Thursday, May 04, 2006

"Points mean prizes..."

"...what do points mean? PRIZES!" This week's prize is sure to delight every Gazelle enthusiast who hates his pets going astray - it’s this stamped addressed Antelope..."

Apologies for the random I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue reference, but it seems that in the world of non-league football points don't necessarily mean prizes anymore.

It used to be in football that a whole load of teams in a league would play each other a couple of times, some teams would get more points than others and the whole thing would be decided thus. Teams would be promoted, teams would be relegated and teams would stay in the same division they'd be in that season, all on the strength of the number of points they'd gained over the past nine months.

The Football Conference have managed to turn that on its head at the worst possible time - right at the end of the season. And all due to two words - international clearance. Apparently it's a form that has to be filled in if a player you're about to sign has played in another country in the last 12 months. It's a basic check to make sure he's not been banned from global football while playing in that country, or owes anybody any money over there, etc. Once the previous country's FA has cleared him to transfer clubs, the deal can go ahead.

It's a ruling that fans of Altrincham will be cursing right now. They won promotion back to the Conference National division last May after a five-year absence (ironically defeating Eastbourne Borough in a memorable promotion play-off at Stoke's Britannia Stadium) and after taking some beatings began to settle and looked as though they would avoid relegation. And then they signed James Robinson (above right) from Accrington Stanley in November and it all went Pete Tong. Evidently neither Accrington nor Altrincham thought to check if he had international clearance, after a spell playing in Iceland, and the Conference threw the book at Alty, deducting them all the points they had gained in matches he'd played - 18 in total. The points were reinstated after an appeal was lodged, and as the Beeb reports today, the hearing will be on May 23. If it is rejected, Alty go down - simple as that.

An online petition has been signed by thousands of supporters of non-league clubs in the vain hope of getting the suits at the Conference to change their minds. It's a very vain hope.

The same happened in Conference South, and threatened to decide who won the title. Weymouth signed midfielder Soloman Taiwo early in the season and he made just two appearances for them, one as a late sub when the Terras were winning 3-0. He also went on to play for Maidenhead. And just last month, sure enough, it transpires he "forgot" to tell either club he had had a spell playing in the States. The Conference, needing to be consistent, threatened to dock the four points from Weymouth that they had earned with Taiwo on the field - even if his two appearances added up to less than 90 minutes. The deduction was hanging over their heads even after they won the championship with a game to spare, as any penalty would have allowed St. Albans City back into the title race. As it transpired, Weymouth beat Lewes at home and St. Albans lost at home to Weston-super-Mare to make any deduction irrelevant.

But that's STILL not all! Histon are playing in the Conference South play-off final against St. Albans on Sunday, for the right to play in the Conference National next season, but themselves only got into the play-offs because two of the top five - Cambridge City and Havant and Waterlooville - were deducted points for fielding ineligible players - nothing to do with international clearance this time though.

The end of this season has been a total farce from the Conference's point of view. It does seem that, on the pitch at least, points don't necessarily mean prizes...

'Head down with the Robins...

The Conference South regular season ended at the weekend. Weymouth, who barring a potential points deduction for fielding a player without international clearance had already won the title, made sure of it - deduction or not - with a 2-0 win over 10-man Lewes at the Wessex Stadium.

The only other issue of note was which team would join Maidenhead United in being relegated - Hayes or Carshalton Athletic. Both teams started the day level on points, with Hayes just ahead on goal difference, and - tantalisingly - both were playing each other's fierce rivals; Hayes faced the Carshalton-hating Sutton United, while Carshalton took on fellow Middlesex side Yeading. That of course threw up the possibility of both Sutton AND Yeading trying to lose to send their cousins from down the road into the division below - a fact Sutton fan Taz revels in in his report on their match with Hayes (warning: may contain nutcases! ;-)).

Carshalton - known as the Robins - raced in to a two-goal lead against the Ding at half-time, while Hayes were holding Sutton, results that would keep Carshalton up. However, Hayes took the lead just after the break and things got worse for Carshalton when Yeading staged a comeback in the last 20 minutes to level at 2-2. Then, on the sort of day when you wish the twists and turns were being covered live on Five Live, Sutton equalised to give their local rivals hope. However that was dashed when first Carshalton failed to win against Yeading - and their relegation was confirmed when Hayes grabbed a last minute winner against Sutton and sent Church Road into complete pandermonium.

Well done Hayes, and commiserations Carshalton. Maybe see you soon.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Forum...or against 'em...

You will see if you peer to your right - and maybe scroll down a little - that I have linked to the Unofficial Conference South Fans Forum; a football forum I happen to be moderator for these days. It's a lively little place, and attracts fans from every club in the Conference South division, some represented better than others.

Having mentioned it to Jim, my Online Journalism lecturer, he seemed curious - particularly one afternoon when I was half-listening to him and half banning some schoolkid posting crap on there - and suggested I blog about it.

To sum it up - it's a tough job but someone's got to do it. And that's not in a sarcastic tone - it is literally a tough job (well most of the time it moderates itself but it can blow up due to the inflammatory nature of debate and disagreement between football fans) and someone does have to do it. Its originator is a Hayes supporter named Nick Bell and after 18 months in charge he got fed up of the inflammatory remarks, pre-school nature of some posters, and threats of legal action against him for stuff posted there, that he handed the reins over to me.

I decided to introduce register-only before posting to cut down on the number of anonymous rubbish that turned up during school breaktimes (coincidence, non?) and I do know of people who won't post on there due to some of the attitudes displayed on there. But by and large it is a fun, prosperous forum - with all shades of human life represented there. If you follow football, do check it out...