Saturday, April 09, 2016

Phoenix Sports FC

Phoenix Sports 2 Harlow Town 2 - Isthmian League North

Barnehurst is a town and electoral ward in southeast London within the London Borough of Bexley. It lies north east of Bexleyheath, and 13 miles southeast of Charing Cross. The town came into being after the sale of land in 1881 to build the Bexleyheath loop line between Lewisham and Dartford. Barnehurst's name originates from the name of the railway station, which was so-named after Colonel Barne, who owned a local property, May Place House and was vice-chairman of the railway company. As in much of suburban London, Barnehurst railway station was opened to encourage building of houses. The Barnehurst Estate was built in 1926. In 1920 the area became part of the Crayford Urban District of Kent. In 1965, under the London Government Act 1963, the urban district was abolished and its area transferred to Greater London to form part of the present-day London Borough of Bexley.

Phoenix Sports Football Club was formed in 1935 as St. Johns Welling, which later changed its name to Lakeside. After the Second World War the club was renamed Phoenix, as it was seen as rising from the ashes of the previous clubs amid the destruction of the Blitz. After entering the Sidcup League, Kent Amateur League, and the Dartford League, the club settled in the Kent County Football League Division One West, finishing runners up twice in the 1950s, and once in the 70s. The club entered the Spartan League in 1986–87 and competed there for six seasons. They then returned to the Kent County League Division One West, winning the challenge cup in 1993–94. They won the league in 1999–2000, gaining promotion to the Premier Division, however after two relegations they ended up in Division Two West.  They won Division Two West in 2004–05 and Division One West in 2007–08, regaining their Premier Division status. For the 2011–12 season the club was accepted into the Kent Invicta Football League at level 10 of the English football league system for the league's inaugural season. In 2012, they were runners-up in the Kent Invicta League. In the 2012–13 season, they went one better, winning the Kent Invicta League championship, gaining promotion to the Southern Counties East League. By winning this competition the club was promoted to the Isthmian League in 2015.

The journey to the Phoenix Sports Ground is relatively straightforward by public transport and I had already planned my route. This involved getting a train to Stratford, Docklands Light Railway to Lewisham, followed by another train to Barnehurst. This journey will have avoided Zone 1 reducing the cost on my oyster card. Despite this research, I was subsequently offered a lift and the adventure became the M25 and the Dartford Crossing which resulted in journeys of less than hour to and from Cheshunt.

On arrival at the ground I took the opportunity to wander around taking photographs. In conversation with a club official, I was informed that if I had visited a couple of years previously, there would have been very little to see. However, the progress of the club and associated promotion to the Isthmian League has seen the required upgrade of the facilities.

As you enter the ground, the main club buildings are situated on the right behind one of the goals. In the near corner are the changing rooms which resemble a cricket pavilion (possibly doubled up as that in a previous life). The clubhouse and bar is the next building you come to and further along from there is a covered flat standing area followed by the remaining structure which contains the refreshment facilities. The usual fare of hot and cold drinks, burgers, chips etc was on sale at reasonable prices. The pitch has a defined slope running from left to right as you enter the ground in the corner.

The left hand side has raised areas in the first half of the field which can afford a good view if standing. This side of the ground is also where you find the remaining spectator facilities in the form of two covered seated stands. The viewing from these areas, specifically that central to the pitch, is not particularly good and is obscured by a combination of dugouts and floodlight pylons. I suspect that sight of the playing area was not at the fore as a consideration when the club was hastily trying to comply with ground grading criteria. 

Visitors Harlow Town were in 2nd place going into this match. With leaders AFC Sudbury "out of sight", Harlow were keen to secure all three points on offer in their quest to claim home advantage in the play-off matches. All looked good when they took the lead shortly after the break. However, with possibly their only two direct attempts at goal, the home side led 2-1 with time running out for Harlow. In the end, a late equalizer spared their blushes and the match ended in a draw.         

