Marvin Sordell

Today’s article is a little different, as I bring you an interview with former Non-league striker Marvin Sordell. I was lucky enough to play with Marvin in the Watford youth team, and it comes as no surprise to me that he is doing as well as he is. Enjoy the read!

Rewind four years to a young, raw striker signed by a youth academy at just 16. Will they sink or swim surrounded by hundreds who all show ‘potential’ a term often lassoed around young footballers. The harsh reality soon dawns, with many players being let go before they sign a professional contract. However, forget potential, this one had real quality. Fast forward four years and Marvin Sordell has secured a multi million pound transfer to Bolton Wanderers, played in the Premier League and represented Great Britain in the London 2012 Olympics. Quite a transformation. And what is it all down to? Why, his time at Non-league Wealdstone of course.

When speaking to Marvin, his appreciation for everything football has given him is evident immediately. Far from the aloof and arrogant image that many professional footballers have, Marvin is relaxed, friendly, and more than happy to talk. Dressed casually in a shirt and jeans, he appears far more understated than his footballing talent would allow.  When asked about his time at non-league side Wealdstone FC, he jokes and asks what it is exactly I want to know about? I am not quite sure if his laugh is a nervous one as he remembers those tough early days, or a happy one as he reminisces about the blossoming of his promising career. Regardless, the appreciation for what Wealdstone did for him is obvious:  ‘”It was the best thing that ever happened to me if I’m honest. I was a young, inexperienced striker struggling to make an impact at Watford when the manager at the time (Brendan Rogers) told me I was being sent on loan. At first I wasn’t particularly excited by the prospect. I had only been playing academy level football at Watford and probably thought I was a bit too good for the Ryman League. I was in for a shock.” This shock Marvin talks about has little to do with the quality of football he was exposed to, but more to do with the pure physicality of the League. “I remember my first game vividly at home against Cray Wanderers. Their centre half was twice the size of me and didn’t stop kicking me the whole game. I hardly had a touch of the ball and was substituted after about 60 minutes. It was a massive reality check for me.” Marvin admits candidly.

The physicality of Non-league football is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact rather the opposite; it should be embraced. It is football at its purest, played with passion, commitment and an unadulterated love for the game. “After that first game I knew I had to improve,” Marvin recalls, “I had to toughen up and prove to myself and the club I could handle the physicality. By the time my loan spell came to an end I think I had proved a massive point to me personally and to Watford. I had grown up.” Two months, 10 games and seven goals later Marvin’s spell at Wealdstone had come to an end. His good form had convinced Watford that he was in fact tough enough for Men’s football, and he was rewarded with his first professional contract. It is fair to to say Marvin wouldn’t be where he is today without his time at Wealdstone, which undoubtedly played a massive role in his development.

A loan move to League One Tranmere Rovers followed the next season where Marvin again excelled. When I ask him which league was tougher, the Ryman Premier or League One he again laughs before going quiet in thought, highlighting just how competitive the Non-league game is. He finally, almost apologetically, admits that League One is tougher but only because ‘the expectation levels were higher.’ Even against the defenders which were ‘constantly trying to kick me,’ Marvin’s particular set of skills were beginning to shine through. His lightning pace, sharp eye for goal and exceptional agility were beginning to make the headlines and resulted in a sensational start to the 2010-2011 season back at Watford. Five goals in the first eight games of the season sent Marvin’s stock soaring and immediately put him on the English football radar. “It was an unbelievable start to the season and more than I possibly could have hoped for. Malky Mackay (The Watford manager) handed me a start in the first game of the season and luckily I was in the right place at the right time to grab a couple of goals.” Yet more modesty from the man who thought his football dream was over after being released by Fulham at 16. The reality was, Marvin was setting the Championship alight. When you look at Marvin’s build, it is easy to understand why he is one of the most feared strikers outside of the Premier League. Six foot tall and with a muscular physique far beyond his years, his explosive quadriceps’s are built like tree trunks. His excellent form continued for the next 12 months resulting in the dream move in January 2012. Premier League outfit Bolton Wanderers had seen enough potential in the then 20 year old Marvin to splash out £3.5 million on him. At the mention of this move, his face immediately lights up. “It was a dream come true. To play in the Premier League is something you can only dream of as a kid and for it to happen so soon was crazy. Watford had been fantastic for me but I couldn’t turn down the chance to play in the biggest League in the world.”

