Sunday, 8 March 2020

07/03/20 Review: Atherstone Town vs Consett

Atherstone Town 1-3 Consett [AET] (FA Vase, Sixth Round)
The Mark Webster Community Stadium

I'm going to start my latest blog off with some advise that is aimed particularly at fans who support teams in the higher reaches of the football pyramid. If ever you find yourself falling out of love with the game, which could be a result of the extortionate prices in the Football League, the annoyance of VAR in the Premier League, or even the depressing financial situation if you support a team from the north west (like me!) then the best thing you can do is look out for an FA Vase latter round match and get yourself down to see it. For those of you who don't know about it, it is basically like the FA Cup or FA Trophy but it is aimed at the lower tier non-league sides, starting with local ties within the regions in the early rounds and then becoming nationwide in the latter. By the sixth round, which is the final eight, you can have sides travelling the length and breadth of the country for a chance to make it to Wembley and this is what makes the competition so magical as yesterday I would see Atherstone Town of Warwickshire facing Consett AFC in front of a jam-packed stadium of excited fans. This is what being a football fan is about and this is why they call it the beautiful game.

A great day for both clubs
Consett, of the Northern Football League, had made the near 200-mile trip down to the Midlands with the aim of keeping up the north of the country's brilliant reputation in this competition which has seen a northern team in the final for eleven of the last twelve years. So far Hebburn Town, also of the same division as Consett, have joined Kent's Corinthian side and Bitton of the Western League in the semis, meaning that there was one place left to settle as the masses began to rock up at The Mark Webster Community Stadium. So far this season I'd made it to one FA Vase game, a second round clash between Thornbury Town and Cribbs, and with that one going to extra-time over in South Gloucestershire I was very much looking forward to seeing how this game would pan out. Little did I know at the time that I'd be writing up a match of the same result that Cribbs gained back in November- I'd predicted a 2-2 draw.

There were slightly less fans at Mundy Playing Fields, though
Back to yesterday's game and I had made a last-minute decision to get the train to Atherstone as it was cheaper and quicker than driving from Stafford, so when I pulled into the station I had a quick mooch around the town centre as I headed for the ground- noting a decent amount of fans in pubs finishing off their final pre-match pints before heading up Sheepy Road for the game. As we all queued up to get in the security staff frisked us and at around 3:05pm I made it through the turnstile and into the heart of the action just in time to see Ryan Quinn bag an early opener. The hosts had apparently started well and when a corner was swung in, it caused Consett's keeper some issues, before it was eventually partially cleared, popped back into the mix and then finally lashed home by Quinn to give the Adders the lead. Atherstone 1-0 Consett. The Durham boys were clearly rattled by the start their Midland League opponents had made and they sat back to invite more pressure in front of their capacity crowd. Just before the half-hour mark a long-range strike from the Atherstone midfield smacked the angle of the woodwork, giving the crowd another excuse to applaud their boys who were so far dominating the play. I dare say that were it not for the efforts of man-mountain Ross Wilkinson and captain Arjun Purewal, a player I've seen many a time with the Panjab national football team, we'd have seen at least another goal for the Adders during this excellent half of football, played with passion, high-tempo and aggression from all involved.
All smiles for the home side as they walk in to half-time with a slender lead
My last outing a fortnight ago to Redditch's legendary Trico Stadium will undoubtedly go down as a season highlight during 2019/20 and although Atherstone's ground isn't quite as memorable, the occasion was certainly up there with the last game I saw with the atmosphere spurring on some decent football on the pitch. The main stand near the bar, which is half fenced off for some sort of health and safety reason, was bouncing at times and the corner which housed the Consett fans also had a buzz about it. I'd placed myself under the quieter of the stands near the dugout, primarily because I had a pint in each hand and didn't want to spill them, but from where I stood there was a great overview of the whole thing unfolding. I also noticed a Northwich 1874 fan stood nearby, which made me feel less odd for mooching around in a Bridlington Town scarf. Not that feeling odd would ever stop me.

And speaking of odd, here's a man with a giant ball...
The clubhouse, known as "The Adders Sports Bar", is exactly what it says on the tin and it follows suit with the rusty and well-worn look of the rest of the ground, with the addition of hundreds more fans than normal causing their bar team to have a busy old shift which would eventually see them run out of larger. Thankfully, I'd made an early trip to the bar when I first arrived and so was stocked up with two pints and that would be enough to see me through ninety minutes, of which the latter forty-five were just about to get started.

Roll on the second-half
I relocated to the seating area for the second-half as I wanted a good view from the halfway line and as a neutral it was an ideal place to be to see as both sets of fans, segregated from each other, cheering on their respective sides as they look to make it into the semis to face Bitton. One thing that was amusing me was the mix of professional security guards and volunteer stewards both doing their bit to keep things running smoothly. For every old kipper in a hi-viz leaning against the burger van, there was a bald meaty man in a tight tee-shirt trotting around and making sure everything was okay. Back on the pitch, the game had restarted and in the opening minute the visitors missed a big chance, but this was to be a signal of the rest of the match's development as the Steelmen grew in confidence.

