Sunday 22 February 2015

Fingers Says: Keep Off The Pitch (21/02/15)

Today was a bit of bust, but still brought up some interesting points about how clubs in the lower leagues can survive.

We were a man light today, but I still wanted to go to a game, so found myself drawn to see Hemel Hempstead Town Vs Chelmsford City. I’m somewhat convinced that their badge of Henry the 8th  is my favourite of all time, and the fact they are nicknamed ‘the Tudors’, is better than any Hatters, Gunners or Tigers!

I jumped on the train at Euston, only to be saved a wasted journey to Hertfordshire, because a quick check of Twitter told me the game had been called off due to a waterlogged pitch, and I managed to jump off at Wembley. Postponed games were occurring all across the country, and this was the 2nd game this week called off due to bad weather, after the cup game at Enfield, was also a victim of the same fate.

Thanks to the highly recommendable London Football Guide (@ldnfootyguide), a blog dedicated to listing all the games in London, in the top 10 tiers of the football pyramid, and a quick plea for help on Twitter, it was not long before I had found a game that was not too far away, Wealdstone Vs Gosport Borough. After a quick phone call to confirm the game was on, and a tube and cab ride, I arrived at The Vale.

Wealdstone is another example of a football club, hidden away in London’s sprawling suburbia. It was only the large team coach and men in high-vis jackets that made it clear I was in the right place. Within less time it takes for Usain Bolt to run 100 meters, I was informed the 2nd game of the day had been called off. It had just gone 14:30, all seemed lost, and the chance of getting to a game now was virtually zero.

The same person, who informed me the game was off, also informed me that the bar was open, and it would seem they were only way of the club making any money today. The game was off, and with Saturdays afternoon plans ruined, all that could be done was to grab a drink and mull around and discuss the referee’s decision. Countless people saying to each other “it looks fine to me”, and how in their day it would not be a problem and they should of just played on.

It’s a long trip back to Gosport, so no one seemed in a rush to get back on the road. The Gosport team had commandeered one corner of the club house. Next to a huge pile of kit bags, they enjoyed their lunch, and later on cracked out the poker chips and got down to playing a game of cards.

Before taking shelter from the cold in the club house, a single story building with club memorabilia on the walls, fruit machine’s blinking away and a large low ceilinged hall at the back with a dance floor, a stage at one end and seats and tables around the edge, I managed to get a few words from Jeremy Fox, Gosports Press Officer, as I was interested to hear the clubs perspective, and the affect a game being called off at short notice can have.

Frustration was the main emotion. Frustration as the team had spent 3 hours travelling and in traffic to get to the game, and further frustration because they would have to pay to hire a coach again. He thought the referee’s decision had been correct. Wealdstone had done everything they could have to get the pitch playable, having people out there since 07:00. I asked what financial implications there were, and if there was anything in place as a way of support from the league or FA if a game is called off at short notice.

The main financial implication for the club will be the need to pay to hire a coach again for when the game is rescheduled. There is no support in place for teams if a game is called off, it’s just considered as one of those things. The biggest financial implication of all falls on the home team, as the much needed gate money would not be earned, and in this world every penny counts.

As a small side note, I was able to get a quick glimpse, like a rare bird of perhaps Wealdstones most famous fan, and internet sensation the “Wealdstone Raider”.  I was very tempted to ask him for a picture, but as I was not in the mood for a confrontation I resisted, but perhaps when I visit again, I will be feeling a little bit braver.

The odd attempt at a chant would break out in the club house, but would always fall a bit short and peter out. People tried to amuse themselves with Jeff Stelling and his merry men on Sky Sports News, but everyone was a little flat. People were here to see their team play, as they love to do on a Saturday afternoon, but with it off all seemed a little lost as to what to do.

I was surprised to hear there is no safety net or some kind of support for teams affected by cancelled games, but perhaps it’s just my relative naiveté regarding the lower leagues, that would make me think that. Although I’m sure it’s a huge expense and might not be something many teams would even be able to consider, does this raise the question about investing in a 3G pitch, to ensure that games can go on though out the year, and the all-important money whatever the weather keeps coming in? Or once again am I being naive in thinking that clubs at this level could even consider such a huge outlay of money?

