Friday, 30 January 2009

Mind Games?

Last Saturday Bitton AFC beat Radstock Town 3-0 in a League game, all the goals scored in the second half. In the crowd was the Glossop North End manager Steve Young. His side's game that day against St Helens Town had fallen victim to the High Peaks inclement weather, and he took the opportunity to cast an eye over his FA Vase opposition. I was mildly surprised to hear what he had to say following his visit. He explained "I was happy with what I saw on the day" and went on to say that "We will cause them more problems than they will cause us". He said that he had seen nothing about Bitton to worry him and was confident that Glossop would win the tie.

Call me on old cynic, but that's a pretty brave statement. I cannot claim to know much about Steve Young, other than the fact he took over at Glossop at the start of the 2007-08 season and had a relatively successful first season in charge of the Derbyshire club, finishing seventh in the North West Counties Premier League. There are a number of ways his words could be construed. One: he really is extremely confident and he knows his players well enough to genuinely believe that there was nothing he saw at Bitton that unduly concerns him. Two: he is naive. Three: he is playing mind games.

Young has every reason to be confident. His side are currently fourth in the League having lost only 5 games in 21. They have had an excellent FA Vase campaign already this season, having eliminated Sporting Khalsa (5-0), Calverton Miners Welfare (4-1 away), New Mills (also 4-1 away), Biddulph Victoria (4-0), Winterton Rangers (2-1) and Stewarts & Lloyds Corby in the last round (2-1). 21 goals in 6 FA Vase ties are enough to inspire confidence in any manager. But Bitton are also riding high in their own League (3 points off top spot with 6 games in hand) and have had an impressive FA Vase run, as previously reported on this blog. But where does the boundary lie between extreme confidence and naivety?

Naive managers don't last long in football and in a League as competitive as the North West Counties Premier Division, that sort of character trait would not be tolerated by boards and fans alike. Naive managers simply have no place to hide. Young will know it is difficult to fully assess a team on the back of only one viewing. A 3-0 scoreline suggested a comfortable result for Bitton last Saturday. Maybe the Gloucestershire club had the luxury of being able to take their collective feet off the gas? Maybe Bitton had players out injured or rested and their strongest team was not on show?

Cometh the day, cometh the man, and it could all be very different on February 7th. Teams can raise their game to an almost unrecognisable level for Cup encounters, as if we need reminding. In last season's FA Cup, just think of Chasetown, Horsham, Staines Town, Havant & Waterlooville, Oldham and Barnsley. Against Radstok Town, Bitton had a crowd of 108. Expect triple that for the Glossop tie and a bigger crowd could influence proceedings. The pitch could play its part if there is rain before the tie. 'The Hillmen' will be making their long journey down from Derbyshire on the day, with no overnight stay the day before, and the journey could take its toll. Glossop could quite simply have an off day. It happens. Young will know all of these things and I hold no truck with the naivety explanation.

So mind games perhaps? If that really is the case, it's an awfully dangerous game to play. The national press love to report on the mind games of the Premier League managers. The comments of Ferguson, Mourinho and Scolari, Wenger and most recently Benitez are scrutinised, dissected, butchered and quartered to the nth degree. And the managers know this and use it to their advantage so much so that it has become a part of the job description. Mind games employed by the masters can wield amazing effect; the classic Keegan rant being probably the most famous.

But these kind of mind games can often backfire. The Bitton AFC manager will no doubt be letting his players know exactly what the opposition thinks about them. This could spur the team on and the comments could fuel Bitton with even more of an incentive to win the game. Comments pinned on dressing room walls can really galvanise a team and focus the mind, particularly if those comments are less than favourable.

The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding and we have to wait just over a week before we get to see the players on the pitch do the talking. Both Bitton and Glossop are at a similar level and my own view is that there will be little between them on the day. It was Wednesday when I heard Young's confident claims, but today it's a slightly different tone for the Glossop gaffer. Young is now quoted as saying “We’re going to have to be at our best to beat them, put it that way, because they’re a tidy outfit". More mind games or realisation that his midweek comments needed diluting?

