Punctuality? Over-rated

Better get this writ quick, as they say in Lesta.

Well actually it’s just the ‘writ’ bit they say but you get the gist.

You being very clever of course, have probably also sussed that this little linguistic ramble is a diversionary target designed to distract you from the fact that this year’s end of season review is appearing perilously close to the Mighty Saints first pre-season friendly. I am the first to admit that this is a bit lax, but late blogs have been an occasional symptom of the 16/17 season so I’ll stick on this roll if I may; nothing personal you understand it’s just a phase of teenage TLF-dom, “I don’t have to write a blog if I don’t want to and you can’t make me, so there.”

And now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s crack on with the matter in hand…..

Back in August 2016 TLF predicted that the coming season could be the best of times or the worst of times. Eleven months later you could argue what an insightful seer TLF proved to be, but that’s hardly a difficult prediction for my tale of two cities. And let’s face it at the time I was just after a cheap Dickens pun.

Never before has TLF ticked off so many new and locations to watch football. Brugge, Seville, Madrid, Hemel Hempstead! A truly ground-breaking kind of a season.

Lesta seemed fully determined to make it ground-breaking for all the wrong reasons. TLF didn’t expect the ridiculous highs of 2015/16 but there was really no need for quite the domestic implosion that saw them go from everyone’s favourite team to everyone’s favourite joke before becoming everyone’s favourite villains who sacked the Italian messiah. Of course he wasn’t the messiah, he was just a fallible football manger, whose departure reduced to TLF to tears, but who probably had to go.

The Mighty Saints kept the spirits alive, at least in the first half of the season, starting 2017 second in the league. This was of course followed by a rapid descent down the league, leading to a severe dose of incredulispair at our inability to win a game. Still at least we will always have Carlisle. No not a modern and gritty remake of Casablanca but our FA Cup first round PROPER, home game against league opponents. Yes the FA Cup journey ended that day but not before, Clarence Park was rammed, TLF sold football programmes and Junior Morias’s corking opener for the Mighty Saints had been shown on the Beeb and was voted goal of the round.

Off the pitch TLF convinced Julie, a recent convert to running, to sign up for the St Albans half-marathon to raise funds for Stand By Your Saints. TLF then promptly injured herself – first a hamstring, then a back muscle and finally a disc; meaning that Julie became the sole representative charged with not letting our sponsors down. And she didn’t. So proud of my mate and still determined that I will complete 13 miles sometime this year.

And as ever, the off the pitch memories are as important as the stuff that happens on the hallowed turf. TLF travelled to new places, hung out with some very funny and brilliant people and was given a kiwi fruit coming back from a game in Hampton; Julie got the pineapple I was so jealous.

Next season there may be more fruit, there will certainly be more daft moments, there will also be Mr TLF’s PSB to update you on – I’ll leave that acronym for you to work out during the pre-season friendly schedule and return once the proper fixtures get underway.

A bientot
TLF

Small selection of 2016/17 loot. And a very dirty 'lucky Champions League' shirt

Small selection of 2016/17 loot. And a very dirty ‘lucky Champions League’ shirt

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‘Tis the season (ticket renewal)

It’s a wise football club that, after the odd kind of season Lesta City has just had, freezes its season ticket prices for long term season ticket holders and also says thank you via a postcard once you have done the deed:
IMG_0083

It is probably less wise to imply that the person who has been renewing an ADULT season ticket for the last couple of decades is not in charge of their own destiny,

IMG_0084

From the parent or guardian of TLF

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Say it with flowers

With the football season over, bar the Champions League final shouting, it’s a time for reflection and relocation of TLF time, largely in the direction of Mr TLF who has endured higher than average levels of abandonment during 2016/17 due to TLF contracting a European strain of ‘onceinalifetimeitis.

And you can see how much this means to Mr TLF, as after a particularly liquid late lunch/early supper we stopped off in Marks and Spencer’s for further liquid supplies and he employed a romantic gesture.

And they say romance is dead.....

And they say romance is dead…..

