Friday, 28 October 2011

Road to Wembley 2011/12 (1st Round)

The FA Vase bandwagon rolled into Three Bridges for the last round (I was in the North-West last weekend and so was nowhere here) as Beckenham Town had an interesting looking tie against Sussex League side Three Bridges.

Three-Bridges-view (Three Bridges FC’s Jubilee Field ground – photo taken from www.nomad-online.co.uk)

Coming into this game in 8th place in the Sussex County League 1st Division, you would have to feel TBFC were slight favourites against Kent League side Beckenham. As it happened, the game needed extra-time to find a winner despite the face that the away side had Danny McKone sent off after 70 minutes. Goals from Elliot Romain (101 mins) and two from Clinton Moore (111 mins & 118 mins) sent Three Bridges through to the 2nd Round. Beckenham still had time to have Harry Draper sent off late on in ET to cap a miserable day in Sussex for them.

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Three Bridges “reward” for their place in the 2nd Round was a tough looking tie against fellow Sussex League side Rye United. They are currently in 2nd place in that league and again you would have to fancy the home side. Again, I won’t be there (nothing against Sussex, honestly!) as I have another engagement but another short match report will follow in mid-November after that tie.

ROAD TO WEMBLEY 2011/2012:

1ST QUALIFYING ROUND: Croydon FC 1-2 Beckenham Town (Croydon Sports Arena, Att: 51)

2ND QUALIFYING ROUND: Beckenham Town 5-1 Croydon FC (Eden Park Avenue, Att: 58)

1ST ROUND: Three Bridges 3-0 Beckenham Town [After Extra Time] (Jubilee Field, Att: 68)

Monday, 17 October 2011

Oxhey Jets vs Hendon FC (01/10/11)

Match 132

Ground #: 98

Ground: Boundary Stadium 

Competition: FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round 

Kick Off: 3pm

Cost: £6

Programme: With Admission

Attendance: 376

Oxhey Jets 1

Putman 47’ 

Hendon FC 2

Charles 45’, Ngoyi 59’

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This was set to be the last Saturday for some time (due to various reasons) that I would actually be able to see a game and so there was a decision to make where I actually took myself. The problem was lack of suitable games (even I have a limit, yes seriously) and was all for heading up to Manford Way vs Kelvedon Hatch in the Essex FA Premier Cup (yeah that barrel was getting scraped!) until I noticed a possible FA Cup story coming from just south of Watford as Level 9 side Oxhey Jets were taking on Level 7 heavy hitters Hendon FC. Decision sorted.

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South Oxhey is a suburb of Watford in the Three Rivers district of Hertfordshire and is also close to the boundary of Greater London. (London Overground provides services through S.Oxley) South Oxhey is a large estate built on land that was formerly part of the Oxhey Hall Estate. There was a manor house here, Oxhey Place, and a chapel. The manor house was owned by the Blackwell family of Crosse and Blackwell fame before it burnt down in 1955. Oxhey Chapel dates from 1612 and is still standing to the south of the parish church of All Saints. The church was opened in 1957 to serve the new estate built after the Second World War by the London County Council. The church was demolished and rebuilt in 2000. South Oxhey also shot to fame (of sorts) in 2009 when British choirmaster and broadcaster Gareth Malone came to South Oxhey (seriously) to form a community choir and film the series The Choir: Unsung Town. The South Oxhey Community Choir and the South Oxhey Youth Choir were the two groups assembled and both still continue to perform today.

