Sunday, 27 May 2012

TLFG: 28 May - 3 June 2012

The end of TLFG's first season has finally arrived and my how it's flown by.

Admittedly it hasn't been a whole year, starting as it did in October, but my first venture into blogging has been rewarding and challenging in equal measure.

I've visited new grounds and parts of London as a direct result of putting this together and have also taken a trip down memory lane and re-visited places I hadn't been since I was teenager.

Some of the matches have been superb, others less so. The first was Harrow Borough's entertaining 2-2 draw at Wingate & Finchley in a Ryman League game. While the last was an exciting seven-goal thriller on Saturday played at a level I'd never previously thought of watching, but more on that later.

Aside from the non-league matches, this was also the year QPR made their long-awaited return to the Premier League and what a season it was. The two stand-out matches for me were the home league wins over Chelsea and Liverpool which were packed with drama. The former continues to make headlines even now courtesy of the Blues' captain and what he did or didn't say to Anton Ferdinand.

I'm still pinching myself that Rangers stayed up and almost feel guilty like a survivor of a terrible tragedy - why us and not Bolton? Anyway, onwards and upwards, hopefully.

I'd love to know what the highlights of your season were - best match, favourite new ground visited etc. I'd also like to find out if there are any features or info you'd like me to include next season.

Back to yesterday now. With it being the last recognisable Saturday of domestic football in London, I made a bit of extra effort to encourage people to visit Coles Park (Haringey Borough's ground) to watch the final match of the Middlesex County Football League season between FC Romania and Willesden Constantine.

With there being only two other games on in the capital (another MCFL game out in the far west and the League One play-off at Wembley), I thought this would prove quite appealing to hardcore football addicts, groundhoppers and people who just wanted to get out and about on a beautiful sunny afternoon.

After meeting Non-League Day colleague Mike in Finsbury Park and enjoying lunch at a superb Turkish place, we headed up to Wood Green before walking a mile to the ground.

Our home for the afternoon

Tottenham Hotspur play nearby at 'White Hart Lane', however they're not actually located on the road itself. One football ground is though and that's Coles Park.

Flanked on one side by allotments, it is a bit shabby but in blazing sunshine anywhere looks good and the main stand is actually pretty decent.

After strolling through the main gate, a couple of FC Romania fans were selling some club scarves and programmes from a box on the bonnet of their car. Like their website, general support and actual play it was impressive for a club at Level 11 of the national system.

Once past them, Mike and I finally met up with the legendary blogger putajumperon.

Having recently completed his very own 'Road to Wembley' seeing 26 FA Cup matches from extra preliminary round to the final (including replays), it was great to finally meet him.

His next hop will see him visit every club in Europe founded in or who did something of note in 1881, the same year as his beloved Watford were formed. This odyssey starts shortly with a trip to Germany to visit SW Essen. Make sure you follow his blog to see how he gets on.

Having loaded up with cold drinks from the clubhouse we took our places in the stand and speculated about how the players before us would get on in the sweltering conditions.

It was the hosts, made up entirely of Romanian and Bulgarian ex-pats, who started the better and progressed into a very comfortable 2-0 half-time lead with some classy football.

Willesden had a couple of chances but they were always going to struggle to beat the giant their opponents employed between the sticks - he was huge, the biggest keeper I've probably ever seen. Peter Crouch might actually find himself looking up at this gentleman.

With the referee's whistle sounding for the interval, the teams went their separate ways - the Romanians to the dressing rooms and Willesden to the shade of a large tree in the car park!

This unorthodox activity didn't help them though as they went 3-0 down 10 minutes after the re-start.

At this point it seemed over as a contest - FC Romania had played the better football from the beginning and would have been much further ahead if they hadn't tried to walk it in on numerous occasions so what happened next came completely out of the blue.

Willesden Constantine (red) defend a free-kick
Maybe it was the substitution of their giant keeper at half-time but with the game into its 67th minute, the visitors pulled one back and then just took total control. Ten minutes later it was 3-3 and there looked like being only one winner.

