Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Living My Life Online

Living life online, I remember not so long ago when spending too much time online would lead to funny looks and you being abused or derided for not being very social. Well although there is still an element of that around, as time moves forward more and more people spend more time online and it’s become so much more acceptable. And to be completely honest, I am one of those people spending more time in an online world.

Gradually as I’ve got older I have spent an increasing amount of my time online, even more so over the past year or so with twitter being the main forum for it so to speak. But it didn’t start that way, through school the extent of my net use was a hotmail email account, sending crap to my mates and vice versa! Towards the end of school and as I increased my net usage, I signed up to a forum which focused on wrestling. Now at the time I was a big grap fan, and this allowed me to meet or at least just converse with other like-minded individuals. Through that forum I met a lot of people both good and bad, a few of the good ones i still talk to a fair bit, including one of my best friends (although there have been more than a few ups and downs in that friendship over the years).

Posting on forums became a regular thing, then after some suggestions from a fellow forum member, I moved on to the next level of social networking (at the time), Myspace! That was an interesting experience, allowing for some customisation and individualism with the profile set-ups, and very early on my profile was one of the “featured” ones so my face kept popping up on the homepage prompting plenty of “adds” from both normal people and nutters! It was a similar story to the forums in that I met some great people who have remained good friends long after the Myspace page was deleted. My ex-girlfriend was met through the site (and we remain evry good friends to this day), along with the less successful ex before her, and a few other long lasting friends were also introduced there thanks to my quite open love of West Ham! Facebook though, that’s been different. Generally the people I have on Facebook are people I’ve met elsewhere in “real life” as such!

Twitter, well that has just sent things into overdrive. Thanks to the time I spend on twitter conversing with people, a lot of aspects of my life improved! Starting with my non-league football involvement, speaking with a friend on twitter got me down to Concord Rangers and watching non-league again, writing an online blog got the attention of the club chairman and the committee, allowing me to become a part of the club to a level that I could never have expected, and talking to the players online has allowed me to become mates with some of these guys. Sticking with football, previously I would go to see West Ham and just head straight to the stadium, but thanks to conversing with fellow fans on twitter, I now go early to catch up with the guys, have a few drinks beforehand and actually meet even more Hammers in the flesh. The social network has also allowed me to bridge the Atlantic and converse with Jets fans a lot more, including guys that have their own radio shows out there in the US.

Being online has also helped with my love of whisky, getting involved on the whisky social network Connosr opened up doors which as a whisky lover I could have only dreamed of. For example I was part of a tasting for an online magazine run by the guys at Connosr, I (along with the ex) was part of a group of members lucky enough to have a special tour of a distillery and taste their entire range (including a £3000 bottle), and I’ve met some hugely informed whisky writers and aficionados who I can class as friends now.

For me, living a lot of my life online has actually helped my life offline as I’ve mentioned above. It works for me, meeting people who I would never normally have bumped into, opening doors to opportunities I would never have thought of having, and just getting involved in things I would not necessarily have been able to otherwise. It also allows me to keep in contact with friends who may not be so close any more. Some people take the online life too far, but I think its pretty spot on for me given how things are. Living online isn’t a bad thing at all!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Preseason Preparations

Pre-season can be a complicated time for football fans, now you may wonder why I say that when it should probably be the simplest of times for the sport, well I shall explain! For Concord Rangers, West Ham United and every other club at every level, pre-season is a mixture of things which mean that fans emotions can be put through the wringer even more than during the season! Now a big part of preseason is to ensure that the players you have are fit and match ready after a summer off work. The clubs want to see that their players have not overdone it on holiday or had 5 too many burgers, and make sure that they will be competitive during the coming season. Fans agree with this, and want to see the best players get the run out during the games, hopefully leading to moral-boosting victories before the regular season kicks off.

In contrast, there is also the need to trial new players, young players from the youth academy or players that may not have been with a club the previous season. Bringing these players in will normally mean that the club will not be at full strength for these pre-season games, and can often lead to results (losses) that leave the team and the fans feeling disheartened. Now the majority of football fans know that essentially pre-season results do not matter in the grand scheme of things, however it’s never easy to see your team lose. Take for example West Ham, even though they fielded young, “weak” teams against Oxford and Grays, the losses there were not nice to see!

