Archive | September, 2011

Pradines SVD’olt

27 Sep

18 September 2011

Coupe de France Round 3

Pradines SVD’olt 0 v Blagnac 1 (att c.150)

Stade Municipal, St Vincent, France

Early indications were that Pradines would be happy with a score draw

Pre-match warm-up. OK, I know I said we’d keep things South London, but in light of my fellow Pigeon Stander’s report from the egg-chasing, I thought I’d once again self-indulgently take a wild and wonderful tour of lower-league football from the continent. This time from our cousins across the Channel. With the FA Cup in full swing back home, I felt it appropriate to attend some cup football of our own so with my mate Barry and our respective WAGs in tow, we took in some 3rd round Coupe de France action in wonderful Lotoise countryside.

Team Talk. Pradines SVD’olt (or Pradines St Vincent Douelle Mercuès d’Olt to give them their full title) play in the 7th step in the French football pyramid in the Midi-Pyrenees Division d’Honneur Régionale. The club was formed 3 years ago with the merger of 3 local sides:  Pradine-Rignac, Club Pradines and St Vincent Rive d’olt Douelle.

Separated by the Malbec vineyards of the Lot Valley, the four towns who form the nucleus of the PSV support are united by football which remains the local and hyper-local sport in this corner of France which is far more renowned for its rugby than its football. It has not always been sugar and spice between the towns. Minor discord broke out in the public meeting of the local municipality (who provide financial support) when the club were incorporated. The Mayor of Mercuès argued that his town should be included in the shortened club name. Luckily incumbent president, Charles Beaufils, stated that the name was chosen as it was “a nod to big football clubs such as PSV Eindhoven” and therefore an ‘M’ would not be acceptable. Hard to argue with that one. Please tweet us if you can name the other “big football clubs” with a PSV acronym that Monsieur Beaufils was referring to but so gracefully failed to mention.

The players coming out. In the case of Number 4, REALLY coming out

PSV’s opponents were Blagnac of the Championnat de France Amateurs 2 (step 5) who play in the Toulouse suburbs around the city’s primary airport. They currently sit 14th out of 16 in their group but, with a clear division between the sides, were heavy favourites.

Park the bus. This game was played at the Stade Municipal in St Vincent, normally home to the PSV reserves and under 17s. It’s located about a 30 minute drive from the county-town of Cahors, which is roughly a 90 minutes train ride from Toulouse or a short 11 hour trip from London.

Home Advantage. As mentioned above, this game was played out in St Vincent as opposed to PSV’s regular home at the Stade Henri Barrau in Pradines because of renovations to the changing rooms at the Henri Barrau. Having looked at a satellite image of the Stade Municipal, I was more than a little concerned/excited that the game would be played in a clearing in the woods.

Restricted view but nicer than the one at Raynes Park

As it happens, I wasn’t that far from the truth. It was a clearing in the woods but was most definitely a formal sporting arena, akin to those of the Scottish Juniors (for more info, visit our friends at No Train to Brechin), whilst also being one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever watched football.

A possible France 2016 venue?

The turnstile took the form of two old boys sitting round a small table on a bridge over a stream (sadly void of water). Having paid my 5 Euros, I entered the theatre of dreams to be greeted by a raised tree-lined verge which made for an excellent natural stand. The other sideline was relatively sparse, featuring a small concessions stand and van-powered amplifier which was used to announce the team line-ups and (presumably) other vital information.

Roll up roll up

A playground was located at the back of one end with additional training pitches behind of the other end. Oddly, the training pitches were fitted with floodlights but the main pitch was not.

Deux bieres, s'il vous plait

Prawn Sandwiches. The small hut on the sidelines was most definitely the primary source of beverages. A limited range of coffee, soft drinks and beer were available. Obviously, we went for beer. Sadly, our Kronenbergs was soured somewhat by the presence of Jamiroquai all over the can. As of right now I’m not squire sure who was sponsoring who.

Virtually Insanity

Il pleut

and the game. The first half saw some cracking performances from both sides, the game was probably of a similar standard to our step 6 and there was negligible difference between the two sides, despite Blagnac’s divisional advantage. The most notable difference was the attire of the coaching staff. PSV’s manager, trying to keep up the nods to big football clubs, was sporting jeans and a stereotypically French turtleneck jumper. On the other end of the spectrum, Blagnac’s head honcho donned a Chas Tenembaum tracksuit. He was all business.

