Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The FA Cup Semi Final

WE MADE IT! – After 8 months of dreams and various trips to different parts of England, the day had arrived for a trip to Wembley as part of the semi-finals, I’m sure I touched on the fact that I don’t think the game should’ve been played here before so I won’t mention that again. As late as Friday evening we didn’t have tickets, but thanks to the persistence of my mate Russo we were put in touch with a Pompey fan who sorted out two tickets for us at face value.

Wembley is a logistical nightmare, I had to travel in from Bury St Edmunds as I had spent the night at a Wedding (Congratulations again Mr and Mrs Harris!) after a bit of a boogie to Lady Gaga and a failure to woo any of the girls with my (lets be honest, horrendous) dancing, I found myself on a train outta Bury at 10.30 in the morning strangely feeling ok. I made changes at Ely and Cambridge before getting in to Liverpool Street at 1300hrs. Clifford was due to meet me at Baker Street to get the tube up to the ground and not for the first time was running late ( (I’m going to make sure he changes his ring tone, of Ja Rule’s hit, Always on Time!) and I had to meet our contact for the tickets!

I stumbled across the meeting point and enjoyed a couple of pints at £4 a go! Was soon in receipt of tickets and we headed up to the ground. We were situated in the top tier, diagonally on to the corner flag. But there was still time for a swift couple before the teams arrived on the pitch.

Spurs had the best of the opening exchanges and had a half chance after about 3 minutes, in front of their travelling fans. There weren’t very many clear cut chances in the first half. Pompey had time to defend. Harry in his time at Portsmouth hadn’t bought any wingers, and his Spurs team lacked that yesterday, Modric is not a winger and Redknapp seems to prefer his wing backs bombing up the wings to deliver crosses. Gareth Bale was quiet and got plenty of stick for being an ex Southampton player.

As half time approached Clifford agreed that Pompey had been probably the better side of the first half, but just hadn’t created anything of note. Meanwhile Crouch and Defoe hadn’t been able to string a pass together. It was time for another pint.

Even though Pompey’s relegation was confirmed on Saturday it didn’t stop their fans from being in celebratory mood and getting behind their team, I didn’t hear the “R” word muttered all day. This ended up being the first 0-0 draw we’d seen in the 15 odd matches we’d been to. Some of the football was uninspiring at times.

Maybe just one goal would do it, for either side, Spurs were still the favourites. Pavuchenko came on for Defoe, but his effect on the game was minimal. In the 99th minute Michael Dawson inadvertently slipped over and Freddy Piquonne slammed the ball past Gomes to give the under-dogs a lead.

Spurs had the ball in the net within two minutes, but the goal was chalked off by Mr Wiley for a push on a Pompey defender. Spurs piled forward and James made a super save to deny Corluka. With time running out, Dindane who had been a bit lazy was chopped down by Wilson Palacios and Wiley pointed to the spot. Kevin Prince Boateng netted the penalty against his former club.

The goal queue mass exodus from 40,000 Spurs fans, and it was a case of fold the club. I imagined they were dancing on the streets of Southsea as a reward for a horrendous season is a return trip to the real home of football.

So its on to the Final on 15th May. And at time of writing, it looks like Chelsea might be up to do the “double”, something they’ve not achieved before.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Irony of Football

Sorry this is slightly late (Ed)

It is fair to say that one of the most attracting things about football is that it throws a lot of ironies - the anticipation of what could happen is intriguing as well as exciting. And after trekking up and down the country (well as far as Kent in the South and Shropshire in the North) the possibility of both our teams facing each other in the final was still apparent going into the quarter finals. Needless to say this possibility was making us excited and had us plotting the downfall of the other team. But as luck would have it, the Villains came and crushed the dream (they obviously didn’t read the script). It was such a shame as it could have been a fascinating contest - oh well there is always next year for Reading at least.

