Newcastle Falcons

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The Newcastle Falcons have two major claims to fame. First, they are the most successful North Eastern rugby club in history, boasting a Premiership title and four cup wins. Second, The Falcons was once home to England World Cup winning kicker Johnny Wilkinson.

Founded in 1877, the club played as the Gosforth Football Club until 1990. They adopted Newcastle after a move to the Kingston Park stadium in Newcastle upon Tyne, before finally being christened the Newcastle Falcons at the beginning of the professional era.

The change of name to The Falcons in 1996 arose after local businessman Sir John Hall had taken control and attempted to create a sporting club in Newcastle, which would go on to include the Magpies (Newcastle FC), Newcastle Eagles (basketball), Newcastle Wasps (ice hockey) and The Falcons. This take over saw the Newcastle Falcons become the first fully professional club in the world.

It was during the 1995/96 season that the Falcons became the Premiership champions at the first time of asking, following promotion from the Second Division the previous season. And in 1999 under the ownership of Dave Thompson, Newcastle won two Powergen Cups. In 2001 The Falcons beat Harlequins 30-27, and narrowly won again three years later, defeated Sale Sharks 37-33.

These cup successes gave way to the clubs most successful stint in European rugby, winning their pool and reaching the quarter final of the Heineken Cup where they eventually lost to Stade Francais in the Parc des Princes.

In more recent years Newcastle have failed to repeat their league and cup successes of the late 20th century, but Chairman Dave Thompson has remained faithful to the club having rejected numerous takeover offers in late 2008, including one offer to take the club to Darlington. This resolve from the Chairman saw the Falcons reach another European Challenge Cup Quarter Final, losing to Saracens and consolidating their Premiership status by finishing tenth in the league.

But the following year long term head coach Steve Bates saw his contract terminated following a poor start to the season, and was replaced by Alan Tait. And under his stewardship, and thanks to the inspirational Carl Hayman, the Falcons staved off relegation until the following season.

However, an air of inevitability came over Kingston Park during the 2010/11 season. Financial difficulties due in main to the collapse of and Nationalisation of Northern Rock saw the club lose its main sponsor, and it was only thanks to another local businessman in the form of Semore Kurdi that the club managed to stay financially secure.

But that season saw Newcastle return its lowest ever points total in rugby unions top flight, managing just 21 points but denying relegation thanks to the inferior points difference of Leeds Carnegie. And last term relegation was confirmed on the last day of season, and despite managing more points than they did the previous year, the Falcons were relegated by a single point.

The thought of relegation was probably made even worse as Newcastle were given something of a reprieve as the London Welsh may have been denied entry into the top flight due to financial and stadium safety issues, but after appeal The Welsh were promoted, with The Falcons taking their place in Rugby Unions second tier.

This season though has seen the spring return to steps of Newcastle’s squad. Head coach Peter Russell has amassed a strong squad that looks set to see the Falcons promoted back to the Premiership at the first time of asking. Alongside captain and star flanker Will Welch, international players in the shape of del Fava, Helleur, Tuifua, Hogg, MacLeod, Lawson, Murray and Hufanga has added quality to the side, as well as a certain flair which is to be expected from The Falcons Australian coach.

The Newcastle Falcons are top of the RFU Championship, having won all 11 of its league fixtures so far this season and averaging nearly 40 points scored per game. On current form, and with the history and pedigree this side can boast, you would expect that in a few months time Kingston Park will once more play host to Premiership rugby.

Teddington Cricket Club

In the heart of one of London’s biggest parks lies Teddington Cricket Club, one of the capitols most prestigious teams.

Early documents suggest the side was founded pre 1820, and has resided in the idyllic settings of Bushy Park for nearly 200 years.

Teddington currently play in the Middlesex Premier League, and have finished runners up in the competition for the last four years.

However, for batsman James Wade the club is underperforming.

He told the clubs website, www.teddingtoncc.co.uk: “The level of effort and commitment to both the team and the club from a number of players was nowhere near the level needed to succeed at the cutting edge of domestic club cricket and we ended up with what we deserved.

“We are no longer an inexperienced team and next year it’s time to raise the bar considerably, get involved with the club and show none of the obvious mental weakness that plagued 2011.”

Despite the clubs apparent distaste at their on-field performances, Teddington CC is a side that plays a major role within its community.

Its youth side currently boasts 200 members, and would welcome even more if they had the coaches to train them and facilities to house them.

Clubhouse Manager, Nigel Owen told Cricket Club: “It is a vital part of the club. We regularly have several home-grown players in our 2nd, 3rd and 4th XIs, and our U13s and U11s are in the Middlesex Cup Finals in July.

“The difficulty nowadays is keeping them interested and committed to the club with three consecutive summers of exams from the age of 15 before three years at university. Hopefully they will keep an affinity to the club through this period and post graduation as long as they keep playing cricket.”

The clubs home of Bushy Park was the former hunting grounds of Henry VIII, and is something the club is very proud of.

“We are biased, but there are few nicer places to play cricket on a summer’s day, with the
deer roaming in the long grass, and occasionally on the pitch!

“Last month, we were used as a location for a mobile phone company to film an advert featuring Muttiah Muralitharan.”

Teddington has managed to upgrade its training grounds in recent years, adding a new net compound which Owen says holds ‘no coincidence that attendance in midweek training has significantly increased’ since their instillation.

The club is well renowned in London, holding close links with the Middlesex County side. They also played host to the Argentinean national side two years ago in a bid to raise money to further develop the clubs facilities.

“Our pavilion was developed from two Nissen huts used by American forces during the war, so is showing signs of wear in places, but is holding up well given its age. We would love to redevelop it at some stage in the future.”

The club sits on a sound financial footing, and Nigel Owen told us that the clubs only focus for the forthcoming years is to improve performances on the field.

“The immediate ambition is for the first XI to win a trophy. It has now been 10 years since we lifted one, and being the bridesmaid to Ealing four years in a row, is starting to grate, as good a club as they are. We have a healthy rivalry with them, but it would be good to be on the right end of it for once!”

Should Britain Remain in the EU?

During his keynote speech in January, David Cameron suggested that if the Conservatives were to remain in power after the next general election, he would offer the British public an ‘in or out’ referendum on our involvement with the European Union by 2017.

In a speech that gained mix reviews all round, the Tory leader said he would renegotiate the UK’s position within the EU, with the aim of reducing Brussels power in this country.

However, if current opinion polls and recent bi-election results are to be taken into account then the chances of the Conservatives remaining in power past next year look as slim as Britain adopting the Euro as its currency.

But regardless of future election results, the issue of Europe will remain. Cameron, Miliband, Clegg or even Farage will face one of the toughest decisions since Blair took us to war in Iraq: Should Britain cut its ties with the EU, a union that gives our country a certain financial stability and accounts for over half of our export income? Or should this tiny isle go it alone?

The Financial Argument

 As with most debates, it comes down to the financial aspects that will ultimately determine whether the UK will remain in Brussels pocket, and as with most of the arguments for and against staying in the EU, there are varying pros and cons.

Britain, despite its double-dip-recession, enjoys the 6th largest economy in the world (in terms of its nominal GDP), with London in particular sitting in partnership with New York as the powerhouse cities of global economics.

And exporting goods across Europe brings in £159 billion to Cameron’s ailing budget, accounting for 53% of Britain’s overall GDP.

In total, 45% of what the UK earns comes directly from Europe, be it from the selling of goods, services or investment income.

Also, the freedom to work in other EU member states is a strong pull for a number of leading UK businesses, and a strong argument for staying in the single market.

However, there are a number of case studies that would suggest leaving the EU can massively revitalise a struggling and downtrodden economy.

Whilst in the EU, Greenland was suffering from Brussels red tape as the Common Fisheries Policy decimated the countries income; an income that is 82% reliant on the fishing industry.

But since leaving the EU in 1985 (the only country to ever do so) the people of Greenland have left their near poverty status and now benefit from an average income higher than those living in Britain, Germany and France.

Many expert economists believe the myth that Britain would collapse without the EU as her backbone is ‘complete nonsense’.

For example, one of the reasons that the Swiss have become the success story of the EU rebellion is that they can negotiate their own export tariffs between countries, which are considerably smaller than the 6% imposed by Brussels. This would help drive down the price of the UK leaving the EU even further.

As an independent nation the UK would be able to negotiate special trading deals with countries inside the Commonwealth at better rates that would vastly improve profitability, and the fact that any imports from outside the EU into Britain would avoid any external tariff altogether suggest that on a global scale Britain could once more start to rebuild its international economic partnerships.

Even thought trade with the EU accounts for nearly half of the UK’s earnings, a staggering surplus of some £16 billion has developed with Europe, with Germany set to lose £3billion alone if Britain jumped ship.

An influx of almost 1 million foreign EU workers has also put a massive strain on UK jobs, housing and social care – a point which many would be voters against staying within the EU would cite as their primary concern for future involvement with Brussels.

 

The EU Family – Getting out of bed with Brussels

Many foreign leaders and business supremos have shot stern warnings in Mr Cameron’s direction ever since he made his keynote speech in Davos, and few fall short in suggesting their relationship with a former EU brother would suffer as a consequence.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said his country would ‘roll out the red carpet’ for businesses who would be less keen on trading with the UK in the event of an exit.

Mr El-Erian, who heads the world’s biggest investor in bonds, said the UK would ‘certainly suffer the consequences’ if it exited the EU, including lower growth and lower investment.

But he said the uncertainty generated by the possibility of an EU exit years in the future would also be damaging.

“People like us start putting in an uncertainty premium,” he said.

“If we’re going to make investment decisions, the uncertainty premium associated with that goes up when you’re not sure what the relationship between Britain and Europe will be.”

The EU has also defended its position by pointing out that the result of the single market has been a rise in quality, and a reduction in prices.

It claims that the cost of a mobile phone call has fallen by 70% since the single market came into operation, and the cost of a plane ticket has fallen by 40%.

One of the issues the government will examine is that of working hours. One of the EU directives that has been adopted into British law states that employees cannot work longer than 48 hours a week.

If the UK was to tear up this piece of European legislation, it would allow British businesses to decide their own working hours, albeit somewhat controversial.

“The working hours of British doctors should not be set in Brussels,” said Mr Cameron.

The Alfa Giulietta: Review

The Alfa Giulietta has been described as having interesting looks and it is certainly very stylish both in the shape of the body and inside the cabin. To complement this model we have produced a set of car mats that are the most accurate pattern available for both the automatic model and the manual. The front mats in each set have two fixings making them very safe and secure for both the driver and passenger. A quality set of mats for the Alfa Romeo Giulietta will enhance the interior of the car as well as providing protection from road dirt.

Alfa Romeo fans have a choice of four models in the Giulietta series. There is also the option for both a petrol or a diesel engine and the diesels give good economy with the 1.6 litre returning 64.2 mpg and also having low carbon emissions (114g/km of CO2). The interior of the model is stylish, like all Alfas, but quality build is not a strong point in the Alfa range. The driving position is uncomfortable with a cramped footwell and pedals that are too close together. There is no space to rest your foot when not on the clutch. The steering wheel is too far from the driver and the pedals too close together which makes it impossible to get the driving position right. Like many other Alfa models this one has poor visibility out of the back window due to the shallow glass and the door pillars are too thick making parking difficult. Although the dash is attractive the controls take some time to sort out due to a less than satisfactory layout.

The boot space in the Giulietta is small giving 350 litres of luggage room which can be increased by folding down the split seats. However, there is very little other storage as the model only has a tiny middle cubby in the central armrest and a normal glove box. Specifications which come as standard are air con and electric windows for both front and back. The top range model has dual climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control and an MP3 connection. On the road the grip is good with very little roll and the car rides bumps very well. The twin clutch semi automatic transmission has paddles on the steering wheel for changing gear. The array of safety features means that the Giulietta scored a hefty 97% in the Euro NCAP safety tests which awarded it five stars.

The top range model of the Giulietta has MultiAir valve technology which helps with the fuel economy and all models come with a three year/unlimited mileage warranty. Alfa Romeo is still expanding its dealer network so servicing will be readily available in most parts of the country. Diehard Alfa Romeo buyers will be delighted with the model’s stylish looks, economical engines and attractive interior and will soon forgive the problems associated with a cramped rear space and uncomfortable driving position. Driving an Alfa Romeo marque is often a can fanatic’s ambition and although the price for this model is a little high it is well worth the extra.

Our Alfa Romeo Giulietta car mats are designed to perfectly fit the stylish interior of this model. Available in three types of carpet and three grades of rubber you can choose the perfect set to complement the new car. Tailored car mats come in a wide choice of colours and edging trims and all are fitted with the necessary fixings on the front mats. You will not find a more accurate pattern for the Giulietta and will save money by choosing our mats instead of those supplied by the dealer.

Alternative Ways to Motivate Staff – Without Monetary Rewards

Some people say that money is the only thing that makes the world go round. However, this belief might not be true at all times especially when it comes to motivating your staff. Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, salaries are very important and typically one of the usual motivators used by employers and leaders in motivating their employees.

