Maybe I Don’t Really Wanna Know, How Your Garden Grows

I think this happens all the time to me – initial bursts of energy, and then lethargy as writing a blog takes time. That enthusiasm to write, which you need to have, gets harder when you don’t really know how to express your feelings on a game of football. I went to Cray Valley Paper Mills yesterday, yet had no intention of writing it up even though I took notes, and plenty of pictures. I might do a summary piece on the sister blog (The Magpies and The Phoenix) in time. As the game ended, with a cracking goal I might add, I didn’t feel the desire to write about it. Warning signs. Also, absolute evidence of the ups and downs of my personality. There are reasons.

The enjoyment of the season inevitably wanes as the proximity to the start of the season becomes more distant. Maybe I am part of the furniture rather than some novelty act, at least that is how it feels. Or maybe, I just have the hump because I am the unlucky so and so that has real lip trouble when the sun comes out and have a particularly nasty one at the moment which makes me down (there is massive psychological scar from my teenage years, which induces paranoia when I get one). It doesn’t take a lot to induce the miseries. As a blog writer the enthusiasm is generated by hits and interest, which wanes too as the novelty wears off and the inspiration for writing becomes harder. When the podcast struggled this week, then I felt even lower. I’m trying my best, people! Don’t you love me any more?

So, first paragraph, a load of self-pity, a bit of my own ego bruised, a whinge and a moan, and having a pop at life in general. You thought I’d been too upbeat this season? Ha!

The fact is that, as we all know, and as I am only too aware, the football season is a monumental grind, and we aren’t even out of August yet and Phoenix are falling behind on league games played while they are in all the early rounds of the cup competitions. After last week’s unconvincing win against SCEFL Premier bottom club Tunbridge Wells, the FA Vase preliminary round, or whatever this one is, saw Phoenix drawn away at Canterbury City. They play at Sittingbourne’s ground, somewhere in the vicinity of the town of that name, but in actuality, and technically speaking in the arse end of nowhere. I had been warned by Richard at Paper Mills of this fact, but still, they were some of the choicest country lanes my satnav took me down to get there.

I also don’t really like Sunday football. It is not a day that is meant for the game at any meaningful level as it was always the recreational game’s day – and yes that speaks to my age in this televised football era. It always felt to me that football should be a neat package. Saturday for football, Sunday for rest the day before work or school. Now we have nonsense like Friday nights and even Thursday this week for a Premier League game. What is going on? Anyway, today was not going to be a conventional day whatever the weather, as Canterbury share with Sittingbourne, who as hosts of course have preferential rights, and they chose to play their home Isthmian game on Saturday. This meant either Friday night or Sunday and we got the latter. It’s been known for a while, but the SCEFL Premier had some fixtures on Saturday (for teams with byes in the Vase) and most play tomorrow as well. Phoenix fall two games behind some of those teams, and have an FA Cup tie on Saturday as well.

I never really knew who played in the Vase and who played in the Trophy, but it appears as though the dividing line is the Step 4 to Step 5. So this year instead of being in the Trophy, as they were last year, Phoenix are in the FA Vase. Steve is said to be keen on a run in this competition, and if truth be told, on paper, we had to fancy our chances. Canterbury have not had a great start to the season, I saw them at Sutton Athletic when they were really poor, and they have since had a 10-0 reverse in a FA Cup REPLAY! They have had a win in the SCEFL, against Holmesdale. Phoenix are unbeaten in all competitions, and, it is fair to say, unconvincing in most of them as well. A good performance was needed to get the show on the road, the wheels on the track, the pointer in the right direction – oh, OK, it is a cup competition, a win is really all that matters today.

The first disappointment of the day was Paul could not make it. As you have read, it has been great for me to go to football with my brother again, and he is, despite his pleas otherwise, getting into it. He was not too pleased to have to miss the game, but I am sure he will be back on Saturday. Just to let you know, Paul, a lot of the guys asked after you, so you were missed.

After navigating the country lanes, and going through a village that clearly despises cars (Tunstall) with speed humps, chicanes and all sorts designed to make you cheesed off, I missed the turning to the ground, had to find somewhere to U-Turn and then found myself in a science park, which is actually where the ground is. The car park was quite full, but nothing to do really with the football. Something called “Kevstock”, it appeared, was going on, complete with music and so on. More of that later. As you may guess, the title of this piece came from one of the songs we heard!

As I walked up to the turnstile, there was Alf, the former secretary. Always good to see a familiar face. Canterbury charge £8 to get in, plus £2 for a programme. I’m still a sucker for these, so of course I had a purchase. For the second day on the spin, and another reason I am down in the dumps, I was asked if I was a senior citizen. This is really beginning to peeve me. When I mentioned it to Vince and chums, they said, “what are you moaning for, it is £2 off”. The price of my effing dignity, Mr Clark et al, that’s what it is! That is why it cheeses me off. One theory is it is my cap that does it. Not buying it. I now have a complex. Derek did it to me at Cray Valley Paper Mills yesterday as well.

Dave and the boys were there, I gave them a banana update, they probably think I am going senile. No Billy today, no Chairman Andy fresh from his tour de force on BBC Radio London this week. Housey says hello, Mark is there, bemoaning West Ham not having a shot on target, and Alan is there although probably a bit disappointed that Bexley CC lost in the semi-final of the national T20 competition (although they are going to Lord’s in the National Club Cup Final). Tony is setting up the Veo, and securing a team sheet for the Phoenix not quite as massive. The Mayplace Messi Mob are there, and Richard from Paper Mills enters the fray, with a carton of chips, ruined by ketchup. These things grate. The Phoenix team has one change from last week’s starting line-up. Steve Philips retires to his abode, awaiting another call up no doubt, and Andy Walker is back between the sticks. I don’t see much change from the match v Sutton Athletic in the Canterbury team, but then, I can’t say I am hugely interested. There’s just a feel of total lethargy. The ground is nice enough, the weather is lovely, the surface looks firm as they all are at the moment, and it is a cup tie. But the vibe, just not there.

Steve comes over before kick-off to say hello to everyone. He’d been to see the Rusthall v Glebe game the previous day, where the home side kept their unbeaten run going with a last minute equaliser. Steve had his views, given we are playing the surprise package from the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells next week, but I am not sharing them here! Jamie Philpot was missing from Glebe again yesterday, and no-one seems to really know why. Steve is still a little perturbed about his sending off last week, and is hoping that evidence from the video will help his cause. He seems a little subdued as well. It must be something in the air.

The teams come out from the opposite corner of the ground to where we are. I do like the park benches to the side of the pitch, it has to be said. As is usual, when we win the toss, Ryan switches the teams around, so we are attacking the goal to the right. As we make our way behind the goal, the ball is played over the top, the keeper and defender get into a tangle, Marcus Elliott is making a massive nuisance of himself, appears to get a foot in first, and the ball heads slowly goalwards and potentially for Marcus to follow in and score within 30 seconds. Except the referee blows his whistle. I don’t know for what, because given it is a drop ball on the restart, Marcus has not done anything wrong. Consensus was for a head injury to the keeper, but, whatever, it is a curious start to the game.

We get to the seating area behind the goal, where there is a “press” area with a table, so I nab it for the notebook and camera. It’s not the greatest of views, or angles for photos, but it will do. Within seconds Phoenix win a free-kick on their right. Ryan Hayes swings over a cross, Lewis Clark gets up first but can’t control the header and it goes harmlessly wide (see below).

Positive signs thus far. Phoenix popping it around, Canterbury sitting back, not pressing, and the visitors looking for openings. On 9 minutes Ryan Hayes puts in another cross, Marcus Elliott gets in the header, but it lacks power and it is a comfortable save for Lee Kidman in the Canterbury goal. On 15 minutes the home side have their first foray, but it is not a scintillating effort, a 20-yarder by Owen Punselie which is comfortably saved by Andy Walker.

Two minutes later comes Phoenix’s best chance of the half. The ball is cleared, and finds Dave Martin free of his defender, with one home player between him, and Alfie Evans to his right, and the goal. Dave does the unselfish thing and lays it across to the Mayplace Messi, who doesn’t get the right control (possibly a bobble) and scuffs the chance. A bit reminiscent of the chance at home to Glebe. The consensus of the behind the goal Phoenix Massive was that it was only a matter of time before class would out, but as I repeat in saying all the time, I am a pessimist. We are not in control until we are 3-0 up. Not Phoenix, not Millwall, not anyone.

Chances kept coming, mainly from set plays. A corner on 24 by Ryan Hayes reaches Lee Bird at the back stick who heads goalwards, but Kidman is there to gather easily. Two minutes later, another corner, similar location, and it is the King of the Barnehurst Jungle, Luke Leppard there, to head the ball, but this time it is wide of the post. On 28, a lovely piece of improvisation by Tom Cousins, with a cheeky reverse pass so nearly puts in Alfie Evans, and as I am a sucker for clever ideas, it merits a mention in the piece. But as this flurry of attacking intent yields no reward, the game slows down. The movement isn’t there, the passing is listless, aimless, the gameplan fails to materialise. Phoenix have had a number of these types of spells. They have, so far, managed to avoid catastrophe during them, more often than not, but we were starting to get concerned.

Then, on 41 minutes, while on the attack, a pass goes astray from Phoenix (I have not noted who it was, so blame avoided), and it is one of those that catches the defence a little too far forward. Suddenly Canterbury break down the right, the home player jinking one way then the other, and then pulls the ball across the face of the penalty box. There Tyrell Mitford takes the ball, controls it, and from what looks like 20 yards where I am sitting, buries a low hard shot to Andy Walker’s right and into the bottom corner. An absolute sucker punch, well-taken, and just how Canterbury might have scripted it. There’s dismay at our end. “We’ve given them something to hold on to now” says one.

The goal does not provoke much of a reaction prior to half-time, and indeed, Canterbury have another effort just before the break from distance which Walker saves comfortably, but isn’t a great sign going into the half, which comes shortly after. Losing 1-0, not the scenario we thought we might face.

The Phoenix Massive all take their leave and move towards the other end. I sit there, just one other fella staying and we bemoan the first half display. We haven’t really tested the keeper. I keep on about my theory that Ryan should play in front of the back 4 today and let some pace go down the wings, based on the way Sutton tore Canterbury apart late in the game earlier this season. I pack up my stuff and trudge around to the other end, get some pictures of the players as they come out. This is prefaced by a huge shouting rallying cry from the dressing room before Phoenix come out. It isn’t Steve, I recognise that voice anywhere (and, like everyone else today, seems to be on the chill pills, he has hardly said a word first half), and it is the first sign I’ve seen or heard of the severity of the situation. Phoenix have to be better.

For some reason, alright, a number of reasons, I’m not feeling my conversational best today (sorry to everyone who thought I might be a bit more aloof than normal today – it’s the lip, and other stuff) and I don’t stand as close to the Phoenix Massive in the second half. Partly because I want to get a better angle for the pictures, and partly to take my own views of what is happening. What happens, is 10-12 minutes of utter ferocity I’ve not seen from Phoenix this season. This is what we expected to see more often. The fabled head of steam. That elusive period where you pound the opposition into submission, gaining momentum, forcing your will on the game.

On 49 minutes a cross goes to the far post. Dave Martin is there and nods the ball back. It doesn’t fall for the Phoenix boys but Luke does his usual foraging, lays the ball back to Lee Bird who crashes in a 20 yard shot which is saved by Kidman. Intent shown. I have barely noted this down when Tom Cousins picks the ball up in his own half, drives forward, and as the opportunity opens up decides to have a pop himself which Kidman saves well. A minute later and the ball finds Ryan Hayes on the right side of the area, he brings the ball inside and from the edge of the box hits a low left foot shot that is on target, and agains Kidman is forced into a save. The pressure is mounting. Can Phoenix keep it up? Where is the equaliser?

Phoenix win a free-kick on half-way. Cleverly Dave Martin takes it quickly and as we’ve seen a number of times before this season, his cross-field pass to Ryan Hayes is excellent. Ryan gets it under control, takes the ball near to the bye-line, puts over a super cross, and crashing in at the far post is the Big Cat of Crayford, Luke Leppard to power in an unstoppable header to level the scores. The cheers from our end are of relief, and Phoenix have their reward for a spell of pressure. 1-1. Now what?