Attendance: 125
Admission: £8:00 
Programme: 24 pages - Free with admission
Chips: £1:20

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Peterborough Northern Star FC

Peterborough Northern Star 1 Leicester Nirvana 4 - United Counties League, Premier Division

Peterborough is a cathedral city and unitary authority area in the East of England. Historically part of Northamptonshire, for ceremonial purposes it now falls within the county of Cambridgeshire. Situated 75 miles north of London, the city stands on the River Nene which flows into the North Sea approximately 30 miles to the north-east. Railway lines began operating locally during the 1840s, but it was the 1850 opening of the Great Northern Railway's main line from London to York that transformed Peterborough from a market town to an industrial centre. Lord Exeter had opposed the railway passing through Stamford, so Peterborough, situated between two main terminals at London and Doncaster, increasingly developed as a regional hub. Coupled with vast local clay deposits, the railway enabled large-scale brick-making and distribution to take place. The area was the UK's leading producer of bricks for much of the twentieth century. Brick-making had been a small seasonal craft since the early nineteenth century, but during the 1890s successful experiments at Fletton using the harder clays from a lower level had resulted in a much more efficient process. Following the Second World War, growth was limited until designation as a New Town in the 1960s.

The football club was originally formed from two brickyards (Northam in Eye and Star in Peterborough) and was based in the village of Eye in the early 1900s, the club was initially named Northern Star, before adopting the name Eye United. They joined the Peterborough & District League and in the 1960s moved to Lindisfarne Road. They were promoted to the Premier Division in 1973. In 1982 the club won the Northants Junior Cup, the last from the United Counties League to do so. The club won the Premier Division three times at the end of the 1990s and start of the 2000s. In the 2000–01 season they won all 30 league matches, as well as the Peterborough Senior Cup and the Jack Hogg Charity Shield. The club moved to its current ground in the Dogsthorpe area of Peterborough in order to gain promotion to Division One of the United Counties League, which they achieved in 2003. The club reached the Quarter-finals of the FA Vase in the 2011–12 season.

I was fortunate to be offered a lift to this match and the roads (M11, A14 and A1) behaved themselves on this Saturday afternoon. This enabled a journey time of 1 hour and 20 minutes from my pick up point between Cheshunt and Waltham Abbey. A hopping associate from the South Coast had warned me that this venue was not particularly good. However, on arrival at Chestnut Avenue (I prefer original names rather than sponsored titles for grounds) I could see that my view differed from his.

The ground is tidy in appearance, with two small covered seated stands either side of the half way line along one side of the pitch. These stands straddle a narrow brick built structure which incorporates the home and away benches with a separate area in the middle for the use of match officials. On the opposite side of the pitch, in the corner nearest the administration block is a small covered standing area.

Behind the goal at this end is another covered standing area. This is adjacent to the main building which houses a licenced bar with TV and changing facilities. A refreshment trailer is situated at this end of the ground selling burgers, hot dogs, chips along with teas etc. The remaining end of the ground is open to the elements and backs on to housing.

Visitors Leicester Nirvana are having a very good season and went into this match in second place behind leaders AFC Kempston Rovers. This match was a feisty affair with both teams being reduced to ten men following separate unrelated incidents. The first red card for the home side was for a second yellow card, possibly for comments made to the referee. Leicester Nirvana’s dismissal followed a reckless lunge.

The home side produced a spirited performance in a match where they could have scored more goals. I was pleased when they grabbed a goal towards then end as their efforts deserved that. However, Leicester Nirvana are a good side and worthy challengers for the United Counties League title. As this match progressed they grew in stature and confidence. This result ensured they went top of the table.A good afternoon out and a decent match seen. The journey home was again trouble free. A different route this time following the route from Godmanchester down to Royston and then following the A10 to Cheshunt.

Attendance: 38
Admission: £6:00 
Programme: £1:00 (32 pages)
Tea: £1:00

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Newtown AFC

Newtown 0 Airbus UK Broughton 3 - Welsh Premier League

Newtown was founded at the end of the 13th century when Edward I of England commissioned Roger de Montgomerie to construct a centre for the hamlet of Llanfair-yng-Nghedewain. It was situated near the ford on the River Severn, below the Long Bridge and around the church of St Mary in Bettws Cedewain. The town grew in the 18th and 19th centuries around the textile and flannel industry, stimulated by the completion of the Montgomeryshire Canal. Newtown hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1965. Newtown is about 8 miles from the Wales-England border, in the narrow valley of the River Severn which restricts development north and south of the town. The town is best known as the birthplace of Robert Owen in 1771. The Montgomery Canal originally terminated in Newtown. Following its closure in 1944, the section in Newtown was sold and subsequently built on. Canal Road and Lower Canal Road in Newtown are named after it.

