On the fourth day of TBIR Christmas – The worst game seen in 2013


After notching up 90 games in 2013 we have seen a fair few crackers, a lot of average matches and then there is the pot that you want to immediately erase from your brain.  I could take the category as the worst for my teams (West Ham or Lewes) but that would be unfair – the three “losers” here are those games that the neutral would have been itching to leave from well before the hour mark.  These are not necessarily representative of the clubs themselves, just the fayre they served up on the particular day.

3rd Place – East Thurrock United 1 Lewes 0 – 23rd February 2013
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I only actually saw the last half hour of this torrid affair in Essex but by all accounts I saw the best bits of the game.  I’d elected to watch Witham Town instead of Lewes, knowing full well the type of team and performance I would see.  At half-time in the Witham Town game I felt The Rooks needed my support so I drove down only to find a depressed group of fans behind the goal who had been frozen with boredom.  Neither side created a chance, it was freezing cold and by the time I arrived they had run out of any food.  Lewes had lost their previous two visits to Corringham 1-0 so it was no surprise that they obliged the Essex side once more.

2nd Place – Dartford 1 Ebbsfleet United 0 – 29th October 2013
photo (61)Having grown up equidistant between the two towns, separated by the A2 I knew of the bitter rivalry between them.  There was no love lost from Gravesend when Dartford went pop twenty years ago, having to start again in the County Leagues, meaning opportunities to play each other have been few and far between in the last two decades.  But drawn against each other in the FA Cup, there was sure to be a great atmosphere when they played at Stonebridge Road.  Nearly 3,000 fans watched a decent 1-1 draw, over three times the average attendance, and I couldn’t be happier with a draw as it meant I could go to the replay at Princes Park.  Alas, it wasn’t anything like I was expecting.  Apart from two penalties, one scored, one saved, it was a game lacking in any passion that you would associate with a) the FA Cup and b) a local derby.  Talk on the forums was of a bumper 3-4,000 crowd but just under 2,000 attended, with the atmosphere quite muted.  The home fans talked of dull and negative tactics and that the club didn’t want to move forward (since this game they have drawn one and lost twelve!).  You have to admire what has happened at Dartford in the last ten years but for this night it was a visit to forget.

1st Place – Valeciennes 0 Lille 1 – 30th November 2013
11179517845_8758808416_bThere was no debate about the worst game of the year.  Perhaps it was because we eventually arrived at the Stade du Hainaut with high expectations of a cracking atmosphere and a decent game between two local rivals. Perhaps it was the fact that we were in the holiday mood or perhaps it was the four pints of Leffe pre-match.  But this was as flat as an ironed pancake.  Many of Lille’s fans had thrown a strop and decided not to travel, pissed off that this was a Combi game.  Add in the French rule about no alcohol allowed in the stadium at all and then the incessant rain and it was a heady mixture of dullness.  The stadium is just a few years old, but it adored with headache-inducing red everywhere and has a real soul less feel once inside.  Add in some officious stewards, a freezing wind and a home side who would have struggled to score if Lille would have left the pitch and it was hands down the worst game we saw in 2013.

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Ebbsfleet suffer at the hands of a wayward Cook


Few people will have been happier with the result on Saturday from the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Tie between Ebbsfleet United and Dartford than I was  (For Ebbsfleet, read Gravesend).As soon as the draw was made this tie caught my eye, but of course being on a Saturday I was loyal to my own club Lewes and enjoyed a pint of Harvey’s (just like Her Majesty did this week) on the terraces as we beat Margate.  As the news filtered through that the North Kent derby had ended all-square my Tuesday night’s entertainment was sorted.

The game had been seen by nearly 2,900 fans, more than the combined average attendance for both clubs and had provided its fair share of drama as Ebbsfleet missed an early penalty after the Dartford keeper had hauled down Cook.  Red card?  A split opinion based on which set of fans you listen to.  Instead, Alan Julian stayed on the pitch and Ben May put the ball high over the bar.  Dartford then took the lead against the run of play, and the reverse happened in the second half when Anthony Cook equalised.  All’s fair in love, war and local derbies.  72 hours later the action moved five miles down the A2 to Princes Park, a world away from Ebbsfleet’s Stonebridge Road.  Not that there is anything wrong with either ground – they are simply at the end of the non-league ground spectrum.

