Saturday, 9 November 2019

03/11/19 Review: Thornbury Town vs Cribbs

Thornbury Town 1-3 Cribbs [AET] (FA Vase, Second Round)
Mundy Playing Fields

Is there anything better than standing in a cold field on a hungover Sunday afternoon? If there is, I certainly haven't it yet and Thornbury Town would prove to be the "middle of nowhere" part of the country I found myself in to complete a great weekend in the West Country that contained four new grounds as I pursue the big 200. Accompanied, as I always am in the these parts, by the Severn Beach Trojan also known as Tom, it was time to dust off the despair of yesterday's two game, ten goal, five pub and twelve pint Saturday to see if Thornbury Town could shock their higher level opponents in the FA Vase.

If I said he was crazed for the vase, it would be no lie
With everything from The Anchor to The Butcher's Hook ticked off the night before, we made our journey back out to South Gloucestershire knowing that the game rested upon the fate of the clouds. Thankfully, as with the other three games we got to, fortune favoured the bold and the choice to get the game on by Thornbury Town was rewarded as a cold but dry afternoon granted me the chance to visit on of Tom's favourite locals in the form of the Mundy Playing Fields. Today's opponents were from just ten miles away in Cribbs Causeway and the Western League Premier side would be sure to be up for the challenge against the Hellenic Western Division side. Cribbs FC, who were the first Western League side I visited back in May 2016 in a match that also went to Extra Time, started the day as favourites even though the mid-table step five club were coming up against a side who've only lost once in the league so far, albeit in the tier below. So far we'd struggled to successfully predict the results in any of the three games attended, which would soon become four as Tom this time predicted a 3-1 home win whilst I expected a 1-4 defeat for the hosts.
Ahh well, at least I got to appreciate another corner stand
I'm not sure if I missed the memo when it was decided that non-league clubs should start to bung their main stand in the corner, but after visiting Chirk AAA earlier in the season I was left yet again flabbergasted as the only seating area was located in hardly the most prime of locations. The rest of the ground was very pretty but also rather bare, with the highlight for me being the open feel to Mundy Playing Fields and in particular the bush that surrounded a lot of the ground. The game had already kicked-off by the time we popped into the clubhouse for a hair of the dog and with the club announcing that they'd already sold out of most hot food we took that as a good sign for the club in terms of crowd numbers.

And true enough, there they were
In terms of game action, the first-half was so far fairly open with the visitors certainly looking more competitive in terms of physicality, but also making it harder for themselves by portraying the passing skills that one would not expect to see at any level. In truth, it was so bad in parts that even the young linesman on our side of the field was giving advice to the players, with a particular moment of humour coming as he appeared to talk a Cribbs lad through a corner that he was taking. I can only think that the reason behind his supporting of the visitors was due to the fact that Thornbury lined up with an absolute eyesore of a shirt numbers game. From what I could gather, the back four of the hosts eleven seemed to be numbers 11, 8, 10 and 6, which began to make me feel nauseous! Either that, or the hangover was taking over.

Still, at least you couldn't see that monstrosity from the main stand
With no goals scored in the first-half, the teams went in to regroup (and hopefully change into more appropriate kit numbers for their positions) meaning that we could spend a few moments back in the clubhouse warming up after what had admittedly been a chilly opener. Thankfully, we'd only have to stand out and shiver for another 45 minutes- or so we thought!

Second-half; time to show us the goals
Floodlights now on, it was time to get down to the proper action of the game and as per the first-half it was the visitors who looked the most likely. Mark Viner, posing as one of the Non-League's many Jaap Stam lookalikes, had put in a good defensive display so far for the hosts and the tough man kept up his persona in the second-half as he took down a player before bending down to him and shouting "get up, ya prick". Just past the hour-mark though and it would be advice that would come back to haunt the reds as Jake Hodgson got up to bullet home a header and give Cribbs the lead. Thornbury 0-1 Cribbs. The game had craved a goal, in fairness, so thankfully one came in time to allow for the match to open out a bit. It's always nice to see a lower league side trying to get back into a game of this magnitude, with some crumbling and falling into a pummelling, others trying their hardest until they get knackered, and of course those who make the unexpected comeback.