'LIKE' us on Facebook

 Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our YouTube channel


Follow us on Instagram - @beautifulgame15 - @beautifulgame15_ultra_stickers - @tomsparks3 #beautifulgame15

Words & Photographs by Daniel Magner.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Newport State Of Mind…… Oh No The BEAST Is Here - AFC Wimbledon Vs Newport County AFC, League Two, Kingsmeadow Stadium (07/02/15)

Today started a fair few hours before the 3 o’clock kick off, of our live game, at Vauxhall Station. Before enjoying what AFC Wimbledon and the Kingsmeadow stadium had to offer, there was a little matter of North London pride, bragging rights and whoever was going to get dinner depending on the victor to be contested. At 12:45 friendship was put aside for 90 mins because at White Hart Lane, the North London derby was being played.

As there was only half an hour from the final whistle of one game, and the start of another, on our bumper day of football, we decided to travel to Arsenals spiritual home South London, to watch the game in a Kingston pub, then move on to the live match of our double header.

On arrival in Kingston, Tom’s phone informed us of the many local watering holes, which show football and we made our way to the nearest one. From the outside it was not at first obvious if this pub did show football and signs for its brand new Tapas menu did not improve that. Tom spied a TV on a wall though a window, and as we opened the door we were greeted by an empty pub and a lady behind the bar sipping from a pint glass through a straw. We asked if they were showing the game, and she replied “What channel is it on”?, we both told her in unison it was BT, and with a shrug of her shoulders she said they did not show their games. On enquiring where we might catch the game locally, she screwed her face up so tight and simply said “I dunno”, after prompting the joyous landlady a little she pointed down the road and suggested the Oak’s.

After a short walk, we opened the door of another empty pub, only to find two guys behind the bar, studying an iPhone, and talking quietly to each other. It was clear from the GINORMOUS TV on the wall that they showed football, but most importantly did they show BT? The answer was a kind of yes as they were looking into streaming the game. With only 15 mins until kick off, and with reassurances that they would be able to show it, we looked at each other, decided to put all our eggs in one basket, and made ourselves comfy on the big leather sofa in front of the TV, which soon sparked to life and out flooded the dulcet tones of Owen Hargreaves and Micheal Owen.

As I must show impartiality when doing our blogs, and so as not to anger my compatriot, I will refrain from going into too much detail about the fantastic performance from Spurs, and the one Harry Kane, which resulted in a much deserved victory, 3 points, bragging rights and most importantly a Dirty Burger when we got back to Vauxhall!

We decided to jump in a cab to the match, as time was a little against us. Two things struck me on getting in. One was the overpowering smell of the air freshener and the second was the fact that every surface was covered in some kind of wipe down, black and red leatherette material, which made me wonder exactly what kind of Saturday night inspired natural disaster the driver was preparing his cab for?

After a short tour of suburbia, the tell-tale signs of match day became more and more obvious. The small group of fans in blue and yellow, the police huddling on street corners and a flood light towering above a semi-detached house.

We joined the crowds making their way to the ground, under a metal arch saying KINGSMEADOW, and made our way to the Chemsflow end, named after a local water treatment and air service company. Just before we entered the ground we noticed a group of what I think were local kids/youth, being spoken to by the police, one was on his own against a wall, when an older fan walked past and made the comment, “all you can smell is Lynx!”

The Chemsflow is a covered terrace, the whole length of the north end of the ground. Tom has a friend who is an AFC Wimbledon fan who suggested it was the best place to watch the game, and enjoy the atmosphere. He was not wrong!!

As we made our way to the other the end of the terrace to the way we had come in, because it was already very full, the teams came out, and chants of “AFC, AFC, AFC” started, and the singing and chants in one way or another never stopped. There were two huge flags hanging from the back of the stand, one stating the “THE REAL DONS ARE HERE”


There are two main reasons Tom and I, were looking forward to coming to see the Don’s. One was what the club stands for. It’s truly meteoric rise from its creation in 2002, and 5 promotions in 9 seasons to League 2 after the decision to effectively franchise Wimbledon FC, ripping the heart out of the community and moving them to Milton Keens, to create the MK Dons. A fan led stance against the death of their club, proving to everyone it’s the fans and community that make a club, the base of all its history. As a fan of a club who have flirted with moving to a different location, for what can only be financial reasons, and nothing else, this is something very close to my heart.


The second reason we were looking forward to coming was to see the two time FIFA strongest player, the only man ever to bench press his own Chairman, and the one who in these parts is simply known as the BEAST!!! And as the teams were read out this is how he is introduced, and shouts of “BEAST, BEAST” can be heard all around.