photo (58)I grew up equidistant between the two towns and have an affinity for both towns.  I went to school in Gravesend, played football and rugby on the pitches around the town and spent my formative and most impressionable years in the pubs and clubs of Windmill Hill.  Come summertime and we headed to play cricket in and around Dartford, often ending our nights, bat in hand, box in pants at Zens, also know as the kidney donor factory. When I wasn’t a young tear-away at Upton Park or Priestfield then I would head up to Watling Street to watch Dartford.  As a teenager, the old Dartford ground was the best place in the world.  You could hide under the main stand, as long as you avoided the legendary Monkey Alan who lived in the catacombs of the ground, browse for hours in the programme shop or simply watch the tear-ups on the terraces which were relatively frequent.  On occasions even the players got involved, hoping over the barrier and joining in the fun.

Those halcyon days vanished for the Darts when they were made homeless from Watling Street in a tale of tears, tantrums and treachery.  They became nomads, rising through the leagues as they called Cray Wanderers, Erith & Belvedere, Thurrock and finally Stonebridge Road home.  Slowly but surely they worked their back up the leagues.  As success arrived on the pitch then the local council started to take the club more seriously, finally agreeing to the funding of a new ground barely a mile from Watling Street.  In November 2006 they were finally given the keys to Princes Park, the greenish, most ecological football stadium in Europe.  Dartford fans would be able to stand under a roof made of sustainable material which rainwater being recycled and being held up by an 18 feet wooden man.

photo (59)Back down the A2 time seems to have stood still at Stonebridge Road.  The name may have changed to a more “European” Ebbsfleet, but it’s still Gravesend and Northfleet to me.  The rickety old main stand where when the ball lands on it you get showered with “stuff”.  The toilets, where if you position yourself correctly you can still watch the game “hands free” and the slowest refreshment bar in the world, where Cynical Dave once bought a frozen chicken pie and was then questioned when he returned it if he wanted it heated.  Do the Ebbsfleet fans crave grass rather than moss growing on the roof of the stands? Do they want a wooden man rather than scaffolding holding up their roof?  Do they want a stadium surrounded by trees or one by industry?  Progress is great but sometimes the comforts of familiarity are all football fans crave.

I had the day off.  Not through any other reason than I needed to use up my annual leave so I was going to make a day of it.  Where better to start than an afternoon at Crayford Dogs.  The place was packed, with free admission tempting the full spectrum of North Kent’s population.  Nothing better than a bit of dog racing, even if it’s the same 6 dogs running in each race, simply changing the lane jackets.  Six winners put a spring in my step and some cash in my pocket.  Next stop the Magic of the FA Cup.

Dartford 1 Ebbsfleet United 0 – Princes Park – Tuesday 29th October 2013
If you were writing a book on the 180 minutes (plus injury time) these two teams played out this week, it would have to be titled “Three Kicks”.   It would also be a pretty long, dull book. The reason why Dartford won this tie and Ebbsfleet lost in its simplest terms boiled down to the ability to take a penalty.  In the two games Ebbsfleet were awarded two and missed both, whilst Dartford scored the one they were awarded.  Ebbsfleet fans will argue, and quite justifiably, that the Dartford keeper should’ve been sent off in the first game (and thus subsequently banned for the replay if the result would have stayed the same) and they can feel aggrieved that in this game he was the difference between a place in the 1st Round of the FA Cup and a short disconsolate walk back down the A2.

photo (61)The Ebbsfleet fans were in fine voice as they walked to the ground. It is amazing how adaptable football chants are these days.  One terrace favourite still advocates the use of firearms to commit Grievous Bodily Harm and was sung with lust by the group as they marched along the suburban streets of Dartford.  No one liked them, they told everyone who was listening as they made room on the pavement for an old lady coming the other way and despite them telling everyone that “Dartford was shit” they spoke about the post match plan after the game to go to Breathe, Dartford’s “premier” night club.  Inside the ground the away fans took up a position at one end, singing a chorus about Dartford having a “shit ground and no fans”.  Just as a reminder, the Darts do average over 300 more fans than The Fleet.  In all seriousness, the Ebbsfleet fans created an atmosphere that is probably rarely seen from away fans in these parts and certainly got behind their team from the first minute.

