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Maidstone United: A Non-League Success Story…At Last

John Edwards - Saturday 08.02.14, 14:05pm

The monopoly that Sky and BT have over the showing of live football on TV does have its advantages. Most notably, it has enabled me to go and watch non-league football in my home town on a Saturday at 3pm.

Being from Maidstone, that has not always been possible but that’s not just because of the introduction of Sky Sports.

The Stones played their football outside the Town for 20 years but came back home in 2012 having been in the wilderness sharing grounds with Sittingbourne and Ashford. Depressing times indeed.

Mind you there were darker days.  Some anoraks might remember that The Stones reached the nosebleed heights of the Football League in 1989.

Due to a combination of poor management and a total lack of support from the Local Council, Maidstone United went under in 1992. From its ashes, the resurrection has been nothing short of miraculous. Maidstone United was reborn in 1995 initially through a Youth Team and it then developed and gained periodic promotions through numerous leagues. All of this time the Team had no home and had to pay rent to other Clubs so it could play Footie.

Finally, through the incredible dedication of fans and the business acumen (and money) of the Club’s saviours Oliver Ash and Terry Casey, the new £2.6m Gallagher Stadium opened in 2012. Nestled next to the River Medway, the ground opened to a packed crowd with Brighton the visitors (we got stuffed!).

Ash, Casey and the supporters consistently fundraised and stirred interest in bringing back Football to Maidstone. I can still taste the delicious cakes I bought on Fan Cake days to raise money in dreary Ashford whilst counting how many Footballs were hoofed into the Industrial wasteland that surrounded the quagmire of a pitch.

Even during the Club’s resurgence, sharing badly drained Football pitches almost brought an end to the Club again as match after match was postponed leading to players not being paid for weeks on end.

The Owners of the Club have always stressed that the Club has to stand on its own two feet. They knew revenue had to be guaranteed and games had to go ahead. Also Ash and Casey wanted to make sure that the Club had a link with local community. So an artificial 3G pitch was laid and is now used buy no only the First Team but also numerous teams that are part of the Football Academy.

Artificial pitches have moved on since the day of sliding tackles resulting in burnt legs and tights being worn by players at grounds such as Loftus Road. The new synthetic pitches are brilliant. If it’s good enough for the Champions League, with Spartak Moscow at the Luzhniki  Stadium, then it should be good enough for the Football Conference League. Sadly, Clubs have voted down Maidstone’s request for 3G to be accepted in leagues higher than The Ryman Premier. Therefore, if the Stones gain promotion this season (and they are flying high) they will not gain promotion to the Skrill League South.

To date this season, Maidstone have not postponed any match at the Gallagher and yet 5 away matches have been postponed due to waterlogged pitches. Something has got to give and Maidstone continue to campaign on the issue, getting media coverage in The Times and even on TalkSport!

As for the Match Day experience at Maidstone? Well it brings a lump to the throat and that’s not because of the Strawberry Bon Bons you can buy from the back of a Van at the ground (a sort of Pick (up) ‘n’ Mix). The sweet Stall sits proudly next to the Pie Hut and the Conservatory which masquerades as a Bar courtesy of sponsors Britelite.

I still can’t quite believe The Stones have their own purpose-built Stadium.

The Club of course has its own Clubhouse with a specially brewed Stones Bitter on tap. Shepherd Neame’s finest …. Well almost!

Advertising revenue has been increased through local company hoardings everywhere around the Ground and there is even a sponsored Brick Wall where for £30 fans could have their names immortalised on a wall. It really is a fabulous site to see and some of the names have actually been spelt correctly!

The ground capacity is 2,300 and the Stones average home attendance is the fourth highest in non-league Football in the UK regularly attracting 1,600 – 1,900 at each match at The Gallagher.

The quality of the Football is pretty high. Less balls are lost compared to the Ashford/Sittingbourne days. Thankfully the retrieval of any ball thumped out of the ground in to the River Medway is made easier by employing Ball Boys in flippers and snorkels.

Frannie Collin, Alex Flisher, Tom Mills, Michael “Iniesta” Phillips and Alex Brown are household names. Admittedly I live on my own but you get the idea.

There is a great family atmosphere and the half-time entertainment often includes a Parent v Child Penalty Shoot Out. If you are lucky you can also witness The Stonettes, who not only almost dress in similar outfits but also almost dance in time!

I have bought a Season Ticket each season since the Club returned to the Town as I wanted to do my bit to support the Club financially. Matches cost £10 and I think that is value for money.

I travel to matches from London as much as I can and enjoy the pre-match ritual of meeting friends for a beer and a bite to eat at The White Rabbit and another couple of beers at the match (you can have a pint on the touchline!)

My mates and I usually pitch up at the corner flag near The Mystery Burger Van and between banter and laughter we sometimes get to see the match too.

