Saturday, 9 November 2019

03/11/19 Review: Thornbury Town vs Cribbs

Thornbury Town 1-3 Cribbs [AET] (FA Vase, Second Round)
Mundy Playing Fields

Is there anything better than standing in a cold field on a hungover Sunday afternoon? If there is, I certainly haven't it yet and Thornbury Town would prove to be the "middle of nowhere" part of the country I found myself in to complete a great weekend in the West Country that contained four new grounds as I pursue the big 200. Accompanied, as I always am in the these parts, by the Severn Beach Trojan also known as Tom, it was time to dust off the despair of yesterday's two game, ten goal, five pub and twelve pint Saturday to see if Thornbury Town could shock their higher level opponents in the FA Vase.

If I said he was crazed for the vase, it would be no lie
With everything from The Anchor to The Butcher's Hook ticked off the night before, we made our journey back out to South Gloucestershire knowing that the game rested upon the fate of the clouds. Thankfully, as with the other three games we got to, fortune favoured the bold and the choice to get the game on by Thornbury Town was rewarded as a cold but dry afternoon granted me the chance to visit on of Tom's favourite locals in the form of the Mundy Playing Fields. Today's opponents were from just ten miles away in Cribbs Causeway and the Western League Premier side would be sure to be up for the challenge against the Hellenic Western Division side. Cribbs FC, who were the first Western League side I visited back in May 2016 in a match that also went to Extra Time, started the day as favourites even though the mid-table step five club were coming up against a side who've only lost once in the league so far, albeit in the tier below. So far we'd struggled to successfully predict the results in any of the three games attended, which would soon become four as Tom this time predicted a 3-1 home win whilst I expected a 1-4 defeat for the hosts.
Ahh well, at least I got to appreciate another corner stand
I'm not sure if I missed the memo when it was decided that non-league clubs should start to bung their main stand in the corner, but after visiting Chirk AAA earlier in the season I was left yet again flabbergasted as the only seating area was located in hardly the most prime of locations. The rest of the ground was very pretty but also rather bare, with the highlight for me being the open feel to Mundy Playing Fields and in particular the bush that surrounded a lot of the ground. The game had already kicked-off by the time we popped into the clubhouse for a hair of the dog and with the club announcing that they'd already sold out of most hot food we took that as a good sign for the club in terms of crowd numbers.

And true enough, there they were
In terms of game action, the first-half was so far fairly open with the visitors certainly looking more competitive in terms of physicality, but also making it harder for themselves by portraying the passing skills that one would not expect to see at any level. In truth, it was so bad in parts that even the young linesman on our side of the field was giving advice to the players, with a particular moment of humour coming as he appeared to talk a Cribbs lad through a corner that he was taking. I can only think that the reason behind his supporting of the visitors was due to the fact that Thornbury lined up with an absolute eyesore of a shirt numbers game. From what I could gather, the back four of the hosts eleven seemed to be numbers 11, 8, 10 and 6, which began to make me feel nauseous! Either that, or the hangover was taking over.

Still, at least you couldn't see that monstrosity from the main stand
With no goals scored in the first-half, the teams went in to regroup (and hopefully change into more appropriate kit numbers for their positions) meaning that we could spend a few moments back in the clubhouse warming up after what had admittedly been a chilly opener. Thankfully, we'd only have to stand out and shiver for another 45 minutes- or so we thought!

Second-half; time to show us the goals
Floodlights now on, it was time to get down to the proper action of the game and as per the first-half it was the visitors who looked the most likely. Mark Viner, posing as one of the Non-League's many Jaap Stam lookalikes, had put in a good defensive display so far for the hosts and the tough man kept up his persona in the second-half as he took down a player before bending down to him and shouting "get up, ya prick". Just past the hour-mark though and it would be advice that would come back to haunt the reds as Jake Hodgson got up to bullet home a header and give Cribbs the lead. Thornbury 0-1 Cribbs. The game had craved a goal, in fairness, so thankfully one came in time to allow for the match to open out a bit. It's always nice to see a lower league side trying to get back into a game of this magnitude, with some crumbling and falling into a pummelling, others trying their hardest until they get knackered, and of course those who make the unexpected comeback.

