Monday, 25 July 2016

Ghosts Spooked By Canaries - Fakenham Town vs. Norwich City U21s

The Fakenham full back squares up the Norwich winger
I had a leaving thing on Friday night and so I had a variety of choices which covered for various levels of hangover on Saturday morning. I didn't feel too bad on Saturday and so I went for my best case scenario choice of Fakenham Town against Norwich City U21s. Fakenham had hosted Leicester City's youth side on Wednesday night and both these fixtures were organised by Nigel Worthington who helps out around the club. Fakenham finished fourth from bottom in The Premier Division of The Eastern Counties League last season and were looking to improve on that this season.

Kick off at Clipbush Park
The game has an even opening and it is the visitors have the first effort on goal when the winger is allowed to cut and he puts his shot well over the bar. They take the lead following a lofted through ball which is then lashed past the Fakenham keeper. Norwich are then awarded a very soft looking penalty which the Fakenham keeper is able to save low to his right. The rest-bite is only temporary as Norwich head home a second from a corner shortly afterwards. Fakenham's first chance comes when a ball in is controlled by the forward but his shot is straight at the goal keeper. Norwich come close to a third when the winger finds space out left and his cross in just eludes the forward. The visitors do get a third before half time when Fakenham give the ball away in midfield and after the first shot is saved the rebound is headed in past the keeper.

Fakenham look to build up some pressure in the first half
Fakenham go on the attack at the start of the second half and a header from a free kick goes just wide. Then come closer when they drive on from midfield and the Norwich keeper has to make a good low save. Unfortunately for The Ghosts, Norwich make it four nil when they break out after a Fakenham attack and the ball is slotted home. Then for the first time this season, I missed a goal while in the bar which turns out to be a fifth for Norwich. Despite the deficit, Fakenham continue to try and play and get at Norwich but the academy side see out the rest of the game to win 5-0.

Fakenham played is taken down outside the clubhouse
So as I suggested earlier, it takes a little while to get to Fakenham from London. Firstly you have to catch a train to Kings Lynn from Kings Cross which takes the best part of two hours. Then from Kings Lynn bus station you catch the X8 to Fakenham with this section of the journey taking about half an hour if the traffic in Kings Lynn isn't too bad. Fakenham is an attractive market town and The Wensum Lodge Hotel is a good spot for a drink by the river. Then just up the road is The Bull which had a really selection of beers. The ground is then around a twenty five minute walk to the ground from the town centre. The clubhouse had the usual selection of drinks and the club in general was very welcoming.

There was a good crowd for this friendly match

Dripping In Sweat - Lewes vs. Dulwich Hamlet

View of The Dripping Pan towards the clubhouse end
Lewes is one of my favourite grounds and I'd been meaning to revisit for a long time. So on the first baking hot Saturday of pre season provided the perfect opportunity. There is a one division gap between the two sides although this could have been bigger if Dulwich had won The Ryman Premier Play Off Final against East Thurrock at the end of the previous season. My previous visit to Lewes had been when they were in The Conference South and they played Havant And Waterlooville on that occasion.

Kick off at The Dripping Pan
Dulwich take the lead when the ball is pulled back from the byline and slotted home. Lewes grow into the game as it goes on and they get an equaliser when the midfielder gives the ball away and they score from the subsequent attack. Early in the second half, Lewes take the lead when the forward dances through the defence to make it 2-1. This is where my memory begins to let me down, I know Dulwich respond with four unanswered goals but I don't remember too many specifics! A lesson to not take over a week to right a report. Despite my memory loss it was still an entertaining pre season match up.

Grass bank down one side which provides elevated views
Trains to Lewes depart from London Victoria and if there aren't issues with the train not being able to divide properly at Haywards Heath then the trip takes just under an hour. The ground is then literally round the corner from the station. As the home to Harvey's Brewery you'd expect Lewes to have a couple of decent and it certainly doesn't disappoint. The other side of The High Street to the station is the excellent Elephant and Castle which has over sixty beers on offer as well as tasty own brew. Then just around the corner is The Lewes Arms which had a good selection of beers and a decent garden terrace out back. The town itself is worth exploring beforehand with the picturesque High Street as well as the castle. The bar in the ground was also impressive with a couple of Harvey's hand pulled ales as well as the usual selection of lagers. 