Before all this transpired we had the trip down South to look forward to. Portsmouth is of course a city well known to Andy as he had spent three years or so studying at University. Upon arrival nostalgia took over and Andy was in his element - the analogy of ‘a kid in a sweet shop’ springs to mind. I was given a quick rough guide of the city which needless to say took us to a pub for our pre-match routine with the customary pool match involved as well. The score I’m happy to report was a deserved one all draw.

Still on the topic of sightseeing, it is fair to say that Andy was trying to re-live his student days hence the reason why he went as far as showing me his old digs and to the extent of explaining what he got up to whilst residing there (just let your imagination run wild for a minute or two). Anyway the less said about that the better but in any case it was still an eventful tour and it will linger in ones memory for some time to come.

After the trip down memory lane (for Andy) was completed, we made a quick dash to Fratton Park and made it in just after kick-off. The atmosphere in the ground was electric - I felt the hairs on body standing up. It is fair to say that it was the first time in our FA Cup tour that I felt the real cup atmosphere. Fratton Park is of course an old fashion English ground and the faithful really know how to generate noise and in the process act as the 12th man. This is an old cliché in football, but it was one that was apparent in this instant.

The game started with Portsmouth looking quite shaky perhaps the thought of administration was playing on the players’ minds. After 20 minutes or so of nothing meaningful the game settled down and both sides started to string one or two passes without creating any clear cut chances. The first half ended quite evenly and so it was off to the concourse for some much anticipated refreshments especially after being overwhelmed by the bloke sitting next to me - let’s just say it was an experience to savor! Instead what we got at the concourse was a struggle to even relieve ourselves and as such we quickly abandoned our original plan and embarked on the perilous journey back to our seats. We eventually made it back in time for the second half and Pompey started the brighter. As the half wore on, they became more threatening and on the 67th minute the impressive Freddy as he is affably called by the Pompey faithful forced home the opening goal after Birmingham failed to deal with the corner. It was very poor defending from a side who usually look assured at the back. And like buses, as soon as one came along another follows; and so it proved in this game when on the 70th minute Birmingham’s move broke down in midfield and Michael Brown played in Freddy again who finished with aplomb. Birmingham huffed and puffed for the reminder of the match and also had what looked like a perfectly good goal disallowed as the officials decided it hadn’t crossed the line; but in all honesty it wouldn’t have made a difference to the outcome. Pompey were deserved winners in the end.

As this game was a lunch time kick-off it felt surreal for us to be leaving the ground at a time when almost all of the other games were kicking off. So being the fanatics we are, we decided to fit in another football match kicking off at 3pm. Andy had already done prior research so it was a quick dash to the real home of football (whatever the ground is called - I believe it is owned by the Navy) to watch United Services Portsmouth against Aldermarston who prior to that game had lost all 26 games they had played in the league conceding over 100 goals in the process - we were in for a treat! The goal fest we were anticipating didn’t transpire but we were treated to some comical antics on the pitch and this seemed to ignite Andy into action and out came the innuendos. What is it they say? You can’t keep a good man down for long….Wembley here we come!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Demolition Derby

Demolition Derby
FA Cup 5th Round
Derby v Birmingham City

As D-Day at Wembley draws nearer, the competition is hotting up for two trips to the National Stadium. Before I go on to the game, I want to disagree with the FA’s decision to play both Semi-Finals and the Final at the same venue. Wembley should be used for the “main event” and Old Trafford and Villa Park should be used as the Semi venues. Never mind, as the FA is still looking to pay for the Stadium, change will not happen! Even in the Kings Cup in Spain, does no one, actually know where the Final will be held yet! Those daft Spaniards.

Friday should’ve been the perfect pre-lude to Derby however our usual Pool-table haunt had a function booked and despite a 3-1 win over Clifford, I had to do some work for once! Meeting up at St Pancras again for the shortish train trip up to the East Midlands and talk turned to the likely outcome of the game, with both teams in reasonably decent form, the home side having defeated Newcastle in midweek. Birmingham having lost at West Ham, after a good run. Arriving in Derby we were soon photographed leaving the station by the local plod which was nice of them, Birmingham had sold their entire allocation of around 5,000 so they were going to be in good voice.

