They’ve got the Zeeco, but they also need Zico…Stamford at home Reply

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Stamford must be one of the nicest places to go and watch a football match. It’s a town that a lot of people don’t know much about, something of a hidden gem, you might say. From a football perspective, the club’s old ground was within walking distance of the station – just a couple of hundred yards at best – and the town itself around the same distance. It’s like a Cotswold town that has been transported to Lincolnshire.

Stamford Association Football Club dates back to 1896 and they were somewhat unique in playing on the same ground since the club’s formation right up to 2014. That ground, in Kettering Road, was leased from the nearby Burghley Estate. The club’s nickname, The Daniels, is a tribute to the fattest man ever to have lived in England, one Daniel Lambert, who is buried in a churchyard in the town. The club’s high point was when they won the FA Vase in 1980, although Stamford are playing at their highest ever level – the Northern Premier League Premier.

The club’s recent move from, to quote a club official, “an old and tired ground set against the backdrop of a glorious Georgian townscape”, to a purpose-built, modern, edge-of-the-town development, could have been laden with pitfalls. Non-league fans, generally, don’t like change too much and many would baulk at the idea of a relocation. It often prompts the type of “over my dead body” reaction that can hamper progress. But in Stamford’s case, the move has largely been welcomed.

“Our old ground was not going to last long and we couldn’t do much with it,” said Pete, a long-standing fan before the Daniels’ game against Stourbridge (a club that is also undergoing significant development at present). “This is lovely,” he added, sweeping arm across the view of the Zeeco Stadium from the bar, which offers a perfect vista of the ground.

“This new ground can really help the club move forward, take us to a new level. And I get the feeling we are being run properly off the pitch by people who seem to care about Stamford FC and want to take it further,” added Tom, a fan who lives just a few minutes from the new site, some 20 minutes’ walk from town.

Groundhopper Harry, a glazier from Leamington, who was visiting the Zeeco for the first time, was less impressed. “It’s too modern and too far from town for people like me who cannot drive. I like grounds with a bit of character that have been lived in. Like their old ground.” He also complained about the number of advertisements in the programme. “Suggests they are doing well commercially,” I suggested, but he didn’t want to hear that.

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It’s true that the stadium does have a “just out of the wrapper” feel about it, but the facilities are impressive and there is so much space around that it all looks very scalable. It only opened in mid-December 2014, so the club has yet to personalise its new home, but for any misty-eyed nostalgia for damp wood and crumbling concrete, the new ground says “future” and “ambition”.

If there’s a criticism, it’s not about the distance from the town centre (the early signs are that more people want to come to the Zeeco than Kettering Road), but perhaps the need for more seating and a little more spectator cover, but these are early days. The infrastructure of the club is solid, clean and well designed and doesn’t deserve to be over-scrutinised for possible improvements at this stage!

On the pitch, Stamford have a few problems to solve if they are to avoid a relegation struggle this season. Before taking on Stourbridge, Stamford were in 18th place in the Northern Premier League and had yet to win at the Zeeco. In fact, their home form, straddling both grounds, had not been good – just three wins in 13.

They are really trying to sell the new ground it to the fans. The man on the tannoy called for “volunteers to help with the matchday experience (very Stamford Bridge)” and then as the teams took the field, “It’s showtime,” rang out around the Zeeco.

Stourbridge, another thoroughly decent club, brought a healthy away following and they were soon cheering. Four minutes had passed when a Drew Canavan cross landed at the feet of Kayelden Brown, who sent a tame half volley past Stamford keeper Andy Stevens. “Too easy,” shouted one Stamford fan from behind the dugout. “Too bloody easy.”

It got worse in the 29th minute when the ball was played through to Brian Smikle and he beat a defender before shooting low into the net for Stourbridge’s second goal.

Then Stamford mounted a recovery. The first comeback goal was a scruffy affair and started with a Ryan Clarke free kick into the area. Jordan Smith, who impressed all afternoon, headed down to Ryan Robbins and his shot was blocked, almost went in off a defender and then rolled to Nathan Fox who applied the finishing touch. At least that what it looked like from distance!

The loneliness of the long-distance photographer...

The loneliness of the long-distance photographer…

Just before the interval, a long ball from Joe Curtis fell nicely in the path of Robbins and he ran on to drill his effort past Dean Coleman. From two-down to 2-2. Stamford’s boyish manager, David Staff, celebrated a la Mourinho before sharing a joke with the fans. “Enjoying it, Dave?,” enquired one regular. “No….do I ever,” came the response.

