In a preview of the new season Michael Talbot, with 15 seasons of experience as a "physio" with WMP FC, Paget Rangers, Hednesford Town, Leamington, Birmingham City Academy and, of course, Boldmere, has a nostalgic look back at the teams’ who battle in the lower echelons of non-League football.
"The Midland Football Alliance is back this weekend and you can almost hear the Hallelujah chorus. No sporting competition is as unpretentious as the MFA. However, this weekend, the footballers’ of Boldmere St. Michael’s have something in common with Glasgow Celtic. They both kick off their 2012-13 season at home. The Scottish Premier side will play Aberdeen while at Church Road the Mikes will play.............Alvechurch."
All men are equal and all are entitled to dream big. Both team’s are starting from scratch, with no points won or lost. Anything is possible. It is fair to suggest that the MFA doesn't care for reputation or for comforts.
The “Mikes” will take their bow in a ridiculously early part of August while we are still hoping to watch the London Olympics and some cricket in warm sunny weather. The Victorians’ had it right when they decided to kick off their Football League season at the end of September. Boldmere will, over the next few months, and before winter takes its grip, embark on a no frills tour of England that is covered by the Midlands Football Alliance. Teams’ like Continental Star, and, places like Gornal on a winter's night will be on their itinerary. It is not likely to set the pulse racing is it? In comparison it seems it is far easier to play for or support a Premiership team.
A club like Boldmere St. Michael’s who has a rich history of nearly 130 years should be treated like royalty. But, the players’ will huddle in small dressing rooms’ and may find, after a match on a muddy pitch, and, on a cold day that all the hot water is gone by the time they get to the showers. After a post match meal which is usually limp sandwiches they will set back for their home's tired and bruised.
The man who is, for me, the most important in the League is not the manager or even the referee. It is the man with the keys. He rules the roost. He opens the main gates, the dressing rooms and the clubhouse. Grounds in winter are eerie. If you want to know the definition of loneliness trying being the last man who locks up the clubhouse in darkness. He sees the "ghost" of a former player about to kick a penalty out on the pitch. He knew it was impossible as the player had died decades earlier. “So, what happened then?” says the gullible listener to the story. “He kicked the ball wide as usual!”
The M.F.A. breathes life into grounds, in the countryside, that are considered too small to be used for anything else. Sometimes, when you are negotiating through a creaky turnstile you are not just walking into a football ground but are strolling back into the 1960s. Nothing seems to have changed at some grounds although, I hasten to add, not Stratford Town. That is another new ground I can tick off as a “ground hopper.”
Communications' have changed especially with email and the internet but in the MFA the clubman with a microphone is still king. One of the real highlight's of a MFA League afternoon when the team's have played 45 minutes of tedious football and then the tannoy man clears his throat and announces the half-time results from place’s like Tividale.
Off the field it is a chance for the loyal supporter to run a critical eye over the “stars” of his favourite team in the same way that the Sultan of Brunei does when inspecting his thoroughbreds in the stables. He will tut-tut if he feels that the centre-back or midfielder of his favourites will show excess adipose around his middle. The supporter will still expect (like Nelson) that “every man will do their duty.” Equally it is during the MFA season that a fading “legend” trots off the field for the last time. The polite applause is a subtle way of telling a player that he just hasn't got it anymore.
Managers’ are more relaxed and talkative at the start of the campaign suggesting to anyone - who cares to listen - that this could be their season. But, soon, the high expectations are lowered and he is left sitting, on the bench, after a game shaking his head wondering how the team had lost so badly. The players' sulk and depart back to the dressing room leaving behind a mess of banana skins and water bottles in their wake.
Still, real fans and players' of the game would not have it any other way. So, best wishes to the all the teams’ in the Midland Football Alliance.
This feature is currently in development but will be available soon.