Forza Garibaldi

Credit: Forza Garibaldi

They’ve been catchphrases of mine for some time now, and I actually grow tired of asking the same old questions: why do we even bother with pyro when most clubs in this country haven’t even got the basics down yet? Can we focus on making continuous noise first?

Do you know what though? It’s not always easy to get a party atmosphere going with hundreds or thousands of people you don’t know. This despite the corny phrases coined by supporters, endorsing their clubs as one big, happy family.

This is where Forza Garibaldi play their role so well and have their intentions and actions so absolutely spot on. There are no exaggerated truths here, or unrealistic, wacky statements such as ‘Every fortnight I become the best of friends with 28,000 people’ as quoted on the Wolves website. There are just clear and concise, positive aims here, driven forward by people with an intense, vehement love for Nottingham Forest and an unyielding opinion that matchdays – as an all-round experience – ought to be as much fun as possible for every single supporter.

Even if vast social gatherings aren’t for some, there are so many other ways to get involved. After all, the only reason Forza Garibaldi exists is because people want it to. It’s a football club in its own right and whilst they may not kick a ball around every weekend, they are as the definition of the word ‘club’ describes: ‘an association dedicated to a particular interest or activity.’ That activity just so happens to be supporting Nottingham Forest.

To say that the atmosphere at Forest games needed rejuvenating would be to understate the mire the club found itself in during 2016. The advent of Fawaz Al-Hasawi’s reign had left me disillusioned for a good three or four years by this point, but it had gotten to the stage where I’d gone full circle and I cared deeply. I was beginning to seriously worry about the future of the football club I had grown up with. I looked on from the outside as takeovers collapsed, managers came and went, and supporters frequenting the City Ground were filled not with hope, but an overwhelming sense of apathy. Positives were as easy to find as survivors in the Somme.

I was a million miles away from being the only one disenchanted with the club, swathes of empty seats remained untouched at some games. But towards the latter stages of the 2016-17 season, Forza Garibaldi only seemed to be gaining momentum. Whilst it wasn’t a movement assembled against the Al-Hasawis, it was a movement that sought to unify supporters and bring them together. This was massive. To my knowledge, there had been nothing the like of this at Forest ever before.

Forza Garibaldi is not only an entity that seeks to reinvigorate those supporters who chose to endure the full-on experience of supporting the club throughout this dark phase in its history; it is also happy to sympathise with those who walked away from what they deemed to be the steaming gobar fire, the tired remains of a damaged football club, suffocated and beaten to the apparent point of no return. As the Fawaz era came to a close, this was exactly what the club needed as it sought to repair the damage done during the Kuwaiti’s regime, and its part in bringing enjoyment back to Nottingham Forest matchdays should not be underestimated. I say that as someone who doesn’t drink, and therefore doesn’t even join in with the pre-match festivities – it doesn’t take an especially analytical eye to recognise the great progress that is being made to bring people together and fix the fractured atmosphere that had settled in around the City Ground.

I finish with this statement – Forza Garibaldi is not an ultras group, they don’t put people at risk and they’re not ‘game for a scrap’. The idea behind the movement is to be original and drive support at Nottingham Forest matches. In my teenage years as a staunch Forest fan, engagement with other supporters was a rare concept to me, and to that 15 or 16-year-old boy who went to games on his own, it was bloody hard to feel a part of something.

This great club now has that something I was missing.

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A Need For Patience

The time has come again, then. It didn’t take long. What, 6 games of the new season?

Listening to the newly conceived Forest podcast Reservoir Red Dogs the other night, John Robertson recounted his playing days and mentioned that whilst everybody holds him on a pedestal now, he was actually booed by fans quite regularly in his day. In some regards, some things never change, but one thing has become abundantly clear to me of late – the constant exposure the public now has to football at almost every level has changed perceptions of the game on a gargantuan scale. We watch the Premier League on telly and either consciously or subconsciously expect the same style of play in the Championship. The bar is set in front of the masses by those of untold riches. Then, negativity spreads twice as quickly thanks to little, niggly soundbite tweets and comments on social media. If anything, it’s not Facebook that’s the biggest culprit, it’s Twitter. I often find myself sitting there after posting a tweet thinking, ‘why did I just do that?’, and it’s because I know my few words are going to get lost in the gobar fire of deliberately sensationalised, vacuous nonsense. People are naturally drawn to negativity, and they want everybody to know how angry they are, even when they’re not actually that angry. Everybody thinks their opinions matter or wants their opinions to matter.

Everything is ‘disgusting’ or ‘disgraceful’. Nothing’s ever good enough. Liam Bridcutt isn’t taking his time to tune in to his manager’s style of play, he’s ‘shocking’ and ‘does nothing’.

The club is far from knee deep and down, and yet Mark Warburton is a ‘fraud’, ‘tactically inept’ and ‘blind’. Can we at least bear in mind that this still isn’t his team? Of the 28 players in the squad, only 8 are his signings (one of which is Liam Bossin, who was never expected to come straight into the first team anyway). Who is going to spend any time of the day filing a transfer offer for the likes of Danny Fox, Matt Mills or Jack Hobbs? It’s not easy to offload players who are, with respect to all of them, approaching the tail-end of their careers now, with perhaps one more move left in them. The good news is that all 3 of them have contracts that expire next summer. The other players in that bracket are Dimitar Evtimov, Eric Lichaj, David Vaughan, Chris Cohen and  Muzzy Carayol. Yet we’re losing our minds now, of all times? If you think this season’s tough, with all the players getting used to the club’s renewed identity, then next season could be very interesting. We could see a turnover of up to 16 players, give or take, if all 8 leave and are directly replaced.

As Warburton is always keen to stress – and he’s right – these things take time. Even at clubs like Manchester City, it takes a while to get them right. Pep Guardiola, to many, was ‘terrible’ last season and everybody’s unrealistic expectations were found to be precisely that – unrealistic. Now, though, City are flying and look unbeatable.

Sometimes, things come off straight away like they appear to have done at Wolves. When you have that level of investment, it does help, of course. Even that doesn’t always equal guaranteed success though, take a look at Middlesbrough.

Football isn’t a cut and dry sport. It’s not as simple as ‘one team was shit, the other one was top class’, there’s more to it than that. There are no plug-and-play, Football Manager/Championship Manager-style Diablo tactics that guarantee success and goals from every corner into the box. I was going to say there’s no sense in shoving managers in and out of the job, but Watford have ruined that argument for me, I suppose. In all seriousness though, I do honestly believe that there’s no point in changing manager just because half a season hasn’t been spectacular. Before we kicked off against Millwall, nobody expected a fantastic season. By and large, we all expected mid-table. Lo and behold, we’re mid-table.

Contrary to belief in some circles, Warburton probably does know what he’s doing (hey, he got away from Rangers, which was a smart move). He consistently comes on after games and talks common sense, and it’s clear that the players don’t disrespect him. Every manager who comes and goes tries to stamp a new idea on the team and enough of the current crop have seen at least 2 or 3 of those managers. Stamping out old habits can take time. Ask Jordan Smith. We could do a lot worse and we could be having a much more terrible time of it at the moment. Imagine if we did actually bring Billy Davies back, like some of the nutjobs have been crying out for. Have you been under a rock during the last few years? This is a toxic little control freak of a man who personifies instability.

With the likes of Forza Garibaldi doing a fantastic job to increase fan engagement and the Nottingham Forest Supporters Trust now actively involved with the club, the overall signs at the club are very promising.

Let’s not fuck this up!

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Poland’s Lost Gems Part 1

The Ekstraklasa, despite its lack of worldwide coverage, is actually one of the more interesting leagues in Europe, for my money. If you want unpredictability, that’s exactly what you’ve currently got. Obviously at this early stage, anything can still happen throughout the remainder of the season. However, hand your average football fan a list of the teams involved and ask them to predict the top 5 and there’s no way on this Earth they would have predicted the current standings. I dare say most experts wouldn’t have been able to do it either.

Giants such as Legia Warszawa, Wisła Kraków and Lech Poznań aren’t even in the top half. 2015/16 started in a similar vain too. It’s certainly making things interesting.

At the present time, Arka Gdynia and Zagłębie Lubin are right up towards the top of the table (fantastic news as far as I’m concerned). Arka are considered one of the bigger clubs in the country, yet have never won the Ekstraklasa title. Conversely, Zagłębie have won the league as recently as 2007 despite being a relatively small-ish club, compared to the three previously mentioned.

