Saturday, 29 December 2007

26/12/2007 - Soham Town Rangers 3 Mildenhall Town 1

Well it's taken me a few months to get another posting up and ready, but here we go, Boxing Day football, the perfect antidote to the family excesses of the festive period.

I took advantage of a Christmas week away at Center Parks at Elveden Forest, to slip away to the Fenland derby between Soham Town Rangers and Mildenhall Town.
It was my first ever visit to Soham and naturally on arrival at the town my thoughts drifted past the terrible events of 2002 and the deaths of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

I was surprised at the size of the town. I always had the impression from the news reports that this was more of a sleepy rural village when it actually is quite a large market town with a population of over 9,000.

Kick off for the match was a civillised 12 noon and I set off around 11am to get to the town, get some cash and get to the ground. A weaving journey through the Fens took me longer than expected, the cash points were to a man cashless at the first three attempts and then I got lost three times going to Julius Martin Lane, saved only by the web browser on my phone for some last minute support.

As it was I arrived and bought my festive raffle ticket - the only time of the year I take on the weekly gamble - just as the two teams were marching out to the strains of the Match of the Day theme.

Soham's ground is very pleasing to the eye, relaxing within a large boundary fence in plenty of space. Covered terracing stands at each end, the far side is open to the elements along a guard rail, while the dugouts, changing rooms, grandstand and clubhouse make up the near side.

The weather was crisp but not cold, the green turf tacky but not sticky, and a winter sun, low in the sky, had the 258-strong crowd shielding their eyes when play swung that way.

Mildenhall Town took an early lead through a slightly jammy effort which took two deflections en route to wrong-footing the keeper and looping into the net.

Soham replied almost immediately following a poor clearance by an under-pressure Mildenhall keeper which went straight to a home forward who squared for a cool shot by Darren Jimson.

They then furthered their lead after half an hour when Paul Jones slid in at the far post to convert a cross.

Soham were well deserving of their lead and wrapped up the points on the hour mark through a goal from Michael Simpson.

My two other highlights were the best cheeseburger and chips I've ever had at non league football and the interesting programme cover which relates to the 1944 Soham Railway Disaster.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

19/08/2007 - Sporting Bengal 0 London APSA 0

On Sunday I travelled to the Mile End Stadium to witness the first ever all Asian FA Cup tie held between Sporting Bengal and London APSA.

This was the Extra Preliminary Round of the seasons FA Cup competiton and the matches played this weekend have come just over 90 days since John Terry lifted the cup for Chelsea at Wembley.

Sporting Bengal play in the Kent League while APSA are in the Essex Senior League and according to the programme there has always been a healthy rivallry between the clubs since their early days in Asian Football.

The game attracted a big crowd of what I estimated was over 200 people and scattered amongst the mostly Asian faces were a number of people that you could spot as Groundhoppers, wanting to witness this landmark.

Both teams coveted the prize of a place in the Preliminary Round, as they would be the first Asian club to make it that far, and from the kick-off the tackles were flying in.

And there were chances at both ends in a very competitive first half, but neither team could break the deadlock.

Mile End Stadium has an athletics track around the pitch which always leaves you feeling slightly disjointed but this was made up by some boisterous support for both sides.

In the second half I would say that London APSA shaded it, their forwards were tricky and had more invention than their Sporting counterparts, but come the final whistle it was announced that they would play another 30 minutes of extra time.

But both sets of legs were running heavy, and neither team could find the net, although APSA missed out on automatic progression by missing an absolute beauty of an opening, their striker hitting wide of the goal in face of the onrushing Bengal custodian.

An interesting way to spend a Sunday afternoon and a much more interetsing reason to visit Mile End Stadium than a regular league game. Plus of course a double tick as Beaumont Athletic groundshare with Bengal.
A set of gonks from Football Focus were there filming so I will have to look out and see if I made it on to the telly.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

04/08/2007 - Thurrock 2 Chelmsford City 4

Another pre-season friendly saw me follow Chelmsford City away to Thurrock. This was a highly-entertaining scrap between two teams who are a division apart but closely matched, City at the top of the Isthmian Premier and Thurrock near the bottom of the Conference South last season.

On this outcome City could have a good season while Thurrock look like they will struggle.

28/07/2007 - Portland United 1 Christchurch 1

A nice pre-season fixture which started out as a trip to see Weymouth play Orient, but which had to be changed at the last minute to a visit to Portland after the Weymouth match was postponed for three hours due to the Orient coach being stuck on the motoroway.

The best picture (action shot) was taken by Groundblogger's daughter...

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

17/07/2007 - Farnborough 5 Barnet 1

The last time I saw Ian Hendon playing football was in a Romford Schools seven-a-side tournament.

As I recall, although this is going back 20 odd years, Hendon was sent off when playing against us and horrible irks that we were at the time we jeered at him and made him cry.

