Sunday 24 October 2021

A Bad Day at the Office

Well that was shit, was my initial thought when thinking about this blog yesterday afternoon. Maybe that's a bit harsh, as you know the boys put in 100% effort during the game. However you cannot hide from the fact that yesterday was a bit shit.  As a Concord fan and not trying to speaking for others, we will never slag off the players or management. Never. In all my eight years of going to watch Concord I've not heard one boo. I've heard plenty from opposing fans, even when the slightest thing goes wrong, but never any negativity from the home supporters.  I think that's something to be proud of.  This is a tough league, it's a hard long season.  Always has been, and it's only getting harder with the quality of players now filtering down the pyramid into this division, and with more sides becoming full time. If you make individual errors you will get punished in this league.  There is no denying the fact that defensively we are letting in too many goals recently.  It's hard to win games if you have to score three goals a game to ensure you get the three points. I don't know how many penalties we have conceded this season, but I know it's too many. During the first half of yesterday's game, if you told me Hungerford would score four, I would have told you to get lost. We were comfortable for the opening thirty minutes. Then we gave away a silly penalty. The spirit and the character of the side shone through, and we equalised almost immediately.  The second half started and us fans thought ok, let's press on and gain the three points.  However we gave away two goals in the opening minutes of the half.  It was sloppy.  You cannot make mistakes at this level, and whilst it's frustrating for me to write that, the players know themselves.  These are good players, I've seen them all play excellently this season, every single one of them, so yes I think yesterday was a bad day at the office.  Put it to one side, and focus on the next league game, which is Dartford the league leaders at home. There is no better opportunity to show the Concord spirit and the true Concord way then giving one of the big sides in the league a right good game.

On a side note from the actual football on the pitch, it was wonderful to see so many people at the game yesterday.  Plenty of youngsters and faces I haven't seen before.  Driven by good initiatives from the committee members, let's hope those youngsters who turned up yesterday, pester their parents to carry on taking them and we can see them attend again.  Maybe they will become Concord players of the future! It was also nice to see so many people in the bar afterwards, in the past that has been quite a lonely after-match drink, so it was good to see people hang around and watch a player pick up a man of the match award.  A bit galling that it was an opposition player that won the trophy, but maybe next time a Concord player can win it!

Friday 15 October 2021

Interview with the Manager

It's been a promising start to the season for Concord Rangers and it's been a joy to watch them over the first games of the season. Concord are currently sitting in the play-off positions after nine league matches  under new management for this season.  How has Chris Search found the transition from managing the U18s to managing at National League South level?

"It's been a very enjoyable transition.  Look obviously the level is higher with regards to the quality of the players, and their individual experience and knowledge, but overall it's been a very good experience."

During the first months of the season, there have been some stand out performances alongside some disappointing results.  Is that down to having a young team?

"Personally I think it's down to a number of factors.  Firstly, yes we are a young team.  Secondly, we need to realise that some teams are almost full time, in regards to their training interaction time.  We maybe get four hours a week with our group, where as other teams in the league are getting I would think sixteen-twenty hours a week.  This obviously would play a factor, but we aren't complaining. It's just reality."

From watching on the sidelines, the team are trying to play more football in recent years.  Is that more important than results? How hard is it to get the team to continue playing that way if you've just had a bad result?

"I think the way we play is different for sure, and it's not a knock on anyone previously on how they've done things.  Myself and the coaching staff have a specific philosophy on how we want to play, and of course the results are the most important thing as that's what we're judged on, but I do believe we can get positive results whilst maintaining our preferred style of play.  I understand our style of play may be questioned and I respect everyone's views but the boys are buying into what we want and so far things are going ok."

Looking back on the games so far, the St Albans home game in the FA Cup looks like a missed opportunity, as the team deserved to win the game. How disappointing was that?

"St Albans was definitely a missed opportunity. For me in the first half, that's the best we've played this season.  Unfortunately we didn't get the result, and as much it's a frustration we can't focus on too much negativity.  We live and learn and as such, it's a case of dusting ourselves down and getting back to winning ways as soon as possible."

Enough about disappointments! What has been the stand out result so far?

"It has to be Dorking. It was my first ever game at this level, my adrenaline was sky high, but the boys were exceptional and showed some real back bone to earn the three points.  I was buzzing for about a week after that!"

What are you looking for the squad to improve on in the coming months?

"It's a case of fine tuning what we have.  We have a very good group but of course you have to strive to improve all areas.  To get into specifics as we stand it's to stay more compact out of possession and restrict the spacing between our players.  Other than that it's just pushing to improve the small margins."

As a fan it's been refreshing to watch the attacking players take risks. Is that something you're always willing your sides to do?

