Sort the mess before we start losing clubs

If you thought 2020 was the year to keep knocking you about, 2021 is looking like not being a lot better for us non-league football fans. Whilst at Steps 3-6 we await the clubs conferring as to whether null and void for the second season is going to be an overwhelming majority verdict Steps 1 and 2 which comprise the National League found out on Monday that their next round of funding could cause a catastrophe.

Having received around £10 million in Lottery funding to complete the first three months of the season, the DCMS has indicated to the National League that the £11 million due to follow is now going to be made up in the form of loans and not grants.

National League clubs were under the impression that to play out this season without fans they would be funded or compensated whichever way you look at it, to ensure every club would survive, but it appears that was a promise made which is now broken.

The wonderful coverage provided by Ollie Bayliss and Thomas Feaheny has added a few extra parts to this. A board meeting for the National League is due in the next few days, no doubt a few club owners demanding answers with the very future of their clubs at stake.

The DCMS have been informed that should the season finish now the cost of furlough for players and staff would actually exceed the cost of making this payment in grants by nearly £3 million, so the maths do not add up, not something I’m surprised at.

Who in their right mind will accept a loan for their club knowing full well there is no set timetable on income once again flowing through a National League football club? This is the same notion they are putting onto clubs in Steps 3-6, take a loan to stay afloat, but we can’t promise you can have fans back in a reasonable timeframe so tough luck!

I know full well having spoken to people inside the three divisions there is a lack of regular Covid testing due to the cost of funding it, now they are being asked to keep playing whilst saddled with a debt to stay solvent or close to it but not an ounce of knowing how different things will become to allow them to return that cash, it’s an impossible situation.

As with clubs being consulted at Steps 3-6 there will split camps of those wanting to continue the season at some point and those would be happy to stop it now and prepare ready for next season.

I can’t see this being any different at National League level to be honest, clubs that have kept a budget high will want to continue in order to get the promotion they want, those who have either cut their cloth accordingly and want to remain on an even-ish keel would likely want to suspend or end the season and then of course those whose season hasn’t panned out so far will be happy to call a halt and get themselves mothballed until a new season can begin.

Just last week 12 National League North clubs called the DCMS to ‘not betray the trust of clubs’ over funding agreements, it clearly appears that is the case. As shown throughout the whole season so far the DCMS have no idea how money works at this level and how clubs fund themselves through fans in stadiums spending money on secondary income.

As we know clubs at this level are not blessed with TV money and huge sponsorship deals and there were some back in September and October who were close to not starting the season, these club are not in any better shape now than they were then, it’s the funding and in some cases deep pockets keeping them alive.

If the National League board are guilty of these false promises then I wouldn’t be surprised to see calls for a few resignations to come in the next few days having failed their member clubs.

Bigger than that the next few weeks could see a lot of clubs contemplating what the future actually holds for them now, those that can and will survive might decide voluntary relegation is an option just to keep their club alive albeit at a lower level reducing expenses against the backdrop of continued no incoming money.

No club deserves to disappear, no supporter should lose their club during these times, but weak leadership is seen everywhere from the DCMS through the FA to the National League, it was only in this weekend’s Non-League Paper Tony Incenzo was remarking how we have gotten to this stage having lost a very small number of clubs during this period, action needs to be taken now before it becomes a huge great roll-call………

The season on a knife edge

As some of you might know I am part of the Premier Non-League Podcast along with five other guys. We’ve just recorded our eighth episode and our first of 2021, focussing this time on the romance of the FA Cup from last weekend, the ongoing National League funding saga and of course the dreaded null and void situation which is being discussed again given the current restrictions Steps 3-6 find themselves under.

Underneath the elite National League divisions, football is looking increasingly unlikely to find itself with time to complete the 2020/21 season. Being completely at the mercy of the government restrictions talks are already underway to gauge how clubs feel with regards to cancelling the season or to providing ideas and ways to have at least a partial conclusion.

It’s easy to see that we are going to have a huge split as clubs are canvassed across the next few weeks. There are those who are in the same situation as last year, leading divisions or in with a chance of promotion with so many spots open as part of the re-structure that should have occurred last year and would no doubt want to carry things on and complete.

