Saturday, 29 December 2007

Gillingham 3 Nottingham Forest 0

Match 42/07/659 - Saturday, 29th December 2007 - League One

Gillingham (0) 3 Mulligan 49 Miller 61 Griffiths 81
Nottingham Forest (0) 0
Att. 7,712

Entrance: Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,649

Match Report

Brian Clough, Peter Taylor, John McGovern, Roy Dwight, Kenny Burns, Kenneth Clarke, Larry Lloyd, Trevor Francis, Ian Storey-Moore, Robin Hood, Maid Marion, Colin Calderwood . . . your lads took one hell of a beating.

Oh My God, just where did this Gillingham appear from? On the pitch this afternoon were players that grafted, players that showed no shortage of ability, courageous performances, they were a TEAM.

I hold my hands up, I feared an embarrassment and the Boxing Day version of Gillingham had given me no reason to think otherwise. Perhaps Forest turned up with the complacency of their fans who had peppered the message boards with foul-mouthed exultations that they were to visit our piss-pot of a ground for the very last time before they rise to their rightful place among football’s elite, after all they are a giant of a club, erstwhile European Champions, but of another century and to coin the ditty, your not famous anymore.

At half-time and 0-0 Gillingham had ridden their luck to a certain extent with Simon Royce as usual making important saves, but doubtless there was an improvement in the performance that gave a fragment of hope that a point might yet be gleaned from this no chance fixture.

As the home side attacked the Rainham End, from the beginning of the second half it was Nottingham Forest that appeared vulnerable at the back and when keeper Paul Smith spilled a good strike from Andrew Crofts, the recalled Gary Mulligan was on hand to tap home the rebound. The home crowd were now rising to the occasion and after Crofts had spurned an opportunity, a ball broke on the edge of the box to Adam Miller and this time there was no fluke as his well hit 20-yarder screamed past the helpless Smith.

Mulligan made way for Leroy Griffiths, useless muttered the author of this blog, and ten minutes later he latched onto a dreadful back pass and smashed an unstoppable shot past Smith to send Priestfield into absolute ecstasy and the away end emptying as fast as they could get down those piss-pot steps.

Three games without a win had left the Gillingham faithful questioning the wisdom of bringing in players from outside of the Football League, today they stepped up to the plate. Let’s get the jokes of having a Nutter in the dressing room out of the way as John Nutter made his first start and proved an accomplished full back and had Simon King not had such an outstanding game would have been a contender for man of the match.

Wonderful match, superb entertainment, and if those Forest fans are proven correct then they will want to forget their final visit to that piss pot ground in the Medway Towns.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Gillingham 1 Southend United 1

Match 41/07/658 - Wednesday, 26th December 2007 - League One

Gillingham (0) 1 Miller 89
Southend United (0) 1 P. Clarke 54
Att. 8,268

Entrance: Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,604

Match Report

Gillingham got a fair old roasting but somehow managed to avoid a Christmas stuffing in this Boxing Day encounter and in keeping with the festive season were gifted a fluke 89th minute goal when Adam Miller saw his cross deceive everybody to nestle into the bottom corner.

To say that Gillingham were second best implies there was two runners, in truth for much of this match there was only one team in it and if Southend had capitalised on half of their chances they would have been home and hosed by half time. But if chances are not taken then the dominant side is open to the type of unfortunate finish that befell Southend this time and has certainly happened to Gillingham in the past.

Southend are a decent side, sitting on the edge of a play-off spot, looking perfectly capable of breaking into the top six. Tommy Black showed exactly what we are missing having failed to secure his signature after a successful loan spell last term. Craig Armstrong is not exactly having the best spell of his career and Black had him tied in knots and chasing shadows for much of his time on the pitch.

Gillingham lacked any invention in midfield, changed plans midway through the first half to add some width, but Plan B looked as largely ineffective as Plan A. Despite shipping a fair few chances, King and his stand-in partner Bentley coped manfully with the intimidating challenge of Leon Clarke and Charlie McDonald and when they managed to get a shot on target England’s Number One, Simon Royce was equal to the task. If I haven’t mentioned it before, the voting for the Player of the Year should be cancelled and the trophy given to Royce immediately.

After finally going in front, Southend strangely gave up their initiative and embarked on a time-wasting mission that wound up everybody and eventually was their undoing with the final freak finish. In the time added on Stuart Thurgood committed the type of foul that has to be eradicated from the game and deservedly saw red.

Prior to the Christmas holiday, Mr Scally pushed through his restructuring plans at a EGM and the ownership of Priestfield Stadium will pass to the chairman’s Priestfield Developments in the near future. History will now record whether this was the club’s salvation or its demise.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Staines Town 1 Tonbridge 1

Match 40/07/657 - Saturday, 22nd December 2007 - Ryman Premier

Staines Town (1) 1 Nwokeji 5
Tonbridge (0) 1 Westcott 86
Att. 270

Entrance: £9
Programme: Sold Out
Mileage: 136/3,559
New Ground: 221

Match Report

Tonbridge looked to be suffering a hangover from their famous victory on Tuesday as Staines sliced through their defence with a beautifully crafted opening goal within five minutes of the start. For 15 minutes from the beginning Staines looked every bit a side amongst the pacesetters of the division. Their passing and movement was good to watch, albeit it is your side that is being given the runaround. But following this first quarter hour Tonbridge gained a foothold on the game and whilst their style might not have been so pleasing on the eye, slowly but surely the effectiveness of Staines was being eroded. By half time Staines deserved their lead, but the feeling was that Tonbridge were far from out of it.

The referee decided to take centre stage in the second half. I’ve refrained from using these postings to criticise referees, but this one was a real shocker, and a “homer” to boot. Tonbridge were generally on the wrong side of some very poor decisions, no more so than when Richard Harris scored with a powerful header but was penalised for shirt pulling or pushing, neither of which was apparent from my viewpoint, which was unobstructed. From that same viewpoint a second disallowed goal for offside from Carl Rook looked a more justifiable decision, but you got the distinct impression that is was not to be the Angels’ day. These fears proved unfounded with four minutes to go when Staines failed to deal with a long throw-in that eventually fell to John Westcott to slot home a deserved equaliser. A one-on-one opportunity for new signing Luke Fontana went begging as Tonbridge could so easily have come away with all the points.

My first time to Staines’ Wheatsheaf Park and a nice set-up it is once you have negotiated the town centre one way system and complex roundabouts. The main stand is the rear of a leisure centre which houses a very nice bar with just about the biggest television I’ve seen. Opposite is full length covered terracing and behind one of the goals there are some strange shaped houses whose windows seem very vulnerable to the mishit shot.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Tonbridge 1 Oxford United 0

Match 39/07/656 - Tuesday, 19th December 2007 - FA Trophy 1st Rd Replay

Tonbridge (1) 1 Barr 30
Oxford United (0) 0
Att. 642

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/3,423

Match Report

A magical night a Longmead. A Conference (in old money) team beaten and over the two games it was no more than Tonbridge deserved. A Hamid Barr goal after half an hour ultimately settled the game that produced a tense and dramatic conclusion.

Tonbridge were further weakened by the suspensions of Ray Powell and Anthony Storey to add to the cup-tied Rook, Edusei and Westcott. Oxford themselves had the experienced keeper, Billy Turley suspended to be replaced by a 16-year-old, who in fairness did OK.

The game itself followed a similar pattern to the first encounter at the Kassam on Saturday. Tonbridge having the best of the first half, but this time having a goal to reward their efforts. Barr driving in from the edge of the box. Second half was a different story with Oxford exerting even more pressure than they were able to in the first match. Chance after chance went begging as Tonbridge rode their luck and the time slowly ebbed away. The small contingent of Oxford supporters were becoming more irate with their forwards profligacy.

