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…….

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………..

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………..

The wait goes on

Saturday football once again! Well live streaming has been fine coupled with FA Cup weekend’s whilst the game was served another suspension, nothing beats waking up on the first day of the weekend knowing you’re off to football.

I had plenty of local choice too, not really deterred by the lack of Step 3 and 4 games and of course those in Step 5 and 6 who are unable to play, with East Preston facing eight away games in a row after this weekend I easily decided on a trip to The Lashmar.

For those of you who read regularly I’ve been following the fortunes of the West Sussex outfit since the start of the season and over the course of the eight away games there will be a couple of updates to find out whats been happening and what’s new.

Now under the tutelage of Lee Thompson and Mike McCaffrey, the side were still searching for their first win of the season with Crawley Down Gatwick the visitors, a midweek defeat to Lancing on the season’s resumption not the start the duo wanted.

What I didn’t expect when I arrived at the ground was to see well-known Barnet FC fans Steve and Ann Percy around two hours from home for them, needless to say there was a lot of Barnet talk but not at the expense of watching the game!

Not surprisingly the pitch was pretty heavy given the amount of rain on the South Coast over the last few days but both sides certainly didn’t shirk from the challenge and the early exchanges were very even, chances at both ends but not enough to break the deadlock.

EP keeper Steve Alfrey was becoming the busier of the two custodians as the half wore on however but little was put either side of him keeping the scoreline blank. Just as we were all set for things being equal at half time the visitors popped up with a goal, striker Lewis Croal with a superb finish just on the half time mark, harsh on the hosts who had done enough for the scores to remain level going into the interval.

What happened at the beginning of the second half baffled quite a few in the ground including me. Alfrey was out early from the changing room and made his way over the to bench to the bemusement of those around us to question if he had been sent off but remaining in full kit.

Having stood close to the changing rooms as the teams walked off, Alfrey had entered into some colourful dialogue with the match officials and only once the second half had begun with Chad Milner in goal and some ten minutes elapsed did we realise he’d been sin-binned for dissent!

The sin-bin certainly hasn’t been enforced enough this season at this level compared to last year hence why I think we all forgot that referees do actually use it still!

Alfrey was back between the sticks when Crawley Down added their second on the hour mark, Guy Halding’s flicked header from a left wing cross unchallenged as it nestled inside the far post.

Just six minutes later Dave Brown made sure the points were leaving with the visitors as he smashed the ball home to put the game beyond the reach for EP. So the wait goes on for East Preston for that elusive first league win of the season and next up a trip to Little Common to try and reverse that statistic.

For the visitors two wins on the bounce keeps them inside the top ten clubs in the Premier Division and looking upwards rather than down, a very composed performance despite losing their keeper injured in the warm-up and Tony Jenner coming in to keep a clean sheet.

Another midweek coming up for more football, although destination unknown at the moment, but if I can be somewhere I will be somewhere……..

Goal fest as football returns again

Football! It’s back, how long for we don’t know with decisions made by those not understanding the non-league game at all but here we are ready to go again and of course you’ve got to make the most of every opportunity.

With the go ahead given last week but not a re-start for everyone, local games to go to where I hadn’t been so far were a little bit in short supply with no Step 3 or 4 action for around at least two weeks more so I settled on Wick vs Arundel despite having seen both in action in the first two months of the season.

I had been hopeful of heading to The Hive to finally get to see Barnet in action and not on a stream, they put paid to that before the weekend with season ticket holders only being admitted. Then they threw a spanner in the works announcing on Monday individual tickets were on sale for Tuesday night’s game.

Can’t say I wasn’t tempted, but with friends not able to make that game I stayed with my local choice and headed to Crabtree Park for the second time this season. The first was the opening Saturday of the season for the Southern Combination when Bexhill Utd recorded what was a comfortable 3-0 win, Arundel I saw go down 3-2 to Oakwood in the Sussex Senior Cup in October at Mill Road.

Both sides sat middle to lower half going into the game and this being the first action for four weeks and being a local derby too, an added couple of extras going into the game and by the time the final whistle went this one certainly didn’t disappoint.

On a fresh, cold December night, both sides were intent on playing football rather than reverting to banging the ball long to skip across the crisp surface, Wick had the better of the opening exchanges and were in front on 14 minutes, Jake Hawker heading home unmarked at the edge of the six yard box to give the home side the lead.

It wasn’t all one way traffic although the home side just had the edge and were awarded a penalty on 36 minutes, striker Dan Simmonds’ effort well saved by Mullets keeper Lewis Broughton, but he couldn’t prevent Connor Bull from firing home the rebound to put Wick 2-0 up.

Arundel brought themselves back into the game superbly just two minutes later, striker Ben Gray operating as a left back curled a free kick into the far top corner giving Wickers keeper Jordan Matthews no chance, a worldie if you like and a way back into the game for the visitors.

The game however turned on the next decision just a few moments later, Mullets John Phillips given a straight red card by referee Mark Spence reducing the visitors to ten men although no change in the scoreline as the game moved into half time, Simmonds hitting the post just before the interval.

Wick certainly made use of the extra man in the second half, Arundel a bit more tentative to push forward given the closeness of the scoreline and it was no surprise the next goal went to the home side.

A ball played in by left back Jack Bingham found Rob Hutchings, dual signed from Pitching In South Eastern side Chichester City, who controlled with one touch and unleashed a fierce shot giving Broughton no chance five minutes into the second half.

Three minutes later and Simmonds added his name to the scoresheet to put Wickers 4-1 up and in complete control with a clinical finish. Gray gave Mullets a glimmer of hope ten minutes later with another sweet strike that flew past Matthews only for Simmonds to pounce for his second just two minutes later after a defensive mix-up allowed him to score, 5-2 to the home side.

The striker then completed his hat-trick in the final 15 minutes, a miscued defensive clearance fell to Simmonds in the penalty area and he made no mistake firing past Broughton and a sixth goal for Wick.

There was time for Shane Brazil to time his run and lob the ball over the on-rushing Matthews into the net for a third consolation goal from 25 yards out, Wickers running out 6-3 winners.

Credit to both sides in what was a very entertaining affair and neither side seemed affected by tiredness or fatigue after four weeks of no games, the scoreline I felt was reflected in the decision of the red card I don’t think we would have had such a goal fest otherwise.

Attention is turned to the weekend now and the decision is between a local game or branching out into the National League, it’s great to be back once again……….