There will be clubs who weren’t close to things last year but are in contention this year and will be keen to achieve what they set out to do at the start of the season.

Those whose seasons haven’t panned out quite how they wanted will be happy to call a halt and begin again next season and hope for better times, I don’t disagree that some will decide that financially they also won’t think it’s beneficial to carry on or to re-start for a small account of time.

The volunteer base for a lot of clubs includes those who are currently being asked to shield or just receiving their first doses of vaccination which will of course impact on clubs to not only police the ground when the game is on but also the before of getting a game on and the after of clearing up.

The players of course are paramount. Without them on the pitch there is no game, same goes for officials. It’s easy to forget at times they started the season late after a confused pre-season programme, played for around two months and most have not kicked a competitive ball since early November.

Now we are looking at around four to five months off for these guys since they last played once we get around to March, is there time for them to get back up to a level of match fitness to complete some kind of competition? Will any of them say ‘thanks, but no thanks’, preferring to spend the summer months getting back to speed and going again in August?

And finally we have those of us who try to make a living from the game or just beginning to. This season I began to write for clubs from results round ups to articles written specifically for clubs that asked, those clubs being Southern Combination Premier Division sides Langney Wanderers and East Preston whilst Pitching In Southern League outfit Met Police joined just before the previous lockdown in November.

With the stop start effect of the season and also the knowing cash flow is tight for all, it’s been difficult for me to approach new clubs and really push it along to start to make moves in the market. With the success I enjoyed last year writing this blog with almost 22,000 visitors in a year there is a niche I’ve found where the words are right. But like the remainder of the non-league world I’m waiting to see where things go, I’m not expecting any more football to be honest until next August. I guess what it does do is give more time to hone this product some more and be ready to go to more clubs this summer and giving them something they want for their programme, be it online or in print.

There is a scenario that can be put in the mix should there be a resumption and that is for a split of divisions in two to play some sort of football in March through to May depending on if restrictions are lifted in time, it would bring some closure to the season without it being cancelled, but again it would depend on a lot of factors swinging in favour of the beautiful game.

A last but not final thought has to go to those suffering mentally from not attending games. For many and at times me included not being able to get out to watch a live game has been tough, whilst I don’t mind a bit of football on the TV or streaming via the laptop there is a saturation point to it, nothing beats getting together with your mates watching non-league football, its why we do it and while we know and/or hope these days aren’t far away again for some it’s the highlight of their working week.

For now we wait, hopefully no rash decisions will be made as per last March/April and a more logical approach is taken across the board and while whatever is decided cannot please everyone if they decide to curtail things again, there must a set of rules written up to cover playing a certain percentage of games or less than and sufficient agreement with that for a final resolution, we can’t be sitting here having this conversation again in the future……….

Decision time for the good of the game

Here we go again then, another lockdown, we’ve had more of them than uncompleted seasons but it’s a close run thing. With seven more weeks of suspended action for non-league teams in the offing, we must now be at the point where a regular season for part-time players cannot be completed for the second year running.

It was only about a week or so ago that I blogged ‘has the time come’ in relation to decisions starting to be made by leagues and the FA in regard to what can and should happen given we are running out of time to fit games in.

In my opinion there is no ideal world left to complete the 2020/21 season, it is going to be mid-February before we see restrictions start to lift and there is no reason yet to suggest that football returning with fans at Steps 3-6 can happen immediately from that point.

By the time we get to the middle of next month those players will have sat out games for the majority of three months and then they would need to train to get up some match fitness along with friendlies, you’re really asking them to be back in around a week’s time in order to be ready to go if they are to be allowed.

I as much as every one of you reading this and those who don’t wanted this to end in a better state than it currently is in. It’s bad enough for some clubs in the National League where covid has really ripped through the fixtures in all three divisions and they will do well to complete their fixtures by the end of June as more postponements are inevitable as we go on.

The FA this time MUST be decisive in what they do, there is no room for skirting around the issue and letting leagues having to almost batter them into submission to get answers.

I even think that running a smaller competition to finish off the few months left of the time before the summer would run into difficulties as well, I wouldn’t trust things to not stop again and then cause even more issues.

