Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Welcome Weymouth

As is to be expected, the further I progress through the rounds of this FA Cup competition, the further up the pyramid one climbs. And after last night's replay win (1-0)for Weymouth away at Hitchin Town, a Blue Square Premier League club now enters the fray for the first time. My baton is with Eastbourne Borough, and they will host Weymouth in the FA Cup 1st Round Proper on Saturday 10th November.

As I write this Weymouth sit in 14th position in the Blue Square Premier (what used to be known as the Football Conference). They finished 11th in the Conference last season after winning the Conference South the season before (2005-06) to gain promotion.

Weymouth first entered the FA Cup in season 1893-94 which was the first season that they were referred to in the press (The Southern Times) as the "Terra Cottas", from which their present day nickname of The Terras originates.

The game in ten days will undoubtedly be a stern test for Eastbourne Borough. The teams have met six times since 2003, with three wins each.

The general reaction from the Eastbourne fans is that they are looking forward to the game as a tough, but winnable, challenge.

Meanwhile the Weymouth fans are being encouraged to wear brightly coloured wigs.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Tuesday night, replay night

Well it's Tuesday night and that means FA Cup replays. Except there is one tomorrow night as well. But generally they are on Tuesdays. Except not every Tuesday, just the Tuesday following the Saturday round fixtures. Well, most of the time. I think the replays after the Second Round Proper are two weeks after the original ties....anyhow, you get my gist.

Eastbourne Borough FC will have one eye on tonight's results as they will learn who they are to face in the next round. Saturday gone, Hitchin Town came away from Weymouth with a very credible 1-1 draw. Credible because Hitchin Town operate two tiers below Conference side Weymouth. The winners of tonight's replay will travel to Priory Lane on Saturday 10th November.

You would guess that I don't have a preference who Eastbourne Borough meet in the Second Round Proper. I should be saying here that I would welcome either side as both would have plenty to offer. Both teams are new teams to me and I shouldn't really mind how tonight's match finishes.

Except I do.

I know that this FA Cup journey will at times test my resolve, particularly in terms of some of the distances I will need to travel. I have been lucky so far; the longest trip I've had was to Eastbourne, but that was still manageable. The remainder of this Autumn I spent in Kent which is only one county removed. But I know that the map will get bigger, and I have no problem with that. I will go the distance. The more I say that, the more I believe it.

The biggest concern I have though are the replays. Travelling to Carlisle at a weekend will be fine. Travelling to Grimsby on a Tuesday night would be more of a challenge. A thorough examination of my resolve.

So I look at tonight's replay through tainted glasses. My thoughts are selfish thoughts. Hitchin Town would be easier for me to travel to (on a Tuesday night) than Weymouth should the Eastbourne Borough v Weymouth or Hitchin Town game on Saturday 10th November be a draw. So many 'ifs' and 'buts'...But once again, you get my gist

But, hey, whatever. There is no point fretting on this, it will bring no influence to bear on tonight's result. May the best team win.

Now, can I please have my gist back.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Game 8 : Eastbourne Borough 2, Bromley 1

4th Qualifying Round
Saturday October 27th 2007

Kick Off 3:00pm

Attendance: 1212
Weather: Mild and breezy

Distance travelled: 160 miles

My first ever visit to Priory Lane, home of Eastbourne Borough. One thing I had been told about (or should I say "warned" about) were the drums. The Eastbourne Borough drums, the favoured instruments of a small group of youngsters down one side of the ground. A never ending beat. All the way through the game. And they were damn noisy. But I must say they did actually contribute toward a good atmosphere, just as long as you stood at the opposite side of the ground to them. With the help of those drums, Eastbourne Borough beat a path into the First Round Proper of this prestigious competition.

Ever since their name was pulled out of the hat to face Bromley I have had a great response from Eastbourne Borough FC. I have already written a post on how the club is run by an immensely dedicated team of volunteers and of the sense of pride that emanates from the club. I was now looking forward to experiencing this first hand.

I and a friend (PB) were asked to arrive at the club early so that we could be treated to a look behind the scenes. In all honesty, I expected nothing more than a quick fifteen minutes walk around the ground. Mainly because I appreciate how busy anyone involved with football clubs can be on match days. However, our host Lee Peskett (webmaster and committee member) gave us well over an hour from his busy schedule in what was a most fascinating and educational tour around Priory Lane.

Lee was an enthusiastic host. We were shown around the Langney Sports Club which sits adjacent to the ground and is an important part of the set up there. This included the Adult Training suite and the conference room above, resplendent with framed national shirts from the 2006 Non League Four Nations Tournament (Priory Lane hosted all three England games). Into the Executive Boxes (in the Mick Green stand) which double up as home for the '"Owlets" Nursery School during the weekdays. Into the Boardroom built onto the back of the main 542 seater stand which also includes a couple of newer executive boxes. We were kindly introduced to the Chairman and Commercial Manager and we witnessed first hand the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes long, long before the turnstiles clunk into action.

And as if to exemplify the varied jobs those involved in the club have, when we met the Chairman he was hard at work on the construction of a smoking shelter outside the bar. I believe not long after he had to make a quick change into his suit to welcome the Bromley visitors.

We were also introduced to David Bauckham who took time out to meet us. Anyone involved in non-league football, particularly in Sussex, will know David. He has also been involved with Eastbourne Borough for longer than he cared to share with us. We were later to see David writing up the team names on a white board displayed just beyond the turnstile entrance (a feature which was endearing in it's own right) and off around the pitch to take match photographs.

