On the tenth day of TBIR Christmas – The best Non-League tales

Professional football is as dull as dishwater if you are familiar with the Non-League game. We don’t just have player injured with a calf strain, we have players missing after falling asleep in a bin on a stag do in Marbella and missing their flight home.  What about when the game has to be delayed because there are no more balls available? Alas a non-league team who are stuck in traffic due to an accident simply cannot call up the FA and expect to see a police escort to guide them through the crowds – oh no.  Those games simply appear as a P-P without any explanation at all.  I have deliberately left out stories such as the Thurrock demotion and subsequent appeals at the end of last season simply because I would never consider that to be of amusement.

3rd Place – Have Hyde won yet?
New Picture (38)Times are tough in the Non-Leagues in and around Manchester.  Stockport County have really fallen from grace going from the Football League to the Conference North in just over a year and there has been an implosion at Droylsden FC who so far this season have managed to get just two points and concede a mammoth 112 goals in the process.  But being able to laugh at your own misfortune takes some doing, so hats off to Hyde FC who are having a season from hell in the Conference Premier.  After 25 games this season, the club have picked up three points, from three draws conceding 67 goals in the process.  Current twenty points adrift from safety times look dark.  So what to do?  Well, how about setting up a Twitter account to make light of the situation?  God knows what will happen when they eventually do win a game!

2nd Place – Air Traffic Control
We all rubbed our hands with glee when Guernsey were accepted into the Ryman League family at the end of last season.  All visiting clubs get their travel paid for, as well as a badge to prove they have played in European football.  But four months into the league season and some of the trips have been a little problematic.  Take Worthing’s visit back in October for instance.  After the 4-1 defeat in the Channel Islands, the aptly named “Rebels” enjoyed, to coin a phrase, “high altitude jinks” that resulted in a £10k fine (half of which was suspended) and the sanction that if they play each other next season they will have to make alternative travel arrangements.  In mid December Sittingbourne’s game on the island was postponed after they were grounded at Gatwick due to a problem with the Air Traffic Control system in the UK.  Handy for some Christmas shopping but not for playing football.  Finally, spare a thought for Crawley Down Gatwick who faced an early morning flight on New Years Day to the island.  Unfortunately, the horrendous weather meant they endured a significant delay to their departure.  Whilst the kick off was delayed by 3 1/2 hours, they will have wished it was cancelled outright as the patched up team lost 11-0.

1st Place -Match abandoned due to lack of players
We love our visits to the Harry Abrahams Stadium when Lewes visit Wingate & Finchley.  The hospitality is top notch and whilst the crowds are on the thin side, there has rarely been a dull game played between the two sides.  But nothing could compare to the game they hosted against Thurrock back in March when the match had to be abandoned after Wingate had five players sent off in less than 30 second-half minutes.  Despite goodwill being the order of the day for Mother’s Day and Kick Racism Out of Football, Wingate became the first club in the top 10 levels of English football to have five players sent off in one game.  The game wasn’t even dirty, although there was no questions about any of the five decisions to dismiss the players by the referee.  The final player sent off, John Christian, had also been yellow carded and spectators suggested his deliberate kicking of the ball away with eight minutes to go was an attempt to get sent off and thus end the game.  Thurrock were leading 1-0 at the time and a subsequent league hearing saw them awarded all three points.  Probably not the way that Wingate & Finchley wanted to appear in the national press, but there can be few people who didn’t raise a chuckle at this one.

On the ninth day of TBIR Christmas – The best atmosphere

The dilemma of being a Non-League fan is that the atmosphere at games is generally poor.  You don’t really have high expectations in terms of noise, colour and flare(s) when your fellow supporters all have carrier bags to keep their programmes in or dogs with scarves on.  At some grounds the silence is punctuated with the stir of a cup of tea or the news that Stockbridge Park Steels have taken the lead against Shepshed Dynamo.  And I appreciate the beauty and serenity of the Non-League game.  But sometimes we want noise.  We want passion.  We want people waving fireworks around above their heads.  So let’s raise a glass to three grounds we visited in 2013 that had just that.  These have toughs acts to follow.  Back in 2011 the winners, Legia Warsaw, blew our socks off whilst last year the Belgrade derby is still up there with the best ever footballing experiences I’ve had.  So who were the winners this year?  Well, here goes….

