Sunday, 2 August 2015

Blackstones - Blackstones Sport & Social Club


Blackstones FC
Blackstones Sport & Social Club
Lincoln Road
Stamford
Lincolnshire
PE9 1SH





Ground Number: 503
Saturday 1st August 2015
Blackstones 1-1 Rushden & Higham United
UCL D1




For the second match of the day on the Rutland Groundhop and the first UCL game of the day, it was over to Blackstones FC, based in Stamford. I had previously been there on the 1st March 2008 to take pictures, that was on the way to Wycombe’s game at Lincoln City. I was pleased to be returning - for one the pictures were all bleached out thanks to the sun. Plus of course you need to see a game at a ground to properly groundhop it.

BLACKSTONES first had a club in 1881 but it wasn’t until 1984 that they joined the United Counties League. They have been known under several different guises during their history including Rutland Ironworks and Rutland Engineering Works. From 1969 until 1988 they were known as Mirless Blackstones. They adapted well to their new league and after starting in Division 1, they won promotion to the UCL Premier in 1988. The run in the top division l;asked until 2013 when they were relegated back to Division 1 after finishing second bottom. Since then they have struggled, finishing 17th and 20th in the last 2 seasons, a far cry from the 4th placed finish in the UCL Premier in 2008. 

The best ever FA Cup run was achieved in the 1991/92 season when they reached the 2nd Qualifying Round.Great Yarmouth Town and Bishops Stortford were beaten, before they lost out in a replay to Heybridge Swifts. 1008 saw the best ever FA Vase run when they beat Norwich United, Diss Town, Norton United and Coleshill Town to reach the 4th Round. Dreams of Wembley were ended by current Conference North side Lowestoft Town in a narrow 3-2 defeat.

From the previous game at Ketton it was just over 15 minutes to Blackstones. Originally I'd planned to park halfway between here and the next ground, just over half a mile away. In the end time was a bit tight so I parked up nearby. Before I went in I had a Dutch Smokie sausage and chips for £3.10 from the chippy opposite the ground. Before going in I stopped for a pint of Strongbow in the bar and chatted to Sussex Hopper again.


The game started off at quite a slow pace and it was the visitors who took the lead with the first real chance on the half hour mark. It was a bullet header from a cross that gave Rushden the lead and after the goal the Blackstones keeper berated his defence for not working hard enough and switching off. It continued to be a game of few chances. On 64 minutes Blackstones equalised from the spot thanks to a Dan Evans penalty. It was quite a soft one but he did the business and put it away. That's how it ended up, and all in all it was a disappointing contest, even if it's not the worst game I've ever seen.


BLACKSTONES SPORT AND SOCIAL CLUB is a fairly old venue, so at least it escapes the metal stand phenomenon that is blighting football at the moment. Instead you get an around 100 capacity benched stand, while the rest of the ground is open. The bar offers your usual clubhouse range of drinks, while the food was Lasagne on the occasion I visited. The chippy across the road is worth a visit, being above average in my experience and the Smoked Dutchie I had was nice.


Harborough Town - Bowdens Park


Harborough Town FC
Bowdens Park
Northampton Road
Market Harborough
Leicestershire
LE16 9HF





Ground Number: 501
Friday 31st July 2015
Harborough Town 1-3 Yaxley
UCL Premier



Friday would see the first match of the United Counties and Peterborough & District hop, known this season as the ‘Rutland Hop’ due to the area of the country it was based in. Though I had reservations about doing ‘fields’ in the PDFL I decided to go all in for the Friday and Saturday as Groundhop UK always run their events well and every club was issuing a programme. Even 2 weeks before the event was officially confirmed, I had booked my hotel. I’d only been browsing booking.com on the off chance, bored without football. I found a room in Rothwell for £20 a night which was a right bargain and put paid to any chance that it might be cheaper to drive home between days.

