Vanarama column April 11 – National League North

Vanarama column – the National League North 

By Glenn Moore

Size is always relative: by the standards of non-league football the Vanarama National League North is the graveyard of giants. It is a curiosity that while Vanarama National League South does not contain a single club that has previously played in the Football League the northern section has eight (albeit some have reformed after the original club went bankrupt).

There are many reasons for this disparity, and to an extent it is just a snapshot in time, but the gradual southwards economic shift of the English economy is clearly a factor. There are many upwardly mobile clubs in the south. The likes of Crawley and AFC Wimbledon have climbed into the Football League in recent years, Eastleigh and Ebbsfleet are pushing to join them. Often it is northern clubs that have made way.

Even taking into account that Boston United and Kidderminster Harriers only had four seasons apiece in the Football League in the early years of this century, and Gainsborough Trinity last played League football in 1912, that leaves five once well-established Football League clubs now in the sixth tier of the game.

Of that quintet York City, the FA Trophy holders and a Football League club only two years ago, and Stockport County, a Championship-level club as recently as 2002, look best-placed to secure a spot in the play-offs. Southport, now managed by former Bolton and England striker Kevin Davies, Bradford Park Avenue and Darlington are hoping to join them, but will each need a strong finish. None will win automatic promotion, that seems certain to be claimed by either Salford City, the club bankrolled by the Lancastrian heart of Alex Ferguson’s golden generation, or Harrogate Town, who went full-time at the start of the season.

In a tier in which attendances can dip below 200, and more than half the clubs in the northern section, and all those in the southern, average crowds of less than 1,000, Stockport and York are giants. Only four Vanarama National League clubs have averaged more than their gates, approaching 3,500 for County, in excess of 2,500 for York.  For County this support is especially impressive given this is their fourth season in the sixth tier and they have been sitting in mid-table for most of it.

However, the support and facilities at Edgeley Park can inspire opponents too. “Players do like to come to our place and play in front of 3,000-4,000 fans, but they also come here with a mentality to defend and not concede and that makes it difficult for us,” said manager Jim Gannon earlier this season. County are also part-time, in a league with an increasing number of full-time clubs, including the top two.

York City are full-time, but may not be for much longer. A dispute between owner Jason McGill and the supporters trust ahead of a move to a new stadium in 2019 has clouded matters, with speculation the club may go part-time. That increases the need to go up this May. Jon Parkin, now 36 and the scorer of more than 200 career goals, including 141 in the Football League, is spearheading the Minstermen’s promotion push but with FA Trophy finalists Brackley Town all-but tying up third the chase for the remaining four play-off places is tight.

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Footballer of the Year voting

Voting has opened for Footballer of the Year, and all FWA members should by now have received an email with a code for online voting.  If you have not received an email, however, or would like to register your vote by email, phone, text or post, please contact our executive secretary Paul McCarthy on or 07831 650977 .  Voting closes on midnight April 30th.

Ray Wilkins RIP – an appreciation

The Football Writers’ Association is deeply saddened to hear of the death of Ray Wilkins at the age of 61, following cardiac arrest and a fall. Ray was a fine footballer for some of Europe’s leading clubs, a respected coach and an excellent pundit. He was also a good friend of the FWA, always courteous and helpful with reporters, fans and colleagues, and will be much missed.

Martin Lipton, deputy sports editor of The Sun and a member of the FWA’s national executive committee, shares his personal memories of a great football man.

I once gave the ball back to Ray Wilkins.

It was at Brisbane Road, Orient versus Chelsea, in 1976.

Most of the people who were there vaguely recall it was the match in which the Chelsea fans pushed over one of the brick walls running alongside the pitch.

But not me. The ball went into the crowd. Ray Wilkins – THE Ray Wilkins – came over to take the throw. I gave it back to him. And for the first of what was to prove many times over the next 40-odd years, he said, simply “Thank you.”

Courteous. Polite. A gentleman.

