Friday, 29 May 2009

THE66POW - 2008-09 Football Season Review

Eeayadio!
Or 'Eeay-adios' even.
So long season 2008-09, you will be fondly remembered.

Preamble:
After 2007-08's dismal anti-climax of Worksop Town finishing up homeless, Mansfield Town getting relegated from the Football League into the BSP (Conference) and Hearts finishing in the bottom six of the SPL for the first time since Jesus was a lad, whilst playing some dreadful football under the stewardship of Stephen Frail, I guess in 2008-09 things could only get better.
You might say I'm a d-reamer (but I'm not the only one).

My final game of 2007-08 was Gretna v Hearts played out at Gretna's exiled home of Fir Park (Motherwell FC) on that infamous crappy playing surface.
Everyone present in a crowd that barely made four figures was acutely aware that it was Gretna FC's last game, not just in the Scottish Premier League, but forever ... they won 1-0.
A sad night for football, the end of an unsustainable fairytale, but it still didn't stop the 'chav' element who travel away to Hearts games sometimes (the same ones who wave those fucking Ulster flags that have nothing to do with HMFC) from singing a version of "Football's coming home" re-arranged to fit in the 'witty' put down of "Gretna's going bust."
Ha, ha, ha ... There but for the grace of God went Hearts a few years ago too you morons.

Just two years previously I had witnessed the same fixture at Hampden Park as Hearts scraped home against the (then) upwardly mobile underdogs of Gretna on penalties in the Scottish Cup Final.
The grim financial realities that have grabbed us all by the throats of late, started early at Gretna when their benefactor Brooks Mileson first took ill.

Gretna 2008 (as the new club formed from their ashes are called) started 2008-09 in the East of Scotland Senior League (Division 1) at a sports ground with no seating or covered standing, they have only recently moved back home (just across the road) to Raydale Park.
On Saturday 16th May, I passed their away game v. Tynecastle (Fernieside, Edinburgh) on the bus on my way in to the Hearts v. Dundee United game.
Gretna lost that one 4-0, but at least they have hope for the future now ... all was lost the last time I'd seen them.
Good luck to them, they were always very sociable whenever I'd been to Raydale or Fir Park and they will probably remain for all time the only club I ever seen play in competitive fixtures against both Heart of Midlothian and Worksop Town.
Anyway, enough of my nostalgic rambling.
Here are my bestest/worstest moments of the 2008-09 football season kind of awards type thing.
Note I'm only selecting things appertaining to games I've actually been to.

Best games of the season:
Difficult choice, I saw a lot of stuff I enjoyed this season but -perm any one from:

31st August 2008
Bishop Auckland 3 Consett 3 (FA Cup Preliminary Round).
Classic local derby cup encounter in the pouring rain.
At half time Consett seemed to have the game sewn up, but Bishop Auckland forced a replay right at the death.Bishop Auckland v Consett was played at West Auckland FC (hence the picture of the Thomas Lipton 'World Cup' at the top of this post) where the 'home' team are lodging until their new ground is completed.
I liked their old ground with that big, cavernous old wooden stand on stilts (like a prop off the TV series Tenko) but I digress.
I picked this game up on the way back south from an overnight stay in Scotland where I'd been to see Hearts winning 2-1 at Hamilton Accies.
A good weekend all round.
Alas, forcing a late equaliser didn't do 'The Two Blues' any good, they got stuffed 4-1 in the replay.

11th January 2009
Hibernian 0 v Heart of Midlothian 2 (Scottish Cup 4th Round)
Always fun to FTH, especially on their own patch in a game that stretched their pathetic record for not winning the Scottish Cup to 108 years.

10th March 2009
Cambridge United 2 v. Mansfield Town 1 (Blue Square Premier)
The Stags lost, but their fans came away from Cambridge with many more positives and plus points to talk about all the way home, than they had ever salvaged from any, of several, scrappy 1-0 wins against poor opposition they have witnessed during the season..
I accept the new manager David Holdsworth needed to get some points on the board and sort out the defence as a priority after the miserable failure of Billy McEwan's (thankfully) short lived reign, but Cambridge v. Mansfield was entertainment par excellence with both teams attacking flat out ... and in spite of the result, excellent to watch.
It would be great to see more of the same next season sometimes ... please.
Cambridge eventually finished second in the BSP and missed out on promotion when they lost in the play-off final for the second consecutive year.