Dulwich defend in the first half

Monday, 11 July 2016

Bears Roar Back - Coventry Bears vs. South Wales Scorpions

Impressive stand at Butts Park Arena
This weekend I initially intended to revisit St Albans City for their friendly against Stevenage. However, once I realised that trains to Coventry were a lot cheaper and quicker than I thought, I opted to catch one last regular season game of rugby league. The Bears were hosting South Wales Scorpions in League One. Both sides were towards the bottom of the table and The Bears had drawn against the other Welsh side - North Wales Crusaders in their last outing.

Coventry try to break through the South Wales line in the first half
My rugby league match reporting skills are still very much in their infancy so you'll have to excuse the crude report. The game has a fairly even opening before South Wales score two unanswered converted tries to go in 12-0 up at half time. The Bears emerge inspired and score three converted tries of their own to storm into the lead. The hosts are hanging on towards at the end and South Wales get within touching distance with their third try but the conversion hits the post to hand The Bears the win.

Shortly after The Bears first try
Trains to Coventry depart from Euston and the quick trains take just under an hour. The ground is then twenty minutes casual walk from the station. There is plenty to see in the town itself including the three cathedrals. There is also a decent selection of pubs. A very short walk from the cathedrals is The Whitefriars Olde Ale House which had a good selection of beers. On the opposite side of the town centre is The Gatehouse which has the sports channels as well as a healthy spread of beers. Finally there is The Town Wall Tavern which has escaped the developers and it is a good job as it was my favourite of the three pubs I visited. The bar at the ground is under the stand and only had lagers but there was tasty looking food on sale. All in all a great day out at a passionate club in an interesting city.

Side of the ground opposite the stand

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Full Bloodied Start To Pre Season - Baffins Milton Rovers vs. Gosport Borough

Stand at Kendalls Stadium with the watersports centre in the background
After the abomination of a Euros campaign from England I was more than keen to get back to non league football. I had intended to go to Wealdstone but upon hearing that Baffins Milton Rovers were producing a programme I headed to Portsmouth. This is Baffins Milton's first season in the first division of The Wessex League and it looks like there has been a lot of work done on the ground. Gosport Borough are preparing for another season in The Conference South and I had seen them in a home FA Trophy tie against Nuneaton which had finished goalless. As this was kind of a Portsmouth derby I was hoping for a bit more bite then a standard pre season match and that's exactly what I got.

Kick off of the 2016-17 season!
The game starts evenly and Gosport have a free kick close to the byline which is too close to the Baffins Milton keeper. The Baffins Milton forward is then played in but he slips at the crucial moment and the chance goes begging. Gosport come close with a couple of headed chances from close range. The visitors take the lead as the winger goes through a half challenge and he is able to put the ball past the keeper and into the net. They double their lead when the winger in chopped down and the spot kick is duly dispatched. In the final moments of the half Baffins Milton win a penalty of their own when the attacker is felled and the penalty goes in off the post.

Baffins Milton attack the Watersports Centre End
Baffins Milton create a decent chance at the start of the second half when the ball is drilled across the edge of the six yard box but no one gets a touch. It is however Gosport who get the next goal. They break through the defence out wide and the forward slots home to make it 1-3. Baffins Milton get into a good position when the forward is found with a pull back but he takes too long and the eventual shot goes well over the bar. The game is now very open and the Gosport winger is unlikely to strike the upright after a shot from distance. The visitors come close to getting a fourth when a cross finds a man at the back post but the Baffins Milton defender does well to block the chance. Gosport do get a fourth in the closing stages but Baffins Milton showed some good flashes. 

Baffins Milton defend an attack with the clubhouse in the background
As I indicated earlier, Baffins Milton play in Portsmouth with Hilsea being the closest station to the ground. Trains depart from Waterloo with the trip taking the best part of two hours. From the station, Kendalls Stadium is about twenty minutes walk away. If you arrive in plenty of time you can walk in the opposite direction to the ground to The Phoenix Hotel which is a friendly side street pub with Sky Sports. In The Morrison's complex next to the ground is The Compass Rose which does the job. The clubhouse is a portacabin behind one of the goals which provides a decent selection of drinks and tasty looking hot dogs.