Newtown Association Football club was founded in 1875 as Newtown White Stars, and was one of the founder members of the Football Association of Wales. The club participated in the first ever Welsh Cup match on 13 October 1877 and won the competition in 1879. The club is believed to have merged with Newtown Excelsior to form the current Newtown AFC in time to be Welsh Cup finalists in 1885 and 1888. The club plays at Latham Park which can accommodate 5,000 spectators. For most of the years since the 1920s the club operated in the Mid-Wales League, or the Central Wales League as it was sometimes known, winning the championship in 1975–76, 1978–79, 1981–82, 1986–87 & 1987–88 and on the strength of this record, the club gained entry to the English league system in the Northern Premier League. In 1992 Newtown AFC moved to the Welsh Premier League are one of only three clubs that can claim unbroken membership since its formation. In 2014 Newtown became the 2nd Welsh Premier League club, to change their grass turf for a 3G pitch.

The 10:25 service from Birmingham New Street enabled me to reach Newtown just after mid-day. I made my way to Latham Park and was able to gain entry and take some photographs. Having participated in Europa League football this season, the ground will have had to have met certain criteria. A minimum amount of seating will have been a requirement and Latham Park boasts a total of five stands dotted around the venue.

After taking my initial batch of photographs, I ventured to the town centre in search of some Welsh ale. At the Black Boy (J D Wetherspoon), I failed in this quest, but was still able to enjoy a pint of Beauty from Woods Shropshire Ales (4.2%) - A fusion of fruity hops give a lingering bitter aftertaste together with a well rounded maltiness.

I made my way back to Latham Park in plenty of time for the match, which was just as well! With time to spare (or so I thought), I settled down in the clubhouse to watch some of the televised Norwich City v Manchester City match. It was at this point that I realised that the teams were already on the pitch - the match had been brought forward to a 14:00 kick off to facilitate anyone wanting to watch the England v Wales rugby match at Twickenham on TV. However, I still had time to finish my pint of the locally brewed Sunshine from Monty's Brewery (4.2%) - packed with floral and citrus aromas with a dry distinctive finish.

The match saw 6th placed Newtown host 5th placed Airbus UK Broughton and with only one point separating the teams, a close encounter was on the cards. The first half followed that script with a couple of chances at each end. However, after the break the visitors started to take control, eventually bagging three goals that produced an identical result to their earlier visit to Latham Park this season.

The early kick off allowed plenty of time to catch the 16:42 Birmingham International service, but even the regular 14:30 start would help achieve this for what is just less than a fifteen minute walk to the station.

Attendance: 210
Admission: £7:00
Programme: £2:00
Tea: £1:00 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Dereham Town FC

Dereham Town 2 Harlow Town 2 - Isthmian League, Division One North

Dereham, also known as East Dereham, is a town in Norfolk. It is situated on the A47 road, some 15 miles west of Norwich and 25 miles east of King's Lynn. The town should not be confused with the Norfolk village of West Dereham, which lies about 25 miles away. It is believed that Dereham's name derives from a deer park that existed in the area, although it is known that the town pre-dates the Saxon era. Saint Wihtburh, the youngest daughter of Anna, King of the East Angles, founded a monastery there in the seventh century after seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary. Dereham suffered damage during a Zeppelin air raid during the night of 8 September 1915. Damaged buildings included the headquarters of the 5th Territorial Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment on the corner of Church Street and Quebec Street. The old Vicarage was used as a Red Cross hospital. Dereham was the home to the "Jentique" furniture factory which made boxes for both instruments and bombs during World War II. The town was also the home to the Metamec clock factory.

