Welling continue to spread their Wings

Good Friday.  A day for some chores, DIY and then some football.  That’s what we are supposed to do, right?  And what better way to top off a morning of painting window ledges and door frames than a trip to table topping Welling United.  Four miles is all that separates Park View Road and TBIR Towers and as I spend most of my life building a massive carbon footprint by flying around the world I thought I would do my bit for the future of the planet by getting on my bike and cycling.

Top of the table Welling United versus play off chasing Chelmsford City.  Could the Wings take a massive step towards life in the Blue Square Bet Premier, or would Chelmsford make a late dash for the end of season lottery?  A picture tells a thousand words so here is the story of a very chilly afternoon in South East London/Kent.

Welling United 3 Chelmsford CIty 0 – Park View Road – Friday 29th March 2013

Still not sure they will win the league? Betting on Football is always difficult and to have some chance of making profit you have to do your homework very well. There are sites like tfbets.co.uk that can really help you on football betting. They have tips from experts and also a selection of the best free bets deals from leading bookmakers.  Even the bookies in the know will stop taking bets on the Wings very soon though.

Unsung Heroes part 3 – Press Pass(age)

Every day we pick up a newspaper or scan the internet for reports of games that have just taken place.  Do you ever stop to wonder who the dedicated few are that file these reports?  At the top of the tree these journalists get paid fortunes, have huge expense accounts and can get away with writing any old crap just to fill some column inches.  But at the lower levels of football people take on the roles of press officer and programme editor for the love of the game and their club.

Let me introduce you to one such saint.  Dave Clayton is the Press Officer and Programme Editor for Tamworth FC, last season promoted to the Blue Square Premier, and recipient of the prestigous TBIR “Nicest person in football” award, joining the likes of Mick Harford, Ryan Storrie and Kenny Pavey.  We caught up with Dave recently on the ski slopes of the world famous Snow Dome which overlooks the best named ground in England – The Lamb, home to Tamworth FC. Continue reading

Has anyone seen Grays?

Last weekend was a busy one for the FA. Not only did we have the whole Lord Treason affair but in one of the backrooms at Wembley Stadium sat a man who decided the fate of literally hundreds of non-league clubs as he worked out the league allocations for the coming season.

Last season saw three high profile clubs go to the wall mid-season in Chester City, Farsley Celtic and Kings Lynn. Add to this a number of clubs who had breached league rules and some relegation/promotion enforced geographical anomalies and you can see what a difficult job was on the cards. So what was decided?
Last weekend was a busy one for the FA. Not only did we have the whole Lord Treason affair but in one of the backrooms at Wembley Stadium sat a man who decided the fate of literally hundreds of non-league clubs as he worked out the league allocations for the coming season. Continue reading

No York my old Dutch

One year ago to the day we traversed London in the name of T’entertainment on a day since know as the Perfect Storm.  So successful was that day that we have renamed the day New Balls Day – the moment when one sport finishes for the season and another really begins – well certainly in viewing terms.

The agenda was similar.  1pm start at Lords for a Clydesdale Bank game then up the Jubilee line to Wembley for the richest game in Non-League football – the Blue Square Premier Play Off final.  The only change this year was that we wouldn’t be heading back to the o2 Arena as we did last year – Michael Buble is not really my cup of tea.

Our home for the afternoon

What makes the day better is that we get to experience the media facilities at both the home of cricket and the home of football.  Thanks to our friends at the MCC and The Football Conference we were in for a great day of sport.  I was meeting Danny Last, our Brighton correspondent and official TAT librarian of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, although of course TFL had decided to muck our plans up as much as possible by suspending the Jubilee line to Wembley – it’s OK chaps the 35,000 fans going to the play off game will just in a cab or something! Continue reading

Stand up if you love Dicks

As you will know if you are a regular follower of the blog, we have a soft spot at TBIR Towers for Grays Athletic.  This is due to a number of reasons.  I once trained for a full three weeks with the club “back in the day” when I could still run; Lolly went to one of her first football matches here and managed to procure a shirt for just £5 that was then signed by none other than Paolo Vernazza no less and then at the start of this season we came to a friendly here and I managed to capture a picture that today is hung in a gallery in New York no less (OK – a kitchen of a mate then).  Judge for yourself below what you think.

That would be reason enough but then low and behold they go and announce a management team of John Moncur as Chairman and Julian Dicks as Manager.  What a double act.  Between them they were responsible for more yellow cards than most other double acts, but none were as committed to the Hammers cause in the past twenty years I would say.  Legends both of them.  But such characters off the pitch do not always translate to great managers.  Hoddle nearly did it, but then went off on another planet and ended up at Southampton, Dalglish could still get another chance at Liverpool and Billy Bonds himself had buckled under the pressure of his reputation.

All has not gone according to plan though at the New Rec.  Despite bringing in a host of new players, such as ex-Arsenal-and-brother-of-ex-Arsenal Hoyte (Gavin) and Anton Zola, one Gianfranco Zola’s son, Grays came into this game still second from bottom and some nine points from safety.  They came into the game after a couple of heavy defeats, as well as the fact they had failed to win at all on the road in 2009/10.

