Saturday, 24 September 2016



Once the dust had settled on the draw for the 2nd Qualifying round of the FA Vase, I was looking for something within a couple of hours of home. I was immediately drawn to the tie between Birstall United and Malvern Town, because cards on the table, and I am ever so sorry, but I had never heard of Birstall United!

I sought out the most basic of facts that the club a based in Leicestershire, a few miles north of the city centre and play their home games at Meadow Lane (no, not that Meadow Lane). So I decided to point the car in the direction of Leicester for my latest instalment on the road to Wembley!

The club was founded in 1961 by a group of youngsters. They chose their name 'United' after picking the best players from the teams run by Birstall British Legion and Birstall Social Club.
The club initially played Sunday league football in the Leicester & District League but by the end of the decade they switched to Saturday football, eventually joining Division Two of the Leicestershire Senior League in 1976.

The club play at Meadow Lane, which is adjacent to Watermead Park, a series of old gravel pits that have been turned into lakes. Only two sides of the ground are open. There is a seated stand alongside the pitch and a covered terrace behind the goal. There are also signs of building work as the club continue to develop the ground. There is a clubhouse, which was doing a roaring trade today with Leicester City being the early Sky TV game.

After plenty of near misses, Birstall United were crowned Leicester Senior League champions in 2016 (I wonder if their odds were 5000/1 at the start of the season?) and therefore promoted to the East Midlands Counties League.

Attention today turned to the FA Vase where Birstall were facing another step 6 side, Malvern Town of the West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division. Birstall were looking to reach the first round proper for the first time since 2007. Their best run in Vase came in 1997/98 when the club reached the 4th round before losing to Spalding United.

Birstall drew first blood in this tie when a defensive miscommunication between goalkeeper and defender resulted in Jamie Smith (4) heading the ball into his own net.

Malvern played the more controlled football in the opening half and it was no surprise when Nathan Hughes (18) brought them level with a bullet header.

The game was much even in the second half but it was Malvern who created the better opportunities. They hit the post and had a goal disallowed for a supposed foul on the goalkeeper. Malvern eventually nudged themselves in front in the 75th minutes when Dave Reynolds blasted home from just inside the box.

However the lead though only lasted a matter of seconds as straight from the kick off the ball went out wide and the resulting cross was headed home by Lewis Dodd to bring Birstall level.

With the tie level at 90 minutes, and with the agreement of both clubs, an extra 30 minutes was played but ,despite the game becoming more stretched as the players became weary, no winning goal could be found. The teams will replay at Malvern on Wednesday night.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

TOW LAW TOWN (Ironworks Road)


After last weeks visit to Morpeth Town in the FA Cup, it was another trip to the North East for another Road to Wembley. The FA vase kicked off this weekend as 388 teams from step 5 and below in the pyramid dream of a day out 'underneath the arch' next May.

I opted for the all Northern League Division Two clash between Tow Law Town and Norton & Stockton Ancients (7th v 6th in the current table).

A mate of mine was heading up this way to watch another Vase tie 5 miles down the road at Crook, so he very kindly dropped me and another mate off in Tow Law before heading to the Sir Tom Cowie Millfield. After a breakfast stop in Carnforth, and an ale stop at the Stanley Jefferson in Bishop Auckland, we were dropped off in town just after 2pm. There was not a lot happening so we headed to the nearest pub to catch the end of the United v City game on television.

Tow Law Town has been on my groundhopping radar for quite a while. Maybe it is the name, Tow Law deriving from the Old English "tot hlaw" which meant "a look out mound" which was there before the village was built. Maybe it is because I first come across the name, when I was an impressionable youngster, in my Panini Football '85 sticker book (pictured right) as Chris Waddle was signed by Newcastle United from Tow Law Town in 1980 for £1,000. Whatever the reason I finally made it today and it was well worth the trip!

Nicknamed The Lawyers, the club have been in existence since 1894, joining the Northern League in 1920, and play their home games at Ironworks Road (the Ironworks works were established in the mid 1800's by Charles Attwood , which expanded the town population rapidly, before closing by the end of the century).

The ground is 1,000 feet above sea level and has a reputation of being one of the coldest in England. There was no evidence of that today as I wandered around in a t-shirt, as The Ironworks was bathed in late summer sunshine.

The Main Stand is on one side of the pitch, with terracing on the opposite and a covered enclosure behind one of the goals. Looking out over the stand there is a stunning vista of the North Pennines. The ground certainly is another Northern League gem!

Tow Law do have a cup pedigree. They beat (then) third division Mansfield 5-1 in the FA Cup in 1967 before taking Shrewsbury to a replay in the next round. Unfortunately for Tow Law they then lost 6-2 at Gay Meadow when a home tie with Arsenal awaited the winners.

My mate and I stood by a couple of old dears and, nearly 50 years on, that game still provoked an emotional reaction, especially when they found out my mate was a Shrewsbury fan "We were bloody robbed by the referee that day" she said "We had a perfectly good goal ruled out. It should have been us playing Arsenal!" I'm sure The Gunners would have loved a January trip to Tow Law!

The Lawyers finally had their day out at Wembley in 1998 when they reached the final of the FA Vase, but they lost out by a solitary goal to Tiverton Town. There will be no 2017 repeat of that day 18 years ago as The Lawyers crashed out of this season's competition at the first hurdle.

A three goal salvo from Marcus Laing, Jim Wilson and Nicky Martin, all within 9 first half minutes effectively won the tie for the Ancients.

