Archive for the 'Sport' Category

MyFC for rugby fans

It was only a matter of time before a My Football Club-style experiment found its way into other sports, so it’s no surprise to see the venture Our Rugby Club starting to pick up a few mentions here and there.

But what’s interesting is this isn’t carbon copy of the Ebbsfleet owners’ model. Indeed, the website makes a point of saying:

“Unlike similar ventures in football (My Football Club and The People’s Club), our intention is not to buy a rugby club, but by offering such significant investment, we will all be important stakeholders.

Given that we will not purchase a club outright, we will not have to incur significant legal costs, or be burdened by the practicalities of owning facilities and employing players – instead, all of our money can be put towards improving the existing setup. This should mean that our investment will yield results much more quickly.”

There’s also no direct mention of the controversial pick the team aspect, which is still causing much disquiet among both MyFC members and non-MyFC Ebbsfleet fans. There is a vague mention of having your say in selection matters and in the member’s benefits page, this is expanded to:

  • Opportunity to provide input as to how the money should be spent
  • Access to coaching team for suggestions, ideas, moves, and general observations
  • Access to online member forums to discuss the club, team and performance
  • Rate players, provide match analysis and suggest new players
  • Access to online highlights footage of matches
  • Invitations to attend club social events with other members, fans and players
  • Discounted match tickets
  • Discounts on sponsor products
  • Opportunities to buy International Tickets
  • The chance to participate in a trial match at the start of each season
  • Free Our Rugby Club T-shirt
  • Free Our Rugby Club car sticker

All member benefits will be confirmed once the relationship with a club has been established.

It’s interesting that the language is a lot more tempered and the members input into team selection has the above caveat with no explicit promises to this regard made. The investment rather than outright ownership is also another noteworthy point, as it gives them an escape plan if things go wrong.

Although I’m still sceptical if schemes like this can work, given their membership is largely made up of people with no initial loyalty to whichever club they buy into, Our Rugby Club is the most sensible one that’s come along so far insofar as it appears to offer more flexibility and less potentially problematic promises – like voting on transfers, outright ownership, and pick the team – than MyFC.

That said, it still remains to be seen exactly how far a good coach would welcome the constant interfering and suggestions from members, even if the final decision appears to rest with the coach.

It’s unclear whether they’ve been following the progress of MyFC and noted the problems or mistakes, or have simply decided their model is better, but there’s some form of evolution of the internet fan-owned idea. It may be, and I don’t really have a basis behind this assertion, that rugby fans and the sport in general would be a better fit into the ideals and framework, certainly at grassroots level. Time will tell.

It’s also, indirectly, one of the reasons I can’t see MyFC being sustainable in the long-term in its current guise. At some point, somebody will work out a better, more attractive, more successful way to do things. At that point, what’s stopping a good chunk of MyFC members not renewing their membership and decamping elsewhere?

Eggchasing

While I’m mostly a football man, this weekend will be all about the rugby, and the chance to see a glorious Welsh Grand Slam.

At half-time in the England game a few weeks ago I would have settled for not getting thrashed by them, Ireland, and France and eaking past the Scots and Italians.

But we seem to be getting better with every game we play to the point where I’m confident of beating the French tomorrow.

Of course it depends on what French team turn up (doesn’t it always) but we’ve got a settled, strong team with depth to come off the bench. And in Lee Byrne, Wales probably have, in my opinion, the player of the tournament.

This year’s Six Nations has been a very pleasant surprise. Cymru am byth!

Crawley: Not so creepy

The idea was to have an occasional, amusing and pithy cod-soccer travelogue detailing the best and worst towns, cities, and villages have to offer for the Blue Square Premier supporter. I’d love to do the same for Crawley last night but, unfortunately (or otherwise, depending on your point of view) such an exercise would be limited this time around because:

1. We caught a taxi from the station to the ground.

2. It was dark.

3. I was a bit pissed.

I could, however, tell you of some lovely little back street pubs around Green Park, where I had a few pints before heading Crawley-direction. I could also tell you that the staff at Gatwick Airport, where we stopped off en route for some strange reason, are very helpful, even to a group of somewhat bewildered and internally-lubricated football fans. But such observations would merely be an alcohol-related prefix and, as is likely, uninteresting. Football fan goes drinking; visits some nice pubs, none of which are particularly near the ground he’s visiting. Not much you can say about that, which hasn’t been said before.