The Football club was founded as Dereham F.C. in 1884, spending many of its early years in the Dereham & District League. In 1891–92 the club reached the final of the Norfolk Senior Cup. By 1910 the club were playing in the Norwich & District League and had been renamed East Dereham. In 1920 they adopted their current name and in 1935 they joined the Norfolk & Suffolk League, which had lost several clubs to the newly established Eastern Counties League. When the N&SL merged into the Anglian Combination, the club were placed in the Senior B Division. They won at the first attempt and were promoted Premier Division. They were renamed Dereham Hobbies United in 1986 after a local Sunday league team merged into the club. They were relegated from the Premier Division at the end of the 1988–89 season, but made an immediate return to the Premier Division as Division One champions. In 1991 they returned to the name Dereham Town. In 1997–98 they won the Anglian Combination Premier Division, earning promotion to Division One of the Eastern Counties League, and also won the Don Frost Memorial Cup in the same season. In 2001–02 the club finished second in Division One, beating Stanway Rovers 1–0 on the final day to overtake them and earn promotion to the Premier Division. The club won the Norfolk Senior Cup in 2006, defeating Norwich United 1–0 and again in 2007 when Wroxham were beaten 1–0. In 2012-13 they won the Eastern Counties League Premier Division, earning promotion to Division One North of the Isthmian League.

It is possible to reach Dereham by public transport. There is a regular direct bus service from Norwich. However, on this occasion I was offered a lift. The journey from the Cheshunt area taking around two hours via the M11, A11 and A47. This journey was interrupted briefly at Swaffham where we stopped to buy refreshments.

Aldiss Park is a neat venue. Along one side is the impressive clubhouse, changing facilities and turnstile block. On the opposite site is a long covered stand containing two rows of seating. I opted to view the match from near the middle of this stand and enjoyed a good view of the action. Behind one of the goals is a small covered standing area. The remaining areas of the ground is limited to hard standing.

Prior to the match, with time to spare, this Pieman availed himself of the clubhouse facilities and was delighted to find real ale on offer. My choice of Moon Gazer Golden from the Norfolk Brewhouse was inspired.  This golden ale has a fresh citrus aroma and well-hopped character, with fruit and hop flavours carrying through to the refreshing, crisp, dry finish. I was informed that the club has a regular supply of local ales which is very encouraging for a non-league club and I hope they benefit from the custom that this deserves.

Coming into this match, visitors Harlow Town were on a fantastic run of twelve consecutive league wins. This form had seen them rise to 2nd place in the table, ten points behind leaders AFC Sudbury, but with two matches in hand. When Harlow took the lead early in the match courtesy of Leon Antoine’s towering header, it looked set for an extension of this club record winning run. However, the home side had other ideas and by the interval had established a 2-1 lead. It has to be said that although Dereham were battling hard in this contest, the match referee was having a massive influence with an erratic performance and some inexplicable decisions.

The second period saw more of the same and Harlow’s frustration was increased when prolific scorer Alex Read missed his second successive penalty. The game then took an unexpected turn when the pantomime villain was injured and replaced by one of the linesmen. This in turn led to a retired referee in the crowd running the line. Harlow equalised through Craig Pope and had chances to win the match. Will Viner in goal for Dereham was my man of the match, without his heroics Harlow would most likely have won this match. In the end, considering the events of this match, a draw could be deemed a positive result for Harlow. I enjoyed my visit to Aldiss Park, with the exception of two idiotic women with an enormous blanket, the locals are a friendly welcoming bunch.

Attendance: 245
Admission: £8:00
Programme: £2:00 ( 60 pages)

Monday, January 04, 2016

Burscough FC

Burscough 0 Spennymoor Town 2 - Northern Premier League, Division One North

Burscough is a large village and civil parish within West Lancashire, to the north of both Ormskirk and Skelmersdale. The parish also includes the hamlet of Tarlscough and the Martin Mere (a large wildfowl reserve and visitor attraction on the edge of Burscough and is owned by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust). Burscough developed originally as two small farming villages (Burscough and Burscough Bridge) on a low ridge above the West Lancashire Coastal Plain, and has Viking roots. Following constant development of new housing estates and apartments, Burscough's population has recently rapidly grown and the two communities have long since merged together. Burscough has two main railway stations: Burscough Junction, on the Liverpool to Preston line, was opened by the East Lancashire Railway on 2 April 1849, though the line now terminates at Ormskirk. Burscough Bridge, on the Southport to Manchester line, was opened by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway on 9 April 1855. The presence of two stations is a sign of the two previous villages and their differing landowners. 

