Category Archives: Waffle

At the match: England v Pakistan, 2nd ODI, England win by 12 runs

“Dad, dad … why is it that Pakistan are only allowed one review per innings but this is their third … dad, dad …” Such is the danger of sitting in the family stand. Questions to the rear from a wide-eyed child struggling to get why Umpire’s Call means you don’t lose a challenge whilst in front a collective of eight adults (with two children somewhere in the vicinity to give them permission to be in Block T) get progressively more swaying as the booze takes its effect. “I love cricket,” one of them said at one point, “what’s the score?”

The Ageas Bowl at Southampton remains the strangest of beasts. The view for the spectators is probably amongst the best of any ground. The seats are comfortable. And, for those who wish to, the range and ease of pretty much any kind of food, drink or distracting entertainment is easy to access. But, Christ, everything else … Getting to the ground is the same as any big city ground: you can’t park. With the obvious point being that you’re not in a big city, you’re in the middle of nowhere. So Park & Ride, or shuttle from distant stations, or … well, there is an extensive list. But it’s not great and last year we were caught in the crush that means you stand no chance of seeing the first ball (this year we were in ludicrously early) and, so again, people who had no doubt arrived at the right spot an hour before the start were struggling to their seats up to and past midday.

And, with all the negatives out of the way, we can now move on to what a tremendous day this was.

There is still a hardcore of English cricket fans who despise limited over cricket. Pyjama cricket, as it was disparagingly called, and probably still is by men old enough to own a pair of pyjamas. Today’s match will have come close to their worst fear. (In Ireland and here, there were 2 one-day internationals today: nearly 1,700 runs between them with just 20 wickets falling.) But that does a massive disservice to what we witnessed.

Firstly, yes. The pitch didn’t offer much to the bowler. And, yes, with the ICC preparing pitches for the upcoming World Cup then we will be having more of the same. More so, probably. Expect at least one match to have 1,000 runs. But, secondly, come on … you might be batting on a road but the boundaries are deep here at the Ageas and it’s not the pitch’s fault that too many bowlers today couldn’t follow up one good, probing delivery with another. When the margins are so fine you have to be close to perfect and, today, the bowlers were not.

Today will be remembered for two great individual innings. The obvious one being Jos Buttler’s for England which, effectively won the match. England had been building rather than exciting before Buttler came on. Only Bairstow had looked like he was in proper form, scoring his 51 off 45 before being caught in juggling fashion on the boundary. Buttler came on with 14.5 overs left. With Eoin Morgan he put on 162 in 89 balls; his personal contribution being 110 of those runs in 55. He hit his century with a 6 because of course he would hit his century with a 6.

Pakistan came close. Fakhar Zaman’s 138 from 106 was probably acceptable to cricket purists. He grabbed the strike and built from the start of the innings. Pakistan were always there or thereabouts on the DLS score. Where England had needed explosions at the end to reach 373, Pakistan were constantly within striking distance of the run rate. It took the most speculative of appeals, confirmed only via the sensitivity of the edge microphone, to pick out that Zaman had lightly nicked a wide ball into the welcoming keeper’s gloves. His innings over, there could have been a collapse but Pakistan kept coming. Asif Ali made 51 from 36, but wickets began to fall at regular enough intervals, and the England bowlers, in particular Willey, found a line that meant it was became harder and harder to find big runs when needed. England winning, in the end, by 12 runs.

All in all, a splendid day’s cricket then. Sons and daughters had their questions answered by parents of varying degrees of knowledge and engagement. The beer snake wound its way in the distance before being thrown in the direction of the field for reasons which made less sense than the Umpire’s Call review law. And, thanks to Royal London’s limited selection of adverts, we all know that we can upload a video of us bowling to have a chance of bowling Nasser Hussein out. Oh, and the play on the field was decent too.

