Thursday, 22 January 2015

Ashford United FC - Homelands Stadium



Ashford United FC
Homelands Stadium
Ashford Road
Kingsnorth
Ashford
Kent
TN26 1NJ

01233 611838




Ground Number: 454
Tuesday 20th January 2015
Ashford United 0-5 Norwich United
FA Vase 4th Round



On the day of the game, I woke up at 7.30 having had a good 11 hours sleep. It was extremely rare for me to be off so sleep so early, especially with a decent episode of Corrie on, but I was pretty tired. I awoke to the sad news that Anne Kirkbride, who played Dierdre in the soap had died. I watched some more of the breakfast news before checking out the latest news online and having a bath. After that I watched last night's Corrie and some Youtube videos. I had been wanting to get my car washed for weeks, but each time I had been thwarted by the weather. This time though, when I went down town I was in luck and it got a much needed freshen up, inside and out.  I also got some other bits, including stuff to take with me for tonight's game.



I came home and had my lunch. I spent the afternoon checking all of my intended fixtures. Having the list on a notes app in my phone was great, but even better was being able to edit it on my iMac as the tweets came in concerning the games. First choice for myself and Anwar was the Lincolnshire Senior Cup game between Stamford and Spalding United. I has seen Stamford play at their old ground about 18 months back, and had recently seen Spalding United thrash Coalville 5-1 in a Doodson Cup game. However with the temperatures being very low, I had a list of backups and we would check Twitter again before we left Aylesbury at 4PM.

As I was leaving home, I noticed an oil warning light come on my car's dashboard. Knowing that this was not the sort of thing to be ignored, but also knowing that I didn't have any of the right oil at home,  I drove to Anwar's as normal, but then also straight to Halfords to get some oil. They tend to be a bit more expensive than other places, but it was the easiest and safest option. I was delighted to see that they would check and top it up for you for free, as I was not 100% sure and was happy to get a second opinion. It cost me £20, but the service was excellent, and it put my mind at rest.

We'd had to put back my departure time by half an hour as I had to wait £20 minutes for the engine to cool down to test the oil. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as at 4.02PM Stamford called their game off after a second inspection due to a frozen pitch. Carlton Town were still giving it the go ahead, but knowing that the temperature was the same as Stamford, I decided against it. It turned out to be the correct decision as it was called off at 6.30, as was pretty much everything that was north of Northampton. I knew it would be warmer down South, and so for the second week in a row I would be going back on myself past near where I lived, rather than heading north.

I had initially dismissed Ashford Town v Norwich United as it would mean me having to pay quite a bit more in petrol, plus having to brave the ever unreliable M25. But it was by far the most attractive option, plus I had checked and the forecast for there suggested that it had a high chance of being on. I would have Anwar check Twitter along the way, but as we left it was game on. We made a good start, even on the first few junctions of the M25. But predictably as soon as we hit around Heathrow it all snarled up, proving once again that the stretch of road around there is not fit for purpose. There was further delay around junction 8 too, as someone had an accident on the slip road, but from then we made great time, going up the M26 and M20 with no issues. We eventually got to the ground at 7.15, having suffered around an hours delay on the way. The match was not in danger though, and we even got a nice welcome from a group of the home side's fans.

I paid £7 to get in, which was one of the pricier step 5 ones I have done this season. I also paid £1.50 for one of the thinner programmes I have had this season, but as a plus point it was well presented and had a decent amount of reading in it, with not many adverts. I was cold, so I went into the bar and warmed up, having a pint of Somersby for £3.60 while I was up there, which was slightly above average. This was balanced out by the tea bar though, which was great value. I had a generous, freshly cooked and very tasty portion of chips for £1.50, plus a small sausage roll for just 50p which was also very nice. After I had scoffed that, I walked round taking pictures of the ground, before settling down to watch the game. I'd noticed on Facebook that my mate Louis who supports Hythe Town and Gillingham was there, so I was hoping to see him later.


ASHFORD UNITED HISTORY

In it's current incarnation, the club was only founded in 2011. They spent their first 2 seasons in the Kent Invicta League, finishing 5th and 3rd. For 2013-14, they joined the Southern Counties East League which was a step above in terms of the football pyramid. That was last season and they had a brillliant debut season, finishing runners up behind winners Whyteleafe. They also reached the last 32 of the FA Vase and the final of the Kent Senior Trophy.

