Three cheers for the Royal Mail

Did you know that Cambridge United could have been Cambridge City?  Did you even know of the existence of Cambridge City?  No, well what about Cambridge..yes! Right, let’s start again.

The City versus United debate is not one that is restricted just to Manchester in England. Oh, no we also have the situation in Oxbridge.  When I was at school I often wondered where Oxbridge was, and why the toffs got to sit a special exam to go there (It was like Hogwarts in my imagination).  Years later I realised it was an abbreviation of Oxford and Cambridge, and both have a City and a United too.  In cities, it is the United’s who have had the most success, but it is the City’s who won the right of the name (stop press – we also thought of Lincoln having both a United and a City during half time). Continue reading

No brotherly love for Zambia

Last Saturday I hopped on a train from New York Penn Station along my very good friends @lugepravda and @Luciejallen. Seventy minutes later and fifty dollars lighter we alighted at Philadelphia 30th street Amtrack station. We were here on a whistle-stop tour of the sights, starting with the famous Rocky steps at the Museum of Art. From this vantage point you can see downtown Philly at the far end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. This tree-lined boulevard runs for around a mile in a straight line to JFK Plaza. On either side are the flags of the various nations of the world. As we approached the end of the boulevard we found United Kingdom, which irked us as there had been no English flag yet the Scottish flag flew proudly and not far in the distance we could see the Welsh dragon looking down on us.

Now correct me if I am wrong here but there seemed to be some inaccuracies in the list. We all know that many Americans have yet to travel further than their own state yet alone across its borders, but after the United Kingdom came Uruguay, then Vietnam, Yemen and finally bizarrely Israel. Hang on what happened to Zambia? Zimbabwe to an extent I could understand. I’m not getting all political here but many countries foreign policy of “if we pretend they don’t exist, nothing bad will happen” means they ignore the Mugabe regime, and it seemed that is exactly what Philadelphia had done. Continue reading

Northern Roadtrip – Day 1 – Abbey not well

We’ve all seen those American movies immortalising the road trip, that carefree adventure on the open road, punctuated by freedom, adventure and hilarious consequences normally involving accidentally driving into “no go” areas, visiting churches dressed as strippers (or strip joints dressed as Nuns) and setting fire to hotel rooms. Well occasionally we get the opportunity to go on a road trip of our own. Who needs strippers and alcohol fuelled conceptual pranks when you could go to Cambridge, Mansfield, Hyde and Gainsborough all in the space of five days. We are really living the dream here I can tell you.

And who needs a convertible to cruise Route 66 when you can have a 6 year old Zafira with crappy air conditioning cruising up the A1? It was of course Half Term and thus that means time with the family and football. The two go hand in hand right? Well, they do in the TBIR book and so we were heading up north to spend time with the extended CMF family, meaning some jolly japes with Northern Steve. And he had lined up quite a feast of football fun for us. A Evostik Premier League double header with Glapwell versus Stamford followed by a trip to see Gainsborough Trinity versus Gloucester City with the Blue Square Bet North game sandwiched in the middle between local Manchester rivals Hyde United and Stalybridge Celtic? Jealous yet? Well how about if I tell you they would be book-ended by Cambridge United versus Kidderminster Harriers and Lewes versus Ebbsfleet United. An 800 mile road trip encompassing five games in five counties. Green with envy now? Continue reading

Taking the Mick – one last time….

A change in format this weekend….A match report first, followed by an exclusive chat with Luton Town’s Mick Harford in his last ever public interview as the Hatters Manager, the newest fan of the Blog.  And what a game it was.  Seven goals, appalling refereeing, a sending off, the first appearance of the season of the riot police, Football Jo on her best behaviour for some reason and a reality TV star…not often you can say you see all of that in 90 minutes of Indian Summer.  All that was missing was my EFW logo…Please forgive me Danny…

Cambridge United 3 Luton Town 4 – The Abbey Stadium -Saturday 26th September 2009

The start of the comeback

The start of the comeback

Forty three minutes into this game Liam Hatch needlessly challenged late for the ball in no-mans land near the Cambridge by line and was shown a second yellow card.  Luton were 2-0 down, playing against Cambridge and a referee who seemed to be blind to what had gone on before, and coming on the back of some important defeats on the road recently, had nearly two thousand away fans baying for blood.

