Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Sheffield - Coach & Horses Ground

Sheffield FC
Coach & Horses Ground
Sheffield Road
S18 2GD

0844 887 1857

Ground Number: 356
Tuesday 15th April 2014
Sheffield 2-3 Halesowen Town
NPL D1 South

For the second part of my football and Coronation Street trip I wanted to go to an NPL game if possible. I had been to a lot of the grounds and the only one that really fitted the bill was Sheffield FC. It was also a tiny bit closer to home, which would aid me as I had a 4am start the next day. Another bonus was that I could park up at the ground, walk into Dronfield where the club is based and get a train into the excellent city of Sheffield, with it's wealth of good pubs, food places and shops.

Sheffield FC are the worlds oldest football club, having been formed in 1857. They played in local leagues, mainly the Yorkshire league for most of their history, before joining the NCEL Division 1  in 1982. They won the league in 1989 and gained promotion to the League's Premier Division. However, despite finishing 9th in their first season at this level, they were demoted due to lack of floodlights. This was soon remedied and they won the league in their first season back. Mixed seasons at the new level continued, but they survived and eventually prospered, gaining promotion to their current league, the NPL Division 1 South in 2008. Since then they have finished in the top half every season since, and have missed out in the playoffs on a couple of occasions. Their record finish of 4th came in 2012. In the early days of the FA Cup they reached the Quarter Finals on more than one occasion, and in modern times they have made the 4th Qualifying Round on a couple of occasions, which is impressive for their league status. They won the FA Amateur Cup in 1904 and were FA Vase finalists in 1977, losing to Billericay Town after a replay. In their short time in the FA Trophy they have made the 3rd Qualifying Round on 2 occasions. This season they were having a disappointing time, lying 15th in the table at the time of the game, and on course for their worst finish in this league yet.

Halesowen Town were having a great time of it meanwhile, sitting proudly at the top of the league. I had seen them narrowly win at Bedworth earlier in the season. I had also been to their ground for a game, when Stourbridge beat Glossop North End 3-0 in the 2006 FA Cup season.  They were also one of the older football clubs around, having been formed in 1873.  They joined the Southern League, and have flitted around the First and Premier Divisions in the time since. That was until they transferred to the NPL Division 1 South last season. Their highest league placing was in 1996, when they finished 2nd in the Southern Premier. They have recked the FA Cup 1st Round on a number of occasions, most recently in 2004/05 when they lost to Yeading. The Middlesex club went on to play QPR that season before merging with Hayes FC in 2007.  They have got to the FA Trophy 3rd Round on a couple of occasions and won the FA Vase 2 seasons in a row in the early part of the 1980's. They had former Kidderminster player Iyseden Christie in their current squad and have had Steffan Moore and well known names turn out for them in the past.

I woke up at 7.30, having a bath and a healthy breakfast of a packet of crisps. I checked out of my hotel at 8.20, and it took me till 9.10 to drive the 8 miles into Manchester, so it was just as well that I left enough time. I parked up and walked to the set of Coronation Street, arriving around 50 minutes before the start of my tour. I killed time by sitting in the old staff canteen and having an all day breakfast roll.

The tour itself was very good, though it was a bit annoying that you couldn't take pictures of the inside sets. We saw Carla's flat, the Platt's living room, the Underworld knicker factory and the barge that Ken Barlow had his affair on amongst other things. And if course the Rovers Return, where you could get a professional photo taken of you behind the Rovers Bar. It cost £8.50 to have it on a USB stick, and that was the only thing that I bought in the gift shop as it was quite expensive. Overall though, the tour was excellent and well worth the effort and £16.50 that it cost to go on. And you were allowed to get some pictures of the outside set, so I got a few close ups of the shops and houses, as well as a few selfies.

I was finished about 11.40 and drove to Dronfield Town. The route was beautiful and scenic, though it was very annoying sat behind lorries that drove at half the speed limit. I got to Dronfield at 1.30 and got a few pictures of their ground. It was pretty nice and decent for the level that they play at (NCEL Division 1) I then drove to nearby Sheffield FC for the nights game, but parked up and walked just under a mile to Dronfield train station. Annoyingly it was a 45 minute wait for a train, as they only run at 2 and 15 minutes past the hour, totally pathetic and left me wishing I'd planned for carefully to cater for the unexpected poor service. I killed time by going to a local shop to get a bag of crisps and the local paper which was a special edition to commemorate 25 years since the tragic Hillsborough Disaster. The government of the time are rightly still receiving criticism for the disgusting cover up that occurred, and it wax also them that sold off all the trains, so that they now run for the benefit of the company's shareholders as opposed to the passengers.

