Thursday, 8 December 2016

Lichfield City - The City Ground

Lichfield City FC
The City Ground
Brownsfield Road
Eastern Avenue
WS13 6AY

01543 258338

Ground Number: 651
Tuesday 6th December 2016

Lichfield City 2-4 St Andrews
Midland League Cup 3rd Round


The club were founded in 1970 and were originally called LICHFIELD. They changed name to their present moniker in 1994. They joined the West Midlands Regional League in 1976 at Division 1 level and although initially doing well they soon started to struggle and in 1985/86 they finished second bottom, being relegated to Division 2. It would take them until 1990 to earn promotion back up, when 3rd place was good enough to go up. They'd go on to have a much happier this time and they reached the dizzy heights of the WMRL Premier in 1995/96. They'd only stay one season though, making the drop into Sunday football at the end of that season. Lichfield City would return to Saturday football in 2008, starting in the step 9 Midland Combination Divison 3. By 2012 they'd earned 3 promotions to the Premier Division and this step 6 status meant that ground upgrades were needed. Since then, they've maintained their status with ease, even when the Combination merged with the Midland Alliance. They had their best ever finish of 7th in the Midland League Division 1 last time out and have kept that up this season, sitting 5th place at the time of the game.

Lichfield City have progressed to the Preliminary Round of the FA Cup in both of the seasons that they entered the competition. This season they beat Wolverhampton Casuals  2-1 in a replay, before going on to lose 5-1 at Coventry United. They also have just been on their best FA Vase run, with victories over Wellington & Shawbury United enough to set up a 2nd Round tie at Bromsgrove Sporting. I was one of the 747 present that saw the bow out 3-1 despite a spirited 2nd half performance.


I was glad to have fellow groundhopper Anwar back in the passenger seat for this game, after a few weeks of being absent due to various commitments. I'd started looking out for fixtures last Wednesday when The Football Traveller had landed on my doormat. I'd shiwn Anwar the list on Saturday during Wycombe's brilliant 5-0 win at Chesterfield in the FA Cup, and we'd initially agreed on Carlton Town v Stocksbridge Park Steels in the NPL D1 South as our game. However with the visitors drawing in the FA Trophy, the game was cancelled and we had to look for a new option. Initially we agreed on Lye Town v Shawbury United, but when I checked, there was to be a lot of fog forecast. Whilst I had seen plenty of games in the fog before, I was concerned about us getting lumbered with an inconsiderate referee, like the one at Felixstowe who had called off a game at Felixstowe a few years back, when despite over 200 in attendance on a Friday night 'groundhop' game, the man in the middle called it off, and wasn't budging, this despite the fact that the fog cleared 10 minutes later. The real galling fact was that the Eastern Counties League officials were at the game, yet they proved utterly useless, preferring to stay in the hospitality tent, rather than finding a solution to the situation.  So we decided to wait until Tuesday lunchtime before finalising our decision.

The previous night I'd watched the FA Cup draw, which as with the previous 2 rounds, provided a mediocre set of games. From Wycombe's perspective, Stourbridge or Northampton at home was not the day out or financial pay day that the club or the fans were looking for. It was at least winnable though, and I'm hoping that the non-league club prevail as the cups should be all about playing unfamiliar opposition, not ones that you have faced several times already over the years. The same could be said for some of the non-league teams - Barrow and Sutton United had gained some notable results to get this far, yet were 'rewarded' with ties at home to Rochdale and AFC Wimbledon respectively. Hopefully they can get through, and get the plum tie that their hard work deserves. On the day of the game, I spent my day off, walking down town as per usual. The weather forecast was still not clear, even at lunchtime, with it changing all the time, so we decided that we'd choose our game at 4, when I arrived at Anwar's. After spending the afternoon double checking all my fixtures, so as to provide an accurate list, before leaving at 3.30PM.

After I got to Anwar's at 4, we looked at our options in areas that didn't have fog forecast. Five in total were whittled down to 2 riders, and Lichfield City v St Andrews triumphed over Poole Town v Wimborne Town. Although I'd have preferred to complete the Conference South at Poole and see a more attractive game, the travel distance would mean an ever later arrival home than usual. Plus, should we hit bad traffic, it was cutting it fine for kick off. We left at 4.10, encountering the usual evening traffic chaos we had come to know and hate. There was around 40 minutes delay in all, though thankfully we'd allowed plenty of time. Morrisons was the choice for dinner, as it had been quick and easy to see if they had a Cafe in Lichfield. We got to the store at 6.40, there I had sausage, egg, chips and beans for the decent price of £4, along with a can of diet Irn Bru I'd bought in the Wycombe store earlier that day. It was at that point that I realised I'd left my camera on the side at home, so I'd just have to rely on my phone tonight. We left, arriving at the ground at 7.20. There were no programmes available, admission was a fairly standard and perfectly reasonable £5. The club seemed a nice friendly place, and so after going round and grabbing some pictures, we settled for a spot on the halfway line to watch the game.

