Bumping into David Norman, our one-time manager and inspirational (though sometimes enigmatic) leader, at the match against Enfield Town on Tuesday evening has catalysed a restart to covering the fortunes of Wingate & Finchley FC in my blog. David left us at the end of October resulting in the need for the Chairman to quickly find a new manager. The season to that point had been a struggle to get results as key members of the regular team were laid low by injuries (or bans). This was the background to the appointment in early November of Gary Meakin as Manager. To quote the Chairman at the time – “As I have always said, the club is one that develops players and managers to fulfill their potential and play attractive football…Gary promotes these elements of youth development and playing attractive football.”
New Manager, New Broom… Since Gary’s arrival we have had new players popping up like mushrooms all over the pitch to the point where I’m still learning some of their names and I’m sure some of them are too! Of the old team that won promotion 2 seasons back only Weathers, Bobby Smith, Keiron, Danny Neils’, Leon and Ahmet remain playing for us just 3 months later. Jordan and Lewis remain on the long term injury list although Jordan has put in a couple of performances early in the season. Of course, not all the changes have happened in Gary’s time – there has been a steady churn of players as usual in the Ryman League with those not getting regular first team places moving on. But for the fans the key departures since Gary’s arrival have been Wrighty, Mark-Henry, Murat and Lairdy.
The months of winter have seen us struggling to put together a sequence of positive results. In the period between managers, Danny Niels’ and Gavin King took the reins for one match and the team scored a notable 1-0 victory away at Kingstonian – they had been unbeaten at home until then which shows just how good a performance that was! The rest of November saw losses to East Thurrock and Bury Town before a draw at home to Leiston.
December started with a string of 4 straight defeats starting with the Met Police at home – a turn around from the previous two seasons where we beat them in close matches. Margate away – I don’t think anyone expected a win there as Margate were challenging at the top of the table – followed by two more home defeats against Hampton & Richmond and Hendon; the last being particularly painful as they are our local rivals 😦 The last game of December was a draw aginst fellow strugglers Hastings United, made all the more creditable as the side was reduced to 10 men when Lairdy was sent off in the first half after making three Agricultural challenges on Hastings defenders (see my previous post about forwards and tackles).
January saw a surprise start to the year with a win away at promotion chasing Wealdstone – an excellent result which was followed by another away win against Harrow Borough. After a third win for the month in the London Senior Cup against Harringay Borough, the team were narrowly defeated by table-topping Whitehawk in a game that saw a performance that would have resulted in a win against almost any other side – I predicted that if we played like that in our next match we’d get a win. All-in-all, a good start to January 🙂
Then the weather stepped in to halt all lower league football with heavy snowfalls across the Southeast of England – combined with below freezing temperatures, the rest of January became a Whiteout-Writeoff. This triggered a massive backlog of games which would result in most teams having to play twice a week and some having to play three times.
The first game in February was at home against Margate – would my prediction ring true? It sure did with Wingate & Finchley winning 1-0 with a performance every bit as strong as the one against Whitehawk. The winning margin could have been much more – Anthony Thomas scored the goal with a cross that confused the keeper and resulted in him fumbling a thigh high catch into the net! He also struck the woodwork twice before seeing a fourth effort saved by the keeper. I said to him after the match – “Should have had a hat-trick!” But it could also have been a draw but for a fantastic save at point-blank range by Bobby. On the following Tuesday we slumped to a 2-4 defeat at home against Lewes in a tight match that probably should have been a draw.
The next Saturday saw a trip to Hampton & Richmond where the team got an excellent 3-3 draw, coming from behind twice which showed real spirit and commitment. It also saw Ahmet sent off with a second yellow card of the game that seemed to have been awarded to him for having the temerity to still be on the pitch in the second half! There was no foul, no arguing with the ref, no-nothing. It was as if the ref decided – ‘I know you, you’re Ahmet, I’m going to have to send you off!’ A completely mysterious situation. I didn’t know whether we should laugh or cry about that one 😦
The 16th was a day we’d all like to forget. Bury Town dominated the play to win 3-1 whilst the Wingate & Finchley players looked like they’d never played together before. It was a horrible performance 😦 A worrying regression which had the fans muttering darkly about relegation and the probable odds of going down if things didn’t improve.
