Fans return to live football

During the lockdown period, I had a few guest bloggers produce some articles for me which were pretty well received and it’s always nice when people email you and ask if you would promote their writings, even if their not bloggers themselves.

This one comes from Richard Edwards who is an Essex exile living in Yorkshire  where he juggles allegiances to Colchester United and Bradford City where he now attends regularly. In a distant past life he produced Cool Notes music fanzine in the 1980’s, one of the few at the time to feature football. 

It was a warm evening and I was positively buzzing with anticipation passing through a rough car park in the village of Wrose on the Northern boundary of metropolitan Bradford to arrive at The Mitton Group Stadium, home of Eccleshill United FC (abbreviated to ‘Ecky by many home fans) 

Like many fans I was grateful for the return of live football on our TV screens, but I soon realised that I could not embrace it with any genuine passion. Grounds devoid of fans and matches injected with a fabricated “audio carpet” to simulate the presence of fans represented by cardboard cut outs. It had to be a sci fi nightmare! 

Finding it sterile and hollow my gratitude soon wore thin as I pined for the real thing in any form and you know things are desperate when you start urging your wife to slow down during car journey’s as we passed  a playing field kick about! 

Salvation arrived on the 20th August when the English FA announced  plans to admit a limited number of  fans to lower tier leagues based on a rather complex calculation involving thresholds of ground capacity . Initially this was set at 15% (150) and after a week it rose to 30% (300). This would allow fans to be admitted to the Preliminary Round of the Emirates FA Cup which traditionally starts its marathon journey to the Wembley final in August , an event all too many fans will be oblivious to but which comes with potential financial rewards for competing clubs  

Clubs were reminded that these steps were conditional on all clubs undertaking the FA’s guidance and fans following the Social Distancing measures. All clubs had to complete a risk assessment uploaded to their website and ensure test and trace systems are in place. This is part of a repeated narrative which should be allowed to admit we are all bored with without dismissing its importance.    

Eccleshill United had drawn Silsden another West Yorkshire club close to my home if not quite my heart. This was more than enough to fuel my naive passion for the FA Cup and the prospect of live football. Both teams reside in the Premier League of the Toolstation Northern Counties East League , 8 levels below the pinnacle of the Premier League. I was both grateful and anxious to see a queue, a pre-match queue of any size  gives the match added status , not quite Valley Parade but certainly more than park football. It reminds us that we are not alone in a passion forged in childhood memories. 

Our queue briefly had the unlikely drama of not knowing how near the crowd was to its 300 capacity. Our fears were allayed by a friendly steward who generated non-league banter and gossip on the way in, where we were subjected to test and trace procedures. There were very few masks in evidence and no taped off areas or seats, or bottles of Gel, and thankfully I wasn’t sorry. The attendance looked to be around 150, about 25%  of them Silsden fans. 

‘Ecky started the stronger team in the first half with the Sils under pressure from a confident high paced performance. Luke Aldrich notched their first shot on target within two minutes shortly followed with a close range missed header. 

Silsden fought off this sustained pressure and went 1-0 up just before half time after Matthew Britton connected with a well-timed header from Joe Mitchell’s perfect cross to the far post. 

Silsden were an unstoppable force in the second half scoring two goals within the first six minutes, Britton hurtled down the right wing to deliver perfect pass to allow Anthony Brown to shoot home .Brown then settled the tie two minutes later to make it 3 – 0, a bitter pill for home fans given Brown had previously been an Eccleshill player . A number of them began to drift away, resigned to the £375 runners up award and better hopes for the FA Vase. Silsden will took a hard earned £1,225 from the tie and go on to play Oldham based Bootle in the next preliminary round at home. 

The resumption of live crowds was far more important to me than the score .If COVID has reminded us of anything it’s that we are at our core social animals, personally the spectacle and rituals of going to a match often overshadows the game itself. This match was never going to match the atmosphere at Valley Parade let alone the Premier League, but it was about getting back to those rituals that we might have taken for granted, pies and pints, and the smell of the burger stall, youth team players nearby bragging about how many scouts they’ve attracted and the incessant flow of random bits of  football gossip . The brazen banter and outrageous wind ups from a worldly braggart to your right, the midweek glow of the lights coming off the pitch.

The decision to readmit fans followed the #letfansin  Twitter campaign by supporters and followers of non-league football, at the moment its looking like the right result all round. 

Guest series: Jimmy meets….

In the final part of what has been an excellent guest series from Jimmy Langton, the final player in focus is former Rock Jimmy Wild:

JL: Which club have you felt most at home with?