The question was though, which type of side were the Mundy men going to be?
As the home side tried their damnedest to grab an equaliser, they left a lot of holes at the back and had the Cribbs subs been a bit sharper we could've seen the game taken out of their grasp. The darkness was now upon us and we approached the last five minutes, meaning that it was time for Thornbury to become heroes or go out as zeroes. Thankfully for the hosts, they chose to give it a proper go and when Brandon Benjamin got the opportunity he hit a great strike, hard and low, which bobbled off the post and into the goal, meaning that on both occasions watching Cribbs they would go into the end of 90 minutes with a 1-1 draw. Thornbury 1-1 Cribbs. Shortly after the goal the game drew to a close, well, at least we thought it had. A lot of people started to move toward the exit but as the players stood beside their respective dugouts we started to hear murmurs of extra-time. Weirdly, the prevailing rumour was that the game would go to ET, but then if it wasn't decided within the two hours there would then be a replay- seemed a bit mental to me, but then again I suppose back in't day they did just used to keep replaying games until someone won. Bring back the days of golden goal, I say.

Come on lads, some of us have a 100-mile journey home after this!
Ultimately our dilly-dallying during the short break in play meant that as we eventually decided to queue up for a final bevvy we would miss the next goal which came in the form of an unfortunate Thornbury O.G. Thornbury 1-2 Cribbs. With a goal scored in the opening minute of extra-time, we would then have to wait until the last minute of it before the final one- and it came from a fairly comprehensive counter that led to an eventual tap-in for Ethan Feltham to set-up an away trip to another local side in Bitton in the third round. Thornbury 1-3 Cribbs. For me though, it was time to head back into town for some barely edible fish and chips before driving back up the M5, back home to Stafford. As always, it was a delightful weekend down in the West Country and I am glad to see that Tom is enjoying footy in Thornbury, a definite new local favourite for my Severn Beach comrade.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

02/11/19 Review: Warminster Town vs AFC Portchester

Warminster Town 3-1 AFC Portchester (FA Vase, Second Round)
Weymouth Street

In a world of postponements, cancellations and rained off games, Tom and I were so far dodging showers like the stray dogs we are and with two games already ticked off in Cardiff on the Friday night and the fabulous Winterfield Road earlier on the day of this visit, we saw that there was still fun to be had and thus we drove over to Warminster to see what the first of our two FA Vase games would offer.

Love me a set of black and red gates... not a bad start
I'll be the first to admit that I am a lover of the Western League and having not tread these grounds for a while, since visiting Springfield in Cadbury Heath back in 2018, I was thrilled to be checking out my eleventh and one of the oldest in the league in the form of Weymouth Street. Of the five I'd seen in this division up until now, West Clewes is my standout ground of note so far and with the arrival of Fareham based side AFC Portchester, we traipsed through the leaves and into the doors of this second round vase game. Although the ground itself is basic it reeks of that delightful Western League character that I've come to love over the years and as the rain dropped down on us we took in the ambience amongst a healthy crowd, a gust of leaves floating around us and of course the whiff of farts descending from the clubhouse that contained a mass of England rugby fans who had clearly gone from optimistic, to heartbroken, to drunk- aka, "the full English".

Still, decent little beer hut nevertheless
Although the match had already began, Tom and I made our usual pre-match predictions and due to the nature of knowing very little about the away side I plucked out a 1-1 draw for my guess, whilst Tom put full faith in his western roots and went with an 8-0 home win. My only reasoning for him at this stage was that he'd already had a beer! In fairness though, at least my Severn Beach amigo got the result right and the hosts were off to a good start by the time we'd got settled and we just about caught the sight of the ball rolling in as Francois Allen wheeled away celebrating the hosts gaining the upper hand. Warminster 1-0 Portchester.

