Amersham pre-season tournament in 2008.
Sitting here, with Manbearpig spreading the pinkeye pandemic outside, I was idly scrolling through old files and came across my scribblings on the first six months of the 08/09 season... which one or two of you may have seen but which, doubtless to everyone's relief, never left my laptop. Strewth! It's good! It's almost as if it was penned by someone who can write.
Anyhooo... with all the "On This Day" and other nostalgia appearing, I'm posting the moderately entertaining entry from Saturday July 19th. Anyone around at that time can play a game of "Who's who?" by attempting to identify the then unknown & un-named trialists.
"SATURDAY 19th JULY
With the public transport system in its usual state, there are no Metropolitan Line trains to the picturesque Buckinghamshire town. The hills en route and a forecast of potential heavy showers dissuade me from cycling the twenty-five miles or so. Hills, rain and commuter-belt boy racers are as healthy a combination for cyclists as Christian values, gunpowder and syphilis were for the Incas.
A couple of kids with football kits in shoulder bags get on the replacement bus service at Northwood Hills station. “Are they ours?” I find myself wondering, but it turns out they’ll be playing for Chesham United. Though they’re not required until Chesham’s second game of an all-day tournament, they get a cab from the station. Chesham have a few bob and can spare some petty cash for expenses. There’s only one other Hendon fan on the bus.
Despite my traditional occupation as a despatch rider, a reasonable geographical knowledge of Amersham and extensive football-watching experience, I’ve seen neither hide nor hair of a football ground here on previous visits. We ask directions at the station and walk the mile or so downhill to the ground.
I think I might rather have walked to a 1970s Willmaul v. West Ham game at The Den in a Spurs shirt. It would have been less hazardous. The directions take us down Rectory Hill, a sixteen-feet wide, 60mph job that has no pavement and on which the tarmac is bounded by waist-high nettles and banking on both sides. It’s admittedly quicker than going down the A416 Station Road, turning right through the town and walking back up, but I’m surprised by the lack of badger and bunny carcasses. I wouldn’t fancy the route for a midweek game in January. The A416 had pavements on both sides last time I looked. I expect it still has them, as people don’t nick things in Amersham.
From the bottom of Rectory Hill, a number of cardboard signs, hand-written in black marker, have been attached to lamp-posts and point us in the direction of the ground. That shows commendable enthusiasm on the part of the local club.
The Bucks Examiner Trophy is not quite as prestigious as the Inter-Toto Cup, though some might disagree. It’s a novel idea. Amersham Town FC hopes to sell large quantities of beer and vast numbers of hotdogs and burgers by staging an all-day football tournament, starting at 10:30 and probably finishing at around half-past-five. At £3 to get in and £1 for a high-quality programme, I hope they succeed. Four clubs compete in a six-match schedule, played in a round robin format. Games are twenty-five minutes each-way and the team with the most points gets a cuddly toy or a teasmade or something.
Don’t let the cricket authorities know, or we’ll be having similar tournaments of ten-overs-a-side games at Lord’s. The teams involved are Hendon, Southern Premier club Hemel Hempstead, local Southern One outfit Chesham United and hosts Amersham, who ply their trade three notches below Hendon, in Division One of the Spartan South Midlands League.
Hendon arrive here after an unflattering week. Their first pre-season friendly was a 2-2 draw against Ryman One South side Godalming Town, in a match played on Tuesday at Charterhouse School, over 3 x 30-minute periods. The starting XI was apparently fairly strong, though twenty-odd players were used in the game. The goals came from a Frankie Wilson and a Doug Kissule. I’ve never heard of either. A more experimental side lost 4-0 to Hanwell Town, who play two divisions below Hendon, on Thursday. That match took place on a Clitterhouse Recreation Ground park pitch, as neither club’s ground was fit for human consumption. Arch-maverick Rob Ursell, possibly the most talented player recently seen in the Ryman Premier, allegedly turned out amongst the Hendon trialists in that one.
Chesham are crawling all over Hemel in the opening game as I arrive. Sadly, they’re losing one-nil, having allegedly had two perfectly good goals disallowed.
This is an idyllic setting: just outside the town centre, at the top of a country lane and on a hillside, so you’d hardly know there was anything resembling civilisation anywhere near. The ground has only been developed on two sides. Up a bank, along one touchline, straddling the halfway line, there’s a small covered stand with about six dozen seats, arranged in two rows. There’s a sign at one end saying, “The Mike Gahagan Stand”... while at the other end a smaller notice proclaims the structure as, “The Graham Taylor Stand”. Hmmm! The former Ing-Ger-Lund boss is apparently Club President here.
