Saturday, November 06, 2021

Kidlington FC

Kidlington 0 Harlow Town 0 - Southern League, Division One Central

Kidlington is a large village in Oxfordshire, situated between the River Cherwell and the Oxford Canal. It is located 5 miles north of Oxford and 7.5 miles south west of Bicester. The Church of England parish church of St Mary the Virgin dates from 1220, but there is evidence of a church on the site since 1073. The church is a Grade I listed building. Behind the church are archaeological remains of a three-sided moat. A causeway recently discovered may have been of Roman origin, In the 20th century, Kidlington grew to be a contender for largest village in England, with a population of 13,723. Its residents have so far resisted proposals to change the official status to a town. 

The football club was established in 1909. In 1945 the club joined the Oxford City Junior League, before progressing to the Oxfordshire Senior League in 1951. They were champions of the league in 1953 and moved up to the Hellenic League in 1954. When the league gained an additional division in 1956, the club was placed in the Premier Division. After winning the league in 2016, the club was promoted to Division One East of the Southern League. At the end of the following season, the club was transferred to Division One West. The club was transferred to the newly formed Division One Central for the 2018-19 season. 

Kidlington is easily reached by train from London Marylebone and the nearby Oxford Parkway station benefits from regular (often at half hourly intervals) services. A bit of shopping around and advanced booking, enabled me to buy a ticket for £3.55 outward and £5.25 return. The walk from the station is a leisurely half an hour stroll to the ground. Alternatively, there are regular bus services connecting Oxford and Kidlington that serve the railway station.

Some limited research in advance, facilitated a visit to the wonderful Kings Arms public house, which is situated just off the High Street in a lovely part of town (it really is a town based on size). A super friendly establishment boasting two bars and four handpumps. A magnificent range of varied conversation was supplemented by delicious fish and chips. My selected ales were Plum Porter (Titanic Brewery 4.9%) and Old Hooky (Hook Norton Brewery 4.9%) – both superb. It was interesting to see the club secretary of Harlow Town FC also enjoying the Kings Arms. Her entourage having carried out similar research!

It took a little over ten minutes to walk from the pub to Yarnton Road. My entry to the ground was delayed due to Solar Eclipse (4.5% from Dark Star Brewing Company) being available in the clubhouse. For research purposes I felt obliged to partake and an excellent decision that proved to be. Once I managed to find my way to the turnstiles, entry to the ground was secured.

The ground is very basic in appearance, but clearly recent elevation to the eighth tier of the English game cannot have been made without the requisite spectator and associated facilities. There is a covered seated stand along one side of the pitch and this is complemented by a covered standing area along side. An additional covered standing area is situated at the clubhouse end of the ground. With the exception of the dugouts (both bearing the initials KFC – no bargain bucket for Phil Bayley on his recent visit to this venue!), there is no other furniture around the pitch.

This match was not the greatest spectacle (despite the cushion of some excellent ale). Struggling Kidlington and visitors Harlow Town huffed and puffed without creating very much. Harlow’s formation was different and it was difficult to see where goals might come from. Two red cards, one after the final whistle will have added to the frustration of those returning to Essex on the Ross Arnold omnibus. Kidlington and their friendly folk will have been pleased with a well-earned point. 

Attendance: 108
Admission: £8:00/£4:00
Programme: £1:50 (36 pages)
Tea: £1:00


Saturday, October 09, 2021

Harrogate Town FC

Harrogate Town 6 Scunthorpe United 1 - League Two

Harrogate is a spa town in North Yorkshire. The spa water contains iron, sulphur and common salt. In the Georgian era, the town became known as the English spa and became a popular tourist destination as wealthy (sometimes sickly) visitors came in search of health treatment. Another significant attraction is RHS Harlow Carr Gardens. Managed by the Royal Horticultural Society it is their main presence and representation in the North of England. Bettys Tea Rooms on Parliament Street is an another iconic tourist attraction for Harrogate. The actor Jim Carter (Carson in Downton Abbey) was born in Harrogate.

Two previous incarnations of the football club were founded in 1914 and 1919 as Harrogate AFC and Harrogate Town AFC. The latter disbanded in 1932. Harrogate Hotspurs FC was founded in 1935, changing their name to Harrogate Town when football resumed after World War II. Since then the club has played in the West Yorkshire League, Yorkshire League, Northern Counties East League, Northern Premier League and Conference/National League. This culminated in promotion to the Football League in 2020. The club also won the delayed 2019/2020 FA Trophy final at Wembley Stadium in 2021, beating Concord Rangers.

Although I had previously completed “the 92” I often take a while to catch up when new teams are promoted to the Football League. The previous season being dramatically affected by the pandemic meant that Harrogate Town FC remained on my agenda. A ticket sale by LNER provided an opportunity to travel to Leeds for £10 each way and my plan was formulated. I was also able to secure cheap advance purchase tickets for the Leeds – Harrogate legs of the journey (just over £2 each way).