Two minutes later, and we found out. The ball found its way to Alfie Evans, midway inside the half. I am not lying to you, it was Oxhey Jets, but a little more central. I watch him advance towards the area, the defenders not sure what to do, backing off a little, and I shout “hit it Alfie”. No idea if he heard me, my voice doesn’t carry, but hit it he does. As it leaves his boot, it’s in. No doubt. The ball arc towards the top right corner of the goal as he sees it, a perfect strike, hitting the back of the net, with the keeper no chance. A terrific goal, an absolute gem from the Mayplace Messi. His mum and dad must be very proud. I text Paul that it is 2-1. The response from someone who says that he hasn’t got the bug yet? “Mayplace Messi”.

Phoenix keep the pressure on, and nearly score a third although there is a confusing offside flag. We win another corner, and Ryan hits another far post one which we think a defender turned on to his own post before the ball is cleared. The linesman has his flag up for something. As an aside, earlier in the half, Dave Martin is caught offside and his complaint is that the linesman was not up with play and was guessing. The linesman’s retort was “maybe, but I guessed right” was silently acknowledged by your scribe. “Nice reply”, I thought. Noted.

On 63 minutes Alfie has another shot at goal, but this time Kidman is equal to it. On 70 minutes Ryan Hayes gets in on the right hand side of the area, and his chip into the area / shot at goal doesn’t clear Kidman, who saved it with his eyes wide shut.

Canterbury really didn’t create too much after the second goal, but as I am a pessimist I never felt very comfortable with the lead as Phoenix started to make changes, taking off Cousins (injured), Lee Bird, Marcus Elliott and I think someone else, or are we allowed only three subs. City had an acrobatic shot go well wide on 70, Nwoko blasted a 20 yarder over on 75 minutes, and a free-kick outside the box was blasted into the wall and cleared from danger. I have no notes of anything Phoenix did in the last 25 minutes. They played the game out and took their place in the next round of the FA Vase. When the final whistle blew, it was job done, and a really strange feeling. It had been that kind of day really.

The players came over and shook hands with us, and that’s good to see. The club is built on that camaraderie and spirit and I think some of us know there is more in there, and something just isn’t gelling. But for heaven’s sake, it might be a tough watch, but in six games this season, five away from home, we have won 4 and drawn 2. As you will know, and as Mark was also saying, we need to work hard to win games at this stage of the season. As the games become more routine, maybe we will see the quality that the side undoubtedly has, come through. I don’t think the quick pitches favour us at the moment. Marcus had a really tough game today, and yet I think he played quite well in his other appearances for someone who has hardly trained with the squad. Tashi was injured, and we haven’t seen what he can do yet either. Maybe we should be patient, and yet that is not something football ever allows you.

There were all sorts of comments after the game, most revolving around “we just did enough”, “didn’t want to exert ourselves too much” “controlled the game after we got in front” and so on, and all decent points. Maybe they weren’t worried at 1-0 down, but I was! That 15 minutes of fury, where Phoenix imposed their will on the game was enough today. Canterbury were much better than they were at Sutton, much better organised, more savvy, but a little outmatched at times. But they were game and good opponents. To pick yourself up from a 10-0 defeat a couple of weeks ago speaks volumes.

So to the backdrop. The second half was played out to the sound of a band singing various cover versions at “Kevstock”. You do not get this at your regular Premier League fixture! Dave was on to this like a flash – you need to take one of these songs for the title of your blog post. It’s so transparent how I work that even Dave has sussed it. I did mention that I had taken the lyrics from one of the bands numbers on last week’s post….

So as Phoenix were attacking, we were getting a rendition of “Some Might Say” in the background. The crap Blur song “Country House” was recognised as being something that might apply to me in a few weeks – although my proposed new home is not a big house, a very big house. As the game subsided a little after the attacking, the band thought we might Live Forever, and then we played out the last few minutes to the dirge that is Coldplay’s “Yellow”. Look at the bloody stars, and how they shine for you. As we left the game, the band, who clearly like Oasis, started “Stand By Me”. Ah yes. The first line of that one could aptly describe the first half. Made a Meal, and threw it up on Sunday. I’ve got a lot of things to learn. I advised Dave’s kids that you should never do an Oasis cover, because there is only one Liam. I think they still think I am a banana loony toon.

On to the next round, and a shorter trip to Bridon Ropes, a wonderful name for a football team, on 24 September on the Charlton/Woolwich border (if such a thing exists). Bridon Ropes are in the SCEFL First Division, and Phoenix have to fancy their chances. But as today showed, you can’t take anything for granted. There were times when the display today made you think we might have.

As I left, missing Richard and feeling a bit bad about it as I don’t think I am going to get to Paper Mills before my move, I felt quite sad coming home. It is dawning on me that if all goes to plan, by the time of the next round of the Vase, I might either be moved, or about to be moved, and around 100 miles from the Mayplace. It’s really quite a sad thought. When the energy prices rocket like they are supposed to, I might have to rein back on how many games I might be able to come back for. I would love to come to most of them, but know this isn’t possible. I feel the knot loosening and I don’t like this feeling, As if I have to give up something I never knew I was looking for, and then found it. As Richard says to me many times, it is such a friendly club. You feel part of them, and them of us. It’s all transient, players come and players go. But I already see the Phoenix ethos. I like it. It will always be a part of me. It makes me feel a bit melancholy now, but the move is right. We will make it work, somehow.

Just to finish off. Look out for extra pictures on The Magpies and The Phoenix (link here). Also may write up a quick match report on the Paper Mills game on there too (picture space is running out on here). I have decided not to go to a game tomorrow, Bank Holiday Monday, and midweek looks a bit sparse. Back to work on Thursday. Sigh. But at least it is with Phoenix through in both cup competitions, living to fight another day. As Steve and the lads might say. Stand By Me. As I might say, in tune with the set list, Phoenix, with me, will Live Forever.

Winners Are Grinners. I think.

I Know Saint Peter Won’t Call My Name

As you may know when I write this blog, it isn’t purely about the football. It is also about my life and how and why it goes the way it does. This blog never started as a non-league football journal, it was about me. As the non-league football infused into my daily routine, then it took over the content of this blog as it is one of those subjects that deserves all the attention it gets. The match reports have, yes, contained the details of the games, but they have also described how it has interacted with my emotions and feelings. As someone who suffered mentally hugely through lockdown, including a breakdown in June of 2020, the memory of which scares me even thinking about it, and the collapse in front of my promotion interview in October, this needs to be said. Without non-league football, without Phoenix Sports, without Holsworthy, without Richard and JG at Cray Valley, and others I have met in person and online, I don’t know where I would be.

Why is this important today? Why am I saying it now? Well, I woke up this morning in a really quite depressive state. I woke up feeling utterly low, not wanting to talk to anyone, face the world, or go to football. For to do so would mean I would need to put on a facade, and at my age, that gets more tiresome and mentally downgrading. I know many out there would go “get a grip” and sometimes I am my own worst enemy. This was unexpected, because I had a thoroughly enjoyable day at the cricket yesterday, Surrey v Gloucestershire, and it was a good game too. But I drank alcohol during the day, and that’s where I am pinning the blame. There are lessons there. I just need to learn them.

If non-league has been a lifesaver, so has Teddy, my border collie, and my brother, Paul, who seemed keen to go today, even after I said on Twitter that I probably wouldn’t be there. Having walked Teddy around the park, I felt more human, and Paul’s desire to come along sealed it. I changed my mind, packed my stuff, Paul drove, and off we set for Tunbridge Wells.

If you don’t get the mental health issues, then that is fair enough. But it is part of me. Part of the issue is this rampant insecurity over much of my friendships and work. On Twitter this morning, as if reading minds, came a piece up on Imposter Syndrome. I thought is was spooky that it came up (maybe because I asked how to spell imposter – an e or an o -to my colleagues at cricket yesterday) but it resonated. It’s insecurity with Phoenix, that I’ve seemed to become part of the furniture. Why?

This was reinforced when I was told I was on the Phoenix officials list for the gate at Tunbridge Wells, again an ubelievably lovely gesture by the club which I am so grateful for. That this happened after my brother had missed the A21 turning through muscle memory and stayed on the M25, which added 30 minutes to our journey, was definitely odd. But thanks to Dave and Tony for doing that. Paul and I are totally appreciative.

Having seen one of my workmates trudging back from the shops on London Road (I thought she was still in Cornwall), but not soon enough to stop and say hello, we wended down a narrow lane to the Tunbridge Wells FC stadium and their generously sized, but quite full car park. As I walked up to the gate, there was a nervousness about asking for free entry, but there were our names, and in we walked for gratis. The ground is set down from the entrance and with a nice terrace behind the goal, and looked really pretty good in the August sunshine. It had that extra buzz for the FA Cup, and it felt like a fairly decent occasion. Maybe not the energy in my heart of the Glebe game, but a chance to get another win and to progress. Then to see what happens. The magic of the cup indeed.

I was approached by Dave, I think, because my head was still in a depressive whirl, but whoever it was told me it was an unchanged team (actually, may have been Alan) from Wednesday, but Tashi was on the bench. The feeling had been that we had played well on Wednesday and that the tide might have turned. I, being Mr Sunshine, needed convincing. Dave approached with what looked like a heart attack in a roll, so, of course, I followed him to the van to gobble down a very decent burger. Thumbs up for the T-Wells catering. I didn’t see the chairman today, but Tony was there, and the Sullivans, of course, as well as the Alfie Evans fan club, mum and friends. The Phoenix Massive, not so massive today, but still making their voices heard. Paul and I sat on the concrete steps behind the goal, and this was decent to take notes, pictures etc. It’s more like a job, a Phoenix game, these days. I feel a responsibilty to do the best job I can. Sometimes I wish I can just sit back and be a proper fan. Just watch the game. Today felt like one of them.

Phoenix were kicking towards us in the first half, up the hill towards the main terrace. They started quite brightly, with Ryan Hayes down the right stroking in a very nice cross, which Marcus Elliott brought down and set up Lee Bird who hit a shot well over from 20 yards. Two minutes later and Dave Martin down the left stroked over a long cross which found Ryan Hayes at the edge of the area. He decided, I think, to shoot and lob the keeper in to the far corner, but his attempt sailed over. It might have been a cross, I don’t know. A similar move five minutes later; a Dave Martin cross field pass, Ryan Hayes gathering, putting in a far post cross, but again it drifted harmlessly wide.

Tunbridge Wells might have been on the back foot early, but they had the first on-target effort of the game when on 15 minutes Ryan Hayes was caught in possession in his own half, and from the move, the Tunbridge Wells number 8, Lamin Bah (apologies if I did not read the board correctly) had a very decent low shot from about 20 yards pushed aside by Steve Phillips in the Phoenix goal. The ball going for a corner, from which no danger ensued, but a warning from the team currently bottom of the SCEFL with no points to their name. At this point, while I felt comfortable that Phoenix were the better side, they needed a goal.

On 18 minutes a ball over the top by Phoenix looked to be harmless but the defender’s knock back to the keeper was too short, and put the home keeper, Billy Johnson, under pressure from Marcus Elliott who closed down superbly. There was a meeting of legs, aiming at the ball, and the keeper just got there first. It looked like a goal-kick but was given as a corner. The first attempt wasn’t good, but the ball found itself with Dave Martin on the left who closed in on the area and picked out at the far post, with what looked like an inch-perfect cross, the midweek hero Joe Denny. He steadied himself to head, and we waited for the net to rustle as he was totally unmarked. The net did rustle, but on the wrong side. The ball had hit the side netting. Maybe he was further beyond the far post than we thought, but it looked a great chance.

But from then on in the first half, Phoenix utterly faded. What chances there were, and they didn’t seem clear-cut, were for Tunbridge Wells. On 23 minutes, Jack Palmby was set up by a very good lay back by Matt Astle, but his shot went well over. On 27 minutes, the Tunbridge Wells number 2, Jon Shea had an effort that was deflected and Steve Phillips gathered. And at that moment my notes for the first half stopped. The only thing I did note was that Steve O’Boyle was incredibly animated sensing the problems arising from the performance. “WHERE’S OUR WORK RATE!” was the one noted. But they just could not raise anything. This had a lot of hallmarks with the Welling Town display. While I never felt that the home side were going to dominate or score, neither did Phoenix.

