Pinxton 3 Rolls Royce Leisure 0

Saturday 31st January 2009
Pinxton 3 Rolls Royce Leisure 0
Abacus Lighting Central Midlands League
Buckingham Insurance Supreme Division
At: Welfare Ground, Wharf Road
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Attendance: 50 (headcount)
Weather: cold, dry, icy wind

Some would argue that I plan my football trips like a ‘military’ operation – make sure the game is on, know where I am going and make sure I arrive with bags of time to spare. They (wife and daughter mainly) may well be correct! But today was different – no thanks to the perils of a pay-as-you-go mobile phone which I switched to yesterday from a contract.

I fancied delving into a different league so Pinxton’s home Central Midlands League game was my choice and I assumed it would be on. While filling up with fuel on the A38, I suddenly wondered if Pinxton were, in fact, one of the five teams hosting games as part of the March’s forthcoming groundhopping bonanza. So before continuing (and, yes, I did move away from the pumps), I phoned junior ‘iwf’ who checked the ‘advert’ on The Football Traveller web site and confirmed the five hosts to be Rolls Royce Leisure, Bulwell, Kirkby, Forest and Clipstone. But in the process of establishing this I ran out of credit so couldn’t make my next call to Pinxton to get the ‘green light’.

Thankfully, I found Pixton’s Welfare Ground without too many problems and was cheered to find a pretty full car park including one car load of what I assumed to be opposition players. I approached from the M1 junction 28 and took the South Normanton exit from the roundabout, then first left into Pinxton Lane. The road went over the A38 and on into Pinxton, then right at the lights into Victoria Road. At the ‘T’ junction at end of Victoria Road, turn right, past the Co-op and the Welfare entrance is on the right.

The ground was actually behind the welfare building and orientated roughly south-east to north-west. The entrance was around halfway along the near (right) touchline next to a sign that described Pinxton FC as ‘the home of football’. A nice touch, I thought, and the official manning the gate was equally welcoming. Programmes (£1) were available from this gate.

Through the entrance and the pitch ran widthways, enclosed by a solid white barrier. On the opposite touchline, left of the half-way line was a small stand containing two rows of blue individual tip-up seats and behind the right-hand goal was a grass bank with two ‘park-style’ benches on top – which ended up being populated by five locals girls during the first half. Overlooking the ground on the far side was a 700-year-old church. I spotted steps at the far-left corner which turned out to lead down to a bowling green and the Andrew ‘Crow’ Riley Sports Pavilion from where teas, coffees, snacks, etc. were served.

Pinxton went into the game in a lofty false position in the Supreme Division table as teams below all had games in hand – but Pinxton had the points which these chasing teams still needed to win. It had been a sad and difficult time recently for Rolls Royce as 19-year-old goalscoring midfielder Liam Munn died a couple of weeks ago after a night out in Nottingham and the ‘number 11’ was retired as a mark of respect.

Normally Pinxton wear a blue kit, but the players wanted to use the so-called lucky change kit instead. Before going to the centre circle to meet the match officials, the Rolls Royce skipper encouraged his teammates, shouting: “Let’s start positive lads”.

The visitors got the game underway attacking the southern end in the first half, or left to right from my vantage point sat in the stand – the seat numbered ‘21’ on the back row to be precise.

Pinxton (white shirts, black shorts, black socks) unsuccessfully appealed for a penalty in the 12th minute when Jay Cooper went down inside the area. However, the home side took the lead seven minutes later. A deep cross from the left was headed towards goal and in by Kieran Debrouwer, despite the efforts of a defender to clear.

In the next attack there was almost a second goal. Debrouwer pulled the ball back for Daniel Marriott who saw his shot parried by Rolls keeper Paul Brady.

A 22nd-minute corner did lead to Pinxton doubling their advantage. Cooper delivered the ball into the area, which was cleared back out to the right. It was crossed back into the area and Marriott headed home. Pinxton continued to create chances. Wayne Cooke saw a shot blocked by Brady’s legs after good work by Marriott, then on the half-hour Pinxton had the ball in the net again. Cooper slipped the ball past the advancing Brady and Cooke put it into an unguarded net, only to be flagged offside.

Joey McCormack, the Pinxton keeper defending the goal nearest to me, was rarely troubled by the visitors but had a little local difficulty with the assistant running the Pinxton defence. The official wasn’t happy with the ‘tee’ mound build on the edge of the six-yard box for launching goal kicks and McCormick was ordered to flatten it!

Raffle tickets came round - £1 a strip so I had to have a go with a bottle of wine awaiting the lucky ticket holder.

It was perhaps no surprise when the third goal arrived in the first minute of stoppage time. Copper sent a low right-foot drive across the face of goal into the opposite bottom left corner.

Before the half-time whistle, Ben Bacon almost made it four with a right-foot shot that flashed past the right-hand post.

During the interval, I followed the teams down the stairs to the refreshments hatch in the Andrew ‘Crow’ Riley Sports Pavilion. In the queue I recognised Malc and Kev of ‘On The Road’ fame and it was nice to have a chat. Malc must have spotted my clipboard as he remarked on my ‘copious notes’ on his blog. The lucky raffle numbers were announced and my strip was agonisingly one away from the winning strip. It was none other than Malc who scooped the prize! He and Kev must have been stood near me in the first half!

