Moving forwards

pen and pad

 

That image above is me. Well, the dream is what I’m chasing. It’s been a dream since I was at secondary school, sports journalism. I wasn’t one for going to university to get a degree nor ending up in debt despite the fact it was exactly what I wanted to do as I was never going to be the next big footballing superstar.

Over the years that dream has never waned and the flame has always flickered, all the time knowing it’s a very hard industry to get into. The invention of the internet and social media has given many a second pathway into this avenue and making it far easier to get yourself in the public eye.

But, it’s not that simple just to get noticed. Hard work and a way with words is still the way for you get people reading. Can you make a career out of it is the question?

That is the question I am hoping to find the answer to as I embark on my next working journey. Those who know me through Facebook and Twitter will know two weeks ago that I handed in my notice on my full time job. Having been made redundant in the summer, this job popped up immediately and secured the financial and possible emotional issues that could have followed.

What it didn’t do however is keep a good work/life balance, it cut down my time at home with my family and it started to make the dream candle flicker, all points that didn’t rest easy with me, mentally it was draining on nearly a daily basis. So I felt I had to make a decision, not just for me but for the benefit of things around me too.

And that’s what I did! But not without doing my sums and working out the bills still get paid and what I need to be earning a month to make it a viable proposition, without doing that the pursuit of the dream would have engulfed everything and crushed it.

I will still have to make sure money comes in while I build this up, getting this balance right is just as crucial as everything but the time is there every day to make sure that part is working as well as everything else.

I’ve been blogging for two years now and also getting paid to write for one website for a similar length of time. In that time personally, I’ve seen a dramatic rise in my viewing figures on my blog which keeps convincing me the dream is worth following still. Finding the right topic doesn’t always come easy and sometimes there’s just too much you can write.

Knowing I can get paid for the opinion I write was a bonus and gives me belief there are even more opportunities out there to get my teeth into. There is an end goal of my own website which I can develop over the coming months, something to give great coverage for non-league football in my area, but only once I’ve worked it to be sustainable.

This time next week the dream becomes reality and that’s where the hard work begins, but if you can’t make money from doing something you enjoy then something isn’t right!

Bees missing their sting

Barnet vs Woking (2)

Saturday afternoon was my first trip to The Hive this season. With a combination of long work hours meaning any Tuesday visit is currently out of the question and being involved at Wick FC makes most Saturdays difficult too, not to mention the minimum 5 hour round trip!

Following a team from afar is never easy, however social media makes it easier these days to keep abreast of things and also viewing highlights can allow you to see the good and the bad of any game.

Woking have had a fantastic start to this season for a part-time team, a rarity in the National League these days although recent form, no win their previous four games, has seen them fall away from the top three and are just hanging onto a play-off place. Barnet’s current form is not much better, just one win their previous six games but sit only two points off the play offs despite being unable to pick up wins.

The game itself was a disappointment from a Barnet point of view. Far too often this season, the team have given a lacklustre performance for at least one of the two halves, yesterday appeared no exception. Barnet were never at the races in the first half, Woking were no more impressive either, their goal coming from a silly free kick given away on the edge of the box by Dan Sweeney and with the Bees unable to defend set pieces for the second game in a row went 1-0 down.

Sweeney provided one of the very few bright spots in the first half along with Mauro Vilhete, the former’s distribution and play from the back always an option. The lack of bustle from a front two of Simeon Akinola and Josh Walker meant an easy first half for the two burly Woking centre halves and an unsurprising lead for the Cards at half time.

No changes from boss Darren Currie at half time gave his side the chance to start brightly and get back into the game. But, they fell further behind on 53 minutes conceding another sloppy goal and now finding themselves needing to score twice just to rescue a point.

Vilhete duly obliged with the first goal, having gotten himself into great positions in the penalty area throughout the game and suddenly Barnet were back into the game. That certainly brought the small crowd to life for the first time in the afternoon and the Bees should have level minutes after when Alfie Pavey headed wide when easier to score, Pavey though once brought on gave those centre halves something else to think about.

Barnet’s best efforts were coming down their right hand side through Sweeney and Cheye Alexander and Woking seemed content to play on the counter and soak up the Barnet pressure. Currie introduced Ephron Mason-Clark and the youngster’s low curling effort beat Ross all ends up but came back off the post, you just had the feeling for all the possession and pressure Barnet were coming away with nothing.

