Monday, April 21, 2014

Crawley Down Gatwick FC

Crawley Down Gatwick 0 Hythe Town 6 - Isthmian League, Division One South

Crawley Down is a village in the Mid Sussex district of West Sussex. There is one church, one school, and a number of social groups. It lies seven miles from Gatwick Airport. Crawley Down means 'the hill near the pasture where the crows gather.' As a village it did not exist until late in the 19th century; before that the name referred to a rectangular stretch of uncultivated common land, surrounded by fields and woods. The road from Lingfield to Turners Hill formed the western boundary of the common, with Bowers Place and Sandhill Lane forming the eastern edge. Nearest railway stations are Three Bridges and East Grinstead. Crawley Down lies in the northeast corner of West Sussex, just one mile from the border with Surrey. Crawley Down has a King George's Field in memorial to King George V. Until 1967 the village was served by Grange Road railway station on the Three Bridges to Tunbridge Wells Central Line which closed as a result of the Beeching Axe in 1967. The old track bed has been revitalised as a linear Country Park called the Worth Way, which now offers a haven for wildlife and valued trail for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.

The football club was established in 1993, when Crawley Down United merged with two other sides to form Crawley Down Village F.C. The club joined the Sussex County League Division Three for the 1995–96 season. Earning promotion to Division Two at the first attempt, the club remained at that level until promotion to Division One in the 2008–09 season. During their time in Division Two the club finished in a promotion spot during the 1998–99 campaign but were denied promotion due to their ground having no floodlights, which were installed in May 2007. The club changed its name to Crawley Down F.C. in 1999. They won the Sussex County League Division One in 2010–11 and earned promotion to the Isthmian League Division One South for the first time in their history. For the 2012–13 season they changed their name to their current incarnation of Crawley Down Gatwick.

The Haven Sportsfield is an extremely smart venue. The rise of the club from county level to the Isthmian League has seen investment in the facilities, in order to reach the required standard. There is a covered seated stand along one side of the pitch and this is complimented by a small covered terraced area behind one of the goals. A refreshment trailer is on hand providing the usual favourites.

The pitch is surrounded by a smart perimeter rail and a concrete walkway. The dugouts are on the opposite side of the pitch to the seated stand. The changing facilities are housed in the main sports complex adjacent to the ground.

This match saw already relegated Crawley Down host Hythe Town who were sitting comfortably in mid table. What was always likely to be an uphill struggle for the home team became worse early in the match when a player was sent off for a blatant off the ball kick on an opponent. Although not sure, the Pieman believes there must have been some provocation for this act as the incident came out of the blue.

However, the referee had been left with no option. This was not the case a short while later when a Hythe player committed what this Pieman considered to be a worse (potential leg breaker) challenge in full view of the referee. By only showing a yellow card to the offender, the official highlighted the inconstant standards often seen in the game. Yes, the sending off was justified but this “studs up” challenge deserved the same outcome.

As the match progressed the dominance of the Kent side intensified. The 0-6 defeat typified the miserable season that the Sussex team has experienced. Despite this, a number of their fans/officials waited for Hythe to leave the field after the match and congratulated them. A really nice touch that speaks volumes for this club. This Pieman wishes them well for next season.

Attendance: 62
Admission: £8:00
Programme: 32 pages £2:00
Tea: £1:00

Ringmer FC

Ringmer 2 Hailsham Town 0 - Sussex County League, Division One

Ringmer is a village and civil parish in the Lewes District of East Sussex. The village is located 3 miles east of Lewes. Ringmer is one of the largest villages in the south of England. There has been human habitation since at least Roman times. Ringmer Mill stood for centuries on Mill Plain overlooking Ringmer. This post mill was in operation until 1921 but collapsed in 1925 leaving the mill post, on which the body of the mill rotated, remaining as a local landmark. The symbol of Ringmer is a tortoise named Timothy, after the female tortoise that the naturalist Gilbert White carried back in 1780. White’s aunt Rebecca Snooke lived in Delves House where Timothy had the run of the courtyard garden. Timothy died in 1794, a year after Gilbert White.