It’s not just the players needing to get back up to speed, but the financial side has a big bearing on it, can clubs and indeed fans afford to throw money at something that appears to have no end game? It’s one huge mess that doesn’t appear to be able to be sorted out in a way that is going to please everyone. That money already spent and put into the game is gone, that’s not coming back to anyone, less than last season but that’s no consolation at all.

Two successive seasons null and void would impact further in people’s eyes the way they view the FA, I know there is not a lot of respect for them within the game for the way they are seen to not govern and look after their member’s interests.

The lack of pushing to the DCMS at the back end of last year for fans to return when we were seeing it across Europe was seen as weak and spineless, the latest belief yet another season will be curtailed early will do nothing for people’s confidence in them.

Why did they not issue contingency plans and scenarios for the situation we find ourselves in now? Have they really been that short sighted to not have had something on the back burner just in case?

There may be calls for regional cups once fans are allowed back in once again to generate at least a little income before the end of May say, maybe I’m just hoping a little bit to get to watch some live football once again before a new season begins.

Players with contracts, clubs with commitments, support is needed to ensure they are all still here come the beginning of a new season, it sounds daft we’re talking about a new season for later this year in January when we’ve not completed two in a row.

I’m forever an optimistic person, but I am struggling to see how we get everything finished on an even keel, there is so much disparity between games played from one end of the country to the other I can’t feasibly see how it can be done. More will come out this week from varying leagues no doubt and we await to see what is to be said, me I’m back to streaming Barnet games and getting the Zoom videos going again, well gotta keep things ticking over…….

Back the boss or survival we won’t make

Well, where do we go from here? Having just sat through Barnet getting tanked by local rivals Boreham Wood in front of the nation on BT Sport, it’s no wonder I’m writing this one with a bottle of beer beside me! I think to describe what Barnet FC look to me and many others as a shambles or utter embarrassment is the polite way of looking at it.

Really the only way is up given we are currently second from bottom, three points off Dover Athletic who have four games in hand while the gap going the other way is growing week on week while the Bees look cast adrift.

I don’t doubt Tim Flowers knew the size of the task when he stepped in the door at The Hive a few weeks ago, this evening he is under no illusion now. The display against Wood goes deeper than just this one game, this has been the pattern of the previous 13 games and is why the goal difference of now minus 24 and just 11 goals in the opposition net, that might be this season but again it goes even deeper than that.

You can go back as far as 2010 when it comes to managerial appointments that haven’t worked appointed by the chairman Tony Kleanthous, well even further if you count Tony Cottee, Mark Stimson, Lawrie Sanchez and of course the saviour of the vision in Mark Robson in 2012. Enter Edgar Davids that time to drag the club to the final day of the season which when he arrived they had no right to get that far, but ultimately unable to stay in the Football League.

Then we have the debacle of 2017-18, five managers in a year. Nugent, Eames, McGhee, Westley, Allen, the latter arriving like Davids with the club rooted to the foot of the table but with less time and games to invoke the ‘Great Escape’, as per Davids taken to the final day but again not enough and relegation once again to the National League and to today’s bottom three position currently staring relegation to the National League South, yes I kid you not, that is the stark reality of the situation.

Ten league games without a win shows the mess the club is in; Beadle quite rightly was sacked well out of his depth. His appointment was made far too late into the summer, he wasn’t even a name mentioned in dispatches and his recruitment was poor. Being based towards the West Country and having operated mostly below National League level, it was remarked to me ‘what does he know about players at that level’ and ‘does he know his budget won’t go far on London players’.

That person wasn’t far wrong I can tell you from what we see in front of us. Did Darren Currie do the right thing and protect his fledgling reputation given that we heard the budget wasn’t big enough to rebuild the squad? I know from speaking to people within the game our budget is still not too shoddy for that division so to me that suggests Beadle didn’t know what was good enough for it to be spent on.

The cheaper or untested option hasn’t worked in the past Robson being the prime example but at least Davids had something to work with including sticking himself out there to play, Flowers has not been left with a lot and those who are decent enough are shorn of any confidence.

