With a matter of days left remaining in the second decade of the 21st century, I think that if you ran a poll for ‘player of the decade’ for Maidenhead United supporters there would be a runaway winner.
With apologies to Harry Pritchard and Ryan Upward, there is really one stand-out player who transcended the two distinct eras of this last decade as far as Magpies fans are concerned. 2010 to 2015 were five years in which – on paper – the club had consolidated its place in the ‘Conference’ South.
In reality there was an ‘AGM Cup’ relegation reprieve, one decent run in both the FA Cup and the Trophy and continued poor home form which kept attendances down during that period. From 2015 to date we have enjoyed the best years in the club’s history, the peak of which was that thrilling 2016/17 National South title-winning campaign.
Prior to the 2014/15 season – the last of his eight full seasons in charge – manager Johnson Hipployte signed David Charles Tarpey from Hampton & Richmond Borough. Tarpey had an impressive enough goal scoring record at step 2 and 3 and had played against us before when representing the likes of The Beavers, Basingstoke Town and Farnborough. That 14/15 campaign was once again a struggle – it was ever thus – but Tarpey was to be one of the leading lights, notching 22 goals in league and cup in a struggling side.
Hippolyte’s last game in charge saw his soon-to-be-crowned successor sat in the stands observing; Alan Devonshire was clearly not overly impressed by a 4-0 County Cup Final win over Aylesbury United, as he went on to retain just Pritchard, Upward, Sam Barratt, Mark Nisbet and Tarpey for the ‘Devolution’ which was to take place.
2015/16 was successful for Maidenhead, it was successful for Tarpey. A run to the FA Cup First Round, an EFL club held to a draw, a televised replay and a play-off-chasing campaign which nearly went down to the wire were it not for Devonshire’s team just running out of puff in the final few weeks. Tarpey scored 21 goals and was again our top scorer. Dev tinkered again in the summer of 2016 and reunited two strikers that he worked with at Braintree, Sean Marks and Jordan Cox. Tarpey was expected to operate on his usual right hand side berth, a master plan was in place. But Cox got injured in pre-season and Dev was instead forced to opt for the classic big-man little-man partnership of Marks and Tarpey.
“Tarps is never an out-and-out striker”
Tarps was already a darling of the Bell Street and Canal End terraces for his goal scoring exploits but I foolishly remarked to a mate early in that season “Tarps is never an out-and-out striker”. He went on to score 46 league and cup goals in that campaign and the rest is history. He even got a cameo walk-on part on Soccer AM after his outrageous goal against promotion-rivals Dartford went viral; anticipating a flick-on, he back-heeled the ball over the header of one defender, turned the next and slotted past the goalkeeper to make Dennis Bergkamp look like Ian Dowie.
Tarpey was effective enough before Marks joined us but that partnership just hit it off. The prototype Maidenhead goal that season would be a ball up to Sean ‘Heads on a Stick’ Marks to get beaten up and flick on for Tarpey who would use his pace and his remarkable close-control to scamper clear and score. Again and again and again. It was joyous to watch and by the time he left us in August 2017 as a National League South Champion to join EFL outfit Barnet he had scored an incredible 98 goals in just 139 MUFC starts. His last scoring appearance for Maidenhead saw him notch four in an evening at an ambitious Fylde side which would reach the National League play-offs that season and included a fine solo effort as he coasted through the Coasters back line and a Roberto Carlosesque free-kick. He was substituted before the end to a standing ovation from all four sides of Fylde’s opulent Mill Farm stadium.
It was one of four four-goal hauls Tarps managed in Maidenhead colours and I was lucky enough to have seen all four, from deepest Cornwall up to the Lancashire coast via Berkshire. His quadruple on the road at Truro on a quagmire of a pitch in a full-on rainstorm in January 2016 rescued a memorable four-all draw and after the game this shy man posed somewhat reluctantly for photos with hero-worshipping well-oiled Magpies fans who had witnessed one of many displays of Tarpey greatness.
Tarpey’s return to York Road with Woking for the BT Sport televised fixture on Saturday however won’t have quite the same ‘returning hero’ vibe as you might expect. He has already been back to York Road wearing the colours of Barnet, from whom he joined us on a short and unusually subdued loan spell last season as he stepped up his recovery from a frankly cruel cruciate ligament injury sustained within a matter of weeks of joining the Bees back in August 2017. He can however expect another warm York Road ovation, the very least he deserves.