Monday, 28 May 2018

Pint of Football does the CONIFA World Cup

The World Cup is coming to London

Yes that's right, there's a World Cup coming to London and it is almost upon us. On Thursday 31st May 2018 history will be made as the Confederation of Independent Football Associations brings its biggest event to the capital city of England where sixteen teams will do battle to lift the trophy on Saturday 9th June at Enfield Town's Queen Elizabeth II ground. As a follower and supporter of CONIFA and it's message to bring football to everybody in a way that challenges the mainstream ideas of FIFA, it is needless to say that I am extremely excited to be going down south from my home in Stoke-on-Trent to spend ten days in London. I will be going to matches on each of the days that they are on, starting with a trip to the Opening Ceremony at Hayes Lane in Bromley, before taking in a weekend of group games with my good pal Tom (aka Partizan Bristle). I'll then stick around for the remainder of the tournament as I look to see who can make it all the way to the final. Within this preview, I will be looking at a few of the teams involved, some of the grounds and also a bit of history from previous CONIFA tournaments. 
As mentioned before, I'm no stranger to CONIFA and although I've only been an active follower since the start of the year when my home county, Yorkshire, formed their own team, my first experience of watching a CONIFA side came a year ago at Damson Park, the home of Solihull Moors. With an interest in non-league football, my attention was drawn to a fixture between England C versus Panjab and it was from then on that I started to keep an eye on the leaps and strides that the volunteer run governing body of football were making. England C, a side made of non-league players in England, may well have beaten the plucky Panjabi's by the odd goal that day but it wasn't all about the result in this end of season outing. This was a huge occasion for the Asian side, whose roots are laid in northern India and east Pakistan, as they became the first South Asian team to face an England national side- and it was very well attended too!

This is what football is all about
Rajpal Virk, then of Coventry Sphinx and now unattached, was the man who slid the ball home that day and the 24-year old will now line-up as the number 10 for Panjab as they look to go one better than their effort as runners-up of the 2016 tournament in Abkhazia, as the hosts won it on penalties after a 1-1 draw. Panjab will fancy their chances as they boast the winner of the 2016 Golden Boot in Amar Purewal, a striker for Northern Football League side West Auckland Town, and with a return of ten goals in eleven CONIFA Caps, he's bound to be one to watch in the tournament. Can they get through Group D? I'll be there on Sunday 3rd to see their final group game against United Koreans of Japan at Arbour Park in Slough.
The Purewal twins are gonna be up for the World Cup
Right, so I've had a bit of a chat about the number one ranked CONIFA side, so now it's time to talk about one of the rank outsiders in the form of Tuvalu. I was lucky enough to be able to get a few words from Soseala Tinilau, president of TIFA and this is what he had to say about his Group C outfit.

PoF asks: With climate change being a very serious and dangerous matter in Tuvalu, as it is in many island nations, what does it mean for the country to be sending a team to the CONIFA World Cup in London?
Tinilau answers: It means to send a signal to the World that even though we are being impacted by climate change but we find comfort in playing the beautiful game of football. Sports unite people in the face of adversity. We will also try to advocate at the same time and hopefully both developing and developed countries will help us solve this global issue.

PoF asks: You’ve drawn two of the top five CONIFA nations in Group C and you won’t be the favourites by a long shot. Realistically, how far do you think the team can go in the competition?
Tinilau answers: Everything is possible in football. If Roma can beat Barca by 3 goals to nil then Tuvalu can beat any team in the tournament. It is our aim to make the top four and will work hard for that.

PoF asks: Alopua Petoa looks to be your main threat ahead of the tournament, what sort of a player can we expect to see in the Tofaga FC striker?
Tinilau answers: We have other players who could also cause trouble but for Alopua you can expect the best from him in this tournament. He will try to score more goals for Tuvalu.

PoF asks: Being from Yorkshire, I am looking forward to seeing my home county at the next CONIFA World Cup. How excited are you for the 2018 tournament?
Tinilau answers: I am very excited and so are the players as this is the first time ever for Tuvalu to play in such a high-level football tournament and we will try to make the most of it.

PoF asks: Pint of Football is about two things- pints and football! Will you guys be enjoying a beer or two during the tournament? Tinilau answers: I think only me, the President, will enjoy a beer or two as our boys have a mission in this tournament and need not drawn into such temptation.

Tuvalu are also my allocated team from this @ChrisDolmanArt GIF
Time for a break from the teams whilst I have a look at some of the grounds involved in the tournament. Obviously, there are a couple on there that as Groundhopper I am thrilled to be visiting. We have got a good mix too, with everything from a brand new ground in the shape of Aveley's Parkside Stadium to a couple of National League Premier venues at Bromley and Sutton United. Let's have a look at some of the grounds I'm going to throughout the tournament.

