CHAIRMAN’S BLOG - Thursday 8th March 2018

At the time of my last Chairman's Blog just after Christmas, a spell of bad weather was causing concern, and indeed our first match back after the break Away to GTFA on the 7th January was predictably called off due to a waterlogged pitch at their ground at Bethune Park in Whetstone, meaning we had now gone six weeks without a game. However, a number of other matches did go ahead in the Barnet Sunday League on that date, so with no match arranged for us the following week and the weather holding up well, we decided to play a Friendly Away to Essex Sunday Corinthian League Division Two side Chingford Athletic at the Peter May Sports Centre in Walthamstow on the 14th January so that we could keep our fitness levels up while everybody else was playing competitively. With so many players either still out injured or starting to lose interest because of our run of eight games without a win, we were therefore able to look at two new players in defender Oshade Watson and wide midfielder Jordan Umpire, while Andreas Kriticos, Chris Kriticos and Chris Lue were all given a rare start as six regulars all made themselves unavailable for various reasons. Those five were all there nice and early and raring to go, but most of the regulars who were playing strolled along just five minutes before the scheduled 10.30 am Kick-Off time, with the most novel excuse being that of Vishal Patel, who started driving from his home in Newham and then realised he didn't have enough petrol in his car...before finding out that he didn't have his wallet on him to buy some more. Or at least that was the excuse he gave us. Of course with Sunday morning footballers there is always the suspicion that in reality they just struggled to get out of bed, as may well have been the case with the others, especially for a Friendly. The worst problem we had for this match was no goalkeeper 'whatsoever' though. That saw veteran defender Lexton Harrison volunteering to go in goal for the first time since we played Enfield Crusaders back in 2011 when the match highlights went viral after he played using 5-a-side rules instead of 11-a-side...before somebody kindly showed him that you kick the ball from goal-kicks instead of rolling it out under-arm ! With Chingford Athletic doing well in their division, we ended up losing 4-1 because they had a proper goalkeeper, they had the better teamwork and they were also fitter than us, but at least it was a good workout for us in the end.
We then had to face second-placed Churchbury the week after though as we finally played our first Division One match since losing 6-2 Away to Edmonton Blades over two months ago. In that Edmonton Blades game our first-choice goalkeeper Grant Baker had an off-day, but he was unavailable for this match and therefore unable to redeem himself. In goal instead was James Gibbs, a new signing that we had found from a direct message he sent us on Twitter. As he told us he had previously played for Hertford Town Reserves, Stanstead and Norsemen Youth, we decided to throw him in straight away without seeing him play, but it was a bit worrying when during the warm-up he told our goalkeeping coach Bob Cleary that he couldn't take goal-kicks or drop-kick the ball very far because of a long-standing injury. With our regular goalkeeper from last season Stephen Roussety now unavailable for the rest of this season due to family commitments though, we had no choice but to put James in rather than using an outfield player again, but the main problem we had for this match was that we had so many regulars unavailable again that we had to field five new players (including James) with only three appearances between them. That included lively forward Godfrey Tay, who was making his debut and scored a good goal for us in the Second Half, but the lack of teamwork from too many players not knowing each other and others making terrible mistakes meant we lost 6-2 again for the second League match running. With Manager Tony McKay starting to get seriously disgruntled with certain players complaining about being substituted or not being brought on while not accepting they were at fault and thinking they are better than they are, he decided to continue signing up as many new players as possible until we found enough who were good enough and committed enough to start getting us back to winning ways. We badly needed players who could last 90 minutes, knew how to play the game positionally & tactically, knew how to communicate on the pitch, have the bottle to throw themselves into blocks & challenges, stay with their men and attack the ball in the air from corners, and were prepared to play in more than one position for the good of the team when asked. All basics for anybody who wanted to play for a competitive team in a competitive League as opposed to work team Friendlies, casual 5-a-sides and Church League football, which was where some of our players had played their 11-a-side football previously.
Perhaps fortunately after such a poor performance, we did not have a game arranged again for the following week, so it was another chance for us to scour Twitter looking for teams with a pitch available that we could play in another Friendly in order to try out more new players before registering them to play in our League matches. This time we decided to travel to Grays in Essex to play South Essex Sunday League side Stifford United as several of our players actually lived out in that direction along the A13. Typically though, we had no less than 19 players make themselves unavailable, mainly because of injuries or work commitments rather than the distance, leaving us with just 12 players on the day including Daniel Daley (who aggravated an injury in the warm-up and had to name himself as a substitute to come on in emergencies only), Oshade Watson (who was still struggling to regain his fitness having been out with a long-term injury before joining us), goalkeeper James Gibbs once again (despite his unconvincing debut the week before), a badly unfit Daniel Cascoe (who was never really going to last 90 minutes) and two more new players in Oshade's cousin Allan Toppin and 18-year-old Nana Obeng, who had contacted us via the UK Football Finder website having been attracted by the professional filming of our matches. Nana told us he plays (or played for ?) Barnet FC's Development team, but like many youngsters nowadays, he needed professionally-filmed footage of himself playing in competitive matches in order to be scouted with a view to becoming a professional either at home or abroad. Indeed this is something that I have been working on for various companies quite a bit recently, many of whom have links to colleges in the United States that offer scholarships to 18-21 year-olds. Tre Maxwell was one such player who played for us in a couple of matches before Christmas, and the hope is that we can attract more of these players to play for us where our filming of matches can help them with their ambitions...particularly goalkeepers of course ! Although we had five first-choice players from last season playing in Lexton Harrison, Harold Ofori, Aiden Kavanagh, Curtis Baalam & Ayo Matthews, the problem we faced was that unknown to us when we confirmed the fixture, Stifford United were one of the top Sunday sides in Essex, having only lost 2-1 to Priory Sports the week before in the Essex Sunday Premier Cup...Priory Sports being THE best Sunday side in Essex. Indeed Stifford United have only lost one other match all season, and although we did well to only be losing 2-1 at Half-Time with Nana scoring a good goal on his debut, some disastrous mistakes by keeper Gibbs, an Own Goal from Harold and a comical mix-up between Aiden & Harold contributed to Stifford scoring seven in the Second Half as we finally lost 9-2, which was actually Aiden's heaviest-ever defeat in a game of 11-a-side football for any team ! It was very frustrating for us because we would have given Stifford a close game last season, while even during this Pre-Season we played against and were only narrowly beaten by three other teams who are at the same sort of level as them. In fact we played so badly in this match that Harold specifically asked me not to put the highlights on You Tube in order to save himself and his team-mates from embarrassment, but as always, I did...and the simple reason for that is it was because we were playing a team from a League which I had never encountered before, and now (thanks to You Tube) I am likely to get bookings to film their Cup Finals. That keeps my business going and it also keeps Edmonton Rovers going. Of course that then resulted in James Gibbs leaving the club as soon as those highlights went online and various trolls then started commenting about his performance, which included a lot of hesitancy in coming off his line and bad positioning in general, but most of all his attempts at launching drop-kicks downfield, which were in the style of goalkeepers at all levels of the game when we first formed the club 40 years ago whereby the ball was kicked straight ahead with a straight leg while facing straight down the pitch, with it then looping high up in the sky and just about reaching the half-way line. If you watch The Big Match Revisited from the mid-1970's that are shown on BT Sport as filler programmes during daytime hours, you will see every goalkeeper doing that while wearing a plain green shirt and no gloves, while rubbing their hands in the mud and spitting on them for grip. They also never came out of their areas and played as 'sweeper-keepers', albeit because they were allowed to pick up back-passes in those days, but watching James in his two matches for us certainly brought back memories for myself and Tony as to what all goalkeepers were like when we both used to play. Unfortunately for us, all the outfield players we have been having to put in goal this season have been drop-kicking the ball in the same way and cannot get their goal-kicks driven more than about 20 yards either ! Our first-choice Grant Baker is the only one we have who plays like a properly-coached modern goalkeeper where he is quick on his feet to come off his line and catch through balls on the bounce and then quickly drill his drop-kicks low, hard and direct using the Pepe Reina side-volley technique. Every goalkeeper at professional and Semi-Professional level plays like that nowadays, and virtually every team we play against at Sunday League level has a goalkeeper coached to play in that same style. Although James was actually a top bloke and a good character, it does baffle me as to why players...and he is not the only one we have had join us and then leave this season...tell us they have played for this or that pro club academy or Semi-Pro club when they clearly haven't. If they did, then it must have either just been for a week or two before they were coached how to play the game properly, or they just attended Soccer Schools run by those clubs during Half-Term where all they teach outfield players is how to do various tricks & flicks, and all the goalkeepers do is just stand between the sticks and face a barrage of shots.  In most cases, I suspect these players joining us from that background are also seriously underestimating the standard of adult men's Sunday football where they think it is for 'anyone' irrespective of ability and fitness. Unfortunately it is not like that any more, and that is why the F.A. brought in the 'Just Play' and 'Flexible Football' initiatives for those sort of players.
With Grant continuing to make himself unavailable, we had to use Taurean Bryan in goal again for our Division One Double-Header Away to Grange Park on the 11th February. This came after yet another postponement for a waterlogged pitch the week before, so we had therefore played only one competitive match since the 3rd December whilst Grange Park had played three. The arrangement of the Double-Header was down to their own fixture backlog caused by their success in various Cup competitions, and indeed they were facing us having only lost one match all season (apart from penalty shoot-out defeats). They were also fielding more-or-less a full-strength squad of 14 whereas we were missing six first-choice players from last season's successful side. However, with Tony continuing to recruit new players, mainly with the help of Harold Ofori, we actually turned up for these two one-hour matches with a squad of 17, which is the most we have ever had for a Double-Header in the club's history ! Normally it would only be a bare eleven with myself having to pack away the camera to come out of retirement and help out in one of the games, in which we would then invariably get the game that I did NOT play in ! For the first match of this particular Double-Header though, we had five players in the starting line-up who were either making their debuts or had only played less than a handful of matches between them, while two more debutants in Sam Woolley and Ben Boothroyd were lined up to start the second match. The three players making their debuts in the first match were Brandon Solomon, Valentine Laurence & Henry Akinsanmi, all of whom had been brought along by Harold. Although we had no idea how these new players were going to play, it certainly gave everybody a boost to see that we had so many still wanting to play for us despite us now having gone eleven matches without a win. The day before this match though, it had 'chucked it down' for about 24 hours, leaving most pitches badly waterlogged, including all three at the venue we were playing, Clowes Sports Ground on the Winchmore Hill/Palmers Green border. The ground is opposite Firs Farm, a venue that used to have 12 pitches and a resident groundsman who was also responsible for doing pitch inspections at Clowes on Saturday & Sunday mornings. However, after 'travellers' trashed Firs Farm during the Summer, Enfield Council took all those pitches down for this season and laid off the groundsman to save money, leaving decisions on the fitness of the pitches at Clowes to be made by the Referee(s) on the day. Our Referee for these two matches (Michael McPherson) didn't know that though, as Grange Park just assumed he would use common sense and turn up before the players of both sides went in and got changed for their warm-ups. He therefore strolled along at one minute before the scheduled 10:30 am Kick-Off time and only realised how bad all the pitches were when he started walking across the one Grange Park had already put the nets up on....which was their normal pitch on the left, looking out from the changing rooms. He then ordered them to put the nets up on the middle pitch instead, so that they could then be moved 'quickly' again to the third pitch in the top right-hand corner, which was the one in the best condition...but still unplayable really. All three pitches were an absolute bog right through the middle and had been badly churned up from matches being played on them the day before. By the time the Referee had inspected the pitches and the nets had been moved, the first match kicked-off 28 minutes late and our players had been 'warming up' for over an hour, with Grange Park's players almost doing likewise. As for myself, I was suffering badly from 'man-flu' and should have been in bed. I felt absolutely terrible and the strength of the near gale-force biting cold wind made it even worse. Although I brought my ladder-platform along as usual to film the matches from, I couldn't use it because it would have been too difficult to move it from pitch to pitch, and it was too dangerously windy to stand on it anyway. I therefore had to film both matches at ground level with Tony and our substitutes constantly getting right in the way without realising, and the wind was so strong it blew the tripod over twice as I let go of it during the break in-between matches. That caused a lot of damage to one of the legs and also the external microphone's mounting bracket, but thankfully the camera itself wasn't damaged because the ground it landed on was so soft and muddy ! I was therefore able to record two excellent performances in which we were the better side in both matches with all our new players playing really well, but unfortunately we lost both games 1-0 (in the first match) and 3-2 (in the second) due to goalkeeping mistakes by Taurean and Grange Park defending heroically in both matches. However, it was very encouraging for us that we were now starting to find some new players that were fit, competitive and had a lot more understanding of how to play 11-a-side tactically than some who had played for us in previous matches. We knew that we just needed to find a proper goalkeeper from somewhere and we would finally end our winless run, which was now 13 matches.
The following week finally saw us play our first game at the Edmonton Sports & Social Club since way back on the 3rd December as we took on FC Lokomotiv Thunder, a team with a similar record to us, and who we had drawn 3-3 with back in November. Unfortunately though, the atrocious weather this winter had ruined the pitch and it was nothing like the bowling green we were playing on all last season. We also had no Grant, no Taurean and no sign of any proper goalkeeper being signed up to replace James Gibbs, so that saw Lexton Harrison having to 'volunteer' to go in goal again and it was all about how well we could play as a team to protect him in trying to nick that elusive win. Even though we had eleven 'good enough' players unavailable, we still had a strong squad of 16 for this one (apart from Lexton in goal), so we were confident going into the game on the back of our much-improved performances against Grange Park the week before. The squad included another new signing in midfielder Tyriquee Solomon who was named as one of the substitutes, while this time we brought a large tactics board along for the first time in Tony's reign as Manager to help with explaining various things to our numerous new players. Daniel Daley certainly enjoyed that, showing some good ideas on the board during the Half-Time interval in particular that could see him maybe become a future Rovers Assistant Manager/Coach in the future. Who knows ?! FC Lokomotiv Thunder had beaten second-placed Churchbury 4-0 in their previous match despite playing the whole game with only 10 men and they were the better side early on as we struggled to string two passes together on the churned-up pitch and ended up being vulnerable to the long ball over the top from losing possession too easily. That was how they went 1-0 up after just 16 minutes, but after Jack Bangs equalised just four minutes later we thought we might have a chance of getting the three points. However, FC Loko went 2-1 up in the 60th minute and led right up until the last kick of the match when substitute Nana Obeng managed to equalise for us with a good finish from fellow substitute Daniel Daley's low cross. In fact it was the introduction of all our substitutes at various stages of the Second Half that improved our performance greatly and earnt us the point because we were not playing well at all before that. The reason for that was too many of our players thinking our opponents would be rubbish just because a lot of them were wearing different coloured shorts and didn't have their socks pulled up properly. They had several scruffy and ungainly-looking players, but as we know from previous experiences, appearances can certainly be deceptive in Sunday football. FC Loko were unbeaten in nine matches and had also beaten Premier Division leaders Highgate Albion 1-0 in a Cup match earlier this season. They were all fit, strong and competitive and also had better teamwork than us, particularly defensively where our back four of Sam Woolley, Jamie Mehmet, Harold Ofori and Brandon Solomon were all over the place at times and made some bad individual errors as well. However, that was clearly because we were having to chop and change our starting line-up every match due to mass player unavailability. We badly needed to find a settled team as soon as possible, and especially a regular back four.
Thankfully after such a long run of matches against in-form sides, our next match at Bethune Park in Whetstone on the 25th February finally saw us face a side in GTFA who were below us in the Division One table, but yet again Lexton Harrison had to play in goal while several players who had played against FC Lokomotiv Thunder the week before made themselves unavailable. As it happened, Manager Tony McKay decided to have a mass shake-up anyway, dropping a number of regulars to the bench but keeping three of the same back four with Oshade Watson replacing the injured Brandon Solomon at left-back. For this match though, we had a situation which often occurs in Sunday League football nationwide where the Referee failed to turn up. The reason that happened here was because unknown to the Home team (GTFA), the original Referee had to be moved to a more important Cup match at very short notice but a replacement wasn't found until late in the evening the night before the game. The League Referee's Secretary therefore used Full-Time's automated e-mailing system and also texted the GTFA Player-Secretary to inform him and advise him to confirm with the new Referee, but as it was so late in the day, he had (presumably ?) turned his phone off and then didn't see/notice the messages until 10 minutes before the kick-off on the morning of the match while the players of both sides were already warming-up on the pitch. The Referee was therefore still in bed and unable to get to the ground in time, so the League rules when that situation happens is that both teams must agree on a Referee and still get the game played. Normally that means a substitute (or Team Manager/Secretary) refereeing the First Half and their opposite number doing likewise for the Second Half, but as GTFA did not have anybody suitable on their touchline, they agreed for our own Goalkeeping Coach & Club Linesman Bob Cleary to referee the whole game. Although Bob always brings a whistle and Linesmens flags with him to every match specifically for this eventuality, he does not have a stopwatch or red & yellow cards, so not surprisingly that became an issue when he very nearly had to abandon the match because of continual dissent from GTFA's players once they had pulled a goal back from our early 2-0 lead and were appealing for everything in pressing for an equaliser, while Bob therefore decided not to play any 'Added On Time' at the end for those reasons. As far as we were concerned, that was the League's fault for not telling the replacement Referee to just turn up at Bethune Park anyway. Why should Bob take a load of unnecessary stick for helping out both teams in getting the game played ? As it happened, on the balance of play we deserved to win the game anyway and finally  put an end to that dreadful run of form.
Frustratingly, after finally getting that elusive win, we were left without a game the following week (4th March) due to snow in midweek wiping out everybody's fixtures, although it was one of those where the games had all been called off on the Friday but the snow had all melted and the weather was perfect come the Sunday morning ! However, looking back on the GTFA match, what was particularly pleasing was the performance of our back four, as they all played as a solid unit this time with no offside mix-ups and no individual blunders. Also, both holding midfielders (Anees Ikramullah & Henry Akinsanmi) played well defensively because whenever they gave the ball away...which was a lot, mainly because of the near gale-force wind and the state of the pitch...they chased back straight away to try and win it back. So many times over the last few years we have had players playing in those central midfield positions who have just stood there with their head down when they have lost the ball and just let players run away from them straight at our back four. That isn't happening now because we are signing up fitter and more competitive players. Also, the communication between players was so much better with them now getting to know each others names, and that helps enormously. The only real problem that we still need to put right as soon as possible is that we need to be a lot better in the final third. The main problem there is last season's leading scorer Ayo Matthews, who has clearly lost a lot of confidence after his lengthy hamstring injury earlier this season. The goals have now dried up for him and nobody else is finding the net on a regular basis. We have gone back to how it was for us year after year in the Waltham Sunday League where our Top Goalscorer Award at the AGM often went to somebody who had only scored no more than 9 goals during the course of the season. We also now have recent signing Godfrey Tay out with the same hamstring problem as Ayo, while whoever we play in the attacking midfield three just cannot seem to get any sort of consistency going with their colleagues in those positions and with whoever is playing as the lone striker, which is invariably Ayo. That is mainly because we are playing against much better opponents compared to the season before, particularly where our defensive midfielders and defenders are being constantly pressed and they are unable to get early and accurate passes into our attacking players feet or into the channels for them to run onto and get in shots at goal.
We now have just four League matches left this season and we are currently in 6th place as I write this. Three of those matches are against teams below us in the table, while the other one is on Easter Day against League leaders The Winchmore, who will probably clinch the title on that date if they beat us. That is going to be an extremely difficult game with five players already telling us they are away for the weekend, but if we have Grant Baker available to play in goal, then we can certainly cause an upset bearing in mind we drew 0-0 with them earlier this season. The other three matches are must-win games though because there is apparently a possibility that the League may have an extra division next season where a lot of teams joining will need to go straight into the Premier Division or Division One, meaning that the bottom five teams in Division One at the moment could all end up being relegated. We will therefore need to finish in the Top Five to stay in Division One next season, and we should be able to manage that if we beat those three teams below us, starting with New Barnet at Home in our next permitting.