Staff had, a few minutes earlier, taken off his skipper, Richard Jones. “Skip”, or “Captain Fantastic” as the fans chanted, didn’t seem too happy, but Stamford clearly dealt with the change. Jones was limping, which may have explained his premature withdrawal from action.

The second half saw an improved Stamford performance and Smith and Robbins both enjoyed galloping up the field to test the Stourbridge defence. But it was a goal from a breakaway that won the game, a soft finish at the far post by Brown after a cross by Luke Benbow. Stamford didn’t really deserve that, but they were far too generous in defence for the entire 90 minutes.

A 3-2 scoreline suggests an entertaining game and it wasn’t half bad. Stamford will have to be careful, though. They may be in possession of the Zeeco, but they could do with a little of the old Zico magic! After all, they don’t want to have the best ground in the Northern Premier Division One, do they?

To see our piece on ground development, “So how do you fit a ground in a busy town?”, click here

A tarnished little tin idol? – Not really Reply

Some newspapers are calling the current FA Cup competition “the most open ever”. How often have we heard that? And how long will it be before someone writes something along the lines of, “the big clubs are not taking it seriously”? On both counts, it is total nonsense to suggest that the loss of Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham are symptoms of a trend that chips away at the credibility of the competition.

Given that since 2005-06, only one cup final has not featured the big five of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City or Manchester United, it is clear that the big guns certainly take the competition seriously. The missing link was 2007-08 when Portsmouth played Cardiff City in Wembley’s forgotten final.

That two of the big five are already out, and two more need replays, is setting alarm bells ringing in the media. The fact is, both Liverpool and United will probably win their replays and make it three out of five in the last 16. That’s only marginally below average – only once since 2005-06 have all five reached the fifth round and beyond.

So far, 10 Premier clubs have bitten the dust and that’s not an alarming figure by any means. Last season it was also 10, although 2014-15’s 10 could rise by the time replays are out of the way. In 2012-13 and 2007-08 the figure reached 13 for Premier exits before the last 16. The average for round three is 5.67 and round four 5.0, so it’s more or less bang on target.

Of the 10 that have exited stage left, four have been giant-killed this season: QPR (Sheffield United R3), Chelsea (Bradford City R4), Manchester City (Middlesbrough R4) and Swansea (Blackburn R4). This is also not a cause for concern, although Messrs Mourinho and Pellegrini may disagree when they playback the video.

That means that six of the Premier flops have gone out to stable-mates: Everton (to West Ham), Tottenham (to Leicester), Southampton (to Palace), Newcastle (to Leicester), Burnley (to Tottenham) and Hull City (to Arsenal).

The last time the top two met in the final...Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0 2006-07

The last time the top two met in the final…John Terry enjoys Mourinho 1.0’s last trophy with Chelsea after beating United 1-0

What’s prompting cries of “it’s up for grabs” is the exit of the top two of the Premier, Chelsea and Manchester City. But it is not often that the top two fight it out in the FA Cup final – since the Premier’s inception in 1992-93, only once have the top two (at the season’s end) have contested the showpiece occasion, in 2006-07 when Chelsea beat Manchester United in a dire game. In fact, in 22 finals since 1992, the league champions have reached the final just seven and the runners-up six times.

The defeats suffered by Chelsea and City will have been enjoyed by everyone other than the two clubs themselves. Bradford City will remember their 4-2 win forever, it was a genuine shock and gave the competition that old fashioned feel of a major “giant-killing”. Should we want the blue riband clubs to reach the final every year? Those that care about the fabric of such things would say absolutely not, but TV and the rest of the media are largely concerned with ratings and that means Manchester United v Liverpool every year.

The tradition of the FA Cup is that “anything can happen in next 90 minutes”. For one game, a small club can throw everything into it and come out with a shock result. They cannot possibly do it over a league campaign, because the best team will always come out on top of a league table over 38, 42 or 46 games. But they can dream of a chance of upsetting the form book. And that’s what Sheffield United, Bradford City and Middlesbrough have done this season. The departure of Chelsea and City makes the competition more interesting – put it this way, Chelsea beating Bradford City would not have made headlines. But Bradford beating Chelsea…now that’s what I call knockout football at its best!

When Bradford struck it big - the 1910-11 Bantams!

When Bradford struck it big – the 1910-11 Bantams!

