Believe

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.

 

 

Is the FA Trophy worth anything these days?

I tweeted this morning that it was a shame that more Blue Square Bet Premier clubs were apparently not taking the FA Trophy seriously, this followed defeats for the likes of Fleetwood, Wrexham, Tamworth, Hayes & Yeading and Mansfield to lower league oppostion while Kidderminster, Stockport, York City also failed to beat clubs hailing from lower levels of the pyramid. All this weekend’s FA Trophy results are here.

Clearly some of these clubs have their eyes on bigger prizes, promotion to the Football League or for Fleetwood (as for Chelmsford City who also went out yesterday) a big FA Cup 2nd round replay due this coming week. But still…

By my reckoning only 11 Blue Square Bet Premier clubs are definitely through to the 2nd Round (though 2 more will be through after all BSBP replays) and the 3 above may get through their replays – meaning that it is very possible that less than half the Clubs at the last 32 stage will be from outside the top level of non league football.

To me reaching and winning a Wembley Cup Final is a highlight; for a fan, for a player, for a manager or coach or for a Club official yet many Clubs now deem it not important enough to bother about, with promotion or avoiding relegation now all important.

I have to say I understand that in some cup competitions it is an opportunity to give squad players a game, where winning is not that important, where avoiding potential fixture congestion later on in the season means getting knocked out of a cup is not always such a big deal.

Few clubs will ever accept that getting knocked out was their aim. They’ll say “we picked a team to win this game” which means “I wanted to give some of the other lads a run out and am not really bothered by this game”.

I have to think this is short sighted. Yes there are probably too many lessor cups that non league clubs have to play in – look at how many ‘bigger’ teams got knocked out in the Middlesex Senior Cup last week. But remember, the FA Cup is over for most non league clubs by October or early November so is it asking too much to play your strongest side in the Trophy? Imagine if we had taken that view in the early round of the FA Trophy in 1985?

Taking cup competitions easy is a modern phenomena that has clearly filtered down from the pro game – and it is not welcome.

Of course it might mean that clubs like Wealdstone have a chance of a run, of a giant killing against a Conference Club’s second string which we’d gladly accept of course. But for those clubs, especially those left in the competition, you’ve got a real chance of glory this season. Take it – it’ll be one of the best things you ever do.

Is tonight’s game the season?

Big game tonight. Some might say that if we lose then we will have nothing much left to play for this season.

Well that is plainly wrong. Firstly we desperately want to win tonight and travel to Banbury in the next round. Much like the Margate tie, Banbury is a tie which both Clubs (or all three as it stands) will think they can progress from.

But whether or not we are in the Trophy after tonight, or by the end of November, we have only played 1/3 of the season so far and are only 4 points off the play-offs (11 points away from the drop zone). What the Ryman League season tells me is there is no outstanding team and everyone is capable of taking points off anyone else. Sounds familiar? seems to happen every year. People said beating Tooting was just beating a bad team but they then beat Lowestoft in their next game.  Similarly we beat an apparently struggling Hastings comfortably but they have now won their last 3 games.

Any team who puts a good run together will quickly shoot up the table. There is no reason why that can’t be us.

And yet, there is a feeling of under achievement so far this season. We know that in too many games we haven’t delivered what we expect. We know there are too many players not playing as consistently as we would all like. I am convinced there is better to come.

Of course the FA Cup was a huge let down – for everyone – and I think it set a tone for the following weeks which we’ve struggled to get away from.

We then had that 5 match run against leading teams, Hornchurch, Cray, Hendon, Lowestoft and Lewes. We were disappointed to only take 2 points from those 5 games, when with a bit more luck and more clinical finishing we might have got draws at Lewes and Cray, taken something from the Hendon game and beaten Lowestoft.  3 straight wins and a courageous draw on Saturday were good come backs and obviously we must keep it going tonight.

So even though from a cup perspective we will only be left in the Middlesex Senior Cup if we lose tonight, the season will be far from over. That said, let’s be clear, victory is what is required tonight and a good performance against a decent Margate side will be a necessity to make that happen. See you there.

Newport reflections and looking forward

Having written this column for tomorrow night’s programme, I thought I’d post it here (with added extras)

Every season there are 1-2 games we tend to remember for a long time in the future.

Last year’s trip to Aylesbury and the following fortnight up to and including the Rotherham game are good examples of a time that will last long in my memory. This season the trip to Brackley was very exciting, with the last minute winner and Sean Cronin’s heroics in goal. And now the match against Newport County joins that list (video here and photos here) and who is to say that the replay won’t be there too.