The first half belonged to the visitors. We were barely a minute in when they were awarded a free kick and the resulting curling effort  was crashed against the bar. They'd spurn several other chances too, before they did open the scoring on 25 minutes. Robert Morgan volleyed in a cross to give his side the lead. The visitors went on to dominate for the rest of the half with Lichfield barely having a sniff, but a goal just before half-time levelled things up. There was a foul in the area and Liam Holt netted the resulting spot kick. With St Andrews dominating the first half and hitting the woodwork three times, it was somewhat of a surprise that the hosts had the better of the second half. However it was the visitors that grabbed what looked like a potential winner on 80 minutes. The home keeper had already made a great save, but Eliot Putman followed up, calmly netting in the opposite corner to where the keeper had just dived. Just as we thought we were going to avoid an extra 30 minutes, Lichfield scored a goal that looked to have forced extra-time when Smigielski Pawek headed in from a corner on 87 minutes. However there was a sting in the tail, a hopeful ball lofted forward just before time and it was left to Shay Brennan to flick home to put St Andrews ahead. The hosts piled forward in search of an equaliser but were caught out on the break when Brennan scored again. The goal had a distinct suspicion of offside about it and the ensuing row resulted in a bit of a melee with the referee sorting it out, sending off a home player before blowing for full-time shortly after.

As things turned out, barely any games were postponed due to fog, but at least my over-bautious attitude had resulted in us seeing a decent game. Both halves had kicked off late, and what with a substantial period of injury time we didn't leave until 9.50. There were a few sets of roadworks and diversions, creating around 15 minutes delay. I dropped Anwar off at 11.30, getting home myself at 11.55. Normally I need at least 90 minutes before I get to sleep, but tonight I was tired by half midnight. I still didn't have the greatest night's sleep though with me being up at 4am the next morning for my usual day at work.


THE CITY GROUND befits a team that have only just recently risen to step 6 football. It's all very nice and well kept and has a decent bar where you can get a selection of hot pies as well as the usual range of drinks. As you'd expect from a 'new' ground it's just a couple of 'Arena' metal stands, placed at either end of the pitch. One has seating for around 100, whilst another has standing accommodation for 200. There is also what appears to be an older overhang in front of the function rooms behind one goal that could keep around 50 fans sheltered. The rest of the ground is open flat standing. 

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Hadley - Brickfield Lane

Hadley FC
Brickfield Lane

Ground Number: 650
Wednesday 24th November 2016
Hadley 3-3 Sun Sports
Spartan South Midlands Premier Division


Hadley FC were formed in 1882 and started in the North Middlesex League. Various local leagues have been entered since then, including the Barnet & District, North Suburban, Mid Herts, Herts County and Southern Olympian. In 1999 they joined the Herts Senior County League. They were very successful here, starting in its second tier and winning promotion up to the Premier at the third attempt. 2002/03 saw an 8th placed finish at their new level and even better they won back to back titles in the following two seasons. This was followed up with a 3rd and 2nd placed finish, so they applied to join the Spartan South Midlands League. Sadly the Herts Senior County League did not want them to progress and blocked the move, leading to the club taking the decision to drop down to the West Herts Saturday League. Champions in their only season, they finally realised their Spartan South Midlands League ambitions, joining at Division 2 (step 7). Two quick promotions, achieved by finishing runners-up to The 61 FC and Holmer Green respectively saw them take their place in the Spartan South Midlands Premier where they remain to this day. Last season saw them records their record best finish of 6th, though this year has seen them in the lower reaches of the table thanks to indifferent form and cup commitments.

This season saw a great run in the FA Cup when they reached the 3rd Qualifying Round, taking Conference South side Eastbourne Borough to a replay. After beating Brantham Athletic, Hertford Town and London Colney, they faced Southern Premier outfit Kings Langley. Despite plying their trade two levels below their opponents they won 2-1 and carried the heroics with a goalless draw in Sussex against Eastbourne Borough. Due to a strict curfew on the use fo their floodlights they had to play the replay at Potters Bar Town and ended up bowing out 4-1. The FA Vase has seen them progress to the 2nd Round a couple of times whilst locally they have won a number of cups including the Barnet Cup, Potters Bar Charity Cup, Mid Herts Shield, Herts Centenary Shield, Aubery Cup and Herts Charity Shield. One notable player to turn out for them is Charlie Goode who played who played a handful of games and is now at Scunthorpe United.  


