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

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Chalfont End Purples Title Chances - Daventry Town vs. Chalfont St Peter

Strange light over Communications Park
Last weekend there was only one league conclusion worth watching as the top four sides in The Southern League Central Division could all win the title on the final day. I opted to travel to Northamptonshire to see if Daventry could get the win against Chalfont St Peter to give themselves a chance of winning the league. After a four one loss away at Egham on Thursday night meant that they also needed Dunstable and Rugby above them to lose. It had already been an impressive season for Daventry who reached The FA Cup first round where they went out gallantly to League Two (for one more week!) Chesterfield. They had been well placed to claim the title but three games without a win had put a spanner in the works. As for Chalfont they were comfortable in mid table. I had some of the best food I've ever had at a ground when I sampled a turkey burger at Mill Meadow a couple of seasons ago.

There was a good crowd to see if Daventry could win the league
Daventry almost get themselves in very early on but the pass from the quick free kick is just cut out. They come close to creating an another opening but the driven cross is just out of reach of the forwards. Chalfont's first foray in to the Daventry box is a free kick from wide which is easily claimed by the keeper. It is then Daventry's turn to have a free kick from wide and the ball is headed just wide. The first real of save of the game comes as the Chalfont keeper makes a low save as the centre forward was well teed up by the midfielder. Daventry get in to another good position but the ball in to the box is just behind the advancing centre forward. Chalfont soon get in to a good position themselves and the Daventry defender is alert to put in a good block. The last chance of the half is a Daventry header from a free kick which goes just over the bar.

Chalfont clear a Daventry corner in the first half
Chalfont drive a dagger in to Daventry's title hopes early on in the second half as they score a near post header from a corner kick. They almost double their lead with another header but this one is headed off the line. Daventry manage to get a chipped cross in to the box and the Chalfont defence is just able to get the ball away. As Daventry push for the equaliser, gaps begin to open up at the back and a Chalfont cross across the box manages to avoid everyone. They then come even closer as a free kick thunders the cross bar. Daventry then have a brilliant chance to equalise but the free header from a free kick is put agonisingly wide. At this point Dunstable and Rugby are both winning but an equaliser will secure a home tie in the play offs. The home side believe they should have a penalty when the centre forward and keeper come together but the referee believes it was a dive and books the Daventry forward. In the last minute, Daventry create another great chance and this one is blazed over the bar. Daventry now face an away play off at Kettering.

Daventry look for an equaliser in the second half
There is no train station in Daventry. The nearest station is Northampton which is around an hours journey from Euston. There are three buses which go from outside Northampton Station to Daventry but only the D1 goes close to the ground. The bus journey from Northampton to Daventry takes around three quarters of an hour. In the town centre there are a lot of pubs. Before the game I went to The Plume Of Feathers which was rammed full of Wolves fans before they travelled to see their side play Coventry at Sixfields. The ground is about a half hour walk from the town centre. The clubhouse has a bar like feel and had lots of screens for the mid day kick off. I don't know if they do it for every game but I'd fully recommend a pork sandwich from the BBQ just outside of the clubhouse. While I was waiting for the bus back to Northampton I had a quick drink in to The Jessons Well from which I could see my bus pull in to the station.

Small stand opposite the clubhouse

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Lowestoft Claim Suffolk Derby Spoils - Bury Town vs. Lowestoft Town

Another good bank holiday crowd at Ram Meadow
This Easter I had the Tuesday after Easter Monday off which meant I could travel a bit further in search of a meaningful game. I opted for the Suffolk derby between Bury Town and Lowestoft Town in The Ryman Premier League. Lowestoft needed the points to maintain their spot in the play offs. Earlier in the season I had seen Lowestoft score a last minute against Maidstone United but before that I'd only ever seen Lowestoft lose when I'd watched them. Bury themselves have had a mixed season and were in mid table with no danger of going in either direction. The sides had met twice already this season - once in the league and once in The Suffolk Premier Cup - with Bury winning both encounters.