The tension was building
Further into proceedings Consett knocked on the door again, with a chance this time coming off the bar, but just after an hour had passed we'd eventually see the deserved goal as the visiting right-back, Jermaine Metz, smash home a shot from outside the box that flew past Carl O'Neill. Atherstone 1-1 Consett. With the visiting fans getting a bit overexcited, a few of them were ejected by the security, but that didn't stop them raising the bar on the volume front as they cheered on their lads to try and nick the match in normal time. Despite their best efforts, the game could not be settled and as referee Thomas Parsons blew his whistle that would mean we had thirty more minutes to follow.

Bring it on, EXTRA TIME
It seemed as though the wind had been taken out of the sails of the hosts and their first-half dominance seemed years away from what was now the Consett show. Calvin Smith made the most of a Metz throw-in and he tucked home a smart finish to give the Steelmen the lead for the first time in the game, one-hundred minutes into the game. Atherstone 1-2 Consett. It's hard to put in to context how deflating this goal must have been for Atherstone, who by that point had surely been holding out for penalties. The lads looked knackered and were powerless to resist as Smith doubled his tally and as a result sent the away fans into oblivion. Atherstone 1-3 Consett. In truth, the scoreline could have been worse for the hosts and although it was a valiant effort from the Adders, Consett would be the deserved victor and will go into a two-legged semi in just a couple of weeks time. I'll be interested to see whether the Steelmen can overcome their Western League opponents and potentially setup a final against their league rivals Hebburn, if they can get past Corinthian.
 Next up for Town, a local cup outing to Black Country Rangers

Monday, 24 February 2020

22/02/20 Review: Redditch United vs Nuneaton Borough

Redditch United 3-2 Nuneaton Borough (BetVictor Southern League Premier, Central Division)
The Trico Stadium

Every so often you get the opportunity to experience an ultimate afternoon of football and although that it is a rare thing to come across, this is exactly what Tom and I would come across last weekend as we travelled back in time with a train ride down to Redditch to see the bottom side United taking on Warwickshire side Nuneaton Borough. Would the ground be one of the best we'd seen? Perhaps. Would the game feature goals galore, ugly scenes between the away fans and a player? Possibly. Would we drink too much beer and end up stranded in Wolverhampton on the way back to Stafford...?

Almost certainly!
Just one sleep on from the visit to Deeside Stadium for a gusty Welsh Premier League top versus second battle in which the mighty Nomads overcame the Saints and we were out and about again for a trip south this time. For me, this would be my eighth BetVictor Southern Central ground out of the twenty-two and for West Country based Tom it was his second, having only previously seen Keys Park in Hednesford to set the bar high in what he expected of the grounds at this level. My last outing to a ground in this division was earlier in the month and actually just four miles down the road over at fellow strugglers Alvechurch- I saw them play out a fairly entertaining goalless draw at Lye Meadow against Leiston just three weeks prior. Of course, it would be nothing compared to this absolute classic that we'd see here at The Trico Stadium and when we arrived into Redditch train station we made predictions for a Nuneaton win. I went with an audacious 0-6 whilst Tom predicted 1-4, which when you consider the hosts had scored just one in their last eight, whilst conceding a staggering twenty-eight in the same spell, wasn't a completely unrealistic guess. As we entered the ground, we overheard two fans from opposing sides talking pre-match predictions and the Nuneaton fan ended by saying "well these runs have to come an end at some point"- indeed!

They'd need the help of the Gods to muster up a first league win since August Bank Holiday
It's safe to say that in the groundhopping circles there is a lot of good to be said about the Trico Stadium and having seen pictures of the ground from many who've raved about it, I must say we were instantly impressed with the place as we entered from the main turnstile on Holmwood Drive. Not only were the stewards greeting us friendly, but we automatically felt like we'd stumbled on to an absolute classic in the form of this old school ground and the legendary main stand, clubhouse and dugout megamix stood out as the feature-piece amongst the more modern features such as the green fencing around some parts and also the plastic pitch. As I've gone on record and said before, with grounds such as Bromley's Hayes Lane, I would much rather see a club spend money on investments to improve their pitch and facilities rather than ploughing it into the generic newfangled stands that half of the non-league seems to be popping up at the moment. This, in a word, is a proper bit of footy ground!

What a welcome...

... what a paint job...

... and oof, there's the big boy!
Of course though it's not just about the rustiness of one's seats, nor is it the boldness of one's paint job, there is also the delights of the clubhouse to explore- and that we did. The Reds Bar, in the higher tier of the stand, is simple but successful as it offers a great selection of beers and also the chance to catch the game from the indoor comfort should one choose that as their fate. We decided to be braver than we'd been the previous night during the near-hurricane winds at Deeside and we went out to pitch-side just as the action began. Nuneaton, still in contention and searching for the playoffs, were kicking from right to left from our stance and they got off to a decent, albeit not electrifying, start by attacking Redditch. This battle of red versus blue, another satisfying feature for me when I attend a game, was surprisingly end-to-end considering the form of United and although their goal-scoring form was poor I'd picked out St Kitts and Nevis international striker Romario Martin as the one to watch for the hosts, whilst spotting Luke Benbow, formally seen at Stourbridge, as my Nuneaton threat. Of course, this was not my first time watching the Boro this season and I made my debut to Liberty Way at the back end of last year when they lost to rivals Rushall Olympic, and although they hadn't been playing at their best so far they did strike first in this five-goal thriller when Isaiah Osbourne grabbed the opener and opened up the groans from the stands as you almost could hear the 190 in attendance thinking "here we go again". Redditch 0-1 Nuneaton.

