Up’s and Down’s

The non-league football season has finally drawn to a close except for a few matches between those clubs who made it to the promotion play-off places. In my last football related post I wrote about Wingate & Finchley’s battle to avoid relegation from the Bostik Premier Division. That battle continued for a stressful final four weeks of the campaign – and has played a part in my personal anxieties over the period. I never realised how much my club means to me until this season! Now that it’s over I can finally write about it and probably get back to a more normal blogging pattern.

April didn’t start well with a chilly visit to high flying Carshalton Athletic – they would finish second in the league. After holding our own for the first 30 minutes we succumbed big time and lost 5-1. Even Gorey couldn’t stop this shot……his glove only succeeding in pushing it into the roof of the net. Meanwhile Burgess Hill below us scored a good 2-1 win against Corinthian Casuals while our other relegation strugglers Harlow and Whitehawk both lost. Although Harlow were almost certainly down at this point, mathematically they were still in the battle.

The thirteenth and another away game in Tolworth against Corinthian Casuals. Their previous week’s loss to Burgess Hill had left them vulnerable to being dragged into the relegation fight too. It was a game that we had hopes of winning but they were dashed by a 3-1 defeat on a cold but sunny afternoon. Here’s Anthony Mendy striking our goal……A disappointing outcome but at least the real ale in the club house was very nice! Burgess Hill and Harlow both got excellent draws which kept them in the hunt but worryingly Whitehawk won which lifted them above us in the table on goal difference and dropped us into the relegation places.

Easter weekend is always a big one for non-league clubs with two games over the weekend and the Bank Holiday Monday games usually being local derby matches. Burgess Hill played their first fixture on Good Friday and were beaten 2-0 by Carshalton. On Saturday we faced Margate at home. Mid-table Margate had little to play for and for most of the match the game looked set for a draw. Then the referee stepped in and twisted the rules of football in what we have to assume was some sort of brain-storm. He played an advantage allowing Margate to make an attack and have a shot on goal. That should have been the end of it but, having allowed Margate to complete their attack, he inexplicably called play back to give a free kick at the site of the original infringement. Margate scored from the free kick. It’s refereeing decisions like this that can cost clubs their league status and a lot of income. He apologised for his mistake in the boardroom after the game but apologies don’t restore lost points 😦 Here’s Tanashe challenging for the ball with a Margate defender while the referee looks on……Highlight of the day for me was the visit of fellow photographer Nigel Cliff on a break from photographing his beloved AFC Wulfrunians. As an ex-referee himself he was scathing of the referee’s performance on the pitch. Both Harlow and Whitehawk also lost so effectively it was ‘as you were’ at the foot of the table.

Bank Holiday Monday and we were away against Haringey Borough. This is one of those friendly rivalries with some fans attending matches at both clubs and ex-Wingate coach Tucker now part of their management team. They were currently second in the table and would go on to finish third which entitles them to a home semi-final in the promotion play-offs. My best wishes are with them – I hope they get promoted (although I’ll miss going to their ground if they do!). It was a blazing hot day – I think Tucker and co had been drinking too much water as they all seem to be asking to be excused 😉 …..actually they’re appealing for a possible hand-ball. Haringey took the lead close on half-time when they capitalised on a defensive error and we feared the worst. The second half was a revelation as first Ali Njie scored an equaliser and that man Mendy struck the winner. Here’s Ali celebrating after the final whistle……It wasn’t in the script and everyone was busy checking the other scores on their mobile phones. Harlow had lost – which meant they were relegated. Burgess Hill and Whitehawk both drew. The win pulled us out of the drop zone but all three of the surviving bottom clubs could still be the one that escaped relegation. As predicted, it would all come down to that last game of the season and we were in the fortunate position to be in control of our own destiny – if only in the knowledge that anything less than a win was likely to result in relegation.

Last Saturday we gathered at the Maurice Rebak stadium more in hope than expectation. The weather was grey – one of those days when it thinks it wants to rain but can’t decide to do so. The wind was gusting strongly from the southwest as storm Hannah made its way up the west coast. The game got off to a good start for Wingate with Tony Mendy scoring on 14 minutes and doubling our lead on the stroke of half-time. This lad’s getting used to celebrations…

The second half started badly with Burgess Hill coming back with a brace of goals themselves to equalise. They still had a very slim mathematical chance of beating the drop themselves with a huge win over us. Here’s their equalising goal……a well hit shot rising into the top corner beyond Shane Gore’s reach. At this point, with Whitehawk beating Corinthian Casuals 2-0, we were relegated.

Time for a change! On came Charlie Ruff, a local lad living just around the corner from the stadium! His first act? To spot a loose ball after Mendy attempted a bicycle kick and run in to claim it while everyone else was sleeping – slotting it past the keeper to give us the lead once more…

…Roy of the Rovers stuff that you couldn’t make up! Shortly after Luke Ifil made a great individual run down the right and smashed a low ball past the Burgess keeper to give us a 4-2 victory…
…His celebration was poignant as it took place in front of some of our youth players who are the future of the club 🙂 ……It no longer mattered that Whitehawk beat Corinthian Casuals 4-0 – they were down and we were staying up. Cue the end of game celebrations 🙂

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue

Chompin' Chips

Chompin’ Chips

Final Warning

Final Warning

You can read about the Weekly Photo Challenge at http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/dialogue/ .

