Saturday, July 13, 2019

Hamilton Academical FC

Hamilton Academical 0 Queens Park 0 (5-6 on penalties) - Scottish League Cup, Group Stage

Hamilton is a town in South Lanarkshire, in the Central Lowlands of Scotland. It serves as the main administrative centre of the South Lanarkshire council area. The town sits 12 miles south-east of Glasgow, and 74 miles north of Carlisle. It is situated on the south bank of the River Clyde at its confluence with the Avon Water. The town of Hamilton was originally known as Cadzow. During the Wars of Scottish Independence, the Hamilton family initially supported the English and Walter fitz Gilbert (the head of the Hamilton family) was governor of Bothwell Castle on behalf of the English. However, he later changed loyalty to Robert the Bruce, following the Battle of Bannockburn, and ceded Bothwell to him. For this act, he was rewarded with a portion of land which had been forfeited by the Comyns at Dalserf and later the Barony and lands of Cadzow. The town was renamed Hamilton in the time of James, Lord Hamilton, who was married to Princess Mary, the daughter of King James II.

Hamilton Academical FC was formed in late 1874 by the rector and pupils of Hamilton Academy. The club soon became members of the Scottish Football Association and initially began competing in the Scottish Cup and Qualifying Cup, before joining the Scottish Football League in November 1897 following the resignation of Renton. In 1994 the club sold its home ground, Douglas Park, to Sainsbury's and a supermarket now stands on the old site. Groundsharing in Glasgow and Coatbridge followed for seven years.  During this period the club went through financial hardships and unpaid players went on strike. As a result, Hamilton Academical was unable to fulfil its fixtures during the 1999–2000 season and was docked 15 points, the eventual result of which was relegation to the Third Division. The club moved into its New Douglas Park stadium in 2001. In 2008, for the first time in 20 years, Accies gained promotion to the top division of Scottish football.

In February 1988 I visited Hamilton’s former ground, Douglas Park, for a match v Clyde. On that occasion my journey from London Euston involved changing trains at Motherwell in both directions, avoiding going all the way in to Glasgow. These days the Motherwell connection is not viable. Therefore, I ventured to Glasgow Central from London Euston, stopping off for some refreshment before catching a service (4 per hour) from the low-level station to Hamilton West.

To reach New Douglas Park from the station, there is a footpath running adjacent to the railway and the walk takes around five minutes. The route takes you past the Sainsbury’s store, situated on the site of the old ground. An alternative route is to stay on the opposite side of the railway to the stadium and enter the club car park via a road tunnel.

On arrival, I was able to purchase a match ticket and a programme before taking photographs outside the stadium. I also took the opportunity to sneak inside the ground on the far side, opposite the main stand, in order to get some pictures of the ground from there that I would not have been able to obtain once in the correct area. Only the main stand was in use for this match and token segregation was in place (Queen’s Park fans occupied one corner).

The ground is effectively three sided with the main stand and another (to the left as you face the pitch) being the permanent structures, both containing covered seating affording good vies. Another (temporary looking in appearance) stand is situated opposite the main stand. This covered seated area would presumably only be put to use when there is a greater volume of away support. This stand does have a number of posts that may hinder views. The remaining end of the ground has no spectator facilities and the club has used large banners and fences to segregate the playing area from the training facilities immediately behind.

The artificial playing surface is impressive and on another day may have encouraged a free flowing match with plenty of goal opportunities. Queen's Park did well to compete with their higher ranked opponents, but it is fair to say that both defences held the sway in a match of very few chances. Queen’s Park won an extra point towards their Group Stage tally, courtesy of a 6-5 victory in a penalty shootout. The hosts thought they had won the shootout in sudden death when Owain Fon Williams saved Alfredo Agyeman's effort, only for referee Nick Walsh to order a retake after the goalkeeper moved off his line. The keeper also received a yellow card, probably dictated by the rules but I thought this was harsh.

