Stoppage time goals the undoing of Angels

Tuesday night saw a trip to East Sussex and down to Priory Lane, home of Eastbourne Borough as guests of the Boro’ Chairman David Blackmore, another first for Gaz but a return trip for me.

Last season though my visit was to watch the now defunct Langney Wanderers whose matchday programme I was writing for but I also managed to speak to David that afternoon for the first time instead of via Twitter and text!

A couple of weeks ago the chairman appeared on our Premier Non-League Podcast to talk about the leadership issues the club was facing and thankfully resolved within a few days, but a great insight into the way their club is run.

The visitors were Tonbridge Angels, managed by a good friend of mine in Steve McKimm, and on the back of a fine away win at the weekend ending Dorking Wanderers 10 game winning run. Borough themselves are having another very good season and are firmly in the hunt for a play-off place.

It was the Angels who got off to a fast start and were in front inside five minutes, Ibrahim Olutade timed his run perfectly onto a ball over the top before setting up Adrian Coombes to curl the ball past Lee Worgan for the game’s opening goal.

There was a frantic pace about the game with both sides keen to break quickly when in possession and there wasn’t much surprise when the equalising goal arrived soon after.

Dom Hutchinson drifted in from the left hand side and after seeming to evade a couple of tackles he managed to find a way past Jonny Henly and the ball nestled in the far corner to give us two goals before ten minutes were on the clock.

The Angels were looking the more likely to score during the rest of the half, but you knew you couldn’t rule out Borough at any stage and whilst actual chances being created were at a premium there was plenty of attacking intent to keep the crowd occupied.

Just as it appeared the sides would go in level; the home side snatched the lead in first half stoppage time. Charley Kendall, who secured a move to Lincoln City this coming summer before the January transfer window ended, was fed a lovely ball by Charlie Walker and after beating Sonny Miles Kendall slipped the ball passed Henly for a Borough half time lead and Tonbridge possibly wondering how they weren’t level at a minimum.

The visitors were very much on the front foot at the start of the second half but it was the hosts who almost went further ahead four minutes in, Henly racing out from his goal to thwart Kendall outside of the penalty area only to see Hutchinson return the ball towards the net, Harry Hudson with a headed goal-line clearance to keep the deficit at one goal.

Tonbridge were still pressing hard for a way back into the game but found the Borough defence not very giving despite a lot of probing and were cautious at the same time of the hosts breaking fast and sealing the game.

As it was Eastbourne did finally put the game to bed in stoppage time as Joel Rollinson broke clear of the Angels backline to lift the ball over Henly cool as you like to ensure the points stayed in Sussex and Tonbridge went home empty handed.

The result meant Danny Bloor’s men moved back into the top seven and as David put it on Wednesday morning, one point from safety! Different targets for different clubs of course but Borough most definitely back in the thick of a promotion race.

Steve McKimm on the other hand bemoaned getting punished for their mistakes once again despite dominating the game. Whilst Borough were clinical with the few chances they did have, Tonbridge certainly looked the more threatening going forward, attention for them though turns to a Kent derby in the FA Trophy this coming Saturday as Bromley visit Longmead.

Impressive performance from Aaron Smith-Joseph down the Angels left hand side, a real handful and fantastic delivery into the box all evening meant the Borough defence couldn’t rest for a moment whilst for the home side the sharpness of Kendall made you see why he’s earned his move, good to see Chris Whelpdale get some more minutes under his belt, a key figure in last season’s halted campaign.

One final note, David was expecting a crowd of around 500 so to see the figure at 710 was pretty good given the cold night and of course football on the box as well.

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The beautiful game looks about as ugly as it ever has been

So then. The last 24 hours or so, read lots, spoken to a number of people, answered lots of messages, here we go then the National League ladies and gentlemen!

A warning this might be a long blog, there’s a lot to get through, reactions from those inside the clubs, my own thoughts and what I see as stumbling blocks going forward from today, it won’t be pretty, you might not agree, but above all it’s an opinion nothing more, it’s neither right nor wrong.

