Saturday, November 26, 2022

Cirencester Town

Cirencester Town 2 Harlow Town 0 - Southern League, Division One Central

Cirencester is market town in Gloucestershire, situated 80 miles west of London. It lies on the River Churn, a tributary to the River Thames and is the largest town in the Cotswolds. The Roman name for the town was Corinium and the town’s Corinium Museum has an extensive Roman collection. Before 1974 the town was administered by Cirencester Urban District Council. Following the reorganisation of local government, the urban district council was replaced by the new Cotswold District Council. Cirencester Watermoor Railway Station was closed to passengers in 1961. The nearest station is now at Kemble, 3.7 miles away. The rock drummer Cozy Powell was born in Cirencester.

The football club was established in 1989. Progression via the Cheltenham League, and Gloucestershire Northern Senior League, saw the club become founder members of the Gloucestershire County League in 1968. Further progression via the Hellenic League enabled the club to be promoted to the Southern League in 1996. The Gloucestershire Senior Cup was won in 1996 and this feat was repeated in 2016.

Due to ongoing issues at Harlow Town FC, the clubs were able to reverse the fixtures enabling the match to go ahead. Cirencester Town will visit Harlow in the return match next year. An added bonus for this Pieman, was that I was invited to travel in the club secretary’s car and this was almost first time that I had travelled in an official vehicle - an exception being when I bunked on the Harlow coach at Hampton Court for five minutes on the way to Molesey in 1990. The coach was collecting players that worked in London, including the legendary Richard Head.

The club secretary’s chauffer likes to support local hostelries when travelling. On this occasion he diverted to The Greyhound at Siddington, just a couple of miles from our destination. At this establishment, I enjoyed a rather good pint of Wadworth 6X (4.1%). This classic crafted amber ale is malty and fruity on the nose with a balancing hop character. Suitably refreshed we then made our way to the Corinium Stadium.

To facilitate the change of venue at short notice meant that the home club’s Development side brought forward their Hellenic League fixture against Kidlington Reserves to midday. This match was reaching its conclusion as I toured the ground taking photographs. This rather smart venue has covered seating on both sides. A larger stand straddles the half way line on one side, whereas a smaller smart stand forms part of the extensive clubhouse building. There is also covered standing area behind one of the goals. Other facilities include the clubhouse bar, a club shop and the snack bar, where I purchased and soon demolished ‘The Centurian’ –  a double burger, lettuce, cheese, onion all topped with a hash brown!

In blustery conditions both teams cancelled each other out for most of the contest. However, a red card for Harlow Town’s Josh Steele with over an hour left to play meant it was going to be a testing time for the visitors for the remainder of the match. The referee was keen to remind us that he was in charge and the higher quota of yellow cards issued to both sides did not reflect the nature of this match, which was played in good spirit.

The home side eventually made the numbers count with a couple of goals in the second period, but for the majority of the second half the visitors dug in and can be proud of their resolve in difficult circumstances. Once again, we were made to feel welcome by a club in this neck of the woods – very friendly folk. This Pieman won the matchday raffle which included a large bottle of fizz (I almost dropped it, much to the amusement of club officials!). With a national rail strike taking place I am most grateful to those Harveys for getting me to and from Gloucestershire.

Attendance: 111
Admission: £10:00/£8:00
Programme: £2:00 (24 pages)
Tea: £2:00
Raffle: £1:00 (won by this Pieman with ticket number 586 - bottled beverage donated to the Harveys as a thank you)

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Coventry United FC

Coventry United 5 Desborough Town 1 - United Counties League, Premier Division South

Coventry is a city in the West Midlands, located on the River Sherbourne. Formerly part of Warwickshire until 1451, it is the second largest city in the West Midlands region, after Birmingham. The city is part of a larger conurbation known as the Coventry and Bedworth Urban Area. Coventry suffered extensive bomb damage during the second World War. The most severe was a massive Luftwaffe air raid on 14 November 1940 which carried on for 10 hours until the following morning. This led to severe damage to large areas of the city centre and to the historic cathedral. More than 4,000 houses were damaged or destroyed along with three quarters of the city’s industrial plants. Hundreds were killed with thousands injured and homeless. The poet Philip Larkin was born and brought up in Coventry, where his father was the City Treasurer.