1) Hayes Lane- Bromley (National League Premier)
My first ground of the CONIFA World Cup, the 115th for me overall, will be a trip to the five thousand capacity home of the Opening Ceremony. Bromley have just come out of their National League campaign, one which was almost identical to that of my beloved Silkmen in 2016-17. As well as finishing 9th in the table, just three points off the Playoffs, the Ravens made it to the FA Trophy Final at Wembley too and despite going into the match as favourites they lost out to Brackley Town from the division below. Brings back horrible memories of seeing my side lose 2-3 against York just a year prior. From the pictures I've seen, Hayes Lane looks like an old school London footballing landmark and I'd say CONIFA have managed to get themselves a fab stadium to open their tournament with. I'll be watching the host nation, Barawa, take on Tamil Eelam who are traditionally from the island of Sri Lanka. The Asian side have a squad made up of players from Germany, Canada, Holland, Italy and even a lad playing in the SEVENTEENTH tier of English football, meanwhile Barawa's 23-man squad are all based here in the UK. With a couple of QPR Under-23's and a Millwall youngster in the side, they should have a good campaign.

2) Queen Elizabeth II- Enfield Town (Isthmian League Premier)
Refurbished in 2011, the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium is one of those multi-purpose grounds that has a bit of rustic charm here, a few modern generic features over there, and most significantly a running track around the edge. Enfield Town's story this season has been that of mid-table mediocrity and it will be nice for the north London club to finally see some of the limelight that the likes of Billericay Town, Dulwich Hamlet and Leatherhead have hogged in the Isthmian Premier this season. As well as hosting the Final and quite a few of the knockout fixtures across the World Cup, they will also be the first venue for Partizan Bristle's exploits as we take in the 2pm kick-off between Abkhazia and Kárpátalja. It'll be nice to see if the current holders of the tournament can overcome the most recent team to join the World Cup after they replaced the withdrawing Felvidek national side. The Abkhazia squad is a mixture of Russian third tier players and those who play in their independent state, whilst the Kárpátalja lads all play in Hungary with the exception of Bela Fejer Csongor. The 23-year old Sepsi OSK keeper has plied his trade in the Romanian top-tier and because of this, I'm tooting him to be their key player.

3) Coles Park- Haringey Borough (Isthmian League Premier)
This is perhaps the one I'm looking forward to the most, I mean just look at that dreadfully bold antique of a stand- they sure as hell don't make them like this any more. Once we've finished up with Enfield on the Saturday, Tom and I will be trotting down the A10 to Coles Park to see what Padania and Tuvalu have to offer. If I were to stick my neck out and pick a winner for the World Cup, it would be between Padania and Ellan Vannin. North Italy's finest are ranked number two in the CONIFA charts and all but their backup keeper are based in the fourth divisions in Italy. Six of their players are in double-figures in terms of Caps and despite not being in the World Cup squad, Mario Balotelli's brother (Enoch) has represented Padania before and I'm sure they'll be looking to live up to their title as the 2015 CONIFA Euro's Gold Medallists. Tuvalu's side all play on their Pacific Ocean island and the stats would suggest that their hopes will lie with Alopua Petoa- the striker has eight goals from ten caps.

4) Larges Lane- Bracknell Town (Isthmian League South Central)
As with Haringey, the Bracknell Town boys were celebrating promotion at the end of this season and with a very modern 2,500 capacity ground, the Robins will be looking forward to hosting some of the CONIFA World Cup. Although this ground is technically in Berkshire, Larges Lane will host four matches in total, with the Kárpátalja versus Tibet fixture being the second. Tibet are one of the few teams that I struggled to find research on, but one thing that is notable in the CONIFA Squads List is that Tashi Samphel is listed as having five goals in just one Cap. That's some record if it's true, so I'll have to keep an eye out for the 31-year old striker as we watch our second game in two days involving Kárpátalja.

5) Arbour Park- Slough Town (National League South)
The slick yellow seating structure you see here gives you a glance into the high-quality ground at Slough Town. Arbour Park is the home to one of the latest additions to the National League South and is yet another Berkshire ground to feature in this year's edition of the World Cup. This will be the last chance Tom gets to see a game before he heads back to Bristol, so for us to be able to watch Panjab in action together again will be great. Their opponents are the mysterious United Koreans in Japan and the side who finished as Quarter-Finalists at the 2016 World Cup will play with a squad from varying backgrounds, countries and levels. They have been making headlines globally with their inclusion of  Yong Hak An, the 39-year old Player-Manager who will become the first person to play in both a FIFA and CONIFA World Cup. The rest of the squad come from teams in the Japanese fifth tier and lower, as well as Min Cheol Son who is playing in Hong Kong, Yoo Jun Kang who is based in the USA and Tong Soung Lee- a Staines Town Under 19's player. I've already spoken enough about number one ranked Panjab, who beat Dhaka Akadash RC 8-0 at Arbour Park on Sunday night, but I want to push an extra shout out to Rushall Olympic striker Gurjit Singh, who I've followed in the Evo-Stik of late. Either way, I'm predicting this one to be a "save the best until last" scenario for us as we get to the crunch stage of Group D.