I was joined by the edge of the pitch by a Dartford-supporting groundhopper.  He was a tad deaf, meaning he shouted at me despite our proximity.  He had given up watching Dartford, he told me, because all they did was play “long ball rubbish”.  “We only score from set pieces” he told me, bemoaning the lack of creativity in the team.  “Watch our number 7, Hayes.  He’s a bottler” he shouted, loud enough for the player himself to hear and immediately go to jelly.  Sure enough, every time there was a 50/50 ball, Hayes would jump out of the way.  “Watch the full back Burns.  Great at getting forward, but takes ages to track back”.  Sure enough, with Burns out of position, Ebbsfleet created the first good chance of the game which the Dartford keeper had to tip over.  Impressed with this perceptive view of the game I asked him for his final score prediction.  “Oh we will win, probably from a set-piece”.

The first half was goal less and with the Dartford fans positioned next to the Ebbsfleet ones there was a fair amount of “banter” between the two sets.  But then at half time the Dartford fans went and took up position at the other end and all of a sudden that extra special cup atmosphere disappeared.

Ten minutes into the second period and Lee Noble was brought down in the Ebbsfleet box by Osborn.  A clear penalty despite some limp protests.  However, Bradbrook stepped up and made no mistake.  Ebbsfleet responded and pressed forward, their fans raising the volume to a new level.  The away side soon had a chance to draw level when Rance was brought down in the box.  May shook his head, passing responsibility to Cook but his effort was saved by the Dartford keeper.  The ball fell loose and a powerful Ebbsfleet strike was blocked by the chest of Dartford’s captain Bradbrook.  “Handball” went the collective shout from players and fans alike, although the fact Bradbrook ended the night in hospital with suspected fractured ribs from the block is probably enough proof for most the referee got it right!

photo (60)Despite all of their efforts Ebbsfleet simply couldn’t find a way through the Dartford defence.  Six minutes of injury time were added and despite the most ludicrous booking for time-wasting I have seen in a long time from the Dartford keeper (he really should have been sent off for two yellows for the same offence in less than a minute) the game ended 1-0.  Dartford’s prize was an away trip to Salisbury City in the next round – hardly one to set the pulses racing but there is always the hope of a better tie in the next round.

Fans of both sides made their way out of the ground and into the night without any animosity.  There hasn’t been many opportunities to play each other in recent years, and many fans (and players) will not remember the days in the 1970’s and 80’s when things were a bit more volatile.  In fact most of the post-match chat was of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and even VCD Athletic.  Old rivalries never die but they certainly mellow over the years.

On the tenth day of Christmas….the best ground


On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, brilliant grounds not one, nor two but three.

This category is for our favourites grounds in 2010 – ones we have been to a few times.  Our criteria for this was, well basically, how we felt on the day. Ease of getting there, the food, the fans, the atmosphere – in short the whole package.  Notable runners in this category are The Beveree, home of Hampton & Richmond Borough, The Swedbank stadium of Malmo FF and Carshalton’s War Memorial Ground. But there can only be three winners in our awards, and they are:-

Princes Park – Dartford FC – Many clubs will look at envy at Dartford’s “new ground”, now actually 7 years old. They could have gone down an Identikit stadium to save money (step 1 purchase from Ikea, step 2 unpack, step 3 find some nuts missing, step 4 take it back) but instead thanks to the vision of the club and the assistance of the local council they have a ground so unique that clubs from all over Europe still visit to see for themselves.

A roof covered in grass which captures the rain water for recycling, a fantastic bar, a public transport system that whisks you from main station to the stadium in minutes, literally a minute from the M25, stands that can be expanded with ease as and when necessary and a 12 foot wooden man holding up the roof. Add in 1,000 Dartford fans and you have a cracking day out.

Wembley Stadium – For all its faults it is still the greatest stadium to watch a game in at the moment.  Every seat faces the centre circle (apparently) and there isn’t a bad view in the house. Sure people may moan about the lack of atmosphere when England play there, the expensive food and the nightmare getting home, but last year we saw a game from the press area (nice biscuits but we got locked in – read about it here) and an Executive box thanks to Adam Lloyd which was luxurious to say the least. For those two reasons it is one of our top 3 grounds – sorry we freely admit we sold out to our principles on this one!

The Dripping Pan – Lewes FC – OK we admit that we are a bit biased on this one but at the end of the day, Brian, these are our awards and if we can’t give them to whole we want then what can we do? I have publically gone on record, and been quoted in at least one national publication, as saying:-

“With the South Downs as a backdrop like a white stage curtain, a pint of local Harveys Ale in my hand and the roar of the Rook Inn Terrace behind me, there is no better place to watch football.”

