Chippenham & Barwell at home
Christmas is all about the kids, and my boys are at a brilliant age. They still get excited, but have the patience to control the excitement to a tolerable level, though do still like to get up early Christmas morning, it was about 2.15am when the boys first awoke to discover that Santa had once again been very generous with his stocking fillers delivery.
I really love Boxing Day footy. After a day housebound, eating and drinking too much I am always ready to get a bit of fresh air – and get out of the house! – standing on the terraces. In the past we have had some excellent crowds at The Meadow the day after Christmas Day, particularly back in the days when Aylesbury United were playing at the same level; after so much turkey, we were normally ready for a bit of Ducks stuffing.
As I matured and moved into the boardroom, I have also come to realise that a bumper local derby crowd on Boxing Day goes a long way to helping with the finances. A 500+ crowd could provide the extra difference of a full week’s wages for the squad, that is why it is so frustrating in previous years when weather has played havoc with the traditional local derby day fixtures, club’s need those bumper gates.
This year, someone was having a laugh when they compiled the fixtures, certainly as far as Chesham United v Chippenham Town is concerned; apart from being alphabetically close to each other the pairing for the most profitable fixture day of the season is a cruel, and costly, joke. The only blessing was that following a particularly wet Christmas Day, the rain had cleared the following morning and the fixture was never in doubt.
I arrived at The Meadow with new found optimism – JK, Rob Bartley and Inih Effiong back with the club, Steve Wales returning to fitness; it was like having the old team back. Although these new recruits had to compensate for the absence of Mark Lambert, Lewis Rolfe and James Potton through suspension, whilst Bruce Wilson and Chris Watters were also absent through injury/holidays. Chippenham themselves were missing a few players so the game was never going to be a true reflection of our comparative league positions and form.
I like the Chippenham officials that visited the boardroom, they are always a friendly and hospitable bunch who seem very much like ourselves, sharing similar woes and day-to-day issues…including having to travel 100 miles on Boxing Day to play a league fixture. Attending the game with my Father-in-Law we entered via the Boardroom and shared a bit of festive banter with the two linesman that had arrived ahead of the match referee. When the match referee did arrive, he seemed much more dictatorial and less chatty, I could immediately imagine the type of game we had ahead of us.
With the arrival of new players to the Chesham squad it is inevitable that some will be going the other way. Andy Fagan had gone from the centre of defence. Arriving from Windsor earlier in the season, he had never really been up to the standards of Ryan Moran or the returning Rob Bartley, although he had shown more than just a little bit of promise, the step up from Step 5 football at Windsor proved to be too big a step. As, in my opinion, it is for Michael Chennells who also arrived as a goal-scoring machine at Windsor, but again was struggling to bring that form to the Southern League Premier Division. Goal-scoring has remained our bug bear this season, which made the return of Inih Effiong so exciting. To me it was inevitable that, to get the budget anywhere near where it should be, Scott McGleish was also going to be departing the club in the near future.
Scott is a smashing lad, and has performed at a very high level, and still has the ability. Unfortunately he came to us cup-tied, which means he has not had a decent run in the side and been able to stamp any sort of influence on the team. This made him a luxury. An expensive luxury. The reality is that it was only ever expected to last a month, Roger Payne had agreed to fund the striker outside of the playing budget for a month to see how things panned out. The timing was bad. Scott has had to miss cup games, and – I thought at least – Andy was under instruction to reduce the playing budget, isn’t this sending the manager a bit of a mixed message?
Rather surprisingly, when I arrived at the ground the Chairman was expressing his disbelief at the fact that Scott McGleish was still at the club. Shouldn’t he be the first to know about that? And if not, shouldn’t he be talking to the manager, and not anyone and everyone else that is prepared to listen? Sometimes it is almost as though not knowing is better because it gives you permission to criticise rather than be criticised.
Sure enough the first 45 minutes were pretty dire to watch. A bad game was being spoilt by a whistle happy referee that took great pleasure in penalising any sort of physical contact between two opposing players, Michel Platini would have been so proud as the game seemed to evolve into a trial run for non-contact football. You could literally identify moments in the game when one team might have a free-kick on the halfway line, they will then launch the ball towards the penalty box. The referee would then blow his whistle because two players jumped for the ball. The game stops again. The defence launch the free-kick up-field, two players jump for the ball, the whistle blows. The game stops, a few people moan, the referee tells them what he saw, everyone gets in position, the free-kick is taken, the ball launched towards two players on the edge of the penalty box… Just as well we did not have a bumber Boxing Day crowd really, they would not have been entertained by the first 45 minutes.
