Sunday, 28 February 2010

Non-League photo extra

Joe Keehan makes light of the smashed advertising hoardings to fire The Rooks into a 1-0 lead from the penalty spot.

No report from me this Saturday as I rarely cover Lewes home matches (There is a God - Ed). I took just the one photo at the relegation "six-pointer" against Worcester. Just briefly then; (here we go - Ed) The Rooks were 3-0 to the good with a mere 18 minutes remaining. Just as cigars were being lit on the Spion Kop and plans hatched as to how we were going to carry all six points home (Keith Norman prematurely volunteered to make room in his van by shifting the lawnmower out) back came Worcester, who delivered a swift blow to the nether regions with three late goals. 3-3 and mayhem in the "Jungle" up the other end of the ground as Worcester fans wheeled down the terrace in cartwheels of delight.

Pleased as I was with the above photo, news had filtered through from our friends at The Ball is Round Blog that Mr Fuller - who was covering Staines v Eastleigh - had taken the Non-League photo of the year! Well, we will be the judge of that shall we!? Here it is then:

The 2010 Non-League Photo of the Year!?

Yep, he'd only gone and done it. Bear in mind that he doesn't use a professional camera with a fancy long lens and all that gubbins. In fact the only preparation Mr Fuller uses for taking photos is a couple of pre-match pints. You can read the whole story behind this photo with added tales of dodgy barmaids and inventive terrace banter at The Ball is Round's Staines v Eastleigh report.

Whilst I'm here, I might as well tell you that we're off to Basingstoke Town (v Lewes) next Saturday before we jet off to Denners and Sweden for an actual European Football Weekend. They'll be features and match reports on Basingstoke, Helsingborgs, FC Copenhagen, Brondby, Odense BK, Borussia Dortmund and lots more as well as an exclusive interview with Wolves defender Jody Cradddock - so stay tuned for more nonsense.

- Was that the photo of the year? Have you done any better? Feel free to comment below -

Friday, 26 February 2010

Free (free!) EFW badges

EFW dismiss popular adage

There's no such thing as a free badge according to the popular adage. Well, let us put that little phrase to bed right here, right now. To celebrate the fact we now have 417 EFW Facebook members and 133 followers of our EFW Twitter feed - all landmark figures I'm sure you'll agree - I've had 133 EFW badges made up and will be dishing them out all willy nilly for free and stuff.

If you want one or a set of all five then let me know and I'll post them out to you.

- Feel free to comment below -

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

D.C. United

United We Stand

- Click on photos to enlarge image -

So far our American road trip has seen us call in at Seattle, Portland and Chicago. It was rather inevitable that the giant EFW Winnebago would eventually pull in at Washington to seek out the black-and-red of D.C. United. That's because DCU are often credited with being the first club in the MLS to establish a proper fan base. Also, as Director Kyle Sheldon proudly pointed out to EFW this week "We're the most successful team in U.S. Soccer history having won 12 trophies in 14 seasons, including our domestic championship and the MLS cup on four occasions".

DCU can also boast three major supporters groups in La Barra Brava, La Norte and the Screaming Eagles. Each of these groups occupies a different area of the stadium making for quite a sight and plenty of noise on matchdays. The Washington Post captured the magic of the Barra Brava in an excellent article published a couple of years ago. We asked Kim Kolb of the Screaming Eagles to tell us more about their group:

The Screaming Eagles are an original Supporter's Group of DC United. In fact, it predates United by a year, as our founder started the group as soon as MLS teams were announced. We're a non-profit entity that has over 1200 members. The background that started it was more European than the other DC groups, but truth is that the style have both morphed into something between at Euro and South American style. Singing, chanting, group sarcasm, streamers, banners. In the stadium, the Screaming Eagles now takes up three sections of RFK, and sometimes expands into others. The organization and execution of all Screaming Eagles activities is purely voluntary and lots of folks pour in hours of effort each week. Away from the field, the Screaming Eagles are active in a lot of charity work both with DC United and on its own in trying to spread the word and joy of soccer around the area and to help out other worthy causes.

Are the club themselves supportive of the group? In a word: Yes. The team has given the groups a lot of leeway on a lot of things, especially concerning things like stadium rules. They understand that the atmosphere is a benefit to them, and if/when issues arise, they're very willing to work with all three of the major groups (or any other groups of fans) to come to a solution that will work for everyone.

Flag day for the Screaming Eagles

For more info on Kim and the Screaming Eagles you can check out his rather splendid SE Nest Liner Blog. Of particular interest, was the interview he gave to our friends at Pitch Invasion in which SE founder Mat Mathai gives a great insight in the first steps of the Eagles.

So what more is there to DCU!? Well, who better we thought than fan Max Rosenthal to tell us more:

So aside from Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles, there is a third "group" of supporters? Yes, La Norte is another group that stands "behind" the north goal at RFK. "Behind" because RFK actually no longer has stands directly behind the goal, so they are off to the side. They're another group in the South American tradition that stands, beats drums, waves flags, and sings for 90 minutes. They're significantly smaller than the Barra or the Eagles, but they're a great group with a lot of passion.

Is the RFK stadium ideal for soccer matches? RFK really isn't ideal for anything, since it's a) ancient and crumbling, b) designed as a multisport stadium, and c) costs the club a fortune to rent and use. But, financial issues aside, it's a good home for United. What's left of the lower bowl is a great size for a typical MLS crowd, and the decks above tend to trap in sound and make a great atmosphere. Also, the "Loud Side" sections where the Barra and Eagles stands are mounted on huge rollers that used to move back and forth for football and baseball configurations. That makes them bouncy if jumped on, and the Barra puts that to good use, which is great to take part in or just watch. There's very much a "it's a dump, but it's OUR dump" mentality. But we'd all like a new stadium on the whole.

Is it one of those out of town stadiums? Absolutely not. It's right in DC proper and accessible by the Metro. It's not downtown, but it's most definitely an urban stadium.

The accessible RFK Stadium

What sort of crowds do you attract in terms of numbers? Usually about 17 or 18K, though crowds were down last year. 20K or better isn't uncommon.