The game had started well for the Hatters.  They passed the ball well, creating some early chances for Hatch and Gallen up front.  But in the twentieth minute it was the home team who took the lead against the run of play as Courtney Pitt turned in the ball from close range after Mark Beesley had squared the ball.  One became two thirteen minutes later when the referee saw a challenge in the box Anthony Tonkins that nobody else in the stadium saw and he awarded a penalty.  Liam Hatch protested too much and was booked for his haranguing of the official.  Holroyd made no mistake from the spot, and it looked all over for the visitors.  After recent away defeats at Oxford and Wrexham many of the fans had come expecting a better performance, and despite the efforts of the players, they had been done up like a kipper by the officials.  The away fans occupying the terrace along the side of the pitch let their feelings be known and some over zealous policing took a manageable situation to the brink of all out hostility.

On the other side of the pitch in the Main Stand the non-playing Luton Town players had had enough of the abuse being levelled at them, and led by Kevin Nicholls they attempted to head to the South Stand, only to be blocked by the police who insisted they went down the tunnel instead.  Harford looked in disbelief as Hatch picked up his second yellow and stayed behind on the edge of the tunnel to have “a word” with the referee, knowing that public opinion was definitely swinging against him.

What was said at half time will remain a mystery (we did ask him afterwards) but whatever it was it deserves to be up their with Al Pacino’s speech in The Whole Nine Yards. Three minutes were on the clock when the veteran Kevin Gallen turned the ball in from close range after the keeper had made a great save.  Luton went on the attack immediately afterwards, coming close to an equaliser before five second half minutes were on the clock.  They did have to wait though until the 60th minute for that.  Gallen picked up a loose ball outside the penalty area and squared it to Ross Jarvis who picked his spot and gave the Cambridge keeper no chance.  The fans went wild, quite unsure as to what they were seeing on the pitch.  The local police took the jubilation for some sort of mass violence and went into the crowd to try and remove a few of the most “boisterous” fans.  A minute later it was 3-2 to Luton as Kevin Gallen found himself one on one with the keeper, and despite his effort being saved, Jake Howells was on had to complete a remarkable recovering.  In the ensuing celebrations Howells hurt his leg and another twist to this amazing game took place as he could take no further part.

So three goals in eighteen second half minutes had left the home teams and fans stunned.  Martin Ling made a tactical change, and for the first time in the half Cambridge launched an attack against the ten men.  Two minutes after Luton had taken the lead it was 3-3 as the impressive Tyler in the Luton goal made a great save from Hatswell’s header only for Holroyd to smash the ball home form the equaliser.

Five minutes later Cambridge almost took the lead as another Tyler save rolled along the goal line just needing a touch from anyone.  The crowd were then treated to ten minutes to relative calm until the referee decided to take centre stage, awarding a penalty to Luton after some pushing and shoving in the area by Brian Saah, who in fairness had actually been booked for a similar offence a few minutes before.  Harsh, but equalling up the decision from the first half.  Up stepped Gallen and it was 4-3 to Luton.

Five minutes of injury time proved too much for many fans who could not watch, but the final whistle was greeted by jubilation from the 1,700 away fans (including Cerys Matthews from Catatonia), although the scenes of Riot Police on the field, police dogs outside the gates and a police helicopter flying overhead was hardly what you expect from Blue Square football.  Game of the season so far and a win that took Luton shooting back up the table.