Attendance: 756
Admission: £12:00 
Programme: £1:00 (12 pages)
Tea: £1:50

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Atlético Madrid FC

Tottenham Hotspur 0 Liverpool 2 - UEFA Champions League Final

Madrid lies on the River Manzanares in the centre of both Spain and the Community of Madrid (which comprises the city of Madrid, its conurbation and extended suburbs and villages); this community is bordered by the autonomous communities of Castile and León and Castile-La Mancha. As the capital city of Spain, seat of government, and residence of the Spanish monarch, Madrid is also the political, economic and cultural centre of the country. Madrid is considered one of the top European destinations concerning art museums. Best known is the Golden Triangle of Art, located along the Paseo del Prado and comprising three museums. The most famous one is the Prado Museum, known for such highlights as Diego Velázquez's Las Meninas and Francisco de Goya's La maja vestida and La maja desnuda. The other two museums are the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, established from a mixed private collection, and the Reina Sofía Museum, where Pablo Picasso's Guernica is exhibited, having been returned to Spain from New York after more than two decades. Madrid hosts the largest plaza de toros (bullring) in Spain, Las Ventas, established in 1929. Las Ventas is considered by many to be the world centre of bullfighting and has a seating capacity of almost 25,000. Madrid's bullfighting season begins in March and ends in October. Bullfights are held every day during the festivities of San Isidro (Madrid's patron saint) from mid May to early June, and every Sunday, and public holiday, the rest of the season.

Atlético Madrid FC was founded on 26 April 1903 as Athletic Club Sucursal de Madrid by three Basque students living in Madrid. These founders saw the new club as a youth branch of their childhood team, Athletic Bilbao who they had just seen win the 1903 Copa del Rey Final in the city. In 1962, they won the European Cup Winners' Cup, beating Fiorentina 3–0 after a replay. This achievement was significant for the club, as the Cup Winners' Cup was the only major European trophy that Real Madrid never won. The following year the club reached the 1963 final, but lost to Tottenham Hotspur 5–1.

Estadio Metropolitano has been the home stadium of Atlético Madrid since the 2017–18 season. It is located in Rosas neighbourhood in the San Blas-Canillejas district. The stadium was built as part of Madrid's unsuccessful bid to host the 1997 World Athletics Championships, and was opened on 6 September 1994 by the Community of Madrid. It was closed in 2004 due to the city's bid for the 2016 Olympics and in 2013 it was passed into the possession of Atlético Madrid. The stadium was renovated and the new facility was reopened to the public on 16 September 2017, when Atlético Madrid faced Málaga CF in La Liga. The stadium accommodates 68,000, with all spectator seats covered by a roof. There are 4,000 car parking spaces available at the stadium.

I have been attending Tottenham Hotspur matches for many years. I grew up in an era when there was limited access to football on TV. One of the few exceptions was the European Cup Final when I was able to watch the likes of Ajax and Bayern Munich as they dominated the continent. For me, this match was not about the corporate gravy train that is the UEFA Champions League – This was the European Cup Final! With two English teams contesting the final, it was clear that Spain (let alone Madrid) was going to be extremely busy in the days leading up to the match. Airlines and hotels would conveniently forget any morals and hide behind “market forces” as an excuse to fleece enthusiastic fans. Even the official travel partner of both clubs saw an opportunity to make a fast buck; such was the enormity of the occasion.

On arrival at the stadium, it was very clear that there is a fairly bland barren environment outside. I appreciate that this is most likely a work in progress, but I did expect a little more considering that the venue has been open a while now. The Spanish police were their usual obstructive, unhelpful, disrespectful selves, but sadly this is to be expected. However, once we had negotiated that hurdle, it was great to be able to wander around the immediate exterior of the stadium, enjoy some cold beer (Heineken on a very hot day almost tastes good) and meet football fans from around the globe.

The inside of the stadium contrasts greatly with the disappointing exterior. It really is a fantastic modern venue with good views, good spectator facilities and if I’m honest is only bettered by that new place in N17! I liked the overall feel of the place and would love to return one day to watch an Atlético Madrid match. The match was settled by early and late goals enabling Liverpool to win the trophy for an impressive 6th time (congratulations to them). I will leave the detail and associated conjecture to other channels to report on.