But could the home team fair any better?  Well in terms of points on the board, yes.  Thirty two of them in fact from thirty games, some six above the drop zone but the concern at Church Road was for the amount of goals they are shipping in.  A 6-1 home defeat to Rushden & Diamonds had come only a few weeks after a 5-0 reverse to AFC Wimbledon.  Watching Hayes and Yeading certainly meant goals.  Fifty of them in fact at Church Road in just fifteen games this season.  And goals is what we pay our money to watch.  Although there hadn’t been alot of money coming through the turnstiles.  After promotion last season from the Blue Square South, where they surprised many by sneaking into the end of season play offs and then upsetting the form book by beating Alan Devonshire’s Hampton & Richmond Borough at the Beveree to boot, the crowds had been conspicuous by their absence at Church Road.  Just 291 had been present for the recent game with Forest Green Rovers, which surely meant the club was losing money?  It is hard to fathom why the locals were staying away, but perhaps the birth of the “super club” had not gone down too well?

Hayes and Yeading FC were the new entity created by the merger of Hayes FC and Yeading FC, announced in April 2007.  The two sides, both members of the 2006/07 Conference South and both located within the West Middlesex town of Hayes decided to” join forces, integrate resources and bring together a community, creating a new super-club on the non-league scene.” according to the official statement.

“The combined forces of Middlesex and West London’s senior semi-professional football clubs will further raise the profile of non-league football in an area that traditionally struggles for crowds against local Premiership and Football League sides.” Former Hayes FC Chairman Derek Goodall said “It is well known that for years our clubs have struggled to attract the big gates needed to survive at this level. By combining efforts, know-how and strategy we can secure the future of high-level football in the area and provide facilities that the local community need and desire”

Some of the locals were not impressed judging by the message boards at the time:-

“Surely two set’s of fans merging is going to be rather difficult, however it’s no secret that there is a lot of neutrals who watch both teams home games and for that they must be delighted they now have every other saturday available.  Personally I don’t see how this new club will function, there’s just not a fanbase, at all 50 loyals from each and then 100 neutrals in total these days, the average attendance is likely to be 300 if you account for away fans.” Very Prophetic if you look at the situation now…

“If this merger is supposed to encourage bigger crowds in the future, the new club will have to find one new supporter immediately.. to replace me! There is no way on Earth that I will give my support to the new “Hayes”. Here is my suggestion for the new club motto; “Stick it up your arse”. Goodbye.”

So all was not well in the garden of West London.  It would be rude not to spend a paragraph on the clubs though. Hayes FC started off life as Botwell Mission in 1908 and stayed that way to 1924.  They moved to Church Road in the following year, renaming the ground Townfield.  They progressed through the Middlesex leagues, before election into the Isthmian Leagues in 1972 where they stayed there or there abouts for the next thirty years.  A few cup runs were all the club really had to show to put themselves on the map during that period.

Yeading started off as recently as 1960, by brothers Ray and Carl Gritt, who were both involved in the club until recently.  The Ding, as they were known reached the Isthmian Leagues in 1987, and a few years later they won the FA Vase by beating Bridlington Town at Elland Road.  In the early 1990’s both clubs made the Isthmian Premier League and eventually the Conference South when the changes were made in 2003.  A decision was made at the time of the merger to move into Hayes’s Church Road as it had more chance of making the next league grading should it be needed.

Let the show commence

The main stand, which was the oldest part of the ground had received a direct hit from a German bomb in the war, which also destroyed the club’s historic records and wasn’t upgraded until the 1990’s.  In fact  many of the improvements you see today are down to the £600,000 odd the club received as part of a sell on clause for old boy Sir Les Ferdinand when he joined Newcastle United from QPR in 1995.  But this is not the only old boy who has made it good.  What about Cyrille Regis and Jason Roberts?  Or Andy Impey who once played for Yeading and who could forget DJ Campbell’s exploits in the FA Cup some years ago when Yeading reached the 3rd round and played Newcastle United at Loftus Road.  In theory, all consigned to the history books now…

So here I was – Conference ground number 23 on the list after the expedition to Barrow at the weekend, which had gone much better than expected.  I picked up Dagenham Dan from McDonalds at 6pm (he is keen to stress that he never goes in there, he just knows where it is) and we were off – traversing from one side of London to another in the rush hour.  In a few years time (yeah, right) we could have made this journey in minutes on the Crossrail link from Stratford to Hayes & Harlington, but instead we had to make do with Zafira-power.

Hayes and Yeading United 4 Grays Athletic 0 – Church Road, Hayes – Tuesday 9th February 2010

Surely the best club shop in the world?

First off let me tell you about the highlight of the evening.  If you have never been to Hayes’s ground before, you have missed possibly the best treat known to a football fan.  If you have then you will know exactly what I mean.  No, its not the food, the comfort of the ground, the perfect views or the entertaining football – all of which are spot on.  Nor is it that little upstairs bar on the main road where for £20 you get to do….sorry – family audience and all that…I am talking about THE Portakabin.  Pay your £12 to get in and almost straight in front of you is a little hidden gem. It is a crime that it is only open on matchdays.  Officially it is the club shop, but it is the Aladdin’s cave of football shops.  Rows upon rows of old football books, programmes, videos, DVD’s and shirts from every club known to man.  Lee Hermitage is the man behind the idea and he has been promoted to a Danny Last FIFA 5 stars for his efforts.  Need an old Rothman’s yearbook?  Lee is your man….A video of the 1991 FA Cup semi-final – the Keith Hackett show?  Lee is your man.  So good was the shop that we almost forgot there was a game on outside.  Such a visit is worth the admission money alone.

