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CHAIRMAN’S BLOG - Monday 30th May 2022

As we moved into March for what would normally be ‘the business end of the season’, we found ourselves in a situation where because of the amazingly good weather all season so far, we were left with only one fixture to play (Away to North West Wolves in our final Division 6 match), but for some reason the League had not scheduled that game until the end of the month, despite both teams being without a game for every other Sunday in March.

We therefore agreed to enter a Supplementary Cup being organised by the League in honour of the late League Secretary Richard Martin, with the format of that competition giving us four initial group matches to play either at Home or Away against two teams from our own division and others from Divisions Three & Four. However, the competition took a number of weeks for the League to get organised, so with it not starting until the 3rd April, it meant we had three weeks of doing nothing unless we could arrange some Friendly matches for the 6th, 13th & 20th March. However, our first attempt to play a Friendly (on the 6th March) was scuppered by a waterlogged pitch, then the following Sunday we were unable to arrange a match because the League had initially promised us that the Richard Martin Memorial Cup would start on that date…only it didn’t, so we were left frustrated again. We did manage to arrange another Friendly match against Whitewebbs Vets on the 20th March though, this time at their own Holtwhites Sports & Social Club ground. Although we only had 12 players available, this was a good chance to see how much we had improved after losing 6-3 to the Vets in Pre-Season, but this time the Vets were fielding a much weaker side themselves including our own Stuart Dorward and another one of our ‘Greats Of The Past’ in Steve Cokell, so the eventual 5-3 win for us didn’t really tell us much with most of the game being a bit of a ‘muckabout’ as various players tried to nutmeg Stuart and have a competition between themselves to see who could produce the most outrageous piece of skill.

The following Sunday was very different though as we turned up with a full squad of 16 as we finally met North West Wolves at Enfield Playing Fields for our one remaining League game. Although we had already finished bottom of the table and were playing on a pitch which saw us lose 10-1 the last time we ran out on it (in one of the worst performances in the club’s history against FC Lokomotiv Thunder in a Division One match back in April 2019), we were determined to show just how much we had improved since losing 10-2 at Home to the same opponents in our first match of the season. However, we allowed the League’s top scorer Adam Karim to run onto a through ball to put Wolves 1-0 up from the first clear-cut chance of the match, and although goals from Leon McKenzie-McKay and Josh Wakeford saw us hit back by going into a 2-1 lead after only 9 minutes, we didn’t play well defensively and we found ourselves 5-2 down with only 9 minutes remaining and in danger of conceding 10 again against a fired-up side who were trying to avoid finishing second-from bottom/being humiliated by a team of 16 & 17-year-olds on You Tube. With Wolves only having one substitute though, and ourselves being able to bring on Cockfosters Eastern Junior Alliance U-18’s Captain Charlie Savage for his debut plus three good attacking options in Tairique Harrison, Gianni Dipo and Harvey Antoniou, the game turned around completely as we staged an incredible comeback to score four goals with no reply and win the game 6-5 thanks to an added-on-time penalty from Leon McKenzie-McKay. This turned out to be easily our most memorable match of the season, with the You Tube viewing stats suggesting our players and supporters have been watching the highlights over and over again ever since !  

We then played the first of our four Richard Martin Memorial Cup Group matches on Sunday 3rd April as we faced North Athletico for the third time this season. With both teams winning the two Division Six matches against each other one game each by just a one-goal margin, it promised to be another close game, but Tobi Charles failed a fitness test in the warm-up and we then lost Leon McKenzie-McKay after just 13 minutes when he pulled a thigh muscle in chasing after a through ball to get a shot in, subsequently leaving him sidelined for the rest of the season. With Natan Pawlaczyk and Lenny Charles also having to be replaced due to lesser injuries during the course of the match, we were a bit too depleted to get a result this time as we slumped to a 3-0 defeat without really creating much of a clear-cut chance ourselves. North Athletico then went on to win the group and ultimately reach the Final, where (according to Full-Time), they lost 6-1 to newly-crowned Division Two Champions North London Athletic as they were only able to field seven players after presumably finally being told by the League that only registered players could play in their matches. Indeed it had actually come to light that they had been playing numerous ringers all season (including their two victories against us) after AFC Muswell Hill Seconds, like us previously, noticed that most of the players they had tagged as their goalscorers in their ‘match reports’ on Instagram were not actually registered ! Hopefully they can find a Club Secretary next season who knows what they are doing then, as they are a young team like us who play good football and our 6-5 defeat to them back in January was an excellent game.

Sunday 10th April saw us play Shentree Athletic in the second of our four group matches in the Richard Martin Memorial Cup, where having lost our first match 3-0 the week before, we needed a win to have any chance of topping the group and reaching the Semi-Finals. For this one we had to make do without Manager Tony McKay who was at home through illness, while regulars Leon McKenzie-McKay, Roshan Shah and goalkeeper Tyler Meader were all unavailable, so that wasn’t an ideal situation against a mid-table Division Three side. However, we once again staged a late comeback after bringing on three good substitutes, which this time included our Season 2016-2017 Division Two title-winning Player Of The Year Aiden Kavanagh, who had been signed up to replace the injured Leon for our remaining three matches. On this occasion we were losing 4-2 with eleven minutes remaining, but Aiden’s header from a Lenny Charles corner in the 79th minute made it 4-3 and then with just a minute remaining, Lenny received a short corner from Myreon Keane near the far touchline to whip a deliberate shot into the far top corner to earn us our first draw of the season. In fact we could even have won the game in added-on time, but Shentree goalkeeper Alex Woodrow made his fifth excellent save of the match to keep out Myreon’s close-range effort.

After such a good performance against a team three divisions higher, we would normally be fielding the same team or better for the following week’s match, but unfortunately it was Easter Sunday…and in Youth football (which our players and their parents are used to), that means no matches are arranged so that club tours or traditional family trips to see friends & relatives can take place. However, in adults Sunday football, fixtures have always been arranged for Easter Sunday and this was no different, so it ended up with ourselves only being able to field a squad of 12 against a Colney Hatch Athletic side who turned up with a full-strength side but are arguably the worst team we have played in Division Six this season and certainly beatable if we had been doing likewise. It was very frustrating, as although we now had no chance of reaching the Semi-Finals of this competition, we did have a chance of finishing second in the group ahead of two teams from higher divisions if we won this match, so that would have given us a big boost going into next season. With Colney Hatch Athletic having lost their previous 8 matches in all competitions including a 10-0 defeat in their last one, we were therefore hopeful of a victory even though we had eight players missing who would have been in the squad of 16 had they been available and another one in Tairique Harrison who was unable to get to the match until half-way through the Second Half. However, we simply had too many players on the pitch at the same time who had not been playing 90 minutes every week and the lack of sharpness and teamwork saw us slump to a 3-0 defeat where our only shot on target in the match (from Jack Vanvynck) was comfortably saved, while Josh Wakeford twice nearly caused multi-vehicle pile-ups on the A10 in quick succession by ballooning shots out of the ground when he should have hit the target. Colney Hatch then wasted numerous chances in the last 10 minutes to increase the score as our players understandably tired badly, but at least we managed to field a team on Easter Day when others in the League’s eight divisions didn’t, incurring big fines in the process, so that was at least one positive for us.

Our fourth and final Richard Martin Memorial Cup Group fixture (and our final match of the season) on Sunday 24th April saw us take on an FC Cricklewood side who were pushing for promotion near the top of Division Four and who were another one of these teams who had never played us before and were subsequently really looking forward to the game so that they could be professionally filmed ‘scoring a few goals’ in ‘an easy win against a team of 16 & 17-year-olds who were bottom of the bottom division’. Thankfully we had most of our regular players back for this one, although Manager Tony McKay was unavailable for the third match in a row, this time due to work commitments, while Tyler Meader’s continued absence meant we had fielded a different goalkeeper in each of these Group matches with Harvey Antoniou volunteering this time. Caretaker-Manager Stuart Dorward did have plenty of help and support on the touchline though, and buoyed by that we played very much like we did against North West Wolves and Shentree Athletic by coming back from a two-goal deficit to get something out of the game. On this occasion it was an 83rd minute equaliser from Tairique Harrison that earned us a 3-3 draw and it was one of many excellent goals we had scored this season with Harry Dorward drilling a pinpoint low diagonal cross from the far touchline straight in to Tai’s feet just inside the area for a quality first touch and flicked outside-of-the-foot finish that was identical to the sort of goals Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mo Salah combine for at the highest level…only (in the eyes of most in the professional game no doubt) this was ‘just Sunday League and easy to do that at this level’ against ‘poor defending’ ! It was another memorable performance by our young team against higher-rated opponents though, and it was frustrating for us that our season had come to an end.

We have since turned down numerous requests from various teams to play us in end-of-season Friendlies as a large number of our players are still at school and studying for exams, so the plan now is to have our AGM & Presentation Evening on the 1st July as our next club function and then start our Pre-Season Training as soon as those exams are out of the way. As for Pre-Season Friendlies, not surprisingly we are getting manically pestered for those by teams we played against this season because they want to be professionally filmed and have highlights of the match free of charge on You Tube again…and of course they also think they can beat us again. But playing Friendlies costs a lot of money, so if we start playing them in the first week of July and then play two Friendlies a week (including midweek games) right up until the end of August, then we are either going to need a massive sponsorship from somebody or our opponents will have to pay the whole of the pitch and Referee costs themselves, which probably then defeats the object for them as they are then paying to make sure they play us instead of somebody else and are therefore in effect actually paying for the filming, editing & production. I have never liked playing teams from our division in Pre-Season Friendlies anyway as (depending on Cup draws) it could end up with us playing that same team six or seven times within the space of a year…and how ‘boring’ for our players is that ? I would much prefer us to play teams from other Leagues in Pre-Season and against a mixture of different standards.

Without giving too much away for my ‘speech’ at our forthcoming club AGM/Presentation Evening, looking back on the season I have been really pleased with how everything has turned out and I am so glad that we made the decision to withdraw our previous team from Division One and start afresh with a new group of players. I knew we were likely to finish bottom of the table because we had started this project a year or two earlier than originally planned. We couldn’t realistically expect a whole team of 16 & 17-year olds to win matches against much bigger and stronger players, although having said that, we were expecting the standard of our opponents in Division Six to be much lower than it actually was, so to win three matches in that division and improve so rapidly in our matches after Christmas was an amazing achievement…and the reason for that in my opinion was because our players are all so dedicated and want to play more-or-less every Sunday. We have not had that for the past 5 or 6 seasons. Hopefully our players will all stay with us for next season, Leon will return from injury and we can maybe add a couple more youngsters to the squad which can see us challenge for promotion or at least finish in the top half of the table.

Meanwhile, in preparation for the Barnet Sunday League’s AGM/Presentation evening on Monday 6th June, the League Secretary contacted all Club Secretaries asking for their feedback on how the season had been for them in terms of how the League was being run. Personally I love it that the Barnet Sunday League has eight divisions and is now easily the strongest Sunday League in North London. It mirrors what the now-defunct Waltham Sunday League was like for us when we were challenging for the Premier Division title in that League back in the early-2000’s and that is the sort of level we would like to reach again in a few years time when our players are in their early/mid-20’s. Playing in a two-division League with only seven or eight teams in a division is soul-destroying in my opinion, and it is why players then choose to work on a Sunday instead and teams end up folding.

Another good thing about the Barnet Sunday League is that it is very multi-racial and it also publicises anti-discrimination a lot. The sportsmanship from all the teams we have played this season has been excellent, both during the matches and on social media afterwards. It is great that so many of our opponents are encouraging our young players to stick at it.

