Monday, 13 April 2015

Pedlars Within Reach - Swaffham Town vs. Stowmarket Town

Towering presence at Shoemakers Lane
For the fourth time this season, I travelled on the Fen Line for a match. Following trips to Soham, Kings Lynn and Downham I travelled to Swaffham for their home match against Stowmarket Town. The race for promotion from The Eastern Counties Division was very tight as there were only six points separating the top four with only three going up. This could prove to be a pivotal weekend with all of the top four at home. Sawffham's nickname - The Pedlars - comes from the folk legend of The Swaffham Pedlar who travelled to London after dreaming he'd hear good news there. He would eventually return to Swaffham to find his fortune following an encounter with a shopkeeper on London Bridge. I'd seen Stowmarket earlier in the season when they gave another team chasing promotion - Saffron Walden - a real run for their money. There were ten goals in the reverse fixture with Swaffham scoring eight of them.

Kick off at Shoemakers - the slope really is that severe
Stowmarket push back Swaffham straight away and have a lot of the ball in the opening stages. Swaffham's first foray forward sadly ends in the attacker falling over the ball. Stowmarket then take a deserved lead. A pinpoint corner finds the attacker at the back post who heads his side into the lead. The home side quickly have a good chance to equalise when the ball is laid off at the edge of the area but the ball is put high over the bar. The Stowmarket defender then makes a brilliant defensive header to clear a dangerous cross into the box. Stowmarket win a free kick in a good position and after it isn't fully cleared the Stowmarket forward drags his shot just wide. In the closing stages of the half, the Stowmarket has to be alert to block a well driven cross at his near post. 

A Swaffham attack in the first half
The start of the second half is very end to end and this trend continues for the duration of a breathless second half. The first chance comes when the Swaffham winger gets into a good position but he elects to shoot instead of crossing. Stowmarket's first attack follows a quick break up the slope but the final effort is a weak shot straight at the keeper. Swaffham get another sight of goal and this time the ball is lashed into the side netting. Shortly afterwards, a header from a free kick into the danger zone is headed just wide of the target. The home side then get in behind the Stowmarket defence but after receiving the squared ball, it gets stuck under his feet and the goalie is able to save the eventual effort. 

Swaffham knocking on the door.
Swaffham are getting closer and the Stowmarket keeper has to be at the very top of his game. Firstly he punches away a free kick under significant pressure and he then does well to tip over a dipping effort from the edge of the box. Stowmarket survive a very loud penalty shout when the ball strikes the Stowmarket defender on the arm but the referee is not interested. Swaffham undeterred by the unsuccessful penalty shout create their clearest chance of the chance of the game so far when after getting to the byline, the winger cuts the ball past the keeper towards the edge of the six yard box but incredibly no one is waiting there. The same winger then controls the ball well on the flank before putting another shot wide. Just when it looks like it isn't going to be the home sides day, the visitors resistance is finally broken.  The Swaffham attacker finds himself in space in the area and angles a low shot past the keeper. The home side push forward for the winner but the second half has taken it out of both sides and the game ends in a draw.

Long ball forward into front of the wooden cover
As with Wroxham the previous weekend, Swaffham takes a little time to get to from London. Firstly you have to catch a train to Kings Lynn from Kings Cross which takes the best part of two hours. You then have to take the X1 to Swaffham, taking half hour and there are two buses an hour. Swaffham is a picturesque market town with a busy market and also several decent pubs. Before the game I went to The Red Lion which had a couple of local ales on and also had Sky and BT Sports. Shoemakers Lane is then ten minutes away. The clubhouse also had the sports and served fantastic hot dogs. While I was waiting for the bus back to Kings Lynn I visited The Greyhounds which is more of a bustling, traditional pub as well as The Kings Arms which is more of a gastropub. All in all, yet another great trip into Norfolk.

Another view of the stand with a wind turbine in the background

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Hollands And Blair Almost There - Bridon Ropes vs Hollands And Blair

Match action with The Meridian Sports Club in the background
After a couple of long journeys over the Easter break, I fancied a much shorter trip on Monday. After being impressed with my games in The Kent Invicita League this season, I made the short trip to Charlton for Bridon Ropes versus Hollands and Blair. As the names suggest this was a game between two clubs who had begun life as works teams. The visitors were nine points ahead of second placed Lydd Town and with just three games left after this one and with a vastly superior goal difference, a win today would practically seal the title. I'd seen Hollands and Blair in the opening weeks of the season at Invicita new boys Sheppy United and they won two nil on that day. Bridon Ropes were involved in the first game I saw in The Invicita League when I watched them away at Eltham Palace a couple of Easters ago. 

