Every rain cloud has a silver lining

8562024643_b5e486dda7_bWhen a complete stranger addresses you for the first time with “Are you a copper?” you immediately think that you are definitely in the wrong place.  Welcome to Ilford FC.  Not the normal welcome you would expect from a turnstile operator, but this one was giggling away, sipping a Stella.  A huge grin spread over his face as he then said “I’m guilty of being an Ilford fan”.  I breathed a huge sigh and handed over my £10.

I’d been to Ilford FC before for twenty minutes.  It was enough time.  A dull 0-0 draw back in September against Thamesmead Town played in an unloved athletics stadium.  I didn’t think I would be back here in a hurry but here I was walking into the Cricklefield Stadium.

Beggars can’t be choosers in the non leagues these days.  Winter, which started back in October still had its grip firmly on the fixture list.  I was supposed to be standing on the terraces at Hayes Lane, watching Lewes take on Cray Wanderers.  But I wasn’t.  I was here.  I was loving life.  My plan B (Corinthian Casuals), C (Walton & Hersham), D and (Lordswood) had all gone the same way as Cray.  Scrambling around for another option at 2pm my eye was drawn back to Ilford.  Had I been a bit too harsh before?  I’m all for giving someone a second chance and so I headed east to the metropolis known as Ilford. Continue reading

On the fifth day of TBIR Christmas – The worst new ground visited

Our raison-d’etre is to seek out new grounds, whether they be league or non-league, in England, Scotland, Ireland or Azerbaijan. The thrill of seeing the floodlights for the first time, entering through the hallowed portal and the wonder of seeing something unique about the club. We never tire of seeing and experiencing this. There are grounds that inspire dreams, legends and inspiration. And then there are the small number that leave you cold.

We all know that the lower down the league you go, the harder it is to find people who want to help out run a club. But there are some real basic things a club could do to make their grounds a little more appealing. However, the winner this year should never have been in this list, but it is because of one basic design flaw. So here we have our 2012 winners:-

3rd worst new ground visited – Sittingbourne’s Bourne Park
picture-002Before anyone lays into me about the difficulties in trying to run a non league club I know full well the reliance on volunteers. But there are some basics that any club could do to make a ground more appealling. Clearing dangerous thorns out of the eye line of fans walking around the ground, ensuring that exits are blocked with rubbish, covering up scaffolding poles. Just really basic things. Of course it is possible that my visit in pre-season was before this work was done, but these things left me cold. Sorry.

2nd worst new ground visited – Ilford’s Cricklefied Stadium
20121006-224006Again, no disrespect to any club officials but it is really hard to love any ground with an athletics track but one where attendances rarely break the 50 mark makes it feel so much worse. Non League football in East London struggles at the best of times, and I have ultimate sympathy for the clubs trying to fight against the big boys but without something to attract the floating fans it is hard to see how that magic spark of non league love can be spread. Sorry (again).

The worst new ground visited – Warsaw National Stadium
8096885485_b36e7d347b_bLast year I received a deluge of website visitors from Poland as I waxed lyrical about the atmosphere in the Polish Army Stadium, home to Legia Warsaw. Unfortunately 12 months later the only thing I am writing about Warsaw is about the new National stadium and how bad it was. Of course my judgement may have been clouded by a small issue of the failure of one individual to close the bloody roof. But as it is, that trip to Poland cost me two days annual leave, around £200 and an iPhone. Just because one person decided not to press the button that closed the roof. I’m sure it is a great stadium but my impression, and that of a few thousands England fans who were similarly affected, is that it is the worst new stadium we visited in 2012.

On the second day of TBIR Christmas – The worst game in 2012

For every six goal cracker we have seen there have been a number of games that were immediately forgettable. Whilst we have traveled hundreds, even thousands of miles to watch the beautiful game, you cannot guarantee the match will be decent. So let’s celebrate those games which gave football a bad name in 2012.

3rd worst game in 2012 – Aveley 0 Lewes 0
7054392011_6a5b1b20cf_zLewes were dead and buried in the hunt for a play off spot until mid March, and then all of a sudden the squad discovered their mojo and went on an amazing run that saw them move into the play off spots with just a few games to go. Despite other teams having games in hand, the Rooks could almost touch end of season glory with a win in deepest, darkest Essex. Aveley’s Mill Road ground has seen better days. In fact it is one of the most desolate grounds in the Non League, held together with sticking tape and hard to love. Anything less than a win for the home side and they would be relegated. Banker away win, surely? Alas no. It was one of those games that you want to create a time machine and go back two hours and visit Lakeside instead.

2nd worst game in 2012 – New York Red Bulls 0 Sporting Club Kansas 2
8006064292_8089eb5917_bNothing demonstrates American’s love of sport more than a scheduled midweek game in the MLS on the same night the Yankees are playing. With a few minutes to kick off you could count the crowd in the Red Bull Arena with your hands and toes. Whilst the club have build a brand new stadium (albeit in the middle of nowhere), and have marketed themselves well in the Tri-State area, the fans don’t really appreciate them enough to make a mid-week game at 7pm when the Yankees are also playing. But this game was bad, not just because of the lack of atmosphere but because the home side, with talented players such as Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill simply couldn’t be bothered to raise themselves to play. It was a torrid game, punctuated by two goals from the away team that gave them all three points.

Worst game in 2012 – Ilford 0 Thamesmead Town 0
8060623821_af061df1c4_zIt is incredibly hard for Non League clubs in the area around west Essex/London borders to build a supporters base. Within a ten minute drive of Ilford there is a Premier League side, two nPower clubs and over a dozen Non League teams. Consequently clubs like Ilford have to fight for every fan. This game paired the two of the worst supported teams in the Ryman League North, with average attendances of 54 and 49 respectively. I’m sure the fact that they play at a municipal athletics ground hardly encourages floating fans, but games like this don’t help either. I watched for 45 minutes before I had to depart but in that time I didn’t see one chance on goal from either side. One half is not a reflection of a season, and I appreciate the predicament they are both in, but there has to be a loser for every winner and this year it is Ilford and Thamesmead Town. Sorry chaps.

A Gray day I could Ilford to miss

Some time very soon we will be up in arms about the death of another football club in London. It is a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon at 3.05pm and I have joined barely 150 other paying spectators who are watching Grays Athletic take on Needham Market in the 8th level of English football. Why are there so few fans bothered about football at this level? Well, a scan on the immediate horizon will give you a good idea.

Just as the hosts breath down the Needham Market goal in the first minute of the game, Leyton Orient are holding their own against Sheffield United at the Matchroom Stadium and the mighty Dagenham & Redbridge are probing at Bradford City defence less than 2 miles down the Rainham Road. Two nPower Football League games kicking off at the same time. Oh, and of course let’s not forget that if ESPN didn’t have their way West Ham would have been hoofing high balls into the Arsenal box at Upton Park as well at this time.

So perhaps we can see why there are only just a few hardy souls in the Rush Green Sports and Leisure Centre for this game. But it is not just Grays who face this issue of trying to compete with the big boys this afternoon. Local rivals Redbridge and Ilford are around 2 miles North and West respectively, who both average less than 70 fans for their home games, although a late postponement of the game at Redbridge doesn’t trouble the turnstile operators elsewhere. Even if these clubs were to admit fans for free I doubt they would be able to increase attendances by more than 10-15%. Continue reading