After a few weeks without a Non League game, I was back on the road to see Aveley v Phoenix Sports in the Ryman North writes NLD writer Simon Cook
I decided to drive to the game as it was fairly local and there wasn’t much local transport available. I jumped in my car and entered the postcode into Google Maps. Now this free app is good enough to make you consider not purchasing a sat nav but never quite does everything you want.
At the weekend it decided instead of directing me to a Sainsburys store it would send me to a roundabout a few minutes away. It has a feature of closing itself when it’s reached the destination, so just turned itself off whilst I continued to drive around the roundabout trying to guess which of the 4 exits to take.
My only gripe this time with the app on my way to the ground was it informing me how long the journey would take without traffic. Now I am driving in rush hour on a weeknight in London, I am expecting there to be traffic. Telling me the journey time without traffic is like going to the theatre and the assistant showing you to your seats saying “the couple two rows behind you got their tickets £50 cheaper than you”. I know their is going to be a difference, I don’t need you telling me!
Even with the traffic, I got the ground in good time. It was incredible that only 25 mins out of London (without traffic of course) you are driving through countryside to get to the ground. Although living in London means you define “countryside” often as any roads without street lighting.
I parked up and went through the turnstile, got my programme and was asked by a friendly chap if I wanted to enter the raffle. He assured me it was a cash prize (even though I hadn’t asked) and I gladly gave him £1.
I am not too worried about the type of prize but more about when the winner is announced. The past 2 raffles I’ve entered at Non League grounds I haven’t even heard what the winning number is.
For all I know the clubs have my prize money, although I don’t think I will be taking early retirement through a Non League raffle prize!
I headed towards the pitch and noticed that neither team were out on the pitch warming up. I had arrived 30 minutes before kick off and was used to see players playing small 5-a-sides or the traditional 2 players punting the ball from one side of the pitch to the other. However I could hear the distinct sound of a manager/coach barking orders at players so headed towards the far end of the pitch where the noise was coming from.
In Alice in Wonderland style I found a gate at the end of the pitch which led to a grassed area where the players were warming up. I got chatting to a guy called Stuart who was the scout at Phoenix Sport. He explained that then team had been promoted the season before from the Southern Counties East Football League. I asked him how the step up in divisions had been and he said the main difference was teams will punish you if chances aren’t taken.
He however didn’t feel Phoenix would be involved in a relegation battle this season and he seemed right with Phoenix coming into the match in 13th position. Stuart had to then head off as someone had forgotten to bring the water bottles over, a reminder of the realities of Non League!
I headed back towards the entrance of the ground where the refreshments were situated. I met two lovely ladies who took my order (a bacon roll). Whilst not the quickest method, it’s great to see them cook it from fresh instead of something that’s been slowly reheated for half an hour on the grill. Whilst waiting for my bacon roll I couldn’t help but notice what sounded like 10 stampeding racehorses.
It turned out kitchen had a separate opening onto the village hall where a group of girls were tap dancing to ‘Bills’ by Lunchmoney Lewis. I’m not quite sure how 12 year olds can relate to a song which includes: “I got bills I gotta pay so I’m gonna work, work, work every day, I got mouths I gotta feed so I’m gonna make sure everybody eats”.
Potentially the lack of grammar is their access point to the song but they seemed focused on perfecting the routine so I grabbed my roll and headed back to find a place to stand for the game.
I had asked the raffle guy and ladies at the refreshment bar where to find a team sheet and the only information I could gather was that some would be passed around the main stand.
When I found a place to stand, I was pleased to see a staff member about to read out the team on the tannoy. Readied with my pen and programme but the tannoy clearly wasn’t working and sounded more like a darlek. Thankfully the staff member (who was called Sue) was kind enough to give me a copy and she had suffered both a broken printer and tannoy this evening!
The two teams came out onto the pitch, Aveley in blue and Phoenix in green. Have always felt green is an under utilised colour when it comes to kit colours. From kick off it was clear that both team wanted to try and play football, this was somewhat hampered by some bumps in the pitch which led to some very wayward passing. Five minutes into the game I noticed a guy had been shouting from the stand since kick off even though nothing much was happening on the pitch. Some fans beside said “oh that is Dagenham Kev”.
Turns out that Kev is a Southend supporter but comes to Aveley games when they are on Monday evenings. You can’t miss Kev, his technique was to shout something utterly random and then add “woo woo” at the end to make it sound like a terrace chant.
“The Yankees are taking over the world and we will be run by robots”
“Everyone in two years time will have electric beards”
“Bowers & Pitsea will win the Premier League in 2020”
The last one involves a club in the 9th tier rising up 8 divisions in 5 seasons. I am not suggesting the other two are plausible, but it would take a major league reshuffle for that to occur!
He was well known to supporters at Aveley. Unsurprisingly he annoys a few fans and apparently once was pushed under a train by some Southend fans and another time after being chucked off a bus, grabbed onto the wing mirror to cling on as it drove off. He certainly has had an eventful life!
Turning our attention back to the game, Phoenix took the lead in the 23rd minute when Ramadan picked up the ball on the left wing. He managed to turn the defender one way, then the other to create enough room to curl the ball into the right hand corner past the diving Aveley goalkeeper. The Phoenix supporters humorously adopted the “woo woo” chant as they celebrated the goal, maybe Dagenham Kev had actually started a terrace chant after all!
The goal opened up the game after a cagey start and Phoenix started to drop back more which invited Aveley a chance to get back into the game. Aveley took this chance when a short corner was crossed in and Alaile nodded the ball down for the captain Billy Holland to poke the ball home. Alaile injured himself in assisting the goal and had to go off.