The question was though, which type of side were the Mundy men going to be?
As the home side tried their damnedest to grab an equaliser, they left a lot of holes at the back and had the Cribbs subs been a bit sharper we could've seen the game taken out of their grasp. The darkness was now upon us and we approached the last five minutes, meaning that it was time for Thornbury to become heroes or go out as zeroes. Thankfully for the hosts, they chose to give it a proper go and when Brandon Benjamin got the opportunity he hit a great strike, hard and low, which bobbled off the post and into the goal, meaning that on both occasions watching Cribbs they would go into the end of 90 minutes with a 1-1 draw. Thornbury 1-1 Cribbs. Shortly after the goal the game drew to a close, well, at least we thought it had. A lot of people started to move toward the exit but as the players stood beside their respective dugouts we started to hear murmurs of extra-time. Weirdly, the prevailing rumour was that the game would go to ET, but then if it wasn't decided within the two hours there would then be a replay- seemed a bit mental to me, but then again I suppose back in't day they did just used to keep replaying games until someone won. Bring back the days of golden goal, I say.

Come on lads, some of us have a 100-mile journey home after this!
Ultimately our dilly-dallying during the short break in play meant that as we eventually decided to queue up for a final bevvy we would miss the next goal which came in the form of an unfortunate Thornbury O.G. Thornbury 1-2 Cribbs. With a goal scored in the opening minute of extra-time, we would then have to wait until the last minute of it before the final one- and it came from a fairly comprehensive counter that led to an eventual tap-in for Ethan Feltham to set-up an away trip to another local side in Bitton in the third round. Thornbury 1-3 Cribbs. For me though, it was time to head back into town for some barely edible fish and chips before driving back up the M5, back home to Stafford. As always, it was a delightful weekend down in the West Country and I am glad to see that Tom is enjoying footy in Thornbury, a definite new local favourite for my Severn Beach comrade.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

02/11/19 Review: Warminster Town vs AFC Portchester

Warminster Town 3-1 AFC Portchester (FA Vase, Second Round)
Weymouth Street

In a world of postponements, cancellations and rained off games, Tom and I were so far dodging showers like the stray dogs we are and with two games already ticked off in Cardiff on the Friday night and the fabulous Winterfield Road earlier on the day of this visit, we saw that there was still fun to be had and thus we drove over to Warminster to see what the first of our two FA Vase games would offer.

Love me a set of black and red gates... not a bad start
I'll be the first to admit that I am a lover of the Western League and having not tread these grounds for a while, since visiting Springfield in Cadbury Heath back in 2018, I was thrilled to be checking out my eleventh and one of the oldest in the league in the form of Weymouth Street. Of the five I'd seen in this division up until now, West Clewes is my standout ground of note so far and with the arrival of Fareham based side AFC Portchester, we traipsed through the leaves and into the doors of this second round vase game. Although the ground itself is basic it reeks of that delightful Western League character that I've come to love over the years and as the rain dropped down on us we took in the ambience amongst a healthy crowd, a gust of leaves floating around us and of course the whiff of farts descending from the clubhouse that contained a mass of England rugby fans who had clearly gone from optimistic, to heartbroken, to drunk- aka, "the full English".

Still, decent little beer hut nevertheless
Although the match had already began, Tom and I made our usual pre-match predictions and due to the nature of knowing very little about the away side I plucked out a 1-1 draw for my guess, whilst Tom put full faith in his western roots and went with an 8-0 home win. My only reasoning for him at this stage was that he'd already had a beer! In fairness though, at least my Severn Beach amigo got the result right and the hosts were off to a good start by the time we'd got settled and we just about caught the sight of the ball rolling in as Francois Allen wheeled away celebrating the hosts gaining the upper hand. Warminster 1-0 Portchester.

