Sunday, 22 October 2017

21/10/2017 Review: Southend Manor vs Wadham Lodge

Southend Manor 2-0 Wadham Lodge (Essex Senior League)
Southchurch Park

Just five games now stand beside me and the magic 100, meaning that with the end of the year coming up pretty swiftly I have only just a few limited free weekends from work. This was one of my chances to get on down to a ground whilst visiting family in Southend and after going bonkers on Thursday night at a Dizzee Rascal gig, it was time to take on calmer event in the form of an Essex Senior League match at Southchurch Park. Disclaimer- I would have opted to go to Leyton Orient to see Macc give them a rinsing were it not for post-match commitments involving Tandoori cuisine in Leigh-on-Sea.

For the 95th time- can't beat that fresh ground smell
I arrived at Southend Manor's seaside ground just moments before kick-off and with a kindly lift from my girlfriend's mum I could allow myself to be let loose with a beer or three. Unlike my form at recently attended games, Wadham Lodge came into this one having seen very few wins this season and therefore were sitting at the foot of the Essex Senior League as they travelled to mid-table Manor. Despite winning on Wednesday against fellow-strugglers Hullbridge, who had provided me with a great night out last season, only two wins had come from fourteen league games so far and with the host side of the day so far winning 50% of their ESL matches, I'd predicted a 3-1 victory for Manor on this occasion. Southend Manor FC, formed in the 1950's, had first caught my attention back in the season of 2011-12 when they managed to break down the barriers of their division to progress all the way to the Fourth Qualifying Round of the FA Cup, where they bravely fought and lost to a then very good Conference side in Kettering Town. Playing six matches to make it that far, this was the best effort of a side from Essex's highest regional division to make it to that stage since 1993. The side have failed to capitalise on that successful campaign in which they also finished runners-up in the league and have since sat in the lower regions of the league, with the exception of a couple of 7th place campaigns. Wadham Lodge, on the other hand, had graced my presence before as I took a ride over to their ground to see them lose out to Waltham Forest on penalties in the Gordon Brasted Trophy Quarter-Final.

Release the beasts
The horrendously windy climate for the afternoon would be bound to have an impact on today's proceedings and as soon as I sat in the black and white seated main stand I was faced with my first weather-based issue of the day. Although Southend United had a home game down at Roots Hall, I would bet a few quid that there was more noise being made here in the metal stand that I'd temporarily housed myself in. No, it was not the couple of dozen fans chanting aloud that made this noise, but rather the gales reigning through the right-hand side of the corrugated seating area that forced the plastic wind-shields to rattle to the sound of one of those gigantic drills used to dig through the roads and generally destroy your earlobes. Aside from this, there wasn't too much to report on the ground- there is a playground just behind the goal that Manor's goalkeeper stood in from the off, with the other goal being pretty bare in terms of background. The sideline where the brickwork subs benches stood had no seating or covered standing areas and backed onto a road, leaving just the opposite side where I sat inside a fairly decent and basic main stand, which also had a covered standing area adjacent to it. One slightly odd feature to Southchurch on this occasion was that half of the seating area was closed behind a large cage, which is presumably just a sensible method the Manor lads have adopted to prevent the whole area being damaged over time.
They must save it for the big occasions
The match kicked-off just as I emerged from the bar with a pint, meaning that it must be 3pm and game time. From the first couple of minutes we seemed likely to witness a Southend-dominated performance and it was Fatt out on the right who got showed the first bit of attacking initiative. On this occasion the winger offered a poor cutback and the defence easily regained possession for the Wad Army. The wind was impacting on some of the early play too and a few potential chances picked up unwanted height on their way away from the intended target, meanwhile the fan to my right offered his concerns as he stated "I think we're about to take off in a minute". The same chap also turned to me to advise me that the man who was loudly commentating the highlights to himself was actually recording for a radio station of some sort, before interrupting him momentarily to mock his bright orange sunglasses. "Did you get those down the seafront?" joked the Essex banter-maestro.

To be fair, I was wearing shorts so the specs were not too odd
Now into the 8th minute and Brown found himself alone in the box with the ball at his feet, but as he lined-up a shot the visiting defence and keeper remained alert and the Wadham number 1 held the ball easily. A few minuted later Cleaver was released for his first of two quickfire chances- with the first being lobbed over the frantic goalie but wide of the goal, and the second hitting the body of the Lodge stopper from very close range. It is fair to say that so far the Manor number 3, who appeared to be spending a fair bit of time on the right-wing, had stood out for me so far and it was Lindfield's crossing and passing range that seemed to be creating the chances for the dominant hosts. No goals were to come in the first-half though, as Manor hit the bar from a corner and saw a wind-assisted free-kick from the halfway line almost land in the goal too. The lone-striker up top for Wadham did look bright and when he went down injured on the half-hour mark I feared this would be a crucial blow for their chances. Thankfully the tall forward got back on his feet after a meaty but fair challenge and he remained in the match, albeit in a limited capacity. Just before half-time Manor went close again, with Cleaver showing a lack of heading ability on this occasion and club captain Delf also had a dig as his scissor-kick lofted over the goal-frame.