These satisfy and answer the immediate needs of people such as clothing, food and shelter. However, what matters most would be the needs that can be found on the higher levels of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. These needs aren’t related with money. The following are the 6 non-monetary advantages you could give to your employees to keep them motivated:

Flexibility

It is very important for employees to respect their bosses, but workers still need space where they can voice out their ideas and opinions. They also need the freedom to be flexible on their approaches to issues and conflicts. You could also give emphasis to flexibility when it comes to the hours or work.

Most working professionals these days are parents who have greater responsibilities at home. Having the ability to work at their own pace would let them take care of their personal obligations, be it at home or at the office.

Recognition

Nobody wants to go unrecognised. Sad to say, most employees are not granted even just a pat on the back or a handshake by their employers.

Recognition could come in various forms. Even a simple email can do the trick. You can also hold an informal recognition meeting for those employees who have performed well for the given month.

Training

If you train your workers, this will mean that there’s a plenty of room for them to grow and become more productive at work.

However, training must be in relation to the career path the workers want to take. Otherwise, they can’t use their new knowledge effectively and make the most out of it. Conducting skill evaluation prior to training is important to help negate this.

Sense of Belonging

The main reason why staff dislike going to the office is the politics and conflict inside the workplace. Although most employees recognise the employee-manager relationship, it is still essential for them to get the sense of belonging and friendship.

Opportunity to Contribute

An employer can motivate his or her employees by making them feel that the company’s success depends on what they can do for the company itself. This can be made possible through letting them head projects and getting their consent on some issues that could affect your organisation and business.

The Use of Social Recognition Software

One more way to keep your employees motivated without monetary rewards is to make use of social recognition software. This is what most companies do today. Social recognition is one thing that will help you retain your employees and make them willing to work with your company until their retirement.

Glasgow Celtic

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Celtic are one of if not the most successful clubs in Scottish history.

The Glasgow side’s trophy cabinet boasts 43 Scottish League Championships, 35 Scottish Cups, 14 Scottish League Cups and a solitary European Cup since its foundation in 1887, and look certain to add to that tally this season.

In May 1888 Celtic played their first ever game as a club, starting what would turn out to be one of the most fiercely contested rivalries in world football with a 5-2 friendly win against Rangers.

And just three four years later The Bhoys christened their trophy room by claiming the Scottish Cup, whilst also claiming the league title the following season.

From the turn of the century Celtic dominated Scottish football, winning the league six times in a row from 1905-1910, as well as claiming back to back Scottish Cup titles in 07 and 08, the first time they had won the double.

This formidable form continued into World War 1, where the Glasgow club won four straight league titles, in a run that included a 62-game unbeaten streak.

In 1945 former player and captain Jimmy McGrory took charge, winning just five trophies in his 20 year reign as manager.

But in 1965 another former player in the shape of Jock Stein took charge and led Celtic through its most prosperous era. Stein guided Celtic to a world record number of consecutive League Championship wins, claiming the title every year from 1966 to 1974, a record that remained intact for 25 years.

And in just his second season in charge, Steins’ Celtic achieved the pinnacle of its achievements by claiming every competition it entered. Winning the Scottish League, Scottish Cup and League Cup as well as the Glasgow Cup was matched only by becoming the first British team to win the European Cup.

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On May 25th, 1967 Stein took a side that included the likes of Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Lennox and Bobby Murdoch to Lisbon on night that changed the face of British football as The Bhoys defeated Inter Milan 2-1 at the Estadio Nacional Stadium.

That heroic side become known as the Lisbon Lions, with many of the squad being included in the annals of Celtics history as the best to ever play for the club.

Further domestic success followed in the intervening years, but Celtic hit financial difficulty in 1994 and faced a winding up as the club exceeded its £5 million overdraft. The Bank of Scotland called in the receivers on the 3rd of March and it was only because of one businessman that the Scottish giants survived.

Headstrong Fergus McCann, a Scottish born Canadian entrepreneur wrestled control of the club from the family dynasties that had overseen Celtic for more than a century, at what the media reported as being in the dying minutes of the clubs ailing existence.

He acquired a 51% controlling stake in the Celtic Football and Athletic Company Ltd, and acted as a guarantor for the club’s £7 million debt. McCann went on to inject additional finance into Celtic, as well as floating the club on the London Stock Exchange as a public limited company in order to raise capital to help negate his new ventures growing debts.

McCann was also the man that oversaw the extension of Celtic Park, turning the ancient ground that had been little updated since its creation in 1892 into a 60,832 all seater stadium: the 23rd largest in Europe and eighth largest in Britain.

And in 1998 Celtics financial nightmare was all but forgotten as they wrestled the Scottish Premier League back from rivals Rangers, who had claimed the title for the past eight seasons. This was also the first season of the reincarnated SPL, a competition in which Celtic would go on to win seven times, whilst never finishing outside the top two.

Entering the 21st century, Nottingham Forest legend Martin O’Neill took control at Celtic in 2000, and guided The Hoops to the treble in his first season in charge. He was only the second manager since Jock Stein to achieve the treble with Celtic, as he went on to claim the domestic league on two more occasions over the next four years.

O’Neill quit Scotland for Aston Villa in 2005 as Gordon Strachan took the reins, managing six trophies in four years before a fruitless year under the stewardship of Tony Mowbray. Then two years ago, current manager Neil Lennon took charge, finishing runners up to Rangers in his first term in charge, before clinching the title last time out.

Ever since the relegation of Rangers to the Scottish Third Division after going into administration this season, Celtic have turned into a force on the continent once again, as well as at home.

Without the worry of their greatest rivals catching them in the league, Neil Lennon has been able to focus on The Hoops Champions League campaign and at the time of writing need only a result in the last group game to reach the knock-out stages of the competition.

And it was in this year’s competition that Celtic Park saw arguably the clubs greatest result in its history. No one could have predicted that when Barcelona came to Glasgow a win was on the cards, despite nearly forcing a point in the reverse fixture at the Nou Camp the month before.

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But an early headed goal from Kenyan star Victor Wanyama set Celtic Park alight as The Hoops took the lead for the second time against the Spanish giants in as many months.

A handful of world class saves from Frasier Forster and some heroic defending kept Celtic in the lead. Then on came striker Tony Watt, who at the age of just 18 and having cost just £80,000 from Airdrie United in the summer kept his cool to slot a second past Victor Valdes to all but seal the tie.

And despite a 90th minute goal from Lionel Messi, by the full time whilst Celtic fans were shedding tears of jubilation, including lifelong Bhoys fan Rod Stewart, who needed consoling by those sat around him.

That result means that if Neil Lennon can mastermind a draw against Spartak Moscow in the last group game, Celtic will be well on their way to possibly challenging for their first European honours since 1967.

The past few seasons have also seen Celtic well and truly conquer its financial footing, and in the year of Rangers demise it was announced that the club, under the financial management of Irish billionaire Dermot Desmond, had all but brought the clubs financial books back to break-even.

In 2011 it was confirmed that Desmond had helped the club reduce its debts £5 million to just £500,000 as Celtic was listed 37th in Brand Finances’ annual valuation of the world’s biggest football clubs in May 2012. Celtic’s brand was valued at £40.7 million, meaning it was the first time a Scottish club had been ranked in the top 50.

Had it not been for the financial constraints of the limited TV money currently in the SPL, Brand Finance predicted that Celtic would have entered the top 10 of the Premier Leagues richest clubs, due largely to an estimated fan base of nearly 10 million fans worldwide.

Desmond has also ploughed money into Celtics training grounds, modernizing its youth academies and scouting structure, bringing the ancient clubs facilities up to a modern day standard.

On top of a flourishing European Campaign and what is for the first time in decades a strong financial footing, Celtic currently sit top of the SPL and are still competing in both Scottish Cup competitions.

Ultimately, this season could turn out to be one of the most fruitful in Celtics recent history.

 

West Ham United

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Formed in 1895 as the Thames Ironworks FC, West Ham United is one of London’s most historic and famous football clubs.

In the early 20th Century the club relocated to the Boleyn Ground where it has played its football ever since, proving one of the oldest stadiums in the country. It is most often referred to as Upton Park due to its location.

The famed rivalry between West Ham and Millwall began as both were formed from two rival Ironworks companies, and featured as West Ham’s debut at its new ground, drawing a huge crowd which witnessed the side clad in claret and blue claiming a 3-0 victory. It was a win in which the Daily Mirror described at the time as…”West Ham United beginning their season most auspiciously yesterday evening; when they beat Millwall by 3 goals to 0 on their new enclosure at Upton Park.”

And it was in the next few decades that West Ham enjoyed some of its most successful periods, starting with an appearance in the first ever FA Cup Final to be held at Wembley against Bolton Wanderers. The Hammers are also one of just eight clubs in existence to have never played outside of England’s top two divisions, culminating in the clubs highest ever league position of 3rd during the 1985/86 campaign.

West Ham is famed for its youth development, and it’s aptly named ‘Academy of Football’. Under the management of Ron Greenwood, the likes of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters were produced, proving major players at Upton Park as well as pivotal figures in England’s World Cup wining triumph in 1966.

Players such as Frank Lampard Sr. and Sir Trevor Brooking soon followed as the Hammers became a major force in Europe, winning the European Cup Winners Cup in 1965, as well as FA Cups three times between 1964 and 1980. The most famous cup success was in 1975 when the side that played was comprised solely of English players, which was never to be repeated and will almost defiantly stand as a record for many centuries to come.

More recently, under the stewardship of Tony Carr a new array of talent has emerged, with seven ex-Hammers youth players making the England World Cup squad of 2010, which included Lampard, Terry, Joe Cole, Defoe, Carrick, Ferdinand and Glen Johnson. Other notable players who learnt their trade at the club include Paul Ince, Harry Redknapp, Alan Curbishley, Tony Cottee, and even Sol Campbell, who played some part of his youth football at The Academy of Football.

This same famed reliance on such a prolific youth academy has carried through to recent years, and the current squad is made up of four youth graduates – including vice captain James Tompkins.

And it is with the help of these young stars that The Hammers have made a seamless return to the Premier League under the stewardship of Sam Allardyce, proving yet again their top flight pedigree.

Allardyce took over at Upton Park following The Hammers relegation in 2011, following a last day defeat to Wigan Athletic. His footballing philosophy upset the purists at Upton Park, but it would prove a major coup to convince Allardyce to manage in the second tier, following successful Premier League spells with Blackburn and Bolton. And a strong Championship campaign twinned with the play-off final victory against Blackpool saw West Ham return to the top flight of English football at the first time of asking, thanks to a last minute Ricardo Vaz Te winner at Wembley.

Summer signings of the ilk of Andy Carroll on loan, Malian forward Modibo Maïga and the return of George McCartney have seen West Ham rise to 11th in the table at the turn of the year, and are comfortably ahead of Southampton and Reading; both sides gained promotion alongside the Hammers but sit in the relegation zone.

Allardyce has moved fast to sign Joe Cole this January, who returned to his first club to mark a man of the match performance in the 2-2 draw against Manchester United. And if recent form is anything to go by, it looks like the famous claret and blue of West Ham United will be gracing the Premier League for many years to come.

Reading FC

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Reading emerged from mid-table obscurity last season to claim the Championship title, and in doing so secure their promotion back to the Premiership after a four year absence.

Just a year before, The Royals suffered heartache when they lost to Swansea in the Play-off final at Wembley, leading manager Brian McDermott questioning the clubs future.

And five months into the next campaign it seemed as though the Scots side were destined to remain in England’s second tier for at least another season.

However, strong performances from messes Kebe, McAnuff and January signing Jason Roberts saw The Royals climb from mid-table at Christmas to top by the final whistle on the last day, beating Nottingham Forest 1-0 to confirm their place as Champions.

Manager Brian McDermott told the BBC after lifting the Championship trophy: “My worst moment was on the pitch at Wembley in May last year.

“I didn’t see any good coming out of that, it was a bad moment.

“Of course this is my best moment in football. We’ve been promoted and I can celebrate for the next two months.

“I’m happy; we’ve done a good job this year. The fans are going to have a good summer and that’s what it’s all about. I had a miserable summer last year.”

Former Reading captain Adrian Williams told BBC Sport: “The turning point for Reading was when Kaspars Gorkss signed.

“It clearly wasn’t right at the back in the first dozen games and the manager went and signed Gorkss, who is a hugely experienced Latvian international.

“His arrival coincided with defender Alex Pearce improving and that was a massive moment. Brian could have just let it go but he didn’t. He recognised a problem, addressed the situation and signed a big-name player which eventually reaped big rewards.

“The job Brian has done this season has been brilliant, they have carried on from last season and it is no real surprise to see them promoted.”

The January signing of the experienced Jason Roberts from Blackburn proved to be something of a moneyball at its finest, as he quickly proved to be the catalyst in Readings’ upturn in form.

“His way of doing things is to quietly go about his job,” Roberts told BBC Sport.

“He demands respect and is very particular about the personalities he brings in. His man-management is outstanding and he goes about his business in a way I understand.”

Former Arsenal midfielder McDermott has looked to strengthen his side during the pre-season, adding the likes of Danny Guthrie from Newcastle and Pavel Pogrebnyak, who turned down the chance to rejoin Fulham after a successful loan spell last term.