I finally got my train just after 3 and from there it was 10 minutes into Sheffield. First port of call was The Rutland Arms, which has received excellent reviews for its cider selection in the pub Mecca that is Sheffield. It was only 5 minutes from the station and I was installed in the bar by 3.20. First off was a pint of 'Ten Years Later' cider , followed by a pint of Tutts Clump, which had travelled around the same distance as me, being that it was from Berkshire. I looked at my train app on my phone and deduced that either 5.45 or 6.05 was the best time to get my train, so I beared it in mind before having a look round the shops.

I went to Pound Bakery for some cakes, then Poundland for some drinks (I take it you are noticing the usual cheapskate theme here!) I then put Cash Converters in my Sat Nav in hope of picking up some cheap PS2 games. However, I stopped at a bookshop, and picked up a book about dugouts (sad git I know) By the time I got to cash converters I was 5 minutes too late for their 5pm closing time. I decided to go back to the station, but not before going to the Sheffield Tap for a pint of Janet's Jungle Juice. It was one I had had in Rugby before, but was a really nice one, so I didn't mind having it again.

I got back to Dronfield at 6.20 and stopped a local Indian restaurant to get a keema naan, which was great value at only £2. I then made my way to the ground. Seen as it was still over an hour to go till kick off I called in at the Coach and Horses pub near the ground. I saw that they did Lilley's Mango Cider, and seen as it was a pretty low strength one, I had a pint of that. I then went and sat in my car for a while and listened to TalkSPORT, who were previewing the evenings games. At around 7.10 I went into the ground and got a programme. After going round and getting some pictures, I got myself some chips and gravy and a bovril and took a seat in the stand. Below is the match report from the Sheffield FC website.

Sheffield gave a brave second half display on Tuesday, writes Stuart James, but were unable to come away with anything to stop Halesowen Town’s title march. After a fairly muted first half that saw Ben Haseley inevitably add to his goal tally with a 17th minute goal, Club turned in an enthusiastic performance to level through Mark Fereday three minutes after the restart, only to see Haseley give Yeltz the lead once more ten minutes later. The hosts carried on plugging away, and levelled in the 73rd minute from a Brendan Kelly own-goal, but there was to be no denying the visitors who grabbed a vital third from Curtis Tilt just five minutes later. 
There was a flatness to the way Club came out of the blocks, and were under the cosh from the off from Halesowen, with Elliott Turner being denied by Rob Poulter early on after some good work by Ben Haseley. Turner went close once again moments later, with Haseley the provider once more with a blistering run down the right, this time the winger narrowly missed the target.
The breakthrough eventually came with Sheffield caught flat at the back; Neil Mackenzie threaded the ball through a static looking defence, allowing HASELEY to take the ball on and tuck it under Poulter. It could have been worse on 30 minutes, as Iyseden Christie fell afoul of taking the ball an inch too far out of play, and seeing Haseley’s headed finish ruled out.
It was looking like there was only one team interested at this point, and how Yeltz failed to add to their lead is a mystery, as Haseley uncharacteristically blazed an effort over the bar from six yards out following a long throw. 
Whatever was said in the home dressing room at half-time was nothing short of motivational, as Club came out of the blocks with a totally different attitude, and were level inside three minutes. Andrew Gascoigne showed some tenacity on the left flank, winning two fifty-fifty challenges on a storming run, before squaring the ball to FEREDAY who blasted home from just inside the area. 
Halesowen showed what they are made of though and a quality ball from Christie picked out his strike partner, and after twisting and turning Hadfield and Whittaker, HASELEY was calmness personified as he tucked the ball past Poulter to make it 2-1.
The tenaciousness of the hosts was still there for all to see, with Ben Turner having a field time on the right hand side, and it was the right-back’s effort that drew the teams level once again. A burst down the right from Turner saw the ball whipped in, and with KELLY stretching out a foot in an attempt to intercept the cross, all he did was divert the ball into his own net past Sargeant. 
Yeltz tried to pile forward once again, but were thwarted by Rob Poulter on more than one occasion, as he denied Tom Tonks what looked to be a certain goal. There was nothing he could do from the resulting corner, as a goalmouth mêlée found Club unable to clear their ground, giving TILT the easiest of finishes from inches out. 
Sheffield weren’t done however, and table positions and reputations were forgotten in a frantic last ten minutes, but for all their efforts Club couldn’t get the vital breakthrough to level for a third time. 

