Sunday, 23 September 2018

The Magic of the Cup

Speak to a fan of a Premier League team, and what will the response be when you say "What do you think about the FA Cup?" The answer nine times out of ten is "could do without it mate, we need to keep fresh for the league".  In today's world of money talks in the top two divisions, that attitude is probably true.  To find the true magic of the cup, you need to step into the non-league world.

The FA Cup is still the competition which captures the imagination for player's, coaching staff and fans of these non-league teams.  For anyone under the age of 25 reading this, you will never appreciate the glory of FA Cup Final day on the TV.  Your team didn't even need to be in it. It was amazing.

Setting off for the Aspect Arena on a wet Saturday afternoon, the mind wanders as to what could await Concord Rangers in this year's cup.  I'll let you into a little secret readers, I also support another football team, and I never get that feeling about the FA Cup with them, even when we consistently lose in the semi-finals.

I'm a bit of jonny-come-lately with Concord and despite them being local to me, I only started following them when they reached the 1st round of the FA Cup in 2014.  Now I couldn't have been the only fan who did that, so that's another thing the FA Cup can do.  It captures the indifferent fans attention, and I've said this many times before about Concord.  Once you've gone once, that's it...Concord just grabs you.

Wouldn't it be great if Concord could reach the promised land of the 1st round proper again.  Thirty-two teams non-league teams will reach that round, so why can't it be Concord?  There's no reason why it can't.  The team is well coached, pragmatic, but also more importantly for those special cup-ties it has player's that can do something out of the ordinary.  If a player does something magical in a cup-tie it will be talked of in folklore by the club's fans. 

So back to yesterday's game, Margate was potentially a banana-skin for Concord.  Albeit a team from a league below, but Margate are a side who have in the past spent money and time in the Conference South.  Imagine my surprise also when Leroy Lita appeared for Margate up front.  Leroy is obviously on his way down the football pyramid, and if I was a Margate fan I would have appreciated him running a bit yesterday.  I don't think he broke sweat.

Concord on a spell of indifferent results, started the match slowly, but as the game wore on began to dominate possession and territory.  Whilst not creating many chances in the first half, for those watching it was just a case of "we'll get a goal soon", but for the pessimists amongst the watching support it was a case of "we better get one soon!"

The second half started with the score still goal-less, and the goal came early in the 2nd half, with Jack Midson bundling the ball over the line after good work from Lee Minshull at the far post.  A little point about Lee Minshull...every team at whatever level needs someone like Minshull.  He's good on the ball, but he will fight the team. Any trouble, and he's there front and centre.  Lovely fella off the pitch, I would not want to tangle with him on it!

Concord were in control, and it was nice to see so many young player's on the bench experiencing an FA Cup fixture for probably the first team.  It was the best of this young crop of player's Adam Topley who came on and scored a delightful header to wrap the game up in the dying stages. Concord are now in the 3rd Qualifying Round and await Monday's with anticipation.

Two rounds away from something special happening again.  It's what every player and fan loves at this level. Long live the FA Cup!


Sunday, 19 August 2018

The Buzz


Early season optimism has moved onto something more serious. One thing's for sure Concord Rangers won't be in a relegation fight this season. Two home games in a week, tested Concord for entirely different reasons. First up was Dartford, a team who finished last season in 2nd place.  Dartford are always a strong and physical side, Dartford will never blow teams away with their playing style, but after every game with them you know you've been in a battle.  The match wasn't pretty. Every single challenge was highly contested, player's had to dig in and just clear their lines.  Dartford had the majority of possession and whilst they put plenty of crosses in the box, they never created a "oh he should have finished that chance".  Concord's first goal against Dartford was one of those I was there strikes.  Imagine Marco Van Basten's goal in the European Championships in 1988. It was from that kind of angle, but it was not a full volley. It was a half volley. We were right behind Alex Wall's strike and as soon as he hit it, you knew it was in.

Concord's performance on Tuesday night against Dartford was an all-round team display. In fact, if you were marking the player's performance out of 10 for each match this season, I don't think any player would have got below a seven so far. That is testament to the coaching, the player's own pride in their performance and also the team spirit which has been established in a short period of time.

