The Future of Non League Football – Time to rethink the FA Vase?


Wembley Stadium will host a number of massive games in May. The FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Liverpool will be played out in front of a capacity crowd early in the month before the attention turns to the nPower Championship sell out between West Ham United and Blackpool in the “World’s Richest Club Game” as well as the FA Trophy final. Just a few days after the end of the month the stadium will be full again as we say goodbye and good luck to Roy Hodgson’s England squad as they play Belgium before departing for the European Championship in Poland and Ukraine.

But in the middle of all those mouth watering games Wembley will host a bizarre game that still defies reason as to why a stadium that costs literally hundreds of thousands of pounds just to unlock the doors would deem viable. The FA Carlsberg Vase Final (ironic name given you cannot drink beer and watch the game at the same time) typically gets crowds of less than 10,000 and apart from a “day out” for the clubs involved, it is a strange game to justify being played at such a huge stadium. This years final is all the more baffling as it involves two teams who have already played each other four times this season, play in the same league and are barely 30 miles apart in one of the furthest leagues away from Wembley Stadium.

On Sunday 13th May West Auckland Town will take on Dunston UTS not in front of the 140-odd who saw their last meeting this season but a figure of close to 5,000 (10,000 at a push). They met early in the season in the FA Cup twice as well as in the league with the scores on the door at one win each and two draws.

Is there any real need to expect the fans to make the 600 mile round trip for this game? Couldn’t some sensibility be used here? Surely if the FA deemed the final should be at Wembley then play it on the Saturday as part of a double header with York City and Newport County, who will be competing for the FA Trophy in front of around 25,000. Alternatively, why not play the game at St James’ Park or the Stadium of Light which would undoubtably provoke more local interest and a significantly bigger crowd.  During the “Inbetween” years of 2000 and 2006 the final was played around the country at Villa Park, White Hart Lane, St Andrews and Upton Park. Continue reading

Advertisements

Harry’s game


Boredom has been responsible for many things in history. Some say that the reasons the Vikings invaded England was out of boredom of the long Nordic nights and lack of Marmite. Others say that Michelangelo only ever meant to touch up a bit of plaster in the Sistine Chapel but was bored on that Sunday afternoon, and six years later he had finished his masterpiece, the Last Judgement. My story is not really a game-changer, or a milestone in history. Back in December when work was slow I was surfing the FA’s website and noticed an advert for the game versus Holland. Two minutes later I was the proud owner of two tickets for the game, my first visit to Wembley for an England game since 1st April 2009 when Ukraine were the visitors.

There wasn’t one particular reason for my absence. I had actually been to a dozen away games since then. But England and Wembley had never been my favourite couple. Despite a relatively simple journey to and from the stadium (about an hour and one change from home), good ticket pricing (£35 for a good seat), a great stadium (still one of my favourite in the world) and being able to watch some of the best players in the world it just didn’t float my boat. Whether it be the poor public transport organisation that sees fans queueing for an hour plus to get into the station post game (more of that later), ridiculous priced food and drink, or the stale atmosphere which is only made worse by stewards who can barely speak English, let along understand the English fan mentality I was just not in love. But perhaps the major issue had been the fact that neither the team nor the management ever appeared to give a toss. Continue reading

Grab a slice of the realism pie


I gave up going to England home internationals about three years ago.  I got fed up with the fans around me who missed half of the game to have a piss, get a beer, leave early to avoid the rush.  I was fed up with the Mexican wave, the happy clappy cardboard things and the whole dumbing down of our passion.  And I was fed up with irrespective who is in charge of the squad, the team never rarely changes.  

Last night despite their long season we were being influenced to feel sorry for Lampard, Terry, Cole, Ferdinand et al for dragging their weary bones out of bed to play one more time for the national team.  After all, it is tough these days earning £5 million plus for an afternoon’s work occasionally.

Unfortunately due to the fact we really do not take the development of our young players seriously enough we really have no other option but to keep playing the slowest centre back pairing in International football, or a one dimensional midfielder who last put a tackle in back in 2004.  So when the inevitable boos ring around the ground as we concede a goal (SHOCK, HORROR Another team cannot score against us…and at Wembley! ) those fans from Chelsea, Man Utd, Spurs etc are actually booing the fact we have no choice but to keep picking players who stopped being world class years ago.  And in part that is down to their own clubs set up.  One example?  Rewind five days to the very same pitch.  Two stars from Swansea on show were Scott Sinclair and Fabio Borini.  Both from Chelsea, both never had a chance of getting in the first team at the expense of another costly foreign import and both have now gone elsewhere.

Anyway, I chose to go and watch Rugby League rather than England v Switzerland.  But instead Brian Parish went along to Wembley…Over to you Brian whilst I go and lie down for awhile. Continue reading

Reading Rodgered by old boy Brendan


It has only taken 48 hours to recover, but Abi Davies has finally woken up from her dream of Swansea City reaching the Premier League to realise that it is indeed reality.

Just 8 years after beating Hull 4-2 to remain in and retain their football league status at The Vetch Field, Swansea City walked out to a crowd of almost 90,000 at Wembley to battle it out with Reading for a highly sought after place in the top flight of English football.