There are also a lot of new young Referees now joining the League, some of whom are only a year or two older than our players. This is good to see, and we as a club will always encourage them just the same as we do our players. Hopefully other teams in the League are realising that new young Referees need to be given time to learn too.  

In previous Chairman’s Blogs going back to 2010, I have often been critical of certain procedures (or the lack of them) in Leagues we were playing in at the time, but the Barnet Sunday League is now run by younger people who know how utilise the power of social media and to publicise the League, especially with it’s You Tube channel covering other matches in addition to the ones I film for our particular club. Using modern technology such as WhatsApp & Full-Time and scrapping unnecessary paperwork is something I was advocating as soon as we joined the League in 2016 and it’s great to see that has now come to fruition.

The only thing the League (and indeed all Sunday Leagues) are struggling to do anything about is teams giving up from March onwards and deliberately not turning up to matches if they are not in contention for promotion and are out of all the Cup competitions they have entered. This wasn’t the case for us of course because our expectations for the whole season were nothing more than being able to give our opponents a decent match without being thrashed, but for a heck of a lot of other teams, only having a bare eleven or less available and knowing they were going to lose heavily against a top side was an absolute no-no, especially with social media now being so prominent in publicising big (and embarrassing) wins for their opponents. So once again this season, numerous Barnet Sunday League teams throughout all eight divisions just cried off time and again during March & April and conceded the match, therefore meaning their opponents got the three points but no goals, which in some cases then affected their final position in the League Tables. In fact every year somebody wins a League title on the last day of the season in an adults Sunday League somewhere as a result of an opposing team not turning up, meaning their opponents are unable to boost their goal difference and end up finishing in second place. The (very hefty) fines that are then imposed for these non-fulfilments are no deterrent as more often than not the guilty club folds up without paying those fines and the players who have embargo fees slapped on them then get round that by registering for a new team the following season with a slightly altered name which easily tricks the FA’s Club Portal registration system into thinking they have never played FA-affiliated football before. The Leagues themselves cannot easily spot this, especially when they are a big League with hundreds of players playing in it. In some cases a newly-formed team for the new season are actually 80% of the guilty club’s embargo-fee-slapped players playing as a newly-created player with somebody else being appointed as the new team’s Club Secretary in an effort to hide the fact that it is the same club registering as a new club under a different name. There appears to be no easy answer to this and I’m sure it will continue to happen each season. Indeed if we had not pulled out of the League for the remainder of the 2020-2021 Season post-Covid lockdown, we would have failed to field a side ourselves on a number of occasions due to player apathy for sure. However, with our current squad, I am confident that we will not find ourselves in that predicament again.


CHAIRMAN’S BLOG - Tuesday 8th March 2022

On Sunday 9th January in our first match back after a three-week break for Xmas, New Year and Covid issues, we travelled to a notoriously muddy Oakhill Park in Barnet for the second time this season to take on mid-table Division Four side Arnos Rangers in the Second Round of the League’s Junior Challenge Cup, which is a competition for all teams who were knocked out in the first three rounds of the Roger Jones Senior Challenge Cup. We of course only reached the Second Round after receiving a Bye in the First Round, but we knew it was a competition that we were highly unlikely to progress very far in with teams from as high as Division One included in it. For this one we were missing three players (including goalkeeper Tyler Meader) who had arranged to do other things, plus another (in Lexton Harrison) who was suspended and another who failed to turn up. We were also without Assistant Manager/Coach Simon Jackson…who has not re-appeared since, and with two bad defeats for us just before the Christmas break, it wasn’t easy for our players to get motivated on a bog of a pitch which was always going to favour our bigger and stronger opponents. With Natan Pawlaczyk’s father Pawel making his debut for us by volunteering to go in goal but not being a ‘proper keeper’, we found ourselves 4-0 down at Half-Time and then 5-0 down just 85 seconds into the Second Half, but the fit-again Leon McKenzie-McKay had come on at the break after a long injury absence to give us some much-needed outfield experience and after a good spell of pressure we managed to pull a goal back after 78 minutes when defender Chris Jordanou scored his first goal for the club after a goalmouth scramble. Amazingly we then pulled another goal back just 25 seconds after the re-start from that first goal as Max Mir made it 5-2 in scoring his first goal for us as well, but with Gianni Dipo & Josh Wakeford missing this match and goalscoring full-back Lenny Charles having to go off injured, we never really had enough firepower to score five again like we did in our last match before Christmas, although it was bizarre that this match mirrored exactly what happened in our 5-2 defeat to New Barnet at the same venue back in October in terms of when the goals were scored.

Although our next League match on the 16th January was a voluntary afternoon kick-off due to a shortage of both pitches and Referees to cover all the 10.30 am matches, we actually had a full-strength squad of 16 turn up as we faced mid-table North Athletico at Enfield Playing Fields, those 16 players now being the only ones remaining for our squad for this season apart from veteran Player-Coach Stuart Dorward, who was therefore not needed for this match, which allowed him to have a run-out for his Vets team (Whitewebbs) instead. This of course wasn’t a problem for us as all our players this season are generally available for every match, unlike in previous seasons where we would need a squad of 30-40 players because so many of them had work & family commitments and could only play a couple of games a month. Our opponents North Athletico were also quite a young side, but their admin and organisation had been a mess all season, which is typical of a number of adults Sunday League teams who have a number of very good players, but nobody wants to be the Club Secretary. That saw us having to stand around waiting for well over an hour for them to turn up and tell us which pitch we were on, then the game finally kicked off at 1.20 pm instead of the 12.30 pm that we had turned up for, with no goalnets being used and yellow bibs having to be borrowed from a team on an adjoining pitch for them to wear for the whole of the First Half as their Player-Manager and two other players failed to turn up (with those nets and a kit) until 10 minutes after the kick-off. Indeed the Referee had already decided to reduce the match to an 80-minute game, presumably because he was in a rush to go somewhere afterwards, although that probably did us a favour as our players were more used to playing 80 minutes anyway…at Under-16’s level last season ! Although North Athletico played the first 10 minutes with only 9 men and they were still disorganised for the rest of the half from having to wear bibs, the First Half finished goal-less because our players were too frozen and stiff from standing around waiting in the cold for nearly two hours, while neither side seemed to want to shoot at goal as it just didn’t look right with no nets being used ! With that all being sorted out at Half-Time though, the Second Half was always going to resemble a proper game of football in comparison to the First, and indeed it turned out to be arguably the most entertaining 45 minutes of our season so far for our loyal band of supporters who had still attended despite the constant changing of kick-off time. However, it was North Athletico who took the lead after 52 minutes when their skilful left winger fired a fierce angled shot past Tyler Meader, but we hit back just a couple of minutes later when Tairique Harrison brushed away our normal free-kick taker Lenny Charles to take one himself after being brought down 30 yards from goal, but thankfully he curled the ball perfectly over the wall to equalise with an effort which went in off the far post. The rest of the match was then real end-to-end stuff with Tyler having to make some good saves but with our attacking players also having plenty of chances, especially during a five-minute period that ended with North Athletico’s Player-Manager being sent off for dissent, leaving his side down to 10 men with just over 20 minutes to go. That obviously helped us to notch what turned out to be the winner in the 75th minute when Gianni Dipo finished off an excellent move with a well-struck finish low into the bottom corner, but North Athletico’s 10 men still managed to create chances towards the end. In contrast to some of our earlier matches this season though, we defended really well as a team by getting more men behind the ball while Tyler had one of his better games in goal, so we were therefore able to see out the game and grab only our second League win of the season, this being against a team who had only lost once in their previous seven League & Cup matches, although whether all their players were actually registered or not still remains to be seen when most of them were calling each other ‘Bro’.

As often happens at Sunday League level, the following week saw us having to play the same opponents again in the reverse League match due to there only being 10 teams in a division ‘as standard’ and other teams having Cup matches to play. This time, with the game being played on our Home pitch at the Edmonton Sports & Social Club, we were much better prepared with the best changing rooms in the League at our disposal to stay in until North Athletico arrived, and although they were still late as far as not having a proper warm-up was concerned, at least the game was only delayed by five minutes this time.

After our rare win the week before, we were of course hoping to field the same squad of 16 again, but unfortunately goalkeeper Tyler Meader had gone down with a stomach bug, so that saw one of our veterans Stuart Dorward volunteer to go in goal so that both of our normal goalkeeping stand-ins Josh Wakeford and Jack Vanvynck could have a run-out as outfield players. Also included for a rare start was Harvey Antoniou in a centre-forward position as Manager Tony McKay decided to rotate things to keep everybody on their toes, but with Stuart letting in the first shot North Athletico managed on target in the 15th minute to gift them the lead, that could have seen heads go down and early substitutions having to be made to prevent further damage. Instead though, we played some of our best attacking football so far this season with Gianni Dipo making it 1-1 just three minutes later with a fierce drive into the roof of the net after good strong play by Harvey to set him up, and although North Athletico scored a good goal in the 31st minute to regain the lead with a shot that Stuart could do little about, we deservedly made it 2-2 before the break when Harvey pounced on a mistake at the back to score his first goal for the club with an easy finish. We then started the Second Half well by going into the lead for the first time in the match when an excellent length-of-the-pitch move in the 56th minute ended up with a Josh Wakeford tap-in from the rebound after a Tobi Charles volley had been blocked by a defender, but then stand-in keeper Dorward let in another long-range shot at his near post just 24 seconds after the re-start to leave us all square again at 3-3. That saw Manager Tony McKay bring his son Leon on to steady the ship with Josh Wakeford taking over in goal, but Josh was involved in a nightmare mix-up with central defenders Chris Jordanou and Natan Pawlaczyk in the 76th minute that resulted in North Athletico going into a 4-3 lead as they all left it to each other to deal with. However, just 20 seconds after the re-start from that goal, Tairique Harrison made it 4-4 after some equally bad defending by our opponents, and the scoring wasn’t finished there as Athletico were awarded a dubious penalty in the 81st minute which allowed them to regain the lead. We then gave away another silly goal after 88 minutes though as Chris Jordanou under-hit a free-kick which was then cleared straight downfield for ‘Opeyemi Stephen’ (according to what North Athletico listed on Full-Time) to easily complete his hat-trick in making the score 4-6. Although Leon McKenzie-McKay pulled a goal back in the 89th minute to make it 5-6, we ran out of time after that to get anything out of the match and we were punished severely with Athletico scoring six goals from just eight shots on target. Obviously not having a proper goalkeeper available had a lot to do with that, but it was also clear that North Athletico were playing a number of ringers in this match as their Instagram match report was very quickly re-edited after whoever wrote it mistakenly tagged their goalscorers’ real identities, none of whom were listed as registered players for them on Full-Time. With us knowing we are not going to be in contention to win anything this season, it is not worth the hassle going through all the necessary admin needed to make an official protest on this occasion, but we will certainly be gathering evidence and doing so next season if they (or any other team we play) do not ensure all their players are registered when we are aiming to win the majority of our matches and maybe challenge for the title.