Ringmer Football Club was established in 1905 and they joined the Sussex County League Division Two in 1963. The club won Division Two in 1968–69 and gained promotion to Division One. In the 1970–71 season, Ringmer were champions of Division one, and they also reached the First Round of the FA Cup. They were runners-up in 1972–73. In 1986, Ringmer were relegated back to Division Two, but returned to Division One in 1989 after finishing runners-up. The club has since finished runners-up in Division One twice, 2001–02 and 2008–09.

Easter Monday presented the opportunity to visit two new grounds. Sussex was our intended direction and an early start ensured that we could beat any holiday traffic. Our journey via the M25, Dartford Crossing, and the A26, enabled us to reach Ringmer over an hour before the 11:00 am kick off for their match against local rivals Hailsham Town. After taking a few early photographs, we had a wander around the surrounding streets. Perhaps it was due to being early on a bank holiday morning, but the place did seem to be quiet.

Whilst taking the early photographs we witnessed the Hailsham Town manager taking a phone call on the pitch. His reaction was one of anger as he relayed to anyone within half a mile that one of his players had, at extremely late notice, advised that he would not be playing. Pie and Mushy Peas is a family friendly site. Accordingly it would be inappropriate to report precisely what he said. Clearly he was very upset as he ushered his players back to the dressing room in order to relay the change in formation forced upon him.

The Caburn Ground is one of those quirky venues that make watching non-league football so interesting. There is a small covered seated stand on one side of the pitch. On the opposite side is another covered structure, which backs on to the clubhouse building. Both ends of the ground back onto housing and there is limited room for spectators. The pitch slopes from corner to corner but this does not detract from this fine venue. The football club is sponsored by Turners Brewery which is located in Ringmer. The brewery was a new one to this Pieman and for research purposes I had to adjourn to the clubhouse at half time to sample the IPA. An extremely pleasant 5.1% experience it was too!

The Hailsham manager is an extremely passionate fellow and he spent the entire 90 minutes ‘encouraging’ his team, not only vociferously but also with windmill type arm gestures! He was not amused when the home side took a 5th minute lead through Dan Bolwell. However, his team battled on and although not matching the home side, they did restrict them through determined defending. A fine second goal from Seb Saunders clinched the points for the home side but Hailsham had one or two chances in the second period too. Once again I was not disappointed with the Sussex County League where both on and off the field you get a good feeling about the structure of the league and quality of the clubs.

With two hours to spare before our second match, we took the opportunity to stop and admire the scenery at Ashdown Forest on our way to Crawley Down. This fine part of England was the inspiration for A.A. Milne to write Winnie The Pooh.

Admission: £6:00
Attendance: 62
Programme: £1:00 (20 pages)
Tea: £1:00
Cheesy Chips: £2:00

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Debenham Leisure Centre FC

Debenham Leisure Centre 0 Ipswich Wanderers 1 - Eastern Counties League, Division One

Debenham is a large village and civil parish in Suffolk. In the 2001 census the population recorded was 1,728. In 2005 the population was estimated to have increased to 2,040 mainly as a result of the building of a new housing estate. The River Deben rises in the parish, and runs along a prolonged ford through the village, and claims to be the third longest ford in the United Kingdom. This large village has many shops including a supermarket, green grocers, butcher, bakers, florists, antiques, hardware, pottery and newsagents. There are two pubs, the Woolpack and the Angel, and several cafes.

The football club was founded as Debenham Angels in 1991, and joined Division Seven of the Suffolk and Ipswich Football League. They were renamed AFC Debenham in 1994. After other promotions, they were promoted to Division One in 2001. After Mel Aldis was appointed manager in the summer of 2003, the club won Division One to earn promotion to the Senior Division. In their first season in the Senior Division Debenham finished runners-up to East Bergholt United, and were promoted to Division One of the Eastern Counties League. Upon moving up the club adopted their current name.

