Why Royal Ascot will never be Cheltenham

I’ll nail my colours to the mast straight away. I love all racing but if I had to choose it would be Flat racing every time. Maybe I associate the Flat more with warmer weather, a greater diversity of big days out or just more champagne (!) but give me Derby Day, York in August, Paris in October or even Windsor on a Monday night rather than any regular jumps meeting.

That said, the one meeting I’d never trade is the Cheltenham Festival, and as we anticipate Flat racing’s big royal carnival this week I’m left wondering why Royal Ascot will never quite be Cheltenham.

It is not the racing. Look at the gems Royal Ascot has to offer. Continual Group One racing day after day. Tuesday (the best day I always think) starts with a bang with the Queen Anne, King’s Stand and St James’s Palace, which this year looks like including all three Guineas winners, as the first three races. On Wednesday we have the Prince of Wales’s stakes, perhaps the best race of the meeting, which this year features the Japanese A Shin Hikari, possibly the best horse in the world right now. Ladies Day on Thursday includes the Gold Cup; there are two Group Ones on Friday (when I’m going this year) including the second running of the Commonwealth Cup (am I alone in thinking this name doesn’t quite fit) and the Coronation Stakes and then the Diamond Jubilee on Saturday’s big day. That’s just the Group Ones, and when you add races with the spectacle of the Hunt Cup or the Wokingham, great early season two year old races and the increasing number of raiders from around the world then you can see there isn’t a flat carnival like this one.

But it still doesn’t match Cheltenham and there are many reasons why Cheltenham can’t be beaten.

Firstly the whole narrative of the NH season is about Cheltenham. All roads lead to Prestbury Park. As soon as one festival finishes plans are put in place for the following March, whether equine or human. The early part of the Flat season is dominated by the 3 year old classics. This year Royal Ascot starts only 10 days after Harzand impressively won another Derby for the Aga Khan. So we talk about the NH festival all the way through the winter yet Royal Ascot suddenly creeps up on us and therefore can’t come close to matching the expectation of Cheltenham.

This means the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase, the World Hurdle and of course the Gold Cup are true championship races. They provide the champion horses for the category. The champion miler might win either the St James’s Palace or the Queen Anne, but equally they might not.

It is not just the racing itself. There is always something mysterious and wonderful about the beauty of Prestbury Park. Don’t get me wrong. I love going to Ascot. It’s a beautiful course and I’ve been there more than any other racecourse. But every time you arrive at Cheltenham, especially on the Tuesday of the Festival, and look out over the natural amphitheatre towards Cleeve Hill you cannot help but feel good about life. (Take that US racing where the view is so typically consistent).

There’s also something about the weather. In March it always feels to me as we are about to breakthrough from the cold winter months into early Spring yet a wet and cool June (again this year) feels so disappointing, especially given the money spent on the fashion.

Clearly Ascot wins at fashion, but only if that’s your thing. For Cheltenham the green tweed of the countryside dominates and for a City boy like me offers more of a wry smile than anything else.

The one other thing Cheltenham has over Ascot is more personal. My first day ever at a racecourse was at Royal Ascot in 1988 and my first day at Cheltenham was Desert Orchid’s most memorable day the following year – so I’ve been going a while. But Ascot is local. An hour’s drive at most (in bad traffic). I’d never dream of staying overnight. For Cheltenham you make the journey, you stay somewhere in the Cotswolds. It is a boys week away. It is the best time. Our ‘day off’, typically the Wednesday when we watch the Champion Chase card in the pub is almost as good as the days we go racing. Ascot will never be able to match that.

Two great racing festivals. Two great weeks. Royal Ascot the best of British flat racing. But Cheltenham the best racing week of all (and no I haven’t been to Galway yet – my first experience there is just weeks away).



End of one blog…start of another

This is my 395th and last Electric Chair blog post. Over the past 4-5 years there’s been over 103,000 hits with 358 on the busiest day on November 14 2008 – I think it was something to do with AFC Wimbledon.

