Thursday, 29 October 2015

27/10/15 Review: Brocton vs Port Vale

Brocton 1-3 Port Vale (Staffordshire Senior Cup First Round)
Silkmore Lane Ground

Another Tuesday night with football beckoning can only mean one thing- a rainy night out in Stafford, this time to watch the Badgers take on the Vale in a Staffordshire Cup match. After crossing off one of Stafford's three grounds two weekends ago, I knew that I had to follow-up and visit Brocton and Stafford Town at some point too, and a rare Tuesday daytime shift at work meant that I would have the perfect opportunity to head on over to see the first ever visit of Port Vale to the Silkmore Lane Ground. It is worth noting early in this entry that Port Vale, unsurprisingly, were not fielding a first team for this game against their Level 9 opponents. Sitting 17th in League One, Port Vale would clearly have bigger fish to fry than the Staffordshire Cup and therefore it was seen as a great chance to give the youngsters a run out against a team who themselves were 19th in the Midland Football League Premier Division.

Silkmore Lane Ground, the home of the Badgers
After exiting a roundabout I just about noticed a sign in the darkness which led me into the thin road into the ground. The notable plus-side of the ground was it's on-sight free parking and the tickets being purchased via a very odd style of drive-through in which a man approached you, sold you a ticket, sold you a programme and then showed you where to park- all from the comfort of your car seat, which due to the rain was quite a nice touch. The down-side to the ground was that despite the parking being free, it was on a wet grassy area and upon parking up, another car instantly was directed to park behind me and therefore I was blocked in until that person decided to leave.
Drive-through football, it's like looking into the future
Once I had taken the 3 second walk from the car park to the stand I took a moment to absorb the surroundings which awaited me for the next couple of hours. At first glance, it looked like it could well be the training ground for the Vale, with enough seating to just about get into triple-figures, a high-quality pitch surrounded by netting and of course, the lack of people. After a quick head-count I spotted about 30 people at this early stage, with an even spread of Vale fans who were presumably here to support their friends and family who were playing in the team today, mixed with the Brocton faithful who were probably under the illusion that former LA Galaxy midfielder Chris Birchall and the rest of the Vale first-team would have made the trip out to this cup match. I asked one spectator if I could get a drink and some food and I was directed to follow the concrete pathway towards the Portacabin. I had already heard murmurs from people at work that the ground offered little in the way of hospitality, so I headed round to hope that they weren't right. Turns out they were. I firstly approached the cabin and saw, through door number one, an injured player sat on a stretcher having a brew, before moving on to door number two, the director's suite, which was stocked amply with tea and biscuits. So far, seemed positive. I then made it to the end of the cabin and saw a sign which read that refreshments were available. Despite the sign, there was no real indication on where they were located and even when I looked around the corner it wasn't obvious. I walked into the darkness and approached a window, which followed with a greeting from a lady who was offering the promised refreshments. I had headed towards the window with dreams of a burger and a pint, alas, what was instead on today's specials was a bag of crisps and a can of coke.

Good job I hadn't eaten since lunch
With a minute or so to spare before kick-off, I wandered around to the seating area and took my place just in time to hear the pre-match announcement, which was done by the man sat behind me. The announcer was almost certainly a big Badgers fan, with many biased announcements splurging out of the tannoy, such as: "Welcome to Silkmore Lane, officially the best ground in the Midlands League." and the humorous "80p for a tea in a proper china mug. You wouldn't get that at Vale Park." A light chuckle spread across the ground, just in time for the sides to come out. On a more serious note though, the game was about to commence and I really didn't know what to expect. Upon study of my programme I noted that at this stage of last season's competition the Badgers had been dumped out in a home-tie against Leek Town, by a scoreline of 8-3. So with this in mind, I predicted a big win for Vale's understrength squad, 6-1.

The ground's announcer- looking up stats for the match, or playing Football Manager? 
The game had no sooner kicked-off than the first goal came. With roughly 30 seconds on the clock the struggling home-side were behind after the Vale's front-man tucked the ball into the net. Badgers 0-1 Vale. A child responded to this by shouting out random scores, "20-1, 12-1, 30-1", at least he always had faith that the Badgers would get one. Within a few minutes, they almost did, too. A corner from Brocton bobbled around in the box and a big man for the Badgers pulled off an acrobatic bicycle-kick which floated on to the crossbar. After 20 minutes of pressure and hard-work from the home team they were rewarded with a penalty of Vale's own doing. Firstly, the keeper played a risky ball to his defence and following a failure to clear their lines, a Brocton cross was intercepted by the arm of a Vale defender. The ref looked over to his assistant, the assistant looked back, and after a moment of indecisiveness he pointed to the spot. Up stepped the right-back to calmly place the ball into the net. Badgers 1-1 Vale. With the scores level, I was surprisingly pleased at the Brocton display so far and I was particularly impressed with the left-back's darting runs down the side. There wasn't too much more to offer in the first-half and despite a couple of half-chances from both sides, they went in level. Usually I would use the interval to check out the clubhouse, but as there wasn't one I decided instead to walk around the pitch and try to stay warm.

The kop end, aka Brocton's 12th man
Another thing that Silkmore Lane had offered was the cheapest Programme of my travels so far, at just £1 it was true value for money. Granted, for a pound there isn't much you can complain about, but I did notice one particularly poorly put together section of the booklet. The page which was about the history of Port Vale had a spelling mistake which in Stafford could arguably be deliberate. At uni, we were always warned that Wikipedia was the most terrible, useless, incorrect way of gathering info, a lesson which the Brocton programme writer had never been taught. But even worse than that, Wikipedia was spelt incorrectly.

