Sunday, 6 September 2020

TLFG: 7-13 September 2020

It's generally been a pretty decent week at TLFG Towers - mainly thanks to you, dear readers, who have sent me some really gratifying comments.

Over lockdown it was quite tempting to draw a line under this blog and move on. It made a pleasant change not having to sit up late on a Sunday night/Monday morning typing away when I knew a 4am work alarm was looming, something which was was often the case.

When I set this up in 2011 as a way to keep my hand in after taking redundancy from BBC Sport, I'd never written a blog, had no idea where it would take me or how much time it would consume.

I originally created TLFG as something I would write for myself - it held all the information I would be looking for as a neutral looking for a game. What's on, where, how to get there, ticket info and some match recommendations to give it a more personal or blog feel.

Early page views were hard to come by, with 50 in one day being a great achievement. It's now well into the hundreds and into seven figures for all-time views. As someone who used to work on a website with millions of views a day, I know that's not a great achievement but I'm happy enough given what a small-time operation this is.

TLFG has given me some great opportunities and I've met some top people and my knowledge of the 100+ clubs around the capital has become almost encyclopedic - certainly when compared to the average man on the street.

 

One of my main regrets, rather ironically, is that despite spending hours writing about football every year, I hardly get to watch any.

My new career on the railway affords me only one Saturday off a month and one completely clear Tuesday night so my chances of seeing anything are few and far between. The Sundays I do get off are usually spent writing this - one of the sacrifices I make for you dear readers!

That's why it's great to hear from you - where you've been, where you're going and the tips about matches I may have missed, are coming up or have been changed in some way. Given how big a task it is to keep across everything, there's no way I can do it without your contributions so thank you.

Despite my whining about not going to any games, I did make it to my first post-lockdown match on Saturday.

I actually headed beyond London's boundaries about 30 miles south of Shepherd's Bush to the Sussex town of Horsham where my favourite non-league side Harrow Borough were playing a friendly.

The hosts moved to a new stadium last season and it has since won awards so I was keen to visit.

However, the first and only problem is its location.

As someone who doesn't drive, the fact it's some two miles from the station isn't great. However, taxis are available right outside and cost us £7. 

With the capacity capped to a Covid-19 reduced 280, I bought an e-ticket in advance - the first time I've ever done this for a non-league game. 

We joined an orderly socially distanced queue on arrival, had our temperatures checked, gave our track and trace details and went in.

The facilities were really good - a top of the range 4G pitch and brand new everything else.

Serving hatches selling food and drink were open in the side of the impressive clubhouse with no queues, low prices and friendly staff all of which really impressed my friend Mike who joined me for his first ever non-league match. As a Crystal Palace season-ticket holder he was struck by so many of the positives us regulars take for granted.

The match itself produced five goals and some really memorable moments.

Harrow went behind early on when keeper Purdue rushed out to head clear, only for it to go straight to Horsham full-back Sparks to lob perfectly back over his head from range.

Boro barely threatened in the opening half hour and then something utterly bizarre happened.

The hosts had started the game with a trialist in goal. He'd looked competent enough in the early stages but was never really tested until the 32nd minute when he pulled off a decent diving save to his right. However, on getting up he attempted to throw the ball out to his full-back only to hold on to it a smidgen too long and throw it into his own net! What a gift.

Sadly, Horsham retook the lead shortly after and the score remarkably stayed at 2-1 until the 85th minute despite a load of chances at either end.

With five minutes to go, young substitute Zidan Akers lashed one into the top corner from 25 yards with the best strike of the day. If he's not already been signed for this season, he should be - I was impressed every time he had the ball.

Despite the euphoria of the goal and the short time remaining, I felt Harrow would concede another and it was that man Sparks who popped up at the far post again to nick the win in injury time.


August was about helping restaurants, could September be football fans' chance to support non-league clubs?

Although the result was disappointing, it was great to get back to watching live football.

I was impressed with the set-up and the people at Horsham and was also very pleasantly surprised by the town centre which I was not expecting.

