Saturday, 14 May 2016

Hertfordshire FA - The County Ground



Hertfordshire FA Ground
The County Ground
Baldock Road
Letchworth Garden City
Hertfordshire
SG6 2EN

01462 677622






Ground Number: 591
Saturday 14th May 2016
London Lions 3-1 Springfield
Anagram Records Trophy Final






In what could well be my last groundhop of the season, I was on my own once more and so wanted something fairly local to keep the costs down. By far my first choice was a revisit to Ebbsfleet who were playing Maidstone United in the Conference South playoff final. However as building work was going on at Ebbsfleet’s Stonebridge Road the capacity was restricted to 3800. Therefore the big Kent derby had been made all ticket and as I was unable to get down there to pick one up, the game was out of the question. I did briefly consider a double - Guisborough on the Friday night, and then North Ferriby on the Saturday. In the end though, I had a lot to catch up on at home and decided against what would have been an overnight stay. Instead I decided to go to the Anagram Records Trophy Final which was being played at the Hertfordshire FA ground in Letchworth. This gave me the opportunity to visit either Letchworth or Baldock, both of which had their own attractions, pre match, something I would decide on the morning of the game.


The ANAGRAM RECORDS TROPHY is a competition played between smaller clubs in the South East who do not compete in the FA Vase. It is officially known is the Capital County Feeder Leagues Trophy and was founded in 1999 with the first final ending in a 1-1 stalemate between Tring Athletic and Bedmond Sports & Social. Tring went on to win that first final after a penalty shoot out. It is notable for being the first ever trophy that supporter-formed Enfield Town won in 2002 as they defeated Piston & Ivinghoe 3-1. The most successful team are White Ensign who have won it on 3 occasions.


SPRINGFIELD started in the first round of the competition back in October as they beat Old Bradwell United 3-1 on their own ground. The second round was  in November as they came back from Aston Clinton with a 2-0 win. By the third round they were the only Essex Olympian League side standing as they beat the first defeated finalists of the competition, Bedmond Sports & Social 2-1. The final hurdle was the Semi Final as a 3-2 away win at Sandridge Rovers on the 19th March was enough to see them through their first ever final in the competition. League wise they are going pretty well at step 7 of the non league pyramid, sitting 4th with a couple of games in hand on those above them. The club have been long time members of the Essex Olympian League and are based in Chelmsford.


Like their opponents, LONDON LIONS would also be contesting their first ever final. They are a club drives from the Jewish community and based in Barnet. They spent time in the Spartan South Midlands League recently, sharing with Conference South outfit Hemel Hempstead Town as their own ground was deemed insufficient for the level. Since dropping back down to the Hertfordshire County League they have returned to their former venue and it looks a decent setup which I hope to visit one day. They currently sit 5th in the Herts County League, which is also at step 7. They started off  their cup exploits with a rousing 7-1 win over Luton based ‘The 61 FC’ That was followed up with an impressive 4-1 victory over their fellow league side Stanton & Puckering who went on to win the league. They’d have to travel at last, as they triumphed 5-2 at Letchworth Garden City Eagles, not far from where today’s final is being played. The semi final saw them at home again, once again to fellow Herts League opponents as they triumphed 3-2 over Belstone.


On the day of the game I woke at 6am on my day off which was a tad annoying, though at least I’d had a decent nights sleep after I’d fell asleep at 11PM. I had a breakfast of Black Pudding & Eggs before taking a shower and getting dressed. I’d still not decided on whether to go to Letchworth or Baldock, so I decided to do both. I’d park up at Morrisons in Letchworth, do what I had to do there before parking at the ground and walking the mile or so to the Orange Tree pub in Baldock. I spent an hour or so researching today’s game and both teams route to the final before leaving home at 10.40. The first part of the journey went well, though it slowed up as I approached the M25. On the motorway itself it was down to 15mph as muppets slowed down to rubber neck at an accident and I was caught in the jam. It didn't look that serious, a mini bus was a bit bashed up and hopefully all occupants got out ok. The rest of the journey was pleasant and I was parked up at Morrisons in Letchworth by 11.40.


