Sunday, 27 April 2014

Third time lucky?

So, after a flat out sprint towards the finishing line we have just 3 days before it’s time to go again. Three days to recover, get our breath back, refuel, take on fluids and ease those tired muscles.  Hopefully the players will do the same!

We head into the playoffs on a wave of confidence, and why not after 9 straight wins, almost more in a month than in the previous two seasons. But before we get too carried away with ourselves, there are three other teams in the frame, all of them having earned the right. It may be true to say that we have been the best team in the division since the turn of the year, but not by a wide margin and anything can happen in 90 minutes.

This is the suddenly-a-bit-nervous perspective of someone who well remembers our two previous playoff excursions. Number 1 was 2005, when we scraped into the shootout at the end of the first Conference North campaign with a team that lacked enough quality to go up. Nonetheless, a battling win at Droylsden earned us a home final against Altrincham, with the winners in those days going on to contest a further final against the Conf South playoffs winners at a neutral ground, which I dimly recall was Stoke City.  

Our record in big end of season games at Rockingham Road wasn’t great – this being the traditional moment to send the fans away into the summer with a crashing disappointment to digest.  And so it proved again. Altrincham always had that little bit extra but we took the game into extra time, and when Ollie Burgess made it 2-2 the place was buzzing.  Then came the moment that Martin Matthews, under no immediate pressure, firmly planted a header into his own net. Game over, season over, Matthews over.   

Never mind a hundred solid, workmanlike shifts in whatever position he was asked to fill, this is the moment that MM will always be remembered for. Afterwards, touched by his obvious pain, my son wrote to him to commiserate, explaining that he too had suffered a similar misfortune in a key match, and life must go on. Thoughtful words which I hope were some comfort to Martin at a difficult time. He may also have appreciated the crayon drawing of a sad faced footballer crying.     

Our second taste of playoffs pain came two years later. This time, far from scraping into them, we were chasing automatic promotion with Morell Maison’s cavalier collection of exotically named entertainers who couldn’t defend for toffee. While Rene, Moses, Jean Paul etc were fannying around upfield, sides like Redditch could score 4 at the other end.  Concerned, with two games to go, that this defensive frailty could cost us the title, Ladak weighed up his options and decided the safest bet was to sack the manager.  In came Graham Westley: some called it a controversial choice, others were less complimentary. Seemingly on a mission to make himself even more unpopular than he already was, Westley tried to change the style of play overnight.  Result: trench warfare but less fun. 

Those few games under Westley were like watching paint dry. His game plan against Farsley in the semi final was to win 1-0. That was way too ambitious, though, and the Farsley keeper barely touched the ball – including the penalty shootout. Even then we seemed reluctant to make an attempt on goal, so much so that Howe, our best striker, declined to take a penalty at all.

So all things considered, not the greatest of memories. But the difference this time – hopefully – is momentum. Unlike 2005 and 2007 we haven’t stumbled into the playoffs, we have surged into them with a tremendous run of form. Given recent results Daventry are the best opposition we could have faced, then perhaps it will be a trip to Rugby which if anything could suit us better than another home game. Decent pitch, good stadium and a huge Poppies turnout. Bring it on.    

Westley: always guaranteed of a big welcome in these parts

Saturday, 26 April 2014

We've been here before!

Today's game at North Greenford throws up for the third time in my Poppies supporting history, the tantalising possibility of being crowned Champions on the last day of the season.  Sure, so many results have to go our way today as to render the chance negligible, but nonetheless the possibility is there.

The three teams who have better chances of securing promotion at 4.45PM today have been showing a lack of bottom recently - I'm looking at you Daventry!  Were it not for the fact that Cyril Gingell has been seen in the Latimer Park VIP section, I would have put money on him being the Daventry chairman, such has been their ability to snatch status quo from the jaws of promotion.

Everyone obviously recalls the last time we went into the last day of the season with a chance of promotion - the never to be forgotten afternoon in the drizzle of Tiverton.  The drama of our game.  The sounds of hundreds of mobile phones ringing every time the score changed between Folkestone and Tamworth.  Tamworth missing a penalty at the end of the game to allow our win to carry us to the title.  Pitch invasion.  Having muddy shoes for the rest of the day.  Brilliant.

Before that, the last time we could have achieved promotion on the last Saturday was when we played Bromsgrove at home, needing to win by, I think, 7-goals, and hope Kidderminster continued to stumble towards the finishing line.

The only problem with racking up the goals was this Poppies team, under Graham Carr, had scored fewer goals then any other team in the history of football.  We were kept in the hunt for the title by a succession of 1-0 wins.  It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that we only let in 1 goal all season in the league.  Well, it might be a slight exaggeration....but we let in less than 20 all year.  Obviously we managed to slither to a defeat....We invariably did to Bromsgrove back then. 