And following their recent takeover by the Thames Sports Investment group, McDermott will the hoping to splash more of owners Anton Zingarevich loose change before the transfer window slams shut on September 1st.

Chairman Sir John Madejski told BBC Radio Berkshire back in January: “It’s great news for the club and the fans and means we can get investment which is what we need any club needs.

“We’re very proud of our reputation here at Reading, we’ve got a great manager, a great staff on and off the pitch, and a great squad of players.”

Last season all three promoted clubs avoided the drop, with the experienced PL trio of Bolton, Wolves and Blackburn losing their place in England’s top division.

And The Royals faithful will be hoping to emulate the recent success of the league’s new boys in recent seasons, namely Swansea, who won many plaudits whilst embarking on their maiden campaign in the top flight.

Reading managed it half a decade ago when they nearly qualified for Europe following promotion, and the Berkshire club will be hoping to do the same this time round.

Queen of the South

Based in the historic town of Dumfries, Queen of the South is one of the most recognisable names in Scottish football.

The second division side suffered the heartbreak of relegation last season but they look to have found some of the form that saw the Doonhamers reach the Scottish Cup final in 2008.

Ironically the club is thought to be the only side to have a reference in the Bible, in which Luke 11:31 states that “The Queen of the South shall rise up at the judgement with the men of this generation…”

Be it through divine intervention or just good football, Chairman Billy Hewitson will be hoping this is the season his club rises back up through the leagues. Football Focus asked him how things are going so far this season.

“We hope to be challenging at the top of the league for promotion come the end of this season.  We have proved very competitive to the start of the season and hope to continue to do so.

“This season are main goal is to gain promotion.  It was a gamble to remain full time in the 2nd Division but is one we felt was vital for giving the club the best chance of returning back to the 1st division.  Moving forward from this is to establish ourselves in the league and improve season on season.  Off the field we are looking into an indoor 3G facility and other large-scale improvements to Palmerston Park.”

The 6,412 capacity Palmerston Park has seen some great Scottish players grace its turf over the past century, including the likes of Andy Aitkin, Dave Halliday and club record appearance holder Allan Ball. Hewitson believes that it is in the youth system at Queen of the South that the future stars can be produced, and holds the key to the clubs future success.

“Our youth program is vitally important to the football club. At present we have 7 local players whom have graduated from our youth system in our 1st team squad, some of which are holding down regular place in the starting eleven.”

He continues, “The coaching staff does a great job of blending youth and experience, which is shining through this season.”

In the wake of the highly publicised financial difficulty in the Scottish leagues, which has seen the plight of arguably its greatest side in Rangers, Queen of the South have managed to stay secure in terms of its finances, something the club is looking to ensure continues.

“The biggest challenge to any football club remains to be financial.  With falling attendances non-footballing activities need to be found to make up the short fall.  We need to make the asset of the stadium work for the club and we are constantly reviewing finances and looking at ways to improve them.

“Visiting fans are situated in the newest stand within Palmerston Park that holds modern amenities. But the appeal of our ground is still that it hosts a very popular terracing area.  We are constantly looking for ways to improve the facility and this season we have put in a new club shop and ticket offices.

“I think now in Scottish football there is no other option but to try and maximise commercial opportunities although in this present financial climate it can be a difficult task.  The club employs a full time commercial team but at present we are restricted with facilities to host any reasonable corporate business.”

Hewitson is a Chairman who recognises the importance of fans in the success of his club, and the greatest way to reward their continued support is through positive work within the community.

“Queen of the South FC are an extremely community orientated club.  We employ a full time community coach, Jim Thomson, who delivers a program five days a week to schools within Dumfries & Galloway.  This program promotes healthy living, confidence and team spirit.  Along with this we are involved in many other community projects which should benefit the club in the future.”

 

Oldham Athletic

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Based in Greater Manchester, Oldham Athletic has proved a mainstay in League One and has played at that level since 1997.

Formed under the name of Pine Villa FC in 1885, The Latics have had to deal with numerous managerial changes and possible liquidation in recent years, but are managing well under the stewardship of Paul Dickov.

Football Focus magazine talked to Oldham Athletics Commercial Manager Jenny Warburton, who told us a little bit more about the goings on at Boundary Park, and she started with the clubs impressive youth system.

“The development of young players is crucial for clubs at our level and we invest substantially in our Academy to achieve the objective of developing young talent with the aim of the players signing professional contracts. Tony Philliskirk, the head of our youth academy, believes that they are the lifeblood of the club.

“Players that come through the youth system have a tremendous affinity to the club and they have a positive impact in respect of becoming potential first team players and therefore marketable assets for the future. This season, we have already seen Chris Sutherland and Joe Cooper, who are both still under 18 youth team players, involved at first team level.

“Young players are integrated into the professional set up seamlessly as a result of the professional and youth departments working closely together. Being a fairly small club, together with the fact that all players report directly to Boundary Park means the integrations is usually a natural one. The young and professional players are always in contact and often the manager will organise joint training which encourages the integration further.”

In terms of the clubs finances, Warburton suggests that investment through utilizing the stadium and its assets is the way forward.

“We do a great deal with the resources and facilities that we have. It’s no secret that this is extremely difficult. The facilities being what they are we are constantly turning business away for lack of space, it’s so frustrating. The new stand will hopefully provide so much commercial opportunity and we plan to use it to its full potential.

“At the end of last season, we launched a volunteer scheme which saw fans volunteering their services to the club to help give it a much needed facelift. The initiative was a great success and we are extremely grateful to those who offered their services. The proposed new North Stand will provide improved facilities for clubs and fans alike. It can’t come soon enough for us as it will provide a huge amount of much needed ‘off the pitch’ revenue for us too.

“In today’s day and age, football clubs across the board have to look to other forms of revenue as, sadly, it simply isn’t enough to just play football. We have a very pro-active commercial department now, so once the facility is in place, the opportunities are endless.”

A large part of the successful volunteer campaign comes from Oldham’s close ties to its local community, and sees itself as a vital part of the surrounding area.

“Last year alone our community trust worked closely with over 7,000 primary school children. This year we have set up a new match day club, which enables young people to enjoy an Oldham Athletic match day experience. We have also introduced a brand new “Team of the Week” initiative, which invites a different grassroots football team to every home fixture. The team get to spend the day with us here at Oldham, experience the match day activities including forming a guard of honour as the players run out onto the pitch, and at half-time play a football game in front of the home crowd.”

On the hopes for the future of The Latics, Jenny Warburton suggests improving the clubs facilities, whilst also pushing for progress within the youth system and FA Cup as the clubs main aims.

“Naturally we would like to progress up the Npower League One table and continue as far as we can in the FA Cup. The youth department will continue to work hard and develop more young players for the first team squad. Commercially, we are stronger than we have been for a very long time so we aim to build upon that in preparations for the new stand.

“The youth department are hoping to gain category three status as an Academy in the new FA and Premier League guidelines and continue to provide the club with young players that can develop into the first team or sold to other clubs to provide much needed additional income.

“We look to increasing the revenues from off field activities and continue to grow and improve the commercial department as we have done over the past 2 seasons. We will throw our everything into making the new stand as profitable as possible. We will also be working closer with the community trust helping to bring together the people of Oldham and making the borough as active, healthy and united as we possibly can.”

 

Millwall FC – A footballing institution

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Millwall are something of an institution in English football, famed for its fans, ‘The Den’ they call home and a rich history dating back 127 years.

When formed as Millwall Rovers back in 1885, the club played on the Isle of Dogs in the East End of London, before making the switch to Lewisham in South London whilst still keeping its original Millwall name.

Throughout the early years Millwall became one of the founding Football League sides, joining the Football League Third Division alongside 22 other teams back in 1920.

And despite languishing in the third tier of English football, Millwall were pre-war the tenth best supported side on these isles.

And in 1945 they took part in the Southern FA Cup final against Chelsea, a game in which 90,000 spectators, including King George IV, saw the last Cup final to be played during war time. This to date remains the record attendance for any Millwall fixture.

Millwall is a name synonymous with football hooliganism, which was rife during the 1960’s and 80’s. The firm associated with the club, known as the F-Troop, became one of the most notorious hooligan gangs in England.

Incidents culminating in numerous club fines for crowd disorder, including one occasion when a fake grenade was thrown onto the pitch during a match against Brentford in 1965.

But such happenings are a thing of the past. The infamous chants of ‘No one likes us, we don’t care,’ may still reign down from the terraces, but the widespread criminality of the fans is far less common.

And in its wake has emerged a team that this season looks a serious playoff contender in The Championship as The Lions look to regain promotion to the top flight of English football for the first time since 1988-1990.

Millwall have built on the successes of the past ten years. In 2003, Chelsea legend Dennis Wise took charge at The Den and led The Lions to their first FA Cup Final in their history. They went into the final missing 16 players through suspension and injury, and ultimately stuttered to a 3-0 defeat against Manchester United.

However, the appearance in the final meant the club got a taste of Europe for the first time as they qualified for the UEFA Cup. Two goals over two legs from player-manager Wise wasn’t enough to qualify for the group stage proper, losing 4-2 on aggregate to Hungarian champions Ferencvaros.   

Then followed a period of managerial turmoil. Six managers came and went in the space of two years, culminating in the relegation to League One in 2006 which also saw Chairman Theo Paphitis end his eight year association with the club.

However, in 2007, new investment and the crucial installment of current manager Kenny Jacket saw Millwall’s fortunes finally start to change.

After two playoff final defeats and having missed out on automatic promotion by just one point in 2010 to Leeds, The Lions finally broke back into The Championship courtesy of a 1-0 playoff final victory against Swindon Town at Wembley.

Fast forward to 2012 and Millwall currently look a side capable of returning to The Premier League. At the time of writing they sit ninth in the table, just two points behind the playoffs having registered high profile victories against Leeds, Bolton, Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest.

Top scorers in the form of Liam Trotter, Darius Henderson, Chris Wood and defensive stability in the shape of Dan Shittu have helped mould a team that looks capable of mounting a well prepared charge up the Championship table.

And in Kenny Jacket, Millwall have a man in charge that has already proven he can inspire a squad to achieve more than is expected of them.

Newark Rugby Club

From Nottinghamshire comes Newark RFC, a side laced in history.

The first recorded evidence on a Newark rugby side dates back to 1891 when a Newark XV beat Nottingham, and many matches followed over the subsequent years. However the Great War saw the clubs activities cease for the majority of the conflict.

But in 1919 an official meeting chaired by Rev. H. Gorse led to the official foundation of Newark Rugby Football Union Club.

The club grew over the following decades but thanks to another World War many records were lost, but in 1950 Newark found itself a new home at Kelham Road, and with the conversion of an old army hut into changing rooms, the addition of a bar and the introduction of electricity to allow floodlights, the Kelham Road ground quickly became one of the most well equipped stadia in the county. This led to Newark becoming the home of the county side in 1966.

In 1985 major extensions to the club were undertaken, helped by an enormously successful fund raising effort, and ten years later floodlights were erected on the second pitch to allow a better focus on the youth set up.

During this time Newark produced one of the finest players ever to play rugby union. Dusty Hare, who started his fullback career in the Newark youth set up, went on to become the highest scoring player in rugby history, amassing 7,337 points in a career in which he played for Nottingham, Leicester Tigers and England, for whom he managed 240 points in just 25 tests.

Other stars which started their careers at Kelham Road include John Wells, Greig Tonks and Tom Ryder, who all went on to lead distinguished careers in professional rugby.

The legends may have left but the Kelham Road trophy room has found new silverware. In 2008 and 2009 Newark won the coveted Three Counties Cup, marking the club as one of the premier rugby sides in Nottinghamshire.

Currently playing in the Midlands 1 East division, Newark regularly run four senior teams, plus a highly successful mini and youth section comprising over 500 boys & girls, which brings the clubs total membership to over 800.

At the time of writing the 2009 champions sit 8th in the table, relying on away form to help their title push as they struggle to find their winning ways at home.

But with such an established history and recent cup triumphs, you would expect that it won’t be long before Newark RUFC are making history once again.

Mansfield RFC

As for many of Rugby’s lower leagued sides, youth development is something that can mark the success or the downfall of a club. But for Mansfield RFC, it is something that has become something of a hallmark.

“It’s a terrible cliché to say it but I make no apologies, they (youth players) are the lifeblood of our club. With the odd exception, our first team is made up players who have come through our youth section,” explained Andy Foster, Chairman of Mansfield RFC.

The club has graced the 5th tier of Rugby Union for a few seasons now, and currently plays in the newly reformed National League 3 Midlands League.

“We recognised a long time ago that ‘growing our own’ would be the only way forward. We have a very dedicated and hard working band of youth coaches and helpers and they do a tremendous job in preparing youngsters for life in senior rugby.”

The successful nature of Mansfield’s youth system has prompted many talented players to leave Nottinghamshire, including last season’s club captain.

Foster explained: “The price of success means that we have lost our Captain Tom Calladine who is a massive influence on our side both on and off the pitch. He is currently on loan to Nottingham RFC and playing in New Zealand. We will also lose our centre Ryan Hough who will represent Nottingham RFC in their LV Cup games again next season as he did last year.”