Gareth and friends in South Oxhey(Malone keeps it real in S.Oxhey)

The town’s footballing side, the Oxhey Jets were established in 1972 and have floated around the regional leagues all of their existence. Currently members of the South Spartan Midlands League, they actually hold a place in the top flight of that league and so play at Level 9 in the pyramid. They only entered FA competitions from 2005/06 and so their best run in the FA Cup was actually to the 2nd Round Qualifying when they reached this stage in 2006/07 and of course, this time out too. Their Boundary Stadium isn’t a classic, I’ll get that in now, but it is a reasonable ground. Located right next door to a swimming pool (which was very tempting considering the heat when I went!) the ground has a stepped terrace right at the entrance which provides decent views as well as two medium sized covered areas, one an actual stand, the other a larger standing area (although set back from the edge of the pitch strangely). They also have a silly seated identikit stand in the corner of the pitch which is probably only there so they meet FA ground grading rules while the rest of the ground is uncovered hard standing.

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To reach here, the Jets had already dispatched of Wodson Park, Great Wakering Rovers and Hertford Town before coming up against one of London’s best known non-league sides and a side that play two levels above them. Hendon FC have had a tough few years recently, firstly they were forced to move out of their Claremont Road ground in 2008. The ground had been sold to property developers in 2006, but a deed of covenant protecting the ground had been in place which (currently?) puts an end to the property idea. They had wanted to move to the Barnet Copthall Stadium (currently being used by Kentish Town, one day, TTF will be there, one day) but once they realised that was too pricey, they didn’t really have a ground of their own. They currently groundshare at Wembley FC’s Vale Farm and have a long term agreeement there. Added to that, some disappointing league finishes (they only finished 15th in the Isthmian Premier last season), you would be forgiven for feeling a bit for Hendon. This season though they were doing well, going into this game in 2nd and only one point behind Lowestoft Town and reaching the 2nd Qualifying Round of the Cup. This was set up nicely and the record crowd of 376 were treated to some exceptional October weather. Excellent.

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The majority of the crowd were enthused by the good start the Jets made too, with some good passing moves giving Hendon something to think about. The Isthmian League side did have two good strikers up front in Elliot Charles and Greg Ngoyi who were causing the home defence problems with the movement and passing. The slickness upfront was beginning to pay off as Hendon now had the majority of the possession and so chances began to fall their way, although they were few and far between in the 1st half. Elliot Charles had a header just over the bar from a good cross from Carl McCluskey and that seemed to be it for the half. Then right on HT came a suspected killer blow. James Archer released Ngoyi down the right and cut inside Andrew Lomas to drill in a low cross towards the near post. Elliott Charles was quickest to react to the situation and, having got in front of his marker Steve Brown, fired a low shot just inside the near post. Oxhey looked devastated at conceding right on HT so was it game over already?

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The short answer was no. Although Gary McCann made a double substitution at HT bringing on Casey Maclaren and Byron Bubb, the Jets made an immediate impact and scored an equalizer. Andrew Lomas got sent away down the left and he sped past a fair few players before he pulled it back to Lewis Putman who’s low shot found the back of the net and the home fans went mental. (Putman, ironically in these situations, made a few appearances for Hendon last season) While the Jets started to believe they could pull off a major cup coup, the heat was easily beginning to win over with the game slowing right down to a walking pace. That being said, Hendon did fire home a goal and the winner around the hour mark to book a place in Round 3. A free kick was floated in and Charles won yet another header to flick the ball on. Ngoyi reacted quickly and, after allowing the ball to bounce, but before Brown could get in a challenge, drilled a shot across Mark Jessop in the home net via a post. Oxhey did push forward for their 2nd equalizer as Shepherd and Bellotti had good chances but they were dealt with comfortably by Sean Thomas. While the sun began to set, Oxhey’s FA Cup run came to a close and while they could be proud of their decent performance, the better team won on the day.

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Hendon’s reward for this win was a 3rd Qualifying Round tie against Maldon & Tiptree which they won 3-1 and so were today really rewarded with a top 4th Qualifying Round tie against Blue Square Premier side Luton Town. They will probably get hammered, but what a great experience for them. As for Oxhey, it was a decent day out at a friendly enough club. Will I ever come back here? Most likely not, but I will see them out and about I’m sure.

