Sunday, 11 October 2015

TLFG: 12-18 October 2015

Non-League Day (NLD) is all over for another year.

The last two weeks have flown by as we've tried to cram as much prep in as possible to make things as good as they could be.

Making sure the match map was correct, giving interviews to people who wanted them, making sure t-shirts got to their buyers and keeping across all messages and stories of support to guarantee we made the most of them.

A first for me was being invited to appear on the set of Sky Sports News for an interview with Adam Leventhal on Friday afternoon. I've worked in the BBC newsroom before so it wasn't a totally alien environment but it's been a while and I'd never been the guest before so going into make-up alongside Hayley McQueen and Tony Wrighton was a new experience.

Fully powdered up, I was taken through the questions I would face before being sat on the sofa ready for action.

Adam Levanthal quizzes me about Non-League Day
I was pretty nervous from the moment the interview was booked but as soon as the questioning began I switched into game mode and it went fairly smoothly.

Not long after getting out of the Sky complex in Isleworth I was contacted by a friend saying the NLD site had been taken down.

Our developer made several calls to our host's support team but they took an age to answer. When they did, we discovered the site had been subject to a 'DOS attack' - I felt kind of privileged to have been regarded as important enough and the site was up again shortly after.

On the day itself, #nonleagueday soon established itself in Twitter's UK trend list and was third or fourth for most of the time. It even briefly charted in the USA and Canada.

After doing another interview for BBC London, I met my friend James and we headed east to watch the derby between Clapton and Ilford.

The Tons are based at the Old Spotted Dog - possibly the best named and certainly the oldest ground in London. For the latter reason alone, football fans living in the capital or visiting it should go.

I hadn't been for three or four years but it was in a pretty similar state of disrepair to how I remembered it.

There was, however, one main difference - a crowd.

On my previous couple of visits there had been no more than 20 people there and it looked like the proud old club, formed in 1878, was on its last legs.

This time there was an obvious procession of people from Forest Gate station, down Upton Lane to the ground. As we came round the final bend, I had to rub my eyes with disbelief as there was a queue to get in! Possibly the longest one I've ever seen at any non-league match. 

The queue to get into the Old Spotted Dog
It must have been at least 100 long and snaked around several bends to the turnstile - it must have taken us 15-20 mins to reach the front because the game was already underway by the time we got in.

So long was said queue that the turnstile didn't stop clicking people through until the latter stages of the first half.

The fact there was a decent turnout wasn't really a huge surprise. Over the last couple of years, the club has been adopted by the anti-fascist group the Clapton Ultras.

Much has been written by myself and others about their fantastic support but I'd never been to see them in person - they were not a let down.

Singing loudly from well before kick-off, I could hear them while I queued just like being at a 'big game'. Once inside, they sang solidly until well after the final whistle - pausing only briefly for half-time refreshments.

There were a couple of naughty smoke bombs and flares which have threatened to get the club into trouble with the FA but it's what I and doubtless many others wanted to see.

Overall the atmosphere was fantastic. Men, women, children and dogs from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities made up a crowd of 761 which must be the highest attendance the club have had for quite literally years. When you consider the average turnout for matches in the Essex Senior League, in which this was played, is around 60 it puts it into context how big an occasion this was.

Much of this was down to the Ultras' offer of 'solidarity tickets' for the unemployed, those on benefits and also refugees and asylum seekers which had made the headlines in many national and local publications. 

Aside from this, there was the aforementioned derby to enjoy too. 

Forest Gate, Clapton's home, and Ilford are neighbouring suburbs and the two have a long and friendly rivalry. Thousands would probably have attended games between them in decades past.

The hosts took an early lead before going 3-1 down but had pulled it back to 3-2 at half-time. They grabbed an equaliser in the latter stages of the second half and came close to stealing it after a flap by Ilford's substitute keeper led to a frantic goalmouth scramble right at the death.

The Ultras celebrate with a flare after Clapton (red) make it 3-3
With the game finishing 3-3, both teams were then invited to line up in front of the Ultras who then proceeded to salute both in a truly sporting way. With Ilford heading back to the dressing room, Clapton then engaged in some further rituals with their supporters which ended with them walking round the edge of the pitch shaking hands with everyone in the crowd who reached out to them. I get the impression this happens after every match and must build a strong bond between the two groups. 

Non-League Day was obviously a rip-roaring success here but was it a success nationwide?

It's hard to say. Some crowds were very significantly up. In the London area clubs like Bromley, Enfield Town, Hampton & Richmond Borough, Hanwell Town, Thamesmead Town and Wingate & Finchley all had crowds which were well above average to name just a few.

