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Posts Tagged ‘MK Dons’

Crewe AlexandraNah, not really.  It may have been my hometown team up against a club I’ve learned to love through the osmosis of sharing an office for a decade or more with a Crewe Alexandra fan and changing the month of their precariously mounted official calendar when she wasn’t there – hi Sal – but there was little to get worked up about in the first half at stadiumMK on Saturday.  Apart from the MK Dons scoring – under our noses in the away end – a moment of clarity from the left winger’s penetrating run (which we saw coming from a mile off but not so, seemingly, the Crewe defence) and a deft cheeky flick from a young blonde Chelsea loanee – there wasn’t much to excite in what was basically a poor game between two poor teams, with Crewe’s newest local wunderkind (a fresh striking legend every couple of years) contributing little of worth – not helped by an over fussy ref.

Chuks-Aneke_2934617

Chuks Aneke

Second half was a game of two quarters as the Railwaymen, showing more commitment, came back strongly in the last twenty minutes, especially once they realised that in order to score it does help to take a shot at goal now and then; “it’s just like watching Arsenal,” I said in jest (though more of that in a minute).  When they did, the Dons’ Martin (Crewe had a Martin in goal too, no relation) proved up to the challenge.  The home team were lucky to hold out.  Throughout, Crewe’s Arsenal loanee Chuks Aneke’s pedigree shone in the quality of his passing in midfield; given the freedom (or maybe just the confidence) to break forward and go for goal the 20-year old could be one of the First Division’s outstanding players this year.

A crowd of only 6,911 for the first Dons home game of the new season on a decent summer’s afternoon was surely disappointing but then it has to be said – not for the first time – MK Dons’ patient possession style of football is, frankly, boring a lot of the time (though Izale McLeod did liven things up a bit when he came on near the end).  But anyway, the game’s afoot again, season sprung and all to play for for the time being.

Emotionally weirdAll sorts of games being played in Kate Atkinson‘s delightful Emotionally weird: a comic novel (2000).  For a start the framing story – narrator taking refuge with mother (“who is not my mother“) stuck on an isolated storm-swept Scottish island – is not particularly comic at all,  revolving as it does around one of Atkinson’s favourite themes – motherless children having a hard time & tangled parenthood tales – and that particular denouement is a neat update on the Victorian end-tying.

The book actually starts with a cod crime novel – narrator Effie’s creative writing project – which develops a nice life of its own, but the bulk of the novel, seated within the mother’s tale (with interjections), is a glorious chronicle of a mixed bunch of English and philosophy students’ lives set in Dundee in 1972.  Given that KA was at the University of York in 1971, the students – the stoned, the political, the earnest, the absentee and all the rest – far from being the easy clichés are a reasonable (and laugh-aloud funny) extrapolation of the life at the time, while the staff don’t get away with anything either.  Indeed, the EngLit tutorials seem designed to illustrate Steven Pinker’s observation, in Science is not your enemy, his recent beautifully argued New Republic article, that

The humanities have yet to recover from the disaster of postmodernism, with its defiant obscurantism, dogmatic relativism, and suffocating political correctness.

For me Emotionally weird had been the Kate Atkinson novel that had got away but I’m glad to have finally made its full acquaintance.  There’s the usual characterisation and easy flow of quotable one-liners, all sorts of delightful twists, shifts and tangents, and some glorious mucking about for the sheer love of storytelling and novel-writing (never mind Effie struggling with an essay on Henry James’s strictures on ‘the novel’).  There’s a nice 1999 round-up of what happened to them all; the hapless Bob, the stoned  Star Trek quoting boyfriend is a bit of an anticlimax, while others surprise.  There’s a coda – “Last words” – with a sentence or two from 6 novels at various stages of writing by various characters touched on in the novel, not least a fantasy saga that has been a rich comic source throughout.  And on top of all that, in Chick Petrie, the private investigator, we have the first stirrings, a precursor even, of the great Jackson Brodie, the central character of Kate’s next four extraordinary sort-of-crime novels.

Purity Brewing Company - Mad GooseMeanwhile, an exceptional pint of beer has passed my lips, bursting with flavour from the first taste.  Take a bow, Warwickshire’s Purity Brewing Company, for the splendid Mad Goose bitter.  And Stony’s Fox and Hounds for stocking it.