Don't worry, Redditch fans, there was am unexpected storm brewing
Half-time rolled around and we retreated back into the clubhouse just to check that our respective clubs were having an equally as depressing time as the one we were visiting. A quick check on Sky Sports News confirmed that Macc were 0-2 down at local rivals Crewe whilst Tom's beloved Rovers were holding on to a 0-0 which would eventually become a sad 0-3 away at the Stadium of Light. Ahh well, at least we still had the second-half to come at The Trico (or "The Treatco" as is it should be known) and on the hour-mark it was the former Boro boy and aforementioned international striker Martin who banged the equaliser past Tony Breedan. Redditch 1-1 Nuneaton. And before we'd had chance to get comfy again we were jumping around with joy from the clubhouse window as Boubakar Traore, not to be confused with Boubacar Traoré who plays in the Moldovan Premier League, nor the Malian Blues singer, scored Redditch's second goal in as many minutes to send the crowd into a delirious mix of shock and joy as the Reds took the lead for the first time. Redditch 2-1 Nuneaton. By this stage the game was starting to feel like anything could happen and as the hosts began to dream of a first league win in almost six months there was a further twist in the tale as Nuneaton were awarded a penalty. The fresh-faced substitute stepped up to take it, but Powell's strike was denied by Kieran Boucher and I honestly feel that this was the first time that the home fans started to believe that it might just be their day.
We housed ourselves in the Sallie Swan Stand for the remainder
With Nuneaton now throwing bodies forward, the aim for Redditch would be to soak up the pressure and counter, which is exactly what happened with less than ten minutes remaining as Martin was able to strike again and hopefully give the hosts that vital win- only their third in the league as of yet. Redditch 3-1 Nuneaton. Frustration was at a peak from the visiting fans by now and as captain, star striker and top scorer Benbow was brought off they made their feelings heard by throwing abuse towards him in a manner that I would certainly consider unnecessary. I obviously wasn't the only one to think this as the main man himself came back out afterwards to confront the fans and although it didn't lead to physical violence it certainly did get ugly in the stand. In the meantime, most of the Nuneaton fans appeared to forget why they were here as basically nobody was watching the game as Miles Addison grabbed a stoppage time goal which in more positive circumstances could have given the fans a chance to give one last roar as Nuneaton looked to salvage a point. Redditch 3-2 Nuneaton.

Debatable, after those displays
Obviously it was only a handful of people involved in the negativity and I'm not suggesting that the Nuneaton fanbase were to blame, but it did somewhat sour the afternoon for short moment and I was glad to see the guy who was being the most verbally involved removed from the ground, which instantly defused the situation. Credit where it is due to the stewards and of course to the team on the pitch for grabbing that huge huge win which sees them move to within five points of second-bottom Alvechurch- albeit still fourteen off safety! I wasn't lying when I said this blog entry had it all and I have no idea how my next one will even try to top it. Thanks for reading.

21/02/20 Review: gap Connah's Quay vs The New Saints

gap Connah's Quay 1-0 The New Saints (Welsh Premier League)
Deeside Stadium

Hello folks and welcome to the latest instalment of the nonsense which will be known as "the Daz and Tom weekend of football, beers and mild disasters"- an event that occurs a few times a season, bringing with it a groundhopping sensation, mixed with drunken mishaps and of course a good catch-up with the West Country Warrior. Sit back, relax and read on if you want to see how part one of our double-header took us up to Deeside for a mega showdown in the Welsh Premier League as first place Connah's Quay hosted current champions and usual runaways TNS in what was bound to be a classic... unless the wind had its way!

A mere 180 trip for my Bristolian pal
We left Stafford at half past five knowing that we'd be fighting against the inevitable Friday night traffic and although we didn't particularly struggle along the A41, it did take us a good couple of hours to get to Connah's Quay via Whitchurch and Chester. Alas, we arrived just about in time and wandered in amongst the fairly substantial queue in to the ground and before we knew it we were inside the wonderful and windy Deeside Stadium. As is the usual 'Pint of Football' tradition, I made my pre-match prediction of 0-1 to the visitors- whilst Tom correctly predicted the same scoreline, but in favour of the home side.

