This time of year when the clocks go back is the time of year when you start to fear the dreaded P-P appearing everywhere. Pick a game and pray, whether it’s the weekend or midweek. That happened to me on Tuesday night, Wick vs Selsey in the Southern Combination Division One was to be my port of call but washed out by mid-afternoon.
With not a great deal of choice locally, I was mildly tempted by Potters Bar vs Worthing, but having watched the Rebels on Saturday and faced with a two hour journey, I settled on Whyteleafe vs Burgess Hill instead.
Like Chipstead who I visited in the last few weeks, Whyteleafe I also spent time at in my youth with Tandridge League finals there too but this was my first game here for many a year.
Arriving at Church Road Hill found themselves in the bottom two and in need of some points while Leafe were in the top four looking to replicate the form they showed last season when it was curtailed. Extra for me to take in were two former Barnet players, one on each side in Ryan Gondoh and Martyn Box.
Before we’d made ourselves comfy in a standing spot, Leafe were in front. Just 4 minutes on the clock, Aaron Watson who impressed me throughout finished off a slick move to give the home side the lead and really set the tempo of the match, any time Leafe broke forward they looked likely to score.
Ten minutes later it was 2-0, a fine run down the left by Gondoh, whose pace troubled Hill anywhere on the pitch, was finished off with a simple tap in for Omari Hilbert at the far post.
The game was effectively in the hosts control on 24 minutes if it wasn’t already, Watson sent through and smashing the ball home for his second and the third for the home side. Box thought he pulled one back before half time, his free kick just lacking enough curl to send it into the top left hand corner.
That was the best effort of the half for the visitors, completely blown away by the pace and intensity shown by Whyteleafe and struggled to get any momentum when attacking the Leafe goal.
With the hosts fully in control of the game, I expected the game to either go the way of a tighter second half performance from Burgess Hill or Whyteleafe to go on and run up a goal difference busting win.
Watson completed a well-deserved hat-trick just after the hour mark, a neat finish side footed into the far corner followed shortly after with a red card for Hill’s Andrew Herring after a bad challenge in the middle of the pitch.
Box came close again for the visitors with another free kick this time the ball going the wrong side of the other post. The introduction of Tom Chalaye on loan from Worthing couldn’t improve Hill’s efforts on goal, the Leafe back line dealing with any ball into the box or cutting off the supply lines from the wingers.
Leafe then added a fifth goal eleven minutes from time, Watson again the scorer for his fourth of the evening to wrap up a very impressive individual performance in amongst a polished team effort.
As mentioned Gondoh’s pace was simply electric all evening, Watson just clinical with anything that came his way and with a largely untroubled evening for their defence, all in all a good night’s work for the Surrey side.
Saturday afternoon was a road trip, after the last two weekends in Sussex for games, I needed a break. With so many fixtures over the last two months I’ve visited a lot of the grounds I’ve wanted to get to and some twice over, so with that in mind and wanting to get a bit further away I settled upon East Thurrock vs Worthing, joined by Gareth Spinks.
This was going to be the third time of watching the Rebels in action so far this season, a season where things have to be repeated and an end result this time as table toppers would be nice!
The hosts began the day in the bottom three after a wretched start to the season having won just once so far, Worthing meanwhile appear to be intent on making sure last year wasn’t a one off and are pushing once again in the early table at the top end.
Bolstered by a couple of new signings for the visitors and playing a very attacking formation, Worthing tried to make the most of the tentative start by the hosts by attacking at will but failed to really test Rocks keeper Arthur Janata.
Joel Colbran almost gave the visitors the lead just before the half hour mark but he couldn’t quite guide the ball home, just missing the far post with Janata beaten. Reece Meekums and Mo Diallo were next to try their luck, the keeper saving from the former and followed up by not allowing the latter to hit the target.
It was Colbran however who gave Worthing the lead on 35 minutes, picking up a loose clearance from a corner and smashing the ball back past Janata. Three minutes later and it should have been two, a delightful slaloming run from Ricky Aguiar past three Thurrock defenders ended with his effort hitting the crossbar and bouncing away to safety for what would have been an outstanding goal.
