Sunday, 12 December 2021

TLFG: 13-19 December 2021

Wow it's Sunday again and another week has raced by and in just over two weeks another year will have gone by too.

The last few days have been all about youth football for me.

On Wednesday I went to Loftus Road to watch QPR U18s enjoy a 2-1 win over Oldham Athletic in the Third Round of the FA Youth Cup.

The game was close, the goals of a very high standard and the young crowd lively - all for the princely sum of £3 which you really can't complain about.

They now travel to AFC Bournemouth in the next round.

On Saturday morning my daughter returned to action with Actonians U9s and scored only the second goal of her fledgling career during a 6-0 derby win over Acton & Ealing Whistlers in the Capital Girls League.

My eldest daughter celebrates after netting her second of the season

I managed to capture the moment of celebration in a photo which was a great bonus.

After her final training session of the year on Monday, she's booked in for a futsal taster session on Tuesday so we'll see whether she likes it and whether it's something else that might be worth pursuing.

Her coach at Actonians hails from Italy, is a big fan of that form of the game and recommended that she give it a go to improve her technique so we'll see.

Next up we're lucky to have another piece from American groundhopper Marc Derks who gave us his thoughts on Craven Cottage a few weeks ago.

This week he's done a composite piece reflecting on his visits to the Emirates Stadium, London Stadium, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and Wembley:

Even casual followers of football in the US are aware of the backlash here in London to the age of the mega-ground, or the NFL-style football stadium.  Having grown up around mega-stadiums in the US–ten are larger than Wembley and a whopping 70 are larger than Tottenham Hotspur–the controversy was a bit confusing.  What was the big deal?  Actual fans and closer observers worried about the loss of history, of tradition, and of atmosphere that simply oozes from the old grounds around London, including those being abandoned in Wembley, White Hart Lane, and Upton Park.  Would the new grounds provide the proper home for a great football experience?

Not surprisingly, of the ten largest stadiums in the UK, four are in London.  Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, England and the FA’s Wembley, West Ham’s London Stadium, and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium all fit comfortably in the mega-ground category with capacities north of 60,000.  Elsewhere in the UK, Old Trafford and Celtic Park are among the largest predominantly football stadiums and three rugby union stadiums barge into the top ten in attendance.  

With my Thursday night trip to the Emirates, the current fourth largest in England and largest in London when it opened with a capacity of 60,260, I’ve managed to visit all of the stadiums that exactly no one else calls “London’s Big Four.”  The mega-stadium movement in London almost didn’t start, as Emirates was nearly a victim of the global financial crisis.  Arsenal began their ill-timed relocation in 2002. With some timely intervention by Emirates Airlines, the entire stadium project was completed in 2006 at a cost of £390 million.  

My impression of the Emirates is that it does little to assuage the fears of those longing for a traditional experience.  The stadium is cut off from the surrounding neighborhood by a surrounding fence and isolated by railroad tracks.  The concourse seems to be a cross between the worst of both worlds, combining the low ceilings and fluorescent lights of an old soccer ground and the unremarkable (if not downright bad) food and indifferent branding of an NFL stadium. While the curves of the stands are architecturally beautiful, the distance between the pitch and the low rise of the seats in the lower bowl make for some challenging sight lines.  It probably didn’t help my impression that Tobin Heath didn’t make the 18 and that Barcelona ran rampant over the Arsenal Women.  At least they had Camden Brewery on tap and there were plenty of restrooms.

A couple months back, my first visit to a mega-stadium in London was a literal bucket list stop.  Opened in 2007 on the site of the original Wembley Stadium, new Wembley’s 90,000 capacity stands quickly surpassed the Emirates as not only the largest in London, but the largest stadium in the UK and the second-largest stadium in Europe. From central London, Wembley is kind of a haul to get to, requiring a regional train ride, but the walk from the train station up to the stadium makes the trip worthwhile.  As you exit the train station, you are greeted with the view of a wide boulevard, closed off to traffic, with thousands of England supporters making their way to cheer on the Three Lions.  It is an epic sight in the truest sense of the word.  