That's only a tiny part of their history though. The original club were formed in 1891. They played in local leagues, including the Kent League up until 1959 when they joined the Southern League. Apart from a few seasons in the Premier Division, they spent most of their time in the second tier, transferring to the Isthmian League in 2004. Their best ever finish came in 1988, when they finished 12th in the Southern Premier, which at the time was at step 2 of the non league pyramid. They were known as Ashford Town during this time but in 2010 the club went  bust due to financial issues and had a season out of football while the new club was formed.

The old club had some great FA Cup runs over the years. They have reached the FA Cup 2nd Round on 3 occasions, most recently in 1996 when they lost 5-0 to Watford. A few years before that they took Fulham to a 1st Round Replay and in the process had a record crown of 3363 at Homelands. At their old stadium they nearly doubled that when 6525 packed into Essella Park for a 1959 FA Cup game against Crystal Palace. They reached the FA Trophy Semi Final of 1973 and have won a huge number of local cups.


THE GAME

It was 6th in the Southern Counties East League v 1st in the Eastern Counties League. I knew the visitors competition to be one of the better quality step 5 leagues having seen 3 games in it so far this season. Norwich United had won 18 of their 20 league games in that league, whilst Ashford, although on a good run had not played since December 27th due to the weather.

The hosts started brightly and had the first couple of chances, but gradually the visitors took control. Norwich United took the lead from the penalty spot after 10 minutes with Matty Daniels doing the business. They tended to be a very direct side and Ashford struggled to cope with this. Paul Cook added a second on 20 minutes and a brace from Matty Blake put Norwich 4-0 up at the interval.

It had been pretty one sided, but not by a 4 goal margin with ropey defending and keeping to blame for at least 2 of the goals. The home side improved after the break but they couldn't break their opponents down. In the end it was Matty Daniels who got his second and his sides 5th to complete a comprehensive victory.


AFTER THE GAME

Luckily I was able to chat to my mate Louis for the last 10 minutes of the game and it was good to meet him after chatting on Facebook. I certainly plan to go and see his team Hythe soon as the ground is a cracker and it would be good to have a longer talk. I met Anwar back at where we had been sitting and as we walked out we noticed someone else in a Wycombe hat. It turned out he followed us despite living in Ashford and had a half season ticket until the end of the season. It was quite a late departure due to the game finishing at 9.50.

The journey started off fine, that was until we got to the roadworks at the Dartford crossing. The long running roadworks for a simple job delayed us by 35 minutes as a massive amount of people were squeezed into one line, and forced to go single filed through the toll booth, which opened and closed for every vehicle, despite the new 'quicker' payment method being in place, and their being no charge after 10PM. It was ineptitude in the extreme and a complete disgrace.

This really set us back, and as a result I dropped Anwar off at 12.05am. What with going a different way for each leg of the journey, I had done a complete circuit of the M25 today, and also on my way back home I took my car over 100,000 miles. I got in myself at 12.25, getting to sleep about an hour later. Then about 2.20am I was woken by a smoke alarm which had been going off randomly over the past couple of days. Content that the house was not burning down, I took it off the wall and locked it in the conservatory where it would not disturb me. It left me with very little sleep though, what with me up at 4am for work.


HOMELANDS is one of the better grounds at step 5, being smart and modern, having been built in 1989. The main stand holds 500 but looks bigger, this hosts all the hospitality facilities, even including a number of executive boxes which is most unusual at this level. There is cover behind both goals, probably  for about 800 in all, while the overall ground capacity stands at 3200.

There wasn't a club shop that I saw. The bar is pretty big and offers the usual range of drinks for a clubhouse. Best thing though is the tea bar which has a decent range of food at good prices and was useful due to us getting their late. Higher league clubs Margate and Maidstone have both shared here in recent times and I'm pretty certain it would be fine for step 2 football. 



Sunday, 18 January 2015

Garforth Town - Wheatley Park



Garforth Town FC
Wheatley Park
Cedar Ridge
Garforth
Leeds

West Yorkshire
LS25 2PF




Ground Number: 453
Saturday 17th January 2015
Garforth Town 6-1 Retford United
NCEL Premier


For this Saturday I would be back in my happy hunting ground of the North for a game. I had agreed around a week ago that I would drop fellow groundhopper Anwar and our mutual friend Howsy off at Leeds United as they had not seen a game there yet. I thought it would be a simple choice of selecting the best game and day out for me, and with the weather not looking horrendous, I was fully expecting to be at Ossett Town v Bamber Bridge, a game I had selected mainly because of the nearby Beer Huis off licence and micro pub, as well as it being a decent ground.


