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

Saturday, 10 March 2007

10/03/2007 - Witham Town 1 Enfield 0

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The match I originally wanted to see today was Hayes V Braintree. That finished 2-3 to the Iron.

For reasons that will become apparent, I decided that it was too far away and so plumped for Thurrock V Dorchester Town. That finished 2-3 to the Magpies.

Hmmm, not doing so well so far in picking the right match to go to.

Unfortunately though, my destination from Braintree for any match didn't take place until 2.10pm and so I decided to revisit Witham's Spa Road (last seen in 1980) for a Ryman North clash with Enfield. That finished 1-0 to the homesters. Grrrrrr.

The reason for my late departure was the customary clash between solitary pursuits and family responsibility, Vanessa had made it clear that this was Spring Cleaning The Garden weekend and the list of jobs were plentiful.

So despite an 8.30am start on shovelling, wheelbarrowing, tip-visiting and general sprucing, the list was not completed until too late for both of the earmarked five-goal thrillers.

On the way to Witham, I passed Essex Olympian League White Notley and saw them in action for the first time since I have moved up this way, despite passing the ground on many occasions.

Notley really is a beautiful (lottery-funded) set-up and so much nicer than Witham's Spa Road, which looks like a corrugated-iron prison.

Although from the looks of the 'youths' hanging around the skate-park outside, I can understand why the maximum security. This is keeping people out rather than keeping people in.

Witham is fairly similar to Braintree in being a north Essex town which time has forgotten. But while Braintree is getting the spin-off of Stansted's expansion, Witham as a town is struggling, much like their team who are dwelling in the bottom reaches of the Ryman North.

Enfield - a team with plenty of heritage but no home pitch of their own - are also also-rans in the Ryman N this year although they aren't looking over their shoulder at relegation in the same way as Witham.

And this bottom-feeder edginess was probably the difference between the two teams. Witham had the best chance of the match in the last ten minutes of the first half and took it.

Striker Kevin Hawes found himself through on goal and calmly took it around the Enfield keeper before slotting into the open net.
It was one of the few chances of a first half that was dominated by Enfield, and the north London team kept on in the second half maintaining their superior position... But there was no end product.

The Enfield fans - rivalling Harlow in their profanity - were at a low ebb, saying: "How did we stuff Potters Bar and lose to this shite" on their way out, while during the match having countless shouts of "Language" hurled at them from the home fans.

The cheers at the end when the ref finally blew his whistle showed the relief that was running through the club after a number of defeats. The win leaves them seven points clear of the drop zone with nine games to go.

All very nice, but the match however brought back in to play the Stoneman Profanity Rating, as players, officials and spectators today raised the level to at least four out of five chili peppers.

Great programme too.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

03/03/2007 - Thetford Town 0 Haverhill Rovers 3

I really like watching Eastern Counties League matches. The games don't seem to be played at the frenetic pace of the Ryman where fitness and speed overwhelm skill and finesse.

And this means that there is more space on the pitch, more time on the ball and more entertainment for the impartial observer.

Or perhaps I've just been lucky with the two ECL matches that I've seen, but both the game at Stanway Rovers and this effort on the Norfolk side of the border with Suffolk were thoroughly entertaining affairs.

We had travelled up to a small campsite just outside Bury St Edmunds on Friday night and we made the short journey to Thetford on Saturday afternoon after a somewhat fraught affair in the morning when I managed to get the motorhome stuck on some grass in the campsite and had to be dragged off by a JCB...

After we'd all had a good laugh about that... we set off for Thetford at around 2pm, arriving at the ground via a Sainsburys where we stocked up on sweets and DVDs for the kids to keep them quiet while I slipped off to the football accompanied by the dogs (for the first half at least).

Thetford's aging stadium is sitting slap bang alongside some new commercial development so there is a temporary fence between this development's car park and the ground. This fencing has fallen over and so you have the humourous site of spectators having to walk halfway around the ground before they can reach the area where the man stands taking money and dishing out programmes.

Despite its ramshackle appearance Thetford Town's ground has a real old-school feel with the players emerging from dungeon-like changing rooms through the tunnel between the seated areas of the stands. Alongside the stand is a snack bar entitled 'The Dogs' not sure if this is the nickname of the team, the snack bar, or if indeed this is what was on the menu, but the waft of the bacon rolls was the best sniffed so far this year. Very tempting.

The game cracked off at a rattling pace with both sides going close in the opening exchanges. Haverhill looked to have the dominant upper hand but were rattled - along with their left upright - by a curling effort from Thetford which was unlucky not to find the back of the net.

However, with so much attacking on view, it was only a matter of time before the first goal came and indeed it rewarded the Rovers for their early enterprise within the first 10 minutes.

Surprising then that we reached half time without any further scoring. I took the opportunity to drop the dogs off in the motorhome and get the old camera out for some pictures and I was glad I did as I managed to capture Haverhill's second goal, a fine header from a corner.

Just prior to this the home keeper had bundled the Rovers centre forward over in the box and then saved the penalty which culminated from this foul and then with about 15 minutes to go we were treated to an excellent finish for Rovers' third.

The two teams had drawn 3-3 in the corresponding fixture earlier in the year, but there really was no sign of Thetford grabbing a goal in this one.

And it was the visitor officials who were looking smug in the bar after the match after this good away win.

Special mention of note should go to the referee Mr T McCreadie (according to the programme) who was the most lenient official I think I have ever witnessed. Although the players who left the Mundford Road Recreation Ground with stud marks up their back may not concur...

28/02/2007 - Huntingdon Town 1 Whitworths 2

A sneaky mid-weeker this, my first exposure to the United Counties League, and oh boy did we get exposed to the elements.

Classic Fenland, Huntingdon Town's Jubilee Park is on a flat, open expanse with not a lot around except for a howling wind which chilled you to the bone and turned the match into a classroom-esque game of blow football.

Just inside the programme-less turnstile (grrrr) were a set of portacabins which made up the changing rooms and 'Social Club' where I snagged a cup of tea which went from boiling to frozen within three minutes of venturing outside.

I spotted the referee trying to do a few warm-up laps as I circumnavigated the flagstone path around the pitch and suggested to him that he made it 20 minutes each way.

He replied to me something about not being sure why he still did it, but frankly, the wind was so strong I couldn't really hear what he said.

Difficult to get any good snaps in the light coming from the floodlights, my best effort was of the single corrugated stand which offered the only shelter from the extreme conditions.

The match was no classic, it never would be under these circumstances, and it was hard for me to get a gauge of the standard of the football, needless to say Whitworths who are top of the league simply had too much for the homesters.

This was one of those ventures when having driven effectively from Fulham to Huntingdon and then back to Braintree in a night you are left asking yourself the question: "Why did I do that?"