Anyway, my point here is that the top 5 currently reads:

  1. Lechia Gdańsk
  2. Zagłębie Lubin
  3. Arka Gdynia
  4. Jagiellonia Białystok
  5. Bruk-Bet Termalica Nieciecza

Many of you may have at least heard of most of them, but will probably be utterly perplexed by Nieciecza.

The funny thing is, though, this isn’t a one-off. The Ekstraklasa often throws up little surprises and slightly more provincial sides make a name for themselves.

Sadly though, all good things must come to an end and many of these smaller clubs do eventually meet their fate, never to be seen or heard of again. A quick look at the table from the 2000s reveals a cluster of clubs that I really do doubt many people outside of Poland have ever heard of. In this mini-series of articles, we’re going to look at some of those clubs. First up? RKS Radomsko.

RKS Radomsko

Radomsko is a town in the Łódź voivodeship, consisting of approximately 50,000 people and is around 25 miles away from Częstochowa. The club was formed in 1979 and, generally speaking, lived a relatively quiet existence in the early years. The club was formed from a merger between Międzyzakładowego Robotniczego Klubu Sportowego CZARNI and Międzyzakładowego Robotniczego Klubu Sportowego STAL who were both workers teams. Despite their provincial reputation, they did play in the top tier of Polish football in the 2001/02 season, but only for the one year.

Notable players from their squad during that season include Igor Sypniewski, former Zagłębie Lubin goalkeeper Adam Matysek, who was selected in Poland’s 2002 World Cup squad, Krzysztof Pilarz (now of Nieciecza) and Pogoń Szczecin icon Olgierd Moskalewicz, who would go on to re-join Pogoń and register a decent scoring record at Arka Gdynia.

Radomsko finished the season 6th in Group B and then went into the relegation group in the second half of the season along with Górnik Zabrze, Widzew Łódź, Zagłębie Lubin, Dyskobolia Grodzisk Wielkopolski, KSZO Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski, Stomil Olsztyn and Śląsk Wrocław. Wins against Śląsk, KSZO and Widzew were all they had to show for their efforts at the end of the season and they finished 3 points adrift, following their defeat at the hands of Górnik Zabrze and Dyskobolia’s home win over Śląsk.

Following the relegation group games, RKS played II Liga side Szczakowianka Jaworzno in a I Liga play-off. Szczakowianka won the first leg 2-0 and RKS could only muster a 1-0 victory in the second, meaning they were relegated to II Liga. That’s not where it ends though. As was par for the course during the 2000s in Poland, the whole situation was shrouded in controversy. RKS had launched an appeal to the PZPN stating that they believed their opponent’s midfielder Branko Rašić was in fact ineligible, due to the fact that he was signed and played after the transfer window had already closed. It was to become one of the major footballing scandals in Polish football history as court cases went on for several years and the issue was even discussed in Polish parliament. Numerous footballing officials also lost their positions.

To make this as brief as possible, the transfer window closed at the end of March back then and the documents submitted by Szczakowianka stated that Rašić was registered to play for them on 28th March. However, RKS found evidence to suggest that Rašić appeared for his former club – FK Željezničar Sarajevo – just a few days after that date.

On several occasions, the Board of Appeal at the PZPN offered RKS the opportunity to play a third game against their cheating counterparts at a neutral venue in Płock. But they refused. They demanded a walkover in their favour, due to the fact that by the time these offers were made, the club had already lost 6 players and had a change of manager. Circumstances had changed and they felt they’d be at a further disadvantage. Thanks to their refusal, the PZPN awarded the result in favour of Szczakowianka, meaning RKS were to be condemned to the II Liga the following season. During that following season, Szczakowianka were found guilty of illegally registering Rašić. As far as RKS Radomsko were concerned though, the damage had already been done. Initially, the club set about filing a lawsuit against the Polish footballing authority, which in turn violated UEFA and FIFA laws. With the lawsuit subsequently withdrawn, RKS frantically set about trying to recuperate their losses and demanded 3.4m złoty from the PZPN via the PKOl (Polish Olympic Committee). Their case was that no II Liga matches are televised, so they’d lost out on TV income along with ticket sales (tickets are obviously cheaper at a lower level) and they’d missed out on securing more lucrative sponsors. The PZPN refused to pay up.

Due to the subsequent financial troubles brought on from their relegation and ongoing case, the team struggled on the pitch in II Liga and were relegated once more. In 2005, with just 3 players remaining in their squad, they were withdrawn from III Liga due to what would equate to £1.2m in debt after just 8 matches. Their final game ended in a 3-0 defeat to Ruch Wysokie Mazowieckie.

Following the club’s demise, a phoenix club was established under the same name and entered into IV Liga. It didn’t even last a full season. They withdrew following the Autumn round of fixtures in the 2006/07 season and were subsequently registered as losing every game after that 3-0, putting them bottom of the table.

RKS ultras set up their own club in June 2007 under the name of 1979 RKS Radomsko in an attempt to carry the legacy of the club forward in the B-Klasa (8th tier of the Polish football pyramid). The first season was a success, as the club achieved promotion with no major dramas along the way. Following the 2008/09 season, the new RKS then elected to merge with UKS Mechanik Radomsko (an unassociated side formed in 2004) to create RKS Mechanik Radomsko.

RKS Mechanik, now find themselves in IV Liga Grupa Łódzka and finished the 2015/16 season 11th.

I’m not much of a fan of phoenix clubs, but on this occasion, I genuinely wish them the best. After 10 years of pain and torture for those supporters, they’ll never get their club back, but they might just achieve something new.

Big thanks to Christopher Lash who pointed me in the right direction regarding one or two details on this post. I encourage you to follow his blog Rightbankwarsaw which has an endless supply of brilliant articles on Polish football.

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It’s Not Even September…

The above picture will have been seen countless times by many Pilgrims fans over the years, since relegation from League Two at the end of the 2006/07 season.

To those not associated with the club, it’s just one fan’s disappointment, but to those who still follow Boston home and away to this day, it depicts an all too familiar feeling at the moment.

Boston’s history is littered with controversy, misfortune, discontent and has never managed to shake off an overall feeling of inherent negativity. For every league title, there have been disappointments and quashed ambitions. The difference this season is that nobody even had any expectations.

Perhaps it appears bizarre that at such an early stage, there’s so much doom and gloom but it’s not without a grain of merit. We, as fans, were fully aware as soon as the likes of Zak Mills, Carl Piergianni and Dayle Southwell sought pastures new, 2016/17 perhaps wouldn’t replicate the seasons that have gone before. But I’m not entirely sure many of us expected such a poor first 5 games.

With a victory and four defeats from the first 3 weeks of the season, little has been done to address the key departures and, to be honest, there’s little to inspire supporters on the pitch. Discontent is rife and to an extent that I’ve not witnessed for a long, long time. Darlington away, once the home side had opened the scoring was bad. Very bad. But Chorley away was so much worse, despite a slightly less painful scoreline. Have a flick through the tweets…

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It’s been a familiar theme this season. We play OK during the early stages and may even create the better half-chances, but we’re not potent enough to put one of them away. As soon as the opposition get their first meaningful ball into the box, they score and we crumble. We did it at Darlington and you could see it happening on Saturday at Chorley as well. I would even go as far as saying I actually expected it. What I didn’t expect, though, was for us to punt the ball around aimlessly, like toddlers chasing balloons. Mutual understanding between players dissipated, the vast majority of passes went astray as the team resorted to long punts into channels… it might actually have been the worst second half of football I have ever witnessed at any level.

That’s coming from a bloke who’s watched games at level 11 of the English pyramid.

Prior to our opening game of the season, manager Dennis Greene had stated the following:

“I go through the squad, player for player compared to last year, and there’s no reason why we can’t achieve something. “Yes, we’ll miss Pidge (Piergianni) and Dayle, but everywhere else we’re stronger.”

Dennis Greene, Boston Standard,  5th August 2016

Let’s make no bones about this one, it’s complete drivel.

That quote isn’t even necessarily the most frustrating thing. It’s one thing to give yourself a boost in the press. As a manager, it’s kind of your job to do that, I suppose. But a large percentage of Pilgrims supporters are frequently left dumbfounded by how much one manager can alienate a club’s fans. Can you think of any other manager who brands their own supporters ‘knobheads’ and gestures ironically towards fans voicing their displeasure at how the team are playing?