All Manor, but no goals so far. HT 0-0
The break was spent admiring the facilities and memorabilia in the clubhouse and whilst scouting around I came across some very interesting sights. After spotting that the club are apparently twinned with Charleville AFC of County Cork and also Munster Senior League side Mallow United, I then continued my quickfire tour and found the Manor's trophy cabinet. Having won various Southend District titles, the Essex Senior League and Trophy as well as the Harry Fisher Memorial Trophy, I also learnt of a monumental day in the history of the club that I didn't even know about- the summer in which Southend Manor won THE WORLD CUP!

If it's in the cabinet, it must be real!
After spending the remains of half-time with Mr. Orange Glasses trying to guess whether by scarf was a QPR, Chelsea or Southend one (it was Macc Town, by the way), I then got chatting with a couple of lifelong fans, ex-players and former board members of Great Wakering Rovers- another Southend-based side who now play at this level. These old legends had already been up to Holland-on-Sea last night to see their side beat Holland FC in the FA Vase, so today's trip to local ground Southchurch Park was a nice continuation of an already successful weekend. Having spoke with these gents for a while, I then realised that I had missed a good few minutes of the game, so I quickly topped up my plastic pint pot and headed out for the action again. As I arrived at pitch-side with the game still in deadlock, I was just in time to see Cleaver this time hit the target and as the ball landed in the net it was only for the lino to ruin his fun, as he held out the offside flag to deny the opener. At the other end, Wadham were actually working their way into the match and if it weren't for our old friend Storm Brian they may well have made more of a couple of free-kicks.
Into the final knockings now
The 70th minute would prove to be the significant moment in the match as it provided the eventual opener we'd been yearning for. Bayley Newell tapped home the goal after some great work from the main attacking force Cleaver. Manor 1-0 Wadham. Just four minutes later and the visiting side found themselves picking the ball out of the net again as a now depleted Lodge XI failed to recover from the morale-crushing opener. Yet again it was Cleaver who sliced through the Wadham defence and just as four minutes prior he sought out his pal Newell and he was more than happy to double his tally. Manor 2-0 Wadham. With the game now wrapped up and the sound of an ice-cream van riding on the outskirts of the ground, all was well in Southend and as their League One side scored a late winner against Bury over the other side of town, Manor just about saw out a late surge from Wadham Lodge. A couple of impressive subs for the red-shirted visitors couldn't quite cut the deficit in half and the Ref soon blew to end the match with three points going to Southend Manor. Knowing that I had to catch a train to Leigh, I quickly departed the ground with a sturdy smile as I walked away from yet another outing to see the beautiful game.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

08/10/2017 Review: Bishops Lydeard vs Cheddar

Bishops Lydeard 2-3 Cheddar (Toolstation Western League First Division)
Darby Way [Match 2 of 2]

So here we are, the big finale of the Western League Groundhop 2017. The seventh and last game of a mammoth weekend would all come down to the gorgeous setting of Darby Way for a 2:15pm Kick-Off between Bishops Lydeard and Cheddar. It is true that any Western League ground can look like a work of art in the right light and with temperatures rising quicker than the Quantock Hills surrounding us, this October afternoon would be the perfect way for Partizan Bristle (aka Tom) and I to tick off our 63rd and 94th grounds respectively. We had so far visited the Lancer Scott Stadium for a 2-1 Ashton & Backwell victory over Bishop Sutton that seemed like months ago at this stage, before a Saturday four-game haul starting at West Clewes for old favourites Welton Rovers taking on Keynsham Town, followed by a short drive to Southfields Recreational for Radstock Town versus Oldland Abbotonians, then on to the Lew Hill Memorial for to see Odd Down and Bitton share the spoils in the first of two draws that day. The Saturday ended with a 6-goal mega-match in the moonlit setting of Norton Lane as Hengrove fought back against Hallen and then of course we started off Sunday with a morning match at Shepton Mallet's Playing Field ground as we witnessed a very good home side take down Brislington. Surely we didn't deserve another classic to end it all?

23 goals later, here we are for the last match of the weekend
As with the previous six outings, Tom and I made our pre-match predictions and with the sides sitting in 13th and 14th in the table it was bound to be a close call. Last season the Cheesemen lost 2-4 home match to the Bishops, before heading to Darby Way to take a 2-3 victory in the return fixture. Assuming this one would be goal-heavy too, both of us plugged for a 3-2 prediction- I went for a hosts win, after seeing they'd won three on the spin prior to this game, whereas Tom correctly backed the away side. Personally, I couldn't bring myself to fancy a side whose badge used to be a cheese-version of Spongebob Squarepants.

