Saturday, 11 May 2013

Tunbridge Wells 6 Canterbury City 0

Match 73/12/1026 - Monday, 6th May 2013 - Kent League

Tunbridge Wells (2) 6 Harris 21,88, Irvine 28,54, Stanford 73, Fuller 78
Canterbury City (0) 0
Att. 381

Entrance: £3 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/5,934

Match Report

Poor old Canterbury City rocked up at the Culverden Stadium as literally lambs to the slaughter. Following the removal of Simon Austin from his managerial position, the majority of his players left in his wake and it was a very youthful City side that were charged with the role of gatecrashers at the Wells' welcoming home party. The Wembley appearance has had the desired effect of boosting the attendance and it was a very healthy 381 that were in a joyous party mood despite the Vase defeat.

This one-sided match, in which the visitors accepted their fate with a smile on their faces, was a mere sideshow as the Wells' supporters recounted their day at the national stadium. From early morning breakfasts (with beer involved!) to traffic worries on the M25, everybody had a story to tell with one significant thread to every tale
. . . nobody had any complaints.

There was much discussion as to the Wembley starting eleven, the omission of Jack Harris and who may have made way for his inclusion. Everyone had an opinion, nobody had a recrimination. There was a unanimous acceptance that Spennymoor were a damn good team and that whatever side Martin Larkin had picked, it would have taken a monumental performance to turn the Northern League side over.

On the pitch, there was no sign of a hangover from the weekend's celebrations. Harris and Andy Irvine swept the home side into a two goal half time lead and after the break, further goals from Josh Stanford and Joe Fuller plus seconds from Harris and Irvine added up to an easy six-goal romp.

Wembley has given the club a magnificent platform from which to move forward. A tilt at the Kent League title next season would almost certainly sustain a regular attendance of 300, a number that would be envied by many a Ryman League club. The club and its supporters are making all the right noises regarding their ambition for Ryman football, but they have a further wish . . . they want to go back to Wembley!

The final whistle brings the curtain down on this memorable season, one of unparalleled success. Even Tonbridge's escape from relegation has to be considered something of a success, although we will conveniently forget the Kent Senior Cup Final! Despite Gillingham winning a championship for the first time in my time with the club, for me the most memorable moment would have to be the Wells walking out at Wembley, it is something that I had never given thought to, but gives hope that anything can happen in this game of ours.

Lifetime match total (including England's game against the Republic of Ireland to come): 2,276
Number of grounds: 254

Monday, 6 May 2013

Spennymoor Town 2 Tunbridge Wells 1

Match 72/12/1025 - Saturday, 4th May 2013 - FA Vase Final

Spennymoor Town (1) 2 Cogdon 18, Graydon 80
Tunbridge Wells (0) 1 Stanford 78
Att. 16,751

Entrance: £15
Programme: £4
Mileage: 100/5,908

Match Report

The dictionary definition of pride reads: A feeling of pleasure from one's own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is associated. Despite Tunbridge Wells’ first ever visit to Wembley Stadium ending in defeat, the overriding feeling among the thousands of people that followed the club to the FA Vase Final was that of overwhelming pride. Proud to be associated with their town’s football club and, oh so proud of the spirit on show as the Wells stood toe-to-toe with, arguably the best Step Five club in the country.

Even the most one-eyed of Tunbridge Wells supporters would be hard pressed to deny that Spennymoor Town were the better side on the day, but the Kent club never gave up, they stood tall and for the briefest of moments they were the equals of the team from the North-East.

When the semi-final had been won at Shildon, I cast doubts at estimates that Tunbridge Wells could sell their allocation of 10,000 tickets, but the people of the Royal Borough and throughout the county of Kent responded with more than 11,000 buying their tickets in advance of the day and eventually making up two-thirds of the 16,751 attendance.

