Friday, June 29, 2018

Athlone Town FC

Athlone Town 0 Wexford 1 - League of Ireland, Division One

Athlone (meaning "town of Luan's ford") is a town on the River Shannon near the southern shore of Lough Ree. Athlone Castle is the geographical and historical centre of Athlone. Throughout its early history, the ford of Athlone was strategically important, as south of Athlone the Shannon is impassable until Clonmacnoise, where the Esker Riada meets the Shannon, while to the north it flows into Lough Ree. In 1001 Brian Bóru sailed his army up river from Kincora and through Lough Derg to attend a gathering in Athlone. Athlone railway station opened on 3 October 1859, with Irish Rail services travelling eastwards to Portarlington, Kildare and Dublin Heuston and westwards to the Westport/Ballina lines as well as to Athenry, Oranmore and Galway. Athlone Castle reopened in 2012 following a multi-million euro renovation to transform the castle into a state-of-the-art, multi-sensory visitor experience. It features eight newly designed exhibition spaces containing both a chronological and thematic sequence, including 3D maps, audio-visual installations, and illustrations by renowned illustrator Victor Ambrus. 

Athlone first competed in the League of Ireland in the 1922–23 season finishing sixth. They were the first non-Dublin club in the Irish Free State to compete in the national Free State League. They competed in the league until 1928 and not again until the 1969–70 season. Athlone Town won the FAI Cup, their first domestic success in 1924, beating Fordsons. Dinny Hannon scored the only goal of the game, as Athlone went through the whole competition without conceding a goal. Hannon was one of five Athlone Town players chosen to represent the Irish Free State at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games. The other players were Tommy Muldoon, Frank Ghent, John Joe Dykes and Paddy O'Reilly. The club finished second in the league in the 1974–75 season earning a place in the UEFA Cup, the first time they had ever qualified for European competition. Their first-round game was against Norwegian side Vålerenga who they beat. Athlone's second round tie was against Italian side AC Milan drawing 0–0 in the first leg at St. Mel's Park setting a record attendance of 9,000 before losing the second leg at the San Siro 3–0. Athlone won their first league title in the 1980–81 season. This feat was repeated in the 1982-83 season. 

A mid-morning flight from Stansted to Dublin suffered a delay of around two hours due to earlier air traffic issues. From Dublin Heuston I was able to catch the 14:45 train to Athlone. The modern rolling stock on this route has very efficient air conditioning, which was an absolute blessing on a very hot day. The complimentary bottled water at Heuston was also appreciated. This service was also delayed due to an obstruction on the track. 

Refreshments in the lovely town of Athlone took the shape of a really nice plate of cod and chips at the Genoa Restaurant. This was preceded by a visit to the Malt House pub where this Pieman enjoyed a large glass of Chieftan IPA brewed by Franciscan well in Cork.

The football club moved from St Mel’s Park to the Athlone Town Stadium in 2007. It takes a little over ten minutes to walk from the town centre to this venue. The only spectator facilities in the ground are located in the covered seated stand that runs the full length of the pitch. A total of 2024 spectators can be accommodated in the stand. This structure houses the changing rooms, two sets of toilets for spectators and a café/shop. In the latter, a selection of programmes and photographs from the club’s past are on prominent display. 

This season Athlone Town FC has been struggling, with just two draws to show for their efforts. Visitors Wexford FC were just above them in the table on nine points. Therefore, this match presented a good opportunity for the home side to restore some pride. Of course the same applied to the visitors and it was Wexford that had the little bit of quality to win the match and extend the gap between the two sides.

The decisive strike
John Morgan’s 33rd minute free-kick was struck home via the post and this proved to be the only goal of the match. There was plenty of endeavour from the home side but it was clear that they were lacking in confidence. They are a very young team and a few of the players showed decent ability. The pink shirted visitors had a few other chances but Darcy Lawless in the Athlone goal was equal to their efforts. On a warm evening a return to the Malt House was a good decision for some more of that Chieftan IPA.

