Wednesday, 31 January 2007

31/01/2007 - VCD Athletic 2 Tunbridge Wells 0

THE best laid plans of mice and Stonemen often go awry. Never a truer word written on Wednesday night when my planned visit to Essex Senior League Brentwood Town was thrown into disarray by a last minute cancellation.

Town were due to face London APSA at the Brentwood Centre and as I had only visited Brentwood before when they played at Larkins Playing Fields it seemed the ideal opportunity for a visit.

But then I learnt that APSA had been 'unable to fulfill the fixture' for whatever reason and the match was postponed.

A quick search on Tony's English Football Site had shown that a short hop down the road (M25) and over the QEII bridge there was a Kent League Premier fixture between VCD Athletic and Tunbridge Wells and so I rooted out a pound for the toll and headed south of the river.

I've never visited a Kent League match before so it was pastures new in all senses of the phrase as an uneventful hour's journey saw me arrive with about 10 minutes to go until kick off.

There was a bit of shennanigans however in parking the car as the car park was full to capacity and just as I was dolefully reversing to go and park out on the street a coach pulled up at the gates and released a huge swarm of pensioners (possibly the VCD bowls club coming back from a road trip).

Happily they all then embarked in their cars freeing up plenty of room and I manoeuvured my way around them and into a space.

Walking through the turnstile you find yourself at the top of a hill looking down onto a beautiful green playing surface surrounded by a neat fence, cinder-type track all illuminated by a splendid set of new floodlights.

In fact everything about the VCD set up smacks of new, something to do with the "hundreds of thousands of pounds" worth of investment that the club has pumped into the stadium in recent years.

The floodlights were apparently the bone of some contention in the area - taking nearly nine years to receive planning permission - during which the VCD club spent something of a nomadic existence at grounds like Thamesmead in the surrounding area.

Their return to The Oakwood took place at the start of this season and hopes were high that the new surroundings could generate a push for promotion to the higher reaches of non league football - first stop being the Ryman Isthmian.

However, their attention has been somewhat diverted by a good run in the FA Vase which has seen them reach the last 16 for the second season running where they will face Bideford AFC from Devon.

Promotion aspiration has also been dented by the form of Kent Premier rivals Whitstable Town who are absolutely flying this year having not lost a game in nearly 20.

The Kent Premier was a good standard although we were moving into the realms of the pyramid where the games move at a million miles an hour - fitness and physicality the dominant forces for the first 60 minutes or so.

With both sides evenly matched on those fronts the first half was a fairly forgettable event and the two teams went in for their half time cup of tea level at nil a piece.

Tunbridge were certainly belying the fact that they are third of bottom and match the home team in every challenge and certainly creating as many chances although these were scarce at both ends.

But tiredness was overtaking physicality and space was appearing for VCD to play a bit and the deadlock was broken about 15 minutes into the second half when Leroy Huggins rather fortuitously found himself in some space in the Tunbridge box and he made no mistake in drilling the ball into the corner of the net.

Then with about 15 minutes to go it was Huggins again who rifled home a shot from the edge of the box after Tunbridge failed to deal with a VCD corner successfully.

After the referee had played what seemed an age of stoppage time we got the best shout from the crowd - although I think it may have come from one of the dugouts: "Come on ref, it's nearly Thursday!"

All in all a good evening's entertainment and I have London APSA to thank for an unexpected find. Also in a first for the Groundblogger, I have a little video taken of the ground which includes an interview with VCD Chairman Gary Rump, just click on the Play arrow in the picture below.

Ground Rating:

Refreshment Rating:

(I didn't actually partake but the smells were good)

Profanity Rating:

(All the effing was encouraging effing rather than malicious, but there was a lot of it).

VCD Athletic
Tunbridge Wells

Friday, 26 January 2007

27/01/2007 - Stanway Rovers 0 Lowestoft Town 5

I HAD originally planned to go to Great Wakering Rovers V Redbridge but Vanessa decided to go to Colchester Zoo with the kids and so I had a change of mind, as Stanway Rovers is close to the zoo and we would be able to meet up for something to eat after both trips.

Stanway and Lowestoft were champions of their respective divisions in 2005/6 with the Essex side gaining promotion to the Ridgeons Eastern Counties Premier as their reward.

This season there has been differing fortunes for both teams with Stanway struggling to establish themselves at the higher level and Lowestoft struggling with financial problems which has put the club in backroom turmoil.

However you would not have imagined this could be possible had you seen the well-organised and well-appointed organisation that the Suffolk team brought to Essex.

Players, officials and the ragtag band of vocal supporters were all smartly turned out in their Lowestoft Town coats which featured the name and number of club sponsor Gary Bennett on the back.