Inside Darby Way, ready for more non-league foliage
True enough I was taken aback by this one. Upon entry into the ground from the corner, there were wonderfully blue skies lining the peaks of the conifers at one end and to the left of that was a lining of wooden fencing that sat in front of the peaks of hills and fields as far as the eye could see. Nearby, I was surrounded by a mass of people who'd come out to feel the Indian Summer heat and of course try out the delightful selection of pre-match grub over by the clubhouse. With the smell of curry in the nostrils and the mid-afternoon hankering for a beer, we made a beeline for the queue for a burger and despite the temptation of a big pan of curry trying to lure us in, we opted for the classic footy combo of beef and bread. At this time the lads piled on to the field and with kick-off once again looming we grabbed a seat in the glistening Main Stand ready to sit back and soak in the delights of the Bishops against the Cheesemen. In the early knockings, Tom had declared his delight at the way Cheddar's Maggs was playing- the number 11 looked very confident on the left-wing and with 8 minutes gone he was poised to gain the first assist of the game. Running right before us, Maggs switched the ball with an almighty lofted pass over to the on-rushing Coombs, who collected the ball and ran in on goal, before hitting a perfectly-placed strike from just outside the box. Bishops 1-0 Cheddar.

The yellow-shirted Ched's looked well up for this one
Sam King for Cheddar had a chance to double his side's lead but his 15th minute header was glanced wide. Compared to some of the matches we'd seen, this one was more of a football match than a brawl and when an eventual crunch tackle did come sliding in it caught everyone by surprise. As one lady shrieked out "he got the ball", a calm younger chap called over to her in response, "yeah, he may have got the ball though as well". The fans from the new looking red and black seated stand were soon on the edge of their seats again as this time Adam Jones for the visitors went close. With 28 minutes on the clock, Jones struck into what looked like an empty net before the flying Bishops keeper regained his composure to tip the claw the ball out for a corner. According to Rovers fan Terry, recently witnessed trying to get a selfie with Tony Incenzo at West Clewes, the ball was going over anyway. Things went from bad to worse for the ever defensive hosts as a bad bit of Goalkeeper distribution led to King having an open goal. Much to the amazement of everyone in attendance, the ball sailed past the goal in one of those moments where I genuinely think I would have scored. King then later had a one-on-one shot saved well and at the other end the Lydeard lads made their opponents squirm at the missed chances. First off, a quick break from Jake Quick was eventually tapped home by Ben Hebditch to equalise in the 38th minute. Bishops 1-1 Cheddar. Soon after this and just before the break, the hosts had completed a dramatic turnaround and through a mass of yellow shirts it was Hebditch again who somehow managed to tuck the ball away for his second in 5 minutes. Bishops 2-1 Cheddar. I promised I wouldn't come out with any cheesy puns, but I can't help describing Cheddar as a crumbly mess as the Ref blew for half-time.

Hot stuff here at Darby Way
The second 45 got off to a pretty decent start too and Cheddar started on the front-foot again despite being behind from the break. With King missing another strike at goal, the hosts also cleared a corner off the line and I was starting to believe that if they grabbed another goal on the counter they would be home and dry. 50 minutes passed and the Bishops got their chance as a penalty was given to the home side- this was just what they needed after being under the cosh. Jake Quick stepped up and unfortunately could only strike a post from 12-yards.

The crucial point in the match
At the other end, Cheddar began to celebrate an equaliser as Jones headed home- but this time the lino raised his flag to ensure that the party was put on hold. Cheddar must have been starting to think they were out of luck, but sometimes luck can only play a small part in the game and Jones certainly showed that he had more than just a bit of fortune in his locker. In a moment of pure technique and class,the visiting frontman pelted one hell of a volley into the goal on the 65th minute. Bishops 2-2 Cheddar. The last 20 minutes were perfectly set by now and we were both cheering on our respected pre-match predictions to see if anyone could finish the trip with a correct guess. We walked back around to the stand to take a seat and we were just in time to catch the winner. Midfield stalwart Ricky Bennett grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in the 74th minute, as he stormed forward like a Western League Iniesta straight into the box almost unopposed, before taking a moment to look up, pick his point and slot home a succulent finish. Bishops 2-3 Cheddar. This 28th goal of the day summed up a very good game of football that in truth should have been a much bigger win, but on a bad day could also have turned into a defeat had the spot kick been converted. The match counted down and as Maggs hit the side-netting when he should have scored from a tight angle, Jones also failed to double his tally for the day as the fans gasped yet again at a missed chance to extend the lead.

