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Archives for May 2011

Swansea, Reading and er.... Biscuits..

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Simon Plumb (LKO Blogger) | 20:44 UK time, Tuesday, 31 May 2011

 

 

 

Chris Slegg, LKO London & SE Reporter -

As the local team of Princess Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Reading's nickname has never been more appropriate than it is right now. Yet until 1976 the Royals were known as the Biscuitmen, and there can't have been a sports reporter in Berkshire who didn't mourn the passing of that pseudonym.

Suddenly leads "crumbling", defences offering "wafer-thin" resistance and strikers "gobbling up" chances were puns which no longer hit the mark. It's particularly galling given the tasty treat of a six-goal thriller Swansea and Reading served up in the Championship play-off final.

Congratulations to Swansea for a masterful display in clinching that 4-2 win at Wembley and of course for a magnificent season, but they have now ascended to the world of Match of the Day. As such, they're beyond our remit here at Late Kick Off. So it falls to us to discuss their vanquished opponents.

If Reading were a biscuit variety box, then Brian McDermott would surely be a custard cream, which according to the BBC website was voted the nation's favourite biscuit in 2007 because of its reputation as a "no-nonsense nibble". McDermott is a no-nonsense manager, and one who has become a favourite with the Reading fans since taking over a team on the slide in December 2009. As well as guiding them to within one match of the Premier League, he's also racked up famous FA Cup wins against Liverpool and Everton. His predecessor was the man who has now transformed Swansea.

Brendan Rodgers was very much a Garibaldi as far as Reading fans were concerned. A biscuit that's not everyone's cup of tea, or at least a biscuit that not everyone would consider dunking in their cup of tea. While Rodgers becomes the first manager to lead a Welsh team into the top-flight since John Toshack took Swansea up 30 years ago, Reading and McDermott are condemned to another season in the Championship.

The oldest Football League team in the south of England have spent only two of their 140 years in the top division. Another year outside the elite could be a particularly difficult one though. A group of Reading fans I spoke to outside the Madejski Stadium before they set off for the semi-final 2nd leg against Cardiff told me they were worried that it was now or never. They were particularly worried that a failure to reach the Premier League would see the likes of Jimmy Kebe, Shane Long and Noel Hunt leave for pastures new.

It's to be hoped that McDermott is able to keep his squad together and have another go at the promotion that was so nearly theirs. "When it got to 3-2 our fans nearly pulled us over the line," McDermott told BBC Radio Berkshire. Indeed they did. Reading were a post's width away from equalising. What might have happened then? As it is, it's Swansea who can look forward to hob-nobbing with the elite at football's top table while Reading must search for some crumbs of comfort from what's been an otherwise promising season.

AFC Wimbledon

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Simon Plumb (LKO Blogger) | 11:57 UK time, Monday, 23 May 2011

LKO Reporter Chris Slegg on AFC Wimbledons story

 AFC Wimbledon provide the answer to one of football’s most philosophical questions. What is it that gives each club its own unique identity? What is it that makes Whoever FC of 1911 essentially the same entity as Whoever FC of 2011?

Nearly everything in football is transient: managers, players and owners come and go. Teams move to new stadiums and even change their name. In the end it all comes down to the supporters. It is the fans that define a club. The memories and experiences handed down through the generations are the glue that binds those discrete chapters into a single narrative.

 

AFC Wimbledon celebrating promotion to the Football League

 

 

That’s why the story of AFC Wimbledon strikes a chord with every football fan. To many neutral observers the ruling of the FA commission in 2002 to allow the original Wimbledon’s owners to move to Milton Keynes effectively meant the Dons’ League position was sold off to a different club.

Well nine years later the fans that refused to let their club die by setting up AFC Wimbledon have their Football League place back. And it was won back in thrilling style on Saturday courtesy of a dramatic penalty shootout with Luton Town after a goalless draw at Eastlands.

 

AFC Wimbledon celebrating promotion to the Football League

 

 

It’s been fascinating to follow the story of the club that selected its first team via trials on Wimbledon Common and has now completed five promotions in the last eight seasons. It will be more fascinating still for those of us who work at the Football League Show and Late Kick Off to follow how they adapt to life among the elite 92.

Can they do what the original Wimbledon did and continue to climb through the divisions?  Three promotions in four seasons took the Dons from Division Four to the top-flight in 1986. Two years later they were cementing their place in FA Cup folklore with one of the biggest Cup final upsets of all time as Lawrie Sanchez’s header saw them beat a magnificent Liverpool side 1-0.

 

AFC Wimbledon celebrating promotion to the Football League

 

 

It was fitting that Saturday’s Blue Square Premier play-off final win against Luton had something in common with that Wembley triumph. Dave Beasant was a penalty-saving hero beneath the Twin Towers 23 years ago, and Seb Brown pulled off the same feat not once, but twice, in Manchester. The AFC Wimbledon keeper grew up supporting Wimbledon and was among those who protested against the move to Milton Keynes. Now he’ll go down in Dons history, as will captain and leading goalscorer Danny Kedwell who thumped home the decisive penalty to lift his team into the League.

Chief executive Erik Samuelson has been at pains to point out that AFC Wimbledon are nothing like the original Crazy Gang. When I spoke to him before the team set off for Manchester he expressed his anger at a piece broadcast on another channel which had applied this moniker to the current crop, stressing that Vinnie Jones et al would never have won the Fair Play League as AFC Wimbledon have done twice.