Going to the ground now, there is an expectation. There is a buzz in the air.  From fans who have been going longer than I, to the youth player's and their parents who are coming along for the first time. Concord have always prided themselves on being a family club, and doing things the right way. If it's possible, Concord have gone up another level this season.

Talking about that buzz, and that sense of something happening. I've seen a lot of football in my time, and showing my age a little bit, the last time I felt something like this was back in 1993, when Barry Fry built an entirely new Southend side in the Summer and his un-fancied side were in the promotion places in the 1st Division (what is now the Championship). You couldn't wait till the next game, life was just a ticking clock till the next match. You would turn up to matches against the bigger teams in the division and give them a real game, invariably winning.  Then when you played the sides you should beat at home, they were swatted aside with the minimum of fuss, which leads me to the second home game of the week against Hungerford.

Concord have very rarely been in the position of "well we should win this today comfortably" in fact in my five seasons of attending, I've never before turned up thinking that. Well Saturday I did.  Thinking you're going to win comfortably, and actually doing it are two entirely different things, and to give credit to Hungerford they made things tough for twenty minutes.  However from the opening goal to the half-time whistle Concord were sensational.  The movement off the ball, the third man running, the passing, the organisation, the quality of the finishing. It was all superb.  The second half was a non-event, Concord were four nil up.  It would have been nice to notch a couple more goals in the 2nd half, but the game was in the bag.  A special mention should be given to Sam Beasant in goal, as he generally had a very quiet afternoon, but still pulled out a magnificent save when Hungerford fired in a bolt from the blue from 25 yards.  That's three clean sheets on the trot for Beasant who is looking an astute summer signing.  In fact, all the signings look astute.  In the crowd, and you ask "who has been the best player so far this season?" You just won't get one player, you'll get a loads of different names.  In fact the answer to that question is "all of them."




Tuesday, 7 August 2018

An evening out at Tamplin Towers

Daylight robbery that was.  £1.80 for a can of coke.

There is no denying that the AGP Arena is an impressive stadium for Conference South Level.  It's an excellent set-up and the club appears well run.  They could do with revising their pricing policies for food, but if you're getting over a thousand through the gate every other week, then that's probably low on their list of priorities.

Moving to the game, both sides had impressive results at the weekend, and Concord and Billericay would be keen to keep that early season momentum going.  Billericay are a good team. Pacy. Goal machines up front and a solid back four.  However this season it is a completely different Concord Rangers. Fuck me they're well coached. Every player knows his role. One presses, the rest press. I'm not saying last season the side was a ramshackled old unit, but this year it's like chalk and cheese.  Concord went to the favourite's for the title, and they stood toe to toe with them, and didn't look inferior in the slightest.

You could see the respect that each side had for the opposition, there was no quarter given or asked. If you lost the ball, you weren't getting it back for a while. Press all you like, we're keeping the ball under pressure.  I saw some local reporters called the first half uneventful.  I would have called it an exceptional standard of football for Conference South Level.

A quick word about the refereeing again sadly.  I've seen two league games at this level this season now, and the standard is shocking. I know it's a hard job to be referee, but no-one has asked these guys to be referee's, it's their own choice. Be better at your job!

As the second half wore on, Concord were frustrating their illustrious neighbours. For me Billericay rolled the dice too early with their substitutions, and this played more and more into Concord's hands.  The early withdrawal of the pacy Adam Coombes, helped Concord press higher up the pitch, and as the half wore on, Concord were applying more pressure further up the pitch.  Don't ask me what minute I lost my head, but when Alex Wall thumped home a free kick to give Concord the lead, I celebrated it more than any goal in the last five seasons.  Little Concord were rubbing Billericay's noses in it.

Billericay got a leveller in injury time. If we're being honest about it, a draw was a fair result, but I've seen a Concord that I've never seen before. It's only early days, but and I think I can speak for a number of Concord fans, Sammy Moore is building something here.  Our merry band of supporters should tell their mates to come along, as this season could bring something special.

#YAMC


Sunday, 5 August 2018

First Match Thoughts

Sun. Beer. Meeting with mates. A home win.  What's not to like about that?

