On the sixth day of TBIR Christmas – The Best Non League Day out


So we announced the best International (well, Yorkshire want to be independent) day out yesterday, so what about the grass-roots game?  What places offer the best day out for those who don’t give a stuff about the over paid pre-madonnas and who realise that more often than not, the ninety minutes of the game are often the low point of a day out.

3rd Place – Bromley
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Hayes Lane is home to two teams, the landlords Bromley and the Tenants, Cray Wanderers.  The ground, now the Fortress Stadium is going through some improvements, including a new bar/restaurant and retains a rural feel despite sitting 15 minutes from the centre of London.  But it’s the proximity to decent transport links and some great pubs that has it in our top 3.  The Partridge, Barrel & Horn and Bricklayers Arms all prove the sustenance for a day out in Bromley.

2nd Place – Matlock
14824252268_da93451cac_zMatlock has already scooped the Best New Ground award but the town itself is a great pre-cursor to the game itself.  Opposite the ground is Hall Leys Park, which throbs with family entertainment in the summer, whilst just down the road, The Heights of Abraham provide some spectacular views of the stunning scenery.  Fancy a beer?  Who doesn’t! So head to the MoCa bar, the CAMRA Pub of the Year or the Buxton Brewery. It’s just a shame we don’t play in the Northern Premier League.

1st Place – Lewes
14579184744_2eed47d812_hOK, so I may be slightly biased on this one but the whole reason why I became involved in the club (and decided to stand for a second 3 year term as a Director) was because it is the best day out in Non-League football.  Not just my thoughts either.  Every other week we play at home, we get away fans coming just because they can come to Lewes.  It’s not all about the football club, albeit a top vista, Harvey’s beer on the terrace, superb match day food, a great PA announcer and an award-winning match day programme are compelling reasons, it is about the local pubs, the picturesque town centre, the fact that within 10 minutes you can be drinking in Brighton – the whole package.

Tomorrow, it’s time to reveal the best game we have seen in 2014

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Waking up the neighbours


In a couple of years there could well be a brand new football stadium at the end of the road here in TBIRville in South London. In fact, we have a few building projects on the map that will make a huge difference to the area. First up will be our very own Premier Inn at the top of the hill. Whilst the Sizzle Grill can boast a 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor, the other main attractions of the area hardly demand a hotel.

“A library, Co-operative Food Store, a butchers and a Dance studio” says Wikipedia, which isn’t really known for playing down the truth. Heck, we only have 1 pub, in a mile radius. This is suburbia not the Shetlands!

Perhaps the hotel is needed for when Paramount Park opens in 2020. Europe’s largest Theme Park, indoor venue and entertainment attraction no less, to be built in Swanscombe just 7 miles away. I’m not sure why we need such excitement – after all we’ve already got a petting zoo round the corner.

But who wants inverted 4G rollercoaster when you can have football. Paramount Park? Pah! It’s all about Flamingo Park and the news that the world’s third oldest football team will finally stop being wanderers and have a home of their own. Welcome to the neighbourhood, Cray Wanderers.

IMG_2345The club, formed in 1860, may not be known to many who don’t frequent the Non League circles. The last few years haven’t been the kindest to the club. After sacking manager of 14 years, Ian Jenkins, in September 2013 the club have been on a downward spiral, first being relegated from the Ryman Premier League and not in the relegation zone of the North Division. The one ray of sunshine has been the news that the club have bought the option on the land to build the new stadium. There’s no houses close by (thus no potential NIMBY influence), surrounded by a crematorium and a driving range and access would be direct onto the A20 dual carriageway. It would replace the existing Flamingo Park structure, home now to car boot sales, desperate over 40’s singles nights and the occasional travelling fairground that keeps the teenage birth rate up in the area. Who wouldn’t want to give planning permission for that?

All being well The Wanderers could be on my Christmas card list in three years, although by then the 2,200 capacity stadium may be hosting county league football. Something needs to stop the rot. A pre-Christmas visit of high-flying Harlow Town and their goal machine Alex Read was surely just the tonic. In terms of preparation, losing your manager (Mike Paye) 24 hours before kick off probably isn’t the greatest preparation either.