Time was moving towards the 90 when Tonbridge seemingly decided that it might just be the moment to either self-destruct or, at the very least, ratchet up the tension. First, Scott Kinch, who had been a man on a mission in the centre of midfield, got involved in a pushing and shoving match with an opponent and the resultant yellow saw him sent off, having been booked earlier. If that was bad enough, Hamid Barr needlessly rounded the keeper after the whistle had blown for offside and was also sent off for a second yellow. Now down to nine men, thankfully Tonbridge had to survive for no more than a minute to seal a memorable victory.

Tonbridge’s message board hummed until well after midnight with celebrating fans all wanting to add their opinions and congratulations.

Singling players out on the night is not entirely fair, but special mentions should go to John Beales, nobody would wish him to leave Longmead but the lad deserves to be playing at a much higher level. He has trialled at Gillingham and seemingly nothing has come of it. Also worthy of mention is goalkeeper Matt Reed, who endured a shaky spell a couple of months ago but is now developing into a fine prospect.

Tommy Warrilow is being hailed as something of a Messiah and he is certainly doing everything right at this moment in time. One defeat in eleven since he arrived is impressive in itself and now he has perhaps the greatest giant-killing in Tonbridge’s history to put on his CV.

The disappointment on the night, apart from the sending-offs, was the 642 attendance. There was very little support from Oxford, reported at only 57, but my guess is that was about 30 short, but on a night when it wasn’t particularly cold and there was no Champions League football on the television, I think the club deserved a better turn-out. For those that could not be bothered to exit their armchairs, you missed a historic night at the Longmead Stadium.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Oxford United 0 Tonbridge 0

Match 38/07/655 - Saturday, 15th December 2007 - FA Trophy 1st Rd

Oxford United (0) 0
Tonbridge (0) 0
Att. 1,504

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 223/3,397

Oxford Match Report kentishfootball report

Professionally, half job done. A Conference side is brought back to Longmead and the potential for a giant killing was there for all to see. Oxford United are a big fish in the non league pond. Twenty years ago they were a First Division side and Milk Cup winners and nobody has fallen from a loftier perch into non league in recent years. It is somewhat ironic that having moved out of their old, rather ramshackle surroundings at the Manor Ground into a modern stadium in 2001 with a new chairman, after whom the stadium is named, and a seemingly brighter future, they continued to fall from grace until in 2006 they were relegated into the Nationwide Conference.This season they began as the bookies favourites but find themselves mid table, 23 points behind the leaders and with the Bald Eagle, Jim Smith moved to one side. But none of this should detract from the enormity of Tonbridge’s achievement at the Kassam.

Tonbridge more than deserved their second shot at Longmead on Tuesday. In the very first minute Tommy Tyne spurned a clear opportunity and before the match got to the half hour mark a couple more half chances had come and gone and a rasping drive from Scott Kinch had somehow been deflected over the bar by an Oxford defender. Oxford did come into the game in the last 15 minutes and had a great chance to break the deadlock when top scorer, Odubade got between the central defenders but put the ball wide.

Words were probably passed in the home dressing room as they came out in the second half with a much greater purpose than that which had left them with boos ringing in their ears at the end of the first 45. Tonbridge stood firm, Reed made a couple of good saves, but in general Oxford were not making really clear cut chances. A feature of the first half had been the Angels’ wingers, Logan and Watts both giving their opposing full backs a tough time, but with the increased pressure they were much less threatening as Tonbridge were struggling to retain the ball. Entering into the last 15, it would not have taken Fabio Capello’s salary to recognise that the full time status of the home side would be a telling factor, but it was the part-timers that finished the game on the front foot, and had Hamid Barr’s 77th minute effort found the bottom corner rather than the post, only the most rabid of Oxford supporters would have denied their worthiness.

Tonbridge brought 227 supporters from Kent which, when you remember that only 294 attended the midweek match at Longmead, is a great effort. It was the away support in a sparse 1,504 attendance that made the atmosphere.

It's gonna be Fab

Fabio Capello has been appointed as the new England coach on a four and a half year contract with a break clause after the 2010 World Cup.

Capello comes into the job with a CV that only spells success, with national championships and Champions League titles at Real Madrid, AC Milan, Juventus and Roma. He also has the reputation of being a coach with no respect for celebrity status and somebody that suffers fools lightly, all of which should come as a wake-up call for the huge egos that made up McClaren's failures.

Mostly the appointment has been greeted by the Press positively. There are minor reservations about his lack of, or reluctance to use, English and, of course, these days there will always be an inquest regarding the salary of the man in charge. But the most polarising of viewpoints with press and public alike is the lack of an Englishman, firstly at the helm itself and secondly within the coaching set up that Capello brings with him. There is a large number of englandfans members that despite the abject qualifying campaign still believing that England should only be managed by an Englishman. I would love this in an ideal world, but there is literally nobody of the quality of Capello, or indeed Lippi or Mourinho, who were considered or perhaps even offered the opportunity.

It is thought that somebody like Stuart Pearce could be added to the coaching team, but with all due respect, it smacks of tokenism.

My reservation with the appointment falls within the FA's statement following McClaren's dismissal that there would be a "root and branch review" of English football. Only three weeks have elapsed since then and I cannot imagine that any such review has decided that Capello is the cure all. I have no idea whether Capello had any influence in the structure below the first team of the clubs where he has had his success, but somehow I cannot see him turning up for the next schoolboy international to watch the players that might be donning the Three Lions directly after the Italian's contract has ended. But, I suppose legacy will be furthest from the mind as the World Cup is being lifted in Johannesburg.

FA statement

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Tonbridge 2 Billericay Town 2

Match 37/07/654 - Tuesday, 11th December 2007 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 2 Powell (pen) 50 Barr (pen) 89
Billericay Town (2) 2 Boot (pen) 35 Garness 44
Att. 294

Entrance: £8
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/3,174

On the coldest night of the season so far, an entertaining game of three penalties. First blood went to Billericay via the spot after John Beales had been harshly adjudged to bring down an attacker, from my unobstructed view he clearly took the ball. Billericay then went further ahead before half time with a well taken goal, but some very poor defensive work contributed to the opportunity.

At the beginning of the second half the referee decided that it was time to even up his decisions when he awarded Tonbridge a penalty as equally dubious as the one he had given earlier. Ray Powell cut the deficit from the spot. Throughout the second half Tonbridge made and spurned chances until, with the clock ticking towards the 90, Akwasi Edusei got clear and was brought down by the goalkeeper, this time there was no doubt. Hamid Barr, as always, kept his nerve to equalise from the spot and give Tonbridge a deserved share of the points.

Tonbridge introduced new signing Carl Rook, a striker, from Tommy Warrilow's old club Horsham. He has signed for an undisclosed amount, but it is understood to have made a dent in the money received for Jon Main and Scott Gooding. Rook, despite missing a couple of chances, had a good debut. He held the ball up well and generally did a good job in line leadership.

Unfortunately, for the upcoming trip to Oxford United, Rook, Westcott and Edusei are cup-tied.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Gillingham 1 Port Vale 2

Match 36/07/653 - Saturday, 8th December 2007 - League One

Gillingham (1) 1 Dickson 32
Port Vale (2) 2 Willock 34 King o.g. 45
Att. 7,001

Entrance: Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,148

Match Report

In atrocious conditions, a surprising defeat to end a week where time is going to be the arbiter on how momentous these few days have been in the history of Gillingham Football Club.

On the field, at Crewe on Tuesday, a first away win of the season after seven defeats out of eight, raised spirits and expectation to new heights, only for them to be dampened in the driving rain at Priestfield by bottom of the table Port Vale. In fairness to Gillingham, it wasn’t a game they deserved to lose, they had the majority of the possession throughout the whole game, created several half-chances, but could not conjure up the equaliser.