At the Match: 2019 FA Women’s Cup Final

“Nah, it was rubbish. Boring. The second half was better but, nah, rubbish.” So said the man on the train, talking with that overconfidence that people who are wrong about everything all the time have. He was explaining to the person at the other end that he would soon be arriving into Sevenoaks and could be freed from what clearly had been a nightmare to him. The woman he was with nudged him, “It was a good game. What are you talking about?” But he’d already hung up. Still, if there’s a metaphor there about women’s struggle in the sporting world I can’t see it. Honestly. I just wanted them all to get off the sodding train so I could sit down for the final leg of my journey back to Hastings.

43,000 and change were at Wembley to see Manchester City play West Ham United in the FA Women’s Cup Final. An odd attendance given that the FA had announced 52,000 tickets sold. With City’s men being regulars at Wembley and West Ham’s blokes having an overlapping fixture – plus a kick off time that excluded anyone outside the southeast commuter belt – it wasn’t a bad crowd. But it felt like it should have been more. And that slight disappointment reflects the massive strides that the big women’s football events have made but also indicates the need to really solidify those foundations. Too many matches at professional level are played to too tiny crowds. That must surely, surely, be about to change.

This game alone won’t have done it but that’s not a surprise. Manchester City are unbeaten in domestic football this year whereas West Ham United have been a tier one side for a season, and that only because their business plan convinced the FA to let them into the restructured WSL. The bookies had City at 1/6 to win. And so, with no shame at all to West Ham, that is what transpired.

It was 0-0 at half time and even in the number of disputed penalty calls that the ref had waved away (one each) as well. West Ham had the chance to take the lead but a header, probably too soft, was well saved. Shortly after the break, City took the lead when the West Ham ‘keeper failed to make a routine save and, from then on, it was never in doubt. 3-0 was unfair to the Irons but it could have been worse as by the end a rampant City were powering forth at will. The pick of the three was the last one: a calm under pressure finish around a charging-out goalie from Lauren Hemp.

The only downsides were personal ones. For a modern stadium, Wembley really is bollocks at the basics. Queues for a coffee move at a snail’s pace, the concourses are unwelcoming and, as shown again today, with the upper tier empty, the sound echoes bizarrely in the bowl. And I couldn’t understand why, in a bid to rally the crowd beforehand, the FA had a DJ play subdued, laid back grooves. That’s what you play when you want annoying youths to disperse from the station, not when you want neutrals to become part of the crowd. Odd. Oh, and I spent the wrong side of £13 putting crap food in my son’s mouth.

But, despite the moans, an excellent day out. I’ll be back next year. Even if the dreary bloke on the train won’t be. I bet his missus will be though.

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.

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.

At the Match: Bexhill United v AFC Varndeanians

Watching the match from the Polegrove stand … Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2019, all rights reserved

“For fuck’s sake, just fucking hold the fucking cunty thing up, fucking will you?” So enquired an AFC Varndeanians player of a team-mate as yet another attack from the visitors came to nought in the first half. And that was one of the milder interactions in a feisty, competitive game between the sides placed third and fourth in the first division of the Southern Combination Football League. 

The Polegrove pitch is in good nick despite now being played on regularly by two Bexhill United teams and Bexhill Town who’ve moved here from Bulverhythe. And the crowd were mostly in good humour throughout the kind of game that gives non league football a good name. Hard fought, tight, bursts of skill and a suitable amount of controversy. And a pint costs £3 once the taps have been given a proper pre-match clean.

It was in the second period that the match really came to life. The first was competitive without ever being particularly exciting. Neither goalie had too much to do as attacks were well handled by the defences. That changed after the break as Bexhill exerted real pressure over a prolonged period, forcing some good stops from the Varndeanians’ ‘keeper. The deadlock was broken on 71 minutes through the hard-working Nathan Lopez. Bexhill held the lead for just under a quarter of an hour, in which time the red and black clad visitors grew stronger. Their equaliser via Joe Keehan might have been scrappy and slightly against the run of play but the remainder of the game saw the lion’s share of possession and chances go their way. A draw, overall, a fair result.