Ironic as it is, ex Bees keeper Ross was guilty of persistent time wasting all afternoon and rather than book the keeper the referee added on six minutes of stoppage time, those minutes contributed to Barnet’s equaliser, a goalmouth scramble turned in by Mason-Clark and cue some fantastic and unexpected celebrations.

Coming from two goals down to draw shows the character of the team but individual performances were clearly lacking, only Sweeney and Vilhete shining on a dreary day. As with Bromley I felt it was a good time to play a Woking side lacking a bit of form and Barnet didn’t capitalise on it. Too many players had an off day and failed to add that extra edge.

I also noticed the referee being reluctant to book players all afternoon and not noticing subtle fouls, no different to the County League one I watch most weekends, worrying it’s becoming a trait at all levels.

However, we are still nicely placed and I’m sure no one would swop this season for either of the last two so far, this is not an easy league to get out of, as Barnet fans we should know that only too well, on the opposite side we also know what is needed to get us promoted.

As always the positives, one defeat in our last five is still good, but is countered by one win in five, however could those four points from the draws be beneficial in the final reckoning? Well, we won’t know yet! But, what I do know is last season those draws would have been losses, two tough away games coming up after the FA Cup tie at local rivals Potters Bar, four points from those two games will keep us placed nicely, after all we’re not even halfway through the season yet………

City making swift progress

Chi City

Chichester in West Sussex is certainly more well known for it’s cathedral more than anything else, but the football club within the city are starting to make people sit up and take notice.

The Lilywhites might have a long history dating back to 1873, one of the oldest clubs in Sussex, and were indeed one of the founding members of the Sussex County League. The club’s current ground of Oaklands Park pictured above has been their home since the 1950’s bar a short spell at Church Road just off the main A27 road in the early part of the year 2000 soon after their merger with Portfield allowing for the council to redevelop Oaklands Park.

Fast forward to 2018/19 and City re-wrote their history in superb fashion with a breath taking campaign winning the Southern Combination League Premier Division title (formerly Sussex County League) in emphatic style and with it promotion to the BetVictor South East Division, the first time the club had stepped out beyond the county league scene.

And so far as we head into October Chichester are grasping every opportunity to impress. Sitting just outside the play-off places with two games in hand, City have continued last season’s fine form with only two defeats so far whilst averaging 164 spectators through the gate.

On Saturday, that progress continued with an FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round win over higher placed opposition Enfield Town to take their place in the draw on Monday morning for the 4th qualifying round, a feat the club have manged only once before back in 1968. That is not the furthest FA Cup adventure for City, a First Round Proper appearance can be matched at the end of the month should the draw be kind. This is the stage the National League top clubs come into and although the draw is split into North and South sections, Chichester could pull out a good local derby or an ex league club primed for an upset.

The club have had their share of success along the way throughout their history but with a clear vision of where a club can go through the pyramid now there’s no reason why City can’t sustain themselves at this level and then push onwards for more glory.  One thing that has made clubs push themselves for the right reasons is title winning means promotion and unable to refuse it without suffering the consequences, that is aimed more at leagues in the northern half of the country and most that I’ve seen go up have blossomed at a higher level, long may it continue!

Wickers pushing forward

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It’s been a little while since I blogged on Wick FC, yes I’m still involved there! So what’s been happening then?

We’re almost at the end of the second month in the season and ahead of a trip to the division new boys Roffey at the weekend third place is where the team currently sits with one defeat from our five games which came in the opening game of the season. Since then only one further defeat has been suffered in the FA Vase when it took Colliers Wood an extra 30 minutes to knock us out.

By the way, since that game on the 31st August the next round has taken place and no surprise to me we’re still waiting for the prize money, same as last season, yet if it was the FA wanting the money for a fine they’d be all over you in an instant if payment was late and I’m sure they wonder why they’ve got a bad reputation throughout the game of not helping their members adequately.

We have had cup progress in the Peter Bentley Cup and also the Sussex RUR Cup and still await our first games in the Sussex Senior Cup and Division One Cup, yes we have six cup competitions and had we finished high enough last season the FA Cup would have made seven! Next month we’re almost playing Saturday-Tuesday right through to the beginning of November.

