Sunday, 17 February 2019

16/02/19 Review: Tividale vs Malvern Town

Tividale 1-1 Malvern Town (West Midlands (Regional) League)
The Beeches

Mid-February football is undoubtedly one of the greatest things around and it is safe to say that if a match at this level is on, it is bound to be a feisty one which is attended by only the bravest and the boldest fans of their respective clubs. Yesterday's outing to The Beeches in Tividale, wedged in between Wolverhampton and Birmingham, ticked all of the boxes for me and was therefore a dead cert for this weekend's antics. Astonishingly, this trip would be my first to a West Midlands (Regional) League match and this step six fixture would see me take in my second ground from this division- my only other was Wolverhampton Casuals' Brinsford Stadium for a Walsall Senior Cup match. One of the joys of groundhopping is that even 146 grounds in there's still whole leagues locally that I am yet to explore and after this afternoon's experience I certainly won't be hesitating to go along to a few of the more local ones to me in this league- Coppice Green Lane in Shifnal, Wednesfield's Amos Lane and Queen Street of Bilston Town. As the name suggests, this league covers clubs in the West Midlands, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and even South Staffs, with the North West Counties League First Division South also crossing into parts of Staffordshire and Shropshire. One club, Stone Old Alleynians, actually competed in the WMRL league last season and was transferred over to NWCFL for 2018/19 due to the recent restructures of the non-league pyramid.

This, my friends, is what a proper football ground looks like
Although yesterday was my first trip to Tividale's ground, it was not the first time I'd seen the Dale in action and I'm sure they will forgive me for reliving the last time I watched them as an Evo-Stik First Division outfit away at one of my favourite local grounds- The Novus Stadium, home to Kidsgrove Athletic. On the night of only my 13th ground, the Grove ran out as comprehensive 4-0 winners over Tividale and gave them a taste of what was to come. The Dale finished that season bottom of the table, nine points adrift.

These days the lads sit top of the league
Yes, this clash was a big one for both sides as the table-topping hosts welcomed Worcester-based chasers Malvern Town. The game was 1st versus 4th and although seventeen points separated the sides the visitors would undoubtedly wish to give the Dale their fifth defeat of the season and in the process close the gap as they look to try and at least reach potential promotion as the second place side. This position is currently held by Haughmond of Shrewsbury and is being tightly contested by third place Wolverhampton Casuals. With the scene set, I wandered into The Beeches, made a pit-stop at the bar and then headed pitchside ready for kickoff. The players emerged on cue and looked well up for the game, as you'd expect, meaning that this would be a tough one to call. My prediction was a tight 2-1 victory for Tividale. In the early exchanges, the yellow and blue dressed home team had the best chance as a strong attack down the left eventually led to Malvern having to clear one desperately off the line. This would not be the first time we'd see this in the match and as we approached the halfway point of the opening 45, a big triple chance came to the hosts. Following a set-piece, a strike was walloped off of a defender and onto the bar, before being whipped back in only for a header to be denied on the line. With the pressure still on, a third strike was directed towards the Malvern goal and again it was deflected away from off the line. I'm not sure if all three deflections were from the same guy, but either way it was heroic defending from Town as they looked to absorb the early pressure from the top side in the league.