"The attackers are the ones that generally win the games so we need them to play in possession with freedom and enjoyment, it's something we of course try to promote but I wouldn't say it's something we've focussed specifically on. The forwards still need to pull their weight out of possession and this is something that's important to the group.  We can't have anyone slacking as our strength comes from everyone pulling in the same direction and working together.  My key is to make sure the boys enjoy what they're doing and giving them the best foundations to perform."

Sunday 19 September 2021

You're Missing Out

Pass. Move. Pass. Move.  Back to front. Ball on the deck. Constant movement. Easy on the eye, that's how purists want the game to be played.  Some of the best teams ever have played football this way. Pep's Barcelona and Bayern Munich spring to mind.  Obviously to reach that level you need exceptional footballers, but what is wrong with trying to aspire to that kind of football with the player's you have in your team.  Can you picture that archetypal Manchester City goal, where they pass the ball for a period of time, maintaining possession and then they pounce and Raheem Sterling turns the ball into the goal from 6 yards out.  Well Concord yesterday scored a similar goal, however Lamar Reynolds was wrongly ruled offside.  A side point, yesterday that linesman in particular was very keen to raise his flag, for both sides it had to be said.  I thought the benefit of the doubt was to be given to the attacking side this season under the new rules...maybe that news hasn't filtered down the leagues yet!

Anyway back to the main point, Concord are playing some delightful football at times this season.  It's really encouraging to see young footballers prepared to pass the ball out of defence, and having the courage to keep on trying if they at don't first succeed. The midfielders rotate constantly, and cover every blade of grass on the pitch, doing the hard work...but their quality on the ball is to be admired.  When the ball needs to be pinged to the advancing wing backs the ball is 9 times out of 10 perfect.  Those wing backs, whoever they are require a set of lungs to play in that position.  I remember when the wing back formation really came into fashion in this country, in around the mid 90s.  Most the Premier League sides dabbled in playing that way, and our Sunday league manager decided he wanted to try that formation out.  Well I played left wing back one week, and was completely f**ked after 90 minutes.  So it's really encouraging to see whoever plays wide right or left for Concord still defending and attacking the penalty boxes late into the game.

Lamar Reynolds again was excellent yesterday, I'm not surprised he ran out of legs late in the second half, as he had given his all.  With a bit more luck in front of goal, and maybe with an over-eager linesman not being in attendance he would have had a deserved couple of goals to his name.  The only minor downside on the team performance was the lack of that goal to get the club definitely into the next round of the Cup. If the game ended 3-0 St Albans could have had no complaints, St Albans dodged a bullet yesterday, and I would imagine the replay to be a lot tougher at their place.  It was a shame Temi missed the late penalty, but penalties can be scored and missed, and I'm sure Temi will bounce back from that with a solid performance in his next start.

Whilst it was a lovely Saturday afternoon, and people's times at weekends is precious, it would be great to see more fans in attendance at home games.  There was a time pre-pandemic at home games when it was full of kids who played for the youth teams and their parents, and it made for a really nice family atmosphere at games.  It would be fantastic if we could get back to that.  When there are more fans in the stadium it creates a better atmosphere for everyone, players and fans alike. For me growing up, the FA Cup gave me some of my best footballing memories, supporting a so-called big club. (I could go on about their lack of trophies over the last 30 years, but that's for another time!) However Tottenham's cup run under Gazza and Gary Lineker in 1991 will stay long in my memory, and also my Mum telling me Spurs had scored in the 1987 FA Cup Final, I was in the toilet at the time, I rushed out, and found that Gary Mabbutt had scored an own goal! Also the FA Cup was the scene of the best game I've ever seen live.  It was Southend 4 Northampton 4 in 1986 (I think, yes just googled it). In which there was like 6 goals scored in 20 minutes.  Richard Cadette scored his hat trick goal, and came over and ruffled my hair.  As a 10 year old then, I was ecstatic and can still remember it now.  That's what football memories are all about, and it would be great if some of the kids attending Concord matches will in 30 years time, maybe blog about the time a footballer celebrated with them.

Finally to finish, it was great to see that Billy Roast has returned to training with the club.  Billy is a real favourite with the fans, and his never-say-die attitude on the pitch, and his undoubted footballing qualities will be a real pleasure to watch again, when he's ready to return to playing.


Sunday 29 August 2021

The Dynamic Duo

 Yesterday was the proverbial game of two halves.  Let's focus on the good, and by good, I actually mean very good.  Concord at times during the first half were a delight to watch.  When they attacked, they attacked with power and purpose, and make the Hampton defence look clumsy and slow.  When I had last seen Hampton defence play at the Aspect Arena they were a solid unbreakable unit.  Well yesterday they were the opposite, and all credit for that can go the Dynamic Duo of Temi Babalola and Lamar Reynolds.