The progression of the team and reliance on youth has been noted in recent weeks as Phil Donaldson was announced as the new skipper to replace Calladine.

Donaldson joined Mansfield when he was just 12, and made his debut for the first XI just 6 years later.

Coach Steve Shaw told the official website, http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/mansfieldrugby/: “Phil has been one of the first names on the team sheet for a long time now and his work ethic has earned him respect from his team’s mates as well as the opposition.”

Donaldson himself took to the clubs website to state his delight at taking over and clearly is eager to get started as he commented, “I’m looking forward to the new season, it’s a great honour to be asked to Captain our First Team and I have some big shoes to fill but I will be giving it 100%”.

Mansfield won over half of their games last season, but success on the field can only be possible with success as a business.

“We have a very industrious marketing committee whose role is to manage our commercial operation. They handle match day sponsors, pitch board sponsors and programmes. We also hold an annual BBQ every August Bank Holiday which attracts around 3,000 from the community.

“Last year we held our first SME Day where we invited local businesses to a game to see the club and what is on offer as a potential sponsor. The day was very successful and attracted at least four new sponsors.” Concluded Chairman Andy Foster.

And what of the future for Mansfield RFC? Last season they added to an already impressive haul of trophies by winning the NLD Cup for the second successive season, as well as the Nott’s County Cup for a record 17th time.

Foster finished: “Together with our 5th place finish in National 3 makes us the second highest ranked club aside from Nottingham RFC in the Three Counties – we aim to build on that.”

York City FC

York City had spent the better part of the last decade languishing in the conference. But thanks to a playoff final victory against Luton at Wembley last season, The Minstermen are back in the football league for the first time in nearly ten years.

Founded back in 1922, York City has spent most of its history in the lower divisions of English football, although they did rise into the old Second Division during the 1970’s.

Historically more successful in the Cups, York saw off title and FA Cup winners Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford in the League Cup during the 1995/96 campaign, and have also gained positive results against the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool.

However, in 2004 York lost its League status when they were relegated from the old Third Division, and had stayed there until last season when they finished 4th in the table, qualifying for the playoffs.

And under the management of former Nottingham Forest legend Gary Mills, York climbed back into League Two thanks to goals from Ashley Chambers and Matty Blair in the playoff final.

After the match, striker Blair told BBC Sport: “It feels amazing [to be playing in the Football League next season] but it hasn’t really sunk in yet.”

“It’ll properly sink in later tonight or tomorrow when we will be celebrating it again but at the moment I’m a bit tired but I’m the happiest man ever.

“I scored the goal and it feels unbelievable but I’m not taking anything away from the other lads today. The back five, and Daniel Parslow in front, defended like heroes and were brilliant all game.

“We were under the cosh a bit last half an hour and they just stood tall and went ‘right you’re not getting past us’. Luton were always going to put us under pressure after we scored but we stood tall.”

Since that victorious day at Wembley, York have performed admirably this season, and at the time of writing sit 18th in the table, some seven points of the relegation zone.

However, results have taken something of a downturn recently as the Yorkshiremen have conceded eight times in the last two games.

Following the most recent 4-0 whitewash away at Wycombe, Mills told York Radio that his side needs to start turning their form around quickly.

“We’re committing suicide at the moment, we’re giving goals away and don’t look like scoring.

“We’ll get ready for the next one and move on. The players that are at this football club now have to stand up and start winning football matches.”

However, under Mills you would expect for a change in form to happen sooner rather than later, and York should look set to successfully consolidate their league status.

The current York boss became the youngest player to ever play for Nottingham Forest back in 1978, and also became the youngest player to appear in a European Cup final as Forest beat Hamburg 1-0 to lift the trophy.

With over 500 games as professional player, including stints at the Seattle Sounders in the MLS and five years at Leicester, Mills has all the experience necessary to progress The Minstermen.

One other area in which York FC are looking to evolve is off the field. Plans to move to the new York Community Stadium in 2015 look all but concluded, with the club set to leave their home of over 80 years in the form of Bootham Crescent.

 

Rye United

Rye United’s Chairman Clive Taylor tells us how his club is on the mend following an arson attack.

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In August 2010, an arson attack against The Salts Stadium in East Sussex almost destroyed an entire football club.

But thankfully for Rye United, the stadium was a pavilion, and the club is on the mend.

Rye United, who play in the Sussex County League, found that through donations and countless volunteers, their pavilion is now back and better than ever – and so is the club.

“Basically, we had a bit of a trauma 18 months ago when our clubhouse got burned down in an arson attack, but as we speak it’s close to completion. We’ve now got a better building than before but of course, we’ve had to raise a lot of money to get where we are at now,” said Clive Taylor, Chairman of Rye United.

“A lot of it has come out of club members’ pockets. We’ve had kind contributions from local builders and suppliers, and some volunteer labour (Jim Sutton Builders) who did a great job with the building.

“All of this has been very gratefully received.”

An attack like the one this side suffered may have crippled many a club in England’s lower leagues, with the financial implications of rebuilding an entire building proving a costly business.

“It’s taken a lot of money to really get the clubhouse back up as a good facility. Even things like toilets for example – it all adds up to a large amount of money.”

“We’re all looking forward to returning to our own clubhouse. We’ve also had a lot of decent support from the committee and it has paid dividends.”

Since the attack the club has defied the odds and enjoyed one of its most successful periods, reaching the quarter finals of the FA Vase trophy in 2011, and finishing 3rd in the Sussex County League last term. This has been helped by the integration of youth in the squad, as Mr Taylor has run a youth setup in Hastings for nearly 30 years. Many of these young players have made the step up to the Rye United first team.

And Taylor is keen to give back to a community which has helped the club through a difficult last three years, whilst also keeping an eye on Rye’s future financial security.

“We want the clubhouse to really be part of the community and become an all year round business venue. For a club at our level it is an imperative stream of income. It’s difficult to raise money these days especially in the current economic climate so we are grateful for any chance to generate some funds.”

The Quarterboys are looking to build on current successes and bring back the glory days of 2005 when the club won the League Challenge Cup, and discover similar league performances that saw them named the Sussex County League Division 2 winners in 2010.

“We’ve a great management team, and players who want to play for the club.”

“We’ll strive to continue doing well in our league every year. One of our main targets would be to win the FA Vase. Last year we reached the quarter finals which we were fairly pleased with.”

“It’s a fantastic competition, a cup where you can really win some money but the actual experience of it is great for the lads. You can make a real weekend of it and it gives the younger players in particular a professional outlook and gets us around the country.”

Knaphill FC

From a small town near Surrey comes Knaphill FC, a club that has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past decade.

From 2005 to 2007, The Knappers enjoyed a double promotion, winning both the Surrey County Intermediate League First Division, and then the Premier Division the year after. Knaphill could also have gained promotion once again two years later, but their stadium failed to comply with FA regulations.

However, the club has since improved its facilities, and Chairman David Freeman spoke to us about his vision for the side.

“In 2009 we achieved a third place finish in the league which would have given us promotion to the (Combined Counties League) Premier Division, but our lights were still a year away. This season we are aiming for another top 3 finish to achieve the same aim.”

Floodlights have since been installed at Knaphill’s small Redding Way home, which has allowed the club to introduce a youth system to their set up.

“It gave the club the first opportunity to introduce an U18 side playing in a midweek floodlit league. This brought an influx of new, young players to the club that could still play in age group football within the club whilst having the benefit of feeding the first team with new talent.

“Knaphill FC has had a number of youngsters represent both 1st and Reserves and then go one to play at CCL Premier and higher levels.”

On the clubs modern facilities, Mr Freeman said:

“Our wonderful facility at Redding Way is owned by the local authority and we are hirers as such, so we are limited in our access and ability to utilise the pavilion to its maximum. We have invested much time, effort and finance in keeping the pavilion in its present excellent condition and although other hirers use the facility, we obviously treat it as our home.

“Since Redding Way was first opened in 2004 we have received many generous comments from visiting players, club and match officials, ground-hoppers and regular supporters, league and FA officials all praising not only the condition of the pitch, but also the overall condition of the ground and pavilion. Most welcome has been the reaction to our hospitality on which we pride ourselves, come win or lose we try to make every-one visiting Redding Way feel as welcome as possible.”

Despite the fact that the ground isn’t owned by the club, Knaphill is still a side that sees itself as playing a massive part of the local area.

“If you own your own ground and can incorporate many other local groups and users within it then you may well be able to truly call yourselves ‘a community club’, however we believe that representing your community and being supported by many local businesses you can genuinely call yourselves ‘a club of the community’.”

The biggest managerial headache for the club is its finances, as sides from the Premier League to the Sunday League’s struggle to balance the books.

“Making ends meet is the biggest obstacle that any football club has to face, especially in these austere times. We are limited to being able to hire the facility to the football season, August-May, as the local authority’s maintenance team takes over during the summer months. We cannot sub-let the pavilion to raise money, so we look at hosting a number of intermediate Leagues Cup Finals at the end of the season to provide additional income.

“We need to raise in excess of £20,000 per year to pay for the running costs of the club running 5 teams to include pitch hire, match officials, league and county affiliation fees, new kit and the myriad other items that are required to be paid for during the season.

“The biggest source of income for many clubs is a bar; due to a covenant within the deeds to the ground, we have to obtain Government approval to apply for an alcohol license so that we can sell alcoholic drinks in the pavilion. This will provide much needed income on a regular basis and offer our visitors the same level of refreshment that is available in almost every other similar club in the country.”

And on his hopes for the future of Knaphill FC, Mr Freeman admits keeping the club afloat whilst aiming for promotion will always be the side’s main aims.

“The biggest challenge as mentioned before is keeping the club afloat financially. The addition of the bar in the pavilion will certainly help maintain a regular flow of funds as at the moment a run of away games or poor weather means that the clubs income is greatly reduced. Promotion to the Premier Division would certainly help as the larger crowds expected would provide additional income. However costs tend to rise at that level and players will expect to receive some form of financial expenses.

“Promotion to the Premier Division of the CCL is the main target as that would probably be the pinnacle of success to which the club could reasonably be expected to achieve and survive comfortably.

“However promotion would require capital expenditure on an additional seated stand and an additional covered standing area to comply with current FA ground grading requirements. Regular participation in the FA Cup & FA Vase is also high on the list as they would provide not only additional income from prize money, but also help in raising the clubs profile and standing in the football community.

Heswall FC

Flying high in the West Cheshire First Division, Heswall FC are firm favourites for promotion this season.

Situated near the Wirral of Merseyside, the club currently sit top of the table with a game in hand, boasting a defence that has conceded just twice so far this season.

Football Focus spoke to club secretary Peter Leay, who told us that youth football is one of the clubs staple philosophies.

“(Youth football is) very important as it’s the life blood of the Club. Last season ten of our u-18 youth team were signed for our West Cheshire team & were called upon when necessary throughout the season. We have a junior section, providing football for u-8’s to u-16’s, and next season we want to change our infrastructure and bring them into the main body of the Club so that we have a flow through from aged 8 to youth football then into adult football.

“At pre-season training some of our sessions bring together the youth team and adult teams which enables the senior team managers/coaches to see the new u-18 players, gives the younger lads the opportunity to train with more experienced and older players and to see for themselves the higher standard of football to which they need to aspire.

“And throughout the playing season these joint sessions take place every couple of months. The Club Manager, Mike Keegan, will also liaise with the youth team manager, Steve Prance for his recommendation of which u-18 player may be ready to experience West Cheshire football. When this happens, to start with the player is told he probably won’t play during a match but he travels with the team, does the warm up, experiences the banter and sees for himself the high standard of the West Cheshire League.

“Last season when we reached the final of The Cheshire FA Amateur Cup, the 1st team manager included in his squad a 17 year old youth player, Danny Lees, as recognition of the part the youth team had played in helping out the senior teams, especially at the end of the season when the fixtures piled up and we were playing four times a week. Danny didn’t get to play in the Final – which we won – but is one of the youngest players to receive a Cheshire FA winner’s medal.”

Commonly for armature sides, a war on two fronts emerges as finances and the need to renovate facilities become almost as important as the football. For a club like Heswall, the savvy use of the clubs facilities has become a financial lifeline for the club.

At the end of the season we receive many requests from our district & County FA and local leagues to play their finals at Gayton Park, and we have our annual pre-season friendly with Tranmere Rovers FC.

“There are areas within the ground and the Clubhouse which need renovation and improvement, but cash flow is always a problem for grass roots not-for-profit clubs, and we have to become dependent on any grants which may be available. But in these days of national & local government austerity – these are becoming few and far between.

“We want to renovate & improve the Clubhouse so that we can capitalise on its availability and central location. We have had training organisations hiring the club during the day and this was a welcome improvement to cash flow. And as part of our development plan we want to outreach more and advertise the fact that facilities are available all week round – except on match days of course.”

On his hopes for the rest of the season, Leay says that success on the pitch is the main focus.

“To consolidate all that is good about Heswall Football Club’s history – we started a year before Liverpool FC! To build on the successes we are having on and off the field of play. To grow into a club which is the centre of the community; to attract even better players, managers and coaches.

