European football has graced the M25 football experience with this first leg final qualifying match for the newly named Europa League, or UEFA Cup as we will all still probably call it! Although sunny it was a fairly blustery evening as I made the short walk from my girlfriends flat to Craven Cottage, sitting in the normal away end I had a view of the river and of the fantastically atmospheric looking Johnny Haynes stand to my right. Unfortunately the newer stands are just large cow sheds with nothing about them, the Putney End, which tonight was used by Fulham fans as only 40 or so Amkar fans were in attendance, felt extremely cheap with it`s bouncy floor and corrugated plastic roof. The stands are all single tier which I found reduced the atmosphere considering you were almost on top of the pitch. Had they been two tiered then you wouldn`t have to reduce capacity and it would add to the ground, they havn`t however and the match was about to kick off.
Speaking of atmosphere at football matches it was looking unlikely, I thought, due to vast swathes of empty seats. Ok there is a credit crunch and it was a Thursday night but, tickets were sold at £5 for the first 5000, £10 for the next 5000 and £15 thereafter, considering that it is a minimum of £30 odd for a Premiership match I was surprised of the lack of uptake. Fulham were also playing a full strength squad and it was only their second ever foray into Europe. It was, in my opinion, shameful, however more shameful was the dire Fulham rap that was blasted out of the speakers prior to kick off. "That`s the best way of turning away any support" I thought, especially with the line "We are Fulham, ha ha ha, hee hee hee" which almost brought my dinner up and out of me in an attempt to reach the exit!
The game kicked off and Amkar won a corner almost straight away, Fulham didn`t deal with it at all well, something that would continue throughout the match, and I initially thought that Amkar may be a bit of a surprise. Andrew Johnson dispelled that with a goal on 3 minutes. A ball over the top was easily latched on to and the keeper stood no chance.
In fact the Amkar defence was pretty poor. Fulham continued to hit balls over the top and Amkar was always undone. It was only Fulham`s ineptitude in hitting the ball too hard every time that let Amkar off the hook. Another thing that ruins football games is people getting up and walking to the loo and refreshment stand and from the kick off there was a steady stream of people going back and forth. There must be an outbreak of tape worms in SW6 as I was practically the only person not to get up at one point or another. Another hate is people getting to a match late, I don`t mean five or ten minutes, or even twenty, that`s all happened to us at one point or another, no I mean come in 40 minutes late and then have the temerity to mutter that I am sitting in the way! Two extremely posh women did just that and then spent the next 20 minutes discussing athletics! Why these people turn up isn`t down to liking or even wanting to watch football. It is the fact they can boast about they went down the 'Cottage` to see a game. Pathetic really, and unfortunately many Chairmen and boards have embraced their no nothing, uncomplaining idiocy.
Still, prior to there arrival Dempsey, Clinty according to the posh freaks, worked his way into a great position to the right of the 6 yard box, and could have scored if he elected to hit it with his left. He decided, despite the impossibility of the angle, to toe poke it with his right and Ankar were let off the hook and both teams went in at half time with, surprisingly, only one goal between them.
New Fulham signing Damien Duff was eligible for the game and I had been surprised that he hadn`t started. Fulham were crying out for some pace down the wing to then cross for the strikers yet the second half didn`t see his introduction. Instead Dempsey hit a decent effort past the despairing dive of Amkar keeper, Narubin, and Fulham were two up with barely five minutes of the second half gone. Number 21 for Akmar, Dmitry Belorukov, had been struggling the entire game in defence, in fact I wondered whether Amkar had lost a man to deep vein thrombosis on the plane and had drafted the guy in at the last moment. His next move was to body check Andrew Johnson in full flight and he was very lucky to escape with a yellow from the lenient, and not particularly good, ref. Johnson had to be substituted and it didn`t look good as he left the field, apparently he will be out for 4/8 weeks with a dislocated shoulder. The game petered out after this and many of the extremely quiet crowd had already started to filter out.
