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Monday, May 19, 2014

Sholing lift the cup

Sholing 1 West Auckland 0

Teams line up

Wembley way - How fantastic for fans of the clubs to see this.

Sholing 1 West Auckland 0

Don't ever knock Facebook! All I did was like a post from Chris Berezai saying that he was going to the Vase final and about 5 minutes later I got a message asking if I'd like a complimentary ticket, a free programme, access to Club Wembley and cushioned seats in line with the half way line. I had intended to buy a ticket at the gate so this was a nice bonus - Thanks Chris.
The game was a bit of a bore fest really although the last 20 minutes were okay as West Auckland threw the 'kitchen sink' at Sholing after they'd scored with a deflected shot that flew over the keeper.
The end of another Vase campaign, my favourite memories being the chips near Odd Down, the unbelievable storm at Hanworth Villa and the most glorious day at Eastbourne which effectively brought an end to the winter rainy season. Already looking forward to the draw for next season....

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Eastbourne United FC

Eastbourne United 2 Ampthill Town 1

Eastbourne dugouts

Bourne Again

Eastbourne United 2 Ampthill Town 1

The more grounds you visit, the trickier it gets at this stage of a competition. I did Sholing in the last round, I did St Andrews in a league match last year and Dunston was just too expensive. I'd also visited Eastbourne United but not for about 25 years. So off I went with a spring in my step as the rains finally relented and a lovely day was forecast. I actually never even checked the internet before leaving to confirm that it was on, just like the old days!
I had the pleasure of my wife's company on my first train to London, this made this leg more tolerable as once again we were 15 minutes late arriving into King's Cross. Note to First capital connect - What's the point in apologising if the very same thing is going to happen again next week?
Any train to Brighton is always entertaining, it's always full of weird and wonderful characters. Brighton definitely has a unique population, my one issue is that whenever I need to change there, the connection is 5 minutes or less to find and board my next train. So once again, I belted up the platform like a lunatic and jumped on my Eastbourne train with 1 minute to spare.
My parents used to own a bungalow in Polegate and I had a nostalgic stop at the station, looking up roads that I hadn't walked on since the late 1980's - Doesn't seem to have changed at all!
Eastbourne was packed, everyone seemed to be out and why not on the most perfect of early Spring days. I was spoiled for choice with eating establishments but eventually settled on a cafe down a back street, usually the sort of place I love. I probably should have been suspicious when the cafe didn't seem to have a name. There were half a dozen delightful customers who all seemed to have special needs but were loving their lunch and each others company. The Eastern European lady serving was also a delight with banter and remarks that made all her customers seem special,. Sadly, my cottage pie with chips was once of the poorer lunches I've had on my travels. The chips were fine, but the cottage pie, billed as home made, although hot, tasted processed and also tasted like there was a spoonful of salt in every mouthful. Seeing a lovely fish restaurant just after leaving the cafe almost made me weep.
The afternoon was simply glorious, wall to wall sunshine and warm with only a gentle breeze. I actually sat on the beach for a few minutes, tossed a few pebbles and fired off a few texts. The walk along the seafront firmly put all those months of rain behind me and made me feel completely refreshed.
I'm sure when I went to the ground before, it was open and I'd love to have a tweet from anyone who knows if this was the case. It would have been some time in the 80's that I visited. Now it is surrounded by a wooden fence, there are two little stands on the near side and hard standing. A big clubhouse and also a never portakabin that housed the refreshment hatch.
Amptill are from the higher step, yet Eastbourne have been pounding all opposition. A fascinating match in prospect.
The game was dramatic throughout with a real cup tie feel, the referee was excellent in my neutral opinion although he had to put up with the usual histrionics from both teams.
Amptill had most of the early possession and looked really lively. They ended up going behind to an outrageous 30 yard volley from the right touchline that flew over the keepers head. I was right next to the guy when he hit it and I'm still unsure whether it was a shot or ended cross. Whatever it was, it was spectacular!
Amptill took a roasting from their coaching staff at half time, audible to all around the tea area as they hadn't closed their windows. I was astounded when they took off their most dangerous looking forward, although it was just after their left back was sent off for two yellows and could have been tactical. I clearly know very little as Ampthill equalised shortly afterwards with a 20 yard volley from a corner hot to the edge of the area at the far post. 
I had no idea which way this tie would go now but Eastbourne got the winner on 77 mins as a header into the area was bundled home.
Amptill threw the kitchen sink at Eastbourne for the last 10 minutes and the Eqstbourne keeper made a couple of desperate saves. Another Amptill defender was sent off right at the death for a second yellow but this was too late to have any impact on the result.
So the Eastbourne bandwagon keeps rolling on and I thoroughly enjoyed my day by the seaside.   