During the half-time break the heavens opened, forcing myself along with my Dad and Father-in-Law to take cover in the stand behind the goal down the Cricket Ground End. With darkness settling and the rain falling horizontally towards our faces, I think my Father-in-Law was beginning to wonder what on earth he was doing there.
Listening to conversations around me, there were a few others that made me wonder why on earth they are there. I know Andy Leese is not everyone’s cup of tea, particularly if you do not know him and all you tend to see is the tirades and tantrums, add to that a poor run of results and I can sympathise with some negativity, but what I had to listen to during the course of the second-half v Chippenham? It was unbelievable, it was personal and I even had a couple of people tap me on the shoulder saying “can’t we do something to bar them?”
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and I know that one of the main contributors to the constant criticism has had personal fallouts with Andy Leese, so it was personal as well, not just about the football. Again, I can offer some sympathy because by all accounts there was a very public “discussion” between the two in the bar (Hah! As it happens a few years later I know how it feels to have a very public argument with this person in the Chess Suite! – Ed, March 2018) which saw Andy react in a manner that is not how you might expect the manager representing the club to behave. I cannot comment on the incident as I was not there, but I know it was bad enough for the club to receive a letter from the “supporter” complaining about the manager.
To be honest, rightly or wrongly, when the Chairman showed me a copy of said letter I did not take a great deal of notice. I had stood at games before listening to comments made, and I had heard the comments made in the bar. This was no angel complaining about a demonic presence at the club; it was a clash of personalities that I really do not want to get involved in. I can always remember over a year ago, when I was Chairman, this same supporter coming up to me and suggesting that he would invest in the club if I sacked Andy Leese immediately.
One thing I hate? People that try to use finance and influence to blackmail and intimidate.
With the rain pounding in our faces, despite standing three steps back on the metal covered terrace, the football in front of us was a vast improvement on the first half, but with neither side really looking to trouble the keepers, it had a draw written all over it…Which made it all the more surprising when Simon Thomas fired into the corner of the net from the edge of the box. A strike out of the blue; possibly our only shot anywhere near on target; but enough to give Chesham the lead, and send Simon Thomas sliding Steven Gerrard style on his knees across the penalty box towards the celebrating fans.
As a club we desperately needed a victory, the league is very tight with not a lot of points between play-off contenders and relegation candidates, unfortunately our league position was making us one of the latter, but knowing that a couple of wins and we could join the former. We badly needed the win. Sadly, the reason I wanted the win, more than anything, was to try and shut up the handful of supporters that had been slagging off the manager and everything he did for the past twenty minutes.
Has the club really damaged me so much that I am more interested in proving the doubters wrong than actually loving the fact that we were winning? That is not the love I remember.
Being a football fan introduces new extremes of everyday feelings, in particular pessimism and inevitability. The brain never lets the football fan revel in the glory of being on the edge of something special. The same part of the brain that omits the pessimism boost, also manages to slow down time to give the opposition maximum time to inflict the inevitable.
Chippenham equalised. Deservedly so, if honest. It had not been a good match, neither side really deserved three points and a draw seemed to be a fair result.
After the match the Chairman advised me that he had told the person who pays out the wages, that he is not to pay out any money without the Chairman’s clearance of the week’s wages.
Funny, I could swear that was minuted at a Board Meeting back in September, so why had that not been happening anyway? And surely the manager needs telling this, not the person acting under his instructions?
The day after Boxing Day the Calder family made its Christmas pilgrimage down to the South coast for a break in my Dad’s flat in Weymouth. It has become a favourite holiday of ours, getting away from all the razzmatazz of Christmas and recharging the batteries with a bit of brisk sea air and relaxation. The flat is jointly owned by my Dad and his brother and enjoys an idyllic setting overlooking the bay of Weymouth, literally just a few steps across the road onto the Esplanade and the award winning golden sands.
Unlike when we visit Weymouth in the summer, we allow the kids to bring their Xbox and games as we accept that staying in the flat doing not a great deal is part of the plan, part of the relaxation diagnosis.