Many involved with the club have indeed been involved for some time. I mentioned in an earlier post how the club was founded by members of the 1960s youth team. Some of these guys are still involved with the club today. The manager (Garry Wilson) came to the club in 1999 and the coach (Nick Greenwood) in 1997. Both have helped steer the club from Sussex County League football to the pinnacle of the Conference South in a little over seven years. One of Eastbourne's players, Darren Baker, has made over 740 appearances.

And it is this that impressed me most about the club; the length of time people have been around at Eastbourne. No fly-by-nights here looking for a quick buck or a moment in the spotlight. Instead, people who are truly committed to the club and the community and have been so for a very long time. I came away with an even greater understanding of how this club has developed as a community asset, how it has grown since the mid-sixties on the back of extremely well managed local effort, commitment and hard work. And the club are proud of this. And quite rightly so.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. In amongst all this there was a game to report on. And not a bad game either. An impressive crowd of 1212 included about 200 travelling Bromley fans. [By way of comparison, Gretna only attracted a crowd of 1020 for their game with Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Premier League on the same day].

The first half was quite an even, if somewhat tense, affair; both sets of players were certainly up for it with strong, uncompromising physical challenges the order of the day. At times the referee struggled to keep control of this feisty encounter. Eastbourne Borough looked the more dangerous up front, and they took the lead after 27 minutes when Andy Atkin nodded in a cross. Eastbourne Borough missed a good chance to go 2-0 up before the break when Andy Walker saved easily from a weak, fluffed shot from only a few yards out.

In the second half, Eastbourne had the edge for the first ten minutes or so but failed to capitalise. The home team were given a wake-up call when their goalkeeper Lee Hook had to make a wonderful double save to deny efforts from Nic McDonnell and Barry Moore. But Bromley did not have to wait long. A route one ball played up field fell kindly to the on-rushing Garath McCleary who finished well to bring the scores level. 1-1 after 56 minutes.

Then on the hour Bromley's Mark Corneille received two quick bookings in the space of a few minutes for badly timed tackles. End of the game for Corneille. Strangely though, the reduction to ten men seem to galvanise the away team who dug deep, defended well and began to hit Eastbourne Borough on the break. Tactically, Eastbourne got it all wrong during this stage of the game. They had opportunity to make the most of the additional free space, but resorted to long balls. Possession was squandered all too easily and passes often misplaced.

Into the last quarter of the match and the draw looked increasingly likely with each passing minute. My thoughts soon turned to a Tuesday night replay at Hayes Lane. But then a double substitution on 72 minutes by the home team seemed to change the complexion of the game. Eastbourne's passes were a little more accurate and attacks a little more assured. Bromley began to struggle with the lone striker and were forced to defend deeper and deeper.

But then a breakthrough. On 87 minutes Eastbourne were awarded a disputed penalty. My view is that I thought it was a dubious decision; two opposing players collided just inside the box with both players running away from goal. The referee all too quickly pointed to the spot. The resultant penalty kick was unceremoniously thumped into the onion bag by Paul Armstrong to send the home fans into raptures and the drummers into overdrive.

2-1 and Eastbourne Borough go through to the next round.

What a marvellous day. There is much more that I learnt about the minutiae of running a club such as Eastbourne Borough but I will save some of my thoughts about that for a future post.

We headed for the car after the game looking forward to the draw for the next round. And I must admit it was quite tense waiting to see who Eastbourne Borough would play and by association where fate would be sending me next.

And I'm very pleased to report I will be back at Priory Lane in two weeks time to watch Eastbourne Borough take on either Weymouth or Hitchin Town. Another trip to the South Coast.

I drove home with a splitting headache with the pounding of those drums still resonating around my thick skull. I managed to call in at the local doctors on my arrival back in Chertsey for a quick diagnosis. Apparently, it was the worst case of percussion he had ever seen.

Friday, 26 October 2007

The Prize Draw

A little less than two weeks ago Bromley and Eastbourne Borough were winning their FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round home ties against Dartford (1-0) and Welling United (2-1) respectively. Those results set up the big game at Priory Lane tomorrow in the last qualifying round of the competition.

And now it gets really tasty.

The big prize awaiting the winner of tomorrow's game is an entry in the draw for the FA Cup First Round Proper.

But first things first.

In between FA Cup games both clubs have had other matches to concentrate on and I would have to say that Eastbourne Borough appear to be in better form. One week ago Bromley won 3-2 in a league game away at Dorchester Town but followed that up on Tuesday with a bizarre result at home to St. Albans City. Bromley scored first in this match after only three minutes, but then conceded an amazing three goals in four minutes to trail 3-1 before some supporters had even finished their pre-match bovril. Bromley eventually fought back to 3-4 but couldn't quite snatch a result. The news on the streets of Bromley was that their defending was woeful.

As for Eastbourne Borough, they had one more game to play than Bromley following their win in the last round. On the Tuesday after their success over Welling United, they disposed of Ringmer (3-0) in the Sussex Senior Cup and then went on to beat Sutton United at home in the league by the same score. Last Tuesday they had another league game up at Cambridge City which ended 1-1. Defensively a bit meaner for the South Coast club.

And so to tomorrow's game, and I anticipate a good match and a great atmosphere. Financially, the rewards aren't insignificant; clubs winning in the 4th Qualifying Round receive a tidy £10,000 which is not to be sniffed at for these non-leaguers.

