Longford FC: Football team that lose games by 10 goals or more confident the new year will bring more luck

Are Longford FC downcast? Not a bit of it, they tell Adam Lusher

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The Independent Football

And Louis van Gaal thinks he’s got problems. The embattled Manchester United manager should come here, to the ground of village side Longford FC. “Crisis-hit club” probably doesn’t quite cut it. 

They began the season badly (losing 10-0 to Bredon) and got worse: (13-0 against Chalford; 14-0 against Woolaston; 17-0 – at home – to Bibury FC …)

Now, with just over half the season gone, they are rooted to the bottom of Gloucestershire Northern Senior League Division Two: played 16; goals for: er, none; goal difference: minus 170. You might think “worst football club in Britain”.

You would politely be told to get stuffed. Because this is a new year, a new dawn, the first match of 2016, and, surely, the start of the greatest “great escape” in footballing history.

“It’s getting better and better every week,” says manager Nick Dawe, a man who by his own admission thinks: “The glass is always half full. You’ve got to take the positives.”

Because, apparently, there are positives. Like the fact that at Longford FC, there is a bootroom full of men now well versed in meeting with disaster, who nonetheless retain hope of one day encountering triumph.

Another goal goes in as Longford FC lose 9-1 at home to Abbeymead (Tom Pilston)

They are not in the business of giving up. And they have no idea how to make a drama out of a crisis. “This is grassroots football,” says Mike Dean, 50, the club’s left-back, turned secretary, turned philosophical treasurer. “You’re never sure what players you are going to get back until they return for pre-season training.”

Which, undeniably, is one way to analyse the pre-season crisis which precipitated the season of crisis.

Another way would be to say that about a month before pre-season training started, the manager left, citing family and personal commitments, and 13 first-team players followed for a variety of reasons, including joining other clubs.

So Longford – a trophy-winning club in former years – started the season fielding what was effectively the reserve team, playing five divisions higher than their normal level.

Which means that, actually, for all their minus-170 goal difference and conceding an average of roughly 10 goals a game – they are rather proud of themselves. 

They haven’t quit, they have stuck together, says Dawe, an art teacher who was himself roped in as manager in October when he was painting his house and got chatting to club vice-chairman Les Bailey.

“Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he grins.

They all grin, even goalkeeper Irshad Badat. “I am one of those people who are never down,” says the 25-year-old insurance administrator. “I think I’ve played all right this season … I’ve certainly had quite a bit to do.”

“We’re not going to make the Premier League,” says centre-half Steve Foster, with what some might regard as understatement. “So you might as well enjoy playing football and laughing and joking with your mates.

“And you’re not going to improve if you only play against rubbish opposition every week,” adds Steve.

Talk to make the gaffer proud.

“They’re fantastic lads,” says Dawe. “If they keep going, I’ve got to keeping going with them.”

And, he adds, there is a reason why the lads keep going: “I have never been involved in such a good club.”

Goalkeeper Irshad Badat pre-match (Tom Pilston)

If Van Gaal fancied a visit to see real footballing problems look like, others, who think the game has been devoured by cynicism and money, would be comforted by what they would find at Longford FC.

The “grandstand” may be a half-covered side exit of the adjoining village hall, and yesterday’s game may have been interrupted for the removal of dog muck, but there are some things money can’t buy.

This, they tell you, is a proud club whose history can be traced back to 1918, a real family club, where linesman duties are passed from father – Bob Jones, who was still watching matches aged 89, with a Zimmer frame – to son, former player Robin, 64, who has now been running the line for 25 years.

And now that the recently sacked Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, is looking for a job, he is welcome to try a real managerial challenge, says club president Terry Godwin, 78. He could show how special he still is, “but he’ll have to muck out the changing rooms. And wash the kit.”

Which is what Godwin and his back-room team do every week. And no, Jose, you won’t get paid. But you might find your players aren’t as bad as a minus-170 goal difference might suggest.

“We’re not Raggy Arse Rovers,” insists Dawe. “We’re capable of playing some good stuff.”

And, lo, within minutes of the manager claiming this, he is proved right. Because it happens. Sixteen minutes in, the ball falls to midfielder James Kelly in the box. He finds himself one-on-one with the Abbeymead Rovers keeper. As the 25-year-old insurance manager says himself, he coolly rounds his opponent to slot home for a “tidy finish”.

Yes, you read it here first: after 1,456 rewardless minutes of football, Longford FC have scored a goal.

There is cheering, there is hugging, but there are no overly extravagant displays. They have been practising many things in training, but not goal celebrations.

No matter that Abbeymead Rovers score three minutes later to make it 2-1. Or that the match finishes 9-1.

Dawe enters the dressing room smiling. Longford FC’s top scorer Kelly says his goal “is just the start”.

They are recruiting more players, improving with every game, says Dawe. With only five points separating them from the second-bottom side, “there’s everything to play for. We can still stay up”.

He pauses, thinks about it a little more. “It just ain’t going to be on goal difference.”