So, from Watford via spells at Wealdstone and Tranmere, the boy had become a man and Marvin had arrived at the top of the game. Further recognition came his way when he was selected to represent team GB at the 2012 Olympics. Coincidently, the team GB football manager, Stuart Pearce, had also started his career at Wealdstone some 30 years previous. I asked Marvin whether Pearce had said anything to him about their bizarre connection.  Marvin replied with a chuckle: “He told me that all the best characters come out of the Non-league game.” In Marvin, we may well have another one.

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Maidstoneitis

I am writing this article after our hugely disappointing loss at the hands of Maidstone last weekend. Of course it is massively disappointing to exit another major trophy, but ultimately we have to take stock of the situation as a whole. We are still a good team, we still have good players and we still completely believe we have the attributes to achieve the ultimate goal and gain promotion into the Conference South.

The two games against Maidstone perhaps epitomised our season to date so far. Some excellent attacking play, with Scott McGleish’s goal the highlight, yet missed chances and sloppy defending costing us in the end. It is very easy to point fingers at individual players or different units, but football is a team game and blaming specific players will not help anybody. Again, I genuinely believe we have a reason to be aggrieved with the manor of the equalising goal last Saturday, but blaming the referee is an easy way out. Anyway, as the old saying goes, these decisions even themselves out throughout the season so a shed load of luck is waiting just around the corner! Hopefully…

After every defeat, it is easy to over analyse what went wrong and jump to wrong conclusions. I know for a fact that players, management and fans were hurting after Tuesday night, but there are always positives and I still think there were plenty to be taken away from both games. I think everybody who watched the two games would agree that on the balance of play we really should have beaten Maidstone, and they are top of the League! We know we are capable of beating every single team we play against, and if they are the best we will come up against, then promotion has to be achievable! We as players believe it, and I hope you fans do as well!

On the player front, our two new friends from up North have also settled in nicely now and will certainly be a big help as the season progresses. Tom Hamblin has slotted in superbly at the back, and it certainly gives Gordon a selection headache with Sean coming back this week and Wes waiting in the (hospital) wings. I do have to admit though, what with Sean and Wes both out and the captain’s armband up for grabs, I was gutted to miss out as skipper to a player who has only been here for 5 minutes!

I must also add a little about Maidstone’s 3G/4G/5G or whatever they call it pitch, and I have to admit I really, really like it! I know a lot of players out there will disagree with me (Wes) moaning about their poor muscles and bones etc but I think they are the future. It was such a carpet, that it reminded me of playing football as a youngster in my front room. As well as this, Fingers wouldn’t have to spend his Sunday afternoons relaying all the divots from Hammonds shanked clearances and Seth wouldn’t have to spend all week worrying about the grass stains on our lovely white shorts. So let’s not worry about wasting any more money on new players, an astro turf pitch is the real investment!

On a final note, after Micky decided to give us players a mark out of 8 (I still don’t know why he choose 8 instead of a normal number like 5 or 10) in last week’s programme, I thought I would return the favour but this time with the coaches. So here is my analysis on their performances so far this campaign, and this time out of 5!

Gordon – 4 – I wouldn’t dare say anything to risky, but still smarting after being over looked for the captaincy so deducted 1 point. Perhaps needs to employ the Christmas tree formation to take us to the next level.

Gilly – 3 – I still finish every game with a near on migraine, and it’s not from the noise in the crowd, rather Gillys unrelenting screaming. Still unsure exactly who listens to him, but he seems intent on deafening the whole bench every game.

Micky – 2 – Only gave me a 7 last week so an automatic fail. Still turns up to the occasional game smelling of Jack Daniels and seems incapable of controlling the volume of DVD’s on the coach to away games. Room for improvement.