On my first trips to Derby in 02/03 and 03/04 I had been to a pub (in a shock move) close to the ground and we set out looking for it, it was called the Navigation. Unfortunately I couldn’t find it, ironically. Looking at a map 2 days after the event it was just around the corner, nevermind – we headed back to the ground.

Having to sit in the home end for this match meant a slight queue to pick up tickets, but soon in to the Main Stand at Pride Park, it was time for a pre-match beer and to watch the “exclusive” DCFCTV.

It was good to see Birmingham had sent out pretty much their strongest XI for the match, Joe Hart started in goal, and Roger Johnson partnered Scott Dann at centre-half all three contributing to the Blues good recent run.

It took a good half an hour for the first chance to come for either side; it hadn’t been as dull as the Doncaster fixture as teams cancelled each other out. It was certainly an entertaining atmosphere. The lively Birmingham bench of Roy Aitken and Big Eck, Alex McLeish were rather animated.

Jay McEverley must have had his spinach again as the left back gave Derby the lead early in the second half lashing a shot which Hart misjudged and couldn’t stop hitting the net. This seemed to wake up Birmingham who had failed to really test Stephen Bywater in the early exchanges.

Super-sub Kevin Phillips was being readied by the away bench and soon entered the fray taking the place of Benitez, along with Keith Fahey coming on.

Robbie Savage was covering a Premiership game at Villa Park not so long ago for Radio 5 Live, and accidentally was caught in the face by a wayward clearance whilst commentating. On Saturday Savage, was desperately running out a ball for a goal kick when he had to keep it in, and blasted into the linesman from point blank range. Down went the linesman to the howls of approval of the 20,000 crowd, as the poor old lino struggled with a touch of winding!

Birmingham were level soon after this, as a corner was forced in off the underside of the bar, by Scott Dann right in front of the travelling fans. There was still time for either side to win it, and there had been a few half chances. Moving into injury time, Birmingham were awarded a free kick about 40 yards from goal. It was swept into the box, where the Super-Sub Kevin Phillips managed to connect with the ball, but it hit the post, but Liam Ridgewell was on hand to knock home the rebound.

Derby steamed forward and the pantomime villain Savage dipped a shot towards goal from fully 35 yards out on the volley. Joe Hart tipped the ball over the bar and Martin Atkinson, who had a good game, blew the final whistle. The Derby fans were gutted that they had probably deserved at least a trip back to St Andrews for a replay.

It was time to find a pub for a swift half, but on the way back to the station we were asked to wait for a Police escort back, we had to explain we weren’t Derby or Birmingham fans and that it was a long story to why we were here, we got on our way though and would’ve been back at St Pancras on time, had it not been for “children playing on the line” outside the station.

Our Exeter contingent as previously mentioned in the blog post of round 3 had been at Millwall so a few beers were arranged at London Bridge. The legends of Tom “City are s*it and going down” and Bones “Let ‘emmmm come” joined for a bit of banter and before I knew it, I was on the last train home, trying to keep my eyes open.

Birmingham will face Portsmouth in the FA Cup Quarter Final at Fratton Park. Portsmouth our last trip before Wembley. I used to live in Pompey so will be looking forward to a bit of a pub crawl around some of the old haunts.

Coming soon: We turn the clock back to the first draw back in July and see what routes we could've taken!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Derby Day

FA Cup 4th Round
23rd January 2010
Derby County v Doncaster Rovers

Hands up if you are glad to see the back of the snow! Apparently one of the worst snowy weather since someone decided to keep record of these things (if you believe everything you read). I for one I’m ecstatic to see the back of it after all the misery it has caused and I’m not just talking about that caused on transport, business, school etc. The misery I’m referring to is the abandonment of a considerable amount of fixtures which in the process affected my usual weekend football fix. I accept that the aforementioned aspects of society are important and one could also argue that even more than football in which case, one would most definitely have a justifiable reason in making such claim. However, football is not like other aspects of society – it is unique! As such it should not be affected by a few dustings of the white stuff because it plays a pivotal role in so many people’s lives (myself and Andy’s included). Moreover, most stadiums these days are well equipped to handle adverse weather conditions, after all there is enough money in the game to cater for things like this.