Let's be honest, for those of us who were there, the first Concord goal was one of the best you are likely to see.  A brilliant ball out wide to Lamar, who drove at the full back at pace, and the whipped in the perfect cross for Temi to expertly guide it home.  Seriously it was a superb goal.  Later on in the half, Temi returned the favour as he slid the ball to Lamar, who spun and got his shot on target, and Alan Julian will be unhappy that the shot crept in.  However a word of praise for Julian in the Hampton goal, apart from that slight error he was outstanding in that first half.  He made an amazing double save in the last few minutes of the first half, and you felt if Concord had gone into the break three nil up that would have been game over.  If Concord had gone in three nil up, that would have been fully deserved.  But, let's get back to Temi and Lamar.  Both are playing with huge confidence at the moment, you can tell it in their play.  Temi was up against a very experienced centre back in Charlie Wassmer yesterday, and his power and physique caused the Hampton centre back all sorts of problems.  However it's just not power with Temi, he has a good touch and his game awareness is getting better each week.  You can see a real player developing.  As for Lamar the change in him is remarkable, gone is the unsure play, and now he's someone who looks a threat every time he gets the ball.  He is gunning for his opposition defender and taking them on, driving into the box, being positive. It's great to watch.

Back to the match.  We all knew that Hampton that would come firing out of the traps in the second half. Well they couldn't be any worse.  Credit has to be given to Hampton and the way they changed shape. They looked like they had an extra man all half.  They played very, very well.  Of course they got an early goal to get themselves back into the game, but then that Concord spirit kicked in.  Yes, they rode their luck at times, and were indebted to Myles Roberts in goal.  Again Myles made some fantastic saves.  We've been very lucky with the quality of goalkeepers at the club through my years of watching the team, and Myles is another to add to that list.

It would be unfair on the whole team to single out the three players above, as yesterday was another great team performance. Going forward excellent as mentioned above and keeping out a very good team by defending heroically. The back three are well marshalled by the Captain, and it's encouraging to see Ollie and Jayden with the confidence to bring the ball out of defence.  Both full backs/wing backs were solid in defence and also offered a threat going forward.  The midfield three ran their socks off covering every inch of the pitch, whilst also showing real quality on the ball to link into the front player's strengths.  The subs who came on, knew what they were being thrust into yesterday, and gave everything to ensure with picked up the three points.

I was saying to someone at the game yesterday, just how nice it is to be back in the stadium watching football amongst friends, and it's made even sweeter that the team are performing well, making the experience even more enjoyable. Long may it continue!


Sunday 15 August 2021

That's Concord!

Here are some words. Heart. Desire. Tenacity. Brave. Teamwork. Spirit. Passion. Attitude. Yesterday's performance was all of those and more.  When you support the perennial underdogs in the division, the player's have to give their all to challenge the so-called better sides in the league, and credit should be given to all previous managers, coaches and players that this is Concord's 9th consecutive season at this level.

Searchy and the coaching staff couldn't have asked for a harder test on the opening day of the season, then to play the favourites for promotion, or you could say that you couldn't have asked for a better test.  No better way to prove yourselves then playing the best.  

The talk before the game in the stands, was that we were apprehensive, that Dorking side on paper is strong.  Proven players at this level, and players with experience in the leagues above.  "As long as we play well", "Not expecting much today."  Once the game got underway and after a period of time, the growing conclusion was that whilst Dorking had plenty of the ball, they weren't necessarily threatening and when they did find themselves in good positions their final ball was poor.  All the time Concord were gaining in confidence, maybe I'm not giving the team credit they may have been confident beforehand, but as the match progressed you could see our players grow in confidence.  Whilst the confidence grew on the pitch, so it did in the stands, talk turned of maybe us getting a can never be too confident!!

Everyone reading this knows what happened in the second half, with Dorking coming out a bit livelier, and Concord hung on in their for that initial ten minute burst.  Concord then started winning possession further up the pitch and started threatening, and creating really good goal-scoring chances...which weren't taken.  Dorking were still a threat, and special mention should go to young Myles Roberts on loan from Watford, who was dominant with crosses in the box, and looks an exceptional shot-stopper. We've been blessed with very good goalkeepers over the years at Concord, and Myles looks to add to that list. Obviously Myles big moment would come later in the half.  

I mentioned Lamar Reynolds in last week's blog, and for me he was lively again this week.  When I had watched Lamar in previous season's maybe his head would drop in matches, but yesterday he was constantly looking to take his full back on, and his direct approach gained a deserved penalty.  In a summer of missed penalties, a few of us couldn't watch as Temi stepped up.  We needn't have worried it was an excellently taken spot kick.

