Sunday, 5 February 2012

TLFG: 6-12 February 2012

Greetings from snowbound London. As usual, the first bit of wintry weather brought an end to most football in the region with only seven of the weekend's 50 fixtures getting played and this before the snow arrived.

As one non-league player pointed out on Twitter yesterday, there's very little difference between a frozen pitch and a baked one (they're both like concrete) so why do matches get called off in the winter and not the summer? Others have asked whether there should be a winter break as is the case in many European countries but when would you hold it and is the weather really that bad?

Whatever the case, hats off to the groundstaff at Kent Invicta League sides Erith & Dartford Town and Phoenix Sports who were the only non-league clubs in the London area who managed to prepare playable pitches. Even their more senior neighbours at Dartford and Charlton Athletic weren't able to do this.

I spent my Saturday afternoon at Loftus Road watching QPR slump to another disappointing and totally self-inflicted defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers. It was almost a carbon copy of the loss to Norwich City a month ago when a game Rangers appeared to be cruising through was suddenly turned on its head by a needless red card. Djibril Cisse has had some bad injuries in his career so I can understand why he might have been a bit peeved by Roger Johnson's poor challenge but the rules are so clear on this subject that the referee had no choice. Given that the 'retaliation rule' seems to encourage bad tackling, I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often.

My other football experience of the week was gained at Wealdstone on Monday night where I saw them beat Tooting & Mitcham United 2-0. As a follower of Harrow Borough I wouldn't normally go near the place (arch-rivals) but I found myself at a loose end and thought I'd take the club up on their half-price entry offer (just £5) to Premier League and Football League season-ticket holders.

This deal is employed by many clubs on Non-League Day to try and get fans in but it's one that, to my knowledge, was pioneered by the Stones for all their home league matches sometime before NLD and it seems to work. Other local sides like Hayes & Yeading United and Hendon also offer similar incentives as do  Tooting & Mitcham who extend the terms to include armed forces personnel and the unemployed. I applaud all these clubs for such initiatives and wish more, including Harrow, would do the same. It seems essential that as the Premier League gets ever more powerful, smaller clubs will need to adapt and work around their bigger neighbours if they are to survive.

As someone with a soft spot for Harrow Borough, I'm sad to say that the matchday experience at Grosvenor Vale is far superior to that at Earlsmead. Even on a chilly night in January, over 400 turned out to watch a midtable team play one threatened by relegation - I even had to queue to get in, something I haven't had to do at a non-league ground for a while.

Everything from the match posters to the sound system and the general buzz around the place shortly before kick-off were better - and don't get me started on the clubs' websites, the gulf between them is immeasurable. If you were a Premier League season-ticket holder who lived halfway between Harrow Borough and Wealdstone the choice of where to go on a spare Saturday afternoon wouldn't be difficult to make. Hopefully the Boro will up their game soon or they will get totally left behind.

At TLFG we'd be interested to hear your thoughts on any of the topics above so please share your views in the comments section below, on our Facebook page, via Twitter or even email.

Before I get on to the latest ticket news I'd just like to say a general thank you to everyone who continues to read this blog. This week TLFG had its highest traffic since launching in October. Our efforts to get up to date  match postponement information on Saturday seems to have gone down particularly well while I'd also like to give a mention to the Swedish blog about British football 'The Langham Court' which referred a lot of readers our way.

As mentioned, here's the latest on tickets that are on general sale for some of the big games coming up in the capital:

29 February - Netherlands 8pm, Wembley, international friendly

Nothing currently available

Nothing currently available

11 February - Stoke City 3pm, Premier League
4 March - Wolverhampton Wanderers 205pm, Premier League (on sale 7 Feb)
17 March - Swansea City 3pm, Premier League (on sale 7 Feb)
31 March - Norwich City 3pm, Premier League (on sale 9 Feb)

25 February - Fulham 3pm, Premier League

Nothing currently available

With considerable amounts of snow on the ground, many of this week's games could get called off but here are the match maps anyway:

MIDWEEK MAP
Yellow pin - Monday fixtures
Green pin - Tuesday fixtures
Magenta pin - Friday fixtures

WEEKEND MAP
Blue pin - Saturday fixtures

Please let me know if there are any errors or omissions and always make sure you check with a club on the day whether a match is still taking place.

There are only 58 games between now and next Sunday and this could well fall far lower if the cold snap persists. Here's my pick of a few games that I think are worth a mention.

TLFG TOP 10

Although 10 points apart in the Premier League table, both these sides still hold realistic ambitions of qualifying for next season's Champions League. In the case of Spurs it looks a formality while the Magpies will only be a win away from drawing level with fourth-placed Chelsea at the time of writing. The form guide and in particular the Toon Army's faltering run in recent weeks (losing six of their last 10) would suggest a home win. If the sides repeat the 2-2 draw from earlier in the season then I'm sure most neutrals will be happy.

