Sholing V Folland Sports: Wessex League Premier Division

21 Apr

Right now Folland Sports manager Danny Bowers has a few things to be happy about. It was almost a month ago to the very day that he had complained in his programme notes against Romsey Town that his in-form side had been passed over for the award of Wessex League Team of the month in favour of Alresford Town, stating that “for whatever reason we seem to get overlooked for these awards”. Not only has this oversight now been rectified with Follands receiving the latest team of the month award, but his side has just defeated the mighty Sholing in their own back-yard, cementing 3rd position ahead of a host of much bigger clubs, including Newport (IOW) and Winchester City – the latter, if the rumours I overheard at the ground are true, even having offered Bowers their vacant managerial post, but whether Bowers is entirely happy that the three points were taken from a Sholing side shorn of their key talent is a slightly different matter.


No fewer than eight changes had been made to the starting line-up of the Sholing side which defeated Verwood Town 4 -1 on Saturday, with hat-trick scorer Lee Wort left out of the squad completely. Whilst it may have come as a surprise that the team chasing the league title would field a weakened side for such a crucial game it is not entirely illogical; Sholing began the game in second, two points behind league leaders Alresford, but with four games in hand. After Follands they face Whitchurch, Horndean, Moneyfields, Christchurch and Portchester. Winning their remaining games will give Alresford a potential maximum of 97 points so as it stands Sholing, currently on 89, need 9 points from these remaining games to be sure of the title.

Thanks to the three months of rain this season however, Sholing face a very congested fixture list. The Folland’s game being the third in a series of four games in seven days, between the 17th and the 24th.. Out of these, and all the other remaining games, Follands no doubt present the toughest challenge, so perhaps it made sense to shift resources and potentially sacrifice the difficult three points for a better shot at the easier ones to come.

I can’t help but feel a little disappointed at missing out on seeing one of the most entertaining local sides in their full glory (my fault as Sholing is a place  I should, and may, visit more), but the fact that it was still a half-decent game shows that Sholing have strength in depth and the 248 people who showed up were fairly happy with the spectacle.

With the sun out and a bank holiday weekend behind them the mood among the bumper crowd was good to begin with, but Sholing, shooting downhill had the uphill task in the first half, going down first to a brilliant chest and volley from Dan Mason on nine minutes and then conceding a second on the break just before half time.

As the sun gave way to ominous grey clouds in the second half Sholing began to pick up helped by two half time substitutions. Just as I felt the first spots of rain, causing me to edge closer to the small covered stand Alex Baldicchino combined with Barry Mason – one of the half-time substitutes – whose pinpoint cross Baldicchino then steered into the net. For a while it looked like a downpour may be about to happen. As I chided myself for not bringing a coat, or at least a sweater, Baldacchino wriggled his way through the Follands defence to snatch an equaliser.

It was inexperience though which cost Sholing dearly when a Sholing defender failed to get enough of a head on an incoming ball, sending it trickling into the area. As the defender watched with a look of guilt-ridden anguish on his face the Follands number 10 Ryan Long wasted no time ruthlessly pouncing on the mistake. The Sholing ‘keeper raced out to meet him, but given little chance only succeeded in bringing the attacker down for the penalty which Long himself duly converted.

The sky, seemingly responding to the rhythm of the game became less threatening with the clouds clearing and a glimmer of sun reappearing as the Sholing threat subsided. For their part the players on both sides began troubling the sky with ever bigger hoofs as the game broke down into a desperate scramble, either to hold on, or to force the ball forward for one more push.

3-2 to Follands.

New York City FC: Return of the Monogram

16 Apr

The fanfare and whirl of publicity which surrounded the unveiling of the crest for the newly created New York City FC was in itself nothing unusual in the modern game, but the design itself, a monogram of interlocking white letters based on a typeface originally inspired by the city’s signage, harked back to an earlier age.

A decorative device beloved of royalty, the nobility and the generally wealthy for several centuries it was at the turn of the 19th century that the monogram and football began their association. In the same period of time as Louis Vuitton’s son Georges was creating the famous LV monogram, which would become one of the fashion world’s most recognisable logos after its adoption by the firm in 1896 (and even later would become synonymous with the WAG), the game of football was experiencing an explosion in popularity.