So far two more have arrived on loan in Ben Fox and Myles Judd, both impressing with a debut red card, not the fault of the boss but when you’re down there needing fighters, missing players are not much help. Flowers alluded to a couple more players coming in next week, so with Beadle and Jenkins seemingly paid off, Flowers coming in with a backroom staff and four players so far when more are going to be needed, would it not have been more sensible to have done this first time around in the summer especially when it’s understood Flowers interviewed then?

I don’t like to dig players out as under-performers, can be any number of reasons for it but what I saw tonight was a player who looked the route cause of the defensive issues.

When Ben Nugent was signed, pedigree looked what we needed with a solid amount of Football League appearances and I felt if that is the calibre we could get then the season might not turn out so bad. But for a six foot odd centre half who is incapable of defending with his head, you can’t excuse that. Three assists he picked up tonight for the opposition and one poor clearance went backwards for nearly a fourth only for another fine save from Scott Loach, who if it wasn’t for the Bees keeper we would have been five or six goals down by half time.

Leadership from senior players with that experience you expect better but you watch the same on repeat from week to week it wears a little thin and he must be one of the first to be sitting things out.

The finer point of tonight’s ramblings? Unless Kleanthous backs Flowers for exactly what he wants and needs just for the club to survive then National League South is where the club will be come next season, it is nowhere near strong enough on the pitch and whilst others around us are now starting to pick up points and many have games in hand on us improvement has to start this coming Monday.

The buck stops at the chairman’s door, no question, and not for the first time. At the time in the summer when he went for Beadle and not someone with the experience to manage at this level coupled with the later start to the season it was either going to be a wise move not to spend loads or blow up badly which the current position says we’re in the latter category.

The only thing on our side is the fact there are still plenty of points to play for but with no backing we might as well pack up and take the relegation now. Flowers has the ability and passion for Barnet to survive in the National League but stop messing around with the club, us as supporters deserve better.

Has the time come?

Have we reached the saturation point of the season? That really should be on the minds of most in the footballing world and starting to be talked about with regards to the remainder of the season.

Despite an almost blanket cover of the South in tier 4 for non-league football and for a majority no football played since the beginning of November, the question now is whether the game and its players will be harmed more in 2021 trying to finish off a season that in some cases has barely begun.

The Christmas and New Year period has seen the ‘elite level’ of non-league football in the National League suffer from no fewer than 12 clubs across their three divisions postpone their next three games after positive covid tests.

Having started the season later than most in October due to the late resolution of the play-off system and despite the season likely to end in June it is looking like a big ask for those with smaller squads to perform to a good standard playing twice a week until then.

With the FA seemingly hell-bent on completing this season FA Trophy despite last season’s final still not being held and played yet more postponements in the new year will see clubs struggle to play at 100% capacity for every single game they face.

And when you think a majority of these clubs are full time, imagine how it is for those part-time clubs that make up the remainder of the footballing pyramid.

Those in the South have on the whole completed almost one third of their season when you look down at Step 5 and 6, Step 3 and 4 are not so fortunate in most cases and as you head further North the picture looks even bleaker.

There are sides who have completed somewhere in the region of 2-6 league games only, that is an alarmingly small rate for any club to be looking at if they are committed to finishing the season to ‘preserve its integrity’.

Whilst I’m an optimistic person to the hilt, surely this is beyond the scope of part-time non-league clubs to be able to finish 34-46 games this season in time before the thoughts would turn to a new season beginning.

The biggest worry though has to be the issue of player match fitness. By the time the end of December comes that will be two full months of no games for players, are we expecting them now to come back and play at full pelt for around six months and not suffer physically? Is their room for another mini pre-season before we get started again? Quite frankly, no! We shouldn’t be expecting it and I think the next couple of weeks will see some serious discussions across the country which need to be led by the FA to help these leagues sort out the mess that it currently is.

This time the FA must show some stellar leadership rather than the whimper they provided the game back in April. It also can’t and shouldn’t be a one size fits all scenario, I appreciate though that this time that might have to be the case but explain it clearly and simply and you might get a more measured response from people.

Plenty will not agree with whatever decision is made, just the same as earlier this year, I’m not sure you can have half the country able to finish a season and the other half with an impossible situation.

Whether it can be completed with sides playing each other just once if there are under a certain level of games played in a division I don’t know, it’s surely an option to happen and would allow time for clubs to get themselves settled and organised again.