My travelling companion and long term Spurs associate, Kevin Dawney, informs me that in attending all 13 Champions League matches this season, he has seen 39 goals and spent £761 on match tickets. He has also travelled 4,233 miles from his base at Hemel Hempstead. There are many of us with similar stories. However, it doesn’t stop there, the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was sold out for the screening of this match and the surrounding area was also extremely busy. The passion for the club is enormous and although the English media are reluctant to acknowledge accordingly, in favour of other stories (there were two clubs in this match), reaching the final was a remarkable achievement. The adventure has been season long and has featured some amazing matches. COYS.

Attendance: 63,272
Admission: 70 Euros
Programme: £10:00 (purchased at Tottenham Hotspur)

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

AFC Ajax

AFC Ajax 2 Tottenham Hotspur 3 - UEFA Champions League, Semi-Final, 2nd Leg

Amsterdam is the capital city and most populous municipality of the Netherlands. There is contention on this point and The Hague is also deemed to be the capital as it is the seat of the government. Amsterdam's name derives from Amstelredamme, indicative of the city's origin around a dam in the river Amstel. Originating as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age (17th century), as a result of its innovative developments in trade. During that time, the city was the leading centre for finance and trade. In the 19th and 20th centuries the city expanded, and many new neighbourhoods and suburbs were planned and built. The 17th-century canals of Amsterdam and the 19–20th century Defence Line of Amsterdam are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Since the annexation of the municipality of Sloten in 1921 by the municipality of Amsterdam, the oldest historic part of the city lies in Sloten, dating to the 9th century. Amsterdam has more than 60 miles of canals, most of which are navigable by boat. The city's three main canals are the Prinsengracht, Herengracht, and Keizersgracht.

The football club was founded in Amsterdam on 18 March 1900. The club achieved promotion to the highest level of Dutch football in 1911 and had its first major success in 1917, winning the KNVB Beker, the Netherlands' national cup. The following season, Ajax became national champion for the first time. The club defended its title in 1918–19, becoming the only team to achieve an unbeaten season in the Netherlands Football League Championship. Historically, Amsterdamsche Football Club Ajax (named after the legendary Greek hero) has been the most successful club in the Netherlands, with 33 Eredivisie titles and 19 KNVB Cups. It has continuously played in the Eredivisie, since the league's inception in 1956 and, along with Feyenoord and PSV, it is one of the country's "big three" clubs that have dominated that competition. The club is one of the five teams that has earned the right to keep the European Cup and to wear a multiple-winner badge; they won consecutively in 1971–1973. In 1972, they completed the continental treble by winning the Eredivisie, KNVB Cup, and the European Cup. It also won the first organised UEFA Super Cup in 1972 against Glasgow Rangers (played in 1973).

The Johan Cruyff Arena was built between 1993 to 1996 at a cost equivalent to €140 million, it is the largest stadium in the country. The stadium was previously known as the Amsterdam Arena until the 2018–19 season, when it was officially renamed in honour of legendary Dutch footballer Johan Cruyff after he died in March 2016. The stadium has a retractable roof and has a capacity of 54,990 for football matches (68,000 for concerts). The stadium hosts most of the Dutch national team's matches, though the Netherlands no longer has a dedicated national stadium for football.

Always a popular tournament for travelling supporters, the UEFA Champions League intensifies as the tournament progresses. Accordingly, “every man and his dog” were heading to Amsterdam for this match. I opted to fly from Stansted to Eindhoven from where I caught a coach connection direct to Amsterdam. I was staying at Haarlem and it was fairly straightforward to catch a train there and I was able to enjoy a less crowded environment.

