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.