No silence of The Lamb


Two weeks is the longest I had gone without football for nearly three years. With summer leagues in the Nordics combined with major UEFA tournaments in Holland, Austria, Switzerland and Sweden providing more than a few games to go to I had not been in short supply of a game or two. So since my visit to Cardiff two weeks ago I had thrown myself into my new job, and more importantly, new flat in Copenhagen. I had even chosen to avoid the “mirth” and “mayhem” in Amsterdam as 5,000 England fans with little imagination descended on one of Europe’s over rated cities for the friendly between Holland and England.

But fear not dear reader the games are coming thick and fast over the next few weeks. But first it was time for a new ground. Not just any old game either – we are talking about major league stuff here – step forward Tamworth FC and Grays Athletic. Since my last post about Grays (see “A local Team“) the club had gone through a strange few weeks. They had added to the squad (in fact bringing in 15 players in just one week including John Terry’s brother Paul and ex-Luton striker Dean Morgan), sacked their manager (their twelve in just nine seasons) and were all ready for the big kick off at home to Chester City when the FA came a-calling, demanding that the game was called off down to issues around the ownership of the Welsh/English team. So Grays got a day off, starting their campaign against Histon a few days later, gaining a very good scoreless draw.   Tamworth had also been due to play Wrexham, but like Grays their game was postponed (for the reason that the Welsh team had a number of players on International duty) as well but they had opened up with a credible draw away to Stevenage Borough.  So pretty even really.

The Little Fullers had been on their annual pilgrimage up north to their Grandparents and we had to go and pick them up before they started talking some foreign language. As luck would have it I manage to arrange a subtle detour on the way home to take in the delights of Tamworth, home of The Lamb.

Now the people of Tamworth must have some real balls. Not happy with their original ground, the Jolly Sailor ground (named after a pub and not a drunk naval character), they moved to The Lamb in 1933 and have called the stadium home since. They had won the Blue Square North league last season, coming out on top of a close bunch of teams including Alfreton Town, AFC Telford United and Gateshead. They had actually played at this level before, having completed two seasons a few years ago.  The time at the top level was eventful to say the least.  After winning the Southern League in 2003 the club found life tough in the top level of non league football.   They also reached the FA Trophy final but surprisingly lost to Burscough at Villa Park.

In early 2006, with the team struggling to retain their Conference position they stunned the football world (well in the East Midlands anyway) by announcing that they had signed Paul Merson.  Unfortunately time and years of off the field distractions had taken their toll on the ex-Arsenal player and just over a month later, and with only one appearance for the Lamb Merson announced his retirement from football.  At the end of the season the club finished in the relegation places, but Canvey Island decided to concentrate on redeveloping their caravan park and so they went down, and Tamworth stayed up.  But twelve months later they couldn’t avoid the inevitable and they were relegated to the Conference North.  Their exile lasted just twelve months as they won the league last season, not before the fans had won the prestigious “most drunk fans in non-league football” award.

With West Ham’s Premier League campaign kicking off on the other side of the West Midlands at Wolverhampton, and Kent’s crusade to be England’s number one Twenty20 side taking place in Birmingham at Edgebaston I was spoilt for choice. However, who needs Premier League or Twenty20 commercialised crap when you can have Blue Square football!

Tamworth FC 2 Grays Athletic FC 1 – The Lamb – Saturday 15th August 2009

Tamworth v Grays

Tamworth v Grays

Lolly had the option whether to come to the football or go to the cinema for this one.  She is growing up fast and faced with the opportunity to dress up and put on make up she inexplicably chose Aliens in the Attic rather than the football.  So after depositing the Fuller girls at the Odeon I walked through the maze of tunnels and found myself at The Lamb – probably the best named ground, behind the Dripping Pan, in England.  The sun was shining and I managed to have a nice pint outside the social club, located in the corner of the ground as the players warmed up.  Today’s match sponsor was the local baptist church, perhaps feeling the club needed some divine intervention.  However, the choir were here in full voice behind the dugouts and from the first whistle tried to rouse the home team.

The first ten minutes was relatively open, with Tamworth looking the most positive.  Grays looked like a team who hardly knew each other (not really surprising considering the past few weeks) but their innovation of putting the first initial as well as surname on the back of the shirts must have been designed to help them get to know their team mates.  They started with Paul Terry in centre midfield and Dean Morgan up front and it was the ex-Luton man who broke the deadlock on 14 minutes when at first he appeared to lose control of the ball, putting the Tamworth defender off guard before stabbing the ball home from 12 yards for the Essex’s teams first goal of the season.

Just over five minutes later it was 1-1 as Bradley Pritchard slotted home after Gray failed to clear a dangerous cross into the box and Slade’s “Com feel the noize” boomed out around the ground.  One became two in the 25th minute when the Grays defence seemed to go to sleep, their attention diverted by Alex Rodman wandering around the edge of the pitch holding his head and Jake Sheridan drove the ball home from the right hand side of the penalty area just inside the far post.  Grays were almost level a few minutes later as Richard Graham’s shot was cleared by Tamworth as it rolled towards an empty net, after Dean Morgan had again shown his class in the penalty area for the visitors.