But what observations I can gather about Crawley are thus:

  • The town itself seems to exist solely as an afterthought to Gatwick Airport.
  • It has a lot of dual carriageways.
  • These are offset by a friendly bunch of cab drivers. The one we had was a rare breed who could talk without launching into a spiel about all that is wrong with the world, and struck just the right balance between banter and chatter.
  • The club bar at Crawley is one of the most friendly, welcoming in the league, and actually feels like a proper bar that I’d like to drink in outside of football. Another rare beast.
  • Banana Bread beer is foul. On no account take the advice of an inebriated Conservative-voting telecommunications worker, who happens to be one of your companions for the trip down, when ordering this drink.
  • The above drink is, according to the lovely barmaid who served us, surprisingly popular in the Crawley Town club bar. Quite what this says about the supporters is anybody’s guess. Either they’re born with no tastebuds, or there’s an unending stream of already-tipsy fans who’ve not experienced the horrors of the beer and are willingly sucked in.
  • Clearly the bar staff are good as salespeople as well. Given the crowds Crawley are getting, this is probably a good thing. They need all the cash they can get.

So, from this we can conclude that, despite probably massive overhead pollution from the building they were created to serve, and many quick, straight routes away from the conurbation (which may or may not be a necessity – it’s hard to tell), the good folk of Crawley are a chipper and welcoming bunch, making it a pleasanter-than-expected place to spend a few hours.

Although it’s difficult to love any club with Steve Evans in charge.

The Broadfields, as a stadium, is one of the better grounds at non-league level. It has proper stands (albeit offset with one uncovered terrace that is about three deep, has a small concrete wall behind it, and is entirely populated by feral youth), a covered away terrace, is well built, has good catering, and, most important, spacious toilets. Anybody who’s experienced the horrors of the facilities at Hereford’s Edgar Street knows how vital these are.

Crawley’s financial situation is less secure, with the owners, the Majeed brothers, not exactly loved or trusted around the town. The Red Devils get a points penalty for financial problems on an annual basis, that the Blue Square Premier would be better off starting them at -6 each season and be done with it. With a home crowd close to being outnumber by the Exeter away support, Crawley do not appear to be a sustainable club at this level at present.

But full credit for the matchday experience, which is as good as I’ve experienced recently. Better than the match on offer that evening, that much is for sure.

Strangely, Crawley play a better brand of football than Grays and Ebbsfleet, but they’re not as clinical as the Kent side in front of goal. The Red Devils are a good counter-attacking side and on more than one occasion could, and should, have hurt Exeter on the break.

But the attacking intentions of both sides got oddly negated in the middle of the park and there were few clear-cut chances. Somewhere, you felt, there was a decent football match just waiting to burst through.

There were moments of class. Exeter are a dangerous side from set pieces and Rob Edwards’ opening goal was as good a free-kick as you’ll see, curling over the wall into the top-corner of the goal. Dean Moxey’s late equaliser was also the result of a well-worked free kick, and inbetween centre-half Matt Taylor headed wide from another set piece with the goal at his mercy.

Crawley rallied well after Edwards’ 13th minute strike and their equaliser was the result of a slick passing move out to the wings, a cross, nod-down and a simple poke-home for Ollie “son of Clive” Allen. Exeter didn’t defend it as well as they should have, but this shouldn’t take anything away from the move.

As for Crawley’s second, a penalty, in Arsene Wenger style, I did not have a good view of the incident. I thought Danny Seaborne got the ball – a friend in a different part of the ground differed.

Exeter put together a neat passing move of their own in the second half, when substitute Steve Basham fired narrowly wide following a six or seven pass move.

What City were really lacking though, was pace up front – something injured striker Adam Stansfield and the recently-sold Jamie Mackie have provided in other games. Winger Lee Elam was moved up front and did his best before being substituted while Basham and fellow striker Richard Logan are similar players who aren’t blessed with great accleration, so Exeter had to adapt their style.