Following a barrage of abuse, I put time aside at the start of the 2014/15 season to message Greene, backing him when many of my peers were already becoming disillusioned. His response? Initially, it was alright. Just a few months later, with no provocation whatsoever, he’d blocked me and the vast majority of Boston fans I know. That’s something I expect of Frank Sinclair, not of the football manager of the football club I spend hundreds – if not thousands – of pounds on each season.

I’m not someone who likes to call for any manager’s head and, quite frankly, I have no idea who I’d want in as replacement, but something really, really has to change. Recruitment is difficult, and it’s even more difficult when you have to replace almost an entire squad, so I do sympathise there. I don’t even have a problem with Dennis defending himself against abuse, I actually commend him on that instead of sitting there and putting up with it. I don’t doubt that he’s trying his hardest with what he has, but I do wonder how long a notoriously impatient and demanding support will put up with performances as they currently are. When patient and balanced fans like myself are starting to feel distanced by the club itself too, it doesn’t help matters.

I forgot to mention, attendances have slipped below 1,000. Hoo-fucking-rah.

It’s not even September yet.

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North Ferriby v Boston United (Play-Off Semi-Final 2nd Leg): Is It Our Year? Well…

Before I start this blog post properly, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank my mate James Morton for not only giving Josh and I a lift from Nottingham to Boston and back again on Wednesday night. But for also providing us with accommodation for the night from his own pocket so we didn’t have to sleep rough for the second year on the trot. You are a true gentleman of modern times and the world is better off for your existence.

Now, let’s crack on…

Thanks to what can only be described as an absolutely exemplary performance on Wednesday night, we found ourselves 2-0 up after the first leg of our play-off semi with North Ferriby. The scenes following first Grant Roberts’ and secondly Zak Mills’ goals were absolutely bonkers and will remain etched in my mind, hopefully for a very long time.

I don’t know who exactly is responsible for these play-offs being played on a Wednesday and Sunday, but they can think again next time. The amount of money I’ve had to pay out unnecessarily is not welcome and is actually just one of many inconveniences caused by the nonsensical fixture planning. £42 for an open return to Hull (and that’s bearing in mind I split my ticket at Derby), plus arranging for a hotel, paying for food and drink for the night and the taxi I’ll have to get from Brough to Ferriby in the morning (though admittedly not a large fare). What a load of bollocks.

Due to the way the fixtures have been laid out, I stayed at Josh’s place in Birmingham as I thought it’d be easier than faffing about, catching replacement buses from Stafford due to rail works. Again, more expenses that I didn’t want to incur, and guess what? I didn’t get my ticket checked, so I’ve wasted a tenner there. You can see why people are willing to chance their arm at making journeys at no expense, can’t you?

Friday night consisted of a pint in a pub in Stirchley (grim) and an episode of Snooker Mavericks on the TV. Even for a relative social recluse, I must admit I didn’t find it overly thrilling.

Saturday came around and after watching Josh attempt to use a hoover and witnessing an Audi victory in the DTM through Edoardo Mortara, we set off towards Hull.

Now, I’ve never been to Hull. I don’t like Yorkshire. Never have and never will. So it’s no surprise I’ve never been. I’d heard a lot of bad things but I thought I’d give it the benefit of the doubt and go there with an open mind. We’d booked a hotel for £30. Immediately, you probably have an image in your head of what you’re likely to get for that kind of sum and let me tell you, you’re probably not far off.

Hull Paragon Interchange isn’t actually such a bad station, it’s very dated and is in need of a good scrub, but I’ve seen much worse. After all, I’ve been to Gainsborough. The early signs weren’t too shabby, but even if the station was a two platform job with a bench perched in the middle, it couldn’t have prepared me for what I was about to witness.

We took a right, then a left out of the entrance and ambled towards the main road. Josh had his trusty Google Maps up on his phone so we had a general idea of where we were going. Gone are the days of hand-drawn maps. Once on the main road, I soon realised there were a hell of a lot of kids knocking about, maybe it was was a nappy night at a club? Most of these kids looked like they were on harder stuff than most of the regular drinkers at the surrounding pubs!

We walked past ‘The Lair’, which appeared to be a Hull City supporters bar. We wouldn’t be very welcome in there. We kept going and, honestly, poverty just filled my peripheral and immediate vision. I know the North has often been neglected but fuck me… did they bomb Hull in the war? If not, why not? And if they did, why didn’t they do a better job and just flatten it altogether? ‘Grim’ doesn’t describe the place accurately enough. It’s honestly like going back in time. Despite the things I’d heard, I don’t feel it was enough warning.

The Lair.

The Lair.

Chavs on bikes rolled past us. It’s a good job I’m well versed in looking like like a serial killer, or we’d probably be mince meat, lying in a back alley by now.

‘I actually think this has surpassed Gainsborough on my list, you know…’ I said to Josh.

‘What, your list of worst places you’ve ever been to?’

‘Aye. It’s fucking awful… look at that, for fuck’s sake!’

I was pointing at this:

So ladies… would you piss here? #shithole #hull

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Behind those walls lay a series of tower blocks, creepy looking, desolate car parks and the type of feral scum you could expect to find ‘chillin” outside your local McDonalds. I watched on, straight ahead as some poor bloke jogged into the concrete jungle. Who knows if he ever got back home again, he was only trying to keep fit. Maybe he’s doing it so he can be confident of escaping the chavvy dregs next time they chase him, eh?

On we went, until we finally found the street our hotel was on. We took a left, into somewhat nicer looking surroundings and I began to relax a little. We found the hotel with a strange looking, chubby geezer stood outside the door. He grunted at us, which only made me all the more keen to push the buzzer and try to gain access to our destination.

Once inside, it didn’t take long for me to realise that we really were getting what we paid for. I’ve had a look around around prison as a warning when I was 9 or 10 and, hand on heart, it was more welcoming and pleasant than this place. I stood on the spot, waiting for the reception window to slide open. Sure enough, it did just that and I started talking.

‘Hi, we’ve made a booking.’

‘OK, what was the name?’

‘Upton’

‘OK, it looks like this has already been paid so let me just check…’

 

We may or may not have paid for this already.

We looked around the room. 1970’s and awful. That’s all I have to say. Josh reminded me that it was listed at just £30 and that we can’t really have expected much. When Josh is suddenly the voice of reason, you know you’re in for a long night. I didn’t expect much, but this was worse than ‘not much’.

We left and went off in search of food and drink. We’d found a pub called the Green Bricks, which we eventually found on the other side of the city centre (which by the way was also worse than I had bargained for). It’s just one massive construction site. A maze of orange safety barriers and knuckledragging, delinquent locals. Have you ever heard the Hull accent, by the way? It’s enough to make a cat want to skin itself alive.

After grabbing a Maccies, getting ripped off for a couple of Buds at the pub and losing heavily at pool, I suggested we head back.

Maybe the only decent part of Hull?

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We woke up the following morning, you’ll be glad to hear. We weren’t kidnapped during the night and all of our possessions were secure. Josh was the first to tackle the atrocity that was the shower.

‘Tell you what, you won’t wanna change the temperature in there. It’s a case of “lukewarm, lukewarm, lukewarm, SCORCHING!’

Challenge accepted, I pushed the bathroom door open and strolled in. It was a basic set-up. A shower with no screen, just a 180 degree curtain on a broken rail. There was no shower gel, so I had to compromise and use the chocolate orange handwash. It did a job.

After checking all of our possessions and shaking them out for cockroaches we made our way downstairs. I had planned on getting the hotel receptionist to check our forms again to ensure we had actually paid, but the reception didn’t open til 5pm. We dropped our keys in a box on the wall and left. We shan’t be returning.

After a stroll into Dull city centre to grab breakfast, we paced towards the station. No inflatables were attainable as Poundland was shut.

Once on the train a crusty old woman was claiming to the ticket inspector that the bloke at the kiosk had sold her a ticket from Beverly to London for the 28th April. She wanted to go to Nottingham and was furiously suggesting that the bloke had made a mistake. The inspector gave up. 1-0 old, senile woman.

We had a 15 minute wait until Aston showed up, so we arranged a taxi and then sat in the sun, mocking the Hull accent for a good 10 minutes. ‘Nerr smurkin’ at the stershun’ and so on…

Once we’d had our fill of mockery, the taxi showed up. Bang on time too! We hopped in, full of optimism for the day ahead. Apparently, the club had informed Ferriby that we’d be taking between 700 and 1,000. Those of us travelling knew that’d be still quite a way off though. We all reckoned there’d be at least 1,200.

