Monday, 23 December 2019

TLFG: 23 December 2019 - 5 January 2020

It's finally here - TLFG's Christmas and New Year Special.

My annual labour of love covers the next two weeks and includes all the derbies of Boxing Day right through to the FA Cup Third Round.

I've been working on this all week and there are, as usual, some really great games coming up.

One striking thing about this festive period is the lack of games at the lower levels. In the eight years since I started writing this blog, the amount of non-league football on Boxing Day and New Year's Day has decreased markedly.

London's non-league scene lost one of its biggest characters on Friday
On Boxing Day this year there's nothing on in the ninth and 10th tiers and only one match in the eighth and the same is true of NYD.

There are all sorts of strange kick-off times and make sure you check all public transport details before you travel.

Boxing Day travel is usually the most affected with very few National Rail services and there also appears to be some major engineering work on the Northern Line too.

On a more sombre note, the big story on London's non-league scene this weekend was the sad news of the death Mishi Morath.

The Dulwich Hamlet superfan was known by all and sundry on the non-league scene and was seen on live TV a few weeks back giving an interview to Dan Walker during the BBC's coverage of the Hamlet's FA Cup tie against Carlisle.

Heavily involved in the club's community outreach team, he saw the real benefits of Non-League Day and played a big part in generating the huge crowds that have now become the norm at Champion Hill.

He lived and breathed Dulwich but loved to groundhop as a neutral too, visiting hundreds of grounds around the world.

Known for being a bit of a spiky character at times, most people got on the wrong side of him at some point (me included) but it's a testament to the man that tributes poured in from all over on Friday, even from those who didn't have much time for him.

Very fittingly, the Hamlet's players ended a long winless run with a resounding win at fellow strugglers Hungerford on Saturday as a perfect tribute to the man they all knew.

RIP Mishi.

Lastly, many thanks to Stefan B from Germany and all those who have donated to TLFG's coffee-drinking fund this year - many, many thanks.

THE WEEK AHEAD
The highlights of the next two weeks include games in the Premier League, EFL, FA Cup and loads of other matches in our local non-league competitions. 

As always, please make sure you check with clubs before you travel just in case a game has been called off or the venue or kick-off time has changed - this is highly possible for some of the lower non-league clubs. 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 (orange 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.

MATCH MAP 23-27 DECEMBER
Thursday fixtures - purple pin
Friday fixtures - black pin



MATCH MAP 28-29 DECEMBER
Saturday fixtures - blue pin
Sunday fixtures - orange pin



MATCH MAP 30 DECEMBER-3 JANUARY
Wednesday fixtures - blue pin
Friday fixtures - black pin



MATCH MAP 4-5 JANUARY
Saturday fixtures - blue pin
Sunday fixtures - orange pin





TLFG DAILY DIGEST
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.

Thursday 26 December

Premier League
Tottenham Hotspur v Brighton & Hove Albion @1230pm - a busy programme of top-flight football gets underway at lunchtime. Spurs have won five of the eight games Jose Mourinho has presided over since joining the club and they should more than fancy themselves against Brighton. However, the Sussex club beat them comfortably earlier in the season and roared on by what should be a sizeable away support, they could nick a draw. Very unusually for league games at the THS, tickets are on sale to non-members
Chelsea v Southampton @3pm - the Saints have had a poor season but won their huge relegation six-pointer at Aston Villa on Saturday to move out of the bottom three. If they can get anything at Stamford Bridge to stay out of the relegation zone it will be quite some achievement as they are winless in nine against the Blues so a home win looks likely. Tickets are not available to non-members
Crystal Palace v West Ham United @3pm - there's a traditional Boxing Day feel at Selhurst Park where we've got a proper London derby to enjoy. Two midtable teams could well produce a competitive and entertaining game so this could well be worth a watch on Amazon Prime - sadly it's not on sale to non-members

