Friday, 30 December 2011

2011 round-up (part three)

 After compiling the round-up for months January-March and April-June, here’s instalment part three.

The club received compensation from Notts County after reporting the club to the FA and Football League for their illegal approach for Martin Allen.
With pre-season in full-flow, trialists were on display, hoping to sign up contracts before the start of the campaign.

Pre-season results:
16/07 – Barnet v Peterborough     (D)       2–2
20/07 – Barnet v Gabala               (W)      1–0
23/07 – Barnet v Tottenham XI      (W)      3–2     (Lee Harrison’s testimonial)
26/07 – Chesham v Barnet XI        (L)       0–4
27/07 – Sutton v Barnet                (W)      4–2

30/07 – Barnet v MK Dons            (D)       1–1

Two more players wrapped up contract deals in July, with Steve Kabba signing for two years and Danny Senda, one year.

My Season Ticket
The month began with more short-term contracts for players who had initially joined the club on a trial basis. Jason Price and Ryan Watts both signed one-month deals after impressing in the pre-season games. Longer term, goal keeper, Dean Brill, put his name to a one-year deal, after being released by Oldham; hoping to stake his claim as Barnet’s number one. The final signing of the month was another one-month deal for defender Exodus Geohaghon. On the transfer front, both Price and Watts had their contracts ended at the end of month with the former going on to sign for Morecambe (the team he scored against on the opening game of the season!).
First game back after holiday, v Gillingham
Defenders Darren Dennehy and Daniel Leach – both of which were injured throughout the previous season – became long-term injury doubts again.

Lawrie Sanchez came out and said he was happy with the squad and won’t be bringing in any more players – a statement that didn’t go down well with fans and would come back to bite him once the season was underway.
The club said “NO” twice in August. 1) To the Cameroonian Football Federation, who had invited Clovis Kamdjo to train with the under-23’s squad. 2) To Charlton Athletic who had bid for winger, Mark Marshall, on deadline day. There was also interest from a number of other Championship and League 1 clubs.
06/08              Morecambe v Barnet           (W)      1–0
13/08              Barnet v Port Vale                (L)       1–3
16/08              Barnet v Gillingham              (D)       2–2
20/08              Rotherham v Barnet             (D)       2–2

27/08              Bradford v Barnet                 (L)       2–4
            5 points from 15
Goals For: 8              Goals Against: 11
09/08  (League Cup Round 1) Portsmouth v Barnet     (W)      1–0
23/08 (League Cup Round 2) Burnley v Barnet            (L)       2–3 (aet)

30/08  (JPT Round 1) Colchester v Barnet                  (W)      3–1


Despite last month’s news Darren Dennehy was bound to be a long-term doubt, he has a surprise return against Colchester in the JPT stating: “I feel perfect… as if I was never injured”.
Despite their troubles, Plymouth brought a fair few with them!
Darren Dennehy and Izale McLeod made the League 2 Team of the Week, and Izale was also in contention for Player of the Month award for his five goals throughout September.
Again, more signings this month – Lloyd Owusu a straight-forward replacement for Jason Price who, the previous month, had been let go by the club. Defender, Gary Borrowdale also joined on loan from QPR – in the hope the defence would become more stable and prevent conceding so many and unnecessary goals.
The first for the season, regarding the ground saga and the club’s future, came to rise when Chairman Tony Kleanthous broke his silence. The initial argument surrounded the fact the Saracens’ rugby team had planned to relocate to Copthall Stadium, an area that the Bees’ had previously been looking into. He then later in the month stated that the club’s days at Underhill were clearly numbered, although hoping we’d get to play at least half of next season at the ground.
03/09              Barnet v Accrington Stanley          (D)       0–0
10/09              Crewe Alexandra v Barnet             (L)       1–3
13/09              Barnet v Plymouth Argyle              (W)      2–0
17/09              Barnet v Oxford                             (L)       0–2

24/09              Swindon v Barnet                          (L)       0–4
            4 points from 15
Goals for: 3                Goals Against: 9

Part four is the final part of the 2011 round-up, and will include months October-December; keep your eyes peeled as it will feature in the New Year.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank you all for reading my blog and for the continued support and feedback! When I started writing, I didn’t think I’d have as many views and followers as I have, so thank you all, and have a very happy New Year! Hoping for a few new ideas for 2012, so if you have any suggestions of things you’d like to read, let me know!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

2011 round-up (part two)

After compiling the round-up for months January-March, here is the second part including months April-June.