An opportunity to get out into rural Suffolk presented itself when I was offered a lift to Debenham Leisure Centre to take in their Eastern Counties League encounter with Ipswich Wanderers. It was certainly good to get the lift as Debenham is a bit off the beaten track and although served by buses, like with many rural locations, it might have been a struggle to achieve the logistics involved.

Maitlands Football Ground is located immediately behind the Leisure Centre building which is situated on the outskirts of the village. The ground only has one area of covered accommodation in the form of a seated stand, straddling the half way line. On the opposite side of the pitch are the dugouts. This smart, if basic, ground is complimented with hard standing around the full railed off perimeter.

The home side, sitting comfortably in mid table played a visiting team in 5th position with an outside chance of promotion to the Premier Division still a possibility. The early exchanges on a windy afternoon were scrappy and both sides struggled to control the ball. As the half progressed, it was Ipswich that seized the initiative and really ought to have gone in at the break leading.

The second period saw the home side come into the game more and fashion a few chances. The match was developing into an even contest although Ipswich Wanderers always looked the likeliest to break the deadlock. However, with time ticking away a scoreless draw was looming. This would have been a disappointment for the visitors and they would have rued those earlier chances that went begging.

Just when everyone was resigned to the draw, Craig Jennings sealed the win for Ipswich Wanderers, scoring with a header in the 90th minute. This win saw the visitors move up to 4th place in the table with games in hand on the team immediately above them. Debenham is a nice place to visit and it was good to enjoy some sunshine too. The Eastern Counties League often provides attractive venues to visit and Maitlands is no exception.

Attendance: 95
Admission: £5:00
Programme: 50p
Tea: £1:00

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Cray Valley Paper Mills FC

Cray Valley Paper Mills 2 Phoenix Sports 2 - Southern Counties East League

Cray Valley Paper Mills Football Club was founded in 1919, playing their first game on 20 September 1919 against Hamilton House, which Cray won. They won the Kent Junior Cup in 1921. The club played at the Paper Mills which was owned by the Nash family. The club colours are the Paper Mills' livery of green and white. The family sponsored the football club and their ground until the Mills' closure in 1980. That year they won the Kent Junior Cup for the second time. Cray Valley PM FC continued on after the Mills closure, and played in various leagues and at various grounds, until they finally settled at Badgers Sports Club in Eltham.

This was the Pieman’s first venture into the Southern Counties East League. However, there were a number of visits to constituent clubs when it was under the previous guise of the Kent League. I was fortunate to be offered a lift to this match. The North Circular and the Blackwall Tunnel behaved well and the journey from Enfield took no more than an hour. If visiting by public transport, Mottingham Station is around one mile away. In addition, the 160 bus service passes the ground.

Clearly a lot of work has been carried out on this ground in recent times to enable the club to compete at Southern Counties East level. There is a fresh look about the place and I got the feeling that this is an ambitious club, looking to progress further.  The club officials were smartly attired in club colours and you could sense the pride they have in their club.

Although it is possible to stand at either end of the ground to watch proceedings, there are no spectator facilities. A decent covered seated stand straddles the half way line along one side of the pitch. This structure provided good shelter on a sunny but chilly day when the wind reminded us that summer is still in the distance. On the opposite side of the pitch is a small covered terraced area (Henry & Jessica Woodcock Family Stand).  The clubhouse, changing rooms and tea bar are also located on this side with the expansive car park behind.

This match saw 7th placed Cray Valley host 4th placed Phoenix Sports. Early indications were that this was to be a closely contested match and so it proved to be. There is a distinct slope from one end of the pitch to the other but this did not appear to favour either team throughout the 90 minutes. There were a number of bookings and this correspondent believes the referee struggled to control the match. Justifiably showing a yellow card for kicking the ball away, but lacking consistency with similar offences. Also only showing a yellow card for deliberately kicking an opponent. Perhaps he was having an off day?

