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
Ware. Final pre-season friendly in 2008.
"SUNDAY 10th AUGUST
Thursday’s Press Release gets 200 words on page thirty-seven of The Non-League Paper, alongside their Ryman League Preview. The piece contains the usual level of inaccuracy. Non-League Today also devotes 200 words to the story, but it makes page two and we get a picture of some fans – showing the back of young Charlie’s head, Nick, Mello and a laughing Liam. With much of the local press hitting the news-stands on Thursday, perhaps the timing of the Press Release could have been better, but I suppose it had to follow the EGM.
It’s time for a few Abbott & Costello “Who’s on first?” type jokes. Hendon’s last pre-season friendly is in Ware.
Though there will be training sessions on Tuesday and Thursday, this is the final piece of serious preparation for the season. Before the game, the oft-postponed Ground-clearing Day finally takes place. After a fry-up breakfast in Selma’s café on Kilburn High Road, I’m at the ground by ten. There is a good turn-out and things are well underway. There is surprisingly little to do. I’m more of a “dig a hole” or “chop a tree” man than one for fiddly tasks like scraping the moss out from cracks in the ancient terraces. There’s not even anything I can get my secateurs into. After a few snacks from the tea hut and a couple of souvenir photos of what will almost certainly be the last annual clear-up, we finish-up at one o’clock.
It’s too late to travel to Ware by public transport and most people are less than keen on the journey. A couple of those with cars narrowly decide in favour of the trip and a handful of fans pile in.
In spite of a phone-call from a five-year-old, who wants me to take him to the park, I make a decision to pedal up to watch the game. Heartless bugger that I am.
I certainly appear to have a heart on the road to Ware. I accept that I’m rather fatter than I have been on some occasions, (actually, I’m fatter than Neil Ruddock and Tommy Brolin were during their least-svelte Premiership days) but I’m more than a little disturbed to discover how unfit I am. It’s almost exactly twenty-five miles from Claremont Road to Ware. Given the state of the traffic between the M1 and the A10 on the North Circular Road, I thought eighty minutes was a reasonable time. I’ve no complaints about the gear I pushed or my speed – it’s just that I wasn’t aware my ticker was capable of beating quite as fast as that. I feel like a disposable extra from “Scanners”, the weird David Cronenberg film from about thirty years ago. Either that or I’m about to do an impression of John Hurt in “Alien”. Scary.
It’s a reasonably warm summer’s day and I stop in the town centre to down a litre of Lucozade in one hit.
On the playing front, Hendon haven’t had a bad week of preparation, with a 2-2 draw at Potters Bar Town on Tuesday and a 3-2 win at Enfield Town on Thursday. Both games featured the odd unsigned trialist, with the mercurial Rob Ursell starting on Tuesday. There was to be no sign of the mercurial Mr. Ursell today.
The self-delusion and tokenism in this country is mindboggling at times. Ware’s ground is adjacent to a fitness and leisure centre. All good stuff: anti-obesity, healthy, green... all the usual spiely government bullshit. There’s a nice big car park, with plenty of lines of little trees to divide it into environmentally pleasing sections, creating an illusion of rural tranquillity. Plenty of four-wheel drive farm vehicles in evidence – I hadn’t realised there were still so many farmers in the area.
Is there anywhere to sling a bicycle at this bastion of well-being and contentment? What do you think? This country is a joke.
Having done a couple of laps of the car park, without seeing so much as a post, and locked the bike to the outside of the fence surrounding the kiddies’ play area (probably committing an offence by doing so under some local “Community” bylaw), I hike back across the car park and enter the ground.
No sign of a teamsheet, much less a programme. There’s a fair Hendon contingent. Several were obviously in church this morning and were consequently unable to join the work party earlier on.
The highlight of the afternoon is undoubtedly the gut-busting Ware FC Mega-Burger. At £3, it is one of the season’s best value purchases. The Mega-Burger consists of a beefburger, a rasher of bacon, a sausage, a slice of cheese and some onions in a large, fresh bun. They have proper ketchup and mustard. There’s a free tea thrown in for good measure. Showing just how well-assimilated to the Glaswegian culture of healthy eating they’ve become, the Hendon Orange Order tuck into several Mega-Burgers each. Very enjoyable, though I don’t think my heart will be sending me a thank-you note for today.
Ware play in Ryman One North and are expected to be promotion contenders. It’s a very enjoyable first fifteen minutes. It’s a bit of a mare for the keeper from Ware, who’s culpable for all three Hendon goals in that period. Charlie Mapes curls a free-kick past the statuesque stopper for the opener. We’ll gloss over the free-header that left Luke Blackmore motionless for Ware’s equaliser. Brian Haule and Mark Kirby each capitalise on further pieces of comical custodian chicanery to convert from close range and give the Greens a 3-1 lead. It’s not such an enjoyable last seventy-five minutes. The tea-hut runs out of bacon for the unexpectedly popular Mega-Burgers and there’s some fairly stodgy football on display. Concentration is beginning to wander on the terraces by the time Ware get back to 3-2.
Taking the Mickey out of the home players has become the order of the day amongst the visiting fans. Liam is more subtle than the Orange Order, who occasionally make Ian Paisley look like Noel Coward on a particularly whimsical and incisive day. The home number four barks orders in rather shrill tones. I almost expected him to break into the intro of “Sugar Baby Love” at one point. Liam puts on a Harriet Harman twitter to imitate him. Others join in a twittering chorus. The number four responds with a, “Shut up! You’re boring!” This obviously increases the piss-taking. Sod’s Law dictates that the unfortunate number four soon unleashes a perfect looping header over his keeper for an absolutely classic own goal. 4-2.
The day is rounded-off nicely when Blackmore saves a penalty from Ware’s ex-Hendon number nine John Frendo. There were half-a-dozen Hendon substitutions late on, but I should think the starting XI was close to the side that will take the field against Dartford next weekend, though there was the odd experiment with positions and formation. I’m not a great fan of complex formations at this level. On the evidence of this afternoon’s display, I can’t say I’m especially confident about Saturday.
In spite of urgings to accompany some of the more youthful fans on a train, I decide to stick with pedal power. I’m not exactly disappointed to see the clouds open on the way back down. I’m riding into a rare southerly wind and an excuse to go more slowly than normal is welcome. I’m a bit wet by the time I reach the North Circular, on which the tailbacks start just after the A10. With the Community Shield on at Shit-Hole-on-Circ, the traffic isn’t moving. Five-year-olds and parks can wait. I’m not riding around that crap on a bicycle. I cut down towards the middle of town and then home.
They should definitely have put the National Stadium somewhere in the vicinity of Birmingham."
Eve of the 2008 season.
"FRIDAY 15th AUGUST
Well, after all the drama of the past six weeks, Hendon Football Club has made it to the post and is going behind the stalls. How will the team go on the field?
2007 was a terrific year.
Hendon went into it in the relegation zone, recovered to comfortably avoid the drop and were top on Boxing Day. 2008 hasn’t been quite so successful. In the local cups, losing both the Middlesex Senior and London Senior finals was disappointing.
Losing to despised local rivals Wealdstone on the final day of the league campaign was painful. That loss cost the Greens a play-off place that seemed to have been booked by wins over the top two, Chelmsford and Staines, in the preceding fortnight. However, those two wins were something of an upward blip, as the team had been on the slide since commencing the new year with six successive league defeats.
Hendon certainly overachieved in the first half of last term and the second half was simply a reversion to the norm. Given the summer departures, the norm is probably just below halfway down the Ryman Premier table. I’d settle for twelfth. I have a feeling it might be slightly lower, but it’ll take a lot of bad luck for the season to develop into a serious relegation struggle.
I’m concerned about the goalkeeping position. Luke found his voice in the second half of last season and grew in confidence, but he’s not big and he’s not Richard Wilmot. Berkley looks promising but he’s even more of a Trappist than Luke was. Gary McCann is a keeper, so he knows what he needs in that department, but I’m not sure he’s convinced by Luke.
Craig Vargas apart, I’m not sold on the fullback options. Central defence looks OK, but it’ll look a lot better if James Parker is in the number five shirt. There’s a fair amount of talent in the middle of the park, but the midfield might be slightly short of beef.
Up front, Hauley’s improvement from the middle of last term was astounding but I’ve never fancied Chris Bangura as an out-and-out striker and the squad could do with more depth in the forward department.
I’d better stop writing about it, because the more I think about the holes in the team, the more worried I get.
There’s certainly no realistic chance of Hendon being in contention for the title. No chance at all, in fact. Sutton are now favourites with the bookies, but I still strongly fancy Staines, who’ve been available at 10/1 after a fair bit of support had come in for Dover. Some clubs’ chequebooks spew out paper like a confetti dispenser at a Moonie mass wedding during most close seasons at this level. However, there’s still no sign of anyone except Carshalton spending money.
I don’t see this being a high-quality season at Ryman Premier level. Last term’s play-off semi-finalists look to have regressed since April: Ramsgate appreciably so, having been pillaged by Dover’s chequebook; Hornchurch less so, but they still look weaker. I can’t see anyone climbing from the middle of last season’s final table. The improvers should be the duo who stayed up on goal difference: Boreham Wood and Carshalton; and the team that finished just above them: Maidstone. I don’t see any of them having sufficient quality to trouble the leaders, especially Staines, though Carshalton’s roster suggests they’ve shelled out a lot of dough. Richard Jolly doesn’t come cheap and he’s been allowed to leaf through Carshalton’s chequebook and further refine his professional capabilities as an accountant by filling in whatever figures he fancies.
The teams Hendon should be looking to keep ahead of are impoverished local rivals Harrow Borough, newly promoted duo Tooting & Mitcham and Canvey Island, last term’s strugglers Margate, Harlow and Hastings and possibly Heybridge Swifts, who appear to be in an even greater state of financial flux than has recently been the norm.
Staines for the title; Sutton, Dover, Billericay and Tonbridge for the play-offs; Hastings, Margate, Harrow and Harlow for the drop."
Opening day, 2008.
"SATURDAY 16th AUGUST
Greensnet Forum: The Inane Drivel Guide to... Dartford.
OO ARE YA?
Dartford is famous for its tunnel. Visitors may be surprised to learn that the tunnel wasn’t excavated by residents trying to escape. It’s a shocking revelation, but Dartford was a relatively civilised town, with middle-class enclaves, until fairly recently.
Bastions of posey, half-arsed, middle-class, pseudo-non-conformity Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are both from Dartford and Herr Thatchler herself once stood as a parliamentary candidate in the constituency. Speaking of The Beloved Leader, Herr Thatchler’s financial empowerment of the upper echelons of the Inner City White Trash Community allowed that particular bunch to escape Inner London and drag their ignorant carcasses to unfortunate places like Dartford... with depressingly predictable results.
Nowadays, Dartford’s... Ahem!... ever so slightly less refined. Indeed, many inhabitants of the Clitterhouse Estate that overlooks Claremont Road would feel at home in Dartford. If throwing the WKD bottle makes the 2012 Olympics, talent scouts will be scouring Dartford for potential medallists.
Ing-Ger-Lund’s national sport should definitely be in for 2012 and it’s fitting that the town’s football team is called The Darts. The svelte figure of local publican Andy “The Viking” Fordham, a former BDO World Darts Champion and until recently landlord at The Rose, is the physique most locals aspire to. Especially the women.
The two people I know who live in Dartford are a fat, hairy motorcyclist and a tattoo artist. Other types of artist are more common in the town – particularly on Saturday nights.
The fact that Dartford’s most famous footballing son is Malcolm Allison suggests that villainy was never too far beneath the veneer.
Caravan Compatibility Co-Efficient: 8.1
Dartford was one of England’s leading Non-League clubs in the 1930s, picking up a couple of Southern League titles and achieving national prominence with their FA Cup exploits. Not much in the trophy cabinet for a few decades, until they resurfaced with three more Southern League titles in 1974, 1981 and 1984.
Their second promotion to the Conference saw them get a bit overambitious. Financial difficulties and exile followed. The return to the town and the construction of the award-winning, ultra-green, environmentally-friendly, 4,000+ capacity Princes Park (built by a sympathetic and co-operative local council) has boosted the club enormously... though only in a town twinned with Saaf Essix could an environmentally-friendly stadium be built with 300 parking spaces for cars.
Certain South American nations are still despised for harbouring the likes of Martin Bormann, Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann in the immediate aftermath of World War II. At the same time, Dartford FC was disgracefully providing sanctuary for Ted Croker in their dressing room – a crime worthy of significant punishment.
Given the enormous honour of being declared the most “Essex Compatible” locality in Ryman One South and being consequently awarded a prestigious place in Ryman One North, interlopers Dartford showed all the northern bar stewards a clean pair of heels, taking the One North title last term. The nine-point winning margin probably flattered them, as the triumph wasn’t secured until AFC Sudbury’s late collapse, but they were definitely the best side in the division and deserving champions. They banged in 107 league goals on their way to the title.