The taxi took us through the village of Brough; an absolutely lovely place, to be fair. A couple of pubs almost adjacent to one another looked brilliant. Proper village beer garden types, just how I like them! It’s a bit of a shame we decided to drink in Ferriby really. However, once we arrived at the Duke of Cumberland, we were greeted by an already decent following from Boston. Bear in mind that this was about 11:45 in the morning!

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A large chunk of our support showed up here. 35 had decided to book Sunday lunch, plenty of others settled for the beer and a decent number elected for buying their booze from the Co:Op next door. Sensible, considering the money saved. Carl Piergianni rocked up in the car park with his missus and got a solid ovation from the fans, as did Tom Denton. Chants of ‘Denton, you’re a cunt’ rang out in front of the pub and as he drove back towards the exit of the car park, some complete degenerate thought it’d be wise to throw their pint all over his car.

‘Well, there’s his motivation to put a performance in, eh?’ I said to Josh.

‘Aye, watch him go and score 4 in 4-3 aggregate win now…’

Smoke bombs were let off, inflatables thrown in the middle of the road… you know, just general dumb shit really.

After a short while longer, the 100-150 Boston fans began stumbling towards the ground. When we got there, the queue was ridiculous, as expected. I’m not saying this out of any kind of bitterness but if Ferriby were to go up, their ground really isn’t ready for the National League. If they couldn’t cope with our numbers sensibly, I dread to think how they’d handle Grimsby’s numbers. We queued for a few minutes, then I spotted Tom (Hallam) at the front.

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Still a good 50-75 yards from the turnstile.

‘HALLAM! PAY FOR TWO AND GET ME IN?’

He nodded and waved me over. What a lad. I handed over my £12 to him. Josh and Aston followed, not ever so far behind.

Our support had already taken over our usual corner of the ground, singing, shouting and bouncing around. Flags were already hung up, it was just missing Josh’s ‘VENI VIDI VICI’ flag.

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A very small portion of our support, 25 minutes prior to kick off.

We managed to squeeze in, but if I’m being totally honest, it was dangerous. The number of people packed in and who were slowly getting pressed against the front fence and crush barriers was rising by the minute. It was rapidly proving to be an example of what was to come, with Ferriby’s stewards showing nothing but total incompetence all afternoon, in stark contrast to Stalybridge’s the previous week.

As time went by, the heat in that little pocket terrace was getting unbearable. Hallam had sweat pouring down his face, I wasn’t exactly in any better condition either. It was uncomfortable but that’s the price you pay for being amongst the few who want to make a noise. A smoke bomb was let off by another knuckledragging cretin to my right, a couple of them were thrown on the pitch, inflatables followed, a couple of our fans went crowd-surfing, it was just mental in there.

I took a second to look around the ground as we neared kick off. No matter where you looked, it was a sea of amber and black. 700-1,000? It looked around 1,500.

The noise we generated early doors was fantastic. Sadly though, the referee set the tone for his performance after just 11 minutes…

Piergianni was adjudged to have fouled Tom Denton in the penalty area, despite the fact Denton (quite possibly the most disgusting player in the league) had his hands all over Pidge before dragging him to the floor and ending up on top of him. Penalty to Ferriby. Are you sure, ref? In any case, Liam King buried it to Spiess’ left and boos rang around the ground. You couldn’t hear the Ferriby cheers, of course.

3 minutes later we saw our 2 goal lead nullified through a Denton header. Typical. We’d not been at the races whatsoever and after just 14 minutes we were already being left to rue the missed opportunities we’d had on Wednesday night to make it, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8-0. Realistically, it could have been 8 and it wouldn’t have flattered us. We were THAT good. This game though, we looked a shadow of that.

I knew we wouldn’t get to play the game how we wanted. We’d gotten that 2-0 lead from the first leg and maybe psychologically we were already in the final? Either way, we were now sucked into Ferriby’s style of play, hoofing the ball up top at every opportunity and playing right into their hands, which I’ve witnessed so many times when visiting their place. It’s just oh so predictable.

We got through to half-time still 2-0 down and decided we ought to make a move to the end behind the goal we were to be attacking in the second half. It took us the entirety of half-time to get down there, but we managed it. There, we bumped into Matt, his young lad, Neal and Pickwell. Matt went on to tell us about how he’d been in main stand during the first half and it’d threatened to kick off in his section, where Jack (his 4 year old lad) had been pushed over by Ferriby tag-alongs (not fans). Why do bandwagon jumpers always have to ruin it for others?

The second half wasn’t much better. We had a couple of half-chances from set pieces but never really had their goal under serious threat. That was perhaps the most annoying thing. We never truly looked like scoring and re-establishing our lead in the tie. Our on-loan centre-half Nat Brown was fouled and left on the floor with a head injury, the ref once again proved to be totally inept and Ferriby played on, Danny Clarke perhaps inevitably putting away their third, giving them an aggregate lead just 9 minutes after the break. More boos rang out for the ref. In the first leg, the ref was quite simply unable to cope with the occasion, this ref seemed fully aware of what he was doing and for possibly the first time ever, I can say with total honesty that I wouldn’t be surprised whatsoever if he was being tipped off. His performance was THAT bad.

From that point onwards, it was a slow, painful death. We’ve had a real issue this season with conceding early on and never getting back into the game. This time we conceded two and we honestly never looked like getting back into it.

It all kicked off in the main stand again, with kids pushing about and getting getting a bit forceful. As ever, the stewards did nothing. Totally useless. In the dying stages, police showed up and a helicopter was flying above the ground. Apparently, there’d been an assault either inside the ground or just outside. The strange thing is, the police apparently saw something but no victim had actually come forward to report anything. 2 Boston ‘fans’ were held in cells overnight.

Eventually, the final whistle put us out of our misery. I stood there, with my elbows resting on the railings and my head resting in my hands. United don’t do knockout games, we haven’t done for years and years. I watched on as fans filed onto the pitch. Fans of both persuasions. A few of our lot took their final opportunity to abuse Denton again, others shook players’ hands, possibly for the final time. Piergianni won’t be with us next season as he’s going travelling. Realistically, Dayle can play at a higher level, so he won’t be with us either. How we’re going to replace him, I really don’t know. We did very well to replace Ricky Miller with him but are we going to be so lucky again? The league will be so much harder next year with Darlington’s zombie incarnate coming up, Altrincham and Halifax dropping down and one of either Ferriby or Fylde staying down. This league gets stronger and stronger.

Josh and I hurdled the ad-boards and strolled across the pitch. His dad was stood at the opposite end.

‘Come on boys’, he said with his arms spread to give us a sympathetic hug. ‘What a load of bollocks that was! What a shite league this really is. It’s just full of these tinpot clubs, battling with another bloke’s money.’

After a short while sat on the turf behind the goal, we made our way back to the Duke of Cumberland and waited for our taxi to Brough. Josh said very little all the way through to Birmingham. I think we traded about 6 sentences in around 3 hours. Possibly partly down to his cold, partly down to the fact we were both pissed off. Play offs are harsh, but we love them. We must do, otherwise we wouldn’t get up for them and buzz over them. I shook hands with Josh for the final time this season and reminded him ‘I’ll see you on Sunday, mate.’ We’re off to Silverstone for the Blancpain GT Endurance race. Let’s hope Audi deliver.

I got back into Stafford at around 21:15 that night and pretty much went straight to bed.

To take influence from Partizan Beograd’s ultras: Love Boston, hate yourself.

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Sounds familiar.

I’ll be back next season. T’rar for now.

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Macclesfield Town 03/04: Romance of the Cup? What Romance?

I was laying in bed, half-asleep when I was formally invited to write this piece. At the time, I had no idea what I was going to base it on. Over the years, Boston United have had their fair share of both luck and misfortune. There’s many things I’d change – both out of curiosity and in order to better the club’s fortunes – and many things I’d have loved to have simply been a part of. We’ve survived turbulent times on a couple of occasions, when it looked like the club may have dissolved and vanished into thin air. Arguably, that’s been our biggest achievement: keeping our heart beating for this long. If Accrington Stanley can falsely claim to be ‘the club that wouldn’t die’ (for those who don’t know, they died in 1966) then we, for once, can be seen as the honest voice in the debate when we claim that we truly are the club that flicks an old, dusty, middle finger to insolvency.