Both teams made changes at the start of the second half, believing that the game was their’s for the taking.  Tamworth’s manager, the Ex-Nottingham Forest player Gary Mills, had certainly got them playing some attractive football, with passes finding feet rather than heads and some excellent overlapping from both full backs.  Some very questionable offside decisions did not endear the assistant referee to the home fans when time and time again the final forward was flagged for offside despite making his run from behind the last defender.   Grays played their part to in an entertaining game, often breaking with pace but just lacking the final ball, especially when Dean Morgan was withdrawn just before the hour mark.

The crowd behind the dugout continued their vocal support although they were along way short of the mark when they sung “No one likes us, we don’t care”.  Talk like that leads to all sorts of issues in later live, and anyway what was there not to like about a traditional Non-League ground in the summer sunshine.  It was a bit disappointing that the official attendance was just under 750 as the club seemed to have made an effort in providing a decent ground, and with things on the up on the pitch they should be rightly proud of their club.  I am sure for the bigger games such as the visit of Luton Town or Kidderminster Harriers the sizeable away support will swell the crowd, and the bar takings significantly.

Alex Rodman continued to shine for the home team, with one run in particular taking out four Grays players, and then a few minutes later a shot from 25 yards narrowly missing the net proving his emergence as a player to watch this season. Neil MacKenzie should have made the game safe for Tamworth on the 80th minute but somehow Gray’s keeper Edwards got a foot to his goalbound shot.  Grays started to lose their discipline as the game wore on and a few tackles were a bit over the top and the yellow card came out on a few occasions.

So a great start to the domestic league season.  Great little ground, friendly fans, a rare afternoon of sunshine and some decent football.  On this showing neither will challenge for the top spots in the Blue Square Premier, but likewise neither will they be fighting for survival at the end of the season – Famous last words Fuller!

About The Lamb
Although the ground is on the small side, it is well maintained and it has a certain charm about it. The Main Stand is the most recent addition to the ground, being opened in 1996. It is a tidy little all seated covered stand that straddles the halfway line of the pitch. It has a capacity of 426 seats. The other side is a small covered terrace, known by the fans as ‘The Shed’ which runs nearly the full length of the pitch. This terrace is home to the ‘The Shed Choir’ (in reference to the Tamworth fans who sing in this stand). On its roof is a television gantry, complete with a large model owl to help deter the presence of other birds.

The Castle End is an open terrace, whilst the other end is a partly covered terrace (to the rear). This end, the Meadow Street End, is given to away supporters. The pitch has a slope running up from the Castle End to the Meadow Street Terrace. The ground is overlooked in one corner by the sizeable Tamworth , this season’s shirt sponsors. It gets its unusual name from a former public house called the Lamb Inn that used to be situated near to the entrance to the club car park.

There is an excellent club bar in the corner of the ground where you can drink outside when the sun is shining, and has Sky TV.

Thanks to Duncan Adam’s and his excellent Football Grounds Guide for the above information.

How to get to The Lamb
The ground is located on the outskirts of the town centre but well placed for local amenities.  From the railway station it is a 15 minute walk.  Exit the station and walk down to the traffic island. Turn left along the dual carriageway and continue to follow it, bearing around to the left at the next roundabout, which takes you past a garage. The floodlights and the red exterior of the ground can be seen in the distance in front of you.

If you are driving you will probably come via the M42.  Exit the motorway at junction 10 and take the A5 towards Tamworth.  Follow signs for the SnowDome off the A5 – the ground is almost opposite the huge building.  You can park at the ground for £1 or street parking for free nearby.

How to get a ticket for The Lamb
With a capacity of over 4,000 and an average attendance of less than 1,000 getting into see a game isnt a hard job.  Simply pitch up before the game, pay your £12 for a place on the terrace or £14 for one of the 500 or so seats and you are in (£7 and £9 for concessions respectively).  The club occasionally give away concession tickets free of charge via schemes with local shops such as ASDA and McDonalds.  Check the official website for details of such events.

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Welcome to the Pleasuredome…


 So the long wait was over.  After a long end of season break of, erm 13 days, Lolly and I were ready for action.  As luck would have it Grays and West Ham are her two favourite teams, and when I told her we would be skipping down Clarence Road to see them she could not have been happier.  Things had not gone too well for our cousins in Essex since our last visit in the FA Cup qualifiers back in October (see post here), and there was a real danger than when the squad met for pre-season training there was no more than a dozen in the squad.  ‘Our Barry’ had headed off, touted around Europe’s more cultural high spots with his girlfriend and mother-in-law.  The club itself had teetered on the brink for a few days.  They had narrowly missed relegation from the Blue Square Premier League, more to do with the poor form of Weymouth and Woking rather than their winning streak.  The club were subject to a number of take over rumours before old chairman Mick Woodward annunced at the end of June that he was stepping aside for a new board of directors headed by John Moncur.  Yep, super Johnnie Moncur the ex-West Ham midfield maestro who was once sent off in a cup tie for the Hammers against Macclesfield after getting three (yes three) yellow cards in three minutes after coming on as a sub.  Two for fouls and then one for dissent after the referee hadn’t actually realised he had already booked Moncs.  Moncur had promised to redevelop the club from the academy upwards and immediately put a notice out that the club were looking for players and invited people for trials.

