No fairytale ending for the Bromley Boys


“It’s a marathon not a sprint”.

The favourite line of football commentators, players and managers when they lose a game during the season.  The season isn’t won or lost over 90 minutes but over the course of nine months.  Technically that is true, but when it comes to play off time, then the previous efforts go out of the window and it all comes down to ninety or in some cases, one hundred and eighty minutes of football.

7228388842_a8a95e8d49_bThe end of season play offs are the high point of the season.  Two teams essentially fighting like gladiators in the Coliseum.  Only one can walk away a victor, battered and bruised ready for the next opponent, whilst the loser has nothing but memories of a successful league campaign that ultimately led to nothing to console themselves with.  People who say the play-offs are unfair are either a) play-off losers or b) anti-football fans.

Yes they are incredibly harsh sometimes.  Take FC United of Manchester.  In with a shout of the Evostik Premier title until the final day of the season, they finished 16 points above 5th place Ashton United this season, yet in front of nearly 3,000 home fans this week, they lost in extra-time.  Their dream of moving up to the Conference North for the first time in their history was dashed by a 120th minute goal by Ashton’s Jack Higgins.  In the Ryman Premier League, the teams finishing 2nd and 3rd, Bognor Regis Town and Kingstonian respectively, both lost their home play off matches this week.

I can still remember the pain of 2004 in Cardiff when West Ham lost to Crystal Palace in the Championship Play Off final.  Palace had come from nowhere to sneak into the play offs at the last gasp and feeling the injustice of the fact that without the play offs we would have been promoted in third.  The following season it was our turn to sneak in at the last-minute and were promoted after beating Preston North End having finished twelve points behind 3rd placed Ipswich Town.

I’d still like to see a team from the division above thrown into the mix as it used to be the case when the play offs were first introduced into English football back in 1987.  In that season Charlton Athletic had finished third bottom in what was then Division One, and then beat Ipswich Town, fifth in Division Two, to play Leeds United for the place in the top tier.  After two 1-0 wins for the home sides, the game went to a replay which the Addicks won 2-1 after extra-time and thus retained their place in the top division. In the league below the story was slightly different as Sunderland were relegated from Division Two after losing a humdinger of a tie against Gillingham, who finished fifth in the third tier on away goals after a 6-6 aggregate score.

13912890359_f1ae9a728c_bThere can be few things more dispiriting in football than being roundly beaten in the first leg of a play off game.  On Tuesday night, Bromley FC, who had led the Conference South table for the best part of half the season, only relinquishing control for the last time in March traveled down the A2 to face Ebbsfleet United who only secured their play-off spot with two weeks to go.  Bromley would have fancied their chances to have come away from Stonebridge Road with at least a draw, especially as their coach, Hugo Langton is a master of preparation and would have had a game plan nailed on.  However, fate can sometimes be a fickle friend.  Ebbsfleet opened the scoring after just 60 seconds and then less than ten minutes later Bromley’s Ashley Nicholls was sent off for deliberate handball and Ebbsfleet were 2-0 up from the resulting penalty.  Two further goals proved the David Pleat theorists wrong in the perfect storm – i.e “Playing against 10 men is often harder than 11” and “2-0 is the most dangerous scoreline in football”.

But Bromley do at least have a second bit of the cherry.  Miracles do happen in football (just look at the fact Sam Allardyce is still in a job, or that Stoke City now play attractive football) so it was with the hope of a reversal of fortune that I planned my last Saturday of domestic action of the season.  They were desperate to have a shot at the Conference Premier, having never ventured so high in their history.  The excellent book, The Bromley Boys by Dave Roberts (coming to the silver screen soon) highlights the time when, in Roberts’s eyes, they were the worst team in England.  They have got better since those days, and now with one of the finest Non League grounds in England, they had all their ducks in a row to have a crack with the big boys of the Non League.

13913036890_ddcae1e47d_bEbbsfleet on the other hand were past masters of the Conference Premier.  The one consolation they could take if they somehow lost this game was that they would have two local derbies against Dartford to look forward to, after the Darts relegation from the Conference Premier last weekend.  But that would be a small moment of happiness.  They drove up the A2, around the M25 and then followed the A21, making sure to watch the speed camera at the Michelin-starred Chapter One, with more than hope in their hearts.  They could almost smell the final where Sutton United or Dover Athletic would be waiting.

Bromley is only a bus ride away from TBIR Towers so it would be rude not to let such a potential momentous occasion pass by.  The core of the LLF were also en-route, fuelled by Terry’s 50p off beer vouchers for Wetherspoon’s and the prospect of no footballing action in Sussex. The sun was shining so it was undoubtably going to be the best day ever.

