Welwyn Garden City FC
Welwyn Garden City
Ground Number: 405
Wednesday 3rd September
Welwyn Garden City 1-0 Saffron Walden Town
FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay
I was cracking on with my season, especially my FA Cup games. I had already done a couple of games in each round, but as of this week, had still not seen a replay and the potential excitement of extra time and penalties to decide the tie. This was remedied the previous evening, when I went to see my local side Holmer Green play against AFC Hayes in a replay. They were bidding to reach the 1st Qualifying Round for only the second time, previously a narrow 1-0 loss to Hendon back in 2004, and the prize for progression was a home tie against another Middlesex side, Harrow Borough in the next round. It turned out to be a rather flattering 4-0 scoreline for AFC Hayes, they took their goals really well and deserved the win, though Holmer Green didn't deserve to lose by that many.
But as ever, I was looking to do some more groundhops. It would be a fairly rare Wednesday night game for me, but Welwyn Garden City fitted the bill. It was a fairly short trip, my parents were off out so I would have been fending for myself dinner wise anyway, plus fellow groundhopper Anwar was happy to come with me to the game. I had been to the ground once before, that was back in 2004 when I stopped on my way through to take pictures. The town itself has a fairly well known MP, Grant Shapps who is chairman of the Conservative Party, while supermarket giant Tesco has a head office in the town. Famous people born there include former England keeper David James, golfer Nick Faldo and Una Stubbs who played Alf Garnett's daughter in the 1960's sitcom 'Til Death Us Do Part'
Welwyn Garden City FC were formed in 1921. After playing in the London and Herfordshire leagues for the first 50 or so years of their history, they joined the South Midlands League in 1973. They won this league at the first time of asking, but fortunes soon changed and a few seasons later, they had finished bottom of the Premier Division and were relegated to Division 1. It took them 5 seasons to get back from where they came and since then, they have flitted between the league's 2 divisions, although they have been in Division 1 since 2010, with last season's 4th place being their best finish since going down. They had a good run in the FA Cup in 1998, getting all the way to the 3rd Qualifying Round before bowing out to Ford United (now called Redbridge FC). They got to the 4th Round of the FA Vase in 2006, and have also won a few local cups. Before the game they were 8th in the Spartan South Midlands League Division 1, but with a game in hand on a lot of teams.
Saffron Walden Town FC were founded in 1872, making them one of the oldest clubs in Essex. The club have spent their history in various leagues, including the Spartan League, the Isthmian and the Essex Senior League, of which they were founder members. Since 2004 though, they have been members of the Eastern Counties League Division 1, and last season achieved their best finish of recent times, when they finished 5th. This was good enough to qualify for this seasons FA Cup as one of the top placed step 6 teams. They'd already beaten step 5 side Ilford of the Essex Senior League before tonights game, but have made the 2nd Qualifying Round on 3 separate occasions, most recently in 1999 when they lost out to Hitchin Town. They made the 5th Round of the FA Vase in 1991, but with Wembley looming in the distance, they lost 2-1 to Buckingham Town. They have won a number of local cups and at the time of the game were in 6th place in the league.
On the day I was working as per usual, and actually got to bed before midnight, which is unusual for me on a Tuesday. I finished at lunchtime and spent the afternoon at home. I left home just before 5.30 after having tuna pasta bake for dinner. I got to Anwar's at 5.50 and we were soon on our way. Little over an hour later we were at Welwyn Garden City FC, parking on a grass verge outside the ground, as the car park was already full.
We had a brief look in the bar, which wad already busy and then went in, paying £5 for entry and £1 for an excellent programme. I started typing my blog and looked on Facebook before going round and taking pictures of the ground. While we were watching the game, we agreed that our next Tuesday groundhop should be Western Super Mare v Ebbsfleet, with us also considering Irchester United v Staines Lammas in the FA Vase on the Sunday. At half time I got some chips, that were recommended to me by another hopper, who had visited before. Though they were not up to the perfect standards of North Leigh, who have sent the benchmark as far as chips are concerned, they were still nice and were a generous portion for £1.20, especially when Chilli Sauce was added.
Up until the sending off of Welwyn Garden City's number 4 around the 70 minute mark, Saffron Walden Town were well on top. But then, instead of collapsing due to losing a man, they galvanised and the visitors barely had a chance. It was goalless at full time and so extra time was played. I was hoping for a penalty shoot-out, but in the end it was a winner from long range for the home side that won it. Saffron Walden had a man advantage and 20 minutes to get the goal back, but they couldn't do it. The game got a bit lively at times with lots of off the ball scuffles and heavy tackles.
England as per usual flattered to deceive and struggled to a 1-0 win over Norway. More excitingly Cleethorpes Town beat Gresley 5-4, as recently as last season, they were 2 divisions apart. Both sides ended with 9 men, and my friends who went said it was an epic contest.
Game 38 of the Season (6th FA Cup Game this season) (1507th game of all time)
Goals this season: 152 (4 per game)
Hop with Anwar number: 64
Purchases: Entry £5, Programme £1, Chips £1.20
Total spent this season (Entry, Programme, Fuel, Food/Drink) £582.90 (£15.34 Per Game)
Miles Driven: 100 (3498 for the season)
Wycombe Wanderers v Bury on Saturday. Next Groundhop will be Weston Super Mare v Ebbsfleet United if I don't go to Irchester United v Staines Lammas in the FA Vase on Sunday.
AFTER THE GAME
Due to extra time, I didn't leave Welwyn Garden City until 10.30. But I was back in Aylesbury by 11,15 and after dropping Anwar off, was back home 20 minutes later. I got my head down pretty quickly, and was asleep just after midnight.
HERNS LANE is an above average ground for the step 6 level. There are only 2 small areas of cover though - an old stand holding just over 100 and small area of newer cover, on the opposite side, which holds around the same again, only standing. The rest of the ground is open, but it is well kept, and there is plenty of scope for improvement, with lots of space for additional stands, should they rise up the leagues.
The clubhouse is smart and modern, but only has Strongbow on draught for cider drinkers. There are real ales for people who like that sort of thing too. Food wise, the selection is good, with chips at £1.20 and lots of other choices. I didn't see any club merchandise for sale, but there's bound to be pin badges on sale somewhere.