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) *

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