The team here at The Ball is Round pride ourselves on our contacts within the game.  After a year of working with Danny Last and his magnificent Logo gallery with all of the good and famous in Non-League football, I though it was time I delivered a big fish of my own. After all it’s not what you know but what you know about someone else that you can use to your advantage that matters.  Now I am not revealing any of my sources, but when I approached Mick Harford, current manager of Luton Town and generally all round nice guy, he agreed to a chat within seconds after the game versus Cambridge United with Football Jo, Lolly and myself.

Harford build a reputation through his career as a no-nonsense type of centre forward.  Blessed with height and more than a match for most centre backs, he played for ten clubs over a career that spanned over 20 years, 600 matches and nearly 200 goals.  A goal every 3 games is a decent return in anyone’s book and coming in a time when the Premier League was at an embryonic stage and the foreign invasion had not yet started you can only wonder was he would have achieved in the modern game where training regimes would have strengthened his game, and the quality of the ball into the box would have been so much better for him to get on the end of.

He was also known as someone not to mess with.  Legend goes that when he joined Wimbledon in 1994 he was spared the usual new signing initiation ritual for the other squad members fear of reprisal – and this included a squad including shrinking violets such as Vinnie Jones, Robbie Earle and Marcus Gayle.  He stayed on at Wimbledon after his playing career ended at the grand old age of 38 and picked up his coaching badges, and working with Joe Kinnear.  When Kinnear went onto Luton a few years later Mick went with him and masterminded their promotion season in 2001/02.  Spells at Nottingham Forest, Colchester United, Rotherham United and Queens Park Rangers followed before the opportunity arose to return to Luton Town in February 2008.  He joined a club in turmoil from the previous management and coaching staff, a club destined for relegation and being investigated by the Football League for all sorts of “irregularities” he inherited.  Try as he could the club could not avoid Administration and the ten point penalty that went with it effectively ended all hope long before the final ball was kicked.

Happy with the interview

Happy with the interview

Worse was to follow in the summer when the club were hit with a massive 30 point penalty for various reasons by the Football League, including exiting Administration – which for some reason the footballing authorities deemed twice the sin as entering it in the first place.  Harford vowed the club would try to survive against all the odds, and pulled off a remarkable achievement in guiding the club to the Johnstones Paint Trophy Final at Wembley, and then beating Championship bound Scunthorpe United in extra time.  Without that penalty the club would have finished in 15th place in the division – justice? I don’t think so.

At what point last season did you realise all of your hard effort was in vain?
When I was told that we had been relegated after the match at home with Chesterfield in April.   Whilst we came away with a 0-0 draw from that game Grimsby Town’s 2-0 defeat of Notts County meant it was mathematically impossible with just four games left.

What did you say to the team when relegation was confirmed in the dressing room?
There wasn’t alot of talking going on but after a while when the players had realised the situation I said “Look at the clock and remember this time and date. This is the new beginning of Luton Town FC. Thanks for all your efforts and I’m sorry it was all in vain.”

For the final four games when you knew you were going to be playing in the Blue Square Premier, how did you motivate yourself and the team?
Motivation to go out on the field and play our best was never an issue because we are professionals and we had a responsibility to the fans and the other teams in the league who still had something to play for.

Turning the attention to this season, what will you class “success” in May?
Promotion.  Simple as that.  Getting Luton Town back into the Football League.


Preparing the half time rant

Preparing the half time rant

Tuesday 11th August 2009.  First home game at this level in front of an impressive 7,000+ crowd at Kenilworth Road.  Eighteen minutes on the clock and Mansfield take the lead. What went through your mind?
Here we go again! But the plan worked over the ninety minutes and a 4-1 victory was a fair reflection on the chances we created.

How much homework have you done on the division as a whole?
A lot and it’s an ongoing process.  There are quite a few teams we have never come up against and so homework is vital –  Watching games, speaking to other managers and players.  We only have one objective this season – Promotion.  That is what I will use as the yardstick for success.  In the first few weeks of the season it is obvious from the teams we have played (such as Forest Green, Gateshead, Kettering Town, etc) that they raise their game against us.  We are a big scalp for them, and for many it is their Cup Final.  The one game I am looking forward to is the one that wins us promotion.

