Book Review: And sometimes the dog was busy! Careering around the lower leagues by Fergus Moore and Roger Slater

In the 1989/90 season Fergus Moore was a promising young footballer who was awarded the Brentford FC YTS Player of the Year, boosting his dreams of one day becoming a professional in the game. However, just a year later and that path was taken away when he was released by the West London club. Rather than give up the game that he loved, Moore dropped into the world of non-league football.

Twenty-nine seasons on and he is still donning his boots in his capacity as Player Manager of Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division team, Edgware Town FC. For those unfamiliar with the football league structure in England, the Premier League is level 1, with Moore’s charges playing at level 9. And sometimes the dog was busy! details the career of defender Fergus Moore and the realities of that footballing gulf during his incredible career.

Given the number of years in the game Moore has played, the ‘Season by season’ page presented just after the ‘Foreword’ detailing the clubs he has turned out for down the years, is a useful aid for the reader. For the most part the book follows his career in chronological order, with some chapters interspersed offering reflections on his life in the game, such as the impact on his family. Overall the tone is very conversational so much so that you can almost hear the tales of Moore being relayed to co-writer Roger Slater over a pint in a football clubhouse.

What shines through the pages is Moore’s incredible desire for the game in which he expects nothing but 100% commitment from himself and those around him. And he is honest enough to detail that his passion has sometimes landed him in trouble both as a player and manager. The reader also gets to see that Moore has battled with the idea of whether he is still good enough to play as each new season dawned as he moved from his thirties into his forties, and now the same question as he makes the transition from being on the pitch to being pitch-side.

Moore’s story is an honest account of himself and the demands of the non-league circuit and will be a real eye-opener for those readers unfamiliar with life below the top four divisions.

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Book Review: Home and Away by Dave Roberts

There are some books you read which you immediately engage with and just can’t put down. Home and Away by Dave Roberts definitely falls into that category. The thing is that there isn’t just one thread within the book that lures you in, but several.

At the heart is the story of Bromley FC and its historic first season (2015/16) in the Vanarama National League, the division below the professional ranks of the Football League. Happily, for the author it coincides with his return to England after 35 years living in New Zealand and America, as he and his wife spend 12 months deciding whether ‘home’ will be the UK or USA.

During that time Roberts travels to as many games as he can afford and some that he can’t, in order to reconnect with his boyhood team and to see if after his years away whether his feelings for his beloved Bromley are still the same. Roberts perfectly captures what it is to follow your team and the lengths that fans sometimes go to in order to get their football fix, as he evokes memories of the habit of watching football and more specifically what that experience means at non-league level.

And from these journeys to grounds such as Boreham Wood, Cheltenham, Forest Green Rovers, Southport, Torquay, Tranmere, Wrexham and Hayes Lane, home of Bromley, it can be seen how Roberts’ writing has been compared to Bill Bryson. As with some of Bryson’s books, Home and Away has travel as a vehicle for keeping the narrative interesting and Roberts also demonstrates Bryon-esque wit with observations about the places he visits and the people he encounters, whilst also showing his ability to be self-deprecating. Furthermore, there is a warmth and innocence that Roberts is able to produce in his writing as he observes the changes in football, Bromley and England, after such a prolonged period away from the UK.

As the book develops, whilst football is still at the centre of the narrative, the reader is increasingly exposed to the two families of the author. One being the regulars and characters who watch Bromley and the other, Roberts’ blood-relations. Through this the reader gets a sense of who Dave Roberts is as a person, in terms of what is important to him in life and what makes him tick.

As a reader I felt privileged to share the emotions and journey that Home and Away provides.


Book Review: Oval Ways and Treble Days by Paul Evans

The title of a book can be a useful device for luring readers in; Oval Ways and Treble Days by Paul Evans being a case in point.

So let’s have a look at what it reveals. First up, The Oval is the home ground of Welsh football club Caernarfon Town. Ways? Well, this can be interpreted in terms of anything from traditions, to approaches or even tactics. Treble Days? Quite simply points to three days or periods of importance.

Therefore author Paul Evans – long-time Caernarfon Town fan, committee member and Press Officer – has been clever in the creation of the book’s title, as the subject matter amongst the 262 pages of this book does indeed reflect its title.