What Crawley were lacking was a clinical centre forward and a creative midfielder, but were still well-organised. Both sides will feel they could have won the game and a point was probably a fair reflection of a match that flickered sporadically.

Rob Edwards’ free-kick aside, the best moment of the night was a chant from the City crowd towards Crawley’s loanee keeper, wearing number 22. The familiar ‘You’re not number one’ chant started up. Two minutes and 39 seconds later, the crowd finally reached ‘You’re not number 21, you’re not number 21’ and the keeper clapped them for their efforts.

We were offered a lift by to Gatwick by a friend, and despite going a completely different route, all that was visible was yet more dual carriageways. Like the game, it somewhat felt like a road to nowhere.

Grays. An appropriate name

Like a veteran striker taking one last final payday after final payday in the hope they’ve got something to continue, there’s something rather depressing about the way Grays Athletic are playing this season. Almost, but not quite, as depressing as the town of Grays itself. Only Northfleet is possibly a more soul destroying place to visit.

But Grays themselves, under Mark Stimson (now of Gillingham, via Stevenage), used to play some of the best attacking football in the non-league in recent years. The squad that finished 3rd in their inaugural season in the Conference, losing to Halifax in the play-off semi-final, could surely have held its own in League 2.

Indeed many of that squad have gone onto bigger and better things. Star winger Michael Kightly has been tearing strips out of Championship defences for Wolves and has been tipped on numerous occasions for a move into the Premiership. Aaron McClean is a Peterborough goal machine having scored in seven consecutive games for the Posh [1], Glen Poole is now at Brentford, Gary Hooper at Southend (although currently on loan at Hereford) while Stuart Thurgood was probably one of the best defensive midfielders at non-league level, and him and Dennis Oli followed Stimpson to Gillingham this season. And let’s not forget Freddy Eastwood, who scored 37 goals for Grays before they got promoted.

The Grays side of the 05/06 season was exciting to watch and difficult to beat. The Grays side the following season could be exciting to watch but were sadly too easy to beat, largely due to Mark Stimpson moving to Stevenage Borough and taking several players with him.

Grays then went through four managers in one season, one of which was chairman and bankroller-in-chief Mick Woodward, before settling on ex-Spurs defender Justin Edinburgh. A rotating hot seat is usually a sign of a club doing its hardest to get relegated and The Blues were no exception, only escaping the drop to the Conference South on the last day of the season.

Fast forward to the present day and the Essex side have found a stability of sorts. Already their season appears to be over. Edinburgh’s side sit 14th in the Blue Square Premier, 17 points off the play-offs and 15 points above the relegation zone. There are far worse sides below them meaning this season should be a lot more comfortable come the end of April, but there’s too many good teams above them for Grays to make a late dash for a top five spot.

In many ways their football reflects this. They can retain possession, they can fashion the odd opening and don’t concede too many but, if Saturday’s game against Exeter was anything to go by, lack any sort of cutting edge or urgency about their play. To contrast with Exeter’s last away trip, Ebbsfleet aren’t pretty but are effective and know how to play to their strengths, even if this is a stereotypical English lower-league long ball game. Grays aren’t pretty and are ineffective. Do they go for high balls, or try and work it through (although, given the state of their pitch, the latter isn’t advisable).

Saturday’s two-nil home loss to Exeter was a game so low on quality, counting the number of windows on the flats built into or around the ground was, on occasions, more entertaining. For those who’ve never been to the the Recreation Ground, firstly don’t if you can help it. Secondly, it resembles a dilapidated student halls of residence with a piece of grass next door. The pitch looks incredibly narrow and the goal is practically in the away terrace. It is not a ground for the connoisseur.

The game itself was noteworthy only for being largely unnoteworthy. Both sides kicked around a mixture of hoofball and attempted passing for the first twenty minutes before Grays decided the best way to make the game more interesting was to stop defending, and so a left-wing cross found its way to Exeter winger Wayne Carlisle and, from a tight angle, he crashed a shot passed a very limp attempt at a save from Ross Flitney [2]. Carlisle almost managed a second later in the half from an even tighter angle but was denied by the crossbar.

