This week’s rummage through the WIE archive stumbled across issue 45 from March 2015. It was a 32-page issue that came in the aftermath of Jody Brown’s (thankfully) short tenure as manager. Hence the (some say) hysterical front cover, which was our repost to his remarks towards the Wings’ support following comments in response to his excuses following the away defeat at Nuneaton. And what an absolute shitshow our performance was that day; I still get shivers thinking about it. At least it was Brown’s last.
Highlights from this issue included Tim’s friend Phil regaling us with the tale about when he was a steward at Millwall v West Ham. Phil properly lucked out there. Phil’s friend Tim took a moment to take a look at the club’s presence on Facebook, which included our own page and the numbers behind it. Tim also provided an article on pointless games, which we bring to you below.
White Socks critiqued the club’s somewhat appalling disciplinary record with his “Red Card Handicap” parody. Runners included Jake Gallagher, Chis Bush, Darren Purse, Joe Healy and Anthony Jeffrey amongst others. In an article titled “Fixture Farce” GaryH provided comment on our fixtures between 7th February and 21st March. In that period we had seven matches scheduled, of which all bar one were away. Yup, the fixture “computer” regularly did for us in the Conference. Those six away games included a little trundle to Gateshead on a Tuesday night and then Lincoln the following Saturday. Oh how we love a level playing field…
The interview with Barry Hobbins was the focal point of this issue in which he was incredibly open and candid in talking about all aspects of the club. It was a piece that got an amazing amount of positive feedback, which was certainly unusual and bucked the trend of the usual feedback we received!
It’s sometimes best to avoid late night conversations. Late night conversations about the most pointless of football fixtures are particularly dangerous. They can lead to challenges such as, “Go and find the most pointless game you can, watch it, and write about it – we’ve got a fanzine to fill”.
In all challenges it is necessary to define terms. So what exactly is a pointless fixture? Now certain sections of the media would probably say that anything below the Premier League is pointless. Others might say that is being generous – if it isn’t Champions League, it isn’t worth it. But you, the reader, are clutching a copy of WIE. You most probably obtained it at PVR before enduring a wet and miserable afternoon of Conference football. You might possibly disagree.
Friendlies are pretty pointless, agreed, but are not really competitive, so they will be discounted. League games can’t really be described as pointless given that someone always gets points at the end of them. Not necessarily us, but someone. So that just leaves a couple of options.
First – the county cups.
I appreciate that clubs tend to regard these games as an irritation, having more important matters on their minds, but personally I am all in favour of them. Yes, they are an excellent opportunity for our players to get injured; and with the cost of using the floodlights most clubs probably make a loss from every county cup game they play (and that is without factoring in whatever payments go to the players, if any). But on the other hand they represent our only realistic chance of winning anything, and of having that fun day out in Gillingham or wherever in May. In one cup we get to play a few random, rarely seen Kent teams and a few hated Kent teams; and journey to mysterious unknown suburbs in the other. Admittedly, watching our group of youth team players lose to dartford’s group of youth team players can be quite annoying, but annoyance shows concern, and concern indicates pointfulness. Which is not a word, but it should be.
So rejecting county cups as being worthwhile, if minimally, that leaves only league cups for the ultimate in pointless fixtures. But even here, in my early days I didn’t really appreciate how pointless league cups were. A couple of reasons: the first being a certain bicycle kick by Dennis Tueart in the 1976 final which won the League Cup for Man City. Clearly if players could be bothered to do that, and 100,000 people could be bothered to head to Wembley to watch it, and Brian Moore could get so very excited about it, league cups must be important. The only pointless aspect was the hours that everyone spent trying to replicate it in local parks.
And the second reason was my first experience of a live league cup game. That was the first round of the London Spartan League Cup in 1977/78, the Wings first year at PVR. In a decade where about the only way to get sent off was to have a massive and very noticeable scrap with someone (Norman Hunter v Francis Lee, anyone?), visitors East Ham United managed to get two players sent off – the second one for chasing the referee around a bit after his team-mate had been sent off. Excellent entertainment. We won 4-2 and went on to reach the final and win it – a triumph that has never been acknowledged in the honours section in the programme or the Welling website, for some unknown reason. So I left Banstead, scene of our glorious cup victory, with a very positively skewed opinion of league cups.
Three years in the Athenian League soon put paid to that. Whereas the Spartan League Cup included teams from two divisions, meaning there was the possibility of cup upsets – would the mighty Wings have an off day against plucky Thames Poly? Would lowly Beckenham Town cause a 1973 Sunderland v Leeds style shock in the final? – the Athenian League had just the one division. There was not a lot of excitement when the draw was made. An away trip to Edgware? Great. Given that in Big Football Liverpool had at last noticed the League Cup and duly won it for four years in a row, to add to their almost constant winning of the League, my interest in league cups pretty much died. They were dull. There was a fairly unpleasant defeat over two legs in the semi-final of the Southern League cup to dartford, with both games being spectacularly bad tempered, but thankfully other than that the Wings seemed to avoid any serious attempts at progressing in the things.