The football club was founded in 2013 by Chairman Jason Kay along with Jason Timms, Marcus Green, Pete Schofield and club secretary Graham Wood. In 2015, the club announced the takeover of Coventry City Ladies FC, rebranding as Coventry United Ladies FC. The club home kit matches the civic colours of the city, dark red and green.

A Wednesday jaunt to the West Midlands was facilitated by the offer of a lift (much appreciated Phil). The journey via the M25 and M1 was decent and we arrived at the Butts Park Arena around 15:15 and parked in the pay and display car park adjacent to the ground. This allowed plenty of time to take photographs of the ground. We were able to gain access to the ground as Coventry United Ladies were holding a training session. Daylight photographs were secured as we toured the ground.

With plenty of time before the match, we explored a couple of local refreshment options. Large Pizzas were enjoyed at the Railway Bar & Grill just a few hundred yards from the ground. This deceptively large bar was relatively busy and there were a number of screens showing the Spain v Costa Rica world cup match. Our second port of call was the wonderful Broomfield Tavern (only a stone’s throw from the ground, but tucked away). At this establishment I enjoyed Goat's Milk (3.8%) from Church End and Golden Ale (4.3%) from Pitchfork.

Whilst in the Broomfield Tavern, it was good to chat with some regular Coventry United supporters. It was clear from the discussions that these folk have been through the mill a bit in recent years with the turbulent times at Coventry City, I sensed that Coventry United was their stability and the clearly enjoy this allegiance. We sat close to this group at the match and the banter throughout was excellent.

The only covered accommodation for spectators at the ground is the rather impressive seated stand. The stand seats 3000 spectators and a good view of the pitch is afforded from all areas. There is a bar and a separate food area beneath the stand. The car park end of the ground is completely flat, although it is possible to stand here for the match. The opposite end is also flat and houses various refreshment facilities for the rugby club. The remaining side of the ground is out of bounds to spectators and houses the respective benches. 

This was a very one-sided match throughout. The hosts dominated visitors Desborough Town and displayed some excellent passing and movement. the only real surprise was that there was only one goal scored in the first half. This imbalance was rectified early in the second period and we were treated to the Hawaii five o theme tune when the fifth goal went in! However, it was Desborough Town that completed the scoring with almost the last kick, when Luca miller chipped the keeper. For the record, the scorers for Coventry United were Kyle Carey, Adam Miles, Samir Muzaffar, Renato Prifti and Sean Wills.

Attendance: 85
Admission: £7:00/£5:00
Programme: £2:00 (32 pages)
Tea: £1:90 (Rugby club's catering)
50/50 Draw: £1:00 (winning ticket no 17122 - not me!)

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Norwich United FC

Norwich United 1 Mildenhall Town 1 - Eastern Counties League, Premier Division

Norwich is a city in Norfolk, about 100 miles north-east of London. Located on the River Wensum, Norwich is the county town of Norfolk. The site of modern Norwich was settled by the Anglo-Saxons between the 5th and 7th centuries, near the former Iceni capital and Roman town of Venta Icenorum. Norwich became fully established as a town in the 10th century and developed into a prominent centre for trade and commerce in East Anglia. Norwich Cathedral and Norwich Castle were built soon after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Norwich was granted city status by Richard the Lionheart in 1194. The city greatly benefited from the wool trade throughout the Middle Ages and prospered as a port with the status of a staple port; until the 18th century, it was the second-largest city in England (after London). Norwich holds the largest permanent undercover market in Europe. Each year the Norfolk and Norwich Festival celebrates the arts, drawing many visitors into the city from all over eastern England. The Norwich Twenty Group, founded in 1944, presents exhibitions of its members to promote awareness of modern art. Norwich was home to the first arts festival in Britain in 1772. 

The football club was founded in 1903 as Poringland and District, initially playing in the Norwich & District Business House League. In 1965 progression was made in joining the third division of the Anglian Combination, winning the league at the first attempt. In 1979 Norwich United won the Norfolk Junior Cup and repeated the feat in 1981. In 1987 the club was named Norwich United. In winning the Anglian Combination Premier Division in 1988, the club was promoted to the Eastern Counties League. In 2016 the club was promoted to the Isthmian League. A first ever Norfolk Senior Cup win in 2018 also saw the club return to the Eastern Counties League.