I was well up for this challenge.  At 39 years old I may not be up to Premier League class but I could still do a job for a team.  Unfortunately the trials co-incided with my weekly lumbago treatment so I was ruled out for the forthcoming season.  It was hard to see how successful the idea had been.  Just two days prior to the game, the official squad consisted of just 6 players.  With the squad numbers 2 to 7, messers Haswell, McLeod, McKie, McKoy, Dos Santos and Makofo must have been struggling with plan A let alone B or C for the game against West Ham.  To add insult to injury Zola decided to rest most of the first team squad, only bringing along Kieron Dyer, James Collins, Henri Illunga and Jack Collison from the matchday team…Oh and Danny Gabbidon.  Lolly had been a West Ham fan for over 18 months, attending games regularly yet she still had no clue who he was.  Just three years ago our Danny had been voted Hammer of the Year, but since then he had played  just fifteen games, sidelined by injuries to all parts of his body.

Sunday afternoon is not exactly prime football time, but with any addiction you take your karma any time you can.  The other Fuller’s were dropped off at the cathedral of shopping, Lakeside and we were in the tidy little ground thirty minutes before kick off.  Grays had made this game all ticket, although at £20 for admission I fail to see how they could justify a 100% price hike for this one.   The West Ham fans had come out in force, filling the end behind the goal plus the small portion of the stand they were allocated.  All of them were hoping to see at least a few of the first team players, so it was disappointing to see so many famous faces missing.

I gave West Ham friendlies a miss last season.  Under Curbishley the thought of seeing us playing a meaningless friendly was too dull to contemplate.  The previous season I had seen us play Dagenham and Redbridge in our first pre-season, so Rob the Red, Dagenham Dan and myself turned up to see a rare appearance from the lesser know FitagainDeanAshtonasaurus, returning from another long term injury.  West Ham had just launched their new kit, made by Umbro, but had forgotten to pack it for the 4 mile trip down the road and so simply wore a plain blue training kit with ironed on numbers.  At least today they had managed to find the new kit, but the swapping of shirts at halftime did confuse us fans – for instance Savio appeared wearing number 11 at half time but in the first half it was worn by Zavron Hines.

I like Essex.  I like the people, the way they approach life and also some of the places.  There is no false pretences here.  Sure they have a reputation as geezers and blonde bimbos but people from Essex are welcoming, kind and like a laugh.  The fans out for this game certainly met all of those categories, making room for Lolly to see the game and letting me off 50p when buying a programme as they didn’t have enough change.  So top marks there Grays – nice people, nice place.

Grays Athletic 1 West Ham United 2 – The New Recreation Ground – Sunday 12th July 2009

Nearly a second

Nearly a second

 West Ham started with James Collins and Faubert at the back, and Kieron Dyer and Zavron Hines in midfield.  The rest of the side was a mixture of youth (such as Bondz n’Gala, Matty Fry and Anthony Edgar) plus some players who were at the fringes of the first team squad last season (keeper Peter Kurucz, and Josh Payne).  But they started well.  Even against such lowly opposition Zola had drilled his team to play the ball short and to feet all of the time.  Edgar and Hines combining well down the left with some lovely one touch play and even Faubert, harshly rejected by Real Madrid (I mean a choice between Julian or Ronaldo as an attacking left sided player is hardly a choice is it!) was getting forward and putting in some excellent crosses.  It was only a matter of time before the first goal came, and come it did on 15 minutes as Edgar played in Hines and he side stepped a challenge before slotting the ball home.

It certainly seemed as if West Ham were taking this seriously, so nobody expected Grays to get back into the game so quickly.  Seven minutes later Jamie Slabber (a hero for me for Grays in Football Manager 07) beat James Collins to a loose ball and rammed it home, much to the delight of the home fans. 

Grays has some of the most exclusive and expensive seating in the whole of English football.  Overlooking the group (see the picture above) are six flats with balconies that offer a perfect view of the action.  Last year one of these properties was sold for £147,000 making it the most expensive seat in England.  However, as the viewing area is outside the football ground you can, of course, drink, smoke, fornicate and do all of those things that in theory you cannot do inside the ground with fear of prosecution.  The fans were out in force on the balconies and were more than chuffed with the Grays first half performance.  West Ham’s stars of the half were definitely the front pairing of Edgar and Hines, although watch out for 16 year old Eoin Wearen in the coming years, just like yours truly said when he saw Collison play two years ago in pre-season.

So 1-1 at half-time and Lolly was praying for an appearance from Carlton Cole in the second half.  Instead we got ten substitutions from the Hammers, with only Edgar retaining his place.  A big cheer went up for Danny Gabiddon, although you would have thought that having not played for nearly 2 season he would have been on the pitch when the game re-started, but the Welshman had forgotten how to defend and went back into the dressing room briefly to look for it!  Collison and Stanislas bolstered the first team players.  The only goal of the second half game when the rain started to fall with Cristian Montano slotting home after the Grays defence had dithered.  West Ham made a final change, sending on 15 year old Robert Hall, no relation to Richard Hall who West Ham purchased in the Redknapp era for £1.4million (then a fair sum of money).  Hall (Richard) was a very promising centre back who injured his foot in a pre-season game at Carlshalton in July 1997 and essentially never played football again.  Redknapp of course expressed regret at this, blaming everyone else despite the player having a history of injury problems.  Still no change there then.  Robert Hall, despite only being 15 has been capped at England Under 17 level and has a bright future in the game, and has been spoken about in the same vein as a young Joe Cole.  He came close to a goal on a couple of occasions, and helped set up Illunga for his goal that was then ruled out for offside (queue the “Another one bites the dust” music – why???).