As I said above, my friend Mike had never been to a non-league game and was struck by the facilities, the prices, customer service and the level of entertainment.

With Non-League Day all but cancelled for 2020 because of Covid-19, this month and maybe the early stages of October are an ideal time for non-league clubs to try and attract to new people through their gates.

With no Premier League or EFL fans being allowed into their own grounds, I'm hearing stories of other friends who are exploring what's on in their area often via the medium of an FA Cup tie and having a great time in the process.

Many readers of this blog know how good the non-league experience is so keep spreading the word.

There was a month of action to save the ailing hospitality trade (#EatOutToHelpOut), maybe there should be something similar to help/save some of this country's smaller football clubs - #GoNonLeagueToHelpOut??? 

It's not nearly as catchy but you get my drift. 

Well I think that's about enough from me. Before I go, a big thank you to Kevin O from Hertfordshire who donated to TLFG's coffee drinking fund on Saturday - cheers.

THE WEEK AHEAD

The highlights of the next few days include games in the Preliminary Round of the FA Cup, the opening batch of fixtures in the Spartan South Midlands League, games in the Combined Counties League, Essex Senior League and Southern Counties East League plus a few pre-season matches.

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. However, capacity restrictions are currently in place at all grounds because of Covid-19 meaning only clubs from the seventh tier and below can currently admit spectators.

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.

MIDWEEK MATCH MAP
Monday fixtures - yellow pin
Tuesday fixtures - green pin
Wednesday fixtures - blue pin
Thursday fixtures - purple pin
Friday fixtures - black pin



WEEKEND MATCH MAP
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.

Monday 7 September

Eastern Counties League Division 1 South
Barkingside v Hackney Wick - there's only one game on Monday night and it takes place in Ilford. Both sides began their league seasons on Saturday with the 'Side losing 2-1 at highly fancied Little Oakley and the Wickers drawing 2-2 with Benfleet. On paper this is a bit of a derby but neither club have their own ground and have found it hard to build a fanbase as a result. However, the hosts are always very keen to welcome visitors so don't be put off

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Tuesday 8 September

Friendlies
The bigger non-league clubs in London are still playing friendlies at this stage and there are several on Tuesday. The most eye-catching would appear to be the match at Bridge Avenue where Hornchurch welcome National League South side Maidstone United. The Kent club are one of the best supported sides at this level and averaged over 1,800 for home games last season. Elsewhere in east London there's a groundshare derby between Barking and big-spending Romford - former Billericay owner Glenn Tamplin's new club. There's also a local derby between North Greenford United and Hanwell Town which is pay what you want - bargain! 

Combined Counties League Premier Division
With three of our local ninth-tier leagues getting underway on Saturday, we've been given a very early look at how sharp some of the teams are. Banstead Athletic were pretty poor in 2019/20 and were among the beneficiaries of the season being declared null and void. On Saturday they started with a tidy 2-0 win over Badshot Lea to make a decent start. On Tuesday they host Sutton Common Rovers who would've probably finished in the top five if they'd been allowed to complete their fixtures

Essex Senior League
A couple of games look decent here. Firstly the north London derby between Cockfosters and Enfield. The hosts enjoyed a good FA Cup win in midweek and began their league campaign with a victory too. Sadly Enfield don't play in their home town so building a strong fanbase has again been hard and as such, it might not be as lively as some derbies in this part of the world. Over at Wadham Lodge Walthamstow entertain Stansted - both sides finished in the top five last season so should hopefully produce a decent contest

Combined Counties League Division 1
Walton & Hersham were the top TLFG team in this division last season and flew out of the traps with a 6-0 demolition of Ash United to go straight to the top of the table. On Tuesday they welcome the exotically titled FC Deportivo Galicia who look likely to achieve another midtable finish

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Wednesday 9 September

Friendlies
National League club Bromley travel to Chipstead on Wednesday night. With three divisions separating the clubs, you wonder how strong the visitors' line-up will be but they haven't played too many games yet and will want to give most of their players a chance. In the other pre-season game, Grays Athletic host Kingstonian in what should be a decent all-Isthmian League clash (this has now been cancelled)

