Thursday, 16 May 2019

National League Promotion Final 2019

Wembley Stadium ahead of National League Promotion Final between Salford City and AFC Fylde

Something of a damp squib in terms of the game itself and the attendance and atmosphere at Wembley, Saturday's National League Promotion Final nonetheless provided the assembled media with the story they wanted as Salford City eased to victory against AFC Fylde under the watching eyes of co-owners Gary Neville, David Beckham and the rest.

Promotion to the Football League for Salford looks to have divided opinion quite sharply, those defending the involvement of the former Manchester United stars pointing to investment in facilities and youth development (and the fact that wages will be paid on time in contrast to the ongoing situation at Bolton Wanderers for instance) while others are unhappy with the idea of a club suddenly being propelled way above their natural level with reported player salaries that are out of proportion to the kind of crowds and income that they can attract.

The focus of this blog is the game itself, however, and the National League's pricing policy for their showcase event was also the subject of much debate in the week leading up the game.

Early-bird tickets were once again fairly priced (£20 Adults, £10 Concessions for excellent Club Wembley seats on the halfway line) and well-publicised throughout January and February across all National League clubs.

Similar to last year, however, adult supporters from the competing clubs were charged either £36 or £41 once their participation was confirmed. Couple that with late notice to book travel and/or accommodation and it made for a very expensive day out.

Last season's attendance will have covered up the cost, to an extent, as Tranmere Rovers brought a large following but with two teams this year who don't have that kind of fanbase the prices will have put off neutrals who didn’t get early-bird tickets or those in the Salford or Fylde areas who may have come down to support their local side.

So I think there is a decision to make for the National League in terms of whether they want this fixture played at Wembley going forward and, if so, for a better pricing structure to be in place if they do.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

A (Final) Tweet For The Weekend

Last one for the season...

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Going Up! Radcliffe Recover To See Off Leek

Radcliffe FC ahead of play-off final against Leek Town

Saturday's Evo-Stik West promotion play-off final between Radcliffe FC and Leek Town went with home advantage as Radcliffe, known as 'The Boro', recovered from being a goal down at half-time to win 2-1, surviving the obligatory nervy moments in the final few minutes but overall being worthy of their win.

Promotion to the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League, for the first time in 16 years, has also been confirmed in a post-season where not all of the clubs going into the play-offs at various non-league levels actually had a chance of going up.

A restructure of the pyramid has reduced the number of available promotions around the country and although I will always look to defend the FA, in terms of the difficulty of getting the geographical balance of non-league football correct, having play-offs without the possibility of going up does make something of a mockery of things.

A fairly raucous atmosphere at Radcliffe saw flares being lit and supporters thronging the pitch after the game but I never felt that it crossed the line in terms of what is and isn't acceptable.

At non-league level you always have the chance to move yourself to a different area of the ground and, although they were vociferous in support of their own team, both sets of fans were able to change ends at half-time without issue. 

As Radcliffe players and supporters celebrated at the end the Leek team were able to go to their own fans and applaud them and in a way it summed up the best of football at this level.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Notes On A Season - FA Women's Championship

Olympic Legacy Park, Sheffield ahead of FA WC clash between Sheffield United Ladies and Lewes Women

A picture of the fairly basic stand at the Olympic Legacy Park in Sheffield, home of Sheffield United Women during their first season in the second-tier of the women's game in England.

The FA Women's Championship has generated plenty of interest this season, mainly due to the presence of the new Manchester United team who have duly done what was expected of them by topping the table and taking a place in next season's Super League (WSL).

It's hard to escape the conclusion that those in charge have got the outcome they want with United going up and Yeovil Town Ladies dropping out of WSL (Tottenham are also going up to create a 12-team league next season) and the traditionalist in me does have some difficulty with things effectively being engineered in this way.

But hopefully now the preferred structure of the game is in place there will still be a chance for smaller clubs to punch above their weight and gain promotion in the traditional manner.

Durham Women FC perhaps fit that bill as they are set to finish third in the Championship this year and will hope to go one better in 2019/20 for which early-bird season tickets are priced at £50 Adults and £15 for Concessions.

