Welcome to Squeeze Gut Alley

Whitstable, home of England’s biggest village green (despite the fact it is a town), Alan Davies and TV’s worst comedian, Harry Hill.  Twinned with Mölndal in Sweden and “just good friends” with Sisimuit in Greenland.  And the final venue for my 2012/13 football season.  Yes, you may say it is nearer to the start of next season than the end of the last, but I play by the official rules.  UEFA told me over a coffee a few weeks ago (not all of UEFA but someone who works there) that the season ends on the 30th June each year, and so despite not seeing a game for over 4 weeks, today I bow out of the 2012/13 season having seen a grand total of 93 games.  Not quite the high of 2011/12’s 105 games, but even still – pretty bloody impressive if you ask me (which of course you are).

9169370130_c7c86a7f41_bWe all dream of fixtures falling into place for the Best.Day.Ever and here we are at the end/start of the season with a double-header of Ryman League South v Football League teams, separated by just a few miles, or one stop on the train.  Alas the lack of match action in the past few weeks has driven us to the extreme.  I wasn’t the only one who had seriously looked at the World Stool Ball this weekend before I stumbled across Dagenham and Redbridge’s visit to the Kent seaside.  As 80/1 outsiders for the nPower League Two title next/this season with Betfair.com, Dagenham & Redbridge will hope for a season similar to the start of next season rather than the end where they were in freefall. Add into the mix Gillingham’s first run out of the season at Faversham Town and it was a day better than hospitality at the FA Cup Final, or a free ticket for the All-German Champions League Final.  Probably. Continue reading

Broncos bring the oval ball to the Garden of England

“Build it and they will come”..I love that saying.  It is the mantra of the out of town stadium designer, when trying to convince a club that selling their current character-filled stadium to a supermarket and moving to identikit soul-less arena on the edge of an industrial state is a good idea.  But sometimes a change can be as good as a rest and everyone benefits.

London Broncos are at a watershed in their professional Super League lives.  Last November it was announced that their “partnership” with Harlequins RFU was coming to an end and that they would revert back to the name they had carried since 1994.  More worryingly was the indication that Harlequins would also want their tenants to vacate the Stoop in 2013. The Stoop in Twickenham was the Broncos sixth London based venue and they have struggled to light up the locals with a love for Rugby League.  Last season you could almost guarantee a pair of tickets for each game via competitions in Metro and The Evening Standard.

This season, under their new old name they had again struggled to attract more than 3,000 for home games.  With the Stoop needing to go through its end of Rugby Union season maintenance the Broncos announced they would take the game to new parts of the South East.

First up was a trip east to play at Leyton Orient’s Matchroom Stadium for the game versus Bradford Bulls where 2,844 fans came along – around about the average at the Stoop.  Then they were going into the heart of Kent for the game versus Hull to be played at Gillingham FC’s Priestfield stadium.

This was not just a marketing exercise to woe the hearts and minds of the locals.  This was also a “thank you” for the work done by the Medway Dragons in trying to spread the Rugby League word in the Garden of England.  And of course any sports clubs trying to break virgin ground meant I had to be there. Continue reading

Daggers end the Christmas period in good shape

Brian Parish starts to see the green shoots of recovery at Dagenham & Redbridge.

In the not too distant past, football used to be played on Christmas day. More recently, teams used to play the same sides twice over the festive period, and still do in the conference and lower. But in the top division and throughout the football league, the idea of playing more than once around Christmas time has become more and more controversial in the last few years. The idea of a winter break has been put forward on more than one occasion in the last few years. Twelve months ago, when almost the entire country was buried under varying amounts of snow, the idea was put forward that we should shut the leagues down for Christmas, as is common place throughout Europe.

This year, we’ve basked in unusually high temperatures for Christmas, which would have made the shut down look a bit daft. And that’s the thing with the british weather; we all moan about it, but it is the unpredictability that makes a shut down so difficult to call. I appreciate that it may be difficult for some to understand why we don’t follow the rest of the continent (perhaps this is why the national team doesn’t do so well in tournaments, as they’re all knackered from playing for nine/ten months without a pause), but in an era where traditions are being eroded from the game, it is comforting to know that most clubs will still be playing on Boxing Day. Continue reading

A local team supported by local people…

Hands up who really goes to watch their local team?  Genuinely local, not just “close” by.  I would say less than 1% of football fans actually regularly watch a game at their local stadium.  Look at West Ham for instance.  A core of their support comes from Dagenham, where of course their local team would be Dagenham & Redbridge.  Yet they head over to Upton Park rather than walking down Victoria Road.  Liverpool and Everton, on the other hand draw most of their regular support from the local community despite the fact that they are global brands.  However, it does take a special type of fan to become a regular at non-league level.  A fan who can see through the crap football, crap stadium, crap food and drink and crap people in charge of their clubs deserves a medal.  But there is a growing trend in support for these clubs and almost all of it is fuelled by local fans.

I live in SE9, almost on the border of London and Kent.  If I draw a line at the Blue Square level of the football pyramid my local teams (as the car drives) are Bromley FC – 5.2 miles (although as the crow flies this is only 3 miles), Charlton Athletic 3.7 miles, Millwall 5.9 miles and Welling United 2.7 miles.  So my local team is Welling United.  Well you may be surprised to know that I was a regular at Park View Road for two seasons a few years ago, with West Ham playing away on the days when they were at home.  I grew to appreciate my Saturday afternoons at PVR, watching the likes of Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford (They did try to get Tony Banks down so that they could do a photo of the alternative Genesis) under the management of ex-Manchester United full back Paul Parker.

