Monday, May 31, 2010

It seems that no sooner has the season finished than it's all starting up again, with two Cup draws already having been made for East Fife and we now have a Fife derby next season after all.

It came as no surprise last week when the Challenge Cup paired the Fife with Brechin City yet again in a Cup. At least the League Cup draw added Raith and not Arbroath.

The whole farce of ten team leagues is shown up in these draws in recent seasons. Playing Brechin four times a season is too much, but seven or eight, as has been the case, is not just overload but a test of the fans' commitment to coming along to games.

Scotland just can't support such small divisions. I don't care if we go back to two or three. Just change it now or add in a shitload of new clubs to remove the boredom that we face each season.

Familiarity doesn't just breed content, it spells doom for clubs and just disinterest from fans.

Even a game against Raith doesn't quite hold the same appeal any more. Of course, when we beat them in our first round League Cup match up next season I'll have changed my mind considerably.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The English season came to an end today with a cracking League Two playoff final at Wembley between Dagenham & Redbridge and Rotherham.

The Daggers edged a five goal thriller, which rounded off a fantastic Football League season all round.

The game thankfully made up for yesterday's disappointing game which saw Millwall promoted to the Championship at the expense of Swindon.

It's a great story for the Club, who have only been in existance in their present form since 1992. Dagenham and Redbridge's being came across through a number of mergers but you can technically trace their history back to 1881.

It all stems from four amateur clubs. Ilford (formed in 1881), Leytonstone (1886), Walthamstow Avenue (1900) and Dagenham (1949). In 1979, Ilford and Leytonstone merged to become Leytonstone/Ilford, and in 1988 they added Walthamstow Avenue to become Redbridge Forest. The new side achieved promotion to the Football Conference in 1991 before merging with Dagenham in 1992 to become Dagenham & Redbridge.

Despite dropping out of the Conference briefly they earned promotion to the Football League as Conference champs in 2006/07 and now, after only three seasons, League One is their new home.

Not bad for a pub team from Essex.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

With the World Cup now less than a fortnight away, one subject has reared it's head already that many feared would be a major problem to blight the tournament - crime.

The general consensus of many is that South Africa isn't going to be the safest host country in the tournament's 80 year history. There's more likely to be crimewaves than Mexican waves.

Some companies cashed in on fears pretty early on, through personalised stab vests and other safety precautions for travelling fans.

South African officials and government ministers have obviously played down such fears as scaremongering but there are real concerns there, heightened by news this week that the Columbian team were robbed at their hotel and had around £1800 worth of US dollars and Euros stolen.

Columbia aren't even there for the tournament! They were there for a friendly against the hosts South Africa in Johannesburg, which they lost 2-1 incidentally. Apparently that was the problem!

The team were staying at the same five star hotel that England's opponents Slovenia are due to stay at but police have said that the same levels of security that will be in place during the tournament weren't in place for Columbia's stay. I still wouldn't expect my bags to be rifled through and stuff nicked if I was staying at a top hotel!!

A similar theft hit the Egyptian team at their hotel at last year's Confederation's Cup, but this robbery is the biggest to hit international football since Henry's "Hand of Frog" goal put out the Irish in November.

Hopefully it's not going to be a sign of things to come and all the players, officials and fans making the trip to South Africa get home safe, sound and with all their belongings intact.

Friday, May 28, 2010

UEFA took a big stand yesterday. Or at least on paper they did.

President Michel Platini has introduced new rules which forces the top clubs to not only operate within their means and cut down on the huge debts facing the game, but also to only spend self-generated income.

The latter point would prevent all of these middle eastern, Russian and Asian businessmen from buying clubs and pouring in a shitload of money, to the detriment of their competition and the game on the whole, although I'm sure there will be a few loopholes that can be gotten around. Money invested in stadiums and youth development for example are not included in the equation.

This "break-even requirement" will be phased in over the next three seasons. What that ultimately means is that UEFA will monitor the accounts of clubs and if they are seen to be spending more than they are bringing in, going into serious debt and ignoring the UEFA directive, they could find themselves banned from the Champions League and the Europa League.

To the neutrals looking on, people like myself who don't support any of the big sides, it seems excellent. Finally football clubs will be help accountable for their spending, just like normal people are every day. There is already an outcry from the big sides of course, but they fail to see the bigger picture that these new rules are there for the good of the game and to protect their future and every other clubs future. We may also have a more even playing field, which can only help the game.

Clubs also have to settle their debts to fellow clubs, players, officials and the likes of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs by the end of each season. Excellent and also this will hopefully see the end of situations like the one that plagued Portsmouth this season (who are now already ruled out of European competition as a result).

What is interesting now is to see how all of this will play out.

The top Clubs won't accept this without a fight. We don't know how this will sit with the European Union, I would think favourably, but I also wouldn't be surprised to see cases taken to the EU court if Clubs find themselves removed from European competition.

Another route that things could take would be that Clubs breakaway, form their own European Superleagues and say "stuff UEFA". This of course has international implications for the players but if enough top sides decide to go down this route then the pressure for UEFA to back down or delay implementing bans will most likely see them cave.

Something had to be done to curb the spending and the mess that football clubs across the lands are getting themselves in to. Initially this UEFA plan seems to do just the trick. The proof will be in the eating and the wrangling that will now take place. Hopefully this isn't all for show and bluster and they will have the conviction to see it through to the end.

We don't say this very often, but well done UEFA.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

In all of the exciting comings and goings of the promotion and relegation places and as the 2009/10 UK domestic season winds down, one sad story in amongst it all was probably missed by many and that was the plight of Conference side Salisbury City.

Their story couldn't be much different after looking at a global financial giant like Real Madrid yesterday, but this is real football. Football that doesn't let you spend your way out of trouble, mainly because there isn't money there in the first place.

It's been a volatile season for the Club and their fans. It would be easy to attach a cliched rollercoaster tag to their season but that doesn't fully do justice to the hopes that have been raised and dashed as the year went on.

From sitting atop the Conference to a ten point deduction for going into administration to sitting second bottom of the division to finishing a credible 12th. The Club have seen a transfer embargo, reached the semi-finals of the FA Trophy, received the final 'Manager of the Month' award for the season and are now facing a two division demotion back down to the Southern Premier League - a division they haven't been in since 2005/06 when back to back promotions took them to the Conference and one step away from League football.

Formed in 1947 Salisbury have faced their most daunting times of late, lurching from crisis to crisis off the field in recent years, whilst maintaining a strong presence on the pitch during the difficult times.

The 2008/09 season saw the Club desperately try to raise £100,000 to stay afloat. Only a third of that amount was raised, players left and the Club was put on sale for a token £1. It didn't sell and Salisbury went into administration in September last year with debts of around £200,000 to HM Revenue & Customs.

The ten point deduction that followed put the Club in a perilous state but they fought back with good football and pulled themselves up the table to record their joint highest league position in their history.

Off the pitch a consortium took the Club over and an agreement signed with HMRC, meant that Salisbury City's debts would be paid off over the next three years. The Club will also have to give around 25% of any money earned from Cup runs to HMRC. A Companies Voluntary Agreement with HMRC was signed in February to pay their creditors and with this all agreed the Club moved out of administration.

That should have been a happy ending to it all. A line drawn under things, allowing the Club to move on to matters on the pitch. Sadly not so due to Appendix E in the Football Conference rules.

That rule states that any club which suffers an insolvency event during the course of a season must pay all creditors in full by the second Saturday in May. According to the rules, failure to pay all creditors in full would mean that the Club would not be eligible for inclusion in the League for the next season and the FA would need to place the Club in an alternative league.

And that's just what has happened.

Salisbury City have been demoted two division to the Southern Premier League, whilst Forest Green Rovers have been saved from relegation from the Blue Square Premier. All pending an appeal which will be held on June 12th. Frustratingly for Salisbury that day is also the day that the FA members are meeting to discuss amending Appendix E to a new rule of which they would now be fully compliant. Too late for City though. It's a ridiculous situation.