Around 70 minutes into the game Duff was brought on and immediately skinned an opponent, charged into the penalty area passed to Nevland who quickly jabbed it onwards to a waiting Zamora who promptly made it 3-0. Strangely this suddenly made Amkar decide to play football and they dominated the remainder of the match. Number 14, Zahary Sirakov, and 17, Jean Carlos (Brasilian), in particular twisted and turned Fulham`s faltering defence. Cross after cross and corner after corner were dealt with in a haphazard and amateur way and Amkar constantly looked on the verge of scoring. Murphy and Schwarzer each cleared off of the line and it was no surprise when Amkar pulled one back with a great shot at Schwarzer`s near post up and over his right shoulder. They nearly got a second at the death but a great volley from yet another cross whistled just wide. Another foot to my left and Fulham would be travelling to the Ural Mountains in Russia with just a one goal lead.
Review - Game Six: QPR 1-1 Nottingham Forest
Our second, and hopefully not final, visit to Loftus Road was again a sun drenched afair. An arduous bus trek through what seemed the majority of the country saw me reach the pub a matter of minutes prior to kick off. A quick libation and then I was inside and ready to see if QPR could record their frst league victory of the season at their fourth attempt. Ex-Rangers players Lee Camp and Dexter Blackstock received a decent welcome, as it should be, and the teams kicked off with Forest immediately posing problems to a fairly static Rangers defence. Cerny was able to save well however and the R`s seemed to steady the ship a little.
Forest were the dirtiest side and least concerned with sportsmanship we have seen so far this M25 season. You`d have thought the Forest team were at sea the amount they flew and cavorted around, hitting the ground with such regularity that it would have made Klinnsman blush. They were also decidedly keen on kicks, pushes, obstructions, shirt pulls and all other sorts of illegal moves, strangely though, the official almost always seemed to penalise the wrong thing. Certain fouls, from either side, were ignored whilst the mere whisper of shirt passing shirt would be brought to a grinding halt by the incompetent referee`s whistle. J Linington was his name, and so far he is the worst I have seen this season, at any level!
Back to the players and QPR`s persistent problem this year (and for a number of years according to most fans) has been the lack of a goalscorer up front. This was again the case with Helguson understanding the off-side rule less than your gran and new signing Pellicori struggling to impact upon the game. However R`s fans were left cursing more colourfully and vividly than usual when midfielder Adel Taarabt received a pass on the edge of the area, on his own and with no fear of being tackled, he attempted a ludicrous side footed shot which failed to even test Camp.
Then, on 25 minutes, midfielder Mikele Leigertwood was allowed to dribble across the face of the Forest box and from 25 yards or so whipped a beauty of a curling strike into the top corner with his unfavoured left foot. Camp could do nothing but admire and was subsequently, and correctly, extolling the virtues of pressurising the opposition to his defence. At the other end, 52 year old(!) Dele Adebola was not endearing himself to the home fans. All his career he has used a simple ploy to remain a professional footballer, he backs into a defender, often grabbing whatever his kleptomaniac hands can get a hold of, and just after receiving a 30 yard thump up field, proceeds to fall over. The ref then usually thinks that all 6′4″ of him is made of feathers and fairy dust and awards him a free kick. This was one of Forest`s few game plans, and due to the inability of the ref to referee, it was working although as yet they hadn`t managed to capitalise.
The second half started with QPR again playing some decent football but unable to show quality in the final third. Then a piece of football that the Crazy Gang themselves would have been proud of. A long kick from Camp was headed on all too easily by the fairy dust and feather man himself, Adebola, and McGoldrick was left completely unmarked about ten yards out to beat Cerny and to bring the scores level. There were at least three Rangers defenders in the box and quite simply the goal should never have happened, it was worse than lower league defending. Things then almost became catastrophic for Rangers when substitute Blackstock was put through one on one with Cerny. However unlike when he used to play for QPR, when he would fall on his arse or give up the chase before it had started like an asthmatic hound unable to chase a fox, he actually bore down on goal like a striker should. Luckily his shot went straight at Cerny but the balls pace looped it over the now prostrate keeper and it was left to right back, Peter Ramage, to clear the effort off the line.
