Saturday, September 18, 2021

Buckhurst Hill FC

Buckhurst Hill 4 Benfleet 1 - Eastern Counties League, Division One South

Buckhurst Hill is a town in the Epping Forest district of Essex. It is part of the metropolitan area of London and is adjacent to the northern boundary of the London Borough of Redbridge. The area developed following the opening of a railway line in 1856. This was originally part of the Eastern Counties Railway and is now part of the Central Line of the London Underground. It is reported that highwayman Dick Turpin moved to Buckhurst Hill in 1725 and that Colin Hurley was educated in Buckhurst Hill.

The football club was founded in 1985, by Richard Brand and Alfie Scare to provide youth football for the local area. Gradual progression included joining the Hertfordshire County League in 2004 and subsequently, the Essex Olympian League in 2008. The Division One title was won in 2017 and this was followed up the following year by winning the Premier Division. In 2021, the club was promoted to the Eastern Counties League, Division One South and only last Saturday (11 September) played a match in the FA Vase for the first time.

There was more than a hint of "this looks familiar" as I made my way up the hill from Buckhurst Hill station toward the Roding Lane ground. On 13th April 1990 I visited a ground of the same name to watch Eton Manor play Woodford Town in an Essex Senior League match. This former senior venue is on an adjacent site to where Buckhurst Hill FC now play. So familiar territory, but a completely separate ground. 

This is a very tidy venue. The complex includes other pitches that are used for the many junior teams within the club. The main pitch is fully railed with hardstanding and is overlooked by the requisite covered seated stand. As you enter the stadium, it is easy to be enticed by the smell of cooking, the serving hatch being part of the entrance block. Tea and coffee along with hot dogs and burgers are available here. The main clubhouse building contains the changing rooms, a licenced bar and further refreshment facilities.

I had already seen these teams this season and both had impressed. Buckhurst Hill had won 3-1 at Wormley Rovers and more recently, I had seen Benfleet win 2-0 at St Margaretsbury in the FA Vase. Therefore, I was hopeful that we would witness a good competitive match. Benfleet were sitting top of the table and were three points ahead of Buckhurst Hill who had played two less matches. 

The first half of this encounter was fairly even and it was not easy to predict an outcome. The home side grew in confidence after taking the lead, an advantage they held at the interval. It was not long after the resumption that Benfleet levelled and for a while the match was end to end. Buckhurst Hill restored their lead when a fine cross was headed home and this proved to be the turning point.

The home side scored a further two goals to earn a well deserved victory. Special mention should also be made to both goalkeepers who made spectacular saves during the match. It will be good to watch the progress of Buckhurst Hill. The future installation of floodlights will assist in furthering the ambition of this extremely well run club. I was on a Central Line service to Stratford at 16:58, which emphases the close proximity of the ground.

Attendance: ?
Admission: £6:00/£3:00
Programme: £1:00 (16 pages)
Tea: £1:50

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Irchester United FC

Irchester United 1 Hillingdon Borough 5 - FA Vase, First Qualifying Round

Irchester is a village and civil parish in Northamptonshire. It is situated two miles south-west of Rushden and the same distance south-east of Wellingborough. Chester Farm is situated a mile to the north of the village and is a significant site of archaeological importance. The site preserves an area containing a wide range of historic features spanning several thousand years. This scheduled monument is protected by law.

The football club was established as Irchester Excelsior in 1883, before being renamed as Irchester United in 1885. The club joined the Northamptonshire League in 1896, but soon left after finishing bottom in 1896/97. Spells in the Rushden & District League and the United Counties League (UCL) were to follow. The UCL Division One Championship was won in 2010 and promotion to the Premier Division was secured, followed by subsequent relegation three seasons later, In 2021, Irchester United were transferred to the Spartan South Midlands League, Division One.

I was fortunate to be offered a lift to Alfred Street (much appreciated Phil) and the journey from Cheshunt took around an hour and a quarter. As with many rural venues, this facility is shared with cricket. The demands of the summer sport often mean that the club cannot play home matches early in the season. This was to be the first home match of the 2021/22 season. There are six floodlight pylons, five of which would most likely not interfere with the layout for cricket, although this is perhaps not the only conflicting issue.

The only spectating facility at the ground is a covered three rowed seated stand. This structure is behind one of the goals and backs on to the car park. The stand contains around 60 seats. In adverse weather, there is additional cover in the form of an overhang in front of the changing rooms building situated next to the stand. There is a smart clubhouse at the far end of the car park (additional parking was available pitch-side) with a licensed bar and a hatch from where to purchase hot drinks. Admission money was collected during the match by a club official.