Strangely, the fans appear very cautious about the Darts’ prospects for the new season. Many favour adopting conservative tactics in the opening Ryman Premier skirmishes. Summer signings may not have been as abundant or high-profile as some would have liked, but they look to have plenty of experience and some fair kids. Manager Tony Burman is a class act and his apparent confidence in his players bodes well for the coming season.
Anyone we know playing?
Rob Haworth. A man so ancient that he played up front alongside Alan Cork in the Football League – possibly back in the days when the maximum wage rule meant some players were so poor that they couldn’t afford agents. Of course, he turned out at Hendon for a while and was most recently seen at Margate. Admirable workhorse though he is, Rob won’t be terrorising anyone with his pace, being slower than a snail on sedatives. The versatile “Razor” Powell and Nick Barnes, recent Greens opponents at Tonbridge, are also in the squad.
Who do you boo?
Feisty defender Adam Flanagan appears a likely candidate. His father, Mike, was the North American Soccer League’s MVP one year in the late 1970s – succeeding Franz Beckenbauer and preceding Johan Cruyff on a curious-looking roll of honour. He was better known over here for being infamously sent off after an on-field altercation with Charlton strike partner Derek Hales, who was once a Dartford player himself. Young Adam seems a chip off the old block. For the witty wag, the presence of a midfielder named Dafter is a godsend.
AT HENDON THEY BET...
Dartford are a skinny-looking 10/1 for the title, Hendon an equally stingy 25/1. Several firms make this a “pick ’em” game. Those who do nominate a favourite go for Hendon. Paddy Power are best about Hendon at 7/5. The best offer about Dartford is SportingBet’s 31/20. The draw is generally 13/5.
Kirby and Leach can probably take care of Haworth and we could well see a couple of five-man midfields here. Forecasts suggest the weather may be evil, with strong winds and squally showers, making an investment on it being a tight game a dangerous ploy. However, hoping the rain holds off, I’ll go for Hendon to nick this 1-0.
Usual standard of organisation.
An outbreak of Institutionalised Englishness marks the big kick-off. For starters, there are no programmes. Some courier company failed to deliver them.
I know it wasn’t my lot, but let’s hope it wasn’t Her Majesty’s Government’s favourite courier firm, TNT. If it was, then Downing Street, Scotland Yard, MI5 and GCHQ will be reading all about the Dons and the Darts on Monday morning, while top secret tapes concerning beardie-weirdies, nonces, Yardies and Russia’s plans for an invasion of Poland next Thursday at 5 a.m. will be delivered to Claremont Road at nine o’clock sharp.
Apparently there was no Dartford team coach for this game, players making their way north by car. Just as well, as a major smash on the M25 (Don’t bother with the M25, Osama) means the supporters’ coach arrives at 2:40, reportedly with the matchday kit hamper on board.
As an expert in Institutionalised Englishness, I can exclusively reveal – even without a three-month enquiry and a 900-page report – that nobody of any importance was to blame for either of these unfortunate situations.
To business, then.
We seem to be safe from the elements. The admittedly dark cloud formations are high and fragmented. I know people who take drugs that have that effect on them. It’s a generally sunlit but breezy afternoon.
Hendon field six new signings. The mercurial Mr. Ursell is not amongst them. The mercurial Mr. Ursell has allegedly not been heard from since Mr. McCann laid down the law on the subject of what might be required of the mercurial Mr. Ursell, should the mercurial Mr. Ursell elect to start the season as a Hendon player.
Three of the new boys have been here previously and James Bent’s been around. Right-back Kevin Maclaren and centre-half Mark Kirby are the only genuine greenhorns at this level. Luke Blackmore is preferred to Berkley Laurencin in goal. The Dons line-up 4-5-1, with Chris Bangura left on the bench. One North Champeens Dartford also adopt a cautious formation, in which Brendan Cass is preferred to ex-Hendon striker Rob Haworth as the lone target-man.
Hendon, with the breeze behind them, kick down the slope in the first half. The home fans have unfortunately been deprived of their cheerleaders by a combination of Ibrox Park, Homebase and a stand-up comedy gig. Several cabinet ministers would probably ban all three, given the chance. The visiting Dartford fans impressively roar on their heroes.
Their heroes respond by getting the ball up the right end, but that’s all they get up. They’re merely huffing and puffing. In a significantly more principled branch of the entertainment industry than football, the call from the sidelines might have been, “Fluffer on the set! He’s losing wood!” There doesn’t look to be much chance of penetration. Haworth looks unimpressed on the bench.
Down the bottom of the hill, Darts commit far too many silly little fouls for comfort. In the first twelve minutes, the visitors concede three free-kicks around their area but escape from all of them.
Hendon miss a great chance when a big hoof leaves Dartford struggling. Left-back Steve Norman goes for the aerial ball but doesn’t get there, allowing James Bent, who’d decided not to contest the header, to nip around the back of him and round it up. Bent bears down on exposed keeper Tony Kessell but, instead of having a poke, elects to jink wide. Instead of crossing, Bent then cuts back inside, past a covering defender who’s rushed across. Only then does he shoot, but he hits Kessell, who’d narrowed the angle effectively and stood up well.
It’s a case of “fourth time unlucky” for Darts when they concede yet another free-kick in dangerland: this one out on the touchline in the left-back slot.
It’s a deep delivery. As the old advert in the World Cup of six years ago would have had it, “The number nine rose like a salmon at the far post. He seemed to hang in the air.” Ten yards out and upsides Kessell’s right stick, Brian Haule glances a perfect header that bounces about six inches over the goal-line and six inches inside the upright. Kessell makes a fine dive but can’t get a fingertip to it. It’ll probably be a while before I witness a better header than that. One-nil and a deserved lead.
Hendon’s advantage almost vanishes immediately. Some slack defending at a throw allows Danny Dafter to wriggle through on goal. A close range drive from a poor angle on the left brings a near-post parry from the advancing Blackmore. The ball bounces across the goalmouth and it seems momentarily that Nick Barnes might apply the necessary touch for an equaliser but the scrambling Blackmore beats him to the ball.
A clumsy Marc Leach foul gives Dartford a free-kick, thirty-five yards out on the right. Barnes strikes a vicious curler towards the far post where Dafter is running in at pace. Behind a crowd of players, Dafter sees it late and probably knows little about it, but he sticks out a leg and manages a thumping volley that fortunately goes straight into Blackmore’s grateful mitts. The Darts appear to be getting back into the game.
They’re not in it for much longer. A chip over the top sees Haule turn quickly. He gets half a yard on static number five John Guest. With the ball floating down gently, just five yards away, and Haule looking certain to be clean through, Guest grabs the striker’s shoulder with one hand and may well have had a tug of the shirt with the other. Although Flanagan’s almost level, he’s at least fifteen yards away. With Haule just ten yards outside the box, he wouldn’t have got there.
There can’t be any complaints at the referee’s decision. Having contravened the rules, the visitor was no longer a welcome Guest on the host’s premises and was asked to leave. Lots of refs are civil servants, but I’ll bet this one doesn’t work for the immigration department.
The resulting free-kick is driven straight at the wall but Hendon soon double their lead. Dartford haven’t really re-jigged and appear to still be playing only the three remaining defenders at the back. Bent, who’s having one of his “on” days, surges down the right. Steve Norman, having an uncomfortable afternoon, retreats in preference to trying to force Bent outside. The winger shimmies, sidesteps inside and unleashes a left-footed howitzer from just inside the box that flies low inside the full-length Kessell’s right stick. Two-nil. Game surely over.
Dartford pull Ray Powell back into a four-man defence. A bit bleedin’ late!
Kessell makes an excellent save with his left boot to deny Byfield, who was in on the Kent keeper. Casey Maclaren picks up a yellow card for a late challenge on Alex O’Brien, but the new Hendon skipper leaves the field happy, with his side enjoying a two-goal half-time advantage.
The second half is, to put it mildly, pedestrian. For fully twenty-five minutes, there isn’t a single effort on goal – much less one on target. I don’t recall either keeper having to catch a decent cross.
Dartford make changes: Rob Haworth replaces Cass ten minutes into the second period and Steve Butterworth comes on for Lee Noble less than ten minutes later. It’s hard to emphasise just what a half-paced training exercise this looks. Hendon, believing themselves to have wrapped up the points, don’t want anyone injured. Ten-man Dartford, not fancying their chances of getting back in and facing two on-song wingers, don’t want to commit men forward and get picked-off on the break for an embarrassing scoreline.
With twenty minutes remaining, Hendon are fannying about un-necessarily in front of the benches. As often happens when teams try pointless close-range passes in a congested area, a couple of ankles are bitten.
Out come the handbags.
The skirmish spills over the touchline. Hendon’s volatile assistant manager, Freddie Hyatt, appears to be attempting a citizen’s arrest, as he grabs a Dart by the collar for some doubtless heinous misdemeanour. As is usual in modern-day England, the authorities disgracefully take a dim view of the Have-a-go Hero antics and Freddie is banished to the stand. The Daily Mail will probably be featuring this appalling miscarriage of justice on Monday’s front page.
Dartford force their first corner of the game in the 73rd minute. Some more fannying about in the Greens rearguard allows Haworth a clear sight of goal but his goalbound shot, about ten yards out and five yards to the left of the posts, is hacked off the line by Leach, with the exposed Blackmore not surprisingly beaten all ends up. Dafter fires a low drive narrowly wide of Blackmore’s right post as Dartford briefly rouse themselves.
The game really is over almost immediately after the Dartford flurry. Charlie Mapes and Sam Byfield conduct a short corner routine and the resulting cross finds substitute Chris Bangura, unmarked, about two yards out at the far post. His header is his first touch of the ball in a Hendon shirt. Three-nil. Some Dartford fans head for the exits.
Jamie Busby has a shot blocked, Byfield fires the rebound over. Bangura commits a foul with three minutes to play. It’s only the second foul Hendon have committed in the second half and comes more than half an hour after the previous one. That tells you just how half-arsed the second forty-five minutes was.
Result: Hendon 3 (Haule 14, Bent 31, Bangura 78), Dartford 0.
Team: Luke Blackmore, Kevin Maclaren, Craig Vargas, Marc Leach, Mark Kirby, Jamie Busby, James Bent, Casey Maclaren, Brian Haule, Charlie Mapes, Sam Byfield. Subs – Chris Bangura, James Burgess, Lubo Guentchev.
A well-deserved win for Hendon. Manager Gary McCann’s masterplan appears to have worked very well. It’s almost an identikit side: two solid fullbacks, two gorillas at the back, a stroller and two feisty half-backs in the middle, a couple of very tricky wingers and a big lad in the number nine shirt. Football’s a very simple game when played like this.
As I’ve said, I’d have taken twelfth if offered it this morning. Part of me now thinks the Greens can do a lot better after witnessing this exhibition... but most of me hasn’t been fooled.
Hendon won’t be given so much time and space by teams used to the pace and quality of the Ryman Premier. Today was a very good time to play Dartford. Bent and Byfield won’t look that good every week. We’ll see how the Dons go at Margate and Sutton in the next seven days. I’m cautiously optimistic, but I probably won’t be having any money on them winning either fixture.
Dartford didn’t do a lot wrong here. Okay, Tony Burman’s tactics were off the mark – but it’s easy to say that with hindsight. On paper, setting out a defensive formation in the first game after promotion, away to a team that blew a play-off place on the last day of the season, is a sound ploy. It didn’t work for a number of reasons.
The Darts defence was off the pace. Hendon knocked pussyfooting little passes around the edge of the box against mid-table sides last term and it didn’t often come off. Here it came off big time. Darts defenders simply gave Hendon’s skills squad far too much room and time on the ball. Even though Byfield was down at Dartford’s then level last term, both he and Bent can punch large holes in decent Ryman Premier defences.
The Darts won’t come up against players giving their fullbacks quite such a torrid time too often. Of course, it might have helped if someone had stepped up and battered Mapes, rather than letting him do a Dan Marino impression from an armchair in deep midfield. Alex O’Brien was a bit redundant in his deep role in front of the back four, where I don’t think he was necessary.
The team has enough talent to get used to this division and I believe Dartford could well win more games than they lose. For now, however, a more ambitious and expansive formation might help – especially for the Dover game on Tuesday night. Hitler’s Panzer Division will roll through a defensive performance like today’s. Drubbing this afternoon or not, I wouldn’t take shorter than 4/5 about Hendon finishing above Dartford next spring.
In the bar afterwards, Dartford’s followers are in excellent voice. It’s been a while since a group of visiting fans had a sing-song as long or as loud... or as tuneless. Thank God they didn’t win.
The Sky Sports updates show no opening day surprises in the Ryman Premier. Favourites Sutton get a draw at Harlow, my tip Staines win at home to Billericay and Dover spank Harrow Borough 4-0.
One thing is laughable, however. No matter which level you’re at, the delusion of managers is comical. The Dartford fans in the bar are split on whether Guest’s red card was justified, but there are a surprising number who thought Guest had to go. I’ve seen defenders stay on in similar circumstances. However, the official Dartford party line is not only that Flanagan was in range – meaning Guest was not the last man – but that the foul took place just beyond the edge of the centre-circle. Really? It was, therefore, amazing that the resulting free-kick was awarded about eight yards outside the box and that no Dartford player complained about the positioning of the ball.