Kick off at The Meridian Sports Club
Bridon take the game to Hollands and Blair right from the off but despite their pressing, they fail to create any serious chances. Their first half chance comes when the forward is almost played but the Hollands defender is just able to intervene. Another half chance comes when the Bridon attacker has his shot blocked following a good passing move. Hollands' first attempt on goal is a looping header at the back post which doesn't cause the home goalie any problems. The visitors take the lead shortly afterwards with their real shot on a goal. A cross to the back post is cleared towards the penalty spot and the forward nips in to put his side one up. This knocks the wind out of Bridon sails a little and the Hollands winger goes on a good run before his drilled cross is headed away. From a Hollands corner shortly afterwards, the home keeper makes a great save from a close range header. The visitors add a second goal just before half time to move them closer to the title.

The Bridon Ropes keeper saves this close range header
Bridon have the first set piece of the second half but the Hollands keeper comfortably claims the corner. Hollands then get to the byline and the pull back finds the forward who hits the post from close range. The visitors further increase their lead when the attacker heads the ball back across the keeper into the far corner following a cross from deep. Hollands are now looking for the kill and the striker can only find the side netting when found in the area. Bridon's best chance of the match comes when after a quick break out of defence, the right winger finds himself in space at the back post but he loses his composure and puts the ball high and wide. The game becomes very scrappy in the end and Hollands add a fourth with a couple of minutes left. The Bridon keeper and defender think each other should deal with a long ball and this allows the forward to nip in and prod the ball home.

Tree lined dugout side of the ground
As there were engineering works over Easter, I caught the train to Charlton from Victoria but they normally depart from Cannon Street or Charing Cross with the journey taking twenty minutes. The Meridian Sports club is then a twenty minute walk up a fairly step hill. There is a good variety of pubs in Charlton to suit any mood. If you want a riverside drink with views of The O2 Arena and The Thames Barrier then The Anchor and Hope is the place to go. If you want to watch the early kick off then The Rose of Denmark is the pub for you. Although if Charlton Athletic are at home then this pub will be very, very busy. If you want get the hill out of the way before having a drink then The Bugle Horn on The Village does the job. The Meridian Sports is more than reasonable priced drinks wise and has lots of screens for any early kick offs.

Another shot of the stand with The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the background

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Feisty Draw In The Broads - Wroxham vs. Needham Market

It was a glorious day in Norfolk
For my second match of the Easter weekend, I made the long to journey to Norfolk for the big Ryman League Division One North game between play off chasing Wroxham and title chasing Needham Market. Needham Market were looking to avoid play off defeats of recent years and go up automatically as champions. The home side who were reprieved from relegation last season were making the best of their let off. Both of these teams have come up from The Eastern Counties League relativity recently and are among numerous sides which have come up from this league and made a big impact at the higher level. The hosts were looking to avenge the two nil defeat they suffered at Bloomfields back in December.

Kick off at Trafford Park
At the start of the game Needham are able to put a couple of crosses into the area but the first one is over hit and the second is blocked. Wroxham's first chance is a free header at the back which lacks the power to worry the keeper. They have another chance as a cross isn't fully cleared but is blazed well over the bar. The home keeper then has a worrying moment when he spills a well hit free kick and he is thankful that his defence is on hand to clear the danger. Needham for the first time get in behind the Wroxham defence but by the time they get a shot away the defenders have regrouped and the shot is blocked. Needham get in again and this time the Wroxham keeper has to block a chipped effort. In the closing stages of the half, Needham have a big penalty shout when the forward is seemingly sent flying in the box but the referee books him for diving much to his frustration.

Both sides keep an eye on a Wroxham ball into the area.
Wroxham have the first chance of the second half when a free kick from out wide is headed just over the bar. A long throw in the Wroxham area causes panic in the home defence but they regain their composure to clear the danger. A good Wroxham move then almost provides a good opening and the Needham defender has to be aware to intervene at the crucial moment. Needham create another good crossing opportunity when the winger is able to get the byline but he cross is dealt with comfortably. The Needham fans get wind that closest title rivals Harlow are losing which edges them closer to the championship. Arguably their best chance comes when the forward is played in on goal and the keeper rushes out of his goal to make a great sliding challenge. In the final moments, Wroxham are able to break out quickly and the squared ball finds the forward but his puts his shot over the bar under pressure from the Needham defender.

