St Neots Away / Stourbridge Home
The weeks football started with a trip to St Neots, to be honest the thought of going back there after the very late postponement three days before Christmas did not feel me with excitement, but on the back of the magnificent win at Hemel, I was really looking forward to it.
St Neots had tweeted during the day that the pitch was looking “immaculate” – A good humoured acknowledgement that the information about the pitch pre-Christmas was perhaps a little misleading as many of us made the wasted journey. As I set off up the M1, snow falling, and then turning to rain, heavy rain, I started to get a little concerned once again as the car left the beaten track onto the residential building site (unrecognised yet by Google Maps or Sat Nav) and out the other end, up the road to the stadium.
I have never been a big fan of new grounds, they often lack a bit of soul and character, maybe that comes with time, but I still prefer watching games at somewhere like Weymouth, Worcester City or Stourbridge. But that is probably my heart talking, rather than my head. St Neots are in a much stronger position than us going forward and it is one of the better of the new builds, with potential to evolve into a quality Conference stadium. However, were I to win the lottery and look at ground improvements, I would have to have a function room like all new grounds do have, but I would also make it essential that we have a bar area that has some character, warmth and atmosphere. Having a pre-match pint in the big, cold, school hall style bar area at the Rowley Park Stadium is not the perfect way to start a good away day.
The game itself never came close to the Hemel match, despite the fact that the pitch was, as Twitter had declared, “immaculate”. The pitch was never going to be a complaint at the end of the day, and even when we fell behind to a relatively early goal, I always thought we were playing well enough to get back into the game.
Straight after the break we did just that, Simon Thomas banging home a loose ball following a corner. At that moment it seemed there would be only one winner…but that feeling only lasted three minutes. A free-kick on the edge of the box resulted in the home side re-taking the lead, and a few minutes later another free-kick from the same sort of area deflected into the net, 3-1 down. Suddenly the rain seemed wetter, the blackness around the ground looked darker and the journey home seemed longer.
We still had moments, but it was not clicking like it did at Hemel. I too will accept some blame for that. In the 80thminute I went for what I hoped would be a “lucky wee”. On my way round Chesham started an attack. The ball went out of play close to where I was walking, I picked it up, JK was looking to take a quick throw-in, but his efforts were thwarted by my somewhat pathetic attempt to chuck the ball the short distance from where I stood, over the pitch perimeter and into JK’s hands. A tad embarrassing for me, but it was wet and slippery, and I was in the need for a …well, I continued my journey to the washrooms.
Talking of that though, I don’t think I can ever recall a match, or stadium, where so often it takes so long to get the ball back into action (my rubbish throwing aside); whether the ball was in the corners still within the pitch perimeter or finding itself on the “terraces” nowhere near any spectators, the game seemed to take a painfully long time to resume. Maybe it just seemed that way on what will be remembered as a miserable night. Though I have always said, and written many times, that to really enjoy the good away days, you have to experience the bad days. To really enjoy Hemel away, you have to know what St Neots away was like.
At the end of the game Rob Bartley was sent off for a foul, and then showed, in my opinion, a total lack of discipline which ended in a dispute with Dave Fotheringham that was just a total embarrassment to stand and watch. Maybe I should not have used Twitter to express my disappointment, but I did not expect the following email from Andy the next morning:
“Amongst plenty of other things to sort out, I think we need to temper the information that goes in the public domain via Twitter. Players were not fighting or scrapping. We were inept, Bartley was undisciplined, Fothers told him that, Bartley pushed Fothers. Heat of the moment for which we will suffer, but it’s not players “scrapping”. A bit of passion for the shirt on an otherwise soulless dreadful night.”
“They are good mates. Issue sorted after the game. Can we withdraw statements that indicate players were scrapping please? It does no one any favours, least of all the club. I have enough to resolve without answering sensational calls about players fighting.”
To which I replied: “I realise I have not gone for the easy answer here…If that was my Tweet that offended – then apologies. I deliberately do not run the official account because I want to keep it my independent views.
“Twitter and Facebook is a part of life in 2013, it won’t go away, it will only become more so. People, including myself, will always have opinions, unfortunately it is the club’s policing of opinions over the years that has brought our own forum to a grounding halt. The right or wrongs of that can be argued.
“From where I stood, admittedly not the best view, it was another total embarrassment as two players wearing the shirt that I too was representing chose to have a scrap (we can debate the word scrap – “Have a disagreement over something” – Audio English Dictionary) on the pitch as supporters, getting wet, watched on. There was no implication in the tweet that the players did not get on, but on the back of the humiliation of Bartley’s actions at Bideford, in my opinion, it was totally unacceptable.
“The best way to avoid doing the club these lacks of “favours” is for it not to happen. If I had a quid for everytime I heard the word “discipline” muttered on the terraces last night, I could have donated it to the club and doubled the budget until the end of the year!! JK was also booked for arguing with the referee?