Photos from Oxhey Jets vs Hendon FC

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Match Ratings:

- Match: 5/10 (heat 1-0 football)

- Value for money: 5.5/10 (reasonable)

- Ground: 6/10 (bit bland, but better than Croydon I suppose)

- Atmosphere: 6.5/10 (was good – good support all round)

- Food: 7/10 (excellent bacon roll)

- Programme: 5/10 (was free so can’t moan too much)

- Referee: Adrian Piggott – 6/10 (can’t remember him doing too much wrong)

Ox vs Hen prog

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Beckenham Town vs Fisher FC (24/09/11)

Match 131

Ground #: 97

Ground: Eden Park Avenue 

Competition: FA Vase 2nd Qualifying Round 

Kick Off: £3

Cost: £7

Programme: £1

Attendance: 58 

Beckenham Town 5

Rose 4’, Curren 18’, Hobbs (pen) 57’, (pen) 81’, Wadmore (O.G) 65’ 

Fisher FC 1

Turner (pen) 14’, Warren s/off 90’

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The next chapter in the FA Vase journey was to move slightly east from the opening round at Croydon to nearby Beckenham Town. They hosted fellow Kent League side Fisher FC who have an engrossing history and as I found out, a hardcore fan base still there. A place in the 1st Round proper awaited the winners and a dash across London’s various transports awaited me to get here.

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Beckenham is a town in the London Borough of Bromley, south east of Central London. Until the coming of the railway in 1857, Beckenham was a small village in almost completely rural surroundings. Although once a family of entrepreneurs began the building of villas here, its population soared from 2000 to 26,000 during 1850-1900 and throughout the rest of the century. The current population is nearly at 82,000. Today it is very much in London suburbia, although some of the grand houses of the early days remain giving the place a strange commuter town feel yet with the grandiose history. With many business links, Beckenham does host one interesting landmark in the Chinese Garage which dates back to 1928 and was built in the style of a Japanese pagoda. Strangely, the building now is used as a Peugeot Car dealership (a French company) and is a listed building.

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The town’s football side play in the Eden Park area at the imaginatively named Eden Park Avenue as it’s on a road called… They moved into the ground in July 1980 as they obtained a 25 year lease from The London Borough of Bromley (and presumably something similar was signed in 2005) and have made it their home ever since. The ground is actually one I really like with a large style pavilion (pic above) at the top end of the ground where the main entrance is located. Here houses the clubhouse and changing rooms and the style of the pavilion fits well with the leafy suburbia that Eden Park Avenue its situated in. The rest of the ground is ok with 4 separate areas of cover dotted around the pitch as well as a small main stand right in the middle. It is a smashing little ground that maintains the features of a Level 9 club as well as the surroundings its based in.

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The club in it’s current state were only founded in 1971 as the grew out of an amateur side called Stanhope Rovers and as the main side in Beckenham, they were re-incorporated into it’s current name. (Another club called Beckenham Town had gone bust in 1969). They have played in the Kent League since 1982 and have always been a top flight side in the league, although they are normally floating around midtable (ground should be able to make the step up to Level 8 as far as I could see) they did lead the league right up until the last day of the season in 2005/06 before being pipped by Maidstone United to the title. Their furthest run in the FA Vase came way back in 1980/81 when they reached the 4th Round, although they had been banned from FA competitions in 2004 when they first were thrown out of the FA Vase for fielding an unregistered player before the FA were not happy with their appeal and banned them for 5 years (and the FA Cup for 6). Their first season back in the Vase was last season when they reached the 3rd Round before crashing out to Kings Lynn Town. Their opponents for this tie had a more turbulent history as they had only been reincarnated just 2 years ago. Fisher Athletic were playing in the Conference South in 2009 before their massive debts caught up with them and they were liquidated at the High Court. They had also left their Surrey Docks Stadium (it still stands, pictures of it’s sad current state can be found here on Mishi’s excellent blog) In May 2009, club representatives decided to take the Fisher name on becoming the new Fisher FC and continued to play at Dulwich Hamlet’s Champion Hill ground while “dropping” down to the Kent League, where they still play today. Last season they finished bottom of the KL but have made a much better start this time out and were going into this game in 4th place while Beckenham were down in 11th and 6 points down on Fisher (but with 2 games in hand), tough to call then!