Goal machine, Izale McLeod
The biggest news of the month was that of Martin Allen’s departure – after only 18 days as manager, despite being contracted until the end of the season. Never mind his claim: “call me Mart”, most Bees’ fans were calling him every name under the sun, as this wasn’t the first time he’d left us in the lurch at a crucial part of the campaign – this time, joining League1 strugglers, Notts County. The man to take over, club legend Giuliano Grazioli; saying of the post “it’s an honour”. Lawrie Sanchez came in to act as assistant manager to Graz for the rest of the season. The club did, however, report Notts County to the Football League and Football Association for their illegal approach of Allen.
A bit of silverware came Barnet’s way, albeit in the form of the Herts Senior Cup. After beating Stevenage (2–1) at Underhill, Barnet were the pride of Hertfordshire. A goal in each half from Charlie Stimson ensured the victory, meaning we had won the trophy for the first time in four years.
With the end of the season almost at a close there were of course more injuries scuppering our fight for survival. John Dunleavy who had previously signed a loan deal until the end of the season was the victim of a freak accident at the training ground; Steve Kabba was the other casualty with his re-occurring knee injury.
02/04              Burton v Barnet                                (W)      4–1
09/04              Barnet v Crewe                                (W)      2–1
16/04              Bury v Barnet                                    (L)       0–2
23/04              Gillingham v Barnet                         (W)      4–2
25/04              Barnet v Oxford                                (D)       2–2
30/04              Accrington Stanley v Barnet           (L)        1–3
            10 points from 18
Goals For: 13            Goals Against: 11
Pitch invasion - great escape part two
The highlight of a long, tough season, without a doubt, was preserving League status for the second year running on the final day of the season. A victory against Port Vale was boosted massively with the news that Lincoln City had lost at home to Aldershot (3–0). The celebrations at the end of the game will probably never be forgotten with players and fans on the pitch together – Grazioli had mastered the great escape!
The usual end of season players’ party and awards took place the following day. Joe Devera won the Player of the Year award, as well as Most Improved Player; Sam Deering, too, won two awards – Young Player of the Season and Goal of the Season, for one his strikes against champions elect, Chesterfield.
Lawrie Sanchez agreed a deal with the club to be manager for the 2011/12 campaign, with announced ‘dream team’ to be complete with Grazioli as his assistant.  Michael Stone also decided to continue his role as first team coach.
With the close season now in full-swing, the first players were shipped out as the new management team drew up its retained list. The players to go were: Glen Southam, Jake Cole, Rossi Jarvis, Charlie Stimson, Danny Kelly and Reece Yorke. The first players to sign new deals were also announced: Sam Deering and Mark Hughes, much to the delight of the Bees’ faithful.
07/05              Barnet v Port Vale                            (W)      1–0
            3 points from 3
Goals for: 1                Goals Against: 0      

Players and fans celebrating - and a steward casually in my way!
A reasonably quiet month was boosted by the fact that goal hero (with 14 goals in 25 starts), Izale McLeod was set to sign a year’s deal as a thank you to the club for giving him the opportunity to shine again. In his words: “taking [him] on when [he] was a forgotten man” concluding “I owe Barnet a lot”. The good news kept on coming with midfielder Mark Byrne also signing on, following his two successful loan spells.
After his two awards and a commanding season, albeit in a bad back four, Joe Devera left the club for Swindon Town – one of the four clubs to be relegated. He became the club’s first signing after they had previously made headlines for appointing Paulo Di Canio manager.
Further bad news was announced that the traditional money-making pre-season friendly with Arsenal was to be cancelled. The only reason given – because Underhill only plays venue to four of Arsenal’s reserve games in the coming season. Instead, the Gunners toured Asia.
The squad also reported back to the Hive this month for the first time for pre-season training; only one goalkeeper made up the squad, with a further 15 outfield players.