A CONIFA World Cup Sticker Book would have been magnificent
If you've managed to read your way through my preview so far, hopefully you've enjoyed it and you'll be able to hang on for my final ramblings as I look at the side that I'll be supporting in the World Cup, Ellan Vannin. As a Yorkshireman I was privileged to be able to make the journey back up to God's own County in January for their first ever match and they started off in style with a big match against one of CONIFA's top nations. The Isle of Man side came into mainland England with the expectancy of giving Yorkshire a proper battle in their debut and they did just that. Live from the Yorkshire NuBuilds Stadium, home of Hemsworth Miners Welfare, the two sides gave us a very good game and even though Yorkshire looked the more likely side in the opening half, it was Ellan Vannin who took the lead in the second through a player I've been a big fan of, Furo Davies. The hosts got themselves back into it as Jordan Coduri finished well to give Yorkshire a draw, but even then I had a feeling that Ellan Vannin will be one of the big sides at this year's World Cup. Despite being largely all based in the IOM Premier League and having a strong spine built around St.George's AFC, they do also have a midfielder from Bottesford Town of the North East Counties League in the shape of Alex Holden and even an Irish Premier League player as Seamus Sharkey will bolster the squad with the likes of big Furo, Sean Quaye and their topscorer Frank Jones all adding to an impressive line-up. They'll win games, even if it's ugly, and with less travelling to do than most I reckon they'll be in the Final come Saturday 9th June.

Especially if this man's on form!
Before I post this entry, I just want to thank CONIFA for bringing a proper World Cup to London and as one of the Media Representatives for the tournament I cannot wait to follow the whole competition. For those of you who haven't seen already, I have designed the official wallchart for the event and it is available for free download. Some clever nerdy folk have worked out a way to print it out in high-quality A2 form, which is also pretty cool!

Thanks to @ThatChris1209 for making my work look so beautiful
Hopefully if all goes to plan, I'll be making it to fourteen matches at nine new grounds in the ten days of the tournament and I'm sure if you are around you'll see me at some point. When I'm not having a beer with Partizan Bristle, I'll probably be hanging out with whoever else will listen to me, so to leave you all I'll finish by posting some links below to the matches I've been to involving CONIFA sides. If you are thinking of going to a game, don't just think about it... get on down and cheer on Tibet, Barawa, or whoever you fancy. You might not support any of the teams, you may not know any of the players, but it's still worth going along. Heck, if you're stuck for a team to cheer on. Pick the one who has the best looking kit- a tough choice by the way!

This is mine, in case you were wondering
Matches I've seen so far including CONIFA members:


Thursday, 10 May 2018

07/05/18 Review: Redgate Clayton vs Eastwood Hanley

Redgate Clayton 1-4 Eastwood Hanley (Staffordshire County Senior League Premier)
Northwood Lane

Another local ground for me and with just five miles separating Northwood Lane from my humble abode, it was about time really that I got myself down to the home of Redgate Clayton. Since the start of the season I have been doing my bit to knock off some of the Staffs County level grounds and especially since I've been running the media for Stone Dominoes I have gotten myself out and about to some of the region's offerings, with Monday's ground being my tenth in this division- which admittedly includes the ones I'd already visited from some of the clubs who also have a team playing in a higher division. Clayton are not one of those sides and this is indeed their first team, so this end of season match against Eastwood Hanley would be a decent chance to see if they could replicate their success of a 9-3 away win at Florence back in September's Staffs Challenge Cup. This was also my second time seeing Eastwood this season, having reported on their 3-3 draw with my Dominoes just a couple of Wednesdays ago.

