Western League Groundhop Weekend – October 2018

Over the years, i have been to quite a lot of the organised groundhops taking place in different league’s throughout the country and whilst in my own opinion there are pro’s and con’s to these organised events, it is still a great way to take in a few grounds in one part of the country often quite far away from your home base without masses of repeat travelling and the associated costs etc. And the Western League hop over the last couple of years has led us to numerous great grounds and games.

Friday, saw us journey down the M4, to the first game at the home of Brislington FC, who were entertaining Odd Down (Bath) whose ground we visited on last season’s hop. The ground was excellent for Step 5 (if only every ground at this level had so much cover from the elements!). A neat main stand on one side, cover on all 4 sides of the ground and a club that had clearly prepared very well. Lots of volunteers and helpers,  a great selection of food pre-match at excellent prices (mine was the jacket potato and beans if you are interested!). Tea / Coffee and even free biscuits, everything had been thought out well, the bar was busy and hopefully the club made a few quid on the night.

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The game itself was excellent, with the away side taking an early lead through George Lloyd and from there on the game ebbed and flowed with Brislington turning things around to take a 2-1 advantage in the second half, before two further late goals both from Lloyd completed an excellent hat trick and gave Odd Down a 3-2 win. Young, 17 year old keeper Aaron Sainsbury on work experience from Bristol City also had an excellent game for the visitors. A crowd of 262 were more than happy with their evening’s entertainment and the weekend had got off to a good start.

Saturday, unfortunately saw us wake up to steady rain, never great at the start of a long day with numerous games and being full of cold already it didn’t bode well. However the opening game of the morning at Longwell Green Sports was excellent in the First Division of the Western League. Pre-game table toppers Welton Rovers were the visitors and they were given a real run for their money by the home side, who despite the steady rain gave a really committed performance and held a 2-1 lead into the second half,  the second Longwell Green goal was a proper old school centre-half header from Courtney Charles, unstoppable power from a corner, one of those goals you don’t see enough of anymore!  However the visitors began to dominate in the second half and in the end took the 3 points, with a 3-2 victory, thanks to 2 fine headers themselves in the second half from centre forward Aaron Seviour. Despite the rain, an excellent game and advert for the league, just a shame we didn’t have a ground with 4 sides of cover like the previous evening, always the way though weather wise on hops! A well organised club again, with a few bar areas and lounges which provided welcome respite from the rain at half time, along with the bacon rolls and tea.

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We then rolled on to nearer the coast for the Clevedon Town versus Buckland Athletic, Premier League clash, although Clevedon’s ground is a long way out of the town itself in a rural location, which sadly can’t help them attract locals at times. Again though an excellent set up from the club, plenty of parking, programmes for sale behind the turnstiles and as the wind began to get up, the joy of a long elevated covered terrace running down the entire length of the far side of the ground protecting us from the elements, which attracted a sizable proportion of the 213 crowd.  The hard working blokes in the tea bar were kept busy pre-game with the 2.15pm kick off bringing lots of appetites in the crowd it appeared. Burgers, Chips, Hot Dogs and more seemed to be doing a roaring trade, followed by a fabulous selection of home made cakes in the club shop. Don’t go on a groundhop, if you are following a strict diet or are easily tempted!

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On the field, Clevedon made all the early running and took a deserved lead through Alex Camm and as a neutral you expected them to go on and take the game by the scruff of the neck, however it didn’t happen as Buckland (who had travelled from Devon) found a way back into the game and got a foothold when they equalised shortly before half time. The second half had seen a stronger wind pick up blowing down the pitch and the visitors took full advantage as they began to take control. Sub Ryan Bush pushed them 2-1 in front with a fine finish and then they sealed the points with an excellent strike (albeit i think aided by a deflection) from James Richards to make it 3-1. Another good game and a third away win of the weekend!

Back towards Bristol itself and a fixture at the well appointed Moorhouse Lane home of Hallen FC, as they took on another of last season’s hop hosts Shepton Mallet in a 5pm fixture. The game if i am honest took a while to get going, as both evenly matched sides seemed to cancel each other out for much of a first half which held the attention rather than captivated it. Although the fact that the combination of a heavy cold and the early morning rain and dampness seemed to have rendered me frozen internally might have slightly hindered my enthusiasm which was a shame! Shepton Mallet took the lead late in the first half through Ashley Willmott after the ball spent an eternity pin-balling around the Hallen goalmouth.  The teams remained fairly evenly balanced but the second goal for Shepton Mallet was decisive, with Pollard’s shot taking a deflection to loop into the top corner. After that Hallen had an up hill struggle and never seemed to fully believe themselves that they were going to get back into things and the visitors sealed an excellent 3 points, after a testing start to the season results wise, with a third goal from Morgan.