The visitors are in a state of mixed fortunes, they have just lost their manager, former Spurs player Justin Edinburgh to Gillingham, but still sit in a promotion place. The news that their Lottery winner Chairman, is going to stop bankrolling the club, which was seen to be a huge factor in Edinburgh leaving, is one he denies. Their caretaker manager will have a job lifting their heads, as on today’s performance, it looks like confidence is low.


The Dons are 6 places below Newport in the league but with number 10 Akinfenwa “Beast” up front, it only ever seemed like there was going to be one winner. And 11 mins in, he added to his goal count, after a cross from the right, Akinfenwa heads in for 1–0. Newport, much like Liverpool in their FA Cup game a week or so ago, are simply unable to get to grips with him. His sheer size, like something from the grid iron and not a football pitch, paired up with his good touches, completely by pass his lack of mobility and make him one of the most fascinating players I have ever seen live.


Newport have very little threat going forward, only the pace of their number 10 O’Connor and the hefty long throw of their number 13, Andy Sandell, look like causing any kind of problems, but with the Don’s number 22 Will Nightingale controlling things in defense and Akinfenwa being dominant in the air defensively and offensively, it doesn’t quite look like it’s going to happen for Newport.


The rest of the half is dominated by “easy” chances not taken by either side, first is Newport’s turn. A cross from the left is knocked down and only requires a toe poke, 2 feet out, only for who the AFC program have dubbed Newport’s well-travelled number 11, Chris Zebroski the “Fan Favourite” to miss. Zebroski seems quite the figure of fun for the Don’s fans, his propensity to go over easily and moan at the ref, has one person brand him a “Diva” and they don’t let up the whole game.

The Don’s chance comes from a really well worked set piece. The team set up as if anticipating a cross from the free kick to the left of the Newport box, only for the Dons to slip the ball down the channel to their unattended player to fire the ball across the front of the goal, only for everyone in blue to miss it, and it rolls out the other side unscathed.
The last chance of the half is one that goes begging by Newport. Their Rory Delap inspired throw in, breaches the Don’s at the back and is knocked down only for the Newport player to tamely poke it in to the arms of the keeper. They will come to rue these missed chances in the 2nd half.

The last action of the first half is to my amazement the first booking of the game. A high standing tackle to the stomach of Wimbledon’s number 40, Adedeji Oshilaja. I am frankly amazed at the physicality of the football, and have winced at some of the no nonsense tackles, and crunching 50/50, but everyone seems ok, stands up and dusts themselves off. Perhaps I have been watching the prima donnas of the Premier League for too long?

Half time is a quick trip to the bar, which means leaving the ground, being reminded by the stewards to make sure you have your ticket so you can get back in. On our way back in, the same group of lynx scented youths are being frisked by the stewards and seem to be doing everything in their power to be as obnoxious as possible.

The 2nd half starts with the Dons applying good pressure on the away team, and it’s only a few mins into the half when they get their first chance. It consisted with a low cross along the ground from the right, with a good touch to get it under control, only for Akinfenwa to be “eased” off the ball by the Newport defender. The fans standing behind us say it must be a penalty if they managed to ease him off the ball!

One older gent to our right shouts “They don’t like it up them Mr Mannering”. A feeling from the home fans around us, as I’m sure with many fans around the country is that when their team is 1 up, there is a need to score that all important 2nd goal and kill off the game.

Seconds after noting the feeling of the fans around us, regarding a lack of pressure, the Dons attacker makes a run into the Newport box, and this time the easing off the ball results in a trip, and he goes down. The instant chants of “Off, Off, Off” start, the referee obliges and the Newport number 3, Feely, is shown a red card and the referee awards a penalty.

There is only one person who was ever going to take it, you were never going to see a re-enactment of the Mirallas, Baines farce that played out at Goodison Park recently. Akinfenwa places the ball on the spot, turns, walks with a few steps, and with what can only be described as a slow amble makes his way back towards the ball, strikes it softly and without any real venom, makes it very easy for the Newport keeper, Joe Day, to dive to his right and make an easy save, it’s still only 1–0.

Even with the 1 man advantage the home fans still don’t feel like their team is going forward enough, but with 15 mins left to play, Akinfenwa got his 2nd of the day, and sealed the home victory. A low cross again from the left, across the ground, takes a slight deflection and he easily pokes it in for 2–0, to shouts of the BEAST.

