All posts by jonsmalldon

At the Match: Bexhill Town v Rye Town

Tackled? … Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2019, All rights reserved

An unfamiliar league at a very familiar venue. This was my first visit to East Sussex Football League – an oversight for which I really should apologise – but it was at the Polegrove where I’ve already seen Bexhill United and Bexhill United Ladies several times. And the old ground played host today to what some commentators might call a proper showing of good, honest football. By which I mean: there were hard tackles, competitive play, obscene attempts to fool the ref, several dodgy calls and a game whose result was in doubt right until the end. I loved it.

For those needing a frame of reference, we’re officially below the level 11 formal base of the English pyramid but with teams that could easily gain promotion and compete at that level. Why, with a dozen or so promotions, Manchester United could be the visitors. It’s good to dream.

Rye took the lead early in the first half but were pegged back by a determined Bexhill side before half time. A soft (but technically correct) gave the home side a 2-1 lead in the second half, which they held until the finish, overcoming a very close call that saw a late equaliser disallowed for offside. Bexhill deserved the win as they seemed to have more of the possession and their attacks were more probing; Rye will feel gutted they blew a lead and came so close to a leveller.

All in all,  a good afternoon of football. I took the camera along and some photos are here. I shan’t leave it so long before venturing to the ESFL again.

At the match: Hastings United v Cray Wanderers

Close quarters action … Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2019, All rights reserved.

It was the kind of day where a person dressed as an animal because they are raising money for charity winds up leading the home fans in a chant of “We’ve got the best bear in the league.” It was the kind of day where going 2-0 down after six minutes never seemed to anyone like the end of the match. It was the kind of day where the ref looks stern and blows the whistle for an imagined ankle tap but then fails to notice actual wrestling. It was a superb kind of day, full of all the best that non league can offer.

Elsewhere in the country they’ve been having weather. This is Hastings, we have wind. Parkrun was cancelled because Storm Hannah meant volunteers could not safely stand still and marshall. Later in the day, up the hill and a bit more sheltered, it had calmed down a little but was still ever present. And so, on this very blustery day, we got ourselves a whirlwind of a match.

Cray are top of the table by a country mile. One defeat all season long. Hastings gave them determined pursuit earlier in the year but have drifted back a fair bit since. Only a fool would have backed anything other than an away win … and I would have loved to have seen the odds when the Hastings defence fluffed their lines twice in quick succession to give the almost invincible visitors that two goal lead.

But, how things change. It was 2-2 at the half’s midpoint. Cruttwell sent in a howitzer that, wind assisted, deceived the keeper and stayed true under the bar before Rodari scored a carbon copy of Cray’s goals with a close-in tap.

In the tempest, more madness. Good luck to anyone trying to explain what happened. Bars and posts were hit. Players felled. Others dived. Goalie redemption from well-saved shots. The referee waved cards. Some felt the urge to introduce themselves to opponents with some choice expressions. 491 people got their money’s worth and then some. A dancing bear lead the chants and several hundred quid went towards a homeless charity. The usual.

The winner came surprisingly early in the second half. Another well struck shot, this time against the wind. With still more than half an hour to go more goals seemed likely but despite no let up in the end to end action, none came. In the end, after five and more minutes of injury time, it was 3-2 to Hastings. Somehow.

I brought along the camera. Some photos are here. Hastings are in the running for the end of season play offs even if I have no idea how they will actually work; Cray will win the division even despite today. And we will all be back again for more in the future. Although maybe not the charity bear.

At the match: Westfield v Worthing Town

Midfield tussle … Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2019, All rights reserved

“I feel sorry for their goalie,” so offered the ten-year-old as the fourth goal rolled in, “because he’s not really had the chance to show whether he’s any good or not.” A fair point. Worthing Town conceded five today on their visit today and if there’s a grim positive they can take away it’s that no one person was to blame. Their defeat was most definitely a team effort.

On the Baker and Lineker podcast this week someone asked if players can tell they’re in a stinker. Sure, Lineker said, sometimes, for whatever reason, you just know that nothing is gelling, nothing is working. And so that was Worthing Town today. Right from the off they just didn’t seem to click. Individual touches would be followed by the player not being where the pass was going, or the midfield not being able to get the ball forwards into anything like a threatening position. On another day they might have been able to work through it but, in contrast, Westfield looked like they’d been fed on raw meat and brain tonic. Their moves worked, they looked assured and, rather crucially, at no point did they start yelling at each other.