Equally, a far, far better player and man than he was ever given credit for. Yes, for some, he was “Ray the Crab”, the master of the sideways pass. But that was because, in an era when possession of the ball was an afterthought, Wilkins believed it mattered.

That keeping the ball counted. That control of possession was vital in any context.

Captain of Chelsea at 18. Yes, 18. An FA Cup winner at Manchester United. Still respected at AC Milan. Recalled with affection at Rangers – where he was a Double winner – and QPR.

And a man who earned 84 England caps, wore the Three Lions armband on 10 occasions, represented his country at three tournaments, including two World Cups.

But, of course, it is at Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge, that Wilkins’ death at the age of 61 will be mourned more than anywhere else.

In truth, the real measure of the esteem in which real football fans held “Butch” was clear only last Sunday. To say the hostility between Chelsea and Spurs fans is brutal is an understatement. The two clubs loathe each other.

But when Wilkins’ face was displayed on the giants screens at the Bridge before kick-off, with prayers and good wishes offered for his recovery from the coma into which he had been induced, both sets of supporters had the same, immediate and genuine response.

Sadly, those warm wishes were not able to halt the inevitable.

Those who knew Wilkins, as a player, a coach, a manager, a pundit or a friend, will always recall him with a smile.

Loyal to a fault – he never said a word against Carlo Ancelotti, even after the Italian stood back and did not intervene when Wilkins was summarily sacked by Chelsea just months after the club had won the Double in 2010. And a man who always had time for real football fans.

A couple of years ago, I was contacted by someone who said they wanted to thank Ray.

They had been in the middle of their wedding in a Surrey hotel, when Wilkins had been spotted in the building. The groom was a Chelsea fan, who recalled watching Wilkins in his pomp. Out of nowhere, he was invited to be guest of honour. He could not let a Blues fan down. Then he made his way off home. I agreed to pass on the regards. Got the details. Picked up the phone and told Ray about the call I’d had.

Thank you,” he said, once again. “It was my honour. Just give him my details.”

That was Ray.

Now, we all say our goodbyes, never to speak to him again. It’s not him who says “thank you” now. It’s me. Thank you, Ray. It was a privilege.”

Vanarama National League column – April 4

Easter by Luke Coulson, Ebbsfleet United and FWA member

On Easter weekend, children across the country ran round their gardens screaming and shouting as they tried to claim all the hidden Easter eggs. Similarly, but without the chocolate ending, teams from across the Vanarama National League ran around screaming and shouting as they tried to claim all the bank holiday weekend points.

With two games in four days and the end of the season closing in on us, Easter weekend provides a huge opportunity for clubs to establish their position in the league or move further up the table.

On Good Friday, I was excited at the prospect of playing against my former team Eastleigh; the club that introduced me to Vanarama National League football. However, a waterlogged pitch meant that the game was postponed, allowing my team mates and me to rest for the bank holiday Monday clash against Dover.

Before kick-off, our not so distant rivals were precariously sat in 7th position, seven points ahead yet having played two games more. Therefore, as we arrived at Stonebridge Road, we knew the game was vital to keep our aspirations alive of claiming a playoff spot this season.

It must have been clear to the 1,700 fans in attendance how desperate we were to win as we raised our performance levels to fit the occasion. Having not lost since early February, our confidence was high and we dominated the game, urged on by the Ebbsfleet faithful.

Dean Rance and Andy Drury were instrumental in the centre of midfield, while Danny Kedwell somehow, yet unsurprisingly, handled three central defenders allowing Whiteley and me the freedom to express ourselves in a must-win game. However, the score remained 0-0 at half time owing to a fantastic display by the Dover goalkeeper, Mitch Walker.

After the break, our constant pressure caused the breakthrough. An overhit corner allowed Sean Shields to take the ball on to his left foot and his low driven shot finally gave us the lead. I must admit that I expected Dover to begin to chase the game and pile on the pressure, yet we looked comfortable for the remaining half an hour until disaster struck in the 93rd minute.