With landlords Bromley playing on Saturday, Cray were bumped off the main bill to the support card of Sunday. What a perfect opportunity for all the harassed fathers and husbands to drop their treasures off in the High Street then escape for a couple of hours to watch some good, honest football? Or was it just me who had that idea?

IMG_2334The first thing you notice if you haven’t been to Bromley FC this season is that the ground is now called The Fortress.  Alas, despite the coaching genius of Hugo Langton, the name has nothing to do with the impregnable Bromley defence, it is related to a sponsorship deal.   Once you pass through the turnstiles you will also notice that the old “lower” bar has now been replaced.  Instead of the jigsawed portakabin structure there is now Ravens, a wooden-bedecked bar and grill.  Very smart too – would have been even better if there any staff actually serving before the game though.

Cray Wanderers 2 Harlow Town 2 – Hayes Lane – Sunday 21st December 2014
Twenty minutes into this game you felt like waving the white flag on behalf of the home side.  Two nil down to high-flying Harlow, to anyone watching the game it was a case of how many the visitors would score.  But football is a fickle mistress and within a minute Cray were back in the game.  A spirited second half performance against ten men almost saw them grab all three points, rather than the one they finally earned.

With no other games in London today, the crowd was boosted by a fair few anorak wearers, desperate to find a team sheet and get a touch of the ball.  There were some loud tuts in the bar at the fact there was no real ale on, with the closest thing being some bottles of MasterBrew.  A ground of German ground hoppers didn’t care as they tucked into the Oranjeboom (“It’s a lager not a tune” I reminded one), fresh from a trip to see Spurs yesterday.

IMG_2332Despite the culture shock of having to play on a ploughed field compared to their lush 3G pitch, Harlow started with the kind of momentum their league position suggests and had come close twice before Junior Appiah opened the scoring in the 4th minute in somewhat comical style.  A Cray goal kick hits a defender’s back on the half-way line, the wind then carries the ball back over the heads of the back four, Alex Read mis-hits the ball into the path of Appiah and he slots the ball home.

Appiah and Read were causing all sorts of problems for the Cray defence, with some calamitous defending keeping the score down.  That man Read then pounced on a loose ball in the box, doubling the score with just twenty minutes on the clock.  It was all going so well for the visitors.  And then it all changed.  Cray’s first corner of the game saw centre-half, Dmitri Larin, steal in and head home.  Hope springs eternal.

IMG_2343Despite mounting pressure in the second half, Harlow simply couldn’t find the target.  Their job of holding onto the lead was made harder when Billy Jones was sent off for what was deemed a “reckless foul”, a harsh decision in most people’s book although the resulting 20 player melee was amusing to say the least.

With the temperature plunging, Cray started to warm up.  Poor defending left the Cray sub Shaun Welford unmarked and he headed home.  Two goals conceded from two unmarked positions. Only one team seemed to be in the hunt for the winner and Cray came within inches of grabbing all three points in the final seconds when only an acrobatic clearance denied them.

Full time – a great way to spend the final hours of the weekend before Christmas.  Harlow wont be happy with a point after their early domination, but Cray showed the type of fight that’s needed to drag themselves out of the relegation zone.  Who knows, with a point here, and news of a new ground on the horizon there could be a happy ending for one of the world’s oldest Wanderers.

Football back for the Daggers


Last season exceeded most of the expectations of the Victoria Road faithful. Pre season favourites for the drop, home form played a big part in that apparent change of fortune, and as the campaign progressed to the half way point, we found ourselves in a comfortable mid table position. After three years of trying to avoid relegation, this was a very welcome change.

The second half of the season bought a complete reversal of home fortune. After beating Wimbledon on January 1st, it would be another two and a half months before we registered another three points at home. As the hangovers subsided that wet New Year’s Day, little did we realise that we had just witnessed our penultimate home win of the season.

It was fortunate then that our away form, disappointing up until December, came to our rescue. Just one defeat was sustained on the road after January 1st, and so when all the points were added up on the final day of the season, the daggers had finished a very creditable ninth place, and Wayne Burnett had been nominated for the League Two manager of the year award.