Kick off at Ram Meadow
Bury have an early corner which is just scrambled away and from the following cross a header goes just wide. The Lowestoft keeper then needs two goes at collecting a free kick. Lowestoft's first dead ball is wasted as the free kick from out wide fails to beat the first man. The next one is a lot better but the Lowestoft player heads just over the bar. The first save of the game comes as the Bury keeper makes a low stop from an effort following a good ball in to the box. It is another Lowestoft dead ball in to the box which produces the first goal. Firstly the Bury defender hacks a chance off the line and in the scramble that follows the Lowestoft player smashes the ball home. Lowestoft are buzzing and the Bury keeper does well to punch a vicious in swinging corner over the bar. Despite looking like they've edged the first half, Lowestoft conceded in the final stages of the half. A cross in to the area finds its way to the forward at the back post and he slides the ball home.

Lowestoft fans urge on their team in the first half
Lowestoft almost instantly create a great chance to retake the lead but a good sliding interception stops the pass finding its target. The sunny weather which was present at the start of the game has given way to steady drizzle as both sides make a scrappy start to the half. Corner kicks are proving to be dangerous in this game and Bury create a good chance from another but the effort is straight at the keeper. There is then a bit of a bundle in the Bury box and Lowestoft are convinced they should have a penalty. Shortly afterwards they do get a penalty and the decision enrages the home side. The Lowestoft attacker goes down on the edge of the area and the referee points to the spot and it looks a harsh decision. Lowestoft show no mercy to go two one up. Bury come close again with a header from a set piece. Bury create a late chance again from one last corner as they hit the post but Lowestoft see out the game to remain in the play offs.

Covered benches down one side of the pitch
I have been spoilt with some of the places I've visited this season (Stamford and Salisbury being recent examples) and Bury St Edmunds is a fantastic place to visit. Due to the length of the journey I didn't get a chance to fully explore it but it is defiantly worth having a wander around before a game. There are no direct trains from London. The route I took was a train from Liverpool Street to Ipswich and catching the Bury train from there. I believe you can go via Cambridge from Kings Cross which is quicker than the two hour journey I had. The ground is then a fifteen minute walk from the station. Before the game I went to The Nutshell which is the smallest pub in the country. Being a brewery town there are a lot of pubs and I also visited The Kings Arms which was ok. The clubhouse had Sky Sports and had several ales available. While I was waiting for my train I stopped off at The Beerhouse which had a fantastic selection of beers. 

A good full colour programme was provided by Bury Town. There was a section on past seasons which show that the club have progressed well from The Eastern Counties League.

View down the touchline with the cathedral in the distance.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Late Goals Sink Crockenhill - Seven Acre And Sidcup vs. Crockenhill

Good, Good Friday Crowd
As I was turning to the dark side and watching rugby at Twickenham on Saturday I was keen to watch a game on Good Friday. There were relatively slim pickings in and around London and I opted for The Kent Invicita League game between Seven Ace & Sidcup against Crockenhill. The only other time I'd seen a game in this league was Good Friday last season when I watched Eltham Palace host Bridon Ropes. This week it was announced that Seven Acre would be ground sharing at Thamesmead next season so it was an opportunity to see the ground in a senior football setting. Back to this season and the visitors were having a torrid season. They had only won league game all season and had lost the rest. The hosts were in mid table and won two nil at Eynsford Road earlier in the season.

Blue skies at kick off
Seven Acre create a chance almost immediately after kick off but the lofted through ball is just too heavy and the keeper is able to claim the ball. They create another chance shortly afterwards as the winger skies the ball after cutting in from the wing. Crockenhill almost gift the home side the lead as the centre midfielder puts the Seven Acre forward through on goal and he is relived as the forward puts his effort is straight at the keeper. Crockenhill then have their first chance as a shot from distance goes well wide. Crockenhill appear to be in a generous mood as the keeper gives the ball away cheaply but the midfielder puts the ball over from quite far out. Seven Acre then waste another chance as the substitute blazes over from about a yard out. The Seven Acre forward is played in again and this time he pokes the ball just wide. Crockenhill come close again with a long range effort and Seven Acre force the visiting keeper in to another save as the first half ends goalless.

The stand at Oxford Road
At the start of the second half both teams get in to good positions but both of the moves come to nothing. Seven Acre then believe they should have a penalty but the referee thinks that the Seven Acre attacker went down a bit too easily. The Crockenhill keeper is again called in to action as he makes a low save at his near post. He is left untroubled from the next Seven Acre attack as the ball is put high and wide of the goal. The Crockenhill keeper then nearly undos all of his hard work as he spills a weak shot but he is able to get to the ball before it trickles in. Seven Oaks come even closer shortly afterwards as a header from a corner is headed off the line. Despite Seven Oaks having most of the chances in the second half, Crockenhill are seeing more of the ball and looking more threatening offensively. Seven Acre come close yet again as a looping heading hits the underside of the bar. The home side do finally score with a near post header and the goal is harsh on a much improved Crockenhill. Seven Acre then make the game safe as the keeper gives the ball away with a weak kick and this time the forward buries the ball from distance. He is then booked for celebrating the goal with his mates in the crowd.  

