Strictly Come Champions League

There are many words these lost paws (TLP) never thought they would type, even in the best of Stella induced hazes, “Trump and President” being three such. But “Lesta City and last 16 of the Champions League” really did seem like entries into comedy, fantasy word league.
But then again combine those with, “while teetering on the brink of the relegation places” and it all seems a bit more normal.

Of course it being Lesta City they did mess with TLF’s head against FC Brugge…or BRUG-E as one of the commentators on the wireless chose to say. An early goal, some near misses, a bit of fancy play and then nervous panic after conceding a goal; that’s more like the Lesta TLF knows. But we did it and all of a sudden the obscene train fare to Lesta (just more than the trip to Brugge and just less than the trip to Copenhagen) seemed irrelevant. History had been made and a new chapter in the mad fairy tale that is Lesta city had been writ.

You could tell how much it meant from the intense post-match analysis that took place in Simon’s car as we drove back to his house (and my BnB for the night). I have never heard such passion and focus as we discussed the performances so far and the future rounds..We both agreed that, “Oti and Danny Mac are nailed on for the final and Kevin and Louise have really come on. And Kevin is just the best teacher…” And the TLF stops and laughs. Lesta have just made it to the last 16 of the Champions League and we are busy discussing Strictly.

Well Pickle TLF’s walnuts

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The people have spoken

While TLF’s rambling is generally concerned with all tings Footballing and Kultural there are sometimes such seismic, global, political events, that here at TLF Towers we recognise at moments like this we have a duty to not shy away from controversy but to address head on the issues of the day.

I refer dear reader, of course to the monumental news story of November and the hysterical reaction that followed it. Never before have I seen such an outpouring of anger, hatred and sheer bigotry as that prompted by the John Lewis Christmas advert.

The venom and vitriol inspired by foxes cavorting on a garden trampoline has been breath-taking. Since when did a fox not have the right to bounce!? Urban dwellers have informed us that foxes should be nowhere near any self-respecting trampoline as all foxes crap in their gardens, have loud fox lurve at unsociable hours and in their spare time mug old ladies, while your rural dwellers have been reminding anyone within reach of the Twittersphere that all foxes are lamb-murdering-b*stards. Just a few minor TLF points in response to this foxophobic witch hunt.

1. There aren’t just foxes on the trampoline. There is a badger, a hedgehog and a squirrel so cut the brethren some slack.
2. Foxes have as much right to a bit of trampoline fun as the next mammal.
3. It’s PRETEND!!!! It’s advertising dressed up as a bit of fun. ‘Wildlife-associated-with-urban-gardens-wind-up-cute-boxer-dog-with-trampoline-envy in an attempt to make you buy stuff.’ If you are going to be grumpy about it presumably you would also like to burn every copy of Fantastic Mr Fox and the relevant foxy bits of Aesop Fables.

Get over it you churls. And as for those objecting on the grounds that depicting Dad assembling the trampoline on Christmas Eve has ruined the Santa propaganda for every child? Any fule kno that Santa leaves the kit with a note asking Dad to help.

Oppressed Fox

In case you don’t know what on earth TLF is going on about (probably not for the first time).
https://m.johnlewis.com/christmas-advert?s_kwcid=1dx43700015252677495&tmad=c&tmcampid=1&gclid=CJelo9PmstACFdTNGwodruQLBQ&gclsrc=aw.ds#

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It’s a kind of magic

The 3-5 score line reveals that technically there was no magic of the Cup at Clarence Park last Sunday. The Mighty Saints, underdogs for the day, could not achieve the cliché that is a ‘Cup upset’ and make it to the second round PROPER.

And yet there was something about the whole day itself that would have left Harry Potter feeling at home. On the pitch, under the supervision of tactical wizard and gaffer Ian Allinson the team produced a performance that charmed the crowd. Three perfectly taken goals, including the early opener by Junior Morias which beguiled the BBC viewers who voted it goal of the round.