Rumour has it that the inmates of Stafford Prison write the Programmes
With that I took a place near the Vale goal, ready for a second-half in which this goal would hopefully be peppered with goal-mouth action. Brocton started well and another goal-keeping blunder from the Bruce Grobbelaar inspired keeper allowed a shot to hit the bar, for the second time, before falling to the right-back for a chance of a second goal. A terrible miss however, meant that the Badgers weren't able to go ahead for the first time. I slowly walked around towards the undercover standing-area where the Vale fans were. It was quite fun standing and observing the Vale fans, trying to guess which player they were a friend or family member of. Needless to say that this wasn't the sort of game where chanting, cheering and other audience-based gestures were on display, but it was still easy to tell who was supporting who because of the surprising amount of club merchandise being worn by the 79 in attendance.

"Stand up, if you love the Vale"
Back on the pitch it was certain that the part-timers from Brocton were becoming fatigued. The subs came on for the Badgers and the fouls were coming thick and fast, with players deciding to make a foul rather than use their last 10% of energy to chase down the pacey Valeites. Eventually there wasn't enough gas in the Badgers tank and the defence was unlocked. The quick-witted striker at the spearhead of Vale's strike-force managed to run into the box to meet a cross with less than 20 minutes to go. Badgers 1-2 Vale. The sting had truly been taken out of the Badger's tail and despite attempts to press forward with the ball, the lads simply didn't have the stamina or quality in the latter stages to break Vale down. A booking was given to a Vale player for the amount of abusive language he used, but the ref clearly didn't hear the words spewing out of the Badger's left-back near the away fans. Thank goodness that he wasn't the son of one of the sets of travelling mum and dad duos. With little time left on the clock, the home-side took a final blow and a simple finish was offered and taken gratefully by the Valeites attacker. Badgers 1-3 Vale. Brocton had one more chance, as they won a free-kick in injury time. The strike was blasted straight through a weak wall, but luckily for the cocky keeper, the ball fell straight into his grasping arms. The man of the match awards were announced, to which one Vale fan said "That's nice. They've given a home and away man of the match", to which his mate replied with, "Yes, and they've also waited until the end of the match to announce it". And soon enough the match was brought to an end. I quickly darted back to my car to try to escape before the queueing commenced, but then I remembered the pre-match issue.

There is no escape from Silkmore Lane
Despite the 3-1 scoreline, the game wasn't the greatest and you could certainly sense that a midweek fixture was more of a distraction for Brocton, who have now lost 6 out of 7 matches in October and conceded a whopping 22 goals. Even after their 4-1 win against Shepshed Dynamo three weekends ago, the Badgers were on poor-form and they now needed to use their 11-day break to regroup. With players like Ablewhite, Holland and club-legend Gary Fife, who struck a hat-trick against Shepshed, the Badgers certainly didn't have a bad team, but there was at lease a few gaps in the squad which would help to understand their current struggle. I left the match with yet another Midlands ground ticked-off my list, and now with just Town left to visit in the Stafford trio I will probably take a break from non-league action for a while... with "probably" being the optimum word.

Monday, 19 October 2015

18/10/15 Review: Worcester City vs Nuneaton Town

Worcester City 0-1 Nuneaton Town (National League North)

Here we go again! Just 24-hours after Pint of Football and Partizan Bristle took our places inside Marston Road, home of Stafford Rangers, we were now located in the Wyre Forest district of Worcestershire. On normal occasions I stick to the guideline that any drive to a football ground that is longer than an actual game is not one to risk venturing out for, however on this occasion it was necessary to commute to find us some non-league Sunday afternoon football. After leaving my house in Stoke-on-Trent at 1pm, I arrived in Kidderminster at 2:45pm for my first National League North match at the Harriers National League Premier ground, Aggborough. Following some horrendous M6 traffic, I feared that my fellow Blogger from Partizan Bristle wouldn't make it in his old purple KA, aka Velma, and so when I parked up at the car park outside the ground, I began to bite my nails in anticipation of his arrival. I bought my ticket, entered the ground and awaited his phone call.
Traffic was so bad on the way that I managed to eat a Spring Roll whilst looking at Walsall's ground
At 2:58pm my phone rang and sure enough he had made it in with 2 minutes to spare. In the meantime, I had quickly had a wander around yet another stunning lower-league ground and was again highly impressed by the cracking fan base present at the game. I met Tom and we ran up to the Aggborough Suite to grab a programme, as we were too late to buy them in the usual spot. Following this purchase, plus another scarf bought for Tom, we took a seat at the front and joined the rest of the ground who had already witnessed a couple of minutes of play. Upon studying the programme I realised that one of the strikers on the Nuneaton bench was one of my favourites from watching the Premiership as a youngster. None other than former West Ham goal-getter Marlon Harewood was sitting just a few meters away. Just nine years ago he was scoring the winner for the Hammers against Arsenal and now he is on the Nuneaton substitutes bench, talk about a fall from grace. I had already noted before the game that another favourite of mine from years gone by, Deon Burton, was in the mix for today's game. Having played in the World Cup Finals for Jamaica in 1998 and also spending 5 years in the Premier League with Derby County, it was like looking back in time to some of the greats.

Let's go Burton, let's go!
Worcester City had struggled so far this season and found themselves in 18th place in the league. They had managed two wins on the spin against Corby Town and FC United of Manchester, but these were the only league wins they had achieved in 10 games. Nuneaton on the other hand were up in 7th and knew that a win today would propel them into the play-off's. Baring this in mind I predicted a low-scoring draw, 0-0 or 1-1, hopefully with Burton and Harewood rolling back the years to get the goals. It was also worth noting that Worcester's top-scorer, former Baggies striker and jailbird, Lee Hughes, was unavailable for the home side this afternoon and that would certainly be a big miss for The Blues. Back on the pitch, both sides had started fairly well and there was some decent build-up play already on display. Whilst still taking in the sights, I must take a direct quote from Tom, a Bristol Rovers fan, who wasn't ashamed to say that "this ground is better than the mem", whilst also saluting the layout of the terraces. It is such a shame that the clubs who play at this ground are in financial peril, meaning that this ground may not stand the test of time.
Plenty of folk out on a Sunday afternoon- always nice to see
From what I had seen so far it was clear to see that Robert Duffy, the big man up top, was going to be key to the game. He overpowered the defenders and wasn't scared to run around, which was quite a surprise for such a big lad. And speaking of big lads, it seemed that we had plonked ourselves right in front of the Blue's resident crazy fan- a very large man who felt the need to state the obvious, shout the controversial and rant out-loud at any possible time. Once the Worcester lads had gathered a bit of momentum and fired a shot wide, he began to loudly shout-out his thoughts on what was to most of the ground a good move. "Come on lads, play some football!" was the phrase used on this occasion, but there were many more to follow.

