Start spreading the word…

12160753794_df5f60d117_bThere can’t be many people in football who are unpopular with their own fans as well as the opposition, but Rotherham United’s manager Steve Evans seems to be in that special pot. Well, perhaps John Terry.  And El Hadji Diouf….and that mad Cardiff City chairman perhaps.  There are many reasons why fans of Dagenham & Redbridge, Crawley Town and Boston United will never put Evans on their Christmas card list despite his relatively good managerial track record.  He has, after all, taken two teams from Non-League football into the Football League, and in the case of Crawley Town, to an FA Cup game at Old Trafford where around 9,000 fans from West Sussex saw their team lose by just a single goal.  Perhaps if the game was played today a Crawley win wouldn’t raise too many eyebrows or see companies offer special deals like bet365 bonus code with odds such as 20/1 on a win as they did on that day back in February 2011.

Where exactly had those 9,000 Crawley fans gone in the intervening three years is another question you may ask?  Alas, the hangers-on and one wonder day fans had long gone back to watching football from their sofas despite Crawley winning back-to-back promotion.  Last season, in a strange twist, Evans resigned from his post at Crawley Town just as the club were about to secure promotion to League One, and joined Rotherham United who were actually below Town in the table and ended up outside the play-off spots.  Nearly two years later and the teams were due to meet for the first time at the New York Stadium in League One.  Crawley were now managed by John Gregory.  Yep, that John Gregory from all those years ago.  What with Alan Curbishley, Ray Wilkins and now Gregory back in management, David O’Leary must be confident the phone will ring again relatively shortly.  That’s something for us all to look forward to. Continue reading

Fear and loathing of Steve Evans

The defeat at York on October 20th was our first in the league in a month. Despite a below par performance, we had got to within one goal of somehow getting something from the game.

We followed that up with two home games within a few days. First up was a 1-1 draw at home to Exeter, and then came a 0-0 draw at home to Aldershot. Quite comfortably one of the most boring games I think I have ever seen, it was two hours of my life that I will never get back.

Even allowing for the fact that the Aldershot game was one of those designated as “kids for a quid”, the attendance was still around the average of 1700, which would no doubt have been a disappointment for those who work hard at the club to try to encourage those in the local community to attend and support the club.

Last weekend saw us exit the FA Cup at the first round, following a 0-4 defeat at Bournemouth. Neither Dagenham Dan or I were actually there though, attending Borussia Moenchengladbach with Neil Shenton instead. Nor did I get to Oxford in the week; pessimism following the Bournemouth defeat turned out to be totally misplaced as the team managed a 3-2 despite being a player light for the last twenty minutes. The win pushed up to fifteenth place, which is almost nosebleed territory given our start to the season. Having said that, the league form is now just one defeat in nine games, which is not bad given that it took us until the end of September to register our first league win. Oh ye of little faith and all that… Continue reading

Millers put to the grind stone

After a weekend in Spain, Brian Parish returned to his favourite spot at Victoria Road for the clash with Rotherham United.

Just when we thought that we may be turning a corner and hoped that we would start to get ourselves out of the mess that we found ourselves in just before Christmas, the last few games have shown that that it is going to be a long, fraught and testing time until the end of the season. Since the draw at Southend United on January 2nd, we’ve lost league games to Hereford, Crewe, and then on Tuesday night, down at Torquay. Although the overall display at Torquay had not been too bad, even that didn’t bring much comfort to those of us who had made the long trip to the south west, and it was even less helpful when we got back to Victoria Road at 3 in the morning.

There has been some debate in the last few weeks as to whether our troubles started on the very day that we beat today’s opponents in the League Two play off final, which although it now seems like a lifetime ago, was in fact only May 2010. Although we had a year in the heady heights of League One, it alerted other clubs to the ability of our players. We could see that people like Danny Green, Romain Vincelot and Paul Benson could play at a higher level, so while it was great that they hung around at the club so long, it was that day at Wembley that probably meant that the vultures would come circling, which is what they duly did. No one begrudges the opportunity for these players to move on, as it is a scenario that we readily accept when supporting a club like this. However, there are two possibilities; firstly, a win means that players are more noticeable if we are playing in a higher division, and that means that, as a smaller fish in a bigger pond, that we could find ourselves losing key personnel. The second option is that, if we had failed to win that day, perhaps they would still have gone, and then we would have been having the type of season that we are presently having, twelve months ago.

What it all boils down to is a simple question. Would we swap that glorious day out at Wembley and a year in League One, for the stability and playing in League Two, plodding along in mid-table for five years? I reckon most would opt for the day at Wembley, and to hell with what happens next. You can talk about that day out for years; a midweek game at wherever is unlikely to still be recalled twenty years down the line, whereas when Nursey scored the winner at Wembley, everyone who was there will knowingly smile and go all misty eyed at the memory. 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.