Back up the steps for the second half and back into my seat, wondering whether Pinxton would rack up a cricket score sized victory. It was certainly well positioned with the home side attacking the goal nearest to me.

Four minutes after the restart, Cooper got down the right and pulled the ball back to Cooke who fired a 20-yard shot which Brady got down well to hold. Bacon then proceeded to blast another shot wide from barely 10 yards out.

The lights came on around the 57th minute and, after the hour mark, Rolls Rooyce (wearing all blue) got forward to create a couple of chances. Matt Cowes had a go for goal from well outside the area while Jack Allen went close when he turned on the edge of the area and fired just wide of the near right-hand post. Cowes also headed straight at McCormack.

To be honest the action on the field wasn’t taking my mind off how cold it was becoming. With Pinxton well on course for the points, there really wasn’t a lot to write about – just as well with cold hands.

The home side threatened another goal in the closing stages. Substitute Aaron Gordon, part of a triple 74th-minute substitution, fired just wide from 20 yards out and Frazer Thomas forced Brady to turn round a 25-yard shot at the expense of a corner. The game’s final chance saw Sean Connor glance a header wide from Josh Parker’s right-foot cross.

Wednesday 28th January

Tipton Town 3 Rocester 1
Aspire Midland Alliance
At: Tipton Sports Academy
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Attendance: 86
Weather: mild, dry
Duration: first half: 47:02; second-half 54:06

When I visited Goodrich about 14 months ago, I wondered which floodlight football ground I hadn’t visited was now the nearest to home. Since them Brocton’s ground in Stafford has opened and been visited so I suspected Tipton Town was the nearest, until tonight that is!

The Tipton Sports Academy stadium is located on Wednesbury Oak Road, about a quarter of a mile west of the junction with A4037 (Bilston Road / Gospel Oak Road). Completed, I think in 1998, it replaced a previous stadium (where I saw Tipton play over 20 years ago) on a site now occupied by the Sports Academy building (opened by none other than John Prescott in June 1988). The athletics stadium, also the home of Tipton Harriers with their famous green and white hooped vests, boasted a seated stand on the nearside, containing about 200 individual blue tip-up seats in four rows and two blocks either side of the players’ tunnel. The is banking over on the far side outside the stadium perimeter with ASDA ‘looking down’ from the top and to the right. Programmes (£1) were sold at the entrance on one side of the stand and ended up selling out. Two refreshments outlets were available – one either side of the stand – and I opted for the one on the far side in a temporary building where tea and coffee were sold by really friendly club helpers.

Tipton and Rocester went into the game at opposite ends of the table, with the visitors looked to climb further away from the relegation zone having won their last two league games.

The team line-ups showed each side included one former Stafford Rangers player. Tipton had Nicky Campbell on the bench while Rocester started with tall midfielder Christian Dacres who joined the Romans from Stone Dominoes a short while ago. I saw Christian play twice for Stone back in November against AFC Liverpool and Leek CSOB.

Rocester (yellow shirts with white shorts and socks) got the game underway, attacking to ‘ASDA’ end or, in other words, from left to right from my seat in the stand. Early on, it appeared clear that central defender Darren Bullock’s long throws could cause a problem or two for the Tipton defence during the course of the evening.

Tipton (black and white striped shirts, black shorts and red socks) took the lead in the 23rd minute. They won a corner when defender Chris McComisky cut out a right-wing cross delivered by Ryan Mosedale. The corner was partially cleared to Mosedale, lurking 25 yards out, who hit a sweet right foot shot into the roof of the net – “cracking goal” and who was I to disagree.

It got better for Tipton four minutes later when they doubled their advantage. Nathan Jones sent strike partner Chris Morris clear with a ball though the visitors’ defence and the latter gave the helpless Richard Froggatt no chance of keeping out a low shot.

Three minutes after that second goal, Tipton went close to a third. Morris tried his luck from fully 30 yards out and sent a rising right-foot shot inches over the bar.

To their credit, Rocester got back into the game with a goal scored in the 36th minute. A long ball forward fell nicely for Tommy Smith on the right inside the area. And what a finish! Smith fired across the face of goal and in at the left-hand post. There was an audible roar from the Rocester fans in the crowd.

I mentioned Bullock’s long throws and another one just before half-time almost led to an equaliser. The ball was cleared to Ashley Sheridan who hit a well-struck shot through a crowd which was parried by the diving Wes Cox and cleared for a corner by Nicky Pugh.

At half-time, it was nice to get another warm cup of tea and have a chat with Rocester fan ‘Roman’ before the action continued. I felt that the visitors were capable of gaining a point.

However, Tipton restored their two-goal advantage seven minutes after the restart. Mosedale was on target again with a low drive across the face of goal into the opposite bottom-right corner.

“Get your heads up, c’mon,” was the cry from one of the Rocester players and the team looked to respond.

Raffle tickets, £1 per strip, came round early in the second half but I was out of luck yet again.