As it was they didn’t have to wait long for the second goal, Aguiar again unleashing another shot to hit the woodwork but this one fell to Diallo who slammed it home from a tight angle to give the Rebels a 2-0 half time lead that was fully deserved.
The Rocks began the second half with a bit more purpose, the wind in their favour as Worthing struggled to get hold of the ball and get it back on the grass, Roco Rees being the busier of the two keepers.
The game then took a little bit of a twist with Rebels defender Cam Tutt dismissed for a bad challenge on a Rocks striker, no complaints from left back as he made his way down the tunnel leaving his team-mates to defend their 2-0 lead for half an hour.
Boss Adam Hinshelwood responded with a couple of changes, a debut for striker Omar Koroma and Danny Pappoe coming on to shore up the backline, Worthing content to soak up the pressure and hit the hosts on the break.
Koroma came a good focal point holding the ball up to allow the players around him to break as the Rocks had to push forward to try and halve the deficit.
Just to ensure there was enough protection for his back three, Hinshelwood sent on Darren Budd for Dajon Golding, to keep things simple and tidy and maintain possession.
Six minutes from time, Koroma made his way into the penalty area before being fouled, stepped up and converted coolly into the bottom right hand corner and seemingly to send the points back to Sussex.
The hosts did finally find the net, Ezekiel Bademosi’s shot squirming through the hands of Rees in the Worthing goal but too little too late and the Rebels kept their place on goal difference at the top of the table.
A pretty convincing win for the visitors and having strengthened the squad in recent weeks shows Worthing really mean business once again and with games in hand already and only one defeat in the first seven games they could well be the side to beat once again this year.
More midweek action for me, 21 games so far and topped up this week by Wick vs Selsey and hopefully more Pitching In Isthmian Premier Division action with Cray vs Merstham.
For the second week running I managed to double up on midweek action, as much as I would love that every week going into the winter months it’s going to be few and fair between. Once again it was a trip back home and to Kent but this one had more about it than most.
I grew up for eighteen years in a village called Otford just outside of Sevenoaks. I played for the junior section from the age of twelve and by fifteen I was playing for the senior club’s 3rd team. Before that time, I was a spectator and a helper as my late father was heavily involved from tea making on a Saturday afternoon to being the groundsman as well for so many years.
However, he never tended the pitch Otford Utd now play on, the first team having moved quite a few years ago with a car park extension and subsequent cricket pitch moving occupying the space where I saw so many games.
I never made it into the first team, although I believe both of my brothers did, the youngest certainly did and went on to play for Tunbridge Wells in the Kent League.
Going ‘home’ always has so many memories for me, however close I get to Kent, I’ve spent thirty years of my life there, things you don’t forget. I even stopped off at the fish and chip shop we always used in Dunton Green, still tasted as good as they did before!
Its fair to say that there have been a lot more lean times than success for the O’s in recent years, local rivals Sevenoaks have moved onwards and upwards into Isthmian League football, Otford went the other way and only in recent years have they started to move in the right direction.
A new chairman in Stuart Cunningham, a guy I know well from the old days, a returning manager in Ricky Tompkins who started the move upwards before leaving for FC Elmstead, but is now back at the helm after a poor curtailed season last year left them looking down again rather than up.
Whenever you mention Crockenhill to anyone of course the story comes up of Gillingham boss Keith Peacock signing striker Tony Cascarino for a set of tracksuits and various other items it is believed! Those days of me growing up they were a Kent League side until the rules became more stringent and without lights down they went into the Kent County League.
They did have a spell back in what is now the Southern Counties East League Division One but relegation sent them back to where they are now and no sign of any lights yet.
Being I don’t watch a lot of football at this level but follow the results weekly I wasn’t sure what to expect on the pitch, a pitch which looked in very good condition and ready for a night under lights.
What I got was unreal! The intensity from the off from the hosts was pretty breath-taking, although it was the visitors who should have made the breakthrough two minutes in shooting wide of Tommy Hobson’s post. That was pretty much as good as it got for the visitors with the hosts providing a storming masterclass in attacking.
