Saturday, 6 February 2016

Halstead Town - Rosemary Lane

Halstead Town FC
Rosemary Lane
Broton Industrial Estate

01787 472082

Ground Number: 552
Friday 5th February 2016
Halstead Town 2-3 Wivenhoe Town
Eastern Counties Division 1

I'd originally been intending to visit Halstead Town at the beginning of November 2015. They were playing a charity game against the Colchester United 91/92 Conference winning team. This held special interest for me - they beat my own team Wycombe Wanderers to the title on goal difference on a season that had many twists and turns. It was my first season watching Wycombe and looking back bought a lot of memories. Added to that I'd be meeting mates from Braintree and Colchester who would be in attendance, meant that I had it planned well in advance. It would rely on me getting out of work a tad early, not usually a problem as Sundays were really quiet at that point. Sadly I'd not factored in a mass 'sickness epidemic' by the lazy sods that I work with, almost certainly caused by an excess of alcohol on the Saturday night before. In any case it meant I was imprisoned at work, and I'm not ashamed to say that I still bear a grudge to those responsible to this day. Happily the Eastern Counties League are fairly big on Friday night football and so when a batch of said games were released, Halstead Town was the first one on the agenda.

HALSTEAD TOWN were formed in 1879. Playing friendlies at first, before switching to local leagues, they joined the Essex Senior League in 1980. They had 8 seasons here, with their best finish being 3rd, which they achieved on 2 occasions. For the 1988-89 season they joined the Eastern Counties League Division 1, finishing 2nd in their first season and winning promotion to the league's Premier Division. Since then they have spent around about the same time at each level with them being Champions of the Premier Division in 1995 and 1996. 2002 saw their most disappointing finish, 13th in Eastern Counties D1, a level which they have been at since 2007. Prior to kick off they were enjoying their best season in a while sitting 5th, whilst visitors Wivenhoe Town were sitting pretty at the top of the league.

The club's best ever run in the FA Cup came in 1998.. They beat Flackwell Heath 3-0 in the Preliminary Round. A trip to Bowers & Pitsea saw them run out 3-1 winners in the 1st Qualifying Round. It was another trip in the following round as they defeated Fisher Athletic 2-1. It was ex Conference side Slough Town that were their opponents in the 3rd Qualifying Round and that was where the run ended with a 3-1 defeat. Halstead Town have reached the FA Vase 4th Round twice - on the first occasion they lost 5-1 to Wimborne despite a notable 5-0 victory over Histon earlier on. Various local cups have been won including the Essex Senior Trophy on 2 occasions whilst the most famous person to come from Halstead is Radio 2 DJ Steve Lamacq who supports Football League side Colchester United.

After a really busy start of the week at work, I was glad when it settled down towards the end of the week. On the Friday I was out of work by 12 and after going home and having lunch I spent a couple of hours at home before leaving at 2.15. The reason for the early departure was that I wanted to go to Taco Bell for dinner. The Mexican fast food joint had only a handful of branches in the UK and one was almost en route to Halstead in Chelmsford. There was also an excellent cider specialist cider shop in the town,  as I’d not got anything decent at home I thought I’d stock up.

I left at 2.15, getting to Chelmsford an hour later. On the way I was flashed by a speed camera on the M25 but I know I was only going a fraction above the speed limit, certainly below the threshold for prosecution so they will have a battle on their hands if anything comes through the post. Chelmsford was a great town, especially the cider shop which must have had around 150 different ciders, all at reasonable prices. I got 14 bottles for £34 and it was all real stuff, none of your industrial rubbish. I'd parked at Tesco so I fulfilled my obligation of spending £3 in store and took my stuff up to the car. I then went to Taco Bell for dinner, having a volcano burrito and spicy fries with an orange juice for under a fiver. By then it was time to go and meet Daniel and Little Mo from Braintree. It was only a short journey so they got my programme in return for petrol, every little helps. We got to the ground at 6.30 and I realised that I didn't have any cash so I had to pop to a local shop to get some out. After paying £6 to get in I went in the bar for a pint of Aspalls which was very nice and cost £3.50. It was turning into a hoppers convention with friends Leicester Alan, Laurence, Simeon and the Garner Monster turning up and Essex Footie twitter guy Dan was also in attendance. The club seemed a bit overwhelmed by the influx of hoppers with programmes sold out well before kick off and tea bar service very slow. It was a shame as the chips and programme were both excellent for the asking price of £1.