Before we get to the main points though as a Barnet fan I’m embarrassed we’ll stay up through default. On the face of it, it looks like Tony Kleanthous made the correct decision in the summer not to spend, to severely undercut the football operation and six months later he’s looking good.

We should have been doing it on the pitch for the next four months or so to get out of the mess we created for ourselves which is what I would have preferred to happen, sink or swim by your decisions, not of others. But, for all intents and purpose it is what it is and Barnet have the opportunity to put a proper club in place under Tim Flowers over the remaining months of the season, a silver lining if you must but a hollow one at that.

Onto the main meal then and once again here we are in the midst of controversy. Whatever this final outcome was to be there was never an option to please absolutely everyone and there will be ramifications to come for days and the next few weeks.

I don’t believe there was ever a doubt in outcome of the vote, heavily weighted towards the top division and with the EFL relationship at the forefront of that it won’t have come as a surprise, but it’s been more how the situation has been dealt with.

A real lack of transparency and leadership is evident which you can trace back to the play-offs last season and continued into this. Commendation maybe for ensuring we had play-offs eventually completed for all three divisions last year but a lack of foresight when attempting to get this season worked has been forgettable.

Funding of course has been the full issue in where we have gotten to now, we are all aware the National League have no minutes of the meeting with the DCMS over what was on offer for the full course of the season is at best incompetent. I’ve served on league and club committees throughout my lifetime, to not have something so simple but vital can’t suggest anything more than a cover up of mismanagement and hanging all 66 clubs out to dry, effectively what they have done.

Two days ago I was informed players and staff in the South and North divisions were told, not via official communications, that no testing was to be carried out ‘a waste of tax payers’ money’ which in effect said null and void was coming. Excuse me, what about some of the £11 million pounds of lottery money than has now been poured down the drain?

While I write this now, I see across social media fans, clubs and chairmen attacking each other because opinion is so divided on what should have happened.

My opinion, well every club of those 66 is vital, vital to someone, vital to its players, vital to its staff and mostly importantly vital to its supporters and its community. The same applies for Steps 3-6 as well and every club has quite rightly looked after its own house but should they have been left to fend for themselves while the league banner they play under seem to not want to get involved.

Last night I spoke to various people around the situation to gauge a bit of reaction:

David Blackmore, chairman of Eastbourne Borough was ‘absolutely gutted’. He said ‘We have been cut adrift by the National League. A majority across all three divisions wanted to continue, majority in the South wanted to continue, yet we don’t continue.’

David’s manager at Priory Lane Danny Bloor is frustrated the season has now ended, ‘Our club just wanted to keep playing; at the conclusion of this we sit 3rd in the league a position we’re very proud of and I hope we can regroup and replicate that again next year.’

Steve McKimm, manager at Tonbridge Angels who had to furlough their players this week in order to protect the club, was gutted at the outcome ‘I don’t think the process was fair, how can the National League have it’s members vote against each other but not in equal amounts.’

Ben Strevens, manager at Eastleigh, is unsure what the future holds for the top division ‘seven teams voted for null and void, what exactly is that going to mean after this weekend for our teams?’

Andy Hessenthaler, manager of Dover Athletic who seem most at risk of not seeing out the season, said ‘I think the mess is just going to continue because as you said nothing has changed, still no money. Seven clubs voted to null and void so will be interesting with what’s going to happen now’.

Kevin Watson who recently returned to the game at Billericay Town like most wasn’t shocked at the decision, ‘No surprise at all to be honest, just really disappointing.’

Adam Hinshelwood whose Worthing side have twice been in pole position for promotion to the National League South questioned the timing of the announcement, ‘It seems strange with the government telling us on Monday the plan for the country and for the National League to not follow suit and also not to stay in line with each other.’

‘I feel for Marc at Dorking who invested in a great team at that level and to see it null and voided again seems wrong on the face of it. It does seem likely Steps 3-6 will follow; we will be ready for whatever decisions are made for our club.’

