Premature cancellation

In five months time Non-League fans will be up in arms about their teams having to play three (or even four) games a week in order to meet the ridiculous deadlines imposed by their respective masters.  Some of these clubs will be paying the prize of successful cup runs whereas others are simply having to pay catch up because matches earlier in the season were cancelled far too quickly.  Today was a classic case in point.

10763422535_20fa3da856_bThe weather forecast this week didn’t look good for Saturday, and sure enough the rain started falling late Friday night.  Come Saturday morning and pitch inspections were taking place across the south-east.  Lewes’s trip to Aveley to play Grays Athletic was one of the first to fall to the conditions of the pitch at 10.30am meaning I had to re-plan my day.  And it wasn’t only my day ruined.  The original plan was to be dropped in the throbbing metropolis of Aveley by CMF whilst she went shopping in Lakeside before she picked me up some hours, and some beers later.

Fortunately I had a back up plan, although it changed every few minutes as further games were cancelled.  Yet what struck me, looking out of the windows of TBIR Towers, was the clear skies and calm forecast for the rest of the day.  With four hours to kick off, how many of those pitches would be playable come 3pm?  Interestingly, both Charlton Athletic and Crystal Palace took decisions to delay the kick offs in their games so that conditions had improved.  Why didn’t other clubs take that decision?  Would it have mattered if Grays v Lewes would have kicked off at 4 or 5pm ?  Surely it would have been preferable to play it today rather than now having to fit in another game somewhere in midweek when players may struggle to get time off work to travel 80-odd miles each way to play the game.  As it stands, the Rooks already have four midweek games scheduled between now and Christmas, with two more possible if respective cup games end positively. Continue reading

Praise the Lordswood

8622788588_4a228b5a17_bIt’s been an easy week at TBIR Towers. Easy because I haven’t been there. I’ve been a few thousand miles away beavering away in New York, suffering as usual from chronic jet lag. I’ve become so much of a friend to Mr. 3AM that I even went out for a run. That is how bad it’s been – running around Battery Park at 6am with other sad, depressive, obsessive insomniacs. The view from my 24th floor hotel window of the World Trade Center is impressive, but hardly moves at the pace I needed to keep me interested.

The other issue with time zones is you are never really sure what is going on in the old of football and when. The Champions League simply passed me by this week with Real Madrid almost certainly booking their Champions League Final 2013 tickets, whilst important scores in the Ryman Premier failed to make it onto my radar. As if I needed to really check anyway. I mean Cray Wanderers were hardly likely to go to play-off chasing Bury Town and win, were they? And Thurrock’s chances of anything at title-chasing Lowestoft Town were as slim as Kate Moss. So landing at Heathrow n the early hours was. Rude awakening as I checked the scores on my phone. Mr Relegation was well and truly on the A27.

Alas the delay in my return trip (thanks UK Border control for not having enough people working at T5 to cope with the inbound flights!) meant that I wasn’t able to join the legions of the Lewes Lunatic Fringe on the Road To Wembley where Hendon, themselves a perennial relegation candidate, were already tucked up safe and sound for the season. Perhaps they will have already packed their bags for their summer trip to Clacton, meaning the Rooks would return from Middlesex with three points. We can but hope.

For me, my fun was going to be found a bit closer to home. I was dropping down into the Kent Premier League. Potentially, Lewes could be playing against one of the teams currently fighting it out at the top of the league. Current leaders Erith & Belvedere were all set for the next step up, ground sharing with Welling United. Second-placed VCD have been in the Ryman League a few years ago, holding their own too before a ludicrous ground grading decision saw them forcibly relegated (ridiculous considering a recent decision given in favour of another certain Ryman League team anyway). Tunbridge Wells, finalists in the FA Vase in 4 weeks time, carrying the hopes of a County with them, have a minimum of 3 games a week from now until the end of the season as a reward for being successful in the cup.

But my destinations were straight down Watling Way, the Roman Road that allowed those Roman cricket fans to travel down to Canterbury, or Durovernum Cantiacorum as it was known in those days. I was going to see a game on either side of the Medway, the aquatic barrier separating the Men of Kent from the Kentish Man.

8625602236_29d0cbf910_bDespite having Gillingham on the doorstep, Charlton Athletic running coaches on every matchday from the Medway towns and the new non league giants of Maidstone United just at the bottom of Bluebell Hill, Rochester United and Lordswood continue to slowly make progress on and off the pitch.  Rochester were the club formerly known as Bly Spartans, formed by a Geordie with a lisp. The club was only formed 30 years ago, and slowly made up the leagues until they were invited to take part in the inaugural Kent Invicta League in 2010.  Last season they were crowned champions of that league and moved into the top-level of the county game for the start of this season. Continue reading

A night in Middle England

Royal Tunbridge Wells is very familiar to me.  Every two weeks I can take a long hard look at the fine architecture of the town as I get stuck in the through traffic on my way down to Lewes.  The town of just over 50,000 is one of only three that can call themselves a “Royal” place (along with Leamington Spa and Wootton Bassett) thanks in part to the nights out on the razzle Prince Albert and Queen Victoria used to have down here.

House prices around the town are some of the highest in the south east. The town sits almost on the crest of the High Weald, which all of you Geography A-Level students will know is the chalk inner core of what was once a domed plateau that extended into France. Today, pavement cafes and smart shops line the Pantiles, the famous historical part of the town centre and four by fours park badly in the car parks. The town has one of the highest Daily Mail readership rates and it was here that the acronym NIMBY was created.

A five minute walk from the town centre will find you at the Nevill Ground, one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in England, where Kent bring the county roadshow every year. But the team, whisper it quietly, also has a football team. Kent Premier League Tunbridge Wells have actually been around for 125 years, but play on the furthest reaches of the town in the Culverden Stadium. I am sure the town is proud of its football team but they have a funny way of showing it.