Wivenhoe opened the scoring after 3 minutes with a header at the far post from Reece Keating after a decent delivery from a corner kick. 18 minutes in and it was 2-0, another header, this time from an excellent cross which was scored by the visitors top marksman Ray Turner. Halstead pulled one back on 28 minutes when the visiting keepers goal kick deflected in off Halstead's winger Tom Cook as he was trying to clear the ball. The score stayed the same at the break but after half time the hosts played like a team possessed and after a series of goal line clearances Jordan Pavett finally bundled the ball over the line with 55 minutes on the clock for an equaliser. Halstead were the better team at this point but on the break Wivenhoe regained the lead with a drilled low shot into the bottom left hand corner from Adam Hampson. This prompted wild celebrations and much confusion for the referee. He handed a second yellow to the Wivenhoe number 7, and therefore a sending off. Only he got confused and he had in fact booked the home and not the visiting player. This was quickly remedied by the official. There were further chances for both sides, but Halstead couldn't get what would have been a deserved equaliser for their hard work. It was another win for a very good Wivenhoe side who extend their lead at the top of the league, which prompted joyous scenes at the final whistle. A few people filmed the goals and I have complied a highlights package which is viewable below.

The official attendance was announced as 202, though it seemed like there were a few more than that. After the game I spent a while saying goodbye to the various people I had met. I dropped my 2 Braintree compatriots back at their respective homes and made my way back home. As with the journey up, I was kept company by The Two Mikes - a podcast of the TalkSPORT overnight show. In my opinion there is no better show on the radio, even if Mike Parry is a bit around the twist. There was a road closure on the way home but for once my Sat Nav was up to speed and I came off the official diversion, driving past Bishops Stortford, Broxbourne Borough and Cheshunt FC before rejoining the M25. I got home at 11.45, having a couple of ciders and chatting online and watching TV before going to bed at 2.30am.

ROSEMARY LANE is a traditional non league ground, the sort of which are being replaced by flat pack constructions at a rapid rate. The focal point and only covered accommodation for fans is the main stand. This holds around 300 fans and despite the supporting posts offers excellent views owing to the steep steps, The rest of the ground is open hard standing. The bar and tea bar are very good for this level and there is also a small range of merchandise available. The town is also nearby with plenty of choices for drinking and eating.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Farnham Town FC - The Memorial Ground

Farnham Town FC
The Memorial Ground
Mead Lane

01252 256293

Ground Number: 551
Tuesday 2nd February 2016
Farnham Town 3-1 Chertsey Town
Aldershot Senior Cup 2nd Round

I'd be without my fellow hopper Anwar again for this hop - he was on Arsenal watching duties as they were playing Southampton in the Premiership. Whilst that meant that I'd not be getting help with fuel costs, it did mean that I could have completely free reign as to where to go. There were around 40 options open to me for a new ground, though I straight away whittled these down to 14 in the week before. On the Sunday before the game, after double checking with the non league paper, I'd narrowed it down to 2. The fact that Farnham Town v Chertsey was a cup game, as well as it meaning I'd complete the Combined Counties meant that it beat Barking v FC Romania. I'd actually tried to go to Farnham a couple of times before, but waterlogged pitches meant that I'd had to change plans at the last minute. Thankfully the weather looked fine in the days leading up to the game, with no rain forecast.

FARNHAM TOWN were formed in 1912. They have played in various local leagues in and around the current step 5 level for most of their history. In 1980 they joined the Combined Counties League and barring one season, have remained there ever since. After being champions 2 seasons in a row, the intention was to spend 1992/93 in the Isthmian Division 3, but they resigned before the season had even kicked off. They didn't have things all their own way when the returned to the Combined Counties Premier the following season and in 2006 they were relegated to Division 1. Despite wining the league in their first season, ground grading issues prevented them claiming their promotion. They'd have to wait until 2011 when a runners up spot behind Worcester Park was enough to earn promotion back to the Premier. Since returning, things have been steady, and this has continued this season with them sitting in 12th place at the start of the game.  