As new clubs were being born across the world it was to the monogram that many club founders turned to for their inspiration when seeking to create a crest to act as a focal point for the identity of fledgling clubs. Among such clubs were Olympique Marseille founded 1899, Real Madrid, founded in 1902 and Inter Milan who were founded in 1908.

In Scotland Glasgow Rangers’ monogramed crest is believed to have been in use as far back as 1872, while in England monograms were variously adopted for use at various times by clubs including Blackpool in 1908, Everton in 1920 and Arsenal in 1927.

It was a later Arsenal crest which would prove to be arguably one of the most well known monograms in the English game, familiar to anyone who ever visited the iconic Highbury stadium where the ‘A-football-C’ monogram adorned the East stand, constructed in 1936. The art-deco design, versions of which also featured on the clubs shirts in the 1936, 1950 and 1952 FA cup finals, served to demonstrate the versatility of the monogram in its ability to use lettering to capture a stylistic zeitgeist. Its popularity enduring to the extent that it is available on a range of products from the club shop as diverse as mouse mats, scarves and coasters.

Despite this potential for enduring appeal however, it appears the monogram had fallen out of favour in recent years. Chesterfield’s longstanding monogram has been relegated from its central position to play a minor-supporting role alongside a crooked spire. Tottenham’s THFC monogram, previously located within a circle under the cock’s foot, has been replaced by a retro football. QPRs elegant entwined letters were also consigned to history in 2008 in favour of a garishly overblown heraldic shield.

It is this latter type which clubs have increasingly favoured when re-designing their old crests. Often the shields are divided up into components referencing different strands of the clubs identity. Sunderland’s crest, introduced in 1997, for example, packs in stripes representing the team colours, a pair of local landmarks, supporting lions from the city’s coat of arms and a colliery wheel representing the areas industrial heritage.

In the United States though the tradition of the monogram has been more firmly embedded in the heritage of baseball and American football, embroidered on the jackets of college jocks and on baseball caps perched on heads around the world. Perhaps the most famous of all is the interlocking NY of the New York Yankees – joint owners of New York City FC – as synonymous with the city itself as with the club it represents. For now all this this is something NYC FC, taking its first steps, can only aspire to, but by embracing the heritage of the monogram they have given themselves the best chance.

Folland Sports v Romsey Town; Wessex League Premier Division 23rd March 2014

24 Mar


It’s strange to think when squeezing through the turnstile into Folland’s Park and taking a seat in the small stand that once Folland’s had been one of the top teams in the area.

It was during the second world war that Folland Aircraft, who had been formed just a few years earlier in 1938, had enjoyed, in footballing terms, some of their best times as football league competition was suspended and players took up work in the burgeoning wartime industries turning out for works teams like Folland’s who in 1941 scooped the treble of the Hampsire Senior Cup, the Russell Coates Cup and the Hampshire League title.

Works teams however, live a precarious existence. Although they reap many benefits from the partnerships with their parent company they are just one powerpoint presentation away from having their ground sold off for a housing development. Until fairly recently a few works teams competed in the Wessex League and Hampshire League but the 2000s saw a major decline as the local economy shifted away from big manufacturing concerns which had been the most ardent supporters of local football. Sides like Pirelli General disappeared following the loss of their ground in the wake of the closure of the huge Pirelli cable works in Eastleigh, whilst BAT clung to existence and just about survive as Totton and Eling. Sholing (formerly Vosper Thornycroft) appear to have made the most successful transition; Only a disaster can stop them winning the Wessex League title this season, but there has still been pain along the way with the club dropping out of the Southern League last season on financial grounds.

Perhaps it was the future in mind that after a few name changes inspired by the shifts in ownership of the aerospace plant to which the club were attached GE Hamble, as they were then known, switched their name back to the more historic Folland Sports.

Although they are the biggest club in Hamble Folland’s are one of the smaller clubs in the Wessex League. One other feature of works teams is that they tend to have poor followings and Folland’s have some of the smallest crowds in the Wessex League – today being no exception. This though only makes their achievements this season all the more impressive; fifth in the league and firmly on the tails of big-boys Winchester City and Newport (IOW) Folland’s are on a nine game unbeaten run with their last game being a comprehensive 6-1 victory over Lymington Town.