The Directors of the Club issued a statement announcing their appeal that included the following, in regards to their troubles this season:

"During this period all salaries, payments to suppliers and other liabilities have been met in full. We have upgraded the floodlights system as directed by the FA and Football Conference to meet BSP status, paid all football creditors, and also met our requirements under the CVA and all other footballing responsibilities to the Football Conference and FA".

It is appalling that a Club that was so close to the brink can honour their commitments, act in all integrity, not take the easy route out of it all (ala Livingston in Scotland) and fight back, but are yet punished because of some small print.

If their demotion stands then it is a sad day for the honest Clubs and club owners in football. What onus is on clubs to pay off their debts when they are still punished in such a way when they could go bust, reform and have money in the bank. It's a scandalous situation and hopefully the FA will act in the right way and reinstate Salisbury City to where they belong.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Close to a year ago, on June 11th, during one of our many moans about big money clubs ruining the game etc etc, we commented that after all the cash they had been splashing "surely only a La Liga and Champions League double would be acceptable for the money spent" by Real Madrid.

Clearly Real president Florentino Perez agreed.

After failing to land even the Spanish Cup this season, Perez cut his losses and fired boss Manuel Pellegrini today. It was hardly a surprise. It had been coming all season. Whilst they still clung on to that last La Liga hope, the biggest factor in keeping Pellegrini in a job was that they couldn't land Jose Mourinho before now.

It's going to cost them to land the Special One, reports say it could be around £13.5 million in compensation, but money is no object of course to the Spanish giants.

This is where their real problems lie. Not in the management. Not in the players. They have too much money that it is clouding their judgement as to what makes a winning football team.

Pellegrini put together a great squad of players. He didn't put together a great team. Money can't buy you team spirit and unity. That's what wins you matches - a cohesive unit, playing as one, winning as one. There were too many individuals trying to grab the limelight in Real's side last season and not achieving it either.

There will no doubt be another transfer revolving door at the Bernabeu this summer. Jose will want to bring in his own players and be judged on that.

I'm a huge fan of Mourinho. I love his arrogance and his flair. He has what it takes to be a manager of club like Real Madrid - ego and self belief.

With the pressure to succeed and the money being thrown around, any self doubt can cripple you. Mourinho, publically at least, never shows such flaws.

I can't wish him to succeed with Real though. I just can't. It would give out the wrong message to fans of the game worldwide.

If you can't buy a winning team on the pitch, but one off it. That can never be allowed to succeed. C'mon Barca!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On April 15th in the Blog, we asked if Scottish clubs could boost attendances by taking a leaf out of how some North American clubs promote themselves.

Obviously good football on the pitch plays a big role in getting bums on seats, but that aside using fans to promote the matchday experience to other fans is quite popular over in Canada and the US.

The original question came about when I got the opportunity to take part in a new advertising campaign that the Vancouver Whitecaps were running. The final ads are now finished and live around the city. Here's how they turned out (you can click them to enlarge the pic). I think they're excellent and capture the importance of fans in the game. An importance that is missing from the other big North American sports. Would they make you give up watching the game on tv and head to a game? Hopefully and it would be fun to have something similar at Bayview or wherever else:



Monday, May 24, 2010

Former East Fife manager Dave Baikie added some more silverware to his CV yesterday when his Linlithgow Rose side beat Largs Thistle 1-0 in the Scottish Junior Cup final at Kilmarnock's Rugby Park in front of 5,788 fans.

It was Linlithgow's fourth Junior Cup trophy in the competition's 123 year old history, their last one coming in the 2006/07 season.

Shown live on BBC Alba, it wasn't a pretty affair. Linlithgow went one up after 52 minutes when Kevin Donnelly fired home a great strike from 25 yards. It was to prove to be the only goal of the game and Baikie's side had to endure a tense final fifteen minutes after Stephen Manson saw red for a horrible challenge on Largs' Alan McCabe.

They hung on though to give Dave Baikie his second Scottish Junior Cup as a manager, having previously won the trophy with Tayport in 2003.

It's been disappointing to see some of the Fife fan's reaction to Baikie's win on the AFTN Forum. Short memories on display from some.

I won't forget what Dave Baikie did for East Fife. He delivered our first Championship in 60 years in 2008. I won't forget that day and neither will any other Fife fan that was either at East Stirling the day we clinched the Championship or at Bayview the day we lifted the trophy.

Yes it can be argued that most managers would have guided East Fife to the trophy that season, with the money invested in the team. That may be very well true but it was Dave Baikie that did it. I think some are forgetting how joyful they were just two years ago.

The following season we were rank. So were Baikie's management decisions. Results, tactics and horrible football on display gave us the impression that perhaps the Scottish Second Division was a step too far for Baikie as a manager. We wanted him sacked. He was rightly no longer East Fife manager by the season end.

That said, we were grateful to the man for what he had done the season before and we always will be, as should all other Fife fans. He deserves the acknowledgement and respect for that alone.

So well done to Linlithgow Rose for lifting the Cup and well done to Dave Baikie for guiding them there.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

With the 2010 World Cup now just 19 days away the raft of pre tournament friendlies begins this week.

I have to say that international friendlies just don't interest me in the slightest at the best of times. Too many substitutions, too much stop and start and basically just a meaningless 90 minutes of less than quality action to endure.

Sure the teams in the World Cup have to warm up, build up some squad unity and tactical nuance and look at formations, fringe players and all that, but really what does Portugal playing Cape Verde Islands and Cameroon playing Georgia really achieve?

I never see why countries are willing to put their already overplayed (so we're told!) top players in games where pre-tournament injuries are very possible.

Meh, it doesn't affect us here in Scotland anyway, so who cares?!

Thankfully Scotland have decided not to be part of the pre-tournament circus. Of course we're only saying all this as we're just gutted at yet another World Cup Finals without the Tartan Army.

Yeah, it hurts. Watching the supporters of these other teams looking forward to the big event we can only watch through the wire fence just makes you feel that you're missing out on so much and, of course, we are.

Even the arrival of my Anyone But England t-shirt hasn't helped.

Missing out on the last three World Cup Finals and European Championships has been hard. That's six non qualifications to major tournaments in a row and that's unacceptable for a football nation like Scotland.

Craig Levein it's up to you now, as I for one don't want to miss out on any more.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Wow. Well what can you say about the first half of the Championship Play-off Final at Wembley this afternoon?

It was fantastic fare served up by Blackpool and Cardiff City in that first 45 minutes. The whole game was good, but the first half was breathtaking.

All of the Championship playoffs have been fantastic to be fair, as have most of the ones in Leagues One and Two as well. It's no wonder that crowds across the whole Football League have seen their highest crowds for 50 years. More people are starting to clue in that you don't need the top players and pay the big money to get entertaining football.

I'm thrilled for Blackpool and Ian Holloway. What a dream season for them. Their fans must be still pinching themselves. As we said last season with Burnley, what a great feel-good story for fans of smaller, unfashionable clubs across the land. It gives hope to all of us that being in the top flight is not beyond our wildest dreams.

They probably had the backing of pretty much every neutral this afternoon. The East Fife support were firmly behind them thanks to not only their underdog status but the Fife connections with the Club, which are strong and go back over 50 years. Allan Brown, Dougie Davidson, Hughie Kelly, Colin Methven, Bobby Waddell and even Arnold Dwarika link us and we had a friendly down there in the 90's. Yup, we have Blackpool connections and weren't just jumping on the Ollie bandwagon! :p

When Cardiff went one up after just 9 minutes through Michael Chopra, I wondered if it was maybe one step too far for the Seasiders but they fought back superbly with Charlie Adam's spectacular free kick just four minutes later. Both goals were superbly taken and very worthy of any Wembley Final.

