Once we were warriors

my-senior-teamBack in the day (which means more than 5 years ago) I rubbed shoulders with the likes of Sven Goran Ericsson, Steve McLaren and Stuart Pearce as a manager of our national teams.  Whilst they got luxury travel, five star hotels and a pool of the “golden generation” to choose their teams from, my experience was slightly different.

In 2005 I was appointed player/manager of the England Fans Senior team, the high point in my otherwise low level playing career in the various leagues up and down North Kent and Middlesex. England Fans are the official supporters group controlled (and I use that word correctly) by the FA.  Unless you were a member, obtaining tickets for major tournaments and away games was very very difficult.  That all changed in 2008 when we failed to qualify for Euro2008 and hundreds of members simply had enough of the way they were treated by the FA and didn’t rejoin.

I held the role for 3 years, overseeing spectacular defeats in Croatia, Belarus and Estonia, and only missing one away game which coincided with our first win (in Israel).  It was a bit of a pain to be truthful carrying shin pads to such exotic locations, and even harder to explain to the security on the turnstiles why you would have a pair of size nines and some vaseline in your bag.

But the highlight of my time is still the trip to Macedonia where I think our importance and status was someone lost in translation.  We were given a police escort through the streets of Skopje to a top league game where a crowd of a few hundred (higher than average for the top level in Macedonia) and TV cameras awaited our arrival.

For the first time, footage of the game has been released.  It’s not pretty, especially when a 40 year old 22 stone opposition player runs rings around your defence but makes a perfect stocking filler for Christmas.

Sofa life is not all it’s cracked up to be

Despite the fact we conceded two goals in 45 injury-time seconds against ten men on Saturday, Non League Day was once again a success. Our previous experience in hosting a game on NLD was four years ago when Hampton & Richmond Borough came to visit in our Conference South days. Seven hundred and eight eight fans saw the game on Saturday, the highest crowd in the Ryman Premier League this season (bar Maidstone United), up 48% on our last Saturday home game against Canvey Island. Across the Ryman Premier League every club who played at home on Saturday saw a rise in attendances from a normal Saturday. Hornchurch up by 50%, Bury Town up by 60% and even Cray Wanderers saw a 25% rise.

9706320038_f38cb1225e_bBut Non League is for life and not just for one day when the Premier League players are on the piss in Marbella. So the big test would be how many fans would come back to games this week when the temptation of England’s latest borefest would be on the TV. Last season, the average attendance at the Pan was 542 and this year the first Tuesday game had seen 532 come through the gates, with the average already over 650. There isn’t much more we can do to get our message across in the media. Last week we saw the cameras from Sky Sports News come to the Pan to get an insight into how we have bounced back, in true Partridge-style, from the brink of Non-League extinction as well as the Guardian once again issuing a rally call to come and watch the Rooks. As one of my more media-savvy fans said to me over a few beers last Christmas, “For a club of your modest size, you get a fucking ridiculous amount of attention from the lovely-doveys, don’t you.” But grass-roots football is all about sustainability to steal the latest post-Olympic buzz word. To clubs like Lewes that means becoming a bigger part in the local community. That is where the fans of tomorrow will come from.

Few football clubs really understand the need to recruit new fans these days. Encouraging young fans to come to games means that they will bring along their parent(s) and spend money over the bar and in the club shop. Make the entry point affordable, or even free as with the case for many clubs in the Non-Leagues, then slowly they will return time and time again. Football is in competition with other leisure activities on a Saturday afternoon yet some football clubs still simply see all fans, irrespective of age, as cash machines. The concept of affordabilty and value has simply never been considered by many clubs. Continue reading

Knees up beats the Brazilian Samba beat

The win against Brazil on Wednesday night had the country falling back into the Olympic spirit but was everyone happy?  Our resident Daggers Diary team headed up to Wembley to test the mood of the nation.

Last July, I gave up my membership of England fans. After six years, and having attended a decent number of games in that time, I figured that I wouldn’t be able to afford to go to Brazil for the world cup, and so I gave it all up.