So a 2-1 win was satsifactory.  Only Boa Morte and Savio didn’t get a run out and all looked comfortable and more importantly fit.  The Hammers were now off to Austria for their training camp, with games against Werder Bremen and Bursaspor amongst others in the local park (honest!).  Grays were still building their squad, with a number of players on show essentially on trial as they look to beat the bookie’s tag as one of the relegation favourites.  Season 2009/10 was underway!

 

The Perfect Storm


The Perfect Storm

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The winner takes it all….


At the start of the 2008/09 season few people who followed football at the Conference level would have thought that the destination of the championship would come down to the final two weeks of the season.  AFC Wimbledon were always seen as the team to beat this year.  Their remarkable rise up through the non-league pyramid is not going to be discussed here, as thousands of words have already been written about them and I cannot do the progress of the club justice.  Their support has been immense and wherever they have travelled to this season they have taken literally thousands of fans with them.  Back in early February they seemed to have the league sewn up, with a healthy lead but then came the wobbles.  At the same time the form of a couple of other teams started to improve and all of a sudden we had a championship race on our hands.

Two weeks ago Welling United, my local team , went to Wimbledon’s (well Kingstonians) ground and beat them 1-0.  Hampton & Richmond Borough took full advantage and pulled within three points with a game in hand.  That game was a week later, away at Chelmsford City, themselves in the play off places.  Hampton lost 3-2 and thus missed a chance to go level at the top.  Since then they have matched each other result for result meaning that with two games to go only three points separated the two sides.  AFC Wimbledon’s goal difference is far superior but it doesn’t escape the fact that the meeting of these two teams is the game of the season in the Blue Square South.

Hampton & Richmond Borough Football Club to give them their full name are managed by a legend.  Alan Devonshire, Devo to us West Ham fans may not be the same slim tricky winger that he was in the 1980 FA Cup Final but he sits up there with the likes of Sir Trevor, Julian Dicks and Billy Bonds as one of the best players ever to pull on the claret and blue of the Hammers.  The team he played in between 1977 and 1987 was one of legend.  Under John Lyall, West Ham rose from the old 2nd Division, winning the FA Cup versus Arsenal, and taking the legendary Liverpool team of Dalglish, Rush, Hansen and Avi Cohen to a replay in the League Cup final to within 90 minutes of winning the old First Division in 1986.  Devonshire was one of the reasons for the sustained success of the club.  Think of a modern day Cristiano Ronaldo, without the diving and hair gel, and you will get a picture of the influence Devo had on the Hammers.  His speciality was to run at pace at full backs into the penalty area so their only choice was to bring him down.  With such a prolific penalty king in the team as Ray Stewart (averaging over a dozen goals from full back a season and with a penalty success record in the high 90%’s) West Ham’s lethal weapon produced result after result.

After a period managing Maidenhead United, Devonshire arrived in South West London in the summer of 2003 with the club recently renamed from Hampton FC and sitting in the Ryman’s First Division.  In his first season Devonshire steered the club to promotion, beating Leatherhead on the last day of the season.   The next few years were supposed to be a period of consolidation for the club but Devonshire was convinced the team could continue its progress up the pyramid. They finished runners up in the play offs in 2006 and the following year they fought a fierce battle with Bromley before a victory in April 2007 against Slough Town ensured the title went to Devonshire’s team.

In their first season in the Blue Square South the club exceeded all expectations in reaching the Play Off’s after finishing in 3rd place. Unfortunately, Eastbourne Borough beat them in the final and they had to be content with a further season at this level – but for how much longer?  This season started with a high profile friendly with West Ham United in front of over 3,000 fans and has continued with some excellent results, none more so than the team’s form at home. But with just one home game left against their biggest rivals the team required one final bit of Devonshire magic to rise to the next level.

So after my morning flight back from Munich I headed down to the former home of Henry VIII for what was to be the biggest clash in the area since Cardinal Wolseley told Henry that “a bit on the side was simply not on”.  The sun was shining brightly when I landed at lunchtime at Stansted, and at 2pm I found a parking space close to Hampton station and walked through the Wimbledon crowds to the ground.  Picking up my press pass I saw that I was amongst company with journalists attending from virtually every major newspaper hoping to catch first hand AFC’s promotion party.

It was obvious that 75% of the crowd were Dons fans.  At the far end of the stadium the shallow terrace was full some 50 minutes before kick off, and the home end was swelled with away fans as well.  The lowest gate of the season at the Beveree had been just 78 fans for a county cup game, and the crowd was barely above 500 for their last league game but it was obvious that this was their cup final.

Hampton & Richmond Borough 1 AFC Wimbledon 1 – The Beveree – Saturday 18th April 2009 3pm

The legend...

The legend...

