Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Ringing out the old...

Can we really be about to enter the 2020s? Already?  It really doesn’t feel that long since we anxiously watched the seconds tick down to midnight on December 31, 1999, convinced that our microwaves were about to stop working, our DVD players would need resetting, and – oh yes – planes would fall out of the sky and the world would end. As time spins on with dizzying speed we will soon be getting used to referring to ‘the Twenties’ without immediately conjuring up images of flappers, gangsters, Al Jolson and the Wall St Crash. If that’s enough to make you need a lie down, you’re not alone.

The 2010’s were the decade that gave us austerity, Brexit, President Trump and Mrs Brown’s Boys. And what future historians will simply refer to as the Wicksteed Park Meeting. In a way that was our Brexit moment - the night that put us on a course that was divisive and likely to be hugely influential for years to come. We all have our memories of those marvellous, exciting times at Nene Park. As a personal favourite, I can’t choose between JP and Moses being sent off for twatting each other, and the regularity with which the scoreboard showed us a goal down before the clock (two minutes slow) had even reached 03.00. Happy days!  It all lead inevitably to Bashley and what felt like the end. At our darkest hour one man stood up and made a statement of defiance. That man was Martin Bellamy and the statement was the beer keg he announced was open for business the following Saturday afternoon. So long as somewhere in the world a Poppies pint was still being pulled, there was hope. Perhaps a pint was in Martin’s plans that weekend in any event – who can say? – but in my mind this was a defining moment.

So as we reach the end of an eventful decade it’s worth remembering that yes Latimer Park is a dump and we all wish we could somehow plonk York St down on the edge of Kettering, as it seems Boston won’t be needing it any more, but keeping the faith these last few years has given us far more good times than bad.  Some might go for Stourbridge or the equally late win against Diamonds, but if I had to pick one moment from the decade it would be Elliot Sandy’s late, late equaliser at Rugby. It was the first game after we came back from the dead that truly felt like old times, with a good and noisy support in a decent ground and everyone going mental at the end. We were back, and still are.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

VAR? You get what you ask for.

Like everyone else in this country I watch Match of the Day and bemoan the stranglehold VAR has on the pinnacle of the professional game.  I join in with Linekar and the other experts who can't believe how dominant a group of people sequestered away in Stockley Park are in the modern game.  Football played at a hundred miles an hour is freeze-framed and re-run, and examined and dissected endlessly - killing any sense of occasion or urgency in the Premier League.

And yet, every time I listen to the Match of the Day pundits losing their sh*t over the latest outrage from VAR, I recall how we got to this situation in the first place.

We are here, in no small measure, because those self same Match of the Day pundits used to spend every minute of post-match analysis going on and on about refereeing decisions, constantly pulling apart every touch-and-go decision.  They spent the whole programme moaning about split-second decisions and 50/50 calls.  So what happened?  The authorities listened, and now we have VAR.  And the self-same pundits have something new to bitch about.

The moral of the story?  Refs make mistakes.  Football is about opinions.  Invariably decisions even themselves out.  That's football.  In trying to take "errors" out of the decision-making, top flight football is tying itself into more and more knots.  And are the decisions better?  Of course not!

"Bitch, bitch, moan, moan"
"Whine, whine, gripe, gripe"
"Toon, toon, grumble, grumble"

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Death to Tottenham!

Our early expulsion from this year's FA Cup thanks to Nicky Eaden's inability to extract a worthwhile performance from his charges means we are forced to watch Tottenham's performances in this season's competition through the gaps between our fingers......

This season Spurs enter the Third Round with a trip to Championship strugglers Middlesbrough.  Best case scenario Spurs are so caught-up chasing a distant Champion's League qualification that their reserves tumble out of the Cup at the first hurdle.  Worst case scenario, all of the above, but they earn a replay and score fifteen past 'Boro in the replay!

Our two claims to fame as a football club (as if I need to tell you....) are we instigated shirt sponsorship and have scored the most FA Cup goals in the history of the competition.  While the shirt sponsorship "triumph" is unlikely to be taken from us, the goal-scoring feat is coming under increasing threat from a succession of Big Boys - Aston Villa, then Arsenal and lately Spurs.

it could well be that we lose our goal scoring record (I've often wondered if we've also let in the most goals in FA Cup history......) in the same season The Trust are running a "FA Cup Goal" sponsorship chart where for a small cash outlay you can "own" one of the goals we've scored in the competition.

