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Non-league Football

Wingate and Finchley

About the Harry Abrahams Stadium
Wingate and FinchleyWingate and Finchley has one of the most iconic stands in Non League Football.  The grandstand was built 1930.  It is a fine example of Art Deco architecture.  Within a year the grandstand became virtually unique as it was converted into a two-sided structure to provide spectator accommodation for the rugby club to the adjoining ground.

The rest of the ground is neat and tidy.  Opposite the grandstand is a covered standing enclosure named the Jack Fisk Stand and has a large clock perched on top.  Behind one goal is a covered temporary stand, whilst at the north end it is just concrete.

How to get to the Harry Abrahams Stadium
The simplest way to get to the ground is to get on to the A406 North Circular Road.  If coming from the East (e.g via the M25 anti-clockwise and then A10 or M11) take the A1000 turn off.  At the end of the slip road turn left at the lights.  Go straight over the next set of lights.  Then after 100m pass through another set of lights, then at the next set of lights turn right into Summers Lane.  The Abrahams Stadium is a few hundred metres down on the right hand side.  Please be aware NOT to park in the Rugby Club next door, as they will close their gates and lock you in.  There are plenty of nearby streets, although please note not to park on the kerbs and also some surrounding roads have yellow lines.  The club car park on matchdays is available for Club Officials.

Wingate and FinchleyThe nearest underground station is West Finchley Station (Northern Line – High Barnet branch).  The station is a 10/15 minute walk away from the ground.  Alternatively go to East Finchley station and get a 263 bus heading north towards Barnet.  Get off at the bus stop just after Summers Lane traffic lights.  The station is in zone 4.

The nearest overground station is New Southgate in travelcard zone 4, appromixity 1.5 miles from the ground.  From the station take the right hand gangway which brings you onto Station Road, then head left onto Station Road towards the bus stop.  The regular number bus 382 service goes via Summers Lane.  The journey should take around 10 minutes.

Admission to the Harry Abrahams Stadium
Admission is £10 for adults, £5 for concessions and under 16’s enter free.  Programmes can be bought on the gate for £2.  There is no additional charge to sit in the wonderful art-deco main stand. 

Our last visit – September 2013

A few weeks ago I made a throw-away statement about not going to football every Saturday to CMF.  “Just once, wouldn’t it be nice to spend a normal Saturday together as a family?” She asked me.  I did point out that we were only 6 weeks into the new season but then she came back with some statement about watching football every week in Sweden and pre-season friendlies.  I mean, who counts them?  Well, apparently she did.

9857510505_d62482081b_bOf course I blame Danny Last.  If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be leaving TBIR Towers at 3.45am tomorrow, heading to Heathrow for a flight to Madrid where Mr Last would be waiting to whisk me to the Bernabau for Gareth Bale’s home debut.  AND that meant I could go to a game today.  But I hadn’t figured on the mighty Rooks still being unbeaten after 10 games.  I simply had to go to Wingate & Finchley.  I put my case forward, adding in that neither James Boyes (photos) nor Tom Harper (words) would be present to record the game for prosperity.  There was a chink in her armour.  But in order to satisfy a peace accord that Kofi Annan would have been proud of, I had to fit a new oven.

A few weeks ago when I was flush with the annual bonus I bought a new oven.  All mods and cons, bells and whistles.  It has been sitting in a box in the garage ever since.  To tell you the truth anything that requires electrical work scares me after an incident a few years ago (read about it here).  Reading instructions on the t’internet it suggested I would need to hard wire the damn thing into the wall, on a separate circuit with a 13amp fuse.  What’s wrong with simply plugging it into a socket?  So the deal was – if I could install the oven by 12.30pm I would be free to make my way around the A406 to the Harry Abrahams Stadium.

9857440785_bcf1360990_bIt took me 15 minutes to realise the old oven was screwed in place – this was after I had declared it was stuck in place with Superglue. I didn’t realise but CMF did.  A great start.  But then miracle of miracles, the old one slid out, revealing a plug and a socket.  Could it really be this simple?  Apparently so.  Within ten minutes it was replaced, although I stayed in the kitchen for an additional hour, occasionally swearing as if in frustration to make it sound as if I was working hard.  Just a small white lie surely?

So today, the Harry Abraham Stadium, Finchley, tomorrow the Estadio Santiago Bernabau.  Nicky Wheeler or Gareth Bale? Matt Crabb or Cristiano Ronaldo?  Jack Walder or Xavi Alonso? No contest really.