CHAIRMAN’S BLOG - Wednesday 3rd January 2018

This latest Chairman's Blog is being written during our enforced 'Winter Break', which is normally only for two Sundays during the Christmas & New Year holiday period where local Council groundstaff have a long break themselves, meaning no changing rooms are open and no lines are marked out on the pitches. However, this season we are having an extended 'Winter Break' as our game at Home to Grange Park on the 10th December was called off just two hours before the kick-off after sudden unexpected heavy snowfall hit North London and wiped out every match in the area, while the following Sunday saw us (and most other teams) without a game due to a shortage of Referees and with a number of clubs asking to be released from their fixtures due to Christmas parties the night before. The next two Sundays were Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, so our next scheduled match after a four-week break is on Sunday 7th January when we are due to play Away to GTFA in the first of our nine remaining Division One matches, all of which will need to be won for us to have any hope of winning the title this season. However, the weather forecast is horrendous at the moment with a lot of heavy rain on the way, and with us having no match arranged (again) for the 14th January because we have already been knocked out of all three Cups, there is quite a strong possibility that we will now be having a six-week break this winter...and possibly even longer. If that had happened last season when we were winning every week, we would have been extremely frustrated, but the way things stand for us at the moment, it may actually do us a favour if it happens. That's because of ongoing injury problems for first-choice attacking players Ayo Matthews, Leon McKenzie-McKay & Daniel Daley, while other squad members have also been out of action with less serious injuries, general fitness problems, or just suffering from a lack of form & confidence. Perhaps more worryingly though, we are now starting to get a number of players 'disappearing' and seemingly losing interest, either because of our poor run of form or because they are unable to gain a regular place in the starting line-up. We are going to have to hope that a long break without us having any matches may see them regain their enthusiasm once we start playing again.