I should mention that prior to arriving at Harrogate my train passed over the Crimple Valley Viaduct. This Grade II listed structure offers stunning views and is met by a sharp bend when approaching from Leeds. On arrival at Harrogate Station, the adjacent Harrogate Tap provided an excellent refreshment opportunity. At this establishment I enjoyed a superb pint of Weight Less (4.2%), a session IPA from RedWillow Brewery (Macclesfield). A short walk then took me to The Little Ale House micropub where I reverted to Yorkshire tradition to enjoy an equally rewarding brew in the form of Gamekeeper (4.3%) from Wensleydale Brewery.

From the railway station the walk to Wetherby Road takes little more than twenty minutes. Some of which was via a well-trodden path that crosses a park. I suspect this was just a small track that the local authority paved over at some point, having conceded! The rapid rise of the club in recent years has necessitated many changes to the structure of the ground. First impressions are of a venue that has evolved into a really nice place to watch football. There are many covered structures around the ground, some for seating and others for standing. I hope the photographs included with this post help to paint that picture.

With this being a weekend set aside for international football an opportunity arose for many neutrals to visit Harrogate Town for the first time. This was underlined by the record attendance of 3180 for this venue. I spoke to a number of people before, during and after the match who were making their first visit. The match between high flying Harrogate Town and struggling Scunthorpe United commenced in spectacular fashion with the home side leading by three clear goals with just over a quarter of an hour played.

At half time it was 5-0 and it would be interesting to see how the visitors would react. They were out and ready long before their hosts and what was said at half time will most likely have been best left in the changing room. To be fair they showed themselves more resolute in the second period and managed a goal before Harrogate Town scored again from the spot, getting a man sent off for a second yellow card from this incident. The journey home via Leeds was good and I was able to reflect on an interesting first visit to Harrogate.

Attendance: 3180
Admission: £13:00 
Programme: £3:00 (48 pages)

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Swaffham Town FC

Swaffham Town 0 Eynesbury Rovers 3 - FA Vase, 2nd Qualifying Round

Swaffham is a market town in the Breckland District of Norfolk. It is situated 12 miles east of Kings Lynn and 31 miles west of Norwich. By the 14th and 15th centuries, Swaffham had an emerging sheep and wool industry. As a result, the town has a large market place. Until 1968, the town was served by Swaffham railway station on the Great Eastern line from King’s Lynn. Just after Swaffham, the line split with one branch heading south to Thetford and the other heading east to Dereham.

The football club was established in 1892 and reached the final of the Norfolk Junior Cup two years later. In 1951 the club won the same competition and this success was repeated the following year. In 1959 the club moved to Shoemakers Lane having purchased the site for £250. The club joined the Anglian Combination in 1973 and was promoted to the Eastern Counties League in 1990. Having won Division One North in 2018 the club was promoted to the Premier Division.

A late offer of a lift to Swaffham was gratefully accepted (thanks Phil). The journey via the A10/M25/M11/A11 was trouble free and pleasant, particularly the latter part through Thetford Forest which in the autumn sunshine was a bonus. The good progress meant being at the ground a good 80 minutes before the scheduled 3pm kick off for what would be my 4th FA Vase match of the season. 

On arrival at Shoemakers Lane (the road of that name is extremely narrow and it is not possible for traffic to move in both directions at the same time), there was the early opportunity to take some pictures of the ground. Behind the clubhouse end of the ground there are two covered structures, one of which contains a row of seats. There is another covered seated (three rows) stand straddling the half way line. The opposite side of the pitch also contained a small covered area containing a long bench.

Clearly the ground has been a work in progress over the years, with these structures being added when time and finances have allowed. The clubhouse has a really friendly atmosphere and a lot of time and effort has been taken over the appearance. A large collection of football scarves from near and far adorn the ceiling and various other displays of memorabilia help to give the place a local identity.

Swaffham Town went into this match having lost all nine of their Premier Division matches this season. Their only victory to date came when defeating the University of East Anglia in the previous round of the FA Vase. I understand that, as happens in non-league, there had been a mass exodus of players and coaching staff prior to this season. Something that any club could struggle to deal with.

Visitors Eynesbury Rovers scored in the second minute and had netted again before ten minutes had elapsed. Anyone watching could be forgiven that this was going to be another heavy defeat for the home side. Therefore, it is to their enormous credit that the third goal did not arrive until the closing minutes of the match. Some resolute defending and a solid reliable performance from the goalkeeper paid off in this respect. Accordingly, there is something to build on. Unfortunately, very little was created at the other end of the pitch. The journey home was swift and I was back in Cheshunt in less than two hours.

Attendance: 79
Admission: £7:00/£5:00
Programme: £1:00 (24 pages)
Tea: £1:50

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: 85
Admission: £6:00/£3:00
Programme: £1:00 (16 pages) - free with full admission
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