Sealed with a kiss

When we met Brentwood Town for our first ever league meeting back in September, manager Dean Holdsworth led his side to a 5-1 win, probably the lowest point Lewes hit this season to and one that contributed to manager Steve Brown decided to quit a few days later.

Six months later and we would be travelling to Essex still in a desperate position, but with hope in our hearts.  Neither Steve Brown nor Dean Holdsworth would be in the respective dugouts.  Brown has yet to return to management, whilst Holdsworth has swapped his Sugar Hut sponsored bench coat for a leather chair and a spot behind a big wooden desk at The Macron Stadium.

Holdsworth was a business consultant for the Sport Shield Consultancy who finally took control of Bolton Wanderers earlier this month, when he was appointed Chief Executive.  Based on their desperate league position, facing relegation to Football League One and without a manager after the departure of Neil Lennon last week.  Relegation to the Ryman League South may not have been so bad considering the huge task in front of Holdsworth.

FullSizeRender (10)Brentwood Town face a dilemma of their own as to whether they can make the necessary investments in the ground to bring it up to the required standard to remain at this level.  Work needs to be completed by the 31st March, which would include a significant increase in the number of seats at the Brentwood Centre.  Failure to reach the standard could mean relegation back to the Ryman League North.  So currently sitting in the relegation zone, do they invest with the hope they can win their games in hand and reach safety or take the penalty and build again next season both on and off the pitch.

Lewes were without talismanic striker Jonte Smith who was away on international duty with Bermuda in the Caribbean Cup.  We would have to win this one with our youngsters to the top of their game, on a pitch that would make our passing style more difficult than normal.  But when your backs are against the wall you need to come out fighting.

Brentwood Town 0 Lewes 1 – The Brentwood Centre – Saturday 19th March 2016
Coming away from an away game with three points is great, but to win convincingly is always better.  In the grand scheme of things this win may mean nothing for either side, but try telling that to the players, management, the board and of course the fans who saw a great team performance and a fully deserved win.  The key moment was Henry Muggeridge’s 51st minute goal.  Instead of describing the pivotal moment, just follow the action for yourself below.  Until next week I bid you a great weekend.

Artificial Intelligence

It’s the second weekend of February. I’ve just returned from a business trip in Copenhagen where the snow lays fresh on the ground and the temperatures barely broke freezing point. Whilst people’s perception of Denmark is that at this time of the year it is a frozen wasteland, the snow has arrived nearly two months later than normal – hardly ideal when their football league is coming towards the end of their winter break.  A few inches of snow doesn’t stop sport in these parts. A few years ago I experienced the lowest temperature I had ever experienced at a football match in Randers, in the north of Denmark when the FC Copenhagen were the visitors in a game played among piles of snow and temperatures as low as minus 15. It was November. Today it is February and we are still yet to see any of the white stuff.  We know though that when it arrives it will be the worst winter ever .

Because we need more issues with the weather right? I can’t remember a day when it hasn’t rained this year.  On Friday I was supposed to be heading for the bright lights of Newport County but their game against Fleetwood  Town fell victim to the rain.  To add insult to injury (as well as the reported £180,000 the club has lost since late December) the Football League had written to the club to “express concern” at the fact their last four (now five) games had fallen victim to the weather.  Really?  As if the club needed any reminding! They even approached AFC Wimbledon, opponents for their next home game on Tuesday night to see if the game can be played in Kingsmeadow, but I am sure there is a rule somewhere the footballing authorities have saying they can’t.

12389182495_f6f185ee43_bBut what about further down the leagues?  Some County League clubs haven’t seen any action since mid-December.  In the Ryman League once again over 80% of the games this Saturday were cancelled.  Of course the league authorities are all over the situation, giving help and support to the clubs who are suffering.  Yeah, right.  Not a word apart from a reminder that when a game is cancelled, we need to re-arrange it as soon as possible.    Our postponement count so far has now reached eight games. Eight games that we now have to fit in somehow, somewhere. And that is before any of the potential white stuff arrives causing more chaos. Our game today away at Enfield Town was called off DESPITE the pitch being playable when the pitch inspection was carried out.  The referee decided, without any consultation with Lewes, that conditions would get worse and it would be an issue for us to travel at 9.15am.  Thanks for that. If he would have bothered to ask he would have found out we were willing to travel. Continue reading

Whitehawk up?