The town is buzzing on matchdays and businesses are seeing the benefit of the Club being back in town.

Maidstone United are on the up. They are in the news through their 3G campaign and their Football is attractive to watch, their ground is something to be proud of and their pies are normally hot.

If we can just muster a chant to beat the one heard last season from the Horsham away fans then I think we will be on our way back to the Football League in the next 5 – 10 years.

“No surrender to the low fat spread!”

COYS!



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Tags: Non-League

The Forgotten Legends – Manchester United Legends of a Bygone Era

Terry Lane - Sunday 26.01.14, 15:08pm

The Forgotten Legends – Manchester United Legends of a Bygone Era

The Forgotten Legends – Manchester United Legends of a Bygone Era

There’s something very magical and appealing about Manchester United football club.  It rightly claims to be one of the most popular football clubs in the world.  The club have always played exciting, attack-minded football; with the mentality they will always score more goals than the opposition.  That in itself is enough to understand the Red Devils appeal.

But its global appeal is built on more than that.  Objectively, it is easy to see where that popularity comes from in the modern game. It started in the 1950’s as Matt Busby a former player for both Manchester City and United, set about building a young team with the dream to be the best in England and Europe.  But the invincible team was struck down in its ascendency as eight of ‘The Busby Babes’ tragically lost their lives in the Munich Air Disaster in 1958 including Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor and Billy Whelan – all Manchester United legends in the making.

Bobby Charlton survived the air crash along with manager Matt Busby; and ten years later they helped Manchester United become the first English club to become European Champions, along with new united legends Denis Law and George Best.

But little is mentioned about the stars and legends before Matt Busby and The Busby Babes; the legends that played for Manchester United (and Newton Heath) before the Second World War. Without them, the club may never have existed.

The Forgotten Legends – Manchester United Legends of a Bygone Era reviews the careers of six important Manchester United (and Newton Heath) players from a bygone era, all of whom made their debuts for the Red Devils from the earliest years of the club up to the start of the Second World War. The six players are Harry Stafford, Charlie Roberts, Sandy Turnbull, Joe Spence, Johnny Carey and Jack Rowley.

There are no shrines or statues to these players at Old Trafford yet without them, other legends might never have emerged, and indeed the club itself might not exist. All six of these “forgotten legends” had two things in common: all made their Manchester United debuts before the start of the Second World War and amazingly, none of them have had their story told in print before.

As footballers continue to be paid exuberant wages, are treated like rock stars and live lifestyles in the public eye, this is a wonderful book that takes us back to more innocent times where footballers remained working class and played for the love of their ability, rather than a big house in the country.

HARRY STAFFORD – The mysterious figure who saved Manchester United and then disappeared

CHARLIE ROBERTS – Manchester United’s first great captain and founder of the PFA

SANDY TURNBULL – a figure who attracted controversy as easily as he did match winning goals

JOE SPENCE - United’s only true great between the wars, a legend among the fans

JOHNNY CAREY – United’s next great captain, leading the club back to glory

JACK ROWLEY – A prolific striker with a fearsome reputation on and off the pitch

As Manchester United’s illustrious history begins a new chapter, following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson as team manager, and recent demonstrations by fans include wearing the yellow and green colours of Newton Heath, the team that were to become Manchester United, it is fitting that authors Frank Colbert, Charbel Boujaoude and Iain McCartney, have collaborating in writing this very interesting and well researched football book embracing some of Manchester United’s original legends.

The Forgotten Legends – Manchester United’s Legends of a Bygone Era by Frank Colbert is published by Empire Publications Hardback Price: £14.95



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Tags: Football Books · Man. Utd.

A surprise move to Canada for Jermain Defoe

Edwin Huxley - Friday 24.01.14, 17:16pm

Spurs striker Jermain Defoe has probably given followers of the Premier League the biggest surprise so far in this season’s January transfer window.

Defoe has announced that he’ll be moving to Toronto FC in the Canadian Major League at the end of February. In doing so, it looks likely that he’s more or less ruled himself out of an England squad place and the odds for him being picked have already lengthened to around 6/1. Realistically, the only way Roy Hodgson will pick him to join the squad in Brazil now is if he is hit by a series of other players having injury problems.

With those kinds of odds, though, it may well be worth getting a bet on now, just in case a series of different circumstances lead to Hodgson picking Defoe. If you’re looking for a free bet, you should take a look at 32Red an online casino that also has a sports book. When you open an account at 32Red, for every £10 you put in, the site adds another £32 and you could use any bonus winnings to have a bet on the footie.

So why would the Tottenham striker make such a move? All we can do is speculate, because there must have been many conversations leading up to Defoe’s decision, and we’re simply not privy to the details of these. Maybe the England manager had already told Jermain he was out of the running for the England squad or perhaps he didn’t see eye to eye with the new Spurs manager Tim Sherwood.

