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!

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