And I suspect he would have wept at the performance put in by the Barnet team he skippered in this pre-season friendly at Farnborough as the League Two side went down 5-1 to their Southern One South West hosts.

My first outing of the 2007/08 season - just two months since I saw Braintree defeated in the Conference South play-off final - was made all the more interesting by watching Hendon turning out.

He is assistant manager at Barnet and is the last man standing (playing) in league football from all of the people in my school year group that I ever played against in junior football.

It made me reflect on what has happened in the near 30 years since we were under-8s playing in the Echo League in Essex for our respective teams.

Hendon looked as fit as the proverbial butcher's dog, lean from a career of professional sport and tanned from a summer break no doubt spent on the beach.

I was pale and a bit flabby, wrapped up in a jacket concerned that despite this being July, I might get a bit chilly standing on the touchlines. Still there you go.

Despite my weather worries, this was actually a very pleasant evening's entertainment.The match was Farnborough's first as a ressurected team and I had the pleasure of capturing their first ever goal which broke the deadlock shortly into the first half.

A Farnborough forward found himself in space on the right wing and crossed low to Jermaine Hamilton who looped the ball over the despairing grasp of the Barnet custodian to register the first notch under the new regime.

Hamilton added a second shortly before half time which had the league opposition scratching their heads and muttering to themselves that pre-season doesn't count.

Farnborough had a complete change of personnel at half time and the goals kept on coming.

The third was added by a tricky Farnborough winger Darren Campbell who defied his size to out jump that man Hendon to nod home a cross.

I was tempted to try and make Hendon cry again, but maybe this picture will do the trick. Jump man, jump.

The fourth was the goal of the game, a looping header from Warren Coborne who connected while travelling at speed away from the goal.

Barnet got one back after a defensive mix up from the home side, but the home fans went home delighted by a fifth Farnborough goal from Mark Green right on the final whistle.

Also of interest for me in the match was an appearance for Barnet by Ludovic Quistin playing at left back who I had last seen playing for Harlow against Flackwell Heath back in January.

Quistin scored two excellent goals playing as a striker for Harlow in a 7-0 gubbing and I'd marked him as a prospect in a report to my dad.

Good to see I can spot them, perhaps I ought to ask Hendon for a scouting role...

Monday, 28 May 2007

13/05/2007 - Braintree Town 0 Salisbury City 1

My final game of the 2007 season was the Nationwide Conference South playoff final between Braintree Town and Salisbury City, which was played at Stevenage Borough's Broadhall Way Stadium.

This was the second play off final that I've ever attended, the first being the Division One playoff between Leicester City and Derby County at the old Wembley back in 1994.
Derby had taken the lead in that one before Leicester equalised just before the break, and I left the stadium at half time.
I knew the result was going to go the wrong way and I couldn't face the prospect of the Wembley traffic jams when we had lost.
I'm not proud of myself, but there you go.
And just like that match this was an agonising affair which ultimately ended in the wrong result as far as I was concerned. I'd had that sinking feeling for most of the day and half decided not to go.
But in the end I went for it, partly because it was a tick, and partly because I hoped I couldn't be a playoff loser twice.

But lo and behold, Salisbury picked up the one-nil victory which secured them Conference football next season and Braintree saw all their effort disappear having arguably had the best chances of the match, particularly a shot from James Baker which squeezed past the wrong side of the upright.
At that point, I knew.
I thought about leaving, but it was only nil-nil and I didn't think I'd be stuck in any traffic despite the good sized crowd.
Playoffs are football at their rawest, where the emotion is a hairline from euphoria to abject misery. And this match was played in that vein.
I didn't get the impression that either team was happy to go out, stamp their domination on the tie and demand victory.
Both sets of players were too concerned about making a mistake.
Unfortunately it was the Iron that made the mistake.
The Salisbury goal came in the last ten minutes, one of those breakaways from a slack loss of possession in the City half which left me shutting my eyes, praying that if I didn't watch it, it wouldn't go in.

I'd like to write more about the Stevenage Borough ground, but frankly I didn't pay it too much attention being swept up in the event.
Anyway the pictures show about as much as I saw...

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

02/04/2007 - Fisher Athletic 3 Braintree Town 0

This should have been an ideal trip. A six-mile journey from the office in Fulham to Dulwich, a double tick as both Conference South Fisher and Ryman South Dulwich Hamlet share this Champion Hill ground and a reacquaintance with The Fish, a team which I had a bit of a thing for in the 1980s when I visited the Surrey Docks stadium a couple of times.

But it didn't quite go to plan.

I set off from Fulham at about 6pm, and was safely in the car park of the Sainsbury's superstore which sits adjacent to the Dulwich Hamlet ground at around 6.45... 45 minutes to do six miles, that's London rush hour traffic for you.