Wingate & Finchley 1 Lewes 3 – The Harry Abrahams Stadium – Saturday 21st September 2013
Ten league games into the season and Lewes are still unbeaten.  Our record on the road this season is three wins, two draws and just two goals conceded.  Yet if the season was to end today we would still be outside the play-offs.  For the first time in three seasons it is simply too tight to call at the top. Just two points separate Wealdstone in pole position with Lewes in 6th.  The two unbeaten titans will meet on Monday night with more than pride to play for.

For fifty minutes today Lewes were lethargic.  I could say poor, but that isn’t fair on the side who have so far played 11 games in just six weeks.  The squad, whilst gelling nicely, is still small and so it is asking a lot for the players to put in performances week in, week out.  The first half really passed  us me by as I sat in the iconic art-deco stand chatting with Club-Sec Kev with a fine pint of Timothy Taylor beer.  Just as we were preparing ourselves for a visit to one of the most hospitable boardrooms in the Non-Leagues for our half-time chocolate biscuits, Jack Walder lost control of the ball and within seconds the ball was in the back of the net as McCall swept the ball over Banks into the back of the Lewes net.  Bugger.

9857466845_a0802778e3_bJust like last week at Peacehaven, Messrs Wilson and Bloor earned their bacon with an inspirational half-time team-talk, sending the team out with fire in their bellies.  On fifty-five minutes Wheeler puts in Olorunda and he “dinks” (a collective vote on that one) the ball over the Wingate keeper and wheels away as the ball trundled (ditto on the vote) into an empty net, nestling (and a third) in the corner.

One became two when Wheeler chased a lost cause, crossed the ball on the touch-line and Nathan Crabb headed home.  Cue funniest moment of the season so far as Cynical Dave gets over excited and somehow tumbles over the pitch wall.  He sheepishly picks himself up, and much to the amusement of us all, is handed back his Rizla papers by the Wingate keeper.

A third follows soon after when Olorunda outjumps the keeper, causing some bizarre lengthy protests from the Wingate defenders.  Such ineffective handling of situations was a common theme in the game, and exemplified in the last-minute when one of the most reckless (and late) challenges by the Wingate number 14 floors Nathan Crabb no more than a metre from the linesman.  A melee (number four for the football cliché voting team) sees unnecessary involvement from a dozen or so players yet the offender gets a yellow.  A simple yellow.  Absolutely unbelievable.  Even the Wingate keeper, who in the banter stakes, got full marks for joining in all afternoon, could only laugh at the decision.

But Crabb picked himself up, knowing that he would be needed to run his socks off again on Monday night.  Three points is all we could have asked for.  Oh, and some home-made spicy chicken noodle pasta.  That’s why we love coming here.  Three points and excellent hospitality .  What more could I ask for before heading off to Espana.  Hasta la victoria siempre

Our last visit – February 2013

Richard Nixon’s lasting legacy was the suffix “gate” being added to any event or scandal

After two defeats on the road to teams at the top end of the table, Lewes desperately needed to get back to winning ways as they travelled up to North London for the re-arranged fixture against Wingate and Finchley.  In the past few days we had seen two clubs with completely differing financial outlooks trying to encourage more local involvement in the fortunes of their clubs with mixed results. Wingate and Finchley is another that faces a bi-weekly battle to win the hearts of the floating fans in an area that is dominated by Tottenham Hotspur.  The club have the lowest average attendance in the Ryman Premier League at just 142 but if only the locals decided to come down to the Harry Abrahams Stadium they would be smitten by a great ground and some fantastic hospitality.

8449259164_fe799f26f9_bIn truth, the latter is all a club at this level can do.  Marketing budgets do not stretch to billboard on the North Circular or even adverts in the local press for clubs like Wingate and Finchley.  They rely on volunteers to keep the club running and on an upward trajectory.  Despite the FA’s PR machine trumpeting the investment they make in “grass-roots” football, the cash seems to miss out on this level of football.  As I have mentioned before in my Blue Print for Non League football, I would like to see professional clubs like Spurs give a helping hand to their local sides.  An ad in their programme, or on their website giving some information about forthcoming games could have a massive effect.  If 20,000 read a programme, then just 1% of those who attend a game would more than double the average attendance at Wingate and Finchley.

The bad weather over the last few weeks had meant this would be the first of two midweek games Lewes would have to play in North London.  This of course causes some players (and ultimately the club) an issue.  Players have to work and a 7:45pm kick off means that the team have to depart Lewes around 3pm, which means time off work.  Some employers are not as flexible as others and so there is no guarantee that clubs can pick from their strongest side.  And we needed that for this game against a team who had picked up some impressive results in recent weeks.  Wins against Margate and Wealdstone had been against the odds, whilst the Rooks were yet to win a game this year.

