with limited resources should not be underestimated.

County are unlikely to find things easy in the National League, but if the new owners back Ardley he is undoubtedly shrewd enough to guide the club back into the EFL.

A harsh penalty


In the 78th minute of last Saturday’s game at Brightlingsea Regent with the score at 0-0 Callum Overton weaved his way into the area near the touchline. His way was blocked by Regent’s Aaron Condon and as the Rooks forward looked to go around him, Condon fell and perhaps to cushion his fall, put both hands out. Those hands landed firmly on the ball, stopping it rolling into the path of Callum.

Unbelievably, the two people in the stadium who didn’t see the offence were the two that mattered – the referee and his far side assistant. However, if you take a step back and put the rules to the side for a minute, it is hard to justify how an offence in that position actually warrants a penalty kick.

Whilst the handball occurred in the penalty area, it was in a relatively harmless position. Callum couldn’t have realistically scored from that position especially as another defender blocked his way to the goal. So why should that be considered a worse offence than one a few minutes earlier which resulted in a defendable free-kick when Dayshonne Golding was pole-axed on the edge of the penalty area almost dead centre?

Perhaps it is time we took a look at the rules around a penalty kick? At a time when the IFAB are keen to tinker with the rules, how long before the spot kick as we know it changes? Whilst it is sure to cause controversy, perhaps it is for the best.

Before we consider the ramifications, let’s go back 130 years when the idea created to goalkeeper and businessman William McCrum was presented by the Irish Football Association to the International Football Association Board (IFAB) 1890 Meeting. After a year of debate, the rule changes came into play at the start of the 1891/92 season.

However, the rules pertaining to the humble spot kick agreed by IFAB were very different to what we know today.

  • It was awarded for an offence committed within 12 yards of the goal-line (the penalty area not introduced until 1902).
  • It could be taken from any point along a line 12 yards from the goal-line.
  • It was awarded only after an appeal made by the attacking team to the referee.
  • There was no restriction on dribbling with the ball.
  • The ball could be kicked in any direction.
  • The goal-keeper was allowed to advance up to 6 yards from the goal-line.

The world’s first penalty kick was awarded to Airdrieonians in 1891 whilst the first penalty kick awarded in England was to Wolverhampton Wanderers in September 1891 in their league match against Accrington Stanley.

The rules as we know them today came into play from 1902 with the creation of the 18-yard box and whilst there has been changes to almost every one of the original rules, the basics have remained the same for over 115 years – an offence committed anywhere in the 18-yard box results in a penalty kick from 12-yards out.

But is now the time to rethink the rules? At their meeting in Aberdeen earlier In March, IFAB discussed the idea of making any follow-ups to penalties saved by the goal keeper or that strike the frame of the goal “illegal”. It is likely that in the next few years this will become entrenched in the rules of the game but perhaps one change could be under discussed in the next few years is that the penalty area is reduced from 18 to 12 yards, and made into a semi-circle similar to the hockey penalty area. Any offence committed in the area will result in a spot kick, taken from the point on the curve closest to the offence. The more central the offence, the better the angle the penalty taker has.

It may be a controversial change to one of the most recognisable aspects of the game but football needs to adapt. If we would have been awarded that penalty last Saturday we of course wouldn’t have complained, although based on our penalty record this year there’s no guarantee we would have scored it! But if we would have scored the only goal of the game, would it have been a just reward for an offence that took place in an area of the pitch where there was virtually no chance of a goal? The football fan says no, the Rooks fan says yes!

Non-League highlights at Steps 1 and 2


It’s been another exciting 12 months in National League circles, with plenty of notable events happening during the year.

With Christmas fast approaching this is a good time to pick our winners for The Ball is Round’s non-league awards 2018.

There are undoubtedly lots of candidates who could come into consideration up and down the country, but we’ve narrowed things down to three top prizes.

Team of the Year – Harrogate Town

Having bounced around the lower reaches of non-league football for many years, it was great to see Harrogate Town win promotion to the National League last May.

A 3-0 play-off final victory over Brackley Town in front of capacity turnout of 3,000 fans saw Town secure promotion from National League North.

There have been ups-and-downs on the pitch during Irving Weaver’s time as owner, but his quest to drive the club up the ladder while remaining financially self-sufficient ultimately came to fruition.

The story might not be over yet, with Town currently third in the National League as they chase a second successive promotion.

Player of the Year – Danny Rowe, AFC Fylde

AFC Fylde striker Danny Rowe finished last season with 28 goals and he has continued firing them home this time around.

His form drew attention from league clubs, with Cheltenham Town having a £175,000 bid rejected by the National League club back in August.

Rowe, who started out at Manchester United, has proved popular with punters using online payment providers for betting on first goalscorer markets throughout 2018.

His 15 goal tally this season has got Fylde in the promotion mix again and they could have a battle on their hands to keep him in the January transfer window.

Fairy Tale of the Year – Brackley Town

Brackley are another club who have spent plenty of time in the lower echelons of the non-league pyramid, but they finally got their day in the sun last May.

Their defeat against Harrogate Town in the play-off final could have dented confidence, but they bounced back in style the following weekend in the FA Trophy Final at Wembley.

National League side Bromley were strongly fancied to defeat their lower-ranked opponents, but Brackley had other ideas. Town bagged a stoppage time equaliser to send the game to extra-time where neither side could find a winner.

They held their nerve during the shoot-out, with Andy Brown calmly slotting home the deciding goal to spark wild celebrations amongst Brackley’s 7,000 fans.