It was a pleasant garden city and my first stop was Wetherspoons for lunch. Though the ever wonderful Black Dragon cider was calling my name I opted for a Strongbow Dark Fruits as part of my meal deal as it was considerably weaker at 4%. For my food I had a Tandoori Chicken Wrap. The Three Magnets was a bit of a mixed bag, good drinks range and ambience but slow service at the bar and for food. In any case the meal and drink were good value at £5.25 and up to the usual reasonable standard. After that I got a few bits from Home Bargains and went back to my car. I got to the ground just before 1pm, packing up and buying a programme which I put in my boot before walking the mile or so to the Orange Tree in Baldock. It was a fantastic place with a great range of real ciders, especially from Apple Cottage. They were actually brewed in the town and it was a shame that I had to drive as the pint I had was delicious. There were a couple of friendly greyhounds in the pub and also a bunch of Morris Dancers for some reason, all jangling about over the place. Once I'd drank my drink I returned to the ground, getting there at 2.30pm and going straight in.


It was a pretty well specced ground although the blazers were none too keen to let me into their inner sanctum at the hospitality suite so I walked down the other end to finish my picture taking. I sat in the main stand and it was a fairly tame start to the game with little in the way of clear cut chances. London Lions took the lead on 18 minutes via a curling Austin Lipman shot into the roof of the net from around 12 yards. The Essex side tried to get back on it and indeed has some chances before the break but nothing came of them. London Lions regrouped during the half time break and started the second half on the front foot. They extended their lead on 56 minutes via a penalty from Max Kyte after a foul in the area. The game appeared to have sealed on 67 minutes with a cracking long range lob by Max Kyte that put London Lions 3-0 up. It was his 41st goal of the season on an afternoon that he broke a club record for most goals in a season, capping a fine performance. Springfield got a late consolation right on full time from Adam Vyse but it was too little, too late. London Lions were worthy winners in what was a fairly decent game.


I was just about to turn on my heel when my mate Alex, who lived locally, turned up. I’d not seen him for a couple of years and it was great to catch up as we watched the London Lions team being presented with the trophy. I was just about out of fuel so I had to stop at Sainsbury’s to fill up. On the way back I listened to BBC Radio Kent’s brilliant coverage of the Conference South playoff final over the internet. In an all Kent derby between Ebbsfleet United and Maidstone United, the hosts looked to have it in the bag with seconds to go. But a last minute Maidstone equaliser forced penalties and the Stones triumphed on spot kicks after former AFC Wimbledon striker Danny Kedwell missed the decisive kick. The funny thing was, he had already put 2 spot kicks away in normal time. I was disappointed - with a number of teams in the Conference having support from my mates, I was hoping to meet some if they played away at the Fleet, but alas it was not to be. I continued my drive home, getting back at 6.10. I had dinner of Moussaka before going upstairs to finish off this blog. As there was no Match Of The Day tonight, I’d planned on an early night for once on a Saturday, so I wasn’t as tired for the next morning. It would also mean that I’d be awake for the Conference Playoff final, where, fingers crossed, a great bunch of mates from Grimsby will be celebrating promotion, rather than Forest Green in the battle of which side gets to play Wycombe in League 2 next season.


THE COUNTY GROUND is a smart venue and would suit most teams up to step 3 and at a push step 2 level. There is a 250 seat (approx) stand which is raised above pitch level and gives excellent unobstructed views. There are covered terraces on part of the remaining 3 sides, this probably gives around another 600 fans over. I estimate the overall capacity to be around 3000. There is a bar under the stand which offers a reasonable range of drinks, but nothing spectacular. I didn’t see any hot food either so you are better off walking into Letchworth or Baldock both of which are around a mile away. There are a good selection of establishments wherever you go. On my experience, the cost effective option with more choice is Letchworth, though if you are looking to treat yourself to something special, Baldock is the one to go for, with the Orange Tree being especially decent. 