HARBOROUGH TOWN were formed in 1975 as a junior side, but it wasn’t until 2010 that they joined the United Counties League at Division 1 level. Previously they had played in the Northants Combination and other local leagues. Their first season was a big disappointment, with them finishing bottom but a real turnaround for the 2011/12 saw them finish runners up to Huntingdon Town to win promotion to the Premier Division. 3 seasons of struggle have followed, with the club finishing 19th, 17th and 20th, but they have at least staved off relegation thus far and will be hoping to improve in the coming season.

In the FA Cup they won their first every FA Cup game against NCEL side Teversal by two goals to one. However an 8-0 defeat to Mickleover Sports followed and the Preliminary Round remains their best progression in the competition so far. In the FA Vase they have reached the 1st Round on 2 occasions, most recently in 2013 when they lost 5-0 to Cleethorpes Town after beating Holbrook Sports and Barrow Town in previous rounds.The club have a good record of progressing players to the football league - Chris Carruthers and Richard Stearman played there earlier in their careers, as did England Rugby star Martin Johnson.

On the day of the game, it was a fairly easy day at work and I was out of work by 12, even after I had bought a few bits in my break - including Irn-Bru, grapes, mouthwash and the latest issue of FourFourTwo magazine, which had the season preview guide in. I went home and had a bath, before having lunch. I’d originally planned to leave between 3 and 3.30 but I was getting itchy feet and thought that a bit more time to relax and have a look round Harborough before the game might be nice. So after having a quick check online, and also watching England (hopefully) beat the Aussies in the cricket, I was on my way by 2.15.

The journey started off well, but then there was 30 minutes delay on the M1 for seemingly no reason at all. At least I had the pleasure of England confirming their victory in the Ashes. I got to the pleasant market town of Rothwell where I was staying around half 4. After checking into a small but nicely decorated room for the bargain price of £20 a night I chilled for a bit before leaving at 5pm. I earmarked a pub that was supposed to be good for cider for later before driving the 7 or so miles to Harborough Town FC.

I arrived at 5.10 and walked the mile into town. I'd already planned dinner at The Sugar Loaf, the town's Wetherspoons. I ordered myself a double Mexican burger but annoyingly there was no mobile Internet access and the pubs WiFi was not working. I saw my mate 'Sussex Hopper' who I'd last seen at Rushden &  Higham v AFC Rushden &  Diamonds. At least I got the chance to type my blog while I drank my Stowford Press and waited for my dinner to arrive. The burger was nice enough without being exceptional and at least it was good value at £8 with a pint, even if they were a bit parsimonious with the chips. After I'd finished my dinner it was still only 6pm so I had a pint of Gwynt y Ddraig Welsh Gold Perry and chatted to Sussex Hopper and another mate, Richard. They were off to another pub so I made my pint last and went there with them. I had half a Strongbow as there was nothing else on before getting a lift back with the lads.

I got back to the ground around 7.10. After going in, I picked up my programme pack and went and chatted to fellow hoppers Jack Warner, John Main and Tony Morehead while I waited for the game to start. The mobile Internet was still totally pathetic and I could hardly view anything. Later on it recovered though as I met several other hoppers.

The game was a fairly decent contest and a good start to my competitive season. The some side drew first blood very early on when Danny Weight turned in from close range. It was all square on 9 minutes - a good ball was threaded through to Dan Cotton who slotted past the out of position Dan Reay to equalise for Yaxley. 2 further goals in the second half, both from Mat Gearing wrapped the game up for the visitors. Yaxley will have enjoyed their experiences on the hop - for the second year in a row they have won the game that they played in 3-1, last year at home to Long Buckby who ended up being relegated. Conversely Harborough Town have played on the opening game of both hops, and lost twice. Overall the result was a fair one, with Yaxley much the better side.

After the game it was a nice easy drive back to Rothwell. The town is very car friendly, a complete rarity in these days of double yellow lines and crazy parking charges. People were taking advantage of this and with all the car parks full I had to park in a side street. Towns all over the UK could learn from Rothwell as business was booming on this Friday night, and it was a pleasant convivial atmosphere.