As the half tailed off, as the Phoenix passing failed, as the work rate and movement faded, as Marcus became more and more isolated up front despite challenging gamely, there was a pall of despair among the Phoenix supporters. You could almost audibly hear the the home fans say “is this all they are?” The half-time interval came with Phoenix goal-less, and even the Sullivans feeling apprehensive. The team had not played with that pop from Wednesday. The sharper passing, that showed itself at times, from Wednesday was missing. A theory was that the pitch was playing exceptionally slowly, but I am not sure I was buying that. Paul thinks we are set up all wrong. He’s been consistent in that for three games now. I am not as firm, but I do think playing Ryan on the right is taking one of our better players last season out of his stride, and Henry Douglas is not how he was last season. Tom Cousins had a difficult first half. The consensus though, as Steve would not be a happy manager at half-time.

We moved down to the end that Phoenix, we hoped, would attack, in the second half, with Dave insisting he go level with the penalty area. The teams came out, with no changes to our line-up. We thought Tashi might come on. Like the first half, Phoenix started with some ambition. A cross from Dave Martin on the left was met at the far post by Marcus Elliott who thumped his header onto the post, and as the ball was recycled, it came out to Luke Leppard who blasted over. But some good positive intent. The massive might allow some optimism to creep in. It wouldn’t last long.

On 52 minutes there was a major flashpoint. The Tunbridge Wells number 9, Trevor McCreadie was through from a decent pass, and goal-side of Lewis Clark. Lewis drew by the striker’s side and just outside the area, from my angle, made a perfectly timed challenge which cleared the ball, and then the player fell over the trailing leg. I have one sight of it, no replays, but it looked great. The referee did not agree. He blew his whistle and we thought it was going to be a penalty. But it was a free-kick. Now we wondered if Lewis would be red-carded as he was last man. Steve was going utterly beserk. He thought the same as us, a great challenge. There was uproar, and we were relieved that the referee gave only a yellow. There was then a heated conversation between Steve and the linesman. Steve obviously upset the second official and he called the referee over, and O’Boyle, for the second time in 72 hours, had a yellow card. After three minutes the free-kick was finally taken, the shot flew low around the wall, but Steve Phillips got down well and smothered the shot. Threat over.

Most decent things for Phoenix seemed to be coming from Dave Martin, and it was he again who put in a super cross on 61 minutes that met the head of Alfie Evans (I think it noteworthy that this is his first mention in the report, he’s our key player) who had quite a tight angle and his header hit the outside of the post.

Two minutes later, Phoenix got caught in possession on the right side, Tunbridge Wells gathered, a cross came from the left, and the number 9, McCreadie, threw himself at the ball, but his header lacked control and flew wide. Three minutes after that, on 66, another left wing cross, this time low and hard, evaded McCreadie but at the back stick, a la Hammond on Wednesday, was the right back John Shea who got his feet to it but could not turn it in. Tunbridge Wells were on top.

Phoenix Sports were in need of a lifeline, and they had an opportunity on 69 minutes with a long throw taken by Tom Cousins. The ball wasn’t dealt with, the ball came out to Luke Leppard, but again he could not keep the shot down and over it went. Tunbridge Wells, countered again, this time with a long shot from the Wells number 18, who saw his saved by Steve Phillips.

Tashi came on for Marcus Elliott, and had looked much more to link with the midfield, and while no criticism of Elliott who had been game and played his part. Tashi had a header on 79 from a corner, which was comfortably saved. But then Tashi won a free-kick on the edge of the area, and both Dave Martin and Ryan Hayes lined up to take it. The kick was quite central, and Dave got the nod. 20 yards out it may have been, but it might have been 20 yards over. Not one of Dave’s best.

As we were contemplating a replay on Wednesday, Phoenix seemed to up the ante a little. I wouldn’t confuse it with dominating, not at all, but there seemed more cohesion. Yet again, Dave Martin on the left put a cross into the box, Alfie Evans again finding himself free for a header, but he couldn’t make ideal contact and the home keeper, Billy Johnson saved. Tunbridge Wells had a lot of crosses thrown in to the box, but Steve Phillips had been majestic all day, a bit of a contrast from the rusty keeper on Wednesday. This looked like 0-0. But then, there was magic to come.

87 minutes on the clock. Ryan Hayes picked up the ball just inside the Tunbridge Wells half and hit a monstrous crossfield pass, beautifully weighted, perfectly arced, Except I didn’t think so as it looked slightly ahead of the on-running Dave Martin’s zone. But it wasn’t and Dave took the ball down in a fantastic piece of technique. Look, I don’t do hyperbole lightly, but it was the type of control that if done by Dennis Bergkamp or his ilk, the pundits would have been shouting from the hype rooftops about its greatness. But control was all well and good. What could Dave do? He was ahead of his defender, he advanced into the box, I knew he was going to shoot, the defenders less so as a Phoenix player advanced into the box with him. But Dave was always going to shoot. He hit it hard, he hit it low, it burst through the keeper and hit the back of the net. Bedlam among the Phoenix Massive. The players swamped Dave Martin in front of us, the subs in their orange bibs shrouding him from our view, the staff bombing down the wing. This was it. This had to be the winner.

I marvelled at the pass, but the control of it, the ease in which Dave Martin did this with his left foot in full stride, and getting it under his spell. I wish I had done a single piece of work in my recent past with that perfection, that technique, that ability. Imposter Syndrome compared to that. Yep. That was magic. Viva La Vida if get to see something that good any time soon.

Phoenix just needed to see the game out. They nearly didn’t. On 92 minutes, the number 18 for Tunbridge Wells put in a cross having been part of an overload on their right which left Cousins exposed. The cross found Astle, but his shot lacked control and stuck it over the bar. We breathed easier. Tunbridge Wells continues to pressure, five minutes in to the added on time, and the ball bounced around, but fell to Frank Griffin, and his shot from 20 yards was sent wide. With that the referee blew the final whistle. Phoenix Sports claimed their place in the draw for the 1st Qualifying Round which will take place on Monday.

We all agreed that we had got away with it, again not playing well, but we were through. We. All words a neutral reporter shouldn’t use (the Richie Benaud rule) but I am not claiming neutrality. It was a poor game, Tunbridge Wells may be bottom of the SCEFL, but on this evidence there is not much between them and Phoenix, if you are being truthful. There appears something missing from the Phoenix Sports squad, their play, and I don’t know what it is. Mark may be right, that the Hayes and Martin combo can bring you success with that piece of magic, but they are old legs, in a young legs game. It is fascinating to see how this might work going forward. Phoenix Sports have won 3 and drawn 2 games so far this season, so it isn’t disastrous. But there seems something missing. The biting midfield of Lee Bird and Luke Leppard, as great as they were on Wednesday, were not as effective today (although, in my view, Lee Bird was our man of the match for his defensive work, alongside Steve Phillips who did everything really well in goal, claiming all crosses). But a win is a win is a win in a cup tie. It doesn’t say how on the result sheet.

What I will take from this day, though, is how that single piece of artistry, that majestic piece of control, lifted me from a trough, and sparked an outburst of joy on a day when I was on the downslope of the mental curve. Not overplaying it, not wanting sympathy, but it was wonderful to watch. Brilliant.

The game did not finish with peace and tranquility. Steve O’Boyle was absolutely ticking, and wasn’t letting his dispute with the officials, who I thought did not have the best game, lie. He pushed it too far, the two of them should have just left it, but Steve clearly said the magic word(s), the referee, as he was leaving the pitch, turned around, pulled out the red card and brandished it to our manager. Phil Legg told me after the game on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of anger, Steve was currently a 15!

My afternoon with the massive was enlightening and entertaining. What goes on with the massive, mainly stays within the massive, and I always find supporters are a bit self reverential. The advice given to Tashi in dealing with a certain member of the opposition by someone who should know better, is best kept hidden from prying ears. The same person calling the right back for Tunbridge Wells “Ravi” because of his propensity to shank a clearance, was also amusing. Conversations with the subs is one of the joys of non-league, it has to be said. They are great lads, I have to say. Really funny. No. I am not mentioning or giving a group name to the Alfie Evans Fan Club, or the Mayplace Messi Maidens, or have I just done that? I have, haven’t I. No, stop. This is getting to self-regarding.

That was almost that. As always, superb to bump into Steven Douglas and his wife afterwards. As usual, he is too kind about my self-indulgent scribblings. As usual, he pretends that Paul and I are talking profound football observations. I am not. I deal in emotions and feelings, not tactics.

The draw is on Monday. Of the fixtures I was “looking at” on the podcast, you have to hand it to Rusthall, who took out Isthmian SE team Ramsgate, 2-1. Fisher looked to be doing the same to Sittingbourne, but the Isthmian SE team scored two very late goals to take that to a replay; 2-2 the score. Deal Town went down 3-2 to Three Bridges. Bideford lost 5-2 to Paulton Rovers; Andover New Street lost 5-1 to Westbury; Brixham 4-0 losers at Shepton Mallet, and in the game I paid closest attention to, Cray Valley Paper Mills beat Glebe 3-0 at Foxbury.

SCEFL teams in action included K-Sports, who lost 3-2 at Beckenham Town; Erith Town, 2-1 winners over Bedfont Sports; Punjab United lost 2-1 at home to Westfield; and Sutton Athletic stretched Isthmian SE favourites, Ashford, before losing 2-1.

That is that. One magic moment. Dave Martin might be a little old pain in the backside, but he has that ability in his locker, even at his age. One moment. One goal. Quallifying Round One. That is all that matters.

Please visit my podcast, released on Thursday, previewing this tie and reviewing the two games I saw on Tuesday and Wednesday. Another episode will be released later in the week. I don’t think I have a game until Saturday. My podcast is on Apple, although I’ve not found it yet, and possibly on Amazon. But please listen and give me advice (I got some from Dave today!) on what I can do better. I do enjoy putting it together. Link to the latest episode below.

Give Me The Reason To Want You Back

On the car journey home this evening, I turned to my brother and said “so, has it got you yet?” He looked at me as if I was asking him to sell his soul. “It’s all right. It’s a night out”, he replied. I thought to myself “yes, you are pretty much there, whether you know it or not”.

That, for me, was a ringing endorsement and a sense of pride – it’s great to be going to football with Paul again. It had been a hell of an evening, and a hell of a game of SCEFL football. I am not sure if I can do it justice, to be honest. I’ll give it a go. I try my best to write as a scribe not a fan, but even Richard, from Paper Mills knew the difference. The conclusion of the game, well….. football. Phoenix. Non-League. Wow.

This game had been built up in my mind as the “big one” as soon as I saw the fixture list. Everything else was secondary to it. This was the game I had to go to. Come hell or high water. Listen to me, will you? A year ago, I didn’t give a crap who played who, when. I didnt care. Now, I’m acting like 20 year old me,. I shouldn’t be like this. I am 53. I gave all this supporting lark up for a reason, but here I am, acting like a bloody kid before, during and after a game at Level 9 of the pyramid. Would you actually look at yourself? And why are you dragging your brother down with you? But this game lived up to its billing.

Where do I start? Dave greeting us on the car park gate was a bit of a surprise to be honest, and we had a conversation which I won’t share on here, but he knows how highly I regard him, and thoughts are with him and his boys. He was also talking to Andrew, the chairman, and it was an upbeat, optimistic Mr Mortlock prior to the game. It’s early in the season, but this one feels like more than just a game.

As I walk into the ground, Alan comes up to me with the teamsheet, and I study it and immediately notice one thing. No Jamie Philpot. The goal-scoring machine for Glebe. Interesting. Phoenix have signed a new striker, Marcus Elliott, and the worst kept secret in the SCEFL was unveiled, the return of Steve Phillips in goal for a short term period while Andy Walker is unavailable, The changes meant that Luke Leppard would drop into midfield. Other than that, it was the same team as Saturday – effectively Elliott for Freddie, Steve for Pat Ohman. I think that is right.

I was then invited into the boardroom, as was my brother, and Richard from Cray Valley Paper Mills. Another good chat, this time with Albert about my blogging “career” where he pretended not to be bored, killed a few tension-filled minutes before kick-off. My brother asked me how I had got so “ingrained” into the club, and I really don’t have any other answer than “they like my stuff” but he is amazed his shy, keyboard scribe brother is a bit more “extrovert” in this environment. Again, it’s all a bit “aww shucks” but I get it more each time. Like those beams that lure in spaceships in crap sci-fi movies, Phoenix are dragging me into their Death Star, and even if I move 100 miles away, I’m not sure I’ll be allowed to pull away. Even if I wanted to.