The scoring was condensed into a 13 minute spell. Gills went one up when Chris Dickson finished after a superb through ball from Adam Miller, who was heart and soul all afternoon. But lack of concentration (and rank poor defending) let Vale back almost immediately and when Simon King turned a half-hit shot into his own net, a comfortable afternoon had turned into an uphill struggle.

To their credit, the home side drove on during the second half as relentlessly as the rain fell, and whilst there were a few boos at the final whistle, the majority probably appreciated and to a certain extent were reassured by the endeavour that had been shown in awful conditions. A disappointing end to a 10 game run unbeaten at home.

Off the field, shareholders and supporters alike were finally privy to the restructuring of the Club's debt that has supposedly met with the Bank's approval. The bare bones of a complex financial document are that Priestfield Stadium is to be sold to Priestfield Developments for £9.8 million, thereby reducing the Club's debt to a more manageable £3 million and interest payments from £800K to £200K per annum. That is the easy bit. Where the issue becomes clouded is the 100 per cent ownership of Priestfield Developments by the chairman of Gillingham Football Club, Mr Paul Scally.

The modern day equivalent of the letters page in the local paper, the internet message board is full to the rafters with differing viewpoints from Scally the Saviour to Scally the Swagman. So diverse are the opinions it is impossible to form any consensus, there is the obvious anti-Scally faction, over the years the chairman has managed to piss off enough people that whatever he did on this issue was going to be wrong. At the other end of the scale he has supporters that are going to take him and his plan at face value and run with it. I find this difficult to do because there are more than a few unanswered questions.

Firstly, where has PDPS found the £9.8 million to "buy" Priestfield. Of course, I and any other person with an interest, have no idea as to the state of his bank account, but I very much doubt that an amount of that magnitude is coming out of his personal wealth. So, if we assume that the majority of the money is borrowed, who is going to be paying the interest on that particular loan in the coming years whilst football continues to be played at our home ground?

The published terms see the Club given a 10 year lease, with the first three years rent-free, and thereafter for a fee to be negotiated in relation to the club’s divisional status. So far so good, but what if somebody comes in with a silly money offer for the site? Ultimately, Mr Scally is a businessman and would sentimentality overcome a hard-headed business decision, I fear not.

There is an easy logic that shows that the deal is a good one for Mr Scally. It may not be worth it now, but valuations have been put on the ground as high as £14 million. Whilst the housing market might be a little slow right now, that is not going to last for ever and it is reasonable to assume that within the tenure of the lease the £14m figure will be equalled if not surpassed. Just using those figures available, a £4.2 million (or virtually 50%) return on his investment would appear to be fairly healthy, even if it went to the full term, and who is to say what the value might be in 2017.

We need to see a new ground firmly in our sights with all the planning permissions and finance in place for the spectre of Gillingham Football Club following in the footsteps of Brighton & Hove Albion and their nemesis, Bill Archer, to be dispelled.

The chairman explains.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Tonbridge 0 East Thurrock 0

Match 35/07/652 - Saturday, 1st December 2007 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 0
East Thurrock (0) 0
Att. 426

Entrance: £8
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/3,103

A first goalless day this season and a short posting will unfortunately reflect this. After 34 games on this blog and Tonbridge themselves having set a new club record of scoring in 32 consecutive matches whilst cruising to a 4-0 midweek win at Ashford in the Kent Senior Cup, a double blank had to happen.

East Thurrock deservedly survived a late onslaught from Tonbridge, who had been punchless up front for much of the match. Goalkeeper Matt Reed was easily man of the match and thereby tells the tale.

Tickets for the forthcoming Trophy match at Oxford United went on sale after the match, a ticket for a Tonbridge match, am I dreaming? I think I might well have been the first to hand over my tenner, legged it back to the car, and the rain that had threatened all afternoon finally began to fall, justice for the Yeovil soaking!

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Gillingham 2 Hartlepool 1

Match 34/07/651 - Saturday, 24th November 2007 - League One

Gillingham (0) 2 Oli 46, 60
Hartlepool (1) 1 Brown 25
Att. 5,488

Entrance: Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,077

Match Report

Today resembled the first day at Secondary School. Lots of new faces to take in, names that you cannot put to faces, some of the lads look a bit bigger and some smaller than you. So it was at Priestfield with potentially eight new names on the team sheet for the first time in a home league match. Luke Freeman, a 15-year-old debutant in the FA Cup at Barnet to be added to the seven new signings. Mark Stimson has raided his old clubs Grays for Dennis Oli and Stuart Thurgood and Stevenage for Adam Miller and John Nutter. He also had at his disposal Adam Bygrave from Reading, Shabazz Baidoo (what a name!) from QPR and Leroy Griffiths from Grays, but more recently playing at Lewes.

Ultimately, Oli, Griffiths, Thurgood and Bygrave made the starting line-up with Miller and Freeman coming on from the bench. It was not surprising therefore that Gillingham played the first half with the look of a bunch of strangers cobbled together for a football match. Evident was Thurgood’s almost over-enthusiasm and Bygrave’s obvious lack of experience, but the disjointed 45 minutes contributed to a 1-0 half time deficit.

Pre-Stimson, Gillingham have been a team that has been criticised for a lack of spirit and to hark back to Barnet, gutless. Stimson’s Gillingham will be a team that might be short on quality at present, but they will not go down without a fight. Within a minute of the restart, Griffiths lofted a ball over the top for Oli to run onto and lob the keeper. On the hour it was all Oli’s own work as he run through challenges to finish with some style. On this showing it is not hard to see why Oli scored plenty at Conference level, he has both pace and a eye for goal. During this second half, Thurgood snapped away like a little terrier, Stimson, interviewed after the game, likened him to Andy Hessenthaler, another late entry into the Football League, and the comparison can be justified. The last 15 minutes saw Gillingham sinking back towards their own penalty area, a Jepson trait that will be coached out by Stimson hopefully. But they manfully saw it out with Miller chasing down everything up front and rightly taking plaudits for his efforts.

This is the type of spirit that fans will warm to. Nobody is naïve enough to think we are Arsenal, but conversely will not tolerate a lack of effort or spirit. Stimson has made a great start, results have been good but not spectacular, but there is an air of positivity about the place and despite the fact that he is tapping into his non-league roots for his signings, his judgement is not being questioned.

My own opinion is that too much ground has been lost under Jepson to make any real assault on the top half of the table this season, but a sound foundation can be built in the coming months to take into next season.

Friday, 23 November 2007

England 2 Croatia 3

They think it's all over, it is now . . .

Match 33/07/650 - Wednesday, 21st November 2007 - Euro Qualifying

England (0) 2 Lampard 56 (pen) Crouch 65
Croatia (2) 3 Kranjcar 8 Olic 14 Petric 77
Att. 88,091

Entrance: £45
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/3,032

Match Report

Croatia rained on England’s parade at a sodden Wembley and a solitary Russian goal in Andorra was enough to end the hopes of a nation and the job of Steve McClaren.

The lifeline offered by Israel at the weekend had been grasped by an expectant Wembley crowd offering a genuine atmosphere for the first time augmented by the large and loud Croatian support. The scene was set for a memorable Wembley occasion, all recriminations against McClaren put to one side to cheer England home. Fourteen minutes later it was abuse that was raining down from the stands as the home side had capitulated to a 2-goal deficit following a goalkeeping howler from Scott Carson and a defensive nightmare leaving Olic to walk the ball into the net for the second.

By half-time, though England has spurned a couple of chances, the truth was that the Croatians should have been out of sight. Half time changes saw help for the isolated Crouch in the form of Defoe and a 99th cap for the Messiah, Beckham.

A tug on the shirt of Defoe gave Lampard the opportunity from the spot to halve the deficit and a pin point cross from Beckham to Crouch, who finished brilliantly to tie the game up and restore our place at Euro 2008.