Cardiff must have thought that they would be going into the break with the lead when local lad Joe Ledley put them 2-1 up on 37 minutes but Blackpool showed there and then why they deserve to be in the Premiership hitting back with two quick goals through Gary Taylor-Fletcher's opportunistic header and then from veteran star Brett Ormerod. Never give up. Keep fighting. That's been Ollie's message all season.

3-2 to the Tangerines at the half and although that's how it finished, it was still a pulsating second half. You felt the next goal would have been key. Blackpool could have wrapped it up with it and Cardiff would possibly have gone on to win it if they had got it.

It never came and the final whistle saw jubilant scenes from the orange clad fans. It was a real shame either team had to lose this one. It's an old cliche but true. I felt so sorry for Cardiff and their fans. I would have loved to have seen both of these teams go up and not boring old West Brom again and Newcastle.

Both teams would have graced next season's Premiership. On a big day like this both sides came to attack. None of that boring defend and get men behind the ball nonsense. They both went for it from the off and some of the passing around in the midfield, from Blackpool in particular, was better than anything that was to follow in the Champions League final (the whole game was better in every aspect - you can keep your "big" team money finals).

Having followed Blackpool all season through the Beeb's Saturday night "Football League Show" it's been great to see them rise up the table and challenge for promotion. They're in the Premiership now and it will be all the better for having them there.

And also the wit of Ian Holloway of course.

He's one of those managers who you love hearing from. He's amused us on Soccer AM for years now. When he took over Blackpool at the start of the season, one of his classic quotes was: "I love Blackpool. We're very similar. We both look better in the dark".

There's so many of these quotes and fans are well worth checking out his books of Ollieisms. He once said that the only way he would be in the Premiership would be through promotion as he was just a "bumpkin from Bristol". Well he's there now!

Him, and the likes of Gordon Strachan, are what football need more of to counter the constant gloom of Arsene Wenger, Carlo Ancelotti and Avram Grant (smile guys, please).

Blackpool of course will be amongst the favourites (actually the favourites) to come straight back down again next season. It's going to be so tough for them but what an amazing time the fans, players and clubs will have on the way. Don't right them off immediately though. Remember they were one of the favourites to be relegated from the Championship this season and look at them now.

Ollie has shown that dreams can come true. Let's hope it's a long time before everyone wakes up.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Now we don't like to kick a man when he's down, but in Claude Anelka's case we'll make an exception.

A few weeks ago we reported on Claude the Fraud's inglorious return to football with AC St Louis in North America's NASL. Well it hasn't got much better for poor Claude.

St Louis' league campaign is now seven games old and the team find themselves with a record of one win, one draw and five defeats. They're sitting on 4 points and are bottom of both the NASL Conference and USSF-D2 single table standings. Hmm, this all seems a little bit familiar!

Now we will be fair for a second. St Louis just recorded a 1-1 draw last Saturday in a very tough place to visit, Portland Timbers PGE Park. They also recorded the team's first ever win on May 1st when they beat the equally poor Crystal Palace Baltimore 1-0, thanks to a goal in 52 seconds from Manuel Kante, the player that caused Claude to start the game mentioned in the post above with just ten men!

We were saddened by this victory of course as it was also Claude's first ever victory as a senior football manager. We hoped he'd just have plodded along without ever winning, like his spell at the Rovers. If Baltimore hadn't been caught so cold, he'd still be awaiting that first win. Damn them!

In this time St Louis have seen their attendance fall from 5,695 in their home opener to just 2,985 for their second home game against Baltimore. With another home game, against Tampa Bay, tomorrow, it will be interesting to see how much more it has fallen. The Club can't afford for this to be the case.

Now to give you some background, St Louis used to be a hotbed in US football. We kept being told that it was a "great soccer city". The current AC St Louis side is the city's first outdoor professional men's side for 30 years. They had the Stars for ten years in the old NASL. Hopes were high for the franchise and they had even been bidding for MLS membership before settling on the NASL. There has been talk of building a brand new, state of the art 18,500 seated new stadium if they were to get a MLS franchise.

The Club were expected to be a huge success story. The future for the growth of football clubs in the States. Now they appear to be in a very perilous position with reports coming out that they may not have enough money to see out the season and they may have to fold. Other reports suggest they will see out the season but then fold, possibly with the help of a buyout from league management.

For more details and background surrounding these problems, check out these excellent articles at Inside Minnesota Soccer and St Louis Globe-Democrat.

It's a shame for the true football fans in the city who have desperately been waiting for a team to return. They deserve much better but clearly there hasn't been as many of those as expected to keep the team as a viable proposition. Some are already commenting that they should have known that the writing was on the wall from the start when a man with no pedigree like Claude Anelka was appointed manager!

Claude's position is also now rumoured to be under review and he could be set to leave the club, having failed once again to show that he has what it takes to be a football manager. I do feel for the St Louis fans though through all this. They didn't deserve to start of their team with a man like this at the helm and if the Club does go to the wall it's a huge blow for growing the game in the States.

We asked last time, why would someone give him another chance to fail? I'm sure the St Louis fans will soon be asking this in numbers. Of all the football managers currently looking for work around the world, why would someone give this clown a job? That's what the St Louis fans need to be asking now.

Interesting resume Claude now has. 2004 nearly helped to ruin Raith Rovers Football Club. 2010, different country, different town, new club in crisis.

I know that St Louis' current problems lie way deeper than Claude Anelka but it's the manager at the helm that is ultimately responsible for bringing the crowds in through performances on the pitch. St Louis badly need to get the crowds in at the moment if they are to save their future as a club and Claude's team don't seem capable of giving the winning performances on the pitch that are needed.

Claude Anelka's Magic Wand. Everything it touches turns to shit.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Anyone that knows me knows I'm a bit of a saddo when it comes to things like stas, memorabilia and all the unusual aspects of football!

So imagine my delight when during the Charlton-Swindon game the other night when you got a fascinating (to me!) look inside the referee's notebook when the camera zoomed in for a booking!

Now I'm not saying it was the best thing of the evening, I'm not THAT sad and the game was a cracker. One of the best playoff games in recent years and that in itself is saying something.

To me though, I found it really surprising. I had no idea for example that it was colour coded, with all the players names written in and a red and yellow box beside them for the ref to tick off.

Very organised! That's probably the biggest surprise. What other mysterious aspects of the referee do we not know about?!

The role of the referee still kind of holds that mythical aura about him. I think part of that is because they're not allowed to talk or apparently hold any opinion on the decisions they made during the match. They're like some secret society.

Everyone hates them. They can never do anything to please every fan, every time. Their decisions are constantly scrutinised on television, in newspapers and on countless fan forums up and down the land and across the world. They get abuse sung at them every game by the wags at the game. They seldom get any thanks. Players surround them and question their decisions every single game.

Why on earth would anyone actually want to be a ref? Is it a power trip? Is it because they weren't able to cut it as a player? Why do ex players not want to become refs? Are they just officious little individuals that couldn't get a job as a Council bylaws enforcer? It's certainly a puzzle.

Maybe more little insights, like the one into their mystical black book, will help unlock some of these secrets in a Lost-esque series of events or maybe they'll just never be understood.

We can't let any blog post about referees though go by without featuring this absolute classic from Half Man Half Biscuit. Sheer class!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

So Michael Ballack has been ruled out of the World Cup. Can't say I'm sad for him as Ballack is one of the most annoying players to me in the modern game.

Apart from having one of those faces that you would never tire of punching, he is one moaning bastard. He's always whining to refs, surrounding them to pressure them into decisions, falling about all over the place and mouthing off to other players.

He was up to his usual shenanigans in the FA Cup Final before Kevin-Prince Boateng's tackle that has now led to him missing South Africa. Boo fucking hoo. It's about time someone crunched him hard in a tackle. He's got what he's deserved after all these years.