Let the games begin
Tom and I have actually been fortunate enough to see this fixture once before, back in October 2016, and it was during one of our most ambitious groundhop weekends to date. Yes, we took on the challenge of visiting four grounds, in four days, watching games in different nations- a trip which saw us fly over to Dublin and scoot up to Dundalk's Oriel Park to see them lift the Irish Premier League, before crossing the border to Belfast in search of Solitude and then we flew back home in time for a drive up to Park Hall- the venue which granted us the chance to see TNS eventually grab a fairly convincing 3-0 win. The trip ended back home in Staffordshire as we spent Halloween night at Keys Park, Hednesford. Of course, this weekend was still going to be a good en, with the Friday night delights of Deeside being followed up by the Saturday afternoon outing to Redditch United's Trico Stadium. We'd also planned a Sunday session at Boldmere St. Michael's to see Villa Women, but a crash on the M6 meant that we instead spent two hours sat in Tom's car listening to podcasts instead.

We also went to an Emo Night in Stafford... absolute troopers
Anyway, back to the game here in Wales and the game started with the Nomads on the front foot and taking full-advantage of the gusts that practically acted as a wall preventing TNS from being able to enter the Connah's Quay half. I'd honestly say that there was more time in which the ball was out of play for a throw-in than actually in the field of play, but this certainly seemed to suit the hosts as they hoped to eventually capitalise on one of them and grab the opener. There was also plenty of early stoppages from the initial frostiness of some of the players which meant the Referee had plenty of fouls to punish in this tense fixture. To put it into context, a win for the Nomads would take them four points clear, whereas a visiting victory would see the Saints leapfrog CQN to take the first place position as they hunt down a ninth straight league title. Ultimately, the occasion of this big match was somewhat tampered by the weather, but that didn't stop the excitement from the mighty main stand as on the stroke of half-time Craig Curran stretched out his head to crash home the opening goal of the match, seven minutes into the first-half stoppage time and therefore the PERFECT time to get a goal. The travelled forward from Liverpool, who has played in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, would have been thrilled to get on the score sheet for his new club. Nomads 1-0 Saints.

Time to find some half-time shelter- and beer
At this stage in my write-ups I'd usually attempt to bore you all by describing the fifteen minutes in which I sat in a clubhouse drinking a beer, but on this occasion Tom and I discovered the semi-shameful loophole which is the big screen in the bar showing the match live. Along with many locals, we decided to avoid the rush back outside to the breezy Deeside and instead watched on from the warmth and comfort of the fairly vibrant clubhouse located just around the corner from the ground. Once we'd supped up our pints, we went back out to check that what we were seeing on the screen was real as not only were Connah's Quay holding on, but they also threatened a second goal against the gust- and also their opposition!

We almost resorted to taking shelter to see the game out...
The last Welsh Premier League game I'd taken in was back in November and that Friday night fixture was played in similarly cold circumstances, with a stale 1-1 draw played out between Cardiff Met Uni and Penybont over at the Uni ground- a result that at TNS would ultimately be desperate to achieve as approached stoppage time at Deeside. It wasn't to be, though, and as the full-time whistle blew a shout of relief rang out from the main stand with the Nomads now moving four points clear, with seven games to go, and of course one more match to play against TNS. The final bout between these two will be midway through April and it is bound to be a crucial one as the rest of the top six are the only other teams to have a chance of getting in the way. For the Nomads, they have already had huge season highlights such as beating Scottish Premier League side Killie back in the summer and winning the Welsh League Cup at the start of this month, whilst also still competing in the Welsh Cup, but to be able to lift the league trophy and halt the Saints' dominance would truly be the icing on an already stunning lump of cake.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

01/02/20 Review: Alvechurch vs Leiston

Alvechurch vs Leiston (BetVictor Southern League Premier, Central Division)
Lye Meadow

I can't believe it's the start of February already, which means time is ticking along quickly as we enter the nitty-gritty stages of the season. For me, the target of reaching 200 grounds by close of play 2019/20 is still very much achievable but it is now going to rely on utilising early finishes at work on a Saturday- which meant this weekend could be no exception as I rode along to the delightful outer-Birmingham village of Alvechurch, which lies just seven miles south of Bournville- the beautifully picturesque ground that I observed last weekend.

Lye Meadow isn't quite the natural wonder that Bournville is...
But at least they serve beer!
With a Dry and antisocial January out of the way, I was delighted to be kicking February off with a new ground and of course a beer... I am 'Pint of Football' after all. I arrived at Rye Meadow just in time for the 3pm kickoff and I made my initial scout around the ground a fairly prompt one to allow myself just enough time to take in some of the highlights like the battered old caravan, scrapheap of knackered tractors and generally battered aesthetic of the place. In fairness to the Church, a club formed back in 1929, there is a lot of history to Lye Meadow and one cannot talk about Alvechurch FC without mentioning some of the great moments that the club have seen here. Purchased for a bargain price of £1,000 in the fifties, the ground was officially opened in 1957 and some of the older fans will be able to vouch for the day in which they apparently squeezed over 13,000 (thirteen thousand!!!) people into their 3,000 capacity home for an FA Amateur Cup Quarter-Final encounter with Enfield. Alas, the good times cannot last forever and as with many of the more ambitious clubs at this level the Church are expecting to relocate and move into a new stadium in the coming years as Lye Meadow will become... wait for it... HOUSES!

