Friday, 28 December 2012

A Concord Christmas

For the past three years, Christmas on Canvey Island has been the time of year when something special happens, the two non league football clubs meet for the first of their two derby games during the season. Ever since Concord Rangers were promoted to the Ryman League Premier these games have led to countless discussions & banter between the two clubs & their fans. Rarely do the matches disappoint either.
Prior to this Boxing Day four matches had taken place between the two sides, with the Beachboys coming out on top 3 times to Canveys 1. However the higher final league position has fallen to the Gulls in both previous years. Given that the last game was the Canvey win at Thames Road, & the fact that Concord were coming off a 6-3 demolition the week before, Canvey should have had some confidence, their fans certainly did when I spoke to some before the game.

The match was on at 3pm Boxing Day, mainly thanks to the hard work of the staff, players & committee who spent most of Xmas Eve & Boxing Day morning working on the pitch. The rain came as soon as the game started though, but some decent roller work at half time ensured the game would go through to 90 minutes.

I won't go into too much detail on the game, but it was all Concord from the get go. The Beachboys wanted this so much more than their local rivals, as has been the case in most of these encounters, and it showed as Harry Elmes put Concord in front early on. His close range shot took a deflection off former Beachboy Ashley Miller & left the Canvey keeper with no hope of saving it. Harry was back on the scoresheet soon afterwards as he powered in a rebound from a couple of yards out. Obviously this sent myself & the rest of the Concord fans into a frenzy, but it was but short soon after as Nicky Cowley was sent off for a rash challenge.
Canvey attempted to get back into the game with the man advantage, but the Concord defence proved too strong as they saw out the first half. As for the second half, not much to say really! Canvey never really looked dangerous going forward, especially with some of their players displaying a distinct lack of effort. This didn't bother me though, Concord, even with a man down, continued to make space & create chances. One of which paid off with 4 minutes to play as James White slammed the ball home to make it 3-0.

(picture courtesy of Mikey Cartwright)

The game was over, the Beachboys fans were singing loud and proud, Canvey fans looked sullen & disappointed, as did their players, so bragging rights once again fell to Concord Rangers. The result was a sweet one for us, coming back from a loss last week in such emphatic style with just 10 men for the majority of the game against our main local rivals. Everyone involved with Concord Rangers should be extremely proud of the lads performance that day, it's a result that made many a Beachboy Christmas!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The rise & rise of Non League

Football as a sport has been around for generations, the majority of fans follow teams in the professional leagues, but the "non-league" set up below has been slowly developing teams & players for all that time.

For the past 3 years my interest and involvement in non-league has grown immeasurably and with that I've been able to see first hand how the sport at this level has grown in popularity across the country. I also appreciate the set-up of non-league, it's differences to the pro game and the effort, drive & passion that goes into it at this level. When i first saw non-league games as a young child, it was just football, it was all the same to me, but I realise & appreciate that it's not.

That's no bad thing, don't get me wrong! But the way I see it in my head is almost as a different sport to the top flights, and i follow Concord Rangers with as much emotion & passion as i do West Ham.
Basically non-league football is the game in leagues outside the four top divisions in the English game, from the Blue Square Bet Premier, then through various regional divisions 3, 4 or even 5 steps further down. The popularity of these leagues, and the games within them, seems to be increasing quicker by the month, and for me i feel it's because of a couple of main reasons.

The first is exposure, quite simply the game at this level is getting so much more coverage in the mainstream media, for example local papers feature large double page spreads to the number of teams in their areas. Social media has also played a part in this, look for 5 minutes on Facebook or Twitter and you'll find fan pages & accounts dedicated to these clubs, all full of passionate supporters willing to follow their club! Not just social media, but blogs such as this one, the website, and plenty more besides offer thoughts, opinions and coverage of the game. Add to that the ever faithful Non League Paper and you see how the exposure continues to grow.

The success of non-league teams in national cup competitions also plays a big part in how the game is seen. The FA Cup can offer very small clubs the chance to make it to a big stage, none more recent than Ryman League team Hastings having an away match against Middlesborough in the 3rd round! These smaller clubs are getting better investment, even in this tough climate, as entry prices are lower more fans attend, which boosts the funds at the club & in turn helps them move forward. The playing talent at this level is always improving too, former league players who just missed out can be found across the country plying their trade at this level, competition for places increases because of it.

Of course, one huge reason why the focus on non league has increased was with the creation of "Non League Day" a few years back. Normally a day during October when the top flight are on an international break, this is a day where the focus is on going to see and cheer on your local non-league team. The day is widely promoted & has grown more and more each year. Obviously there's massive benefits to seeing these local games, cost is one, atmosphere is another, being able to stand there with a beer right on the sideline is something that can be enjoyed at this level! Add to that the fact that although the players are paid (not much at all) they are there for the love of the game, and it's there for all to see at every game.

I am a convert, without doubt, the past 3 years have helped make an unbreakable bond with the sport at this level. It's something i love being a part of, and with how things are going I know i will not be the only one!

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