Confidence was suddenly oozing out of every pore of the Constantine team but with the game deep into added time, Ion Vintila's players managed to counter attack and steal a fourth to swing the game back in their favour at the crucial moment.

Although the 4-3 win for FC Romania didn't alter either side's final league position (second and fourth respectively) it must have been very satisfying/disappointing for all involved. As a spectator it was a joy.

If my words are not enough, check out putajumperon's photos of the afternoon.

Since the season finished for the bigger non-league clubs three or four weeks ago, a lot of neutrals have found themselves at MCFL games instead and none have disappointed.

The two I've seen produced 13 goals whilst others had all reported seeing four or more in the games they'd been to. In fact Saturday's other game saw champions Interwood win 7-4 at Broadfields United! So give MCFL football a try next season, particularly if the games are being played at a more senior club's ground.

So to the week ahead. There are only two games scheduled and they couldn't be much more different.

On Thursday night M&B Club play Runwell Hospital in the Denny King Memorial Cup final at AFC Hornchurch's ground. I'm not too sure of the significance of this competition but both clubs play in the Essex Olympian League which is a similar level to the MCFL.

Then on Saturday, England host Belgium in a Euro 2012 warm-up match at Wembley. It's officially sold out, so you're probably best watching it on TV (if you've got nothing else to do). Here's the match map anyway:

Purple pin - Thursday fixtures
Blue pin - Saturday fixtures

Looking ahead a couple of months or so there are still tickets on sale for the Olympic football tournament with games taking place at Wembley and at various other venues around the UK. 

Tickets for England's World Cup qualifier against Ukraine at Wembley in September also go on general sale later this week.

So that's it for now, I hope you've enjoyed it. I've decided to take June off and intend to start putting stuff up again in early July once the pre-season friendlies get under way.

In the meantime I'm heading out to Ukraine for the France v Sweden game in Kiev/Kyiv (I always apply before the draw) and will spend my Saturday's back in Blighty trying to keep fit by taking part in my local parkrun which is something I can't recommend highly enough to runners of any age or ability, it's free too.

Have a great one!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

TLFG: 21-27 May 2012

Saturday proved to be quite a day for London football - not only did West Ham return to the Premier League (meaning there are now six clubs from the capital in the country's top division) but Chelsea became champions of Europe.

As a QPR fan I have no gripe with West Ham and depending on which day the fixture falls on, it looks like a group of us will be walking from Loftus Road to Upton Park next season when the clubs play. We do this to raise funds for the QPR Tiger Cubs football team for children with Down's syndrome - the previous three seasons have taken us to Crystal Palace, Watford and Spurs.

Congratulating Chelsea is a much a tougher thing to consider but I am currently compromised as former Blues player and current assistant coach Eddie Newton was a witness at my wedding some years ago.

It so happened that he was a neighbour of my wife at the time of our nuptials and it's hard to turn down an FA Cup final goalscorer whoever they played for.

In fact, my other half has far better football connections than I do having grown up in the same area as DJ Campbell (currently at QPR) - apparently he was 'on his bike the whole time' and she can never remember seeing him with a football.

I digress - I don't like Chelsea but I'm overjoyed for Eddie as he is a gent and went through some tough times when his playing days ended. For that reason, I want Roberto Di Matteo to miss out on the Stamford Bridge job and take himself and Mr Newton somewhere else so I can get back to being bitter without restraint!

Aside from this, I spent Saturday lunchtime hosting a brainstorm/planning meeting ahead of this year's Non-League Day event.

After two successful years, it will be making its return next season on Saturday 13 October 2012.

If you've not heard of it before, it's a day when football fans (particularly Premier League and Championship supporters) are asked to go and watch their local non-league teams instead. This is made possible by scheduling the day on an international weekend when all the big clubs are without fixtures.

Clubs at the grassroots of the game are the bedrock of football in this country and are often operated on a shoestring to the benefit of their local communities.

I set the day up to celebrate what they are about and help people discover what such clubs have to offer. So if you're in England on 13 October please try and get to a game.

