In a change from the normal end of year review I have chosen to do an A to Z of the year. Yes, some of them are a bit tenuous (it's harder than you might think), but here we go:
A is for Alton - Two days before Bonfire Night, BotP was at Anstey Park, home of Alton FC, to witness the Wessex Division One game against Ringwood Town. This was the 250th ground that I have visited to watch non-league football (note that I do not count any of the grounds I previously visited when watching the pro game). Read the match blog here (Look Left).
B is for Belarussian Premier League. Remember those heady days of Lockdown 1 when the only football available came to us love from places such as Borisov, Minsk and, of course, Slutsk? Belarussian football has never been, and probably will never be again, as popular.
C is for Covid-19 or Coronavirus. There could be no other subject for the letter C in this year. It is certainly something that none of us will ever forget (if it ever goes away, of course).
D is for Devon. Well, in particular Stoke Gabriel Football Club. At the time of writing the South West Peninsula East side have the league record of played 17, won 0, drawn 0, lost 17, for 5 against 201, points 0. Yet, despite their dismal record, and conceding double figures on 10 separate occasions, they are still in their fighting week in, week out. You have to respect that.
E is for Eight-Six. Yeah, clutching at straws a little with this one. Since lockdown 1 and the Summer break, 86 is the average number of miles (return) I have travelled to a non-league game. The longest being as round trip of 186 miles, the shortest (two games), a 2 mile return walk. Check out the season stats here.
F is for Fareham Town. The Creeksiders were the last team I managed to visit before Lockdown 1 in March. I couldn't have asked for a better way to shut down the season. Ten goals and the home side coming from 3 goals down with 20 minutes remaining to square it up 5-5 with a minute left. Many thanks to Fareham Town and visitors Baffins Milton Rovers for wonderful entertainment. Read the match blog here.
G is for Goats because C had to be for Covid and there is no way I can leave Caversham United out of an annual review. The Goats may not have played many games in 2020, only 5 league games since the Summer, but their relentless Twitter presence and their fund-raining for Balls to Cancer is a thing of legend. Long may they continue and let's hope we get to see a Caversham derby at some stage this season. Follow Caversham United on Twitter - @CavershamUnited.
H is for Hallions. This is only the third season that Bicester Hallions have been in existence. Since formation in 2018 they have gained promotion from the Banbury & Lord Jersey League Division Two into the Premier League as well as winning The Jersey Cup and The Mid Oxon Cup. This season, their first in the Oxfordshire Senior League, they currently sit top of Division One having played 10 games, winning 9 and drawing 1 and only conceding 5 goals in the process. YHY. You can read the match blog from their October home victory over Eynsham here.
I is for innovative. Non-League clubs have had to use all sorts of methods to make their grounds safe for supporters to return. The vast majority of grounds I have visited have felt completely safe and, in all honesty, even the ones that did have a couple of problems these were caused by supporters rather than any kind of negligence by the club. One-way systems in clubhouses, limited numbers in queues and snack bars moved outdoors were just some of the measures I have seen. Two of the most innovative were the 2 meter markings on the pitch surrounds at Amesbury Town and the segregated viewing 'pens' at Corsham Town.
J is for jab. As I write this the Oxford vaccine has just been approved. Yesterday my parents got their first dose of the vaccine and my mother-in-law had hers a couple of weeks back. This appears to be the only way that we are ever going to get back to anything resembling normality, although we still have a long way to go.
K is for Key Workers. This year, more than any other year, we have been very reliant on key workers. BotP would like to say a massive thank you to anyone and everyone who has put themselves at risk to keep the country going. We would be lost without you all.
L is for Low Points. I am sure that no one can deny that they have had low points during the year. I know, from my experience, that I often wake very early and then get more anxious the longer I lie awake thinking of all that is wrong in the world. Don't be frightened to talk to people and, likewise, if you know someone who may be feeling low, check on them and/or give them a call.
M is for Miedema. Maybe a little controversial for a non-league football blog but, in my opinion the Arsenal striker is, pound for pound, the best striker in world football at the moment. I have started watching much more women's football this year and, although I tend to focus on the lower tiers, there's just no denying the scoring record of Arsenal's goal machine.