For the time being though, this will remain home for the loyal fans
To be honest, having seen first-hand the state of North Ferriby's ground when they were a Conference club back in 2016/17, I feel that this will be a good move for the village side as it will allow them to have the facilities to match those of other clubs in their current division (and higher), such as Keys Park in Hednesford which I was highly impressed with when I visited in 2016. I've been very lucky with the grounds I've seen in the BetVictor Southern Central so far and this one is so far the most basic I've come across on seventh trip. Since the shake-up of the division structure a couple of years back, this "central" tier of the southern contingency is made up of clubs in the Brummy and general West Mids region, a few from the East mids and Northamptonshire, then a handful in the far regions of the not so central counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. As a result of this, there are some fair jaunts for certain matches and this one would prove to be one of the furthest travels for incoming Leiston, who reside over 180 miles away on the east coast. Still, with both clubs being balls-deep in the relegation battle, distance is the least of the worries and a win for either side going into this one would have been magnanimous. Of course, this could only mean one thing... a goalless draw that doesn't help either side particularly!

I'd been optimistic pre-match and predicted a 1-1 draw!
This match was my thirty-first of the season and would become my third nil-nil affair, but in all truthfulness this game was miles better than the drab pre-season fitness exercise that I saw at The Hawthorns in July as West Brom had a kick-about and nothing more with Bournemouth. Give me a non-league scrap over a higher-level game any day of the week!

Here at Lye Meadow you are close enough to touch the likes of Nehemia Zazi
The first half an hour may have been pretty dry on the chances front, but second from bottom side Alvechurch were largely on the front-foot against the visitors who sit eight points and two places above them just outside the drop zone. The fact that Leiston have conceded almost double the amount of goals than their amber and black opposition clearly gave the hosts hope and with the likes of Zazi and Kevin Da Veiga Monteiro pulling the strings up top it seemed like the signs were there for a goal or two, although at the break it would ultimately remain all-square despite the Churches efforts. I used the half-time break to pop into the village and grab some cash, making it back in time to grab a bacon butty and a pint of IPA to get me through the second-half which would see the home side continue to agonisingly penetrate the Blues.

If I would ask Alvechurch to take anything from this ground to the next...
Yes, I was lucky enough to seek out a non-league classic to perch on for the second-half and these two benches offered a delightful view of the game and with Alvechurch continuing to pressurise I had prime positioning from the Pac-Man decorated seating. Of course, there was a decent main stand upon halfway and a fairly robust terrace behind the goal that I could have housed myself in, but ultimately I am a sucker for a good bench and I hope that amongst the fancy new build plans located in the clubhouse that they don't forget the character-filled little features that make grounds like Lye Meadow memorable. When I'm in my 80's I fully expect to be sat recalling to my fellow dementia-riddled pals about the Pac-Man bench that they used to have at Alvechurch.

Some things you just never forget
Despite my light-hearted admiration of a wooden bench though, ultimately my journey would be fruitless on the goals front and although the best efforts of a few Alvechurch fans were heard from behind the Leiston net, "come onnnn youuuu Church!" just didn't cut it and the referee ended the game after a visiting striker ran into the knee of Matthew Sargeant and knocked himself out. A strange ending that seemed to cause aggravation on both sides as they understandably chose to blame or defend the Alvechurch keeper's choice to raise his knee when challenging for a catch. Personally, I don't think the Leiston lad needed to run in full-throttle to the hosts' number one and I certainly didn't get the feeling that he meant to cause harm to his opposition.

Still, if there's chance of a thirty man pile-up on the pitch, who am I to judge?
I left the ground, my 185th, shortly after the players eventually withdrew from the mass huddle and walked away knowing that although it wasn't a thriller, it was definitely worth a visit and I would highly recommend a trip to Lye Meadow whilst you can. I'm telling you now, they won't have a caravan full of boxes at the new place!

Saturday, 25 January 2020

25/01/20 Review: Cadbury Athletic Reserves vs Coton Green Reserves

Cadbury Athletic Reserves vs Coton Green Reserves (Midland Football League Division Four)
Bournville Recreational Ground

Football is a strange old game- especially when you consider that for a groundhopper like myself there is much more excitement in traipsing a cold January game featuring two reserve teams from clubs in the Midland Football League than there would be in attending the FA Cup game just five miles up the road. Seems unlikely to those who aren't in the know, but for the strange few of us who do prefer the mossy terraces and single figure attendances, there is certainly no better experience than a trip to Bournville- the home of Cadbury chocolate Athletic Reserves!

Okay fine, it is also the home of chocolate

So I'll admit that I'm not as cool and "proper non-league" as I seemed in my opening remarks, but having made the effort to check out St Andrew's on my last trip to a game it is very much a chalk and cheese scenario. The city of Birmingham is certainly known for its football, as much as it is definitely known for its chocolate, but the real question for the readers that I would like to answer is could it be known for both at the same time? I say yes- which is why I made the special effort to drive from Stafford down the M6 and M5, through Smethwick and into the heart of the Midlands for a reserve match. Of course, this was not just any reserve match though and I wouldn't be the first nor the last to travel over 30 miles to see Cadbury Athletic's young second string side in action, because the side just so happen to house one of the most beautiful and historic non-league views.