In the opening chapter of the book there is a brief history of The Canaries from their highpoint in the mid to late 1980s to the brink of extinction in 2010 and the subsequent rebuilding of the club with a new committee.

The main focus of the book however, begins in the second chapter as the search for a new manager ahead of the 2012/13 season commences. Thereinafter Evans presents the reader with what is in essence a ‘diary of a season’ format as Caernarfon seek promotion from the third tier of the Welsh football pyramid and compete in a myriad of cup competitions. Without providing too much of a spoiler, the book comes to record a season that “will forever be remembered as the campaign in which Caernarfon Town finally regained its pride.”

However, the book does more than simply document the matches, as Evans integrates the viewpoints of the committee, the manager and coaches, the players, as well as supporters into the story. In doing so the reader gets an idea of the difficulties of life away from the glamour of the professional game – a game where community is important to the club, but one which is sometimes constrained by finance and hindered at times by fixture congestion and relationships with local rivals which can be problematic.

Today’s media in this country is obsessed by the Premier League and the professional game, but this book shows that there are some great stories when you start to look below the surface.


The book can be bought from the following link or via Paul Evan’s blog here

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Suggested Websites – the dribbling code

The dribbling code website is best summed up by its tag-line, “…West Yorkshire based Non-League Football Blog…”  This well set out site provides a series of posts which record the authors travels around the West Yorkshire Non-League scene – covering an A to Z of clubs, from Altofts FC to Wakefield FC via Liversedge FC (and many others). Each game featured has a number of excellent photographs, as well as match details, ground directions, programme and admission costs and notes of events both on and off the pitch. All useful for those wishing to know more about the non-league match day experience.

The authors motivation for the site is, “…equal parts self-indulgence and something of interest to the non-league ground-hoppers – this is an attempt to catalogue some of my own experiences, and hopefully encourage more grass roots football attending along the way…”

In describing themselves, the author sees himself as, “…something of a refugee and recent convert to non-league, having grown increasingly disillusioned with what was on offer both on and off the pitch at the higher levels. I do still attend a fair few league games – I have irreversible emotional ties to the club I’ve been attached to since I was a small boy, plus I’m intending to eventually get round all 92 grounds. However, I find myself increasing drawn to the non-league matchday experience instead…”.

Like many other regulars to non-league games, the author feels drawn to football outside the top 92 clubs because in his words: 

  • It’s better value for money
  • You’re not in any danger of getting treated like part of a police training exercise
  • Everyone’s involved because they enjoy it, which tends to make things a lot friendlier (sometimes you really do feel like you’ve been invited round to someone’s house for the afternoon, rather than turned up in enemy territory about to do battle)
  • You feel like you’re contributing to essential grassroots football on a wider scale, rather than a small pool of unnecessary bank balances
  • Once in the ground, you can do pretty much as you please.
  • Oh, and (whisper), the entertainment on the pitch is often better too…”


Visit this site and also your local non-league team – you will be glad you did.

The website can be found @

Book Review: Off the Bench by Gordon Bartlett & Roger Slater

If you enter the name Gordon Bartlett into Wikipedia you get the following details:

“…Gordon Bartlett (born 3 December 1955 in London) is a former professional footballer who played as a forward…1973-75 Portsmouth FC. 2 appearances, 1 goal…In 1975, he played for the Denver Dynamos in the North American Soccer League (NASL)…His career was cut short by injury…He is currently manager of Wealdstone FC…”

Anyone coming across this brief information could be forgiven that there is no more to the story than that. Just another professional who never made the grade due to an injury and then took up management – nothing remarkable. Well the internet may be a fantastic tool in so many ways, but the story of Gordon Bartlett is not one that the World Wide Web has got right. Instead it is left to the written word of the book to tell the tale of this Non-League luminary.

