Sunday, 27 September 2015

Hook Norton - The Bourne

Hook Norton FC
The Bourne
Hook Norton
OX15 5PB

01608 737132

Ground Number: 522
Saturday 26th September 2015
Hook Norton 1-2 Weston Super-Mare
FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round

As a keen fan of the FA Cup, I was pretty pleased when Wycombe were scheduled to play at Exeter on 2nd Qualifying Round day. Though I'd consider a revisit to Exeter as I have only been there one and do not have a programme or ticket from there, it would be an expensive day out. So I started looking at the FA Cup ties that had been drawn. In terms of grounds, AFC Fylde or Marine appealed most, but the one tie that stood out for me was step 6 side Hook Norton facing off against struggling step 2 side Weston Super-Mare. There was a brief reconsideration as fellow groundhopper Anwar fancied going to Burnley but the petrol was too much for him on his own. He also turned down a visit to Hook Norton, preferring instead to go to Tooting & Mitcham on the train. At least at 55 miles away it was the shortest possible journey for me, meaning I could eat at home if I wanted to and wouldn't need to spend as much on fuel costs.

HOOK NORTON were founded in 1898 and played in various local leagues before joining the Hellenic League in 2001. Starting in Division 1 West they were champions in their first season, and were promoted to the Hellenic Premier. However they had to groundshare at Banbury United and in their first ever season they had their best ever finish of 12th in that league. Despite this they finished 3rd bottom the following season and were relegated back down. They had to wait until 2007 for their next promotion, but at least this time they had the facilities in place to use their own ground. This time their adventure lasted 3 seasons before they were relegated once more. They have remained in Division 1 West ever since with their best finish since coming last season when they finished 5th. At the time of kick off they were 9th, but with plenty of games in hand to catch up, due to their cup exploits.

Talking of the FA Cup, this was only their second season in the competition. In their only previous season they exited at the first hurdle after a 6-1 defeat to Laverstock & Ford. This season had seen them improve greatly. In the Extra Preliminary Round they thrashed Combined Counties League outfit Frimley Green 5-0. They then faced Southern League Division 1 South & West side Burnham. After a 1-1 draw on their own patch they appeared to be rank outsiders as they travelled to The Gore. But they stunned their hosts with a 4-2 victory, securing the tie in extra time after home side went down to 9 men. Their reward was a trip to Wessex League side Eastbourne United Association, playing a step above them in the Wessex Premier. In a tight game they came through 1-0 to set up this game. It was the second highest gap between teams so far in the FA Cup this season, with only Bodmin Town v Bath City beating it by virtue of Weston Super-Mare's lowly league placing.

Hook Norton's best run in the FA Vase came in the 2008/09 season came when they reached the 2nd Round. After beating Fairford Town in a replay, they also disposed of Flackwell Heath. Despite drawing 1-1 against VTFC (now called Sholing) they lost 4-0 in the replay down in Hampshire. The clubs sole cup win came last season when they won the Hellenic League Supplementary Cup. The village itself is probably most famous for it's brewery whose beer is sold all over the country and focuses on taste and quality rather than mass production. Sadly as a cider drinker there appeared to be nothing special available on that front for me to sample.

In the week leading up to the game I had been really busy at work what with a lot of colleagues being off for Eid. I'd been doing 10 hour days and was pleased when Saturday and my day off came. I spent the Friday evening watching an under 21 game at Wycombe as Porto beat Schalke 1-0. On the day of the game I woke up really early at 6am. After catching up on the TV I had missed last night I went on my computer for a bit before getting ready and leaving at 11am.

It was a fairly decent trip up to Banbury where I stopped and looked round the shops. I bought a few bits from Poundland plus some new ciders from a very good off licence called SH Jones. By the time I'd finished looking round it was getting on for 1.30 and so I made the 20 minute trip across some lovely countryside to the small village of Hook Norton. I paid a bargain £5 entry with a very good glossy programme after parking in the car park around the corner.

I went into the ground and went for a pint in the bar. I had a pint of Stowford Press which was a bit steep at £4 a pint but bearing in mind the great value so far I didn't mind too much. I then went outside and had myself a can of Magners for £2 and a burger for £2.50 while chatting to fellow hopper Peter. I also chatted to another hopper who is a Wycombe fan. He’d been to a beer festival which had some good ciders and it was only just up the road, so I was disappointed to miss out. I also chatted to some nice people from the club who had seen me interacting with them on Twitter in the week. As kick off was approaching I bagged myself a space near the halfway line as the ground was filling up quickly. With precisely 100 places between the 2 sides this game was the equivalent of Braintree Town playing Manchester City. The report for the game from The Non League Paper is below.