This was my 3rd FA Vase match in less than 48 hours, following visits to St Margaretsbury on the Friday and Balham on the Saturday. The home side have been struggling this season and not being able to use Alfred Street will most likely have had an effect. That said I saw them the previous Tuesday at Letchworth Garden City Eagles, where they suffered a narrow defeat and in my opinion were unfortunate with some of the decisions that went against them. Hillingdon Borough, were to provide a much sterner test despite starting the match with only ten players.

The visitors edged a fairly even first period and were rewarded with a fine early strike which was celebrated by the neutral hoppers from Colchester to my left, who had somehow managed to see two 0-0s already this season! A second goal, this time sliced in the net by an Irchester defender doubled the lead and at this point it was hard to see how the home side could recover. They themselves had fashioned a couple of chances but so had the rampant visitors. 

The second period saw the home side get a goal back and we were set for a good entertaining encounter. In truth we got just that, but strangely not in an expected way. A Hillingdon Borough player was sent off following a clash with the home keeper. This appeared to inspire the visitors, who dominated from that point scoring three further goals to progress to the next round. A fellow enthusiast pointed out that at both ends of the match the visitors had scored whilst only having ten players on the field! Hopefully Irchester United can soon get their season back on track, a friendly club that I enjoyed visiting. 

Attendance: 67
Admission: £5:00/£3:00
Programme: Not issued (something on line)
Tea: £1:00

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Letchworth Garden City Eagles FC

Letchworth Garden City Eagles 1 Irchester United 0 - Spartan South Midlands League, Division One

Letchworth Garden City is a town in Hertfordshire. The town was laid out by Raymond Unwin as a demonstration of the principles established by Ebenezer Howard who sought to create an alternative to the industrial city by combining the best of town and country living. It is also the home to the United Kingdom's first roundabout, which was built in 1909. A significant employer in the town was Shelvoke and Drewry, a manufacturer of dustcarts and fire engines, existing from 1922 to 1990.

The football club was founded in 1978 as Westbury United based on the estate where most of the players lived, later changing the name to Letchworth Garden City Eagles. In 2008 the club entered the Herts County League to provide a route for youth players. Steady success, including three Aubrey Cup victories, culminated in promotion to level 6 in the Spartan South Midlands League in 2021.

Pixmore Playing Fields is situated behind Letchworth Leisure Centre and is adjacent to the ground of Letchworth Rugby Club. It is also only a few hundred yards from the Hertfordshire FA County Ground. I had visited that venue to see Letchworth FC play Potters Bar Town FC in a South Midlands League match in March 1996. That club and their predecessors, Letchworth Garden City FC are sadly no more. Therefore, it is good to see senior football making a resurgence in the town. Spectating facilities at the ground are limited to the covered seated stand, but of course there is potential for additional furniture should the club progress further.

I was fortunate to be offered a lift to this match and the journey took around fifty minutes before we were parked up at the ground. The journey via the A10, Buntingford and Baldock was pleasant, but then in daylight it usually is. There is plenty of car parking space at the ground and at the Leisure Centre, with the former being rather busy early in the evening. This match attracted a fair number of neutrals attending this venue for the first time.

As the teams emerged for the match, I immediately sensed a potential issue with the home side wearing blue and black vertical stripes and visitors Irchester Town, wearing a dark purple. There was already a colour clash that was not going to improve in the fading light. This was drawn to the attention of the referee by the visiting management team, but the immediate response from the man in the middle was that he could tell the difference. Accordingly, we were ok then?

Both I and another witnessed wrongly placed passes and I would think the referee's assistants in addition to the players may have struggled with the situation. The home side scored in the first period to edge a contest that might have lacked quality, but there was plenty of endeavour from both sides. Towards the end of the half, Irchester United were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. I and others saw the foul as being inside the box and a penalty would have been reward for the mazy run that led to the infringement.

Amazingly, but with some relief for all assembled, the home side emerged for the second period wearing bright yellow shirts! Despite this wave of sensibility, there were no further goals and the home side were able to celebrate a narrow victory. It will be interesting to see how the Eagles adapt to this level of football, they are certainly making a decent start. Irchester United share their facilities with cricket and will now be looking forward to their first home match of the season as we edge towards mid September.