A first half Needham attack
Wroxham takes a little while to reach from London. You need to take a train from Liverpool Street to Norwich and change for a train to Hoveton and Wroxham. The journey takes two and a half hours and is very expensive if not booked in advance. Wroxham is an attractive village on The Broads are there are lots of boats and other touristy things close to the station. The only real pub is The Kings Head and so it is lucky that this is a great pub. There is a very good selection of beers and ales as well as having Sky and BT Sports. As it felt like the first real day of summer it was very busy and I can imagine it will be rammed at the height of the season. Trafford Park is then a fifteen minute, up hill walk away. The clubhouse unfortunately temporarily had no drinks on tap but there was still enough drinks on offer. I also fully recommend having one of the delicious cakes from the tea window.

Another good Easter weekend crowd at Trafford Park


Gills (With A Strong G) Takes Derby Spoils - Gillingham Town vs. Sherborne Town

Sherborne attack in the first half
There wasn't a lot of choice for games on Good Friday with The Western League looking to be the best bet for a game. The easiest game to get to was Gillingham's derby with Sherborne. This was my first experience of The Western League and I was impressed with the whole experience. Gillingham had been fighting relegation for most of the season but after beating second place Buckland 4-1 in their previous home game, it looks like they will comfortably beat the drop. The visitors were in mid table and also had a good result last time out against a high flying side - drawing 0-0 away to third placed Odd Down. The reverse fixture at Sherboune's Raleigh Grove base ended in a one nil victory for Gillingham.

Kick off at Hardings Lane
Sherbourne have a chance in the first couple of minutes when a long throw isn't dealt with and the resulting effort is cleared off the line. Sherbourne are looking the more comfortable side and they should make more of the chance that presents itself when the Gillingham left back gives the ball away. The home side's first sniff of goal comes with a good cross into the area but no one can get a touch. It is then Sherborne's turn to get a good cross into the area, this time the header doesn't have enough power to seriously trouble the keeper. Gillingham continue to test the Sherborne defence with balls into the area and again the header lacks any serious power. It is yet another cross into the Sherbourne area that leads to the opening goal. The Sherborne keepers drops a cross under pressure and the Gillingham player is on hand to put his side one up at the break.

The Sherbourne defence sees the ball out
As with the first half, Sherbourne have a chance in the opening exchanges of the half - a header over the bar from a pinpoint corner. For the first time in the game, Gillingham begin to take a stranglehold on the match. The home side break at pace and the man over sees his shot tipped around the post. From the resulting corner, the Gillingham attacker heads over the bar. Then following a quick throw in. the Gillingham attacker finds himself in on goal and he makes no mistake to double his sides advantage. Gillingham now go for the third goal and the Sherbourne goalie makes another great save after a long ball forward. And from the resulting corner he makes another save on the line. The keeper kept the visitors in the game and for a short while it looks like they have a chance for a point as they pull a goal back. The Gillingham keeper can't keep hold of a powerful shot and the Sherborne player is on hand to score. However, the home side quickly restore the two goal advantage. The Gillingham winger is able to get to the byline and his pull back is buried from close range. Despite the setback Sherbourne keep on pushing and the forward thinks he's scored after rounding the keeper but his effort is hacked off the line.

There was a good crowd for the Easter derby
Despite the distance from London, getting to Gillingham is very easy. Trains depart from Waterloo and the journey takes just under two hours. Hardings Lane is then a steady fifteen minute walk from the station. Before the game I walked the opposite direction to the ground and stopped off at The Buffalo. This pub is a little off the beaten track but is worth visiting and had three ales from the Badger Brewery. The clubhouse had the usual selection of drinks and had a TV for the half time scores. After the game I returned to the High Street and into The Red Lion. This pub was very busy at this point and had Sky Sports so is a good spot for the lunch time kick offs.

The Sherborne winger gives the Gillingham full back the slip

Monday, 30 March 2015

Tough Draw In West Sussex - Chichester City vs. Eastbourne Town

Match action in the shadow of The Festival Theatre
This weekend my parents were visiting and so I needed somewhere where my Mum could have an enjoyable afternoon while me and my Dad were at a game. Arundel and Winchester were away so we opted for a day trip to Chichester for their Sussex County League clash against Eastbourne Town. This was the visitors' first season back in The County League following last season's relegation from The Ryman League. It was a Ryman League I attended when I saw them defeat much fancied Dulwich Hamlet a couple of seasons ago. They were having a good season, sitting in fourth place, just too far back to challenge either Dorking and Littlehampton for the title. Chichester were three places above the relegation zone but had a big enough barrier between themselves and Hailsham in the final relegation place. In the reverse fixture at The Saffrons, the game ended in a two two draw.