Facilities were basic, but the crowd were loyal.  I even had the pleasure on a couple of occasions of writing the official match report for the programme, such was my influence on club affairs.  And then it all stopped.  Primarily because West Ham’s games were always on the same day. but also because GiMP had decided to give the programme editing a kick into touch.  Our desertion co-incided with the club’s wilderness years, as the club fell down the newly formed Blue Square South league, flirting with relegation to the Rymans league.  Whilst the club are relatively young (only formed in 1963) they had actually played at the Conference level for a number of years and this would have been a reversal in fortunes for them.

The club were actually formed essentially by a Sugar Daddy.  Syd Hobbins, ex-Charlton Athletic goalkeeper formed a club for his son’s Graham and Barrie who have gone on to form a true one family dynasty.  Barrie Hobbins is still at the club today, fulfilling the role of  Kit Manager, Head Groundsman and Club Secretary as well as being a general miserable chap, wandering around the ground as if he had all of the cares in the world.  The club played in number local youth leagues before they progressed through the non-leagues, gaining promotion to the Southern League in 1981.  Five years later they were promoted to the Football Conference, the highest level they have played at.  Whilst they never set the Conference alight they did keep a position in the league for nearly fifteen years.  In 2000 they were relegated for the only time in their forty five year history, and eventually finishing in the top half of the Southern Premier League to gain a place in the Conference South when the leagues were restructured in 2004.

Last season under Andy Ford the club looked for some time if they would make the final play off shake up but a final position of 7th was just two spots off a chance at the Conference again.  They did inflict a rare home defeat on AFC Wimbledon late in the season, and this was a high point along with the goals of Charlie Sheringham (son of Teddy) who scored 19 goals.

So why was I coming back?  Well faced with the choice of Ice Age 3 or cutting the grass I chose neither.  Danny and Cynical Dave (see the EFW team website) also faced a similar dilemma judging by their keenest to come down to the London Borough of Bexley on a dreary July day.  Our plan was a few beers along the cultural hub of Park View Road, following the Route Of Wings (Wings is the nickname of the club) as they marched to this pre-season friendly.  Not one to frequent Welling ( I have been there twice actually – once when I was cracking on to a lovely young lady I worked with in Lloyds Bank back in 1990, and once for Lolly’s birthday party three years – neither of which got me the apple pie I wanted) I tried to find a decent pub to start our session in.  I went onto mecca for drinkers – Beer In The Evening website. Thirteen pubs were listed – good start, but the average score was just 4 out of 10 and didn’t exactly fill me with anticipation.  The reviews of The Guy, the pub next to the ground included such platitudes as “place is shocking…..i too recommend you avoid………” and “Without the worst pub in the world not safe bad people etc etc a definite to avoid at all cost also big drug problem and locals looking for a fight at anytime of day or night – stay clear”.

Gillingham were the visitors for the second pre-season friendly at Park View Road (called as such because it forms the north border of the lovely Danson Park).  Every year the club welcome Charlton Athletic in early July.  As a sign of the times this fixture had moved from a all ticket capacity affair to become a pay on the gate with room for plenty inside as the Addicks had slipped down the league.  The club still stuck to sensible ticket prices, charging Adults just a tenner for entry for this one, and on a very pleasant Saturday afternoon, Danny, cynical Dave and myself wandered along the centre of South East London culture in Welling looking for some fans we could chat to.  And we found none.  We did find pints of Ruddles County in the Nags Head at just £1.90 a pint which was a nice surprise and stayed there until near kick off, enjoying the England batsmen’s humiliation of the aussie attack at Lords.

In the ground the club bar was where the Gills fans who had travelled had taken up camp.  A few hundred of them had driven up the A2, brimming with confidence for their forthcoming season in League One, and a chance to play some decent local games this season.  League One has turned into a bit of the southern with two thirds of the teams playing south of Milton Keynes and the Gills were looking forward to Charlton Athletic amongst others.

Welling United 2 Gillingham 0 – Park View Road – Saturday 18th July 2009

Park View Road 2

Park View Road 2

If truth be told (and it always is on TBIR) it was a classic pre-season game.  Very little skill, players a bit wary to try something different for fear of the wrath of the managers and a few surprise performances.  Welling decided to play in white, which was a bit of a surprise considering their normal Red didn’t clash with either Gillingham’s normal blue or the yellow they wore here.  In an obvious commercial/marketing ploy they switched to a new blue shirt at half time.  It would have been a good idea if they were trying to promote their new kit(s) if they actually opened the club shop to sell them!

Welling deserved their win.  Charlie Mitten in goal made some excellent saves, looking a very confident keeper and in midfield Sanchez Ming (brilliant name – should be half Mexican/half Chinese but wasn’t!) was busy and scored the opening goal, taking his chance with confidence after ex-Southend keeper Simon Royce could only parry a shot into his path.  Their second, with five minutes to go came from an excellent run by Jake Hobbs who outpaced the defence and slotted home from a tight angle.

It was hard to see what either manager could take from the game.  Welling must be confident going into the Blue Square South season but with big spending Dover coming up, and Woking and Lewes sure to be focused on bouncing back to the Premier it may be that they need to aim for the Playoffs again.  Gillingham on the other had will need to start the season strongly.  Division One this season will be tough with the three teams who dropped down from the Championship in Norwich, Charlton and Southampton sure to be pushing hard as well as Leeds United desperate to end their two year exile from the Championship (and five from the Premier League!).

The three of us wandered off, trying to find a pub with Sky in.  The Nags Head was closed for a private function, “Infernos” was closed (permanently by the look of it – shame as I wanted to revisit the seat where I had so much luck all those years ago) so we ended up having one opposite in the Plough, with its 1970’s TV showing the golf – a very retro pub indeed.  But full of local people doing local things.  Shame they didn’t realise they had a local club down the road to support.