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The first thing I noticed at KO was Fisher’s hardy bunch of fans who were singing from the off and one had even brought a flag. It was nice to see some real passion at non-league and good to see Fisher still had some hardcore fan base with them. They nearly had something to shout about early on when they went on their first attack but just 4 minutes in they were a goal down. A Beckenham corner came in and Jason Rose planted his header past Danny Firkins. Simple as you like. Fisher responded well and should have equalized a few moments later when Fisher’s midfield dynamo Jamie Turner sent Danny Hunt through on goal but the ball just got away from him at the vital time. That being said, Fisher did equalize on 14 minutes when Turner ran at the Beckenham defence who melted away until he was floored in the box. Penalty. And Turner himself made no mistake to make it 1-1. Fisher now should have held firm before pushing on as they did look good, yet 4 minutes later they were 2-1 down. A cross from the left was missed by a defender and Nick Curren’s low diving header nestled into the bottom corner. Both sides went for it now as a 3rd goal may end the game for Fisher but on 37 minutes home goalie Nick Blue made an outstanding save from a Hunt volley which he tipped onto the bar. At HT it was 2-1, and the Fisher fans were still in good voice. Home fans were, not.

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For the 2nd half as I walked around the ground to get some different pictures, I had the delight of standing next to the Fisher group who were still singing and getting behind their lads. They also made the running for the beginning of the half with Blue having to be on his toes to keep the away side out. Yet as most times when I write in my notes, “X doing well, pushing for equalizer”, they go and concede. Referee G.Collins had a reasonable game up until this point yet when Beckenham won a corner on 57 minutes, the ball came in and was cleared. Penalty. Nobody appealed for it and even the Beckenham players looked bemused as to its award. Not that Jack Hobbs cared, he easily scored his penalty and Fisher were incensed (and also 3-1 down). Adam Wadmore’s goal on 65 minutes ended the game as a contest, a smart finish from a low cross which he diverted in. Into his own net. At this point the Fisher fans’ gallows humour came out as it was clear their FA Vase run was ending at Eden Park Avenue this season. Beckenham still had time to add another when they won another penalty (this time the whole ground could see it) as the guilty party had clearly never listened to Ray Wilkins “stay on your feet!” mantra. Hobbs scored that one to make it 5-1 and Fisher even had time to have Frankie Warren sent off in injury time for a stupid lunge to pick up his 2nd yellow card. Beckenham were through to R1.

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This felt like the least 5-1 game I have ever seen (if that made sense!) as Fisher had many chances to add to their tally whereas Beckenham seemed to score with every chance they had. I do hope one day Fisher can get back to a ground of their own, whether that be the Surrey Quays Stadium or a completely new build and if that does happen, I will certainly pop in. As for Beckenham, they have a really nice ground, good friendly club from the officials I met and spoke to, although you do feel if they came up against a team half decent, their defence would be torn to shreds. They now meet Sussex County League side Three Bridges away in the 1st Round (sadly I won’t be there) which has all the makings to be an interesting game. The FA Vase, you can’t beat it.

