All is wet on New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day was supposed to be a day of celebration.  Since the fixtures were released back in July we had been looking forward at welcoming Maidstone United at The Dripping Pan today.  With an expected four figure crowd, a special bumper edition matchday programme written and enough organic burgers to feed at least a dozen people we were ready to put on a show.  On Saturday our pitch team battled against the elements to get our game versus East Thurrock United on and we all did a collective sigh of relief when the final whistle blew and over 650 fans applauded the efforts of those who had not only performed but had got the game on.

photoAlas, the forecast for the days before the New Year was poor, and so it was.  We put “Pitch Watch” in place via Twitter, with images of the ground posted regularly to give us all hope.  Alas, the torrential rain on New Year’s Eve meant that the standing water on the pitch wasn’t to the referees liking and with a very heavy heart our game was cancelled.  The cost to us?  Thousands of pounds.  Instead of welcoming a crowd of 1,200, we will be lucky to get 400 when the game is squeezed into a midweek slot in February.  Gate receipts will be down by £8,000.  Programme sales down.  Catering down. Bar takings down.  Yet our costs don’t change.  Players still need to be paid this week, utilities have to be paid, printers still want their invoices paying.

We weren’t alone.  In fact every game in the Isthmian Premier fell by the wayside, and only one game in the Conference South made it to 3pm.  But with a “free game pass” I had little options as to where to go.

I was literally driving around Essex and Cambridgeshire looking for a game to go to as my options reduced.  I had one last chance.  Dagenham & Redbridge.  Despite the appalling weather, it looked like the game at Victoria Road, or the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Stadium to give it its catchy shorter name was on, so headed down the A13 to meet up with the Daggers Diary team for the first game of what promises to be a great year of football. Continue reading

The principles of cause and effect

“Ladies love me, girls adore me.  I mean even the ones who never saw me
Like the way that I rhyme at a show.  The reason why, man, I don’t know.
So let’s go, ’cause…..”

This was going to be the best day ever.  Well, certainly since I last got the opportunity to go to two  new grounds in one day that is for sure.  Such avenues of pleasure are rarely open these days in England and normally we have to head on over to visit Uncle Kenny in Düsseldorf to take in such treats.  But here I was soaking up the rays at our third game of the day, Yep.  Three had become two due to that old fellow call Casuality.  Not one, nor two but three.  As Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock once said, “It Takes Two…plus one”

Let’s remind to 11am.  Our first venue?  Why Tolworth of course.  I mean, where else would anyone want to me on a Saturday morning.  Tolworth, the land of dreams.  Known as Talerode (toll road) in the Doomsday Book, it was here that David Bowie back in 1973 smudged his face makeup and ended up looking like ” a spider from Mars”, giving birth to his whole Ziggy Stardust phase.  Its most famous resident though is Alan Wheatley, the first ever person killed by a Dalek on TV.  Alan is available for birthday’s. weddings and corporate events where he re-enacts his demise to popular songs of the time.

9327436675_9320f39f71_bHowever, I had no time for cultural recreation.  I had a deadline to meet.  11am, to be precise when the annual Geoff Harvey Memorial Trophy was due to kick off, featuring the number one sporting team in Tolworth, Corinthian-Casuals, taking on local rivals Kingstonian.  Where do you start with the Pink and Chocolates?  Well, how about back in 1939 when a merger between Corinthian FC and Casuals FC.  The former started life in 1882, with a mission to be able to challenge the supremacy of the Scotland National Team.  I’m sure that today they would probably achieve their aim.

Corinthian rightly deserve their place in the history of football, being mentioned with honours in David Hartrick’s excellent book 50 Teams That Mattered.  Few teams from the amateur period can match their influence.  Real Madrid, so taken with their ethics (and tasty scones they took on tour to Spain), adopted the white shirts they still wear today.  A team in Brazil went one further, adopting their name and still proudly using that name today.  They even beat Manchester United once 11-3, but didn’t brag about it in the Sunday tabloids.  Instead they all went home on the Omnibus and had a nice cup of tea. Continue reading

Dons outthink free falling Daggers

Fresh from the beaches of Catalunya, Brian Parish was ready for the Daggers final push to save their Football League status – well for a week at least before he went back out to Spain.

After the glamour and excitement of our European trip a couple of weeks ago, for Dagenham Dan and I, it was back to familiar ground last weekend, for our home game against Bradford. Results after the crushing 0-5 defeat at home to Cheltenham had improved; a goalless draw at Plymouth was followed by an unexpected (but more than welcome) win up at Morecambe. In ten years of visiting Morecambe, I have never seen us win there, as our only victories in that time have come on the two occasions that I haven’t been able to attend. Perhaps I should leave well alone.

