A lot has happened since my last post. Obviously the death of the Queen is a monumental event, and I really don’t plan to blog or write about it, which I know is odd for someone like me. I just don’t really want people to read my thoughts on it, nor comment or judge. There is far, far too much of that as the social media whirl goes into overdrive, and “republicanism” has its 30 seconds of fame. That’s not what I am here for.
Since I last wrote I have been to three matches. Given they were all night games, and in the case of the first one, in appalling light, pictures are rubbish, and time was short. I decided, quite quickly, not to write full match reports, but summaries of each. Indeed, for the last two, I didn’t even take notes. My thanks to @JanetLC1980 on twitter for showing disappointment at a lack of a report from last night – seriously, it does make me feel like they are missed and I will, I promise, try to do one for the FA Cup tie on Saturday. But, until then, I hope the following will do.
6 September 2022 – Erith & Belvedere v Phoenix Sports
The Deres have been the impressive early front runners, and Phoenix were coming into the game on the back of their most impressive performance of the season against Rusthall. It looked like being a very keen, and potentially quite important contest in the context of the league, even if our 15th placed position in the table didn’t really show it to those who might have come along on the off chance. It felt like a big game.
It really didn’t take long to determine that at this stage, E&B are the class of the division. Their 100% league record was merited with a first half display that put the early table into context. They have some very decent players at this level. I was massively impressed by their number 2, Nathan Palmer. In Danny Lear they had a very dangerous striker.
E&B struck quite early, with a whipped in right-win cross neatly headed at the near post by Lear to put the home team one up. Phoenix were not out of it, but the balance of possession and chances went in favour of the Deres. Just after the half hour, Lear was slipped through after a powerful run out of defence which was not met by much resistance in the midfield, and he slipped the ball past Walker to make it 2-0. This had been preceded by Dave Martin lobbing over the keeper from the halfway line but seeing his shot drift wide. On such margins can games turn.
After the break, Steve pushed Luke Leppard further forward and the visitors had their best spell of the game, forcing corner after corner, when, fourth, I think, time lucky, Marcus Elliott nodded in his third in two games to bring Phoenix back into the game. The match then got quite stretched, a little narky, and while Phoenix had a decent chance to equalise through Joe Denny, the home team had more opportunities and Andy Walker was stretched a number of times to keep his team in it. As the game entered the last few minutes, the home centre-back was sent off for his second booking as the game became harder and harder to officiate, and the Deres had what they held despite looking dangerous on the break. They ended up holding out reasonably comfortably to win 2-1, reinforce their position at the top of the table, and send Phoenix to their first defeat of the season.
On a personal level, I have to say I was horrified by the quality of the facilities at Welling United, and that is no knock on Erith & Belvedere. The lighting was utterly crap. I am getting on a little in age, and my eyesight may not be what it used to be, but in the centre of the field, it was atrocious. I have utterly no idea how that is National League South standard. Step 2 in the non-league game. I went to two Step 5 games after this and the lighting was much much better. I had been to Welling’s ground before and it is a pale shadow of what it was 25 years ago. In my view.
It was good, as always, to see the crew. I have to say I seem to be more on a wavelength with Tony Highstead than anyone else there on how I see a game. Maybe he can be as down as I can! I know it is a very long season, and we have not even played 5 games at this stage in the league, but I sense we might be playing for second place. The home team looked a very, very decent side.
I do seem to be staying behind after games a little longer. I sort of feel like a groupie, if truth be told. A hanger-on. I doubt I’ll ever change. But my despondency in defeat is now back, and I suppose that is a feeling I am going to have to get used to. The one thing that was left with me though, talking to Tony, who told me Marcus was on his holidays for Saturday and next week, when I asked who would be playing he said “watch this space”….. Well, we did.
Then, on Thursday, events took place that put non-league into context, and the UK into spasm. I am not going to comment on whether the games should have been called off, but they were, and we moved on.