Rocester pressed forward and Smith headed Sheridan’s deep corner across the face of goal. In the 75th minute, Cox produced a fine save to tip over David Williams’ rising right-foot shot and from the resulting corner the ball was cleared off the line.

Perhaps the biggest talking point was the double sending off that occurred around the 80th minute. Over on the far side, near the dugouts, things flared up between the players and benches of both sides. Once order was restored, the three match officials held a conference to work out what had happened and the referee shouted, “Five please” in the direction of the Rocester central defender. Bullock was despatched to the changing rooms with a straight red card and followed by unused Tipton sub John Hill.

Tipton with their man advantage pressed for another goal. Nathan Jones sent a dipping shot just over the bar and Nicky Pugh forced Froggatt into a near-post save.

In stoppage time, Rocester appealed for a penalty when Matt Redshaw appeared to be held back but the referee waived play on.

Footnote: I’d completely forgotten about Aldersley Stadium, used this season by Penncroft, so Tipton wasn’t my nearest floodlight ground still to be visited.

Saturday 24th January

Earlswood Town 2 Droitwich Spa 1
Midland Combination Division 1
At: The Pavilions, Malthouse Lane
Kick-off: 2-00 pm
Attendance: 25 (headcount)
Weather: sunny

I was enticed to the Warwickshire countryside for what was my first sojourn into the second tier of the Midland Combination for almost 21 months and couldn’t have been more satisfied with my choice. I wanted an early kick-off not too far from home so I could have dinner fresh from the pan (rather than warmed up from the microwave). Also I’d read that Earlswood were regular programme issuers, another reason to pay them a visit.

No problems down the M6, M5 and round to M42 junction 3, until I decided to make a detour to have a look at the former home of Becketts Sporting, who I saw beat Stapenhill Reserves 13-0 on May day Bank Holiday back in 1992. The ground appears to be still used for football but the stand is now derelict. The fun started when I tried to navigate my way by memory from Becketts to Earlswood’s ground – I wanted to get to The Lakes railway station but could I find it? No! I should have just returned to junction 3 and that is what I ended up doing and then… south on the A435 towards Redditch, left onto the B4101, left again onto the B4102, over the M42, left into Springbrook Lane (signed Earlswood Lakes) then at the ‘T’ junction into Malthouse Lane, past The Lakes station and the ground was on the left. Got there!

What an idyllic location on a nice sunny January afternoon! There was a sufficiently-sized car park by the entrance and the pitch stretches lengthways. On the near touchline was an impressive recently-opened clubhouse with tarmaced hard-standing in front. The clubhouse building incorporated a covered vantage point and the dugouts were opposite on the far touchline. The pitch was railed off with a white rail down the sides and roped off behind the goals.

After parking up, I approached the clubhouse where I was warmly welcomed by a club official. He recognised I was a ‘groundhopper’ as I enquired about programmes and the official told me they hadn’t produced on for this game as the editor was in hospital for an operation. He gave me a couple of old copies, including one from last week’s home game with Brereton Social, and asked me to sign their visitors’ book.

Earlswood Town FC was founded in July 1968 and used a pitch in Lady Lane. An opportunity arose in 1975 to move to Malthouse Lane where they are currently based. The original clubhouse was purchased at the same time from Jack Mould Athletic FC for the sum of £200. It remained in use for nearly 31 years until being replaced by the current clubhouse, started in May 2006 and completed in August 2007. The club joined the Midland Combination in 1982 and remained in Division 2 until gaining promotion to Division 1 in 2007.

Earlswood made a great start to the current season, winning their first four games but have found points harder to come by over the past couple of months when the weather enabled them to play. They went into this game in seventh position with 26 points from 16 games. Visitors Droitwich stood fourth from bottom of the 16-team division with 15 points from 14 games.

I chose to watch the game stood in front of the clubhouse on the tarmac with the sun on my back!

Earlswood got the game underway defending the near goal next to the car park, forcing Droitwich to defend into the low sun. And the home side took the lead in the 10th minute. Adam Holland’s left-wing cross was punched by the Droitwich keeper straight to Richard Robinson who drilled a low shot into the bottom-left corner from 15 yards out. “Good start lads, keep it up”

With their one-goal advantage, Earlswood (red and white striped shirts, black shorts and socks) threatened to score again and it took the visitors a while to seriously trouble their hosts. However, Droitwich levelled things up in the 39th minute. Matt Crawford flicked the ball into the path of Sean Parrish who fired home a low shot from the right side of the area.

Three minutes after the restart, Aaron Parr got round the advancing Earlswood keeper Ian Kimberley and pulled the ball back to the far post where Parrish headed against the top of the bar. Droitwich (yellow shirts, blue shorts and socks), in fact, continued to create plenty of chances and Kimberley got down to hold a low shot from Parrish.

Earlswood, having kept on level terms, should have regained the lead in the 74th minute. Simon Luke put Michael Hollis clear but his shot was blocked in a one-on-one with Spa keeper Nick West. However, the home side scored what proved to be the winner two minutes later. Will Patz’s sliced clearance looped back and dropped in front of goal where Hollis forced the ball over the line.

