Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Worthing Were The Worthy Winners

Hopperational details
Tuesday 14 September 2010 at the A2B Stadium, two Step 4 sides from different leagues (Isthmian Div 1 South  v Southern D1 Central) in an FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round replay: Worthing 5  Ashford Town (Mdx) 1.  I am here because my son rolled a 7 on my 10-sided die!
This match in one sentence
Worthing deserved their win, playing with the driving second-half wind and rain, as Ashford collapsed shortly after equalising.
So what?
Worthing go on to visit Enfield Town in the next round, and Ashford concentrate on their chosen league.
Who caught the eye on the pitch?
Ashford Town’s #9 Chamal Fenelon was introduced warmly over the PA as a former Worthing favourite, and he was much in evidence in the early stages, probably trying too hard to score against his old team.  He is a burly and powerful figure, with the aerodynamic qualities of the Space Shuttle (fellow geeks will know that is not a great compliment) but undeniable presence and a powerful shot.  This is a man rebuilding his life after a prison sentence, and some fans’ forums have likened his case to that of former West Brom striker Lee Hughes.  Lee was given an initial rehabilitation chance by Oldham Athletic and has since been a great success at Notts County.

Ashford Town’s well-known manager Jamie Lawrence is building a reputation as a developer of young players and a “man manager”, and the club have stuck with him after relegation from Step 3 last season.  By all accounts it was a difficult season, especially after Mark Butler's departure for a short-lived stay at Margate, and Jamie is a heart-on-the-sleeve motivator who places a high value on commitment and loyalty.  Unusually, he led the team out for a warm-up after only five minutes of the half-time interval last night.  The 46th minute-equaliser seemed initially to confirm this as a stroke of managerial genius, but the conditions soon worsened significantly and Ashford’s defenders were undoubtedly hindered by an in-your-face performance from the elements.
This match had the same effect on my pulse rate as …
Landing on Chance and turning over the “Go to Jail. Go Directly to Jail.  Do Not Pass Go.  Do Not Collect £200.” card in a game of Monopoly while sharing a glass of Chianti with Sir Anthony Hopkins.
A snippet from the programme
Programme editor Sam Skilton wrote in his notes about the process of producing the new issue (56pp, £2).  His Sunday was transformed by the 88th-minute equaliser by Ashford Town in Saturday’s original tie.  E-mails had to be sent to the various contributors and a cover photo secured from the official match photographers.  The various tables of statistics needed updating, and the league table was affected by other clubs’ results too.  Sam notes that “as an aspiring sport’s journalist it is another good experience, and something that I am sure I will be getting used to over coming years!”  I now face a classic teacher dilemma.  Shall I point out to Sam that he had better get used to having his misplaced apostrophes pointed out by passing pedants?  Old habits die hard, as they say, and I trust Sam is big enough to take the point.  To be fair, this programme is excellent and is clearly a labour of love, contrasting sharply with last night’s offering at Bethnal Green and illustrative of the big organisational gap between Step 5 and Step 4.
What I learned today
Ashford Town turned down a chance to stay in Step 3 for 2010-11.  A place in the Southern Premier League became available after the demise of Merthyr Tydfil.  By then, the club had already begun preparing for life in Step 4 and it was decided that the additional travel burden would be too much to take.  It has only been for the last couple of seasons that I have been aware of the turbulence of close-season planning for non-league clubs.  There is a managerial merry-go-round that makes the Premier League look the essence of stability, and players seem to follow their managers more frequently.  At any given moment there seem to be about half a dozen clubs on the verge of extinction.  Some re-form with new technical identities (Chester and Farsley this season for example), thus posing a question for groundhopping rules.
Modus Hopper Random Talking Point
Today, an autobiographical snippet to explain how I come to be dipping my toe in the non-league blogwaters.

I was a comparatively late starter to watching live football, my very first live game being Walsall 3 Wrexham 1 as a teenager in February 1971.  I then started to go to The Hawthorns to watch WBA, my home-town team.  My first game there was a 0-0 draw in 71-2 with the dour champions of that year, Derby County.  I qualified as a referee during my student days and ran a school football team.  However, I took a long break from watching live games during the years of fencing and segregation, and only started again in the early 90s during the Ossie Ardiles era at West Brom.  At some point, “doing the 92” league grounds became a personal objective and a 3-3 FA Cup R2 draw between Barnet and Wycombe in 1996-7 was the first game that I attended as a neutral with the sole purpose of “ticking off” the ground on my list.  By then, I had started to keep rudimentary records and keeping the programmes.

I realised that ‘hoppers needed “rules of engagement” when I reached 91 current grounds in August 2006, having already re-visited several clubs who had opened a new stadium in the meantime.  I duly paid £100 to attend a friendly between Brazil and Argentina at The Emirates to complete The 92 on 3 September 2006, having decided that I would “allow” international friendlies in my personal rules.  However, I was disappointed to find that any application to join the original “92 Club” would be rejected.  This is because Hereford had been out of the league, and Fulham had temporarily left Craven Cottage, and by the club’s particular rules I would need to re-visit both.  At that point I decided, rather petulantly it has to be said, to push on into the world of non-league football, completing “The 116” (by my rules, yah boo) for the first time with a trip to The Dripping Pan, Lewes in December 2008.  I think I know what my rules are, but I have not written them down in case I am mistaken!

I am not sure whether I will be able to keep up this pace, but I was lucky to be able to get to 136 games at 135 new venues in 2009-10, and found Twitter as a source of chat and inspiration.  As of today, I am up to a total of 322 venues for live football, needing a trip to Morecambe to restore my 92 and to Fleetwood Town to restore the 116.  I have discovered the joy of bank holiday non-league morning, noon and night trebles (three so far), Step 7, Portuguese fixture scheduling and the FA Sunday Cup.  Thank you for reading, and I hope I will be able to entertain you in the months ahead.

No comments:

Post a Comment