JW: I enjoyed my time at Bognor and have some great memories of the promotion year and playing at the Amex, as well as having a good relationship with the fans who made me really welcome. But I think Chichester is where I would say I felt most at home. Having been there since the age of 11 and then playing for every age group up to the first team, and having been around the club for so long I’ll always look out for their results.

JL: Who’s the best manager you have played for and why?

JW: The one that knew me the best and definitely got the best out of me was Miles Rutherford. Right from the moment he took over at Chichester he was great to me and always looked after me. He gave me a chance to play week in week out, which some managers didn’t, and always wanted me to progress to a higher level. 

JL: Which club are you with now?

JW: Around Christmas time I got given the chance to go and play in New Zealand which was a great experience. Most people know I love travelling and usually go off around the world when the football season finishes so I couldn’t say no. I was playing in their Premier League so I was flying around New Zealand playing football and travelling at the same time. I would recommend to anyone who has the chance to try it, it was a great experience. Unfortunately, the season finished early because of coronavirus but I managed to get home just in time!

JL: Are there any role models you look up to and why?

JW: Peter Crouch is a personal favourite as I have been compared to him by opposition fans for being just as lanky! Being a Tottenham fan I love watching the likes of Bale and Kane and how they play the game. They’re exciting to watch and love scoring goals so they’re good role models to have.

JL: What was the reason for coming to Bognor?

JW: I always wanted to test myself at a higher level so when Bognor asked me to go there when I was only 17 it was a good move for me. Living in Chichester it was local for me to travel to and I already had a couple of connections with the club so it worked out well. 

JL: What’s your favourite football club?

JW: As I mentioned above I am a Spurs fan and have been all my life, all my family are Spurs fans so it’s past through the family. I’m moving to London this summer so I’m hoping to get to watch them a bit more. 

JL: Which coach do you feel you have benefited from most in your career?

JW: I’ve always had a good relationship with Dabba (Darin Killpartrick). He believed in me when I met him at college and then he helped me develop as a player at Bognor too. It was also good to see him at Chichester last season where he definitely helped a lot in the FA Cup run. When I first met him, I never thought I’d be sharing a hotel room with him in Tranmere all these years later! 

JL: Why did you choose to be a forward?

JW: I never really saw myself as a forward as I played centre midfield until I was 17. Then Jim Yeo who managed Chichester Under 18’s at the time put me up front for a couple of games and I did okay, then the first team manager at the time Darren Pearce saw me playing and put me in the first team the following week and I have been a forward ever since. 

JL: What’s your favourite colour?

JW: I’ve always played for teams that play in green and white so maybe I’d have to say that!

JL: Who’s your best player you have played against and why? 

JW: Out in New Zealand I played against Auckland City who usually do quite well in their Champions League and even ended up at the FIFA World Club Cup so it was a good experience to play against top level players and test myself against them. It was always good to play against teams like Portsmouth and Brighton in pre-season, it was fun chasing Christian Burgess’ shadows!

JL: Why did you choose football?

JW: There’s no better sport! From the age of 4 when I first started playing for a team run by my Dad, Andy, right up until now, I’ve always loved playing football. I’ve played quite a few sports to a decent level, cricket being one that I enjoyed too but it got to a stage where I had to choose one or the other and I definitely made the right call.

JL: Who’s the best player you have played with and why?

JW: I went to school with Joe Ralls and even from an early age you could tell he was a player. He’s gone on to play in the Premier league with Cardiff so he’s done alright for himself!

JL: What made you choose to move to Chichester from Bognor?

JW: I’ve always wanted to play the highest level possible so when the opportunity came I had to give it a go. Dabba was the one that made it happen. I had played at the college with him for two years and he told me how he really wanted to get me to Bognor so I have to thank him and Jamie Howell for giving me that chance.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter, @JimmyLangton2

Guest Series: Jimmy meets……

In another of the popular Jimmy Langton meets series, goalkeeper Amadou Tangara is the player in focus:

JL: Which club have you felt most at home at?

AT: To be fair I’ve been always welcomed at most of the clubs I’ve been at, from my time at (Grays Athletic, Dulwich Hamlet and Merstham)  all these clubs made me feel very welcome, but I have to admit that Bognor Regis have been special to me.

JL: Who is the best manager you’ve played for and why?

AT: I have played for some decent managers over the years such as Hayden Bird, Gavin Rose, Jack Pearce and Robbie Blake here are excellent too, I feel really lucky in that perceptive.

JL: Are there any role models that you look at to and why? 

