Lench catches the eye
JANUARY 2, 2017: Biggleswade Town 1 Hitchin Town 3. Hitchin fans don’t like to think about success, but it is clear to me that their current side has the best chance of promotion than any past team in the past 25 years. They played some good football at Biggleswade, a superb goal by Kane Smith and two from the ever-improving Matt Lench. People talk about Smith as a player who can step-up, but he’s had his chance and I think Lench could well go on to better things. He might do that at Hitchin if they win promotion.
A Rotterdam Renaissance?
OCTOBER 23, 2016: There’s something stirring in the old port of Rotterdam this season as Feyenoord, Excelsior and Sparta enjoy their best campaigns for some time. It’s the first time since 2008 that all three teams have played in the Eredivisie, with Feyenoord blazing away at the head of the table and Sparta acclimatising comfortably in mid-table in their inaugural season back in the top flight.
Feyenoord face Ajax today in the first De Klassieker of 2016-17. It’s been a while since De Trots van Zuid won this very heated clash of the Netherlands’ top two, in fact you have to go back to 2012 for a Feyenoord win in the Eredivisie.
It’s been a barn-storming start for Feyenoord and before meeting Ajax, they had five point lead at the top with a 100% record after nine games. De Kuip regulars are starting to believe that Feyenoord can end their longest post-war stretch without a league title – the last time was in 1999.
At home, Feyenoord have been knocking in goals with ease – 12 in the last three home games, the last being a 5-0 drubbing of Roda JC. But it is in defence that Feyenoord are differentiating themselves – just three goals conceded in nine games. And let’s not forget that Giovanni van Bronckhort’s team also beat Manchester United in the Europa League. As it stands, they’re on course to qualify for the knock-out stages.
Feyenoord’s revival is down to a number of factors, not least van Bronckhurst settling in after his initial season in charge. Last season, they won the KNVB Cup and finished third, but they were never in the hunt for the title. One of van Bronckhurst’s summer signings, Nicolai Jorgensen, is proving to be something of a coup, having scored seven goals in the league since his arrival from FC Copenhagen. Jorgensen is a powerful striker and uses his tall frame to good effect. He was also on target in the Europa League ahead of the Ajax clash.
Bradley Jones, the former Liverpool goalkeeper, now 34, is another reason why Feyenoord have been getting the results. Jones, who played briefly for Nijmegen after being released by Liverpool was drafted in after Dutch international Kenneth Vermeer injured his Achilles tendon.
The wrong ground
OCTOBER 3, 2016: I’ve just returned from Warsaw, which prompted the latest article on GOTP. On Sunday, October 2, we went to the national stadium and somehow, I had it in my head that Legia Warsaw played there. I should have known better. So, we went to the excellent stadium, via the equally impressive transport links and managed to pay our 10 zlotys to take a walk around the viewing areas. It was, indeed, a super ground, but when I asked if there was a Legia shop I was told “no” in no uncertain terms. Then I looked at my map and realised that the Polish Army Stadium is not the national stadium. “Mmmm…I don’t think Legia play here,” I said. I was right. I was wrong. I was stupid for not reading the map. Never mind, the stadium was very good and we were treated to the sight of the groundstaff changing the pitch – strip by strip. Very methodically, very quickly.
Rabiot in the headlights
SEPTEMBER 14, 2016: I think Adrien Rabiot may become one of bright stars of 2016-17. The Paris St. Germain midfielder, along with a few other PSG players, may have the chance to step out of the shadows cast by the likes of Zlatan and Rabiot may emerge as one of tomorrow’s top players. He’s the classic modern box-to-box player and he’s also physically strong. The 2016-17 season could be his year, I think – with a French cap to come.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2016: At virtually every game I have been to this season, I have picked up a whiff of marijuana. Most of these games have been non-league, so it wasn’t as if the odour could be lost amid the throng, but there is clearly more widespread use of the drug these days – you smell it in town centres, outside pubs and even on the occasional tube train.
But non-league football games? Surely it is easy to police this growing menace, and I say menace because I do not like it and if you’re trying to encourage families and youngsters to attend games, then the smell of an illegal drug is not what you want to leave as a lasting impression of your club. I’m not total against the use of this drug, but all said and done, it is illegal and therefore should not be openly used in public places. I would suggest local police should occasionally go along to some football clubs to test the air!!
SEPTEMBER 7, 2016: Interesting to see that another writer has been attacked for writing about Clapton’s Ultras. Interesting, as it looks as though anyone writing anything about the club and its fans always seems to “get it wrong”. Having been lambasted for expressing “middle class wankery” myself, I find it amazing that a group that claims to “welcome all” becomes so defensive when people comment on what they see. As is often the case, individuals with strong views claiming to represent “freedom of speech” invariably deny people the chance to do likewise. The writer in question penned a good piece which was mostly positive. The Clapton thing is something worth seeing and there’s a lot of good things coming out of it, but accepting that they are something of a curiosity in non-league football may take some time.
England games – a blot on the landscape
SEPTEMBER 5, 2016: I missed the Slovakia v England game. First of all, international football completely bores me these days, especially qualifying competitions, which are there to dispose of the makeweights. With groups containing so many lower-order nations that it becomes tedious. The recent Euro 2016 was also a reminder that the day of the international has gone. Secondly, the quality of football is often dire. England’s team is no more than a low-level, relegation-threatened Premier side in terms of quality. You get the feeling that most people don’t care too much anymore. It upsets league programmes, TV planners, newspapers and radio – in other words, weekends without domestic football are not welcomed. One beneficiary is the non-league world. The organizers of “Non-League Day” use international breaks to host their big day. It works, mostly, despite clubs like Arsenal holding a “foundation” match for thick-waisted former players to remind the crowd why a player’s peak passes in his late 20s.
FA Cup “larkings” avoided by NL Day?
SEPTEMBER 5, 2016: The traditional act of “creatively adjusting” FA Cup gates was made a little more difficult by holding Non-League Day on first qualifying round day. For decades, FA Cup and other attendances have been doctored by some clubs not wishing to share the gate on an equitable basis – crowds have been deliberately understated. Nobody talks about it, it’s very much an “under the carpet” practice. I have been at games when it has been very blatant, and at more than one FA Cup tie that has seen its attendance revised after a protest has been made. This year’s attendances for non-league day suggest that the luster of this innovative scheme may be wearing off slightly. Just consider: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 436 (Lge average 475), Weymouth 393 (748), Canvey Island 238 (260), Chesham United 325 (293), Cambridge City 136 (239), Kings Langley 101 (172).
No tears in Trnava
SEPTEMBER 4, 2016: England scrape a win and guess what, it’s a new dawn of a new day. England were oh so close to 0-0 draw in Slovakia. Sam Allardyce thanked his “lucky coin” for the win. I hope he’s got a pocketful of those. He will need it – not necessarily to overcome a group that also includes Lithuania, Slovenia, Scotland and Malta, but once England get out of the qualifying stage. I learned this week that Spartak Trnava are still going strong – they finished fourth in the Slovak Super League last season. I remember when they were a tricky two-legger in the old days. England clearly found Trnava (population 66,000) a difficult place!