But it transpired as the week rolled on, that things might not be so simple. The weather forecast was looking ominous and so for that reason I drew up a list of 49 possibilities, even including a re visit to Gigg Lane for Bury against my own team Wycombe. That took 2 hours of my Friday night, when I should have been heading west for Slimbridge v Bristol Manor Farm. But unlike potential target Gresley on Tuesday, who didn’t communicate, they were excellent at keeping fans in the loop, even Tweeting me personally to make sure I didn’t have a wasted journey. That will push them a bit closer to the top of the list, when it comes to deciding what game to attend.


So that evening was spent having a few drinks instead, but I didn’t go too mad as I knew I had to be driving in the morning. It was a fairly quiet night, even so it was a blow to my new years resolution of trying to be more healthy. On the day of the game, I woke up fairly early, just before 7am. I watched some Youtube videos and checked out if there was any early news of pitch inspections before having a bath, getting dressed and leaving home at 8.30.


I got to Anwar's just before 9, but had to wait 10 minutes for him. We then went to get Howzy, more waiting but by 9.25 we were away and after a good journey I dropped the lads at Leeds at 12.15. I already knew that Ossett was off, thanks to them tweeting me and I had Anwar check my second choice at Pontefract. Thankfully it was on, and so I made my way over there, arriving 20 minutes later. I got to my target pub, the Robin Hood just before it opened at 1 and had a pint and a half, sampling Lily The Pink and Scrumpy Wasp ciders. 



It was a stroke of luck that the second cider could only produce a half as when casually checking Twitter, I was horrified to find out that the referee had called the game off, despite it looking fine to me. Third choice at Chadderton had already bitten the dust, as had 5th choice at Eccleshill. I had decided to put Colne aside as it had a nice micro pub which I could save for when I had more time. So down the list I went, Garforth was next and luckily that was on. I had to jog back to the ground first though, and I was slightly worried that everyone might have gone home and locked my car in the car park as it had a couple of gates. Luckily they hadn’t and so I drove the short distance to the other side of Leeds for my alternative game.

I got to Garforth at 2.10 and went in the bar, as the turnstiles were not yet open. I had a pint of Strongbow while watching the BT Sport match which was Grimsby v Barnet. I was delighted for my Mariners pals that Grimsby were 3-1 up, and grateful to Garforth for giving me a game. I got a programme and a golden goal ticket to help them out. While I was watching the TV game, I also had a look at my programme. At £1.50 it represented excellent value for money, with lots of reading and very professionally printed. Something like this is what I am used to paying a quid more for at a higher level.

At 2.40, I decided to brave the cold, going out and paying £5 to get into the ground. I had planned on eating lunch in Pontefract, but thanks to the referee’s intervention with the earlier game I had to rush off and so by now was pretty hungry. I ordered a Balti Pie which was pretty mediocre, but at least it came with the all important mushy peas. I’ve had better, but at least it was good value at £2.50. I then went to choose my place to watch the start of the game, and opted for the top row of the striking looking stand, but with it being high up and with its strange roof arrangement it was freezing up there and so I walked around the ground, standing on the far side for most of the game.


GARFORTH TOWN were formed in 1964, and so this was their half centenary season.  They were known as Miners Arms (after a local pub) and then Garforth Miners before adopting their present monicker in 1985. The club were founder members of the NCEL in 1982 and remained there until 2006 when they were promoted to the NPL. They were generally successful but after a best ever 5th placed finish in 2012, they finished rock bottom the following season. This meant relegation back to the NCEL and in their first season back they finished 14th. This season saw little change, with them sitting 13th at the start of play.

They reached the Quarter Final of the FA Vase in the 1986-87 season, eventually losing to London based side Collier Row. As for the FA Cup, they reached the 2nd Qualifying Round on 3 occasions. Famous players to represent the club include former Manchester United player Lee Sharp, and amazingly Socrates, captain of the epic 1982 Brazil team. The latter came about due to former owner Simon Clifford's Brazillian Soccer schools and certainly bought much attention to the club from the national media.

THE GAME

It was a highly comprehensive and professional performance that saw mid table Garforth romp to a 6-1 win over relegation threatened Retford. The scoring was opened when Luke Mangan’s looping header from a cross past Retford keeper. Tawanda Rupere doubled the lead on 25 minutes when his low drive went in from 20 yards out. 10 minutes later it was 3 as Mark Simpson rounded the keeper and finished from close range. Just after the hour mark Dan Burrett’s curling shot made it 4-0. It was 5-0 through Mark Simpson on 71 minutes and although Retford got a consolation through Josh Batty’s header. The 5 goal margin was restored just before the end as Jassim Alali’s excellent run ended with his shot from just inside the area going in off the post.