Any advance on that report in the Baltimore Sun last year which mentioned a new purpose-built 20,000+ capacity stadium for DC United? Not too familiar with that particular report but the stadium situation is kind of a mess, and no one but the ownership seems to know what's going on. The past two years have seen plans fall apart in both the District and Prince George's County in Maryland, with no Plan C at present that the fans are aware of. For now, United is stuck in RFK, which is obviously making fans nervous. There's significant worry about the possibility of the club being moved to another city, though Will Chang, the owner, says that he doesn't want to relocate.

How does soccer rank in Washington when compared to other sports? Definitely towards the bottom. You have to remember that DC is a four-sport town, so you have the Redskins, Wizards (NBA), Caps (NHL), and Nats (baseball) ahead of us, plus college sports. That having been said, though, United definitely isn't neglected.

How much coverage do you get in the local media? A good amount, actually, United is treated as a truly major league team in DC. The Washington Post has a soccer beat writer in Steven Goff, and there has been regular coverage in the Washington Times (though I think this may have ended now due to budget cuts) and the Washington Examiner, two other smaller local papers. The team also seems to do a lot of stuff on DC 101, one of the local radio stations. Sports talk radio is definitely not very United-friendly, but that's par for the course in the States. On the whole I'd say we're much more on the media radar than most other MLS clubs.

DC United are the most successful club in MLS history right? Yep, United has won four league titles, four Supporter's Shields (the trophy that goes to the club with the best regular-season point total), two US Open Cups, and one each of the CONCACAF Champions' Cup and the Interamerican Cup. United was also the first MLS team to win an international competition. It's a proud record, but the fans are definitely hungry for another title.

We like a beer with our football...sorry soccer here in England. What is the beer of choice in Washington? Ha, there's no standard, though Guinness is a perennial favorite. Tailgates are very much BYOB, so you'll get everything from Bud to Latin American beers to microbrews. And whiskey. Lots of whiskey.

If we came over from England for a match, where would be the best place to meet up with the home fans for a beer and a chat? Lot 8 at RFK is the only place to be for a home game. For away games there are a few bars that United fans tend to congregate, like Molly Malone's in southeast DC and Summer's in Arlington, VA.

Is there a tailgating culture at home games? Yes, a huge one, all of the groups camp out in Lot 8 for hours before every game. It's just hours of amazing food, drinking, kickarounds, tifo and song prep, sports on the TV, etc. The standard advice to people who want to start coming to games with the supporters groups is to come out to the tailgate with a bottle of booze. It works. Even our owner is a regular sight at Lot 8.

Do you have an alliance with fans of any other teams? Not really. There are some clubs with whom fan relations are pretty good, Houston and Toronto come to mind.

Who are your rivals? We hate the Metroscum (New York Red Bulls) above all, which works out for us since they're shit in nearly every possible sense. There's nothing more fun than ruining them again and again and again. There's also tough rivalry with Chicago, who we have an unfortunate habit of losing to in the playoffs. We always want to beat them both in the field and in the stands. LA Galaxy, Columbus, and New England are definitely teams DC fans love to hate, and there is a brewing thing with Seattle based on their arrogance and whining about the location of the US Open Cup final last year.

I don't suppose - given the size of the USA - you have what we would call a local derby or local rivals, so what do you consider to be your biggest match of the coming season? Metroscum away, there's no doubt. There's nothing better than watching their pathetic fan base suffer yet another home defeat, and we usually get to enjoy that every year (we used to refer to Giants Stadium as RFK North). Now they've got their new stadium, Red Bull Arena, which is admittedly gorgeous, and we want to spoil their party with another ass-kicking.

Do you take fans to away matches? Definitely, though the size of the away support depends heavily on the game and also the day, with weekday and Sunday games being less conducive to a road trip. We might see 500 going up to New Jersey, 200 to Columbus or Chicago, and 25-50 to somewhere like LA or Seattle. There are, of course, other DC fans in the stadium, but those are generally the sizes you'd expect for the "away fans" section.

Who is the club mascot? Talon, a big white eagle in a DC jersey.

Are there any off-the-field cheesy shenanigans before, during or after matches such as music after goals, confetti, firing t-shirts into the crowd that sort of thing?
Not really, United really lets the supporters dominate things atmosphere-wise. No cheerleaders, no promotional wackiness, etc. If there's confetti and streamers around, it's coming from the Barra.

Confetti, streamers and a barrage of noise from the Barra Brava

Talon the club mascot

Do DC United fans follow other codes of sport in Washington? Absolutely, nearly every other sport you can think of. During the fall, you'll usually find a good number of TVs at the tailgate turned to college football. Lots of United fans are big-time Redskins fans, there's a pretty decent collection of people that follow the the Capitals, Georgetown and Maryland basketball fans, etc. etc. And of course, nearly everyone has a favorite club in another league, especially England, Spain, or the Latin American leagues that a lot of people followed before they moved to the States.

What are your hopes for the coming MLS season? Personally, I don't have too many. I haven't been terribly impressed by our choice of a new coach, Curt Onalfo, or our off-season acquisitions. And the team has yet to score a goal in the preseason. If we make the playoffs, it'll be a good year.

Which players should we look out for? Definitely a few. Our keeper, Troy Perkins, is back in MLS after two years in Norway and it will be interesting to see how much he's developed. He was one of the best in the league before he left and I really think he's going to be stellar now. Christian Castillo is our new left winger and I'm really curious to see how he does, he's the one off-season signing I'm excited about. Playing actual wing players in the midfield is not par for the course for DC, we've developed a habit of playing converted A-mids or strikers, so this is a great change of pace. Chris Pontius had a great rookie season playing in a ton of positions last year, hopefully this year he'll be settled as a striker and rack up the goals. He's currently in the USA training camp, potentially a star in the making for club and country. And as always, you have to pay attention to how Jaime Moreno will fare. He's the heart of the club and it seems that no matter how old he gets, no one can quite replace his creative role, so we'll have to see how he slots in this year.

Chris Pontius heading to the World Cup in South Africa?

And finally, can you sum up DCU in a Tweet of less than 140 characters? Nothing less than the flagship of American soccer, now and forever.