The journey by train was made from Cheshunt via Audley End, and Norwich to Brundall. I used a discounted rail voucher resulting in a return fare of £5:00 (thanks again Martin). Before the last leg of the journey, I adjourned to The Glass House (J D Wetherspoon) for breakfast and a pint of Reedlighter (4%), a pale ale from Woodforde’s. This final leg of the journey was a walk of just over a mile and half from Brundall station taking you through Blofield, the adjacent village. A very pleasant stroll through a quiet part of the county.

The approach to Plantation Park is without pedestrian walkways and this was highlighted by a stream of cars passing me as I was arriving, not a problem in daylight but less so in the dark, as I was to find later! The ground is well appointed and typical of many in this league. The main stand area is the only covered spectator accommodation, but is cleverly split into three sections. Bench seats at one end, standard seating in the middle and a decent terraced area at the other end. One end of the ground is completely open and backs onto an agricultural field.

The side opposite the stand is also completely open, the only furniture being the dugouts. This side also backs on to an agricultural field although the trees between the two areas are taller, giving a more enclosed feel. The remaining end of the ground houses virtually all the club facilities. There is a smart separate turnstile block. The main building houses the changing rooms, licenced bar and function room, spectator toilets and a separate refreshment bar for hot and cold food and drinks. There is also another separate structure housing a gym.

I have often been impressed by the friendliness of this league and once again the folk I met lived up to my expectation. The two sides had met in the opening match of the season, sharing a 0-0 draw. Visitors Mildenhall Town were above their hosts in the table but had played more matches. All indications were that another close match would ensue. However, it was the visitors that impressed early on and it was no surprise when they took the lead through Kieran Twinn. The second period saw a resurgent home side taking the game to the visitors. This change of emphasis was rewarded with ten minutes remaining when Alby Matthews levelled the scores. Despite a red card for the visitors, they managed to hold out for a draw and this neutral believes that to be a fair outcome for this match, played in a good spirit by both sides. For me, the previously mentioned Kieran Twinn and Jordan Buttle were players that contributed greatly to their respective team performances.

As expected, the walk back to Brundall station was not as straightforward as the reverse before the match. Leaving the ground at the same time as so many cars meant hugging the side of the road for much of the time. However, what was not expected was the complete absence of any street lighting in Blofield! Mobile phone torches were utilised by the small group of pedestrians, as you are also obliged to negotiate footpaths disappearing and appearing again on the other side of the road. Brundall by contrast is better equipped and it was nice to reach that area. Connections at Norwich and Cambridge North were good and I arrived back at Cheshunt shortly before 9pm.

Attendance: 118
Admission: £8:00/£5:00
Programme: £1:00 (28 pages)
Tea: £1:30

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Leamington FC

Leamington 1 Scarborough Athletic 1 - National League North

Royal Leamington Spa is a town in Warwickshire. Originally a small village called Leamington Priors, it grew as a spa town in the 18th century, following the popularisation of its water which was reputed to have medicinal qualities. In the 19th century, the town experienced rapid expansion. The name comes from the River Leam, which flows through the town which is situated around 9 miles south of Coventry and 20 miles south-east of Birmingham. Leamington Spa railway station is served by the Chiltern Main Line which links London Marylebone to Birmingham Snow Hill.

The football club was established in 1933 as the works team of Lockheed Borg & Beck, gaining the nickname “the brakes” due to the products manufactured. Initially they played in the Warwick & District League before progressing to the Coventry Works League. In 1947 the club became Lockheed Leamington and subsequent name changes saw the club become AP Leamington prior to folding in 1988. The club was reactivated in 2000 and joined the Midland Combination. Subsequent promotions via the Midland Alliance and the Southern League, resulted in the club reaching National League North in 2013. Relegation back to the Southern League in 2015 was followed by promotion to National League North again in 2017.

A Saturday jaunt to Warwickshire was facilitated by the offer of a lift (much appreciated Phil). The journey via the M25 and M1 was swift once we had got onto the former. We arrived at the New Windmill Ground around 13:30 and parked in the spacious car park (room for 450 cars). This allowed plenty of time to take photographs of the ground. The stewards were welcoming and took the time to explain where everything was. We were soon adjourning to the clubhouse for pre match refreshment.

