RIP IFC Senior Team

I can’t remember the last time I felt so despondent about my beloved Ilkeston football club.  Last season we were pushing for promotion and came so close to doing just that, losing 1-0 in the playoff final.  Back in October/November we went on an unbeaten run of  8 league games without defeat, winning 6 of them.  Now we have just lost to Mickleover which makes it 8 league defeats in a row.  Not just 8 games without a win but 8 defeats.  The first team has been decimated and is now mostly made up of academy players.  Let me be brutally honest about this, we no longer have a senior team but an academy team playing in a man’s league and we are not good enough.

The kids are not to blame.  It is not their fault that they have been put in this position.  I can understand the philosophy of bringing through the academy players and making money off them when they move on to bigger clubs.  I can understand the line of thought of bringing some of these players through now in preparation for next season.  The problem is that it’s all been done to the extreme.  Too many of our better players have been sold.  Too many of our more experienced players have been let go.  Too many academy players have been brought through at the same time.  Too many academy players now make up the, supposedly, senior team.  As a result too many games are being lost and before long too many fans will stop attending.

How is defeat after defeat helping to make these kids better players?  Their confidence must be shot and I worry for them, especially when I see tweets like “I’m so shit” from one of the players.

So who is to blame?  The majority of fans will immediately point fingers at Nigel Harrop.  As the CEO he has to take the ultimate responsibility.  Is there a money issue?  Where are these mysterious backers?  Is it naivety and he’s out of his depth?  Does he simply not have a clue?  We will never know.  How must the manager feel about this?  Does Andy Watson have any say in all these players leaving or are his hands tied?   If it’s the latter then he must feel equally demoralized but if it’s the former then he is also partly to blame.

As I write this we are 8 points clear of the drop zone but with most of the teams below us having games in hand and with our next 2 games being against league leaders Blyth Spartans and then a six-pointer against Whitby we are well and truly sucked into the relegation fight.  I’ll be honest, I can’t see us winning another game.

The fans deserve better.

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Match Day Programme – Ilkeston v Stamford

This is the Wayne’s World article that I wrote for the Ilkeston v Stamford programme (22/02/16):

What a couple of weeks we’ve had at the NMG!  We’ve had nearly a whole team leave overnight, rumours of moves for two more of our youngsters, games called off, forum announced, forum cancelled and finally one of the best games of the season so far.  Spoilers I know, sorry!

Friday the 12th February began as any other Friday.  That soon changed though when I read that club caption Joe Burgess had signed for Boston.  Then I read that both Joe Doyle and Eli Bako were also moving on but wait, there’s more.  Liam Marshall, Oli Luto, Charlie Coulson, J J Blake and Lee Ndlovu were also released bringing the total to 8 players. In one night!  It doesn’t happen very often but I was speechless.  As you can imagine this caused quite a stir (the exodus not me being speechless!).  Nigel Harrop released a press statement stating that as these players were not going to be offered a new contract in the summer and as it looks highly likely that we would finish mid-table, the decision was made to let the players go and to give other youngsters a chance at first team football.  Not everybody was convinced though.

The IFCSG arranged a fans forum where questions could be put to Nigel Harrop and Andy Watson.  Unfortunately, due to ill health, the forum had to be cancelled on the day of the forum.  A real shame as it would have been a great chance for fans to air their concerns.  Hopefully the questions that were submitted for the forum can still be used sometime in the near future.

The first game following the mass departures was away at Skelmersdale.  We lost 2-1 but by all accounts the youngsters played well and deserved at least a draw.  Promising signs and I was looking forward to seeing them in action for the first time the following Monday in the Doodson Cup.  However, the game was called off when our opponents, Daventry, were unable to raise a team. Oh the irony!  Strangely the game has been rescheduled for Monday 29th February.  Why?  Surely we should have been awarded the victory?  At least it gives us another game to watch.

The biggest test for the new look team was the home game against Salford.  Surely Salford would prove what a mistake it was to release so many players in one go.  Surely Salford would prove all the doubters correct.  Surely it would be like watching men v boys.  Surely we would get hammered! Well, as it happens, no.  What we did get was one of the best performances, if not THE best performance, of the season from the Robins.  To a man they were superb.  Salford began the game with plenty of possession but as the game went on the youngsters grew in confidence and took the game to Salford.  New captain Matt Baker led by example and grabbed the opening goal.  Curtis Burrows, restored to the starting line-up, scored a second at the start of the second half and even though Salford did pull one back the lads held on to get a well-deserved victory.  It was a great game to watch in front of a great gate of 999.  A special shout-out to the Salford fans who sang “Where’s your first team gone?” to much amusement.  Mind you their singing of “You’ve got school in the morning” soon stopped when the “school kids” took the lead.  Men v boys?  Maybe, but it was the boys that sent the men home back to Manchester with zero points.

