With the 2017-2018 Season having finished two months ago, it’s about time I caught up with what happened since my last Chairman’s Blog back in March when we were left facing a relegation battle after only one win in eight in Division One of the Barnet Sunday League and with New Barnet, a team who were below us in the table but with games in hand, our next opponents. It was our Home game but we had to play the match at New Barnet’s ground, Oakhill Park, as our pitch at the Edmonton Sports & Social Club was suffering badly from persistent waterlogging after months of heavy rain…in stark contrast to the heatwave/drought that we are now experiencing as I write this ! New Barnet were fielding a much stronger side than they had when we beat them 5-0 at the start of the season, while we ourselves had numerous players missing because of Mothers Day, injuries and work commitments. We were particularly badly hit at the back where Lexton Harrison, Ivan Bass, Harold Ofori, Aiden Kavanagh & Tyronne Petrie…our five best/most experienced defenders from the previous season…were all unavailable, leaving us with a makeshift back four of Sam Woolley, Jamie Mehmet, Curtis Baalam and Oshade Watson…with the right-footed Curtis having to play as the left-sided centre-back, while a badly-unfit Daniel Cascoe was making a rare start as one of our two holding players. With New Barnet fielding two very good tall and mobile strikers, we were given the runaround at the back and we were fortunate to only lose the game by a narrow 3-2 margin in the end as it could easily have been a lot worse with our players being pulled all over the place because they were more used to facing a 4-2-3-1 formation and couldn’t work out between themselves who to mark, therefore leaving Curtis & Jamie facing two against two situations all match. That led to arguments and slanging matches galore between goalkeeper Grant Baker, holding midfielder Anees Ikramullah (who is a qualified coach and knows what he is talking about) and the rest of our players, but that just destroys the confidence of players even further when they are not playing well. On the final whistle, a large number of our players stormed off the pitch without shaking hands with our opponents, while others just ripped off their kit and went straight home. It was a horrible match for us and one of the low points of our season for sure.
‘Thankfully’, the following week saw our fifth postponement of the season from bad weather in what had been an appalling Winter, this time due to snow when we were scheduled to play bottom side Kedares Town at the Edmonton Sports & Social Club. We did manage to play the game the following week instead though, therefore giving us time to clear the air and calm players down, and with Manager Tony McKay making a clever tactical change by playing Curtis Baalam as the lone holding player with Anees Ikramullah & Daniel Cascoe both pushed further forward in a 4-1-4-1 formation, we subsequently came away with a vital 2-0 win that put paid to the possibility that we might actually finish the season bottom of the table ourselves. That win came despite four of our players failing to turn up seemingly because of the clocks going forward the night before…although none of them ever admitted that of course, while Oshade Watson had to play whilst leaving his toddler son unattended on the touchline. With our only available substitute Ivan Bass and Manager McKay both concentrating on the game, Assistant Manager Roderick Bennett having to run the line (because Bob Cleary had to Referee the game at the last minute again) and myself filming the game as usual, that saw our water bottles all being emptied before Half-Time, our players named magnetic discs from the tactics board all being ripped off and thrown away into the mud…or into a dustbin in some players’ cases (depending on how they were playing in the match ?), and the ladder-platform for filming being eyed up as a climbing frame. Thankfully, Manager McKay managed to stop that last one from happening in the nick of time, while on the pitch, substitute Bass had come on to grab a second goal for us to kill off the game, scoring with a trademark header from a typically perfect-delivered corner from Jack Bangs. Oshade then came off the pitch at the end to retrieve his own magnetic disc from the dustbin and everybody was happy again. Another thing that was noticeable from this game was that when Ivan scored our second goal (to put us 2-0 up with 13 minutes to go), he sprinted back into his own half straight away ready for the re-start…as he always does whenever he scores for us, irrespective of the scoreline at the time and irrespective of the fact that he is an experienced player in his mid-30’s. We need to be more streetwise all round with things like this in close matches though, particularly when we celebrate goals scored that have put us into the lead or furthered our lead. What all professional and Semi-Pro teams do after scoring a goal that puts them into the lead is deliberately run over en-masse towards the corner flag to celebrate all together, then the goalscorer stays there and makes out that his bootlaces have come undone...or a similar sort of ruse. Then he walks back all the way for the re-start and only jogs back if the Referee threatens to book him for time-wasting. It is all about game management and not allowing the opponents to get back into the game straight away…or at all. It is amazing how few adult men’s Sunday teams play ‘professionally’ like that. They all invariably seem to think they are still 10-year-olds playing Mini-Soccer where they only have a short space of time on the pitch in which to score.