Our first game after Leon suffered his broken ankle Away to FC Lokomotiv Thunder in early November looked an almost impossible task for us as we took on unbeaten Division One leaders The Winchmore on Norsemen's First XI pitch at our own Home ground on the 12th November. This was The Winchmore's Home match having just been given that pitch at the Edmonton Sports & Social Club on a regular basis, and as such, they were extremely fired up for what was a big local derby. It was the first time we had played them, but we were well aware of the 'complaints' from certain other teams in the division that The Winchmore's style of play was very much the 'old school White-Brit Pub Team'-mentality of big blokes (including some with beer bellies) getting stuck in with late physical challenges and a lot of 'clever' off-the-ball stuff such as treading on feet and digging elbows into the ribs, but at the same time all being comfortable on the ball and capable of 'pinging it about' with long diagonals over the top of defences playing a high line. That sort of football was what we used to play against whenever we faced highly-successful teams in the Waltham Sunday League such as Upshire, Flamstead End & AFC Cheshunt (to name but three), while back in our Haringey & Tottenham Sunday League and Edmonton Sunday League days many years ago, pretty much every team used to play like that. In the Barnet Sunday League though, most teams we have played in our 18 months of membership so far have been either very friendly and sporting with more of an 'AFA 8th XI' mentality or they mirror what they see in the Premier League on TV nowadays and play a pressing game at a furious pace, giving our defenders and midfielders no time on the ball whatsoever...which was how we lost two successive matches by 5-0 scorelines to Churchbury and Panathinaikos only a few weeks earlier. The Winchmore's style of play turned out to be right up our street as we fielded an experienced, intelligent and physically strong side, most of whom had seen it all before, and we therefore managed to come away with a goalless draw, which was very much a shock result at the time on current form. It helped a lot that we had Grant Baker in goal instead of an outfield player, we were starting with our first-choice back four of Lexton Harrison, Ivan Bass, Harold Ofori & Miles Levy, we had Tyronne Petrie & Curtis Baalam in the centre of midfield...which was our most successful holding combination last season, and Ayo Matthews' dodgy hamstring held up on this occasion for him to play a full 90 minutes up front. Manager Tony McKay can also take the credit for this one for deciding to switch from his usual 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-1-1 formation and putting in Anees Ikramullah & Vishal Patel as wide midfielders who were always going to tuck inside and make us nice and compact with 'two banks of four' in there defensively, while George House was played in a free role behind Ayo...where he then ended up having his best match for us so far. Admittedly we were helped by a gale-force wind making it easier to defend than getting in shots on target, but it was a very encouraging performance nonetheless.

Tony therefore decided to keep that new formation for our match Away to mid-table Edmonton Blades at Enfield Playing Fields the following Sunday, but unfortunately Tyronne Petrie and Anees Ikramullah were both unavailable for that one, so Daniel Cascoe was therefore given his first start of the season alongside Curtis in the centre of midfield while new signing Josh Odukoya came in to replace Anees with another new signing in Tobi Michaels on the bench alongside Khaheem McKenzie, who was available for the first time since the end of the previous season after various work commitments. With Edmonton Blades being one of those 'manic pressing' sides though, a badly unfit Cascoe just couldn't cope with that, and although he scored a good goal for us with a bullet header from a corner, he had to be replaced early in the Second Khaheem, who was even more unfit ! We had already had to suffer Ayo Matthews pulling his hamstring again just 40 seconds into the match and Daniel Daley breaking down in the pre-match warm-up, but Cascoe & Khaheem's lack of fitness meant we were nowhere near strong enough to compete for 90 minutes and we were effectively playing with 10½ men all match with Blades' super-fit attacking players forcing our defenders (and goalkeeper Grant Baker) into some horrendous mistakes as we crashed to a 6-2 defeat, albeit after being the better side for most of the First Half up until we went 3-2 down in the 38th minute. In fact we certainly didn't deserve to lose by such a wide margin and we had no luck at all with Blades really making the most of their chances. A draw or even a narrow one-goal win for us might have been a fairer scoreline on the balance of play, but we really had a shocker defensively.

As we had now failed to win in our last five League matches, winning the Division One title was probably already out of the question, so with two Cup matches coming up, it was time to concentrate on them instead as a chance for us to win a trophy this season. The first of those two Cup games came on the 26th November when we played at Home to Premier Division side Highgate Albion Reserves in the Second Round of the League Senior Cup. Although our opponents were in the lower half of the table and in a bit of disarray due to a sudden change of Club Secretary which resulted in them turning up late and with just a bare eleven, they did appear to be fielding their strongest side while we were most certainly not...which had been the case for most of the season so far. For this one we had no less than 16 players unavailable and we were only able to name three substitutes instead of our normal five. In fact we were fielding so many new players that Manager McKay couldn't remember all their names and had to call them by the numbers on their shorts when they were facing him ! In addition to that, we had four others in the starting line-up (including goalkeeper Stephen Roussety) who were getting a rare game, while Ayo Matthews and Khaheem McKenzie, two of our 'star players' from last season were only fit enough for a place on the bench. Although we were unlucky against Edmonton Blades the week before, Tony decided to go back to the 4-2-3-1 formation for this one as we fielded a completely new front four of Tom Croake, Rhys McKay and new signings Ben Culora and Tre Maxwell, both of whom were making their debuts. As we are unable to have training sessions in midweek, we knew that a lack of teamwork between those four was going to be a problem, but what they did give us was youth (with an average age of 21), fitness and work-rate. Because of that...and two good goals from Tom Croake just before Half-Time, we managed to battle our way against all the odds to earn a 2-2 draw after 90 minutes, but with no Extra-Time any more where us having three substitutes (compared to Highgate's bare eleven) could have made a difference, the game had to be decided on penalties where we once again had a nightmare as we did on three occasions last season. This time, bad misses from Harold Ofori and Khaheem McKenzie saw us crash out as Highgate's players easily converted all their attempts. Admittedly though, we did ride our luck quite a bit in the Second Half of this match because we had so many new players playing who had come from a 5-a-side background and had not played 90 minutes for 'years'. As 5-a-side matches do not last any more than 50 minutes, that was when they started 'conking out' !