The pitch wasn’t in the best shape so there was a lot of reliance on the high through-balls, something PSV’s keeper seemed pretty uncomfortable with. Once settled, PSV probably looked the more comfortable.

This in no small part was due to some of the most physical play I’ve ever witnessed. I know we were in rugby country but some of the savagery was nothing short of admirable. Key protagonist, was PSV number 5 and inspirational lord of violence, a man known only as ‘Fabien’. This guy was a flat-out mentalist. He was by far and away the biggest guy on the field, a good 6’3, 16 stone of nutter. To start with, there was a vicious stamp in the first 5 minutes, clearly in front of the referee. Having escaped punishment, big Fabien decided to go for an off the ball kick to the shins. Again, this was totally unpunished. They say that if you give a man enough rope, he’ll eventually hang himself. Not old Fabien, he thrives on having lots of rope. After getting involved in almost every decision given against (and sometimes for) PSV, he decided that feet are overrated and decided the best way to get the ball is to decapitate his opponent with a masterful shoulder to the face. The victim was out cold for a good few seconds and even Fabien was down on the ground grabbing is ailing shoulder. Those intrepid sleuths would smartly work out that man holding shoulder + man holding face = guilty man holding shoulder. Nope. Not even a ticking off. Spurned on by this is teammates started to join in with the savagery, luckily for Blagnac, the ref finally got wise to this and started to give out a few yellows.

Bat-shit crazy Fabien

In the end, Blagnac had the last laugh with a goal from a penalty box scramble towards the end of the first half.

The second half was more like a stock standard game of edgy cup football with Blagnac playing a lot of percentage football. Not exactly glamorous stuff, so questions have to be raised as to why Bernie Ecclestonewas on the sidelines taking notes.

Bernie

In the end, Blagnac were just about worthy of their 1-0 win and I was pleased to see big Fabien had mellowed somewhat, having a laugh with some of the PSV faithful and indeed some of his earlier victims, most of who cowered briefly before shaking hands.

Man of the Match.  I think it’s safe to say that the standard of refereeing in the lower leagues of the UK is pretty mince but bless ‘em, most of them just enjoy watching a good game of football. This character was no different, he was so keen to let the play go, that downright assaults were waved on. Commendable for fans of outright violence, Blagnac’s support may see it differently. Nevertheless, take a bow Monsieur Cebrian Jerome.

Post-match rub-down. The fixtures/flight times hadn’t been kind to me and for a long time it looked like I’d be struggling to find any games so I was grateful as always for the opportunity to enjoy some foreign football. PSV seemed like a really decent community sports project and were well supported with a crowd of around 150 watching their side’s cup exit. I doubt you’ll be in the neighbourhood any time soon, but if you are, the Lot Valley’s finest are well worth a punt.

Back to South London football action soon. We promise.

Blackheath Rugby Club

25 Sep

24 September 2011

National Division 1

Blackheath 27 v Wharfedale 24

The Rectory Field, Blackheath

Team Talk. Showing that the Pigeon Stands will not discriminate based on ball or goal shape we decided to check out some south London rugby. This ties in nicely with the Rugby Union World Cup that is currently being played in New Zealand. While perhaps not a popular view, I need events like the Rugby World Cup running alongside a football season that sometimes feels too lengthy.

Many will be aware of the close history that football and rugby share. Until the formal laying down of nationally accepted rules in the latter half of the 1800’s the two games were distinguished only by public school house rules on preferences for kicking or carrying the ball. Carrying famously (and clearly falsely) came about when William Webb-Ellis picked the ball up and ran with it in 1823 during a game at Rugby school. If Ellis had been at my school he would have got a right kicking for such an act, and rightly so.

Like most northern gents I prefer my rugby of the league variety and preferably played by the mighty Bradford Bulls. However I was willing to make an exception for Blackheath, a club worthy of a blog piece if only for it’s history.

