Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Haywards Heath Town - Hanbury Park



Haywards Heath Town FC
Hanbury Stadium
Allen Road
Haywards Heath
West Sussex
RH16 3PT





Ground Number: 482
Wednesday 25th March 2015
Worthing United 2-1 Mile Oak
SCFL D2 League Cup Semi Final




Initially on my week off, I had been planning one of my usual trips up north - staying in a hotel and doing lots of games based in a certain area. But I knew that I would have just had the expense of my Scotland weekend, so I was having second thoughts. The deal was sealed when my mate Lewis procured me a young adult ticket for the Luton Town v Wycombe Wanderers game - and even better the guys I was giving a lift to would pay for my ticket between them, meaning it only cost me £8.40, plus the money for dinner and snacks. I had already dipped out of Norton United v Carlton Town on the Monday, a game which the hosts had won 3-1 in a game that had been played at Newcastle Town FC, due to Norton United's dispute with their ground owners. I just didn't think that my wallet or body could take it after a weekend of over indulgence north of the border.



I was sufficiently recovered in time for Tuesday's trip to Luton. I spent the morning catching up on my blog covering the trip to Scotland, but got quite bored in the afternoon, so I was glad when it came to 3.30 and it was time to leave. I popped into Aylesbury to get a few bits that I needed before meeting the lads at 4.30. I had totally overestimated the level of the evening traffic as by 6PM we were parked up near Kennilworth Road. Myself and Anwar fancied a curry, so after a bit of looking around we selected a place called Al-Bilal. It turned out to be excellent value and I got myself a Chicken Vindaloo, rice, salad and a drink for £6. It was delicious and very tasty as well as being a great value portion size. The Wycombe performance turned out to be as hot as my curry. We were leading within a couple of minutes, and although we were pegged back almost straight away, just as we were in the home game. But we soon shot into a 3-1 lead and although Luton pulled a goal back to make it 3-2 before half time, we survived a second half onslaught to grab a precious win. The only gripe was a very silly road closure on the way home, which just happened to be a road that a decent chunk of the 8500 football crowd wanted to use. Luckily it didn't affect things too much and I got home without too many issues.

When I got home I was faced with the dilemma of where to go next. I already knew that I would not have Anwar with me, so I favoured something in the south where I wouldn't be going past his house. I quite fancied one with a few decent pubs nearby, and Lewisham Borough in the Kent Invicta League ticked all the boxes in that respect. Sadly though, their ground was one with a huge athletics track around it which spoilt the view somewhat. It would also mean a drive right through London with all it's traffic issues, and Bridon Ropes in the same league was dismissed for the same reason. My attention was then drawn to the Haywards Heath area, where there were 2 games going on. My initial choice was St Francis Rangers v Littlehampton Town, but then I saw there was a Sussex County League Division Challenge Cup Semi Final at the other ground in the town between Worthing United and Mile Oak. I do like a cup game and the ground had come highly recommended by fellow groundhopper Peter Miles.



One of Haywards Heath's most famous bits of history is the Sussex County Lunatic Asylum which opened in 1859 on the site of what is now St Francis hospital, and indeed where one of the town's teams, St Francis Rangers play. Nowadays the town serves mainly as a base for workers who go off to the likes of Brighton and London to earn their money. Famous past and current residents include Leslie Ash, Lee Chapman, Natasha Bedingfield and former Eastenders actor Robert Kazinsky who played Sean Slater in the BBC soap. The venue for tonights game was the home Sussex League side Haywards Heath Town who were currently mid table in their league. They had played their first FA Cup match in 22 years this season, but sadly for them it ended in a 11-0 defeat to Combined Counties League side Molesey. Their best period of success was post World War 2 when they were regularly Sussex League champions and even reached the 4th Qualifying Round of the FA Cup.

