David Cameron Walker

Posts Tagged ‘Wembley’

Dreaming of Wembley

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

291n78yWhen Dean Smith took charge of Walsall a little over three years ago, the club was on it’s knees at the foot of the League One table. If you’d asked the fans at the time – “where will you be in three years time?” – most would have been placing their bets firmly in the lower half of League One or, more likely, languishing somewhere in the basement division.

So it’s remarkable that after a steady re-building process and a really strong 2013, Walsall are genuine contenders for a place in the League One promotion mix-up this season.

The club managed to record the (joint) fewest Football League defeats in the last calendar year to help notch up an impressive 73 points with the third best defensive record. Certainly a marked improvement on the previous few years.

However, it remains to be seen whether this form can continue over a full football season. If it does, Walsall would be extremely unlucky to miss out on a playoff place.

At the moment every Walsall fan is dreaming of seeing their team play at Wembley – something that no Saddlers fan has ever seen! The club is currently the highest placed team never to have been involved in a game under the famous twin towers or new arch.

This dream might hinge on the next few weeks. Trips to Coventry (Northampton), Peterborough, Preston and Rotherham along with home ties with Swindon, Milton Keynes, Wolves and Leyton Orient make for an important and tough set of fixtures over February and March.

A key to making the most of these fixtures could be the recent re-signing of Febian Brandy on loan from Sheffield United. While the press have been commenting about how well Walsall have done to replace the departed front three of Paterson, Grigg and Brandy this season, in truth, Brandy was never replaced. All season the right wing position has been filled by James Baxendale who, despite being very talented, is a square peg in a round hole in that position.

Another key factor could be the addition of another striker. The fans have been asking the question since August and Dean Smith has only just started making noises about the possibility of addressing the situation.

Walsall have managed only 30 league goals so far this season – comfortably the lowest in the top half. While Craig Westcarr has notched his fair share of goals, when he’s not effective, there is no Plan B. Another striker who could chip in with 5-10 goals over the remainder of the season could just be enough to push Walsall into the top six.

New striker or not, play-off place or not, operating on one of the smallest budgets in the league, Walsall are set to have another really good season and with a bit of luck it might turn into a Wembley debut come the end of May.

Written by Tom Miller, We Are Going Up’s Walsall Blogger

Tom tweets @likelyladtom

History Makers

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

As que sera sera we’re going to Wembley rang out loud and proud from the thousands of travelling away supporters on Tuesday, shock and disbelief was also etched all over Bradford fans faces. The dream had come true, the unthinkable had become possible – I personally had started to lose my voice and had already broken my glasses, (going giddy celebrating James Hanson’s goal), but the night of the 22nd January 2013 will never be forgotten; it truly was a ‘I was there moment’.

Bradford City had just reached The Capital One Cup Final! After knocking out Premier League side Aston Villa over two legs. In the words of the last manager to take The Bantams to Wembley (Chris Kamara), Unbelievable Jeff!! This wasn’t a fluke, Villa wanted to get to Wembley, over both legs they played their strongest eleven. Lady Luck was shining down on Bradford as the Premier League side missed a string of chances across both games but that’s the magic of the cup!

Bradford might have lost the game 2-1 on the night, but the 3-1 lead we had from the first leg meant there was to be a fairy tale end to a Roy of the Rovers style cup run. Villa, in front of a capacity crowd at Villa Park, came roaring out of the blocks and deservedly took the lead through Benteke. The big striker missed several chances at Valley Parade two weeks ago, but looked to of started the comeback for the home side. However, despite substantial pressure and numerous excellent saves from Matt Duke, Villa just couldn’t get that key second goal.