Off the Bench – A Quarter of a Century of Non-League Management (by Gordon Bartlett & Roger Slater) is the recently published book which charts the career of the current Wealdstone “gaffer”. The book openers with a foreword which covers the unfortunate injury plagued career of Bartlett. In the 1974/75 season on 14 December he came on as a substitute and scored the second goal as Pompey ran out 2-0 winners against Bolton Wanderers. His only other appearance was later that month against Southampton on Boxing Day. However, he was released and went to Denver to play. Fate was against him, as injuries meant he never actually played for the Dynamos in the NASL. Bartlett returned to England to try and regain fitness, but an unsuccessful months trial at Brentford showed that his professional career was over. Despite the injuries he did return to playing for Non-League Hayes FC.

What changed the course of his path in football was studying for the FA Coaching Badges and his first management position as Hayes Youth team coach. When Hayes dispensed with their Youth team, Bartlett moved to Southall to take over their Youth set-up. What this lead to later in 1985/86 was his appointment as first team manager. It was an incredible first season, as the club reached the FA Vase Final at Wembley against Halesowen Town. What follows in the book is a year on year account of Gordon Barlett’s career in management, from that first season at Southall, the years at Hounslow FC (1986 to 1989), Yeading FC (1989 to 1995) and Wealdstone FC (1995 to 2010) – a total of 25 years in Non-League Management.

However, the chapters of those years aren’t merely a game-by-game analysis of a season. In terms of tone and style it is very conversational, with plenty of humour and sincere reflection of both the ups and downs at the various clubs. Events, players and games spark off memories and stories for Bartlett, with the warmth of his recounting of these events making for a very readable book. It is a straight talking and honest look at life on the Non-League circuit and provides a revealing insight into the realities of budgets, player transfers, club management and fans outside the top 92 clubs in England.

Over the 25 years Gordon Bartlett has experienced the full range of emotions in the game. From the highlights of winning the FA Vase, to the lows of battles against relegation. With the joy of discovering players who make the grade such as Les Ferdinand and Jermaine Beckford, there is the despair of players who simply don’t turn up and vanish, never to be seen again. There too is a 15 year management stint at Wealdstone, which is an incredible act of faith and loyalty by both Gordon Bartlett and the Club Board, which survived the ill-fated Prince Edward Playing Fields project.

For me this book will appeal across a range of people in the football world. It will be a fascinating read for players, officials and fans of the clubs Gordon Bartlett has been involved with, as it may throw light on why decisions and events occurred the way they did. Certainly for anyone who follows a Non-League football, it will be a point of comparison for how their particular club is run. Also, I believe it will make interesting reading for fans of the professional clubs, to see how the “other half” live and the financial reality and resource issues that clubs outside the Premier League and Football League have to deal with, week in week out, season after season.

A real insight into all aspects of Non-League Management by a “real” football legend.

2010/11: Blue Square North Play-off Semi Final, 2nd Leg

Boston United v Guiseley AFC- Sunday 08 May 2011

Just four years after relegation from the Football League, having lost to Wrexham and then entering Administration on the last day of the season in May 2007, Boston United were on the verge of returning to the Blue Square Premier (BSP) League,  the level most Boston fans would tell you is the Lincolnshire club’s natural level. With Lincoln City’s relegation confirmed and Grimsby (poachers of Boston’s successful young management team just days ago) also languishing in the BSP, there was plenty to look forward to, if success in the Play-offs could be achieved.

After a tight First Leg, in which Guiseley had gained the advantage through a superb free kick from Warren Peyton from 35 yards, it was all to play for at York Street. Guiseley, who pipped Boston to the Unibond League title just 12 months ago on the last day of the season, and Boston, have been almost inseparable over the past two seasons. This was reflected in this season’s league games which produced a 0-0 draw in Yorkshire on a soggy Tuesday night in November, and a 1-1 at York Street in January.

Ironically for this Yorkshire-based Boston fan, the trip to York Street was considerably longer than the ‘away’ visit to Netherfield, so I was up early and eager to be on my way. Picking up a fellow exile en route, we spent most of the drive down the A1 trying to convince ourselves we weren’t too worried about the outcome – after the last few years and nearly going out of existence the feeling of relief that we still have a club to support is still overwhelming, and after all, we told ourselves, we’d already exceeded expectations for the season. I don’t think either of us was fooled!

On arrival at York Street, the Pilgrims Social Club was rammed, but a pint of Batemans was needed to calm the nerves. With the pre match warm up duly carried out, we took our places amongst the 2,640 strong crowd that had gathered. The famous ‘Town End’ was full of particularly vocal home support and the noise coming from that end of the ground was a good old fashioned racket.

