Thursday, 19 January 2017

Larkhall Athletic - Plain Ham

Larkhall Athletic FC

Plain Ham
Charlcombe Lane

01225 334952

Ground Number: 378
Thursday 10th July 2014
Larkhall Athletic 0-2 Bath City

As my parents were away for the week, I was looking to take extra opportunities to get out and see new grounds and games. Sadly it was just at the start of pre season, so options were not as varied as they could be. Initially I was going to go to a game on the Friday - either Yate Town v Swindon Town or Norton United v Crewe Alexandra. But then I saw there was a centenary match between Larkhall Athletic and local side Bath City, to celebrate the hosts being 100 years old. There was also a really good cider pub in Bath, so it would make a good day out. Added to the fact that there was the possibility that a couple of people that I knew from Bath might turn up, and I was sold. The only downside was that I was up at 4am both days, so again, I'd be short on sleep, but I can cope with that.

The first time I saw the name Larkhall, it reminded me of the women's prison drama 'Bad Girls', which was one of my favourite shows. I was half expecting to turn up and find Jim Fenner as head steward and the two Julies working behind the tea bar! Back in real life, the club were celebrating their centenary, having been formed in 1914. The club played local football until 1976, when they were elected to the Western League, which had expanded to 2 divisions at that time. After a series of mid table finishes, they started to get better and better and won the league for the first time in 1989. They would win this division twice more, finally being in a position, finally being able to take promotion in 2009, 20 years after their initial triumph. This meant they were at step 5 of non league, in the Western League Premier Division.  After finishing 14th in their first season at the higher level, they won the league at the second time of asking, but again had to wait till last season's league win to gain promotion, due to the delightfully named 'Plain Ham' ground not being up to Southern League standard. The club must be hoping that this elevated status givers them a better chance of a run in the FA Cup, for they have only ever reached the first qualifying round, a feat they have achieved the last 3 seasons running, losing out to a Southern League side on each occasion. Once competition their promotion will exclude them from is the FA Vase, which they have done pretty well in. As recently as last season , they have reached the 5th round, repeating 2012/13 where they lost a pulsating tie 4-3 to Tunbridge Wells, the eventual finalists.

Bath City were regular rivals with Wycombe, during my first 2 years of watching them, and our last 2 in the Conference. The first time I saw them was in April 1992 when Wycombe gained a narrow 1-0 win, thanks to a Keith Scott goal. Despite finishing with 94 points from 42 games that season, we still stayed down, owing to Colchester's same points total, but superior goal difference. This meant another season in the Conference and the following October, we beat them again, 2-0 at Adams Park, this time, Scott and Kerr scoring. We always seemed to struggle at Twerton Park when we played them though. The only time I have been to their ground is when Bristol Rovers shared there and we had a couple of games in the FA Cup and League. I have seen the Romans a few times since - at AFC Wimbledon, Gateshead and Hayes and Yeading, but they were still to gain a win in my presence, the best result being a 2-2 draw with Hayes and Yeading in January 2013. Their best league finish came in 1985, when they finished 4th in the Conference.  Their best FA Cup run came in 1993/94, when they took Stoke City to a replay, previously they had beaten Hereford United (then a league club) live on Sky, which I remember for the appearance of Grantley Dicks (brother of West Ham's Julian) for them, and for the interesting patchwork quilt kit that Hereford wore. It was typical of 1990's kits, being an acquired taste, it's certainly unique in any case.

I had quite a busy day at work and was rushed off my feet until 1pm. I finished work, bought some Irn Bru and other stuff for tonight and went and checked the latest on Facebook before leaving at 1.20. The journey was a lot quicker than I thought, and I made good progress down the M4 and into the Westcountry. After a brief stop at Membury services to change into some more comfortable shoes, I was at Larkhall by 3.20.