Fingers crossed we can perform like this again on Monday against Stamford.  It’s one thing being up for the big game but they also need to be up for the games against teams towards the bottom of the table too.  If they take nothing for granted and approach the game with the same attitude then I’m sure these boys will man up again.

Until next time….COME ON ILSON!

Wayne (@ilsonfan)

Match Day Programme – Ilkeston v Salford

This is the Wayne’s World article that I wrote for the Ilkeston v Salford programme (20/02/16):

Welcome to my first Wayne’s World article in the official Ilkeston FC programme.  I now know how the likes of Che Adams, Ashley Hunter and Akil Wright must have felt when they moved up the leagues. Ok, maybe not quite but it still feels good and I’m very thankful to be given this chance.

Now, where to start?  How about with a few comings and goings, well goings mostly.  Firstly, a huge congratulations to a couple of our 17 year olds, Rhys Dolan and Lewis Walker who got moves to Barnsley and Derby County respectively.  Rhys was an exceptional left-back who never failed to impress whether I saw him play for the Academy team or for the first team.  Barnsley have got a real gem and I’m certain it won’t be long before he starts making a name for himself.  Lewis is a goal-scorer who has had interest from numerous clubs, including a trial at Chelsea.  I’m sure that his Dad is very proud, despite his choice of club!  Who knows, maybe in a season or two the two Walker brothers will be lining up against each other in the great East Midlands derby (which Forest will win of course!)

Another player to leave the club was everyone’s favourite Brazilian goalkeeper, Evandro “Bob” Rachoni.  Bob became a bit of a cult icon but he sure gave us some scary moments too!  Maybe he won’t go down in Ilkeston history as the best goalkeeper we ever had but I think he was underrated by many.  Good luck to you Bob wherever you move to next.

Two players returned to the NMG last month with Luke Shaw returning from Belper and Curtis Burrows from *cough* Grantham.  Luke made an immediate impact at the game away at Sutton Coldfield where he tormented them in the first half.  But more on that game later.  Curtis has had to bide his time for 1st team action but hopefully it won’t be long before he’s back where he belongs and scoring goals for the Robins.

It’s been a very up and down month on the pitch.  It started very promising with an easy win in the Doodson Cup against Lincoln United.  The star that night was undoubtedly J J Blake who bagged a hat-trick (our first hat-trick of the season I believe), although he was lucky not to have seen the red card earlier on in the game.  There were also goals from Lewis Walker and a first goal for another promising youngster, Jordan Wheatley.  The 5-1 win was well deserved and we now host Daventry in the next round.

However, the good times feeling was short-lived.  Five days later and Barwell brought us crashing back down to earth by giving us a 4-0 hammering.  Things looked bleak in our next game too when we went 2-0 down away at Rushall.  However, Mike Williams and Lee Ndlovu had other ideas with 2 goals inside six minutes.  From that point on we looked the likely winners but we had to settle for the draw.  Can’t really grumble at that though.

Another trip to the West Midlands followed and this time we managed to take away all three points, although we made bloody hard work of it!  We coasted the first half with the aforementioned Shaw proving what a talent he is.  However, Sutton Coldfield had a man sent half just before the break and it seemed to make all the difference, but not in a good way.  I don’t know what it is but we always seem to struggle when playing against 10 men.  There were times in the second half when it was hard to believe that we were the side with the man advantage.  It wasn’t until Dexter Atkinson scored our second goal very late on that we could breathe a sigh of relief and relax.

Our Jekyll and Hyde of a team then showed their dark side again when we played Frickley.  This was one of the poorest performances I’ve seen this season.  We never looked like scoring and couldn’t pass the ball.  In fact I remember tweeting at one point that we had passed to a yellow player more times than Frickley had themselves!  Once again we found ourselves playing against 10 men and once again we struggled to make it count.  Frickley punished us in the second half with two goals and they were worthy winners.  Not a good way to spend a cold Monday evening.

I don’t want to finish on a low note however and thankfully neither did the players.  Our final game in January was away at high-scoring Nantwich.  I must admit that I wasn’t looking forward to this one.  If we played as badly as we had been then we could have been in for another Barwell.  With some trepidation I tuned into the live internet radio commentary that Nantwich provided. Jekyll or Hyde? It turned out that this time Dr Jekyll was in the ascendancy.  A great goal from Ndlovu gave us the lead and hope of doing the double but Nantwich hit back in the second half and equalised to share the points.  A win would have been better (obviously!) but we should be happy with the draw.  Highlight of the game though was a very unfortunate typo from the Ilkeston Twitter team when they reported that Ndlovu had just had a shit at goal.  I really, really, hope it was a typo anyway!

Until next time….COME ON ILSON!