 

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I was born in a crossfire …  No, hang on, excuse me.  Proof if nothing else, I guess, of the effectiveness of that Rolling Stones tv ad it’s hard to escape from at the moment.  And what have they chosen to call this latest money grabbing compilation?  Grrr!  No, that’s what they’ve called it.  Very grown-up.  When what we could really do with are re-issues of the original albums released by Decca in the UK up to and including Aftermath, compiled as per the Kinks Pye reissues with – in addition to the album tracks – all the singles, b-sides and EP tracks from the same period.  (Not forgetting that Rice Crispies TV ad).

I was born in the Nelson Hospital, Merton and lived easy walking distance from Plough Lane just round the corner from South Wimbledon tube station on the Northern Line for the first 6 years of my life, after which we moved to Sutton.  And though we lived pretty much mid-way between Sutton United’s and Carshalton Athletic’s grounds there, it was back to Plough Lane that my father took me for my first football match, to see Wimbledon, the team he had followed since his youth, playing in the Isthmian League.  That’s his badge in the picture.  Though he didn’t go much any more, he followed their progress up the leagues with satisfaction.  It was a good story.

My later (wholly non-attending) allegiance was aroused by their unfashionable status in what was still then the First Division of the Football League.  Champion the underdog!  I even bought a lapel badge at some stage – in Milton Keynes shopping centre, as it happens, after we’d moved there in the ’80s with a family of my own.  Not sure whether the purchase was before or after the Cup Final of 1988, when Liverpool got theirs; probably after.  In the family archive I have manager Bobby Gould’s reply to my father’s letter of congratulation after the team’s semi-final victory wishing the club good luck for the Final.  It’s like – no, it is – something from another age.

Shame it transpires that the famous Wembley win and much of their success was the equivalent of playground bullies kicking the shit out of the school swots, though it’s still good to think of Liverpool’s sense of entitlement being rattled.  You have to also say that it’s refreshing in another way to think that Vincent Jones and chums in the Crazy Gang – some footballing heritage there, eh? – would never have got away with a quarter of what they dished out most weeks with today’s tightening up of the rules and refereeing standards; not that their disciplinary record was exactly exemplary by contemporary standards even then.  How fitting that Vinny Jones went on to play for Leeds United (of whom more later).

Wimbledon continued to be of interest to me, not least when managed near the end of their time in the top echelons of English football, by Egil Olsen.  Olsen had been a success when in charge of the Norwegian national team – and rather uniquely among British football managers was a member of the Norwegian Workers Communist Party – but by then the financial writing was well and truly on the wall.  They’d been playing to sparse crowds at Crystal Palace’s ground for nearly a decade and you had to fear for the worst when that last season at the top pretty much started with that famous David Beckham lob over the keeper from the half-way line.  Incredibly they’d been talking about moving the club to Dublin, never mind Milton Keynes.

But let’s backtrack a bit and consider the state of association football in the new city of Milton Keynes.  Or even earlier, to Wolverton, where what is believed to be the first covered football stand in the world was opened in 1899 for men in flat caps watching the railway works team who became Wolverton Town.  No, non-league football did not thrive in MK.  Back in the ’80s music entrepreneur Pete Winkelman decided he wanted to bring professional football to his adopted city and chose the same route as that by which the city had itself been populated – he would try to move a team in.  (I say ‘new city’ – that’s never been official, but then, if that’s dependent on the Queen’s say, well stuff it).  I was active in the Labour Party (well, I went to a few meetings, pushed a few leaflets through letter boxes) the first time there was a very real prospect of Luton Town – then more successful than they are now – moving to the city, and for what it’s worth, the General Committee passed a motion that we were agin’ it, half from football hooligan paranoia (that was then), half from the idealistic wish for something more organic to emerge.  Well it didn’t.  The sugar daddy route might have worked – it has elsewhere – but that’s almost as artificial as what has happened.  Indeed, the charismatic Winkelman has more than once said he regrets the way it was done.  This interview, from the Yeovil Town programme in 2009 (he’s third feature quite a way down the page) gives a good picture of where he’s coming from.

By the millennium Wimbledon’s owners were in dire straits financially.  Sam Hammam, the owner who’d made the club what they was, had basically sold them a pup; he later made a mess of Cardiff too.  Since 1991 they’d been using Crystal Palace’s scruffy ground for home fixtures; often the visiting team’s supporters outnumbered their own.  The club would have gone into administration whether it had moved to MK or no.  Did the local politicians of the London Borough of Merton help them at any time with their ground and other dilemmas?  No.  So tell me about football clubs and the local community.  Should the Football Association have allowed the club to move 56 miles north?  Of course not.  It happened, though.  And Milton Keynes Council were dead keen, saw it as a big part of the economic regeneration of Bletchley.  (What I hadn’t realised, until fact checking all this, is that the first time it was mooted is as far as 1979 and was initiated by Wimbledon.  This Wikipedia article gives some fascinating background detail to the whole saga).