Attendance: ?
Admission: €10:00
Programme: €4 ( 20 pages)

Monday, April 23, 2018

Daisy Hill FC

Daisy Hill 0 Stockport Town 2 - North West Counties League, Division One

Daisy Hill FC was established in 1894. For the 1896–97 season they were Wigan & District League champions and also won the Westhoughton Cup, achieving both honours without losing a game all season. By the time of World War I the club were playing at their present ground, New Sirs and competing in the Leigh & District Senior Sunday School League. They then joined the Westhoughton League winning a number of honours in the 1920s and 1930s and during this time, Lancashire County cricketers Dick Pollard and Bill Farrimond both played football for Daisy Hill. Alf Gray, the future Torquay United player, also started his career with the club in the early 1930s. The club folded some time before World War II and were re-formed in 1951, playing again in the Westhoughton League, but having moved to play on St. James Street Recreation and Cricket Ground before moving back to their current home in 1957. Having acquired the lease or the ground, Daisy Hill then started playing in the Bolton Combination. After dressing rooms were built for the start of the 1968–69 season they were crowned Bolton Combination Premier Division champions four times, the Bolton Combination Cup four times and the Lancashire County FA Amateur Shield twice.

In 1978 the club joined the Lancashire Combination in which they competed for four seasons from 1978–79 to 1981–82, before becoming founder members of the North West Counties League Division Three in 1982, when a new clubhouse was built at New Sirs. In the 1986–87 season they finished fourth in Division Three, before it was absorbed into Division Two the following season when they reached the second round of the FA Vase. After the 1988–89 season the club changed name to Westhoughton Town, playing under the new name for five seasons from 1989–90 to 1993–94 before reverting to Daisy Hill for the 1994–95 season. They remained in Division Two for the next 14 seasons before the league was rebranded and Division Two was renamed the First Division in the 2008–09 season.

A work event in Manchester the following day, facilitated an overnight stay and an opportunity to visit somewhere new. Often it is hard to identify Monday fixtures but being end of season and following a spell of poor weather, I had at least three options in Lancashire. I opted for Daisy Hill FC due to the close proximity to the railway station of the same name and there being a regular service before and after the match. I also think it a superb name for a football club.

Having checked in to my overnight accommodation in Central Manchester, I caught the 16:46 service from Manchester Victoria to Daisy Hill. On arrival it was less than a ten minute stroll to New Sirs, where I was able to take some daylight photographs of the ground. I then took the opportunity to walk back past the railway station to nearby Westhoughton. At the Robert Shaw (JD Wetherspoon) I enjoyed an Aberdeen Angus steak washed down by a pint of Saint George (4.9%) from the Acorn Brewery (very nice and on St George’s Day too!).

A leisurely stroll back to the ground in the fading daylight on an overcast day, meant I was entering New Sirs a good half hour before the scheduled 19:45 kick off. The clubhouse building is situated behind the goal at the turnstile end of the ground. Containing changing rooms, a licenced bar and refreshment bar selling hot drinks and pies etc. The only other structures are along one side, where the dugouts are complimented by a narrow covered standing area. The opposite side of the pitch is not accessible to spectators.

This match saw bottom of the table Daisy Hill host mid table Stockport Town. It was evidently clear from the opening exchanges as to which team were having the better season and the home side will have been pleased with being level after a goal free first period. In the second half Daisy Hill very nearly took the lead, thwarted by the post. The game was won by the visitors with two goals in a three minute period when Ben Halfacre’s penalty was followed by a wonder strike from Matthew Hanson.

I enjoyed my visit to New Sirs. I liked the location and for an end of season encounter, there was plenty to retain the attention of the 43 spectators present. After the match, I ambled back to the station in plenty of time to catch the 22:04 service to Manchester Victoria.

Attendance: 43
Admission: £5
Programme: £1:00 (16 pages)
Tea: £1:10

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Kidderminster Harriers FC

Kidderminster Harriers 4 Salford City 4 - National League North

Kidderminster is a large town and civil parish in the Wyre Forest district of Worcestershire. It is located approximately 17 miles south-west of Birmingham city centre and approximately 15 miles north of Worcester city centre. The modern carpet industry was founded in the area in 1785 by Brintons, and the carpet industry became extremely important to the local economy, so much so that the local newspaper is still named The Shuttle after the shuttles used on the carpet looms. By 1951 there were over thirty carpet manufacturers in the town, including, for example Quayle & Tranter (now defunct) who commissioned notable artists including George Bain for their traditional designs. Aided by a 2004 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, a museum dedicated to the Kidderminster Carpet Industry was officially opened by Lord Cobham in 2012. Two railway stations in the town share the same approach road and are located less than fifty metres apart. The main Network Rail station operated by West Midlands Trains is Kidderminster, from where trains run to Birmingham, Worcester and London. The other station, Kidderminster Town, is the terminus of the preserved Heritage Railway line, Severn Valley Railway from where trains run to Bridgnorth.

