Badgers Tales - news from the Old Police Sports Ground

It was a memorable night for Brocton FC at the Midland Combination 2010/11 season presentation evening as the Badgers scooped more awards than any other club. In the event held at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium, the highlight for Brocton was the golden boot award to Gary Fife for the highest scorer in the Premier Division and overall the five divisions with 46 league goals. They were also awarded three Hospitality awards for both senior and reserve teams, voted by each club in their respective divisions, but were also awarded the Stan Mansel Hospitality award voted by the match officials for the Premier Division. Brocton also picked up the Team of the Month ‘Overall’ Award for April/May. (more and photos at http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/broctonfc/news/brocton-scoop-awards-at-the-mi-324108.html)

Brocton have so far announced seven pre-season friendlies:

Saturday 16th July: Newcastle Town (away 3 pm)
Saturday 23rd July: Boldmere St Michaels (home 3 pm)
Tuesday 26th July: Heath Hayes (home 7-30 pm)
Thursday 28th July: Rugeley Rangers (home 7-30 pm)
Saturday 30th July: AFC Wulfrunians (home 3pm)
Tuesday 2nd August: Wolverhampton Casuals (away 7-30 pm)
Saturday 6th August: Bilston Town (away 3 pm)

The mid week dates against Boldmere St Michaels, Heath Hayes and Rugeley Rangers will all be on the 2nd pitch with a decision to be made on whether the fixture is fulfilled by the first team, development squad or a mixture of the two.

The confirmed line-up for the 2011/12 Midland Combination Premier Division is:

Bartley Green, Bloxwich United, Bolehall Swifts, Brocton, Cadbury Athletic, Castle Vale, Castle Vale JKS, Continental Star, Coventry Copsewood, Earlswood Town (p), Nuneaton Griff, Pelsall Villa, Pershore Town, Pilkington XXX, RC Warwick, Southam United and Walsall Wood.

Newcomers are Earslwood Town (promoted from Division 1) and Bloxwich United (transferred from West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division).

Leaving the division are: Alveston (resigned to join the Stratford Alliance), Dosthill Colts (merged with Coleshill Town, now Dosthill and Coleshill Colts FC in Midland Football Alliance), Heather St Johns (promoted to Midland Football Alliance) and Massey Ferguson (resigned).

Bradley 1 Coach Rangers 1

Saturday 18th June 2011
Bradley 1 Coach Rangers 1 (aet Bradley won 5-3 on penalties)
Bill Redfern Memorial Cup Final
At: Osmaston Polo Ground
Kick-off:7-00 pm
Admission: £1-50 including free 4-page programme
Attendance: 80 (headcount)
Weather: sunshine and rain
Duration (45): first-half: 45:08; second-half: 45:05
Extra Time (10): first-period: 10:35; second-period: 9:08


Coach Rangers suffered the disappointment of a penalty shoot-out defeat for the second successive season in the Summer League’s Bill Redfern Memorial Cup Final. Twelve months ago they lost out 4-2 on penalties to Holly Bush, tonight they went down 5-3 on penalties to league leaders Bradley.

For those who haven’t followed my summer travels over the past couple of years, the ‘Summer League’ commenced back in 1930 for teams based mostly in Ashbourne and within a triangle between Uttoxeter, Derby and Ashbourne. Since the first season the league has proudly maintain a rule – currently rule 2 in fact – which reads: ‘No player shall have played for a recognised winter league team in a League or Cup match during the last season unless under 17 years old on 1st April of the current [Summer League] season’. What this means is that unlike other summer leagues elsewhere in the country, the (Ashbourne) Summer League uses players who don’t play competitive football elsewhere. Personally, I think this is a tradition worth preserving.

Moving on to tonight and it is always a pleasure to do something for the Summer League. And, for the third season I produced the programme for a cup final which is fondly named after one of the league’s founding fathers. Bill Redfern, after whom tonight’s competition is named, attended the inaugural meeting of the League at Church Broughton in 1929, played on the very first evening of fixtures, and was a member of the League Council, holding the posts of Vice Chairman and Chairman and also elected President and a life member in 1971. Up to his death in 1994 at the age of 86, he continued to attended meetings and matches.