Thanks to DCUNITED.COM, the Screaming Eagles and SarahandSean on Flickr for the photos.

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Friday, 19 February 2010

FC United of Manchester

Better the Devil you know?

'Brave Rebels', 'irrelevant outsiders' 'self publicists' and 'a right bunch of dicks'. Not my words, but phrases that have been used to describe and deride the fans and actions of FC United of Manchester since a group of disenchanted fans decided to set up their own club in reaction to the takeover of Manchester United by the loathsome US businessman Malcom Glazer.

Far from letting this unsettle them, the fans have taken these insults with a pinch of salt and more importantly a sense of humour. Since being founded in 2005, "The Red Rebels" have risen through three levels of the English Football League system to the 7th tier, where they currently reside playing in the Northern Premier League Premier Division.

I'm guessing you've already heard of Manchester United and are fairly familiar with their story? So, EFW thought we'd take a look at FCUM - a story that interests us a great deal more if we're honest - and so we got in touch with the club that were born in hope and live in hope:

How integral is FCUM’s role within the community to the ethos of the club? At FC United our members set out to be a supporter-run community club that works with the community, and that is exactly what we have achieved.

As we have found our feet on the football pitch, we have also taken root within the community with a wide-ranging series of initiatives, from fund raising for local charities, working with schools and communities in deprived areas through supporting local organisations, to helping with young offender programmes across Greater Manchester.

We currently work with more than 100 local organisations including schools, colleges, sports clubs, youth clubs, mosques, churches, ethnic minority organisations, housing associations, councils, Connexions, NACRO, Youth Offenders Teams, residential care homes, organisations for disabled people, children’s charities, refugee projects and youth advocacy on a wide range of projects.

On match days, FC United holds a strict ticket pricing policy of charging £7.50 for adults and £2 for children, and holds a number of match day initiatives including an annual Youth United Day involving more than 1,000 young people being invited to attend a free match day festival, and an annual People United Day designed to celebrate ethnic diversity and unity.

Are you havin' a laugh? They'll be watching FC.

How important is it for FCUM to move to their own ground? Having a ground of our own is hugely important to the club. We currently groundshare with Bury FC – while it has been a coup to share a league ground, it is nevertheless expensive due to the necessary stewarding costs and also some distance outside the city boundary. Being able to develop and move into our own ground will make such a difference to us as a club – it will be a tangible symbol of our long-term ambition, something we can share with the local community, and will raise money to secure the future of FC United.

Are the fans and Bury FC as a club happy with the current groundsharing arrangement? We appreciate the standard of facilities at Gigg Lane. You would have to ask Bury FC for their opinion about the groundshare. (Mental note to self: post letter to Bury FC - Ed).

What drew you to FCUM? Like-minded people who wanted to provide a sustainable alternative to watching Manchester United at Old Trafford. That was the original attraction... once we attended the first game at Leigh, we were hooked! Standing and singing with our mates, being able to afford to bring the whole family, seeing our team mingling with supporters after the game and embracing our community ethos has all added to a strong sense of ownership and pride.

This iconic image of centre forward Joz Mitten was taken after FCUM's first ever game.

What’s the club’s medium/long term aim? Does it want to become a Football League club or is it intent on climbing the pyramid as and when? Getting our own ground is key for the reasons stated earlier. As and when this is achieved, we can look at what the future may hold. The future direction is down to the club owners and collectively we will decide how far we want the club to go.

If the Glazers left United, does the club anticipate a drop in support as disgruntled MUFC fans return to Old Trafford? FC United is one of a number of clubs that has proved supporter-ownership is a sustainable model for football. We have a core support that wants to continue enjoying what we have created. Any return to Old Trafford would depend on who the new owners are, what they would charge for tickets, and how they run the club (eg any supporter involvement).

During FCUM’s birth, there was said to be tacit support from a few United players, particularly Solskjaer. Is that support still evident now? You would have to approach the individual players to ask them their opinions; we cannot answer on their behalf. (Additional note to self: send text to Giggsy and Scholesy - Ed).

They don't have to sell their soul.

Has the club ever received any support from MUFC or is it effectively viewed as “person non grata?” You would have to ask MUFC on their views of us. (Further note to self: Send Lord Ferg a fax).

Do you still consider yourself to be a MUFC supporter? Yes.

Do FCUM fans still attend MUFC matches? Some do both. Some still refuse to go to any games. Some go only to away games. Some were priced out of Old Trafford before 2005. I’m not sure you can generalise about a FCUM fan other than a shared love for our club.

Children of the revolution.

Are FCUM attendences effected by whom MUFC are playing? We have a hardcore regular support of around two thousand for home games. Ironically if there is an effect on our gates it can often come when a big game on TV, which tells you a lot about how a large number of supporters priced out of top-flight football are getting their ‘football fix’

Are you concerned about recent debt revelations from United or have you ‘moved on’ now? United supporters are hugely worried about the debt that Manchester United is in. The amount of money being leeched out of the club by the current owners is sickening.

Do you get accused of being a “judas”, having turned your back on United when maybe the need to show support is greater than ever in order to remove the Glazers? We did not turn our backs on United. A number of our supporters refused to pay any money to Glazer as they believe the only way to rid the club of leeches like him is to boycott and cut off the cash supply. It is very hard not going to watch the club you love and that you have grown up supporting.

Barrow or Birmingham City? You've got the time it takes for the board to revolve.

If the Glazers left tomorrow, would you go back to Old Trafford? It would depend, based on the reasons stated earlier.

You've lent your support to the green and gold until we're sold protest, wearing different coloured scarves is all well and good but in my opinion the only way to really make a difference at OT would be for a 100% boycott of matches. That would result in some direct action surely? Whether to boycott or not is down to personal choice. It was in 2005 and remains so now. We didn’t seek the moral high ground then and tell supporters what to do and we don’t now.

Is FCUM building a supporter base in its own right, regardless of appealing to unhappy MUFC supporters? Our manifesto drawn up five years ago states that we exist to address the concerns of disenfranchised Manchester United supporters. That remains the case now. We offer an alternative for those that are.

