Monday, 29 May 2017

28/05/17 Review: Panjab vs England C

Panjab 1-2 England C (International Friendly)
Damson Park

International football in Solihull- yup, you are reading correctly. Yesterday afternoon I made the trip to South Birmingham in order to take in my final game of the season. Aside from this being a non-competitive match, it was a pretty huge deal for the Panjabi people who would see their side become the first South Asian team to face an English national team. With this being a free match at Damson Park, it was always likely to be a busy afternoon and this would make for a great 90 minutes for all involved.
Especially with the sun shining
Thinking that an hour would be long enough to get over to Solihull from Stoke, I left just before 2pm and found myself making good time on the M6. Arriving with ten minutes to spare, I was met by a chap from the security team who informed many of us that the ground's Car Park was full. For anyone who knows the ground, they will be aware that Damson Park sits on a fairly busy road and I was therefore shocked to see many a plucky fan dumping their car on the outside lane of the dual-carriageway. With now just moments until kick-off, I took my chances and followed the lead of some of the other fans, parking up and running in to grab a seat for the match.

Ain't nobody got time for double yellows
With a surprising amount of Stewards and Security on-duty, I quickly found a chap giving away programmes and then had a wander around to find a prime viewing location. My first impression of Damson Park was that whereas it did not seem as luxurious as some as the National League grounds I've visited, it certainly has a good non-league charm about it and with a pretty fulsome crowd in from all areas of the country I was pretty impressed overall. The bold blue and yellow painted wooden features around the ground and the double-decker main stand were particular highlights for me, but I wasn't just hear to see the ground and I quickly turned my attention to the action on the pitch. England C, formed in 1979 as the "England Non-League Team" had started fairly strongly against their Panjabi opposition and with the likes of Lincoln City's Callum Howe and Chester's James Alabi, who I'd seen play and score for Stoke City U21's in a friendly versus Macclesfield Town a few years ago, the Non-League Lions were considered as favourites for the match despite Paul Fairclough naming a pretty inexperienced side. For the Panjab side, Reuben Hazell's starting eleven also contained Non-League names and most of these seem to be based in and around the Midlands out of clubs varying from Stourbridge to Kidderminster.

After today, England C will fly out for a game in Jersey
Knowing only that both sides were made-up of players outside of "the 92", I didn't have much background info on the strength of the Panjab XI but I did read that they had reached the ConIFA World Cup Final in 2016, losing on penalties to hosts Abkhazia. Thanks to this, I made a pre-match prediction of a 1-1 draw as I fancied Panjab to give it a good go and prove their ambition against England C. With 19 minutes gone, Gurjit Singh made the most of a good bit of build-up and popped the first shot on target in to the thankful hands of Gateshead's James Montgomery. At the other end Ash Malhotra took a chance in the Panjab goal by trying and failing to take on Darren McQueen, but thankfully his blushes were spared as an eventual shot from Gus Mafuta went just past the post. A couple more half-chances came and went for England before the opener came on the 33rd minute. McQueen, of Ebbsfleet United, was played in and he chipped the ball over the floored Malhotra before watching as his effort bobbled towards the line. After a couple of shape-shifting bounces on the rugged six-yard box the ball eventually crossed the line and a generous cheer was afforded by a good portion of the fans. Panjab 0-1 England C. With no more goals to come in the first-half, I headed towards the clubhouse in preparation of a half-time bevvy. As I headed around the ground, I saw all manor of fan watching the game and it was a great sight- within moments I walked past a Barcelona shirted supporter and a man in a Blyth Spartans top. They literally had it all, from proud Panjabi's to a couple of Halifax Town supporters- and even the Sporting Khalsa Manager.
It must be time to check out the bar, then
The whole of my half-time ordeal was spent awaiting a Coors Light from the bar. After being overlooked a couple of times in the queue, I eventually placed my order only for the barrel to come to its unfortunate end. The things one must do for a beer, ay? I swiftly supped up whilst chatting to an Asian Everton fan about the decline of York City, before heading back out to see the Second Half- and it is a good job that I went out when I did!

I just about made it back out for the second goal of the day
Gurjit Singh was stood over the ball for a Panjab free-kick just after the 50 minute mark and after England's Montgomery flapped at an attempt to save it, he instead knocked the ball into the box and it was Coventry Sphinx's Rajpal Virk who reacted quickest to notch home a historic equaliser for his team- game on! Panjab 1-1 England C. With the game now all-square I was very interested to see if England would pick up the pace and grab a winner or whether Panjab would build on their equaliser and steal what would have been an amazing win. Unfortunately for the South Asians it would be the former and with just over an hour on the clock Darren McQueen slid into a cross from the left and doubled his tally for the day, whilst also providing what would prove to be the winner.
Panjab 1-2 England C.