AT: I look up a lot to my dad because he had such a positive influence in people’s lives around him, he has done so much for our community in the Ivory Coast. Having grown up seeing all he has done for the area around him and his family; I must admit that it motivates me to be a better person and to help as much as I can around me. 

JL: How did you end up signing for Bognor Regis Town? 

AT: At the beginning of the season I joined Kingstonian after a successful season at Merstham but it didn’t work out the way I thought it would so when Bognor contacted me over a possible move I didn’t hesitate because Bognor Regis are well known to be an attractive footballing side. After a couple of games I just fell in love with the club and the fans and  I am so happy to be here. 

JL; Did you have any trials at any higher league clubs? 

AT: I have had some trials with few pro clubs previously but not this year. 

JL: What are your favourite football clubs ( apart from Bognor obviously)? 

AT: Haha! I definitely love Bognor, and I am also a Chelsea fan. 

JL: Which coach do you think you have benefitted from most in your career so far?

AT: My academy manager in the Ivory Coast he is the reason why I am a goalkeeper today and he has been looking after me since I am 8 years old till now, he still does.

JL: What is your favourite colour ?

AT: My favourite colour is blue because it reminds me the natural beauty of the sea 

JL: Who’s the best player you have played against? 

AT: Bertrand Traore (Chelsea) in an international tournament in Burkina Faso JL: Do you intend to go into coaching when you have retired from playing?AT: I am already into coaching on a part-time basis, I will definitely consider going into full time coaching when I will decide to stop playing.  

JL: Who’s the best player you have played with?

AT: One of the best players that I played with in non-league football is Ghass Sow currently playing for Kingstonian, he was a big part of our successful season last year at Merstham. 

JL: Why did you choose to be a goalkeeper? 

AT: I didn’t choose to be a goalkeeper I was a right back, and one day our goalkeeper didn’t turn up so my  coach asked me to get in goal so we can do some finishing, and I was enjoying it so from that moment onward my academy coach started playing me in goal. That’s how it all came about. 

Follow Jimmy on Twitter, @JimmyLangton2

Guest Series: Jimmy meets…..

Another from the Jimmy Langton series of interviews and those of you who know your Bognor Regis players, striker Dan Smith who has been linked with a move to National League outfit Eastleigh is the man in focus below:

JL: Which club have you felt at home at?

DS: I’ve definitely felt most at home with Bognor, even though I was at Portsmouth a long time it was never really in the first team frame, apart from my last year. After my first few games at Bognor last season I felt very comfortable and scoring a lot of goals definitely helped me feel this is a good place to be and this season the fans have reassured that feeling.

JL: Who’s the best manager you have played for and why?

DS: I’d probably say two so far in my career have been the best I’ve experienced. Jack (Pearce) being one of them, with the amount of knowledge he’s had over the years in football for me he does really help with little things, for example positioning up front which is still new to me and also relating what I should try and do in the game to the defender who I’m playing against. Another was Paul Cook, even though I only saw him for a short period, I thought the way he organised his team differently depending on who he plays against was very clever and you saw how it worked on game day and he knew exactly how he wanted his team to play and how to get the best out of the team that was playing.

JL: Are there any role models you look up to and why?

DS: A big one for me growing up was David Beckham, especially as I was playing as a right midfielder at the time, I liked him the most when he was with England scoring a few really big goals.

JL: What was the reason for coming to Bognor?

DS: A big reason coming to Bognor was to play under Jack and Robbie (Blake) week in, week out, which I knew I would do here, as I’d done so well last season. I was hoping I’d replicate that and score as many goals as I had, or more, which I have done.

JL: Did you have any trials at higher league clubs?

DS: I had quite a few offered to me fromFootball League clubs and National League clubs, but decided I wanted to play 90 minutes every week with Bognor this season.

JL: What’s your favourite football club? (Apart from Bognor, obviously!)

DS: I don’t really support a team, my family are mainly Southampton fans, but I grew up playing with Portsmouth so I was quite neutral! But at the moment I really enjoy watching Liverpool play.

JL: Which coach do you feel you have benefited from most so far?

DS: I’d say Blakey has helped me a lot in terms of what is required from a centre forward at first team level and explains when to try things and when to “do my job as a striker” and keep it simple. Another coach who’s helped me massively recently and at the start of my career when I was 7 or 8 is a coach called Dave Hazelgrove, who’s helping me now as well in terms of playing men’s football at non-league and the little tricks you need to know to get an advantage over the defender.

JL: What’s your favourite colour?

DS: Blue.

JL: Who is the best player you have played against?