But England’s ability on the night to self-destruct surfaced again 13 minutes from time when sub Petric was given time and space to beat Carson from all of 25 yards. Croatia saw out the game with just a minor scare when Bent shot over.

England could have no complaints at the result. It would not have been an unfair scoreline had the Croats won with five or six. The referee gave Crouch a fair ride, something he rarely gets from continental (or English for that matter) refs and it could almost be said that he leant slightly England’s way.

On the night England had far too many players who had really poor nights. If Steven Gerrard has ever played worse for England, then I missed it and Wayne Bridge would have looked out of place in a Sunday morning pub team. That is to single out just two, but with the exception of Crouch who worked tirelessly and Beckham who made a contribution when he came on, the rest cannot be excused for their 4/10 efforts.

The hostility at the final whistle could not have left the FA with too many choices when they assembled for an emergency board meeting on Thursday morning and at 10.30, Steve McClaren’s contract was formally terminated.

McClaren carries the can for a bunch of over-paid egos that have club interests far in advance of the national team. One of Five Live’s correspondents said that if any one of these players win a Champions League medal this season, the year will still be tarnished because of England’s exit from Euro 2008. Sorry, but I just do not believe this. While they are sunning themselves in Dubai or somewhere even more exotic, will they give a damn there is a tournament going on in Austria/Switzerland? I doubt that very much. Our golden generation was just Fools Gold, and a nation of football fans bought it completely. We won’t be so easily sold next time around and if there is any good to come out of this sorry mess then it is that expectations have to be lowered. We cannot continue to go into tournaments and qualifiers believing that we are England and they are just a lot of Johnny Foreigners who imported the game from us. We finished this group level with Israel, that is our status in the game.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Yeovil Town 2 Gillingham 1

Match 32/07/649 - Sunday, 18th November 2007 - League One

Yeovil Town (0) 2 Owusu 66 Walker 88
Gillingham (0) 1 Dickson 76
Att. 4,408

Entrance: £17
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 352/2,932

Match Report

An absolute pits of a day was made all the worse by yet another away day defeat, this time probably undeserved.

The weather forecast had been spot on and half way down the M3 the rain started to fall and none too lightly, and by the time the car was parked at Huish Park it was dropping out of the sky in torrents. An open terrace beckoned and we knew our fate was to be a good soaking. But salvation was at hand. At the ticket office we were informed that although we were buying terrace tickets we were to be allowed under cover in one of the stands. What a wonderful gesture by the kind Somerset folk. Even the short walk along the terrace behind the goal was enough to dampen us sufficiently as we headed towards our dry haven. But the devil moves in mysterious ways and the section reserved for the travelling support was full and despite there being 500 empty seats just one yard away the jobsworth stewards decided that there was no more room at the inn and we were turned back into the elements. What is it with a yellow coat and a lack of common sense, it is obviously not part of the job description.

There is something about getting soaked to the skin that affects the concentration and the interest, then a lenthy delay whilst one of your own team receives attention only focuses the mind further on the fact that your underpants are now being to feel damp. Efe Sodje, himself on as as substitute, thankfully despite sustaining a badly cut eye and concussion was said to be OK later after an ambulance ride to the local hospital. I cannot remember seeing 13 minutes held up on the first half added time board before and as the half time whistle blew the rain had relented and the stand was emptying as the travelling support returned to their position behind the goal. "Where was you when we were wet?" I felt like singing.

Of course this is a Gillingham away day so there is no fairy tale ending, a 2-1 defeat, the skies opening again to a further deluge and atrocious driving conditions all the way home. But it was nice of think that those stewards went home happy with their days work having had a nice dry seat in the stands. Muppets.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Wembley is alive on Wednesday!

It’s a miracle and on Wednesday night Wembley is going to be an atmosphere of hope rather than a night of long knives. Israel not only deprived Russia of the win that would have ended England’s qualification hopes but delivered a 90 minute winner that means only a draw against Croatia is needed. Israel showed a spirit that defied the crazy conspiracy theories that had surrounded Roman Abramovich’s involvement with both countries. Leading 1-0 at half time they endured 15 minutes of all-out Russian pressure until conceding the equaliser and from that point it was hard to imagine that they would be able hold out and keep our qualification alive. Just as added time was being entered, Russia hit the post and within seconds the lone Israeli striker was one-on-one with the keeper and delivered to send this particular household into delirium.

No complacency this group is not over, but Croatia who actually qualified by virtue of Israel’s win and perhaps, just perhaps, their eye may have been taken off the ball, as witnessed by their surprising 2-0 defeat in Macedonia. England go into the game short of two first choice central defenders and two potential match winners, with Michael Owen being injured in the pointless friendly in Austria. Steve McClaren can justify the fixture with all sorts of spin but it had no value and once Owen was crocked it became indefensible, despite a 1-0 win. Credit to the 4,500 England fans that made the trip, but for me it was a friendly to a stadium that has already been visited and one that I did not need to afford.

Many England fans will, but I personally take no pleasure in Scotland’s home defeat to World Champions Italy thus ending their hopes of qualification. They have done marvellously well to take this group to the last match, with home and away victories over the French along the way. Listening firstly on the radio and then watching on TV, the atmosphere at Hampden was unbelievable, and if Wembley can recreate that on Wednesday, England will get home for sure.

McClaren upbeat over Croatia tie

Tonbridge 2 Wealdstone 1

Match 31/07/648 - Saturday, 17th November 2007 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 2 Kinch 55 Barr 90
Wealdstone (1) 1 Alexander 32
Att. 506

Entrance: £8
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/2,580

Match Report

There cannot be many players that leave a club and have the front cover of the next match day programme dedicated to him, such is the esteem held for Jon Main. But today we entered into the first day of the post-Main era and whilst he was sorely missed, the fighting spirit apparent on Tuesday surfaced again to produce a late winner against Wealdstone.

The Warrilow style of play is eventually going to be easier on the eye than Dolby’s, but presently it is work in progress. Alongside Main’s departure, Ryan Martin has also left the club and rumours also surround club captain Scott Gooding, whose exit would be a major loss. In today came John Westcott, from Warrilow’s former club Horsham. He showed some good touches and laid on the winner for Hamid Barr.

It is well reported that the manager is looking at bringing in new strikers to replace Main and it is apparent that this needs to happen sooner rather than later. Although he scored the winner, in ultra cool fashion, Barr looked distinctly uncomfortable as a target man.

Another good attendance, bolstered by a good showing from Wealdstone, but also local people showing that they are buying into Tommy Warrilow. This results lifts Tonbridge well clear, position-wise, of the relegation places and the good ship Angel is being steered in the right direction.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Tonbridge 2 AFC Wimbledon 2

Match 30/07/647 - Tuesday, 13th November 2007 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 2 Main 58 Harris 66
AFC Wimbledon (2) 2 Beales (o.g.) 27 De Bolla 33
Att. 985

Entrance: £8
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/2,554

Match Report

If you don’t update these blogs at the earliest opportunity how events overtake you, but firstly to the match in hand.

If is quite amazing the contrasts that football can throw up. Saturday at Barnet had to be the low point of this season with a lack of commitment that left me both exasperated and angry, last night showed the opposite with a Tonbridge side showing determination to haul themselves back from a 2-0 half-time deficit and a first half in which they had been thoroughly outplayed. Also at Old Trafford last Wednesday in front of 75,000 I was lamenting the lack of atmosphere and last night 985 created a special night.

This was the best game I’ve seen this season, great entertainment with a couple of good goals, a classic own goal and as said, the wonderful fight back that didn’t quite end with the ultimate result, but a draw was a fair result. Wimbledon had stormed into a two goal lead that their superiority had deserved. John Beales scored the classic own goal with a diving header and a left wing free kick evaded everybody to find the bottom corner. Even the most biaised of Angels could not deny AFC their worthy lead.