On entering the spacious clubhouse, this Pieman was delighted to see real ale on offer from the local Church Farm Brewery. Both options were in fine condition. Harry's Heifer (4.2%) is a "quaffable session ale with a hoppy aroma. Brewed with a blend of Marris Otter, Vienna and Crystal Malts, with Centennial and Cascade Hops", IPA (5.0%) "Brewed with Citra and Crystal Hops, Easy drinking, yet full of flavour" I was impressed with both brews and at half time purchased a box of four bottles of Church farm offerings that I will share with Ian Harvey (Harlow Town FC).

I was impressed with everything about this ground, the folks at the club have clearly worked hard to get it to the required standard for this level of football and you sense their pride. There is covered seated accommodation along both sides of the ground. At the clubhouse end there is a covered terrace. This is also where the bulk of the impressive array of flags are displayed. The other end of the ground is open, but is also terraced. An electronic scoreboard is situated in a corner at this end.

There is so much more to the ground, a toilet block (in addition to the clubhouse facilities), a well stocked club shop, a separate programme shop and two refreshment options. The traditionally burger van, selling some very tasty looking fayre and the tea bar which doubles as as a sweet shop (our party indulged in the consumption of large jelly snakes at the brakes!).

This was an intriguing match to watch with both sides giving their all. The visitors were worthy of their half time lead and the goal from Michael Coulson was a fine strike. It will have been interesting to hear what Leamington manager Paul Holleran said to his troops during the break as the home side were transformed from the start of the second period. The reward came when Adam Walker levelled on 50 minutes. From this pointed it looked as if the home side would go on to score again, but gradually Scarborough Athletic came back into the match and could have won it. In the end, I believe most would agree that a draw was a fitting result for this entertaining match, played in good spirit.

Attendance: 634
Admission: £14:00/£10:00
Programme: £3:00 (56 pages) - they did sell out
Team Sheet: 10p
Tea: £1:00
50/50 Draw: £1:00 (winning ticket no 1372 - not me!)

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Olympique de Marseille

Olympique de Marseille 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2 - UEFA Champions League, Group Stage

Marseille is the oldest city in France as well as one of Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited settlements. It was founded around 600BC by Greek settlers from Phocaea and known as Massalia. Marseille has been a trading port since ancient times and is the third-largest metropolitan area in France after Paris and Lyon. In 1792, the city became a focal point of the French Revolution and though France’s national anthem was born in Strasbourg, it was first sung by volunteers from Marseille, hence the name the crowd gave it: La Marseillaise.

Olympique de Marseille was founded as Omnisport Club in 1892 by Rene Dufaure. Initially known as US Phoceenne and Football Club de Marceille, the current name was adopted five years later acknowledging the founding of the city and the Greek heritage. At first Rugby Union was the focus of the club with football starting in 1902. In 1986 Bernard Tapie became president and transformed the fortunes of the club. Between 1989 and 1992 four league titles were won. The club also reached the European Cup Final in 1991 (a narrow defeat to Red Star Belgrade on penalties) and again in 1993 when victory over AC Milan was secured courtesy of Basile Boli’s goal in Munich.

The journey to Marseille via Paris, facilitated an arrival at my hotel early evening the day before the match. The frequent bus services from the airport take you to Gare de Marseille-Saint-Charles, the main transport hub for the city. Conveniently, this is where I was staying. After checking in, I had the opportunity to explore the city. My immediate impression was that this was a rather tired and shabby place, interwoven with historic charm and character.

At a café, a short distance from the View Port area, this Pieman enjoyed his Tandoori Chicken Naan, ensuring a thirst that required quenching. Having explored the area a little, my travelling companion and I settled at a very small bar away from the bank holiday/halloween throng that had engulfed this part of town. A few beers later when settling our bill, the proprietors insisted on buying us a last drink. This was consumed listening to music and singing where we also encountered a woman who told us she had danced with Midge Ure! “He wasn’t very tall and only came up to here” she told us!

Visiting Stade Velodrome is not the most comfortable experience and you get the impression that despite charging top dollar, they do not really want you there. We were escorted to the stadium on a fleet of buses. The operation was at best shambolic. I had walked to the stadium earlier in the day, taking around 35 minutes. The bus journey took longer, as we were transported to the north of the city before looping back south via numerous diversions. The gendarmerie, in conducting entry to the stadium, were abrupt and obstructive (welcome to France) – surprise surprise!!

