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.

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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.

We’ve been here before

The outpouring of emotion on the Forum or in the conversations that followed Saturday’s game and our ignominious FA Cup exit have all been justified.

I think we all felt amazed how we could witness a performance that was just so flat and by ‘all’ I include the players, the officials, the management and so on.

But ‘flat’ is what we got. And Saturday to me was no different to the Potter’s Bar game of a few years ago or various other embarrassing cup performances we’ve had to endure.

I was nervous before the game, I worried that a team full of confidence on a great run with a bit of pace about them might cause us problems, but with no disrespect at all to Beaconsfield we couldn’t have been better hosts for them. The only time we got going was at 1-0 down and the second goal finished things off.

I know I wasn’t alone in not being great company and then sleeping badly on Saturday night.

So what do we do about it? Well we have been here before, pretty much every season since I’ve been involved with the Club and I know we will be here again, whether this year, next year or some other time. Ultimately for me you have to ask yourself are you doing the right things? If the answer is yes then all you can do is roll your sleeves up and work harder and things will turn.

Do I think we have the best manager we could have? Yes. Do I think we have the best group of players we’ve had in several seasons? Yes. Do I think they are underperforming? Yes, both individually and collectively.

Will I still say yes to all those questions if we repeatedly perform like we did on Saturday – No!

Football is a game of opinions. I read some of the comments on the Forum and I understand both the emotion and some of the well thought through opinions. Some of those contributors won’t agree with me, I don’t agree with some of them. That’s fine as long as we agree that everyone continues to do their best for Wealdstone FC.

However, to the person who chose to anonymously have a go at Wes Parker on Twitter, let me say that was out of order.

So where do we go now? Well I want to quote from one of the emails I received on Sunday morning from a long term supporter and former club official..

“I’m not trying to be Churchill but we need to respond to this is a way that enforces why we are a special club.  At a time when we all probably feel less inclined and less enthusiastic about finding even more time to help Wealdstone Football Club we must do what we can to manage the consequences of yesterday.

Gordon and the management team will do what is necessary on the playing side of things but we must do whatever we can to influence morale and finances off the field.

Let’s work together this week, next week and every other damn week to make sure we are stronger and more successful each year.”

We are a special club, we have all worked hard to get to where we are, which is why days like Saturday are such a blow.

We still have much to play for this season and our next 5 league games are all against Clubs higher in the table than we are, which given we are 8th tells you what a tough spell we have. Everyone has a part to play in being successful so once the pain subsides we must all dust ourselves down, pick ourselves up and continue to make sure Wealdstone FC continues to be a special club on and off the field.

 


		

So long David Howell

Apart from the Richard Jolly story, the other ‘shock’ news so far this summer has been the announcement that David Howell had left Harrow to go to newly relegated St Albans, a club in new ownership and under the chairmanship of well known journalist Ian Ridley

This was a shock to all, at Harrow too I believe. Seeing a couple of their officials at the Ryman League dinner last week, one particular concern was what team will they have to put out against QPR in their friendly due early in July.

Whatever we feel about Howell, there is no question that he had a pretty amazing season last year, getting to the first round of the FA Cup and to the play-offs. It will be interesting to see who they appoint and then how many of their players stay. There is no doubt that like all good managers, Howell created a tangible feeling of a close knit team spirit with everyone desperate to do well for everyone else. It will be a tall order for the new man to reproduce that.

What price we get St Albans in the FA Cup?

Cup of dreams or nightmares?

Interesting watching the FA Cup draw live yesterday and seeing the contrasting fortunes of our Middlesex friends Harrow and Hendon.

If you are a Harrow fan (ok if you are the Harrow fan) then you had every reason to be excited, much like us last year, getting drawn at home against Chesterfield. Standby for plenty of media coverage of Rocky Baptiste especially; and it is Harrow’s turn to enjoy their moment in the sun.

However, if you are a Hendon fan the draw must have been a huge disappointment. Remember this is the draw we would have got had we still been in the competition, away v Chelmsford City. Of course they will talk about it being a “winnable tie”, and though unlikely, perhaps it is. But having got into the First Round draw the one thing you don’t want is to be drawn away to another non league club, especially one riding high in the Conference South. Mind you Hendon still have to get through a replay at Met Police tomorrow night and as we know that won’t be easy.

Local rivalries aside though, we have to say well done to Harrow, an amazing result at Eastbourne and whatever the draw I know I’d much rather still be in the FA Cup than not.

