Styles: We were down to the bare bones

Earlier this week I caught up with Tunbridge Wells boss Richard Styles after the government announced the return of fans to football after the end of the lockdown on on 2nd December:

TK: How frustrating has it been to have the four week break just when Tunbridge Wells had been enjoying a good start to the season?

RS: The four week lockdown and suspension to the season was always going to be frustrating for all teams, fortunately for us we were really down to the bare bones before the lockdown came in and the squad was really stretched.

This time off we’ve been able to put a positive spin on things and allow our medical staff to work with our players carrying injuries and knocks to recover whilst at home enabling the squad to be at full strength when we return.

TK: That sounds encouraging. Do you think it might take a while for sides to get back into the groove once again?

RS: I think it’ll depend on what clubs have done with their players during the break, it’s not a pre-season type situation when we return. As staff we came together as soon as it was announced the season was being suspended, we spoke to professionals within the industry and came up with a plan to use with our boys to maintain their match fitness levels whilst recovering from any knocks and fatigue.

I feel happy with what my players have done during this period and I think it’s been effective for us. I’d expect any club at this level or above to have the same input and thought process to be honest. If they haven’t then yeah it might take a while for some to get going again.

TK: Are you concerned with a cold start there will be a lot of injuries occurring?

RS: Not really, our players played 12 league games, plus FA Vase and FA Cup since the ‘later’ start of the season so we’ve adapted well to managing the players and the times between games.

I can’t see it being any worse than it was before the lockdown. I do think teams need to utilise their squads correctly with their workload though to ensure they limit the amount that might occur.

TK: Would you be in favour of the use of 5 substitutes per game or happy with the current 3 being allowed?

RS: I’d be happy to go to 5, these players are only part time, they have jobs, families and other commitments etc. so are more inclined to pick up an injury or two or fatigue. At the same time, if it remains at 3 it’s what we know so no major complaints.

TK: What are you looking forward to most when we resume the season in the next couple of weeks?

RS: Looking forward to getting the boys back playing and training again as well as back to some sort of normality. From the football side of things I’m looking for us to hit the ground running and to gain as many points as we can in the upcoming games.

TK: Bearing in mind we’re going to see more Saturday-Tuesday combinations in the coming weeks and months do you expect yourselves or others to add to their squads?

RS: Quite possibly, those with smaller squads will certainly have to look at it. I know we have identified where we felt we could strengthen and have explored some options.

TK: Are you hopeful we could see more than 300 fans allowed into the Culverden Stadium to watch the action?

RS: Certainly, I know I speak for all the playing and management staff when I say we always want as many of our fans as possible at every game. If we are allowed more than 300 supporters safely then I’d welcome it.

NB: Since the interview in midweek, Kent have been placed in tier 3 and with it the suspension of Southern Counties East League until Saturday 26th December.

Beadle and Barnet – jury is out

Nine games in, the season is still early and not without its interruptions from positive covid tests but how has it faired for Barnet and Peter Beadle so far?

A rushed pre-season, short window to sign players given the late managerial appointment after the departure of Darren Currie, Beadle might well have had the odds stacked against him, but that was known when taking the job with a reduced budget compared to that of his predecessor.

The beginning wasn’t great, the middle mixed and the current has the jury out. We all know it can take time for new players to gel into a unit and for results to come with it, but how long and how many games do you give it?

Granted I have only been able to watch since the Burton FA Cup game, a match which showed we can defend even with ten men and won with a super strike from Wes Fonguck.

Since then it’s looked like confidence evaporated straight after that game with successive defeats to Bromley, Kings Lynn, and Woking. Neil Smith’s Bromley did do a number on us as did Ben Strevens’ Eastleigh on the opening day of the season, both exploited the frailties of a squad lacking depth and in some cases better quality than previous seasons.

Neither the Kings Lynn nor Woking performances covered the team or Beadle with any glory, defensively the side has looked unable to provide Scott Loach with any cover in front of him, 19 goals conceded so far tells its own story with only two other clubs letting in more goals at the time of writing.