But the biggest prize of all for club and fans alike must be the opportunity in the next round to pit your talents against a league outfit. The draw numbers have already be allocated by the FA; Eastbourne Borough or Bromley have been given number 74.

I have more than a sneaking suspicion that both sets of fans have one eye on the next round and 74 versus either 22 or 32 would be rather nice. Leeds United or Nottingham Forest.

Now that's what you would call a prize draw.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Sheffield FC

Sheffield FC today celebrate their 150th anniversary. Formed on 24th October 1857 they are recognised (by FIFA) as the "world's oldest football club".

To mark the occasion, Sheffield FC are hosting a dinner which will be attended by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the Real Madrid president Ramón Calderón and the Inter Milan president Dr Massimo Moratti. Sir Tom Finney, Sir Bobby Robson and Sir Bobby Charlton will also be present.

Real Madrid and Sheffield FC are the only two clubs who have been awarded the FIFA Order of Merit. Inter Milan will play Sheffield FC at Bramhall Lane in November with Pele as the guest of honour.

Pretty impressive for a team who play in the Unibond Northern Premier League Division 1 South alongside the likes of Shepshed Dynamo, Stocksbridge Park Steels and Warrington Town.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Go the distance

Ahead of Saturday's journey to the South Coast, I have travelled a total distance of 587 miles. Which is less than a return trip between Torquay (Devon) and York (erm, Yorkshire...).

So what?

Well, on Sunday evening I watched, courtesy of Setanta (or is it Sultana?), the Blue Square Premier League contest between York City and Torquay United. My first reaction was simply this; why on earth is this fixture between two teams that are physically distanced by a total of 314.5 miles being played on a Sunday evening? That is a round trip of 629 miles for the Devon faithful. On a Sunday evening. Who in their right mind would schedule that?

Setanta, that's who.

It will come of little surprise that this caused some upset at Torquay. When the league fixtures were announced in the summer, this game was scheduled for a normal Saturday afternoon slot. Actually, scratch that. Nowadays Saturday afternoon slots are becoming less and less the norm. Anyway, good news for the travelling Torquay contingent. A 3pm kick-off on a Saturday. No problem.

Enter stage left Setanta. Game moved to a Tuesday evening. Displeasure amongst the Torquay fans; plans rearranged, weekend trips cancelled. New plans made. Exit stage right Setanta.

But hold on; enter back onto stage Setanta. A comedy entrance. The kind of "funny-if-it-wasn't-so-true" comedy entrance. They've changed their minds. The game will no longer be on that Tuesday, but now on a Sunday at 7pm. Yes, that's it, 7pm. Perfect. No one will mind. Rearranged plans rearranged again. Cancelled weekend trips now become cancelled Tuesday evening trips. More disgruntled Torquay fans. Many cannot now travel to historic York. A Torquay fan from Sheffield cannot even make it across the county because the last train from York to Sheffield on a Sunday evening leaves just before the game ends.

During the game Setanta even have the audacity to step in amongst the Torquay fans to interview them during the game. Needless to say one of the questions was not "What time do you think you will get back home tomorrow morning?"

TV schedules are controlling the game to such an extent that kick-off times are barely recognisable anymore. Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday teatime, Sunday lunchtime, Sunday afternoon, Monday evening, Thursday evening. But a Sunday evening? That is a new one on me. Fans will (and do) find it harder to travel to games at obscure times, particularly where long distances are involved. And when the nation's public transport system just isn't up to scratch it can be virtually impossible.

My trip to Eastbourne Borough on Saturday will be my furthest single trip so far, but will still take under 90 minutes, traffic permitting. I know that from the First Round Proper onwards I could have some big distances to travel as the regionalisation disappears. I am prepared to go the distance.

I just hope my First Round Proper game will not be covered by Setanta.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Your football club wants you!

More than once in this blog I have mentioned the role volunteers play in local football. At clubs such as Chertsey Town, Sittingbourne and Camberley Town, where financial backing is scarce, the role of the volunteer cannot be understated. They are the life-blood of clubs and without them many would not survive. Across the length and breadth of the country this is evident; it drills right down into the heart of football in this country, even below the non-leagues. Into youth football, school football and Sunday park pub football.

I looked up the word volunteer in the dictionary, partly to make sure I spell it correctly (my spolling is terrible). It is defined thus:

vol·un·teer – noun
1. a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking.
2. a person who performs a service willingly and without pay or reward.

Whenever I hear the word volunteer I think of the Battle of the Somme (July 1916) in the First World War. Not an obvious association you might think, but I have more than a passing interest in the battle which was one of the bloodiest in history. The reason I associate the word volunteer with this horror is that the majority of military personnel that died were volunteers of the Territorial Force and Horatio Kitchener's "New Army". Now the thing that fascinates me the most is the willingness of young men from all parts of the UK to give their lives in the name of their country. The willingness of young men with seemingly their whole lives ahead of them to step over the top into certain death. A sacrifice that, no matter how much I read about it or think about it, I still struggle to fathom.

Anyway, back to the football. Don't believe for a second that I am comparing the voluntary work that goes on in our national game with the giving of life in the First World War (or any other war for that matter). The two are beyond approach.

But the part of the definition that stands out for me is that volunteers "give freely" and "without personal reward". And down at Eastbourne Borough, this is happening to an extent that has really taken me by surprise.

I guessed that the degree of help given freely within the local community would dissipate the further up the pyramid one progressed. Eastbourne Borough are, after all, joint top of the Blue Square South (as I write this), only two steps away from the Football League. I had every reason to believe that the set up at Eastbourne Borough would be a little more "full-time" than that witnessed at clubs in the earlier rounds.