At half time, I sat there nervous in the away end. Daring to dream that in 45 minutes time my beloved Bantams will be Wembley bound but something had to change, the first half was all Villa – City had to go at Villa. It’s well documented that Paul Lambert’s side are fragile defensively and so it was proven and just like two of the three goals in the first leg, it was to be a header that opened up that fragile Villa defence. Gary Jones delivered a peach of a corner right on to the head of the former Co-op shelf stacker James Hanson. The big man sent the 6,500 away following absolutely mental! Resulting in my glasses coming flying off in the celebrations only to spot a guy two rows in front waving them around, bent and scratched but I wasn’t bothered! We had the two goal cushion again, but more importantly that key away goal, Villa Park was silenced.

Was the dream going to come true just over half an hour to wait. That half an hour lasted a lifetime, having said I thought after Hanson scored Bradford looked very comfortable, the striker had a great chance to double the lead with another header before substitute Garry Thompson hit the bar. Villa were restricted to long range efforts which either went well wide or straight at the superb Matt Duke. The real drama started to kick in just when it looked like City had done enough, with the home side devoid of ideas and the Villa fans streaming out of the ground, a long route one hopeful ball went all the way though allowing Villa sub Weimann to nip in on 89 minutes to round Duke and tap home – Cue 4 minutes of added on time. A professional display continued during that period before Phil Dowd blew the full time whistle sparking absolute wild scenes from the away fans. ‘We’re going to Wembley’ sang out by the Bradford fans who could barely believe their eyes – it took the meter in Villa’s electric cupboard to run out and the lights to go off to get the Bradford fans out of Villa Park.

A fourth division club getting to a major domestic cup final is virtually unheard of, will it happen again anytime soon? Very unlikely I’d imagine. It’s the first time in over 50 years that this has been achieved and the last bottom division side to get to a major cup final was Rochdale, but back then the cup was option for the bigger sides. Having beaten Notts County away, Watford away, Burton Albion home, Wigan Athletic away, Arsenal home and Aston Villa over two legs Bradford have certainly earned their right to be part of the showpiece event. Naturally Swansea are favourites for the final, but then so were the last three Premier League sides that have fallen at the feet of the Bantams.

£7,500 is the amount that’s been spent on the team, and that was all on the former Co-op top shelf stacker. The rest is a team of free transfers and loanees. Some of these players may never get a chance to play at Wembley again especially not under these circumstances. It really is a sensational achievement. The whole cup run and certainly now has put the club back firmly on the map and the national media attention that The Bantams are receiving is brilliant. Since relegation from the Premier League 12 years ago, there has been very little to cheer about. Two administrations and relegations all the way to League Two but this season has been extraordinary. The financial gains from the cup run will set the club up for years to come.

Away from the exploits of the cup, the league form has stuttered in recent weeks with The Bantams dropping down to 10th in the league. Hardly time to push the panic button, but I would like to see City back in the play-offs by the time the cup final comes around at the end of February. The gaffer Phil Parkinson who has masterminded the amazing cup run has turned down an approach from Championship side Blackpool to become there new manager. Andy Gray has rejoined the club from Leeds United to help the likes of James Hanson, Nahki Wells and Alan Connell upfront whilst big defender Michael Nelson has joined from Kilmarnock – where he won the Scottish League Cup last season – maybe it’s an omen…

The 24th February can’t come around some enough, Bradford City-vs-Swansea City….England-vs-Wales and who knows will the dream end. Fans certainly hope it ends with Gary Jones lifting the trophy. We can dream but for me, my dream will be a reality on the 24th. I will seeing the club I’ve supported since a very young age walk out in a major cup final – that will be a sight to savour….

Written by Mark Scully, We Are Going Up’s Bradford City Blogger

Mark tweets at @scully87

Why does nobody care?

Friday, September 9th, 2011

Some of you may be shocked to read this given our reputation, but Stevenage is not an attractive town.

It’s an identikit post-war new town with too much concrete, too many roundabouts and too high a rate of teenage pregnancy. Oh, and a Chicago Rock Café. Despite this though, people flood to fill the new housing developments in the town every year, and why?