The first of tonight's semi finalists were Worthing United. They had got to this semi final with a 3-2 win at Steyning Town in the 1st Round of this competition, followed by another trip to Saltdean where they won 1-0. Despite being drawn as the home team in this semi final tie they were forced to travel again as it was being played at a neutral venue. The club had last won this cup back in 1968 when they were known as Wigmore Athletic. They also won the Sussex League's John O'Hara League Challenge Cup in 1975. They had a great FA Cup run in 2006 as they reached the 3rd Qualifying Round before going out to Maidenhead United. They also reached the FA Vase 3rd Round in 1990. 


The Saturday prior to this game had seen them be crowned Sussex League Division 2 Champions, after being relegated from Division 1 last season, so a league and cup double was a distinct possibility. They would have to go a long way though to beat their 1974-75 season which saw them finish in 3rd place in the Sussex County League Division 1.



The other semi finalist, Mile Oak had also yet to play a home game in this cup. They had won 6-4 at Midhurst & Easebourne in round one, before a 3-1 victory at strugglers Seaford United. The home side that night gained national fame due to their struggles as at one point they were the only team in the country to score less goals than Aston Villa, at least in the top 10 levels of English football anyway. Mile Oak had last won this cup in 2006, and it was just one of a number of local cup honours they have to their name. They have also reached the FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round and the FA Vase 2nd Round on 2 occasions.

At the time of the game they were sitting in 5th in the league and had a chance of promotion if the results fell for them. They had joined the Sussex County League in 1987 and had flitted around it's various divisions. They had always found life tough at Division 1 level tough however, with a best ever finish of 16th in 1997.


On the day of the game I woke at around 10am, having had a good nights sleep. I chilled at home all day, catching up on some TV and doing some research for this blog before leaving at 4pm. It was a real pig of a journey round the M25 with several delays thanks to the poor design of the road. Eventually though I got to Haywards Heath and after parking up and taking some pictures of the ground, I went for a walk to find a pub I had researched.

By now it was 6pm and after just over a miles walk I found myself at the Stand Up Inn. Sadly time was too tight to order food but I did at least try a new cider - Sharps Orchard plus a retry of Orchard Pig Explorer. Both were very nice and I even got the second one for a price of a half as they couldn't quite make it a pint. From there I walked back to my car, getting a few bits from Morrisons for dinner only to discover a chippy near the ground.

I paid my fiver to get in which included a very good programme and took my place along the side for the first half. Champions Worthing United were the better side and they took the lead on 22 minutes with a close range finish. There was a moment of controversy when a Worthing United player stuck his head in opponents face but only got a yellow card. The resulting free kick was wasted and it was a first half of not too many chances.

At half time I went and got some chips and was back in time for the second period. Mile Oak started the strongest and they got their reward via an equaliser on 55 minutes. The keeper really should have done better but he fumbled a cross into his own net. 2 minutes later, Worthing had the lead back and it was another case where the keeper should have prevented the shot going through him. The same keeper was booked a few minutes later as he got into a scuffle with a Worthing forward but he accusation of 'he kicked me in the head' were a bit wide of the mark. Both players were booked for their trouble as the game came to life. Sadly there were no further goals despite there being chances for both sides.

That result meant that Worthing United will now face Wick & Barnham on May Day Bank Holiday in the Final. From then on it was a nice hassle free drive home with no traffic. I was back home by 10.40 and it had been a decent penultimate day to my week off.. I spent some time typing my blog and watching TV before going to sleep at around half past midnight.


HANBURY PARK is one of the great traditional non league grounds. Pride of place goes to the big main stand which holds around 500 fans. There is a small area of cover behind one goal but apart from that it is open with a combination of hard standing and grass banking. There is a tea bar and clubhouse at the ground as well as a choice of places nearby. I’d recommend the pleasant mile walk through a park and quiet roads to Lindfield where you will find the excellent Stand Up Inn with a good range of real ales and ciders as well as Thai Food.






Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Scottish Lowland League Hop - Saturday



On the second day of the hop I woke a while before my 7.30 alarm. I had a lovely bath and got dressed before going down for breakfast. We had to wait about 10 minutes, as the service was really slow for the buffet bar with nothing getting filled up for ages. It was partly due to a large group of private school kids staying in the hotel, they got down before us and scoffed the lot. When it did come, it was well worth the wait though. My favourite bit was the square sausage which I had 3 of and were exactly the sort of thing I was after when I thought of Scotland.

