Saturday, 29 November 2008

Gillingham 1 Stockport County 1

Match 29/08/713 - Saturday, 29th November 2008 - FA Cup 2nd Round

Gillingham (0) 0
Stockport County (0) 0
Att. 4,419

Entrance: £16
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,461

Match Report

The magic of the FA Cup returned to Priestfield this afternoon for the first time in nearly five years. There has been a straightforward victory over Bromley since the momentous victory over Charlton in 2004 but early exits away from home have been the watchword since.

This tie was always going to be a tall order for Gillingham, whose formidable home form was matched point-for-point by Stockport County’s splendid away record. I had been forewarned by a Millwall supporting colleague that County were the best side he had seen at the New Den this season, so there was no surprise in the quality of our opponents.

Sadly the FA Cup these days doesn’t get the casual supporter out of his armchair and a 4,419 attendance was, while unsurprising, disappointing. What they lacked in numbers, the crowd made up for in volume. This was Priestfield of the good old days, the Rainham End giving wholehearted support that spread to the rest of the ground, making for a vibrant atmosphere.

What ensued was a enthralling cup tie, far more deserving than a goalless scoreline. Gillingham had the best of the first half with Mark Bentley spurning the best chance, a header that he steered wide. Adam Miller saw a drive tipped over by Owain fon Williams and another Bentley header had the Medway Stand mistakenly on their feet as he rippled the side netting.

Perhaps the defining moment of the game came midday through the half. Simeon Jackson chasing a long ball appeared to have got clear of County’s James Tunnicliffe. Jackson was wrestled to the ground, had the referee decided that it was a foul, the defender would almost certainly have been shown a red card, being the last man, as it was the referee saw nothing wrong, much to the disgust of the home crowd.

So a superb first half performance went unrewarded for the home side and unfortunately Gillingham could not quite replicate it in the second half. The best of the chances fell to the League One side, but while Simon Royce was called upon to make a couple of saves they were not of the spectacular kind. Simon King, named man of the match, and Gary Richards marshalled the tall twin strike force admirably, both strikers eventually substituted.

Taking the positives, Gillingham have matched one of the better sides from a division above and, for 45 minutes at least, played some of the best football seen this season. Unfortunately it has been not enough to win this stirring cup tie.

At least we are in the hat for tomorrow’s third round draw, but for me this brings mixed feelings. Do we want the Holy Grail fixture against one of the big four, knowing that defeat in the replay adds to the disappointment, or a draw against, say, Macclesfield, and the knowledge that we are not missing a big day out should we falter at Edgeley Park.

But in the spirit of the optimism shown at Priestfield this afternoon, on and off the park, we are not out of the FA Cup until the final ball is kicked, a week Tuesday at Stockport.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Gillingham 1 Rochdale 1

Match 28/08/712 - Tuesday, 25th November 2008 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 1 Jackson 17
Rochdale (0) 1 Le Fondre 61
Att. 4,029

Entrance: Season ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,416

Match Report

It is an age-old question that is posed after a home draw, is it a point gained or two lost? On this occasion I would come down in the point gained camp.

Rochdale, last year’s beaten play-off finalists have made another good start to the season and showed for long periods last night why they have to be taken seriously as contenders again this term.

After a bright start from both sides, Gillingham fashioned a superb goal to take the lead. Curtis Weston fed Albert Jarrett with a beautiful cross field pass. The winger’s cross was pin point perfect for Simeon Jackson to turn home from close range. Two passes and a tap in, it was incisive and must have delighted manager Mark Stimson, as it did everybody supporting the Gills.

Albert Jarrett has become a player that can delight and frustrate is probably less than equal measure. Give him a little space and he has a cross that can drop on a sixpence and along with the goal made three or four further chances. But his downside is that he can be a liability virtually everywhere else of the pitch. Particularly poor in his defensive duties offering no protection to John Nutter who is struggling for form anyway.

Gillingham may well have gone into a two goal lead when Jackson was one-on-one with the keeper who saved well, but the feeling was that Jackson should have done better. Before the break Simon Royce made a stunning close range stop to preserve the half time lead.

