Sunday, 26 January 2014

25 Years since Selhurst

Every FA Cup 4th Round Saturday brings a pang of remembrance for two great occasions in our history, but yesterday of course was a special anniversary – 25 years since the first and arguably most memorable – the trip to Selhurst Park. A quarter of a century already?  Scary. But in many ways, this was a match from another time. A top division club so poorly supported that their fans were outnumbered by non League visitors.  Those travelling fans, over 8,000 of them, turning up without tickets and paying at the gate. The ticket prices, about a fiver to stand and not much more to sit. Charlton, despite the opposition, putting out their strongest team – because that’s what the Cup meant to everyone in those days.  Not a single foreign player on the pitch – the Charlton side being as reliably meat and two veg as most of the top division. No big names either, unless you count bug-eyed future FS sofa dweller Garth Crooks.  A huge open terrace.  A mudheap of a pitch. No post match phone ins. No Poppynet commentary – the very first website was still a couple of years in the future. And no Patgod – oh what primitive times!

This was also before digital recording, smartphones and Youtube clips, so the only film of the game is on ageing VHS cassettes that, if anything like my ancient MOTD highlights tape, plays like a twice bootlegged version of a home movie.  The last time I saw picture quality that bad, it was accompanied by badly dubbed moans. However the memories are still pretty vivid, if a little patchy at this distance. Charlton skating to an early two goal lead then us rallying to close them out until half time. Party atmosphere on the Holmesdale terrace, balls bouncing around and everyone in good cheer despite being completely drenched and sod all to shout about so far.  Straight after the break, Ernie nods down to Robbie, who's deadly from that distance. Half second of eyes registering ball in net then bedlam – our longest goal celebration ever?

Amazing noise from then on. Chance after chance at the other end, but still only 2-1. Home fans whistling for the final whistle. Last minute, THAT CHANCE - Ernie puts it a foot wide (no, let’s not spoil the myth, “shaved the post”). Epic run over after 9 games.  Now for the Conference title, we all said. 

Another time.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Are the Cobblers finally going down?

Most of us can remember the season when the Cobblers finished bottom of the Football League, and were only saved from non-league oblivion by Kidderminster's failure to meet whatever football stadium criteria the League had thought up that day.  Oh, and our inability to beat Bromsgrove by seven clear goals on the last Saturday of the season.  One, solitary team separated us from our illustrious County cousins.  Bloody Kidderminster!.  Ground too shit to go up.  But team too good to stop us winning the league ahead of them.

Since those happy days the Cobblers have never really flirted with relegation, whilst we have tumbled down enough divisions to make any comparison between the teams meaningless. 

However, this season the Cobblers have slithered deeper and deeper into relegation trouble.  Boothroyd sacked. Team now rock bottom.  No new Manager appointed.  After today's home defeat to Chesterfield they are now 6 points plus goal difference from safety.  That is a big ask for a team who can't buy a win.  The assumption that the team were too good and the club too big to go down is looking increasingly optimistic.  It's not as if the Conference isn't awash with former Football League teams who all thought they were too big / good to get dumped through the League trapdoor.

Universally it is seen in the local media as "a bad thing" were the County to have no Football League club.  While the average Poppies fan under the age of 40 has little or no opinion on the Cobblers, us of a more seasoned vintage still remember our, admittedly one-way rivalry with Northampton.  We remember when we had the better stadium and arguably the better team.  The balance of footballing power within the county felt like it was going to shift one way, and that was in our direction.  Daddying Northants was basically just them and us, going toe to toe.  There were other teams in the County of course, but they were a collection of third rate dregs, cluttering up the lower reaches of the non-league.  Shitty non-entities such as Corby Town, Rushden Town, Ithlingborough Diamonds and Rothwell Town.  Scarily only one of them still exists today!
Plenty of room at Sixfields as the Cobblers
kick off their 2014-15 Skrill Premier Campaign

But what would relegation mean in reality for the Cobblers?  For one, they could stop pretending that Peterborough are serious rivals.  That position could well be filled by Brackley!  David Cardoza might well have the entire first team squad whacked.  And plans to raise the capacity of Sixfields to 10,000 will seem even more hideously pointless than they are now. 

It's such a shame that we won't be in the Conference to welcome the Wobblers into the warm embrace of non-league obscurity!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Blast from the Past

Yesterday's drawn game at Rugby seems to have done more for convincing us that the Poppies are still OUR club than any number of scrappy wins, club take-overs and new dawns.  But why?  Why this one game in particular?  Why this draw rather than last week's 5-1 win for example?

The reasons would be obvious to anyone who was there.  A big away following at a ground that actually looked like the type of stadium we're more used to being in.  The throaty roar of Poppies fans cheering their team in unison, whether they be the kind of fan who shouts every Saturday, through to those who generally keep their passion in check.  The sense of painful injustice that we were to get nothing from a game we'd dominated, alleviated in a flash by a thumping equaliser late into stoppage time.  And if our last opportunity moments later had flown in too, well, most of us would have greeted Sunday morning waking up in downtown Rugby somewhere.

For the first time in a couple of years I felt a real sense yesterday that 500 gates, no real terracing to speak of, and playing in this lowly division, though necessary now, isn't perhaps all we had to look forward to.  A false dawn perhaps, but time will tell.  We pretty much have to carry on this unbeaten run until April to get into the play-offs, but yesterday showed that if any Poppies team and support give it their all, we can still be a force to be reckoned with.