From prior experience, it was guaranteed to produce goals
My travel from Whitchurch had been pretty easy going and after seeing a 1-1 draw prior to this evening's game my hopes were up for the strikers of these sides, who sat sixth and fifth respectively and just a point from each other, to grab a few goals and as a result of this I made a prediction of a 3-4 victory for the visitors. When I got parked up outside Northwood Lane I had half an hour to spare and so after handing over a couple of quid to enter, I popped into Lewey's Bar for a swift pre-match beer and at this early stage in the evening I noticed a couple of other groundhoppers milling about. Sitting across from me was a chap in a Leicester City shirt, a man who I later found out had travelled up just for the game, but more astonishingly was a visually impaired traveller who had come to tonight's game all the way from Norwich! I must admit that I've travelled to some pretty ridiculous places just for football, but to be not able to see and still make all that effort to come to what is basically a glorified field is something else. I had a brief chinwag with the latter and discovered that he had also been to watch Poynton in Cheshire for the afternoon game there, with his intention after the game being to rush his way back to Stoke station and then get the train home to East Anglia.

He even ordered his own Stokie commentator, duck

As I've already mentioned, Nortwood Lane plays pretty fast and loose with the term "football stadium" and is perhaps the first I've been to where there isn't one single designated terrace, stand, seating area nor shelter to at least talk about in the build-up to kick-off. Instead I listened to the man from Clayton talking to somebody with no vision about clay and the area that this area of Newcastle-under-Lyme is known for. The sun was still shining though and that brought me to examine the main feature of the field, the two metal sub benches sitting at opposing ends of the pitch absorbing the heat- a delight, I'm sure, for the management teams and subs of either side in this monstrous heat.

You could boil an egg on these bad boys
Even the players had taken to cooling off in the shade beforehand and as the start time finally loomed I was delighted to see my favourite counties level referee, John, emerge from the changing rooms looking fresh and ready to give his questionable and often mind-blowing ways with the game a go in this evening's match. Just as the game started, I was approached by another groundhopper and online friend who I'd met through Twitter- Terrace Traveller! The local lad, currently living in Coventry, had been on the same double-dose as me for the day and it was very nice to finally meet him face to face and also his Dad who was in attendance. We got chatting as the game got into full-flow and we shared some tales of ventures around the country whilst Redgate Clayton looked to grab the early initiative. In the opening five minutes Shaun Searle cracked a venomous pile-driver towards goal and I hesitate to say but it probably would have gone in were it not for some unintentional heroic defending from one of his own players who took the ball straight to the upper chest and chin. Ouch! Over at the other end and into the 20th minute Eastwood opened the scoring after Andy Bratt shrugged off a Clayton defender before cutting inside and applying a finesse finish to guide the ball into the top corner for a very welcoming first goal. Clayton 0-1 Eastwood. With an early goal to their name, Eastwood had an advantage so far and over to my right the home manager was starting to get a bit wound-up by some perhaps over-exaggerated flopping about by some players. "It's a man's game, you prick!", shouted Alex Derrington at Thomas Luquet after he was grounded.

Close your ears, kids
With not even 30 minutes on the clock John made his first big call of the game and it was to give a penalty to the away side, which Asa Tomkinson took pleasure in converting to put Eastwood in a stronger position. Clayton 0-2 Eastwood. In truth the away side looked more likely than grabbing a third before half-time than the hosts did of getting back into it and just before the whistle blew to end the first-half Tommie Cooke passed it in to Liam Robinson who should have converted. Nevertheless, the blue side from Hanley will have been feeling great and after a quick turnaround and a top of the old beer from me, it was time to get the action back underway.

That's the stuff
Back outside the shade had finally made its way through to the field and perhaps with it the hot-headed nature of the game had been taken away. Perhaps. I hadn't even made my way around to pitchside properly by the time Eastwood got the third goal of the game, which was a good thing as I was perfectly placed to see Robinson take control of the ball and pelt it past Matt Holmes in the home goal. Clayton 0-3 Eastwood. My main man John hadn't had much controversy yet and my only hope for the remains is that we'd at least get something to keep his legend alive. As a very heavy challenge went in from Wayne Glover for Redgate, the referee vigorously blew his whistle as I prepared myself for a card to be shown. Would it be yellow? Should it be red? Glover got up close to the main official before shouting out "fuck off John, it's rubbish" and at this point I remember thinking, this has to be a sending off now. Alas, John will be swayed by no man and he brandished a yellow instead, which led to the Eastwood Hanley bench irrupting. As someone shouted out "John, you're a coward." he retreated to towards the bench pointing his finger and simply saying "don't go there." I imagine John is one of these ex-army guys or a former policeman and the only thing that can tip him over the edge is questioning the size of his bollocks.