With us having had no waterlogged pitch postponements whatsoever so far this season and therefore no backlog of fixtures, we were subsequently without a League game for the 30th January, so we agreed to travel to Muswell Hill Playing Fields to take on an AFC Muswell Hill squad consisting of their First Team (who were also without a game) plus four new players who had not yet had a chance to play for either of their two teams. We ourselves also intended trying out some new players who may be interested in joining us next season, but unfortunately they already had a match for their current Youth teams, while we were also without regulars Harry Dorward & Lenny Charles. With Tairique Harrison & Gianni Dipo both turning up after the kick-off, that scuppered our plans to name both Chris Jordanou & Dapo Alaoye as substitutes to see how we would fare without them after they had been the only players so far this season who had played a full 90 minutes in every match, and that late disruption may well have played a part in AFC Muswell Hill taking the lead after just 4 minutes when forward Andy Rose, who had played in goal for their First Team when they beat us 4-2 in the League Senior Challenge Cup back in October, tapped in a loose ball at the far post. Both sides then had good chances before Harvey Antoniou managed to equalise in the 27th minute with a close-range half-volley during a scramble from a corner, but clear-cut chances were few and far between for the rest of the half as the badly churned-up bobbly pitch and long grass did us no favours at all as we were unable to pass the ball quickly enough or accurately enough because of it, and that was always going to give our opponents an advantage. We were unlucky to find ourselves going 2-1 down in the 68th minute though when newly-qualified Referee Emmanuel Adeniyi, who was in charge for his first-ever match, awarded AFC Muswell Hill a penalty when the video subsequently showed that forward Andy Rose had run into Myreon Keane’s planted leg and if anything it should have been a free-kick to us ! In fairness, the Referee actually had a good game apart from that, but AFC Muswell Hill easily scored from the spot-kick and we then had a poor spell as our players found it hard to get motivated thereafter. That saw our opponents stretch their lead in the 78th minute with a tap-in on the goal-line after keeper Tyler Meader had been outjumped and out-muscled from a corner, but we did manage to grab a consolation goal in the 88th minute when Dapo Alaoye made it 3-2 with a well-placed header. We probably deserved a draw on the balance of play, but the main point of the exercise was to keep playing a match every week and gaining more experience as we go along, so we were not too disheartened.

On Sunday 6th February we had to play another afternoon match, this time Away to Colney Hatch Athletic with a 1.30 pm Kick-Off, but with this game having to be switched from our opponents 3G pitch at Highlands School to a grass pitch at Enfield Playing Fields at short notice due to a double-booking, that meant skipper Natan Pawlaczyk was only able to play for the First Half due to pre-arranged family commitments, while the afternoon kick-off had already put paid to three other players for that reason. However, we were still able to name a stronger squad than the one we fielded against the same opponents back in December in our Home match against them when we threw away a 5-1 lead and went on to lose 7-5 amidst all sorts of rollockings from certain Management Committee members/Coaches at the time. We therefore decided to go into this match a bit more relaxed in the knowledge that we had looked a lot stronger defensively in recent matches while Colney Hatch Athletic had lost four in a row and did not appear to have as much of a settled side as us. Despite having to kick into a near gale-force wind in the First Half then, we still managed to create chances with Gianni Dipo and Harvey Antoniou both using their physical strength to hold the ball up and outmuscle defenders, and although we did have a couple of lucky escapes at the other end when Colney Hatch players shot wide when it was easier to score, Josh Wakeford was able to give us a 1-0 Half-Time lead with a looping header two minutes into added-on-time. With the wind (and occasional low sun) behind us in the Second Half it looked as if we would surely go on to notch just our third League win of the season, but with ‘Natty’ missing we were always going to be less solid at the back and it resulted in another even half of football with chances at both ends. Colney Hatch had to wait until the 79th minute for their rather inevitable equaliser though, but it was a really poor goal to concede as a mis-hit shot trickled into the far corner with keeper Tyler Meader appearing to think the ball was going wide. However, we really should have regained the lead in the 86th minute when a brilliant fast move on the break saw Josh Wakeford tackle himself almost on the goal-line from our man-of-the match Gianni Dipo’s perfect low cross and we were then made to pay for that when Colney Hatch scored the winning goal instead in the second minute of added-on-time as their midfield playmaker Abdul Kozbar (who was clearly the best player on the pitch) scored his second with a curling shot that may well have caught on a gust of wind when it was initially going wide, although our opponents footage from the other side of the pitch showed that Tyler was very much unsighted by players in front of him. It was a painful way to lose a match, but once again, for the fourth week in a row there was only one goal in it as regards the final scoreline, so giving every team a close game was clear progress for us compared to how we were at the start of the season.

The following Sunday saw us return to our old Home ground at Hazelwood Sports Ground in Palmers Green that we used for 30 years until moving to the Edmonton Sports & Social Club in 2015, so that brought back great memories for Leon McKenzie-McKay and Stuart Dorward, our only survivors from those days, even though we were on a different pitch to the one we used to play on. For our new young players though, the aim was to produce a much better performance than we managed against our opponents for this game, Armenian Youth Association, back in November when we ended up suffering a 7-0 defeat, but with goalkeeper Tyler Meader working and in-form players Gianni Dipo & Tobi Charles both dropping out at short notice, that looked a tough ask with A.Y.A. having only lost twice in their last 13 matches, with one of those defeats a penalty shoot-out in a Cup match and the other being a narrow 4-2 loss to Highgate Albion’s 4ths, who are clearly the best team in the division.

Although A.Y.A. were missing three regulars themselves, they were still fielding a stronger side than in some of their other recent matches, and it looked ominous for us when they took the lead after 14 minutes after stand-in keeper Jack Vanvynck had been rounded after being beaten to a through ball. However, we suddenly started getting our passing going as the half wore on and we scored an excellent equaliser after 32 minutes when Chris Jordanou’s long ball bounced perfectly for Josh Wakeford to lob the A.Y.A. keeper, catching him way off his line. However, A.Y.A. soon regained the lead just five minutes later from a free-kick where Stuart Dorward was out-jumped in the air by his fellow veteran Andy Michael, but apart from the goals, both sides found it hard to create chances because of the near gale-force wind and the score remained at 2-1 going into Half-Time. The Second Half saw more chances at both ends as the match went on though as we matched our in-form opponents in terms of possession, and we were desperately unlucky not to score a deserved equaliser three minutes from time when Dapo Alaoye’s superbly-struck shot rebounded off the post with the A.Y.A. keeper well beaten. We only managed one shot on target all game though…Josh Wakeford’s First Half goal…so improving our finishing needs to be the next step for us as we have certainly been more organised defensively as the season has gone on.

Sunday 20th February saw us suffer our first weather-related postponement of the season when our Away game against North West Wolves at Clowes Sports Ground was called off on the Friday by Enfield Council (along with all other Enfield Council pitches) due to Storm Eunice…which was ‘raging’ at the time and obviously too dangerous to play in then, but of course by Sunday morning the pitches were all perfectly playable because the wind had dried them out and there were no fallen trees across any of the pitches, although the health & safety aspect of that potentially still happening was obviously the reason why Enfield (and other local Councils) made their decisions. Some teams ignored the official cancellations of course and still went and played on the pitches ‘illegally’ anyway, but that is something we would never do as it could end up with the club being sued if anybody got injured in a game where the F.A.’s insurance policy that we pay for would not provide the cover.

We did manage to play on Sunday 27th February though in what was our penultimate League game of the season at Home to Division 6 leaders AFC Muswell Hill 2nds, who had already clinched promotion but needed a victory to have any chance of winning the title with their nearest challengers Highgate Albion 4ths having plenty of games in hand. We ourselves needed to win to have any chance of avoiding finishing bottom of the table, so we knew this would probably be our toughest game of the season so far, but thankfully we were able to name a strong squad with only one regular in Leon McKenzie-McKay unavailable. However, AFC Muswell Hill included their 32-year-old ex-Leyton Orient, Woking & Welling United forward Loick Pires this time after he had missed their 3-0 win against us earlier in the season, so we therefore made sure our young players were given instructions to crowd him out and to not let him have any time on the ball. Indeed they did that really well for pretty much the whole match but he still somehow managed to score a First Half hat-trick from only three shots at goal to give his side a 3-0 Half-Time lead ! Only one of those three goals was where Pires was too big, strong & powerful for our young defenders though, as the first one was a hopeful long-range lob that Tyler Meader misjudged and allowed it to dip in under his crossbar, while the third was from the penalty spot and completely unstoppable…as you would expect from a player of that calibre playing in the bottom division against a whole team of 16 & 17-year-olds. All we could do in the Second Half was to try and keep the score down and maybe nick a goal on the break, but Muswell Hill’s defenders and defensive midfielders were far too experienced for us and we conceded three more goals at regular intervals to finish with a 6-0 defeat that, due to other results elsewhere, confirmed that we had finished bottom of the table with one game still remaining. Apart from their goals though, Muswell Hill didn’t really have too many other clear-cut chances as we actually defended well in general, but we created very little ourselves and we were taught a lesson against who we thought were a very good side, although they then went and lost 2-1 to North Athletico in their next match despite fielding a full-strength side, thereby proving just how strong the bottom division has been this season.

With us having to wait until the 27th March before we play our one remaining (and previously-postponed) League match Away to North West Wolves, we now have numerous weeks without a game if we want to carry on playing into early May, which is when our season would normally end if we progress in Cup competitions and have a number of weather-related postponements, so we will therefore now be looking to play a number of Friendly matches unless the League are able to arrange a Supplementary Cup competition on a League basis for teams like ourselves who have finished their seasons early.
One of those Friendlies planned (for Sunday 10th April at the Edmonton Sports & Social Club) is an ‘Old Boys Match’ where our ex-players from the 80’s, 90’s & 00’s take on our Current Team and we then have a good get-together in the clubhouse afterwards. Hopefully the weather will not interfere, as the last time we had an Old Boys match was way back in 2001 due to us having so many League games postponed season after season that then had to be re-arranged during April & May.    

As the season has progressed, the squad of 19 that we started with has now gone down to 16 players who all make themselves available for more-or-less every match. That includes just the one ‘veteran’ in Leon McKenzie-McKay, with the currently-injured Morgan Page-Mullane being a 17th player to choose from if he is able to return for any competitive matches that we may have remaining this season. Those three absences that we had for our match Away to the Armenian Youth Association from that now ‘permanent’ squad of 16 actually produced a bit of a heated debate in our club WhatsApp Group when I described them as ‘key’ players that we had missing, as one or two of our players relatives took that comment to mean that I was stating that some of the remaining thirteen 16 & 17-year-olds that we had available for that match were ‘not as good’ as those three missing players. However, unlike in Youth football where everybody in a large squad of over more than 16 players needs to be given a game irrespective of ability, therefore meaning the phrase ‘key players’ is not allowed to be used, in competitive adults football the phrase ‘key players’ is always used to describe those who are regularly in the squad of 16 for every match. That is totally different to describing them as ‘first-choice’ players, which is something we are definitely trying to avoid doing, even though it might be obvious to some who the first two or three names are on Manager Tony McKay’s starting line-up teamsheet for our remaining competitive matches this season. So in our case at the moment, the only players who are NOT ‘key players’ for us are the Dads & Vets who are registered on a pay-as-you-play basis to help us out when we are short. All of our 16 & 17-year-olds are now key players because we only have 16 of them and they are always in the squad for our competitive matches when they are available.

Indeed all of our players have now played enough matches this season to show us what they can do at adults level, so with our results having improved in terms of giving most teams a very close game, substitutions in our matches since Christmas have invariably been made for tactical & fitness reasons rather than to give players a fair amount of game time, and that is certainly the way it will be in ALL of our competitive matches next season. This is the transition from youth football to adults football that our players and their relatives will just have to get used to from now on.

Another thing to bear in mind is that substitutions at all levels of the adults game almost always involve attacking players (including attacking full-backs or wing-backs) being taken off because they are the ones who are supposed to be doing the most running and sprinting during the game, whether that is in a 4-4-2 system or a 4-2-3-1. The two central midfielders invariably stay on all match if their roles are to stay fairly deep, and they or one of the central defenders are only substituted if teams want to take a gamble and change their formation to throw on another attacking player if they are losing with around 15 minutes to go. So if players want to play in those wide or attacking positions, we are not being unfair by keeping central defenders and holding midfielders on the pitch for the full 90 minutes, and it does not suggest that those players are our ‘best/first choice’ players either. It’s ‘just football and general tactics’ that dictate those substitutions.