Luton+Town+v+Scunthorpe+United+Johnstones+3VUvK3cbpY_lAfter your success in winning the JPT at Wembley Stadium last year, what about a nice cup run?
Of course I wouldn’t say know but the league is the priority.  If I had a hand in the draw I’d love to get Watford or Millwall – that would be quite an atmosphere!

 So was that final the highpoint of your career in football?
As a manager definitely.  Not many managers these days can say they have won a cup at Wembley.  I have been very fortunate to win one both as a player and a manager but the win last season was special as being a manager means you are responsible for so much more.  
My highpoint as a player was my second cap for England against Denmark at Wembley in 1989.  One of the lowpoints was the moment I realised that I couldn’t carry on playing.  After Wimbledon played Aston Villa in 1998 I damaged by Achilles again and realised that I would need an operation.  At the age of 38 1/2 I felt that was a step too far.

So you played for England under the late Sir Bobby Robson.  How did you find out you had been called up into the squad?
At the time I was playing at Luton Town, and we were on a great run (it was the year that we went on to beat Arsenal at Wembley in the League Cup Final).  England had a friendly coming up away to Israel in Tel Aviv.  I found out I had been selected for the squad after the FA sent a letter to the Club, and the manager Ray Harford (no relation I should add!) called me into his office and told me.  I made my debut in the second half when I came on for Clive Allen.  The game ended up 0-0.

So some of the best moments of your career have come at Luton
Yes.  Both as a player and a manager.  And that is why it was so disappointing to be relegated last season because even with the 30 penalty point I thought we could get out of it.  I had a great time with the club as a player and settled in the area.  My son was born in Luton, I have so many friends in the area and have built a strong affiliation with the people at the club.

Who inspired you as a player, and as a manager?
I was a Sunderland fan from boyhood and was greatly inspired to become a player by Bob Stokoes team that beat the great Leeds United team in the 1973 FA Cup Final.  Brian Clough stands out as a great inspiration as a manager – he wanted his team to play good football and never wavered or compromised.


Lolly and big Mick

Lolly and big Mick

Looking back on your career which I believe covered nearly 600 games for 10 different clubs, what stadiums stand out?
As a player I thoroughly enjoyed playing at Wembley obviously, as well as Old Trafford.  As a manager I remember going to West Ham’s Upton Park at Christmas in 2004 when I was at Nottingham Forest and that was one of the most hostile places I had been – no Christmas cheer for us there!

Best player you played with?
Chris Waddle without a doubt!  I was a strong, abrasive and technical player, and he was cultured and skillful.  What a combination!

 So lets turn our attention to the game today.  What do you think about the events at Manchester City and Real Madrid in the past few months?
Good luck to them!  But in the longer term it will push English players further down the ladder at Manchester City and could weaken our national side.  In terms of the whole Ronaldo saga I am not sure whether they wanted the player or the brand.  Either way £80million is a hell of a lot of money to spend on one person.

Talk us through some of your matchday preparations
I have a Lucky Suit that has seen me through some good times.  After the game I will sit down and watch the video of the game, look at the components of the team and individuals and plan some ways to improve and ways to eliminate the mistakes.  I then translate these into plans for training.  Alas my knee is too sore for me to take part myself! I do make a habit of never listening to the football phone ins!

So there we have it.  Mick has promised to give us more during the season, and we wish them well and officially appoint Luton Town our “Football Friend” of the Blue Square Premier League this season, and Mick an honorary member into the TBIR Hall of Fame.