Kidderminster Harriers FC was formed in 1886 from a highly successful athletics and rugby union club that had existed since 1877. In July 1880 the Athletics club amalgamated with the local Clarence rugby club to become 'Kidderminster Harriers and Football Club'. They are the only club from Worcestershire ever to have played in the Football League, competing from 2000 to 2005. In 1987 Harriers went to Wembley Stadium for the FA Trophy final against Burton Albion. The game was a 0–0 draw after extra time, but Kidderminster won 2–1 in the replay at The Hawthorns. They have reached the final on three occasions since, losing 2–1 to Wycombe Wanderers in 1991 in front of a crowd of 34,842 at the old Wembley, which remained the record attendance for a Trophy match until 2007 when Kidderminster played Stevenage Borough in front of a new record Trophy crowd of 53,262. This was also the very first competitive match to be held at the New Wembley. Kidderminster Harriers lost the match 2-3, despite being 2-0 up at half time. The winning goal coming in the 88th minute. Prior to this Kidderminster had also lost 2-1 to Woking in the 1995 Trophy Final. 

I never got to visit Aggborough Stadium when Kidderminster Harriers graced the Football League. After an excursion to Bala Town FC the previous evening, I was able to get a train to Kidderminster, having changed at Smethwick Galton Bridge. Frequent (4 per hour) services run from Birmingham to Kidderminster on Saturdays with the journey time being around 40 minutes.

On arrival at Kidderminster, my initial port of call was the Penny Black (JD Wetherspoon). At this town centre establishment, I enjoyed a pint of Port of Leith (5%) from the Caledonian Brewery. Kidderminster is blessed with a decent proportion of real ale pubs. I headed back up Comberton Hill (towards the station) to Weavers Real Ale House. At this one room-roomed micro-pub, I enthusiastically supped Unbreweavable (4.2%), a hoppy pale ale from the locally based Pig Iron Brewery co.

My last hostelry before the match was a little further along Comberton Hill at the Severn Valley Railway Station. The King and Castle is part of the main railway building and just like Weavers, offers a tremendous selection of ales and ciders. At this establishment, the Pieman opted for Hobsons ‘25’ (4.4%) from Hobsons Brewery of Cleobury Mortimer in Shropshire – a delightful pint to enjoy just before heading off to the match.

From the adjacent railway stations, it is little more than a five-minute walk to the football ground. As expected, Aggborough Stadium is a well-appointed venue, with decent views afforded from all areas. Both ends are covered terraces and both sides are covered seated stands. Although I did not partake (Spoons breakfast was enough for me!), there is a tremendous range of locally produced hot food available in the ground, it looked fantastic and a supporter a few seats along from me spent the entire second half indulging in his chicken curry followed by a large soup!

The match was amazingly unpredictable. Salford City FC, top of the table, looked disjointed for most of the proceedings. Two down at the break, they conceded a further two goals before the hour. When they pulled a goal back on 81 minutes it appeared to be no more than a consolation. However, the final score of 4-4 just goes to show how unpredictable the beautiful game can be. To rub salt in the wounds for Kidderminster, the leveller for Salford was scored by Tom Walker, the pantomime villain who should probably have been sent off at 4-0 for kicking out at an opponent. His follow up to his saved penalty levelled the scores with the penultimate kick of the match. After all that excitement a visit to the Railway Bell on Comberton Hill was required. A pint of Banks’s Amber (3.8%) capped a fine afternoon in Worcestershire, before heading back to Birmingham and my connection to London Marylebone

Attendance: 2,524
Admission: £14:00 (Terrace) £17:00 (Seating)
Programme: £3:00 (52 pages)

