Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Visitors Maintain Perfect Start - Sheppey United vs. Hollands And Blair

Storm clouds above Holm Park
After a brief break for The Challenge Cup Final, it was back to football on Bank Holiday Monday. After evaluating the choice of leagues and navigating the mixture of kick off times, I opted for The Kent Invicta League match between Sheppey United and Hollands And Blair. This was Sheppey United's first season in The Kent Invicta League and after wins in their first two games, they had to face the top two from last season. They lost three nil to runners up Lydd Town on Saturday and were hoping for a better result against last seasons run away champions Hollands and Blair. The visitors had won the league by ten points but were denied promotion. They had made a good start to the current season, winning all three games.

Moments before kick off
Sheppey have a couple of half chances in the opening minutes but they fail to really test the goal keeper. Hollands and Blair then begin to get on top of the game. Their first one on one chance is put well wide. Shortly afterwards the ball breaks at the edge of the Sheppey United box and the home keeper makes a good save to put the ball over the bar. From the resulting corner a header is flashed just wide of the post. Another Hollands ball in to the box finds the forward and it takes a fantastic block from the home defence to prevent a clear chance. Sheppey win a couple of free kicks in decent areas but they fail to fully utilise the opportunities. Hollands again create a one on one chances and the Sheppey keeper makes another good save. Sheppey then have a long range effort which is straight at the keeper. Hollands come closer at the other end as they hit the post following another good chance.

A lofted ball in to the Hollands and Blair box
As the rain continues to pour down at the start of the second half, Sheppey almost gift the visitors the lead. A long ball in to the box catches the keeper out but Hollands players cannot take advantage and the chance is headed over. Sheppey's first chance is a vicious in swinging corner which is just cleared. The Hollands forward is then able to round the keeper but he goes too wide and it looks like the chance is gone. However he keeps on going and is fouled which results in a penalty. The penalty is smashed home and the visitors go in to the lead. They soon double the lead as a corner is not fully cleared and the ball is lashed home from the edge of the area. The away side then go on the search for the third goal. They get in a couple of times but fail to take advantage. Sheppey are restricted to half chances. A good free kick in to the box which eludes everyone sums up their afternoon. Hollands have yet another chance in the finals stages but the keeper just about gets to it and they have to settle for two nil.  

The Hollands And Blair players celebrate in front of the massed media
The closest station to the ground is Queenborough. There are no direct trains to Queenborough from London and you have to change at Sittingbourne. Trains to Sittingbourne depart from either Victoria or St Pancras with the trains from the later being the quick service. The journey takes just over an hour. I got to the isle a lot later than I intended and didn't get to explore Queenborough as much as I wanted. The walk from the station to Holm Park takes around twenty five minutes. Half way between the station and the ground and is The Aviator which had a few Kent ales. The clubhouse at the ground has Sky and BT Sports for the early kick offs. The walls of the clubhouse are covered in old programmes and match posters from the old club's time in The Southern League.

Another brilliant programme from a Kent Invicta club

View across the pitch towards the clubhouse

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

All Essex Tie Goes The Distance - Bowers And Pitsea vs. Clapton

Welcome to The Len Salmon Stadium
The weekend just gone was the very first qualifying round of The FA Cup which I always look forward to. However, this year I was in Prague for a stag do and missed the first set of games and I therefore made an extra effort to catch one of the replays. I opted for the all Essex Senior League tie between Bowers and Pitsea and Clapton. The first game at The Old Spotted Dog ground had ended one one. The home side were yet to lose this season (albeit after only three games) while Clapton had obtained of each outcome so far. I had been to Clapton's fantastically named ground a few seasons ago for a London Senior Cup tie against Fisher. Things have changed in terms of atmosphere since my visit. The club are now supported by a very enthusiastic and vocal ultras section.

Kick off just before the supernova struck
Clapton have a chance after only a couple of minutes but the forward bends his effort well wide. Clapton are well on top in the opening exchanges. A weak back header by the Bowers defender plays Clapton in again and again the effort is lashed well wide. Clapton come close again with a whipped cross which is unfortunately spooned straight up in to the air by the forward. Bowers have there first meaningful attack when the ball is flicked in and the Clapton keeper is alert to claim the ball. Clapton do eventually take one of their early chances. The forward is played in and he places the ball across the keeper and in to the far corner of the net. The Clapton goalie is then caught out by a bouncing long range effort which fortunately he is able to push wide. Clapton are then able to battle through in to a good position. This time the Bowers defenders are able to make a vital block. The Clapton keeper is again caught out, this time from a corner and he is grateful for his defenders who scramble the ball away. The last chance of the half sees a Bowers shot from the edge of the area deflected just wide by a Clapton defender.   