People are what they are but, as I’ve previously mentioned, I’m going off the people involved in football more by the minute.
The problems all sports clubs face in London are starkly illustrated this evening.
Claremont Road might still be intact, but a more famous sporting arena closes its doors for the final time when Walthamstow Stadium stages its last meeting. As someone who could watch greyhounds going round a track all day, who was a regular at White City and who once fluked a living for three months by punting at Hackney, Wembley, Bristol and Wimbledon whilst between jobs, it’s a staggering confession that I never once went to Walthamstow. It’s the wrong side of town for me and, like almost everyone else not directly connected with the sport, I’ve long since ceased taking a day-to-day interest, as the percentages in the betting markets on run of the mill races make turning a profit impossible for a punter.
Even by the standards afflicting most British sports, greyhound racing’s Powers That Be have long been laughably incompetent. There are still a couple of tracks on the fringes of town – Crayford and Romford – but Wimbledon is now the only greyhound circuit in the capital. There were a dozen in the 1960s, including Wembley and Stamford Bridge, and seven remained in the 1980s.
Not only is there a huge variety of rival leisure options in London these days, there are far too many easily accessible gambling avenues. This gives greyhound racing an even bigger mountain to climb than other London sports, and those other sports face obstacles that are daunting enough.
The track at Wimbledon, just down the road from the former site of Wimbledon FC’s Plough Lane ground, now stages only greyhound and banger racing. It’s in an appalling state of repair. A 1980s lower league ground would be clean and palatial by comparison. Wimbledon Stadium was home to London’s last speedway club, but that folded three years ago.
Land and property in much of London, especially to the north and west, is now so expensive that there must be question marks over how even a Football League operation can survive. It’s not simply the value of the land and property. Everything else in London, from local taxes to the rates electricians and painters charge to fix the public address system or spruce-up the ground in the summer, is also more expensive than in provincial towns.
Sunbury, Sudbury and Southgate are hardly central but three of the capital’s four Premiership Rugby Union clubs have abandoned their traditional homes in those locations to share soccer stadia at Watford, Reading and Wycombe. Only Harlequins remain. They’ve partly taken over the capital’s Rugby League team and moved the thirteen-a-side boys in with them. The RL club – be it Fulham, Crusaders or Broncos; be they billeted at Craven Cottage, Copthall, Charlton or Brentford – has haemorrhaged money almost since its inception.
At the Football League and Premier League levels, Fulham’s plans for an expanded Craven Cottage have been scuppered by cost-projections; QPR and Brentford each probe tentatively for sites; Chelsea cast an occasional eye at the Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre; a relaxation of regulations has seen Barnet temporarily released from their death row cell, to which they’d been condemned by a jury consisting of local councillors and the FA’s ground-grading committee.
Further down the scale, two of London’s Non-League powers crumbled in the face of property prices. Wealdstone sold their ground in Harrow town centre to Tesco for £7,000,000 and went into a period of exile that has only just ended. They saw little of the money. Enfield allegedly got none of the £2,000,000 that saw their ground on the A10 sold from under their feet to become a cinema complex, car park and restaurant. The cinema looked nice on the way to Ware last Sunday. The chairman disappeared back home to Cyprus with his dosh and the club split into two rival factions.
The only London senior Non-League teams playing closer to the middle of town than Hendon are Fisher Athletic and Dulwich Hamlet. Both play at the same ground. The upgrading of the mothballed facilities at Fisher’s Surrey Docks Stadium, on prime development land, on the opposite bank of the Thames to Canary Wharf, has been on hold for some time. Strange is that. Hamlet’s Champion Hill, downsized after a portion was sold to Sainsbury’s, is often the subject of nasty rumours.
In most European countries, clubs playing at a significantly higher level than Hendon would be based in a council-owned stadium. A council-owned stadium very much like the one at Copthall that Ivor Arbiter was keen for Hendon to move into.
But then in many European countries, clubs at Hendon’s level would have a close working relationship with the local council.
In many European countries, the youth team coaches at a club like Hendon would have their training and expenses funded, either directly or indirectly, by the national football association – probably in a scheme involving the local authority.
In the south of France, many of the top-flight rugby clubs, some of which pay star players €5,000 per week, are at least partially funded by their town councils. They are all heavily involved with schools and local organisations in an integrated communal structure.
Britain is not most European countries. It’s one of the most underdeveloped archipelagos on Planet Football – and that’s saying something.
Clubs in Britain traditionally own their stadiums and pay for the upkeep of their facilities. They also organise their own youth coaching programmes... such as they are.
Hendon’s youth coaches, like all others at similar clubs up and down the country, are well-meaning volunteers who coach as a hobby and who fund that hobby from their own pockets. They have to pay the FA for the immense privilege of attending courses to get coaching badges: starting with the farcical Level One course, that teaches applicants virtually nothing, which is impossible to fail and which is as useless a piece of paper as any bureaucratic Parasitocracy quango has ever dished out.
They also have to undergo – and pay for – Criminal Records Bureau checks. It’s not an arrangement that encourages prospective coaches. Nor is it a situation that leads to high-calibre coaching. Councils and football fans over here regard each other with something much closer to outright hostility than suspicion. Blazers at the FA often seem to regard clubs in a less flattering light than that.
Feasibility studies and cost projections on the topic of Hendon moving to Copthall estimated that £500,000 would be needed to bring it up to the required standard for Ryman Premier football under FA ground-grading regulations. Logic says such expenditure shouldn’t be needed, but such things as complete perimeter fencing that does not allow freeloaders a view of the action, extravagant seating and terracing capacities, turnstiles and a bar are deemed necessary by the FA, even though far bigger crowds than Hendon are ever likely to draw again have watched Rugby League matches and athletics meetings at Copthall in safety and comfort.
Would the money currently used for seemingly ridiculous and un-necessary ground improvements not be better spend on youth football projects and a proper coaching scheme? You tell me.
Barnet Council would have no intention of paying £500,000 to “upgrade” a reasonably adequate stadium, even if they didn’t view the prospect of a football club on their premises in the same way that most people would view the conversion of the house next door into a St. Mungo’s Hostel.
There seems to be no shift in opinion towards a continental culture taking root over here. This is perplexing in some ways, as local authorities appear keen to get children involved in sport and one would have thought that a youth-orientated relationship with a local football club would be a popular and vote-winning venture. I suppose many boroughs have several senior Non-League outfits and choosing which one to link up with would constitute the type of choice the modern politician is disinclined to make. However, the main reason local authorities ignore their senior Non-League football clubs is the fact that many clubs at Ryman Premier level – and a few at levels below – pay players exorbitant amounts of money.
Today’s opponents are certainly an exception to the normal situation. Dartford Council not only built Princes Park for Dartford FC, but they allegedly give the club around £100,000 a year to pay for the upkeep of the ground and adjoining facilities.
Some boroughs seem more amenable than others – and none seem less amenable than Barnet. Wealdstone, used to the intransigence and obstinacy of Harrow Council, have been taken aback at the level of co-operation they’ve received from Hillingdon Council since they moved across the border.
I made a tentative and entirely unofficial enquiry to Brent Council with regard to Hendon possibly moving to the other side of the A5, specifically to the newly-refurbished former National Hockey Stadium in Willesden, which is being done-up as an athletics stadium.
Although the infield at the new facility wouldn’t quite accommodate a full-sized football pitch, the then council leader, Ann John, sent me a reply stating that Brent might well be keen on a link-up with a senior club in their borough and may be sympathetic to a possible relocation. There was probably an element of the usual political diplomacy and equivocation in that. However, Barnet Council’s reply would have run to two words, one of which would have been either “off” or “yours”... and, if it was the latter, it wouldn’t have been followed by “sincerely” – even though the sentiment conveyed would have been as sincere as sentiments come.
Tie-ups with educational establishments could be a way forward, but it’s difficult to see how any of the senior Non-League teams in the middle of London can survive for much longer without some form of official relationship with their local authority.
Arguably the main problem with that, however, is the aforementioned practice of paying players inflated salaries. In countries where clubs at Hendon’s level enjoy the support – and the stadium – of local authorities, they are amateur clubs that exist as an outlet for relatively competent players from the local area, at all levels from young kids to veterans and including a First XI that will train twice a week. The First XI players might collect a few bob in expenses, but they don’t earn the £400 per week that some players in the Ryman Premier pick-up.
Councils could do with some encouragement from the FA but many may be willing to subsidise a club, if that club is seen as a valuable component of the social infrastructure within their borough... but they ain’t going to hand a part-time footballer, who lives thirty miles away, £400 per week for the few months it takes that player’s agent to get him £450 elsewhere.
Without major changes to the way the game is run, councils are not likely to get involved. That being the case, the future for London clubs at this level is bleak."
F.A. Cup, 2008.
"SATURDAY 13th SEPTEMBER
Greensnet Forum: The Inane Drivel Guide to... Royston.
OOOOH ARRRRH YA?
“Are you local?”
It’s a shame that Royston, Hertfordshire bears no resemblance to Royston Vasey. (Royston Vasey is Chubby Brown’s given name.) Royston’s a parochial place, though. It’s Hertfordshire, Jim, but not as we know it. This may as well be East Anglia.
Like anywhere moderately pleasant, Royston has immigration problems. Unwanted Londoners continue to “Come over ’ere, taking our jobs and our women!” and are quite clearly to blame for a shocking decline in standards. In an event seen in some local circles as heralding the imminent arrival of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the town has elected two Liberal councillors to dilute the usual Tory contingent. However, Royston remains a proper Home Counties market town, with a proper market. “Sunday joint” means something more traditional in Royston than in most of the places Hendon visit in the Ryman Premier and those attending by car could probably do far worse than pick-up theirs in the town’s market.
One tradition’s almost gone. Willie Stephenson sent out Arctic Prince to win the Derby and Oxo to win the Grand National from Royston in the 1950s. These days, derby excitement is confined to playing pre-season friendlies against Baldock Town. One-time summer National Hunt king John Jenkins still trains nags of respectable ability on the Baldock Road, but he’s very unlikely to win the Grand National and I’ve more chance of winning the National Lottery tonight than Mr. Jenkins has of winning the Surrey Downhill Stakes, for immature colts and fillies, that’s staged at the wrong track, over the wrong distance and at the wrong time of year each June. There appear to be no other trainers in the vicinity these days.
Wikipedia is a notoriously unreliable source of information – just like these guides really. However, one section of its Royston entry tells you a lot. It lists seven notable Royston natives: one poet, one grammarian, one turbulent priest, one astronomer, one anatomical wax model-maker, the founder of English Presbyterianism and... wait for it... a bloke who translated the Bible into Mongolian. The most recent date of birth of the magnificent septet is 1806. This is a seriously cutting-edge place!
John Littlechild was a typical Royston native – doffing his cap sufficiently often to make DCI and be the first head of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch.
Just to prove that not all stereotypes are correct, even in Royston, the colourful Geoff Huffer, in turn an apprentice jockey, travelling head lad, drummer with Mungo Jerry, Royal Ascot winning trainer, chief Guns ’n’ Roses roadie, haulage contractor, liquor-smuggler, medium-term guest of Her Majesty and 2,000 Guineas-winner last year, is an atypical Royston native.
Royston has one notable place of interest – Royston Cave. This was unearthed in 1742. It’s a subterranean chamber with all sorts of religious and militaristic imagery cut into the walls and it clearly dates from several centuries before its rediscovery. Of course, like everything else remotely connected to theological mystery, the Royston Cave was definitely built by the Knights Templar in the 1200s.
As shown by the figures, the Templars were so advanced that they went around in full armour when everyone else was still in chain-mail. Copies of “The DaVinci Code” will be on sale at a reasonable price.
Personally, I’d consider this well worth a look. Sadly, it’s only open at weekends between 2:30 and 5pm. It’s also prone to flooding, so is not usually open after periods of heavy rain. Down the pub for a pre-match pint it is then.
Speaking of pubs, this will be the one game this term where our beer aficionado Snarling Mallard will have no difficulty finding a Real Ale outlet. In fact, I’d be surprised if he found a pub that doesn’t sell Real Ale.
Caravan Compatibility Co-Efficient: 0*
(*Although there was a slight pikey problem a couple of decades ago, the merest suggestion that anyone from Royston would be seen dead in a caravan is likely to be viewed as actionable.)
No great history here. The 1970s brought Hertfordshire County League success and a South Midlands Division One win. These remain their only notable pots. Royston did spend a decade in the lower depths of the Isthmian League from the mid-80s to the mid-90s but chose to resign after “improved” ground grading regulations saw their stadium labelled unfit for Isthmian consumption.
They’ve had eight managers since 1998. A moneybags chairman arrived last autumn and their attendances rose from a few early gates in the 20s to well over 100 for some games. Between early December and early February they won home matches by margins of 7-0, 4-1, 8-0, 4-0, 6-0 and 5-0, before the chairman swiftly gave up the chair and results returned to being merely good. They finished ten points adrift of Kentish Town in the final table. They still seem well-backed and look a club destined for bigger things.