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sholing FC

Sholing 1 Larkhall Athletic 0

Clubhouse at Sholing FC

Sholing takeaway

Shole survivors

Solent 1 Larkhall Athletic 0  aet

Finally, for the first time in 6 weeks, my first choice of game was on. The rain had finally relented for a few days, the sun was out and I headed off to the south coast on a pleasant day. I chose to travel to Solent station and walk from there, the journey to Southampton was unremarkable. I feared the worst as a group of 8 student hockey players got on my carriage and sat as a  group just in front of me. But to be fair, their behaviour was immaculate, they chatted, bantered, ate, made phone calls but they weren't loud and their language completely acceptable. They were a credit and I hope they won their hockey match at Southampton university. Bizarrely, at Southampton station, on the platform opposite mine, a young lady in ballerina costume was running along the platform, leaping into the air and being photographed by a friend. It seemed a remarkably dodgy thing to do as she was running along the yellow line on the edge of the platform, one slip or dodgy landing and it could have had a very  messy end. The photographer didn't seem to be much cop either as she must have repeated the jump about 8 times until I lost sight of them as a train pulled in.
The ground is about a 25 minute walk from Solent station mostly along the Portsmouth road. I broke the walk having spied the Solent takeaway on the other side of the road, a mixture of Chinese food and normal fish and chips grub. The sausage and chips were more than acceptable and cleverly wrapped in a sort of boat shape and I munched happily for the rest of the walk.
I had spent most of the walk following another guy who had got off at Sholing station and at the ground I discovered that he was a fellow hopper from Ipswich, it's always good to spend time chatting to fellow hoppers about their experiences and the grounds that they've visited.
The ground itself was alittle disappointing to be honest. There is a small stand and small covered standing area on the far side, the rest of the ground is a bit featureless with hardstanding, rail and high fenceing. The clubhouse is tiny although I understand that plans are afoot to improve this facility.
There's a tea hut along a sort of alley which supposedly does the greatest burgers in non-league football according to the PA announcer although I'll have to take their word for that. I did find all the staff and volunteers to be incredibly friendly and welcoming and they all seemed to be really enjoying their day and success in this competition.
The PA announcer was worth the admission money alone. Desperately keen, he spent the whole afternoon whooping up the fans and although it seemed a little over the top for a crowd of only just over 300, he was very entertaining and cannot be faulted for effort.
The match itself was a bit of a stalemate. Larkhall had a couple of efforts hooked off the line but other that that, there were a few long range efforts tipped over the bar and not a lot else. You're never going to score if you don't shoot!
Extra time was inevitable but fortunately, limbs were getting tired and the game finally opened up. 10 mins into the first period, Sholing scored with a nice angled finish as a striker got in front of his defender. A few players worthy of mention. The Larkhall number 9 ran his socks off and didn't deserve to be on the losing team. The Sholing number 6 wasn't pretty to watch, I'm sure is a nightmare to play against, but was bloody effective and the Sholing number 16 who put his foot on the ball, spread the game and despite one fairly horrendous lunge, was the one player whose game was really pleasing on the eye, I wish he'd been on the whole 90 mins.
Not the gretest of grounds, not the greatest of games but so good to finally have a normal Saturday again.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hanworth Villa FC

Hanworth Villa 2 Eastbourne United 7 aet

Training pitch and dugout

Three flames in Feltham

Hans off, Hans on

Hanworth Villa 2 Eastbourne United 7 aet

For the second week running I had planned to go to Hanwell Town, for the second week running it failed a pitch inspection at 10am. But at the same time I discovered that match was off, I saw a tweet saying that Hansworth had passed a pitch inspection. I quicjly printed off a map, made a note of where & when to catch trains and set off for the town of Feltham. The train journey was straightforward and for once, the replacement bus service started from my destination, my sympathies did go out to the 50 or so miserable looking passengers, standing bewildered outside an unknown railway station, waiting for a clapped out bus with a miserable driver.
Lots of shops in the area of the station and a variety of potential lunch choices. I wandered up and down the High street and eventually plumped for the Three flames grill. This is basically a cafe that does kebabs, burgers, pies, simple meals and all-day breakfasts. There was table service and I ordered the all-day breakfast and a mug of tea. The food arrived quickly, was hot and although there were no thrills, it all tasted really good and at  very reasonably price. People were flooding in and there was barely a free table, always a good sign!
I had about a 25 minute walk to the ground along three roads that seemed never-ending, I'm sure there must be a more direct route.
On arrival at the ground, I entered the clubhouse which was packed with people and housed both a bar and tea-point. I soon ventured out to the ground itself. There is a small stand and small covered shed on the near side, a small wood behind one goal, a training pitch on the far side of the match pitch and a white rail, although there didn't seem to be any advertising boards! The wind was starting to pick up and there wasn't a lot of protection. Nice to bump into several other ground-hoppers and I thoroughly enjoyed their company throughout the afternoon.
When this game kicked off, I had no inclination of just what an extraordinary afternoon this would turn out to be.
Eastbourne scored twice in the first half and adapted best to the dramatically increasing wind. The second half saw Hanworth get one and then equalise just before the most incrdible storm I've ever seen at a football match. The first time I have ever run for the solace of the clubhouse, the roof was ripped off a marquet and as the rain turned to hail, the referee had no option but to take the players off. Fortunately, they were able to come back on after about 5 mins but the pitch had now turned into a real pudding.
In extra time, Eastbourne scored an amazing 5 times, Hanworth lost their centre forward with a suspected broken foot and then lost their centre half to a red card for a last man tackle, 2 supporters almost got into a full on fight and I saw the best goal I've seen for many a year as the Eastbourne left back went on a 40 yard run, slipping 4 or 5 tackles to score a great goal.
As I left the ground, the wind had died to about 10 mph and there were stars in the sky.
Amazing how fate sometimes send you in the direction of a most extraordinary cup-tie.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Norwich United FC

