Will Fulham win the sack race this season?


Mike Miles reports on a trip down to Craven Cottage.

I may support West Ham, but I love going to Craven Cottage. Not least because it is a 45-minute walk from my front door, most of it along the banks of the Thames, with some very enticing pubs en route.

Fulham 2 Cardiff City 2 – Craven Cottage – Saturday 20th August 2016
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.

As 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 a Grade 2 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 on the pitch Fulham have been going through tough times. They were relegated from the Premiership in May 2014 after a season when they went through a bewildering number of managers. Felix Magath started the 2014/15 season in charge, with the Cottagers widely expected to be challenging for promotion. The sad reality was one point gained from seven games. Magath was sacked in September 2014, with Kit Symons appointed as Caretaker Manager. Former players slated Magath. My favourite has to be Brede Hangeland, who claimed Magath ignored doctors and instructed him to place a block of cheese on his thigh in order to get him fit for the next match.

Now Slavisa Jokanovic is charge, though it appears the term should be used loosely. He has been venting his frustration at Fulham’s transfer policy, claiming he has no role in buying players since that responsibility rests with the club’s data analyst, Craig Kline, ominously, a friend of the clubs’ owner. He told BBC Radio “The last decision (on signing players) is in the hands of this man. It is not my business….It is in the hands of people who believe they’re more prepared.”

Alas the current team show few signs of matching their historical surroundings. This was their fourth game in this season’s Championship and although unbeaten they had to rely on a 86th minute goal from Kevin McDonald to salvage a point.

Skipper Scott Parker was still doing his tidy thing in midfield , not surprisingly the only player to start here who featured on the day Fulham were relegated at Stoke two seasons ago. The 40-goal partnership of Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele departed in the summer, and Jokanovic knows he needs to replace them.

There were some glimpses of quality but the new players and many youngsters have yet to gel enough to threaten a realistic promotion drive. This division is no place for rookies to learn their game. Enforced substitute Ryan Sessegnon’s (useless fact: the first player born in 2000 to score in the Championship) close-range goal capped what had been a dominant first-half display from the hosts. But two goals in six minutes early in the second half turned the game Cardiff’s way, as Joe Ralls’ 25-yard half volley was followed by Anthony Pilkington’s curling effort. Peter Whittingham was denied a third for Cardiff by the Fulham crossbar direct from a free kick. It was difficult to believe that the only goals Cardiff had scored this season had come courtesy of Blackburn Rovers’ unfortunate defender Shane Duffy. Concerted home pressure was finally rewarded when new signing Mcdonald drove home a first goal for his new club.

I would willingly make that walk to the Cottage again but I have a feeling it will be to see a Fulham team playing under yet another manager.

Economic Theory explained by football – 17. Endogenous Growth Theory


In the seventh of his deep-thinking articles, our in house Economist Stuart Fuller tries to explain famous Economic theories by using football as the model. Today, he explains why we don’t need any outside investment at Lewes FC to be successful in the long-term….probably.

It’s been a long-held belief that growth of any business or economy is reliant on exogenous, or external, factors such as cash or government policy. Endogenous growth theory holds that investment in human capital (players), innovation (new training methods), and knowledge (player analysis) are actually significantly bigger contributors to economic growth than influxes of external investment (TV money). The theory also focuses on positive externalities (positive performances by our national sides) and spill-over effects of a knowledge-based economy (social media) which will lead to economic development.

Not convinced? OK, let’s look at two examples from last season. Leicester City certainly weren’t the biggest spenders in pre-season, nor did they have the “best” manager. Yet they ended up winning the Premier League. Why? Partly because the biggest challengers went into meltdown but also because they invested internally into player recruitment, new training methods and avoided injuries and suspensions to key players. As the season progressed, the squad believed that they could upset the 5000/1 odds on winning their first ever Premier League. With a manager at the helm who knew example how to get the best out of the squad, without resorting to upsetting the balance in the squad by spending money, they epitomised the theory of endogenous growth perfectly.