The magic of the Vase
The whole first-half was pretty well controlled by the home side and despite some resistance from their south coast opposition, who sit fourth in the Wessex Premier League, it would ultimately be a near-perfect first-half for the hosts as they doubled the lead through left-winger Butler. As the right-wing ball came in for the tidy finish, Warminster's keeper led the celebrations by sliding around in the mud and urging the fans to get involved. Warminster 2-0 Portchester. The 143-mile round-trip for the visitors would certainly feel like a sour one if they couldn't get back into the second forty-five and for a while they looked like they had a chance as the ball was slid in to the home goal with plenty of time left to give the Royals a glimpse of hope, for a brief moment at least. Warminster 2-1 Portchester. Yup, that goal seemed to remind Warminster that they were not home and dry yet and they responded in emphatic fashion by thumping home a swerving looping strike to give the drunken rugby lads at least some glory for the day with not too much time left for a comeback. Warminster 3-1 Portchester.

The shed end were going mental too... well, maybe not
In fairness the rugby lot certainly helped to raise the atmosphere and as the final whistle eventually sounded there were many chants of "we are the red and black army" receding from the outside of the clubhouse. The players showed their appreciation and also cheers of their own knowing that they were in the hat for the next round. Since then, they know that an away trip to Roman Glass St. George's awaits. Can they topple Bristol's oldest club? We'll soon find out!

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

02/11/19 Review: Paulton Rovers vs Basingstoke Town

Paulton Rovers 4-2 Basingstoke Town (Southern League Division One South)
Winterfield Road

It's not often you get game of the weekend, ground of the weekend and goal of the weekend all in one hit when on a groundhop, but *spoiler alert* that's exactly what I'd be walking into as I arrived at Winterfield Road for the early KO Southern League South encounter between Paulton Rovers and Basingstoke Town. As the tens millions of you who read my last entry will know, I was on one of my semi-legendary trips down to Severn Beach to visit Tom and that always equates to a tonne of footy and a couple of gallons of beer. Where better to start off than at one of Tom's most highly recommended- and non-postponed- grounds?

I'd barely parked up and he was through the turnstile!
Seems as how my host for the weekend had driven us over to rainy Cardiff for some Welsh Premier League action between Met Uni and Penybont the night before, it was my turn to take the wheel and after waddling through Bristol city centre to the outskirts, we eventually arrived late at Winterfield Road. Thankfully there would be goals aplenty in this one and despite missing out on an early opener from Paulton's Ryan Gay, we were optimistic about seeing more action and rightly so. Paulton 1-0 Basingstoke. As we entered the field from above the corner flag, I was instantly in love with the sights in front of me. The stand behind the goal is elevated above the pitch and was today where the Basingstoke boys would be housed, which followed around past the opposite corner and continued into a roofed terrace that ends just past halfway. Across from this is the main stand which shares resemblances to the beauty at Coles Lane in Sutton Coldfield, albeit a wee bit more cosy, and to my delight it has one of my favourite features of a non-league stand- a dugout that reaches out from the centre of the stand. Glorious!

Yup, it's a beauty!
The rest of the ground is surrounded by a stone wall and it completes the classic look of the two and a half thousand capacity stadium that once hosted an ITV covered FA Cup match against Norwich City. Although the hosts lost 0-7 that day, things were already going much better in this league match and the side, who are battling to overtake unbeaten Thatcham Town and leaders Frome Town, had already shown their intent against struggling Basingstoke. Tom and I climbed up the stairs into the grandstand and nestled ourselves into the fairly full seating area for the remainder of the first-half. The game itself had been entertaining, end to end, and the highlight for me was a rapid attack by the visitors which led to Ryan Suckling clipping the bar with a left-footed strike from mid-range. On the whole, the only eyesore was the Town away kit. Urgh, hate a luminous yellow strip!

Half-time, already?
Knowing that an afternoon game and an evening pubcrawl were still to come, we headed into the Rovers clubhouse to sample a shandy and it's fair to say that the bar area- just outside the stands and next to the car park- is just as great as the ground itself. With everything from a club emblem on the carpet as you walk in, to the many pool and snooker tables in the back room, there was also a wide range of beers to choose from (including Carling Premier... whatever that is!) and they even had the early Premier League kick-off showing on the TV. Who wouldn't want to watch highlights of United losing to Bournemouth whilst sipping a Staropramen and chatting about the various times we've played pool. Perfection- and the best thing was, there was still five more goals to come from the game we were here to see.

