Monday, 27 August 2007

Tonbridge 1 Hastings United 0

Match 10/07/627 - Monday, 27th August 2007 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 1 Main 89
Hastings United (0) 0
Att. 636

Entrance: £8
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/1,000

Match Report

Tonbridge gained some recompense from Saturday’s last minutes debacle with an 89th minute winner of their own. Both sides had their chances during the match, but defences came out on top with both goalkeepers excelling. Jon Main, yet again, finally managing to get clear of the huge Sean Ray to shoot into the bottom corner giving the keeper no chance.

Having met up with Hastings supporter and fellow England fan, Keith Beaumont, it is heartening to hear from a guy who is gaining so much satisfaction with football at this level.

There also seems to be a feel good factor at Longmead at the present, certainly coming off the back of the disenchantment of following Gillingham. The club seems stable, they have attracted some good players and have it within themselves to improve on last season when they finished a creditable 11th, albeit that they stayed in the play-off chase for much of the season.

Finally, a word for the much-improved programme. Nicely designed, plenty of colour and generally a good read.
Photo: kentishman

Luton Town 3 Gillingham 1

Match 09/07/626 - Saturday, 25th August 2007 - League One

Luton Town (2) 3 Bell 17 Furlong 27 Spring 80 (pen)
Gillingham (1) 1 Bentley 22
Att. 6,178

Entrance: £22.50
Programme: £3
Mileage: 194/976

Match Report

One of those days (or just another one of those days) when you have to ask yourself, "Why do I bother". Let's go through all the adjectives, Clueless, Woeful, Desperate, Useless. Today was a murderous journey, stop-start M25, just stop M1 (where we saw the team coach, so they couldn't have arrived much before 2 pm), 3 hours 25 minutes for a journey that took me 1 hour 55 minutes to get home. Parking a nightmare and then a seat with legroom that would make a 5-year-old uncomfortable and a piss-taking £22.50 to watch League One football, back to the beginning, "Why do I bother".

Apart from the seats, the parking and the cost, Kenilworth Road is a dump. Luton have a new stadium in the offing and it is well overdue. I like traditional old football grounds no matter that they may be a bit run down, but Kenilworth Road is downright ugly. Those stupid corporate boxes along the length of one side look like cast-offs from double glazing stands at a county fair. The main stand is a hotch-potch of fill-ins that looks disjointed and viewing from the away end is obstructed.

As a match report this is going to sound the same as the two previous games. Hoofed balls into nowhere, defenders chasing shadows, non-existant midfield and David Graham feeding on scraps, Facey playing the "Am I bothered" card. I cannot think of one single player that is worthy of mention as a possible man of the match, perhaps Bentley, he did score and put himself about. Armstrong, enough said without saying anything and the rest of the back four spent the game three yards behind the players they were supposed to be marking. Lomas, what a disappointment he has been so far, made absolutely no impression and some of his passing was dire. Cogan started, tackled back more than Brown, but going forward did very little. Marvin Hamilton came on for Brown, and with Gillingham fans desperate to cling onto anything positive, he showed a good deal of effort and chucked in one mighty long throw. Royce made some decent saves, could be questioned (perhaps harshly) that he was beaten on his near post for the first goal, but it was a really good shot. Southall, proving he is no full back, contributing to the goal. Royce would also take some of the blame for the second goal when he chased a ball that he wasn't going to get, ending with a cross to Furlong who was left with an open goal.

The most worrying thing is we appear to be getting worse. Luton were not a bad side, they had some good movement, missed a lot of chances, it could easily have been five or six at half time. There seemed a lack of spirit, I've heard whispers that there is not a great togetherness in the camp and on the pitch it shows. Jepson left the pitch at the end of each half with non-complimentary chants ringing in his ears from the disenchanted away support.

Elsewhere . . . The day goes from bad to worse as Tonbridge 2-0 up in the 89th minute, manage to lose 3-2 at Hendon with goals in the 89th, 93rd and 97th minutes.

Friday, 24 August 2007

England 1 Germany 2

Match 08/07/625 - Wednesday, 22nd August 2007 - International

England (1) 1 Lampard 9
Germany (2) 2 Kuranyi 26 Pander 40
Att. 86,113

Entrance: £45
Programme: £6
Mileage: 100/782

Match Report

When Old Wembley opened it took 40 years for foreign opposition to go home victorious, sadly New Wembley only lasted 180 minutes. The very best of enemies left England’s new home with a undeserved 2-1 win, the winner being a cracking goal and previously the equaliser a Paul Robinson howler.

There is no wisdom to the timing of this international date. Every year we are subjected to an August fixture, why? The Premiership is only two games old, the clubs hate the fixture (well they hate any England fixture to be fair) and the withdrawals, from both countries I must add, gave the impression of a reserve team match.