Somehow, this last, most important game, did not have a match sponsor.  In the absence of a worthy local company filling the sponsor lounge a bunch of us fans clubbed together to sponsor the game.  It was a lively event, which deserves its own article.   I rather doubt the club allowed a motley group of beer-monsters to do it again after the experience....Let's just say that Ivan Long was very much to the fore......

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Daventry decide to keep it interesting

Boy, Daventry Town aren't showing a lot of this.

Perhaps their goalie is keeping too close a watch for
all those coins coming at him......?

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Spending Ritchie's Hard Earned

We all have additional spending projects we'd like to see implemented by the Club.  Some would like to see more hard standing at Latimer Park, allowing us to, ahem, have supporters on all four sides of the ground.  Others would like to see some actual terracing to ensure everyone can clearly see the game.  Or some more cover so we have more than hope every time we have a dodgy forecast. Ritchie himself has indicated the need for some sort of facility for attracting sponsors.

All of these are worthy of funding, should it be available.  Yes, additional hard-standing would be welcome.  As would some genuine terracing, preferably covered.  And yes, if we are going to attract a better class of supporter, they really should have a separate area to keep them away from us riff-raff.

But, if Ritchie really has a few bob to burn he could do a lot worse than sort out the surface at Latimer Park.  It must be incredibly difficult, as a player, to try to play any sort of football whilst staring intently at their feet and willing the ball not to bobble up onto their ankle, knee or hip.  Football often is reduced to hoofball simply because it is too dangerous or difficult to play the ball on the ground.

If it rains for an afternoon the pitch is flooded.  If the sun comes out the pitch becomes a dust-bowl.  We have a bunch of footballers who can actually play a bit of football.  And yet they spend more time being challenged by their own pitch than they are by the opposition!

I'm no groundsman but surely something could be done to flatten out our pitch?  Heavily watered and then heavily rolled?  Would that hurt?  Just filling in the holes might be a start?

The club are doing most things right, and getting the rewards of success and increasing gates.  I worry this momentum might be lost if people get disenchanted with having the football on show dictated by the luck of the bounce as much as anything else. 

Even Dubi can't guarantee close control every time
on the bobbly Latimer Park surface

Sunday, 20 April 2014

On The Up

It’s the time of year when we mark the occasion of the resurrection of Jesus (the pre James Jepson version) by showering children with overpriced chocolate eggs containing tiny packets of sweets, and if that doesn’t satisfy the little buggers, buying them a park wristband and hoping they’ll run off their sugar rush.  Or just run off.

Easter is also traditionally the time when football seasons reach make or break. Every manager with a microphone under their nose will say that at this time of year, it’s all about getting the three points. As opposed to those other times of the year, when they cheerfully admit that winning is secondary to putting on a jolly good show for the supporters.

I’m not sure if Dean Thomas is a particularly religious man. Those standing within earshot of the dugout might doubt it. However our little resurrection story (note the link!) is bubbling up nicely as the campaign turns the final bend.  Not many months ago, the continued existence of KTFC seemed about as likely as Rutland being rocked by a double earth tremor.  Yet even as the crockery rattles in Oakham, here we are in a flat out sprint for promotion.  It has been quite a resurgence.  Even the continuing critics of DT, who pipe up again whenever he delays a substitution or we’re not 3-0 up by half time, would have to grudgingly admit that a run of played 30, lost 2 is far better than anyone had a right to expect.

Whatever happens in the remaining fixtures, this season has been a real tonic. Watching Kettering has become enjoyable again. Not just the relative success, but the general standard of the play and the entertainment. Obviously a big part of that is Henry, who by now surely deserves his own spin off series. How the old pop side at Rocky Road would have taken to him, as he blasted clearances into Northfield Avenue and headed the ball over the Rock N Bowl. Players like Moreman too. Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised to find someone like him at this level. In our Conference days, many a time we took a punt on a player from way down the feeder leagues (Morris assembled whole teams), and I suspect Moreman wouldn’t have looked too out of place.  I also think we coughed up transfer fees for strikers more dubious than Dubi.  Any doubting that should consult back issues of Patgod circa 1994-96 for hilarious accounts of Carl Alford’s various floundering strike partners.     

The other really encouraging thing about this season has been the consistent support. Even midweek games have attracted a regular 400-500, not bad at a ground with restricted parking, very basic facilities, unknown opposition and nil travelling support.  Midweek Conference fixtures on Champions League nights struggled to attract many more, plus whatever the opposition brought with them.  As thoughts turn to next season, that kind of support and the gradual return of more old faces is adding to a feeling of momentum going our way at last.