Founded in 1858, Blackheath is the oldest open rugby club in the world. “Open” in this context meaning that membership was open to anyone and not only attendees or old boys from a particular school, university or hospital. It is also the third-oldest rugby club in continuous existence in the world, after Dublin University Football Club and Edinburgh Academical Football Club.

Blackheath, along with Civil Service FC, is also one of the two clubs that can claim to be a founder member of both the Football Association and the Rugby Football Union. In 1863 Blackheath took part in the meetings at the Freemasons’ Tavern in London to agree the laws of a game that would come to be recognised as football. Blackheath pulled out of joining the Football Association at the last minute as they could not accept a proposal to remove hacking from the game. Francis Maule Campbell, the 19 year old club treasurer and player, argued at one of the meetings that to remove hacking  would “do away with all the courage and pluck from the game…[and] bring over a lot of Frenchmen who would beat you with a weeks practice.”  In saying this, Maule Campbell perhaps foresaw the emergence of the modern Arsenal team and decided that it was not for him. Blackheath instead formed part of a breakaway group that formed the Rugby Football Union (RFU) in 1871.

New balls please

The club and it’s supporters are clearly very proud of their history.  This is in evidence when supporters shout for “club” during games rather than Blackheath, which dates back to the club’s beginnings. Maule Campbell’s important role in the club’s history was recently celebrated by the unveiling of a sculpture of the player in the main bar. This sculpture was produced by current Blackheath prop Desmond Brett.

Blackheath currently play in the National League 1 (two divisions below the Premiership).  Before today’s game with Wharfedale the club lay in 12th place having won 1 and lost 3 of their opening 4 games. Wharfedale, who are the main sports team in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, had the same record but were two places below Blackheath due to goal/try difference.

Park the bus. Blackheath’s ground at the Rectory Field is a short walk from Westcombe Park rail station (zone 3). Regular trains run from Cannon St (stopping at London Bridge) and takes about 17mins.

Home Advantage. Blackheath have played at the Rectory Field since 1883, having previously played matches on the heath itself, using the nearby Princess of Wales public house for changing and perhaps the odd refreshment.

Welcome mat

The Rectory Field ground is also the home of Blackheath Cricket Club. The main clubhouse at the west end of the pitch is very much in the cricket pavilion style and houses one of Blackheath’s three (yes three!) bars. There is even a fantastic balcony out front to watch the game from. The other two bars (the Barbarian bar and the outside bar) are also at the west end. There is no cover at the opposite end (and no bar) which probably explains why the majority of the support stay at the west end throughout the game.

West end

Club house - west end

Club house - west end

View of east end

On the south side of the pitch there are two raised concrete standing areas that are either side of the covered Peter Piper stand. This stand offers the main pitch side seating area for the ground and is also unquestionably where the peck of pickled peppers picked is kept. The side opposite the Peter Piper stand offers uncovered standing on the grass and temporary raised timber platforms.

South side

South side

Peter Piper stand - south side

North side standing

Today was family fun day. This could only mean one thing. Yes, a bouncy castle for the kids.

Prawn Sandwiches. Did I mention that Blackheath has three bars? The clubhouse bar is well stocked with ale at £2.80 a pint. This must have put the visiting Yorkshire wallets at ease. The clubhouse bar also serves as a trophy room and display space for various historic bits and bobs. The outside bar is much smaller, but perfectly located for nipping away to grab a drink mid game. The third bar is there just in case you cannot get a drink at one of the other two bars. Blackheath really know how to cater to the casual and heavy drinker alike. Beer can be drunk anywhere and the staff will even serve it in 4 pint pitchers. Many football clubs could learn a few lessons from this.

Club house bar

Club house bar

Club house bar trophy room

West end outside bar

Outside bar seating

Oh, and there is of course a burger hut for soaking up all the booze.

West end burger bar

and the game. Not one for the casual spectator this. The game was a very tight affair that was always going to be won by the team that made the least errors (of which there were plenty). The 20-7 half time lead massively flattered the home team and I was advised by Blackheath’s support that the team have thrown away bigger leads in recent time. And sure enough, Blackheath’s margin was slowly chipped away at by Wharfedale in the second half which led to the far tighter 27-24 final score that nevertheless gave Blackheath the win.