DS: I can’t think of any from games that stick out for a specific player, but I did play against Sean Coleman on his comeback game after the leg break, but the one that sticks out in training was always Matt Clarke, he’s strong, quick, fit, intelligent and very good on the ball, you always wanted him on your team in training!

JL: Do you intend to go into coaching when you have retired from playing?

DS; I’m not too sure after I finish playing I want to continue coaching, I do a bit at the moment and enjoy it, but I’m not sure if it’s something I want to do long term. I might end up doing a job not related at all to football.

JL: Why did you choose football?

DS: I always loved it from a young age and wanted to excel when I was playing and try and perfect whatever I was working on.

JL: Who’s the best player you have played with and why?

DS: The best player I’ve played with is probably Conor Chaplin, who I played a lot with at under 23 level when he was out of favour, his finishing is unbelievable and in terms of his little touches you can’t get much better around the box and playing with him was a great experience.

JL: What was the reason why you came back to Bognor?

DS: It was definitely the opportunity of playing every game and getting the chance to perform which I feel I have. I still feel I can play better than I have done, but I’m young and still learning and playing games here is definitely the best way of doing it at the moment.

JL: How did you become a centre forward?

DS: The reason I became a centre forward came from Kenny Jacket, he saw me as a striker as I was very good in the air, could finish well and run in behind the defenders repeatedly and that’s where he wanted me to play in his ideal team.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter, @JimmyLangton2

Guest Series: Jimmy meets…….

joe-tomlinson-on-the-charge

The second instalment of this series sees Jimmy Langton finding out the thoughts and views from former Rock and now Hungerford Town defender Joe Tomlinson:

JL: Which clubs have you felt at home at?

JT: I’ve played at a few clubs in my career now and I am grateful to all of them for different reasons, however the way that the Bognor fans welcomed me in and supported me throughout the season will stick with me forever and is something I will never forget.

JL: Who’s the best manager you have played for and why?

JT: I have played under a few good managers in my career, but I will always remember Jack Pearce and Robbie Blake at Bognor for giving me my first taste of first team football and to Ian Herring at Hungerford for putting his trust in me at a young age.

JL: Are there any role models you look up to and why?

JT: I will always look up to Cristiano Ronaldo the most for what he has achieved in his career and for the hard work that he has done to get to where he is.

JL: What was the reason for coming to Bognor Regis Town?

JT: I joined Bognor on loan because I wanted to get some experience at first team level. Brighton then let me know of their interest; I’d heard great things about the club and I wanted to join straight away.

JL; Did you have any trials at any higher league clubs?

JT: After I was released from Yeovil Town in 2018 I went on trial at Brighton and Hove Albion and I was fortunate enough to sign for them on a 1 year contract.

JL: What’s your favourite football club?

JT: My favourite club is Manchester United and they will always be the team I dream to play for, however I will always have a soft spot for Southampton FC for the time I spent at the club.

JL: Which coach do you feel you have benefited from most in your career?

JT: There are two coaches that I feel I have benefited most from: Antonio Falanga, my youth team coach at Yeovil Town and Graeme Murty, one of my coaches at Southampton Academy.

JL: What’s your favourite colour?

JT: My colour has to be the red of Manchester United.

JL: Who is the best player you have played against?

JT: I have played against a lot of players who have already done well in my career including Reece James, Reiss Nelson and Rhian Brewster, however Callum Hudson-Odoi is the best player I have played against.

JL: Do you intend to go into coaching when you have retired from playing?

JT: It’s not something I have thought about enough yet, I have a Level 2 coaching badge so it is a possibility in the future when my career is over.

JL: What made you choose a career in football?

JT: I have always had a love for football because I enjoy playing it and I enjoy watching it so it was only a matter of time before my parents were going to sign me up to a local side.

JL: Who’s the best player you have played with and why?

JT: The best player I have played with is Will Smallbone. We played together at Southampton and this season he has made his Premier League debut for the club and scored his first senior goal. I have also trained with the first team at Brighton and the best player I trained with there would have to be Davy Propper.

JL: Why did you choose to be a defender?

JT: Initially, I was a winger for my local side but when I joined Southampton Academy, at the age of 7, they moved me to the back to help improve my understanding of the game as everything is in front of me and I can see and build from the back.

JL: Did you have a choice of not playing against Bognor for Brighton in the Sussex Senior Cup last season?

JT: I didn’t have a choice, no. Obviously it was a difficult game for me to play in as I was up against players and fans who I’d played with and for all season. Bognor played really well in the game and they deserved to win but it was really nice the way the Bognor fans treated me throughout the match.