I don’t envy anyone involved in making any of these decisions for a situation we haven’t been involved in ourselves before, you just pray some common sense and logical thinking comes into it, hold my beer…………….

It’s festive but not as we know it

Boxing Day, the traditional beginning of the festive football. But in-keeping with the rest of this unnatural year the dreams of those heading out for a fix of football were dashed in the past seven days or so.

Rightly or wrongly whichever way your opinion sways on the current situation for many families and individuals the fresh air from the stands and terraces has something that has long followed Christmas Day like night follows day.

A lot of my childhood Xmas memories involve a Boxing Day game, usually a morning or lunchtime kick off similar for games all around the country, mine being somewhere in Kent more than likely Maidstone Utd, Dartford or Welling. If I was lucky there was an afternoon kick off thrown in as well.

That tradition continued for a few years and then stopped, but more recently I’ve been able to go again and of course had plans like most for the second day of the festive period, but with tier 4 being the ruler it’s back to streaming games or relying on the TV offerings from the Premier League for my fix.

Of course it’s not just restrictions causing the issues, the positive tests have also put paid to a few ‘elite’ non-league games as well, Barnet included in the National League along with a few others and it’s no word of a lie that there is going to be a massive fixture pile up for clubs all round despite seasons being extended to the end of May and even into June.

There is a huge difference in the number of games played with a north/south divide when you look at the current tables. Most leagues have not played since the beginning of November’s lockdown and those that did play completed in most cases less than three rounds of fixtures.

It must surely not be too far away should non-league football not resume by the middle of January that there has to be some serious discussions about how this season is either curtailed and worked out or somehow it is completed.

I believe if I remember correctly the Isthmian League did present their clubs with two or three scenarios for a season’s completion including what would happen if we got to January and things were no better and we’re almost at that point.

Looking for example at those who have completed nine league fixtures there is a mixture between around twenty-nine to thirty-six fixtures for clubs to fit in to complete their own season, but there are clubs in the northern end of the country who have managed between just two and five games so far, how on this earth are they going to get a season completed in time for a new one to start? These guys have day jobs, most graft hard with manual jobs for their living and to ask them to continually play Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday to get a season in is asking a heck of a lot, good performances sacrificed just to get games played. This scenario doesn’t include cups as well, it’s got to be impossible to get this full season completed surely?

Not only will performance suffer, but people will also struggle to afford to attend so many games in such a short space of time, players are going to be more susceptible to soft issue injuries and bodies not having sufficient time to recover.

Null and void caused so much confusion and anger in April this year, will clubs, their volunteers, supporters and board of directors stand for this to be used again this season? Will points per game be any clearer? With so few games having been played by there is clearly many advantages for some more than others.

It’s been talked about the integrity of the competition to ensure this season is completed but time is starting to run thin for all to compete on a fair and even basis and to please everyone here is going to be impossible.

Each way has its merits for completion and ensure a clean slate is there to be had for a new season, from the outside looking in it looks a proper mess to sort out and for once the FA must admit some blame in taking an easy option out back in April rather than look at the bigger picture although as always hindsight is a wonderful thing.

The next few weeks as has pretty much been the case this year will be awaited to see what the next steps are, some forward thinking this time needs to be done to protect the future, let’s see who steps up and who steps back………..

Chambers: The vibe around the club has been pretty positive

Photo courtesy of Brendan Kemp and Rusthall FC

Last week I caught up with Rusthall Reserves manager Lee Chambers whose side play just two divisions below their first team in the Kent County Football League Division One to find how the current situation affected their club being inside what was then a Tier 3 area:

TK: How has it been at Rusthall FC this month given the excitement of lockdown lifting tempered by Kent going into Tier 3 (at the time of interviewing) meaning no competitive football?

LC: The vibe around the club has been pretty positive as the lads were excited to return to training and have a small amount of normality back in their lives. It’s been a stop start season so far and with competitive football on hold at the moment due to the tier restrictions we had lined up a couple of friendlies to keep the lads fitness ticking over.

TK: As a club are you hopeful that football in Kent will re-start in the New Year?

LC: It’s a real difficult one in as much as a club we want football to return. It needs to be safe to do so before Xmas I think was too much of an ask but fingers crossed in early January we can all return safely.