Championship
Brentford v Swansea City @3pm - the Bees picked up one of their best results of the season on Saturday when they drew 1-1 at leaders West Brom. The point kept the west London club in the division's top six at Christmas, a fine achievement for one of the smallest clubs in the division. Elsewhere, Swansea won at Luton to end the day just behind Brentford on goal difference so this could be a cracker. Tickets have sold out
Charlton Athletic v Bristol City @3pm - the Addicks nicked a 95th-minute equaliser to salvage a point at QPR on Saturday as their winless run extended to 11 games. Down in 18th they're going to find it tough going against play-off chasing City who are unbeaten in three against the London club and beat them earlier in the season at Ashton Gate. Tickets are on sale to non-members

League Two
Leyton Orient v Colchester United @1pm - after a very dodgy spell, the O's have gone on a three game unbeaten run and are up to 15th. Essex club Colchester dispatched struggling Carlisle 3-0 on Saturday to leave them nicely placed on the edge of the play-off places so will start as favourites. Tickets are on sale to non-members

National League
Barnet v Boreham Wood @3pm - the pick of the games for me in the fifth tier is this north London derby at The Hive. Both sides are pushing hard for the play-offs but it's The Wood, historically a smaller club, who are in the top five at the time of writing. A couple of years back they made the play-off final at Wembley but lost - maybe this is their year?

National League South
Welling United v Dartford @1pm - in terms of derbies, this is the big one for these two. Located about five miles apart on the south-east side of town, there have been some huge games between them particularly in recent years. With both sides in midtable it doesn't have quite as much riding on it as it could do but it should still draw a substantial crowd
Dulwich Hamlet v Hampton & Richmond Borough @3pm - talking of crowds, there could be an even bigger one here as the Hamlet pull in the biggest attendances in the division (c.2,500-3,000) which is quite an achievement for a side which has barely won a match this season. That terrible run finally came to an end at Hungerford on Saturday. This will also be the first home game since the death of Dulwich superfan Mishi Morath who sadly passed away at the end of last week and no doubt the club and his fellow supporters will mark the occasion accordingly

Isthmian League Premier Division
Enfield Town v Haringey Borough @3pm - if you don't fancy the north London derby at Barnet then there's another one at Donkey Lane - ahem, I mean the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium. Of the two I'd choose this - it might be two levels below but it's a lot cheaper and hence better value. The two have lost a bit of momentum of late but with their games in hand, they are both realistic play-off contenders

Southern League Premier Division South
Hendon v Harrow Borough @1pm - my personal choice for Boxing Day will be this derby between two old rivals. I can't remember the last time these two didn't play each other on 26 December but it's been a while. In recent years these games have produced goals, loads of 'em - 48 from the last 10 league games! Both sides are having a season to forget so any points will be very gratefully received

Isthmian League North Division
Grays Athletic v Aveley @1pm - if you're over on the far eastern side of town you've got the chance to enjoy this intriguing looking groundshare derby. Both sides are in the division's top six so there's plenty to play for
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Friday 27 December

ECL Division 1 South
May & Baker v Lopes Tavares @745pm - Parkside plays host once again as this 10th tier match takes centre stage on Friday. The visitors are going for the title and could move five points clear with a win

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Saturday 28 December

Premier League

Watford v Aston Villa @3pm - one of the most important games of the festive period is this relegation six-pointer at Vicarage Road. With Villa having lost four on the trot, Nigel Pearson's Watford side might fancy their chances after beating Manchester United on Sunday. This match appears to have sold out
West Ham United v Leicester City @530pm - tickets shouldn't be a problem to see this arguably more attractive fixture at the London Stadium later in the afternoon. The Hammers didn't play this weekend but with two wins from four, they are improving. However, they'll need to be at their very best for this one as the Foxes are still outside contenders for the league title