The crazy fan of the ground, not to be confused for a small second-head on my right shoulder
The game remained evenly poised and neither team looked likely to score in the first 45. Despite some good passages of play, the crossing from both teams was absolutely woeful and although Daniel Nti made some great runs to the byline, his quality of crossing left much to be desired. The crossing certainly wasn't the worst thing in this match though, in fact the crossing was sensational if you are comparing it against the performance of the afternoon's referee, Darren Strain. In the first-half he made some very odd calls, with most fans barely believing their eyes as fouls were given "advantages" in places that were of no advantage, 50/50 Challenges were given as fouls very often against the home side and most obviously, there was no sign of the foul throws being punished. The crazy fan behind was going mental at this point, I wish I could remember what he was saying. At this time I did however notice that the right-backs for both teams looked like twins, another non-league feature which seems to be quite common- bald, short right-backs who try to play like Danny Mills. Deon Burton squandered a final opportunity and before we knew it half-time was upon us. As we stood up to head to the bar, we both spoke our short summary of the game. I was not impressed with the match, but Tom seemed quite happy with what he'd seen so far. We made it into the Aggborough Suite in time for me to have a half-time pint, which I sipped from the wonderful clubhouse view whilst watching Harewood warming-up as the only player without a hi-vis bib on- he don't play by nobody's rules.

The Aggborough Suite was top notch
As Tom wasn't drinking on this fine weekend, he instead decided to try out the food which was on display. Even though I didn't have any, as I brought myself a packed lunch like a true hardcore fan, I was absolutely in awe of the selection. From Lasagne to Steak and Kidney Pies, from Chilli Con Carne to Bangers & Mash, it was like looking at a menu of my favourite meals. Tom hastily grabbed a Steak and Kidney, with a fresh puff-pastry lid- TRULY AMAZING! 

The greatest football food ever seen
If there is anything to be jealous of when you have cold sausage rolls in your lunch box, it is the luscious smell and phenomenal appearance of proper food. Tom was in heaven, whilst I was asking for mouth-by-mouth analysis of the pie. As the second-half kicked off, Harewood carried on his warm-up quite near to our seat, which I suspected was so that he could be near the pie smell too. As a fan of the former Premier League striker, I called out "Marlon!" as he walked past, but there was no reaction. Tom and I were going to shout out "Marlon, give us a wave. Marlon, Marlon give us a wave.", but without the assistance of alcohol I was limited to just calling out his name. The second-half offered a similar start to the first, with neither team seeming to re-shape too much from the break. We knew that the changes would be due soon enough, as more players joined in with the warm-ups. However, the changing point of the game came soon before this. A controversial free-kick was handed to Nuneaton for a suspected dive, to which the fans were surprisingly accepting. The free-kick was hit against the wall inside the box and within seconds the ref blew his whistle for what we could only assume would be a retake. Wrong! The ref had called for a Nuneaton penalty and the crowd finally turned to outrage.

Even Marlon was shocked by the chain of bad decisions
Needless to say it was Duffy who stepped-up to a chorus of booing from the crowd. This didn't dissuade him from slotting home though, meaning that City were behind. City 0-1 Borough. From this point, the Blues had to rally themselves and do all they could to avoid another home defeat that would lead them closer to the relegation spots. Burton tried to run at the Borough defence, bursting into the box and almost bagging an equaliser. This was followed by a run from Nti, who was pushed over just outside the box, to which the ground appealed for a free-kick and offered Mr.Strain the chance to redeem himself. Alas, he instead chose to book Nti for a dive and then following arguments from the players, City's Geddes was red carded for dissent. Despite starting the game as a neutral, I was outraged at the amount of decisions going against the home team and therefore started to shout-out for them to get back into it. 10-man Worcester kept on plugging though, forcing as much into the box as they could and in the 65th minute when a ball was flapped into the box by City, the Keeper claimed the ball and surprise surprise the whistle was blown yet again. Nobody seemed to know what had gone on, but it had appeared that a Nuneaton man had pushed an opponent inside the box. Surely enough Mr.Strain sent the Nuneaton player off, making it 10-all on the player count, and therefore City would be offered a penalty to equalise. Wrong again! Nuneaton, who had just fouled in the box AND had a player sent off for it, had now been awarded a free-kick for an infringement on their goalkeeper before the foul. I think through the confusion of the last few minutes, the fans were too baffled to even know whether they were angry or not. Either way, they didn't seem too bothered.
Seeing Marlon Harewood play for Nuneaton Borough was a "Pint of Football Moment" for sure
The goalscorer for Nuneaton, who to me had been a good attacking threat, was then dropped into the centre-back position to allow Marlon a run-out. Duffy dropped to the defence and was actually a rock at the heart of the defensive play of Borough- easily the Man of the Match for me. The flow of the game stayed pretty much the same, with some chances for either side and not much more to separate the two sides. When injury-time came about, City won a corner and a final chance to snatch something from the game. The 700+ fans started to roar as goalie Nathan Vaughan came up for the kick. It was swung in from the right and surely enough Vaughan jumped up for a solid header, which was just tipped over the bar from the keeper. Following the next corner, the game was ended by super-villain Darren Strain and it was 3 more points for the Borough.