Poppies keep up pressure with assured victory against Aylesbury United

The game is delayed by a few minutes as
ground staff swiftly take care of a slight issue
with the goal nets
The Poppies try their best to keep possession
of the ball in trying conditions

Louis is delighted to have notched our third goal

The Leighton cricket pitch next door does not seem to
be as adversely affected by the dry weather as
the Leighton football pitch

Friday, 18 April 2014

Eze does it

As the season comes nicely to the boil (a.k.a. squeaky bum time) we are finding ourselves assaulted by an ever-increasing number of calls upon our attention when entering Latimer Park.

"Programmes, get your programmes!"

"Klondikes, get your Klondikes!"

Trust Bucket.

CVA Bucket.

Trust Summer Draw.

Recently we have found our new, very bright and shiny burger bar catching the eye too.

Last Saturday we also had "Player of the Season" slips to fill in.  Whilst some people decided to take the form away with them to, no doubt ponder their decision in the comfort and quiet of their studies at home, over a fine single malt, I grabbed a pen and filled in my form then and there. I don't have a study.  And don't like whisky.

There are an awful lot of Poppies players who deserve to be in the mix for PoS.  Any of the back four of Eze, Kinniburgh, Hull or Clifton are bound to rack up a few votes.  Jepson and Gooding should get a lot of nods.  Moreman, Sandy and Ogbonna are also likely to receive votes too.

I have decided to go for Henry Eze again.  He won a multitude of awards last season, when, to be honest, anyone who turned up with boots had a better-than-even chance of playing.  But this year, despite the presence of more quality players in the squad, to my mind Henry is still head and shoulders our best player.

Any of the others could be rested, banned or benched without damaging the overall effectiveness of the team, but Eze's absence would leave a big (unit) hole in our team.  But the best thing about Henry is that you know exactly what you will get from him.  Not just a woolly concept such as a whole-hearted performance, or showing 100% commitment.  No, I mean you know SPECIFICALLY what you'll get from him.

Guaranteed every game: -

A big Henry slice when the ball bobbles violently over his head from a dodgy kick, usually at a painfully inopportune moment.  It always helps if he gets this sliced kick out of the way early in the game.

Henry will launch a one-man surge down field which will take all 11 opponents, and most of their substitutes and management team to finally halt.

Henry will win every header at corners at both ends.  Worryingly our goal is often at more risk than the opposition's one.

Henry will attempt at least one over-head kick.

Henry will head at least one ball that an opponent will try to kick.

Henry will back-head at least one ball per game to the keeper.  Sometimes they even expect it!

Henry will perform at least one full length diving tackle which somehow causes the ball to be launched at least a quarter of a mile.

"Eze, Eze, Eze"

It's as Eze as that!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Poppies in "Important Game" Shock

Today's game at home to Dunstable is an unusual one for the Poppies in recent years.  An actual "important" game.  A must win fixture, where we are looking expectantly up the table rather than fearfully down.  Victory leaves us breathing down the necks of the teams in the play-off places.  Defeat, and we may well have to re-group and try again next year.

Win or lose, this season has been, by some considerable margin, the most enjoyable season for some time.  Obviously this season has been infinitely better than the last two nightmarish terms.  As much fun as being ripped from Rockingham Road, dumped into the middle of bumpkin town was, it set the tone for 24 months we'd all like to forget.  Relegated three divisions in 2 years is more notable than enjoyable.  Having ownership of the club split between a fantasist and a conman, and having periods where neither are actually in charge, is not ideal.

But, even before these two seasons, the last couple of seasons at Rocky Road under Ladak weren't what you would call enjoyable.  On paper it looked good.  High finishes in the Conference.  Memorable FA Cup runs.  But paper, as we know, is there to cover cracks.  The club was funded by a mixture of the DRC Chequebook and hoped-for Cup runs.  When the chequebook was off the table, and Cup runs spluttered to a halt at places like Sutton, the cracks turned into canyons.

Off field we were run in a method that gives the word "amateur" a bad name.  Shirts arriving so late the players could still feel the heat on their backs from the iron where their names had been ironed on shortly before kick-off.  Strange signings and sackings.  Chairman going missing for months at a time.  Bills not being paid.  Happy days!

But what of today's opponents for this "big game?"  Table topping Dunstable?  Clear top of the league.  Racking up an impressive average attendance of 130 from the football-hungry public of the Bedfordshire club.  The club are chasing back-to-back promotions.  Who knows, that may add another 10-15 to their attendances.