How wrong could I have been?

Eastbourne Borough FC only have one paid employee (the Commercial Manager) and she only works four days a week. There is no one bankrolling the club and the club rely on a team of dedicated volunteers. There is also a full time Bar Steward employed by the sports club but that's it. Other bar staff are part time and nearly every other person at the club (including the Chairman, Chief Executive, all the Committee and the match-day Stewards) offer their services freely.

Eastbourne Borough is a "members club" which means that it is owned by the members. Membership of the club committee is open as long as interested parties have the skills (and time) required to help run the club. No one individual has any financial interest and any 'profits' that are made go straight back into the club.

The club is also an important centre of the community. They provide adult education; a nursery for foundation learning; a bowls and an archery club; plus a massive youth section comprising of approximately 500 boys and girls in over 40 different teams.

Eastbourne Borough for the best part of their history have been a sports and community club. In 1964 Langney Football Club was founded, taking their name from nearby Langney Point. The picture (left) is of the Langney Point Martello Tower, an image represented in the club crest. This is one of a series of Martello Towers along the South Coast which date from the Napoleonic Wars.

Four years later the club became Langney Sports Club with affiliation to Langney Community Association. In 2001 the name of Eastbourne Borough was adopted. Many of the people who played in a youth team in the 1960s have since stayed together, formed the club, built the ground and built the clubhouse themselves. Much of the money raised has come from their own fund raising efforts and many still serve the needs of the club.

I have been invited to have a look behind the scenes at Eastbourne Borough and I am honoured and intrigued in equal measure. By all accounts the Chairman and Vice Chairman will (before the game this time next week) be laying bricks for the smokers' shelter outside the club bar. Marvellous.

And one last thing; I must question the "without reward" element in my earlier definition of the word "volunteer".

In the case of Eastbourne Borough there is reward. The results of all the hard work and effort by the band of volunteers at Eastbourne Borough are tangible. The actual existence and continued survival of the club is due, in no small measure, to the time and dedication of the volunteers within the community. A real altruistic contribution in every sense of the word. There is a genuine sense of pride and community spirit that oozes out of Eastbourne Borough Football Club.

And I haven't even been there yet.

Credits: thanks to Lee Peskett and David Bauckham at Eastbourne Borough FC for volunteering invaluable information that I have used in this post.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Turf wars

Plastic pitches have come a long way since the 1980s. They are no longer plastic. They are "third generation synthetic". And they are back in the spotlight again. And all because the high wage earners that are the England national team played on one against Russia tonight. And that artificial pitch will no doubt be totally culpable for the 2-1 reverse in Moscow.

Anyway, not one to miss an opportunity to jump on the band wagon...

Did you know that FA Cup ties cannot currently be played on artificial pitches? But they can be used for FA Trophy, FA Vase, FA Sunday Cup and FA Youth Cup games.

Did you know that the Euro Qualifier tonight at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow will also host the 2008 European Champions League Final? UEFA have however allowed tonight's international to be played on artificial turf but have ruled that the Champions League final must be played on the real thing. Why is that?

Did you know that whilst the media cried foul claiming that Russia had "10 days to train" on the plastic stuff, England were also training on plastic at a school in Altrincham?

And all this talk of the pitch in Moscow made me think of other artificial pitches. Time for another "Top Ten" list. Football clubs who have had, or currently have, artificial pitches installed. In no particular order:

1. Spartak Moscow - Luzhniki Stadium.
You may have read about that one recently...

2. Q.P.R. - Loftus Road
The one I always remember which became a bit of a joke in all honesty...

3. Luton Town - Kenilworth Road
One of the few things that Luton Town are famous for. That and David Pleat's celebrations.

4. Oldham Athletic - Boundary Park
Andy Ritchie, Rick Holden and Richard Jobson. And that pitch.

5. Preston North End - Deepdale
The pitch was ripped up in May 1994, mainly by momento seeking Preston fans after a play-off victory over Torquay that sent them to Wembley.

6. Dunfermline Athletic - East End Park
Their pitch was removed in 2005 after the other Scottish clubs complained. Well, Celtic and Rangers to be precise.

7. Durham - Archibalds Stadium
The Northern League Division One side were not permitted to play this season's home FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round tie on their artificial surface. They met Guisley at Washington's ground instead. And lost 3-1.

8. Woodley Sports - Lambeth Stadium
Likewise, Woodley Sports had to entertain Mossley in this season's FA Cup but not at their own abode but over at Cheadle Town. They drew 1-1 and won the replay on grass 2-1.

The New Saints (TNS) - Park Hall Stadium
Formerly know as Total Network Solutions this club represents Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain in Wales and Oswestrey in England. And they don't use real grass.

10. Feltham - Feltham Sports Arena
The Combined Counties league side may have the oldest plastic pitch in the country? Laid in 1984 and still used. The only reason I mention this one is that I trained on it with Feltham. Once. It almost killed me. The plastic put paid to my England chances.

So England go down 2-1 to Russia and their qualification hopes are now in the hands of Israel and Andorra. All because of a plastic pitch. I'm sure the media will have a field day. And no doubt the F.A. will use the surface as an excuse for the defeat. Relations between the F.A. and UEFA have never been brilliant, so expect more hostilities.

A turf war perhaps?

Monday, 15 October 2007

The calling of the sea...

