Saturday, March 28, 2015

Annan Athletic FC

Annan Athletic 0 Clyde 1 - Scottish League 2

Annan stands on the River Annan nearly 2 miles from its mouth, 15 miles from Dumfries, in the region of Dumfries and Galloway on the Solway Firth in the south of Scotland. Eastriggs is about 3 miles to the east and Gretna is about 8 miles to the east. Annan Bridge, a stone bridge of three arches, built between 1824 and 1827, carries road traffic over the River Annan. It was designed by Robert Stevenson and built by John Lowry. There is also a railway bridge and a nearby pedestrian bridge over the River Annan and the town is served by Annan railway station. The train turntable was designed and developed in Annan; it can be seen today in the York Railway Museum. Annan Castle formed the original home of the 'de Brus' family, later known as the "Bruces", lords of Annandale, which most famously produced Robert the Bruce. It was at Annan in December 1332 that Bruce supporters overwhelmed Balliol's forces to bring about the end of the first invasion of Scotland in the Second War of Scottish Independence.

Upon formation in 1942, Annan Athletic FC entered the Dumfries and District Youth League, but this competition lasted only throughout the war years, and in 1945 they joined the Dumfries and District Junior League instead. They had a fairly successful time as a junior club, reaching the fifth round of the Scottish Junior Cup on one occasion (losing 2–1 to Perth side Jeanfield Swifts). In 1950–51 the Dumfries and District Junior League had to be wound up due to lack of officials, and the following season (1951–52) the club had to go into abeyance as the Junior Association would not release them from their membership. For the following season (1952–1953) Annan Athletic joined the Carlisle and District League and the Cumberland Football Association. This proved an astute move when Annan Athletic won every competition they entered bar one in their first season in membership. Annan remained members of the Carlisle and District League until they moved back to Scottish football in the 1977–78 season when they joined the South of Scotland Football League. This switch, along with some upgrade work to their Galabank ground also allowed the club to compete in the qualifying stages of the Scottish Cup as well. The club proved very successful in the South League, winning every competition that was available to them. In an attempt to get more competitive football, they joined the East of Scotland Football League in season 1987–88, although they maintained their commitment to the South League by running a reserve side. They won promotion in their first season in the East League, and two years later won the Premier Division. They became one of the league's top sides and qualified for the Scottish Cup's early rounds on various occasions. Annan applied to join the Scottish Football League in 2000, when two new clubs were admitted, but lost out to Peterhead and Elgin City. Following the demise of local rivals Gretna in 2008, Annan applied along with four other clubs to replace them in the Third Division. Annan Athletic was the successful candidate, being chosen due to the standard of their facilities. The Club’s first league match as a professional team ended in a 4–1 win over Cowdenbeath in the 2008/09 season.

An early start facilitated being able to catch the 07:30 train from London Euston, reaching Carlisle in around 3 hours 15 minutes. Clearly that investment in the West Coast Main line is paying off with journey times like this. The onward connection to Annan was half an hour later which meant there was time to visit the Griffin (100 yards away) and enjoy a pint of Magic Number (4.5%) from the Carlisle Brewing Co. This ale has a gorgeous copper colour, is very smooth with caramel undertones and is full of malty flavours. From Carlisle the journey to Annan takes around 20 minutes.

On arrival at Annan, a good lunch was enjoyed at one of the establishments in the High Street before this Pieman set off in search of a butchers shop in the quest for locally produced haggis. This operation was successful with the haggis travelling just eight miles from Gretna (that’s local enough for me). The butcher asked where I was taking it back to in the same way a caring kennel might seek assurance about a dog being homed for the first time – such a nice touch! At the Blue Bell Inn, I took delight in a pint of the Red Macgregor (4.0%) from the Orkney Brewery. Crystal and chocolate malt give this beer its distinctive ruby-red colour, and its backbone of toasted malt flavour; Cascade hops, rarely found in darker beers, give a floral, perfumed fruitiness.