Dorking pressed with 5 minutes to go, and they won themselves a penalty.  Regarding the penalty, to quote Arsene Wenger "I didn't see it", but the Dorking players lined up for a free kick outside the box, and were equally surprised when the referee pointed to the spot.  Concord didn't deserve this late kick in the bollocks, and thanks to Myles Roberts superb save and excellent all-round defending on the follow-up Concord weren't denied.  It was heart-warming to see all ten outfield players go and celebrate with the keeper.  That's the team-spirit showing through.  The Concord DNA.  It's been passed onto another group of players.

It really was an excellent team performance yesterday, and all the players deserve mention, however I'd just like to single out a couple.  Arron Pollock was a real leader yesterday.  He headed and blocked everything, whilst also being a threat in the opposition box.  A captain's performance.  I'd been encouraged by Ryan Blackman's performance against Maldon the week before, but could he do it against higher quality players.  I needn't have worried.  He covered every blade of grass, much like another Blackman who had played for the club, and Ryan's passing was excellent throughout.

Obviously this season will have ups and downs like any other, but beating Dorking at home in the first game is a great start and puts the club and fans in a positive mind-set for matches ahead! 


Sunday 8 August 2021

Optimism over Pragmatism

It was great to be back at the Aspect Arena yesterday afternoon.  To hear the sounds of the turnstiles clicking as I approached the ground was fantastic. The little things in life, which bring cheer to your heart.  These tiny things seem so important after the last 18 months everyone has experienced.

Walking round the ground, just looking at people's faces, just happy to getting back to some kind of normality.  You could say, back to the old routine...but how have we all missed that old routine!

In my previous blog, I mentioned that the team maybe should be taking a more pragmatic approach to the season ahead.  In hindsight that was a little unfair without seeing the team play.  What I saw yesterday afternoon, encouraged me greatly.  Player's wanting to play out from the back.  It didn't come off every time, but they weren't scared to try again.  They were encouraged to try again.  Good passing from the centre-midfielders, always looking forward.  Always looking to break the press. Player's willing to try a trick, exuding confidence.  I'm not sure what has happened to Lamar Reynolds since the last time I saw him play, yesterday he was a revelation.  He did not stop running all day.  He was a constant threat.  More importantly he had a smile on his face.  In fact all the player's had a smile on their face.  

Let's not carried away totally, as the real stuff starts next week with the visit of one of the joint favourites for the league, in big spending Dorking. But if we can go into that match with the confidence and the willingness to play football, and look to entertain the fans, then the team will get 100% support from us watching and constant encouragement to try again.

This blog cannot pass by without mentioning one of the funniest things I have seen on a football pitch in a long time.  There was a little scuffle on the pitch, which led to a bit of a free-for-all.  James Blanchfield decided to run over and get involved, and was immediately but on his backside.  Now it was very windy yesterday, so I will give Blanchy the definite of the doubt, and he may have lost his balance in the wind!

Thursday 22 July 2021

New Season...New Concord?

This has been a while, but I'm speaking to you whilst self-isolating.  I dared to go out of the house and enjoy myself for one day at the Open golf last weekend and then got pinged by the track and trace app.  That'll teach me for trying to enjoy myself in 2021.

This is obviously a concern going forward, if you want to go and attend a game of football next season.  Will people bother if there is a risk of having to self-isolate?  Will people self-isolate if asked? Will they change the rules again? Does anyone know what they're meant to be doing?  That's a lot of questions and it feels like this country is losing the plot. Maybe it's time for a new leader...

Speaking of which Concord have a new leader, Chris Search has stepped up from the Under 18's to take charge of the side, after Danny Scopes departure.  Dan seemed to depart whilst they were giving the medals out at Wembley.  It all seemed a bit sudden and as just a fan of the club, I don't know any of the background and the reasoning why Dan left, but I was sorry to see him go and wish him and the back-room staff well for whatever they decide to do in the future.

However you can only look forward in football, especially in non-league football, as there always seems to be a revolving door aspect to it.  Don't fall in love with a player, as you will find that they will soon move onto pastures new.  Maybe just fancy them from afar...seems a good approach.  I appreciate that a club like Concord will always be a club which gives an opportunity/ a second chance to young players and it's up to the player to take advantage of that.  In my years of following the club, (not as long as some of you reading this) I've seen plenty of player's move onto a higher level...but at the back of your mind is "you bastard, you could have given us one season more!" This pre-season has been no different, and there is another new raft of players joining Concord, and there will probably be more before the start of the season, and also more arriving and departing during the season.

My spies at the pre-season games so far, have told me that Searchy, who is ably assisted by Danny Green this season, is asking the team to play out from the back more.  That's always good to hear, however being an ever increasing cynic and curmudgeon, maybe a more direct approach would be beneficial in an increasingly physical National League South.  It would probably be better to pass judgement once I've seen the team play this season myself.  It won't be this weekend though.  I'm not allowed out for another six days.  What a farce!