So, I can’t really say I’d change the fact that we took voluntary demotion in the 60’s just to keep the club alive, nor can I complain about the demotion in 2007 to the old Unibond League. On the face of it, they’re both low points but would you take those outcomes in order to survive? Of course you would. Dying is the most embarrassing thing a football club can do. Ask Fleetwood, they’ve done it twice.

Talking of embarrassment, this leads me further towards my chosen topic. I’m still not revealing it yet though, let’s discuss something we’re not very good at: Cup runs.

I start off with an immediate disadvantage to the rest of the contributors to this feature as I’ve only technically been supporting Boston since the start of the 2013/14 season; merely keeping an eye out for results prior to that (we’ll say since around 2004). However, I’m lucky in the sense that Boston United have got to be one of the most interesting clubs in the country, not just in non-league. Plus, anybody with a passing interest in non-league football ought to be aware of two things in particular; Boston United are the non-league team that inflicted the heaviest ever defeat on a Football League side in the FA Cup (6-1 away at Derby County in 1955) and that other than that, we fail in cup competitions with metronomic consistency.

Pilgrims fans tear onto the York Street pitch following Arthur Conde's goal against Derby 9th January 1974

Pilgrims fans tear onto the York Street pitch following Arthur Conde’s goal against Dave Mackay’s Derby, 9th January 1974. 10,000 packed in that day! (credit ‘Lay on them backs, Boston’ by Doug Lowe)

Let’s take a look at the period between the start of the noughties and present day. In that time, we’ve seen United at their highest point in history, conversely their lowest in terms of shame, and also as a relatively big fish in a small pond throughout their time back in non-league.

As a league side, Boston failed to progress to the 3rd round on 4 occasions out of 5 attempts. Up until the point when they saw off Swindon Town 4-1 in a 1st round replay, they’d also gone 23 years without beating Football League opposition in the Cup. What is perhaps even more concerning is the 11 times United have failed to get beyond the 4th qualifying round as a non-league side, and my god have their been some sore ones. Losing to Brigg (2001/02) has never been acceptable to any team you could possibly think to mention, and to be honest, losing to Kidsgrove (2011/12) is no laughing matter either. The result that stood out to me, however, was whilst we were in the Football League: the 1st round exit to Macclesfield Town in the 2003/04 season.

As it turns out, it could be argued that the team that year was the up there with the best we’ve ever had, with the likes of Bazza, Ellender, Redfearn and David Noble to name just a few. They helped us to our highest ever finish in our existence of 11th in League Two. This was to be replicated just the once in 2005/06 when The Pilgrims finished just 5 points (and a good few goals) outside the play-off places.

The reason the Macclesfield game stands out so clearly to me is because, historically, they’ve been absolutely terrible against Boston. In all competitions, there have been 47 competitive meetings. Boston have had 22 wins, 13 draws and 12 defeats. 8 of those defeats came in The Pilgrims’ dismal phase in the ’80’s.

Though Macclesfield Town’s inception was in 1966, ‘Macclesfield’ (the club’s original guise) knocked about in the Lancashire Combination Leagues until they helped to form the Cheshire County League in 1919. It took them 12 years to win it but they eventually went on to become champions on 5 occasions (6 if you include the one they won as Macclesfield Town). Following this, they – along with Boston United – helped to form the Northern Premier League in 1968; winning and defending the title in the first two years of its existence. In the days when it was 2 points for a win, they quite honestly obliterated the rest of the league in ’68, finishing on 60 points. Their nearest challengers? Wigan with 48. Boston, meanwhile, finished 14th.

To put this into some perspective though, this was just 4 years after Boston United had turned amateur and were playing in the Boston & District League due to the crippling financial problems brought on by Ernest Malkinson. His exploitation of the United Pools in 1956 to unlawfully generate income to the football club lead to him receiving an indefinite ban from football (though this was lifted in 1958) and United’s gradual demise throughout the late-1950’s and early ’60’s. Boston bounced around from the Midland League to the Southern League for 3 seasons and then, bizarrely, the West Midlands Regional League at a latter stage. In any case, it’s to United’s credit that they managed to consolidate in the Northern Premier League at that point in time. What was soon to come was unprecedented…

Following the ’68/69 season, Boston finished outside the top 5 just twice in 9 seasons, winning the title 4 times and subsequently cementing themselves as one of the genuine forces in non-league football. Despite this, Boston’s cup runs were still virtually non-existent. The one big draw they got came in 1973/74 against Derby County. Again. There was to be no giant killing on this occasion as Derby won the replay 6-1, in a reversal of the spectacular result in 1955. Boston did come out of those games against Derby unbeaten at the Baseball Ground in both visits though, as the initial fixture finished 0-0.

Whilst the cup runs didn’t materialise, a run of form against Macclesfield did. It took The Silkmen 4 years to finally beat The Pilgrims between 1970 – 1974 and then another 11 years until they beat them again between 1976 and 1987. Though to be fair to them, the two didn’t ever play each other between 1978 and 1987. Still, it sounds nice though, doesn’t it? Even in the Football League, Boston generally lead the way with 5 wins to Macclesfield’s 2. Naturally, one of those defeats had to come in the Cup.

Barbara Singleton’s first few words of the match report sum up all you need to know about that particular game: ‘Boston United reserved one of their most inept performances of the season for arguably the day which had the most potential glamour attached to it.’

This was the third time in as many seasons that Boston had tossed away any hope of a run in the Cup, at the first hurdle.

Martin Carruthers (or was it a Chris Hogg own goal?) opened the scoring in the 20th minute via a deflection, before second half goals from Carruthers (undoubtedly this time) and soon-to-be Altrincham legend Colin Little sealed the deal in front of 2,059 (377 Boston) at the Moss Rose.

What was particularly apt about this result was that it was the last time Macclesfield beat us. We went on to play them a further 7 times (4 wins, 3 draws) in the Football League before Steve Evans disgraced both the club and its achievements, seeing us condemned to the Unibond League.

So where am I going with this? Well, the furthest Boston have gotten in the FA Cup is the 3rd round (1955/56 against Tottenham, 1971/72 against Portsmouth, 1973/74 against Derby and, latterly, 2004/05 against Hartlepool [what a treat]). Following Macclesfield’s win against us, they went on to knock Cambridge United out after a replay (penalties), who did they face in the following round? The team that narrowly (by a goal) denied Boston 10th place in the league that season, which would’ve been their highest ever finish: Swansea. The Pilgrims had lost 3-0 and drawn 1-1 with Swansea that season already and the 3-0 had come at the start of the season when our form was – it has to be said – fairly awful. In a one-off game, you’ve got to say Swansea were beatable opposition back then and they only played a very average Preston and a play-off chasing Tranmere in the 4th and 5th rounds. If ever there was a real cup run to be had, maybe that was it? Who wouldn’t have loved a quarter final date with Millwall?

OK, so it won’t have been particularly glamorous, but for a club with – generally speaking, at least – such a lacklustre FA Cup history, I’m sure nobody would have complained. Can you even begin to comprehend Boston getting to a quarter final? That was the year Millwall went all the way to the final too. Imagine if that was us. Imagine Boston United playing Ferencváros in Europe the following season. Imagine. Now, the best we can hope for is a friendly with Sligo Rovers, out of gratitude for us being Notts County’s puppet – helplessly surrendering one of our finest players – during the whole Jordan Richards loan saga.

One year we’ll have a run and win the whole thing. Won’t we? WON’T WE? YEAH. Yeah.

Probably not.

Are Boston United Fans The Most Hostile In The League?

It’s impossible to say for sure how many fans of other clubs in the National North (that bloody rebranded name) view Boston United supporters, but hopefully many see us as a hostile bunch. Why do I say ‘hopefully’? Because it sets us apart from the rest.

We have easily the widest array of songs in the league, that’s not even a contest. They range from the offensive: ‘Jelly and ice cream when Evans dies’ and ‘So fuck off Peter Levy, he likes North Ferriby, he’s a paedophile!’ to the supportive: ‘Yellow and black army’, ‘You fill up my senses’, ‘Since I was young’ and finally to the jovial: ‘You’ll never cheat the cheaters’, ‘You let your club die’ etc, etc. We even have a split down the middle of the Town End sometimes and throw taunts at each other… after all, it’s rare anybody brings enough away fans with them to make an atmosphere.