After parking up I went to the excellent Rowell Charter Inn which had 2 nice ciders on. Janet's Jungle Juice was the one I opted for, having only had it once before, though the other one, Black Dragon was one of my favourites. However I opted to go back to my room to have some stuff that I'd bought with me. In this case it was a German Applelfwein one and it was a good job I had it, as the live band was on, with no chance of me getting to sleep. Lionel Richie's 'Dancing on the ceiling' was one of their repertoire. I had about half the bottle before watching Coronation Street and going to sleep around 1am

BOWDENS PARK is a basic non league ground, very similar to Huntingdon Town, though in this case only 3 sides are accessible to the public. The majority is open flat standing with the cover being made up of around 70 seats split over 2 metal stands.

The bar and tea bar are pretty decent with a good range of food and drink, or if like me you prefer a bigger range, the town is around a mile away and easily walkable in 20 minutes.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Atherstone Town- Sheepy Road


Atherstone Town FC
Sheepy Road
Atherstone
Warwickshire
CV9 3AD




Ground Number: 500
Tuesday 28th July 2015
Atherstone Town 2-2 Bedworth United
Friendly





So the time had arrived to visit ground 500. I had originally resolved to avoid friendlies for ground 500 but fate had dictated that it would not be possible, that was unless I wanted to hold off until Friday when I’d be seeing my first competitive game of the season. I only really started ground hopping seriously around 2011 or 2012 and had been ticking off grounds at a rate of around 100 a year since then. What really started getting the numbers up was a chance conversation with my now regular hopping partner Anwar. We only knew each other as passing acquaintances at the time and it must have been on a Wycombe away coach that we started discussing football grounds and how we both liked to visit them.

He suggested that we do Leighton Town together, or to be more precise go and see Aylesbury United there. The hop was delayed a few weeks - on the week of our initial planned match I was working near 12 hour days and felt too tired. Nowadays though, that would not bother me, but I wasn’t so mad then. However on 19th September 2012 I visited my 216th ground with Anwar and since then we have done 107 groundhops together which has saved us a lot of money on travel costs rather than doing it on our own. Though this meant I had done over 170 on my own during this period, it was still nice to save money where I could as I had spent an absolute truckload of cash on football over the past few seasons. I had been a bit better this season, having given a lift to people on every single game so far. Looking back as I complete my half century, I have tried to pick out my 5 favourite grounds I have visited.


1: HITCHIN TOWN - TOP FIELD

I had heard a few good things about this ground before I visited my 205th venue in 2012, though my main reason for going was to meet up with my Luton supporting friend Alex. That I accomplished but I absolutely loved the ground too, with it’s old wooden terraces and rustic charm. The ground was under threat earlier this year as the Cow Commoners Trust who own the ground wanted to sell it to Tesco, but the move was thankfully blocked. Though sadly it may be up for refurbishment soon, hopefully this will not spoil it’s charm.

2: HAYES - CHURCH ROAD

This was my 15th ground visited and only my second neutral game. As Wycombe were away at Crewe, my Dad took me to Hayes v Basingstoke, a game that the hosts won 4-0. Though it took me a few years to appreciate this gem of a ground in all it’s glory, the 14 year old me was very impressed with the brilliant club shop which was a cavern of goodies at amazing prices. I remember I bought a couple of boxes of old annuals, programmes and other assorted stuff and itv was all within my meagre pocket money budget. Sadly the ground is no more, and the newly merged Hayes and Yeading are in exile, though hopefully not for much longer.