Looking ahead to this week - we really are at the fag end of the season so there's very little to choose from (I make it five games). Apart from the two play-off finals at Wembley, there are some games in the Middlesex County Football League and Essex Olympian League.

Please let me know if there is anything going on that I've missed and if you know when Interwood kick-off on Monday night please get in touch (last Wednesday it was 7pm). As always, please double check with clubs on the day that games are still going ahead.

Yellow pin - Monday fixtures
Purple pin - Thursday fixtures
Blue pin - Saturday fixtures
Red pin - Sunday fixtures

View London match map 21-27 May 2012 in a larger map 

If you have any questions or want help or advice about watching football in London you can contact TLFG through the comments section below or via Facebook, Twitter or email.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

TLFG: 14-20 May 2012

Well what a day!

As a QPR fan it's been an emotional one.

The very minute the fixtures came out back in June we all knew we'd be in for a tough last couple of months of the season given we had to play six of the top eight in our final eight games.

January to March was seen as the time where we really had to get results and build up enough of a points reserve that we could hold on for the remainder of the season.

Perversely it turned out that we lost most of the 'easy' games and took maximum points off the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs as we won our last five home games to move to the brink of safety.

Although QPR did eventually lose at Manchester City today, the previous good work proved to be enough and the dream continues for another year.

I'm still not sure which gave me a greater sense of elation - surviving today or winning promotion last year?

Currently I think it has to be survival - partly because last year's achievements were tainted by an FA enquiry which I still feel we were lucky to get through relatively unscathed. If we had gone down, there would've been a feeling of karma about it.

Anyway, when Gabby Logan and the Final Score team had digested all the day's action I thought I'd stroll down to Loftus Road to join the throng of happy fans who would have congregated at the stadium to celebrate.

Admittedly nearly an hour had passed since the final whistle but there were no signs of life at all when I arrived - I was the only one there. Even the nearby Springbok pub was showing few signs of activity.

A very quiet Loftus Road an hour after the final whistle at Eastlands
Then I remembered I was living in London not Madrid or Istanbul - British people just don't do this sort of thing. Maybe when the supporters' coaches get back later tonight things could get a bit more lively.

Putting that slight disappointment aside, I can now look forward to what I expect to be a big summer - the first under Tony Fernandes and Mark Hughes.

I doubt there'll be mega signings - top top players won't move to clubs with 19,000 capacity stadiums but there will be some quality coming through the door. If you've not been before, put Loftus Road on your list of grounds to visit next year and let me know if you want any help doing it.

By contrast my Saturday afternoon was a far more relaxed affair.

With most football in the top 10 levels of the national system finished, I tried out some level 11 action for the first time.

After a short tube ride from Shepherd's Bush to Perivale I ended up at Hanwell Town's Reynolds Field - the temporary home of Middlesex County Football League club Southall.

The west London club dropped to this level in 2006 after over 30 years in the Isthmian (now Ryman) and Combined Counties leagues. Probably their most famous player during this time was Les Ferdinand who of course went on to play for QPR and England in the '90s.

Significant investment of late has seen their fortunes start to improve and now they're actually competing with QPR for a bit of land that they want for a new ground and the Premier League side want for a training complex.

On the pitch they're not doing too badly either. At the beginning of play they were third in the table having won 17 of their 27 games.

Reynolds Field on a sunny day isn't a bad place to be. One can visit the clubhouse for some reasonably priced refreshment and then sit on the veranda and watch the game from a raised position or you can just go pitch side where there are also plenty of seats.

The match itself was possibly the most one-sided I've seen so far this season with the hosts sweeping visitors Springfield aside 5-1, a result which I think relegated them.

A Springfiled striker takes a breather on an afternoon to forget at Southall
Generally I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of Southall's play so I would thoroughly recommend a trip to see one of this league's top clubs (e.g. Interwood, FC Romania, Southall or Willesden Constantine) before the end of the season.

It was also a pleasure to meet Bryan from the Hendon FC Supporters Trust who was without a game and came along after consulting the TLFG match map.