Two minutes after that chance, the O’s were in front, Artur Lechowicz who was a constant menace all evening for the Hill back line cut in from the left and fired past the keeper. Not even ten minutes were on the clock and the hosts were further in front.
The extremely impressive Harry Brown was the scorer on the volley in the left hand corner giving the keeper no chance at all and Otford had certainly shell-shocked their visitors so early on.
It was about to get worse on 13 minutes, a penalty awarded for handball and up stepped Brown, but crashed the ball against the crossbar and back out to safety, Hill not really knowing which way to turn in this game.
Every time Otford broke they looked likely to score, playing with three up front certainly caused Crockenhill no end of problems with every attack and on 26 minutes Brown scored his second and the hosts’ third, leaping highest from a corner and guiding his header into the far right hand corner.
Brown was again denied by the bar on 35 minutes, an absolute smasher of a shot beat the keeper all ends up but not the woodwork, however it wasn’t long before Brown did complete a first half hat-trick.
Another penalty awarded to Otford for handball on the line, defender dismissed, visitors down to 10 men and already 3-0 down. This time Brown made no mistake and the O’s took a 4-0 lead into half time.
Could the second half get any better? Well it matched the first half for goals, Brown came close early on but for a fine save from the Crockers keeper before being replaced by Toyeeb Babatunde who wasted no time in marking his mark on the game, robbing a defender of the ball and slotting home just after the hour mark for 5-0.
His second arrived on 75 minutes, a fierce shot taking a deflection on its way past the keeper and six for Otford. Hill then scored themselves, a very decent looping strike over the top of Hobson for a consolation goal three minutes later.
Babatunde was to cap his impressive second half with a hat-trick of his own two minutes from time with another smart finish after the O’s once again broke the offside trap for his side’s seventh of the evening.
Afterwards I caught up with O’s boss Ricky Tompkins to get his views on the game:
‘I felt it was a long time coming, it’s been fine margins in not winning a lot more games recently. Tonight I felt we were ruthless in front of goal and two strikers, two hat-tricks, top stuff.’
‘We defended as a team and our work rate was second none, credit to all the boys this evening.’
Stuart Cunningham also gave me a little insight into the club:
‘During lockdown of course all training and matches stopped so we spent time redecorating the pavilion, preparing for a return to football and working hard behind the scenes with the updating of polices. We were able to start small group sessions during June and these were particularly tricky for the younger players as they love the mini matches and they weren’t able to.’
‘The club has some long term plans regarding the size of the club, facilities and progression of youth players into our first team. We are aiming to provide teams every season from our coaching school which currently has over 50 attending every week. This is proving to be an excellent feeder for the club and will guarantee our future.’
‘Being new to the chairman role this season has taken a lot of time and energy from the start due to the merger between the senior and junior teams. The club however has settled down with so much good work done during the summer. I coach, manage, referee and support our players so as chairman I get to see the wider picture of the club.’
‘I can see the club developing strongly over the next few years as we have a dedicated committee.’
Quick mentions must go to Brown and Babatunde, quick efficient, lethal and excellent work-rate, the other player who stood out for me was Darrell Thompson in midfield, always available, simple balls and great at winning back possession.
Tuesday evening saw the last scheduled midweek game for East Preston after a busy couple of months cramming games in a fixture list than began a month behind its usual start date in August.
Like most clubs at this level and I know I’ve mentioned it fairly regularly, but they’ve done well off the pitch to keep people safe at games against a backdrop of diminishing volunteers and a constant battering of regulations to further reduce income that keeps these smaller clubs alive.
On the pitch things haven’t gone quite as expected since the game began again on 1st September. Just one win in all competitions in nearly two months wasn’t the way it was supposed to pan out and this time last week Terry Dodd tendered his resignation to the club committee which was accepted, Terry as we know through this blog doesn’t like losing and maybe just felt there was little he could to change things around despite his best efforts, money talks at all levels of the game.