Essex Senior League
If you want a competitive game, the east London derby between Ilford and Redbridge should be well worth a watch. Neither managed a win on the opening day so should both be hungry for points

Combined Counties League Premier Division
One team to keep your eye on in the ninth tier could well be Southall. They were well in with a shout of a top-three finish before Covid-19 intervened and have got off to a cracking start, thrashing Molesey 7-0 in the FA Cup and Cobham 4-0 in the league - both games were away from home too. On Wednesday they make the short trip to Bedfont to play CB Hounslow United who were bottom before the season was abandoned. They look better this time round but could still be on a hiding to nothing

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Thursday 10 September

London FA U18 Cup Final

I don't normally cover matches at U18 level but given there's nothing else on and I know that some of you are partial to a bit of youth football then you might be interested in this. This year's final features Welling United and Phoenix Sports and takes place at Park View Road. I have no idea how good either side is but Welling are the bigger club by some way

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Friday 11 September

FA Cup Preliminary Round
The next round of the country's top cup competition begins on Friday night in north London where first-time entrants New Salamis welcome West Essex to Coles Park for what should be a very entertaining tie. On paper, the hosts should start as underdogs as they play a level below the visitors but I can see them causing a cupset here 

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Saturday 12 September

FA Cup Preliminary Round
There are a sprinkling of pre-season and lower league games on Saturday but why bother with one of them when the majority of games in the area are in this grand competition. At this stage, a few seventh tier clubs enter the draw and prize money for a win goes up to the rather random amount of £1,444. 

Carshalton Athletic defied their seventh-tier status to make it to the First Round proper last year where they were disappointingly beaten by fellow non-leaguers Boston United. They'll hope to get this year's campaign off to a solid start as they entertain Whitstable Town from the division below. 

Hailing from the same division as Carshalton, Kingstonian went one better and made the Second Round in 2019/20 before also losing to non-league opposition in the form of AFC Fylde. The K's should also make progress on Saturday as they welcome Horley Town from two divisions below.

If I was to pick a game to go to as a neutral it would probably have to be the derby between Chertsey Town and Abbey Rangers. The Curfews are the reigning FA Vase holders so know a thing or two about getting to Wembley. They now play a level above Abbey, who come from neighbouring Addlestone, and should have too much for them. By reading the club's Twitter feed, the game will probably sell out so contact them as soon as possible if you want to go. 

Although not quite as close together as the teams above, there's a south-east London derby feel to Cray Valley PM v VCD Athletic. Both play in the Isthmian League South East and CVPM also made it to the FA Vase final in 2019 where they lost to Chertsey. This looks like a tough one to call.

If the Chertsey game is convenient for you but you can't get a ticket, then the groundshare derby between Southall and Ashford Town (Middlesex) looks like another humdinger. As already mentioned above, the 'All are in cracking form and could well give their landlords a very uncomfortable afternoon.

The all-Essex Senior League clash between Walthamstow and Cockfosters also looks pretty mouthwatering. Both have made good starts to the season and Wadham Lodge should see a good size crowd turn out for this one.

Last but by no means least, you could try heading to Colliers Wood United's ground to watch FA Cup first timers Westside. The south London club are pretty new to senior football but have started this season really well, winning 2-0 at Billingshurst in the last round and thrashing Sandhurst 5-1 in their opening league game. On Saturday they face a big step up in class as Isthmian League club Chatham Town roll into town for quite possibly the biggest game in Westside's history.

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Sunday 13 September

London & SE Women's Regional League
There are three fixtures scheduled at Dartford, Denham United and Dulwich Hamlet but at the time of writing none of the clubs have confirmed whether or not their matches will be open to the public. Dartford and Dulwich's men's teams play in the National League South so aren't allowed to host games - this has therefore complicated things a bit. Denham aren't affected in this way but I haven't been able to get hold of them. UPDATE - these matches are all open to the public but, particularly with Dulwich, you are advised to buy a ticket in advance



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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