While stopping them going in is a problem, scoring them isn’t any better. Currently just eight times the Bees have hit the net which works out of course at less than one a game and averaging two in Loach’s net each time they take the field it doesn’t take a genius to work it out.

Are the players not good enough? Are they not following the undertaking the game plan to the letter? Have certain players been missed while out injured? Are the manager and his coaching staff not getting the maximum from them once they cross the white line?

James Dunne has been missed whilst out injured, the difference you could see watching Tuesday night’s game against Hartlepool as he returned, Harry Taylor moving into centre half makes a difference as well, more calmness and composure.

There are a few players in my opinion who are either out of form or look lacking at this level, whether there is anything left in the budget to make any moves remains to be seen, so far the loan signing of Mo Faal looks anything like a success with no impact either as a substitute or a starter.

Anthony Wordsworth has looked a class above since signing for the Bees, the problem to me is that most of the others are not on the same wavelength to some of the great balls he plays forward.

The touchline worries me, I’ve yet to see Beadle do much more than stand there at the back of the technical area with his hands in his pockets, it appears Steve Jenkins does most of the work. That may well be the way their dynamic works I don’t know, for a National League manager I expect a little bit more.

Don’t get me wrong I want Beadle to work out, for the players to work out, but it doesn’t always and as Barnet fans we’ve seen it often enough. I can stomach the losses if we’ve played well to a man, that at Woking looked like a club short on ideas. Hartlepool was defensively an improvement, a start at least, at the other end the lack of chances created and shooting opportunities fashioned by players on their own is in desperate need of improvement.

On the current basis of things most of us will be happy with finishing away from the bottom three and in mid-table, unless there is a huge run of form round the corner, no doubt this will be an interesting few weeks to come, but by the looks of things, we will be at The Hive to watch it unfold, I might get that beer from Darren Currie before Xmas………

The wait for some is almost over

I’m not sure as I write this which I am more pleased about following the government’s decision on Monday to definitely release us from a second lockdown on 2nd December, coincidently my birthday, the fact I may well be able to attend a National League football match or the fact I can resume writing programme columns and even think about trying to get some more clubs on board.

No one can deny this hasn’t been the year for very much, granted this blog has been outstanding to write and to see the viewing figures and visitors on a daily, weekly, monthly basis has been the one shining light through 2020.

As most of you reading will know I backed the #LetFansIn campaign way back at the end of summertime, started by Dorking Wanderers and taken on by the many. Whilst at Steps 3-6 we saw supporters from the first game of the season in September the promise of that for the National League ‘elite’ from 1st October was dashed away just days before reality.

Now as we head into December and dependant upon what tier they decide your club’s area will fall into, some fans should be watching top level non-league football for the first time this season and about time too.

In my opinion there was no reason why a dumbed down version couldn’t have been started from that October date with pilot event numbers of around 1000 fans, whilst I appreciate cases were rising it was no different across the world and especially in Europe where they decided to allow fans into watch and across the pond in the NFL it’s been going on for weeks.

The next few days will doubt be full of speculation as to whether you will indeed be watching your National League team in person or still via a stream. Not everyone will be comfortable in attending, it should be down to personal risk and your own choice whether you decide football is safe enough for you, if not I hope clubs persist with streaming games, its vital for a lot of people’s mental health to be able to watch their team in some shape or form.

Despite allowing fans back in, some clubs are going to be under capacity for what they would normally be allowed across a standard season, this however is the start and unlike Steps 3-6 where it was a one size fits all for levels 3&4 and for 5&6 regardless of your average support, the NL has put it together on a club by club capacity basis.

I believe there should be a re-think of the levels allowed now for the rest of non-league football. There are a few clubs who hit the 600 and 300 maximum mark a few times during the opening two months. I’m not suggesting we go crazy here and make it almost a free for all, but we’re in the open air, transmission levels we know are much lower and there is space to social distance. I believe allowing an increase of 200 on those levels would be enough to allow more income into these clubs which has been sadly lacking since March.

Most clubs will not hit these figures especially if some of those who have been taking in games after not being able to watch their own team in action decide to return to those clubs.