“And yet it was Twitter that let the club down? Really? I’m frankly gobsmacked if I am going to come out of this one as the bad boy but will nonetheless accept a knuckle-rattling.
“Again, I apologise if my Tweet caused offence, I agree there are other things to sort out, but Twitter remains an instantaneous 21st century means of communication (as we have also found with players slagging the club off for not having training facilities?) and will not go away… My personal account is me writing as a fan, it’s what I am, it’s what I do, it is honest without revealing what I consider to be non-public domain stuff (players being undisciplined on the pitch is already in the public domain) – if I am unable to continue wearing a supporters hat and an official role at the club, then I’ll have to consider one or the other…
The Chairman was also copied into the exchange, for his benefit I repeated what the tweet had said: “Bartley sent off and ruins a bad night by scrapping with his own player. Memories of Bideford without the beer & sun”
I finished the message with“I hope you view this as nothing more than a disagreement, maybe even a little scrap, and we can – as with Bartley and Fothers – remain friends afterwards.”
Andy’s reply was quickly returned: “It did not cause me any offence, and I have no problem with opinions being aired. It is the fact that the press/others have picked it up and all I am doing is answering questions about players fighting, ergo protecting the club’s reputation. You are right, it should not happen in the first place, I do not ask for it to happen, but players do things in the heat of the moment. Fothers comments upset Bobby, and Fothers accepts he was wrong to say what he said.
“I understand where it’s at with Twitter, and as you say players use it to suit them. I did not say Twitter or you were wrong, it is the players who let me and the club down again. I am (somehow!) responsible for their discipline. I send detailed texts about each game, well in advance, with directions, postcodes, dress codes, train times, motivational comments, and still players turn up late to games, ruin the preparation, and then behave/play like that and expect me to sort it out. I drove to Swindon, did a day’s work, drove back to Brentwood to get Tommo and then on to St Neots. All by the meet time. Probably used £50 in fuel yesterday, lost £200 for work I should have done yesterday. Then got humiliated. I suffer like fans suffer.
“My point was I have enough to worry about sorting a seriously under achieving bunch of players, justifying the wage bill, sorting the next youth coaching session, as well as defending twitter comments. All in a day’s work for the modern Non-League Manager. I appreciate we all put the hours in and I know the rules. Days like today hurt like hell, there is no one lifting the Manager’s spirits or offering support I can assure you.”
A discussion then ensued about where the playing budget might be next season after the Chairman had contributed:“I am very glad that I am not on twitter as you both know I fire from the hip on occasions. However, I was sitting next to the “owner” last night and was getting more mixed messages from minute to minute with regards to the players and the playing budget and to be frank I am getting fed up with this situation.
“Andy you state that no one is lifting the Manager’s spirits but when I approached you last night you made some comment and walked out. On the playing side one thing is obvious that we are consistent in being inconsistent and in the last three away matches we have beaten the best team and lost to two very average sides. In fact, this was only St Neots third win since last October. With both Barwell and Cambridge City dropping points last night a win for us would have lifted the spirits of the “owner“ and he may have continued bankrolling the playing budget, but I fear that this week may well be the last for this season.
“For the record the following were cautioned last night: Mark Lambert, Dave Fotheringham for dissent, Nathan Campbell and Rob Bartley sent off for 2 yellows. Rob will also be charged with Misconduct for pushing Fotheringham after his second yellow and will no doubt miss extra matches due to suspension.
“Without putting pressure on anyone a win on Saturday is a must and even then, if Roger refuses to bankroll the budget further this season, a big cut on the wage bill is on the cards.”
Andy: “You are not the only one getting fed up. It is difficult not knowing where we stand ,and I had thought it would have been more than “a win the next game / two or else” after the Budget discussion we had at Xmas. Maybe the owner should come and address the players. I have certainly told them what will happen.
“As you say a big budget cut will no doubt come after the weekend if we don’t win. 50%? We will all have to think what that means for the club, and I will personally. Players will leave quickly, they will be wanted by other clubs. Local lads may stay, but those who travel would probably look elsewhere. I suspect we will have the contract players x 4 surrounded by younger cheaper £50 a week players. I think we will lose the contract players for next year if they sense the ambition is not there, but maybe with the current finances the club needs to think what it can afford next year? A promotion campaign on £1200-1500 a week gross (could be less?) is very hard to achieve. Crowds will fall again, and we will have to think how we position it all. I will have to think about the time and effort I give to the club, days like yesterday really hurt me financially. I would honour my contract but it is a serious climb down for an experienced Manager to just go through the motions every week against top teams.
“I didn’t walk out last night. You asked me about Bartley. I said I was too far away to see what happened and that you should ask him. I needed to get home having driven hundreds of miles and had a 17-hour day, with the prospect of another long working day today. The referee was the poorest we have had in a long time, and I don’t criticize officials. JK was booked as well?“
And of course in the background we have the very real world about money for the club, the mood swings that effect it all. Dad’s weekly report on Friday was no cheerier than the previous week:
“As discussed there will be no money for the players wages this week without continued help from Roger.