Full-time, 2-3 Cheddar
After 630 minutes of football including 28 goals, red cards, an own goal, a missed penalty, last minute equalisers and many glaring misses, Tom and I left Somerset headed for my abandoned car in Weston-Super-Mare and an eventual ride for me back to Stoke and back to the reality of our seemingly endless weekend of football coming to a close. For me, I'd have to say that my favourite match was the well-fought affair in this final game and on reflection, my favourite ground of the weekend had to be West Clewes. The Playing Field was a great one too and also had one heck of a showing from the Mallets, so overall I'd crown that the creme de la groundhop. I will undoubtedly be back for more Western League madness next season, but until then it'll be Partizan's turn to come to my neck of the woods and I intend to take him to one of my all time favourite non-league grounds- The Aspray Arena, home of Sporting Khalsa. Look out for both of our entries from that one, and before that I'm hoping to get down to another Essex Senior League match and I might even make the trip to Leigh Sports Village on Halloween for Man United versus Benfica in the U19 Champions League.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

08/10/2017 Review: Shepton Mallet vs Brislington

Shepton Mallet 4-1 Brislington (Toolstation Western Premier League)
The Playing Field [Match 1 of 2]

Rife with a hangover and a need for toast, I awoke on the Sunday morning of the Western League Groundhop having spent the past 38 hours or so engrossed in five football matches that started in the moonlit hours of Friday night at Ashton & Backwell. Following that trip to the Lancer Scott Stadium, my 90th ground, Partizan Bristle (aka Tom) and I awoke early to join GroundhopUK and the gang for a day of mission on a minibus to seek out four more games. Following a perfect start to the day at West Clewes, we then proceeded to make the short-trip across Radstock to the Southfields Recreational, before a mid-afternoon jaunt to Bath where we saw Odd Down and Bitton play out a draw and as if that wasn't enough, we completed our Non-League Day delights with my return to Norton Lane for a 6-goal epic. Today's two game haul would seem a mere walk in the Somerset park as we encountered the Playing Field and a finale match at Darby Way.

Next stop, Shepton Mallet
For some reason or other, we had made a rookie mistake to start the day by thinking the opener was an 11am kick-off and it was not until checking the factual database of Twitter that we realised that in fact it was a 10:45am start. With this in mind, we piled into Tom's old Suzuki Alto and began the 30-mile drive down Old Bristol Road in the heart of Somerset. On the travel we listened to some oddly catchy world music from Tom's MP3 player and as I began to feel slightly less like I'd been hit in the head with a literal mallet, I used the drive to have a glance at my programme to get a grip on how the two teams had got on so far in the Western Premier. Shepton had made a very promising start to their campaign, sitting pretty in 5th before the weekend's action and despite a midweek defeat at Bridport they still only found themselves 6 points off the top-spot with 11 played. Brislington on the other hand had only won 3 matches, with a 1-6 home defeat the previous weekend proving to be the low point for the side that finished 10th last season. With this in mind, Tom and I cast our usual pre-match predictions and after Tom correctly guessed the 2-1 win for Ashton on Friday, I am delighted to announce that on the 6th time of asking I managed to make a correct guess of 4-1 to the hosts.

From the near distance, a large cheer arose
Arriving just after 11am, it appeared that the gigantic roar from within the Playing Field was an inevitable missed goal- the most sickening thing a football fan can experience. We quickly entered the fray as if there would be a chance to catch the backside of the replay on the big screen, but sadly we were informed upon entry that the match had already witnessed not one, but two goals. Shepton 2-0 Brislington. With 20 minutes missed, we got our priorities in order and quickly grabbed a cuppa before making the way to pitch-side. My first thought of the Playing Field was that is that typical ground that looks magnificent in the sun, but I imagine on a dull or dark game would stand-up as being bang average. Thankfully this Sunday morning was stunning and with the gargantuan conifers mounting the ground, I felt like I was at a footballing haven here at Shepton Mallet. On the pitch all was going their way too and despite the verbal toxic being splurged on the pitch, the football from the hosts was as good as I'd seen all weekend. One man to the side of us, who seemed slightly insane, continues to commentate to himself and express a major level of discomfort when Shepton failed to score a third just before the break.

HT, 2-0
Amazingly for this time of year, there was some genuine heat coming off of the sun on this morning and knowing that a mooch over to Bishops Lydeard was still to come, today was going to be a great one. The sides soon came back out for the second-half and within a few minutes the Mallet had increased their lead. A very nice move saw the hosts centre-back eventually ping a beautiful direct ball into the danger zone and the Shepton attacker headed home the third. Shepton 3-0 Brislington.