Last weekend saw the visit of one of the biggest clubs in the division, Bradford City. Their plummet down through the divisions has been well documented, but in an encounter that sort of threatened to get going but never really did, the one moment of quality settled it. Matt Saunders, a recent free agent signing, scored with a beautiful free kick, to earn us the points, despite the dangerous wing play of the Bradford number 32, Kyle Reid. To sum up our season though, Saunders was injured taking the free kick, and so sat out our midweek trip to Swindon.

With results improving, there was the hope of getting something from the trip to Wiltshire, but instead all we got was another thumping (0-4), and we lost our main striker to a straight red card, which will mean a ban of three games. All in all, those that travelled have probably had better nights out. And to have to pay £25 for the privilege as well, meant that the night out was probably in the region of around £60. Not good.

At least our next couple of away games are a bit closer. In ten days time we travel on the Northern line of the London Underground to High Barnet, for what is becoming an eagerly contested fixture. Today though, we venture to south west London, for a district line derby visit to AFC Wimbledon.

Given that the club was only formed ten years ago from the ashes of the original Wimbledon FC that was shamefully allowed to decamp seventy miles up the road to Milton Keynes, what they have achieved is to be truly admired. I’m not sure if even the most die-hard fan could have predicted the meteoric rise of the club, but here they are, and they are more than coping with the demands of the football league. Their win at our place in August was their first away victory since promotion last May, and so we know that this is going to be a tough day out. However, recent form (3 wins in 22 league games) is not so good, so this is a game that we may, just may be able to take something from. Continue reading

Daggers done by Dons Double

Brian Parish pops down to watch League new boys AFC Wimbledon take on the Daggers.

After our opening day win up at Macclesfield, we have our first home game of the season, and it’s against the winners of last season’s Conference play off final, AFC Wimbledon.

Much will have already been written about the rise and rise of the club. Formed in 2002, it’s been almost a continual upward curve for the club formed from the ashes of the original, which as I am sure that all of you are aware, were allowed to move to Milton Keynes, to form the MK Dons. For a club that has been in existence for nine years to make it all the way from the Combined Counties League to the Football League is pretty remarkable, and it’s a testament to all the players that will have pulled on the blue shirt since 2002, as well as the managers that the club has got this far in such a short space of time. Continue reading

Prayers are answered if you ask nicely..

Nigel Henderson recants the moment that AFC Wimbledon completed their remarkable rise up the non league ladder.

On Saturday evening, about 20 minutes before the world was due to end according to a well-publicised American preacher, I lifted my eyes up to the greying sky above the City of Manchester Stadium and asked the Man Upstairs for one last favour.

As Danny Kedwell, the AFC Wimbledon captain, lined up the final of his team’s five penalties – one that would, should he score, clinch a “return” to the Football League for a club at least moulded in the Dons’ image, I realised that I wanted this more than anything. More than world peace, more than a successful and contented professional life, more even than dinner with Jennifer Aniston and whatever might follow over coffee at her Hollywood mansion – and even if it did mean eternal damnation.

Coming to a League Two ground near you soon

Kedwell did the job – as you knew the 25-goal striker just might – smashing the ball to the right of Mark Tyler, the Luton goalkeeper – and set off on a sprint of delight in front of the seating where the bulk of his team’s fans were massed. If the promised Rapture was not about to arrive for the world’s faithful, it had certainly arrived for the Wimbledon one.

It was a pinch-yourself moment. I turned to my friend Kev, and we hugged in disbelieving joy. Kev is a Derby County fan but had been at my side at Wembley in 1988 when the “original” Wimbledon had beaten extraordinary odds and a Double-chasing Liverpool team to add an FA Cup victory to their meteoric rise from non-League in 1977 to the top flight. He had also been present at Bottom Meadow, when AFC Wimbledon had played their first competitive game against Sandhurst Town in the lowest league of senior football. Continue reading

Unsung Heroes Part 4: Remember you’re a Womble

Mascots – those big things that come in a variety of shapes and sizes that no major sporting events would today be without.  Us English can lay claim to this worldwide phenomenon when in 1966 World Cup Willie became the first “human” mascot.