IMAG1312Despite the very good league season we had enjoyed, I felt nothing of the kind. In fact, apathy would be a very good way to describe the feelings I had as the season lurched to its conclusion. Home games now became something to endure, rather than enjoy. I can take the team losing, but if there appears to be a lack of effort or they just don’t appear to be bothered, then I get annoyed. The home game against Portsmouth on April 12 was awful. Cheered on by an away support that nearly matched the number of home fans in attendance, the visitors cantered to a comfortable 4-1 win.

That was bad enough, but the last home game topped the lot. Ok, we didn’t have much to play for, while Northampton Town needed the points to stay up. But the capitulation on the day (we lost 0-3 and it should have been more) meant that, as he team came round for their lap of honour at the end of the game, around 80% of the crowd had gone home. I had to think twice about staying but I did, because no matter what had happened that day, the campaign overall had been a success. Continue reading

No fairytale ending for the Bromley Boys


“It’s a marathon not a sprint”.

The favourite line of football commentators, players and managers when they lose a game during the season.  The season isn’t won or lost over 90 minutes but over the course of nine months.  Technically that is true, but when it comes to play off time, then the previous efforts go out of the window and it all comes down to ninety or in some cases, one hundred and eighty minutes of football.

7228388842_a8a95e8d49_bThe end of season play offs are the high point of the season.  Two teams essentially fighting like gladiators in the Coliseum.  Only one can walk away a victor, battered and bruised ready for the next opponent, whilst the loser has nothing but memories of a successful league campaign that ultimately led to nothing to console themselves with.  People who say the play-offs are unfair are either a) play-off losers or b) anti-football fans.

Yes they are incredibly harsh sometimes.  Take FC United of Manchester.  In with a shout of the Evostik Premier title until the final day of the season, they finished 16 points above 5th place Ashton United this season, yet in front of nearly 3,000 home fans this week, they lost in extra-time.  Their dream of moving up to the Conference North for the first time in their history was dashed by a 120th minute goal by Ashton’s Jack Higgins.  In the Ryman Premier League, the teams finishing 2nd and 3rd, Bognor Regis Town and Kingstonian respectively, both lost their home play off matches this week.

I can still remember the pain of 2004 in Cardiff when West Ham lost to Crystal Palace in the Championship Play Off final.  Palace had come from nowhere to sneak into the play offs at the last gasp and feeling the injustice of the fact that without the play offs we would have been promoted in third.  The following season it was our turn to sneak in at the last-minute and were promoted after beating Preston North End having finished twelve points behind 3rd placed Ipswich Town.

I’d still like to see a team from the division above thrown into the mix as it used to be the case when the play offs were first introduced into English football back in 1987.  In that season Charlton Athletic had finished third bottom in what was then Division One, and then beat Ipswich Town, fifth in Division Two, to play Leeds United for the place in the top tier.  After two 1-0 wins for the home sides, the game went to a replay which the Addicks won 2-1 after extra-time and thus retained their place in the top division. In the league below the story was slightly different as Sunderland were relegated from Division Two after losing a humdinger of a tie against Gillingham, who finished fifth in the third tier on away goals after a 6-6 aggregate score.

13912890359_f1ae9a728c_bThere can be few things more dispiriting in football than being roundly beaten in the first leg of a play off game.  On Tuesday night, Bromley FC, who had led the Conference South table for the best part of half the season, only relinquishing control for the last time in March traveled down the A2 to face Ebbsfleet United who only secured their play-off spot with two weeks to go.  Bromley would have fancied their chances to have come away from Stonebridge Road with at least a draw, especially as their coach, Hugo Langton is a master of preparation and would have had a game plan nailed on.  However, fate can sometimes be a fickle friend.  Ebbsfleet opened the scoring after just 60 seconds and then less than ten minutes later Bromley’s Ashley Nicholls was sent off for deliberate handball and Ebbsfleet were 2-0 up from the resulting penalty.  Two further goals proved the David Pleat theorists wrong in the perfect storm – i.e “Playing against 10 men is often harder than 11” and “2-0 is the most dangerous scoreline in football”.

