It takes a lot these days to get me out of the house and into a football ground twice in the space of five days. The title of this blog says it all though. A complete one-off that made spending a hot evening on the trains and the domestic bargaining all worth it. Who knows when the next time a non-league club will take on an international team?
So what exactly is the 156 ranked international team in the world doing in Maidenhead on a sultry July evening? The answer seems to point towards Kuwait’s recent troubles with FIFA. They have been banned from competing as an international side on three occasions since 2007. The most recent ban only ended in December 2017. The Blue Wave, as they are known, were a little undercooked with Asian Qualifying for the 2022 World Cup just around the corner. They’d only played 13 games since their return.
In an effort to get some game time they pitched up for a summer tour of the Chilterns. They played two games behind closed doors against Marlow and Hungerford before taking on Maidenhead (the premier non-league side of the region). Unsurprisingly, this unlikely match-up was like groundhopping catnip to someone like me.
Ground: York Road
Refreshments: £1.50 (Pepsi and water)
Dogs seen: None
Who are ya, Maidenhead United?
Maidenhead United were founded in 1870 as just ‘Maidenhead’ and they moved their current home of York Road a year later making it the ‘oldest senior football ground continuously used by the same club’. The Magpies were founder members of the Southern League before merging with Maidenhead Norfolkians to form Maidenhead United in 1919.
The club were later founder members of the Corinthian League and then three times league champions in 1958, 1961 and 1962. United joined the Athenian League following the disbanding of the Corinthian and then hopped over to the Isthmian League in 1973.
The Magpies were full members cup winners in 1996 and remained in the Isthmian structure until when they were among a group of clubs to found the new Conference South division. They were relegated in its first season and dropped into the Southern League before returning via the playoffs at the first attempt. Maidenhead won the National League South in 2017 earning their first move into the National League. They will still play at step 1 this season following 12th and 19th placed finishes.
Who are ya, Kuwait?
There will be people out there of a certain age who have fond, or maybe not so fond, memories of Kuwait from their one and only trip to the World Cup. The Blue Wave rolled into Spain in 1982 as Asian Champions and the continent’s only representatives. They achieved what many one-time wonders haven’t managed and took a point home with them in the first game against Czechoslovakia. They were then thumped 4-1 by France before a narrow 1-0 defeat to England.
During their defeat to the French members of the Kuwait side stopped playing after hearing a whistle from the stands. France scored and Kuwait protested to the extent that the President of the Kuwait FA invaded the pitch and berated the referee until he ruled out the goal. The French were pretty angry as you could imagine but they scored another a few minutes later.
Things have largely gone downhill for Kuwait since then with a fourth-place finish in the 1996 Asia Cup their only real performance of note since. They’ll be hoping for a rapid improvement soon, however, with the next World Cup taking place just down the desert road.
Magpies defeat 156 best nation in the World
York road may be old but it’s also impressive, one of those grounds that has every base covered. There is a large modern seating area, lots of standing around the corners and a good home end adorned with the club’s name painted along the walls – so you absolutely know you’re in Maidenhead and not Maidstone.
There was a good crowd for this unusual fixture and expectant buzz around the ground – not all from mosquitos this time. The Magpies were still at the early stage of their pre-season but had some minutes in the tank following a doubleheader the previous Saturday. A team of trialists took on Ascot United while the rest of the squad played against Bracknell Town.
The home side started with a little more fluency as the visitors tried to settle by patiently knocking the ball around. Maidenhead looked dangerous as their forwards ran into the channels. Kuwait looked to create space in the wide areas but initially struggled going downhill.
The visitors soon settled, however, and had a couple of half-chances. The game then got a little more competitive as a few challenges went in. A soft-looking foul was given to the home side who took a quick free-kick to Josh Kelly, who looked offside. He drove into the box and was fouled a couple of times in quick succession. A penalty was given and new signing Danny Whitehall, formally of the Nebraska Bugeaters, gave the home side the lead.
It was a lead they never relinquished in a lively competitive game where both sides had chances. Kuwait’s captain Bader Al-Mutawa impressed in attacking midfield but the visitors couldn’t manage the goal they were looking for. Changes were made frequently in the second half with trialists A, through to E getting a go for the Magpies.
Maidenhead claimed the impressive scalp after a very enjoyable game of football. There were a few spiky moments but no signs of any officials invading the pitch this time. The draw for the Asian World Cup qualifiers were released the following morning with Kuwait finding out they’d meet Australia, Jordan, Chinese Taipei, and Nepal.