After the game I made a quick getaway, setting up my phone so that I could listen to Pete Price on Radio City in Liverpool through my car stereo. It meant that I would be using up lots of data as it was online radio, but seen as I have run out of my allowance and now pay £1 a day regardless of how much or how little I use, I was going to get as much value from it as I could. As with other stations, and unsurprisingly seen as they were based in Liverpool, a lot of the conversation was geared towards the Hillsborough anniversary. Usually you get people calling in and trying to wind the presenter up, but these sorts of calls were thin on the ground tonight. I made very good time getting back, and got back to my house just on the stroke of midnight. I couldn't get to sleep till after 1.30 and so only had a couple of hours sleep before I was up at 4am for work.

THE COSCH AND HORSES GROUND is quite unique, in that it is in a bowl. a bit like Lewes' Dripping Pan really. 2 sides of it are open, whilst the seated stand is behind the goal and holds around 300. There is further covered terracing along the side for around 500.

The club shop doesn't have a huge range of stuff and is quite pricey, although a lot of the products are pretty smart. The tea bar has a great range and what I had was very nice. There wasn't a clubhouse that I saw, but I've got a feeling that the excellent Coach and Horses pub acts as this, and if so, must be one of the best clubhouses in football. The town is a 10 minute walk away if you fancy a wider range.

Alsager Town - Wood Park Stadium

Alsager Town FC
Woodland Court

Ground Number: 355
Monday 14th April 2014
Alsager Town 2-3 Ashton Athletic
North West Counties Premier

For the second time this season, I would be enjoying a night away in a hotel, despite only having one day off work. I'd also had 2 or 3 longer stays on my weeks off from work - it's a good way to do 2 grounds without paying for petrol twice, with a hotel always being cheaper. For once the reason for the overnight stop was not solely for football. The set of Coronation Street moved in the summer, and for a limited time, fans can visit the old set which is still in tact. They say it's only running until September or October time, so I had to get in quick. I had to be in Manchester by 9.30 on the Tuesday morning, and so decided to stop over for the night and see a game up North. Hats off to the North West Counties League, they have filled a void when I have been up North on many occasion, and this proved to the case again.

Alsager Town were a club that I had visited to take pictures at around 8 years ago and they were friendly and accommodating and pleased to see that I had come. This isn't always the case,  but places like these and Trafford make you want to visit for a game. Much the same as I did for Woodford United last season who rewarded me again with an epic 5-4 defeat which tuned out to be one of their best results in a torrid season.

The club were founded in 1965 with the amalgamation of Alsager United and Alsager Institute.  After playing in local leagues  they joined the North West Counties League Division 2 in 1999. After finishing 12th in their first season, they continued to press and won promotion to Division 1 in 2002. It was another promotion in 2006 as they won the North West Counties League Division 1 and gained promotion to the NPL. Despite 2 consecutive 14th placed finishes, they were demoted due to their ground not being up to scratch. I thought this as a bit harsh as it seemed decent when I went. Despite a 7th placed finish in the league in their first season in the newly renamed North West Counties Premier Division, they have finished in the bottom half every season since. They were struggling again this season, and needed to start winning again - and quick, if they were to avoid relegation. They hadn't had much success in the FA Cup, only winning 2 out of 14 games in their history, and they had got as far as the second round of the FA Vase on 2 occasions

Ashton Athletic are based near Wigan and you can see their ground from the M6, though it's about a miles drive away. They were another friendly bunch when I visited and were sitting 8th at the time of the game. They were founder members of the North West Counties League but spent time away in local leagues until 2006 when they rejoined.  They won promotion from the 1st Division to the Premier Division 2 years later, Despite finishing a credible 6th in their debut season in the league, they have struggled since and finished 20th last season. Since their FA Cup debut they have progressed to the Preliminary round on 3 occasions, most recently this season when they lost 4-0 to Curzon Ashton. They made the FA Vase 2nd Round in 2007-08, losing to Northern League side Billingham Synthonia.