I’m finishing this for probably 2 reasons. Firstly after all this time it has become a chore and there just isn’t time to keep it as updated as I would like. Also as many will know I’m a big user of twitter now (@howiejk) – a means to get to the point messages out quickly.

But I still want to communicate more regularly and hopefully I’ve found a way to do this. That is by embracing current technology and moving to a video blog. The Electric Chair on TV! Recording and uploading short 1-2 minute video clips, backed up by Twitter will hopefully mean I can keep a regular flow of communications going about what is happening at the Club. 

So I will try and do this regularly and see how it goes. Please let me know whether this works or not. If you don’t like it I’ll stop but hopefully we can get back to regular messages.

See what you think. The introductory video blog is here and a second message recorded after the Non League awards is here.

Worst night of the season

…and I don’t mean losing the match against Canvey 1-3 but seeing our goalkeeper carried off, in obvious agony, with what appears to be a double break of the tibula and fibula bones. The ‘good’ news is that it appears they are clean breaks and with a bit of resetting and repositioning in an operation tomorrow hopefully recovery will be reasonably quick – but more news to follow over the coming days.

Jonathan North is not only a great goalkeeper but also a thoroughly decent guy, a pleasure to have around the club and someone who has loved being part of our success this season. We have recently signed him on a new 2 year contract with the hope that he will be our goalkeeper for many years to come. We still hope that.

As soon as he had bravely tackled the onrushing forward Jonathan’s immediate reaction made it clear this was a bad injury. Coming relatively soon after the incident with Barrow goalkeeper Danny Hurst that’s twice we’ve stood and watched a goalkeeper suffer a serious injury recently and require the great care and attention delivered by the paramedics. Seeing a player carefully carried off in a stretcher must be the worst sight in football.

Seeing it once is one time too many – seeing it twice in less than 3 months is horrible.

I thought our players did ever so well given the shock that must have come with seeing their mate in such distress. On another night we’d have scored 6 but a combination of good and sometime fortunate keeping from the Canvey guy and some profligate finishing meant we only scored one, which wasn’t enough. But if we play that well every week then we’ll win more than we’ll lose.

But anyway, this is not about football tonight. Our thoughts and best wishes are with Jonathan and we hope fervently that he will make a full and speedy recovery.

Newport 2 days after the event

Feeling better after 3 good solid points tonight. A great reaction from the players to beat a decent Met Police team. It was important to get going straight away after Saturday.

Result aside Saturday was a huge day for us. Looking back there are some things that we will look to improve on next time, some things we are delighted with, and other things that went just as expected. We have asked Neil Rands to do a report on how things went and what we need to learn. Nick Dugard did something similar after the Rotherham match and it set a good baseline.

And we do want a next time. 2092 represented the biggest crowd we have had in 25 years or so? Following on 2 seasons after the Rotherham game. This is why we do it and we want more of it.

As for the game I think you have to say well done to Newport. They came with a game plan and executed it well. Remember they are two divisions above us and the task was always going to be a tough one. But once again we didn’t let anyone down. In six games against higher league opposition in the FA Trophy we have won 3, drawn 2 and lost 1. Not a bad record and the players can hold their heads high.

I hope many of the two thousand people there will come back. The crowd tonight, of 428, was encouraging for a Monday night. We are a club going places and we want as many people as possible to be part of it.

I am thrilled by the efforts of so many people who as always gave their time to make sure we could enjoy a great day. If we had 2,000 crowds every week then we could pay people to do these jobs for us. Maybe one day. It’s something to aim at. 

We will take an honest, thoughtful look at where to improve and what to do better next time and we will involve all the right people in that. But for now, let’s be proud of what we have achieved so far this season, and let’s go on and make sure that the last few weeks of the season brings us what we deserve. 

Why did we give extra tickets to Newport for the second leg?