“Currently our 1st team is in the semi-final of the Cheshire Amateur Cup and is in the top four of the West Cheshire 1st division with 5 games in hand over the leaders. So if we stay on course we should have a satisfying end of season. Whilst it’d be good to retain the Cheshire Amateur Cup for a second season, the 1st team manager would relish winning the Championship.”

 

Hereford United

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Hereford could not have believed their luck on the final day of last season. A win against high-flying Torquay and The Bulls should have secured their league status.

However, fellow strugglers Barnet secured victory against Burton with a second half winner which condemned Hereford to the Conference, ending their six-year stay in the football league.

Then Hereford United manager Richard O’Kelly told BBC Hereford & Worcester: “We were 3-0 up and dealt with what they had to offer. What was really pleasing was how the players stuck together, how they organised themselves, and we eventually ran out winners.

“I can’t fault any of the players. They’ve been excellent since I walked through the door.

“My emotions are all over the shop. I’m just thinking about what’s happened to the football club.”

The Herefordshire side had endured a difficult season, amassing only ten wins all year, and following the heart-break of relegation, O’Kelly left his post as manager after just 68 days in charge.

But just over a month later, a new manager and new hope has settled over the Edgar Street Stadium as the side prepares for their assault on England’s fifth tier.

The appointment of Martin Foyle as manager marks Herefords sixth managerial change in three years, but the former York City manager told the BBC that he is confident the club can spring back.

“It’s a club that can bounce back but it needs to stabilise,”

“It’s been a hard time, but everybody who worked here last season gave it their best shot. Now I am the next man in to try to calm it down a little bit.

“The main attraction for me was the chance to build a club again like we did at York and you can see where they are now – back in the Football League.

“But it is a chance for me to get my hands dirty again and I can’t wait.”

Bulls Chairman David Keyte took to the airways to suggest that stability was now vital for his club to return to the Leagues.

“What attracted us to Martin in particular was his undoubted experience at this level,” he told BBC Hereford & Worcester.

“He’s a very experienced old-school manager, who did a really good job at York and took them to Wembley twice.”

“We have gone through a period where we have chopped and changed a bit at management level,”

“It really is time for the club to find a bit of stability as best you can in football. He is renowned for knowing players, as well being a good wheeler-dealer. It would be nice if he was with us for the next number of seasons.”

Last month the squad returned for pre-season training, and Foyle told the Official Hereford United website, www.herefordunited.co.uk, that he is anxious to get the new season under way.

“I’ve got in around the players, had a chat with them and they’re a good bunch, a lot of them know each other so the togetherness is there, they’re in good spirits.”

And with the arrivals of youngster Marley Watkins, defenders Chris Carruthers,  Andy Gallinagh and striker Ryan Bowman, Foyle can be satisfied that he is building a squad capable of clinching promotion at the first attempt.

Former Darlington striker Bowman told the Official Hereford website: “The pressures off a little bit, playing for a contract is a lot harder than when you’ve just signed.

“I prefer to play off the defender’s shoulders; I’ve got a bit of pace on me. I know most of the defenders from last season so hopefully I can score more this season than I did last season.”

But after Herefords recent 2-0 friendly win against Bristol City, Foyle said there is still room for improvement.

“I look at everything. People look at results but it’s not about results at the moment it’s about fitness and team ethic and working hard. I’m pleased with all my players, they’ve been good, but as you see the final third needs to improve, the final pass, the final cross,” he told Herefords Official website.

“I’m on the bargain hunt! I’m trying to wheel and deal, I’m trying to get one or two players, we play eight games in that first month and that’s a big ask.

“As you can see we’ve got 16 or 17 players and that’s nowhere near enough at this level.”

Eastleigh FC

We take a look at this year’s Hampshire Cup champions.

 

Eastleigh FC has enjoyed a prosperous campaign this season, securing their Conference South status for an eighth successive season, whilst overcoming AFC Totton to lift the Hampshire Senior Cup at St Marys Stadium.

Goals from Chris Flood and Mitchell Nelson helped the club lift the trophy for the first time in their history, and their first silverware since winning the Russell Cotes Cup seven years ago.

Eastleigh’s triumphs have raised their profile within England’s lower leagues, allowing them to sign players of the calibre of Jai Reason. The 22-year old former Ipswich midfielder has caught the eye of many teams following a season with Braintree Town in which he managed thirteen goals from midfield.

Spitfire boss Ian Baird said:”Jai’s arrival has been a long time coming as he was one of my main targets from day one – at 22 he is certainly one for the future as well as the here and now. Any player scoring 13 goals from midfield in the Blue Square Premier will be sought after.”

“He is exactly the caliber of player we are looking to attract. Next year’s squad will need plenty of legs and a mixture of young and experienced players will hold the key”.

Bird will be hoping his new signing will help fill the void left by top scorer Jamie Slabber, who transferred to Chelmsford City in March. The striker amassed 36 goals in his last two seasons for The Spitfires.

Eastleigh has an impressive ex-player list, with the likes of Brett Williams and Aaron Martin signing for Reading and Southampton respectively after impressing at non-league level. In the 2011/12 season the club also helped young players secure deals, with teenagers Will Aimso and Josh Helm signing contracts with Hull City and Swindon Town.

The side is also looking for hidden talent in the local community, and will be holding open trials for players on Wednesday 6th June 2012. These trials will give players the opportunity to be assessed by UEFA qualified coaching staff and give them the opportunity of representing Eastleigh FC.

Further exciting news for Eastleigh is that the club has ensured its long term financial future. Bridle Insurance Limited, best known for providing financial backing for Glen Hoddle’s prestigious football academies, bought out the club in February of this year, and they have big plans for the Hampshire Cup champions.

Part of Bridle’s five year plan is to get the ground up to league standard, by looking at financing a 7,500 all-seater stadium, and to get the club into the football league.

And the Hampshire club is keen to share their success with the fans by holding its first ever open day at the Silverlake Stadium on the 14th June.

The Open Day promises to be a great event with fans able to meet the full first team, see an open training session and have unlimited access to the stadium. There will also be an Eastleigh vs. Supporters penalty shoot out for the ‘prestigious’ Silverlake Trophy.

 

Exeter Chiefs

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The Exeter Chiefs are relatively new to the top flight of Rugby, having only been promoted to the Aviva Premiership two years ago for the first time in the clubs history.

But in that time the Chiefs have firmly cemented their place as one of the country’s top rugby union sides, and at the time of writing sit 6th in the table, just five points off Harlequins at the summit of the table.

The Devonshire based side began life back in 1872, with their first notable matches coming 30 years later with games against the All Blacks at the old County Ground, whilst three years later Chiefs lock and England captain Thomas Kelly led the national side to a 19-0 victory against France on the continent. Kelly would go down in Exeter folklore as their only former player to captain England.

It was only more recently that Exeter came into the rugby union limelight in England, where from 2007 a big push was encouraged to help promote the team to the then Guinness Premiership. The recruitment of seasoned veterans of the game saw the Chiefs reach the final of the EDF Energy Trophy in four of the seven seasons from 2002 to 2008, but finished runners-up on each occasion.

But it was 2010 that the side put together its strongest league showing, and having reached the play-off final, a resounding 29-10 victory against Bristol at the Memorial Stadium saw the club catapulted to the height of the English game as they claimed promotion.

And although the trophy cabinet only holds that lonesome Championship winner’s trophy, the form showed by the fledgling side over the following two seasons would suggest that further trophies may be in the offing.

Having finished 5th in their debut season in the Premiership, the Chiefs are now looking to add to a firm league grounding with progression in the Heineken Cup. And although Exeter sit bottom of their respective Heineken Cup qualifying group, they are on a great run of form having been unbeaten in the last five.

Star fly-half Gareth Steenson told the BBC that the next cup fixture, against the Scarlet’s, could be a season defining game.

Steenson said:  “If we don’t win this weekend then effectively our chances of progressing are gone,” he told BBC South West.

“We’ve got that monkey off our back with the first away win in the Premiership and we’re chasing hard to get our first win in the Heineken Cup.”

 

The Chiefs only narrowly lost in the opening round of fixtures of the cup against Leinster, but were heavily defeated against the star-studded Clermont Auvergne.

“The trip to Dublin was fantastic and to come away with such a close result was a little disappointing,” Steenson continued.

“The result against Clermont didn’t really reflect how we performed that evening; we took a lot of positives from that game.”

The Chiefs travel to Llanelli to face the Scarlet’s before welcoming them back to Sandy Park seven days later.

Steenson continued: “We’ve got to go out and get a result this week which gives us something to play for the following week.

“We’re not putting pressure on ourselves. It’s still only our third game in the Heineken Cup, so it’s another learn experience for us and a chance to play a Welsh outfit.”

Chief’s boss Rob Baxter told BBC South West that he believes his side can come out on top of this season defining 80 minutes.

“We’re in good shape. We recently targeted that first away win in the Premiership against London Irish – which we got – we then targeted backing that up with a similar result against Wasps – which we did last weekend – and now the target for us is to get that first win in the Heineken Cup.

“The Scarlet’s, we know, are a good side with lots of threats right across their team.

“I think what we’ve learnt as a side in Europe is that if you play with intensity, you play together and you follow a game plan we are a good side and can be very competitive against some of the best sides in Europe.

“At the same time, though, what we have also learnt is that if you slip off that intensity you will get hurt very quickly – and that is some of the toughest lessons you can learn within the game.

“We never entered the Heineken Cup saying it is all about where we end up in the table. What we said was that we will give it a real go in every game and that I want to make sure the players experience everything that can from the Heineken Cup.”

Regardless the outcome of Saturdays game, it must be said that the Exeter Chiefs are well on their way to becoming a force in England, and across Europe. It may not come this season, but you would expect that the famed Tomahawk fans at the modern Sandy Park Stadium could be forgiven for expecting silverware within the next five years.

 

Dungannon RFC

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From the town that six years ago won the ‘Ulster in Bloom’s Best Kept Town Award’ for a fifth time comes Dungannon RFC, a rugby club that has blossomed in recent years.

The Northern Irish side has won every title that it has contested for, amassing 21 trophies since 2000.

Rugby Club Magazine spoke to Philip Stinson, who told us how the club is now starting to focus on its youth set-up to help maintain its success.

“Our youth rugby section has been transformed in recent years and we are hoping to field teams at all age grades this coming season. Our youth rugby teams allow the club to offer the opportunity for those who don’t attend the traditional rugby playing school in the area to play the game. It is vital to the clubs success and widens the net for finding talent and players capable of making their mark in our senior teams.

Following the success of this year’s Paralympics, disability rugby has also started to take shape in County Tyrone.

“The newest addition to the Dungannon rugby family in recent seasons has been the groundbreaking formation of the Stevenson Sharks; a tag rugby team for children with learning disabilities/special needs. The Sharks are based on the trail-blazing path laid out by the Newforge Taggers in Belfast and are one of three such teams in the whole of Ireland. They were conceived by our former Director of Rugby Justin Fitzpatrick who worked closely with the IRFU Ulster Branch, Newforge Taggers and Mencap to make this a reality and bring tag rugby to Stevenson Park for this group of players in the Dungannon and Mid Ulster area.”

The Club has developed many great players who have represented Ulster Rugby, Ireland, Barbarians and the British Lions. In recent years the likes of Stewart McKinney, Willie Anderson, Paddy Johns and Jeremy Davidson have all represented Ireland.

And there could be more stars to follow, with members of the current playing squad showing plenty of potential.

“In the current 1st XV James McMahon is a very powerful, dangerous runner with ball in hand. Scrum half Jason Bloomfield makes the team tick and his swift service really helps with the brand of rugby we try to play. Centre Stuart McCloskey had a great first season in senior rugby last year and we expect big things from him in the coming years.”

But this is not a club that finds success but forgets its role within its community, as Mr Stinson suggests that holding good links with the local community can only serve to help the club.

“We consider ourselves to be an integral part of our local community and we hope to build on that further in the coming season. We are committed to attracting players of all ages and abilities from right across the community giving us a broad pool of talent from which to draw our future senior players.

“We believe that our coaching philosophy of providing the best level of coaching available has proven its worth, bringing out the very best of our players and providing them with the technical skills and self confidence to compete at the very highest level. We provide an opportunity for rugby players of all abilities.

“We treat the players and their families like part of our own Dungannon rugby family and we make sure that we treat them as special guests each time they come to support the club. We think this makes Dungannon a great club to come and play rugby and also a difficult place to leave.”

The club has recently appointed a new head coach in the mould of former player Paddy Johns, and Mr Stinson is optimistic about the clubs chances for the upcoming season.

“We have appointed a new head coach this summer in former Dungannon, Saracens, Ulster and Ireland player Paddy Johns. Paddy began his playing career at the club aged 7 in our mini rugby section and went on to play at the Royal School Dungannon and joining our senior playing ranks in 1987. He was captain of the team that lifted the All Ireland League in 2001.

“We are excited about the season ahead with Paddy at the helm and he is aware of the challenge that lies ahead following on from the recent success of Justin Fitzpatrick. But knowing Paddy he will take the challenge head on.”

The focus for Dungannon RFC in the years to come is maintaining a strong financial footing as the club strives for a further promotion, whilst looking to continue its often record breaking form in the Cups.