Norwich United 3 Erith Town 0

Plantation park

Blofield chippy

Norwich storm through

Norwich United 3 Erith Town 0

When the draw is made, I scan up and down the list of fixtures and usually know pretty much straight away which tie I fancy. Where as last year, seemingly every Saturday had heavy rain, this year Armageddon seems to strike the area I'm planning to visit on the day before the match. A horrific storm with huge tidal surges battered the Norfolk coast and I worried that the match might be affected. Thankfully, there were no problems so off I set. Smart thinking I thought to avoid London this close to Christmas, but I hadn't anticipated the incredible amount of people at Cambridge station queuing to buy tickets. People literally couldn't get through to the ticket barriers - Carnage! 
The journey to Norwich and then on to Brundell, despite only having two minutes to make my connection at Norwich, went without incident. 
I had looked up my walking route on Google maps to get my bearings and was pleased to see that there was a convenience store near to the station, only when I got there it had turned into an electrical shop. There was a chippy there, but I gave that a miss as I'd decided to try the Kings Head pub in Blowfield, only when I got to that site it was all boarded up! I was dreading having to buy an infamous football ground burger, but suddenly, like a mirage in a desert, Blowfield chippy came into sight, a small little chip shop but which did an excellent jumbo sausage and chips. 
The ground appears right next to a slip road from a major carriageway which was slightly hairy to cross. You then have to walk up a long driveway to the ground which was pitch black on the way out. The entrance to the ground is quite attractive, although the interestingly named 'Plantation park' sounds like it belongs more in the deep south of America. But it's quite a nice set up with a bar on the first floor which has a delightful end to end view of the pitch. 
I sat down with a glass of cider to watch Mark Selby and his opponent miss some of the most open pots, even I might have made a couple of them!?!
The Erith players were in the bar when I got there, in high spirits, playing a card game where every now and then, someone had to be flicked on the back of the neck by his teammates. I wasn't exactly sure what was going on but it was very amusing.
The rest of the ground is unremarkable but perfectly adequate. One covered area on the far side with some seating and hardstanding surrounding the railed off pitch.
The match itself was no classic, absolutely frenetic from beginning to end, it was crying out for someone to put their foot on the ball. Norwich scored bang on halftime from a penalty. Don't ask me why it was given, it was a complete mystery to everyone in the crowd. Erith lost their giant second half for the second half and never genuinely threatened the Norwich goal. Norwich scored again after 72 mins and then my customary last minute goal was also dispatched.
An enjoyable trip with a comfortable home win, sadly for Erith fans, they just didn't show up.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Rye United FC