The stadium has a wonderful reputation and does look impressive from the outside and in some parts inside. However, closer inspection reveals something bland and rather outdated. It is also rather dirty, much in keeping with a lot of Marseille. As is often the case on the continent, netting impedes your view of the playing area. The home support was loud and bouncy as befits their reputation. I agree with the pre-match hype about this being a hostile environment to visit and those supporters are the main factor in this.

One end of the ground was closed for this encounter by UEFA, following crowd problems at an earlier match. Tottenham Hotspur rode their luck in this final group stage match. The last kick winning goal ensured finishing top of this most topsy turvy group. Our buses were parked inside the stadium and having been locked in at the end for an hour, we then endured another magical mystery tour before reaching our hotel around 01:15 – over two hours from when the match ended – Vive la France!

Attendance: 50,768
Admission: 70.00 Eur
Programme: Not issued

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Highworth Town FC

Highworth Town 3 Harlow Town 3 - Southern League, Division One Central

Highworth is a market town and civil parish in the Borough of Swindon. Located 6 miles north-east of Swindon town centre, it is notable for its Queen Anne and Georgian buildings and the 13th century St Michael’s church. The town is situated on a hill in the upper Thames Valley and at 436 feet above sea level is the highest town in Wiltshire. The Highworth Branch Line was a short railway line, in use from 1883 to 1962. It was most successful as a goods line linking the Great Western Main Line to factories around the town.

The football club was established in 1893. Success arrived in 1910 when the club won the Swindon Junior Cup. Progression via the Cirencester & District League, the Swindon & District League, Wiltshire Combination, and the Wiltshire County League culminated with the club moving up to the Hellenic League in 1984. The 2014-15 season saw Highworth Town reach the semi-finals of the FA Vase before losing 3-0 on aggregate to North Shields. In 2018 the club was promoted to the Southern League.

This excursion proved relatively straightforward by public transport. The highlight was being able to travel on the Central London section of the Elizabeth Line from Liverpool Street to Paddington for the first time. A train to Swindon followed by the regular No 7 bus service (delayed by roadworks on the main road into the town) enabled me to reach Highworth.

On arrival at Highworth I made my way to The Elms Recreation Ground and was able to tour the stadium to get some photographs. I then adjourned to the Rose and Crown where the all-day breakfast was superb. The locals were extremely friendly and this welcoming pub had an old-fashioned feel about the place (lots of brewery memorabilia too). My pint of Sea Fury Special Ale (5.0%) was in fine condition and is much better than Doom Bar from the same stable.

The Elms Recreation Ground is a venue that underlines the quirkiness of English football stadia. There is a wonderful slope that runs not just from end to end, but also side to side. The main clubhouse building is at the car park end of the ground and almost adjacent is the Directors refreshment facilities. This solid wooden structure also houses additional toilet facilities. The main spectator accommodation is situated along one side and consists of two covered seated stands with a decent covered standing area between. 

The only other furniture at the ground are the dugouts on the opposite side of the ground. The fence behind leads to the wider recreation ground and on this almost dry day, plenty of dog walkers could be seen enjoying the Wiltshire experience. However, one club official did alert me to a brief shower. He told me that “the rain is coming in now. You know that when you can no longer see the Motorola building in the distance”. In less than a minute the rain had arrived! Behind the other end there is a horse chestnut tree and during the first half, Ian Harvey was able to reminisce about his “conkering” days as a child growing up in Harlow.

This was a peculiar football match and after a goal free first period, one might have expected a blankety blank. Both sides huffed and puffed without success. Eventually Harlow Town edged in front and when Jared Small doubled his personal tally from the spot, it looked likely that the 3 points were heading back to Essex on the Golden Boy coach. Substitutions by the home side (also down to ten players), particularly the introduction of Nick Stanley (he was involved in everything and transformed the match), suddenly saw them 3-2 ahead. A late leveller for the visitors meant a share of the spoils and a draw was a fair result. 

Attendance: 177
Admission: £10:00/£8:00
Programme: Not issued
Team Sheet: Free
Tea: £1:00