There may be many other players called the beast, including ex Spurs player Sandro, and ex Manchester city player Negredo, but in my eyes now, there is only one beast, AFC number 10 AKINFENWA.

Today has been really fun, not only the victory in the derby, but the amazing atmosphere at the Kingsmeadow stadium. I don’t think I have ever heard so many different songs and been to a game where the singing did not stop. The icing on the cake and the biggest endorsement I could give AFC Wimbledon is the way the players gave their time after the match to pose for pics with a small group of kids, and two 30 year olds outside the players and official’s door. A single club official introduced the players as they exited to the Jnr Dons who were waiting patiently. Without a moment’s hesitation they were more than happy to oblige their clearly excited fans.

After getting to meet Akinfenwa ourselves and grab a quick picture, we had time for reflection in the very grand sounding Presidents lounge. Just outside the lounge was a cabinet displaying some of the clubs achievements and memorabilia, proudly displayed for all to see, a signed picture of Vinnie Jones, hoping they enjoy the medal, his FA Cup winning medal no less and a piece of the road sign of Plough Lane, Wimbledon’s spiritual home.  To outsiders like us, it is clear this club is very proud of where it’s from, and is firmly rooted in its local community, along with the fine atmosphere and constant singing, football has a lot to learn from the Don’s, for me they are the poster boys for what football is all about.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

'LIKE' us on Facebook

 Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our YouTube channel


Follow us on Instagram - @beautifulgame15 - @beautifulgame15_ultra_stickers - @tomsparks3 #beautifulgame15

Sunday 8 February 2015

No Way Out - Fulham FC Vs Sunderland A.F.C. - FA Cup 4th Round Replay, Craven Cottage (03/02/15)

Tonight was our first game under the flood lights.
Nestled serenely on the banks of the Thames, in SW6, we took the chance to get this club under our belts with the visit of Sunderland in their FA Cup 4th Round Replay, after a 0–0 stalemate. It was also our first post work game, so required some back and forth between me and Tom on Facebook messenger, to agree on a meeting point near Putney Bridge tube stop.

As I got there first and as it was only a short walk from the station, I ended up in the Temperance pub, with what also seemed like most of the away support. They were in very good voice already, something that would continue into the night. I snagged us a corner table, under a big TV showing La Liga highlights. I had one eye on that, one ear listening to Football Weekly and the other ear listening to loud renditions of “If you hate Newcastle clap your hands” and “Seb Larson, la, la, la, Seb Larson, la, la, la”, as I waited for Tom.

Tom arrived not long after me, txting me updates on his journey, “At Earls Court, fuck there are a lot of people”. Such was the amount of away support, by the time Tom had arrived, the pub had a queue to get in and a one in one out policy in action, as it was hardly a pub worth queueing up for, Tom suggested getting a few tins from the off licence and taking a romantic, night time stroll along the river towards the ground.

It was not my first visit to Craven Cottage, most recently I had seen Spurs play there on Boxing Day a few years ago, and on that occasion had the joy of seeing the Father from a family of 4 vomiting into a bush due to the previous night’s excess, as his Wife held their bemused children close as Daddy shamed himself in public. For Tom it was his first, and he instantly commented on the very plush surroundings of the ground. We were sat in the Johnny Haynes Stand almost exactly on the half way line. The stand is named after Fulham’s favourite Son, whose statue outside the ground is a much better fit than the one of Fulham’s other favourite Son Micheal Jackson (Tom was a bit gutted to say the least that the statue had been removed, leaving with Al -Fayed after he sold the club in 2013).

The stand itself is an example of architects Archibald Leitch, whose work can still be seen to this day in some way or another at other grounds such as Anfield and White Hart Lane. It really is a very fine example indeed with its red brick and iron work. In fact the stand from the outside looks more like a large Edwardian house than a football stadium. With this age, history and character comes some major issues that become very obvious in the 21st century.

Our seats where on the aisle, 4 rows from the front, in what could only be described as footballs answer to no man’s land. The long rows of seats were only serviced by two exits at the far end of each row, with an aisle in the middle which did not lead anywhere. This seemed to be caused by the placing of the press box, slap bang in the middle of the stand, furnished with what looked like original fold down wooden seats, and caused no end of confusion. The constant up and down, back and forth of confused fans trying to get out, find their seats, brought a smile to Tom and mines faces only after being caught out ourselves by the Rubik’s cube which is the Johnny Haynes stand.