The next question will be away fans or not? Whilst it would make things easier to police for a lot of clubs would it be detrimental to the action on the pitch? And by that I mean if the home side is not in the ascendancy and their fans start to get on the player’s backs then advantage to the away team, I’m sure it’s a big discussion point across meetings at this very moment.

I write currently for three clubs, East Preston, and Langney Wanderers in the Southern Combination League and Met Police in the Pitching In Southern League, the latter beginning literally just before lockdown. Two of the three have their own custom written column which changes every home game, no two pieces are the same.

I’m really looking forward to getting back to having deadlines during the week, a bit more normality as I had during September and October. Needless to say there will be plenty to write about as always and with this four week break in proceedings more midweek football to find and write about to keep this blog smashing the figures it keeps doing…….

Strevens: We are quite happy with where we are squad wise for now

My final interview this week comes from Eastleigh FC boss Ben Strevens reflecting on the start to the season for the Hampshire club:

TK: An excellent start to the season after seven games, are you placed where you expected to be so far?

BS: I honestly didn’t know what to expect at the start of the season as pre-season seemed a strange time. We are happy with our points total, but we realise it’s early days. Hopefully, we will keep on improving as the season progresses.

TK: Summer recruitment seems to have gone well, how have the new players settled in?

BS: Yeah, they have settled in really well, we purposely recruited more youthful players with the hope of helping them improve themselves. They have added to the players we managed to keep and that was just as important as the new guys coming in.

TK: Although it is still very early in the season in terms of games played, are there one or two sides that have surprised you with their results?

BS: Wealdstone have started really well after their promotion from the National South. I am surprised by some of the teams towards the lower part of the table, but as you say it’s still really early to judge those teams.

TK: Do you think that the stop start scenario for some teams has played a part in where they are in the current table?

BS: I certainly don’t think it helps, but it will be the case for all of us over the course of the season, quite sure of that. We now go two weeks without a competitive game which isn’t ideal either.

TK: How challenging has it been to get the players in the right frame of mind for playing in empty stadiums?

BS: That’s been fine to be honest, I have a good group that are hungry to win and do well. We would all love fans back in the grounds but the games still matter and points are there to be won.

I am really hoping like everyone else that in the new year the fans will be back watching us live.

TK: Although the club have received grants and the Lottery bail-out to help with no income, was there any effect if any on your playing budget?

BS: Yes, we reduced things to make sure we were ready for all circumstances. But at the same time that also fitted with the profile of the player we were trying to attract to the club.

TK: If for example you felt you needed an extra player or two to keep momentum going, would these current circumstances restrict that happening or be favourable to you?

BS: We are quite happy with where we are squad wise for now. We managed to add Ryan Hill from Hampton & Richmond and Tom Blair from Dorchester a few weeks back, but if I really needed someone or had an injury to a key player I’m sure the club would back me.

TK: Finally, we touched on it earlier, how important is it that we see fans back in stadiums in 2021?

BS: I really hope they are the fans are the lifeblood of every football club. Every team is missing them being there to see the action, hopefully in the new year they will be back in and I really can’t wait for that!

Smith: We do miss having the supporters as they are so important

On Wednesday I caught up with Bromley FC boss Neil Smith via text to find out how the season has gone for him so far:

TK: It’s been a stop and start season so far, how pleased are you with how the team has played so far?

NS: It’s been difficult with so long off from last season getting this season started was great but then we picked up silly injuries and it’s been hard trying to field an unchanged team.

We are just starting to play to how I want us to play so overall it’s been ok but we need to be better.

TK: Do you think we’ll be looking at a season full of interruptions or some calmness might prevail in the New Year?

NS: I think it will be a stop, start, go kind of season until the vaccine comes in, even then I think there will still be little outbreaks in places that cause us to stop.

TK: Only seven games in so far, but are you happy with where you are currently placed in the National League table?

NS: I’d like to have a few more points but to be just outside the play-off places with games in hand isn’t bad. It will be a tough league and there are a lot of clubs that could do it this season so it is early but we want to be in and amongst it all season if we can.