While we may all dream of randomly drawing one of Robbie Cooke's famous FA Cup goals, Brownie's goal at Ewood Park,  or even Matt Fisher's thunderbolt at Hull City, I can tell you here and now, you won't!  No, like me, you'll end up sponsoring a goal against bloody Desborough, or a Peterborough team you've never heard of!

A glance over the Scoring chart on the social club wall will confirm we've played Desborough Town FC far too many times!

And we've played a dozen different Peterborough teams over the years, and scored a stack of goals against all of them.  I haven't added up any totals, but I'm pretty sure that if, for some reason, all the goals against various Peterborough teams were taken away from our total we'd seriously tumble down the goals-coring charts. 

We'd probably be bunched with a string of long-lost, barely remembered clubs like Chigley Old-Bottom, Trumpton Reserves, Fanny-Fart FC, and of course, Rushden & Diamonds.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

What? Again?

Is every defeat going to be met with cries for wholesale changes on the pitch, the boardroom and all places in between at Latimer Park?  While it needs to be acknowledged that Poppies fans who clamour for the overthrow of the current regime come from a position of wanting the best for the club, one is forced to consider what exactly would happen to us if their wish was granted?

If the current Owner, Chairman, Board and Volunteers all quit tomorrow, would those demanding change and some form of communal fan ownership be able to plug the gaps in work done, and funds spent?  Of course not.  As much as, in our daydreams, we like the idea of a one-community, fan-base, owning our own football club, it is really a pipe-dream.

None of us has the money, even collectively, to come close to running a semi-professional club.  Not that we would hand our money over in large sums on a weekly basis, no matter what our hearts might say.

But, you know what?  We don't need to.  Why band together an buy out the club and run it ourselves when the people doing it at the moment aren't doing an entirely bad job?  And if you are lucky enough to have a wedge burning a hole in your pocket that you simply must use for the betterment of the Poppies, there are more ways of contributing your hard-earned readies that you can shake a stick at.  How about....

  • Buy a fistful of Klondikes at a game.  Just imagine.  We get 800 bodies in through the turnstile.  Everyone buys a fiver's worth of Klondikes.  The club gets a cash injection of £2000 then and there.  AND a lucky punter gets the same as a prize.  Not me, while Ken sells the tickets, obviously.  But someone.
  • Buy beer and food at the game - the club benefits.  And you can earn yourself a hangover and a bigger belly.
  • If you are feeling particularly flush, there are a range of match-day Sponsorship / Hospitality packages available.  Cue further hangovers and even bigger bellies.
  • Sponsor a player's shirt.  You get to own the, hopefully cleaned, shirt come the end of the season.  Impress your friends.  Delight your family.
  • Attend the numerous events put on at Latiner Park.  Go to the parties.  Enter a team in the Quizzes.  Back some horses at Race Nights.  Go and see Mr Busker on Boxing Day.  Head up to Latimer Park for the New Year Eve event.
  • Buy FA Cup Goals, or in some other way contribute to the Tin Hat Fund.
  • Oh, and keep attending home matches!

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Well, that was a bit different!

As a slightly lacklustre, and weakened Poppies shuffled to a disappointing Trophy defeat yesterday, all I could think about was the really unusual day we were having in Manchester.

FC United struck me as a strange club.  You can only applaud the reason behind their formation and their passion for keeping going, their friendliness and inclusiveness in the bar area.

And yet....

Something about it didn't quite feel right.  Even though the supporters chose to distance themselves from the Glazer-era Manchester United by setting up this club, you still got the distinct impression that you were among Premier League fans playing at being non-league fans.  The Stadium is spectacular, but, again, half of it is for show.  The home fans would never dream of leaving their enormous terrace to stand at the undeveloped end of the ground.  They trap themselves in one place - just like Premier League fans.

The home fans are undeniably noisy.  But again, it seems like it is just for show.  And mostly the songs are about top-level rivalries they had, supposedly, given up.  Leeds and Manchester City wouldn't appear to be natural antagonists for this tier 7 club, whereas  Hyde and Ashton don't get much of a look in.  One was almost left with the impression with their singing that events on the pitch had little or no impact on the established repertoire and the performance of the supporters.  It sounds churlish to say when we consider raising a handful of chants as "atmosphere", that the home fans valued singing about their tribal affirmation well ahead of the actual football.