TK: Rusthall are very much a club who are growing bigger in West Kent, how big is the club currently?

LC: The club has always been a family club with a good reputation and is definitely growing much bigger. The junior set-up has teams from Under 7 right up to Under 18 and has three close knit senior sides that work the system very well giving a great pathway right through the club.

TK: Do you feel with all the developments around the ground over the last few years makes it an easier sell to new players?

LC: The facilities now are fantastic at the Jockey Farm Stadium. All the thanks must go to the committee who work tirelessly all year round to maintain and improve the ground.

These facilities have certainly helped the club attract players and has also increased our fan base; over the last few seasons the numbers have really rocketed through the turnstiles.

TK: Do you find a lot of those also support yourself and the team at reserve level?

LC: A lot of our fans are supporting the reserve team when the first team are away. With the two teams only separated between two divisions the support has been fantastic and hopefully we have given them some entertaining football to watch.

TK: You’ve had quite a bit of success at reserve team level, have you found that it has encouraged players to push harder to make the first team?

LC: Since joining the club we set our own targets and one of those was to close the gap between the reserves and the first team to make the transition for the players an easier task.

We have been fortunate enough to gain some success along the way which has been a credit to the lads who have knuckled down to achieve what they have. We have seen players make the step up and hold their own over the last two seasons and hopefully that will continue.

TK: Has the current pandemic we’re experiencing affected the future plans for the club?

LC: The club is constantly looking to keep moving forward on and off the pitch and with the current pandemic like all clubs the lack of money coming in with no competitive football does hit you hard.

Hopefully though we are getting closer every day to a return to football and we can concentrate on moving forward.

TK: Has there been much in the way of financial help for the club as a whole?

LC: There has been support and help out there over this difficult time but I leave that side of things to the committee!

TK: Given the stop start nature to this season, do you think we will see some big changes to the footballing landscape whether we finish this current campaign or not?

LC: I really do hope that we can finish this season knowing last season had to stop in March. At all levels players have missed out on so much football and most leagues I believe will be given an extension to hopefully get games completed.

TK: Finally, how far can you yourself go ambition wise in the future?

LC: So for me I just want to keep moving forwards and improve as a coach and a manager and work up the footballing ladder. You are always learning all the time and over the last couple of years I’ve really pushed myself and will continue to do so to keep improving.

Vase exit for Littlehampton despite strong second half

I’ve been lucky to have seen some great games of football since September and even since re-starting again in December goals, fine performances and of course drama! With restrictions and tiers forever changing where I can go to see a game the choice is becoming less varied, not that it bothers me, going to watch the game as a neutral is far easier to analyse.

Sometimes though a game sticks out as one that should or could be the best of the weekend or midweek action. Littlehampton Town vs Hanworth Villa stood out in the FA Vase, both sides unbeaten in their respective leagues, Town having disposed of a very good Sheppey Utd side in the previous round, plus it’s not often I can walk to and from a game either.

On a pretty windy afternoon which stayed for the whole game and helped both sides at times, we were treated to a pre-Christmas treat, the full works as I shall explain!

Despite the hosts hailing from Step 6 and the visitors from Step 5, the early exchanges wouldn’t have given the neutrals in a decent sized crowd any clues, Town had the better attacking intent although Villa were certainly pressing hard making Littlehampton move the ball quicker than they might have wanted.

As it was though, the visitors took the lead in the 18th minute with their first penetrating attack, Dan Thompson heading past James Binfield to put Villa in front. The goal gave the away side more impetus and began to see more possession of the ball, particularly down the left wing and more control across the midfield.

Villa struck again on the half hour, despite Binfield saving the initial shot, Joe Leslie tapped in the rebound to double the visitors lead and looked comfortable having repelled Town’s efforts.

Dan Swain went close on 39 minutes having broken away from midfield but couldn’t hit the target, however it wasn’t to be long before the home side were back in the tie.

Three minutes before half time, Joe Benn won a penalty after the centre half clattered all over the back of the striker and the referee pointed to the spot, Jordan Layton making no mistake and dispatching the penalty past keeper Terry Buss to halve the deficit going into half time.