Let’s consider what we were going into away at Newport. A team on the crest of a wave, two leagues above us and in the play-off positions of the Blue Square Bet Premier on the back of having just been awarded a Welsh team of the year award following a record season last year. On top of that we had the recurring Jonathan North FA Trophy migraine scare to deal with. My hopes were not high.

What we got was a performance to be proud of. Of course Newport had chances and pressure – that was to be expected. But Wealdstone had 14 disciplined, passionate, never say die heroes with a goalkeeper outstanding. I don’t know how many balls Jonathan was seeing but he saw the right one when it mattered, with one save in the first half simply world class.

Over the last 4-6 weeks the team have turned around the season and now there are many possibilities. Performances at Lowestoft, Carshalton, Sutton and now Newport show there is no one we should fear, at least at our level, if we continue to play to this standard. And it is not just the players who have upped their games but the supporters too who were outstanding at Newport winning many plaudits.

I want to say something about Newport County too. I was very impressed by their whole set-up. Remember they are a club who have come back from the brink in recent years but from Chris Blight the Chairman down, they conducted themselves in a thoroughly professional and welcoming manner throughout the afternoon. Chatting to Chris, I was reminded of the advantages of being a club representing a town and having a Board of Directors who are all company owners and able to support the Club where it matters financially. We will continue to strive to emulate this model.

Monday night will be another big game. By rights Newport will win and win comfortably but you never know. I always tend to believe the ‘little’ club has one chance and has to take it when it comes. But you never know and with a passionate home crowd getting behind the boys perhaps the upset can be delivered.

 

This is why we do it

A great day yesterday.

It didn’t seem that way when I got a call from Gordon, who was on the coach travelling up to Brackley, telling me that we had no goalkeeper. I felt this was going to be a tough game with a full team so without a goalkeeper it was going to be very difficult.

But how well did the team do? how well did Sean Cronin do? The save he made in the second half was excellent.

Our support was tremendous, in great voice and fantastic scenes at the end; and what a finish with Peter Dean’s excellent goal. For once, not much injury time and 13 heroes able to enjoy their ovation.

The report in today’s Non League Paper is a bit on the blinkered side. Remember we created three excellent chances in the first half and other than the save Sean made and the one against the bar I don’t recall Brackley creating many other clear chances.

So onto the First Round of the FA Trophy and enter the Blue Square Bet Premier sides. Will we get a good draw? Ideally for me we either get a winnable home game or an away game against a big Conference side. Most likely we will get Sutton away. Anyway we will get what we get and go into it looking to do as well as we can, and hopefully progress further.

Back to tough league action with two trips to South London this week. Carshalton only won by 5 yesterday and Sutton are top of the table. Should be fun.

Tough assignment in the Cup

Similar to last year was my first reaction on hearing the Cup draw. Last year we were drawn away to Boreham Wood for the 2nd qualifying round and this year we have a similar tie away to Chesham. It won’t be easy and it could have been better but it also could have been a lot worse.

On Saturday we enjoyed as smooth a passage as we could have hoped for. I felt for the Tring Athletic officials, who were good people, a little after the game. Given their good start to the season they turned up hoping to give us a close game, but the gap of two levels was ruthlessly exposed and the game gave Dan Burnell the opportunity to properly open his account. Let’s see him do that in the League now – and also in the next round of the Cup, which will be a big game for him.

I enjoyed the racenite which took place after the game on Saturday and realised that Nick Dugard has missed his vocation, as he clearly could have been one of our foremost MCs had he realised where his real talents lay.

The racenite was organised to support the TaskForce Ten fundraising. As I’ve said before it is great to see funds being raised by supporters who want to get more money into the budget. It is tough and with the numbers staying on after the game let’s hope that plenty of cash was raised.

One other small note about fund raising – though for an altogether better cause – is that on 2 October for the Lowestoft game, we will be raising awareness and hopefully some funds to support cerebral palsy charities. James Smith is organising the events and we are happy to support it.

Welcome to meetings city

I was asked on Saturday why I hadn’t posted anything after the Rotherham game.  I had planned to – but I also felt that enough other people were making it clear what the day meant whether through the press, the Forum, verbally or by email.  I didn’t think there was much to add.  What I will say, probably as a final word for now, is that it was one of the great Wealdstone days that we’ve had over the years, one which makes you proud and hungry for more.

But Rotherham is also now in the past. We have to think about Farnborough this coming Saturday and eventually getting back into the routine of league matches.  Roll on tomorrow night, especially after the frustrating events of our trip to Margate.