I walked into Bath as previously planned and went to the Stable, which on the internet looked very nice. When I got there I was not let down, the place was manna from heaven for a cider head like me. There were around 50 that I could try, and so I settled on 5 thirds that I could have for £7.50 on one of their taster boards. All of it was lovely and I had Devon Gold, Dorset Dabinett, Devon Bloom, Bridge Farm and Dorset Draught. I then checked out Facebook and had a think about my plans for the coming season. There was a really attractive groundhop in the Eastern Counties League in September. But stupidly they had been ignorant and selfish and arranged it for when the North Berks League groundhop is on, leaving people unable to attend both. They refused to budge when contacted about it, and also were doing nothing different with regards to selling tickets and programmes in advance. This was sure to lead to disappointment for lots of hoppers, especially as the company I use, Groundhop UK, organise everything so well so that no one is left without. They had become upset at the ECL's pig ignorance and the last things I wanted to do is upset anyone involved with them, by supporting and encouraging the lack of community spirit that the ECL had shown.

By the time I had finished that lot, I was feeling pretty nice and relaxed, and headed off to my second port of call, the Pink Planet games shop, which came highly recommended by LawnboysPost1975, one of the retro gamers I subscribe to on YouTube . There was a decent selection there, but none that I was willing to pay collectors price for, the only one I was looking for was Soccer 97, the follow-up to Olympic Soccer. I then went in search of food, putting the ground into google maps and stopping at a Chinese for some chips. I also stopped at the Hive pub as there was a local Honey's Midford Cider that I fancied. That was to be the end of my drinking cider wise for the night, as it was now 5.30 and I needed to recover in time to drive home.

I stopped for a Kangaroo Burger at Billy's Burgers on the way back to the ground. By the time I had reached my destination at 6.45, I was sweating like a pig, but still needed to put dime charge into my phone, which was under 30%. I got my stuff together to go in the ground, going in just before 7, half an hour before kick off. I was glad I had got my programme beforehand, as they sold the last one, a couple of customers before me. First port of call was the clubhouse toilet to clear myself out, and with that done, I found myself a place to watch the game with 10 minutes till kick off. I met up with Andy, a Bath fan, who I watched the game with and we had a good chat and catch up.

It was a pretty decent first half with chances for both sides. Bath took the lead early on, when the Larkhall keeper lost the ball, leaving an empty net to tap in to. It was a pretty even game in the first half as Bath were fielding a team of trialists. More of the first team came on in the second half and that resulted in them having more of the play. The visitors extended their lead with a neat and clinical low shot about 10 minutes into the second. Larkhall did have a chance to pull a goal back from the penalty spot but they spurned it, blasting it straight at the keeper. That was it as far as goals were concerned, and it had been a decent, if unspectacular game.

I made good time on the way back listening to some tunes and getting back around 11. I had a quick chat with my mate Kieran when I got back, and I will be glad to catch up properly with him when we meet at Harrogate next Tuesday, as well as a load of other Grimsby fans. I got to sleep just after midnight, thankful that I only had 2 more 4am starts before my week off.

PLAIN HAM is a wonderfully named ground and is typical of a recently promoted step 5 ground in that it has newly erected temporary stands. Pretty much half the ground is raised above ground level and offers a nice view. There are small stands on either side with a mixture of seating and standing. Behind the far goal is a small area of cover.

I didn't use the bar or tea bar, but know that they had Blackthorn on draught , which makes a change. The city of Bath is 40 minutes away and is well worth the walk, you pass a few takeaways on the way if you fancy something to eat.