In the meantime, the Bitton boss Andy Black remains quiet. When it comes to games of the mind, it is perhaps Black's silence that speaks volumes.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Bitton, Glossop and Mumbai

I saw a good film this week, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ the acclaimed flick from director Danny Boyle. It is set in Mumbai and is the story of how an 18 year old orphan from the slums is only one question away from winning the top prize on the Indian version of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’. It really is a great watch, and the main thrust of the story is all about fate. Or Destiny. Or to use a line from the film: some things are "just meant to be". If you already haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

I’m not sure if I have ever believed in fate, that your life is already mapped out for you. I think I would like to believe, if only for the reason that it has a fanciful appeal that mocks any sort of logical explanation. But a couple of things have happened recently that have made me think twice. This time last week I did a short post ahead of the FA Vase game between Bitton AFC and Cogenhoe United. In that piece I wrote about my home town, Glossop, and mentioned their tie with Stewarts & Lloyds Corby. I was prompted to bring that up because I had seen that the FA Vase had been in Glossop ahead of their game.

Roll forward one week, and it’s been quite an exciting few days. On the Saturday, Bitton edged out Cogenhoe 2-1, whilst Glossop North End overcame their Northamptonshire opponents by the same score, but in a far more dramatic fashion. Glossop’s winner arrived deep into injury time to the delight of a packed Surrey Street. There is an excellent write-up of that game here from 'Sticky Palms'.

The draw for the Fifth Round Proper (down to the last 8 ties now) produced its own little bit of magic for me; Bitton AFC was pulled out of the hat with a home tie against...Glossop North End! Fate? To say I am excited about the draw is a bit of an understatement. I’m fit to burst and I have thought of little else all week.

And then news later in the week that the FA are taking the Vase on its countrywide tour to Bitton on the day of the game (7th February) and it will be on display in the Bitton clubhouse prior to the match. This is unusual, as the Vase is normally on view to the public in the weekdays preceding the tie. Ordinarily, I would not therefore have seen it, so the fact that the Vase will be at Bitton on the matchday is a real bonus. This will add a touch of luster to what promises to be quite a special day.

Last week I explained how the FA Vase gets very little mention in the media. As if to prove me wrong, we got back from Gloucestershire last Saturday to see the Sky Sports News banner scrolling across the bottom of POSH Mate's TV screen with all the FA Vase scores, including the results from Bitton and Glossop. Shows what I know. But then, quite bizarrely, that same evening, the FA website declared that the game at Glossop had been postponed and did so again in a report on some of the other Fourth Round ties the following day. Beggars belief really, but don’t get me started on the FA.

As for another big media institution, the BBC, well… I think someone in their football office has been reading my blog. Late last Friday they published a mini news item about the exact two games I featured on my blog that same day and the words “chase FA Vase” appear in the title of their piece. Coincidence? Do you think I should sue?

Anyway, back to Bitton AFC v Glossop. What a great draw. Bitton are thrilled with another home tie, and both sides know that there are no easy games left. The Glossop fans are engrossed in the competition and, although this presents a round trip of 370 miles, plans are already underway for booking and filling coaches, note the plural. First impressions suggest that the away support could reach triple figures and Bitton will also attract a good home crowd, with the visit of the Vase providing even more of a pull.

I really can’t wait for this Fifth Round game, the countdown has begun. In the meantime, I’ll be twiddling my thumbs and passing the time with other matches (including my son's debut for Chertsey Town Juniors this Sunday) and no doubt the odd movie or two. There seems to be a number of good films on general release at the moment, I can't decide what to see next; I might even go and watch ‘Slumdog’ again. I know - I'll let fate decide.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Game 7: Bitton AFC 2, Cogenhoe United 1

Fourth Round Proper ~ Saturday 17th January 2009
Venue: The Recreation Ground, Bitton, Gloucestershire
Attendance: 230

Distance travelled: 218 miles

I doubt if there are many match reports you will read that include the words “beetroot”, “purple” and “wee” in the first sentence, but did you know that if you eat lots of beetroot it turns your wee purple? This was one of several bizarre topics of conversation yesterday, as we sat in The Upton Inn at Upton Cheyney ahead of this game. POSH Mate was responsible for this trivial gem, and I still do not know if it is one of his wind-ups. PB and Mackem corroborated the story, so I guess it must hold some credence. This is part and parcel of what I have revelled in this season; travelling to places I’ve never been to before, new grounds to tick off, excellent company, entertaining football and quality, provocative conversation. A grand day out, Gromit.