Remarkably the 35ps worth of tulips didn’t droop for almost a week and even when they did, there was a solution in store as it turns out a 2p piece dropped into the flower water, is the equivalent of viagra for your average herbaceous spring perennial tulipa (as they say in the Latin).

As the young folk say, ‘who knew?’

That small floristry tip is of course a distraction from the fact that IOU an end of season reflective, ramble on the fortunes of Foxes and Saints.

TLF is on the case.

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The B words

It’s true, TLF has been ‘off grid’ , out of the loop’, ‘conspicuous by her absence’ and other such niceties. I could claim that the dog ate my blog(S) or I could just blame the three Bs:
Birthday
Busy
Bad back

Ok so technically that is four Bs but let’s not go splitting fur.

Anyway enough of the excuses what have we missed?

The 2016/17 season for the Mighty Saints ended with what TLF is led to believe was an undeserved away defeat. TLF was sadly not present due to a bout of busyness (see above) which included a gig at a Lincolnshire village hall. For those who would look down their snouts at such an activity I suggest you study the following bar bill equation and think on
Large vodka tonic + large white wine + large scotch + bottle Stella = £10.50

TLF did make it for the final home game of the season, as ever a memorable affair, in part due to yet another late Saints equaliser but more for the qualities displayed off rather than on the pitch. To start with the raffle ticket sellers were of a particularly high quality. Although TLF was disappointed to note that even when you buy raffle tickets from a fellow Saintette and running partner it still doesn’t guarantee a win….

We've got the best raffle ticket sellers in the conference south

We’ve got the best raffle ticket sellers in the conference south

There was a bucketful of innuendo as news of a goal by Carroll and the impact on someone’s fantasy league team, quickly morphed into Ray’s views on the assets of a ‘fantasy carol’, possibly not our finest diversity and inclusion moment. Whether or not it was that affecting our attention spans we will never know, but rather like the goal we never spotted earlier in the season, this time we were at it with penalties. Admittedly it was down the other end to us, but as no one was jumping up and down screaming at the outrage that is the act of awarding a penalty to the opposition, TLF assumed it was time to revisit the spectacles prescription as clearly the ref bringing play to a halt and pointing at the penalty spot was just poor eyesight on TLF’s part.

We were of course all eyes as the East Thurrock player took the penalty and scored it. Hard to claim the ref had made a massive blunder if none of us had even spotted it. And that was it non-league season over. Although pleased to see our pre-season friendlier start on 8 July, probably not one to tell Mr TLF about direct; I’ll let him stumble across it when he reads this.

TLF birthday weekend saw both West Ham and Lesta do the decent thing and win; peace reigned as Mr TLF showed premier league quality in present selection and Julie dropped off one of the finest chocolate cakes ever. And if you can’t have cake for breakfast when you are a year nearer to fifty then when can you?

While a bad back doesn’t stop the football watching or the birthday celebrating it doesn’t have a particularly positive impact on the half marathon training nor, after the fifth day of it taking ten minutes to get your socks on, does it do much for a sunny disposition or morale. Recovery is slow and often it is a case of two steps forward one step back (BOOM!BOOM!). It perhaps wouldn’t be quite so bad if the injury was of a sporting nature but it wasn’t. It came from the extreme sport known as ‘gardening’…..any fule kno that this fox does not have green fingers or rather paws and TLF should probably have known better.

So TLF is back (in more ways than one), older and no wiser, but ready to jump back on the rambling train.

Slacker Fox

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Mustn’t grumble

All good things come to an end and so it was for TLF as Athletico Madrid finally invoked my Article 50; out of Europe but most definitely not down. Apart from the fine manner of Lesta City’s European departure, (probably more dignified than this country’s will be) there were blessings to be counted:

Blessing 1
The threat level to TLF’s liver, bank account and relationship can now be downgraded from ‘severe’ to ‘low’. The ‘once in a lifetime’ excuse was wearing pretty thin with Mr TLF but am pretty sure it stood absolutely no chance at all with Mr First Direct.