We’ve been here before

Mark Lloyd said to me before the game that he guessed I had two posts ready, one for if we won or if we lost. Given this afternoon’s events the easiest thing would have been to find whatever I wrote after the Harrow Borough FA Trophy match last year as there were plenty of similarities. At least we won that replay.

First of all let me comment on our performance, then the referee – I’ll leave Chesham’s ‘card fest’ to someone else.

I felt in patches we played much better today – that is much better than we have in the last few games though still not as well as we can. After our equaliser you could see confidence flooding back and we played really well against the 10 men during the first half and should have scored more. For whatever reason we couldn’t keep that going in the second half. Chaps and Keiron were both not getting forward as much in the second half and we seemed to rush things at times when a more measured approach keeping the ball might have served us better though Chesham had set themselves out for the draw and were difficult to break down.

When Scotty scored I couldn’t see them coming back. I’ve no opinion on their disallowed goal for the other end of the ground and I’ve heard (from their officials) two contrasting explanations. Kurtney had a good game and it is a shame he lost possession in the manner he did allowing them to get the 97th minute equaliser. Inexperience perhaps, justice certainly not.

The Chesham officials were very unhappy with the ref. I guess I would be if he sent two of ours off, plus the manager. However, perhaps someone can explain to me how that game necessitated over 3-4 minutes injury time – let alone the 8 that was played. I remember one injury, to their number 4, I counted 5 substitutions and then what? Did he add back on the time that the Chesham goalkeeper wasted with the score at 1-1? No board was put up so noone knew how long he was playing. He’ll be back on Monday as well.

So we go to a replay. We are still in the Cup and there is no reason why we can’t win the replay. Chesham are a decent side with good players (and an excellent goalkeeper) but we are more than good enough to win if we play with the desire and confidence we showed in part today.

Incidentally, particularly in the first half I thought our fans were excellent today. Let’s see and hear that again on Monday.

Frustrating, deeply frustrating, but it was better, we didn’t lose and we can still progress. Keep believing.

Trying to be positive

…but it’s bloody difficult tonight.

Not quite the start to the season we had hoped for. Distinctly second best in too many games. Confidence seeping out almost visibly. No goals in 4 straight league games – I was excited by our forward line before the season started.

No lack of effort tonight but we were well beaten. Credit to Carshalton they were quicker, stronger and more creative than us. Their number 11 Henry had pace to burn and yet despite all this they won the game with two sensational strikes and one unlucky own goal.

It is tough to find positives at the moment. But this is football, we all think we know the answers, can see the problems and can wave a magic wand to change it. Year after year most clubs go through a dodgy spell – perhaps this will be our one of the season now. Experience tells us that the only way out of it is to roll your sleeves up, to work hard, try and keep believing and it will turn.

We do have some decent players. They are just not performing at present – but whether from Saturday, the following Saturday or whenever it will change. It must do soon because lets make no bones about it we are showing distinct relegation form at the moment and many more games like this and the season will revert to one big struggle.

This is the time when managers and coaches need to really earn their corn. They are responsible for signing the players, for setting the tactics, for picking the team and for motivating the players to perform. They also need the players, collectively as a unit to have the desire and belief to perform and the will to win. Clearly something in that little lot is missing at the moment.

I continue to believe in this management team and this group of players. I believe we are good enough to go to Chesham and get a result but not if we continue with he way things have been recently.

At risk of this being taken out of context the fans can also do more. A reasonable crowd tonight but several people commented to me that they couldn’t remember our fans being so quiet. Remember the run-in last season when the crowd carried the players through that crazy run of games. Our supporters can make a difference and we you to on Saturday please.

Let’s get it straight I am not blaming the supporters for where we are. I do appreciate that it is difficult as a fan to lift yourself when the team are struggling – yet this is when they most need you.

If this is a bit ramble then I’m sorry but it’s difficult to be too coherent after the run we are having but let’s hope it will end and end quickly, starting at Chesham on Saturday.

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.

Thanks to so many

Rather than write a new post thanking so many people I thought I might post my article due to be in today’s match programme. So if you are not at the game or didn’t get a programme read on.

Programme notes for Carshalton game (ever so slightly updated)

A warm welcome to all for our final game of this memorable season, and a special welcome to all our successful juniors, both boys and girls who are with us today.

In many respects I can’t really believe how quickly this season has passed. So much has been packed into it, as always at Wealdstone, both on and off the pitch.