I had to leave Mill Hill late on Saturday and driving, a little faster than I should have done in the conditions, arrived at Hartsdown Park at 3.00 on the dot.  As I pulled up at the Stadium my daughter called me and said she had read on the Forum that the game had been postponed.  I said I didn’t know what was happening but there were people leaving the ground.  Of course, it was a referee’s worst nightmare in that conditions appeared to change almost immediately, but I will go with the views of all our players and management who felt the ref had made the right call, frustrating as it was for everyone.

So life goes on.  Our short term challenge as a Board, remains as it always is to progress the situation the Club is in, to see how we can channel more resources to the playing front while seeking to improve things off the field.

Things have been going well and we are stepping up our efforts in a number of areas.  But there is (as always) much to do.  I listed out all the people I need to sit down with over the coming weeks and stopped at 14 – so plenty of work (and talking) ahead. That process never stops and I am meeting with both Gordon and Leo later today.

We will hold the Club AGM early in the New Year and at that time will seek to share the vision of where the Club is heading and the outcome of all of these meetings.  Until then let’s get back to winning league matches.

Relief…and maybe a little celebration

I wasn’t sure what I was watching at just after 10 past 3.  I wasn’t the only one.

But before looking forward let’s first pay tribute to the boys for a marvelous comeback and an excellent 4-2 win.  But also we should say well done to Aylesbury, I hope they enjoyed their day as they have been a credit to their club and to the Spartan League.  Spare a thought for Greg – one moment, reacting to being wound up by Mark Boyce has cost him an appearance in the First Round of the FA Cup.  We know what Greg is like, even the song says what a nice man he is and he will be missed.

Anyway, onto the future.  23 years of pain – many of our younger followers will have read of the saga that was the 3 trips to Swansea for the replay.  For Gordon, it will be the monkey off his back.  For all he has achieved his FA Cup record has been lamentable so this can now be put to bed.

For all us now, all eyes will be the draw (live at 1.00pm on ITV).  For once we can look forward and have those discussions over who we would like, a glamour tie against the likes of Leeds, Southampton, Norwich or Charlton or Sutton United away?

For me any Football League side would be great.  I’m not greedy – though if it could be the ‘live’ televised fixture that would be good too. That said it is out of out hands and we will take whoever we get and do our best.  Can we start dreaming of what 2 more wins will mean?

It is a night to dream and why not.  Being involved with a Club like Wealdstone means we have had our share of hard times and disappointments but over the years we have also had plenty of great days.  We avoided a disappointment today and let’s hope another great day awaits in 2 weeks time.

Not a great draw…could have been worse

The FA Cup sprung into life at Arlesey last week with a tough game against a reasonable side.  I don’t think it was our best performance of the season by a long stretch yet the result was all important, as Gordon and others said, we dominated two games against Bedford last season but still went out of the Cup.

Monday’s eagerly awaited draw was disappointing and no doubt Boreham Wood will be looking forward to the game as much as we will.  We will also go into it without Charlie Mpi following the poor decision (was it influenced by the dubious antics of the Arlesey player?), to send off Charlie Mpi.  The look of horror on Charlie’s face in Steve Foster’s photo tells its own story. However, we will still go into the game knowing it is winnable – and let’s face it we have already won once at Meadow Park this season.

I think the prize money in the FA Cup has given the competition a different feel.  There is now always the undercurrent of how handy this money is or I’ve heard don’t the players realise whats at stake. In some respects this seems to have taken over from the thrill of a great cup run, the chance to draw the proverbial ‘big fish’ and the dream of television and widespread press coverage.  Perhaps that’s the age we live in. Undeniably the money is certainly handy, but it must be thought of as a bonus.  We do not budget for any meaningful cup success and I reckon you need to get to the 4th qualifying round at a minimum to make what I might describe as tangible additional income.
Don’t get me wrong I want the glory, the press attention and especially the financial rewards that a Cup run brings, but then so will Danny Hunter at Boreham Wood, and we both know that either club has the opportunity to progress and then with a decent 3rd qualifying round draw, who knows…

Congratulations…

…to Dover Athletic for winning the Ryman League in March.  I presume they will be presented with the trophy at our game their in April so I guess there will be a bumper crowd there.  Regardless of the size of budgets or anything else, to win a title (which has never really been in doubt) is a terrific achievement in senior football.

…to Jermaine for two more great goals taking him past 30 this season

…and (for us most importantly) to Phil Ralston, John Moran, Leslie and all our reserve players who retained the Middlesex Premier Cup last Wednesday.  I only arrived at Ashford on Wednesday to see the second half but as has been well documented we saw two further strikes to crown a 4-0 win against Staines Lammas – with Dan Lake’s strike right out of the top drawer.  Steve has taken some great pictures which you can see here.