From the High Street it takes a little over 5 minutes to reach Galabank. The stadium backs tightly on to the road and for this reason this is a three-sided ground. Behind one goal is a covered terrace for the home support. The opposite end of the ground is uncovered and has a shallow terracing. The seated stand is covered and segregated with a small area designated for the away support that also uses the uncovered end of the ground. The view afforded from the seated stand is very good. Immediately behind the stand is the river.

There is a social club bar at the main entrance to the ground and it is possible for visitors to sign and use these facilities (unsurprising no real ale though). The usual in ground catering is available at both ends of the ground. A 3G playing surface was installed at the ground in 2012. This particular match can be politely described as not the best I have witnessed this season. Visitors Clyde were better than their hosts and took the points courtesy of substitute Jammie Pollocks’s strike after 87 minutes. Although the quality of the football may not have matched expectations, Annan (the place and the football club) is very welcoming.

An easy stroll enabled me to reach the station at 17:00, in plenty of time for the connection to Carlisle at 17:22. There is a pub at the station, which is a decent option (again no real ale). My train from Carlisle enabled a return to London Euston at 21:38. Lots of miles covered, a great day in Scotland and some very friendly folk encountered. Annan will not always play that poorly; perhaps you will catch them on a better day?

Attendance: 485
Admission: £10:00
Programme: £2:50 (24 pages monthly magazine covering 3 home matches)
Team Sheet: 10p
Tea: £1:00

Thursday, February 26, 2015

ACF Fiorentina

ACF Fiorentina 2 Tottenham Hotspur 0 - UEFA Europa League, Round of 32 2nd Leg

Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It originated as a Roman city, and later, after a long period as a flourishing trading and banking medieval commune, it was the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. Starting from the late Middle Ages, Florentine money, in the form of the gold florin, financed the development of industry all over Europe, from Britain to Bruges, to Lyon and Hungary. Florentine bankers financed the English kings during the Hundred Years War, as well as the papacy, including the construction of their provisional capital of Avignon and, after their return to Rome, the reconstruction and Renaissance embellishment of the latter. Florence was home to the Medici, one of history's most important noble families. Lorenzo de' Medici was considered a political and cultural mastermind of Italy in the late 15th century. Two members of the family were popes in the early 16th century: Leo X and Clement VII. Catherine de Medici married King Henry II of France and, after his death in 1559, reigned as regent in France. The Medici reigned as Grand Dukes of Tuscany, starting with Cosimo I de' Medici in 1569 and ending with the death of Gian Gastone de' Medici in 1737. During World War II the city experienced a yearlong German occupation (1943–1944) and was declared an open city. The Allied soldiers who died driving the Germans from Tuscany are buried in cemeteries outside the city. In 1944, the retreating Germans demolished the bridges along the Arno linking the district of Oltrarno to the rest of the city, making it difficult for the British troops to cross. However, at the last moment Charle Steinhauslin, at the time consulate of 26 countries in Florence, convinced the German general in Italy that the Ponte Vecchio was not to be destroyed due to its historical value.

Ponte Vecchio

Associazione Calcio Fiorentina was founded in the autumn of 1926 by local noble and National Fascist Party member Luigi Ridolfi, who initiated the merger of two older Florentine clubs, CS Firenze and PG Libertas. The aim of the merger was to give Florence a strong club to rival those of the more dominant Italian Football Championship sides of the time from Northwest Italy. After a rough start and three seasons in lower leagues, Fiorentina reached the Serie A in 1931. That same year saw the opening of the new stadium, originally named Giovanni Berta, after a prominent fascist, but now known as Stadio Artemio Franchi. At the time, the stadium was a masterpiece of engineering, and its inauguration was monumental. To be able to compete with the best teams in Italy, Fiorentina strengthened their team with some new players, notably the Uruguayan Pedro Petrone, nicknamed el Artillero. Despite enjoying a good season and finishing in fourth place, ACF Fiorentina was relegated the following year, although they would return quickly to Serie A. In 1941 they won their first Coppa Italia, but the team were unable to build on their success during the 1940s because of World War II and other troubles. The club won the Italian championship in 1955–56, 12 points ahead of second-place Milan. Milan beat Fiorentina to top spot the following year, but more significantly Fiorentina became the first Italian team to play in a European Cup final, when a disputed penalty led to a 2–0 defeat at the hands of Alfredo Di Stéfano's Real Madrid. The club then won their second, and last, national title in 1968-69. ACF Fiorentina was relegated at the end of the 2001–02 season and went into judicially controlled administration in June 2002. This form of bankruptcy (sports companies cannot exactly fail in this way in Italy, but they can suffer a similar procedure) meant that the club was refused a place in Serie B for the 2002–03 season, and as a result effectively ceased to exist.