So of course my exile lasted all of one game, before I gave in and attended the qualifying game against San Marino last October. While it was great going again, the one thing I didn’t relish was the queue to get back to wembley park station after the game. That has always been the one part of the experience that I wish could be changed. Sadly, it still seems to be the same even though the stadium is so much better than its historic predecessor.

100_5761I suppose the one thing I miss is the opportunity to go to away games, which were always good fun. But in the end, finances won, and I am a home England fan only. So obviously, I am back tonight, in the cold for the start of the 150th anniversary celebrations for the oldest football association in the world.

The visit of Brazil always brings memories of the great teams of the past, notably the 1958 world champions and the 1970 side which is still regarded by many as the finest national team ever. It also brings the obligatory shots of the Copacabana beach, as well as various carnival images and the cameraman trying to find the most attractive female Brazil fans in the crowd.

There have been a couple of other stories surrounding the game. The first is the approaching 100th England appearance of Ashley Cole. Probably not the most universally popular player ever to play for England, Cole has been good enough to become only the seventh player to get to the landmark century of caps. The performances have been highly consistent and (if you can get past the tabloid headlines about various bits of his personal and professional life), it certainly marks him out as one of the finest left back in our long history. It’s also arguable that a lack of decent competition has helped, but even so, you don’t get to 100 caps by only being average. Continue reading

Cole set to win 100th cap tonight – thoughts?

Chelsea defender Ashley Cole looks set to reach the milestone of 100 England caps as England take on Brazil at Wembley on Wednesday night, and the praise has been widespread from his peers, who appreciate the talents of a full-back who has won pretty much everything there is to win at club level.

ACCole added a Champions League winner’s medal to his impressive trophy cabinet last campaign, despite Chelsea starting the knockout stages as outsiders in the Champions League football bets with Titan Bet and his team-mates have been full of compliments for the 32-year-old.

England captain Steven Gerrard has been leading the praise, saying: “He’s probably been the most consistent player I’ve played with during my time. It’s going to be Ashley’s night, if he’s picked to play, and the players are certainly going to show him a hell of a lot of support. Let’s hope the fans do as well.

“He deserves to be a 100-cap player, there’s no doubt about it. I think there’s been years over the last 12 when Ashley Cole has been the best left-back in the world.”

Cole’s reputation with the England fans however hasn’t always been so complimentary. The popularity of ex-wife Cheryl Cole has been one reason for this, but also as the defender was reported to have shot a lad with an air rifle who was on work experience at Chelsea’s training ground.

Despite off the field antics which have been highly publicised by the media, Cole has been an almost ever-present in the England defence since making his debut under Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2001 against Albania.

Former England left-back and current Under 21 manager Stuart Pearce was full of praise for Cole’s performances on the pitch, saying: “In my mind, he’s the best left-back that’s ever played for England. That’s a fact, in my eyes.

“To play 100 times for his country is an amazing achievement. It shows not just a consistency of ability, it shows a dedication to want to turn up week in, week out, month in, month out for your country.”

Cole should receive a warm welcome from all England fans on Wednesday night; to play for your national side 100 times is a great achievement, and in doing so he will join an exclusive club. Only six players have played 100 times for England, with Gerrard also being one of them after he made his 100th appearance against Sweden in November.


On the twelfth day of TBIR Christmas – The Best game

Seeing over 100 games in 2012 means we have seen a few corkers.  And what better way to finish our 12 Days of Christmas than with our best three 90 minutes.  Well, in fact two of the three were only 45 minute games technically but made up want to stand up and cry “We love this beautiful game”.  Two of our favourites were international games, which was very surprising, and our winner only had two goals in, just to prove it is not always about the number of goals but the passion, drama and incident in the rest of the game.

So, thank you dear readers for coming with us on the past twelve days as we have waxed lyrical about all that was good (and bad) about our footballing adventure in 2012.  Same time, same place next year? Oh go on then.