He does what he wants, he does what he waaaaaants....
For the sake of the game I was glad to see the Clayton man, who looked like a Stokie version of former Spurs man Mido, stay on the pitch as he would eventually come up with a strong contender for the Pint of Football goal of the season. The big forward found himself 35-yards out and as the ball bounced he quickly glanced at the goal before looking down at the ball and pulling out an absolute slobber-knocker of a half-volley which flew into the net like a rocket. WHAT A HIT! Clayton 1-3 Eastwood. That wasn't to be the final action though and substitute Elisio Francisco had the last laugh as he mugged the Clayton right-back before sprinting in to score his side's fourth and final goal- a good impact from the substitute who I'd also seen score a great goal against Dominoes too. Clayton 1-4 Eastwood. Game over and time for me to make the short ride home. Another great double-dose of the beautiful game and perhaps, sadly, my last domestic club game of the season. Don't worry though, it is far from over and I'll be back in action for the CONIFA World Cup- a competition that will see me write at least a dozen entries as I soak in the whole tournament in London. Cannot wait, lads!

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

07/05/18 Review: Whitchurch Alport vs Oswestry Town

Whitchurch Alport 1-1 Oswestry Town (North West Counties League First Division)
Yockings Park

With the May Day Bank holiday coming to an end you can almost feel the season closing in, which must mean it's time to slot in another couple of local grounds and with a scorching day on order it was the perfect time for me to check out Yockings Park, a ground just two miles away from the Welsh border. This northern Shropshire town side were playing their final League game before they embark on a play-off venture against Sandbach United, home of one of my most recently visited grounds, but today's encounter against fellow borderline boys Oswestry Town would prove to be a good warm-up for what is to come in Alport's pursuit of the Hallmark Security Premier League.

An eighth game in eleven days, the joys of Annual Leave
With an extended time off work granting me a lot of football since a week last Friday, this afternoon's game was to be the eighth of nine games in eleven days and it allowed me to gather momentum as I enter a strong ending to the season. My thirty mile trip through Staffordshire, Shropshire, into Cheshire and then back into Shropshire took just over 40 minutes and with the sun doing its best to incinerate my right arm I arrived looking like my own before and after shot from a holiday in Mallorca. I parked up with 15 minutes to go until kick-off and exchanged a fiver for entry into the delightful Yockings Park, which at five of anybody's English pounds is a bargain in my opinion- I know that I've paid double the price for worse grounds over the past couple of years.

Many similarities to Bridlington Town's ground
Aside from a few slight geographical differences, I felt that on first impression I was standing upon a replica of my hometown ground of Queensgate Park and with the same red and white colour scheme I was transported back to my playing days playing for Brid Town's under 18's for a summer. I have, of course, been back recently to do a write-up of my old stomping ground for a dull and freezing game between Scarborough Athletic and Glossop North End, and it seems fitting that was exactly 100 grounds ago now in my groundhopping travels. Reminiscing aside I joined the queue for the bar, which was confusing a lot of people with its longevity, before grabbing a tinny to take out just in time for the players coming out. With a 4th versus 18th place match on offer, I decided to predict a solid 4-1 win for Alport and in doing so added it to my seemingly infinite list of score predictions I've got wrong this season!

Match time!
Oswestry started the game the better of the two sides and with Tse Yue hitting a couple of ambitious strikes high and wide the match didn't delay in garnering a bit of momentum. Both teams were built in a similar way, with gigantic players down the centre and speedy wingers around the flanks, and the only real surprise for me was to see former Macc player Ben Mills reverting to a centre-back these days. The 29-year old Stoke born player had always been a striker since I'd seen him play for the Silkmen and then later for Newcastle Town and Kidsgrove, but despite donning the number 10 shirt today he was at the heart of his side's defence as he watched another ex-Grove player in Aaron Johns go close for Alport just before the 20th minute. Despite the 2015-16 Mercian Regional League winner's Oswestry Town being a whopping 48 points below their top four opposition at the start of play, there was no difference on the pitch and both sides continued to battle for the opening goal, but as is often the case the side with form can grab a goal from nothing and that is exactly what Whitchurch did. Some intricate build-up play saw a lot of silky passing, including a one-two from Nick Marley and when the right-back got the ball back he was perfectly set-up just inside the box to look up, pick his spot and then place the shot past Louis Mackin in the Town goal. Whitchurch 1-0 Oswestry.

Against the run of play, but that's what the best sides can do
Just before the break there was a stoppage in play as a fairly robust challenge led to a bit of pushing and shoving over on the far side of the field, but aside from that there wasn't much else to note. Half-time came with the hosts leading and although they'd been far from dominant they took a lead into the second-half and they seemed to start with more confidence this time as Nick Porter set the scene by testing Mackin in the opening couple of minutes. At the back though things weren't going as swimmingly for the reds and after a plucky ball was dinked in from Joe Newton there was a miscommunication between the Alport keeper and Joe Minshall, which allowed Dan Tinsley the opportunity to poach a shot on goal and his sliding leg hit the ball into the net for a Town equaliser. Whitchurch 1-1 Oswestry. With half an hour still to play, both sides gave it a go but ultimately there were only a few half chances for a winner.