Step forward Chris Horner! A rapid rise from the Under 23’s to 1st team manager in a few weeks, football does not stand still. As expected and often happens in the County League when a manager leaves, players invariably do as well and this situation is no different.
Despite most playing in the weekend defeat to Longfield, around eight left the club prior to Steyning’s visit to the Lashmar, Guy Church and Tijan Sparks appearing to be the only survivors from the Dodd reign and the side littered with new signings and promotions from the Under 23 squad.
Having seen EP two weeks or so prior to this one, they put up a strong fight in the Vase against Fisher, but capitulated three days later, 4-0 down at half time to Hassocks before rallying back to 4-3 which in a way leaves you unsure which EP makes its onto the pitch.
It did look to be a long night in front of the home side as they dealt with some strong attacking pressure in the opening minutes, the visitors coming close to opening the scoring on eleven minutes the EP defence just managing to clear off the line after pinball in the penalty area.
The hosts were able just to deal with everything the visitors threw at them and a fine save from debutant keeper Adam Brodrick kept the scores level. Steyning though eventually took the lead just before the half hour mark, an unmarked George Cousins on hand to fire past Brodrick, who was unable to hold onto the ball, and give Town a deserved lead that they took into half time.
With the ball just not holding up with the strikers, EP struggled to fashion many clear cut chances despite the midfield promptings of Jamie Frankling and the returning Tijan Sparkes.
The lead was increased for the visitors on 58 minutes, James Magrath’s header from a corner couldn’t be kept out and EP were now having to take a few more risks to try and get back into the game.
The introduction of Matt Storm from the bench provided a few flurries in the visitor’s penalty area and EP indeed should have pulled one back but as so often this season the lack of attacking intent send the home side to another league defeat.
Plenty of work to be done for the new boss and I caught up with him after the game to see what’s planned to try and turn things around:
‘My first objective is to get the goal average down and I guess we did alright with that tonight, that was our lowest defeat for a while, but at the same not clinical enough still in front of goal. I thought Adam did well in goal for his debut and will get sharper with games.’
‘Both of my strikers are deadly in front of goal and once they get into a good rhythm as a partnership I’m hoping things change.’
‘I am actively looking to bring some more experienced bodies in, I have dialogue open with a few clubs, but they have to be the right person both on and off the pitch to take us in the right direction. With no budget it is making things harder, but watch this space……’
Have to mention Dan Howick who had a fantastic game alongside skipper Charlie Robinson at the back for EP, head or foot on everything that came his way, those two could be key along with Sparks and Frankling in front of them plus three or four players with good experience to get the side up the table.
Getting to a game every Saturday and Tuesday at the moment is like a little god send, not just for me but for many others up and down the country in what are still very difficult and uncertain times.
Having picked up the Non League paper this morning to read that the Northern Premier League have quite rightly drawn up plans in case their season is curtailed or at the very least suspended for a few weeks, it makes me more determined to get around as much as I can and enjoy every ounce of it just in case, although the fear factor is a little less down here on the South Coast.
The weekend trip took me down the road to Pagham, staying local as I needed to work in the evening. The Lions have had a solid start to the season with just one defeat in seven league games whilst their visitors had also just a single defeat having played nine Southern Combination games.
Before the season ended prematurely in March, Lions boss Kerry Hardwell had begun to turn fortunes around and the club were comfortably heading away from the bottom six and with the quality of summer signings they made this time around I was expecting them to be comfortable top ten this time around, no pressure!
This definitely had the hallmark of a decent game to watch but the hosts in all honesty were rarely troubled throughout the ninety minutes, indeed the first quarter of an hour should have seen them in front and out of sight, Jazz Rance denied by the legs of keeper Jason Tibble followed by Jack Barnes blazing over unmarked from six yards out just moments later.
Uckfield were using the counter to try and get something going and were working hard to try and fashion something in the final third, but Pagham were making sure keeper Connor Kelly had little to do whilst Tibble at the other end kept the Lions strikers at bay with some superb goalkeeping.