The final was again held at the Osmaston Polo Ground, once described as ‘“Wembley” to all summer footballers’ and it is easy to see why. Situated a couple of miles south of Ashbourne, the ground is a large expanse of grass with, in relation to the entrance, a cricket pitch on the left-hand side and football pitch in the middle, not to forget a lovely old pavilion at the far end. Of course the playing surface was in perfect condition. The ground was once home to former Central Midlands League side Brailsford FC.

Tonight’s finalists Bradley (top of the table with 37 points from 13 games) and Coach Rangers (second with 33 points from 13 games) occupy the top-two places in the Summer League table, well clear of third-placed Rose and Crown.

Kicking-off in sunshine, Coach Rangers (in yellow shirts, black shorts and black socks) got the final underway defending the pavilion end in the first half. Straightway, James Carter got into the area and fired straight at Alex Dowling. The decent first chance fell to Bradley’s Jez Oborn who saw a well-struck volley blocked by Rangers keeper Simon Hellaby.

Coach took the lead in the 7th minute. Sean Millward was fouled in the area and James Cater despatched the resulting penalty into the bottom corner of the net.

Bradley (wearing silver shirts, black shorts and socks) thought they’d equalised seven minutes later when Karl Grocott put the ball into the net after a fine save by Hellaby. But joy quickly turned to disappointment with a raised flag for offside. However, Bradley got back on level terms in the 32nd minute. Defender James Marriott got forward and powered a free header past Hellaby.

Just like the first half, Coach created an early chance after the resumption. Ian Godfrey hit a well struck shot which the bespectacled Dowling beat away. The Bradley keeper excelled to again thwart Godfrey with a diving save at the expense of a corner. Chances were created during the second half and Wayne Archer saw a shot blocked. As the end of normal time approached, Coach won two corner in quick succession and Dec Bacon headed over from Kevin Millward’s right-wing cross.

Neither side could find a winner so extra time of ten minutes each way. Bradley got the first period underway attacking the pavilion end with the earlier sunshine replaced with darkening clouds, hills to the west disappearing in the gloom and a few sports of rain which turned into a torrential downpour. The only chance of note during the first period was a snap shot fired over the bar by Sean Millward.

By the time the second period of extra time commenced most of the remaining crowd were sheltering under the overhang at the front of the pavilion with a few hardy souls left on the touchline. Both sides each had a chance to avoid a penalty shoot-out but James Carter drove over the Bradley bar and Ross Hunter pulled a low shot wide of the Coach goal.

Final score 1-1 after extra time, so the final was decided with a penalty shootout into the goal at the pavilion end; Bradley took the first spot kick.

1-0 Bradley’s Wayne Archer scored
1-1 Coach’s Ian Godfrey scored

2-1 Bradley’s Chris Rowe scored
2-1 Coach’s Adrian Roberts missed

3-1 Bradley’s Jay Twenlow scored
3-2 Coach’s James Carter scored

4-2 Bradley’s Jez Oborn scored
4-3 Needing to score to keep the shoot-out alive, Martyn Taylor scored

5-3 But Bradley just needed to convert their fifth penalty to lift the cup and Mark Sellers duly fired past Simon Hellaby.

Bradley (silver/black/black): 1. Alex Dowling, 4. Mark Twenlow, 9. Mark Sellers (capt), 5. James Marriott, 6. Chris Rowe, 7. Glynn Sellers, 8. Jez Oborn, 14. Richard Gage, 3. Jay Twemlow, 15. Wayne Archer, 12. Karl Grocott. Subs: 2. Chris Burton, 10. Ross Hunter, 11. Andy Brown.

Coach Rangers (yellow/black/black): 1. Simon Hellaby, 16. Craig Richardson, 6. Paul Godfrey, 4. Martyn Taylor, 7. Kevin Millward, 11. Ian Godfrey, 14. Mark Maznenco, 8. Sam Howard, 9. Dec Bacon (capt), 10. Sean Millward, 15. James Carter. Subs: 2. Adrian Roberts, 12. Craig Frith, 17. Darren Handley.

Referee: Jason Glanville.
Assistants: Jim Conway and Chris Cope.

Goals
0-1 James Carter (7 pen)
1-1 James Marriott (32)

Cards:
Bradley: none
Coach: James Carter (YC, 56)



Salford City Reds 8 Castleford Tigers 15

Friday 17th June 2011
Salford City Reds 8 Castleford Tigers 15
Engage Super League
At The Willows
Attendance 3587


I had the headline all thought out – ‘Tigers get mauled by the Reds’ or ‘Tigers give Reds a good mauling’! In the end neither fitted the result as the Castleford Tigers narrowly defeated the Salford City Reds in a tight game which was what the bookies had predicted.