Next up it was the Hillsiders turn to attack
With the game level still in terms of scoreline, the tensions were starting to rise for the home side and it was all getting a bit much for some of the players. Louis Loader, captaining the visitors today, had a great war of words going on with Curtis Cocking for Tividale and after a vast amount of off the ball nudges the referee eventually halted the match mid-play to have a few words. Both sets of fans were laying into the Ref by this point as he failed to give decisions to their beloved side, but on the whole the game was being played with a very stop-start feel as many free-kicks were awarded by Mr Fennelly. From these resulting half-chances Malvern got the feel of Ryan Cheshire's inconsistency to hold on to the ball in the Dale goal and in the 30th minute Harry Clark pounced on the latest spillage to prod home the goal's opening goal. Tividale 0-1 Malvern. The hosts would at this point argue that they'd been on top but to quote that old saying "goals change games" and this was certainly the case here. From the confidence of this strike, the Hillsiders grew in their attacking credentials and the hosts looked shell-shocked at a crucial stage in the match.
The neighbouring Tividale Treehouse Club couldn't bear to watch
Occasionally when a side is top of the league they have spells of not playing well but still manage to do the important thing in nicking a goal- and this would be exactly what we'd witness just before the break. Both of the Tividale forwards looked pretty handy to be despite having limited opportunity as of yet, but Darragh Bustin showed rapid pace on the ascendancy and as he went through on goal in the 40th minute he needed just one chance to equalise. He looked up, saw the rushing Malvern keeper and lofted his firm finish over him and into the net. Tividale 1-1 Malvern. Shortly after this the half-time whistle was blown and it was time for me to have a top up in the clubhouse. I made my way over to the newer of the two clubhouse areas this time and joined the queue of people paying £3.72 for a beer. Yup, peculiar pricing choice if you ask me.

Decent clubhouse though. I wonder if the additional 2p's from the Carling built it?
I've not really spoken much about the ground today and to be honest there wasn't that much to make note of. The only built-up stand was one of the classic old roofed structures which stretched along the length of the pitch at one side, with a few benches housed inside and a small amount of yellow "luxury" seats for the directors of both clubs. The humorous thing was that neither sets of club officials were sat in these seats and as I took a quick perch I soon found out why- you couldn't see the pitch from these seats as they were eye level with the advertising boards around the stand.
If you look very closely, you can just about see a Tividale player through the gap
Opting to instead stand near a couple of locals, the second-half soon got underway at The Beeches and although we would inevitably end all-square, it wasn't for the lack of trying by both sets of strikers. As the hosts kept on top of possession in the Hillsiders half, Demetri Brown was my favourite to grab the winner as he kept on forcing the Malvern defence into rushed clearances with his constant pressure from high up the field. At the other end, Malvern went close on a couple of occasions themselves and you would probably argue that they carved the more clear cut chances of the two sides. Dave Reynolds fought off three home defenders and then forced a long-range strike towards goal, whilst a later strike from midfield would also have to be palmed over by a resurgent Cheshire. Off the field, the fans to my right were giving the linesman a bit of stick over a few calls he'd made. We've all been to games in which the crowd begins to shout out things like "you wanna get yourself to Specsavers, lino!" and the such, however in this instance I was watching my first match ever in which the man running the side had already taken this advice. Yes, the assistant for the day was actually wearing glasses as he plodded up and down the wing.

Talk about leaving yourself open to crowd abuse!
As we entered the last few minutes there was to be a few "almost" moments for the home side, with substitute striker Alex Cameron providing yet another dimension for the Hillsiders defence to compete with. In the end the game ended in a 1-1 draw and I'm sure both sets of fans will suggest they could have gathered up the win, which to me is the ultimate proof that a draw was fair on this occasion. I was soon on my way back home to Stoke and with no groundhops planned in the next few weeks, I suppose it's time for me to go back to the drawing board and look out for some more matches to get myself down to! Until then, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

11/02/19 Review: Scarborough Athletic U19 vs Pontefract Collieries U19

Scarborough Athletic U19 8-0 Pontefract Collieries U19 (Northern U19 Alliance, East Division)
Flamingo Land Stadium

Having made the effort to finally tick off one of Yorkshire's finest old grounds at the weekend in the shape of York City's Bootham Crescent, I would now have the remainder of my trip back up to Bridlington on family visiting duties to find out what else was on offer. On this occasion, the opportunity to hop along to the new Flamingo Land Stadium was waggled under my nose and on a cold Monday night who wouldn't want to go out and watch under 19's football in a pair of horrendously flimsy shorts? It's like being on holiday, right?