The programme on the is occasion was very good, with plenty to read and I learned a fair bit about the club from it. I enjoyed my visit there, as everyone was really friendly. I will certainly be aiming to do more grounds in the West Country, as it is excellent for cider, and if this and Melksham are anything to go by, have plenty of grounds with interesting features.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Carlton Town - Bill Stokeld Stadium

Carlton Town FC
Bill Stokeld Stadium
Stoke Lane

0115 958 1735

Ground Number: 655
Tuesday 17th January 2017
Carlton Town 3-2 Sherwood Colliery
Notts Senior Cup Quarter Final


CARLTON TOWN were formed in 1904 under the name SNEINTON FC. They changed their name to their present one in 2002 by which time they had progressed through the Notts Alliance and Central Midlands League. In their first season under their new name, the won the latter's delightfully named Supreme Division and progressed to the Northern Counties East League, starting in its Division 1. After finishes of 9th and 3rd, they were champions in 2006 and the following season, third place behind Retford United and Sheffield was good enough to see them promoted from the Premier Division. Since that time they have been in the NPL Division 1 South with their highest ever finish coming in 2012 when they were runners-up. However, they lost in the playoff semi-finals to Leek Town, having fallen at the same hurdle three years previously when they lost to Stocksbridge Park Steels.The last couple of seasons have seen them struggle, with two consecutive 18th place finishes and a similar season this time sees them sitting in 19th place at present.

The club's best-ever progress in the FA Cup is the 3rd Qualifying Round - a feat which they achieved in 2012 (losing to Bradford Park Avenue) and 2013 (losing to Vauxhall Motors). In the FA Vase they reached the 3rd Round in 2005/06 before losing an epic game 4-3 to local rivals Gedling Town. 2009/10 saw their best run in the FA Trophy, reaching the 2nd Qualifying Round before losing to North Ferriby United. In terms of local cups, Carlton 
Town won the Notts Senior Cup in 2013, defeating Rainworth Miners Welfare 6-2 in a game played at Hucknall Town's Watnall Road ground.


There were 17 options for this Tuesday's groundhop, though one of them, Cinderford Town would almost inevitably be off due to the weather. It was a shame as it was the one I really wanted to do as it would complete the Southern Premier for me. But with the weather scheduled to be cold and wet, I wasn't going to get my hopes up, even though my blog was half-done for that ground. I even had three 3G backups in the case of the weather being really bad, though with two of them - Eastbourne Borough and Hamworthy United, involving a lengthy trip round the M25 in rush hour, it was something I'd rather avoid.

I was glad of my usual day off on the Tuesday, as work had not been good. The recently appointed boss had adopted a new way of working, which for my job meant that everything took twice as long. I had to stick to it though, as I was warned I'd face disciplinary action if I didn't. As a result I was not enjoying my time at work one bit. As soon as home time came, I was out the door with no overtime worked. A number of my colleagues felt the same, and in footballing parlance, I believe he has 'lost the dressing room'. I did consider trying to cheer myself up by going to Chelmsford City v Braintree Town in the Essex Senior Cup Quarter Final on the Monday night. It would have been a good chance to see my Braintree supporting mates, but at a ludicrous £13 entry for what amounted to a reserve team game, I gave it a miss. On the day of the game I woke up at around 5 am, which was most annoying when I wanted a lie in. I spent the tine getting together a Twitter list for tonight's game to give me an easy way to keep an eye on potential postponements. I walked down town, but not before discovering that one of my options at Birstall United was already postponed. After coming back and having some lunch, there were further postponements, with six games falling victim to the weather, and just Carlton Town and Market Drayton Town confirmed as on. I phoned fellow hopper Anwar and we decided on the former as it was quite a bit nearer.

I left at 3.30, meeting Anwar in Aylesbury at 4pm. Anwar had heard about an accident on our usual route, so we had to go cross-country to avoid it. What with those slow roads and the usual palaver on the M1,  we didn't get to Nottingham until 6.40, after half an hours delay. Dinner was at Morrisons Cafe a mile from the ground where we both had Mozzarella and red pepper Panini with chips for £3.90. Initially we thought it was going to be a bit of a pain with them saying that they were closing and had hardly anything left. However, we both got our first choice, and it was very nice and freshly cooked too. From there we drove the mile to the ground, arriving at 7.15. Paying a well-priced £5 to get in, I found there was no programme as 'the printers had not delivered them' I wasn't that bothered though as I am rapidly running out of space. The club were very welcoming and friendly, even opening the club shop for me when they saw me looking through the window. As they had been so helpful I bought a pen off of them. At £3 it was more than I was used to paying, but it was a nice metal one, a lot nicer than the usual plastic biros that are sold.