First half action in front of the stand
The Clapton keeper almost gifts the hosts an equaliser at the start of the second half but the chance is blasted over. Clapton's first chance of the half is a long range effort which goes just wide. Bowers are having more of the ball in the opening stages and desperate defending blocks two efforts in a minute. The visitors have a lucky escape as the defender slices a clearance over his own bar. Bowers are getting closer and it takes another great block to prevent the equaliser. Bowers then have their best chance of the half as a cross finds the forward alone in the six yard box who somehow puts the ball wide. The pressure finally pays off when Bowers win a penalty for handball which is lashed home. This sparks the visitors in to action who come close with a couple of long range shots. With five minutes to go, Bowers win a free kick on the edge of the area. The effort breaks through the wall and lands at the feet of the forward who smashes the ball home. Bowers think they have won it but there is more drama to come. Clapton pile forward from the kick off and the resulting attack finds a Clapton player at the back post who slams the ball home much to delight of the ultras behind the goal. There is barely time for the restart and the game goes to extra time.

Bowers attack the Clapton Ultras end
In the opening minutes of the first period of extra time, Bowers win another penalty. The keeper is able the penalty itself but is helpless as the rebound is smashed home. Having been stung by aiming for last buses and trains in the past I elect to leave to ensure an easy journey home. I miss another Clapton goal which takes the game to penalties where the home side finally prevail.

Clapton attack in the first half
The closest station to The Len Salmon Stadium is Pitsea which is a steady half hour walk away. Trains to Pitsea depart from Fenchurch Street on a regular basis and the quick trains take forty minutes. There is very little around Pitsea Station and I did not see a single pub while I was there. It may be best having a drink in London or getting off a stop early and seeing what is on offer in Basildon. The clubhouse was worth the walk and had a good bar and appeared to be a focal point for the community.

First half wing play in front of the dugouts

Monday, 11 August 2014

Defensive Blunder Hands Hill Opening Day Three Points - Hythe Town vs. Burgess Hill Town

Sunny Kent afternoon
I was keen to see a game on the coast this weekend and I took the opportunity to tick off one of the few remaining Ryman League grounds I had left to visit. The ground in question was Hythe Town's Reachfields Stadium where Burgess Hill were the visitors in the Ryman Division South. I have seen both sides in action once before although both occasions were some time ago. I had seen Hythe put up a brave fight against Woking in an FA Cup replay in the 2009-10 edition of the competition. Even further back in time, I saw Burgess Hill entertain Tooting and Mitcham in a pre season friendly. Both sides finished just outside the play offs last season and they were looking to go at least one more step further this season.

Start of the 2014-15 Ryman League season
Burgess Hill have the best of the opening stages. They have a couple of free kicks in decent positions with the Hythe keeper making a good save at the back post following the second one. Hythe then have their first and it is the Burgess Hill keeper who has to make a good low save from a well hit half volley. The visitors then put a decent ball in to the box which eludes the Burgess forwards. Getting in to good positions without trouble the keeper would prove to be a constant theme. Hythe come close with a looping header from a corner which floats just wide of the opposite post. Hythe then gift the away side the lead as a poor back pass is seized upon by the forward who keeps the ball despite the keepers best effort and rolls the ball in to the goal. The last significant chance of the half is a weak Hythe effort which the keeper easily deals with.  

The Hythe goalie claims a cross
Hythe open the half with a couple of free kicks and they both fail to seriously threaten the Burgess Hill keeper. The closest they come is one from the edge of the area which goes just over. Burgess Hill then have their first chance of the half. The ball reaches the centre forward via a deflection but the keeper is able to make a good one handed save. The centre forward again finds himself in a good position. Unfortunately for the visitors he gets caught in two minds and the chance is gone. Towards the end of the game Hythe begin to have more of the ball. They create a couple of half chances but the Burgess Hill keeper isn't really tested and the visitors claim the three points. 