For what turned out to be our last game before Christmas on the 3rd December in the League Junior Cup against Zenit St. Whetstone, we once again had a ridiculous amount of players making themselves unavailable, but at least we were boosted by Tyronne Petrie, Anees Ikramullah, Ivan Bass & Curtis Baalam all returning to the starting line-up after missing the Highgate Albion Reserves match the week before. However, they were all defenders or defensive midfielders, as were our four players on the bench in Taurean Bryan, Vishal Patel, Andreas Kriticos and another new signing in Jamie Mehmet. From an attacking viewpoint we only had the same attacking midfield three and lone striker as we had the week before with no alternatives to come on for them this time if we needed to come from behind and score goals. For this match though, Manager McKay took a gamble and played central defender Ivan Bass as a holding midfielder where he then played like a fish out of water and slithered about all over the place, although none of our players could be proud of their performances as we crashed to a 6-0 defeat in a game where we were thoroughly outplayed by our in-form and unbeaten Division Two opponents who were well fired up for the match because we professionally film our games and put the highlights on You Tube, and also because we play at arguably the best venue in the League. Typically, Zenit then went and lost to Highgate Albion Reserves the following week (who we only lost to on penalties) because of players making themselves unavailable, most probably due to that match not being filmed and not being played on a bowling green of a pitch. It was a classic example of what I spoke about in a previous Chairman's Blog where if it was last season (when we had a settled side and were winning every week), our opponents 'star' players would not have turned up for fear of being humiliated on You Tube, but this season they can see that we are struggling, so they turn up with a stronger side than normal because they know they are going to win on You Tube. We then find it extremely difficult to break that cycle of defeats because our opponents are nearly always at full-strength (unlike last season), so a lot of our players then leave because they don't like losing on You Tube and we are then stuck in a rut of having a relegation battle year after year like we had in the Waltham Sunday League for 12 long seasons.
As I have mentioned before, our current situation with a huge loss of players from our successful side of last season is mirroring exactly what happened way back in Season 1980-1981 in our Edmonton Sunday League days when we were promoted to Division Five after winning Division Eight the season before and then got off to a terrible start because we were unable to field a settled side. In that 1980-1981 Season up until just after Christmas, we lost matches by scorelines such as 0-4, 0-5, 4-9, 1-6, 1-7 (twice), 2-8 and even a 1-10, but we also had a 0-0 draw against our big rivals River Plate, a team who played exactly like The Winchmore ! It then all suddenly 'clicked' towards the end of January though, and we then won seven matches in a row and ended up only losing twice in our last eleven matches to finish comfortably in mid-table. One of those two defeats was only by a narrow 2-3 scoreline, while the other was a 1-4 loss in the last game of the season to the eventual Runners-Up, Queensway Athletic after we had actually beaten them by exactly the same scoreline in that seven-match winning run. Maybe history can repeat itself then, and we can beat this season's most likely Runners-Up Churchbury 5-0 when we play them again, while winning seven in a row to finish third...or maybe even finishing Runners-Up ourselves ? We know we have got the players to do it as long as we can get them all fit and available again as soon as possible. However, we also know that there are a lot of things that we have been doing wrong tactically so far this season, mainly because of all the new players that we are having to throw in at the deep end without having training sessions first. The main one in our last two matches with a new-look and relatively inexperienced front four is their mis-understanding of how and when to defend when they are playing in a 4-2-3-1 system and our opponents have the ball. Because they are all young and fit, they all want to press the opposing full-backs deep inside the opposing half, but our defenders and defensive midfielders are all invariably old and/or slow, so they do NOT want to push up too far to join the attacking midfielders in the 'press' because they don't want to be sprinting back towards their own goal chasing after opposing forwards running onto a long ball over the top. Consequently we have given opposing teams too much space in which to control the ball in midfield and either run at our defence or slide through balls in-between them. Basically we are not playing as a team because the defenders and our attacking players are not always close enough to each other as a unit. A lot of it appears to be because some of our attacking midfield players (including some of those who didn't even play in our last two matches) do not seem to realise that they cannot leave our defenders and defensive midfielders facing 'six against six' situations when we are not in possession. They seem to think that they can just stay up 'in attack' and that they only need to drop back and get goalside if the opposing full-back goes up on a run...and even then, those attacking full-backs often get 'passed on' for our own full-backs or defensive midfielders to deal with. Whenever I watch live Premier League matches on TV, the co-commentators and the studio analysts are always pointing that out whenever the likes of Ozil, Son Heung-Min and Andros Townsend do the same, and those players (especially Ozil) quite rightly get absolutely slated for it. However, virtually everybody nowadays (except for myself ?) watches live Premier League matches with their mates in a very noisy and crowded front room or bar where they cannot hear the commentary...and they are not interested in what is being said anyway. They don’t listen during the match and they then turn the TV off or go home when the post-match analysis comes on. Young players who do this therefore never learn the game tactically. They see players doing something wrong positionally live on TV and copy their mistakes because they can't hear anybody saying that it is wrong. If they are watching just the highlights on Match Of The Day and 'cannot avoid' hearing what a studio expert is saying after each game, they will automatically say he is talking 'a load of bollocks' just because he was a famous player from a team who are the biggest rivals of the team they support. Even our own Manager...yes, Tony is a Spurs supporter...refuses to listen to anything Ian Wright says because he hates him (and Jack Wilshere) for taking the piss out of Spurs whenever Arsenal win trophies, while I dare say those of our players who are Arsenal supporters are not going to take any notice of what Glenn Hoddle says (or Jermaine Jenas & Danny Murphy to a lesser extent). It is ridiculous to think that ex-Premier League players 'do not know what they are talking about' though. They know a lot more about the game than we do and they should be listened to...whoever they are. The other things that have affected us so far this season are both our proper goalkeepers making costly mistakes because they have not been playing regularly enough. Like most of our outfield players, they need training sessions where they can practice, while being disorganised in defending corners has also cost us goals. Under one of our previous Managers Trevor Hughes, we did zonal marking successfully for years, but we cannot do that now because we do not have training and we do not have a settled side. At our level, we cannot designate certain players before the kick-off to pick up a certain opponent when defending man-for-man from corners because, unlike in the professional game, we do not know anything about our opponents and do not get given a team-sheet an hour before the kick-off listing who we are playing against. When we concede our first corner of the match, somebody (invariably our Vice-Captain Harold Ofori) just shouts out 'pick up a man', but those of our players who hate grappling, blocking and getting an elbow in the head in an aerial challenge just don't bother ! Another reason for us being so poor defensively so far this season is that opposing forwards have been quicker and sharper than what we faced last season. That has forced our defenders into making mistakes where they have been uncomfortable while in possession at the back and they have lost a lot of confidence after goals have been conceded as a result of their mistakes. That has also affected them mentally where their heads are down and they are not on their toes to throw themselves into challenges and block shots. We have let in a lot of soft goals where players have been allowed to get shots in from the edge of the area too easily and those shots have then crept in underneath the late dive of whoever is in goal. Players not knowing each other's names is not surprisingly a huge problem for us at the moment. This is where we are just going to have to be patient with our new players. It is far easier for existing players to learn a new player's name than it is the other way round. They are not going to learn names from our WhatsApp Group either because they all display as cryptic names on there unless they have numbers saved to names in their smartphone's address book.

These are all things that we can gradually put right once we start playing again though, and certainly one thing that we will be looking at in addition to that is having Tony naming his starting line-up and doing his team-talk for each match BEFORE we start the warm-up. The reason he has always left it until after the warm-up up until now is to make sure that our substitutes (and others who are not in the squad but need a fitness test) all warm-up as well...thinking that they won't bother if they already know they are not starting the game. That way of doing it also allowed for the teamsheet to be filled in at the last minute so that latecomers could be included. However, with our goalkeeping Coach Bob Cleary unable to arrive for matches until 20 minutes before the kick-off, it meant he only had 10-15 minutes with whoever was in goal, so if the team-talk is done before the warm-up, that will give Bob an extra 5-10 minutes, which could make a big it will do for Tony in having time to instruct players on tactics and who is doing what from corners & set-pieces. It will also stop the farcical situation we have at the moment where because of the League's annoying rule regarding players having to sign the teamsheet, they all find out from that teamsheet what the starting line-up is before Tony has announced it ! From now on, the team will be announced before the teamsheet is filled in. Let's just hope that the weather holds up before our next match on the 6th January and we can put these ideas into practice.


CHAIRMAN’S BLOG - Saturday 11th November 2017

At the time of my previous Chairman's Blog back in early October, we had just beaten Edmonton Blades

3-2 to stretch our unbeaten run in League matches to an amazing 19 months, so we were therefore wondering just how far we could go. However, hamstring and calf niggles for Ayo Matthews and Leon McKenzie-McKay were causing concern, as was the frequent unavailability of both our goalkeepers from last season Grant Baker & Stephen Roussety. In addition to that, we have been without Aiden Kavanagh most of the time as he is concentrating on playing Futsal this season while he is back at Brunel University for another year, while Connor Kavanagh (working in China), Khaheem McKenzie (working 'non-stop' ?) and Johan Ahipeaud are also key players from last season who are no longer playing. At the start of this season we had nine new players plus Anees Ikramullah & Rhys McKay (who both hardly played at all last season) who we thought would really boost the squad and make an impact, but not one of them has really been able to nail down a regular place in the starting line-up yet, and when they do get a start, quite often they end up being substituted. Indeed four of those new players already appear to have left (or very rarely make themselves available). We still expected to beat mid-table Hornsey & Highgate at Home on the 15th October though, even though we had outfield player Taurean Bryan in goal and Manager Tony McKay away in Jamaica, but those injuries to Ayo and Leon proved to be costly as neither of them were able to play more than 35 minutes, while poor defending from set-pieces and players turning up late from a party the night before saw us slump to a 3-1 defeat with complacency a big factor in our downfall. With Hornsey & Highgate having lost 10-2 to Churchbury and 4-1 to Grange Park, it was a real wake-up call and proof that despite those scorelines, mid-table teams in Division One were all going to be much fitter, stronger and well-organised than most of the teams we had faced in Division Two the season before, and that we needed to have strengthened our squad to match what Churchbury and Grange Park have obviously done since their own promotions to the same division.

That defeat was not the best preparation for our next match at Home to Churchbury, as they were top of the table coming into this match and had scored 23 goals in their previous three matches with forward/winger Jamie Stevens scoring a hat-trick in each of them. Even though we had beaten them on all three occasions we played them last season, we knew this was likely to be a different story as we had Taurean having to play in goal again and Ayo, Anees, Aiden and Miles Levy all unavailable. With all those other players from last season missing as well, we were simply not good enough and crashed to an embarrassing 5-0 defeat. It was the first time for nearly two years that we had been outplayed according to the final shots count (and on corners as well, as they had eight to our one). It was very similar to most of our matches in Division One of the Waltham League when we invariably had an outfield player in goal and ended up losing every week, normally by only one or two goals, but sometimes by this sort of margin, and it was not a nice feeling at all having to go back to that type of situation. We then lost forward/attacking midfielder Hal Ozkan straight after the game as he decided he had had enough after only being brought on as a substitute for the last 20 minutes, which had been a regular occurrence for him so far this season. He only had himself to blame though, as he had put on a ridiculous amount of weight since the end of last season, and although he had scored some important goals for us and was a useful player, Manager Tony McKay simply couldn't start him because he was too unfit to chase back whenever he lost the ball...and quite rightly, Tony will not have anybody in his team who cannot do that. We also have several other players who are not as fit as they were last season though, but that is not because we are unable to have midweek training sessions due to most of our players living all over London and South-West Essex. It is because they eat the wrong things and due to increasing work & family commitments, they do not have time to play 5-a-side, go out running, or down the gym of their own accord. Churchbury's players were obviously quite the opposite, particularly the new young players they had signed up who ran us ragged in this match. We also had a couple of other things go wrong in that Churchbury match. Firstly, our substitutes were all wearing yellow bibs over the top of their Bristol Street Motors-sponsored rain jackets during the game because they used them during a pre-match warm-up drill and then forgot to take them off. In normal circumstances that sponsor (which is actually our Player-Assistant Manager Tyronne Petrie) would have been furious at having that sponsorship logo on the back of the jackets covered up and therefore invisible on the You Tube highlights, but bearing in mind the result and our dreadful performance, maybe it was a good idea in the end ! Secondly in that match, we lost one of our match balls during the warm-up as the near gale-force wind blew it in amongst Churchbury's supporters further down the touchline. None of our players, management or supporters realised it was ours because it was one of the two black & white Adidas balls that each club had been given by the League, so Churchbury had two of the same as well. We do of course write the club's name on all our match balls, but Adidas balls all have those small hexagonal panels which are impossible to write across, so it has to be done in very small writing on just one panel and is very difficult to spot. When Lexton Harrison went over there on the final whistle to see if any of those balls had our name on, he said they didn't, so that was that. The ball had 'gone'. Of course what happens in Sunday League football is that if somebody comes up asking 'Have you got our match ball mate ?', you hide it and say 'No. Maybe it went in the bushes over there ?'. That is standard practice and we have done it ourselves many times when one inadvertently comes our way. It then gets used at venues where the team whose name is written on the ball are not likely to be playing. However, the problem then is when that ball you have just ‘found’ is nowhere near as good as the one you previously lost !