Anyone for a celebratory Curry?
Now that England had restored their lead, they started to take the confidence of the recent goal to build a pretty dominant display for the final part of the match. Alabi and McQueen were a good team up-front, providing a good combo of pace and power as they looked to kill the game off. As we went into the final moments, Panjab gave it one last throw of the dice and started to attack a bit more, but looked suspect to concede on the counter as a few England subs threatened. Alas, there were to be no more goals and for the second time in a week I'd seen a 2-1 victory in what was a decent game. I'd been treated to the competitive thrill of Limerick's late victory in Dublin on Tuesday night and this game was more friendly in both name and nature, but that's not to say that I didn't have a great time and I left feeling a lot of admiration for Harpreet Singh and what he has achieved within the Panjabi community by founding the Panjab FA from within the heart of many Indian and Pakistani people alike. Good luck to them with future progress and also best wishes to the England C squad as they continue to prepare to face Slovakia in the prestigious International Challenge Trophy Final over the summer.

Goodbye Solihull!
Thanks again to everyone who has had a read at one or many of my entries this season. My 47th and final write-up was a joy to write as always and all that's left to look out for from me now until July is my end of the season review, which I'll hopefully get on with in the near future. See you all next season!

Thursday, 25 May 2017

23/05/17 Review: Bohemian vs Limerick

Bohemian 1-2 Limerick (Irish Premier League)
Dalymount Park

With Summer just around the corner and most of the 2016/17 action finished with in England, Wales and Scotland, I was ending my season with four late May games in London, Dublin and Solihull. On Sunday I visited the iconic Wembley Stadium for Non-League Finals Day, of which this year I will not be writing an entry for due to the heartbreak and mass amount of pints suffered following my beloved Macclesfield Town's 2-3 defeat to York City in the Trophy Final. I contemplated doing a mini write-up on the Vase match that came beforehand as South Shields eventually walked over Cleethorpes Town in a 4-0 victory, but I decided to just enjoy the game with some of my best mates instead of having to worry about getting a backlog of Blog entries to do. And so with that I was left to focus on my city break to Dublin with my girlfriend, which would include a Tuesday night excursion to Dublin's oldest football ground- Dalymount Park.

Just look at it!
Awaking to a full-on Irish heatwave, the day was spent outside of the hustle and bustle of the city as we headed out to the glorious valley of Glendalough to walk many a mile across the most beautiful part of the world I have had the pleasure of exploring to date.

Glendalough and Dalymount in one day, that'll do
By the time we'd made it back to Dublin to grab a pizza and a couple of beers, it was time to jump on another bus as we headed north of the Liffey towards Phibsborough in search of some less-touristy activity. We jumped off the 46a with just moments to spare, before following the folk dressed in red down the thinning alleyway which would soon lead us to the doors of the "Home of Irish Football" and the 7:45pm kick-off of Bohemian's League game with Limerick. Before the start of this match, there was a one point difference between the two sides with the hosts sitting in 7th after an impressive away win at high-flying Bray Wanderers, meanwhile Limerick were in 6th and would be looking to bounce-back from a 3-0 drubbing against Champions Dundalk, who I had seen at the end of last season in a highly-memorable title-winning tie. Both teams would be confident and hoping for a win tonight at Dalymount, and therefore I had predicted a draw for this tie.

A fair few in attendance
Having opened its doors in 1901, this historic landmark is into the final of its 116 year life as an active football ground which has featured some amazing games over the past century at club and international level alike. Back in 1998 Dalymount hosted the last of its twenty Cup Finals and on an international scale there have been many fond memories too. In 1983 the ground was still being used for competitive games, as the likes of the Netherlands and Malta visited for their 1984 EURO Qualifiers. In 1972 France lost 2-1 here in a World Cup Qualifier and in 1990 the national side turned out a 1-0 victory in a friendly versus Morocco in what was the final outing for the boys in green at Bohemian's current home. Today's tie would be a far less famous game in the grand scheme of things, but that doesn't mean to say that I wasn't excited to be back in Ireland for the second time within seven months. Although the standard of football is higher in the Republic, the feeling I got from being in and around the ground was more like that gained when I visited Cliftonville's Solitude. As well as the ground being the oldest in its respective Capital, it being located in the north of the city and also home to a team playing in red, the grounds had a similar look from outside and of course both now have condemned areas inside which are merely there for Groundhoppers like me to take pictures of.

