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

On the sixth day of Christmas…the best blog

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me…..three blogs that are simply just funny

We make a clear definition between a blog and a website.  To us a blog is a site that is updated regularly with time bound content such as match reports and more general around a wide range of subjects whilst a website will be normally about something very specific.  Take Budget Airline Football for instance.  A great website that provides specific information about travel to football in Europe, where as The Ball is Round takes the subject matter of football in Europe further by visits to games and what happens when  we are there.  Simple really.

The number of blogs created on the subject is quite frightening.  There doesn’t seem to be a day go by without a new one setting up.  One of beauties of programmes such as WordPress and Blogger is that they make it easy for even Bury fans (joke) to set up, and above all its free!  Some look good but the content is crap, some vice versa but our top three winners this year combine both to genuinely enhance the lives of us football fans online.

The Real FA CupWe love football at the grass roots level and so do these guys.  They are a perfect example of my old saying “Get big, get niche or get out”.  Their niche is the Cup.  Not just the FA Cup, but also the Trophy, Vase and sometimes I have heard even the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.  They choose their prey carefully, analysing both teams in great detail before bring their readers all the important details about the game.  Oh and a match report as well.

“But first, and indeed last, there was the small matter of Bar Billiards, a fine pub, friendly locals and a mini beer festival. Having never been to Carshalton for either football or cultural delights, we didn’t really know what to expect. BeerInTheEvening for once came good, although the 7/10 their reviewers afforded The Hope must have meant there was a load of soulless Chelsea fans in recently expecting Stella, a fight and chicken in a basket

European Football WeekendsOK so we may be a bit biased on this one, but we do believe that the MULTIPLE award winning EFW blog is one of the finest things on the internet.  A mixture of off beat match reports from around Europe both first hand (AS Trencin v MFC Petrzalka anyone?) as well as regular contributors such as the latest series following the fortunes of Turkish champions Bursaspor along with some first class interviews.  I would wager a few of our pennies that no one has interviewed such a list of football celebrities in the past year in such an irrelevant style.  Henry Winter, Clive Tyldesley, Sid Lowe, Oliver Kay and of course AC Jimbo have all appeared on the hallowed pages.

From his recent interview with Come Dine With Me voice man, Dave Lamb:-

Do you ever commentate on the Lewes games in your head in the same bitingly sarcastic manner as on CDWM? No. Because Lewes are brilliant, unlike most of the people on CDWM”

Two Hundred PercentIs there anything more fascinating that understanding why some clubs are essentially screwed financially?  And who better to give you the real facts than someone who spends his whole day looking at balance sheets and tutting under his breath.  Another multiple award winning site and one look at the home page and you can see why.  Clean, bold and full of hidden promise, the TWOTH team cover football at all levels willing to give their opinion on the issues that matter.  The cartoon strip, Mungo, following the fortunes of Heart of Clachmanishire is a work of genius in its own right.

The club’s outstanding tax bill was in the region of £90,000 and £30,000 was paid off by the club itself. After a plea for loans from supporters, however, the remaining amount owed under the winding up order has now been paid and the immediate threat to the club’s future has been staved off. This is a remarkable effort on the part of the supporters of the club. It is perhaps worth reflecting upon the fact that a club whose average home attendance of 579 can raise £64,900 in just a few weeks – the money was put in by the supporters in the form of loans ranging from £500 to £3,000 – as this is an exceptional achievement and shows, as if it needed to be shown, the depth of the bond between the club and its supporters.

The list could go on as we have come across so many decent blogs so please do not take offence if you haven’t made our list – it will be you haven’t bribed us enough!

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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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)

And now, the end is near…..

“….and so I face the final curtain”….not my words but those of Frank Sinatra, Ol’ Blues Eyes.  And what could be more apt for a final day game in the Blue Square Premier League than a trip back to one of my favourites, Lewes for their last game at this level.  Since seeing them beat Grays on the 22nd November (see When Two Blogs Collide) the team have played twenty five league games, winning three times and losing the remaining twenty two games.  Nine points out of seventy five is not really play off material so it comes as no surprise to anyone, including the Lewes fans that the team confirmed their relegation some weeks ago back to the Blue Square South.  Hopes were never very high for this season after the farcical events of last summer after promotion had been confirmed, and hadn’t been helped by the management of ex-Brighton & Hove Albion commercial manager (i.e no football management experience) Kevin Keehan being in charge of team affairs for most of the campaign.

Last April things were so different in this lovely little town in East Sussex.  The club has risen from Rymans League Three to the Blue Square Premier in just seven seasons, an amazing effort and I doubt that any visiting fan can ever have a bad word to say about visiting the Dripping Pan.  Then the owners of the club made some bizarre decisions and have reaped the rewards of their bad harvest this season.  Administration has been avoided, which appeared to be the only option a few months ago for the club.  So there are some positives for next season andI have vowed to adopt them as my second team from August and get to as many away games as I can in the Blue Square South to keep up our commitment at TBIR to cover non-league as much as European football.