Still that left me with an hour before kick off to take in the ambience of a night on Champion Hill. The ground is well developed with a first class grandstand on one side and a functional stand on the far side, while outside there are sweeping views from one of London's high spots (vertically-speaking).

When I arrived Braintree were out on the pitch warming up while Iron supremo George Borg stalked around the proceedings keeping an eye on his side.

I took some photos and then ventured up to the bar to sample a quick Guinness before the match kicked off and that's when it occured to me that I had more than a touch of emotional attachment to this game. I'd brought the 'lucky' Braintree hat, and found myself gravitating to the Braintree fans standing behind the Fisher goal, and frankly was quite anxious for a Braintree win.

And with the emotional involvement comes the irrationality of fandom. The ebb and flow of the game becomes a rollercoaster of optimism and anxiety. The outcome of refereeing decisions lose the indifference of impartiality. Every challenge is felt, every misplaced pass vexes and the tauntings of the opposition fans become a personal attack on your psyche.

Added to that, when you let one in just before half time you get the right hump.

Unfortunately this is exactly what happened in a first half which was played at a frantic pace, and was arguably the best quality match I have seen this year.

Braintree were working hard but lacked that killer edge in the last third. Any half chances that were available to Hawes, Brayley and Ofori were fluffed, muffed or offside.

Fisher, particularly their back four, were working even harder and their passing was crisper.

In the 42nd minute, it was another one of those times when you could see an inevitable goal unfolding in front of you, only in this game Braintree were on the wrong end, as Fisher's Gavin Tomlin drilled home from close range after a bit of penalty box pin-ball.

Borg was understandably annoyed to be going in 1-0 down and he sent the Iron out early for the second half. Unfortunately he forgot to tell them to start playing early in the second half and after 26 seconds of the restart Tomlin found himself through on the right hand side with just Nick Morgan to beat, which he did with applomb.

I was rueing my emotional attachment at this point but in the spirit of every club I have ever followed, I started to pass from denial to acceptance. You just can't win them all. The lucky hat will need to be charged with some more mojo.

The Iron were looking bemused, like a team unfamiliar with being outplayed, but every Fisher pass was well placed, every challenge was crisp and the loose balls were all bouncing to the black and white shirts.

But the visitors had a couple of chances to get back in the game the best arguably when Ofori's short range shot was blocked by the Fisher goalkeeper, and two penalty appeals, one which was very handball-ish and the other a push on James Baker as he lined up to shoot.

But still the Fish dominated and on 74 minutes a home corner was beautifully volleyed home by Anthony Sinclair.

So that left 16-long minutes as Braintree toiled in vain knowing that there was no way back against the dominant homesters, while the Iron faithful, me included, just stood there and endured.

Still like I said, a double tick, and just over an hour to get home from Dulwich to Braintree and I recognised and had a quick chat with Jon Weaver, the author of Grounds of Rural/Metropolitan Essex, but overall a night flattened by the result.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

31/03/2007 - Downton 2 Hamworthy United 2

A weekend down on the south coast saw the Groundblogger (and father) make the 35 minute journey from Poole to Downton to watch the Robins take on Hamworthy United in a Wessex Premier mid-table clash.

The journey to the village of Downton was very straight forward and we arrived at the ground which abuts a sports centre at around 2.15pm.

Downton is a pretty ground entered by a turnstile at the top corner of the home straight with a bar and changing rooms complex on one side ahead of a low grandstand.

With 45 minutes before the kick off we slipped into the bar for a quick refreshment and a peruse of the programme which took all of 45 seconds.

The bar itself closed at about 2.45pm and did not reopen until 4.30pm so the match was punctuated by trips to the snack bar for hot drinks at half time to drive out a brisk wind which drove across the pitch and led to some swirling high balls.

The Robins, resplendent in their red shirts, have had a difficult season trading in the lower reaches of the table although not in any danger of relegation.

The Hammers are only six points better off and notable only for the fact that their ground is just around the corner from Groundblogger's dad's house.

This proximity led to the local knowledge that the visitors were putting out a slightly weakened team from normal, although if players were looking to take their chance in the first team you would not have known it. Give them the benefit of the doubt though and say that the conditions were making it hard to play.

Downton's supremo in the dug out was justifiably miffed then 24 minutes in when an indecisive defensive header left the home custodian stranded allowing Keith Middleton to nip in and tuck it home for the opener.

"We do it every week, we've had all the play and we've give away a stupid goal", was the cry from the dugout after the neat finish which was the high point of a low half.

Middleton's contribution was virtually his last though as he limped off shortly after after a strong challenge in the middle of the park.

Concerns that the match was not going to be worth a pleasant 35-minute drive in the country though were unfounded following a second half which had the competitive edge as the Robins attempted to stage a fightback, and a unique spot of ball retrieval involvoing a ladder and a concerned-looking groundsman.