Would've loved to see this full in the 80's
We took our seats in the Jodi Stand, which contained all of today's fans from both sides, and after a well-observed minute of silence for the victims of the Manchester travesty on Monday night we were under way. The first memorable moment for me was to hear the Limerick travelling fans out in full-force as they began proceedings with the chants of vigorous support towards the lads that they had travelled for over 200 kilometres to see. On the pitch, the first real chance did not come until Brazilian veteran Rodrigo Tosi had a dig deflected wide. The 34-year old journeyman, who has formally played in his native country for Joinville, as well as in Singapore, Greece, Switzerland, Iran and Indonesia over the years, is currently enjoying success in his first season in the South of Ireland and he certainly looked to be a danger to the Bohs defenders as he dominated with his physical-style both on the floor and in the air. After threatening the home keeper a couple more times with a header and a long-range strike, he finally got the opening goal on the quarter-hour mark. A free-kick was placed into the area and the target man leaped above everybody else to nod the ball over the keeper and into the goal. Bohemian 0-1 Limerick. Having looked far superior so far, Limerick's fans were thrilled to take the lead and a couple of them even ran on to the pitch to celebrate with the lads. The slow-reacting elderly stewards eventually took to the pitch and forcefully evacuated the over-excited fans before the game restarted.

Up to the hosts to give it a go now
After conceding the opener, Bohemian finally started to play a bit of football themselves and credit must go to them for reacting so well to letting the first goal in. Young-winger George Poynton looked great out on the right for the hosts and he was only denied a couple of chances to run at the Super Blues defence by his team-mate's often wayward passes out to him. Alas, he kept on going and would soon enough get his reward. In what was the first meaningful attack for the home-side in the "tirty-first" minute, a run down the left-wing from Keith Ward eventually came across to Georgie who finished with a tidy strike. Bohemian 1-1 Limerick. From here on in until half-time the Bohs looked much the better side and their play had also silenced the Limerick travellers. Unbelievably I looked at my watch to see that it was almost half-time, and so I headed off to the toilet in anticipation of standing in the inevitable queues that would bound to be upon us for the bar.
Which way to the Bar?
After our trip to party-hard Dundalk, we were thankful to actually be able to get into one of the two bars inside the ground and we took advantage of a swift pint before going back out for the second-half. Needless to say that the bar was crammed and vibrant, with many pictures and plaques around showing off the club's history- including the very proud 2008 League and Cup double, as well as other images of European nights and of course a row of items received from visiting clubs from the UK and the rest of Europe. Back outside the game was underway again and we followed the hoards back out to pitch-side to see if the hosts could nick it after an encouraging end to the first 45. Before sitting down, I popped over to grab a couple of snaps of the aged terracing behind the goal and it was there that I got chatting to one of the aforementioned stewards. He was telling me how he used to stand in that terrace when it was packed out on European nights and how the ground would bounce as the chants rang out in unison for the rival matches against Shamrock Rovers and Shelbourne- what a time to be alive!

Those days are long gone, unfortunately
There wasn't too much in the way of chances in the opening exchanges of the second-half, with Lorcan Fitzgerald booting a volley over the bar being about the only highlight amongst a 50/50 game. Keith Ward, who'd assisted the opener, carried on showing sparks of greatness and on 70 minutes I thought he'd put it on a plate for the third goal of the night. He turned former Accrington Stanley midfielder Bastien Hery inside-out before shimmying past another player and hitting a low cross into the mix. As both Dinny Corcoron and Paddy Kavanagh dived in to try and latch on to the ball, a brave Freddy Hall in the Limerick goal dived out and punched the ball out of reach to deny a goal. The ex-Toronto and Telford shot-stopper, who is also a Bermuda international, did very well there and in my opinion made a crucial contribution at a pivotal time in the game and as if that wasn't enough, he then got up on his feet to attend to one of his injured defenders before carrying him partially towards the tunnel before St John Ambulance staff took over. With just ten minutes to go now, I have not yet mentioned the man who would prove to be the hero for Limerick- Chiedozie Ogbene. A couple of times in the latter-stages of the match, the never-tiring youngster had been ridiculed by the home crowd after taking a dramatic tumble over some hefty challenges, but the booing from the sidelines only seemed to rile him up to pull out some dangerous moves as his opponents tired. On the 80th minute, Tosi found himself in a position where he was able to pick out the Limerick number 21 and his header seemed to hang in the air for hours before eventually looping in off Dan Byrne for an own goal that would cause fury amongst the home faithful. Bohemian 1-2 Limerick. Although there was to be no more in the way of goals, the match hardly fizzled out. As injury-time was signalled Bohemian threw everything at Limerick and looked for an equaliser, only to then be hit on the counter by that man Ogbene. As he ran away from the fatigued right-back Dylan Hayes, there was only one option for the player- make a horrendous last-ditched crunching tackle on him and take the punishment of a straight red! Deep down, I think that had that been another player he may have dug deep to try and get back, but as it was the villainous winger, he thought he'd take out the home side's frustrations and give him something to jump on the floor for.
The travelling fans could see the light at the end of the tunnel
Despite having ten men, Bohemians had one last chance and it would be after another bad tackle from the away side's defence that should have arguably seen red too. Unfortunately for the free-kick taker, his 25-yard strike didn't test Hall and that would be enough to see Limerick take the three points and open-up a four point lead between them and the Bohs. We departed shortly after the whistle in seek of some Dublin nightlife, but our rush to leave was not due to disappointment. A great game in a historical venue in-front of friendly, passionate fans is all that I could hope for from my second ROI Premier League game. At the bus stop, I got chatting to a Galway United fan who told me to get myself down to the Eamonn Deacy next time I'm over to see how they do it. He then went on to say that I should also check out Shamrock's Tallaght Stadium as well as Turner's Cross, the home of runaway unbeaten side Cork City. It looks like I've got a few more trips to make over to Ireland then!