National League
Sutton United v Yeovil Town @1230pm - with no EFL action scheduled for Saturday the focus next switches to the fifth tier where there are a number of games. The action kicks off in south London at lunchtime where the struggling U's welcome title contenders Yeovil. Sutton are usually among the frontrunners themselves but have found it hard to adapt to life without old boss Paul Doswell who stood down towards the end of last season. Thankfully for the Gander Green Lane faithful, new manager Matt Gray does seem to be getting things to work and they're now up to 17th and building a decent unbeaten run. Yeovil were a Championship side as recently as 2014 so they've suffered quite a bit over the last five years but they're up in second and looking for a quick return to League Two
Bromley v Dagenham & Redbridge @3pm - only a point behind Yeovil, Bromley look like ending the year as London's top non-league club something they'll make sure of with a win here. Alongside Torquay, the Daggers are suffering the worst form in the division right now so an away win looks highly unlikely

National League South
Wealdstone v St Albans City @3pm - in my opinion there isn't really a standout game in the NLS on Saturday so I've gone for this as it features the Stones who are still seven points clear at the top and going for the title. When I was growing up in the '80s, Wealdstone were one of the top non-league clubs in the country. In 1985 they won the Gola League (the fifth tier) and the FA Trophy to do the 'non-league double' but things started to get very complicated after they sold their ground in the early '90s and they fell down the leagues. Here we are over 30 years later and they're on the cusp of returning to the big time. St Albans have been among the play-off contenders in recent seasons but all's not well this year with the team fighting relegation and many fans unhappy with the way the club is being run - the walk-up admission fee of £18 being, understandably, one of their biggest gripes. Thankfully it's only £13 at Wealdstone unless you're a season-ticket holder from another club in which case it's £9

Isthmian League Premier Division
Corinthian Casuals v Cheshunt @3pm  - again there aren't any really eye-catching games at this level on Saturday but this relegation six-pointer will be of great importance to all those involved. Corinthian Casuals are one of London's most historic clubs and gave rise to the formation of Brazilian giants Corinthians and a strong link exists between the clubs to this day. Sadly the Tolworth-based club are having a very poor season and have only one league win to their name

Isthmian League South Central
Hanwell Town v South Park @3pm - the hosts have been top for a while now and if they hold on, they'll be promoted to the highest level they've ever competed at which would be quite a way to celebrate their centenary year. The visitors are in lower midtable so they should be beatable

SSML Premier Division
Broadfields United v Harefield United @3pm - the best match in the ninth tier would appear to be this groundshare derby on the far west of TLFG's catchment area. These sides got promoted together last season and it seems to be all about consolidation this time with both sides holding their own in midtable

SCEFL Division 1
It's hard to pick one game in the 10th tier as the fixture secretary in this division has lined up a number of groundshare derbies to keep you entertained. Bridon Ropes play Meridian VP, Forest Hill Park host Lewisham Borough and Sutton Athletic take on FC Elmstead - all at 3pm. The first is the longest established groundshare so will probably be the most meaningful

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Sunday 29 December

Premier League
Arsenal v Chelsea @2pm - one of the biggest matches of the festive period takes place at the Emirates on Sunday and will be Mikel Arteta's first home game in charge of the Gunners. With Chelsea ending their disappointing run of results with a superb 2-0 win at Tottenham on Sunday, Frank Lampard and his team will head into their Christmas games in good spirits. The sides haven't met since the Blues thrashed Arsenal in last season's Europa League final in Baku and, at the present time, look the more likely to win again. Tickets are not available to non-members

Championship
Fulham v Stoke City @3pm - the EFL returns on Sunday and you shouldn't struggle to pick up a ticket for any of the games on offer. At the time of writing, the Cottagers are London's top Championship club courtesy of their superb win over Leeds United on Saturday. On paper, a game against struggling Stoke should yield another three points but anything's possible in this crazy division. Tickets are on sale to non-members
Millwall v Brentford @3pm - the pick of the day's games in the second tier must be this derby at The Den. The Lions' unbeaten run came to an end at home to bottom club Barnsley on Saturday to once again highlight how unpredictable the Championship is. As mentioned above, Brentford are having a fine season so they should start as marginal favourites. Tickets are on sale to non-members
Queens Park Rangers v Hull City @3pm - lastly, and I'm afraid leastly, we have this game of little consequence between two average sides who ultimately probably won't achieve that much this season. QPR won at Hull during a brief purple patch back in the autumn and are in very similar form to them at the current time. Tickets are on sale to non-members