Part three of the 2011 round-up will include months July-September and should feature in a couple of days time.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

2011 round-up (part one)

So 2011 was an interesting calendar year for the Bees, so I thought I’d do a month-by-month round-up of events at Underhill. Here is part one, of four.

The year began on a high when on the first day of the month, of the year even, Mark Stimson was finally given his marching orders. It was a long time coming, with a complete lack of ineptitude shown during the first half of the 10/11 season. Paul Fairclough was the man to take temporary charge and his tenure as Bees’ boss didn’t begin well – a 4–2 away loss to rivals, Stevenage – with Grant Basey scoring a spectacularly bad own goal!
Local boy, Danny Hart left the club after not featuring for six months. He had loan spells at a number of Non-League outfits in order to play first team football, including Hemel Hempstead and Thurrock. Further departures quickly followed in the form of loanees Craig Dobson, Kevin Gallen and George Francomb – with the latter, really, having any kind of impact on the first team. Glenn Poole was the final player to leave in January – again, for lack of first team football – after being told he didn’t fit into the manager’s plans. Since the start of the campaign, Stimson brought in around 19 players, after pretty much the entire squad was released at the end of the previous campaign. So it was with no real surprise all the deadwood was removed with a new man at the helm.
Further news this month was that Ricky Holmes would be out for the rest of the season. His injury: a broken metatarsal in his right foot. He’d previously hit some decent form, since his arrival from Chelmsford City, so was a loss for us.
01/01              Barnet v Aldershot              (L)        1–2
03/01              Stevenage v Barnet            (L)        2–4
08/01              Bradford v Barnet              (W)       3–1
15/01              Barnet v Shrewsbury          (D)       1–1
22/01              Macclesfield v Barnet         (D)       1–1
25/01              Port Vale v Barnet              (D)       0–0
29/01              Barnet v Southend              (L)       0–2
6 points from 21
Goals For: 8              Goals Against: 11
Fog called off our game with Aldershot

Our away game at Aldershot which was supposed to take place on February 1st was called off at half time due to fog. The score was 1–1 with Mark Marshall scoring a wonder goal. Another Tuesday night game…
Despite our woeful League campaign thus for, crashing out of every Cup competition, the Herts Senior Cup was where it was really at. Two games in February, and two victories – a 4–1 against Hadley was matched by a 6–2 against Broxbourne, meaning a place in the semi-finals of the competition, all for the illustrious title ‘Pride of Hertfordshire’.
Yet more loan signings were added to the mix. Firstly, Sam Deering from Oxford and Anthony Pulis (yes, Tony Pulis’ son) from Southampton. Both joining until the end of the season. The former was soon set to become an Underhill favourite! They were soon followed by American, Kwame JJ Adyeman-Pamboe. Who? Exactly!
John Dunleavy the Wolves defender on-loan also extended his spell with the club, albeit only playing once during the month of January.
05/02              Northampton v Barnet         (D)      0–0
12/02              Barnet v Torquay               (L)       0–3
19/02              Cheltenham v Barnet          (D)      1–1
22/02              Southend v Barnet             (L)       1–2
26/02              Barnet v Lincoln                (W)      4–2
            5 points from 15
Goals For: 6              Goals Against: 8
Back when everyone got excited about football