Wayne (@ilsonfan)

Eye Of The Tiger

Being an Ilkeston fan can sometimes be a wonderful thing:  staying undefeated for so long in the Derbyshire Senior Cup (James Reid and Matlock anyone?), making the play-off final last season by beating the favourites Workington on their home ground, seeing Che Adams scoring twice against Tottenham.  However, there are times that being an Ilkeston fan is like being a boxer.  Today is one of those days.  I woke up to the bodyblow that captain Joe Burgess had left and signed for Boston.  Then came the left hook that was the reveal that Joe Doyle and Eli Bako were also leaving.  This was quickly followed by the knockout punch that a further 5 players (Liam Marshall, Oliver Luto, Charlie Coulson, J J Blake and Lee Ndlovu) have also been released.  That’s 8 senior players gone overnight.  I was reeling.

I wasn’t the only one.  This has sent shockwaves through the Ilkeston fanbase with the vast majority understandably angry and upset.  Why release 8 players? Have we got serious money problems? Are we about to go under (again!)? Has the Chairman lost the plot? Does he care?

The Chairman has said that this was a streamlining excercise that was necessary to prove to an investor that the club could be run without the need for an increasing input of money.  This would make some sort of sense if it was the end of the season and we were preparing for the new one.  But it’s not.  We are still clinging on to a remote chance of making the play-offs so making such big changes now is a huge gamble.  We’ve heard talk of this mysterious investor for a long time now but nothing seems to materialise from it.  Do they exist?  Are they already pulling the strings without spending a penny?  I guess we’ll never know for sure and that just makes it more unsavoury for us fans.

Another disturbing bit of news was a tweet from one of the player’s Dad who said that this had been on the cards for some time as his lad hadn’t been paid since Christmas.  If this is true then maybe it’s more than just a streamlining exercise.  Again, we’ll never truely know but it is worrying.

So at the moment things are looking pretty bleak.  But maybe this isn’t a knockout after all, maybe we will have a Rocky moment.  At least now the likes of Dexter Atkinson and Curtis Burrows (who both should be starting every game anyway, in my opinion) will get a real chance to show what they can do.  Let’s face it, some of the players released were not really good enough for the first team (again, in my opinion!).  Some of the rising stars in the Acadamy will find their place on the bench but there’s no way of knowing if they can hack it in the first team.  Hopefully, they’ll prove to us that they can, after all Jordan Wheatley and Rhys Dolan sure did.

It may be the easiest team selection that Andy Watson has to make tomorrow, just play the senior players that are left, but one good decision he has already made is giving the captaincy to Matt Baker.  I remember telling people around me earlier in the season that Matt would be the captain one day and I’m really pleased for him that I was proved right.

The next few games are going to be critical for Ilkeston FC and the relationship between the club and the fans.  I really hope that the fans give Andy Watson and this new look team a chance to prove themselves.  Remember that it’s not Nigel Harrop playing on the pitch.  The young lads need us there cheering them on now more than ever.  Yes, be angry at the way the club is being run, be frustrated that we are kept in the dark too much but be there shouting “Come On Ilson!” and supporting the players who will be giving their all for the club WE love.

Maybe we should have the Rocky theme playing as the lads run out into the ring, sorry, I mean onto the pitch!

COME ON ILSON!

Hyde and Seek

On Saturday Ilkeston played Hyde United in a league game.  Unfortunately I was unable to attend but due to the wonders of Twitter and my Dad being at the game I was kept up to date with what was happening.  In the first half I think it’s fair to say we were poor and although Hyde had a player sent off after about 20 minutes we failed to make the most of it and went into half time 0-0.  However the second half was a different story.  The Robins came out blazing and goals from Ndlovu and Udoh gave us a comfortable lead.  But when Hyde pulled a goal back I worried that we were going to throw it away.  Constant refreshing of my phone’s Twitter feed ensued.  I didn’t need to worry though as Dan Udoh, currently on the best form of his Ilkeston career, made sure of the win with his second goal.

The drama though was just about to start.  I got a cryptic text from my Dad saying “Craig is flat out”. “Eh??” I replied, confused.  It turns out that the game, which was a bit niggley throughout, boiled over as the players left the pitch.  During the ensuing brawl one of the Hyde players pushed Craig, the club photographer, who fell, banged his head and was knocked out.  The players were confined to their changing rooms and the police was called.  Thankfully Craig is ok but this could have been so much worse. All of the players need to take a good long look at themselves.

Later that day more news started to spread that a young Hyde fan was assaulted by an Ilkeston fan.  THIS IS UNFORGIVABLE.  Hopefully the young girl is ok and her attacker is found and dealt with.  There is no excuse for this, none at all.

Ilkeston have released the following statement:

With regards to the incident after Saturday’s home game against Hyde United, Ilkeston FC are looking into the incident and will deal with the people involved in the necessary manner.