TK: Are there any clubs that have surprised you so far?

NS: Maidenhead and Wealdstone have had a fantastic start to this season and this shows just how competitive it will be for us this year.

TK: Has it been tough to motivate the players to play in front of empty stadiums each week?

NS: We do miss having the supporters as they are so important and it’s so much better having them watching us but the players are trying to create their own atmosphere.

The motivation isn’t a problem as they had so long not playing that I think they missed it that much they really appreciate how lucky they are to be playing football.

As a manager and a player you still have that mentality to win every game and we are still playing for the supporters and their club. We still want them to be proud of their team even though they are not here in person.

TK: Having watched you via the stream on Saturday against Barnet it looked like everything clicked and went to plan, was it almost the complete performance?

NS: It was a great performance from all the players and apart from letting a goal in and not taking a couple more of our other chances it was more like how we can play.

We’ve had a couple of games where we have a good first half and a not so good second half and vice versa. This was a more complete ninety minutes and gives us something to build from.

TK: Do you expect the table to settle down a bit in the next four weeks and give a more balanced idea of how the season might pan out?

NS: Yes I do, but I also still believe with being disrupted with positive tests and waterlogged pitches that it’s going to be a hard season to predict.

TK: How good have the chairman and the board been in helping the club be competitive again this season?

NS: They have been amazing from the start of lockdown to where we are now. The chairman made a statement saying that the club being sustainable was our main aim during these hard times but he also made sure everybody was ok and we did some fantastic work out in the community as well.

Since the start of this season he has backed and supported myself and my management team with his experience. He wants to give me the best chance to get Bromley into the play-offs for the first time even in what are unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in.

TK: And do you think if you needed one or two extra for a final push later in the season it’s able to happen?

NS: I always keep something back myself in the budget for someone who might become available. Who knows, hopefully I’m in that situation and I’ll then find that answer out!

TK: We touched on it earlier, but how crucial is it to have the supporters back inside Hayes Lane in 2021?

NS: It’s so important for everyone, the supporters want to get back to watch live football but also to meet up with friends and family and as a club we can only survive with people coming to watch, the players also want to be playing in front of the paying public for that atmosphere. We are missing the fans as much as they are missing getting out and going to their clubs.

Currie: My love and enthusiasm for football is still beaming

Earlier this week I caught up with ex-Barnet FC boss Darren Currie to find out what he’s been up to since leaving The Hive before this season began:

TK: What’s been the life of Darren Currie since leaving Barnet at the end of the summer?

DC: It’s been very different not being around football as it’s been in my life from a child, Saturdays have not quite been the same, I’ve either been glued to the vidiprinter or walking round Sainsburys with my wife.

In a normal situation without the pandemic I would be at games 2 or 3 nights a week and visiting training grounds but that’s not a possibility, however my love and enthusiasm for football is still beaming and I can’t wait for another opportunity.

TK: Can’t get in the way of your housework! Have you kept in touch with other managers and coaches just to keep involved and in touch with the game?

DC: Of course the housework is now my job but I’ve always been the house proud type!

Yes, I’ve had lots of conversations with many people across the game at all levels, I’ve always found football debate interesting because everyone has an opinion and you can always learn something from someone, there is always something that can provoke you to think.

TK: You’ve been getting out to watch a lot of games like most of us until the beginning of this month, has it given you some food for thought on how Steps 3-6 approach the game?

DC: I’ve watched a few games, some good, some not so good but that’s football! From a recruitment point of view there are gems at all levels so always worth a watch.

There is no right or wrong way of playing, everyone does it how they see the game and their own personal values, there’s been some different styles for sure.

TK: Does it bring home the frustration a little more at times watching from behind the barrier rather than directing from the dugout?

DC: Yes and no. I’m a fan like everyone else so I do understand, it depends whats being asked of the players, fans may think someone is not doing well but the coach believes he’s doing his job that’s been asked of him that benefits the team or a team-mate but yes I can understand that it can frustrate.