Nationally there were also winners but there were a few disappointing turnouts too.

As a general rule, the more clubs put into the day, the more they get out of it. 

There are so many factors to consider when trying to draw conclusions about attendance numbers that it almost becomes a pointless exercise but the general feedback has been good and there are calls to do it all again next year.

We still haven't got things quite right and possibly never will unless we get some miraculous scheduling help from the FA. Probably our biggest challenge comes from the naysayers within the non-league community itself. Although small in number, they are the most critical of what we do.

The Premier League and its member clubs couldn't have been much more helpful this year and the FA assisted us more than ever before. Hats off also to all the Football League clubs who supported us too, especially those in League One and League Two who had games of their own but still promoted their local sides nonetheless. Teams at this level could do with a special day of their own but that's another story.

Right, that's enough about my adventures. We've got another packed week of games to look forward to in London so read on and find out what's in store.

Please follow this link or click on the tab at the top of the page for all the information you need about how to get a ticket, what's currently available to non-members at London's biggest clubs and any other special offers or promotions which might be running.

There are 90 matches in the London area over the next seven days so there's plenty to choose from whatever your budget.

However, please make sure you check with clubs before you travel just in case a game has been called off or venue has been changed. Also, please let me know if anything is wrong or missing.

Details on all of this week's games can be found in the following match map. If you've never used it before, please note that when there is more than one match at a specific ground you'll only be able to see individual match pins if you zoom right in. If you don't, the pins obscure each other and you might miss them. To avoid this, you can also scroll down the list of games on the left side of the map page to make sure you get all the information. Games are listed from top to bottom in date order so Monday's games (yellow pin) will appear first and Sunday's (white pin) last. Games are also ranked in terms of status so the higher the division, the higher up the list they will appear on each day.

Also if you're unfamiliar with the English league structure I indicate the level at which an individual league sits in the national 'pyramid' with the Premier League at the top (Level 1) and various minor leagues at the bottom (Level 10). Typically a top level game will see crowds of anywhere between 20,000-60,000. These figures will gradually decline as you go down the leagues until you get to Levels 8-10 where attendances of 150 or less are most common.

It should also be noted that the top four levels are for fully professional teams. Level 5 has a mixture of professional and semi-professional teams, while Levels 6-10 will see most players paid but it will vary from no more than travel expenses at the bottom, right up to several hundred pounds a week at the top (e.g. clubs in the Conference South).

Yellow pin - Monday fixtures
Green pin - Tuesday fixtures
Red pin - Wednesday fixtures
Claret pin - Friday fixtures
Blue pin - Saturday fixtures

Next up is this week's TLFG match recommendations where I list a few games which I think could be worth a watch. If I miss one that you think should get a mention then add your own in the comments section below. 


1. Crystal Palace v West Ham United - there are four Premier League games in the capital this week and I'm going to list them all, something I never do, as they are all significant. First of all we've got this derby between two teams who have made a very encouraging start to the season and who will both start this game in the top six. The form of both is quite even at the moment and although the Hammers have been hard to beat of late, they haven't won as many as the Eagles. They are, however, far more free-scoring with over two goals a game. The south-east London club have only lost two of their last 10 against West Ham so I'm predicting them to edge it by no more than a single goal. (Premier League, Saurday 17 October, 3pm. Ticket info)

2. Watford v Arsenal - the Hornets went into the international break on what some may have seen as a disappointing draw at Bournemouth. Meanwhile, the Gunners were recording their result of the season seeing off Manchester United 3-0 at the Emirates. That result propelled Arsene Wenger's side up to second and they'll undoubtedly start as hot favourites here. Recent games between the two have always gone Arsenal's way but back in the '80s when Watford were an established top-flight side, the Highbury outfit hardly got a look in as the team built by Graham Taylor regularly saw them off. (Premier League, Saturday 17 October, 530pm. Ticket info)

3. Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool - traditionally two of the biggest names in England's top division, this is always a fixture which catches my eye. Both sides may be well past their best years and both are having disappointing seasons. The Reds were so unhappy with their progress, despite being only a win away from a place in the top four, that they sacked manager Brendan Rodgers last weekend and brought in Jurgen Klopp instead. The German brought great success to Borussia Dortmund and his highly fancied to do well on Merseyside. This will be his first game in charge so the football world will be watching closely. (Premier League, Saturday 17 October, 1245pm. Ticket info)