I have also said many times that I didn’t get into football again, after those years with Millwall, to care too much. That a bad result might mean I get the true blues the day after. But here I am feeling an irrational loathing for Glebe, mainly on the back of a bravado statement from their chairman that the top 4 in last year’s SCEFL would have been in the top 6 in the Isthmian South East (I saw them play once – no they wouldn’t have) and a rather scintillating social media fit of pique when their manager left for Sevenoaks (and promptly pulled them out of a tailspin). It is completely irrational and I need to grow up. It might be a bit late for that. Oh yes. And there’s that thing that they have built a training pitch on the site of my highest cricket score -no, not their ground; a training pitch. Maybe it is rational, then.

And then I saw Jon Pilbeam on their team sheet, and the memories of Sevenoaks flooded back. Oh yes. I remember HIM!

“A major incident, that would impact a fair bit on the game, happened in the 12th minute. Henry Douglas of Phoenix clashed with a home player (not sure, on the other side of the pitch) in one of those where one player heads down, and the other kicks up. Douglas’s boot connected and the home players started to surround the referee, urging a caution at the least. Then the Phoenix players got involved. It was noted that one of those who got involved was the home side’s right back, Jon Pilbeam, who hadn’t stopped moaning from the start of the match, and made his point having run “60 yards” to put his opinion across. This was noted by Phoenix’s manage, Steve O’Boyle, who was not, shall we say, content with that display of team spirit. Douglas was booked. I’d made a note already that I wasn’t particularly enamoured by Sevenoaks Town FC.”

Actually, tonight, Pilbeam played on the left side of midfield. And behaved himself. But I still remember his antics that game. More fuel on the fire (performance of the match to his shorts……)

Having said hello to virtually all the glitterati of Phoenix, except Mr Legg, and the teams came out (do we still need Final Countdown, Mr Chairman?) and I got the picture that heads up this post, I wandered around to my usual spot near the halfway line, saying hello to the Evans clan as we passed by, and was sad to see my two spectating colleagues from last season were no-shows. I hope they are OK, and that they are Saturday visitors, because, if so, I won’t see them until September 3rd. Vince came round to join us for a while, before employing his vocal talents with the Phoenix massive behind the north end of the ground which Phoenix were attacking in the first half.

My heart sank when I saw Glebe’s kit. It is a very light blue with yellow numbers. This was going to be a fun night identifying them! Won’t they think of us poor, unpaid scribes, trying to entertain through our blog writing (Albert, in the boardroom, asked why did I do it? Answer is simple. I like writing. Honest!) This made spotting players on the far side especially hard, so apologies for any misidentifications in this piece.

Let’s quickly set the scene. A relatively local derby (if I had gone my usual route I would have passed by their ground) against a team who would be seen as a major challenger for the top of the table positions come season’s end. Glebe had three points from two games, Phoenix one better off. Deal already have nine. Already, even this early, a defeat might seem to weigh more than normally it should, This felt quite big.

The game started like fairly big clashes do, quite cagily. The midfield for Phoenix seemed to be imposing itself better, Luke especially, but Lee Bird also making some really decent probes and tackles to keep Phoenix on the front foot. Already the team looked a bit better balanced to this untrained eye, and it seemed to let Alfie a little off the leash. Marcus Elliott had some early touches, but was obviously trying to find his feet. For their part, Glebe took time to settle, but looked threatening down either flank, with Jon Pilbeam in front of us for that half! This is probably a long way of saying that I took no notes for the first fifteen minutes, but was actually engrossed in the game. It felt pretty tense.

On 15 the first opportunity as such. Phoenix made strides down the left, I have to assume it was Dave Martin who put in a dangerous cross which was met at the back post by I think Greg Benbow, the Glebe left back, who in trying to clear the danger smashed a volley into his own side netting. No doubt he’ll say he had the situation under control, but that nearly made a Christmas Video.

Three minutes later, Alfie Evans gets put in and hits a cross, which looked dangerous but home keeper Ollie Pain did well to smother before Marcus Elliott could pounce for a debut goal.

On 21 minutes, and having had little action, and just as I gave him the kiss of death by saying to my brother “it’s good to have Steve Phillips back in goal, he organises and cajoles the defence so well”, a ball over the top bounces towards him on the right side of his area, it bounces too high and he carries it out of the area. He couldn’t argue, he finished up laying on the ball while still outside. The free-kick was in a dangerous position and was put into the box, where the deep-sitting Phoenix defence made a meal of getting it clear. A minute later and a really good Pilbeam cross was met with a glancing header by Harry Gamble which left Phillips rooted, but thankfully the ball went wide of his left hand post.

The game was opening up, and Phoenix had a super chance a minute later. Good physical play and control by Marcus Elliott outside the box, set him up for a run into the penalty area. He took a shot, beat the keeper coming out, but the ball drifted wide of the right hand post as we looked. A decent chance, and a decent effort if truth be told. But still goalless.

Two minutes later and closer still. Ryan Hayes hit a wonderful crossfield pass to Dave Martin, who put in a cross. It found its way out to Ryan again who this time took the ball down, cut inside on to his left foot and hit a superb shot which hit the post. Dave told me at half-time that there had actually been a vital touch by Ollie Pain, and it was a terrific save. The danger wasn’t over and the ball was picked up eventually by Dave Martin who hit a firm shot that Pain saved, bobbled and gathered. Still 0-0. Two minutes later, and Dave Martin set Alfie clear in the box, and his shot is brilliantly saved again by Pain. Make your own jokes.

On 33 minutes superb work down the left by Dave Martin and Tom Cousins, and the Phoenix left back gets close to the byeline and hits the ball across goal, where Marcus Elliott cannot turn the ball in. To be fair, it was going at pace, but Phoenix were dominating and still were not in front. I am not saying I was getting a bad feeling. Stuff it, of course I was. I’m a pessimist.

The chances dried up. Glebe started to get more into the game, The vulnerability down the right, where I feel Henry is often exposed to two opponents, was becoming a concern. On 35 minutes Harry Gamble hit a 25 yarder over for the visitors, on 37 minutes Elliott Duncan hit a dangerous looking curling shot after Phoenix made a hash of clearing their lines. On 41 a dangerous Greg Benbow cross induces panic in the Phoenix backline, nearly, but not quite falling to a Glebe striker, but cleared with haste and danger just about averted.

On 44 minutes, Phoenix at least get out of their half after Glebe’s imposing spell of pressure, and Ryan Hayes received a good pass from Alfie Evans, revelling much more in the freedom he had with Luke and Lee sitting behind. The Phoenix skipper moved the ball on to his wand of a left foot, and curled the ball just wide. Now I can’t be sure if it was this, or the Marcus Elliott one, or the Ryan hitting the post effort, but on one occasion Mark’s voice from behind the goal, which carries, shouting “YES” has me cursing him when the ball does not go in.

We would all, well all of us there supporting Phoenix, cursing a minute later as right on the stroke of half-time, Glebe took the lead. Pilbeam had been dangerous, and on this occasion he drifted inside and hit a shot to Steve Phillips’ left which the stalwart keeper didn’t push firmly enough away and drifting in at the back post was Glebe number 2, Jack Holland, to steer the rebound across the goal into the bottom left corner to give the visitors the lead. A bit harsh to call it a sucker punch, more a gut punch, as Glebe had definitely come more into it and looked dangerous. Phoenix had had their best half of the season (maybe Oxhey first half rivalled it) and were going in 1 down. The Glebe fans near me were chuffed. Hmmm. Not sure I could put up with them in the second half.

I decided to do an Erith, and moved. This time, for the first time in a competitive fixture at the Mayplace, I would stand behind the Mayplace Road End goal. Before I get into the second half action, absolute fair play and well done to Calvin and Perez for the penalty entertainment. Well done chaps.

The Phoenix Massive, the usual suspects, the Sullivans, Dave and the Boys and our guest for the night, Richard Green from Paper Mills settled in for the second half. Lots of recrimination and doom-saying, even from Mark, and the heart was sinking a bit. There was a bit of a downcast feel. Here we were, defintitely playing better, but behind. It’s a harsh game.

Phoenix came out on the front foot, and Luke Leppard, who was playing like he hadn’t been fed, and if he made 1000 tackles might be given some raw meat, burst down the right and put a dangerous cross in which Ollie Pain just about held on to while Alfie, I think, at the back post was ready to pounce. But Phoenix would not be denied for long. Henry Douglas made a super smashing run down the right side and whipped in a lovely cross, Marcus Elliott got a super flick on – we’ll assume he meant it as a flick, and not an attempt, great stuff mate – and the ball fell to Alfie Evans at the back stick who headed firmly from a stooping position into the goal off the defender on the line. Cue bedlam. 1-1.

But if we thought this would signal the sound of the trumpets and a charge to the line, we would be mistaken. The game then went into the phase it started like – cagey, a midfield battle, no real chances to speak of. Glebe had settled down after the setback and Phoenix just couldn’t get much going. I did not make a note for another 18 minutes, and I can’t make head nor tail of it – it says not confident defending, Glebe fly hack. I think it was a wild shot by a Glebe attacker but I had no chance picking out his number from that distance. 8 minutes later and Jack Mahoney, I think, had a shot that deflected over and this looked a dangerous chance. Luke Rooney, the Glebe manager, had brought himself on and began that move with a majestic long-range crossfield pass. He still had “it”, and he proved it.

On 82 minutes Phoenix nearly took the lead. Marcus was fed in and advanced on goal, having the keepr in his sights, but unmarked to the left was Alfie Evans with a defender between him and our number 11. Marcus thought the angle too tight and squared it to Evans who took one touch to put on to his left foot, and as we expected him to hit the ball into the net, he made a poor contact and the defender comfortably cleared. These things happen, but this was crucial. How crucial, we would find out soon enough. (Richard next to me said “he’s a striker, he needs to shoot there” re Marcus squaring it – I thought Marcus had done the right thing. Football, eh?)

Glebe had made a number of substitutions, and one really paid off. The ball came over from the left, and wasn’t cleared well, falling to Stefan Cox on the right wing. I couldn’t see brilliantly from my vantage point, but he appeared to beat our defender with pace and skill before smashing a superb shot into the net past Steve Phillips. 84 minutes and Glebe had taken the lead, and it has to be said, we were devastated.

Me? Sick. Why have I decided to put myself through these emotions again? I feel nauseous. I feel angry. I feel disappointed. But that was some goal. Mark comments that this was Glebe’s smash and grab, referring to Phoenix’s win, and Steve’s description of it, against Erith Town. We had six minutes, plus whatever, to rescue a disaster of a night when we really hadn’t deserved to lose. As Glebe ran the clock down, as each throw in, or free-kick took a while, as the board went up for two minutes to go, so the numbing, deadening feeling of a sloppy, important defeat – I think I was past denial, got through anger, and was starting to bargain with the loss. But wait, Phoenix get down the right hand side and win a corner. We are well into a very short period of added on time (I wondered aloud if the referee lived a fair way away and needed to get home).

These are the moments every football fan lives for. I don’t care if you are 5 or 105. This is it. This is the feeling you come back for, you stay for, you remember, you smile at, all that and more. And if you are the victim, you feel the pain. Luke Rooney is cajoling his team “We are ******* winners” as he exhorts his defence for one last effort. Ryan Hayes has the ball at his feet, ready to put in the cross. This is. Last Chance Saloon.

I see the flight early. It is a good one. Not too close to the keeper. Clearing the front man. Attackable for someone running in. It arcs over and the Glebe defender rises, but so does Phoenix’s number 12, the man denied by saves and woodwork at Oxhey, Joe Denny. We’re not sure at the time who makes contact, but it has to be Joe. The ball hits the head with a thud, and powers into the top corner of the net, right by where we are. Getting bloody chills writing this. It hits the back of the net, and it’s stuff the effing notes, I can remember this without writing it down. I see Joe running to the right of where I am standing, and I am off. I’m getting in on this pile-on. It is as if I am a kid again. The pure adrenaline of that moment will not be forgotten. If I say Josh Dorling’s goal got me started, this was my confirmation. I am now utterly totally trapped, and I can’t get out. I don’t want to get out. The players are piling in on top. The elation is overwhelming. That’s what we watch sport for, the moment. But even though I can’t play, I can’t do anything out there to help, I feel a part of it. My brother hasn’t joined me, but I know, even though he denies it, that he’s probably had his Josh Dorling moment. He just doesn’t know it yet. I think he looks at me and thinks “the bloody state of him” but the enjoyment of moments like this is what I missed. I am, to coin a phrase, absolutely buzzing.