The fifth round
Crystal Palace (Prem) v Liverpool (Prem) or Bolton (Champ.)
The most famous meeting between Palace and Liverpool was in 1990 when they fought out a 4-3 win for Palace in the semi-final. New Palace boss Alan Pardew scored the winner! Liverpool have to dispose of Bolton but they will be desperate to turn their season around through the cups. Prediction: Liverpool
Aston Villa (Prem) v Leicester City (Prem)
This Midlands derby could be very interesting. Leicester have beaten two Premier clubs already and seem to have their name written on a long run, if not the cup. The teams last met in the 2000-01 competition, with Villa losing 1-2 at home. Villa are overdue a decent run, while Leicester – who have never won the FA Cup – last reached the sixth round in 2012. Prediction: Leicester City
Bradford City (Lge One) v Sunderland (Prem) or Fulham (Champ.)
Bradford’s only meeting with Fulham in cup competitions was in the Football League Cup in 1987-88 when the Cottagers were trounced 7-2 on aggregate over two legs. They’ve never met Sunderland in the FA Cup. Prediction: Sunderland
Derby County (Champ.) v Reading (Champ.)
These two sides met in the Football League Cup this season, with Derby winning 2-0 at home.
Prediction: Derby County
Arsenal (Prem) v Middlesbrough (Champ.)
The last time these two sides met in the FA Cup was in 2001-02, with Arsenal winning 4-1 at home. The Gunners and Boro have met many times down the years in the competition, with Arsenal winning five of their seven ties. On three of those occasions – 1930, 1998 and 2002, the Gunners have gone on to win the cup.
Prediction: Arsenal
West Bromwich Albion (Prem) v West Ham (Prem)
Albion have a poor record against the Hammers in the FA Cup and have won just once in the five occasions they have been drawn together. The last time was in 1992-93 when Albion lost 0-2 at the Hawthorns.
Prediction: WBA
Blackburn Rovers (Champ.) v Stoke City (Prem)
The most recent FA Cup meeting between Rovers and Stoke was in 1961-62 at the old Victoria Ground. Blackburn came away with a 1-0 win. Prediction: Stoke City
Preston (Lge One) or Sheffield Utd (Lge One) v Cambridge United (Lge Two) or Manchester United (Prem)
Sheffield United have gained a reputation for a cup-fighting team in the past two seasons, reaching the last four of the Football League Cup this year and the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 2013-14. United have made hard work of beating Yeovil and drawing at Cambridge, but you have to fancy them to come through the various permutations in this tie.
Prediction: United

They took the biscuit...Reading's last cup heroes of 1926-27

They took the biscuit…Reading’s last cup heroes of 1926-27

At a glance – the surviving teams:

  Last won Cup Current Status 2013-14 2012-13 2011-12 2010-11
Arsenal 2013-14 Prem 5th Winners Round 5 Round 5 Round 6
Aston Villa 1956-57 Prem 15th Round 3 Round 4 Round 4 Round 5
Blackburn R 1927-28 Chmp Round 3 Round 6 Round 3 Round 4
Bolton W 1957-58 Chmp 16th Round 4 Round 4 Round 6 Semi-Final
Bradford City 1910-11 L1 7th Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 1
Cambridge U Round 6 – 1990-91 L2 13th Round 2 4QR Round 1 Round 1
Crystal Palace Final 1989-90 Prem 13th Round 4 Round 3 Round 3 Round 3
Derby County Final 1945-46 Chmp 5th Round 3 Round 4 Round 4 Round 3
Fulham Final 1974-75 Chmp 14th Round 4 Round 4 Round 4 Round 5
Leicester C Final 1968-69 Prem 20th Round 3 Round 4 Round 6 Round 3
Liverpool 2005-06 Prem 8th Round 5 Round 4 Finalists Round 3
Man.United 2003-04 Prem 4th Round 3 Round 6 Round 4 Semi-Final
Middlesbrough Final Chmp 2nd Round 3 Round 5 Round 4 Round 3
Preston NE 1937-38 L1 4th Round 4 Round 3 Round 1 Round 3
Reading Semi-Final 1926-27 Chmp 18th Round 3 Round 5 Round 3 Round 6
Sheff.United 1924-25 L1 8TH Semi-Final Round 4 Round 4 Round 3
Stoke City Final 2010-11 Prem 10th Round 4 Round 4 Round 6 Finalists
Sunderland 1972-73 Prem 16th Round 6 Round 3 Round 6 Round 3
WBA 1967-68 Prem 14th Round 3 Round 3 Round 4 Round 3
West Ham 1979-80 Prem 7th Round 3 Round 3 Round 3 Round 6