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

01/05/2017 Review: Wrington Redhill vs Fry Club

Wrington Redhill 1-2 Fry Club (Somerset County League Premier)
Everyone Active Stadium

The final day of my trip to Bristol would mean checking out some May Day football for a second consecutive year alongside Partizan Bristle, who was visiting his first "new" ground of the long weekend on our third outing in as many days. We'd already visited his two favoured teams in Bristol Rovers and Manor Farm, so it was time to be a bit more daring and try out a ground that neither of us had hopped to before- Clevedon Town's Everyone Active Stadium.

Here we go again
What was now a whole year ago, last May Day was the first date of my debut Western League groundhop down in Bristol as we witnessed a glorious Monday afternoon match at The Lawns in which Melksham Town overcame Cribbs in the Les Phillips Cup. 365 days and 43 grounds had passed since then and I was ending this weekend by visiting another Western League ground, albeit to check out my first ever Somerset County League match. Today's game would no doubt be slightly different to the one I'd seen the day before at the Mem, as Rovers lost out in a seven-goal thriller against everyone's favourite side Millwall, but nevertheless I was still looking forward to it and I had predicted that I would again be witnessing plenty of goals. Whilst making the short drive over to see Wrington, who play at Clevedon, which is in the village of Kenn (keeping up?), Tom and I discussed the prospect of going from viewing a league game in-front of 11,000 fans, to this one- which would be nearer the 11 mark! Having not seen the table beforehand, all that I knew was that this was a mid-table battle- and I therefore made my pre-match prediction in favour of the hosts. I went for 4-2, Tom went for 5-3.

The calm before the storm
The ground, formally known as The Hand Stadium, has been taken over by the leisure company Everyone Active in recent times and approximately half a million quid has been spent on building a top notch fitness facility which includes a gym and a 3G pitch (not the one seen in the picture above, obviously). As this out in the sticks area has developed into a state of the art venue for sporting enthusiasts, the actual football ground has sat around ageing like that hundred year old oak in the middle of your local forest. I'm sure that as with any ground in this situation, it will eventually be modified or ripped out to make way for the inevitable upgrade and probable artificial pitch, but for now it certainly seemed in working order and it obviously does the job for Clevedon Town and today's hosts Wrington Redhill. One memory that has to be noted is when Town managed to make it to the FA Cup First Round ten years ago, where they ended up losing to a then Football League Chester City side. Today though, we weren't here to see Clevedon and it was going to be all about Wrington Redhill as they faced up to another home-tie at the ground which was 7 miles away from their natural home.

You can't beat that warm Somerset welcome
Leading up to this match, which was the final league game for Fry Club, the visitors had been in yo-yo form. Prior to Saturday's away draw against Bridgwater Town Reserves, Fry had suffered a 0-3 away defeat, gained a 2-0 home victory, as well as a 3-2 win and loss a piece since the start of April, meaning that a win today would sit them in a decent 10th place to end the season. Meanwhile the hosts were playing their eleventh successive home game and had managed three wins, a couple of draws and five defeats from their last ten matches inclusive of cup. Redhill do also have a final league game to come on Saturday- an away day at basement club Berrow. Now that you're all caught up, on with the match.