I know the health and safety bigwigs will say that consideration has to be given in relation to the safety of the roads leading to the stadiums; but quite frankly it is up to the individual to take special care when going to their respective stadiums. Hypothetically speaking, if one’s weekly shopping is affected by the snow, one would make the executive decision on whether to go hungry for the week or tread carefully to the supermarket to do the shopping. Same analogy albeit not to the same extent should apply in the case of football. In my opinion if the terraces and the pitch withstand the weather, I say get the game on! Not so long ago football use to be played in less favourable conditions and it did not have half the amount of money that is currently in today’s game so the weather shouldn’t play such a key role. Besides we are suppose to be living in a first world country were technology and infrastructure is so advance, it can withstand any freakish weather condition (at least that’s what we are led to believe). As you know it only takes a couple inches of snow, couple hours of persistent rain and a certain level of heat for the infrastructure to crumble – still one can only live and hope!

Fortunately for us, our schedule trip to Derby for the FA Cup fourth round went ahead even though it was threatening not to be the case due to several cancellations of third round tie between Brentford and Doncaster. Indeed had that tie finished in a leveller, it may well have been the case. So with a spring in our steps we set off to Derby and upon arrival we decided to have a little tour of the ground (nothing exciting to report) before heading into the stadium. Pride Park is an impressive stadium built to cope with the rigours of modern day football, but no sooner had we settled in our seats, we were mystified to hear the announcer encouraging us to put our hands together to welcome the ‘Derby ball boys’. What was even more astonishing was the synchronise routine they decided to treat us with; it is one of those things you had to be there to appreciate – I still chuckle at the thought of it (even now)! At least the people responsible at Derby are trying to be different but should in case any of them read this blog, in future I prefer ‘cheerleaders’. The announcer then decided to inform us that the players were in the tunnel in a voice which I assumed is used by those who have the task of prepping up people about to embark in a battle which their lives depended on. Something was clearly lost in translation. Perhaps someone failed to tell him that it was only the fourth round of the FA Cup and they were only playing Doncaster. If that is not the case, he really loves his job and must be on good wages….I wonder how much they pay him?

The game began with both sides looking bright and sharp perhaps the words of the announcer still echoing in the players ears. After ten minutes the novelty wore off and the game progressed into a scrappy affair albeit Doncaster were playing the better football without looking particularly threatening. At half-time the game was nil-nil so we decided to go for some refreshments. When we got to the concourse we were disappointed not to see a single television to keep abreast with the other half-time scores so affectionately given by Uncle Jeff and others – we were not happy! As if that wasn’t bad enough, to our dismay we were flabbergasted to see the prices of their refreshments. A double cheeseburger will cost you the grand total of £4.70 (we were in agreement that it was the price of a meal), a pint of bitter £3.60, pies (unspecified) at £2.60, hot drinks (unspecified) £1.80, a bar of chocolate but not ‘Twix’ which is £1.00 will cost you £3.20. Now correct me if I’m wrong doesn’t a Twix bar fall under chocolate? And don’t they know that we are supposed to be in a recession or at least coming out of it? I can understand that in the present financial climate one has to make a few extra pennies as and when one can, but £3.20 for a chocolate bar is a few pennies too much isn’t it?

On that bombshell we boycotted our original plan and headed back to our seats collectively hoping that the second half will be much better than the first – it wasn’t! In fact, it got progressively bad and to write anything to suggest otherwise would be an injustice to the beautiful (I use the term loosely) game. It is these types of game that makes one wonder why one goes through perilous lengths for the sake of football? If you know the answer, I’m intrigued. Just as we were about to write this one off as a nil all, the first in our FA Cup journey so far, Doncaster gave the ball away in midfield, Derby countered, their first effort was blocked and the loose ball was riffled home in off the post by the substitute Jay McEveley. Game over, Derby into the fifth round and thankfully we can all go home. And as faith would have we are heading there again for the next round; still one has the delight of looking forward to the Derby ball boys synchronise routine and the prep talk from the announcer – can’t wait! See you in the fifth round.