Rory Patterson now of Coleraine FC scored 107 goals in 126 appearance for FCUM.

I'm guessing the 'non-league experience' is relatively new to most of your fans. No ticket hassles, changing ends at HT, beer on the terracing, no airport type security upon entry. It is a world away from Old Trafford no!? It’s not new, we’ve been enjoying it for five years.

What sort of numbers do you take to away games? From 700 to 1,000 depending on location.

I've heard your support is very vocal. Are all the songs 100% about FCUM? Our team manager Karl Marginson loves the 90-90 rule – 90 per cent of our fans sing for the 90 minutes. These days, the majority of songs are about our club and the lads playing their hearts out for us, but we find time to sing about the removal of Glazer and certain Manchester United players, past and present.

"Making friends not millionaires"

Have you made any friends or foes in rise up the non-leagues? We would hope no foes. One of our earliest tag lines was “making friends, not millionaires” which reflects the fact we are a not-for-profit organisation.

Are you generally well received by other clubs and fans on your travels? Yes.

Is FCUM able to attract supporters who follow other clubs in the area, or does the MUFC connection put them off? We’re a broad church providing affordable football, if supporters of other clubs want to attend our games then hopefully they will enjoy it.

Inspired by the past. Welcome to the future.

How easy has it been to form a new club from scratch in the north west, a region which is not short on football clubs with long histories? We formed the club five years ago in less than six weeks. Our success since then speaks volumes.

Is the club’s co-operative, one member one vote model an effective one in relation to the day-to-day operation of the club? Yes it works very well. Our owners vote on the big issues and the board vote on the day to day decisions.

What advice would you give to other club’s considering a more community-based approach along the basis of the FCUM model? Give supporters a voice in running the club. No-one cares more about the club than the supporters and they can make all the difference in ensuring the club is set up to prosper.

Away to Sheffield in the FA Cup at the Coach and Horses Ground. What's not to like?

And finally, why did you make the decision to form a new club rather than looking to go and watch the likes of Rochdale, Bury or Oldham who were already locally established clubs in the area? One of the main aims of FC United was to keep together those supporters who were not prepared to fund the Glazers. Having been ‘taken over’ ourselves we could hardly do the same by arriving en-masse at another club demanding our own way. And besides none of them would be “ours” and we would not feel any connection with any of them. Creating our own club gives s that connection, something to feel part of, something to own and run, and something to celebrate.

Thanks a million to Andy McIntyre, Andy Barker and Mick Dean for the photos. You can check out more of their work and other fine photos of FCUM here, there, here and indeed there - oh and me!

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Thursday, 18 February 2010

Rochdale AFC

Dale of the Century

Its become a bit of a traditional for the EFW Team to treat ourselves to an annual day out to the Wembley for the League Two play-off final each May. Some of the teams we've seen have made lasting impressions with us and we've end up following their every move, whereas others, we've unceremoniously tossed straight back in the sea. Since we saw them lose 2-3 to Stockport in the 2008 final, Rochdale AFC have put their foot firmly in the lasting impressions camp.

We certainly don't want to see them again at this years final though. Having famously spent 35 years in League Two/Division Four/Basement Division call it what you want, Dale are now - as I type - top of the league, 8 points clear of Rothers in fourth place with just 18 games to play.

If Rochdale do gain that illusive promotion, then manager Keith Hill will surely become the biggest thing to come out of the town since Cyril Smith. Their fans in Lancashire keeping everything crossed that this team really could be the 'Dale of the Century'.

To celebrate their efforts this season and to help spur them onto success, we dialled up Colin Cavanah, Editor of to find out a bit more about The Dale:

What is the best thing about supporting Rochdale? The best thing about supporting Rochdale is that we are a million miles away from the Premiership. We're supporters, not customers, and we genuinely feel like we're part of the club. We enter each season believing we have a genuine chance, and each game with the hope of victory, rather than these Premiership sides celebrating wildly at goalless draws.We do things properly, live within our means, and when things get tight, we budget accordingly.

Supporters not customers.

And the worst? The worst thing is competing amongst a set of clubs who operate under a different set of rules. Teams who make signings above their station, prospering as a result before going down the easy route of administration not long after. When we reached Wembley in 2008, we did so despite having to sell our top scorer. Opponents Stockport beat us, yet found themselves unable to pay their way within weeks. Until the FL get to grips and start relegating sides, it will continue to happen.

What is the RAFC support like in terms of numbers and noise? In terms of home supporters, we get anything between 2,500 and 3,500 depending on all the usual factors like League position, weather, time of the year etc. Like most sides in our division, home support is usually quiet at the best of times, with the vocal support usually coming on our travels. For a few years, we've had the best away support in terms of percentage of home support apparently.

What is the away allocation given to fans at Spotland and do any teams in League Two ever fill that? Rather bizarrely we give our best stand to away fans, meaning that they have over 3,500 seats for away supporters. It's not been filled for a League Two game as of yet, but a couple of sides have come close. Hartlepool probably were the closest when they came chasing the title a few years back.

Who have been the best fans to visit Spotland this season? It's always tough to judge the best away fans. In terms of noise produced, it was undoubtedly Accrington Stanley, but they're an example of one of those horrible facebook group created sets of supporters which always feel a little bit manufactured. Sadly, they've inspired a number of copycat groups at other League Two sides.

Spotland the Brave

Who are RAFC's rivals? Can't look further than Bury on this one. Separated by about six miles, it's one of the closest derbies in English football (ignoring those where it's 2 teams within the same town or city). The geography of so many football clubs in the North West area can see rivalries come and go depending on who is in the same division. For many supporters, Oldham remain the long term rivals but we've not played them in a League in most supporters' lifetimes.

Sadly, there has been crowd disorder in recent games with Bury hasn't there? I think that's giving it too much importance. It's the usual story that the heavy police presence allows certain groups from both clubs to act all mouthy and play the hard man routine knowing full well that the Police have things well under control and that there's no chance of breaking through the Police lines for an actual confrontation. Unfortunately, the 99% majority suffer with pub closures and early kick offs because of this.