There’s an uncovered tarmac path along the bank, towards the clubhouse side of the stand. In front of the clubhouse, which is behind one of the goals, there’s a standing area and the clubhouse itself has a wooden decking veranda affair in front of it, from where fans can watch the action in seated comfort. It’s reminiscent of a veranda outside a grand plantation house in the Deep South. It looks unfinished, merely because it lacks an old bloke in a rocking chair, preferably one wearing dungarees and a straw hat whilst smoking a pipe. I can almost hear Paul Robeson singing. The bar and clubhouse are clean and relatively spacious.
The two undeveloped sides of the ground are very undeveloped indeed, apart from a long-since derelict brick building that looms above the dugouts, which are opposite the stand. Behind the far goal, there’s nothing but vegetation. The goal-net at that end touches the fence. Nettles and briars are numerous.
Cars park below pitch level along much of the side opposite the stand. Drivers can’t see the pitch from their vehicles, as they’re down another bank, though it’s possible to stand and watch from a narrow grass plateau on that side. Sir Edmund Hilary might have trained on the type of gradient this pitch probably had in days of yore. There’s marshy ground towards the far end and a couple of small boys are catching very small frogs, which hop along, just beyond the touchline fence. Less idyllically, I am bitten on a finger by a horsefly. Do I not like that?
Meanwhile, on the other side of the touchline fence, Chesham are bitten by Hemel, who burgle a second after being under the cosh. I nip back out of the gate and cross the lane to a field, from which some players were emerging when I arrived. Hendon are warming up in a relaxed practice session. It really is jumpers for goalposts. The unidentified smallish goalie takes a cross about nine feet off the ground. A cheer from over the hedge presumably means a goal. A late consolation strike for Chesham but they lose 2-1.
Back in the ground, I’m standing by the Mike Gahagan end of the stand when Simon approaches to give me an update.
I congratulate him on what seems to be a job well done thus far. Things appear to be going unexpectedly well in the negotiations with Mr. Bedford and Mr. Landesberg. The one major concern I have to raise with Simon is that of time. I find it extraordinary that Mr. Landesberg, who does have a company to run after all, seems to be willing to devote so much of his time to Hendon’s problems. He might be required to put in a fair bit of paperwork. He might also have to answer all sorts of complex and annoying questions from the FA or the Isthmian Politburo at relatively short notice. Will he have time to do this in the immediate future? Simon seems confident that Mr. Landesberg will continue to be available when necessary.
The only other thing I raise is the attempt to get some money from The Arbiter Group to pay for Graham Etchell, which I still consider to be a bit of a piss-take. Simon seems to believe that some arrangement on that score is still possible.
The Dons emerge from the field over the lane for their opener against Amersham. The hosts wear black and white quartered shirts. Fetching. I have visions of some twit, represented by Cherie Blair, suing Boavista under Human Rights legislation, insisting that their small black & white checks look grey to the visually challenged and forcing them to wear quarters instead.
I’m impressed that there’s been some communication between the clubs on the topic of kits. The four teams have turned up in yellow, maroon, green and black & white, leaving no potential for a colour clash. I’ve sometimes pitched up at Football League games in August to find the visitors playing in the home team’s ill-fitting third kit from two years back, retrieved from a hamper containing soiled pants and sweaty jockstraps, as the visiting kit-man didn’t check the design of the hosts’ snazzy new outfit before setting off.
There’s nobody in the PA box – which is understandable, as many of those turning out will be unregistered trialists and several might wish to remain anonymous – so I’ve no idea who some of the players are.
There are five I don’t know from Adam, though the mercurial Rob Ursell is recognisable. Luke Blackmore, last term’s back-up keeper, has the gloves. He played a lot in the second half of the season, due to Richard Wilmot’s persistent injury problems.
The sun’s beating down but there’s a very stiff breeze. Amersham play into it and start well, knocking the ball around pleasingly. They’re fit, they’re quite fast and they’re endearingly enthusiastic, but they don’t look much of a football team. Hendon burgle the lead on their first attack. Midfield enforcer James Burgess deliberately introduces a comedy element, miming a theatrical header in midfield, even though the ball’s bounced a good couple of feet over him. The trialist right-back rounds it up and feeds midfielder Jamie Busby. Buzza wriggles into the box, evades a couple of challenges and pokes the ball to the onrushing Burgess, who fires home from close range.
Burgo has a record David Batty would be proud of, having never scored a competitive goal for Hendon in around 170 starts and plenty of appearances off the bench.