This was one of the few games where I had the travelling advantage compared to the rest of the Lewes Lunatic Fringe.  Whilst they had to leave work early and make the 80-odd mile northwards, I had the simplest job of crossing the road at work, hoping on the Northern Line and have someone wake me up at East Finchley.  After the massed ranks of over 100 fans at Whitehawk on Saturday the travelling support was down to the hardcore dozen or so take their place, safely, behind the goal to try to will the ball into the back of the net.

Traffic issues had meant the Lewes team had only arrived at 7pm (just the 2 3/4 hour journey) meaning that preparations were far from ideal. But this is the issue bad weather postponements and a refusal to have flexibility in the season end dates causes. As it was Lewes had brought potentially their youngest squad ever to a first team game (some wag suggested that this was because schools finished at 3pm and thus they could make the journey) with over half of the team coming from Nick Brown’s all-conquering U18’s side.

The night was certainly one that would have sane person reaching for a blanket in the sofa in front of Emmerdale, but a turn out of around 25 from Lewes certainly helped boost the attendance over the three figure mark. It was testament to the team spirit that once again suspended Jack Walder and injured Steve Robinson had travelled with the squad to lend their support. Whilst the fans headed into the bar I took the door marked Directors and Guests only. Ah the warmth of good old fashion hospitality on a cold cold night. Wingate and Finchley are always very welcoming with a fine array of chocolate biscuits and a warming hot meal to send us on our way post game. It was also good, as always, to catch up with Mike Bayly, one of the brains behind Non League Day and occasional author of articles on this very website. More of the same are coming soon, Mike promised readers.

After two consecutive away defeats to teams at the top of the table, this was a must win game for the Rooks, if for anything because on Saturday free-scoring and second place Concord Rangers were due to arrive at the Pan. Despite recent postponements, Lewes had still played more games than any team in the division bar bottom of the table Carshalton Athletic. David Pleat would of course say “It’s better to have points in the bank than games in hand” but he also says “a 2 goal advantage is the worst score line in football” and “it’s easier to play against 10 men than 11”. Tactical genius.

Wingate and Finchley 2 Lewes 4 – The Harry Abrahams Stadium – Tuesday 5th February 2013
No sooner had I taken my position behind the goal with the rest of the LLF (although missing Terry who rumour had it had been acquired by Whitehawk as their number one fan) than the home side were awarded a penalty. The big clock on the side if the pitch said we’d played just five minutes. From our distant position it appeared Hamilton had brought down a Wingate player in the box. No idea if he was the last man or not but a long talking to and a yellow card held up proceedings before O’Sullivan slotted home the penalty.

8450207268_e92918c674_bFor the next ten minutes it looked as if the home side would run away with the game. Anthony Thomas, still Lewes’s top scorer this season despite his move to North London prior to Christmas looked dangerous, with a point to prove against his old club. Something wasn’t right and with just five minutes on the clock Worms made a substitution, taking off Beckford and replacing him in midfield with Ryan Fergany (remember that name for the future). The move had the desired effect within minutes. With five minutes gone on the clock a corner was swung in and Godfrey’s header was bundled into the net by the keeper. Steve Brinkhurst’s Dad standing with us was claiming the assist for his son and made sure ClubSec Kev made a note of that on his KevPad.

With just a few minutes left in the half Lewes took the lead from another set piece. Brinkhurst’s corner was met with force by Chris Breach. The keeper could only parry the ball (he wasn’t enjoying his evening by this stage and we were reminding him on regular intervals) back to Breach who made no mistake with his second bite of the yellow football-shaped cherry. Brinkhurst senior once again claimed the assist but the “Dubious assist committee” ruled it was a significant contribution rather than a direct assist.

Despite only five minutes on the clock, which by this stage we’d realised was broken, Lewes went into the break in the lead. Our mood had changed from “we’d take a point” to “we can win this”. Our mood got even better after half time. It wasn’t the slice of Battenburg that did it, although that slipped down very nicely but an early second half goal from Steve Brinkhurst, firing the ball across the keeper from an acute angle. We couldn’t deny that one had to be recorded on the KevPad but his claim that the assist and the “significant contribution” were his was stretching it a bit far.