14th vs 11th
The match got underway in reasonable fashion and as expected the goal-scoring opportunities began to flow soon enough. Roughly three minutes into proceedings saw the first chance fall to a Green attacker and he prodded home what we expected to be the first of many- not the start the visitors had in mind. Redhill 1-0 Fry Club. The next ten minutes or so passed without much to shout about at either end. Fry Club seemed to have composed themselves after a shaky start and Wrington were looking okay under pressure. One player, who seemed to go by the name of "Chicken", was getting a lot of the ball and he seemed decent down the right channel and into the centre of the field for the visiting side. The Fry's striker, meanwhile, showcased his best WWE skills by unleashing a Powerbomb on a Wrington defender after he successfully dispossessed the forward- we nicknamed him "Angry Number 9". His involvement throughout the whole match was feisty and in fairness I picked him out as the best player on the field.

Number 9 was so angry, he even conducted his own storm
In terms of playing style, it was as you'd expect at this level. There was a sprinkling of dodgy defending and hopeless hoofing mixed with some decent passing and the odd top quality cross from the away side as they looked to grab an equaliser. With 25 minutes now on the clock, the Fry Club players finally had reason to cheer and it was from one of those aforementioned testing crosses that a visiting player hit home. Redhill 1-1 Fry Club. Following this, Fry Club felt the moment shift in their favour and out of nothing they produced a true piece of beauty that the 30 or so of us in attendance were very lucky to witness. As the ball hung in the air surrounding a few players just outside the box, one of the Fry Club attackers decided to give his best FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup effort a try and it paid off with a stunningly executed bicycle kick. What a strike. My goodness, that would be a top goal in any league in the world. In a word, that goal, delicious! Redhill 1-2 Fry Club. In a weekend of thrilling games, this fifteenth and final goal of our weekend was a great one to see out my trip. The only thing that could have made us happier at this stage would have been if the bar would open.

It didn't, and therefore a Tuck Shop cuppa would have to do
As half-time arrived, the remains of the blue skies disappeared and we therefore decided to move camp into the covered main stand. With not a beer in-sight, we finished off a tea a piece and soon enough it was game-on again. Almost as if to be timed perfectly with with the ref's whistle, the restart was met by the opening of a few quickfire showers. This didn't spoil the game though, and if anything it was the whistle-happy refereeing display in the second 45 that stopped the momentum building for either side on more than one occasion. Aside from a close headed effort from the Fry's number 7 and many a powerful drive from "Angry number 9", the chances were not forthcoming and the highlight of the second-half actually came from a standoff between the Linesman and one of the Subs down on the bench. After Mr. Lino ordered the chap to "shut up and sit down", time appeared to stop for a few moments before the Sub eventually took the advice begrudgingly- that could have ended differently.

Non-League Episode VII: Revenge of the Scary Lino
Back on the pitch there was only a few minutes left and Wrington made one last push to grab an equaliser. The number 11 for the hosts took a long-range effort which was initially saved with comfort, before bobbling around the keeper and almost bouncing into his net. Close, but no cigar for the home side on this occasion and the full-time whistle blew just after the 90 minute mark. Tom turned to me and said "I'm guessing they don't bother with injury time at this level", and with that our ventures were over. After driving back over to Shirehampton to drop Tom off, I then headed back to Stoke where I knew that any future footballing outings for the season would be few and far between. For the rest of May I only have two definite trips planned- I'll be heading to Wembley with some of my good pals to see the Non-League Finals Day (No write-up to follow for this one) and then just a couple of days later I'll hopefully be at Dalymount Park for a much anticipated night out in Dublin to see Bohemian FC versus Limerick. Exciting times!