League One
AFC Wimbledon v Oxford United @3pm - the Dons' narrow loss to Tranmere on Saturday means they still can't quite break free and leave the relegation zone well behind. In fact, it could well get a whole lot closer if they lose this one against a talented Oxford side who gave Manchester City a good game in the EFL Cup last week and are well in contention for an automatic promotion place. Tickets are available

Isthmian League South East Division
VCD Athletic v Phoenix Sports @1pm - before all of the action above, we have this non-league derby to look forward to. If you're on a budget and in south-east London then this is the one for you. These clubs are so close together that you can hear what's going on at the other's stadium if they're playing at the same time - it's about 260m as the crow flies

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Wednesday 1 January

Premier League
Watford v Wolverhampton Wanderers @3pm - after a three-day lull the action returns with a bang on New Year's Day with three top-flight games taking place in the capital at different times. Sadly hopping from one to the other is logistically impossible unless you have lots of money and a helicopter. Given that they're bottom, every match for the Hornets will be important until they become mathematically safe. With the Villa game out of the way, they welcome a very useful Wolves side who look all set to fight for a top-six finish. These sides first played way back in 1912 and in the 48 matches since then, each have won 15 times - I'm going for a draw. Tickets are available
West Ham United v AFC Bournemouth @530pm - the Hammers' festive programme continues with an important if unglamorous game against the Cherries. The Dorset club are locked on 19 points with their opponents and both need to be watchful of a resurgent Southampton and Watford who could reel them in if they drop too many points. Tickets are on sale to non-members
Arsenal v Manchester United @8pm - the day ends with its biggest match as two titans of the English game meet at the Emirates. If you go back 20 years then this really would have been a match to watch out for but unthinkably both these sides are midtable alsorans these days. Nevertheless, this is still a huge occasion. Tickets are not available to non-members

Championship
Millwall v Luton Town @1245pm - there's an early kick-off in the second tier for this almost derby (with Luton just outside the M25, any game against a London club is effectively a derby). The Hatters have found it tough going since returning to this level at the start of the season and are perched precariously just above the relegation zone. Fans of both sides have a bit of a reputation too so it could get lively. Tickets are available to non-members
Fulham v Reading @3pm talking of almost derbies, there's another one at Craven Cottage where the representative side of another one of London's satellite towns pay a visit. With only one defeat in five, Reading have improved a lot over the last couple of months but Fulham should still be too good for them. Tickets are available
Queens Park Rangers v Cardiff City @3pm - at the time of writing, this is just another match between two midtable sides but with two games to play before this, things could look very different. There have been some pretty big matches between these two in their struggles to get out of League One and the Championship over the years with both coming out on top at various points. These games are usually pretty tight but there are usually goals. Since first playing in 1932, there's only been one 0-0 draw between them at Loftus Road and that was way back in 1948. Tickets are available to non-members

League One
AFC Wimbledon v Southend United @3pm - there's another almost derby at Kingsmeadow but it looks like being really important for the Dons. Both sides are in the bottom five but Southend have been really terrible, picking up just seven points from 22 games - they would be bottom if Bolton hadn't been deducted loads of points. If the hosts don't win, they will see it as a huge missed opportunity. Tickets are available

