In memoriam

For St Albans City FC the last week was about only one man; Clive Churchhouse, long-time, committed volunteer, who died in a tragic accident at the ground during the summer. The game against Gloucester City was dedicated to Clive and saw the home end being renamed the Clive Churchhouse Terrace with Clive’s family in attendance as guests of the club. And the following Tuesday those connected with the club were guests of Clive’s family at his funeral. I’m not sure if ‘good’ is the most apt word to describe a funeral, but if ‘good’ is shorthand for poignant, insightful, gently witty and touching, then Clive’s was most definitely a good one.

Clive was the man who, amongst the many things he did for the club, sold the golden goal tickets that always get mentioned in TLF’s match stats. Buying them now doesn’t feel quite the same.

Back in 2013/14, TLF’s first season as TLF, I wrote a blog describing the many volunteers I encountered between turnstile and bar, all of whom wanted to part TLF from her cash. Clive was one of them and at the time, I had this to say,

“At this point I think my moolah is safe. Trouble is that Clive, golden goal salesman supreme has an innate ability to not only hear a pound coin at 20 paces, but also spot a sucker with an open wallet and bear down on them with a serious turn of speed and focus. Unlike raffle ticket and programme sellers who tend to be a bit more static pre-match, Clive is on the move, so you can run but you can’t hide. And soon enough. BOSH! The two pound coin and the foolish fox are soon parted.”

It was a privilege to know Clive, albeit fleetingly, and it was a privilege to be able to attend his funeral and to hear so much about his life by those who knew him best.
Good night good sir.

There are no words

There are no words

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No not the bespectacled Thunderbird
Nor Wales’s biggest brewer and hospitality company.

Noooo, TLF is talking the little grey cells, the old cerebrum, or, in a nod to Mr TLF’s roots, the watch and chain.

That essential matter between the ears, which when used correctly can ensure both a sneaky bank holiday football trip AND domestic brownie points as you eschew (BOOM!) a home game for some quality time a deux. Technically all hope of football attendance had long been abandoned, as the TLFs were off to Dorset, but there was a late postponement by Mr TLF who had concluded that spending hours in traffic jams there and back would not constitute bank holiday ‘fun’.

“Agreed, “ said TLF. “We could do [insert relationship-affirming bank holiday activities of choice here] and then [sotto voce] I could go to football on Monday.” Mr TLF has of course come across these tactics before and queries whether this proposal represents a bank holiday infringement. TLF’s brainpower of course is now working overtime, and counters with the, “well if we had gone away we would have been just sitting in a traffic jam on the M25 on Monday afternoon so technically it would have been dead time anyway.” You can’t argue with TLF logic like that.

“Besides, it’s Braintree. It’s a no brainer.” It’s a low blow but a bad pun, in TLF’s experience, usually wins the day.

So an away day pass has been granted, now just to sort the travel. But possibly not on the train, the three and a half hour journey (each way), with four changes, not being the most attractive excursion that TLF has ever contemplated. Fortunately there is a knight in shining armour or rather Davy Mac, with his seven seater.

And so on a sunny day TLF joins her traveling companies (aforementioned driver, HatBoy, Knocky, Duncan and Colin) for a cross country trip to the Amlin Stadium, home to Braintree Town FC.
Before we are even at the end of TLF’s street the TLF brain has to engage in some serious activity. In a brief tussle the neocortex (employing a ‘it’s a skool nite you don’t drink on a skool nite formation) is rapidly overcome by the limbic brain (“the lager HatBoy is proffering is ice cold, it’s a holiday and refusal often offends” tactic is always superior). And that way the TLF Willpower Cup is won.

Braintree is not what you call a pretty ground, and their clubhouse is not one of the flashest TLF’s paws have ever stepped foot in (‘eh?) but the sun was out, there was draft Stella, bacon fries, the bar staff were plentiful and friendly and ¾ of the Saintettes in attendance, and. In fact the only snag was the slightly disappointing performance and the end of the Mighty Saints’ unbeaten record this season came to an inglorious end; although apt that the Braintree goal was from a header.

The final intellectual challenge of the day relates to the attendance figure, which we are told is 706, something that the sun kissed Saints fans are not buying. In the interests of accuracy, TLF employs the neo-cortex in some good old fashion counting. Looks like about 480 to TLF; unless there were 226 hiding in the clubhouse.

TLFs Good at counting. Pants at willpower.
Poirot Fox

Match Stats
Braintree Town Saints 0
Official attendance: 706 (HA!)
Refreshments: 1 Carling (can), 2.5 Stellas, bacon fries and a bacon cob.
Unsuccessful sporting investments: £1

TLF's head. Emotional brain not to scale.

TLF’s head. Emotional brain not to scale.

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Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye

Throughout the centuries those who are are about to depart, do battle, go on an adventure or are saying a farewell forever, have been sent on their way with words of love and luck in speeches, poetry and song; I give you:
The meister that is Mr William Shakespeare
“Whether we shall meet again I know not
Therefore our everlasting farewell take”

CP Cavafy
“Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.”

Alfred Lord Tennyson (ALT)
“Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The surrounding furrows.”

Dame Vera Lyn
“We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when”

“If you leave me know
You’ll take away the biggest part of me
Oooooooooh No
Baby please don’t go”

Admittedly, last Satday TLF wasn’t off to battle or anything so dramatic, although East Midlands Trains’ insistence on a short carriage formation for the over subscribed services that take TLF to the Void results in a journey that isn’t for the faint hearted. TLF’s recommended battle formation is:
elbows out, an emphasis on the women element of ‘women and children first’, grab the seat in the vestibule and swig aggressively from a can of Stella to avoid conversation or any suggestion you should give your seat up for anyone less fortunate than yourself.

