Monday, August 25, 2014

AFC Uckfield Town

AFC Uckfield Town 0 Bexhill United 0 - Sussex County League, Division Two

Uckfield is a town in the Wealden District of East Sussex. The town is on the River Uck, one of the tributaries of the River Ouse, on the southern edge of the Weald. The town was originally called Uccafield. Uccafield derives from the Celtic word for 'High' or 'Height' - Uchafedd, this in turn coming from the Indo European 'Uchch'ya'. When the Anglo Saxons heard this word they changed the 'fedd' part to something they understood - 'Feld' from which 'field' derives. Uckfield was the last place Lord Lucan was seen, at Grants Hill House, the home of his friends Ian and Susan Maxwell-Scott. Uckfield is connected to London Bridge station by Southern rail services on its Oxted Line via East Croydon. Until 1969 the rail link continued to Lewes; after it was closed Uckfield became the terminus; the station building was rebuilt in 1991 to avoid the necessity of a level crossing. The Wealden Line Campaign hopes to reopen the closed section to Lewes.

It was announced in July 2014 that AFC Uckfield Town would take its place in Division Two of the Sussex County Football League for the forthcoming 2014/15 season after the merger of AFC Uckfield (previously Wealden FC) and Uckfield Town FC. The respective press release was worded as follows "The merger provides a promising future for football in Uckfield, with the newly-formed club hoping to attract support in the local community from the East Sussex town. The club promises to be pushing forward both on and off the pitch, with promotion to the top flight of the Sussex County League an aim for the front side." Accordingly the merger of the town's two senior clubs was viewed as the way forward and it will be interesting to watch developments.

An August bank holiday double was the order of the day. However, the traditional English holiday weather was trying hard to be a hindrance as it started to rain as soon as I left home for the short walk to get my lift. A trouble free journey around the M25 and over the Dartford Crossing enabled us to reach The Oaks, the home of AFC Uckfield Town.

The home side was playing Bexhill United in the Sussex County League, Division Two. The heavy rain did not appear to have put this fixture in doubt. It will have helped being so early in the season, as in the winter months it might have been different. There was just one corner of the playing area that was holding a bit of standing water as I toured the ground taking photographs prior to the match and this was minimal.

As you enter the site along a narrow lane, the clubhouse building is immediately in front of you. The turnstile is to the right of the small car park. Covered spectator accommodation in the form of two seated stands is available along a one side of the pitch and behind both sets of seats are areas where standing is possible under the same cover. On the opposite side of the pitch are the dugouts but it is not possible to view the action from this area due to the close proximity to the wooded area immediately next to the ground. It is possible to view from behind the goals, weather permitting!

Refreshments (hot and cold food) are available in the clubhouse and it is possible to bring mugs of tea in to the ground. We opted to stand behind a set of seats taking full advantage of the cover. The match took a while to liven up but both sides coped well with the conditions all considered. At half time a fellow spectator commented "for a 0-0 this has got 0-0 written all over it" and he wasn't wrong. Despite the best efforts of the players in the second period, which improved as a spectacle, 0-0 it was!

I liked this venue, the officials are friendly and helpful and there is a good feeling about the place. Uckfield railway station is probably between 30 – 40 minutes walk away and this would be a pleasant stroll on a fine day!

Admission: £5:00
Programme: 32 pages (free with admission)
Tea: £1:00 (in a mug)
Attendance: 20

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Rochester United FC

Rochester United 0 Erith & Belvedere 3 - Southern Counties East League

Rochester is a town and former city in the unitary authority of Medway in Kent. It is at the lowest bridging point of the River Medway about 30 miles from London. The town was for many years the favourite of Charles Dickens, who lived nearby at Gads Hill Place, Higham, and who based many of his novels in the area. Rochester has produced two martyrs: St John Fisher, executed by Henry VIII because he refused to sanction the divorce of Catherine of Aragon; and Nicholas Ridley, executed by Queen Mary as an English Reformation martyr. The town is home to a number of important historic buildings, the most prominent of which are the Guildhall, the Corn Exchange, Restoration House, Eastgate House, Rochester Castle and Rochester Cathedral. Many of the buildings in the town centre date from the 18th century or as early as the 14th century. The chapel of St. Bartholomew's Hospital dates from the hospital's founding in 1078.