13 September 2022 – Stansfeld v Rusthall
I have to say that when I saw there were other SCEFL fixtures for the Tuesday, I wasn’t really busting a gut to go to any. Maybe my non-league fandom is being replaced by a Phoenix one when I am up here, and nothing else seems to rouse me. It may also be that the country is bloody miserable right now, and no-one is really up for anything. I put the prospect to the back of my mind, but saw the SCEFL Twitter page and noticed Stansfeld were at home, and they are about 5-10 minutes drive from my home, ground-sharing (and recently beating) Glebe. I thought “why not?”.
Stansfeld had got off to an excellent, and surprising perhaps, start to the season. I believe they won the first division last season and have continued that momentum into this. I also was keen to see if the Rusthall display at Phoenix was a one-off – they had had a good start too, but lost their last two fixtures, so a test of their credentials too.
Early on it was clear this was not a day for the notebook. It absolutely pelted it down for much of the game. Kudos to the supporters that came out, especially the Rusthall fans who had made the journey, I think about 20 of them. Very well done to them!
The game itself was not particularly memorable. It really isn’t helped by not having a team sheet and not really knowing who is who. Rusthall had the better of either end of the first half, but Stansfeld were never overwhelmed. Again the visitors showed a great deal of pace, as they had at Phoenix, but no real end product. Stansfeld were quite physical, but not doing them a disservice just by saying that. They do utilise longer passes more than most, while Rusthall seek to get you with darting runs and movement.
The two key moments though came in the second half. A free-kick for Stansfeld, around 15 minutes from time, was hit beautifully and smashed off the crossbar to safety. This felt like the one moment that would matter, but not to be. In the 87th minute, Rusthall failed to deal with pressure arising from a corner, the ball came over from the left wing, was brought down superbly by Tommy Whitnell, who controlled it and stroked the ball into the corner for the winner. Stansfeld remain second, Rusthall now have three defeats in a row.
Stansfeld are clearly a resourceful side, and far be it from me to have a go at them! They have got results, impressive ones too, and the table rarely lies. They may actually be a team that might upset Erith and Belvedere. They aren’t cloggers, that is not fair, but theirs is a style that is getting results and makes this sport, and this level, what it is. The weather was atrocious, a horrible night, but the teams put on a really decent first half, if not such a good second. But league positions are determined by who takes the points in games like these, and Stansfeld got that key winning goal. The day after Leggy at Phoenix said he had played with the goalscorer’s dad. That sums up life in the SCEFL.
Good on Stansfeld for producing a programme. I don’t like Glebe as a club, mainly because they have built over where I made my highest ever cricket score, but their playing surface and facilities are not bad at all. I was glad I went, but also really glad to get home.
14 September 2022 – Phoenix Sports v Fisher
For someone of my age Fisher means Fisher Athletic, a non-league team playing in Rotherhithe who reached the heights of the Conference in the late 1980s, and getting to the FA Cup 1st Round where they were beaten by Bristol Rovers. It meant regular reports in the Mercury and South London Press. It meant other things, which we do not speak about.
That incarnation is long gone, and unknown to those of us who are of a certain vintage. This match-up, nominally, was nothing to write home about either, pitting 16th in the table (us) against bottom (them). This does not tell the story though, as we know. Both of us are on amazing FA Cup runs, both few of the remaining Step 5 clubs left in the competition. While we have a difficult, but possible chance against a team one level above, at home, Fisher have a daunting trip, thankfully in daylight, to Welling United. None of the garbage floodlights for them with the current weather forecast.
Unlike last Tuesday, Paul could make it to this one. We are both a bit down in the dumps with life at the moment, and it is important for both of us to get out and away from the grind. Phoenix is like an oasis in that respect, from seeing Dave at the turnstile, and being greeted by the upper echelons of the club (although the chairman was on holiday). The intrigue was higher because we had made two signings. Francis Babelola I knew from his Paper Mills days last season, Andy Pugh came in from Chatham – we seem to get a few from there – on a month’s loan. Both are forward players, and Pugh came straight in to the team, while Francis took his place on the bench.
On a personal note, thanks to whoever maintains the toilets at the club. Good job. Just another thing to make sure you know. The work that goes in is immense.