Off the pitch, the game had clearly enchanted the local community, with a huge crowd of 3,473, encouraged no doubt by the thought of seeing some league opposition but also the efforts of so many to promote the fixture and the club’s speedy and wise response to the consternation that meet the initial ticket prices.

Managing a mass of people seven times bigger than your usual home crowd required those who, week in week out, contribute to a Clarence Park match day to conjure up something a bit special. Which of course they did, with their regular volunteer numbers boosted by youth team players and some of us who usually spend a bit too much time in the bar to be relied upon. There were additional turnstiles to operate (including a special fast track gate), temporary bars to set up (and therefore more beer to sell), posters with directions for the away fans to put up (and there was me without my lucky hammer), tickets for the seated areas to be checked and just generally more STUFF to do. There were no magic wands from what TLF saw, just a lot of effort, the occasional fraught moment and the usual bonhomie.

Not having been allocated a task, TLF was odd-job Fox, going where bid, until John decided to put me in charge of two youth team players, selling programmes. Turns out that 16/17 year olds who want to look cool are perhaps not as vocal and extrovert as forty-something women with daft hair who no longer cares – who knew!? Such was the quality of the TLF sales patter (and willingness to sell to men queuing for the loo)…or more likely the quality of the programme and the occasion that was leaving the punters spellbound, that our first box was soon dispensed and further supplies were sought. By kick-off we were out of programmes and our money belt was stuffed full of coins and notes.

I passed on this good news to John, who wanted to know, “so how many more did you take from the shop to sell?”
Ah.
TLF hadn’t thought of that. Clearly still an amateur when it comes to the programme selling malarkey.
“Er dunno.”
“So how are we meant to reconcile the programme sales?”

TLF is speechless and is starting to feel a bit like they do in the Boardroom in The Apprentice. I am waiting for John to morph into LordSugah and tell me, “You’re fired.” But he just shakes his head and strolls of to the next task on his to do list, which probably now includes the action, “don’t let TLF have anything to do with money – she is keen but a bit dozy where maths is concerned.”

TLF scuttles off for a restorative first pint of the day and the rest of the game. Our equaliser to make it 2-2 gives us hope but it just isn’t to be. And yet TLF can’t be gloomy – happy to see Clarence Park full and the generosity of so many who gave so much of their own time before, during and after the match.
That isn’t the magic of the Cup.
That is the magic of St Albans City FC.

Sorcerer’s Apprentice Fox

Match Stats
St Albans City 3 Carlisle Utd 5
Attendance: 3473
Consumption: 1 pint of Stella (no time – busy working!) and 1 packet bacon fries
Programmes sold: Lots

"Get your souvenir programme heeeereeee!"

“Get your souvenir programme heeeereeee!”

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Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen

Danny Kaye went there by boat but TLF went by plane. The outside of East Midlands Airport at 06.55am on Wednesday morning was dark, frosty and silent. Inside however was a sea of blue bonhomie and anticipation with two chartered flights checking in. There as a nervous moment for TLF as the lady behind the check-in desk grimaced. Was TLF on a suspected terrorist (or tortoise if spell checker gets its way) watch list? Noo. A computer had decided to allocate my middle name to my flight details (‘Lost’ not ‘Louise’ I desperately claimed). Fortunately the Footballing Gods don’t want TLF to miss out and the nice lady amends the records.

After that it is time to hunker down and wait for the flight to be called. TLF chooses to give an example in how not to blend in. Regardless of the scarf and shirt, a copy of The Times, a smoked salmon bagel and a coffee do not meet the bacon butty pint of lager and copy of The Sun requirements. All of the aforementioned bar one TLF is a fan of…but it’s too early and possibly one glass too many of red last night in the parental’s local.

I have book to keep me company as well. Mr TLF’s mate had recommended it, mainly cos it is based in Copenhagen. TLF likes a book based somewhere that is being visited. TLF doesn’t like a historical novel. And turns out this one is set in the year known as ’15effing92′.