No England-Germany game can be classified as a friendly and these under-strength teams gave us a real match. Frank Lampard opened the scoring and generally had a good game following heavy criticism of recent performances. His goal was laid on by Micah Richards who had a splendid game confirming his early season form for Manchester City. England had by far the better of the early exchanges, so it was all the more disappointing that the Robinson howler let the Germans back into the game. Firstly a poor clearance failed to send the ball out of play, then he was hopelessly out of position for the ensuing cross that had him back-pedalling and tamely patting the ball back to the unmarked Kuranyi who tapped in from a yard. Chances then came and went for the home side before Pander struck a 30 yard screamer that gave Robinson no chance. Yet another chance fell to Michael Owen before half time and as the second half progressed, substitute Keiran Dyer passed up a couple of chances.
So England go into their next five qualifiers desperately needing either a change in luck or a change in personnel up front. Owen should get sharper, having played only 30 minutes of first team football, but who partners him is anybody’s guess. Smith doesn’t look the part and Defoe is too much alike. Perhaps the upcoming couple of weeks will offer a chance to Dean Ashton to prove his fitness and score the goals to impress., because in my opinion we need the bigger man for Owen to play off.

We haven’t quite cracked the seating position at Wembley, this time we were in a much better position along the touchline, but unfortunately miles too high, for the next two games we get closer to the front of the same block. Once again the Wembley crowd failed to supply a vibrant atmosphere, not that the German fans didn’t try their best. Perhaps a competitive game is what is needed to raise the roof.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Gillingham 0 Tranmere Rovers 2

Match 07/07/624 - Saturday, 18th August 2007 - League One

Gillingham (0) 0
Tranmere Rovers (1) 2 Greenacre 19 Davis 50
Att. 5,303

Entrance: Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/682

Match Report

Well, the spot varnish was good . . .

When two people employed in the print trade start discussing the merits of the spot varnishing on the programme cover it’s not hard to gather there is very little to entertain on the pitch.

An afternoon that opened with fireworks and Land of Hope and Glory ended a damp squib, hope evaporating and certainly no glory. Gillingham were inept, three games in, still not a goal in sight and on today’s evidence we may be waiting some time.

Within seconds of the start, Chris Shuker opened up Gillingham’s left hand side, narrowly shot wide, but it was a foretaste of what was to come. Midway through the half the goal inevitably came from the same area, Shuker’s cross leaving Chris Greenacre with an easy header. How Gillingham got to half-time only one down probably even defeats Tranmere fans.

The second half failed to see any improvement and after Steve Davis crashed in a second it was game over. There were so few redeeming features of this performance, our so-called golden midfield is severely negated when everything is flung over their heads and defensively lack of pace is going to be our undoing time and again. David Graham is perhaps the one plus point to come from the afternoon.

An attendance of only 5,300 is a real disappointment, given reports that season ticket sales were up on last year and performances like this will not entice the casual watcher.

Elsewhere: Tonbridge opened their league campaign with a 2-2 home draw against Staines and the FA Cup hopes of Tunbridge Wells are ended in mid-August!!

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Cheltenham 1 Gillingham 0

Match 06/07/623 - Saturday, 11th August 2007 - League One

Cheltenham Town (1) 1 Gillespie 24
Gillingham (0) 0
Att. 4,008

Entrance: £18
Programme: £2.50
Mileage 324/637

Match Report Match Video

Just about everything that could go wrong on opening day went wrong on the pitch at Whaddon Road.

The floods that had engulfed Cheltenham in July had given way to a hot day (when is opening day anything other than hot) and with heavy holiday traffic the M25 was a stop-start journey that left us sweating both physically and metaphorically as the time started to slip away. Finally free of the biggest car park in the world, reasonable time was made and we paid at the gate with time to spare.

Looking out to the Malvern Hills beyond, Whaddon Road could be a picturesque setting, unfortunately the older stands that had seen them through their non-league days have been replaced by Meccano outfits that have no character whatsoever. All very neat and tidy, but totally soulless.

A word for Cheltenham’s match day programme, voted best in League One last term and will certainly be a contender again and good value at £2.50.

There will be plenty of recriminations aimed at the referee and linesman, but Gillingham must look at themselves for this defeat. They were frankly awful and when, back in the car, we come to the conclusion that Mulligan was our man of the match for 30 minutes of effort as substitute, it says much about the rest. The game was settled by a goal that clearly looked offside and following two penalty appeals for handball that went unanswered, Gillingham went down to 9 men with Cox and Lomas seeing red. Cheltenham also lost a man to another laughable decision that led us to believe the referee Melin had completely lost the plot.