The good news is that coming into the 42nd game the season is still alive with hopes of getting into the play-offs resting on today’s results here, at Boreham Wood, at Kingstonian and at Aveley.

So the best memories may be yet to come, but whatever happens it will take something very special to beat the fortnight back in late October / early November that followed us winning at Aylesbury, beating Harrow and then culminating in what was such a great day against Rotherham. It took us 23 years to get to the First Round of the FA Cup, hopefully we can do it again next year. Other highlights include getting to a Cup Final (if not the penalty shoot out), and a Leeds United themed set of memories that include the pre-season friendly, the pride of Jermaine’s performances against Manchester United and Tottenham though also the disappointment of realising he was not going to be sold after all. I bet they wish they had done now!

As always, and in his testimonial year we need to salute our manager Gordon Bartlett with his excellent team behind him. Gordon puts so much time into the Club and yet his passion burns as brightly now as ever. In this packed last week of the season a bumper crowd celebrated Gordon’s testimonial on a great Wednesday evening – it was all so well deserved. I am delighted that Leo Morris will be celebrating his testimonial next season.

It has been a hard season in many respects, especially with the challenges of the weather and Fingers particularly has done an amazing amount of work, often with little recognition or reward. The pitch remains a big issue for us and one we will look to get right – though it will take time and money and patience.

Off the field there are so many people to thank as always – so I won’t even try and thank everybody – other than divide it into three groups.

First to my Board of Directors for all the time, effort and energy they give without much thanks – but in some respects with everyone’s thanks. We have so much going on at the Club and I really believe that with the right breaks anything is possible and much of that is due to the work of a few on the Board.

Secondly to everyone who helps, whether on match days or not, in the Social Club, the Supporter’s Club, the Stewards, the ball boys, those who help with the Board Room hospitality, the press, the programme, the tannoy, the photography, the gate, the Reserves, the Youth, the Juniors, the catering, the kit, the works in the ground and so on (apologies if I missed you out). So many people, giving up their time to help our Club. That is why so many others will always be jealous of what we have in abundance – passion, a desire to succeed and a love of the Club. Dare I say, more of the same next year please?

Finally, a huge thank you to all our supporters, young and old.  Thanks to everyone who contributed to 100:400, to all our Club sponsors, match sponsors, kit grid donors, match ball donors and so on. Thanks to all those who travel home and away, or even just to home games. You have been immense and of course, we need you all, as much as ever, starting in August when we do it all over again.

But you know, as much as we need volunteer labour down at the ground through the summer months, and we do, I urge you all to take the opportunity to spend some time with your loved ones and get some brownie points because the new season will be with us before you know it.

Have a great summer

Saturday cancellations add up

The weather once again did its worse to stop yesterday’s game against Billericay going ahead.  So yet another Saturday home league match is lost.

By my calculations we have lost four home Saturday fixtures so far this season, either through our excellent Cup success (acceptable) or the weather (unacceptable but not much we can do about it).  Each Saturday game lost costs us. We have to expect that the crowds for the rearranged midweek matches will be considerably smaller than the number that would turn up on a Saturday, match sponsors, mascots and any juniors activities may not be able to support the rearranged game and as a knock-on from this the social club loses valuable income over the bar.

Of course when the snow falls and the ice freezes there is not much we can do about it.  When it rains we do what we can to make the pitch playable but even then we have to consider the impact that playing will have not wishing to ruin the pitch for the many weeks hence (remember we have reserves and U18s also using it).  We do not forget that the Ruislip pitch used to be just about the worse in Middlesex, so the care that Fingers and Adam (the groundsman) lavish on the pitch is important as we want to try and provide a decent playing surface throughout the season, not just in the autumn.

Ultimately of course it is the referee who actually calls the game off not us but we reach Christmas having played only 15 league games, with just 7 of those at home.  This means Alan Couch especially has been kept very busy with most of the Tuesdays between now and Easter now full.

Another hidden cost is the carrying over of suspensions. Rob Fitzgerald’s 4 game ban incurred for an incident on 17 November now finishes next Saturday (26 December) at Ashford rather than yesterday.  When Alan Massey picked up his 5th booking recently to be suspended for the Ashford game at least we could take solace in Rob coming back but this is another problem we will have to deal with.  All the best laid plans…

So with the New Year on the horizon let’s hope that all the rain of the wettest November and the ice and snow of the freezing December will all be behind us.  But with British weather who knows what is in store.

Happy holidays!