Their best run in the FA Cup came in 1999 when they reached the 2nd Qualifying Round before losing in a second replay to Herne Bay after the original game was declared void. They've not had a huge amount of success recently in the FA Vase but in 1977 they reached the 4th Round before a heavy defeat to Farnborough. The last cup they lifted came in 1996 when they lifted the Combined Counties Challenge Cup. The town's most famous resident was rugby player Johnny Wilkinson who grew up there and Woking FC hero Geoff Chapple lived in Farnham and was chairman of the club at one point.

The Monday at work was hellish as Mondays are and after giving them 2 hours overtime I was fed up and had had enough. The greed of accepting too many orders when we haven’t got enough staff is pure selfish and that was with plenty coming in on their day off and staying on. I was glad to have my Tuesday night off and after a decent nights sleep I walked down town for a bit of exercise. After coming back I spent the afternoon relaxing, even placing a few bets online for the first time in ages. Research continued apace for my Frankfurt trip early next month with plenty of websites coming in useful, and  forums gleaned for information that I was unsure about. After a dinner of Chilli stir fry I left just before 5.30. The journey down was slow with small delays on the M40 and M3 but surprisingly hassle free on the M25.

I arrived at 6.40 and after popping into the clubhouse to find there wouldn't be a programme for tonight I went and had a look on the high street to see if there were any decent cider pubs. There weren't so it would be another sober Tuesday for me. To pass time I chatted to the barman Nobby who had plenty of stories of how he used to be a quite a player back in the day and also told me how the club has suffered after a change of council led to the club's rent on the ground going from £5 a year to £4000 and then they had expensive pitch costs on top of that -  with it being flooded often due to a dodgy grate  that kept clogging up. That would probably explain why previous attempts to visit had been thwarted, luckily there was no issues tonight.

Around 5 minutes before kick off I went and got some pictures of the ground. One goalmouth was not in great condition but thankfully the referee was not one of those who calls off games at the drop of a hat. It was pretty even early on but 17 minutes in Farnham opened the scoring. It was a free kick someway out but confusion in the box led to an own goal much to the annoyance of the visiting keeper. I got the moment on video more by luck than judgment. 3 minutes later it was all square - the home keeper saved the initial shot but Wadmore pounced to level for Chertsey. The visiting manager was getting aggrieved that his side were not getting any decisions but the referee was taking no nonsense, being very strict about staying in the technical area and telling the gaffer that he'd be sent off if he kept complaining. A tad harsh seeing as he had kept his language civil and had a valid point. It was a change to what I was used to seeing - the referee being subjected to a string of expletives and not even saying anything. The hosts could have gone ahead on 35 minutes but were on the wrong side of a very tight offside decision. The second half was a bit quieter but Farnham regained the lead on 76 minutes with a close range finish by Mark Corbett. They made it 3-1 with a Jack Dillon header around 5 minutes from time to seal the game. The penalty shoot out I'd been hoping for did not materialise but at least it had been an entertaining game.

After the game I made my way home. When I'd set the Sat Nav for home before the game it estimated an hours delay. Luckily it was back to normal by the time it came for me to leave at 9.40. The journey home was not without incident though - work on the M3 meant a diversion down the A30 and a 20 minute delay. I got home just before 11, watching Match of the Day before going to sleep with work at 4am. Next up for me will be Halstead Town v Wivenhoe Town on Friday, as long as the weather does not ruin my plans.

THE MEMORIAL GROUND is a wonderful old ground with plenty of quirks. Barely a straight edge in sight and a nice change from all the modern grounds. There are 2 covered areas - a seated stand behind the goal which owing to the natural way the ground is, is elevated above pitch level. This holds around 150 whilst there is a smaller covered standing area with benches at the back, holding around 50. The rest of the ground is open, with one goal being out of bounds due to space constraints. The bar and tea bar looked pretty standard for this level - as I'd already had dinner I didn't indulge.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Stamford - Borderville Sports Centre

Stamford AFC
Borderville Sports Centre
Ryhall Road

01780 751471

Ground Number: 550
Tuesday 26th January 2016
Stamford 4-1 Buxton
NPL League Cup 2nd Round