We had travelled down the M4 early on Saturday to give us time to grab a leisurely bite to eat in preparation for this Fourth Round Proper tie. En route here had been some discussion about the weather. From Surrey to Gloucestershire it had been gloriously sunny. However, heavy rain and strong winds were forecast for the Bristol area, which had already seen some rain falling the previous day and night. The concern was at what point in the afternoon would the rain actually arrive and the prospect of abandonment was not far from my mind. I was later to hear, from the Cogenhoe United Chairman Derek Wright, that an FA Vase game only a few miles away (Larkhall Athletic v Dereham Town) had been postponed because of a flooded pitch. This didn’t bode well, and it felt as if we were enjoying a lull with an ugly storm hiding just around the corner.

Overall, the game was an entertaining one. It didn’t start too well, but like a good wine it improved with age. The sloping pitch had a huge part to play in the proceedings, and a combination of heavy frost followed by rain in recent weeks had taken its toll on The Recreation Ground’s surface. It reminded me somewhat of the infamously sandy pitch at Derby’s Baseball Ground back in the 70s. In the middle third, the pitch was heavy and shredded. The only decent patches of green were out wide on the flanks, and neither team made use of these areas in the first half. Play in the first 45 minutes was sucked into the boggy centre and the result was stodgy football. In the second half, both teams exploited the space (coincidently down their own right-hand sides) and the game improved significantly.

Both teams were certainly up for this game, and the opening exchanges were typified with some strong, uncompromising tackles. Here were two teams who were physical, tall and well matched. Even if the quality of football was at times lacking, it still provided an enthralling spectacle; the proximity of fans to players ensured that every crunch was felt, every curse heard and every nudge, hold and pull blindingly obvious. The reasonably sized crowd (230) had to wait almost 10 minutes for the first action of note when a Cogenhoe effort forced a blocked save from John Rendell in the Bitton goal.

Despite the conditions, both sides tried to move the ball around and credit should be given. On 13 minutes, a well-worked one-two on the edge of the visitor’s area resulted in a shot at goal from Bitton’s Mike Meaker and a minute later Cogenhoe’s Phil Cassidy sent in a dipping effort from range that kept Rendell on his toes. In the first half, with Bitton kicking down the slope but into the ever-increasing wind, Rendell struggled to get any distance on his kicks. Cogenhoe profited with a little more possession around their hosts area, but this came to little; two Cogenhoe free-kicks on 20 and 26 minutes were wasted.

Bitton slowly got into the game and used the slope to their advantage. The home side won three corners in quick succession, all resulting in half-chances that were headed over, twice for the tall Bitton centre-half Steve Jones who provided some danger at set pieces. On 40 minutes, Meaker had another chance when he turned his defender well only for Watts to smother. Right on the stroke of half-time, there were two great chances to open the scoring, both from Bitton. Mark Reynolds’ rising shot was wonderfully turned around by Watts and only moments later Guy Cocks pulled a shot wide when it seemed easier to hit the target. Half-time, 0-0.

If the first half was a rather heavy pudding of a game, the second half was the velvety chocolate sauce that makes the whole thing palatable. I’m sure both sides were briefed over their oranges to exploit the width of the pitch; both did, and we were treated to a good second period. Bitton were now attacking up the slope but with an increasingly cold wind at their backs and the red and white striped home side enjoyed more of the ball.

Bitton drew first blood on 53 minutes. The ball was worked out to the right at which point a local in the crowd, with his strong Bristol accent, implored a decent cross. On cue, an excellent ball was delivered in at pace and was met by Reynolds whose glanced header nestled into the bottom right-hand corner of the Cogenhoe goal.

Along with the change in tactics from both sides, a goal so early in the second half helped open the game. Cogenhoe United's response was pretty immediate and breaking downhill Cassidy once again shot from range and the follow-up was cleared as it arrowed goal bound. On 56 minutes, the visitors from Northamptonshire drew level when the home side failed to clear and Darren Frost prodded home from close range.

From then on, the tie was balanced on a knife-edge and could have gone either way. Bitton pressed the game more whereas Cogenhoe United resorted to hitting Bitton on the break. On 64 minutes Bitton missed what can only be described as a sitter; Matt Tilley found himself only yards out with the goal at his mercy but somehow construed to head the ball inches wide.

Bitton slowly turned the screw and managed to exploit space behind the Cogenhoe back four. A great free-kick from Bitton’s new signing, defender Rob Scott, flashed just wide after 69 minutes and seconds later Scott then saw his long range effort sail just over the crossbar. Cogenhoe chipped in with a couple of fruitless long range efforts but with the clock ticking down a draw and extra-time seemed the most likely option. The home team, although by now controlling the game, were getting visibly frustrated with the number of offside decisions against them and with Cogenhoe still prepared to break in numbers, Bitton were playing a precarious high line.