The Stafford Rangers inspired home kit looked delightful in the sun
Just before the hour-mark Brislington started to look something like a football team and George Jones was given a chance after some good build-up by the visitors. The eventual strike was dreadfully high in the end and with time running out it was a big miss at this point in proceedings. At the other end Tom Pawley had come into the match and he was clearly out to impress- strangely annoyed with himself, Pawley shouted "FUCK OFF!" as he crossed a ball in from the left and that was inch perfect and nodded wide. As the game came to a close I got chatting with one of Tom's fellow Bristol Rovers fans Jack about the OCD that comes in football fans when it comes to kit numbers. Mallet had their number 9 at the back and number 5 was the striker. Even writing about it a week later boils my blood slightly.

These lads look ready for more goals
In what was now the final 5 minutes of the match, Brislington went forward again and Danny Hunt was on-hand this time to grab a consolation tap-in for the travelling supporters and Groundhoppers alike. Shepton 3-1 Brislington. This tame goal clearly annoyed the home-side who had looked hopeful of seeing out a clean sheet to the end, however the disappointment of conceding did not fester long in the minds of the black and white shirted side. Just before the Ref confirmed the injury time, the goal of the weekend so far was hit home by James Billing aka Shepton's Captain Spectacular. Some slick build-up play again involved a lot of the home side's team and when an eventually delightful dink was fed through to the striker he powerfully spanked it home. Shepton 4-1 Brislington.

The Ultras go willlllllld!
The match soon saw itself out and the most comprehensive victory of the Western League weekend would go to a very impressive Shepton Mallet side. It is not always in my nature to be so positive about a footballing experience, but just like the next game at Darby Way this one was a very enjoyable experience. There were plenty of goals, including a delightful strike to top it off, as well as perfect weather and a scenic ground that I'd be more than happy to revisit. We quickly departed the Playing Field and headed deep into the western region of Somerset in search of a seventh match within 48 hours at Bishops Lydeard. Blog entry to follow for that one later on, but cheers again to Shepton and Brislington for a great game.

Friday, 13 October 2017

07/10/2017 Review: Hengrove Athletic vs Hallen

Hengrove Athletic 3-3 Hallan (Toolstation Western Premier League)
Norton Lane [Match 4 of 4]

I must start this entry with a pre-warning that not only were Partizan Bristle (aka Tom) 9 goals, 2 red cards, 270 minutes, 1 own goal, 2 sarnies, 17 gentleman's agreements and 3 grounds into a mammoth day, but we were also 2 pints away from the century and therefore in a state of worse for ware- so it goes without saying that a six-goal thriller in our second Western Premier League game of the day was underappreciated and somewhat wasted on our eyes. Thankfully, this was a re-visit for Pint of Football and if you want to check out a more inspired and near enough sober entry you'll be wanting to read my write-up of the Grove's victory against Chard Town at the back end of the 2015-16 season. If you have read my writings from my return to West Clewes and the debuts at Southfields Recreational and the Lew Hill Memorial then stay tuned to find out the answer to the all important questions such as; did Tom and I ever make it back to Shirehampton after the game? and also, did we fulfil the "three pint per ground" limit stupidly agreed at 8am in the morning? I'll be revealing all soon enough!
Well, it didn't take us long to pick up where we'd left off
Despite this venture of GroundhopUk for Non-League Day proving to be about the greater good of supporting your local team and attending regular games at nice grounds such as Norton Lane and the likes, it is important not to forget that amongst the badge stalls, rocketing attendances and fans for the day there was a Western League game about to take place here and with newly promoted Hengrove Athletic taking on the Armadillos in this 7:45pm clash, it would prove to be a great end to the day for all involved. I'd been impressed with then Division One side the Grove last time I'd been in these parts, so I predicted a 2-1 victory for the hosts beforehand.

My pictures don't do it justice, but this is an ideal place to play the beautiful game
As previously noted, this is Hengrove's first season back in the top flight of the Western League since they suffered relegation at the end of 2013-14. They came up for just a year from Division One and whilst all of this was going on Hallen had managed to finish 17th every single year until last season where they decided to mix it up a bit and went for 18th place instead. Before the day's action began, Athletic were sitting in 12th with a positive goal difference, 4 points and 4 places above the visitors and with Hallen drawing 3-all last time out I don't think anybody would have been expecting a rinse and repeat affair. With the highest attendance of the day ready to rock and roll, we were soon treated to the first goal of the match and it was the blues cheering as Scott Thomas struck the opener. Hengrove 0-1 Hallen. Tom seemed happy at this and was cheering the visitors on and in fairness the hosts lacklustre start could have led to a drubbing, but thankfully for the Grove they only found themselves two down at half-time. Just before the 30 minute mark Luke Mills finished off a Hallen attack to set them on their way to what would be an expected victory based on the way they'd gone about things so far. Hengrove 0-2 Hallen. Towards the end of the first-half, Tom and I started to work on our escape route out of Hengrove and back to the Shire, but with only pence in our pockets at this stage we knew that it was going to require a big effort. With a 10:45pm bus leaving Hengrove Bus Depot for Temple Meads, we were starting to wonder if it was a feasible plan as we nursed our final pint.