But Bromley do at least have a second bit of the cherry.  Miracles do happen in football (just look at the fact Sam Allardyce is still in a job, or that Stoke City now play attractive football) so it was with the hope of a reversal of fortune that I planned my last Saturday of domestic action of the season.  They were desperate to have a shot at the Conference Premier, having never ventured so high in their history.  The excellent book, The Bromley Boys by Dave Roberts (coming to the silver screen soon) highlights the time when, in Roberts’s eyes, they were the worst team in England.  They have got better since those days, and now with one of the finest Non League grounds in England, they had all their ducks in a row to have a crack with the big boys of the Non League.

13913036890_ddcae1e47d_bEbbsfleet on the other hand were past masters of the Conference Premier.  The one consolation they could take if they somehow lost this game was that they would have two local derbies against Dartford to look forward to, after the Darts relegation from the Conference Premier last weekend.  But that would be a small moment of happiness.  They drove up the A2, around the M25 and then followed the A21, making sure to watch the speed camera at the Michelin-starred Chapter One, with more than hope in their hearts.  They could almost smell the final where Sutton United or Dover Athletic would be waiting.

Bromley is only a bus ride away from TBIR Towers so it would be rude not to let such a potential momentous occasion pass by.  The core of the LLF were also en-route, fuelled by Terry’s 50p off beer vouchers for Wetherspoon’s and the prospect of no footballing action in Sussex. The sun was shining so it was undoubtably going to be the best day ever.

Bromley 1 Ebbsfleet United 0 – Hayes Lane – Saturday 3rd May 2014
This wasn’t a thriller to be honest.  Both camps said as much in their post-match comments to the press.  Bromley had to come out of the blocks flying and try to make an immediate impact into the four goal deficit.  They couldn’t.  The very big and strong Ebbsfleet defence held firm, using delaying tactics when they could to take the sting out of the Bromley momentum, whilst every so often using their wide men to push the home team onto the back foot.

13912982527_b78776790c_bWith a quarter of the game gone Ebbsfleet appeared to have taken the lead.  A fifth goal over the tie would have had the fat lady on the pitch singing her heart out but the referee deemed that the scorer, Ben May, had used a hand instead of his head.  Harsh from our angle.  The scare seemed to shock Bromley into life and within two minutes they had taken the lead with a cracking strike from Danny Waldren.  Every long journey starts with one small step – but would this be too little too late in the tie?

Bromley really needed a second before half time to stand any chance of turning the tie around.  Higgins went close with another strike from distance which Fleet keeper Edwards did well to push away but I think the visitors back four have had harder afternoons this season.

The second half saw Ebbsfleet slowly start to press the Bromley midfield and thus back into their own half.  The home side simply could create anything of note bar a Waldren header.  Ebbsfleet could have had a goal themselves when the impressive McMahon fired his shot narrowly wide.  A brief moment of hope appeared with ten minutes to go when Rance was given a straight red for his challenge on Goldberg but the numerical advantage lasted all of three minutes when Bromley’s Holland received a second yellow.

14100063954_fa5a40aa86_bDespite five minutes of injury time being played, Bromley knew the game was up.  It had been a long, hard season where they had fought and won for the most part.  Their fans stayed behind to salute the team, but the feeling of despair was clear to see as they slowly walked off the pitch for the final time this season.  Ebbsfleet would now be hosting Dover Athletic in the Final, who had surprisingly beaten Sutton United 3-0 despite playing for 80 minutes with ten men.

Five shades of Cray


After four weeks without a ball being kicked today looks like the day when we finally get to see some silky-smooth Lewes football. The Rooks have seen their last six games cancelled which now means they face 17 games in 8 weeks in March and April. Not that they are alone but it does reduce the concept of a league season from a marathon to a series of shuttle runs. In normal circumstances you wouldn’t bet against the teams with games in hand, but when you are forced to play 2 or 3 games a week most clubs would rather have the points in the bank.

