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.

Advertisements

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.

Behind the scenes at the Non League Show

I got a text from Caroline Barker on Sunday asking me if I wanted to go up to the studio for Monday’s Non League Show. I’ve done this twice before and it is always quite fun so as I was free and it seemed a quiet news day Non League-wise I thought it could be a good opportunity to get some good Wealdstone messages in, so I said yes.

The first disappointment was finding out that regular studio guest, Dave Anderson, newly appointed manager at Harrow was not going to be in (babysitting as his wife was at Take That apparently) as I was looking forward to some good natured banter. Dave is a good solid non league guy. I think he is excellent on the show as he is the one to ask the difficult questions and his regular jousts with Conference spokesman Colin Peake can be good listening. The job at Harrow will be tough mind.

Then as Monday unfurled the story of Rushden & Diamonds withdrawing its appeal to the Conference broke meaning the apparent demise of this Club was likely to dominate the show – possibly meaning less time to talk Wealdstone. So I drove up to Regent St a bit unsure of how things might pan out.

You get to the Radio London part of Broadcasting House by 8.30. The other guests were Willie Wordsworth, a frequent visitor to Grosvenor Vale, and Dave Watters, a non league journalist. Sitting outside the studio Caroline runs through what’s being covered, who is due to be on the phone and any time left is a chance to catch up on any non league gossip.

Into the studio at 9.00 as the news is being read. Even though the mood is relaxed joviality as soon as the theme tune plays its time to snap into professional mode, Caroline runs an excellent ship. There is a good atmosphere throughout the team, and with the benefit of knowing the guys in the studio I found it easy to fall into the prevailing relaxed and upbeat mood.

Straight away I was given some airtime to talk about our pre-season preparations and hopes for the months ahead. Trouble is, Richard Jolly signing apart things have been quite quiet for us so for me the opportunity to paint a positive picture of how we run the Club amidst all the mess of the Rushden story was what I wanted to do. Fortunately I got a few opportunities to do that.

The Rushden story dominated the first half hour. Colin Peake was on the phone and as I’m afraid he usually does he had to comment on yet another difficult story for the Conference. Glorious amateurs is the best way I can describe it. They mean well, the Conference, but seem to lurch from one disaster to another, many I’m sure not of their own making. Fair play to Colin at least he comes on the radio to try to explain things.

Even though he wasn’t there in person Dave Anderson was on the phone throughout the show. I managed to suggest that the babysitting was actually his first Harrow fans forum – with a similar number of people turning up. We can look forward to seeing him later in the season.

All the time texts and tweets are coming in so Caroline in particular has to think on her feet to make sure nothing important is missed. The funniest moment was when Willie Wordsworth gave Fingers a mention and we spent a minute discussing Fingers’ role at the Club. Fame at last.

But before you know it the hour soon flashes by. Brief respites come when the mad groundhopper from the north comes on to talk about some pre-season tournament. What made me laugh were the texts from Wealdstone fans during that bit asking who was this buff?

Of the three times I’ve done this show, I enjoyed this one the most. I felt I had the opportunity to get a few decent messages out about our club, to go on about one of my ‘hobby horses’ badly run football clubs and have a little fun at Dave Anderson’s expense. I’ll look forward to the next time.

And if you want to listen to the show you can find the podcast here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p001d76f/episodes/player

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?

A statement of intent

I must comment on our recent signing of Richard Jolly.

Of course this is a fantastic and exciting signing for us, not only a player with a proven goalscoring record but also a rarity in someone so popular throughout the Club given his previous exploits with us.

A few people to pay credit to for this pretty amazing news, Gordon for his persistence, Jolls himself for “wanting to come home” and refuse considerably more money on offer elsewhere and of course Jez and so many supporters for helping to make this signing possible with their help.

Richard Jolly, a fit Scott Fitzgerald who underwent a successful operation at the end of last week, and 25 goal Peter Dean looks a pretty good front line especially if we can get Callum fit and able to deliver on his potential this season.

So is it a statement of intent? Every year we try to improve on the last and there’s no doubt a consistent goalscorer could make the difference for us. But remember most other clubs are strengthening too. We know of one local club who have had a big injection of cash to their budget and you don’t have to look too far to read about Carshalton’s spending or the plans at Bury and Lowestoft.

With 8 weeks until the season starts its far too early to make any predictions. But from our perspective the excitement is building.

Play-off perspectives

The blog is back. Over the next few days I will aim to post a few articles up while the time allows.

Given all the excitement of the play-offs tonight I thought that was a good place to start.

There are many views about the play-offs, both for and against. For me I can see the attraction, they keep the season open for many clubs for several weeks leading up to the season. We’ve experienced that first hand more particularly last season. And this year the race for the play-offs was undeniably very exciting going to the last day for up to 6 clubs.