After breakfast I returned to my room for a short while I realised I'd forgotten my shaver and so I took up the hotels offer of a free one, which they brought to my room for me. By the time I'd had a shave it was time to go off for another days football. I was one of the first on the coach, and had to wait quite a while. It seemed as if a fella who looked a bit like Harry Potter and his brother were always last on the coach, but they can be forgiven for their slackness as they were really nice blokes. 

VALE OF LEITHEN FC were established in 1891, making them one of the oldest clubs in Scotland. They became full members of the Scottish FA 6 years into their existence. They have had some great moments in the Scottish Cup since they first entered in 1920. This included the biggest game ever to be staged at their ground when Scottish giants Hearts visited in 1962. In front of 3700 fans they hit the bar in the opening minutes, but sadly for them their illustrious neighbours ran out 5-0 winners. Their best every victory came in 1976 as they destroyed Eyemouth United 16-0 in an East of Scotland League match. They joined the newly formed Highland League in 2013 and at the start of the game were sitting 11th,  2 places above visitors Preston Athletic who were 13th.

VALE OF LEITHEN 0-2 PRESTON ATHLETIC



After around a 90 minute journey through some nice countryside we got to the ground. There was still over an hour to kick off and so I went to a cash machine to get some money out. There were not many pubs open but I wasn't really in the mood for drinking so I looked around some shops instead. I saw some lovely dogs around and the town was very laid back and pleasant. I got myself some Irn Bru and cakes for later on before getting back to the ground at 11.30.

I went on and got some pictures while I waited for the game to start. It was a fairly decent contest, not as much quality on terms of passing football but there were more chances. The visitors opened the scoring just before half time when the keeper was lobbed but there had been ample opportunities for both sides in the first half.



The second half was a bit more conservative as Preston Athletic elected to have what they hold. Even so they had the better of the play and doubled the lead on 57 minutes with a low shot from inside the area. They continued to be the better side and hit the bar with a shot from the edge of the area. Vale of Leithen had a couple of chances to reduce the arrears but they were not taken. There were not as many in attendance as last night, but it was still a healthy attendance of 312.


VICTORIA PARK is a ground set in amongst beautiful scenery with rolling hills all around. The covered accommodation is all on one side and I reckon you could get a few hundred in there. There is additional terracing on this side while the rest of the ground is open standing. There is no bar at the ground but a small range of food is offered. A couple of pieces of club merchandise - a scarf and a badge are available for purchase upon request.

SELKIRK 1-1 SPARTANS



SELKIRK FC were formed in 1880, making them the oldest club on the Scottish Borders. They went through tough times in the post war 1920s and only the visits of Celtic, Hibernian and Queen Of The South prevented them from going bankrupt. The Second World War caused problems too and it wasn't until 1946 that the club was revived. Further hard times were to follow, but their heydays soon arrived in the 1970s as they picked up no less than 10 trophies between 1973 and 1978. They came back down to earth with a bump though, as the 1980s bought financial hardship and a record 20-0 defeat to Stirling Albion in 1984. This proved to be a bit of a turning point though as they gradually got their money issues sorted. They moved to their new ground, Yarrow Park at the start of the new millennium and joined the newly formed Highland League in 2013. At the start of the game they were near the bottom in 12th place, with their visitors Spartans in 4th place.




It took half an hour to make the journey to my next game at Selkirk. When we got there I went in and headed straight for the bar. There was a great offer on - bottles of Magners for a quid. Though they were only small ones, that worked for me and over the course of the afternoon I consumed 4. That deal set the tone for the day, or at least the tea bar. I had curry, rice and a naan for £2 which was decent enough. The Scotch Pie was brilliant for a quid and was amongst the best pies I have ever had. The home made Malteser cake was delicious too and was fantastic value for 50p.