The Herts Senior Cup looked ever more likely to be heading our way with a semi-final victory against Cheshunt, even though it took extra time. Mauro Vilhete who had a busy March – signing a long-term contract, and joining the young Portuguese camp in training – got the solitary goal. Stevenage would be our opponents in the final, and would be hoping to make it a hat-trick of victories in League and Cup for the season.
With the end of the season fast approaching and our League status looking more and more precarious, loan signings were brought in thick and fast. Mark Byrne was the first, returning after a previous spell. He scored four goals in 15 appearances before heading back to parent club, Notts Forest following injury. Another player who had proved to be a hit and a great future prospect. He was followed by young left back, Matty Parsons (Crystal Palace) who quickly cemented his place in the side, and extended his initial one-month loan until the end of the season. Injuries pretty much plagued our season, and third loan signing, Sam Walker, from Chelsea, was no exception to that. The goalkeeper was rushed in following injuries to both keepers Jake Cole and Liam O’Brien (although rumour had it the former had a bust-up with a member of staff and would be likely to leave at the end of the season!). Towards the end of the month, two more faces joined the Bees in Jude Stirling (MK Dons) and Jack Midson (Oxford).
Injuries again, were the talking point, and given our previous bad luck were to be expected. Jude Stirling was the first, after making his debut for the club; Anthony Pulis was the second – an injury in the warm-up prior to our game with Chesterfield!
But the main talking point from March was that of the return of former Bees’ boss, Martin Allen; brought in by the Chairman as a “final throw of the dice” for us to preserve our League status. Reappointed ‘mad dog’ signed a contract until the end of the season – a mere eight games! Giuliano Grazioli was immediately made assistant manager.
05/03              Rotherham v Barnet            (D)       0–0
08/03              Barnet v Wycombe             (L)       0–1
12/03              Hereford v Barnet               (W)      2–1
19/03              Barnet v Morecambe           (L)       1–2
22/03              Aldershot v Barnet              (L)        0–1
26/03              Barnet v Chesterfield          (D)        2–2
            5 points from 18
Goals For: 5              Goals Against: 7

Part two of the round-up will include months April–June and should feature in a couple of days time.

Southend Away in February

Sunday, 18 December 2011

My Round and White debut

For those that are unfamiliar with it, It’s Round and It’s White is a football website, covering an entire spectrum of football leagues – from the Football League to Non-League in England, to Europe and as far as America and Australia. It relies on the input of the average football fan, regardless of writing and journalistic experience, meaning anyone can write about their club.
I had been following Round and White on Twitter for a while now, and often speak to its editorial team – which was the main reason behind finally writing for the site; as well as getting a chance to showcase my writing.
It isn’t only match reports that can be found on the site, although the majority of articles are views from people at League games over the course of the weekend. I wrote my first piece this week, following our 2–2 draw with Cheltenham Town on Friday night.

Match Report: Barnet 2–2 Cheltenham Town (Barnet fan’s perspective)

Another Friday and another game of football for Barnet, this time at home to promotion-hopefuls, Cheltenham. Although on this display, questions must be asked as to how they’ve managed their current run of form – on yesterday’s showing, they were distinctly average.
The Bees started the brighter of the two sides, attacking from the off. On a different day, or with a better level of finishing, two of three goals in the opening 15 wouldn’t have flattered the home side. Izale McLeod, now on 14 League goals for the season went closest, with a lob being cleared off the line by a Cheltenham defender. Two minutes later and Mark Byrne, with a volley from at least 20 yards out (which went wide, to the right of the net) could have wrapped up the points in a rampant, attacking opening period.
However, it was the Robins who went ahead, just after the half-hour mark, with what was their first shot of the game after what could only be described as ‘typical’ defending by Barnet. Whilst it has improved since the three loan signings have been brought in, the inability to clear the ball from corners remains our downfall and was exactly how the visitors got the opening goal – a header from Kaid Mohamed.
With half-time fast approaching, the Bees continued to press to get that equalising goal and managed to get it with five minutes of the half remaining through man of the moment McLeod. League Two’s top scorer tapped-in following a beautiful cross from the game’s Man of the Match, Sam Deering. It was the least we deserved, being completely on top of the game.
It then only took Cheltenham three minutes to retake the lead, with a most obscure decision. An apparent handball by one of our players – in fact, no-one but the ref saw it; the player in question escaped a booking (and a talking to!). Up stepped Darryl Duffy to slot away the spot kick for the visitors. The score at half time 1–2.
It took another penalty in the second forty five to earn the Bees a point. Only a yellow for Sido Jombati, the last man, who hacked down McLeod in the middle of the penalty area – with everyone asking “how wasn’t that a red?” Of course, Izale duly put it away.
Both teams could have won it in the final half-hour – Cheltenham’s Smikle went closest, lobbing Dean Brill in the Bees’ goal, but missing the target.
On reflection a point was a fair result in what was an entertaining encounter.
Attendance: 1,775 (away: 220)
Starting line-ups:
Barnet: Brill; Senda, Hector, Downing, Borrowdale; Marshall, Byrne, Hughes, Kamdjo, Deering; McLeod.
Cheltenham Town: Brown; Elliot, Bennett, Garbutt, Jombati; Pack, Low, Summerfield; Duffy, Spencer, Mohamed.