Another alteration we have made since Christmas in terms of our philosophy is a determined effort to focus on the positives instead of the negatives. We realised that Jacko’s idea of ranting and raving at players to toughen them up hadn’t worked when we lost 7-5 at Home to Colney Hatch Athletic after having a Half-Time rant despite us leading 5-2, so as soon as we came back after the Christmas break we told our players to go back to enjoying themselves first and foremost and to encourage each other if anybody made a mistake, and that certainly seems to have improved our performances since then. We are also now doing more one-to-one coaching rather than embarrassing anybody while standing in a group, and the players all watch the full matches back privately on You Tube on the back of that to identify where they themselves can improve their game.

Up until former Manager Trevor Hughes emigrated to Cyprus in 2014, whole matches were not uploaded to You Tube for our players to watch privately, so I used to type out lengthy ‘Video Notes’ for them which pointed out the mistakes they had made. However, the problem with that was it was distributed to every player instead of it being done as separate private notes for each player, so the players at fault did not like that one bit. Nobody likes to be ‘picked on’ in front of others, so it ended up with a number of players leaving the club because of it and they even refused to befriend me on Facebook because of it, even though they accepted friend requests from their other team-mates at the time. Of course those players were all in their late 20’s and early 30’s and refused to accept that they still had things to learn from watching the videos of our matches. They just looked to blame somebody else instead. It is very different now.

The on-pitch communication between our young players has also improved massively in recent matches when at the start of the season they were all very quiet and really didn’t know what to say to each other. It is very noticeable how good they are at it now when we have eleven 16 & 17-year-olds on the pitch all at the same time with no Vets/Dads to lead the way.

However, we do now have a problem in that we recently had to cancel our regular Wednesday evening training sessions for the rest of this season due to a lack of sponsorship and other teams finding it too expensive to share half a pitch with us. At £142.00 for just one hour, we simply couldn’t afford it, so our last session was on the 2nd February and we have not trained since. That didn’t really affect our performances on the 6th & 13th February when we had two narrow one-goal defeats, but it certainly caught up with us for the 6-0 defeat to AFC Muswell Hill 2nds in the last match we played, as we did not play the Sunday before, so we were not as sharp as normal with our one and two-touch passing, while goalkeeper Tyler Meader not surprisingly suffered the most from a lack of practice as four of AFC Muswell Hill’s goals might have been saved if he had been receiving the coaching he was getting at the start of the season. With Tyler not getting any coaching or practice at all at the moment due to our goalkeeping coach Bob Cleary having to retire from that duty because of a back injury and with Jacko now back up in his native Stoke-on-Trent most of the time, it is a big problem and it is something we are going to have to look at before next season starts. Hopefully we can find some sponsorship to pay for Tyler to attend goalkeeper coaching sessions in midweek run by Semi-Pros and also maybe find somebody else to come along and help him warm up on match days.

As for our match highlights on You Tube, since we played Colney Hatch Athletic just before and after Christmas, the number of views per match have almost doubled from around 550-600 to just over 1,000. This appears to be because Colney Hatch Athletic are evidently Tik-Tok’s equivalent to You Tube’s SE Dons in terms of being the ‘most famous Sunday League team in the U.K’. They posted numerous small clips of action on Tik-Tok from my footage of our games against them which their ‘many thousands’ of viewers obviously picked up on to search for us on You Tube so they could see the whole extended highlights.

This is great for us as we are more likely to find sponsorship ourselves, but annoyingly it also attracts numerous young ‘cage baller’ type players from across London who think we will take them on and put them in the team ahead of our current players so that they can then have free professional filming of their flicks and tricks in a competitive match that they can then post on Tik-Tok themselves and go viral with it. I am getting something like 8-10 players a week private-messaging me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, WhatsApp or e-mail all wanting to play for us, and it is quite time-consuming replying to them all. Especially when they don’t take no for an answer !

I also get bombarded with requests as early as January & February for Pre-Season Friendlies in July & August by teams who are desperate to play us so they can have a match professionally filmed and put on You Tube for them to watch free-of-charge…although they don’t actually say that of course. A lot of them are teams we have already played before. They are being greedy…and we may have to be selective. However, these ‘problems’ are still more preferable than just being an ordinary Sunday side with no social media presence whatsoever, so at least the sponsorship we are currently seeking to pay for our midweek training sessions, match balls and a new kit for next season shouldn’t be too hard to find.


CHAIRMAN’S BLOG - Sunday 2nd January 2022

With Coach Simon ‘Jacko’ Jackson now back in the fold after a three-month absence with other commitments, our midweek training sessions at the AIM Academy in Edmonton had started to become a lot more organised, and we hoped that would show for our match on the 24th October when we took on Southern Sunday League Division Three side Harbut Rovers in the Second Round of the London F.A. Sunday Junior Cup, having received a Bye in the First Round. Thankfully we had been drawn at Home for this match as Harbut were from Dulwich, but they had won all five of their matches played so far this season and were top of a much higher division in their League than we were in the Barnet Sunday League. With a number of our ‘supporters’ commenting on our You Tube highlights after the previous week’s 6-0 defeat to Highgate Albion’s 4th XI that we should put more Vets/’older heads’ in our starting line-up to help our young players, we granted them their wish for this match with ex-Concord Rangers defender Dan Vanvynck (father of Jack) coming in at the back to make his Rovers debut at the age of 44, but unfortunately we were without another father & son combination in Stuart & Harry Dorward, while in-form attacking player Myreon Keane was also missing through illness. However, we still managed to find a squad of 16 with Jahiem Brown returning from a three-match suspension, but Harbut Rovers certainly showed just how good they were in the First Half as they created no less than 23 clear-cut chances to our two as they were far too fit and strong for us in attacking areas and just ploughed through us at will. There was no let-up for most of the Second Half either and we ended up losing 8-1 in the end with a number of injuries not helping matters, while the experiment of playing Dan the Vet didn’t work at all because unlike our other Vets (Leon McKenzie-McKay and Stuart Dorward), Dan does not attend training and is invariably playing for Whitewebbs Vets on Sunday mornings instead of coming along to matches, so the only one of our players who knew him was his son Jack ! That meant the rest of our 16 & 17-year-olds just didn’t have the nerve to shout out instructions to such a senior figure in terms of who to mark and where to position himself. Indeed he probably didn’t even get a shout of ‘man on’ throughout the time he was on the pitch, causing him to be at fault for at least one of Harbut’s goals as much fitter players persistently closed him down. In fact we actually played better when Dan was substituted in the 58th minute and we only had the youngsters playing thereafter as they were then more comfortable in communicating with each other and the teamwork then improved.

Despite Harbut Rovers being arguably the best side we have played so far this season though, they then went and lost on penalties in the next round after having to travel to North London again to face North West Galacticos, a team from Division Five of our League, so once again it was a sign that we still had a heck of a lot to learn, with another pointer being the form of North West Wolves, who had beaten us 10-2 in our first League match but then been thrashed in most of their matches since, despite fielding more-or-less the same players.

We then returned to League action the following Sunday when we faced our old Division One rivals New Barnet at their Oakhill Park ground. With New Barnet being one of several teams along with ourselves who had dropped down to the bottom division to re-group, we were hoping to notch our first League win of the season from this one with our opponents having struggled to field a side all season and having lost three of their four matches played by scorelines of 1-10, 2-11 & 1-8.

However, as always when struggling teams are due to play us (on You Tube), they then immediately signed up almost a whole new team of good players who were no doubt attracted by playing an ‘easy’ match and we ended up losing 5-2 after another poor performance in which injuries during the game to key players Myreon Keane, Natan Pawlaczyk and Leon McKenzie-McKay ‘killed’ us and we didn’t really start playing until Stuart Dorward came on after 69 minutes at 5-0 down and then pulled one back just four minutes later with his first Rovers goal since March 2011, the season he retired from playing for us originally.

Tairique Harrison then scored a Goal Of The Season contender to make the final score 5-2 as we finished the game well, but our poor start to the game may well have been because our players were so keen (as always), they started their warm-up in driving rain and a freezing cold wind over an hour before the game actually kicked off due to the Referee turning up late. With no changing rooms open (due to Covid precautions), they then spent a lot of that hour just standing around on the pitch whereas New Barnet’s players stood under cover in the only available sheltered spot and waited for the Referee to arrive before they got changed and did their warm-up. Again it was another lesson learnt for our young players that warming-up is best done as close to the kick-off as possible at our level of the game when we are not playing in a stadium and invariably the changing rooms are over half a mile away from the pitch.

Our first match in November saw us play a Home League game for the first time in six weeks as we faced third-placed Armenian Youth Association, a team we had last played back in the early 1990’s when we used to face them regularly in Pre-Season Friendlies on the old (long now-demolished) sand-based Astroturf at the Picketts Lock Sports Centre as a result of one of our Greats Of The Past Julien Nurse joining them back then. For this match though, we had no Leon McKenzie-McKay due to a hamstring injury from which he has still not recovered going into the Christmas break, while the unavailability of others meant we could only field a squad of 14. Thankfully that 14 included another Vet and Rovers legend in Lexton Harrison, who was finally able to come along to join his son Tairique in the squad for the first time this season, so at least we had some experience on the bench, but with our opponents fielding a side with an average age of 30-35, they were much stronger than us  physically throughout the match and after taking the lead in the 11th minute through the division’s top goalscorer Garo Heath where he just ran straight through our defence with ease, we knew we were always likely to concede our average of 6 or 7 goals a game again. In fact we could easily have conceded double figures after finding ourselves 6-0 down as both Natan Pawlaczyk and goalkeeper Tyler Meader had to come off with injuries once again while our best player on the day Dapo Alaoye had to leave after 70 minutes as he is a season ticket holder at Arsenal, who were playing in a 1.30 pm Kick-Off. Fortunately though, Lexton steadied the ship at the back, as unlike Dan Vanvynck, he had learnt all the players names and had been speaking to a lot of them with some good coaching/advice at previous matches that he had been able to attend during October, while substitute goalkeeper Josh Wakeford made a number of outstanding saves after replacing Tyler. Although our heads were down at the end after the eventual 7-0 defeat, we were very much lifted by an excellent speech from A.Y.A.’s Manager Nick Nicolaou on the final whistle who gathered our players together to tell them that he loved our ‘project re-start’ idea and to keep our heads up, and that if we stick together we will ‘smash’ the League in a few years time. Although Sunday League football often gets a bad name, we do encounter good acts of sportsmanship like this from time to time and it was great to see.

After another good midweek training session under ‘Jacko’s direction, we then took on mid-table side Chefchaouen Berbers again, six weeks after losing 7-1 to them when having to travel to West Hendon with an under-strength side. Although we were missing left-back Lenny Charles for this one in addition to Leon, we were able to name a full squad of 16 this time with Josh Wakeford preferred to Tyler Meader in goal after his heroics as a substitute in that position the week before.

For this game, we decided to use our ever-improving levels of fitness to press the opposing defenders with intensity right from the start for a change (after Jacko had showed our players a video of an Eastern Junior Alliance team’s training session that his 15-year-old son Patrick had been involved in). That saw us have a number of half-decent chances in the first 22 minutes, but then Berbers took the lead against the run of play when we switched off defensively after Lexton Harrison had stood still appealing for a throw-in when the ball had not gone out of play...therefore not setting a good example to our youngsters that they should ‘play to the whistle’. However, unlike in some of our other matches so far this season, we didn’t let our heads go down and we actually came off at Half-Time with a lead for the first time this season after two excellent goals from Myreon Keane and Dapo Alaoye had put us 2-1 up. With Lexton’s presence in defence making us more solid at the back despite his early mistake, we were confident of gaining at least a point from this match, but he then pulled his hamstring early in the Second Half and was unable to jump properly to stop Berbers’ equalising with a close-range header from a set-piece in the 64th minute, then individual mistakes got the better of us again with Josh Wakeford fumbling a simple catch from a corner that allowed Berbers to make it 3-2 in the 81st minute, but it wasn’t until the second minute of ‘added-on time’ that Berbers killed the game off when Josh made the wrong choice in throwing the ball out into midfield instead of launching it downfield with a dropkick, ultimately resulting in a ‘heart-breaking’ 4-2 defeat when we had certainly deserved something out of the game.