Do the majority of people in Rochdale support the local team? Yes. Apart from they think the local team is United or City. You get many a City supporter in Rochdale pubs, complaining that United fans don't come from Manchester ignoring the obvious irony. I suppose given our history, we don't do too bad for supporters, with the crowds these days massively up on the crowds I grew up with back in the 1980's.

What is Rochdale like as a town? It's not great. It perhaps speaks volumes that the most successful thing about the town is the Football League's least successful club.

What pubs would you recommend in town if the EFW team came to visit Spotland? Spotland is a great trip if you're coming for a drink. There's not many clubs with a proper, genuine, not club owned pub built into the ground (The Dale Bar), and there's a pub about thirty yards from the away end turnstiles with a chippy en route (The Church Inn). Slightly further afield is the Cemetery which is legendary in the real ale circles.

Hands up who fancies a pint in The Dale Bar!?

Tell us about the Dale Trust. It's not as well run as it used to be. Seriously, they do a fantastic job and are very well respected within the fan base. I think they've got the correct balance between working with the club and working on behalf of the supporters. There's no ambition on their part to own the club, but there's enough shareholding to allow them to stick their nose in and have their say. Perhaps just as importantly, the club themselves look upon the Trust in a very positive way, and are happy to work with them.

Famously, you've spent 35 years in the same division - a fact you must be sick of. There is going to be on helluva party if you go up this season isn't there? I don't think anyone can actually predict the sort of scenes that there'll be. All these years have led to a very cautious outlook, and we're not going to make any sort of preparations as to what might happen. Let's wait for it to be mathematically certain first.

What has been the best moment in RAFC history to date? From a personal point of view, it was the season where they introduced relegation from the Football League. At one point, we were dead and buried - six points adrift at Easter. However, a little lad called Lyndon Simmonds joined us on loan from Leeds and provided us with one of the most remarkable comebacks to ensure League survival.

Do you like the fact you share the ground with the local rugby league club - The Hornets? In an ideal world, yes. It's allowed both clubs to obtain grants to improve Spotland from a ramshackle shed into a super little stadium. However, the last few years have seen the Rugby Club been nothing but trouble, with their lack of contribution over the years a real sticking point for a large number of Dale supporters. When they went into administration last year, we lost out to the tune of around £80,000.

Can you sum up Dale in a Tweet of less than 140 characters? Is that like a Facebook status thing? This dog is currently having its day.

I think most neutrals outside of Bury will join us in wishing Dale all the best for the remainder of the season. The EFW Team have definitely got the last game of the season - away to Barnet on May 8th - inked in our diaries.

See you at Barnet our kid!

Thanks to the Rochdale Observer for the photos and of course Colin for being so generous with his time.

- Feel free to comment below -

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Barry Glendenning

Guardian angel

Evidently, I'm not alone in appreciating the sophisticated wit, scepticism and cynicism of the genial Barry Glendenning. His minute by minute match reports are often the most read thing on the Guardian website - with its 33 million (million!) readers. Furthermore, he's the maestro largely responsible for The Fiver; a flipping marvellous tea-time satirical newsletter that brightens up umpty thrumpty inboxes every weekday.

Glendenning also sprinkles magic on the Football Weekly podcast (simply the best bit of football media one can digest) and has started casting his spell on the new Today in Sport - Live! feature which will undoubtedly result in yet more damage to your F5 key as update your PC throughout the day, whilst pretending to do some work.

Anyway, enough of the pleasantries (phew - Ed), EFW was delighted to be granted an exclusive interview with the Big G. So, pull up a chair and join us we chat about paranoid Everton fans, Cash in the Attic and why Dara O Briain is erm....a "fucker".

Satirical daily emails, minute by minute reports, Football you ever long to get out of the office and report on matches? On cold winter afternoons I often yearn for an away day in Crewe or Wolverhampton, sitting in a press box trying to type 300 words of pristine prose to a tight deadline with frozen fingers, but unfortunately my paymasters rarely see fit to unshackle me from my desk, so it remains a pipe dream.

Are there any sports other than football you take a keen interest in? I will watch anything, even that nonsense on Eurosport where blokes compete against each other to see who can ride a motorbike the furthest up a very steep hill, fall off near the summit and then tumble all the way back down while trying to avoid their bouncing bike. As far as keen interests outside of football go, I love horse racing, cricket, rugby and Ireland's national sport of hurling. But like I said, I'll watch pretty much anything: tennis, golf, snooker, darts, rugby league, Aussie Rules, boxing, gaelic football, cycling, motor racing … you name it. There are very few sports that I've never warmed to, but basketball is one of them. I wouldn't cross the street to watch an NBA game. I had a Polish builder doing a job in my house recently and he was trying to extol the virtues of handball, but I wasn't convinced.

How long do think it'll be before a Premiership club goes out of business? I would not be hugely surprised if Portsmouth go out of business by the time I finish answering this question. They seem to be very badly run and while it would be an awful shame for their fans if they did go to the wall, my podcasting partner James Richardson recently made the excellent point that at least there's another team in nearby Southampton that their fans will be able to support instead.

Football fans take themselves too seriously don't they? A lot of them do, but then so do a lot of football writers and pundits. People need to lighten up a bit and realise football's just an ongoing soap opera, much like EastEnders or Corontation Street. You only have to read the comments that appear under certain articles on the Guardian sportblog to see how seriously some fans take it and how completely deluded and unaccustomed to failure many of them are. Some of the correspondence we get from fans who think we're biased against their team is genuinely funny and often astonishingly abusive. One of my favourite emails was an angry email we got from an Everton fan who accused us of deliberately not publishing the Premier League leading-scorers table for a few weeks because Yakubu featured prominently on it. Just to fuel his paranoia, I'm very tempted to publish one with a thick black line through the names of any Everton players that might feature on it ... if only I could find one with any Everton players on it.

You'll be writing about the World Cup for the Guardian, how do you rate England's chances? I honestly don't think England have a snowball's chance in hell of winning the World Cup, which is an opinion that doesn't go down very well with some of my English friends. But they've had Ireland under the heel of oppression for over 800 years now, so I don't care what they think. They might have forgotten what Cromwell did, but I haven't.