Pitcher invasion

Man of the Match. Seeing Wharfedale’s travelling support, many having braved the four hour drive down the A1 from the Yorkshire Dales, made me think about the support from my own Dulwich Hamlet that had hired a mini bus to travel to the Whitehawk estate in Brighton. Such devotion deserves recognition. So there you go.

Post-match rub-down. A fine club with a dedicated support. Well worth a visit if not only for the hospitality.

Beckenham Town

4 Sep

3 September 2011

FA Cup Preliminary Round

Beckenham Town 3 v Walton Casuals 1

Eden Park, Beckenham

Team Talk. Non-league day comes but once a year. The day when Premier League clubs are not in action and their supporters are encouraged to sample the delights of non league football. While non league day represents a much needed cash injection for the clubs, for me it is also a chance to show that the non league game is serious business with clubs, players and fans for whom the game means every bit as much as their league counterparts. It is a matter of pride god damn it.

Beckenham have started the season in pretty reasonable form. Something that fans of the club must be pleasantly surprised by as their pre season was horrendous. This included back to back 6-0 losses against AFC Wimbledon and Tonbridge Angels and a horrific string of defeats against Maidstone Utd (1-5), Welling Utd (1-5) and Herne Bay (2-4). Unfortunately Beckenham Town cancelled their final pre-season friendly against the mighty (and free scoring) Dulwich Hamlet. This was reportedly due to the Eden Park pitch being unavailable for the game. Naturally many amongst the Hamlet faithful opined that Beckenham’s dreadful form had led to them wussing out on the fixture.

Visitors today, Walton Casuals, could perhaps have done without the spotlight of non league day shining on them having started the new season with four straight losses, a start that is described diplomatically on their website as “indifferent”.  Surely they would be hoping that a victory in the FA Cup Preliminary would be just what they needed to get them out of their funk. Those turning up expecting Walton Casuals to put 5 or 6 past lower league opposition would however be disappointed.

Beckenham Town FC, the team formally known as Stanhope Rovers, have been knocking around the Kent league since the 1982/3 season. Beckenham’s best performance in the Kent League was in the 2005/6 season where a team managed by current Dulwich Hamlet manager Gavin Rose missed out on promotion in the last game of the season. The team has a long standing link with Crystal Palace, having been a feeder club for Palace in the 1950s. More recently, former Crystal Palace owner Mark Goldberg played for and managed the club in the 1980s.

Park the bus. Beckenham Town play at Eden Park, a few minutes walk from Eden Park rail station which is served by frequent trains from Charing Cross and Canon Street. Parking is available on site but is not advised as it’s a bit of a free for all.

Total gridlock

Home Advantage. Beckenham Town have called Eden Park home since 1980. The entrance is rather unassuming and the masses of parked cars (see above) on the narrow strip of land that takes you to the turnstiles does not make for much of a welcome.

This all changes once you get beyond the turnstile, as the cluttered feel is replaced with an expanse of green, provided by Beckenham’s main playing pitch and large warm up/reserves pitch that runs parallel.

Turnstiles

The timber club house that runs most of the length of the turnstile end of the pitch is a real treat, housing the bar, burger bar, dressing rooms, and no doubt a fine board room for treating those visiting dignitaries. The building looks like it dates from well before the 1980s and makes you wonder if it was brought in from elsewhere. Or perhaps it dates from pre-Beckenham Town days, as it resembles some form of cricket pavilion, a feel that is added to by the grassed area between the clubhouse and the pitch which is effectively used as a beer garden for chilling and watching the game, lovely.

Clubhouse

Clubhouse entrance

Cover around the pitch at Eden Park is limited to four short and open pigeon stands (two at the turnstile end and one on either side of the pitch) and a similarly short seated main stand on one side. The lack of cover did not matter to us as (1) it was scorching hot and (2) our seating was sorted early on as we stumbled upon a timber bench that can only be described as pure luxury. Whilst it resembled something my granddad would put in his garden, this was easily the most comfortable seat I have sat in at a football match to date and it kept us from moving for most of the first half. Even the local children, who were stood in front of us, sat down to give us a better view of the pitch (cheers kids).