Bennett runs a driving school and he has been appointed acting chairman to steer the club forward (groan) during their current taxman turmoil which saw them forced to raise £13 grand by the end of January or be wound up.

Reports this week revealed that the money has already been raised, but obviously the backroom events at the Suffolk side need to mirror the performances that the reigning champions have created on the pitch.

Although sitting just above mid-table, they have plenty of games in hand on the higher teams, and have only been beaten twice this season.

Stanway on the other hand ar
e probably doing enough to avoid dropping straight back down but have lost half of their 24 matches this term.

I made the journery from Braintree to Stanw
ay in about 30 minutes, taking the A120 to Marks Tey and then going up the old London Road to Stanway.

The Hawthorns is in a housing estate although the ground sits next to a builders merchant at the top end which has an amazing hillock at one corner flag. It's a wide-open complex with five-a-side pitches alongside the pitch and a nice little grandstand on the far sid

You enter behind the goal at the opposite end into a tunnel-like shelter that runs the width of the pitch. The main clubhouse is in the car park outside.

The match was played at a slower pace than the Ryman League North matches I have been watching this year and the football benefits from this with players having more time on the ball allowing both teams to try to play.

The difference between the two sides though was the defences, Lowestoft's back four were a mean-spirited bunch who closed out Rovers' forwards, while the home team rearguard were run at times ragged by the 'Trawlerboys'.

And speaking of which, the best line of the match came from a couple of Stanway officials who watched as a salty sea dog in knitted cap, and roll-up fag, shuffled past them to join the Gary Bennett Driving School coat-wearing gang of Lowestoft fans behind the goal. "He's got his trawler parked outside".

The five goals came from Richard Woodrow (overlapping breakaway) , Jamie Stockeld (drilled shot in the box), Marcus Saunders (side foot swipe straight from a corner) , Carl Poppy (neat chip/lob) and Russell Stock - an ungainly, old fashioned centre-forward type who had a deceptively good touch for a big man and deserved his far post header in the dying minutes.

Ground Rating: 3/5
Refreshment Rating: 1/5 (The snackbar was poor, but did not deserve the abuse that the Lowestoft fans delivered to the poor old girl behind the tea urn, I went with a dubious sausage roll, a tea and a coffee. Not all at once.)
Profanity Rating: Very Low (a couple of effs from the Rovers keeper, but understandable as he picked the ball out five times.)


Stanway Rovers
Lowestoft Town

25/01/2007 - Oxhey Jets Reserves 0 Hoddesdon Town Reserves 0

THERE'S something peverse about watching a penalty being taken as a neutral observer and hoping to see either a miss or a save. But this was the position I found myself in after another drop down into the Spartan South Midlands Reserve Division One to take in Oxhey Jets Reserves against Hoddesdon Town Reserves.

With about 20 minutes to go in a game that had ebbed and flowed both ways, Oxhey were awarded a lighter shade of dubious penalty that threatened to break the hitherto deadlocked teams.

However about five minutes before the offence I had resigned myself to this being a nil-nil after both teams had squandered a limited number of good chances - mainly down to composure in the box. And for some reason, I didn't want that deadlock to be broken.

Luckily for me the penalty taker (Oxhey number 8) had been having a poor game up until that point and I actually fancied him to miss. He duly obliged, hitting it low and to the left of the Hoddy (that's how they describe themselves in rallying cries) keeper but in a position that was completely savable.

This miss and the inevitable goal-less conclusion that then petered out left me pondering what is it that makes a game enjoyable or dismal? I'd enjoyed this match as a contest and it was actually more entertaining than the 4-1 win I'd seen between Leverstock Green Reserves and New Bradwell St Peter Reserves in this division on January 10th.

The standard of football appeared better as both teams got the ball down and tried to play for most of the game, just missing that cutting edge in the final third. And I was actually pleased that it ended nil all as it confirmed the prediction I'd made halfway through the second half.

Then again perhaps my brain was just addled by the permeating cold.

I'd made the journey from Braintree to Oxhey in just over an hour, (A120, M11, M25, M1, local roads) the Thursday night commuter traffic behaving itself impeccably. The Altham Way complex is abutted onto a housing estate, and skirted by a railway line and lays out like a sporting vineyard on a number of exposed terraces. The clubhouse is well appointed and is a short walk across the car park. Although the ground appears quite exposed, the weather conditions were just cold, not windy, which made spectating bearable, while keeping the run on Cup-a-soups from the snack shack a constant.

In fact there was quite a good turnout spectating from the neat main grandstand area - I'd estimate around 30 - another healthy SSMRD1 attendance, and I enjoyed the view that you got from this raised platform alongside the grandstand.