To give you a potted history, Cadbury Athletic FC were set up in 1994- presumably as a work team for the neighbouring factories within Bournville model village- and they played at the Rec Ground until they progressed into a division which required them to move to a ground with floodlights. With the first team gone, the multi-use Georgian field continued to be used by the second team who are able to play at a level low enough that they don't need the ability to play midweek night matches. The first team, who are still affiliated with Cadbury confectionery, play their football in Division One of the Midland Football League now and they reside at the Triplex Sports Club. Although to be honest, if given the choice of playing at the gorgeous Bournville site or being able to compete in the Birmingham Midweek Floodlit Cup, I know what I'd pick.

They just don't make em like this anymore
Although I'd had the privileged of checking out 183 grounds before today's outing, I would struggle to name many better or more picturesque sights in a football ground than the feature-piece as I walked into the ground for the 2pm kick-off I was attending- and considering I've seen the beautiful tower of Bologna's Stadio Renato Dall'Arra and the magnificently dilapidated main stand at Solitude in Belfast, there is certainly a fair bit of competition. Alas, I wasn't just here to sight-see and I suppose I should write a little bit about that other thing that was going on... the game of football.

Time for some Midland Football League Fourth Division action
I must confess that I know little about the two teams doing battle and so my pre-match prediction of a 3-1 home win would ultimately be nothing more than a wild and inaccurate guess, especially when the home side went into the game in the bottom half of the table with only two wins from nine outings, compared to Coton Green who had won four so far and would no doubt be the favourites- if favourites even exist at this level. Either way, the game began with the hosts on top after an opener came from Cadbury's number 9 striker who thumped home a shot after his initial effort was denied by Coton Green's keeper. Cadbury 1-0 Coton. The opener looked to wake the game up in fairness and shortly after Joel Ayettey they almost doubled the lead fairly swiftly, but this time the strike from their number 11 whistled past the posts and was nothing more than a shot off target. At the other end the Chocolate Men weren't so tight and despite parking the Double Decker bus, we were beginning to get Wispa's of an equaliser, which came as Coton Green swung in a Curlywurly corner that went over the heads of the Flakes at the back for Athletic, allowing the visiting number 5 to head home a Crunchie header to make it one-all just before half-time. Cadbury 1-1 Coton.

All-square at the break
Needless to say that the second-half was a completely different story and Coton Green would run rampant in parts, but it did remain level until just after the hour-mark until a sloppy goal was bundled in. Cadbury 1-2 Coton. The few surrounding fans cheered as the red and black stripped side took the lead for the first time, but the best was still yet to come as their number 10 chested the ball down and then from 30-yards out he struck a sublime half-volley which looped high and then dipped back down, out of reach of the keeper's outstretched arms and into the goal to seal the points. Cadbury 1-3 Coton. Having seen a beautiful piece of architecture to start the afternoon, this goal was the icing on the already tasty (and presumably chocolatey) cake. But we weren't done yet and in stoppage time two of the Coton Green subs fought over who should take a free-kick, which then put all of the pressure on the number 12 to do something with it. He did- he scored- and that was home time for Cadbury Athletic. Cadbury 1-4 Coton. I've managed to get through this write-up without telling my readers that I don't actually like or eat chocolate, but still that didn't stop me popping into the shop after the game to buy some post-match presents for my partner... who wasn't at all disappointed to hear that I was going to Cadbury World without her!
What a magical place!

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

14/01/20 Review: Coventry City vs Bristol Rovers

Coventry City 3-0 Bristol Rovers (FA Cup Third Round Replay)
St Andrew's

Ahh mid-January, a time where we're all still skint from Christmas and the only thing to get us through the wet and cold misery is the chance to spend the money we don't have going to sit in the aforementioned wet and cold to watch some midweek FA Cup Replay action. In my case, that would mean a trip to Birmingham City's St Andrew's stadium to watch... not Birmingham City!

Confusing, right?

With my first outing of the year also being at the "home" of a Coventry based team last week, I was wondering if the Sky Blues could be as dominant as Alvis were last week in their local cup rout over Wolves Uni at Green Lane. One thing was for certain and that was that this would be either a really good time to play the Gas, or a really bad time- and when you consider that this was my eighth time watching Bristol Rovers without seeing them win in 90 minutes, the signs were all there to suggest that there was only one way for this game to end. Alas, despite watching them draw away at Macc Town, Port Vale and Barnet, as well as suffering defeats to Millwall, Notts County and Wolves, I can at least say that I've seen them win a game on penalties as they just about edged past Grimsby at Wembley in what was undoubtedly the biggest game I've seen the Pirates play. Regarding Cov City, it would be my first time ever watching them.

... and Coventry City!