Villa seemed content to soak up as much Littlehampton pressure as was being thrown at them across the second half and content to use the pace of Sam Merson and Leslie on the counter to fashion chances and relieve the pressure.

The visitors were lucky not to be reduced to ten men midway through the half, Bryant Akono-Bilongo kicking out at an opponent whilst on the ground and escaping with just a yellow card.

Town were certainly the team with more attacking purpose, both Swain and Dan Hegarty getting more control of the midfield ball, feeding George Gaskin and Joe Benn interchanging between the left wing and central striker.

The moment then came nine minutes from time for the drama, a corner from Mitchell Hand on the right swung into the box appeared to end up in the net only for it to be kept out by a Villa defender’s hand and the ball to then finish up as a goal.

Quite rightly the referee awarded a penalty, sent off the Villa defender after much deliberation between the opposing players, substitute Dave Herbert coolly putting the resultant spot kick into the net to level the scores.

The final five minutes saw relentless attacking from the home side, Buss making two good saves while Tom Biggs saw a shot cleared off the line when Buss was beaten which took the game to penalties.

Nine of out the ten penalties found the net, Hand blasting his effort over the bar giving the visitors the win and a place in the fourth round drawn on Monday.

Despite the windy conditions and torrential downpour for the final 15 minutes of normal time both sides worked hard to control the game with or without the wind and Town might well feel they did enough in the second half to win the game outright but as we all know not finding the net doesn’t win you games!

Lancing for me on Tuesday evening in the Southern Combination Premier Division versus Newhaven and then back to The Sportsfield on Boxing Day for the derby against Wick, very lucky I still have football to watch…………

Wanderers progress to take on Barnet

There appears to be a thinning out of midweek games across these two weeks before Xmas despite the fact a lot of teams are not that far in front for games and with the threat of more lockdowns in the new year you just wonder if a few more could have been slotted in.

One club I wanted to get to this season was Dorking Wanderers, for a number of reasons as there have been for most clubs I’ve tasked myself with visiting. The rise for the Surrey club has been nothing less than extremely impressive, I remember them coming to Wick on a Friday night around 10-12 years ago in the Sussex League Division Two as it was then and winning 2-0 under the club owner and manager Marc White.

Rising through the County League, Ryman League and now well ensconced in the National League South Wanderers are looking well set for another tilt at promotion to the top level. Playing now at Meadowbank, home of the Surrey FA they have a tidy very nice ground for the level with a selection of seating and standing areas for all.

Wanderers were the club who really got behind the #LetFansIn campaign which I promoted through this blog and along with others who also joined, in the end it did bear fruit in getting people back inside stadiums from Steps 3-6, but at their own level they’ve had to wait until this month to have their own supporters back inside the stadium.

As I’ve stated in the past this season I’ve wanted to go to clubs who have helped me achieve the success this blog is becoming, be it through interviews with their managers, players, or chairman. My thought with Dorking for really getting this campaign to work, I’m going to head there and put a few quid in the coffers, least I can do to help out.

And with the FA Trophy putting games into quick succession the visit of Hungerford Town was the opportunity to make it happen. With both sides residing at the same level we were in for a good game, as it transpired we got one but not quite in the way I expected.

Right from the first whistle the intent from the hosts was very impressive, zipping the ball around with an option to pass for every player who was in possession, Hungerford really struggled to get a hold of the ball with the Dorking midfield pairing of Kane Wills and Wes Fogden controlling things in the middle of the park.

The first effort went to the visitors in the opening minute, a blocked shot which resulted in a break downfield and skipper Jason Prior having a header saved by keeper Luke Cairney. Wanderers then dominated the ball throughout the first half, chances created from Nicky Wheeler and Callum Kennedy giving Prior more opportunities, but a combination of good defending and the experienced striker unable to hit the target kept the scoreline level.

It certainly wasn’t looking like Prior’s night as two further chances went begging, another good save from Cairney and a header that hit the crossbar.

The deadlock was finally broken a couple of minutes before half time by Dorking, just when it looked as if they would be going in frustrated at half time, Luke Moore controlling Wills’ pass inside the area and sliding it across for James McShane to slam home and give the home side a deserved lead.