The spectators also provided some good banter and visual entertainment, from one home fan's description of Hoddesdon's beefy number 6 ("that's a f**king sizeable unit"), through to the abuse they hurled at the Hoddesdon 'homer' line-o which led to him flipping them one finger after a dubious flag-raising.

There was also a handful of Hoddesdon fans (well, three) including one dapper gent in a felt hat, polished brogues, expensive looking sports overcoat puffing on a large cigar. I assumed he must be the HT chairman.

Ground Rating: 3/5
Refreshment Rating: 2/5 (one Coke, one chicken Cup-a-soup, one coffee, two Breakaways)
Profanity Rating: Very Low (the crowd swore more than the players)

Oxhey Jets
Hoddesdon Town

Saturday, 20 January 2007

17/01/2007 - Maldon Town 4 Arlesey Town 1

TWO matches in two nights, perhaps a bit cheeky, but a prior deal had been struck for two passes and I felt obliged to hold my side of the bargain.

Originally I wanted to go to Potters Bar Town to see them play Harlow but this match fell victim to the heavy rain and so I revisited Maldon Town, although it's not strictly a revisit as when I went to Maldon Town back in 1981 it was at their old ground (Fambridge Road?).

I've been past the current stadium on a number of occasions but never been on the inside so it was a new experience although the temperature was a bit cold and I was feeling the effects of the extra time and penalties from the previous late night. Getting old. :o(

How can I describe Madon? Again the pitch sits inside a sort of bowl on one side with an incline behind the back straight which presumably leads down toward the river area. Couldn't see if it did or not though as it was too dark.

On the home straight there is the bar/clubhouse/changing rooms facility which is new and modern although the bar was going under a refurbishment.

A big blow at the start of the match though... No programmes! Something to do with a technical failure at the printers... Grrr.

There was a lot of rainwater in and around the stadium, but the pitch looked in good shape and indeed played well.

Arlesey took the lead in a close first half through a goal from Michael McKenzie although Maldon equalised just before half time when Dean Parratt scored direct from a free kick.

Then during the break there was an absolute downpour and the second half became something of an ordeal for me as the temperature dropped even further, with the stands as they were offering little shelter. The wind was pointing in such a direction that it just swept the rain straight in and up into the back straight grandstand.

Maldon emerged as the dominant side through two goals from Steve Wareham and one from Lee Perry. But I was just waiting for the ref to blow up so I could shoot back to the car and get the heater on...

Maldon Town
Arlesey Town

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

16/01/2007 Barkingside FC 2 Redbridge FC 2

I THOUGHT this was the fourth time that this fixture had been scheduled after a string of postponements due to a waterlogged pitch but the programme insert stated that this was actually the fifth time the match had been scheduled... it was worth the wait.

The trip was easy enough from South Woodford to Barkingside, fifteen minutes tops and I arrived at the Oakside Stadium about an hour before kick-off so went into the bar for a pint of Guinness and to read the programme.

After that, both teams were warming up so I went outside to watch them and to survey the ground.

The Oakside is what I would describe as a mature stadium with the signs of wear and tear beginning to show. You enter at one corner of the side which runs alongside the train line, indeed the sound of the underground trains rumbling past was a constant throughout the evening.

The changing rooms/bar and snack bar are all located on this corner, and the ground develops out from this focal point.
The main grandstand is a low, wooden affair along one side while opposite is a real concrete and wooden chicken run, all dark and tunnel-like.

A raised area at the end nearest the bar provided an excellent vantage point for the climax of the evening, but after the kick-off I walked around from the far end to the home straight and stood behind the away (Redbridge) dugout.

Redbridge FC were in the away dugout at their home pitch because for this Essex Thameside Trophy match they were playing away to their tenants Barkingside FC.

So it was Essex Senior League V Ryman Division One North and naturally the home team in red were the underdogs.

Imagine my delight (as a neutral) then when they went one-nil up following a Lee Forbes goal, converted from a free kick which bobbled around in the Redbridge box until the tall defender lashed it home.

The effing and blinding of Redbridge Manager Alan Fenn cranked up a notch after that and the match threatened to overboil as the superior skill and touch of the stung 'visitors' were discarded for a few open studs and sharp elbows.

I had stood behind the Redbridge dugout because I'd wanted to watch Fenn in action after a comical warm-up in which he had played the part of an amicable foul-mouthed bully to his players, picking on each in turn. He didn't disappoint, and at one point hurled some verbal into the ground at a couple of old boys who had voiced disapproval at his language.