3rd Place – Boston Town 4 Loughborough University 3
sam_3567Boston who?  You might say but United Counties Premier League sides Boston Town and Loughborough served up an absolute feast back in September.  I only arrived at half-time after watching the more famous Boston (United) play but the 22 players were obviously waiting for my arrival before putting on the real show.  The visitors were 2-0 when I made my appearance, and by the sound of it were running away with the game.  ”Bloody students…when you want them to be hungover from last night they bloody turn up looking like whippets” a local told me when I asked what the score was.  Over the next twenty minutes the score went 1-2, 1-3 and then 2-3 with just a minute to go.  The away keeper who had been in fine form then had a 90 seconds to forget.  First he let a simple shot squirm under his body and then with the last kick of the game Boston took the lead for the first time in the game when he was beaten with ease at his far post.  Just a shame there was only 55 people there to see it along with me.

2nd Place – England 2 Netherland 3
6797039632_aae5b301ec_bAn England game?  Are you mad?  Good old London Underground did their best to ruin the evening by delaying every possible route to Wembley and we didn’t get into the stadium until well into the first half but fortunately all the action was reserved for the final 33 minutes.  The Dutch showed their sheer class with three outstanding goals, whilst the English showed some true grit.  This was supposed to be the game that welcomed ‘Appy ‘Arry but a week is a long time in football, whilst a minute can sometimes be even longer as we saw in the 90th minute of this game when Ashley Young equalised for England then with the very next attack Robben curled an absolute peach into the top corner.  If all England games at Wembley were half as exciting they would be sold out every time.

Best game in 2012 – Egypt 1 New Zealand 1
7671833872_53594da8a5_bOlympic football in Manchester wasn’t supposed to get the general public on the edge of their seats, but the 60,000 who witnessed this warm up game to Brazil v Belarus on a sunny, but bloody cold day in late July saw one of the best games of football in decades.  Sure, there was only two goals but it simply was end to end action for 90 minutes.  Both, yet neither team deserved to win due to their attacking intent and last gasp defending.  Both keepers were heroes and to a man we all rose to applaud their efforts when they finished doing battle after an hour and a half.  Brazil may have been billed as the stars, but the extras but on an Oscar performance.

A poor man’s Andy Carroll? I don’t think so

Just two weeks ago the lights dimmed and a lone voice welcomed over 45,000 people to the opening of Europe’s 2nd largest indoor arena (Schalke’s Veltins Arena is classed as the biggest). The 2.8 billion Swedish Kroner Friends Arena had finally arrived, years after talking, debating and finally construction in Solna, just north of the city centre in Stockholm. The opening event featured the best of Swedish music including appearances by Björn and Benny themselves (the BB in ABBA silly) as well as Roxette. Alas, other classic Swedish music acts such as Ace of Base, The Cardigans and Europe were missing from the line up.

But the Arena wasn’t just built just for Swedish House Mafia concerts. It will primarily be a football stadium, home of AIK and the national team. So it was only fitting that the opening game to be played here should be against a team who have a passionate away following, who could generate some real noise and atmosphere. Unfortunately, Denmark had a previous engagement with Turkey so England agreed to step in. The good news was that I was already due to be in the city for work purposes; the bad news was that it was likely the ban on the England band from Poland wouldn’t be in force for this game. Continue reading

Win a new England Shirt – thanks to Ladbrokes Poker

After the farce in Warsaw, us England fans need a bit of a pick me up.  Some of us are still drying out from the torrential rain on Tuesday, still cursing whoever it was who decided to leave the bloody roof open.  But we have some good news that will warm your cockles.  What about winning one of three brand spanking new England away shirt from those good chaps over at Ladbrokes?  To promote their new Ladbrokes Poker site they have given us three 2012/13 England short-sleeve shirts.  So how do we win one, you may well ask.  Well read on MacDuff…

All you need to do is to tell us is who England were due to be playing in the Classic Episode of the Likely Lads back in 1973 when they tried to avoid the final score?  You can tweet the answer to us using a hashtag #likelylads or email us at tbir@gmx.co.uk with the subject line “Likely Lads”.

The competition closes on Friday 26th October at 12pm.  Three winners will be drawn from the correct entries we have received by email or Twitter.  For more fun simply head on over to Ladbrokes Poker where the weather will never spoil your fun….unlike a certain someone in charge of the roof in Warsaw