For the game we stood on the far side at first. There we saw some other hoppers, including Malcolm, who I had been chatting to recently on Twitter. He runs the useful and entertaining On The Road Blog which I'd have turned to for alternative games should tonight's game have suffered a late postponement. It also provided me with a scan of the teamsheet that I'd missed out on and the names of the scorers which I was unsure about. As for the game, Carlton Town fielded a full first team according to my sources. But it was step 7 Sherwood Colliery who were 5th in the Central Midlands League South that were much the brighter side early on. They took the lead on 4 minutes - a low cross was put in, a save was made following a sliding shot and Triston Burrell was on hand to drill the rebound into the net past home keeper Jack Steggles. It was a fully deserved lead with the visitors well on top, though Carlton did come back into it later on. Sherwood Colliery looked to be home and dry when Danny Williams netted from another cross on 78 minutes, but they were starting to tire. The hosts were given hope when Danny Gordon fired home from an acute angle on 82 minutes and from then on they threw everything forward. In the second minute of injury time, the ball was bundled home by Josh Rae. It was chilly by now, so I moved behind the goal to keep warmer. An unremarkable first half of extra time followed and it looked as if we might be heading for the drama of penalties to warm us up. However, 9 minutes from time Laurence Gorman netted from an excellent corner to give the hosts the win and set up a semi-final at home to Teversal. I caught the goal on video and have put it below on my Instagram post.

The result was very harsh on an excellent Sherwood Colliery side who were the better side on the night. I was also denied the excitement of a penalty shoot out, which is hell when it's your own team, but great when it's someone else's. It had been a good night's entertainment overall though for the 85 fans present, and there was plenty of drama elsewhere. Lincoln City had grabbed a last minute winner against Ipswich Town in a giant-killing act. I was more pleased for Sutton United as they beat AFC Wimbledon 3-1, especially for my mates and huge Sutton fans Ryan and Johnnie who had a great time watching their team pull off a huge feat. With extra time, we were late leaving and it must have been around 10.30 when we left. Mercifully, the irritating Andy Goldstein was absent from TalkSPORT's 'Sports Bar' phone in, so that provided good entertainment on the way home. The journey home was a reasonable one, part of the M1 was closed, so my Sat Nav took me down the A5 to Milton Keynes where we usually get off, which was nice and clear in the main. I dropped Anwar off at 12.20, getting home myself 20 minutes later. After staying up for around an hour, I only had a couple of hours sleep before getting up to face another unhappy day at work.


THE BILL STOKELD STADIUM is named in honour of the club's former chairman and is actually located nearer to the town of Gedling than Carlton. On paper its a fairly unremarkable venue with a capacity of 1,500 and a metal stand holding 164. However, this stand does have its seats in club colours, making it a bit better. The rest is open standing, save for an area of cover in front of the dressing rooms building. The bar is warm and welcoming, with Sky TV and the usual range of drinks you'd expect to find in a football clubhouse. The tea bar offers a good range of food, although I didn't sample anything on the night. The club shop has a good range of merchandise, as well as a good range of random old programmes. Overall, an enjoyable and friendly ground to visit, and on the occasion I visited, a decent game. Some of these pictures were taken on a 2007 visit, probably on the way to a Wycombe away game at Mansfield.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Mangotsfield United - Doug Hillard Sports Stadium

Mangotsfield United FC
Doug Hillard Sports Stadium
Cossham Street
South Gloucestershire
BS16 9EN

0117 956 0119

Ground Number: 664
Tuesday 10th January 2017
Mangotsfield United 0-1 Hereford
Southern D1 South & West