On matchday I was keen to avoid the busyness of the centre and along with a couple of likeminded individuals, I strolled out to a windmill (“in old Amsterdam”) which has been converted to a brewery and tap room. Brouwerij 't IJ has a fine variety of ales, the quality of which would certainly entice me back. The brewery was opened by Kaspar Peterson, a former musician, in October 1985 and was one of several small breweries that opened in cities around the Netherlands in response to consumers' dissatisfaction with beer brewed by the larger companies. Whilst there, I sampled Natte (6.5%), Zatte (8%) and IJwit (6.5%).

To reach the stadium by public transport, the easiest option is to catch either a train or the metro (Line 54) from Central Station. Train station Bijlmer ArenA lies next to the stadium and can be reached in 15 minutes from Amsterdam Central Station. There is very regular service. The metro takes only little longer and stops at the same station as well as station Strandvliet/ArenA that lies on the north side of the stadium. The latter stop is more convenient for visiting fans as their segregated area is at this end of the stadium.

As is often the case with continental stadia, the outside of the ground is functional without possessing individual character. However, the design and semi-rural setting is nice. By contrast, the interior is impressive and for once (rarely the case in the Netherlands) opposition fans have a decent view! I’m sure all connected with Ajax will be proud of the stadium, something they craved for many years. This particular match saw the home side add two goals to their 1-0 lead from the 1st leg in London. This was harsh on Spurs but at this level you have to expect mistakes to be punished. Amazingly the tie was turned on its head courtesy of a superbly committed Tottenham Hotspur fightback, the icing on the cake being a hat-trick by Lucas Moura. The final goal was scored in the final phase of time added on, resulting in Spurs qualifying for the final on away goals.

Attendance: 52,641
Admission: 64 Euros
Programme: None issued

Friday, April 19, 2019

AFC Fylde

AFC Fylde 1 Barnet 0 - National League

The Fylde is a coastal plain in western Lancashire, England. It is roughly a 13-mile square-shaped peninsula, bounded by Morecambe Bay to the north, the Ribble estuary to the south, the Irish Sea to the west, and the Bowland Hills to the east. The eastern boundary is approximately the location of the M6 motorway. It is a flat, alluvial plain; parts were once dug for peat, and it is the western part of an area formerly known as Amounderness. The River Wyre meanders across the Fylde from Garstang on the eastern edge, westwards towards Poulton and then northwards to the sea at Fleetwood. The area north and east of the tidal Wyre, known as Over Wyre, is the more rural side of the river. The West Coast is almost entirely urban, containing the towns of Fleetwood, Cleveleys, Blackpool, St Annes and Lytham; with Thornton, Carleton and Poulton-le-Fylde not far inland. This area forms the Blackpool Urban Area. The central southern part of the Fylde includes the smaller towns of Kirkham and Wesham. The rest of the Fylde is rural, containing villages that include Freckleton, Warton, Wrea Green, Great Eccleston, Hambleton, Knott End and Pilling.

The club was formed by the amalgamation of Kirkham Town and Wesham in 1988, adopting the name of a previous club that had played in the West Lancashire League in the years immediately before World War I. The new club assumed Kirkham Town's place in Division One of the West Lancashire League. In 1989–90 they finished bottom of the division and were relegated to Division Two. After three seasons in Division Two they were promoted in the 1992–93 season after finishing third, only to be relegated again in 1994–95. The following season they finished as runners-up in Division Two, losing only two league games all season, and were promoted back to Division One. Following their West Lancashire League championship success in 2006–07, the club were accepted into Division Two of the North West Counties League for the 2007–08 season. For the start of the 2008–09 season, the club changed their name to AFC Fylde. In 2016–17 the Club won the National League North, earning promotion to the National League.

Two away matches for Tottenham Hotspur at Manchester City over four days, coupled with Euston Station being closed over the Easter weekend, facilitated a longer than usual stay in the North West. The Good Friday fixtures proved kind with AFC Fylde v Barnet selected. It was relatively easy to travel from Manchester to Kirkham & Wesham station, changing trains and stations at Wigan. On arrival I ventured to Kirkham for breakfast followed by a visit to the excellent Tap & Vent micropub. I was keen to try local ales and opted for Top Dog 4.4%. From the same brewery, I also enjoyed Bitter Bunny 3.8%. Two high quality ales – a credit to the brewery.