Surely someone would be willing to help out two lost souls of the non-league
Joking aside, we were in very good company with the Groundhop gang and after having a chat with the day's organiser Chris, we were informed that one of the gang based in the East Midlands was driving home after the game and would not mind dropping us off with our location being literally on his way to the M5. Simon, if you are reading this- you are a true legend! In the meantime half-time had been and gone and we readied ourselves for the final 45 minutes of football and the eighth half of the day, with Hengrove seeming much livelier that before the break. The Grove were soon back in the game and just 10 minutes into the second-half a set-piece found its way into the away goal to half the deficit via Craig White's finish. Hengrove 1-2 Hallen. This strike from the greens clearly rallied the troops and with Hallen getting the game up and running again I felt a sense of optimism that the hosts might just turn things around. The crowd from the EWW Stand shouted out and the side on the pitch responded. Now depending on whose Twitter page you follow may alter your opinion on the goal, with the visiting page describing Rhys Hickery's goal as a "soft one", whilst @HengroveAFC told a tale of the equaliser being "a stunning left footed finish". I myself don't recall it being spectacular but it was indeed a tidy finish to bring the score level after a solid attacking attitude from the Grove. Hengrove 2-2 Hallen. As with many a match I've seen at this level, it is often the case that a side who claws their way back into the game then folds back on themselves and concedes again. Hallen were happy to see this happen and Scott Cousins regained the lead for the visitors. Hengrove 2-3 Hallen.

Ben Willshire and Rob Sage would love an Away win
By this point of the match Tom and I had made our way around to the touchline and I thought I'd offer some coaching advice to the visiting manager as he made his final sub of the day. Willshire brought an attacker off and sent on another defender, to which I shouted out "5-4-1? Goodness me." and the away gaffer approached me to respond with "got no other choice mate". This may have been true enough and after sharing the spoils at 3-3 last time out I can't say I blamed the visitors for trying to shut up shop as we headed into injury time. All was going well until a frustrating handball gifted Athletic the chance to grab a very late equaliser. Just as with the game witnessed just a few hours ago at Odd Down, the last-gasp spot-kick was converted, this time by Jack Fillingham, and that would prove to be the final action of the game. Hengrove 3-3 Hallen. We swiftly departed to meet Simon at his car and were headed back to Shirehampton, knowing that we'd have to suffer a few hours without football before we awoke the next morning for another early start- this time at the Playing Field, home to Shepton Mallet.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

07/10/2017 Review: Odd Down (Bath) vs Bitton

Odd Down (Bath) 2-2 Bitton (Toolstation Western Premier League)
Lew Hill Memorial Ground [Match 3 of 4]

With half a dozen pints settling in my stomach from the previous two outings of the day at West Clewes and Southfields Recreational Ground, this third trip to Bath in search of Odd Down's 4:30pm match against Bitton would prove to be our first Western Premier League fixture of the GroundhopUK weekend- and after the last game I was hoping to see a slightly improved match that could hopefully hold a candle to the opening bout of the day. I had been pre-warned by Partizan Bristle (aka Tom) that this ground, despite being in close proximity to one of his favourites in the form of Twerton Park, was a somewhat rundown facility and did not sit in the same category of luxurious grounds that I'd come across so far over the years at this level. To perhaps factually and politically correctly define what he means, I must refer back to the 2015-16 season where Odd Down won the Premier League ahead of Devonshire outfit Barnstaple Town, but due to failing to meet the requirements to leap into the dizzy heights of the Southern League they ended up sticking around. Now to put it in the form of a picture to prove why we may not be seeing the Lew Hill Memorial Ground climb any higher, I present you with the below.

I believe that until the refurb in 2016, this is basically what the facilities at Ashton Gate were like
This, however, has never been enough to deter me from a visit to any ground, stadium or even field with a couple of goals, so I remained excited for the game and rather hungry for some pastry goodness. Being from the north, where you cannot go to a ground without having a plethora of pies to chose from, I was largely disappointed so far by the lack of gravy on display today and with a hankering for some scran I made a very direct route toward the butty hut in search of sustenance. A sausage roll and a ham bap went down delightfully, meaning that we could recharge, rebeer and get ready for more fun and frivolity at Odd Down's spacious Clubhouse.