Rochester United FC was founded in 1982 as Templars and joined the Sunday Medway Football League. There they changed their name to Bly Spartans and played for 15 years before being promoted to the Senior Division. In 1997, the club successfully applied to join the Rochester and District Football League Division One. The following season they won the title and were promoted to the Premier Division. They were accepted into the Kent County Football League in 2000, being placed into the Division Three West. After two successive promotions as runners-up the club was in Division One West by 2003. In the 2006–07 season they finished runners-up, and the following season, after being transferred to Division One East, won the title as well as two cup competitions and were promoted to the Premier Division. The club achieved Chartered Status in 2009 and installed floodlights in 2010, leading to their successful application to become founder members of the Kent Invicta League. In 2012, they became the inaugural champions of the Kent Invicta League and gained promotion to the Kent League (now Southern Counties Eastern League). In May 2012 the club announced that they had sought permission to rename themselves Rochester United from the start of the 2012–13 season.

The journey to Rochester involved a trip around the M25 where traffic congestion prior to the Dartford Crossing did put the Pieman’s attendance at this Southern Counties East League match in doubt. However, once over the bridge and £2 paid, the remainder of the journey to Rede Court Road, the home of Rochester Town FC, was swift and with ten minutes to spare we were removing bollards to secure a parking space!

According to signs there is still building work taking place at this venue but it is more than suitable for this level of football, with a large seated stand along the same side of the pitch as the clubhouse and associated buildings. It was good to be able to grab a cup of tea from the hatch on arrival. I noticed that more solid refreshment in the form of chip butties were available at £1:50.

On a pleasant late August Saturday afternoon, this Pieman opted to view proceedings from the opposite side of the pitch. Near the half way line between the respective team benches. Visitors Erith & Belvedere were already top of the league, having made a great start following relegation from the Isthmian League last season. Their quick passing and movement along with their smart ‘Blackburn Rovers’ outfits was impressive and at the break they were 1-0 up.

The home side had also played reasonably well but as a neutral I did not see how the continual swearing from both pitch and dug out was helping their cause. This worsened in the second half as the visitors began to take a firm grip on the match. The second goal was a superb free kick following a thuggish challenge by the foul-mouthed Rochester captain – he was later booked for another offence and really should have been red-carded. A third Erith goal following a neat turn in the box was deserved and it will be interesting to watch their progress this season.

I believe Rochester United to be a friendly club and hope that the antics of their captain and ‘frustrated’ manager’s language are not typical of the set up. A better side beat them, it happens to us all – get on with it! The journey home was problem free along a better-behaved M25 – this time!

Admission: £6:00
Programme: £1:50 (16 pages)
Attendance: 70
Tea: £1:00

Monday, April 21, 2014

Crawley Down Gatwick FC

Crawley Down Gatwick 0 Hythe Town 6 - Isthmian League, Division One South

Crawley Down is a village in the Mid Sussex district of West Sussex. There is one church, one school, and a number of social groups. It lies seven miles from Gatwick Airport. Crawley Down means 'the hill near the pasture where the crows gather.' As a village it did not exist until late in the 19th century; before that the name referred to a rectangular stretch of uncultivated common land, surrounded by fields and woods. The road from Lingfield to Turners Hill formed the western boundary of the common, with Bowers Place and Sandhill Lane forming the eastern edge. Nearest railway stations are Three Bridges and East Grinstead. Crawley Down lies in the northeast corner of West Sussex, just one mile from the border with Surrey. Crawley Down has a King George's Field in memorial to King George V. Until 1967 the village was served by Grange Road railway station on the Three Bridges to Tunbridge Wells Central Line which closed as a result of the Beeching Axe in 1967. The old track bed has been revitalised as a linear Country Park called the Worth Way, which now offers a haven for wildlife and valued trail for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.