TK: Have you felt quite proud that a majority of last season’s Barnet team have gone on to bigger things, a mention of course for Jack Taylor and his full Republic of Ireland call up.

DC: Yes, very proud of them all to be honest, we had a great atmosphere in the changing room last season and although I’m no longer their manager I have kept in contact with them all and speak regularly.

Part of my management style is to create relationships and invest in the person as well as the player so I will always look out for them.

JT is not surprising anyone, he’s a terrific player whose football journey will just get better and better, and many coaches can take credit for his development as can myself and Junior (Lewis) but the main credit goes to Jack himself for his attitude and drive to keep improving.

He’s on the big stage now so everyone connected to the Bees will be watching on proudly.

TK: Would you expect Harry to follow his brother up the footballing ladder in the next season or two? And how different a player is Harry to Jack?

DC: I do expect Harry to climb the ladder as well most definitely. Jack is the eye catcher with goals, assists and driving runs whereas Harry is the consistent versatile reliable player that will go a little unnoticed by some on occasion but as a manager or a coach he’s a brilliant player to have.

Both are great boys in the changing room and it was a pleasure to work with them.

TK: Have you watched anything of Barnet this season or followed things from afar?

DC: Followed from afar mostly but I watched the cup game against Burton Albion which they deserved to win, great effort from the team with 10 men. When the gates open again I will definitely get back to The Hive to watch them play.

TK: That’s because you’re buying the beer! Are Junior or any of the other staff that worked under you back in the game or like yourself waiting for an opportunity?

DC: Everyone is waiting for another opening to come. Yes I will get the beers for sure!

TK: When you see your name linked to jobs around the country as teams haven’t started as well as they’d liked to have, as bad as it might sound are you willing a chairman or two to pull the trigger?

DC: It’s the unfortunate side to the game that someone will lose their job to allow someone else the chance. That will always be the case.

TK: How have you kept yourself busy so far in this second lockdown besides hoovering and bed making?

DC: House husband, school runs, running, dog walking and reading.

And all I want is football!

TK: 2 weeks and hopefully we are back to getting out to games again. Final one from me, are you hopeful that 2021 will bring the return of fans to all stadiums once again?

DC: It’s a must, it has to be. The game needs the fans, football is nowhere near the same without them so let’s hope we get stadiums open again as early as possible and as safely as we can.

Bloor: Chances are missed and not taken in every game

This week I caught up with Eastbourne Borough boss Danny Bloor after his side’s FA Cup tie with Blackpool and a league game against Ebbsfleet on Tuesday night:

TK: How pleased were you with the players performance on Sunday?

DB: I thought they were a credit to the club and themselves against a Blackpool side who I am sure will be pushing for promotion to the Championship under Neil Critchley and Colin Calderwood.

TK: For you yourself, the experience of pitting your tactics against Football League opposition must have been something you relished doing?

DB: 100%! It was a great experience and something the whole management enjoyed throughout the afternoon.

TK: Had the early Greg Luer effort gone in, how much of a different game would that have made it?

DB: Who knows, chances are missed or not taken in every game so difficult to judge how much of an impact it would have had.

TK: Turning attention to Tuesday just 48 hours after the cup exit, was it beneficial to play so quickly after Sunday, almost with no time to reflect on the result?

DB: We were all really concerned about playing one of the favourites for the league in Ebbsfleet so soon after the cup game, especially as they hadn’t played a competitive game for ten days. We felt both physically and mentally that it could have been hard, however we asked the boys to dig deep and we were extremely pleased to get a much deserved point from the game.

TK: It looked like it took a little while for the players to get tuned into the game as Ebbsfleet hit the ground running.

DB: I’m not sure I agree with that, we had our game plan and I felt it worked perfectly, it was obvious Ebbsfleet would have been fresher than us with the extra rest.

TK: It’s still very early in the season in terms of games played, are you quite pleased with how results have gone so far?

DB: We are delighted so far, we have lost only one league in six played and have picked up eleven points, the solitary defeat coming against Dorking Wanderers who I’m sure will go very close to winning the league with the squad Marc White has assembled.