“You will see that after the uncashed cheques, (all necessary eg FA Fines, programmes), we have just sufficient to cover the VAT later this week (one third of total for quarter agreed with HMRC). The brewery payment shown is also only a small part of the overdue.”
In addition to the somewhat life threatening financial situation, I was hit by another bout of reality when Dad informed me that former Chairman, David Pembroke was in hospital having suffered a heart attack. David and I had some ding-dongs in the past, particularly back in my fanzine writing days; but he was also someone who was always there, someone I could talk to. This news came as a shock.
As you might imagine, I wasn’t completely looking forward to the Stourbridge game – there seemed to be nothing enjoyable in prospect that would make it a valid use of my time, my leisure time.
On Saturday morning there were a few more tasks to fulfill. Mrs Calder was pleased because I was finally taking the framed Ryan Moran shirt along to the game, removing it from the garage and the risk of her car hitting it every time she came home from work. Being our first home game for a month, it had also become apparent that we had not yet done a presentation to John Kyriacou to mark his 200thappearance for the club, a feat achieved back at the Totton game in January. (As it happened, having done a certificate that morning, the presentation was not made – because nobody had yet ordered a trophy to present with it!).
On the back of the triumphant away day, my youngest son, Ben, once again accompanied me to the game. There becomes a battle in your mind as to whether this is a good or bad thing – I am tied away a bit more from doing exactly what I want to do (and it costs me more in food!), but ultimately, once I get there, I am really pleased that he enjoys coming to the games, is getting to know the players and enjoys watching the whole match.
When we first arrived at the ground we had to drop the Ryan Moran shirt into the manager’s office. Ben came with me, he doesn’t really appreciate it at the time, but when we get home and talk about the game it suddenly dawns on him that he had been in talking to the manager, had seen the team line-up on the whiteboard in the manager’s office and was, well, in a privileged position.
Ben had already decided that for the match we were going to stand behind the goal. For the first-half we were, unusually, attacking the Cricket Ground End. Early doors we played some beautiful football, but there was an inevitability about the fact that we fell a goal behind. It seemed to be a sloppy defensive one to concede, or a fortunate one for them to score, depending how you look at it.
At half-time the boardroom had a familiar air to it – Gossip about over spending, not getting value for money, giving up on the play-offs… The usual stuff.
Soon after the restart James Potton struck an equalizer. Ben and I had a great view from behind the goal and if you had an onsite bookie, you would have laid money on Chesham going on to win the game (a bit like you would have at St Neots!). Fortunately, it was not a repeat of St Neots, but disappointingly we did not go on to win the match either, the game finishing 1-1. On paper it is far from a disastrous result, a draw against a side third in the league, but if we are realistic about sneaking into the play-offs, the home games need to be won.
I didn’t stick around long after the game, Ben is a good excuse for me having to get away on a matchday. I tend to find that by 5pm on a Saturday I have had enough of football club stuff, and it is certainly not the time to discuss any big decisions.
However, come Sunday morning, my escape from it all was uncovered and I was tracked down to the fields of Camelot Rugby club where Ben was trying to play through with a bruised finger as the Under 9’s prepared for a tri-match with Hertford and Letchworth, in what was to be very cold and wet conditions. His finger was strapped up after it had been bent back in the Friday night training session – he received a rather heavy pass from the Head Coach, the ball traveling somewhat faster than the normal pass from an Under 9, it struck his finger and led to tears and an ice pack – not an unusual sight as they move into the contact form of the game; but it still hits you different when it is your own kid.
Anyway, standing in the pouring rain as they go through the warm up exercises, I feel my phone vibrate with a beep. A text message.
It is Andy Leese. “Can you talk?”
I give Andy a call back, and he is fuming. It was a conversation that we had had many times before, but every time it comes along, on top of the previous one, the content has added weight and potential for change. It seems that once again, after the game yesterday, a normal lack of tact had been used when the Chairman came in the bar declaring that the play-off hopes are over and the budget will have to be cut.
I obviously only heard one side of the story, but I could picture the scene and, even allowing for a bit of exaggeration, Andy had a point about the way things were handled. When I spoke to the Chairman the following day, he said that the bar was empty, but Andy mentioned that there were still people in the bar, some who had had a few drinks, that could easily hear what was being said. To be honest, even if it was just the barman, it was the wrong place.
Andy was talking about going public on the way the club was being handled, and we were all set for another confrontation that would not do anyone any good. I was suggesting he holds on to his thoughts a while longer…Just then my Ben was being escorted from the rugby field clutching his finger.
“Andy, I’ve gotta go….”
That was the end of rugby for us that day. Ben was never really going to play with his damaged finger, so it was time for an early bath. On the way back across the fields I called and left Andy a message: “Sorry Andy, let’s speak tomorrow. All I would say is don’t do anything rash. If you need to write an email, do so, it will help to address your feeling…but don’t send it until we have spoken again!”