Wednesday, 18 November 2015

AFC Totton - Testwood Stadium

AFC Totton
Testwood Stadium
Salisbury Road
SO40 2RW

023 8086 8981

Ground Number: 538
Tuesday 17th November 2015
AFC Totton 2-1 Larkhall Athletic
Southern League D1 South & West

For the second out of three Tuesdays in a row I would be without fellow groundhopper Anwar, this time because it was his son Hicham's birthday. The plus point of this was that I'd have free choice as to where to go, the bad news was that I'd be paying the full amount of petrol on my own. First choice was always going to be Farnham Town v Westfield - it was by far the nearest and it would also complete the Combined Counties Premier for me. But with the weather again looking dodgy and Farnham's pitch having let me down in the past, I was cautious about setting off without the word that it was good to go. So a series of backups were planned, attractions were meeting fellow hopper Sheridan who has a blog called The Stadium Trotter at AFC Totton v Larkhall Athletic. The match that I really fancied was Herne Bay v Bury Town in the FA Trophy, but that was busting the budget of £20 a match I had set myself for each game in fuel alone. It would be another day of finger crossing and Twitter searching before I knew where I was going.

AFC TOTTON were founded in 1886 and were initially known as Totton FC. Playing in local leagues initially, they joined the Wessex League as founder members in 1986/87. a 3rd placed finish behind Bashley and RS Southampton was an excellent start to their first season in the league. Indeed, despite a series of excellent finishes they didn't better it until 2006/07 when they were runners up to Gosport Borough. The following season they went one better and won the league, meaning that for the 2008/09 season they were promoted to the Southern League Division 1 South & West. Two near misses in their first 2 seasons after they lost to Cirencester Town and Didcot Town in the playoffs were put right in 2011 when they were once more champions. I'd visited their old ground for pictures on the way to Southampton v Wycombe once, but it was time for pastures new as they moved into the brand new Testwood Stadium for their first season in the Southern Premier. They nearly made it a double promotion but lost to Oxford City in the playoff final after finishing 3rd. A mid table finish of 14th followed in 2012/13 and the decline continued the following season when a 21st placed finish spelled relegation. After a 15th placed finish last season, they were in exactly the same position before tonight's game.

In the FA Cup, the 2011/12 season proved to be their best so far. In the qualifying Rounds they beat Fleet Town, Clevedon Town, Weymouth & Handsworth Villa to set up a first round tie against fellow non leaguers Bradford Park Avenue. Home advantage would have made them alight favourites but they totally blew the Yorkshiremen away, winning 8-1. Bristol Rovers were the opponents in the next round, but in front of a record crowd of 2315 saw them lose 6-1 to the football league side. In 2007 the FA Vase final was reached but in the first final to be played at the new Wembley Stadium they lost 3-1 to Truro City.  The FA Trophy 1st Round was reached in 2012/13, whilst the club have won a number of local competitions including the Perkins Charity Cup on 6 occasions.

On the day of the game I was stuck at home for most of the day waiting in for a parcel to arrive, but I wasn't that bothered as it was grotty out and I had no reason to want to go out until the time came to leave for football. Most of the afternoon was spent checking various Twitter accounts and forums, trying to establish where the evening’s football would be. The downsides of clubs been run by volunteers was that they had work and so for a lot of the games confirmation would not be forthcoming until it was too late for me to travel. Although they were initially confident that the game was on, the Farnham Town v Westfield game was called off at 5pm, meaning that it was third time unlucky trying to see a game there, with only Pontefract Colleries proving equally elusive. I’d tweeted and phoned up Herne Bay, but with no answer, so I didn’t want to risk a wasted journey.

So after careful consideration I opted to go to AFC Totton, who had confirmed that their game was on. I had a quick dinner of risotto before leaving at 5.15. Sadly fellow hopper Sheridan would not me joining me as the trains were messed up, a total farce considering the high prices they charge. My trip was reasonable though the M40 was slow. The M25 was patchy as usual but not as bad as it could be, and large parts of the M3 were down to 50mph due to roadworks, but at least it was moving. I got to the ground at 7.10, paying £9 to get in, £2 for a programme and £3.20 for a pint of Aspalls, which helped me chill after a frustrating time trying to find a game. I checked out Facebook and read the programme in the bar while I waited for the game to start.