The game itself was to be played out by two teams who probably felt this was a welcome distraction from current league form. Sunderland currently 14th in the Premier league, but still flirting with the bottom 3, hoping the goals of Defoe brought in this January from his self imposed exile in Canada, would be enough to stave off the Championship for another year.

Fulham stand 15th in the Championship, and are really in a bit of a slump. After the disastrous reign of Felix Magath and his cheese sorcery, failed to keep Fulham up last season and a shocking run of games at the begging of life in the Championship, resulted in him getting the boot, and making promotion for Fulham look a long way off.

The first half was dominated by what seemed like Fulham’s absolute reluctance to go forward, and keep hold of the ball, and Sunderland’s number 4, Bridcutt doing a good job at breaking up play. On the occasions they did get forward, it was normally on the counter, with the pace of Fulham’s number 12, Seko Fofana as the focal point, but it seemed to break down time after time, because of a lack of quality in the all important final pass. The sentiments of the crowd were reflected in the constant chorus of grumbling and shouts of, “Come on Fulham, FORWARD”.

The two best chances of the half fell to Sunderland. A snap shot from the edge of the box, straight at the keeper, Bettinelli, hit with such force it caused him to palm it out, and resulted in the Fulham defence scrambling the ball out for a corner. The second chance was from the same side, but this time a low shot on target, which Bettinelli got just enough of a glove on to make sure it went wide and not inside his far post. Although the best chances had fallen to Sunderland, it was Fulham who went in at half time ahead. Their first corner on 28mins was flicked on at the near post, and after a short game of pinball in the Sunderland box, Fulham number 20, Rodallega pokes it in, and points to the heavens in celebration, 1-0.

Half time was a scramble to try and get a drink and to fulfil Tom’s aim of eating and ranking the food at all grounds we visit, like a new app on Trip Advisor. After shuffling along with all the other frozen souls past the press area, and making eye contact with Phil Brown the now Southend manager and ex Hull manager, who I got a nod and a wink from under his grey flat cap and Marbella brown face. The queue for the loo was long, and the loo could perhaps only be described as a cupboard under the stairs, so I gave up and left Tom to it, and his hunt for a pie!

It was perhaps 10 mins into the 2nd half when the people next to me rose, and I heard “sorry, sorry, sorry”. It was Tom, with his camera in one hand, and a pie in the other. He shoved it my way and wished me Happy Christmas, it was a Craven Cottage pie, (which Tom ranked a very generous 8.5).
It was warm and tasty and much needed. The temperature had seemed to nose dive, and it helped me get the feeling back in my hands.

The first quarter of the second half was all Sunderland. If Fulham had won, it was never going to be called a giant killing even though there is a league separating each team and Fulham were a premium league team 12 months previously, but Sunderland came out with more purpose and had perhaps not really got out of first gear in the first half. A word from Poyet at halftime, and with Bridcutt still breaking things up very well in midfield, Fulham where pinned back in their half, struggling to get out and it only seemed a matter of time before Sunderland scored.

On the hour mark Sunderland got their equalising goal, after I think what you would call a howler from Bettinelli. A routine catch from a Sunderland cross, which took a deflection off a Fulham player, looped up in the air and unchallenged he caught it, and then dropped it in his own net, 1-1.
Sunderland fans were now singing loudly, while the Fulham fans around us shouted “wake up Fulham!” You got the feeling that with all the pressure being piled on, things were slipping away from Fulham. Fofana is the main man for their attacks, but his good bursts of pace were undone by a lack of quality in the final 3rd.

On 73mins Bettinelli went some way to make things up to the home crowd, charging out of goal one on one with the Sunderland attacker and stopping them going behind. One minute later though there is very little he can do about the shot from Sunderland’s number 20, Alvarez on loan from Inter Millan. He receives the ball unmarked on the right, drives into the box, and with a little bit of clever footwork to cut the ball back on to his left, bypassing two Fulham defenders and firing in a blistering shot past the Fulham keeper. Alvarez picks up the ball, trots towards the corner flag on the left hand side, shoves the ball up his shirt, and sucks his thumb, its 1–2 Sunderland. Renditions of “We are going to Wembley, Que Cera Cera” and the smoke of a flare fill the away end, things just get tougher for Fulham and the crowd is very subdued. 