The game barely has time to kick off, and the referee blows his full-time whistle. 2-2. It probably felt like a better game than it was because of the final 10 minutes, but there is no doubting the pure emotion of the finish. We’ve got out of jail on a game we should have put behind bars in the first half, but that’s football. Glebe are kept in the far corner of the ground to discuss what had happened, while Phoenix walk off happy. I bump into Stephen, Henry’s dad, and we have a decent chat, and introduce him to Paul who talks away for a while. Chairman Andrew is pleased, but also bemoans the missed chances, but as I said, we played better and that matters. Steve comes past, says “Hello Dmitri”, I enquire how his heart is, and he shakes his head. How he copes with this, I have no idea. I realise I’ve done very little shouting, and my voice has gone. I wish I had his larynx. God, that sounded creepy.

In the end, it is just a point, but it never really feels like that when you’ve stolen two from a rival in the last minute. That’s how my first ever Millwall away game ended, when Tony Cascarino scuffed home a late equaliser at Portman Road on 2 January 1988, but that day I was in the home end and couldn’t really celebrate (I wonder if Tony, the Club Secretary remembers that one). Today, at home, this had echoes of Nottingham Forest at home in 1988, Charlton at home in 1999, both those two late goals, but still the ones that come to mind.

It has been a hell of a day, a football match at the 9th level of English football has me gushing like a boy band fan at a gig, Screaming at the top of my lungs for an equaliser. Supporting and cheering with people who have become lifelong friends in the space of months. I feel less like a scribe tonight and more like a fan, and that was never the intention. Richard said how different the demeanour was from last night, and I like Cray Valley Paper Mills. This is different. These bastards have got me caring again, and loving football again. I love them, and hate them for it. But mainly, I love them. How could you not?

All being well, a podcast tomorrow. Sigh. So much more on my mind, but not a lot more to say. My thanks to everyone, as always who made Paul and I so welcome today. I know my brother is gobsmacked by how everyone at the club treats me. It is never taken for granted. And for people who needed a lift, a distraction, a positive thought, that was a superb finish to a game. And not an airhorn in hearing range. Give me the reason indeed. It has been a mighty long time since I felt like this.

UPDATE – Link to Episode 5 of the Magpies and The Phoenix Podcast, entitled “Tainted Hearts, Heal With Time”

Hope you can give it a listen!

Does Anybody Know How Long To World War III

Good evening. An interesting day, putting together the next episode of the podcast, suffering from some sort of dehydration, trying to close out work before I go on my two weeks leave, and finally, the football at the end of it. Tonight it was a visit to my old friends at Cray Valley Paper Mills, as they entertained East Grinstead Town in the Isthmian South East.

Before I start, here is the link to the fourth edition of The Magpies And The Phoenix podcast. I hope you enjoy it (and as always I hope the link works).

So, I made the short 10 minute drive to the Artic Stadium to see two teams I am somewhat of a lucky charm for. I’ve never seen either lose a competitive fixture, I’ve seen only one draw involving the clubs (Paper Mills epic 0-0 against Phoenix last season). Of course, East Grinstead’s two wins were against Phoenix last season, both painful in their own way. They also came into the game on the back of contrasting fortunes on Saturday – East Grinstead winning 1-0 against Chatham Town, Paper Mills losing 3-0 at Ramsgate. So, in truth, anyone’s guess how this was going to go.

As I have said previously, I fear for Paper Mills a bit this season, as they have lost a number of key players, including goal scorer Marcel Barrington, who went up to step 3 with Herne Bay. Still in the team though were Denzel Gayle and Anthony Edgar, Cem Tunkaya and Conor Dymond at the back, and Chris Lewington in goal. I was disappointed not to see Omar Folkes in the East Grinstead line-up – note to find out where he has gone.

Having paid the dues to come in, and not be charged a senior price, I immediately say Richard and JG, and it was good to be among, for me, old comrades in this non-league football thing. Always full of information and advice, some wanted, some less so (including airhorns again), it was good to watch them do their thing, and also help me to take the notes of the game with player ID and timings. Also between us we were keeping up with other scores, ranging from Millwall at Swansea down to Holsworthy at Elburton Villa and all points in between.

The one thing I remember from each of the Paper Mills’ games I saw last season was their fluent attacking style and desire to play a snappy passing game. It is not that common at this level, but they certainly played it well when it clicked. It was good to see in this game that the commitment remained, with a stunningly good first half performance that left us all wondering one thing – how the hell was it still goalless? Denzel Gayle seemed to be at the fulcrum of all that was good, new striker Adam Coombes an excellent foil, Anthony Edgar a real nuisance buzzing around the edge of the box, and particularly impressive for me in the first half was the play of Barney Williams. East Grinstead barely got a sniff of the ball for much of the first period. Though you wouldn’t know it from their noisy mini-army of support, who certainly made themselves heard.

4 minutes – Anthony Edgar hits a low shot wide from the right side of the edge of the area from 25 yards.

7 minutes – A wonderful passing move by the Millers culminates in a Coombes shot which takes a slight nick off a defender and is pushed around the post by the keeper, Mattie Pierson.

10 minutes – An interchange down the Millers’ left involving Barney Williams and Anthony Edgar ends with Edgar slicing a shot wildly wide – the passing leading up to this between the two was sublime.

12 minutes – A rare foray (always got to use this if Richard is reading) by the visitors ends with a low shot by Tahjae Anderson, which is comfortably saved by Lewington.

15 minutes – From a cross from a free-kick on the Wasps’ left, a header by Harrison Parker drifts wide

19 minutes – Anthony Edgar receives a good pass down the left hand channel, cuts inside and hits a shot over.

23 minutes – More great work down the left. Williams makes a superb run, which ends with a nice pass to Edgar, who attempts to chip the keeper from inside the box. It doesn’t quite work as Pierson gathers comfortably. Good thought though.

27 minutes – Edgar is having a few efforts, but this one is the best. The ball comes out and from 25 yards he hits an absolute screamer which smashes in to the crossbar and over. Nearly.

30 minutes – Edgar again has a chance, shooting wide after some good pressure, dangerous crosses and East Grinstead unable to clear their lines. A goal seems a matter of time. Richard remarks that he thinks the Millers are really enjoying their style of play.

32 minutes – This time it is Cray Valley’s Dan Bennett who comes close. As the corner comes over he meets the ball and it ricochets off the ball. The clearance is not effective and the ball falls to Tumkaya at the edge of the box who has a shot very well saved. When will the goal come?

36 minutes – Another amazing chance. A long ball over the top sees Pierson come out of his area to deal with it, but he fluffs at the ball and it falls to Denzel Gayle, just outside the box with the goal open. He rolls the ball towards the goal, but to everyone’s astonishment, it drifts just wide of the post. In fact, according to my notes, it clipped the outside of it. Woodwork/Metalwork hit number 3.

38 minutes – Edgar again, with another shot after being teed up by Coombes, but no joy.

Half-Time – How in heaven’s name was that 0-0. Cray Valley had, at times, been irresistible, but the game is about goals, and they had none. This was not over. Not by a long shot.

Football truly is a “funny old game”, because whatever magic the home team had in the first half, deserted them in the early going in the second. Anderson for the visitors had an early chance in the first minute of the half which Lewington saved well, and had another attempt a few minutes later which went over. Suddenly Paper Mills could not get the passing game going, East Grinstead were snapping at their heels and applying pressure. They were having their best spell of the game. It resulted in them going behind. On 51, after more pressure, the ball was played out to Edgar, I think, who hit a long ball for Denzel Gayle to run on to, over the top. He outpaced the visiting defender, muscled his way into the box, steadied himself as the keeper approached and rolled the ball into the net to give the home side the lead. An absolute sucker punch.

I didn’t take too many more notes for the second half, as the game’s quality eroded the longer it went on. Dymond headed a Millers’ corner wide on 58; Andrew Briggs blasted a 25 yard free-kick over for East Grinstead on 62; Coombes headed wide from another corner on 80, and the nearest the Wasps came was on 89 when Harrison Parker’s effort went wide. In truth, the game petered out, but there was still time for a very concerning injury to Anthony Edgar, who clashed with an East Grinstead player, came off a lot worse, and was carried off after the game with ice around his knee. I hope it is not as serious as it looked.

An important victory for the Millers, a lovely night out as always with the Greens on and off the field, and perhaps my night was made when JG said that Millwall had scored twice in added on time to draw level at Swansea. How lovely.

Paper Mills next play Glebe in the FA Cup, and if that is a draw, and Phoenix don’t draw, I could well be journeying down next week – otherwise their home game against Whitehawk on Saturday week looks a possible fixture. In any case, I hope to see them before (if) we move.

Elsewhere, a quick round-up of other teams. Holsworthy had a very good 3-1 win at Elburton Villa. I couldn’t decipher the scorers from the code being used on Twitter – Chim, an oggy and Langer the Banger – I am shrugging here. But they went 1-0 up, got pegged back but quality won out according to Ryan. Two wins and two losses from the first four games, three away. Not awful. In the other two games Okehampton lost their 100% record at Newton Abbot Spurs, going down 2-0, and in the battle of the pointless, Marjon defeated Torrington 3-1 to leave the latter rooted to the foot of the table. In the Southern League Bideford played out a goal-less draw at Bristol Manor Farm.

In the Isthmian Premier, good news for Herne Bay who won 4-2 at Haringey Borough, and better news for Lee’s team, Horsham, who put 5 past Corinthian Casuals without reply. Nice to note that Marcel Barrington scored, from the spot, for Herne Bay. In the South East, Beckenham beat Corinthian 3-2 (I note, one Josh Dorling scored the first for Corinthian), while there were wins for Chatham, Chichester, Whitehawk (at newly promoted Littlehampton) and Three Bridges (against VCD). Beckenham and Whitehawk top the table with six points apiece. Ramsgate, who drew 0-0 with Sittingbourne are third.

In the SCEFL tonight Deal Town came from behind against Canterbury to win 3-1 and maintain their perfect start to the season. Welling Town ended Stansfeld’s perfect start with a 2-1 win at Foxbury. There were wins for K-Sports at Lordswood (1-0), Erith Town at Fisher (1-0 – my man Steadman on the mark) and Bearsted 1-0 at home to Kennington. All eyes (for me) on tomorrow and the Glebe match.

That should do for today. A lot done, a lot to do. It’s great being back in the swing of things. Hope you enjoy these posts. All being well, see you tomorrow,

A reminder of that link for the podcast – Episode 4 covering last night’s game at Greenways and the weekend’s action:

Do let me know what you think. Each has had over 50 listens, so really, really pleased with that, as I try to develop it into a regular slot, and hope to get some extra participants.

Someone’s Been Talking, And I’ve Got The Blame

It had been a dull kind of day. I’d got up early, had to go in the office. That was stopped by some incident or other on Southeastern, and I had to return home. Oyster refunds were a joke, and I gave up – I will try again tomorrow – and a new team member seemed a really pleasant young lad, but then, as I said, they are all young to me now. But as I pottered about at lunchtime a Tweet came up.

Hmmm. Why not? Nothing else to do tonight, I could leave at 6:45 and get there in plenty of time. Seems like something to do. I cleared it with internal affairs and set out for K-Sports at Aylesford/Ditton to watch this SCEFL Division 1 fixture. Notebook packed, camera packed (with SD Card!) and a couple of soft drinks, I got there in plenty of time, paid the £6 entrance fee and was confronted by another 3G pitch, but quite a neat and tidy ground.

I chatted to an old chap, who had played for Croydon back in the day, and we bemoaned the lack of team information. This was going to be a challenge if I wanted to write a report, but I will have a go because I like a challenge, and the detective work to find the teams out. I knew very little about either team, other than Greenways lost to Phoenix 4-2 draw in a pre-season game. Kent Football United. Nothing.

The match itself was actually pretty good, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had a couple of conversations with supporters who tried to help me out with names, and then seemed thoroughly bemused by the titel of this blog! Not surprised, to be honest, and I might have to work on it. It was a warm evening, a bit of light, very light occasional drizzle (or was it hallucinations), I think it might be called “sultry”. Greenways in green, natch, and KFU in yellow and black. I wondered what I was going to get.

What we did see was Greenways come out of the traps rapidly. Constantly in action during the game, and also with a little bit to say for himself too, Simon Walton made one of many breaks down the right flank, and played in Jake Lovell, a very nippy, clever-running striker, who had his effort well blocked by the visiting keeper. I’m afraid I currently have no player names for KFU, but will update if I secure team sheets. From a corner shortly after, a cross by Greenways’ number 11, Rhys [surname tbc] had the keeper in all sorts of trouble, but no-one to apply the finishing touch. The hits kept coming, and after another ball split the visiting defence, Simon Walton loomed in on goal. His touch past the keeper was too heavy and almost certainly the chance would have been gone, but the visiting keeper had committed and collided with Walton who went down. A clear penalty and a booking for the keeper. After a short delay which helped me get the main camera out of the rucksack, Walton confidently stroked the ball to the keeper’s right and into the bottom corner to put Greenways 1-0 up after 6 minutes.

