Saturday, 23 January 2016

It's Officially Wrestlemania Season

Wrestling, sports entertainment, something that continues to polarise opinions across the world, but remains one of the most watched regular episodic programmes on television. And this time of year is its most important, the Road To Wrestlemania from this Sundays Royal Rumble through to the biggest event the company puts on at the end of March/beginning of April, Wrestlemania.

So with the biggest, and possibly most profitable period for the company in full swing, it would be the perfect time to put out their best product on their main shows (Raw). However if anything, regular viewers would have noticed that the main event product just isn’t provoking the entertainment and excitement that this season should to bring fans in. A big reason for that, at least in my opinion, is that much of the storyline is what we’ve seen before, it’s the same old thing, and the characters that are doing it just don’t provoke the same emotion as the first time we saw it (see Stone Cold Steve Austin compared to Roman Reigns).

There is an original and popular 1 hour weekly show that the WWE currently produce which in my humble opinion regularly trounces the 3-hour behemoth that is Monday Night Raw, and that’s their developmental brand NXT. Developmental is no new thing, but the way NXT is used and promoted is far different to what OVW and other brands were for WWE rookies. It is its own brand, its own part of the WWE universe, with its own fans that have made this brand the success that it now is. The stars are learning the ropes, trying out their characters in front of a live, highly opinionated audience, and putting on some of the best matches in the company right now. With established “indie” stars coming in as well to add validity to the brand, it continues to grow and take over.

The success of these talented guys is there for all to see, with last years Wrestlemania being full of NXT alumni, every match save for one featuring guys who have made the step up. The progress is continuing too, with guys like Tyler Breeze, Adrian Neville and Kevin Owens making the successful transition to the main stage. Their matches are always some of the best on the card, but they can only do so much, the booking on RAW sees the same old storylines come our way, whilst NXT these guys appear original and give fans a fresh look on the business. Supposedly RAW & Smackdown, well the guys behind it, are realising this, but that remains to be seen in the end product. The main roster shows need something fresh, need something new and need to have the guts to take chances and follow it through to the (hopeful) payoff.      

The WWE must know this, and have seemingly (as we still have no official confirmation on the shows) gone all out to mix things up by bringing in some of Japans biggest current stars to the WWE ranks, including one of the best wrestlers in recent years in AJ Styles. Now Vince McMahon has brought in big names from other companies before, and with the WWE being the only real name in town since the demise of both ECW & WCW, Vince’s ego has been known to keep him from pushing them to the top. It remains to be seen if a) these guys have actually been signed up, and b) if they’ll be used in the most appropriate way for their respective star powers.

It could all be a big work by the WWE guys, and the fans could be left disappointed yet again, but it’s the Road To Wrestlemania season, there’s always hope that something big will happen to get the fans buzzing again and wanting to watch every show without fail. Either way, there’s one big bright light for WWE right now, and that’s NXT, if you’re a wrestling fan then quite simply you should be watching it.  

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

My New York Jets Journey (So Far)

It's been a while since I've posted on this blog, which is a shame really as it means that the writing I have been doing has been elsewhere, mainly the Concord Rangers matchday programme. With the obsession I have ensuring that a different article goes into each programme, it’s easy to forget that I used to write these blogs purely because I enjoyed doing so, not out of any sort of responsibility!

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the writing, rambling on about my opinions and thoughts so that the few people that buy a Concord programme get to read them, but there’s something about doing these blogs that just made it easy for me to write! Anyway, I’m back to waffle on about the NFL, and there’s not much call for that in a football programme!

In 2002 I went to New York for the first time, did the whole sightseeing thing, and as one of a number of souvenirs I bought a bath towel, a green one emblazoned with a New York sports team emblem. At the time it was just as souvenir, nothing else, it was only around a year later when I realised what it represented, and even then I had no idea what would lay ahead as a result.

So in 2003 I caught highlights of an NFL game on Sky for the first time, I remember it having a pretty close ending, and I thought maybe there’s something to this game. Soon after I bought an old preowned Madden game for my PS2, it helped me understand the game I’d watched, and I had a much better idea as to how the whole thing went together. Of course, once I realised this was something I enjoyed, I needed to pick a team to follow, and that’s where the towel comes back. It was a New York Jets towel, at the time it was just a souvenir, but I thought I’ve already got something associated with a team, so that would be the team I follow.