Leo – 5 – Obviously. LFM.

Seth – 3 – Doesn’t escape my analysis. Has improved lately after discovering the iron. Will be awarded an extra point if I’m wearing the Orange kit today…

Fingers – 4 – Started the season slowly and made us play in a near jungle at some stages in the early season. 6G pitch imminent…

Jason – 5 – Top man. Owe everything that I am today to him.

Enjoy the game today, and as I said earlier, relax and #BELIEVE!

Its a long old season!

Although I can no longer brag about the unbeaten start, I still believe we have plenty of reasons to be positive, despite the two disappointing results of late.

A football season is made of 46 League games, numerous amount of cup games and a hell of a lot of ups and downs. The first 11 games of the season were safely navigated without defeat, and despite a slight dream of recreating the Arsenal ‘invincible’ season of 2003-2004, a defeat was of course inevitable. Unfortunately that came against Margate in our last League outing as we suffered a narrow 1-0 loss. Of course it was disappointing to lose, but one defeat is certainly not the end of the world. It is easy to get carried away when you are winning football games, and likewise when you suffer a defeat. Before the Margate game, we had won 8 of our last 10 games in all competitions, and spirits around the club were naturally high. Those victories did not mean promotion was guaranteed, just as a defeat does not signal a crisis. Defeats happen, it is how you bounce back from them that really count…

So, onto the following game and what an opportunity to put things right as we faced Hornchurch in the FA Cup! Despite having two weeks to reflect on the game, I am still struggling to explain what exactly happened. I don’t think anyone in the ground, or in the world for that matter, could have predicted the final score line (I am not putting in the score because it offends my eyes.) Quite frankly, it was a disaster. We can blame the referee and we can blame the pitch but that is all rubbish. The only thing that really is to blame is Sean Cronin’s knee, for pushing itself into a Hornchurch player, completely by accident of course! The red card naturally didn’t help, but there are no excuses for the score line or the performance. Sometimes in football results like that happen, and it is impossible to pinpoint why. Perhaps the only positive to come out of that fateful day, was the performance of the travelling Wealdstone fans. Your support is always appreciated, and to still be singing despite the heavy defeat emphasis what a great bunch you are.

After the defeat, Gordon obviously thought there was something missing from the team so took decisive action in the transfer market to correct it. What could it be that was so horribly missing from the Hornchurch debacle? A reliable goalkeeper? No, apparently not. A right back who doesn’t dangle a loose leg in the area just after half time? Again, apparently not. Of course, it was a lack of experience! So in came Mark Bentley, to bring the average age of our squad up to 36. The main problem with all these 30 something’s in our team, is that poor Brookesy doesn’t understand all the big words they use! But I’m sure the signing of Mark will help bring some solidity into the middle of the pitch, and a player of his experience can only benefit us in the long run.

Moving on from the FA Cup, last Saturday saw the return of everybody’s favorite FA competition, the FA Trophy. Having been injured last season, the game away at Leiston was my first outing in the Trophy since the semi-final against Newport two seasons ago. Admittedly, the surroundings were slightly different as was the atmosphere, but it still brought back some fantastic memories for me. A win was essential both for confidence and to stop the mini rot, and we achieved that with an emphatic 3-0 win. But just as importantly, it sets us up nicely to have a go at going one step further that 2011-2012! It’s a long shot, but why can’t we go all the way this year? It is something to aim for, and we certainly have the quality of players and the, ahem, experience to make a real good go of it!

On the playing front, it has been a pleasure to watch Petty torment opposition back lines this season. In many ways, you really do have to feel sorry for him. I mean, how many semi-professional footballers have to admit that their girlfriend is better than them at football? Despite being really rather good, it must be awfully depressing knowing that you will never quite be as good as your other half! During my time at Wealdstone I have played with the likes of Keiron Forbes, Alex Dyer and Alan Massey who have all moved up the Leagues and acquitted themselves exceptionally well higher up. On current form, our time watching Petty running through defenders legs may well be limited. A few more years practicing with your girlfriend Tom, and you may well be ready for the move up!