How did I, Wimbledon born, see this development?  I thought it was great – the chance to see some decent football locally.  I joked about the club following me.  Have I been to see Milton Keynes Dons much?  No, not really.  No matter.  Do I feel a pariah?  Not really – I refer you back to the London Borough of Merton.  Am I sick of self-styled ‘real football fans’ still bleating on about Franchise FC?  Yup, because i). look up franchise in the dictionary, and ii). half the time it’s the same tired old jokes about Milton Keynes.  There’s plenty to complain about (where is there not?) but a lot of people like living in MK and can become very defensive depending on who they’re talking to.

Is the club an asset to the city?  You bet.  It’s embedded.  Anecdotally, match day is a big deal for the children and grandchildren of friends;  hell, some of those friends, who hadn’t been to a game for decades if at all, are keen regular supporters themselves now.  MK Dons wins awards for its work in the community.  The academy has brought through local lads like Sam Baldock – I know one of his school teachers (he got brilliant A levels); he went to West Ham for a million, where he was popular with the fans but not as much with manager Sam.  The academy developed the prolific Daniel Powell, who I’d first watched with the Academy side on the training pitches down by the River Ouzel and thought was useless, wondered why he was on the pitch – so what do I know?  And it’s even got an official poet in residence – step forward Mark Niel (even if it would appear he’s been too busy to update his website to that effect; it’s still worth a look).

Is the club an asset to football?   I think so.  It’s got a tremendous modern stadium but it can’t be a big spender, depending for its playing staff on the academy, free transfers and loan signings.  Winkelman gave Roberto di Matteo his first big break in management.   Karl Robinson is the youngest football league manager; his name already regularly appears whenever vacancies come up elsewhere.  Under his guidance MK Dons are known as a footballing side, playing to feet, though, truth be told, from what I’ve seen, their control of a game can be a bit boring.  Even with Ian Wright now part of the training set up.

Is it time for AFC Wimbledon and the Jehovah’s Witnesses of the ‘People’s Game’ to get over it?  I would say so.  It’s inspirational what AFC Wimbledon have done, building from scratch.  Respect.  But MK Dons is now an authentic football club in its own right.  And without it, AFCers, you wouldn’t have had the opportunity for your own big (immensely satisfying to all) adventure.  It shouldn’t have happened but it did, and it strikes me it’s now a win-win situation as far as the two clubs are concerned.  The very notion of AFCers boycotting their own team’s appearance next weekend in the FA Cup second round tie at stadiummk (I know, I know) out of feelings of outrage, pride or spite – whatever – after all these years is a nonsense.  Accentuate the positive.

The trappings of the Wimbledon FC history – FA Cup replica and all – went back to (here’s irony) the ever-helpful-to-the-cause London Borough of Merton in 2007.  Which was good enough for the Football Supporters Federation, if not for that worthy magazine When Saturday Comes, whose yearly survey of the prospects for the new season continues to recognise only the MK Dons’ titular existence while giving a platform for (still) vituperative and dismissive comments from other teams’ correspondents; I gave them a chance but they refused to de-Stalinise – I cancelled my subscription in 2010 (but then I’d always wanted to cancel a subscription to something in any sort of dudgeon).  Apparently keeping ‘Dons’ in the name is a sticking point for some AFCers.  I’d say it’s too late to stop now.  Why don’t we just reinterpret it, give the nod to the Open University – MK’s second biggest employer?  The AFC Wimbledon ground, The Cherry Red Records Stadium – in Kingston, lest we forget – is sponsored by the record company that puts out the Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and boasts a roster running from A Flock of Seagulls (or Aardvark, depending on which filing rules are applied) to Zoot Money.  And they’ve got Brian Lane in New Tricks.  So we can be sure of the winners – and I say this without a hint of irony – as far as romance goes.

Whoever wins at the weekend I really don’t mind either way (so, some might say, I’m not a real football supporter).  For me it will be the manner and grace of losing that is far more important; it’s in the aftermath we might get to see where real class lies. Here’s a recent picture of one of the very wet fences I shall be sitting on:

I hate the tribalism of football, the ugliness and stupidity it can engender, the endless bearing of grudges.  When I lived in North London I supported Arsenal in one of their leanest times, and theirs is always the first result I’ll look for.  Do I hate Spurs?  Why should I?  They’ve a proud and worthy footballing tradition.  Of course it’s always especially pleasurable to beat them, but that’s as far as it goes.  Does that mean I’m not a ‘proper’ supporter, not a ‘real’ fan?   Next, as it happens, I’ll look for Crewe Alexandra – the result of sharing an office for ten years with Sally Ann.  Then MK Dons.  I think it’s childish, too, to boo opposition players who once represented your team (unless it’s Ashley Cole).  I find it hard to hate, though I can sure resent among many others, not least Chelski.  But no, on the whole, it’s not healthy, not something I like to do (unless it’s Leeds United in the Don Revie era).