Of the new boys, the most striking is a tall, languid chap who strolls around the middle of the park at a leisurely pace, roaming across a wide area. He ghosts up on the far side of the box as an Ursell corner comes in from the right. He appears to simply fall over as the ball arrives, but connects perfectly with the diving header and the ball flies into the net. No marking at all. Shortly afterwards, an incisive short pass from Ursell puts the tall trialist through on the advancing keeper. Without breaking stride, he almost imperceptibly flicks a right foot at the ball and despatches it over the diving custodian into the far corner with the outside of his boot. Three-nil.
Who the hell is this bloke? Probably an African who’s not long off the ferry from France. He’s not going to have been playing like this in the Combined Counties League. He makes the odd decent tackle but he’s playing quite well forward much of the time, so he isn’t spraying the ball around in the way I might expect from someone of his obvious technical ability.
The new right-back, who’s got the two shirt, looks a bit better going forward than he does in defence, but he’s doing OK. The new left-back has a great left peg and can whip a curled pass down the line, but he doesn’t appear to have a right foot and I’m not sure he’s a flat-back-four number three. The new centre-half looks slightly shaky, but he’s playing alongside big midfielder Rakki Hudson, who’s doing well but who doesn’t like being a centre-half, always looks nervous when playing there and is probably a shade tricky to play with. The big number nine (wearing seventeen) battles away but seems a Ryman One player at best.
The mercurial Mr. Ursell looks good... but then he usually does. There’s a video on You Tube for anyone who wants to see how good he can look.
If Rob Ursell played three group games at a World Cup Finals tournament for an African or Asian minnow, he’d probably look the best player on show and be signed by a mid-table top-flight club in France or Germany for $5m. He’s out wide, which is slightly odd. If you’re going to sign Ursell, you have to allow him to run the show from somewhere behind the strikers and build the team around him. He’s wasted anywhere else and his ego demands that he runs the show.
Three up at half-time, Hendon get a late fourth when the new centre-half untidily knocks one in from a corner. Four-nil the final score and a pleasing performance.
Amersham stay on to play Chesham.
Having skipped breakfast this morning, I nip down to the town in search of some grub. The ground is just outside Old Amersham, at the bottom of the hill. The newer Amersham – “Top Amersham” as it’s known locally, a mile away, by the station at the top of the hill – had the odd pikey sprog lurking outside a couple of Co-Op / Dillon’s type stores when I arrived on the bus. (Ye Gads! I have an idea one of ’em might even have been a Tesco Metro!) The Neighbourhood Watch scheme in Old Amersham would soon see any pikey sprogs moved along.
Old Amersham is almost an old-style English village, except that it doesn’t have an obvious village green. The newish Tesco superstore, though tastefully built of brick and timber and screened by trees, looks as incongruous as Jade Goody at the Royal Opera House. The Joe Coral branch lowers the tone.
The main street has probably changed little in the past 150 years, with many of the buildings, including the odd pub, clearly dating from well before then. A flagstone in the undercroft of the ancient timbered market building bears the instruction, “Commit no nuisance”, seemingly carved into the stone. This is the type of place I could have lived in... if I’d taken advantage of going to one of the best schools in London and being the most intelligent kid in it, rather than messing about in preparation for becoming a full-time cynic and piss-taker, doing crap manual jobs. Pound shops are conspicuous by their absence. Kilburn it ain’t.
I nip into an establishment called Seasons – a deli with a sit-down dining facility. I could almost be in southern France. The food is fresh, varied and looks top quality. Some of it looks fresh enough to suggest it might not have skipped breakfast this morning.
I opt for a ham & cheese baguette. The ham & cheese baguettes sold for £3.50 a throw at “Upper Crust” outlets on railway station concourses are amongst the better fare on offer to travellers and are about the tastiest and healthiest thing I normally eat when I’m watching football. They’re arguably passable as snacks go, but they’re not worth £3.50. The baguette at this deli was £3. It was significantly better than passable. Mouth-watering ham and freshly grated cheddar. Rip-off prices are common in most parts of the south-east, but I’d defy anyone to complain that this was anything less than extremely good value for money and I’d say that goes for just about anything else sold in the deli in question. The cakes looked stunning. I’d highly recommended Seasons.
There’s a wedding taking place at the sun-drenched, picture-perfect St. Mary’s church. In a setting like this, the bride might almost be a virgin. Indeed, in a setting like this, the bride might almost be a Christian. Well, OK, perhaps not: that really would be taking things too far. Even for Amersham.
Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, is reportedly buried in the churchyard here, though her grave is unmarked – her son having destroyed her headstone before he hanged himself; a fate that also befell her husband. Still, I’m sure the dying English class system enjoyed the opportunity Ruth gave it for a defiant and petulant bellow at the rude encroachment of reality.
Back up to the ground to see the Chesham and Amersham players trooping off after a 1-1 draw.
Hendon come back on to face Hemel.
Only the new right-back remains from the first game. Hemel are the senior opposition today and this is a stronger Hendon XI than the one fielded earlier. There are six new signings or trialists, but the only outfield player not in a shirt bearing a 2-11 number is James Bent, who’s just arrived from Harrow Borough and has a good track record at Hendon’s level. Seven outfield players wore substitutes’ shirts in the first game.
Hendon win the toss and wisely elect to play with what’s now a strong wind at their backs. They take the lead after two minutes. A hilarious mix-up at a Hemel back-pass sees classy auxiliary striker Chris Bangura, just signed from Boreham Wood – perhaps via a nightclub, if Wood chairman Danny Hunter is to be believed – clumsily felled in the box. Star striker Brian Haule converts the spot-kick. From this point on, the game is very tight and there are few chances at either end.
The aforementioned smallish new keeper makes one tip-over from a well-struck drive and holds one fairly tame shot. He’s otherwise not tested but he occasionally looks a bit unsure of himself and his kicking, admittedly trying to keep the ball low in the wind, isn’t great. He’s definitely worth another look.
The other unidentified trialist is a big, blond, beefy number five, who’s clearly read the “Football Trials for Dummies” book. He puts in a gob-smacking, text-book trial that’s worth the admission fee on its own and has probably got him signed before he comes off. He’s perhaps guilty of leaving the right-back somewhat exposed on occasions and he’s conservative, in that he attempts nothing that he wouldn’t be expected to pull off... and which might damage his prospects of being signed-up. However, he points a lot, waves his fists frequently, shouts loudly and does not pussyfoot about when the ball comes within range – fairly flattening opponents in aerial combat, winning tackles on the ground and not shirking anything that needs doing on his patch. We’ll have him.
Sam Byfield, a left-sided winger who was at Hendon a few seasons ago, shows some nice control on his return; Bent puts in a fair shift on the other flank; the returning Craig Vargas is solid at left-back. The one concern is Bangura, who plays up front and doesn’t really get a sniff. Bangers always looked a terrific player at Boreham Wood, when deployed in the hole in a 3-4-1-2 formation, but he never impressed me when lining-up as a conventional striker. Mind you, Hauley doesn’t really get a sniff either, at least until he latches on to another sloppy back-pass and dinks the keeper for a second goal in the last minute. It was a bit unfair on Hemel that the wind subsided appreciably for the second half.
Overall, Hendon didn’t look any better than the Southern Premier outfit, but a two-nil win sees the Bucks Examiner Trophy almost in the trophy cabinet.
Hendon make numerous changes as they stay on the pitch to play Chesham. They don’t play very well.
A free far-post header at a corner gives Chesham an early lead. Poor. Giving opponents free far-post headers at corners and free-kicks was a problem last term. It’s as if there’s some sort of exclusion zone on the six-yard line, just inside the back stick. It needs to be sorted out.
Some defensive hesitation then leaves the new keeper exposed and with little chance, as a second goal is rifled into the roof of the net from somewhere near the penalty spot. The unavailing dive was athletic and he can’t be blamed for coming nowhere near getting a hand to the ball. Both trialist centre-halves are in the side, along with incumbent number five Marc Leach, and their communication doesn’t seem to be going through a broadband connection. The new keeper pulls off one good stop but again sees frustratingly little in the way of testing action, having had no chance with either goal.
A previously unseen trialist starts in support of the forwards on the right flank and looks impressively tricky. Someone knows his name but has forgotten it. He’s allegedly an ex-West Ham youth player and was apparently with Dagenham & Redbridge. He does enough to merit instant cult-hero status (It’s been a long day) and the increasingly inebriated fans roar him on as “Dagenham Dave”. He looks more threatening than Sam Byfield on the other flank and Byfield’s done OK. We’ll have him as well.
Unlike in the previous games, there are wholesale changes at the break. Several trialists from the opening match reappear: the mercurial Mr. Ursell, the strolling two-goal midfielder, the big centre-forward and the left-back. The new keeper goes off. Things improve, but my concentration levels are diminishing in the sun. To the fans’ delight, “Dagenham Dave” scores a predatory goal, when the Chesham keeper controls a back-pass comfortably but then gets a bit too casual. If the FA announces that a FIFA experiment will see the Ryman Premier decided on snaffling back-passes, Hendon will be a sound bet. Another previously unseen bloke arrives midway through the second half but Hendon, despite finishing strongly, can’t find an equaliser and lose 2-1.