“Like many clubs in Ireland we face financial challenges. The current economic environment has made it difficult to attract and retain sponsorship. Nevertheless, we are determined to ensure that the highest standard of facilities, coaching and welfare is provided for our players.

“The challenge will be to diversify the club in as many ways as possible to mitigate that funding gap and to ensure that the club continues to be an attractive place both for our supporters and for young players to develop and enjoy the game.

“The club’s goal is to remain at the forefront of Irish club rugby. To that end our focus will be on developing players from mini through to senior level and to maintain our track record of ensuring deserving players move seamlessly into the Ulster Rugby set up.

“The club will strive to provide the highest level of facilities, coaching and injury rehabilitation to players at all levels to ensure that this core objective is met. The 1st XV have maintained Division I status for 13 years and having been in the promotion hunt last season our ambition now is to move up to Division 1A.

“Furthermore, we are a community club and our aim is to build on our presence in the area and to attract new players and supporters to Stevenson Park. We wish to see our clubhouse and facilities enjoyed by all and will seek to develop ways of welcoming new players, parents, members and sponsors to Dungannon.”

Doncaster Knights

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The Doncaster Knights are renowned as the yo-yo boys of the English rugby leagues, having been the most promoted side in recent history.

With a new multi-million pound Castle Park Stadium, and a strong eighth placed finish to last year’s campaign, The Knights will be hoping to build on their relative success in this forthcoming season.

At the time of writing, the Yorkshire club are preparing to play their first pre-season game against the Newcastle Falcons, who last season plied their trade in the top division of English rugby, and new signing and open-side flanker Jethro Rawling cannot wait to face the North East side.

The former Leicester Tigers’ Academy player ended last season by helping Jersey become the 2011/12 National One Champions, and he believes starting their season against such tough opposition will prove a valuable test for him and the rest of the squad.

“Pre-season has gone very well. It’s been tough but enjoyable and very rugby specific. There are a lot of new players and we are all buying into the same thing and learning a lot about each other whilst gelling on and off the field.” Rawling told the Official Knights website, http://www.drfc.co.uk.

Dean Richards Falcon’s side will prove a stern test for The Knights as the club has earmarked its ambition to return to the Aviva Premiership at the first time of asking following their relegation after some 17 years in the top flight.

“Newcastle will be a solid first test, which is exactly what we need as the Championship is a very hard league; these types of test highlight what we do well and areas for improvement against a side sure to be running at the top end of the league,” Rawling continued.

“We have three pre-season games to learn a lot about each other and where we are as a team as there is no substitute for game time.

“These early opportunities to play top sides should hopefully mean we can hit the ground running against Plymouth in the first league game of the season.”

The 20-year-old stated his optimism regarding his sides summer preparations, suggesting the ‘heavy ground work’ already put in place will aid Doncaster as they prepare to face a tough league campaign this term.

“A strong start is extremely important. If we get out of the blocks quickly we can do really well and, with any luck, achieve our aim of a top four finish and, after that, who knows – anything can happen.

Doncaster’s Director of Rugby, Brett Davey, also told the DK’s official website: “Continuous improvement across our three pre-season games is a priority, which with any luck will allow us to hit the ground running and pick up as many points as possible in September.

“We are looking to see which players can be leaders on the pitch and also try and get all the players playing our brand of rugby.

“This weekend’s match will give us a basis for analysis so we can identify the faults in our performance and put them right, whilst also giving us the opportunity to pitch ourselves against Newcastle prior to our league encounter in September.

“The character of the players in testing situations during the game is what I am looking for more than anything else.

“We know they have ability; they wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

“I don’t expect a perfect performance. I do however expect us to give a good account of ourselves.

“There is a wave of optimism in the group recently. There has been day’s when training hasn’t been great, but everyone is finding out what each other can do.”

The Doncaster Knights kick off their 2012 campaign against Plymouth Albion on the 1st of September at The Brickfields.

Doncaster Rovers

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Doncaster Rovers are one of the football league’s longest serving clubs, having plied most of their trade in the third and fourth tiers of English Football.

In the early years The Hoops spent most of its infant life between the Midlands League and Division Three, and were historically involved in the longest ever match in a cup tie against Stockport County.

The game went to a second leg in which after extra time the teams were level at 2-2. The referee decided the game would continue until one team had scored another goal, and some 203 minutes later the game was only stopped as darkness closed in. Stories persist of fans going home to have tea and returning to the ground to carry on watching the tie.

In the end a third leg was required, in which Doncaster came out victors with a 4-0 victory.

Turning professional back in 1885, the yoyo club reached the peak of their footballing powers only a few years ago.

The Dons rise to power began when new owner John Ryan took over, who invested heavily to ensure the club returned to the football league.

And In 2003, a playoff victory saw The Hoops climb out of the conference into League Two, and claimed the title the following year to secure double promotions.

In 2007 the club moved into its new home. Owner Ryan managed to secure a lease for the Keepmoat Stadium, a modern 15,000 capacity all seater stadium that cost £32 million to build, and from this point onwards Doncaster continued to make strides through the leagues.

Another playoff victory against Leeds United at Wembley the following year saw the club reach The Championship for the first time in its history, helped in main by the firepower of Billy Sharp as they achieved solid mid table finishes in the first two years at this level.

However Doncaster’s fortunes took a turn for the worse in during the 2010/11 season, marginally staving off relegation by finishing 21st, but last season saw ‘Donny’ finish bottom of The Championship, registering just eight wins all season and being relegated back to League One.

But under the stewardship of manager Dean Saunders, Doncaster have made a bright start this season, and at the time of writing are sat third in the table.

Working on a tight budget, Saunders has managed to build a squad that looks capable of recapturing the form that saw the Yorkshire side rise through the leagues only a few years ago.

“We’re way over the budget with the 12 players we do have,” Saunders told BBC Radio Sheffield.

“Just those players put us £1m over, something has got to give.”

He added: “To get the budget down that means players leaving but then that means having to sign even more players.

It’s hard to sign 15 or 16 players in one go and expect them all to gel but it’s been done.

“I’ve been in this situation before, I know what’s expected and I know what to do. It’s going to be tough but fingers crossed things turn out right.”

The most noticeable departure this summer was that of former Liverpool and Bolton Wanderers star El-Hadji Diouf, had had proved a shining light during the torrid 2011/12 season.

However, Saunders has been savvy with his purchases, signing the likes of Robbie Blake, Billy Paynter, David Cotterill and former Chelsea youngster Michael Woods to help add quality to his squad.

And if recent victories against Carlisle, Portsmouth and Nott’s County are anything to go by, this could be the year that Doncaster Rovers once again see themselves challenging rivals Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday as the top dogs of current Yorkshire football.

 

Clwb Pel-Droed Llanberis

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On the southern banks of Snowdonia sits Clwb Pel-Droed Llanberis, one of North Wales most historic clubs.

Founded back in 1890 with the help of Wales and Preston keeper Dr Mills, the ancient club currently ply their trade in the Lock Stock Welsh Alliance Football League First Division.

At the time of writing, The Locomotives sit seventh in the table with a handful of games in hand over their league rivals. Llanberis are a club that are constantly looking to evolve and press forward having been promoted from the Second Division last season. And this mentality has seen the clubs facilities in particular win over many visiting teams and fans.

Club secretary, Eurwyn Thomas told Football Focus: “We get very favourable comments from visiting teams due to the newly built Club House with plenty of room for changing and hot showers after the match, one of the best facilities within North Wales. A

“We are always looking at ways to expand and improve the facilities with grants available from the FA of Wales.

“The facilities are hired out throughout the year for events such as The Snowdon Race, the Marathon Eryri and the Slateman Triathlon.”

As for many lower league sides, youth football is extremely important in supplying the first team squad with enough players to compete throughout a tough campaign.

“Youth football is very important in order to feed through the various junior and youth teams to supply the First Team. We regularly see progression from the junior teams, to the youth team and into the first team.” continued Thomas.

The Locomotives have progressed well in the Cup this season, having reached the semi-finals of the Cookson Cup earlier in February thanks to a penalty shootout victory against rivals Pwllheli FC.

The game ended level after 90 minutes with a goal apiece, with Gethin Fon Williams scoring for Llanberis. And after a goalless extra time, Llanberis finally came out victorious, edging a tense penalty shootout 4-3 and booking their place in the semis with a trip to Caernarfon Town in the next round.
On his hopes for the future, Thomas said: “We gained promotion from the Second Division last season – and we hope to maintain our present position in the top half of the First Division at the end of the season.

“Over the next five years we want to gain promotion to the Cymru Alliance League and to win the FA Trophy Cup.

“We want to maintain our position as one of the best teams within the Welsh Alliance League.”

Birmingham City – A sleeping giant

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Birmingham City are one of the so called giant clubs plying their trade outside of the Premier League, boasting a wealth of top flight experience and a trophy cabinet that has had to be extended over recent years.

The club has only recently been known as Birmingham City, having been known as the Small Heath Alliance during the Blues inception in 1875, before being named Birmingham and finally Birmingham City at the end of the Second World War.

The Blues enjoyed one of their most successful periods during the 1950’s and 60’s, reaching a club record position of 6th in the First Division in 1956, and appearing in the FA Cup final a year later. Birmingham lost that final 3–1 against Manchester City, in a game that will be best remembered for City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann playing the last 20 minutes with a broken bone in his neck.  However, in 1963 Birmingham christened its trophy cabinet with a 3-1 aggregate victory in the League Cup over fierce rivals Aston Villa at Wembley.

The Blues then entered the history books by becoming the first British side to take part in a European competition, and reached the semi-final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1956, losing out to Barcelona 6-5 over two legs. In 1960 the Brummies also became the first British side to reach a European final where they again lost to Barcelona, a feat the repeated the following season only this time falling short against Italian giants Roma.

In more recent times, Birmingham has regularly contended for cup titles and has made delicate strides through the Premier League. In the late 1990’s, Trevor Francis took the reins at St Andrews and helped guide the club back towards the top division, but three successive play-off semi final defeats and losing the 2001 League Cup final to Liverpool on penalties was not enough to save his job, despite being able to attract star players such as Steve Bruce.

It was Bruce himself who replaced Francis, and created a new team with fresh ideas, taking Birmingham from mid-table into the playoffs, and eventually beating Norwich in the final to promote The Blues back into the Premier League at the first time of asking under their new boss.

And with a squad boasting the likes of Mikel Forsell, Emile Heskey, Jermaine Pennant and Christophe Dugarry, the Blues secured back to back mid table finishes from 2003 to 2005 However the following year a spate of injuries saw the club relegated back to the second tier of English football, which saw the big name stars leave the club.

Heskey and Pennant left for record fees and many more were released. But under Bruce Birmingham had a manager that knew his way around the loans and free agents market, and a squad of young, hungry players emerged that saw instant promotion back to the top flight the following year, despite many fans calling for Bruce to be sacked.

A period of financial and managerial turmoil ensued as the infamous billionaire Carson Yeung became the majority shareholder at St Andrews, with transfer embargos and a managerial roundabout seeing Birmingham relegated and promoted over the following seasons. Steve Bruce left, whilst Alex McLeish and Chris Hughton also lost their jobs under Yeung’s new ownership.

However it was under McLeish that Birmingham once again won the League Cup, proving victorious in a thrilling 2-1 victory against Arsenal as goals from Nikola Žigić and Obafemi Martins saw the Blues lift the trophy some 48 years after winning it for the first time back in 1963.

But McLeish’s Birmingham were relegated that season despite their cup successes, a turn of events that led many to question the validity of the League Cup seeing as its winner couldn’t compete on both fronts.

In June this year Lee Clarke took charge of the Blues, tasked with gaining promotion as soon as possible. The club currently sits in the bottom half of a congested Championship, knowing that a decent run will see them back up in the playoff places.

And with a squad boasting England International goalkeeper Jack Butland, and ex Premier League stars in the shape of Stephen Carr, Steven Caldwell, Marlon King, Darren Ambrose and Peter Lovenkrands, Clarke must be confident that next season a host of Brummies will once again be moving into the away stands of the Premier Leagues elite clubs.

 

Ayr United

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Ayr United suffered a difficult season last term, being relegated to the Scottish Second Division after a playoff defeat against Airdrie.

Then manager Brian Reid opted to depart the South Ayrshire club following the heartbreak of relegation, citing that he felt he had taken the club as far as he could.

During his five year reign at Somerset Park, Reid twice guided Ayr into the First Division but relegation this season triggered his decision to walk away after admitting that financial restraints had made it all but impossible to revamp his squad on a ‘shoestring’.

The 41 year old told the Daily Record: “I believe I have taken the club as far as I can and it’s an amicable agreement for me to leave.”

However, under the stewardship of former player Mark Roberts, ‘The Honest Men’ are hopeful of bouncing back once again.

“I can’t wait to get started,” Roberts told the BBC.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity and I always relish a challenge and the chance to be the manager of Ayr United is one that I couldn’t pass up.”

And their preparations for the new season have got off to an impressive start.

New signings Darren Brownlie and goalkeeper Ally Brown have settled well into the squad, and pre-season results would suggest that good times are returning to Somerset Park.