When Hadley moved into their own ground at the beginning of this season, it meant that I'd need to visit there to keep up my record of seeing a game at every ground in the Spartan South Midlands Premier. I didn't want to use a Saturday for such a short trip, but midweek fixtures at home were in short supply, due to local residents being touchy about the use of their own floodlights. Finally in mid November, one came up, and so I planned the game against Sun Sports in. On the day of the game I only had a couple of nights sleep before I went to work at 4am, so I was glad when it was an easy day at work. I came home and struggled to sleep, but at least I got a couple of hours in. After catching up online, having dinner and various little other things that needed to be done, I left at 6.30. Thankfully, after taking a risk and leaving late, the traffic was fine. I got to the ground with 10 minutes until kick off, paying £7 including a programme, to get in.

I've mentioned before on here that the Spartan South Midlands league is generally a good standard of football, and has never let me down for entertainment. This was no exception, and for a while it looked as if Hadley were set to get their first home win in the league. It was a free-kick from the right that set up the first goal, with Sam Lyon heading in right in the corner on 15 minutes. The visitors missed an immediate chance to equalise straight after when it looked easier to score. A low cross was put in and the striker was left with just the keeper to beat, but the ball was blasted over the bar from 6 yards out It was that way at half-time, with no indication of the goalfest that was to come in the second half. Hadley looked to have a firm grip on the game when they doubled their lead on 55 minutes and it was a decent shot from the right that was placed into the corner of the goal by Zaine Gangadeen. However, Sun Sports completely turned the game on its head with a blistering 15 minute spell. 57 minutes saw the start of their comeback when sloppy defending allowed Andy Brennan to slide home. 8 minutes later, it was all square with Dominic David bundling home at the far post. 73 minutes saw Sun Sports take the lead and it was an unfortunate Hadley defender that headed into his own goal, right on the line. Though, for the second night in a row, it had been a highly cobative game, Hadley deserved a share of the spoils. They got that with just over 10 minutes to go when Tyrone Mullholland's free kick when straight in. It was a good effort, but the visiting keeper will have been disappointed not to get a firmer hand on it to prevent it going in. Both sides had half-chances to win it, but had to settle on a draw, which was probably a fair result, all told.

So this result leaves Hadley still searching for their first ever league win, though they did gain only their second ever point and first score draw at their new home. It had been an excellent way to complete the Spartan South Midlands Premier, though given the entertainment and close locations, I'm bound to be revisting some in the future. It was also a fitting contest to mark my 650th ground. I left straight after the game, and owing to the terms of them playing at the ground, the floodlights were out before I'd even started my engine to keep the local residents from frothing at the mouth. It was a good journey home and I was back by 10.15. Like the previous night, I couldn't go to bed straight away and it was past midnight before I eventually attempted to get to sleep.


Brickfield Lane is situated in the village of Arkley, and although it has been home to Hadley FC previously, it has only been a Spartan South Midlands League venue since August. There are plenty of stipulations that come with its use, including the fact that the floodlights have a strict curfew of 9.30PM leading to some cup games needing to be played at their old groundshare at Potters Bar. The ground is situated in a nice part of the world and has a pub right outside it, though I've no idea what its like.

Back at the ground, there is a bar, though I'm not sure what is on offer, drinks wise. Food is burgers, hotdogs and bacon rolls, and the nice aroma was tempting me even after my dinner. The ground itself is your standard modern venue with the obligatory 100 seater Arena stand. Opposite is a tiny bit more instersting, offering flat covered standing for around the same number. The rest of the ground is open, though the pleasant surroundings and use of wood to good effect make it feel a little more homely and a nice place to visit.


Stansted - Hargrave Park

Stansted FC
Hargrave Park
Cambridge Road
CM24 8BX

Ground Number: 648
Tuesday 22nd November 2016
Stansted 1-2 Wadham Lodge
Essex Senior League


Stansted FC were formed in 1902 although there are records of football in Stansted for some 10 years prior. They spent their formative years in the London, East Herts and Hertfordshire leagues. In 1971 they made the step up, becoming founder members of the Essex Senior League. They only had one win all term in their initial season, although the next year of 1972/73 saw them improve dramatically and finish in 3rd place behind Billericay Town and Basildon United.  Ten years later they improved that, with a runners-up spot behind Heybridge Swifts. They finally won the Essex Senior League in 2009/10 and came close to retaining it the season after, when only a points deduction prevented them from retaining the title. They'd wanted promotion to the Isthmian League, but with their ground not meeting the criteria they fell away badly, finishing in the bottom 4 for the next 3 seasons. Since then, they have recovered, finishing in the top half for each of the next 2 seasons. They've continued that this season, sitting in 4th place at the time of kick-off.

Stansted's best run in the FA Cup came in their second season in the competition, 1996-97. Impressive victories over higher league sides Aveley, Hemel Hempstead and Hampton saw them reach the 3rd Qualifying Round before a 5-0 defeat at St Albans City. 1983/84 would see them win the FA Vase as they defeated Stamford in an enthralling 3-2 victory at Wembley Stadium. Local cup honours include the East Anglian Cup, Eastern Floodlit Cup and Stansted and District Challenge Cup. Famous former players include Dwight Gayle whose goals propelled them to the Essex Senior League title, Gary Hart and Alfie Potter. 1983/84 saw them set two records - beating Coggeshall Town 15-0  to record their record margin of victory, whilst also recording their record attendance of 828 against Whickham in the FA Vase.