And, what must FC United think of Salford City?  Another, practically new start club backed to the hilt by former players these guys used to worship at Old Trafford.  It must be galling to see Salford achieve promotion after promotion, while their own club starts slithering down through the divisions.  Anger and self-righteousness can only carry you so far.  A wedge of multi-millionaires also helps!

And, I can never forgive being singled out as a Tory c*nt by one FC fan, when Poppies fans from the "affluent South" were invited to stick Boris Johnson up our collective arses.  Harsh chaps, harsh.  And, in light of the dozens of  Labour seats in the working class North and North-West in particular that turned Tory Blue last Thursday, pretty f*cking hypercritical!  We couldn't unseat a Tory in Northamptonshire if our lives depended upon it.  What was the North's excuse for turning their backs on Labour and voting in Brexit Boris?  If there's one thing worse than being a Tory c*nt, it's being a Northern Tory c*nt.....

The Good bit of New Trafford

Another letter from America

Greetings again from the Tennessee section of our huge international following. Since taking up temporary residence over here the Poppies showed how much they were missing my support by going unbeaten for a month and a half. I was beginning to think there was a link, and if I could only avoid returning to the UK until next summer, we’d be celebrating an unlikely Trophy-promotion double. Well scratch one of those now.

“Soccer” is taken much more seriously in America these days compared to when it was regarded as a game played by kids until they grew a pair. Now it’s on the major channels and I can watch the Premier League as easily as at home. It’s the Sky commentary but with a studio panel led by Robbie Earle, making sure he doesn’t confuse viewers by describing the Arsenal DE-fence and imagining what the “coach” will be saying in the “locker room”.        

People sometimes ask what EPL side I support. Generally it only takes around 15 minutes, sometimes 30, to explain my actual allegiance and where it features in the bizarre and quite frankly un-American concept of a pyramid system. “So… you’re like a Little League club?”  But faced with incomprehension I have two cards up my sleeve.  The first is to ask if they have heard of the FA Cup, and if yes hit them with the leading goalscorers thing. American sports fans love a stat and that usually impresses. If I have to go further I casually mention that we were formed in 1872. There are states that were barely settled back then. To follow a team that can trace its roots back to the 1870s is mind boggling here, where anything half that old is revered (saw a sign in Nashville the other day: Historic neighborhood – established 1997).     

A couple of weekends ago, looking for something to do I found a bar that was screening a game at 9am. Turned out it was the HQ of the local Liverpool supporters club. They were a friendly bunch and unlike an actual game at Anfield I was able to walk away from my car without paying protection money. I’d guess that few of them were Liverpool fans 10 years ago or maybe even 5. Sport here is something you acquire not inherit. The Oakland Raiders are about to become the Las Vegas Raiders. No one seems to regard that as odd, and the fans left behind will find someone else to support. I tried explaining how badly the MK Dons thing went down, but sensed this was another blind alley. To fit in maybe I need to get myself up to South Bend FC and just go with the flow. Having seen more than one ‘last ever’ Poppies game, how about going to the other extreme?           

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

PATGOD - Politically neutral to a fault....

...but we couldn't let this blatant and monstrous
bias pass unchallenged!

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Poppies continue to inch their way to safety

Another game, another point.  This time impressively against title-chasing York City.  Had the Minstermen left having been on the wrong end of a sturdy defeat they could not have complained.  And if Aaron had taken his shooting boots out of his kit-bag there's every chance City would have left with their tails between their legs and the destination of the League title would have taken a big step towards the angry, webbed-toed denizens of North Norfolk.  So, perhaps it's best we didn't win....

If nothing else, Paul Cox has installed an enormous amount of belief into the same players who seemed perpetually like rabbits caught in the headlights during Eaden's depressing reign.  We still have a long way to go this season, and we may or may not escape relegation.  But we are at least making a decent fist of trying to stay up, and the bigger beasts of National League North know they've been in a game when they welcome the Poppies.