That result set us up nicely for our next match, which was at Home to unbeaten League leaders The Winchmore, who would clinch the Division One title with a win. The Winchmore not surprisingly turned up with a strong squad of 15 with only two first-choice players missing (through suspension) whereas for our players it was a 'nothing match' with us stuck in mid-table, so the majority of them decided to take advantage of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend and do other things instead...or simply leave the club in some cases for reasons best known to themselves ! That left us with just a bare eleven for this match including no recognised goalkeeper and with four players playing their first match for several weeks. However, a goal-less draw with The Winchmore on the same pitch earlier in the season had showed that their style of football was very much suited to how we play ourselves, so there was always the chance that we could still give them a decent match as long as our players could all last 90 minutes. We got off to a bad start though when The Winchmore went 1-0 up after just four minutes, and at that stage it looked as if we would probably go on to lose heavily. However, with no real pressure on us at all (and our players encouraging each other instead of arguing), we played really well after that and were leading 2-1 by the 40th minute after excellent finishes by our teenage attacking midfielders Tom Croake and Nana Obeng. However, we were then dealt a killer blow when The Winchmore equalised to make it 2-2 right on the Half-Time whistle and with them then re-grouping at Half-Time in making various substitutions when we could not, it was always going to be a ‘backs to the wall’ job for us in the Second Half if we wanted to get anything out of the match. The Winchmore were always going to find a winner at some stage, which they did in the 66th minute with us then just defending well to avoid a heavier defeat with no substitutes available to come on. I was extremely concerned before the kick-off that we would be on the end of an embarrassing scoreline and that The Winchmore’s players would all over-do their celebrations in front of the camera…as one or two teams in the Waltham Sunday League did when they clinched titles against us many years ago with total disregard to the fact that I was gutted to see us being humiliated when we were clearly fielding a weakened team. After all, a lot of other teams simply wouldn’t have bothered turning up and would have just given them a walk-over victory instead when they knew it was going to be ‘no contest’, but we are not like that and we will always make every effort to field a side. It appeared that The Winchmore realised that, and to their credit, they ignored the camera and took their own pictures of their celebrations. They may not be everybody’s cup of tea because of the way they play in trying to wind up their opponents, but I know that they respected us because we are a well-disciplined side who do not fall for those tricks. Both of our matches against them this season were excellent games of football.
With that game against The Winchmore being on the 1st April and leaving us with only one League game left to play (because there were only 10 teams in our division instead of 12), we agreed to play another Friendly match on the 8th April to try out some prospective new players for next season, while also entering an Inter-League Cup competition involving teams from the Inner London (Bangladeshi) Sunday League and the Hackney & Leyton Sunday League in which we would start at the Quarter-Final stage. For our Friendly match against Essex Sunday Corinthian League Division One side Valentine United…played at the Old Parkonians ground in Barkingside, we gave a runout to five new players in a squad of 19. Two of those (Ruairi Coles and Sean Derrick) were friends of Aiden Kavanagh’s younger brother Keiran, who also played, while the other two trialists were central defender Richard Harris, who had been brought along by goalkeeper Grant Baker, and experienced utility player Marc McAuley, who was Assistant Manager Roderick Bennett’s step-son. The match ended in a 1-1 draw with Keiran, Ruairi and Sean all looking particularly impressive, but unfortunately it turned out afterwards that they will not be joining us this season as they still have another year left at University. Richard Harris featured again in our two Inter-League Cup matches played thereafter though, so at least we found one new player to boost our squad.
We then played our final League match of the season the following week Away to Hornsey & Highgate at Highgate Woods, but with nothing at stake in what was a lower-mid-table skirmish, both sides turned up badly under-strength with Hornsey & Highgate only able to field 10 men while we ourselves were down to just 19 interested players from the 54 we had registered. With five of those 19 unavailable for this particular match, we once again fielded a drastically-changed side from the previous week with numerous players in the squad of 14 not having played on a regular basis for several months due to other commitments and injuries, which had been the story of our season. The match was full of mis-kicks by our players because of rustiness, while Tyronne Petrie scored an Own Goal to give Hornsey & Highgate the lead and we were then embarrassingly outpaced for their second goal which gave their 10 men a 2-0 victory and ourselves an unwanted record of just two wins in 20 matches. At least we were not turning up with only 10 men or less ourselves…as used to happen quite frequently at the end of the season in our Waltham League days when we were stuck in the lower half of the table with nothing to play for, but the signs were alarming nonetheless when we had been such a good team the season before.