3: PICKERING TOWN - THE RECREATION GROUND

I visited this ground on my first ever groundhop day, where I did 4 games in a day. I’d only really gone on the hop as I wanted to go to the Bridlington Town v Scarborough Athletic derby. One game alone couldn’t justify the cost, but 4 could. It was the day I fell in love with the Northern Counties East League, and this ground was the main reason. Though fairly simple compared to my previous haunts, it was just so beautiful to look at and the place was so friendly. This resulted in me doing more step 5 grounds, as opposed to before when I mainly did steps 1-4 and the Football League.

4: LIVERPOOL - ANFIELD

Though I prefer the smaller grounds due to their individuality and quirks, I was really taken in by Anfield. Initially visiting for a tour I returned to make it ground number 250 for a Europa League game against Zenit St Petersburg. Though this competition is the poor relation of the Champions League, the atmosphere that night was electric - from the fans to the old boy’s distinctive voice on the tannoy who had been entertaining fans pre match for 40 years and very good he was at it too. Add the fact that it was under floodlights just added to the aura of the place, plus the fact that the wonderful city of Liverpool is walkable makes it a brilliant day out. Sadly my phone crashed and I lost all of my photos, but at least I had some of my ground tour.


5: MELKSHAM TOWN - THE CONIGRE
It was really hard to pick a definitive 5th and the likes of Matlock Town can feel themselves unlucky to miss out. But the one I have plumped for is Melksham Town. This was my 312th ground and it was only fate (or the weather) that led to us going here. It was Monday night and choice was limited but it was still our 3rd choice after Gresley and Redditch United. Traffic problems on the way down meant that myself & Anwar arrived bang on kick off and were so hungry that we ordered a pizza to the ground. But as is often the case, fortune smiled on us. The ground was a real beauty, bags of character and photogenic opportunities, and sadly it’s another ground that will be gone soon. Bonus points also were awarded for having a local cider on tap and being a bargain £4 including programme to get in. 



So the question was where to go. To be honest there was not a great deal that jumped out and inspired me, probably Wroxham v Lowestoft Town or Basford United v Mansfield Town XI would have been my top choices, but I had fellow hopper to consider who would be paying a good chunk of the fuel money to help out. Initially it was Walsall Wood v Kidderminster Harriers but then I discovered it would be strictly a reserve and youth side as their first team squad were at home to Shrewsbury Town. We then whittled it down to 3 options - the losers being Great Wakering Rovers v Canvey Island and the aforementioned Walsall Wood game, but we opted for Atherstone Town v Bedworth United, as it would at least be a decent ground.

ATHERSTONE TOWN were formed in 2004 - though 2 previous clubs - the original Atherstone Town who went into liquidation and the now defunct Atherstone United have strong links to the club. So much in fact that the current incarnation was formed as a result of United’s demise during the 2003/04 season. The new club joined the Midland Combination Division 1 in their first season, becoming champions at the first attempt. They repeated the trick in it’s Premier Division the following season and were admitted to the step 5 Midland Alliance for the 2006/07 season. Though they finished 8th in the first season, they were champions the following season. They then spent 3 seasons in the Southern D1 Central, with their best ever finish being 3rd in the debut season of 2008/09. Financial problems dogged the club once more in the 2011-12 season as they resigned from the Southern League midway through the season. They did however complete all their games, finishing in 21st place. The next season they were relegated again from the Midland Alliance. Once more joining the Midland Combination at step 6, this was merged with the Midland Alliance to become the Midland League and they finished in 13th place last season.

The new club have reached the 3rd Qualifying Round of the FA Cup on 2 occasions, though the last one in 2013 resulted in a 4-0 defeat to Conference North side Barrow and huge crowd disorder by a minority of morons. They had beaten Rocester, Studley, Redditch United and Coalville Town to get this far - a remarkable achievement for a step 6 club. Other FA Competitions have not proved as fruitful - all 3 FA Trophy games ended in defeat and they face reached the 1st Round of the FA Vase on 3 occasions, lastly in the 2013/14 season. They won a trio of local cups in the 2005-06 season and also then Southern League Cup a few seasons later, beating Bridgwater Town in a 2 legged final.


