Monday, 2 April 2018

An Easter Monday "Treble Header"

After a few great, if very wet, days in Devon attending the South West Peninsula League groundhop (if you search #SWPHop on Twitter there are plenty of photo's and reports for your perusal) I found myself waking up in Sussex for an Easter Monday treble header.

1100 - Southern Combination League
Premier Division
Haywards Heath Town 5-0 Hassocks
Attendance: 138

The rain continued to fall and plenty of games fell victim to waterlogged pitches. My first choice of game for the 11am slot was Haywards Heath vs Hassocks. I had the option of Lancing on their 3G as back up, but Haywards Heath tweeted to inform everyone that it was 'game on' it was to the Hanbury Stadium that I headed.

This ground has been on my radar for a while after a groundhopping mate of mine went there last season and showed me pictures of the fabulous stand that dominates the ground, which was opened in 1952 by former FIFA President Stanley Rous. By coincidence I am currently reading 'Black Coal Mornings' by Brett Anderson who is from Lindfield, a village which forms part of Haywards Heath, not that had any infulence!

Haywards Heath are having a great season and are well in the battle for promotion. A win this morning, over bottom placed Hassocks, would put The Blues top of the Southern Combination as the season enters it's final weeks.

After a laboured opening 45, where Melford Simpson gave the home side the lead just before the interval, the floodgates well and truly opened in the second half as Haywards Heath went nap. Inspired by half time substitute Alex Laing, who scored within seconds of the restart, Heath eventually ran out 5-0 winners. The other goals came courtesy of another Simpson effort (74) George Hayward (84) and Karly Akehurst (89).

The 3pm games continued to fall by the wayside as the rain continued to tip down. My second choice of game at Bowers and Pitsea was postponed so I looked at a 3G option at Walton Casuals. However a massive snarl up on the M25 put paid to that option. Another choice was East Grinstead but another snarl up around the Dartford Crossing meant it was doubtful I would make my third game at Aveley later in the day.

1500 - Isthmian League
Division One South
East Grinstead Town 1-7 Hastings United
Attendance: 124

I decided to settle for just the two games, and hope for the best regards a third. Off I went to East Court, the home of East Grinstead Town. They too had tweeted it was game on but they possibly had jumped the gun a bit early as, on my arrival at the ground, the chap on the turnstile said the match referee had yet to arrive and inspect the pitch for himself. My heart sank.

I paid my money and entered the ground, the guy on the turnstile explaining that refunds would be given if necessary. You could see the pitch had taken a battering from the overnight rain. As fast as the groundsmen were forking the pitch, more water was coming down.

East Court has been home to East Grinstead since 1967 but the two stands that sit atop the grass bank were erected as recently as 2008. After spending their entire existence in the Sussex Leagues, the club were promoted to the Isthmian League Division One South in 2014, where they have remained since.

Both teams were apparently happy to play and the referee gave it the go ahead, much to my relief. Despite a little standing water the pitch held up remarkably well and the ball was zipping about absolutely fine. Having said that, I wonder in hindsight whether East Grinstead had wished they had bothered!

The Wasps had secured another season of Isthmian League South football a couple of weeks ago with victory over fellow strugglers Ashford United. However this afternoon visitors Hastings United gave them an absolute drubbing. You could say it was raining goals!

Davide Rodari helped himself to four goals (22, 32, 64 & 81) with Owen Rowe (71) Sonny Dullaway (73) and Dayshonne Golding (76) completing the rout.  Stephane Bombelenga scored for the home side in stoppage time but I'm sure that was scant consolation.

Having checked the live maps at half time, Aveley was still a no-no but fortunately the traffic had relented by the full time whistle and the prediction was I could make it on time. I jumped in the car and headed north.

1800 - Isthmian League
Division One North
Aveley 3-0 Canvey Island
Attendance: 342

The prediction was spot on. The Dartford Crossing delay was around 10 minutes and, having bagged one of the last car parking spots, I was through the turnstile in time to see the teams enter the field of play. What a relief!

Aveley moved from Mill Field, which had been home since 1952, to Parkside at the beginning of this season. The pitch is artificial so there was no danger of any waterlogging here! The new ground cost just under £5M to build and is everything you expect in a modern football stadium. Grays Athletic also share the facilities.

Aveley are ensconced in mid-table in the Isthmian Division One North but visitors Canvey Island are very much in the play-off picture. However it was the home side that ran out comfortable winners 3-0. Myles Keizer-Burrows (30)  Thomas Richardson (41) Calvin Ekpiteta (90) scoring the goals.

Canvey Island had plenty of possession but didn't really trouble Rhys Madden in the Aveley goal. That concluded a fabulous day of groundhopping and I feel very, very lucky to have got three games in the circumstances. All that was left now was the long journey home...

