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

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Brackley Town FC

Brackley Town 1 Gloucester City 3 - Football Conference North

Brackley is a town in South Northamptonshire. It is about 19 miles from Oxford and 22 miles from Northampton. Historically a market town based on the wool and lace trade; it was built on the intersecting trade routes between London, Birmingham and the English Midlands and between Cambridge and Oxford. Brackley has connections with Formula 1 as it is close to Silverstone and home to Mercedes AMG. The town was the site of an important meeting between the barons and representatives of the King in 1215. King John and the barons were to have signed Magna Carta at Brackley Castle, but they eventually did so at Runnymede.

Brackley Town FC was formed in 1890 and were initially a prominent side in the area, but fell away, with most of the period before World War II being spent in the Oxfordshire Senior Football League. In 1974 they moved back to the North Bucks League and also moved to their current St James Park ground in Churchill Way. A small clubhouse and changing rooms were built and by 1977 the club had stepped up to the Hellenic League. They stayed in Division One until 1983 when they switched to the United Counties League, where they won the Division One title at the first attempt. Gradually progressing through the leagues, the club gained promotion to the Football Conference North in 2012.

A mid afternoon departure enabled this Pieman to reach Brackley early. This was due to being offered a lift and facilitated some daylight photographs of St James Park. The rise of the club to Conference North has seen many ground improvements necessary to match grading requirements. There is covered seating along one side and behind one goal. Also behind this goal is some impressive terracing complete with crush barriers. The opposite end of the ground boasts another covered area for standing spectators. The clubhouse building has a licensed bar (Sharp’s Doom Bar on handpump) and a very good refreshment kiosk selling the usual drinks and snacks.

With time to spare before the match, our party headed for the nearby High Street in search of refreshment. There are plenty of options available. We opted to sample the delights of Cincinnati Joe's Diner near the Market Place. We were not disappointed and came away rather full! Burgers and Hot Dogs served with Fries and Onion Rings meant that we had no capacity to enjoy the tempting dessert menu!

The match pitted Brackley Town, having a tremendous season and pushing for a play-off place, against Gloucester City, struggling this season and desperate to avoid relegation. Interestingly, the home side’s form had dipped recently whereas the visitors had suddenly started to get some good results. As a neutral, I was keen to see how these teams would fare against each other as we reach what many describe as the business end of the season.

After a frustrating first period the match livened up considerably in the second half. It was the visitors who were more assertive and were just that bit more lively than their hosts. Gloucester took the lead after 56 minutes through Jake Gosling.  Izak Reid levelled for Brackley with a curling shot in after 78 minutes but the home fans were to be frustrated a minute later when Charlie Griffin powered home a header against the team he played for earlier this season. The points were sealed in the closing minutes when a free kick from Lewis Hogg eluded everyone as it sailed into the far corner of the net.

An enjoyable jaunt to a place not blessed by the best of public transport links. Brackley is served by buses, although I suspect a Saturday afternoon would lend itself better if attempting this option. There was a friendly atmosphere about the place and I believe the club and support really appreciate, without taking for granted, the amazing progress the club has made in recent seasons. Well worth a visit!

Brackley Town: Turley, Clerima, Austin (c), Sharpe, Langdon, Reid, Solkhon, Bridges (Ryan Rowe 51), Wallker, Diggin, Moore. Subs not used: Nisevic, Odhiambo, Story, Mulligan.

Gloucester City: Green, Roome, Jones, Coupe (c), Harris, Goddard, Hogg, Groves (Parker 63), Mann, Griffin, Gosling (Hanks 90). Subs not used: Giglio, Webb, Waldon.

Admission: £10:00 
Attendance: 197
Programme: £2:00 (52 pages)
Tea: £1:00

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Rotherham United FC

Rotherham United 1 Walsall 1 - Football League One

Although there were Iron Age and Roman settlements in the area covered by the town, Rotherham was not founded until the early Middle Ages. Its name is from Old English hām 'homestead, estate', meaning 'homestead on the river Rother'. It established itself as a key Saxon market town, lying on a Roman road near a forded part of the River Don. The region had been exploited for iron since Roman times, but it was coal that first brought the Industrial Revolution to Rotherham. Mining of coal was the driving force behind the improvements to navigation on the River Don, which eventually formed the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation system of navigable inland waterways.

