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!