Whatever new manager Tommy Warrilow (rather hazy picture left), said Tonbridge came out and took the game to their high-flying opponents. Jon Main scored his 20th goal of the season and after Wimbledon lost their goalkeeper to injury Richard Harris who had been thrown forward scored their equaliser. Doubtless any Wimbledon fan reading this will point to the fact that their keeper had been injured by a Scott Kinch challenge for which he was booked and subsequently substituted by a non-goalkeeping substitute.

For all this Tonbridge more than deserved their point and I went home not only happy with the result but with a little faith restored after the last week’s disappointments.

As I said in the first paragraph events overtake the writing of a blog and today it has been announced that Jon Main has signed for last night’s opponents. Jon is going to be a big miss a Longmead, hopefully the substantial, but undisclosed fee will go a long way to finding a suitable replacement, but that is going to be very difficult to achieve.

Picture: kentishman

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Barnet 2 Gillingham 1

Match 29/07/646 - Saturday, 10th November 2007 - FA Cup 1st Round

Barnet (0) 2 Yakubu 61 Hatch 63
Gillingham (1) 1 Graham 28
Att. 2,843

Entrance: £15
Programme: £2.50
Mileage: 152/2,528

Match Report

Gillingham crashed out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle with a woeful second half display at League Two Barnet. What is it about this side that can look half decent at Priestfield and turn into a spineless, gutless rabble as soon as they leave the confines of Medway.

Barnet, no great shakes themselves, simply wanted the game more than Gillingham. They cut short their half-time break, came out and rolled up the sleeves. Nothing more, but their endeavour was more than enough to roll over feeble opposition.

Let’s make excuses because that is the only way we can justify the events. Underhill is a crap ground, with a slope that makes it look like the game is being played on Blue Bell Hill. Barnet get small crowds so there is no big game atmosphere, blah, blah. There are no excuses, today was absolutely pathetic, and if Barnet go on to the third round and draw Manchester United (again), the players can only look themselves in the face and say we missed that opportunity because we had no stomach for a fight. If Mark Stimson thought he had less of a challenge with the two lucky draws so far attained, then today showed the true measure of the job.

Gillingham fans, hardly the most critical in the country, reacted to the players at the final whistle with a torrent of abuse that should not have to be directed at their own players, but these imitators deserved every expletive.

Underhill is this season celebrating 100 years of football and the ground looks as though it has seen little change in that time. Even the Football League label it an embarrassment. Plans are in hand to upgrade but at present they are finding the Town Hall a much tougher opponent than Gillingham Football Club.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Manchester United 4 Dynamo Kiev 0

Match 28/07/645 - Wednesday, 6th November 2007 - Champions League

Manchester United (2) 4 Pique 31 Tevez 31 Rooney 76 Ronaldo 88
Dynamo Kiev (0) 0
Att. 75,013

Entrance: £40
Programme: £3
Mileage: 531/2,376

Match Report

Thirty-one years have passed since I walked through an Old Trafford turnstile to watch Manchester United play. Admittedly in that time we’ve seen England play at the Theatre of Dreams going on 20 times in the intervening time of old Wembley and new Wembley.

As a game of football, unfortunately it was no contest. Whilst Kiev had a couple of second half chances they largely confined their ambition to avoiding embarrassment and once United had opened the scoring through the unlikely figure of Gerald Pique then it became little more than a training exercise for the Reds.

This was probably the most disappointing aspect of the day. Old Trafford on England days had sometimes been a bit of a sterile experience. My memories of many years ago had been of a seething torrent of atmosphere that had been generated on the Stretford End and to re-live those days was what I was looking forward to. A one-sided game, very little support for the visitors (they did have a big flag though!) and for the most part a half-pace United resulted in an atmosphere not very different from those England games.

As usual Wayne Rooney, despite later admitting that he had been bored during the game, showed some enthusiasm and took his goal well. Ronaldo was frustrating, but managed to produce the night’s comedy moment when one of his tricks went hopelessly wrong and produced a “what the flipping (edited) hell was that” from his own supporters. But the star of the show was undoubtedly Carlos Tevez. His goal was the result of his direct running and the blossoming partnership with Rooney. A one-two had Tevez in on goal and he fired home with assurity.

So my return was enjoyable, on another day maybe the atmosphere will live up to the memories, but perhaps football crowds have just changed forever. With the demise of the standing areas crowd motion has disappeared and at times the Theatre of Dreams was like a theatre, with plenty of applause but very little noise. Could it be that Roy Keane’s prawn sandwich contingent and polite theatre-goers are today one and the same person.

Gillingham 1 Doncaster Rovers 1

Match 27/07/644 - Tuesday, 5th November 2007 - League One

Gillingham (1) 1 Dickson 18
Doncaster Rovers (0) 1 Hayter (pen) 65
Att. 5,030

Entrance: Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/1,845

Match Report

It is said that the first attribute you need from a manager is for him to be a lucky one. Perhaps in Mark Stimson we have gained a man with that very precious gift.

In his first game, on the back of a strike from Delroy Facey, the like of which we have not seen since he joined and opponents Swansea then making life even more difficult for themselves playing for 65 minutes with ten men by hook or by crook Gillngham hold on to secure their first point with the aid of a missed penalty. Lucky, perhaps we’ll call it spirited defending.

Against Doncaster on Tuesday evening, Gillingham once again got off to a great start with a very good goal from Chris Dickson and spurn the chance to go 2-up when Facey smashed a penalty against the bar (why, oh why did he need to hit it so hard?). From that point on, it was backs against the wall as Doncaster carved them apart with comparative ease but contrived to miss chance after chance. Eventually after a period when Simon Royce seemed to be playing the visitors alone, Donny got themselves a penalty and James Hayter showed considerably more composure than Facey.

As Gillingham fell into their old ways and defended ever deeper, Doncaster launched waves of attacks that were repelled with a mixture of attributes shown at Swansea, spirited defending and good old lady luck.

The fine home run continues and as this game reached its final whistle, none of the home support could deny that it was a point gained. Stimson may be able to take credit that a steely determination has become apparent and that for the present, good fortune is looking down on us.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Tommy Warrilow signs in

The favourite for the job and a ex-Angels player Tommy Warrilow has been named as the new manager at Longmead. This will be a popular choice with the Tonbridge faithful as his name was top of the fans wish list from the very outset. He leaves Horsham were he was assistant manager to Johnny Maggs and brings with him Cliff Cant as his assistant.

Meanwhile at Tunbridge Wells, reserve team manager Mike Robbins has been promoted on a permanent basis, but such is the rancour within the Culverden club this story probably still has some mileage.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Tonbridge 2 East Thurrock 0

Match 26/07/643 - Saturday, 3rd November 2007 - FA Trophy 2QR

Tonbridge (0) 2 Kinch 83 Logan 90
East Thurrock (0) 0
Att. 280

Entrance: £8
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/1,800

Tonbridge's penchant for late goals winning cup ties continued at Longmead as two goals in the last eight minutes won an entertaining FA Trophy tie. Under the stewardship of Julian Leigh and Simon Balsdon following Tony Dolby's dismissal, Tonbridge produced a decent performance in front of a very disappointing attendance. I do not understand the apathy towards the Trophy (there were only 20 or so more for the previous round) and I find it hard to believe that 50% of this season's average disappear just because the club are no longer in the FA Cup.

No whispers at the ground as to who the new manager might be. From Nick Sullivan's programme notes he informs that the phone has been ringing constantly with some obvious applicants and some not [so obvious]. So there appears no shortage of interest in the job and the chairman acknowledges that Tony Dolby has taken the club forward to this point. So we will have to wait and see, sometime this coming week has been mentioned.