Closer to home we all admired the superb season that Bognor Regis Town had, reaching the Play-offs and the semi-finals of the FA Trophy where they narrowly lost to Grimsby Town. They played more games last season than any other Ryman League side, yet only used 26 players in the process. Granted, that requires some serious luck with injuries but it also reflects on the skill of their manager, Jamie Howell, in knowing how to cut his cloth according to the budget he was given at the start of the season. Whilst they would have earnt around £35,000 in prize money from their run in the FA Trophy, the timing of that cash would have not allowed Jamie to spend much of it, thus relying on the internal investment to carry his team forward.

Football today is awash with cash at the top level, especially now that the TV deals have been renegotiated. At the level Lewes play at we will see little of that cash and so it is up to us to generate our own revenues, not relying on someone else to “bail us out”. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is The Theory of Endogenous Growth in a nutshell – success comes from within rather than with the help of external investment.

Bulls create FA Cup history in the sun Shine


CqN87_iWAAAabgoThe was the top FA Cup tie in the Preliminary Round.  That was undisputed as AFC Mansfield were first in alphabetical order.  It was also another first for AFC Mansfield as this would be their first ever home tie in the world’s oldest cup competition.  In fact, this would only be their second ever FA Cup tie, after last season when they lost 2-1 to today’s visitors, The Shiners from South Normanton.

It has only been four years since they were formed as a community club by a splinter group of Mansfield Town directors, who were unhappy with the direct that the Stags were going.  They found a home at The Forest Town Arena, a cycling track 2.5 miles north-east of Field Mill.  Since then they have won promotion twice, taking their place in the Northern Counties East Premier League, or step 5 of the Non-League pyramid to me and you and reached the 5th round of the FA Vase two years ago.

Whilst The Bulls will probably never gain the same profile as other “protest” clubs such as FC United of Manchester or AFC Wimbledon, their progress so far has to be admired.  Funds are tight in the grass-roots of the game but focusing on the community aspect will win them friends and enable them to find their level.  Oh, and their manager is called Rudy Funk which makes them a winner in my book.

I’d manage to escape from Centerparcs for a couple of hours, leaving the Fuller girls high up some trees, tied very tight to some ropes.  A few weeks ago when I looked at potential “diversions” the one that stood out was a potential tie at Clipstone.  Alas, they lost at Brigg Town and I had a moment of panic where I thought I may have to spend the whole afternoon in some sub-tropical biosphere carnage, without a game within a “reasonable” distance.  By reasonable I had been told I could go AWOL for three hours maximum.  “Why don’t you go to AFC Mansfield?” Suggested Lolly.  “What? Why do you say that? I scoffed, after all what does she really know about the East Midlands Non-League scene?  “Well, they are the first game on the list and Mansfield is just *there* on the map”.  Whilst I didn’t let on, she was onto something.  Clever girl my eldest daughter sometimes.

So at 2.30pm I headed out of Centerparcs, passing the Workshop Van Hire Stadium home to Clipstone FC, the headstocks of the former Clipstone Colliery that dominate the skyline, a boarded up pub called The Olympic Spirit and a pet grooming parlour (I think) called Doggy Style.  A couple of miles down the B6030, take a left and there was the Forest Town Welfare with the Arena behind it.

29011184182_fc9c5632a5_kWithin two minutes I had spent £10.50 on admission, a programme, a beer and a chip “cob”.  Ten Pounds Fifty.  That wouldn’t even buy a programme these days at Wembley on Cup Final day. Ah yes, The Emirates FA Cup, two organisations that have pots of cash have come together.  What interest do they really have in these early rounds?  Zero really.  736 clubs enter the club, £30 million was the reported fee the FA have received yet the level of prize money on offer in the early rounds of the club has not changed since last season.  Today’s winner would receive £1,925.  The prize money on offer in the latter stages of the tournament means almost nothing to be big clubs.  I’m sure that the £1.8m Man Utd won by beating Everton in last year’s final was a footnote in the bank account, whereas the prize money in the early rounds really means something for the little clubs.