Attendance: 64
Admission: £5:00/£2:00
Programme: £1:00 (8 pages)
Tea: £1:50

Saturday, September 04, 2021

Hednesford Town FC

Hednesford Town 1 Cleethorpes Town 1 - FA Cup, 1st Qualifying Round

Hednesford is a market town within Cannock Chase district of Staffordshire and was a coal mining community for over a century. This is commemorated in the town centre, where a Miner's Lamp has been erected, surrounded by a wall with individual bricks giving the names of former miners. The oldest sections of the town surround the hilltop areas of the existing town; however, the lower part became the focal point as the community grew with the mining industry. Between 1914 and 1918, two army training camps were built in the area and over a quarter of a million British and commonwealth troops passed through destined for the Western Front. In 1938 a Royal Air Force camp was established to train technicians in maintenance and repair of airframes and engines. No 6 School of Technical Training became better known as RAF Hednesford. The camp was later used for the resettlement of Hungarian refugees fleeing from the Russian invasion of Budapest, in 1956. The site is now part of Cannock Chase Country Park.

The football club was established in 1880 as a merger of the Red & Whites and Hill Top. Based at the Anglesey Hotel, they were sometimes known as Hednesford Anglesey. In 1907 the club joined the Birmingham Combination, winning the title in 1909-10. In 1977-78 Hednesford were champions of the West Midlands (Regional) League and moved up to the Midland Division of the Southern League. The club reached the fourth round of the FA Cup in 1996-97, beating Blackpool and York City, before playing Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium. In a close game Hednesford lost 3-2. Hednesford Town won the FA Trophy in 2003-04 beating Canvey Island 3-2 at Villa Park.

On arrival at Hednesford, I took the opportunity to walk to Keys Park (20 minutes) in order to take some photographs. I was able to gain access to the ground for this purpose and enjoyed a conversation with a gentleman setting up one of the two refreshment vans. His knowledge of the local area and changes over the years was insightful. I then headed back to the centre of town for refreshment. The route from town to the stadium takes you past the site of the former Cross Keys ground (now housing), which was situated behind the hotel of the same name

Heddin's Ford is situated in the market place and is only a few minutes walk from the railway station. The former bank has been transformed into a micropub. Here I was able to enjoy two contrasting ales from the Backyard Brewhouse based in neighbouring Brownhills. 1898 (4.9%) is a delicious Dark Mild, full bodied with chocolate and roast malts, which I was informed is very popular with the locals. Marynka (5.0%) is an IPA named after a Polish hop from the Lublin region. An excellent aroma with a superb floral spiciness. 

Keys Park is easily one of the best stadiums outside of the top six tiers of English football. It is extremely well maintained and you can sense the pride of the locals when visiting. There are two seated areas, the main stand which is the centre piece and a smaller stand behind one of the goals. Along the side opposite the main stand is an enormous terrace covering the full length of the playing area and there is also another terrace at the remaining end of the ground. All of these structures are covered and offer an excellent view of proceedings.

Pitman Paul

This match saw unbeaten Hednesford Town take on Cleethorpes Town (a tier lower in the pyramid) in a contest that was going to be interesting. The early stages of the match were dominated by the home side and when Andre Landell headed the opening goal following a fine cross by debutant Chay Tilt, it looked as if they were on their way to a comfortable victory. However, the remainder of the first period saw Cleethorpes Town in the ascendancy and they just lacked the finishing touch. 

The second period followed a similar pattern and the visitors were rewarded with an equalizer in the 72nd minute. The goal was credited to Josh Smaller following his “towering” header which ricocheted in off a defender. However, I had a particularly good view of this goal and until the unfortunate intervention of the defender, I don’t think it was heading towards the goal – for me this was an own goal. A replay at Cleethorpes three days later follows this match. A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon was rounded off with another pint of Marynka at Heddin's Ford and a visit to Hedgeford Lodge (JD Wetherspoon) which is even nearer to the railway station.

Attendance: 606
Admission: £10:00/£7:00
Programme: £2:50 (44 pages)
Tea: £1:50

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Mulbarton Wanderers FC

Mulbarton Wanderers 4 Haverhill Rovers 2 - Eastern Counties League, Premier Division

Mulbarton is a village and civil parish located south of Norwich in Norfolk. The place-name 'Mulbarton' is first attested as Molkebertuna and Molkebertestuna. The name means "outlying dairy farm", the first element being the Old English ‘meoluc’ meaning ‘milk’ and the second element the Old English ‘beretun’ meaning ‘barley town or settlement’. Maurice Norman, the former Norwich City, Tottenham Hotspur and England footballer, was born in Mulbarton.