Picturesque Oxford Road
This one of the shortest journeys I'd made this season. The closest station to the ground is Sidcup which is a twenty five minute journey from Cannon Street (the first time I'd ever travelled from this station). The ground is then a twenty minute walk from the station. Alternately there are several bus routes which travel from the station to Oxford Road. If you do get the bus you will miss out on The Alma which is a great pub a short walk from the station. Closer to the ground on the High Street is The Portrait which is a decent enough pub with Sky Sports. As with Havant, the clubhouse is a separate establishment to the ground and again is one of the better clubhouses I've drank in this season. Seven Acre only have the two league games at Oxford Road this season and I thoroughly recommend visiting if you get the chance. 

The programme was great for this level. There were comments regarding recent games and the general tone of the articles reflected the relaxed, welcoming nature of the club in general.

Yet another view of the stand

Monday, 14 April 2014

Hawks Stall Concord - Havant And Waterlooville vs. Concord Rangers

There was a decent crowd for the play off six pointer
As it is getting in to the business end of the season, I tried to find a game that meant something and The Conference South match between Havant and Waterlooville and Concord Rangers meant a huge deal for both sides. Both sides were just outside of the play offs and a win for either team would put real pressure on the clubs above them. Both sides were in good form and the home team had beaten once leaders Bromley at home the previous weekend. I'd seen Concord Rangers several times and their games had always seemed to produce goals. When I visited Thames Road for an FA Trophy game against Harlow Town, I saw Concord throw away a two nil half lead to lose three two. The only time I'd seen Havant play was last season at Dover where the away side again came back from two goals down at half time but this time the game ended in a draw. The reverse fixture had also produced a lot of goals - a three three draw the previous month.  

Just before kick off
Concord have a half chance from a corner but in general in the opening stages, both sides are playing some neat football but they cannot find the final touch. This is exemplified when Havant break from a Concord corner and the final pass is just cut out by a defender. Havant come closer when a miss kick in the Concord defence lets Havant in and the defender is relived to the chance blasted wide. Havant almost play themselves in and the pass is again just cut out. Concord have another headed chance but the Havant keeper is able to claim the ball. Towards the end of the half both teams continue to lost the ball in good positions and the half end goalless.

Panic in the Concord box in the first half
Havant have a great chance at the start of the second half as the left winger robs the full back and the keeper has to tip the ball over the bar. Then from the following corner a Havant player heads the ball just over the bar. Concord almost create a one on one chance but the centre back makes a great headed interception to prevent the chance. The game is now beginning to open up and the Havant centre forward is able to barge through in to the box but the keeper is able to claim the ball as it looks like he would have been better squaring the ball. A Concord corner then causes confusion in the area and the Havant defence is eventually able to hack the ball away. Then comes the games turning point. Following a ball in to the box there is a slight delay and the referee points to the spot for an apparent push. The Concord players are livid and the Havant player shows no sympathy as he smashes the ball home. Concord now go for broke and a driven cross is headed away. Shortly afterwards the Havant keeper has to tip over a viscous free kick. In the dying seconds Havant are reduced to ten men but they see out the rest of the game to claim a vital three points.

Covered standing down one side of the pitch
Havant is reached by trains departing from Waterloo and the fast trains take just over an hour and a quarter. In the town centre I visited The Old House At Home which was a great pub which had the lunch time kick off on TV. The ground is about a half hour walk from the town centre and about half way is The Curlew which is a good stopping point. The clubhouse is a pub next to the ground and it is a very good pubs. It had several ales on tap as well as the football on TV. While I was waiting for my train I popped in to The Six Bells which had a great atmosphere.

The programme was one of the best I have seen at this level. There was a lot of reading including a couple of detailed match reports from recent matches.

Another view of the stand
For an alternative viewpoint of the match, check out the fantastic Destination Havant 'Ville Departing Waterloo  blog.

Yet more bloody clouds