Ready for the second-half spills and thrills
By the time the second goal came, just after the hour mark, we'd already seen many half-chances from Basingstoke right in front of us and it would be through a lack of precision from the visitors that they then watched as a foul was conceded to give a penalty on the break, which Ben Bament banged home. Paulton 2-0 Basingstoke. Thankfully for the fans of the luminous boys they would not be downtrodden for too long. As a group of kids from Paulton's support ran into the away end to mock the visiting fans, the Town support would soon regain credibility as just four minutes later Zach Robinson slotted home and all of a sudden the excitement levels in the ground were raised to a mouth-watering level. Paulton 2-1 Basingstoke. The Dragons were flaming by now and when another half-chance came knocking in the 75th minute it would be Robinson who rose highest and beat Joe Perry to the ball, backwards heading the ball past the keeper and forcing a well-deserved eqauliser with fifteen minutes to go. Paulton 2-2 Basingstoke.

The firework display wasn't supposed to start until the evening
With the game now poised at two-all, we began to turn our eyes towards Twitter to see if there was still a chance of getting to a 3pm game nearby. We'd already been letdown by Bitton and Weston-Super-Mare being called-off and it appeared that we were clinging on to the hope that the FA Vase game over in Warminster was still going ahead. As Tom was looking into the distance between our current location and the Wiltshire ground, I watched on as Ed Butcher scored the goal of the day with a wonderful left-footed run down the wing, followed by a bit of trickery to take him out wide and then a lovely finish that nestled into the underside of the net's roof. Paulton 3-2 Basingstoke. Despite the fact that they'd done it once already, Basingstoke didn't quite have enough in the tank for a second fightback and after being let off by a Brad Abraham strike just before full-time, it would eventually be David Sims-Burgess who sealed the deal with a chipped finish. Paulton 4-2 Basingstoke.

Full-time, 4-2
As the game drew to a close, we lingered by the exit knowing that we'd be cutting it fine for the twenty mile jaunt down the country roads and over to see what Weymouth Street would have to offer us. Sure enough the Ref called it a day and we departed arguably my favourite ground visited in the south-west so far ready to take on the second game of the day and third of our four match weekend.

Monday, 4 November 2019

01/11/19 Review: Cardiff Met Uni vs Penybont

Cardiff Met University 1-1 Penybont (Welsh Premier League)
Cyncoed Campus

Having spent almost a month apart from the beloved game, it was time to rectify four weeks of absence as I headed westward to visit my old pal Tom on what would be a weekend filled with four games, sixteen goals and eighty-four beers- give or take. My last outing was over in France at the start of October and it is safe to say that even this annual jaunt over to the West Country would have to be something special to compete with the occasion that was checking out Stade Raoul Barriére. The weather forecast was sketchy to say the least and from the moment I left Coventry on Friday afternoon there was a need to keep on checking ye olde social media as slowly but surely I drove into the wet and windy west. After arriving in Severn Beach- my digs for the weekend- I quickly transferred into Tom's car and we began heading towards Wales. Our initial plans to visit Taff's Well or Goytre were scuppered, so we made the call to give the uni a try and the gamble paid off as we emerged at the Cyncoed Campus ground for the 7:45pm Welsh Prem game between Cardiff Met and new boys Penybont.

Is there anything nicer than a wet and windy wander to Wales?
Sadly, on each of our four adventures this weekend we arrived late- but thankfully we hadn't missed much action on this occasion and we made the most of a slow start by attempting to gather some dinner. I spent a couple of quid on a hot dog that I literally inhaled in one go and Tom had even less fortune as there was a fifteen minute wait on chips- thankfully we are simple folk though, meaning that we could quite simply enjoy the gusty rainfall rinsing everyone in attendance as it poured in every possible direction, whilst debating our predictions for the game. Call me a pessimist, but I wasn't expecting a thriller and having seen a goalless match between Stafford Rangers and FC United back in September I went for a 0-0, whilst Tom opted for an away victory of 0-1 for the Bont. As mentioned earlier, this season is their first in the top tier and the merger club, formed in 2013, have so far only managed to conjure up one victory so far and that was against Airbus UK Broughton- the other promoted side in the division. CMU, on the other hand, have somewhat maintained the momentum they built from last season and although the Europa League qualifiers didn't make it too far in their continental campaign, losing on away goals to Luxembourg's Progres Niederkorn, the plan will be for the currently sixth placed side to try and challenge again with their crop of students.