The magic of the Vase
The whole first-half was pretty well controlled by the home side and despite some resistance from their south coast opposition, who sit fourth in the Wessex Premier League, it would ultimately be a near-perfect first-half for the hosts as they doubled the lead through left-winger Butler. As the right-wing ball came in for the tidy finish, Warminster's keeper led the celebrations by sliding around in the mud and urging the fans to get involved. Warminster 2-0 Portchester. The 143-mile round-trip for the visitors would certainly feel like a sour one if they couldn't get back into the second forty-five and for a while they looked like they had a chance as the ball was slid in to the home goal with plenty of time left to give the Royals a glimpse of hope, for a brief moment at least. Warminster 2-1 Portchester. Yup, that goal seemed to remind Warminster that they were not home and dry yet and they responded in emphatic fashion by thumping home a swerving looping strike to give the drunken rugby lads at least some glory for the day with not too much time left for a comeback. Warminster 3-1 Portchester.

The shed end were going mental too... well, maybe not
In fairness the rugby lot certainly helped to raise the atmosphere and as the final whistle eventually sounded there were many chants of "we are the red and black army" receding from the outside of the clubhouse. The players showed their appreciation and also cheers of their own knowing that they were in the hat for the next round. Since then, they know that an away trip to Roman Glass St. George's awaits. Can they topple Bristol's oldest club? We'll soon find out!

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

02/11/19 Review: Paulton Rovers vs Basingstoke Town

Paulton Rovers 4-2 Basingstoke Town (Southern League Division One South)
Winterfield Road

It's not often you get game of the weekend, ground of the weekend and goal of the weekend all in one hit when on a groundhop, but *spoiler alert* that's exactly what I'd be walking into as I arrived at Winterfield Road for the early KO Southern League South encounter between Paulton Rovers and Basingstoke Town. As the tens millions of you who read my last entry will know, I was on one of my semi-legendary trips down to Severn Beach to visit Tom and that always equates to a tonne of footy and a couple of gallons of beer. Where better to start off than at one of Tom's most highly recommended- and non-postponed- grounds?

I'd barely parked up and he was through the turnstile!
Seems as how my host for the weekend had driven us over to rainy Cardiff for some Welsh Premier League action between Met Uni and Penybont the night before, it was my turn to take the wheel and after waddling through Bristol city centre to the outskirts, we eventually arrived late at Winterfield Road. Thankfully there would be goals aplenty in this one and despite missing out on an early opener from Paulton's Ryan Gay, we were optimistic about seeing more action and rightly so. Paulton 1-0 Basingstoke. As we entered the field from above the corner flag, I was instantly in love with the sights in front of me. The stand behind the goal is elevated above the pitch and was today where the Basingstoke boys would be housed, which followed around past the opposite corner and continued into a roofed terrace that ends just past halfway. Across from this is the main stand which shares resemblances to the beauty at Coles Lane in Sutton Coldfield, albeit a wee bit more cosy, and to my delight it has one of my favourite features of a non-league stand- a dugout that reaches out from the centre of the stand. Glorious!

Yup, it's a beauty!
The rest of the ground is surrounded by a stone wall and it completes the classic look of the two and a half thousand capacity stadium that once hosted an ITV covered FA Cup match against Norwich City. Although the hosts lost 0-7 that day, things were already going much better in this league match and the side, who are battling to overtake unbeaten Thatcham Town and leaders Frome Town, had already shown their intent against struggling Basingstoke. Tom and I climbed up the stairs into the grandstand and nestled ourselves into the fairly full seating area for the remainder of the first-half. The game itself had been entertaining, end to end, and the highlight for me was a rapid attack by the visitors which led to Ryan Suckling clipping the bar with a left-footed strike from mid-range. On the whole, the only eyesore was the Town away kit. Urgh, hate a luminous yellow strip!