But did you know the word mascot comes from the French word “mascoto” which means a piece of witchcraft ?  And based on the conduct of some of the most famous characters, such as Cyril the Swan who famously drop kicked the head of Millwall’s Zampa the Lion into the crowd, or Deepdale Duck at Preston who has a habit of annoying linesmen they do more than just amuse the crowd – they are an icon. Continue reading

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A few months ago I made myself very unpopular with a large section of fans from AFC Wimbledon in writing my blog post about their game against Hampton & Richmond.  The vast majority of the abuse (and that is the only word for most of it) related to the fact that I was biased towards the home team.  Despite the fact that all my blog posts focus on the home side, and that the whole point of the article was to profile the Hampton & Richmond manager Alan Devonshire, many fans took exception to the way I reported the game, and the behaviour at the end of the game of certain sections of their crowd (invading the pitch whilst the game was still on and launching abuse at a home player being carried off with a serious injury).

For the record I have no issue with AFC as a club, nor their fans in general.  Their rise from nothing to the Blue Square Premier League, just one step off the Football League ladder, has been nothing short of miraculous and an inspiration to other clubs who have similar values, but based on my one experience of watching them so far I found it hard to try and prepare to write something positive this time around.

But what the heck.  New season, new attitudes and all that.  This season will be a huge test for the club.  The Blue Square Premier is no pushover.  There are nine clubs in the division who have played in the Football League in the past 5 years.  I would say that three – Luton Town, Oxford United and Wrexham – have more cash and facilities than most of League Division Two teams.  In the case of Luton they weren’t even one of the worst two teams in the league but were relegated because of anarchaic laws governing club ownership.  No team had successfully made the immediate jump from Blue Square South to the Football League in one go.  Last season South champions Lewes got it all wrong off the pitch (see story here) and were relegated by Easter.  Eastbourne Borough had a better season, finishing in a credible mid table spot but it is not an easy transition.

Not many fans, judging by my straw poll at the Market Porter on Friday lunchtime, knew about the Co-Operative SD Cup.  In fact until I looked it up with a search on Google (results under the location for my nearest clinic btw), I had no clue.  It is in fact the Supporters Direct Cup.  A cup for those teams set up and run by fans.  In the current football world where fan ownership, participation or even actual consideration is all but gone in the upper reaches of the professional game, there are two examples of clubs that have got it right.  AFC and FC United.  And as luck would have it both had qualified for this prestigious final.  Well, not strictly true.  Being the two biggest such clubs it made sense that they simply played each other and the winners got a cup and bragging rights.  A bit like the now defunct Outperformance Display Trophy that West Ham competed for each year against random foreign teams but never seemed to win.  This was to be the fourth such cup final played between the two.

In London and the South, the rise of AFC Wimbledon has been well documented from their inception and their historic first season in the Combined Counties league in 2002, playing in front of home gates of over 3,000 at Kingsmeadow in a groundshare arrangement with Kingstonians (more than Wimbledon FC were getting at the National Hockey stadium in Milton Keynes).  However, less is known of FC United of Manchester.  Most football fans will recall they were set up by Manchester United fans in protest at the club’s take over by the Glazer family.  They have risen quickly up the non-league pyramid and will this year try to move out of the Northern Premier League, making the step up to the Blue Square North.  They also have attracted some very impressive gates, using Bury’s Gigg Lane as their home, and in fact on numerous occasions actually getting more fans than their landlords.  The club have set themselves some ambitious targets including owning their own stadium by 2012 and having an average home gate of 5,000 by the end of this season.  They have also invested alot of time and trouble in the local community, funding coaching programmes for fans (so that they can scout for players for the club ultimately) and have a profile of younger fans than most other clubs.

So the meeting of two ambitious clubs was going to be very interesting, and meant there was more than a bit of silverware at stake.  The clubs had met three times before in this competition, with AFC winning twice so FC United were certainly out for some revenge.  As luck would have it Littlest Fuller had demanded her monthly visit to Chessington World of predictable rides, and being just a few miles up the road it would have been rude not to have attended this game.  What surprised me was that Lolly fancied the football as well as opposed to queueing an hour for the only decent ride in the park.