The journey is smooth and the tourist element is a breeze. A visit to the Tivoli Gardens accompanied by an Irish coffee and then lunch in a traditional, dark and moody traditional eatery by a canal. You even fill in an order form. The Danes presumably do irony as the meaty TLF choice is called ‘The Vegetarian Midnight Feast’. Ironic or bad translation.

There is time for a boat trip and a bit of hygge and then it hits TLF. There is a game to watch. The result might spoil this little excursion. Only solution to such bleak thoughts is of course DRINK. And fortunately my recently arrived mate Davids hotel has free wine hour. Well it would be rude not to. The free wine event is topped only by the extended pre match company, including my favourite Peer of the Realm and then the bus trip to the stadium which is tuneful and free beerful; provided not be the bus company but our fellow supporters. As the song goes, “we clink and drink one down.”

The game as any fule kno is nothing to write hjem om as the Danes would say. The stewards abandon seat allocations making our tickets irrelevant and so TLF does the decent thing and goes down the front to make some new singing friends.

My chanting buddies

My chanting buddies

Small but perfectly formed

Small but perfectly formed


TLF gets back to Blighty at 3am; happier than Hamlet (but then again he’s not got much to be happy about, dunno who he supports though).

Prince(ss) of Denmark Fox

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Practice makes perfect

It was 169 days since TLF had last seen a Premier League game (yeah that game – free beer-italian singers-trophy-fireworks-yadda-yadda). Finally a weekend had arrived where there was no kultural activity, no weekend away, no festival and no Saints game to prevent TLF from wending her way to Filbert Way.
And yet….

There was faltering, filibustering and faff. It hadn’t exactly been the best start to the season, maybe the Champions League was spoiling me, and there was the unattractive proposition of yet another day at the mercies of the rail network. Sprinkle an exorbitant train fare on top of that little lot and the sofa was starting to look like a very attractive option

Mr TLF wasn’t having any of it. Maybe he knows TLF better than most or maybe he is painfully aware that TLF does just clutter up the place when she doesn’t go anywhere. Or maybe it’s a clever combination of the two. Either way TLF was encouraged out of the house and dragged her sorry flanks onto the 12.58, bound for the Void.

Settling back in my seat, I opened a beer and the sports pages and a high quality homemade cheese COB and realised that actually this isn’t too bad (when it works) and that actually I might just be a bit out of practice with this Satday Lesta travel malarkey.
Further practice in the form of a pre-match beer with Simon and Tim helped to keep the positivity going and not even news of the theft of Tim’s lucky hat could dampen the mood. Largely because the hat had a hole in it, he didn’t really wear it, and he had taken it to Chelsea away, so it was therefore, probably one of the most inappropriately named items of head gear ever.

Things went a bit wobbly however in the run up to kick off. An unexpected tinkering and change in formation that had TLF yearning for the safe harbour of the sofa again.

The mum of the family that sit in front of us over two rows had swopped seats. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! The world had finally turned on its axis and all were doomed and Hades bound. The family were quick to reassure me that this was fine – the new arrangement gave us a more solid platform at the back. Turned out that was for the best as some rather over-exuberant TLF celebrations for Lesta’s third goal almost sent TL, Ski Sunday styley, careering down the stand. Fortunately no season-ruining injury ensued; just a big bruise and cut on the shin…I played on through the pain.

The journey home was as reassuringly familiar as those of last season – squished into the vestibule of the 17.35 to London, one of the shortest trains ever, put on especially for the weekends when Lesta play a London team. Fortunately there was a very drunk and very lovely Crystal Palace fan sharing the space, as generous with his Hula Hoops as his anecdotes. He lives in Australia and only gets to see Palace in the flesh every other year. On this trip he had seen them lose twice. Now there’s something to think about next time TLF is faltering, filibustering or faffing.

The (occasionally) Reluctant Foxdamentalist

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Dear Diary……

The last visit of parental TLFs saw them accompanied by seven boxes of ‘treasured items from TLF’s youth’ or ‘seven boxes of crap cluttering up the dining room,’ depending on whether you reside in the TLF camp or the Mr TLF camp.