The form has been poor lately for the hosts though
My last outing to a Welsh ground back in August was a second-tier trek up to Chirk AAA and although the game had some resemblances in terms of quality, but to be fair I'm more than used to the non-league English game so you certainly won't see me squirming or moaning as Tom and I stood having a real good catch-up. In and amongst our gassing, we got to see our first goal of the weekend as Will Evans slid home for the hosts just before the thirty minute mark and meanwhile silencing the visiting fans from just over the M4. Cardiff Met 1-0 Penybont.

And we're off!
As you can probably tell from the few pictures I managed to snap in and amongst the precipitation surrounding us, the ground is modern and about as generic as you'd expect from a uni campus ground. It is of high quality, apart from the horrendous port-a-bogs, and there is a nice little blue-seater stand across on the far end. I certainly wouldn't call it a classic, but having been to Oswestry and seen the chuffing ball-pit and bowling alley at Park Hall, I would also admit that I've been to worse grounds. The one major downside for the loud and proud away fans (and us!) was the lack of bar on the ground so we had to spend the whole of half-time walking back to the car to grab a couple of cans from Tom's boot. Yes, they may have been sticky and covered in dog hairs, but it was Friday and we needed to get this party started.

After all, the Welsh are kings of flamboyancy
We spent the second-half behind the goal with Uni's goalkeeper and the lovable goalie, nicknamed by me as "Fuller Bants", kept us entertained throughout the second-half. At one stage he was caught eyeing us up for our canned Kronenbourg and when asked if we wanted a swig, he simply said "see me after". Not sure how serious he was, we carried on our mooch around the ground and ended up in the corner watching at Penybont began to fight desperately for the inevitable late equaliser that they craved. With time getting on and injury time now upon us it was Kostya Georgievsky, a man who is described on Google as being a "diminutive winger", who would grab the leveller and spark wild celebrations amongst the side in blue and white- meaning that the poor form of the hosts continued with a sixth straight winless game. Cardiff Met 1-1 Penybont.

As a neutral, there's something quite ravishing about a last minute equaliser
There was no time following this goal for the hosts to seek a winner and with that the game ended all-square. We left Campus with a slight buzz after the late drama and as per all of my trips to Wales for the footy I would definitely summarise by saying it's worthwhile. The thing I love about the Welsh pyramid is that there is more than often a Friday night match and, weather providing, there are some cracking old grounds knocking about in some places that you'd possibly never visit if not for the footy. I'll certainly be checking out some more of the ones that are a bit more local to my home in Stafford and although Cyncoed wasn't the most exciting one I've ticked off, it was still worth a ride out to!

Sunday, 6 October 2019

04/10/19 Review: AS Béziers vs Bastia-Borgo

AS Béziers 1-1 Bastia-Borgo (Championnat National)
Stade Raoul Barriére

Bonjour and welcome to a special edition of 'Pint of Football', or "Pinte de Football" as it should be known for this French instalment. In the midst of holiday exploits that saw my partner and I travel up from Perpignan to Montpellier and back again, we managed to squeeze in an evening over at Béziers in the Occitanie region and along with a mooch into the town there was also a date with Stade Raoul Barriére to look forward to as a bonus. Prepare yourselves for my latest venture over to the south of France to see AS Béziers take on islanders Bastia-Borgo.