On 79 mins at the far side of the pitch, a full team on team, royal rumble kicks off, with handbags swinging, after Fofana seems to kick out at a Sunderland player who attempts to slow the taking of a throw in, which results in an angry response from some of the Sunderland players. The home fans shout “off, off, off” as the referee consults with his assistant in the centre of the pitch. The home fans though are disappointed as it’s only a yellow for Giaccherini after raising his hands, and everyone keeps there full complement of 11 players.

Fofan has done all he can, but it’s not been enough this evening. He goes off with 9mins left to be replaced by local boy, 17 year old star in the making Patrick Roberts. Much is expected of this youngster, can he turn things around for Fulham, this late in the game? Not long after coming on it seems the stage is set for him to draw things level, after picking up the ball in midfield, he flies down the wing, only at the crucial moment he decides not to shoot, carries the ball on that little bit further, and the plight of Fulham rears its head again, and his final ball is poor, and things quickly break down.

The board showing extra time goes up, Fulham have 5mins to get the equalizer and force the game into extra time. The home fans are now at a peak of frustration as their team are still just in the game, but poor decision making means attacks seem to fall apart at the crucial point. On the other hand the Sunderland fans can sense the 5th round is almost here and keep on singing. And it’s not long until all hope is lost and it will not be Fulham progressing to the next round.

Second half Sunderland substitute, Danny Graham receives the ball with his back to goal, and then him and his marker fall in slow motion to the ground. The referee sees it, as he has been pulled down, and points to the spot. A straight forward penalty from Jordi Gomes, sends the keeper the wrong way, and it’s all over now, 1–3 to the away team, and it’s the end of Fulham’s cup run for another year.

Tom and I hold fire leaving the ground, Tom wants to take some pictures and neither of us, are in a rush. Our relaxed attitude to going home results in a quick photo opportunity with Phil Brown, who was very happy to let Tom take a picture of me and him. By the time Tom has finished up, the stewards are shutting up shop and glare at us, to be fair it’s been freezing tonight and I’m sure the only thing they want to do is go home. Once on the streets outside, things have cleared very quickly and only the police horses and the odd wandering Mackem are to be seen.

There was though, a small congregation of people, maybe only 15 – 20 strong, self stewarding themselves behind some metal railings, by the players exit to the ground. It’s soon very clear these are what seem to be “professional autograph hunters”, with a few hundred match attack cards of Sunderland players with sharpies in hand or pre tensed Sunderland shirts ready for the scrawl of the payers soon to be appearing to get on the leviathan of a coach that has just pulled up to take them some, or all the way back to the North East.

They clearly have one target in mind, and it’s not long before he arrives and calls of “Jermaine, Jermaine, Jermaine” ring out as the sharpie slingers gather around him. As a Spurs fan, it was quite cool to see him up front and in the flesh. And one of the advantages of being a big lad, meant that I could reach over the “professionals” in front of me and for a brief second get him to sign my match day program.

 Part of the reason Tom and I are doing this, is to see if that connection between players still exists somewhere in the modern game. Defoe has been around the block, so I’m sure he can tell the difference between a fan, and someone out to make a quick couple of quid on Ebay from his signature on a kid’s card game. I never expected him to be chatty or even really engage, and I’m sure the guys hassling him on the phone, for more signatures did not improve his mood, but it would have been nice for a split second to have a slight connection with a person whose name I had sung, but then I guess I’m not that cheery after a day at work either!

For all of our photographs from match, click HERE

'LIKE' us on Facebook

 Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our YouTube channel


Follow us on Instagram - @beautifulgame15 - @beautifulgame15_ultra_stickers - @tomsparks3 #beautifulgame15

Saturday 7 February 2015

More Flags Than Fans - Wingate & Finchley FC Vs Lewes FC, Ryman Premier League, Harry Abrahams Stadium (24/01/15)

The first game on our football tour of London was a local one.

Wingate & Finchley FC, of the Ryman Premier League. Only about 10 mins from my house as the crow flies, and nestled between a rugby club, a David Lloyd Centre and a Vue cinema complex in N12. Before attending the game, I had fired over a quick email on the club website to see if we could arrange a photo with a player or even the 1st team coach or manager. The reply was almost instantaneous from Paul, who offered not only a picture, but a chance to look around behind the scenes of the club. He suggested coming along on match day and asking for him on arrival. As I arrived at about 13:00 on a near perfect day for football, a cool crisp January afternoon, with a blue sky and not a cloud in it I was met by Paul, and after spending £10 on my ticket and £2 on my program, off we went for a tour of the club.