As the years went on, I got a much better understanding of the game, my attachment to the team grew, watching more games and getting much more of a passion for the whole thing. I also soon realised that whilst the Jets weren’t the worst team around, they provided a hell of a lot of ups & downs over the seasons.

Now, all these years later, the New York Jets are one of the three main sports teams I follow, they provide a rollercoaster of emotions much like any sport & team. The passion I have for the team is something that has seen me jump and scream for joy, and most recently sit in solemn silence after a very tough loss. I’ve been lucky enough to see the Jets live 3 times, twice over at Metlife stadium and once here at Wembley, all of which increased my passion and love for the team and my fellow Jets fans. The people I met in NY either at the tailgate (always representing L7!) or at the games themselves, have all become like an extended family. Pretty sure it was Brian Signorella (pictured being carried by me and Kyle) who said it best to me last year, once you put on that green & white, you’re family!



This season was one of rebuilding for the Jets, after a 4 win year last season things had to improve under new coach Todd Bowles, and improve they did. 10 wins came the Jets way (2 of which I saw live), and numerous franchise records were broken by QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (Fitzmagic) and WR Brandon Marshall, but as great as it was, the biggest and most emotional moment came on the last weekend of the season. Needing to beat the Buffalo Bills (led by former Jets coach Rex Ryan) to reach the playoffs for the first time in 5 years, the Jets crumbled, couldn’t get control of the game and ended up losing in heartbreaking fashion, ripping the playoff opportunity from our grasp.

The loss hurt for so many reasons, but there’s plenty of reason for optimism going forward too. This team improved massively from the previous season, looked a threat on offence and turned over some decent teams. We’ve a young HC who is learning & improving, along with a lot of young, talented players who will be impacting this league for many years to come. My New York Jets journey/story isn’t a long one, but it’s been a great one so far, having met some incredible people (including the team owner!) and I look forward to seeing where it takes me, the team and every other Jets fan in the future!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

New Faces, New Names, New Season

After what can only be described as an incredible second season at Step 2 of the non league pyramid, there’s some key changes that will be in place for our third year of football at this level.

The first change, and most obvious, is that we will not be playing Conference South football in 2015/16! The Football Conference along with Vanarama have rebranded the three leagues in Step 1 & 2, with all reference to the “Conference” being removed. The top tier of non league will now be called the Vanarama National League, with the level below being the National League South & National League North. Personally I don’t understand the branding of the North & South divisions; it’s not national if it only covers one half of the country!

One of the biggest changes for Concord Rangers as a club is of course the management setup within the team. I would like to thank both Danny & Nicky Cowley for all they’ve contributed to the club over the years they’ve been here, and the same goes for their parents Steve & Gill who have become a massive part of the support network here. With that in mind I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Adam Flanagan to Concord Rangers, and I wish him all the success in the new role here at the club. Adam brings a wealth of non-league playing experience to the club, and has had recent promotion success with Brentwood Town, taking them to the Ryman Premier League via the playoffs this past summer.

The other changes are the new faces in our league this coming season. Whilst we lost Bromley and Boreham Wood to promotion, along with Farnborough and Staines Town to relegation, 5 teams have replaced them. Dropping from the Conference Premier into what will be the National League South is Dartford, whilst the others relegated from that league have been moved into the National League North. As a result of the geographical location of those other teams relegated, Oxford City have been moved from the into the South league given the location of all the sides being relegated from what was the much to the chagrin of Lowestoft Town!

Truro City have been promoted from the Southern League Premier, which will be by far the longest away trip we’ve ever had as a club (between 5 & 6 hours drive each way). Also joining us are two teams from our old Ryman Premier stomping grounds, the first being Maidstone United, who were promoted after winning the 2014/15 Ryman Premier League. After some lingering playoff issues surrounding Enfield Town, the eventual recipients of that second promotion slot were Margate, giving us another seaside away trip this coming season.

So there’s plenty of changes ready for the 2015/16 season, but ultimately Concord Rangers are still the same club punching above our weight and looking to upset a few people as we continue this journey! I, along with everyone else I’m sure, am looking forward to seeing what this year will bring our way.

You Are My Concord!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

4 Months Down, Plenty More To Come

It's been a mixed first 4 months of the year for me in all honesty, started seeing someone, finished seeing someone, issues from that lingered on, managing a reorganisation in my department at work, starting a new job as a result of said reorganisation, and the thing that hit me the hardest, my nan passing away.