On Sunday 22nd April we played Away to Bangladeshi side Burdett at Hackney Marshes in the Quarter-Final of the Inter-League Challenge Cup and came away with a 4-1 victory which was our best performance since we beat New Barnet 5-0 back in September (2017) ! The reason for that was undoubtedly because the match was not being filmed when Burdett were looking forward to seeing themselves on You Tube, therefore leaving their players deflated…although in truth they were not a good side compared to what we had been playing against in the Barnet Sunday League all season. It also relaxed our own players as a number of them had been under fire from various You Tube trolls commenting about their poor recent performances, and sods law we ended up scoring at least three Goal Of The Season contenders as a result. The reason I was unable to film the match was because it was arranged at very short notice and I had already been booked to film a Cup Final elsewhere, therefore having to leave the match well before the end. There was no real point in just filming the First Half only, and we were treating the game more as a Friendly anyway as we were not expecting to progress to the Final. The positive result changed our way of thinking though, and for the Semi-Final against Hackney & Leyton Sunday League Division One side Boston Celtics on the 20th May we very much wanted to field a strong side and win the game to give us the chance of some unexpected silverware. However, it had been four weeks since we played a game and a large number of our players were already in Summer holiday mode, especially as the current heatwave had already begun. We ended up missing nine players in the end, six of whom would have been in the starting line-up had they been available, so as had so often happened during the season, we therefore had to field a side where numerous players had never met each other before, and indeed the inclusion of Ralph Katikaza and Nathan Allen for their Rovers debuts took our total number of players used for the season to a ridiculous 60 ! Although our fitness levels were good and we competed well, we just didn’t have the teamwork to create enough chances once Boston Celtics had gone into a 2-0 lead and our season ended as a rather predictable ‘damp squib’. As in so many of our matches this season, it was that lack of teamwork that was the main problem, which was undoubtedly caused by not having midweek training sessions and having so many players not showing any loyalty whatsoever and leaving the club…invariably without paying any subs…after just a couple of bad defeats where their mates had laughed at them losing and making mistakes on You Tube. With only four players having played in over 75% of our matches this season, we were never really going to have a chance of winning a trophy this time. Although our players always competed well and didn’t give up in any game we played throughout the course of the season, it was the lack of ideas in the final third and our main striker Ayo Matthews being half-injured for most of the season that cost us dear. Indeed the last time we scored more than two goals in a match on You Tube was way back on the 8th November, which was when skipper Leon McKenzie-McKay broke his ankle and played his last game of the season. That was another player we missed really badly.
On Friday 22nd June, we had our Annual General Meeting where a number of new rules and regulations were agreed for the coming 2018-2019 Season. That included not allowing new players to play unless we had seen them in training (or playing for other teams) first and charging them a £40 Annual Subscription (instead of the £10 ‘signing-on fee’ we charged last season) to stop them leaving after two matches without paying any match fees...as happened frequently last season. Those new players will then not be allowed to play in League or Cup matches until they pay those Annual Subs and they will not be allowed to play in a second Pre-Season Friendly until they have paid for playing in the first one. Yes, we might lose every week from fielding a weakened side but at least the club will not fold up (like many others do) from players not paying their subs. We are more likely to win with a settled squad of the same 14-16 players turning up every week anyway rather than signing up 60 different players, several of whom are quality but then leave after only two matches if they have lost or made individual mistakes on You Tube. We have had a major clear-out of players for the new season, retaining only 21 from last season in our players WhatsApp Group, but well over half of those are unlikely to be available on a regular basis, while two of them (Anees Ikramullah and Nana Obeng) will be leaving us at the end of August anyway to move up North for work in Anees’s case and abroad in Nana’s. We do not have any new players signed up at all yet because those who played in the Friendlies and Inter-League Cup matches towards the end of last season have not turned up to Pre-Season Training, while the large majority of prospective new players who have been texting, tweeting and e-mailing myself and Manager Tony McKay so far this Summer have either been cast-offs from other Sunday clubs where they are not good enough to get a game, players from abroad who think we are a professional club who are going to arrange a visa for them and then pay them to play, or a number of disabled (deaf and/or learning disability) players who appear to have been mischievously advised by somebody on social media that we are a Disability Club, probably because of the horrendous mistakes our players were making on You Tube last season. Of course it could just be the Football Association encouraging ‘inclusivity’, but that is ridiculous if it is. Even some Charter-Standard clubs do not have club officials who have been trained in sign language or how to deal with mental health problems, so how can a ‘one-man-band Pub team’ like ourselves (only running one adult team) be expected to cope with that ? It is hard to tell disabled players that we cannot take them on, but unfortunately we have no choice but to tell them that because it would be cruel to allow them to play at our level.