There's a reason that football fans and acting types don't often collide on the old Venn Diagram
With a stage to the right-hand side, a pool table near the door and a large bar joining on to the food shack, the club offered up a very workingman's feel to it and we were willing to test out all of its facilities. Tom gave his best rendition of the Paul Pogba Monologues and in return I demolished him at pool, leaving us with just enough time to top up our plastic cups and head outside to a cloudy pitch-side. Whereas there was no competition on the pool table, the football field was bound to provide a tasty rivalry this afternoon as the hosts sat in 9th and their visitors 11th, just 1 point behind the Down. With a close match expected, I made a pre-match prediction of 1-1 but knowing that Bitton had a fairly poor goal difference for this part of the table, I could have also guessed that the hosts may end up with a victory if they play their cards right.

Match Ready!

Tom and I took up position next to the visiting sub bench and just a few minutes in we were pondering whether or not Dan Langdon was a player/manager or just a frustrated outfield player. With the constant need to stretch and appear to warm-up, we were half-expecting to see the Bitton boss head on out to show them how it's done. The match had started at a decent tempo but also had a fair bit of bite to it as well- Bitton had the best of the early play but with some crunching slide tackles flying in we already got the sense of a better game than we were privy to just a few hours prior. "That's assault on the street, referee!" shouted one of the lads on the Ton bench as he saw one of his lads in red tumble to the ground.

Bring the gaffer on, bring the gaffer on

By this stage the Down had turned the tide in their favour, going close just before the half-hour mark as a shot is well saved from an attack on the left-wing. This proved to be just a practice effort for the hosts and just moments later we would see Kane Simpson eventually score a goal as he tapped in his own rebound. Odd Down 1-0 Bitton. The game went from sweet to sour shortly after for Odd Down and soon after their first goal of the day they saw Dave Gould receive a straight red for a hefty tackle. My view is that it probably wasn't bad enough to warrant a sending off, alas Gould was on his way and the break in play provided a slightly humorous moment as Kyle Tooze for the away side changed his boots- he must've meant business. Bitton looked to capitalise on their new-found advantage and McClennan had a decent shot on target just before half-time. At the other end, Odd Down had weirdly seemed to improve despite being a man down and as the club's all-time top scorer Kye Simpson almost got a second, the half-time whistle saw the first 45 end with the hosts just about on top.

The big moment of the half, aside from the opening goal
With the game being pretty full-on, we hadn't had our usual dull spell to go and check out the ground properly, but in truth there wasn't all that much to see. With one stone-built stand behind the goal and a rickety fixture opposing the technical area, the Lew Hill Memorial is basic at best. The second-half soon got underway and so we decided that we'd head to behind the goal of the hosts as we now expected to see the ball facing this way for the second-half. The hour-mark soon drew close and we'd see Referee Brian Channing go under the spotlight again as he blew the whistle after a challenge in the Odd Down box. Tooze, who was showing the attacking pedigree of a young Cafu in his new sparkly boots, was the man who went down for Bitton and when he eventually arose from the Ref's whistle he was shocked to see Mr. Channing looking at him as he drew out a yellow card, followed by the red for an apparent dive. If the first dismissal seemed harsh, this one certainly was one to get the blood pumping and although it didn't look to be a penalty, I'd say the challenge was fair from the Down defender too- but what do I know?

The Ref refused to listen to the lager-infused fifth officials 
The match was now 10 v 10 and with only just over 20 minutes left there was still tonnes of action to come. Tom spent a few seconds watching a crow that he'd confused for the ball, so hopefully when he reads this it will be a reminder of what a great close to the match we were about to witness. Tom Knighton slid the equaliser in and it was game on! Odd Down 1-1 Bitton. The Bath side seemed to have crumbled worse than parts of their ground at this stage and in the 78th minute Knighton hit the post- reacting quickest to this was McClennan and the winger struck home a deserved second for the visitors and a potential winner at this stage. Odd Down 1-2 Bitton. As we joked that Odd Down has "Bitton off more than they could chew", the hosts roared again and with all credit to the Down they woke up just at the crucial time. In the 87th minute a penalty was gained for the side in blue and up stepped Asa White to equalise the score and earn his side a point. Odd Down 2-2 Bitton.

4 goals, 2 reds and a point a piece for the Down and the Tons
With an hour or so until the final match of the Saturday, the minibus powered up again and we would be ready for our last trip with the GroundhopUK gang. Next stop- Hengrove Athletic!