6 Yellows, 2 Reds, a Penalty and so much more controversy- Aggborough, it's been a pleasure 
Following the matches end, most fans stuck around to hurl abuse at the referee, with us being included in the hurling. After watching a truly great display from Lisa Rashid as ref for Stafford's match the day before, today was a massive contrast and showed that not only is top-quality refereeing not dictated by gender, but it isn't dictated by how high up in the league system you are. We left the ground with the morale of today's story being "Refereeing is often bad, unless it is terrible." and with that me and Tom went our separate ways. What a weekend of football for Pint of Football and Patizan Bristle, which included Spurs vs Liverpool on TV, Stafford Rangers vs Rugby live, an all-nighter of FIFA with Carlisle United and concluding with a trip to Kidderminster. As Tom headed back to Bristol and I drove back to Stoke, I was already thinking about the next footy-filled weekend, whenever and wherever it is that we end up visiting next.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

17/10/15 Review: Stafford Rangers vs Rugby Town

Stafford Rangers 4-0 Rugby Town (Evo-Stik First Division South)
Marston Road

Round one of the long-awaited (by us!) football weekend was finally here, as Partizan Bristle came to town for as much football as we could cram into 48-hours. Today's Midlands feud would take place at Marston Road, home to the leaders of the Evo-Stik First Division South pack, Stafford Rangers. Having already attended a lot of local grounds in Staffordshire, I had specifically held off visiting this ground so that Tom could experience a stadium that he had, for some reason, been so thoroughly looking forward to. Whilst I have been enjoying my local teams such as Leek Town, Alsager Town, Newcastle Town and Kidsgrove Athletic, Tom had been doing the rounds at his nearest and dearest, with Bristol Manor Farm, Shirehampton, Henbury FC and Hallen AFC all getting a Blog Entry with Partizan Bristle. Whilst I had been at Macclesfield doing my bit for Non League Day, Tom had been enjoying the scenes at one of his favourite non-league grounds, as Manor Farm faced Gillingham Town in the Western Football League Premier. So it was no surprise that with our continuously growing love for the oh so beautiful non-league game, that we would eventually meet up to tick off another couple of grounds together. So, following a trip to Stafford's top pub for a pre-match pint or three (for me only, as Tom is not drinking for the noble cause of Stoptober), we headed off to the ground. Upon arrival we were hit with the mayhem of parking! It was partially a mayhem because of the terrible parking of other fans which blocked most routes, exits and entrances, but also partly due to Tom's stalling whilst trying to navigate towards a space. In the end we parked somewhere which may not have been a proper space, but after some of the other parking we had witnessed, we didn't care.

Velma on tour
We had arrived in good time to have a good look around the ground. Before buying a ticket we headed in to the clubhouse, which was one of the best I've come across. From the well-presented foyer, to the spacious rooms and large hall area, there was a lot of evidence to suggest that the Rangers should be a Conference level side. In particular the VIP area, which we accidentally walked into and stayed in for a few minutes before being asked to leave, was a stunning little room which had a nice window view of the pitch- which also looked to be in a very good condition. I wasn't sure what to expect from the pitch as I knew that it hosted local football tournament finals, and even my workmate Wes Carter claims to have scored a screamer on this very pitch- alas, it looked in good fettle. The bar area kept up with the high-standard and was equally fitting of a club in a much higher league, a league in which Stafford Rangers would hope to get back to. Having played in the Conference Premier less than 10 years ago, I could already sense the mixed feeling of frustration and pride amongst the fans. The frustration would be due to the fact they had been to the top of the non-league and come back down, with the pride coming from the reminders of the former success and also the hope and expectations of getting back there.

In 1979 Rangers got their big day out at Wembley- and won!
As I browsed these pictures from back in the day, one fan approached and told us that there was 32,000 there that day. I jokingly asked what today's attendance was likely to be like, he simply looked at me and said "it'll be closer to 32." and with that we headed off to get our tickets. The pleasant lady who was rushed off of her feet on the turnstile hastily sold us our tickets and then momentarily later appeared in the second hole in the wall to sell us our programmes. As we still had a good ten minutes or so until kick-off we had a wander around the ground, taking in the high's and low's which all non-league grounds have. One high point for me was the fundraising board located inside the ground, which the club was running to save money for a new shed.

£10,000 for a shed? It better be a good 'en
And moving around we came across the low's, too. A bird's nest in the toilets, some rusty barbed wire around the gates and a few mouldy SRFC flags, which had probably been there since my workmate Mark Elkin was ball-boy for the Rangers, were just as much a part of the ground as the nicely-kept terraces. One already constructed shed housed the Merch Shop, which Tom was eager to visit and buy a scarf. Still with enough time to spare before the match started, we went to go and see how the away fans were doing, whilst watching them hang their own, non-mouldy, banners.
How many Rugby Town fans does it take to put up a banner?
We walked back around to find a standing space for this top-against-bottom match. Stafford Rangers, also known as Boro, are currently sitting pretty in 1st place in the league, meanwhile Rugby Town were only one place above the bottom. Rangers haven't had the best of times in their last two games though, drawing 0-0 with Newcastle Town midweek and losing 0-2 against Shaw Lane Aquaforce in the 1st vs 2nd crunch match last weekend. The strikers weren't on form and unfortunately they aren't in a position to use the International Break as an excuse. Despite this, I was expecting Boro to get back to winning ways and I had predicted that they would win comprehensively with a solid 4-0. Partizan Bristle's prediction was 5-2. So as the teams came out, we were pitch side and ready to see what the game would bring.