Anyway back to the game…I’d had a little wager with Dagenham that the crowd would be less than 250, and judging by the numbers I could see on the terraces I was sure I was on a winner.  I do not know what the footballing public in West London want.  Here was a game that was sure to produce goals but they obviously choose QPR and Fulham down the road.  What a treat they missed.

Pick that one out of the onion bag...1-0 Hayes & Yeading

The opening few minutes saw both teams passing the ball well.  My impressions were that both teams would hoof it long, but that was not the case and some slick passing created chances for both teams in the opening ten minutes.  The first real goal scoring opportunity fell to Hayes striker Scott Fitzgerald in the 11th minute when he charged down an attempted clearance by Wayne Gray before trying to lob keeper Preston Edwards from 40 yards when he should have continued to run on goal.  Never mind as just 60 seconds later he had the ball in the net, albeit from what appeared to be an offide position when he moved onto a Justin Cochrane throughball before sliding the ball past Edwards to open the scoring.

One became two in the twenty sixth minute when a free kick was powerfully met by Matt Ruby at the far post and easily beat Edwards in the Grays goal.  To give the visitors credit they did not give up and a brief spell of pressure saw Wilson feed the ball to Gray who with his back to goal neatly set up Guy but his drive from the edge of the area was wide of the target.

Scott Fitzgerald almost had a second goal just before the half time as Green and Binns combined on the left to create an opening that beat Edwards only to see the shot come back off the post.  Grays task became mountainous in injury time as Wilson tackled Cochrane heavily and the referee produced a second yellow card for the Grays man and sent him off.

Kenny "Remember the goal I scored against Man Utd that cost them the title" Brown

After our visit to the club shop we reconvened on the terraces in front of the main stand.  I had wanted to get a shot of Dicks in venomous mood but I was disappointed.  The Grays manager did not say one word to anyone during the second half.  Assistant Kenny Brown did his fair share of swearing but nothing from the manager.

17 year old Daniel Wishart came on for Scott Fitzgerald at the start of the second half and he had a major hand in the third on 54 minutes when he played it to Allen-Page who hit a powerful drive across Edwards to make it 3-0. Six minutes later it was four as Binns crossed to the far post where Allen-Page arrived to fire home his second in just a few minutes.

Grays should have pulled one back ten minutes later as Hayes and Yeading’s keeper Masters could only get his fingertips to a cross and it fell to Alex Rhodes who somehow managed to hit the outside of the post with the goal gaping. At this stage I felt confident it could be at least six and made another sure fire winning bet with Dagenham Dan. But there was to be no more. Binns nearly made it five with a late header that came off the underside of the bar and with that I lost my bet. Seconds later the official attendance of 251 ruined my evening of gambling, and Dan went home 50p richer.

So a freezing cold evening had not turned out exactly how I thought. Both teams tried to play football but as with most things in life you need a bit of luck. Hayes & Yeading got that in the first half and the contest was over by half time. The future does not look too rosy for Grays, with only the helpless and hapless Chester below them. Haye and Yeading on the other hand can look forward to a run of home games against the divisions big boys confident in their ability to score goals. The question is can they stop leaking them.

A good evening? Absolutely – thanks to Lee Hermitage and his Tardis. Go there on Saturday – give the man on the door a wink and say Stuart sent you…you will not be disappointed.

About Church Road
Church Road is a classic looking old ground that has banks of terracing that sweep around it. On one side is the Main Stand, which was originally built in 1925. The stand which straddles the half way line, is covered and all seated and is raised above pitch level. It has a number of supporting pillars that run across the front of it, which is to be expected with a stand of this age. The team dugouts are located in front of the stand, with areas of open terrace to either side. Opposite is a fair sized mostly covered terrace, known affectionately as ‘the Shed’. This covered terrace, does not provide cover for the whole of its length, but at least does cover the terrace down to pitch side. There are also a number of supporting pillars running across the front of it. Both ends are open terraces that are quite steep and continue around the corners of the ground. The stadium has a set of eight floodlight pylons, four of which run down each side.

The club are unique in the fact that they actually own two grounds, and it is hoped that at some point the Club will re-develop Yeading’s old ground ‘The Warren into a stadium that would meet Football League standards. The Club would then move from Church Road to the Warren.

How to get to Church Road
If you are driving then leave M25 at Junction 16 and take the A40(M) towards London. Pass over one large junction (Denham Roundabout) and under another (Swakeleys Roundabout). Take next slip road (Hillingdon). At traffic lights turn right into Long Lane (A437). At the traffic lights at the end of Long Lane turn left onto the Uxbridge Road (A4020). After about two miles, turn right into Church Road opposite the Adam & Eve public house and the ground is down on your right. There is a car park at the ground which holds 300 cars and costs £1. Otherwise street parking.