A late morning flight from Heathrow to Pisa was followed by a short train journey to Florence. Despite having a map, finding my hotel was not a straightforward experience. My excuse being those roads that appear to run parallel, do not always! However finding myself by the river meant I could get my bearings by working out which bridge was the nearest to where I needed to be.

That evening there was an opportunity to wander the streets and get familiar with the geography of Florence. It also presented the chance to visit Mostodolce. This bar, situated close to the main railway station, has a tremendous selection of ales, all of which are brewed by Mostodolce, but not on the premises. My first selection, as recommended by Dave Price, was Black Doll, a stout (5.2%) which was excellent. This was followed by Fra Bartolomeo (5%) weiss beer, which was in good form too. My last beer for this session was Volpe (6.3%) a pale ale type brew, which helped to round off the evening. Just to ensure consistency, I revisited this establishment the following lunchtime to further check the quality.

On matchday morning after a decent breakfast at the hotel, this Pieman wandered across Ponte Vecchio and ambled around the streets on the other side of the river. Inspired by Matt Smithurst “I’m gonna have a gelato” it was time for an ice cream. On this occasion my choice of vanilla and strawberry was a fitting tribute to our friend from Merton. More walking followed along the ancient narrow streets and I concluded that I prefer Florence to the other cities I have visited in Italy.

I decided to walk to the stadium and this took me around 25 minutes at a leisurely pace. I did not want to catch the special buses from the centre, as it would deny me the opportunity to have a proper look around the outside of the Stadio Artemio Franchi. The stadium first opened in 1931 and you can easily see the art deco influence of that period. Much of this venue is uncovered and a wet day would be a very wet day for spectators. That said, a good view is afforded from all areas. This includes the away section, where if you position yourself sensibly, the whole arena is visible despite the partitions.

Tottenham Hotspur and the UEFA Europa League have a curious relationship. The Group stages of the competition are usually negotiated (Mr Redknapp managed to squirm out once) only for the knockout stages to produce some erratic form and the ability to go out against teams that with slightly better application and professionalism, would be beaten. This was certainly the case over the two legs against a decent but unspectacular Fiorentina side. Spurs could have wrapped up the tie in the first twenty minutes at White Hart Lane but let the Italians of the hook. In this return match, individual errors proved decisive as Spurs went down by two goals.

Osvaldo Ardiles in Pisa, the morning after the match

Attendance: 29,886
Admission: 27 Euro

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Besiktas FC

Besiktas 1 Tottenham Hotspur 0 - UEFA Europa League, Group Stage

Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, constituting the country's economic, cultural, and historical heart. Its commercial and historical centre lies in the European part of Eurasia, while about a third of its population lives in the Asian part. With a population of 14.1 million, the city forms the largest urban agglomeration in Europe as well as the largest in the Middle East, and the sixth-largest city proper in the world. Founded on the Sarayburnu promontory around 660 BC as Byzantium, the city now known as Istanbul developed to become one of the most significant cities in history. For nearly sixteen centuries following its reestablishment as Constantinople in 330 AD, it served as the capital of four empires: the Roman Empire (330–395), the Byzantine Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922). Istanbul is located in north-western Turkey within the Marmara Region on a total area of 5,343 square kilometers. The Bosphorus, which connects the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea, divides the city into a European, Thracian side—comprising the historic and economic centres—and an Asian, Anatolian side. The city is further divided by the Golden Horn, a natural harbour bounding the peninsula where the former Byzantium and Constantinople were founded.