Monday, 1 May 2017

30/04/2017 Review: Bristol Rovers vs Millwall

Bristol Rovers 3-4 Millwall (League One)
The Memorial Stadium

It has been on the cards for a while, but finally yesterday afternoon was to be the time that I would make my first trip to League One's finest, Bristol Rovers. With Partizan Bristle being a season ticket holder at the Mem, he finally persuaded me to take a ride over to north Bristol in search of finally seeing a decent showing from the Gas. Before this match, I had seen the blue side of Bristol play three times; a goalless bore fest at the Moss Rose against my beloved Silkmen, a 1-1 draw at Wembley as they edged out Grimsby Town on penalties and more recently a 1-1 draw in Burslem during a lacklustre display at Vale Park. So far I had been less than inspired by Darrell Clarke's on-the-up club when watching in person, but I have of course been following their brilliant progress over the past few years and it is safe to say that I am a big fan of what he has achieved. I couldn't think of a better opportunity to visit the Mem than this one, and at the time of booking the tickets this tie could well have been between two sides fighting for a play-off spot. Rovers have won promotions in the past two seasons and they had come close to sneaking into the final place this season for a chance to get into the Championship, but a defeat last weekend to Peterborough United meant that they would not be joining their rivals City in next season's second-tier. So with promotion no longer possible it would simply a case of trying to be party-poopers for the Gas on the final day of the season, and they would be sent out for to try and prevent Millwall holding on to the last play-off spot.
More than a few were up for a good party-crashing
With a capacity crowd of eleven-thousand expected to roll out of bed early for this noon kick-off, I felt pleased to be amongst the masses behind the goal in the North Terrace, ready to cheer on the boys in blue. My pre-match prediction today was for a 1-1 draw, which may well have been enough to see the Shrimpers pip the Lions to 6th place. Needless to say that Millwall had bought out their share of the tickets in advance and the club with one of the worst reputations in England for fan violence had descended on Bristol with the aim of taking the spoils in a very important away day. I had only seen Millwall play once before this game, and that was in the FA Cup Semi-Final back in 2013 where they lost out to Wigan Athletic in a match that will sadly be remembered for the hooliganism that featured throughout their day at Wembley. The scene was well set, and as Tom and I reached the gates to the Mem at 11:30am we were ready for battle.

Not a spare seat or standing space to be seen
Inside the ground amongst the full-house were a couple of people I'd come across on Twitter through Groundhopping conversations. Before the game I was introduced finally to @goneforaburtone who I have shared many a like and retweet with online before putting a face to the name. After waiting to see if we could sell Tom's spare ticket surrendered by his Dad, we eventually headed into the ground and filtered into the stand in time to watch the pre-match announcements. With Rovers announcing their decision to release a few players after today's game, there was a lengthy set of calls to wish the best of luck to the guys who were bowing out. With the clock now reaching noon, it was time to give a final shout of respect to the likes of Steve Mildenhall and Lee Mansell before kick-off. The teams soon came out ready to play, and the game was underway.
Enough gassing, let's get on with the match
In the early proceedings it was all Millwall and Shane Ferguson soon tested the Rovers on-loan keeper Joe Lumley, but his shot was punched away to relieve the danger for a moment. Despite this, the first goal was soon on its way and with just 5 minutes on the clock the away fans were in wonderland as they took the lead. A corner was looped into the box and after a flap about from the Rovers defenders, Lee Gregory saw the ball over the line. Rovers 0-1 Millwall. The Lions continued to roar and they continued to go forward in numbers against a rocky Rovers defence. Veteran striker Steve Morison was looking dangerous and even with his advancing years he was proving to be more than a handful for Lockyer and Clarke-Salter in the heart of the Gas defence. After 15 minutes of the hosts struggling to carve a real chance, one group of fans behind me started shouting out generic fickle fan things like "urgh, we need a striker!" and "we need a fresh start", as if they had forgotten that their striking issues were largely down to the departure of the Dark Lord of Bristol on deadline day in January. Millwall on the other-hand were not looking bad at all in the striking department and it looked likely they would be testing Lumley again before long.

Another corner for the visitors
With 25 minutes now gone, Millwall had the ball on the corner again and with lessons hopefully learnt from last time Rovers would prepare to defend. Unfortunately they had not took note of their poor defending earlier and Lions captain Tony Craig doubled his team's advantage. Rovers 0-2 Millwall. It was either do or die now for Rovers and with Ellis Harrison and Jermaine Easter giving a bit more for their team up top now, they finally got themselves a goal and a way back into the game. Just after the half-hour mark the Gas midfield went forward and an eventual deflected shot fell to Easter, who managed to smash one home on his final Rovers outing. Rovers 1-2 Millwall. The match was already turning into a classic and after seeing 5 goals just 21 hours earlier at The Creek, I was starting to feel a bit spoilt for goals.
I even managed to see Wayne Rooney score via this Gashead's phone
As the game continued to be hotly-contested on the field, the fans in the North Terrace started to look over to their left as numerous police vans drove over to the outer part of the ground. Knowing that some home and away fans couldn't get into the ground due to it being sold out, I expected that this may well have been some feuding fans and for the next five minutes it seemed that vans were in constant flow getting the trouble sorted. Back on the field I just about caught sight of Lee Gregory finishing off another Millwall move and adding his second goal for the afternoon, Millwall's third. Rovers 1-3 Millwall. By this stage I was starting to feel that Millwall had this game sewn up and with half-time approaching they were well in control, but if there is one thing I have admired about Rovers in the past couple of years it is that even when they aren't playing well, they can still grab a goal or two. And just before the break, it would be a wonder-strike from Chris "he's one of our own" Lines that would set the tie up nicely for the second 45. After Billy Bodin made an amazing run from the right-hand side deep into the Millwall box, he eventually flicked the ball back to a waiting Lines who applied his trademark well-placed effort into Jordan Archer's goal. Rovers 2-3 Millwall. To say that this half had been one of the best I'd seen this season would be an understatement and this great game was testament to both Millwall's attacking desire and also Rovers never say die attitude. The second-half was bound to be intense.