I’m sure there are idiots in every part of Priestfield Stadium, in the Coffin Dodgers we have one particular “gentleman” for whom part of his afternoon/evening’s entertainment is to harangue the linesman from the first whistle to last and to select one of the opposition for similar treatment. The Rochdale player on this occasion was Adam Le Fondre, who admittedly liked a whinge. For this he became the rhyming equivalent of a merchant banker, so there was more than a twist of irony when Le Fondre beautifully curled in a leveller for his fifth goal in three games, some banker. Likewise, the butt of this individual’s criticism on the home side is presently Albert Jarrett, who in an off-the-wall selection was named man of the match.

Despite ending the game, due to injuries, with ten men, Gillingham exerted some pressure in the closing moments but were unable to force a winner. So a point gained? I think so.

Tonbridge 1 Harrow Borough 1

Match 27/08/711 - Saturday, 22nd November 2008 - Ryman Premier

Tonbridge (0) 1 Storey 58
Harrow Borough (1) 1 Clarke 1
Att. 421

Entrance: £10
Programme: £2
Mileage: 26/3,371

Match Report

In weather that was reminiscent of that in Berlin, but without the rain, Tonbridge failed to capitalise on their fine midweek victory over Dartford. With Staines not in league action, the Angels had the opportunity to go second in the table with a victory over bottom three opponents, Harrow Borough.

In another throwback to Wednesday night, a goalkeeping eeror from Lee Worgan gifted the visitors the lead after just 14 seconds. A punt over the top of the Tonbridge back four saw Worgan chasing to the edge of his box before fatally hesitating allowing Dewayne Clarke to nip in and prod the ball past him.

The remainder of the first half was even, but the visitors continued to belie their lowly league position. Clarke was a real speedster, on a couple of occasions making Scott Gooding look pedestrian. Worgan made amends for his earlier mistake with a good save from Robin Shroot, a Northern Ireland Under-21 international, evidently being watched by Peterborough United, who have a good record of dipping into non-league football for signings.

Tonbridge must have had misgiving of what the day was about to bring when midway through the first half Harrow goalkeeper, Andray Baptiste, made a quite stunning save.

The second half began with Clarke once again troubling the Angels defence before Anthony Storey finally brought them level in the 58th minute. A Leon Legge long throw that had previously been giving Harrow problems fell to Carl Rook who laid it back to Storey to drive in from the edge of the box.

At this point, and once again being lulled into a false sense of security by Harrow’s league position, it was felt that the home side would go on to seal the points. But none of it. Directly from the restart, Harrow central defender, Tobi Jinadu crashed a 25 yarder against the bar and before the end, Rook was needed to forego his attacking duties to clear off the line.

So, on the face of it, a surprising drop of points by the Angels, but either Harrow had a really good day or they are destined to climb the table to safety in the coming months.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Germany 1 England 2

Match 26/08/710 - Wednesday, 19th November 2008 - International

Germany (0) 1 Helmes 63
England (1) 2 Upson 23, Terry 84
Att. 74,244

Entrance: £19
Programme: Free
Mileage: 100/3,345
New Ground: 227 (33rd abroad)

Match Report

A year ago tonight on a rain soaked Wembley night, Croatia inflicted a Euro 2008 exit and the demise of the Wally with the Brolly. English football had reached a crossroads. On one hand there was the Premiership, supposedly the best, certainly the richest league in the world and on the other was that league’s players, for some reason performing way below their club form for the national team. It was an embarrassment for the whole country and the FA in particular that the international side would not be appearing in Switzerland and Austria.

Fabio Capello was appointed on an enormous salary and the obvious comparison with the wages earned and the quarter final destinies of Sven. Were we heading down the same road and wasting our money on a foreign manager? Following Wednesday’s victory in Berlin, you will not find many England fans complaining about the size of Fabio’s salary.

It was cold and wet in Berlin on Wednesday and the wind cut through you like a knife through butter. We had been in the city since Monday and the weather had not changed. Unfortunately it was all change in the England team. Withdrawals of the star names of Ferdinand, Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney, with the late injury to Walcott, had left the 6,000-odd England supporters that had descended on the German capital with very little hope of any repeat of that famous night in Munich seven years ago.

But whatever Mr Capello has should be bottled and sold at extortionate prices, because his team, that looked cobbled together, won with a style that deserved even more than the 2-1 scoreline. There was some wonderful performances, Shaun Wright-Phillips looked every inch the star he threatened to be before his ill-fated move to Chelsea. There was a brilliant debut for Gabby Agbonlahor and Gareth Barry made light of the absence of his more illustrious peers in the centre of midfield. The Lampard-Gerrard conundrum solved on a cold Berlin night, leave them both out! Not really, but it showed there is an alternative to the sometimes less than dynamic duo.