JL: How did the opportunity arise for signing for Hungerford Town?

JT: The Gaffer at Hungerford knew my brother and he spoke to him to see if I had signed anywhere. Then I went to training in pre-season and then from there they offered a contract and decided to join.

My life goal is to sign a professional contract again for a league side and work my way up to the Premier League. I’m going to do everything I can to try and make it happen. 

Guest series: Jimmy meets………

Keaton Wood

The start of a new series and I’m pleased to say another new writer wanting to share their work on my blog. Jimmy Langton has compiled a whole raft of interviews with players from Bognor Regis Town over the past few months and this is one here is the first. Those of you of a green persuasion will know whose in the picture, for those who aren’t up first is Keaton Wood:

 

JL: Which clubs have you felt at home with?

KW: I would have to say both Bognor and Dartford. I have really enjoyed my time out of professional football, made better by the friends I have gotten to know and the coaches that have challenged me to develop and enjoy my football.

JL: Who’s the best manager you have played for and why?

KW: Tough one! Not sure I have a ‘best’ manager but certainly ones that have helped me throughout my career so far, Jack for his interpersonal skills and his friendship, Tony Burman at Darford for teaching me men’s football.

JL: Are there any role models you look up to and why?

KW: In my life, I would have to say my Dad. He has devoted so much time to making sure my mum and both my sister and I have had a good life. In football terms, it was always David Beckham. The way he played, I admired it, and when I got older I was able to understand and appreciate how he handled so much and still continued to be great!

JL: What was the reason for joining Bognor?

KW: I currently work at Southampton FC in their Academy coaching and couldn’t keep committing to travelling to Dartford; it was really tough driving 150 miles three times a week. Tony Burman was kind enough to put me in contact with Jack and that was that really.

JL: Did you have any trials at any higher league clubs?

KW: Yes, I was a part of Crystal Palace’s Academy where I didn’t gain a scholarship so I moved over to Millwall where I played that scholarship before gaining two professional contracts. I then moved to Dartford FC after getting my coaching job at Southampton.

JL: What’s your favourite football club? (Apart from Bognor, obviously!)

KW: Where I grew up in Ashford, Kent, my closest team was Gillingham and they were still 30 miles away so I didn’t grow up supporting my local side. I followed Arsenal because of my late Uncle although now I support England, of course, and follow Saints.

JL: Which coach do you feel you have benefited from most in your career?

KW: I have benefitted from all of my coaches I think, some more than others. I remember a coach from my younger years at Gillingham, he made me appreciate the time you had to put into your practice. At Millwall, David Livermore is the coach I admired the most, his detail and care for the individual, and how you’d fit into the team was great. He knew how to challenge each person to their respective level and always took time to plan methodically. I base a lot of my coaching on him to this day. Tony Burman taught me how I could enjoy non-league football and the competitive edge of that game. Jack and Robbie have shown me how to play entertaining football and how to win (only lately though, haha!).

JL: What’s your favourite colour?

KW: Blue.

JL:Who’s your best player you have played against?

KW: Wilfred Zaha was pretty good. I played against Palace for Millwall where they had Chamakh, Hangeland, Zaha, Ambrose and Speroni playing.

JL: Do you intend to go full-time into coaching when you have retired from playing?

KW: Always. Ever since I was little I was helping others to learn to play; up the park, the field. I didn’t think I would start that side of my career whilst still playing. I thought I would have had a longer, more successful professional career and coached alongside that, although I would say that I love what I do now and wouldn’t change it for anything.

JL: Why did you choose football?

KW: I don’t think any player can answer that. All I can remember is playing with my Dad when I was very small and just loving it. Always in football kits, always playing, smashing windows and annoying the neighbours. I find it amazing how something so simple on paper, kicking a ball into two uprights and a horizontal bar whilst keeping out of your own, can bring so much joy to so many.

JL;Who’s the best player you have played with and why?

KW: I like to think I have played with many, Shaun Williams at Millwall was technically amazing, along with Aiden O’Brien, Ben Thompson and Ebere Eze. I don’t want to offend anyone by missing someone out!!

You can follow Jimmy on Twitter, @JimmyLangton2

 

 

Guest blog 5: You can change the name, but not the allegiance

Ebbsfleet_United_F.C._(logo)

It’s another guest blog this evening as we power on through May and this one comes from another Ebbsfleet Utd supporter Andy Yerlett, who focuses on when Gravesend & Northfleet jumped on the local bandwagon and became Ebbsfleet Utd. Here is his story and his opinion on the change:

In May 2007, the Board of Directors agreed a change of name for Gravesend & Northfleet FC to the present,  Ebbsfleet United. Was this a good or bad thing for the club and what effect does it impact upon the club today? In order to fully understand its impact, the history of the club needs to be looked at first.