6th May 2009
Eastwood Town 1 v. Retford United 2 (Notts Senior Cup Final) played at Notts County FC.
It's boom time for Nottinghamshire Non League football (no really) and this was a shining example of why.
Come and try some for yourself, don't just take my word for it.
And of course, the Eastwood v Retford final meant that at least two decent Nottinghamshire teams who wear black and white had played had Meadow Lane this season, which made a nice change.

13th May
Blidworth Welfare v Ollerton Town (Central Midlands Football League Supreme Division)
A cheeky little fixture.
I wasn't expecting very much, but the game and the camaraderie amongst those present combined to create a most pleasant ambience.
Please understand, no bodily fluids were actually exchanged (there weren't even any funny handshake rituals) but this was as close to a Non League love-in as it gets.
A place of sanctuary where people could unselfconsciously point their zoom lenses at the away team dug out, pace about in a state of anxiety because the programmes were late arriving and wear their Pumpherston Juniors FC badges with pride without anybody sneering at them and questioning why.
Players, match officials, fans of the beautiful game, all united by a common love of that game in their own little escapist corner of Nirvana.
Beauty is in the eyes of those beholding.
Cracking match as it turned out too.

Worst games of the season:
Heanor Town 1 v. Holbrook MW 0
The only East Midlands Counties League game I saw all season and it was awful.

Grimsby Town 0 v. Barnet 1
Coca Cola League 2, or Division 4 as it used to be called.
Thank goodness I had a nice view of the boats coming and going across the Humber Estuary or there would have been nothing worth watching all afternoon. Both teams were dire, I would've given Luton Town their points back and relegated these two on the spot, without hesitation.

Reasons to be cheerful:
Why don'tcha get back into bed?

Best achievement of the season.
Against massive odds created by other parties and circumstances beyond their control, keeping Worksop Town in business at all was a miracle, never mind an achievement.
Staying up and the Under 19's team winning a league and cup double were the icing on the cake.
Fingers crossed they can find somewhere to play next season this week.
Never a dull moment is there!?

Retford United did very well to win the Unibond League South (again) and promotion (this time) along with the Notts Senior Cup. A fine season.
I have one reservation about Retford United though ... Their real fans, who've followed them through the various leagues they've scaled their way up through in impressive fashion are a great bunch of knowledgeable, friendly and pleasant people without any airs and graces ... but, a few of those who've latched on these last couple of years might do well to take a few lessons in humility.
The vast majority of decent people at Cannon Park will probably know the ones I mean.

Hearts claimed third place and qualified for Europe.
Nice one!
However I have voted for them as both the best and worst team to watch on one of the football forums I use.
As in, when they hit a rich vein of form their passing and movement are a joy to watch, when they don't watching them going through the motions can be like having teeth pulled sans anaesthetic.
Rumours that the club are going to stop playing 'The Hearts Song' before games and replace it with Bob Marley's album 'Exodus' given the amount of players who are leaving are as of yet unconfirmed.

Kirkby Town and Rainworth Miners Welfare.
From small acorns big fat solid oaks do grow.
Stick with it!!!

Bulwell Town. You've found your feet in the CMFL, now use them to kick some arse!

Newcastle United.
Anybody who has ever had the misfortune to catch a train from Edinburgh to Retford on a Saturday night when Newcastle United have been playing at home will know why I'm extremely pleased that the team those reptiles who board the train terrorising families and generally behaving like it's 1974 all over again and as though it's big and brave to confront women travelling on their own when you've got 200 mates to show off to ... ARE GOING DOWN!
I have several really good friends who support the Mags but in spite of them I've developed a genuine loathing for the Inter City 'black and white army'.
In the words of Gilbert O'Sullivan "Get down. Get Down. Get Down."

And not forgetting ...
"Granddad can I have a maroon football shirt like yours?"