Talking of the fifth round the draw sees us back to Derby as they host Birmingham City. As you can tell we are absolutely delighted! Please check out our links to our friends at European Football Weekends and 300 Grounds and Counting

Thursday, 7 January 2010

A new decade – a fresh start

FA Cup Third Round 2nd January 2010
Millwall v Derby

Christmas is always a busy time of year for football fans, players and officials alike. The cold crisp weather and holiday season sees sometimes a small increase in attendances around the country. Unfortunately due to the weather, some games do get postponed due to the inability of pitches to be playable. This was very much the case in Scotland as only a handful of League games survived the weather, but many games were also postponed south of the border!

Waking up with a slight hangover on New Years Day after consuming more than a few drinks the previous evening (I use the phrase evening loosely as the birds were singing by the time I got home), I decided it would be a great idea to take a trip to St Albans v Maidenhead at Clarence Park as there was already a restricted Non-League schedule due to the FA Cup being the next day.

Unfortunately this game too became victim of the cold snap and after some executive decision making by the chaps I was with, we managed to get up to the Stevenage Borough v Cambridge fixture which was one of three that survived in the Conference Premier.

An impressive performance from the home side saw them run out 4-1 winners; it was the perfect prelude for the following day trip to Millwall to watch the Derby match.

Many of our followers have been enquiring as to what has happened to our “Epic Pool” sessions that were talked about in previous blog posts. Due to the Christmas period, both of us were out the office and have been largely meeting at the grounds, I will be back to reclaim what is rightfully mine! (Hope Clifford doesn’t read this part!!!)

Arriving at our scheduled meeting point at London Bridge Station I hadn’t quite got far in to my first pint of the day when the Derby turned up, a good 80 or so of them, and it soon looked on the arrival of the local plod that a change of scenery may be forced.

Ironically the pub we next went to (to meet our hosts (Exeter Tom and "Bones" for the day) was the pub Clifford had seen Chelsea beaten so cruely by that team from Spain in the Champions League, which was one of the reasons Clifford cited as his reason to be a part of this tour!

On to The Den then, and this time in to the home end. I refuse to sit with Derby fans. A swift half and it was time for 2 minutes and 34 seconds of absolute bliss, or Let ‘em Come in other words.

When the kick off came, it was down to the game. Millwall started the brighter, and Jack Smith almost added to his goal versus Staines and Dave Martin has a shot deflected wide. Neither ‘keeper had much work to do in the first half; Stephen Bywater formally of West Ham should’ve been tested by Lewis Grabban. Grabban in truth had a shocker. Derby with only one away win all season had a lucky chance which had come off “Jimmy” Abdou and had to be headed clear by Paul Robinson, goalless at halftime. I had been impressed with Marc Laird in the middle of the park and of course Dave Martin. Time for a swift half time beer with Tom, Bones and Clifford.

Millwall were rewarded for their first half display with any early goal in the 2nd half – Chris Hackett flung the ball into the box and the ball was calmly finished by none other than Lewis Grabban, much to the delight of the home support. Unfortunately the lead did not last too long, a hopeful ball in to the box could not be cleared and Kris Commons found the back of David Forde’s net from 12 yards sending the away crowd of 1400 or so into raptures, The goal seemed to wake up the Rams but with not being able to find any further accuracy in the final third, the best chance being a free kick high and wide from the aforementioned Commons.

Millwall’s star man of the first half, Laird had a quieter second period and Kenny Jackett didn’t produce any changes until late in the half, when really we all agreed to making a change earlier. There was time for a goal mouth scramble, when Morison had one off the line, arguably from Derby’s star man Miles Addison.
The crowd just under 10.000 led to a few delays in arriving back into the city centre to watch the Reading game, fortunately we didn’t miss too much as we arrived Reading’s Simon Church poked home much to my delight, and most of the pubs surprise. Unfortunately Steven Gerrard grabbed an equaliser just before the half time. I was nervous and pacing up and down for the 2nd half and was relieved to come out with a draw, although on reflection it could’ve been a home win!

