When you run out of people to interview…..

For those of you who know both Danny Last and I you can confirm that we are not one and the same person.  There has been talk on certain online forums that we are actually multiple personalities of a northern chap called John, who goes to watch Vauxhall Motors with a Tesco carrier bag and a flask of Campbell’s Vegetable broth.  But we are not.  We are often seen in the same place at the same time, standing on “The Jungle” at the Dripping Pan, or propping up the bar in the Rook Inn.  But we do share some of the same philosophies in life and both have a passion to write about it.

So when James Boyes came to us and asked for our “best ever interview” for the Lewes FC programme we looked at each other knowingly and decided that the ULTIMATE interview would be with each other – after all we really can talk absolute crap for hours. Unfortunately work commitments mean that we are normally 600 miles apart during the week.  No problems though – after all we have technology on our side.  Or so we thought…. Continue reading

Introducing Danny Last

For those of you with a wild imagination, you may think that The Ball is Round is staffed by a team of football writers who spend all day with their heads in old copies of Rothman’s Year Books and by night travelling to the four corners of the UK (and Europe) to go to a game.  Well, much as I would like to big up our operation I hate to live a lie.  Most of what you see and read here is produced by good old me, in between me doing a regular 8am to 8pm weekday job.  Occasionally I get some help from a few reliable sources but my labour of love is a solo project. 

A one man walking advert

But I am not alone.  A few years ago I met Danny Last, from the blog European Football Weekends and we realised we had a shared mission in life.  Football (but never taking it too seriously), travel, beer and generally having a good time.  People take football too seriously, and that leads to them missing the real enjoyment in the game.  That is why we love the non-league game so much.  Danny recently did an interview about his motivations for his work with US Podcast EPLTalk, and we think it sums up what people are missing in football as well as examples of some of the adventures there are to be had when you go off the beaten track. To listen to this click  Danny Last Podcast.


Four games, three days, two countries, thirty three people, thirteen goals, forty seven beers, four sausages, sixteen Dutch meatballs, ten hours sleep, six bedbug bites, two Willem’s…..Carlsberg don’t do European Football Weekends, but if they did they would spend more on advertising that we did, but at least we got there first!  full report of the weekend’s events can be found at European Football Weekends.  For now enjoy a few pictures and the official video of the weekend.

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So this was where the stakes in the TBIR/EFW trophy were raised up a notch.  The chance to see our players in action at one of the most picturesque grounds in the lower leagues.  The original plans to meet up were scuppered by traffic around the whole of the M25 and it was nearly 2pm before Lolly and I arrived at the smart looking Clarence Park.  St Albans City play in a ground that sits within a lovely park just to the north of the railway station. The club, in an all too familiar story in the non-leagues were fighting for survival and so it was only fair that we helped them out with a few pints in the clubhouse prior to the game.  The usual Lewes travelling army of Danny, Deaks and Cynical Dave were already there, watching events unfold at the Oval.

St Albans had been back at this level for a couple of seasons after playing at the Conference National for a season back in 2006/07 only to be relegated the following season.  Since then it has been mid table mediocrity in the Blue Square South and so with Lewes’s form of 3 draws and a defeat coming into this game meant it was going to be a battle of wits.

Lolly and I were disappointed to learn that Ryan hadn’t been included – no injuries to report so the decision was tactical.  Based on the fact they were still looking for their elusive first win you would have thought a pacy, tricky and elusive (his words not mine) winger would be a good option – so why not pick him Mr Ibbitson!

St Albans City 1 Lewes 1 – Clarence Park, St Albans – Saturday 22nd August 2009

A worms eye view

A worms eye view

The first half was hardly a classic.  Player-coach Danny Cullip livened up proceedings by being set to the stands (and remember in non-league football that means sitting yards away from the bench) for swearing at the linesman and apart from a Dan Beck lobbed effort stalemate sums up the efforts from both teams.  We had been joined by Cornish Al, one of my goalkeepers from the EnglandFans team who lived locally.  He gave us a run down at half time on the club and what was going on.  He also told us some of the story of Clarence Park, including the fact that the smart blue and yellow crash barriers around the ground had come from Wimbledon’s old ground at Plough Lane, and the floodlights from Reading’s old Plough Lane – never a lender or a borrower be eh!

So with the sunshine making it a perfect afternoon for watching the game we came back out for the second half.  We had all paid our £1 for a golden goal ticket, and I was the only one left with a chance of winning.  Poor Lolly had drawn the 1st minute and wasn’t happy that I could still win (at least she didn’t have a tantrum which is what Littlest Fuller would have done at losing!).  My winning time was 73 minutes and it was hard to see how anyone would win.  But them came a moment of magic from Lewes, and dare I say it, Sam Crabb.  Lewes broke down the right, Dave Wheeler crossed and there was Crabb running in to smash the ball home.  He had already seen Danny watching and so he ran over to give his benefactor a big hug…The time on the clock was 3 minutes shy but it was worth it if Lewes got a win.