Spare a thought for this chap
As the very lonely contractor, who'd agreed to work in this heat, on a bank holiday, during a live football match, continued to work on what will presumably become a new clubhouse or something of the sorts, the match started to feel as though it was taking its toll of the sun too. Oswestry won a couple of late corners and the majority of the 352 in attendance cheered on Alport into the deep of the fixture, but ultimately it was destined to be a sharing of points in this one. As the Referee blew the whistle for the final time, I dashed straight off knowing that there was still more to come for me- a 6:30pm kick-off at Redgate Clayton's Northwood Lane would be the true end to my Bank Holiday Weekend.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

05/05/18 Review: Holbrook St.Michael's vs Linby Colliery Welfare

Holbrook St.Michael's 5-2 Linby Colliery Welfare (Central Midlands League South Division)
Holbrook Park

A bit of a last minute effort this one and in what was completely my own fault I'd overlooked the fact that GroundHopUK and the gang had organised one of their regular weekends which just so happened to be fairly nearby to me. With no plans and a lack of company for the Bank Holiday Weekend, football was always on the cards and where better to start than in the central Derbyshire town of Belper?

Delightful morning for a kick about
My last outing had taken place on Tuesday and it was in flu-inducing conditions down at Bristol where I joined Partizan Bristle to go and watch an eight-goal marathon of a match between Cadbury Heath and Chipping Sodbury Town in the Western League match, the league whom also coincidentally hosted the last GroundHopUk weekend I attended. Tom and I bravely took on all seven matches of that three day escapade, but this morning I was riding solo and would only be there as a one-off, due to having prior commitments with Stone Dominoes, the team that I volunteer for in the Staffs County League. Thankfully with an 11am kick-off, I could ride out to Belper, enjoy the match and then race back to Hanley for the game in the Potteries- meaning it was game on in this sun-lathered ground and time for my first Black Dragon Badges South Division match. Excited barely even covered it.

Put the crossword down, old timer. It's game time!
I left Stoke nice and early and when I made it to the ground it was only 10:30, so I had plenty of time to do a bit of on the job research into what sort of game I could expect this morning. I parked up, grabbed an early pint and sat on the grass verge looking at how St.Michael's and Linby were doing so far in the season. The answer, unfortunately, was not too well. Before this morning's match, Holbrook St.Michael's were sitting in thirteenth of the fifteen teams in the league and just two points off bottom side Aslockton & Orston, whilst Linby Colliery Welfare of Nottinghamshire were only four points and one place better off, having played two more games than today's hosts. Whenever I've been down in the West Country watching football I've always found the names of the obscure surrounding towns and villages to be a little quirky and it's safe to say that I was finding the names of the teams in this division to be up there- with Swanwick Pentrich Road in particular stifling me. Holbrook had won two of their last five and Linby just one, meaning that with home advantage and also form on their side, I predicted a win for the yellows- 4-3 was my guess.
Not long til kick-off, the fans piling in
The ground was nice enough as I walked around, but certainly made nicer by the weather. With no floodlight facilities nor much in the way of seating structure, Holbrook Park is basically a glorified field with a few random mini stands plonked in, which for the seventh tier of non-league is all that is needed. My favourite couple of stands were on opposite ends of the scale and also the pitch, with a concrete block hut that reminded me of a Yorkshire coast village bus shelter housing six old wooden seats behind the goal next to the clubhouse and upon the corner of pitch nearest the gate that I entered from was a stonewall masterpiece of a stand. In two blocks of three, with one broken, a hugely weather-worn old knackered plastic seat beauty stood before everybody who visited the ground and as most people avoided this classic in the corner, I marched over with my beer as the teams emerged to sit proudly upon it and soak in some of the rays beating down on us.

All the best grounds have a corner stand
But before I could perch my rear cautiously on the back row, I continued around the ground and said hi to a couple of familiar folk from the last groundhopping event. I had a quick natter with a chap from Mansfield who had remembered my ugly mug from October and also rekindled my friendship with Terry the badge man, whilst also buying a Stone Dominoes badge to add to my vintage Macc Town one. Three quid well spent, indeed. Kick-off now loomed and as I carried on walking around I noticed an old man, surely in his 70's, trotting about on the pitch. Intrigue got the better of me and on closer inspection I was shocked to see that the senior citizen was actually the Linesman for the morning, which got me thinking if there is a record for oldest Lino in the country. Apparently AFC Croydon Athletic once called upon an 83 year old, but I'd say this chap might be a challenger. Anyway, enough of that, on with the match.