Big ball, little ball and the Perfect Storm

So where is the home of English Sport? Is it Wembley? Twickenham? Some might say Wimbledon, whereas more traditionalists who like their sport laid back may say Lords. Everyone will have a view but to me it is Wembley Stadium. However, I was prepared to give another venue a go and a rare opportunity arose to see a game at two “homes” of English sport in one afternoon. And withsuch a momentous occasion it would be rude to travel alone – step forward Mr Last who had obviously also won a heat of Husband of the Year and been given a multi-coloured pass for the day.

CMFhad been away with her chums for a week in Menorca andI had done a sterling job on children duty, packing inappropriate food in their lunch boxes (what is wrong with Chicken Tikka Masala sandwiches), making sure they told their teachers they stayed up to midnight (it was 9 o’clock but they don’t need to know that) andgenerally doing all the things kids like to do but never get away with it. A cheeky bunch of flowers on her arrival at Gatwick went down very well and so I slipped in the comment about being out all day and why not take the kids to Chessington. And the response? “Absolutely no problem – would you like me to make some sandwiches for you? You have been such an angel you deserve it” What was she planning? We will see.

So the plan was to meet Mr Last, hot foot it up to Lords for the first innings of Middlesex versus Somerset in the “Friends Provident not quite as exciting as Twenty20 Trophy” and then onto Wemberlee for the Blue Square Conference Play Off Final – a titanic fight for a place in the Football League between the Yellows of Cambridge United, and er the Yellows of Torquay United. After Burton Albion stumbled, fell, got up, got hit by a train, crawled along andfinally spluttered over the finishing line in first place, the secondpromotion spot had been eagerly fought with all four teams in the play off spots separated by just five points at the end of the regular season.

The second pomotion place was introduced in 2003 as an end of season play off. Since its inception the teams who have ended up being promoted in this way have actually faired better in the Football League than the Conference winners. In 2003 Doncaster Rovers beat Dagenham & Redbridge on the golden goal and have since hit the heady heights of the top half of the Championship. The following year Shrewsbury Town won back their League place andwill hope for similar luck next weekend when they face Gillingham for a place in League One. In 2005 Carlisle United beat Stevenage Borough andhave since climbed the League One table after promotion in 2007. May 2006 winners were Hereford United who were also promoted to League One, although they fell back down last month. Morecambe beat Exeter City 2-1 in 2007 and actually remain the only club to have won the play offs and not been promoted as the beaten finalists the Grecians came back last year and beat Cambridge United andfollowed this up with promotion this year on the last day of the season. In the same period all bar one of the Conference winners have failed to progress at all (Yeovil Town being the exception who almost made the Championship last season) whilst Chester City have again returned to the non-leagues after relegation for the third time from Division Two.

So omens are good for the winners although on the negative side every final had been decided by one goal or penalties meaning a tight and nervous ninety (or longer!) minutes. Last season Cambridge United and Exeter City played out a tense game in front of 42,500 at Wembley witha single Rob Edwards goal in the first half enough to decide the game for the team from Devon. This time around we expected much more of an open game as only three points separated the teams after 46 games. Cambridge had the meanest defence in the league, conceding 41 goals whilst Torquayhad one of the best attacking records with 72 goals. I had my hat on Torquay, only for the simple reason of being Luge, my man in New York’s, eyes and ears at the stadium – it is not many people who can claim to know a Torquay fan (and seeing Helen Chamberlain on the TV doesn’t count!).

So is this such a big game for the winners? The health of the relative leagues is often overlooked in the media’s bias to the Premier League. Average attendances in Division Two were just over the 4,000 mark last season, boosted by cheap ticketing at places like Bradford who had an average attendance of nearly 13,000 (higher than every team bar three in League One and three teams in the Championship) and Luton who not only had a decent home average but consistently took over 1,500 to away games. In fact there were twelve teams in League Two whose average attendance was less than the top two in the Conference (Oxford United and Cambridge United).

The standard of the teams was not really different either with over a dozen teams in the Conference full time andthus offering facilities on a par with their league counterparts. Stadiums and facilities – check. Oxford’s Kassam, Wrexham’sRacecourse Ground, Mansfield’s Field Mill and Burton’s Pirelli Stadium are head and shoulders above the grounds owned by Accrington Stanley, Macclesfield Town, Barnet or Dagenham and Redbridge.