I am carefully working my way through each box…well I’ve done one so far which covered the 2-10 years old phase. It proved an entertaining and sometimes emotional (soppy fox) experience. And while it will never live up to being something ‘sensational to read on the train’ a la Oscar Wilde, young TLF’s 1978 diary offered up a few mis-spelt clues as to how things might pan out in the decades to come:

January 14
Leicester did a darw with Bristol.
I think Leicester should of of won.

February 11
I got some football cards.

February 25
I played football. I got some football cards.

February 26
I stuck my football cards in my book.

March 12
I watched Arsenal Wrexham.
3-2

Easter was a big week that year. Nevermind the 8 Easter eggs……First bit of Shakespeare and my first ever Leicester game:

March 23
We went to Stratfford to see Midsummer Night’s drem.
It was good.

March 25
I got David Webb’s autograph at football match.
Leicester Man. Utd 3-2

You get the gist. Critical analysis wasn’t top of the agenda but YTLF was clearly attuned to how footballing life was largely going to pan out; the notes section is recorded the news, “Leicester are bottom for more than 6 weeks running.

Applying YTLF’s lense 39 years later (eek!) and last week looked a bit like this:

Monday
I watched the FA Cup drawer. St Albans got Carlial.
Paul Ince looked sad. David James was smiley.
It was good.

Tuesday
Leicester beat Copenhagan. I listened it on the radio. I was scared and hid under the duvet.
It was good.

Friday
Last night I went to a posh dinner. It was good. I drank a lot and went to bed at 2.45am. I was at work 6 hours later. That wasn’t very good.

Pepys Fox
image

image

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Sweet

Refreshers.
You remember.
Those little fizzy sweets – pink, yellow and green discs of sugar. (And malic acid. And sodium bicarbonate. And E470b. And natural flavourings. So that’s ok then). Everywhere when I were a cub, which I do accept was awhile back. Now they take a whole lot more tracking down – the shelves in Tesco (not a Unilever related absence as far as I am are)), WH Smith, Sainsburys and Co-op are Refresher free zones. You need a specialist sweet shop these days.

Or a football pitch.

Goalkeeper kit designers have plumbed new depths this season, reaching an unexpected new nadir on the fluorescent pigment front, with the kit allocated to Gosport Borough’s man between the sticks. He looked, as Donna pointed out, like a packet of the aforementioned sweet comestibles. Clad in hi-comedy, hi-vis design it is generally essential to either have a sense of humour (he did, as his banter with the crowd evidenced). Or be able to play a bit, which he could, as he kept his team in it for long periods and also made a penalty save late in the second half.

Gosport's keeper

Gosport’s keeper


A packet of Refreshers

A packet of Refreshers

Fortunately for us he couldn’t keep out Sam Merson’s 92nd minute winner. Cue raucous celebrations on the terraces. SWEET.

Heroes on the pitch and off – as TLF snaffled the tub of Cadbury’s miniature Heroes in the raffle.

DOUBLY SWEET.

So that’s all bon bon then (BOOMBOOM!)

Confectionery Fox

Match stats:
St. Albans City 2 Gosport Borough 1
Attendance: 787
Consumption: 1 German beer from the bar & one can Carlsberg from the beer fridge. John F queried whether it was appropriate for TLF to be wielding a missile but I promised if I did throw it I would ‘throw it like a girl.’ That seemed to appease him, although he obviously didn’t hear the end of the sentence that included the words ‘javelin thrower.’ Of and bacon fries of course.
Raffle tickets – 9 losers and 1 BIG WINNER

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The Importance of Being Earnest

I like to think that the Worthing manager did his best Lady Bracknell impression in the changing rooms after the game against St Albans. I don’t mean he indulged in a bit of cross dressing – although if he wants to that’s none of TLF’s business. Rather he looked at his players and informed them that,”to lose by one goal Mr Worthings, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose by six looks like carelessness.”