The football club was established in 1993 when the youth team of Mulbarton United – a now defunct Anglian Combination side – broke away to form their own youth team. They merged with the Harford Belles girls team in 2001 and established a mens senior league team, starting in division four of the Central and South Norfolk League. The club won promotion in their first year and continued to rise through the league, getting to division one for the start of the 2007/8 season. A further elevation to the Anglian Combination was followed by six successive promotions, reaching the Premier Division in 2015. In 2018 the club successfully applied to join the Eastern Counties League. In their first season, Mulbarton Wanderers also entered the FA Vase for the first time. The following season saw the club enter the FA Cup for the first time. In 2021 a further promotion to the Premier Division was achieved based on results in the abandoned 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.

The journey by train was made from Cheshunt via Stratford and Ipswich to Norwich. My preferred route via Cambridge was blocked due to an emergency in the Bishop's Stortford area. I used a discounted rail voucher resulting in a return fare of £5:00 (thanks again Martin). On arrival at Norwich, there was time for some decent fish & chips at The Bell (J D Wetherspoon) before catching the half hourly bus service (route 37) from the Castle Meadow stop to Mulbarton. The route passes the ground, with the bus stop a couple of hundred yards along the road.

Mulberry Park is a very tidy ground. The clubhouse building is a shared facility with the wider Mulbarton community and appears to be a hub for various activities. It was here that this Pieman took advantage of the real ale on offer, enjoying a refreshing pint of Legacy (Lacons Brewery 4.4%). There is also a splendid double decker bus which was not open over this bank holiday weekend. Blakey’s is Described as a uniquely designed café on wheels. Converted from a Bristol Lodekka Bus and furnished to look like a tea room. 

A quaint pay box is situated at the corner of the ground and a smart two rowed covered seated stand provides the only spectator accommodation, but would most certainly be a welcome retreat in adverse weather. An impressive café selling the usual fayre is also situated on this side of the pitch and an overhang from this structure could offer some additional cover. The only other furniture are the dugouts on the opposite side of the pitch.

The playing surface was in remarkably good condition and I would think the purpose-built drainage ditches on three sides of the pitch are an asset during the later months. All said, this venue is a nice place to watch football, particularly on a sunny day. The match itself was entertaining with visitors Haverhill Rovers twice taking the lead to go in at the interval with their noses in front.

A strong second period for Mulbarton Wanderers saw them clinch their fifth successive victory and maintain their unbeaten start to the season. Although we were treated to a few minutes of added time at the end of the match, I was comfortably at the bus stop in time for the 16:55 return bus journey to Norwich. This was enhanced by being able to catch the 17:32 Cambridge service from Norwich. Another fine day out watching Eastern Counties football.

Attendance: 54
Admission: £6:00/£3:00
Programme: £1:00 (24 pages)
Tea: £1:00

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Brentford FC

Brentford 3 Forest Green Rovers 1 - Football League Cup, Round Two

Brentford is a suburban town in West London and is part of the London Borough of Hounslow. It lies at the confluence of the River Brent and the River Thames, 8 miles west of Charring Cross. The name is recorded as Breguntford in 705 in an Anglo-Saxon charter and means ‘ford over the River Brent’. The building of Brentford Dock was started in 1855 and it was formally opened in 1859. The dock was a major trans-shipment point between the Great Western Railway and barges on the River Thames. The original dock was built on a large island between the River Thames and two mouths of the River Brent. Part of the land was owned by timber merchant James Montgomery in the 19th century. The dock yard is now a marina and housing estate.

The football club was founded in October 1889, and by 1896, Brentford FC had joined the London League, progressing to the Southern League in 1898 and entering the Football League in 1920. Upon the appointment of Harry Curtis as manager in 1926 came the beginning of Brentford's most successful period, with promotions in 1933 and 1935 taking the club into the top-flight of English football for the first time in its history. Three consecutive top-six finishes in the First Division established Brentford as one of the top clubs in England, but a decline began in 1938 which led to the club's relegation back to the Third Division South by 1954. In 2021 the club was promoted to the Premier League.

Having played at Griffin Park since 1904, this promotion to the top flight of English football came at a timely moment following a move to the newly built Brentford Community Stadium in 2020. The stadium is located on a site off Lionel Road, adjacent to Kew Bridge railway station. It stands in the middle of a triangle of railway lines, predominantly used for freight.


I had visited Griffin Park on ten occasions, the first being for a Division Three match v Southend United in April 1979. That venue was a typically traditional football stadium and boasted a pub on each corner of the ground. The new stadium is obviously very different and it is easy to draw comparisons with the new AFC Wimbledon ground, the most obvious being the high-rise apartment blocks surrounding the grounds. The necessity to generate income to fund construction being a key factor.