Following on from a successful Super League debut, it was time for more rugby league and like two weeks ago, the choice of home teams was the same – Crusaders, St Helens and Salford City Reds. While St Helens v Wigan Warriors was the top game, I discounted another trip to the Stobart Stadium and headed instead for Salford to cheer on the Castleford Tigers, my Dad’s home town team. Another reason was that Salford will be vacating The Willows at the end of the current season in favour of a newly-built 15,000 capacity City of Salford Stadium close to M60 junction 11 at Barton-upon-Irwell.

Even though Salford (9th position with 14 points from 17 games) were four points and two positions lower in the Super League table than Castleford (18 points from 16 games), the bookies couldn’t split the teams with one suggesting the winning margin could be as little as 2 points in favour of Salford. The Reds have been boosted by winning their last two games including victory at leaders Warrington Wolves last Sunday. The Tigers came from behind to draw 14-14 at home to the Wigan Warriers but have conceded 40 or more points in three of their last five games.

Form guide over… on to the ground itself.

The Willows is a traditional sports stadium and full of quirky character which sadly no longer fits into the modern fashion of all-seater stadiums. Orientated north–south, the main stand, named The Austin Truemanns Stand, runs the length of the touchline on the west side has three distinct sections named on the plan on the back of my ticket as ‘North Wing’, ‘Centre’ and ‘South Wing’. On half-way about ‘Centre’ there is a second tier named ‘Hi Level’ with TV gantry on top. From my vantage point in Block 8, opposite was a substantial covered terrace, known as The Shed, flanked by open terracing on one side and the changing rooms on the other. Behind the posts to my left was the North Stand, with several rows of terraces (away end) and the Family Stand seats behind. To the right was the shallow Willows Terrace with an entertainment complex behind.

As the game was not live on Sky, there was one notable difference to the game at St Helens two weeks ago – no video referee. So, the aid the referee with his decision making, there were two additional match officials, one positioned in each in-goal area.

As I said a tight game that was settled in Castleford’s favour with a late Danny Orr try scored with seven minutes remaining and subsequent conversion and later drop goal. With no points scoring during the opening 32 minutes I started to wonder if I would be seeing a very rare 0-0 draw. Reds led 4-2 at half-time, Cas took the lead with a converted try that was cancelled by an unconverted Reds try.

Fans pack Social Club for Greg

Around 130 Stafford Rangers shareholders and fans attended the ‘Q & A Meeting’ held in the Social Club on Tuesday. The new management team of Greg Clowes and Dorian Garner answered questions and it was clear they both have the passion and desire to rebuild the side after two relegations in three years. They asked the fans for time and patience. The new commercial team, and in particular Stuart Maun, presented their vision for the future, which was well received. Most people left the meeting feeling a lot more positive about the future of Stafford Rangers.

Yesterday (Wednesday), The Board issued a statement of thanks on the club’s official website (www.staffordrangersfc.co.uk) to those who attended: ‘We would just like to say THANK YOU to all who turned out to last [night’s] Q & A Meeting, the contributions from the floor helped to make the evening a [success] and this will now become a regular event with the next meeting scheduled for middle to late September’.

The subject of Rushden & Diamonds expulsion from the Blue Square Bet Premier and Bishop’s Stortford’s switch from Blue Square Bet South to North was raised. The picture will become clearer when Bishop’s Stortford’s appeal is heard this week, with a slight change the outcome could be a reprieve from relegation for Stafford Rangers. Both Chairman Mike Hughes and manager Greg Clowes both said a return to Blue Square Bet North would not pose a problem, in the unlikely event it happens.

Rangers have also confirmed the dates of eight pre-season friendlies:

Saturday 9th July - Home to Port Vale, kick off 3.00pm.
Saturday 16th July - Away to Kidsgrove Athletic, kick off 3.00pm.
Thursday 21st July - Away to Stone Dominoes, kick off 7.30pm.
Saturday 23rd July - Away to Rocester, kick off 3.00pm.
Tuesday 26th July - Away to Norton, kick off 7.30pm.
Saturday 30th July - Away to Market Drayton, kick off 3.00pm.
Tuesday 2nd August - Away to Ashton Athletic, kick off 7.30pm.
Saturday 6th August - Home to Woodley Sports, kick off 3.00pm.