It led to me not feeling myself for some time, my head was all over the place, I wasn't me, which is something I can't stand as I know I've been like that before in a different situation many years ago. Thankfully things have started to resolve themselves on a whole. I'm enjoying life on my own again, realising quite quickly that being back in a relationship was an experiment gone very wrong. The single life had worked for me for over 3 years, I thought that maybe there was a chance I should try and change that, but it was obvious that wasn't the case!

Work wise, we've been running the new regime since the start of April, with our first pay packet due to come in next Friday. Of course that is one of the main focuses of us involved as many have received an increase in their wages because of the reorganisation, including myself! The actual job though, it's been an increase in responsibility from the get go, having to focus on the operational side of the railway really for the first time in my 15 years in the industry. Up until now it's always been customer service based work, tickets, announcements, station and staff management, then even when moving into the control room 4 years ago it was all information based. Now it's a bit more about service decisions, incident management from an operational point of view, and a load of other industry stuff that has pretty much been in the background for me as a customer service guy over the years. We've had a solid start though, even with a shit-tonne of disruption we as a department (and me as an individual as well) have come in for a lot of positive feedback from the higher ups, the ones that pay our wages, and our bosses wages.

There have been some consistent things over the past few months though, my brothers & sister never change and although they may not know it, provide support just by being there. My friends, a few key ones who are always there for me no matter what, who put up with me not wanting to talk about shit but are understanding all the same. Football, and I don't mean following the rollercoaster that is West Ham, I mean the extended family I have as a result of being a part of Concord Rangers. The guys there just keep going, and knowing that each Saturday (or Tuesday night) there's an escape from anything that may be dragging you down just helps things move along.

When I was told about my nan passing away, the easiest thing for me to do was try to carry on that day as normal as I could. It was a Saturday, and by going to football and going through the rituals of putting out the flags, sorting out the programmes etc and calling the referee a c**t mid game helped me process it, as well as being around the people I can rely on to take the piss out of me and each other through that 90 odd minutes. As time has gone on I've handled it better, and a couple of months down the line, yeah it still gets me down, but you go on with life and hold on to the good memories.

Life is what you make it, the decisions you make, the things you do etc. There's a million different quotes and clich├ęs that could sum up everything, but as far as I'm concerned right now, it's all about the people that are in your life and the relationships & bonds you form with them. Whether they are blood, friends, family, colleagues, or just acquaintances, and whether they actively help or do so without even knowing it, that's what shapes your life. Surround yourself with the right people, and you'll be on the right track going forward, at least that's how I feel.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Hayes & Yeading, Vanarama South, 180415

Here we are, approaching the end of the 2014/15 Vanarama Conference South season, and I think we can all agree that it’s been an eventful one for all involved with Concord Rangers! There is still the possibility that the season could extend with the playoffs, but we’re relying on other results going our way which is never an easy spot to be in.

After todays game our focus switches to the Essex Senior Cup Final vs Billericay on Monday evening, which gets under way at 7:45 at the Dagenham & Redbridge ground. After winning this competition last year, retaining it this season was one of the objectives set by Danny Cowley. It’s not been easy, grafting our way through more than our fair share of penalty shootouts, but the lads have worked their backsides off and fully deserve to be in that final once again. It’s a huge old trophy too, so it’ll be good to get that back at the Aspect Arena for another year.

Our league form this season speaks for itself, with the recent 13 game unbeaten streak highlighting how far the team have come and how well they’ve settled into playing football at this level. With a top 10 finish secured for the second straight year, and challenging for the playoffs right up until the final week or so of the season, I don’t think there is anyone who can say that Concord Rangers don’t belong here!

The cup competitions have also provided the club with more than enough excitement, and that’s not taking the Essex Senior Cup into account. This seasons achievement in reaching the First Round proper of the FA Cup, and earning a replay at home to Mansfield Town, was something truly special for everyone involved. Our name being read out live on the BBC when the First Round Draw was made was an incredible feeling, seeing little Concord Rangers trending worldwide on Twitter just added to it! The support shown by the Islanders and Essex in general was fantastic during the whole period. We also can’t forget about the FA Trophy run, reaching the Second Round for the first time was another impressive milestone.

There’s been plenty of great moments since we kicked off this season against Bath City last August, every year this rollercoaster ride we call supporting Concord Rangers just seems to get more and more exciting. I wouldn’t trade this for the world, and feel privileged to be a part of it, as a fan, committee member, programme editor, and member of the Beachboys family. Thank you for being a part of it as well, thank you for supporting and being a part of this club, thank you for reading these articles I put out each week, thank you for the feedback (good or bad), and I look forward to seeing you all back here for more next season in the Vanarama “National League South”.

