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.