The football club was established in 1993, when Crawley Down United merged with two other sides to form Crawley Down Village F.C. The club joined the Sussex County League Division Three for the 1995–96 season. Earning promotion to Division Two at the first attempt, the club remained at that level until promotion to Division One in the 2008–09 season. During their time in Division Two the club finished in a promotion spot during the 1998–99 campaign but were denied promotion due to their ground having no floodlights, which were installed in May 2007. The club changed its name to Crawley Down F.C. in 1999. They won the Sussex County League Division One in 2010–11 and earned promotion to the Isthmian League Division One South for the first time in their history. For the 2012–13 season they changed their name to their current incarnation of Crawley Down Gatwick.

The Haven Sportsfield is an extremely smart venue. The rise of the club from county level to the Isthmian League has seen investment in the facilities, in order to reach the required standard. There is a covered seated stand along one side of the pitch and this is complimented by a small covered terraced area behind one of the goals. A refreshment trailer is on hand providing the usual favourites.

The pitch is surrounded by a smart perimeter rail and a concrete walkway. The dugouts are on the opposite side of the pitch to the seated stand. The changing facilities are housed in the main sports complex adjacent to the ground.

This match saw already relegated Crawley Down host Hythe Town who were sitting comfortably in mid table. What was always likely to be an uphill struggle for the home team became worse early in the match when a player was sent off for a blatant off the ball kick on an opponent. Although not sure, the Pieman believes there must have been some provocation for this act as the incident came out of the blue.

However, the referee had been left with no option. This was not the case a short while later when a Hythe player committed what this Pieman considered to be a worse (potential leg breaker) challenge in full view of the referee. By only showing a yellow card to the offender, the official highlighted the inconstant standards often seen in the game. Yes, the sending off was justified but this “studs up” challenge deserved the same outcome.

As the match progressed the dominance of the Kent side intensified. The 0-6 defeat typified the miserable season that the Sussex team has experienced. Despite this, a number of their fans/officials waited for Hythe to leave the field after the match and congratulated them. A really nice touch that speaks volumes for this club. This Pieman wishes them well for next season.

Attendance: 62
Admission: £8:00
Programme: 32 pages £2:00
Tea: £1:00

Ringmer FC

Ringmer 2 Hailsham Town 0 - Sussex County League, Division One

Ringmer is a village and civil parish in the Lewes District of East Sussex. The village is located 3 miles east of Lewes. Ringmer is one of the largest villages in the south of England. There has been human habitation since at least Roman times. Ringmer Mill stood for centuries on Mill Plain overlooking Ringmer. This post mill was in operation until 1921 but collapsed in 1925 leaving the mill post, on which the body of the mill rotated, remaining as a local landmark. The symbol of Ringmer is a tortoise named Timothy, after the female tortoise that the naturalist Gilbert White carried back in 1780. White’s aunt Rebecca Snooke lived in Delves House where Timothy had the run of the courtyard garden. Timothy died in 1794, a year after Gilbert White.

Ringmer Football Club was established in 1905 and they joined the Sussex County League Division Two in 1963. The club won Division Two in 1968–69 and gained promotion to Division One. In the 1970–71 season, Ringmer were champions of Division one, and they also reached the First Round of the FA Cup. They were runners-up in 1972–73. In 1986, Ringmer were relegated back to Division Two, but returned to Division One in 1989 after finishing runners-up. The club has since finished runners-up in Division One twice, 2001–02 and 2008–09.

Easter Monday presented the opportunity to visit two new grounds. Sussex was our intended direction and an early start ensured that we could beat any holiday traffic. Our journey via the M25, Dartford Crossing, and the A26, enabled us to reach Ringmer over an hour before the 11:00 am kick off for their match against local rivals Hailsham Town. After taking a few early photographs, we had a wander around the surrounding streets. Perhaps it was due to being early on a bank holiday morning, but the place did seem to be quiet.