But for Defoe, by jumping ship from the Premier League and moving to Canada, he’s really more or less finished his international career as this would the last World Cup he realistically had a chance of taking part in. It seems to have been his own decision and there’s been no explanation as to why he would want to miss out on one last World Cup. Of course, he’s still saying he could be picked for the squad, but he’s kind of obliged to say that – in public, at least.

So far this season, Defoe has been on good form for Spurs, with a recent goal against Crystal Palace and in theory, he could still be picked to play for Tottenham in games up until the end of February. He moved to Spurs in 2004 for £7m and during his time there has had 177 appearances and scored 64 goals. He’s also been a regular player for England in this time, earning 55 caps and scoring 19 goals for his country. But with a four year contract about to begin with Toronto FC, it has to be unlikely that he’ll make his England cap tally up to 56.



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Hull bolster strike-force with Jelavic signing

Edwin Huxley - Friday 17.01.14, 09:44am

Hull City have completed the signing of Everton striker Nikica Jelavic on a three-and-a-half-year deal for a club record fee believed to be in the region of £6.5million. Steve Bruce had been looking at bolstering his attacking options in a bid to avoid relegation this season, and the signing of Jelavic is expected to be followed by another striker, with West Brom’s Shane Long tipped by Betfair to be the next to join the Tigers this January.

Jelavic arrives at Hull following a mixed two years at Goodison Park. After arriving at Everton from Rangers for £5.5million at the beginning of 2012, the 28-year-old forward went on to score nine goals in his first 13 appearances for the Toffees. Last year wasn’t as successful for the Croatia international, however, scoring just three goals during the entire year and slipping down the pecking order following Roberto Martinez arrival in the summer.

With Jelavic looking to improve his World Cup hopes ahead of this summer’s tournament in Brazil, the striker has now joined a Hull side that are 10th in the Premier League, five points ahead of the bottom three, but still among the favourites with Betfair to be right in the relegation dog-fight this season.

“I hope that we can build on the great start to the season and become a really strong Premier League team over the coming years. It is a good club. It didn’t take long to realise that it was right for me. It’s a newly promoted club, but I can see straight away that there is a lot of ambition here,” said Jelavic.

After scoring twice for Everton in the FA Cup before signing for Hull, Jelavic will be hoping he can build on his brace and go on a similar scoring streak to the one he went on following his arrival at Goodison two years ago. If Jelavic can score 10 or more goals before the end of the season, Hull could well prove many Betfair fans wrong and avoid the drop this season.



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Tags: Everton · Hull City · Steve Bruce

West Brom appoint Pepe Mel

Edwin Huxley - Monday 13.01.14, 18:38pm

West Brom have made the somewhat surprising decision to appoint former Real Betis manager, Pepe Mel, as their new head coach on an 18-month contract. The Spaniard arrives at The Hawthorns to replace Steve Clarke as West Brom manager, filling a position that had been available since December.

Clarke was relieved of his duties following a poor run of four straight defeats left the club as a popular pick for relegation with football betting fans. While the Scotsman’s departure came as a surprise to many Baggies fans, the appointment of Pepe Mel will have been equally as eyebrow raising.

Despite leading Betis to the Europa League at the end of last season with a seventh place finish in La Liga, Mel was given his marching orders from the club he made his name with as a player after a disappointing start to the season.

After being linked with the job in the immediate aftermath of Clarke’s sacking, Mel had initially distanced himself from the position, although the 50-year old has now decided to accept the offer from the Premier League strugglers.

West Brom sporting and technical director, Richard Garlick, told Albion’s official website: “I’m delighted to welcome Pepe to the club. His appointment concludes an extensive recruitment process during which we have cast the net far and wide to identify the most suitable candidate to take the club forward.”

“Pepe was a strong contender from the outset due to his impressive achievements and has emerged as our number one candidate. He is a forward thinking coach whose teams are renowned for playing an attractive and positive style of football.”

Mel had a relatively successful playing career before stepping into management, making a name for himself as a striker with Betis after coming through the ranks at Real Madrid.

Going straight into coaching after hanging up his boots with CD Coslada, Mel cut his coaching teeth in the lower leagues with the likes of Murcia and Tenerife before stepping up to take charge of Getafe, Rayo Vallecano, Alaves, and Corinthians.

The Spanish coach takes over a West Brom team deep in relegation trouble. With no Premier League experience as a player or a coach, West Brom fans will be rightly concerned as to whether the club have made the right decision to hire Mel as the man to save the Baggies from the drop.

It remains to be seen how well the new man is backed in the January transfer window, but Mel is inheriting a West Brom squad that doesn’t have too much wrong with it. A tweak here, a prolific goalscorer there; the Baggies could very well finish this season safely nestled in mid-table.



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