It was at this point that our players started getting angry and frustrated that we had lost a match whereas for all of our previous defeats they had come off the pitch half-expecting to lose and just looked at it as a learning process. Although that anger and disappointment was looked on as an encouraging sign by most of our ‘coaching staff’, it did see Chris Jordanou (who had taken over the Captain’s armband with Natan Pawlaczyk and Lexton Harrison both having to go off injured) storming off home instead of listening to the post-match team talk, which obviously wasn’t the right thing to do. Chris rightly apologised for that, and so did Josh for his two costly mistakes in goal, which was another positive as we have had far too many players play for us over the last few seasons who would never hold their hand up for obvious mistakes and always look to blame somebody else, thereby doing massive damage to the team spirit and giving us no chance of ever winning anything at Division One level.

Our next match on the 21st September saw us travelling to Muswell Hill Playing Fields again for the second time this season, this time to face AFC Muswell Hill’s Second team, having only narrowly lost 4-2 to their First Team in the League Senior Challenge Cup back in September. AFC Muswell Hill’s Seconds were top of the Division Six table though and unbeaten in winning seven of their last eight matches since losing their opening fixture of the season. We therefore looked to be really up against it with our new young team’s record of 15 defeats in 16 matches played so far and with all three of our ‘Vets’ unavailable for this match. In fact things went from bad to worse after only 9 minutes when forward Max Mir was unable to continue due to a back injury, and although we defended well early on and restricted our opponents to only having a couple of decent efforts at goal in the first 27 minutes, we fell behind to a far post header from a player who was in an offside position when the cross was struck towards him…according to our Club Linesman Bob Cleary who was standing right in line with it. However, this was yet another one of those games where the Referee had chosen not to use Club Linesmen for this match as (in his words) ‘too many of them cheat’, so from his position in the centre-circle somewhere, he therefore gave the benefit of the doubt to the forward. We then conceded a second goal from the last kick of the First Half as a spectacular first-time shot was fired into the top corner from the edge of the area after Dapo Alaoye had been crowded out and dispossessed in trying to play the ball out from the back when it obviously should have been ‘hoofed’ downfield. At our training session in midweek, ‘Jacko’, our Stoke City-supporting Coach, had asked our players if they wanted anything different from our coaching & Management, and to his delight, Chris Jordanou said that he thought players should be given a ‘rollicking’ at Half-Time (as a group of course and not directed at any one individual) should we concede a bad goal and/or not put in the required effort. That gave Jacko the chance to do the infamous John Sitton/Neil Warnock/Tony Pulis/Harry Bassett-style rant impersonation that he had probably been dreaming about for some while, but he seemed to assume it was Chris who had made the mistake, hence the rant, whereas Dapo didn’t ask for that reaction himself at training and he didn’t seem to play as well as normal in the Second Half of this match as he knew the rant was down to his mistake. Despite us running out of substitutes in the 63rd minute after starting with a squad of 14 and losing Max Mir, Josh Wakeford & Gianni Dipo to injury during the game though, we did show some good fighting spirit in creating the occasional half-chance while also not allowing our opponents to have clear-cut chances every couple of minutes as we had in some of our other matches so far this season. However, AFC Muswell Hill killed the game off in the 75th minute with a third goal that once again appeared to be offside and had our Club Linesman Bob Cleary fuming on the touchline regarding the Referee’s decision not to use him and any volunteer that our opponents might have had. Indeed if it wasn’t for the two ‘offside’ goals, we might have only lost this game 1-0 against the League leaders, which would have been a very impressive result when our whole squad of 14 for this match were 16 & 17-year-olds.

Although we were missing five key players for our next match at Home to second-placed Enfield Albion and could only field a squad of 14 again including Max Mir and Gianni Dipo, who both had to pass fitness tests in the warm-up before starting the game up front in the 4-4-2 formation we had been using, we were getting more confident all the time that we could now compete with most other teams in the division. Manager Tony McKay did spring a surprise though by starting Jack Vanvynck at right-back and Tobi Charles as a central midfielder when their normal positions are the other way round, but we settled well early on against an Enfield Albion side who were missing some of their better players as well, and with a very strong cold wind behind us we created the better chances in the First Half and took a deserved lead after 35 minutes when Left-Back Lenny Charles tried his luck from way outside the area with a shot that flew over Albion’s giant keeper and into the far top corner for his first goal for the club. That gave our players even more of a boost and for the first time this season they were able to see out the First Half without conceding a goal thanks to a much-improved defensive performance as a result of Jacko’s coaching work with our players on the training ground.

We faced more of a test against the wind in the Second Half, but that actually helped us when a Lenny Charles free-kick into the area over the top of the Albion defence sat up perfectly for Myreon Keane to put us 2-0 up with a perfectly-struck half-volley, and we then made it 3-0 after 63 minutes while Albion were temporarily down to 10 men for a sin-bin offence as a quality piece of skill and perfect through ball from Tobi Charles put Myreon clean through for another good finish. With Albion being unbeaten in the League so far this season, they looked rather shell-shocked at that point and we even had further chances to punish them more, but then the near gale-force wind played its part in the 75th minute when Albion pulled a goal back from a free-kick that flew into the top corner before Tyler Meader could even move. Not surprisingly we then came under a lot of pressure after that, and the nerves were jangling when they scored again to make it 3-2 just as the game was going into ‘added-on time’, but thankfully the Referee didn’t play too much of that and we were able to register a memorable first victory of the season after eleven successive defeats.

Two things came out of this game that were interesting. Firstly, that unlike any of our other matches so far this season, instead of making numerous roll-on, roll-off substitutions with players coming off as soon as they took a slight knock, we only made one substitution all game (at 2-0 up with Lexton Harrison coming on to play up front alongside his nephew Gianni Dipo). That meant there was no disruption to our teamwork with Lexton’s arrival onto the pitch just being a straight swap positionally, and it clearly made a difference.

Secondly, we received numerous positive comments on the match highlights from hughesvideo You Tube subscribers, all of whom have been watching us on that channel since the start of Pre-Season, presumably without knowing the result of each match beforehand. I honestly don’t have a clue who any of them are apart from Kristan Heneage, who works for New York City FC in the MLS as some sort of head of media, but there could well be others from the Pro game watching our matches, which is all great publicity if they are. Most of our matches are now getting around 650-700 views during the first month they are online, which does seem to be an increase by 100 or so from the last few seasons when we were fielding a totally different side every week. Clearly our viewers prefer to see players playing regularly and then build an affinity with them…as all supporters do for professional clubs.

After finally gaining our first win of the season, we were hoping to field an unchanged starting line-up for the following Sunday’s Home match against fellow strugglers New Barnet, but unfortunately Tobi Charles (who was arguably our man-of-the-match against Enfield Albion) was now away on holiday for two weeks and Tairique Harrison turned up too late for the kick-off, so we had to make some enforced changes, but at least we had a squad of 15 this time. Despite New Barnet turning up looking a shambles yet again in their different yellow/amber-coloured shirts with a lack of numbers or the same numbers on some of them, they were actually fielding by far the strongest side they had put out so far this season (because they were playing us on You Tube ?) and that showed when they took the lead after just 68 seconds when their right-sided midfielder cut inside to run onto a through ball from ex-Rovers defender Oshade Watson and beat Tyler Meader to it in a 50/50 challenge to tap into the empty net. We certainly created chances ourselves in the First Half though, but for each one we had, New Barnet had two and we rather rode our luck in coming off at Half-Time only 1-0 down, mainly thanks to a number of good saves by keeper Tyler. However, we conceded a second goal just 49 seconds into the Second Half from a flicked-on long throw and then found ourselves 3-0 down just four minutes after that after getting caught on the break for the umpteenth time in the match. This was where our Management team later admitted that we had been out-done tactically by our opponents and that we should have reacted to it sooner. What happened was that both sides lined up with a 4-4-2, but our two wide midfielders (Myreon Keane & Harry Dorward) both pushed up to press the opposing full-backs from goal kicks instead of only from open play, meaning we were playing almost a 4-2-4 formation, whereas New Barnet’s two wide midfielders were left free and then tucked inside to play a 4-2-2-2 formation with the two central midfielders staying goalside of ours and their two forwards pulling wide to occupy our full-backs, leaving a big gap for their wide midfielders to run straight through the middle onto long balls from the back after getting ‘in-between the lines’. It’s the system that Ralf Rangnick evidently devised in German football and which Ralph Hasenhuttl has been using with Southampton since he arrived there…except of course at our level of the game it was more likely that New Barnet didn’t actually plan to play that way and it was more a case of their players just running into that space because Myreon and Harry were not playing the ‘two banks of four’ defending system and were ‘overdoing’ the pressing game instead.

If that tactical error didn’t kill the game off for us, then Lexton Harrison’s sending-off in the 67th minute that left us down to 10 men for the rest of the match certainly did though, allowing New Barnet to score three more goals to send us to a disastrous and demoralising 6-0 defeat after we had been on such a high the week before. Although some of our previous opponents had tried to unsettle our players with the odd niggle here and there, this was their first real taste of the brawl/retaliation/nasty verbals scenario that will never go away in adults Sunday football as most teams will have one or two players in their side who enjoy that sort of thing given half the chance, and New Barnet were no exception with three of their players somehow escaping any sort of punishment and another only receiving a yellow card instead of a red for a serious of dangerous challenges on Lenny Charles, whereas the rest of their players (including Oshade Watson of course) were as good as gold. Similarly with ourselves. We found out that one or two players couldn’t control themselves and they will need to learn quickly that keeping their discipline in the face of provocation is all-important, especially with other teams watching us on You Tube to see who they can wind up when we next play them. As for Lexton’s dismissal…for grabbing a substituted New Barnet player round the neck to stop him from potentially hitting his son Tairique, it was probably inevitable that a scenario like that would happen at some stage with Dads playing alongside their kids, but the subsequent three-match ban and £55 fine from the London FA is hard to take when sometimes that sort of protection may be ‘necessary’. The New Barnet player involved did apologise afterwards…as did the Referee when he saw the highlights and realised that he should have sent the New Barnet player off as well !