The latest of my visits to a see the beautiful game in a rugby ground 

Yes, with visits already made this season to Burton RFC's Peel Croft ground in August and more recently a trip to Butts Park in Coventry to see Cov United versus Haughmond, I am starting to get a bit of a reputation for visiting stadiums primarily used for rugby and in all fairness they have been fabulous so far. For tonight, it was to be even bigger and better a trip as we ascended on the monumental 18,000 capacity stade for what would be the ground's second match of the day. The afternoon had already seen one win for Béziers as the rugby team triumphed 20-15 over Oyonnax in Pro Division 2, but for us it was all about the football and so we arrived just in time to see the battle between two of the Championnat National's midtable sides. With tickets priced at just ten euros a pop this third tier game was bound to be value for money, with the equivalent of our own pound sterling not even covering the cost of parking at some of the big grounds in England. The one thing I've enjoyed about my trips to Italy, Spain and now France for the football is that they make it comfortable, affordable and accessible for all and this Friday night in the floodlights would prove to be all of the above with all ages coming out to cheer on their local side. For me, this would be my sixth match in a foreign ground, after visiting Mallorca in Spain, as well as four of Italy's finest during the EURO U21 Finals back in June.

We also poked our heads into FC Séte's Stade Louis Michel on the way in
At the start of proceedings today's hosts found themselves sat in the lower realms of the table and despite being a newly reintroduced club to the division following last season's relegation from Ligue 2, they weren't exactly setting the league on fire so far after picking up just two wins from the opening nine matches. The merger club, who are only 12 years old, have had some good times since forming off the back of AS Saint-Chinian, FC Béziers Méd and Béziers-Méd Football Cheminots and they achieved professional status for the first time in 2018 when they won promotion to France's second tier. Of course, they came straight back down with a 19th place finish but after fighting hard in a tough division they will be disappointed not to be higher up in the early stages of their return to the third step. Their opponents, from the island of Corsica, were another merger team in the form of Bastia-Borgo who are (surprise, surprise) a combination of CA Bastia and Borgo FC. Only into their third year as a new club, the club was promoted last season after finishing 2nd in National 2 Group C behind Nantes Reserves. The one thing that this scenario did get me thinking about was the potential for success for smaller clubs to gain through merging in difficult times. When I think of the struggles that Bury FC, Bolton Wanderers and my own side Macclesfield Town are having, I do wonder if a merge option would help the three sides who are only 36 miles apart! Buryfield Wanderers FC.... could work? Maybe not!

These guys seem happy enough with sharing a club with neighbours
Inside the surrounds of the ground we stepped into a pleasant entranceway that included a club shop, a food stand, drinking hole and of course the unforgettable "Jeton Drop". Now I'm no expert when it comes to French, so forgive me ignorance when I thought for a moment that the club had developed its own currency in the form of jetons, which actually just means 'tokens' in English. However, these delightful red coins that cost 1.43 euros a pieces would prove to be the only way that one can buy food and drink in the ground. I'm not sure what the reasoning is, but with the purchase of a beer and a coke for five jetons, we were delighted to be given proper AS Béziers plastic cups which of course are now my favoured beer holders at home. I think there was some sort of recycle for more jetons scheme going on, but as we aren't going to be back any time soon we decided to keep them as mementos! I also purchased a scarf in the club shop to add to my collection, so it was a win-win for me so far.

Here we are, all kitted out with my official club scarf and pint cup
The game was looming by now and as is a tradition of mine I decided to predict the outcome, with Soph and I both picking out the hosts to win. I went for a 2-0 Béiers victory whilst Sophie predicted more of a roller-coaster ride by opting for 3-2. And with that, the teams came out to the infamously known Pirates of the Caribbean theme tune and the 8pm match was underway with the away side defending over to my left in the first-half. The Corsican side were under the cosh from the word go and in just the third minute the home side's leading forward was looking to add to his impressive goal tally so far this season. Kévin Testud's third minute strike was close, alas not enough to beat Stephen Milosavljevic in the Corsican goal. Moving on into the tenth minute, more action came our way but this time in the form of a bad foul on a Béziers player. The chants from the crowd were indistinguishable, so I decided to try out shouting "rouge, rouge, rouge" as per the classic English chant.