Bruges - First EVER Champions league game for TLF and LCFC

Bruges – First EVER Champions league game for TLF and LCFC

Blessing 2
The lucky Champions League away shirt can finally, probably under its own steam the state it is in, go into the wash. First worn in Brugges back in September 2016, it has been through 4 group games (home and away) and then both legs of the last sixteen and quarter finals. For Copenhagen it was worn for 24 hours and I don’t think it has ever recovered from the match day session in Seville; neither has TLF.

As a result of all this, there may be residents of Seville or Madrid who believe that Lesta’s away kit is ‘pale grey with random smudge’. An error of TLF judgment in the shirt selection department perhaps but a topic of conversation in Bruges, which brings us to..

Copenhagen. Cold and at this point sober

Copenhagen. Cold and at this point sober


Blessing 3
The company TLF kept, which was generally loud, kind, funny, generous, with the capacity for some very dodgy jokes and some serious alcohol consumption. In fact like being at Clarence Park but abroad and in a bigger stadium. There was even a bit of symmetry (how fancy am I!) when as I enjoyed a small post-match beverage after our final game, I bumped into the guys I had hung out with when all this started back in Brugges.
Sevilla's stadium - all lit up to guide those who might have had one too many

Sevilla’s stadium – all lit up to guide those who might have had one too many



Blessing 4

For the group stage draw, TLF requirements were limited, “Bruges please and nowhere scary,” I muttered as I watched the group stage draw via very poor wifi in an Edinburgh hotel. BOOM! All boxes successfully ticked.

By the time we were through to the knockout stage…..let me say that again, ‘the knockout stage’, I was so delirious I didn’t care about destination and yet TLF was spoiled again. In total four fantastic, friendly cities, at least two of which will be graced with the TLF presence again sometime in the future.

None of these people are expecting to see a VERY dodgy penalty awarded against their team

None of these people are expecting to see a VERY dodgy penalty awarded against their team


Blessing 5
That my ridiculous, unpredictable, football club made it to the Champions League quarter finals and I was lucky enough that it happened at a time when I had the wherewithal, the flexibility (thanks work!), the friends (thanks DG for tickets and SC for the roof over my head post home games) and a tolerant Mr TLF to mean that I could be there for eight out of ten games (like the cat food but more important….)

Jetset TLF

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Dear Madrid,

Hola,

That was some holiday romance.
Brief? Yes.
Hot? Most definitely.
Bitter sweet? Of course.
But forever memorable.

You are of course stunningly beautiful, with your meandering streets, historic architecture and beautiful green spaces. You tempted me with your tapas and beer and wine, particularly in the Mercado San Miguel, our main first night destination, where when TLF wasn’t getting over-excited about the range of food and drink on offer, was going giddy at being able to say hello to the Chairman and owner of Lesta on their own little mooch around the city. There were times when your desire to please me became too much; the tapas bar at 2am on the first night when we were technically on our way home to ‘not drink any more’, because walking in a straight line had become a challenge, being a case in point. Still romance has always involved some temptation.

I had the chance to appreciate your art too, but being too quick to find fault in the queuing system at the Museo Reina Sofia, did put our closeness in jeopardy. Still maybe a hungover TLF should know better than to queue for over an hour in the sun sans water and it was of course worth it in the end to see up close and personal that famous work, Guernica, which shows the suffering of people caused by violence and chaos. Picasso’s version of violence and chaos that is, not the concept art version created by Spanish polis and some Lesta inhabitants of Place Mayor.

And yes that probably was one of the more difficult moments in our all too short tryst. The intervention of friends can often ruin a holiday romance. Well I say friends, ‘associates’ really: same shirts maybe, but different perspectives on how to visit a foreign city. Part of the problem is all about a cultural mix up with regard to the concept of ‘provocation’. There are some that think riot polis being on the streets in their own country is ‘provocation’ and then there are others who think that congregating in large groups on the corner of a square while drinking your body weight in lager bulk-bought in supermarkets, throwing the cans on the floor, singing vaguely nationalistic songs that are rude to your hosts and throwing flares at the aforementioned rozzers might come across as provocative to some. Still we didn’t let it spoil our time together.