3rd Place – AS Roma v Cagliari – Stadio Olimpico
11074921016_cb8cb6c71f_bItalian football is moribund so we are led to believe. Ultras violence, scandal, match fixing, doping – you name it, at some point it has affected the domestic game.  Long gone are the days when Juve, Inter or AC were considered to be real European greats, challenging for the Champions League.  But try telling that to the chaps in Rome where i Giallorossi have made the best start to a season ever and crowds are flocking back to the Stadio Olimpico.  The atmosphere at the derby game has to be experienced first hand, but for a run of the mill Sunday night game it is pretty special too.  Deafening, to be precise with colour, smoke and noise filling all of your senses.  Despite the disappointment of a goal less draw against a team at the foot of the table, the support was once again fantastic.  Some more pictures I hear you ask?  OK then…just for you.

2nd Place – Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund – Allianz Arena
photo (3)Germany?  Best atmosphere?  Well that doesn’t take such research does it? Actually it does.  Getting tickets for this game, a German Cup quarter-final was almost impossible.  But thanks to a man in the know I managed to get a ticket.  On a freezing cold evening with snow still heavy on the ground we arrived at the Allianz Arena and was immediately thawed out by 64,000 Bayern fans who were in a party mood and directed their passion at the few thousand Dortmund fans who had made the long journey south.  The game itself wasn’t a classic, certainly not one that the two best German, heck, European sides, could have served up but this was to be simply a warm up for what was to come in May. Want to see some more?  Head over here then.

1st Place – Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund – Wembley Stadium
8835116252_64a45a15a6_bI know that many fans were disappointed that the Champions League final at Wembley didn’t feature a sniff of an English team, but quite frankly the rest of us were purring at the prospect of seeing the two best teams in Europe on such a global scale.  Once again, from the most unlikeliest source a ticket was trust into my hand and I was in.  The build up in Old London Town was fantastic, with both sets of fans mixing well and enjoying life before heading to Wembley stadium where the atmosphere was simply outstanding.  Perhaps it was the fact each club had been allowed to bring their own stewards, or the fact that someone brought in a few flares but it was one fantastic afternoon watching possibly the best club side of all time become Champions of Europe.  You can see more pictures of joy here.

On the third day of TBIR Christmas – Best Football book of the year

Despite living in the digital age, we still love occasionally having a saunter down to the TBIR Arms, enjoying a comfy armchair by the fire and reading a decent book.  This year we’ve seen quite a few that have tickled our fancy and are certainly on our recommended list.  In fact at the moment we have three on the go, interchanging between them as we jolly-well like.  Two of our winners should be familiar to you , but the best book we read this year will hit you like a bolt from the blue.  Oh, and before you rush to think The Football Tourist is in the list, we obviously excluded that despite its winning attributes.

3rd Place – The Numbers Game – Chris Anderson and David Sally
Number GameI love stats, random facts and the numerical explanation and this book by Anderson and Sally goes nuts deep into the explanations for some myths in football.  The opening chapters about Stoke City’s success at long throw-ins and why other teams haven’t copied it explains a lot (I also have some insight from a former Pulis throw-in specialist to back this up), the dispelling of the commentators favourite saying about being vulnerable after scoring a goal will have you shouting at the TV in future and statistical comparisons over years of European data gives the research authenticity. Well worth a read.

2nd Place – The Nowhere Men – Michael Calvin
NWIn the past twelve months I have taken on a new role with Lewes FC, in addition to the half a dozen unpaid ones I already had.  I’ve become head of Scouting for London and North Thames, which basically means I get to watch our forthcoming opposition standing in the pouring rain alongside a few dozen other people.  Nobody understands the loneliness of the job until now.  Calvin’s book focuses on the role of player scouts but conveys the desperation and unthanking role these individuals play in the footballing jigsaw.  It is a brilliant insight, a back-stage tour of football at all levels of our game.  Definitely one to pick up and enjoy.

1st Place – The Report from the 1962 World Cup – Jeffrey, Smith & Becker
After a ten mile walk from Richmond to Hampton a few weeks ago we literally stumbled into a pub in Hampton High Street for a well deserved pint or three.  Whilst the Man City Arsenal game was captivating the rest of the pub, my eyes were drawn to the charity bookshelves and one old dark red bound book.  I picked it up and fell in love.  It was the OFFICIAL story of the 1962 Chilean World Cup.  No FIFA spin, no advertising blurb, just a story, day by day of the first World Cup to be properly broadcast by domestic TV.  It was the World Cup that brought us the Battle of Santiago between the host nation and Chile, which the late David Coleman described as “The most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game”.  Paying £10 for such a brilliant book would have been a steal, but this cost me £1 (ONE). Best. Self. Present. Ever