Hayes & Hartlington station is the nearest to the ground and is situated just over a mile away from the ground. It is served by trains from London Paddington & Reading. Exit the station and turn right and follow Station Road. At the T-junction take the left hand fork into Bolwell Lane, and then straight on into Church Road at the mini roundabout. The ground is further up this road on the left hand side.

How to get a ticket for Church Road
Average attendances over the past few seasons haven’t exactly been stellar. Last season in their play off winning season it was just over 340. This season some teams will bring sizeable support, such as Luton, Oxford and Cambridge so these games may sell out. Otherwise it will be pay on the door. Prices are:-

Seating (enter through the terrace turnstiles and pay a transfer fee inside) – Adults £14, Concessions £9

Terrace: Adults £12, Concessions £7, Under 7’s Free

Many thanks to Duncan Adams and his fantastic site http://www.conferencegrounds.co.uk for the above information.

Monster Muncher

The Monster Muncher

One of the classic adverts of the 1980’s was surely the Monster Muncher who was not satisfied by the Taj Mahal, The Leaning Tower of Pisa and The Empire State Building before he came across a packet of Chewits.  As the credits rolled, the ad stated that “Chewits were chewier that Barrow-in-Furness bus depot”.  (for a view of the ad click here).  The Ad put Barrow on the map, just like Lorraine Chase did for Luton Airport, or Ian Rush did for Accrington Stanley.  Ironically enough Barrow didn’t have a Bus Depot (it does now apparently)…but it does have a football team, which can claim to be one of the most northerly in English football.

Shadow encroachment

Barrow AFC have made a nice little home for themselves in the Blue Square Premier.  They have actually quite a heritage in the Football League, gracing the old Third Division North in 1921 and then continuing in the leagues for a further fifty one years.  In 1970 the club finished in 8th place in the third tier of English football, but the two following seasons saw the club slip down the leagues until they finished in third from last place in May 1972.  This was the time of the Football League closed shop so there wasn’t any automatic promotion or relegation to the non-leagues.  Barrow applied for re-election, and were pitted against Hereford United from the Southern League.  Perhaps a few clubs were fed up with the long trawl up to Cumbria and that may be the reason why after a second ballot, Hereford were elected into the league at Barrow’s expense.

The club continued to play at the highest levels of the non-league game, and were one of the founder members of the Alliance Conference in 1979.  In 1990 they went to Wembley for the first time, winning the FA Trophy against Leek Town.  After a brief spell in the Unibond League, the club returned to the Blue Square Premier in 2008.  Last season they made waves in the FA Cup, beating Brentford at home in front of the TV cameras and then narrowly losing to Middlesborough at The Riverside where their 7,000 travelling fans almost doubled the fickle Boro fans.

This season it has been more of the same really.  At the end of January the club were in the lower reaches of the Conference, but with games in hand on all those around them.  Another run to the FA Cup third round saw them again travel to the North East, this time at the Stadium of Light where Sunderland beat them 3-0.

The club have a large catchment area with only really Carlisle United and Workington (another old league club now in Blue Square North) to compete with.  The club’s average attendance of 1,290 was slightly above average in the league, but they had started a campaign to raise this to 2,010 for the final ten games of the season…And first up was Luton Town, a club who would certainly bring a few hundred fans.

So why, you may ask was the TBIR extended team out for this game in Cumbria?  Well, at the start of this season I vowed to CMF that I would do “all Blue Square Premier and South clubs this season”.  The only one I didn’t get to last year was in fact Barrow in the top league.  This season they have been joined by Hayes & Yeading (less than 20 miles from TBIR Towers and Gateshead) so it was always one I wanted to visit.  Of course, Football Jo has a few “links” with Luton Town (see Taking The Mike), so we planned to use that as an excuse for a visit “up north”.  Not fancying doing this one in a day (only a 645 mile round trip), I came up with the cunning idea of selling it as a “family” weekend away, and booked Centerparcs some 70 miles away in Whinfell.  This would mean taking the girls out of school for a day (so teachers close your eyes now) but I figured that the school will close for the elections in May as its a Polling Day and so they would owe us a day.

Big Mick and part of the TBIR team

Now Luton Town.  Hmmm.  I was quite outspoken back in October about Mick Harford’s removal (see here), based on the club’s position and the high expectations set by fans and the owners alike.  so when he left the team sat in 6th place, a point outside the play off zone.  Coming into this game the club were in 7th place, a point outside the play off zone.  New boss Richard Money had delivered some improvements, but I think the club, and the fans under estimated how difficult this league would be.  Oxford appeared to be running away with it initially, but Stevenage had now almost matched them result for result, and York with one man goal machine Richard Brodie had opened up a big gap in the top three so in order to stay within touching distance of the Playoffs they would need a result “up north”.

