Sunday, 27 January 2013

Sorry Luton, not quite the real thing

Congratulations to Luton for grabbing the headlines on 4th Round weekend. Particularly those that declared that they “made history” by becoming the first club from outside the Football League to beat a Premier League side. Or, if you prefer your history to take into account events prior to 1992, the first to defeat top flight opposition for slightly longer.     

So well done the Hatters and those of us in the Midlands TV region await the sight of Nick Owen on tomorrow’s local news, looking less inanimate than usual and maybe even sporting a Luton scarf for a comedy handover to the weathergirl.  

But (and you knew there was one coming) this isn’t a non League giantkilling to echo down the years. It may not even echo to next weekend. Luton may be technically non League at the moment, but they're only on temporary loan - even if they do have a habit of renewing the loan.  It's only about 6 years since they were visiting Norwich on level terms, and may do again within another 6. It’s still hard to remember that Luton aren’t tucked away somewhere in the middle divisions, or even taking points off Liverpool on that plastic pitch.  They're not really non League any more than Dagenham & Redbridge are really a League club. 

Also, I saw the highlights of the Norwich game and to my mind it was missing several classic Cup ingredients:
1. played on a mudheap
2. victory by a motley bunch of part timers who would never be seen again
3. an eccentric character or two
4. a memorable goal
5. (optional) invasion by hundreds of kids wearing brown parkas with furry hoods   

Hereford v Newcastle had them all, if you count young Motson squawking up on the gantry and Ronnie Radford’s rocket. Sutton v Coventry had the first four – 3 being a manager who quoted Kipling and in the process gave Barry Davies half a bar, and 4 being not so much the goal as Matt Hanlan’s angry celebration, which involved so much obvious swearing it still can’t be shown before the watershed.     

We won’t mention that Sutton’s reward was a trip to, yes, Norwich, where they were duly given a huge beating.  Or that, the same day, another non League team also enjoying its first taste of the Fourth Round lost just by the odd goal at another top division ground. Or that the fans of that club were pretty cheesed off at Sutton still getting all the credit. Or that they still chunter about it 24 years later.

Instead we’ll insert a random pic from the Patgod archives showing another occasion when a non League club took on Premier League opposition, this time on its own patch.   

Sadly not a taste of things to come

The Once-a-Seasoners

Just settling down to watch the Oldham v Liverpool FA Cup game, and the first thing that came to mind was our incredible 4-3 loss to Oldham in the Cup a few years ago.  It was one of those typical Morrel ding-dong games.  Well, Morrel MK I, when he tried to get his over-paid slumming stars to play real football.  Not last season's version where he realised about 5 minutes into the first game that a training regime of keepy-uppy and X-box wasn't ideal for blood and thunder Conference football.

Boundary Park today was rocking to an early Oldham goal, and the massed support of the Lancashire club celebrated in union.  Rows after unbroken rows of supporters.  Not a spare seat to be seen.  The sort of crowd that always makes me think, where are all these people for the run-of-the-mill League games?  As a once-per-season fan you may celebrate your team's goal, but do you feel it as much as those who attend every week?  Do you feel guilty jumping up and down in celebration without having a clue who has actually scored, even though it is for your team?

And what of next Saturday?  When mighty Southend are in town rather than Liverpool.  Suddenly the thought of sitting out in the cold watching players you don't know doesn't quite seem so attractive.  Do you feel a tiny bit guilty that you've only attended the game because of the opposition, rather than supporting your own team?

In recent years we have had plenty of these games.  Suddenly the stretch of terrace that you shared with a couple of old duffers is thronged with people you've never seen before.  You knew they hadn't been to Rocky Road for a while because they'd invariably mention the fact that the Britannia Road was covered, or have heated discussions as to whether Cooke or Moss was the better striker!

I wonder if these people ever think of the Poppies nowadays?  When we scrapped 250 souls for a "home" league game did any of these people feel a little bit of guilt that they hadn't seen their team play since the Fulham or Leeds Cup games? 

If the Poppies are to survive in any meaningful capacity (i.e. Imraan f**ks off, and Cousin's has his "lease" stuck up his arse) are we likely to experience the phenomenon of the once-a-seasoners ever again?  At the level we are likely to be playing at for the foreseeable future, assuming we are playing at all, the "glamour" games aren't likely to come thick and fast!