After the Churchbury match, our next game on the 29th October was in the London FA Sunday Junior Cup where we took on KOPA (Cypriot Community) League team Panathinaikos at Home in a game we expected to win as they were bottom of the bottom division of that League. For this one we had a proper goalkeeper for a change with Grant Baker making himself available, while Ayo Matthews and Leon McKenzie-McKay were both able to play a full match after their recent injury problems had cleared up. However, we were missing at least four players who would normally be in the starting line-up plus two or three others who would have been in the squad of 16, so that saw Chris Lue having to come in as a left-back while Andreas Kriticos also got a rare start. We were also left with only three substitutes, although as the London FA Sunday Cup rules are different to the Barnet Sunday League and only three can be used (with no roll-on, roll-off) anyway, that didn't matter too much. However, Grant ended up being sent off for a last-man challenge outside his area in the 27th minute when we were already 1-0 down, and with Panathinaikos making it 2-0 from the resulting free-kick, we were always going to lose the game thereafter with only 10 men and with central defender Harold Ofori having to go in goal for the rest of the match. We therefore ended up suffering another 5-0 defeat, although we were a bit unlucky to lose by that sort of margin as we had no luck with refereeing decisions while our opponents scored all their goals from only six clear-cut chances created. Also, it was sods law that we had a player sent off in a London Cup game where those different substitution rules are in place. If it was a League Cup match (and if we had five substitutes actually available !), we could have made loads of roll-on, roll-off changes to give most of our remaining 10 men a breather, then we may not have lost by such a margin or maybe even nicked a draw and won on penalties. We ended up not having a single shot on target in the end, and that was mainly because our players were simply to unfit and too tired to create anything. We just had no 'zip and pace' going forward at all, in stark contrast to last season.
It was now getting increasingly difficult for us to pick our players heads up after these three defeats in a row and with Grant now suspended...which meant Taurean having to go in goal yet again, but we still managed to field a squad of 16 for our Division Two match Away to FC Lokomotiv Thunder on the 5th November while we even had three other players turning up to play if needed, which included new signings Tobi Michaels and Josh Odukoya, both of whom had been brought along by Ayo Matthews and Harold Ofori. However, as the League Registration Secretary had been stuck in his native Italy all week due to fog and had been unable to give them registration numbers, we therefore decided not to risk it, but with only Curtis Baalam unavailable from our first-choice side, it was not a problem and we had a chance of actually winning the game as long as Taurean could be protected in goal. Instead though, we committed a couple of terrible defensive blunders for 'FC Loko's first two goals with Ivan Bass giving away a penalty with a rash challenge and then Taurean hitting a goal-kick straight to an opposing forward for an easy finish. Although Ivan redeemed himself by scoring our first goal and we eventually went into a 3-2 lead after FC Loko had been reduced to only 9 men because of injuries, we conceded another bad goal in 'added on time' at the end of the match to draw the game 3-3 when we really should have seen the game out and nicked the three points. The situation was even more depressing because skipper Leon McKenzie-McKay had just been carried off two minutes earlier with what turned out to be a broken ankle, so that is another key player from last season's title-winning team that we are now going to be without for several months.

With Daniel Cascoe (Metatarsal) and Curtis Baalam (Ribs) having already broken bones in Pre-Season and missing our first few League matches, Leon's injury and our wretched run of form...which includes a lot of bad luck, certainly brings back memories of what happened to us way back in 1980, when after winning Division 8 of the Edmonton Sunday League with a settled side of quality players, for the start of the following season we lost our most influential and skilful left-sided player Kieran McGregor to University, while key midfielder Dave Thomas emigrated to New Zealand and two or three others either started going down with long niggling injuries or couldn't play as often due to other commitments. We even had two players (Left-Back Tony Tombling and goalkeeper Ralph Lake) breaking their legs in the same match early on during that following season ! Ralph's was a bad break and he never played for us again, but Tony actually played on for a while with his injury until a fracture was discovered with an x-ray later. As a result of all those problems, we used twice as many players that season as we did the season before, subsequently finishing just below mid-table because we just didn't have the same teamwork, while the new players we brought in were decent but not quite as good as those who had left, and of course the teams we were playing were more organised, and also fitter & stronger. There are so many similarities with what is happening to us now, it is untrue !! Aiden going to University, Connor going to live in China, Khaheem, Johan, Hal and others all 'gone', Curtis & Cascoe suffering injuries in Pre-Season, new players not quite up to speed and now Leon crocked. We did eventually improve and get promoted again a couple of seasons later back in those early '80's days, but we had to suffer like this first and just grind things out by nicking points here and there to make sure we did not get relegated, and at the moment it looks likely that will be the story of our season again this time.

Understandably, when teams start losing, as we well know from our Waltham League days, players will start to complain about anything. The main gripe at the moment is when they are substituted...and that is all because we are losing on You Tube. To outsiders watching the highlights, it looks like substituted players are the culprits when they get taken off (even though it is nearly always just to give one of our five subs a game) and it looks bad. However, if they are taken off when we are winning, on You Tube it comes across as if they are being brought off to give others a game because they are ‘the hero’ and to deserve their round of applause. The players being taken off are always our attacking midfield players and forwards because they are the ones who are supposed to be doing the most running and pressing. A lot of them are not fit enough to last 90 minutes anyway, but the reason for that is they never get 90 minutes because we always have five substitutes, all of whom can be used...and they will all expect to be used. If they are not, or they only get less than 20 minutes every match, then they will leave, especially if we are losing every week. When we are winning every week, the regular subs don’t mind as much because they will have a medal at the end of the season. There is no easy answer to this though. If Tony started our eleven ‘least fittest’ players every week and gave them all 90 minutes without using any subs, we would lose too many games before they are fit enough to win games, and we would end up fighting a relegation battle. The current League leaders The Winchmore (who we are playing in our next match) turn up with the same 13-14 players every week, so they are all match fit. We have used 27 players in our League matches already. So have FC Lokomotiv Thunder, and that is why we are both struggling. What happens to these teams who only have a squad of 14 regular players though is as soon as they start losing, players stop turning up and they then fold because they do not have a big enough squad. That is the situation we found ourselves in in the Waltham League where we regularly played with a bare eleven or less, and we certainly do not want to go back to that again. We have no choice but to name squads of 16 and try to give all five subs a game to keep them interested. That is why we tell players to do their own personal fitness during the week instead of just relying on playing a 90-minute match every Sunday. With these current injury problems, players from last season no longer being available, and a lot of players from this Pre-Season not yet playing well enough to keep their place in the side, we are of course now looking to bring in more new players to see if they can get us out of this mini-slump, but one of the problems that losing clubs have at this time of year is that most players currently looking for a club are those who are not good enough to get a game for their current team. They then get taken on and make the performances even worse. Then by the first week of March, those teams have lost even more players and start having to concede matches because they are not in contention to win anything. They would therefore take on any players just to make sure they survive the season, but the registration deadline for all Leagues is the 1st March, so clubs that lose every week then end up folding through a lack of players because they cannot sign any more on. This happens more and more nowadays because the standard of Sunday football is higher. Every team is organised and plays to win. It is no longer a game played for fun where everyone gets a game on a sort of rota system (like it is at AFA 8th XI level on Saturdays). We therefore MUST start winning again, or at least get through to a Cup Semi-Final in order to keep our best players interested for the rest of the season.

Finally, straight after our last match Away to FC Lokomotiv Thunder, I was approached by a female member of the groundstaff at the venue we were playing at, Highgate Woods, and told that I should not have been filming the game because I had not paid the City Of London Corporation for a permit to do so. The Player-Manager of FC Lokomotiv Thunder was standing with me at the time, and he had no idea that was the rules & regulations...and they (along with Hornsey & Highgate) have been playing there and photographing or filming their games (with hand-held devices) for years. I also had the same scenario the day before when I filmed a match for United London FC on one of the 3G pitches at Market Road in Islington. Again, the groundsman in charge told me I had to pay for a permit. Yes, I was filming professionally in so much as using a tripod and professional equipment as opposed to just standing there with a hand-held palmcorder or a mobile phone, but I was told by both that even hand-held filming & photography by anybody at these venues now required a permit, even if all we are doing is filming for our own performance analysis, which is primarily what we film our games for anyway, albeit putting highlights on You Tube as well. Clearly, both those groundspersons and their employers think that the popularity of You Tube and the success of Palmers, Hashtag United & SE Dons in having several thousands of subscribers means that any Sunday League team that films their matches 'must be' making a big profit, and that the local Councils whose pitches these teams are playing on 'deserve' a cut of those profits. Well, that is certainly not the case with us. Our matches only attract an average of 500 views per game on You Tube (compared to the 90,000 views per match that Palmers get), and I don't earn a penny out of that. I do not get paid for filming and editing our matches either. It is all done voluntarily to help keep the club alive by attracting new players and sponsors.  I have no idea at the moment how much this filming permit from the City Of London Corporation costs, but what it will do is force clubs to stop filming, then those clubs will not get new players and sponsors, then they will run out of money and fold, so the pitches will then not get hired anyway ! It is a ridiculous and brainless situation when Sunday clubs need to have initiatives like this in order to survive, and I hope that they see sense before we play Hornsey & Highgate at that venue later in the season.


CHAIRMAN’S BLOG - Friday 13th October 2017

My previous Chairman's Blog back in early September covered our five Pre-Season Friendlies, four of which we lost, but that was seen as good preparation as we generally played top teams from Premier divisions of other Leagues who we knew were better than us. We therefore went into our first League game of the season Away to Kedares Town on the 10th September knowing that our opponents would not be as good, and so it proved with us being the dominant side in terms of possession and the number of chances created. Unfortunately though, we only managed a 1-1 draw after wasting a number of clear-cut chances and then conceding a goal from a long throw-in right on the full-time whistle. The main culprit for our failure to secure all three points was half-time substitute Raj Bumbra, who put three close-range efforts high or wide when he could easily have been the hero with a match-winning hat-trick. It was certainly very fine margins though, and nobody was blaming him, and quite rightly so. Raj is an England Under-23 Futsal International and a very good player and we hoped he would be a key new signing for us this season, but we have not seen or heard from him since and he has now gone back to play for his previous club, East Ham Dasmesh Darbar at a lower level than us in Division Two of the Essex Sunday Football Combination. Also joining Raj at that same club is Leon Bernard, who Manager Tony McKay substituted at Half-Time against Kedares Town (along with our other two attacking midfielders, Jack Bangs & Daniel Daley) after a lacklustre First Half display from our starting eleven all round. Leon then told us he was injured for our next two matches, but little did he know that the Essex Sunday Football Combination display each team's line-ups on Full-Time, the same as the Barnet Sunday League do, so we soon found out that he wasn't telling us the truth ! Like Raj, Leon is a very good player who has played at Semi-Pro level in the Essex Senior League on Saturdays, so we were therefore hoping he would also be a key player for us this season and it is really disappointing to see both of them 'leave' already. As I have mentioned in these Chairman's Blogs before though, exposure on You Tube can work both ways for us. It undoubtedly helps us to attract good players, but a Semi-Pro player being substituted at half-time at Sunday League level will look 'embarrassing' on there, as will an England Futsal International side-footing over the bar from 10 yards three times in quick succession. However, with East Ham Dasmesh Darbar apparently filming their games as well, but with a lower profile than us, maybe Raj & Leon's thinking is that the extra chances they will get in those games and the increased time on the ball they will have as E.H.D.D.'s 'star' players at that lower level will be more beneficial to them in compiling footage for a showreel that will eventually get them a contract somewhere...which is certainly what Leon was hoping for with us, the same as many other young Semi-Pro-standard players who ask to join us. He had already asked how much I would charge him for a copy of the full 90 minutes of each of our matches, as he was expecting to be a 'star player' for us and playing a full match every week. Such is the strength of our squad in the attacking midfield positions though, that it is very rare that any of them get a full game as we have always got three players on the bench who play in those positions who are equally as good, and that was certainly the case against Kedares Town when they all came on at Half-Time and made a difference in the Second Half. I suspect that Raj and Leon will not be substituted very often playing for East Ham Dasmesh Darbar, and that's the problem we are always going to have with our players and why we know that more might leave during the course of the season if they end up with no more than a 20-30 minute runout as a substitute most weeks. Unfortunately, that is the price of success for us and having such a large squad.