People in Royston do not commit offences.
Spartan South Midlands Division One, three notches down from the Ryman Premier, is the division occupied by Amersham Town, where Hendon played pre-season. Royston are going well, picking up 13 points from six games so far. They’ve thumped Wembley 4-0 and won 3-1 at AFC Hayes (the former Brook House) in the FA Cup. They’ve also beaten Harpenden Town 4-0 and won 5-0 at Arlesey Athletic in the League. Their success appears to be based on attacking intent and they have two strikers with experience of life at a higher level in Craig Hammond and Ryan Lockett.
Anyone we know playing?
Ryan Lockett, who was at Borehamwood for a while. I saw his only start for Cambridge United, a Good Friday evening game in 2004 that just about did for York City’s Football League existence, and he looked a fair prospect. Ex-Spurs and Ireland winger Tony Galvin is a former manager and seems to be back on the coaching staff.
Who do you boo?
Boo? In Royston? Local by-laws allow any oik found guilty of anything so uncouth to be placed in the stocks on market day. The same goes for not doffing your cap to the local squire or failing to attend church on Sunday.
AT ROYSTON THEY BET...
I’m surprised they allow betting in Royston but there are apparently two branches of Ladbrokes in the town. Cyril Stein himself would never have allowed betting on anything as lowly as football at this level. However, Uncle Rupert’s lot have priced-up the cup games and have chalked the Crows at 11/2, Hendon at 4/9 and the draw at 11/4.
Tony Galento may almost have beaten Joe Louis for the Heavyweight Title, Andrew Castle may almost have beaten Mats Wilander at Wimbledon, Georgia may almost have beaten Ireland at the last Rugby World Cup... but Royston have as much chance of beating Hendon as Chubby Brown has of being the next chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality.
Powderpuff or not, Hendon are technically too good for this lot. Unless the visiting keeper gets sent off early and Royston have a lot of luck, this is a foregone conclusion.
Royston 1, Hendon 5.
A spooky start to the day. Since Paul Haigh’s removal from the paper, the first thing I read in the Racing Post each Saturday is Sir Clement Freud’s column.
Today, he relates a tale from some years ago. It involves Royston. Unavoidably en route between appointments in Westminster and his Fenland constituency in mid-afternoon, Sir Clement needed to find somewhere to watch a horse of his running. As post-time loomed, he was on the A10 near Royston.
He diverted into the town, found an almost deserted independent betting shop and settled down to see his nag in action. His vigil was rudely interrupted.
“This is a betting shop, not an effing viewing parlour!” exclaimed the one bloke behind the counter.
Sir Clement looked at the screens, noticed a greyhound race at Monmore was the next event to go off, grabbed a betting slip and had a £20 forecast on the dog in trap two to beat the dog in trap four. He was born on April 24th 1924 and twenty-four is his number at roulette... or random greyhound forecasts. Perhaps it was an open race, as the pair were big outsiders.
Presumably after some trouble in running, the duo duly came in first and second. The fuming cashier had to lock up temporarily and visit a bank to get Sir Clement’s winnings of more than £1,000.
I feel that tale might be embellished slightly. In the days when he was an MP, he’d have been hard pressed to find a betting shop with a TV, as it was illegal to have a TV on display in a betting shop. The manager at a Mecca I worked for in days of yore used to bring in a portable set for big meetings and keep it under the counter, but it was a sackable offence to allow punters so much as a glance: constituting, as it did, an act of encouragement to induce the poor schmoes to gamble – something Her Majesty’s Government would never have done in those unenlightened times.
Nowadays, I half expect to see MPs flogging scratchcards outside the St Stephen’s Entrance every time I pass the Palace of Westminster; gambling being an exciting “leisure activity”, which, as with most “industries” deregulated and supported by adherents of the Blairite Creed, has the benefit of allowing vast sums of money to be made, without any wealth being created, with no risks being taken and with scarcely any work being done.
Off course “bookmakers” these days may as well be civil servants for all the work they do and for all the exposure they have to the Real World of capitalism and market forces. If I were running the country, they would be civil servants, as off-course betting shops would be a government monopoly.
Mind you, Sir Clement doesn’t say he was an MP when the episode occurred; merely that he was dashing to his constituency, so perhaps it was relatively recent event.
A day out. A new town to visit, a new ground to experience and a warm, sunny day. The magic of the FA Cup.
There’s certainly some magic somewhere. Football fans, and everyone else, are often delayed by engineering works on our decrepit rail network. However, today sees passengers for Royston receive a better than normal service, thanks to engineering works.
How’s that? Well, Royston is normally served by a stopping commuter train but it gets an express service today. The track between Royston and Cambridge is being worked on, so the London to Cambridge express shuttle terminates at Royston. Very handy. The type of diversity about which I have no complaints. Grim-faced, Cambridge-bound travellers exit Royston station and head for the replacement bus service.
I’ve arrived early. I head for the town centre, in search of a pub, the ground and Clement Freud’s betting shop. The betting shop has gone, as there are no independents in the town. Perhaps the manager got a job on the railways. He sounded well suited to that. I soon track down the ground, which looks very nice. The main church is moderately interesting. There are a few fairly decent pubs. The tour of Royston doesn’t take long.
I always make a point of buying local newspapers when watching games in isolated places.
“Sheep killed in accident on ‘lethal’ A505”, announces the front page headline in the weekly Royston Crow. A big picture of a crane retrieving a livestock container dominates the page and the relevant farmer gets a picture as well. The Royston Crow devotes the whole of the back page to a preview of this afternoon’s game.
The larger Buntingford & Royston Mercury (Established 1772 – let’s get those colonies in the Americas back now!) limits its excitement to a “Crows to face World Cup star” headline on an inside page, for a piece centred on the match report of Royston’s 3-1 loss at Stony Stratford. I can’t see Bontcho lining up this afternoon.
Royston’s possession of the “Wembley to Wembley” torch means there are journalists all over the shop as I return to the ground at 2:15. The well-kitted-out TV crew is apparently from a station in South Africa and they’ve been following players and coaches of both clubs during the week. There appear to be as many grizzled veterans as young wannabes in the substantial press corps. I have two shots at the golden goal. My luck appears to be out. Forty-eight and sixty are going to be far too high.
In common with most people of my social class who have endured significant personal experience of dealing with Her Majesty’s Metropolitan Filth, I am uncomfortably close to endorsing the belief that the only good Metropolitan Police officer is a dead Metropolitan Police officer. There are only two beneficial uses I can think of for a live one: vivisection and target practice.
I’m not generally keen on police officers eyeing me up. There are, however, exceptions to every rule. As I walk around the pleasant ground, I notice that there’s a big bloke in a red shirt on the pitch, putting keeper Berkley Laurencin through his paces over in the far corner of the ground. He gives me a wave as I round the far corner flag. This is a serious double-take. Richard Wilmot of the Hertfordshire Constabulary, Hendon’s Player of the year in 2006/07 and pretty darned close to being the best keeper in the Ryman Premier is wearing a Hendon goalkeeping shirt. I’m flabbergasted. Cambridge City, the club he joined in the summer, are in FA Cup action today, so what’s he doing here?
He’s left Cambridge City and rejoined Hendon. A slight disagreement over his style of play with the manager, who’s a friend and work colleague, followed by no fewer than three mistakes in two games, all three of which led to goals, meant a parting of the ways. The two late concessions against Mangotsfield, in a home game Cambridge City dominated, were especially galling.
He has a few aches but he is match fit. He’s honest enough to admit that he moved primarily because he was getting a few quid more at Cambridge, but he lives in north Hertfordshire and I know he’d rather be driving around the Midlands or going along the M4 than negotiating London traffic or the M25 on trips to the South Coast. He’s not in the XI today but he won’t have come back to take part in pre-match warm-ups.
I begin my report: “Hendon’s travelling supporters witnessed a display of consummate professionalism, conducted with thoroughness and panache, at Garden Walk this afternoon. But that’s quite enough of describing Richard Wilmot’s warm-up and his performance of putting Berkley Laurencin through his paces.”
There wasn’t to be much professionalism by anyone in a green shirt for the rest of the afternoon.
Both the Crow and the Mercury reported Royston manager Paul Attwell as being scathing in his opinions of the team’s performance at Stony Stratford last week. He wields the axe and opts for an interesting team selection and tactical plan. Boasting two livewire strikers with experience at a much higher level, Mr. Attwell, to the astonishment of all and sundry, elects to drop the pair. I suppose either one or both of Craig Hammond and Ryan Lockett might have been carrying an injury.
The Crows line up with Will Turl as a lone striker. Lone? He could have been on loan at another club and still not been much further away from his nearest team-mate than he was for most of the opening quarter. For a biggish number nine, Turl was technically impressive but he’d have needed to be international class to bring a colleague into the game when the nearest white shirt to him was usually thirty yards to his rear whenever he received the ball.
What made this masterplan all the more extraordinary was the absence of gorillas, thugs or industrial-strength challenges from a neat and skilful Royston side. There doesn’t appear to be much point in sticking ten men behind the ball and then attempting to play football against a team from three divisions up the Pyramid, though it should be pointed out that their skipper, Allan Reid, was absent. Reid, allegedly a no-nonsense defender, is apparently a squaddie and his regiment shipped out to Germany at short notice.
All in all, Mr. Attwell made four changes from the XI that surrendered their unbeaten record against Stony Stratford.
Hendon make only one change from the team beaten by Dover on Tuesday, with Daggers loanee Kayan Kalipha replacing James Bent at centre-forward. Bent isn’t in the squad, which features seven substitutes under the ridiculous FA Cup rule that is indicative of the over-staffing that’s so popular in all walks of life these days. Recession? What recession?
Sunny afternoon, not much wind, lovely ground, grass quite long but a nice pitch and a decent crowd – officially in excess of 300 but with the press contingent presumably not counted in that tally. Away we go on the road to the Illuminated Arch.
Both teams are playing with just one man up front. Although the real policeman isn’t in the Hendon team, both sides deploy a policeman in front of the back-four. James Burgess has the temperament to make a wonderful policeman – so long as the role’s in a remake of “A Clockwork Orange” – and he fills the holding position in the new 4-1-4-1 formation.
Regardless of either personnel changes or complex formations, this ought to be as one-sided as Tony Blair v. George Washington in a lying competition.
Hendon are soon on the attack and young Kayan eludes centre-half James Babbage, darting through on keeper Richard Barlow but dragging a disappointing shot wide. Hendon win a free-kick in a good position and Sam Byfield beats the wall, only to see Barlow swoop low to his left and fist the ball wide for a corner.
It’s not all one-way traffic. Jamie Busby is caught in possession by the industrious Will Turl who, having won the ball for himself in a relatively deep position, finds a white shirt within radar range. He advances and feeds lefty Luke Robins but the winger fires wide.
It takes almost thirteen minutes for Hendon to gain the lead. A blocked shot falls nicely for Charlie Mapes, just to the right of the penalty spot, and he takes a touch before blasting a low drive past the exposed Barlow. One-nil and all set fair.
Things then begin to go very slightly pear-shaped. James Burgess goes to ground on the edge of the Hendon box and blocks a shot at close range with his hands. The referee waves away the Town appeals for a penalty. Not quite a stonewall job, but I expected the man in black to either point to the spot or award a free-kick almost on the 18-yard line. Hendon begin to give the ball away in the middle third and players begin to chip away at each other and chirp at the referee.
As Turl is still up top on his own, with no sign of support, and Royston are looking about as threatening as a community officer armed with nothing more than an ASBO, this is all a bit unnecessary. Kevin Maclaren and Lubo Guentchev manage to commit clumsy fouls in the centre circle within two seconds of each other, thwarting the ref’s plan to play advantage after the first one. The referee waves a yellow card at Maclaren minor. Lefty Robins, a victim of one of those fouls, soon tests Berkley Laurencin with a 25-yard free-kick.
Hendon go back up the park and win a corner. Charlie Mapes and Sam Byfield do their snazzy little routine by the flag and Sam darts crablike across the field to the D. Sam is dispossessed, Crows midfielder Tom Malins breaks away on a sixty-yard run and only Turl’s unsuccessful attempt to take down an admittedly difficult centre, twelve yards out, prevents him having a free hit at Berkley’s goal.
Mr. McCann is not pleased.
The natives aren’t best pleased either. There were serious murmurings when the home team was announced and some Royston fans are now venting their frustrations quite loudly. Hendon look to be there for the taking, yet the chasm of thirty yards between Turl and his nearest colleague shows no sign of being closed.
Hendon at last rouse themselves. They neatly work Kalipha into a fair shooting position, but he has an airshot! I’m confident Trevor Brooking would have spotted a nasty bobble, had he been reviewing the incident for TV, but I just saw a Hale Irwin job. Buzza has a low shot tipped wide for a corner by Barlow, again getting down well to his left.
Hendon win a free-kick, ten yards outside the box. Charlie caresses it into Barlow’s top right corner. Great strike. Two-nil. Two minutes later, Lubo dances through the inside-right channel and finishes past Barlow with a low drive from eight yards. Three-nil.