Okay, maybe it was just me. Everyone else looks pretty cosy
In yet another act of bold braveness I stepped out of spending a night in front of the fire with my Nan watching Emmerdale in search of some fast-paced footy! Thankfully, I knew exactly the place to find such a thing and with a ding-dong battle of 1st vs 2nd lined up for the East Coast I was in my car and making the short journey from Flamborough to Scarborough. Although my intention was to visit the first team in my debut to their new ground, it isn't that often I'm in the area for a prolonged time and having been challenged by a work colleague who had a lot to do with the development of the facility, I arrived at the Flamingo Land Stadium about half an hour before kick-off so that I could have a potter around. Despite this being a development team game, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were plenty of folk knocking about Scarborough Sports Village and as I circumnavigated the ground I managed to grab a peak over the fence at the lads warming up.
The usual turnstile was closed for this one
My next move was to head inside to the reception-cum-clubhouse area which was obviously also very fancy and modern. From a headcount it looked as though roughly 100 had come out to watch the match and this naturally included a good spread of Pontefract mums and dads out to support their young ens as they represented the under 19 segment of the Evo-Stik Eastern Division One club. I have already watched the two senior sides in action this season, both away games, and on what I can only describe as my wettest outing to date I saw the Colls crush Gresley at the Moat Ground last December. The week before that I was in Basford watching the Seadogs lose at Greenwich Avenue at a crucial time when Boro were top of the Evo-Stik Premier Division. At the start of yesterday's match, Scarborough's youngsters were top of the division by just two points, with the Colls' lads sat in second. Interestingly, the only defeat Scarborough have suffered so far was at the hands of their West Yorkshire opposition and if the visitors could repeat this they would leapfrog the coastal club. Would the Boro be able to take the pressure? I predicted a 4-2 victory, for the record.
No ultras in force tonight
The match got started at dot on 19:45 and within the opening minute the hosts were ahead, as Aiden Thurston took advantage of an early Colls error to slot home. Scarborough 1-0 Pontefract. Some people were still getting themselves comfy in the main stand for this table-topping clash and no sooner had they got settled they were up on their feet again celebrating a second. Harry Bissett managed to get away from the visiting defenders and he was able to double his side's lead with still just three minutes played. Scarborough 2-0 Pontefract. The blue kitted away side looked shell shocked and knew that they already faced an uphill task. This would be made even more the case in the 16th minute as Flynn McNaughton was brave in his efforts to poach yet another goal. Scarborough 3-0 Pontefract. Boro were clearly in ruthless form and well up for the fight, meaning that despite a fifteen minute goalless spell we would soon see the fourth. Bissett was the man again to hit home and it was already game over. Scarborough 4-0 Pontefract. The Pontefract gaffer responded with a quadruple sub in response and this did at least keep the score at four until the break.

A four goal first half, lovely
If, like me, you expected the second-half to be slightly less eventful, you'd be mistaken. The second 45 kicked-off and with the introduction of a Boro substitute in the form of George Warmsley, we would see the left-winger add another level of quality to proceedings. The number 16 picked up the ball on the left, cut inside and then smashed home the best goal of the game with his first touches. Talk about impact. Scarborough 5-0 Pontefract. On the hour mark it was a similar occurrence from Warmsley, this time from in the box, as he again was able to waltz past the struggling Ponte defence and knock home his second, Boro's sixth in another devastating attack. Scarborough 6-0 Pontefract. Although the scoreline at this point was reading as a rout, it would be unfair to not mention the chances that the visitors had too. With the side sitting in second and seven points clear of third placed Huddersfield YMCA, they are obviously a good side in their own right and were it not for a mixture of decent goalkeeping at times from Thordasson and poor composure by the away side we could well have seen a 6-3 or even closer scoreline. As it was though, the last five minutes approached and Boro still had a couple more goals in them. It would be Walmsley and Fergus McGauthrie who combined for both of these goals and on the first occasion McGauthrie laid it off for Walmsley who proudly swept his hat-trick much to the delight of Blott and Ingram on the Boro bench. Scarborough 7-0 Pontefract. The roles would then be reversed in stoppage time as this time Walmsley returned the favour and unselfishly allowed McGauthrie to get a well-deserved goal to round off a great evening at the Flamingo Land Stadium. Scarborough 8-0 Pontefract.

Full-time, 8-0
The game ended shortly after the final goal and I headed straight back to my car ready to drive home. All that's left to say really is well done to Boro on a great display and hopefully one that will help them on their way to glory!

