Sunday 10 July 2016

TLFG: 11-17 July 2016

This time last week British sport, especially the English part, was in a pretty bad place. However, this week things got a whole lot better.

With Andy Murray and Heather Watson winning titles at Wimbledon, Lewis Hamilton triumphing in the British Grand Prix, and British athletes netting 16 medals including five golds at the European Championships it's been a great few days.

On top of this, the England cricket and rugby union sides are doing the nation proud and a Brit is well placed to win the Tour de France too. So, why you might quite rightly ask, is football the national game of this country???

I think we've all got our own theories on this but too much money being involved at the top level must be a considerable factor. 
Since I left my job at BBC Sport five years ago, I've barely watched any Premier League football and wouldn't be able to identify many of the players in the way I could and had to.

Unsurprisingly, following the creation of Non-League Day, my focus has very much started to move firmly back in that direction.

Don't get me wrong, the Premier League is entertaining and I'd love to see QPR get back up there but while they're not in it and I continue to refuse to sign up to massively overpriced satellite subscriptions - it's becoming less and less relevant to me.

That's enough soapbox stuff - what have we got to look forward to this week?

Things are really starting to get cracking now. Two weeks ago we had 10 games, last week 40 and now we're pushing 70.

For me, pre-season is one of the most exciting times of the football year as it's a time when fantasy can become reality. Much is made of famous FA Cup ties between non-league minnows and top-flight sides but most fans will rarely if ever get to see their team take part. However, over July and early August, the most unlikely of match-ups do sometimes come to pass.

I've seen Harrow Borough, my favourite non-league side, host full strength Premier League sides on several occasions. Five years ago I watched them push QPR really hard before narrowly losing 1-0 while on another occasion in the early '90s I saw them crushed 9-0 by a ruthless West Ham side who took no prisoners! 

The chance to play such teams probably doesn't teach the non-league sides all that much about themselves but it makes the club a huge amount of money as large crowds pile in - the attendance for the QPR game was nearly 10 times the normal average for Harrow.

One match like this in pre-season can go a long way to covering a club's costs for several months, and in some cases the whole campaign, so landing such a prestigious fixture is highly sought after. 

Many lower league outfits include a friendly in the deal when they sell a player to a pro club because it is worth so much.

If you want to see a professional team in action over the next few days then you'll be able to see the following play in the London area at some point:

Premier League: Watford*

Championship: Ipswich Town

League One: Charlton Athletic, Millwall, Peterborough United

League Two: Barnet, Leyton Orient, Portsmouth, Stevenage*

*Watford's game at Stevenage is just outside the M25 but it's a derby, is very easy to get to by train and therefore seemed churlish to miss off the list.

One of our Dutch friends was reunited with QPR keeper Alex Smithies on Saturday
There are also a number of games involving professional teams' U21 and reserve sides which you can find in the daily digest and match maps below.

I'm on early starts at work this week which means midweek football watching is highly unlikely. I'm then off for a long weekend in Ireland so I'm unlikely to see anything before I get back.

It's always good to hear from TLFG readers - apparently some of you will be at the very tasty looking Bromley v Millwall game on Saturday (tickets are on sale now). While Dutch reader Peter, who visited QPR in February, has had Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's side virtually camped on his doorstep this week and went to see their open training session on Saturday in the Netherlands.

If you're going to a game, let me know and feel free to send a picture or two. Enjoy!

There are nearly 70 matches in the London area over the next week as pre-season starts to get into full swing.

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 - something which often happens at this time of year. Also, please let me know if anything is wrong or missing.

Details on all of this week's games can be found on the following match maps. If you've never used them 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 drop down menu at the top 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
Purple pin - Thursday fixtures
Black pin - Friday fixtures

Blue pin - Saturday fixtures
White pin - Sunday fixtures

In the following section I list, by day, what are in my opinion the most notable games of the week and give some brief reasons for my choice. Check the maps above for kick-off times, ticket info and directions.

Monday 11 July
Boreham Wood v Peterborough United @730pm - having beaten Brentford and lost to Reading, the Wood welcome their third EFL opponent of the summer

Tuesday 12 July
Bromley v Charlton Athletic @745pm  - the Ravens were the capital's top ranked non-league club last season and here they play League One opponents in a bit of a derby
Wealdstone v Leyton Orient @745pm - the highlight of the Stones' pre-season campaign is this match against the League Two O's from east London
Dulwich Hamlet v Norwich City U21 @745pm - after putting four past local rivals Bromley on Saturday, the Hamlet will fancy their chances against this Canaries XI

Wednesday 13 July
Barnet v Ipswich Town @8pm - our first all-pro friendly of the summer sees Martin Allen's Bees welcome the Tractor Boys to the Hive for a League Two v Championship encounter
Thurrock v Dagenham & Redbridge @745pm - if north London isn't convenient for you, this Essex derby could be right up your street

Thursday 14 July
Stevenage v Watford @745pm - we venture just beyond the M25 for this one so you can see the Premier League Hornets in action in this Hertfordshire derby, it's also very easy to reach by train

Friday 15 July
Beckenham Town v Crystal Palace U21 @7pm - the hosts are hoping for a repeat of the record attendance they achieved when the Eagles last visited two years ago for this local derby

Saturday 16 July
Boreham Wood v Arsenal U21 @3pm - the Wood welcome a young Gunners side to Meadow Park for what is becoming an annual fixture
Bromley v Millwall @3pm - two south-east London clubs fielding full strength teams make this game arguably more attractive than the one above and tickets are on sale now
Sutton United v Portsmouth @3pm - elsewhere in south London, a big crowd is also expected as 2008 FA Cup winners Pompey pay a visit to Gander Green Lane
Staines Town v Barnet @3pm - the Swans have seven games in pre-season and this one against the League Two Bees is the standout fixture
Welling United v Maidstone United @3pm - an all-Kent affair between sides who seem to be going in opposite directions in the pyramid
Enfield Town v Barnet U21 @3pm - Enfield and Barnet used to be huge local rivals in the '80s but things went pear-shaped for the hosts and the two rarely play these days meaning this is quite a big deal, it's just a shame and a bit bemusing that the Bees have decided to send their first XI to Staines the same afternoon

Sunday 17 July
Chelsea Ladies v Arsenal Ladies @3pm - a big derby between the teams currently ranked second and third in the FA Women's Super League (at Staines Town)

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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