This Pieman had witnessed home fixtures for Rotherham United at both their former Millmoor home and their subsequent temporary home at the Don Valley Stadium. The matches were 28 years apart, but coincidentally, for both the opposition was Bristol Rovers. Today's match also marked the re-completion of 92 league grounds for the Pieman. Rotherham United announced their intention to construct a new community stadium when they moved away from Millmoor to the Don Valley Stadium in May 2008. In January 2010 the club purchased the former site of the Guest and Chrimes Foundry to be used for the new stadium. The name of the stadium was announced as the New York Stadium on 19 December 2011. The reason for the name is that the area of land that the stadium lies upon is called New York. Construction started in June 2011 and the stadium was officially opened on 12 March 2012. 

My train journey from London Kings Cross involved changing at Doncaster. The onward journey from there took around 25 minutes following the course of the River Don. On arrival at Rotherham, a refreshment stop was made at the Rhinoceros (one of three Wetherspoon establishments in town). A superb dish of steak and kidney pudding, chips and peas was devoured and washed down by a cup of tea. From the railway station it takes a little over 5 minutes to walk to the stadium. In fact the railway line (in the Sheffield direction) passes the venue.

From the stadium, the floodlights and some of the exterior of Rotherham’s former home, Millmoor, are visible. The New York stadium is an all seated venue. The stadium has a 12,021 capacity and this is roughly broken down by the two end stands each holding 2,000 and the two side stands each holding 4,000. This Pieman sat in the North Stand. This area is the home ‘kop’ area. It is also the nearest part of the ground to the railway station!

The home side occupied a place in the play-off positions whereas visiting Walsall were just outside these places. It was Walsall that asserted themselves better and I was particularly impressed with the quality of their passing. Walsall took the lead with a fine goal from Milan Lalkovic when his shot from the edge of the box went in off the right hand post. For the majority of the match it looked as if this goal would settle the match. The 73rd minute sending off of Walsall's Ben Purkiss did little to change this view. However with two minutes remaining, Nicky Adams levelled for the home side. A point each was probably just about right.

The New York Stadium is an easy venue to visit. Train services between Sheffield and Doncaster are regular. There are plenty of refreshment opportunities in the town centre, which is only a few minutes walk away. This Pieman is glad to be back on “92” but with two teams promoted to the League each season and new stadiums being built – how long will this last?

Admission: £20:00 
Attendance: 8212 (420 Away)
Programme: £3:00 (68 pages)
Teamsheet: 20p
Tea: £2:00

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Afan Lido FC

Afan Lido 1 Bala Town 6 - Welsh Premier League

The Afan Lido leisure centre in Aberavon was opened by the Queen in 1965. The facility formerly included a 50m competition swimming pool, which was later converted into a 25m leisure pool called the "Aquadome" with water slides when the complex was re-fitted during the mid-1990s. The Lido was the site of a major fire on 16 December 2009 which broke out in the Aquadome part of the complex. Residents in surrounding streets were evacuated due to fears of the safety of chemicals in the fire that broke through the centre's roof. The centre has been closed since and has now been demolished.

Afan Lido FC was founded in 1967 shortly after the opening of the Afan Lido Sports Centre. A football team was set up in order to give the Centre's users a proper organisation. Phil Robinson and Ken Williams were the prime movers behind the club then and Phil remains as the current day Club Secretary and Junior Coach. In 1971/72 the club was accepted into the Welsh Football League. The club became founder members of the League of Wales in 1992, and won the League Cup in 1992/93 and 1993/94. The next year the team finished in second place in the League, winning a UEFA Cup place, but they were defeated by RAF Yelgava of Latvia on the away-goals rule.

My journey started by catching the 07:36 train from London Paddington to Port Talbot Parkway. On arrival I was able to walk to Aberavon in less than half an hour. However, my walk was twice interrupted. Once was to enjoy an enormous breakfast at the Docks Café. The other interlude was to have a look at Port Talbot Town FC’s ground which is less than half a mile from that of Afan Lido.

"and the kettle is on for half-time"

On arrival at the Lido Ground (currently Marstons Stadium) I was able to confirm that, despite the rain that had consistently fallen over the preceding days, the match was on. The pitch was looking good. I understand that the stadium is built on a sand base which considering the close proximity to Aberavon Beach is not surprising. It certainly aids the drainage.

The main stand contains 350 seats and sports a cantilever roof. The stand is flanked by flat standing areas. Opposite is a narrow multi-columned stand containing 150 seats raised above the dug outs. There is a TV gantry on the roof. At one end of the stadium where the turnstiles are located there are buildings containing a licensed bar, refreshment bar, changing facilities and an administration block. The other end of the ground is flat and backs on to housing.