Things still aren’t hunky-dory, though. Craig Vargas picks up a yellow, as much for kicking the ball away as anything else. Charlie joins him in the book for offering some unwanted advice to the referee. Two stupid bookings, when three-nil up, against a team from three divisions down the Pyramid. The discipline needs to be sorted out. After what has been comfortably their worst forty-five minutes of the season so far, Hendon go off three to the good and wondering how they did it.
The fact that Royston’s marking was often as accurate as that currently being displayed by boxing judges at the Olympics has nothing to do with it.
Halftime sees a huge number of crows making an awful racket from the field over the back. The Crows fans in the ground aren’t placated by the halftime introduction of Craig Hammond, who replaces the pretty but lightweight and ineffective Ross Collins. “A fat lot of good that’s going to do us now!” opines one native. It’s hard not to agree.
Hendon start the second half well. Byfield goes through on Barlow, who comes out towards the edge of his box and blocks a low drive at a range of about two yards.
Kalipha fires a shot wide of the keeper’s top left corner. To say that Kalipha is looking unimpressive is an understatement. Miriam Margolyes would be more convincing as Miss World than young Kayan is as a centre-forward.
Seeing me taking notes, one of the beat journos offers a comment: “Their centre-half’s probably no better than the average big, ugly number five at their level, but your striker’s making him look like Franco Baresi.”
It’s hard to disagree. Kalipha looked OK in Tuesday’s cameo but he’s an embarrassment here. He’s playing against a team six divisions below the Daggers and isn’t getting a sniff. I have to wonder whether he’s fasting for Ramadan. Maybe he’s been injured and isn’t match fit. Whatever the excuse, judged on this display, he can’t be on the books at a professional club.
At the other end, Hammond just fails to get his forehead over a far-post cross from a free-kick and his header sails wide. Turl flicks a tame shot that Berkley gathers.
The match appears to be over nine minutes after the interval. Busby manages to hold off both centre-halves, Cain and Babbage, as he bursts through the middle. Clear on the advancing Barlow, he finishes with aplomb from just inside the box. Four-nil. I stopped paying much attention from then on. So did a lot of other people in green shirts, including those on the field.
Hendon make a double substitution midway through the half. I hadn’t written down the subs, due to the lack of a team sheet as much as anything else, but Danny Dyer was apparently listed as wearing nineteen. The bloke who came on with Rakki Hudson was short, stocky, black, right-footed, with a short haircut and ran quite like Danny Dyer. I assumed it was Dyer, though he had the eighteen shirt on. It’s a while before anyone notices that the sub has a fairly round head and is sporting a tidily trimmed moustache. It isn’t Danny Dyer.
Apparently this was a new signing named Festus Mansaray. Festus is a common moniker in Nigeria, but Mansaray is a surname generally found well north of Lagos. Anyhow, the man’s from Hayes & Yeading, was on the books at Leicester and he looks okay. Maclaren and Mapes were the men to go off. Burgess drops into the back four. Arron Welch replaces the valiant Turl for Royston. Rakki almost scores immediately, bursting through on the right and being denied from six yards out by a brave save from Barlow.
Within seconds, Royston grab a consolation. It’s comical. Berkley gets debatably pulled for picking-up what the ref deems a backpass, six yards or so out and well to the right of his posts. Very harsh. Naively, the young keeper puts the ball down and retreats towards his goal. I think it was Hammond who unsportingly drove the resulting free-kick across a very sparsely-populated goalmouth before Berkley had retreated more than a couple of yards, but it was definitely Marc Leach who spectacularly sliced home the own goal from what looked about six yards out, with a couple of white shirts coming in behind him. Ouch! If you’re going to do something like that, do it at four-nil. Berkley will learn.
Royston soon strike again. Luke Robins goes on a solo dribble, ghosting past about five green shirts with the ball on his left peg, jinking away from Berkley and rolling the ball home. The visiting dugout is close to combustion. Four-two and still more than twenty minutes to play.
Hendon, clearly stung, storm back up the park. Lubo puts a free-kick from an A1 position well over the bar, with Charlie gnashing his teeth on the bench. Sam delicately attempts a lob for Barlow’s top right corner but the backpedalling keeper tips the ball over. Leach hits the bar with a header from the corner. The sub, Mr. Mansaray I assume, though it might have been Dyer for all the attention I was paying by this stage, fires in a shot from a narrow angle that has Barlow scrambling to claw the ball over his crossbar once more. Four decent chances inside four minutes.
Royston still look dangerous, with Hendon not seeming keen to leave a foot in or overexert themselves. Robins has a shot saved. Right-back Lewis Endacott hits a low shot that strikes a big divot and fortunately skips five feet off the ground but straight into Berkley’s gloves.
Mansaray goes past Michael Debnam and keeper Barlow inside the box. Wide of the posts, he greedily refuses to square for the unmarked Kalipha and loses the ball. Kalipha is displeased. Another small, dark and handsome sub arrives, this one for Craig Vargas. Probably Danny Dyer... but possibly not. Berkley has to catch a cross-shot underneath his bar before things go a bit awry with two minutes to play.
A loose fifty-fifty ball near the centre-circle sees Busby lunge with a Royston player. The ball is there to be won, but the home player gets there first. Buzza is a little high with his aim and most certainly does leave a foot in: noisily catching the Hertfordshire man. It sounded worse than it was, but it was, at best, very clumsy. An inquiry ensues and a red card is flashed.
Wise after the event, but should Buzza really have been diving in there with three minutes left in a cup tie and a two-goal lead? Hendon are a few midfielders down already and could do without a suspension. The injured Crows player, Conor DeLacy, is chaired off.
Berkley has one scramble to deal with before the final whistle sounds and Hendon are comfortably through to the next round. They’ll have to play a good deal better than this to get any further.
Result: Royston 2 (Leach o.g. 65, Robins 69), Hendon 4 (Mapes 13, 37, Guentchev 39, Busby 54).
Team: Berkley Laurencin, Kevin Maclaren, Craig Vargas, Marc Leach, Mark Kirby, Jamie Busby, Lubo Guentchev, James Burgess, Kayan Kalipha, Charlie Mapes, Sam Byfield. Subs – Rakki Hudson, Festus Mansaray, Danny Dyer.
This really was poor. The team looked so disjointed they could have been diagnosed with rickets. Losing streak or not, Hendon haven’t previously turned in a bad performance this season. Today’s display was the worst since a debacle at Harlow in January, when the hosts had their keeper carried off after twenty minutes, brought on a kid who looked about twelve, played garbage and won 3-1 – meaning we had to endure their air-raid siren going off three times. The stat count shows a nineteen-twelve lead for Hendon on goal attempts and a nine-two advantage on corners. It also shows that Royston had nineteen free-kicks to Hendon’s twelve, which is indicative of Hendon’s lack of control, as is a four-zero card tally.
Manager Attwell looks uneasy as he enters the clubhouse after the game. Well he might. The mood in the clubhouse is generally one of honour being satisfied in a good game, but one or two locals are muttering darkly. Regardless of the claptrap to the contrary spouted in the popular press, it’s rare that a manager can be held primarily responsible for a team’s defeat. Today was probably an exception.
It was a dire performance from the boss as regards selection and tactics. Teams at this level do not adopt a policy of concentrating on the league. The FA’s prizemoney fund will dole out a sum for winning this game that’s equivalent to what Royston would take at the gate in four home matches and that’s not to be sniffed at.
Still, on this display, I’d be pretty surprised if Royston don’t win their division comfortably. It’s a nice town and they seem a decent club. Good luck to them. Mr. Attwell hovers near the door but slowly gets into the post-match swing, nipping outside now and then for a word with the odd remaining journalist. He shagged up, but he looks as if he’s learned a lesson.
On the TV, Chelsea are playing Manchester City. City score early through a Robinho free-kick, much to the amusement of many of the watching Hendon players and much to the chagrin of Gary McCann, who’s an avid Chelsea fan. The poor managerial bug seems to have travelled quickly from the Royston dressing room to Manchester. Harvey Keitel’s line as Winston Wolf in “Pulp Fiction” springs to mind: “Let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks just yet, gentlemen.” Anyone would think City had just won the European Cup.
Sparky needed to be off that bench, screaming at his players to concentrate and get that first tackle in. In fairness, perhaps he was, but the cameras don’t show him doing it.
It’s one of those moments when I can almost see the attraction of watching a match whilst sitting in front of a Betfair screen. It should be obvious to any idiot that Chelsea are likely to get a pretty good chance to equalise within a couple of minutes, but the in-running prices will simply reflect City’s advantage. Chelsea kick-off, some sleepy City defending duly presents them with a chance at a second ball after about ninety seconds and the ball ends up in the Sky Blues’ net. How do people pay good money to watch these morons? I got rid of Sky in 1997 and I won’t be getting it back.
Watching the pros appears to have cheered the players and management up a fair bit. All the Hendon fans in the clubhouse are booked on the team coach going back. The call to board the coach goes up, everyone else in green departs and I’m on my own.
My curiosity isn’t sufficient to keep me in the bar watching City v. Chelsea, so I finish my third pint and trek back to the station; walking through a town centre which isn’t exactly a hive of activity.
Unlike in London, the people I view through pub windows having dinner probably won’t be regurgitating their meals on the pavements outside in a few hours from now.
The Underground train from King’s Cross is delayed. Drinking alcohol on the tube is verboten these days and a wino has been spotted taking a swig of something moderately poisonous. I count six London Underground staff, two pay-as-you-go Community Bozos and a British Transport Police officer. I didn’t spot any United Nations blue helmets, but I’m sure they must have been somewhere in the background and I’d assume at least one ombudsman and a couple of employees of Messrs. Scheister, Conmann, Weasel & Partners were amongst the enthralled assembly in plain clothes.
The wino is successfully removed and another step on the road to New Labour’s sterile and inoffensive utopia has been successfully taken.
Back home and it’s time for a donation. The plan for the player sponsorship scheme was for Board members to hang back and wait for other fans to have their pick of their favourite players. The scheme has gone well, with almost every player now sponsored. I decide it’s time to step forward and I opt to sponsor the young left-back Fred Yebuah, who was on the bench several times in the first fortnight but who appears to have dropped down the pecking order. He seems a decent lad, if slightly lacking in the confidence department and a bit more lacking than that in the right foot department."
Claremont Road's last day.
"SATURDAY 20th SEPTEMBER
Greensnet Forum: The Inane Drivel Guide to... Wealdstone.
OO ARE YA?
“If you head north from central Harrow, past Tesco’s, you’ll get to a neighbourhood that may seem a little dodgy... The high street is quite budget oriented, and your neighbours might have a bit more character...”
Thus speaks the “Life in Harrow” website. Guess where it’s describing?
The first 100 yards of Wealdstone High Street is a sight to behold... provided you see it by car, your central locking is in working order, you drive reasonably fast and you don’t make eye-contact with anybody.
Attractions include three bookies and an “amusement arcade” – for those who don’t like being distracted by sporting events whilst losing their dole money; two kebab shops, two Cheapo Chicken takeaways and, for the gourmets of the locality, a McDonald’s. The large Irish pub on the left, recently called the Sam Maguire, is boarded up – the Wealdstone drinker preferring to take his Buckfast or White Lightning in traditional al fresco style, on a bench.
“Small town in Harrow” doesn’t do Wealdstone’s status justice. Far from being a small town, Wealdstone hardly exists in any official capacity. Most people in Harrow would rather it didn’t exist at all.
It’s not exactly Tobago to Harrow’s Trinidad. A luxury item like Tobago’s Dwight Yorke would have got fewer starts at Wealdstone than Josh Cooper. It’s more a United Kingdom deal. Harrow is Britain and Wealdstone is Northern Ireland: a mentally-retarded relative you’d rather not take responsibility for, rather not be associated with and rather not mention, but feel duty bound to have cared for in a home... preferably on the other side of a stretch of hazardous briny.
If I could double the size of my gut and halve my IQ, I’d feel quite at home on the frequent occasions when I walk a Staffordshire bull terrier around Byron Recreation Ground which, like Harrow Leisure Centre, is in Wealdstone.
Facilities for “The Community” are extensive. The cheap cyst-infested chicken takeaways are open at hours that suit the many local drug-dealers and muggers, the bookies all have plenty of fruit machines (stuff cerebral things like studying form for the gee-gees) and there are ample alleyways and doorways set back for people to piss in – a Wealdstone cultural tradition. Thanks to green funding by the council, bike thieves have been given a large cycle rack outside Harrow & Wealdstone Station, from which they often select the choicest bicycles, wheels, saddles and lights.
Banks on Wealdstone High Street have their cash machines in lobbies, accessible only by swiping a bank card through a scanner. Swiping bank cards is popular in Wealdstone.
Native culture is allowed to flourish, as the local constabulary do not often open their High Street station to the public. I can’t say I blame them.