Several members of last-season’s squad have moved to pastures new: Ben Mills (to Nantwich Town), Andre Francis (to Solihull Moors), Craig McAughtrie (to Hinckley United) and Danny Edwards (to Worcester City).

The annual Summer League Bill Redfern Cup Final takes place on Saturday evening (kick-off 7-00 pm) at Osmaston Polo Ground, a few miles south-east of Ashbourne. I’m producing the programme and the game pits the top two sides in the league – Bradley and Coach Rangers.

Finally, European Football Weekends has been nominated for a very prestigious award – website of the year at the FSF Writers Awards 2011 in association with Cult Zeros. It is described as ‘a must for any self-respecting Europhile with a list of match reports from the continent as long as Ian Ormondroyd’s legs’. Voting at http://www.fsf.org.uk/news... closes on Friday.

Coming up over the next few days: More rugby league, Bill Redfern Cup Final, Brocton’s successful night at the Midland Combination awards, the latest issue of Non-League Digest and a look at ‘goals for charity’.

News Round-up (13th June 2011)

Stafford Rangers will be hosting an open meeting for fans and shareholders tomorrow evening, Tuesday 14th June 2001, at 7-30 pm in the Social Club. The official website adds that: ‘Present at the meeting will be the manager, Greg Clowes, his assistant, Dorian Garner, new club secretary, Robbie Mullin and members of the new Commercial team as well as some current Board members. It is hoped that several committed players for next season will also be in attendance and the meeting will provide fans with a chance to acquaint themselves with the new management team.’

Brocton FC launched a new website at www.broctonfc.com on Sunday 12th June 2011. Commercial Manager Adam Checkley wrote: ‘Our new and improved site will allow everyone to track the progress of the teams easier, view what is happening on and off the pitch and allow us to show you what the club is about.

‘Keep us bookmarked in your favourites and why not sign up to become a member of our website? This way we can keep you informed of fixtures, results, announcements and events at the club. Simply follow the links on the website and join us!

‘Any comments on the website feel free to contact us. We can only improve with your help!’

The proposed Midland Combination line-up for the forthcoming 2011/12 season, subject to AGM vote, will see Brocton as part of a 16-team Premier Division. Compared to last season, there is one newcomer Earlswood Town while Alveston, Massey Ferguson (both resigned), Dosthill Colts (merged with Coleshill and will play in the Midland Alliance) and Heather St John (promoted to the Midland Alliance) have left the division.

The West Midlands (Regional) League AGM is scheduled for next Monday at Cradley Heath so Stafford Town won’t have to wait too long to find out the 2011/12 line-up. Town hosted a successful Family Fun Day on Saturday 4th June.

The managerial vacancy at Newcastle Town has been filled by a former Stafford Rangers defender. John Diskin, who played under Ian Painter during the 2000/01 season succeeds Greg Clowes. A statement on Town’s official website confirmed the appointment: ‘Newcastle Town are pleased to announce the appointment of John Diskin as First Team Manager for the coming season. John will be assisted by Ivan Lodge and Dave Sutton, both of whom were the successful management duo of the Reserve side in the Staffs Senior League. Following intense deliberations the Club decided to appoint from within and feel that as the three have worked together at Newcastle and all been players at Leek Town they should form a well knit unit together.

‘The appointment will give the Club some continuity in the present climate and will reward the three for their loyalty. The three know what is expected of them and they are busy bringing in players to replace those who have departed for pastures new. No names will be released until they are signed up and tied to the Club.’

There is less than two weeks to go before Stone Dominoes host a day-long ‘DomFest Music Festival’ on Saturday 25th June at Springbank Park. The event will feature three top tribute bands which will be supported by five local and original bands. There are more details on Stone Dominoes official website (http://www.clubwebsite.co.uk/stonedominoes01/), as well as Facebook (domfestuk) and Twitter (@domfestuk).