Monday, 11 February 2019

09/02/19 Review: York City vs Ashton United

York City 2-0 Ashton United (National League North)
Bootham Crescent

With 2019 well underway by now, the time was ticking on my opportunities to get up to Bootham Crescent and visit their legendary ground before it is knocked down and the Minstermen move over to Monks Cross to become another great club that make the switch to a new ground. The groundhopper in me is obviously very saddened by this, but the financial bore in me is pleased for the club that they will have the chance to move to a high-quality facility which won't cost £60k per year to maintain.

But just look at it!!!

My last entry of 2018 came as I took in another sixth tier match and although it was 220 miles away all the way down in Essex, I was more than happy to be back in National League action following a very enjoyable day out watching East Thurrock versus Dartford. To compare Rookery Hill to York's relic of a ground would be unfair as this is (was!) quite clearly a football league ground filled with history and meaning to the people of Bootham and Clifton, just above the River Ouse in the heart of York. When the Minstermen do eventually move to their new ground, it will be located about four miles north of this in Huntington. Driving in from Stoke I arrived in York early doors to have a catch up and a cuppa with my Aunt Julie, before sauntering into the surrounding streets of Bootham Crescent in search of the mythical free parking outside the ground. Thankfully I myself a tight Yorkshireman and so with persistence and the advantage of having a small car, I managed to park up just three minutes away from the ground and with half an hour still to go until kickoff I was pretty chuffed with my efforts so far.

Maybe I'd even have time for a pre-match pint...
Fortunes would soon turn though and having walked up to the outside of the ground I then had the horrible realisation that I'd forgotten to withdraw any cash. I quickly counted up all my pennies and realised that I only had £12.50 on me, which was £1.50 short of the entry fee. Knowing that time was all of a sudden very precious, I asked around for the nearest cash point and was given the humorous response of "yeah, end of road, turn right and it's outside shop. About 12 mile away!" Needless to say it was more like half a mile and thankfully I was able to complete the journey and get back to the ground with ten minutes left- which was just enough time for me to take in all of what makes Bootham Crescent so great. I stood in the home end, behind the goal, with a lively York City support. This terraced section of the ground was pretty hefty and will be impossible to replicate at the new ground, although I did have to have a laugh when I purchased my ticket as the lady in the kiosk said to me, "you're brave going in with that scarf on." In case you were wondering, the apparently controversial item of clothing I was wearing was a Harrogate Railway Athletic scarf- I know that York have slipped down the leagues lately, but are the North East Counties League side really that much of a threat? Equally impressive was the main stand, known as the York Pullman Family Stand, which reminded me very much of the main seating area at Altrincham's Moss Lane. The semi-dilapidated stand is the mainframe of the stadium and is also where the players' entrance, ticketing office and club shop all live, similarly to how Macc Town have it at Moss Rose. Obviously, with the ground being York's home since 1932 there is a massive divide between opinions on the move, but the more I looked around the ground the more I started to feel that the club is in need of an upgrade. One example is the toilets in our stand and them being a good two minute walk through a muddy field to a tatty old building which appeared to be attached to the rear of some lovely new flats! I expect soon enough that exact ground will become more lovely new flats and although it pains the footballing romantic in me, I couldn't help but think back to the state of the derelict main stand at Cliftonville in Belfast.

Onward and upwards? I suppose only time will tell
On this chilly but sunny day there was, of course, also a match to be enjoyed as part of my journey and as the two sides entered the field the atmosphere rose again as "City, City, City" chants began from our stand. York, who started the in 17th, were performing inconsistently to say the least and to summarise this I looked at their two recent matches against Darlington- a 5-1 away defeat on Boxing Day and a 4-0 victory at home on New Year's Day! They've also had losses recently against North West sides Chorley, Curzon Ashton and Stockport, in amongst good wins over Brackley and Alfreton. Safe to say that with the arrival of relegation candidates Ashton United, anything could happen here and in an attempt to make a reasonably conservative prediction, I went for a 2-1 home win on this occasion. The hosts had many former Macc Town lads in the squad today, with Moke and Burgess lining up in central midfield and Parkin filling up the sub's bench alongside the man who scored the first live professional goal I ever witnessed- Hamza Bencherif! Another fun fact whilst we're here- As a Silkmen fan I went to Wembley to watch our FA Trophy Final defeat at the hands of York a couple of seasons back and I actually had money on big Jon to get the opening goal, which of course he did. A small softening to the blow when going to Wembley to see your side lose a final!