“We should have been 3-1, 4-1 up,” said a Droitwich fan stood near me and I couldn’t disagree. The visitors won three corners inside the last ten minutes and Jamie Hatfield also got forward to fire a first-time shot wide of the near post.

The win was Earlswood’s first in the league since beating Archdale ‘73 1-0 at home back on 18th October, thus ending a run of six games without a win. The three points lifted them up two places to fifth in the table, just three points behind leaders Castle Vale JKS.

Earlswood Town (red and white stripes / black / black): Ian Kimberley, James Loney, Craig Cunningham, Simon Luke, Stuart Wood, Richard Robinson (capt), Gary Choi, Wayne Boyce, Wain Littlehales, Michael Hollis, Adam Holland. Subs: Craig Brooks, Leon Mooney, Mark Delaney, Richard Maguire.

Droitwich Spa (yellow / blue / blue): Nick West, Jamie Hatfield, Will Patz, Roger Derby, Chris Parrish, Dean Wise, Andy Pheasant, Aaron Parr, Matt Crawford (capt), Sean Parrish, Adam Khan. Subs: John Reid, Matt Bates, Dave Fox.

Referee: B. Taylor; Assistants: A. Buchanan, M. Powell.
Attendance: 25 (headcount).

Saturday 17th January 2009

Radcliffe Borough 0 Woodley Sports 2
Unibond League Division 1 North
At: Stainton Park Stadium
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £7; Programme: £1-50
Attendance: 123
Weather: overcast, cold wind
Duration: first-half: 47:07; second-half: 47:54

My good football friend, ‘Addis Neil’ (aka ‘Walsall Neil’), was surprised that I’d never made it to Radcliffe Borough’s Stainton Park Stadium. I suppose I’d always left it to one side with the expectation of making a midweek trip – that obviously never materialised. So on what was an OK day weather wise, I decided to finally pay a visit.

As mentioned in Kerry Miller’s excellent book, The Stainton Park Stadium has been the home of Radcliffe Borough since 1970. Today, there is a large car park on one side of the ground with the entrance next to the clubhouse. Through into the ground itself, the pitch runs widthways with two areas of covered standing on the right of the entrance. Behind the left-hand goal at the top of the slope was a seated stand running the length of the bye-line, containing four rows of modern sky blue individual seats along with a PA/press box. On the touchline opposite was an area of open terracing, complete with a series of crush barriers, and behind the far goal was another area of open terracing with the club shop behind.

Woodley Sports got the afternoon’s action underway, attacking down the slope in the first half towards the goal furthest away from my seated vantage point in the stand.

On a grey day, the lights came on after just three minutes – three pylons down each side.

The game’s first talking point came just before the midpoint of the first half. Radcliffe fans were upset that the referee didn’t give handball against a Woodley defender which, in their option, prevented Ian Fitzpatrick from getting clear. “How you got to catch it first?” said one fuming fan.

A mistake by Woodley keeper Ben Connett in his yellow jersey, who had left his penalty area, gave a chance to Fitzpatrick who blasted over an unguarded net.

Apart from a long range effort from Woodley’s Gareth Morris, it was Radcliffe who had the better chances.

Amazingly, just like last night at Welshpool, the referee awarded a penalty to Woodley deep into first-half stoppage time. Gavin Salmon converted from the spot to put the visitors in front and play continued for barely a second before the first half was brought to a close.

I popped back into the clubhouse at half-time and joined the refreshments queue for some much needed chips and ketchup in a tray, then returned to my seat in the stand.

Woodley were attacking towards my vantage point in the second half but the first action was down the other end where Ian Fitzpatrick lifted a first-time shot over the bar from 18 yards out.

Chances were created by both sides and Radcliffe almost equalised in the 72nd minute. Following a foul on substitute Adam Roscoe by Gary Furnival, Owen Roberts hit a well-struck free-kick which the diving Ben Connett turned round at the expense of a corner.

To my left in the distance I spotted several wind turbines on top of the prominent hills, presumably the same turbine I’d spotted from Elton Vale FC back in July.

Sometimes you hear strange sounds emanating from the neighbourhood around football grounds. To me there is no stranger sound on a very cold January afternoon of an ice cream van’s chimes in a nearly street. Not the weather for an ice-cold snack if you ask me.

“Keep working away,” was the rallying call by Priestley to his teammates after Connett made hard work of claiming a 20-yard volley from Michael Oates. Griff Jones (nicknamed ‘Rhys’ by any chance?) fired wide from the edge of the area with Woodley working hard at the back to protect their lead.

Dramatically, however, the second half ended just as the first half had with a penalty to Woodley. The assistant referee spotted Steve Brockley trip Salmon inside the area and the striker got up to fire home his second injury-time penalty of the game.