Having said that, this was an entertaining match. Drew Crush started the scoring in the 41st minute for Phoenix but, 2 minutes later the scores were level at 1-1 when Paul Gross scored for the home side. Jimmy Rogers then put Cray in front from the penalty spot on 70 minutes only for Andy Constable to equalise 11 minutes from time. Phoenix Sports had started the brighter of the two sides and certainly edged the first half. The home side fared better after the break and looked to have secured all three points. However, that would have been tough on Phoenix Sports - it was good that they were able to rise from the ashes of defeat to secure a draw!

All in all a good afternoon out south of the river. Cray Valley Paper Mills FC is a welcoming club and it will be interesting to see how they progress. The roads again behaved on the return journey and I was home just before 6pm.

Admission: £8:00
Attendance: 50
Programme: with admission (£1:00 if purchased separately) 32 pages
Tea: 90p

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Brackley Town FC

Brackley Town 1 Gloucester City 3 - Football Conference North

Brackley is a town in South Northamptonshire. It is about 19 miles from Oxford and 22 miles from Northampton. Historically a market town based on the wool and lace trade; it was built on the intersecting trade routes between London, Birmingham and the English Midlands and between Cambridge and Oxford. Brackley has connections with Formula 1 as it is close to Silverstone and home to Mercedes AMG. The town was the site of an important meeting between the barons and representatives of the King in 1215. King John and the barons were to have signed Magna Carta at Brackley Castle, but they eventually did so at Runnymede.

Brackley Town FC was formed in 1890 and were initially a prominent side in the area, but fell away, with most of the period before World War II being spent in the Oxfordshire Senior Football League. In 1974 they moved back to the North Bucks League and also moved to their current St James Park ground in Churchill Way. A small clubhouse and changing rooms were built and by 1977 the club had stepped up to the Hellenic League. They stayed in Division One until 1983 when they switched to the United Counties League, where they won the Division One title at the first attempt. Gradually progressing through the leagues, the club gained promotion to the Football Conference North in 2012.

A mid afternoon departure enabled this Pieman to reach Brackley early. This was due to being offered a lift and facilitated some daylight photographs of St James Park. The rise of the club to Conference North has seen many ground improvements necessary to match grading requirements. There is covered seating along one side and behind one goal. Also behind this goal is some impressive terracing complete with crush barriers. The opposite end of the ground boasts another covered area for standing spectators. The clubhouse building has a licensed bar (Sharp’s Doom Bar on handpump) and a very good refreshment kiosk selling the usual drinks and snacks.

With time to spare before the match, our party headed for the nearby High Street in search of refreshment. There are plenty of options available. We opted to sample the delights of Cincinnati Joe's Diner near the Market Place. We were not disappointed and came away rather full! Burgers and Hot Dogs served with Fries and Onion Rings meant that we had no capacity to enjoy the tempting dessert menu!

The match pitted Brackley Town, having a tremendous season and pushing for a play-off place, against Gloucester City, struggling this season and desperate to avoid relegation. Interestingly, the home side’s form had dipped recently whereas the visitors had suddenly started to get some good results. As a neutral, I was keen to see how these teams would fare against each other as we reach what many describe as the business end of the season.

After a frustrating first period the match livened up considerably in the second half. It was the visitors who were more assertive and were just that bit more lively than their hosts. Gloucester took the lead after 56 minutes through Jake Gosling.  Izak Reid levelled for Brackley with a curling shot in after 78 minutes but the home fans were to be frustrated a minute later when Charlie Griffin powered home a header against the team he played for earlier this season. The points were sealed in the closing minutes when a free kick from Lewis Hogg eluded everyone as it sailed into the far corner of the net.