I can't really knock him though, still fitter than me
Holbrook took the game by the scruff of the neck to start with and in just the third minute it was Paul "Fish" Fisher who missed a glaring header and ultimately began his long pursuit of a goal for the day- the crafty carp got himself into a good position but he should have at least hit the target. Next up to miss a big chance was Chris Hall and the Linby midfielder would rue the miss as just a minute later Chris Saunders nipped in to beat an on-rushing Colliery keeper to the ball and his shot found the net to open the scoring in front of a record breaking Holbrook Park of 212, beating the previous effort of 147. Holbrook 1-0 Linby. The massive crowd that these groundhopping weekends bring can make a big difference for clubs at this level and as I spoke to a very proud Saints club official, he told me of how he would never see a crowd like this at his club again- which again shows just how important these events are. Back on the pitch half an hour had gone already and it was Joe Brumby who would get the next goal of the game from a free-kick, which in truth a couple of players were queuing up to slot away against a statuesque Linby defence. Holbrook 2-0 Linby. The visiting side in red were in self-destruct mode by this point and they were struggling to deal with Fisher, the slippery salmon, up front. Just before the break the home side won a penalty, which was weakly taken by Dom Hayes and easily saved by Connor Richardson.

2-0 at HT, could have been more though
The second-half saw Holbrook come out fighting again and with a bit of skill and luck they soon found themselves three up. Fisher, the crafty cod, was the man to send a teasing ball across the six-yard area and Marshall Collingwood walked the ball in, taking the bait and getting an own goal in the process. Holbrook 3-0 Linby. The visitors weren't to give up though and in a match very similar to Tuesday's there were to be many more goals still to come. Linby pushed forward and Harry Gill would make the dart forward from left-back to take the ball down well from a cross-field pass before applying a nice finish in what I'd describe as Colliery's best play of the match. Holbrook 3-1 Linby. St.Michael's had now squandered a chance of a clean sheet in front of their record crowd, so the aim would have to be the three points and a comprehensive win, which seemed to be the case as Saunders was released again to apply a deft touch over the keeper. Holbrook 4-1 Linby. With just 15 minutes left now the home side continued to go close, with Ashley Hayes and Fisher, the hassling haddock, both shooting into the blue skies around the ground. In the 80th minute it was eventually Fisher, the pesky pike, who got his goal when he had a chance handed to him on a plate that he simply couldn't let off the hook. Holbrook 5-1 Linby. Fish puns aside, the hosts number 9 had been tenacious all day and despite taking a lot of chances to get his goal, he'd made all the right moves throughout and it was totally deserved against a Linby side who seemed to have mentally finished their season already. This was personified late on as Ryan Butler was played in one-on-one only for the sub to fall over the ball and see it swept up by the Saints defence.

Surely the reds will have one more chance to score?
Indeed the visitors would get a final goal to take home on their twenty mile ride, as Liam Cartledge waltzed his way into the box, teed up a shot and then watched as a Colliery man slotted it home after a decent initial save from the Holbrook skipper. Holbrook 5-2 Linby. With that final seventh goal, the game ended and I quickly departed to make my drive over to Hanley for round two. As I sit here writing this with my sunburnt arms, all that's left to say is well played to the hosts who now will ensure they cannot finish bottom. My next fixture will come on Monday as I head to see Whitchurch Alport versus Oswestry Town in the final game of the North West Counties First Division.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

01/05/18 Review: Cadbury Heath vs Chipping Sodbury Town

Cadbury Heath 2-6 Chipping Sodbury Town (Toolstation Western Premier League)

Without an end of season trip to the West Country for a new ground, it's not really end of season, right? Indeed, for the third year on the bounce I was heading through to visit Partizan Bristle (Tom) and the destination for this one night only affair was Springfield, the home of Western League Premier side Cadbury Heath. Across the two Western League divisions this would be my tenth new ground and after attending the Western League Groundhop back in October I was again looking forward to ticking off this one in East Bristol, a ground that Tom had visited once before already.

I'm surprised they let him back in
After quickly wolfing down some Gumbo in Tom's Severn Beach homestead we made the 20 mile journey taking us across the M4 and after the confusion of parking in the near-empty adjacent sports club car park we started to wonder if we'd got the right time. Inevitably we walked a few yards down the road and it all came flooding back to Tom, meaning we'd made it to Springfield in good time. We made our first port of call, surprise surprise, the portacabin disguising itself as a clubhouse and upon entry I got some serious Abbey Hulton vibes from this very ramshackle setup.