We don’t have a reputation for being hooligans or yobs, we just like to make to make a racket. We like noise and we like trying to intimidate you in your own ground and at York Street. What it’s vital that you, the reader, understands is that we’re not violent, we’re generally not horrible people. In fact, I’m friendly as hell after a few drinks and you might get 20 seconds of conversation out of me, rather than the customary nod and ‘alright?’! We just see football apparently a lot differently to almost everybody else in our league and that’s something we’ll continue to cling onto. We don’t go to the football to sit down. We don’t go to the football to stand next to you while the game’s going on. In fact, 99 times out of 100, if we’re not segregated we’ll segregate ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, we have the types of fans that will gladly shake your hand and have idle chit-chat with you, with a pint in our hand. However, once the turnstile’s clicked and we’re in, as far as we’re concerned you’re the number one enemy. To many fans at this level of football, this is an old-fashioned mindset and one that was left behind with the comparatively cheaper ticket prices of the 1990’s. They’re welcome to that view and they can keep it to themselves.

So, why are Boston fans typically so different from anyone else at the top tier of regional football?

For me, there’s many reasons. I can’t confess to being from Lincolnshire, let alone Boston, but one thing that became immediately apparent to me both through my job of dealing with complaints about petty situations and issues, and through being a Boston fan, is that Bostonians are generally a prickly bunch. Absolutely brilliant people if you’re mixed in with them and on their side, but there’s a tendency to switch at the drop of a hat. Our supporters are no thugs, don’t get me wrong, and most people who’ve heard of the Pilgrims will be aware of that. But there’s an aggression and animosity there and I’ve seen it affect opposition players on the pitch. I’ve decided to delve into both my own psyche and that of the people I go to matches with to seek out some of the answers. Whether a broader collective of Boston fans agree with my opinions on this remains to be seen, but let’s see if I’m talking sense or if I’m miles wide of the mark…

THE LACK OF A PROPER RIVALRY

2006/07 was – I believe, though I’m sure someone will correct me – the last time we played what we would term as a genuine local rival in a serious, competitive game. Gainsborough don’t count, not really.

In 06/07 we played both Grimsby and Lincoln in front of crowds of 5,012 (Grimsby away), 4,327 (Lincoln home), 6,820 (Lincoln away) and 2,915 (Grimsby home). That was in League Two. Nowadays, we’re scrapping fiercely to snatch a play-off place in the National North so we can play them again. The point is, we used to have derbies with relatively big crowds, friction and a naturally hostile atmosphere. Many (or most) of our fans are used to games of that nature and probably started drinking on the Wednesday preceding our Saturday fixture and were what you may term as ‘up for it’.

If we’re honest, our dates with Grimsby and Lincoln were probably taken more seriously by ourselves as those two are far more bothered about each other. Maybe if Wigan hadn’t snatched our spot in the Football League for the 1978/79 season, we’d have more to bark about in terms of Football League history and be taken more seriously? Who knows? (See, I can’t even be coy about that after so many years of being aware of the situation. The Bostonian aggression is rubbing off!)

MAYBE A SMIDGE OF SELF-ENTITLEMENT?

There is also a small sense of self-entitlement that goes with being a former Football League side and some of us are possibly guilty of expecting to be up there around the top spots in the league. Rightly so? In a footballing climate where there are serious suggestions that FFP ought to be considered at non-league level, possibly not, but it can’t be helped.

It’s all well and good saying the money has to be spent well and the manager still has to do his job, but you can’t tell me that if Boston had the money Solihull and Fylde have, they wouldn’t be points clear at the summit. A bigger transfer kitty gives other clubs far more chance of success, full-stop. You can understand why other clubs’ spending power – which they wouldn’t otherwise possess, due to their piss-poor attendances – would monumentally wind up our support; seeing pub teams like Fylde and North Ferriby up there is embarrassing. There’s no other word for it.

Ferriby fans may point towards the fact that their money’s run out and that may well be true. What you must factor into the equation though, is that decent players have been there over the last couple of years and are able to pass on recommendations to players approached by the club, if said player asked for their opinion. Their pulling power is stronger now than it should be, due to the fact that they had those players in the first place and they just so happened to enjoy their time in a posh, quiet village that they only showed up in for the paycheck.

We’re not bitter they have the money as such, we’re bitter that they have an advantage and they’re denying, good, solid clubs the opportunities to progress fairly from working within their means. Hell, we know what it’s like to spend beyond our means… it nearly finished us in the end. The lesson’s there to be learnt, and that’s what we’ve done.

SOMEONE’S GOTTA TRY

While we’re on the subject of pub teams, there is one really, really simple reason as to why we at least appear so hostile in comparison with many other clubs’ fans: the rest are so tame. Many supporters in this league are used to your archetypal nu-era Northern Premier League atmosphere; that of happy clapping and unbreakable politeness and ultimately silence. Even Stockport are going that way. Then again, in their current state, it won’t be long until they join the NPL. Time will tell whether or not the messiah Jim Gannon gets them back up and running. Anyway, I digress, this friendly stuff… it’s not for us. Therefore, we feel an added responsibility to create an atmosphere ourselves.

A BIT OF ILL-FEELING

Finally, and this is a slightly contentious one (thanks to Josh for bringing it up in conversation), as a town it could be said that Boston’s population has become very negative and vocal about people from elsewhere rocking up. By that, I’m generally talking about Eastern Europeans. This is something that, as an outsider, pisses me off if I’m being honest, because I’ve not got a problem with any nationality or race of people and I’m not someone who claims to be proud of being born on a different piece of rock to anybody else. There is a chance, though, that this mentality affects the football fans as well, I can’t really say any set of supporters are made to feel welcome. We don’t make any effort to make them feel comfortable and to a degree I don’t see why we should. The segregation that is enforced at York Street doesn’t help to soften the feeling between the two sets of fans either.

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Gone Are The Days Of Long Hikes

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The Popular Side

An otherwise very silly maths teacher once wisely put it to me that the long journeys are always the best. Year on year we open our hearts to the latest local derby (some take them more seriously than others) and revel in the city, county or regional spotlight for the week preceding the fixture. These are supposed to be what football is all about… but is that truly the case?

Naturally, it’s a question that can only be answered subjectively and, as a Boston fan, it’s been longer than I care to recall since we had a proper local derby, despite how notoriously average Lincoln have been in recent seasons. Gainsborough are one of those that only count once you’re actually in the ground. Before you head through the turnstiles, they don’t matter, they’re nothing; they just happen to, only just, be a part of Lincolnshire. That it took them 19 years to beat us on their own patch just goes to show what they are.

In any case, I’m not here to discuss how bad Gainsborough are. My point here is that with the absence of a proper derby these days, my favourite games are those that require you to put in the hard miles. Not necessarily for the badge of honour that comes with getting pissed on for 90 minutes in the middle of winter, to see your team get played off the park and lose 1-0 thanks to a dubious penalty at Barrow. For me, the football is all about being with your mates and though we wouldn’t say it in such a way – the sense of adventure. There’s nothing exciting about Solihull away. Literally nothing. OK, the bar’s alright, but that’s it.

My favourite away days recently have been Barrow and Chorley. Both are lengthy enough journeys to have a laugh and get yourself suitably trollied before you’ve even made the second change on your journey. I found this out before the away leg of the play-offs last season as I swayed on my feet and giggled to myself on the platform at Preston over absolutely nothing, like a fucking madman.

Thankfully, we’ve not lost Chorley from the matchday calendar, but we have lost Barrow and in my eyes it’s a real shame.

I don’t miss their transfer kitty, I don’t miss waking up stupendously early on a Saturday morning, I don’t miss getting taken to the cleaners miles away from home and I don’t miss the locals.

He wouldn't fit through the Main Stand/Holker Street End turnstiles with that belly!

He wouldn’t fit through the Wilkie Road turnstiles with a belly like that!