No wonder they were 2-0 up inside ten minutes (two for George King). The surprise was that they didn’t keep adding to it. Worthing’s only real decent spell came in the fifteen minutes before the break but you’d be hard pressed to remember a clear chance. In the second half, despite a Town goal midway through the half, it was more or less the same. Westfield moved the ball quickly and well. Three shots went in but many more could have done. The bar was hit, a couple of open goals spurned and lines fluffed when it seemed easier to score. In the end it was 5-1. It actually felt a lot more comprehensive than that.

The result leapfrogs Westfield over Worthing Town, so I have to assume that our Internazionale clad boys are usually better than today or else they’d be much lower down the table. A bad day at the office (they appeared to have travelled light) from which I suspect they will recover. They may even get themselves together for next week. They have a home match. Their visitors will be very familiar to them. It’s Westfield.

I brought the camera long. Some photos are here.

At English National Opera: La Boheme

A painter, a poet, a scholar, a musician, a seamstress and a singer walk into a Parisian cafe … and start singing in English. Welcome to La Boheme, where the title remains French but the words have been translated from the Italian into English. The Bohemian life at English National Opera in fact but even here, in this very-easy-on-the-eye production from polymath Jonathan Miller, it still ends with the Marcello’s howl of despair over the body of the dead Mimi.

Things move slowly in the world of opera so only now, some 120 years on from the era, are there now open, mainstream, discussions about quite how many classics of the repertoire feature dead young women. We’ll wait to see what changes in future productions in terms of emphasis or drawing new ideas out of the text and music. For now, this 2009 example is a splendid example of a fully traditional interpretation: the garret is a garret, the cafe a cafe, it snows on the streets of a recognisable Paris, and the characters move and act as the directions and music have always told them to. Which makes it, unfairly, sound like a warhorse. Being Miller, it looks stunning – the set movers received a round of applause at one point – and gives space the characters to come to life. If it lacks the intimacy that Boheme always seems to me to demand, I’ll put that down to the fact that intimacy is hard within the gargantuan dimensions of the London Coliseum.

It’s a fact that those same dimensions can often cause voices to be lost. Sitting in the Upper Circle (get me), that was the case a bit this evening. Nothing too catastrophic but if I were the kind of demanding person who takes this seriously, I’d be cross. The highlights were all sung magnificently though. Welsh soprano, Natalya Romaniw as Mimi, in particular, had the most wonderful tone and range throughout. Nicholas Lester also deserved the applause for his Marcello, and Nadine Benjamin was a damn fine Musetta. All of this under the baton of Valentina Paleggi who was making her debut conducting the ENO and who, to this ear, did a more than decent job.

The ENO is, rightly, much maligned these days. Its slimmed down schedule and questionable artistic and commercial choices make it an easy and deserving target. But on nights like this you want to forget all that. Boheme a great opera and productions that do it justice are a special pleasure. This was one such. Hopefully, we’ll be hearing more about quality like this (played to a pretty full house) and less of the managerial nonsense in the future.

At the match: Westfield v Rottingdean Village

Lining up for a corner … Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2019, All rights reserved

A mild and bright February day saw the Parish Field play host to a hard and competitive Southern Combination fixture in which, despite a lot of huff and bluster from the hosts, it was the AC Milan clad visitors who emerged victorious.

It’s been too long since I last visited Westfield. I offer no excuses. I do always enjoy my visits though, and so it was, despite the result, again today. What we had was an evenly matched, end-to-end, tussle, which was decided, ultimately, because Rottingdean Village’s defence was able to prevent Westfield getting the ball into the box easily and, on the occasions it did get there, the same defence was on hand to swarm and deny too many clear shots on targets. It frustrated the fans but achieved the aim.

Not that Rottingdean were a negative team. They attacked well themselves. Their second goal in particular was the result of a well-worked counter attack, but they also had enough opportunities created from their own sound build-up play, forcing some good saves out of the Westfield goalie.

Rottingdean led 1-0 at the break and, after an even second half, added to it on 65 minutes. Ten minutes later, Westfield pulled one back and so we had a frantic final fifteen minutes as they sought an equaliser. None came despite their best endeavours.