A club wants to take on teams that will challenge their own, that will provide their players with experience of different leagues and levels of talent. Concord have done that with games against Great Wakering, Dagenham & Redbridge and Southend United. The neighbours down the road, well we can’t say the same for them, as they host “Mark Wrights Team Essex” (for those that don’t know, Mark Wright is a “star” of the tv show The Only Way Is Essex). I guess different clubs take preseason games with differing levels of seriousness!

Previously I haven’t seen many pre-season games, maybe going to see West Ham once or twice over the years. However this year, as my involvement with Concord Rangers continues to grow I wanted to get a good early look at how we were progressing and how the team was shaping up for the coming season. The first pre-season game for Concord was an away trip to St Neots, who currently play in the Evo-Stick South Premier Division (the equivalent to the Ryman Prem higher up the country). Concord walked away 3-2 winners on the night, and followed that by having a young squad pick up a 1-1 draw against Bowers & Pitsea FC last Thursday night.

The first team, including some trialists, took part in their first home pre-season game last Friday against Great Wakering Rovers, who themselves are managed by Dan Trenkel, a former Concord Rangers player. Great Wakering were relegated last season (albeit harshly) to the Essex Senior League, but given how they played on the night I can see them coming back up fairly quickly. They were a solid side, well marshalled by Trenks and the coaches on the sideline, but didn’t quite have the quality to break through Concord. Now the Beachboys weren’t perfect, and gaffer Dan Cowley was quick to point out he was disappointed with aspects of the performance, however the team looked fairly fluid and I enjoyed being there (except the fact that I was torn apart by a swarm of gnats). Trialist Jacob Cleaver came on at half time and shortly afterwards managed to break the deadlock, and his well taken goal ended up being the deciding factor as the game ended 1-0.

The team were back at the Aspect Arena last night (Wednesday 25th) as they hosted League 2 side Dagenham & Redbridge. A side looking much more like the standard starting 11 took the field, putting in a determined and professional performance for most of the game. The first half hour was very even, with Concord really giving the Daggers a run for their money. However a defensive slip on the half hour mark allowed Dagenham to take the lead, and a similar error occurred soon after which gave the Daggers a 2-0 half time lead. The Beachboys came out for the second half fighting once again, and although they fell to an early 2nd half goal, it was a fairly fluid performance from the squad.

There’s still plenty of pre-season games to play, including the previously mentioned home match against Southend, but already there are positives to take towards the start of the season on August 18th. The side look like they are playing very good football, new signing Chris Bourne looked very dangerous on Wednesday night, and Tony Stokes seems to be relishing his recent role in the centre of the field as team captain. I mean, I’ve seen him play twice in pre-season and for each 90 minutes he’s barely stopped. Michael Jordan (not the basketball player) looks fairly solid in goal, and youngsters like Sammy Knott and Tyler Hubbard are showing signs of being first team regulars very soon. All in all, with what I’ve seen so far this pre-season, I am optimistic with regards to how the team will do this year!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Away Trips & Derby Days, Here Come The Fixtures!

Friday the 13th, a day of perceived bad luck, maybe that’s why the people behind the Ryman Isthmian league chose this date to unleash the upcoming seasons fixtures onto the teams and fans? Anyway, the day of fixtures being released is an exciting one for teams and fans alike, both looking to see who they open the season against, who they will take on to end the season, and of course when the local derbies will be fought! I say fought, I mean played, but some derbies can see emotions run high both on and off the pitch, as I am sure you all know!

So as a Concord Rangers fan my attention was on the release of the Ryman Isthmian Premier fixtures released at midday. This year we’ve got 6 new teams to face, 2 promoted from the Ryman South (Bognor Regis and Whitehawk), 2 from the Ryman North (Leiston and Enfield Town), and 2 relegated from the Conference South (Hampton & Richmond Borough and Thurrock). We meet a newly promoted team on the first day of the season as Bognor Regis come to the Aspect Arena, what a welcome to the Ryman Premier eh? That was my first priority, to see who our first opponents would be when the season begins on August 18th. Next was the final game of the season, as you want to be able to go out on a high, especially if you’re at home. Well after ending last season with a loss away to Wealdstone, this year we’ll be looking to end with a win at home to newly promoted Leiston.

For the Concord fans, and those of our neighbouring side down the road at Park Lane, the local derby fixtures would be high on the list of games to look out for. In both previous seasons where Concord and Canvey have met, the games have been scheduled to take place on Boxing Day and Easter Monday (however the first seasons Boxing Day game was moved due to the weather). To be honest I don’t think either club would have been too surprised when they saw the fixture list earlier, as once again the two Canvey Island clubs will go head to head on right after Christmas and on Easter.