The breakthrough came finally on 42 minutes, ex-Wicker Sam Connolly let fly from fully 25 yards and the ball squirmed through the hands of Tibble above his head and dropped into the net for the Lions to have the half time lead.
The second half began in similar fashion to the first and Pagham should have increased their lead 52 minutes when a mix up between Tibble and one of his defenders almost allowed Joe Clarke to lob the ball into an unguarded net.
It wasn’t a surprise to see the Lions extend their lead, Rance netting from the penalty spot after an Uckfield defender fouled Grant Radmore in the box on 62 minutes.
Uckfield then to their credit seemed to find more purpose in the attacking third but were still unable to penetrate the Pagham back line, marshalled superbly by Jack Williamson. There were times the game threatened to boil over with a few challenges the referee enforced with a free kick but no yellow card to follow, all twenty-two players stayed on the pitch, just.
That win moves Hardwell’s side into sixth place in the table while Uckfield remain in third place two points behind the leaders Horley Town having played two games more.
Pagham have certainly continued on from last season’s late form and I fully expect them to be in and around that top ten this season, Hardwell has a good balance across the pitch and with three or four of his squad with experience of playing two levels higher it bodes well for the rest of the campaign.
However, still a lot of football to be played as we’ve only reached October and after this month there is a lot less midweek football to fit in too, the pressure comes off a little bit but the intensity has to remain.
Waking up this week to see the National League clubs are still waiting for the government to give them the money they need to survive made me want to have a rant.
In the current climate it’s difficult not to turn anything into a political debate as the conversation always comes back to covid and how it’s being dealt with but football is the topic here.
I have various people I know at clubs in both the National League and National League South and they must be mystified as to why they were allowed to start the season nearly two weeks triggering players contracts into effect yet here we are still waiting to see that bail out money reach the club coffers.
What do these people think clubs are surviving on to run? Fresh air? Goodwill and fortune? Having listened to various people and reports over the last few days there are around half of League Two just above us in non-league unable to survive past Christmas and that now is not too far away, I suspect the figure in League One is slightly lower, it may not be, but how can a business be expected to survive and pay its employees without any income?
The latest set of restrictions being enforced mostly in the northern part of the country is causing confusion as to whether fans are in, fans are out, players and staff can move between tier counties etc, why can’t it just be in simple terms we can all understand?
As it was the London FA on Thursday released a statement cutting step 5 and 6 capacities from 300 people to 150 for this coming weekend only to retract it two hours later with normal service resumed.
And why are we still battling to get fans back into football when more and more indoor venues are re-opening, not insisting on mask wearing and where we know the virus likes to spread?
Of course we know covid doesn’t appear before 10pm and is in bed by 5am, knows whether you’re a Step 1 or 2 supporter, if you’re a home or away fan and only attacks you if you get up from the table in the pub to leave or visit the toilet, only it doesn’t seem to know how to spread as effectively outside where funnily enough we watch football, but it can find you in clubhouse if you forget to wear a mask while you grab a beer, but it couldn’t do that 3 weeks ago.
So why are we not allowed from top to bottom people inside grounds? Each club has completed their risk assessments in time for 1st October, they were ready. If the biggest issue is people using public transport to get there, then how do they think people get around to other places? Not everyone drives and if they actually took a look at the fact trains, tubes and buses are pretty much empty then they would actually see there is no problem.
And then instead of bailing out our clubs use it on places that really need it, like indoor venues that can’t social distance. Let them get on with starting to regain some income before they disappear for good, and lets also remember that it’s not just a club that goes under, a community loses their asset, businesses that supply the club with anything from printed programmes to food get squeezed even further.
More importantly, the mental health of this nation has been battered beyond belief over the past six months and the relief of those able to get back to watching their team on a weekend has provided no end of joy for many desperate for some sanity.
If the DCMS can’t provide any scientific evidence which they appear unable to do, then let a maximum amount into all grounds that are comfortable, do all the checks that need to be done and begin to return things slowly back before we find a complete devastation across the country, it’s starting to look like it’s not too far away………..