Having been substituted with five minutes to go, it was agony to watch from the bench as the referee pointed to the spot and awarded Dover a penalty in additional time. I pulled the coat over my head and hoped to hear a cheer from the home crowd but it was the away fans that began to sing.

Watching helplessly from the bench, we were rewarded a free-kick with a minute to go. Myles Weston stood over the ball and his inch perfect delivery led to a scramble in the box before the ball fell to the hero, Andy Drury, whose composed left foot shot nestled in the far corner as the passionate celebrations began. A goal we deserved and most importantly, needed.

The final whistle blew and relief flooded throughout the stadium. The result continues our surge towards the playoffs, maintains our excellent current form and builds excitement for our next game live on BT Sport against league leaders, Macclesfield. 

Women’s Footballer of the Year shortlist

Five members of Phil Neville’s England squad have been voted on to the shortlist for the FWA’s inaugural Women’s Footballer of the Year award. The short-list was chosen by a 22-strong expert panel, drawn from members of the Football Writers’ Association who report on women’s football.

The five are (in alphabetical order): Lucy Bronze (Lyon), Isobel Christiansen (Manchester City), Fran Kirby (Chelsea), Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal), Jodie Taylor (Arsenal/Melbourne City/Seattle Reign)

Two young English players, Millie Bright (Chelsea) and Nikita Parris (Man City) were very close to making the cut, as was Arsenal’s Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema.

Votes were also received by (in alphabetical order, English unless stated): Eni Aluko (Chelsea), Toni Duggan (Barcelona), Ji So-yun (Chelsea & South Korea), Hedvig Lindahl (Chelsea & Sweden), Maren Mjelde (Chelsea & Norway), Lucy Staniforth (Sunderland), Keira Walsh (Man City), Ellen White (Birmingham City).

The winner will be announced later in the season, after further deliberations.


Lucy Bronze (Lyon) . Voted into the team of the tournament at Euro 2016 after which she left Manchester City for Lyon, the French and European champions. Defender who led England at the recent She Believes Cup.


Isobel Christiansen (Manchester City)  Maturing attacking midfielder who creates and scores goals. Joined from Birmingham City in 2014 and has been a key figure in Manchester City’s rise.


Fran Kirby (Chelsea) . Leading scorer this season with 15 goals in 20 domestic appearances. Signed by Chelsea from Reading for a rumoured record fee in 2015 and scored consistently since.


Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal) England vice-captain who shone at Euro 2016 and has been at the heart of Arsenal’s revival. Midfielder with a penchant for spectacular goals.


Jodie Taylor (Arsenal/Melbourne City/Seattle Reign) Golden Boot winner at Euro 2016 who has since scored for Arsenal, Melbourne City (including the winner in the W-League Grand Final), and now Seattle.

The FWA’s panel will meet again to decide on the winner ahead of the Footballer of the Year dinner on May 10th


Football Book of the Year

Biographies of some of the most successful football managers, past and present, dominate the Football Writers’ Association Book of the Year Award Longlist for 2018.

Now sponsored by Coutts, it is one of 10 categories within the Sports Book Awards Ceremony which takes place at Lord’s Cricket Ground on June 7th.

A total of 12 books made the shortlist, selected by members of the FWA’s books committee, and eight of the authors were present at Coutts’ offices on the Strand for a the announcement on Monday March 19th.

Sir Matt Busby by FWA Chairman Patrick Barclay and Quiet Genius (Life of Bob Paisley) by Ian Herbert will compete in the football book category with David Bolchover’s The Greatest Comeback, the story of Bela Guttmann. Each are European Cup-winning managers, a feat that remains elusive to Mauricio Pochettino, the exciting young coach at Spurs and subject of Brave New World by Sky Sports La Liga pundit Guillem Balague, another FWA member.