With nerves on edge due to the deficit from the First Leg, it was important that Boston started well, which they duly did. Encouraged by their largest home crowd since their League days, the Pilgrims surged up the pitch, and with 10 minutes gone won a corner. Now it doesn’t take a genius to work out what was going to happen here. Centre back and player of the season Shaun Pearson has scored 11 goals this term, and I’d say 9 of them are identikit headed goals from a corner. I can only assume non-league budgets don’t stretch to scouting or Guiseley would have seen this one coming. From a Jamie Yates corner Pearson thumped one into the net with his head, and sent the crowd ballistic.

From this moment until the half time whistle went, Boston looked the most threatening side, with a shot cleared off the line, and just before half time, an Anthony Church shot struck the crossbar. Guiseley looked happy to make it to half time still in the game, but following a rivalry built up over the last couple of seasons, and particularly after the 1st Leg, in which we had dominated the first half, we knew better than to write them off.

When a minute or so into the second half Church again rattled the crossbar, this time from a free kick, it was beginning to look like we’d carry on where we left off. Guiseley had other ideas, however. When Boston conceded a free kick and our tormentor Peyton was lining it up, there was me thinking ‘oh no, not again’. This one however struck the wall, but it rebounded to former Leeds youngster Gavin Rothery who tucked it past veteran keeper Paul Bastock to put Guiseley back in control of the tie with half an hour to play.

Boston responded to this setback and following a build up of pressure Jamie Yates had a good chance, before Danny Davidson came on as a substitute for the hard working Spencer Wier Daley. Davidson had an immediate impact, creating a chance for Yates that was deflected wide. Then on 79 minutes, from a corner following good play by Ryan Semple, the ball fell to Church, who, having scored our winner in the playoff final against Bradford Park Avenue last season, duly rammed it home to make it the aggregate score 2-2. Cue pandemonium in the stands, and 10 minutes of tension on the pitch, with neither side wanting to make a mistake, the play was very cautious to the final whistle.

With tension in the air, extra time kicked off. The first 15 minutes were tense, edgy times, and few chances were created. Three minutes into the second half came a moment of pure drama as, with Guiseley attacking, Boston were unable to effectively clear their lines and the ball fell to Darryn Stamp who lashed in a volley from 20 yards – a strike worthy of settling any match. The hundred or so Guiseley fans went berserk and a momentary silence settled around the rest of the ground. However this didn’t last long, the United fans, knowing their teams never say die attitude could still sense the possibility of salvation.

That salvation arrived some 5 minutes later as a superb run by the by then almost exhausted Yates resulted in a cross towards the far post where no less that 3 Boston players were lining up to pounce. Danny Davidson was the man in the right place and gleefully headed home. I nearly lost my voice, and my sanity.

For the remaining few minutes of extra time, it was Guiseley who looked shell shocked and Boston piled on the pressure, and almost snatched a winner when Adam Boyes volleyed wide. The final whistle went, and I cannot help but feel if we’d had another 5 minutes we’d have prevailed, but it was not meant to be, and so it went to penalties.

Whilst waiting for the first penalty, I cast my mind back to any situations involving penalty shoot outs where I cared about the outcome. This was the first one I have known involve Boston. All the others involved England so I was certainly prepared for the worst! The next thing that came to mind was how the script was written for our veteran keeper Paul Bastock. A true Boston legend who I remember first watching in the early 90’s, and had returned for the latter part of this season from St Albans to take his appearance total for the club to over 620. Surely if there was to be a hero today it would be him?

Alas, whoever wrote the script must have been from Yorkshire, as the hero turned out to be the aptly named Drench, who, playing in goal for Guiseley, poured water on our hopes by superbly saving an attempt by Gareth Jellyman (yes, he threw a wobbly!)  and another effort from Danny Sleath. With Boyes also hitting the post, and Guiseley missing two of theirs , it all came down to that man again, Warren Peyton, who kept his cool and settled 210 minutes of football with one kick, not the best penalty but it in went, setting a date with AFC Telford in the play off final for Guiseley.

Ben Grant