Sadly though, this is the classic draw that neither team would really have wanted. Bexhill may sit only one point behind second placed Alfold but it’s the higher team with the game in hand; Varndeanians are a further five behind Bexhill although have played a game less. It’s tight but you like to knock over your rivals in such chases.

Still, the positives are that there seemed to be a healthy number of people here and this Bexhill team really seems solid is performing well. AFC Varndeanians can also be happy. After two seasons basically at the basement of the division they are doing things well enough to be at the top end. That might even bring some kind of pleasure to to players who when on the pitch demand to know what’s to be done with the cunty thing.

At the match: Hastings United v Sittingbourne

“I don’t care if it’s boring from now on, we’re three-nil up.” So said the ten year old as we reflected on the difference between today’s fayre and the endurance test that was the Boxing Day game against Sevenoaks. Chalk and cheese. Unless you were a Sittingbourne fan but they seemed content to be entertained by their own singing which, when your team is 5-0 down by the break, may be the best course of action.

It was 5-0 at the end as well. One of those days when the goals come in a flurry after which the rhythm that made it happen can’t be found again. Hastings changed a couple of things at half time which may have made a difference. For one thing they took off their talismanic Sam Adams, and for another made a conscious decision to pass the ball around rather than force any issues through long throws or deep crosses. It was those crosses that led to most of the goals with a hat-trick for Jack Dixon finished just before the interval with an exocet blast of a header.

But even though Hastings never particularly threatened in the second forty-five they looked so obviously the better team. Sittingbourne have seen much better days and obviously enjoy the kind of support that means they should see better days again soon. But they really did today look like a side sitting 16th in the division and with only 7 points collected away from home. Even before goal one went in you got the impression they weren’t convinced they could do it.

So, five is the number of the day. Five goals, obviously. But Hastings are now five points above Whyteleafe but five behind leaders Cray Wanderers with their game in hand. Second place and its annoying missing out of promotion is there for the taking. There are, as Sittingbourne may attest, worse places to be.

At the match: Rugby Town v Oadby Town

At the start of the 1995/6 season, I met my cousin at Butlin Road and we watched newly promoted Newport AFC take on established Southern League club, VS Rugby. The visitors, backed by a noisy travelling support, won the day (3-1 from memory). At the end of the season, Valley were relegated and today, at a rough guess, sit something like 100 places below Newport (now of League 2) in the English football pyramid. There’s probably a key life lesson to be learnt there but I’m damned if I can see it.

Rugby, now called Rugby Town and in their fourth league inside a decade, are second in the United Counties League Premier Division. Only one team goes up and that place is occupied by Daventry Town. Dav were the visitors on Boxing Day and their 2-0 win gives them a 12 point cushion at the mid point of the season. It looks for all the world that Rugby will be taking home the dubious honour of ‘best ground in the league’ next season as well as this.

As for the game, I’ll fall back on the word the guy in front of me turned and said as the second half began: ofnadwy. Don’t speak Welsh? Your loss. As is par for the course at all Warwickshire non league grounds, recent developments in Pobol y Cwm were evaluated alongside the ongoing issues with the team. The key findings were that what’s been going on with Sioned just doesn’t make sense and that Rugby have lost their purpose and cohesion after a strong start to the year.

And there really was precious little cohesion in a first half that had nudging ten minutes added time after the Oadby keeper dislocated his shoulder diving hard into a goalmouth scramble. He was replaced by an outfield sub but decent work from the Oadby midfield meant he wasn’t tested at all. In fact, the best chances fell to the visitors who, with stronger shooting, would have been two up.

The second half had more life. Oadby still fought hard but, gradually, Rugby pulled away. Three goals, and one more disallowed for offside, gave them a comfortable sounding victory after what was a very stodgy performance.

And so the football world rolls on. Oadby’s next match will be a mid table tussle with Eynesbury. Rugby travel to Cogenhoe. And if you think you know how pronounce that place, I can assure you that you do not.