I thoroughly encourage anyone interested in writing to get involved with the site, regardless of the team they support or league they follow; the team are always after contributions.
Round and White can be found on Twitter @RoundAndWhite and the website is

Two minutes with… Cheltenham Town

Barnet’s final home game of 2011 saw promotion hopefuls, Cheltenham Town arrive at Underhill, in another Friday night encounter. Mark Halliwell, Rubies' fan and web commentator shares his thoughts in this instalment. Mark can be found on Twitter @MarkHalliwell1 and his blog can also be accessed here.
Barnet 2–2 Cheltenham Town
(McLeod ’41 ’60 (p) – Mohamed ’32, Duffy ’44 (p))
Attendance 1.775 (away 220)
How did you get to the game?
I went on the supporters' coach. We took a double decker and it left Cheltenham at 3pm. I had spent the morning selling coach tickets for our upcoming FA Cup tie at Spurs and we have already filled more than 20 coaches. We got to Barnet at around 6pm, so plenty of time to kill.
What did you do pre-match?
I met some fellow Rubies in the Red Lion at the top of the hill. Some other fans had gone to the other Red Lion, just down the road. We had a couple of pints before making our way to the game.
Where did you sit/stand in the ground?
I was in the Main Stand, in the press box, as I was doing the Cheltenham web commentary. I like Underhill even though we have never won there and I hope Barnet sort their problems out. It will be a great shame if this was my last trip to Underhill.
What did you make of the game?
It was very scrappy with no real pattern to it. We didn't play as well as we have done in recent games and we missed the suspended Russ Penn in our midfield. But credit to Barnet as they put us under pressure and certainly know how to make use of the slope, which we failed to do. I am as confused as anyone as to why our penalty was given, and thought Sido Jombati should have been red-carded after giving away the Barnet penalty, so those decisions went our way. Having led twice, I suppose it is a bit disappointing not to win, but we could easily have lost, so we will take that.
Was the scoreline a fair reflection?
I think so. It would have been harsh on Barnet had we won the game as we didn't deserve it over the 90 minutes. Barnet have some decent players and I expect them to stay up comfortably. They are not the worst side we have played by a long, long way.
Who, in your opinion was man of the match?
For Barnet, a toss-up between Izale McLeod and Sam Deering. McLeod gave our centre-halves a torrid time and as big a test as they have had all season. His goals will be massive for Barnet. I have always been a fan of Deering and rate him one of the best midfielders in League Two. Mark Marshall had his moments as well.
For Cheltenham, no one really stood out for us. Steve Elliott stuck to his task well at the back and Luke Summerfield did okay in midfield.
Who have you got next and how do you think you’ll get on?
We have a big game on Boxing Day with Shrewsbury, who are a place and two points behind us, in fourth place. Having already beaten Southend, Crawley and Swindon at home this season, we have to be confident that we can add Shrewsbury to that list. If we can, it will open up a bit of a gap between the top three and the rest and give us a boost going into the second half of the season.