One thing that I have not admitted to whilst writing this blog is that deep down I have always hoped that this road would, at least once, lead me to the coast.

So following today's draw for the 4th Qualifying Round of the FA Cup you could say that I am fairly chuffed with the outcome:

Eastbourne Borough v Bromley

Eastbourne Borough play in the same league as Bromley (Blue Square South) and in fact only met nine days ago when Eastbourne Borough won 3-1 in front 761 fans. I don't know a great deal about the club, other than they are not to be confused with Eastbourne Town who play in the Ryman League South. I will do some digging...

And talking of digging, I need to go and look for my bucket and spade. And my knotted hanky.

Foot note: thanks to everyone who has written to me asking after my wife following her volleyball accident which resulted in sprained ligaments in her right foot. I'm pleased to report that her foot is a lot better, the crutches have been dispensed with and she is well on the way to a full recovery!

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Game 7: Bromley 1, Dartford 0

3rd Qualifying Round
Saturday October 13th 2007

Kick Off 1:00pm

Attendance: 1022
Weather: Warm and dry

Distance travelled: 96 miles

Stepping into Bromley's ground felt like stepping back in time. The club was founded in 1892 and moved to Hayes Lane in 1938 and I'd hazard a guess that, with the exception of the new John Fiorini Stand and several coats of black tar and paint, little much has changed. Much of the old ground is black and white. There are two black stands at either end of the ground each with white supports; black benches behind one goal; white barriers on the terracing with one of the terraces being completely open down the length of the ground. The club colours are black and white. Many Bromley supporters were adorned with the old fashioned long, knitted, black and white striped scarves. Relics from years gone by (the scarves that is, not the supporters).

All this seemed to create an evocative and nostalgic air to the place. The club shop window (within the ground) displayed ageing black and white and sepia toned photographs of past glories. Pictures of big, proud footballers peering through the mists of time in their big leather boots and big shorts. Even older team shots with players sporting between-the-war caps, the obligatory football middle centre with it's big laces.

I liked the place as soon as I walked into it, and I don't recall visiting a football ground that felt so immersed in it's past. The PA announcer added to this ambience; the Mr Cholmondley-Warner voice evoking memories of post-war radio football and FA Cup finals played out in black and white. I thought I even heard the sound of an odd rattle or two echo around the old stands. In many years time I'm sure I''ll remember yesterday's match in monochrome, a variety of shades of grey.

And what a glorious day it was to enjoy the game. Sunny and short-sleeve shirt warm, not bad for October. The supporters were out in force, over 1000 including an estimated 400+ from Dartford. And we were all treated to a good game of football.

The 1-0 scoreline suggests that there was little between the teams, and this was almost the case, but not quite. Dartford did well against a Bromley team who looked very comfortable on the ball. Playing their league football at two levels above Dartford, Bromley seemed to have a lot more time on the ball and managed to regularly find that extra yard of space. I always felt that Bromley would win this tie, but they didn't seem to finish Dartford off as easily as their dominance suggested. And in all honesty, they were dominant without totally domineering. Erm, strange thing to say I know, but they didn't quite take a strangle-hold on the game. Yes, Bromley had lots of possession. Yes, they made the better use of the big pitch. Yes, they stroked the ball around technically well and confidently. But at the end of it all they failed to turn their superiority into goals.

And this allowed Dartford to have some spells in the game whereby they may well have contrived to snatch a draw. Dartford resorted to hitting Bromley on the break, but Dartford's lack of firepower up front resulted in few shots that really tested the Bromley keeper. The only sign of weakness for Bromley was their rather static back three (or was it five?) and Dartford managed on a few occasions to get behind them. Unfortunately for Dartford they failed to inflict any damage.
On the 55th minute Bromley were awarded a penalty when a strong flat run across the edge of the area was unceremoniously ended with a hearty man and ball challenge just inside the box which left the referee with little choice but to point to the spot. The incident occurred at the opposite end from where we were standing so it was difficult to say if it was a valid penalty or not. There seemed to be little protest from the Dartford players. Danny Hockton took the kick which was well saved by Tony Kessell but Hockton pounced on the rebound to turn it into the net.

The goal seem to spark a little more life into Dartford. The Dartford fans upped the noise level and the away team regained some control of the game. But as in the first half, they lacked any quality in the final third and just couldn't lay off the killer pass. Andy Walker in the Bromley goal had very little to do. At the same time, Bromley seemed to be cruising in a lower gear; they played some neat football out from the back and most of their game was calm and controlled. But you always sensed that Bromley were perhaps a little too laid back, and a late equaliser from Dartford always seemed feasible.
But this never came. Bromley finished with a flourish and a couple of very good saves from Kessell kept the score at 1-0. Overall just about a fair result, but only just. I was particularly impressed with Bromley's nippy little number 11, Sam Wood, who possessed a great deal of pace and never stopped running for the cause. Kessell in the Dartford goal also played his part. A good cup game.

At the final whistle we headed for the bar to watch England stroll past Estonia; a great way to finish off the visit. The new stand and and bar at Hayes Lane are quite impressive, but I'm not sure why they put the two Plasma TV screens in such awkward to watch positions behind the bar. Ho hum.

And so my FA Cup Road to Wembley baton now passes to Bromley. And sadly, it is goodbye to Dartford.

I have seen Dartford play five times on this run and I feel as if I have grown to know the club a little. Their supporters are a great advert for the game in the lower leagues. They support their team in numbers both home and away, are most vocal and have been a great bunch to correspond with.