Bromley 1 Ebbsfleet United 0 – Hayes Lane – Saturday 3rd May 2014
This wasn’t a thriller to be honest.  Both camps said as much in their post-match comments to the press.  Bromley had to come out of the blocks flying and try to make an immediate impact into the four goal deficit.  They couldn’t.  The very big and strong Ebbsfleet defence held firm, using delaying tactics when they could to take the sting out of the Bromley momentum, whilst every so often using their wide men to push the home team onto the back foot.

13912982527_b78776790c_bWith a quarter of the game gone Ebbsfleet appeared to have taken the lead.  A fifth goal over the tie would have had the fat lady on the pitch singing her heart out but the referee deemed that the scorer, Ben May, had used a hand instead of his head.  Harsh from our angle.  The scare seemed to shock Bromley into life and within two minutes they had taken the lead with a cracking strike from Danny Waldren.  Every long journey starts with one small step – but would this be too little too late in the tie?

Bromley really needed a second before half time to stand any chance of turning the tie around.  Higgins went close with another strike from distance which Fleet keeper Edwards did well to push away but I think the visitors back four have had harder afternoons this season.

The second half saw Ebbsfleet slowly start to press the Bromley midfield and thus back into their own half.  The home side simply could create anything of note bar a Waldren header.  Ebbsfleet could have had a goal themselves when the impressive McMahon fired his shot narrowly wide.  A brief moment of hope appeared with ten minutes to go when Rance was given a straight red for his challenge on Goldberg but the numerical advantage lasted all of three minutes when Bromley’s Holland received a second yellow.

14100063954_fa5a40aa86_bDespite five minutes of injury time being played, Bromley knew the game was up.  It had been a long, hard season where they had fought and won for the most part.  Their fans stayed behind to salute the team, but the feeling of despair was clear to see as they slowly walked off the pitch for the final time this season.  Ebbsfleet would now be hosting Dover Athletic in the Final, who had surprisingly beaten Sutton United 3-0 despite playing for 80 minutes with ten men.

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Folkestone unconquered


Another Pre-season Saturday, another scorching hot summer’s day. It would be rude not to take in a game on such a fine day.  And that is why I find myself watching the Garden of England rush by my window, travelling at speeds that would normally make South Eastern trains have a nosebleed.  There’s been many a column inch written in recent times about new train lines in this country since the HS2 train line route was announced last year that will cut through the English countryside to deliver travel time savings to us all, at a ridiculous expense. Whilst we can marvel at currently being able to travel from London to Manchester in just 2 hours, the cost of travel still far outweighs the advantages (and it is still cheaper and quicker to fly).

9428056129_f417c8d947_bBut few actually know where or what HS1 is? It has actually been around for well over a year and runs from London St Pancras, via Stratford International, Ebbsfleet International, Ashford International and Folkestone (no International status has been bestowed on the station yet due to a work permit issue). Travel times are, quite frankly ridiculous. 19 minutes from Ebbsfleet to Ashford – less than half of the time it would take to drive there, but the cost is significant. £25 for a single ticket, to be precise, making it more expensive than the very expensive Arlanda Express in Stockholm.  And that is where I am currently sitting, in air conditioned luxury.

I had packed my bag to head to Folkestone for the day to experience some Kentish hospitality and of course game number six in my pre-season preparations.Travelling by train to football seems so foreign to me but on a day when the sun was shining and the Shepherd Neame was calling, it seemed the most logical choice. If you are going to travel, then travel in style.

You can’t go far around the edge of the Kent coast before you bump into a football club, meaning that local derbies are ten a penny in these parts. Stretching from Whitstable Town in the north, through Herne Bay, passed Margate and Ramsgate, waving hello to Deal Town before you reach Dover Athletic, Folkestone Invicta and finally Hythe Town.

Whilst passions never run too high in these parts, some games do generate significant local interest. In fact the Folkestone v Hythe local derbies have generated some of the biggest crowds in the Isthmian League in the past two seasons and is testament to the fanbase in these parts. But arguably the biggest game is the Folkestone v Dover tie. Due to Dover’s recent climb up the leagues, the two clubs rarely meet at a competitive level, and so it is left to the occasional pre-season clash to settle old scores. Continue reading

Welling continue to spread their Wings


Good Friday.  A day for some chores, DIY and then some football.  That’s what we are supposed to do, right?  And what better way to top off a morning of painting window ledges and door frames than a trip to table topping Welling United.  Four miles is all that separates Park View Road and TBIR Towers and as I spend most of my life building a massive carbon footprint by flying around the world I thought I would do my bit for the future of the planet by getting on my bike and cycling.