Half-time, already?
Knowing that an afternoon game and an evening pubcrawl were still to come, we headed into the Rovers clubhouse to sample a shandy and it's fair to say that the bar area- just outside the stands and next to the car park- is just as great as the ground itself. With everything from a club emblem on the carpet as you walk in, to the many pool and snooker tables in the back room, there was also a wide range of beers to choose from (including Carling Premier... whatever that is!) and they even had the early Premier League kick-off showing on the TV. Who wouldn't want to watch highlights of United losing to Bournemouth whilst sipping a Staropramen and chatting about the various times we've played pool. Perfection- and the best thing was, there was still five more goals to come from the game we were here to see.

Ready for the second-half spills and thrills
By the time the second goal came, just after the hour mark, we'd already seen many half-chances from Basingstoke right in front of us and it would be through a lack of precision from the visitors that they then watched as a foul was conceded to give a penalty on the break, which Ben Bament banged home. Paulton 2-0 Basingstoke. Thankfully for the fans of the luminous boys they would not be downtrodden for too long. As a group of kids from Paulton's support ran into the away end to mock the visiting fans, the Town support would soon regain credibility as just four minutes later Zach Robinson slotted home and all of a sudden the excitement levels in the ground were raised to a mouth-watering level. Paulton 2-1 Basingstoke. The Dragons were flaming by now and when another half-chance came knocking in the 75th minute it would be Robinson who rose highest and beat Joe Perry to the ball, backwards heading the ball past the keeper and forcing a well-deserved eqauliser with fifteen minutes to go. Paulton 2-2 Basingstoke.

The firework display wasn't supposed to start until the evening
With the game now poised at two-all, we began to turn our eyes towards Twitter to see if there was still a chance of getting to a 3pm game nearby. We'd already been letdown by Bitton and Weston-Super-Mare being called-off and it appeared that we were clinging on to the hope that the FA Vase game over in Warminster was still going ahead. As Tom was looking into the distance between our current location and the Wiltshire ground, I watched on as Ed Butcher scored the goal of the day with a wonderful left-footed run down the wing, followed by a bit of trickery to take him out wide and then a lovely finish that nestled into the underside of the net's roof. Paulton 3-2 Basingstoke. Despite the fact that they'd done it once already, Basingstoke didn't quite have enough in the tank for a second fightback and after being let off by a Brad Abraham strike just before full-time, it would eventually be David Sims-Burgess who sealed the deal with a chipped finish. Paulton 4-2 Basingstoke.

Full-time, 4-2
As the game drew to a close, we lingered by the exit knowing that we'd be cutting it fine for the twenty mile jaunt down the country roads and over to see what Weymouth Street would have to offer us. Sure enough the Ref called it a day and we departed arguably my favourite ground visited in the south-west so far ready to take on the second game of the day and third of our four match weekend.

Monday, 4 November 2019

01/11/19 Review: Cardiff Met Uni vs Penybont

Cardiff Met University 1-1 Penybont (Welsh Premier League)
Cyncoed Campus

Having spent almost a month apart from the beloved game, it was time to rectify four weeks of absence as I headed westward to visit my old pal Tom on what would be a weekend filled with four games, sixteen goals and eighty-four beers- give or take. My last outing was over in France at the start of October and it is safe to say that even this annual jaunt over to the West Country would have to be something special to compete with the occasion that was checking out Stade Raoul BarriƩre. The weather forecast was sketchy to say the least and from the moment I left Coventry on Friday afternoon there was a need to keep on checking ye olde social media as slowly but surely I drove into the wet and windy west. After arriving in Severn Beach- my digs for the weekend- I quickly transferred into Tom's car and we began heading towards Wales. Our initial plans to visit Taff's Well or Goytre were scuppered, so we made the call to give the uni a try and the gamble paid off as we emerged at the Cyncoed Campus ground for the 7:45pm Welsh Prem game between Cardiff Met and new boys Penybont.