Stephen Constantine is a lesser-known veteran coach of six different national teams in four continents. His story, written with Owen AmosFrom Delhi to the Den: The Story of Football’s Most Travelled Manager continues the strong managerial theme running through the list.

Last year’s Autobiography of the Year award winner at the Sports Book Awards, Michael Calvin who co-authored Joey Barton’s life story, is longlisted again with No Hunger in Paradise, the third part in his much celebrated trilogy of football writing. James Montague is another previous winner and his book, The Billionaires Club, takes a delve into the unstoppable rise of football’s super rich owners while Martin Lipton’s White Hart Lane provides football fans with a complete history of Tottenham Hotspur’s home  before it re-opens after redevelopment next season.

Tom van Hulsen’s Game Changers – The Remarkable Story of Dutch Masters Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen, celebrates  two great Ipswich Town midfield maestros while Doctor Socrates by Andrew Downie chronicles the maverick, iconic captain of the greatest Brazil side never to win the World Cup. David Tossell’s Alan Ball: The Man in White Boots completes the midfield quartet for the 2018 longlist.

James Corbett’s Faith Of Our Families: Everton FC –An Oral History 1878-2018 is a book told by the people who made the great Merseyside club and completes the long list.

David Willis, Chairman of the Sports Book Awards said: ‘We are delighted to be announcing the Football Writers’ Association Book of the Year Longlist and working in partnership with Coutts for the first time and the highly esteemed Football Writers’ Association.’

Simon Hopes, Director Coutts, in response said: ‘The business of football is very important to Coutts and we are very appreciative of the opportunity to partner with The Sports Book Awards and the Football Writers’ Association for the first time in FIFA World Cup year.’

Mike Collett, Chair of the Football Writers’ Association Books Committee, commented: “We’re incredibly impressed by the quality of this year’s football writing. So much so that we’ve decided to announce this longlist for the first time. We’re thrilled with the continued association with the Sports Book Awards team and by the new sponsorship from Coutts.

“Selecting the winner of this award gets harder every year” added Mike, “It reminds me of the Goal of the Season award — what is better a 30-yard screamer or a goal scored after a mazy run through the defence. ?  The same with these awards, the subjects are so diverse, how do you pick a winner ? The interesting part is that there are certain criteria we set, and the winner invariably meets all of them.
“The standard was so high this year that for the first time, with the backing of the Sports Book Awards organisation we have held a public Long List  launch with eight of the 12 nominated authors able to discuss their work on a panel chaired by FWA Book Committee member Philippe Auclair. It was a fantastic night at Coutts Bank, and many thanks to them and their staff for making the evening such a memorable one.”

The winners of the 2018 Sports Book of the Year Awards will be announced at a gala awards dinner to take place at Lord’s Cricket Ground on the evening of June 7th.

The Sports Book of the Year Awards partners include Sky Sports, The Times, Thomson Reuters, AT Cross and Coutts. The final short lists for the 2018 Sports Book of the Year Awards will be announced at a further reception at Coutts Strand branch on May 10th 2018.

Vanarama Column March 14 – Dover Athletic

Chris Kinnear’s remarkable journey – by Glenn Moore

Chris Kinnear was 31 when he first managed Dover, stepping up as caretaker with the Kent club between managers. Kinnear, who was still playing for the Whites at the time, thought it was a temporary appointment.

That was in 1985. Kinnear went on to manage Dover for ten years, leading them from the Southern League, Southern Division to the National League (then Conference). He then took a break for personal reasons, scouted briefly for Mick McCarthy at Wolves, then spent a dozen years across two spells at Margate – winning two more promotions into the Conference.

Early in 2013 Kinnear returned to Crabble, Dover’s ground perched on a hilltop outside the town. He soon took them them back into the Vanarama National League. Despite two factors which make it hard to attract and retain players – a small budget by the standards of the division, and geographical isolation – Dover are pushing for another promotion, this time into the Football League. They sit in the play-offs places ahead of hosting leaders Macclesfield on Saturday.