Hythe attack the firing range end
There is no rail station in Hythe and the best bet is to get a train to Folkestone and catch a bus from there. Fast trains to Folkestone depart from St Pancras and the really quick ones take forty five minutes. The slower trains depart from Charing Cross and these trains take nearly two hours. There are several bus routes which go to Hythe (I took the 101) and this section of the journey takes twenty minutes. Once in Hythe there is a fair bit to see. There is of course the sea front but there is also St Leonard's Church which has a rare example of an Ossuary in Britain. Pub wise I visited the The Three Mariners and The White Hart. At the later I would recommend trying the Blue Top from the Old Dairy Brewery. The ground is a ten minute brisk walk from the High Street. The club house is welcoming and if you get there early enough you can watch the game from the balcony. While I was waiting for my bus I popped in to The Red Lion which is right next to the bus stop.

As I eluded to earlier, the ground is located next to a MOD firing range which provides a unique background noise to proceedings.

Coverd standing down one flank

Monday, 4 August 2014

Badgers Sett Out Stall For New Season - Brockenhurst vs. Newport (IOW)

View from the trees at Grigg Lane
So after what seemed to be an eternity, it was back to real football this weekend and my first game of the season was between Brockenhurst and Newport (IOW) in the Wessex League Premier Division. The Wessex League was my only real choice on opening weekend as I'd been to every ground in the Combined Counties League and didn't fancy the large crowds which would be at The United Counties League ground hop. Brockenhurst achieved national attention last season when in a penalty shoot out against Andover Town, twenty nine consecutive penalties were scored which is an English record. Newport were hoping for another top four finish this season and were also hoping to improve on a nil nil draw which they gained in the fixture last season.  

Kick off of the 2014-15 season
The Newport keeper almost has an awful start to the season as he misjudges a long ball forward and he is thankful for the Brockenhurst forward taking too long and he puts the ball well over. Newport then create their first chance as the ball gets right to the back post but the forward somehow puts the ball wide when unmarked. The Newport keeper then again misjudges a long ball and Brockenhurst again fail to take advantage. The keepers seem to be still on holiday as the Brockenhurst keeper then gets caught out and again the defence has to bail out their goalie. Newport then have a flurry of chances where the winger is able to get to the byline but they fail to test the goalie. The visitors continue to create chances and it takes a vital touch from the Brockenhurst defender to prevent a great ball in to the box from finding it's target. Towards the end of the half, Brockenhurst have a lot of the ball but they are unable to create any serious chances.

A first half Newport attack
At the start of the half, Brockenhurst have a free kick and the the ball is put in to the box but unfortunately no one gets the telling touch. Newport then have the best chance of the game so far as the forward is put clean through but rather then shooting he tries to round the keeper which allows the goalie to claim bravely at the feet of the onrushing forward. They are then made to regret that miss as Brockenhurst take the lead shortly afterwards with a free kick from out wide which goes straight in via the back post. The Newport forward then tries to win a penalty with a theatrical dive which fails to impress the referee. As Newport push for the equaliser the game begins to get a little tetchy. Newport have two goes at a quick free kick and it again takes a vital touch from a Brockenhurst CB to prevent a clear goal scoring opportunity. In the closing stages, Brockenhurst catch Newport on the break a couple of times but on neither occasion they extend their lead and they have to settle for the one nil win.

A first half Brockenhurst is headed away
Trains to Brockenhurst depart from Waterloo twice an hour and the journey takes around an hour and a half. If you make the journey in the next couple of weeks you can take advantage of the Southern Trains summer offer and get a return journey for fifteen pounds. Brockenhurst is a stunning village in the New Forest and it worth visiting for amongst other things, to see the donkeys which are free to wander around the village green. Before the game I visited the The Foresters Arms which had several ales and a large beer garden. Grigg Lane is a five minute walk from the station. The clubhouse is friendly and had BT Sports for the early kick off. While I was waiting for my train I popped in to  The Snakecatcher  which is ideally located placed for a pre train drink.