As for the game, it was a decent encounter.  Selkirk were the better side in the first half and they hit the bar which was probably the closest anyone came despite lots of chances for both sides. The second half continued in much the same way and it was the home side that took the lead on the hour mark with a close range finish. This seemed to turn the game around, waking Spartans up and they were soon pushing for an equaliser. It was another close range finish that saw them level things up on 85 minutes with another close range finish after pinball in the box. They continued to push for an away win, but despite them hitting the bar it was just not to be.





YARROW PARK is one of the nicer grounds in the Highland League and another one that is really scenic. The most interesting part of the ground is an open wooden terrace done out in modern wood. It goes up quite high, so a nice view can be had from it. I guess it could hold around 500 at a push. The only covered area is a metal type one, decked out in around 150 blue tip up seats. The rest of the ground is open flat standing. As mentioned above, the bar is great value and the catering is amongst the best I have seen at a football ground, which is a good job as it seemed quite a way from anywhere.

GALA FAIRYDEAN ROVERS 1-2 STIRLING UNI




For the third and final game of the day it was a short 15 minute journey to Gala Fairydean Rovers. We swapped navigators on the way so we had Chris instead of Laurence. They had 30 copies of a book called Stramash to give away, which followed the exploits of a Scottish Groundhopper. To win one we had to answer questions about groundhoppers mishaps. Primarily they were about a hopper called Martin Bamforth, star of Swedish TV  when he went on a Groundhop and was interviewed by their TV Network. While he might be a household name in Gothenburg, Malmo and Karlstad, he is famous,y known on the Groundhopper circuit for an error he made one summer.



Looking at the fixtures he noticed that Hibernian had a UEFA Cup game at home. So he merrily drove his way up to Scotland, an exceptionally long drive. He got there and found a deserted ground and a highly confused groundsman who was wondering if he had missed his teams great run into Europe. It turned out that Mr Bamforth had been a bit wide of the mark and had mistaken Hibernians, bitter rivals of Hearts for the Maltese team Hibernian. He also had a number of mishaps, and I won a book for knowing about the time he went all the way to Scandanavia to see a game, only to miss it all after oversleeping on a short nap and waking up an hour after the game had finished.


We got to the ground around 6pm with an hour to go before kick off. I headed straight away for the bar to have a couple of pints and watch the West Ham v Sunderland game. Some hoppers stopped in town to go to the Wetherspoons. I decided against it as we were told we would miss the game but I regretted it as there was nothing special on in the club bar, just Kopparberg and Magners. They had a decent cafe but I was still full from my earlier indulgences.



I didn't really see much of the game to be honest. I was busy collecting my prize when the first goal went in, that gave Stirling University. For the home equaliser I was in the bar and only saw the  ball hit the back of the net and the celebrations. I was busy talking to some fellow hoppers at the time, Chris Garner who was nicknamed the 'Garner Monster' by Laurence for the duration of the trip was informing me of all the smaller grounds/pitches worth visiting in the Bucks area. I was also chatting to some other Oxford fans who had yet again lost on the afternoon of the hop. Back in the ground I had also chatted to John, a Leicester fan who I knew well. I saw the goal in the final minute, or at least the last part of it as the ball flew over the home keepers head to give Stirling University a welcome and deserved win, given the balance of play.



During the evening my phone battery had bitten the dust after all day use. Luckily my iPad was still gong strong for the 75 mile journey back to East Kilbride. I had a good chat to the Oxford fans again and as we neared our hotel a little sing a long was had to some of the songs on the radio. When we got back to the hotel, most of the group went back to the bar for a pint. I considered it, but after noting that the TV did not have BBC1 +1 I opted to stay in my room and watch the last part of Match Of The Day. It had been a tiring day and I fell asleep around half midnight.

NETHERDALE is another pitch that has been converted into a 3G surface, meaning that you can be assured of the game being on whatever the weather. The ground is mainly open hard standing, although there is a huge main stand holding around 800 which is elevated and offers great views of the action. The tea bar is excellent and although the bar does not have the best range of drinks it does have sports TV and is decorated with nice pictures from the clubs short history. They were only founded in 2013 for the start of the Highland League. They also have a range of merchandise but it tends to be on the more expensive side, for example £12 for a wooly hat.