I was pleased to have Anwar back with me this Tuesday, after a number of games on my own thanks to commitments from both sides. There was plenty of choice, but with him having a limited budget for fuel costs, there were some that were ruled out. The weather would play a part as well, but with me wanting to see a cup game, Stamford v Buxton looked the best option. This was all worked out during half time at Wycombe Wanderers v Leyton Orient, a game which the Chairboys lost 2-0 with a pretty poor performance. It would be our second visit to Stamford after seeing them at their old ground when they beat Chasetown in the 2013 NPL D1 South Playoff final. We'd also seen them away at Barwell when they had current Wycombe keeper Alex Lynch in goal for them. Lynch was on loan to them from Peterborough United at the time and owing to the sale of Matt Ingram to Queens Park Rangers, has recently taken over as our first choice keeper, having only played a handful of games previously. I'd also seen Buxton on their own patch, as they beat Hednesford Town in an FA Cup replay, back in October 2012. Looking back at some of those entries in my blogs reminds me of how much it has evolved. As for some of the entries even further back they are very basic, hence why I have been doing a lot of revisits lately, so I can update them.

STAMFORD AFC were formed in 1896. Their nickname of 'The Daniels' comes from former Stamford resident Daniel Lambert, who was reportedly the fattest man ever in Britain and who was buried in the graveyard close to their former ground. The town was voted by the Sunday Times as the "Best place to live in Britain' in 2013 and is also the home of current Doncaster Rovers manager Darren Ferguson, more famous for being the son of former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson. 

The club have played in various leagues in their history such as the Midland League and United Counties League. Winning the UCL Premier in 1998 earned them promotion to the Southern League. Starting in it's Eastern Division, they struggled at first, but after gradually improving a 7th placed finish in 2004 was enough to earn them promotion up to the Southern Premier. This was due to the non league pyramid restructuring to allow the formation of the Conference North & South. Their adventure at the higher level lasted just one season, with only Solihull Borough keeping them off the bottom of the table. They bounced back quickly though and after beating Wivenhoe in the Southern D1 East playoff final of 2006. Despite an excellent 8th placed finish in their first season back, geographical reorganisation meant that they started 2007/08 in the NPL Premier. Though it was a close run thing, they were relegated after finishing second bottom and started the following season in NPL D1 South. After a series of varying finishes they finally earned promotion back to the NPL Premier in 2013, after beating Chasetown in the playoff final. Since making it back they have struggled, but managed to keep their heads above water with 18th and 20th placed finishes. This season was a similar story - sitting in 22nd at kick off, but still well in touch with the teams above them.

Stamford's best ever FA Cup run came in 2013/14. After beating Grantham Town, AFC Wulfrunians and Ashton United, they lost out to Hednesford Town in the 4th Qualifying Round. The 5th Round of the FA Trophy was reached in 2005 where a narrow 1-0 defeat to Exeter City halted their progress. It's smaller brother, the FA Vase has seen even more success. As well as a semi final and 2 runners up spots they won it in 1980 after defeating Gusiborough Town 2-0 at Wembley Stadium. Local cup honours include the Lincolnshire Senior Cup, the Lincolnshire Senior Shield and the Hitchingbrooke Cup.

I had a decent nights sleep on Monday as per usual. I normally walk down town on Tuesday to get a bit of exercise, though today I set off a little earlier to avoid the rain that was scheduled to arrive around mid day. Typically I undid all the work by getting 6 different Christmas sweets items for £1.50 as they were selling them off cheap in Poundland. I also got some diet Irn Bru for tonight’s game, which was another good deal in Morrisons. I came back and spent the afternoon catching up on various bits before leaving for Aylesbury at 3.30. After getting to Anwar's at 4 we were soon on our way. There was around 20 minutes delay on the way, but it would have been more had we not diverted off the A1 onto another road after 2 lorries decided to have a crash. After going the back route we got to Morrisons at 6.15 with me having Scampi and chips for dinner. The place seemed a bit chaotic with kids running about and meals being sent back to the kitchen. Luckily ours were great, even if they took a while to come. After a short drive and mistaking the floodlights of Blackstones FC for the ground as it was a few hundred yards away, we got to the ground and parked up for tonights clash.