Saturday morning dawned with beautiful sunshine.  Bloody freezing, but a crisp sunny winter’s day.   After a game of Adventure Golf (what happened to the words “Crazy Golf”?  I assume they felt that  it discriminated against those with mental problems.  There is no adventure in slotting a ball  between the legs of a concrete Roman soldier anyway) where Littlest Fuller had a huge tantrum,  resulting in a slamming-down-of-her-golf-club sort of action after she took 3 shots at the third  hole we headed off towards Barrow-in-Furness.  Now we had the “fast” route (69 miles and around 70  minutes down the M6) or the “scenic” route (65 miles or 125 minutes).  On the advice of Stuey  Nichols, one of Barrow’s top chaps, we plumpted for the latter, not having been in this area of  the world before.  So after a brief stop at the most scenic ground in England, Penrith FC’s new  Frenchfields stadium (what other grounds can claim to be bordered by a stream, a 11th century  castle, hills full of sheep and snow capped hills) we headed west past mountain, fell,glen, lake  and all.


After two hours of driving up hill, down dale and along the lakes of Thirlmere, Gramere, Coniston  and Windermere, we decamped next to Barrow AFC’s Holker Street ground and not a moment too soon.   The countryside is beautiful up here but after avoiding walkers, sheep and dry stone walls for the  hundreth time you get a bit bored and long for some litter, grafetti and traffic lights, so the  run down council estates was a welcome site as we entered Barrow.  After a mile or so the huge  floodlights towered over the landscape – Welcome to Holker Street!

And what a proper ground it was too….ancient toilets, turnstile operators willing to give you  “the wink” on Lolly’s age, decent terraces and lovely big floodlights.  Luton’s originally  expected 700+ fans had somehow shrank in the wash and around 300 had made the 283 mile trip  northwards in time for Kevin Nichols to lead the Hatters out.  Many Luton fans I knew who had made  the trip, including Football Jo still had the memories of Wembley still fresh in their minds from  last April.  Opponents on that day, Scunthorpe United were entertaining Crystal Palace today.  Football can be a cruel game.

Barrow 0 Luton Town 1 – Holker Street – Saturday 6th February 2010
Barrow have quite a passionate following.  They have their own Ultras group – Ultras Barrovia, who  more recently had run into problems with the police and stewarding at the ground as it appeared  that the local authorities did not want to see football fans acting like, well, football fans  supporting their team.  Now this is not a story for today (although it we have a deeper look into  it soon) but it was interesting to see the fans holding up a banner before the game highlighting  that passionately supporting your team is not a crime.  Luton, on the other hand had left any  vocal element of their support back down the A590, M6 (Toll) and M1 by the sound of it.  They did  start the brighter team though with Newton making use of some space on the right, but time and  time again his final ball into Craddock and Hatch was poor.

Hatch got himself in the home team’s bad books in the tenth minute when his aerial challenge on  Barrow’s Phil Bolland left the defender with a head wound that ended his game.  Tempers were fraid  for awhile, not helped by Mr Curry in the middle failing to show any consistency, Tikka’ing off  players who should be booked and giving plenty of Korma’s when they should have been goal kicks  (OK that’s my limit – I’m not as creative as Mr Last).

Sponsor my arse.com

Football Jo, our “nanny” for our trip away, has a bit of inside knowledge into the Luton team due  to her “contacts” in the game (which I would say have “allegedly” proved right in the case of Mr  Grant at Portsmouth in the case of his relaxation methods most recently) and spent the first half  analysing the play, complete with one of the most shocking handbags ever seen at a football match.   Barrow’s keeper, Tim Deasy provided the most amusement in the half, dribbling the ball around the  on rushing Liam Hatch and essentially taking the piss whenever he had the ball.  At one point he  bent down in front of us to expose his “PremiumSolutions.co.uk” advertising on his bum.  Surely a  missed opportunity for a company such as “Peachy Cabs”, “The Bottom Line” or even “Talk Sport”.

If truth be told, as Nessa would say, it was a poor half and when the referee finally blew the  whistle for the break, we headed upstairs to the Cross Bar for a swift pint and a chat to the  locals.  Jo had to admit defeat in her search for husband material, with none of the locals up to  her high standards (Does he have two eyes – check, is he breathing – check, does he own his own  gimp mask – check). Now earlier in the day we had been listening to Liverpool v Everton from  Anfield where a “Sea Fret” had been causing problems for the watching millions on TV.  I had never  head of such a thing, but apparently in the North West of England such fast moving and enveloping  fog was common.

And lo and behold fifteen minutes later when we returned to the terraces we could  hardly see a thing.  The fog had rolled in and for all intense and purposes the Luton fans could  have buggered off home as they couldn’t be seen as well as heard, and quite frankly a draw would  have been a fair result with Carlos Logan and  Nick Chadwick going close for Barrow, and Liam Hatch missing a good chance for Luton.

Neither team would have been too sad if the game would have been abandoned as soon as it hit the  magic game deciding 76th minute (why is this the cut off?  Surely it would make sense for it to be  the 3/4rds mark at 67.5 minutes?) but the referee didn’t see a problem, although for all he could  see either goalkeeper could have walked off and we wouldn’t have noticed.