The Bees, under manager Lawrie Sanchez, have shown a real improvement over the last few weeks. Six wins in their last 10 matches have lifted them to the heady heights of 17th in League Two some nine points above the relegation zone. On Saturday they welcome Paolo Di Canio's in-form Robins who sit nicely in third and ready to push on in their hunt for promotion. For an indicator of what to expect, check how the sides get on when they meet on Tuesday night at the County Ground in the second leg of their Johnstone's Paint Trophy Southern Area final - the winners will be going to Wembley.

If relegation scraps are your idea of fun make sure you head to Victoria Road on Saturday. This League Two game is a real 'six-pointer' with the Daggers just above the relegation zone, three points ahead of the Cobblers who are bottom. Form would again suggest that the hosts will edge this but the visitors came out on top earlier in the season when they won 2-1 at Sixfields. Not one for the purists amongst you.

Having seen their FA Trophy tie against Wealdstone frozen off on Saturday and moved to Tuesday (7 Feb), the Darts now have a very big week ahead of them. With that game out of the way, they'll then return to league duties where they'll face fellow Blue Square Bet South promotion chasers Sutton at Princes Park. The Us' high standards have slipped a bit recently but they're still fifth while Dartford seem almost untouchable winning their last seven in all competitions to lie second. Another win will be required here if they're to stand any chance of reeling in leaders Woking and avoiding the play-offs.

At the other end of the Blue Square Bet South table we have these other two former Ryman League clubs fighting to stay up. After a reasonable start, the Lilywhites have had a dreadful run of results that has seen them plummet down the table. Having only won one of their last 17 games in all competitions, it's a wonder they are still above the relegation zone. Encouragingly for them, their last victory was in their most recent game when they triumphed 3-0 at Weston-Super-Mare. The Swans by comparison seem to have been in the bottom three all season  despite picking up the odd good result. If they win their midweek match against Tonbridge they will start this game above Bromley but only by one point.

Two current Ryman League teams with ambitions of replacing the clubs above in the Blue Square Bet South meet in this match at Vale Farm the same day. The Greens topped the table earlier in the season and are still very much in the hunt for one of the four play-off places. Having won three of their last four league games, they are building a nice bit of momentum but so have the visitors who are just two points behind. Both these sides are doing well despite not having grounds of their own so go and give them a cheer if you're in the Sudbury area of north-west London on Saturday and remember that the special deal for season-ticket holders of other clubs applies for this game.

It's 745pm, it's the 10 February, it's time for Friday Night Football. This time it's the good people of Aveley in Essex, right on the TLFG border, that hope you'll pay them a visit. Apparently this derby match between the struggling Millers and table topping Billericay has been organised as part of a Ryman League 'experiment'. I presume it's to try and attract more people through the gate by playing at a less traditional time, something I believe has to happen for clubs at this level to survive. There doesn't seem to be any special deal in place to support this but there's plenty at stake for both sides and a big crowd is expected.

Urban south-east London meets rural Suffolk in this Ryman League Division One North culture clash on Saturday afternoon. I've gone for this match primarily because it gives you the chance to check out the visitors who are currently top of the table having won 18 of their 28 games. Whether midtable Thamesmead can trip them up and do fellow TLFG side and second placed Enfield Town a favour remains to be seen but they did take Blue Square Bet South club Welling United to a replay in the FA Trophy earlier in the season.

Another game in the TLFG border lands to catch my eye this week takes place in the deep south or east Surrey as I believe it's technically known. These local rivals play in the Ryman League Division One South where neither have done spectacularly well this season - the hosts are seventh but eight points off a play-off spot while the Leafe are effectively bottom following the recent sad demise of Croydon Athletic. Not the most mouthwatering build up I grant you but it is a derby so there will at least be pride at stake.

If you're in east London on Saturday afternoon get yourself down to the Mile End Stadium where the locals play host to the Essex Senior League leaders. United are playing in this league for the first time after their move from the Kent League and are holding their own but Witham will provide a stern test as they look to push clear of Southend Manor who they currently share the lead with. 

I'd also like to give a special mention this week to Bethnal Green United who are the only TLFG team remaining in the FA Vase. The competition is now down to the last 16 stage and the east London side have a daunting and lengthy trip to Northern League side Dunston UTS in Gateshead (effectively Newcastle to us ignorant Londoners). They've never been this far so all the best to them in their quest to get to Wembley.

If you think any other games are worth a mention, your club are offering a special ticket deal or you simply want to tell us where you've been or where you're going then post the details in the comments section below.

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