It's truly hilarious to see the post match reactions of the Germans. Bad losers. You'd think they'd be used to that aspect of their lives by now.

All the conspiracy theories of Boateng trying to help out Ghana, long standing grudges and pre-meditated assault. It's laughable.

It seems that it's not only Ballack that's an unlikeable individual. Turns out his agent falls into that category as well, as he hasn't ruled out taking legal action against Boateng for what he is quoted as saying was a "pre-meditated attack on his client".

I'd love him to waste some money going through the courts on this. See how far that gets him.

In the meantime, Ballack might want to think about all this next time he starts acting the dick on the pitch. You reap what you sow.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

No real substance to the blog today, just a basic plug for the Sky Sports World Cup Fantasy Football Mini League we've set up!

If you've not already seen it on the forum, here's the details:

Go to http://worldfantasyfootball.skysports.com/ and click on the Register Now link or sign in with your existing details.

If you took part in the Sky Premiership Fantasy Football League last season, then you'll just use the same log in. If not, you need to register a new account. The game is open to everyone, but if I remember correctly, you need to use a UK address to register. It's free as well, which is always nice.

Once you've signed in/registered, it's time to pick your team. There are no cost implications for the players you select, so it's just a case of trying to pick your strongest team. Here are some basics of the competition:

- Pick 11 players using either a 4-3-3, 4-4-2 or 5-3-2 formation.

- There is no budget.

- In the Group Stages you can pick two players per nation.

- The number of players you can select per nation increases during the tournament.


After you've got your team, click Private Leagues to join the AFTN mini league. Scroll down to the Joining An Existing League section, enter our League PIN of 11544 and that's you in.

We'd like as many people as possible, no matter what team you support, so head along and join today.


** Edit - No teams are being accepted now that the tournament is underway. All requests will be rejected **

Monday, May 17, 2010

I love the humour in football, especially if it can help you get over a bad loss or situation. The banter's been around for decades but this has seldom transferred over well into humourous football songs.

Well now we have an absolute classic and one that couldn't wait for our 'Friday Fun' section.

For those of you who saw last week's Championship playoff penalty shootout between Cardiff City and Leicester City, you'll love this. If you haven't watch it HERE first.

I know it's been doing the rounds this weekend, so apologies if you've already seen it, but this is just absolutely priceless and a huge bravo goes out to the guy behind it...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Well now it's official. In terms of which league we're all playing in, East Fife are now the worst team in Fife and it's all seemed to happen in the blink of an eye.

Cowdenbeath played superbly this afternoon to win the second leg of the tie to decide who would be promoted to the Scottish First Division. With the first leg being played out to a scoreless draw at Central Park on Wednesday, all eyes were on Glebe Park this afternoon, in what was effectively a home Cup final for Brechin City.

As it turned out, Brechin were rank rotten and Cowden deservedly progressed 3-0. The damage was all done in the first half, thanks to a brace from the prolific-I-wish-we-had-him-at-Bayview Gareth Wardlaw and the opener from Joseph Mbu. I never thought I'd be saying this on AFTN but well done to Cowdenbeath. I really admired your fight and spirit today.

Your fans may be scum, your stadium a shithole, your town an embarrassment to 21st century living, but under Danny Lennon you have put together a good side and taken your chance this season to go up from a pretty poor Second Division. If only we could have done the same.

Lennon is an exciting young manager and has put together a side that's played good football this season. To think that this time last year they were preparing for another season in the Third Division until the Livingston debacle saw them unexpectedly promoted. When you get given a chance like that, you have to grab it with both hands and that's just what Cowden did.

It's remarkable when you look at the fact that Lennon had put together a squad to get promotion from the Third and on an appropriate budget. Maybe the gap between the bottom two divisions isn't that great, or maybe Lennon just got the best out of the players he had. I tend to go with the latter.

Cowden's promotion is huge for them in their current financial plight. It's also a right scunner for East Fife when you look at just how exciting the Scottish First Division is going to be next season.

The crowds and atmosphere in the division are going to be tremendous and I think you'd really have to be a blinkered East Fife fan not to be jealous of the fact that we're missing out.

Three Fife teams, two from the central belt and the cogies of Dundee. Cracking stuff. Add into that mix the big crowds that Partick Thistle and Morton will bring, along with the ambitious Ross County and Queen of the South and you just know that the division is going to be the most hotly contested and exciting in Scotland next season. Can we have a "Division of Death"? I'll be one of the first to christen it that anyway.

Sure Cowden, and any team going up from the Second, are going to struggle and are pretty much odds on relegation candidates already, but I don't see them having the hammerings we had last time we went up.

How does it feel to be the only Fife side to miss out? Sickening. Am I jealous? Course I am. This will be slightly (just ever so) tempered if Stevie Crawford can get the Fife playing next season and we're promotion contenders ourselves. Trips to Airdrie and Forfar don't really hold the same excitment though either way.

I blame Livingston for all this. Another reason to hate the club killing bastards. Let's take it out on them on the pitch next season. Hey, I have to have something to look forward to.

In the meantime. Well down Cowdenbeath FC. Enjoy your moment.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Two Cup Finals. Two underdogs going for glory. It would usually be great for us to watch, but we couldn't really enjoy the Scottish Cup Final this afternoon with East Fife's Scottish Cup record on the line. No cheering on the underdogs for us in that one. It was Dundee United all the way.

Thankfully our proud record still remains and the black and gold are still the only club outside of the top flight to win the Scottish Cup.

David Goodwillie's fabulous lob on 61 minutes not only sent the Arabs into rapture but the Fife fans as well. When Craig Conway, who had been having a great match, added a second with fifteen minutes remaining, then we could all breathe a collected sigh of relief. A third, and a second from 'Man of the Match' Conway, with five minutes left had us wondering what we were worried for in the first place! 3-0 to Dundee United. Easy really.

Ross Country had such a great run to the final, claiming the SPL scalps of Hibs and Celtic on the way. They fell just short in the end, but they covered themselves in so much glory. Their fans will have memories for the rest of their lives. They deserve all the plaudits they get.

Whether the Dingwall side can now take that further step and play with the top clubs every week in the SPL, well that's their challenge now and good luck to them.

It's still galling of course to see a club like Ross County come into league football just sixteen seasons ago, climb through the ranks and overtaking us on the way whilst we have just stood still. Shows what can be done though and it's an inspiration for the rest of us, especially as they haven't splashed big cash to do it.

In England there was another Cup Final going on apparently! Chelsea did the double in a game where the 'Man of the Match' award looked like going to the Portsmouth crossbar, closely followed by David James.

Chelsea eventually ran out 1-0 winners, with Portsmouth missing a vital penalty just minutes before the Blues scored the decisive goal.

It had been pretty much one way traffic, with Chelsea hitting the bar four times in the first half and the post once. When Pompey won a penalty on 57 minutes after Aruna Dindane was brought down in the box, it looked like maybe it was going to be the underdogs day.

A shocking penalty from Kevin Prince-Boateng was saved by Petr Cech's feet and two minutes later Didier Drogba had the ball in the net for the only goal of the game.

Frank Lampard missed a penalty as well with three minutes remaining, which was just as it was never a penalty in the first place, and the team with the highest percentage of unlikeable players in world football triumphed once again. Shame.

So no shocks today and in the end, both underdogs were deservedly beaten.

East Fife's achievement is being tested more and more though. Three First Division clubs have now made the Scottish Cup Final in the past five seasons. Gretna came oh so close in 2006, with only penalties saving us. Queen of the South lost to the odd goal in five two years later and now Ross Country have fallen short.

You would think that someone is going to match us at some point, but so far, so good. Maybe we should just set a new record ourselves to save us the worry! Win it from the third tier of Scottish football.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Haven't done a Friday Fun for a while and since we might not be in too good a mood if Ross County do the business on Saturday and Cowden do on Sunday, we thought we'd better do one today!