I’’m aware there have been some discussions about why we gave an extra 175 tickets to Newport yesterday.  If anyone is interested I thought I would set out why we took that decision.

Firstly let me make clear this was my decision –so I take full responsibility for this (not Peter or Fingers or anyone else) though I did talk it through with them).

The game is ‘all ticket’ which means we cannot sell to ‘’walk up’’ people on Saturday. Remember this is a police decision not ours. As it stands at present by my reckoning we have roughly 1000 tickets still available (at the current allowed capacity) to sell to ‘home’ fans before Friday at 10.00pm. Given we have already sold somewhere around 500-600 tickets I am not convinced we will sell all of these tickets though I would delighted if we did.

This tie is about the football first and foremost and us doing whatever we can to create a(nother) memorable occasion for everyone concerned with the Club. However, from a business perspective, given that we are not convinced we will sell out, we would be extremely foolish not to ensure an extra £2,625 (gross) of guaranteed revenue from giving Newport that extra ticket allocation.

Knowing that this money is guaranteed means we can use it – directly – to purchase additional raised terracing (3 steps) for home support behind the goal and along the side by the main stand. This is not cheap and is being part sponsored but now becomes affordable. This means that our fans will have a better view and create a better atmosphere.  We are negotiating with the company and hopefully will do this deal by tomorrow.

We have already spent £3,500 on work at the top end of the ground that will help with the capacity. So we need to strike the right balance of spending appropriately, and maximising income. Remember also that money made from this FA Trophy run needs to work for us next season as well, on the field, as we will look to further support the playing budget if we can.

We also hope (though can’’t confirm until tomorrow or Tuesday until we have spoken with the authorities) that the additional raised terracing and the work at the top end might enable us to raise the capacity further in which case more tickets for home fans might become available but don’t take this for granted until after the authorities have made their decisions.

Sometimes decisions need to be taken. In this case I think we taken the right decision balancing up all these needs. Some people may not agree and if they wish are welcome to talk to me tomorrow night or during the week.

I don’t believe that any Wealdstone fan will miss the game and we will not be giving up the Brian Collins stand or other key parts of the ground. However, we do look to strike the right balance between improving things off the field and giving us the best chance of being successful on the field.

Finally, any Wealdstone person reading this – remember, buy your ticket before Friday. Details of how are here.


Seems to be the word of the moment. Rightly so.

We’ve got the semi finals of the FA Trophy (yes say it out loud) and this amazing achievement has been achieved with plenty of belief.

The players have belief in abundance, the management team too and even those of us who have experienced so much disappointment and heartache over the years are beginning to believe.

The best comment at Cambridge was when someone said just after we had been pegged back to 2-1, “if we’d been offered a 2-1 lead away at Cambridge United in the FA Trophy 1/4 final with 15 minutes to go then we’d have snapped their hand off – so enjoy it.” That was great advice, if a bit impractical at that moment.

But the sentiment is absolutely right. We must enjoy the next nine days, as we have enjoyed the last two weeks since Cambridge. It might be a while until we get this close to Wembley again.

Realistically we still have a mountain to climb. The suspensions make life even more difficult for us and I think that playing two legs is very much in Newport’s favour. But you never know and we will give it everything. And whatever happens, whether we win or whether we get hammered, we can hold our heads up high. We have got Wealdstone FC back on the map, and expectations (always high at our club will have just gone up another notch or two).

We also have a Middlesex Senior Cup Final to look forward to on Easter Monday and you know what happened the last time we got to that final.

We’re loving the ride at the moment and make no mistake we’d love to keep it going all the way to Wembley. But at 10.00 on Saturday when hundreds of Wealdstone fans on 5 coaches set off from Grosvenor Vale we will go there confident, proud and determined – and full of belief.



A message for all Wealdstone supporters

What are you doing tomorrow?

You know where you should be! 

Away at Cambridge United is where you should be – a huge game. The last 8 of the FA Trophy. This is our ‘cup final’ after all (according to Cambridge fans). Although from what Barrow and Dartford fans have told us this is our third cup final this season. Phew!