A few more beers with the chaps (well it was rude not to) and it was time to retire and look forward to the following day’s cup draw.

Millwall or Derby will replay next week at Pride Park and will then have a home tie versus Brentford or Doncaster (that game fell victim of the weather on Saturday) whereas Reading or Liverpool have the delightful visit of Burnley. It would be nice to go to the replay, but with the potential for a further trip ten days later and both needing time off, it might have to be considered!

Look out for our mini-blog post next week detailing where we will be! Clifford will be your correspondent for that game!

Monday, 21 December 2009

The Rampaging Replay

FA Cup 2nd Round Replay
Millwall v Staines Town

Its been a long time coming this blog update. Myself and Clifford ventured into London a few weeks ago for the trip to Millwall. This was my 9th visit to The Den (3rd trip of 2009 having seen Millwall v Scunthorpe in January and Reading reserves in April) and I'm still not bored of the place.

We took choice to join the 500 or so Staines fans in the away end. Unfortunately we didnt have time to meet up with our Millwall hosts for the night pre-game due to the ensuring needs at work in Reading and short delays on the ever-busy rail and tube network. We had time for a flyer at the Barrowboy down at London Bridge before our connection down to Bermondsey.

Clifford "friend of the stars" again had his "celeb" spotting glasses on as he recongised the bar-man from the TV show "Dream Team". Ironically which was mostly shot at The Den, unfortunately it wasnt Stefan Dennis (also better known as Paul Robinson from Neighbours) the bar man, who we cant remember his name was slightly embarrased that we recognised him.

On to the ground, just in time for a pie and to see the teams run out to the famous Millwall song, "Let 'Em Come" by Roy Green, the song never fails to make me want to dance and sing. Unfortunately the ground was largely empty with the home fans predominately to our right werent looking like they would be in such a good intimidating voice.

Millwall took the lead just before half time when Steve Morison found the net, although yours truly was sipping a pint and having a burger to "warm the old cockles". We were still helpful that with the Staines fans in good voice that maybe Ali C, Richard Butler or the fabulous Gareth Risbridger would create something. That hope was soon dashed even further five minutes into the second half Jamie Smith scored.

My own opinion was the end result of 4-0 (with two reasonably late goals, from Alan Dunne and Danny Schofield) flattered the home team, looking back at the stats on the Beeb, it seemed Millwall had 72% match possession.

It was a sad end for Staines. Unfortuantely some mindless idiots decided to have a little punch of a steward, but they weren't Staines fans. The Swans must get back to the Conference South and get a good run of form going. I personally wish them all the best for the rest of the season (other when they visit the fortress at York Road, Maidenhead on Easter Monday!) and I'm sure Clifford does to.

Stevie C's Barmy Army.

Onwards, we return to The Den for the match with Derby (Hoping for a home win here!) following that we'll be back in the pub to watch the end of Liverpool's season when they capitulate to Reading!!

Until then....

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Putting things into perspective, Part 2

FA Cup 2nd Round
Staines V Millwall

As our FA Cup continues to be kind to us in terms of travelling, we find ourselves being in front of the camera for the first time. The thought of one appearing on MOTD I have to say is quite nerve racking. The thought of all possible scenarios that could potentially cause embarrassment is enough for one to develop the weird feeling you get when your team is about to take a winning penalty in an important match; but as it turned out on this occasion, it was much ado about nothing. Great! – All that effort of stopping oneself from having a proper scratch of the annoying itch in case the camera was directed at me (as is usually the case at the time least expected) turned out to be a wasted valiant effort.

I’m not sure about going through this again! I would have much preferred this in the beginning when we started at Egham Town at least the level of interest in the cup then would have been minimal so one would not be overly concern about the embarrassment any misdemeanours would have caused. Instead, ITV who have won the rights to screen the FA Cup this season in an ever increasing competitive battle of the TV companies decided (as with tradition) that the earlier rounds are not so important.