Although we were without Raj, Leon and one or two others for our next match the following week Away to New Barnet, we still fielded a squad of 16 who were raring to go, mainly because we were able to wear our new kit for the first time, this being sponsored by Anthonisz Neville LLP Chartered Accountants courtesy of Manager Tony McKay's wife Dawn. This was a custom-designed green & black kit purchased from and it looks really smart. It is a short-sleeved kit, which is the first time we have had that since the mid-1980's when we wore a grey Newcastle United Away shirt for a couple of seasons, and we have also deliberately had numbers printed on the shorts to stop players from taking them home with them after matches, which was a massive problem we had with all our previous kits when we had no idea who the culprits were and the shorts were never returned. That won't happen any more as the  evidence as to who was wearing what number is now all on video for every match ! The only problem with the shirts (and the socks) is that the custom colour chart for our online order had three different shades of green. We chose the middle (normal green) colour for the bulk of the shirt and the lighter green for the three chevrons on the right-hand side. However, we were sent the shirts and socks in a dark bottle green as the main colour, so we could well get stopped from wearing the kit if certain Referees are being assessed and therefore 'have to' tell us it is too similar to their own all-black. (Although the Essex FA are now allowing grassroots-level Referees to wear light jade-coloured shirts from this season onwards for this sort of scenario, the London FA do not appear to have followed suit). There was certainly no clash with New Barnet's colours though, as they were playing in yellow shirts, albeit with three No.14's and an assortment of different styles and colours of shorts and socks, presumably because their Player-Manager/Secretary was away on holiday. That also meant the changing rooms (at Oakhill Park in Barnet, where we had also played the week before) were shut for the second week running as nobody else had a key, while we also got into yet another mess with the pre-match teamsheet when some of our squad members started signing it when they were not in the 16. That's because Manager Tony McKay traditionally never announces his starting line-up and substitutes until the players have all finished their warm-up, but as we have so many players turning up and we have got three spare kits, we ask them all to get changed and join in the warm-up anyway. Thankfully we were able to cross out Curtis Baalam, as he was not quite ready for a comeback after his Pre-Season broken rib, and replace him on the sheet with George House's name & signature underneath. George then started the game and took the inswinging corner that led to an Own Goal which gave us a 1-0 Half-Time lead, but we squandered even more chances in the First Half than we did in the whole 90 minutes the previous week before Second Half goals from Leon McKenzie-McKay, Jack Bangs (2) & Hal Ozkan gave us an impressive 5-0 win in the end.

The following week saw us play our first Home match of the season at the Edmonton Sports & Social Club where we took on fellow promoted side GTFA. For this one we arranged a proper photo shoot to publicise our new kit sponsorship, while we had also received our sponsored rain jackets courtesy of Bristol Street Motors (Waltham Cross) in time for this match, so not surprisingly we had well over 16 players turning up to sample all these goodies. GTFA though only had a bare eleven due to three of their better players serving suspensions for sending-offs towards the end of last season, and we took full advantage of that by notching a comfortable 3-0 win, despite GTFA copying Kedares Town's tactics by defending in numbers against us, presumably because we beat them 5-1 the last time we played them. In fact this match was like a Premier League top six team playing at Home to a bottom six team who come and try to park the bus but are always going to lose. With the top six team having gone 2 or 3-0 up, the game is then 'dead' from somewhere in-between the 45th & 60th minute onwards and the last half-hour or so is just played at half-pace with the players of both sides strolling about, taking breathers and just trying not to get injured. It was a very warm and sunny day though, which obviously contributed to that. We then had everybody (apart from Tyronne Petrie) staying for a drink afterwards as we had the 'Lounge Bar' to ourselves with no other adults matches or Norsemen Youth Eastern Junior Alliance games taking place, so that was excellent for team spirit and it was one of the main reasons why we decided to move to the Edmonton Sports & Social Club three years ago after 28 years of playing on a Council pitch and having to drive to pubs afterwards. Tyronne had to head off to Wembley straight after the match though, as he had tickets to watch American Football, which is certainly a sport that will never grab my interest, but each to his own.
Our fourth League game of the season was played on Sunday 1st October, and our opponents for that one were ex-Waltham Sunday League side Edmonton Blades, who had spent the previous season in the East Herts Corinthian Sunday League following the Waltham League's demise before deciding to join ourselves, Churchbury, Continental and Northaw this season as ex-Waltham League teams playing in the Barnet Sunday League. Although we never actually played them in a competitive match during our Waltham League days, there was an obvious local rivalry, and as such they turned up with a full squad of 16 and gave us by far the toughest match we have had so far this season by leading 2-1 up until just before Half-Time until Daniel Daley equalised just before the break with defender Ivan Bass scoring a winner for us in the 70th minute with another header from a corner, which is something he now specialises in. For this game though, we had one or two injury problems with last season's top scorer Ayo Matthews pulling a hamstring late in the First Half while skipper Leon McKenzie-McKay was unable to play at all due to a calf problem. The biggest problem was in goal though, where outfield player Taurean Bryan became our fifth different keeper used this season already because Grant Baker, Stephen Roussety and Abz El-Habassi...a new signing who played in goal against Kedares Town...were all either injured or working. Unfortunately that is now an ongoing situation until further notice and we are desperately trying to find a solution before we play a top-of-the table match against big rivals Churchbury on the 22nd October. We were certainly lucky that we had no game arranged for the 8th October, as we had numerous players unavailable for various reasons, although we still have enough players registered that we would have easily fielded a squad of at least 12 or 13. As it stands, we are still unbeaten in League matches going right back to the 6th March 2016 when we narrowly lost 2-1 to Old Pond Athletic in Division One of the Waltham Sunday League. That is a 19-month period where we have only lost in Cup match penalty shoot-outs and in Pre-Season Friendly matches where we were invariably experimenting with new players and not treating the games competitively. Can we go undefeated in League games for two years ? That is the question. Upshire managed it (and more !) in the Waltham Sunday League, so it would be great to be compared to a side like that.

Meanwhile, off the pitch, disagreements between myself and the League Chairman continue in terms of the use (or not) of certain modern technological procedures to ensure that clubs do not get fined for administrative failures, which if they do, threatens their future participation in the League and therefore does the remaining clubs no favours at all if and when those 'defaulting' clubs drop out. We of course have encountered that ourselves from playing in a division in the Waltham Sunday League that ended up with only four teams remaining by the end of February because of others withdrawing after running out of money from having to pay numerous fines, and we really don't want to have to suffer from that again. As far as the Chairman is concerned though, the League procedures that are in place at the moment, and particularly the match-day teamsheets, have been working perfectly for the last 30 years and should not be changed whatsoever. He very much prefers to teach clubs a lesson by fining them for rule breaches, thereby (in theory) stopping them from doing it again, and I can certainly understand that way of thinking. In the ‘old days’ it worked because there were no other alternatives. The problem now is that it invariably doesn't stop clubs from doing it again because they simply don't agree with the current 'old-fashioned' procedures when there are ‘better’ alternatives, so they continue to ignore the rules & guidelines and then just fold up once the money runs out from paying fine after fine. At the last League Management Committee meeting there were a ridiculous amount of fines having to be imposed for teamsheet irregularities, including an £8.00 charge for ourselves after Manager Tony McKay failed to realise that Emergency Signing Abz El-Habassi had to sign the teamsheet as well as the registration form. It was just a minor indiscretion really, but it was one that wouldn't happen if the League used the triplicate carbonated teamsheets that every club (bar none) wants, whereby each team has their own teamsheet instead of the current system where they have to wait for their opponents to give them a shared teamsheet and they then find that they haven't got time to fill it in properly, thereby incurring a fine. The Chairman does not want to hear these complaints from the clubs though, as he quite rightly feels they should be adhering to the current rules & procedures, which were all made quite clear to them at the start of the season. The problem I have personally though, is that in addition to being on the Committee as the League Website Secretary, I am also a Club Secretary, and it just so happens that every match we play, the opposing Club Secretary/Manager comments (without me asking) that the current teamsheets are a pain and that they wish ID cards could be brought in to replace player signatures. In addition to that, they basically just want to do all their admin work using their smartphones, particularly as some of them are builders, scaffolders, roofers and plumbers and they do not do an office job where they have access to a computer. As there are no other clubs from Division One represented on the Committee, I therefore give the Chairman their feedback at the meetings so that their suggestions can be discussed, but every time I do that I am told that discussions regarding the use of modern technology will have to take place on a date in the future as there are too many proposed fines to discuss which will take up too much time. I know the League Chairman will not like me putting suggestions into the minds of other Club Secretaries who may read these Blogs, but the following is what all our players and Management Committee members want, and from the teams we have played so far since joining the Barnet Sunday League, it is what every club (bar none) wants. If they agree with what I am saying, there is nothing in the rules to stop them proposing changes to the League's procedures for Season 2018-2019 as long as they are submitted to the League before the 31st March. Those proposals then need to be discussed by the League Management Committee to see if they are feasible or not, and it is they who should then decide. Not the Chairman on his is happening at the moment because he is continually avoiding the issues at every meeting.