All true. We like to say at Lewes there are no strangers, only football fans who have not yet fallen in love with the most fashionable club in England (well, I think I said it once after a few too many Harveys). Sure the football may not be the best at times but do we have fun watching it. And so should you. Attendances are up by 70% since the club became a Community Club last Summer,a dn fan involvement can be epitomised by the work in progress Rook Inn. You’d be a fool to miss out.

On the fourth day of Christmas – The best away fans


On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me….a set of away fans to make you proud as can be

Few teams these days really take a passionate away following wherever they go. Perhaps it is the cost of the tickets, the fact that fans are treated like criminals as soon as they step foot inside the ground or the simple blandness of most grounds now in England. However, outside of the Premier League there are some teams whose away support is legendary. In the 86 games we have seen in 2010 there have been some memorable away followings for a number of reasons, ranging from the single away fan from IP Bromma at Helsingborgs in March, to the thousands of York City and Oxford United fans that descended on Wembley Stadium in May for the Blue Square Bet Play off finals. But there can only be three winners in our 12 Days of Christmas awards….I give you the best away fans we saw in 2010.

FC Copenhagen – Whilst the team have dominated the SAS Superliga this season, finishing the first half of the season a mere 19 points ahead of 2nd place after just 19 games, FCK’s fans have certainly haven’t been bored in travelling all across Denmark to watch their team. A few weeks ago nearly a thousand fans travelled some four hours by train in appalling conditions to Randers where they stood on an open terrace in temperatures of minus 10 to cheer their team onto a comfortable 3-0 win. Whilst the passionate fans are often lost in the half empty 38,000 capacity Parken, away from home they generate serious noise on the road. The games against Brondby have been a tinderbox in the past few seasons, although the core of fans only want to support the team.

Dartford – Five years ago it was all doom and gloom for Dartford fans, facing another season in the Kent League, wondering where they would be playing their home games. But the one thing that never changed was the passionate core of support the club had. And it was the drive, commitment and enthusiasm of these fans, as with the case with AFC Wimbledon, FC United of Manchester and now FC Halifax Town, that the club have risen to where they are today. The first step was a stadium, the second was consistency off the pitch – again is it co-incidence that Dartford, FCUM and Wimbledon have risen up the leagues with the same man in charge? Even in the Kent League Dartford took hundreds of fans to the likes of Herne Bay and Lordswood, almost quadrupling the crowd in many instances. Last season we saw around 500 Dartford fans cram into Tonbridge Angels ground, not letting up their positive support for the team for the whole 90 minutes. Now just one step below where they should rightfully be, the fans can take massive credit for the role they have played in this rise from the ashes.

Ijsselmeervogel – A third tier Dutch game hardly sets the minds racing. It is the equivalent of a Blue Square Premier game in England. But when you have two teams from the same village, hell even sharing the same car park then you are onto a winner. Add in an inferiority complex that means both clubs will do anything to out do each other and you are sure to get a cracking atmosphere when they play each other twice a season.  A few hundred words here cannot do justice to the fans so head over to EFW to read about the whole event.

Daylight robbery


Lewes and Bonfires go together like Milton Keynes and roundabouts.  Bonfire festivities began when the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot was declared a national holiday. Celebrations in Lewes were not planned or carried out annually, but were more random events that were more like riots. They continued until they were banned by Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth. However, they were reintroduced when King Charles II returned, but still on a random basis. Interest waned by the end of the 18th century but in the 1820s large groups of Bonfire Boys started celebrating with fireworks and large bonfires. Continue reading

Has anyone seen Grays?


Last weekend was a busy one for the FA. Not only did we have the whole Lord Treason affair but in one of the backrooms at Wembley Stadium sat a man who decided the fate of literally hundreds of non-league clubs as he worked out the league allocations for the coming season.

Last season saw three high profile clubs go to the wall mid-season in Chester City, Farsley Celtic and Kings Lynn. Add to this a number of clubs who had breached league rules and some relegation/promotion enforced geographical anomalies and you can see what a difficult job was on the cards. So what was decided?
Last weekend was a busy one for the FA. Not only did we have the whole Lord Treason affair but in one of the backrooms at Wembley Stadium sat a man who decided the fate of literally hundreds of non-league clubs as he worked out the league allocations for the coming season. Continue reading