It seems inconceivable to have imagined the game between Whitehawk and Lewes as a local derby in the league just three seasons ago. Back then The Rooks were in the Blue Square Bet South whilst The Hawks were fighting for top spot in the Sussex County League. But the latter’s upward trajectory and Lewes’s relegation has meant the first ever league meeting has taken place this season. Back in December Whitehawk arrived at The Dripping Pan in top spot and eventually came away with all three points despite being 2-0 down at one point.

As the teams prepared to meet down the A27 nothing much else has changed. Lewes sat in mid-table whilst Whitehawk were still top and there seems no team apart from Wealdstone who have the bottle or resources to stop them heading into the Blue Square Bet South. Well that and passing the respective ground grading of course.

“I bet the crowds must be flocking to the Enclosed Ground!” I can hear you all say. Err no. The average attendance is just 157, with one league crowd just attracting 74 people. It seems that trying to get people through the gates is a problem irrespective of league position in these parts.  I’m sure the expansion of the Amex stadium just up the road doesn’t help the cause but as we saw just a few hours previous to this game kicking off, Non League clubs have to work disproportionately harder to attract fans than their league counterparts.

It is hard to see where the crowds will come from as they move up the league.  An offer from local MP Simon Kirby to his constituents for free admission was the latest attempt to boost the crowd which along with the hundred or so from Lewes boosted the attendance to a league record 459. We wish any club with ambition well – after all Status Quo is not a pleasant sight these days.

Whitehawk 3 Lewes 1 – The Enclosed Ground – Saturday 2nd February
Lewes lost to a well organised team who have built a squad of players with an eye on promotion.  The Rooks finished the afternoon with 10 men after Chris Breach was dismissed but that wasn’t the reason for the defeat.  They battled on a difficult surface but were beaten by a team that should have beaten them.

At last, the wait is over…

Apart from my trip to the dark side a few weeks ago to watch the New York Red Bulls, my season ended over two months ago.  Last season I managed to shoe-horn in 104 games in 14 countries between 1 July and 7 May.  Nine weeks is a lifetime in football.  But finally we had football back in our weekends.  Our first game of the season ticked so many boxes.  Lewes game; new ground and the chance to win our first bit of silverware for five years.  Bring on the Supporters Direct Shield!

Supporters Direct do a fantastic job across all levels of football.  Many fans of the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City or Chelsea will probably never have heard of them.  But they work tirelessly in helping clubs rebuild and create sustainable business models for the future.  They have focused their efforts on clubs who have gone through financial “trauma” but their assistance is available to everyone and to celebrate their work each year they hold a conference where clubs, fans, members, owners and just about anyone who cares about the game attends.  Last year it was in Chester and had an address from William Gaillard, UEFA’s Director of Communications no less at the conference.  This year it was the turn of London to host the show. Continue reading

Mr Jolly moved next door

another game off I guess?

I am not shy to admit that this game was not on my “games to do” over Christmas.  Why, you might ask when I have waxed lyrical in the past about Carshalton Athletic and that “proper” non league ground AND it being a fiercely contested local derby?  Well the simple reason is that this was a “free pass day”, a day where I could go to any game I wanted and as a seasoned non league (and European I hasten to add) traveller, I had planned to try something new – the first ever Canvey Island derby.  But of course the f*cking tw@ting weather put pay to that game, as with our option B (Billericay Town), C (Folkstone Invicta, D (Horsham) and E (Tooting & Mitcham United).  In fact after decimating the whole of the non league calendar on Boxing Day, it pretty much took out the whole of the Step 3 and 4 Non League games on the 27th as well with only a small handful surviving.

Random Carshalton Athletic fact #1 – Between 1974 and 1976 current Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson played for the club, and then went on to manage the club for one season.  After leaving them he joined Halmstad in Sweden and took them to the Swedish Championship in his first season. Continue reading

Abbey Well..