It was another easy day at work and after months of days where it never seemed to stop, it was most welcome. I finished at 10.45 and went home, having a bath and getting my old xBox ready to send. I left at 3pm and had to stop off at the shop in Booker to drop off my parcel.

It was a mixed bag of a journey up. On the one hand there was 25 minutes delay, though on the other I have had worse and it was the rush hour. I was still feeling annoyed though and fancied a drink to chill me out. Originally I had planned to park at the ground and walk into town, but due to me arriving at 6.20, I decided that I would park up in town as I was only having 1 pint. I went in the Lodge Pub and had a pint of La Cantina Brown Sugar, which I seem to recall having at the Ship and Mitre in Liverpool. In any case, I had only had a third at their beer festival and so chose to sample a full pint. The landlord was very friendly and asked my opinion as he was not a cider fan himself. I told him that it was nice and something different to what I usually had.

I then went to search out some dinner, and like with the pub, I had done some online research. I found the place that I had scouted out, called the Hot Spot. As with the pub, I wanted to try something different and went for. Chilli burger and Balti chips for £4.50. I was tempted by the curry but didn't have a knife and fork. Again, it was something nice, and by the time I'd finished eating it was 7.15, so I headed off to the game.

I paid my entry and got a programme for £1.50 too. It was quite a quirky design, a cover used for the whole season and a little window cut out so that the opponents and date were printed on the second page of the programme. It was something that was commonplace in the 1990s and it made good sense so they could get the exact number of programmes that they needed. I then went and got some pictures, doing a circuit of the ground and finding a space along the side in time for kick off.

Ashton Athletic kicked off and put the ball straight into touch after around 3 seconds. It was pretty equal to start with but Alsager had the first real chance of the game, forcing the visiting keeper into a good save after 10 minutes. On 23 minutes Ashton Athletic took the lead with their first  clear cut chance of the game. It was a close range finish that I didn't have a great view of as I was down the other end of the pitch. There weren't a huge amount of chances but on the stroke of half time the visitors doubled their lead as the striker slotted the ball into the bottom right hand corner from inside the area.

At half time I went and had a look in the clubhouse. Looking at the league table in the programme it was going to take something special to get Alsager to stay up. I got myself a Bovril and went round the other side of the pitch to watch the second half as my mobile signal was very ropey on the near side.  The second half started as the first ended with Ashton well on top and it looked as if there was no way back for the hosts. But on the hour mark a goal was pulled back with a close range finish. A minute later and they went close again, having a shot cleared off the line. It looked to be out of reach again on 69 minutes as the visitors regained their lead with a header from a good cross. Right at the death Alsager pulled one back with the best goal of the night. The visitors failed to clear a corner and the shot was driven in from just inside the area. And that was how it ended, and all the talk was of relegation amongst the Alsager fans , which now looks very likely sadly for them.

It had been another good evening watching football. I got back to my car and put my hotel into my sat nav. It was roughly an hour away and as soon as it got to 10 , I tuned the radio to Radio City in Liverpool, where they have a chat show with Pete Price that I like listening to. I got to my hotel at 10.40 and was greeted by a friendly receptionist who told me where my room was. It was the usual Travelodge room, clean and decent value. I listened to the radio while typing up my blog before going to bed and watching Coronation Street on my iPad.

WOOD PARK STADIUM is a traditional non league ground. It has cover on both sides, a mixture of seating and terracing. I'd guess at about 150 seats and another 400 standing under cover, so lord knows why it was considered not good enough for step 4.

The club suffered a blow in 2011 when their club house was burnt down. This resulted in them having to play games at other venues, but eventually they got things sorted and now have a new clubhouse which is really smart, but with a fairly limited range drinks wise. The Bovril I had from the tea bar was nice and they had a good selection of other food at reasonable prices. There was no club shop that I could see.