Monday, 21 January 2013


Winter is here at last, delivering a carpet of snow and with it an irresistible rush of nostalgia for anyone able to remember when a mere blizzard wasn’t enough to ruin the weekend’s football programme. If the pitch wasn’t frozen solid enough to send a vibration up the pitchfork handle and rattle the groundsman’s dentures, it was match on. Kids, this is true – the same rules applied to PE at school:  evil bastards like Mr Marriage at Stamford Road Boys would send the shivering mites out into the cold and force them to compete. Those with notes excusing them from games were plunged into barrels of icy water and left there until they thawed out after Easter. It was all part of growing up.

Footballers were expected to just get on with it. The only concession to the icy weather was an orange ball, which stood out well against both playing surface and the skin of a generation of players whose idea of a winter tan was the upholstery in their Ford Granada.  Snow was removed from the pitch only as far as a shovel could throw it, leading to bumpy frozen mounds just beyond the white line and an extra reason for wingers to be nervous.  Of course it was all horribly uncomfortable, but at a time when domestic central heating was still a relative luxury, not such a shock to the system as it would be today.

Postponements due to snow were allowed but only if the away team’s bus couldn’t get to within 12 miles (reasonable walking distance) of the ground. In those circumstances, the Pools Panel were called into action. This was a bit like the judges on Saturday night TV today, but less bitchy. And probably better dialogue. The old style version of Alesha, favouring sheepskin rather than sequins, would decide that Preston v Millwall was a home win, whilst the pipe smoking counterpart of Bruno (St Bruno?) would consider Rotherham v Crewe and – with a grunt rather than a wildly camp flourish  – hold up a card showing 2. This stood for goalless draw but everyone knew that it was code for away win, which the panel were usually too kind to explicitly predict.   

Nowadays of course, things are much different. All the top clubs have undersoil heating, thermal seats, warm air piped up the trouser legs and patio burners in the car parks, whilst all other games are called off if a single snowflake has fallen on the roof of the London Weather Centre, for fear of someone slipping over or feeling a bit chilly.  The players too have different standards, donning extra lycra, tights and gloves – and that’s just to get from the coach to the changing room.  Some of the foreign ones have contracts that say they only play during British Summer Time. And yet you never see a referee swaddled up in extra clothing, despite the fact they are so much more elderly and thus more likely to feel the cold....

So there we have it: modern players are all pussies and things were better in the past. 

How it used to be - 5 minutes till kick off

Saturday, 19 January 2013


When one remembers how many defeats Peter Morris, or especially Gary Johnson had to rack up before Peter Mallinger dragged out the P45's from his desk drawer, some recent managerial sackings are sure to raise the odd eyebrow.

When "Hitman" Abramovich sacked Roberto De Matteo, fresh from winning the Mad Russian his first European Cup we were all disappointed.  Just what would be enough for this Eastern European Lunatic?

In the past week Marcus Law has been shown the door at Tamworth.  His crime?  Keeping Tamworth out of the relegation zone!  I'm not sure exactly where in the league the Tamworth board of Directors expect their glorified Conference North team to be?  Top of the League?  Play-off candidates?  Tamworth are a small club, playing well above their level, and Law would have in all likelihood kept them in Conference Premier for at least another season.  I know a lot of clubs that would gladly trade places with the Lambs if Conference survival isn't good enough for them.  With the Poppies looking at Southern League Midland Division next season AT BEST, the Tamworth Board don't know when they are born!

This week the Board of Southampton have also took leave of their senses and dispensed with Nigel Adkins in favour of some non-English speaking ,Falklands-grabbing Argie-Bargie.  The fact that Adkins had won the club back-to-back promotions and currently had the club outside of the relegation zone was obviously not enough for the Southampton bosses,  who seem to think that they should be Champions League candidates as a minimum.  And what is likely to follow for the Saints?  No doubt their new Johnny Foreigner Manager will bankrupt the club bringing in a whole new team of dirty dagos who won't have the heart for the Tuesday night away games at Wigan and Newcastle.  And when they are relegated all of these new players will have their hands out for their enormous pay packets, and before you know it, Southampton will be back in League One and begging Adkins to come back.

Makes you wonder what Ladak would do to Doyle if he ever checked up on how his team was doing from the safety of his Milton Keynes bunker.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Home from Home?

Despite the defeat to Sourbridge yesterday I hope those fans who chose yesterday to renew their acquaintance with Poppies "home"games were made to feel as home as possible.  As the day turned out, the experience was comfortably familiar to those used to watching at Rocky Road.