Blue Mosque
Beşiktaş Jimnastik Kulübü (Beşiktaş Gymnastics Club), known as Beşiktaş, is a Turkish sports club. The club's football team is the first and one of the major teams in Turkey, having never been relegated to a lower division. The professional sports club, founded in 1903, is based in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul, Turkey. Beşiktaş Gymnastics Club established the first sport club of Turkey in 1903. The club competes in numerous branches including football, basketball, volleyball, handball, athletics, boxing, wrestling, chess, bridge, gymnastics, rowing, table tennis, paralympic sports and beach football. The home ground of Beşiktaş was the İnönü Stadium with a seating capacity of 32,086, however this has been shut down in order for the Vodafone Arena to be opened on the same land.

In the meantime the club are temporarily based at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium located in İkitelli, a district in the western outskirts of Istanbul. It is the largest-capacity stadium of Turkey. The stadium is named after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey. Its construction began in 1999 and was completed in 2002. It was built for Turkey's failed bid for the 2008 Olympic Games that were ultimately awarded to Beijing. With its 76,092 (all-seater) capacity and Olympic size, it was granted the "5-star sports complex" title by the UEFA in 2004, enabling it to host the finals of UEFA events. The 2005 UEFA Champions League Final between Milan and Liverpool was played at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium on 25 May 2005.

Istanbul appears to have changed a bit since my previous visit (also to watch Spurs play at Besiktas) in 2006 - if anything the place has developed and has a bit more of a western feel to it. The best example I can provide to back up my thoughts on this are the excellent public transport links which are certainly more joined up. That said, the traffic in and around Istanbul is extremely busy day and night!

For the 20:00 kick off, our coaches were scheduled to leave the centre at 16:45. This early departure was necessary to counter the hectic Istanbul rush hour traffic. It took the full duration of a football match to reach the stadium and this was only possible as we had a police escort and made good use of the motorway hard shoulder!

For a relatively new stadium, I found this place rather disappointing. Although there is a modern feel about the venue, it is disjointed and appears to be incomplete. The section allocated to away fans was extremely poor with sub standard catering facilities available through a fence!

There was a fifteen minute delay during the first half when the floodlights failed. I'm not sure if this is a regular occurrence but on 90 minutes it happened again. We therefore had to wait to play out the 3 minutes of time added on at the end of the match. Besiktas won a poor match 1-0 to ensure that they top the group ahead of Spurs. The journey back to the centre also took a while, it being midnight before we arrived back near the Blue Mosque.

Admission: 40 Lira (the home supporters at the opposite end paid 25 Lira)
Attendance: 19,511
Programme: None issued

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hibernian FC

Hibernian 0 Queen of the South 0 - Scottish Championship

Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, situated in Lothian on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth. It is the second most populous city in Scotland and the seventh most populous in the United Kingdom. Edinburgh has been recognised as the capital of Scotland since at least the 15th century, but political power moved south to London after the Union of the Crowns in 1603 and the Union of Parliaments in 1707. After nearly three centuries of unitary government, a measure of self-government returned in the shape of the devolved Scottish Parliament, which officially opened in Edinburgh in 1999. The city is also the annual venue of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and home to many national institutions such as the National Museum of Scotland, the National Library of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery. Edinburgh's relatively buoyant economy, traditionally centred on banking and insurance, but now encompassing a wide range of businesses, makes it the biggest financial centre in the UK after London. Many Scottish companies have established their head offices in the city. Although Edinburgh's traditional industries of printing, brewing and distilling continued to grow in the 19th century and were joined by new rubber works and engineering works there was little industrialisation compared with other cities in Britain. By 1821, Edinburgh had been overtaken by Glasgow as Scotland's largest city. The city centre between Princes Street and George Street became a major commercial and shopping district, a development partly stimulated by the arrival of railways in the 1840s. In 1998, the Scotland Act, which came into force the following year, established a devolved Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive (renamed the Scottish Government since September 2007). Both based in Edinburgh, they are responsible for governing Scotland while reserved matters such as defence, taxation and foreign affairs remain the responsibility of the Parliament of the United Kingdom in London.