Luton take the lead....apparently

And where was the  yellow ball?  A white ball is hardly sensible in such conditions but Mr Curry didn’t feel it was  an issue but then again he did not see most of the other contentious decisions all day so at least  in that way he was consistent.  With seven minutes to go the deadlock was broken, we believe.   Apparently Liam Hatch headed in from a Kevin Nichols corner to give the visitors the lead when we  head a muffled cheer and saw the players regroup for a kick off again after a minute or so.

The  temperature had dropped to almost freezing point and we took our leave with injury time being  played out, and after a final experience in the toilets of Calcutta for the girls (I laughed later  when one of the Directors, Neil Chalker wrote in the programme that “we do understand that some of  the toilet facilities are out of date” having seen them with my own eyes) we headed back to the  car and up the road to the biosphere (Centerparcs) where CMF and Littlest Fuller were blissfully  unaware of the Fretting we had experienced.

So another win on the road for Luton, which put the pressure back on the Play off teams, but more  worryingly for Barrow extended their winless home record into a fourth month (the last league home  win was on the 17th October versus Ebbsfleet).  It is a shame that such a proper non-league club  were being dragged into the relegation zone.  The crowd was just over 1,500 which was some 600  short of their 2,010 that they had publically declared as their required average for the final ten  games of the season.  The worrying aspect here is that Luton would have been seen as one of a few  teams who should have boosted the attendance to close to the required level. I cannot see the  likes of Kettering, Crawley Town, Salisbury City or Histon bringing more than a couple of dozen  all of the way here, so the focus must be on incentives to get more locals to attend.  On a day  that Mansfield Town annouced their “pay what you want” incentive for their home game with  Gateshead and got more than 7,000 surely clubs have to wise up to some fresh ideas about how to  engage with the locals.

So in summary…Barrow-in-Furness.  No bus depot, sitting in the middle of some of Europe’s most  unspoilt countryside, a bloody long way from home but decent fans, a decent non-league ground and  its own weather system that can fool the best adventurer in the world.  We salute you.

About Holker Street
Holker Street, whilst being home to the club since 1909 has also played host to Speedway and Rugby League.  The ground has remained unchanged since the redevelopment of the main stand in the mid 1990s. Described as having “a traditional, old fashioned feel”, the ground has three sides of terracing and one all-seater Main Stand, the latter with a capacity of around 1,000.

The Main Stand, backing onto Ray Wilkie Road is raised above the central portion of the pitch, with flat standing on either side. The Popular Side now has the only covered terracing, opposite the Main Stand. The Holker Street end is the traditional base of the home support, though it is now uncovered and thus open to the weather which comes in off Walney Channel; this end is now sometimes given to away fans. Otherwise, away fans are usually accommodated at the steelworks end, which has the smallest and least used terracing. The only seating in this area is a small wooden bench. This end is dominated by the CrossBar which houses the club’s offices.

Holker Street’s facilities are rather spartan, and the ground would probably not be suitable for Football League Two, the level above which Barrow AFC currently play. Stadium share proposals with Barrow Raiders rugby league club are often mooted. The most recent plan was for the two clubs to share a stadium in Barrow’s redeveloped dockland, though no significant plans have ever been made and the Barrow AFC board currently appears to favour further improvement and development of Holker Street.

A little known fact is that after bomb damage in the Second World War, the main stand was repaired using reclaimed wood from unseaworthy ships found in the Irish Sea!

How to find Holker Street
By road: M6 Junction to junction 36, then onto A590 signposted Barrow. Follow A590 all the way to the outskirts of Barrow, entering via industrial route towards the Town Centre. Passing the fire station on the right, take the next left into Wilkie Road. The ground is on the right hand side. Post code for Sat-Nav is LA14 5UW.

The nearest Station is Barrow-in-Furness. On leaving the station, exit onto Holker Street. Turn right and ground is approximately ½ mile on the left.

How to get a ticket for Holker Street
Despite the club’s desire to double attendances to over 2,000, there are still plenty of tickets available on a matchday.  Tickets can be bought in advance from the club in person or by phone – 01229 823061.  Ticket prices for this season are Terracing £13 (concessions £10 – £3), Stand £14 (concessions £11 – £3).

A rolling stone has no home

In In the second week of December another football club in the non-leagues unfortunately bit the dust.  Kings Lynn FC, formerly of the Northern Premier League simply could not cope in the modern world after their relegation last season from the Blue Square North and their one hundred year plus history was as irrelevant as a Graham Norton joke.  Not that Kings Lynn were the first nor would they be the last in the modern era of football to suffer this fate.  Ironically, one of the highest profile clubs to have disappeared off the football map was Maidstone United, then of the Football League Fourth Division in 1992.  The whole saga has been reported on numerous occasions in other publications but below is a simple summary.

Maidstone United were founder members of the Alliance Conference, the league below the Football League when it commenced in 1979.  They subsequently won this league in 1984 but at the time promotion to the league was controlled via a vote of the chairman, which was of course a closed shop.  In 1989 they won the Alliance Conference again but this time promotion was automatic and they replaced Darlington in the football league.  Unfortunately they would not be playing in the administrative capital of Kent.  They had sold their ground in 1988 to fund their investment in the squad to developers and had agreed a ground share with Dartford FC at their Watling Road ground.  The first season was a relative success as they finished in the play-offs and were denied a game at Wembley by Cambridge United in the semi-finals.  The club always planned to move back to Maidstone and that summer bought some land in the town for £400,000 but were then denied planning permission.  At the same time the Football Licensing authority demanded urgent repairs of Watling Street in order to comply with Football League rules, which would not have been needed if Dartford were the only residents – so the burdon fell on the Stones.  They had only one option, putting the squad up for sale.