AFTER THE GAME

I had enjoyed my day and was glad that I got a game in, but now it was time to resume my designated driver duties and pick up the lads. It was only quick 15 minute journey, but due to me being unable to contact either of them due to the mobile phone network being unable to cope with the level of calls, I had to wait a further 20 minutes to meet up. Having been denied the chance to go to the offy that I had wanted to due to the Ossett Town game being called off, I spent the time seeing how many miles going back via Ossett would take. I also wanted some food and to get fuel, and the difference was not much, mileage wise. Eventually we were on our way. I found the shop and I spent just shy of a tenner on 4 new ciders that I had not had before. I also got some chips, plus stuck £20 of diesel in my car for the journey home.

We left just after 6. It always feels a lot slower on the way home as you do not have the match to look forward to. The pathetic 40 miles or so of a needless 50MPH limit through the roadworks did not help, but we filled the time listening to various football phone ins, but the signal was not great. I dropped both Anwar and Howzy in Aylesbury just after 9pm. I got home myself at 9.30, checking the internet while drinking orange squash until MOTD came on. I was surprised at how many matches survived the weather, I think my top choices were one of the few to bite the dust. 

For my favourite show of the week, I had one of my ciders, a local one to the area, being from Huddersfield and very good it was too. I went to bed at midnight after the footy had finished. The next day when I had a bottle of Perry whilst typing my blog for this game, I was amused to see that I had travelled nearly 200 miles to buy a drink that was made 15 minutes from my home. It wasn’t made with the same care and attention as the one I enjoyed last night, being commercially made by some Asian company. Even so, it was very nice, and I might well pop down and get a case if they offer such a facility.

WHEATLEY PARK is a modern and smart looking ground. The main stand is the focal point, and it looks marvellous with a striking roof design, and connecting tunnel in mid air to the hospitality areas. Sadly it is style over substance, as with no side panels you are afforded little protection from the chilly wind and rain. There is also a small covered terrace behind one goal, but apart from that it is all open.


The bar provides a warm haven from the elements and shows all the televised games, although with nothing special on the drinks front. The only hot food is pie and peas from the tea bar, but at least it is good value. Club souvenirs are available from the bar. There is nothing that I saw near the ground, but with such a warm and friendly welcome at the club, don’t let that put you off as it’s a great club to visit. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Merstham - Moatside



Merstham FC
Moatside Stadium
Weldon Way
Merstham
Surrey
RH1 3QB

01737 644046




Ground Number: 452
Tuesday 13th January 2015
Merstham 2-1 Sutton United
Surrey Senior Cup 3rd Round



It was once again time for a new ground for me and fellow groundhopper Anwar. We were hoping for something local and cheap and with that in mind, we picked Olney Town and Cogenhoe United, plus the slightly further away Highworth Town as it was one of the few that I needed to complete the Hellenic Premier. We did bear in mind however that we might have to alter plans due to weather, so I didn't bother starting my blog early like I normally do. I had a good weekend football wise with Wycombe triumphing 1-0 over York in a really good game. Apart from that the most notable incident of the start of the week was seeing this bafflingly stupid answer on 'The Chase' - I've not seen many Ice Cream Vans on the pitch, not even at non league level.


MERSTHAM FC were founded in 1892 and played in local leagues before joining the Combined Counties League in 1984. They remained in it's top division for the duration of their stay, finishing runners up on 4 occasions before winning promotion to the Isthmian D1 South in 2008. Since then they have had a best ever finish of 7th last season, and currently sit 3rd in the table before Saturday's game at home to 4th placed Folkestone Invicta.

In the FA Cup their best ever run came in 2008 when they reached the 3rd Qualifying Round before going out to AFC Hornchurch. Earlier that year they had reached the FA Vase Quarter Final before bowing out to Needham Market. The FA Trophy 2nd Qualifying Round has been reached twice. The club can list several local cups to it's honours - most recently tonight's competition, the Surrey Senior Cup in 2008. I had seen them play once before - in August 2003 they ran AFC Wimbledon really close in a game played at Kingsmeadow, only losing 3-2 when most sides were copping right thrashings.