As you would expect, facilities at the new stadium are modern. The design of the stands mean that the stadium does have character and the for the most part the sightlines are good. This purpose-built venue will serve Brentford FC well and is more than adequate for their fanbase. It just isn’t Griffin Park! The standard overpriced refreshment facilities are available in the ground, but other establishments are situated close by in all directions.

I travelled to South Acton (London Overground) direct from Highbury & Islington. My preferred choice of Gunnersbury was not an option post match as this station was closed after the match for an hour. Presumably to reduce overcrowding, but in reality, creating more issues than it solves. South Acton is around 25 minutes-walk from the stadium, via Chiswick Business Park. Of course the adjacent Kew Bridge Station is nearer.

This was a good match to watch and most would agree that Forest Green Rovers were well worth the lead at the interval. They had chances either side of the break to increase their lead and I felt that if they had scored again then they would most likely have progressed to the third round. Brentford had made a number of changes for this match but second half substitutions saw them home with three goals in the last half hour. A red card for the visitors should not detract from their fantastic performance. 

Attendance: 12,137 (678 away)
Admission: £10:00/£5:00 
Programme: £2:00 (folded poster)

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Shefford Town & Campton FC

Shefford Town & Campton 4 Rushden & Higham United 0 - Spartan South Midlands League, Division One

Shefford is a town located in Central Bedfordshire. The name Shefford is derived from sheep-ford because there had been a sheep market and ford crossings over the two rivers that run through the town. The River Flit runs from Flitwick and joins the River Ivel on the edge of Shefford. The Ivel eventually joins the River Great Ouse just north of Sandy. During World War II, an entire Jewish children's community came to Shefford, as 500 pupils from Judith Grunfeld's school were billeted in and around the town. The school was moved in 1939 and remained in Shefford until 1945. This was part of 2Operation Pied Piper" where schools were moved in anticipation of wartime bombing. Campton is a neighbouring village and is located to the west of Shefford.

The football club was originally formed in 1910 as Shefford Town, their first successful period came in the 1950s: starting in 1949–50, the team won two South Midlands League championships and three Beds Senior Cups within five seasons. Subsequently, the club finished as runners-up in the Parthenon League, and won the United Counties League title in 1960–61. Shefford would not match these achievements until the early 1980s, when the club was promoted from the South Midlands League's second tier in 1982–83 and won the league title a year later. Following relegation in 1990, Shefford Town folded in 1994. The town remained without a senior football team until 2009, when the club was reformed. In 2010 Shefford Town merged with near neighbours Campton. The club has had success both on and off the pitch in recent years since its reformation, the club were crowned Bedfordshire County Premier Division Winners in 2011–12, 2017–18 and 2018–19. In 2019 the club was promoted to the Spartan South Midlands League. 

I was fortunate to be offered a lift to Shefford Sports Club, which is by far the better bet with public transport options being limited. The journey via Buntingford and Baldock taking around fifty minutes. With time to spare before the football match, the opportunity arose to visit the Engineers Arms at neighbouring Henlow. This fine establishment is renowned for fine real ales and a superb collection of sporting memorabilia.

For research purposes, I enjoyed a decent pint of Gwenith Du (4.0%) from Tomas & Lilford brewery at Cowbridge. This Welsh stout hit the spot and set me up nicely for a pint of Toto (4.0%) from the more local Tring brewery – “A classic style with a modern twist: notes of biscuit and caramel finish with piney bitterness from old school US hops”. Once again, the Tring underlined its quality with this superb brew.

On arrival at this newish venue, entry to the ground is facilitated by payment at a shed on the approach road. This road also leads to a new housing development which is emerging against the Bedfordshire skyline. A large car park is adjacent to an impressive clubhouse building, which contains the changing facilities and a decent sized function room with a licensed bar. Spectator accommodation at the ground is made up of two covered stands one seated and one terraced (the latter I used during a first half downpour). The only other furniture at this fully railed off ground, being the dugouts on the opposite side of the pitch.

The match was fairly even for the first quarter of an hour, but gradually the home side began to get on top. It was a surprise that they were unable to turn their dominance into a lead and at the break I was wondering if I would be enduring my first 0-0 of the 2021-22 season. I need not have been concerned as the second half saw Shefford continue to take the game to their visitors.

The final score of 4-0 does not truly reflect the one-way traffic of the second period and the hosts will look back at many other chances created, some of which seemed easier to convert than miss. A red card for a Rushden defender will have helped their cause, in a match with plenty of niggle between the two sets of players. The journey home was swift and I am now able to reflect on not just the visit to Shefford Sports Club, but also to the Engineers Arms!

Attendance: 105
Admission: £5:00
Programme: Not issued