Friday, 13 May 2016

Cradley Town - Beeches View




Cradley Town FC
Beeches View
Beeches View Avenue
Cradley
Halesowen
B63 2HB





Ground Number: 589
Tuesday 10th May 2016
Black Country Rangers 1-1 Cradley Town
West Midlands Regional League Premier




It might have been getting near the end of the season but there were still plenty of options for games and still plenty of life in the season despite most leagues having finished for the summer. One thing that did frustrate me though was amount of clubs being unable to raise a team. I understand that from time to time things happen but the amounts of games that are postponed as clubs treat fixtures as an option, rather than a commitment was very frustrating. I’d been hoping to visit Chatteris in Cambridgeshire A League. The ground came highly recommended by Norwegian hopper Anders but the visitors Orwell had pulled out of the game. Second choice was Black Country Rangers v Cradley Town who share a ground with the latter being the landlords but even that looked dodgy with an unseasonal bout of heavy rain forecast. At least I had plenty of backups in place should it fall, but I’d make a final decision on the day.


CRADLEY TOWN might have been tonight's 'away' team but they have been long-term residents of the ground, and indeed are landlords. They were founded in 1970 and were initially known as Albion Hayden United following a merger of 2 local teams, switching to their current name in 1975. They joined the Midland League upon formation, starting in Division 2, winning that Division in 1972. Despite this fact they were not promoted until 1979 when they joined the 1st Division. Apart from a sole relegation season in the WMRL Premier during 1983/84 they remained in Division 1 until 1991. Since then they have not looked back, gaining promotion to the WMRL Premier which despite the same sits at step 6 of the non-league pyramid. They did spend a number of seasons at step 5 as members of the Midland Alliance from 1999-2010 after finishing runners-up to Kington Town in the 98/99 season. Their best ever finish came in 2001 but generally it was tough going for them. They returned to the WMRL Premier since 2010/11, sitting in 8th at the time of the game which would represent a decent finish for them

In the FA Cup the club reached the 2nd Qualifying Round in 2008/09. After beating Heather St Johns, Ellesmere Rangers and Sutton Coldfield Town they lost 3-0 to Hucknall Town who at the time were members of the Conference North. The FA Vase has proved a lot tougher with just a couple of 2nd Round appearances in the mid 2000's. The m ost famous sporting name to have hailed from Cradley is the former Derby County player Steve Bloomer, though he never played for the club.


Tennants and tonight's home side BLACK COUNTRY RANGERS were formed in 1996. Since joining the West Midlands Regional League in 2007 they have enjoyed a rapid rise up the leagues. They won Division 2 at the 3rd attempt in 2010, winning 18 out of their 22 games. Just a single season was spent in Division 1 with them scoring 110 goals in a 30 game season as they were Champions once more. The following season they took their place at step 6 of the Non-League pyramid in the WMRL Premier. The 2011/12 season saw them miss out on a third successive league win by 3 points as they finished as runners-up to Gornal Athletic. The following season saw them finish 5th but they still managed to score over 100 goals for the 4th season in a row. Their fortunes have dipped a bit since then and they currently sit in 15th place.

In the FA Cup they just have the one victory, that came in 2013/14 as Heath Hayes were defeated 3-1 before a narrow defeat to Halesowen Town in the Preliminary Round. In the FA Vase the club reached the 1st Round this season which represents their best progress so far. Their run was ended by Coventry Sphinx who came out on top in a 6-4 goalfest. In terms of local cups they won the JW Hunt Cup twice in a row in 2012 and 2013. The club were originally based in Rowley Regis, a place that can lay claim to being the birthplace of Carlton Palmer, a top flight footballer and short lived England international under Graham Taylor in the early 1990's