National League
Boreham Wood v Barnet @3pm - it is a fun quirk of the National League that the clubs who play each other on Boxing Day, always meet in the reciprocal fixture on New Year's Day so you often get to play your nearest and possibly biggest rival home and away in quick succession. As with most games by this stage, it's significance could have changed greatly given how the previous two festive fixtures pan out
Bromley v Dover Athletic @3pm - the Ravens could be top again by the time this kicks-off  but they could just as easily be down in sixth. Although a London club, Bromley play on the Kent side of the city and are affiliated to the Kent FA hence the reason Dover are seen as an appropriate opponent at this time of year. The visitors had a great run in the FA Cup this year but they're struggling a bit in the league and have fallen to 15th
Sutton United v Woking @3pm - of the three fifth-tier matches in London, this Surrey derby could well draw the biggest crowd. Aside from Dulwich, these two have won the Surrey Senior Cup more times than anyone else (28 times between them) and are almost certainly the biggest clubs in the county. The Cards are back in this division following promotion and are on course for a play-off place - on paper they are the favourites to win here

National League South
Dartford v Welling United @3pm - it's also derby day part two at Princes Park, see Boxing Day for more info on the clubs' rivalry
Wealdstone v Slough Town @3pm - if you're anywhere on the west side of town and looking for a game then this top-two clash (at the time of writing) should provide a decent spectacle. I've spoken a lot about the Stones already but Slough were also a force to be reckoned with when I first got into non-league football in the late '80s. They too have led a nomadic existence since then but they now have a very smart new stadium near Slough station and they're pushing hard for promotion - the gap between them could be as little as one point by the time this gets underway

Isthmian League Premier Division
Haringey Borough v Wingate & Finchley @3pm - below the sixth tier there's really not very much going on at all. The pick of the action is this north London derby at Coles Park where the hosts should beat relegation threatened Wingate

Isthmian League South Central Division
Staines Town v Uxbridge @3pm - the Swans have been poor this season and are struggling again following their relegation last season. Uxbridge are still very much in the hunt for a play-off place and should win here

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Friday 3 January

Premier League 2
Arsenal v Derby County @7pm - there's no rest for the Gunners' U23 side who return to action early in the New Year with this PL2 match against Derby at Boreham Wood. Admission to these games is usually free but check all the details on the day

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Saturday 4 January

FA Cup Third Round
In the eyes of most people, the FA Cup starts here as the Premier League and Championship clubs enter the draw. They go up against all the other League One, League Two and non-league clubs who have battled through the earlier rounds which began way back in August. For the casual fan, groundhopper or football tourist, this round often provides a great opportunity to get a good price ticket to watch a game at some of the biggest clubs. Demand for these games from regular attendees is often low as top teams usually field several reserves or youngsters. The other thing to note is that all matches are kicking off at one minute later than normal to raise awareness of the 'Heads Up' mental health campaign 
Watford v Tranmere Rovers @301pm - the only Premier League side playing at home on Saturday are last season's beaten finalists Watford. Given how seriously they took it last season, you'd think they might give it another good go but given their fight against relegation, they probably won't want that distraction. However, losing to League One strugglers Tranmere would be terrible for the morale of the fans and the squad so they shouldn't take this too lightly. Tickets are available to non-members and cost £15
Fulham v Aston Villa @301pm - there's huge potential for a cupset at Craven Cottage where promotion chasing Fulham welcome relegation threatened Premier League side Villa. With John Terry on the visitors' coaching staff, I'm sure the home fans will be very keen to win. Tickets are available and are cheaper (£25) if bought in advance
Brentford v Stoke City @301pm - there's an all-Championship tie at Griffin Park which is unlikely to get too many pulses racing. As a result there are tickets available priced at £15. Remember, this much-loved stadium is closing at the end of the season and tickets are becoming very hard to get hold of for non-members so take your chance while you can
Millwall v Newport County @1231pm - after seeing off non-league minnows Maldon & Tiptree in the last round, League Two Newport head for the capital with some giantkilling pedigree of their own. Last season the Welsh side beat Middlesbrough and Leicester. The season before that they beat Leeds and held Tottenham to a draw. All in all, the Lions won't be able to take anything for granted. Tickets are on sale to non-members for £12