Hopefully the match wouldn't be as dull as the sky above
As expected, Rangers began on the front foot, hoofing the ball up top as quickly as possible to try and get an early goal. Rugby didn't seem too uncomfortable though and they dealt well with the oppositions threats, whilst also looking to catch the Rangers on the counter. For the opening 10 minutes fans were still flocking into the ground, making this game look to be the highest attendance I'd seen at this level. One eye-catching feature of the match was Lisa Rashid, today's referee. She was impressive in the way she took control of the game from the offset and even offered a little something for the fans to have a look at, by the sounds of some of the comments we were hearing from around us. Her linesman on the other hand, proved to be the most incompetent person ever to wave the flag and at one point even had to be reminded by a fan about where to stand during a goal-kick. In the final fifteen minutes of the first-half the clouds parted and the sun was shining, which seemed to spur on the away side. The Valley rallied themselves and actually seemed to be on the verge of the opener when a couple of shots were placed over the bar. One of the balls from the formerly mentioned shots ended up sitting nicely upon the roof and just before the half-time whistle a formally dressed gent appeared on said roof to grab the ball, saving one of the young ball boys from risking death by fall. Rashid blew the whistle and it was all-square at the break, with a good game on display but no goals to shout about. A lot of the fans plodded straight off to the clubhouse to warm up, but we decided to go and give the burger van the once over instead.

A good, albeit aged, crowd in today
Once we had made our way to the front of the queue I was met by yet another friendly employee of Marston Road. After serving up a large, onion-filled hot-dog I asked her where I could grab a pint from, to which she replied with, "I don't know, but if you find anywhere then feel free to share." Tom awaited his coffee and we took a minute or two to analyse what we'd seen so far. After expecting goals from the home-side, we were in agreement that Rugby's tenacity was mixing well with Boro's striking flaws and this had so far produced an evenly fought match. The other main point was the continuous blunders from the lino, who truly was having a poor game. Tom could only assume that he was either officiating in his first match today, or that he was one of the fans who had been asked to cover. As half-time came to an end we decided to be sneaky and take a seat in the main terrace near the dugout, even though we hadn't surrendered an extra £1 for the privilege.
I wish those two guys in front of us would sit down
The seats we picked, right at the front, were so close to the subs bench that every time the managers shouted over for players to warm-up, I looked back to see if they were talking to me. As though we didn't feel apart of the Stafford Rangers family already, we were then asked by one of the subs what score Villa was as we checked the live updates on our phones. Unluckily for the lad, Villa were 1-0 down. On the plus side though, Rangers had started very well and it wasn't too long before the bench were on their feet. One player who had pulled the strings from midfield in the first-half was Nathan Rooney and it was his finish that broke the deadlock after 50 minutes. Rangers 1-0 Rugby. It was a lovely feeling to share this goal with the manager and subs from such a short-distance, especially after how even the first-half had been. A man, who seemed to be doing a write-up of the game, turned to Tom and asked him who had scored. In an attempt to not seem like an out-of-place Bristolian, he answered with "Erm, Nathan Someone I think?".

He doesn't go here, would you believe?
Following a couple of minutes, we were on our feet again. The man upfront, who had been threatening rarely, managed to add to the Valley's woes with a proper strikers finish. Rangers 2-0 Rugby. This second-half start from the Rangers had took us by surprise and it seemed like we were looking more likely to get the goals we hoped for and predicted would eventually come. Rugby continued to cave in and just after the hour mark it was the midfield maestro, Nathan Somebody, who rattled in yet another goal. Rangers 3-0 Rugby. We leaped up to shout out "Rooney, Roooooooney!!!" as a sign of appreciation for a nice finish. The subs started to roll on from the Rangers side and we came close to receiving a high-five from one player who had come off. The referee continued to impress, showing that she wouldn't take any messing around as she doled out a yellow card to one player for a bad tackle. Of course, this was met by one token comment from a fan behind us who called her a "silly cow". Despite some of the decisions being unpopular, I would probably go as far as to say that had it not been for her bumbling linesman that it was probably one of the better officiating displays I had seen. Tom referred to her as being better than most League Two ref's he'd had the chance of viewing during Bristol Rover's return to the League. The booked player came off and was replaced by what I would describe as a classic non-league sub player. Before coming on he did about 20% of a warm-up, then sat on the bench and listened to where he would be playing and what would be expected of him, and then finally mocking the manager's decision to play him as a holding-midfielder once he had walked away. Either way, he went out to the field and did his job in helping the lads consolidate their victory. Meanwhile, back on the bench I overheard some small-talk from a few of the substitutes who were discussing today's referee. I didn't catch the whole conversation, but I did hear one player ask another if they would ask her to wear her uniform and have her cards with her. The mind boggles.

Rugby's keeper hadn't played out of this world, despite wearing his silver moon suit
As the game came towards it's end, there was one final word to be had from Boro and it was through the speedy substitute striker that the game was sealed. he ran in from the right hand-side and popped one into the top of the net. Rangers 4-0 Rugby. Without much more fuss it was game over and Stafford had brought a fine second-half performance to it's end with a very positive result. With over 500 fans enjoying this scoreline, me and Tom headed away knowing that we had seen a very good side, with a very good ground. It must surely be a positive time for Stafford, searching for a way out of the Evo-Stik First Division South, as they showed how a bit of quality can make all of the difference when you are struggling against a Rugby side who showed moments of quality, grit and defensive capabilities. We quickly rushed back to the car aiming to get ready for the Tetris-style escape out of the car-park, whilst also knowing that we had a second game to look forward to on the following day, as we would drive out to Kidderminster to watch Worcester City and Nuneaton Borough lock horns. Part-one of the Pint Of Football/Partizan Bristle bonanza had been a massive success.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