Turning up to Concord Rangers at 2pm on Saturday afternoon, and it was already busy. I thought something's afoot here.  The enthusiasm brought to the club in the summer, from the young lads doing the club's social media, the positive messages from the Chairman and the new management team telling everyone to get behind the club had paid off. As the time moved closer to kick off, it was great to see so many young fans at the ground, it's an excellent idea to give the youth team player's free season tickets.  Hopefully many of them will be here for years to come, either as first team player's or fans.

With a couple of tricky away games coming up, talk before the game was already "this is a must win game".  It was the first game of a new season! However this had been the life of a Concord supporter over the last few seasons. Pessimism. "I can't see us winning this." "How can we beat these?" 

Looking at the match objectively before kick-off, Gloucester are a hard-working, durable side. No real stand out player's but a really hard team to break down.  We would need an early goal to ease any nerves amongst the new supporters, and the one's who had been down this road before.

An entirely new playing eleven kicked off for Concord and for the opening 15 minutes, all thoughts about Gloucester were proving correct. They were a tough side to break down.  Concord were pressing hard but struggling to create goal-scoring opportunities.  Sam Blackman was all over the midfield, but I felt as he played a little deeper, picking up the scraps and recycling the ball efficiently that Concord grew more and more on top.  A personal note about Blackman's overall performance, if he carries on playing like that week-in, week-out he will become a huge fan favourite.

There's no denying that there is more physicality about Concord this season, and the opening goal proved it.  Lee Minshull muscly winning the ball from a corner and Alex Wall using his strength and power to turn and fire the ball home.  Wall will be a huge handful for opposition defences at this level this season, and with excellent delivery from Hayes, Green and Knott he should be looking for twenty goals this season.

As the half-time whistle blew, in a match that Concord were looking very comfortable, there was an incident off the ball between Minshull and Gloucester's number 4 Hanks, Minshull was shown a red card.  The referee had not seen the incident, but took the word of his Assistant Referee who was twenty yards away.  Talk at half-time was that the sending off was very harsh.  From what was seeming a nice stroll in the Saturday afternoon sun, now had taken a twist. All those pessimistic thoughts from season's past started rearing their ugly head.

A change was made at half-time, and Ryan Hayes was substituted for centre back Arron Pollock.  Pollock apart from one early error was superb. Gloucester constantly lumped the ball forward, and Pollock time after time won the ball in the air and cleared the danger.  In fact as the 2nd half grew on, it was Concord who were looking more and more like the side with eleven men.  The second half performance reminded me of an away team in the Champions League, soaking up the opposition's pressure, not letting them having any opportunities, and then breaking on them at pace.  There was some real team performances in that 2nd half, none more so than Jack Midson who worked tirelessly down the left flank, chasing and harrying every lost cause.

The second goal when it came from Concord was no surprise, and it was no real surprise that it was that man Wall again. The Gloucester defence were terrified of him all game.  A long ball from defence a real 50/50 ball and Alex Wall turned it into his. He strode into the penalty area, and the Gloucester keeper could not keep out his firm shot from sixteen yards.  A special word for the Gloucester goalie, who despite being on the smallish side was excellent. A young player with a real good future in the game.

So that was it, despite playing with ten men for forty-five minutes Concord won the game comfortably.  There was none of last season's panic in defence.  The team are well coached, and the player's complement each other.  Pollock/Minshull winning the ball in the air at centre back, with the excellent Tyrone Sterling covering defend. Clohessy and Hayes linking up down the right.  This is a really well thought out team, and full credit must go to Sammy and Jack for having a clear idea on how they want their team to play, and getting the correct players for the side.

So we go onto Tamplin Towers on Tuesday night, and we'll be looking to lay down a real marker for the season ahead.

#YAMC


Friday, 3 August 2018

All Change at Concord

I won't lie, I fell out of love with Concord Rangers during the 2017/2018 season.  I would rather watch the Premier League team I support play on TV, then go and watch Concord Rangers play.  That is the battle for all non-league teams I suppose, however a football team has to offer the paying fan a reason to attend.  That's something Concord didn't offer last season.  Don't get me wrong Concord had good players, they had proved it in the past seasons, but something wasn't working last season.  It was like Concord Rangers I knew was slowly dying, it needed urgent surgery.