The snack-bar still has supplies as the teams emerge for the last game at 4:30. They’ve had someone nip down to Tesco’s a couple of times to replenish the stock, which shows commendable dedication, prudence and initiative.
Average attendance here was twenty-six last term, so they couldn’t have had much of an idea how many would turn up and probably don’t have any experience of catering for 300 players and fans.
I buy a hotdog. A decent sausage, well cooked and in a fresh bun. I don’t think patrons of the deli in the town would consider it fit for canine consumption, but by football standards it’s an excellent hotdog.
On the pitch, Hemel need to beat Amersham by six to nick the teasmade. They don’t look up for it, conceding an early goal to the hosts, much to the delight of Hendon’s Rangers-supporting Orange Order.
The Hemel and Hendon fans are now sufficiently sozzled and sunburnt to direct drunken ditties at each other. Though Hemel eventually manage to scrape a 2-1 win, hauling themselves up to the six-point mark, Hendon have five goals in hand in the g.d. column of the final table. Wa-hey! Acting skipper James Burgess, together with many other players, has naffed off, leaving manager Gary McCann to pick up... errr... a heavy disc-like glass thing – not unlike the trophy Prudential used to give the winning skipper in cricket’s One-Day International series, in the old-fashioned days when these preceded Tests and were considered less important.
Though the games were a bit half-paced and there were very few tackles flying about, the tournament was of a surprisingly high standard and it’s nice to start the season with a pot of some sort.
This was a great day out, a lovely town, and a very friendly and well-organised club. It almost diluted my increasing distaste for football. I hope Amersham do well in the coming season and I hope we’ll be back next summer.
As uphill walks along racetrack roads with no pavements go, it’s an enjoyable climb back up Rectory Hill to the station, though we seem to have lost the Hendon Orange Order on leaving the ground. It is a verdant route. Perhaps that put them off. Mind you, John Knox was once an Amersham resident and he allegedly preached his final sermon before fleeing to the continent upon Mary’s accession to the throne at St. Mary’s Church, so maybe they decided on a quick pilgrimage and are indulging in a spot of idolatry there.
In common with modern day fundamentalists, who possess beards of similar length, Knox did not approve of idolatry.
The two Chesham United kids from the morning bus journey trudge up the slope ahead of us.
A quick butcher’s in a bookie proves disconcerting in the extreme. Although he’s been semi-retired for the past seven or eight years, I must have backed Greg Norman for nigh-on half his appearances at the US Masters and The Open since he scaled down his playing schedule a decade or so ago. My finger hovered over the “back” button next to Norman’s name on Betfair’s Open market earlier this week at 999/1. Partly because he’d almost certainly have been 1,000/1 with the traditional bookies, with no exchange commission to be paid, I didn’t press the button. I didn’t get around to having a non-exchange bet. The players I did have money on are nowhere to be seen. After a day on which nobody broke par, Greg Norman leads The Open going into the final round. I hope he wins it but, even though I was only going to have a tenner at most on and probably would have traded out, it will be a bit galling if he lifts the Claret Jug tomorrow afternoon
There are still no trains and the driver of the replacement bus service is less accurate than the driver used by the Great White Shark at Birkdale. He gets lost and has to ask a passenger for directions. This tends to happen frequently in London. Understandable. Bus drivers aren’t cabbies. They spend their working day driving along bus routes and are often not familiar with other roads, even in the area they usually serve. It doesn’t make it any less annoying, however."
Edited by AlanAinsworth at 12:25:30 on 8th January 2021
- Amersham pre-season tournament in 2008. by AlanAinsworth8/1/2021 12:24Fri Jan 8 12:24:34 2021view thread
- Ware. Final pre-season friendly in 2008. by AlanAinsworth9/1/2021 11:13Sat Jan 9 11:13:54 2021
- Eve of the 2008 season. by AlanAinsworth10/1/2021 12:31Sun Jan 10 12:31:29 2021
- Opening day, 2008. by AlanAinsworth10/1/2021 12:41Sun Jan 10 12:41:59 2021
- F.A. Cup, 2008. by AlanAinsworth10/1/2021 13:02Sun Jan 10 13:02:55 2021
- Claremont Road's last day. by AlanAinsworth10/1/2021 14:19Sun Jan 10 14:19:24 2021
- Re: Claremont Road's last day. by Paul Butler14/1/2021 00:36Thu Jan 14 00:36:55 2021