Clubhouse end

Clubhouse end pigeon stand

Side pigeon stand

Main seated side stand

Seating in the main side stand

While we basked like pigs in muck on our luxury bench, guarding it jealously from all those who dared to even look twice at it, we were slightly crestfallen as we saw what was by far the best seat in the house. This must have been the directors box, a single seat placed on raised scaffolding between the dugouts. Accessed from a window cleaner’s ladder at the rear and resembling something between a tennis umpires seat and a diving board, this clearly gave a panoramic and unrivaled view of the action.

VIP seats

The directors box

Other features of interest at the ground included a classy “Welcome to Beckenham Town FC” etched (almost certainly with a stick) in the concrete at one of the entrances to the pitch, and the variety of warning signs placed around the pitch, including the obligatory “no ball games” (always a classic).

Prawn Sandwiches. If the exterior of the clubhouse at Beckenham has something of the 1950s about it, the bar inside is altogether different. Clearly recently refurbished and done out like a trendy wine bar, even the part of the bar referred to as the “old gits corner” was plush by non-league standards. To maintain the slightly seating related theme, the bar was set off by flash sofas that would not have looked out of place in the houses of Kensington and Chelsea. Drinks were very reasonably priced (ale – £2.70, cider £3) and there was even the option of watching Come Dine With Me on a telly in the bar if we didn’t fancy the second half. Beckenham Town really know how to treat supporters and visitors alike.

Inside club house

Bar - old gits corner

Similarly well priced were the burgers (£2) which were served up with a smile by hospitality manager Yvonne from a hole in the wall next the bar.

Burger hole

and the game. Despite the reservations beforehand, this turned out to be a fine game. This never looked like a game between two teams that were low on confidence. Nor did this Beckenham side look like the same team who were described as looking “a little out of shape” by the authors of this blog during our visit to VCD Athletic last season.

In fact the football on display was of high quality with Walton in particular showing some lovely touches early on and making a push for goal. This effort was rewarded with the award of a penalty after 15 mins which allowed the visitors to go one up. Becks responded fantastically by pinning the Walton defence back for long periods of the first half. The leveler for Beckenham was the conclusion of an incisive breakaway on the half hour mark that was coolly finished by the outstandingly named Elstrom Die.

As they had played at such a high tempo in the first half we suspected that Beckenham would run out of steam in the second and could be ripe for a pounding. However this proved not to be the case and, led by their talismanic striker Die, they soldiered on. Yes I can confirm that Beckenham Town DIE HARD (sorry).

In reality it was always going to take something pretty special to separate these two teams. And special it was, a goal of such sublime comedy that even the Edinburgh Fringe’s annual comedians v critics charity match could not have produced it. Starting harmlessly enough from one of the many Becks breakaways, things descended into madness with an edge of box drive that looked set for the top corner. To the surprise of many the ball hit the underside of the crossbar, remaining in play and then cannoning off an unsuspecting Walton defender in the six yard box. The ball then somehow managed to find its way to hitting the keeper square in the face before landing in the back of the net. Even the linesman could not help but laugh uncontrollably as the keeper sat clutching his face in agony. While I was not able to film the incident this video should give a flavour of the hilarity.

Oh yes, and Becks scored a third to guarantee their place in the next round of the FA cup and leave us having watched a thoroughly entertaining game.

Shots of the action (but unfortunately not one of the keeper taking one in the face – so to speak) can be found here

Man of the Match. “Non league day is a brilliant idea” not my words but the words of ex England winger and mullet wearer Chris “looked a bit lazy but was actually mint” Waddle. Waddle should know as he is the proud ambassador of non-league day. More importantly the day is also endorsed by Dulwich Hamlet man mountain Francis “the Count” Duku, and trust me you do not mess with the Dukes if you know what’s good for you. In fact, to maximise support for next year’s non league day I would suggest a poster campaign like this:

Seriously though, non league day is only in its second year and already feels like a much anticipated part of the non-league calendar. This can only be down to the hard work of my men and women of the match, the organisers of non –league day. Let’s also not forget those of us who attend non league games week in week out who have also done a great job spreading the word.

Post-match rub-down. Right, Beckenham Town. What can I say other than they appeared to be a well supported club with a team that play the game the right way. Did I also happen to mention the quality of the seats?