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Month: January 2008

To The Manor Born

Grosvenor Vale is about as far from the Premier League as most people could imagine. The pitch there is surrounded with a wooden picket fence that harks back to a long-forgotten era and the club that uses it, Ruislip Manor has a long (if inglorious) history. Their neighbours Wealdstone are former non-league giants who found themselves homeless through a mixture of underhand dealing and exceptionally bad luck. Now, however, one of them faces closure and the other faces the possibility of (largely unfairly) being labelled a “club killer”. How the fate of these two clubs became intertwined is a story of greed and neglect, and one of them is now in such a desperate state that it is touch and go whether they will even be able to see their way through to the end of the season. Wealdstone are the bigger of the two clubs. In 1985, they became the first side to win the non-league “double” of the Conference and the FA Trophy and gave the world the dubious mixed football talents of Stuart Pearce and Vinny Jones. In those days, however, there was no automatic promotion to the Football League, and the the Stones soon faded into relative ignominy, being relegated back into the Southern League in 1988. In 1991, they lost their Lower Mead stadium. Chairman John Morritt, a property developer, sold the site to...

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Tuesday Night Review

This week’s midweek matches, the vast majority of which were played last night, seemed to catch many people unaware. This certainly seemed to be what happened at The Reebok Stadium, where just 17,700 people took the time to drop by for their 0-0 draw with Fulham. The missing thousands must have known something. Meanwhile, Arsenal went back to the top of the table with a 3-0 win against Newcastle United, whose new managerial “team” could only watch in silence as their players turned in a second successive dreadful performance in North London. This morning’s BBC web site leads with Keegan’s bullish response to Dennis Wise’s appointment as Supreme Galactic Overlord – most notably of all, the article points out that Newcastle are now just seven points off the relegation places. One shudders to think what the effect on Mike Ashley’s apparently fragile mental state might be if they get sucked into a battle against relegation. You can probably expect to see him topless and daubed in war paint next Saturday. As it stands, anyone from Tottenham Hotspur (in twelfth place) down could find themselves fighting for their survival. The prognosis at least looks a little healthier for Sunderland this morning after their 2-0 win over Birmingham City lifted them up to fourteenth place. Taking their place beneath the trapdoor are Wigan Athletic, who lost 1-0 at Middlesbrough. Anyone that...

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When Soap Operas Collide

The Simpsons has a habit of occasionally dropping in cameo performances from the stars of other animated series, and it always leave me feeling strangely uncomfortable. Seeing Fred Flintstone sitting on the couch at 742 Evergreen Terrace has the effect of making me look around, just to check that the world is still turning and that I haven’t slipped, without noticing, into a parallel universe. Soap operas, thank heavens, don’t do the same thing nearly as often, but I had to check that there was just the one sun in the sky this morning with the news that Dennis Wise has been appointed as the General Manager at Newcastle United, an appointment which has further reinforced my opinion that Mike Ashley is suffering some sort of nervous breakdown. Interviewed on the radio last night, Kevin Keegan sounded somewhat bemused and unhappy at the appointment. After all the fanfare of his resurrection-like return to St James Park (though it is always worth pointing out that this particular “Geordie Messiah” isn’t actually a Geordie himself, and that his first significant involvement with Newcastle United was practically beating them single-handed for Liverpool in the 1974 FA Cup final – he didn’t sign for Newcastle until 1982, by which time he was way past his best and had already retired from international football), Newcastle have played some atrocious football in his two matches...

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Some Final Thoughts On Havant & Waterlooville

There has been plenty of comment in many different places on the subject of Havant & Waterlooville’s FA Cup run, and their performance on Saturday. There are many people more closely involved in what has been going on than I am, but I thought that I would take opportunity to add some final, personal thoughts on the subject before laying it to rest for the time being. As I mentioned on here earlier, we heard a lot of cliche over the weekend, but it continues to delight me that, in such a cynical age as this, we haven’t forgotten our capacity to be delighted by football, and by minor acts of heroism. The last few days have been a time to forget about the harsh realities of the modern game, with its nepotism, closed shops and spirit-sapping commercialism. It has been a time to revel in the sort of shared experience that I had been starting to think was dead in modern football. It is worth reminding everyone reading this that, for a club of the size of Havant & Waterlooville, this truly is a “once in a lifetime” experience. For Havant (and they are by no means the smallest club to enter into the FA Cup), it took them eight matches to get this far, against stronger and stronger opposition. They started, in the Second Qualifying round, with...

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FA Cup Fourth Round Review

The FA Cup Fourth Round, played out last weekend, was most peculiar. There were sixteen matches played, involving thirty-two clubs, and not a single one was drawn. It was the first time that this had happened in a shade of fifty years. I bet no-one at the BBC saw that one coming. Equally strange is the layout of the last sixteen of the competition. Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool are all ominously present and correct (fingers crossed that they draw each other in the fifth round, then), but the rest of the Premier League has been absolutely decimated. I pointed out here before that the best possible Premier League representation in the Fifth Round would be eight clubs, and the weekend’s results mean that just six have survived – the Big Four, plus Middlesbrough and Portsmouth. I can’t offer a definitive solution to this riddle. I remain less than convinced that this idea that “the Premier League doesn’t care about the FA Cup any more”. I simply cannot accept that professional sportsmen could sell their supporters down the river like that, and I also don’t think that it is in the genetic make-up of the professional sportsman to not want to win. I remain convinced that it is simply that the majority of the Premier League is nowhere near as good as it thinks it is. If the...

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