In the week ahead, at the same level, there are also a few Essex Olympian League games so if you're on the east side of town they might be better for you.

Apart from these level 11 games and a bit of FA Women's Super League action, the only other matches are the two play-off finals at Wembley over the weekend. Tickets for both are available directly from the clubs involved - unless you're a season-ticket holder or member, your chances of getting anything for Blackpool v West Ham in the Championship game are pretty slim. While the Conference play-off between Luton and York should have some availability.

I'll leave you this week with the match maps. I'm still chasing the kick-off times for a couple of games but will add them when I get them - please get in touch if you have the info.

Yellow pin - Monday fixtures
Green pin - Tuesday fixtures
Turquoise pin - Wednesday fixtures
Blue pin - Saturday fixtures
Red pin - Sunday fixtures

View London match map 14-20 May 2012 in a larger map 

If you have any questions or want help or advice about watching football in London you can contact TLFG through the comments section below or via Facebook, Twitter or email.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

TLFG: 8-13 May 2012

It's been a busy couple of days so apologies for the slightly later publication time than normal.

After spending Saturday evening on the couch watching Chelsea edge past Liverpool in the FA Cup, I got back to the coalface with a visit to Loftus Road for QPR's crucial final home match against Stoke City.

With a trip to Manchester City on the last day of the season still to come, defeating the Potters would be essential to have a good chance of avoiding the drop.

In typical fashion, Tony Pulis's side were tough and very hard to break down. With news regularly fed to us by gloating Stoke fans that Bolton were going further and further ahead against West Brom, the mood in the stadium plummeted with sometimes only the players' voices breaking the gloomy silence.

However, the Baggies pulled one back and as QPR pushed the atmosphere grew again.

When Djibril Cisse knocked in the 89th-minute winner the place went wild and before the celebrations ended news came through that West Brom had equalised prolonging the joy still further.

There was still time for one last heart-in-mouth moment as the ball fell to former QPR favourite Peter Crouch in a dangerous position but thankfully he steered his effort just wide as the hosts survived.

QPR fans celebrate on the Loftus Road pitch after victory over Stoke
As soon as the final whistle went, the traditional end of season pitch invasion began but it was one fuelled by that extra elation of having seen our whole season pivot around one crucial minute at Loftus Road and the Reebok Stadium.

Whether it proves to be enough is still yet to be seen but if QPR lose at Manchester City they will still stay up if Bolton fail to win at Stoke. To say it's going to be a tense final day would be an understatement.

On Monday, I undertook an epic journey to the far east of London to see AFC Hornchurch take on Lowestoft Town in the Ryman League Premier Division play-off final.

After finishing second and third and level on points the sides had had to enter the play-offs where wins over Bury Town and Wealdstone respectively had seen them get this far.

Bridge Avenue is very easy to get to being just a short walk from Upminster Bridge tube station, it's also close to Upminster too if you come in on the C2C fast train.

I arrived about 20 minutes before kick-off and the stadium was already largely full down both sides of the pitch. It wasn't so busy behind the goals mainly because there's a running track around the outside which keeps you some way from the action.

Nestled close to the Urchins' equivalent of ultras in the east stand I took up my position for the rest of the afternoon.

The first half provided few chances and those that did largely went the way of the hosts. The second half saw more of the same but with Lowestoft creating the better chances with Lubomir Guentchev crashing a stunnig effort against the bar and another just over.

AFC Hornchurch celebrate promotion to the Blue Square Bet South
Extra-time proved to be a far more open affair as Leon McKenzie pounced to give Hornchurch the lead early on before Dean Sinclair levelled from the penalty spot just before half-time.

With time running out, a penalty shoot-out looked certain until Michael Spencer fired home Hornchurch's winner with just seconds to go to seal their place in the Blue Square Bet South.

It was a good day all round for east London clubs as news filtered through that West Ham had comfortably seen off Cardiff City to make the Championship play-off final at Wembley later in the month.

