All is wet on New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day was supposed to be a day of celebration.  Since the fixtures were released back in July we had been looking forward at welcoming Maidstone United at The Dripping Pan today.  With an expected four figure crowd, a special bumper edition matchday programme written and enough organic burgers to feed at least a dozen people we were ready to put on a show.  On Saturday our pitch team battled against the elements to get our game versus East Thurrock United on and we all did a collective sigh of relief when the final whistle blew and over 650 fans applauded the efforts of those who had not only performed but had got the game on.

photoAlas, the forecast for the days before the New Year was poor, and so it was.  We put “Pitch Watch” in place via Twitter, with images of the ground posted regularly to give us all hope.  Alas, the torrential rain on New Year’s Eve meant that the standing water on the pitch wasn’t to the referees liking and with a very heavy heart our game was cancelled.  The cost to us?  Thousands of pounds.  Instead of welcoming a crowd of 1,200, we will be lucky to get 400 when the game is squeezed into a midweek slot in February.  Gate receipts will be down by £8,000.  Programme sales down.  Catering down. Bar takings down.  Yet our costs don’t change.  Players still need to be paid this week, utilities have to be paid, printers still want their invoices paying.

We weren’t alone.  In fact every game in the Isthmian Premier fell by the wayside, and only one game in the Conference South made it to 3pm.  But with a “free game pass” I had little options as to where to go.

I was literally driving around Essex and Cambridgeshire looking for a game to go to as my options reduced.  I had one last chance.  Dagenham & Redbridge.  Despite the appalling weather, it looked like the game at Victoria Road, or the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Stadium to give it its catchy shorter name was on, so headed down the A13 to meet up with the Daggers Diary team for the first game of what promises to be a great year of football. Continue reading

It’s not always grim up north

A refocus on the 92 Club after 2 year gap

Don Valley Stadium1 The 92 Club has been around for a couple of decades, set up by a true anorak who had visited all of the Football League grounds and decided to form a club for like minded individuals who have nothing better to do on most weekends.  However, it is the sign of a true football fan – one who puts other clubs before his own, and win constantly be scanning the fixtures to see how they can try and fit two or more games in a weekend (In years of searching I have only ever seen it possible to do three in one day but I continue to search for the holy grail of four).

The club was set up in days before email and the internet, and entry criteria was posted to you on request.  Every year members got an annual newsletter, run off on the copier in the bedroom no doubt that gave us the details on new stadiums due to open the following season plus details on who had joined the club over the past year.  All of this for a £5 contribution per annum.  We also got a copy of the annual accounts showing the stock the club had – polyester jumpers all round by the look of it.  The club secretary had avoided all reference to the internet, and with entry criteria laid down in stone, flatly refused to consider upgrading either the rules or the methods of communication.  To summarise what did and didn’t count as a “valid” game:-

– Any first class game played at a Football League (and latterly Premier League) stadium that featured the home team, or an England first team international.  Confusingly this ruled out a club friendly fixture, but not an England fixture.

Also, you had to visit each club’s home ground – even if they groundshared.  So in the 1990’s when Charlton Athletic shared with Crystal Palace and West Ham, and Wimbledon shared with Palace you would have to go to a home game for each club, irrespective if you had already seen a game there.  If a club was relegated from the football league, and returned to the league you were obliged to revisit the stadium even if it was unchanged.  Any news stadiums had to be visited in the first full season the club played there, and if a stadium was redeveloped by more than 50% you had to revisit.

So in recent years I should have been to:-

Carlisle United’s Brunden Park, Hereford United’s Edgar Street, Exeter City’s St James’s Park and Aldershot Town’s Recreation Ground.  I have absolutely no intention of going to the first three.  A 600 mile round trip to Carlisle is hardly on my list of priorities just so I can keep up my membership.  I do subscribe to the notion of visiting new grounds and so I have Doncaster’s Keepmoat under my belt recently and this season penciled in a trip to Colchester United’s Cuckoo Farm.  However, just before the season started it was announced that Rotherham United, a club in serious financial problems after relegation to the Second Division last season and a -17 points penalty to start this season had essentially been locked out of their Millmoor Stadium by the owners and they would be playing for at least one season at the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield. Not much really going in their favour but young ex-Manchester United starlet Mark Robbins had signed a new contract with the club as manager and had been very bullish in the days before the season started, even with such a huge financial penalty.

With the Hammers playing away in Manchester against this seasons laughing stock on Bank Holiday Sunday, I packed the Fullers off for a weekend in the North.  I have mentioned before that CMF actually hails from Nottinghamshire, and whilst she was still at school she had a Saturday job in Poundstretchers in Newark.  Every Saturday I used to meet her for lunch on Saturday’s then head off to a game at 2pm.  During the course of a season I managed to see 25 different clubs all within an hour of Newark (a nice trivia question if you get a spare 30 minutes to work out what the 25 were considering I drove a 10 year old Ford Fiesta).  Sheffield also has some good memories for me – during my time running Cable & Wireless’s Football project I spent many a decent night out in Sheffield, and have some great friends still in the city.  So the plan was to get up to Meadowhall area, drop CMF off with the Littlest Fuller before Lolly and I headed a mile down the road for the game.

A nice sunny day greeted us for once in this poor summer and with a traditional northern lunch of pie and gravy (one things I love from up north) under my belt, quite literally, we headed down the road for the game.  The stadium is surrounded by pubs, albeit not the ones I am used to in SE1 but still popular with the fans.  What was obvious was that the fans hadn’t deserted the club despite their enforced move 5 miles south.  The had started the season brilliantly, winning both league games and pulling off a massive shock by beating nearest neighbours Sheffield Wednesday on penalties in the Carling Cup.  Chester City, on the other hand, had had a disastrous start, including a 6-0 defeat away to Dagenham and Redbridge on the opening day.

Entry was simple – £18 for lower tier and £20 for upper tier.  Lolly went free, although we did have to say she was 7 and not 8 to get in.  It is good to see them trying to do their bit in encouraging young fans as for every full paying adult, up to for under 8’s could enter free – which did men you had an almost reverse kerb crawling situation from the seedier parts of the city with under 8’s trying to attract the attention of unattached adults so they could get free entry.

The views across the north of Sheffield and over to the Yorkshire hills.  It was a very pleasant scene for football, although the 3/4 empty stadium will get very cold and wet in the winter when the winds blow from the hills directly into the faces of the supporters.  The stadium itself is much bigger from the inside than the outside.  It can hold around 18,000 at the moment, but with Rotherham only averaging less than 5,000 only the main covered stand will be in operation this season.

Rotherham lived up to the pre-match hype and were ahead after 40 seconds when from a free kick Rotherham’s centre forward headed home.  It was 2-0 within 10 minutes as Rotherham’s very impressive Reuben Reid ripped apart the Chester defence and I thought we were on for a cricket score.  But Chester came back and their old-fashion English centre forward (big, ginger and lumbering) pulled one back, only for Reid to run rings around the defence again on the way to creating a third.  So at half time it was 3-1 and all my myths about football in athletics stadiums had been put to shame with a fantastic half.  But it couldn’t last, and the game died on its feet in the second half.  However the win did mean Rotherham had moved onto -8 points, and with both other naughty boy teams (Bournemouth and Luton Town) failing to win, Rotherham moved another step closer to safety.  But based on their attractive attacking football I cannot believe Robbins will be happy with just survival.

Ten minutes after the final whistle we were back in the hotel up the road and ready for a night out of lard, Tetley’s and exploding chimneys in Sheffield.  See – it’s not always grim up North.