On this particular Satday, there was Mr TLF, waving a white hankie, and in true literary tradition, wishing those plucky Foxes the very best of British and hoping that TLF had a splendid journey. Or as he put it

“Effing go to football and stop tidying my kitchen.”

And off, TLF did eff.

Over the years the journey has become tedious; previous domestic arrangements had always left TLF spoilt with short journeys or at the very least fast and direct journeys with no changing at the uninspiring Luton Airport Parkway with ongoing trains limited to once an hour. And of course attendance at a Mighty Saints game is a mere 30 minute walk away. SPOILT ROTTEN.

But once TLF arrives the high dudgeon does lift, as it is hard not to be sentimental about walking a route you have done for over twenty years, having a beer with good folk you got to know on our European adventure and renewing friendships with the lovely family who sit in front of you (let’s gloss over the two dickheads in our row). And all of a sudden that journey doesn’t seem so bad.

And it seems a totally worthwhile journey when your team take the lead in the first minute and never look like losing.

The return journey is technically as tedious as the outward, but TLF is on this occasion oblivious.

TLF is back at the scene of the ‘kitchen-cleaning-crime’ by 7pm and is greeted by a Mr TLF who has cooked the bestest leg of lamb ever.

…..Perhaps TLF should eff off to football even more often.

Explorer Fox

Didn't quite see this bit of Leicestershire

Didn’t quite see this bit of Leicestershire

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Missing the points

As any fule kno there is an August weekend that if it was a stick of rock would have RESERVED AND NOT FOR FOOTBALL written through it. Probably very small letters or a very big stick of rock.

And so it came to pass that TLF was down the front, bouncing in a slightly alcohol infused way, to the fantastic Pierce Brothers, while the Premier League was getting off to an entertaining if defensively embarrassing start wwith Lesta losing 4-3. If your team is going to throw away the chance of a first away win against Arsenal since the 70s you may as well be in a field In Oxfordshire, at your 19th Cropredy festival, slightly giddy and most definitely oblivious.

The Mighty Saints third (!) consecutive win and rise to the top of the league comes a day later and sees TLF yet again SG&MDO as she drinks deep to get through the ‘not TLF’s cup of tea’ that is Cats in Space. Cats in Space do not of course detract from a 19th great weekend, crowned by TLF meeting her guitar hero Richard Thompson OBE and telling him that once upon a time she thought he was sh1t but now she thinks he is brilliant. Oops.

The result of three nights hard drinking and dancing, is that a weary TLF misses the Monday night game that sees first placed Mighty Saints beat the second place team and cement their position at the TOP OF THE LEAGUE!

Fine music – making missing fine football ok for almost two decades

Cropredy Fox

Focus on the music young TLF, not the football....

Focus on the music young TLF, not the football….

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It starts

The 06.24 to Brighton (fast via London) is probably not the place to ‘treat’ my fellow commuters to a TLF solo rendition of “We are the yellow and blue army”, but the urge was strong. Resplendent in a Mighty Saints zippy up top (says what it does on the tin), TLF was a bit giddy. It could have been the eye wateringly early hour but more likely was the thought of 3 days impending annual leave, which would be kick started by attendance at the first home game of the season.

“First home game of the season and no pre-season preview!” I hear you cry (well it’s more a faint whimper as I know not many people read this). Correct; for TLF has eschewed (Boom!) the PSP this yet. It’s simple:
Stuff will happen
There will be disputed decisions
There will be tears
There will be laughter
There will be misery
There will be glee
And drinks will be taken
….and that’s just chez TLF

Where was I?
Oh yes, the giddiness (see above). The cherry on the giddy cake that fine August day was that El Presidente, the wonderful Malcolm, had sponsored the game and invited TLF to partake of some pre-match hospitality.

Actually the cherry on the cherry of the giddiness cake was the fact that before accessing the pre-match hospitality, TLF was able to acquire the new and very fine PURPLE away shirt. A new and very satisfactory chat with both our legendary shopkeeper and Julie (operator of turnstiles and star of BT adverts) had to be cut short – one likes to exchange pleasantries with the hoi polloi but TLF had an important VIP engagement in the Boardroom. Not only an opportunity to spend an hour in great company, but also the chance to admire the close-season painting handiwork that TLF had contributed to.

Vincent van Fox's own work

Vincent van Fox’s own work

I can only think that admiring paintwork is thirsty work; that’s the only possible explanation TLF can offer for the epic failure of the ‘school night so two pints only plan’.

The game, TLF confesses, is a bit of a blur – too many people to say new season hellos to and possibly one too many pre-match beers.
And half time beers.
And riojas.
Fuzzy or not, TLF can confirm there was an unjustifiable sending off, a missed penalty (by them) and a cracking winning goal for the Mighty Saints.

Clarence Park, on a Tuesday night, with a first home win. Fuzzy or otherwise is there a better place to be?

Rioja Fox

Match stats
St Albans City 2 Wealdstone 1
Attendance 654
Raffle tickets: 10 losers
Golden goal: a losing one. And the first one not bought from Clive. RIP.
Re-fuelling: canapés (various), lasagne (fair portion), garlic bread (2 slices), glasses red wine (several), bottles lager (2) or maybe (3)…or possibly (4)

...a lasagne and half a pint of Rioja please

…a lasagne and half a pint of Rioja please

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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

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:

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,


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:
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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