Kick off at Oaklands Way
There are no chances of note early on and the game is delayed by a head injury before the game can get going. The Chichester player is knocked unconscious and eventually leaves in an ambulance. The first real chance comes when the Eastbourne defender sells his keeper short with a weak back header but the attacker can't get enough on the ball and he is able to claim the ball. There are a lot of heavy tackles flying in and the referee does well to keep his cards in his pocket. Eastbourne take the lead with their first effort on goal with a well placed header following a driven cross from the right. The home keeper almost gifts the visitors a second when he spills a free kick but he is able to claim it at the second attempt. Chichester's first major chance is a header that is flashed just wide after a good run and cross down the wing. They have another chance when the Chichester forward controls a long ball and passes to his team mate who puts the ball well over. the home side finish the half the stronger as another great cross just eludes the head of the onrushing striker.   

Chichester attack in the first half. The cathedral spire is in the background.
Chichester push on from the restart and equalise very early in the second half. Unfortunately all we see of the goal from the clubhouse is the players celebrating. Eastbourne have a chance to get the ball in with a free kick but it is wasted. Chichester then have a great chance to complete the turn around when the forward traps the long ball but his effort goes just wide of the target. The game is still very full bloodied as both sides look to get a foothold in the midfield. The home side fashion another good chance when the pacey forward gets one on one with the defender but he stands his ground and the attack breaks down. Both teams have decent chances to win the game in the final five minutes. Firstly, a fantastic crossfield ball finds the Eastbourne winger in space but his cross is a poor one. Shortly afterwards, the Chichester forward finds space in the area and the Eastbourne keeper makes a great save to keep the scores level. From the resulting corner, a Chichester player has a free header which is unfortunately put well over. The referee blows for full time immediately afterwards.  

Another view of the stand
As I eluded to earlier, there is a lot to see in Chichester. The main thing being the impressive Cathedral which is half way between the ground and the station. There is also the attractive high street and several other interesting buildings. To get to Chichester you take a train from Victoria and you get there in around an hour and a half. The ground is then a steady twenty minute walk from the station. Just around the corner from the ground is The George And Dragon Inn which had a couple of ales on and did tasty looking food. There are two bars at the ground, one upstairs and one downstairs. Apparently, the upstairs one is nicer so went there and there were the usual drinks and it also had BT Sports. In terms of food, I thoroughly recommend the hot dogs. Before we went for our evening meal we popped in to The Fountain which is a good half way house on the way to the station.

Clubhouse and covered standing

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Visitors Keep Up Title Pressure - Rusthall vs. Lydd Town

Rusthall attack towards their clubhouse.
After weeks of having my match choices limited by the weather it was now the turn of railway engineering works to restrict my choices. My first choice was Risborough but there were works on the Wycombe line. There were a couple of interesting games in The Eastern Counties League but there is a seemingly lengthy programme of works on the London to Norwich line. My attention then turned to The Kent Invicita League but even this wasn't straight forward. I had been meaning to visit Hollands and Blair for a little while but unsurprisingly there were no trains running to Gillingham. I finally settled on Rusthall and it turned out that all those engineering works were a good thing. The visitors to Jockey Farm were second placed Lydd Town. Lydd were six points behind leaders Hollands and Blair and they had played a game more and so desperately needed a win to keep up the pressure. The hosts also needed the three points to pull themselves away from the foot of the table. The reverse fixture in November resulted in a narrow two one win for Lydd. 

Lydd prepare to kick up the slope in the first half.
There are chances in the game for both sides early on. Firstly a Rusthall shot from outside of the area is well blocked and then Lydd manage to get in behind the defence but the weak shot is easily dealt with. The hosts take a shock early lead when a corner kick isn't dealt with by the Lydd defence and the ball is forced in from close range. Lydd immediately go looking for the equaliser and a good chance is wasted when the forward perhaps shoots a little too early. They don't have to wait too much longer for the equaliser to come. In similar circumstances to the Rusthall goal, a set piece in to the area isn't cleared and the ball is headed home from close range. Lydd now have their tails up as the Rusthall keeper is forced in to a great save following a good break. Another Lydd attack sees the Rusthall defender make a fantastic last ditch tackle to prevent a shot on goal. Lydd have one final chance in the first half but the forward puts his shot well wide after finding himself in a good position.