The first bit of chaos was caused by the referee.  It was announced that there would be a minute’s silence for a local fan who died recently as well as in memory for those who died at Hillsborough some twenty years previously.  Both sets of players lined up around the centre circle and the referee blew his whistle.  The crowd thought this was to signify the start of the silence, but it was in fact to call the captains together for the toss.  That over with he blew his whistle again to start the silence, only for the crowd to break into applause thinking that was the end of it.  Confused he blew again and half of the crowd realised what had happened but it was too late and the moment had passed, so the game commenced.

Within thirty seconds AFC should have taken the lead.  A break down the left hand side saw the ball go to the far post but AFC’s Dwane Lee struck his shot against the post.  Both teams were committed to the extreme and in a frenetic first period five players needed treatment, including the Wimbledon goalkeeper who was caught late by Hampton’s Ian Hodges which resulted in the first yellow card of the game.   Chances were few and far between and I spent my time for the main part behind the Hampton goal, listening to the home fans urge their team on.  On the thirty minute mark I moved to the main stand where I had a press seat.  Behind me sat a man who could only be described by the term “blinkered”.  He was with his wife/girlfriend who had absolutely no interest in the game and spent most of her time focusing on anything apart from the game.  Mr Blinkered would get up and shout abuse at any Hampton player when in range, referring to any of them as “dirty, dirty Hampton”.  I have no problem with passionate support of a team but he could see absolutely no wrong in the way AFC were playing.  I suppose after watching so many games as a neutral I have become conditioned to seeing the good and bad in every team, including my own, when I watch them.  He wasn’t alone in his abuse of his hosts (he was sitting in the Hampton seats after all) and some of the comments were not only out of order but distasteful in a stand full of children and guests.

Half time entertainment is hit and miss at the lower league level but here it was first class – not that it was designed to be.  One of the Wimbledon fans climbed up on the fence behind the goal to try and tie their huge flag up.  He got one side up before being spotted by the stewards who pounced in numbers and all of a sudden a major incident with police arriving ensued.  After a good ten minutes of negotiating where the fan obviously promised he wouldn’t climb up again, one of his mates jumped up on the other side of the fence and the flag was flying much to the bemusement of the stewards who were unaware what had happened behind their back.

A goal less first half suited Wimbledon more who knew that a point would almost certainly give them the title and promotion to the Blue Square Conference.  However, Devonshire had obviously seen a weakness in the AFC back line and his team started playing the ball long to the wings, winning possession and then launching long throw ins into the box.  This almost lead to the first goal just after half time but a sharp save from the Wimbledon keeper Pullen stopped Hampton taking the lead.  However the goal was going to come and on 67 minutes it finally arrived as some sloppy marking allowed Hampton’s midfielder Francis Quarm the freedom of the penalty area before his low shot beat the keeper.  The goal was met with as much abuse from the Wimbledon fans as it was with cheers from the home fans.  Mr Blinkeredlead another chant of “dirty, dirty Hampton” but by now nobody was listening.

Wimbledon’s manager Terry  Brown made some changes to energise his team and Jon Main came close on 70 minutes with a great shot from outside the box.  Two minutes later it was the turn of Elliott Godfrey to come close as his shot took a wicked deflection but was well saved by Hampton’s Lovett.  The keeper was the hero again when he made a point blank save in the seventy ninth minute from a header in the six yard box.  But with the ninety minutes almost up AFC launched another break down the left.  Hampton’s centre back John Scarborough raced over to clear but collided with full back Fernandes in a sickening challenge which was obvious to the crowd and Hampton players that he was seriously hurt.  The ball had gone out for a throw in and was thus dead, but the referee inexplicably allowed Wimbledon to take the throw in whilst two defenders lay on the floor.  The ball was pinged into the box and Jon Main rose unmarked (as Scarborough was his marker) to head home.  Queue the wild celebrations all around the pitch and stands.  Mr Blinkered went wild, pushing his wife/girlfriend out of the way and jumping into an embrace with a large bloke whose trousers fell down.  Good to see him get his priorities right.

The Hampton players went mad, harranging the referee to try and find out why he failed to stop the game.  Sitting just in front of me was the referee’s assessor who shook his head in disbelief and started writing copious notes.  The game was held up for over five minutes and eventually Scarborough left on a stretcher with a huge gash in his thigh which had been plastered over as much as the physio could muster.  Devonshire was very concerned and took off around the pitch to see if he could find out how his player was.  The incident had taken the wind out of the Hampton sail, and with the seven minutes of injury time up the referee blew his whistle and off went Mr Blinkered and his trouserless friend onto the pitch along with a thousand or so Wimbledon fans as they celebrated almost certain promotion.  Yes – they have still won nothing.  Technically a heavy (7/8 goals) defeat next week and a win by the same margin for Hampton at Maidenhead would see them claim the title (it is actually still possible for Eastleigh in 3rd to win it but they would have to catch up 27 goals in one game).  However, there is no doubt that a club of their size and support should be playing in a higher league.  Interestingly enough you can draw parallels with the Italian league and the collapse of Fiorentina back in the late 1990’s and Napoli more recently.  The Italian FA decided to by pass a few leagues for the newly formed Fiorentina and Napoli sides, promoting them for “Sporting Reasons”.  Hard to see that ever happening here but you can be sure that a club with such momentum behind them will not settle for a place in the Conference for long.