N is for Non-League Finals Day. Fast becoming one of my favourite days of the year. Last season, sadly, the day was cancelled. Rumour has it that there could be a bumper day in 2021 featuring 2 FA Vase and 2 FA Trophy Finals. Of course, this depends very much on what happens in the next few months. As I write this, from Tier 4, things are not looking to good.
O is for Oxfordshire Senior League. One advantage of having to stay closer to home at times in 2020 was the opportunity to take in more OSL games. With four teams within walking distance of my house and most other grounds less than a 30 minute drive away, the OSL is now my go to league when I can't travel.
P is for Pre-season Madness. This Summer, having missed out on football from March, I decided to take in a few pre-season friendlies and am I glad I did? One lovely August evening I headed over to Stadhampton to take in Stadhampton v Berinsfield Reserves which turned out to be one of the most remarkable games I have ever witnessed. It finished 8-4 to Staddie but what makes it such an amazing game is that it was only 1-0 at half-time. Read the match blog here.
Q is for Quarantine. A great score in Scrabble but not what you want to see pop up on your tracing app. Touching a large piece of wood, I have not had the message come through yet but, effectively, being in Tier 4 now I am in quarantine until further notice. With rates still climbing it is not looking as if there will be a lot of football watched by BotP for the remainder of the season. I hope I am wrong.
R is for Referee! Without doubt the most frequent word (well, non-swear word) used on a non-league football pitch these days. It feels like not a single tackle can take place without one, or both, benches and players screaming "referee!" at the man in the middle.
S is for Stourbridge Ladies. The Glassgirls have been in incredible form for the last few seasons. Last season they wee denied the opportunity to go unbeaten by Covid. This season they started in the same vein throwing in an FA Cup run, which saw them go further than ever before, for added entertainment. If/when I can get to games again, the Glassgirls will be one of the first teams I go to see. Red the match blog from their brilliant 3-0 WFA Cup win over Crusaders here.
T is for Telescopic floodlights. This season Penn & Tylers Green finally got to move back home after years of wrangling about getting floodlights installed at their ground. The solution to the issue was to install telescopic floodlights at their French School Meadows ground. BotP took a look at the new edition in September (Stalemate).
U is for Ulsan. A port city in the South of Korea, just short ferry ride from the Japanese coast. This is where I was working when the first news of a 'new' flu-like virus which was causing great concern in China. Little did I, or anyone else, realise at the time just what a effect this news would have on all of our lives.
V is for VAR. In my opinion, the final nail in the Premier League coffin. It's no secret that before BotP I was a season ticket holder at West Brom. I started to fall out of love with the top-level game during the first season after West Brom were promoted in the early 2000s. The last two season's, watching the way that VAR enables even more 'big' team bias, has left me realising that the decision to stay away from the Premier League was definitely the correct one.
W is for Women's football. As a coach of a girl's football team I have a personal interest in the women's game. In the coming year(s) I am really hoping to use the BotP platform to help promote women's football especially at the lower levels. In recent months I have set up the Women's Grassroots Football Centre, subsection of the www.botp.co.uk. Unfortunately the pandemic has temporarily put a stop to the regular features that I hoped to have running by now but as soon as games re-commence, I intend to ramp up the coverage.
X is for XBox. If all else fails, at least we can play football online. Over the Summer I have been playing plenty of FIFA with my daughter, trying to use the game to get over some coaching points. Hopefully she will be learning about the game without even noticing. I wonder if I can start shouting control sequences to the girls during my under 11 games? "B", press "B"!!
Y is for YouTube teams. Even during lockdown many of the YouTube teams have still been uploading content, which is great for those of us who need a football fix. The original, and still my personal favourite, Palmers FC have returned with more regular footage. SE Dons do an incredible job both on and off the pitch. Under the Radar put out plenty of good quality videos, as do Kitchener FC over in Ipswich.
Z is for Zero chance of completing the season. It's not looking good at the moment. Many non-league season's have been put on hold and, with rates still rising is some areas, it is hard to see how they will be able to continue in the near future. There have been a number of suggestions, mini-tournaments, shortened fixture list, play the season over 2 years, all of which have Pros and Cons. However, until we have reached tipping point with the vaccine(s), it is hard to see any of the working.
Finally I'd like to wish everyone a very Happy & Healthy New Year. Let's hope that we can all get back to playing and watching as soon as possible.