Thanks Mark

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Two minutes with… Brentford

It was another cup competition for Barnet on Tuesday night, in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy this time, as fellow Bees, Brentford came to Underhill in the area semi-finals. The winners were to face the winners of Southend V Swindon in the regional finals, a two-legged affair. Brentford fan Terry Latham went to the game, and in this edition of ‘two minutes with…’ shares his experience.
Barnet 0–0 Brentford (5–3 on penalties)
(Hughes, Holmes, Deering, McLeod, Senda – Alexander, Reeves, Saunders)
Attendance 1.970 (away 899)
How did you get to the game?
Living in Hutton, Essex, I went by train. I went to Liverpool Street, before getting the tube to High Barnet on the Northern line, via Tottenham Court Road.
What did you do pre-match?
I met a few mates en-route at Tottenham Court Road and had a few drinks at a pub there.
Where did you stand/sit in the ground?
I stood on the away (East) terrace.
What did you make of the game?
I thought the game was very poor – as the scoreline suggests (0–0 at the end of 90 minutes).
Was the scoreline a fair reflection?
I felt Brentford were the better side and could have won the game in the first 20 minutes – but we were guilty of not taking our chances. Although credit has to go to Barnet’s keeper for pulling off some outstanding saves to keep them in the game. I have no real complaints, I’ve seen us play a number of times this season and know we’re capable of better. Well done to Barnet for scoring all their penalties.
Who, in your opinion, was man of the match?
That has to be Dean Brill, Barnet keeper for some of the saves he pulled off.
Who have you got next and how do you think you’ll get on?
Back to League action for us after two bad results in Cup competitions (the FA Cup and JPT). It’s Hartlepool at Griffin Park. On paper, we should win this one, particularly as Hartlepool haven’t won a game in a while now, and sacked their manager. However, we need to play better and take our chances.

Thanks Terry.

Important dates:
Barnet V Swindon (first leg) – Underhill – Tuesday 10th January
Swindon V Barnet (second leg) – County Ground – Date to be confirmed

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Two minutes with… MK Dons

Saturday saw us face MK Dons at home in the second round of the FA Cup. I think it’s fair to say when the draw was televised, nobody really wanted them – an easy tie would have been a bye to the third round when the Premiership and Championship teams join in. Dan (@MKdan08) came to the game and shares his post-match thoughts:
Barnet 1–3 MK Dons
(McLeod ’87 – Potter ’39, MacDonald ’78, Powell ’88)
Attendance 2,608 (away 912)
How did you get to the game?
I came via coach, which dropped us off at the pub next to the stadium.
What did you do pre-match?
I went to the pub for a quick drink before going into the ground where I watched the players warm-up; grabbing some food and a programme.
Where did you stand/sit in the ground?
I stood on the East Terrace, next to the food bar.
What did you make of the game?
The game was great: good possession at times from both sides, despite some sloppy play. It was really exciting with chances at both ends. The best team won though – if you don’t take your chances, you deserve to be punished.
Was the scoreline a fair reflection?
I suppose so as both teams had chances – Barnet didn’t take advantage of theirs, though.
Who, in your opinion, was man of the match?
I thought that Darren Potter for MK was man of the match – he scored a great goal, set up opportunities for the team and played a great passing game.
Who have you got next and how do you think you’ll get on?
It’s back to League games for us next weekend and we play Tranmere away. I reckon we’ll win, as they’re not doing too well at the moment. We have a good chance.

Thanks Dan

My final word:
It’s always disappointing to be dumped out of the Cup early on (particularly before the third round when the big teams join in!) and on a different day, we could have sneaked at least a draw. It’s fair to say that wasn’t our best performance of the season, and although once again we looked decent going forward, we didn’t take our chances. McLeod, in particular squandered countless chances, despite scoring our (consolation) goal. There’s no doubt he’s a quality player who will probably leave us shortly for a bigger, better club, but at times you have to question his decisions – he’s awful at one-on-ones and there were two chances in the game, where, had he squared it to another player, would have resulted in goals. It was great to see Ricky Holmes back after some time out and for me, Sam Deering played very well. There’s always next year…

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The FA Cup: is the magic gone?