So here is a suggestion.  Reduce prize money for Premier and Football League clubs by 50% and use that as a pot for the losing teams in the Qualifying Rounds to soften any blow of elimination.  Or perhaps use the money to fund a “kids go free” scheme in the cup for all Step 7 and below clubs?

So armed with food, drink and programme I took my seat on the concrete steps of the Arena, watching the teams warm up.  To my right Mansfield’s substitutes and a man dressed as a bull peppered the reserve keeper with shots, with the Shiners subs tried to boot the ball as high in the air as possible.  Ah yes, the South Normanton Athletic nickname.  Up there with the best in my view.

29116468405_34ff130dd5_kThe nickname ‘Shiners’ derives from the mid-1750s when South Normanton was at the heart of the ribbed stocking industry. The people involved in this craft worked long hours sitting at their windows on wooden stools, so much so that the backsides of their trousers became very shiny making them instantly recognisable as coming from the South Normanton area; since then local people have been referred to as ‘Shiners’.  Not my words, but those of Wikipedia so it must be true.

AFC Mansfield 2 South Normanton Athletic 0 – The Forest Town Arena – Saturday 20th August 2016
They were certainly dancing in the streets of Forest Town after AFC Mansfield won their first ever FA Cup tie, easily beating the conditions and The Shiners thanks to two second half goals from Gary Bradshaw and earning a big cheque for £1,925 in the process.  Wouldn’t it be more fun if at the end of the game they got a small FA Cup (one that gets bigger depending on the round you are in) and a cheque (again getting bigger in size depending on the round) presented on the pitch?  They could even have someone by the side of the pitch engraving their name in the trophy, just like at Wembley, but perhaps using a compass or a large safety-pin.

The strong wind caused both teams issues but it was the home side that always looked the more comfortable as they created a number of first half chances but a combination of the bobbly pitch, the strong wind and comical attacking somehow kept the game goal less.  The club offer a strange twist on the golden goal where you can buy two tickets, one for each half.  The chap next to me saw his luck wasn’t in when he drew minute 1 and 90.  I was relatively happy with my 73rd minute ticket though.

The Welfare Club was relatively full as the crowd ventured in a half-time to escape the rain.  Sky Sports on the TV’s, decent bar and a couple of snooker tables.  Years ago the locals would have been protecting their pints of mild.  Today it was all bottles of rosé in ice buckets on the tables and talk of  The Great British Bake Off.

29011200432_cec726563c_kThe second half saw the home side take a more direct approach, with the wind behind them.  Finally the deadlock was broken when striker Gary Bradshaw poked home in what I thought was the 73rd minute.  Alas, the official time-keeper ruled me a minute out.  My career record of winning the golden goal still stands at one (Cray Wanderers v Lewes in April 2012 if you ask).  The South Normanton manager was not impressed with his defence, nor the officials a few minutes later when his centre midfielder was flagged offside.  It seemed that he had done his homework and was quoting chapter and verse on the new regulations to a bemused linesman.  He was right too.

AFC Mansfield wrapped the game up with ten minutes to go as that man Bradshaw picked up on sloppy defending and rounded the keeper to slot into an empty net.  The Shiners would be heading back to Derbyshire empty-handed whilst The Bulls would be able to look forward to another home tie in two weeks time as they would be hosting Stratford Town.

The magic of the FA Cup had come to Forest Town.  It’s just a shame that the powers that be still aren’t taking the qualifying rounds seriously.  Good luck to AFC Mansfield and let’s hope that the prize money they earn will help them build on and off the pitch.