So, a disappointing result for most of the bumper 523 crowd that came. It was a great attendance, smashing their previous best of 244 v Banbury United in the Oxfordshire Senior Cup in 1998. It seemed as if half the village had turned out to give them some enthusiastic support. I was really gutted for a great club and a game that had really lived up to ‘the magic of the FA Cup’ tag. They’d scored a cracking goal and really pushed a side 4 leagues higher to the limit. At least Wycombe had won though, an excellent 2-0 win at Exeter. There was more disappointment at the FA Cup results elsewhere though as my pals Joe & Tristan witnessed their Tonbridge Angels lose for the second time in a week to Leiston. As well as that two thirds of my potential groundhops for the next round went by the wayside. It was a decent journey home, save for a couple of very slow drivers holding me up before I got on the motorway. I got back at 6.15 and spent the evening chilling before watching Match Of The Day and going to bed just before midnight.


THE BOURNE is a pleasant venue which is probably best visited on a warm day as it’s very open. All the stands are on one side and of the metal ’arena’ type, probably 100ish seats and double that covered standing. The clubhouse is very nice, with Sky & BT and also some real ales from the local Hook Norton Brewery. There is a good choice on cider too, though nothing special. Cans work out the best value as opposed to Stowford Press. They also had a BBQ when I went for food, but no club shop, though I did see mugs & pens advertised.   

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Horley Town - The New Defence

Horley Town FC
The New Defence
Court Lodge Road

07545 697234

Ground Number: 521
Tuesday 22nd September 2015
Horley Town 3-0 Sutton Common Rovers

CCL Premier

For a change on a Tuesday I'd be on my own. My usual hopping companion Anwar was on a tight budget as he was going to Arsenal on Wednesday and he also had to look after his kids on the Tuesday. With the nearest potential groundhop being Lutterworth Athletic, he decided against it and so I was left to search for something on my own. I looked through the Non League Paper for the shortest journeys and I plumped for Horley Town as I was getting close to completing the Combined Counties League. Croydon Athletic v Beckenham Town was the shortest trip but I didn't fancy tackling rush hour London. Lingfield and Loxwood were also in the reckoning and I kept them in mind should my original choice be weather affected.

HORLEY TOWN were founded in 1895, known back then as Horley FC. In 1975 they changed their name to the present monicker. Initially playing in the local Surrey Leagues they were members of the Combined Counties League from 1984-96 when it was just a single tier league. They finished a best ever 5th in 1995 but finished bottom of the pile the following season, and were relegated back to the Surrey Intermediate League. They rejoined the Combined Counties League in 2003 have been an ever present in the Premier Division apart from one season in 2006-07 where they spent a season in Division 1 due to ground grading issues. They have had a best ever finish of 5th on 2 occasions, in 2006 and 2008.

Their best progress in the FA Cup had been the 1st Qualifying Round which they have reached on 3 occasions. The most recent was in 2013 when they got past Sevenoaks Town and Holmesdale before losing to Whyteleafe. The following season saw them reach the 3rd Round of the FA Vase where they lost 3-1 to Greenwich Borough. A few local cups have been won, most recently the Surrey Junior Cup in 2009, while their most famous former player was Nicky Forster who starred for the club as a youngster before going on to have an excellent career in the Football League.

On the day of the game I was off work as per usual for a Tuesday. Usually I'd walk down town for a bit of exercise but sadly due to the rain I had to get a lift down with my Dad. I picked up a some Irn Bru before coming back home. At least the extra time gained allowed me to catch up on the TV I had missed by going to sleep early last night and also do a few other jobs that I'd been needing to do. I had dinner and left at 5.15 as I needed to fill my car up with diesel if I wanted to get there and back.

It wasn't a  bad journey over for the time of night with only 15 minutes delay around the usual problem area on the M25 at Heathrow. By 6.50 I was at Horley's ground, paying £6 to get in. I went for a walk around the ground, going to toilet before doing a  circuit of the pitch and taking pictures. By the time I'd gone round the programmes had arrived and with 35 minutes until kick off I went and sat in the bar and flicked through the programme as well as catching up on Facebook.

The visitors dominated the opening 10 minutes without really threatening but it was Horley who had the first real chance on the break when Liam Cox's cross from the right flashed across the goaline before going just wide of the left hand post. Though Sutton continued to press it was another cross from the right that opened the scoring. The ball hit the post only for the visiting defender Kieran Wright to deflect the ball into his own net, despite being under no pressure. The game quietened down a bit after that with the hosts looking comfortable in possession but Sutton did spurn a great opportunity to make it all square just before the break.

Horley had the better of the game at the start of the second half and they doubled their lead on 54 minutes when Ryan Brackpool netted from close range. An error in the Sutton defence was taken advantage of by Leyton Regards on 70 minutes to give Horley Town a 3-0 lead and seemingly settling the game.

After the game I made good progress on the journey home. Initially I tried to listen to BBC Radio Surrey, knowing that the area's Conference teams had been in action. But there was no sports programme so I stuck my Two Mikes podcast on instead and that kept me entertained until I arrived home an hour later. I caught up on Facebook and watched a bit of TV before going to sleep just before midnight.