So with my poor record well documented, I turned my attentions to the game and although Rovers came into this one in atrocious form they would still fancy themselves after hosting an entertaining 2-2 in the original tie just ten days prior to this replay. On paper, it was two sides from the same league, both in the top half of the table and both with their own troubles off the field- however, bearing in mind that Rovers hadn't picked up a win in seven games in all competitions, I made my usual pre-match prediction and went for a 2-0 Cov win. An additional bit of spice to this fixture came from the fact that whoever won would play Birmingham City at home in the fourth round- a strange but interesting prospect for the tenants renting St Andrew's from the team they could be facing.

For reference, Blues fans, this is what the view from your away end is like
Before the Sky Blues could think about this though, they had to get the business done on a cold January night and after I hiked the almost 2 mile journey from New Street to St Andrew's, I arrived with only a bit of time to spare and therefore headed straight into the away end to get comfy and wrapped up for the game. It's not like me to feel the cold, but those early year outings are nippy. Of course, the joy of going to a Football League stadium in these conditions is that you tend to be offered shelter from the rain and when I entered the near 30,000 seater I was grateful not to be in the direct content of the elements as I usually am in my non-league ventures. The ground itself is of course much more glorious than the average one I attend, but as with quite a few of the "big boy" grounds I've been to I wasn't exactly blown away by St Andrew's upon first viewing. For me, the thing that makes a football trip memorable is as much the surrounds as the actual game itself, but this blue box generic renovation job from the nineties had less character than a block of cheddar and although it sits in the heart of the local community, there isn't even a funny feature to talk about. Even The Hawthorns, the last one of the 91 that I experienced back in July, had a wall of fame and a gaming corner to keep me entertained.

The turnstile was alright, I suppose
Thankfully I wasn't just there for a stadium tour and as 7:45pm rolled around my fifteen pound entry fee would result in a football match too- amazing! The squads trundled out in the drizzly floodlit setting and before we knew it the game was on- which meant that we could only be a few minutes away from an early Bristol Rovers meltdown. Just four minutes on the clock had ticked by when a simple through-ball unleashed Maxime Biamou and the Frenchman took his early chance to launch a left-footed drive past Jordi van Stappershoef- the two meter tall Dutch goalie would have to resort to picking the ball out of his net already. Coventry 1-0 Rovers. My Rovers supporting pals had warned me pre-match that this one could be embarrassing from the offset and with their new manager not in attendance due to being on personal leave it seemed that the players, subs and coaching team could do nothing but look at each other and scratch their heads whilst watching City play their way up the field to look for a second goal. It wasn't the fact that they were losing that was frustrating the visiting fans, but it was the lack of passion and failure to challenge for any loose balls. Rovers' top striker and former Sky Blue forward rattled the bar for the away side, but apart from that it was a low-key and controlled display from City and half-time looked to be a welcome break for the Gasheads who'd made the two-hour journey up the M5. As most of the fans paraded down to the bar, one old boy shouted out "they've locked the gates, you can't leave until after 90 minutes" a sad prospect indeed for some.

Still, when times are hard, there's always a half-time pie to cry into
Although things are currently pretty bleak for Rovers, albeit still fairly rosy when compared with my own club Macc Town, the visiting fans were shouting out at the start of the second-half and their chant of "you're supposed to, you're supposed to, you're supposed to be at home" may or may not have been meant as a double diss against the homeless Coventry contingent, but either way they were still silenced a few minutes in as Josh Pask grabbed a debut goal to then spark a chant from the Cov end. "We're coming for you. We're coming for yoooooou. Birmingham City, we're coming for you" rang out as Pask wheeled away and with forty minutes still to go, you felt like this one was already over. Coventry 2-0 Rovers. The hosts for the evening weren't done there though and whilst they had momentum they ploughed forward again and this allowed for Biamou to grab an unopposed tap-in against his statuesque opponents. 56 minutes played and time for the long drive home for many away fans already. Coventry 3-0 Rovers.

The magic of the cup... or not
I shall refrain in continuing to write down all of the additional chances City created and instead conclude by stating that although it wasn't the best day out I've had in terms of groundhopping, nor was it to be eighth time lucky for me watching Bristol Rovers, but on the plus-side it was nice to finally see what Cov City are all about. A very good side at the moment and playing some lovely stuff... let's just hope that they get to move back to their own city sooner rather than later. Rovers fans, I'm just gonna have to come down to a pre-season game against a Western League team in order to see you guys win a game!

Saturday, 4 January 2020

04/01/20 Review: Coventry Alvis vs WLV Sport

Coventry Alvis 6-0 WLV Sport (Les James Challenge Cup, Second Round)
Green Lane

In a weekend that the hipsters are calling "FA Cup Weekend" I decided to stick it to the man and sink my teeth into a real tournament- meaning that my opening match of the season would come in the form of some second round Les James Challenge Cup action as I managed to drag myself away from work early in time to visit my third Coventry based ground of the season. With Wolverhampton's University team making the 35-mile ride down the M6 to face a side that sit in the division above within the Midland Football League, the question on everyone's lips is whether they could cause a shock and make it to the Quarter-Finals, where an away trip to FC Stratford awaited the victors.