TK: Are you hopeful that in the not too distant future we finally see some movement on getting fans back into Priory Lane?

DB: Let’s hope so, we need them, they need us.

McKimm: Bradford were excellent on the day

This week I caught up with Tonbridge Angels boss Steve McKimm after his side’s FA Cup exit to League Two Bradford City at the weekend:

TK: Looking back to the FA Cup tie on Saturday, were you a little disappointed or frustrated maybe that the boys couldn’t quite get to grips with Bradford?

SM: No, not really. I knew it would be a tough game and they would have had to have 4 or 5 players having an off day and we would have needed everyone to have a stormer. Bradford were excellent on the day but my lads never gave up.

TK: Did you see it as a compliment to yourselves that they felt they needed to field a full strength team to ensure they progressed to the next round?

SM: Most definitely, they made a host of changes against Oldham on Tuesday night and lost so maybe if they hadn’t had gone so strong on Saturday we may have had a better chance. That will always be a question that can’t be answered unfortunately.

TK: It certainly wasn’t as if Tonbridge didn’t have their chances to score at crucial times in the game, did you feel you had to go for it a bit at times which opened you up at the back?

SM: We had a couple yeah. The free kick which led to their 3rd goal, if that was given to us as it should have been right on the stroke of half time we’d have loaded the penalty area and possibly had a decent chance from that.

That was the goal which really killed off the tie for us and it seemed from then every time we went forward we left ourselves exposed and they punished us for it.

TK: A great occasion for the club, yourself and the players live on TV, but unable to have spectators inside Longmead to watch first-hand, are you hoping that after lockdown we see some progress towards their return?

SM: I hope so for everyone’s sake, supporters need their football. The players and the clubs need them back too, we want to see this happen.

TK: A mention for Bantams fan Jonnie Carrington, a fantastic gesture to set up a JustGiving page which has raised in excess of £6000 at the time of writing for your club, it just goes to show the strength of the football family.

SM: It’s something we didn’t ask for or were expecting to happen, but an unbelievable thing to do that we are grateful for. I’ve spoken to Jonnie a couple of times, he’s an absolute diamond and welcome to Longmead Stadium any time.

TK: How pleased were you to go to Chelmsford 48 hours later and return to Kent with three points give the short turnaround between games?

SM: It was great to get a positive result on Monday night and pleasing that we had a game straight away so the lads didn’t have any time to dwell on Saturday’s result, very pleased.

TK: With a lot of football still to be played this season especially midweek, do you think it’ll be a while until the league table settles down a bit?

SM: After the first ten games are done it starts to give you a bit of reflection in the way things might turn out, but with squads being stretched with a lot of games on top of each other it might take a little longer this time around.

December here we come!

Lockdowns can prove to be a very tough time, especially for all of us who love to get out and watch non-league football. Things were progressing nicely since 1st September, games, pints, pies, people.

And now here we are three weeks to go until we can enjoy these things once again, or should I say with fingers crossed? It does seem very strange that we can still pop to a garden centre, send our kids to school in what appear to be less covid-secure places than a football ground.

Out in the open air, socially distanced in most cases should surely mean as safe as can be, I mean all clubs went through the rigorous processes in the short close season to ensure we began in September so has something changed in the meantime?

We’ve had the #LetFansIn debate heard in Parliament, something I got involved in during August, begun by Dorking Wanderers and championed by many. Now the DCMS have three more weeks to come up with a plan, there is absolutely no reason why there shouldn’t be one in place to allow us back into stadiums at higher levels before much longer.

It’s happened in Europe and granted some have suspended that inclusion for the time being, but the point is that they are far in front of us. If and this is a big if the authorities have seen that fans in most cases have been inside non-league grounds safely, no or very minimal evidence that transmission of covid-19 has come from a football ground, then why should levels not be raised for non-league clubs as well?

This is personal risk now like every shop you go to, every person you want to see, streaming games I hope will continue for the foreseeable future for those who don’t feel comfortable to return, work needs to be done on that and I know clubs are very keen to encourage and show things are as normal as they can be and a safe environment for all to watch our beloved game.