Tomorrow – The worst new ground visited

On the second day of TBIR Christmas – The best EFW Venue

This title seems to change hands on a monthly basis depending on where we have headed, but this year there has been a clear winner.  Two years ago it was Poland thanks to its cheap beer, cheap match tickets and red-hot atmosphere, even on the coldest days.  Then last year, after visits to Fortuna, Bayern Munich and Velbert the title was handed on a plate to Germany.  But this year, despite visits to Münster, Dortmund and of course the fantastic spectacle at Wembley for the Champions League final, there is a new name on the coveted trophy – and it’s not alcohol and atmosphere free France….So in reverse order:-

3rd Place – Italy
11075152534_3d53241577_bYes it’s a pain in the arse getting tickets thanks to the changes to the regulations meaning you have to prove your identity and the stadiums aren’t in the same league as the rest of Europe, but they can still play a good tune on the old banjos.  Having sampled the Curve Nord in Bologna and the Tribuna Tevere in Rome I have to say they still have the X-Factor when it comes to putting on a decent show.  Still worth a visit especially if it is a derby match.

2nd Place – Germany
8835116252_64a45a15a6_bSlipping one place this year, Germany is still the text-book, fail safe formula to a great weekend away.  Some of the best beer in world, some of the best stadiums in the world, some of the best public transport in the world and now some of the best football in the world.  Seems an unbeatable formula, but my one criticism would be how rigid the fixtures are – little chance of more than two games to sample in a weekend. And trust me, you will want to sample as much as you can in Germany.

1st Place – Belgium
11179591936_e8e1086e1d_bA new entry at number 1 this year is Belgium.  It’s right on our doorstep yet we seem to pass it right by on our way to Germany, France or even Holland.  But all you need for a great weekend is right there.  Virtually everywhere in Belgium is no more than an hour from Brussels.  Every town or city has bars with beers served in strange glasses coming out of your ears.  Food?  Well who really needs anything more than a carrier bag full of double cooked chips, some strange sauces and various items deep-fried.  The football is now getting better and better and the atmosphere at some games can rival anything else in Europe.  Go before the rest of the world discovers it.

On the fourth day of TBIR Christmas – The Best football tat

Football clubs are the best in the world at taking any item, sticking a badge on it and selling it at a premium, because they know that like lemmings jumping over a cliff, fans will buy anything.  Back in the day some of the big clubs dipped a toe into true commercialisation by producing curtains, wallpaper and duvet covers.  I even had a West Ham throw on my bed that potentially stopped some “action” when a young girl managed to be persuaded upstairs whilst my parents were at work one summer holiday and as a Spurs fan she said “for God yes; for my country, yes; for my Queen, yes but not bloody likely for Billy Bonds”.

So in the past year we have had our feelers out for this new category of award.  We have seen some belters that didn’t make the final cut.  The rule here was then we had to see the items for ourselves.  So without further ado I give you the top three items of football tat in 2012:-

3rd best football tat – VfL Bochum net curtains
8116079356_ff77f7319a_bImagine the scene.  You are in a bar close to your favourite team’s ground. but you cannot look out of the window because you will not be seen as a fanatical follower of your team.  So what do you do?  What about buying some small net curtains emblazoned with your club badge that both protects your privacy and shows your allegiance.  Well look no further than these beauties being modelled by none other than Kenny “Adventures in Tinpot” Legg on our recent beano to the Ruhr Valley.  Available in home “white” or away “whitish”.

2nd best football tat – The Sullivan and Gold bobbleheads
SugoWe all know that David Sullivan and David Gold have a “bit of an ego” but even by their standards the appearance of these beauties in the West Ham United Christmas catalogue takes some beating.  Why would anyone, outside of the SuGo families want these monstrosities on their desk?  What value do they add to anyone’s life?  Unless you want to take a sledgehammer to them, of course.  And the real impressive part, they cost a “mere” £12.99.

Best football tat 2012 – The Lille signing toaster
8248897452_7e445e92f7_bThe club toaster has been around for a few years now for those fans who cannot live without their cooked bread emblazoned with your club badge on.  These are really old hat but imagine my surprise when browsing the Megastore in Lille when I came across this beauty.  Not only a toaster that burns Lille LOSC on your breakfast but plays a little ditty when it’s ready..”Allez, Allez Lille OSC” goes the toaster until you flick the switch or smashed to smithereens by your partner.