Lydd make it one one
Lydd start the second half in the same vein as the first and a good break ends with the poor shot being aimed straight at the keeper. Lydd take the lead when a through ball on the half way line puts the forward through on goal and he makes no mistake to put his team two one up. This sparks Rusthall in to life and they win a couple of free kicks in decent positions. The closest they come with these set pieces is when a free kick finds the man at the back post but his header goes just wide. Something then provokes the Lydd manager and he is sent from the dugouts. His mood is helped as his side add a third goal. Yet another set piece isn't dealt with and again the ball is put in to the net from close range. They add a fourth as they again break quickly and after the first effort hits the post, the ball is slotted home. In the closing stages, Lydd add a fifth to keep alive their title hopes.

Looking towards the clubhouse
Rusthall is a village and so has no train station. The nearest train station is Tunbridge Wells and you can catch a train here from either Cannon Street or Charing Cross with the journey taking just under an hour. From just across the road from the station you can catch the 281 bus to Rusthall. There are up to five buses an hour and the journey takes ten minutes. The main thing to see in the village is The Sitting Toad which is a sandstone outcrop and there are several others on the common. Right next to the common is The Toad Rock Retreat which had a couple of ales on and looked to do decent food. further in to the village is The Red Lion which also had some ales on a looked like a very good pub. Jockey Farm is a five minute walk from the high street. The clubhouse is very cosy and had the usual drinks. As the name suggests, Jockey Farm has a very rural feel (see picture below) and is actually next to a farm. The village, the ground and the welcome made Rusthall one of my favourite visits of the season.      

The Invicita has a fantastic standard of programmes

Lydd attack the farm end

Monday, 16 March 2015

Wessex High Flyers Draw A Blank - Winchester City vs. AFC Portchester

Clouds moving in at The City Ground
The weekend just gone, there were interesting games at either end of The Wessex Premier Division. At the top, second played fourth as Winchester City hosted AFC Portchester. At the bottom, second from bottom Fareham Town travelled to bottom placed Totton and Elling. After seeing a bottom of the table clash recently at Romsey, I went for the top of the table option. Winchester were only a point behind current leaders Petersfield but The Rams do have two games in hand over Winchester. Portchester were sat in fourth, eight points behind the teams chasing the title but they too had games on Winchester and Moneyfields in third. In the reverse fixture at The Wicor in December, Winchester had come out on two by two goals to nil.

Ready to jump in to action at The City Ground
As with some many games at the top of leagues previously, the game has a nervy, tense start. This is not helped by the pedantic referee who doesn't let the game flow. The first half chance comes when the Winchester forward is almost played in but the keeper is just first to the ball. The forward then almost gets in again and the defender has to remain strong to shrug him off the ball. Portchester now get a foot hold in the game as free kick is just about cleared after causing panic in the Winchester penalty area. They then hit the post with a powerful free kick which cannons off the post. Shortly afterwards the Winchester keeper makes a great save as he tips the ball over following a well hit dipping effort on goal. In the closing stages Portchester hit the post as the first half ends goalless.

Portchester attack in the first half
Portchester carry on where they left off and there is a half shout for a penalty as the keeper and forward together. The Winchester keeper then makes an incredible close range save from a header and his defenders then block the rebound. Winchester City's first chance of the half comes when the winger cuts in and forces a good low save with a shot from the edge of the area. The game is now really end to end and a Portchester pull back just eludes everyone. Both teams have very good chances to win the game. Firstly a close range header falls kindly for the keepers where he could have maybe done better. Then at the other end, the Portchester keeper misjudges a long ball but the forward fails to punish the mistake. In the very final moments, Winchester think they should have a penalty but the referee books the player for diving which turns out to be his second as the home side finish with ten men.

Seated accommodation at The City Ground
Winchester is a town with a lot of history and there is plenty to see before a game. There is the impressive Cathedral and lots of museums to look around. Trains to Winchester depart from Waterloo on a regular basis and the trip takes just under an hour. The ground is then a steady fifteen minute walk from the station. There are also a lot of good pubs. The first one I visited was The St James Tavern which had a lot of ales and had a very friendly canine presence. Then just over the hill is The Fulflood Arms which is more of a locals pubs but friendly and also had a couple of ales on. Finally, a short walk from the ground is The Mucky Duck which is perfect for any sport you want to watch before the main event. The clubhouse does the job and had Sky Sports on a big projector screen.   

The Winchester winger attacks the clubhouse end.