Sure enough, another Scott Carson howler, just as a year ago, was a downside to the evening, but the way England controlled the majority of the game was a delight. Skipper John Terry might have taken responsibility for the goal, but the reality does appear that Carson freezes in an England shirt. Mind you most of us did.

The game had began with a taunting England chorus of “5-1 and even Heskey scored” and finished with “2-1 and even Upson scored”. I personally cannot be had with the monotonous 10 German bombers let alone its lack of political correctness, but I have to admit to being amused by the arm waving of the Dambusters, I actually think the Germans take this in good humour.

The Olympic Stadium is a grand old edifice. Built for Hitler’s 1936 games and updated for the 2006 World Cup Final it retains its original fa├žade, but has a modern feel on the inside. It has the oddity of the gap at one end where the marathon runners would have entered the stadium 72 years ago. Unfortunately this gap extends to the roof and, naturally adjacent to this was where the England support was housed. As the rain got heavier and the wind blew harder the covering provided no protection. Although we had been at the ground a couple of hours before the kick off, we left it to a half-an-hour before taking our seats as the icy wind was to much to bear.

In the surrounds of the stadium there is still the swimming pool and the Olympic rings hung between two imposing columns to be viewed from those ‘36 games. It is a fascinating mix of old and new. Downside is the running track that does make the far goal seem like a mile away with less than 20-20 vision.

Berlin itself was just as interesting. Visits to Checkpoint Charlie, the remnants of the Wall, the Holocaust Memorial, with its strange symbolism that I did not quite understand but still very moving. Absolutely fascinating museums documenting the persecution of the Jews, not just in the two World Wars, but for hundreds of years previously. What I personally like about Berlin was that it is facing up to the atrocities of its forefathers and saying this is what we did and we face up to the wrong-doing. They were sobering thoughts in amongst the joy that the simpleness of a football match can bring.

There were several Gillingham fans in evidence and the Binman’s Pride of Kent flag was flying. Baldangel now has his own hat trick to rival that of Sir Geoff Hurst. I’ve been in attendance at the 1966 World Cup Final, the 2001 Munich 5-1 and Wednesday night’s 2-1. I await my telegram from the Queen, arise Sir Baldangel!

Berlin in Pictures

The WallThe Holocaust Memorial
The Brandenburg Gate
The Reichstag
The TV Tower at Night
The Berlin Dom (Cathedral) upriver
Top of the TV Tower
The Dom Ceiling
The Dom organ
The Dom from the TV Tower

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Gillingham 4 Rotherham United 0

Match 25/08/709 - Saturday, 15th November 2008 - League Two

Gillingham (1) 4 King 6, Miller 58, Richards 78, Cumbers 88
Rotherham United (0) 0
Att. 5,304

Entrance: Season Ticket
Programme: £3
Mileage: 45/3,245

Match Report

It is one of football’s great imponderables, it drains away faster than it becomes evident, but when you have it the result can be awesome. It is called confidence.

On the back of the rare luxury of two away wins on the trot with a pair of clean sheets for good measure, Gillingham took on dangerous opponents and surged into the play-off places at Fortress Priestfield.

Rotherham have made light of their points deduction and have pulled away from the relegation zone, in fact their 26 points gained would have placed them in a play-off spot had it not been for the imposed penalty.

That new found confidence was consolidated with an early goal. A looping header from Simon King crept in at the far post for his first goal for the club. But for the best part of half an hour thereafter Gillingham had to be at their best at the back as the visitors took the game to their hosts. Garry Richards did a fine job controlling one of the Division’s hotshots Reuben Reid and a great save from Simon Royce kept the Gills in front before the game’s defining moment.

From my seat in the Coffin Dodgers it was difficult to see whether the challenge on Barry Fuller was late or two footed, but the immediate reaction of the Gillingham players in confronting the perpetrator, Danny Harrison, indicated that it was probably a poor tackle. The referee, fussy throughout, produced a straight red to leave Rotherham with ten men.