Those fans that had done their homework prior to the game would have feared that their team could be on the end of a hiding. Spennymoor have been champions of the Northern League for the past three seasons and have only been denied a fourth title by virtue of a club of the standing of Darlington needing to reform at Step Five after going bust in the National Conference. How many times in the past would a club that has accumulated 100 points with five games remaining only finish runners-up, without the knowledge to say definitively, I would hazard a guess at never. Further consideration would have been taken that nobody outside of the Northern League has won the FA Vase since 2008.

And let’s face it, the bookies are rarely wrong and were offering odds of 1-6 on a Spennymoor victory.

The pride that was felt as my home town club, which I’ve followed for more than fifty years, walked out onto the Wembley turf could not be measured. Back in the early 1960s, there was a rivalry with the other local side, Tonbridge Football Club and supporting them both was a little odd as they competed in the same Southern League. But as time passed and the clubs were separated by a couple of Divisions there is no longer any reason not to wish both clubs well. The fact that several faces that frequent Longmead on a fortnightly basis were in evidence at Wembley was proof that very little animosity between the clubs exists today.

The sun shone brightly as Tunbridge Wells opened the game with a flourish. Andy McMath, who emigrates to Australia in a few weeks’ time, snapped a shot over the bar in the opening seconds of the game. Perhaps he saw symmetry with a certain Roly Graham, who scored the winner for Deal Town in 2000 before similarly departing down under.

After the Wells had cut out much of the early play, a mazy run and shot from Josh Stanford and another opportunity coming when Perry Spackman headed wide from a corner, Spennymoor opened the scoring after 17 minutes. A cross into the box wasn’t cleared properly and the resulting return into the area by Keith Graydon found Gavin Cogdon who had found space between the Wells central defenders to plant a firm header past Chris Oladogba. The subsequent celebration, in front of the massed ranks of the Tunbridge Wells fans was both provocative and unnecessary and really should have brought a booking rather than a mild reprimand from the referee.

Spennymoor now held the momentum and for the remainder of the half placed severe pressure on the Kent side. Oladogba was forced into a plunging dive at the feet of Cogdon and there was a collective holding of breath as Lewis Mingle and Mark Davison, rising together at the left hand post, saw the challenge resulting in the ball hitting the woodwork.

Under pressure, the Wells’ were forced to hit the ball long towards the ever-willing Andy Irvine, but the clearances continually returned as the North-Easterners completely dominated the midfield areas. Oladogba was called on once more before the break when he turned around the post a long range effort from Davison. Without doubt, Tunbridge Wells were pleased to get to the break with only a goal deficit.

The Kent club responded well to Martin Larkin’s half-time team talk and with the introduction of Jack Harris and Tom Davy just prior to the hour mark added a new pattern to the game. Davy added a bit more craft to the midfield that had struggled with the fluency of their counterparts, whilst Harris was prepared to run at defenders with the ball at his feet.

The Wells were still being asked to defend heroically and Mingle did especially well to block another Cogdon effort.

Twelve minutes remained when the moment came that will live long in the memory and the 12,000 Wells’ fans in the 90,000 capacity stadium generated a noise that some England games would benefit from when Josh Stanford coolly lobbed the ball into an unguarded net. The Spennymoor goalkeeper, Robert Dean, punched clear a Jason Bourne cross but only found Stanford who managed to keep his side-foot shot under control from an airborne position. Cue bedlam among the Wells faithful but sadly their hopes were quickly quashed as two minutes later the Moor regained their advantage.

And once again it was the pairing of Cogdon, who took on the role of pantomime villain following his first half misdemeanour and Graydon that was the undoing of the Wells magnificent rearguard action. Cogdon’s run across the face of the penalty area was finished with a shot at goal that was blocked but the rebound was met with a fierce half-volley from Graydon that rocketed past Oladogba to the delight of the fans that had made the 600-mile round trip from the north-east.

Five minutes of extra time were added in which there were claims for a penalty as a ball struck the hand of a Spennymoor defender, but the referee saw nothing to award a spot kick. Personally, I would put it in the “seen it given” category.

