On the second day of TBIR Christmas – The worst game in 2012

For every six goal cracker we have seen there have been a number of games that were immediately forgettable. Whilst we have traveled hundreds, even thousands of miles to watch the beautiful game, you cannot guarantee the match will be decent. So let’s celebrate those games which gave football a bad name in 2012.

3rd worst game in 2012 – Aveley 0 Lewes 0
7054392011_6a5b1b20cf_zLewes were dead and buried in the hunt for a play off spot until mid March, and then all of a sudden the squad discovered their mojo and went on an amazing run that saw them move into the play off spots with just a few games to go. Despite other teams having games in hand, the Rooks could almost touch end of season glory with a win in deepest, darkest Essex. Aveley’s Mill Road ground has seen better days. In fact it is one of the most desolate grounds in the Non League, held together with sticking tape and hard to love. Anything less than a win for the home side and they would be relegated. Banker away win, surely? Alas no. It was one of those games that you want to create a time machine and go back two hours and visit Lakeside instead.

2nd worst game in 2012 – New York Red Bulls 0 Sporting Club Kansas 2
8006064292_8089eb5917_bNothing demonstrates American’s love of sport more than a scheduled midweek game in the MLS on the same night the Yankees are playing. With a few minutes to kick off you could count the crowd in the Red Bull Arena with your hands and toes. Whilst the club have build a brand new stadium (albeit in the middle of nowhere), and have marketed themselves well in the Tri-State area, the fans don’t really appreciate them enough to make a mid-week game at 7pm when the Yankees are also playing. But this game was bad, not just because of the lack of atmosphere but because the home side, with talented players such as Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill simply couldn’t be bothered to raise themselves to play. It was a torrid game, punctuated by two goals from the away team that gave them all three points.

Worst game in 2012 – Ilford 0 Thamesmead Town 0
8060623821_af061df1c4_zIt is incredibly hard for Non League clubs in the area around west Essex/London borders to build a supporters base. Within a ten minute drive of Ilford there is a Premier League side, two nPower clubs and over a dozen Non League teams. Consequently clubs like Ilford have to fight for every fan. This game paired the two of the worst supported teams in the Ryman League North, with average attendances of 54 and 49 respectively. I’m sure the fact that they play at a municipal athletics ground hardly encourages floating fans, but games like this don’t help either. I watched for 45 minutes before I had to depart but in that time I didn’t see one chance on goal from either side. One half is not a reflection of a season, and I appreciate the predicament they are both in, but there has to be a loser for every winner and this year it is Ilford and Thamesmead Town. Sorry chaps.

The Bourne Identity

After three and a half hours of watching horses (and riders) jumping over the same fences I needed some excitement.  It is tough spending so much time around “horsey” types.  They tend think they are better than us footballing types, with their jodphurs on and sitting a glass of champagne, whilst we were tucking into our pork pies and it is not a world I ever want to have to socialise in.  So when our Olympic session ended at 2pm I eyed up a return to normality with a trip to a Non League Pre-Season friendly.  One had my name all over it – a “new” ground for me and also an opportunity to do some Ryman League scouting – Sittingbourne.

Just over an hour later I was pulling up outside Bourne Park, part of the Central Park complex in Sittingbourne.  Alas, it shares nothing but the name with the famous “lungs” of New York City.  Central Park, Sittingbourne is a Greyhound stadium, surrounded by industrial units, where as Central Park, New York is surrounded by world-famous museums.  However, as all good Kent Non League aficionados will know, Sittingbourne FC no longer play at the Greyhound Stadium – they play in the idylically named “lower field”. Continue reading

It’s not a results business is it?

“Well I want you to understand somethin’. To me, being perfect is not about that scoreboard out there. It’s not about winning. It’s about you and your relationship to yourself and your family and your friends”

So much pressure is put on sports players to perform. Win at all cost seems to be the motto at all levels of the game we should love. And why should we love it? Because it at the end of the day it is supposed to be a past time, something to enjoy, to relieve our stress of an ever increasing hard life. But there is more to life than the pursuit of winning. There is enjoyment.

Relevance? Well ask any of the 600 or so Lewes fans how much they enjoyed the second half of the game versus Hendon last week. Whilst the last few minutes were nervous to say the least, the outstanding display from the team in the opening period of the half was scintillating. Attacking football, played with heart, passion and belief is all that our fans can hope for.

I have been brought up watching West Ham. The Academy. Brooking, Devonshire, Di Canio. Happy to be losing 4-3 than grinding out a 1-0 win. That is why so many people used to consider the Hammers their second team. But all of that has changed now – money has become more important than enjoyment and so it is all about the result and not the performance. And that is why I get my kicks at the likes of Aveley’s Mill Field, one of the least aesthetically pleasing grounds we will come across on our tour of the Ryman Premier League this season. Continue reading

Derby Day part 4 – A double helping of Essex United

What a day this promised to be.  Three (well two and a half) fiercely contested local derbies, either side of the River Thames, which thanks to some fortuitous scheduling, that I could go to, as well as still putting in some “Fuller Festive Family Fun”.  Christmas is all about spending time with your loved ones, catching up on the events of the year and generally being around those nearest and dearest to you.  But when the words “Let’s go to the sales” are mentioned, all love goes out the window and football becomes a viable option.  Hence, when the three Fuller girls all expressed a wish to go shopping, I played the football get out of jail free card and planned my day of hot and spicy local derbies.

First up was a trip under the Thames to Essex for the “Battle of the M25 junction 28” as they call it in these parts. Billericay Town sat proudly on top of the table before a ball was kicked.  Despite their nearest rivals all winning yesterday, their amble goal difference of plus 27 saw them safely sit in first place.  Visitors AFC Hornchurch lay in fourth with a game in hand and just four points below.  So a win for either side today could be pivotal in the final shake up. Continue reading

Back of the NaNetti

My bwin betting account is looking a bit low these days. After being taken to the cleaners in the various sports in the past few weeks, including backing Arsenal to win at Old Trafford a few weeks ago I rose early this morning for the Rugby World Cup.  The Little Fuller’s were still asleep so their pocket money went on France to win by 50 points versus Japan.  I broke the news to them at 9am that there wouldn’t be any cash in their pocket this week, due to “Extenuating circumstances”.  I quickly scraped together a few more pounds and put it on Argentina to win with an eleven point start.  Phew! I was redeemed..the children could have sweets once more.  Or should I just put the lot on a healthy Lewes win?

Of course I shouldn’t put these damn iPhone Apps mean that just a few seconds later I had Lolly’s weekly wage on a Lewes HT/FT and Littlest Fuller’s on a 4-0 win. Ninety minutes we could all be dining on ambrosia…or gruel.

It is fair to say that this week hasn’t been one of my finest.  A few little “stresses” at work have resulted in some early mornings and long nights.  Then I had an Intellectual Property issue, and finally someone nicked by car.  Or so I was led to believe.  Landing from Denners on Thursday I turned on my phone to have a dozen missed calls.  I got hold of CMF to see what the issue was.  “Be prepared for some bad news.”  I put down my pint glass. “Someone has nicked your car”. Stinker.  Sitting in the boot was a new pair of football socks. Continue reading

Kevin Toms is my hero

Once upon a time a man called Kevin Toms.  Some of you (probably those over the age of 35) will have known his product very well indeed.  To others the name will mean nothing, but I bet if you a) Own a PC, PSP, Playstation, X-Box or Wii, b) Love football and c) Do not have a demanding wife/partner you will have heard of Championship Manager.  Probably only rivalled by redtube.com as the most fun you can have on your own with a PC, Championship Manager gives us all an opportunity to be Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho or Gianfranco Zola (unfortunately the “alleged” nocturnal activities of a certain Portsmouth manager cannot be re-created in the current versions of the game), starting with the lowest of the lows and rising to the top.  My record was taking Grays Athletic to the Champions League final in my 27 year managerial history on the game.