Fan Poll:
Following on from my previous piece, I thought it apt to ask readers for their opinion, asking: ‘Has the FA Cup lost its magic?’ with the results shown below.

To make this particular entry different from others I have done before, I thought it only right to ask football fans for their reasons for voting the way they did. With a handful of teams from Non-League playing in round two, I was interesting in hearing their views. Added to this are the views of a fan so used to not having to qualify for the cup, so imagine the disappointment when not only their team had to join the preliminary stages, and then not even making the first round proper!
AFC Totton are a club in the Southern League (for those who don’t know, this is the league below the Conference North/South), who face Bristol Rovers on Sunday. Ryan is an AFC Totton fan:
“It’s been a fantastic FA Cup run so far and I’m cautiously optimistic of continuing it for a little while longer against Bristol Rovers. The town is buzzing. Ever since the draw was made, it’s all anyone in Totton is talking about. Totton have never made the first round proper in our 125-year history, so to reach round two this season is incredible; this game will be like our cup final. It’s also the first time we have ever played against Football League opposition in a competitive match AND the first time we’ve ever been on live TV. The financial implications are huge. We’ve already made £40,000 in prize money so far, and the club will receive about £72,000 in TV revenue – big money for a club of our size. Win or lose there will be a real party atmosphere at the Testwood Stadium this Sunday.”
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @Ryn_Bru; as well as the club’s official Twitter feed @AFCTotton, which Ryan runs. Check out his blog for match reports and other Totton related articles.
Another team playing at the weekend are Salisbury City from the Conference South, who face Grimsby Town. Liam is a Salisbury fan:
“Some may say the FA Cup has lost its magic, but come to the Ray Mac and you’ll see that it really hasn’t! After starting our Cup campaign in September, slogging through the qualifying rounds, all of a sudden the city has sparked to life, especially when the word ‘proper’ gets used. It’s amazing how it pulls people in and creates a buzz around the place – it captures the city and gives it that spark that doesn’t happen in the league. This being only the third time we’ve reached the second round means it’s a huge thing for the club and the players involved. Only two-thirds of the squad have been involved in the proper rounds and it’s a great chance for the club to make history. Grimsby Town will be a test but realistically it’s the biggest chance to the make the third round we’ll ever get! It’ll be nice to see a big crowd and decent away support – we haven’t had one of them since our conference days! Forest was great in 2006, and a 1–1draw was deserved… hopefully these lads can go one better and mix it with the big boys!”
You can find Liam on Twitter @LiamSCFC
It’s not been a great time to be a Lincoln City fan of late – the club stared relegation to the Blue Square Premier in May, not only losing Football League status, but also having to qualify for the FA Cup. In the final qualifying round they faced Alfreton Town and after drawing 1–1, they then went on to lose the replay 2–1, meaning they failed to qualify for the Cup for the first time since 1924/25. Karl is a Lincoln City fan, who despite his club’s misfortunes, believes the magic of the cup is still very much alive:
“Having to qualify for the FA Cup this season was very strange, due to the fact it was the first time I’ve had to experience it, what with it being my first season as a Lincoln City supporter outside of the Football League. The qualifying rounds made me realise how much I took for granted that instant first round proper status, having that privilege and not needing to qualify. However, I guess it could have been made harder, particularly given all the other qualifying rounds prior to when we joined. I felt this season was more important than ever to at least make round one – to generate some much needed revenue, and hope for a cup run before reaching one of the big boys. All those dreams were diminished, however, losing at home in the replay 2–1. Even though we didn’t qualify for round one this season, I still love the FA Cup and one day hope to have that dream tie at Old Trafford. In my experience as a lower league fan, there is nothing more exciting than seeing the cup draw on TV on the Sunday waiting in anticipation to see who you get – hoping one of the minnows could cause an upset. I still think the magic of the cup is very much alive, especially by the third round stage with the big boys joining in.”
You can follow Karl on Twitter @Lincoln_Karl

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The FA Cup: is the magic gone?