What I do miss is the 4 hour train journey with good company, beer and vodka. The first time you make that trip, it’s like shutting yourself from all the bullshit you’ve endured throughout the week and letting the train be your guide – throwing you glimpses of the good and the grim of Northern England until the enormous sheet of grey that is Barrow-in-Furness shrouds your view. Lest we forget the stations in such revered locations as Cark, Gargrave and Giggleswick. I miss undeserved 4-4 draws and I especially miss getting stuck in turnstiles designed specifically with Mr. Skinny’s frame in mind. Oh, the chippy’s amazing too! Bentley’s, I think it’s called…

On a slightly less personal note, another reason to miss Barrow is that they are one in a seemingly forever-dwindling number of what you may call ‘proper non-league clubs’. Unlike Boston, Barrow’s most notable successes came in the 80’s and 90’s, coinciding with the end of our enviably dominant era in the 70’s as one of the finest non-league sides in the country. ‘The Ziggers’ as they were once called, won the NPL title in 1983-84, 1988-89 & 1997-98 and the FA Trophy in 1989-90 (and in 2009-10). They were also once a Football League team, let’s not forget.

Having been voted out of the Football League in 1972, Barrow were plonked into the Northern Premier League for the 72-73 season and duly finished 23rd, 5 points clear of bottom side Fleetwood Town (back when that lot got what they deserved – nothing). The Bluebirds initially had a truly awful time in the NPL and only finished outside the bottom three twice, towards the end of the decade. This subsequently led them join the Alliance Premier League for the 1979-80 season. They still finished way below Boston though, who had also joined the Alliance Prem the same year.

Barrow have generally kept within a the range of 800-1,500 in terms of home attendances since the 90’s. Although in 2013-14 they had half the average attendance they got the following year when the money got pumped in, they are one of the clubs I don’t begrudge a little booster like that. They’re a healthily sized club with a good tradition, fanbase and still an excellent ground. Bearing in mind how long it takes to get there, Holker Street is worth visiting. Just make sure you do it quickly before it gets a facelift, which won’t be too far away now.

Here’s to you, Barrow. Not all Boston fans will agree, but I miss our away days at your place. Give us 10 years or so, we might play you again…

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In Depth: A View From The Górka

It’s taken a long, long time but I’m finally starting to communicate with football fans in Poland. My previous blog post on the subject of Arka Gdynia was met with an overwhelmingly brilliant response from their fans, resulting in my view count shooting through the roof. Whilst I primarily follow Zagłębie Lubin when it comes to Polish football, I’d heard of Arka when I was just a young lad playing on FIFA 2002. I had a thing for teams wearing yellow kits back then, so whilst many kids were playing as Real Madrid, Arsenal and Bayern Munich, I was playing as Arka or Bodø/Glimt.

I only started my keen interest in Arka’s progress last season though. Once my love affair with Polish football had begun and I’d found out that they were on very good terms with Zagłębie, it made sense to track both teams’ progress and learn more about them. Through doing this, I’ve come across two or three incredibly friendly and talkative Arka fans that I speak to on a pretty regular basis and this has only helped my interest in their team grow. So whilst I’m happy to talk about Polish football and its quirks from afar, I figured it’d be a good idea to get one of those fans involved, so you can hear all about it from someone who’s actually there. Michal Kaniewski has agreed to take part and provide some personal, in-depth knowledge and opinions on his club and the state of Polish football in general.

Ejsmond Park, 25th April 1971

Arka’s old home: Ejsmond Park, 25th April 1971 – the Górka in the background

 

First of all Michal, thanks for agreeing to this. Hopefully you haven’t found the list of questions too long by the time you’ve finished answering them all!
Michal: I am sure that I will find it interesting and enjoyable, it is always good when you can tell someone about your passion and interests.
Before we get properly stuck in to the football, I remember you saying you have an interest in British culture. Could you just explain to us what interests you about our culture?
Michal: Well, my journey with British culture started when I was living in Ireland for two years. Of course Ireland is not a member of the United Kingdom but for me they have more or less the same mentality and way of life. I really enjoyed it; another reason is that living in Ireland is simply much easier, there is no hurry, you can see more smiles on the streets and people have got a positive attitude for everyday problems. Another reason is that I hope I can say British history is one of my passions. Believe me, it’s amazing and has got a variety of funny and interesting situations. I also prefer the specific, ironic sense of humour in Britain. That all makes me a real fan of British culture and that’s why I’m studying English philology.
What is your opinion on English football?
Michal: English football is very physical. Hard tackles, hard fighting for the ball. When I think about English football though I immediately think – money. Man City, Man Utd, Arsenal etc. I don’t like huge amounts of money in football because it takes out from it a pleasure of watching the players fighting for every metre of a pitch. I also have heard about high prices of tickets for matches in Premier League, which is sick.
Do you feel there are any lessons we can learn from Polish football and vice versa?
Michal: The one and – sadly – the only one thing that you can learn from us is the support for your team. What I mean is that you should sing much more, louder, and with a bigger involvement. It also could be a good idea to set up some binding during games, maybe some pyro, more flags and other club gadgets.
We can learn a lot from your football as you can guess. Starting with schooling of our youth, management of the clubs and simply the approach to single matches and everyday training.
In terms of the quality of the football, how would you compare the Ekstraklasa and Pierwsza Liga to leagues in England?
Michal: In my opinion Ekstraklasa is on the same level as the Championship in England and Pierwsza Liga is probably similar to the level lower. My personal opinion is that the whole system of divisions in Scotland is quite similar to the one in Poland. I would say that Rangers are our Legia Warszawa and Celtic are equivalent to Lech Poznań. Sometimes we have a few exceptions like this season, with Piast Gliwice top of the league with a big advantage.
You admitted the first time we spoke that you find it strange that an Englishman would be interested in Polish football and learning the language. This seems to be a popular opinion among Poles, why do you think that is?
Michal: Usually when an Englishman comes to Poland he expects Poles to speak in English and I think that’s quite rude because if we are coming to England we usually know the basics or even better. If we speak about football we all know where is our place with Ekstraklasa right know. Everybody else talks about La Liga, Premier League, Serie A etc, and when somebody starts to talk about Ekstraklasa it’s a surprise for Poles. When you’re talking with a person who knows a lot of things about Ekstraklasa and has got a favourite team in it, it’s more than a huge shock!
How long have you been supporting Arka Gdynia and how did it happen?
Michal: The first match I remember is a game with Wisła Kraków in our old stadium on Olimpijska 5 in the Ekstraklasa. If I remember correct it was 10-11 years ago. The story is the same like with every one of my friends from Arka – my father decided to take me for a match because it was Wisła and in those times if Wisła was playing in your city than it was sure that there is going to be a full stadium on that day. I was standing on the tribune called “Tory” what is in English “tracks” because behind our tribune there are tracks for a railway. What is quite funny about that game is that I was too short to see the game, players or refs but do you know what? It wasn’t any problem for me. I was looking all 90 minutes, plus at the break, at the tribune where the most hardcore fans in the whole stadium were standing. They were singing, dancing, clapping and doing other things which we call in Poland ‘a real football support’. They took my attention 100% and I knew then that for the next match, I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with those lads, that I want to be a part of this spectacle.
These are very special memories for me, thanks for bringing them back to me!
The title of this article refers to the Górka. For those who don’t know, why don’t you give them an idea of what the Górka was and what makes it still such a special place for Arka fans?
Michal: Well… Górka is our holy place, it’s our home forever, our temple. The story of this place begins with a special atmosphere, crazy fans and good players on the football pitch. It was a place for us where information and history of our club was moving on from the father to son. Nowadays, we are meeting there every year to celebrate the memory of this place, have good fun and to feel a little bit of the atmosphere from the old times. For those of you who like oldschool you will enjoy Górka and its climate. You can find a lot of photos and films on YouTube from our meetings, we are always organizing something special for those meetings so it would be nice for you to see them.
Could you give us an idea of how big Arka Gdynia are in Poland? Do they have fans everywhere in the country or are most of their fans local now?
Michal: What is our real force is our Fan Clubs from the towns near Gdynia. Kartuzy, Reda, Wejcherowo, Tczew, Kościerzyna. These are the cities that are totally in yellow-blue colors. I have many friends in Poland who support Arka, even in Zakopane (south of Poland) so I am sure that you can find an Arka fan in every part of our country. We have also a very strong group of emigrants who are supporting our club from abroad by organizing some actions and representations for our club at international games. The citizens of Gdynia tend to be fans of glory who come to the stadium only when there are good scores and the team is playing well. There are around 2,500-3,000 fans who are with the club through the good and bad times though. They are always at the games, no matter what happens.
Michał Nalepa seems to be something of an idol for you guys, is this purely down to his footballing ability?
Michal: Well, his football abilities, which are huge, are one thing but what we really care about is that he is one of us; he is an Arkowiec from flesh and blood. He is always fighting, always on 100%. He’s a lad from our streets from Wejcherowo. If we will meet with our biggest enemy which is Lechia Gdańsk in any kind of situation Michał will stand with us shoulder to shoulder, I am sure about that.
Which Arka players have stood out for you in the time you have supported them and why?
Michal: As I said Michał Nalepa, in my opinion he is now our best player (looking only at the football abilities) and I am sure he will represent the national team in the future. He has great presence, has a great shot and pass, he can create amazing action on the pitch but there is one thing that he must work on and it’s speed. Others are Marcus da Silva who represents a real Brazilian style and Antoni Łukasiewicz who keeps our defence in very good condition.
In your opinion, which Polish youngsters should we be looking out for in the future?
Michal: I am sure it will be Bartosz Kapustka from Cracovia, Krystian Bielik from Arsenal and Karol Mazek from Ruch Chorzów. These guys have real chances to represent our country on a very high level. I hope you will see them celebrating lots of victories in Europe.
In Poland, pretty much every club has strong relations and friendships with other clubs. This is something we don’t have in England, could you explain how this kind of thing works and how the friendships start?
Michal: Well, actually every single friendship has got it’s own story but sadly I’m too young to know the details. Sometimes it begins when some other group from another city helped us to kick the ass of our enemy. Of course every friendship is strongly reinforced during football games by fighting, drinking and just having good fun together.
What are your personal opinions of the clubs Arka have a relationship with?
Michal: I accept every club which we have a relationship with because I was educated in this faith by the older Arka fans. I feel the strongest realationship with Lech Poznań and Cracovia Kraków, maybe because I have got friends who support these teams in their cities and on the other hand for me the biggest enemy is Wisła Kraków, because of the riots in Wrocław in 2003. We will never forget about what they’ve done and what they are doing.
A sad truth of Polish football is that whilst the fans are fantastic at creating an atmosphere, it’s extremely rare to see a stadium full. Why is this? What needs to change for things to improve?
Michal: The main problem is that in the most of Polish clubs the departments of marketing are non-existent. Poles are mainly, as I said before, fans of glory. When there are nice scores and good players on the pitch then they will come. If not, they prefer to go to the cinema, stay at home or do whatever else. In my opinion there is another thing what makes our stadiums empty and it’s other leagues which are on the on the higher levels which you can watch on TV. If we keep striving to be better and better then more and more fans will come to the stadium.
Finally, do you have any questions for me?
Michal: Only one, have you got any more crazy people like you in England who cares about the “average football” from other countries ?
Thank you very much! This was a great pleasure for me!
Huge thanks Michal for getting involved with the blog and for your time answering the questions. In response to your sole question, there are one or two people I know who have an interest in football around Central and Eastern Europe. Two people that spring to mind are interested in Russian and Croatian football, but I’m sure there’s plenty of other maniacs out there!