0-1 Gavin Salmon (45+2 pen)
0-2 Gavin Salmon (90+2 pen)

Friday 16th January 2009

Technogroup Welshpool 1 Caernarfon Town 1
Principality Welsh Premier League
At: Maesydre
Kick-off: 7-30 pm
Admission: ££6; Programme: £1-50 (60 pages)
Attendance: 125
Weather: mild, rain before kick-off
Duration: first-half: 47:23; second-half: 48:23

Welshpool’s Maesydre is a ground I was convinced I’d visited before but my records showed I hadn’t. Maybe my memory of the place stems from a visit to nearby Waterloo Rovers (whose ground is accessed via Maesydre) or for a postponement? Anyway, whatever doubts I had have ended following my visit to this see this Friday night Principality Building Society Welsh Premier game with Caernarfon Town.

The ground was straightforward to find from the roundabout by the station on the A483. Travelling from east to west, turn right into Severn Road then an almost immediate first left (signed) into Howell Road and the Maesydre is at the end of the road. The main entrance is via a road on the left further up Severn Road.

I got there so early that the official at the Howell Road entrance hadn’t received his quota of programmes but I obtained my copy (priced £1-50) from the other entrance. Teams were read out over the tannoy and I obtained a teamsheet.

The pitch is orientated south-east to north-west. Whichever entrance is used, all the facilities are down the near touchline with seated stand (six rows of black individual seats) on halfway with toilet block, changing rooms, tea bar and club shop. The recreation ground is shared with cricket and there is no spectator access to the far touchline.

In the lead up to the game, both sides had made use of the transfer window to strengthen their respective squads. Welshpool included Mike Thompson, who had rejoined the club, and Philip Doughty, signed on loan from Blue Square North side Fleetwood Town. New recruits Kieran Molyneux, a former Everton youth striker, and John Lawless, brought in from Marine, started up front from Caernarfon while the returning James Glendenning was on the bench.

I opted for a seat in the stand, fourth row. After the teams ran out to a rap-style version of ‘We Will Rock You’, bottom-of-the-table Caernarfon got the game underway, just as the rain eased, defending the bypass (or south-east end). It certainly wasn’t the one-sided affair that the visitors’ league position might have suggested and, not long after the quarter-hour mark, Welshpool keeper Danny Jones was forced to beat away a 20-yard curler from Steven Johnson.

One additional minute was indicated by the fourth official, sufficient time for Welshpool to take the lead in first-half stoppage time. Keeper Lee Guinion clumsily brought down Philip Doughty inside the area and Steve Rogers duly converted the resulting penalty. Play resumed for barely six seconds before the referee brought the first half to a close.

Back to my seat for the second half. However, the visitors got back on level terms in the 56th minute. Johnson hit a well-struck low right-foot shot into the bottom right corner from inside the ‘D’. “Well played Jonno,” said a Caernarfon fan (or was he a coach?) sat in front of me to the left.

“No pressure, enjoy it,” was the comment as Caernarfon sent on Peter Smith in place of Kieran Molyneux. The visitors were forced to work to stay on level terms. Andy Davies sent a right-foot shot flashing past the Caernarfon goal and Welshpool, in fact, won no fewer than seven corners in the final 15 or so minutes. Deep into the three additional minutes, the home side had one last chance. Mike Thompson delivered a deep corner and Guinion pounced on the resulting loose ball. Game over and a point a piece.

Technogroup Welshpool (white/black/white): 1. Danny Jones, 2. Kevin davies, 3. John Boardman, 4. george Hughes, 5. Timmy Edwards, 6. John Keegan (capt), 7. Andy Davies, 8. Mike Thompson, 9. Steve Rogers, 10. Philip Doughty, 11. Paul Roberts. Subs: 12. Will Thomas (for Rogers, 85), 14. Max Powell (not used), 15. Andy Mulliner (not used), 16. Ian McLeod (not used), 17. Christian Webster (not used).

Caernarfon Town (sky blue / claret / claret): 1. Lee Guinion, 2. Marc Dermott, 3. Andrew Jackson, 4. Danny Brookes, 5. Dale Ridler (capt), 6. Paul Rudkin, 7. Steven Johnson, 8. Michael Garrity, 9. Keiran Molyneux, 10. John Lawless, 11. Tom Grice. Subs: 12. Dale Corey (not used), 14. James Glendenning (for Rudkin, 73), 15. Peter Smith (for Molyneux, 61).

Referee: R Duncan.
Assistants: J Spender and MD Pugh.
Fourth Official: A Alexander.

1-0 Steve Rogers (45+2 pen)
1-1 Steven Johnson (56)

Saturday 10th January 2009

Leicester City 3 Leyton Orient 0
Coca-Cola League 1
At: Walkers Stadium
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £28; Programme: £3 (66 pages)
Attendance: 18,240
Weather: very cold, dry
Duration: first-half: 47:03; second-half: 48:54

The freezing weather that greeted the arrival of 2009 continued into the first full week of the year. Snow fell on Sunday evening in my part of Staffordshire and, indeed, over most of the country as well, so on Tuesday it was indoor orienteering training rather than football. I’d high hopes that things would have warmed up enough for Winterton Rangers’ home game but eventually the dreaded ‘P-P’ went up on the NCEL’s website.

With the temperature dipping again and a trip to Scotland or Rome a non-starter, I’d established that Mansfield Town had high hopes of their home Blue Square Premier game with Altrincham going ahead. But this game was off just like all of the North-West Counties League games, all but one game in the Northern Counties East and most games in the Coca-Cola and Unibond Leagues.