A one division league with a league cup competition? I must inevitably turn to the Bob Lord Trophy, the Alliance/Conference’s greatest idea. I can only imagine the excitement up in Barrow each year when the draw was made. Which far off point would they be travelling to on a Tuesday night? Of course, if you are going to have a national league cup competition, to be played midweek by part-time players, why not make it a two-legged affair? So they did. How the crowds must have flocked to whatever Trowbridge’s ground was called to see their second leg against Barnet, having already lost the away tie 10-1.
Still, it was not all bad. The result of a 1986 Quarter-final tie caught my eye: Weymouth 8 dartford 1.
By the time the Wings arrived in the Conference for the 1986/87 season the Bob Lord Trophy had mutated. Instead of a one-division cup it had been decided that the cream of teams from the three feeder leagues below should be added to it. Of course, with an expanded entry it needed an expanded name. So, goodbye Bob Lord Trophy, hello (deep breath) the “General Motors Acceptance Corporation Premier Inter-League Cup for the Bob Lord Trophy”. Snappy.
Happily we immediately got knocked out in our very first game, at Bishop’s Stortford (why, oh why didn’t they introduce group games, for added tedium?), but the following season was a different story. And it has a couple of strands. At that time I was sharing a house in Manchester with a bunch of scrotes, one of whom came from scenic Knott End (near Fleetwood) and was becoming increasingly annoyed by the careless memory lapses that made us think that the final sound in the first word of his town was a “B” rather than a “T”. Finally he announced that he didn’t really care as he wasn’t actually from Knob End at all but was born in Horwich, near Bolton. A quick bit of research and we discovered that Horwich had a team, called Horwich RMI, and so excited were we by the prospect of seeing an actual Railway Mechanics Institute that we piled into what I fear may have been a purple Allegro and headed North for a game.
Horwich played at the superbly named Grundy Hill, on the kind of non-league slope made famous by Wycombe and Yeovil, the sight of which would have left John Motson reaching for his senior nappies. And they sold mushy peas. Well, not to us, but they were available. We rather enjoyed our afternoon – Horwich had a player called Faz, and that was rather good. And after initially being rather hopeless they came back and won, and that was rather good, too, so we decided to keep watching them.
And just as we started watching Horwich, so they started on a little run in the General Motors Acceptance Corporation Premier Inter-League Cup for the Bob Lord Trophy. Meanwhile, Welling had also started in the, oh, let’s call it the GMAC Cup. We had been lucky with the draws – a short trip to Croydon, a short trip to Bromley, and a replay. Beats training, I suppose. And then a home game v Yeovil. And then suddenly there were Horwich and Welling, both in the quarterfinals of a national competition. With mounting horror I realised that there might be a nightmare final, and all those Knob End jibes might come flying back in my direction, but fortunately the Wings did the decent thing and lost their quarter-final 0-2 at home to Weymouth.
Horwich were having a whale of a time though, and duly reached the final. There they were to play Weymouth, so a very narrow escape indeed for me, and the venue chosen was Horwich, on a Sunday afternoon. Weymouth arrived as the big Conference team, but didn’t much fancy the slope, the pitch, or indeed, Horwich. But they started suitably physically and flattened the goalkeeper in the very first minute, resulting in a long stoppage and the arrival in goal for the rest of the game of Horwich’s right back. Who then played heroically as Horwich went on to win the final.
So massively entertaining, but pointless? Probably not. Ludicrous would be a better word, perhaps. A sort of semi FA Trophy. But there was already an FA Trophy, so why play it?
The long-named cup eventually jettisoned its feeder leaguers, and disappeared in 2001, making a couple of zombie-like resurrections before finally fading out altogether in 2009 (I hope), saving everyone a lot of unnecessary bother. Which brings me back to finding the most pointless game I could. Welling no longer play in a league cup, so what could I watch?
One of the unfortunate side-effects of writing the fanzine is that we have to keep a more than cursory watch on certain other local teams, in order to take the mick as and when required. That means spending more time on their websites than is strictly desirable, to catch a glimpse of, for example, the 6000 cartoon supporters that will suddenly be occupying Ebbswait’s new mega-stadium. Mostly it is a complete pain – do I want to read Jamie’s programme notes? Not really, no – but occasionally dartford lose 6-1 to Dover, and visiting the website for a reaction is actually a delight.
It was on one of these visits that I noticed the “next at Princes Park” section. Next up: Celtic U-21 v Villarreal U-21 in the Premier League International Cup. The Premier League International Cup, for those who have better things to do with their lives and don’t know about such things, is “a four-group tournament involving some of the top Premier League Under-21 and elite development teams from England and other European leagues”. And Fulham.