This is from Chesterfield's last ever match at Saltergate. A 96th minute goal from the home side sees a pitch invasion. Included in that is a guy in a wheelchair. The reaction of the guy that goes to get him is priceless...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fulham's fantastic European journey came to an end last night. It was heartbreaking for them to lose so late, but if it wasn't to be their night it was better that way than someone missing a penalty.

The commentator summed it up well when he said that there were "so many fans of so many other clubs who are becoming Fulham fans for the evening and wishing it was their club here in Hamburg".

So very true.

It was a great story this season. One of the best, if not the best, in UK football. For a Club like Fulham to even reach European competition is an unexpected bonus for their fans. To make a European final, stuff dreams are made of.

The Club have never won a 'major' trophy and this was only the second ever time that they had qualified for European competition but they took their chance fully, respected the competition and had a refreshing never say die attitude that paid off for them and led to their final place. They didn't devalue the competition by fielding weaker sides and fully deserved their place in Hamburg.

Atletico Madrid edged the game and deserved their 2-1 victory. It was nice to see them rise out of the shadows of their city rivals Real for a moment. It's been said that Real are the team for the world, whereas Athletico are the team for the city. A real team for real fans in a big city, who don't just care about success. Much like Fulham.

It may not have worked out with the ideal fairytale ending, but Fulham were an inspiration to fans of clubs outside the big boys. Clubs whose every season is a battle for making the best of the resources and players at your disposal, but who still harbour the ambition and the talent to try and make that breakthrough into the top sides.

We also have to say a big congratulations to the city of Hamburg, who put on a fantastic final. We really enjoyed the pre-match displays and post-match celebrations. The huge banner at the start, with all the clubs that took part in this year's competition, was class.

I also really admired the Atletico player's post match celebrations where they put the Cup down in front of their fans and acknowledged them. Great stuff.

Finally, to Fulham. We salute you and may you build on this success to move on up. It's been great being on the ride with you guys. Hopefully next time you will get that dream ending.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

This week's two Championship second leg playoff matches were absolute crackers. We've long held the belief in this blog that the Championship has the best overall action of the English leagues and these matches only added to that.

Two matches of non stop action, four worthy teams giving it their all, goals galore and more twists and drama than some teams generate in an entire season. It may be devoid of the really big and highly paid stars, but the Championship constantly serves up games that are worth watching.

Like many other neutrals, we've been rooting for Blackpool, partly due to them being the underdogs, unfashionable side and all that, and partly due to the East Fife connections. What a performance from Ian Holloway's lads.

Even going in to the second leg at the City Ground with a one goal deficit to make up, Nottingham Forest still remained the favourites to progress. When they tied the match up on aggregate early on, it looked bleak for the Tangerines but they showed tremendous spirit to fight back twice and go on and win the tie with ease by the end.

That eight minute spell when they rattled in three (and Forest had a great chance for one as well) was breathtaking football. DJ Campbell was inspired. His hat trick could easily have been double or more.

I'm delighted for Ian Holloway as well. One of the few great characters that remains in top level management in England. He's entertained us for years on the likes of Soccer AM, but now he's finally getting the chance to show people that he's a great manager as well, with his side entertaining us now on the pitch.

He could easily have had the Seasiders playing defensive stuff but went for it. A manager like him relaxes his players and when players have that weight lifted from them they respond like Blackpool did.

The other semi final, between Cardiff City and Leicester City, this evening had a lot to live up to and it didn't disappoint.

I had no idea how this one was going to end up. Pundits use the term "change in momentum" a lot, but if ever a game gave a visual display of this it was this one. There were some clear momentum shifts in this game. One goal, one save, one break in luck, the crossbar. They can all mean so much in football and they did tonight.

Once Cardiff had tied it up at three all on aggregate, it looked like there would only be one winner and it would be the Welsh side. Crashing two efforts off the bar in normal time saw Cardiff come agonisingly close to what would be our dream final from the four sides that had made the playoffs.

And that final was thankfully to come about after Cardiff triumphed 4-3 on penalties after a scoreless extra time. From Leicester's point of view, it's probably a good job that two of their players missed as Yann Kenmorgant's spot kick was the worst penalty I think I've ever seen in a big match shoot out.

Thankfully for Blackpool's DJ Campbell, Leicester are out. The Foxes loanee would have to have had to sit out the final if they'd made it through. Now he has a chance to fire Blackpool back into the big time.

And if they don't make it. We won't be too disappointed as it will be a Welsh side, with Scottish players, trying to make inroads into the English Premiership.

As for Blackpool, well they have peaked at the right time and are certainly the in-form team from the playoff contenders. Let's hope they can keep it going for one more game.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Since we're on our non league kick the last few days, we'll keep it going.

Sunday saw the playoff finals in both the Blue Square North and South Divisions and they were both very tight and close affairs.

Fleetwood Town, who missed out on the Championship by a point, triumphed 2-1 at home over Alfreton Town to secure their place in next year's Conference.

Fleetwood are a team much disliked by many in northern non league circles after their move up the ranks by splashing the cash and the subsequent arrogance deemed to exist amongst the club and their fans. It's the dream story of what can happen in the English pyramid though if someone invests money in a team, moving from the bottom to that one step before League football.

Most of the focus of our attention though was in the South playoff final. Woking travelled to Twerton Park to take on Bath City, a team with East Fife connections through the legendary Charlie Fleming, who is a cult hero at both clubs. We've followed their fortunes for the last few seasons and it's nice to see them finally get the success their football deserves.

Bath were formed in 1889 and have always been a non league club. Now, after their tense 1-0 win, they are one step away from League football.

It was a cracking match. You can view the highlights HERE. It's a great advert for non league football and what the TV companies are missing out on by not showing it currently.

Two fine matches. Two fine teams and additions to the Conference. The Blue Square Premier is just getting better and better each season.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Watching your team lose is bad enough. Watching them get thumped is even worse, especially if you've had to travel for that privilege.

On a few occasions in recent years, clubs have felt so bad that they've refunded the fans their costs of watching the shambles. The most high profile of those this season was Wigan, following their 9-1 hammering at Spurs in November. The players themselves decided to make the gesture to their 400 strong travelling support.

Captain Mario Melchiot commented at the time that "we feel that as a group of players we badly let down our supporters. This is a gesture we have to make and pay them back for their tremendous loyalty".

I'm not sure if they're going to do the same after yesterday's 8-0 debacle at Stamford Bridge. Maybe nine is the magic number or maybe they've realised that they could be pretty skint by the end of each season at this rate. Alternatively they could just play better. I think the fans would prefer that to getting cash refunds all the time.

There's been other similar instances in the UK over the years, but it's usually been on a pretty small scale.

The latest Club to offer such a refund though is in America. Seattle Sounders suffered a 4-0 thumping by LA Galaxy at home on Saturday, in front of a club record breaking MLS attendance of 36,273.

They played horrid and Sounders general manager, and part owner, Adrian Hanauer said after the game "That wasn't Sounders soccer and it was quite frankly embarrassing, humiliating and the fans don't deserve that". Easy to say such words but even better when the Club back it up with a huge gesture.

And we really are talking huge here. The Club has made the decision to refund all season ticket holders for Saturday's game. The refund won't be in cash, but in the form of a credit for next season's season ticket package. That's not them shirking the payout, as Seattle had a 96% renewal rate on their season tickets for this year. So how many season tickets are we talking about? A massive 32,000! That's one hell of a lot of dollars to be crediting fans with, so well done to the Club for that.

Not all fans have been receptive to the idea. Some for reasons that I've mentioned above. They'd rather the team just did better than give token gestures. Others think it's a classy move by the front office.