Mangotsfield United were formed in 1951, though there was a former club in the town that folded the previous year after long-running financial difficulties. Starting out in the Bristol & District Combination, they became one of the leading teams in the area and this led to them joining the Western League in 1972. A hugely credible 3rd placed finish was achieved in their first season and their first four seasons all resulted in top half finishes. The introduction of a second tier to the Western League saw results deteriorate and in 1982 they were relegated to the 1st Division. Mangotsfield would bounce back straight away, gaining promotion as runners-up to Bristol Manor Farm. The season away did them good, and upon their return they would never come close to relegation again, following in a top-half spot more often than not. The club were Western League champions in 1991, though it wasn't until the turn of the century that they would win promotion, finishing as runners-up to Taunton Town, going up to the Southern League for the following season. Starting out in the second-tier Western Division they won promotion to the Premier Division in 2005. 2006/07 saw Mangotsfield finish in their highest ever placing of 9th in the Southern Premier but they were relegated after finishing bottom in 2009. Despite a 3rd place finish in 2010/11 they lost in the playoffs to Frome Town and have finished in the bottom half in every season since. This season has seen huge improvement and the club have cemented a place in the playoffs, which would represent a challenge for tonight's visitors Hereford, who were running away at the top of the league.

In the FA Cup Mangotsfield United have never reached the 'proper' rounds of the FA Cup, although they have come very close on a number of occasions. 4th Qualifying Round defeats to Gravesend & Northfleet in 2000, Lewes in 2002 (after a replay) and Forest Green Rovers in 2009 being as close as they have come. The 1995/96 season saw a run to the FA Vase Semi Finals. After beating Truro City, Godalming & Guildford, Hungerford Town, Paulton Town, Wivenhoe Town and Raunds Town, they faced then North West Counties side Clitheroe in a two-legged semi-final. Despite winning 1-0 in the home leg, they lost 2-0 up in Lancashire to end their dreams of a trip to Wembley. The 2001/02 season saw their best-ever run in the FA Trophy as they lost 1-0 in the 4th Round at home to Stalybridge Celtic.

In terms of local success, Mangotsfield won the Western League Cup in 1974, the Somerset Premier Cup in 1998, the Gloucestershire Senior Cup in 2003 and 2013 as well as the Gloucestershire Senior Trophy on multiple occasions. The club's record attendance came in 1974 when 1,253 fans turned out for an FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round game against Bath City. Their record home victory came in 1953 when they defeated Hanham Sports 17-0, so away from home they beat Dawlish Town 13-0 some 40 years later. A number of notable players were produced by Mangotsfield United including Gary Penrice, Gary Megson and Mike Hooper.


The weekend before, I'd seen Wycombe scrape past Stourbridge in the FA Cup. It was a great game, but to be honest, we rode our luck and the NPL Premier side were fantastic and unlucky not to get anything out of the game. We've had pretty rotten luck in the FA Cup draws so far this season, but we pulled out a good one on Monday night, getting Spurs away. Middlesbrough away would have been my first choice, but this will represent a great day out in London and a good deal financially for the club. I'm hoping it gets moved to the Sunday for TV as I have the weekend booked off and fancy making the most of the weekend. On the day of the game, it was my day off work, and I walked down town as per usual. When I came back I was browsing through Twitter and noticed that my original intended game in Cinderford Town v Slough Town was subject to a pitch inspection. I had that sinking feeling that I've had when trying to visit Cinderford many times before. My fears were founded when it was called off at 1PM, and my mission to complete the Southern Premier would have to wait once again.

At least I had backups in place, nine possibilities in total. Fellow hopper Anwar's choice was Mangotsfield United v Hereford and so the decision was pretty easy to make as there were no other standout games on my list. We'd tried to visit on the day of the original tie, but it suffered a frozen pitch and a subsequent call off, something that I anticipated early and ended up paying a very cold revisit to Banstead Athletic instead, with my original choice being called off less than an hour before kick-off.  It would mean me spending the afternoon doing my pre-match research so I could get an idea of what to expect when I got there. After doing that it was pretty much time to go, so I made up my flask, got my things togther and left at 3.30. I picked Anwar up at 4 and apart from a 10 minute delay near Abingdon due to a crash, it was a good journey. For dinner, we went to the Star Kebab House a mile and a half from the ground where I had a chicken and bacon burrito with chips for £6.80. As it was less than an hour until kick-off I didn't eat it straight away and drove the 1.5 miles to the ground as I thought it might be busy. I was correct in my assumption, and I had to explore a couple of side roads before I finally found a space. From there it was a few minutes walk to the ground, with me getting there at 7 PM.