On to today’s game and the visit of Grays Athletic. I have to admit I do not know an awful lot about them, but they are currently only a couple of points behind us suggesting it will be another tough afternoon. I know recent results have been frustrating for fans, with the Hornchurch result being particularly tough to swallow, but happier times are always only a few wins away!

As I said at the start, it is a long season and it won’t be the defeats that define our season, it will be how we respond.  The victory last weekend was great, but the League is our bread and butter, and 3 points today is essential to keep us moving forwards.

Blog advice..

Throughout my time playing Non-league football I have travelled to many grounds and come into contact with many different fans. Being the closest player to the opposition support, us keepers have to put up with our fair share of abuse week in week out. Much of this is in good humour, for example during the last couple of years I have been called Jesus (because of my once long hair, not because of my miraculous skills) Shaggy from Scooby doo and more recently Alan from The Hangover. At least I hope this is in good humour, and not just people simply stating facts! But on Tuesday night as we travelled to Margate for a massive top of the table clash between two teams still very much in the running for promotion, the Margate fans gave me one of the best and most imaginative chants I have heard.

As I was lining up for a goal kick ( which is optimum abuse time) midway through the first half, one fella behind the goal mentioned rather loudly that he had read my blog, and then went onto to tell me that his four-year old son can write better than me. His fellow Margate supporters then politely joined in and gave me what I will only describe as some more constructive criticism. Before long the 100 odd supporters behind my goal had started singing: ‘You have got a s**t blog, you have got a s**t blog la la la la!’ As I ran up to take the subsequent goal kick (which I coincidently shanked) I wasn’t exactly sure how to feel. On one hand I thought ‘blimey, have I really got a s**t blog?’ or was it just witty Non-league banter? While another part was actually quite pleased simply with the fact that people have been reading it as far away as exotic Margate! After all, as the old saying goes, ‘no publicity is bad publicity!’

But in all seriousness, this sort of crowd banter is fantastic and is certainly an aspect of Non-league football that I enjoy. Being a fan at a Non-league club allows you to get up close with the players and the action and very rarely have I witnessed or received abuse from crowds which has crossed the line. Non-League fans, on the whole, have many of the same beliefs as the players and understand that football is not just about those earning £100,000 a week but about the enjoyment. The banter/abuse from the crowd is often equalled out by the same people congratulating you in the bar after the game, and it is this that makes lower League football so special.

So to the fans at Margate who very kindly let me know what you thought of my Blog, thanks for reading it and I hope you continue to enjoy my posts!

The toughest League in England

If you listened to the TalkSport interview I put up in my last blog (and if you haven’t, then why not?) you would have heard me talking about the Conference being the toughest League in England to get promoted from. Since that interview I have had quite a few people asking me whether I meant this or whether I was just saying it for effect. Well, in a world exclusive I can officially say that I 100 per cent, undoubtedly meant it. And I will tell you why right now!

The Conference is littered with fallen giants and former greats of the game struggling to rekindle their past glories. Teams such as Luton Town, Lincoln City and Grimsby Town have all been established Football League clubs, but are all now fighting it out to get back to the Promised Land. When Luton Town were relegated down to the Conference at the end of the 2008-2009 season, you would have had to be either crazy or a time traveller to predict that they would still be down there now.  But here they are, currently sitting in 8th and facing the prospect of another season as a Non-League club.

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Fleetwood Town celebrate promotion out of the Conference last season. They are currently sitting 9th in League Two.

The strength of the teams now in the Conference has led to many, myself included, calling for an increase in teams promoted back into the Football League. The fact that there is currently only two teams promoted into League Two, while four teams are promoted out of League Two into League One is a joke. However, the chances of this changing are exceptionally small due to the bizarre and quite frankly ridiculous voting system in place. If the Conference is to be granted an extra promotion place, then the majority of teams in League Two have to agree on letting this happen, meaning there would be one more relegation spot in that League. Any team who believe they have even the slightest chance of relegation will naturally, and understandably, vote against this.