But for now, another home draw on Monday would do nicely.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Stimson signs in

Just a day after writing that the puffs of smoke probably would not be seen over Priestfield for the distant future, Mark Stimson is announced as the new manager of Gillingham Football Club.

Personally I'll pleased with the choice. Sure he is unproven at Football League level but he has a good track record at Grays and Stevenage and is a manager on the up. He has a reputation for wanting his teams to play attractive football and that will not go amiss given the dross we have been served up in the last 18 months.

The messageboards are thick with positive vibes and that is something in itself, recently they have been a really negative vehichle.

Stimson himself has given a very good first interview and if he can live up to his own billing then better times are ahead for the club.

Stimson interview

Stimson's first match in charge at Swansea on Friday night ended 1-1 earning Gillingham their first away point of the season. Having taken an early lead through Delroy Facey and having a man advantage after the home side had a man sent off on 25, they came within 10 minutes of victory before conceding an equaliser and then a last kick penalty which thankfully Simon Royce saved.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Dolby goes, two down, one to go?

21st November 2007 could turn out to be quite a significant day in the life of this blog. Possibly, probably even, England will fail to qualify for the finals of the European Championship and could it be that come the 22nd Steve McClaren will depart his post as the manager of the national side. By that time Gillingham will be three months into their managerless term and as Tonbridge parted company with Tony Dolby yesterday that could mean that all three of my teams will be rudderless. To lose one is unfortunate, to lose two is careless, all three means I should have given a lot more thought to the teams I follow!

I feel a bit more sorry for Dolby than I felt for Jepson, at least he achieved something significant with Tonbridge having got them promoted in 2006 following a memorable play-off victory against Dover. Saturday’s FA Cup 4th qualifying round defeat at Ware on Saturday proved the last straw for chairman Nick Sullivan, but the there had been public soundings in programme notes a couple of times prior. In truth, despite another good cup run, Tonbridge’s league form has been particularly disappointing and they presently reside in a relegation place. Dolby had been given a competitive budget during the summer, brought several players with reputations to the club who sadly have not lived up to their billing.

Supporters, especially those who frequent the messages boards, have made their feelings felt for some time and I’ve no doubt whatsoever that whether he reads the boards or not, these feelings were transmitted to Mr Sullivan. It was not only the disappointment of the FA Cup defeat, but the manner in which they departed the competition. Gutless and passionless were two of the adjectives that were used to describe the performance.

It's unimaginable that Tonbridge can take as long to appoint Dolby’s replacement as Gillingham, in fact my guess is that both England and Tonbridge will find another leader before the puffs of smoke are spotted from Priestfield’s chimney.

One day later and another manager of a team in which I take an interest is fired, Martin Farnie being sacked at Tunbridge Wells.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Gillingham 3 Bristol Rovers 2

Match 25/07/642 - Saturday, 27th October 2007 - League One

Gillingham (1) 3 Brown 20 Graham 85 Dickson 89
Bristol Rovers (1) 2 Lambert 27 Piper 46
Att. 5,333

Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/1,774

Match Report
Somebody famous once coined the phrase “it’s a funny old game” and how right Greavesie was. At about 75 minutes and 2-1 down, Priestfield was turning on their own team. Misplaced passes were being greeted with boos and derision, but at least this showed a bit of passion and interest, unlike the first half that had been met with total apathy from both teams and supporters alike. Two goals in the last five minutes won it for Gillingham and the previous 85 minutes were forgotten as the home side were cheered from the pitch, short-term memory loss for a percentage of those in attendance.

The management state of limbo continues and now runs into its third month. How can it take so long to appoint a manager? When Ronnie Jepson resigned eight weeks ago, I wrote that if Paul Scally jumped in quickly then the appointment would probably be from within and that would show a lack of ambition, well nobody can accuse Mr Scally of an impulsive decision. Gossip has seen names brought to the fore, but the silence from the club has been deafening. Whilst we have been deliberating, Millwall, Leicester, Lincoln, Port Vale and Chelsea(!) have all parted company with their managers and are now competing with Gillingham for the services of the “right man”. Strangely enough all of the names are still available. Mark Stimson appeared to be a racing certainty when he resigned from Stevenage, whose chairman went on to make acrimonious comments directed at Gillingham. But that was a fortnight ago, and he now seems to be making overtures to Lincoln City. Peter Taylor also departed Crystal Palace at an opportune time, but stronger money is that he will turn up at Stevenage. Steve McMahon’s name rose to the top on the back of a Scally comment about the candidate being abroad and just as quickly sunk to the bottom. Martin Allen hasn’t accepted anywhere yet, similarly Brian Little.

All this is completely unsatisfactory and you have to feel for Iffy Onuora. He now manfully soldiers on, having lost his first lieutenant Mick Docherty following the Swindon debacle. He says all the right things, going about his everyday business until such times that he is told he is no longer needed at the helm.He has maintained the home form, the unbeaten run now extending to eight games, but results on the road show no signs of improvement.

In truth, the general negativity at Priestfield is not driven by results alone, as said Gillingham’s home form, where the vast majority watch, is good. People have grown tired of logging into, by any means of communication on a daily basis, just to hear that there is no news. If we cannot get our man, whoever it is and for whatever reason, then Iffy should be given the job for the rest of the season and end the uncertainty.

Away from Priestfield was the bitter disappointment that Tonbridge had fallen at the last qualifying hurdle with a 3-1 defeat at Ware. Hopes had been high that a 35 year wait for a FA Cup First Round entry would be brought to an end at their Division One North opponents, but sadly they were well beaten.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Tonbridge 3 Harrow Borough 2

Match 24/07/641 - Saturday, 20th October 2007 - FA Trophy 1QR

Tonbridge (1) 3 Barr 8, 89 Beales 85
Harrow Borough (1) 2 Adomah 12 Lawrence 70
Att. 345

Entrance: £8
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/1,729

Tonbridge continued their amazing cup form this season which is a total contrast to their league form. Coming back from the dead in previous rounds of the FA Cup against Maldon and Croydon to be in the last qualifying round, they repeated the trick against their Ryman Premier counterparts, coming back from 2-1 down with 5 minutes to go. Tonbridge's Main man was not the goalscoring hero on this occasion but the provider for Hamid Barr's winner. Fingers crossed that the cup form and luck can be carried into next week's FA Cup game at Ware. This game is leaving me with a dilemma as to whether to give up my Gillingham season ticket in favour of the trip to Ware, could come down to a toss of the coin.

Russia 2 England 1

Match 23/07/640 - Wednesday, 17th October 2007 -
Euro Qualifying Group E

Russia (0) 2 Pavlyuchenko 69 (pen) 73
England (1) 1 Rooney 29
Att. 84,700

Entrance: £60
Programme: 200 Roubles (£4.50)
Mileage: 136/1,703 (Heathrow only)
New Ground: 220 (31st abroad)

Match Report

England’s Euro 2008 qualification was left hanging by a thread as they left the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday night suffering a 2-1 defeat. Much would have been written by the Wapping hacks and said by TV pundits in the last couple of days, but for my tuppence-worth, it was not a game England deserved to lose.

For 70 minutes England had contained the Russians with none of the scares that had been experienced last month at Wembley. They had led at half time through a wondrous Rooney strike and the scene was set for qualification. The pulsating atmosphere that had been generated was beginning to subside and there was even a small amount of booing as the half time whistle sounded.
But the game twisted as a result of a glaring Steven Gerrard miss, a dubious penalty and a Paul Robinson error. Had England gone 2-0 ahead with Gerrard’s chance I’ve no doubt that the game would have been over, but the successfully taken penalty raised the noise levels still further and Russia came at England like hounds having got not only the scent, but also the sight of the fox. The pandemonium that ensued in the English penalty area was matched by the fervour reverberating the Luzhniki and the Russians quickly capitalised to take the lead following Robinson’s inability to parry a shot to safety.