AFC Totton totally dominated early proceedings forcing a number of good saves out of the visiting keeper Kane Mannings. But it was Larkhall who opened the scoring on the break, 8 minutes in. Left back Jamie Lyons picked up a loose ball in Totton's defence and slotted home from around the edge of the area. The game continued in Totton's favour and they looked particularly dangerous from the flanks. It was from one of these crosses that set up Jake Burgess's equaliser on 32 minutes. At half time it was still all square but it had been a good half with both sides trying to play good football.

Due to having dinner early I was hungry by half time and so got myself a decent sized portion of chips for £1.60. Larkhall started slightly the strongest but again it was good wing play that benefited Totton. A good low cross was put in from the right and Nathaniel Sherborne was left with a simple tap in on 50 minutes. Despite the strong winds, both sides continued to play some good stuff and create clear chances, though nothing clear cut was really emerging. In the end Totton clung on for the 2-1 win, sending the majority of the 200 strong crowd home happy, though Larkhall had played their part in an entertaining game.

I left the ground at 9.40 and listened to the England v France game on the way home. England won 2-0 on a night that was more than about football following the murders by terrorists in Paris last week. The journey home went pretty well, though the M3 was still closed for the same section that had delayed me on the way back from Alton last week. So I came back via Basingstoke and Reading and saved myself 10 miles in the process. I got in at 11.05 and watched TV before going to bed just after midnight.

TESTWOOD STADIUM is a smart and modern venue, thankfully just before pretty much every new build had metal 'Arena' stands as the sole covered accommodation. Pride of place goes to the large main stand which is raised above pitch level and has a capacity of around 400. Views and legroom from here are excellent and as good as any ground you will find. Opposite is a smaller stand, fitted out with benches, holding around 200. The rest of the ground is open terracing, with the overall capacity being set at 3000. Entry was a couple of quid more than I'd liked to have paid, but was in line with other clubs who obviously need to make the books balance. The programme was well presented and had a fair bit to read, with the free team sheet was worth the asking price of £2

There is a nice sized bar at the ground, and this is decorated mainly with AFC Totton memorabilia but also some things from other clubs, especially those they have played in big games such as Bristol Rovers. Drinks are good enough value, probably less than you'd pay in a lot of pubs. The tea bar has a good range, and the portion of chips I had was good value at £1.60. The club shop was closed when I went, so I didn't get to see what was on offer.I didn't venture into town, but I don't think it's too far away. 

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Coleshill Town - Pack Meadow

Coleshill Town FC
Pack Meadow
Packington Lane
B46 3JJ

01675 464905

Ground Number: 537

Saturday 14th November 2015
Coleshill Town 4-1 Rocester
Midland League

I'd not been planning to do a groundhop on this day, as Wycombe were scheduled to be at home to Notts County and having a season ticket there was little chance of me missing it. But a couple of weeks before it was called off due to Notts County having 3 international players called up for that weekends pointless friendly games. You'd have scarcely believed it given Notts' pathetic surrender to Salford City the following Friday. Still, never one to miss an opportunity I asked fellow hopper Anwar if he fancied doing anything long distance that weekend. 

He selected Blackpool, which was excellent for me. Nearby Conference North outfit AFC Fylde were one of 2 sides in that particular league that I had yet to see a game at. They would also be leaving the ground soon, so time was of the essence unless I wanted to miss out. Well, that was the plan until around Thursday, when the previous alerts for rain got worse and worse. There were forecasts of up to 8 inches of rain, plus other stuff that could put games at risk. With the rest of the country not looking much better, we decided to play it safe and head over to Coleshill Town, who had recently had a 3G pitch installed. There might be a slight deviation in the plan should the rain ease up, but opponents Rocester were a side I had seen earlier this season and who had played well.

COLESHILL TOWN were established in 1894, but it was not until 1967 that they joined the Midland Combination. Starting in Divison 2 they won promotion in their third season after finishing as runners up. This earned them promotion to Division 1, later renamed the Premier Division and this is where they have spent the bulk of their time since. Their best finish came in 2008 when they were Champions. Reorganisation has resulted in 2 league switches in recent times. 2008-2014 was spent in the Midland Alliance, whilst last season they joined the newly formed Midland League, with an excellent runners up placing in their first season, This term has seen league form tail off, with them sitting in mid table at the start of the game.