Bitton scored the winner on 82 minutes. Another good cross from the right paid dividends and the ball took a deflection to the far post where the young 18 year old substitute, Jack Welling, happily netted from a few yards out. The loud cheer from the home crowd could no doubt be heard as far as Bath, but evidently not as far as the clubhouse bathroom which is where POSH Mate was at the time; he was oblivious to events and returned to join us muttering something about extra-time and purple wee.

Within a minute of the goal, it seemed that the Cogenhoe goalkeeper Darren Watts would be sent off for handling outside the area, after he stumbled clumsily into a long ball. The referee showed a degree of leniency and brandished only a yellow card. From the free-kick, another cracking, thunderous strike from Scott drew yet another wonderful save from Watts.

Time was up for Cogenhoe United; as the dying minutes came and went, they had a couple of half-chances with their captain Neil Champleovier urging them on for a late equaliser. This never came and the final whistle was met with scenes of joy from one set of players and disappointment from the other.

Once again, a good FA Vase game to add to the memory bank. The Recreation Ground is situated at one end of the village of Bitton, and is set in a large amount of open space owned by the club and used as pitches for training and matches for other Bitton teams (including a ladies team). The game ended dry; the forecasted rain never materialised and as we left we were treated to a good view of the Cotswolds Escarpment to the east. As Bitton marched off the pitch and into the Fifth Round of the FA Vase for the first time in their history, Cogenhoe had only a depressingly long journey back home mindful of the fact that this is their fourth unsuccessful attempt to get beyond this stage of the competition. I wish Cogenhoe United all the best for the remainder of their season.

Now, it’s a case of waiting to see where Bitton AFC will be off to in the next round. In the meantime I have time to test out a theory which involves a bucket of beetroot, a colour chart and several trips to the loo.

For more of my photos from the game, please click [here].
Thanks to Sports Photographer Neil Brookman for his photos [here].

Friday, 16 January 2009

Whisper It Quietly

I was born in Glossop, Derbyshire. Many people think that I come from Yorkshire or my accent defines me as a Lancastrian or a Mancunian, even friends who have known me for years. Glossop is a small market town, tucked away on the edge of the High Peak in the Derbyshire Dales. With a history defined by the woollen and cotton industries, there remains evidence of its past; as you drive down off the Peak on the Snake Pass from Buxton and Sheffield, it is the large old mills that still frame the town and provides clues to its origins. Generations of my family have grown up in Glossop, and although I only spent a few years of my early life there, I harbour an unexplained affinity for the place.

The FA Vase went to Glossop this week. The trophy travels the country as part of the FA's media campaign to promote the competition, and it was on show at the town's football club ahead of their Fourth Round tie tomorrow. Glossop North End FC has a rich history; they are former members of the Football League (1898 to 1915) and have reached the Quarter-Finals of the FA Cup (1909). At the time the club's chairman and benefactor was Sir Samuel Hill-Wood who would eventually become chairman of Arsenal. You may recognise the family name and its present day association with the famous North London club.

For Glossop, the arrival of the trophy heightened the levels of excitement surrounding tomorrow's match and has shone the spotlight, for a short while, on the old mill town. Glossop North End welcomes Stewarts & Lloyds Corby to their Surrey Street ground and the club is confident of progressing further in the competition. I'm sure that their Northamptonshire visitors will have a say and will be fuelled by their own, comparable, hopes and expectations.

And that goes for each and every club still in the competition. Up and down the country tomorrow, 32 non League teams will be battling it out on their quest to take one step closer to Wembley. Not that it has made headline news mind. The FA Vase rarely pricks the national conscience, certainly not until the Semis or the Final, and even then a paragraph or two deep within the sports pages is just about all the coverage that the competition gets. Big games for small clubs, and while the football media will be honing in on the events at the Premier League grounds of Stamford Bridge, the KC Stadium and the Reebok, and on Kaka's 'will he, won't he' drama, there will be plenty of grassroots FA Vase tension and excitement in small communities across the land, from Bideford to Bootle and Coalville to Christchurch.