It didn't work
The home side continued to press and they went close again through Francisco Roldán after Bastia-Borgo handed them the ball in a dangerous area, but this missed effort would not be the last they'd get. Twenty-two minutes into the match a rapid break from the halfway line saw the reds burst forward, with the ball eventually being unselfishly laid off to Roldán so that the Spaniard could slam home his first goal since moving north of the border from Elche Ilicitano. Béziers 1-0 Bastia-Borgo. If the hosts thought it would be plain sailing from then on they would be mistaken, with just three minutes elapsing between the opener and the equaliser from Bastia's captain. Born and bred on the island, their number 11 has spent all but one of his playing years with a Bastia based side and the 31 year old was in the right place to receive the ball from the right-wing and place it past Vincent Viot. Béziers 1-1 Bastia-Borgo. With less than half an hour played we hoped that this would be the start of a butfest, with the word "but" meaning "goal" in this instance, however in actual fact the remainder of the game would see chances coming few and far between and it wasn't until the second-half that the next notable strike was registered.

Still, at least we had the sunset to take in
Testud and Roldán continued to be the main attacking forces after the restart but much like our supply of jetons the entertainment factor was limited, with half-chances and intricate passing displays dominating the rest of the game. Even with the introduction of substitutes, such as possible futuristic android F-X Fumu Tamuso, there was to be little more additional momentum gained, with the exception of when attacking right-back Robin Taillan went as close as you could possibly go with a strike on to the underside of the bar. Very unlucky, but it was not to be for the home team and the game would end as it started, with the sides all-square.

Amazing ground, average game
No sooner had the game finished did we scoot off to the car in search of an easy escape back to the hotel, but in doing so we apparently missed a post-game scrap that saw Souleymane Aw and Cedric Odzoumo. I'm not sure what happened between the French visitor and the Senegalese youngster, but the match report shows them as both being "sent off" in the 95th minute. If anybody was there and knows, I'd be interested to hear what happened.

It just goes to show, never leave before (or just after!) the final whistle
Either way, the experience of another ground on foreign soil was something very special for me as I aim to continue to take my search for greatness as far and wide as I can. That's ground number 173 ticked off for me and with Non-League Day taking place this weekend in England, I'll be no doubt checking in somewhere far less glamorous than Stade Raoul Barriére!

Saturday, 21 September 2019

21/09/19 Review: Darlaston Town 1874 vs Bilston Town

Darlaston Town 3-0 Bilston Town (West Midlands (Regional) League)
The Paycare Ground

Sunny September Saturdays are made for a ride out to Darlaston, right? Well, for 'Pint of Football' they are and with a local derby on the agenda in this West Midlands League encounter I decided to use my free afternoon to take the short drive down the M6 to see what all the fuss was about at The Paycare Ground, home to Darlaston Town 1874. Formed (or should I say reformed?) in 2014, the phoenix club of the dissolved originals were allowed back into the West Mids League family and since then have been treated as a new club. Their opponents for the day, known as the Steelmen, also have a bit of history behind them and since 1894 they've been called everything from Bilston Town all the way through to Bilston Borough. With just three miles separating the two clubs on the Black Country Route, the sides started the day just a point apart and it therefore promised to be a tasty encounter. I decided that there was no better time to get down to see a game and so without further ado, let's see how it all panned out.