It was my usual day off work on the day of the game, and having not had much exercise thanks to the horrible weather of the past few days, I walked down town and back, covering around  miles. Though it was gloomy, it didn’t rain and it gave me a chance to get some cans of diet Irn Bru for tonights game. I got home around lunchtime, having lunch and spending the afternoon typing and researching some of this blog. I left for Aylesbury at 3.30, meeting Anwar at 4 and we were soon on our way.

We had a bit of delay, getting to Atherstone at 6.40. When we were in traffic I changed my sat nav to a chippy called Coleshill Road Fish & Chips as when researching I had seen it was good value. It lived up to the promise and I got a large hot dog, curry sauce and chips for just £2.50. Though I would have preferred more chips it was great value and very tasty. From then on it was a mile to the ground and we were there and parked up by just after 7.

We paid a very reasonable £3 to get in. I had a look in the bar which had Strongbow on the cider front but I decided not to bother with a drink. I went round taking pictures of the ground and checking Facebook while I waited for the game to kick off. One thing I noticed was that the main stand was named after Andy Rammell who used to play for Atherstone United.

It was a good open game with Bedworth slightly the better side early on. However it was the hosts who took the lead on 13 minutes. A good through ball found the striker and he took advantage of the keeper being out of position with a long range shot. From that point onwards Atherstone had a period of domination and would have scored had Peter Folkes not cleared off the line for visitors. Despite this he was branded 'dog shit' by an Atherstone man, and this raised tensions a bit. The same player was involved in a bit of argy bargy with some home players and at half time there was plenty of verbal between a Bedworth director and a female Atherstone fan. She accused him of being childish and asked him how old he was. His retort was 'not as old as you, love!'

The first half had been entertaining with Atherstone on top and it took a good save from visiting keeper Denham Hinds to prevent the lead being extended further. During half time I commandeered a team sheet so at least I'd have some paper for my 500th ground. The second half was a bit calmer at the start and Bedworth equalised on 50 minutes when a shot went straight through the home keeper to make it all square. The aggro soon started again, Bedworth number 4 Peter Folkes was sent off for booting an opponent 3 times and Atherstone had a man sent off after a massive 20 man brawl. Bedworth then came close to leading as a free kick was saved by the Atherstone keeper and the follow up hit the outside of the post. The visitors were dominating by now and had a shot cleared off the line on the 70 minute mark. Atherstone were starting to look tired but they took the lead on 75 minutes when Nathan Haines deflected a cross into his own net despite there being no one near him. It was soon level as Bedworth’s Daniel Creaney  caught out the keeper with a great free kick. The glovesman was busy lining up his wall when the kicker took him by surprise and shot high into the middle of the net. That was it as far as goals were concerned with the game ending all square.

It had been a thoroughly entertaining game, though I doubt you would see this if you looked up 'friendly' in the dictionary as 2 local sides went hammer and tongs at the game. It had been easily the best game of the season so far and a ground throughly deserving to be my 500th. The night had been great value too and I drove home in good spirits. We listened to BBC Radio Leicester on the way after the Premiership side had won 2-1 at Burton Albion. I dropped Anwar off at 10.45, getting home myself 20 minutes later. I watched TV for a bit before going to sleep just after midnight.

SHEEPY ROAD is traditional old ground, that would probably be fit for Conference North. The biggest stand on the far side has round 500 seats and flat standing for a similar amount. It stretches the full length of the pitch and is named in honour of Andy Rammell, the striker whose £40,000 move to Manchester United funded the stand. Opposite is another covered terrace, holding around 500. The rest of the the ground is open terracing and I’d guess it holds around 4000 in all.


There is a bar at the ground which offers a basic range of drinks, while the tea bar looked to offer some good value food. The town is a half mile walk away, but if you are coming by car it’s well worth stopping off at the Coleshill Road Fish & Chip Shop which is on the edge of town but has free parking, The food was tasty and great value when I went.