Hibernian Football Club is located in Leith in the north of Edinburgh. The club was founded in 1875 by Irishmen from the Cowgate area of Edinburgh. The name is derived from Hibernia, the Roman name for Ireland. Home matches are played at the Easter Road stadium, in use since 1893, when the club joined the Scottish Football League. Hibernian was the first club from the east coast of Scotland to win a major trophy, the 1887 Scottish Cup.  Hibernian have won the Scottish League Championship four times, most recently in 1952. Three of those four championships were won between 1948 and 1952, when the club had the services of The Famous Five, a notable forward line. The club have won the Scottish Cup twice, in 1887 and 1902; but have lost ten Scottish Cup Finals since, most recently in 2013. The last major trophy won by the club was the 2007 Scottish League Cup, when Kilmarnock were beaten 5–1 in the final. It was the third time that the club had won the League Cup, also winning in 1972 and 1991.

This Pieman attempted to visit Easter Road 25 years ago but was thwarted by last minute engineering work on the railways. For many reasons in the interim period, plans to reach Leith have been thwarted and so it was with a feeling of hope that I set of for Edinburgh on the 08.00 departure from Kings Cross. The carriage was populated by a large group of New Zealand Rugby Union supporters who were on their way to Murrayfield for the international match with Scotland. Although these lads were enthusiastic and at times a bit loud, they were no trouble at all and it was good to listen to the banter.

The walk from Waverley to Easter Road takes between 20-25 minutes. This means that for a traditional 3pm kick off, the 17.30 train to London Kings Cross should not be an issue after the match. En route there are a number of pubs and eating establishments, either near the centre or on Easter Road itself. I opted for The Playfair (Wetherspoons) where the Highland Burger with Haggis and Chips was a welcome treat. This was washed down with a superb pint of Merlin (4.2%) from the Broughton Brewery. This deep golden pale ale has a clean tasting, refreshing malt flavour, overlaid with a strong fruit hop character. With triple the hops of a normal bitter.

Easter Road is a very modern stadium, with four seated stands affording a good view of proceedings. Like many new or redeveloped grounds, the comfortable surrounds are good, but lack individual character. If I had arrived in Leith 25 years ago, I would have experienced a venue more akin to the history of Hibernian FC.

This match saw 4th placed Hibernian host Queen of the South. A victory by two clear goals would have seen Hibernian go 3rd in the table above the visitors who were currently occupying that spot. Accordingly, there was potential to witness a really good match. Unfortunately this was not the case and despite best intentions, a defensive Dumfries outfit and a disjointed Hibernian side played out a 0-0 draw. The home side missed a very good scoring opportunity in the closing minutes when a lack of composure saw the ball lifted over the bar, not quite reaching this Pieman in the upper tier of the Famous Five Stand.

The match was not the classic hoped for, but the day out was good. It was nice to complete my ‘Edinburgh set’, adding to previous visits to Heart of Midlothian and Meadowbank Thistle – a reminder of the latter being the stadium floodlights visible from Easter Road. The train journey home was good reaching Kings Cross on time at 22:18.

Attendance: 10,069
Admission: £22:00
Programme: £4:00 (52 pages) - Special edition to commemorate the Great War

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Asteras Tripolis FC

Asteras Tripolis 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2 - UEFA Europa League, Group Stage

Tripoli is a city in the central part of the Peloponnese, in Greece. It is the capital of the Peloponnese region as well as of the regional unit of Arcadia. Before the Greek War of Independence, under the Ottoman name of "Tripoliçe", it served as one of the Ottoman administrative centres in the Peloponnese and had large Muslim and Jewish populations. Tripoli is surrounded by thickly wooded mountains on all sides, the tallest and closest of which is Mount Mainalon to the northwest. Tripoli is mainly accessed from Athens and the rest of Greece through the Corinth-Tripoli-Kalamata motorway, known as the Moreas Motorway. Tripoli is home to the two largest Armed Forces bootcamp centres of Greece, one for the Hellenic Army and one for the Hellenic Air Force. Tripoli is the seat of the recently founded University of the Peloponnese with two departments of the Sciences and Technology School and one department of the Economics and Administration School.