Gravesend & Northfleet  was born out of an amalgamation between Gravesend United and Northfleet United 61 years earlier. Both sides had achieved a modicum of success with Northfleet being a nursery side for up and coming Tottenham Hotspur players, such as future managerial great, Bill Nicholson and a  young Ted Ditchburn being just two of many stars of the future, gracing Stonebridge Road.  The end of the Second World War saw both sides in dire straits. Gravesend having some managerial and playing staff intact but no ground and Northfleet having a decent ground with no  personnel. An amalgamation was the obvious choice.  Success in the 50’s then gave way to a rollercoaster of ups and downs in the following decades.

Gravesend & Northfleet supporters were used to changes in direction as the club had decided to move from the Southern League to the Isthmian League ten years earlier, but it was fair to say the name change was not met with universal acclaim.  The supporters, myself included,  were not happy at the lack of consultation.  However, after the rationale was explained, it became clear that the board had acted in the club’s best interests.  Ebbsfleet actually exists, it’s not a figment of the HighSpeed Links Imagination! And the football ground is situated within its environs, so the name has not just been conjured up, There were plans in place to build housing in the area for up to 40,000 people, and obviously the links with the railway station gave ample opportunity for the club to capitalize on its commercial potential.

Personally, although not happy, I could see and understand the need for a name change. I’m not sure how permanent this change would have been, but events both on and off the field in late  2007 where the MyFootballClub (MYFC) take over of the club produced an immediate upsurge in support of around  28,000 at its peak. These “new fans,” and the subsequent winning of the FA Trophy meant that the club was now identified positively as Ebbsfleet United and not “good old Gravesend & Northfleet.” The hardcore of 1,000 to 1,500 supporters really had no choice but to accept.

Over the years the name has settled more easily with these supporters, myself included. It helps that the club is mostly referred to as “The Fleet,”  The continuing ups
and downs on and off the pitch have really meant that most of us are happy just to have a club, especially playing at its highest level for many years. Commercially, I feel the club may not have not made the most of its commercial potential with a previously lucrative sponsorship with the railway station falling by the wayside as an example.

However, with  new and dynamic backroom staff being employed by the present owner. This is an avenue I feel may be explored again. The club, with its Ebbsfleet handle,  is now very much part of the community . This will only be enhanced by the fact that the building of Ebbsfleet Garden Village, with its huge potential fanbase, is now beginning to take place. Ebbsfleet United, as a name at least, is here to stay all the time a club is based in the area. Would I, personally, prefer to have seen the Gravesend & Northfleet name remain as it was? Absolutely yes, but then I think I may be very much in the minority these days.

Guest Series: Neil Smith Best XI

Neil Smith

Earlier this year I made the trip to Hayes Lane, home of Bromley FC, for a sit down chat with the boss Neil Smith, the third National League manager I’ve been lucky enough to sit down so far.

Since then I’ve kept in touch with all three guys and last week we saw the best eleven players Eastleigh boss Ben Strevens had played with. This week Neil has put together his team and boy you won’t be disappointed when you see the players in his team that he has played with! Anyway, over to Neil for his selection:

‘To name the best eleven players I’ve played with is very hard and I was lucky enough to play with some tremendous players. Just looking at keepers I played with some fantastic ones, international goalkeepers in Ian Walker at Tottenham, Maik Taylor with Northern Ireland and Fulham, but to kick things off my number one is:

Jim Stanard -I played with Jim at Gillingham where he kept (I think it’s still the club record) 28 sheets in a season. I think we only let in seven goals at home that season and we went on to win promotion.

Steve Finnan – Played with Steve at Fulham where he was a right wing back and very tenacious. He was very fit, constantly up and down the line and never stopped. He looked after himself and was a fantastic pro, lucky enough to then go on to join Liverpool and win the Champions League.

Rufus Brevett – Rufus like Steve was a wing back at Fulham but on the left hand side, also very fit and created lots of goals. One of the hardest players I had the pleasure of being in the same team as, you didn’t want to be playing against him!

Philippe Albert – When Philippe came to Fulham he’d obviously come from Newcastle where he had been an absolute legend. He came in, he adjusted well and got on with the boys, he was an pleasure to play with and an outstanding player. I never thought I’d be playing with someone like Philippe when I first arrived at Fulham.