Anyway, that aside, the visitors equalised just before half time through a similar sort of goal to that the home team had managed, goal-mouth bobble falling to the right person, in this case Gary Skerrit.

Half time was delayed by a five minute stoppage after an ambulance had to be called for one Barkingside player injured in I think a clash of heads.

Redbridge scored again shortly after the break through a well-worked shot from Mitch Hahn, who amusingly would have been subbed if there been a break in play prior to him getting the ball. You pick up great snippets standing by a dugout.

From that point on Redbridge took their foot off the pedal and while they never looked like conceding due to the difference in class between the teams, they certainly didn't break a sweat in trying to finish off their tenant hosts.

And naturally they paid for it.

Barkingside had brought on star striker Warren Bennett who has notched 15 already this season and scored 40 for Harold Wood Athletic last season, and was clearly the best talent that 'Side had on show.

His touch leading the front line allowed Barkingside to carve out a couple of touches and he produced a marvellous defence-splitter to let in the left winger who crossed for Brad Foley to convert the equaliser. Totally deserved.

Into extra time and Redbridge just weren't able to move up through the gears, limbs presumably getting weary and while the visitors had the possession, the home side had the better chances.

Penalties were the only option and the crowd decamped from the stands to the raised area behind the goal at the top of the pitch to watch the drama.

By that time I was totally on the side of the underdogs and thought that would be their kiss of death, but they delivered five exemplary spot kicks while Redbridge could only convert four of their five - Chris Sloane the villain and goalkeeper Chris Clark the hero.

Great entertainment and a double tick.

Barkingside FC
Redbridge FC

Saturday, 13 January 2007

13/01/2007 - Arlesey Town 2 Potters Bar Town 1

I MADE the trip from Braintree to Arlesey Town's ground in Hitchin Road in about an hour going down the A120, on towards the A10, then on the A507 through Baldock to Arlesey. I chose Arlesey as I had no kids in the car so a longer journey wasn't a problem and it would give me a chance to nail the north western corner of the Ryman Division One North.

On the way I past through a town called Cottered which had a match playing in a park which after consulting my Non-League Newsdesk and Football Mitoo was likely to have been a Hertford FA Junior Cup match Cottered (2) V Inter (3)

The weather was overcast but there was no rain, however there was a strong wind in attendance travelling virtually straight down the pitch from right to left as you looked out from the main stand.

I took a picture of the turnstile and then when I went through, the turnstile man asked me if I had taken my photo for posterity. I resisted the temptation to tell him I was from Bedfordshire Health and Safety and said yes, before he relieved me of £6 entrance, £1.50 for a chunky-looking programme and 50p for a Golden Goal (74th minute).

Into the ground and I was greeted by a stadium which reminded me slightly of Harlow Town but without the upper deck on the main stand and without the sense of brand new-ness. Still very tidy and respectable.

Opposite the main stand is a long terrace with plenty of standing, while the main stand has three or four rows of seats in front of changing rooms, a well-equipped bar and a neat looking press box which is likely sponsored by the nearest PVC windows business.

At one end there was a nice terrace behind the goal, unfortunately the wind rendered that uninhabitable, and in fact the only place with any reasonable shelter was the main stand or a handicapped stand up behind the right-hand goal.

The snack bar looked good but remained untouched due to a ham and cheese toasty consumed before leaving Braintree.

The match started brightly if unskillfully with a lot of huff and puff from both sides. Arlesey had the first best chance as one of the strikers headed nicely toward goal, forcing a good tip over from the Potters Bar keeper.

Then Potters Bar went close with a header when they hit the bar, but the match was heading toward a nil-nil at half time until the 45th minute when Potters Bar gave up a loose free kick just to the left of the box which was crossed in invitingly for a well-placed header and one-nil.

The Scholars were unfortunate to go in one behind and after a nice pint of Guinness in the bar, they found themselves two behind when another good Arlesey attack ended with a header against the bar and a quick response from Craig Rydeheard to convert the knock down... I had the Guinness, not the Potters Bar defence mind.

Up to that point I had expected Potters Bar to win, as they were playing with the wind in the second half and they had played the better football, and indeed they pulled one back in the 75th minute, although I was up the wrong end to get a good look at Daniel Taylor's goal having taken shelter in the disabled area which I was advised by a local was the plum spot in the ground to avoid the wind.

He was correct and we enjoyed some banter for the next 15 minutes as Potters Bar desperately sought for an equaliser, a general lack of composure in front of goal their undoing and the Arlesey crowd went home happy, as did I after a very pleasant trip was enhanced by the news that Derby had struck a 94th minute winner at Pride Park.

Arlesey Town
Potters Bar Town