A Massive gesture

James Drobka reports on an afternoon of Blue Square Bet South football from the banks of the Thames.

Staines. Probably most famous for being the setting to the Ali G movie, however to the council this is more hindrance rather than help. So much so, they changed the name to Staines-Upon-Thames. However to most people it is, ‘the staines massive’, home to Staines Town FC, Blue Square Bet South. Evidence of the football club not being bothered by tagline can be seen on their website, www.stainesmassive.info

Staines have been in the Conference South for the past two seasons, finishing a superb 8th in their first season and 15th last season. Hopes are high amongst management that this could be a good season, they have kept the nucleus of the squad from last season and added a few additions, most notably Dave Wheeler from Lewes (ED – OUR Dave Wheeler), helped by the fact he’s studying at Brunel university and relocating to the area. They have lost their most promising player in Mario Quiassaca, who had his contract terminated immediately after being named and shamed as taking part in the recent riots in London. Continue reading

For the love of claret and blue

I have a soft spot in football for any club that plays in Claret and Blue, and any team that is still trying in the face of aversity.  In the past I have sported the colours of Scunthorpe United and Burnley, although I have drawn the line at Aston Villa.  One of my favourite teams in Germany is Kaiserslautern thank’s to their claret and blue kit and the constant struggle as one of the Bundesliga’s perrenial under achievers.  But there is a club that could make the TV show for both – Weymouth FC.  The last few years have seen so much drama going on in this small naval-influenced town in Dorset that they could make a TV programme about the club – in fact they actually did some years ago!  Events in the past few months would make avid viewing for many people trying to understand what is wrong with football at the moment.

The club hit the national footballing headlines in February for the wrong reasons as due to ongoing financial issues, the club could not insure thier first team players for the home game versus Rushden and Diamonds, and so the youth team had to take their place, losing 9-0 in the process.  There was some headlines about “betting scandals” around the game, but if you heard your club had to field eleven teenagers with no experience it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that they may get a battering!

It would be remiss of me not to include a potted history of the club before moving on to more interesting aspects.  Whilst the club were formed in 1890 they did not start to make an impact on the Non-League scene for many years.  In 1998 the club finally got out of the Southern League Southern Division after many years of trying.  During the next few seasons a number of managers came and went, unable to push the club into the top level of the pyramid.  These included Neil Webb and latterly Steve Claridge who as Player Manager set the club on their way to promotion from the Southern League at the end of the 2004 season.  In their second season in the newly formed Conference South the club won the division from St Albans, who were also promoted after the play offs.

Whilst progress on the pitch was impressive, off the pitch things were not going to plan.  A number of owners came and went promising great things for the club and changing the manager with the seasons of the year.  Since promotion to the Conference they have had four managers, including ex-Chelsea legend John Hollins.  The club finished 11th in their first season at the top level, slipping down to 18th last season and enduring a few bitten finger nails in the process as they looked over their shoulder at the trap door.  Some may say that relegation would have been a blessing for the club in some ways as it would have put less financial pressure on the club.  This season the club has run into dire financial problems which many have blamed at the door of former chairman Malcolm Curtis.

With seemingly all financial options exhausted and a £300,000 debt around the neck of the club and no first team players available it appeared that the club may simply go out of existence by the end of the season.  However, hope has raised its head as a local businessman appears to have agreed to pay off the debt and provide funding to allow the club to continue.  Going into the game with Salisbury the club had gained 42 points, some 9 points above the trap door, and with a host of other teams below they probably have enough to survive the relegation fight, although since the financial problems escalated in early February they had lost four games on the bounce so it was important that this run was halted.  Salisbury had also had a tough season, sitting one place and four points below Weymouth and with a few financial issues of their own.  Since Christmas they had drawn too many games and came into the game firmly in the relegation mix.

I eventually found the stadium on the outskirts of the town centre, far away from any amenities or comforts.  After parking the car (£2 – very reasonable) I went into the stadium to soak up the atmosphere.  Now I knew that Weymouth had a few issues in getting a team out but I did not expect them to be fielding a team of teenage girls…They were all ready for action by the tunnel and for a few minutes I thought this may be more interesting than I had initially thought.  Alas they were just the ball girls, but you had to feel sorry for them as it was a chilly night and they were not exactly dressed for the part.

The more voricifous home fans had taken up residence in the Carlsberg Stand – complete with an array of inflatables including a number of beach balls, dolphins and rubber rings – all standard issue for the Blue Square obviously.  The Beachball was soon confiscated as it made its way onto the pitch on one too often an occasion.  As the teams lined up it was obvious which of the Weymouth team were “newbies”….firstly they looked about 12 and secondly they had not yet got their names on the shirts.  In fact 6 of the starting 11 were in this position.

