Tuesday, August 07, 2018

White Ensign FC

White Ensign 3 Burnham Ramblers 0 - Eastern Senior League, Division One (South)

White Ensign Football Club was formed in 1951 and is named after the British naval ensign of the same name, which is incorporated into the club's badge. They played in the Southend Borough Combination until joining Division Two of the Essex Intermediate League in 2002, going on to win the division at the first attempt, earning promotion to Division One. That season also saw them win the Capital Counties Feeder League Trophy and the league's Senior Cup. They were Division One champions the following season, as well as retaining the Senior Cup and winning the Senior Challenge Cup. In 2004–05 the club retained the league title and Senior Challenge Cup. The league was renamed the Essex Olympian League in 2005. White Ensign won the Capital Counties Feeder League Trophy for a second time in 2005–06.

The following season they were Division One champions for a third time, as well as retaining the Capital Counties Feeder Trophy. Division One was then renamed the Premier Division, and the club retained the league title in 2007–08, also winning the Essex Premier Cup. The following season saw them win the Senior Challenge Cup for a third time. However, this marked the end of their period of success and the club finished second-from-bottom of the Premier Division in 2013–14, resulting in relegation to Division One. They were Division One champions the following season and were promoted straight back to the Premier Division. At the end of the 2017–18 season the club moved up to the newly created Division One South of the Eastern Counties League.

Following elevation to Step 6 of the non-league pyramid, White Ensign FC is playing at Basildon Sporting Village, located on Cranes Farm Road. The £38m complex is one of the UK’s premier leisure venue hires and was an official training centre for London 2012. The 750-seat athletics stadium is the venue for the football and a 400-bay free car park and close proximity to the A127, A13 and M25 add to the attraction of this location. Basildon station is also just a mile walk away through Gloucester Park.

This match was the first for White Ensign at this venue and there were a number of ‘neutrals’ in the crowd. Spectator facilities are limited to the covered seated stand, which runs along the majority of one side. This stand backs on to the rest of the leisure facility and it was by exploring the corridors of the complex that I discovered a refreshment area where I was able to purchase a cup of tea.

The match took a while to settle, with lots of early passes going astray. The pitch was hard from the recent spell of hot and dry weather and any chances of flowing football were restricted. Visitors Burnham Ramblers had played two levels above this in recent years but it was not evident on this occasion.

Eventually, White Ensign took a grip on the match, Connor Barmby weighing in with two well-taken goals. He was the outstanding player in a match that cried out for greater quality. It was good to be in attendance at the host club’s first home match in this league and at this stadium. The M25 behaved after the match and I was grateful for my lift home.

Attendance: 130
Admission: £5:00
Programme: £1:00 (12 pages)
Tea: £1:30

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Slough Town FC

Slough Town 1 Hampton & Richmond Borough 1 - National League South

Slough is a large town in Berkshire, on the western fringes of Greater London, 20 miles west of central London, 3 miles north of Windsor, 7 miles east of Maidenhead, and 21 miles north-east of the county town of Reading. It is between the Thames Valley and London and at the intersection of the M4, M40 and M25 motorways. From the mid-17th century, stagecoaches began to pass through Slough and Salt Hill, which became locations for the second stage to change horses on the journey out from London. In 1849, a branch line was completed from Slough railway station to Windsor and Eton Central railway station, opposite Windsor Castle, for the Queen's convenience. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many unemployed Welsh people who walked up the Great West Road looking for employment settled in Slough.

The history of the Slough Town FC began in 1890 when three teams Swifts, Slough Albion and Young Men's Friendly Society formed a new club, Slough FC between them. The team initially played in the Southern Alliance before later moving on to the Great Western Suburban League. In 1921 it attempted to join the Isthmian League but lost out to Wycombe Wanderers in the voting. Instead Slough chose to join the Spartan League. In 1936 the owners of the club's ground, The Dolphin Stadium, sold up to a greyhound racing consortium, which ordered the football club to vacate the stadium three years later. After being forced to ground share with Maidenhead United for several years, the club agreed to a merge with Slough Centre FC to return to a ground in their home town. The new club took the name Slough United FC. After the Second World War Slough United was reluctant to re-join the Spartan League and led a breakaway movement to form a new league, which became the Corinthian League. It was from this that the club derived its nickname of "The Rebels". Shortly after this the two clubs which had merged to form Slough United separated once again, with the former Slough FC. continuing under the new name of Slough Town FC. Slough Town won the Corinthian League in 1950–51 but in 1964 the league folded and Slough, along with many other former Corinthian clubs, joined an expanded Athenian League. The Rebels were champions of this league on three occasions, with the third win earning promotion to the Isthmian League in 1973. During the 1980s they were league champions on two occasions, the second of which brought promotion to the Football Conference. Slough lasted four seasons at this level, were relegated back to the Isthmian League, bounced back at the first attempt, and then played three more seasons of Conference football.

My journey was designed to save money and by using the Central Line interchange at Ealing Broadway, I achieved this objective. Four trains per hour run from Ealing Broadway to Slough. On an extremely hot day, modern rolling stock with air conditioning was an absolute treat. On arrival at Slough, I had time to visit the imaginatively named Moon and Spoon (JD Wetherspoon) where I was able to sample Ucifer (4.2%) from the relatively local Rebellion Brewery (Marlow). From here it was one straight road, back past the railway station to Arbour Park. The ground is a little over ten minutes walk from the station. I had visited Wexham Park, the former ground of Slough Town on a couple of occasions; I recall that venue being reasonably close to the station in a similar direction. The new venue is nearer.

I was immediately impressed with the design of Arbour Park. The main seated stand is a fine structure with good views of all areas, although it is unlikely that I would want to sit in the front row, as the perimeter fence is a slight hindrance. A narrower seated stand is situated on the opposite side of the pitch but facing west on a scorchingly hot afternoon was a no go area for many. That said, the views from this stand are also good. Both ends contain full length covered terracing. There is a licensed bar upstairs at the back of the main stand along with a snack bar. This Pieman feeling rather parched following his photographic exploits in circling the ground was able to enjoy Rebellion IPA (3.7%). This copper coloured, easy drinking beer enthuses well balanced malt and hop flavours continuing to a long, refreshing and clean finish.

This match saw the newly promoted home side host Hampton & Richmond Borough. On three minutes the visitors had taken the lead when a well worked attack saw Chris Dickson release Zak Joseph on the left. Joseph raced onto the ball, taking a touch, before unleashing a powerful effort into the top left corner, which keeper Jack Turner had no chance with. In the 25th minute the hosts drew level when James Dobson’s deep cross from the left wing found Warren Harris at the back post, with the winger heading into the ground, and beating Tom Lovelock.

Slough Town increased their hold on the match in the second period and will consider themselves unfortunate not to have taken all three points. Doughnuts were being sold by representatives of the school adjacent to the ground, the proceeds of which were to fund an orphanage overseas. The ice cream van inside the ground was also doing a decent trade, which was hardly surprising.

Despite extremely hot conditions, I really enjoyed my visit to Arbour Park. The facilities are excellent and the 3G artificial surface (another really good one) means that this could be saved for when the weather is at the other end of the spectrum.

Attendance: 866
Admission: £13:00
Programme: £2:00 (40 pages)
Tea: £1:00
Rebellion IPA: £3:50

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)