 There are two long old road trips to be had during the season, with over 100 miles to get to both Lowestoft and Bognor Regis. The visit to Lowestoft will be the second game of the season on Tuesday 21st August, never a pleasant journey to make on a Tuesday evening after work! Bognor however will be on Saturday 2nd March, which for the fans (and more than likely the team too) will mean a bit of a weekend away, with a chance to unwind after the game in the “resort” that is Bognor Regis (can anyone say Butlins?). The away trip to Lewes last year reportedly produced a lot of unwinding, especially as it was a couple of weeks before Christmas and spirits were high! February 9th will see the lads make that trip again, maybe a calmer atmosphere this time around?

Anyway, now to round up the new guys in the league: Whitehawk (who won the Ryman South) will visit Thames Road on the 24th November; Enfield Town come to the Aspect on March 23rd; Thurrock do the same on February 23rd and Hampton & Richmond Borough make the trip to the island on October 6th. Now all the fixtures I’ve mentioned are of course subject to change for one reason or another, the weather can play a part as we’ve seen in previous years, and there is also the small matter of the cup competitions. Last year saw Concord reach the semi-finals of the Essex Senior Cup, and who knows, another cup run may lay ahead. With fixtures already announced for the 1st Qualifying rounds of the FA Cup & FA Trophy, victories could switch things around very quickly.

To confirm those cup fixtures, in the FA Trophy 1st Qualifying round Concord Rangers will make the trip to Kettering Town FC on Saturday 29th September. Now Kettering Town have had plenty of off-field issues over the past couple of seasons, but they are still a solid side and will provide a worthy challenge to the Beachboys. The 1st Qualifying Round of the FA Cup is slightly more vague, as there are 3 different teams that Concord could face at home on September 8th.

The full fixture list for the season can be found on the Concord Rangers website, but I wanted to highlight some that stood out for me and that I’ll be looking forward to over the coming months. After the past 2 seasons following Concord Rangers quite closely, I am looking forward to another successful season in the Ryman Premier, it will be a tough year without a shadow of a doubt, however there are achievable goals for the club out there. Finish above the noisy neighbours, finish higher than last year, make the playoffs, even make promotion, all are possible with the squad & football family that we have down at Thames Road. Whether we actually manage any of them, well only time will tell, one thing is for sure, non-league football is one hell of an experience and I cannot wait for the season to get underway.    

Monday, 9 July 2012

The Winds Of Change Run Through Canvey Island

As a football fan, the summer is normally the worst time for every one of us. It’s the empty space where nothing really happens until July kicks in and transfers start to get agreed and signed. But to be honest, even in the top flight with transfers it can be very quiet. Non-league though, that’s a different story. Now I’ve been getting back into non league football over the past few years, and this summer is the first where I’ve really been a part of what is happening and seen some of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes. It’s been a hell of a lot livelier than any off-season I’ve seen as a West Ham fan (well maybe except for when we signed Tevez & Mascherano).

First off there was the great news that as a team Concord had secured the services for the coming season of players like Tony Stokes, Harry Elmes, Reece Harris, Arthur Lee and Kurt Robinson. Kenny Brown, a former West Ham player, had also joined the club as an assistant manager to Danny Cowley, after Danny Scopes had decided to knock it on the head. Scopesy will still be around the club though, which is great as he’s been a big part of what made the place so welcoming to people, myself included! 2 new signings were also announced, with Guyana international Chris Bourne and experienced goalkeeper Michael Jordan (no, not the basketball legend) coming on board. James White, a solid midfielder from Thurrock FC, was also brought into the team.

One eye is always kept on the noisy neighbours down the road at Canvey Island FC, and this month has been no different. The first bit of noise from them this summer was the news that former Concord right back Ashley Miller had signed for them. Obviously this was a surprise to me and a few within the CRFC team. But to be honest, fair play to him, he’s a quality player and I wish him all the best for the future, whoever he ends up playing for when the season starts. Canvey also “signed” Adam Wickenden, Concords physio from last season. Anyway, other news down the road at the club de la King was that signings were being made over the managers head, so Glen Alzapiedi decided enough was enough, leaving his position as CIFC manager. Add to that the news that 4 players have all decided to leave as well, those being Jason Hallett, John Easterford, Steve Sheehan and Alex Rhodes.