We then had another Home match on Sunday 12th December against an erratic mid-table side in Colney Hatch Athletic, who had used 35 different players so far this season compared to our 22 and had had some very strange results. We came into this game fielding the most depleted side we had put out since Pre-Season though with goalkeeper Tyler Meader and numerous defensively-capable outfield players all missing for a variety of reasons, while Luke Davidson and Jahiem Brown had both been released a few weeks earlier due to a lack of commitment. Those absences forced us to start with an attacking side which had to be instructed not to press too much following our 6-0 defeat to fellow strugglers New Barnet the week before where we left ourselves far too open at the back. However, in complete contrast to New Barnet, Colney Hatch Athletic decided to sit back and attempt to pass their way out of their own penalty area from short goal kicks as soon as the game kicked off, so on this occasion pressing them actually worked as we caught them in possession on the edge of their own area time and time again to go into an incredible 5-1 lead by the 35th minute and even squander chances to score more. Unfortunately though, as soon as our opponents changed their tactics after about 40 minutes to go long from the goal kicks and press us into our own half, we couldn’t cope with that because we only had one defensively-minded midfielder (in Dapo Alaoye) playing and the rest of our midfield just couldn’t resist going forward, leaving us too open at the back. That resulted in Colney Hatch Athletic pulling another goal back to make it 5-2 in the second minute of added-on time at the end of the First Half and they even missed another good chance to make it 5-3 coming off at the break. That resulted in Jacko having another furious rant at Half-Time, which was fair enough for those instances of sloppiness, but he totally forgot to mention how well we had played in scoring five goals and still having a three-goal lead, while Manager Tony McKay used the ‘It’s 0-0 lads’ cliché without praising our players performance for the first 40 minutes either. That clearly made our young players nervous and afraid of making more mistakes as soon as the Second Half started, and with Colney Hatch changing their personnel around and throwing everybody forward, it resulted in goal after goal being scored against us for an eventual 5-7 defeat as the ranting & raving from the touchline from other Management Committee members and supporters increased, while we created absolutely nothing going forward ourselves with Gianni Dipo turning up late and half-asleep and our only other substitute Harvey Antoniou wearing the wrong boots for such muddy conditions. We therefore ran out of options as players in the starting line-up started to tire, especially veteran Stuart Dorward, who was having to play a full 90 minutes in the centre of midfield in a 4-4-2 formation and admitted afterwards that defending deep from that position is just not his game and that he just didn’t feel fit enough to chase back…which was not surprising as unfortunately he then tested positive for Covid the following day.

Indeed it was that Covid case for Stuart (and a few other instances of family members of our players catching it) that forced us into forfeiting our Home League Shield Second Round match against Division Five side North West Galacticos that was scheduled for Sunday 19th December when we had originally planned a post-match Xmas drinking session in the Edmonton Sports & Social Club. Due to the Omicron variant suddenly getting out of control, every Sunday League in the London area apart from the Barnet Sunday League then either called all their fixtures off for the 19th December or allowed teams to just postpone their matches for a re-arrangement later in the season so that family members did not get their Christmases ruined from players catching the virus, which was the reason that we ourselves chose not to play. The Barnet Sunday League’s stance though was to force teams to risk it and play their games for the benefit of mental health, a subject which the League is very much a leader. In other words, the mental health of 18-30 year-olds (who rarely get dangerous symptoms from Covid) being able to continue playing football is more important than that of older people…who should have taken their booster jabs for protection anyway. I can see the League’s point, but I still think it is unfair to force teams to play on these occasions by awarding matches to their opponents if, like us, they prefer to take Government advice and keep their older relatives safe by not playing. Indeed we were one of only six Barnet Sunday League teams that refused to play on the 19th December, but whether there was a massive rise in Omicron variant Covid cases in the Barnet area resulting from players playing on that date because of the League’s stance, who knows ?      

Amazingly, the 19th December was the first Sunday so far this season that we had not been able to play. Going right back to mid-August in fact. Normally we have at least 3 or 4 weeks off before Christmas due to waterlogged pitches or not having a match arranged from there being an odd number of teams in the division or from certain teams not having a pitch available. Playing and training every week without fail has certainly helped us improve in a lot of areas for sure, but there are still more things we need to learn when the season resumes (Covid permitting) after the Christmas break.  

Improvements for the players will come from continuing to attend Jacko’s excellent training sessions, watching their performances on video and just gaining more experience of adults football from playing every week and keeping their discipline. As regards our Management, which along with Tony, Jacko and myself also includes our first aider and former Assistant Manager Roderick Bennett, our Club Linesman and former Goalkeeping Coach (until he did his back in) Bob Cleary, and our three Vets Player-Coaches Leon McKenzie-McKay, Stuart Dorward & Lexton Harrison, I think we can all improve as well by listening back to the team-talks before the match, at Half-Time and after the final whistle, which I deliberately film specifically for this purpose and for any players and Management who were not there at the actual match. (These are never put on the publicly-viewable highlights of course. They are uploaded to You Tube as Unlisted and are only made viewable for our players and Management). Are we saying the right things ? Are we being too negative ? Are we praising the players enough ? Do we need to do more one-to-one talking rather than trying to get the players to speak up themselves at such a young age when they are in a big group alongside numerous adults ? Management and supporters who rant and rave at players when they make mistakes during the game also probably need to look at the video and think to themselves whether they should be calming themselves down just a tad so that the players relax and enjoy themselves a bit more…as we all used to do back in the 1990’s when Stuart and Lexton first played for us and the club structure and general attitude was nowhere near as organised and ‘intense’ (for want of a better word) than it is now.

Another thing that our Management Team are hoping to discuss early in the New Year is where we are at in terms of the current strength of our squad and what exactly we wish to achieve for the rest of this season and then next season.

Although I personally was disappointed that we were thrown out of the BSFL Shield for refusing to play North West Galacticos on the 19th December due to Covid, other Management Committee members seemed to see it as a blessing in disguise as if it was one less match to play (in a competition we were unlikely to win) and to get the season finished as soon as possible (in the knowledge that we are probably going to finish bottom of the table) so that we can then arrange an Old Boys match in April and also maybe some Friendlies where we can start recruiting better players of Eastern Junior Alliance standard to improve our squad for next season before other clubs snap them up. However, the danger with that is ending up with two groups of players who do not know each other and then not ‘gelling’ because one group of players are of a better standard than the others and therefore won’t pass to them. Then the arguments start, one group of players leave en masse and the club is put in danger of folding. This has already happened to us three times since former Manager Trevor Hughes emigrated to Cyprus in 2014 with various Managers, Coaches (and myself) then trying the merging of different standard of players in order to try and bring us immediate success. Yes, if it works it may well guarantee us the Division Six title next season, which will be a season earlier than what we achieved back in the late-1970’s when we first started the club as 16-year-olds, but personally I don’t think it’s a good idea and I am not as impatient for success as others. If any of our current squad of sixteen 16 & 17-year-olds decide to leave of their own accord at the end of this season, I would much rather have replacement players brought in by the players who are already playing for us. Obviously they will need to be as good as our current players or better, but then at least we will know the team spirit will still remain and the players will all improve from good coaching anyway. I still think it is possible for us to win Division Six next season with the players we have got, plus hopefully Jacko’s son Patrick (who will be 16 in February) and maybe a couple of others to replace Luke and Jahiem who are already known to most of our current players.

In general, players who are currently playing Eastern Junior Alliance football do not go and play in adults Sunday Leagues once they are 17 or 18. They start playing for Isthmian/Southern League (Non-League Step 3 & 4) First Teams on Saturdays instead. It’s players from the top divisions of the Watford Friendly League and the Mid-Herts Rural Minors League who our current players should be looking to bring along (if and when needed), as those players invariably end up playing at Non-League Step 5, 6 & 7 level on a Saturday, which is the level that Stuart, Lexton & Leon all played at whilst playing for us on Sundays, and that is how we managed to progress up the divisions right to the top during the late-90’s and early-2000’s.


CHAIRMAN’S BLOG - Friday 22nd October 2021

On Sunday 12th September we had our first Barnet Sunday League Division Six match of the season at Home to North West Wolves, and after a useful Pre-Season in getting a squad together and being very well-organised on and off the pitch despite only winning one of our Pre-Season Friendlies, we were looking forward to a close game where our new young group of players could be comfortable in expressing themselves. However, we ended up losing 10-2 after coming up against a perfect example of what happens a heck of a lot in the bottom divisions of adult Sunday Leagues. A team finishes bottom of the bottom division the season before without winning a game, namely Oakhill in this instance. Then a new Manager joins for the following season, kicks all the existing players out and brings in his own from a much higher level, then they change their name (to North West Wolves in this case), they remain unbeaten in Pre-Season, they are very social media-savvy, attract sponsorship, and they turn up for their matches 90 minutes before the kick-off as a Step 1-7 Saturday team would do. North West Wolves did all of this, but the League are none the wiser. What can they do when the F.A.’s Whole Game/new Club Portal system does not display to the League which top division Sunday clubs or Saturday Semi-Pro clubs these newly-registered players might have previously played for ?
Although we were ‘sort of’ guilty ourselves back in Season 2016-2017 in our first season in the Barnet Sunday League by winning the bottom division with a number of Division One-quality players suddenly joining us, there were only three divisions back then (Premier, 1 & 2) and Division One would have been too strong for us. The difference now is that the League has eight divisions for Season 2021-2022, so a new team with a number of Division One-quality players in it (as North West Wolves have) should be in one of the middle divisions to be fair.
Despite beating us 10-2 though, some of our club Committee members/coaches actually claimed afterwards that North West Wolves were ‘sh*t’…just because of the way some of their players looked ! In other words, over 6 foot tall, scruffy and ungainly. But they were all clearly athletes and gym freaks with not a beer-gut in sight. Observers of Sunday League football often have that ‘inferior player’ impression just because Club Managers & Secretaries at our level frequently forget to bring the sock tape and the subsequently scruffy-looking players are not ‘household names such as Jack Grealish, Luke Shaw…and going back a few years, Steve Claridge. That’s all it is ! Appearances can often be deceptive in Sunday League football.
Another factor that gave North West Wolves a huge advantage against us though was the fact that due to their newly-sponsored orange kit not turning up in time for this match, they ‘had to’ wear an all-black kit without any of their shirts being numbered, and indeed most of those shirts were different designs and even slightly different in colour. That meant our players were unable to shout to each other ‘pick up the 9’, ‘who’s marking the 10 ?’, etc, therefore leaving players unmarked to score at will. North West Wolves then wore their new numbered orange shirts for their next match and ended up losing 7-2…because their players were all being marked properly. League Rule 19 does state that all shirts must be numbered and that all-black kits are not allowed, but the League had/have always had an amnesty for fines during September due to the sheer number of new clubs joining each season in recent years, thereby giving them time to get used to the numerous rules and regulations. So presumably North West Wolves got away with this one and we were the team to suffer from it ?
Something else of note that happened in the North West Wolves match is that one of their players put them 1-0 up with a shot directly from the kick-off, much to our embarrassment and particularly that of keeper Tyler Meader, who clearly wasn’t expecting it. It was timed at just 5 seconds, which unbelievably wasn't the fastest goal we have ever conceded. Back in 1986 in the second match of a Haringey & Tottenham Sunday League Double-Header, a Wood Green Labour Club player scored with the same type of shot straight from the kick-off where the ball was laid back to him, but he hit it much harder and we were playing on an Under-15's size pitch due to a double booking, so the ball had less yardage to travel. That one was timed at three seconds, but unfortunately the footage of it is on a VHS tape that has disintegrated after rainwater got into it. So no You Tube for that one I'm afraid !
I doubt whether this latest goal will be the fastest ever scored in the Barnet Sunday League either. Goals from shots straight from the kick-off are actually quite common in adults Sunday League football nowadays because the balls are lighter and more ‘aerodynamic’ and also, most goalkeepers 'are not really a keeper'...if you see what I mean ? They are normally outfield players that are forced into doing the job...and are invariably one of the team's smallest players ! For ourselves, we have a different problem to contend with as players deliberately try to score against us from the kick-off far more often than against other teams in the hope that it will go viral on social media after they have copied it from our You Tube highlights. Most of their attempts go ‘miles’ wide or trickle along the ground though, so they are then not included in the highlights anyway !