But Greenways didn’t rest on their laurels. Barely a minute later, another defence splitting pass by Maganga, and Jake Lovell was in on goal. One on one, he beat the keeper but also the right hand post (as we looked from halfway) and the chance was missed. It wouldn’t be Jake’s last. Four minutes later, through again, this time the keeper made a good save, but the rebound came out to Walton, who hit a decent shot that was always rising slightly too high, and KFU survived another scare. On 16, a terrific reverse pass by Rhys (number 21) out Jake Lovell in again, and the keeper denied him again. This was becoming a pattern. The supporters around me were saying the same thing “we could be 4-0 up, we might regret this”.

KFU had not been an attacking force at all, their midfield swamped, and the defence picked apart by the pacey running of the front line for Greenways. The bleeding was stopped as the game entered a quiet phase with few chances. But KFU offered up an indication that they might be here for more than a loss on 41 minuteswhen a quick pass over the top found their number 11 put through, but his attempted lob never got high enough and it was a comfortable save for Dan Stevens in the Greenways goal. Greenways had a chance at the other end when Walton put number 21 in and he saw his shot saved. In added on time at the end of the half, after a KFU free-kick was partially cleared, a fierce shot by the KFU 11 was blocked on the line by a home defender. For all their attacking and chance creation, Greenways needed little reminding that their lead was a narrow one.

KFU came out of the gates well in the second half and created a decent early opportunity. The number 17 beautifully beat his man and crossed for the number 9, who couldn’t get clean contact on his shot and Stevens saved. While they were gaining a foothold, and keeping things steady in midfield, Walton down the right and Lovell through the middle were still a constant threat. Walton set up a chance for the number 8 (his name might be Sheepwash from the number used in a previous game) who had his first shot well blocked, and his second skew wide. This was just prior to the hour.

On the hour though, KFU had their best chance of the match. A cross into the box was met by the KFU 17 who made good contact with his head, but just within range of Dan Stevens who made a very decent point blank save. It really should have been 1-1. This was turning into a fascinating contest as United were making inroads, and Greenways were wobbling at times.

Chances still came and went. A long range free-kick by Greenways’ number 6 (maybe Brown), was hit over from 35 yards. Simon Walton missed a decent headed chance which I saw on 66, and missed another on 72, headin wide, which I also missed, but the Greenways’ injured defender’s father told me how good an opportunity it was. In between those, the two KFU subs, the hugely impressive number 15 who would cause the home side a ton of problems, and the number 18, combined , but the 15 scuffed his shot and the danger passed. There was another great chance when a quick free-kick caught the home defence unawares, but the 15 couldn’t take it. While they probed and prodded, chances were not coming the visitors way, but the threat was there. A corner or free-kick always instilled fear in the home team, but to be fair, the central defence and anchor midfield were strong all game.

The game had a fitting epitaph. Lovell had been wonderful all game with his movement and sensible passing. A real threat. He had one last chance in added on time, put through, but yet again denied by the keeper. It just wasn’t his day in front of goal, but he is going to score a few one day if he keeps getting in these positions. He and Walton especially really impressed me. Marcel in centre midfield was also a very calming and sensible presence. The final whistle sounded to a relieved home crowd (I reckon around 50-60) greeting a Greenways 1-0 win.

A pleasant Monday night’s football in Kent, at a nice ground and as always some good people. As I explained to a number, I’d given up on league football to watch games like this. I am not a ground hopper, I am a game collector, and if they are at home on a Monday before I move, I’d love to come again. I’d like to have a team sheet and know the players a bit better, but you can’t have everything, and in some ways it enhanced the fun and challenge in this report.

An absolute pleasure, I thought a decent standard with two teams with quite decent pace in key areas, and all that was missing was finishing. Thanks to all, and good luck to both teams this season.

Song lyric is from One More Chance, by Pet Shop Boys, and is dedicated to Jake Lovell. I do seriously hope to get team sheets/names to update this and if anyone from Greenways and Kent Football United read this and can help me out, I would be hugely grateful. Thanks for a good game.

The Sun In The Sky Never Raised An Eye To Me

[With a brief Sunday update at the end]

At the beginning of the film Vice, there is a written intro. It goes on about the film being based on Dick Cheney, the former US Vice-President, and how they have made a true attempt to portray his life and how they tried to make it as accurate as possible. But there is a bit of a problem. As the monologue ends, the punchline comes up. It’s hard “because he’s the most secretive vice-President of all time”. I am not conveying the joke well, but it made me laugh. I then said “this had better not be the best joke in the film”. I packed it in after 45 minutes not having raised a light chuckle. Here endeth my Barney Ronay impression*

The relevance? As we walked into Chatham’s Bauvill Stadium, a really good venue it has to be said, we were greeted with some pretty loud late 90s dance “choons”. Jay Brown, one of the Phoenix fans, comes out of the bar and says “blimey” (I think it was blimey) “it’s Ayia Napa away”. I said to myself, that had better not be the highlight of the day. It pretty much was.

As someone who has written a fair bit on non-league this year, pretty much all of it positive, I found today a challenge to get up for the writing. I am on the horns of a dilemma. I love these guys at Phoenix. The fans, the staff, the vibe, the culture even. And yes, some of the players. I really owe them immense amounts for the positivity and enthusiasm they have instilled in me, so that I look forward to their games so much. I am not an entitled football fan who believes his team should win every game. I picked Phoenix, and they picked me, because they fought against enormous odds to avoid relegation when I think they knew they were done for. That they nearly pulled it off was all I needed. They had got to me.

Today I was really, really disappointed in them. They never really felt right all day, and one incident in the second half, which I will not go into on here, was truly sad to see. I love their competitive spirit. I will not doubt this team in that regard, and they need to know that from me. I am not coming on here to slag them off, have a go, or try to make a name for myself among who knows what. I’ve been there at bigger clubs, on message boards where people act like the expert etc. I am not. I have no idea how to manage a football team, and will not give any advice out on that. But I also have to be honest within that framework. I really do. I can’t just write puff pieces.

The day will always be memorable for one thing. I persuaded my brother, at last, to come along, and I think he enjoyed it. He had opinions on players, on how we played, on where he saw the strengths of the team, and as usual we agreed on some and disagreed on others. I know he did take away the enjoyment of sharing time with the Phoenix faithful and recognises what I see in it. This is a big deal, Our last away game together, and Paul will correct me, was probably Leeds United or Brighton in Wise’s last season at Millwall, and for us to go to a game now is amazing. Again, another thing to thank the club for, He’s making noises about joining us for Glebe on Wednesday. I hope so.

This was going to be the framing of the story for today. Brother joins brother in common venture, watching his team maraud to victory as they get their SCEFL campaign really motoring. New follower amazed at the spectacle, and enjoying that precious vibe of an away win. Scripts are rarely followed, and this one didn’t follow it.

The view among Phoenix fans is that this should be an easy three points. There is this tendency for me in later life to take stock too much in what others say. My views on Phoenix have been that they will have to earn every single point they get this year, every bit as much as they had to scrap last year. They don’t appear to have an attacking style of method that is easily repeatable, and drilled in to them. It’s never easy at this level to do that, and if you do, you are fortunate. So you need to outwork and outscrap, and be fitter than the opposition, and so far in this season, Phoenix have been. But there are not goals pouring out of every corner of this team, and so they need to get leads, build on them, and wear teams down. It won’t always be pretty. For instance, I think Steve made too much of the Erith game being a smash and grab. Sure, Erith played well, but in the last 10 minutes, that quality and fitness won them the game. Don’t apologise for that.

So while some of the optimists predicted we would win this even though Tashi was injured and Bertie missing too, and with Andy Walker away, Mr Pessimist here thought “I hope the players don’t think like that”. I genuinely think that scoring goals at this level is hard. I don’t think we will roll over many teams. Welling Town had a fair few ex-Phoenix players and coaches, and there was a sense of needle in the air. It never really surfaced. But you could sense it.

Welling Town use Chatham’s ground, which is a 3G pitch. It is very well appointed, an impressive bar with seating outside and a large stand (for lower non-league) down one side which oddly is set quite a way back from the field of play. A lot of balls were lost, probably the most impressive being a Ryan Hayes hoof which cleared the trees after he’d been pulled up for an offside. That got a “have it” from me. One for Peter Kay fans there and then.

Lee Bird came in for Bertie Valler, Freddie Akon for Tashi, and Steve had secured Pat Ohman as a replacement keeper for this game (another one may need to be found for Wednesday). The formation was going to be interesting. Ryan Hayes was meant to be playing as a striker, with Freddie more on the right, Lee filling in as a direct replacement for Bertie. I knew nothing about Welling Town, and saw their team sheet about 5 minutes before kick-off.

The initial portents were good. The ball was worked to the left, a cross came in from Dave Martin, Luke Leppard got his head to it, but it went wide. A nice start in the baking heat. But there was precious little else from Phoenix as Ryan got pulled over to the right, and couldn’t make an impression, a couple of odd looking offsides were given that we didn’t really agree with, and Welling Town grew into the game, so much so that my notes have them having more attempts at goal. Sam Bailey with a couple, George Whitelock with another. As was always going to happen, the heat made the game very stop-start. Any injury, and the chance was taken to rehydrate and recover. It was a bit of a surprise that so little added-on time was played at the end of the first half, but to be fair, it was steaming out there. Phoenix put a bit of pressure on towards the end of the half, Luke nicking the ball off a defender, feeding it to Ryan Hayes on the edge of the area, and in a position to strike with his left foot, but from just outside the box he put his shot wide. A few crosses and corners at the very end threatened a head of steam, but as another corner was won, the ref blew for half-time. Nil Nil.

During the first half, I got the camera out to take pictures, and realised I had left the SD card in the laptop. It sort of summed up the day. All pictures today are from the phone.

If Phoenix had built up a head of steam prior to the half it evaporated at the start of the second. For the first 25 minutes of it, Welling were more than equal, and had more of the chances. While nothing in the notebook reflects great alarm, it was still more Welling notes than Phoenix. Zak Bryon shot over on 46 after good work down the right to set him up; Olalekan Rabiu had a shot on 48, again over. On 56 minutes, after some good pressure by Phoenix amounted to nothing, a very swift, incisive break followed from the home team ending with Femi Orenuga bringing a good save out of Pat Ohman. A couple of minutes later and Bailey is denied again, but wait, there’s a break. Suddenly through great persistence, Luke Leppard, cutting an isolated figure for most of the game, gets the run on his defender. He gets into the box, and with the keeper to beat, brings out a decent save, and the rebound is gathered in. Luke lets out a cry of exasperation. The supporters do too. A good save, but Luke would have deserved that goal, and knows it should have been 1-0. But some hope.

The game gets into a pattern. A stoppage in play, refuelling, every 10 minutes. Welling looking dangerous on the break, but Phoenix holding them with some discomfort, but not many shots on Ohman’s goal to worry the stand-in keeper. Phoenix get stronger as the game gets later. Emmanuel Oshinowo comes on for Freddie Aikon, and brings a different dimension, a bit of pace up front. On 67 Ryan Hayes has a shot from outside the box, but it is a comfortable save for home keeper Christian North. On 70, a wonderful cross comes in, at the back post Joe Denny only has to hit the target to put us 1-0 up. It is low, but somehow he gets underneath the header and puts it over. His blushes are saved, in part, by an offside flag that frankly, was a complete mystery, but it doesn’t cover the miss. It happens. How mad would we have been if it had gone in?

The closest to a goal comes in the 83rd minute. A ball comes over from the left and Lee Bird meets it with a sweet volley, which is headed off the line by, and Welling Town can correct me, Jack Bancroft. Whoever it was, well bloody played. As the ball pings around, it falls to Luke who conjures a very decent hooked shot from about 10 yards, but again the keeper is equal to it. The chance goes. The game wanders to its conclusion, Phoenix again gaining the upper hand, but no way can Welling be denied a share of these spoils. They matched the “favourites” for the 90 minutes.