The benches watch on in the first half

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

End Of An Era - APM Contrast vs. Sutton Athletic

View from the trees at Cobdown Sports Club
I planned to see one last game on Bank Holiday Monday depending on how I felt upon returning from Hamburg over the weekend and luckily I didn't too horrific. There were a few play off games going on but I didn't fancy the crowds and really wanted a new ground. There were a few games happening in The Kent Invicita League - where I started my league campaign - including APM Contrast hosting Sutton Athletic. This was APM Contrast's final game under this name before they change their name next season to K Sports. Also according to the informative programme they are also moving to a new ground but I don't know if it's at completely new site or another pitch in the complex. Until recently Sutton Athletic had a shout for promotion but Bearsted and Sheppy United sealed the top two spots. The two sides were next to each other in the form table and so it looked like an entertaining end to the season. 

Kick off in front of the awesome stand at Cobdown Sports Club
Sutton Athletic have a lot of possession to begin with and they believe they should have a penalty early on but the referee wasn't impressed with the energetic fall. APM Contrast's first decent attack ends with a good cross into the box which is headed away under significant pressure. APM Contrast take the lead when the forward finds space on the right hand side and he catches the keeper out with an angled shot into the opposite top corner. APM Contrast are having a lot more attacking play and the Sutton Athletic keeper has to be alert to claim a corner which is taken by the strong wind. Sutton Athletic then have a great chance to equalise but the header from a teasing cross is straight at the goal keeper. APM Contrast have the final chance of the half as the ball is poked just wide from a dangerous free kick.

Sutton Athletic player controls under pressure
The Sutton Athletic keeper almost gifts APM Contrast a second goal when he a drops cross in the box but the error goes unpunished. APM Contrast come close again as a corner is headed off the line. Sutton have a glorious chance to equalise when a throw is headed down in the box but the attacker can't fully connect with his shot after turning the defender and the keeper saves comfortably. Sutton Athletic are nearly played in on goal and the APM Contrast defence are saved by the bounce of the ball. APM Contrast then have a couple chances to seal the game. Firstly the forward lashes the ball wide after controlling a cross field pass. Shortly afterwards no one takes advantage of a ball played right across the six yard line following a good run by the winger. They aren't made to regret these missed chances as they seal their last three points as APM Contrast.

Throw in down the roped side of the ground
The closest station to Cobdown Sports Club is Aylesford. There are no direct trains and you need to catch the supposedly high speed service to Strood from St Pancras and change there for a train to Aylesford with the journey taking just under an hour. The train station is located in between the village itself and the ground. The picturesque village is located on The River Medway. At opposite ends of The High Street are The Chequers Inn and The Bush which both had a good selection of beers as well as the sports channels. There is also the picturesque priory in the village to visit. The ground is then a good half hour from the village. The clubhouse had the usual selection of drinks and also had the sports channels. If you fancy grabbing something to eat for the train home I fully recommend Papa's Barn Chippy which is just round the corner from the ground.

Side on view of the stand

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Swifts Soar To Safety - Heybridge Swifts vs. Phoniex Sports

View from the terrace at Scraley Road
For what was likely to be my last weekend of football this season I had originally picked out Larkhall Athletic against Cinderford Town in the South and West Division of The Southern League but I had to be back in London at reasonable time so I had to rethink and went for Heybridge Swifts' critical home tie with Phoenix Sports in The Ryman League North. Heybridge needed to avoid defeat to guarantee survival which they could have done in midweek had they not lost 4-0 away at neighbours Maldon and Tiptree. This was Phoenix Sports' first season at this level and had adapted well obtaining a mid table finish. I saw them in their promotion season as they drew 2-2 with Fisher FC. The only time I'd watched Heybridge previously was in the same division in my second year in London away at Cheshunt. In the reverse fixture in South East London, Sports had won 3-1. 

Kick off at Scraley Road
The game has an uneventful start with most of the play in the middle of the park. The first chance follows a long Heybridge ball forward which results in a shot which the Phoenix defence is able to block. Phoenix then begin to get on top of the game and a deep cross results in a looping which the Heybridge keeper claims comfortably. The Heybridge keeper makes a great low save when the forward is found from a pull back and the Phoenix players think the forward in unfairly blocked from getting to the rebound. The winger is then able to cut inside and his shot goes just over the bar as Heybridge have the point they require as things stand at half time.

A long Heybridge throw in the first half
Heybridge seem to be dropping deeper at the start of the send half and Phoenix fail to take advantage of a good passing move. Heybridge are then able to break out and although that comes to nothing it sparks the home side into life. The Heybridge winger is able to dance through the Phoenix defence and his shot thunders the crossbar and the rebound is put into the side netting. The home side are then gifted the opening goal. A weak head back is seized upon and the attacker's low shot from the edge of the area makes it one nil. They make is two nil when the winger gets into space and he finds the forward who lashes it in to seal the all important three points.