Of course he probably didn’t. He may well not be wild about Wilde (BOOMBOOM!) and also after a bit of a spanking from a team admittedly one league above you, theatrical related badinage is probably not top of your average manager’s to do list. And also he only had only player in his squad called Jack so that would have made the whole you-play-for-Worthing-and-that’s-one-of-the-characters-in-the-play riff a bit thin. Expect of course for all we know they all do pretend to be called Ernest when they come up to the City, just like the play. And before you think that is like a thin thing on a thin day singing “I’m so very thin “, it should also be noted that the denouement of said play does take place in Hertfordshire so it is almost all falling into place now. Well in my special TLF head at least.

But if the Worthing manager wasn’t Lady Bracknell then who was? Ray was in with a shout. His reaction to the reflection by TLF and Julie that Ian Rogers would be the ideal practical person to be stuck on a desert island with contained suitable levels of derision…anyone would have thought we had just owned up to being left in a handbag at a left luggage department at a railway terminus. We were merely noting that Ian’s addition of a small torch to his evening match apparel was a wise one as you can’t see nuffink in the inner sanctum that is the away turnstiles. Ray however has experienced Ian pre-torch days and a short and witty anecdote ensured regarding the search for a lost set of car keys late at night illuminated by the headlights of Ray’s daughter’s car…The story was of course told with typically Clarence Park bonhomie, wit and affection which isn’t quite Lady B’s thang. Although such is her lack of faith in the male gender that she may well have been nodding in approval at Ray’s exhortations to a St Albans side, 4-0 up, to “Not throw it away now.”

They didn’t of course and the gaffer’s (FA) Cup did therefore runneth over and on his birthday too. He was greeted in the clubhouse by a relatively tuneful rendition of Happy Birthday which went down well. He was also greeted by an earnest looking ex-player who had decided during the summer to depart the finery of Clarence Park for a Tudor shilling. Whether his appearance was a welcome birthday gift or not remains to be seen.

While I think the gaffer probably has an encyclopaedia of put downs, TLF is too scared to suggest there is anything remotely Bracknellesque about Ian Allison. Instead my final nominee must be Gary if only for his response to the TLF post-match beverage of choice. “A half! To order or at any rate drink a half, whether it was Stella or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution.” Well it sounded a bit like that and in any case I’d rather drink half a Stella than be found in a handbag.

“A Handbag!?”
Repeat ad nauseam

Oscar Fox

Match stats
St Albans City 6 Worthing 0
Attendance: 678
Snackage: Quavers. WTF!? It’s all gone a bit cheesy on the deep fried snack front. Suitable customer feedback was shared. Also some pretty good chips. My one-TLF boycott of the new snack wagon could only last so long – stomach will always win the war of attrition against principles.
Alcohol consumption: Two bottles of the German stuff and a yes. Alright. A half of Stella
Countless unwise purchases of raffle and goalden goal tickets.

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There be Dragons

Football does funny things to a TLF.

But you know that.

Champions League football however takes it to a whole new different level.  It is new and shiny. It is, let’s face it, likely to be a rare occurrence. Can’t think of anything else that would entice TLF to part with even more hard-earned pounds on a return train trip to Lesta (distance from St Albans approx 80 miles) than had been spent on a return trip to Bruges (distance from St Albans approx 203 miles). Don’t get me wrong, it was a very nice train complete with, for comedy purposes, a Portugese train manager who turned out to be a Porto fan who wished all the Lesta fans good luck for the evening as they would “need it against his team”, but am not sure that this vaguely amusing sideshow quite justifies East Midlands Trains peak travel fares.

Still nothing could have come between TLF and the chance to hear that Champions League music at Filbert Way. I know that Manchester City fans enjoy booing that anthem but they probably have sufficient confidence that they will get the opportunity to do that on a season by season basis. For us Premier League peasants, however, who have experienced the slings and arrows of outrageous footballing fortune, we are going to embrace every single fairy tale moment.