Actually it is our Quarter Final (and theirs too). This means win this and we are in a 2 legged semi final. And look at the other 7 teams still in the competition, ourselves and Northwich Victoria from outside the Conference and after Gateshead from the Blue Square Premier the other 5 clubs are all ‘big’ full time ex football league clubs – Cambridge, Luton Town, Grimsby Town, York City and our friends from last year Newport County. Who said these clubs don’t bother with the Trophy?

Of course we’ve got no chance tomorrow have we. In fact the likelihood is this is one step too far and we will get hammered. Won’t we? Well when the game starts it is 11 v 11 and anything is possible.

Gordon Bartlett rightly says we shouldn’t have got past the last 64 by rights, let alone the last 32 and certainly not the last 16. But we have, and what has made is a great difference is the fantastic support and wonderful atmosphere our fans have created. Barrow at home, Dartford away and then the replay on Tuesday are three occasions that will live long in the memories. 

So we need you there tomorrow, getting behind the players and cheering them on. You do make a difference and you know it. 

It’s 27 years since we were last in the quarter finals of the FA Trophy. We won the competition that year. I can still remember that day – one of the greatest for all of us there. Of course we can’t win it this year but we will give it a good go and we need as many supporters as possible to help us and who knows perhaps the dream will still be alive when we wake up on Sunday morning.

To help you here are directions to the stadium.

See you there tomorrow. Up the Stones.


Programme editor required

Adam and Minnie Gloor have done a wonderful job on our matchday program for the past few years but due to family issues they will be stepping back from the role in the coming weeks.

This means we have a vacancy for a new programme editor – anyone interested should let either Adam or me know.

We have prided ourselves on having an excellent programme for several years. Adam and Minnie, together with an army of regular helpers, especially Tim Parks, have helped to improve the offering and everyone familiar with reading the programme knows what a great job they’ve done.

Adam is offering to help his successor learn the ropes and so this is a great opportunity for someone to get involved and make their mark on an important facet of the Wealdstone matchday experience.

There will be time to thank Adam and Minnie in due course and let’s enjoy their programmes for the rest of this season but if you’re interested and want to find out more then please step forward.

Ref ref!

Been meaning to post this for a while.

Don’t think it is just me but this season a depressing trend in the Ryman Premier League has been to see the number of players who now shout “ref ref” every time someone is tackled, or who scream as they get tackled or the number of clubs who surround the ref whenever any decision is given against them – and this might just be for a throw in!

Of course we see it in the Premier League and these things trickle down, maybe we’ll soon see Ryman managers waving imaginary cards a la Mancini.

I can only assume that some clubs have taken conscious decisions to put refs under pressure during games. I don’t believe we do it, I don’t want us to do it but are we missing a trick by not doing it?

I always say we watch Ryman football so we get Ryman refs. Putting them under additional pressure seems a cynical tactic to me – do we need to follow suit just to keep up?


Feel the pin striking the balloon

I think that’s how it feels today.

In recent years we’ve had the Aylesbury, Rotherham and Barrow games but it’s hard to remember the amount of excitement generated ahead of today’s postponed match at Dartford.

We saw coach bookings reach higher levels than any game of recent years, people booked in for one of Pauline’s excellent breakfasts and expectations of anything between 300-500 fans travelling round the M25. And then the weather intervened. My twitter timeline this morning before 10.00 was more like a constant prayer for a hot micro climate to settle over Princes Park – but mother nature had the last laugh.

I imagine that only a tiny handful of games below the Premier League will survive today so it can hardly be a surprise but nevertheless the sense of disappointment is palpable and in the end today goes down as one of the big disappointments.

Will the game be on this Tuesday with the snow forecast? Maybe.

Whether it is or not, it won’t be the same occasion as it would have been today. But we are still in the competition, we have as much chance of getting something whenever the game is played, we will have players back and we will keep believing.