Photos from Beckenham Town vs Fisher FC

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Match Ratings:

- Match: 6.5/10 (good entertainment until end)

- Value for money: 4/10 (Kent League = overpriced)

- Ground: 7/10 (good setting, excellent stuff)

- Atmosphere: 7/10 (Fisher fans made it)

- Food: 7/10 (good food here and well priced)

- Programme: 4/10 (aesthetically pleasing but lacking in substance)

- Referee: G Collins – 5/10 (god knows what he saw for the penalty)

Beck vs Fish prog

ROAD TO WEMBLEY 2011/2012:

1ST QUALIFYING ROUND: Croydon FC 1-2 Beckenham Town (Croydon Sports Arena, Att: 51)

2ND QUALIFYING ROUND: Beckenham Town 5-1 Croydon FC (Eden Park Avenue, Att: 58)

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Arsenal vs Shrewsbury Town (20/09/11)

Match 130

Ground #: 96

Ground: Emirates Stadium 

Competition: Carling Cup 3rd Round 

Kick Off: 7:45pm

Cost: £10

Programme: £2

Attendance: 46,539

Arsenal 3

Gibbs 33’, Oxlade-Chamberlain 58’, Benayoun 78’

Shrewsbury Town 1

Collins 16’ 

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Believe it or not, occasionally Premiership sides actually offer good value for money tickets to see them play. Normally in a cup game when they are playing someone they consider tinpot and it means people like me can pop along, finally see a game at a big ground for a good price and never return. Having bought my £10 ticket for this game a couple of weeks previous to this game I could not envisage the crisis that the Arse were in coming into this game. An unthinkable defeat to Shrewsbury (who themselves were going well in League 2) would most likely see Wenger out of a job. Interesting.

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Arsenal were founded in 1886 as Dial Square were based way down “south of the river” in Woolwich and shortly after their formation were renamed Woolwich Arsenal and began to achieve moderate success with election to the Football League in 1893, before being promoted to the First Division in 1904. The club's relative geographic isolation resulted in lower attendances than those of other clubs, which led to the club becoming mired in financial problems and effectively bankrupt by 1910, when they were taken over by businessmen Henry Norris and William Hall. Norris sought to move the club elsewhere, and in 1913, soon after relegation back to the Second Division, Arsenal moved to the new Arsenal Stadium in Highbury, North London and became the MK Dons of their day. Their first real success came under the management of Herbert Chapman when they won the FA Cup and 2 League Championships in the early 30’s. Throughout the previous century Arsenal dipped in and out of success before current boss Arsene Wenger took over in 1996. His ‘new’ thinking around training and tactics means he is easily the most successful Arsenal manager of all time with numerous league wins include the famous “invincible” season in 2003/04. He hasn’t led them to a European title though, yet.

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Despite all this though, Wenger is a man under pressure. No trophy of any kind (the Emirates Cup doesn’t count) since 2005 which was compounded by a last minute Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham last season. A poor start to this season which included the absolute raping they received at Old Trafford. (I’d 8-2 break it to them, etc) as well as defeats to Liverpool and a 4-3 loss at Blackburn going into this game. Wenger needed to spend money and bought 4 players in the last 48 hours of the transfer window and so pressure was on Park Chu-Young, AndrĂ© Santos, Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta to deliver and immediately. Along came the perfect game for Arsenal to recover then, a Carling Cup tie against League 2 Shrewsbury. The Shrews may well be going well in their league under Graham Turner, but they came here with not a hope in hell according to Arsenal fans, some of who hadn’t even heard of the place or realised that people play football below the Premiership. (I did actually hear “I didn’t know they played football in Shrewsbury”)

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Shrewsbury fans were clearly down for the evening sightseeing and viewing the Emirates Stadium then and Arsenal’s new ground is fairly impressive. I had a front row seat which only cost £10 and allowed me a decent view of the pitch. (I had been warned the sight lines are poor in the ground and so nearly paid £20 to sit in the higher areas of the ground). Nice padded seats are also provided as well as frequent references to the club and it’s history with various players in huddles around the ground, a clock installed at the newly named Clock End (a la Highbury) and impressive inner features with swank looking bars and millions of outlets for Arsenal crap gear. Shrewsbury though were only here for the evening out and they had brought an impressive number down from Shropshire with their support basically filling out their allocation as they sold 5,000 tickets for this game. (Fair play to them for coming down here in numbers – and they were in good voice before KO)