Thank you for reaching the end.  Please be gentle.  Or at least polite.

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Family Fun Day at Stadium MK last Saturday, but sadly it wasn’t much fun for Crewe Alexandra even as the familiar strains of “Your grounds too big for you” (to the tune of Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay) had their ritual outing from the away end, where we were 3 of the 11,037 in the ground.  Fair enough, that chant, but it’s all relative, coming from supporters of a club that rarely achieves 50% of the Dons gate (a figure that half fills Gresty Road, which Sal is not going to call by its newer ‘proper’ name).  After an early goal the Dons ran the show through veteran mid-fielder Luke Chadwick for the first half hour without exactly getting anyone out of their seats.  Their tidy passing game was enough, and whenever Crewe got hold of the ball they promptly lost it again, though things improved towards the end of the half.  The first ten minutes of the second were a revelation, as the Railwaymen reinvigorated expectations for ten minutes with a sustained assault on the Dons goal – they could easily have scored three – and from then on we had a match to watch.  Great excitement as Crewe’s new striker, the big,  strong and splendidly named Mathias Pogba (aka ‘The Pog’, whose brother plays for Juventas) came off the bench, but when the final whistle blew it was still 1-0, though not before their latest 17-year-old wunderkind striker got an accidental broken jaw for his troubles and neat footwork.   Pitch immaculate as ever.  And the goalkeepers both had the same surname – Martin; what are the chances of that?

Most people, I would wager, will recognise art photographer James Welling‘s later work with flowers, but there was nothing like that on display in MK Gallery‘s new show.  (All the photos here, by the way, are lifted from his splendid website at jameswelling.net/;  I could have just put links in, so I hope he doesn’t mind, I’m just trying to save people’s time and give them a treat; and I would urge you to visit the site).  No, the new show, James Welling: the Mind on Fire, is an exhibition of “early works from the 1980s charting the development of Welling’s experimental and abstract photography“.   Which you could call mucking about while he was listening to the Talking Heads and theorising about it, though that would be unkind.  With 134 mostly framed images hung on the walls it made a bit of a change for the gallery, but that word experimental begs an awful lot of wordage; OK, treat and frame 35 small images of crinkled aluminium foil in various ways, give them titles like July, Cathedral or Pure Existence Pierces an Opening to Express itself in the Phenomenal World and it can look like a whole lot of other things, but at the end of the day …

I did like the excerpts from the Diary/Landscapes series – photos of Wellings’ great-great-grandmother’s diary mounted with landscapes of where the family lived – but my favourite pieces were the largest, a set of 4 photos of drapes, inkjet prints from original Polaroids under the title Brown Polaroids, one of which you can also see at the bottom of the post.  A sensual drama, is it not?

The vitrines – the glass display cases – were full of interesting stuff too: source material, influences documented, books being read at the time, scribbled notes, music being listened to, album sleeves designed, contemporary events posters.  These certainly added to my appreciation of the experience.  And there it is again – a copy of Rilke‘s Duino Elegies.  it’s everywhere.  I’ll read it one of these days; it’s not as if I haven’t got a copy.

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And so to the stadiummk.  Yup, that’s right – one word, specifically italics and upright bold.  It’s a Milton Keynes thing, ‘modern’ design that will look dated soon enough, of which there can be little doubt.  MK, as we locals call it – rhymes with LA, indicative of the fun and wit indulged in by the new city’s original creators in the late ’60s, who probably didn’t initially intend it but leapt on it with glee, just like the town’s name; but that’s another story.  Anyway, First Round of the F.A.Cup, the visitors are Nantwich Town – the Dabbers, from the Evo-Stick Premier League, their first time ever appearance in the First Round proper of the Cup.  What’s a Dabber? – nobody knows: leather industry, maybe; dabbing a thumbprint because they couldn’t write, maybe; baking and pies, maybe; something Irish English Civil War mercenaries might have said (and a few others)?  But on with the game.