Rye United 3 Cove 0

The clubhouse at Rye united

The Mermaid Inn - Rye

Cove Cinque by Rye

Rye United 3 Cove 0

 After very recent trips to Dover & Hythe, I found myself heading to the same part of the country yet again, it sometimes just works out like that.
I almost had nothing to complain about with my first train journey, it was only 2 minutes late and I was prepared to ignore the station guard screaming like a Banshee for people to stand behind the yellow line. But with Christmas looming and the World and his wife heading to London, First capital connect either ignored, didn't consider or weren't able to adapt to this and only ran a 4 coach train. Needless to say we were crushed in like sardines and at times like this, the British are t the best with great camaraderie and humour. I almost enjoyed it despite the crush.
As usual, once I reached London I had no further problems and made my way down to Rye in comfort.
The moment I arrived in Rye I took a shine to it. In only a minute or two I was walking along cobbled streets with fascinating buildings around every corner. There are loads of eateries, historic churches and towers littered all over the place, quaint shops with real character and plenty of tourists lapping up the interest and exploring all the little nooks and crannies.
I selected the Mermaid Inn for lunch which is a 12th century building which was restored after an attack by the French and has rumoured smuggling connections. It is actually a hotel although there were many people just there for lunch and tourists kept walking through the archway to explore.
I ordered the Sussex best bitter and a ham hock with honey-mustard mayonnaise ciabatta and on a glorious afternoon, elected to sit outside. The bar was also serving mulled wine in half pint glasses which looked and smelt gorgeous although a little to early in the day for my taste.
The food arrived in no time and was a very nice although the mayonnaise was a little too subtle in taste for me and the meal was grossly over-priced for what it was.
I continued to explore the town for a good while after my lunch and really wished that I'd had more time.
The ground was easy to find and is situated right next to the cricket pitch and no more than a 10 minute walk from the station.
Not the greatest of grounds although I've seen a hell of a lot worse. A small clubhouse which unusually had a couple of plush looking black sofas in front of a fruit machine. There is a small stand on the far side and also a small covered standing area. The far end is tree lined and hardstanding is only along the far side. The look of the ground is spoilt somewhat by a sort of white sheet that spreads the length of the near touchline, I guess this is to stop people watching the games for free as it is right next to the open cricket field.
Interesting to see 3 Eastern Europeans officiating the game. They took absolute torrents of abuse from both sets of players, from a neutral point of view, I thought that the vast majority of decisions were accurate and sensible, this was a feisty game that very nearly got out of control but the referee kept his head and didn't show any red cards when a lot of officials would have.
Cove gave Rye a good game but were clearly second best. I did fear that fog was going to cause a problem once it got dark but it was actually smoke drifting over the far end of the pitch although nobody seemed to know where it was coming from.
Rye scored after 30 mins with a nice header and added a couple more midway through the second period.
This was ground number 403 for me and possibly the most interesting down that I have yet visited. I'm planning to take the wife for a weekend break to have a proper look around (In the off-season of course).


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pelsall Villa FC

Pelsall Villa 0 Coventry Sphinx 2

Tea hut and changing block

The Red lion in Crick

Curse of the Sphinx

Pelsall Villa 0 Coventry Sphinx 2


  We had been invited to a friends 50th birthday party several months ago which was being held on this particular Saturday in Sutton Coldfield. I very much wanted to go but also didn't want to miss another Vase round. So I suggested to my wife that we drive up early, take in a pub for lunch, go to a game, make it to the party and then stay overnight in a hotel. She didn't take much persuading, so I eagerly awaited the Vase draw.
The nearest game that I could find was at Pelsall Villa, so routes were planned and an itinerary put together.
For a change, the motorways were behaving themselves and we arrived at our chosen pub in good time. We usually select a pub from The Good pub guide and our chosen venue was The Red lion in the village of Crick. It is literally, 2 mins off the M1 and is just in Northamptonshire. It's not much to look at as you pull up but has plenty of room inside. We received a warm welcome and found a pleasant spot to sit. The menu had a good choice of home made food all for only £5. I've never seen mince and dumplings on a pub menu, chose that in a heartbeat and when it came I had a large portion with chips, carrots, cabbage and a nice gravy. All washed down with a pint of Bombadier, this was a fabulous lunch.
The rest of the journey was fine although the area of Great Barr seems to have an obsession with speed bumps.
We arrived at the ground which is set in a surprisingly leafy area and my wife elected to stay in the car and read for a couple of hours whilst I watched the game, I thought it best not to mention the possibility of extra-time.
There is a seated, covered area behind the near goal, a tiny covered shed on the near side whilst corrugated fencing surrounds the pitch. The tea hut was basic but efficient and there is a clubhouse with bar across the car park. This pitch had probably the steepest slope that I'd seen in a good many years and must be tough to play off. The 6 yard box at the far end at the bottom of the slope looked quite boggy and I would imagine there are a fair amount of postponements.
The kick-off was delayed for a few minutes as one of the goal nets was not secured properly. Why do officials not check this on their warm-up? This problem occurs several times in a season and could so easily be avoided.
The first half was less than inspiring. At the risk of causing offence, it reminded me of watching a school game with players accidently kicking the ball with their wrong foot, miss-placed passes and the ball constantly being passed out of play. The ball was also deliberately kicked away at least 5 times in the half and irritates the hell out of me, the sooner it is stamped out of the Brittish game, the better.
The second half started in the dsame manner and to add insult, it started raining, it then started raining heavily and it was all under the seated stand.
Finally, on 68 mins we got a goal. A Pelsall clearance was fluffed, a low cross in went under the foot of the giant centre half and a Coventry striker placed his finish well.
After this, it was all Pelsall who suddenly looked a different team and had waves of attacks. One shot was blocked on the line and I'm still not quite sure how.
But on 78 mins, Coventry made it safe when they shot home from the left of the area.
No classic and not a ground that I really warmed to, but it had its unique points and is certainly worth a visit.