An increase once again to the furlough scheme as the North and South clubs put their players and staff on leave once again from this morning and attention turns now to the can which is just getting kicked down the road.

Already we see legal action from clubs going in today which if they feel is the right thing to do for themselves so be it, I’m not here to judge the rights and wrongs of what each club feels is its chosen path. Whether they can get any joy or a reversal of decision remains to be seen.

Then we have the seven who voted in the top division to null and void, the next can of worms. What now if those seven, and I’m led to believe Barnet were NOT one of the seven, decide with no further funding their club would go under and quite rightly want to preserve their future? Do we play on with 16 teams expunging all results of those not playing as there is no relegation? Do those seven get asked to furlough the first team and play weakened sides in order to complete the season? Do the National League push Sport England to help these seven clubs as soon as possible? So many questions but when do we get the answers? And these are just the beginning.

To read this morning though that two clubs in the top division didn’t bother replying at all beggar’s belief! Now either they’ve got deep pockets so it makes no odds to them or purely ignorant, surely out of respect to the other clubs in your division you would have abstained?

In all likelihood Steps 3-6 will now also null and void with no chance of Step 3 promotion to the National League North and South bringing another premature end to the season for a second year in a row. The hope now will be for the FA to see sense and take the time to implement their restructure of the perfect pyramid and with it some movement for teams upwards which is deserving, the benefit to playing exactly the same teams for the third year running, not one I can see.

And for the second season running it appears as if the National League and South will run with a team less once again, granted it’s difficult to now work out who would take the missing spot in each division but a lack of contingency plans is as well not their finest hour.

Just a sidenote to this as well, the FA Trophy and Vase. One continues, one suspended and last year’s finals still be played with one of the four participants an EFL club, go figure!

The beautiful game as it’s often referred to looks about as ugly as it ever has done in non-league circles, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a vote of no confidence in both the National League and the FA in the coming months, not a chance this is all going to go away easily…..

Vote to play or vote to finish

Every few days the National League picture is changing, every day I’m receiving messages, speaking to people, and listening to interviews to find out exactly where we all stand and from one 24 hours to the next the landscape moves quite drastically.

There are various meetings happening almost daily now to try and get a resolution to what I call is ‘the mess of non-league football.’ Trying to keep on top of it is also a challenge in itself and understand exactly what the latest position is for each division.

The position of each club is the big variety and I think Marc White at Dorking Wanderers put it well that each club has an opinion and in many cases it is going to be different from club to club and in other cases it will be the same as some clubs.

Clubs met with Sport England on Friday morning to ascertain further what can be done to help, also after a meeting this week with the leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer. Grants applications are able to be made for the National League but those are expected to take four weeks minimum to come through, so clubs will in effect have played January and February without funding but wages to pay. These grants are also for those whose immediate future are at risk, otherwise once again it’s loans which we know are not feasible for clubs with no idea when they will actually earn income to pay it back.

Whilst they apply for a grant, they are being asked to vote next week on the resolution to the season, surely that decision needs to either be delayed or clarification sought to ascertain how long grants would actually take? The National League board itself should have been walking down this road at the end of last year so plans were in place after Christmas to get things sorted out as quickly as possible.

Clubs certainly don’t know where they’re coming from, neither do players. Speaking to people at different clubs over the past few days at boardroom level down to managers and players the lack of what can be planned causes as much concern.

Players and managers at National League clubs believe the North and South divisions will cease playing sooner rather than later and the top division itself a 50/50 split in which way a vote would go. With so little difference in points between clubs, why wouldn’t clubs and chairmen want a crack at promotion to League Two?

Speaking to Tonbridge Angels boss Steve McKimm on Friday morning, he believes grants are the only way forward.

‘Grants are needed without fans to keep clubs sustainable, loans with no relegation are pointless because clubs won’t need to pay wages they are paying and can reduce the budget by a third or less to keep playing, but it would affect the top of the table as it wouldn’t be a strong competition.’