Fuller was fit to continue, but the second half began without the influential Curtis Weston who was substituted by fit again Mark McCammon. On the hour Adam Miller put the big striker through on goal, his shot was parried by the keeper but Miller followed up to bundle it home.

Two-nil and with the opposition a man down, the confidence spread to the stands and the Rainham End took time out from their ongoing dispute with the stewards to chant for Mark Stimson to give them a wave. Many of them were waving their own salute at him not so long ago.

A well-placed header from Richards, having seen off the threat of Reid, put Gills on easy street and when Albert Jarrett came on for his weekly ten minute cameo, his cross ended with young Luis Cumbers having a tap in for his first goal for the club, the demolition was complete.

So confidence reigns supreme at Fortress Priestfield, six home wins in seven and an attendance that topped 5,000 for the first time in a while, albeit that Kids for a Quid probably made up the increase. Long may that confidence reign.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Blank Saturdays

Hats off to the exiles and stay-at-home Gillingham fans that regularly endure the Blank Saturday. These are days that I hate and attempt to avoid at all costs. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I had to go through the horror of the videoprinter every Saturday my life would be shortened by a number of years.

Work commitments on Friday night had decreed that a trip to the FA Cup tie at Gigg Lane was out of the question, so as always in these situations my attentions turned to Ryman League Tonbridge Angels.

I had a nice plan, a visit to my Dad to sit with him to watch Arsenal v Manchester United and then on to Longmead. Following heavy rain during the morning I took the precaution of checking the internet before I left home and was assured that the game was going ahead. Dad, an exile himself and a dyed in the wool Manc, is 87 years old and although his eyesight is near perfect, it becomes a bit one eyed when United are playing. As the Reds fall behind, over the course of the first 45 minutes, he would have subbed Rooney, sold Ronaldo, retired van der Saar (very astute, Dad) and questioned the senility of Sir Alex.

At two down and with a few minutes left on the clock, I took my leave to make my way to Tonbridge. Radio 5 relays that United have pulled one back but ultimately in vain. As I arrive at the Angels’ car park there are cars heading in the wrong direction and I’m immediately suspicious of the outcome of this little journey. A quick word out of the window confirms my fears, match postponed, waterlogged pitch.

At 2.50 p.m. I am stuffed, there is absolutely no time to make a detour, especially with the knowledge that the other local side, Tunbridge Wells, are away from home. So it’s home to sit and watch Gillette Soccer Saturday with the excitable Jeff Stelling.

On the few occasions I’ve been left in this situation, I’ve turned to Radio Kent and their commentary, but invariably this has proved unlucky, so I’ve decided not to follow this route.

So the videoprinter ticks away, goals flow, but nothing comes up from Gigg Lane. I sit, I stare and I sit and I stare, on and on it goes. Mr Stelling gets rather depressed as his beloved Hartlepool go a couple of goals down at Brighton and from the background Paul Goddard and his mates get excited as incidents happen on their monitors. But from Gigg Lane, still the big nothing.

The first time the Gills click onto the screen is the goalless half time score. The clock ticks on and the video printer seems to take on a life of its own as the scores fairly rattle in. There are shocks in the offing as the likes of Curzon Athletic and Blyth Spartans lead Football League clubs and from Gigg Lane, the silence continues.

Then at 4.32 the ticker trots out a line that probably never moved the majority of households, Bury 0 Gillingham 1 (Weston 71), I shout, but then double-take, the line is still there on the screen, the Gills have the lead. The ticker trots out another line and the scorer is amended to Barcham, of this I don’t care, but all of sudden the ticker inside my own body has started to beat a whole lot faster.

Now it is back to sitting and staring, the goals still appear but my focus is now on the time that these goals are scored, watching the clock tick down. I wait, I sit, I stare, back into the big black hole that is a lack of information. The thought runs through my head to turn on the radio, but I’m fearful of jinxing the situation. Jeff Stelling lightens the moment as James Brown scores for Hartlepool and he celebrates wildly with his James Brown doll singing “I Feel Good”. Sorry, Jeff, but actually I feel quite sick at this moment.

The videoprinter is now churning out full time scores, they are streaming through at a rate that the redoubtable Mr Stelling cannot keep up with. I’m not listening anyway, the heart rate has reached manic proportions and the stare is now fixed. Did every FA Cup score come through before Gillingham’s, probably not, but it sure felt that way. But there it is: FT (--) FAC1 BURY 0 GILLINGHAM 1. The whoop causes the cat to momentarily show a flicker of interest. We are through to Round Two and I make myself a little promise, wherever we are drawn in the next round, I’m not going to put myself through this again.