It wasn’t a wonderful game, it was going to be tough to be so on such a hot day, but Phoenix supporters thought this was two points dropped. Major players like Deal and Glebe cashed in today. Rusthall posted a second impressive win. Whitstable have six points from two away games. Erith & Belvedere flexed their muscles. Phoenix are already behind two, potentially three, of their major rivals. That Erith Town result not looking quite as good. It’s amazing what a less than great performance does to someone.

Phoenix have given me a lot, and I hope that they allow me to be a bit honest in return. They perhaps, and some of the supporters, need to realise how much of a fight this is going to be. We aren’t just going to be able to turn up and win, and that seems a dangerous attitude to me. At the end, I think we knew that, but there is this impression that we are a big club for this level, and I am not sure I am buying it. In the long run, I think this might turn out to be a good old fashioned wake-up call. That a good, well-organised, committed team, playing to its strengths can match Phoenix. As one club official said to me at the end, we can’t keep saying we can play better, until we do play better. It’s a good point, and one I reckon Steve and his management team will bang home.

As I alluded to above, there was an incident in the second half that those there know what happened. Steve was livid about it. We need those two important players to calm it down and be on the same page. I felt it affected their games after it. We need them. If they read this, and why should they, it matters. It does. I like you both as players. I know things can get a little heated, but that’s not what should happen. Passion and commitment, and “high standards”, are all well and good in the common goal, if they don’t fester. Let’s hope it is a one-off. Steve knows them better than me, I am sure he will deal with it.

So, a fairly subdued report tonight. It wasn’t a great day for my non-league teams. Holsworthy went down 2-0 on a pitch that looked like the Gobi Desert in Teignmouth. Bideford lost to a last minute goal by the West Ham Tribute Band. Cray Valley Paper Mills were well beaten at Ramsgate. Cray Wanderers lost at Billericay (and did Chris Dickson really score against them). At least Millwall came back from 2-0 down to win. Jay wasn’t happy. He seems to claim Millwall always come from behind. He is a Charlton fan, and well, so was my Dad, so I can’t say much, although point out his team haven’t beaten Millwall this millennium.

There were plenty of mentions of fantasy league teams (Gabriel Jesus and Haaland and triple captains, whatever the hell that is) which made me even more glad that I don’t play anymore. Paul kept us up to date with the Sky Sports feed on his phone, a skill I haven’t even remotely mastered on mine. There were nice introductions to the officials for Paul, and Alf, our own Egon Ronay, passed his own verdict on the burger (I don’t think he approved). It was a subdued day all round, although a nice one with my brother out with me (and the Sullivan clan also had an extra member). I just wish it had been a win, because I might well have been still in Bobby’s Jerk Box right now if we had. Don’t ask!

This has actually been a hard report to write. I think it is because I have a relationship with Phoenix that I don’t want to spoil or to criticise. This is, as a wise sage on Twitter said to me “not their day job” and that’s fair enough. I’ve been consistent on that throughout my writing. These are good guys, and they give their all. I find myself in a difficult position. I like to write, and to be honest. I might have got in Claire’s bad books because until now, I’ve not mentioned Alfie, and he barely featured today, but for one incident where he got tangled up with an opponent. I felt down about the result, and I suppose that’s what caring is. But I feel I need to cut more slack. For access? No, not really. Because I’m a newbie and I have so much time for these guys. I hope they know where I am coming from. This is football in a raw old form, and it is probably why I love it. After all, Paul wants to come back (he thought Welling’s Reggie Yembra had a particularly good game)!

Thanks for all the lovely feedback on the podcast. Each has had over 50 listens, and that has blown me away. I will do the next one towards the end of the week unless the mood takes me to do one on Monday. Also hits are solid on here, so I will be more than happy to continue!

On to Glebe on Wednesday, hopefully via Cray Valley Paper Mills on Tuesday. For all our sakes, let’s hope things cool down. D’you know what I mean?

SUNDAY UPDATE

I thought I might jot down a couple more thoughts from yesterday that do not really merit their own post. I wasn’t looking forward to writing the post because of the disappointment in the result, because I feel like a new person to the club and to have some negative words about the performance felt like a little bit of betrayal, and, well, it’s not as easy to write disappointed posts as it is angry (I know that from experience writing on cricket). Thanks to Trevor Knell who gave me some advice, and as usual, to those who have retweeted and liked the post on Twitter. It seems to have come across as fair and that’s the main thing.

This was a relief (so far). I wasn’t going to lay into the team because they didn’t deserve it (one disappointing incident aside). Welling Town played well on the day and deserved a share of the spoils, even if it felt in the last few minutes that the game was only going one way. As 24 hours have passed, the result doesn’t feel great, but the season is long. A win on Wednesday will exorcise this. So I am looking forward to that.

*One of the things that annoys me is this Ronay-ism literary construct. Start many pieces with a culture reference, as obscure and designed to make the author look intelligent as possible, and use it as the basis for a piece. It’s something Bill Simmons did a lot when he thought he was good and many of us agreed with thim (he now thinks he is great and most people think he peaked donkey’s years ago). So allow me to do this just once. If only because Jay’s was the line of the day.

People Talkin’ ‘Bout What They Don’t Know

Hi everyone.

Please see Episode 3 of the podcast “The Magpies and The Phoenix” where I talk about the fortunes of my two main teams, the start of the Isthmian League Season, a little bit of Wessex League and Bideford starting up in the Southern League.

I will link the podcast on my new prepping site, The Magpies and The Phoenix each time I put a new one up. I don’t intend transferring all the blog reporting stuff over there, but it is there for when I run out of photo space.

But to make it easier for you in the present, here is the direct link. It is 27 minutes long and feels rushed. I do this in one take, and I had a bleedin’ motorbike disturbing me at the end!

So with the good news that Holsworthy got off and running with a 1-0 win last night, while wondering how we will survive a game at 90 plus degrees on Saturday, and with so much more to look forward to this weekend, I hope you enjoy the ramble.

At the end of the podcast there is a personal message to the people who helped me out this week as I had another one of those mental slumps. I know we all are struggling from time to time, and it is a huge relief to know how strong my support network is. You are crucial and appreciated – even those of you who I know don’t read this blog. Thank you.

I’m Feelin’ OK This Mornin’ And You Know We’re On A Road To Paradise

If you know the song lyric, and the title of the tune, it is by no means a reflection on Oxhey Jets. It is more on the fact that both teams start this competition and have absolutely ZERO chance of winning it. This is something that I am still struggling with. But I wanted to put it that the trip to Oxhey wasn’t a road to nowhere. I loved my time there, it was a really friendly club and I wish them well this season. To the degree they may even enter my ever-expanding non-league portfolio of clubs I have a “soft spot” for.

I have to say that I had been really looking forward to the game, and the day itself. It promised to be a long one as I had to get to Mayplace for an 11am departure, and then after the game, down to King’s Cross for a meal at 9pm with friends. It wasn’t helped by being ill on Friday night. Then I didn’t get much sleep. I was absolutely shattered before I even started the day. Billy Sullivan had persuaded me to take the coach, and my brother kindly gave me a lift to Mayplace. I am trying my hardest to get him to come along to a game. I will some day.

I got to the ground, and inevitably Phil Legg was there. “I listened to your podcast, really good. I stopped when you got to that South West stuff….” What can you do, everyone’s a critic. Claggy and his two lads soon followed, and more nice words about the podcast. The players filed in, and I said hello to new signing Joe Denny, who seemed cool enough. I know this is going to sound really odd, but I feel really awkward talking to players, even at this level. I am, let’s be fair, totally in awe of them! I think it is going to take some time to get remotely used to this. On a personal level, it may be an awkwardness in me and a confidence issue, which means I am a far better at expressing myself through this, than actually talking to people, but hey, it’s also still nice that anyone who plays decent level football still has my “fanboy” approach to them. If I can’t look up to them, then I am going to look down on them, and I was a crap footballer.

Steve is there, saying he knows very little about Oxhey, but he did have a good holiday. “I drove past Salisbury” he says to me, once again reminding me I am being a traitor by moving. How’s it going, I’m asked, and he then says Ben can pick me up to take me to games. Ben lives nowhere near Salisbury!

The coach arrives, we let the real stars, the players on first, and then I get on. This is the first time I have ever gone to a football match on a coach. I always drove, except, I think, for two games on a train. What’s the etiquetter? Now the bit I was really worried about. Who the hell can I sit next to? I’m not a small unit, and in the end I get a biggish prize. It’s Grads, the assistant manager who I saw at Sutton last week. Steve comes up as well and says that everything is “off the record” and I say “of course”. It is important for this blog to be honest, but I’m not here to upset and betray people that have taken me into their football family. If I have a go at the managment or the players, it won’t be on purpose. I wrote my cricket blogs desperately wanting to keep my distance. Here, this is about more than football. It is about assisting my mental health, wellbeing, and expanding a circle of friends and going on a fairly spiritual journey. It sounds ridiculously crap, but it isn’t. It is noticeable how my attitude to work, life and everything has picked up since that return to watching Phoenix in early July. This stuff matters.

So I take in the discussions with Grads on youth development, the Erith match and some of the previous times as coaching at Millwall and so on with great interest. Any input from me on the debates feel lightweight. There’ssome humour about past employees as we motor along the M25. We arrive at the Boundary Stadium in Oxhey at around 12:30 and nobody really knows what to do. It is a bright day, everyone seems right up for it, Tony has our Veo camera, the 20 or so Phoenix Fan Club camp in the bar, and the hosts kindly open it early. There’s a little disappointment that the Liverpool game is not on the TV, instead it is Norwich v Wigan (no BT Sport, no criticism). Some try to find a pub nearby, but they return soon so that search must have been fruitless. I took a picture I really like of Steve on the ground, alone in his thoughts….

I have a decent conversation with the Chairman’s father Roy about pretty much anything other than football. I didn’t know he was Andy’s dad, but it was great. Also Vince and Housey asked after the move, and when I might come back, and have invited me to the game on the 10th December against Erith Town. I might be up then (if the move goes ahead etc.). At 2:30 we went into the ground, a very fair £7, and sat in the shade until it was determined which end would be attacked by Phoenix in the first half. Phil had bought the teams to me, and the club handed out a team sheet as well. Really nicely organised.

While sitting in the bar the home team players were sat on a table near to the TV. They looked very, very young. Now to me, they all look quite young, but this seemed exceptionally so, and not many with a huge physical presence. Also interested me that Dave Martin, experienced former-Millwall man came in and was the only one to watch the Norwich v Wigan game. I kept looking and going to myself, he used to play for Millwall, aka, God-like! Your regular reminder that I am 53.

To the game itself. The day was warm, not hot, but the pitch looked rock hard although quite “verdant” – I’m sure somone said that (or it might have been about our one before we left). Eloquent mob, this Phoenix lot. Steve made one change to the starting line-up from the Erith game, bringing in new signing Joe Denny, who Steve said he had agreed the signing on his holiday at Swanage Beach, to replace Calvin Senedu. Lee Bird again might consider himself unlucky to be left out. Who would be a manager?

As Dave and his boys moved to the right, the teams switched ends after the toss, and I smiled knowingly as they came back and then joined them for the trek behind to goal to the north of the ground. Then I knew I had to get to work with camera and notebook. This wasn’t going to be easy. Dave was acting as my spotter (unofficial) and the game began. Time was noted, the FA Cup started here.

After a few minutes of early exchanges in midfield, the first attempt fell to Ryan Hayes, who from the right of the penalty area hit a crisp 20 yard shot that was tipped over the bar, via a flick of the metalwork, by home keeper Jack Fletcher. From a corner on 5 minutes taken by Hayes, new signing Denny leapt best and flicked his header goalwards, but was denied agonisingly as it hit the inside of the post and came out of again. There were mass grabbing of heads from the Phoenix Massive, and then a debate about the thinness of the goalposts contributing to this particular incident. Scientific logic not necessarily required.

Denny came close again on 7 minutes, again from a corner, but this time his header went wide. Phoenix definitely had the run of the area from set-pieces, but it needed a calming goal. It did not come. Before we know it, Oxhey come out from the pressure, break, and their forward (too far to see from my perspective) and Andy Walker come together, but there is no penalty. We had a sharp intake of breath. I don’t know, and invoke the Arsene Wenger defence. I didn’t see it from my vantage point.