Famous people with a connection to Dunstable include serial house-snob Kevin McLeod, former Chelsea striker Kerry Dixon, and frizzy-haired, noughties, pop-blivet, Faye Tozer from Steps.  Cue photograph......

It's been a while since we dug through the Internet
for photos of scanty-dressed ladies!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Poppies Racenight makes unlikely bedfellows.....

Last Friday's Poppies Trust Race Night was up to the usual high standard expected of us connoisseurs of safe, DVD-based, gambling thrills.  Expertly organised by Martin and well hosted by Malc with just the right combination of conviviality and sarcasm, the pair of them professionally milked a rather disappointing turn-out for all it was worth.  That said, I've attended plenty of race-nights at the old Social Club at Rocky Road where you could count the poppies-supporting contingent on your fingers, so this event, coming in the midst of 10 home games in a week was never likely to be a sell-out.

As ever, I felt that my evening would be just as usefully spent by simply walking up to the Tote table, opening my wallet, turning it upside down, shaking it violently until all that pesky money fell out, and quietly departing in time to see James Jepson on "Gogglebox".

Nine races.  Eight runners in each one.  I backed 2 horses in each race.  Plus owned another 2 horses in one of the races, and part-owned a horse in the auction race.  And all I had to show at the end of the evening was a couple of poxy second places.  And we're not talking "Mad dash for the finish second places"  We are talking my horse tamely trailing, if not limping, in several lengths behind a horse that could actually race.

But still, it's all for a good cause, I type whilst gritting my teeth....

The evening did, however, have a moment of true comedy gold which was worth wading through a few hours of swearing at equines, and cursing other people's undeserved good fortune, and it came in the 4th race.  See below.

I don't know if this will mean much to many Poppies fans, but the thought of the same horse being owned and run by Cyril Gingell and Dave Singh has kept me laughing heartily for two days now.

Anyone who knows Dave (and who doesn't?) knows that Cyril isn't exactly top of his Christmas card list.  According to Dave, everything that has gone against our club, pretty much since 1872, and up to and including the annoying drum played by the Aylesbury fans on Saturday, is Cyril's fault.  He has a point.  Cyril was in charge of a genuine Poppies Golden Age of 2000+ gates and the club an inch away from League football, only to somehow squander all this and pave the way for dwindling gates, unpaid bills, relegation and Mark English. 

Most of us have allowed age, infirmity and widening waistlines to mellow the fire in our bellies at the injustices of the past.  But not Dave.  He feels every old wound as though it had just happened.  The pain is always immediate.  It is as though he has no sense of "past".  Everything to him is in the present moment.  Imagine, if you can, a madly passionate, sometimes bearded, Indian Goldfish, and voila - Dave Singh!

The pain of past mis-deeds hurts him as much now as it did 25 years ago.  When Dave demands to know, "Gingell - where did the money go?"  you know he means it, and will continue to demand to know until the end of time.  If not longer.

So, seeing the pair of them linked together on the same horse gave me a good chuckle.  I can't say for certain where the horse finished in the race itself, but wouldn't be surprised if it was winning until the last furlong, when it suddenly eased off, throwing the race by allowing the others to pass it on the finishing line.  Making damn sure it didn't come first. 

There you go Dave - have that one on me!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

James Jepson - who do we think you are?

Poppies midfield engine James Jepson as we know and love him. 
But, who is it he reminds us of?
Chuck Norris?  Another All-Action Hero!

The main JC? - Bit obvious, but let's be honest, but both JC and JJ
have been known to perform miracles.  JC turned water to wine and
JJ turned our early season midfield into a proper midfield.
The slightly more orange-coloured Gay one that appears
in Channel 4's "Gogglebox?"

The Magnificent Seven

As we approach our last 7 games of the season we are still in with a shout of getting into the play-offs.  Sure, we are reliant on others dropping points.   Desperate losing streaks at, say, Barton and Daventry would be most welcome at this time!

Of the seven teams we are to face, four of them are safely mid-table (Aylesbury, Aylesbury Utd, Egham and Hayes) so have no reason not to meekly surrender to the powerhouse Poppies. 

A couple of teams are going for the title / promotion (Dunstable and Daventry).  They both have to visit, with trembling anticipation, Fortress Latimer Park, where we haven't lost in the League since mid-September. 

The last is looking to avoid relegation (North Greenford Utd.)  By then it will be the last game of the season, when NGU will either be down and not bothering to try, or safe and too hung-over to play well.

So, on paper at least, we should be looking forward to next year's big derby with our former landlords in Corby.  But not as much as the local police will be looking forward to it of course!  Kerching!

"C'mon Kettering!  C'mon Kettering!"