Sutton United were a side that I was a lot more familiar with. They had graced the top tier of non league football in the late 1980's and had some great runs, knocking out top division side Coventry City in a famous FA Cup encounter in 1989. That was a couple of years before I started watching football, but the first time I saw them was in 1993. Wycombe were going for a Conference and FA Trophy double, and Sutton United stood in their way in the Semi Final. It looked a very tricky second leg after they won 3-2 at Adams Park, but luckily we won 4-0 in the return before beating Runcorn 4-1 in the final at Wembley. I was to see them play once more in 2008 as I went to an FA Cup game where they battled bravely but lost 1-0 to Notts County. I also saw a cup semi final game at their Gander Green Lane ground as AFC Wimbledon beat Coney Hall 5-0 in the CCL Premier Cup.

On the day of the game, we had drawn the shortlist for games down to 3 - those being Highworth Town, Olney Town and Cogenhoe United. However, one by one, the weather intervened and put paid to these. I had woken around 8 am and had a bath, and I spent the morning correcting some picture URL’s on my old blog where Facebook had changed the location of my photos. I only got around 10 done, and with nearly 200 to do, I am in for a long job. After my initial choice of games had gone, I spent the afternoon looking for alternatives, but they were few and far between. I decided to look again when I got to Anwar’s, leaving home at 3.15.

I arrived to meet him in Aylesbury at 3.50 and after going to B&M bargains to get some drinks for the game, we took another look at the fixtures. We had it boiled down to 2 options - Carlton Town who were having a pitch inspection at the time and Gresley. We waited for the pitch inspection at Carlton, which it failed. As Gresley were not answering the phone or replying to tweets, we decided not to risk it. 2 games were confirmed on in roughly the same area and we chose Merstham v Sutton United over Horley Town.
By now it was 4.30, so we got on our way. The M25 was dreadful as usual around Heathrow but apart from that it was good going. We got to Merstham at 6 and decided to walk into town. Big mistake, the place was dead and the only food was a tenner a meal in a pub. With me hoping for a cheap night out, that wasn’t going to happen. We walked back to the ground, getting a Samosa from a newsagent on the way. As the programmes had not arrived yet, I went into the bar for a pint of Strongbow which was reasonable value at 2.80 a pint. We went into the ground at 7.15, paying £8 for entry and getting a free single sheet of paper for a programme.


I got some pictures of inside the ground and I was pleased to see it was just as well kept as it was when I visited for pictures on a non matchday, around 5 years ago. A friendly board member or groundsman (or possibly both) saw my Wycombe coat and wondered what I was doing at a random game. I told him I was a groundhopper and so he invited me into the smart boardroom for a look at the club. He was the same as lots of others at the club - really pleased to have someone new at the ground. After coming out of there, I met up with Anwar again, and we went to the tea bar. I got myself a portion of chips which were pretty good, and decent value for a quid. So much so that I had another portion during the first half. I also met the club mascot of sorts, a lovely dog called Charlie, who was happy to have a fuss made of him and pose for a picture.


THE GAME

It was a local derby of sorts, and was quite a feisty one with plenty of meaty tackles flying in. They went largely unpunished, apart from one notable incident when Simon Cooper was sent off just before half time. By that point Merstham were ahead - 34 minutes in Fabio Saraiva's powerful free kick deflected in off the post. The visitors had the better of the first half though and this was even more the case in the second half as they sought to use their man advantage. They had plenty of possession but were wasteful in the final third. They eventually got their equaliser through Shane Cooper's deflected shot from about 25 yards out. Sutton looked the most likely to score, but there was a sting in the tail. Right on time Tommy Hutchings netted a winner to preserve Merstham's 12 match unbeaten run and see them into the next round of the Surrey Senior Cup. 

AFTER THE GAME

The match finished pretty late, and it was around 9.50 when we left the ground. We had a good journey and despite a huge range of road closures and roadworks going on, none of them affected us that badly. We listened to the pulsating FA Cup game between West Ham and Everton, which the Hammers won on penalties. I dropped Anwar off at 11, getting home myself 20 minutes later. After watching TV I got to sleep about half midnight. When driving home, I noticed that one of my headlight bulbs had gone, which seems to happen with alarming regularity with my car. I used my fog lights as a temporary measure, replacing it the following day after I got home from work.


MOATSIDE is a smart ground for step 4, and has seen a lot of work in recent years to bring it up to standard. Though there are a few metal stands, they are all nicely done in club colours and aren't the bland carbon copies that you see at other grounds.

On the side you come in on, there is a stand decked out in yellow and black seats holding around 200 fans under cover. There are areas of cover behind each goal, probably holding around 600. The overall ground capacity is 2000. There is a bar outside the ground which is nice to spend time in, with a reasonable range of drinks. The tea bar was good and the only option for food that I could find. There was a club shop, but it was closed on my visit. Overall I enjoyed my visit here, it's a nice ground and a  friendly club.