The great thing about the snow and ice we have been plagued with in England this winter is that when games are postponed, they tend to end up being shoe horned in during the midweek towards the end of the season.  And when they fall on a day when I am in the UK it is too hard to miss……

Waltham Abbey 0 Aveley 2

But Tuesday night is normally a CMF girls night out and so I feel obliged that as I am away for work so often I really should let her go and discuss all the finer things in life such as “Would boobs like Jordan’s help in a car crash as air bags”, “How many Mulberry handbags count as an obsession” and “how wonderful my husband was for Valentine’s day”.  But with a will and a fair wind if I went to something localish I could still get back in time for her to make last orders.

So at 6.30pm I picked the girls up from the Nanny, and headed north through the Blackwall Tunnel, up the M11 and down the hill on the M25 to one of the easiest grounds in the Ryman’s league to find – Waltham Abbey FC – turn right once you cross the M25 (not literally as that may get quite messy) and follow the entrance road before the cemetery.

Waltham Abbey are one of the smaller teams in the Ryman’s Premier.  Promoted last season from the Northern division after a play off win on penalties against Concord Rangers from Canvey Island back in May.  This is the first time they have played at this level, the highest in their history, and whilst the club are enjoying the increased attention, results hadn’t been great.  A few weeks ago relegation looked a certainty but recent results had seen the club climb up a few places and give themselves a shout in terms of survival.  A real six pointer away at Margate on Saturday had seen the Abbotts return with all three points, and now with the visit of Aveley round around the M25 (clockwise) there was an opportunity to climb even further away from the drop zone.

Welcome to Waltham Abbey

Waltham Abbey is probably more notable for the reputed grave of Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, brought here after his death at the Battle of Hastings.  The town takes its name from the Abbey itself.  A substantial part of Waltham Abbey survives from the Middle Ages, and it now used as the parish church. In addition there are a few other remains – the former Gatehouse, a vaulted passage and Harold’s Bridge all in the care of English Heritage.  Enough culture for one paragraph, lets get back to the football.

The club were formed in 1944, and under a number of names, played in leagues such as the London Spartans League and the Essex Senior League.  In 2005/06 the club finished runners up to Burnham Ramblers, they were promoted to the Rymans League One North.  After two seasons of consolidated of finishing 10th and 14th they entered the 2008/09 season with some confidence, which eventually saw them finish in 4th place and qualify for the play offs.  Billy Holland was the hero for the home side as his penalty took the Abbotts into unchartered territory.

Confidence in the squad was high and this was echoed by striker Ricci Crace, who had recently rejoined the club in an interview he gave for

“Staying up is definitely do-able.  Apart from the top five or six teams, anyone can beat anyone in this league, so we have as much chance as the rest of staying up”

The quiet away end

I wasn’t expecting the San Siro when I arrived.  After all the club’s record attendance could fit into our conference room at work, and their average was just over one hundred.  But what I did find was hospitality.  People proud of the club they had built and genuinely pleased to welcome a “new fan”.  Honorary Secretary, Programme Editor and generally Mr Waltham Abbey Derek Bird had been trying to slot in an article or two in the matchday prorgamme for a while, but the weather had thwarted him.  He gave Lolly and me a potted history of the club and the ground and some of the ambitious plans they have.  The club have come a long way in a short period of time, and whilst some visiting fans may be dismissive (Dartford’s hordes will be visiting next month), steady progress and living within their means are the key words here.  With so many fixtures to fit in before the end of the season, essential work on the ground simply cannot be completed.   I am not going to start my rant here about the fixture pile up on clubs, but lets just say it makes people like Derek’s job almost impossible.

Waltham Abbey 0 FC Aveley 2 – Capershotts – Tuesday 9th March 2010

Its very chilly down here

I love football at this level.  Why?  Because everyone involved cares.  Everyone is in this for the love of the game.  Whether it is the fan who has paid is £8 (cheapest in the league btw), the players, the managers, the officials and the referees.  Sure the standard of play may not be up to the level you see on TV but I would much rather be at Capershotts on a Tuesday night watching the Rymans League rather than sitting at home watching Sky show Sunderland v Bolton Wanderers.  I was disappointed not to hear the famous “Captain Pugwash” theme when the teams ran out, and Derek promised to berate the ground announcer for his lapse.