The place is named after... er... a stone. The Weald Stone. This ancient monolith, possessing magical powers, was found by a local publican in the late 1990s. In his cellar. Honest, guv! Discovery of the stone received much publicity and increased tourist figures to... errmm ...one. Russell “Mr. Middlesex” Grant (Is there anyone with a less appropriate nickname?) paid a flying visit for the cameras and sensibly scarpered sharpish. The pub changed its name from The Red Lion to The Weald Stone Inn.
Anyhow, both pub and stone – and the local Waitrose – are half a mile north of the nick, in Harrow Weald, which, in common with some parts of Hackney, is a far more pleasant and upmarket area than Wealdstone High Street.
As Wealdstone does not really exist, it’s difficult to find notable natives. Of the many luminaries born in Harrow, it comes as a disappointment to find that such likely reprobates as DCI Gene Hunt (I’m sure actor Philip Glenister’s a nice bloke in real life), Peter André, Kate “fucking” Nash – who, in common with most girls from Wealdstone, looks 35 when she’s actually 19 – and disgraced referee Clive White are not from Wealdstone... or so they claim. Ian Dury was allegedly born there, but was so ashamed of the fact that he always claimed to be born in Upminster.
Caravan Compatibility Co-Efficient: 7.8
Wealdstone have by no means as illustrious a history as some might expect.
An Athenian League title in 1952; one FA Amateur Cup in 1966, winning the final against a Hendon team who’d scored eight goals against them in two Isthmian League wins that term; a Southern League regional pot in 1974; a Southern League semi-title in 1982, when there was no overall champion. Then there was 1984/85. Orwell warned us about that.
Wealdstone’s great claim to fame is their “Non-League Double” in 1984/85. Never was a title less deserved. No 22-team division in English professional football has ever been won with an inferior record. Under “three for a win,” the Stones would have got 70pts. As a comparison, last season was the first since play-offs were introduced in the Ryman Premier where 70pts was good enough for even a top-five place! Bath City would have won under “three for a win”; Nuneaton Borough would have won under “two for a win”. The method of awarding 2pts for a home win and 3pts for a road victory, rather than encouraging away teams to attack, rewarded Arsenalesque tactics. The Stones, unsurprisingly, were best equipped to profit.
Like Fascism, the experimental points system had its merits; like Hitler’s over-enthusiasm, Wealdstone’s triumph meant the system was not extended and, like Fascism, its potential revival is not a topic discussed in polite society.
Having one-nilled Kettering for the second time in a fortnight to take the title in Northamptonshire, Stones passed up an immediate opportunity to let North London fans see their heroes, taking such pride in their status that they sent out the ressies for the final league game at Barnet and lost 7-0. They admittedly put in a worthy display to beat Boston United 2-1 in the FA Trophy final five days later.
Automatic promotion from the Conference wasn’t voted through until the Football League’s AGM the following year. Thank God! When it came, it was designed to cull impoverished, financially troubled clubs in grim northern holes, whilst allowing thrusting, ambitious and prudently-run outfits, from areas Herr Thatchler hadn’t laid waste, to attain Football League status.
Prudently-run outfits like the three most recent Conference Champions: ... er... Wealdstone... um... Maidstone and...Ahem!... Enfield.
The Football League does have some great ideas at times.
The wrath of God soon descended, casting the sinners into the wilderness. From the time they turned pro, Wealdstone’s financial excesses suggested they ought to have been sponsored by the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which was suspiciously founded at about that time. In the early 1970s, some players were trousering £20 per week – more than many full-time workers earned.
By the mid-80s, the club’s Lower Mead ground resembled the dead Yank, condemned to walk the earth in “An American Werewolf in London”. Every time you saw it, it had decayed significantly and another piece had fallen off. Never mind. Shirley Porter, a lady who could have taught the BCCI a thing or two about finances, rode to the rescue. She bought the ground and put a nice new Tesco on the site – a boon for the many Stones fans who can’t afford to shop in Waitrose or are too lazy to waddle up the hill to get there.
Wealdstone’s BCCI-type accounting meant they saw little of the money from the sale. Lawyers and the Inland Revenue saw lots of it. Watford FC saw more. Wealdstone shrewdly bought 50% of the Vicarage Road lease... but didn’t pay much attention to the small print.
Stones survived a spell at Yeading (The Good Lord himself would have been hard pushed to reply, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” if he’d been tempted after 40 days in Yeading), a long tenancy at Edgware, a shorter one at Northwood, voluntary demotion from Southern League One to Isthmian Three... and a shadowy 1990s proposal by a certain Victor Green to buy the club and relocate to Claremont Road.
Fair play to them. Lesser clubs, most clubs in fact, would have gone under. Just as cockroaches would survive nuclear Armageddon, Wealdstone have survived their exile. (In point of fact, the cockroach myth is bullshit. They wouldn’t survive any significant atomic strike. Plenty of lower forms of life – probably including a fair few Wealdstone fans, particularly those who dine at High Street chicken joints – are far more resistant to radiation than cockroaches.)
They’ve climbed up from Isthmian Three, gaining consecutive promotions in the late 90s, winning a Premier Division place with a penalty shoot-out win over Dulwich Hamlet, then clinging-on only by goals scored to relegate Cheshunt in their first year back and surviving an unjustified one-year transfer to the Southern Premier. Tenacious little so-and-sos, aren’t they?
The club shrewdly purchased Ruislip Manor last season – the chairman has the same surname as a well-known lawyer, so I’m sure they studied the small print on the deeds closely – and, on the very best traditional eugenic principles, humanely put Ruislip out of their misery. Now in a ground of their own for the first time in almost two decades, they may possibly be less cantankerous and unpleasant than usual... though I wouldn’t bet on it.
Remember that scene in “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”? Tuco, sitting on a horse, hands tied, noose around neck, looks bored as the sheriff ploughs his way through the list of “Guilty” verdicts.
You have the picture.
This lot used to have a fanzine entitled “Long Ball Down the Middle” and made Arsenal under Mee, Howe or Graham look as graceful as Olga Korbut skipping around an exercise mat.
Arguably their most serious crime is allowing Vincent “I’d be proud to represent my country but Wales will do” Jones on to a semi-pro football field. “Jones the Rent”, as he’s been known in The Valleys since his alleged antics in the judge’s chambers before his air rage “trial”, took his photo opportunity well, coming off the bench to instigate a televised mass-brawl in an FA Cup tie at Reading. An Ing-Ger-Lund legend was spawned.
Jousting for supremacy on the rap-sheet is the fact that Russell “Mr. Middlesex” Grant is Club Patron.
In their first stint as an Isthmian club, between 1964 and 1971, they obviously faced Hendon fourteen times in league matches How many of those games did they win? None. Five draws and nine defeats. Yet they still nicked that FA Amateur Cup decider.
Then there’s Stuart Pearce.
Oh, and they were once a nursery club for Chelsea.
Not much of a change in personnel over the summer and little change in fortune. Gary Burrell’s the most notable close-season signing – back after a spell at Heybridge and a short stay at St. Albans. Keita Karamoko has sadly departed. Just the one win has been gained so far in nine games this term, an extraordinary 4-0 victory over Sutton in which all four goals were scored by defenders in the second half. They appear to have ditched the Bristol Rovers shirts.
Anyone we know playing?
Sean Thomas will be in goal. Alan Massey will line-up in defence. André DeLisser and Dean Papali, who once poked his nose in briefly at Claremont Road, may play some part.
Who do you boo?
Anyone in a blue and white kit will do. However, booing Wealdstone players is often unnecessary. Their fans tend to do it themselves, should the team not live up to the exemplary high standards all Wealdstone residents, especially supporters, exhibit in all walks of life.
AT HENDON THEY BET...
Uncle Rupert is again first to go up and he has Hendon at 6/5, the Stones at 13/8 and the draw at 5/2. Wealdstone are 100/1 and Hendon 150/1 for the title.
The Stones outmuscled Hendon five months ago, ending the Greens’ season prematurely, but they might be feeling the effects of an extra-time FA Cup loss in midweek.
A 2-0 win for Hendon.
Selma’s café on Kilburn High Road.
I half expect Tex Ritter, singing “Do Not Forsake Me”, to waft over the airwaves on the radio. Everyone knows that Frankie Laine sang the theme tune at the start of “High Noon”... but he didn’t. With the hands of the clock ticking towards mid-day, Charlie Mapes, a Kilburn lad, who still lives locally, comes in for breakfast. With him is his pal Will – Will Viner, not Will Kane – a goalkeeper who’s been training with the club, and a quite tasty bird. (I mean there’s a quite tasty bird accompanying Charlie & Will; not that Will’s a quite tasty bird. Even at weekends, though he does dye his hair) It appears that Hendon’s High Noon moment has passed.
Gary McCann called the players together after training on Thursday night and informed them that the padlocks would be going on the ground, the clubhouse and the Brent Cross Banqueting Centre at 6 p.m. on Saturday. That’s today. The Arbiter Group informed Graham Etchell and Simon Lawrence at lunchtime on Thursday that the Claremont Road operation will cease to exist this evening.
To say I’m relieved is a bit of an understatement. I do not have to decide whether to attempt to talk the lemmings out of their Gaderene Swine impression. I was confident I could manage it, but I was still unsure whether it was really any of my business to try and I wasn’t looking forward to the task. I was looking forward even less to attempting to dissuade David Bedford from his Reverend Jimmy Jones inclinations and was far from confident of success on that score. However relieved I might be, I’m also more than a little stunned.
Charlie has a relatively light breakfast of eggs, beans and chips. He doesn’t appear too concerned at the ground closure. I’m surprised at that. As a local lad, he can almost walk up to Claremont Road for training and I’d have thought that would have been one of the attractions of coming back to Hendon. The prospect of having to drive elsewhere after work can’t be attractive. Charlie drives for a living, but I suppose most professional drivers probably don’t mind driving out of hours. Me? I will walk or get public transport almost anywhere, in preference to being on the road when I don’t have to be on the road.
Charlie doesn’t seem the type of bloke who lets things get him down very often and, in spite of results so far, he’s upbeat about things at the Club in general. I’m a bit too shocked to discuss the ground closure and Charlie’s keen to discuss other things. “Were you at Canvey? That was unreal. That must have been painful for you lot behind the goal.” It can’t have been too pleasant for him when he hit the post in the last minute either. He still can’t get over the strength of the wind or the fact that Hendon didn’t score.
Training apparently went well on Thursday night. The forwards did a shooting practice session and Will, who’d have been in goal for some of it, was impressed. There was a new forward named Harry Hunt with the squad. He’s been at Welwyn Garden City, which is hardly a recommendation. However, Charlie knows him from Hemel and he fancies the kid’s chances of making the grade. He allegedly buried a high percentage of his shots on Thursday. He’s signed-on and may even start this afternoon.
Breakfast scoffed, Charlie announces that he fancies a crack at the dogs and toddles over the road to do battle with Mr. William Hill.
Apart from Simon and possibly Steve, nobody arriving at Claremont Road and not wearing a Hendon FC tracksuit has any idea that this is the end. Even Bomber and Jacs, who were at training on Thursday, turn up in blissful ignorance. There don’t even appear to be any fans who’ve heard a rumour.
Standing in the car park with a pint, in glorious sunshine, I inform several of those arriving of the situation. Most of the few I talk to, almost all long-time fans, though not all in the “never miss a game” category, seem to be of the opinion that the game is up if we resign from the Ryman League. Of those I talk to at any length, Steve Lytton – sometime Sky TV announcer, master of ceremonies, journo and a long-time close friend of Simon – is the fan most convinced that having to leave the Ryman Premier mid-season will be the end of the road, though he concedes that the number of civilised, middle-class Hertfordshire towns represented in the Spartan South Midlands Premier would make that a pleasant competition in which to participate on sunny afternoons like today.
Going through the turnstiles, I confirm to Cardew the Cad that this will be the final game at Claremont Road. This is obviously not the real Cardew the Cad, otherwise known as the late Cardew Robinson, but one of Wealdstone’s most avid fans, who uses the alias on various messageboards. Though the real Cardew Robinson was a well-known Arsenal supporter, he was also a Wealdstone fan and he often attended games at the long-gone Lower Mead.
I don’t think he believes me. Wealdstone’s visit here at the end of April was reckoned by many to be the likely final game. The last home match of the 05/06 season, when AFC Golgafrinchan were the visitors, saw numerous souvenirs on sale that were festooned with “Farewell, Claremont Road”, while the closing match of the previous campaign, against St. Albans, was widely thought likely to be the ground’s swansong at the time.
Hendon fans don’t like Wealdstone. Even Hendon fans who are old enough to be my parents don’t like Wealdstone. Suggestions that the Wealdstone supporters’ behavioural tendencies are a recent development are dismissed by old timers. “I remember them throwing three-penny bits at us in 1967 and fighting in the clubhouse over the price of a pale ale.”
There have been a few incidents in recent years, usually involving Hendon fans receiving the odd blow. The atmosphere at one game, played at Northwood, where Wealdstone were billeted at the time, was apparently particularly bad-tempered and there were allegations of some of the younger supporters taking a cuffing. I especially remember that match because I wasn’t there. I got shafted with a late job to Peckham, gunned the bike impressively down there and back through the middle of town, but then got stuck on a stationary A40. Once I was sure I was going to miss the first fifteen minutes, I gave up, swung around and went home. Hendon won 5-4.