What we as a club want from the Barnet League is an improvement in certain standards to match a Non-League Step 5-7 setup in Saturday football. Every team we face nowadays turn up well before the kick-off and undertake a properly-organised warm-up session. It is totally different to how Sunday morning 'footie' (as the League Chairman regularly calls it) was back in the 1970's when the current teamsheets were probably first used...judging from its Times New Roman font !? Back then, players wandered out onto the pitch two minutes before the kick-off with a fag in their hand and did no warm-up whatsoever. There was only one substitute allowed in those days and every team played 4-4-2, so the complex team-talks that we have today were not needed and signing the teamsheet just before the kick-off was not disruptive like it is now. Most teams we face have at least three substitutes and include a number of players who have played at that Step 5-7 level on Saturdays, while a number of the League's Referees officiate at that level as well. That is why they want Step 5-7 triplicate carbonated teamsheets for each team with columns for shirt numbers and goalscorers to be entered, but with the column for player signatures to be removed. It is what they are used to on a Saturday. The clubs also want better pitches where local councils bother to cut the grass and open the changing rooms, or failing that, they want more teams who use private grounds to be encouraged to join the League...which they will do if the League is publicised well enough and they can see progress being made with the use of modern technology. The clubs also want to see Referees caution and send off players when it is obvious that they should do so. Instead, we have a small number of older Referees in our League who actually cannot do that because it is now mandatory that they have to go online and login to the F.A.'s Whole Game System to report all cautions and dismissals. Some of them do not have a smartphone and/or a personal computer and do not have an e-mail address, so they referee matches and let 'everything' go ! We have had two of those Referees already this season and we were fortunate that both matches were fairly contested by both teams, but clearly that situation should not be allowed to happen in this day and age. What our League has to realise is that competitive adults Sunday League football is no longer the bottom rung of the ladder in terms of player participation. The FA's 'Just Play' and 'Flexible Football' initiatives are ! That is where players cannot commit themselves into playing for a team every week because of work & family commitments, and that is where all the stereotypical overweight and ungainly Sunday League Pub Team players of the 70's & 80's have gone. Competitive Sunday League football today is the equivalent of the 'Semi-Pro' Athenian and Spartan Leagues on Saturdays back in the 70's & 80's in terms of club organisation on and off the pitch. The standards have improved enormously because players have to be more dedicated now if they want to play every week. To that effect, we also want to see all teams playing with properly numbered shirts, the same coloured shorts and socks, and providing two proper match balls. That is where they should get fined if they don't, but the League currently turn a blind eye to all of that. Improve the standards on the pitch and more well-run teams will join the League in preference to others. No question.

As for the pre-match and post-match administrative work for Club Secretaries, here is what most of them seem to want...
Although the League Chairman seems to think otherwise, they all want to continue receiving the automatic Full-Time notifications of their next fixture and their Referee appointment at 10.00 am every Monday long as the info is correct of course ! Yes there have been a few gremlins so far this season that have been caused by fixtures and referees being changed after those notifications have gone out and then no replacement notifications being set up, but that problem has now been rectified as far as I am concerned. Each team using their own triplicate carbonated teamsheets has already been mentioned, then on the final whistle, in addition to texting in the final score to Full-Time (which most teams now do), they want to be able to enter that final score, their goalscorers, and their mark out of 100 for the Referee on their own bottom copy of the teamsheet and then be allowed to take a photo of that copy on their smartphones and e-mail or even text/WhatsApp it in to the League straight away, with a particular League Officer then entering all the info onto Full-Time (not Mitoo !) either that afternoon or evening...which is what virtually all other Leagues do by having a Records/Results Secretary. No more 'snail mail' posting or hand-delivering of 'hard copy' teamsheets to a Fines Secretary only. Clubs can still have a login to enter extra info themselves though, such as goal-times if they know them and know how to enter them.
To register new players, most clubs undoubtedly do NOT want the hassle of having to obtain player signatures on a hard copy form that they have had to type out themselves, as is the procedure at the moment. Whenever a new player wants to join us, it is always the case that that player will text me his name, address, postcode, date of birth and the club(s) he played for the previous season/last, or the player bringing him along to the club will obtain those details and forward them on to me by text (or a WhatsApp message) themselves. Every club (bar none) would like to be able to just forward those details on to the League Registration Secretary by text/WhatsApp (without the player having to sign anything), and then expect that League Officer to type in those details himself...which he actually already does on both Mitoo and Full-Time from the hard copy registration forms that are sent in. One of the complaints from League Officers regarding these ideas in terms of e-mailing or texting in documents or information though, is that they have always traditionally kept 'hard copies' of everything (i.e. teamsheets and registration forms) in physical A4 folders because they are supposedly easier to find than searching for it on a computer in Windows File Explorer. They would therefore 'need' to print off every teamsheet or registration form/text/e-mail that they receive, but they do not have a printer and/or the inkjet cartridge use would be too expensive. Well I'm sorry, but that is ridiculous in this day and age, and they will have to be taught how to use Windows File Explorer properly in setting up the necessary folders in which to store any e-mailed or texted attachments they receive. The printing of documents only needs to be done when they are needed as evidence to show Committee members at meetings.

Instead of signatures, all clubs want 'ID Cards' whereby they take a selfie photo of each of their players and e-mail or text/WhatsApp it to the League Registration Secretary, who then keeps the photo stored with the player's details that have already been texted in. Most other Leagues are now doing that by using the FA's Whole Game System. Clubs then want to be able to click somewhere from their smartphones before the kick-off of each match to see the names & photos of all their opponents players (if they suspect they might be playing ringers)...that is if the FA allow it via the Data Protection Act. All Club Secretaries nowadays almost certainly know how to take a photo on their smartphone and e-mail or text it to somebody, so that won't be a problem. Knowing how to rename the photo with the player's name might be, but if clubs screw up in that respect or they fail to send in a photo, that player will not be registered. If the clubs want us to use this system as they say they do, then they will all need to do things properly, otherwise there will be a whole host of non-fulfilments of fixtures at the start of next season.

As for the Referees, what they all want (apart from the League Chairman, who is a Referee himself) is an online report form on the League website using the same login password that only the Referees themselves know. The Bromley & District Saturday League (which our League Registration Secretary referees in) uses this form and they have a 100% success rate. No more filling in of paper forms in the rain on the final whistle, and no expectation of them having to fill in another (sportsmanship) form when they get home, both of which our Referees complain like hell about at the moment whenever they do our games. The League Chairman’s argument about that idea is that the current system works ‘superbly’ whereby Referees do not get paid their £35 by the clubs until they have completed their side of the teamsheet on the final whistle. Well as far as I am concerned, if Referees do not go online and complete their report form after a match instead, then they should be struck off the League’s list. That is what all other Leagues do.

It is too early at the moment to know whether any of these procedure changes are feasible for next season, but in my opinion, the League will be a whole lot better for the clubs and Referees if these ideas can come into effect. Yes, it may result in more work for League Officers, but there are people waiting in the wings who are willing to come on board and do those jobs if the current incumbents refuse to do them themselves.


CHAIRMAN’S BLOG - Saturday 9th September 2017

Following our highly successful season and well-attended Annual General Meeting in late June, we began our Pre-Season training for the new 2017-2018 campaign in early July with some Sunday morning and Wednesday evening sessions before playing the first of five Pre-Season Friendlies from Sunday 6th August until Sunday 3rd September. For each of those five Friendly matches we had a squad of at least 16 players, and for most of them we had 18 or 19 turn up, which is certainly unheard of compared to any previous season where for most of our Pre-Season games we would only have one or two substitutes available due to holidays and social commitments. The Wednesday evening training sessions though...which we tried to continue throughout August...were far more of a problem because the large majority of new players being brought along were neighbours of our many Ilford/East London/South-West Essex-based players and it was impossible for them to get to Enfield Playing Fields until less than an hour before sunset. As we were training for free without lights due to the ridiculous expense of hiring a floodlit 3G pitch, there was simply no point in them turning up, and indeed living too far away will be the situation throughout the season as well and we will therefore not be training in midweek again. Not that it affected us last season anyway, and we are trusting our players to keep their fitness levels up of their own accord.
From our first Pre-Season Friendly onwards though, Manager Tony McKay was willing to give anybody a game, and we ended up with several players having a runout who were badly overweight and/or had let themselves go since the end of last season, thereby injuring themselves either in their first Pre-Season training session or after only five minutes of their first match in some cases ! That included a relative of Tony's who had just come along to watch initially, and when he was brought on...and had to come off injured almost straight away...I thought it must have been a classic case of the 'Ere mate, d'ya wanna game ?' shout to somebody walking past, which is something all Sunday League clubs have probably done at one time or another. In fact, three seasons ago we actually signed Chris Lue up when he randomly walked past exactly the same pitch and stopped off to watch a bit of our bare eleven losing 4-0 to Upshire (who were the best Sunday team in the country at the time). Simon 'Jacko' Jackson was our Manager back then and he said to Chris 'You look like a big strong boy. Do you play football by any chance ?' We also did it a lot back in the late-70's when we first started...which is where 'Overington's mate' and several others on the All-Time Appearances list on the website came from. They were actually played as ringers in League matches back in those early days because we were so disorganised and short of players.
As we have so many good players wanting to play for us now following our rare success last season, we decided to take on top Premier Division opposition from other Leagues for three of our Pre-Season Friendlies and half-decent sides from a similar level to us in the other two. This was so that we would have a good indication of whether we are strong enough to win Division One this season and gain promotion to the Premier Division where a club like ours should belong. Our first Friendly on the 6th August was against our old Waltham Sunday League rivals FC Alpha on a 3G pitch at Wadham Lodge in Walthamstow. With FC Alpha being one of the top teams in the Premier Division of the five-division East Herts Corinthian Sunday League, it was always going to be a big ask for us to get a result against them with us fielding seven new players in our squad of 17, most of whom did not really know each other. We only managed to lose 2-1 though, which was seen as a good result. We then took on another ex-Waltham League side in Riverside Corinthians, who are in the division below FC Alpha and a team we had never played before. That was the first of three Friendlies on grass at Enfield Playing Fields, but again we lost that match by only one goal, going down 3-2 in a game played in three 30-minute periods because we had so many players wanting a game...which was the main reason we lost really, as the amount of roll-on, roll-off substitutions we made reached record proportions. Our third Friendly on the 20th August was taken more seriously, as our opponents were Beehive BHP from the top division of the Edmonton Sunday League, who are managed by ex-Crown United and Enfield Rangers boss Steve Livermore, who is probably one of the most successful Managers in the country at Sunday League level. Consequently his teams are always packed with top Semi-Pros from local Saturday football and that showed in this match as they beat us 3-2 and they were most definitely the best side we had played for many a year in the way they were all comfortable on the ball and 'passed & moved' it about. However, with us fielding our strongest available side and only making substitutions when necessary, we were actually 2-0 up until the 70th minute and we even had a spell for 25 minutes or so where we were the better side. That was hugely encouraging for us and we only collapsed at the end through a lack of fitness caused by several of our players not having had any sleep the night before. Our fourth Pre-Season Friendly finally saw us notch a win as we beat last season's Barnet Sunday League rivals Northaw 5-1, but that was mainly due to them only fielding a squad of 13 and suffering a number of injuries during the course of the match. We fielded a number of players for that match who had been out injured or away on holiday themselves and we looked very rusty in the First Half. But then that is what Pre-Season is for. To shake off the cobwebs. Our final Pre-Season Friendly on the 3rd September was another good match-up as we took on a highly successful Belfry side who play in the top division of the Essex Sunday Combination. This match was arranged as a result of me filming numerous Cup Finals for them over the years, most of which they had won. Like Beehive BHP they were packed with ex-Semi-Pros and ended up beating us 5-3, but that scoreline doesn't tell half the story as we had twice as many chances as them but were guilty of some appalling finishing and dreadful defensive blunders for four of their five goals. I have certainly never seen any side in those Cup Finals give Belfry such a runaround as we did, and we really should have won the game. Ironing out those costly errors is something we simply must get right once we start our League season on the 10th September.
Although we lost four out of five in Pre-Season, there have been many bonuses. We have signed up nine new or returning players, with Leon Bernard, Raj Bumbra, Miles Levy, Vishal Patel and George House all looking particularly good and improving our squad for sure. Others have been useful as well and should get a chance if they stick around, but they still either have a bit to learn tactically or need to improve their fitness. As for the players who were with us last season, Jack Bangs, Tom Croake and Anees Ikramullah have all put in good performances in Pre-Season that have shown us they are certainly worthy of being match-day squad of 16 regulars at least, but unfortunately we have lost Connor Kavanagh, who is working abroad for at least a year, last season's Players Player Of The Year Aiden Kavanagh, who will be going to University in mid-September, and Curtis Baalam & Daniel Cascoe, both of whom got injured in Pre-Season, breaking a rib and a metatarsal respectively. Hopefully those two will be back at some stage before Christmas though. We also have Hal Ozkan and Johan Ahipeaud struggling with their fitness at the moment, but we have such a big squad of good players now that we are confident of being able to cope.
One thing we do need to clamp down on a bit from our Pre-Season matches (and from last season) though is players turning up at the venue half an hour or more after Manager Tony McKay's requested meeting time. In most cases this appears to be because they need a lift but they then ask their team-mate who is driving to stop off at a Tesco Express en-route so that they can get their 'breakfast'. Problem is, hundreds of other Sunday morning footballers have the same idea and they are then queuing up at the till for ages. only needs an o.a.p. in front of them buying a lottery ticket to delay our kick-off by five minutes.