My choices were limited on this Tuesday, as fellow hopper groundhopper Anwar had to work until 5.30. The cold weather didn't help, with not many games scheduled and the potential for those that were to fall victim to the weather. With the fact that Anwar's work was on the way to Milton Keynes and the M1, Stansted was initially dismissed as a choice due to its geographical location and the fact that there were no backups around there. Of all the options on the M1, Kirby Muxloe was the nearest as they hosted Rothwell Corinthians. I also had backups in place at Birstall United, West Bridgford, Ashby Ivanhoe and Radcliffe Olympic in place should our original choice be postponed.

The day of the game came, and it was my usual day off work. I originally planned to walk to town and back but after finding some good offers at my local shop, decided not to bother. As it turned out, I needed to go down town anyway, as whilst I was walking back home I got a notification to say that my laptop was ready to pick up, but I decided to come back and have a rest before taking the car down. It was during this downtime that I discovered that my second choice for tonight, Birstall United v Dunkirk, had already bitten the dust. With that in mind, and the fact that their pitch was looking good, I bought Stansted back into the fold, and set up a Twitter list to keep an eye on the remaining games. After going to pick up my laptop, which I was very pleased with, I came back and as the afternoon wore on, more options were being postponed. With me down to 2 options at 2.30PM, Stansted had gone from an afterthought, to the favourite after they and West Bridgford had tweeted that their pitches were fine. I texted Anwar and he gave his preference as Stansted which was fine by me, as it was by far the closest.

I spent the rest of the afternoon researching the club, as well as catching up on various other things, before leaving at 4.45PM. The traffic on the smaller roads was bad thanks to dawdling drivers and so I was about 5 minutes late to our meet. It also took a while to get out of Wingrave thanks to roadworks. Thankfully the rest of the journey was fine, and we were in Stansted by 7. First job was to find something to eat, in the end I opted for a pancake roll and chips from a Chinese takeaway which was £4.10. It was pretty average but at least it was a decent portion size. From there we went to the ground. We got there around 7.20 and were given a nice friendly welcome. Even better for my finances, it was only a fiver for entry and that included a decent programme. Some clubs charge £7 for entry alone in the Essex Senior, so to get a programme thrown in for £2 less was a real bargain. After a brief chat with the chairman we went and sat in the stand and ate our dinner while we waited for the game to start.

The hosts took an early lead with just a couple of minutes in. It was a bit of a scramble, but Jack Hayes bundled home from close range to give Stansted the lead. They'd shaded the first half, but just before half time, Wadham Lodge equalised. There was a loose ball just inside the area and Larry Asare pounced to fire the ball into the roof of the net to level things up. It was a pretty tough game to referee, with plenty of full-blooded tackles going in, and objections to the referee about his decisions. However Mr Gray generally handled things well, being fairly consistent and keeping the game flowing with no unneeded sending offs. Wadham Lodge were by far the better side second half, and to be fair overall. They got their reward late on when they got a winner, Valdut Gabriel-Sighiaurau using his pace to get away from the defence and rolling the ball in the bottom left-hand corner.

It had been quite a physical game, but an entertaining one. In the dying embers of the game we were delighted when news came through of a late winner for Wycombe at Newport County. Naturally we were delighted, and tried to listen to BBC Three Counties online. However in keeping with their incosistent coverage, there was no stream available due to copyright. This didn't stop us getting coverage on Saturday from BBC Radio Cambridge, so it was disappointing not to be able to listen to the post match analysis. Insted we had to make do with the irritating Andy Goldstein on TalkSPORT as they talked about Spurs exit from the Champions League as if it was the only game in the country that night. I dropped Anwar off, before driving home. Though it was a pretty early night home for me, I couldn't get to sleep for ages, so I watched 'Dave Gorman's Modern Life Is Goodish' amongst other things. Eventually I got to sleep at around 2am, though with me being up at 4am, I had to catch up the following afternoon.


HARGRAVE PARK is a classic non-league ground, which is deemed suitable for step 5 and below. This is despite a 200 seater stand, though there could be so-called 'safety concerns as the leg room is not great, and access can be tricky. Next to that is an area of cover, with enough space for 100 people. I didn't use the bar or tea bar on the night, but it seemed to be the standard fare at a reasonable price. The ground is shared with the local cricket club, meaning that some early games, mainly in the FA Cup, end up getting moved to Bishops Stortford. Overall it's a nice friendly place to visit, great value and a pleasant change to bland, modern stadiums.