For our next match (in the League Senior Challenge Cup First Round Away to Division Three side AFC Muswell Hill), Manager Tony McKay decided to take goalkeeper Tyler out of the firing line, although that was only really because we have two other very capable goalkeepers in the squad in Josh Wakeford and Jack Vanvynck, a luxury we have not had since Simon Jackson & Darryl Johnson were both battling it out for the No.1 jersey some 18 years ago. Josh was given the nod for this one while Jack started as a holding midfield player alongside Dapo Alaoye as a 4-2-3-1 formation was chosen after much debate, with Luke Davidson making his competitive debut for us as the lone striker to give us more pace up front against what appeared to be an ageing Muswell Hill defence. We then went on to produce an excellent performance and very nearly took the game to a penalty shoot-out before our opponents killed the game off in the 87th minute with a fourth goal to make it 4-2. Just one Semi-Pro standard player who Muswell Hill brought on at Half-Time made the difference in this game and interestingly, despite them being a mid-table side in Division Three and fielding their normal line-up, they are the worst team we have faced so far this season with all four Division Six sides we have come up against so far being much fitter and stronger.
The AFC Muswell Hill match was played at Muswell Hill Playing Fields, which is just off the North Circular Road heading towards Finchley, so for our players parents (doubling up as their chauffeurs) it was the first journey out of the Borough of Enfield (or nearby Cheshunt) into ‘unknown territory’. In our Club Members WhatsApp Group, there had been a debate before this game regarding using that group for the announcement of fixtures, the kick-off times and giving directions on how to get to Away venues. Some of the players & parents need to know our fixtures and the venues for them for the whole month as soon as they are announced so that they can plan in advance due to various Sunday afternoon commitments (which include being a season ticket holder at Spurs), but others only want to know in the group about one game at a time…the coming Sunday’s match… because they will be available every Sunday anyway, wherever we are playing and at what time. Also, half the players & parents only want me to just mention the postcode and time of kick-off for the coming Sunday’s Away match and that’s it. Then if that postcode is ‘wrong’ and they end up getting lost, they like to phone somebody who is already at the ground to give them directions while they are driving. They also prefer to ask for info about our opponents playing quality verbally when they arrive at the ground. They want as little chat in the WhatsApp group as possible. Nice and simple. But then we have other players & parents who don’t use (or trust) postcodes to find the ground. They rely on visual landmarks as they are driving…just as we all did back in the 1970’s when we first started. Back then it was always pubs. Drive to the Rising Sun, then keep going until you get to the Cock and the ground is next turning on the left. That sort of thing. Nowadays the landmarks are invariably Turkish restaurants and retail parks, some of which are not familiar to all our players parents, so posting several screenshots from Google Maps Street View into the WhatsApp group is massively helpful for them. But then others do not like me doing that because it clutters up the chat and fills up their phone’s storage as they don’t have their ‘Save To Camera Roll’ Chat setting turned off. In the end I decided to leave all the detailed info regarding our opponents and the venue out of both the WhatsApp Group and from the Forthcoming Fixtures page on the club website and just tell players & parents to WhatsApp me privately before the match if they needed info/screenshots. That idea worked for this match and has done for all subsequent matches with something like 95% of our players turning up on time so far, whereas in recent seasons half the team would stroll along just 15 minutes before the kick-off for one reason or another. What we are doing now seems to be a much easier system, although commitment and dedication by players & parents is definitely playing a big part.

We were then back at Home again for our next match, a League game against Highgate Albion’s newly-formed 4th XI, who had obviously been put in the bottom division on the assumption that they were all inferior players of a Saturday AFA 4th – 8th XI standard who were nowhere near good enough to play for their other three teams on a Sunday. Not a bit of it though. They included several players who either play for AFA First Teams or in the Premier Division of the Islington Midweek League, which is of a similar standard to the Premier Division of our League, while the player who ‘ran the show’ from a ‘No.10 position’ was playing for Hadley last season in the Essex Senior League at Step 5 level. We actually battled really well to only lose 3-0, but we never really looked like scoring as Highgate Albion 4ths were far too experienced for us. In fact when they came out from the changing rooms before the match, they thought they were on the wrong pitch when they saw how young our players were. They almost didn’t want to play in case any of our youngsters ‘got hurt’ and I had to assure them that it wouldn’t be a problem so that the game could go ahead. Indeed one of Highgate’s players was about 7 foot tall and 20 stone, so we joked that Roshan Shah (our smallest player) would be marking him. They then named him as a substitute and didn’t bring him on until the last five minutes anyway. Highgate Albion 4ths were also one of several teams we have faced so far this season who seem to deliberately want our match balls pumped up as hard as a rock (like the old £10 Mitre Multiplex jobs from the 1980’s) with no ‘give’ in them whatsoever…as if they think it will put our young players off from heading the ball or putting their bodies in the way of shots. However, the balls we buy are worth £50 but they all have a soft spongey surface nowadays which makes it seem as if they are flat, particularly when the weather is warm. It is almost impossible to pump them up ‘as hard as a rock’.

Moving into October, our first match of the month was the long trip to West Hendon Playing Fields to play Away to Chefchaouen Berbers who had conceded 20 goals in their first two matches and looked to be a side that we could definitely beat. However, they then went and registered numerous good new players during the week and ended up including nine players in their squad of 16 who had played for them in Division One last season. Yes, I know they finished bottom of that division…hence their request to the League to go right down to the bottom and start again (supposedly with new but inferior players), but we would have certainly finished below them ourselves had we attempted to continue playing last season post-Covid. We of course specifically told the League that the only players from our Division One squad that we would be using this season would be players who are 35 or over…and no more than two at a time, so although there is no League rule as such that stops Division One players from signing and playing for a bottom division team, it is morally wrong for 25-30-year-old players in their prime to do that just so that they can get an easy game (and score a few goals on You Tube when they play against us). It is not in the right spirit of the game in our opinion. We ended up losing 7-1 and it was only thanks to an excellent performance by Jack Vanvynck in goal that we didn’t lose by twice that amount.

On Sunday 10th October we took on Enfield Albion in an Away game at Enfield Playing Fields with Manager Tony McKay having 19 players to choose his 16-man squad from. The competition for places and being able to use forward Gianni Dipo in a League game for the first time after he had reached his 16th birthday during the week saw us produce our best performance so far in terms of creating far more chances than our opponents, who had several players missing, presumably because they had been up all night waiting for the Wilder - Fury fight to start. However, our players are of the age where they have been brought up following MMA or You Tubers & Tik-Tokers instead, so they all turned up on time and wide awake, but after being 2-1 up after 44 minutes, we then conceded two bad goals almost right on the half-time whistle and then collapsed in the Second Half to somehow end up losing 8-3 when we were arguably the better side. Indeed concentration for the whole 90 minutes and not letting our heads go down whenever somebody makes a mistake that leads to a goal is by far our biggest problem at the moment and it is something we will be working on tirelessly over the next few weeks. Players need to use the good team spirit they have fostered off the pitch and at training sessions to bail each other out, as individual mistakes are inevitable while our players learn all about adults football.

For our most recent match Away to Highgate Albion 4th’s, Manager Tony McKay and his son, our Captain Leon McKenzie-McKay, were both unavailable due to family commitments, but fortunately our Assistant Manager/Coach Simon ‘Jacko’ Jackson had now made himself available again after a near three-month absence with other commitments, and after running an excellent training session during the week, he took over the Management duties for this match with another club legend in Stuart Dorward also coming in to take over the captaincy. Predictably though, Highgate Albion 4ths turned up once again with a side full of quality and experience that was way above Division Six standard, and with us missing the tough-tackling Natan ‘Natty’ Pawlaczyk in addition to Leon, we ended up losing 6-0 for our 11th defeat in 12 matches played so far with our new young team. However, this was one of those matches where the Sunday League Club Linesman issue raised its ugly head again, which was certainly a contributing factor with two of Highgate’s goals being clearly offside but not given by a Referee having to guess from well behind the play. It is a long-standing ‘rule’ in the Barnet Sunday League that teams do not have to supply a Club Linesman if they do not want to and if both teams do have somebody on their touchlines willing to run the line, then it is up to the Referee whether he/she wants to use them or not. On this occasion, despite having several substitutes who could have run the line for them, Highgate 4ths appeared to tell the Referee that they did not have anybody willing to do it, quite likely because they knew they were going to have twice or even three times as many chances as us and a fair few of them would be situations where they were clean through on goal from a ball over the top while our defenders pushed up to play the offside trap…which they have specifically been taught to do in the knowledge that our regular Club Linesman Bob Cleary is a qualified Referee who (unlike a lot of Club Linesmen) concentrates for 90 minutes and does the job properly. Of course Bob quite rightly gets incensed when a Referee turns up and tells him he does not want to use Club Linesmen (or the opposing team do not wish to use them), because that is effectively telling him that he is a potential cheat just because the opposing Club Linesman might be. This has been the problem in Sunday football for many years of course. Pretty much all teams (including ourselves) will automatically accuse the opposing Club Linesman of being a cheat during the course of a game, especially if his team are playing a high line defensively and our players get frequently flagged offside after going clean through. That’s just human nature because he is not a neutral. But a lot of Referees think that way as well. The issue is never going to go away because there is never any surplus of Referees in Sunday football for someone to actually be officially appointed as an Assistant Referee and clubs at our level can’t afford to pay for them anyway. That then results in more and more verbal abuse being dished out to Referees for guessing on offside decisions themselves and getting them wrong, so those Referees then pack in Refereeing and numerous matches are left without an official Referee as well ! So a Club official then has to Referee the match, it then ends up getting abandoned and the club is then expelled from the League and forced to fold. And so it goes on…and on. Every season. When we first joined the Barnet Sunday League in Season 2016-2017, I actually agreed with the League rule concerning Club Linesmen as there were no roll-on, roll-off substitutions back then and only three substitutes could be used from five named. So for most teams it ended up with one of the substitutes running the line for the whole match and not getting a game…but getting shedloads of abuse instead. That player would then leave, then more players who get lumbered with that job leave, then teams fold. But with five roll-on, roll-off substitutes allowed nowadays and players invariably only having to run the line for no more than 45 minutes, maybe it is now time for the League to fine clubs who do not provide a competent Club Linesman and instruct all Referees that they must now use them.

On the subject of Referees, there has been a heck of a lot of negative publicity on social media in the past few weeks about the FA refusing to sanction the use of body-cams by Referees at grassroots level in order to capture evidence of dissent and assaults on them by Sunday League players or by parents at Youth level. Subsequently Referees are now being told by their refereeing associations to go on strike or even quit refereeing in protest at that decision…as if every adults Sunday League match is ‘violent’. It is incredibly frustrating when so many young adults want to start playing Sunday League football again thanks to the You Tube and social media phenomena, and that with so many teams now filming their games it reduces the risk to Referees safety anyway. In our case, we always give the Referee access to the whole match footage for performance analysis so that it helps them progress and gain promotion and it is very rare that Referees are abused or threatened in our matches because the players are aware that the matches are being professionally filmed. In addition, one new Referee in our League (who officiated our first League match of the season against North West Wolves) gets round the body-cam ban by bringing his own cameraman along to film the game using a tripod from the opposite touchline and he also gives the competing teams access to that footage and even explains his decisions on it and admits if he got anything wrong. I think it’s a great idea and it was massively refreshing to watch. As far as we are concerned, refereeing adults Sunday League matches is probably safer now than it has ever been, and it is extremely frustrating that so many people think assaults on Referees are widespread at grassroots level just because of a number of filmed incidents going viral on social media lately.