13/10/15 Review: Leek Town vs Daventry Town

Leek Town 5-1 Daventry Town (Evo-Stik First Division South)
Harrison Park

Just a couple of days after my Non League Day special Blog it's back to the mid-week cold nights out and about in the local venues, with Leek Town vs Daventry Town being the game of choice for tonight. Having drove past this ground so many times on my way to watch the mighty Macclesfield Town, I was finally stopping off at the ground which was located just a mere 8.9 miles away from my house. An additional bonus to the geographical location of the ground was indeed the parking, or so I thought, being right outside the ground upon my arrival. I would later find out why nobody else parked there.
It seemed like a great parking space at the time
I walked around to the entrance to the ground and asked two gentlemen, who reminded me of Max and Paddy, where I could get my ticket. The taller of the two verbally directed me to a dimly lit turnstile, whilst the other prepared to tell the next guy the same info. I used my early arrival time to have a walk around the ground and even check out the clubhouse beforehand- another perk of being at an extremely local ground. The seating area in the main stand was vast and actually quite grand for a team of this division, with plenty of seating areas. But as I wanted to be as close to pitch-side as possible I sought out a spot with most of the other fans. I then took a minute or two to scout through the match programme, looking to see how the players careers had shaped so far. As expected, a lot of the players were cast-offs from Stoke City and Vale, who had also played across the Midlands for the usual suspects; Newcastle Town, Stafford Rangers, Kidsgrove Athletic and even the well-known Stone Dominoes. However, in one circumstance or another they had ended up playing for The Blues, who were currently sitting in and around the mid-table positions at this early stage. With 5 wins and 4 defeats so far, as well as a draw, Leek Town were as close to the top as they were to the bottom and they knew that if they were to get good results in their games in hand that a play-off place would be in their grasp, albeit at this early time of the season.

I decided to sit with the peasants rather than take the stairs up to the Gods
Daventry Town were the away side today and they have found themselves on the same amount of points as The Blues, despite having played two more games. So with this in mind, I predicted a draw to be on the cards as both teams looked to head towards the play-offs- and away from relegation. Before the teams came out I had a glance around at the crowd who were accompanying me on this cold Staffordshire eve and one highlight for me was seeing a fan trotting around with his CD Walkman. Coupled with the fact that I couldn't access the internet on my phone, I felt as though I had been pegged back a few years.

Pie, Peas and a Walkman- Retro!
Meanwhile, the lads were ready and began to march out for the match. A few minutes late, the teams quickly exchanged handshakes and got the ball rolling, which stirred the fans to head out of the clubhouse and to the side of the pitch. The Blues started fairly strong and got the ball straight into the Daventry box, but a poor pass sent it out for a goal kick. This standard of passing was on and off throughout, which was a shame because both teams looked like they could get some good moves going with just a tad more quality. After ten minutes of 50/50 chances, I had a wander up to the seated area and found myself admiring a nice view from the higher floor. I imagined that if ever Leek Town managed to get far enough to draw a Premier League club in the FA Cup then their ground would not disappoint any big clubs' fans with the views on display. Once I had got comfy I was then treated to the opening goal of the night- a low finish from the number 11, Niall Maguire. Leek 1-0 Daventry. The side who had finished 2nd in the league last season were ahead early on and hoping this would spur them on to an important victory.

The Blues got their noses ahead around the quarter of an hour mark
Shortly after that goal was the point in which I discovered why nobody else had parked just outside the ground. 3 times within the next 10 minutes the ball was booted up into the air and out of the ground, each time heading towards the general direction of my car. I can now have a laugh about my overreaction every time this happened, but at the time I wanted to run out and check my windows weren't smashed in. Once the hoof and boot style of play settled down, we were treated to a bit more classy play from both sides who made solid moves towards a goal. The concern for the away side was that they didn't really seem to have much up top, whereas the Leek Town forwards looked ready to finish at any given time. And with that, the ball was popped into the feet of Lee Cropper, who bounced the ball over the keeper, rounded and defender and then prodded the ball into the goal, beating the two defenders on the line in the process- a nice finish. Leek 2-0 Daventry. The number 10 had squandered a chance earlier on after he took the ball past the keeper before hesitating and losing balance, so this goal was a relief for all involved. By this time, I had edged around to the standing area near the dugout, just in time to see the manager's reaction to his side doubling their lead. One fan shouted his attention to ask him how many goals they could expect to see this evening, to which he popped his hand in the air with all fingers and thumb aloft, which followed with a big grin. He then returned his focus back to the pitch and warned his 3-man defence to make it to half-time at 2-0. The lads managed that for him, although it could have been different had the Daventry striker's challenge on a fancy-footed centre-back been successful. The manager turned to his assistant and said, "He fucking scares me sometimes!". A few fans who were in my company nodded in humorous agreement.

It was all going to plan for The Blues
Upon half-time I entered the clubhouse for a pint and it was during this break in the match when I had a true "Pint Of Football Moment" to remember. I had spotted earlier in the evening that today's match sponsor was Eric Britow, former Darts World Number One and 'I'm A Celebrity' contestant. However, I did not expect that the first person I would see in the bar would be the Leek-born legend, sipping on a Blue WKD. I grabbed my pint and had a look through the programme in the nicely presented clubhouse and also took note of one woman who openly confessed that the bottle of whiskey she had just won in the club's raffle would be "open to offers".
Decent clubhouse, decent fans
As the second-half kicked off the clubhouse partially emptied, with a few fans deciding to hang on to finish their drinks. I was lucky that where I was sat inside the bar I could see the Daventry goal. The reason that this was lucky was because within minutes of the restart a third goal was added, alerting most of the remaining fans to retreat back to pitch-side. Leek 3-0 Daventry. After viewing a goal-fest at Newcastle Town recently, I was glad to see that another Staffordshire side were doing the business on the pitch and putting their opponents to bed. Shortly after this there was yet another goal and with surely no more than 50 minutes on the clock it was game over. A lovely finish from one of the lethal front-men meant that the points were in the bag now for the home team. Leek 4-0 Daventry. This forth goal was good news enough for Mr. Bristow, who came back into the clubhouse to finish his drink and prepare to leave. If his sponsoring of a game wasn't already good news for The Blues, then this scoreline would read for an almost perfect night. After his departure, I finished off my drink and headed out for the last half an hour or so. I took my place in the standing area I had started the first-half by and I was again just in time to see another goal. The goalkeeper was caught out again and the ball ended up in his net yet again. Leek 5-0 Daventry.
Even Leek Town's Mascot had to sit down from the shock
This was as good as it got for Leek, who would surely be propelled into the higher region of the table with this goal-difference boosting win. A couple of subs were made for both sides and from then on The Blues certainly looked to take their foot off the peddle. In fairness to Daventry they did play well in the last 20 minutes and I could see why they were so close to Leek in the table before kick-off. The main problem in the first-half was the lack of fire power and in the second-half it was the keeper and defence, who were LEEKING goals (Blame for this poor pun goes to Partizan Bristle's Tom Meadowcroft). As the game drew to a close I sensed the frustration of the home crowd and had I just walked into the ground at this point I would never have guessed they were 5-0 to the good. With only a minute or so of regular time to go, Daventry gave the handful of away fans something to cheer about as they popped in a consolation goal. Leek 5-1 Daventry. There wasn't much action to follow this and the ref called time.