#YAMC

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Ebbsfleet United, Vanarama South, 280315

Football, the beautiful game, it’s the sport we love which provides us with a never ending rollercoaster of emotions and feelings. It also provokes opinions, and in many cases vastly differing ones between fans, players and officials alike.

I’m lucky enough to be able to voice my opinions here in the matchday programme and on the official website, and I try not to take that for granted. By putting my opinions (positive or negative) on show in these forms I am representing the club, so whilst honest, I wont be swearing or using some descriptive terms that I may use on a face to face basis!

Of course we also form opinions on opposition clubs and their fans, and that’s what has got me typing today. We’re a small, niche club with our loyal band of followers, we thrive on that and the fact that opposition teams underestimate us when they hear the name Concord Rangers. When the inevitable upset occurs and our “small club” pick up a result, it tends to bring us a lot of animosity from fans. Now being upset at a loss is understandable, we all do it, but losing to us, or even a late draw to one of our customary late goals, seems to bring on so much more!

Is it because of our small stature that we seem to provoke so much hatred? Because we revel in being the underdog and proving doubters wrong? Or because our 20 (at times) away fans can make more noise than the hundreds at some of our league rivals? Who knows, but you only have to look at some of the club internet forums around this league (and still some in the Ryman Premier actually) to see that we are a hated club by some!

It’s a shame, as personally I believe we should be given credit for the success we’ve achieved as a club, we do from media outlets and people around the game that know how we work and what we do here though. The main thing is though that we ourselves appreciate the support we get, the regular fans that cheer the lads on week in and week out, the fact that a lot of the work done around the club is done by volunteers (including editing the programme), and that the boys on the pitch work their backsides off every time they wear the shirt.

I’ve got opinions on other clubs, but I will give credit where it’s due and have a lot of respect for some sets of fans around this league, it’s just a shame some others don’t have that outlook! Anyway, on to todays game, it’ll be a tough test but I’m sure we’ll all get behind the lads and cheer them on to victory!

#YAMC

Friday, 13 February 2015

Chelmsford, Vanarama South, 100215

Tonight we host Chelmsford City, a team that, league aside, we seem to encounter on a regular basis, and tend to be fairly successful.

Go back to the 2008/09 season and our two sides met in the final of the Essex Senior Cup, with the Clarets winning 2-0 on the night. Since then though, the Essex Senior Cup has proven to be the place we keep meeting. Ok so there may not be too many teams in Essex, but other than this season we have a tendency to be drawn together!

The earliest that I remember is during the 2011/12 season, and the Beachboys were drawn away to the Clarets in that seasons Essex Senior Cup competition. Chelmsford were Conference South, we were just a lowly Ryman Premier side. Of course, any fan of Concord Rangers will know that league placing means absolutely nothing when you get onto that pitch with our lads, and it was highlighted with a 4-1 Beachboys victory at Citys ground.

It was the same story draw-wise the following season, but this time we were drawn at home in what was the Quarter Final stage of the competition. A thrilling game saw it end 3-3 after 90 minutes, and therefore penalties loomed. As has also become a bit of a trend in recent seasons (especially the current one) Concord Rangers were better from the spot, and won the shootout 6-5 to book a place in the Semi Finals (which we subsequently lost).

Promotion followed, so two further games a season would be contested between the Clarets and the Beach Boys. Our first league encounter last season was away from home, and much like the 90 minutes the year before the game ended with honours even. Goals from Jason Hallett and John Easterford helped us play out a 2-2 draw, giving us our first point in the Conference South. The Essex Senior Cup paired us up once again, and the trend of it being level after 90 minutes continued, this time the game ended 1-1. Penalties once more, and it was another Concord win, 3-2 being the score on this occasion. When Chelmsford visited Thames Road in the league, the result was slightly different, as the Clarets walked away comfortable 3-1 winners.

Tonights fixture essentially closes our business with each other for another season, and the Beach Boys will be hoping to have a repeat of the reverse fixture at Chelmsford when we got a hard-earned 1-0 victory.

Given that we are so close, and we have a tendency to be drawn together in our county cup competition, I'm sure there will be plenty of interesting and entertaining encounters still to come between our two sides.

#YAMC

Alan Jessup-Peacock