It is a run which should – on paper at least– be easily extended. Their opponents, Romsey Town, who arrive in 20th position out of 22 are having a season not much better than the last one in which they were only saved from relegation last season by a technicality which saw Hayling United demoted based on ground grading.

Romsey though look like a tough side; the sort of team built to go and grind out a result on a freezing cold night as the rain lashes down and their opponents are only thinking of their warm beds. When they take the lead on 31 minutes after their towering number nine finds himself in space on the left and sends a half-volley drifting across the face of the goal, beyond the reach of the Folland’s ‘keeper and into the net they want to hold onto it, and they do so doggedly.

And they would have got away with it too, were it not for a bit of bad (or good depending on which side you support) fortune. Just when it appeared to have been a lost-cause, Folland’s, who had been so well contained by a deep-playing Romsey that they had barely mustered a decent attempt on goal, finally broke through late in the second half. After the ball being pinged around the Romsey goal area it found the net. The Romsey players, incredulous with rage, appealed for offside, as did the Romsey supporter sat next to me, but the referee awarded the goal.

Sensing the decision had wounded the Romsey beast a galvanised Folland’s surged forward. As Romsey cleared one attempt off the line they may well have felt a sense of inevitability.Soon after came a shot, smashed low into the bottom right hand corner. 2-1 to Folland’s. Surely the winner?

But with a flick of the tail, Romsey were on the counter. A misunderstanding between a Folland’s defender and débutante Goalkeeper Scott O’Rourke led to a desperate fumble and the ball at a Romsey players feet. Maybe, just maybe Romsey could still earn a point. The angle though was too tight for the Romsey player as his shot veered off into the side netting.

It made the next incident all the more cruel. At the death Folland’s were awarded a free kick outside the Romsey area. Floated in and met by a Folland’s it was 3-1, the point of no return.

 Folland’s move up to 4th leapfrogging Newport (IOW) and three points behind Winchester City in 3rd, with a game in hand. A huge achievement for the club.


Conference South Attendance Digest

17 Mar

As the season draws to it’s exciting climax, it’s got me thinking… attendances. And where better to start than one of my favourite leagues, the Conference South.

Here are the headline figures



For me though it’s always more interesting to mess around with the stats and try to come up with something more interesting. What I’ve done here is to look at the difference between a clubs league position and it’s position in the attendance ranking.



I’ve done the chart in order of league position and it shows that the worst underachievers are concentrated at the foot of the table. Two clubs, Whitehawk and Farnborough have the same league position as their attendance ranking and the biggest over-achievers – at least in terms of their average attendance ranking – are Weston-super-Mare who have only the 19th highest attendance, but occupy 8th position in the league table.

For anyone following the blog you may remember I did a similar exercise almost three months ago at the end of last year. This allows me to make a comparison with now to see which clubs have gained and which clubs have lost.

changesConfSth14It’s interesting here to see the comparison between the two teams battling it out at the top. Wile Bromley have seen their average crowd increase by almost 100 since the end of last year, Eastleigh – the team who have just pipped them to occupy first place – have recorded a small decrease in their average. Sutton united top the table, no doubt assisted by their 2172 home crowd against Basingstoke which was achieved thanks to a pay-what-you-like admission charge.

Finally here’s one reason why attendances are so important. This graph is what I’ve got from plotting the average attendance figure against league position.

corel cs14


It needs to be pointed out though that causality runs both ways. We can expect a team with a higher attendance to,at this level, have more resources, but also on the pitch attendances will rise if a team starts playing well and winning games, so in effect high attendances can result in success, or be a result of them.

FIFA Rankings by federation

5 Mar

FIFA ranking chart


With the World Cup fast approaching I thought I’d So far a World Cup has yet to be won by a nation outside South America (CONMEBOL)  or Europe (UEFA). I made this graph to look at the relative positions of the top rankled nation from each federation to see if the gap has closed, or even opened up, over time.

I’ve taken 20 years of ranking data from the official FIFA website and plotted the position of each of the six FIFA federations highest ranked member in December of each year.

When looking at the graph it’s worth taking into account FIFA’s ranking procedure. The formulae used to calculate ranking points gives greater weight to World Cup Finals games and Confederation level Final competitions (e.g the European Championships). Greatest weight is also given to games against opponents from CONMEBOL and UEFA. This means that although spread over four years the rankings display something of a cyclical pattern, particularly when it comes to the OFC.