Whilst Stewarts & Lloyds Corby will be flying the Northamptonshire flag up in my town of birth, my current FA Vase team, Cogenhoe Untied, also from Northamptonshire, will be doing likewise in a small village just outside Bristol. Bitton awaits and I'm really looking forward to it. I am reliably informed that the locals are well and truly up for the game. A large crowd is expected at The Recreation Ground and I am told that supporters from some of the bigger local teams are passing up going to watch their own team in favour of coming along to support Bitton. This really is the business end of the competition; four more wins (including a two-legged Semi-Final) and the doors to Wembley open. The prize money on offer for winners of this round is £1,500 and pouring that amount of money into the club coffers will put a smile on many a chairman's face. As Saturday afternoon fades into Saturday evening, there will be joy and celebration for many, but heartache for others.

Neither Bitton AFC nor Cogenhoe United have played many games of late, what with the British weather having its say. Bitton's last League game was on Boxing Day, but they have managed to fit in a Gloucestershire County Cup game this week (a 3-0 win at Harrow Hill) which has given the team a well-needed run out. Likewise, Cogenhoe's last League game was at the end of December and they arranged a friendly midweek as preparation, a 0-0 home draw with Rushden & Higham. Although you may not read it on the back pages of the nationals, nor will it get a mention on BBC, SKY or Setanta, mark my words; this competition means a lot to these clubs and preparations have been meticulous. The Cup tie in South Gloucestershire promises to be a mouth-watering affair.

A source at Bitton explained this to me this week:

"The club directors and fans are seeing this game as possibly the biggest in the club's short history".

I'm sure this sentiment is echoed around the country, but please whisper it quietly. This can be our own little secret.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Bashley are better than Manchester United

Back into the old routine this week, memories of the festive holidays fading fast and the New Year already a few days old. Easter Eggs are already on the shelves and we are counting the number of shopping days until Christmas. Back to work with a thud and a cold.

Football-wise, it's been a messy old week. The weather has played havoc with football fixtures; the Beckham roadshow takes centre stage in Milan and is uncomfortable viewing; Ronaldo smashes up his Ferrari; and the January feeding-frenzy that is the transfer window gathers momentum. As for me, I still live in my own little world:

1. Bashley are better than Manchester United. Seeing Derby's great result against Manchester United in the Semi-Final of the Carling Cup on Wednesday sparked a childhood memory. Here's what me and my friends used to do when we were kids. In a totally puerile and simply pointless attempt at one-upmanship we used to have a little 'game' we'd play that would demonstrate how crap your mate's team actually were. Here's an example to show how it works. My mate supports Manchester United. They lost 1-0 to Derby County midweek in the Carling Cup. Derby lost just before Christmas at home to Crystal Palace. Palace lost to Leeds United in the Carling Cup earlier in the competition. Leeds United were humiliated at Histon in the FA Cup. One of Histon's few defeats this season was in the League against Woking. Woking have this season lost to Maidenhead United who in turn lost to Bashley in this season's FA Cup. So, with an air of supreme confidence I could rib my mate that, actually, "Bashley (from the Southern Football League) are better than Manchester United"! Follow? In the days when kids had to entertain themselves, we had hours of fun with this one. Who am I kidding? I still do it.

2. My son really does support Spurs. In my book I wrote a whole chapter on the disappointment I felt when my son declared he supported Tottenham Hotspur. At the time, I hoped it was a passing phase. A year on, and I fear his support of the last team in London that I would have wanted him to support is now entrenched in his psyche. He got a Tottenham mug for Christmas, with his name on it. He proudly wears his Tottenham kit. He was delighted with their win over Burnley in the other Carling Cup Semi-Final. Worst of all, he now wants me to take him to a game. I have run out of excuses for not taking him. Bugger. I have asked a few people I know who support Tottenham how to get to White Hart Lane. None knew the answer.

3. I have become addicted to bagging new Football Grounds. It is Facebook's fault. They host a neat little application called 'Football Grounds I Have Visited' which allows you to tick off grounds, both old and new, that you have been to. All levels of football, all over Europe. My count stands at 103. Some of my mates have also counted up their tally. POSH Mate claims to have been to 105. I demand a recount. In the meantime, I'm hoping to bag a new ground tomorrow by going to see Molesey v Chertsey Town. Don't tell POSH Mate.

4. I will be on display at The National Football Museum. Well, not me; my memorabilia from the 'Wick To Wembley' FA Cup run last season. Programmes, ticket stubs, shirts, photos, flags, newspaper cuttings, television and radio interview clips and my book. Who would have thought it? Needless to say, I'm very honoured and excited in equal measure. I will be travelling up to the museum, in Preston, on Friday 13th February with the display opening on Valentine's Day. I've always said that the FA Cup is romantic.