For me as a Club Secretary, Pre-Season is a busy time sorting out our players registrations. Currently, the Barnet Sunday League's procedure for signing up new players is for the Club Secretary to type out the form on a PC with the player's name, address, date of birth and the club they played for last season entered, then the forms are printed off for the players to sign. They then have to be posted by 'snail mail' or hand-delivered to the League Registration Secretary's house in Cockfosters, which is about a 25-minute drive from where I live. The details from the form are then processed onto the League's Football Mitoo website and then copied from there onto the F.A.'s Full-Time website that the League also use. A five-digit registration number for each player is automatically generated by Mitoo and that number then has to be written down on the teamsheet before the Kick-Off of all League matches. As I am also the Barnet Sunday League's Website Secretary and one of their Full-Time Administrators, I often have to help the League Registration Secretary with these modern processes as it is not easy for somebody in their 70's whose first language is Italian. One of the biggest problems for him (and indeed anybody else) is that on Mitoo you enter the player's surname first, followed by his first name in the box underneath, but on Full-Time you enter the player's first name first, then his surname in the box underneath. Mitoo does not display registered players names publicly, but when logging in, it displays them surname first. Full-Time also does that when administrators login to see the list of who is already registered, but on public display it has them all with players first names first, albeit in alphabetical order of surname.  It is therefore very easy for League Registration Secretaries to get confused if they are using both systems, as the Barnet Sunday League are. We therefore had Taurean Bryan, Miles Levy and Rajpal Bumbra registered (and publicly-listed on Full-Time) as Bryan Taurean, Levy Miles & something like 'Bum Algebra' until I logged in and corrected it, while Lawrence Kill was down as 'Kill Laurence'. I know I sometimes upset League Officers by being a bit outspoken, but that is somewhat extreme !

What some Leagues are now doing for player registrations though is actually allowing Club Secretaries to use their Full-Time logins to register their own players online. This is now being encouraged by County Football Associations, in our case the London F.A. in conjunction with the F.A.'s Whole Game System, otherwise known as 'WGS'. This is because ideally, Referees need all clubs to register their players on WGS (or at least use the 'Data Cleansing' tool which copies them all over from Full-Time) because when they caution or dismiss a player, they have to login to WGS and report it on there as a mandatory procedure. If the player isn't listed, they then have to fill in the player's name themselves...and then invariably spell it wrongly, causing all sorts of problems. One classic example of that for us (albeit several years ago) was when a Referee somehow managed to spell Steve Cokell as 'Stepahen Cocan'. Although it initially had it's flaws, WGS is now much-improved and it is actually an excellent system for clubs to register their own players, especially if the League uses it to vet each player during the registration process in case there are any undesirables. As the Leagues we have played in have never allowed us to use it to register our own players though, I don't know exactly how that works, but presumably the system automatically flags up anybody who is sine due suspended and therefore cannot play again until money owed is paid. However, when a wrongly spelt name is entered, that player will slip through the net...and that is the problem with the system. Yes, numerous people entering data into it who cannot spell, whether that be Club Secretaries, Referees or League Registration Secretaries. It is not just that though. Some players will also deliberately give their new club Secretary a false surname and even a false address or date of birth so that WGS ignores their previous disciplinary record and registers them as a completely new player. For all the Club Sec knows, they may have previously assaulted a Referee. Another common problem more genuinely nowadays is the increasing amount of players using double-barrelled surnames because their parents never married. They register with one club using both, then the next club they just use their mother's name because they no longer get on with their father (or vice-versa). The biggest problem with WGS after that is once the Club Sec has found out that his new player's name is spelt incorrectly, it cannot be changed once it is on the system. It is greyed out, as is the date of birth. Only an address and contact details (e-mail/phone numbers) can be changed. Some Club Secretaries therefore delete that player from their list and then re-register the player as another new one in an effort to correct the spelling, but what happens then is that the player's original spelling & FAN number is still on the system. When that player then gets cautioned or sent off, the player gives the Referee the original spelling of his name or the Referee simply writes it down wrongly because the player is annoyed and won't spell it out for him. The Referee then logs in to WGS to record the booking and enters the player's name in a search box, then a list appears of five possibles as to who he means, and he doesn't know which one to choose. Also, when a player changes clubs because he has moved to live in a different area, that then also creates a new FAN number for him when it is not supposed to. Our own Tom Croake is a perfect example of that, as he played Youth football in Enfield, then moved to Clacton where he played for FC Clacton, then moved back to Enfield to work and started playing for us. Three different teams. Three different addresses. Three different FAN numbers. But the same person ! Also, a lot of our players are now at an age when they sometimes live in three different houses within the space of a year. They start off living with their parents, then they move out to live in their own flat, then they move to live with their girlfriend. All in different areas in and around London. In some cases players will sign for three different clubs during that period (Saturdays & Sundays) and use different addresses for each one...and sometimes different surnames, invariably because of double-barrelled names or spelling mistakes by the Club Secretary/Manager. I very much doubt that whoever devised WGS actually envisaged these sort of things happening because they probably have a traditional English name and a stable home background themselves. Some people (including myself) think that the FA will make a WGS player registration & Full-Time integration mandatory for all FA-affiliated Sunday Leagues within the next couple of years. Others (including our League Chairman) insist that they won't. If they do, I'm not sure how they are ever going to resolve the spelling and double-barrelled surnames problem, but whatever way registrations are done, people are always going to make mistakes with the input of data.

Although registering players can be a problem, at least the Barnet Sunday League has four divisions this season with at least 10 teams in each, including 10 new teams in total. However, various Essex Sunday Leagues, the Hackney & Leyton Sunday League and also the East Herts Corinthian Sunday League are really booming with twice as many new clubs joining them. Some Leagues have even introduced an extra Division to cope. This appears to be because there are plenty of pitches still available in that part of the Greater London area whereas in Barnet and particularly Enfield, a large number of Council pitches are no longer in use due to Council staff cutbacks and sell-offs for housing. Also, many private grounds in Barnet & Enfield (like our own Edmonton Sports & Social Club) have had to increase their pitch fees to around £100 per match because of increased costs imposed on them by the local Council. This has forced some long-established teams to leave those venues and play on cheaper council pitches instead, therefore lessening the availability of pitches in our area even more. Enfield Council now has an even greater problem after travellers broke in to Firs Farm in Edmonton recently and vandalised all the pitches and changing rooms, putting them all out of action for the foreseeable future and forcing the Edmonton Sunday League to use all the remaining pitches at Enfield Playing Fields for this season for their Firs Farm-based teams instead. This has now meant both the Barnet Sunday League and the Edmonton Sunday League will find it difficult to get any more new teams to join them this season because they have nowhere to play. That leaves just 10 teams in our division instead of the ideal number of 12, and with at least one of those 10 teams failing with their administration quite a bit because nobody wants to be the Club Secretary, that number could go down even further. In those Essex and East Herts Leagues though, because there are so many pitches available, new clubs are forming in huge numbers because they are taking advantage of the FA's 'Grow The Game' grant which pays their pitch fees for their first season. A lot of these new clubs then fold up at the end of that season and then re-form for the following season under a different name to get the grant again. And so it goes on, all because the pitches are available for them to do that. The Leagues that cover those areas are therefore booming, while the Leagues in Enfield & Barnet are really suffering. There are some new 3G pitches being built, but nowhere near enough to meet the demand from an ever-increasing population in those two Boroughs, while the cost of hiring those 3G pitches for a season is nowhere near covered by the 'Grow The Game' grant. With the Edmonton Sunday League now down to just 21 teams, it certainly looks likely that both Leagues will have to merge into one at some stage, which will be very sad for both, but there just won't be enough pitches to go round for either League to expand on their own.




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