We’ve made our Senior Cup tie at the beginning of October our first ‘pay-what-you-feel’ game, hopefully it will result in a bigger crowd than usual especially as we play one of our local rivals, we’re always open to new ideas and trying something different from those around us.

Our partnership with Your Instant Replay who video our home league games is proving to be an excellent way to showcase the work on the pitch. This is our first season of having the games filmed and we average over 200 views on each game which I think is a good return so far. We’re still looking for a sponsor for the channel, not only does it get seen by our 200 odd, but thousands more through YIR’s Instagram and Twitter channels. I’m sure there is more we can do with this, but as with everything within a club there are learning curves all the way.

Off the pitch we’re in ok shape, or better than ok in some areas. We’ve just appointed our first bar manager and with that it takes away some more things from me to have to deal with such as stock ordering, function bookings and meeting hirers to complete the booking paperwork.

Our function bookings have been coming in on the same scale as last year, vital for us to support the football side of things as without that money there wouldn’t be a football side to the club. We have 3 youth sides using the pitch on Sundays, once again vital revenue this year where in previous years that day wasn’t making us any money.

Financially we’re doing ok. We’re servicing everything we need to this year and there are some added bits we didn’t have last year, the filming, paying a physio etc, but things we need and things that enhance the club to push it further forward.

Recently we had some work done to the floodlights for the second year running and thats landed us with a bill of nearly £2500, a huge amount for a club of our size. Luckily, the company we use are fantastic with us paying the bill and give us a great service every time we need some work doing. What does annoy me though is the club were given a huge sum of money about five years ago which would have set it up for the following ten years or so, time before I was involved on the main committee side, and instead of spending it on sensible things like replacing the floodlights which are in need of upgrading, it was squandered completely and left the club with nothing but a hole in the finances.

Slowly but surely, it’s on track to be in a sensible place come the end of this season after just about stabilising last year and if we manage that I’ll be more than happy! With less administrative work to do this year I get more time to keep up with the social media side of things and you can never publicise the club too often, all our social media channels are useful in different ways, the club website for delivering changes, promotions, news etc, Facebook reaches on average 300 people with each post and has reached over 2000 on some posts while Twitter is our best matchday tool.

Around this time last year I was running the club on my own, just about to change managers and wondering what I’d let myself in for! Twelve months on things are very different and much less responsibility, what price things to be unrecognisable in another twelve months? Hang on for the ride……..

 

Bees still buzzing

The Hive 1

Fifteen days into September and Darren Curie’s Barnet are sitting in a pretty good position. Saturday’s 1-0 win over Maidenhead courtesy of a Josh Walker goal left the Bees just a point off the play-offs with two games in hand on the other eight teams above them. There are more positives than negatives to this current run Currie’s men are on that I can see.

Much is made on Twitter about the lack of a ‘number 9’, a different type of striker to those already at The Hive. When you look at the squad assembled by John Still last season and inherited by Currie soon after there is a lack of balanced striking options and a desire amongst the supporters to see a difference. Currie to his credit doesn’t shirk away from those asking and is often answering honestly on Twitter, but if it’s not broken should anything be fixed?

One loss from the opening nine games is a very good return, only Bromley remain unbeaten which betters that record, Woking are also with just one loss and these two sit first and second. No one has conceded less than 10 goals apart from the Bees, but some concern does come in the other goals column where only three sides in the division have scored less goals than Barnet. But, it can be argued it only takes a goal to win a game especially if you aren’t conceding at the other end.

I’ve always felt that goals should come across the pitch, not just reliant on the strikers. You can see from our promotion winning seasons that goals from elsewhere is what wins you titles, the likes of Nicky Bailey, Dean Sinclair and more recently Curtis Weston proved that goals from not just Giuliano Grazioli and John Akinde are key.

Twenty goals plus from those two strikers did pave the way to promotion glory but if there is no focal point it does put pressure on others to step up and take up the mantle. We are winning games, it has been remarked that occasionally there are times where a shot needs to be taken, take a chance and hit the target.

Our current record suggests the squad is good enough, even when decimated with injuries as has been the case since the opening day of the season, which bodes well that games can be won when under-strength.