Match action with the main stand in the background
Heybridge is a long way from any railway station and it seems I took the longest possible route to get there. I took a train to Chelmsford from Liverpool Street and from there took the 31X bus to Maldon, which took half an hour. On the map it didn't look that long a walk but it was and there would be a hefty uphill walk on the way back. The walk to Heybridge took twenty minutes or so. I was still able to get to Heybridge in decent time which allowed me to walk along The Chelmer And Blackwater Canal to Heybridge Basin. At the end of the canal is The Jolly Sailor and The Old Ship Inn both of which are worth the pleasant walk and both served the locally produced Maldon Gold ale. If you don't fancy the walk or want to watch the early kick off then The Heybridge Inn is perfect. The ground is about ten minutes walk away from the town centre. The clubhouse was very reasonably priced and had the sports channels on a big screen. On the journey back I was lucky to catch the 90 bus back into Maldon where I caught my bus back to Chelmsford.  

Heybridge celebrate the second goal

Monday, 18 April 2016

Lambs Spring Towards Play Offs - Tamworth vs. AFC Flyde

Spring time weather in the Midlands
So after missing out on a game at Arundel the previous weekend, the weather decided to continue with my plans in what is likely to be my penultimate weekend of watching football this season. Torrential rain overnight in the south east put my first choice of Maldon and Tiptree out of commission and so I opted for Tamworth vs. AFC Fylde where they were sure the game would go ahead. This was my second game in The Conference North this year after seeing Corby host Gainsborough a couple of months ago. This was a vital game for both sides with Fylde looking to make mathematically sure of their place in the play offs while Tamworth needed a win to have any chance of joining them. The only time I'd seen either side before was in Fylde's previous incarnation as Kirkham & Wesham in The FA Vase at Wembley against Lowestoft. The reverse fixture ended in a two all draw back in September.

Main stand without hail
Tamworth cause early panic in the Fylde box with a dangerous cross into the area which the keeper just about claims. The Tamworth midfield then lets the Fylde centre midfielder come a long way with the ball but the home keeper is equal to the shot. Tamworth are allowed in on goal as the Fylde defence lets a long ball forward bounce and fortunately for the visitors the chipped effort doesn't cause any serious alarm. Then just before the heavens open, Tamworth take the lead with an excellent goal. Following a quick throw, the winger drives in on goal and he fires a great low shot past the keeper. The heavy hail seriously disrupts the flow of the game and there are no more chances of note before half time. 

The Fylde defence battles the elements as well as the Tamworth forwards
Tamworth catch Fylde on the break at the start of the second half and the Fylde keeper makes a great save to keep his side level. Fylde then win a free kick on the corner of the area which finds the man in the area who is fouled and the referee awards a penalty to the away side. The penalty is lashed straight down the middle to level the scores. They aren't level for long as Tamworth soon regain the lead. The ball is played over the top of the Fylde defence and the Tamworth attacker is able to control the ball and angle his shot across the keeper into the far corner. They make sure of the points as the right winger is played into space and he is able to find his team mate completely alone at the back post and he slides in the third goal. Fylde still look for a way back into the game and the Tamworth keeper makes a great save to tip over a shot from the area and this is the last real chance of the game.

Covered stand down one side of the pitch
Trains to Tamworth depart from Euston and the journey takes an hour and forty minutes. The London Midlands trains are considerably cheaper than The Virgin ones although they are of course slower. In terms of consistency in quality of pubs, Tamworth has been the best place so far this season. Closest to the station is The Kings Ditch which is a fantastic micro pub with an incredible selection of ales and ciders. Then a short walk down the road is The Sir Robert Peel which as well as a choice of ales also had an extensive range of bottled beers. Then finally a short walk from the market place is The Market Vaults which has a variety of ales as well as the sports channels for the lunch time kick off. The Lamb is then a ten minute walk away which is mostly spent negating the succession of roundabouts. The clubhouse has the usual selection of drinks and I fully recommend the hot dogs.

The Fylde keeper keeps out a second half shot
 The Tamworth YouTube channel has highlight of the game which you can watch here.

The next band of rain rolls in