But for this last horaahI was obviously going to be attending with Mr. Last.  The man who has taken his blog (EFW) to new levels of reporting by securing endorsement this season from the creator of Steptoe & Son (Alan Simpson), two Ashes winners (Jimmy Anderson and Jack Russell) and a comedy genius (Frank Sidebottom).  This would obviously involve a number of Harvey’s being sampled – when in Rome, etc so the train was the carriage of choice for this one.

York were the visitors for the last day, and after a bit of squeekybum time in the past few weeks they secured Conference football with a 2-1 away win at Weymouth on Friday night.  I had seen York on four occasions already this season and their performances had varied from solid (Histon), attacking (Burton Albion), defensive (Salisbury City) and woeful (Eastbourne Borough).  Of course there was always the passionate support to look forward to.  The York fans have supported their club through thick and thin over the past few seasons and are one of the only clubs to have a recognised “Ultra” following.  Some of their fans can be a bit exuberant to say the least (see February 2009’s post on “I do like to be beside the seaside”) but at least they care and show a bit of passion.  They have exceeded a number of expectations though this season.  The form of centre-forward Brodie has been nothing short of sensational at times, and with 18 goals this season he has been their shining light.  His goals also secured a first trip to the New Wembley Stadium for the club as they are due to play Stevenage Borough in the FA Trophy final in a few weeks.

With all four relegation places confirmed these two had nothing to play for.  I had some money on an outside bet for Oxford United to reach the play offs which required a Torquay defeat at home to Burton Albion and a Kidderminster draw or defeat at home plus the assumption that Oxford would beat already relegated Northwich Victoria themselves. So I would have one eye on the Blackberry and one eye on the fantastic bar at the Dripping Pan.

The sun was shining as CMF taxi’s pulled up in Brighton andafter an hour on the beach with the Little Fullers I was off up the road to meet Mr Last at the European Football Weekends HQ – aka The Lord Nelson, officially the darkest pub in the world.  Obviously a couple of Harvey’s were in order and after a discussion on the latest non-league gossip we were off to Lewes on the train.

Lewes 1 York City 1 – The Dripping Pan – Sunday 26th April 2009 4pm

The teams emerge to an almost San Siro welcome

The teams emerge to an almost San Siro welcome

The weather was so good in East Sussex that it seemed a shame to play a football match.  One good thing to come out of the relegation of the club is that next season they do not have to abide by the ridiculous rule that means that no alcohol is allowed to be served during the game from the bar behindthe goal will not be enforced.  The amount of revenue the club will see next season should make up for the lower number of away supporters.  This season the biggest attendances have been when the big clubs have come to visit.  York brought a couple of coaches with them and filled the small away terrace at the far end, enjoying the BBQ in full force.  Danny took the opportunity to induct a couple more people into the EFW fanclub, snapping Richard Brodie and Martin Foyle from York City into the gallery.

To tell you the truth the game was poor.  York City played witha number of squad players starting, with Foyle looking at likely candidates for their big Wembley appearance.  He had kept top scorer Brodie on the bench, and even Lewes chose to rest their teenage sensation David Wheeler for the first half.  I cannot remember one single chance in the first half, although you would have never guessed by the noise the few hundred Lewes fans made.  Scored kept filtering through from around the country.  Firstly Torquay scored against Burton, and then news came through that the divisions form team Northwich Victoria had taken the lead at the Kassam against Oxford United.

Half time came and another Harvey’s disappeared and it was touch and go whether we went back out onto the terrace.  But we did and both teams decided to take it a bit more seriously and on came Brodie and Wheeler.  York City eventually took the lead with ten minutes to play as Brodie headed a free kick across the goal for York captain Mark Greaves to turn the ball in, and the hopes of all home fans that there would be anything apart from another defeat.

But the team obviously wanted to give the fans something of a summer send off and from a Foreman free kick, Cullip knocked the ball on and top scorer Joe Keehan was on handto bundle the ball home with just two minutes left on the clock.  So a predictable result in the end, which is more than can be said from elsewhere in the Conference as Kidderminster Harriers, Stevenage Borough and Burton Albion all lost.  Now that could (and should) have meant that Cambridge United and Oxford United winning their home games to secure automatic promotion (Cambridge) anda play off place (Oxford United).  But with matters in their own hands they could not deliver and so Burton Albion won automatic promotion, and Oxford United fell short of the end of season shakedown.  And Lewes?  Well they will be looking forward to renewing acquaintances with Havant and Waterlooville, Bromley and Welling United next season.  Of course this will mean a few new grounds for the travelling Rooks including Dover Athletic.  One thing is for sure, this will not be the last time I visit the Dripping Pan….

The teams emerge to an almost San Siro welcome