What seems to have escaped in amongst the desperate call for a striker is the alarmingly low attendance at the weekend,  Just 1086 were in attendance at The Hive with 105 from Maidenhead, less than 1000 Bees fans at a time when the team is playing well and on the cusp of a promotion charge. Why? What is the answer?

I think if Tony Kleanthous knew the answer The Hive would be full every week. I know there are some that will never accept it’s not Underhill, but had the club remained there in a stadium and such a small area that wasn’t fit for the purpose of growing the club, then it could well have ceased to survive in the long term. People will argue that the club sustained league football more easily at it’s former home and it’s long been commented that the eye has been taken off the football at The Hive more than once at the expense of some great facilities.

A sobering thought would be to look at the clubs that have disappeared in the time Barnet have been at The Hive, that could have been the Bees as well throwing money at Underhill just to keep it in line with regulations and much needed improvements.

I myself struggle to get to games, I’m less involved at Wick FC this season, but a change in job means I have no chance to make a Tuesday night game anywhere, even at Eastleigh which is a hour down the road, and money changes dictate Saturdays are a struggle which I hope improves over the next couple of months. I’m sure there are many others in the same boat, but when the team plays well and gets on a winning run, surely that should attract back some that had simply given up?

Maybe over the next few weeks should those games in hand lift Barnet even further up the table then a few more drifters might wander back and see the football on offer is what we’ve craved for a long time and there are some very good young players coming through the ranks.

A win against Aldershot and the Bees are very much in the thick of things and it’s only mid-September, you can sense there is a chance that Darren Currie might be able to add himself to the Legends picture on the West Stand, here’s hoping……………………..

Yachtsmen swimming with the tide

Wroxham 2

Some of you will remember if you cast your minds back to last season that Wroxham FC featured twice in my blog ramblings. And the reason for a club some four hours drive away from my home features in my thinking? Well, it was my holiday destination as a child for many years and as I grew older the odd game was taken in at Trafford Park and looking out for results saw them add to the great list you garner as life goes on.

For years they were one of the top sides in the Eastern Counties League or the Thurlow Nunn as it is known now, constantly in the top five and champions three times in a row twice in the 1990’s. In those days promotion isn’t like it is now where clubs have to take the next move up, you can’t refuse. The last title win in 2011-12 did however see the club take the leap taken into the Isthmian League and stayed there until relegation in 2016-17 after two reprieves from finishing in the relegation zone.

Being a little bit out on a limb in East Anglia despite being only eight miles from Norwich, travelling and attracting players becomes a problem when you aren’t doing so well at a higher level and the associated extra costs has made things tougher for clubs up and down the country and some end up with years of struggle after being unable to survive at this level.

Wroxham though are on the up once again. The Thurlow Nunn is a tough league to win, but after stabilising under manager Jordan Southgate, they finished in 7th place last season. The squad underwent an overhaul in the summer as is common at this level with the likes of Jordan King returning. This season, Wroxham started a week behind everyone else but they’ve been busy making up for lost time and currently sit unbeaten after five league games with league leaders Stowmarket Town the only other side yet to lose a league game, the Yachtsmen with three games in hand on Town which if all were won would see Wroxham top the table.

One of those games in hand comes on Tuesday evening and a win will push Wroxham into the top three before an FA Vase trip to Netherton Utd at the weekend, a competition well known to Yachtsmen supporters having made the final in 2010 where they came up against northern powerhouse Whitley Bay.

Wroxham have in the past attracted former Football League players back to the area to turn out for the club, notably Scott Howie, Alex Notman and Daryl Such. More recently ex Premier League star Chris Sutton was amongst their ranks and his son Ollie is now between the Trafford Park sticks.

Glancing at the teamsheet most weekends now you will see some familiar names especially if you are a Norwich City fan. Simon Lappin is a regular on the starting line up, whilst Adam Dury is now assistant to Southgate on the touchline. Standing out up front is another ex Norwich player in striker Grant Holt who combines his playing days with punditry work for BT Sport’s National League coverage.

When any ex league player drops down into non league and more the grassroots level you can only draw on his experiences and ways he has learnt from years in the professional game and apply them as best you can into part time players, it’s invaluable for any club and while Holt can not pull on a Yachtsman shirt every week those players around him will be learning and hopefully taking that into games when Holt isn’t around and keep the unbeaten run going.