The goal was the cue for the Grays defence, including former Exeter centre half Santos Gaia, to go into mass panic mode. Seven minutes later a reasonably aimless punt saw Jamie Stuart and Flitney, both under no real pressure, conspire to make an absolute hash of dealing with the ball, with Stuart poking the ball towards his own net. Exeter striker Adam Stansfield tapped in from one yard just to make sure and increase his goal tally in the process.

From then on we were back to a turgid midfield battle. Grays managed one chance in the first half when Aaron O’Connor found himself with space to produce a fine tip-over from Andy Marriott in the Exeter goal.

Marriott provided one of the few moments of quality in the second half as well, when a neat chip saw him scrambling back and managing to get a hand to a ball that looked for all the world as if it was heading towards the back of the net.

Later in the game, Exeter left-back George Friend found himself unmarked after yet more poor Grays defending from a corner but with a clear sight at goal, fired over. There was also some pingball in the Grays area in the last five minutes, but by that stage chilly fans on both sides had already been willing the final whistle for at least ten minutes.

When the referee finally put everybody out of their misery Exeter could celebrate a comfortable if uninspiring victory that nonetheless keeps them high in the form table and with Cambridge, Burton, and especially Stevenage all looking far from convincing in their play-off positions, the Grecians could well find themselves in the top five, possibly as high as third, come 5pm this Saturday.

As for Grays, it’s difficult to see where they go from here. There has been talk of relocating to a new ground but it’s difficult to understand why such a move would be needed. The ‘New’ Rec has undergone a fair bit of redevelopment while crowd numbers occasionally make it above a thousand, but not often. With many Grays fans also West Ham fans, it’s still worrying that the club can only attract 1,089 for the Exeter game (and past fixtures between the two teams have largely been entertaining affairs) when the Hammers don’t have a match on.

Grays are also reliant on the deep pockets of their chairman Mick Woodward, who has come in for criticism from some quarters recently. Should he decide enough is enough, the Blues would plummet down the non-league pyramid much faster than they climbed.

With the Blue Square Premier getting a stronger, tighter league with every season, teams like Grays are at risk of getting sucked downwards, especially with several hungry, ambitious clubs in the two regional leagues below. Fans may want to hang onto the memories of the Stimpson years. On current form, that’s about as good as they’ll get.

[On a slight tangent, if you’ve got this far do spend a bit of time to read 200 per cent’s piece about St. Albans City, relegated to the Conference South last season. It’s really rather good.]

[1] Interesting fact – his almost as prolific strike partner is Craig Mackail-Smith, who was signed from Dagenham and Redbridge last season, which shows there are gems to be had among the lower leagues.

[2] Manchester United fans may remember Flitney. He was the recipient of the quickest ever red card at Old Trafford for handling the ball outside his area less than two minutes into the game.

On finding time to sit down with a nice cup of tea

You may have probably noticed a lack of things being written on here recently. At the moment, I’m just about finding time to eat and sleep. This Sunday’s the first day for ages I’ve been able to sit down with a cup of tea, something I didn’t even manage yesterday. That’s how busy I’ve been. Normal service should be back soon.

In the meantime, one good things one bad.

It was quite a shock to hear the journalist Miles Kington died earlier this week. I’m not a regular Independent reader but by far and away he was often the best writer in it. He had a wonderful ability to manipulate the simplest of the English language into laugh-out-loud writing. Certainly one of my favourite writers over the past few years and a big loss.

On the more positive side, I’m still reeling in shock from Wales’ wonderful second half comeback in the Six Nations yesterday. Going from a first half where we did our damnedest to give England the ball at every opportunity, to a storming comeback, that was both the best and worst of Wales and, if Warren Gatland is allowed a few years in change, bodes well for the future.

It also throw an already unpredictable tournament open even further. Ireland weren’t convincing against Italy, while Wales have shown that, if on song, they could cause anybody problems. On the showing of the French performance so far, they’re going to be the ones to beat though. Should make for some very entertaining rugby over the coming weeks.

Things I never thought I’d hear No. 7

An NFL studio pundit earlier made a reference to what I can only assume was Ian Dury and the Blockheads.

That was one of the few things I understood of the hour or so I attempted to watch the game.


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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com