Economic Theory Explained by Football – 16. The Moral Hazard


Back by popular demand (well, at least from one person) for the new season is the continuation of our series on trying to explain Economic Theory by applying the principals to football.  The first in series 2 is concerning the Moral Hazard Theory and how a player’s behaviour changes once he has a new contract.

In the 2014 film The Big Short, the real reasons behind the start of the Global Economic Crisis were explored.  To many of us, the years between 2007 and 2010 saw unprecedented financial pressure, driven by trusted establishments as well as our own need to budget based on our circumstances.  Few people really understood how our boom had suddenly been the biggest bust in history, so the film aimed to explain what really happened, using examples such as chefs making fish stew or actress Selena Gomez playing poker to explain some of the more complex terms such as synthetic derivatives and the concept of sub-prime lending.  Whilst these were good examples that helped us understand, it would have been much better if they would have used an example relating to the beautiful game.

Moral Hazard not Micky Hazard (Thanks to OldSchoolpanini.com)

Moral Hazard not Micky Hazard

The basic premise of the film and the core compelling event behind the Global Economic Crisis was that of Moral Hazard.  The  theory of the Moral Hazard is originally attributed by some back to the 17th century, but economists Allard Dembe and Leslie Boden created the current theory when trying to explain the situation of Winston Bogarde wasting away in Chelsea’s reserves*, happy to do the bare contractual minimum to earn his substantial weekly wage.  The Moral Hazard Theory related to a situation where the behaviour of one person or party may change to the detriment of another after a transaction or contract has been completed. Insurance policies are a more conventional example where the insured party may take more risks knowing that there’s a financial safety net should things go wrong.  But how did Dembe and Boden apply the theory to Non-League football?

For example, let’s say a Non-League club sign a promising centre forward on a year’s contract.  The day after the ink dries on the contract the player damages his knee in a non-football related incident (such as falling off a table whilst dancing in a Crawley nightclub, drunk at 2am) but hides the injury until the first pre-season training session where he goes down in real pain after an innocuous challenge in the first minute of the practice match.  The injury keeps the player out for the rest of the season.  The club would be liable to continue to pay his wages despite having no liability in terms of the injury because the player’s behaviour changed once the security of the contract had been completed.  Would he have still claimed he was injured in pre-season training if he wasn’t under contract?  Probably not.

The reason why is that the Moral Hazard Theory works under the premise of information asymmetry, in other words where one party in the transaction having more information and acts or behaves inappropriately than the other party, normally the one who has to pay the consequences of the risk, which in the above example is the player knowing about his injury but not revealing it to the club.

So that is the Moral Theory and how it influences our thinking today and in the future.

*Probably

Open season


It was only fit that West Ham’s official opening game in their new home was actually taking place three days after they first played here.  After all, having “turned the lights out” at The Boleyn Ground in the final home game of the season against Manchester United back in May, they then proceeded to host a number of other games there.  Every time you think that the club have turned a new leaf and rid itself of making mistakes, along comes another example of organisation curtosey of Captain Cock-up.  In this instance, the game against Juventus was announced prior to the end of the season when the club was still involved in the chase for Europa League (and even Champions League).  Surely, someone, somewhere in the upper echelons at the club must have said “hang on chaps, what if we qualify for Europe?”.  Still at least we have the co-Chairman’s son to spout rubbish every day.

28826459545_cf261d6c76_kThis would be a real test of logistics.  Thursday had seen nearly 55,000 leave the ground after the 3-0 win in the Europa League without many issues.  Today would see a similar number having to negotiate tens of thousands of shoppers plus the crowds heading to the “urban beach” next to the stadium.  The route to the stadium took us through the shopping centre where blue-rinsed shoppers berated the Hammers fans for delaying the opening of Marks & Spencers.  “Oi! I want to buy my bloody Sunday lunch for my old man.  But no! I have to wait for you lot”.