After half an hour I caught up with Devonshire.  He had calmed down, but was still visibly upset about the decision.

– “So Alan, thirty minutes after the final whistle – how do you feel?”
“Angry.  Angry that one of my boys was badly hurt, the ball was dead but the referee allowed play to go on”

– “Where do you go from here?  Have you had an explanation from Mr Mason (the ref)?”
– “No – he refuses to talk to me about the decision”
– “So it looks like the Play Offs for Hampton this season.  Is that disappointing having come so close?”
“We had a plan for this season, and we reached the final last season.  Obviously we could see the chance of the title but I am proud of my players.  This is a smashing little club and I love it here.  We will continue to fight and try and move up”

– “As a West Ham fan for all of my life, how did the pressure of the game today compare to the pressure before the 1980 Cup Final against Arsenal for instance? I remember that game as a 10 year old”
– “Blimey – that makes me feel old (a smile from Devo at this point) but its different types of pressure.  As a manager I know I can only do so much and once that whistle sounds its up to the players.”

“West Ham drew by the way – do you still look out for their results?”
– “They drew?  Who scored? (Diego Tristan) Good result.  They were my one major club so I have a real soft spot for them obviously”

– “Thanks for your time Alan – it’s been a pleasure.”
“Thank you for coming today and please come back again next season”

So there we have it – AFC Wimbledon are all but up but I can see next season will be a struggle for them unless they invest in the squad.  Their huge support was passionate but a small number didn’t behave in a way that I would have expected based on the spirit of the club.  I was made awre later about the history between the two teams and this may explain a few things.  However, no team’s support is perfect and I wish them well in the Conference next season.  Whereas Hampton just confirmed what I already knew – a nice club run by nice people in a nice setting.  I know who I will be supporting for the final promotion place in the play offs.

The main stand straddles the half-way line. Wooden benches originally provided seating but seats acquired from two grounds later replaced these: Granleigh Road (Leytonstone), and Plough Lane (Wimbledon). On one side of the stand is a large covered terrace providing cover for 800 spectators and on the other side is an uncovered terrace. The dugouts are on the opposite side of the ground where there is limited standing as there is behind one goal.Behind the other goal is the Alan Simpson Stand. Named after the club president ­the writer of Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe and Son – this stand holds 100 fans. There is some open terracing to either side. This end also has the clubs dressing rooms and the Hammonds Social Club. In this corner are the turnstiles – a further import to the ground as they previously saw service at nearby Hurst Park racecourse until its closure in the early 1960s.

Thanks to Stuart Croll for the above information from his BBC article.

How to get to the Beveree
If you are driving from outside London then you should exit the M25 at the M3 Junction and head
towards Central London. Come off at Junction 1 (Sunbury) and follow signs for A308 Kingston (third exit) and follow road past Kempton Park race course. After approximately 2 miles turn left into High Street, then immediately left into Station Road. The entrance to Beveree is in Beaver Close, which is 200 yards on the right and there is street parking further up the High Street.

If you are coming by train you should come from Richmond (or Waterloo) to Hampton and then simply follow Station Road to the east to the ground which is less than a ten minute walk and passed a number of decent pubs.

How to get a ticket for the Beveree
Whilst the ground has a small capacity sell outs (up until the game with Wimbledon) have been unheard of. However, if the club do make it into the Blue Square Premier then a number of games (Luton Town, Oxford United, Woking and York City to name but a few) will sell out.  Tickets can currently be bought on the phone by calling 020 8941 2838.  Ticket prices for the 2008/09 season were £10 for Adults and £5 for Concessions.

For more details on Hampton & Richmond Borough FC, and what a thoroughly nice club it is read Danny Last’s blog posting from his recent trip to the ground at EFW.

About the Beveree
The Beveree, which is often shortened to ‘the Bev’, has been the home of Hampton FC since 1959. It is situated in Beaver Close, off Station Road in the heart of Hampton village hence why it gets its unusual name. It has a total capacity of 3,350, with 362 of this being seated and 1000 in covered terracing. On 11 October 2005, that capacity was tested with a record crowd of 2,520 turning out for an Isthmian League match between Hampton & Richmond Borough and AFC Wimbledon.  At the start of the 2008/09 West Ham brought a full team squad down to the Beveree for a friendly and the crowd was over 3,000 although that record was likely to be broken with a 3,000+ crowd for the game on the 18th April 2009.In June 2006, work began on transforming the clubhouse and changing rooms at the Beveree into a more modern facility. Work was completed by the end of Summer, and the new look clubhouse was officially opened by FA Chief Executive, Brian Barwick, on 26 August 2006.

The ground is named after that large house (now a preparatory school) that still overlooks it today, and in whose grounds the pitch was first laid out. Hampton moved from Hatherop Road to The Beveree in 1959 when they acquired the lease of this attractively situated ground on the north bank of the River Thames.  The first couple of years were spent using the old stables as changing rooms and this sufficed until 1962.