I think this is a real shame, as by opening up the Leagues and allowing more teams out of the Conference, it may begin to change some people’s opinions of the lower League game. To emphasise how strong the Non-League game is I have an absolutely staggering statistic for you. Are you ready? Since the play-offs were introduced to the Conference at the end of the 2002-2003 season, of the 20 teams promoted to the Football League, only two have been relegated since. Only two teams out of 20! If that doesn’t show you how well Non-League teams can adapt to the Football League then nothing will. Steve Burr, talking on the Non-League show, summed up many peoples incorrect views perfectly: ‘One or two clubs higher up tend to think we play a different game in Non-League.’

The current system is simply unfair and stinks of those running the Football League just ignoring the supposed ‘little clubs’ at this level. The Conference is the ONLY League in England where just one team gets promoted automatically, yet four teams get relegated. So without trying too sound to much like an activist attempting to change the world, it really is time for change in the system.

With virtually every club in the Conference Premier now training full-time and the standard higher than ever, there has never been a better time for the Football League to throw open the door and let the Non-League parade enter. Because if they don’t, the big teams down here will continue to bang on that door until they break it down. Better still, forget the Conference Premier, from now on let’s just refer to it as League 3.

All things Conference

As I prepared for my first radio interview Live on TalkSport, the well known saying ‘You have a face made for radio’ sprang to mind. One thing I thought was a certain was that I didn’t have the voice for it! But there I was ready to go on National radio to talk about all things Conference related.

This was my first taste of radio and I’ll let you make up your own mind on whether I’m the future Adrian Durham, but hopefully one thing that is guaranteed is that you will find the following interview a useful and interesting guide to the top tier of Non-League football.

The interview its self starts after about 18 minutes during the 3-30 slot (prime time radio!) and can be found via the attached link.

Oh yes, and for the record this is actually AFC Telford’s second season in the Conference Premier!

Rain, rain go away…

Sometimes I really do hate living in England. Or to be more precise, I really do hate the English weather. Every year around early March the sun comes out for a couple of days, everybody gets their shorts out of the top draw and believes summer has arrived. Two weeks later the rain is lashing down, the wind is blowing and football games around the country are postponed. Typical.

This happened on Saturday as our game at home to Concord Ranger got called off, much to the disappointment of fans and players alike. Despite the obvious suggestions to get the goggles and flippers out and battle on through the elements, with the pitch under two feet of water in certain places, there really was no way the game could go ahead. Browsing through Twitter in the aftermath of the postponement, I suddenly realised what a disaster this was for Men across the local area. What were they to do without their usual Saturday football fix? There was talk of grown men having to go shopping with their wives, take the kids out for a day trip or even doing some Saturday afternoon DIY!  I really did feel their pain!

waterlogged-pitch

This is one of the many perils Non-league fans have to endure for the vast majority of the season. Throughout Christmas and the New Year, most fans have to endure a nervy Saturday morning as either snow or rain threatens to cause havoc to their afternoons. With limited resources available and many clubs not employing full-time grounds men, the weather really is a feared competitor for the majority of semi-professional teams. Fortunately, this is not a problem that professional teams and fans have to worry about. Funnily enough, despite the weather this weekend causing devastation to the Non-League program, not a single Premiership or Championship game got called off. This is despite both Brentford FC and Watford FC being less than 10 minutes away from our home ground. Surely the weather cannot have been that different only a short drive away? No, of course it wasn’t.  These lucky professional clubs would have had their pitch covered as soon as the first cow sat down and their grounds men standing by with their forks at the ready. For these fans, the thought of going shopping instead of watching a game of football on a Saturday afternoon only occurs in their deepest, darkest nightmares.

So to any fans of professional clubs reading this post, next time you look out your window on a rainy March afternoon and think to yourself ‘Hmm this rain is good for the garden.’ Spare a thought for all the poor Non-league fans that at that very moment are being forced up a ladder to fix that dodgy light bulb, and thank your lucky stars that your club can afford a couple of pitch forks.

One game in Kazakhstan braved the elements, all though I am not sure I would fancy playing in these conditions: