On Friday night I made my long-awaited return to a football pitch as I turned out for the Lewes FC Elite team in a post-season friendly. As I crawled off the field with 75 minutes on the clock I made a vow never to criticise a non league player again. Most have full-time jobs (like me), a family (like me) and have to travel to get their fix of football (delayed, like me, on the ever unreliable trains). Yet they still manage to keep themselves fit enough to effortlessly manage 90 minutes. Whilst I have my age as my defence, I was on my knees.
Yes, I could blame the dust-bowl of a pitch, the lack of match fitness (or fitness in its entirety) or confusing tactics (I have to blame someone, so sorry Kev as I missed the pre-match briefing due to said train issues) but the simple matter is my days of playing the game are well and truly over. So never again will I criticise these fine players, who play not for money, but for love.
Forty eight hours later I am sitting at a desk at the most famous stadium in the world, waiting for twenty-two Non League players to take the field in the biggest game in their lives. For one of these teams, they can look forward to hosting Portsmouth and Scunthorpe United next season, for the other it would be Welling United, Hyde and Braintree Town. For one afternoon this would be a battle between North and South Wales as to who would be joining Mansfield Town in the nPower League Two next season. Continue reading
We all know that Non League football is going through a tough time. At the top end of the pyramid, clubs like Luton Town, Wrexham and Grimsby Town are operating almost as League clubs still, whilst the “upstarts” of Forest Green Rovers and Newport County have wealthy owners who are gambling on the next step. The crowds are comparable with their Football League cousins as too are the wage bills. But even in the top division there exists the “have” and “have-nots”. This season the Blue Square Bet Premier features ten clubs who have Football League experience in the past. Most of these still retain a Football League business model. But at the other end of the spectrum the Conference hosts teams such as Braintree Town, Hyde, Nuneaton, Alfreton and Tamworth. Clubs who survive on crowds as low as 600 in the case of some of these, competing with full-time outfits. Even in the Premier League the comparison between the likes of Man City and United and Fulham and Wigan Athletic is not so stark.
Many clubs reach the Blue Square Bet Premier, but soon slide back down, with the financial burden simply too much. The season Lewes spent in the top-level of non league football some five years ago almost cost the club its very existence. Forced to put in additional turnstiles, segregation and other ground-grading criteria, the clubs fail to see additional fans come through the turnstiles to prop up the other side of the balance sheet. No investment on the pitch soon sees a season long fight against the drop, and with four going down it is hard to escape. Some clubs are simply too good for the regional Blue Square Bet North/South but not able to compete in the league above. One such club is Ebbsfleet United.
Last weekend the Chairwomen of the club made a dramatic appeal to the fans:-
“In all seriousness and joking aside, now is the time to stand up and be counted. Whether you are MyFC, Fleet Trust, both or one of our loyal supporters who just enjoys watching the Fleet, please lose your pounds now!
The unfortunate timing of the weather and home fixtures being cancelled has really left the club strapped for cash and the coffers are bare!
LOSE YOUR POUNDS OR LOSE YOUR CLUB!!!!!
The Football Club is asking EVERY MyFootballClub member, EVERY Fleet Trust Member and EVERY Supporter near and far to donate a minimum amount of £30.00 or as much as you can afford to save the club.
Please do not ignore this plea, it is very real and has been decided as a last resort today here at the club.” Continue reading
The last few weeks have seen an upturn in the Daggers fortunes, with eight points garnered from the last four league games. Although it hasn’t propelled us as far up the table as we would probably have liked, it has at least given us a bit of breathing room above the teams that are still hovering around at the bottom.
Following on from last weeks nerve destroying win over Bradford, things took arguably a backwards step during the week, thanks to a 2-0 defeat at Southend in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Having missed the game, the text updates from Dagenham Dan were brief although his considered opinion was that I hadn’t missed much. So that was alright then.
To be honest, the JPT is the most likely route that we would have had of getting to Wembley, although given the calibre of teams in the southern half of the competition it would have taken a phenomenal run to get to within sight of the arch this year. That still wouldn’t stop me using bet365 football betting though to put a couple of quid on just that event.
Still, that avenue is closed off for another year, and so all we have to look forward to now is the FA Cup, the Essex Senior Cup (which is a big trophy literally) and several months of league games. Still, it could be a whole lot worse.
Having decided (possibly against better judgement) to go to the England game last night, it is with a sense of relief that we might actually witness a proper game tonight, instead of a one way traffic kind of encounter. Today we make our first ever visit to the Proact Stadium, the just over two year old home of Chesterfield. Continue reading
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