With Southend 1-0 up against Bury, a Rovers result of any kind would end Millwall's season and the Gas came out with all guns blazing after the whistle, meaning that anything could happen. With a great fanbase behind their side, DC's men played much better in the final 45 minutes and chance after chance came and went in front of the crumbling Millwall side. 75 minutes into the game and the 1,200 away fans must have been fearing the worst when Billy Boden stood over a free-kick in prime position. His 25-yard hit looped the wall very well and dipped enough to find its way into the goal for a highly-dramatic equaliser. Rovers 3-3 Millwall. The hosts had done it and despite being 3-1 up, Neil Harris's visiting side looked to have thrown a chance of promotion away to his former side Southend United.
Unbelievable scenes- and it wasn't even the end of the drama
Seemingly wanting more after bringing the game back, Clarke threw on subs Luke James and Ryan Broom hoping that one of his young forwards could break the deadlock and the Millwall hearts. Alas, James could not score his first Rovers goal on his last loanee performance and at the other end Jamaica international right-back Shaun Cummings rifled one at Lumley. The eventual winner came from another corner and as the gigantic Millwall players piled into the box another set-piece flew in- and this time it was Shaun Hutchinson who jumped in through two of his markers and headed home an 85th minute winner, which was met my delirious screams from the opposite corner of the ground. Rovers 3-4 Millwall. This seventh goal of a roller-coaster game would be the last in the match and it would be Millwall that secured a place in the play-offs, where they will now face Scunthorpe United in a tough two-legged test. The winners of that tie will take-on either Fleetwood Town or Bradford City at Wembley in a couple of weeks.

Unlucky Rovers, congrats on another amazing season
We left the ground and headed off to the Sportsman for a few beers, a pizza and a dose of the North London derby- apparently we'd not had enough by this point! As we walked down Gloucester Road, Tom asked me what I'd thought of the Mem and I had to tell him that I was impressed. Although the various mishmash of terracing and tents makes it seem like the owners had approached a catalogue full of different types of stadium stands and said to themselves "we'll have one of each", it was undeniably a ground of history, character and plenty of passion amongst the loudmouth fans. I won't be forgetting the Rovers' excellent home crowd so soon and our Bank Holiday Monday trip to the Everyone Active Stadium will undoubtedly be at the other end of the scale in terms of importance, quality and atmosphere- but that is the beauty of Groundhopping, I suppose.

29/04/2017 Review: Bristol Manor Farm vs Sherborne Town

Bristol Manor Farm 5-0 Sherborne Town (Toolstation Western Premier League)
The Creek

It's that time again- a weekend in Bristol with the mythical creature who goes by the name of Partizan Bristle, or Tom to any regular being. Following last year's ventures to The Lawns, West Clewes and Norton Lane on a Western League extravaganza in May 2016, I was back for another triple-threat and it all kicked-off with the Western Premier League Champions, Bristol Manor Farm.

Farmy Army!
As a resident of Shirehampton for the time being Tom is only a stone throw away from The Creek, so it is hardly surprising that he has adopted BMF as his second team and he regularly has a mooch down Portway when his beloved Rovers are not in action at my venue for tomorrow- the Memorial Stadium. With the club's Facebook page advertising a "Football Fun Day" in anticipation of the trophy being lifted by Lee Lashenko and his side this afternoon, we got a walk on nice and early so that I could see what the fuss was all about at the home of the champions. On route to the ground we dropped in at the very basic facility that is Shirehampton FC's Penpole Lane, one that I am yet to visit for a game.

In the meantime, here I am at The Creek
Today's clash would be as simple as they come for the Farm, as they would look to turn on the style in a top vs bottom match against Sherborne Town. Before the game I made my usual pre-match prediction- Tom went for 4-0 to the champs and I went for 6-0, which was actually the scoreline that Manor Farm won their away fixture at Sherborne by. Having won their past seven league matches, the champs sat on 99 points before the start of the match and I don't think anybody was betting against them getting into treble-figures. Manor Farm had already rustled up an 8-0 win in the league, against Longwell Green Sports, and they knocked Devizes Town out of a local cup by a scoreline of 10-0 alongside another FA Vase run this season, making it one of the greatest for the Bristol side. As the sides warmed-up on the pitch, we tucked into the clubhouse's frosty beers amongst many Farm fans who had arrived early to watch the Old Firm derby. We were only interested in proper football though, and as kick-off loomed over us we joined the 400 or so punters inside the ground ready for the match. The fans today included club legend Tony, dressed in a centurion outfit, as well as a group of Dutch Manor Farm supporters and even Jack- a Rovers fan and pal of Tom's who I met at Vale Park in February.