Boston United – Putting a Positive Spin On Things

Boston station on FA Trophy Final day, 1982. That's a proper football special!

Boston station on FA Trophy Final day, 1984-85. That’s a proper football special!

Matchday in Boston is a sensory experience at the best of times. As an exile, it’s that little bit extra special. After all, once you’ve taken the rustic route – via the railroads of Nottinghamshire, across Lincolnshire to the East of the county via the ‘Grey Hell’ we call Grantham – you could alight absolutely anywhere and feel at ease. The truth is, the most disconcerting and quite frankly humbling experience of the Nottingham to Skegness service doesn’t really result in any kind of fine conclusion. The grand finale is a half-demolished station which hasn’t seen a lick of paint for decades on end, caked in gullshit and aching with general decay. The place looks as fatigued as the rails that brought you here in the first place; and you don’t look much better yourself having played witness to that peregrination.

The season started off just as badly, with defeats against Stockport (2-1) and Solihull (4-1) – the latter being a particularly diabolical performance, in which second choice goalkeeper Jason Alexander won the MOTM award despite conceding 4 goals.

A run of three wins followed. Only one of which was thoroughly convincing – away at Brackley in midweek. The 3-1 scoreline didn’t flatter us one bit, if anything we could’ve had more on another night. At the time though, the vast majority of the travelling contingent were probably just happy to take three points away from a ground where we couldn’t buy a win a couple of years ago.

A torrid end to the month and a quite frankly deplorable sequence of results throughout September ensued; a 3-2 win away at Corby being the stand-out positive in an otherwise stagnant cluster of negativity and dejection. HOWEVER, as we bid farewell to October, spirits are heightened again by the fact United are now unbeaten in 5 and have only dropped points once in that run. In Dennis Greene’s defence, a plethora of injuries overlapping each other has not made things simple and even through that phase he’s remained calm. The abuse the man in charge has received in recent weeks has been nothing short of disgraceful from certain people but again, he remained calm throughout and now begins to show promise following the initially unstable start.

The timing of acquisitions such as Ryan Robbins and Alex Simmons has had some of the – shall we say – less optimistic of the Pilgrims faithful scratching their heads and wondering ‘Where the fuck is the left back? We’re still conceding goals, where’s the defence?’ but he saw to those problems too; clinching the signatures of Dylan McEvoy and Richard Jones. Only a seemingly serious injury on Jones’ otherwise very solid debut in the 2-1 win against Alfreton has seen Greene’s plans somewhat foiled, and even that injury is not apparently as serious as first feared. I must admit, watching from the Town End, I feared for the worst. The bloodcurdling scream that followed his twist of the knee, as his studs remained firmly planted in the turf immediately suggested ‘Oh shit, ligaments!’ to me.

All in all, October was an extremely positive month. At the time of writing, we’re now only outside the play off places on goal difference (though having played at least a game more than everyone else above us) and the notable improvement in performance of some players has been magnificent to watch. The stand-outs for me being Henrich Ravas, Jordan Richards and the still relatively new Dylan McEvoy.

At the start of the season, Ravas got a vast deal of bad press from just about everybody. I was reluctant to throw too much criticism his way at first as it has to be born in mind that he’s still a young kid. Let’s not beat around the bush here, his mistakes cost us momentum in certain games and even points in others. His general keeping was as awkward as being eyeballed in the Nuneaton Town gents toilets. However, since September elapsed he’s come on leaps and bounds to become arguably one of the better keepers in the league; making strings of impressive saves in 2 or 3 games during October.

Jordan Richards has also been incredibly impressive since making the transition from right back to central midfield. He plays a tidy, no-fuss game in front of the back four; providing able protection between the lines of midfield and defence whilst also offering a first mode of transition from defence to midfield when countering the opposition, allowing his fellow midfielders to play more naturally. Whilst we’ve shown more of a tendency to bypass certain areas of the midfield when ‘building’ from the back so far this season, he’s a helpful option to have there and I think I speak for many when I say I feel a lot more comfortable watching Boston when he’s in the midfield quartet (or trio depending on the system deployed). He’s the quiet one in midfield that you don’t always notice (often a good thing for a player in his position) but also has a tendency to make fans hold their breath in anticipation of a creative moment of genius. This last month, Jordan’s proven to be a dependently consistent performer and also a lad who can hit a ball rather well! Check his goal against FC United as a reference.

Dylan McEvoy has filled the void left by Rene Steer over the summer very capably. One thing Rene was guilty of was his tendency to go walkies, and as an attacking full back, he was always going to be caught out now and then. Dylan seems far more reliable in his decision-making, keeping a balanced style of play to his game which doesn’t sabotage his defensive teammates. He also has a great delivery on him, adding variety to our supply line to the forwards. Rene could drill a good ball in after attacking his opposite full back, but I don’t recall too many accurate early balls into the box or any curling crosses. That said, the majority of the Boston games I got to last season were seen through vodka and beer goggles, so I could be wrong. I just feel a lot more confident in McEvoy both defensively and offensively when he’s supporting attacks. He’s also not too shabby a corner taker!

To wrap this up, the final game of the month was one of the more convincing performances we’ve seen in a while. The 3-1 scoreline at the end of the game could quite easily have been 7 or 8-1, with Piergianni being denied a couple of great opportunities, Dayle Southwell poking wide after pouncing on an error by the full back, Ryan Robbins being sent through one-on-one but being denied, Mark Jones stabbing Roberts’ low cross over the bar, Southwell being denied when almost one-on-one and Nicky Walker’s free kick being parried away in the second half. It was a dominant performance, representative of the team’s vast improvements over the last few weeks and long may it continue!

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