93 minutes were on the clock when St Albans had a corner.  From somewhere the referee had found 4 minutes of injury time and that was to prove decisive as from the cross Peters headed home to send the St Albans fans into raptures.  The Lewes players were understandably stunned, but within a minute a hopeful punt up field allowed the Lewes centre forward a one on one with the keeper but he pulled it wide and with it any chance of 3 points.

So a win had turned into a draw and the EFW crew trudged back to the bar to drown their sorrows, although Dave winning the club lottery and a crisp £20 did at least bring some cheer to the end of the day.  I explained to Lolly as we walked back to the car that football isn’t as always as good as this in terms of the setting and the weather, but is often as cruel.  With Ryan’s shirt under her arm, some new tips for Super Mario Bros from Mr Last, and a few new swear words from Cyncial Dave she had had a very productive afternoon!

About Clarence Park
Picturesque is the best word I can use to descibe the ground and I cannot do it the justice it deserves.  The St Albans website has an excellent and comprehensive history that can be viewed here.

How to get to Clarence Park
If you are driving the exit M25 at juntion 22 (A1081). Follow signs to St. Albans from slip road. At London Colney rbt (traffic light controlled) exit onto A1081. Follow road for approx 1 mile until mini rbt (Great Northern pub on left). Turn right into Alma Road. At traffic lights turn right into Victoria Street and continue to junction with Crown pub. Go straight across into Clarence Road, ground is first on left about 50 yards past junction or take the next turning on the left into York Road, ground entrance is at the end of the road on the left.  If you are coming from the A1 then exit at Hatfield Galleria and follow the A404 towards St Albans and then turn right at the roundabout with the A1081, then as above.  There are a very small number of parking spaces in the park (pay and display) otherwise it is free street parking around the park.

St Albans City station is on the Thameslink service from Kings Cross Thameslink (20 mins). Turn left out of St. Albans City station into Station Way and cross Hatfield Road into Clarence Park. Follow the path round to the right of the ground until you reach the main entrance.

How to get a ticket for Clarence Park
As with most grounds in the non-leagues there is plenty of room for everyone to watch a game at Clarence Park.  The capacity is 6,000 so there is no need to buy any tickets in advance.  The turnstiles are in the south east and north west corners of the ground and admission is £10 for Adults and £3 for Under 14’s.  There is a £2 upgrade to the stand which is advisable if the weather is poor.  If you want to use the clubhouse before, during or after the game you have to actually leave the ground and climb the stairs behind the main stand and then show your ticket to get back in.

Announcing the TBIR/EFW Lewes Challenge

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us” sang the Sparks in 1974 and thirty five years later the same could be said for the presence of two offbeat football travel blogs.  Since our first match up back in November 2008 at Lewes, European Football Weekends and our good selves here at TBIR have entertained the nation.  We have done a few joint trips such as Welling United and the Blue Square Premier play off final at Wembley as well as a couple of memorable Twenty20 World Cup game and we continue to live in a symiotic way.  So with the new season now upon us we thought we would take the challenge to the next level.  We thought we would get someone else to fight it out for us.

The Cup - probably

The Cup - probably

So back in July Mr Last, from EFW came up with the ideal of sponsoring a player at his home team Lewes.  The initial idea was that I would find a player at a competing club and sponsor him and we would then go head to head.  But do you realise how difficult it is to give some clubs money?  Bromley FC (owned and managed by Mark Goldberg, the man who spectacularly blew at fortune at Crystal Palace) wanted £150 to sponsor a player, whilst Welling United, Bishops Stortford and Dover must obviously have so much money that they could not be bothered to answer my email offering them cash.  So I reverted to Plan B which was also to sponsor a Lewes player and we would see which one performed the best over the season.

Sam Crabb

Sam Crabb

Danny, on behalf of EFW, had first pick and he chose 19 year old new signing Sam Crabb.  The youngest of three brothers (in fact his two brothers still play for Eastbourne Borough and were featured back in March in the game against Kettering Town).  Sam had a great pre-season knocking in goals against Carshalton Athletic, Worthing and Eastbourne Town and hopes are high for this season in the Blue Square South.  So I had to come up with a player to match….Step forward TBIR’s player of choice Ryan Storrie.  Ryan is just 18 years old but has broken into the first team squad after some excellent performances for the youth team. 

Ryan Storrie

Ryan Storrie

The competition is simple…..2 points for a starting place, 1 point for an appearance as a substitute, 5 points for an assist and a magic 10 points per goal.  We will create a special league table on the blog for everyone to follow, but for now after just two games the scores are…..(drum roll)…

Ryan Storrie 3 (1 start, 1 substitute appearance)

Sam Crabb 9 (2 starts and 1 assist)