But before we could sample the media facilities for the first time at Wembley (thank you Keirina from the Football Conference for sorting that out for us) it was a brief trip to the “Home of cricket”, Lords for a quick innings of their tenants versus Somerset. A common schoolboy error is the assumption that Middlesex CCC actually own Lords. They don’t – it is owned by the Marylebone Cricket Club aka the MCCwho rent the ground out. In theory as the ancient county of Middlesexdoesn’t exist apart from being a postal address they could put the ground up for auction to the likes of Kent or Surrey (don’t get me started on the whole Surrey and Oval thing – it’s in London for christ sake!) and banish Middlesex. However that is unlikely to happen anytime soon as the relationship between the two is very good. Middlesexby the nature of having such a marvellous ground are seen as the grown up team in English cricket, always playing by the rules and never really taking that teenage risk. Until last season that is.

At the start of the 2008 Twenty20 season, now disgraced multi billionaire Sir Allen Stanford announced he would be creating a world series of Twenty20 cricket culminating in a Champions Cup where the English Twenty20 winners would play their counterparts from the West Indies in a huge winner takes all game. His long term plan was to create a “Champions League” of Twenty20 cricket with the winners from the respective tournaments around the world all competing for a huge cash pot in his native West Indies. However, he was beaten to the line on the latter as the World Series of Twenty20 was announced for December with the winners and runners up of our domestic tournament going to India to play.

So withan added bonus the English season took shape with defending Champions Kent, again setting the benchmark. On the finals day down at the Rose Bowl they brushed aside the Essex Eagles and met the MiddlesexCrusaders in the final who had demolished the Durham Dynamos. With their distinctive pink shirts lighting up the Hampshire sky, Middlesex held their nerve in a gripping final to win by 3 runs and thus claim entry into the two money spinning tournaments. Kent on the other handwere left with nothing. Because their team included two players who had played in the (then) rebel Indian Premier League they were not invited to take part in th e World Series.

Middlesex never got the chance to pit their wits against the world’s best. Security concerns after the terror attacks in Mumbai meant the tournament was cancelled, and in the Stanford Champions Trophy a village green pitch hardly helped the team as they lost to Trinidad and Tobago.

So hope springed eternal that this season would be as good. They desperately needed a boost as they had dropped to the lower leagues of both the four day game and the one day variety, The Friends Provident Trophy was an early attempt at gaining some form to take into the league matches. So far Middlesex had had a mixed bag with three wins and three defeats from their six games. Visitors Somerset on the other handled the league with four wins from their five games so far and knew that a win would guarantee them a spot in the quarter finals.

Rain, rain, rain….what a way to start the day. I had arranged to meet Mr Last at Lords at 11am but it looked like we would not be seeing any play. The very kindly MCC Media manager had managed to sort me out a media pass for one of the best looking media facilities on the planet – “The Spaceship” which sits above the stands at Lords. As if by magic the rain stopped, the clouds parted and the bar opened meaning that we were going to get a few hours play as well as a couple of cheeky pints in.

Middlesex CCC 341-7 lost to Somerset CCC 293-5 on D/L method- Friends Provident Trophy – Lords – Sunday 17th May 2009

Fourteen year waiting list to sit here!

Fourteen year waiting list to sit here!

Lords really is the Home of Cricket. They have spent millions on the ground in recent years and not a penny has been spent out of place. It is truly a magnificent venue. This year they have installed the next generation of floodlights. Whilst they may look like they have been transported from Eastern Europe or Russia, they are extendable and can grow in a way that any teenage boy would know when he opens the Kays catalogue at the swimsuit page. The media centre sits at the east endof the ground with a perfect view of proceedings and withthe sun shining we looked forward to a couple of hours worth of cricket. Andwhat a place to watch a game from. The facilities there are as modern inside as the booking looks, with lots of curves and glass. I managed to blag Danny a pass as well so before play started we were tucking into the complementary refreshments in the company of very few other media chaps.