At this point I must say hello to 'custdart' and 'eagle88' both of whom I met at the game yesterday. Thank you for your very kind comments about this blog, it means a lot to me. I'm sorry to see Dartford go out. One thing I do know is that there is every chance I will pay a visit to Princes Park again in the future. My son keeps nagging me!

And now onward with Bromley. With a ground that oozes a sense of the past it is time for Bromley to look ahead and dream of a potential money-spinning FA Cup run. Only one more round before the 1st Round Proper. Bromley fans have every reason to be excited of what the future may bring.

And why not? After all, nostaliga is not what it used to be.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Divided we stand

At the Bromley v Dartford game tomorrow you will find several hundred Bromley fans, several hundred (very noisy) Dartford fans and at least one Sunderland fan, a Peterborough United fan and a Leeds United fan. The odd ones out in that sentence are the teams of choice of the three of us travelling to Hayes Lane for this FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round game. And the great thing about tomorrow's game is that all paying customers will be standing together. There will be no segregation. Supporters of both participants will mingle freely before, during and after the game. All genuine football fans with a shared passion for the game.

One of the definite highlights on this FA Cup road so far has been the lack of segregation at the grounds. Fans have still grouped together and swapped ends at half time, that is only natural. Tribal instinct prevails. But I have stood amongst Sittingbourne and Chertsey fans as they trade good humoured jibes with each other. I have stood between Dartford and Sittingbourne supporters as both groups bemoan the quality of refereeing. I have stood at one end of Camberley's ground and spent alternate halves of normal and extra time stood with either the home support or the away support.

After my son came with me to watch the Dartford v Camberley game, I was surprised how much he enjoyed it. I asked him why, when at other games he had become bored or twitchy long before the players were tucking into their half-time oranges. The answer didn't really surprise me. He enjoyed the freedom of being able to move around the terrace and watch the game from a variety of different vantage points. He enjoyed not being confined to one seat for a full 90 minutes. He didn't feel trapped.

I saw a question raised about the Bromley game tomorrow; would there be segregation at this game? It is a fair question as a big crowd is expected. Bromley have stated that there will not be any segregation.

Good news.

I wonder how long into this FA Cup journey I will travel before I encounter a game where fans are forced to stand apart? Possibly in the 1st Round Proper when the league clubs enter the fray. A friend of mine has already asked where I would stand for segregated games; the home or away end? To be honest, I don't know. In the latter rounds I'm sure it will be where ever I can get a ticket.

Thinking of all my family, friends and work colleagues who are into football, the range of football teams that they support is quite large. I've already mentioned Sunderland, Peterborough United and Leeds United. QPR and Fulham have also been represented on this FA Cup journey. Other teams supported in my social coterie include Manchester United and Manchester City, Liverpool, Crystal Palace, Arsenal, Nottingham Forest, Marlow, Altrincham, Aldershot, Hereford United, Hull City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Coventry City, Newcastle United, Stockport County, Sheffield United, Newport County, Cwmbran Town..... I could go on. The point is that we all have been to watch games with our friends and enjoy doing so, irrespective of who is playing.

And irrespective of where you stand or sit.

Tomorrow we will have a choice of where to stand. I just hope I'm not stood next to any weird Sunderland or Peterborugh United fans.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Don't believe everything you read

Towards the end of last week I picked up a copy of our "freebie" newspaper, the instantly forgettable "Walton and Weybridge Informer". You know, the weekly that is pushed through your front door whether you want it or not. 90% of the newspaper is made up of adverts, and most of the stories are truncated so that if you are really interested you have to read the full story in the sister newspaper, the Surrey Herald (75p).

Now the reason I mention this is that, on the back page, there was a picture from a Chertsey Town match. In one of my very earliest posts (24th August) you may recall that I was bemoaning how little (if any) coverage Chertsey Town get in the local press. You would be excused for believing that the town did not have a football team. The back page of the "Informer" is usually devoted to Esher Rugby Club. To have a picture from a Chertsey Town match was, to say the least, unusual.

There was no accompanying report with it, only the picture. The picture caption read:

"Scott Edgar (right) rolls in Chertsey's third goal in Saturday's 3-0 FA Cup win against Erith".

Now, as you know, Chertsey were eliminated from the FA Cup at Sittingbourne on 1st September in the Preliminary Round after beating Wick in the Extra Preliminary Round. So to see a picture from their FA Cup triumph (in October) against Erith Town was all rather... baffling?

An obvious error, but it got me thinking.

I wonder how many people believe Chertsey are still in the FA Cup? There may well be a small group of Chertsey fans who are walking around town revelling in Chertsey's greatest ever FA Cup run. They may need expert help; the emotional trauma of the truth may be too much to bear. It saddens me just to think of it.

This error now makes me question the accuracy of the local paper's BIG news stories. Did the "Friend's of Chertsey Library" really raise £13.78 at their coffee morning, with cakes made by Ethel and Mavis? Did callous thieves really steal the life size paper mache model of Bruce Forsyth from the local craft shop. The same paper mache model that was found two days later balanced precariously atop the church flag pole. Was Chesney Hawkes really the guest of honour at the Black Cherry Fair? How do I know that any of this is true? It may well all have been utter fabrication or, at best, unmitigated errors.

Everything I once believed in I must now question. My whole value system is in tatters. I'm going to write a letter of complaint to the editor. No doubt they will only print part of it.

So it just goes to show, don't believe everything you read.