Dugout side of the ground


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Ryman Reminisce - East Thurrock United vs. Aveley

Big crowd at Rookery Hill For The Title Decider
Over the summer I intend to fill in the gaps in The Ryman League that I've visited but not posted. There really is no better place to start than Rookery Hill home of East Thurrock United. Going in to the final day of the season East Thurrock were at home to Aveley knowing that if they avoided defeat, they would win The Ryman North Title. Aveley had won the return fixture 3-1 and there was a huge expectant crowd hoping that The Rocks could finish the job. Little did they know that they were in for one hell of an afternoon.

Kick off in the April sun
Aveley score first to silence the expectant crowd and there was a long delay for a serious looking head injury. At half time the visitors are heading for the title but two goals in eight minutes mean that East Thurrock are on target for top spot. The home side then have a great chance to kill off the game but the Aveley keeper saves a spot kick. Aveley take advantage of the let off and equalise and they are then reduced to ten men. Despite the numerical disadvantage, the away side incredibly grab a third but this only sets the scene for the drama in injury time. The East Thurrock forward gets through on goal but is fouled by the keeper and the referee awards a penalty and sends the goalie off. With all Aveley subs used up, the centre back steps up to face the penalty. The East Thurrock forward goes the same way as the previous spot kick and the defender is able to save the kick! Aveley see out the final moments to seal the title.

The final moment of an incredible game.
The closest station to Rookery Hill is Stanford Le Hope which is over a two mile walk away. There is a bus route which takes you from the station to close to the ground. Trains to Stanford Le Hope depart from Fenchurch Street and take about fifty minutes. From memory I didn't visit a pub near the ground or the clubhouse - more sensible times.

Aveley on the attack in the first half

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Cockfosters Claim Cup After Extra Half Hour - Cockfosters vs. Stotfold (At Harefield United)

Pitch invasion
As the regular season is now pretty much over, it is now cup final and play off season. My first final of this season was The Spartan South Midlands League Challenge Trophy final between Cockfosters and Stotfold, both of The Premier Division. This was Cockfosters' first season back in The Premier Division after being demoted on ground grading issues four seasons ago. They had done well in their first season back, finishing in mid table, as did their opponents Stotfold. Stotfold were having a better season in cup competitions and this was the first of three cup finals for The Roker Park side. Stotfold had won both of the league meetings this season and were hoping for a third.

Kick off at Preston Park
Cockfosters have a couple of early headed chances but neither effort troubles the Stotfold keeper. Stotfold then try to grant Cockfosters a headed goal as the centre back flashes a header from a free kick across his own goal. It is Stotfold though who force the first real save of the game when the Cockfosters keeper tips the ball over the bar following a fierce drive from the edge of the area. Both sides are getting in to decent positions but neither can find the killer pass. The game has a very tense feel to it and Cockfosters fire a tame long range effort straight at the Stotfold goalie. Stotfold then hit the post with a back post header from a fantastically delivered free kick. The game begins to open up just before half time and the Stotfold defender makes a great last ditch tackle. Stotfold come close with another header and Cockfosters then hit the post with a driven effort as the first half ends goalless.   

The Cockfosters keeper tipping over a first half Stotfold effort
Cockfosters are granted a brilliant chance to take the lead early in the second half as the forward is brought down by a clumsy challenge and the penalty is buried in to the top corner. Stotfold push on for the equaliser and an effort is deflected just wide of the target. The Cockfosters keeper has to make another good save as he tips over a looping header from a corner. Stotfold are relentless in their pursuit of the equaliser and the goalie has to make a good low save from a header. Cockfosters have a great chance to kill the game but the forward somehow hits the post from just a yard out and the follow up is then cleared off the line. Stotfold do eventually claim a deserved equaliser when another set piece in to the box is finally headed past the stranded keeper. Cockfosters now seize the initiative as they look to regain the lead and a driven cross somehow evades everyone. There are no more goals and the game moves in to extra time. 

Side on view of one of the stands
The first half of extra time starts at a frantic pace and both sides create half chances. The Cockfosters winger then cuts in and unleashes a great effort which produces an equally impressive save. Cockfosters then think they are in on goal following a precise through ball but the keeper makes a brave claim at the feet of the forwards. The keeper though is left powerless shortly afterwards as a low cross is slotted home from close range to restore Cockfosters' advantage. Understandably at the start of the second period of extra time both teams are beginning to look a little tired. Cockfosters create another chance to seal the tie but the ball is put well over the bar. Stotfold win a free kick on the edge of the area in the final minute of extra time and the Cockfosters keeper produces another great save with his feet to preserve his sides lead and they see out the rest of the game to claim the cup.