I’m sure you do your job well, Mr Stelling, but I cannot subscribe to those long spells of nothingness from the only match in which I am interested. How do the exiles cope, do you make yourselves copious cups of tea, immunise yourselves with liquid of a stronger nature? There must be ways to combat the sense of helplessness, but I suppose I could have turned everything off and busied myself with the hoovering, Nah.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Tunbridge Wells 1 Holmesdale 0

Match 24/08/708 - Tuesday, 4th November 2008 - Kent League

Tunbridge Wells (1) 1 Tate 41
Holmesdale (0) 0
Att. 82

Entrance: £6
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/3,200

Match Report

Tunbridge Wells moved to within two points of their visitors Holmesdale with a hard fought, well deserved single goal victory.

The weekend’s deluge had left the game in some doubt but a lunchtime inspection had given the go-ahead. On a mild night, the pitch had obviously taken a soaking but played pretty well.

The first half was an end-to-end contest with both sides creating and failing to take several good chances. The Wells finally made the breakthrough four minutes from the break when Wes Tate side-footed in from close range.

The second half was far more clear cut and although the home side could not add to their lead they dominated the 45 minutes. Good chances went begging with Mike Lord being the unfortunate fall guy on several occasions.

Holmesdale are a Bromley-based club now in their second season in the county’s senior division and to have moved to second place in the current table is a testament to the progress they have made. Their first half display showed that they have the ability to compete at the top end of the league in the coming months.

As for the Wells, they are a club on the up. Much will depend on the destination of Ross Cable, their leading goalscorer. It is speculated that he could be moving on in the near future and he will be difficult to replace. The number of chances that were passed up on the night, although Cable was also guilty, showed the need to keep players of his quality at the club.

Disappointing aspect of the night was an attendance that again failed to reach three figures. Tunbridge Wells have a good side playing decent football and a game against the second placed side should attract more than the 82 that attended. Perhaps Champions League football on the television accounted for a few missing bodies, but it is a shame that local interest doesn’t appear to be increasing despite the club’s early season success. My visit last month also produced an attendance of 82, could it be that they were exactly the same people?

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Ashford Town (Middlesex) 1 Tonbridge Angels 7

Match 23/08/707 - Saturday, 1st November 2008 - Ryman Premier

Ashford Town (Middlesex) (0) 1 Harris 57
Tonbridge Angels (3) 7 Legge 9, 33, Olorunda 38, 67,
Storey 55, 69 (2 pens), Logan 80

Att. 144

Entrance: £9
Programme: £2
Mileage: 132/3,174
New Ground No: 226

Match Report

It rained heavily and incessantly and it rained goals for Tonbridge Angels. At the beginning of the day Ashford Town (Middlesex) sat one place above their visitors in the league table and last Saturday held Conference side Forest Green Rovers to a draw, so there could be no indication of the scoreline that would follow.

Leading goalscorer Carl Rook was serving a one match suspension and he was replaced by Ade Olorunda, back after a 6 week spell on the sidelines through injury.

Two Leon Legge headers put Tonbridge in control of the game in the first 20 minutes and when Olorunda was played through by John Westcott, he finished effectively to give Tonbridge a 3-0 half time lead.

Olorunda was tripped for an Anthony Storey penalty to increase the lead to four, before Ashford pegged one back. The home side failed to deal with set pieces and anything in the air all afternoon and when Olorunda nodded home the fifth from a corner, any thought of an Ashford comeback was dispelled. Another Storey penalty made it six and a 25 yard free kick from Fraser Logan completed the scoring.

Tonbridge supporters made up the bulk of the attendance and their jovial renditions of “It’s Raining Goals” and “Singing in the Rain” was a humorous end to the afternoon.

The Short Lane Stadium is a bit of an ugly duckling but I was certainly grateful for the covered enclosures that kept us from a real soaking. The backdrop of the fuel plant containers behind one goal make for a less than scenic landscape and the match is played to the continuous drone of planes taking off from nearby Heathrow Airport.

It is quite a strange place to watch football, but there was none stranger than today’s result.