Following World War II the present Burscough Football Club was founded in 1946, starting life in the Liverpool County Combination. In their second season, 1947–48, they achieved a treble, winning the Lancashire Junior Cup, George Mahon Cup and the Liverpool Challenge Cup. Two years later they again claimed the Junior Cup and also won the County Combination title for the first time. In 1952 they won the Liverpool Challenge Cup for a second time. In 1981 the club became founder members of the North West Counties League, and had the distinction of becoming the league's first ever champions under Bryan Griffiths. A new grandstand seating 250 was built in 1986 to replace the old wooden stand, which had stood for 60 years. The club appointed Shaun Teale as player/manager in May 2002 and the ex-Aston Villa defender went on to lead the club to its greatest-ever achievement as Burscough became the smallest club to win the FA Trophy following a 2–1 victory over Tamworth at Villa Park on 18 May 2003. Played in front of a crowd of 14,296, it was the Linnet's twelfth game in the competition. Despite the win, Teale was sacked six weeks later. 

A late morning arrival in Liverpool provided an opportunity to check the internet to ascertain whether my chosen match at Burscough would go ahead. The adverse weather conditions sweeping the country had meant that a number of matches had been postponed. Once given the green light I made my way to Wigan to catch an onward connection to Burscough Bridge. On alighting at the station it is possible to see the floodlights of Victoria Park, which is located immediately behind Tesco. Having walked over to the ground for further confirmation, it was time for some liquid refreshment. The Hop Vine public house on the main street is only a few minutes walk away. The bonus for me was that this establishment has a brewery on site. This Pieman opted for a pint of Hop Vine bitter (3.8%). This is a "golden session ale with a light body and moderate bitterness. The initial sweet, hoppy finish gives way to a fragrant citrus aroma with hints of pine and lemon". The pub was also doing a good trade in meals with reservations in place for later in the day. 

Once admitted to the ground, there was an opportunity to wander around taking photographs. There is a covered seated stand along one side of the pitch. Opposite this is a covered terraced area. Another covered terraced area is situated behind one of the goals, whereas the other end of the ground, where the turnstiles are situated, also houses the club shop. In one corner of the ground is a wonderful refreshment room which echoes the past. In another corner is Barons Sports and Social Club (licensed bar and function room). 

The match saw 5th place Burscough take on 7th placed Spennymoor Town in what promised to be an evenly contested encounter. The first half certainly accorded with this, but after the break the visitors gradually asserted themselves as they sensed the points were there for the taking. Shane Henry made the initial breakthrough with a curling shot from the edge of the box in the 52nd minute. The points were secured for Spennymoor when Liam Henderson added a second in the 71st minute. The match was well refereed on a difficult playing surface. 

Burscough FC has submitted a planning application to build a new stadium. The new venue will be located 100 yards from the current site which does look to be in need of some tender loving care. That said Victoria Park is a classic old ground with quirky charm. The refreshment room has an aura about it that can never be replicated. There are good financial reasons why the club has to move to the new venue. This Pieman is grateful to have visited Victoria Park whilst the opportunity exists.

Attendance: 205
Admission: £4:00
Programme: £2:00 (40 pages)
Tea: £1:00
Steak Pie: £1:50

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Qarabağ FK

Qarabağ FK 0 Tottenham Hotspur 1 - UEFA Europa League, Group Stage

Baku is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, as well as the largest city on the Caspian Sea and of the Caucasus region. Baku is located 92 feet below sea level, which makes it the lowest lying national capital in the world and also the largest city in the world located below sea level. It is located on the southern shore of the Absheron Peninsula, which projects into the Caspian Sea. On 28 April 1920, the 11th Red Army invaded Baku and reinstalled the Bolsheviks, making Baku the capital of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. The city underwent many major changes. As a result, Baku played a great role in many branches of the Soviet life. Since about 1921, the city was headed by the Baku City Executive Committee, commonly known in Russian as Bakgorispolkom. Together with the Baku Party Committee (known as the Baksovet), it developed the economic significance of the Caspian metropolis. From 1922 to 1930, Baku was the venue for one of the major Trade fairs of the Soviet Union, serving as a commercial bridgehead to Iran and the Middle East. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Baku embarked on a process of restructuring on a scale unseen in its history. Thousands of buildings from the Soviet period were demolished to make way for a green belt on its shores; parks and gardens were built on the land reclaimed by filling up the beaches of the Baku Bay. Baku's largest industry is petroleum, and its petroleum exports make it a large contributor to Azerbaijan's balance of payments.

Qarabağ Futbol Klubu, is an Azerbaijani football club from Aghdam, but based in Baku since 1993 due to the Nagorno-Karabakh war, playing in the Azerbaijan Premier League. Qarabağ were founding members of the Azerbaijan Premier League in 1992. A season later they won their first league championship, becoming the first non-Baku based club to win the Azerbaijan Premier League title. The crest on the club emblem is the symbol of the Karabakh. It is based on the Karabakh horse. The horse stems from the club's nickname The Horsemen. 

The Tofiq Bahramov Stadium was built in 1951. Its construction started before World War II in 1939, but was suspended. When its construction resumed, it was finished by German prisoners of war. Initially the stadium was named after Joseph Stalin. After the 20th denunciation of Stalin, it was renamed after Vladimir Lenin. In 1993, the stadium was named after the famous football referee Tofiq Bahramov who died in the same year. In the 1966 World Cup Final, with the score at 2–2 and after 11 minutes of the first period of extra time, Geoff Hurst of England fired a shot on goal which bounced off the crossbar sharply downwards, hit the ground, and then spun backwards away from the goal. There were some moments of indecision by the referee before he noticed that Bahramov, who was the linesman at that end of the ground, was signalling to him. Eventually, a goal was awarded to England, who went on to win the game 4–2. In 2011, the Presidential Reserve Fund of the State Budget of Azerbaijan for 2011 allocated $10 million for capital repairs and reconstruction of the stadium as it could be used as potential venue for Eurovision Song Contest 2012. The stadium was renovated and reopened on 16 August 2012. The stadium was also one of the venues for the group stages of the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup.

My journey involved flying to Baku via Istanbul. Leaving Gatwick mid-afternoon and with an eventual time difference of four hours, it was around 6:00am when I arrived at my hotel. After some limited sleep to top up that available on the flights, it was time to explore Baku. The first point of call was the stadium. Our taxi driver had convinced himself that we were part of an official party and drove us through security into the main stadium complex. We arrive pitch side just as a UEFA delegation were being given what appeared to be a routine match day tour to inspect the facilities.

Having used this opportunity to take an abundance of daylight photographs and purchase an additional match ticket (cost the equivalent of around £1:30 - the 75p tickets had sold out!) we used the metro (150 yards from the stadium) to head back to the old town area of Baku. At the Four Seasons hotel (the team were staying at this rather grand establishment) Mauricio Pochettino was briefing representatives of the English press. After this session he graciously spent time with my eager companions, having a photograph taken with them. He also asked about Adam Carne's replica 1953 (West Brom style) Spurs shirt. Fair play to Spurs chairman Daniel Levy who also obliged with photographs.

Adam is a much traveled football supporter and has attended 4 World Cup Finals and 17 European Cup Finals. He said that of all the places he has visited, Baku (he had previously been there to watch England) was the most transformed between visits. This I can believe as certain areas have clearly benefited from investment from oil money. The local beer is relatively cheap but reasonably high in quality and there were a few opportunities to sample this product.

Prior to entering the stadium, we wandered around outside and the previously stated West Brom shirt was attracting the attention of vast numbers of the home support. The stadium is similar to many encountered on previous European jaunts. An athletics track surrounded by a bowl of seating. The view, even from the cheaper areas is good and unhindered. The weather was kind and throughout the 90 minutes Tottenham Hotspur were never really troubled by the home side. Qarabağ actually were more of a threat to Spurs in the corresponding match at White Hart Lane. On this occasion, Harry Kane's strike was enough for Spurs to claim the three points and confirm progress to the knockout stages of the competition. The following morning saw the commencement of my return journey, again via Istanbul. I eventually arrived back at Gatwick mid-afternoon

Adam Carne's shirt





Attendance: 28,000
Admission: Free (courtesy of Tottenham Hotspur)
Programme: Free (16 pages - not widely distributed)