I made a decision early not to take notes, and for once just to watch the game. I am so pressed for time at work and at night I am knackered. I have a move now a matter of weeks away, and the house is in tumult. I just wasn’t in the mood. I wanted to enjoy the game. Take it in. Not bother about making notes. So, I went to behind the goal in the first half to watch. Familiar faces around. The Sullivan clan, the Claggett herberts (Dave was still needed at the turnstiles), Dean from the SCEFL website, Phoenix social media and all round media guru, and others.
The game itself got off to a furious start and it was clear that this was not going to be an easy night for Phoenix. Fisher were extremely direct, utilising their strengths, and not really worrying too much about the midfield. Phoenix, who like to try to play that was, found themselves a bit out of sorts. Luke made one early very tasty challenge (the Fisher feed did not like it) but wasn’t really his effective self. Alfie wasn’t in the game, Lee was not on his top form. But while that was a concern, it was also interesting to note how Andy Pugh played, using his experience in winning headers, or if not, making himself a concern to the defence.
On 15 minutes though, a moment of class. The ball came out on the edge of the area to Ryan Hayes. I shouted “shoot” but of course, he didn’t listen (nor probably heard, of course), and instead of hitting the ball with his left, switched it on to his “weaker” foot, and clipped a shot from just outside of the box which the keeper got a slight touch on, but could not stop going in. A moment of class. 1-0 Phoenix.
The teams jousted back and forth, the pace and directness of the visitors never leaving Phoenix comfortable with their lead, and that became even more worrying when, five minutes before half-time, Lee Bird, who had been booked for a late challenge in midfield earlier, again got caught out and received a second yellow. Phoenix would be down to 10 men for the remainder of the game.
The home team came out superbly in the second half. The Fisher right back had made his opinions known of the man he faced, Dave Martin, and got diddled early in the second half and was reminded by some of the Phoenix Massive behind the goal. Phoenix asserted some early pressure, but more and more Fisher started to make the man advantage tell. Walks had a couple of saves to make, but the pressure lasted longer each time, and it became more difficult for Phoenix to get out.
Then, on 70 minutes, Phoenix win a free-kick around 35 yards out, on the right. We’re telling the keeper how great Ryan is at free-kicks, and that he should watch either top corner, but this was too far out. Instead, in his box of tricks, Ryan catches everyone out, hits a low one into the box, and you know, from where we were, this was dangerous, because Andy Pugh had a march on his defender and if he got a touch, the keeper was in dead trouble. Andy Pugh got that touch, and it was 2-0, and we Phoenix fans could breathe.
Well, for a few minutes at least. Fisher pulled one back when Isaac Thompson’s long range effort was deflected in leaving Andy Walker helpless. The game became increasingly tetchy as Phoenix used the arts and crafts to play out time, while Fisher poured men forward. Francis Babelola made himself a nuisance and nearly profited from getting to a ball before the keeper, but there were men on the line to clear his effort. There was also a huge scare when the referee awarded an indirect free-kick inside the box, but the shot was blazed well wide. There was time for a Fisher player to be sin-binned for dissent, the first time I have seen that, and the home team were mightily relieved to take all three points.
Some other quick points arising from the game and the surrounding stuff. Andy Pugh’s father is going to be an interesting one while he is here. Very entertaining. As always, a pleasure to meet up and speak to Steve, Harry Douglas’s father, after the game, and look forward to seeing him on Saturday. I had a little chat with Steve afterwards, who was very calm, yes, that Steve O’Boyle, and focused. I found out at the weekend that he was a Charlton fan. Oh dear. Dean Bowey was very magnanimous over his team’s 2-0 win over my team – “I don’t gloat” he said. Again good to see Grads and Ben, and there’s something about hard fought wins that are sometimes more pleasing on the soul. We all thought Fisher won’t stay down there long. They are combative, strong and will cause teams a good deal of problems. I wish them all the best on Saturday in the Cup. They can give the SCEFL a real boost.
It is possible that this is my penultimate home game before I move. The last might be Saturday. Phoenix go on the road in the Vase to Bridon Ropes on Saturday week, are away at Rusthall when I might be away with work, and then away at Bearsted on 1 October. The 5th may be our moving day, when Phoenix play Tunbridge Wells, and I miss Deal on the 8th. Everything is up in the air. While I will be back, when is another matter.
There may not be lots of opportunities…..