I had spotted an opportunity to sneak in a new ground visit late in the day – in fact around 6pm when I was on the train home. I knocked up a quick chicken risotto with a creamy pepper sauce for CMF, made her a cup of tea and then asked if I could go in the name of research. “Of course you can darling” was the answer I expected but instead I got a look that said “it’s pissing with rain, you have been moaning about how much work you have to do AND you haven’t packed for going away tomorrow. Oh and you are going to six games in the next seven days”. I am not an expert in body language for nothing you know. But I made those puppy eyes and I was off. Tunbridge Wells v Herne Bay here I come! Continue reading

Running up that hill

With the Lewes v Horsham game all done by 2pm, and my agreed ETA back at TBIR Towers 5.30pm I had a few options as to where I could lay my hat for the afternoon.  My initial plan was the Kent derby between Landlords Sittingbourne and tenants Maidstone United at Bourne Park but bloody Sunday drivers on the A26 up through Tunbridge Wells meant I was never going to make that.  A quick look at the great non league fixture computer in the sky (i.e Google) threw up one real alternative – Sevenoaks Town v Greenwich Borough

I have become quite a fan of the Kent Premier League in the past few seasons, primarily because it is local.  In some instances, such as Cray Valley, Erith & Belvedere and Holmsdale I can even cycle to games.   However, a cycle down (and thus at some stage, back up) the North Downs wasn’t too appealing so I had the perfect opportunity to visit on this trip.

Sevenoaks Town have been knocking around for nearly one hundred and thirty years.  However, it wasn’t until 2003 that they joined the ranks of the Kent League.  Since then they have expanded their ground, located in the picturesque Greatness Park to the north of Sevenoaks to fulfil all the grounding requirements known to man.  Floodlights, smart new changing rooms, a couple of little stands and a decent tea bar.  All ticks in the boxes.

Sevenoaks is a nice place.  In fact last week it was voted 5th in “We have more million pound houses in a single road than you” competition.  Alas the original Seven Oaks, located around the Vines cricket ground were blown down (bar one) in the 1987 great storm although today they have planted some more – in fact eight more although there are no plans to rename the town as Nine Oaks. Continue reading

We Fade to Cray

If you look hard enough you will find a non-league team closer than you think. Unless you live with one literally next door you can probably find one that you can walk to, or dare I say it, cycle. Of course there are always definitions as to what exactly constitutes a Non League team but to me I class it as one that could reach Wembley in the FA Trophy or Vase.

TBIR Towers sits quite close to a number of clubs. Welling United isn’t more than a ten minute bike ride away, Bromley/Cray Wanderers a bit further (and a 314 bus ride) but there is one closer. And ashamedly I had never graced them with my presence. So with Lewes away on the other side of London in Harrow and me on a three-line whip to be hope by 5pm there was a perfect opportunity to hop on my Raleigh Grifter and cycle downhill all the way to my “local club”, Cray Valley Paper Mills.

The reason why I had never seen them was that a) We do not live anywhere near Cray Valley, and b) There isn’t a Paper Mills near our house. How was I to know that they moved to Eltham some years ago but had never managed to shed the Paper Mills part of their name (and that  the river Cray was now 6 miles away). The club had been promoted to the Kent Premier League last season and were admitted to the level below the Ryman League despite the fact they didn’t have floodlights or stands. So having cycled passed the ground on dozens of occasions you can understand why I never knew there was a team playing there. Continue reading

A case of rough justice

Imagine you were given a task to do.  You were given a clear deadline and despite the fact that you would incur considerable cost in complying, you set about the job in hand. And then imagine how you would feel if part way through the task, with everything on track the goalposts were moved, making it impossible to achieve.  The penalty for not hitting the new deadline? Demotion.

Now take a look at the ground above.  Idyllic isn’t it.  This is Oakwood, home of Vickers Crayford Dartford Athletic.  This was taken a month before a decision was made to expel VCD Athletic from the Ryman League structure.  Their offence?  Well see that pinkish path around the edge of the pitch?  The one that is about 1metre wide?  Well that wasn’t deemed enough.  It needed to be 2metres wide (see full story here).  The club were on course to complete this work by the original stated deadline, but then someone at the league decided to bring that deadline forward for reasons unknown.  The club couldn’t meet that, and despite finishing in their inaugural season in the Ryman League in 8th place, the club were relegated.  Sound harsh?  Indeed.  Especially as their average crowd in that first season was just 93 people, making them the 330th best supported team in England.  As you can see from above, it wouldn’t be hard to fit 93 people in the two stands or randomly around the pitch, but hey-ho these are the same people who have stopped Whitehawk playing at the Withdean Stadium, used by Brighton & Hove Albion for many seasons in levels up to the Championship because it didn’t meet their requirements. Continue reading

Happiness is a warm blanket

In twenty years time my grandchildren will ask me about this day I am sure. The day that a new football club was reborn. And I can say I was there when history was made. This was no Liverpool/Everton Anfield situation, nor was it as ground shaking as how Internazionale came to be wearing the Nerazzuri instead of the Rossoneri. Oh no, in Kent we like to do things a little bit more discreet or without fuss. After all this is the Garden of England and too much noise will upset the neighbours. So in June 2011 when Norton Sports decided to become Woodstock Sports there was just a simple “Jolly good show old bean”, a pat on the back and jugs of Pimms all round.

Norton Sports had been playing in the Kent Premier League for a couple seasons after making the long transition from the local leagues. Forced to play their home games down the A2 at Herne Bay they had sort of reached a plateau. They wanted to come “home” to Sittingbourne, but their ground was not deemed adequate by the powers that be. Continue reading