It’s not too often these days a Wednesday night game comes around as every club seems to prefer a Tuesday so when Tunbridge Wells announced a fixture change to the middle of the week it would’ve been rude not to make the journey and also catch up with a couple of long time mates of mine.
A league fixture was to be my third trip to the Culverden Stadium this season with K Sports the visitors. My previous two trips saw the Wells opening game in the FA Cup, a 1-0 win over Erith Town and the top two league encounter against Welling Town at the end of last month when they came from 2-0 down to take a point at 2-2, a lucky omen coach Luke Carpenter called me before this midweek visit.
Not only that a promise of the season ticket should the unbeaten run continue that evening, we’ll see if that ends up on the door mat in the next few days! Building a network when you are a promising writer is the key to getting your work out there and getting different material from all levels of the game. I’ve promised to get around to all the guys who have been good to me this year and despite not being able to get into some grounds or even clubhouses I’m making the most of at least a quick catch up before kick-off, this one no different with Rich Styles, Dan Morrin and Carps of course.
An unbeaten start to the league season for the Wells so far has put them in amongst clubs such as Corinthian, Sheppey and Chatham Town so they know that to stay in the group of pacesetters they need to keep winning.
The game started off in similar fashion to my previous trip, Wells kicking up the slope and making all the early running and chances but not able to find the net, Euan Sahadow went closest with a rasping shot that failed to curl back towards the far post. With the Wells attacking all will down both flanks through Sahadow and Regan Corke it surely wasn’t going to be long before the hosts went in front.
It took however until the 28th minute for the home side to make the breakthrough, Miles Cornwell heading home unmarked in the six yard box for a deserved Wells lead. Nine minutes later and it was two, Sahadow looked as if he’d missed his opportunity before swivelling and planting the sweetest of shots past keeper Matt Palmer to give the Wells a half time scoreline their first half play deserved.
Whilst Sports were tidy in possession until the final third of the pitch, Wells were dominant going forward with the link up play from left full back to right wing very evident throughout the half, Corke having the beating of the wing back every time.
Whilst the encounter with Welling Town made it look like the Wells would pay for not scoring in the opening 20 minutes, there wasn’t much danger Sports would punish the home side.
Although they came out with more attacking purpose in the second half the visitors never really tested Wells keeper Aaron Lee-Wharton enough and despite the Wells being a bit sloppier in possession there were chances for Sahadow and Josh Froggatt to make the game safe for the hosts and with an out and out striker the home side probably would have hit five or six in the end.
Another three points though pushes the Wells up to 2nd in the table before the weekend games a point behind the leaders Corinthian having played a game more. With games to come against the table toppers and fellow top four side Sheppey in the next five weeks, a few unbeaten records might have to topple soon………..
FA Cup football once again took over midweek action, and for me the first time ever that I’ve managed to watch a game in every round so far, however depending on how kind the draw is on Thursday for the 4th qualifying round, that might be it for me this season given the inclusion of the National League Premier clubs and still no fans allowed in at that level.
My Tuesday night game saw me take in Chichester vs Tonbridge Angels, my first ever visit to Oaklands Park despite living down here in West Sussex for fourteen years, but also a chance to catch up briefly with Angels manager Steve McKimm who was kind enough to give me a blog interview over the lockdown period and as we are unable to enter Longmead Stadium currently with the restrictions this was the next best thing.
I used to live a five minute drive from that stadium before moving here and even played on the pitch in a cup semi final for my school a long time ago and also spent some junior years watching a very good Angels team smash their way through the Winstonlead Kent League.
The FA giant-killers of last season were a team McKimm was wary of when the draw was made despite Tonbridge hailing from two levels higher, Chi having also started their season a few weeks earlier than their visitors that might have given them the edge.
The game began on a damp pitch from the afternoon rain but both sides were set on passing the ball and not resorting to long channel balls which was pleasing to see, wing backs from Chi and wingers from Tonbridge were the name of the game.
The early chances fell the way of the hosts but were unable to find the target and as the visitors began to get a foothold in the game, they took the lead. Panic in the Chi defence after allowing a ball to bounce caught the home keeper Steve Mowthorpe in no-mans-land and Joe Turner nipped in between the keeper and defender to slot home the opening goal.