I plan over the next three weeks to speak to managers, chairman and other people inside the non-league game to find out how these four weeks will affect them and their clubs, we all know that most just about struggled to survive through from March to the new season with no income and there is no doubt the next month will be just as challenging for most.

It’s not just the football clubs this four week break affects. The guys who produce the programmes, the supplier of food and drink to clubhouses all lose out over this period as well and some will not return either having worked so hard to get moving again after the sudden cut off in March and the late return in September.

Then there is the very important aspect of mental health and that applies to everyone in the game from the chairman to the tea lady to the staff and players and to the man, woman, or child on the terraces. Anyone can suffer from a number of withdrawal symptoms through all walks of life, missing something so close to them, be it a loved one, be it their favourite sport.

Now is the time more than ever to look out for those you know you won’t see for a few weeks, drop them a text message or give them a call, you’d be surprised how much difference it will make, already just a week or so into this time I’ve sent a few messages out to people I see struggling across Facebook and Twitter, it’s up to us as people to look after each other and get everyone out the other side into December and watching football on a cold crisp night.

One week down, three weeks to go, I can already smell the chips and burgers and taste that pint…………..

The night before lockdown

The final hurrah! Well, till December football is now suspended unless you are ‘elite’ and if you are then you can’t be watched inside a stadium! 26 games in two months and a day is not a bad return considering I normally do 20-25 in a complete season.

Being that lockdown started on Thursday, classed as a key worker delivering for Amazon won’t see much change for me apart from the likelihood of getting much busier!

I made sure however that I got games in on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week for the first time, trips to AFC Varndeanians and Three Bridges in the Sussex Senior Cup followed by the final road trip for now to AFC Porchester to watch United Services Portsmouth take on Bournemouth Poppies to conclude things before the midnight deadline.

The first choice venue was Farnborough but with the Southern League calling all games off the FA Vase took centre stage with two sides I’ve never previously watched at a ground I’d never previously been to, winners all round!

AFC Porchester is certainly a spacious ground, no trouble with getting enough people in safely to watch the final game for a few weeks. Not knowing too much about Wessex League football meant this was very much an unknown quantity to watch and sometimes they can turn out to be the best games.

What I’ve got to do is make mention of the travelling Poppies support! Around 12 of them singing and chanting the whole way through, non-league songs and adapting others, these guys were fantastic throughout the 90 minutes and much to credit to them, it was great to hear, made us chuckle, thank you!

The game itself played on a sloping pitch was certainly very possession based from both teams trying to play football and out from the back as well, Services though used the ball better when they had it whilst Poppies although playing their part struggled to play a penetrative ball when it was back with them.

However, it was Poppies who took the lead on eleven minutes, a cross from the left hand side from winger Jack Kinge-Phillips looped over the head of Services keeper Tom Price to give the visitors the lead.

That early goal was pretty much as good as it got for the Poppies, relentless attacking from the hosts ensured the night was going to be a long one. There were however one or two good chances to increase the lead but none were taken and each time the hosts pressed forward for an equaliser they threatened to score.

That goal did come in the 33rd minute through Dec Seidon, a thumping shot Jones was unable to keep out despite getting a hand on it. Worse was to come just four minutes later as Andy Todd put the hosts in front and turn the tie on its head in a matter of minutes to send Services in at the break with the lead.

Services kicking down the hill in the second half tried to put the game beyond the Poppies in the opening fifteen minutes, but Jones was in the way and when he was beaten the bar came to his rescue more than once.

Just before the hour mark Services did put the game out of reach of the visitors, James Franklyn neatly played through and he slotted past Jones for the hosts third goal, on the balance of play no more than they deserved.

Both sides traded shots over the final ten minutes but neither did enough to really trouble either keeper, Services fully deserved to progress into the next round whenever that might be played.

Overall, 184 happy souls saw a game of football, the last time for 28 days, we’re keeping everything crossed that on 2nd December we’ll all be rejoicing again that football is back for good this time and no more interruptions………