Though living in MK we were in the Nantwich end because that’s where a friend was born; I was born in Wimbledon and saw my first football match there – when they were Isthmian League – but have no problems with the Don’s controversial move from Wimbledon to MK a few seasons ago, because the local Merton council did nothing to help them stay there.  So, we’re in the away end of this magnificent modern stadium (no, really) and the padded seats are splattered with birdshit and there was a dead bird on the floor that looked like it had been dead a long time.  We are 3 of the 756 fans in the away end (though it was fewer by the end because a couple were ejected for fighting amongst themselves), 20% of the frankly pathetic total attendance of 4110 – there’s usually at least twice that.  So where were all the home fans, eh?  First round of the romantic FA Cup?  When I were a lad etc etc … So the Dabbers fans chant of “You’re grounds too big for you” sung to the tune of Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay (a music hall and vaudeville tune it turns out, not some elusive-to-memory operatic aria) was entirely appropriate.

Although their keeper made some superb saves (Brazil 1970 was mentioned) you might say that rendition of Ta-ra-ra was pretty much the Dabbers best moment.  The Dons played with intent and purpose and ended up 6-0 winners.  Luke Chadwick ran the midfield – for all his being someone with a great future behind him, the class shone out – and his pass for the fourth goal was a beauty.  Towards the end the Dons put on a 16-year-old substitute – he scored – then a 15½ year old, both local graduates from the club’s Academy, to join an established striker who also rose from the junior ranks (not to mention Sam Baldock, sold to West Ham earlier this season and succeeding there) which rather suggests the continuing scorn poured on the Dons (“Franchise FC”) is a bit like the old style Communists refusing, as Morgan’s mum does in the under-rated ’60s cult film Morgan: a suitable case for treatment – to de-Stalinise; surely time now to live with it.

And so to Sunday …

A sunny late autumn day in London. Figuring heavily in my autumn almanac, the annual Official Kinks Fan Club Konvention at the Boston.  As is my habit if the weather is fair and there’s time to spare, up Highgate Hill I climb – it was a clear day – to have some moments in Waterlow Park, a place I spent fondly remembered time in when first I moved to London Town some decades ago, descending again by another route to join the usual suspects in Tufnell Park in celebration, in raucous communion, where Kinks past – or at least those still alive, which for The Kinks is thankfully a lot more than most – perform as the Kast Off Kinks.  All of ’em, as advertised – so no surprises this year – save the brothers Davies themselves, whose parts were taken as ever by the redoubtable Dave Clark, plus back-up vocalists Debbie and Shirlie.  (Ray, no stranger to proceedings, is in the middle of what must be a punishing US tour, and Dave, unfortunately, has never shown). Nor must we forget the Oslo Brass.

 Different format this year. No support, three sessions with various combinations of ex-Kinks packed in, so with raffle and auction in between sets there’s less time to talk. And a core of Kast Offs have been a gigging earning band this year. I’m not saying there was a serious lack of spontaneity but these factors, a certain familiarity and the event’s now regular status – and the years seem to fly by these days – meant, I dunno, I wasn’t quite as elated as I have been previous years (with or without Ray showing). That and only two pints of Guinness this year, maybe. (Re-reading what I’ve subsequently written below, you can see it’s all relative).

 Things started well.  Third song in, David Watts and the electricity fails in mid-song. Noise limiters? No worries, song completed a capella by the assembled ready and willing choir. Power restored, the Oslo Brass sounded great and their presence made for a Supersonic rocket ship I actually thought better than the original. There was a tremendous I gotta move (beat that Yardbirds – no, seriously) in there too. Middle session was the basic Kast Offs touring band (late 80s and ’90s vintage) playing a few songs that they’d recorded as Kinks, and it was good to hear a live Still searching and a decent Better days, while Debs did Stop your sobbing to good effect too and what turned into a full impromptu Apache raised appreciative cheers. Bob Henrit was hitting hard and looking younger than the rest; I think he’s the oldest, so what’s the secret Bob?

 Closing set was yer vintage crew – John Gosling, The Baptist, and Mrs Avery’s son (by now changed back out of the sailor suit he’s had on earlier). Always good to hear that lovely favourite of John’s, God’s children (one of my favourite Ray Davies compositions too, and I’m an atheist). Not quite all cylinders firing initially but no doubt about the storming finish: Mick Avery leading Dedicated follower, an explosive One night (“we’re old rockers, really” said Gosling), a celebratory Louie, Louie, and a rousing Alcohol to great acclaim.

Ta very much, KOKs, OKFC.

Oh, and somewhere in there a significant premiere.  John Gosling had to put on his glasses to read the words singing Maximum consumption – given a rare enough outing on its own – bespectacled for the first time ever on stage, said the man.

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