Tomorrow we ride at dawn…apparently


Whilst there is complete truth in the fact that the league tables do not lie, if there was any justice in the world Oxford United would not be preparing to spend a third consecutive year in the fifth level of football in England, otherwise known as the Non-League Conference. Their relegation in May 2007 was seen as a temporary blip in their return to the Championship glory, and the club secured the services of legendary Jim Smith, the manager who took them to Milk Cup glory twenty years previously when a team including John Aldridge and Ray Houghton beat QPR at Wembley 3-0. In being relegated from the league structure they became the first club to have won a major honour to fall into the non-leagues (although they will very shortly be joined by Luton Town).The club have the finest ground in the non-leagues, a stadium that would not look out of place in the Championship, albeit that it only has three sides. It offers all fans an unobstructed view of the action, a decent playing services and facilities galore in and around the stadium. Compare this to Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road or QPR’s Loftus Road and you will see what a decent stadium is like and what a traversty it is that it hosts dozens of away fans from the likes of Barrow and Altrincham (no disrespect guys) instead of Burnley and Coventry City. The relegation has not dampened the support for the club either. Home and away in the Conference the Oxford fans have tried to get behind the team in significant numbers despite some frustrating performances. With just a handful of games left the club sat in 7th place, 6 points off the play off places and rueing the bizarre rules of the Conference that saw them docked 5 points because one of their players who had been at the club a number of years was not on the playing list submitted to the league due to simple human error – fair? I think not. Those 5 points would have put them in the mix for the Play Off places, but it is now a bridge too far.

However, the club had vowed not to give up hope and with an impressive home record of 15 wins out of 21 games they could surely rely on the final two games at the Kassam for 6 points. The game versus Wrexham at the start of the season would have been viewed by many as a potential champions decider, but the visitors had found life more difficult than expected in their first season at this level. Manager Dean Saunders is still an Oxford legend, and his return was keenly anticipated by many home fans. They came into the game in 10th place, 5 points behind the U’s and still hoping to finish on a roll that they could then continue into next year. With one club almost already promoted to the league who had never been there before (Burton Albion) and potentially one other via the play offs (Histon) next season would almost certainly be the toughest Blue Square Premier League ever. With Luton Town almost certain to drop to this level with significant funding from Nick Owen’s 2020 consortium, and AFC Wimbledon odds on to come up from the Conference South with their 4,000 season tickets, next season would see almost half of the division with league experience – hardly the easiest division to get out of at the best of times.

As part of an “inclusive” family weekend we had headed down to Oxford on Good Friday to do the cultural bits. Christchurch College and the other historic buildings were all visited as well as the modern cathedrals of Starbucks, Next and Game before a night away in the Premier Inn (no expense spared in the Fuller household during the credit crunch). Littlest Fuller had had her fill of football for the season so CMF was on play zone duty whilst Lolly and myself went to the football. As luck would have it, Oxford United is the perfect venue for such eventualities. Next to the Kassam, named after the former Chairman who bought the club when they played at the grotty Manor Ground and built the new stadium on the edge of one of the UK’s top TWOCing venues – Blackbird Leys (for those not up with such hip street talk TWOC stands for Taking WithOut Consent and refers to joyriding), is a “leisure” complex including a cinema, bowling alley, restaurant and indoor play area – perfect for a 5 year old for a few hours.

Twenty years ago. the Berlin Wall fell, the SkyDome in Toronto opened and Arsenal won the league by scoring at Anfield with the last kick of the season. I’d rather jack (than Fleetwood Mac – brilliant!) by the Reynolds Girls and Pat & Mick’s I haven’t stop dancing yet were the songs on our lips. Oxford were in the Second Division (still the 2nd tier of English football along with such small teams as Chelsea, Manchester City, Portsmouth, Sunderland and Blackburn Rovers after relegation the previous season from the top flight (and never to return) where as Wrexham eventually finished 7th in the Fourth Division, losing out in the play off final to Leyton Orient over two legs (this was before they were played as a one off at Wembley). Current Wrexham manager Dean Saunders was at the Manor ground at the start of the season but was sold to Derby County for £1m, a move that led to the sacking of Manager Mark Lawrenson (he of the Match of The Day sofa fame) when he complained publically about the short sightedness of the board for selling their best player.

Twenty years on and the clubs were meeting for the first time at this level. Saunders had a few more grey hairs and Mark Lawrenson was still publically talking rubbish – only the venue had really improved – thank God. The Manor Ground was one of the worst grounds to visit as an away fan. Tucked away in the suburbs of Oxford with huge fences and CCTV everywhere there was no love lost from visiting fans when the club eventually moved out in the early years of this century. I had visited the new stadium a couple of times, the last being for the Heineken European Rugby Shield Final some years ago when Sale Sharks beat some random crap French team. I was working for (In)Active Matt and my important job was to radio up to the control room when any kicks sailed over the posts at the West (the open) end of the stadium. Whilst it was mid May (actually Cup Final day) it was foul weather, and I had somehow managed to gouge a deep and bloody cut behind my ear in getting out of the car that required stitches from the very pleasant looking (female!) Sale Physio. Not one kick came close to the posts all day and I simply looked like an oversize eager ball boy on the live coverage on Sky Sports 2. The only consolation was that 99% of the sporting viewing public would have been watching the Cup Final and so missed my humiliation.