The best ever FA Cup run came this season, and I was witness to a couple of games. I was present as they beat Ellesmere Rangers 11-0 in a game played at Tamworth, thanks to them having their pitch relaid. It was home advantage ceded again in the Preliminary Round as they faced NPL D1 South high fliers Stafford Rangers at the club's Marston Road ground. Against all the odds they triumphed 2-1 to record a remarkable victory. Another 'home; game followed, again against higher league Newcastle Town which they drew 3-3. Newcastle were strong favourites in the replay that I went to see, but Coleshill turned the tables again winning 3-1 with a great performance. In the 2nd Qualifying Round they beat NPL Premier side Stamford 2-0 and it seemed as if nothing could stop them. However in the  3rd Qualifying Round they finally met their match, being well beaten by AFC Fylde 9-0. Last season saw their best ever run in the FA Vase as they reached the 4th Round before losing to Dunston UTS.

On the Friday night before the game, Wycombe had organised a friendly at home to Leeds. It was only £10 entry for season ticket holders so with nothing else planned for the night I decided to go along. A Wycombe side 6 players short of full strength gave a good account of themselves against a strong Leeds side, but ultimately went down 2-0, and it could have been more had it not been for reserve keeper Alex Lynch, who put in an excellent display. The Leeds fans seemed obsessed with Garry Thompson, our former Bradford player, perhaps it's an indication of how far they have fallen if they consider them to be serious rivals. In general though they were friendly enough and sang all even with a lot of the chants being very humorous.

It had been a positive showing from Wycombe, and it had meant that I'd not had the misfortune to watch the England match, with the Three Lions going down 2-0 in Spain. That's really what should have been dominating my news feeds when I got home, but more sinister events took over. People pretending to be Muslims had gone on the rampage near the Stade De France in Paris, shooting dead multiple innocent victims. There had been a lockdown at the stadium with teams and fans having to wait inside until the situation was resolved, but it's totally sickening that people can use religion (which after all is fictional, and a 'story' that religious types use to find comfort in their lives) as a means for violence and their own twisted agenda.

I'd been planning a European trip of my own, to Frankfurt, having wanted to go for a long time. So on the Friday afternoon, after getting the week off work that I wanted, I took the plunge and booked flights and a hotel. The flights were super cheap, but typical of Ryanair the Hahn Airport is around 2 hours from Frankfurt. It also allowed me to grab myself a mid range hotel, rather than a cheapo. I don't mind slumming it in the UK where I can speak the lingo and get things remedied if needed, but overseas I'd rather pay that bit more. Hopefully everything is in place for a nice weekend of football and Appelfwein (German Cider) but to be honest I didn't do much research before I booked everything up, which is most unlike me.

On the day of the game I woke at 6am, so was disappointed not to get a lie in on my day off. I caught up with my Youtube subscriptions before getting out of bed and making a start on this blog, something that I hadn't been too keen to do, given my aborted AFC Fylde one that I spent a fair while on. I was a bit short of time after all that, so left in a rush, just after 10. Meeting Anwar in Aylesbury at 10.30, we made a quick getaway as he was there waiting for me. The trip up to Tamworth went smoothly, with just a 5 minute delay on the M42. We had chosen Tamworth after being impressed by it back in August when we saw Coleshill Town smash Ellesmere Rangers in a match played at Tamworth FC's Lamb ground.

I picked up a few bits, including cakes off of the market and for lunch a couple of Mexican chicken slices from Pound Bakery. I also made a return to the excellent micro pub called The Kings Ditch that I had visited there back in August and had been impressed by their range of cider which totalled 16 in all. There I bought myself 2 pints of Equiniox which was made by Mr Whiteheads in Hampshire. They had run out of clips for the top of the carton though, so I had to gingerly walk round town holding it closed, until I got some bulldog clips from Poundland. This was easier said than done as the weather had taken a turn for the worse with the rain coming down quite heavily, which put a dampner on the trip and meant that we couldn't enjoy it as much as we liked. We decided to head off to the ground, leaving Tamworth at 1.45 and getting to Coleshill Town at 2.15.