This followed a peach of a free kick from outside the box by Hammers' Michael Hubbard on 59 minutes which had seemed to put the match beyond the homesters.

But the game was spun on its head by a moment of madness from the Hammers' goalkeeper Nick Hutchings.

A good through ball from Downton saw one of the strikers through on goal although off to the left hand side of the penalty box and while he concentrated on slipping it past the onrushing Hutchings, the Hammers' keeper concentrated on a bodycheck which would have been more effective on an ice hockey rink.

The shot went wide but Hutchings found his mark and left the referee with no hesitation in pointing at the penalty spot.

Hutchings was sent off and Downton's Kev Thick coolly slotted home. 1-2 and game, as they say, on.

Being down to 10 men, Hammers reorganised and set out on a defensive footing. And although Downton huffed and puffed they could not blow the visitors down.

It took two moments of real class to orchaestrate the equaliser in the 86th minute, firstly a splendid cross right into the danger zone of the visitors' penalty box and then a clipped shot over the outcoming keeper by Thick for his and his team's second.

Downton then scented blood and went looking for the winner and they did have the ball in the net in injury time but unfortunately the ball was attached to the keeper's hand when it and he were bundled in.

After the final whistle there was a brief scare when Radio Five Live announced that Barnsley had scored a late goal at Oakdale but the Rams held a two-goal lead and held on for the three points while undoubtedly the Hammers committee would have returned to Poole slightly miffed that they had not managed to.

Friday, 30 March 2007

27/03/2007 - Braintree Town 2 Welling United 1

Back to Cressing Road for my first match in 17 days, first match spectating that is. The reason for my lengthy absence from the touchline is because I've been venturing over it in previous weeks, turning out for Braintree & Bocking United who ply their trade in the Mid Essex League Division Two.

However, as it wasn't my turn to take Eden football training on Tuesday night I decided to slip up to Braintree Town to watch the Iron take on Welling in a top end of the Conference South table clash.

Cressing Road is continuing its metamorphosis. The grandstand has been doubled in size as you can see in the before and after picture, and the floodlighting has been vastly improved.

At one point in the match I got talking with the Braintree Chairman Lee Harding and told him that the light was not bright enough for my camera to take sharp shots, then had to explain to him that this was a fault of the camera not of the floodlights when he took offence to my comment.

Advert: Braintree Town F.C.'s Cressing Road Stadium: A 75 Year History

Arriving at the ground at about 7.35pm we couldn't get a parking space in the main car park and had to leave it down a side road and then scoot in, just in time to see the two teams running out.

This was a big clash in the Conference South play off race. Braintree went into it just behind Welling and outside of the play off group, but knowing that a win would take them into fourth, leapfrogging Bishops Stortford.

And things got off to a terrible start when, despite me putting on my lucky Braintree Town hat, Welling took the lead just six minutes in with a beautifully taken free kick from James Day (11) which you can just see dipping into the top corner passed Braintree's man mountain keeper Nick Morgan.

For those first ten minutes Braintree had actually looked like frightened rabbits and whether the goal woke them up, or led Welling to adopt a false sense of security, the remainder of the game played out very differently.
The Iron suddenly started to play and were immediately pressing the Kent team's goal. It was almost like watching two different matches. And on 14 minutes there was one of those great moments where you know a certain goal is unfolding in front of you.

Eugene Ofori broke free from the Welling defence with the goalkeeper stranded in no man's land. His shot was stopped by a desperately covering Welling defender, but Bertie Brayley was on hand to slot home the equaliser.

Barely had Welling caught their breath from that setback and the Iron were pressing forward again. A series of free kicks were conceded around the area and Brad Quinton lashed a fierce shot against an upright.

Then shortly before half time, David Lee lofted a beautiful free kick into the box which was powered home by a superb Ofori header, which I got with the camera. Too bad the lights weren't bright enough to beat the blur... ;o)

This was the first time that I had seen Lee in an Iron shirt, he was signed from Harlow Town earlier in the year and added real creativity to the Braintree midfield.

But the absolute highlight of the game came in the second half, when Brayley tangled with the big Welling number five (Chris Moore?). There was obviously something which the dimunitive Brayley disagreed in the challenge as he promptly chinned Moore who crumpled like a sack of spuds right in front of us. Real David and Goliath stuff.

The referee consulted both his linesman and none of the triumverate had seen it as it had been well off the ball. I couldn't have seen it more clearly!

How we laughed as after consultation the referee bellowed: "Nothing there," and backward sprinted toward the halfway line in that manner that only men in black can.

24/02/2007 - Braintree Town 3 Dorchester Town 1
06/02/2007 - Braintree Town 1 Kidderminster Harriers 3