Inevitably this break means missing out on some football. Chesham at home to Barwell had to go on to my missed list, instead choosing to spend my Saturday afternoon at another Southern League Premier Division fixture – Weymouth v St Neot’s. Because of the Weymouth flat I have a soft spot for Weymouth FC; because of last weekend, I definitely wanted them to win this particular fixture!
Although the name dropping and desire to let everyone know that he knows a lot of people can sometimes drive me crazy, Brian McCarthy had used his excellent relationship with the Weymouth Chairman, Nigel Biddicombe, to sort myself and my youngest son, Ben, out with a couple of tickets for the game. I felt a bit of a cheap skate, but I know that is what everyone does in football, those that hold an official position are rarely expected to pay their own way at grounds. Right or wrong, I will never take that for granted, but equally appreciate the financial savings it makes, and I also feel I can justify it to myself (if not anyone else) that I deserve the odd freebie for the time I give to non-league football.
As we entered the ground via the Official’s entrance, I exchanged banter with the Weymouth Chairman who joked that Brian McCarthy was going to buy him a pint for doing the favour of getting Ben and I in the ground. “Don’t hold your breath” I joked back as I climbed the stairs to the bar area.
Upon entering the bar I was totally gobsmacked to see, standing at the bar, another former Chesham United Chairman in the shape of David Pembroke. He had been Chairman at a time when I was at my most boisterous as a fan, and it is fair to say that we had the odd ding-dong (putting it very mildly) back in the days. Myself and my fellow fanzine editing buddy of the time had written some pretty damning articles in our fanzine at the time, possibly crossing the line of acceptability. My fellow editor was always prepared to push things a little further than me, I was possibly too easily influenced, but supportive nonetheless. In the end my friend ended up taking most of the flack for our protests as the battle between club and fanzine reached ridiculous levels that I could not pursue, and the battle between the Chairman of the time and my friend got personal, and got nasty.
I have not seen or spoken with my fellow fanzine editor, with whom I also spent a couple of years running a non-league football magazine, End2End, over twenty years ago now. Things did not really end amicably. The business ended up owing my Dad some money and the battle with the club reached a level that I could no longer support. It became vindictive, personal and delusional. I had to get out. I am sure he would tell you that I let him down in the thick of battle, he may have a point, but there were things going on that I did not like. Who knows, one day I would welcome the opportunity to meet up again, and give my side of the story.
So there we were, David Pembroke and I stood in the bar at Weymouth, 150 miles away from where Chesham United were about to kick-off v Barwell, and hoping to bring a long overdue three points to the club. Despite our past, I have always had an excellent relationship with David Pembroke, he was supportive when I was Chairman and has always been someone to turn to at times of trouble with the club. Back in the days when I was orchestrating (yes, I think that is a fair word to use) the passage of arrival for Charles Manchester, I knew that there were risks involved regarding the future of the club, but I also always believed, and knew, that someone like David was in the background. There was always a Plan B.
I am guessing I am not alone in thinking that Weymouth’s ground is the best in our league by a mile. Taking our seats at the back of the lofty main stand provides an exceptional view of the pitch, not to mention the panoramic views over Weymouth out as far as St Albans head on the Jurassic coast. Attending games here when Chesham are not playing gives me the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the game without the usual nerves or irritation from the officials that inevitably accompanies a game watching your own team.
Fortunately I also had Twitter to hand on my iPhone, keeping me abreast of what was happening back at The Meadow… I didn’t like what I was seeing. 0-2 down at half-time, I bumped into David Pembroke again during the break. “This must be his last game in charge isn’t it?” Our league record since that defeat at Bideford has been abysmal, there has been a lot of players coming and going, particularly up front, but still the points, or even the goals, have not been forthcoming. Another hefty home defeat will make it increasingly difficult to defend (though I still will, very much so).
Weymouth defeated St Neot’s 3-1, they looked a team playing with confidence (this was their sixth straight win) and although the football was not always pretty, they were solid and their front line was something to be jealous off.
Towards the end of the game I got a text to say that Chesham had pulled it back to 1-2, and then just as I started the ignition on the car to leave the Bob Lucas Stadium, the phone beeped again. Please let it be what I hope it is going to be…”2-2 Little”. Yes. Not the win we wanted, but another point when it looked as though we were going to be defeated.
Ironically the Weymouth and Chesham games were the only two Southern League Premier division clashes to beat the weather, all the rest being wiped out by the rain.