AFC Wimbledon 2 FC United of Manchester 0 – Kingsmeadow – Saturday 25th July

Grass roots football

Grass roots football

Fuller taxi’s dropped us off opposite the stadium and we joined in the relaxed atmosphere outside the ground in the car park with fans from both teams enjoying some rare sunshine in a very friendly environment.  Tickets for the game were very reasonably priced at £10 and £3, less than half the price of the friendly at Grays two weeks ago.  The club had really made an effort to put a number of activities on for the fans, including a cricket memorabilia auction and a pre match cross bar challenge.  Four players from each team (well, substitutes and coaches) tried to hit the bar from the halfway line.  One of the Wimbledon players managed to hit the top of the post and he won the competition by getting the closest.  as the players trooped off the pitch one of the other players casually took one step and placed the ball right on top of the bar from the same distance with a shrug of the shoulders as if to say “why didn’t you ask me”.

The teams came out, preceeded by Haydon the Womble who was certainly one of the most active mascots I had seen for a while.  at one point he appeared with a wheelie bin which he used to try and generate an atmosphere in the main stand.  The FC United fans had taken up residence in the newly expanded (well they had built an extra terrace step) east end and were generating a fair noise.  In fact there seemed to be very few moments in the first half when they actually stopped singing.  AFC looked the more composed team, and the two FC United centre backs never looked comfortable, or even fit at times, trying to mark last seasons top scorer Jon Main.  But it was the visitors who had the first chance, when they were awarded a penalty for a clear trip on the FC United forward.  The spot kick from Adam Carden was weak and the AFC Wimbledon goalkeeper got down well and saved the penalty with his legs.

That was the highlight of a first half high on effort but low on chances.  In fact the closest AFC came to breaking the deadlock was a sliced clearance from the FC United centre back that had the Sam Ashton scrambling for cover.  The second half saw mass changes by Wimbledon, which was obviously going to affect the pace of the game.  It was also obvious that some of the FC United fans had disappeared from behind the goal, perhaps to the bar?  Lolly and I had a wander around the ground and met up with Jonno (one of the England passengers for last year’s trip to Paris) who was also on daughter duty, although his was suffering with teething and he was having a much harder afternoon than me with Lolly!  He gave me a quick run through of the goings on at the club over the summer, being a season ticket holder who was still talking to me!

Just as the PA announcer read out a crowd of 1,772 (down on the corresponding game 2 years ago but still way above average for most Blue Square teams) Wimbledon took the lead.  A freekick from the left hand side was drilled across the area and at the far post completely unmarked was Ben Judge to tap home.  FC United tried to get themselves back in the game and Marsh hit the post with a spectulative drive.

But it was always going to be AFC’s day and a second came in the final minutes as a well timed run down the right by one of the Dons substitutes allowed him time to pick his man, and triallist Peter Rapson slotted home, unmarked to win the game (Highlights of the game can be seen on YouTube by clicking here). All formalities over and the trophy back in the hands of the Dons, Lolly and I headed off to meet Fuller Taxis for our long drive down to our Dacha in the Gower and a week of relaxation, rain and maybe a couple of new games.

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About the Cherry Red Records Fans Stadium (aka Kingsmeadow)
Kingsmeadow has been the home of the club since their formation in 2002 when they entered into a ground share deal with Kingstonians, who at the time were playing in the Conference.  Financial problems saw them sell the ground to individuals who seemed more intent on acquiring the land, and so AFC’s fans raised over £1m to buy the lease of the stadium.  The long term aim is to return to the London Borough of Merton but for now Kingsmeadow is a suitable home with a capacity of 4,700.

It is a typical non-league modern ground with one single tier main stand, and covered terracing around the three other sides. The away fans are now allocated in the shallow east end, although they can generate a fair noise.  On three of the four corners there is a tea bar, and beer is available outside the stadium in the main stand bars.

How to get to Kingsmeadow
The ground is located just outside Kingston in south west London.  It can be easily reached by car, train or bus.  If you are coming by car then the easiest approach is from the A3, leaving at the junction for New Maldon/Worcester Park and following the A2043 northwards towards Kingston.  Take 1st exit at the roundabout into Kingston Road and the ground is a mile up the road on your left hand side.  There is a small car park at the ground, otherwise it is street parking.  By bus you can get the 131 from Kingston station that runs to Tooting Broadway and stops right outside the ground.  The nearest station is actually Norbiton, which is a ten minute walk away.  For a more detailed plan of attack click here.

How to get a ticket for Kingsmeadow
Expect demand to be very high for places to watch AFC Wimbledon this season.  With some well supported teams in the Blue Square Premier there will be a number of sell outs so getting tickets in advance is almost essential.  The club will be selling match by match tickets on their website which can then be picked up on the day of the game.  Ticket prices are very reasonable and cost £16 for a seat or £12 for a place on the Terrace for adults and £4 and £2 respectively for children.

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