Is there anything nicer than a wet and windy wander to Wales?
Sadly, on each of our four adventures this weekend we arrived late- but thankfully we hadn't missed much action on this occasion and we made the most of a slow start by attempting to gather some dinner. I spent a couple of quid on a hot dog that I literally inhaled in one go and Tom had even less fortune as there was a fifteen minute wait on chips- thankfully we are simple folk though, meaning that we could quite simply enjoy the gusty rainfall rinsing everyone in attendance as it poured in every possible direction, whilst debating our predictions for the game. Call me a pessimist, but I wasn't expecting a thriller and having seen a goalless match between Stafford Rangers and FC United back in September I went for a 0-0, whilst Tom opted for an away victory of 0-1 for the Bont. As mentioned earlier, this season is their first in the top tier and the merger club, formed in 2013, have so far only managed to conjure up one victory so far and that was against Airbus UK Broughton- the other promoted side in the division. CMU, on the other hand, have somewhat maintained the momentum they built from last season and although the Europa League qualifiers didn't make it too far in their continental campaign, losing on away goals to Luxembourg's Progres Niederkorn, the plan will be for the currently sixth placed side to try and challenge again with their crop of students.

The form has been poor lately for the hosts though
My last outing to a Welsh ground back in August was a second-tier trek up to Chirk AAA and although the game had some resemblances in terms of quality, but to be fair I'm more than used to the non-league English game so you certainly won't see me squirming or moaning as Tom and I stood having a real good catch-up. In and amongst our gassing, we got to see our first goal of the weekend as Will Evans slid home for the hosts just before the thirty minute mark and meanwhile silencing the visiting fans from just over the M4. Cardiff Met 1-0 Penybont.

And we're off!
As you can probably tell from the few pictures I managed to snap in and amongst the precipitation surrounding us, the ground is modern and about as generic as you'd expect from a uni campus ground. It is of high quality, apart from the horrendous port-a-bogs, and there is a nice little blue-seater stand across on the far end. I certainly wouldn't call it a classic, but having been to Oswestry and seen the chuffing ball-pit and bowling alley at Park Hall, I would also admit that I've been to worse grounds. The one major downside for the loud and proud away fans (and us!) was the lack of bar on the ground so we had to spend the whole of half-time walking back to the car to grab a couple of cans from Tom's boot. Yes, they may have been sticky and covered in dog hairs, but it was Friday and we needed to get this party started.

After all, the Welsh are kings of flamboyancy
We spent the second-half behind the goal with Uni's goalkeeper and the lovable goalie, nicknamed by me as "Fuller Bants", kept us entertained throughout the second-half. At one stage he was caught eyeing us up for our canned Kronenbourg and when asked if we wanted a swig, he simply said "see me after". Not sure how serious he was, we carried on our mooch around the ground and ended up in the corner watching at Penybont began to fight desperately for the inevitable late equaliser that they craved. With time getting on and injury time now upon us it was Kostya Georgievsky, a man who is described on Google as being a "diminutive winger", who would grab the leveller and spark wild celebrations amongst the side in blue and white- meaning that the poor form of the hosts continued with a sixth straight winless game. Cardiff Met 1-1 Penybont.

As a neutral, there's something quite ravishing about a last minute equaliser
There was no time following this goal for the hosts to seek a winner and with that the game ended all-square. We left Campus with a slight buzz after the late drama and as per all of my trips to Wales for the footy I would definitely summarise by saying it's worthwhile. The thing I love about the Welsh pyramid is that there is more than often a Friday night match and, weather providing, there are some cracking old grounds knocking about in some places that you'd possibly never visit if not for the footy. I'll certainly be checking out some more of the ones that are a bit more local to my home in Stafford and although Cyncoed wasn't the most exciting one I've ticked off, it was still worth a ride out to!