Leicester City’s home game with Leyton Orient was a definite so I headed in that direction. There was a nice double in Lutterworth, starting with Athletic’s 1 pm kick-off against Quorn Reserves and followed by Town’s league game with Friar Lane & Epworth Reserves. But I arrived at the Dunley Way ground, more in hope than expectation, to find a frost-bound pitch. So it was up the A426 to Leicester and I established the respective grounds were 1.5 miles apart so the ‘double’ was feasible. En-route I found out that Friar Lane & Epworth’s home game was off and assumed every other possibility had suffered the same fate, so it was onwards to Leicester and the Walkers Stadium. Later on I found out that the games at Loughborough Dynamo, Barrow Town, Earl Shilton and Anstey Nomads all beat the freeze.

The A426 proved to be a fortuitous route to the ground as it goes within 200 yards of the stadium. I bumped into ‘Filbert the Fox and purchased a ticket from the efficient Ticket Office and also a programme (£3 for an impressive full-colour publication) before making my way to the required entrance. I can’t recall every paying £28 to watch a match before but this day was an exception. Through the turnstile was a hidden world and I got myself a cheese and onion pastie and tea from Weller’s Bar before finding my seat in the Alliance and Leicester Stand. Teams were announced over the PA several times and displayed on the scoreboard at the Marks Electrical end.

Leicester City (wearing all blue) went into the game top of League 1 while visitors Leyton Orient (wearing all red) were at the other end of the table in fourth-from-bottom position.

With the lights on from the start, the visitors got the game underway attacking the South Stand but Leicester took the lead in the 9th minute through skipper Matt Oakley’s right-foot shot across the keeper into the bottom-left corner of the net.

Leicester doubled their lead in the 37th minute. On-loan Mark Davies bravely headed home and was hurt in the process challenging with the Orient keeper. There was initially confusion whether the referee had given a goal or foul until the visitors shaped to kick-off again while Davies received treatment. The home fans wanted the club to “sign him up”!

It appeared all too easy for the league leaders who took until the 82nd minute to score their third. Davies was brought down by defender Tamika Mkandawire and substitute Paul Dickov duly converted the resulting penalty.

The announcement of a minimum three minutes of stoppage time sparks an exodus of home fans, content to leave with the thought of “we’re gonna win the league”. Quite a few must have missed Orient almost pull a goal back in stoppage time when Alton Thelwell’s header was cleared off the line by Oakley. “That’s their best effort, in injury time,” remarked a fan near me and the match stats I saw back home confirmed his observation.

I learned one thing during the day. Down in front of me on the touchline was an advertising board declaring: ‘Leicester – European City of Sport – UK 2008’. I knew Liverpool was the City of Culture but what about this City of Sport? Subsequently I found out back home with a bit of googling that ‘The award recognises the passion and commitment the people of Leicester have for sport, whether it is through their professional clubs or volunteering for their local football team. The award also recognises investments in Leicester sport and encourages further investment in the future.’ Cardiff took over for 2009.

BBC Match Report and Facts

Saturday 3rd January 2009

Brigg Town 0 Glapwell 1
Unibond League Division 1 South
At: The Hawthorns
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £6; Programme: £1-50 (40 pages)
Attendance: 137
Weather: cold, dry
Duration: first-half: 46:55; second-half: 50:23

The Christmas and New Year period can be a test for any family relationship especially when my fifth game in eight days fell on a Saturday. With sub-zero temperatures causing a headache with plans for the afternoon’s entertainment, I was given the impression there should be things with a far higher priority to worry about than deciding in which direction to set off.

Stafford Rangers’ home game with Workington fell victim to an early-morning pitch inspection at frozen Marston Road and just about every other game down the M6 corridor looked like suffering the same fate.

Updates (or rather a lack of postponements) on both the Unibond League and Kool Sports NCE League websites suggested that heading across to Derby then up the M1 was the best option and so it proved. It got the ‘green light’ for Brigg after filling up with fuel in Derby!

The ground wasn’t difficult to find with the aid of some simple directions. Leave the M180 at junction 4 and follow A18 all the way to the Monument Roundabout on the eastern side of Brigg. Turn left (but still on the A18) into Wrawby Road and the ground drive was signposted on the left just past the bus shelter.

It was a positively tropical +2.5°C when I pulled into the car park under a predominately clear pale blue sky with the weak sun shining – a far cry from the freeze I’d left behind a couple or so hours before.

Brigg Town, founded in 1864, are probably the fifth oldest club in England but have found life difficult in the very recent past. They went into this game with Glapwell on the bottom of their division with just six points (one win at Sheffield FC and three draws) from 20 games.

In contrast, Glapwell FC (sixth position with 31 points from 17 games) were still enjoying their first season in the Unibond League and looking for a win over Brigg to move into a play-off position. The added attraction of the visitors for me was their 44-year-old striker Neil Grayson, a real legend in the game who ended a spell with Stafford Rangers at the end of last season.