So I get all that.

But.

What I don’t like is the clinical nature with which non league play-offs are run. Take Slough Town in the Zamaretto League. Guaranteed the play-offs in their penultimate game with the season finishing on Bank Holiday Monday last week. The play-off semi final at Hitchin took place three days later and they were beaten 4-1. And like that their season was over. Before we had even played our last game.

Take Bury Town. They somewhat fortuitously beat us 1-0 on Saturday to claim 3rd place and a home game against local rivals Lowestoft who they had beaten away just a week later. Yet 72 hours later on the Tuesday evening they lose in front of a big crowd and that’s it.

And of course take Harrow. What a season for Harrow Borough this year, goals, consistency, FA Cup 1st round and despite only 2 draws in the last 2 games, and Kingstonian’s collapse at Margate, they were in the play-offs. But, again despite a great comeback from 2-0 down they lost in extra time to the odd goal in 5 and will be back in the Ryman League next year, their hopes snuffed out. Gallant losers maybe, but losers none the less.

I understand the argument that for clubs at our level you need to play these games quickly to avoid an extra week’s wages, hence only one leg and quickly to the play-off final. But it strikes me that the euphoria you feel getting to the play-offs is worth nothing when you get beaten so quickly thereafter. For as well as Harrow have done it counts for nothing now and let’s face it no one really remembers who got to the play-off semis.

And it gets worse, especially if you are involved with Bognor Regis Town FC (though the same could be said for many clubs in the past). Having faltered on the last day of the season when they could have won the Ryman South, Bognor had to play Dulwich in their play-off semi three days later. They had finished 31 points ahead of Dulwich in the league (yes thirty one – as the old vidiprinter would say) but managed to lose tonight. Whether the disappointment of Saturday contributed who knows but how can this be right or fair. A great seasons work undone in the most painful fashion.

On balance I am changing my opinion about play-offs. I’m beginning to think that coming second should entitle you to go up, or at least go directly into the play-off final. I know I’d be mightily pissed off if I was the Bognor chairman tonight.

Will try and post more tomorrow.

Another club guilty of cheating

Welling earlier in the season, now St Albans. The statement on the FA’s website is pretty clear and St Albans have been deducted 10 points, leaving them 11 points adrift from safety.

I don’t know whether these punishments are right or not or whether Club’s found guilty should be summarily relegated. The FA statement says the following “In summing up, the Chairman of the Regulatory Commission had serious concerns over the financial irregularities within the Club during the 2008-09 season. Such irregularities enabled the Club to have an unfair sporting advantage over others within the League which is simply unacceptable”.

Really makes me mad.

What is a proportionate penalty?

The less said about yesterday and our away form the better. It must change and change soon!

Once again I find myself posting about the financial woes of other clubs.

Since my last post about Croydon Athletic (D Day for them at the end of this week), things continue to go a little crazy.

Ilkeston Town from the Blue Square North have gone bust almost below the radar and had their record expunged in what seems like record time. The excellent Twohundredpercent blog describes what happened up in Derbyshire.

Welling United from the Blue Square South have just had 5 points taken away (together with a suspended £5,000 fine) having been found guilty of misconduct by the FA for, as Barrie Hobbins the Welling Secretary admits in his statement “ not only falling behind on HMRC liabilities but submitting inaccurate financial returns to the Football Conference”. You can read the full Welling statement here. And last week’s Non League Paper reported St Albans City, again from the Blue Square South, were being investigated by the FA regarding payments to players, though nothing has been proved or confirmed here as far as I am aware.

Remember we are still in September! At the end of last season many clubs were reprieved due to the problems of others (Margate who beat us yesterday being one of those reprieved) and for so many of those clubs with financial problems it comes from one thing – spending too much chasing success.

In Welling’s case they are considering whether the 5 point deduction is a proportionate and reasonable sanction. How many points should be deducted for cheating – because that is what they are guilty of.

We (and many other clubs) don’t withhold money from the HMRC, or submit inaccurate financial returns to the authorities. We work hard to get our finances on an even keel and spend what we can afford to avoid going into debt. So is a 5 points deduction fair? Perhaps they should be forcibly relegated 2 divisions as well rather than still being in contention for a promotion place into the Blue Square Premier.

For me Welling, Croydon Athletic, Ilkeston and those who have gone before them – and those who have still to be found out – deserve no sympathy for their plight, indeed one can only hope that a 5 point deduction is at the low end of the punishment scale in future.

A messy farce

Let’s get this straight from the off. As Chairman of Wealdstone I don’t like writing on my blog about other clubs. No doubt some readers may already be saying “so don’t” but given the amazing national press coverage that the Croydon Athletic situation has brought the league I think this is a pretty public matter – and it does impact on us.