If England fail to win the World Cup in South Africa, it'll be the English media's fault for bigging them up again right? I don't care whose fault it is (although a small part of me hopes it's John Terry's fault), so long as they come home empty-handed. England's a great country which has been very good to me, but the jingoistic smugness that would accompany a World Cup win would be unbearable for me as an envious Paddy. Myself and a couple of Irish mates have already decided that if England make it to the final, we're going to spend the 90 minutes of the game doing laps of the London Underground's Circle Line. Then once we reckon the match is over, we'll alight from the Tube and emerge blinking into the sunlight to see what the prevailing mood is on the street.

The Football Weekly podcast is hugely popular. Why? Good question. The world and his wife are podcasting about football now, but I like to think we're holding our own, if you'll pardon the expression. At least I hope we are - I very rarely listen to any of our "rivals", because I worry I'll end up absorbing other people's opinions or jokes and passing them off as my own. We try not to take ourselves or the football we're talking about too seriously, which I think is one of our more endearing qualities. It's very easy to become pompous and decide that, just because you're talking into a microphone and being broadcast on t'internet, your opinion is more valid than that of somebody pontificating from a bar-stool down in their local pub. If anyone, including me, falls into that trap on Football Weekly, they're quickly cut down to size. It's important also to remember that you can't please all of the people all of the time, so there's no point in trying. We have a number of listeners who claim to hate our show and everyone on it, especially me, but they still tune in religiously, presumably just to confirm that I'm still a prick. I find that very strange. It's like hitting yourself with a stick or burning yourself with cigarettes for 40 minutes twice a week - why on earth would you do it? I think Cash In The Attic is rubbish so I just don't watch it. I certainly wouldn't Sky+ it just to further infuriate myself at the end of a long day.

Will there be a daily version during the World Cup? The honest answer is that I don't know, but I expect there will be. For logistical reasons, I suspect we'll be doing it from London with added input from our boys and girls on the ground dotted around South Africa.

Can you describe your typical working day at Guardian Towers? I can, but I'm not going to. A lot of people seem to think it's a glamourous gig and I'd prefer not to shatter their illusions.

Is there a sport or other subject you would prefer to write about other than football? I must be the only journalist alive who has no interest in writing a book, but I've always fancied trying my hand at a sit-com. However, I'm aware that the older I get the less likely it is to happen. I'm very, very lazy.

Are there any plans afoot to charge for the Football Weekly podcast? Not that I'm aware of. Why? What have you heard? Will I be on commission? I certainly hope we don't start charging for it, because then we'd have to up our game and start taking it more seriously. No good could come of that.

Do you have any interest in Non League football? I'm embarrassed to say that I don't. However, one of our office administrators/fixers, Yvonne, without whom many of our journalists would be unable to get dressed properly in the morning, never mind book into a hotel or catch a plane, is a rabid Luton Town fan who never misses a game, home or away. I'm in awe of her dedication to the Hatters and the close proximity of my desk to her's means I have no choice but to take in interest in their progress in the Blue Square Premier League. I can tell you without looking that they're fifth at the moment, so they're doing quite well in trying circumstances, but possibly not as well as Yvonne would like.

Who are you favourite sporting personalities? I'm a horse racing enthusiast and have the highest of regard for jump jockeys. Not just the really good ones, like Tony McCoy, Ruby Walsh and Timmy Murphy, but all of them. They're so brave, often to the point of total foolhardiness, that I'm honestly in awe of them because I'm far too much of a coward to even try what they do. Although the vast majority are not particularly well paid, they put their lives on the line every time they go out to race, often riding poorly schooled, stupid or lazy horses over big fences at top speed in terrible weather. I mean, it's so dangerous they get followed by an ambulance, for heaven's sake. In what other line of work is that kind of precaution required? And the stoic shrugs with which many of them deal with bad, bone-crunching falls really puts the theatrics of certain diva footballers into perspective. Jump jockeys are as hard as nails and very competitive, but because of the inherent dangers of their sport, the camaraderie between them is real Band of Brothers stuff. There are very few big egos in the weigh room, because every single one of those boys is constantly aware they're only ever one mistake or misplaced hoof away from very serious injury or death.

Putting sport to one side if we may, I hear you're a music aficionado. Who should we be cocking an ear to these days? I'm not sure where you heard that – I downloaded the grand total of one album last year: Florence & The Machine's Lungs, and attended one gig that I can recall: AC/DC at the O2 Arena, which was one of the best nights out I've ever had. In a lame effort to redeem my reputation, I should add that I own three or more albums by each of Primal Scream, The Coral, Foo Fighters and Super Furry Animals. My girlfriend got me interested in the Foo Fighters and Dave Grohl is top of her laminated Celebrity Shag Wishlist. That causes tension in our house, because he's only third on mine.

You like a bit of stand up, any current comedians float your boat? For sheer edginess, I'd have to go for Michael McIntyre. His fearless, ground-breaking routine about people walking past shop windows and doing double-takes upon seeing their own reflection is possibly the funni … no, I'll stop there in case your readers don't realise I'm being sarcastic. There's a lot of comedians I like: I've known Dara O Briain for nearly 15 years, since he was doing gigs in front of 10 or 15 people in assorted Irish clubs and he's doing amazingly well for himself ... the fucker. Dylan Moran is effortlessly brilliant and always has been. I think Chris Rock, Rich Hall, Ross Noble and – on his day – Johnny Vegas are top class as well. I was lucky enough to see Jerry Seinfeld in Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas once and that was probably the best $100 I ever spent. It was certainly the best $100 I spent in Vegas, but that's not saying much.

That's it. Thanks very much for brightening up our tea-time (via the Fiver) and bringing large doses of sophisticated wit, scepticism and cynicism into our daily football intake. It's most welcome and no mistake. No problem, although I think you need psychiatric help if you honestly believe that.

To hear and read more of Barry's musings check out the Guardian Football Website, subscribe to the iron horse of podcasts Football Weekly or sign up for football's most tea-timely email The Fiver.