New year, new ground...
Arriving ten minutes late to the Alvis Social Club, I parked up and walked around passed the clubhouse and straight into the ground to see what I'd missed. As I handed over my £4 entry fee I was informed that it was still 0-0, although I could already tell from just moments of watching that this would not be a dull affair. The hosts were consistently assertive and I felt confident that my pre-match prediction of a 3-0 home win would be close to the mark. Initial thoughts on the ground were that it is quaint but basic, with the only stand being the generic hundred-or-so-seater green one that makes its way into many of the non-league's lower leagues. From memory, I think I last saw it as recently as November when I visited Mundy Playing Fields in Thornbury. Perhaps the boldest thing to be seen though in yesterday's match at Green Lane was the Scotland-themed kit that the visitors were donning, which certainly caught the eye. With navy, white and grey colouring in a cross-quartered style, I must admit that this one was a little different and unique to the usual all red or blue kits often found in the lower realms, whilst Alvis had a smart and simple sky blue strip similar to Cov Copsewood's, a side who I'd seen in action during pre-season, which is presumably a nod to their Football League friends.

Classic action shot, mainly to show off the aforementioned kits
In terms of action, it was all happening in the WLV defensive third and shortly after I arrived Alvis striker Linton headed a couple of goalward efforts at the Uni side's goal. The first was a sign of things to come and when a corner followed shortly after it was the big number 10 who again leapt up and this time he headed home from all of four yards out. Alvis 1-0 Sport. A substantial stoppage proceeded the opener as the WLV goalie received treatment for a broken nose- well, I say "treatment" but in actual fact the lad just looked to have a load of tissue bunged up his snout!

He wasn't impressed with my efforts to snap a pic of him in his less than finest hour
With most of the action taking place in the goalmouth, I decided to be useful and did a bit of ballboying, with the highlight coming as I produced a fancy flick back to the keeper, resulting in him asking if I fancied a game. To be fair, compared to some of his team-mates who just spent the majority of the game stood arguing with each other, I'd probably have been more useful in my post-Xmas state of unfitness. Alas, I resisted and instead walked around to the stand to see out the rest of the half, which gave me a good view of some very nice play from the hosts. Their number 4 who played a box-to-box role for his team, started off a fine move which eventually made its way out wide and then eventually to Linton who could have already had a hat-trick by this point if he'd shown a bit more bottle with his finish. This latest wayward strike forced the Coventry manager to kick the metal bin nearest him and that would prove to be the last notable feature of the half, meaning it was time to check out the clubhouse.

Alvis one up at the break, but surely there would be more to come...
For the first time in my life I have decided to be boring and attempt "Dry January", which meant that I would be sticking to the Pepsi on this occasion and it is actually quite weird how a fifteen minute can seem to be a lot longer when you aren't rushing against the clock to neck a pint. Despite my struggles against sociable alcoholism, I survived with a small coke and a bag of sensations, but I must admit that the club bar is a decent little effort. There is a good bar selection, a dart board, pool and snooker tables, plus a gambler and Sky Sports on the go. Perfection!
Good effort, Alvis
The best word to summarise the second-half was goalfest and from the offset there were again many a chance for the sky blue side, with Linton missing two clear-cut chances before the eventual breathing space came as Palmer tucked in a shot that fell to him from a deflected initial strike. Right place, right time. Alvis 2-0 Sport. Although there would still be plenty of time left to play, that second goal already felt like the winner as you never really got the impression that WLV would get back in it. They did get themselves a corner with one of a couple of half-chances, but as Alvis broke away from the set-piece they went forward with mighty pace and Richards rapidly played in Palmer for his brace. Alvis 3-0 Sport. The trio of Linton, Palmer and Richards was just too much for the visitors to handle in the second-half and having scored a couple already, this time it was the number 9 who turned provider by sliding the ball in from the right to allow Linton a tap-in for his second. It could have been his 10th, in truth! Alvis 4-0 Sport. And just moments later we'd see Richards gather one for himself as a routine clearance from an Alvis defender set him on his way to make it five. Alvis 5-0 Sport. By this point, the front three were fighting for the man of the match award and also the match ball, but there wasn't a selfishness about it and that was nice to see. Linton would this time provide the assist, again from the unmanned WLV left-wing and Richards would join his team-mates in helping himself to a double- meaning we'd seen a triple-double! Alvis 6-0 Sport.

This viewer will have had a job editing all of those match clips last night
It would be unfair to say that WLV Sports gave up in the second-half, because in truth they never really got going, but the side who sit 13th in Division Three were just simply not a match for their mid-table Division Two opposition and the young side were clearly frustrated and gutted when the final whistle did blow. As the lads left the field it looked for a moment like it was going to turn sour as some of the players started squaring up with each other, but when all is said and done it was a comprehensive victory for Alvis and they will now look forward to another cup match midweek, this time against local rivals Coventry Plumbing.