England made substitutions, threw away caution, but we all correctly suspected that the game was up. At the final whistle all that was left for England fans was to negotiate the exit as easily as they had made their entry. As always news had filtered through about arrests and our fans being targeted by groups of Russian youths searching for trouble.

Personally we had walked around Red Square/Kremlin with no hint of trouble. On passing this comment to one of our Burberry-clad clan I was informed: “Ah, but you two look like tourists”, not quite knowing how to take this remark I could only counter by saying that that was the look we were trying to achieve.

Mrs T with her security, looking like a tourist

Our consolation prize was that the expected 45 minute delay in leaving the stadium was terminated after 15 minutes as the Russian crowd almost as one stayed behind in jubilant celebration. This made for a comfortable exit and the coaches left with no more than a few finger gestures from the self-proclaimed top hooligans of European football.

With our departure from the surrounds of the Luzhniki safely negotiated it was amusing to look back to a BBC World piece that morning that reported on the hooligan problems of Russian football. They showed rivals gangs confronting and then engaging in a pitch battle, followed by a interview with a concealed face called the Killer proclaiming that they took their inspiration from England of the eighties but now they were the force. There was also a interview with a guy that sold English hooligan memorabilia, all done naturally to the backdrop of a Millwall flag.

We had particularly chosen not to stay at the Hotel Cosmos, temporary home to the vast majority of the 4,500 English that had made the trip. I considered that such numbers could invite the trouble that suited both sets of neanderthals. Instead we were based at the Izmailova Gamma Delta, one of three huge monolithic blocks that at first brought back bad memories of the Hotel Azerbaijan in Baku, but these fears were unfounded with clean and tidy rooms, reasonably priced food and drink, unlike the £6 a pint that was being ripped off at the Cosmos.

There was a smattering of England supporters in the hotel that had a large contingent of Russian war veterans staying on some sort of reunion. One of these vets late on Thursday night gave us our most amusing segment of the trip. Following dinner, Mrs T had decided it the last chance to sample some pure Russian vodka. So we took a table alongside five of the veterans each with the best part of eighty years on the clock and already sampling (and sampled) the best that Russia offers.

At the bar one of these old boys with a top set entirely made up of gold teeth and decorated with his campaign medals engaged in the language of hand signals with the wife with much jollity. From my seat I could see the old bugger’s hand creeping towards the wife’s backside, but the glint in his eye was reserved for the busty lady behind the bar who was probably approaching sixty herself.

As the wife retreated to the table we sat and watched as the old warhorse set about his present day mission to cop a feel of the tits of the beauty that was in the eye of the beholder. She played out the scene beautifully. She talked, held his hands at safe distance and looked into his eyes. Time and again he went back for more, finally his hand brushed the object of his desire. There was no slap from the lady, the octogenarian with the glint in his eye was satisfied that even in his advancing years the fair sex could be won over. She resumed her place behind the bar with smile that told she had made an old man very happy.

It was playful and in its way innocent, unlike on an adjoining table where four or five prostitutes openly plied their trade. We watched as they were approached or made their own advances, it was pretty seedy for a supposedly international hotel. There was uniformed security and even a member of the local constabulary passed through, but blind eyes are turned, such is the nature of the bribe in Moscow.

So a trip that had not begun too well when I committed that male-exclusive sin of not reading the instructions properly regarding our pre-booked parking space, then trailing around the perimeters of Heathrow until giving up and paying again through to a painful defeat in the cavernous Luzhniki we enjoyed our Moscow experience. I wasn’t greatly impressed with the inside of the stadium, it is large, as I’ve said generated great noise, but the running track made it a rather long distance view. I did like the outside of the building, preferring the stonework to the glass facade that Wembley has chosen. When you first looked at the pitch the colour gave it away that it was plastic, but England cannot use it as any excuse, I thought it played pretty normally.

Snow had covered Domodedovo as we landed but this succumbed to a mild 10degC during our day time sightseeing. Moscow is a good visit. We restricted ourselves to the area surrounding Red Square and the Kremlin but this offers plenty at a leisurely pace. We overcame the Cyrillic text to navigate the Metro with just one small mishap and the stations with their sculptures are sight in their own right. On the occasions we needed help, once a broken English dialogue was found Moscovites were helpful but going about their business there are plenty of doors shut in faces.

I finish the post with the views of a hotel desk clerk who lamented that a championship without England is unthinkable, but of course, he will readily accept Russia’s participation at our cost. Russia didn’t knock us out on Wednesday, Macedonia did that at Old Trafford back in October 2006. It was always suspected that we would pay for that result and it looks like we have.

Some sights from Moscow: The National MuseumTottenham Court Road it isn't
St Basil's - fantastic on the outside, but disappointing inside

Saturday, 13 October 2007

England 3 Estonia 0

Match 22/07/639 - Saturday, 13th October 2007 -
Euro Qualifying Group E

England (3) 3 Wright-Phillips 11 Rooney 32 Rahn (og) 33
Estonia (0) 0
Att. 86,655

Entrance: £45
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/1,567

Match Report

The Wembley wow factor has now expired and we are now there to watch football and with a game as lousy as this, it is a no small mercy that at least the national side walked away with the points. Blessed with an early goal that went between Marc Poom's legs, the game ended as a contest with two goals in a minute. Rooney's goal drought ended with the aid of a deflection and then a bizarre own goal, a header from outside the area, should have allowed England to run up a cricket score. Estonia were technically as bad as Andorra, but they never resorted to the clogging that the had marred the games against the other group makeweights. Whatever was said at half time resulted in a second half watching the proverbial paint dry. It was so boring, Ann became more interested in the planes passing overhead and it was a matter of some relief that we allowed ourselves to leave early to join the queue for our tickets for the game in Moscow on Wednesday.

For the second consecutive Saturday it was elsewhere that was proving of much greater interest. The mobile phone was overheating as Tonbridge romped to a 5-0 FA Cup win at Stotfold to reach the last qualifying road and the piece de resistance was England's magnificent World Cup Rugby Semi-Final victory against the French in Paris. It was absolutely thrilling, had my heart leaping out of my mouth and filled us with elation at its climax, just about everything that was lacking at Wembley earlier.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Tunbridge Wells 2 Thamesmead Town 2

Match 21/07/638 - Saturday, 6th October 2007 - FA Vase 1st Round

Tunbridge Wells (1) 2 Starkey 25 Fuller 57
Thamesmead Town (1) 2 Williams 5 Cable 80
AET (90 minutues: 2-2)
Att. 80

Entrance: £6
Programme: £1
Mileage: 29/1,467

Match Report
The political agenda had ordered that I attend this match due to the work commitments that a forthcoming PBR imposes but with the added distraction that the relatively new PM Gordon Brown was about to call a General Election. This proved much the lesser of the distraction that was England's World Cup Rugby win over Australia, about as unlikely at the outset as Tunbridge Wells forcing this FA Vase game to a replay with a highly fancied Thamesmead side. In truth, despite the side shows, this was a pretty good game of football and if the quality was somewhat lacking it made up for it with endeavour producing an exciting finish.

Tunbridge Wells are still in a state of limbo with the Gary Stevens' takeover not complete. Culverden Stadium remains as it ever was, some would say picturesque, I would say it has a certain charm without being beautiful. Half time tea in a proper mug has been restored and could only happen in Tunbridge Wells.

Writing this report late, the Election call proved a false dawn and the Wells lost the replay to a 89 minute goal.

But look what I was missing elsewhere!