The crowd was very thin on the ground, with no more than a thousand brave souls in the stands. The pavillion had a few MCC members in as well. Now what I cannot understand is how there is a 14 year waiting list to be a member here when only a dozen or so actually bother to turn up.

Middlesex, sporting their fetching navy and pink kit had won the toss and decided to take advantage of the fast outfield. They started slowly and it took an early wicket when Godleman was run out for them to start accelerating as the controversialHughes (He is seen to be getting a competitive advantage for the Ashes by batting in the county game before he joins up with the tourists in July) and Owais Shah raising the run rate to over 5.5 an over with some aggressive batting andeasily passing the 100 partnership with a majestic four over mid off (eventually the two scored 119 and82 respectively in the huge 341 for 7 total). We left Lords with a smile on our faces anda spring in our step with Middlesex well on the way to a huge total as we made our way to Wemberlee.

A brisk walk, a nine minute train journey (stuff the tube, Marylebone to Wembley Stadium is by far the best way to travel to the ground) and we were inside the bosom of our newest national treasure munching down on pastrami rolls within half an hour.

Cambridge United 0 Torquay United 2 – Blue Square Play Off Final – Wembley Stadium – Sunday 17th May 2009

Promoted at last!

Promoted at last!

With only the lower and middle tiers open I thought the atmosphere would be muted but I was wrong. Cambridge fans dominated the stadium but the noise was equally as loud from the west country contingent. Our seats were in the media section which you would think would offer protection from the elements. Oh no. The rain continued to fall amongst the sunny spells and the wind simply blew it onto our laptops and TV screens. Good planning on that one!

Five minutes in and the Cambridge fans were bouncing on their feet, drowning out any sound from the Gulls fans at the other end. The first contentious issue was in the 7thminute when mask wearing Tim Sills appeared to lead with a forearm on Wayne Hatswell that had the Cambridge manager Brabin off the bench fuming, yet the referee saw nothing in the incident. Not so Wayne Carlisle though as the Gulls midfielder was booked a minute later for a clumsy foul on a Cambridge player.

The row between Sills and Hatswellcontinued with both of them picking up yellow cards in the first twenty minutes for less than friendly challenges on each other. In fact that was really the story of the first thirty minutes, petty challenges and a few openings for either side. Cambridge had a small shout for a penalty in the 23rd minute when a cross appeared to strike a Torquay arm but the referee was having none of it. Cambridge continued to look dangerous on the break and took a fine save from Poke in the Torquay goal to deny them an opening goal when he turned Robbie Willmott’s shot over in the 32nd minute.

All that counted for nothing two minutes later as Torquay long haired lover and captain Chris Hargreaves ran onto a knock down and powered a shot into the back of the Cambridge net to open the scoring. The goal brought Torquay out of their shell and some fantastic one touch passing in the 40th minute carved apart the Cambridge defence andalmost led to a second bar a last ditch tackle from Bolland with the keeper stranded.

A few months ago (April 1st actually) the Conference issued a press release saying that FIFA had sanctioned the use of squared, painted blue, in each corner instead of the traditional quarter circles in respect of the sponsors Blue Square. As this story was actually released after midday on the 1st April I can now officially confirm that the joke is on them for the rest of the year….Anyway back to the second half…

The pace after the break sped up and both teams abandoned any defensive strategies and broke on the break whenever they could. Hargreaves teed up Nicholson from twenty yards and he narrowly shot wide and seconds later a deflected Sills cross nearly doubled Torquay’s lead. Cambridge came right back at them and a Dan Gleeson effort nearly beat the Toquay keeper Poke at his near post.