Chris Coleman – Fulham signed Chris from Blackburn and was one of the most expensive players to arrive at Craven Cottage at that time. Straight away he was named captain, he was a leader of men, led from the front and was fantastic on and off the pitch with his encouragement of everyone. He was strong in the air, quick across the ground and loved a tackle!

Kit Symons – Kit was signed from Manchester City and arrived at the same time as Chris, he was a Welsh international playing at the heart of our defence. Kit was fantastic in respect he read the game so well, again strong in the air and going in for a tackle. He scored vital goals when we needed one and again in the changing room he was a character popular amongst the boys and something that was needed when we won the championship.

Peter Beardsley – When we signed Peter at Fulham I thought it was a joke when I heard it! Someone of Peter’s experience playing for England in a World Cup semi-final, and the players he played with, it was outstanding for a club like Fulham at the time to sign him and yes he was coming to the end of his career, but for me it wasn’t just what he was doing on the pitch, it was the fact he was there for you to speak to, to ask advice, then on the pitch he would be constantly talking to you and running around as if he was still 19 years old, all because he wanted to do the best for Fulham Football Club and to help his team-mates.

Lee Clark – Paul Bracewell brought Lee Clark to Fulham, unfortunately to replace me! We played together in pre-season and then I couldn’t argue with someone like Lee taking my place. He was an outstanding player and again another northerner, an ex Newcastle player who was a great character in the dressing room and improved the team. A box to box midfielder with great energy and also popped up with goal every now and then.

Paul Peschisolido – When Pesh signed for us at Fulham he came with the reputation of scoring goals, and he certainly lived up to that! He was lively, kept running, chased lost causes and always came up with either a tap in or a fantastic strike like he did against Liverpool at Anfield. He was also quite a character who worked his socks off. I know Kevin took him under his wing and helped him, but he was already an outstanding player and again I’m very lucky to have played with someone like Pesh.

Paul Walsh – Paul was at Spurs when I was there along with so many talented players. I played with him in some pre-season games and I couldn’t believe how good he was. I had seen him play for Liverpool  and then Spurs, so when I got the chance to play in the same team as Paul you then really realise even more how good he was and probably should’ve been selected for England a few more times.

Dennis Bailey – Dennis signed for Gillingham from QPR. It was a massive signing for the club at the time bearing in mind the Gills had only been saved from going out of business the season before, but between Tony Pulis and Paul Scally, they managed to get him in. A great player who scored goals and set them up as well, he would work so hard for the team as well.’

Guest blog 4: Money the root cause?

pounds-sterling-notes-cash

Here we go again, new month more blogs! Once again, I’m lucky to have people that have been kind enough to write a piece or two for me and this one comes from someone I’ve gotten to know over the course of a season and a half.

David Fuller lives in East Sussex and is a groundhopper, having been involved at Wick FC in the Southern Combination David visited a couple of times and we’ve kept in touch since. Here is David’s article on money within our beautiful game and how things really haven’t changed all that much:

I’ve always been a fairly positive person. It’s an outlook that has been severely tested over the past few weeks as everything – or almost everything – that we’ve ever considered as the norm, and in many instances taken for granted, has been stripped away from us.

Not least the freedom to watch football, at any level, in any format – be it live at the ground, live on TV, or even via highlights.

Now, don’t get me wrong; football is not the most important thing in the world right now. I’m fully aware of that, we all are. But that doesn’t mean that the millions of us who love the game aren’t allowed to miss it or even feel a slight emptiness in our lives – a space that was once filled by the sight of 22 men (or women) chasing a spherical object around a field.

However, I’m determined to keep looking at the bright side of life for as long as possible.

From a completely selfish point of view, my family and I are all safe and healthy; I’m fortunate enough to have a garden in which to take full advantage of the fantastic spring weather we’ve been enjoying; the children haven’t been doing my head in (too much… yet); and I’ve had ample spare time to watch some fantastic TV series’. Ones that without all this extra time, I may not have got around to watching until much later in the year or maybe not at all.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of these series have focussed on football. Two of which, although on the face of it are completely different types of programs, I found to be in one way surprisingly similar.

The two series in question, both of which can be found on Netflix, are The English Game and series 2 of Sunderland Till I Die (series 1 is also available for those who haven’t seen it).

The English Game is a period drama set in Victorian times, and focusses on how football went from being a sport played mainly by aristocrats, to one dominated by the working class. It’s a little bit ‘soapy’ in places and at times comes a little too close to being a romantic drama for my particular tastes, but look past that and it’s quite a good watch.