Sorry states and sights:
Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic FC after the arson attack :-(
A bad enough situation as it was, but how did the Lothian & Borders Police manage to catch the culprits and then let them out again on the same day so they could go back and finish the job?
As that bloke on Crime Watch always says "Sleep well in your beds tonight, remember that while some of the footage we show is disturbing, there aren't really that many criminals out there and the police are always on hand to collar the little fecks anyway" ... or words to that effect.

I went to the Valley to watch Charlton Athletic v Barnsley.
After half an hour the visitors were three nil up and thousands of Charlton supporters had headed for the exits by half time.
It was only November 1st but the south London side's relegation already looked inevitable.

The Black & Gold club at Berwick Rangers, still closed after more than a whole year now.
I wish somebody could restore it to it's former glory.
When I went to Shielfield Park recently the only other pub I use in Tweedmouth within close walking distance of the ground (I won't name it here) had broken and used syringe remnants scattered in the Gents toilet. That would never have happened in the Black & Gold.

Rolls Royce Leisure's goalkeeper Paul Brady v. Ollerton Town.
He had an howler, EVERYTHING that could have gone wrong for him did on the night. And it all happened before a crowd that was possibly bigger than all RRL's other combined attendances for the season added together.

Billy McEwan in the managers hot seat at Mansfield Town.
Jesus wept, what a stubborn, arrogant, inflexible piss poor excuse for a manager.
Even though the results and performances were crying out for him to change things or be damned, he steadfastly refused to be budged an inch from his recipe for failure.
By getting rid of him when they did, the Mansfield Town board saved the Stags from certain relegation to the UniBond League.

Driving down Sandy Lane, Worksop and seeing a game in progress at the ground Worksop Town FC are locked out of.

The state of disrepair Skegness Town's ground has got into, one more bad winter should just about finish it off.
Needs some TLC, desperately!
It looks as though the RAF, synonymous with the county of Lincolnshire have been using the ground as a practice bombing range, Barnes Wallace would have approved of their prowess.

Longest day trip of the season:
Set off at silly o'clock one Saturday morning (arguably still Friday night) and drove all the way from Notts to Bonnyrigg, Midlothian (8 miles south of Edinburgh) to catch the Danderhall Hearts coach to Inverness Caledonian Thistle v. Hearts.
On the coach up I got a message "You start work at 6AM tomorrow" (in Notts) "You hadn't forgot had you?"
Indeed I bloody well had.
So after watching the mighty Hearts slay relegation doomed Inverness CT by a massive margin of one goal to nil in front of 4,011 very, very cold spectators, I eventually arrived back at the drop off point (outside Bonnyrigg Funeral Directors) grabbed myself a couple of pints of caffeine laden coke in The Chase/Bar 33 (a legendary 'Boomtown' pub) to perk me up a bit and pointed the trusty Mondeo towards the A1 southbound and got home with ample time to afford myself almost two hours sleep before I staggered into work.
"You know it's a twelve hour shift today don't you?"
Indeed I blooming well didn't.

Shortest day trip of the season:
Retford United's Cannon Park ground is so close to my house that we even share the exact same post code, right back in July my long and eventful season started there when East Stirlingshire were the visitors for a friendly.
I saw them play four or fivee times over the season (Retford not East Stirling) they're very good at what they do actually, I also saw Worksop Town's Under 19's play there a few times too. Which was quite handy for me, definitely less trouble than a trip to Hucknall of a midweek evening.
I've nothing against Hucknall, I would even go so far as to say I like the place, it's just all the roads in between mein north Notts abode and that corner of south west Notts are absolutely sniding with traffic of a midweek evening.