Where does it all end though? What triggers such a move? A huge defeat, an embarrassing defeat to a much lower team or a local rival, a shit performance or just one where the players don't look to be trying hard enough?

I watched a really poor game on Saturday night. Vancouver Whitecaps and Crystal Palace Baltimore (yeah, don't ask) played out a scoreless bore draw where each team forced just one save for the entire 90 minutes. The Caps could have been called Craps. It was woeful and two hours of my life I'm not getting back. I deserved to be paid for watching it, not just have a refund! That said, the draw put Vancouver on top of their division so was it really that bad.

The danger when clubs start to issue refunds like this is not just criteria, but the fact that you're creating an atmosphere where fans expect it. I'm sure the Wigan fans could argue that they got their refund once for an eight goal hammering, wny not every time.

Looking at East Fife's just finished season, and some other clubs, if they started issuing refunds every time they played crap, we'd get a pretty cheap season. If they backdated that, then I could possibly retire!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I'm not a fan of banks. They're not the nicest business. I know that first hand from working in one for 16 years! They do have a job to do though. They ARE businesses. They need to make money, now more so than ever.

With that in mind, I found it hilarious when Rangers supporters trooped along to the AGM of Lloyds Banking Group in Edinburgh last week demanding special treatment for the Huns and their staggering and frightening £31 million debt.

The Gers fans are warning Lloyds that they will encourage their fans to withdraw all their money and shares from the banking group if they don't ease up the pressure on the football club for debt repayment.

The fans claim that this could cost the bank anything up to £2.6 billion in losses. A figure I find very hard to believe knowing the Rangers fans that I do!

One shareholder present, John McPherson, said that Rangers has been "refused support by the bank"/ He then went on to ask Lloyds to "finally agree to give the club some money to operate properly within Europe".

So Rangers fans, I have some questions for you.

Is that not enough debt for you? Have you never thought of living within your means? Perhaps if you can't afford to move in the big boys circles, you shouldn't be there trying to compete when you can't.

Your club is currently in a perilous financial position, but yet you want to see it go further down that road to ruin? I don't care. I hate you fuckers anyway! That said, it wouldn't matter what team we're talking about here. This situation is just plain wrong. The bank don't owe you anything. You on the other hand owe the bank big time and in many different ways.

Surely it's not up to the bank to ensure that the football club are successful and competitive. I thought that was the job of the board and manager at Ibrox.

Now with the Government, and as such the general public, and as such me, owning 41% of Lloyds Banking Group, I object that Rangers or any football club should get special treatment. If I owed anything to Lloyds they'd be banging on my door faster than you knew it. I can see them obliging if I aksed them for more money on my loans (read debts) to go on European excursions.

So many football clubs are in danger of going bust nowadays. It's a sad state of affairs but maybe it needs some of the more high profile ones to actually go bust to finally make the others take notice and to curb their expenditure.

Rangers need to get their house in order themselves. It's not the banks job to sort them out and that goes for every other football club that's in a similar state.

For the good of the game, give yourselves a shake.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

We've always hated Leeds United here at AFTN. As we explained in the blog on February 3rd, we're not quite sure why we hate them so much, we just do!

With the final promotion spot in England's League One being tantalisingly poised this afternoon, we were hoping that the once mighty Leeds United would fail once again at getting out of the lower leagues. Sadly they didn't. But we have to tip our hats to them as they battled fantastically to get there.

It was an amazing end to the campaign. Going into today's games, five teams had a chance of promotion to the Championship. Weirdly, if we had to pick what team actually went up it would have gone in the order of Huddersfield Town, Charlton Athletic, Swindon Town, Millwall then Leeds. I say weirdly as that was just the complete reverse of how the teams were sitting as the day began, so not really on the cards!

For Huddersfield, it was highly unlikely that they would secure second as they needed too many other results going in their favour. For the other four though, it was to proved to be an amazing afternoon of ups and downs, twists and turns and all those other football cliches. Without too much hyperbole though, it was one of the most dramatic set of last day fixtures that I can remember and exciting to watch unfold.

Over the course of the afternoon four teams sat in that cherished second automatic promotion spot.

Leeds United had a nightmare first half that saw a goal disallowed and winger Max Gradel given a straight red within seconds of each other. Gradel's dismissal was just, as he seemed to stamp and push the Bristol Rovers defender Daniel Jones. The fact that Jones went down clutching his face won't endear him to fans across the country though. Whether that made the lino say it was a red and not just a booking, we don't know at this time.

Leeds then went into half-time goalless, but still sitting in that promotion spot on 84 points, the same as Charlton who were leading 1-0 but with a worse goal difference. Millwall and Swindon, who were playing each other and drawing 1-1 at the half, sat just a point behind. It couldn't have been much tighter.

As the second halves got underway, with Leeds a little behind due to the time added on in the first half when Gradel refused to leave the pitch, it all changed. Bristol Rovers took the lead against Leeds after 48 minutes when Darryl Duffy hit home as the Leeds players went to sleep.

That goal left Charlton sitting in the promotion spot, but only for a few minutes as ten man Leeds equalised eleven minutes later Jonathan Howson, sending Leeds back into second. That joy was short lived when Swindon Town's Gordon Greer put through his own net to give Millwall a 2-1 lead and second place 62 minutes into their game.

Unbelievably Leeds were playing like men possessed and it was perhaps fitting that it was their captain and most talented player Jermaine Beckford that became the Elland Road hero on 63 minutes when he hit what was to prove to be the game and promotion winning goal for Leeds.

Leeds held out quite comfortably in the end for a 2-1 win and automatic promotion. The final whistle saw scenes of ecstatic joy at Elland Road and the long suffering Leeds fans, who have admirably stuck by their club in numbers throughout their recent troubles, move one step closer to top flight football once again.

I have to commend Leeds for one of the most battling performances I've seen for a while. Down a man, out of the promotion spot, the fans demanding so much. Managers of other teams battling for promotion and relegation should just show their players the video of this match as to how it should be handled and job done.

Well done Leeds. Still don't like them much though!

Friday, May 7, 2010

The first legs of the Scottish League playoff semi-finals took place on Wednesday, thankfully without East Fife being part of the relegation aspect. They all seemed like good games, on paper at least, and the second legs tomorrow are mostly delicately poised.

It’s a pity that there’s no longer national TV coverage of the three lower divisions. Would make for better viewing at home than some of the SPL games we’ve had this season. Of course the TV companies think that any game not involving Rangers or Celtic, or one that features smaller sides, isn’t worthy of getting an audience. I think the amazing six all draw between Motherwell and Hibs on Wednesday shows otherwise.

I appreciate that BBC Alba has been groundbreaking in televising First Division games and they’re apparently going to be showing both legs of the First/Second Division promotion playoff final. As good as this is, it doesn’t go anywhere near far enough for what I want to see on our screens.

Yes, I am very aware I’m going to be in the small minority in this with regards to the general television watching Scottish public!

I watched a pile of old videos the other week of loads of East Fife games from the 80’s and 90’s. A time when both the BBC and STV maybe still didn’t care about the lower leagues, but at least paid them lip service by showing highlights/goals from every game in every division.

It was great to settle down in front of your TV at the weekend and watch the likes of Dougie Hope in action, whilst trying to spot yourself in the crowd. No HD, 3D or 56” screens for that, which is probably a good thing.

Nowadays you can’t even get a Scottish Cup semi final shown live if it doesn’t feature big enough teams.

This season the Beeb in England has done all four leagues there proud. Saturday night viewing of BBC1 is now a must for football fans. First Match of the Day and then the Football League Show. They even launched their “Late Kick Off” programme regionally in England, to round up local action from all the leagues along with behind the scenes news and interviews and archive footage of area greats from the past. Great stuff and hats off to them for what they’ve done. And all on council telly too!

That’s how football should be covered. Locally and in depth. How come Scotland misses out on such things? Where’s our regional round up?