After this it was time to walk back up the hill, past the railway station and on to Wesham. I would estimate that from the station it takes around fifteen minutes to walk to Mill Farm. However, the imposing sight of the main stand is in view before you reach the vicinity of the stadium. On arrival I was able to collect my pre ordered match ticket and adjourn to Bradley’s Sports Bar. This impressive facility is situated behind the main stand along with the club reception area and the club shop. The bar contains numerous TV screens which were showing Sheffield United v Nottingham Forest. This Pieman enjoyed a pint of Pheasant Plucker 3.7% from the Bowland Brewery.

The main stand is impressive and contains the only seating available at the ground. The end used to house visiting spectators is terraced and covered, whereas the opposite end of the stadium is flat and uncovered. The remaining side of the ground is terraced and covered and this is where I watched the match from. On a hot sunny day, the steps at the back provided shade.

Visitors Barnet had arrived late due to heavy bank holiday traffic, but that did not appear to have affected them as they played some excellent football in the opening half an hour against their play-off chasing hosts. However, a superb volley from Danny Rowe (for me the best player on show) put Fylde ahead. This was followed by a red card following a foul by a Barnet player, which I thought was harsh and pretty much determined the outcome of the match.

The second period saw the home side in the ascendancy although they failed to add to their tally. An easy stroll back to the station enabled me to catch a train back to Preston for an onward connection to Manchester Piccadilly. I enjoyed my visit to Mill Farm and the friendly welcome there and in Kirkham was much appreciated.

Attendance: 1,489
Admission: £14:00 (Terrace)
Programme: £3:00 (52 pages)
Tea: £1:50

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Tottenham Hotspur FC

Tottenham Hotspur U18 3 Southampton U18 1 - U18 Premier League

Tottenham is a district of north London, England, in the London Borough of Haringey. It is 5.9 miles north-north-east of Charing Cross. Tottenham is believed to have been named after Tota, a farmer, whose hamlet was mentioned in the Doomsday Book. 'Tota's hamlet', it is thought, developed into 'Tottenham'. The settlement was recorded in the Doomsday Book as Toteham. From the Tudor period onwards, Tottenham became a popular recreation and leisure destination for wealthy Londoners. Henry VIII is known to have visited Bruce Castle and also hunted in Tottenham Wood. A rural Tottenham also featured in Izaak Walton's book The Compleat Angler, published in 1653. The area became noted for its large Quaker population and its schools (including Rowland Hill's at Bruce Castle). Tottenham remained a semi-rural and upper middle class area until the 1870s. Tottenham has a multicultural population, with many ethnic groups inhabiting the area. It contains one of the largest and most significant populations of African-Caribbean people. These were among the earliest groups of immigrants to settle in the area, starting from the UK's Windrush era. Soon afterwards, West African communities – notably the many Ghanaians – began to move into the area. Between 1980 and the present day, there has been a slow immigration of Colombians, Congolese, Albanian, Kurdish, Turkish and Greek-Cypriot, Turkish, Somali, Irish, Portuguese, Polish, Vietnamese, Filipinos and Zimbabweans populations.

Originally named Hotspur Football Club, the club was formed on 5 September 1882 by a group of schoolboys led by Bobby Buckle. They were members of the Hotspur Cricket Club and the football club was formed to play sports during the winter months. A year later the boys sought help with the club from John Ripsher, the Bible class teacher at All Hallows Church, who became the first president of the club and its treasurer. Ripsher helped and supported the boys through the club's formative years, reorganised and found premises for the club. Tottenham Hotspur won the FA Cup for the first time in 1901, the only non-League club to do so since the formation of the Football League in 1888. Tottenham were the first club in the 20th century to achieve the League and FA Cup Double, winning both competitions in the 1960–61 season. After successfully defending the FA Cup in 1962, in 1963 they became the first British club to win a UEFA club competition – the European Cup Winners' Cup. They were also the inaugural winners of the UEFA Cup in 1972, becoming the first British club to win two different major European trophies. Since the 1921 FA Cup final the Tottenham Hotspur crest has featured a cockerel. Harry Hotspur, after whom the club is named, was said to have been given the nickname Hotspur as he dug in his spurs to make his horse go faster as he charged in battles, and he was also said to be fond of fighting cocks fitted with spurs. The club used spurs as a symbol in 1900, which then evolved into a fighting cock.