The Northern Premier League  Challenge Cup (or Integro Doodson Cup) is a much maligned competition, with managers often putting out under strength sides. Indeed, between tonight’s 2 clubs, despite their collective many seasons in the NPL, they can only muster 1 runners up spot between them. That was in 1991 when at Maine Road, the former ground of Manchester City, 1700 fans beat Buxton 4-1. The attendances reflect the managers attitude to the competition with the turnouts being small. However I have seen plenty ion cracking games in the Southern League’s version of this competition, and it represents a decent chance of silverware if your season is not going to plan. I’ve seen games in this cup before - at Nantwich where they defeated Leek Town 5-0 and at Spalding where Coalville were beaten 5-1. Stamford would have to improve on a torrid home record if they were to change things in their favour - after over a year in their new ground they had only won twice in over 30 attempts.

Getting to the ground about 7 we took some pictures of the outside and went in paying £10 entry and £2 for a programme. After looking round the ground I went in the club shop and chatted to various people before kick off. One notable name on the teamsheet was Paul Bastock in goal for Stamford at the venerable age of 46. He'd made his first appearance in football in around 1987 and I'd seen him a few times for Boston when they played Wycombe in the Conference, and he must be the Pilgrims' record appearance holder. I recognised a couple of other names too - namely the former Doncaster Rovers striker Ricky Ravenhill who was on the bench for Buxton, and one of the linesman who I follow on Twitter. There was a decent selection of pre match music on the tannoy as the start of the game approached, thanks in part to local station Rutland Radio.

The game started brightly with both sides looking to open the scoring early but it was Stamford who were on the front foot in front of a disappointing crowd of 105. Those who did attend witnessed a lively game with Jack Wightwick opening the scoring on 12 minutes, following up after the Buxton keeper parried an initial shot. It looked to be the same old story for Stamford as they conceded an equaliser on 19 minutes when Alex Wiles finished past Paul Bastock after the Stamford defence failed to cut out a cross. Nevertheless they regained their lead within a couple of minutes with the goal of the game. Jake Duffy was some way out when he struck his shot, and although the wind might have helped it flew into the top left hand corner. The hosts were bossing the game by now and 2 goals in the space of 3 minutes settled the tie. Firstly Jordan Smith headed the ball on into the bottom right hand corner to make it 3-1 and then on 39 minutes Jack Wightwick got his brace and completed the nights scoring. There were fewer chances in the second half, Buxton having the better of them and forcing some decent saves out of Bastock as they looked to reduce the arrears.

We got away pretty quickly after setting the Sat Nav up. On the way back we listened to the rest of the Liverpool v Stoke City League Cup semi final on Radio 5 which the home side won after a penalty shoot out. The journey home was nice and quick with me dropping Anwar off just after 11 and getting home myself 20 minutes later, though the quick drive meant my fuel economy was not as good as it could have been. I was glad I had made the choice to go to Stamford as opposed to other options. I really need to tick off AFC Fylde before it goes and the plan was to drop off Anwar at Blackpool. The weather looked too dodgy to risk it though and my fears proved well founded. AFC Fylde was called off early afternoon and Blackpool played out a dull 0-0 draw with Sheffield United on a heavy pitch. After watching a bit of TV I got to bed just before 1am, which is a lot earlier than previous Tuesdays, which was welcome with me being up for work at 4am.

BORDERVILLE SPORTS CENTRE (or the Zeeco Stadium as it is known for sponsorship purchases) is nowhere near as nice as their former home in terms of character. However it is one of the better new builds, and although it's a fair way from town, a walk is not out of the question if you have the time. In any case there are a number of places such as 3 supermarkets, a chip shop near Blackstones FC and a McDonalds nearby. If you choose to eat inside, the choice is decent and reasonably priced. I didn't see any pubs nearby but the bar is bright and welcoming. Though they didn't have any real cider (only Strongbow and a few bottles) they have their own ale, brewed by the local Oakham Brewery I'm led to believe.

As for the ground istelf, most of it is open flat standing. The 2 stands that are there are both pre fabricated, but they are not your usual arena type. The 250 seated stand has good legroom and decent views, despite floodlight pylons being sightline. There is also a decent sized terrace holding around 500. I've been warmly welcomed at both of Stamford's homes and that, coupled with a decent club shop make it well worth a visit.