Not a cloud in the sky this afternoon- lovely!
As regular readers know, I always pluck a pre-match prediction out of the air and although I got the number of goals right, I was not quite correct with my 2-1 early doors guess. I arrived at The Paycare Ground a good fifteen minutes early and after parking up and accidentally walking through the gap between the trees into the ground I then backtracked into the car park and made my way over the proper entrance... I'm tight, but not tight enough to sneak into a ground at this level. After relinquishing a fiver for entry, I then made my way straight into the modern and well-presented clubhouse for a pre-match Coors so that I could get in the mood for the big derby. One thing that I've not got used to, despite living in Staffordshire for a third of my life now, is the hugely differing accent that belongs to the Black Country folk! Being originally from Yorkshire, I know that I can't really judge, but their language is a hard one for me to grasp and I even stumbled across a lad and dad couple arguing in the toilets whilst discussing their hopes for the game. The dad thought that his son was saying "hopefully we'll get three pints today" and was rejecting the notion of having that much to drink, when all that the lad was actually hoping for was a win! I tried to add to the confusion by asking them if they'd need more than three pints if they didn't manage three points, but I think my humour was lost so I quickly departed out to sunny pitchside.
Everyone outside... it's game time
My last new ground was two weeks at time of writing and although my trip to Butts Park in Coventry was something a little more glam than what I'd witness today, my main focus would be on whether the hosts today could do better than the disappointing United side a fortnight ago. With that, the sides started to emerge on to the field and after a minute's silence in the centre-circle and around the ground, we began. Darlaston began the game strongest with Romano Graham looking lively up front, but as is customary for a derby at this level the fouls count was rising at a much higher rate than that of the shots registered. Into the twentieth minute I overheard a fan say that Man City were already 5-0 up against Watford, which at the time I didn't believe, but I couldn't help but start to wish that a Sergio Aguero character would enter the field here to convert some of the half-chances that Darlo were creating. At the other end, Bilston created a rare chance of their own through Sam Melia, but there wasn't too much testing Liam Whittaker in the home goal. The black country answer to Bjorn Lodbrok stood tall and watched as his side largely took control of the first-half.

No goals for this lot to cheer about though, HT 0-0
Whilst the attendance was fairly decent from what I could see, there was a notable lack of absence in terms of atmosphere and there was only one Bilston boy who made up for this. Yes, fully kitted out in his bright orange attire, the lad who I believe was named Frankie, stood out as being one of the looniest but also undoubtedly passionate fans I've come across so far. He was vocal throughout, giving general tactically instructions out such as "mark him, marrrrrrk him" and of course "have a go" as his side got anywhere near the 18-yard box. You can't knock this sort of commitment, as I've seen present in "Gladiator Tony" at The Creek over at Bristol Manor Farm, but I also couldn't allow myself to spend too much near him. He was making me feel sweaty just by looking at him.
Yup, that's him
The highlight of the break, aside from a second pint, was listening to the crowd moaning that the raffle was a fix. It was one of those 'pick a team off the card and the winner is then revealed later' things and the winning team was Wolves. One fan shouted out "it's them every week!" whilst another simply labelled the raffle a fix. With the heat rising in the clubhouse to match the soaring temperatures outside, I headed back out to get ready to see whether Darlo could turn domination into goals as they looked to build on what they would no doubt have considered a good first 45. It wasn't until the hour mark, but the inevitable opener did come and it was from a tidy Daniel Bolzon finish. The striker raised an arm as he jumped in the air to celebrate, whilst the rest of the ground gave a relieved cheer. Darlaston 1-0 Bilston.

Let the Darlaston decimation begin
And with that, the floodgates opened and despite freshening things up with the introduction of a Coby Jones lookalike, Bilston would ultimately have little left in the tank to formulate a response to the opener. Leon Taylor had been impressive all afternoon and it would be the home captain who would grab the second as he made the most of a frail and tiring defence to slot home and double the lead fairly soon after the first from his strike partner. Darlaston 2-0 Bilston. A couple more subs came on for the visitors, but ultimately they were of a very poor standard and in particular their new right-back looked leaky in both offensive moves up the field and defensive plays at the back. Taylor found himself with space in the 75th minute and he chested the ball down, wriggled past Zack Stretton- who had a good game, in fairness- and then walked into the net with the ball between his legs for his second of the afternoon. Darlaston 3-0 Bilston. By this time Frankie had stripped down to an equally as bright orange shirt and for a moment I thought the old-timer was going to run on to try and change his side's fortunes, but instead the frustrated chap released the instruction "hit it with a coal shovel if you want next time!"

Some away fans had seen enough...
When you have the monstrous three mile trek back to Bilston, you couldn't help but sympathise with the away fans who began to leave as we approached stoppage time, but thankfully for them they didn't miss anything and the game drew to a close with an important three points and boost to the goal difference going to the hosts. For the oranges, it would be back to the drawing board for their new manager who has 13th place Dudley Sports visiting next Saturday. Darlo will travel to another very local side in the form of Black Country Rangers, who will start the day just two points above them in 6th.