On the day of the game the rain came as forecast, and as a result I was unable to take my weekly walk down town. I still needed to go down though, to pay in a cheque amongst other things , so I drove down for once. I still got soaked though and it seemed bizarre after the most welcome recent sunshine. It appeared however that the British summer lasted a weekend, normal service has been resumed and that it will rain for eternity. After coming home I spent the afternoon seeing if there was any news of any pitch inspections, but the Twitter feeds for tonight clubs were not the greatest. I also researched the best place for dinner and selected a Piri Piri place a few miles from the ground. Normally I’d research and write about the clubs history too, but having wasted hours on doing others before only for the game to be postponed, I decided against it. As I’d not bought all I’d wanted in Wycombe earlier, I decided to leave just after 3 to see if I could find a case for my camera in Aylesbury. It was an unsuccessful mission but at least I was on time to meet Anwar at 4 and soon enough we were on our way. It was slow getting out of Aylesbury and there were some delays where the M40 met the M42 but generally the traffic was kind to us. The journey was mostly spent discussing the ludicrous contract decisions made at Wycombe this week where the woefully out of form Sam Wood got a new deal and even more baffling veteran striker Paul Hayes who looks to be on his last legs got a 2 year deal. The combined age of our managers favourite strike force is nearing 70 and not one fan I have spoken to agrees with the decision to keep picking them together. The release of Max Kretchzmar was also disappointing, I felt he was our most creative midfielder, but I appreciate he may not flourish in what is a very negative style of football. I think it will come back to bite us, and that we will struggle next season. I hope I am wrong, but here it is on record in any case.


We arrived at our pre match meal place, AK Grill in Halesowen at 6pm. I'd found the place on the Just Eat takeaway site and it seemed to have a good menu. We both had a Balti with 2 rotis for a fiver which seemed good value. It was a cracking curry too, really tasty. From there it was a 15 minute drive to the ground with us getting there at 6.45. The entrance was good value at £5 although there were was no programme as Black Country Rangers don't issue. I was promised a teamsheet though by the guy who ran the Cradley Town club shop so I gave him my email. And what a shop it was, a real treasure trove full of great stuff. The programmes were 60p each so a tad too pricey to read on the bog and throw away. I did get 10 magazines for 30p each though and also 5 old pennants for £2 each with Boston United, Kettering Town, Stevenage Borough, Dover Athletic & Bristol City added to my collection. I caught up online and got some pictures of the ground while I waited for kick off. One surprise for me was that Cradley was pronounced Cray-dley and goes on the list of names that catch out those unaware along with Heather (Hee-ther) St Johns and Cogenhoe (Cook-No) amongst others.


The game started with Cradley well on top with Black Country Rangers restricted to chances on the break. Cradley  took the lead on 20 minutes when a rampaging run down the left resulted in a cross being put in and a low finish from Adam Meacham after a Rangers  defender missed a slide tackle. Black Country Rangers started the second half a lot stronger and they had a chance to equalise 10 minutes into the second half when they were awarded a penalty. It was a firm strike low to the right but the Cradley keeper made a great save to keep his teams lead in tact. A few minutes from time Rangers did get their equaliser, number 5 powering home a low strike from the edge of the area. That was how it stayed, probably a bit harsh on Cradley but it had been a contest with plenty of chances. 


We left around 9.40 and it was a decent journey home. We listened to the West Ham v Manchester United which was the last game at The Boleyn Ground which was delayed due to the visitors team coach being bottled pre game. And within a few hours so were their Champions League ambitions as West Ham gave the old place a great send off by winning 3-2. I dropped Anwar off at 11.10, getting home myself at 11.30. I watched TV for a bit, hoping to get to sleep fairly quickly as I am up at 4am and also had another game the following evening in Skegness. I was a little tired the following morning, but soon woke up, but one thing I won't miss when the season finishes is all the late nights.



BEECHES VIEW is a great ground brimming full of character as three-sided venues tend to be, at least the older ones anyway. As you come in the ground, to your left is a covered terrace with room for around 500 supporters. To your right is a smaller stand, this has a bench at the front with padded seats, around 50 can stand here along with another 200 behind. Finally at the far end is a cavernous stand with around 150 seats and plenty of terracing. I fancy this could take around 800 under cover and with all the uncovered spots, the ground could hold 3000 supporters.

The tea bar serves a decent range of your typical fare and is vert well priced. The clubhouse shows live football on big screens and has your typical range of drinks available. The real gem is the club shop. It deserves a lot more space than the fair size it has already but it has a great range of books, magazines, programmes and other various bits, along with a decent range of Cradley Town merchandise.


CLUBHOUSE



TEA BAR



CLUB SHOP