Wembley provides great sight lines notwithstanding its size and the England supporters make for a good atmosphere for a national team game.  It did not escape me that the crowd continued to make noise (inexplicably singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”?!?) in a 4-0 rout of mostly hapless Andorra.  The decor is minimal and the feeling of the interior is pretty industrial.  There’s not much attention to the rich history of the FA or reference to Old Wembley, which is a missed opportunity.  And sadly, the food and beer choices were disappointing especially given the size of the crowd and the stadium.  

European nights are a UK phenomenon unequalled in the US.  And especially for teams in the Europa Cup vice the full Champions League, they can be a good opportunity to snag a seat at a normally sold-out stadium.  That’s how I first got to visit West Ham’s London Stadium as the Hammers took on a team from Belgium in the Europa League group stage.  The stadium began life as Olympic Stadium with construction officially starting in 2008. Holding 80,000 for the Olympics and the Paralympics, it re-opened in July 2016 with 66,000 seats, but with capacity for football limited to 60,000 (soon to be 62,500).

Having followed the weird dance with the UK Olympic Committee, Tottenham Hotspur, and Leyton Orient, West Ham’s move to London Stadium was met with some criticism from hardcore fans and casual observers for leaving Upton Park and its neighborhood location and history.  Like Wembley, London Stadium is unusual for a soccer stadium (but unremarkable for an American) in that it is set well away from any residential development sitting as it does in the former Olympic Park.  Approaching at night, it is an impressive sight, but reminds one of a US-style American football stadium much more than a typical English ground.  It’s not close to much of anything and like Wembley, a regional train is the best option from central London.

Inside, however, West Ham has done with London Stadium what the FA has failed to do with Wembley.  Sensitive to the criticism, the club has packed the stadium with images, pictures, and slogans from the Hammers’ 125-year history.  Needless to say, the tiny bubbles made the move to the new home as well, greeting the team and each goal as the crowd serenades with the traditional tune. There’s a strong variety of food and drink well placed around the concourse and the goal line seating has been moved and pushed up against the pitch with no sign of the Olympic track that once ringed the field.  There is a significant distance between the supporters and the touch line, but the steep rake of the stands helps a great deal.  The supporters have done their part in response and the crowd is lively and vocal.

It may be, though, that the newest one has done it the best.  Taking the best lessons of West Ham’s work one step further, Tottenham Hotspur‎ built its shiny new 2016 home on the residential site of White Hart Lane.  Consequently, the 61,104 seater rises up suddenly from the area’s high street and is flanked by residences all around.  It’s a pleasant walk from the Tube or you can switch to a regional train for a one-stop ride and a much shorter walk.  Remnants of the White Hart Lane ground provide a link to the past, with some gates preserved outside the stadium and an entire building of offices from the original carefully built around inside.  Tottenham imagery is everywhere and while I couldn’t find Clint Dempsey, I did glimpse a picture of a young man who would go on to manage the US Men’s National Team, Juergen Klinsmann.

Tottenham sought to make the stadium a destination as well, with Europe’s longest bar, the Touch Line, at one end of the concourse with interesting food choices all around.  Thoughtfully, the pristine grass pitch can be rolled away to reveal astroturf underneath, meaning that American football games won’t do American football damage to the carefully maintained Premier League grass.  Moreover, the stadium stays open after the matches and friends can gather to share a pint and a pie and discuss the game.  I did just that after an entertaining win over Vitesse in Antonio Conte’s first game at the helm of Spurs.

Having been to both Allianz Arena in Munich and Old Trafford in Manchester, I had observed first hand the “corporate fan experience” that is dominant in global clubs.  The supporter experience suffers with fewer attendees who know the songs and the history of the rivalries and clubs.  This worry undoubtedly added to the typical Londoner’s skepticism for these huge stadiums.  The newer mega-stadiums in London have done an admirable job of avoiding that, with great success at West Ham and Tottenham linking the clubs and the grounds to the past and providing an old-style atmosphere in a new-style stadium.

Thanks a lot to Marc for making the effort to write up and share his thoughts.

Of the four, do you have a favourite?

I have been to events at all of them but have only seen athletics at London Stadium and it's hard to disagree with most of what Marc says.

The THS is an impressive sight

The THS is the newest and most impressive in my opinion and I haven't yet met anyone who disagrees - its big let down is its location, in terms of proximity to public transport.