Finally, returning to the theme of former Stafford Rangers players, striker Guy Madjo has joined League One Stevenage (http://www.stevenagefc.com/page/LatestNewsDetail/0,,10839~2375233,00.html) Since leaving Stafford in 2007, Guy has enjoyed spells at Crawley Town, Shrewsbury Town, Guangdong Sunray Cave in China and Albanian side Bylis Ballsh. Goalkeeper James Lindley has rejoined Hucknall Town.

Non-League Day 2011 with Macmillan Cancer Support

With England playing the night before and the Premier League and Championship taking a week off, James Doe urges all fans of the big clubs to get out and watch their local non-league team instead on SATURDAY 3 SEPTEMBER.

Given the current financial climate, clubs outside the Football League need all the support they can get so your presence at a game will be genuinely appreciated.

With tickets and refreshments at a fraction of the cost, what's stopping you?

Do your bit for semi-pro and grassroots football, get out and support your local team be they in the Conference or the Combined Counties League.

YOUR CLUB NEEDS YOU!

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This year we also hope to raise lots of money for MACMILLAN CANCER SUPPORT who we are delighted to announce have become our official charity partner. We have chosen them in honour of legendary non-league statistician Tony Kempster who nominated them for donations shortly before his death.

For more details of their work or to donate, follow the link below:

http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Home.aspx

Glenafton Athletic 0 Petershill 0

Saturday 4th June 2011
Glenafton Athletic 0 Petershill 0
Stagecoach West of Scotland League Super Premier Division Promotion/Relegation Playoff First Leg
At: Loch Park, New Cumnock
Kick-off: 2-00 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: £1
Attendance: 350 (headcount)
Weather: warm, sunny spells, windy
Duration: first-half: 46:33; second-half: 48:52


After last Saturday’s trip to South Sefton Borough, I wrote that ‘... decided to end my 2010/11 winter football season venturing into unfamiliar territories …’, thinking that the next game of so-called winter football would probably be a friendly at say Rocester around mid-July. Well, with the family away in London at a wedding, temptation got the better of me I decided to make a rare football trip to north of the border. And, like last Saturday, it again proved to be a good idea.

The game, the first of a two-legged match, was one of those which neither side wanted to lose and so ended goalless.

With the English winter season had reached its conclusion – I know England played Switzerland at teatime – there was still the odd issue to be resolved in Scottish Junior football with the promotion/relegation play-off between Glenafton and Petershill being one of them – Glenafton (third in Super League First Division with 43 points from their 26 games) were bidding for promotion into the Premier Division while Petershill (third from bottom in 10th with 25 points from their 22 games) were looking to stay there

Peterhill’s website provides a good definition of "Junior" Football, a term unique to Scotland, which is sometimes confused with Youth or Juvenile Football. In fact it is a level of Semi Professional Football which fits in between the Amateur and Senior Levels of the game.

Originally these two legs were originally scheduled for today at Petershill and next Saturday at Glenafton. However, due to the wedding next Saturday of Glenafton’s Robbie Henderson, the first leg today at Loch Park with the second leg on Wednesday at Petershill.


Glenafton, based in the Ayrshire town of New Cumnock, were founded in 1930 with one of their finest hours coming in 1993 when they lifted the Scottish Junior Cup for the first and so far only time. Loch Park, their home for the past 50 years, was a few hundred yards from New Cumnock Station on the Carlisle to Glasgow via Dumfries line, and also on the A76.

Petershill have also tasted Junior Cup success as well, winning the famous competition five times, the last success back in 1956 though they did reach the final twice during the 1980s. Their home ground – New Petershill Park – is located to the north of Glasgow city centre close to both Barnhill and Springburn railway stations.

As a leaflet I picked up stated: ‘New Cumnock Burns’ “sweet” Afton Water joins the Nith alongside the station but the village itself has yet to wholly shake off its mining past. Charming little open air swimming pool and characterful Loch Park ground of Glenafton Athletic Football Club.’ While there were a few places boarded-up – name a town that doesn’t these days – I did spot several statues and memorials as well as a cottage where Robert Burns once stayed.

The dominant feature of the ground (orientated roughly east-west and running lengthways from the entrance) was the stand on halfway down the left-hand side. Painted in red it featured six rows of what bench seating/standing. It is named after Mick Morran who provided 35 years of service to the club, and either side were several rows of terrace steps. Also down the left-hand side was Glen’s CafĂ© and separate tea bar. Behind the far goal and down the right-hand side were shallow terraced slopes, which looked as if they have been in situ for many years though that is not a comment to detract from the character of them. Finally behind the near goal was a modern two story building with changing rooms, offices and a second-floor ‘boardroom’. Loch Park doesn’t have floodlights.