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Saturday, 13 February 2010

Brighton and Hove Albion

Withdean & I

Brighton 1-2 Norwich City (13:02:10)

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I've penned 168 articles since EFW found its sorry way onto the interweb a couple of seasons ago. You might find it a bit Ken Dodd that none of these have featured a Brighton home match at the Withdean Stadium because for 30 years - man and boy - they were the love of my life. So what happened I hear you drone before rolling your eyes into your collective sockets.

Withdean & I have had a love-hate relationship. I loved the club returning to Brighton after a couple of seasons of travelling to Gillingham for home matches. I loved beating Manners 6-0 on our first game back. I loved back to back promotions. I loved Micky Adams (first time round) and the Bobby (Zamora) years. I loved Paul Watson's free kicks and Daddy Cullip. Moreover, I loved meeting up with 15-20 mates before each home game for three hours of pre-match tomfoolery.

Welcome to the Theatre of Trees.

So what went wrong? Well, silly old me, I fell out of love with paying £450 for a season ticket. I could go on about the lack of atmosphere, the running track around the pitch, no roof, poor facilities, lack of beer, mediocre football and the like but the bottom line was the money. Three seasons ago I waved my little white flag, as did almost all of my other mates and we went our separate ways. I discovered European Football Weekends and became a Non-League football bore.

Having said that, *nod to Larry David* it doesn't take too much to get my Albion juices flowing again. I still attend the odd away game (see Yeovil & Southampton for details) and when we started reminiscing about the old days on these pages this week , a couple of phone calls were made and before you could say £26.50 a ticket, we were sinking a few ales prior to the visit of League One leaders Norwich City in HQ three hours before kick off - just like the old days. And relax.

Wives to the shops + lads to the football + meeting up again in the evening to celebrate our good work = (the last time I checked the EFW manual) a winning formula. So with the ladies happily spending our cash in town; Ju, Greeno, Binsy and a cast of tens got gooey eyed talking about our favourite subject - the old days - over a couple of bevingtons whilst watching our "friends" along the coast - Southampton v Portsmouth - do battle in the FA Cup Filth Round on the tellybox.

Erm....where to start!?

When the seagull follows the canaries.

Stands up if you love Brighton.

Trees are good, trees are good.

Only 894 Canaries were allowed to swoop down to Sussex due to space restrictions. I doff my cap to Norwich fans who travel in huge numbers and not just when they're top of the league either. I'm not sure how much of the game they actually saw because the away stand at Withdean is famously a country mile from the pitch.

The Albion fans were fairly mute throughout save for a few renditions of Sussex by the Sea and the dreadful 'Alllllllbion, Allllllllbion' chant. Brighton are one of those teams that has tremendous vociferous backing away from home - where fans often travel in their thousands - as opposed to home games, where the 'Withdean experience' seems to have drained them of their vocal chords.

The Albion actually had the better of the first half against table topping Norwich. To my untrained eye, midfielders Bennett and Navarro looked the pick of the home side. It was Bennett who opened the scoring with a free kick which found its merry way through a whole host of players into the net. Minutes later Glenn Murray had two (two!) shots cleared off the line. It was all going swimmingly for the Seagulls. What could possibly go wrong?

At half time we chatted away to Delia Smith and Fat Boy Slim - as you do. Turns out Delia is as nice as (Smoked Haddock and Quail Egg) pie. Five FIFA stars to the pair of them for being celebrity fans that actually go to games.

Cooking good. Delia joins the EFW team.

Bennett fires the Albion ahead. Probably worth clicking to enlarge this one.

1-0 to the Albion (repeat to fade).

Funk Soul Brothers. Fat Boy Slim joins Danny and Binsy.

Grant Holt skanking!

On the ball City.

After an iffy substitution in which Holroyd was hauled off in favour of Seb Carole the game started to turn in favour of the away side. Albion gaffer Gus Poyet - the man they call the "radio" because you can't switch him off - is a likable and relentlessly positive manager in terms of his personality but he probably got this one wrong.

McNamee, Martin, Johnson starting pouring forward for Norwich. Hoolahan began pulling a few strings and Grant Holt, well he is superman. Holt it was who equalised with deflected shot before Gary Doherty - who must have playing for Norwich for 150 years - popped up late doors to notch the winner with his noggin. On the ball City - at last. Harsh on the Albion but that's life.

As it is Valentines Day, I better put and end to this report and let you get on with your romantic plans for the day. I'm pretty excited because I've booked the wife a table today. Excited because we haven't played snooker for years. Boom, boom, tish. You've been watching....

Coming soon! The new stadium at Falmer.

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Thursday, 11 February 2010

Brighton & Hove Albion (part 1)

Setting Sons - Our Price at 9

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I spent the years 1986 to around 1992 watching Brighton and Hove Albion pretty much every week home and away For most of that time the team was pretty mediocre with a few highs but probably more lows but that wasn't really the point. I was reminded of those days recently when Albion were drawn away to Aston Villa in the 4th round of the Cup and a flurry of emails between old friends brought back a lot of memories. Hopefully this will capture a few of them.

Brighton have always drawn support from all over Sussex and the members of the ERS hailed from points as far afield as the jewel of the south coast (Littlehampton for anyone who was in doubt) to dowdy Crawley suburb East Grinstead. The usual routine in the immediate aftermath of an uninspiring home defeat went something like this:

"You're not going to Barnsley next week then"
"No bollocks am I".
"No me neither"

By Tuesday you were starting to think about it. By Wednesday you would go "if Merlin's going" and by Friday train timetables had been researched (no internet for us in those days boys and girls) , comedy hats had been made and most of the work day was taken up exchanging phone calls with the well known instruction "Our Price at 9". I wonder if the good people of Our Price appreciate what a big part their small rather nondescript looking shop at Victoria Station played in our lives back then? As well as providing commuters with somewhere to buy Rick Astley cassettes (cassettes!) it was always the meeting point for the boys from Angmering/Littlehampton , Lancing , Horsham and East Grinstead who all travelled up to London on different trains but always independently observed a solemn little ritual. Just after the train pulls out of East Croydon station the home of hated local rivals Crystal Palace looms into view out of the windows on the right hand side. As subtly as possible so as not to offend fellow travellers a one fingered salute would be delivered in the direction of the Arthur Wait Stand whose nasty red and blue frontage peered unattractively over the roofs of the delightful streets of Selhurst. With this little formality taken care of the day could begin in earnest.