It wasn’t just my associates not helping our relationship though was it? Yours didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory. Of course TLF’s little bag needs to be checked before the stadium turnstiles…but then to check it again the other side of the turnstiles, and again at the top of the stairs to our seats, did nothing to tug at TLF heartstrings. Especially when these people might have been better employed helping the Lesta fans negotiate the slightly eclectic seat numbering in the stadium…OR indeed letting us know they had made it all unreserved seating. Still at least I can’t let the referee Mr Eriksson and his non-penalty come between us, unless you have friends in Sweden that you haven’t told me about.

Vicente Calderon

Vicente Calderon


Even after all that though, you redeemed yourself, giving us one last charming little bar on the corner of a street, close to the Plaza Mayor but could have been a million miles away in terms of atmosphere and mood.

I do have a confession though. This whirlwind, wonderful 48hours wasn’t just about you. Truth is without my travelling and drinking companions it wouldn’t have been quite the same. From the 8am full English & pint at Gatwick to the Simon Groome riff (you really had to be there), to shared dry humour & fantastic anecdotes, to the buying of far too much beer and even greater excess of crisps, to the generous but utterly deserved ribbing of TLF after a particularly patronising explantation that tapas dishes would be small, because ‘it means little plates’, TLF was lucky enough to be in the best of company.

Story of Madrid - hats and beer

Story of Madrid – hats and beer


But you did make the finest gesture of my all too brief stay. You gave me un pinguino. And for that there will be a place in my heart for you forever, regardless of what happens in the home leg.
Adios
El zorro perdido
Un pinguino y una cerveza

Un pinguino y una cerveza

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?Hablas Espanol?

For TLF the trials and tribulations of Champions League football continue (don’t worry not daft enough to think that this is something I need to get used to). Another month and another European city looms on the horizon, there are guidebooks to buy, tapas bars to research, non-attending Mr TLFs to placate and to add a bit of extra pressure pre this QUARTER FINAL trip, TLF has put, “make vague attempt to learn the basics of the language’ on the to-do list. This after our trip to Seville clearly highlighted the large gap in TLF’s knowledge that is ‘conversational Spanish’; apparently adding “–io” to the end of every word just doesn’t cut it.

Of course this being the 21st century there is no need to pick up your Berlitz phrase book or 20 learn-the-language CDs, now it is all about the App. Not that I don’t have fond memories of the old phrase books. At the age of about seven, TLF was given an Italian phrase book ahead of a trip to, well perhaps unsurprisingly, Italy. For some bizarre reason the ancient phrase, “He’s a trump” was offered up in the book and any fule from the Void kno that a trump is a fart. Cue seven year old giggles for pretty much most of the drive through France.

Anyway back to the app. TLF has now been engaging with Duolingo for the past week. It is free, gets good reviews and is user-friendly for your average luddite TLF. After only eight days TLF is apparently 4% fluent in Spanish. The app did offer to update my LinkedIn profile with this news but am not sure that this is a talent that will necessarily have a string of prospective employers headhunting TLF any time soon.

Still I am as a result of all this, feeling more prepared for next week’s trip. In the event of having to engage with the local constabulary I will be able to relate to others whether I interacted with a police hombre or a police mujeur. And should TLF and companions find that the locals are thanking us for our tuneful rendition of ‘when you’re smiling’ at 2am in the morning, we will be able to respond appropriately with a jaunty, ‘de nada’.

The initial lessons didn’t however fill me with confidence that this Madrid trip would prove to be a gastronomique success. Three days of leche, agua and manzanas (that’s milk, water and apples for those of you not as educated as wot TLF is) doesn’t really appeal. However lesson four moved into more encouraging territory and I think it is safe to say that TLF will “bebe vino y cerveza” all the way.

And thank goodness for the next lesson on ‘animals’. Everyone can now be rest assured that in the event of Madrid being overrun by marauding bears and lions, TLF will be at the front of the retreating crowd, yelling, “Osos y leones!!” just like a local. And should any dodgy looking ticketless penguins try and smuggle themselves into the away end at the game I will be the first to blow their cover, shouting “el penguino” at the top of my voice.