A Fresh Start

I sometimes hear comments from fellow members of the Wingate & Finchley community that suggest an ‘in denial’ attitude to the fact that we were relegated last season. For example, when playing St Albans City of the Conference South side it was insisted that they are only one step up the football pyramid from us rather than the two that is surely the case as we should be playing in Ryman Division One North. Another asked on twitter how many seasons you have to be in the Ryman Premier to be considered established there? Again, sorry but we were relegated last season 😉 We’re only here by dint of Worksop Town’s unfortunate financial situation that forced them to resign from the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League and the FA process for deciding which club should benefit from that in the form of reinstatement at the higher level following relegation. Of course, that’s just me being pedantic whilst others have put on their blue tinted spectacles in readiness for a new season 🙂

Why Wingate & Finchley and not Frickley Atheletic? was another question asked – apparently Frickley had the same points per game ratio as ourselves at the end of the season and presumably would have got the reprieve in their own division under those circumstances. It took me a bit of digging about on the web to investigate why and the differing methods of applying reprieves at different levels of the game doesn’t help. So, as I understand it, Frickley Atheletic were reprieved a couple of weeks before Wingate as a result of the end of season resignation of Vauxhall Motors FC from the Conference North meaning that only 2 clubs were relegated from that division last season. Therefore Frickley weren’t in the pot when it came to deciding who would be reprieved after Worksop Town resigned. Vauxhall Motors are now playing in the West Cheshire League Division 1 and Worksop moved to the Northern Counties East League Premier Division.

After completing the pre-season friendlies it’s time to report on the start of our season proper. If the last season had given us one lesson it was that you need to be scoring more goals (and preferably shipping a few less too)! In the closed season the club had moved to improve the strike force and we took to the field for the first game at home against Leiston with David Knight and Rob Laney up front. There were also proven midfielders Scott Shulton and Leon Fisher and new signing Karl Olayide. That first game was a goalfest with seven scored – sadly with The Blues losing out 3-4 to a solid Leiston side. It could have been different – we had one blatant penalty turned down as well as a probable and effectively Leiston took a 2 goal lead midway through the second half as a direct result of the referee’s lack of support for the penalty claim at that juncture by breaking through while the Wingate boys were still asking why 😦 Unfortunately, at this very early stage of the season I’m already back to questioning the integrity of referees because the guy in this game spent several minutes in friendly conversation with the Leiston number 9 before the game and then kept blowing up every time he fell over regardless of whether he’d been in contact with one of our players or not. Add that to the failure to award the penalty when the Leiston keeper hacked down Nico Muir (came on as sub in the second half) and you have to start wondering about integrity rather than incompetence. No complaints about the Leiston team or fans – very nice people and to illustrate that, I had a great chat with one of their fans in the bar before and after the game about rock bands such as the Hamsters and the Kursaal Flyers 🙂 So we started with a loss but we’d looked likely to score throughout the game which was a major step forward from last season. With a different ref we would probably have won or at least got a draw! Would it continue?

Next game was away to Hampton & Richmond Borough on a Tuesday night – normally I’d have gone to this but currently Epi’s health precludes trips beyond the local area as I can’t fairly expect friends and family to cover for extended periods. Hampton’ are a side that you would usually expect to be upper-mid-table at the end of the season and past experience tells that they are a difficult side to beat at the Beveree Stadium on Beaver Close. As an aside, one of our fans gets all excited at the mention of Hamptons and Beavers so in some ways I was glad to avoid the puns that were guaranteed to be expressed during the visit. This proved to be a walk in the park for The Blues, beating the home side 4-1 with Scott Shulton scoring twice and Ola Sogbanmu scoring as well from central midfield – never afraid to get forward from defensive duties, it’s something he’s been doing well in the friendlies. David Knight made up the 4th goal on behalf of the strikers. This was an unexpected result – a draw was the most likely result based on previous evidence. Looks like the form book is going out the window this year with results like this one!

Away again to old rivals East Thurrock. After last season this was always going to be a dour struggle and unsurprisingly ended in a 0-0 draw. It will be interesting to see how both sides, faced with the prospect of relegation last season, will fare through this one.

The 4th game saw a return to home for Wingate & Finchley and a game against Bury Town on a cooling Tuesday night. For much of last season Bury looked to heading for the play-off spots and then the money ran out. Players left in droves and by the time they came to visit us in the last weeks of the season they were a spent force. Although we only beat them 1-0 on the day with all the pressure of probable relegation on the players shoulders, it could and should have been three or four. What had the summer brought to Bury? Sadly for their fans, not a lot and W&F took full advantage of early indecisiveness on the field; ripping through their defence to score 3 goals in the first 10 minutes. It was youngster Karl who scored the first when played in by a beaut of a ball from The Fish. Rob Laney working hard in front of the opposition defence made the second with a cross to David Knight who smacked it home with ease. Karl Olayide was there again to provide the cross from the wing for Knight to score his second and I believe the fans were checking their pockets at this stage to see if they’d already smoked their spliffs 😉 The storm died then and the game slowed although The Blues always looked threatening and in control. In fact this was a performance of such flowing vitality that the old song expressed by many fans at all levels in England “It’s just like watching Brazil” would not have applied – it was more like watching Germany.. but with flair! The second half saw Knighty complete his hatrick beating the defenders and keeper from a tight angle on the right hand side. The Blues clamped down on the game and controlled Bury to prevent any possible comebacks – a very professional performance.

Looking at the league table currently sees us lying 7th and as joint 2nd highest scorers in the league. It’s early days and we all know that anything can happen – I don’t think anyone would have predicted Hampton & Richmond, Bognor Regis Town or AFC Hornchurch to be in the relegation zone this early in the season. There’s a long way to go and our biggest worry now is other clubs poaching our players – Wealdstone’s manager Gordon Bartlett was present scouting our players during the Bury game 😦