The club would like to wish our photographer Craig Lamont a speedy recovery. Craig was knocked unconscious for several minutes and was treated at the ground by St Johns Ambulance and the physio of both teams, he was taken to Queens Medical Centre and discharged after check ups by doctors.

Ilkeston FC would also like to send our best wishes to the Hyde United fan allegedly involved in an incident after the final whistle.

The club will be making no further statement at this time

At the time that I’m writing this Hyde haven’t made a statement.

The Flying Robin #12

This is the article I wrote for The Flying Robin #12:

What a difference a month makes!  In the last issue of TFR I was feeling pretty downbeat.  We were on a winless streak of 8 games, not playing well and things were looking bleak.  Since I wrote that article we have won 6, drew 2, scored 13, conceded only 5 and been awarded the October Club Of The Month award.

So what’s changed?

The big change, of course, is the manager.  Gavin Strachan left to re-join Darren Ferguson at Doncaster Rovers overnight leaving Andy Watson in temporary charge.  Gavin had a tough job to do, starting a new team from scratch in a league where he had no experience.  To be honest he was out of his depth.  Andy Watson, on the other hand, looks totally confident, has got the players working as a team and has already rallied the fans behind him.  Since taking over we have won 4 out of 4 games and Andy has been confirmed as our permanent Manager.  Congratulations Andy!

However, I don’t think Andy can take all the credit (and I’m sure he would be the first to agree) for our fantastic turnaround.  The main reason for our improvement is the change in formation.  We have gone from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 and the impact has been immediate.  We have become much more solid at the back and this has had the knock on effect of us being more confident in going forward and converting the chances we make into goals.  This isn’t the first time that this change in formation has been successful.  Towards the end of the 12-13 season we switched to this formation and once the players had gotten used to it we looked a different team.  We continued with this in the following season and we came so close to getting promotion.  So close.  Maybe it’s too late this season to think about promotion but then again, is it?

Earlier in the week I had the great pleasure of watching our U18s in their FA Youth Cup First Round match against Burton Albion.  I have to say that I was impressed.  They played some really good football and didn’t look out of place against their League One opponents.  Six of the players already have first team experience and on this showing there are a few more knocking on the door too.  The game was won by a penalty shootout with goalkeeper Jamie Hannis being the hero saving Burton’s second spot kick.  Hannis had already made a couple of superb saves to keep Ilkeston in the game during the first half and his Dad was unsurprisingly beside himself with joy at the end of the game.  A very proud moment for him and the rest of the team.  The youngsters will now play Shrewsbury Town at home on Wednesday 18th November in the next round.  I urge you all to get down to the ground and give this talented bunch your backing.

Until next time…

COME ON ILSON!

The Flying Robin #11

This is my article for The Flying Robin #11:

I’m going to be perfectly honest with you.  This is the hardest article I’ve ever had to write about our beloved club and I’m not sure, even now, what to write.  You see I’m a generally positive, glass half-full, optimistic guy that believes in giving people a chance. This last month, however, has tested even my patience.

It would be naïve for anyone to believe that a brand new, young, untested team would be able to push for promotion in their first year and win game after game after game.  We have a young, unproven manager who is still finding his feet at this level of football but his first “guess” at what sort of team and tactics are needed to win games in the Evostick Prem have failed.  There is no other way of putting it; no wins in 8 games and out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle is a failure.

So the question is, what can Gavin do to change things and how quickly can he make these changes happen?  For me we are missing three key players, none of this is rocket science but here we go anyway:

1.       A goal scorer.  We have created plenty of chances but we have failed to take them.  Ndlovu looks a good signing but our other strikers are struggling to get shots on target never mind hitting the back of the net.

2.       A goal keeper.  Bob is too unpredictable and the lad on loan from Forest is not the answer.  Why was he brought in without giving Kumari-Hill a chance?

3.       A leader.  This is the most crucial player that we are missing.  We need somebody to get hold of the game by the scruff of the neck and shake it.  We need somebody to rally the players when they are under pressure.  We need somebody to shout at players when they are not giving their all.  Somebody that the young lads can turn to for support.

I’m not saying that getting these players is easy, this isn’t a game of FIFA, but they do need to be sorted quickly.  We can’t afford to lose many more games otherwise we will be in a relegation fight for the rest of the season.

It’s important that the fans still get behind the team.  We all know that players and managers come and go but it’s us, the fans that keep the club going.  These are undoubtedly tough times to be a supporter but let’s be grateful that we do have a team to support.  Fingers crossed that the next time I write this article I find it a whole lot easier and there are more positive things to talk about.

See, there’s that optimistic guy I was talking about popping his head up again!

Until next time…

COME ON ILSON!