Tony getting some pre-match patrolling in- standard
The ground itself was basic, but cosy, and with a good filling of people today at The Creek I felt like I was well-in with the locals- despite wearing my Mickleover Sports scarf! Surely enough the game kicked-off as we took our stance at the back of the small stand ready to see some goals and hopefully a top showing from the Farmy Army. The opening 15 minutes or so were entertaining enough, but there wasn't too much goalmouth action as Sherborne stood stubbornly in front of Farm's talisman Dean Stamp and denied him an early sniff. At the other end Sherborne were relying on the odd break from their midfield and with just a lone striker to aim for, who had the look of a young Danny De Vito, it never seemed too likely that the Dorset side would test Ash Clark between the Farm sticks. As expected, the opener came and despite Sherborne's keeper replicating David Seaman's famous claw save, on 21 minutes it would be Troy Simpson who started the Farmy party with a good right-footed finish. BMF 1-0 Sherborne. From this point on, Farm's dominance was apparent and amazingly half-time almost managed to arrive with no further goals. With 40 minutes on the clock, I popped off to the loo and just as I reemerged I just about saw the second goal. Jack Durrant had apparently taken a penalty just seconds before I appeared, and after it was well saved I saw Ben Bament hit home the second of the day. BMF 2-0 Sherborne.

Half time, 2-0
With a promise of a "penalty shoot-out" as a part of the Fun Day today, I was starting to get excited at the prospect of joining in and taking a shot at The Creek's goal. My dreams were soon crushed though as we watched a group of kids walk on to the pitch with a plastic goal which clearly meant that I wouldn't need to change into my football boots on this occasion. Instead, we headed into the clubhouse for another beer and a glance at the half-time scores in the Football League. The atmosphere at the ground was a happy one and I decided to buy a scarf to mark what was undoubtedly a memorable occasion.

I also discovered the real reason that Tom likes it here so much
The players came back out for the second-half and we were soon celebrating another goal for the hosts. With an hour gone, Aron Robbins got on the end of a good cross and his header sealed the three points for Manor Farm. BMF 3-0 Sherborne. Ten minutes later the goal of the game came and it was a sub who got in on the action this time. Jake Cox, formally of Yate Town, found himself in position from 25-yards and he decided to have a pop- his strike from range flew into the goal and you could see how chuffed he was to have added to the goals. A top strike, indeed. BMF 4-0 Sherborne.
And they weren't done yet
Manor Farm's second-half dominance was too much for Town to handle and almost instantly after conceding the fourth, the impressive Cox almost added another long-range goal just a minute later. This time his shot was saved by Sherborne's keeper and his parry was followed up well by Troy Simpson, who doubled his tally for the day and sparked a second round of Tom and Jack belting out the theme tune to The Simpson's for all at The Creek to "enjoy". BMF 5-0 Sherborne. It is safe to say that the low-humour commentary from the lads I was in attendance with today had added to the day. Jack summed up the game for Sherborne's lone-striker by stating that he was "resigned to De Feato", which had us howling for a wee while. At this point, we had definitely had a beer or two.

Joking aside, the game and the season was coming to an end and despite making a bold effort to add more goals, Manor Farm would have to satisfy for a very comfortable and well deserved 5-0 triumph in-front of a bumper crowd of appreciative fans. The whistle soon blew to end the match and we headed over to see the trophy presentation. Having been lucky enough to see more than one trophy lifting ceremony this season already, in the form of Dundalk's Irish Premier League win, Catholic United's victory in Thurrock and even Burton's pre-season lift of the Bass Charity Vase, I was glad to add the Western League Premier trophy to my collection and this joy was solidified when I actually had a chance to nip on to the pitch and hold it for myself.

We hung around a while longer to partake in some chatter with the club's fans and players, and after receiving the highly-coveted honour of having a beer with Tony it was time to depart. I supped up my pint and finished watching Bristol City's shock win at Brighton, before stumbling back to Shirehampton. Day one of my three day stint in Bristol had been a huge success and I can honestly say that The Creek had provided an awesome day out. Despite not seeing the much anticipated greatness of Dean Stamp, who Tom had assured me would be smashing goals in all over the shop, I had at least got to witness a great team display from a very homely club that are surely going to give next season's Southern League something to think about. Cheers lads- all the best for next season! FARMY ARMY!!!