Except this blog. Obviously.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Bromley FC

It's just under a week now to the FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round game between Bromley and Dartford. This will be game number seven for me, and the fifth time I have seen Dartford. However, it will be my first ever visit to Bromley FC.

Bromley play at Hayes Lane and are in the Blue Square South League (previously known as the Conference South). At one level below the Conference, this will be the highest team in the pyramid that I will have seen in this season's competition. They are two levels above Dartford. Bromley are currently 8th in their league, having lost their unbeaten home record yesterday in a 3-1 reverse against Eastbourne Borough.

In the FA Cup this season they entered at the last round (2nd Qualifying) where they needed a replay and extra time to dispose of Aylesbury United. The first game at Aylesbury finished 1-1 and the replay at Hayes Lane ended 4-2 to Bromley (2-2 after 90 minutes).

Bromley have one of the best average attendances in the league (643), but still lower than Dartford's average. The omens look good for a big crowd. Dartford travel in numbers, both teams are geographically close, and some of the local league teams (e.g. Charlton Athletic) are not playing because of the England game. There is every chance that this game could attract the biggest crowd on this FA Cup journey so far.

This game will be an early (1pm) kick off which sets up the rest of the day nicely; a pie and a pint and then cheer on England against Estonia.

Bromley, Dartford, England and Estonia. What a heady mix.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Is Bromley in Kent?

Don't answer that question. Not just yet.

For those of you who have been following my story, I have spent an awful lot of time in Kent so far. No problem with that, but it would be nice to see some new counties. As many of you are no doubt aware, I made a comment in my Monday post about Bromley not being in Kent. I didn't put much (if any) thought into this comment as I wrote it. Engage brain before you write.

But, my word, what a reaction I have had to that single comment. I have probably had more correspondence and read more columns of message board and forum space about that remark compared to anything else I've written to date.

And I'm all for it. The debate has been quite lively, most entertaining and in many cases very amusing. In essence it boils down to whether Bromley is in the county of Kent or resides in Greater London. The more complex arguments have touched on post codes, boundary changes, borough councils, administrative areas and the like. Oh, did I also mention all this has been most educational for me.

My initial reaction was to go and do a bit of research for myself. That's me in a nutshell; the methodical, predictable, "black v white" type of person.

I found that the more definitive sources suggest Bromley is not in Kent, although it used to be before boundary changes in 1965. It is now a London borough and Bromley resides in the "Ceremonial County" of Greater London. I even contacted the Kent Tourist Board who also stated that Bromley is no longer in Kent.

The counter arguments are based around postal addresses. For example, take a look at the Bromley FC website; their address (displayed at the foot of the home page) quite clearly states Bromley, Kent. It is like this for many other businesses and locations in and around Bromley. The excellent "Kentish Football" website includes coverage of Bromley, so one assumes they also believe Bromley is in Kent.

So, not that conclusive, but I was starting to favour the Greater London answer.

But then it was something I read this morning on the Pure DFC Forum (Dartford FC's Unofficial Discussion Site) that made me realise I was looking at this from completely the wrong angle. This is the posted comment that I read:

"I guess it's officially the London Borough of Bromley, but anybody from the area will tell you it's Kent".

There was I trying to determine whether it was Kent or not, looking for an "official" and "authoritative" answer, when this quote made everything crystal clear. Suddenly I see. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. The official answer is not that important.

What is important is what people believe. What the citizens of Kent believe. What Bromley town's folk believe. And it's all to do with regional identity. This is what defines you, where you come from, where you grew up, where you now live or where you used to live. It is in your blood. It is what makes you, well, you. If Bromley used to be Kent, then why can't it still be Kent if that's what people perceive.

Trying tell residents of the Basque region they are Spanish. Try telling the Cherokee Nation that they are really Americans. Try telling inhabitants of the Faeroe Islands they live in Denmark. All rather extreme examples I know, but you get my point?

From everything I have read I get the sense that Kent people are very proud of their county, proud to come from Kent. So should I really be judging whether Bromley is in Kent or not? Who am I to question regional identity?

And so yes, I will be off to Kent for the next game on Saturday 13th October. Bromley v Dartford. I know the way.

In the meantime, take a look at my interactive poll which I have added in the main menu just below the FA Cup picture. Now, this is nothing scientific. It will not resolve any debate nor is it intended to. It will prove nothing. Too be honest, I just fancied having an online poll. Nothing more than that really.

Go on then, you can answer that question now.

Afternote: this poll is now closed

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Game 6: Camberley Town 0, Dartford 0 *

*AET, Dartford win 4-1 on penalties

2nd Qualifying Round Replay
Tuesday October 2nd 2007

Kick Off 7:45pm

Attendance: 242
Weather: Drizzle

Distance travelled: 35 miles

Camberley on a miserable, wet, damp, dank, dark evening. A replay which simply did not live up to the first billing but ended with a few minutes of excitement in a penalty shootout. Dartford squeeze through, but only just. And about 150 Darts fans go home happy.

Four of us made the short journey to Camberley, and one of our friends even came out especially for this game on his birthday. His 40th to be precise! Having already celebrated (drowned his sorrows) at reaching this mid-life point at the weekend, the draw of the FA Cup could not be resisted. Turning forty does strange things to a man's mind. You start to reflect on life past and life future. Some people struggle to deal with it. They do crazy things in an attempt to rekindle lost youth. Mid-life crisis. And last night, as my friend saw out his 40th birthday in the drizzle at Krooner Park, it suddenly hit me.