Whilst taking the early photographs we witnessed the Hailsham Town manager taking a phone call on the pitch. His reaction was one of anger as he relayed to anyone within half a mile that one of his players had, at extremely late notice, advised that he would not be playing. Pie and Mushy Peas is a family friendly site. Accordingly it would be inappropriate to report precisely what he said. Clearly he was very upset as he ushered his players back to the dressing room in order to relay the change in formation forced upon him.

The Caburn Ground is one of those quirky venues that make watching non-league football so interesting. There is a small covered seated stand on one side of the pitch. On the opposite side is another covered structure, which backs on to the clubhouse building. Both ends of the ground back onto housing and there is limited room for spectators. The pitch slopes from corner to corner but this does not detract from this fine venue. The football club is sponsored by Turners Brewery which is located in Ringmer. The brewery was a new one to this Pieman and for research purposes I had to adjourn to the clubhouse at half time to sample the IPA. An extremely pleasant 5.1% experience it was too!

The Hailsham manager is an extremely passionate fellow and he spent the entire 90 minutes ‘encouraging’ his team, not only vociferously but also with windmill type arm gestures! He was not amused when the home side took a 5th minute lead through Dan Bolwell. However, his team battled on and although not matching the home side, they did restrict them through determined defending. A fine second goal from Seb Saunders clinched the points for the home side but Hailsham had one or two chances in the second period too. Once again I was not disappointed with the Sussex County League where both on and off the field you get a good feeling about the structure of the league and quality of the clubs.

With two hours to spare before our second match, we took the opportunity to stop and admire the scenery at Ashdown Forest on our way to Crawley Down. This fine part of England was the inspiration for A.A. Milne to write Winnie The Pooh.

Admission: £6:00
Attendance: 62
Programme: £1:00 (20 pages)
Tea: £1:00
Cheesy Chips: £2:00

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Debenham Leisure Centre FC

Debenham Leisure Centre 0 Ipswich Wanderers 1 - Eastern Counties League, Division One

Debenham is a large village and civil parish in Suffolk. In the 2001 census the population recorded was 1,728. In 2005 the population was estimated to have increased to 2,040 mainly as a result of the building of a new housing estate. The River Deben rises in the parish, and runs along a prolonged ford through the village, and claims to be the third longest ford in the United Kingdom. This large village has many shops including a supermarket, green grocers, butcher, bakers, florists, antiques, hardware, pottery and newsagents. There are two pubs, the Woolpack and the Angel, and several cafes.

The football club was founded as Debenham Angels in 1991, and joined Division Seven of the Suffolk and Ipswich Football League. They were renamed AFC Debenham in 1994. After other promotions, they were promoted to Division One in 2001. After Mel Aldis was appointed manager in the summer of 2003, the club won Division One to earn promotion to the Senior Division. In their first season in the Senior Division Debenham finished runners-up to East Bergholt United, and were promoted to Division One of the Eastern Counties League. Upon moving up the club adopted their current name.

An opportunity to get out into rural Suffolk presented itself when I was offered a lift to Debenham Leisure Centre to take in their Eastern Counties League encounter with Ipswich Wanderers. It was certainly good to get the lift as Debenham is a bit off the beaten track and although served by buses, like with many rural locations, it might have been a struggle to achieve the logistics involved.

Maitlands Football Ground is located immediately behind the Leisure Centre building which is situated on the outskirts of the village. The ground only has one area of covered accommodation in the form of a seated stand, straddling the half way line. On the opposite side of the pitch are the dugouts. This smart, if basic, ground is complimented with hard standing around the full railed off perimeter.

The home side, sitting comfortably in mid table played a visiting team in 5th position with an outside chance of promotion to the Premier Division still a possibility. The early exchanges on a windy afternoon were scrappy and both sides struggled to control the ball. As the half progressed, it was Ipswich that seized the initiative and really ought to have gone in at the break leading.