The construction of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was initiated as the centrepiece of the Northumberland Development Project, intended to be the catalyst for a 20-year regeneration project in Tottenham. The project covers the site of the now demolished ground of White Hart Lane and areas adjacent to it. The project was first conceived in 2007 and announced in 2008, but the plan was revised several times, and the construction of the stadium, beset by disputes and delays, did not commence until 2015. Supporters were initially billeted at Wembley Stadium for the 2017-18 season and this temporary relocation ran through to March 2019 when two test event matches were eventually scheduled in order for the club to gain the necessary safety certification. The stadium is an enclosed asymmetric bowl, with a capacity of 62,062. The bowl shape of the stadium comes from the need to maximise hospitality facilities while the asymmetry is the result of the creation of a single-tier stand in the south.

The stadium is around 48 m high, 250 m long on its north-south axis and about 200 metres wide east to west. There are 9 floors in the northern section, above the basement, and 5 floors in the south, with a gross internal area of 119,945 m2. The front of the West Stand faces the High Road and features a projecting, angled, glazed box, that encases an escalator and serves as the main entrance for guests and patrons. The projecting entrance, along with the facades of other buildings of the Tottenham Experience, present a traditional linear frontage along the High Road. A 9.5-m pavement is created in front of these buildings to improve the flow of the crowd on match day on the High Road. To the east, on Worcester Avenue, is a dedicated entrance for NFL events. There are two raised podiums, one to the north and one to the south, for fans access. A large open public square, the size of Trafalgar Square, has been created on the south podium as the main access point for home fans, and it may be used for sporting and community activities.

For the first of two test events incorporating football matches (there had been other test events), required in order to obtain the necessary safety certification, Tottenham Hotspur U18 hosted their counterparts from Southampton. This match was an existing fixture that was switched from the training centre to the new stadium. Season ticket holders and club members along with members of the local community were given the opportunity to attend the match. This helped the club to test the infrastructure and facilities of the stadium and surrounding area in a matchday situation.

I must confess that although I had seen pictures and footage of the venue for some time, nothing fully prepared me for my first sight of the new place once inside. For me, having attended numerous matches at White Hart Lane, being inside the replacement really was breathtaking. Your scribe will confess to being biased, but this venue is the best stadium I have visited. From the extensive catering facilities spread throughout the stadium, to the excellent views, decent legroom and very importantly, proper raking of the seating enhancing the viewing experience.

The fact that the first match played at the stadium was a competitive league fixture was a massive bonus. The excitement of both sets of players in the days leading up to the match will have been immense. The Spurs team had not lost a league match during the season and ensured the continuation of this run with a 3-1 victory. Some of the football played was in keeping with the fine traditions of the club and the first ever goal at the ground, scored by J’Neil Bennett was worthy of the occasion, a superb curling effort inside the keepers left-hand post. It took longer than anticipated but Spurs are back home!

Over the years I have met many friends through supporting Tottenham Hotspur. Sadly some are no longer with us, including Ian Scott, Andy Porter, Roy Woodward, Bert Hearn, Colin Sams, Tony Knight (Dennis or Jack Jones), Tony Jarvis (Jinxy) and Ian Gray (Dougall). When I picked up my pint of Beavertown ale in the ground, it was raised in their memory.