So who is this Kevin, and what relevance does it have on today’s post?  Well, Kevin Tombs developed the first every football manager simulation game for the ZX Spectrums back in the very early 1980’s.  In the game everyone the opportunity to manager a team, and watch the game unfold in pure two dimensional unadulted by advertising green graphics.  Want to see what kept us in our bedrooms for so long at the time without a staple through their naval? Well you can still play a version of the game by clicking here.

So where am I going with this one?  Simple – Aveley.  Who or where you may ask!  Aveley is essentially a large town, or small village just the other side of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge.  Heard of Thurrock?  Well its near there.  It is in fact about a mile and a half from the home of Thurrock FC, although technically they actually play in Purfleet. Aveley FC are in the Isthmian Premier League, one level below the Blue Square North/South or “Step 3” for those like me in the know.  And tonight Matthew they were playing in the Isthmian Cup, aka The Championship Manager Cup, at the quarter final stage no less against another team from the Essex bordering Thames Estuary, Canvey Island.

Aveley FC, or the “Millers” have been playing at this level since 1973 when they were first elected to the Isthmian league.  They had bounced up and down the various levels but could point to the fact that they were Rymans League 1 North champions last season to get into the Premier League where they had more than held their own this season.  They actually won the title in dramatic circumstances, beating champions elect East Thurrock United 3-2 on the last day.  But this was cup football, and the form book could go out of the window.  The Millers had actually won this competition before, some twenty years ago when it was known as the AC Delco Cup when they beat St Albans City 3-0.  There was also the small issue of a FA Cup qualifying round defeat to Canvey Island from 2002 to avenge, and avenge they planned to do.

So why such excitement about a Monday night game in tidal Essex?  Well, for one it was a rare midweek outing for me which was actually on! And that despite the Fuller 5 A Side Arena (aka the back garden) still being under inches of water, and secondly because you rarely get an opportunity to turn up at a game with your Playstation controller to influence the game – or that is what I thought we were supposed to do and told Dagenham Dan to bring his along too.

Lolly, our official photographer was also allowed a night off from her 11+ revision, making the TBIR party a significant proportion of the attendance.  Well, based on the previous round when the local derby with AFC Hornchurch had attracted just 104 then we wouldn’t be too far from the truth.  The Isthmian league had been decimated by the weather since Christmas and many teams had lost five or six games due to postponements so you could see why this cup is a bit of a distraction – in fact in the previous round Concord Rangers and Tonbridge had failed to fulfil their fixtures for various reasons.  But this was a local derby and passions would be at the fore right?

Aveley  2  Canvey Island 1 – The Mill Field – Monday 1st March 2010
Signs were good when we turned up.  The car park was full and the pot hole filled access road lined with cars.  Perhaps we had vastly underestimated the lure of this game.  We paid our £10 for entry and a programme and was amazed to see that the crowd consisted of us and three others.  We headed for the tea bar – a magnificent structure in the corner of the ground complete with a retro neon sign and a theme park style queueing system.  They were rushed off their feet but not by us, but by the massed crowds of females in the adjacent hall.  Stripper night?  No better than that – for this is Essex.  It was “dancing around your handbag” lessons! (only joking!  The room was packed though).

The Dagenham crew arrives and immediately doubled the attendance and we secured a spot in front of the main stand.  A late rush of spectators took the attendance up past the fifty mark, but still in the “safe” area of my bet with Dan with was “less than 73”.  The ground is a really strange affair.  I know this is only Rymans League, and this is the highest level the club have played at, but it appears to have shrunk over the years.  On the far side, beyond the Rymans Stand (Scaffolding and tin roof with a Rymans sign on) is another football pitch size bit of land sitting within the grounds outer wall.  At the north end there is another large track of land, and the pitch itself is flanked by yards of empty grass.  Why not move the boundary walls in then?  or does the ground double up as the home of the Essex Knights Polo team in the Summer?