Now I wrote that last paragraph about Canvey for a good reason! Kenny Brown didn’t stay at Concord for long, as he’s now gone on to Barnet to be their assistant manager. Best of luck to him as well! That left a hole to fill, and although Nicky Cowley has been promoted to player/coach, Concord needed an assistant gaffer. A 4 hour meeting took place this past weekend, and out of that came the appointment of Glen Alzapiedi to the position of Concord Rangers assistant manager! I think that’s a great bit of business from the club, and I am sure that Glen will add a different but positive dimension to the management team at Concord.

As for the players that left Canvey, John Easterford is one that previously played for Concord Rangers, leaving in 2010 to go across the Island. Well I for one am happy to say that he has seen the light and made the short trip back across to the Aspect Arena to play for Concord once again. A starting CB for Canvey, he’ll be sorely missed by them and greatly appreciated by us! Welcome home John! It wouldn’t surprise me if more make the move across either, given the perception of the state of affairs over at Canvey, I don't hold high hopes for them! Given the calibre of the players leaving, can anyone say sinking ship?

Preseason training is already underway, and before the season starts in earnest I can see a lot more twists and turns coming for the teams on the island. The fixtures will be out on the 13th July, and I know my first looks will be towards the first & last games, and of course the derby games against Canvey! Non league football is a fantastic thing to be involved in, even just as a fan; I would not change a single part of it! You Are My Concord!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Remembering The Lost - 7/7

It’s not quite the 7th yet, but after seeing tweets regarding a program on the events of 7/7 last night, it got me thinking about what happened on that day 7 years ago. It was a horrific day for London and the people who are a part of it, many were killed and thousands more were affected in some way by it. It’s a day that will continue to live on in the memory of everyone who played a part, whether you were travelling on the tube nearby, whether you were at work, or whether you were just watching at home.

Me, well I remember how the day went fairly clearly. It sticks in my mind as I was based at Fenchurch Street station along with my mum and my brother! That morning my mum was at Fenchurch, and my brother was at Limehouse, both on the early shift, whilst I was due to start at 2 for the late shift. I was 21 years old, a temporary supervisor, having stepped up for 6 months, and plodding along nicely. That morning I got a message from a friend of mine, Lucy, about what had happened, and I spent the majority of the morning in front of the TV wondering what the hell had happened to my city.

Obviously my first thought was to get in touch with mum or Stephen, and thankfully I was able to as the landlines were working fine. Mum reassured me that although a bomb had gone off at Aldgate (literally just around the corner from Fenchurch Street) they had only heard a noise but not been otherwise affected. Stephen was working hard at Limehouse getting people moving and away from London (I actually remember him getting positive comments from customers regarding the help he provided there!). Whilst watching the news, I spent a lot of time texting with Lucy, talking about how worried I was that I had to work that afternoon, and that my family had been close to the whole thing. At the time that was all I could think about, but as the day went on it really dawned on me how many people were affected by these horrid events and the toll this would have on the people of London.

The tube network essentially came to a halt, and a lot of stations within London closed, stopping all services as part of the security response to what had happened. To say that I was nervous and scared when going in for my afternoon shift would be an understatement. But I got there, gave my mum a hug (as to be expected really) and cracked on. The service was bumped up and trains increased in size that day as the amount of people passing through Fenchurch Street heading out of London was unbelievable. Passengers were approaching us saying that they were unable to get out of London due to the station closures and that for a period of time we were the only ones still moving. And move is what we did, I remember filling trains up and sending them out early just to get people going, and some of the destinations these people had originally planned to go to were across the other side of the country! The crowds piled up outside the station, and the whole area at the front was jam packed with passengers wanting to travel. For anyone who has seen that front area you know that there is a lot of space there to fill.

Things eventually calmed down around 7, with London pretty much evacuated at least from what we could see. It was one hell of an emotional day, with so many people affected by the mornings events. Me and the guys at the station were just a minute part of it, but we knew we had done what we could that afternoon. At the time, and still now, my thoughts went out to all those people that were affected by the events of the day, huge credit to the emergency services and the tube/bus staff that dealt with the situations as they unfolded, my respect for these people was at an unbelievably high level. Even now, going back over the newspaper clippings that I saved from then it brings a lump to my throat. Again, huge respect to everyone who did a spectacular job on that day, it wasn’t easy and so many of you did London proud with the way that the events and aftermath were handled.

More importantly, RIP to those innocent people who lost their lives on what was one of Londons most tragic days. You remain in our thoughts always.

To Talk, Or To Write? A Bloggers Return!

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