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.

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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.

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.

 

 

Oh happy day

A few minutes to reflect on a landmark day for the Club.

It was great reading the increasingly excited tweets and message boards in the build up to the game. Not just all the usual suspects but names I didn’t recognise looking forward to a chance of some FA Trophy giant killing. The Racing Post made us their headline non league tip of the day. Our form has been good but on the other hand knowing we had no Parker and no Massey (as well as no Dyer) was a huge worry. You don’t want makeshift formations and new systems being required immediately before a big game.

I arrived at Grosvenor Vale at around 1.20 and expectations were mounting. But Gordon wasn’t looking happy. James Hammond was stuck at Harrow on the Hill with no Uxbridge train due. This brought home to me the difference between the Blue Sq Prem and Ryman Prem. Barrow had travelled down the day before and stayed locally overnight. They would have had the chance for light training or team discussion/bonding during a relaxed morning and would be ready, tuned to the minute for our game. We had players delayed on the Underground requiring the Chairman to rush out and pick them up. As we were to find out preparation was one thing – 90 minutes is quite another.

The injury to their keeper Danny Hurst was very concerning. He had already made one world class save from Connor and again was brave and effective in saving from Britt. But very quickly as he didn’t rise things looked bad. I’ve always believed that the more you do something, like watch live football, the more things happen that you can ever imagine. In everything we thought might happen today a 25 minute break midway through the first half was definitely not one of those scenarios. The good news is the keeper seems ok. I don’t know if he was kept in overnight for observation or not but reports were positive. Good luck to him and well done to all the medical staff involved.

And then we were trailing 1-0 at half time. A soft goal I thought and not really what we deserved but now a mountain to climb.

But climb it we did. We’ve loved having Richard Jolly ‘home’ this season. The fans put their hands in their pockets to help make it happen and that trust continues to be repaid. Jolls is the archetypal ‘fox in the box’ knowing how to be in the right place at the right time to score many of his goals. Rarely can he have scored such a sweet volley as he did today. A goal out of the top drawer! And we were back.

Within minutes Britt had poked in from a corner to put us in front. As the match had started I chatted with Ross Wilson from Watford. He is their Football Business Director which means the guy in charge of how long Britt and Connor stay with us. The conversation was everything you would hope to hear, that they (Watford) are delighted with how things are going, that the players are really enjoying it etc. With Watford kicking off at 5.00 and given the injury break during the first half, I don’t know how long the Watford contingent stayed for. Had they stayed second half they would have seen Britt scaring the Barrow defenders everytime he got the ball.

Britt was judged man of the match but there was many candidates, for me Chris O’Leary and James Hammond were both excellent today – but they all were. The patched up defence harried, blocked and tackled and ensured Jonathan hardly had a save to make (again). The midfield fought tirelessly against their full time counterparts and the front men again delivered. Jolls must be the top scorer in this year’s competition.

2-1 might well have been 4 or 5 and we spurned enough chances that would have taken the tension out of the final few minutes. But we held on well enough to deliver the shock result.

And what scenes at the end from players and fans alike. Real jubilation. Moments we all will not forget.

It is always hard work at Wealdstone with so many contributing so much but we are lucky enough to have days like this every now and again and this is why we all do it. Since we’ve been at Ruislip we’ve enjoyed big crowds at friendlies against Watford and Leeds, we’ve had the Rotherham day and last Boxing Day was pretty decent too. But today was right up there – and we won.

I should also say how excellent the Barrow officials and supporters were today. It must have been a shock to them but still they were a credit to their club, but I wouldn’t have fancied their long coach journey home.

We will hope for a home draw for the last 16 But you take what you’re given and whoever we get we will give it our all. My only hope in these games against teams from much higher up is not to be embarrassed. That never looked likely today.

Back in early October our season was threatening to unravel fast. But how we’ve turned it around. Starting Tuesday we have a run of very tough league games which we need to be winning. That’s for Tuesday though, tonight is all about the FA Trophy and as Chairman of Wealdstone FC I can say how proud I am tonight.

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.

Good to progress

Whatever my comments earlier winning tonight was important.

The prize money, while not life changing, is always welcome but I thought it was good to see a solid, battling performance highlighted by two classy goals and that gives us plenty to be pleased about tonight.

Margate had the first 15 minutes but they didn’t really cause too many problems. Other than that I thought we created a lot more, and looked like getting through them on several occasions, especially in the second half. Both goals were similar, good passing movements releasing Lee Chappell on the left hand side to put excellent balls in, first for Jolls and then Alex Dyer to finish expertly.

It was tense towards the end but we never do anything easily – but we were always doing enough – and we now head to Banbury in three weeks time.

Scott Fitzgerald and James Hammond both picked up slight hamstring injuries but we will see how they are for Saturday’s tough trip to league leaders Billericay.

We had a good Trophy run last year highlighted by the great trip to Brackley and two epic matches against Newport County. Let’s hope for more of the same in a few weeks time at Banbury.

The pain of missing games

Saturday was a very difficult day for me.

I had a family commitment (as I have every week for the next 6 weeks) on Saturday morning which meant I couldn’t leave Mill Hill until after 12.30. As I drove onto the M25 at South Mimms with my daughter in the car, I wondered whether it was worth driving 2 hours to Margate, to get there just before kick off with the knowledge that I would have to leave fairly quickly after the game. I considered that it wouldn’t take much traffic to make me miss kick off – or worse. Yet I drove on as I really wanted to be at this game. What with a week away recently and 1-2 other things recently, other than Aveley I have missed a more games than I would like recently.

After a great journey round the M25 we ground to a halt a couple of miles before the Thurrock turn off. It took ages to get to the motorway exit and looking at the hardly moving traffic ahead heading to the river crossing I felt that even getting to the game for half time was probably unlikely so, with great regret aborted.

These days of course we are lucky in that we can follow so much of a game through Twitter. And for two hours on Saturday afternoon we did just that. What you learn is however painful and tense the game itself is it is far worse following on Twitter. Not only do you get regular updates, especially from the Wealdstone FC supporters feed, and also from Mickey Kane, as well as more people every week, James Smith and Sudhir Rawal two others who have joined in recently. They all have that bit of opinion and colour which helps you suffer that bit more – especially when we are ‘on the rack’. When Margate won their 6 corners in a row towards the end of the game we were waiting for the inevitable. Fortunately it didn’t happen and we live to fight another day.

Following a football team has always been a lesson in knowing how to deal with pain but when it turns out that not being there is even more painful than being there you know what you have to do (get off Twitter!).

 

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.