Sunderland Till I Die, on the other hand, is a fly-on-the-wall drama, the first series of which could have easily been called ‘How Not to Run a Football Club.’ The second series shows the club’s new owners trying to right the wrongs of the previous regimes. But it doesn’t take too long (less than two minutes into the first episode of the series, in fact) to see that the damage has already been done.

The plots of both programs, though, focus around the same thing. The importance of money!

In The English Game, the program shows how the influx of money – and the eventual advent of professionalism – began to take the game away from the aristocracy (yay) and gave it to the working class (double yay). No sooner did money begin to enter the game, did those that have it start winning trophies, while those without it started to flounder.

Sounds strangely familiar, doesn’t it?

Fast forward nearly 150 years, and Sunderland Till I Die conversely shows how money has in many ways taken the game away from the working classes. Passion of the fans is no longer enough for clubs to survive they need constant investment, money that the average fan can simply not afford nor supply. No matter how hard the die-hard Sunderland faithful try to follow their team through thick and thin, many spending practically every penny they earn to do so, the club’s finances are still a mess.

Having watched both these series, I found my thoughts suddenly turning to the non-league game that I so love. Even at this level – actually, especially at this level – money is often the driving factor between a club’s success and failure.

Think of Salford City, famously owned by the Class of 92, and their recent success in soaring from step six of the pyramid all the way to the Football League. Money – lots of money – made that happen, nothing more, nothing less.

Even Glenn Tamplin’s infamous tenure at Billericay Town – now cited as something of a failed experiment in some quarters – did see the Essex side climb a couple of divisions, win a few cups and make major improvements to their ground (dodgy murals not counted!).

The flip side, though, is that the club now find themselves in some difficulties, without a rich benefactor to bankroll some of the added costs that come with playing at a higher level on the non-league pyramid – increased player/staff wages, added ground maintenance, etc.

In fact, it’s easy to see some parallels with Sunderland’s predicament, albeit the professional club’s problems largely stem from them trying to balance a League One budget with a Premier League wage bill, rather than trying to sustain a budget above their natural level!

All eyes are now on Romford to see how Mr Tamplin’s latest experiment pans out.

When we do eventually come out of lockdown and football resumes (hopefully before 2021 for non-league, as some have predicted) money will become more important than ever.

Providing most clubs do somehow manage to find a way to survive (fingers crossed most do) then the few that are fortunate enough to still have finances in place to support a fairly healthy player wage budget are going to be at a huge advantage going into the start of next season, whenever that may be.

Let’s face it, not many non-league players are renowned for their loyalty. Not when they can pick up an extra tenner a week by joining another club ‘just down the road’.

My local non-league is the Southern Combination Football League (SCFL) in Sussex; a league I have followed closely for the past couple of seasons, follow clubs on Twitter, attend a few games and it doesn’t take long to work out which clubs are paying money and which players are playing specifically for that money. (Hint, it’s the ones that play for about five different clubs a season, I’m sure this pattern is repeated in leagues up and down the country).

I know that at least two of the five teams who were going for the SCFL Premier title last season, were paying their players depending on points earned, £10 a point for each player nothing for losing. One of these teams also offered a £20 bonus for a clean sheet; an incentive that really appeals to the defender in me.

This level of investment seems about fair to me for step 5, and I would guess is a fairly common payment structure at this level throughout the county. That said, I’ve also heard of some players earning over £100 a game (sometimes far more) at the same level (step 5 and 6) which seems ludicrous to be honest.

Interestingly, one of the teams fighting for the SCFL title were fairly vocal (and rightly proud) about the fact they didn’t pay players so much as a penny. A boast that was often hotly contested by rival teams on Twitter, but a claim I have no reason or inclination to doubt without proof.

The fact, though, is that post-CoronaVirus, many clubs are going to be unable to afford even the £10 a point payment structure. They’re going to need every penny they can scrimp simply to survive.

Therefore, those who do come out the other side still managing to afford this (and maybe even more) are almost certain to attract the best local players next term. Providing they can steer clear of the mercenaries; the five clubs-a-season men, such clubs (and there will be some) are going to have a clear advantage over their opposition. The difference between the haves and have-nothings could be starker than ever before.

While football has changed massively from the sport depicted in The English Game (when the introduction of passing the ball was seen as a major tactical innovation), its still money that rules the roost, at any level, for better and for worse.

You can follow David’s groundhopping exploits via his blog and book on the links below:

Blog: https://non-leaguegroundhopper.blogspot.com/

Book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Diary-Groundhopping-Virgin-David-Fuller-ebook/dp/B07S242Q7G/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=David+Fuller&qid=1587981401&sr=8-2