Afan Lido were not having the best of seasons and bottom of the league going into this match. Opponents Bala Town, having a bit better time of it, sat just short of mid table. An even first period saw the home side take the lead with a spectacular shot. The visitors equalized shortly before half time and a close encounter  looked on the cards for the rest of the match. However two quick goals immediately after the break saw Bala take a firm grip on the match eventually winning 6-1. Those early second half goals had a devastating effect of the home side, who failed to match their earlier form.

This was my first exposure to the Welsh Premier League and the standard of play was good. The people running Afan Lido FC are extremely friendly and took the trouble to chat to this foreign visitor. Walking back to the railway station, the imposing site of the famous steelworks in the dusk was impressive. It was getting colder by this time and the warm train to Swansea, where I was staying ahead of the following day’s Swansea v Spurs match, was most welcome.

Attendance: 153
Admission: £5:00
Programme: £2:00
Tea: 80p

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Risborough Rangers FC

Risborough Rangers 2 Stony Stratford Town 1 - Spartan South Midlands League, Division One

Princes Risborough is a small town in Buckinghamshire, about 9 miles south of Aylesbury and 8 miles north west of High Wycombe. Bledlow lies to the west and Monks Risborough to the east. It lies at the foot of the Chiltern Hills, at the north end of a gap through the Chilterns. The A4010 road follows this route from West Wycombe through the town and then on to Aylesbury. The name 'Risborough' meant 'brushwood-covered hills' and comes from two Old English words: hrisen, which was an adjective meaning brushwood-covered derived from hris meaning brushwood or scrub, and beorg which meant hill. Since the reintroduction of the Red Kite to the Chiltern Hills, Princes Risborough has become an ideal place to view this bird of prey. They are often sighted above the town and surrounding areas.

Risborough Rangers FC was formed in 1970 as a team of 12 year olds who wanted to play competitive football and in the 1975–76 season, the previous years Under 16's entered the Wycombe & District League. In 1989 the club accepted an invitation to join the South Midlands League in Division 1. In the first two seasons the club struggled, finishing second from bottom and had to apply for re-election. However in their fourth season, 1992–93, in the league the club managed to gain promotion to the Senior Division under the management of Frank Carter. At the start of the 1997–98 season with the merger of the South Midlands League and Spartan League, the club became founder members of Spartan South Midlands League Senior Division. The club was promoted to Division One at the end of 2012/13 season.

Despite the awful weather experienced over the Christmas period, this match was always going to be played and unlike many venues a pitch inspection was not announced. I was fortunate to be offered a lift to Princes Risborough and the journey around the M25 and A41 was completed via the B4009 and A4010. The latter part of the journey saw the roads narrower than usually experienced but it was nice to see another pleasant part of England with some wonderful old houses at Wendover.

Windsor Playing Fields (affectionately known as 'Windsors') is located immediately next to Princes Risborough Cricket Club in Horsenden Lane. Princes Risborough Railway Station (Chiltern Line) is 100 yards or so from the ground. However, it is most likely around a fifteen-minute walk between the two, as there is no direct access. Another public transport option is the bus service between High Wycombe and Aylesbury, which passes through the town.

The ground has a very friendly feel about it, not least due to the welcoming attitude of the locals. The majority of the covered accommodation is along the main side of the pitch and is raised above the two dugouts. There is a range of seating options and space to stand. This is supplemented by the changing rooms and refreshment facilities including a licensed bar and a snack bar with the usual burgers, chips and hot drinks. On the opposite side of the pitch is a small covered stand complete with comfy chairs. There is an added bonus, particularly for ornithologists, in that throughout the afternoon the spectacular and graceful Red Kites were in evidence. The Chiltern region is a fine place to get out and about.

It was precisely a fortnight previous to this match that I had witnessed visitors Stony Stratford Town go down 0-10 at home to Kings Langley. Therefore it was going to be interesting to see how they responded against one of the other teams near the bottom of the table. This match was fairly contested and both sides can take credit for the way they continued to pass the ball on a difficult surface. The home side created the majority of the chances (scoring two goals in the process) but when Stony Stratford pulled a goal back in the second period it was uncertain as to how this match would end. A great afternoon in Buckinghamshire!

Attendance: 95
Admission: £3:00
Programme: 50p (28 pages)
Tea (in a mug): £1:00