Losing at home to Wealdstone on the final day of last season was irksome in the extreme. Sitting fifth in the table, a win would have secured a play-off place and a crack at Staines in the semi-final. Hendon had won at Staines just a week earlier. Even though I’m as fervently against play-offs as anyone I know, I’d have fancied a play-off place. Mind you, with the Trust about to take over the Club’s finances, not being in the play-offs might have been a blessing. A campaign in Conference South would have been a huge drain on resources. Many players probably wouldn’t have fancied being at the ground for 10 a.m. every second Saturday to board a coach for Dorchester, Worcester or Weston-super-Mare, and they’d be even less keen on doing it on a wage budget at the lower end of the Ryman Premier scale.
I feel like slagging something off, so, as I’ve mentioned the darned things, let’s take arbitrary aim at the play-offs, shall we?
Play-offs brilliantly encapsulate, in one bite-sized chunk, all that’s wrong with football in particular and society in general. The play-offs are a potent cocktail of greed and stupidity: the two most common ingredients in the ills of modern England.
Just how greedy and stupid, not to mention unfair, was exemplified by Conference chairmen and the FA back in the summer of 2001. Back then, there was only one promotion place to the Football League available, though negotiations for a second place were at an advanced stage. The proposal could, admittedly, have been seen as a part of the brinkmanship that often accompanies diplomacy, but the chairmen voted to introduce a promotion play-off.
With a “one-up, one-down” system in place.
The Conference Champions would not be promoted after forty-two games, but would have to go into a standard four-team tournament with the clubs finishing second, third and fourth. I found it staggering that the ballot amongst Conference clubs was twenty votes in favour and only two against.
The proposal provoked outrage, not least at Soho Square. With their usual overbearing arrogance and mind-buggering stupidity, the FA brought the jackboot down and refused to sanction the scheme. How exactly the FA could do that, given that the proposal had been overwhelmingly approved, in a constitutionally valid vote, prior to the start of the season, was a matter for the Soho Square legal department. Given that the FA heartily endorsed the principle of “clean slate” play-offs – between teams that had proved to be of vastly different merit in either a forty-two or forty-six game season – Soho Square would have had to unearth an exceptionally gifted team of lawyers if they were to persuade a judge that such a tournament would be against the interests of the game in the Conference context.
Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint – negotiations to grant the Conference a second promotion place were soon concluded, meaning the FA didn’t get laughed out of court.
I’m sure we’d agree that the case highlighted a certain level of inconsistency in the FA’s attitude.
I’m not in favour of play-offs in any sporting competition that sees the participants play a full round robin set of fixtures against each other. Under such circumstances, the individual or team with the best record has clearly proved superior to all rival competitors. That’s good enough for me. Give them the spoils. Bad luck or poor officiating will usually even themselves out over a full round robin campaign. All too frequently, that doesn’t happen in a one-off match.
If play-offs involve clubs from different divisions or different leagues, then I’m prepared to listen to arguments in favour. However, if a competition can’t stand on the merits of the principle of the best side winning over an equitable, agreed schedule, then that competition deserves to fall. If it needs the “romance” or “excitement” of allowing inferior teams a chance to capture the laurels – in artificially contrived circumstances and at the expense of a team that has proved itself superior over such a schedule – then it might as well hand over the responsibility for organisation to Camelot. Or Christopher Walken.
Whether they involve teams finishing third, fourth, fifth and sixth or the top four in the standings, play-offs are for losers. They exist only to keep losers interested: by giving them hope that they might gain something which should not rightfully be theirs.
It’s easy to see this if one questions fans about the play-offs. The vast majority of fans support them in their present form. The answers as to why they support them never vary from the following two:
“It makes the end of season more exciting. There’s more chance that my club will have something to play for in the final weeks of the campaign because there are more teams in the promotion race for longer.”
“It keeps fans coming through the turnstiles and increases revenue.”
The two statements are true enough, but to say they are the reasons most fans support the play-offs is utter crap.
Almost all fans are sufficiently deluded to have genuinely convinced themselves that those are indeed the reasons they like play-offs. However, the fact that everybody believes something doesn’t make it true. Particularly if the people believing it are English. The lengths to which human beings can delude themselves never cease to amaze me. They always do things for the good of someone else, not out of either greed or stupidity and definitely not out of self-interest. Any evidence of their own charitable nature and any beneficial impact upon the needy is seized upon and talked-up. The genuine motivation is ignored to the point where they not only disregard it entirely, but to such an extent that they never even consider its existence.
If the “maintaining interest” and “raising revenue” arguments are the reasons for the existence and popularity of the play-offs, then answer me this:
Why do they only have play-offs at the top of the table?
Yes, I know the Football League play-offs initially featured one club from the higher division and three from the lower section, as play-offs in Scotland do now. However, the play-offs were brought-in as a measure to reduce the top flight in England from twenty-two clubs to twenty, without having to revert to a “two-up” system for a couple of seasons. Similar schemes apply in a number of continental leagues, but it’s not the same thing as the current system. In that original schedule, the one club facing relegation from the higher division was not having its superior record to the teams that finished immediately above it – a record posted over either forty-two or forty games – disregarded.
Exactly the same arguments used to justify “clean slate” play-offs at the top of a league would apply if “clean slate” play-offs took place at the bottom as well, wouldn’t they?
So why not have them at the bottom?
Visualise the excitement. Imagine the tension.
In the FA Premier League, the bottom two clubs would be relegated. The clubs finishing in the positions from fifteenth to eighteenth would play-off to decide the final relegation place. I remember putting these points to some Barnet fans of my acquaintance a few years back. We were on the way to a play-off game against Shrewsbury. Hereford had finished second in the Conference that season: between seventeen and twenty-one points clear of the other three teams in that particular play-off tournament. They went out to Aldershot in the semi-final, having had a player harshly red-carded after little more than twenty minutes of the first leg. I recall that the positions in the Premier League table at the time, with probably a couple of rounds of games still to play, would have meant a relegation play-off semi-final line-up of Leeds v. Everton and Manchester City v. Spurs. Tasty.
Semi-final ties for relegation play-offs would be over two legs. The winners of the semi-finals would head to Magaluf; the losers would have to play on – in a play-off final with a difference. A final that really would be for losers. A final in which the defeated club could kiss all that Premier League money – all £60m per season of it, or whatever sum it is now – a tearful “Goodbye”. Even if they’d finished fifteenth.
Imagine the black market ticket prices for such a fixture. Imagine the atmosphere. (I’m sure Her Majesty’s Metropolitan Filth would have no difficulty in imagining the atmosphere.)
Perhaps Uncle Rupert might like to make the final a best-of-three job. One match at each of the two clubs’ stadiums and a potential decider at Shit-Hole-on-Circ. Perhaps we could have penalty shoot-outs to decide drawn games in the best-of-three series.
Under such circumstances, players and managers might even have some inkling of an idea what the much-used word “pressure” means to a single mum with three kids, living on a sink estate and trying to keep the bailiffs from the door.
Just think of the revenue from pay-per-view subscribers.
Do you fancy some of that for your club, should they finish sixth from bottom of their division next term?
No. I didn’t think you would.
Words like “unfair” would spring to mind, wouldn’t they?
So cut the crap on play-offs being about keeping an interest until the end of the season.
They’re not even about generating short-term revenue increases. Any extra revenue will swiftly find its way into the pockets of players... or agents.
Play-offs are purely about greed. Not the variety of greed that is often exhibited by intelligent men, some of whom might occasionally – very occasionally – attain positions of power within the game. Play-offs are about the type of greed that is enshrined in the fable of the dog with the bone. You know the one: he saw his reflection in a lake and tried to grab what he thought was another bone, from what he thought was another dog. He dropped his bone into the water and ended up with nothing.
A man can be greedy and get away with it, provided he isn’t stupid.
A man who is stupid can enjoy a happy life, provided he isn’t greedy.
But one can’t generally get away with being both greedy and stupid.
Too many people in football fall into both categories.
Confidence tricksters have long made a living from such people.
The play-offs demonstrate the mentality of the buffoon in the Bunco Booth. Or of the habitual player of the National Lottery’s scratchcards. Or of the idiot shovelling banknotes into a FOBT machine in a turf accountant’s premises somewhere near you.
In their present form, the play-offs feature three sides that are competing to gain something that they clearly do not deserve and only one club that is attempting to hold on to something it has earned legitimately; by honest endeavour.
In other words, there is a seventy-five percent chance that a club reaching the play-offs will be in with an opportunity of getting something for nothing. There is only a twenty-five percent chance that any given club in the play-offs will face the prospect of being robbed of something to which it should have a right. To the average imbecile on the terraces or in the boardroom, those look attractive odds. Fuck fair play.
Play-offs for relegation would see those odds reversed. Clubs would have a three-in-four chance of being the innocent man in the condemned cell, facing the prospect of the gallows. The odds about being the guilty death row convict, waiting anxiously for an unmerited pardon, would be 3/1 against.
Not quite so attractive, is it?
Regardless of interest and short-term revenue.
In the long term, the interests of the game can only be harmed by allowing inferior teams to gain promotion at the expense of superior ones.
Play-offs are an abomination. There is no such thing as a free drink. There is no such thing as “something for nothing.”
They should be scrapped immediately.
At the moment, it’s Claremont Road that’s about to be scrapped.
For the auditorium’s final performance, Hendon show three changes from the team that took the field at Royston. Richard Wilmot is back in goal, James Bent replaces the presumably injured Sam Byfield on the left wing and new signing Harry Hunt comes in at centre-forward for Kayan Kalipha.
The unfortunate Joe Welch has been released. The Club’s going through its keepers this season like Fred West went through his kids, but there’s presumably only room for one understudy now that Dickie’s back. Rumour suggests Joe’s gone to Ryman One North outfit Cheshunt, where I believe he had a run out in pre-season. Good luck to him. Some aspects of his game are quite impressive and he ought to get another chance at a higher level.
On a warm afternoon, it’s not a riveting start to the game. Wealdstone line-up 3-5-2 and a couple of five-man midfields cancel each other out. The players do the basics well and there’s nothing more than the odd tame or speculative shot in the opening exchanges.
Fifteen minutes in, Richard Wilmot comes out to near his penalty spot to deal with a back-pass. He sclaffs his clearance and hits a blue shirt, possibly David Hicks, but he makes thirty yards and there’s no imminent danger. A quick pass outside finds Mark Boyce in space. Boyce takes one touch, two paces forward and unleashes a pile-driver from twenty-five yards. Wilmot, still off his line, makes a spectacular arcing leap but can only wave at the ball as it speeds past and flies just under his crossbar. One-nil.
Things immediately liven up. Within a minute, Lubo Guentchev puts over a good cross from the right but Jamie Busby heads wide at the far post. Beefy Stones striker Ben Clarke has a tame shot at one end; keeper Luke Woods pouches a tame Craig Vargas header at the other.
Wealdstone almost increase their advantage after twenty-five minutes. As usual, wingback Lee Chappell’s prodigious hurls of the ball cause Hendon problems. A long throw from the right gives Ryan Ashe a sight of goal, after Stephen Hughes nods the ball on. Eight yards out, Ashe catches the shot well but the charging Wilmot parries at close range and the rebound comes back to Ashe a bit more rapidly than he might have liked. He scuffs his second effort tamely wide.
Hendon manage a good spell. Another Lubo cross from the right, another Busby header. This one a glancing, diving effort that goes wide of the far post. A jinking Lubo run ends with a fierce drive from about eight yards out striking a defender. The rebound falls to Mark Kirby, who also sees his shot charged down. The ball again comes back to the Hendon skipper, whose second poke is stopped just about on the line by a combination of a defender and a grateful Woods, who clings on tightly.
Stones win their first corner a minute before the break, but Ben Clarke fires a poorly-struck shot well over the bar. Back up the clubhouse end, James Burgess picks out Woods with a speculative thirty-yarder and Wealdstone march off well-pleased with a one-goal lead from an interesting but slightly pedestrian forty-five minutes.
Hendon start the second half brightly. James Bent finds himself in space in the inside-left channel, ten yards out and maybe ten yards outside the post. Not the greatest of angles but he blazes wildly over when he might have expected to hit the target. Just a minute later, Bent races on to a through ball on the other side of the box. The ball seems to skip away from him just when he looked to have got to it and a stretch of the right leg produces only a scuffed flick at Woods from around six yards out.
In spite of having a couple of gorillas up front, Wealdstone have knocked the ball about quite nicely by their usual standards. They revert to more traditional tactics with considerable success just five minutes after the interval. A sixty-yard hoof, a headed flick across the box from just outside the D and a thumping, first-time half-volley from about fifteen yards that flies across Wilmot and inside his right stick. Ryan Ashe the scorer. Two-nil. The members of the Hendon Orange Order are displeased. The lead vocalist is close to spontaneous combustion.