Attendance: 28,987
Admission: £5:00
Programme: Free (4 pages)

For total visits to Tottenham Hotsur Stadium click here

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Haywards Heath Town FC

Haywards Heath Town 3 Whyteleafe 1 - Isthmian League, South East Division

Haywards Heath is a town in West Sussex. It lies 36 miles south of London, 14 miles north of Brighton, 13 miles south of Gatwick Airport and 31 miles east northeast of the county town of Chichester. The name Hayward comes from Old English meaning an official who protected hedged enclosures from wandering livestock. There is a local legend that the name comes from a highwayman who went under the name of Jack Hayward. Haywards Heath as a settlement is a relatively modern development. Following the arrival of the London & Brighton Railway in 1841, its size has increased considerably. Haywards Heath railway station opened on 12 July 1841 and served as the southern terminus of the line until the completion of Brighton station on 21 September. The position of Haywards Heath, and its place on both this railway and near the main road (A23) between London and Brighton, enables it to function as a commuter town, with many residents working in London, Brighton, Crawley and Gatwick Airport.

The club was formed in 1888 as Haywards Heath Juniors. The club was renamed Haywards Heath Excelsior in 1894, before becoming simply Haywards Heath in 1895. They were founder members of the Mid-Sussex League in 1900, and were runners-up in the Senior Division in 1901–02, 1902–03, 1903–04 and 1905–06. The club dropped out of the Senior Division in 1908, but won Division Two in 1911–12. In 1919–20 Haywards Heath were Mid-Sussex League champions without losing a game. A move to the Hanbury Stadium in 1952 allowed Haywards Heath to join the Metropolitan League, but after several seasons of struggling in the new league, they finished bottom of the table in 1960–61 and re-joined the Sussex County League. In 2012–13 Haywards Heath were Division Three runners-up, resulting in promotion to Division Two. The division was renamed Division One in 2015 when the league was rebranded as the Southern Combination and the club went on to win the Division One title in 2015–16, earning promotion to the Premier Division. They finished top of the Premier Division the following season and were due to be promoted to Division One South of the Isthmian League. However, after being penalised with a nine-point deduction for fielding in several matches a player who was serving a ban, the championship was awarded to Shoreham. The club went on to win the Premier Division in 2017–18, earning promotion to the newly formed South East Division of the Isthmian League.

The journey to Haywards Heath was made using the Thameslink service direct from St Pancras International. The fare with a railcard discount was a very reasonable £7:85. Speed restrictions due to high winds meant an additional fifteen minutes added to the journey, which usually takes around an hour.

To reach the ground from the railway station on foot takes a little over twenty minutes. The route I followed took me through Clair Park, which contains a cricket pitch (Haywards Heath Cricket Club). There is a two-tiered bank overlooking the playing area containing lots of park benches. I would imagine many a summer has been spent and enjoyed there by the locals, such is the magnificent setting.

That banking at the cricket field is not the only spectacular sporting structure in Haywards Heath. I have long intended to visit the football ground, having seen pictures of the marvellous grandstand, I was not dissapdisapp! It is the standout feature of the ground and also contains the changing rooms and clubhouse facilities. The only other spectator viewing area at the ground is a small one-step standing area beside the turnstiles (a welcome retreat on a blustery day).

It was in the homely clubhouse that I was able to sample a couple of beers from the local Bedlam Brewery. Pale (4.8%) is brewed using US hops and was very pleasant indeed. However, I resisted the pull to have another, instead opting for the Porter which did not disappoint and set me up nicely for the match.

Currently in the play-off positions, the home side was looking to assert themselves in this match. However, in very strong winds, it was Whyteleafe that were the more composed early on and it was no surprise when they took the lead through Junior Aikhionbade. A vastly improved second half performance from the home side saw them takes the points following Andy Dalhouse’s leveller and two goals from Callum Saunders. The walk back to the station enabled me to catch the 17:17 return Thameslink Service. I enjoyed my visit to Haywards Heath Town and can now cross the Hanbury Stadium off my bucket list!

Attendance: 127
Admission: £8:00
Programme: £2:00 (36 pages)
Tea: £1:00
Chips: £1:50