Weymouth FC 0 Salisbury City 4 – The Wessex Stadium – Tuesday 10th March 2009 7.45pm

Looking on in hope

Looking on in hope

So the game kicked off with yours truly listening to Liverpool versus Real Madrid on my iPod.  In fact for the first thirty seconds the commentry seemed to be coming from the Wessex Stadium as play was synchronised in my ears.  Then Salisbury hoofed it long, a slight touch on the keeper and the resultant goal was disallowed – and that is where the similarity to Anfield would end (or so we thought).  The first twenty minutes were high on energy and endeavour but low on quality.  The Weymouth team resembled a newly promoted Sunday League team – lots of energy and tricky pacey players but no cutting edge, so it was no surprise when Salisbury eventually took the lead from a corner that was bundled in by centre back Chris Todd after the defence had failed to clear the ball.  The game was essentially over a few minutes later when in his youthful exuberance Weymouth’s Stephen Reed went in late on Luke Ruddick and after a bit of handbags which required the intervention of all four officials the home striker was sent off.

I took the opportunity during the break to have a wander around the ground.  The stadium is just over twenty years old and is really showing its age, none more so than what is visible in a visit to the gents toilets that reminded me of the film Midnight Express.  There are far too many crush barriers on the terraces, making wandering very difficult, and especially as there has only been one occasion when they have been needed in the last twenty years.  There is also a strange section of the ground for disabled spectators that is essentially an extended dugout covered in netting, confusing the fourth official as to who he should be patrolling!

The second half saw Weymouth make a change up front but it was Salisbury who soon doubled their lead as another corner was poorly cleared and Tubbs drove home to make it 2-0.  If Weymouth had any hope of getting a point all hope faded a few minutes later as Charlie Griffin scored the goal of the game, curling in a shot from the edge of the box.  A final Darrell Clarke goal in the last fifteen minutes completed the scoring and let the home fans ruing the fact that they were now well and truly in a relegation fight.

Just before the match the fans had been given an update on the promised £300,000 cash injection.  The loaner, a Mr Beer only wanted to see the club financially straight – he wasn’t interested in any long term commitment, place on the board or a say in how the club was run.  A strange relationship if ever there was one, but apparently his Christian beliefs determined why he should help the club.  So it appears the club is safe for now, although a massive effort must now go into ensuring their survival.

Whilst Alan Green may not have been describing the finer points of play at the Wessex, he did at least get the score line to match from Anfield.

“Weymouth are back in deep financial trouble after would-be investor Stephen Beer changed his mind and decided not to invest in the Terras.  Beer did a U-turn after suffering a stroke on his way to a news conference to detail his £300,000 investment into the Blue Square Premier club. Beer’s wife told BBC Radio Solent that her husband had failed to realise the extent of difficulty the club was in. The Dorset club are believed to be around £500,000 in debt. The Terras’ plight was highlighted a fortnight ago when the majority of the first-team squad left the club after not being paid, and being left medically uninsured. Since then, manager Alan Lewer has continued to field a makeshift team comprising mostly junior players and non-contracted players from around the country, but the Terras have lost every match since.”  Taken from BBC Radio Solent………Two works – Oh Shit!

About the Wessex Stadium
A well maintained tidy stadium that although a relatively new one (it was opened in 1987) is more reminiscent of an older ground. This is mostly due to the large traditional floodlights that are located in each corner. There is cover on all four sides of the stadium. On the west side is the Main Stand, which is a covered seated stand that runs for around half the length of the pitch. The seating area of the stand is raised well above the level of the pitch, meaning that you need to climb a small staircase to access it. In front of the stand on either side of the halfway line are the team dugouts. Both ends are similar sized covered terraces, whilst on the remaining side of the ground there is also a small covered terrace. This area is called the AKI Stand and is affectionately nicknamed the Babs Windsor stand by the Weymouth fans (you’ll have to ask one to find out why!). The rest of the ground mostly comprises of portions of open terrace, to either side of the stands and in the corners.

Thanks to Duncan Adams and his excellent site – http://www.conferencegrounds.co.uk for providing the above information.

How to get to the Wessex Stadium
The stadium is located a little way out of the town centre on the B3157 but is well signposted.  There is a small car park at the ground which costs £2.  There is a regular bus service that runs on a match day from Bus stop K2 which is on the seafront opposite the Cork and Bottle pub.  Buses number 3 and 5 also run from close to the station to the stadium.  A taxi from the town centre will cost £5.

How to get a ticket for the Wessex Stadium
Like nearly all teams at this level sell outs are unheard of at the Wessex Stadium.  The biggest crowd ever at the stadium was for the visit of Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup in January 2005.  The average attendance at the stadium over the past few seasons has been just under 1,500 so you will have no problems arriving on the day and getting a ticket.  A place on the terrace costs £14 for Adults, and a variety of prices for concessions ranging from free for accompanied under 7’s to £10 for OAP’s.  A place in the main stand is £16 or £11/£7 for concessions.  The club also have a Premier Seat which for £22 also gets you a parking space, programme and access to the players lounge.  More details can be obtained from the club on     01305 785558    .