A resounding 4-0 victory against Motherwell in Robert’s first game in charge, followed by an impressive high profile draw against Bolton Wanderers has left the new coach in an optimistic mood, with both his new recruits and his teams on field performances.

“It was a great result (against Motherwell). Everyone did what we asked and the enthusiasm the boys showed was brilliant,” he told the Official Ayr United website, www.ayrunitedfc.co.uk.

“I didn’t for a second think we would beat Motherwell 4-0 but fair play to the boys. Some of the goals we scored were excellent and they were all things that we had worked on in training so that was pleasing.

“I said to the players after the game that we aren’t getting carried away with the result as things can go downhill if they take their foot off the gas a wee bit.”

Following his sides draw against Ayr on their pre-season tour of Scotland, Bolton manager and former Scottish League player Owen Coyle had nothing but praise for Roberts’ side.

Speaking to the Official Bolton Wanderers website, http://www.bwfc.co.uk, the Scot said: “I thought the match was terrific. It was a great working exercise for my team against a great, hardworking Ayr United side.

“Marko has put a good side together and played well against us. We knew Ayr would be fit and that they would work hard. My only disappointment was that we conceded a goal as we had the game in the bag and had numerous chances to score.

“I love coming to Ayr United. It’s a great club with great people and we’ll certainly be back again.”

Since then Ayr have impressed whist progressing into the second round of the Scottish Communities Cup, annihilating Clyde 6-1 at Somerset Park to set what will prove to be something of a grudge match against St. Mirren in the next round.

The two sides will face each other in Paisley at the end of the month, and St Mirren coach Danny Lennon has urged his players to use the hurt from last season as motivation to progress into the next round.

Last season Ayr caused an upset by beating The Saints in the quarter finals, and Lennon told the Press Association, www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress, that he can’t wait to return the favour against Mark Roberts’ side.

“It still hurts to this day. Not so much that it was Ayr United; just that it was a wonderful missed opportunity.”

Lennon added: “We’ve got to capitalise on the hurt that we felt last season but we are under no illusions. It’s Ayr United once again and we are really looking forward to the challenge.

“Since being here, that’s the third time we’ve drawn them in one of the major competitions. It’s eachy-peachy at the moment – one for us in the Scottish Cup and one for them last year in the quarter-final of the League Cup. It’s got the makings of a great game and we’ve got home advantage once again.”

 

Arlesey Town

Arlesey Town FC’s Director of Football talks about the club, the community and Arlesey’s impressive youth system.

During the current football economic climate, teams from the Southern Football League Premier Division to the Premier League are looking to rely on youth, and Arlesey Town are no different. The Bedfordshire team has an ex-player list that stretches as far as England’s top division, and even international level.

“We do have many players who show promise at the club. The club has produced many players who have gone on to play a higher level of football – Craig Mackail-Smith who recently made his debut for Scotland, Dave Kitson currently at Portsmouth, Shane Blackett at Luton Town, Zema Abbey ex Norwich to name but a few.” said Gary King, Director of Football.

The more senior readers amongst you may also remember Reg Albon, who played for Fulham and Arsenal throughout the 1930’s and 40’s.

King joined Arlesey in 2009 to find a club in turmoil, but with the help of a new coaching team, including ex-player Zema Abbey, the side is looking to return to its relative glory days.

In 1995 this small town club came away from Wembley with the FA Vase having beaten Oxford in the final, whilst last season the signs of improvement were apparent as the club became the Southern League Division One Central champions.

“On the field, in the last three years, the club has won four trophies (Southern League Champions, Beds Senior Cup twice and Beds Premier Cup) as well as reaching the FA Cup First Round Proper. We are currently playing at the highest level we have ever played in our history and our ambition will be to maintain this.” explained King.

Arlesey looks to include its community at every opportunity, inviting players of all ages to play as well as offering its modern facilities to the public.

“Arlesey Town is a community club; this is something we have placed a lot of emphasis on. The committee decided three years ago to work towards anybody from the age of 6 to 60 to be able to play under the Arlesey Town banner, be it for the Youth, Adults, Ladies, Veterans, Disabilities teams.”

“Our facility is relatively new and very impressive for the level of football we compete in. It does receive favourable comments from visiting teams and people in the local area enjoy having the opportunity to use the facilities and play on the pitch, which is well maintained by volunteers.”

The 2,930 capacity aRMadillo Stadium plays hosts for the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Cup Finals, as well as allowing players from all levels of football the opportunity to use the facilities.

“The club has a function room which is hired out most weekends. We have also held local networking meetings for local business to increase the clubs commercial awareness. In truth, the club needs to do more to maximise its commercial potential.”

With the Olympics approaching, women’s football is set to grow in popularity. The first event of the 2012 London games will be an England ladies football fixture, which is set to see more girls than ever signing up to play the beautiful game. And this is something Arlesey and Mr King are looking to capitalise on.

“We do host ladies and girls football. Our ladies team have recently set up a formal link between themselves and Biggleswade United.”

The main aim for the club over the next five seasons is to ensure its financial safety as it looks to avoid the same financial failings that have crippled the likes of Portsmouth and Rangers in recent years.

“The only challenge the game faces at our club and in the local area over the next five years is to stay afloat. The current climate has seen sponsors stop sponsoring and people stop socialising.”

King is urging that off the field, everyone involved with the club will need to keep pulling in the same direction, giving up their time for free, in order to keep the Arlesey FC stable, which he is proud to admit the club currently is.

And with great facilities, a forward thinking management team and a youth system that consistently produces players capable of playing league football, the future looks bright for Arlesey Town FC.

 

 

Dinas Powys RFC

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From a region of South Wales with a population of less than 9,000 comes a small time rugby club that has played an integral role in its community for over 130 years.

Legend has it that young farm workers challenged a group of bricklayers to a game, and thus history was made.

“Dinas Powys RFC was founded in 1882 and has played rugby on the Common since this time. Only a few games would have been played in the early years as the sheep and cattle grazing on the Common would have had first rights to the area!”

Hywel Jones tells Rugby Club about this historic club.

“In the early years it is likely that players changed in one of the Inns in the village and then walked to the Common to play the matches. In these early days the posts had to be erected and removed before and after matches and the players were responsible for purchasing their kit and the match
ball.”

Thankfully for Dinas Powys, stray cattle and remembering the goal posts before each game are no longer the issue. Finance and facilities are now the concerns on Hywel Jones’ mind as he strives to keep this club in existence.

“The fortunes of the next season are determined in the close season. The club has to complete its accounts, elect officers and committee that will appoint coaches.

“Finance will always be a problem as the WRU diverts money away from smaller clubs to the regions,
and continues to undermine the grassroots clubs by selling superior international tickets through Ticketmaster than they supply to their member clubs.

“The challenge is survival, as fewer youngsters continue to play sport.”

The youngsters currently at the club, despite lacking in numbers, are not lacking in talent. Dinas Powys under 8’s reached the final of this year’s regional youth tournament in Carleon, and the older youth players are starting to make the breakthrough into professional rugby.

“Youth rugby and the mini rugby section is flourishing and is the production line for future senior players for the club. These sections are therefore very important to the club.

“The youth side had a strong showing and the hope and anticipation is that players from this team will progress to the senior side. The top try scorer for the 1st XV last year Adam Williams, with 24 tries has been asked to train with Cardiff RFC, following the footsteps of Matthew Hadley, Owen Golding and Ian Eidman.”

The club currently shares its Common home with the local cricket and football sides, but is in need of some modernisation.

“The need to maintain and improve facilities is always a challenge, as unlike many other clubs the local authority provides no support in this area.

“However the stunning views and historic location are commented upon by almost
all visiting supporters.”

On his wishes for the future of Welsh rugby, Jones concluded: “Survival, advancement and a return to more localised leagues are needed to promote more local awareness and interest.”

 

 

Dewsbury Moor ARLFC

Situated in the idyllic West Yorkshire countryside lies Dewsbury Moor ARLFC, a dedicated youth set up that focuses exclusively on young players.

Rugby had been played at Dewsbury Moor for over half a century, but for a number of years it was allowed to lapse. This was until over a convivial drink at a local public house it was decided a side should be entered into a local novice’s competition to try and develop new teams at the club.

The year was 1968, and that resurrected side reached the final of the Dewsbury and Batley League. Following this early success a committee was established to help run the club, with the landlord of the local pub where the initial plans were put in place becoming Chairman.

The club struggled through its inaugural years but two years after its rebirth and Dewsbury found its first home at an old mill house. With materials and tools that were begged for, borrowed and occasionally appeared from nowhere, changing rooms were erected which enabled the signing of a full squad of Yorkshire Schools Cup Winners from the local high school.

In 1972 the club purchased an abandoned ice cream factory as it sought a new home ground, and through funds raised from paper collections and organised dances it was converted into a relatively modern and homely facility. Funds were also gained through the selling of two pigs!

More youth sides were added as interest in Dewsbury grew through the early 70’s, and ‘The Moor’ became the first northern side to play a southern team as they were drawn against Ealing in a national cup competition.

Since 1977, the club has gone from strength to strength. In the early 80’sthe club embarked on the construction of a large new extension to the club facilities to include a lounge extension, fully equipped gymnasium, sauna and revamping of the shower area.

However, The Moor almost disbanded as the local council decided to reclaim the land Dewsbury played on to create extra landfill capacity in the area. With ten teams in operation and after such dedication and hard work to create a flourishing club this was almost a terminal disaster for the club.

Through much negotiating with a local housing project, new fields were acquired and these remain Dewsbury’s home to date.

An interest free loan from Wards Brewery of Sheffield helped fund a seeding project to get the fields up to playing standard. With the completion of the pitches, the club was in the enviable position of owning three rugby pitches, it’s own club house and parking facilities, making Dewsbury Moor Rugby League Club, one of the few clubs in Rugby league to be totally self sufficient. And by 1996 the club was ready to embark on its next rugby campaign.

This remarkable small rugby club, inspired by a conversation and an idea in over a pint, has fought through no funding and numerous changes in venue but is finally reaping its rewards. Running sides from U12’s through the U18’s, this typically plucky Yorkshire club has a lot to be proud of. Here’s hoping their success continues throughout the following seasons.

Clwb Rygbi Cymry Llundain

London_Welsh50

London Welsh RFC are the new boys in the Aviva Premiership, having gained promotion from the RFU Championship following a successful appeal.

Following The Exiles entering administration in 2009 and an attempted ground share with Crystal Palace failed it was deemed that the London Welsh were not a suitable outfit to play in Rugby Unions top flight.

However, following a successful appeal and agreement from the relegated Newcastle Falcons it was agreed that their Kassam Stadium home did match up to league standards.

But the rise to the top of the English game has been a tough adjustment for The Exiles. Losing streaks followed a promising start, and for captain Jonathan Mills the honeymoon period is well and truly over.

He told the London Welsh official website, www.london-welsh.co.uk: “The honeymoon period is over for everyone. Now we’re really going to see just how good every side is in the Aviva Premiership.

Mills continued: “With the weather beginning to close in there’s going to be a lot of dog fights, but we’re up for those matches. If anything it might suit us given the way we’ve played a few times this season and help us get a few more wins, rather than just bonus points.

“The way the games have been going recently in the Premiership they’ve been very tight, so for us it’s just about making sure we end up on the right side of the result, like we did against Exeter.

“However, if you’d offered me ten points after six games at the start of the season, I’d have bitten your hand off.”

“We’re going out to win every game – we’re not looking for bonus points we’re looking to win games. If we take care of our own performance and put right the errors of the last few games we won’t be too far away,” said Mills.

But the London Welsh are a side with great pedigree and boasts a history of producing some of the greatest players to play Rugby Union in this country.

Since the clubs foundation in 1885, some 177 players have graduated to the Wales national team and 43 players made the honorable stop up to the British and Irish Lions squad. Seven London Welsh players were selected for the 1971 tour to New Zealand (a Lions record which remains unbroken to this day), including the tours captain John Dawes (now London Welsh president), JPR Williams, Gerald Davies, Mervyn Davies, John Taylor (now Managing Director and ITV commentator), Mike Roberts and Geoff Evans.

The club, based in Oxford, also boasts one of the longest standing women’s sides in the game. LWWRFC have been a recognized member of the women’s league for over 27 years and are still a largely amateur side. There are London Welsh Women representatives at England Regional Level and on the Wales National Touch team. There is also a popular Mini & Junior Section at the club.

This is a club that prides itself on its family atmosphere and amateur routes, and whilst The London Welsh may be struggling so far this season, but there is plenty of time for this historic side to become a true household name in the manor house of Rugby Union.

Fleetwood: The home of Freddie Flintoff

England v Australia - npower 5th Ashes Test: Day One

From the depths of the Northern Premier Cricket League came one of England’s biggest stars. Andrew ‘Freddy’ Flintoff once played for St Anne’s In Lancashire, but their neighbours and rivals believe they themselves are well on their way to finding the next ‘Freddy’.

Fleetwood Cricket Club is currently top of the NPCL, and Vice Chairman Derek Foulkes explains why he is hopeful ‘that such a player will rise up from Fleetwood.’

“Junior cricket is vital part of our club with close to 100 members. The young player of today is tomorrow’s senior star. We have a U11 side plus two U 13’s, one U 15 and a Sunday Colts side.