So for 588 Gillingham fans that had made the journey down to Gloucestershire they watched that pre-season optimism drain away in 90 very drab minutes.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Season Preview 2007-08

There is a strange smell that pervades the surrounds of Priestfield Stadium as season 2007-08 prepares to embark, it is the whiff of optimism. Following the cull at the end of last season when only four players were offered contracts, of whom only Ian Cox accepted, Ronnie Jepson has gone about rebuilding the side from back to front. The incoming players appear to have much more substance than the ones brought in last year and for the first time in several years money has been paid for a player. Barnet received £200,000 for the services of Simon King, first impressions are that he is a footballing defender, but perhaps lacking in a little pace which might be a bit of an undoing with ageing central defenders like Cox and Efe Sodje (below) who has been brought in from Southend. Sodje, of bandana fame, will bring a wealth of experience to the table. Making up the back line will be Craig Armstrong from Cheltenham, a previous Gillingham loanee.
The area that has caused the most problems in recent seasons is the man behind the back four. No less than six keepers were used last season as a procession of loans took the place of the invisible Kelvin Jack. Ronnie has shored up this position bringing in one of those loanees on a permanent deal, Simon Royce from QPR and Derek Stille, the ex-Wigan keeper who played against the Gills in the 2000 play-off final. The competition might even inspire Jack to get off his arse and either compete for the jersey or depart for pastures new.
Although King has commanded the money purchase the stand-out signing of the summer has been the capture of Steve Lomas (left) from QPR, 32 but seems to have been around for years, it is hoped that he is going to bring the absolute best out of Andrew Crofts, notwithstanding that Crofty is the reigning player of the year. Making up the midfield signings are Aaron Brown from Swindon and Barry Cogan from Barnet, both unknown quantities, but have impressed at times in pre-season especially Brown.

Up front, thankfully Dean McDonald has departed to Scotland and Ndumbo has gone out on loan to Bradford, two very ordinary (at best) signings last close season and they have been replaced by players with reputations. Delroy Facey (below) has arrived from Rotherham and David Graham from Sheffield Wednesday, both of whom have been subject of big money purchases in the past.

There are questions of course to the source of the money that has paid for this overhaul. Gillingham did get a sizeable fee, undisclosed, but thought to be in the region of £500,000 for Matt Jarvis and perhaps this is the underpinning but we are left to wonder how this money did not go straight to the bank’s coffers.

So who is going to win this Division? For two seasons I’ve said Nottingham Forest and whilst last season they made it as far as the play-offs they are still with us and once again look the big club in the League. Prior to their 15 point penalty Leeds would have been obvious favourites for a return to the Championship, moreso than Forest they look a club out-of-place in League One, but they are where they are and their ongoing financial problems are not going to allow them to buy their way out, but with a 15 point deficit that is going to be mission impossible. Working deep in Millwall territory it is amazing the optimism that their people show, every year is going to be their year and this year is no different. Yes, they may well be in with a shout, but the same is going to be said about Doncaster Rovers, seemingly spending money wisely and many a pundit’s choice; Yeovil, defeated finalists in the play-offs last year; Swansea, Tranmere all have their merits and perhaps, just perhaps Gillingham can be added into this chasing pack. I’m going for Forest and without any degree of confidence, Millwall.

The same optimism aforementioned at Priestfield is also evident down at Longmead, where Tonbridge have been putting together a squad that looks quite capable of sustaining a challenge on the top five. The major coup of the summer was undoubtedly the contracting of last season’s 40-goal hero, Jon Main and while the fizz had barely gone out of the champagne of his signing the return of the legend that is Hamid Barr was announced. Another player making a return to the club is Steve Harper and the forward line is also supplemented by the signing of Tommy Tyne. James Donovan is a giant of a centre-back coming in from Margate and there have also been whispers of a return for Lenny Piper. Tonbridge are going to find it difficult to make a challenge on the big money sides like Wimbledon, Chelmsford and Billericay, but thereafter the opportunity is there to break into the play off positions.

So what of England? There is a very real fear that the national side will not qualify for next summer’s Euros. Certainly they cannot afford any slip-ups at Wembley and will probably still need to go to Moscow and avoid defeat in October. Games will come thick and fast at the new home with five scheduled before the end of November when the final game of qualifying sees England pitted against the group favourites Croatia. Ann and myself have the flights booked for the trip to Moscow, it should be a great trip but I would hope that we are going to be visiting with a result still meaning something rather than purely as tourists.

The new grounds total will not rise by much this season with only Swansea and Doncaster offering League opportunities, both by virtue of new stadia, although Swansea’s is three years old.