However, you can never accuse the masters of our league of sitting on their hands and doing nothing. Oh no. This week they allowed VCD Athletic to play at home instead of away against Brentwood to avoid another cancellation (VCD sit top of the Ryman North with just the six games in hand over second place Soham Town Rangers). Respect.

12725040234_9157a90b48_bDue to Bromley’s game scheduled for yesterday, our match against tenants Cray Wanderers had been shunted 24 hours later onto a Sunday. Now this was unusual. I had to consult with ClubSec Kev on the last time we played on a Sunday (Hendon away 2010). Personally I’m all up for Sunday games as it means I can slip in a bonus game on a Saturday – oh, sorry I meant do some scouting on the Saturday.

It was 40 years ago last month that league football (bar the Sunday League-type stuff) was held on a Sunday. Millwall may be called a lot of things, but trendsetters isn’t normally one. However, on Sunday 20 January 1974 The Lions welcomed Fulham at The Den in what was the first of a dozen games played on that day. On police advice the game was to kick off at 11.30am and admission was by buying a programme as it was illegal at the time to sell tickets for sporting events on a Sunday (one of the reasons at the time why Test cricket had a rest day) thanks to the Sunday Observance Act of 1780. Continue reading

St Nathan the Cray slayer


At 5pm on St George’s Day there is only one place any rightful Englishman should be.  In the pub.  That’s the real castle for us dragon-slaying proud Englishmen.  So here I was, in the most 21st century of English establishments, J D Wetherspoon.  You cannot grumble at paying £2.29 for a pint of Blueberry Pie, a fruity English stout with a distinct purplish tinge.  And what better circumstances than saluting our national saint and preparing to watch our national game.

So after the highs of the away trip to Harrow Borough on Saturday, we woke up on Sunday with a fuzzy head and a realisation that one more win could be enough to secure Premier League survival for another season.  That game would be against Cray Wanderers, just one place and two points above us.  Bromley (South) was our destination, and after a short hop, skip and a jump from JD Wetherspoon (Victoria Station) we were in JD Wetherspoon (Bromley).  A first for me – two Wetherspoon’s in less than a hour.

4983022247_383d3f9f68_bOf course with wallet busting prices at £2.20 a pint I got the first round in. Clever thinking, eh.  Ah yes, we only had time for one.  Bugger.  But still it was in jovial spirits that we left the pub for the short taxi ride to Hayes Lane, home of Bromley FC and their tenants, Cray Wanderers, the world’s third oldest football club.

These are testing times for Cray.  Mr. Relegation has been hanging around outside Hayes Lane for the past few weeks, waiting for an opportunity to pop in.  Their groundshare agreement with Bromley is due to end next year, and the prospect of a return to the heartlands of St Paul’s Cray seem further away than ever after Bromley council rejected their planning application for a new community stadium in September.  You often have to wonder whether local authorities actually want to see local football teams survive.  Despite all of the hard work of volunteers to secure a long term future for the club AND a benefit to the local community, Cray are back at square one, still having to worry about relegation just like Lewes. Continue reading

Draycott, Lord of the Manor


“Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity”

Every football team in every season has one defining event, the moment that decides the fate of the team, the players, the manager and the club. That moment may be a refereeing decision, a piece of individual brilliance or simply a team collectively not turning up on the day. But you can look back at the history books and find that compelling event. In this season’s Premier League there have been many, but if Manchester United take the title, many will point to the events of Easter Sunday as that moment when United got a fortuitous refereeing decision in their game versus QPR and then a few hours later Mikel Arteta’s last minute winner for Arsenal against Manchester City all but ended their challenge.

But for Lewes that moment still hasn’t really happened yet, or so we think. We could point to the last minute equaliser at home against Lowestoft Town, or Billericay Town’s 93rd minute winner in March. But with games running out perhaps the most defining moment was going to come at Hayes Lane, BR2 when the Rooks were going to take on Cray Wanderers. Fifth place taking on sixth, separated by just one point. A draw would open the door for Hendon, Wealdstone or Canvey Island; defeat for the Rooks would almost spell the end of the play-off charge; a win for Cray would see them with a foot in the end of season lottery. Continue reading