The result puts Rottingdean within sight of the top of the table but the amount of games others have in hand probably puts the summit out of reach. Westfield remain in the lower half of the table and their -11 goal difference probably shows where the problem lies.

I won’t leave it so long next time. There’s good football to be had at the Parish Field. I brought my camera along this time and the results are here.

Film Review: High Flying Bird

‘I love God and all of his black people.’ This is the mantra that Spencer, a Bronx basketball coach who builds up players only to see them put into the system where their talents are controlled by people who can’t play basketball (so they invented ‘a game on top of a game’), insists is said whenever anybody brings up the institution of slavery with relation to the modern day NBA.  The fact that this is important should alert you to the fact that whilst High Flying Bird is very much a film about sport, it is resolutely not a sports film. And that’s no bad thing.

Funded by Netflix and shot by Steven Soderbergh on a smartphone for a budget of around $2m, High Flying Bird gets everything done inside 90 minutes. Given that there are talking heads with current players and the usual credits to run that probably means we’re looking at around 60-70 minutes of actual film. Or, about the same length of time as the average tedious speech took in the second series of Westworld. Soderbergh gets fun, he directs things at a pace, he uses the distortions and wide angles allowed by the smartphone beautifully. The script, from Tarell Alvin McCraney (writer of Moonlight), keeps things going forward whilst allowing us just enough of a glimpse into the characters’ worlds.

Race dominates. The players and the people on their side are all black. The owners and their shady dealers are white. Our way in to this world is agent Ray (Andre Holland) who has the number one draft pick, Erick Scott (Melvin Gregg) on his books. They would both be sitting pretty but for the fact that the players and owners are in dispute so the NBA is in lockout. No games are being played, no money being made. Ray, whose ultimate goal could be an end to the lockout, or just some money, or maybe a wholesale reinvention of the ownership of basketball, flies between his ex-assistant, the mother/agent of a big name player, his former mentor, the players’ union legal rep, and the owners’ group’s head honcho, fast-talking throughout and trying to bend the rules of the game on top of a game.

If it’s hard to describe what actually happens then, in part, it’s because so much hinges on understanding the disruption taking place. And that could last as long as a tweet impression or it could be as longlasting as a trade deal. For a 75 minutes of action film, there is a lot to think about.

The script is sharp, the observations brutal. We may quibble that Netflix themselves get a positive mention but then it is only a quibble. Soderbergh is on fire here and he draws top drawer performances from his cast. A special mention to Jeryl Prescott who takes the role of Emera Umber (the aformentioned mother/agent) and makes you want to see a whole series of her owning every scene she’s in.

So, we’re in definite slam dunk territory for Netflix. Another strong film to add to their growing library. One that I think we will be talking about for a long time to come.

At the match: Eastbourne Town Ladies v QPR Girls Development

There were some hard tackles … Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2019, All rights reserved

Off to the Saffrons with a new lens in the bag and an understanding that there would be a tea bar open for this London & South East Regional Women’s League fixture between the home side of Eastbourne Town and the visitors of Queens Park Rangers Girls Development.  The latter turned up with nobody on the bench but that didn’t stop them playing a full part in this end-to-end contest which had more than a fair few bruising challenges.

It seemed, at first, as if the strong wind blowing down the pitch from behind the aforementioned tea bar directly at the goal at the other end would play a big part in proceedings. Early on, Town, with the wind at the backs rained shots down on the QPR goal and the visitors simply could not clear. Everything kept coming back. But, gradually, the match evened out. The girls in red and black hoops began to move the ball well and forced the Town defence into some last-ditch tackles and ‘keeper Elleah Fenner into some top notch saves. 0-0 at the break was fair.

The second half carried on in a similar vein. Both teams creating chances and only strong defence preventing a score. It took until around the hour mark for that to change. Molly Hill scored after a lapse at the back, before adding to her tally from a ball whose swing towards the goal from out right confused the ‘keeper. Finally, a hat-trick was hers on 80 minutes as she rounded the goalie. A win for Eastbourne was definitely fair, a 3-0 defeat for QPR will probably have hurt like hell.

All in all, an excellent game of football. It’s a shame that Town only have two more league fixtures this season. QPR, on the other hand, have four matches left. Both teams have 21 points so QPR may well be thinking that they might have lost the battle today but they could still win the war and finish above today’s foes.

The camera (with new lens) was with me. Some photos are here.