If you're coming to London here's what is currently on general sale for some of the bigger matches that are taking place (click on the event for more info):


SUNDAY 13 MAY, 3pm


SUNDAY 13 MAY, 3pm

With most leagues having finished for the season there's only one match map this week but to beef it up I've added games from the Middlesex County Football League, Essex Olympian League, Surrey Intermediate League and Herts County League who play at Step 7/Level 11 of the national system. There's also a couple of games from the amateur leagues and a match from the FA Women's Super League to keep you football addicts happy.

Green pin - Tuesday fixtures
Turquoise pin - Wednesday fixtures
Blue pin - Saturday fixtures
Red pin - Sunday fixtures

View London match map 8-13 May 2012 in a larger map

Given that some of the details/locations/kick-off times for the Level 11 and amateur clubs are a bit sketchy, make sure you check with them or their respective leagues before travelling that the games are still on and please let me know if I've got anything wrong or details have changed.

Here are my pick of the matches that are on this week. Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments section below:

A win for Harry Redknapp's Spurs side in this London derby will see them secure fourth place in the Premier League and a place in next season's Champions League qualifiers. With Newcastle just a point behind and Chelsea also possibly within reach by Sunday, there will be no margin for error. Former Tottenham manager Martin Jol has created a decent Fulham side who will be no pushovers and a win could see them finish seventh so there is plenty to play for. TICKET INFO

How important this match turns out to be depends on how well Chelsea do at Liverpool in the Premier League tonight (Tuesday). A win at Anfield will keep them in sixth but will leave them only two points behind Spurs in fourth meaning they'll have the opportunity to pounce if their north London rivals and Newcastle slip up. What kind opposition they'll face on Sunday is hard to tell. Blackburn succumbed to relegation on Monday night after losing to Wigan so whether they'll really go for it knowing the pressure's off or not bother and allow the Blues to rack up a cricket score remains to be seen. Given the hosts' great form I'd expect the latter. TICKET INFO

FA TROPHY FINAL (Saturday 12 May, 3pm)
Unusually for a TLFG recommendation, there's no London interest in this match at all. It is, however, taking place at our hallowed national stadium and provides a great chance for you to see a showpiece event there. If you don't know, the FA Trophy is a knockout competition which is contested by teams in the top four divisions of non-league football (Levels 5-8 of the national system). On Saturday two clubs from opposite ends of the Blue Square Bet Premier (Level 5) go head-to-head in pursuit of glory. Welsh club Newport County, managed by former Spurs player Justin Edinburgh, finished just above the relegation places while York have booked their place in the play-off final so will be back at Wembley again shortly. The smart money therefore says York should be favourites but will they be tempted to save themselves for arguably the bigger game a week later? TICKET INFO

For those of you who like a good play-off game, head down to Princes Park on Sunday where these two meet in the Blue Square Bet South final. Dartford finished the season higher than Welling so have home advantage for this one off winner-takes-all game. If your geography's not up to much then you're probably not aware that these two south-east London clubs are also big local rivals whose grounds are only five miles apart. The atmosphere should be great so give it a go if you're in the area. TICKET INFO

SURREY SENIOR CUP FINAL (Tuesday 8 May, 730pm)
Blue Square Bet South champions Woking go after another bit of silverware on Tuesday night when they play Sutton United at AFC Wimbledon's ground. The U's come into the game having suffered an aggregate defeat to Welling in Sunday's play-off semi-final so how motivated they'll be is hard to predict. Both sides have big followings so there should be a decent crowd as they complete their seasons with this cup final. TICKET INFO

FA VASE FINAL (Sunday 13 May, 3pm)
Like the FA Trophy above, this game doesn't have any London interest either but again represents a good chance to go and see a match at Wembley. This competition is open mainly to clubs who play at levels nine and 10 of the national system. Both these sides come from the Northern League which is made up primarily of clubs from Newcastle and the north east of England. It should be a close game as they finished third and second respectively this season. TICKET INFO  

If you have any questions or want help or advice about watching football in London you can contact TLFG through the comments section below or via Facebook, Twitter or email.