The Hawthorns was a mixture of old and new. The new being a modern stand (S & E Engineering sponsored stand) on the opposite side to the entrance which housed around 300 individual red seats in three rows as well as covered standing. On the near touchline was a small stand with two rows of seats, two areas of covered standing and all the club buildings.

I picked up a programme (£1-50p) from a club official outside the ground but they were also available inside as well. Through the entrance was a neatly laid out table offering programmes, raffle tickets and golden goal tickets. I opted for the latter but didn’t immediately look at the time I’d bought.

Prior to the action getting underway, it checked out the tea bar and opted for a seat in the new stand – back row seat 76. I presume Grayson, the Glapwell skipper, won the toss as the teams changed ends and Brigg kicked-off defending into the low sun setting to the west.

Glapwell got on top during the first half with Brigg keeper Leigh Herrick producing a fine save to keep out Ian Brown’s 19th-minute in a none-on-one. Brown soon combined with Grayson and sent a left-foot first-time volley flashing past the home goal.

Just before the half hour, Grayson saw a 20-yard shot blocked and a follow-up effort by Pat McGuire’s was saved by the diving Herrick. “Give up a goal,” was one groan from a Glapwell fan sat near me.

I think it was the same fan who feared the worse a few minutes later. “We are going 1-0 down,” he said as Paul Ashton got free inside the area, only to fire straight at Laurence Matthewson in the visitors’ goal.

The goal, which the fan craved, came in the 38th minute when Brown courtesy of a defensive error. Time to open my envelope – alas, it revealed a golden goal time of 27 minutes, which sadly for me had already passed.

The visitors almost doubled their lead a minute before the break. Adam Kimberley (“Best man on’t field, Kimbo”) got forward down the left and chipped the ball forward for Brown to head against the left-hand post.

It was back to the tea bar during half-time where I must admit causing a bit of confusion. I fancied mushy peas and mint sauce but couldn’t have the pie that went with them. “Can I have a tray of peas,” I enquired, which wasn’t a problem until sorting out a price. We settled at 50p, the difference between pie on its own and pie & peas.

Brigg made a bright start to the second half and won four corners in quick succession. However, Glapwell missed another opportunity to score a second just after the hour mark when Brown’s shot was cleared off the line. Herrick also produced a decent save to keep out another good effort from Matt Roney.

As the half continued, I wondered if Brigg would punish Glapwell for not gaining more than a solitary one-goal cushion – they were certainly trying. The home skipper urged on his side: “Don’t stop the workrate, there is something here for us”.

I walked round to the other side, near the dugout, just before full-time. “Minimum of five,” said the referee, referring to the amount of stoppage time. I thought – could Brigg grab an equaliser? Steve Davis crossed deep from the right where defender Robert Darkin headed out at the far post, but the corner came to nothing so Glapwell went home with the points.

Brigg Town (black and white stripes / black / red): 1. Leigh Herrick, 2. Tommy Spall (capt), 3. Lee Cochrane, 4. JohnBorland, 5. Scott Helliwell, 6. Michael Jacklin, 7. Steven Hutchinson, 8. Alan Lamb, 9. Steve Davis, 10. Leigh Buff, 11. Paul Ashton. Subs: 12. Rick Day (for Buff, ht), 14. Sam West (not used), 15. Luke Mascall (not used), 16. Simon Roach (for Hutchinson, 81), 17. Carl Wilson (not used).

Glapwell (yellow/yellow/yellow): 1. Laurence Matthewson, 2. Robert Darkin, 3. Dean Gordon, 4. Matt Varley, 5. Steve Kennedy, 6. Pat McGuire, 7. Matt Roney, 8. Mark Wilson, 9. Neil Grayson (capt), 10. Ian Brown, 11. Adam Kimberley. Subs: 12. Kirk Jackson (for Kimberley, 87), 14. Jake Williams (for Brown, 90+5), 15. Simon Wright, (for Roney, 81), 16. Michael Fox (not used), 17. Craig Robinson (not used).

Referee: AP Ward.
Assistants: P Andrews and D Parkinson.

0-1 Ian Brown (38)

Nearing home, the temperature started to plummet to –5.5°C – a record for the car thermometer soon broken when it dropped a further degree on a trip to Somerfield later in the evening!

Thursday 1st January 2009

Sheffield FC 3 Retford United 2
Unibond League Division 1 South
At: Bright Finance Stadium
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: £1-50 (52 pages)
Attendance: 760
Weather: cold, dry
Duration: first-half: 45:45; second-half: 51:20

The cold snap which greeted the New Year ruined my initial plans on the first day of 2009 though the treat that was this game at Sheffield more than made up for missing my orienteering. I had hoped to compete in the Laurie Bradley NYD Score in Sutton Park followed by a game at either Causeway United or Sutton Coldfield Town (both were off). Long before Big Ben had chimed midnight and the fireworks went off, I knew I needed an alternative. The positive noises of Retford United’s website gave encouragement and I was delighted when, around 11-30 am, came the message: ‘After an inspection - the Referee has confirmed that the game will definitely (sic) be ON’.