The Scottish Football League really need to take a long, hard, serious look at how they market the game in Scotland. They should be trying to get their product out there and not just on bizarre gaelic channels. Even if it’s for free and without the networks paying for the footage. What have they got to lose? It can only promote the game and hopefully every club would benefit from new punters coming through the turnstiles.

We might want to make sure the television gantry at Bayview is facing the stand though, so as not to frighten poor unsuspecting newbies away with the bleak, desolate look. I don’t think HD will make that view look any better.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I've never much been a fan of Spurs. Not had much of a hatred towards them either mind you. Just indifferent to them usually.

Last night though I was wanting Tottenham Hotspur to win so much against Manchester City. For the good of the game.

The gulf between the top sides in the English Premiership and the rest just keeps growing every season. Man City winning a Champions League place would have been disasterous in that regard.

Now I know Tottenham aren't exactly a poor side either, but at least they have gone about their business in recent years with some dignity. They have more of what I see as honest, hard working pros than a club with overpaid, only came for the money primadonnas like Man City.

As the commentator said in last night's match. If City made it to the Champions League, with the money they already have and now the lure of top European football, they would be able to bring pretty much any player they wanted to the club. Killing the chances and players of so many clubs in the process.

Such power would only see them go from strength to strength and send the wrong message of how to succeed in the game, which I know is a sad reality of modern day football.

Spurs 1-0 win was sweet not only because it was a late sucker blow or because it was on City's home turf, but because it send a message, for this season at least, that it takes more than money to build a team.

The fact that a player like Peter Crouch got the winner was also pleasing. He's an unsung guy with, let's be honest here, questionable talent to be a top flight player at times.

It was pleasing for the fans too and especially those that have been wanting a break from the "big four" annual parade.

I was shocked to see so many City fans leaving the game in the last few minutes. The clock hadn't even reached 88 minutes when the cameras showed loads trooping out. By the end, the lower middle stand was pretty deserted. One City goal would have set up a tense final set of games. One City goal would have still given them hope. Why on earth would you leave such a vital, delicately poised game like that before the final whistle?

Money can't not only not buy a team. It can't obviously buy loyalty either.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

It wasn't a good weekend in England with regards to shedding any negative images around hooliganism that they need to for their 2018 World Cup bid.

There's certainly no doubt that the playoffs and relegation battles whip up the fervour of the fans of the teams involved. Sometimes that can boil over into the ugly and unacceptable scenes that we saw at Sheffield Wednesday and Luton Town over the Bank Holiday weekend. Maybe they just wanted to act out Quadrophenia but couldn't be arsed heading down to Brighton.

The behaviour of the Luton fans, as we discussed yesterday, was particularly shocking as it targetted the opposing players.

The FA are investigating both incidents but they are also looking at a third, less widely reported incident that happened over the weekend and one which we feel is the worst of the lot.

We love our non league football at AFTN and at this time of the season I like to check out all the levels of the pyramid to see who's been doing what, who have been promoted, who are in the playoffs and how the multitude of teams that East Fife have played in pre season friendlies over the years have got on. Yeah, I know, I should get out more.

My searching about took me to the Ryman League Premier Division (or Isthmian League as purists and anoraks alike will know it!). The league dates back to 1905 and is the third tier of the non league pyramid for London and South East clubs, with promotion securing a spot in the Blue Square Conference South.

Dartford were promoted as Champions this season, by a huge 18 point margin. The battle for the second promotion spot ended up between 4th placed Boreham Wood and 5th placed Kingstonian, both of whom had finished the season on 68 points and had successfully come through the playoff semi finals. And a battle it was, but for all the wrong reasons.

The playoff final was played on Saturday at Boreham Wood's Meadow Park, a stadium that also hosts Arsenal Ladies and Watford Reserves, with the home side running out 2-0 winners in front of 1102 fans.

Boreham's victory, and subsequent promotion, was marred however by an incident five minutes into the second half when a spectator ran onto the pitch and punched Kingstonian captain Francis Duku in the face.

With the game scoreless, the K's had been looking the better team at the time, but the incident, which left Duku shaken and with blurred vision, affected the whole side to a huge extent as Kingstonian manager Alan Dowson explained:

"That was disgusting and it's left us feeling sick.... We went from our best spell in the game to falling into our shells. We had young lads and players with their families in the ground out there and when four of five of them are saying they want to come off and get away from it you have to wonder about their state of mind."

Unsurprisingly the K's soon fell a goal behind, to a Ryan Moran header in the 69th minute. By the time they recovered their composure they were left chasing the game and lost a second goal late on as they pushed forward for an equaliser.

The match referee wrote a report about the incident and Kingstonian have lodged an appeal to the Ryman League that the assault "had a serious effect upon the ongoing performance of the team". The FA will be dealing with the appeal and Kingstonian have every right to lodge one. It can only be hoped that they revoke Boreham Wood's promotion and promote Kingstonian instead, without any replay.

Punishing Boreham Wood further would also seem to be in order as looking through some of the non league forums, this isn't the first time that there has been trouble with some Boreham Wood "supporters" when there's been a big game. Many fans of other teams are citing bad experiences of games there.

There were also incidents after the game, one of which involved a man holding a kid and threatening the Kingstonian fans. He apparently dropped the kid on the ground at one point!

Footage of the punch incident was being shown on Sky Sports News for a spell yesterday, but was removed, possibly for prosecution reasons, I don't know.

If we're being honest, Kingstonian's appeal will probably fail and Boreham Wood will just be hit by a fine. Dangerous precedents will be cited and all that. It will be shocking if this is the case. Let's just hope that for once, the FA actually show some balls and send Kingstonian up instead or at the very least order a replay at a neutral ground.

On a wider viewpoint, let's just hope that the idiots behind this weekend's troubles at Luton and Boreham Wood aren't a warning that the thugs have moved on to the non league game as it's easier to cause trouble due to there being less policing and stewarding there. I can see many watching at home thinking that and that would just be awful for the game at grassroots level.

* Edit: Some footage of the Sky Sports News report has now made it's way onto You Tube (from about 25 seconds in) *

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The teams who will battle it out for promotion to the Football League in the Blue Square Premier playoff final at Wembley on May 16th have now been settled.

Two hotly contested semi finals saw Oxford United overcome Rushden & Diamonds 3-1 on aggregate and York City triumph 2-0 on aggregate over Luton Town.

Luton's scummy fans didn't take things too well and attacked the York players - and to think they still hold a grudge over Millwall after all these years. Always hated Luton since the plastic pitch and identity card fiasco of the Thatcher years. Glad they're where they are and hope they get another 30 points deducted like they did a few years ago. I do feel sorry for Chairman Nick Owen, who is a good guy and really passionate about his club and football in general.

All that aside, it should be a great final, with both sides keen to regain their League status. York City were relegated to the Conference at the end of the 2003/04 season, with Oxford United going down to the non league level two years later at the end of the 2005/06 season, a huge downfall for them after being in the top tier First Division just 18 years previously.

The Blue Square Premier is just getting more and more competitive and each year is getting harder to get out of. With more ex League teams wanting their place back in the League ranks, the result is great football. Well, my idea of great football!

Even the relegation places were tight this season, with just two points seperating five sides in the end, and all four promoted sides from Conference North and South avoided the relegation places, showing just how strong in depth the pyramid system in England has become.

We complained a few weeks ago about there being no non league football on the box now that Setanta has gone bust (see Blog here) and it was frustrating at not being able to see the semi finals in anything but edited highlights form, but at least we have that and the final will be live on Sky Sports for many to see around the world.

Hopefully next season will be different and we can enjoy the non league action regularly on TV once again.