After parking up, we paid £6.50 to get in, plus £1.50 for a programme. As it was still raining we headed to the bar where I had a pint of Thatchers Gold for £3.50 whilst watching the end of the Rochdale v Wigan Athletic game on Sky. I was beginning to think I'd made the correct choice using a 3G pitch, given the weather. But in all reality all the weather scares had turned out to be a load of balderdash and even my intended game at AFC Fylde went ahead. I'd enjoyed my day so far which was the main thing though. After supping up we went outside and took some pictures of the ground, before taking a seat in one of the 2 stands while we waited for kick off. I killed the time by catching up online.

The 2 sides were in very similar positions at the start of the game, both in mid table. It was actually the visitors that were the better side early on. However it was Coleshill that took the lead after 5 minutes. A cross was put in, was not cleared properly and Reece Leek finished from close range. The game was delayed for nearly 10 minutes thanks to an injury to a Rocester player. It looked really bad at first, but thankfully he emerged in the stand for the second half, albeit with an ankle support. This didn't stop Coleshill who were now bossing the game and it was Reece Leek finished an excellent through ball to double the lead. It was coming as minutes earlier, Luke Barlone, who had scored 4 goals when I'd seen them thrash Ellesmere, hit the bar.

The Rocester glovesman made a great save to keep his team in the game but it was all to no avail as the impressive Barlone finally got on the scoresheet with a low finish. It was all over bar the shouting just before half time as Coleshill made it 4-0. The second half was not as good but Rocester had slightly the better of the limited chances. They got their reward with a consolation but the hosts were clear winners. In the 3 times I have seen them play this season, they have notched 3 wins, scoring 18 goals and conceding just 2. Sadly even with that form they are still only mid table in what looks a very strong Midland League, with Hereford well clear at the top.

On the way home we listened to BBC Radio Shropshire who devoted almost their whole show to AFC Telford United. The mood was very downbeat however as they were struggling at the bottom of the Conference North and had been hammered 5-1 at home to league leaders Nuneaton Town. As we neared home I put the Two Mikes podcast on, which helped the journey go a lot quicker. I dropped Anwar off at 6.30, getting home just before 7. I spent the evening typing my blog and watching TV while enjoying the cider I had bought earlier. As there was no Match Of The Day, thanks to the international football I got to sleep at 11PM.

PACK MEADOW is a decent ground, probably good enough for step 4 football. There is a seated stand on both sides, between them holding around 200. There is also an area of covered standing with an interesting sloped roof which holds around another 100 under cover, whilst the rest of the ground is open. There are decent bar and tea bar facilities which is good as the town is a fair walk away from that I could see.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Alton Town - Bass Sports Ground

Alton Town
Bass Sports Ground
Anstey Road
GU34 2RL

Ground Number: 536
Tuesday 10th November 2015
Alton Town 0-2 Fleet Spurs
Wessex League D1

Initially the plan on this Tuesday the plan was to go to Mangotsfield United v Bristol Rovers in the Gloucestershire Senior Cup with Anwar. However we kept an open mind and so on Sunday I presented him with a list of nearly 50 possibilities. However, the following day he let me know that he wouldn't be able to do a game, as it was a couple of expensive weekends for him either side. So I'd have to be paying the full amount of fuel costs on my own, though at least I'd get free reign of where to go. I'd heard on the grapevine that Alton Town would be moving ground soon, and so  wanted to tick it whilst I could. Luckily it was also one of the closest at 55 miles away. A look at their excellent website confirmed that they were playing Fleet Spurs, weather permitting of course. I noticed a fair few other hoppers had this game on the radar, what with the ground not having long left.

ALTON TOWN were formed in 1991, following the merger of Alton Town with Bass Alton, a team sponsored by a local brewery and who owned the ground that the team would eventually move in to. They started in the Hampshire League and stayed there until 2002 when they were Champions of the league for the second time. However, unlike 1998, they now had the ground in place to make the step up to the Wessex League. Despite being placed in the Premier Division upon reorganisation, most of their time at the higher tier was a struggle and the highest placing they ever finished was 10th in the 2011/12 season. In 2013 they were transferred to the Combined Counties League Premier due to the geographical boundaries changing. Their first season in their new surroundings ended in relegation, with only Chessington & Hook keeping them off the foot of the table. Last season they didn't fare much better, finishing 13th out of 16 teams in the CCL Division 1. This year has seen a return to the Wessex League, and ai improvement in form, with them sitting 9th at the start of the game.