Now this seemed excitingly pointless! There are eight European teams (including Celtic, but let’s not go there) but all games are to be held in England. There are group games! How very exciting! Particularly for those no doubt highly talented Spanish players of Villarreal, allowed to have a run around on a mud heap in dartford. Deliciously pointless.
But then my eyes strayed further down the page. The Premier League International Cup group game was the second game of the day at Princes Park. The first was in in something called the “Football Conference Youth Alliance League Cup”. Ah, a league cup! Promising!
I’d never heard of the Football Conference Youth Alliance. I was fairly certain that the Wings weren’t involved in it, as I had heard rumours that we had a team of 16-17 year olds somewhere in the Suburban League, although getting concrete information about that is extremely difficult, as the Suburban League seems to be deeply secretive. Perhaps they are worried about being discovered by the Gestapo, or something. There are occasional reports of a game taking place – a hint of activity on the Welling Forum, perhaps, but never an actual fixture list. All is hidden in mists. I will say this only once. And certainly no information on the Wings website (for which I actually have some sympathy, as maintaining websites is an utter pain in the backside).
Anyway, after a little research I discovered that the Football Conference Youth Alliance has 99 teams divided into 9 divisions from “Gateshead to Dover”, as the website proudly states. It is a league for those at academies who are combining education with football. I saw from the Wings website that we had an academy team, which I had assumed was the one in the in the Suburban League but thought I’d better check through the divisions anyway to see if we were represented. We weren’t in “London South East”. Nor in “Kent South London”. Nor “Kent East Sussex”. But there we were, much to my surprise, in “Beds, Essex and Herts” With Aldershot. Of course.
Now, I have no idea whether this team is different to the Suburban League team, or indeed different to the U18 team in the Kent Youth League, which we never hear about. But they appear to play on Wednesday afternoons. Somewhere. But no matter.
In their wisdom, the Conference Youth Alliance decided that there could be nothing more exciting than a league cup, and one of the ties was due to be played prior to the Celtic U-21 game. Looking at the draw, it was all rather sensible – Maidstone v Bromley, Hornchurch v Sudbury, Southampton v Basingstoke – nice and local, so dartford (reds) v FC United of Manchester rather stood out. To be played at 5pm on a Thursday night. What’s not to like?
Well, dartford’s not to like, for a start. And I have a particular dislike of FC Replica Shirt of Manchester, too.
It’s not for me to tell people what to do with their Saturday afternoons. People can support FC Replica Shirt if they like. But I do wish they wouldn’t be so holy about it. And so bloody pleased with themselves. Wikipedia talks of the supporters feeling “disenfranchised” – I wasn’t aware we actually had a vote in the first place. Then the FCUM website talks about how they were genuinely sick of the whole Premier League circus and so went off to form their own club so that they could “stick together and sing Manchester United songs”. That, rather than just watching their local non-league team, of course.
I’ve read how they started “at the bottom of the pyramid”. Hmmm. From personal experience if a bunch of people get together and decide to start a football club, with no ground, and no previous history, they tend to get fast-tracked into the lowest division of the nearest Sunday league. But apparently you can play the “But we are Manchester United supporters” card, and that gets you into Step 6, and the North West Counties League. Then you can spend some time being the best supported and richest team in the league (just like the real thing, eh?), parading around in your replica shirts which are, of course, too sacred to bear the name of a sponsor, while professing a huge understanding of non-league football. Righty-o. While describing yourself as the newest “punk football” team. Of course.
Just a footnote – This “bottom of the pyramid” stuff. There WAS a team that started as a boys team in a park, and 23 years later found themselves playing in the Conference. Can’t quite remember who, though.
So, to the match. It was interesting to me to see which team I hated most, dartford (reds) or FCUM. As the game progressed, I realised that I actually favoured dartford (reds) (who were, true to their name, playing in blue). Maybe it was those Man Utd shirts. Maybe it was because teenage Manc haircuts had got stuck somewhere between an early Mark Robins and Kajagoogoo. Or maybe it was because the Mancs just whinged all the time, as Mancs do. Truly, a Whinge-a-thon between Mancs and Scousers would be a hard one to call – the Mancs just might shade it. Or maybe it was because one of the FCUM supporters had brought a big flag. To a youth team game. In dartford. On a Thursday night.
dartford (reds) won it (there’s a dartford (blues) in another division, in case you were wondering), so I think that was the first time I’ve ever been pleased that a dartford team won. And the Mancs got back on their bus to Mancland, still whingeing, after what was possibly the most pointless fixture I have ever seen.
But wait. What’s this? The cup continues. And it is Bromley (blues) away at…. Gateshead.