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Hallen were another very well organised club, with the chicken curry, rice and naan looking popular at £3 and a host of volunteers running the BBQ, merch stall and the very well stocked (and warm – thank god!) tea bar.

So, the games we planned to do were done and we will no doubt return to this part of the world for a trip to those we haven’t done yet later this season, Boxing Day always seems to produce opportunities for a double in the Western League, so hopefully Cribbs, Bristol Telephones and Bridgwater Town will see us visit later in the season.

I will openly admit, i find 4 game days on Groundhops hard work these days, especially on damp days and with a long journey the following day to the Liverpool (my turn with the season ticket ) v Man City game via coach / train.

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All in all though, an excellent four games, well organised clubs, hard working committee members and volunteers, great food (it makes a change on groundhops not just to have the ubiquitous non league burger on the menu!) and some great football on the pitch. The Western League from my visits over the years seems a  very well organised league, good clubs, varied and interesting grounds across it’s 2 divisions and i hope it is not too long until I get chance to visit the area again. Well done to all involved pulling this together.

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Redbridge 1 v Woodford Town 3 – Essex Senior League – Fri 28 September 2018

Another Friday, another opportunity to attend an Essex Senior League game, at Oakside Stadium, tucked in behind Barkingside tube station to watch Redbridge take on near neighbours Woodford Town.

I hadn’t visited Oakside for several years, in fact i think the last time was a 2-1 win for London APSA over then resident home side Barkingside, so it must have been quite a while ago, with APSA no longer in the Essex Senior League and Barkingside playing at pastures new. The stadium however is still one of my favourites in this league, easy enough to get to and the raised terracing behind the goal nearest the turnstiles and on one side of the pitch provides a decent view.

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The crowd was swelled by a large contingent of Swedish supporters who were taking in the Millwall game the following day and Redbridge must have enjoyed taking a few quid more than normal at the bar, as these lads were certainly ‘enjoying’ their evening out. The atmosphere was also boosted by the unique Woodford Town noisy band who sang,  bang drums and played some weird and wonderful instruments throughout the evening from the far side.

And they had plenty to make a noise about, as Woodford Town were excellent in the first half, Redbridge couldn’t handle their pace and movement at all during the opening to the game and it was no surprise when the visitors took the lead with Samir Ali finding the target in the 9th minute from close range and this was followed a few minutes later by a second goal from Machingaidze as Redbridge again struggled to find any answer to the wave after wave of Woodford attacks.

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It could and should have been more by half time and you did wonder if Woodford might regret not putting the game to bed sooner but although Redbridge did come back into things slightly, the result was never really in any doubt and Woodford made it 3-0 when Temi Babalola was played through and slotted past the keeper. Redbridge didn’t help themselves when skipper Murphy was ordered off after an uncompromising challenge and they went down to nine men after an injury after they had used all their subs. But credit to the home side for not giving up and their efforts were rewarded with the best goal of the night late on when  Bryan Kyungu fired into the top corner from distance.

Overall though a comfortable win for Woodford who i must say were very impressive to watch in the first half and another side who could shock a few more teams as the season goes on. Redbridge after some good recent away performances will be very disappointed, as on the evening their display just wasn’t good enough to warrant any points.

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So another enjoyable Essex Senior League, Friday night excursion, hopefully there will be plenty more between now and the end of the season, as it is always a good night to watch football.

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Edgware Town 1 v London Colney 0 – Spartan South Midlands Football League Premier Division – Tuesday 25 September 2018.

A few options tonight but decided to stay very local and pay another visit to Silver Jubilee Park but this time rather than Hendon, it was to watch Edgware Town for the first time this season.

Not a cold night but definitely one that reminds you to take a coat and that the frozen toes and feet days and nights of watching football are ahead of us of all.

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Both Edgware and London Colney came into this one placed in mid-table, with neither side having yet put together a consistent run of form, and with both having an identical goal difference of Goals For : 6 Goals Against : 5, it gave the impression it would be a tight game with goals at a premium.