The football club was founded in 1931, in the area near Tripoli's railway station and was formally recognised. However, the club stayed inactive and during 1932 all football clubs in Tripoli were temporarily dissolved. At the same time, Minas Tsavdaris founded a football club and named it "Keramikos" after his home area. Despite his efforts, Keramikos was never formally recognised, and in 1938 Tsavdaris decided to transfer all of the club's players to Asteras Tripolis, which was still legally recognised. This signified the revival of the club and Asteras managed to compete in the inaugural season (1939–40) of the regional Arcadian League. However, the subsequent German occupation of Greece ended all league competitions abruptly and the club was dissolved once again. After World War II, Asteras was reformed under the name Neos Asteras. The team won consecutive promotions and managed to play for two seasons in the Greek Second Division (1961–1963), thus becoming the first team from Tripoli to ever participate in such a high division. In the summer of 1963, Asteras merged with Aris–Atromitos and the new team was named Athlitikos Omilos Tripolis. The new club continued its activities until 1968, when it was dissolved once again. Asteras was reformed again in 1978. The club participated in the regional Arcadian League until 2003. In 2001 the club entered a new era and led an outstanding streak of performances. They remained unbeaten at home for over 5 years and they managed to move up four divisions, earning the promotion for the Greek Super League as Second Division champions on 12 May 2007.

The remote nature of Tripoli encouraged us to travel a little earlier than usual, staying in Athens before undertaking the two hour coach journey to Tripoli the following morning. I had some naïve vision about sitting on a bus surrounded by goats and chickens as we left the sprawling mass that is Athens. However, the truth is that this was a comfortable coach and the journey was made along decent motorways. I also had not appreciated how many mountains we would encounter and this continued throughout the journey.

Tripoli is a very friendly place and without exception the people that I encountered were welcoming and proud that football had brought visitors to their city. It is a relatively small place and I doubt it would take long to walk from one side to the other. That said there are a number of interesting bars and restaurants to be visited. Tripoli is a mixture of old and new with our hotel belonging to the latter category.

The afternoon of the day before the match, we ventured out to the ground. Situated on the edge of town it takes around twenty minutes to walk to Stadio Theodoros Kolokotronis. The walk involves crossing the single track railway line close by Tripoli railway station. Passenger services from Athens no longer run as a result of the current economic situation in Greece. We were able to gain access to the ground and some daylight photographs were taken. We were also given a guided tour of the stadium, which was a nice touch.

The stadium has cover behind one goal (home end) and along one of the sides. The other side is open with the club administrative areas housed beneath. The away end is open with an enormous fence separating spectators from the playing area. For the match the host club kindly distributed match programmes. However, in the away section these were placed on wet seats!  Not easy as I don’t think it had been raining on the day of the match!

The match saw Spurs take a two goal lead at half time, only to give a very disjointed display in the second period. Asteras had plenty of opportunities to score but were limited in the end to a very late strike from a very dubiously awarded penalty. The atmosphere in the stadium did not match the intensity of previous matches witnessed in this part of Europe and perhaps the fans are still getting used to participating at this level of competition.

Admission: 20 Euros
Attendance: 5130
Programme: Free (24 pages)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Buckingham AthletIc FC

Buckingham Athletic 2 Crawley Green 3 - Spartan South Midlands League, Division One

Buckingham is a town in north Buckinghamshire, close to the borders of Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire. Buckingham was declared the county town of Buckinghamshire in the 10th century when it was made the capital of the newly formed shire of Buckingham until Aylesbury took over this role early in the 18th century. In the 7th century, Buckingham, literally "meadow of Bucca's people" is said to have been founded by Bucca, the leader of the first Anglo Saxon settlers. The first settlement was located around the top of a loop in the River Great Ouse, presently the Hunter Street campus of the University of Buckingham. The town suffered from a significant fire that raged through the town centre on 15 March 1725, with the result that many of the main streets of the town were destroyed including Castle Street, Castle Hill and the north side of Market Hill. The result was 138 dwellings being consumed in the fire. The current fine range of Georgian architecture in these streets today is as a direct result of that fire, but the immediate aftermath was difficult for the town. Collections were made in surrounding towns such as Aylesbury and Wendover to help those made homeless and by 1730 had rebuilt only a third of the homes. Buckingham was served by the Buckingham Arm of the Grand Junction Canal from 1801 to 1932, and the canal was finally abandoned in 1964. The canal ran from Cosgrove, Northamptonshire to the centre of Buckingham to a wharf. Buckingham had a railway station on the Banbury to Verney Junction Branch Line and ran from 1850 to 1964. The closest stations are currently Wolverton and Milton Keynes Central to the east and Bicester North and Bicester Town to the south west.