The only downside from yesterday was the paltry attendance of just 859.  Some may point to Christmas shopping, or the perennial issues of the location and condition of Latimer Park for the lack of home support.   But, come on, even with the away team supplying a couple of hundred supporters, we still couldn't get within sniffing distance of a 4-figure gate.

This must be worrying for the club.  York at home must have been seen as a banker for a big payday, and the Poppies supporting Kettering public stayed away in their droves.  I've long suspected that far too many people who would describe themselves as Kettering Town fans are more than happy to do so from the comfort of their armchairs, and perhaps deign to show up when we play the Direones, or get League trophies handed to us.

If we want to progress as a Club, or start moving forward with stadium plans we really need the lapsed or lazy supporters to start putting in the same sort of effort the players have been showing.

Friday, 6 December 2019

I don't know which is older.....

.....Lindon's photograph on the front of the York City programme,
or my photo editing software.....!

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Come On You Preds

Personal circumstances have currently taken me, already an Exile, a jump further to the other side of the Atlantic, specifically Nashville Tennessee. Say Nashville and the first thing you probably think of is country music and cowboy hats. A stereotypical image that Nashville is keen to shed, judging by the cowboy hat store you pass on arrival at the airport, and the revolving guitars (sorry, GIT-arrs) in the baggage hall.

Nashville is less well known for sport, at least in the UK. However come the spring it gains a new MLS franchise and already has an NFL outfit (of which more maybe anon) and an NHL club that dates back even further. To 1998, which in AFC Diamonds terms makes it worthy of a preservation order.

So being at present I’m even less qualified than usual to comment on matters relating to our beloved Poppies, I need to get my sporting kicks where I can and that began with my first experiences of ice hockey via the Nashville Predators.

The Predators (Preds to everyone but a tourist like me) play at the Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville. This seats 17,000 and is usually mostly full, despite the 41 game home season. Ticket prices range from the astronomical to around $25 if bought from returns on the day before. Needless to say it took me at least one game to figure that one out. Inside, after being scanned and body searched you are met with a continuous ring of catering concessions and Preds merch on three levels, so by the time you reach the upper tier (by escalator, obviously) the unwary punter could be a couple of hundred bucks lighter and about 20lb heavier. The whole thing is geared to milking cash.

Once inside the bowl the first thing that hits you is the giant four sided video screen suspended above the rink. This acts as a virtual cheerleader as the minutes count down to the start. Eventually after a huge amount of build up the teams emerge. You vaguely know from a pub quiz answer that in ice hockey it’s 6 a side. So how come there are at least 15 out there?  Soon all will be revealed. The game starts. It’s 5 a side football on fast forward. Exhausting to watch. Presumably to play too, because every few minutes there’s a rotation of outfield players – five come off, five go on. Only the goalie remains in place. The subbing seems to be unconnected to the state of the game. Also apparently by numbers, the big screens pump up the crowd. GET LOUD. The noise goes up. NOISE METER. A comedy decibel counter heads north. CAN YOU HEAR US ON THE BOX?  Sorry that was just me.
When Nashville score it’s fun but also a bit choreographed. The big screens cut to a guy in a T shirt wearing a cowboy hat swinging an inflatable catfish (I think he’s a modern country star but my knowledge ends with Kenny Rogers). The crowd yell YOU SUCK at the opposition goalie, and to really rub it in IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT.  Family friendly goalkeeper baiting. Somehow, to British ears being slapped with comments that carry less sting than a school report doesn’t quite cut it. MUST TRY HARDER?

But having seen a couple of games the initial whirl is less bewildering. You start to see it less as ping pong, more of a calculated pattern, which of course any game is.  Plus in my second crack at it I may have witnessed the latest ever equaliser (not that they call it that). With Nashville leading 3-2, the Vegas Golden Knights (don’t ask) levelled with 0.3 seconds left on the clock. And of course won on the golden goal in overtime. There was a tiny cheer from the dozen or so away fans whilst the home supporters just got up and left, like a film had ended. To be fair, the big screen wasn’t saying GET BOOING, but it felt like another cultural disconnect. I was amused though by the local version of 606 on the drive home.  On comes a Vegas fan and of course he has to begin, like they all do, by stating his credentials as a long time supporter. "I've been a fan for 15 years". There was a pause back in the studio.  "Buddy, you were only formed 2 years ago..."