I chatted to Alan Turvey yesterday about this and I am confident that the League will have done all they can to help Croydon Athletic, but this is a situation where apparently there is not much anyone can do, other than appear from nowhere with the cash available to run a senior non league side. Would anyone really be interested in a crisis club like Croydon if they were looking to invest at our level. By the way if anyone reading this is looking to invest in a non league club then please contact me first!!!

This is not the first controversy to engulf Croydon Athletic either. They say this situation is entirely separate from anything that occurred with previous Chairman Dean Fisher. Fisher is the previous chairman / owner who is now in jail for fraud. I believe the Fisher situation meant that the FA have already been taking a keen interest in Croydon Athletic and I don’t believe there is any evidence of impropriety.

Unfortunately for the Club, after one crook came a guy who is now earning his 15 minutes of fame for all the wrong reasons as the News of the World and every other paper have made him into an anti hero for our time. Actually I believe Mr Majeed is not even registered legally as the owner of Croydon – which perhaps shows how difficult it would be to enforce some sort of ‘fit and proper persons’  test at our level.

The emotional farewells that have been broadcast from the management and team are all very well but I struggle with the protestations of the now ex-manager that significant (or above average) sums of money have not been invested in the team he had created – and this insistence actually takes away much of the sympathy I might otherwise have. We have all been around too long to know that you don’t come from the bottom of Ryman Div 1 to be a fancied team in the Ryman Premier within a year without serious investment. Players do not just do it for the love of the game, especially those signing from Conference and Pro clubs. A good set up will have helped but money talks as loudly in our league as it does in every other one.

What will happen to Croydon Athletic now? Today the League have announced that their next two league games will be postponed to give the Club time to see if it can survive. This will be hard and I don’t think many people will be surprised if they do not return.

So how does this affect us? On two levels I think. Many people felt that Croydon Athletic would be challenging at the top end of the table this season so you could argue that might be one less team likely to be up there. But maybe more important is what this says to people who are considering trying our level of football, or thinking about giving up watching a pro club because they think that has all become too money oriented.

I can only comment with confidence about our Club and hope that people see the number of people involved, the backbone we have and the fact that we would not be where we  are without much hard work built on plenty of honesty – by which I mean paying out what we can afford, keeping our promises and generally keeping everyone in the picture in terms of where we are going. It’s the only way.

No one likes to see any club disappear and sure, like anyone else, I feel sorry for any genuine Croydon Athletic supporters – but as I always say in these circumstances – I hope they were asking all the right questions about how long the club could sustain their progress and not just enjoying the ride.

This is obviously not good for Croydon Athletic, but it is not good for the Ryman League or Non League football in general. We can only hope this is a one off and there are no other clubs financed in the same way – but the truth is you couldn’t say that for sure.

Travelling over, now what’s going on

Back yesterday morning from basically three weeks away – a combination of work and holiday. Fortunately back in time for what I thought was an absorbing game – especially given the lack of chances, let alone the lack of goals.

A few people commented to me after the game that our manager didn’t look best pleased – and he wasn’t. That is good to see. Gordon knows that this is the season where we need to kick on and while finances will continue to determine the speed with which we can progress, this group of players is talented enough to do well. Points rather than performances will determine how this season ends up and a team looking to challenge would have hoped to eke out a narrow success. Though by the same token I think we have seen many similar games in recent seasons where we would have conceded late on. So a tough point and still no goals conceded in three home games which is good.

One thing I couldn’t agree about were the comments I heard around me from people saying Danny Burnell shouldn’t have taken the penalty. His penalty record is very good, he is a striker and I know he wants a goal but people are building this so called ‘drought’ up too much. We’ve only played 5 games and he has started in what – the last two? I was pleased to see the confidence to grab the ball and am confident he will come good. We need him to.

The crowd was good, breaking 500. Though supportive, I was a little sceptical about Non League Day, but I’m happy to say that as well as plenty of publicity the day seems to have been a success. Let’s remember, attracting more people is why we’ve moved our midweek games to Monday nights, trying to avoid the Champions League. We will look at other schemes through the season as well to try and attract new people to Wealdstone – and hope they come again.

There is a lot to do. I have a long list of people I want to get together with to discuss the future, how we can best move forward and harness people’s talents as well as progress on all the other things we have to do off the field. Unfortunately this will take me some time to achieve – but we will give it a good go. We will also shortly announce an ‘Ask the Chairman’ session, and maybe combine this with ‘Ask the Manager’ as well. So watch this space.

I had some good conversations with Alan Turvey yesterday, as he was at the game. Not surprisingly, one of our first conversations was to do with Croydon Athletic and I will pick that up in my next post.