For those interested, here are the highlights from both first legs of both games for your enjoyment (we'll add links to the second leg highlights as soon as we can):

York City v Luton Town - Semi Final First Leg

Scummy Luton Fans Attacking York Players

Rushden & Diamonds v Oxford United - Semi Final First Leg

Oxford United v Rushden & Diamonds - Semi Final Second Leg And After

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Championship's regular season came to a close yesterday afternoon with the two sides battling for their survival, Sheffield Wednesday and Crystal Palace, serving up an exciting end to proceedings.

It wasn't the most skillful football that you'll ever see, but the passion, commitment and tension, both on and off the pitch, was a joy to behold. Obviously not enjoyable too much when it's your own team taking part, as Fife fans will attest to from this weekend.

The game was rivetting stuff and when Wednesday tied things up a two apiece with just three minutes remaining, the last few minutes saw a siege on the Palace goal, although the Londoners had the best chance themselves to tie things up.

As a neutral it was a great spectactle, especially the closing moments, and just what you want from a last day of the season encounter.

It's a shame that the crowd trouble at the end will take away from the onfield match action, but as soon as you saw both sets of fans on the pitch, you just knew it was inevitable that something was going to kick off.

At the other end of the table, it was great to see Blackpool make the playoffs. Sorry it was at Swansea's expense, but I think the Tangerines will have most neutrals rooting for them in the promotion playoffs. I know we'll be cheering them on.

There is a few Blackpool connections with East Fife after all (Allan Brown and pre season friendlies to name just two).

As regular readers will know, we hate the playoffs in Scotland. We love them in England though. I guess it's to do with the better size of the Leagues down there where they actually make sense, but the excitement they generate every single year helps as well! This year's promotion playoffs look no different, with some cracking games likely to be in store.

As we said at this very time last year, it's been a great Championship season and I've enjoyed following it all so far. Just more proof of where the most excitement can be found in English football these days, although the runs ins in League One and Two are also pretty darn exicting this season.

Real football, real fans. Long may it continue.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

You should know by now that we love underdogs here at AFTN (well most of the time!).

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that when we heard about Papua New Guinea side Hekari United leading the Oceania Champions League final, our interest was piqued and we just had to tune in to the second leg earlier this morning.

The thought of a team from such a small nation playing on the world stage against someone like Bayern Munich or Inter Milan is simply wonderful as far as we're concerned. They do have a lot of work to do before they are even allowed to enter the competition proper but more on that later.

So we settled down for the kick off at 2pm local time and listened to the game live online on New Zealand's Radio Sport network, as there was to be no live online streams and only delayed coverage shown later. Yes, the excitement never ends here at AFTN Towers!

The O League consists of just eight sides. This season it features clubs from Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Soloman Islands and the two big New Zealand powerhouses of Auckland City and Waitakere United. Australian clubs have competed in the Asian Champions League since 2006 and A League side Wellington Phoenix aren't invited to play.

The new O League format started in 2007 and Waitakere United won the first two tournaments, with Auckland City winning the 2009 version. To date, and even in the tournament's previous Oceania Club Championship guise, only clubs from New Zealand and Australia have represented the continent on the world stage.

With such a mixture of teams, and the way the groups are worked out, a side from a small country is guaranteed to reach the final. Fiji's 4R Electrical BA lost out on away goals in the 2007 tournament but since then two Soloman Island sides have been soundly whipped in the finals. This year though was to be different.

Papua New Guinea side Hekari United had shocked the newly crowned New Zealand Champions Waitakere United in the first leg, winning 3-0 in Port Moresby on April 17th, thanks to a fine brace from Golden Boot winner Kema Jack in front of over 15,000 ecstatic PNG fans.

Hekari are a side consisting of players mainly from PNG and the Soloman Islands, with Fiji also represented, but they have had a professional build up to getting to this stage in recent years, with first class scouting helping them to where they now are.

The second leg was still delicately poised though and Waitakere came out of the traps like their lives depended on it, knowing that they were huge favourites to at least win the second leg.

It was constant pressure from the Kiwis from kick off and the Hekari players seemed shellshocked when Neil Emblen headed home a Martin Bullock corner after just three minutes. As the wave after wave of Waitakere attacks peppered the Hekari goal it seemed inevitable that a second would go in at any time and then the floodgates would open and the PNG dream would be over.

The next goal was to be the key. If Hekari United could get it it would mean the New Zealand side would need to score four more to win.

After soaking up the intense early pressure Hekari's Alick Maemae pounced on a poor header back to the Waitakere keeper Danny Robinson and the stopper flattened the PNG side's player for a penalty which Kema Jack duly dispatched.

With the game now tied on the day, Hekari settled down and Waitakere seemed to lose their danger and the game played out to a pretty tame end. A late Waitakere penalty from Brent Fisher with six minutes to go saw the Kiwis win 2-1 on the day, but crowning Hekari United as Oceanic Champs 4-2 on aggregate.

The win not only secures Hekari a place at the 2010 Fifa World Club Cup in the UAE in December but it also secures US$500,000 for Papua New Guinea football. A huge sum that could make a real difference to the game there.

A change to the tournament rules by FIFA in 2007 means that the Oceania Champs have to play a preliminary tie against the local host Champions before they can enter the World Club Cup proper. This will mean that Hekari will face a game against UAE side Al-Jazira or Al-Wahda before they might get a crack at one of the world's real big boys.

If we're being honest, the chances of Hekari advancing beyond the preliminary round are very slim (the continents other qualifiers have struggled in the past), but you know that no matter what, the players, officials and fans are going to love every minute of getting there and being there.

That's what football should be all about. Well done Hekari United. More power to you.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

With the squad we have, it should have never been left to this stage, but thankfully East Fife managed to dig deep and earn themselves a fighting 2-2 draw against Arbroath at Gayfield this afternoon.

The point secured the Fife's Second Division status for another season and sent the Smokies into a relegation playoff battle which they will have a tough job winning. Rather them than us, but it was a close run thing.

The first half was nervy, with no real clear cut chances but the large fancy dress bedecked Fife support outnumbered the home fans around two to one in the disappointing 512 crowd and were in fine voice.

They were rewarded seven minutes into the second half when Bobby Linn hit a 30 yard screamer free kick into the net, sending the travelling support into raptures. Tom Aitken caught the moment and we bring it to you below:



The Fife were 1-0 up, as were the other team in the playoff mix, Stenhousemuir. It was looking good but after a season like this one, it would have been amazing it things played out smoothly and so it proved to be the case.

Arbroath equalised on the hour mark through Steven Doris and that brought the Arbroath fans back into the game again, only for them to be immediately silenced a minute later when the impressive Div Muir headed the Fife back into the lead.

And thanks to Kenny, here's that goal!:



James Redman looped home a second Arbroath equaliser with 19 minutes remaining, but with Peterhead restoring parity in their game with Stenny at around the same time, the pressure wasn't as intense for the closing minutes as it could have been on paper. In person it was very! At this stage a defeat would even see the Fife avoid the playoffs on goal difference but you can't take any chances in a league this tight.

It was nervy though. A brief second of glory in both matches could have made all the difference, but neither came, despite the ref's best attempt with over 5 minutes of stoppage time at Gayfield. We expect nothing less when we have Winter as ref.

The Smokies had a great chance to win the match in the closing minutes but it was to be our day of celebration and the party atmosphere kicked in once the final whistle went. May be a few underwear changes required when they travelling support got home though! Well done lads.

It was performance today that was full of the fight and spirit that has been lacking at time this season from the black and gold. Let's hope they bottle it and bring it out again in full force next season.

Stevie Crawford has had a difficult first term as Fife boss. He's made mistakes. He's admitted that. His honesty has gone down well and he has received the backing of pretty much all of the support. We need to see the team move forward next season now though. A similar tale next term won't see this backing hanging around for long. The close season and the inevitable comings and goings will be interesting to watch.

In just over two months time it will all be back on again. Can't wait! C'mon the Fife.
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