The second period saw the home side come into the game more and fashion a few chances. The match was developing into an even contest although Ipswich Wanderers always looked the likeliest to break the deadlock. However, with time ticking away a scoreless draw was looming. This would have been a disappointment for the visitors and they would have rued those earlier chances that went begging.

Just when everyone was resigned to the draw, Craig Jennings sealed the win for Ipswich Wanderers, scoring with a header in the 90th minute. This win saw the visitors move up to 4th place in the table with games in hand on the team immediately above them. Debenham is a nice place to visit and it was good to enjoy some sunshine too. The Eastern Counties League often provides attractive venues to visit and Maitlands is no exception.

Attendance: 95
Admission: £5:00
Programme: 50p
Tea: £1:00

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Cray Valley Paper Mills FC

Cray Valley Paper Mills 2 Phoenix Sports 2 - Southern Counties East League

Cray Valley Paper Mills Football Club was founded in 1919, playing their first game on 20 September 1919 against Hamilton House, which Cray won. They won the Kent Junior Cup in 1921. The club played at the Paper Mills which was owned by the Nash family. The club colours are the Paper Mills' livery of green and white. The family sponsored the football club and their ground until the Mills' closure in 1980. That year they won the Kent Junior Cup for the second time. Cray Valley PM FC continued on after the Mills closure, and played in various leagues and at various grounds, until they finally settled at Badgers Sports Club in Eltham.

This was the Pieman’s first venture into the Southern Counties East League. However, there were a number of visits to constituent clubs when it was under the previous guise of the Kent League. I was fortunate to be offered a lift to this match. The North Circular and the Blackwall Tunnel behaved well and the journey from Enfield took no more than an hour. If visiting by public transport, Mottingham Station is around one mile away. In addition, the 160 bus service passes the ground.

Clearly a lot of work has been carried out on this ground in recent times to enable the club to compete at Southern Counties East level. There is a fresh look about the place and I got the feeling that this is an ambitious club, looking to progress further.  The club officials were smartly attired in club colours and you could sense the pride they have in their club.

Although it is possible to stand at either end of the ground to watch proceedings, there are no spectator facilities. A decent covered seated stand straddles the half way line along one side of the pitch. This structure provided good shelter on a sunny but chilly day when the wind reminded us that summer is still in the distance. On the opposite side of the pitch is a small covered terraced area (Henry & Jessica Woodcock Family Stand).  The clubhouse, changing rooms and tea bar are also located on this side with the expansive car park behind.

This match saw 7th placed Cray Valley host 4th placed Phoenix Sports. Early indications were that this was to be a closely contested match and so it proved to be. There is a distinct slope from one end of the pitch to the other but this did not appear to favour either team throughout the 90 minutes. There were a number of bookings and this correspondent believes the referee struggled to control the match. Justifiably showing a yellow card for kicking the ball away, but lacking consistency with similar offences. Also only showing a yellow card for deliberately kicking an opponent. Perhaps he was having an off day?

Having said that, this was an entertaining match. Drew Crush started the scoring in the 41st minute for Phoenix but, 2 minutes later the scores were level at 1-1 when Paul Gross scored for the home side. Jimmy Rogers then put Cray in front from the penalty spot on 70 minutes only for Andy Constable to equalise 11 minutes from time. Phoenix Sports had started the brighter of the two sides and certainly edged the first half. The home side fared better after the break and looked to have secured all three points. However, that would have been tough on Phoenix Sports - it was good that they were able to rise from the ashes of defeat to secure a draw!

All in all a good afternoon out south of the river. Cray Valley Paper Mills FC is a welcoming club and it will be interesting to see how they progress. The roads again behaved on the return journey and I was home just before 6pm.

Admission: £8:00
Attendance: 50
Programme: with admission (£1:00 if purchased separately) 32 pages
Tea: 90p