It seemed that crosses would be the most likely way for Aveley to score and their top scorer Nash could only head straight at the keeper after a cross from Seymour. A few minutes later Seymour put another cross into the Phoenix box and this time Baker was on hand to loop a header into the goal and give Aveley into a 2-1 lead in the 41st minute.
The game seemed to be heading to the break at 2-1 until Phoenix’s Ramadan again picked up the ball on the left hand side, cut in and tried to score a repeat of his first goal by curling it into the far corner. This time a Aveley defender blocked the shot. From where I was standing it looked like it his chest, but the referee awarded a penalty to Phoenix. Sprinett stepped up for Phoenix to equalise and send the teams into half time level at 2-2. The first 20 minutes had suggested a very close game, but the score wasn’t too surprising as neither team had kept a clean sheet in the past six games.
During half time I got chatting more to the fans, including a guy called Steve who had been supporting Aveley for over 40 years. He had been through all the highs and lows with the club, with the club only ever reaching the Ryman Premier (the league above Aveley’s current league) during his time as a supporter.
The teams came back out onto the pitch, however one person was missing. Dagenham Kev had been escorted to the bar to watch the second half as he was deemed to be causing too much disruption by the steward. That’s correct, it was just one bloke with a hi vis with ‘steward’ on the back. Whilst Kev did make a fair bit of noise, supporters (from both sides) wanted him back for the second half as they missed his ‘chants’.
Phoenix started the second half the better of the two sides with Ramadan continuing to stand out as the best player on the pitch. After an Aveley defender had missed a header he raced through past another defender but was denied by a smart block from Aveley’s goalkeeper Marrable. A few minutes later Carnegie was put through but again Marrable was quick off his line to clear the ball. However in the 57th minute Marrable could do little to stop Mingle’s 25 yard screamer which put Phoenix 3-2 up, an excellent goal which you can see here (thanks to Dan Wilson aka Essex Footie).
The goal really rattled Aveley and this was particularly evident with their defenders who continued to try and play out from the back but often gifted possession back to Phoenix. Whilst Phoenix had the upper hand, they couldn’t seem to find another goal. Aveley then had the chance to equalise when Nash’s shot was parried by the keeper and the ball fell to Allarakhia 2 yards from goal. I couldn’t work out it was a really bad miss or an excellent save, either way his shot hit Phoenix’s goalkeeper and went out for a corner.
Phoenix then got their two goal cushion when Ramadan (who else?!) picked up the ball on the left wing, defenders stood off him and (you’ve guessed it) he curled the ball over Marrable into the goal.
The teams played out the remaining 15 minutes without much drama. Phoenix did some classic time wasting, but had seemingly perfected the ability to kick a ball far enough to waste time but not to receive a booking from the referee. A true art!
The full whistle went and Aveley had lost 2-4 mainly due to an under par second half. Some fans could point to the harsh penalty decision just before half-time whilst others would look at the miss from Allarakhia which would have made it 3-3. However all the supporters knew deep down the real reason was Dagenham Kev not being in the stand to ‘cheer’ the team on in the second half!
An enjoyable but chilly evening watching two teams playing some good football. They both have strong enough squads to secure a good position in the league and who knows, maybe a play off place. I left the ground with a smile on my face as some of the fans were still doing the “woo woo” chant, after a few weeks away it was good to be back watching Non League football.
Result: Aveley FC (Holland 31, Baker 41) 2-4 Phoenix Sports (Ramadan 23 & 74, Sprinett 45 pen, Mingle 57)
Match: Ryman League Division One North (Step 4 / 8th Tier)
Cost: Entrance £9, Programme £2, Bacon Roll £3, Diet Coke (can) £1
Novice rating: 8/10
Aveley FC Q&A
Thank you to Jamie Manktelow, Match Day Media Officer for providing answers to my questions.
How was the club founded?
We were founded in 1927. We were founded by local Millers, hence the nickname “The Millers”. They use to ensure a water mill about 200 yards from our ground, hence the surrounding roads are; Mill Field, Mill Road and the Millers.
After a 9th place finish last season and in a similar position currently, what are your expectations for the rest of the season?
With the size of the budget we have we should not be in the top 15, but of course we have ambitions to win everything. With quite a young squad recently with 7 of our 11 left on Saturday under 20 years old, we are really just looking for improvement and consistency. And if we can mount a challenge on the top five that would be brilliant, it’s all about progression.
What challenges do you face as a Non League club?
I think all non-league sides have their own troubles. I’ve been looking for someone to be our photographer and watch 60 games a season for free, but no one just wants to commit to doing it. We also just need more fans, with the football we play, you’d think we’d bring in more fans, but it just doesn’t happen, I’m not quite sure why.
I am starting a journey to find out more about non-league football, why should more people watch non league football?
I’ve been a season ticket holder at Southend for 15 years of my life, and been working at Aveley FC for 1 and half years and I have learnt more about football from non-league than I ever have at a football league side. You can talk to the managers and players in the bar afterwards and it’s just so friendly and welcoming at most non-league clubs.
What style of football do Aveley FC like to play?
We like to get the ball down and play football, no matter the conditions, we will always play great and attractive football.
Are there any players that I should be looking out for when I visit?
I think it would be unfair to single out one player. But top scorer Liam Nash has 18 goals this season, and to look past him would be bad. But our goalkeeper James Marrable is the most consistent non-league player I’ve ever seen.
Whats your score prediction for the game?
After scoring six goals on Saturday and Phoenix conceding a 90th minute goal to drop 2 points. I think if Aveley come out flying and catch a Phoenix team feeling sorry for themselves, it’ll be one team that’ll win it. Aveley 3-0 Phoenix Sports.