Saturday, 24 March 2018

STOCKTON TOWN (Bishopton Road West)


With 'the beast from the east' wreaking havoc in recent weeks it has been a while since I managed to visit a new ground. Fortunately today's game in the North East was on an artificial surface and what an occasion it was too.

Stockton Town were taking on Marske United in the FA Vase semi-final second leg for the right to play either Thatcham Town or 1874 Northwich at Wembley in May.

This all Northern League tie was finely poised after last weekends first leg. Stockton held a 2-0 lead after winning their "away leg" last Saturday. I say "away leg" because of the recent wet weather the first leg was also played at Bishopton Road West as Marske United's pitch was saturated and no other suitable alternative venue could be found.

The ground is situated on the edge of town, behind the local sixth-form college.This semi-final tie match was billed as the biggest game(s) in Stockton Town's 40 year history, certainly since they moved into senior football in 2009. The game was an all-ticket sell out with 1,800 packed inside the tight ground.

Marske really needed to score first to keep the tie alive and they did indeed do that. Liam O'Sullivan firing home after 8 minutes. This though was after Stockton missed a one-one-one chance after 30 seconds of the game, Fred Woodhouse squandering the opportunity. 

The Seasiders dominated the half but they could not find an aggregate equaliser. Stockton had their moments on the break and just before half time they were awarded a penalty. Kevin Hayes was fouled in the box and Nathan Mulligan stepped up to dispatch the spot kick and to restore The Anchors overall two-goal lead.

Marske came out for the second half and continued to pile on the pressure. A superb solo goal on 55 minutes from James Fairley, who picked the ball up on the wing before going on a mazy run and slotting home, putting Marske within one goal of levelling.

As the game went Marske pushed forward and took more risks, leaving gaps at the back, and there were chances for Stockton to seal the tie on the counter attack. The tie could have gone either way at this point. Michael Arthur in the Stockton goal pulled off a world class save to deny Curtis Round before Fairley had a goal disallowed moments from time due to a push in the box.

The final whistle sounded and the Marske players sank to their knees but it was jubilation for the Stockton players and supporters. In three short years they have gone from the Wearside League to Wembley. That is some journey! They will play Combined Counties League Thatcham Town in the final on 20th May.

The Stockton Town players who made history

Saturday, 24 February 2018

PRESTATYN SPORTS (Gronant Playing Fields)


After last weekends European travels I kept it closer to home this Saturday. I took the opportunity to complete visits to all of the clubs and grounds of the Welsh Alliance League. The opportunity of a 'champagne job' admittedly influenced my decision to head to Upper Gronant today.

Prestatyn Sports were formed as recently as 2013 and have enjoyed a fair amount of success in it's short history. The club won the promotion to the Vale of Clwyd & Conwy League Premier Division in its first season before going one better and winning promotion to the Welsh Alliance League as champions in 2015. The club also won an unprecedented quadruple by adding NWCFA Intermediate Cup, Premier Cup and Presidents Cup to their trophy cabinet.

In order to gain promotion to the Welsh Alliance the club left behind their Meadows home in Prestatyn, as that ground did not meet league criteria due to a lack of changing facilities and dugouts, and moved to the Gronant Playing Fields.

The ground is pretty basic but is railed behind one goal and up to halfway line, meeting the minimum standards for the Welsh Alliance. I am led to believe Prestatyn Nova and Greenfield have previously played on this ground. Whatever the ground lacks in facilities though it certainly makes up with vista, offering great views of the Irish Sea and of the Dee Estuary looking towards Point of Ayr lighthouse and Talacre Beach. There were refreshments available and a hot brew at half time was most welcome on a bitterly cold day.

The fact that the club are playing at Gronant led to them being voted out of the Welsh Alliance at the beginning of this season. Gronant does not fall into the catchment area of the league as it is in Flintshire (which is covered by the Welsh National League) and Prestatyn are a Denbighshire club. The club appealed the decision and won meaning they were reinstated to the league. Plans are in place for a suitable home back in the town but lack of funds are proving problematic. 

Penmaenmawr Phoenix were the visitors to Upper Gronant this afternoon. The opening exchanges were very scrappy with neither side able to take control. The turning point was a penalty to Sports and red card to a Phoenix defender midway through first half, for deliberately handling on the line. Ian Griffiths (33) stepped up to convert the spot kick and after that it was one way traffic and basically shooting practice for the home side. 

Goals from James Harper (50) Chris Owen (53) Mike Jones (60) and Jack McDougall (80) ensured a comfortable afternoon at 'The Fortress' for Prestatyn and luckily for Penmaenmawr some of the other finishing was poor or the scoreline could have been a hell of a lot worse! The result leaves Sports second in the table, 22 points behind leaders Glan Conwy, but they still have a whopping 10 games in hand.