Controversy in the dying seconds of the match reigned thanks to a strange decision from the ref and linesman. A flurry of passes between a Forest defender and Camp led to the ex-R ending up outside his box, trying desperately to control the ball with his feet, Helguson then nipped in from his blindside to take the ball and should have scored however the linesman and referee said that he had come from an offside position. This he did, however there hadn`t been a touch from a QPR player for about twenty seconds and the Forest players had had possession for all of that time. No, I don`t understand it either!
QPR fans will be concerned that without someone to get them regular goals they will have to rely on their midfielders and defenders to win them games, never an ideal scenario. As for Forest, despite spending a huge amount of money in the summer they look bereft of tactics and quality, Camp, McGoldrick and midfielder Radoslaw Majewski were the best on display but a leaky defence will be their downfall this year, surviving relegation, but only just.
Build Up - Game Seven: Ashford Town (Middx) v Hendon
Ashford Town (Middx) were founded in 1964 and are known as the Tangerines or the Ash Trees. The suffix Middx, is of course short for Middlesex, this is added due to their also being an Ashford Town FC in Kent, the two often play a pre-season friendly and are on good terms.
The 90`s were a dominant time for Ashford, winning the Combined Counties League four seasons in a row and winning it five out of six seasons. They joined the Isthmian League Division Three in 2000/01 and continued their success, gaining promotion to their current level, Isthmian Premier League, in 2005/06. They also had some cup success, winning the Isthmian League Cup, Surrey Senior Cup and reaching the final of the Southern Combination Cup Final.
To this date the only Ashford player to have been signed directly by a football league team was midfielder Dannie Bulman who made over 200 appearances for Wycombe Wanderers.
Season so far;
With three points from two games Ashford have a chance today (22nd August) to make it six from nine. Harrison, Weight and the two Harris brothers seem to be the biggest goal threats. This is the first time this season we will see two M25 teams up against each other.
1993-94 - Combined Counties League runners-up
1994-95, 95/96, 96/97, 97/98, 99/00 - Combined Counties League Champions
2005-06 - Promoted as runners-up in Southern League Division One West, transferred across to Isthmian League Premier Division
2006-07 - Isthmian League Cup winners
2007-08 - First Team reach Southern Combination Cup Final (held over until pre-season 2008).
2008-09 - Surrey Senior Cup Winners.
How to get there;
By car-From M25-Take M25 to Junction 13 Leave motorway to join A30 towards London Stay on A30 through Crooked Billet Roundabout towards Ashford Hospital. After passing hospital at large crossroads, stay on A30 and take the 3rd left hand turn by a blue footbridge over the road into Short Lane. Ground is signposted from main road. Ground is about quarter of a mile on the right hand side. (signposted)
From Kingston area-Head towards Sunbury on A308. At Sunbury Cross roundabout, take 3rd exit towards Staines, still on A308. Turn right at third cross roads onto School Road (B378). Stay on B378 over next major cross road and proceed to roundabout. Take 2nd exit onto Clockhouse Lane. At top of road, turn left at roundabout onto the A30 towards Staines. After approx half mile, turn right into Short Lane by bearing left into slip road at footbridge and then turning back on yourself. Ground is about quarter of a mile on the right hand side (signposted).
Ashford BR station is over two miles away. A walk from the station will take approx. 20 to 25 mins. Taxis are available near the station (approx. fare £5.00). Alternatively, the 555/557 services towards Heathrow can be caught from the town centre, which is a short walk away. Alight at Long Lane and then follow the directions from Long Lane as shown below.
Hatton Cross on the Piccadilly line is the nearest tube station. Take the 203 bus towards Staines from Stand D or 555/556 (Walton on Thames) or 557 (Addlestone) from Stand E. Whichever you catch (services are quite frequent), alight at Long Lane, Stanwell. Walk down Long Lane, past the Three Crowns pub, until you see Short Lane on your left. Proceed along Short Lane and the ground will appear on your left.