Friday, March 23, 2018

Bala Town FC

Bala Town 0 Connah's Quay Nomads 1 - Welsh Premier League

Bala is a market town and community in Gwynedd, Wales. Formerly an urban district, Bala lies within the historic county of Merionethshire. It lies at the north end of Bala Lake 17 miles north-east of Dolgellau, with a population taken in the United Kingdom Census 2011 of 1,974. It is little more than one wide street, Stryd Fawr (High Street, literally "Great Street"). Bala was ranked having the 20th highest percentage of Welsh language speakers in Wales by electoral division, in the United Kingdom Census 2011. According to the census, 78.5% of Bala's population can speak Welsh. Bala hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1967, 1997 and 2009. The 2009 Eisteddfod was notable because the chair was not awarded to any of the entrants as the standard was deemed to be too low. Bala hosted the National Eisteddfod for the Welsh League of Youth (Eisteddfod Genedlaethol yr Urdd Gobaith Cymru) in 2014. On 16 June 2016, Bala's name was changed to Bale temporarily in honour of Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale. This was only for the duration of UEFA Euro 2016. The Bala Lake Railway (Welsh: Rheilffordd Llyn Tegid) runs for 4.5 miles from Llanuwchllyn to the edge of the town, along a section of the former trackbed of the Great Western Railway line between Ruabon and Barmouth. It terminates at Bala (Penybont) railway station, which opened in 1976 on the site of the former Lake Halt station.

Although the current Bala Town FC was formed in 1880, there is record of a football club competing in the 1877–78 Welsh Cup, losing to Corwen after two replays. After Bala North End, Bala South End and Bala Thursday's merged, Bala Town's first available league status record is playing in the Welsh National League North Division 2 East in 1921–22 season. Bala Town moved to their current home, Maes Tegid, in the early 1950s and joined the Wrexham Alliance in 1950. The club was promoted to the second tier of Welsh football, into the Cymru Alliance at the end of the 2003–04 season. After only four seasons in the Cymru Alliance, Bala Town sealed promoted to the Welsh Premier League.

To reach Bala by public transport, it was necessary to catch a bus from Ruabon Railway Station. The journey took around one and a half hours and cost £5:70 (single fare). Anyone using this route (T3 from Wrexham to Barmouth Railway Station) will need to be aware that the two bus stops in Ruabon are displaying out of date timetables. Fortunately, on-line research was accurate.

The football ground is only a few hundred yards from Bala High Street. This Pieman was pleased to be able to visit earlier to take some daylight photographs. There is covered seating along one side of the ground and there is a small covered terrace behind one of the three goals. Behind the other goal is a steep grassed bank, separated from the adjacent property by a line of very tall trees. The remainder of the ground contains hardstanding around the fully enclosed pitch.

The New Saints FC will again be champions of the Welsh Premier League. However, the battle for second place and entry to the UEFA Europa League was still to be decided. Prior to this match there was only one point separating Bala Town in second place who were hosting Connah’s Quay Nomands in third place.

This proved to be a very closely contested match. Many of the players on both sides appeared to be from the Merseyside area and there was clearly no love lost between the rival teams. A very even first half gave way to an open second period, where the visitors claimed the points, courtesy of a relatively simple strike. This result confirmed The New Saints as Champions.

Bala is a very pleasant small town set in a picturesque region of Wales. The bus journey is worth it for the views alone. The football club is thriving and I would certainly recommend a visit to what for me was previously an unexplored part of the Principality.

Attendance: 233
Admission: £6:00
Programme: £2:00 (40 pages)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Juventus FC