No sooner had the teams emerged for the second half than Dorking were two goals to the good, the impressive McShane finishing off Fodgen’s touch across goal to slide in at the far post.

The goal seemed to inspire the visitors to have their best spell of the game, Slav Huk having to save from both Mike Jones and Ryan Seager in quick succession as Wanderers allowed their guard to slip slightly and it certainly would have been game on had one effort found its way into the net despite the fact Dorking should have been out of sight had the chances been put away in the first half.

Ten minutes later Jake Evans beat Huk, but the Hungerford substitute’s effort clipped the top of the bar. Chances came in the final fifteen minutes for Wanderers to extend their lead, Prior having a second effort cleared off the line having rounded the keeper, while McShane was denied by the post for a hat-trick.

One final chance arrived for Prior in the final minute but headed over the bar capping what must have been a frustrating night for the skipper who on another day could easily had four or five goals to his name.

McShane was quite rightly named man of the match, not just for the two goals but also popping up in the gaps and space all over the final third to make it harder for Hungerford to pick him up.

The visitors definitely found it hard to keep the ball against a side who moved it around superbly and Barnet will certainly find it tough this coming Saturday, especially with the Bees being bang out of form. Even I wouldn’t bet against Wanderers progressing this weekend although of course I’m firmly on the opposite side…………….

NB This article was written before the Government placed Dorking and Surrey into tier 3 from Saturday and once again unable to admit fans.

Flowers checks in at The Hive

No sooner had the ink dried on the ‘Beadle gone’ blog than the new man was in place at The Hive with chairman Tony Kleanthous wasting no time to trying to repair the mess the club once again finds itself in.

Last weekend I had heard rumours from two different sources and then a third during the week that Tim Flowers was indeed lined up after the Wealdstone game to take over from Peter Beadle. Nothing materialised and Barnet went on to record back to back defeats against Stockport and Chesterfield.

Eight days later Beadle was gone and then speculation amounted to who was the next manager to lead the charge back up to the right end of the table. I had my own preferences, some personal, some from the point of view of what or who I felt was needed.

Flowers himself was on my list of names I expected to be mentioned. A man with a decent career in the Premier League, in fact a winner of said competition at Blackburn Rovers. He did interview in the summer but subsequently not offered the job and pitched up at Macclesfield Town before they succumbed to extinction. So, why wasn’t he appointed those few months ago?

Many will point to Beadle having been the cheaper option having not managed at this level before, Flowers’ stint at Solihull Moors looked upon as a good grounding albeit with a more than a decent sized budget but his record of winning almost half of his games in charge that is the kind of thing you look very favourably at if he can replicate that for Barnet.

Whilst to an extent you can understand the cautiousness with no income and the on-going saga with the pandemic going for the cheaper option has brought on this scenario before and now as then it’s going to cost far more to rectify the situation than could have been the case with the right appointment back in late August.

If it’s to be believed, Flowers wasn’t the man in reality. During yesterday it was widely expected that Dean Brennan the current Wealdstone manager was signed, sealed, and delivered but it appears that fell through and Flowers became the go to man. How close if at all that was maybe we’ll never know but as always another fun day in the life of being a Barnet fan!

If Flowers is given the budget to build what he had at Solihull then Barnet will become hard to beat, it might not be a pretty game at times with a more direct way of playing than we’ve been used to over the past couple of years.

Whether he believes there is enough quality there remains to be seen over the coming weeks, personally I believe the squad is not good enough to be where we want to be, whether that was down to budget restrictions or a lack of intel when bringing these players in I’m not sure of.

Having listened to the first interview this afternoon, it sounded good, liked what I heard and those that don’t shape up will ship out I have no doubt, certainly going to be playing to strengths in the final third with the pace of Ephron Mason-Clark and Josh Walker when he returns, someone who knows how to unlock JJ Hooper, seems fairly keen on Wes Fonguck.

I don’t doubt he’s under any illusion of the task ahead and I’m also interested to see who forms his backroom team as well, those guys can be just as important in delivering the message through to the players.

So Bees fans there we have it, another former England goalkeeper takes the reins, following in the footsteps of the late great Ray Clemence, time for our season to turn itself around and I’m far more pleased this time that Tony’s actually read my blog and picked a name I listed………..