A Christmas Card

The FA Trophy, for those not in the know is the Non League FA Cup Final. It has been for many years the highlight in the calendar for the smaller teams and now it is back at Wembley Stadium, as opposed to Villa Park or The Boleyn Ground it has rediscovered its magic. The tournament started in 1970 and since that first final at Wembley when Macclesfield Town beat Telford, the trophy has been won by the likes of Wycombe Wanderers, Colchester United and Morecombe who have gone onto gretaer things. It has also been won by the likes of Enfield (on two occasions), Dagenham (before they wed Ms Redbridge), Wealdstone and Matlock Town who haven’t gone onto better things. In recent years the competition has been won by surprise outfits such as Burscough of the Unibond League, Canvey Island who are now in the Rymans and Hednesford Town. Last season Ebbsfleet United won the trophy for the first time in front of over 30,000 at Wembley.

As I missed out on my “road to Wembley” for the FA Cup run – failing to follow Grays Athletic to Carlisle was never going to be an option, I thought I might try it with the FA Trophy. I realise that the competition actually started on the 4th October when Marlow beat Cirencester but better late than never I always say, especially when I get the last train home after “only going for a swift half after work”. At the first round stage I decided to randomly pull a tie out of the hat to go to. On first attempt I got Durham City v Harrogate Town – er no…Second attempt was Workington Town v Kings Lynn which again was ruled out as being too far up north! Then I realised that the draw was regionalised and after sorting out anything north of Watford (well Birmingham actually) I drew out Woking, also for some bizarre reason known as The Cards.

Woking had been a club I had never been to – no real logic behind that as it was close enough to London to do after work and they had consistently played at this level for a number of years. They also had some history in the FA Trophy, winning it in 1994, 1995 and 1997. Woking are also one of those clubs that has challenged for a Football League spot on a number of occasions in the past decade, yet has always fallen short in the end. The past few seasons have seen a number of high profile coaches come and go including Glenn Cockerill, Frank Gray and more recently Phil Gilchrist. The problem the team had faced this season was simply a lack of goals, with some key players still ruled out through injury. However, they could take some hope from the fact that their opponents Salisbury City had been forced to off load a few more players since my visit to their rural home a few weeks before. They had recently lost at home to Woking in the Setanta Shield as well as the league meetings so came into this match with some trepidation of a hatrick of defeats to Woking.

It would be interesting to see what the crowd would be as the clubs are only separated by fifty or so miles. The Kingfield Stadium is certainly a much better place to watch games that Salisbury’s rural setting. The new main stand (situated behind one of the goals) is the focal point of the stadium but is one of the more impressive stands in the Blue Square Premier.

But as with all good plans I was thwarted by events out of my control – in this case the torrential rain that not only caused this game to be cancelled, but its subsequent re-arranged date meant my trip to Eastbourne on Tuesday was now off as well. This was a shame as I was looking forward to a afternoon out in Surrey. The club had been very helpful so far and that is always a good sign of a well run club (Paul the press officer even phoned me to tell me the game was off before I travelled), and I was also due to go and see Mr Grumble’s new baby as he lived close by. As always I have a plan B but this (Welling Utd v Weymouth) fell by the wayside, as did C (Chesham) and D (Bognor Regis). Amazingly Histon, with that dreadful pitch from Tuesday was still on. But I couldn’t justify another trip up the M11 so an afternoon of ironing in front of Jeff Stelling beckoned.

So Tuesday night beckoned and my original plan to see the little balding, grumpy ones (the one in nappies and the one who will be in them soon) fell by the wayside again thanks to an accident on the A3, so I headed up to Woking for 7pm and availed myself of some of the fine cuisine on offer.  Whilst the stadium really had the feel of a lower league club, the food was top notch and was well worth the early entry into the ground.

The ground…Well it is certainly unique!  The new very modern stand behind the west goal is certainly the focal point of the stadium, and would not look out of place in most top league grounds.  I am sure that somewhere within the club there is a vision to transform the stadium with three similar sized and designed stands, but finances are obviously very at the top of the agenda in the Non-Leagues.  Woking chairman David Taylor had been very vocal about the concept of regionalising the league even at this top level to cut down on the unnecessary costs teams are incurring.  There is alot of logic in this view, especially for those teams who decide to go part time.  In fact I would go back to my comments from last week when I said that there was no real reason why some lower league clusb could not compete on a part time basis.