“We have a number of first team players who are in the present league representative side. Dean Bell also plays for his university side. Our overseas amateur went on to play for Derbyshire.

“We have a senior lady member who plays in both third and second team. Also, Caroline Blundell
represented Lancashire from 2008-2011.”

Fleetwood are keen to make a mark in its community, but Faulkes also recognises the need to utilize the clubs facilities in order to keep the side in existence.

“FCC is very much a community club. We have close links with all the schools in the town.  None of them have a cricket pitch so we allow them to use our facilities. Most of our juniors come from that catchment area.

“We are an all year round club. We have squash courts with all year round leagues, very active snooker and dart teams. However our main source of commercial income comes from the hiring out of our function room for private parties.

“Credit must go to our newly formed and very active cricket committee. They encourage the right mix at nets, and help with junior coaching and hold social events that bring parents along. Juniors are also selected for the third and fourth teams. Some on their ability have even progressed to the second team.

“This season in particular there is a real sense of ownership within the senior players that has spread down through the club. The players are more professional, very keen and demonstrate the right attitude. Cricket force weekend was the best attended to date and the results so far this season back all this up.”

On his hopes for the future of Fleetwood Cricket Club, Foulkes concluded: “Keeping the club fresh and vibrant to attract both new and old players is important. To be able to meet the ever increasing financial resources needed to run a successful cricket club.

“To sustain and grow and produce future Freddie’s!”

High Wycombe Cricket Club: ‘Many teams, one sport. One Club.’

161074_HWCC 2009 002

Nearly 26 years ago Cricket Club magazine published an article about High Wycombe Cricket Club. Over two decades later it is refreshing to discover that the club is still going from strength to strength.

The Buckinghamshire side are currently unbeaten in the Home Counties Premier Cricket League and sit top of the table. But the success of this club starts in its highly successful club house, and with its youth teams.

Club secretary Gavin Elliot told us: “In youth we mean boys and girls who are the lifeblood of the club. We have 150 boys and 30 girls which is forever expanding.

“We start off with dress code. All players, be it junior boys, girls, ladies & seniors have the same training kit and playing shirt so that they all have the same identity.

“Many teams, one sport, one club.

“More recently James Benning came through the ranks here and went onto play professional cricket at Surrey & Leicestershire and has now returned to play in our current 1st XI. There are a number of juniors who we have high hopes  and with our U13s winning the National Club Championship last year there’s a good chance that there will be more to come in the future.”

The club has also made the most of its facilities, boasting an array of money making outlets within its clubhouse.

“Our turnover continues to increase even in these poor economic times and we have for the past 10 years focused on our commercial side as much as the playing side.

“Our upstairs function room, The Balcony Suite is booked out most Saturday’s throughout the year and during the working week, and our member’s bar downstairs, The Richard Morgan Bar is open 365 days a year. Turnover to March 2012 for the club was £500k.

“Last season we were voted the top club for overall facilities in the Home Counties Premier League and we expect the same again. We set very high standards on and off the field at the club and as such have seen an increase in turnover year on year. The ground and wickets continue to be
as good as anyone and maintained expertly by our groundsman Robin Baker.”

But this is not a cricket club that has lost sight of its important role in its community, and is making strides to reach out to those who are interested in the sport.

“Our Director of Cricket, former Glamorgan & Sussex pro Keith Newell is going into local schools including 3 special needs schools which is part of our programme to run Disabled Cricket.

“Our Ladies and Girls teams are in their second season and membership on this side is increasing at a
faster rate than the men’s side. Only last week we held a Kwik Cricket tournament for secondary schools and had over 80 girls here playing competitive cricket for the most part the first time.”

Asked what his hopes for the future of High Wycombe Cricket are, Elliott concluded: “To have a 3rd ground, Ladies playing in the Premier Women’s Leagues and development of the girls & disabled sections. Success throughout the teams, winning leagues at all levels but most importantly to continue our high standards and commitment to cricket overall.”

Morley Cricket Club

The West Yorkshire club has had an eventful summer, having welcomed the Olympic Torch to its ground as well as finding new sponsorships in order to help fund its ambition to gain promotion this season.

Morley Cricket Club’s Chairman, Simon Barraclough, tells us about the developments at his club.

“A big promotion push on this year and if we achieve our target and go up to division 1 then we will have further challenges to come to compete with the ‘big boys’ who spend three or four times as much as us. That isn’t a viable option for us what we will do is try and attract new sponsors and juggle with what finances we have available to try and strengthen to makes us competitive.

“Massive effort over the winter from Commercial Manager Dave Nebard has meant income from commercial sponsorship has increased by 300%. We hold an annual sponsors day for them, produce a monthly newsletter and try and put in place a genuine partnership with these sponsors.

“We have new shirt sponsors Fenton Packaging who have also sponsored our covers, new entrance boards sponsored by letting agents Onwards & Upwards and new junior shirt sponsors in Chargeback Claims.

“Similar to the football Premiership, we can’t compete with the big boys financially and wouldn’t do that and jeopardise the long term future of the club. What we do have though is a tremendous team spirit and that can be an important factor to take us forward, ‘Oooh Morley Morley’ being a familiar chant from the dressing room.”

One way in which Morley CC is trying to stay competitive on limited funding is through the development of their youth players. The clubs U17’s side are the reigning Heavy Woollen Junior Cricket League Champions following on from the league and cup double as U15’s in 2010.

“Paying out extortionate playing fees to seniors is a thing of the past and at Morley CC we are very committed to developing our juniors through to our senior teams.

“We had seventeen of the junior players playing representative cricket last season. James McNichol is 17 and opens the batting for our first team and is on the Yorkshire Academy books. He is a big talent and a level headed lad who we are hoping can go on to fulfil his potential and become Morley’s first home grown county player in years.

“Similarly, Ben Jenkinson has just been called up into the Yorkshire U15s squad and Phoebe Austin represents Yorkshire Women’s U15’s. All three of these have been at the club since an early age.”
Last season saw the junior section host a series of matches against the touring Dubai Desert Cubs, an event that gave the club great exposure and an enhanced profile.

“Following up on this, Andy Jenkinson, one of our age group coaches organised a ground breaking Under14 tour to Australia to visit our sister club, Morley CC in Perth, Australia. A squad of 14 plus coaches and parents spent 2 weeks over there playing 5 or 6 matches against local opposition.”

One thing Barraclough seems very proud of is the clubs game day refreshments. “Our match day teas and speciality cupcakes are genuinely regarded as some of the best match day’s teas out there.”

“Last but certainly not least, the club is indebted to that small but increasingly enthusiastic bunch of volunteers, without which the club wouldn’t exist.”

 

 

Swansea City

In 2003 Swansea City were almost relegated to the Conference. A decade later and the Swans are one of the Premier Leagues most impressive sides.

Beginning life back in 1912, the Welsh club played for many years in the lower leagues of English football, having been inducted into the leagues in the 1920’s. During the early years they reached a high of 6th in the original 1st Division, before a period of decline until the turn of the 21st century.

It was during the 1980’s that Swansea reached arguably the lowest point in its history. A meteoric rise through the leagues was matched only by Swansea’s equally as impressive fall from grace as, under the leadership of John Toshack, the club suffered two consecutive relegations. By 1985 the Swans were fighting a war on two fronts – survival in the old Third Division and a fight for the clubs very survival due its poor finances. High Court hearings and the threat of liquidation did little to help the side’s league form; as a team made up of old pros that were a long way over the hill, combined with youth players could do little as they suffered relegation.

Swansea’s finances were eventually secured by local businessman Doug Sharp, but eight years of promotions and progress under Toshack had been undone as the Welshmen found themselves back where they had started in the Fourth Division.

Two decades of strife and trouble followed as the club ailed to find its feet once again, and a series of unsuccessful promotions followed by relegation followed, as well as a host of managers.

However, the clubs rise to fame began in 2005 after a move to the Liberty Stadium, marking a modern approach for the club as it began to challenge for promotion from League One. Roberto Martinez took charge a year later and it took the Spaniard just two seasons to push the Swans to the league title, amassing 92 points along the way which included an 18-match unbeaten streak. Since then they are yet to look back upon their former troubles.

Swansea made an impressive start to life back in the second tier of English football, finishing eighth in 2009, which pushed the club on the following season as they finished third in the table. The Swans firmly asserted their authority over the two play-off games, beating Nottingham Forest 3-1 in the semi’s before a thrilling 4-2 triumph over Reading in the final at Wembley. A hat-trick from winger Scott Sinclair the highlight of a campaign in which Brendan Rodgers men, who had only recently replaced Martinez who left for Wigan, began to show some of the attacking flair that would impress so many the following seasons in the Premier League.

And becoming the first Welsh side to ever play in the top division did little to stifle the fluent and progressive football shown in the lower divisions. The men in white climbed to 11th in the table following high profile victories against Arsenal, Liverpool and eventual league Champions Manchester City at the Liberty Stadium.

However, many thought that Rodgers departure to Liverpool during the summer, in concordance with the so called ‘second season syndrome’ may tip Swansea for the drop. Thankfully for Swans fans this does not appear to be the case. Under the leadership of Danish legend Michael Laudrup Swansea has once again evolved into a progressive and possession oriented outfit.

Laudrup’s legendary status in the game has enabled him to pull of major transfer coups in the form of Pablo Hernandez from Valencia, as well as Jonathan De Guzman and Michu: the latter in particular impressing this season having scored 13 league goals at the turn of the year. At the time of writing they sit ninth in the table, just a handful of points behind Liverpool and a shot at Europe.

An expansive footballing style matched with their all white home kit, Swansea have been cited as the league’s very own ‘mini Real Madrid’, whilst also being referred to as ‘Swansealona’ in reference to a style of play not too dissimilar to that of Spanish giants Barcelona.

But it is not just the football that has earned this Welsh side so many plaudits. The Swansea City Supporters Society owns 20% of the club, with their involvement hailed by Supporters Direct as “the most high profile example of the involvement of a Supporters Trust in the direct running of a club”.

A prime example of secure financial running of a club over the past decade, combined with a legendary manager and ardent fans should ensure that this is one club that should maintain its place in England’s top flight for many years to come. A few more shrewd signings from Laudrup in the summer could also see Swansea City pushing for Europe and Cup success over the following seasons.

 

Leeds Rhinos

Source - sportinglife.aol.co.uk

Source – sportinglife.aol.co.uk

Current Super League champions Leeds Rhinos have struggled to find the same form that saw them marked as the most successful rugby league club is Super League history last term.

Currently sitting fourth in the table with only a handful of fixtures to play, the Rhinos find themselves eight points behind leaders Wigan as this year’s season runs into its final sprint for points.

But the Yorkshire club have hit form at the right time of the season, recently clocking a 68-24 victory over the Widnes Vikings, meaning that a result against the Catalan Dragons would secure their place in the Play-offs.

But an injury to Danny McGuire against the Vikings has head coach Brian McDermott fearing the scrumhalf could miss the Carnegie Challenge Cup final against high flying Warrington at Wembley on the 25th of August.

“It could be just a bang or it could be a big one – a twist and maybe ligament damage, so it is concerning,” McDermott told the BBC.

“My heart goes out to him if it is ligaments, but we hope it is just sore.

“We will leave it until the 11th hour because of what he means to us. We got a few bumps and bruises out there. “

Leeds reached the final of the Challenge Cup with an enthralling victory against rivals Wigan, booking their third successive appearance in the final with a 39-28 triumph.

Braces from Hall, Hardaker, Jones Bishop and a further try from Bailey were enough to mark revenge against the team that took the spoils in last year’s showpiece clash.

The Rhinos will be hoping to break something of a jinx which has seen them without a trophy in the tournament since 1999, despite their frequent appearances in the final.

Post game, McDermott told the BBC: “Wigan were white hot the last time we played and I don’t think they were far off today.

“They kept coming at us and, if our pack hadn’t been as tough as they were, we wouldn’t have got the job done.

“I also thought Danny McGuire was outstanding. They came at him but he was sensational defensively and kept probing away.”

Wigan head coach Shaun Wane said: “We didn’t turn up today. We’ve defended all year better than that. But take nothing away from Leeds. They wanted it more which to me is gutting. They’ve some real warriors in their team.”

And despite their lacking league form, Leeds have already made history this year by becoming the first Super League side to win the World Club Cup since they themselves won the title in 2008, claiming a 14 point victory over the NRL champions Manly Sea Eagles.

Tries from Watkins, Jones-Bishop, Ablett and a double from Hall ensured the Rhinos secured their third trophy in the competition since 2005.

“We did it the tough way and I don’t think we’d want it any other way. It was an old-fashioned game of rugby league.” McDermott told the BBC website, www.BBC.co.uk.

“We looked scruffy at times but we were brave and courageous. There was a period in the second half when we were gone.

“I wouldn’t say we were at our most vintage offensively, but you deserve to win World Club Challenges when you defend like that. It came down to how much the fellas were prepared to bend their backs.”

And with a place in the Play-offs all but secured, a showpiece final at Wembley later this month whilst having already won the World Club Cup, Leeds look set to once again prove their dominance of the Rugby League game in this country, if not the world.