My aim is still to get to Trafford Park this season, to try and tie it in with a Needham Market Womens fixture in the same weekend, it’s been a couple of years at least since my last visit to watch the Yachtsmen at Trafford Park, I’m ready for the next one……..#ahoy!

Time to reward grassroots football

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Here we are, first blog of September! And amid all the financial problems besetting clubs in the Football League, there is a financial issue I feel needs adressing for non-league clubs, prize money in the FA competitions.

There has always been incentives for clubs winning games in the Cup, Trophy and Vase for as long as I can remember and with all the competitions now being sponsored this has increased across the board. In the last couple of years there has been an introduction of a payment for those losing games which extends to the Fourth Qualifying Round in the FA Cup, semi-finals in the FA Trophy and all the way to the final in the FA Vase.

Whilst these payments are to be applauded, there is some disparity around the amounts being paid out. The FA Cup is no longer a priority higher up the food chain, but still commands a few million pounds pay-out should you actually win the cup, an amount club accountants won’t bat at eye lid at. For clubs at grassroots level it can make an absolutely huge difference to their profitability or being able to use the money to repair things around the club that have long been needing fixing or replacing.

Just getting through to the First Qualifying Round can net a Step 5 or 6 club just over £5000, a huge sum for clubs at that level but pocket change for Premier League billionaires. Even losing games at any of those first four rounds can make some kind of difference for these clubs, but that is where it stops.

A win in the Fourth Qualifying round nets you just £36,000, which even for National League clubs won’t leave much profit if any at all after staging that game, costs are probably close or beyond that figure to get the game on, staggering when you consider the money washing through the game.

And when you delve into the prize fund for the Trophy and the Vase, you have to ask yourself is it worth actually entering to gamble on winning money and not making a loss? The prestige for the players of having a chance of playing at Wembley, especially is the Vase, is probably the only thing going for the competitions, true in the case of the Vase. A paltry £60,000 to win the FA Trophy, which if you work out must cost you more to get through to Wembley than you can make. The first couple of rounds after qualifying might be regional but once you go national then it can’t be profitable in any sense.

The FA Vase is even more lopsided! First Qualifying Round winners receive a paltry £550 for winning the game and losers £175, there can’t be many clubs on either side of that amount that make a profit that day. Being involved at Wick FC in Sussex as Secretary last season and now Treasurer I know the costs involved, more I should say losses, and it’s not pretty for either side competing.

I haven’t yet worked out the exact figures for last Saturday but I know already we will run at a loss, and our opponents have to share that loss as per FA Rules, how can a competition explain that you win a game on the pitch but ended up a loser off the pitch? Many of you probably don’t know that the away team have the option of coming by cars or coach with expenses paid for a return trip.

That expense is paid by the home team unless the result of takings on the day plus match officials expenses end up less than the coach cost. If there is a profit, it’s split 50-50 between the clubs in the Trophy and Vase, more to it with the Cup, no problem with that. But, as with a lot of clubs with small attendances that winning team be it either the home side or the away side you can end up a loser off the pitch.

As you head through the rounds of the Vase, it becomes a national draw instead of regional and the cost then increases on clubs that in a lot of cases survive from week to week and month to month and for the club winning at Wembley for just £30,000 is pathetic as I’m sure it will have cost more than that to get through to the final. As it is, the runners-up get only £10,000 less than the winners! Some clubs will strike it lucky and get enough sponsorship or massively increased gates to cover maybe half or all of the cost, but not everyone can manage that.

If the FA truly cared about the grassroots side of our game they would have a long hard look at what is on offer and how it actually impacts clubs. As a business you wouldn’t enter into a deal where you’re going to make a loss, will clubs in the future decide against Vase entry with the logic we can’t afford to take a chance on making a profit? I’m not saying they should hike it up to silly levels which just encourages problems, but there should be an incentive in the prize money levels that make it sustainable for clubs competing, is there any reason why the FA can’t pick up travelling costs for it’s members, after all we pay to enter each of these competitions. It’s something that would make a huge difference to the smaller clubs that make up a big part of our game, but I’m not holding my breath, FA reform is slow but on this occasion they need to find some speed and quickly……….