5. I still despair at the language of football. Anyone who knows me well enough knows this is a bugbear of mine. Some of the language used in sports journalism, especially football, is rather excessive. The emotive nouns and adjectives that are used far too often and completely out of context. Here are two recent newspaper quotes to consider:

"How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe". Headline in 'The Guardian', 7 Jan 09.

"Conceding a goal would be a catastrophe for us". Bordeaux's manager Laurent Blanc, December 2008, talking ahead of his side's UEFA Champions League game at Roma.

You tell me - which is the real catastrophe?

Monday, 5 January 2009

Goals, Goals, Goals!

Goals, goals, goals! Let’s face it, one of the main reasons we carry on going back to watch this beautiful game. The belief that the game we are about to endure will be that classic 5-5 draw that we always hear about, but never actually end up going to. In reality, it usually turns out to be a 0-0 bore draw, and deep down you kind of expected it. But maybe, just maybe, next time it will be that goal fest. That's why we go back for more.

My Dad is a season ticket holder at Manchester City, and I know it still rankles that the only home game he has missed in about a million years was the Manchester City v Huddersfield game on 7th November 1987. The result? 10-1 to City.

I am prompted to bring this subject up by the relatively low scoring set of FA Cup games that have just skidded on by on this first, and very icy, weekend of 2009. I was freezing my nether-regions off at The Hawthorns watching a very entertaining Third Round FA Cup tie between WBA and Peterborough United. The game finished 1-1, and as we thawed out behind the Smethwick End stand watching the results from around the country trickle in, it struck me how few goals had been scored. A number of 0-0 draws: at Cup holders Portsmouth, up at Hull and at Leicester and QPR. A smattering of single goal victories and a few 1-1 draws. No spectacularly high scores and certainly no thumpings or hammerings. I expected a hat-full of goals at Chelsea, but Southend United defied the odds and only conceded one, incredibly matching their hosts' goal tally themselves.

I cast my mind back to my ‘Wick To Wembley’ journey last year, and from the Third Round on the story was the same. I saw a couple of 1-0 scorelines and a couple of 2-0 results. But prior to the Third Round the average goal count was noticeably higher. Why was that? The earlier rounds involved more non League football; is there an argument that you get to see more goals lower down the pyramid? Could this be true?

This season, in the FA Vase, I have seen a total of 25 goals in 6 games, an average of just over 4 a game, which is an impressive average for any level of football. This probably goes some way to explaining my enjoyment of the competition so far. But maybe I have just been lucky. So, with a little bit of delving and number crunching, I've come up with some really amateurish statistics. Actually, a handful of figures thrown together; chuck them into a table and - behold - they look like statistics and just about fit the bill.

I have totalled the number of goals scored in all of the 32 Third Round ties of both the FA Cup and FA Vase competitions for each of the last 5 seasons. The Third Round was chosen for no other reason than the fact that it was this weekend's Third Round FA Cup games which started me off on this train of thought.

SeasonFA Cup FA Vase
* Does not include 4 postponed ties

As a piece of scientific research it will not stand up to much of a rigorous examination and there are more holes in it than a defence marshalled by Richard Dunne. But interesting, don't you think? A not insignificant difference in goals scored with the FA Vase count considerably higher every season. Over the 5 seasons, the FA Vase Third Round Proper ties have averaged a little over 3.6 goals a game, compared to 2.1 goals per game in the FA Cup. Since the 2004-05 season, there have been only two 0-0 draws in 160 FA Vase ties. Now, I'm no expert, but these are pretty cool numbers. Not exactly a great party chat-up line, but one for the pub with your footy mates.

Can I conclude it is more exciting watching non League games? Perhaps. Can I conclude you get more value at an FA Vase encounter, more goals for your money? Quite possibly. I can say that I have certainly seen the goals fly in from all over the pitch on this FA Vase run and as a consequence I feel the actual games have been more entertaining than those on last season's FA Cup journey. And considering how much the whole FA Cup experience last year simply blew me away, this really is a bold statement to make.

I can hear many of you now muttering the words 'kiss' and 'death' and I don't blame you. If Bitton AFC and Cogenhoe United in the next round now finishes 0-0, and you are at the game, I'll be in the bar afterwards. You'll have my permission to shoot me.