Adam Flanagan was a nice man, but I think he will admit himself that it wasn't working at Concord. He needed to go, for the club's sake and quite possibly for his own sake.  I hope he does well at Dartford.

I was shocked to see Sammy Moore and Jack Midson turn up during the summer, I won't say I followed their progress at Leatherhead intently, but your interest is always piqued when young ex-pros decide to have a go at non-league management.  Especially more these days when League 1 and League 2 sides are more prepared to take a gamble on younger managers.  Non League football should always be seen as a springboard for aspiring player's and manager's.  You learn lessons in non-league football which will always stand you in good stead in the professional game.

Concord I felt as mentioned above, had good player's last season.  I was not expecting 99% of them to leave during the summer.  I don't mind saying that I still think that four or five of them would still have something to offer the club this season.  Something you have to get used to in non-league football is the constant turn over of playing staff, especially if you're operating with one of the lowest budgets in the league your operating in.  However without knowing the inside track, I felt a few of last season's players were dispensed with too quickly in the summer.

It's going to be weird watching an entirely new team start for Concord Rangers.  A little bit of me was thinking in the Summer is this still Concord Rangers? This isn't the Concord Rangers I fell in love with during the 2013/2014 season, but neither was the team last season. It had stagnated, I probably wasn't the only one of the volunteers who found it hard going.

A new season brings new optimism, I've been impressed with Sammy and Jack's interaction with the supporters, both are quite happy to discuss formations and playing style with us "expert football managers" after the game, something which I felt the previous manager failed to do.  Manager's don't have to do this of course, but if the fans feel engaged, they will keep the faith more and help the team, when the team needs them.

So what can Concord supporter's hope for next season?  Personally speaking, I want the team to make it fun to go to the football again.  Results aren't everything. Just show the fans that you've given everything you can every game. Anything else is a bonus.

#YAMC









Thursday, 6 April 2017

The Man Who Loved Islands - Book Review

The wonders of social media are such, that you can become friends with people you've never met. Maybe that's too bold to call David Ross a friend, perhaps an enjoyable online presence. Yes David Ross is an enjoyable online presence.

Mine and David's lives became intertwined through a twitter account by the name of @bythemins and David's insistence that key events in football matches tended to happen in the 67th minute. David was adamant on this fact, he probably still is now. Anyways I digress, this little twitter account now strides across the world wide web like a behemoth (bytheminute.co if you're interested!) and mine and David's paths don't cross as much as I would like.  However. When David has the time to share his thoughts for this website, man I've got to tell you something. The page comes alive. I don't know how he does it. David Ross has a gift. The man is an excellent story-teller. To tell you the truth I'm jealous.

In David's previous two books, The Last Days of Disco and The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas he transported me back to 1980s Kilmarnock.  I've never been to Kilmarnock, nor do I want to go. But David's writing has always made me feel like I lived there.
David's story-telling has a charm.  It warms the heart. You turn the page or those of you with a kindle, press the screen, with a smile on the face eagerly anticipating the next page.

I'm not going to tell you much about The Man Who Loved Islands, because if you've read the first two books of the trilogy, then you must surely be anticipating this third one.  All I'm going to say is it's as good as you hoped, if not better.  For those of you, who have not read one of David's books. Please go and buy them, I'd even say don't wait for a 3 for 2 deal. They're that good!
I'll end this book review, well it was meant to be a book review, but it feel's like an ode to David by simply saying, I cannot wait for what David Ross decides to do next.  I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking that.


Monday, 27 March 2017

The Wide Boy Diary with Dion Sembie-Ferris


Whilst some non-league clubs splash the cash, looking for short term gain, other non-league sides are happy to give youth a chance and entrust a first team place with a young professional from a league side.

Dion Sembie-Ferris has been tearing it up for Concord Rangers since arriving on loan from Colchester United earlier in the season, but what is a normal week like for Dion? Well I spent some time with him to find out...



MONDAY

It's an early start on a Monday, as I go into training for 9am, so I can do some prepare myself for the session ahead with some light stretching and mobility work. If I haven't played at the weekend I will go out with the Under 23's later in the morning, but if I've had a game on Saturday, I'll just do some gym work to cool my body down.