The goal however didn’t knock the home side out of their stride and they were level just five minutes later, a ball from Josh Clack squared across the box to Kaleem Haitham found it’s way into the back of the net to give the capacity 400 crowd something to cheer.
The remainder of the half was a trade off of chances but neither side were able to make the breakthrough to go in front before the half time break.
The first chance of the second half came immediately for the visitors, the impressive Khale Da Costa forcing Mowthorpe to tip the ball round the post within two minutes of the re-start. Both sides certainly appeared more intent in an open game this half as play swung from end to end, and the midfield area seemed a lot more stretched.
The Angels once again took the lead on 65 minutes, Da Costa appearing to score straight from the corner with no Chi player on the front post to attack the ball. The hosts did have the ball in the net four minutes later but Scott Jones comfortably fouled the keeper at the same time.
Chi made a couple of substitutions to try and change the nature of the game, the young impressive Ethan Pritchard arrived just before the goal and was involved after trying to get his back into the game down the left wing, with Lewis Hyde replacing Matt Axell to drive the team forward.
Tonbridge had their chances on the counter attack to add a third, but seemed unable to hold onto the ball when they attacked the final third of the pitch which gave their hosts the chance to put pressure immediately back on the visitors defence and goal for the final fifteen minutes.
McKimm’s defenders dealt with everything thrown at them including stoppage time, Sonny Miles marshalling the back line alongside Rian Bray headed, kicked and put their bodies in front of everything to give the Angels victory and a place in Thursday’s draw.
Very impressed with Chi and the way they played throughout the game, will definitely be making another visit there this season, facilities look pretty good for this level.
I caught up with the Angels boss on Wednesday morning and here are his thoughts:
‘It was a tough game as I expected, a proper game of cup football. Despite all the pressure towards the end I was comfortable with my defence dealing with all the crosses coming in and with a touch more quality we could have had another goal.’
‘It was really nice to hear other voices than just the players shouting at each other, good to see a crowd watching football again.’
Saturday was a break from watching league action and delving into the FA Vase for the first time this season, which tied in nicely with the two week blog update for East Preston and their boss Terry Dodd.
So far this season it’s been a tough watch for EP fans and I think Terry would agree he’s learnt more in seven weeks about managing at this level of football than he did in his spell at Wick last season where things were fairing much better.
That’s not to say he’s doing a bad job, far from it. All of you know money talks in football and even at this level and Step 6 below without even a small budget attracting players is very hard and even more so when you’re in a saturated area for clubs to choose from.
The effect covid has had on these clubs up and down the country is immense, I’ve said it lots of times I am surprised that so few have gone under and that is huge credit to the band of volunteers that keep them going week after week. The latest countrywide restrictions mean football club bars have to be closed by 10pm, which throughout the week and especially midweek match nights are once again crippling and playing with the very future of our footballing pyramid.
In his programme notes on the weekend the chairman eluded to how much the club was losing. The previous Tuesday the bar took around £300 less than usual while the Under 23 game night saw around £200 going through the till which when you consider for a lot of clubs this money is what makes the football work it’s a wonder that all of them will get through to the end of the season.
Despite the reduced prize money in the national competitions this season it still provides some more income at a time when it’s most needed and the visit of Southern Counties East Premier Division side Fisher gave the opportunity for that and a break from league football.
Fisher have had an indifferent start to their campaign and sit mid-table in the predominantly Kent based league despite hailing from South London, EP meanwhile have found the going much tougher and currently sit bottom of the Southern Combination Premier Division.
Not too surprisingly it was a fairly even start to the first half, neither side able to create many clear cut chances although the visitors started to grow into the game the longer it went on. Backed by a very good travelling support Fisher went in front on 35 minutes through Melvin Adesida, pouncing on a loose ball in the area to slot past keeper Keelan Belcher. EP thought they were level just five minutes later through Thaikay David-Day but his shot was cleared off the line while the visitors almost had a second just before the break, hitting the bar much to the relief of Belcher and his defenders.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first, Fisher looking the more likely to create chances while EP lived on the counter-attack to utilise the hard running of Conor Bull and the pace of Morgan Day. A superb one handed save from Belcher on the hour mark kept the hosts in the game and you felt with only the one goal still in it a lapse in concentration was all EP needed to get back into the tie.