THE NEW DEFENCE is a smart and modern ground. The main stand which is built into the main building is nicely designed and holds just over a hundred people. There is further cover behind both goals, probably adding around another 200 covered standing. The rest of the ground is open standing. There is a bar and tea bar but I didn't make any purchases from either on the night, though they looked to be your usual football fare.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Wallingford Town - Hithercroft

Wallingford Town FC
Wallingford Sports Park
Hithercroft Road
OX10 9RB

Ground Number: 520
Friday 18th September 2015
Wallingford Town 0-1 Abingdon Town

North Berkshire League - Division 1

I'd originally tried to go to Wallingford Town around a year ago. They had organised a friendly against a team from Wales called Felinfach and were playing on the Friday night. But sadly around a week before the game, the Welshmen had to pull out due to not being able to raise a team, an understandable situation with most of them probably having full time jobs, and the match being scheduled for a Friday night. It was also a Friday night game on this occasion, as it was the opener to the North Berks League Hop, which was now in it's 5th year.

Last year the opener had been at Abingdon and had been a resounding success. While all that was going on I was in Felixstowe on the Eastern Counties League Hop. That was not such a success, with the plank of a referee calling the game off due to light fog, and the league officials nowhere to be seen, presumably stuffing their faces in the hospitality area. There had been a bit of ill feeling about them scheduling the hop at the same time as an established event and it had certainly cost their clubs, as the attendances were a lot smaller than what some excellent grounds, games and clubs merited. Unbelievably they had done it again this year, so I guess some people never learn the error of their ways. While I (and a lot of other hoppers) are not big fans of 'fields' there are plenty who would have liked to do both, yet are unable to do so because of poor scheduling on the ECL's part.

Wallingford Town were formed as a merger of Wallingford Town and Wallingford United in 1995. They were initially known as AFC Wallingford and had some great times around the turn of the century, even beating AFC Wimbledon to runners up in the Combined Counties League in 2002/03. The previous season they had won the Premier Division and had another couple of runners up positions. They had some good FA Cup runs during that period too, reaching the 2nd Qualifying Round on 3 occasions. Geographical boundaries meant a switch to the Hellenic League in 2006 and a couple of years later, they opted to join the more local North Berkshire League. Since the switch, they have remained in Division 1, with a best finish of 4th coming in 2011.

On the day of the game I had my annual appointment at the heart clinic at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. The checkup turned out to be a complete waste of time as the clinic was running 45 minutes late, and all I did was speak to the doctor for 90 seconds which could have been done over the phone of by email. It cost me petrol all the way over to Oxford and back, plus a ridiculous £2.80 for 1 hour and 2 minutes parking. I came home and resumed my Football Manager 2015 career with Blyth Spartans, which had yielded an 11 game undefeated run before I went to sleep last night. I didn't quite carry on the unbeaten run, but I nabbed the last playoff final spot and won the semi final before I had dinner and left at 5.45.

I got to Anwar's at 6.10 and he was ready and waiting with his son Hicham. It was a pretty slow journey over there thanks to dawdling drivers, but 50 minutes later we were at the ground. Paying a very reasonable £4 to get in, including a programme, my first port of call was a double decker bus that they had converted to a bar. I had a pint of Thatchers while I flicked through the programme. I then did the rounds chatting to various hoppers who I had met down the years before taking a seat in the stand with Anwar and his lad.

It wasn't the best of games, though it started quite lively. The visitors had a goal disallowed on 5 minutes - a crossed free kick was delivered into the box and the attacker headed in, but it was ruled out for offside. Apart from 2 great saves by the Wallingford keeper in the space of a minute, that was the sum total of the attacking intend for the first half. The winning goal for Abingdon came when a good through ball was played and the Abingdon number 10 finished cooly through the keepers legs to get his side the win. There were half chances for both sides after that, but there never really looked to be any serious danger of another goal occurring.

Though the game had not been the greatest, there had been a good friendly community vibe at the club and it had been good to catch up with people. After the game it was a much better journey home, dropping Anwar off shortly after 10 and getting home myself at 10.30. On FM15 North Ferriby were put to the sword and therefore I took them up to the Conference North. There was no civic reception or open top bus ride, just a couple of cans of cider and a bedtime of 1am.

HITHERCROFT is a former step 5 ground and it shows, as it would probably be good enough for step 4. All the covered accommodation is on one side in the form of 2 stands. Firstly there is an older stand, with very comfortable padded seats but supporting pillars which don't spoil the view that much unless you are unlucky.  Then there is another arena type metal stand with bland styling and reasonable views. The rest of the ground is open flat standing.

There is a unique bar at the ground - at least there was for the groundhop day. A double decker bus had been converted into a bar and it had a few real ales plus a cider. Food was jacket potatoes when I went, and they also had small merchandise stall. Should you need a greater choice, the town is not too far away, though I never went so I can't say what it's like.