Sheffield FC can rightly boast to be the world’s first football club having been founded in 1857. In more recent times, they reached the FA Vase Final in 1977, losing to Billericay Town in a replay at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground, and played home games at Abbeydale Park in Sheffield. They moved to the Don Valley Stadium (where I saw them host Winterton Rangers in December 1992) and then to their present home in 2001. The Bright Finance Stadium, previously the home of Norton Woodseats FC (aka Dronfield United), is also known as the Coach and Horses Ground because of its location behind the public house of the same name.

The Bright Finance Stadium, located in Dronfield between Sheffield and Chesterfield, was easily accessed from the roundabout at the northern end of the town’s A61 bypass. It was on the right down the hill towards the town centre. Almost all the facilities were near the entrance which is in the south-east corner of the ground close to the Club Shop and tea bar. Behind the near goal was a neat seated stand while on the near touchline was an area of covered terrace. Covering the bank on the far touchline was a large advert for the sponsors with a scoreboard in the far top corner.

Programmes (£1-50) were available from the Club Shop and line-ups were read out on the tannoy at least twice. I was pleased that Sheffield’s former Stafford Rangers striker Vill Powell was in the starting line-up for the first time since suffering a long-term injury at the start of the current season. Things didn’t work out for him at Stafford a few years ago but he certainly had a prolific scoring record for Retford in the past and more recently with Sheffield. The visitors had a couple of players with a Stafford connection though as a foe rather than friend. Manager Peter Duffield and striker Mick Godber were feared opponents playing for Alfreton Town a few years ago.

Retford (41 points from 19 games) went into this game as Division 1 South leaders while Sheffield (17 points from 14 games), on the other hand, went down in 17th position in the 20-team division though with several games in hand on the teams immediately above.

With both Sheffield clubs and Chesterfield all having the day off, it was nice to be part of the bumper holiday crowd which flocked to the game. I opted to watch the game on the far touchline towards the corner of the ground with the scoreboard. In fact, the size of the crowd meant that the covered terrace looked pretty full and touchline vantage points were mostly taken.

Sheffield, who got the game underway, opted to defend the southern end and took the lead in the 11th minute through Marc Newsham. Retford levelled things up in the 25th minute when Lee Whittington fired home the equaliser. However, Sheffield hit back to stun the league leaders by regaining the lead in the 28th minute through Newsham who completed a hat-trick three minutes later.

Half-time arrived with Sheffield still 3-1 up.

The Retford drummer had been down the far end of the ground but moved, unsurprisingly, to the goal nearest to me because, stating the obvious, his side were now attacking that end.

Most of the action continued to be in my half of the field with Retford working hard to get back into the game. Home keeper Leigh Walker produced a fine save to keep out Ryan Ford’s header just before the hour mark but couldn’t prevent the visitors halving the deficit in the 63rd minute. Neil Harvey turned inside a populated area and shot home, only to receive a straight red card before play resumed for his part in an incident also involving the keeper Walker.

I think I chose my position well as I continued to get a good view of the key action. Retford were awarded a penalty in the 69th minute for a foul by Paul Smith on Ford. However, Walker produced a fine save to keep out Chris Bettney’s spot kick to keep his side in front.

Sheffield made a third change in the 74th minute with ‘12’ replacing ‘10’. Having already got a player wearing ‘12’ on the field – who turned out to be Jordan Eagers – the linesman on the near side attracted the attention of the ref who ordered the new ‘12’ to change his shirt. Eagers ended up being sent off deep into stoppage time at the end for a second booking.

At the end, to celebrate the win, the tannoy blasted out the theme from ‘The Apprentice’ followed by the Kaiser Chiefs’ ‘I Predict a Riot’.

"It was a game that had everything," was a comment I overheard while leaving the ground and I couldn’t disagree.

Despite the defeat, Retford remained on top of the Division 1 South table while the three points lifted Sheffield a little further up the lower reaches.

Sheffield FC (red/black/red): 1. Leigh Walker, 2. Lloyd Gelsthorpe, 3. Paul Smith, 4. Gavin Smith, 5. Greg Wright, 6. Jack Muldoon, 7. Matt Outram, 8. Steve Hawes (capt), 9. Vill Powell, 10. Marc Newsham, 11. Steve Woolley. Subs: 12. Jordan Eagers (for Gavin Smith, 34), 15. Janusz Lipka (for Outram, 51), 16. Chris Dolby (not used), x. Mick Goddard (for Newsham, 74).

Retford United (black and white stripes / white / white): 1. Ross Turner, 2. Stuart Ludlam, 3. Thomas Cowan, 4. Ryan Ford, 5. Ben Chambers (capt), 6. Michael Simpkins, 7. Chris Bettney, 8. Matt Fisher, 9. Lee Whittington, 10. Neil Harvey, 11. Paul Grimes. Subs: 12. Daniel White (for Cowan, 71), 14. Liam Nelthorpe (for Fisher, ht), 15. Peter Duffield (for Whittington, 55), 16. Adam Oldham (not used), 17. Chris Kingston (not used).

Referee: N Smith (Chesterfield).

1-0 Marc Newsham (12)
1-1 Lee Whittington (25)
2-1 Marc Newsham (28)
3-1 Marc Newsham (31)
3-2 Neil Harvey (63)