However, that of course can stretch a game and Fisher finally put the tie beyond their hosts in the 79th minute, Jamie Yila rounding Belcher and slotting home between the two defenders on the line.
Day was the clear outstanding performer for the home side who badly missed Tijan Sparkes and Brad Lewis in the middle of midfield, the young side unable to cope with the physical presence of the visitors.
Catching up with boss Terry Dodd on Monday morning, he’s not too despondent about things and still expects the corner to be turned shortly:
‘The loss of Tijan and Brad is huge for us, it makes it harder to compete in the middle of the park. I think we’re creating the more chances in games and on Saturday felt that we were the better team in the 2nd half but not clinical enough with our finishing.’
‘The injuries are just killing us as there’s not enough time between games to the players fit again but we have got a bit of a break in fixtures in a couple of weeks so hopefully that will give us the time we need to get some more back out on the pitch.’
‘I am working on bringing in some more bodies to add to what we’ve got here and if I can bring in the right players to compliment what we already have here and then we will start climbing up the table.’
‘I’ve got some good lads here and I enjoy every game with them, obviously not the results at the moment! Everyone will tell you I’m the worst loser but I think I am learning more about myself, the team, and the game week by week. I hope they are as well and if they keep giving their all and learning all the time then results will easily turn around.’
The months of October and November bring the next stage of the season – it is the time when reality begins to set in at clubs and the early hopes start to fade. Managers might not have reached the goals set during the summer, or perhaps the players bought in aren’t delivering for one reason or another. If a player isn’t in the side they get unsettled and start moaning. All the managers I have worked with would say ‘If you’re playing well, you’d be in the team. You are out of it because you’re not playing well.’ Unsettled players want to move on and their mood can affect others.
The clocks will have gone back, the nights draw in. That starts to affect your evening plans. The weather changes, temperatures plummet, you are suddenly playing in heavy rain or heavy wind. Pitches become lusher and slower while the training pitches can get unplayable especially at lower levels. You hunt around for alternatives, a 3G artificial surface. Too much training on such surfaces can affect joints and some players may have to be kept off it. If you want to lay your own it costs a fortune. In days gone by we trained on anything. A lot of league players would train on the car park on a Friday morning and be very competitive that players would get injured and end up missing the game.
The football seasons seem to get longer. Evening training, travelling, staying late after games, going through the range of emotions together all take the toll. It can be a 24/7 existence for ten months of the year. You have to have a certain mindset to deal with it. In the New Year there will be three basic situations facing you at this stage. You are hoping to go up, avoid relegation or be somewhere in between. In my long career I’ve have sampled all three. Fans however must appreciate the true goals of their clubs is that there are 88 clubs at step 3 most will experience a small form of success. A few will go a bit further and reach the play-offs, a local County senior or the League Cup Final or have an extended run in a major Cup only eight will experience promotion that is just 15.8 per cent. In other words the vast majority of clubs will fail to achieve what fans will see as their primary objective.
Football is so important to the emotional well-being of our nation. It is really important is the appreciate the bigger picture that is going on giving youth a chance bringing through local players progressing five places up the table, scoring 10 per cent more home goals- these are important steps in building a club’s future. You do however become obsessed with the game. A lot of people outside the game have asked me, ‘why I bother?’ It’s a good question but the answer is that it is in my blood.
All you focus on is doing well as a team. You want success and are part of the team that is driving for certain goals. You suffer from tunnel-vision because if it. I have devoted to much of my time entirely to football and other aspects of my life have suffered because of it.
Aside from that I have been fortunate to work with some great managers and players who have not only taught me much about football but provided me with wisdom that have benefited me in my life.
Not every club can win. But every club can progress……….