This is the greatest cup competition in the World so I think that every single round should be covered as this would mean that the lower league/non league clubs will have a little slice of the TV money. This is clear evidence that the money generated in football is not properly redistributed; hence the reason why football in tune with society is divided between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’!

This brings me right up to another point I’d like to make that I continually find disenchanting. There’s too much bureaucracy in football and I think it is affecting the state of the game immensely. The game of football is simple – put eleven men on both sides, round leather object in the middle and tell them to kick lumps out of each other; it couldn’t be simpler. Although when other factors such as skills, technique, and tactics… are added, it makes for an even better sport. So why is it that the people entrusted to look after the welfare of the game continue to introduce or amend elements of the game that requires no amendment? Take the offside rule for instance; it was quite simply when the attacking player is ahead of play at the time of receiving a pass. Instead, we now have this farce of players being active – it’s all a bit too much. The funny thing about it is that no one seems to understand when a player is active or not – to say this rule is comical would be an understatement.

Quite recently there have been intense discussions in the media for the need for video technology. If this were to be introduced, I believe it would be catastrophic. I’m sure like me you would agree that football is unlike other world sports, it is unique! It is one that administers euphoria one minute, and dismay the next. The gratification or despair one gets from a dodgy decision made by the referee/assistant cannot be replicated by video technology. It is those talking points from a football match that makes the game so exciting. If that were to be removed then the ramifications are unthinkable. Indeed one could write a whole book on the reasons why video technology is not in the game’s best interest, but quite frankly one do not have the time to so; instead I shall leave it up to all those (myself included) with the best interest of football at heart to continue to fight the cause however little it may be.

So unto the big day which have been described in many quarters (mostly in Staines) as the biggest game ever? I woke up brimming with excitement as the anticipation got the better of me. The days leading up to the match had been littered with press coverage which I believe is completely deserved as Staines have been very impressive in the previous rounds. Andy and I arranged to meet at Staines after what turned out to be a very heavy session the night before (no marathon pool tournament to report this time). Upon arrival at Waterloo station I anticipated that perhaps I had enough time to grab a bite to eat; but it turned out to be a diabolical miscalculation (as is usually the case). In my haste to catch the train (which I missed) I inadvertently lost my gloves, damn! It was the wrong day for it – still one has to make sacrifices to gain a bigger reward. Anyway the rest of the day made up for that annoying little moment.

Before I go any further, I must congratulate all the people who tirelessly worked behind the scene in order for the game to go ahead. Their efforts ensured that the FA Cup tradition of the hope of giant killing continued. It was a commendable effort! Wheatsheaf Park attracted arguably its highest attendance in its history and perhaps that affected the players as they started the game nervously – they could have conceded within seconds of the start. After five minutes of edginess, Staines began to settle with either sides not looking particularly threatening. Millwall were perhaps the dominant force, forcing the keeper to make one or two decent saves whilst Staines were looking to counter. Their only decent chance of the first half fell to Ali C their local hero when he was put through by Butler who was impressive throughout the game, but he shot straight at the keeper who made a good save.

The second half started in similar fashion with Millwall forcing the issue without looking particularly threatening. The goalkeeper, Louis Wells was having a steady game and was looking unflappable until the 69th minute when a high looping corner was heading back across goal by Paul Robinson and it somehow ended up in the bottom corner. It should have been a routine save for Wells. One nil down, Staines began to force the issue with Millwall now looking threatening on the break. On 79 minutes, after some neat football on the right, Jacko, the right back put in a dangerous cross into the box and Butler who would have got at the end of it was fouled by the Millwall goal scorer. Penalty! It was no more than Staines deserved. Ali C converted the spot kick and it was game on! Both sides decided to go for a winner and it made for an exciting last ten minutes. Wells redeemed himself by making some good saves late on and the match finished one apiece to be replaced at Millwall. It has been another fantastic day all round once again and we will be going to our first replay at Millwall – Staines will require all their massive(s) for the encounter in the lion’s den. Can’t wait!