Buckingham Athletic FC was formed in 1933 as Buckingham Juniors, but it was three years before a ground was found, allowing the club to enter the Brackley and District League. When they got their ground it was originally called Timm's Meadow, later changing its name to Stratford Fields. In 1939 the club changed its name to Buckingham Athletic FC. It took the club 27 years to win their first piece of Silverware, winning the North Bucks League Shield in the 1960–61 season. They joined the Hellenic League Division One for the 1965–66 season, and at the end of this season they managed to win the Bucks Junior Cup. After three more seasons, the club gained promotion to the Premier Division. They stayed in the Premier Division for three seasons, during this period picking up the Buckingham Senior Charity Cup, before being relegated back to Division one. For Seven more seasons they remained in Division One before leaving the Hellenic League and dropping down a level to the North Bucks & District Football League for the start of the 1979–80 season. The time spent in the North Bucks league was rewarded with the NBL Premier Division Shield in the 1983–84 season, and the North Bucks & District League Championship a season later, winning it while remaining undefeated. At the start of the 1985–86 season the club joined the South Midlands League Division One, and were champions of the division at the end of the season. However the club had to wait another five seasons before it was promoted to the Premier Division, when they finished as Runners-up in the 1990–91 season, as their ground had mnot previously met league requirements. The club stayed in the top division of the South Midlands League, and then the Spartan South Midlands League, when the South Midlands League merged with the London Spartan league, for eight seasons.

This was the Pieman’s second visit to a match in Buckingham. The first occasion being Buckingham Town v Forest Green Rovers at Forde Meadow in October 1996. On that occasion I travelled by train to Bletchley and then by bus to Buckingham. This time I was offered a lift and the journey via M25, M1 and A5 enabled us to arrive at Stratford Fields in good time for this 3pm kick off. There was a fun fair just down the road and the club car park was full. However, we managed to find a space in a nearby street.

The clubhouse is outside the enclosed area and I opted to pay admission and obtain programmes before entering the ground. The very reasonable admission price encouraged me to look to spend money in the clubhouse before the match. Although real ale was not available (the club is looking into this) I enjoyed a bottle of Ringwood Forty Niner. There was a friendly atmosphere in the bar area and preparations were also underway for a private function to be held that evening. This building also hosts the toilet facilities for the ground.

The ground is bordered on two sides by a public park and a number of dog walkers appear to time their Saturday afternoon activity to coincide with the football as they can get a really good view of the match from the park. However, At £3:50 including a match programme, they might want to consider supporting their local club from inside the ground for the price of a pint! Another side of the pitch houses a covered seated (benches) stand which can accommodate standing. This structure would be the only shelter in adverse weather conditions. Behind the stand are the changing facilities. The remaining end of the ground has a training area backing on to the car park.

This match was played on a lovely sunny autumn afternoon. Buckingham Athletic had been struggling recently and changed their formation for this match. The first half was particularly good for them as they seized control and scored two goals without reply. At half time we enjoyed tea in the clubhouse and a nice touch was that the gentlemen serving did so from a tea pot. Sounds daft but so often these days you are issued with a cup with hot water poured on a tea bag and you have to finish making it yourself – a nice touch, well done Buckingham Athletic!

Unfortunately for the home side it was visitors Crawley Green that enjoyed the majority of the second period, scoring via a brave header over the keeper, a fine turn and shot and a great solo effort. These three strikes were enough to secure the points. On reflection I think a draw would have been a fair result but credit to the visitors for coming back so well. Stratford Fields was a nice setting for this match. The weather was kind and the match was played in good spirit. Our journey home was trouble free and once again the Spartan South Midlands League provided good Saturday entertainment.

Attendance: 47
Admission: £3:50
Programme: Free with Admission (20 pages)
Tea: 70p (from a teapot!)