Stotfold on the attack in the first half
As with Hadleigh, there is no station in Harefield. You have to get a bus from outside Northwood Station on The Metropolitan Line. Trains to Northwood take around half an hour from Baker Street. There are a couple of buses an hour and the journey takes just under quarter of an hour. There is a stop five minutes from the entrance to the clubhouse. Harefield has a very rural feel to it and the bus had to slow down several times for horses. A short walk from the bus stop is The Harefield and pretty much opposite it is The Kings Arms both were decent countryside locals. The clubhouse had a good selections of drinks, Sky Sports and even a beer garden.

Standard cup final programme
The main stand

Monday, 5 May 2014

Brettsiders Claim Title On Final Day - Hadleigh United vs. Mildenhall Town

Big crowd at Millfield
With most leagues finishing last week there was a reduced choice this weekend, but despite this there was still an incredible finish happening in The Eastern Counties League. At the start of play, any of the top five could mathematically win the league, although goal difference meant that only the top three had a realistic chance. The favourites to win the title were Hadleigh who knew that a win at home to Mildenhall Town would secure the championship. Hadleigh should have wrapped the title a long time ago but a run of six games without a win had seen their lead cut. Two wins after this run had set up the exciting finish. The Brettsiders had also had a good run in The FA Vase which had seen them get to the fifth round where they were knocked out by United Counties side Wisbech Town. Mildenhall were having an ok season and found themselves comfortably in mid table. This was the third meeting of the sides this season and Hadleigh had won the other two games four one.   

Kick off in the big game
Hadleigh almost settle the nerves in the opening minutes but the forward cannot fully connect with his shot. Hadleigh are dominating possession at the start of the game and they don't take long to make their possession count. The Hadleigh number ten is able to get to the byline and his cut back is slotted home. The Mildenhall keeper then almost gifts them a second as he spills the ball following a long effort but the centre back is there to clear the ball. Hadleigh manage to get to the byline again but this time the cross is cleared. Any attacks for Mildenhall are coming from counter attacks or from long goal kicks. Then the Mildenhall keeper then makes a great save to tip a shot from distance over the bar. As the half draws to a close, Mildenhall create their first real chances of the game. Firstly a free kick from just outside the area goes just wide. Then just before half time the forward blazes a half chance over the bar.

Hadleigh on the attacking looking for the second goal
Hadleigh look a little more edgy at the start of the second but despite this they still lay siege to the Mildenhall box. However the keeper only has to deal with a few weak efforts which he claims easily. When Hadleigh do create a better chance on the break the keeper is able to make a good save. The keeper's busy half continues as he and the Hadleigh forward come together in a heavy collision. The Hadleigh forward is knocked clean out and eventually leaves the ground in an ambulance. The resulting free kick is deflected wide and from the following corner the Mildenhall keeper is again required to make a good save. Shortly afterwards Mildenhall win a free kick in a decent position and from this free kick the Mildenhall forward has a mad rush and handles the ball in to the net. This is his second yellow and the visitors are reduced to ten men. The ten men then silence the large Millfield crowd as they equalise with a close range effort from a corner. The parity doesn't last long though as Hadleigh retake the lead with a bullet header from a cross from the left wing. Hadleigh see out the rest of the game to claim The Eastern Counties Premier Division title. 

The first Mildenhall free kick goes just wide
There is no train station in Hadleigh and you have to get a bus from Ipswich. However, saying that this bus service is unreliable is somewhat of an understatement. The first bus was nearly twenty minutes late and the return bus (also the last one) didn't show up. When the buses do run, you need the 91 bus from outside the station and the buses are every hour and take around twenty five minutes. Trains to Ipswich depart from Liverpool Street and take just over an hour. Hadleigh is a delectable market town like so many in this part of the world. Before the game I went to The Eight Bells and The Ram with the later being more of a gastro pub. The club house looked like it had recently been renovated and was doing a roaring trade before kick off. While I was waiting for my bus / taxi I went to The George which was my favourite of the three that I visited.

Another great Eastern Counties League programme
Another view of the stand