4. Chelsea v Aston Villa - I can't believe I'm about to describe this match as an early season relegation six-pointer but that's what the league table suggests. The fact Villa have made a poor start and are in the bottom three isn't a huge surprise as they struggled last season too but Chelsea? The Blues have, by their lofty standards, had an horrific opening to their campaign. Down in 16th, they have won just two of their eight league games as divisions have sprung up within the camp. What's going on is unsure but the results are bad and if this one doesn't yield three points then Mr Mourinho's days will surely be numbered. (Premier League, Saturday 17 October, 3pm. Ticket info)

5. Leyton Orient v Oxford United - nothing is really grabbing me in the Championship or League One this week so next we have this encounter between a couple of promotion-chasing clubs in League Two. The O's began strongly and became early leaders but have wobbled significantly of late, winning only one of their last seven. Despite this, they are still only five points off top spot so a win against third-placed Oxford will get them right back in it. Although Orient have a decent record against Oxford, the visitors are on a fine run and have only lost once all season. (League Two, Saturday 17 October, 3pm. Ticket info)

6. Bromley v Cheltenham Town - Mark Goldberg's side enjoyed the perfect Non-League Day cramming in nearly 2,500 spectators who cheered them on to a resounding 5-0 win over Barrow. The result pushed them up to fourth in the National League to keep them firmly ranked as the top non-league club in London. On Tuesday they face one of their toughest challenges of the season as fellow title contenders Cheltenham visit Hayes Lane. Recently relegated from League Two, the Robins are on course for at least a play-off spot. They should really be top but a very iffy run has seen them win only one of their last five allowing local rivals Forest Green Rovers to pull five points clear at the top. The sides are the two highest scoring in the division too so this really could be a corker. (National League, Tuesday 13 October, 745pm. Ticket info)

7. Sutton United v Hemel Hempstead Town - it wasn't a great weekend for London clubs in the FA Cup with several bowing out. Sutton are one side that have got another bite at the cherry after drawing 1-1 with the Tudors. Both currently lie midtable in the National League South and also drew in the league game at Gander Green Lane last week so are very evenly matched. A strong crowd of over 700 attended the original tie and over 900 went to the league game. Depending on Monday's fourth qualifying draw, we could see a four-figure crowd for this one. (FA Cup Third Qualifying Round Replay, Monday 12 October, 745pm. Ticket info)

8. Thamesmead Town v Cray Wanderers - these two have had a rocky couple of years, getting relegated together from the Isthmian Premier at the end of the 2013-14 season. Cray looked like suffering another relegation last year but turned things round late on to avoid the drop. Thamesmead simply consolidated. This year, they are both among the frontrunners. The Mead are sitting nicely in fourth while Cray are six points clear at the top, extending their lead yesterday while their nearest rivals took part in the FA Cup. Cray's resurgence has coincided with the appointment of Tony Russell who recently took VCD Athletic from the ninth to seventh tiers in successive seasons and he looks to be working his magic again. Thamesmead enjoyed a good Non-League Day in terms of result and attendance and will look to secure any new fans who might return with a good result here. (Isthmian League Division 1 North, Tuesday 13 October, 745pm. Club info)

9. Hanworth Villa v Camberley Town during the time I've been writing this blog, Hanworth have usually been one of the better sides in the Combined Counties League so it came as a bit of surprise to see them struggle so badly last season. They avoided the drop and have come back much stronger, climbing into the top five after 10 games. Camberley finished runners-up to Molesey last time and are second, three points behind leaders Ashford, at the time of writing. They'd dearly love to go one better this year and look perfectly capable of doing so. (Combined Counties League Premier Division, Saturday 17 October, 3pm. Club info)

10. Edgware Town v Wodson Park - the north-west London suburb of Edgware lost its club in 2008 and after an absence of six years it reformed and set up again a short journey down the road in Hendon. Year one back in the Spartan South Midlands League was steady but unspectacular but now standards have markedly improved. With 24 points from nine games they're tucked nicely in second just three points behind Crawley Green who still have a 100% record. Wodson Park are not far behind in fourth so this could be a good indicator of who the real promotion contenders are. (Spartan South Midlands League Division 1, Saturday 17 October, 3pm. Club info)

If you're going to see a game, whether you're a local or a visitor, please let me know what you've been up to. If you're interested in reviewing a ground within the London area for this blog then get in touch. You might also want to have a go at writing a 'Top Ten' one week. I also very much welcome photos of your football travels.

Got any questions about visiting London? Don't hesitate to ask - be they football or more general travel/touristy queries.

You can contact TLFG through the comments section below or via FacebookTwitter or even by good old email.

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