The town is about half a mile away and has a great selection of food and drink places for a small town. The Lodge pub was excellent with a wide range of real ales
and ciders, while in the food side The Hot Spot does all sorts of nice things at decent prices. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Margate - Hartsdown Park

Margate FC
Hartsdown Park
Hartsdown Road

01843 221769

Ground Number: 354
Saturday 12th April 2014
Margate 1-1 Lewes
Isthmian Premier

As soon as I knew regular hopper Anwar would be off to Newport County v Wycombe Wanderers this day, I started making alternative plans. A Folkestone Invicta fan that I knew, Tom, fancied a meet and so I started checking around Kent for games. Armed with a fixture list and my CAMRA Good Beer Guide App I eventually settled on Margate v Lewes, owing to the fact that it had an excellent looking establishment called the Lifeboat Ale and Cider House. The plan was to get there early and park up at the ground, walk into town, a few pints, food and then a look round the town before heading back to see the game. Before I looked further, all I knew about Margate was that it was the topic of a Chas and Dave song from the early 1980's.

Margate were managed by former AFC Wimbledon manager Terry Brown, with his assistant Stuart Cash, who was a former Wycombe player, having left the season before I started watching them. A more familiar face would be that of goalkeeper Nikki Bull who played for Wycombe for 2 and a half seasons, but left the club in 2012 after becoming fed up of playing football. He was a great keeper for his first season in League 2 and looked as if he could become the clubs greatest ever keeper. But things declined rapidly after that. Conceding nearly 100 goals in our relegation season in League 1 took it's toll on him and he was never the same after that, being at fault for quite a few goals, especially susceptible to letting in some goals from distance that should have been saved. He left under a bit of a cloud, being released from his contract early and it was a shame for someone who had been so popular with the fans to depart the club in this manner.

The club were formed in 1896 and have had the same name for the whole of their history, apart from an 8 year spell in the 1980's when they changed their name to Thanet United. They have spent most of the time in the Southern and Kent Leagues, although they had 3 successful seasons in the Conference in the early 2000s. They gained their best ever position of 8th in the 2001/02 season and despite finishing 16th in 2003-04, they were demoted to the Conference South following ground grading issues. The club had spent a few seasons away from their home, playing at Dover and Ashford but delays in the ground improvements almost resulted in the club folding. Their one and only season at Ashford resulted in another relegation, this time from the Conference South and they have spent ever since in the Isthmian Premier, finishing 9th last season. In the 1972-73 season they reached the FA Cup 3rd Round and met Tottenham Hotspur in front of over 14000 fans at their own ground, before going onto lose 6-0. Their most recent appearance in the 1st Round came in the mid 1990's when they narrowly lost 2-1 to Fulham despite taking the lead. A famous face was involved in the club at the time, that of Bad Manners frontman Buster Bloodvessel who was on the board for a short time. As for the FA Trophy, they made the Quarter Final in 2001/02 before losing to Morecambe. The club have a well maintained Wikipedia page if you want to know more. Margate were 16th in the Ryman Premier before the midweek games had been played.

Lewes were a team I had visited in 2007 and it really is a delightful town and ground. My short blog here does not really do it justice, but I couldn't afford too much time on it as I was catching up with 168 previous groundhops when I started the site. The club were formed in 1885 and play at the wonderfully named Dripping Pan. They were a place below in 16th before the midweek fixtures. They spent much of their history in the Sussex Leagues before joining the Isthmian League in 1997. They had a few successful seasons in the early 2000's, going from the Ryman Division 1 South (despite a 4-2 defeat to Dulwich that I witnessed in their promotion season) They reached the pinnacle and made it into the Conference in 2008-09 but finished bottom of the league. Financial issues led to a further relegation to the Ryman Premier. Step forward a supporters buyout of the club, which included the bloke who does the sarcastic voiceovers on Channel 4 show 'Come Dine with me' It's been a mixed bag since, finishing 6th and 19th in the seasons since, but at least they are now owned by those who have the clubs best interests at heart. The club have reached the first round of the FA Cup on 3 occasions, all since the turn of the century. They have been defeated on each occasion - by Mansfield, Stoke and Darlington. As for the FA Trophy they have reached the 3rd round on 2 occasions, most notably when they lost an 8-5 thriller to Weymouth. The club's story is serialised in the excellent book 'Ripping Yarns' which is available from all good booksellers, and a few rubbish ones too.