‘A lot of clubs weren’t happy with the original funding distribution through the National League and there lies a problem. I wonder if clubs will have to take the same size loan as they received as a grant because it was obviously needed at a few clubs.’

‘As for safety reasons, players, staff, and volunteers etc, I’m seeing a lot of people asking for funding for testing but hardly anyone was asking for this during the first few months of the season. The league has been stopped for funding issues, not testing. Every member started the season knowing there was no testing taking place, unless clubs themselves undertook to do it, just protocols to be followed and all adhered to it.’

‘I believe there has been no clear dialogue between the DCMS and the National League forwarded onto clubs and the goalposts, pardon the pun, seem to keep moving.’

Eastbourne Borough boss Danny Bloor would like his team to just be able to play football but accepts that might be difficult.

‘I just want my team to be able to continue to play football. I don’t have an opinion on whether we resume on 6th February as we just don’t know, I’ll leave my chairman and CEO to deal with that side of things.’

‘Having enjoyed a good campaign so far it would be a shame for things to end but it is what it is and we have put excellent foundations into place for the future.’

‘We just continue to train like we always do unless we are told otherwise, however it was nice to play QPR Under 23’s during the week, it keeps game time up for the squad whilst not playing competitive fixtures.’

As of Thursday clubs were unaware exactly what they are voting on when it comes to Monday, hopefully by the time this article is online there is a clearer idea of the options, one thing is for certain it’s not going to be a winner for everyone and will be remembered for the mess rather than the football………

Bloor: It’s a fantastic tie for the whole football club

I caught up with Eastbourne Borough manager Danny Bloor this week ahead of their FA Cup tie against Blackpool:

TK: Four league games into the season so far, how pleased are you with the start to the season?

DB: Yes, I’m satisfied and particularly pleased with the team spirit but there is plenty to work and improve upon as the season goes on.

TK: And the goal scoring form of Chris Whelpdale is impressive so far, was that something you tried to encourage to take the burden off the strikers?

DB: Not particularly, but of course it’s a major bonus when goals come from all over the pitch and not just one or two players.

TK: How easy or difficult is it to get the players mentally prepared to play in empty stadiums?

DB: It’s not been easy at all but it has meant really getting the boys fired up in the changing room. We have had to make our own atmosphere which so far seems to have worked.

TK: Do you feel that it has created a real togetherness amongst you, your staff, and the players?

DB: 100% as a whole group

TK: Turning attentions to the FA Cup, what was your initial reaction when Blackpool were drawn out of the hat to come to Priory Lane?

DB: It’s a fantastic tie for the whole football club and we are delighted to host a club with such an outstanding FA Cup pedigree.

TK: Is it tempered with a slight disappointment that spectators won’t be close to the action on the pitch?

DB: It’s the way the world is now in all aspects of our lives, we just have to get on with it but I know our supporters, the best in Sussex, will be supporting us from a distance.

TK: Bearing in mind the restrictions currently, is there a plan to scout the opposition before the tie?

DB: We had them watched on Tuesday night at AFC Wimbledon and we will watch them again at Burton on Saturday, I may go myself to watch them at home to Wigan on Tuesday night.

TK: Are you confident you can spring a surprise and take the club into the Second Round for the first time ever?

DB: How can you be confident, they’re a football league side! What we can be is very well prepared and committed to trying to cause a shock result. The pressure is all on Neil (Critchley) and his Blackpool team, they will be massive favourites to progress but in every round there are one or two upsets.

TK: Have the players been fairly grounded despite this big tie looming on the horizon?

DB: Honestly, before our win at Hampton on Tuesday night I banned all talk of the Blackpool game until after 5pm this Saturday following our game at home to Welling.

TK: What would it mean to the club as a whole to have a good cup run this year?

DB: Well I think we have already had a very good cup run so far this season but now we want more, we want the icing on the cake.

*Since speaking to Danny on Thursday afternoon Borough’s game has been selected for TV coverage on Sun 8th November ko 2.30pm live on BT Sport 1.