Kinnear is now 63. Throughout his time in management he has been a teacher, at Stepney Green, East London. This is possible as Dover are part-time, one of the few such clubs left in the Vanarama National League. Kinnear has said the day job has helped his ability to manage a football club;  many of the people skills are transferrable, and he has even taken ideas from other sports encountered as a PE teacher.

In their three seasons back in the Vanarama National League Dover have finished eighth, fifth and sixth. This despite having to regularly rebuild the squad. Stefan Payne was top scorer the first two seasons. He was out of contract and turned down the offer of a new deal to sign with Barnsley and is now at Shrewsbury Town. Ricky Miller took on the mantle scoring an incredible 45 goals in 46 matches last season. Similarly Miller also rejected the offer of a new deal and made the step up to join Peterborough (he is now on loan to Mansfield having failed to score in League One). Ryan Bird, 30 years old and released by Newport County, arrived. He is top-scorer with 13 goals so far, though Dover’s success this season is built on a parsimonious defence led by former Gillingham centre-back Conor Essam. Only Wrexham have conceded fewer league goals.

Remarkably Essam is one of only three players in the 16-man squad Kinnear has fielded for Dover’s three matches, who were at the club last season, and even he was then on loan. Goalkeeper Mitch Walker was the longest-serving, having joined from Brighton in 2012, while striker Mitchell Pinnock came from Maidstone late in 2015. The rest were newly signed this season, including three loanees.

Last month master-builder Kinnear reached 1,500 matches in management, with a win-rate above 50 per cent. It is surprising a Football League club never took a chance on him, but non-League managers are often typecast. Usually the only way into the league is to be promoted into it. Achieving that with Dover would fulfil Kinnear’s remaining ambition. It could happen this year, but if not, there’s always next year, and the one after.

“I’m a long way from finishing,” Kinnear told BBC Radio Kent last month. “I don’t feel tired by it. I don’t feel different now to when I started, except I don’t make as many mistakes because I now have the experience to draw on.”

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Vanarama National League Column March 7 – Snow

Snowbound – by Luke Coulson, FWA and Ebbsfleet United

Great Britain descended into chaos last week with the arrival of the ‘Beast from the East’ and Storm Emma. The cold weather resulted in heavy snowfall, blizzards and the postponement of our fifth straight win in the Vanarama National League. 

On Saturday, Stonebridge Road lay hidden under a thick layer of snow and therefore our home fixture against Wrexham was cancelled because of the poor weather conditions. 

However, the cancelled fixture meant that our manager, Daryl McMahon, rewarded us for our recent winning form with an unusual but well-received weekend off. 

Before the unscheduled time off, our longest consecutive winning run of the season was extended to four games after a 1-0 away win against Hartlepool. 

In the week leading up to the game, the former League Two side sacked their manager, Craig Harrison, following a midweek loss to Halifax. Therefore, we were fully anticipating Hartlepool to start the game on the front foot with their players trying to impress potential future managers. Yet, knowing what to expect and with our confidence soaring high after our three previous wins, we put on another dominating display. 

By our own admission, we weren’t ruthless enough in the first half as we missed four or five good chances and in all honesty, I was the culprit for a few of those missed opportunities. 
For one of those chances, a slight hesitation in the box led to the ball bobbling up off my left shin pad which allowed the defender to clear the ball. Luckily, that embarrassing moment didn’t cost the team. But, unfortunately for me, the highlight has since become a memorable video for the team to laugh about. 

However, I redeemed myself after 17 minutes when I assisted Dean Rance for his first goal of the season. Noticing his late run into the box, my cross to the back post found the head of Rance as he angled his header back across goal and gave us a deserved lead. 

Coming in at half-time with the score at 1-0, booing echoed around Victoria Park as the home fans voiced their disappointment at watching a commanding Ebbsfleet performance.