Waltham came into the game with the poisoned chalice award of “Ryman’s Team of the Month for February” after their excellent recent form.  Aveley had also been on a bit of a roll too, with three wins in the last four.  We had seen them last week against Canvey Island and I had been impressed with their strength in midfield, and from the first minute that was clearly their strength again.  They made all the early running and if it wasn’t for a couple of good saves from Harry Ricketts in the home goal the deadlock would have been broken earlier than the 27th minute.  And what a decent goal it was too.  An Aveley corner is headed clear but falls to full back Ryan Doyle who volleyed the ball into the net from around 25 yards.

Waiting for Lolly to fetch the ball

While we are on the subject of nets, have you read Danny Last’s Football Guilty Pleasures yet?  If not read it here.  He talks at length about nets, and remembers the classics at the Dell which were so shallow that the ball often pinged back into play quicker than it went in.  Well the nets at Waltham are cavernous.  You could have a party in these ones.  Rumours are the Horsham keeper is still lost in there somewhere, trying to find the ball from last week.  And balls?  The Yellow Ball, so discussed now on the BBC forums was in favour again.  Let me tell you me a little secret, which I promise to tell you dear reader if you promise not to tell anyone else.  Next weekend (20th March) to celebrate Comic Relief, the Rymans League games will be played using, wait for it…..Red Balls!  Red, orange, yellow and white all in one season!  I also noticed this morning that this weekend all games in the Premier League, Spanish La Liga and Italian Serie A will use a one off Nike Red Ball.

Referees often get a back press on my blog, but Mr Flanagan did a good job.  There was some passion and commitment on display and it often resulted in a couple of late challenges but on the whole he did a good job, calming things down when he needed to and ignoring the clamours from the respective benches for the decisions to go their way.  Half time came and a cup of tea was in order.  And if there is one thing to bring the neutral to Waltham it is the quality of the tea – top draw indeed.

Lolly moves with the speed of a gazelle

The second half was similar to the first.  Waltham huffed and puffed but they could not get anything past Ollie Morris-Sanders (a Sandhurst name if ever I saw one) in the Aveley goal.  Lolly had a whale of a time fetching the ball on nine occasions.  Good old Wolfie would have died of excitement at such a level of activity.  The second goal was always going to come, and it was our old friend from last week Sherwin Stanley who duly obliged in the 67th minute, putting the game out of reach of the home team, and sending them back into the relegation zone thanks to other results from around the league.

With a minute to go we headed for the exit to avoid the car park chaos that dogs all football grounds, even at this level and we were back in TBIR towers before Arsenal had scored their fourth.  Full marks to Waltham Abbey for not forgetting where they have come from and what football means at this level.

About Capershotts
Capershotts is definitely a work in progress.  The club have grown in stature and position over the past few seasons and that means due to the ground grading work,  alterations need to be made all the time which does give the ground a slight unfinished look.  However, surrounded on three sides by trees you would be hard to image one of the busiest roads in Europe passing a few yards close by.  There is a small (but growing) Maine stand (called such as the seats came from Maine Road!) and a covered terrace behind the goal.  Apart from that it is simple standing.  The pitch used to slope significantly and you can see by what extent on the height of the path around the pitch.  On the far side from the Maine Stand you can get an excellent view above the dugouts due to this situation.  Floodlights came from Walthamstow Park Avenue, and the club are always looking for a few bits and bobs from other grounds.

The clubhouse is on the far side of the car park, and fans simply give a nod and a wink to the turnstile operator as they leave and come back in at half time.  There is a tea bar behind the terrace at one end.  Built for joy rather than comfort.

How to get to Capershotts
A very easy ground to find by car.  Simply exit the M25 at junction 26 and then take the 2nd exit if you are coming Anti-clockwise around the M25 into A121 Honey Lane, or 3rd exit if you are coming around the other way.  At the next roundabout take the 3rd exit into Sewardstone Road and pass over the M25.  The ground is the first right BEFORE the cemetary.  If you pass the Nissan garage you have gone too far.  Parking is free of charge.  Nearest train is Waltham Cross where you can catch a bus to the ground from the bus station opposite the station exit.

How to get a ticket for Capershotts
With a capacity of 3,500 and a record crowd of less than 500, getting in on the day is never a problem at Capershotts.  Prices are Adults £8, Children just £1 – absolute bargain for Ryman’s football and something the club are very proud of.