After paying £8 to get in, plus £2 for what turned out to be a decent programme with plenty of interesting articles in it, I settled down to my dinner. It had felt pretty heavy when I took it away and it turned out to be huge.I struggled to finish it and the combination of chicken, bacon, cheese, green peppers, onions, jalapenos and salsa sauce was delicious, though the chips were cold by the time I got round to eating it. After that I went in the club shop which turned out to be one of the better ones at this level. There I bought a FA Cup Giantkillers book, a Welling fanzine and a Mangotsfield United pen, all for the princely sum of £2.While I was there I picked up a free teamsheet before I made my way to a space on the far side to watch the game. I met a number of people that I knew during the game - fellow hopper John and Bristol Rovers fan Kalon who I'd seen earlier this season at Bath.But the most surprising person I saw was my old teacher from school, called Mr Stedman. I'd not seen him for 20 years and it was good to have a brief catch up, especially as he was one of my favourite teacher, with him being as keen on football as I was.

In front of a crowd of 602, Hereford extended their 15-point lead at the top of the league and although they had the better of the game, the hosts did have their chances. The visitors started on the front foot and in the first minute former Bristol City and Bristol Rovers keeper Steve Phillips had to be at his best to deny the Bulls top scorer John Mills. They eventually did take the lead on 23 minutes, though there was a degree of controversy about it. A free-kick was awarded on the edge of the area, which was awarded for a trip. Mike McGrath quickly took it and it caught Phillips by surprise, who claimed he was not ready. Despite his protests, the goal stood and Hereford went on to win the game 1-0, despite further chances for both sides. The goal was caught on camera by a Hereford fan and is included below. Talking of their fans, they were pretty quiet in the first half, but in the second half they got going and really got behind their team with some decent songs.

During the game, I'd been keeping an eye on the Wycombe game up at Blackpool. Though the Checkatrade Trophy is a bum competition, the £40,000 prize would come in useful. On a more personal level, it meant that the league game at Exeter would be moved from the 24th January if we progressed, which suited me down to the ground. I really fancied visiting Exeter again, but a trip on a bleak January evening did not appeal. Happily, Wycombe did win, though it went all the way to penalties. A side bonus of the win was that Blackpool's unpleasant and controversial owners would not be pocketing the prize money. It was around 9.45 by the time we headed for home, and with a good journey home, I dropped Anwar off at 11.25, arriving home myself 20-minutes later. I watched TV for a while, before going to bed just before 1 AM.


THE DOUG HILLARD SPORTS STADIUM is a great ground for the level Mangotsfield play at, with cover on all 4 sides. The total capacity stands at 2500, with around 1000 of that being covered standing. There is a decent sized main stand, which holds around 200. The club shop at the ground is excellent, having a great range of merchandise and old programmes and books too. The bar at the ground is also pretty decent, with live TV sports and lots of stuff from various football clubs on the walls. For cider drinkers the choice is pretty good with Natch on draught and Thatchers Gold, Thatchers Haze and Blackthorn Dry in cans.

I didn't eat at the ground, though there are a couple of takeaways around ten minutes walk from the ground. I opted for one further away from the ground, the Star Kebab and Pizza House in nearby Kingswood. This was pretty decent and summed up the whole trip which was an enjoyable night out at a friendly club. A couple of pictures were from an early motning visit in 2007, when I popped down on my way to a Plymouth Argyle v Wycombe Wanderers game to take pictures.