In conclusion, optimism is the byword for both the Gills and the Angels, but nervous for the national side. I hope the positivity of both clubs puts last season’s mediocrity far behind us, perhaps promotion for one or other, but I’m hopeful that it will at least be interesting.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Welling United 2 Gillingham 2

Match 05/07/622 - Saturday, 4th August 2007 - Pre-season Friendly

Welling United (0) 2 Sodje (og) 46 Blackman 85
Gillingham (0) 2 Sodje 47 Brown 54
Att. 543

Entrance: £10
Programme: £1.50
Mileage 71/313

As much as pre-season is eagerly anticipated, more so this year for the reasons given in the Thamesmead report, it is a welcome relief when the phoney war is over and the competitive action can begin. And so it was that we pitched up at Park View Road for a last look at our heroes(!!) before next week's grand entry at Cheltenham.

Unfortunately, the heroes never turned up, just a bunch of journeymen in Gillingham shirts, certainly not a team that is going to achieve the promotion we all hope for. Perhaps it was the weather, after the drudge of a summer we've endured, just in time for opening day, 30degC turns up, cricket weather indeed. To sideline at this point, while the footballers were labouring, Kent's county cricketers were achieving glory at Edgbaston with a semi-final win against Sussex and later in the final against Gloucester, now that was thrilling.

Welling made a decent fist of the game, scoring the best goal and generally matching their League One opponents. For the Gills, Derek Stille made his first appearance in goal and generally did OK, for myself a first look at Steve Lomas, signed before the 4-2 Tuesday night win against Colchester, when according to reports he ran the midfield, not so today. All over the pitch, Gillingham looked insipid, almost tired, perhaps it was just pre-season boredom.

Park View Road has changed a little since I last visited with a new stand replacing the old covered terracing. The open end backing on to the road, still enables you to watch the Red London buses passing by when the tedium takes hold, but for Conference South it is a nice little ground. It would doubtless need further improvement should the Wings attain promotion to the Conference National.

Final point would be that was good to see Neil Smith on the line as manager of Welling, replacing another old Gills favourite, Ade Pennock and on the pitch, Chippy Carpenter and Kevin James now plying their trade at a lower level.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Tonbridge 3 Tunbridge Wells 0

Match 04/07/621 - Tuesday, 31st July 2007 - George Piper Courier Cup

Tonbridge (0) 3 Powell 53 Main 66 Barr 87
Tunbridge Wells (0) 0
Att. 405

Entrance: £5
Programme: None published
Mileage 26/242

Match Report

The Courier Cup was this year played in the memory of George Piper, a stalwart of local football with links to both clubs who had died at the grand old age of 100 earlier in the year. These days in terms of the football pyramid there is a lot more distance than the 6 miles that separate them geographically. Over the years Tonbridge have always been the more senior of the clubs, but when I was a kid the rivalry between them was far greater. In those days both were Southern League sides and I can certainly remember games at both the old Angel Ground (now a Sainsburys) and the Old Showground (now a housing estate) that attracted 3,000 people. It was a good crowd for a pre-season game that turned out for this year’s match, but it still only amounted to 405.

Longmead looked lush and the new hard standing in front of the clubhouse is much more practical than the grass it replaced no matter how ugly it looks. In time to come when there is proper terracing on top of the concrete it will look more fitting. I will see Tonbridge many more times this season so I can focus on them in the near future, so for this posting I will focus on Tunbridge Wells.

Tunbridge Wells are a club in a big transition, one that will hopefully pull them out of the slump in fortunes that has lasted far too long. This is a club that is almost a true to its conservative roots as the town it represents. Culverden is a ground at the end of a leafy road, a small tree-lined bowl. Up to a couple of years ago, when you went for your half-time cup of tea it was served in a china cup, it was a club run by a committee for, well the committee, and that tells the tale.

But as I said the club is in transition and the ex-England international Gary Stevens has taken over the club, the committee has gone amongst much acrimony and Stevens has pledged upwards of £50,000 to take the club forward. His background in Tunbridge Wells is with a local, very successfully run youth side, Forresters. They initiated a partnership with the Wells, to provide their players with access to senior football once they had reached their age limits.

Gary Stevens has said that as a town Tunbridge Wells should have a football club with a much higher profile than they presently have and it is very hard to argue that viewpoint. It is no longer, if it ever was, a small spa town, it is a large, mostly prosperous area that could easily sustain a Conference South team if they were ever to reach those heights. Whether Gary Stevens is the man to take them upwards or whether the old fashioned attitudes of the past eventually prevail time will tell. I hope my home town team will steer at path that at least will mean that their paths will cross Tonbridge’s on a properly competitive basis.

As for the Courier Cup, Tonbridge regained the trophy they lost for the first time last season. For 45 minutes, although the Angels were obviously the better footballing side, the Wells dug in and slowly got a foothold in the game. But an early second half goal put them on the backfoot and two class finishes from the quality of Jon Main and Hamid Barr wrapped up a comfortable win despite losing Matt Lovell to a disappointing pre-season sending off.