I woke up naturally after 5 hours sleep on the morning of the game, which was annoying as I wanted to get a lie in. I watched last nights Corrie before getting up and checking out some stuff on the internet, leaving at 9, the same time as my Dad was leaving for Newport County v Wycombe Wanderers, travelling on the independent supporters coach.

To be honest, had I not committed to going to Margate, I would have changed my plans to go to the Worthing v Guernsey game at 12.45 and then the Worthing United game at 3. It would have been 2 games in one day, and a shorter distance as well. But I am a man of my word and wouldn't let anyone down. That's why I like ground hopping with Anwar, he is a man of his word and won't say he will do something if he can't fully commit to it. It's important as I rely on getting help with travel costs for a lot of my trips, and also I write up some of my blog in advance. On this occasion, he was off to Newport though, and what with trips on my own next week, it was proving to be an expensive time.

It was a pretty easy trip, if a long one at 123 miles. I saw delays on the other side of the M25 where a car had caught fire and everyone had slowed down to have a gawp, but I was lucky in that respect. I got to Margate at 11.15, parked up at the ground and walked into town. I went to Morrisons to kill time as the pub was not yet open and I got some Easter Cakes to fill a hole until I got lunch later. The town looked very run down and dirty to be honest, and could do with a bit of renovation, though I only saw a small part of it in fairness.

The pub that I targeted was called The Lifeboat. It was reputed to have 10 real ciders and I was not left disappointed. I had not had any of them, nor would I be able to get anywhere near to trying all of them due to having to drive later. But I did get 4 done  with judicious use of half pints. The best one was the Lemon cider, and I was glad that that was the one I opted to have a pint of. It was a bit pricey at £4.50 a pint, plus the others were £4  pint but to be honest I am happy to pay that for something special as it's not often that I find somewhere as epic as this. The people were friendly too, and it even had people coming across from France to visit it, so it must have a good reputation.

By now it was 1.15 and so I headed off to find something to eat> Having had a couple of pints or so, I was not that fussed, so I went into the first place that I saw - KFC. I was hoping for something more nutritious and different, but old habits die hard. I was still hungry as I got nearer the ground and so got a sausage and chips from another place, before getting to the ground at 2.10.

I had agreed to meet Tom, who had found me via my blog if I recall correctly. He had complications when he was born which meant he had to spend his life in a wheelchair, but he was very upbeat about life and didn't let it get him down. He turned up with his Uncle and Granddad who were good to chat to and liked football as much as me. He's quite well known around the clubs in Kent and lives in and supports Folkestone. He's aiming to become Britain's first wheelchair bound football manager at whatever level it takes, and although that is a long shot I wish him luck as he's a decent lad and anyone that reads my blog gets my best wishes.

The game was not the greatest and is covered in the Non League Paper's match report above. The journey home was OK, though it did have miles and miles of roadworks on the M25 with a 50MPH limit. Driving such a dull road at what felt like a snail's pace was tiring, and so I pulled over into Clackett Lane services for a rest and to go to the toilet. I was back on the road within 15 minutes and listened to the Arsenal v Wigan Athletic FA Cup Semi Final on the radio. I got back in just in time for the penalty shoot out which Arsenal won convincingly.

Next up is Alsager Town with an overnight stop before visiting the set Coronation Street on Tuesday morning. On the way home I will be going to Sheffield FC and there is a possibility of another game before Wycombe's Good Friday clash with Northampton. After todays results we are level on points with the Cobblers, with only goal difference keeping us out of the relegation zone. It's getting very tense now, especially as I heard it was a dire performance today in Wales.

HARTSDOWN PARK was knocked down and rebuilt and as a consequence is typical of the newer non league grounds in that it has quite bland styling. The best part was behind the goal which also housed all the club facilities. One side had a stand, holding around 400 while the other 2 sides were open standing.

I didn't use the tea bar or bar but they seemed OK. The town is around a mile away and has some decent places to eat and drink, the pick of which is the Lifeboat pub.