Good god, I'm having my own mid-life crisis! This whole FA Cup thing. This is my black Porsche. This is my trek across the Andes. This is my long-legged brunette from accounts. You know, the one with the big personality. That explains everything. I feel I can justify this crazy venture. I'll be fine once I get through it and out the other side all in one piece, my marriage still intact and my family still talking to me. I'll be just fine. Phew.

Might as well enjoy it while it lasts!

Enjoyment is not a word I feel at ease using in the context of last night's game. But then again, maybe. The game was poor. But I still enjoyed the evening in a sad kind of way. You know what I mean; I'd rather be at a bad game of football than dozing in front of Eastenders. And the evening had it's snippets of entertainment, which I'll come to later.

But as for the game, it was, believe me, not very good. The pitch was very wet and heavy from a couple of days of constant drizzle. The kind of drizzle that is the poor relation to rain, it just kind of hangs in the air. Stand in it long enough and your skin starts to wrinkle.

The Camberley ground was very much like Chertsey's ground, probably fairly typical at this level. One main stand, a single turnstile entrance, a small refreshments hut, an ageing bar. One end was partially covered with a wooden roof which provided shelter, a good view of the pitch and an equally good view of the club car park behind. The Camberley folk were friendly and welcoming. I take my hat off to two young girls who were selling raffle tickets before the game. They were brave enough to walk around the ground and into the travelling Dartford fans calling out "£1 a strip". Well, I assume it was raffle tickets they were selling.

No goals in normal time or extra-time and that kind of sums the game up. In the first half, only one significant event to comment on; the sending off of Dartford's Jay May for kicking out at a Camberley player after he was felled with a tackle from behind. The rest of the half was really a non-event. Lots of misplaced passes, long hoofs out of defence, rough tackles and hard challenges. And a great deal of niggle between the two sets of players, which seemed to have spilled over from the first game last Saturday. I guess this had a part to play in the sending off. To see this kind of hard, uncompromising football, up close and almost within touching distance, can make for quite a spectacle. Poor football, but entertaining nonetheless.

The second half saw Camberley attacking down the slope toward the end we stood at. All the Dartford fans (who had provided the best entertainment in the first half) had swapped ends and were just visible in the half light and drizzle a pitch length away. This made for a quiet half for us and I hate to admit it was quite painful to watch. The only positive to come from the game was that Camberley started to play some football on the deck, and for this they looked the more likely to score. The Dartford fans in the distance were getting more and more frustrated with the standard of refereeing and some of the delaying tactics of the Camberley players, but other than that there wasn't a great deal to shout about.

Camberley did have an opportunity to score with just under 70 minutes on the clock when a high ball into the box evaded the keeper and fell to an unmarked Camberley forward. It seemed easier for him to score into the unguarded net than miss, but he somehow pulled his shot across goal and beyond the far post. As the game stumbled towards extra-time, my friends started to pray for a goal. An additional 30 minutes would be difficult to take.

0-0 at 90 minutes (more like 97 minutes with all the injury time, where did that come from?) and into extra time. The Dartford fans began to make their way back to our end as the players lined up to kick-off. At the last moment, the players swapped ends which meant that Dartford were now kicking away from us. Some Dartford fans realised this and carried out an about-turn manoeuvre, whilst others carried on regardless. This caused a rather amusing mass crowd collision around about the half-way line. I think this was probably the highlight of the match. I'm glad to report there were no serious injuries.

The extra thirty minutes went by quite quickly, with Dartford having the best chance in the last few minutes when John Guest missed from all of five yards. It was to be one of those nights. Still no goals. And so to penalties.

Jamie Coyle, Steve Norman, Eddie McClements and Adam Flanagan all scored from the spot for Dartford. Camberley scored their first penalty; Tony Kessell in the Dartford goal saved two. As Flanagan sealed the tie with the winning kick, the Dartford fans (now down at our end) went berserk and the Dartford players, subs, manager, coach, physio, coach driver and tea lady ran to the Dartford fans to join in the celebrations. An exciting end to a poor game.

Over the two games, I think Dartford deserved to go through. Last night they defended resolutely with ten men when they needed to, a task made harder by the heavy pitch. I felt a little sorry for Camberley as they did try to play some decent football in the second half and they must surely be agonising over that missed chance late on.

Meanwhile, on the same evening, Bromley were disposing of Aylesbury United in their replay; final score 4-2 after extra time. This now sets up a Bromley v Dartford 3rd Qualifying Round game on Saturday 13th October.

I can't wait. I need to crack on with my mid-life crisis.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Aylesbury or Bromley?

The draw for the 3rd Qualifying Round of the FA Cup was made today and much to my relief the following came out:

Aylesbury United or Bromley v Dartford or Camberley Town

Not conclusive, but one thing I know is that it won't be a trip to Kent for the next round - although I have to say that Bromley is dangerouly close!

The Aylesbury v Bromley game on Saturday ended 1-1. The replay is on Tuesday evening, the same night as the Camberley v Dartford game. By late Tuesday I will know where I'm off to next, but I would be happy with either.

I would guess that Bromley are now the favourites to progress; they play in the Blue Square South, one level below the Conference. Aylesbury play in the grandly named British Gas Football League Division One Midlands, two levels below Bromley.

Travel wise, both clubs are pretty close for me. The game is pencilled in for Saturday 13th October, but that is the same day that England take on Estonia in a Euro 2008 qualifier. There is every chance that the game may be moved to an earlier slot on the Saturday or to either Friday evening or Sunday.

Best keep the whole weekend free then.