National League
Barnet v FC Halifax Town @3pm - at the time of writing, Halifax are one of Barnet's main rivals for a play-off place. The north London club should fancy their chances though as the visitors are on a poor run and could be vulnerable to another defeat
Dagenham & Redbridge v Torquay United @3pm - with five defeats in a row each, at the time of writing, these are the two clubs at the bottom of the NL form table. What kind of match it's likely to produce I'm not too sure

National League South
Dulwich Hamlet v Braintree Town @3pm - there's nothing particularly outstanding going on in the sixth tier on Saturday but it's really hard to ignore a game at Champion Hill. Even though the Hamlet are having a disappointing season, the overall fan experience is usually a good one so if you're new to the capital and want to experience something a little different then get yourself down there. Given how big the crowds are these days, it's worth turning up early to make sure you get a decent view or you could get stuck at the back and see very little

Isthmian League Premier Division
Hornchurch v Horsham @3pm - two of the Isthmian League title contenders meet at Bridge Avenue for one of the games of the day. The Urchins are currently down in fifth but have two games in hand so could easily catch up with the leaders if they won them

Isthmian League South East
Whyteleafe v Hastings United @3pm - the Leafe have surged into the play-off spots in recent weeks and face current leaders Hastings in a match which could propel them into the title race if they won it

SCEFL Premier Division
Beckenham Town v Chatham Town @3pm - there were a few contenders for match of the day in the ninth tier and I've gone for this as the Becks, one of our local sides, are going for the title and look like ones to watch. The visitors are in fourth and it will do Beckenham's hopes no harm at all if they can see them off

CCL Division 1
Tooting Bec v Farnham Town @3pm - in the 10th tier, two of the top four meet in the battle to see who finishes second. With leaders Jersey Bulls still yet to drop a point (19 wins out of the 19), they're 24 points clear at Christmas so the rest are left scrapping for the remaining promotion places. Both of these sides have games in hand on second placed Bedfont & Feltham so they should catch them in the not too distant future

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Sunday 5 January

FA Cup Third Round
Chelsea v Nottingham Forest @201pm - at the time of writing, former European champions Forest look like heading to Stamford Bridge in pretty dreadful form. Since thrashing QPR 4-0 at Loftus Road, their form has completely fallen apart and they're five without a win. It looks ominous for Sabri Lamouchi's side. Impressively, this match has already sold out
Crystal Palace v Derby County @201pm - the Rams are another Championship club who are really struggling to win at the moment. Down in 17th, their hopes of another play-off push look long gone. With Palace looking relatively comfortable in midtable, I'd like to see them have a real go at this competition. Unusually for Palace home games, tickets are on sale to non-members for £15
Charlton Athletic v West Bromwich Albion @201pm - the Addicks would love to get any kind of win under their belts just to build a bit of momentum. Whether they do will depend a lot on which West Brom team turn up. The Baggies look all set to secure promotion this season so might rest a few players just to make sure they get back into the Premier League. Tickets are on sale to non-members for £15
Queens Park Rangers v Swansea City @201pm - the R's enjoyed a very rare run to the Fifth Round last season after beating Leeds and Portsmouth. Given their realistic promotion hopes are slim, I'd like to see Mark Warburton play a strong side here and really go for it. Swansea won here in the league earlier in the season and are firmly in the promotion race so they might rest one or two for this one. Tickets are on sale to non-members for £15

FA Women's Super League
Chelsea v Reading @1230pm - women's football makes its return after the festive break with a full round of Super League games. Of the several matches on offer, this match between two of the top six would appear to be the most interesting

GET INVOLVED
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 in the London area for this blog then get in touch. I also very much welcome photos of your football travels.

NEED HELP?
Got any questions about visiting London? Don't hesitate to ask - be they football or more general travel/touristy queries. I do not charge for this advice like some other sites so don't hold back!

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

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