Juventus 2 Tottenham Hotspur 2 - UEFA Champions League, Round of 16, 1st Leg

Turin is a city and an important business and cultural centre in northern Italy. It is the capital city of the Metropolitan City of Turin (an administrative division of Italy) and of the Piedmont region, and was the first capital city of Italy from 1861 to 1865. The city is located mainly on the western bank of the Po River, in front of Susa Valley, and is surrounded by the western Alpine arch and Superga Hill. In the 1st century BC, the Romans created a military camp (Castra Taurinorum), later dedicated to Augustus (Augusta Taurinorum). The typical Roman street grid can still be seen in the modern city, especially in the neighbourhood known as the Quadrilatero Romano (Roman Quadrilateral). Via Garibaldi traces the exact path of the Roman city's decumanus, which began at the Porta Decumani, later incorporated into the Castello or Palazzo Madama. The Porta Palatina, on the north side of the current city centre, is still preserved in a park near the Cathedral. Remains of the Roman-period theatre are preserved in the area of the Manica Nuova. Turin was not captured by the Allies until the end of Spring Offensive of 1945. By the time the vanguard of the armoured reconnaissance units of Brazilian Expeditionary Force reached the city, it was already freed by the Italian Partisans that had begun revolting against the Germans on 25 April 1945. Days later, troops from the US Army's 1st Armoured and 92nd Infantry Divisions came to substitute the Brazilians.

The football club was founded as Sport-Club Juventus in late 1897 by pupils from the Massimo D'Azeglio Lyceum school in Turin, but was renamed as Football Club Juventus two years later. The club joined the Italian Football Championship during 1900. In 1904, the businessman Ajmone-Marsan revived the finances of the football club Juventus, making it also possible to transfer the training field from piazza d'armi to the more appropriate Velodrome Umberto I. During this period, the team wore a pink and black kit. Juventus first won the league championship in 1905 while playing at their Velodrome Umberto I ground. By this time the club colours had changed to black and white stripes, inspired by Notts County. Under the management of Giovanni Trapattoni, the club won thirteen trophies in the ten years before 1986, including six league titles and five international titles, and became the first to win all three competitions organised by the Union of European Football Associations - the European Champions' Cup, Cup Winners' Cup and UEFA Cup. With successive triumphs in the 1984 European Super Cup and 1985 Intercontinental Cup, the club became the first and thus far only in the world to complete a clean sweep of all confederation trophies; an achievement that they revalidated with the title won in the 1999 UEFA Intertoto Cup after another successful era led by Marcello Lippi, becoming in addition the only professional Italian club to have won every ongoing honour available to the first team and organised by a national or international football association.

Juventus Stadium (commercially known as the Allianz Stadium) was built on the site of Juventus' and Torino's former home, the Stadio delle Alpi, and is one of only three club-owned football stadiums in Serie A, alongside Sassuolo's Mapei Stadium and Udinese's Stadio Friuli. It was opened at the start of the 2011–12 season and has a capacity of just over 41,000 spectators.

My outward journey the day before the match was from London Heathrow via Frankfurt. Connections were good and I arrived at my lodgings shortly before 3pm. I had stayed in Turin previously en route to Milan. On that occasion I had visited and enjoyed the beer at Birrificio Torino. It would have been a crime not to repeat the experience. Quality ales brewed on the premises enhanced a good evening in good company.

On the afternoon of the match I walked to the stadium, stopping off for refreshment at a couple of bars on the way. Arriving at the stadium a good two hours before kick-off, there was already a lot of activity with supporters arriving early. The majority of the Spurs fans would arrive later in a bus convoy from the city centre. On entering the stadium, it was a disappointment to see very limited refreshment and toilet facilities for the visiting supporters. For a relatively new build this is unnecessary but often typical on the continent. The view from the seating in the upper tier was good, as should be expected.

Tottenham Hotspur produced a brilliant comeback to draw after a disastrous start to the match.
Mauricio Pochettino's side was 2-0 down inside 10 minutes after Gonzalo Higuain followed up a volley with a penalty, awarded for a foul on Federico Bernardeschi. Harry Kane started the fightback after rounding Gianluigi Buffon following Dele Alli's threaded pass and Higuain then missed a penalty for the hosts with the last kick of the first half. Spurs dominated possession against the Italian champions and got their reward when Christian Eriksen's low free-kick evaded Buffon to level this first leg tie

After the match, the visiting fans were kept in the stadium for around 45 minutes before boarding buses back to the centre. Rather parched at this point, it was good to consume some more quality ale at a branch of Birrificio La Piazza, conveniently located a few minutes' walk from my hotel. It is good to see and experience that Italy has continued to improve in respect of beer.