Paul is a board member and lifelong Wingate & Finchley fan, although he did admit in dabbling in the dark arts and is also a Man Utd fan. His Grandfather, who was 98 this year and still attends home games when the weather is agreeable, was a founder of Wingate, one half of the two clubs that had merged to become Wingate & Finchley.

Wingate had a fascinating history as they were set up by Paul’s grandfather and others, as a way to combat anti-Semitism in post war England. They are  named after a British war time General Orde Wingate credited as one of the founders of modern guerrilla war fare, creator of the Chindits and trained Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary organization which went on to form the Israelis Defense Force. The Star of David is still visible today on the clubs badge.

We first visited the home changing room, it was still early but the home shirts had been hung, and were awaiting the players. A few people milled about, including Ronaldo the clubs kit man. The walls of the changing room were adorned with motivational prompts for the players, such as “Sport doesn’t build character, it builds it”, my favourite was the slightly modified version of the famous JFK 1961 inauguration address, “Ask not what your team mates can do for you, but ask what you can do for your team mates”

As well as the tactics board, football themed clock and the “don’t wash your boots in the shower” sign, there was a gold plaque above a door way dedicated to a youth player Dean Saunders, who had sadly died on the pitch due to a heart defect.

As we left the changing room and walked up the tunnel to go pitch side, a few of the away team players piled out of their team bus, and made their way to to their changing room. As Paul and I got to the pitch we were soon joined by the groundsman Andy Ward, who I was introduced to. I commented on the previous night’s deluge of rain causing him a headache, but he was quick to say it was only x millimeters and would not be a problem. By this quick response and obvious great condition of the playing surface you could tell he was man who was very good at his job.

Pitch side I was also introduced to the first team coach, Daniel Nielsen. He was what you might call a Wingate & Finchley “Man”. A product of the clubs youth team, who had spent the majority of his career with the club other than a 3 year spell away, had returned to take the reigns as head coach, as W&F have adopted the very continental system of head coach and director of football.

At this point the referee and his assistants approached, they to, inspected the pitch commenting themselves what great condition it was in, as always. With the ref inspecting the pitch this meant the board room was free, and that was going to be our next stop.

The board room door was an innocuous looking blue one at the base of the main stand, a main stand which for all you architecture aficionado’s is the oldest canter leaver stand in the country. The “NO PARKING” sign was bigger than the “Boardroom” one, and as we entered before me laid out on the bar were a few dozen cups and saucers and an older gentleman in a blazer holding a very large metal tea pot, as well as two other gents going about club related duties. 

A welcoming hand was offered by all three, as well as a much needed cup of tea. The Board room was not grand, no large oak board table, and was not huge, perhaps only the size of your living room. What it lacked in size and grandeur it made up for in character and history. The walls were liberally decorated with many interesting pointers to the clubs previous success and history. The gold gilt framed painting of one of its founders, the pennants of visiting clubs, the varnished wooden honors board, adorned in gold lettering and just under the TV was a picture of the 1961 England team including World Cup winner Bobby Charlton, who had trained at the Wingate ground before a game against Ireland.

It was getting close to 14:00 and Toms arrival was imminent, a quick glance at my phone, and I saw a txt and a missed call. The txt was from Tom, looking for a reply to his question earlier in the day asking me to let him know if there was a burger van, and the missed call was because he had arrived.

I was conscious of not taking up too much of Paul’s time. He had said previously that no one had rung him yet, so things must be ok. So after grabbing Tom, and heading to the Clubhouse “The Wingate”, I introduced Tom to Paul, thanked him for all his help, and Tom and I sat down for a pre match pint, and a chance for us to catch up on the afternoons events.

The TV was the main focal point for the people in there, a mixture of home and away fans watching the FA Cup round 3 take place and a match between Blackburn & Swansea. W&F had equaled their best FA Cup run this year, only going out to Havent & Waterlooville, who not so long ago famously took Liverpool to a replay at Anfield. Not long before kickoff the same guy who was manning the turnstiles was handing out team sheets, when he got to one table and had run out, he was asked if he could print off a few more, and the man asking was the Lewes manager! 