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Game KO’d with Arsenal going straight at the League 2 side as an early goal would surely have put the game beyond the away side already and they had goalie Ben Smith to thank as he first saved brilliantly from a Chamakh header before Chamakh met a low cross at the back post which Smith was equal to again. Shrewsbury though slowly came back into though and on 13 minutes they actually had the cheek to mount a shot at goal when Collins was put through on the left and squeezed a shot across Fabianski. The ball rolled against the outside of the post and Marvin Morgan forced Fabianski into a save from the rebound. This actually woke a few Arsenal fans around me up as they now realised they were actually in a football match and not a training game against some part-timers. If the Shrews had the cheek to mount a shot then 3 minutes later they had the absolute audacity to take the lead as Morgan had all the time in the world to cross from the right and an unmarked James Collins powered his header into the top corner. Suddenly, the atmosphere changed. The crowd turned on this Arsenal side containing 6 full internationals and the away side could sense a shock. Chamakh was then nutmegged on the edge of the Shrews area and people around me went apeshit and then a last ditch block from Gibbs stopped a 2nd goal going in. Arsenal, losing to Shrewsbury? This would implode all those young Arsenal minds and surely send Wenger to the Job Centre in the morning. Luckily then, they equalized on 33 minutes, as Carl Jenkinson crossed from the right and the ball found Gibbs at the back post who sent a header past Smith for 1-1. Smith should really have done better. The relief around the ground was felt but the rest of the half saw both sides get crosses in and create half-chances so Arsenal weren’t fully safe yet. 1-1 at HT.

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Just like the 1st half, Arsenal shot out of the blocks again but this time you sensed Shrewsbury wouldn’t be able to keep up with the constant moving and passing from the home side. Gibbs was causing all sorts of problems at the back early on with crossing and darting runs which meant Arsenal were becoming a lot more of a threat. In fact on 58 minutes when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hammered a shot in from outside the area that flew straight into the bottom corner, you couldn’t say it wasn’t deserved. Arsenal fans finally found their voice (you only sing when you’re winning was so so true) as the team started to relax now as the away players looked knackered. In fact it was only time before Arsenal scored a 3rd and when AOC sent Oguzhan Ozyakup (yup, remember the name) away he crossed brilliantly to Yossi Benayoun who took a touch to compose himself before slotting home and send Arsenal through to the 4th Round. The final 10 minutes were a procession as Arsenal brought on another couple of players who will probably never make the first team again (prove me wrong boys) as the game was up for both sides at 3-1.

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Arsenal’s reward for this win was a 4th Round tie at home to Bolton (who since playing this game, met in the league and Arsenal coasted to a 3-0 win) which should be more interesting for the reserves. Shrewsbury’s reward was respect from the home fans and a lot of respect from me for doing League 2 proud and outsinging the home side all game. As for me, another of the “92 club” visited for a bargain price and (unless I get another cheap/free ticket) my only visit to the Emirates. A nice ground, but it felt throughout the match that I wasn’t at the football, but at a well rehearsed show or concert instead. That may just be me, but I was at Dagenham for my previous game, and their Victoria Road ground is only a few miles across the city, it felt a million miles away for the experiences. That’s modern football though, whether you think it’s a good thing or a bad one, that’s really up to you.

Photos from Arsenal vs Shrewsbury Town

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Match Ratings:

- Match: 7/10 (reasonable fare)

- Value for money: 8/10 (nice one charging £10)

- Ground: 7/10 (modern, yes, good viewing areas, debatable)

- Atmosphere: 6.5/10 (Shrewsbury fans made it)

- Food: N/A – not a chance was I paying for grub here

- Programme: 7/10 (decent for £2)

- Referee: Tony Bates – 7/10 (don’t remember him, good job)

Arse vs Shrews prog

Arse vs Shrews stub