I opted to catch the train back to Turin Airport. Strangely, the terminus for this line is situated outside of the centre. With plenty of time to spare I walked to Dora station, spending some time at a nearby bar enjoying a custard croissant with cappuccino and chatting to locals about the match. My journey back to Heathrow was via Munich and I was also delighted with a lift home from the airport courtesy of Tom Cleave.

Attendance: 41,232
Admission: € 45
Programme: Not issued

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Aveley FC

Aveley 1 AFC Sudbury 1 - Isthmian League, Division One North

Aveley is a small town within the Thurrock unitary authority in Essex, England, and forms one of its traditional Church of England parishes. It is a suburb of London located 16.3 miles east of Charing Cross in London and within the eastern bounds of the M25 motorway. Aveley is roughly bounded to the north and west by the London Borough of Havering, to the south by the A13 road and to the east by the M25 motorway. The nearest places are Purfleet, South Ockendon, Wennington and West Thurrock. The name Aveley has various spellings – Alvithelea, Alvileia and Alvilea. The name means Aelfgyth's wood clearing. The parish church of St Michael is a Grade 1 listed building dating from the 12th century. It contains a 14th-century memorial brass to Radulphus de Knevynton, which is echoed in the arms of the Thurrock unitary authority. The church was declared unsafe in the 19th century, with the recommendation that it should be pulled down. However, this was averted by its parishioners, who raised £1,000 to save it. John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, lived in the town and Alice Diehl the novelist and concert pianist, was born in Aveley.

Aveley Football Club was established in 1927 and played in local leagues until World War II. In 1946 they joined the Thurrock Combination League, and went on to win the Essex Junior Cup in 1948 and 1949. In 1949 the club joined Division Two of the London League. They finished fourth in their first season, and were promoted to Division One. Despite finishing ninth in 1952–53, they were promoted. After finishing seventh, then third in their first two seasons in the Premier Division, they won the division in 1954–55.  In 1957 the club switched to the Delphian League, finishing as runners-up in their first season. When the league folded in 1963 they joined Division Two of the Athenian League. After finishing second in 1968–69, the club was promoted to Division One. They won the Division One title in 1970–71, earning promotion to the Premier Division. In 1973 Aveley joined Division Two of the Isthmian League, which became Division One in 1977. In 1985–86 they finished bottom of the division, and were relegated to Division Two North. After finishing second in 1989–90, a season in which they also became the first club from the bottom division to win the League Cup, the club was promoted back to Division One. Although they finished fourth in their first season back in Division One, the club finished bottom of the division the following season, but were not relegated. However, in 1992–93 they finished bottom again and were relegated to Division Two. In 1994–95 the club was relegated to Division Three, where they remained until 2002, when league reorganisation saw them placed in Division One North.

I was fortunate to be offered a lift to this match. Despite the obvious conflict with shopping traffic heading for Lakeside, the M25 behaved itself. Public transport options include bus route 372 from Rainham Station. I had visited Aveley’s previous ground on a couple of occasions. The first was for an Isthmian League match against an emerging Stevenage Borough in 1991. It is fair to say that Parkside is very different to Mill Field.

Credit is most certainly due to whoever is responsible for the design of the new place, which is not typical of new builds in that the venue has some character. The main clubhouse building is very impressive and has a unique shape to it. The main stand is part of this structure. Also contained at ground level is fine bar/function room. This building also house the changing facilities and upstairs are corporate facilities including the boardroom.

On the opposite side of the pitch is another covered seated stand affording a decent view (I watched the first half from here). At each end of the stadium are two covered terraced areas, situated to each side of the goals (I watched the second half from one of these).  Accordingly, Parkside boasts six separate covered spectator viewing areas, impressive for this level.

This match saw two clubs desperate to revive their seasons, both in the wrong half of the table following less than impressive starts. The home side took the lead with a downward header in the first period and when awarded a penalty late in the match, it was expected that they would collect the three points on offer. However, the missed spot kick revitalised the visitors from Suffolk (down to ten men by this stage) and a late equaliser saw them snatch a point.

I was really impressed with the new set up at Aveley. The club appears to be reaching out to the local community (a children’s birthday party/football fun event was taking place around the match – even supplying the ballboys!). I would certainly recommend Parkside as a place to visit.

Attendance: 271
Admission: £10:00
Programme: £2:00
Tea: £1:00