On 12 minutes there was another fright for the home side as a ball into the box isn’t dealt with well. Probing down the Phoenix right seemed most effective, and Tashi was causing problems with his pace and movement. Luke Leppard was being Luke, a man who set his default dial to intense, and thinks that is being too casual. I confess to the kids next to me that he’s my favourite player in the team. He tries his heart out and I’d hate to think what defenders feel like. He’s like a rottweiler who has been starved of meat. We think he’s a butcher. Makes that even more appropriate.

On 17 minutes Dave Martin gets set free on the left and looks dangerous as he advances into the area. Tashi and Luke are in the box, but Dave hears the sound of the trumpets and has a pop from a narrow angle but it is wild and flies high and wide, when he probably should have squared. I think he knows it too. He looks a little sheepish.

On 27 the deadlock is broken. Ryan Hayes puts a ball over from the right that finds Thomas Cousins at the far side of the area. Cousins whips a cross over which is met by the Mayplace Messi, Alfie Evans, who defying his “lack of” height headers firmly and it smacks the bar. We grab skulls again, but as we feel sorry for ourselves the busy Leppard gets in, recycles the ball outside the area and Ryan Hayes hits a low 20 yard drive, which took a tiny nick off a defender before nestling into the bottom corner of the goal. 1-0 and Phoenix could exhale. Billy gets the word out on social media, and that bleedin’ air horn gets another airing. More of that accursed thing later.

I decide now is the time to get the proper camera out, and so note taking becomes less of a priority. I sometimes wish I could just sit back and enjoy the game, but I do like the writing, and I love that people like it too. So it is a balance. There’s a little gem of a moment where Ryan Hayes on the right somehow manages to eke out a very dangerous cross from a tight position, the sort not many at this level could get over and it is headed wide. Phoenix look in control, although the pace in the Jets team isn’t dealt with totally comfortable. This is just filler for the events of minute 38 – Luke Leppard has the ball on the left and flips the ball inside to Dave Martin who is free in front of goal, he works the ball on to his wrong foot, and passes the ball neatly into the bottom corner of the net to put Phoenix 2-0 up. The tie feels almost secured.

Half-time was met with good cheer by the Sullivan/Clagg/Dmitri clan and we headed around to the centre of the ground. The thoughts were that the game felt quite secure, but obviously the next goal, should it come from Oxhey, would make the game. The kids are going on about who has assisted the dull Premier League Goals, the adults talking about the Super Six or accas, and I just sigh. I still need to put my lottery numbers in (I do, usual result). Having secured a burger by semi-nefarious means, and the players come out for the second half, we move down to the Dead Rat end (Dave claimed to have seen one, but thinks they’ve cleared it – it’s the bloody countrysided for heaven’s sake) and await either a comfortable win, or a battle. It would be the latter.

On 53 minutes a free-kick is won on Phoenix’s right. Ryan Hayes takes it again, and it is another wonderful delivery to the far post, and again it is Joe Denny who rises highest and this time heads across goal, but there is no-one there to stick it into the net. Again we rue a chance to put the game away, as Oxhey Jets are not going away, and the game is getting a little tougher to referee, as challenges start to go in. Tashi is subsituted for Taylor Robinson, who impressed in a couple of pre-season games. Tashi assures us, as he walks behind the goal, that his injury isn’t too bad and he should be fine for the next game.

Sometimes, you just know an idea is bad. Someone even mentioned bringing a drum. That’s a hard NO!

On 67 minutes Oxhey have their first meaningful effort on target. The ball is fed in from the left by Dunbar-Bonnie and from about 15 yards out Reid Sims hits the ball. It is mishit and bounces into the ground but with the spin and hard surface the ball is arcing towards the goal. Thankfully for Phoenix, Andy Walker is there to push the ball aside.

A couple of minutes later there is a major flashpoint. The ball goes into the area and it is one of those where the keeper probably has a split-second advantage to get to the ball first, but a forward player isn’t going to shy away from the challenge. This, to many people’s surprise, wasn’t Luke, but Taylor. As home keeper Fletcher gathers, Taylor has gone in too and made contact. I have to say, from my viewpoint, that if this had gone to VAR, Taylor might have walked. It didn’t look good. To Fletcher’s credit he got up pretty much straight away and made not as much of it as his defenders. Who did! Some of the Phoenix support weighed in with their totally unbiased opinions of the incident, and there was some back and forth with the keeper. When all was done, Taylor was booked, and as I said to one of the Clagg lads, I thought he was lucky. It’s amazing how clear things seem when you are right by the incident!

As the game threatens to get more fractious, the view is that Oxhey were being put off their game by getting angry. Certainly the number 4, Harry Brady, isn’t on the Phoenix Christmas Card list at this point. There’s a moment where Taylor is put in with a long ball, and the cry is “you’re in”. Brady, I believe, says “not with that touch he isn’t” (there may have been an additional word, I can’t recall) and then Robinson nicks it inside him. The chance comes to nothing. I suppose everyone really had the last laugh.

On 75 the game comes alive. A free-kick from the right, taken by Kristian Swaby is floated in, the ball bounces up and falls to Oxhey skipper Sam Denham, a centre-back by trade, who shows excellent technique in smashing home a superb shot from about 15 yards giving Walker no chance as it nestles into his bottom right corner. The Oxhey fans make quite a noise when this goes in. The slough of despair envelopes the Phoenix massive. I am trying desperately to pick out the scorer, and we all finally agree it is the number 5, but we’re not quite sure.

So now there’s anxiety. Thoughts to a replay I would miss if Jets get an equaliser. Oxhey start to exert pressure, but I don’t feel too concerned, I don’t know why. Maybe it is because I don’t feel this is that big a deal for Phoenix. They, according to Billy, have never been beyond the 3rd Qualifying Round. But it is the FA Cup. I don’t know. Am I becoming that dreaded thing, “a new fan”. The type that think Cup competitions are a useless distraction?

That bloody airhorn….captured and not cropped to remind me of the horror.

Anyway, I need not worry. On 82 minutes Ryan Hayes hits a shot from outside the box after Robinson is fouled. The ball beats Fletcher but hits the bar again. This time the underside and the ball is semi-cleared. As I’m noting down the shot, I look up and suddenly I see Alfie Evans about to shoot. He curls his shot into the far corner (for him) from 20 yards to practically seal the tie. In the build up, it is a key interjection by Lee Bird, who wins back posession, which Alfie takes up, turns his defender to work the space for his shot. It’s a very decent goal. Once again, Phoenix turn the screw late in the game. Just as at Erith. When the backs were to the wall a little, they came out in the end and knocked the opposition out.

In the dying minutes Phoenix should have made it 4-1. A cross from the right by Ryan Hayes was met by Luke Leppard, who mis-timed his jump, arguably got too much on it and headed wide when it did seem easier to score. Sorry, Luke. Got to call it. I’m sure the goals are going to come because he is working his tail off. There was one instance of a one (Luke) on two opposition players that I recall. He never shirks. But it was a bad miss!

The final whistle blew and Phoenix had run out 3-1 winners. As we made our way round the ground to go to the bar, and after a brief delay to get past the players entrance/exit as the Oxhey management kept their team on the field, expertly resolved by Tony Highstead, the man who gets things dones (next, we’ll see if he can sort Putin out), we heard the news from Chipstead. Having been 1 down, it appears as though Tunbridge Wells have gone 2-1 in the lead, and that is the final. In two weeks we will be heading to the Culverden Stadium. This appears easier to get to than Chipstead. I note that Bideford made it through, 1-0 over Bridgwater, and Andover New Street won 2-0 at Warminster. Glebe saw off Holmesdale 4-3 and get to play Cray Valley Paper Mills in the next round. Sutton Athletic won 1-0 over Welling Town, our league opponents next week.

After a return to the bar and a little download on the day’s action, part two of mine comes into focus, and as Tony is rounding everyone up to get on the coach, I have to bid some farewells. I won’t though, to that airhorn, which the kids enjoyed. Also the singing. There’s a magic moment where Mark leads a song, and his daughter is cringing that will be seared on me. But it’s also pretty endearing. We left the main board members to their own devices on the centre terrace, but it was good to be behind the goals. The Cup brings out the best in us.

That’s what it is about, isn’t it? While this jaded, cynical old soul bemoans what has happened to the FA Cup and the sheer vandalism allowed to diminish it is why money and sport are never mutual bedfellows, the scale of dreams here is also limited. What constitutes a good cup run for Phoenix. The eye is on the SCEFL prize, and that has to take precedence. The Vase gives Phoenix a more viable route to a long run, but cup football is capricious. The FA Cup might get you to a rendez-vous with a Step 2 or 3 team, but chances are that will be a long shot. The next round offers an opportunity, but then what? But it wasn’t long ago that Marine, of step 4, I think, got to play Tottenham and the feeling is this Phoenix team might be better than last year’s Step 4 team. It is a dream, of course it is. But I can’t help but feel that unless the monetary prize helps Phoenix out, it is just a ghost we can’t chase. I hate that I feel this way. Hate it.

The Cup should be sacrosanct, and 200+ games were played in it this weekend showing its appeal. Clubs who had never played got the chance to create their tiny part of history. It is brilliant. It is pure theatre. It means so much. I’d give anything to play one minute in an FA Cup tie. Here, in August, it begins. In January, Premier League clubs will participate, moan about fixture congestion, play weakened sides, eliminate everything that made the Cup great, including replays, moan about extra time etc, and the money men make their decisions as it is diluted and Saturday at 3pm becomes the exception, not the norm. As I finish this, City have strolled to a win over a team that shocked them to pieces four months ago. The juxtaposition to me is stark. We gave up a great competition, and what made it great, for the league, where without something cataclysmic happening, looks like a City procession (I know it is too soon, I know).

I have had some special cup memories. Millwall beating Leicester in 1985 when they had a god ordinary front line of Gary Lineker and Alan Smith. There was the win at Arsenal in 1995, followed up by a win at Chelsea in the next round. There are more, but when push came to shove in the noughties, the FA Cup were games I stopped going to, after we got to the final in 2004. I explained why that game had a profound effect on me on the podcast.

“And my rottweiler puppy is this big, so I can have you…”

The day itself was brilliant. I can appear quite aloof, and still don’t feel as though I deserve the inner sanctum stuff. I still like to keep a little distance, if only not to look like a football lightweight. I don’t know non-league football. I am learning it, and I am fascinated by it. I don’t feel I should be bumping fists with the players, or having conversations in the car park with Steve O’Boyle. Why me? I know, I say it every piece. This morning I am getting the feedback from Holsworthy’s opening day loss in the SW Peninsula League from Ryan Hall. Why me? I exchanged numbers with Phoenix’s right back’s father, Steve, who is just such a lovely bloke, and he’s offering me lifts to games. I say it once, and will never tire of it. It is overwhelming. It has enhanced my life and given me something to truly look forward to each weekend. I barely cared Millwall lost 2-0. They seem just a name I care about, a distant fantasy I will never return to. It’s strange, it can’t really be explained. A friend I went to dinner with last night wants to arrange a game to go to before I leave for Hampshire, and I can’t think of one, really. I sort of, at times, want to keep this to myself. I don’t know. It all feels like gibberish when you put it like that.

Grads thinking, I hope I haven’t got that boring old lump next to me on the coach home.

In the words of Keith Olbermann, I’ve done just about as much damage as I can do here. I hope to record a third podcast, reflecting a bit more on all this, in the next day or so, and looking forward to Welling Town away next week. Holsworthy have a game on Tuesday as well, so keeping an eye on that. Thanks for all the feedback, nearly all good. Thanks also to Oxhey Jets, and their video producer Davie Mason (the intro feels like an airline safety video):

But most of all thanks to Dave and his brilliant sons, to the Sullivans, the Mortlocks, the don, Mr Highstead, Grads for listening to my nonsense on the coach, Steve O’Boyle, who just inspires me each time I meet him, and all the others (Vince, Housey, Phil, Ben, the keeper’s coach et al). I will remember yesterday fondly. Up there with the best Cup memories. I hope I can get more up for the next round. I think I just might. It was who I spent it with that mattered.

The road to nowhere, becomes the road to somewhere. Royal Tunbridge Wells. 20th August. Bring it on. I think.

The Bell That Rings Inside Your Mind

Episode 2 of Dmitri witters away about non-league football….

Hope you like it. I actually enjoy doing it, so it would be great if you do!

What’s on? The Extra-Preliminary Round of the FA Cup, miserable Man Utd fans, I hate Geoff Chapple, Slough Town and humiliation, who plays Cray Valley PM, the start of the SW Peninsula League, the Wessex League, SCEFL and guess the song lyric. All in 20 minutes.

And a Neil Emblen correction!