Tow law did get one back early in the second half through Chris Mordue but, despite plenty of pressure, there was no way back into the tie for the home side. Norton & stockton will now travel to face Chester-le-Street in the next round.

Saturday, 3 September 2016



The road to Wembley continued with a journey to the North East and a visit to Craik Park, the home of 2016 FA Vase winners, Morpeth Town. For the first time in their 122 year history they were playing a team from the Principality as Colwyn Bay made the trek up from North Wales.

Founded in 1894, Morpeth celebrated their centenary by moving to a new ground on the outskirts of the town, Craik Park, which was named after the Father (W) and Son (R) Craik who served as respective secretaries between 1920 and 1985. In the centenary year the club won the Northern Alliance and with that promotion to the Northern League for the first time. The club have remained members since, winning the Division Two title in 1995.

The biggest day in the clubs history came in May this year when Morpeth beat heavily fancied Hereford FC in the FA Vase Final at Wembley. The club also equalled their highest ever league position (4th) in the Northern League to complete a memorable 2015/16.

Attention today switched to the FA Cup and a home tie with Colwyn Bay, who play in the Division above Morpeth, the Northern Premier League Division One North.

The furthest Morpeth have ever gone in the FA Cup was the 4th Qualifying Round in 1998, where they lost 1-0 to Burton Albion (which incidentally, fact fans, was Nigel Clough's first cup game as a manager).

This game was difficult to call pre-match as Colwyn Bay, despite playing in a higher league, are in a downward trajectory having suffered back-to-back relegations, whilst, in my humble opinion, the Northern League is arguably the strongest step 5 league in the pyramid.

Colwyn Bay were fastest out of the block and had a couple of speculative early chances before Morpeth worked themselves into the game, their number nine Luke Carr causing The Seagull's back four plenty of problems.

The first goal arrived after 37 minutes when a corner was headed home by Michael Chiltern (pictured above right).

Morpeth's second goal arrived shortly after the restart when Paul Robinson's header came back off the post and rebounded into the net off Colwyn Bay 'keeper Scott Williams for an unfortunate own goal (48).

Morpeth were creating, and missing, plenty of chances but Colwyn Bay grabbed a lifeline on 61 minutes when substitute Adam Whitlock fired home.

Colwyn Bay had a good spell of possession and there was a feeling an equaliser could be on the cards but, sadly for them, two goals in three minutes killed the tie. On 68 minutes Chris Reid made it 3-1 and in the 71st minute Paul Robinson scored to make it 4-1. It could have been worse for Colwyn Bay, with the linesman's flag preventing further damage.

Colwyn Bay hit the bar late on before Gary Burnett scored deep into stoppage time, to make it 4-2, scant consolation for the fans who had travelled up from North Wales.

This was no robbery by The Highwaymen and there can be absolutely no complaints with the result. A thoroughly deserved victory for Morpeth, who have been handed a trip to local rivals Blyth Spartans in the next round. That promises to be a tasty encounter indeed!

Monday, 29 August 2016

SLOUGH TOWN (Arbour Park)


I was witness to a small part of football history today as Slough Town played their first ever game at Arbour Park. This brought to an end a 13 year exile from the town after they left their previous home, Wexham Park, in 2003.

Slough Town FC first moved into Wexham Park Stadium in 1973, after vacating Dolphin Stadium and played there until 2003, when the lease wasn't extended due to disagreements over rent between the then Slough Town chairman and the owner of the Stadium.

This was a culmination of a events that began with Slough's ejection from The Conference in 1998. The official reason is the issue of the lack of seats, but there has been much conjecture that there were severe financial irregularities at the Club and that these were the real reason for the Conference expelling the Rebels. 

The old Wexham Park ground was left to rot whilst the club moved away and ground-shared at Windsor and, for the past 9 years, at Beaconsfield.

Plans for Slough's football stadium (and community sports site) were approved last year and construction began in late 2015. Today's homecoming was the culmination of phase one of the project which was the the installation of the pitch (which is 3G and FIFA approved) a covered stand for 250 spectators and the car park.

Phase two will feature the construction of the main stand, which is due to be finished before the end of the current season. The actual location of the football ground is on the playing fields of a local school, so part of the project is the building of a new sports hall and allowing the pupils access to the pitch.

The capacity of the ground will eventually rise to at least 2,000 but for today's sold-out-all-ticket affair the capacity was capped at 1,400. The is plenty of room for expansion and, despite the large crowd, it was easy to move around and was very comfortable in terms of space.

The teams entered the field to the strains of Thin Lizzy’s "The Boys are Back in Town" and, on a baking hot day, produced a fine spectacle.

Hayes and Yeading were quickest out of the block and took the lead after 10 minutes, the honour of the scoring the first ever goal at Arbour Park falling to Lloyd Macklin.

Slough were level after 20 minutes when Lee Barney was played in and he smashed his effort into the roof of the net. Cue celebrations.

The match was end to end and the scoreline could have been anything such was the chances both teams created. The respective goalkeepers, Slough's Mark Scott and Hayes' Louis Wells, were in fine form and pulled off some top saves.

The Rebels though were not to be denied their fairytale result and with 15 minutes remaining substitute James Dobson's low shot found the bottom corner of the net. Cue pandemonium.

Arbour Park is a very impressive set up, and I must have a revisit once all the work is completed. Hopefully being back in the town will mean the club will be able to go from strength to strength. Perhaps even a return to the Conference? I wish them good luck.

Celebrations at the final whistle