The club had promised that unauthorised street traders would be banished from the area around the stadium, so no badgeman or old programme stall.  However, it seemed acceptable that ticket touts and half ‘n’ half scarf sellers were allowed to peddle their wares.  I could rant here about intellectual property abuse but I don’t think the club actually cares.

28750098921_2448f2d40d_kThe stadium certainly looked magnificent from the outside.  The “wrap” around the perimeter featured some of the current squad, which is a bit dangerous as and when they may leave, as well as silhouettes of various players such as Noble and Payet.  Entry was painless but then you hit the first issue.  The queues for food and drink stretch along the concourse, meaning as you enter you have to negotiate through a line of queuing fans.

Just behind those concession stands was a temporary bar set up selling Iron Ale (there is also supposed to be Boleyn Bitter somewhere around), a beer mysteriously brewed specifically for the club and the ground (and at £4.90 a pint).  Once again, you get the feeling that the club could have done something with the pricing on food and drink, but decided not too.

As we made our way to the seats we found plastic bags on our seats.  “We’ve paid them £1,000 and all we get is a bloody plastic bag” was the response from my neighbour.  Apparently, when you held them all up it spelt out “Come on you Irons!” but we didn’t know that.  The whole opening ceremony was a little bit strange.  There had obviously been a few bits taken from the European Championships, whilst the fireworks added to the occasion but it did seem a little bit unorganised.

28211715773_203c789176_kWest Ham would be wearing their new third kit which for once one that most fans bought into.  In commemoration of the first season at the stadium the club had permission to wear a black (or very dark blue) kit that had the badge of Thames Iron Works (TIW in case you see the initials later in the season) rather than the new West Ham badge.

Despite all of the reservations, the political arguments and the rights and wrongs of their residence at the stadium, there was no going back.  Bilic fielded a strong starting XI with the impressive Nordtveit in the holding role whilst Josh Cullen was thrown in at the deep end, coming up against players like Dani Alves.  Whilst the result was in some ways unimportant, the fans wanted to see some of the flair that had seen West Ham challenge at the top end of the table last season.

West Ham United 2 Juventus 3 – The London Stadium – Sunday 7th August 2016
At the end of the day, it was irrelevant who won “The Betway Cup Final”.  Today was all about the Stadium.  Quite how Juventus went from dominating a game, with levels of possession in the 80 percentile in the first half, to nervously defending with five minutes to go to stop West Ham taking the lead I will never know.  If there was ever a definition of the gap between Champions League and Europa League then just watch the first 30 minutes of this game.  This was of course a Juventus side without Paul Pogba who had handily hitched a lift to London to sign for Manchester United.

28209016734_0ff552f128_kThe close passing play of the Italians was a pleasure to watch.  Both of their well worked early goals, scored by Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic, were applauded by the West Ham fans as well as the small group of Juve supporters in the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand.  Then all of a sudden we clawed our way back into the game as Carroll scrambled home a loose ball after 38-year-old Gianluigi Buffon had made a great save from his headed effort.  Two minutes later the woodwork and a combination of Carroll, Adrian and Reid somehow kept out Alex Sandro’s effort.

The second half saw a slow trickle of substitutions with Bilic, patrolling the biggest technical area in world football, blooding a number of his new signings including Fletcher and Quina, some of the promising youngsters such as Oxford, Burke and Page plus of course, the man of the moment Dimitri Payet who made his entrance in the 74th minute to a standing ovation and a chorus of his song.

28721450422_ef078649d7_k (1)Nobody had any idea what would happen if it ended 2-2 at the end of 90 minutes.  There was no reference to details in the programme nor was there any announcement made.  With just five minutes left it became academic when Zaza finished neatly after a through ball from Marrone, the queue for thousands of fans to make their way to the exits.