Whilst on a Monday, the boys are quite curious on how I've got on at the weekend, and they will always ask what the game was like, as not many of them have experienced first team football. I think it's vital that as a young pro you get experience playing men's football as it is a world away from playing U23's.  However the good thing about Colchester is that they always give their own players a chance, so hopefully my opportunity isn't too far away!

After I've lunched and showered I go home from training, but my day isn't done! I go to a gym which is close to my house where I will continue to mobilise my body, which involves massaging of the muscles, dynamic stretches in a cold pool, then I will unwind with a jacuzzi and a sauna.


TUESDAY

Training on a Tuesday would be light for me, as I have training with Concord Rangers in the evening, so I'll do the technical part and some possession based play, before stepping out before the small-sided games begin.
There isn't much difference between the training at professional and non-league level.  Both are based around technique and possession. At any level keeping the ball is vital.  However on a Thursday at Concord the emphasis changes and is geared towards our opponent on the Saturday, and we work on areas that can give us the best chance of victory, be that working on our shape or working on our attacking moves.
Tuesday is a long day for me, as I won't get home till after 10pm, and as I've done two sessions I will have a cold bath to relieve my muscles.


WEDNESDAY

Is a day off at Colchester, but not for me! I always go to the gym and work on things specific to my position on the pitch.  It's key for me to always keep my explosive pace. It's one of my biggest attributes and working in the gym to maintain and better my pace is vital for me.
When I was younger I tried to base my style of play on Thierry Henry, he was my biggest idoal and I loved the way he ran with power and elegance on the ball and the affect he had on other team-mates around him.  Nowadays I don't have a specific player I look up to, but when I watch football on the TV I try to focus on the wingers to see what they do, and implement some of their good things into my game.



THURSDAY

Today is very similar to the Tuesday, and it's very much the same routine.  As I said before Thursday evening's are focused with an eye on the game on Saturday.  Flan and Glen (Adam Flanagan and Glen Alzapeidi) are always giving me good feedback on how I'm progressing and it's a great motivator for me to go out their on a Saturday and improve on my previous performance.
I think what I need to play at the highest level is to just be positive and believe in myself sometimes, that's my biggest downfall, so any encouragement I get from the coaching staff at Colchester or Concord is really beneficial to me.
Playing regular men's football I'm now finding myself believing in myself and willing to try things on the ball! I'm always going to give 100% so when the games over I can look back and think I couldn't have given anymore.
Again I'll get home late and have a cold bath to relax my muscles (Writer's note - always in the bath this boy!)

FRIDAY

As it's the day before a game I make sure that I train well so I'm well prepared for the game on the Saturday.  At Colchester we do small-sided games with the U23s and some of the youth team, so most of the time is spent playing inside in the dome at the training ground.
Training will finish at 130pm and then I'll go home, unwind, have a good meal and get a decent night's sleep ahead of the game tomorrow (Writer's Note .... no bath!?!)

SATURDAY

Game Day! So I'll prepare with pasta and toast for breakfast with a smoothie and then I'll take a banana and some water for me for the journey towards the stadium as it was a long journey to Hungerford (Interview took place just after Hungerford away match) to make sure I have some small snacks to keep my energy levels for the match.
Long distance travel can affect some people, as it can cause tight muscles due to sitting down too long or even cause tiredness, but it shouldn't be used as an excuse for starting a game slowly. You can start a game slowly at your own ground! It's all down to getting in the right mindset, plus you have plenty of time shake-off any lethargy after travelling if you warm up properly before the game.
The dressing room is quite loud before a game, the music's on, Hoody is in charge of the music and it's quite decent to be fair, the boys are chatting away and it's quite relaxed beforehand, but as it get's closer to kick-off things get focused.  The Gaffa gives us our instructions and we go out onto the pitch fully prepared and ready to win the game.
After the game and on the way back home on the coach, I will wear my compression socks which will help my muscle recovery. Then once home I'll have a cold bath (Writer's Note...there it is!)

SUNDAY

Depending on how long I've played on the Saturday, I will use the Sunday to completely rest, or I will again go to the gym and do another pool session. I'll just chill on a Sunday evening, watch some TV and get ready to go for the next week ahead!