This was turning out to be a cracker of a game, andneither team (or their respective fans) deserved to lose. It is hard to see the winner failing to buck the trend of success in the league based on the showing here at Wembley. apologies regular readers for the lack of action points but if I listed them all you would be reading for days such was the cut and thrust nature of the game. However, on sixty nine minutes Cambridge were reduced to ten men which was hard for their fans to swallow (get it?) when Bollandwas shown a second yellow for a silly push on Torquay’s diminutive Danny Stevens when he was basically running into the corner and no danger. The resulting free kick again tested the Cambridge defence to the limit.

Seventy four minutes gone and it was two nil as a Torquay counter attack down the right saw a perfect cross floated in and Sills rose unchallenged to effectively end the Cambridge battle. Torquaythrew on Lee Hodges with five minutes to go – not to be confused by the other Lee Hodges who had started his career at West Ham, playing in the same legendary youthteam as Ferdinand, Lampard and Stevenage’s Lee Boylan who was also  a tricky winger and showed alot of promise in his younger years.

And so the Blue Square Conference season came to a close with Torquay United joining Burton Albion in the Football League. For me I had come to enjoy the intimacy of the league, far more enjoyable than the professional game in so many ways. It had also been a fantastic day so far, but I was not finished. I was off to the O2 Arena for the Blue Man Group Show and another freebie.  The best laid plans and all that….We had agreed to meet at 7pm, the show started at 6.30pm and we were in the 2nd row.  Not too embarrassing taking our seats half way though!

Lords, Wembley and the O2 all in one day, all free andall with the blessing of CMF – The Perfect Storm!

About Lords
Lord’s Cricket Ground is the home of English (and some say world) circket and is located in St John’s Wood, London. Named after its founder, Thomas Lord, it is owned by Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and is the home of MiddlesexCounty Cricket Club, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), the European Cricket Council (ECC); and until August 2005, the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Lord’s today is not on its original site, being the third of three grounds that Lord established between 1787 and 1814. His first ground, now referred to as Lord’s Old Ground, was where Dorset Square now stands. His second ground, Lord’s Middle Ground, was used from 1811 to 1813 before being abandoned due to the construction through its outfield of the Regent’s Canal. The present Lord’s ground is about 250 yards north-west of the Middle Ground. Lord’s is home to the oldest sporting museum in the world.

Much of Lord’s Cricket Ground was rebuilt in the late 20thcentury. In 1987 the new Mound Stand, designed by Sir Michael Hopkins, was opened followed by the Grandstand (by Nicholas Grimshaw) in 1994. Most notably, the Media Centre (by Future Systems) was added in 1998-9 which won The Royal Institute of British Architects Stirling Prize for 1999.

The ground can currently hold up to 32,000 spectators. However, a major redevelopment has been proposed, which would increase capacity by another 10,000 as well as adding apartments andan ice rink. Over one hundred Test matches have been played at Lord’s, the first in 1884 when England defeated Australia by an innings and5 runs. Australia’s first win was in 1888 by 61 runs. Lord’s is also one of the planned venues for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The archery competition will take place in front of the Pavilion, with the archers positioned in front of the Allen Stand andthe targets placed in front of the Grand Stand.

How to get to Lords
The ground is located at the start of the Finchley Road which runs from Baker Street. The nearest tube station is St John’s Wood which is a 3 minute walk away to the east and is on the Jubilee Line. Buses 13, 82 and 113 run from Baker Street and it is only a 10 minute walk from there or Marylebone which is the nearest rail station.

Getting a ticket for Lords
Quite a difficult one to answer as it depends on the game. For general Middlesex county and Sunday League games you can pitch up and buy a ticket on the gate for £16. For Twenty20 games it is £20 and for internationals, well you should have applied months ago! Tickets for test matches against the likes of the Australians go on sale 6 months before the games andcost upwards of £70 per day. There are tickets to be had from touts aroundthe groundbut be warned the gate staff may not let you in – “it’s simply not cricket!”. More details can be found here.