The game was due to be played to a finish, although with the temperature dropping most of us hoped that extra time and penalties would not be needed.  Aveley lined up with Junior Dadson in the starting line up, and an A Daddy on the bench – quite a fatherly duo if ever I saw one.  And Canvey had their own JEDward and Jon Edwards probably heard that for the first time.

The first half was dominated by the signing efforts of the Aveley Crew in the main stand, rolling out their song book including a version of Bubbles which had the line “Just like Thurrock, they fade and die”.  Classic stuff but they soon grew tired of not getting a response from the Canvey Island seven behind the goal and disappeared off to the waste land behind the north end for a game of footie themselves.

The match was a hard fought affair, and right up until the 88th minute seemed destined for extra time which I do not think anyone in the ground wanted.  Alls well that ends well as through Lolly and Liam’s controllers they orchestrated a winner as Sherwin Stanley scored the goal that sent the home team through, and the crowd home to their warm cars.

A far better match report than my two paragraphs can be found by Billy Shaw at the excellent Non League News site here.

So Aveley became the first team to reach the semi-finals.  They would have to wait a week or two before the full line up was known, but with most of the Ryman’s Premier teams already out they must fancy their chances of winning the cup for a second time.

A fifteen minute drive home ensued and before the clock struck ten I was tucked up in bed with CMF, who was having the most amount of fun you could have with a pc on your own in a bedroom.  While the cat’s away and all that!

About The Mill Field
For those of you who love the bygone era of old football stadiums then you will love the panorama of the ground when you stand on the east side of the ground.  The old main stand (not that there is a new one, it is just old), sits high on the terrace, with a fenced off paddock in front and has smart blue seats with AFC in white picked out.  Views are good from here.  As for the rest of the ground it is pretty basic to say the least.  two steps of terrace around the rest, with a small scaffolding constructed cover on the far side (The Rymans stand).  Behind the north goal it appears that construction has started on a very small permanent structure.  What is apparent though is the size of the ground – there is masses of room behind the east and north stands, and the pitch itself is set back by 10 yards on both sides from the crowd hardly adding any atmosphere to proceedings.
How to get to Mill Field
From A13: Follow A13 until junction with A1306. Turn left (Rainham / Wennington) then immediately turn right into Sandy Lane (B1335) to Aveley. At next roundabout turn right into Mill Road, the entrance to the ground is 300 yards on the left (after St. Paul’s Close).

From M25, Northbound (anti-clockwise) Exit Motorway at Junction 31 (A1306, first junction from Dartford Tunnel). At the roundabout follow the directions for the Aveley turn off and head up Ship Lane. At the mini-roundabout (High Street) turn left. At the next mini-roundabout turn right into Mill Road. The entrance to the ground is 600 yards on the right (after St. Michael’s Close).

From M25, Southbound (clockwise) Exit at Junction 30 and turn right (A13 London). At the next junction (A1306) follow signs to Rainham / Wennington. Then turn immediately right into Sandy Lane (B1335) to Aveley. At next roundabout turn right into Mill Road, the entrance to the ground is 300 yards on the left (after St. Paul’s Close).  There is a car park at the ground although its not very big.  There is plenty of room in the surrounding roads though.

Bus 372 passes the ground. The 372 service runs from Hornchurch to Lakeside. A rail connection with this bus is available at Elm Park (District Line), the journey time is 19 minutes to Aveley. You can also pick up the 372 from RAINHAM Station (c2c LONDON FENCHURCH STREET (dep xx05 & xx35) to GRAYS).

Google Maps reference

Getting a ticket for Mill Field
Despite the small capacity for Mill Field, 99% of games are pay on the door.  It is £9 for Adults, £1 for children and programmes are a £1.  Once inside you can use the fantastic tea bar with its neon sign and theme park style queuing system.  The bar is actually located outside the turnstiles though.