Oxford United 1 Wrexham 0 – The Kassam Stadium – Saturday 11th April 2009 3pm

The Kassam Stadium

The Kassam Stadium

So after an hour or so in the nearby children’s play zone, Lolly and I headed into the ground. The local radio station (JackFM for all your Oxford news!) had been bigging up the game, and manager Chris Wilder had spoken about the need to “still believe”. It is all very well him going public with such sentiments but he really needed to tell the players this as for the first thirty minutes there was hardly a chance. The referee hardly put himself on anyone’s Christmas card list with fussy decision making and with thirty three minutes on the clock he had booked Murray and Constable from the home side, and Flynn from the away team.

The best chance of the first half fell to Constable who had just had his shirt ripped open before he took the ball on the edge of the penalty area, skipped passed a defender and rifled a shot just over the bar.
Chances were thin on the ground in the second half as well, with Wrexham’s neat passing game occasionally seeming if it would lead to a goal but Oxford held firm. With fifteen minutes to go the Wrexham keeper Neilson injured his hand in a clash with an Oxford player. Cue chaos as firstly the Oxford midfielder had to leave the field to have a stitch in his bleeding head but more significantly the Wrexham keeper could play on no more, and with no substitute stopper on the bench it was one of those moments that home fans pray for – a toss up as to who would be brave enough to take the green jersey and expose themselves to ridicule. The unenviable honour fell to Ashley Westwood who took the gloves and the home fans level of expectations of a game they had to win rose dramatically.

For ten minutes Oxford could not get near the goal. And then when they did the keeper threw his fists at any ball that entered the six yard box with great success. It seemed that the game would end up being a scoreless draw but with just two minutes left of the four minutes of added time Oxford United scored the winner as Constable got the goal that his energy and endeavour deserved, heading in via the crossbar from a great left wing cross by Craig Nelthorpe.

The goal was met with huge cheers of jubilation and relief on three sides of the ground (well 2 and 1/3rd as Wrexham’s travelling couple of hundred had the other 1/3rd of the North Stand). Behind the Family seating area where we were sitting was an Executive Box filled with drunk (to say the least) chavs who had spent most of the second half tunelessly chanting obscene songs about local rivals Swindon Town. With the goal going in, up went the beer they had been secretly drinking, covering themselves and leading to their immediate ejection by the stewards. What made it all more amusing was their favourite song which they had sung on a number of occasions was about Swindon Town and The Adams Family – trust me if the Adams Family and these morons were lined up together you would struggle to work out which ones were Lurch and Thing!

We headed out with barely a minute to go, into the waiting CMF taxi and back on the road home. Not the best of games to end a great couple of days away but I do not think Oxford fans will care. Other results certainly went in their favour with Kidderminster drawing, and Histon losing. If only that form had been filled in correctly back in July!

About the Kassam Stadium
Without a doubt one of the best stadiums in the Non-League, the three sided 12,500 all seater stadium replaced the old and tired Manor Ground in 2001 after a protracted battle to build a new stadium. Theclub were originally due to move out some seasons before but work had to be halted on the new ground due to finance issues, and only restarted when Firoz Kassam became chairman of the club and funded the construction. One of the concessions he made was to only build three stands, although foundations were put it if a fourth stand was ever required.

The ground today consists of three seperate stands, decked out with blue seats. The Oxford Mail (East) and North Stands are single tier ones, with the South Stand two tier, with a row of Executive Boxes in between. The vocal home fans base themselves towards the back of the East stand, whilst the away fans are given the far third of the North Stand. Concourses are wide and have numerous food outlets although they are of the breeze block variety.

The club have never filled the stadium, although have on a number of occasions had crowds of over 11,000 (including a record breaking game for the Blue Square Premier in 2006). Unhappy with the way the club were being run last season the fans tried to launch a £13m campaign to buy the stadium but so far appear some way short.

How to get to the Kassam Stadium
The stadium is located some way out of the city centre, and on the outside of the ring road. It is nowhere near any public transport interchange, and so walking it not really an option. If you are driving head for the Ring Road south. You have two options depending on your direction. If you are heading from south or east (M40 junction 8) then take the exit for Cowley onto the B480 and turn left onto Watlington Road. Follow this until you reach a roundabout and there turn right into Grenoble Road. Continue to follow this until the ground appears on the right hand side behind the Holiday Inn Express. There is parking for 2,000 cars around the stadium available on a first come first serve basis which are shared with the cinema, bowling alley and the bingo, although parking is free.

If you are coming from the west or north then follow the ring road until the roundabout with the A4074 (Sainsbury’s is on the far side). Follow the A4074 south exiting at the first junction for the Science Park. Follow the signs for the football ground.

A taxi from the station will cost about £7. Buses also run from outside the station to the Science Park.

Getting a ticket for the Kassam Stadium
Whilst attendances at the Kassam are some of the highest in the Blue Square Premier, they have some way to go before sell outs are a concern for casual fans. Tickets can be bought online at http://www.oufc.co.uk where you can be a £2 discount on match day adult ticket prices. However, you will be charged £1.50 booking fee and a 50p postage charge for the pleasure so if you are just booking one seat it is hardly worth it. On match days tickets must be purchased from the ticket office before going to the turnstiles located next to the main entrance in the South Stand. Prices range from £16 in the East Stand to £22 for a seat in the Upper South Stand. There are discounts for concessions ranging from free tickets (if you book in advance in the family section) to £10.