An enjoyable jaunt to a place not blessed by the best of public transport links. Brackley is served by buses, although I suspect a Saturday afternoon would lend itself better if attempting this option. There was a friendly atmosphere about the place and I believe the club and support really appreciate, without taking for granted, the amazing progress the club has made in recent seasons. Well worth a visit!

Brackley Town: Turley, Clerima, Austin (c), Sharpe, Langdon, Reid, Solkhon, Bridges (Ryan Rowe 51), Wallker, Diggin, Moore. Subs not used: Nisevic, Odhiambo, Story, Mulligan.

Gloucester City: Green, Roome, Jones, Coupe (c), Harris, Goddard, Hogg, Groves (Parker 63), Mann, Griffin, Gosling (Hanks 90). Subs not used: Giglio, Webb, Waldon.

Admission: £10:00 
Attendance: 197
Programme: £2:00 (52 pages)
Tea: £1:00

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Rotherham United FC

Rotherham United 1 Walsall 1 - Football League One

Although there were Iron Age and Roman settlements in the area covered by the town, Rotherham was not founded until the early Middle Ages. Its name is from Old English hām 'homestead, estate', meaning 'homestead on the river Rother'. It established itself as a key Saxon market town, lying on a Roman road near a forded part of the River Don. The region had been exploited for iron since Roman times, but it was coal that first brought the Industrial Revolution to Rotherham. Mining of coal was the driving force behind the improvements to navigation on the River Don, which eventually formed the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation system of navigable inland waterways.

This Pieman had witnessed home fixtures for Rotherham United at both their former Millmoor home and their subsequent temporary home at the Don Valley Stadium. The matches were 28 years apart, but coincidentally, for both the opposition was Bristol Rovers. Today's match also marked the re-completion of 92 league grounds for the Pieman. Rotherham United announced their intention to construct a new community stadium when they moved away from Millmoor to the Don Valley Stadium in May 2008. In January 2010 the club purchased the former site of the Guest and Chrimes Foundry to be used for the new stadium. The name of the stadium was announced as the New York Stadium on 19 December 2011. The reason for the name is that the area of land that the stadium lies upon is called New York. Construction started in June 2011 and the stadium was officially opened on 12 March 2012. 

My train journey from London Kings Cross involved changing at Doncaster. The onward journey from there took around 25 minutes following the course of the River Don. On arrival at Rotherham, a refreshment stop was made at the Rhinoceros (one of three Wetherspoon establishments in town). A superb dish of steak and kidney pudding, chips and peas was devoured and washed down by a cup of tea. From the railway station it takes a little over 5 minutes to walk to the stadium. In fact the railway line (in the Sheffield direction) passes the venue.

From the stadium, the floodlights and some of the exterior of Rotherham’s former home, Millmoor, are visible. The New York stadium is an all seated venue. The stadium has a 12,021 capacity and this is roughly broken down by the two end stands each holding 2,000 and the two side stands each holding 4,000. This Pieman sat in the North Stand. This area is the home ‘kop’ area. It is also the nearest part of the ground to the railway station!

The home side occupied a place in the play-off positions whereas visiting Walsall were just outside these places. It was Walsall that asserted themselves better and I was particularly impressed with the quality of their passing. Walsall took the lead with a fine goal from Milan Lalkovic when his shot from the edge of the box went in off the right hand post. For the majority of the match it looked as if this goal would settle the match. The 73rd minute sending off of Walsall's Ben Purkiss did little to change this view. However with two minutes remaining, Nicky Adams levelled for the home side. A point each was probably just about right.

The New York Stadium is an easy venue to visit. Train services between Sheffield and Doncaster are regular. There are plenty of refreshment opportunities in the town centre, which is only a few minutes walk away. This Pieman is glad to be back on “92” but with two teams promoted to the League each season and new stadiums being built – how long will this last?

Admission: £20:00 
Attendance: 8212 (420 Away)
Programme: £3:00 (68 pages)
Teamsheet: 20p
Tea: £2:00