Swansea City were unchanged from the side that claimed a comprehensive 3-1 victory over Nottingham Forest in the semi final second leg, as Alan Tate continued at full back in place of Welsh international Neil Taylor who continued to serve his suspension following the red card he received against Forest. Garry Monk overcame an illness scare to start in the heart of Swansea’s defence alongside Swansea City’s rock Ashley Williams.

Reading were boosted by the return of pacey wide man Kebe who missed both legs of the semi final through injury, whilst striker Shane Long started up front hoping to add to his season tally of 25 goals.

The Royals got the game under way and applied early pressure on The Swans as Williams pass back to Dorus De Vries was almost closed down by Reading front man Shane Long within the opening few minutes. Continue reading

This is a recipe for disaster


Plans change at the drop of a hat in TBIR towers, so when the trusty TBIR taxi failed a late fitness test, our venue for watching the game tonight switched from The Emirates with the Guardian Football Weekly team to the front room.  But I still needed some amusement so CMF came up with the ultimate challenge.

Blog LIVE, with songs from the 1980’s” She said.  Yeah, yeah yeah..We’ve done that before here.  So she added a twist.

“And you can only choose from 1 Year per ten minute period.  So 0-10 mins will be 1980, 11-20 mins will be 1981” Ouch – tough.  But we love a challenge so here goes…

0 Mins – COMING UP soon will be full 90 minute commentary with the aim to get in a song a minute.  A tough one we know.  But LET’s GET SERIOUS for a minute.  Do we think Man Utd can win?  Hell yes.  We’ve already rated Valencia and I think he could be the key here.  Man Utd’s lack of height up front could be an issue but then again with Rooney there is always the chance of some MAGIC.

So many songs could be used to describe Giggs’s feelings tonight. I bet he now thinks “SHE IS OUT OF MY LIFE”.  Not if Max Clifford is involved – more like he will be trying to get her as much FAME as possible. Continue reading

On the tenth day of Christmas….the best ground


On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, brilliant grounds not one, nor two but three.

This category is for our favourites grounds in 2010 – ones we have been to a few times.  Our criteria for this was, well basically, how we felt on the day. Ease of getting there, the food, the fans, the atmosphere – in short the whole package.  Notable runners in this category are The Beveree, home of Hampton & Richmond Borough, The Swedbank stadium of Malmo FF and Carshalton’s War Memorial Ground. But there can only be three winners in our awards, and they are:-

Princes Park – Dartford FC – Many clubs will look at envy at Dartford’s “new ground”, now actually 7 years old. They could have gone down an Identikit stadium to save money (step 1 purchase from Ikea, step 2 unpack, step 3 find some nuts missing, step 4 take it back) but instead thanks to the vision of the club and the assistance of the local council they have a ground so unique that clubs from all over Europe still visit to see for themselves.

A roof covered in grass which captures the rain water for recycling, a fantastic bar, a public transport system that whisks you from main station to the stadium in minutes, literally a minute from the M25, stands that can be expanded with ease as and when necessary and a 12 foot wooden man holding up the roof. Add in 1,000 Dartford fans and you have a cracking day out.

Wembley Stadium – For all its faults it is still the greatest stadium to watch a game in at the moment.  Every seat faces the centre circle (apparently) and there isn’t a bad view in the house. Sure people may moan about the lack of atmosphere when England play there, the expensive food and the nightmare getting home, but last year we saw a game from the press area (nice biscuits but we got locked in – read about it here) and an Executive box thanks to Adam Lloyd which was luxurious to say the least. For those two reasons it is one of our top 3 grounds – sorry we freely admit we sold out to our principles on this one!

The Dripping Pan – Lewes FC – OK we admit that we are a bit biased on this one but at the end of the day, Brian, these are our awards and if we can’t give them to whole we want then what can we do? I have publically gone on record, and been quoted in at least one national publication, as saying:-

“With the South Downs as a backdrop like a white stage curtain, a pint of local Harveys Ale in my hand and the roar of the Rook Inn Terrace behind me, there is no better place to watch football.”

All true. We like to say at Lewes there are no strangers, only football fans who have not yet fallen in love with the most fashionable club in England (well, I think I said it once after a few too many Harveys). Sure the football may not be the best at times but do we have fun watching it. And so should you. Attendances are up by 70% since the club became a Community Club last Summer,a dn fan involvement can be epitomised by the work in progress Rook Inn. You’d be a fool to miss out.

No York my old Dutch


One year ago to the day we traversed London in the name of T’entertainment on a day since know as the Perfect Storm.  So successful was that day that we have renamed the day New Balls Day – the moment when one sport finishes for the season and another really begins – well certainly in viewing terms.

The agenda was similar.  1pm start at Lords for a Clydesdale Bank game then up the Jubilee line to Wembley for the richest game in Non-League football – the Blue Square Premier Play Off final.  The only change this year was that we wouldn’t be heading back to the o2 Arena as we did last year – Michael Buble is not really my cup of tea.

Our home for the afternoon

What makes the day better is that we get to experience the media facilities at both the home of cricket and the home of football.  Thanks to our friends at the MCC and The Football Conference we were in for a great day of sport.  I was meeting Danny Last, our Brighton correspondent and official TAT librarian of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, although of course TFL had decided to muck our plans up as much as possible by suspending the Jubilee line to Wembley – it’s OK chaps the 35,000 fans going to the play off game will just in a cab or something! Continue reading