Is it because most of them are available through the housing association and are therefore cheap?  Probably.

Is it because of the good rail links with London?  Possibly.

Is it because they want to cut down the commute to the football club they visit every week?  Is it buggery.

Stevenage FC has long been establishing itself as an attractive and modern football club, building success slowly over a number of years which, as we all know, has culminated in a very profitable past two seasons with back-to-back promotions and blah blah blah…

However, they still can’t seem to increase the home attendance above the 2,000 – 2,500 mark it has been at for years.

The success of the last 2 years has helped to highlight the club to a wider audience, but those around the town will know that Stevenage have been an emerging force for some years now and there is some local interest in the club.

In 2007, they won the FA Trophy in front of 53,000 people. Around 30,000 of them were there because of a passing interest in Stevenage Borough FC. Granted, many of that 30,000 saw it as an excuse to be among the first to visit the new Wembley, but they would not have been at the match had Kidderminster Harriers been playing Grays Athletic in the final.

In that match, Stevenage put in one of the greatest Wembley comebacks of all time, winning 3-2 after being 2-0 down at half time. They did so by playing some fantastic attacking football.

Despite this the club’s average attendance hasn’t grown since our days in the Conference.  You can guarantee there will be 2,000 home fans every week at The Lamex but to greatly increase that number, there needs to be something pretty special happening; even the chance of revenge over Newcastle United in the FA Cup wasn’t enough to sell out the stadium.

My neighbour recently peered over the fence to ask if he’d need to book tickets for him and his lad for the then upcoming match against Hartlepool. I genuinely thought he was winding me up and was shocked when he told me he thought the ground more or less sold out every week.

So why don’t the people of Stevenage turn out for games and what can we do as a club to entice them in?

Many of you reading this are immediately thinking of adding a witty comment to the bottom suggesting that we could try playing better football, so to save you the job I’ll explain that the style of our play has nothing to do with it.

I’ve admitted openly on here that Stevenage don’t always play fantastic football, but only a few years ago they consistantly did under the stewardship of Mark Stimson. They attacked with pace and flair and played some beautiful one touch football with a team including George Boyd and Steve Morison. But not only did it not get them anywhere; it didn’t significantly boost attendances.

There’s the usual argument that Stevenage is a 30-minute train journey from London and therefore the club are competing for fans with the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and West Ham. It’s a fair argument in some respects, but how many of the football going population of Stevenage realistically travel to watch those teams play weekly? I’d guess fewer than 10% – so what is the other 90% doing?

They’re certainly not visiting the other sights of Stevenage because there aren’t any. Unless you count a trip to UK Discount Warehouse, Primark and QD in the town centre as alluring.

Is it a marketing problem? Possibly, but the club are working hard to address their standing and visibility in the community and are actively trying to encourage people on match days.

For example, the recent home match with Rochdale fell on an international weekend and with League 1 being the highest tier playing, the club put on an initiative that offered all Premiership and Championship season ticket holders entry to the match for £5.

I’ve not seen any word from the club as to its effect, but from my vantage point on the half way line, it had little-to-no impact. In the long run, trying to entice people in to watch Boro’ when they hold a season ticket elsewhere is pretty pointless, but at least it was a nice idea.

Stevenage also offer free entry to all under-11s in the hope that a parent will start bringing them along, but this is a long term plan to raise attendances and in reality the club needs a quick fix which – despite recent successes – I just can’t see coming.

On Tuesday, they play a match that two years ago would have been a fantastic FA Cup draw; Sheffield Wednesday at home. However, this is no FA Cup match. Stevenage are playing them on their own merit and, were I wealthy man, I’d bet every single person reading this a tenner that The Owls don’t beat them and another £10 on top that the attendance is around the 5,000 mark, with 1,400 of them travelling down from Sheffield.

Has someone got any ideas?

Written by Mark Hollis, We Are Going Up’s Stevenage blogger

Mark tweets at @HollisMark