Never has a TLF been so well prepared to depart these shores.
El zorro perdido

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Somewhere over the rainbow

The Saints can fly,
And that home win that you dream of,
That dream really does come true.

It has been a spectacularly grey start to 2017 for the Mighty Saints. Not meteorologically-speaking, although we haven’t exactly been flirting with sun burn on the terraces. No this is that flat grey feeling that goes with regular defeat, embarrassing score lines and no win in 8 games. There is only so much us supporters can do in this situation, but in an attempt to brighten things up, TLF took matters into her own paws in advance of the home game against promotion chasing Dartford, with a canny investment in the form of a Club Deportivo Guadalajara home shirt.

“Guadala -Who?” I hear you cry. Why the Spanish Team, Deportivo Guadalajara of the Segunda Division B – Group 2. As you can see their league trips off the tongue as well as their club name. And please do not be confusing them with the Mexican, Club Deportivo Guadalajara, who are sensibly more commonly know as Chivas and have a stadium about five times the size of the one belong to the Spanish version of CDG. Small and unsuccessful they may be, but they do have a rather splendid home shirt which had caught the eye (and wallet) of TLF. With no plans to go and watch CDG anytime soon it seemed like a debut at Clarence Park was in order.

And it certainly does attract attention. It’s not a quiet shirt, but generally it makes people smile, although of course that might have been TLF’s inability to pronounce Guadalajara that had them beaming. Anyway it had the desired effect because at least we were all a bit more cheerful. Well at least until the game started. While it was the nicest day of the year so far, the first half saw us in the shady end. So yes you can see without squinting but it is cold out of the sun and you have of course dressed for the sun to be baking down and you are holding a beer so you can’t even put your hands in your pockets (James has an idea about beer mitts for occasions like this – could be a money spinner…). On the pitch our keeper was getting most of the fans’ praise as he kept us in the game, but John wasn’t having any of it. “We are at home! And all we have got to cheer about is our keeper making saves! Dreadful!” I wish you could hear how he said it, as the typed word cannot do justice to the incredulispair (that’s a mixture of incredulity and despair by the way) that delivered these words.

Still at half time it was 0-0, and it says much about 2017 to date that we were all quite cheerful to have reached such dizzy heights.

Remarkably things got even better in the second half. We scored a goal! And it wasn’t some scuffed shot. Nope. This was an overhead acrobatic goal. The celebrations that John and I undertook were not quite as enthusiastic as perhaps it deserved, but we didn’t want John’s beer to spill and he was still a bit grumpy about the goalkeeper thing.

And Lo! The final whistle did arrive confirming a precious 1-0 win and also the arrival of a new LUCKY shirt.

Towards the end of the game, Trevor spotted a rainbow coloured kite high above the ground and wondered if TLF had been caught by the breeze…but no TLF was still on terra firm, the half marathon diet isn’t going that well.

CDG Fox

Maybe now Saints will hit a purple patch (BOOMBOOM!)

Maybe now Saints will hit a purple patch (BOOMBOOM!)

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I predict a diet

With half marathon training hamstrung, by well, a hamstring, it has become clear that the less there is of TLF on 11 June the better. Particularly as if the worse comes to the worse, Julie will be dragging me round by my ears.

That means calorie counting via an App has become a crucial part of the TLF regime. It was fine in theory but after a very successful first 24 hours, the first hurdle came into view…that second leg Champions League fixture against Seville and only 650 calories left to devote to the game and all associated rituals. The obvious answer of course would be to eschew (BOOM!) the lucky bacon fries, the lucky foam crocodiles (that’s very specific to Lesta not my other City) and the booze. BUT dilly ding, dilly dong, as they don’t say round these parts any more; we are in Champions League man. Initially guilt outweighed hedonism. Dinner destination was Zizzi’s on the grounds that it does a pizza under 550 calories, which washed down with a nice fizzy water would leave TLF within calorie limits and loitering on the moral high ground.