I bet these lot had a lovely day out
The match got started and with the visiting side lining up in a purple strip the would almost instantly be on the back foot as York looked to push on early and force the issue. Burgess looked lively from the first-kick and despite the hosts racking up half a dozen early corners they could not get any real momentum together and Ashton continued to defend in a somewhat comfortable way. The fans in the stand next to me began to chant out a couple of verses of "what do we think of Scarborough? Shit. What do we think of shit? Scarborough" and I politely stood awaiting the eventual funny looks of people at my green and red scarf. It's Harrogate Railway Athletic for goodness sake! Get a grip!

Lovely afternoon for it
The main man up front for York and also the club captain is Jordan Burrow, formally of Morecambe, Stevenage and Lincoln amongst others, and it was he who was looking most likely to notch. His style of play wasn't dissimilar to that of Parkin's, which led me to believe that York have landed a bit of a coup with the tall lad who had actually managed to bag a few goals in the division above last season with Gateshead. Sorry, I shouldn't say that a player at this level is a coup, the man stood next to me in his Real Madrid hat and Leicester City jacket might have something to say about that.

Support your local team, don't be a plastic Leicester/Madrid fan
The first-half could have come to an end with a goal at either end as Jake Wright firstly headed a great chance straight at George McMahon in the Ashton goal, before a visiting corner was well saved at Adam Bartlett's left-hand post- a good reaction from the otherwise untested York City keeper. With the two big chances passed by, it was time for the Ref to call an end to the first 45 and that gave me a further chance to potter around the ground. Surely enough the second-half started in a similar fashion, with York largely on top and looking the most likely to score. Ashton's main chances to net one came from set-pieces and when Adriano Moke dived in to concede a free-kick to the visitors, some of the more pessimistic fans began to wonder if the game was slipping away. At the other end, York had a massive double chance as Wright was yet again denied by McMahon before Alex Kempster then blasted over the rebound. Big Jon came on for the last twenty minutes and you could see that the Minstermen were throwing everything into grabbing a late win. In fairness to York, they could have been at least a couple of goals to the good by this stage but as we all know when things aren't going your way that you could also find yourself on the wrong end of a frustrating 0-1 loss.

Time was running out for the lads
Thankfully for Steve Watson's men today was not one of those days and they did eventually rally round to a late win. With little more than five minutes left, the pressure paid off as captain Burrow prodded a shot towards goal and on to the post. The crowd's gasp and momentary silence then turned to joy as the ball bobbled over the line and finally opened the scoring at Bootham Crescent. York 1-0 Ashton. In and amongst the excitement of the first goal, Jamie Reed had entered the field for Ashton and he received one hell of a reception as the former City man came back to his former hunting ground. The striker, who was in the famous FA Trophy and Playoff double winning side of 2012 and has since been been playing in Australia and Wales, before making a return back to England for Ashton. Despite his efforts though, he couldn't be the impact sub that his side needed and with the came coming to a close it would be Burrow who got the last say- his clever finesse finish from out wide curled into the top left-hand corner in stoppage time and with that the roar of relief shouted out as three points were guaranteed. York 2-0 Ashton.

Spilt brew in celebrations. Heartbreaking
Feeling pleased to have seen not only a game at Bootham Crescent, but also a home win, I made my way around to the clubhouse at the end and to my disappointment it was shut. With just a brief pre-match peek inside, it would have been nice to end my outing with a cheeky pint before I headed off to Flamborough to visit family. Alas it wasn't to be, but either way it was a great footballing afternoon and I am pleased to be able to say that I visited York City's historic old ground before it is demolished. Cheers Minstermen and good luck with the move to the new community ground!