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Gillingham 3 Leyton Orient 1

Match 20/07/637 - Tuesday, 2nd October 2007 - League One

Gillingham (1) 3 Graham 25, 50 Cogan 67
Leyton Orient (0) 1 Ibehre 67
Att. 5,632

Entrance: Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/1,438

Match Report

If this is to be the caretakership's last time in charge they signed off with a fine victory against top-of-the-table Orient who had previously won each of their four away games this season. Almost certainly, if we are reading between the lines correctly, Iffy and the Doc will not be offered the position, but they leave the post in credit having won a couple with a draw and a defeat. The quality of the football has improved, the grass is being used and the spirit has risen.

Once David Graham had opened the scoring with his first goal for the club, a 25 yard strike that rocketed into the bottom left, Gillingham took control and when Cogan also netted his first goal for the club to put them three up there seemed no way back for the Orient. But a 67th minute goal brought the nightmare of last season's visit to Brisbane Road to the fore when, with 12 minutes to go and 3-0 up, Gillingham conceded three times to full back Matt Lockwood and could so easily have lost the game. This time there was no Lockwood, but Simon Royce was brought into action on a good half-a-dozen times to prevent Orient from plundering a point.

Paul Scally has indicated that he has made his choice and if his candidate accepts the job then there seems no reason for that person not to be installed by Saturday's visit to Swindon.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Gillingham 1 Leeds United 1

Match 19/07/636 - Saturday, 29th September 2007 - League One

Gillingham (0) 1 Cox 90
Leeds United (1) 1 Carole 28
Att. 8,719

Entrance: Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/1,393

Match Report

In years to come I might look back on this fixture and wonder why they were even playing each other at this time. The mighty Leeds, Champions League semi-finalists just six years ago, in the third tier of English football. Seven straight wins at the start of the season, but still sitting in the bottom half-down with only six points is also going to take some working-out when the memory has dimmed*. These were the strange circumstances that preceded this Priestfield encounter and the game that unfolded also beggared belief.

Gillingham, probably in the last throes of the Onuora/Docherty caretakership, started quite brightly and it was slightly against the run of the play when Leeds went in front. At this point everybody in the 8,000-odd crowd would have suspected that Leeds would go on to win at a canter, nobody would have guessed the indiscipline that followed that would eventually cost them their 100% record.

As a player Dennis Wise was an irritating little sod and as a manager his team performed on the day as a mirror image of himself. First, just before half time, Tresor Kandol was yellow carded for a second time after sarcastically applauding the referee upon getting a free kick for a foul against himself. Then early in the second half Jermaine Beckford, Leeds second striker, was also sent off for two yellows for a foul that came just a couple of minutes after receiving his first card for kicking the ball into the net long after the whistle had gone for offside. Both senseless, needless red cards.

Ultimately Leeds were lucky to end the match with nine men. Hughes had previously been booked for a poor challenge was substituted undoubtedly to protect him from a red and goalkeeper Ankergren was lucky that none of the officials noticed him kicking the ball out of the ground in annoyance at Beckford’s sending off and was then later booked for time wasting.

Just to prove that nothing really changes in football, Wise himself was sent to the stands during half time after a confrontation with the referee. Leeds are probably a cut above most in this division and if they are to make up the points disparity then their indiscipline might just be a telling factor come May.

Gillingham themselves made a much better fist of the day than of late but still could not break down Leeds in a game that became attack against defence once Leeds had gone down to nine. Countless crosses (especially from Clohessey) never beat the first man and we had entered the last couple of minutes before Ankergren was forced to make his first real save. But just when hope had turned to despair, Ian Cox powered in a header to send Priestfield into rapture. Such are the emotions when you hold mighty Leeds to even a draw.

Sadly the end saw scenes that we are not used to at Priestfield. Firstly the sight of Gus Poyet, assistant to Wise, stopping any of his players shaking the hand of the referee and then the Leeds fans pelting the officials with coins as they left the pitch. As I noted earlier, nothing really changes.

*For historical purposes and everybody knows the facts in 2007, Leeds were deducted 15 points at the start of the season for financial irregularities surrounding their administration.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Tonbridge 3 Ashford Town (Middx) 0

Match 18/07/635 - Tuesday, 25th September 2007 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (1) 3 Tyne 38 Logan 68 Main 90
Ashford Town (Middx) (0) 0
Att. 281

Entrance: £8
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/1,348

Tonbridge eased the pressure on manager Tony Dolby with a comprehensive victory over Ashford Town (Middx). This is one small step on the road to recovery but I suspect that Dolby cannot afford to see his side slip out of the FA Cup on Saturday.

Tonbridge supporters (barring the hard-core) are a fickle bunch and the 281 attendance is a long way down from the 432 that watched the last Tuesday league game against Folkestone, granted Folkestone brought a few more than the six Ashford supporters that stood behind the goal.

Three goals from three different players is something that will please the manager and fans alike. For far too long it has appeared that if Jon Main doesn’t score, neither do Tonbridge. Main did score but not before Tommy Tyne and Fraser Logan had put the Angels in control. Tyne’s goal in particular an absolute corker. Logan was the man of the match giving the opposition defence problems throughout , giving merit to his recall at Ryan Martin’s expense.

So Tony Dolby can breathe slightly easier, but when somebody sang Tony Dolby’s Blue and White Army, the response was “There’s only one person singing“, prove positive that very few have been won over by this one victory.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Maidstone United 2 Tonbridge Angels 1

Match 17/07/634 - Saturday, 22nd September 2007 - Ryman Premier

Maidstone United (1) 2 Hegley 8 Cumbers 84
Tonbridge (0) 1 Main 81
Att. 528

Entrance: £9
Programme: £2
Mileage: 44/1,322
New ground: 219

Match Report
Whether you are a Spurs supporter losing at Arsenal or a City fan losing at United there is no worse game to lose than the derby fixture. League positions hardly count, these are the grudge matches that give you the bragging rights even if you are propping up the table.

Over the years Maidstone United have been my grudge team. There has never been any love lost with them and Tonbridge fans and when they had their brief time in the Football League they became the arch rivals of Gillingham as well. Never to be forgotten was the Kent Senior Cup victory in 1975 at the old London Road ground and then there is also the bitter memories of Gillingham being knocked out of the FA Cup by the Stones when they were still a non-league side.

Both sides have endured a poor start to the season with Maidstone bottom with just a win to their credit and Tonbridge a couple of points better off. Maidstone were quicker out of the blocks, scored an early goal and generally bossed the first half. Whatever Tony Dolby said at half time it was short and probably not sweet, but he was back in the dugout long before the break had finished. The Angels did show a greater purpose in the second half but the quality was sorely lacking and Maidstone’s well marshalled defence was holding out with no real scares. Tonbridge got a lucky break ten minutes from time when a Jon Main shot found the bottom corner with the aid of a deflection. But the parity was short-lived and following a great save from Matt Reed, Luis Cumbers, on loan from Gillingham (oh the irony), finished from close range.

During the week a new investor has put £100,000 into the club for a 50 per cent share. Nick Sullivan has already made clear his displeasure at the club’s present position. If this new investor is much of the same opinion (and how can he not be?) then Tony Dolby’s tenure could well be entering its last phase. Derby games and the FA Cup can produce emotive results. We’ve lost the derby , a FA Cup exit next Saturday could prove the final straw.

Today’s game was played at Bourne Park, Sittingbourne where Maidstone are lodging with Sittingbourne. The ground is in the shadow of Central Park. Fifteen years ago (perhaps more) this was a state-of-the-art stadium built on the proceeds of a huge sale of Sittingbourne’s town centre ground. Sadly the money was frittered away, allegations of misappropriation, and now the ground has literally gone to the dogs as only greyhound racing now takes place inside the walls. Both clubs now play on the old training ground on a cabbage patch of a pitch with one small stand and a club house. Maidstone have purchased land and are reported to be returning to their home town next season. I regularly pass the site and there is absolutely no progress and with financial problems they may have to stay in Sittingbourne for a while longer.