Except, the Zizzi menu does make a big thing about their very fine Argentinean Malbec. Faced with this kind of pressure, combined with the pre-match nerves I turned for support to Mummy TLF via text. She assured me that alcohol was an essential for all football and theatre related meals. And in turn, I always think it is essential to respect the views of your parents. Two Malbecs and a Stella essential to be precise.

A bit of anaesthetic was probably not a bad idea that night. You all know the story, the best atmosphere in that ground ever, an early home goal, a bit of theatre resulting in a sending off, another goal, a penalty…SAVED!!!!!!!! What you may have missed was TLF’s hand injury where the eight person celebratory bundle for Lesta’s second goal led to someone’s tooth (not sure whose) and a TLF digit coming into close contact, with slightly bloody consequences for the digit……if it hadn’t been for those extra calories I might have fainted.

And faint we nearly did when that final whistle went and we realised that the mess, contradiction and infuriating wonder that is Lesta City were in the quarter finals of the Champions League. It was time to dust off the “it’s a once in a life time experience” excuse and get TLF booked on a flight and into a Madrid hotel without consultation and within 30 minutes of the draw being made.

I predict a riot.

Happy-to-be-there-and-nothing-to-lose Fox

Yep, like a big kid, TLF really did write out that last eight list

Yep, like a big kid, TLF really did write out that last eight list

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“Now ’tis spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted; Suffer them now and they’ll o’ergrow the garden”

Manager of the Mighty Saints, Ian Allison, is clearly a man who likes to do his spring cleaning early. Don’t get me wrong, TLF likes a good vernal equinox tidy up, but tends to wait until Easter before hoovering and dusting under things rather than round things. And then of course there is the wardrobe clearout; good ruthless hour of condemning garments that haven’t been worn for the last six months to the charity shop bag. I mean how many replica football shirts and t-shirts…does…a…TLF…… nooooo not that one – that’s like from the year we went mad in Brum about the 1998 world cup…….and oh no…not that one…I know I don’t support AEK Athens but I bought it from their club shop on my 40th birthday trip to Athens……and yes I know I never wear that one anymore but it’s the year we got promoted….maybe if I fold them up smaller??

There is no such faffing and sentimentality with the aforementioned proper gaffer, who perhaps inspired by what has been a rather dismal 2017 so far for the Mighty Saints and with perhaps a nod to William Shakespeare’s bon mots, parts company with three players the week of the Ebbsfleet game. It’s a bit of a shock, three players in one go – all associated with better days – not unlike some of those t-shirts at the back of the wardrobe, that REALLY don’t get worn anymore and can’t even play the ‘football memorabilia’ card. Birmingham Uni Ents Crew long sleever anyone?

There is more to come though. The following day we are told that Louis Theophanous has been sold to Chelmsford. It feels a bit like TLF giving away the lucky (and grubby) Champions League lucky shirt.

The proof of the success of a good spring clean though is what follows. In the case of TLF’s wardrobe assault there’s a good six weeks of positivity; enough time for some new arrivals (we await the Deportivo Guadalajara Rainbow home shirt with bated breath) and the filing system:

  • Football (Lesta and St Albans)
  • Football (other)
  • Other sports
  • Fairport Convention
  • Music (other)
  • Snoopy
  • Fictional characters (other)

……..to deteriorate as TLF remembers that life is too short for tidying your t-shirts, but it was nice while it lasted.

Sadly St Albans City don’t even look tidy for a full 90 minutes. A 3-0 home defeat to Ebbsfleet isn’t unexpected – they are after all pretty much a full time team and to be fair Saints players were probably in shock at the news of Red Julie’s eschewing (BOOM!) of alcohol until after our June half-marathon (TLF is working up to this training technique….). BUT a 4-0 away defeat to Gosport, who languish in the bottom three, doesn’t leave anyone with a spring in their step.

Those who witnessed that little debacle are Mad as March Hares, and not in a good way. TLF is saved the humiliation by selflessly dedicating herself to Mr TLF’s birthday.

Persephone Fox (step AWAY from the pomegranate)

 

 

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