The team at times yesterday were a revelation, with plenty of heart and talent, helped in no small part by playing on a flat pitch for a change.  Their reaction at the goal, and at full time was a joy to see.  And we supporters need to remember, just because we recall sizeable and even occasional huge away support for the Poppies, that these players probably haven't encountered this sort of thing before.  Indeed Dubi spent most of the game with a perplexed look of amusement on his face at the sight of us.  Mostly down to the unlikely physical specimens he was looking at, but hopefully at least partly down to being impressed with the level of support for a team in this division.

Now lads, by all means beat Redditch in the pointlessly pointless Reading Shore Cup, and we'll see you again next Saturday!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Leighton Pay The Penalty!

I've got nothing.  I just wanted to use that headline.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Do Managers ever stop moaning?

Like most people with even a passing interest in football I usually watch Match of the Day.  However, these days I've taken to either muting the bits between the football, or putting the kettle on.  Partly because I don't particularly care what Alan Hansen thinks about the "shocking defending", but mostly because I'm getting sick hearing of hearing the Managers use their post-match soundbites to simply bad-mouth the referees. 

Moaning at the odd refereeing decision isn't exactly new territory for football Managers.  Poor officiating has always been a convenient excuse for bosses when their expensively assembled team of show ponies gets gumped at home by the relegation certainties.

Curiously, the reasons for defeat very rarely include the Manager's poor tactics, dodgy substitutions, lacklustre players or the inability of their £50 Million striker to hit a barn door with a Torres.  All these issues pale into insignificance when the Manager's team were denied a penalty when their shifty South American winger takes a theatrical dive when a defender's leg came within 3-feet of connecting.  Suddenly this one "poor decision" is the only reason his team lost, despite the Manager's obvious brilliance.

And it doesn't matter whether his team is in the running for the Champion's League, mid-table obscurity, or relegation certainty.  The Ref has it for them.  Recently the increasingly myopic Jose Mourinho has teetered ever closer to falling off the edge of sanity altogether.  One week he applauded a penalty gifted to him by the Ref against West Brom where only the two of them in the entire Capital, let alone Stamford Bridge thought a foul had occurred.  A few days later he blames Ref's for falling for players diving, just as his own players take it upon themselves to try to fly every time they get in their opponents penalty box.

Last week, poorly dubbed Southampton boss Mauricio Pochettino claimed the Officials punished his team because they were too young and pretty.  Or something like that.

This week, rapidly ageing Old Trafford boss David Moyes griped, "We're playing referees as well as the opposition". We're actually beginning to laugh at them, that's the thing."It's really terrible, it really is. We're having to play them as well as the opposition at the moment."  Just because his new team are proving that without Fergie to scare them that they are mid-table fodder, he chooses to blame the officials who used to play until United scored.

Anytime I hear a Football Manager start a sentence with the words, "I don't usually criticise Refs, but....." I just tune out.  Instead of whining about the refereeing standards why not spend the week between games working on a few additional things in training.  Such as telling his forwards to stop cheating every time they get within 18 yards of goal, practice sticking a ball into a net and resisting the urge to jump into every challenge with two feet.

Until you've been reffed by a Southern League
Ref we suggest you shut the f*ck up!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Another Poppyless weekend

With a seemingly Biblical 40-days and night's rain pouring upon Latimer Park, football is presently at a premium.  So much so that the missus and me settled down to watch the FA Cup tie between Nottingham Forest and West Ham today.  The main reason being that the Tricky Trees are my second team, and the Hammers are hers.

Only other commitments prevented us from actually making the trip up to the City Ground, which, given the spanking handed out to the East London losers by the two-time European Cup Winners, was a shame.

The draw for the Fourth Round of the Cup immediately followed the game, and I couldn't help feeling a little saddened by the knowledge that the Poppies are unlikely to feature in such a televised draw again.  At least not in the immediate or middling future. 

We all recall the excitement of packing into the Poppies Social Club, nervously awaiting the draw and seeing who we would be playing in the next round.  Cracking inappropriate jokes when the former pros are asked by the TV presenter to empty their ball sack.  The pulse-pounding mixture of anticipation and fear as each team is drawn out of the hat.  The shrieks of horror when we might get drawn away to a crappy Northern bunch of nobodies, and the catcalls of encouragement when the possibility of an away draw to a glamorous Premier League team was briefly on offer.

The most deafening roar was reserved for when we were drawn away to Manchester United a few years ago*.  It almost took the roof off the Tin Hat! 

And then I felt bad at the knowledge that we only really enjoyed our recent FA Cup successes because the club was being artificially and excessively funded by DRC Locums.  Chances are we were better financed than most of the League teams we beat in recent years.  Or at least until James Caan bought DRC out and happened to notice a large, very Poppies-shaped hole in the company's profits.  But we can't talk about this too much as Imraan is still deeply involved in his legal case.  Probably.

* There was just the small matter of a replay away at Elland Road standing between us and Guy Branston heading the ball sideways at the Theatre of Dreams.....

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Waiting on the Daventry hordes

So, it's 10.30AM on New Years Day and we are all in limbo for another 2 1/2 hours whilst the assembled Daventry massive descend upon their football ground with forks to get today's fixture on.

It's obvious why they would make every effort to get this game on.  10 straight home league wins.  The chance of their biggest league attendance for God knows how long.  There's also the chance to add the Poppies scalp to their excellent season.  Even though, as a team, we are a shadow of sides past, there is no doubt that beating Kettering Town still means something.  We should be more worried when it doesn't!

Even though Daventry are above us in the league, actually beating us will confirm their place in the pecking order within the County.

But, bloody hell, a 1.PM inspection!  Doesn't exactly give us much time does it?  And I don't know what it's like in Daventry, but it's still raining in the Holy City.....

Don't spare the forks, lads!