Yes, there are Overground stations nearby but the service is infrequent and the queues can be long.

The Tube from Seven Sisters is much more efficient but is a long walk, especially when compared to other London grounds like Arsenal or Chelsea which pretty much have their own Tube stops.

I also quite like Wembley but food and drink prices are bad and the service slow vis-a-vis Tottenham which wins hands down on that count.

I guess I'd have the Emirates and London Stadium somewhere in between.

Lastly from me, many thanks this week to regular reader William B from London for donating to TLFG's coffee-drinking fund. I really really appreciate it.

Have a great week everyone.

THE WEEK AHEAD

The highlights of the next few days include games in the Premier League, EFL, FA Trophy, National League, most of our local non-league competitions and the Women's Super League too. 

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.

MIDWEEK MATCH MAP
Monday fixtures - yellow pin
Tuesday fixtures - green pin
Wednesday fixtures - turquoise 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 13 December

Essex Senior Cup Third Round
Aveley v Barking @745pm - the week's action begins at Parkside where we're down to the last 32 in this county cup. Both sides play in the eighth tier Isthmian North but with the hosts fourth from top and the visitors fourth from bottom, the smart money would appear to be on the Millers

Development and Youth matches
After receiving quite a bit of interest in recent weeks, I've had the time to hunt around and find a load of fixtures at this level for the whole week. However, it's been hard to verify all the details so double-check absolutely everything before you travel

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Tuesday 14 December

Premier League
Brentford v Manchester United @730pm - games like this are what being in the Premier League is all about and they don't come around too often for Bees fans - the last time they hosted the Red Devils at Griffin Park was in 1947 and it ended in a goalless draw. Their win over Watford on Friday lifted them back into the top half and will give them renewed confidence of getting something from this one. Tickets are not available to non-members MATCH OFF

Southern League Premier South
Hayes & Yeading United v Truro City @745pm - after a blistering start, H&YU made it look like the title was theirs to lose. However, recent defeats against Kings Langley, Metropolitan Police and Walton Casuals have reduced them to being simply strong contenders. They still have games in hand, like this one, which if won would put them top but that now looks like more of a challenge than it did a few weeks ago. Cornish side Truro have a ridiculously long journey to undertake for a Tuesday and aren't the side they were a couple of years ago. It should be a home win, but I'm not quite so sure any more

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Wednesday 15 December

Premier League
Arsenal v West Ham United @8pm - the Gunners enjoyed a solid 3-0 win over Southampton on Saturday to move back into the top six. Next up they face what should hopefully be a very entertaining derby against the Hammers who sit just above them in fourth. Arsenal are unbeaten in four against West Ham and haven't lost to them at home since 2015.  Tickets are not available to non-members
Crystal Palace v Southampton @730pm - there's an important game at Selhurst Park featuring teams towards the other end of the table. The sides have managed only two wins between them over the course of their last five games so three points here would be big for either of them. The Saints have won on three of their last four visits so it's a happy hunting ground for them. Tickets are not available to non-members

Premier League Cup
QPR v Middlesbrough @1pm - if you're at a loose end on Wednesday lunchtime, then get yourself over to Wealdstone's ground in Ruislip for this U23 match. We're still at the group stage of this competition with these sides the top two in Group B. Tickets are usually £5 on the gate. MATCH OFF

Isthmian League Premier
Kingstonian v East Thurrock United @745pm - the K's were top of the league a couple of months ago but have lost their way a bit since then. Worthing are now clear in first but things are tight among the chasing pack. The south-west London club have games in hand on all of those above them which if won would put them back in second. ETU are struggling this season so you'd expect the points to stay in Tolworth

FA Women's League Cup
West Ham United v Brighton & Hove Albion @730pm - Hope Powell's Seagulls team, alongside Spurs, have been one of the Super League's breakthrough sides so far this season, as the injury-ravaged Manchester City have struggled. A much-improved Hammers side are seventh so this could be a good one. They're also the top two in Group E and should view themselves as potential winners of this competition. Hopefully they'll field strong sides for a match which will be played at Dagenham & Redbridge