Videogame XI: Eleven players featured on video game covers

14 Feb

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while: compile an XI of football players who have appeared on the covers of video games. So after a bit of internet research here is my world-beating line-up…

Formation: 3-5-2


Erik Thorstvedt (Fifa 95)


Fifa 95 was the second installment in the now long running series. Aside from introducing an isometric point of view the FIFA series was also one of the first to feature box art with pictures of actual players, rather than simple illustrations. FIFA ’95 though still remains one of the only to have used a goalkeeper as the box cover star. Sadly there is also a cruel irony that by the time of the games release Thorstvedt was losing a the battle for his first team place to the up and coming Ian Walker before being forced into retirement by injury  soon after in 1996 .


Marcel Desailly (Adidas Power Soccer ’98)

Adidas Power Soccer '98 [U] [SLUS-00547]-front

As with goalkeepers defenders are something of a rarity on video game covers, the simple reason being that more glamorous midfielders and strikers are the ones who shift more product. Therefore to get on the cover, a defender must be good, really good. Mercel Desailly was just such a player, and having been instrumental in  France’s world cup win in 1998. Of course it also helped that Desailly was also sponsored by the games sponsors Adidas.

John Terry (Pro Evolution Soccer 5 – 2005)

Terry Henry

Terry also makes the grade through being a top defender, though you sense his inclusion was only as the juxtaposing counterpoint to the much more commercial friendly striker Thierry Henry – I certainly can’t see Terry pondering the nature of va-va-voom appearing on a car advert any time soon.

Maya Yoshida (Fifa 14 – 2013)

Fifa 14 yoshida

With a game being sold around the world packaging is often adapted to carry more local appeal. For the Japanese version of Fifa 14 main cover star Lionel Messi was joined by two European based Japanese players; Southampton’s Maya Yoshida and captain of Japan’s international team Wolfsburg defensive midfielder Makoto Hasebe.


Mario Basler (Mario Basler presents: Fever Pitch Soccer – 1995/96)


Before Fifa and Pro Evo cornered the market it was common to see games endorsed by particular players, a video game tradition which had been used in other sports, with titles such as Arnold Palmer PGA golf, John Madden [American] Football or Mario Lemieux Hockey. Sold as Head-On Soccer in the US and simply Fever-Pitch Soccer in Australia and Europe the game received the addition of the endorsement of German international winger and 1995 Bundesliga top scorer Mario Basler to become Mario Basler presents: Fever Pitch Soccer.

Carlos Valderrama (International Super Star Soccer ’98)


Being one of the most recognisable midfielders in the game meant that Columbia’s Carlos Valderama was sure to end up on a box cover.  His moment duly arrived with The North American release of International Super Star Soccer ’98 on the N64.

Ryan Giggs (Manchester United Premier League Champions – 1994)


Manchester United were a club who were ahead of the curve when it came to the merchandising game. Throughout the 1990s in conjunction with Krisalis Software they released several games Manchester United (1990) Manchester United Europe (1991) Manchester United Premier League Champions (1994) and Manchester United the Double and Manchester United championship Soccer (both 1995)

Ruud Gullit (Sensible Soccer – European Champions edition – 1992)


A tremendously important title back-in-the day.  Before Sensi came along football games had been, to be charitable a bit rubbish. Balls were glued to players feet, passing was a nightmare and the graphics were terrible. Sensible Soccer had an independently moving ball, responsive controls and  allowed the player via a  a tug of the joystick to apply a wicked after touch. sensible software Fittingly the cover star was one of Europe’s top players the Dutch master Ruud Gullit.

Marko (Marko’s Magic Football 1994)

Marko's magic

Playing just behind the front two I have Marko, who featured on the box of his own game of Marko’s magic football. Though this was a football game, it was in actual fact a platformer where Marko used his football skills to defeat all manner of bizarre enemies. Unsurprisingly the football-platformer wasn’t a concept which caught on and Marko disappeared into obscurity after the most fleeting of careers.


Romario & Dennis Bergkamp (Sensible World of Soccer – 1994)

Romario Bergkamp SWOS

Despite some early problems SWOS as it tends to be known gained a massive following. Building on it’s predecessor it perfected the top-down football game, just before it’s obsolescence at the hands of the isometric.  Curiously the faces and kit-detail of the trio of players on the box cover have been blurred, possibly in an attempt to avoid paying image rights…. you can though just about make out among them Brazilian legend Romario and  Holland’s Dennis Bergkamp.


Alex Ferguson (Alex Ferguson Player Manager 2001)

580025_19855_frontAlexfergusonplayer manager

As popular as the football game is the management sim. The Player Manager series of games attempted to span both these sub-genres with a well developed football sim bolted onto a fairly detailed management sim and who better to put on the cover than Alex Ferguson?


Pierluigi Collina (Pro Evolution Soccer 3 – 2003)

Collina ref

Quite possibly the only ever referee to be featured Pierluigi Collina was, until his retirement, regarded as the best referee of his generation. An instantly recognisable figure due to a severe form of alopecia Collina has also appeared in adverts for Mastercard, Adidas and Vauxhall/Opel

Left to rot? Reserve team football at a crossroads.

9 Feb

In footballing mythology the reserves are a mixture of purgatory and optimism. Practically speaking the chief function of a reserve team is, like a domestique in cycling, to be a support to the first team, its aim no more than to help the chief rider get the bet possible result, even if that sometimes comes at the expense of its own position. It is at the same time source of spare parts, a place to nurture young talent, to recuperate the less-than fully fit, or a dumping ground -even a place of punishment. Training with the reserves being the ultimate indignity for a first-team player, while being left to rot in the reserves is a fate best avoided.

The traditional world of reserve football is however under threat. And it’s more than just the sort of belt-tightening which has periodically seen reserve teams dispatched in the past. It is the whole concept reserve football itself which has fallen out of favour. Serious discontent with the model of reserve team football can be traced back, at the very least, to 2007 when the then Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez questioned whether reserve football played in separate leagues and where the results essentially were irrelevant was able to provide the right kind of experience needed for players breaking into the first-team, pointing instead to the Spanish model where reserve, or B-teams, play competitive football at as high a level as the second-tier.

Benitez was not alone in his thinking. His sentiments were echoed by other top coaches including Andre Villas Boas and David Moyes, the latter disclosing that, while at Everton, he had attempted to enter an Everton B team in the Conference, believing that his his young players would benefit from the greater realism offered by competitive football against a good standard of opposition. The league would also benefit, Moyes reasoned, from increased attendances.

Given the traditions of English league football such a move would be – and indeed has been – controversial. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that following talks with the FA Moyes’ plans failed to materialise. Other teams unhappy with the status quo would however, seek to take matters into their own hands; In 2009, Tottenham issued a statement of their intention to withdraw from the Premier League’s reserve league, replacing its regular reserve fixtures with a combination of player-loans, tournaments and private friendly fixtures.

Action was needed after several other clubs followed Tottenham in shunning the competition and following what was billed as ‘the most comprehensive review of youth development in over a decade’ came the creation of a new competition, the U-21 Premier League. In an attempt to address the concern that, at worst, reserve teams were little more than dumping grounds for out of favour players intent on seeing out their contracts the new league had an inbuilt focus on younger players. Teams would only be permitted to field three over-age outfielders and one over-age Goalkeeper.

It is however, still very much early days for the competition, only now in it’s second season and the reconfiguring of reserve football at the top level has also not prevented discontent festering further down the pyramid. In January this year Gosport Borough, then of the Southern League, announced the disbandment of their reserve team ‘with immediate effect’, pointing again to a growing gap between the standard of reserve and first team football. The club added that the reserve team function of keeping players match fit was being adequately fulfilled by an arrangement where players were dual-signed with local Wessex League Clubs.

But while clubs search for new ways of developing young players it is fans who are in danger of missing out. Reserve football provides opportunities for fans to support their club and see the next generation of talent for what is often a minimal outlay. The current fashion for scrapping reserve teams, or playing games behind closed doors (something the U21 Premier League is trying to address with new rules that only three games can be played at training ground venues) takes away this chance. Just how much reserve football would be missed is illustrated by one of the opening games of the U21 Premier League. Played on a Friday night between Chelsea and Man City at Brentford’s Griffin Park, and with tickets priced at a reasonable £3 adult and £1 child around 3000 people showed up – some of them possibly for the first time.


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