The only downside to be honest in all of this is Uefa.  TLF is reliably informed that Uefa stands for Union of European Football Associations. That though is the sanitised and shortened version. It actually it stands for “up-their-own-backsides-money-obssessed-sponsor-loving-bunch-of-effing-killjoys”.

All clubs participating in the Champions League receive a 155 page manual advising on requirements for the privilege of hosting the games. And so we kiss goodbye to any beer being available in the ground, our stadium is re-named for the evening, Filbert Fox (if he is allowed out as he needs to be a similar size to a ‘normal person’) is subject to a dress code (which must include a hole in his shirt for his tail), the pitch has to be mown in a certain way, the Club needs ato invest in a measuring stick to ensure that all player escorts (that’s the kids that walk on the pitch with the players  not ladies of the night) are between the required  1.05 metres and 1.35 metres tall and don’t get me started on what should and should not be in the referee’s dressing room or how many free parking spaces Uefa require (180 as it turns out – I’m not sure we have that many in total). All of sudden TLF is starting to get in touch with her inner Nigel Farage. I probably never had one; but I do now.

Some things however remain beyond the reach of this beaucratic and bloated machine. The digestive delight that is the Red Leicester cheese and sausage roll remains on sale, the grins on our faces at the idea that we are yet again experiencing history after so many dark days cannot be wiped from our faces and despite the best attempts of an erratic referee and the desire to play so deep for the last 20 minutes that our defence might has well have been sitting in the stand behind our goal, Lesta City squeak a 1-0 victory.

Lesta City. Currently top of their Champions League Group. Pure fantasy.

Skint but happy Fox

 

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A mug’s game

Technically last Satday it was Lesta’s turn. Okay I know I had seen them during the week but that was abroad. And Filbert Way has not yet been graced with the TLF presence this season. And the Mighty Saints were playing in the far east. Not ‘abroad’ far east; just Norfolk.

There were however grim realities weighing heavy on the TLF brow that morning. First it was time to face up to the fact that sometimes the F in TLF should probably stand for the F in Old Fart. Recovery times have increased significantly and TLF was experiencing a severe bout of PTBD – post trip to Bruges disorder. Plus Mr TLF was on the brink of asking whether I was a squatter or a burglar. Time to hunker down and do the domestic bliss thing.

DBT does of course mean, apart from spending quality time with my life partner, that there are choices to be made – full media blackout until final score OR following via the wireless and the twitter, which TLF has almost scientifically proven is unlucky. There is of course a third way – ignore Lesta and concentrate on regular Saints updates via tweets from roving reporter Julie – speedy, witty, biased and generating just the right level of Satday afternoon twitter badinage amongst other Saints absentees.

Unbeknownst to TLF there was a fourth way via the medium of Mr TLF. This is a new and relatively user friendly mode of communication; although it doesn’t seem possible to switch it on or off. It either happens or it doesn’t and you are not in control of your subscription. It is however quick and effective – a hand will appear around the door with a thumb up – this means things are going well for Lesta. This will be followed by the raising of a digit which will indicate the current number of goals scored by the Foxes. Very handy (BOOMBOOM!). The scorer of the goal may also be stated from behind the door. Or perhaps just any old Lesta player and not the goalscorer at all (cue TLF singing homage to man making assist rather than man hitting back of net).

There does seem to be a variation in service depending on the team and the progress of the game. West Ham’s travails at West Brom were reported vocally and mournfully and the TLF response of “Against West Brom! But they have been pants this season,” was probably not my best ever contribution to DBT.

Amends were made via cooking, non-mentioning of the aforementioned unmentionable result for the unhappy Hammers; especially not when compared with the success of both my Cities and also TLF taking seriously the request that Sunday morning tea should NOT be served in the usual mug of choice. I can’t believe how seriously he takes these things. I mean for goodness sake. It’s only a game. Next he’ll be telling me he’s got a lucky shirt that he only washes if his team loses.

Absence making the heart grow fonder Fox

The mug faces an uncertain future.

The mug faces an uncertain future.

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