Programmes were printed and stapled during the hour preceding kick-off and sold near to the turnstile. One comment I liked in the programme regarded the programme itself, describing it ‘as a tradition worth preserving’ despite all the hard work needed to produce each issue. Team line-ups were announced over the tannoy.


Glenafton Athletic (wearing all red) got the game underway defending the changing rooms end in the first half. The early goalmouth action was at the far end… but merely involved re-attaching loose netting to the crossbar.

The home side demanded a penalty in the 16th minute. Gareth Armstrong’s well struck shot inside a crowded area bear Petershill keeper Scott Black and hit defender Davie Barr positioned on the line. The referee waived away appeals and gave a corner instead. I’m not sure what size of crowd Glenafton normally attract but today a group of youthful fans stood at the back of the stand provided good vocal support.

Petershill (in a change kit of all blue) perhaps came closest to breaking the deadlock during the first half in the 36th minute. From the right side of the area, Steven McLaughlin fired an angled shot across the face of goal which rebounded off the far post. Strike partner Paul McGladrigan got to loose ball, got in a shot which Athletic keeper Ally Semple superbly blocked.

In first half stoppage time, Black did well to turn over a shot from Jim Wilson to keep his side on level terms. The keeper thwarted Armstrong from the resulting corner.

Now in warm sunshine, Semple was called into action early in the second half, getting down to hold a shot from McGladrigan. The visitors continued to create chances with Semple well positioned to hold efforts from Ryan McArdle and Alan Lindsay.

Things boiled over a little just after the hour mark with a flare-up near the Petershill dugout which the referee dealt with without resorting to a red card or two. It became clear during the last half hour that neither side really wanted to lose and that was the way the game finished. In stoppage time, Black leapt up to push away a rising shot from substitute Aaron Scoular who made one last attempt to gain a first-leg lead for Glenafton.

In the end both sides got their wish. So on Wednesday, there is everything to play for – it should be a good game!

While there was a bit of ‘hanging around’ in New Cumnock, the 11:15 departure the Nith Valley Line from Carlisle to Glasgow Central meant a stress-free afternoon and could be used to visit other grounds close to the line. Each one of the stations from Carlisle to Kilmarnock has at least one ground close by: Gretna Green (Raydale Park home of the reformed Gretna FC 2008), Annan (Annan Athletic), Dunfries (Queen of the South and several South of Scotland League clubs), Sanquhar (Nithsdale Wanderers of the South of Scotland League), Kirkconnel (Junior side Kello Rovers), New Cumnock (Glenafton Rovers), Auchinleck (Junior side Auchinleck Talbot and a few miles away Cumnock Juniors) and Kilmarnock (Kilmarnock FC).








St Helens 42 Leeds Rhinos 16

Friday 3rd June 2011
St Helens 42 Leeds Rhinos 16
Engage Super League
At: Stobart Stadium
Kick-off: 8-00 pm
Admission: £22; Programme: £3 (72 pages)
Attendance: 9062
Weather: warm and sunny
Duration (40): first-half: 44:15; second-half: 42:49


Off the top of my head, I’ve seen rugby league games at Sheffield (Owlerton Stadium and Bramall Lane during the early 1980s), Doncaster (Tatters Field), Leigh (Hilton Park) and Alfreton (Mansfield Marksman at North Street). I also think I went to Castleford’s Wheldon Road sometime during the early 1970s. The sport isn’t one I normally watch in the flesh tand only sometimes watch on Sky. Whether the Leigh or Mansfield game was my last one seen doesn’t matter as this trip to watch St Helens was my first rugby league experience for over 20 years regardless.

There were three games to chose from tonight – St Helens v Leeds, Crusaders v Warrington and Salford v Castleford – and I opted for the former as it was Sky’s live game.

This season St Helens are ground sharing at the Stobart Stadium, home of the Championship and soon to be Super League side Widnes Vikings. They vacated their long-standing Knowsley Road ground at the end of last season and will move to the 18,000 capacity ‘New St Helens Stadium’ at the start of 2012 season.