 

AFC Wimbledon celebrating promotion to the Football League

 

 

Kedwell and manager Terry Brown though insisted they do find inspiration in what the Crazy Gang did, and said that the Wimbledon of today benefit from the same strength of character, camaraderie and team spirit as their forerunners. Brown also put down the club’s success to it being owned by the fans, but did express scepticism as to whether fan power alone could ever carry AFC Wimbledon all the way to the Premier League.

Such a dream may seem far-fetched right now, but another promotion certainly seems achievable. That could mean an intriguing League One fixture the season after next – AFC Wimbledon versus Milton Keynes Dons. Many AFC Wimbledon fans say they do not recognise the existence of MK Dons and would refuse to attend any such fixture. For the rest of us though, it would represent football’s ultimate grudge match.

End of Season ups & downs..

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Simon Plumb (LKO Blogger) | 18:36 UK time, Tuesday, 17 May 2011

 

 

Chris Slegg  - Reporter Late Kick Off London & SE

With one hand they giveth, with the other they taketh away. Or, in the case of the teams Late Kick Off London & South East is lucky enough to cover, quite the opposite. 

When QPR sneaked through the Championship's open skylight dragging the likes of Paladini, Briatore, Ecclestone, Warnock, and Taarabt into the Premier League promised land, a rich supply of stories ascended with them, tantalisingly beyond our reach.

Not to worry. Crashing straight back into our laps with enough velocity to force us through the floorboards below, drop West Ham United. When it comes to plot-lines the Hammers are the original EastEnders. 

For their passionate and loyal fan-base, life in the Championship will begin under yet another new manager working for not one, not two, but three high-profile and outspoken owners. Said manager’s immediate task looks likely to be to try to replace the Football Writers’ Player of the Year Scott Parker and the other talented internationals who – though together not good enough to keep their club in the Premier League – won’t be short of top-flight suitors.

Of course all this takes place against the backdrop of the highly controversial move to the Olympic Stadium. It will be a race against time to get the Hammers back into the Premier League before they’re scheduled to set up home in Stratford in 2014. 

West Ham probably feel as happy to be here as a teenager at an 80th birthday bash, but we’re delighted to welcome them to the Late Kick Off party. And, joining the ranks next week? AFC Wimbledon or Luton. Those two teams do battle in the Blue Square Premier play-off final on Saturday. It's fair to say life at either club is rarely dull.

 

Lucky Toilet Breaks?!

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Simon Plumb (LKO Blogger) | 16:21 UK time, Monday, 9 May 2011

 

Late Kick Off London & SE reporter Chris Slegg

 

Chris Slegg  - Reporter Late Kick Off London & SE
Lucky toilet breaks helped Wycombe boss Gary Waddock secure promotion, and now Late Kick Off London & South East can add Barnet’s Giuliano Grazioli to the superstitious managers plying their trade in this corner of the country. 

 

With the stakes so high for his team on Saturday, Grazioli wasn’t going to risk upsetting the footballing gods ahead of Barnet’s biggest game for a decade, so he declined an interview before the game on the basis that our programme is bad luck. Fair enough, they lost last time we spoke. Or maybe it was just a polite excuse to avoid spending any time in our company on a day when everyone at the club had plenty on their plate.  

The Bees were on the verge of slipping out of the Football League and losing all the prestige and the hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of funding that accompanies that status. 

To make matters worse Barnet’s fate wasn’t even in their own hands. A win against Port Vale would only be enough to keep them in League Two if Lincoln failed to beat Aldershot. As it was Izale McLeod’s penalty 10 seconds after half time and Lincoln’s spectacular second-half collapse saw Barnet pull off a truly great escape. 

Cue jubilant scenes at Underhill, frenzied dressing room celebrations, and a young manager relieved not to have deviated from his preferred match-day rituals. Late Kick Off is also delighted if the absence of a pre-match interview did in anyway help keep Barnet in the Football League because it means BBC television will be able to continue to cover them next season, and it's fair to say there's never a shortage of stories emanating from Underhill.

Motorways, a monkey, and a mankini..

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Simon Plumb (LKO Blogger) | 12:47 UK time, Monday, 2 May 2011

 

Chris Slegg, reporter for Late Kick Off London & SE

 

Chris Slegg - Late Kick Off London & SE Reporter

Motorways, a monkey, and a mankini. Just another Saturday in the world of Late Kick Off: London & South East. A quirk of the fixture list meant for the second time in a fortnight we hit the road – around 225 miles of road – to Bury.

Two weeks ago we were at Gigg Lane to witness Barnet’s survival hopes take a battering, this time it promised to be an altogether happier occasion with Wycombe on the verge of securing an exit out of the other end of League Two. 

At Keele Services we bumped into some of the 600 Wycombe fans

Late Kick Off reporter - Chris Slegg interviewing a Borat Look -a- like

 

making the pilgrimage to the north west. Many had foregone the famous blue quartered shirts in favour of fancy dress, or - in the case of one fan who’d come as a mankini-clad Borat lookalike – fancy undress. He got a few funny looks as he walked past Costa Coffee. Strict taste and decency standards here at Late Kick Off Towers mean he didn’t make the final edit. 

 

Another fan predicted from beneath the oversized head of his monkey costume that Wycombe would win 2-0. Not a bad prediction given Gary Waddock’s men ran out 3-1 victors meaning automatic promotion is in their own hands going into the final game.  

I wonder if Waddock will be tempted to spend the entire 90 minutes of next week’s match against Southend in the Adams Park toilets. He revealed he didn’t see either of Ben Strevens’ goals because he was in the Gigg Lane gents. Having missed the first one he decided to make another trip 25 minutes later purely to see if it would prove lucky again. It did.

A rather inconvenient superstition, but regular trips to the loo could be in order on what’s sure to be a nervous final day of the season.

 

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