The following season was a disaster on the pitch, and with the Stones falling into financial trouble it was putting pressure on their landlords, Dartford.  It was too much for the club and at the end of the 1991/1992 season they went into liquidation despite efforts to merge with other teams (such as Newcastle Blue Star).

I followed this with interest.  At the time I was in my early twenties.  I had been invited on a number of occasions to train with the club as they looked locally for talent, and being a local lad I fitted the bill.  My dreams of a career along side such stars as Gary Breen evaporated one summer’s day when I turned up for training only to find no one there.   I still have my original shirt given to me at my first session, which I hit from the administrator in case they wanted it back.

A few months later a new club, formed by the current Chairman Paul Bowden-Brown under the name Maidstone Invicta and played in the lower reaches of the Kent leagues.  They kept making progress on and off the pitch as they attempted to win every competition, irrespective of its size they entered.  In 2001 they moved to Central Park in Sittingbourne, and more latterly in Bourne Park Sittingbourne.  They finally moved out of the Kent leagues in 2006 when they won the title and joined the Isthmian League South, some four levels below the Football League.  They surprised many by winning this league at the first attempt, taking their place in 2007 in the Isthmian Premier League.  The club also applied for permission to build a new stadium in Maidstone town centre although funding was initially turned down so they decided to move out of Sittingbourne and share instead with Ashford in their Homelands stadium.

The season was a struggle, not helped by a serious injury to manager Alan Walker in pre-season training.  They went into the last game of the season against Folkstone Invicta needing a win to stay up, which they duly did and relegated the visitors in the process in front of over 1,300!  Last season was a bit more stable as the club finished in 15th place and enjoyed renewed acquaintances with rivals Dartford.

So what of this season?  Well in the Rymans Premier League they sit in 9th place and are again more than holding their own.  Crowds have been disappointing at just over the 300 mark proving the struggle the club has to bring back the magic and more importantly the fans to support the team.  With so few teams in this area of England football does not seem to stir the passion in the loins of Kentish people!  However, the real story was brewing in the FA Trophy.  After promotion in 2007 they left behind the mysteries of the FA Vase and moved into the big boys cup.  A 1-0 win in the first round replay against Waltham Forest saw them into the second round where they put league form behind them and beat Bognor Regis Town away 2-0.  In the third qualifying round they ripped up the form book by beating Bromley 1-0 away and thus reaching the 1st round for the first time.  And then came the draw….number 22 Maidstone United, will play number 13 Histon…The Stutes located a few miles north of Cambridge has essentially been propelled into the public eye just over a year ago when they beat Leeds United at their tiny Glassworld Stadium in the FA Cup.  The club, managed by long ball specialist John Beck had ended last season one goal away from a place at Wembley in the Blue Square Play Off Final.  But twelve months is a long time in football and they came into this game in mid-table with Beck long gone, new manager Steve Fallon suspended after he was critical of the new chairman’s cost cutting measures, and strong rumours that the club were on the verge of entering administration.

In the build up to the game I made contact with the club asking for some information.  Paul Bowden-Brown responded to my email within seconds with an offer of a press pass and an interview at the game.  How could I say no to such hospitality?  I couldn’t, so after dropping CMF off at one of Britain’s biggest Outlet centres some 2 miles away from The Homelands Stadium, me and the girls pitched up at the rural setting for the biggest game in the Stone’s modern history…..except the pesky Kent rain had put pay to any play, with the Histon coach already arrived.  I had no option but to return to the shops and endure an afternoon of listening to 5live…And then the saga of bad weather started.  The tie was postponed no less than six times due to first rain, then snow and finally ice caused serious financial pressure on the Stones and Ashford Town, as obviously home games are the main revenue generator.  The FA told the club that the 19th was the last chance they had before the forfeited home advantage.

In the period between the first game in early December, and the 19th January 2010 it had been a case of all change at Histon.  Fallon was welcomed back as manager on the 9th January after his suspension for divulging confidential information about playing budgets to the team.  Fallon, who had been in place for a decade.  But three days later, Fallon was sacked – “”After resuming the role only yesterday it soon became very evident that underlying irreconcilable differences between Steve and myself and the board would preclude the partnership ever working for the benefit of Histon FC.” was the official line from Chairman Tony Roach.  So with a tie away to Salisbury City up for grabs, the game commenced.  What you don’t want in these games is to concede an early goal, and that is exactly what happened as Bolland put Histon ahead in the 8th minute.  The Stones held their own for most of the remainder of the game but two late goals put an unfair reflection on the final score.  Again, the disappointment for Maidstone was the very small crowd of just 238.