Plans are in place, meanwhile, to develop the Olympic Legacy Park as a fitting permanent home for the Blades who will be playing their final game of the current campaign at Bramall Lane this coming Saturday, 11 May at 5.30pm, against Millwall with all tickets costing just £1.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Notes On A Season - Barnsley FC

Barnsley FC Training Ground, Oakwell

The above picture was taken at the training pitches to the side of Oakwell Stadium as Barnsley Under 23's took on Coventry City on a Friday afternoon in early September.

There's something that appeals to me about taking a bit of time off work to watch a game in the afternoon and at matches such as this there is always the chance you will be standing next to a recognisable footballing face of the past doing some scouting of players or opposition.

And Barnsley have made good provision for spectators with plenty of seating and standing areas. Under 23 games that are played on the main Oakwell pitch are usually free admission as well.

Just a few weeks into the campaign at the time, Barnsley's new Assistant Head Coach Andreas Winkler was watching and an elderly fan came over to say how impressed he had been by the start made by the club’s new German management team.

His reply was something along the lines of 'let's hope people are saying the same in six months time' but although the success has continued for the Tykes with promotion back to the Championship secured earlier this week, Winkler himself opted to join new Huddersfield manager Jan Siewert at the John Smith’s Stadium so will be locking horns with Barnsley boss Daniel Stendel next season.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Notes On A Season - Hallam FC

Hallam FC v Sheffield Wednesday Under 23's

The above picture was taken the evening before England's World Cup semi-final against Croatia as Hallam FC welcomed a Sheffield Wednesday XI to Sandygate.

I've been to this pre-season fixture regularly over the past few years and it's invariably been played on a beautiful summer's evening which makes the oldest football ground in the world even more of an attraction than usual.

Although they ended the campaign falling just short of promotion from the Northern Counties East League Division One, Hallam enjoyed a good season, scoring plenty of goals, playing attractive football and claiming a couple of good scalps in the FA Vase (I was at Sandygate on the afternoon when the downward slope inspired a second-half comeback against Charnock Richard).

The club have made great strides over the years to make Sandygate a welcoming place to visit, embracing the history of the place without simply relying on that alone to attract people along and using social media well to spread the message.

It has been football for a fiver all season with some special offers along the way when either Sheffield Wednesday or Sheffield United have not been in action.

A word on the big two in the city and many congratulations to the Blades and especially manager Chris Wilder, an impressive figure who has earned his managerial spurs the hard way and who I have seen on the touchlines at Hallam on a couple of occasions over the past two seasons just taking in the game and spending time with friends.

Wednesday also look to be on the up under Steve Bruce. The team they send to Hallam generally contains some of the club's Under-18 side and they can end the season with some silverware when they take on Cardiff City in a National play-off final at Hillsborough this coming Friday, 3 May, at 7pm.

Admission to the game for non season-ticket holders is priced at £3 Adults, £2 Concessions.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Football For A Fiver At Boundary Park

It's been a season where managers have brought Oldham Athletic to national attention, one of them unknown and one being one of the most famous English footballers of his generation.

Lifelong supporter Pete Wild had been the interim academy manager at Boundary Park when he was made caretaker boss following the sacking of Frankie Bunn in late December and celebrated with the Latics fans at Craven Cottage after knocking Fulham out of the FA Cup a short time later.

The next permanent manager was another Oldham fan albeit a more celebrated one as Paul Scholes took what was assumed to be the first step of his managerial career.

31 days later he had resigned and Wild was given the reins again until the end of the season.

The BBC story announcing that news ends by saying the Latics are '15th and heading for a mid-table finish' but four wins and two draws since then mean a play-off spot remains a possibility at the time of writing.

Looking at the bigger picture and there is seemingly a constant struggle for survival for the likes of Oldham, and neighbours Bury (currently experiencing a financial crisis), as they try and square the circle of competing in the professional game with two major powers just along the road and a crowded Non-League scene below them but they remain proud members of the Football League and with good people behind the scenes trying constantly to keep the club as a focal point of the community.

A 'Football for a Fiver' offer against Mansfield on Easter Monday drew in over 6,000 through the gates and the club are repeating the deal for the final home match of the season against Northampton on Saturday 4 May with prices as follows, Adults £5, Concessions £3 and Under 18's just £1.