In the FA Cup, the old Alton Town had reached the 1st Round in the 1970s where they lost to Newport County. Since the merger 2010/11 proved their best season. Chichester City and Merstham were beaten, before a notable victory over Conference South side and renowned giantkillers Sutton United. Their run ended in the 2nd Qualifying Round, going out to Southern Leaguers Cinderford Town after a replay. The following season saw them have their best FA Vase run of recent times, reaching the 2nd Round before losing to Wantage Town.

On the Monday night before the game I watched the FA Cup draw. I was hoping that we'd get Salford away, or failing that a meet up with good friends at the likes of Grimsby or Doncaster. There was huge disappointment for me when we are drawn away at Millwall, a tricky tie and hardly the most welcoming of venues. I guess I'll see how much they want for tickets and what other options there are before making a final decision. Ironically if I follow the chain all the way back I find myself at the very first FA Cup game of the season I went to - Coleshill Town's 11-0 hammering of Ellesmere Rangers.

It was my day off work on the day of the game, and after I'd been to the doctors for a flu jab, I did my usual drill of a 4 mile walk into town. I picked up a few bits before getting a lift home with my dad. After coming home I spent the afternoon relaxing and doing some research for this blog. I also ordered my ticket for the Wycombe Wanderers v Leeds United game on Friday night. There were a couple of decent looking pubs in Alton, including a Wetherspoons which I would have visited had I had people coming with me. However as I was on my own and bearing the cost of fuel alone, I decided to have dinner at home and leave just before 5.30PM. I’d noticed that an ever increasing number of hoppers would be attending, and I wanted to boost my chances of getting a programme on the night.

It was the usual poor quality M25 around Heathrow and I was delayed around 20 minutes. The M3 wasn't great either with a 50mph limit and roadworks for it's entirety. Once I got on the A Roads it was a lot better and I got to the ground at 6.50. After grabbing one of the last spaces in the car park I received a friendly welcome. Sadly there was no programme on the night so after paying £6 to get in I went in the bar to see if I could track an old one down. I met up with another groundhopper Andy and we procured a few old ones. Later on we gave the club a pound and our address and they promised to send us one from today's game when they were printed. We also met a number of other hoppers - Mishi from Dulwich and Jack from Lowestoft and we had a good catch up. We all went out just before kick off, with me choosing to stand on the halfway line.

Looking at the table, I was guessing that Alton Town would be firm favourites for the game. They were much higher in the table and had a great home record. with Fleet Spurs yet to win on their travels. The way the game started backed these facts up with the hosts having the better of the game. It was a good full blooded contest, not dirty but with firm commitment from both sides. 15 minutes in, Fleet had their first chance of the game. A free kick was awarded on the edge of the area and the decent effort was tipped wide by the keeper. Straight away the hosts went up the other end on the counter and the number 10 forced a great save out of the visiting keeper. Alton thought they'd taken the lead in the 38th minute, but the close range finish was ruled out for offside.

Though it had been goalless at half time it had been a good contest. The second half started in much the same way with the home side edging it. However it was Fleet Spurs who took the lead with 2 quickfire goals around 10 minutes into the second period. Both were scored by Sam Knowles - the first a tap in and the second a smart lob over the keeper. From there on they did a good job of taking the sting out of the game and in the end won comfortably, even though there were chances for both sides.

It had been a good evening meeting up with a few familiar faces and had been a decent game of football too. The hosts had been very welcoming and friendly but on the playing side they would have been disappointed not to get at least a point from the game. I made great progress on the first leg of my journey but then some plank decided to close part of the M3. While the diversion was well signposted for once, right in the middle of it there was a set of roadworks with traffic lights and single file traffic. This resulted in a 20 minute delay with me getting in at 11. I watched TV for a bit before going to sleep around midnight.

BASS SPORTS GROUND will be going within the next sad weeks and will be a sad loss. Though the vast majority of it us open standing, it's all painted in the club colours of black and white which adds to the character of the place. There is an old main stand, obviously there for a long while that seats around 150 and it's a refreshing change from the metal flat pack stands that a lot of grounds have now. The bar and tea bar are pretty much standard fare, though I didn't indulge on the night. The town looks nice and is not far away if you are happy to walk.