The second half was a dull affair compared to the first 45 minutes, but we didn’t care as we collected all three points for our journey home. 

In celebration of our victory, Nathan Ashmore blasted out some classic 80s tunes; much to the delight of our old school assistant manager, Steve Gritt. After my powerful and emotional initiation song at the start of the season, Rick Astley has remained a favourite in the changing room after a win. Hopefully, the words of ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ will be sung again this coming weekend when we travel to Leyton Orient.

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FWA members clean up at SJA Journalism Awards

FWA Members scooped some of the top prizes once again at the Sports Journalists’ Association’s annual awards ceremony at the Park Plaza Westminster on Monday February 26.

Danny Taylor of the Guardian led the way with the most prestigious prize, as Sportswriter of the Year, as well as being voted Football writer of the Year.

Danny’s predecessor as Sportswriter of the Year for the past two years, Paul Hayward, won the Columnist of the Year category this time, while his Telegraph colleague Jeremy Wilson was voted Investigative Sports Reporter of the Year for his groundbreaking work highlighting the links between football and dementia.

The Mail’s Matt Lawton won Sports News Reporter for a remarkable fourth successive time, while the Regional Journalist award went to Chris Wathan who has just joined the BBC from Media Wales.

And there was a special award for David Walker, the outgoing Mirror sports editor, who won the Doug Gardner award for services to sports journalism.

Numerous FWA members were also shortlisted and commended in many categories. You can see a full list of the prize-winners at the SJA website here:

Danny Taylor receives his Sportswriter of the Year award from FWA Life Member and SJA President Pat Collins

Vanarama Column Feb 28 – Boreham Wood

by Glenn Moore

Meadow Park, Borehamwood, may not be the first stadium that springs to mind as a Champions League venue hosting international footballers, including world and Olympic champions. But that is because most of the above have been stars of women’s football, with Arsenal Women playing the majority of their home games at the 4,000 capacity stadium on the outskirts of London.

Now, though, it is the men who are aiming to put Meadow Park on the map. Arsenal’s hosts, Boreham Wood FC (the Hertfordshire town was originally spelled with two words, and the club has done so since formation in 1948) are beginning to dream of playing in the Football League.

Boreham Wood attract the lowest gates in the Vanarama National League averaging around 700. This reflects a relative lack of footballing heritage, strong local competition from established London league clubs, and the 32,000 population of Borehamwood. Yet crowds have more than doubled in the last three years and could be set for another boost. The club lie fifth in the Vanarama National League after taking 13 points from the last 15. The play-offs beckon. Having won their past two promotions through that route Boreham Wood can approach such a scenario with confidence, improbable though it would have seemed only a decade ago.

This is The Wood’s third season at the elite non-League level having not played above the Isthmian (now Bostik) League until 2010. Former Arsenal player Wayne Allinson steered them into the National League but quit early in the first season at the top after a poor start convinced chairman Danny Hunter the club needed to go full-time. This did not fit with the work commitments of Allinson who now manages Vanarama National League South promotion contenders St Albans City.

Assistant manager Luke Garrard, three weeks into his 30s, stepped up. Though Garrard had only recently retired as a player for Boreham Wood he had eight years’ coaching experience at the club’s academy. The relegation struggle went to the final day, but The Wood stayed up. Last season they rose to seventh before finishing 11th. The upward mobility has continued this season, fired by the goals of Portuguese Bruno Andrade, a former QPR academy graduate.

For Hunter, who has a background in the film industry (the world-famous Elstree studios are nearby), it is a family club, literally. His father Mickey managed it and there are several other relatives involved with Hunters filling a variety of roles from groundsman to academy manager.  Danny Hunter himself has been chairman since 1999 and the club would not be in its current positon without his regular investment.

The club recently agreed a 10-year extension to their hosting agreement with Arsenal. The women’s game may be much better known by 2028, but Boreham Wood hope if the crowds are finally filling Meadow Park their men’s team will be the draw.

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