One of our favourite ways to pass the time on the journey north was with a harmless game or two of "pass the pig". Someone , probably Harry who was the inspiration for the Jay character in the In-Betweeners , had acquired a pack of barely legal pornographic playing cards depicting deprivation on a scale that can only be hinted at here. The two of clubs featured a vicar's wife and a rutting pig but that was only half the equation.

A quick trip to the buffet car supplemented the various tinnies we already had with us (usually a selection of lager , bitter , cider , pale ale) with other ingredients which could be anything from worcester sauce , miniatures of whiskey and creme de menthe and canned britvic pineapple juice to produce something we knew as "the rancid cocktail". The object of the game was that whoever was left holding the aforementioned card had to drain the glass. Occasionally our best laid plans went tits up. Memorably a fellow fan known to us as Percy who nobody ever saw sober would happen past our table somewhere around Rugby and neck the pint in one gulp proclaiming it to be "not bad that".

Somewhere along the line our happy little band developed an obsession with pants. It might have started with the Felix character out of Viz , or not , but the point was that wherever the Albion were playing a pre-match trip had to be made to the club shop to acquire said article. A few days after a particularly uninspiring and cold 2-1 defeat at Oldham Athletic a very surprised Albion midfielder by the name of Adrian Owers received an envelope in the mail containing a very classy pair of blue edged white nylon ladies knickers with the legend "I scored at Boundary Park". I like to think Adrian was the John Terry of his day in the clubs of Brighton and that said article was donned by a French lingerie model of the time for him. That would seem only fair for rifling in our consolation goal that day. On balance though probably not.

Those "I scored at Boundary Park" pants sported by Julian Simpson.

Oldham v Brighton on the plastic back in February of 1989 (1989!).

Greeno, Danny, Big Deaks, Paul from Woking, Clarky and Ju at Stoke City for the last game of the 1989 season.

Danny, Merlin the Pig, Ju and Greeno at Elland Road in April 1989.

Another bemused recipient of a bizarre package was ex-Sheffield Wednesday goal machine Gary Bannister. After a heavy Friday night in Brighton EFW's very own Danny Last and his flatmates had the brilliant idea of unscrewing the banister from the stairs of their home and sending it north asking for Gary to sign it. To GB's undying credit said article arrived back in Brighton a few days later autographed and with a personal message saying "Here you are then you sad lads".

We liked to keep it real and always do something to pay tribute to wherever we were going. So it was one October day in 1987 when we pitched up in Grimsby complete with boxes of fish fingers and packets of Fisherman's Friends. One of our group wore waders and oilskins especially. In those days the away fans were housed in a small terrace at the side of the pitch and so it was that "hometown boy" was warming up in front of us waiting to come on as sub to make his Mariners debut. His sprints and star jumps were mimicked by a couple of our group accompanied by frantic shouts of "Oi mate. Mate. Mate". I was mentally pleading with Cleethorpes youth not to turn around but sadly he couldn't resist and the last thing he heard before trotting out to make his debut were the words "Who the f*ck are you"? Needless to say he didn't have a stormer.

Wherever we played and win lose or draw the day always ended in the Stage Door pub close to Victoria Station where more beers were necked before we all headed back home to our own parts of Sussex. For me that usually meant a lazy Sunday and a lunch time game of darts and a pint with my Dad. For H it once too often resulted in an unfortunate confusion between the exact location of the toilet and his parents' bed. Legend has it his Mum's parting words as he left home (recounted on a subsequent trip to much hilarity) were "____ (name withheld to protect the identity of the innocent) I love you because you're my son but I hate you for what you are"!

Mad Jock, Timmy Krispies, Danny, Fenners, Paul from Woking and Ju.

Fenners, Nick, Danny, Paul from Woking, Howard and Ju celebrate another defeat.

Kev, Danny, Clarky and Ju en route to Sheffield United.

Big Deaks, Danny, Clarky, Paul from Woking and Ju in the away end at Bramall Lane, September 9th 1989. We lost 5-4. (5-4!).

Bangsy raises a can. He once slept at Lancing station overnight to ensure he didn't miss the train. He was a true legend.

Somewhere along the line it all came to an inevitable end although we all still met up at the bottom of the North Stand , right behind the goal , for home games. Looking back I don't think we were ever aware of a sense of "this is the last season and the grown up world beckons". It was probably better that way. Paul Weller , who at least in my mind , is a total genius wrote a song back in 1979 called Burning Sky which seems to sum things up quite nicely. It's in the form of a letter to friends and includes the lines:

"In any case it wouldn't be the same
Cos we've all grown up and we've got our own lives
And the values that we had once upon a time
Seem stupid now cos there rent must be paid
And some bond severed and others made"

Weller goes on to say how he has to admit "we had a laugh but that's all it was and ever will be".
I thought of that again as I sat in an office in Florida reading emails telling of a January 2010 day out in Birmingham and it all came flooding back. We definitely did have a laugh but I think it was much much , more than that. And happily not all those bonds have been severed. Well not totally anyway.

I hope that about 20 years on from our little adventures there are groups of fans like us somewhere. These days of course you probably don't need an Our Price because you make all your arrangements on Facebook and with your iphones and the price of a rancid cocktail has probably gone up a bit but apart from that I imagine it's all much the same.

Everybody welcome. Well sort of...

Tony Rochdale blows us a kiss. You could write a book about Tony Rochdale.

Good luck to you lads and lasses wherever you are. Enjoy it while it lasts because to quote another Weller classic "we seemed to grow up in a flash of time as we watched our ideals helplessly unwind" Some of us keep in touch to this day and all too briefly a Saturday at Villa Park gave us a taste of when Saturday's Kids were as Thick as Thieves.

Thanks a million to Ian Clark for the words and Julian Simpson for the photos.

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