I’d been to the Stobart Stadium before, back in 2004 for football between Runcorn FC Halton and Stafford Rangers when it was named the ‘Halton Stadium’, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t make a mess of finding the place second time round. I’ll blame a lack of signs coming off the Runcorn bridge and not having no map printed out!

The Stobart Stadium, which according to Wikipedia was opened in 1997 on the site of the former Naughton Park rugby league ground, is a 13,350 all-seater stadium. It now boasts stands on all four sides – main South Stand, East (home fans) and West (away fans) Stands behind the posts and North Stand where I sat in block A/B.

As far I could see no programmes were on sale outside the ground and I picked up a copy from a seller in the concourse beneath the North Stand.

Teams were read out twice and displayed on the electronic board. Once the players entered the field, they ran to the ends they were defending and the game quickly got underway. Presumably, unlike football, the toss for choice of ends must have taken place earlier.

Leeds Rhinos (wearing pink and navy blue hoops, navy blue shorts and pink socks) got the game underway attacking the West Stand in the first half. And they made a good start by taking a 4-0 lead with two goals kicked by Kevin Sinfield. However, St Helens (wearing their familiar home kit of all white with red trim) got themselves in front with a Jason Graham try and conversion by Jamie Foster. Half-time 6-4.

The game was certainly fast moving and I found it difficult to take my eyes off the pitch for fear of missing something. Each half of a rugby league game lasts 40 minutes with the ‘live clock’ stopping and starting during various breaks in play. I started my watch when the first half commenced and found that 44 minutes and 15 seconds elapsed during the first half – accounted for in part by two separate decision referrals to the ‘video referee’.

Another thing I noticed were the ‘interchanges’ where the 13 players in each team on the field could be replaced from a pool of 4 rolling replacements. A maximum of 12 interchanges are permitted.

St Helens extended their lead early in the second half – try by James Roby and conversion by Foster – and increased it further with another try from Francis Meli and another conversion from Foster. The home fans were happy and started to sing ‘When the Saints go marching in …’. It was now 18-4.

Nearly all the action was down my end. St Helens turned the outcome into a bit of a rout as further tries from Jonny Lomax under the posts, Scott Moore and Paul Wellens got the fans chanting ‘Easy!, Easy!’ Each was converted by inch-perfect Foster to make the score 36-4.

Every try and every goal was followed by a tannoy announcement that included naming the player’s sponsor. So every time Foster kicked a conversion there was more and more publicity for Impact Cleaning!

Leeds didn’t let their heads drop and restored a bit of respectability to the scoreline. Tries from Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Lee Smith were both converted by Sinfield and quickly 36-4 became 36-16.

Time was against Leeds and knew that time was almost up when Lee Gaskell was named Man of the Match’. And right on cue, Gaskell intercepted a Sinfield pass and ran over for St Helens’ seventh try, quickly followed by Foster’s seventh conversion and the sound of the hooter. The watch showed just 169 seconds of stoppages during a fats-moving and exciting second half.

One thing I pondered was this. – While football has the ‘92 club’, what is the rugby league equivalent? The ‘14 club’ of Enggage Super League grounds or the ‘35 club’ which also includes the grounds of the Co-operative Championship and Division One?

Rangers appoint Greg Clowes

I'm really pleased that Stafford Rangers have appointed Greg Clowes as the new manager. The news first came through as a Google alert before being officially comfirmed. He succeeds Matt Elliott who resigned last month.

Over the past four seasons, Greg has enjoyed plenty of success as manager of Newcastle Town, leading them to the North-West Counties League Premier Division title in 2009/10 and last season into second position in the Evo-Stik League Division One North, narrowly missing out on promotion by losing in the play-offs to Grantham Town. Town have also won the Staffordshire Senior Cup durimng his time at the Lyme Valley Stadium.

I interviewed Greg on several occasions during my stint as a reporter for the local press and must admit to being impressed with his style, knowledge and committment.

The announcement on the club's official website (www.staffordrangersfc.co.uk) read:

Team Manager
The Board are pleased to announce the appointment of Greg Clowes as Team Manager of SRFC. Greg will be assisted by his former Newcastle Town colleague Dorian Garner and both will immediately begin the task of assembling a competent squad for next season to compete in the Evo Stik Premier League which kicks off on Saturday 13th August 2011.

The Board hope that everyone connected with SRFC will now get behind the new Management Team and their players and give them every support for the coming Season.