With this being my second game in four days, I felt very happy knowing that I had so far this week spent time watching the Silkmen win and also having finally visited Harrison Park, which of course had the extra benifit of a good game on display. When I visit a ground I often leave with a judgement of whether I would like to visit it again- and the answer for Leek Town was yes. A nice ground, a good game of football and hopefully no smashed car windows! I'll be at Marston Road on Saturday for Part One of a Pint of Football/Partizan Bristle crossover as we see the top side of the Evo-Stik First Division South, Stafford Rangers, take on a side in the relegation zone, Rugby Town.

Meeting Eric Bristow MBE, a nice moment for Pint of Football Reviews (and him too, I'm sure!)

Sunday, 11 October 2015

10/10/15 Review: Macclesfield Town vs Kidderminster Harriers

Macclesfield Town 2-1 Kidderminster Harriers (National League)
Moss Rose

Today marked a very special day in the football calendar- NON LEAGUE DAY! Teaming up with Prostate Cancer UK, today is all about the good causes- trying to raise money for charity and of course, raising the attendances of local grounds to provide them with much needed ticket revenue across the country. I am always very proud to be a supporter of non-league clubs, because these are the routes of English football and without these clubs we would not have such discoveries as Charlie Austin, Jermaine Beckford and current England defender Chris Smalling (just to name a few!). So in honour of Non League Day I am going to start this entry with a fact-file of my 2015/16 non-league adventure so far.

Best ground visited
Moss Rose (Macclesfield Town)
Maybe I'm being biased, but I cannot help but have a great time every time I'm there.

Worst ground visited
Wood Park Stadium (Alsager Town)
It was a close run thing between them and The Lyme Valley Stadium.

Best match
Seeing the Conference's top team being destroyed by the Silkmen was top notch.

Worst match
No goals and very few chances. The hilarious chants were the highlights.

Most friendly ground visited
The Novus Stadium (Kidsgrove Athletic)
Certainly worth visiting, a nice ground with very friendly fans.

Loudest fans
Glossop North End
From crazy chants to scrapping with the opposition fans, a crazy bunch they were.

Highest scoring match
It was the closest thing to "pub team" football I've seen this season.

Grounds I want to visit this season
Marston Road (Stafford Rangers)
I'll be there on Saturday to watch the high-flying Rangers.
Footes Lane (Guernsey)
I've wanted to visit Guernsey for a while now, what better excuse?
Park Lane (Canvey Island)
As a teenager, I was always intrigued by a team from an island.

Now, back to today's big game
It was nice to be at Moss Rose again for a sixth time this season. So far I have witnessed 3 wins, a draw and a defeat for the Silkmen, with the only non-wins coming against League One opponents Rochdale and Sheffield United. It is fair to say that I have enjoyed good showings from Macc so far and I was hopeful that they could continue a good run under my attendance with a win against the Conference's basement club, Kidderminster Harriers. Kiddie are yet to win a match this season in the league and they were already five points from safety before the game. Due to today's match being live from BT Sport, there was of course an extra buzz around the ground and when I arrived in time for the early kick-off it was good to see all of the vans and cameras around the ground, giving the Silkmen some much needed extra money for TV appearances. Added to this, Macc had offered free entry to all children and students to help boost support for Non League Day, which meant that I found myself fighting my way past the local footy stars of tomorrow to grab my ticket and programme. The man at the kiosk seemed glad to be confronted with a straight-forward "one adult, near half-way" request, rather than the screaming of dozens of kids. Once I entered the ground, I headed straight for my seat as I couldn't partake in a pre-match pint due to having to go to work straight after the match. On my way to my seat I did manage to see our Assistant Manager, Efe Sodje, seeming to be gathering a bit of advice from a fan.

Efe Sodje kept a clean sheet with Nigeria in the 2002 World Cup match against England 
Since a poor defeat against Barrow, the Silkmen have been unbeaten in the last 3 matches- including two impressive 3-0 away wins and a 0-0 draw with Boreham Wood. Shwan Jalal and his improving defence had 3 straight clean sheets and I was highly confident of adding to this- predicting a 2-0 win for the Silkmen live on the big screen. The last time I was at Moss Rose for a match being broadcast live, me and Partizan Bristle's Tom witnessed a highly dull 0-0 draw as Bristol Rovers failed to impress. For anybody who may have watched this game as a neutral, I was hoping that both sides could provide a bit more of an advert for non-league football than that match did. The game kicked off and the away fans started to roar, with flags spread across the empty areas and plenty of chants for the cameras, it was clear that Kiddie were up for it and they would be hoping that their team would reciprocate this passion. However, the opening ten minutes offered evidence which confirmed why Kiddie were propping up the rest of the league. At the back they looked solid and defended every cross and shot with their lives, but just like when watching San Marino, you knew a goal would eventually come as they looked incapable of getting the forces together to form a reasonable attack. Jordan Murphy, on-loan from Walsall, was making his Kidderminster debut and in truth looked to be the best hope the away side would have. He ran at the Macclesfield back four and looked to make things happen, despite the lack of support. Macc managed to continue in pressing, with their possession rate being very high and the chances being created- and once the Silkmen got to the half-hour mark they won a crucial corner. The kick came in and was met by Frenchman Tony Diagne, who's effort was blocked. Fortunately for Tony D, nobody else reacted to the ball as it deflected back into his path, allowing him to smash home through the crowd of players on the line and open the scoring. Macc 1-0 Kiddie. The lack of attention to detail from the corner was a fine example of why The Reds are struggling this season, with nobody pouncing on the second ball.