After the FA Trophy drama it was back to normal with a home game against Boreham Wood, the first home league game for the Stones since they managed to squeeze in the Margate game on Boxing Day.  The middle of the Rymans Premier looked a bit like the M20 under operation Stack with just 10 points separating 14 teams – from the final play off spot to the final relegation place.  The cold snap had meant postponements all over the shop and so some teams such as Billericay Town in 20th place could actually go above Hastings Town in 2nd place with their games in hand.

As luck would have it, Big Nige (my elder brother) had paid for CMF and myself to go away for the night sans children as part of my 40th Birthday present.  He chose Eastwell Manor and Spa, some 3 miles from the Homelands Stadium, and as I was still under the 40 days/40 Nights rule of doing what I want, I chose to go to the football, CMF back to the shops! Who said romance was dead!

Maidstone United 0 Boreham Wood 1 – The Homelands Stadium – Saturday 23rd January 2010
After CMF taxi’s had dropped me outside the bar I could hardly refuse a pint before kick off.  The function room at the Homelands is, well, functional, with a large projector screen showing the end of the Chelsea game and a very interesting programme and memorabilia sale in aid of the Bobby Moore Cancer Trust.

The standard Non-League £10 got me in, and in chilly conditions it was easy to see how this game was in doubt up until a mid morning pitch inspection.  Puddles littered the playing surface and it wasn’t going to be an afternoon of passing football that is for sure.  I positioned myself in my favoured position between the dugouts to listen to the banter, and didn’t have to wait for long as both benches were united in their abuse for the officials.  Boreham Wood were the better team in early exchanges, and if their lanky centre forward Effiong could have used his obvious muscle on a couple of occasions they would have taken the lead before the 20th minute/  A break into the box caused panic and the Maidstone keeper, Jamie Turner pulled down Lee Allinson.  I broke my golden rule of the golden goal.  I opened it before the first score.  Twenty one minutes……My watch said 19 minutes and 10 seconds, so we needed some delaying action but alas it was not to come.  Forty five seconds later the ball was in the net as Mario Noto’s penalty bulged….I had missed out for the second week in a row by a matter of seconds.

The rest of the first half saw the ball hardly touch the ground as both teams tried to avoid the swamp in the middle.  An injury to a Boreham Wood defender led to some abuse being hurled from the bench – “Get up you tart!”…but it was coming from his own bench!  Then another poor decision had Maidstone’s boss Lloyd Hume “Humeing”….his tirade of seven, yep seven expletives in a row were met with mirth by all those around the dugouts, all apart from a scary looking female steward who forthrightly told him to “Sit down and shut up”.  And the most amazing part was that he did!

It didn’t stop him berating the officials at length on the walk back to the dressing rooms at half time although quite what he hoped to achieve I do not know.  The second half was more of the same from both teams.  Maidstone’s keeper was the busier of the two and made some excellent saves, none more so than from Effiong.  The home side’s best chance came when Peter Hawkins who blasted over a golden opportunity from a few yards out.

So, with six minutes added at the end of the game Maidstone threw everything forward but the impressive Boreham Wood back line held firm.  CMF had arrived and I persuaded her to come for a swift half back in the bar, but was amazed that we were the first people in there.  Then came Razor Ruddock and his mates (yep, Neil Ruddock in his best Vinnie Jones goes shooting clubber). Ten minutes later the number had trebled but surely more fans could have made the effort?  The 233 who did attend are certainly behind the club, most of whom supported club colours, but as it has been publically stated on a number of times, the club needs more fans through the turnstiles.

Twenty minutes later we were back in our manner house, champagne in hand.  If only all of our awaydays could be this luxurious!

Coming soon – An interview with Jamie Barber, founder of the Virtual Stadium.

About The Homelands
The Homelands is home to both Maidstone United and Ashford Town.  Fifteen years ago the stadium hosted Ashford’s FA Cup game against Fulham (then in the third tier of English football) in front of 3,300.  It is the centre point of a new Sports Village that has been proposed for the area.

It has one main  stand that runs 2/3rds of the way down the length of the pitch and offers some good views of the action.  Opposite there is just a fenced separating the pitch from the path, and behind each goal are small covers over three rows of terracing.  There is a large bar at the far end of the main stand, but is accessible from the outside only.

How to get to the Homelands
By Car – Leave the M20 at Junction 10, follow the signs for Ashford International Station and Brenzett. This will be Bad Munsterieful Road. Follow this road straight over at the first roundabout (McDonalds drive thru and Travel Inn on your right). At the next roundabout take the first exit for Kingsnorth. At the next roundabout go straight over (Tesco on your left). Follow this road for about twomiles, going through Kingsnorth, passing the cricket club on the left. The Homelands is 300 yards on your left.

By Train – The nearest station is Ashford International, which is four miles from the stadium. Trains from Maidstone to Ashford are plentiful with a journey time of 22 minutes (fast) or 30 minutes (stopping). From there a taxi will cost around £5 to the stadium.

How to get a ticket for the Homelands
It’s pay on the door for everyone with entry at £10 for Adults, £7 for Concessions and children under 11 free with every paying adult.  Well, sort of pay on the door as you have to buy your raffle ticket style entry ticket from a window beside the turnstile before you enter. Transfer to the single stand is free of charge.