The Tuesday away game that followed was at fellow strugglers Carshalton – a six-pointer, must win, match for both sides. It was a game of 2 halves with Wingate & Finchley dominating the first and scoring twice. Carshalton had much the best of the play in the second half and scored 3 times. Sadly for their fans, the referee disallowed 2 of the goals – The first for a blatant push in the area. Quite what happened in the second instance is a mystery. Carshalton scored from a corner but the referee had blown his whistle at the instant that the corner was taken for no obvious reason. I’ve seen this happen once before and I wonder if the referee had a momentary lapse and thought he was whistling for a free kick to be taken? Either way, most of the players stopped and the referee decided that he had to disallow the resulting goal. The last time this sort of thing happened the ref awarded the goal against us, so it was nice to see the decision go our way though I had some sympathy for the Robin’s supporters. So, a very important away win 🙂
Unfortunately we were unable to get a win at the Met Police on the following Saturday – Taking the lead early in the first half with a great strike by Andre Scarlett, the side held on grimly until the 80th minute when the referee decided to award a freekick to the Police for Anthony Thomas being offside. He wasn’t and the Linesman hadn’t flagged for it but the ref had inexplicably decided he was 😦 From the freekick the Police demonstrated that they are not flatfoots and manoeuvred the ball quickly to the other end of the pitch where Duran Robinson struck a superb 30 yard screamer past Bobby. Then with only a couple of minutes on the clock, Ty Smith netted a winner for the Police with another beautifully placed shot. The referee’s odd offside decision looks to have turned the game, although the Police were getting more and more of the play at that time and they might well have won the game anyway without any official assistance. I had the pleasure of chatting to the Manager and Assistant of the Met Police team in the bar after the match and they agreed that it was not offside! If we stay up, I look forward to meeting them again next season – they’re a friendly bunch over at Imber Court 🙂
The final February match took place on Tuesday night when we hosted Enfield Town at home. It was a match that was lost as a direct result of some bizarre refereeing decisions that bordered on blatant partisanship towards the visitors. The Blues took the lead very early when Weathers delivered a beautiful cross for Spencer Belotti to head home. The lead could have been doubled when Anthony Thomas hit a curling shot that hit the upright and rolled across the face of goal – on another day it would have gone in. Then Belotti was brought down in the area and the Enfield centre-back handled the ball – it should have been a penalty but none was given. To the anger of the fans, having just seen a penalty claim ignored, the referee then awarded Enfield a penalty for a handball in the area after Osa was struck at point-blank range by a goal-bound shot. It was very much ball to hand rather than the other way but… 😦 So, 1-1 at half time.
The second half saw more one-arm bandit decisions from the referee. The most amazing decision happened when a tussle for the ball between Weathers and the Enfield number 7 saw the man take a swing at Weathers and then thrust his face in Weathers face in a simulated headbutt. In any league in the UK such behaviour is violent conduct and the law demands a straight red card for the offender. But not with this ref – no, he gave both players a yellow card (dispite Marc having been innocent of any reaction to the 7’s provocation) 😦 Enfield’s Kirby scored a beautiful header in a mirror image of Belotti’s first half goal to give Enfield the lead and that was how the game eventually ended – 2-1 to the visitors. An honourable loss against the 11 men of Enfield would have been fine but there was a feeling that the referee and his linesmen had also been batting for the other side which added a sour note. I understand that the assessor who was watching the referee’s performance berated him after the game, clarifying that we should have had a penalty and that the number 7 should have been sent off. Hopefully this particular ref won’t be officiating any matches in our league again – but unfortunately that won’t give us back the lost points 😦
Afterwards, to add to the irony of the situation, we hooked up with several ex-Wingate players – Lairdy, Joe O’Brien, Mark-Henry; all now with Enfield Town. Long term lame’s Jordan and Lewis were there too and Murat stuck his head round the door. And, as mentioned at the start, David was there in his school-masterly best. It was like an old school reunion from the heady days of the 2010/11 season 🙂
Tomorrow we travel to Canvey Island – The Gulls are a tough proposition at the best of times and it will be difficult for us to get anything from the game. Then we are away at Cray Wanderers on Tuesday and Concord Rangers on Thursday as the catch-up from January’s bad weather, and fixture changes to accommodate cup games, continue.