Pint in hand we made our way pitch side, and spent the first half standing with the away fans who had made their way up from the south coast. After 20mins they were not in the best of moods, because after a frantic first 5 minutes and some good work from the Lewes number 7 on the left wing, who had looked threatening so far and their main threat at goal,W&F went ahead after a shot from David Knight squirmed under the Lewes keeper for a soft 1st goal and chants of “David Knight, Knight, Knight” rang out from the home crowd.

The Lewes manager did what he could with repeated shouts of “make the pitch big”, but 13 mins later the away end was an even more unhappy place to be, as a burst pace from the F&W number 11, Karl Oliyide, who was described to me by a home fan as “running like a scolded cat”, burst down the right and shot across the keeper making it 2 – 0. It was not long after that the number 11, the best home player of the first half was subbed off after suffering a large gash on the knee right in front of us, the intimacy of lower league football brought sharply in to focus. After the game Daniel Neilson said he was “ok”, he just had to have it “glued closed”.

The 2nd half started, and we had moved to be closer to the home support. Curiously they had moved as well to what was now behind the Lewes keeper. The small covered terrace behind the goal, The Harvey Ackerman Stand was now very full, and as well as flags hanging from the roof, they were generating a good amount of noise. The bulk of that noise seemed to be led by a group of fans from Northampton who used to hold season tickets at Arsenal and would travel down to every home game, who happened to go to a W&F game by chance, and had now replaced the Emirates with the Harry Abrahams Stadium. They had also been priced out for following their first love, so wanted to redirect that passion somewhere it was appreciated.

The main talking point of the 2nd half, which unfolded right in front of us was a dubious offside call, which resulted in a very classy 3rd goal for W&F being chalked off. A great bit of skill from the number 8, Tommy Tejan – Sie, saw him jink pass his marker as he cut in to the box after a pass from a short corner and slot it in to the bottom right hand corner, only for the refs assistant a few feet away from us, and who only looked about 17, to raise his flag for off side. He claimed a home player was standing offside, and was interfering with play.

As seems to be the way nowadays with all players, regardless of the league W&F descended on the refs assistant, pointing out in their eyes the mistake he had clearly made. The ref, much older and who had had a good control on the game, communicating well with the players and management, at one point telling the Lewes manager to have a word with one of his players because “he keeps yapping in my ear”, demanded the players leave the area, so he could consult with his assistant. As if the Sky cameras were on them and to prevent the red tops and Gary Neville scrutinizing their discussion, they covered their mouths and discussed the call he had made. The call stood, the ref pointed for a free kick and the game continued.

2 – 0 was the final score, and a much deserved home win. Lewes really lacked any threat in the 2nd half, especially after their very lively number 7 went off, something Daniel Nielsen was very chuffed about when we spoke to him after the game. As with some managers/coaches after a win, they always seem to think they could have been that little bit better, and he thought they were “OK”, “should of scored more, probably had a penalty, but did enough to win”.

I had been invited by one the blazered gents I had met before the match to join them for a drink at full time in the board room. Another sign of how friendly and welcoming they had been, since my first contact with the club. I knocked on the blue door, let myself in, to what was now a much fuller room, the FA Cup scores updating on the TV, not a good day for Spurs, but today was not about them. The cups of tea at the bar had now been replaced with beer, and I thanked Paul again for all his help, and generosity, and left them to their drinks and post-match meal.

From talking to Paul it clear he has a real passion for the club, and is doing everything in is power to make them a stable team in the division, two recent relegation battles have made this their top priority. Visiting local schools and holding community days to drum up support and funds. I also saw him get a stray match ball from a hedge behind the goal, so he is happy to get his hands dirty! Most of the staff are volunteers, and Paul was quite honest in saying that with their budget they should be in the league below and are punching well above their weight. The lower leagues it would seem are also vulnerable to the money men of football and only recently the “Manchester City” of the division, Margate have recently got a billionaire board member, so a team with a 150 average gate, are always fighting an uphill struggle.

I have been to some “big” games as a Spurs fan, and have enjoyed myself a lot, but today was different. The closeness, the stripped back feel of it all being there for the football and enjoying the game and the atmosphere with Tom, the obvious connection with the club the board and fans have is a very special thing indeed. I hope their work in the local community will open people’s eyes to the fact that everything you could want in football team is right on the doorstep, and soon hopefully they will have more fans than flags.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

'LIKE' us on Facebook

 Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our YouTube channel


Follow us on Instagram - @beautifulgame15 - @beautifulgame15_ultra_stickers - @tomsparks3 #beautifulgame15