“The FA Cup doesn’t start until January” is something I’ve heard far too often of late, and, in my opinion, epitomises everything wrong with the modern game. Chances are, if you support a team from the comfort of your own armchair or are a real supporter of a Premiership or Championship side, these are the sentiments you agree with. For the football fan of the lower leagues, this isn’t the case and is a competition that started months ago.
For me the Cup starts in the first round proper (the clue is kinda in the name) – when the teams of the lowest end of the Football League join those luckiest from its preliminary qualifying rounds. I’m not just saying that because it’s the point in which my team join – if we were to join any later, I’d be saying the same and if we had to qualify, I’m not sure I’d have that same kind of buzz about playing for a place in the competition. Obviously this is with no disrespect to those teams of the lowest end of the footballing pyramid – the cup run and money it accumulates is probably of great importance to them and their fans – but the preliminary stages are just that. For me it’s all about the proper rounds!
Bearing money in mind, though, I honestly never realised how much money was involved in the Cup. After researching, I couldn’t believe how many teams are initially involved. Take a look at this:
Round                                        Clubs                     Prize moneyExtra Preliminary                          763                          £   750
Preliminary                                  559                          £  1500
First round qualifying                    392                          £  3000
Second round qualifying               276                          £  4800
Third round qualifying                   196                          £  7500
Fourth round qualifying                 156                          £12500
First round                                   124                          £18500
Second round                               84                           £27500
I suppose when you look at it from the point of view of the likes of say, Redbridge, the lowest ranked team playing the second round, you see the importance of the qualifiers and cup progression. The sums of money involved obviously mean a great deal to those at the lowest ends of the football pyramid.
I won’t lie, I don’t really follow the cup in its preliminary stages, although I do tend to have a quick glimpse to see how my local teams are getting on (maybe in hope we’ll face them at some point!). Living in Essex and not supporting a club from the county means there are plenty of teams to look out for and I love looking out for those representing the county at the lowest levels. Both Billericay and Brentwood Town are a mere five miles away from my house and as they both regularly feature in my local paper, the Brentwood Gazette, I often check how they’re faring in their respective leagues. This season in the FA Cup, Brentwood got knocked out in the first round of qualifying, losing to Hemel Hempstead Town in the replay (4–2 on penalties) and Billericay did slightly better, losing to Leatherhead 3–0 in the third round of preliminary qualification. East Thurrock and Southend Manor are two other teams slightly further afield that made the final round of qualifying and the first round proper respectively. But for me, the pick of the bunch has to be Chelmsford City – the Clarets play Macclesfield Town in the second round over the weekend.
Of late the Cup hasn’t been too kind to us: last year we were paired up with Charlton Athletic in round one; despite two great performances we were knocked out at The Valley after a 1–0 defeat in the replay (0–0 at Underhill). The previous year we were knocked out of round two, at the hands of Accrington Stanley (again in the replay), after beating Darlington in the first round. The 08/09 season again saw us gone from the competition in its first proper stages – losing to Rochdale – and despite a decent round one tie against Southport this year, we face the MK Dons in the second round. To say it’s not to our likely is a real understatement.
No matter the round and regardless of whether or not we are still in the competition, I always get excited for the Cup draw. I’m not sure what exactly is about it, but for as long as I can remember, it has been my personal highlight of FA Cup weekend – waiting with anticipation through all the discussion for it to start. I think it’s a mix of nerves and excitement, simultaneously – if we’re in the cup, will we be home or away? Who will we be playing? Will we face a non-league outfit? Could we cause a Cupset? If we are knocked out, who could we have been facing?
The coverage it gets (although not as good as it once was, some my say) and the fact it involves teams from the very extremes of football: the highest positioned teams and the lowest, set it apart from all other cup competitions. With a handful of teams from Non-League still involved in round two mean Cupsets are still on the cards and for me, the magic of the cup is still very much alive.