Whilst the vast majority of fans headed to the shopping centre to deliver chaos and carnage to the blue-rinse brigade, I took a left and went to Stratford International where I walked straight onto a train bound for Ebbsfleet and the waiting CMF.  Exactly 30 minutes after leaving my seat I was in the car.  Alas, that 12 minute train journey costs an eye-watering £16 one way.  Surely someone at the club or South Eastern railway realises there is a huge opportunity to alleviate some of the issues by making the route cheaper on a match day?   Or am I simply talking common sense again?

It’s far from ideal to be a football stadium that will please everyone.  Sitting in the Upper Tier you are along way from the action (everyone would really need binoculars higher up in the stands) and any atmosphere soon dissipates.  That may change when fans have their assigned seats come the start of the Premier League season.  The outside of the stadium looks fantastic, the inside still unfinished with the troublesome gaps where the retractable seating is.  But if the club gets 54,000 for every game will they really care?

Championship reputation


There can’t be many fans who dislike Fulham.  OK, perhaps apart from Queens Park Rangers fans and a smattering of Chelsea supporters, although the vast majority of the “new blues” probably have no idea where their nearest neighbours actually play.  The club has tried to retain a sense of history and tradition whilst a maelstrom of off the field activities have directly impacted on the field performances.  But coming into the new 2016/17 Football League season (hashtag EFL for those down with the kids) there was a sense of optimism that things could be different this term.

unnamedSome things never change though as this Friday night season opener proved:-

  1. Despite the travel logistics, Sky felt that it was justifiable in ensuring that Newcastle fans couldn’t get back to Tyneside after the game by public transport;
  2. Despite point 1, Newcastle still filled the whole of the Putney End;
  3. The only beer you could get in the ground was Carlsberg;
  4. At the age of 35 Scott Parker is still as mobile as he was when he joined West Ham back in 2007;
  5. The police still haven’t worked out how to manage the crowds at Putney Bridge tube station;

Prior to the game, which had seen an eventful tube journey where football fans had been called into action to prevent a fight on the train between a heavily pregnant woman and a young “lady” with attitude who felt it was her right to stand blocking the doors “to get some air”, I chatted with a member of Fulham’s new marketing team.  It seems that owner Shahid Khan was now in action not words mode and wanted to press ahead with an ambitious development of the Riverside Stand that would see it built up and back into the Thames, supported by a man-made island.  Fans would then be literally shipped into the ground.  Not the craziest plan I’ve heard and actually one that would have been more than ideal for The Boleyn Ground (swap River Thames for access road leading to bus garage).  The current capacity of just under 26,000 with limited space for corporate hospitality simply does not allow the club to increase the ever-important match day revenues.

By retaining Benitez, a significant number of players from last year and boosting the squad with some new signings, the bookies unsurprisingly have made Newcastle favourites for an immediate return. From experience of West Ham’s foray’s into the Championship you know that the novelty of visiting grounds you haven’t been to in a while soon rubs off when you are losing though.

unnamed (3)The atmosphere had been turned up at the Cottage as kick off approached.  Newcastle were being backed by 6,000 fans, an outstanding achievement considering the kick off time and distance.  Fulham fans in the Stevenage Road stand were making quite a din themselves, fueled by those card clappers and the acoustics of the metal roof.  One noticeable fact was the lack of home fans wearing replica shirts.  Perhaps I’d just been accustomed to seeing virtually every fan in one during the European Championships or that the new ones, complete with the statement “VisitFlorida” on the front weren’t yet on sale.

Fulham 1 Newcastle United 0 – Craven Cottage – Friday 5th August 2016
After 10 minutes of this game I turned to Tall Tom and pointed out the Newcastle game plan.  “Every time the right back gets the ball he hits it diagonally behind the Fulham left back”.  I hadn’t even finished the sentence before another ball was hoofed up field for Perez to chase.  On this occasion he did earn a free-kick on the edge of the box as Odoi pushed him over but if we could see their tactic from the stands so quickly then I’d have hoped Fulham boss Slaviša Jokanović (described by Wikipedia as a “physical player”) would have too.

unnamed (1)The game was played at a good pace although neither team seemed willing to progress further than the edge of the penalty area.  Newcastle should have had a penalty when Ritchie’s cross is punched away for a corner by Tunnicliffe.  New season, better technology, same basic decisions being missed.  Ten minutes later Fulham went ahead when Matt Smith rose the highest to head home a corner.  Men on the posts? That’s so 2015/16.