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Thursday 16 December

Premier League
Chelsea v Everton @745pm - after leading the Premier League for a good chunk of the season, the Blues are having their 'wobble', only winning three of their last five. Their 3-2 win over Leeds on Saturday was, by all accounts, unconvincing. Much has been made of Everton's poor recent form but beating Arsenal last week must have been a great boost for them. However, Stamford Bridge is not a lucky ground for them - their last win was in 1994, 32 games ago. Only hospitality packages are available

FA Youth Cup Third Round
Tottenham Hotspur v Ipswich Town @7pm - the final Third Round tie of the country's top U18 cup competition takes place a little to the north of London at Stevenage's ground. The winners will host West Brom or Rotherham in the next round
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Friday 17 December

Premier League 2
Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur @7pm - begin your weekend with a North London Derby at Boreham Wood's ground. Currently third and second in the PL2 table, this U23 fixture looks pretty mouthwatering. To top it all, admission to U23 games at Meadow Park is usually free but check all the details in advance just in case anything special is in place for a match like this MATCH OFF

Essex Senior League
Woodford Town v Enfield @745pm - your non-league option of the night takes place on the north-eastern side of town. Both sides are bobbing around in midtable but when it comes to average attendance, they're both in the title race. With average crowds of 431 and 261 respectively, you should be able to expect a sizeable crowd for this ninth-tier match
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Saturday 18 December

Premier League
Watford v Crystal Palace @3pm - it's a big week for both of these clubs as they play sides in the lower reaches of the table. If they both win in midweek and one of them wins here, things will look a lot rosier. The last-minute defeat to Brentford on Friday was a big blow to the Hornets and by the end of this weekend, they were left teetering just above the bottom three. One of the best things about Watford being in the Premier League is that non-members can usually get tickets MATCH OFF
West Ham United v Norwich City @3pm - if the Hammers beat Arsenal on Wednesday then the odds on them finishing in the top four will surely shorten that little bit more. David Moyes has done a fantastic job since returning to the club and in their kind of form, a home win against struggling Norwich should be almost certain. However, the Canaries have improved markedly under new boss Dean Smith and were unlucky to lose to Manchester United on Saturday. If they beat his old club Villa on Tuesday, then they could move out of the bottom three with a point here - something that seemed unthinkable a few weeks ago. Tickets are available MATCH OFF

Championship
Millwall v Preston North End @3pm - with only one win from five games, the Lions have lost ground in the race for the play-offs and are now five points behind sixth-placed Stoke. PNE are a couple of points further back and coasting in midtable. With seven points from their last five, the Lancashire club are in better form and will be keen to avoid a fifth consecutive defeat against the London club. Tickets are available MATCH OFF
QPR v Swansea City @3pm - having seen their televised match at Sheffield United postponed because of a Covid outbreak, the R's will still come into this as a top-six club. Despite having a highly-rated young manager in Russell Martin, Swansea are down in 16th after losing heavily at home to Nottingham Forest on Saturday. With the club offering a 'Kids for a Quid' promotion and a festive family fun zone on South Africa Road near the stadium, this could be a good option if you've got children in tow. Tickets are available MATCH OFF

League One
AFC Wimbledon v Portsmouth @3pm - two former FA Cup winners clash at Plough Lane in this enticing third-tier fixture. The Dons are unbeaten in four and could do with a win to increase the gap between themselves and the relegation zone which is currently a reasonable six points. Pompey have improved a lot in recent weeks, since beating Harrow Borough, and are now only a point off the play-off places. Tickets are scarce but check with the club for the latest availability MATCH OFF

League Two
Sutton United v Harrogate Town @3pm - the U's disappointingly drew 2-2 at Bradford on Saturday after conceding a late equaliser against a side who had played most of the match with 10 men. The result means they're still in the top six, a position I'm sure most fans would've snapped your hand off for ahead of the season's start. Former non-league opponents Harrogate are the next to visit Gander Green Lane and, although 10th, could break into the play-off places with a win such is the tightness of the table. Tickets are available

FA Trophy Third Round
The knockout competition for clubs in the fifth to eighth tiers, with its final at Wembley, is down to 64 clubs. At this stage, all the biggest clubs from the National League enter the draw. There are only two ties in London but they look good
 