Best football blogs:
They are all a time consuming labour of love and any of those listed in the index (to the right) on the66pow are well worth a look, as indeed are many more besides.
But the one's I have been avidly reading over the last couple of months are:
On The Road 2008-09
The Travelling Fan
and the 12th Man fanzine section of Scotzine.com (the home of Scottish football).
The 'legendary' author Mike Smith writes for the latter one, he wrote my favourite ever Hearts book too (still available in all good books shops or from Amazon).
And one of those free plugs is going to cost a certain prolific Scottish football scribe a pint the next time I'm in Dalkeith ;-)

2008-09 Overview:
A lot of my enthusiasm for football had been diminished circa 2007-08.
Petty politics, the wrong sort of people running football clubs and the game as a whole, some pitiful to watch games, scandalous prices for match tickets ... well that's just some of the reasons my love of the game was falling into decline.
If 2007-08 had lasted a moment longer, I would probably have been infamous by now as the guy who walked out onto a pitch while a game was in progress and shot dead four or five under performing phonies masquerading as professional footballers who weren't fit to wear the shirt.
Well, maybe not ... but I had actually reached the point of fantasising about such an end of season scenario.
This year Hearts have to replace 4 or 5 quality players because other clubs have moved in and wooed them away, last season they could just as easily have required a similar number of new signings to bolster the team, but for a completely different reason.
Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.

I decided that 2008-09 would be a make or break season for me.
And it was.
I will be back, bloodied but unbowed for 2009-10 after rediscovering my enthusiasm for the game across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.
Which speaks volumes for the last ten months of thrills and spills given my 'completely fucked off with it all' demeanour of May 2008.

Perhaps I've just been fortunate that I've been to the right games by a combination of complete flukes over the course of this season and bumped into the right kind of like minded souls on my travels, but I've had a bloody marvellous time from start to finish. In truth it's flown by as time does when you're having fun.

I wouldn't even dare to estimate how many miles I've travelled, how much money I've spent on petrol and train fares or how much I've lost in wages missing overtime shifts because I was at the wrong end of the country watching the 'vital' Friday night mid-table Northern League match between Whickham and Brandon United, or even 'abroad' in Scotland watching Newtongrange (Nitton) Star, Dalkeith Thistle, Whitehill Welfare, Edinburgh City, Airdrie United or whoever performing their own unique variant of the beautiful game.
But I reckon it's all been worth it.
Where else could I have been an eye witness to:
The splendour of squinting to make out microdot sized little men running around a couple of hundred yards away (Meadowbank Stadium)
Winterton Rangers playing very well and winning every time I saw them play (various places)
An anti-social middle-aged transvestite attacking a whole away following with his (her?) umbrella while the home crowd roared him (her?) on and even shouted her (his) name in support of his peculiar behaviour (Hartlepool United - Where else!!??)
Seen a thermal imaging hooligan spotter helicopter hovering above the pitch at a UniBond League ground with the game still in progress (Ilkeston)

It was also fun to sit incognito among the hostile home fans watching them (Hibs) get gubbed and knocked out of the Scottish Cup by Hearts (a regular occurrence). I even got the opportunity to ask a very saddened looking Hibs fan sat in front of me "Excuse me I'm from Nottinghamshire, what is that the Hearts fans are singing?"
"Oh them! 'Since 1902, you've not won the big cup since 1902' we haven't won the Scottish Cup for a very long time"
"Aw sorry to hear that pal!" Aye right ;-)
It was sad, but I was able to laugh at the sheer stupidity of actually going to the same fixture that was abandoned twice (Clipstone MW v Ollerton Town), the first time when the floodlights packed in after 79 minutes on a pitch that in truth was too frozen solid to have been safe in the first place - and the second when the heavens opened and the Lido Ground experienced the only ever case of an inland Tsunami ever recorded anywhere in the world ... what a bloody night that was!

And let us not forget the female tannoy announcer at a south Yorkshire ground singing "The linesman is a wanker!" into her microphone ... for the benefit of any league committee men reading this long winded drivel, I will forget to mention where that happened to avoid any disciplinary recriminations, so there!
In any case, she was probably right.
Or the twice delayed kick off at Maltby Main v. Thackley when first of all both teams marched out onto the pitch wearing all red kits, only to return 10 minutes later after Maltby had changed into blue one to discover somebody hadn't put the goal nets up properly (he was probably called away to find some kit).

2008-09, it was bloody great, much respect to all who took part and shared in the fun from start to finish. Worksop Town staying in business and avoiding relegation too, topped it all off very nicely thank you.
2009-10 has a lot to live up to after that.

The pre-season friendlies are but a month or so away, see you all again soon.