The second half saw more of the same from both teams.  Newcastle’s fans seemed to be permanently on edge every time the ball was played towards their goal, whilst the Fulham back line opted for a no-nonsense approach in defending.  They had another decent shout for a penalty when a last-minute shot appeared to hit a Fulham arm but rarely threatened the home team’s goal.  I can only assume they have neglected to work on set pieces in the pre-season based on the efforts of Perez and Shelvey (or as Sky refered to him “England’s Jonjo Shelvey” which still gives me hope of an international call up).

Full time saw Benitez stride purposefully towards the referee although the Spaniard kept his dignity and simply shook hands.  He had a right to feel aggrieved but this would have been a harsh lesson for him and the team.   The Championship is a brutal league where pre-season odds and reputations count for nothing.  Teams will raise their game at home to Newcastle and will park the bus at St James’ Park.

For the thousands of Fulham fans disappearing into the London night the dreams of a return to the promised land may just remain a little while longer.

The tide has turned


Michelle: What do you prefer? Astroturf or grass?
Rodney: I don’t know, I’ve never smoked AstroTurf

It’s been almost ten years since I started The Ball is Round.  Back in 2006 I was at my Football Tourist peak, dashing off to somewhere new almost every other week.  European football was opening up for us all with the Internet giving us the answers to the important questions about local public transport and ticket buying procedures, whilst budget airlines seemed to be falling over themselves to open up more exotic routes.  It was certainly the golden age to be a fan of football rather than just being a football fan.

Today the mystery and glamour of the Eternal Derby (take your pick between Rome, Belgrade and Sarajevo) has been well and truly debunked thanks to Social Media.  We’ve all stood on the Sud Tribune at the Westfalonstadion in Dortmund, right?  Or been hit by a toilet brush as the Spakenburg derby.  European football no longer holds any surprises.

So in some ways the purpose of The Ball is Round has diminished, or rather our objectives have been achieved.  I hope that we’ve helped a few people discover there is more to life that Sky Sports and the sanitised Premier League.  We’ve all grown a little bit older and when I meet the few bloggers who were still around a decade ago, we no longer talk about daily website hits or #FFs.  Those who are still left write because they love to write not for any commercial gain.

My day to day work has become all-consuming.  My writing has had to take on a more serious tone about intellectual property infringements (with the occasional slant towards football such as this white paper published this year) rather than the slant I have taken before on the beautiful game.  Virtually all of my “golden generation” peers have quit or have severely reduced their output, beaten into submission by the need to cover every Premier League team/player/story from a “new angle”.  The likes of Danny Last, Damon Threadgold, Kenny Legg (3 of the 5 who along with David Hartrick and I put together the 500 Reasons to Love Football website) and Andy Hudson have all given up their writing.  I blame Leicester City – after their achievement last season there is nothing left to write about football.

My role at Lewes FC has also meant I have had to smooth the edges to some of the things I have written about in the past.  Putting anything controversial into a blog could land me with a “bringing the game into disripute” charge by the FA.

So whilst the words may become further spaced out, I haven’t yet fully given up the ghost.  Yesterday, for instance, saw Lewes travel to local rivals Eastbourne Borough, for a Pre-Season Friendly.  One of the perks of being Chairman is you do get access to almost part of the game.  So instead of a predictably mundane match report from our 2-0 defeat on Boro’s new 3G pitch (hence the classic quote at the start from “Go West My Son”, one of the first episodes of Only Fools and Horses), here’s a few “behind the scenes” pictures instead.  If you are really interested in reading my match report then go wild here.