Barnet v Boreham Wood @3pm - these two local rivals from north London are going to be pretty sick of seeing each other soon. They recently played each other in the FA Cup, they have this game and then play home and away league fixtures against each other over the festive period. That most recent meeting in the FA Cup ended in a 1-0 win for The Wood at The Hive and given their current form, they should be favourites to take the honours again
Cray Wanderers v Dartford @3pm - seventh tier Cray, London's oldest club, are having an underwhelming campaign in the Isthmian League but pulled off a big shock in the last round by beating Dartford's National League South title rivals Ebbsfleet on penalties. The Darts finally slipped off their perch at the top of the NLS after being hammered 4-0 by county rivals Maidstone on Saturday. It would be another big shock if Wanderers do win but they're clearly quite capable

Southern League Premier South
Hayes & Yeading United v Harrow Borough @3pm - the game of the day in the seventh tier is this local derby on the west side of town. Both sides have a hit a bit of an unpredictable patch so this could go either way. The clubs didn't get a chance to play last season because of Covid but the previous year, Harrow won both games 3-2 so hopefully we'll get a few more goals here MATCH OFF

Isthmian League South East
Cray Valley PM v Lancing @3pm - there aren't any obvious humdingers in the eighth tier so go and give CVPM your support if you're in south-east London. There aren't too many clubs from the capital in this division but they're top and need a win to keep the likes of Ashford United, Ramsgate and Hastings United from catching them. Lancing are in the bottom three and should be beaten

CCL Premier South
Beckenham Town v Badshot Lea @3pm - the visitors took part in our featured ninth-tier game last week as they travelled to leaders Walton & Hersham and fought out a thrilling 3-3 draw. It saw them end the weekend in third just a point and place ahead of the Becks. Badshot have another game before this which if won would put them up to second in the table MATCH OFF

SCEFL Division 1
Bridon Ropes v Sutton Athletic @3pm - two of the top four lock horns for what should be an exciting clash at Meridian Sports & Social Club in Charlton. Both sides had disappointing weekends with Bridon Ropes surprisingly losing 3-2 to Westside whilst Sutton came unstuck at promotion rivals Tooting Bec. Only two points separate the top four so a win for either could see them go top

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Sunday 19 December

Premier League
Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool @430pm - Spurs have seen their last two matches postponed because of a Covid outbreak among their squad. Hopefully it will clear up in time for this one. Two of the biggest clubs in England, matches between them are usually a great occasion. Saying that, Liverpool have totally dominated over the years. The Reds have won seven in a row against Tottenham and have lost only one of the last 19. Although new boss Antonio Conte has made them much tougher to beat, Spurs will do well to get much more than a point. Tickets are not available to non-members

FA Women's Super League
Arsenal v Brighton & Hove Albion @645pm - the match of the weekend sees first play fourth in a televised game at Boreham Wood's ground. The Gunners took a significant four-point lead at the top after seeing challengers Chelsea surprisingly lose 1-0 at Reading on Saturday before beating Leicester 4-0 themselves. Brighton suffered a disappointing 2-0 loss at home to Manchester United on Sunday to slip to fourth but should pose Arsenal a tougher challenge than the Foxes. Tickets are available
Chelsea v West Ham United @1215pm - earlier in the day, the Blues have this derby at Kingsmeadow. After their dominant FA Cup Final performance against Arsenal last weekend, few would have predicted them losing at Reading who were ninth coming into the game. In such a tight title race, every point counts so this was a real blow to Emma Hayes's side. The Hammers drew at Everton to end the weekend in seventh. Normally I would confidently predict a home win but that Reading match has given me doubts. Tickets are available MATCH OFF
Tottenham Hotspur v Everton @2pm - Spurs brought their winless run to an end with a very useful 2-1 victory at Aston Villa on Sunday evening. The result sees them climb above Brighton back into third which, realistically, is probably as high as they will go. The rest of the season will probably be spent battling the Seagulls, Manchester United and a resurgent Manchester City in trying to keep third spot, in a mini-league of their own. The Toffees are unbeaten in three but still look unlikely to make much of an impression on the top half by the end of the season. Tickets are available


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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