Meanwhile, due to the new GDPR Data Protection regulations, as Club Secretary, I have had to type out new Barnet Sunday League registration forms for all our retained players this season as new signatures and corrections to old addresses are required for that. In doing so, it has made me aware of the increasingly ridiculous distances our players are travelling from in order to play for us. We only have six of our 21 registered players living in the Borough of Enfield, with only another three living just outside the Borough in Cheshunt, Waltham Cross and Barnet. The other 12 live in places as far away as Whyteleafe (in Surrey !), Watford, Stevenage, Basildon, Romford, South Ockendon, Ilford, Bromley-by-Bow, East Ham, Ware & Potters Bar, and because of that, they have no hope of being able to attend midweek training sessions or getting to every match on time. That is going to have to change, but up until now, we have been unable to find a whole new group of players (preferably in the 18-23 age group bracket) who live in and around the London Borough of Enfield and willing to join us en bloc. It’s as if nobody of that age in Enfield…and particularly in Edmonton and the poorer/deprived Eastern side of Enfield plays football any more unless they are Turkish and playing in the local Turkish Community Football Federation…a League which is booming at the moment. Even if England had won the World Cup, that still probably wouldn’t have changed anything in the Borough for the players we would normally expect to join us. They just join gangs or sit in front of their computers smoking weed and playing violent games all night instead. In the richer western side of Enfield, cricket and rugby seem to be more popular sports. Those who like to play football and can afford to pay to play have ‘fled’ to live out in ‘nicer’ areas…such as where the majority of our players now live. At our club AGM, one of our players, Anees Ikramullah, suggested that we join his Centric Sports Management roster and share their training facilities in Barking, while also applying to become a Charter-Standard club so that those facilities can be hired at a cheaper rate. Although Tony McKay agreed with that at the time, I have since turned it down because it will end up with all our players being obtained from the South-West Essex area and it will end up with us having to leave the Edmonton Sports & Social Club, leaving the Barnet Sunday League and playing in an Essex-based Sunday League under the C.S.M. name. There will be no other choice. Edmonton Rovers have been going for 42 years now, and I would rather we hang on under our own name and continue to attempt to recruit players from the Borough of Enfield…somehow…and stay at the Edmonton Sports & Social Club.
As for the Barnet Sunday League that we will be spending our third successive season in, we do not yet know the constitution for the coming season and what division we are in, but we should hopefully find out by early August as there is a League Management Committee Meeting scheduled for the 25th July. Although I am still doing the League Website and running the League’s Twitter account, I am no longer on the Committee myself for reasons which I cannot go into here, so I don’t know exactly what is going on behind the scenes. However, I understand that there may be as many as 15 new clubs joining the League, so clearly things are heading in the right direction...even if it means us getting relegated a division from finishing in the bottom half of the Division One table last season ! As was quite rightly pointed out at the recent League AGM, these new clubs have all joined primarily because of the League’s word-of-mouth reputation in ‘running a tight ship’ when it comes to discipline. Hopefully our properly-filmed match highlights on You Tube have also given that impression to prospective new clubs though, as we very rarely have any trouble in our matches. Of course all players without question want to be professionally filmed playing football given half the chance, and they are also attracted by seeing each team’s line-up and goalscorers displayed either on You Tube or on the League website via Full-Time. Remember that the large majority of under-30’s nowadays have grown up playing FIFA/Championship Manager computer games where they study things like that before picking their teams. Believe it or not, most teams we play actually study our Edmonton Rovers highlights to see what our individual players strengths and weaknesses are and who exactly played and scored in previous matches…and we do the same analysis on our opponents. It is incredible how advanced Sunday League football is getting nowadays !
Finally, a new thing I am considering for our You Tube highlights is finding sponsorship for a trainee professional commentator to be used on all of our matches this season. That is done by sending the commentator the edited highlights via Dropbox, then they record the commentary in a studio as an MP3 file which is in-sync with those highlights before sending it back to me for the final production and upload. If the commentator is good and goes on to become the next John Motson, that will be great publicity for us. One thing I will be making sure of though is that the commentary is done properly and with a lot of good factual information about the two competing teams. Just like you see on Sky/BT Sport/Match Of The Day. Quite recently I worked as a freelance cameraman for the CONIFA World Cup where the Final was ruined by bookie Paddy Power constantly taking the piss as a co-commentator alongside some other bloke who I think may have been from You Tubers Hashtag United. It was very much in the style of Soccer AM and the efforts of our Sunday League You Tube rivals Palmers (Smiv), SE Dons, Eltham SF and Mile End (Baiteze Squad) where their commentaries are just for a laugh and specifically for the younger generation, getting huge audiences as a result. Although we will not be going down that route ourselves…much to the disappointment of some of our players no doubt ?...mark my words. In 5 years time, that style of piss-taking quirky commentary will be the norm on mainstream TV, and the likes of Clive Tyldesley, Guy Mowbray and Jonathan Pearce will be confined to history !