Lewes then seemed to run out of steam. Thomas tried his luck from 37 yards (consensus was that 35 was normal, 40 spectacular, so we settled in the middle) which Thorp could only watch as it hit the bar and bounced back into play. That bloody two goal advantage is the most dangerous score in football, everyone knows that, don’t believe the claptrap Pleat says.

Our nerves were put further on edge when Thomas fired in from the edge of the box with fifteen left to play. Of course he had to score – it is the unwritten rule of football that a player has to score against the team he has just left. 3-2, most difficult score line in football. The Lewes tank was well and truly empty and every Wingate advance over the half way line was met with a collective “oh shit”. Never had an appearance by a fourth official been so anticipated. But then Lewes won a free kick on the edge of the box. Ryan Fergany stepped up and curled a perfect kick into the corner of the net for his first ever goal for the first team.

The keeper who had been struggling for most of the second half simply wanted the game to end. The Wingate centre-back, unhappy at the banter we were giving then offered us a lift home, or that’s what I assumed his comment about meeting in the car park after the game was. But the drama didn’t end there. 4-2 is the most dangerous score line in football after all.

As Pleaty says, it’s harder to play against ten men than eleven so Chris Breach was shown a red card for an off the ball incident, seen only by a linesman 60 yards away in poor light and driving rain. It was Breachy’s second successive red card and whatever it was for it was unlikely in the circumstances to have been a one-sided incident.

Full time, three valuable points, four goals and a great performance considering the youthful outlook of the team. Time for a final slice of top-notch hospitality with meat balls warming our frozen cockles. Hats off to Wingate and Finchley for their approach to the game at this level, it’s just a shame that more Spurs/Arsenal fans who live in the area don’t know what’s on their doorstep.

Our last visit – March 2012

Wingate and FinchleyEvery day millions of Londoners see the imagination, creativity and genius of Harry Beck, yet few know who he is. Harry Beck created one of the most iconic images of London back in 1931 when, as an engineering draftsman in the signalling office at London Underground, he mapped out the expanding train network under the city. The first proper London Underground Map was born. Today, when you travel north on the Northern Line to Finchley Central you will see a plaque to Harry at the station closest to his heart (and house).

The relevance of this was for once I was travelling to a game by tube. In fact I was travelling on the very same Northern Line to the very same Finchley Central station where Beck had travelled from everyday and where he got his inspiration. Whilst Finchley cannot boast a football team of its own since 1991, they form half of the team today known as Wingate & Finchley who are enjoying life in their first season in the Ryman Premier League. And that was where I was heading for a rare Tuesday night game. Work commitments mean that midweek games are a rarity these days for me but having never visited the Harry Abrahams Stadium this was too good an opportunity to miss.

On Saturday Lewes had finally got the win that their recent play had deserved. An air of frustration lifted across the ground and all of a sudden thoughts once again turned to the play off possibilities. A win in this game in hand would take the Rooks back within a couple of points of the hallowed play off positions. But it would be a tough game. Wingate & Finchley have enjoyed life in the last couple of years winning the Ryman League Cup, London Senior Cup and then the Ryman League South play offs to reach the Premier League. Impressive stuff.

Growing up in the 1980’s Finchley was famous in my mind for two things. Firstly, it was the constituency of Maggie Thatcher, the then leader of the Tory party. She won the seat in back in 1958 and served the community for nearly forty years, predominantly as a back-bencher, then as leader of the opposition and finally as potentially the most powerful and feared woman in the world as Prime Minister. Many mocked and despised her but many more cannot do anything but admire and respect what she did – especially as we remember the Labour-inspired mess we are in today. However, during her time as the MP for Finchley she never actually lived in the area, preferring to reside saarf of the river in Dulwich. Today few would remember what she did for the area. But as I arrived in Finchley I doffed my proverbial cap to her.

Wingate and FinchleyEvery year a university in Finchley welcomes over 10,000 students from over a hundred countries. Nothing unusual about that you would think. But the courses it offers are quite unique. Over over the High Road in East Finchley is the UK HQ of McDonalds. And here every year a new intake of students enroll in the Hamburger University. Education is a big thing within the fast food giant – after all it takes years of practice to deliver that “would you like an apple pie with that” in just the right way. All joking aside, the company has invested significantly in its programme and offers courses in more vocational subjects as well as those specifically about burgers. Fact for you – for my birthday in 1975 I had a party at the first McDonalds opened in the UK in Woolwich. Eighteen pence would have got you a hamburger back then whilst for fifty pence you could have indulged in a Big Boy (the former name of a Big Mac) which really doesn’t sound right when you write it down.