Meanwhile, in other divisions of the Barnet Sunday League (and also one in ours in the case of Roving Reporters Reserves), a number of teams have dropped out already, with a couple of divisions now down to just 8 teams in each. One of them was for a disciplinary issue, but most of them are because they didn’t realise the standard was as good as it is, so their players started walking out after a number of heavy defeats. Another problem that appears to have contributed to clubs folding already, not just in our League but in Sunday football in general since the season started, is because of the hassle of trying to get players registered when the FA’s new Club Portal system wasn’t working properly. The FA have now e-mailed an apology to all clubs, assuring us that they are conducting an in-depth review of how and why it happened and that ‘it won’t happen again’. Unfortunately the damage has probably already been done though, with some people no longer wanting to be a Club Secretary because of all the hassle and the time they have wasted. Fortunately for our club members, I am always willing to persist with the use of new technology and I much prefer the new system to using paper forms and ‘snail mail’. I am also pleased to say that there is no chance of OUR players quitting just because we are losing every week. They will all benefit in the long term from teams in our division fielding Division One-quality players against us, while we are getting excellent turnouts at our Wednesday evening training sessions at the recently-acquired AIM Academy floodlit 3G pitch in Edmonton, with pretty much every player turning up every week since we started in mid-September. With Jacko now back to lead the coaching at those sessions and hopefully some other ex-Rovers legends coming along to help him now and again, the enjoyment of these training sessions are mirroring what we did back in the 1990’s under Trevor Hughes and we are convinced that we will eventually reach those same (Premier Division) heights again that we did under Trevor because of the team spirit and togetherness that we are now creating.


CHAIRMAN’S BLOG - Saturday 11th September 2021

On Thursday 20th May we had what could be described as a momentous occasion in the club’s history when we got together at Enfield Playing Fields at 6.00 pm for our first training session with our new group of predominantly 16-year-old players that included Harry Dorward, the son of our All-Time Record Appearance holder Stuart Dorward, and a number of Harry’s former team-mates from Enfield Youth’s Under-16 team that had just completed their season in one of the lower divisions for that age group in the Mid-Herts Rural Minors League.

Also attending were three players from Enfield Town Youth’s Under-16’s who had been playing in a higher division for that age group in the Watford Friendly League, while two or three other small groups of players or individuals were also invited along. Most of the players attending were known to Stuart and our veteran goalkeeper and former Manager Simon ‘Jacko’ Jackson from their time spent coaching in Youth football over the past few seasons while their sons Harry & Patrick had taken part. Unfortunately Patrick will not be 16 until the end of this season, so he will be unable to play for us until then, but it was clear straight away that the players attending this first session all knew how to kick the ball properly and play the 11-a-side game…unlike a large number of players who we had been having to field in Division One over the past two Covid-hit seasons thanks to a shocking lack of loyalty whenever we suffered a defeat (on You Tube).

Regular Thursday night sessions then continued throughout June and thereafter, but with most of our Management team having increasing work & family commitments that stopped them from being able to attend, we had to bring back Tony McKay as Team Manager for his second spell in charge, and at most sessions it was myself, Tony and Tony’s son Leon, our long-serving attacking midfielder, who were left to do the organising when we didn’t know any of the players ourselves. That wasn’t easy, but although we had the occasional poor turnout and had to call one or two sessions off because of bad weather, the players and ourselves all gradually started getting to know each other, although most of them were still very quiet and the word ‘communication’ had to be used by Tony countless times in order to get them calling each other loudly on the pitch as an adult team would do.  

On Monday 5th July, despite certain Covid restrictions not having been eased, we had a club Annual General Meeting for the first time for two years and we had an excellent turnout at the Edmonton Sports & Social Club (our Home ground) for that. It included pretty much all of our new players and a large number of their parents, all of whom were very impressed with the plans that myself and Tony spoke about for the club this season and what we were looking to emulate in terms of our team from the 1990’s going up the divisions with a young group of players who then stuck together for many years.

On the following Sunday, with the goalposts having been left up at Enfield Playing Fields all Summer by Enfield Council thanks to Covid having put paid to the Annual Pageant of Motoring show over there, we decided to scrape up 22 players for a bibs-wearing 90-minute Practice Match amongst ourselves with the help of Dads and Vets joining in. Although the pitch markings from the end of the 2020-2021 Season a couple of weeks before were barely visible, we had a really worthwhile exercise where we could see just how good the 16-year-olds were. Particularly impressive in this ‘match’ was club legend and originally-intended Manager Lexton Harrison’s son Tairique, who was able to attend for the first time thanks to Lexton being able to find time to bring him along and play himself, but unfortunately it wasn’t a great day for the Dads & Vets as midfielder Josh Wakeford’s Dad Tim went and ruptured his Achilles on the final whistle while ‘Jacko’ had to abandon his hopes of playing in goal this season (if needed) after doing his knee in trying to bowl at 90mph in a cricket match a few days earlier despite being in his mid-40’s. All he could do in this match was just stand there ‘between the sticks’ to make up the numbers.

We were then able to arrange our first Pre-Season Friendly on the back of that Practice Match and another Thursday night training session though, with our opponents being Estudiantes London, a team who had beaten us 10-2 the previous season when we were a Division One team. Due to the usual shortage of available pitches for Pre-Season Friendlies in July & August, this match had to be played on a Saturday morning at the CONEL 3G pitch in Enfield which therefore ruled out certain players and Management, but with our Club Welfare Officer Darren Wiltshire running the Estudiantes London setup from Haringey 6th Form College and fielding mainly teenage players himself, we agreed to take part in the fixture with the aim simply being to see if we could lose by a much lesser margin. Indeed we managed to achieve that by ‘only’ losing 7-2 this time, with four of Estudiantes goals coming in the last 13 minutes as we suffered from a lack of available substitutes and our opponents players being generally three years older than ours. We did have three real bonuses from this game though in Harry Dorward becoming the first son of an ex-Rovers player to score for the club in our 45-year history, Lexton Harrison’s 15-year-old nephew Gianni Dipo (see picture right)…who is already well over 6 foot tall and a real ‘powerhouse’…making his debut and causing our opponents all sorts of problems, and high praise from Darren Wiltshire himself for our impressive team performance bearing in mind the age of our players compared to those we had playing for us in the corresponding fixture the previous Pre-Season.

For our second Pre-Season Friendly the following Sunday (25th July), we arranged another Friendly against a newly-formed team from the East Herts Corinthian Sunday League in AC Nextgen, whose name and social media accounts suggested they were young players who were the sons of former players of AC Italia, a team we had played in the London Sunday Junior Cup back in the 1990’s. However, most of those ‘young’ players were apparently ‘not available’ or had changed their minds about joining, and Nextgen turned up with a team of amateur heavyweight boxers, weightlifters and experienced ex-Semi-Pros instead…plus a 16-year-old who was far better than any of ours and surely must have been on the books of a Pro club somewhere ? Despite predictably getting ‘kicked up in the air’ for a lot of the game though, our players were not intimidated whatsoever and it was a perfect learning curve for them. We only lost 4-2, although our two goals were scored by 21-year-old Nana Obeng, who was now back from a three-year-spell at University, but decided not to stay with us after this match and to try his luck at Step 5 Semi-Pro level instead for Spartan South Midlands League side Harpenden Town. It will be good for our club of course if Nana can progress from there, as we know that the professional filming of our games certainly helped his development and that it will do the same for our new young players if they treat it seriously enough.

The AC Nextgen Friendly was also memorable for the sheer numbers of supporters who attended the game, which was being played at one of our old Waltham Sunday League stomping grounds from the 90’s in Goffs Lane Playing Fields in Cheshunt. Most of our players had relatives there watching, including grandparents, while many of those relatives had also regularly been attending training sessions since we started them back in May. Half-Time oranges, fold-up seating for eight (2 x 4 sets), antibacterial wipes and all sorts of other things are now being brought along by them in addition to helping to wash the club shirts and the training/warm-up bibs, which was a job I had been doing totally on my own since ‘somebody’s Mum accidentally left green dye in their washing machine back in 1978 to turn our then white shirts a sort of ‘mint’ (#99EDC3) colour !

Also in attendance at Goffs Lane were two of our ex-players from the 90’s in Mark Howley and Lee Osborn, while our Treasurer and ex-player Alan Barnard was also able to pay a rare visit as he lives nearby. With Stuart Dorward now involved again, we are certainly hoping that more ex-players from his era will come along now and again for a catch-up and to see how Harry and Lexton’s son Tairique are getting on.

We then had to take a four-week break from playing Pre-Season Friendlies due to player holidays before resuming on Sunday 22nd August with a Home game against Whitewebbs Vets. Again, this game was specifically arranged to give our young players a taste of how experienced adults play the game, as we are likely to encounter those sort of teams in the bottom division this season. However, Whitewebbs Vets often field some of the Dads of our new players, and although only Dan Vanvynck (the father of our midfielder Jack) played for them in this game, it was more a case of them teaching us a lesson in how to pass the ball accurately and finish rather than putting in dodgy challenges. We ended up losing 6-3 and we played a lot better in our previous two Friendlies, but one consolation was Harry Dorward scoring a spectacular long-range goal which was nothing like the scruffy mis-hit goals his father normally put away for us !

With the pitch at the Edmonton Sports & Social Club being in superb condition, we then decided to take on the team who we hire that Home pitch from for our next Friendly the following Sunday, namely Norsemen Youth’s Under-18’s, who were all a year older than our players and had convincingly won their division in the Watford Friendly League last season. This was on the late-August Bank Holiday Sunday but we only had one player missing in left-back Lenny Charles and we more than matched our opponents for three-quarters of the match. However, a number of niggling injuries to players and the Dorwards having to leave early to go to Spurs saw us concede five goals in the last 20 minutes to lose 6-1 in the end.

It then got worse for a Pre-Season Friendly arranged against Enfield Town Youth’s Under-18’s at Enfield Playing Fields the following Wednesday night as none of our Over-35’s made themselves available whatsoever, leaving Manager Tony McKay completely on his own. Our players then started larking about and didn’t take the game seriously enough, and with goalkeeper Tyler having nobody to give him a proper warm-up, we found ourselves 9-1 down at Half-Time with only goalscorer Myreon Keane really being able to hold his head up high for his efforts. We played better in the Second Half but still lost 12-1 in the end and that forced me to give our Management Committee/’Coaching Staff’ a good talking to in requesting they make more of an effort to attend matches when they can to come along and help Tony out despite their other commitments.

Fortunately for our final Pre-Season Friendly on Sunday 5th September against Estudiantes London’s younger Development side, we had Stuart Dorward, Leon McKenzie-McKay and even Lexton Harrison all able to attend to give the players a strong pre-match lecture and then coach them vociferously throughout the 90 minutes, and that led to us producing an excellent performance to notch our first win with a 2-1 victory against a better side than Darren Wiltshire (Estudiantes Manager) had led us to believe beforehand. Making his debut for us in this match was pacy winger Luke Davidson, and when he combined with Gianni Dipo in the Second Half, we looked a lot more dangerous in attack, even though Myreon Keane was missing this game. We are certainly looking forward to the 10th October when those three will all be eligible to be picked for the squad and be able to play in attacking positions together, as a lack of pace up front has been our main problem so far.

For our midweek training session following that last Friendly we then had my brother Trevor over from Cyprus for three weeks to run some tactical and set-piece ideas through which our players really enjoyed. Trevor is of course our longest-serving Team Manager and responsible for our rise up the divisions throughout the 90’s with some innovative coaching ideas as we became one of the best Sunday sides in London by the early-2000’s when Stuart was at his peak as a player.  

We now have our first League match of the season this coming Sunday (12th September), and although we really have no idea what awaits us in terms of the strengths of our opponents, we certainly have a very positive outlook with a good squad of around 18 regular players who are all turning up to matches and training, they have all got to know each other now with the help of social media, and they (or their parents) have all paid their subs…and the last time that happened was when we were winning every week in our Division Two title-winning season of 2016-2017 and nobody dared get dropped ! There are also signs that some of our Management Committee members may be able to start attending more matches and training sessions to help with the coaching as the holiday season comes to an end. It is going to be vitally important that they do so.