The final whistle blew on a well-earned, well-deserved Spennymoor victory but as the Tunbridge Wells players went to the end where their fans were congregated the acclaim they received was one of admiration, borne out of the spirit they had shown in the face of a team capable of playing at a much higher level than Step Five. Martin Larkin can be a very proud man, proud of the team he has created, proud of the spirit and resolve he has instilled. Their backs were against the wall at places like Larkhall and Shildon but they came through and for a fleeting moment it looked like it might just happen again.

Much has been made of Tunbridge Wells zero playing budget and, undoubtedly, should the club progress into the Ryman League this situation could not continue. But there is one thing that no amount of money can buy and this makes Tunbridge Wells a club of riches . . . Pride.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Tonbridge 1 Charlton Athletic 7

Match 71/12/1024 - Wednesday, 1st May 2013 - Kent Senior Cup Final

Tonbridge (0) 1 Lovell 48
Charlton Athletic (3) 7 Cook 10, Smith 12,51,73,88, Feeley 28,
Miles (o.g.) 78

Att. 806

Entrance: £5 Senior
Programme: £1.50
Mileage: 26/5,808

Match Report

A first Kent Senior Cup Final appearance for seven years; a trophy that hasn't been won for 38 years. This season has had so many "first fors" that it was with a fair degree of optimism that I left home to take in this Final.

Sadly, all that was witnessed was a totally one-sided affair that epitomised Tonbridge's season, one of shambolic defending that allowed Charlton Athletic's Development Squad to run up an embarrassing scoreline for everybody, supporters to the Manager, associated with Tonbridge Angels.

Much soul-searching needs to be spent in the summer period and one would guess that the team that opens season 2013-14 will show wholesale change from the one that has finished this term.

If Tonbridge wish to point to a mitigating factor for this humiliation they can rightly point their finger at the KCFA who refused their selection of date, which would have allowed time to get injured players fit, and accepted Charlton's proposal. Gary Elphick failed to make the game and it was in his central defensive area that the Championship side made the most hay.

Make no mistake, this Development Squad showed huge potential and would have, almost undoubtedly, won the game at a canter should Tonbridge been able to field a fully fit, strongest eleven but at least the underdogs could have avoided such an embarrassment.

From the moment of the pre-match handshake it was apparent that physically this was a contest between men and boys, but the boys were the men. This Charlton side have a physicality that I've rarely witnessed at League Two level and this must be the foundation of their success having already put their development league title in the cabinet.

Tonbridge opened brightly enough with Henry Muggeridge producing a mazy run, seemingly intent on showing to his previous employers exactly what they decided they could do without. But two quick fire goals on 10 and 14 minutes put the Championship side into the ascendancy. A free-kick routine caught the home side napping and the subsequent cross was touched in by Jordan Cook and the scoreline was quickly doubled when Michael Smith converted from inside the box after Joe Pigott nodded on a cross.

The game was over as a contest before the half-hour mark when Kevin Feeley's free header from a corner found the far corner of the net despite the despairing effort of Muggeridge on the line.

A window of hope opened up from Tonbridge early in the second half when a cross from Ollie Bankole, on as a second half substitute, was touched home by Mark Lovell at the far post. That window was closed shut just three minutes later when Smith scored his second of the evening with a shot into the roof of the net.

The disappointment of any recovery being quickly snuffed out took its toll as Charlton inflicted the maximum punishment on their hosts who were the architects of their own humiliation. On 73 minutes a horrendous back pass from Ijaha was intercepted by Smith, who rounded Worgan for his hat-trick goal. Smith was involved again as Sonny Miles diverted his shot over the goalkeeper for the sixth and when he intercepted another suicidal backpass from Miles, with a couple of minutes remaining, he rounded the keeper to score his fourth of the evening and his side's seventh.

I took my camera along with the over-optimistic expectation that a 1975 celebration photograph seen on Facebook earlier in the day could be replicated in 2013. I was prepared to take the picture should the victors emerge victorious, but I wasn't prepared for the debacle that unfolded and I was so depressed by the turn of events, I could not wait to get away from Longmead at the final whistle.