Wingate and FinchleyIron Ladies and Burger shots aside it was time for some football. One of the other reasons for wanting to make the pilgrimage to N12 was to see the listed Art-Deco grandstand that is Wingate & Finchley’s main stand. Built in 1930 as a two-sided affair so that it offered seated accommodation for those watching football on one side and rugby on the others. In an age where functionality and cost dominate football grounds it would be a refreshing change to see such a work of art.

My only concern would whether there would be anyone there.  Crowds haven’t exactly flocked to Summers Lane this season despite the excellent work by Mike Bayly and the team there.  Last week’s official crowd of 55 against East Thurrock United was their lowest in the league this season.  But with the Lewes Lunatic Fringe mostly present for this game I was sure that the place would be rocking.

This was one of the easier ones for me to get to with a shop hop, skip and a jump around the North Circular and by 7pm I was being ushered into the ground by Mr Bayly himself. What a lovely ground it is too.  A magnificent art-deco stand set back from the pitch, a lovely hedge along one side and even some palm trees – after all who would have thought Finchley would be so tropical in March.  After a welcome pint in the club bar we took our place behind the goal, next to the tennis court (when was the last time you could play tennis and watch the game at the same time?), ready for the rise of the Rooks.

Wingate & Finchley 1 Lewes 2 – Tuesday 13th March 2012 – The Harry Abrahams Stadium
Wingate and FinchleySo after waiting 3 months for a win, another comes along within 72 hours.  Just like those London buses eh? Well not really.  The team has been playing well for the past month or so.  A point from the game against East Thurrock United should have been three if it wasn’t for the ridiculous sending off early in the game of Jack Walder. Two other home games saw last-minute equalisers against Lewes resulting in four dropped points.  But the facts are the facts and this was our first back-to-back winning sequence since December.

It was a game of two halves, with Lewes simply coming out stronger in the second half than their hosts and taking all three points with an assured performance.  The first half started with Wingate & Finchley on top from the first whistle and were lucky not to be one up within the first minute when Matt Ingram was forced to make a great save from Laird.  Ingram was called into action again five minutes later when Laird again combined well with Leon Smith.

Wingate and FinchleyIt did seem for the first half an hour that this was the Lewes of old, snoozing at the back and passes not finding the feet of their colleagues.  Wingate looked more and more dangerous with Ingram being far the busier keeper.  After twenty-five minutes Lewis Jones smashed a shot against the post in a move that should have been a wake up call for Lewes but alas it wasn’t.  Just three minutes later Leon Smith outpaced Chris Breach and slammed the ball home to give the home side a deserved lead.  As the teams trooped off for half time you could see that Lewes manager wasn’t happy.

A very pleasant half time was spent in the Wingate & Finchley boardroom, complete with an array of chocolate biscuits that would put most Mum’s to shame.  The club certainly demonstrates what can be done with some hard work, vision, willing volunteers and above all a desire to provide hospitality.  Nothing was too much trouble and smiles were the order of the day.  Perhaps it was because they were winning…time would tell.

Whatever Wormull had said at half time it had the desired effect.  Lewes tore into the home side from the get-go and began to dominate the midfield, slowly pushing the Wingate back four backwards.  The equaliser, when it came, was from the penalty spot when Kieron Street brought down Jack Walder.  There was no complaining about the kick – it was one of those where Walder could do nothing apart from being fouled and he didn’t make a song and dance about it.  Up stepped Booth and he slotted it home.

Wingate and FinchleyWormull made a couple of changes and sensed they were their for the taking and threw Ian Draycott and Christian Nanetti into the game, essentially changing the formation to a 4-1-3-2 with Nathan Crabb, having an outstanding game playing just behind Booth and Draycott.  Draycott had only been on the pitch for three minutes before he “sniffed” the ball out in the area, turned and sent a slightly miss hit shot into the corner of the net.  Two-one.

Lewes could have shut up shop but instead they went for more.  Somner, Breach and Robinson all had chances towards the end, and even those “last-minute squeeky bum” moments weren’t as bad as we had seen before.  Full time, generous applause from the 20 or so Lewes fans and back into the bar for a well deserved drink.

We ended the evening back in the boardroom where pie, mash and some lovely onion gravy was the order of the day.  The smiles on the faces of the Wingate officials was still there despite the defeat.  This was a football club who existed because they love football.  The surroundings underlined that and long may clubs like Wingate & Finchley exist.  You could just image Harry Beck sitting in the corner, pipe in his mouth, content with life and with how his local team were developing.


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