Three minutes later, it’s all over bar the shouting. Ashe goes through on the right but has only Clarke to aim at in the middle. Well outside the posts, he appears to be attempting a repeat of his effort three minutes earlier. He leathers a shot for the far corner. Wilmot commences a dive, the unfortunate Marc Leach sticks out a leg and deflects the ball past the wrong-footed keeper and inside the near post. Ouch! Leach looks crestfallen. Two weeks on the spin! Three-nil.
Wealdstone fans refer to Hendon as “mongs” for some obscure reason and Leachy gets a few comments of that variety. Perhaps the “Kick It Out!” parasites might like to rule on whether “mong” is a racist term... if they’re not too busy counting the fans’ money in their overpaid pockets.
Hendon are rocking momentarily and Chappell fires a howitzer narrowly wide. At the other end, Harry Hunt, who’s shown a lot of promise but is becoming frustrated, shoots wide for Hendon. Wealdstone understandably look to shut up shop at this point. Hendon huff and puff and, to be fair, get an unusually high percentage of their shots on target, but Maltese U-21 keeper Woods has a good afternoon. He does scuff a clearance straight to Bent, though. Bent makes straight for him and strikes his shot well, but Woods stands up impressively and parries the ball to safety. Two minutes later, a twenty-five yard free-kick from Charlie Mapes curls around the wall but Woods falls quickly to his left to palm the ball away.
Stones defender James Gray collects a booking for a meaty challenge; Mapes puts the resulting free-kick well over the bar. Dave Diedhiou and Danny Dyer replace James Burgess and Marc Leach, who walks off in a manner reminiscent of a condemned man on the way to the scaffold.
Wealdstone hold on with some comfort for a while, until another Hendon flurry with fifteen minutes to play. Dyer fires in a shot from the D that Woods can’t hold, but the keeper recovers before the hovering Diedhiou can pounce. Hendon pull a goal back when a typically patient move almost ends with Lubo being painfully patient inside the box. However, with the home fans screaming in frustration, Lubo passes the ball to Diedhiou, who smashes it high into the net from eight yards.
Five minutes later, Hendon could – and possibly should – have had a second. Another patient move sees a crossfield pass hit a stretching Stones defender and cannon off him at a ninety-degree angle – straight to Diedhiou, who’s sauntering back from a position well beyond the last blue shirt. The linesman flags immediately, though whether Diedhiou should have been given offside, as Hendon did not pass the ball forward and the blue shirt had made a deliberate attempt to play the ball, is highly questionable. In on the keeper, Diedhiou squares the ball to Lubo, who tucks it away neatly into the gaping net. The referee blows the whistle and awards the Stones a free-kick. He gives the offside decision not against Big Dave but against Lubo, which is patently ridiculous.
Rather than surround the referee in Arsenal / Argentina style for a mass chest-jostling session, Hendon go to whinge at the ref in singles and pairs. This allows easy identification and both Bent and Mapes are booked for their protests.
Kayan Kalipha comes on for Bent with five minutes to play, Boyce picks-up a booking, winger Nick Salapatas arrives for Clarke.
Salapatas soon sets off on a trademark surge down the left flank. From a disadvantageous angle, he hits a low drive that beats Wilmot’s dive towards his near post, cannons back off the upright and is swept home by Stephen Hughes. If truth be told, Dickie looked a bit slow getting down. Four-one is harsh.
Diedhiou, given onside when he looks anything but, goes through on Woods but blasts his shot straight at the keeper from eight yards. Kalipha whistles a shot over.
Twenty-six plays thirteen in Hendon’s favour was the goal attempts statistic, but Wealdstone, putting in a disciplined and unusually polished performance, fully deserved the points.
Hendon sloped off a well-beaten and downtrodden-looking team.
This was not a fitting farewell to the ground and an attendance of 280 is shockingly low for a derby on a sunny afternoon. Wealdstone must have brought a hundred.
Result: Hendon 1 (Diedhiou 78), Wealdstone 4 (Boyce 15, Ashe 50, Leach o.g. 53, Hughes 90).
Team: Richard Wilmot, Kevin Maclaren, Craig Vargas, Marc Leach, Mark Kirby, Jamie Busby, Lubo Guentchev, James Burgess, Harry Hunt, Charlie Mapes, James Bent. Subs – Danny Dyer, Dave Diedhiou, Kayan Kalipha.
The Trust Board convenes in the Banqueting Suite for a post-match emergency meeting. Press Officer David Ballheimer is summoned and instructed not to mention in any report that this was the final game at Claremont Road. I’d have thought it might be a bit late for that, but he apparently had no five o’clock deadlines.
There are several reasons for the Secret Squirrel job. Foremost amongst them is the unfortunate situation that the Ryman League is probably still unaware that Hendon Football Club’s Claremont Road home will cease to exist as a football ground and watering hole some time within the next hour. Finding out via the press is not likely to be a situation they’d view positively.
Club officials were informed of Andrew Landesberg’s decision to close the ground only on Thursday afternoon. Bar staff were informed that they were little more than forty-eight hours from joining the dole queue at the same time, though they’d known for a while that it was coming and probably sooner rather than later. Mr. Landesberg told Graham and Simon that he’d sent a letter to the Ryman League, informing the League of his decision to close the ground.
I’m sure these things have to be officially put in writing, but were the phone networks, fax lines and Internet all down at the time?
Nobody’s seen a copy of the letter. Nobody seems to have an idea of exactly what it said. Nobody knows whether the stamp on the envelope was first class or second class. Nobody knows if it was taken to a post box before the last collection or afterwards.
Neither Simon nor Graham have had a phonecall from the Ryman League. David Bedford is out of the country, but we assume he hasn’t had a phonecall either. Mr. Bedford confirms this when he interrupts proceedings by ringing Graham on his mobile to ask the score. It seems a fair assumption that the Ryman League has yet to learn of the closure of the ground. All those present are asked not to publicise the situation with regard to Claremont Road having passed on, being no more, ceased to be, gone to meet its maker, a stiff, bereft of life, resting in peace, an ex-stadium.
The other excellent reason for not announcing that today was to be Claremont Road’s swansong is the unfortunate situation that all the Club’s property is still in the ground. An unoccupied stadium, offices and clubhouse would be inviting targets for the natives of the Clitterhouse Estate. The trophy cabinet has been emptied and the contents put into safe keeping, but everything else is still on site. We need volunteers to come in tomorrow and blitz the place. We need cars. We also need volunteers to store a hell of a lot of stuff.
I don’t have a car and I don’t have anywhere to stash any stuff, but I’m available to walk up in the morning to clear the gear.
We are to convene at around nine tomorrow morning.
Back out we go. Last orders have been called at the clubhouse bar for the very last time. The clubhouse is the only boozer on the manor and a lot of locals with no interest in football use it, though not enough of them to make it a going concern. They’ll certainly wonder what’s going on when they find it closed this evening. A number of fans are having a kickabout on the pitch. They’re also having a contest to see who can do the best impression of the Orange Order’s lead vocalist. Liam probably just about shades it. Several volunteer to help out tomorrow morning.
It has to be said that this is all extremely convenient.
I mean, come on! How bad is the whiff from this?
The Trust is extremely upset about the Ryman League Politburo’s almost certain decision to make the Club remain at Claremont Road until the end of the season, because the Trust doesn’t want to pay the bills that go with playing in a decrepit stadium. Suddenly, just days before the crucial meeting to decide the Club’s fate, the decrepit stadium is removed from the equation. Claremont Road does a Jimmy Hoffa. As if by magic, it vanishes. Under circumstances rather more suspicious than those in which the Teamsters’ boss disappeared. Conveniently, the big, bad ground owner puts the padlocks on the gates. The communication announcing the closure of the ground to the authorities is conveniently posted at an hour ensuring that it doesn’t arrive until the deed has been carried out, so The Powers That Be cannot attempt intervention, counselling or mediation. It’s reminiscent of the Japs declaring war on the Yanks with their planes already zeroing-in on Pearl Harbour.
I suppose it beats the usual method of achieving the same result.
“Just an Evening Standard, please, Mr. Patel.”
“Would you like any whisky with that?”
“Er, no, thanks.”
“Would you like to play the lottery?”
“No thank... errr... ooh... hang on a tick. Yeah. Yeah, I will actually. I’ll take the biggest can you’ve got and fill it up on the way out. OK?”
“Certainly, sir. Anything else?”
“Umm, yeah – a box of Swan Vestas as well, please.”
It’s been done before and it will be done again.
Provided there were no winos or copulating comprehensive kids in the stand at the time, things that do occur occasionally, I wouldn’t have thought the local nick would be allocating a huge number of CID officers to an arson investigation in the vicinity of the Clitterhouse Estate. Come to think of it, I’m not sure they’d consider the demise of winos or chav sprogs much of a loss either.
Was this a set up?
Looking at it from the outside, one would, on balance, have to be inclined towards believing it was. One last favour towards Hendon Football Club by The Arbiter Group.
Several things admittedly point the other way. Not giving the Ryman League Politburo a chance to poke its oar in can be seen as an expedient and sensible tactic, if this really was a set up. However, there probably wasn’t a lot they could have done to circumvent the situation, even if Andrew Landesberg had been willing to meet them. The lack of a high-profile funeral has cost the Club money. Publicising this afternoon’s game as the stadium’s final fixture would probably have attracted a hundred morbid souls from the groundhopping fraternity and earned the Club £1,000 or so in extra revenue. With the Banqueting Suite now off limits, the Trust is going to have to find a venue for the EGM at short notice and pay to hire it.
I’m not sure I can see either Simon or Graham pulling a stunt like this, but I suppose it could have been Mr. Landesberg’s idea.
Overall, the elimination of the ground from the equation is too convenient for the balance of probability to lean towards a verdict of serendipity.
Still, it leaves the Ryman League Politburo with a fairly simple choice on Thursday afternoon. The Combined Counties League won’t be having an emergency meeting to review the Wembley groundsharing proposal. Unless the CCL relents, Mr. Turvey & Co. either let Hendon play games at venues on an ad hoc basis until a temporary base can be established or they throw Hendon out of the league."
Right! Back to the world of the living.
It's an interesting manuscript. I never seriously considered publishing it, as it would've caused a few ructions if it came to the attention of Planet Football's mainstream idolaters. I wouldn't even post the more opinionated bits on here. I couldn't justify shelling £3,000 to get it printed, simply in order to take some abuse.
If the Chinese aren't quite ready to take over Europe yet - something I'd welcome - it's almost a duty for Europeans who believe in Enlightenment values to fire as many pot-shots as they can at Equalitist idiocy.
Millionaire soccer players, in Western countries, compulsorily "Taking the Knee" in support of an "internal minority" that isn't amongst the top-200 in any objective list of most persecuted "internal minorities" that are on the business end of various government jackboots around the world!
Leave me out!
If Yanks want to "Take the Knee" in support of what they view as their nation's most underprivileged "minority" ("Native Americans" might give them an argument), then more power to them... but I can't see what business it is of citizens of other countries, who all ignore the plight of literally hundreds of ethnic, cultural & theological groups that suffer far more dee-scree-mee-nay-shun than the People Who Annoy Randy Marsh in the Good Ol' US of A have to "endure".
If the Irish want to "Take the Knee" in solidarity with their nation's most downtrodden group - "Travellers" - fair play to them... but I won't be holding my breath for that to happen... any more than I'll be holding my breath for a Knacker to be elected prime minister, appointed head of the armed forces, or even win seat in parliament. (In a country so "tolerant" that an ethnically Indian homosexual temporarily relinquished the prime ministerial throne only last spring.)
Ditto the population of Bucharest if they were to support the "Roma Community" in their neck of the woods. Again, I'm not holding my breath.
If I were Sacha Baron Cohen or Chris Morris, I'd have a "Batty Bwoys Matter!" movement up and running on social media platforms and I'd be contacting all these Anglo-Jamaican cretins on the "social justice" bandwagon to drum-up support for it. And I'd be recording the phonecalls for publication!
Soccer players supporting social justice!
Where is next year's World Cup being played?
Presumably North Korea wasn't available.
The conscripted workforce that might have built World Cup stadiums in North Korea would almost certainly have been living & working under better conditions than those still labouring on stadiums for next year's jamboree in Arabia... if only because Kim Jong-Un is better at PR than the Al-Thanis.
Someone ought to start a campaign to have soccer players boycott the FIFA / Al-Thani showcase... but boycotting the World Cup would cost the players some money; not a huge percentage of their income, but some... unlike "Taking the Knee."
One would have to unearth a letter that called for Adam Johnson to be executed as a paedophile - signed by Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, Rose West, Ian Watkins, Roman Polanski, Jerry Lee Lewis & Bill Wyman - to match that level of hypocrisy.
Anyhoo, should it see the light of day, it's your book, not mine. I wouldn't want anything to do with any income it makes - in the unlikely event that it makes any. Profits made by construction companies building the 2022 World Cup stadia are more easily morally defensible and less ethically repugnant than any profits made from any activity connected with the cesspit that is Planet Football.
I'll let you know.
Edited by AlanAinsworth at 14:35:52 on 10th January 2021