Top of the table Welling United versus play off chasing Chelmsford City.  Could the Wings take a massive step towards life in the Blue Square Bet Premier, or would Chelmsford make a late dash for the end of season lottery?  A picture tells a thousand words so here is the story of a very chilly afternoon in South East London/Kent.

Welling United 3 Chelmsford CIty 0 – Park View Road – Friday 29th March 2013

Still not sure they will win the league? Betting on Football is always difficult and to have some chance of making profit you have to do your homework very well. There are sites like tfbets.co.uk that can really help you on football betting. They have tips from experts and also a selection of the best free bets deals from leading bookmakers.  Even the bookies in the know will stop taking bets on the Wings very soon though.

A Massive gesture


James Drobka reports on an afternoon of Blue Square Bet South football from the banks of the Thames.

Staines. Probably most famous for being the setting to the Ali G movie, however to the council this is more hindrance rather than help. So much so, they changed the name to Staines-Upon-Thames. However to most people it is, ‘the staines massive’, home to Staines Town FC, Blue Square Bet South. Evidence of the football club not being bothered by tagline can be seen on their website, www.stainesmassive.info

Staines have been in the Conference South for the past two seasons, finishing a superb 8th in their first season and 15th last season. Hopes are high amongst management that this could be a good season, they have kept the nucleus of the squad from last season and added a few additions, most notably Dave Wheeler from Lewes (ED – OUR Dave Wheeler), helped by the fact he’s studying at Brunel university and relocating to the area. They have lost their most promising player in Mario Quiassaca, who had his contract terminated immediately after being named and shamed as taking part in the recent riots in London. Continue reading

CHatham AVerage they aren’t


In my misspent youth I was a frequent visitor to the Medway towns. Being just a few stops down the line on the train meant there was ample opportunity to hop on and off the train to avoid the conductor in the “toast rack” trains that used to be common in the 1980’s. For some it was easier to everything in Chatham and Gillingham. Easier to buy beer from the off licence, easier to buy 10-packs of Marlboro’s and easier to get lovebites off the girls. Perhaps coming from Longfield was deemed “exotic” to the local girls but whatever it was, a swig of Diamond White and a quick drag on a cigarette and they were putty in our hands.

“One of many suggested ‘origins’ for the word ‘Chav’ was that it is an abbreviation of ‘Chatham Average’, alluding to a public perception of a segment of Chatham residents as tracksuit-wearing, gold hoop-earringed common people with a penchant for hard drinking, recreational drug use, and aggressive and anti-social behaviour. The word ‘chav’ was retroactively deemed an acronym for ‘Council House And Violent’. “Chav Culture” was first evident from a website about “Chatham Girls” which received a huge amount of media interest.” Not my words but those of Wikipedia. It certainly rang true. Continue reading

Sussex Socios


What is the biggest football club in the world?  It is a difficult one to judge as you need to define the criteria.  Is the biggest club the richest or the one with the biggest global support?  Or perhaps the most successful, which opens up all sorts of debate (I once received hate mail for suggesting that Rangers weren’t the most successful team because Real Madrid had won more “meaningful” honours).  What about the one who gets the most column inches written about them?  All such subjective measures wouldn’t you agree?

To me, the biggest football club is the one with the most owners, or members and despite Manchester United’s attempts at global dominance that honour falls to Barcelona.  The Catalan giant, and undoubtably the best team in the world today have over 170,000 members or Socios, each of whom pays a minimum of €121 per annum for the privilege.  Since the 2003–04 season, the club’s membership figures have risen from 100,000 to 170,000 Socis, a 70 percent increase. The sharp rise was attributed to the influence of Ronaldinho and then-president Joan Laporta’s media-strategy, which focused on online media in Spanish and English. As of June 2010 there were 1,335 officially registered fan clubs or “Penyes” around the world, representing an 11 percent increase since 2003.  It is any co-incidence that the huge jump in membership (and in membership fees which were less than €50 back in 2006) has come during the most successful time in the club’s history?  Well what you have to bear in mind is that despite the huge amount of revenue the Socios produces (simple maths of 170,000 x €121 = €20.6m per annum), the club are still over €442m in debt according to Deloitte’s.  Success comes at a price. Continue reading

Business 101


Relegation is confirmed

Lewes’s relegation was confirmed after the 2-1 home defeat to Bishop Stortford on Monday.  Nobody at the club ranted and raved about poor decisions, bad luck or conspiracies.  Dignity was the order of the day at the Dripping Pan with preparations for the final game away to Boreham Wood.  The club wanted to end the season with a win, not just for the fans but also to try and finish third from bottom. Continue reading