As we later found out, the Heathens are fundraising for a new clubhouse and the 1894 founded club certainly won't be judged on the quality of the carpet in their cabin. No, it is true that one of South Gloucester's finest have a trophy cabinet that even recently has been restocked with success last season in the Gloucestershire Challenge Trophy and going back to 2011-12 the Western League First Division title too, so don't be fooled by this small suburban club despite being 18th of 20 teams in this season's Toolstation table. The evening's opponents, also formed pre-1900 in South Gloucestershire, were Chipping Sodbury Town and as a side sitting 14th in the league before the game would provide a stern opponent as they look to consolidate a mid-table finish in their last away game this season.

The calm before the storm
We decided to spend our pre-match enjoyment watching the warm-up from behind the fence and having already kicked one ball back to the training forwards as we arrived, I let my steel toe-capped chum take the next one on, knowing that it would undoubtedly lead to some sort of mockery. His mighty strike bobbled across the floor like a deflated turd and a middle-aged man emerged to state that he could have done better with his arthritis riddled right foot. Amazing! The humour would continue as we entered the ground and as I was stood perusing my free program next to the chap taking people's money I overheard someone ask if Cadbury Heath had a full team for tonight, to which he paused before stating "half of one"- and so the scene was set for another great game. As usual, Tom and I both made a prediction for the outcome and both selected a win for the Sods, 2-1 and 3-1 respectively, just as the game started.

Let the goal fest begin
Within the opening five minutes we were to be treated to a goal and having only just got settled we were witness to some early poor defence from the home side which allowed George Box to go on and set the standard for what would be a very high-scoring contest. Heath 0-1 Sodbury. The Sods continued to look aggressive in attack and as Tom Fry booted one wide in the 10th minute you got a sense of what the result was going to be. Surely enough the home side struggled to restrain a good attacking side and as the likes of Sam Jenkins offered depth in the final third the next goal soon came in the form of a Joe White finish, which was a tad unfortunate for Mitch Norman who'd made an initial nice save to no avail. Heath 0-2 Sodbury. For Cadbury Heath the best it got for them in the opening exchanges was when captain Simon McElroy hit one from range at Sam Burgess, but in truth it was the visitors who looked dominant in the first-half. The Lino on our side obviously took pity on the hosts at one point as Norman looked to have made a good fingertip save and after pointing his flag at the corner spot for a split-second, he then looked at the Ref before they universally called for a goal kick. Nobody argued the decision, but I decided to make a cheeky comment as he ran past us about his initial call, to which he jokingly said "only we know what we saw". Non-league officiating at its best.

Love a good flag
There would be one more goal to report before the break and in the last five minutes Town punished some very deep defending from the Heathens as Jenkins brilliantly released Box who did well to loft the ball over the keeper. Heath 0-3 Sodbury. The game seemed all but over at the break and as we headed back out to the bar we got the feeling that there could well be a lot more goals to come. We reemerged for the second-half as darkness began to fall on Springfield and with it now being a bit chilly in the air we clenched our beers as the game restarted. Looking over at the 40 in attendance with us who veered more towards the old style stand where the tea hut was located, with the odd few sitting in the semi-caged newer Wendy and Terry Mitchell Stand, the game's first chance of the second-half came from a close-range strike from Marcus Williams and the hosts already looked in better shape. This wouldn't stop the away side from striking again though and it was another great combination from Jenkins and Box to give the number 10 his hattrick for the day. Heath 0-4 Sodbury. As the hosts tried their damnedest to grab a goal for their own, they were hit again on the break as this time Box's shot on 55 minutes was saved and Jenkins was left to run in and grab himself a goal after providing assists for most of his side's attacks in the game. Heath 0-5 Sodbury. The goals weren't ending there though and thankfully for the hosts they would grab a couple of consolation goals, which in truth I felt they deserved. First off McElroy struck a thunderous drive which took a slight deflection before beating Burgess, finally giving the home fans something to at least cheer about. Heath 1-5 Sodbury.

"We're gonna win 6-5", chanted Tom and I
An entire 20 minutes passed us by without a goal until an 85th minute penalty was awarded to Cadbury Heath, which Burgess stepped up to take and complete a fairly unsatisfactory brace. Heath 2-5 Sodbury. In stoppage time we saw an eighth and final strike when the away side gained a corner. It was taken quickly and White powered into the penalty area only to then strike home his second, the Sods sixth, of a comprehensive morale-boosting end of season win and further show the home side that improvements will need to be made in time for the next Western League season. Heath 2-6 Sodbury. So ended the fifth game in five days for me with this one, having visited new grounds in the form of Ball Haye Green and Sandbach Community Football Centre in between a super Saturday at my old favourite Moss Rose and the team who I volunteer for, Stone Dominoes. I will be back in action some time soon before the CONIFA World Cup, so look out for my final domestic season ventures, wherever they may be.