By August the grass will be greener, the evenings a damn sight warmer than this one in May and a renewed sense of optimism will have been installed. I can only surmise that it is going to be an interesting summer at Tonbridge Angels Football Club.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Tonbridge 3 Truro City 2

Match 70/12/1023 - Saturday, 27th April 2013 - Conference South

Tonbridge (2) 3 Gayle 2, Collin 14, 48
Truro City (1) 2 Hayles 12, 70
Att. 582

Entrance: £6 Senior
Programme: £2.00
Mileage: 26/5,782

The last day of the regular league season with no nail biting necessary, no incessant refreshing of the mobile phone screen, this was Relax Saturday. The last seven days had seen jobs completed; Gillingham champions and Tonbridge safe. Port Vale and Rotherham, Billericay and Hornchurch could get on with their last day fixtures without any concern from yours truly.

Martin Allen had chosen to take a squad to Burton Albion that showed eight changes from the previous Saturday, and whilst he chose not to call it a reserve team or a weakened eleven, I made the decision that a 400 mile round trip was too far to see a total of six teenagers make their Football League debuts.

Tonbridge, who won a Kent Senior Cup semi-final at Ebbsfleet on Tuesday for the right to meet Charlton Athletic in the Final, also chose to rest several key players for their final Conference South fixture against long-since relegated Truro City. A couple of young reserves, Matt Hardin and Ollie Bankole made their debuts and Bankole, in particular, gave an eye-catching performance.

To quickly run through the events of the afternoon, due to traffic problems, Truro arrived at the ground only 15 minutes prior to kick off and their legs were probably still on the coach as Tonbridge swept into a second minute lead when Aaron Gayle finished following a cross from Frannie Collin, with Bankole involved in its inception. Barry Hayles, who still showed a touch of quality at a level far below where he would have been in his prime, equalised on 12 minutes after getting goal side of Ollie Schulz.

Another sweet passing move that culminated in Collin waltzing around the goalkeeper two minutes later restored the home side's lead. Collin extended the lead early in the second half for his 20th goal of a season in which he supposedly hasn't hit the heights of his Golden Boot year of 2011-12. Truro showed plenty of spirit, on and off the pitch with their vocal following and Hayles dragged the Cornishmen back into the game with a second goal. Unfortunately, the revival stuttered to a halt when they lost Joe Broad to a red card that was seemingly missed by everybody bar the referee, who most definitely will not feature on Truro City's Christmas card list.

So with this unbelievable season heading towards two cup finals in the coming week, it is a good time to reflect on how it has taken its rather bewildering course. Nobody quite knew what to expect from Martin Allen and his remodelled Gillingham team. I was not alone in doubting that his relationship with Paul Scally wouldn't last beyond Christmas. But, holding my hands up, we couldn't have been more wrong. Gillingham started off like a runaway train; had a shaky bit in the middle and when they were found wanting from a gung-ho performance at home to Exeter, the ship was steadied and they ground out performances from that point until the championship was won. Sometimes the football wasn't easy on the eye, but they just didn't lose (until it no longer mattered).

Meanwhile at Longmead, Tonbridge failed to maintain the momentum from their successful first season in Conference South. They flirted with the relegation places for much of the season, but when the stakes were at their highest they produced home wins against Eastleigh and Staines in addition to a trio of draws and with safety confirmed their win against Truro actually elevated them to a lofty-looking 16th place. Once again, many supporters were critical of the quality of the football played, but another season in Conference South is justification enough.

And finally, Tunbridge Wells. They are more than the icing on the cake in this momentous season, on Saturday they are the cake. Can they have their cake and eat it? Probably not, but getting to Wembley is an achievement that I never dreamt possible. My only wish is that the momentum they have lost while playing catch-up with their fixture list isn't going to cost them dear on Saturday.

This Saturday was Relax Saturday . . . I've a strong feeling next Saturday at Wembley won't be.