Firstly, Steal park actually sits on Rockingham Road.  Ok, it is distinctly the Rockingham end of Rockingham Road, but still....  Entering the social club you stumble across the usual collection of bluff, uncouth, bumbling bumpkins, dotted with the odd volunteer, Klondike seller and erudite blogger.  Why, there's also bars on the windows, just like at Rocky Road.  I fear though that these are less to do with a poorly aimed ball hitting the window, than encouraging the locals, should they feel the urge to get into the stadium, to consider using the turnstile.  Elgoods ales were also for sale under the benevolent eye and very occasional patronage of Sphericals.

The game itself was especially tailored to remind us all of the more painful Poppies experiences.  A lot of huffing and puffing and no end result must have made the returning fans feel right at home.  It was good of Doyle and the team to put away their recent flowing, one-touch exciting football in favour of yesterday's performance, just to allow the returnees to acclimatise.

The referee also deserves praise for throwing in a shocking penalty decision to allow the supporters to rant and rave at the officials, just as we used to do in the good old days!  As we all know, nothing gets the average Poppies fan onto his hind legs and howling faster than an unjust refereeing decision.  A five nil win will coax polite applause from us.  A once-in-a-lifetime wondergoal would wring a little cheer out of us.  A last minute winning goal for us against Barcelona, with Messi and Iniesta trailing in Joel's wake would probably just about get us to whoop a bit.  But one dodgy decision and even the most jaded Poppy becomes a rabidly foaming, shrieking banshee of unbridled passion!

Even Radio Northampton tried to help make the weekend a complete old-school Poppies experience by accurately letting the County know that whilst we were losing to 3rd placed (!) Stourport, Corby had won away at Stourbridge.

Whilst nothing will replace the genuine Rockingham Road experience, Steal Park is still ten thousands times better that the soulless, bland money pit awaiting us by the swollen Nene should Imraan ever sort out a mug to get his neck out of the Non Park Noose new investment.  Almost makes you hope he never does.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Oh, look, the African Cup of Nations yet again!

With the African Cup of nations looming over us once again, and Premier League Managers locked in their annual club v country moans, one is left asking is this the most pointless competition ever?  World Cups and European Cups are special occasions because countries spend over a year trying to get to the finals, and they each take place every four years.  Imagine how devalued an annual World Cup would be?  And yet this is one area where the African Cup of  Nations fails.  Barely has one finished than the next one starts!

Add into this rolling competition the fact that it is hosted during the European League season, when the vast majority of African stars should be earning their mega-bucks, and the month long duration of the event and you can almost see why the top Managers dread January coming around again.  Particularly if the League in question has a mid-winter break and the African players sit this out before jetting off to sit around a pool for several weeks in a safe compound surrounded by guards to keep their dirt-poor, non-footballing comrades at arm's length.

Still, it's hard to feel too sorry for the top Managers bemoaning the competition when their players are away.  Everyone knows this Cup is played seemingly every other week.  If you don't want your players snatched away, don't sign ones that you lose for a month every season!

That said, now our teamsheet boasts players like Yannick Nlate, Joel Gyasi, Henry Eze, Rudy Misambo, Solomon Akinshade, Will Muzvimbiri, we trust Doyle knows what he up to. That or somehow our new stars can't get a game in South Africa later this month - something we can't believe having seen the way these guys have put teams like Barwell and Bedford to the sword in recent weeks!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Records tumble at Steal Park

If you were perusing a decent blog you would now be reading how long it has been since the Poppies won 4 games out of 5, or the last time we beat anyone by three goals, or the last time we stopped any opposition team from thumping 7 past us.

As you've realised at this late stage, this isn't the sort of blog unduly weighed down by the expectation of advanced statistical analysis, or excessive research.  Not when we can just as easily write abuse aimed at Ladak, knob-gags, or mock the few teams that are still below us in the footballing hierarchy!

Four wins out of five games paints a fair picture of how the team have been playing in the past month (what are the chances of Doyle winning the Manager of the Month award for December, even though we suffered a 7-0 reverse in this run?)

It's been good fun.  Sure, it could all come to an end tomorrow if Ladak came out of hiding and dragged all 20 of the pro-Non Park supporters back to the "Land that Time Forgot", but, what the hell!  Let's enjoy it while we can!