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

07/10/2017 Review: Radstock Town vs Oldland Abbotonians

Radstock Town 1-0 Oldland Abbotonians (Toolstation Western League First Division)
Southfields Recreational Ground [Match 2 of 4]

Following on from the 10:45am KO at West Clewes we crossed a couple of roundabouts to get us into the rivalling territory, which of course meant we'd made it the Southfields Recreational ready for the second game of NON LEAGUE DAY. This would also prove to be a new ground for my partner in crime, Partizan Bristle (aka Tom), so he was equally excited to cross-off his 61st ground. With a good 40 minutes to spare, I decided to take the plunge and make my way into the wilderness of Terry's Badges. I spent a good 10 minutes or so scouting through the hundreds of badges from various clubs, with both Tom and I deciding to sit nursing a pint each whilst I pondered which to buy. Narrowing it down to a couple of clubs close to my heart in the form of Scarborough F.C and St. Cuthbert Wanderers and a few others that were just hilarious- Rutland Dead Rabbits being a particular highlight. I eventually stood up to go and grab the Seadogs badge and at this point my eye was drawn to a delightful Macclesfield Town badge of yesteryear, so that was that.
And we weren't the only nerds in town
The Recreational Ground itself is a warn little ground but certainly doesn't lack character. The feature-piece on the outside is the main stand coloured in the classic red and white of the hosts. Inside the ground we found ourselves in a decent clubhouse with a spacious bar to the right and the usual extra space over yonder was where the stalls had been set out for today. There were a few pictures dotted around of successful times for the Miners, although they've had limited silverware since the 80's where they lifted the Western League Division One title as well as notching a couple of Somerset Senior Cup wins. Today's South Gloucestershire visitors were coming in off the back of a 3-1 win against Warminster Town and after a tasty sounding clash between them and Bristol Telephones was called off midweek they would be very keen to do a job in this 5th vs 3rd encounter. With Rastock managing a 3-0 win last weekend, I decided to back the hosts this time and predicted them to match their rivals over at Midsomer Norton- guessing at 3-1 to the Miners.
The home side looked ready for this Autumnal test
Armed with a pint of Heineken we took our seats in the rickety stand with many of the others on the GroundhopUK tour and along with the Radstock regulars there was again 200+ in attendance, which far surpassed their previous highest crowd of the season- 80. Surely enough the teams came out a few minutes ahead of schedule and we got this one kicked-off around 1:27pm, with the home side kicking from left-to-right. Having had a glance at the line-ups beforehand I was quite disappointed to see that the Miners hadn't got top scorer James Rustell in the squad today- the striker has banged 8 goals from 11 appearances in the league so far- and the opening to the game certainly seemed to lack a clinical assassin up top. The Abbotonians offered the best of the early action however the biggest response from the crowd in the main stand was laughter as my Partizan chum sat on a white wall to try and get an action shot of the game, only to be informed by a crowd member that the white paint covering said wall was as fresh as the Autumn breeze- oops.
Painty Jeans 1-0 Shots on Goal
Despite Town seeming to bring themselves back into the game the first real chance went to the O's as Trevarthen launched a half-volley high, wide and handsome- and true enough the eventual only goal of the game would be scored by an Oldland Abbotonians player. Unfortunately for the visiting side it was an own goal. The reds right-winger played a great ball into the box and after a bit of goal-mouth action the ball was herded towards the goal-line, meaning that Scott Gregory had to take the ultimate Centre Back's gamble and launch himself through the leaf-laced grass towards the ball. The right-footed kick was strong and rising, but ultimately found its way into the top corner of his side's net. Radstock 1-0 Oldland. It soon became apparent that this may be the best we'd see from this game and this 21st minute OG will only live as long in the memory as the events that took place just before half-time. In what was a PoF first, I was truly delighted to be offered the chance to draw out the winning raffle ticket for the HT draw. As I revealed ORANGE 243, the lass read it out and a chap just a few rows back sprang up to thank me before heading off to the Skittles board to collect his prize.

Tommy Two Pints was having a wonderful time at a new ground
The second-half didn't offer too much action either and with a lack of chances we decided to go for a wander around the other side of the ground, which was overlooked by a row of houses that I'd joked could be rented out as the box seats for Southfields Recreational. Tom found a fellow Bristol Rovers fan across a fence to shout to for the remainder of the game, whilst on the pitch the away side forced a couple of unsuccessful set-pieces. I know it is easy at this level to blame the Ref for a poor game and I'm not one to do so, but there was a lot of whistle-blowing throughout this encounter and the yellow made its way out of Mr. Lee's pocket.

The final whistle closed in- still 1-0
Connor Davies continued the form of the game by picking up a yellow late-on after coming into the match and making a fairly horrid tackle on a Radstock man, but ultimately it had no baring on the result. As the Ref blew the final whistle I'm afraid that this one will go down as the flop of the day, however it did mean for the hosts that they would leapfrog the O's with these three points. We swiftly popped off from this lovely ground and on to the minibus ready for our next trip 15 miles north to the outskirts of Bath for Odd Down versus Bitton- only two more games left for the day!