This camera hasn't seen such poor defending since it's last trip to Stamford Bridge
The opener certainly seemed to spur the Silkmen on, who didn't rest on their goal and instead continued to press for a second before the break. With just under 10 minutes until half-time Macc won yet another corner and it was up to the home-side to see if Kiddie had learnt from their mistakes. They hadn't! The ball came in again and the simplest of finishes was slotted in by in-form Danny Rowe, who rushed over to the fans to show his joy- he truly is enjoying his football at the moment. Macc 2-0 Kiddie. It is worth remembering that last season a moment from a match between these two sides went global- as Waide Fairhurst smashed in a volley from the half-way line! There was nothing ground-breaking about these goals so far, with the headlines more likely to be focussed on another defensive suicide committed by the Harriers. With no Paul Lewis, Neill Byrne or top-scorer Kristian Dennis in the starting XI, it seemed to be good news all round for the Silkmen and Danny Whitehead almost added a third before half-time. When playing a match live to thousands of people on BT Sport, you can almost guarantee that there will be one terribly embarrassing moment to keep the neutrals laughing. Today's example came just before the break, as the linesman went down injured following an accidental hit from a feud near the corner flag. Following some humorous conversation amongst fans in the delay, the lino was subbed and 4 minutes of stoppage time was announced. At half-time the Silkmen were in full control.

Somewhere in the distance, near the orange wig folk, is the injured lino
The worst thing about not being able to have a half-time pint was the fact that half a pint of flat Pepsi from a bottle actually cost more than half a lager would have, devastating! Still, with the break came a chance for me to have a skeg at the programme for the "Pint of Football Moment" of Non League Day. The interesting point I picked today from the "10 things you didn't know about..." was a proud moment which The Reds achieved when I was just a toddler. "The Harriers made history in 1994 when they went on an FA Cup run that went as far as the Fifth Round, beating local rivals Birmingham City and Preston North End. This is the furthest a semi-professional team has got in the FA Cup." What a cracking effort! Kiddie have also recorded a 25-0 win against Hereford back in 1889, also. Not bad.

Duh duh duh duh, half a Pepsi
I then took the rare privilege of re-watching our first-half goals in the bar, courtesy of BT, before heading back to pitch-side. At this point I noticed that the half-time interviews were taking place from the far-side of the pitch, so I thought I would be so inconspicuous as to walk to the area behind and wave at the camera. I am not sure if I made it on to live TV, or in fact if I would have been visible from the opposite side.

Last time Macc were on BT, I made a cameo appearance as "not too impressed fan"
As we were the early kick-off there were no around the grounds news, nor were there any stupid updates about City and United from the part-time non-league fans. So with that, we were on with the second-half and I was joined by someone who wasn't sat next to me in the first-half. I think that a lot of the people were certainly here to partake in the Non League Day, which was great for the club. The only downside to this was some of the comments spewing out of the fans of the 'big clubs'. From the comments of "I wonder why this is on BT?" to the classic, "Not a bad little ground, this." there was certainly some first-time Moss Rose attendees. My favourite exchange, however, was from a father and son combo. The father had asked if Macclesfield had any international players in their team, the son then replied with "I think the goalie is from Iraq.", to which the father looked across, looked at his son and then sat in silence. On the pitch there wasn't much to shout about, with Kiddie looking more and more likely to score as the Silkmen took their foot off the peddle. Before long The Reds did pull one back and it was through the debutant, Jordan Murphy, who fired the ball in past Jalal. Macc 2-1 Kiddie. Dave Hockaday, who was the short-term manager of Leeds United just last season, looked to have got his team back on track and they would continue to push to try and equalise. Between edgy moments for the Silkmen came chances for them to get a third.

The Reds (playing in Yellow) were looking good for a comeback
Luckily for Macc the match ended after a nervy 5 minutes of stoppage time, meaning that the home side had held on for another vital win. From that second-half performance you would like to think that the 100 travelling fans must have some hope for the future. Whereas the 1,500 or so home crowd were just glad to get the win. Following this, I headed up to the clubhouse for the post-match Man of the Match Award ceremony for star man Danny Whitehead. The "interview" Danny gave was not quite that of the standard of The Jonathan Ross Show, as the chap asking the open-ended questions was often met with a one-word answer. This awkward exchange was halted by the presentation of the bottle of champagne and a few fans grabbing a selfie with the out of breath player. He then retreated to the dressing rooms and with that I headed off too, due to the fact that I had to be at work to meet David Starkey. On my way out I heard the introduction of the VIP Football Ticket Auction, which safe to say wasn't for me- having received an opening bid of £210.

Non League 
This is likely to be my last trip to Moss Rose for a while, as I look to pursue other non-league grounds in the next week or so. Next up on Tuesday for me will be Leek Town, which will be followed by a special edition double-header next weekend as Pint of Football meets Partizan Bristle for two lower league games surely of the highest calibre. Watch this space for 3 more entries in the next 8 days: Leek Town vs Daventry, Stafford Rangers vs Rugby Town and Worcester City vs Nuneaton Borough.