Woking 1 Salisbury City 2 – The Kingfield Stadium – Tuesday 16th December 2008

Welcome to Non League cup football

Welcome to Non League cup football

This was never going to be a game to catch the local imagination.  A cold and dark midweek night, in the middle of the Christmas party season for a game that most fans did not care if it was won or lost.  However, the 500 brave souls, including the 67 from Salisbury who seemed happy standing around the portakabin toilets on the far terrace were treated to a game of high tempo, if at times low quality football.

You could not fault either side for their commitment from the first whistle.  Both sets of players tore into each other, determined to try and avoid a draw that would add further pressure to the already crowded fixture list.

After Woking went close in the 5th minute when a incicive run down the left flank was so nearly met by Denton in the penalty area.  The tall centre forward, on loan from Huddersfield Town was obviously miffed by this and shortly after took out his frustration on the Salisbury full back with a late challenge and saw the first yellow card of the night.  At this point I picked up the programme and saw an article about the Woking player Tom Hutchinson.  Wow – spooky!  Mr Hutchinson has been part of my Sutton United team on Football Manager for the PSP for three seasons now.  He is permenantly injured and will not leave despite being on the transfer list for most of this time (my predecessor had put him on a 5 year contract the fool).  I looked at the picture in the programme and realised it was the one and same guy sitting behind me helping out on the match commentry.  Now I had a dilemma, a dilemma where my virtual world meets the real world.  Should I say something about his fitness regime or just stay star struck?  In the end play moved on with me biting my tongue, forever in the knowledge that I could have changed destiny!

The remainder of the first half was played at the same pace without much quality, with chances few and far between.  Salisbury’s Ademeno went close with a smart turn and shot that was well saved but the main talking point of the half was when the referee decided to substitute himself on the half hour mark.  He showed no sign of injury or illness and was controlling the game well.  Personally I think that he was also a PSP FM08 player and could not compromise himself by refereeing his team.  Of course his replacement meant the fourth official took over, and the club had to make an announcement if there was a qualified ref in the house (which there wasn’t).

The half seemed to be drifting towards an end goal less, but from a rare Salisbury corner, centre midfielder Michael Fowler rose unmarked to head home.  The goal was against the run of play but that didn’t matter to the 66 Salisbury fans (I counted – one had definitely gone missing somewhere) who celebrated a rare away goal.

The second half started much were the first half left off with Woking controlling the midfield yet failing to get the ball into the penalty area.  Woking’s Quamina became the fifth player booked for a late challenge that may have seen him see red on other occasions.  However he soon fed the ball out wide and a decent cross for once saw Marum smartly head home to bring the scores level again.

Both teams seemed resigned to the draw and another match at some point before Christmas.  With a few seconds on the clock I took leave from the old wooden stand and made my way to the corner ready for a swift full time exit.  As I walked around the back of the club house there was a small ripple of applause, which I put down to a good tackle or pass.  I therefore waited at the corner until the ref blew for fulltime and the fans started to troop out, bemoaning the defending and “letting them steal it at the end”…so for the first time this season I had missed a goal.  I could pretend and say it was marvellous but the simple truth is I have no idea.  Salisbury’s Herring had scored the winner in injury time to take them through to a game versus Burton Albion or Farsley Celtic in round two.

About the Kingfield Stadium
The ground has an impressive and fairly new single tiered stand situated at one end of the ground. This stand, the Bellway Homes Stand, towers above the rest of the ground. At the other end is a small covered terrace, called the Kingfield Road End, whilst on one side there is a small open terrace. This terrace looks a little ugly as it has quite large warehouse type structures, sitting behind it. On the other side are a couple of small strange looking, covered seated stands, a portion of terracing to one side and some portakbins offices at the other end. However, one nice feature is the abundance of greenery, with lots of trees surrounding the ground.

How to get to the Kingfield Stadium
Woking train station is about a mile away from the ground and is around a 15-20 minute walk. The station is served by trains from London Waterloo. Exit the station on the opposite side of the station to the town (Station Approach/Oriental Road side). Turn Right down Station Approach and at the bottom, turn left onto Claremont Road (the A320). At the end of Claremont Road turn left on Kingfield Road and the ground is over the road on your right.

If you are driving then leave the M25 at Junction 10 and take the A3 towards Guildford. On approaching Guildford turn right onto the A320 towards Woking. On entering Woking turn right at the roundabout into Wych Hill Lane, towards Old Woking (A247). This road leads into the A247 Kingfield Road and the entrance to the ground is down on the right.

Thanks to Duncan Adam’s http://www.conferencegrounds.co.uk for the above details.

How to get a ticket for the Kingfield Stadium
With average attendances rarely breaking the 2,000 mark, and a capacity of doubel that, getting a ticket on the day of the match is not problematic. Prices are £15 for a seat in the main stand and £13 elsewhere. Prices are reduced for games such as the Setanta Shield or the FA Trophy matches.