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!

Friday, 3 May 2019

Concord Rangers Season Review

Well that was fun wasn't it?  You ask any Concord Rangers supporter for their view of the 2018/2019 season, it will be "well that was a right fucking laugh."  You can look at the seats issue, not being able to play in the play-offs, points being deducted and the manager leaving at the end of the season, but all of that shouldn't hide the fact, that I've never enjoyed a season of football, or had a laugh at football matches then this season, and that's what football should all be about, shouldn't it?

Let's go right back to the start of the season, when Sammy Moore and Jack Midson brought an entire new team to our club.  Now I was initially sceptical of this approach, but was proved completely wrong in the early months.  Player's such as Sammy Blackman, Tyrone Sterling, Alex Wall and Midson himself hit the ground running.  I'm only a fan of five seasons now, but if I was asked to do my all-time Concord Rangers team, those four would be in it. We stood toe-to-toe with the best sides in the league in the opening months of the season.  We turned Thames Road into a fortress.  An undoubted highlight was watching us destroy Chelmsford in 45 minutes.  I'd never seen an opposition team mentally and physically fold on the pitch before, but Chelmsford did in that first half.  As a Concord fan it was exhilarating, but in all honesty, it was fucking hilarious. 

As the season progressed, some player's came and went.  Sean Clohessy, Billy Knott who contributed solidly to the team's good start, where effectively replaced.  That has been an issue with Concord in the past, that good player's were never really adequately replaced, but player's such as Tosan Popo, Ahmed Abdulla were brought in, and the team rolled on.  Part of this impressive run was Liam Nash, and during his 3 month loan spell, that boy left nothing on the pitch.  He was far too good to play at our level, and credit must go to the previous management team for persuading him to play at this level.  When we attacked teams with a front three of Wall, Midson and Nash we were exceptional.  We could give any team in the league a game, and we did.

Now I'm not party to what went on off the field during the season, nor do I particularly want to be.  All I care about is that when a Concord Rangers team takes the pitch, they all give 100% and enjoy the game.  Despite all the setbacks every player and coaching staff gave their all, you could tell it on the player's faces. It meant something. The 2018/2019 season meant something to all of us.  Gates increased.  Yes the same old faces, were there, but coming through the gates were younger fans.  Now Concord have always struggled to attract fans, and it's a hard one to resolve and understand.  The team always try their best, you don't get any trouble at games, there's a friendly atmosphere.  These lack of fans is always a sense of mirth to our rivals at Billericay and Chelmsford, in fact I think it winds them up more than us.  They seem to take great fun in attacking the club on social media "you've only got 3 fans" "You're never be a big club, your ground is rubbish."  The reason behind these faceless and snide attacks, is that this season they were scared of us.  Both these teams could not beat us on the pitch in the league, so they lashed out on something Concord are fully aware of. Yes, we didn't have enough seats to take place in the play-offs, but genuinely I don't think us fans particularly cared.  We had spent the season winding up these so-called bigger teams, and beaten them on the pitch.

Now I enjoyed chatting to Sammy, Jack and Darren after the matches.  It made a pleasant change from previous management, who hid away socially after the game, not wanting to chat to the people who had given up their money and time to follow the club.  Every single player who stayed after games, was happy to chat to you.  They were also happy to give up their time to chat to the youth teams, passing on their years of experience and knowledge to hopefully the next batch of Concord players. It was always nice to see Sammy and his family enjoying their time at home games, before and after games, and whatever the future holds for Sammy, I wish him all the best for the future.

I'm not sure what this review was really about to be honest, I just wanted to get something in print, to really thank the player's and the staff for a brilliant football season.  I myself had some worrying family news to deal with during the majority of the season, and those times spent at the football watching an excellent football team allowed me to enjoy the moment, and take a bit of a break from the more stressful stuff in life.  So in finishing I'd just like to say thankyou to Sam Beasant, Jed Smith, Aron Pollock, Frazer Shaw, Tosan Popo, Lee Minshull, Conor Essam, Tyrone Sterling, Ahmed Abdulla, Sam Blackman, Danny Green, Joe Gardner, Joan Luque, Taylor Mahoney, Billy Knott, Sean Clohessy, Liam Nash, Jack Midson, Alex Wall and Sam Ashford.

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."