It wasn’t for the want of trying by the visitors early on though, as they had the better of the initial proceedings and will be disappointed not to have taken the lead with several decent chances created. However Edgware gradually worked themselves back into things and had several moments of promise in and around the box without finding the finish they required. This all changed however just before half time when centre forward Machado found the net with a composed finish after creating space for himself in the box. It was the home side’s first goal in four & a half games and was celebrated accordingly.

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The second half was more interesting, as the game opened up and Edgware commanded more possession but couldn’t find the second goal which would have eased them home, too often the final pass was perhaps just lacking and when chances did come they weren’t taken. lots of balls disappearing over the wall behind the goal and into the car park. Colney had their moments too but again failed to find the target and both sides looked like they could do with that ever needed gift at any level of football, the guaranteed 20 – 30 goal a season striker.

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A reasonable enough game on a chilly night, without ever really warming you up completely but Edgware will be delighted no doubt with a solid three points, a clean sheet and an end to their long run without a goal, giving them a base to push on from. London Colney, also look too organised a side to struggle this season but again will hope they find goals easier to come by as the campaign progresses. It seemed a very small crowd at Edgware last night as well, the smallest i can remember seeing them play in front of, on my occasional visits over the last few seasons, let’s hope the victory last night entices a few more along for their home fixture this Saturday 29th September against Crawley Green, 3pm KO at Silver Jubilee Park.

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Barkingside 0 v Clapton 3 – Essex Senior League – Fri 21 September 2018

Another visit to Cricklefield stadium, this time to see Barkingside take on Clapton who had made the short journey across East London.

Tube problems made it a slightly longer journey than i was planning but i still managed to just get into the ground a minute or so prior to kick off, with the admission a very reasonable £5 including a smart colour programme. It is just a shame even with clubs making every effort to engage with local supporters, crowds are still so low. Clubs at this level, in a city of this size deserve more support but for whatever reason in a city of nearly 10 million people, non league football still in many places struggles for an audience.

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I was expecting a small travelling Clapton support tonight, given that most of their Ultras support has seemingly upped sticks to form their own Community team playing out of Wadham Lodge’s outer pitches, however on the evidence of tonight there is still a sizeable band of Clapton Ultras following the original Clapton FC and they sang and banged their drum in support of the team throughout the game tonight.

Barkingside began this evening’s game towards the foot of the table, without a league win and seemingly struggling for goals and with only the league to play for now after several cup exits in recent weeks. Clapton themselves, had started more successfully and sat in the top half of the table without having put together a consistent run of results yet.

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The early stages of this game, did see Barkingside start with enterprise and create several half chances, without ever really finding the right final ball or a composed finish and you always feared for them that if Clapton got their noses in front, confidence would ebb away from the home side. The goal Clapton were looking for came on the half hour when a free kick on the right hand was crossed deep to the far post where Jay Morris was left totally unmarked to guide a header home from close range.

Barkingside needed a positive start to the second half, if they were to get back into the game, but unfortunately they started poorly and by the 49th minute, the game was beyond them thanks to two quick fire goals from Clapton’s Read, the first in the 47th minute saw him finish at the far post after Barkingside again failed to deal with a set piece and this was followed a couple of minutes later when he drilled home a low shot after again finding space beyond the full back.

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After that you never really sensed there was any way back for a Barkingside team struggling for goals and low on confidence and their frustrations were encapsulated by the sending off of Mark Frostick in the 64th minute, for two quick yellow cards in succession.

Clapton could have added to their tally but in the end were comfortable 3-0 winners and push further up the table into 5th position, Barkingside continue to struggle and at the moment look like a side without a real goal threat which i am sure is something they will be looking to rectify.

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All in all, never really competitive enough for the game to have a real edge but not that Clapton will be complaining as they gathered a comfortable three points. Barkingside will be hoping for something to spark soon to avoid getting caught up in a relegation battle.

Sad to see the home side with such a long history, struggling away from their natural home but hopefully things will turn soon for them.  They are also celebrating their 120th anniversary this season http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/barkingsidefc/news/help-celebrate-our-120th-anniversary-2341873.html  and won’t want this special season to continue in this manner for too long.

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Sporting Club Thamesmead 6 v Kent Football United 1 – Southern Counties East League Division One – Mon 17 September 2018.

So Monday night and the opportunity to visit another ground (Bayliss Avenue, Sporting Club Thamesmead Complex)  i haven’t been to for a few years, in fact looking back with the help of Hendon FC’s excellent website archive, it was to see Hendon win a London Senior Cup tie 2-0 against then hosts Thamesmead Town on the 30 March 2011.

Back then the ground was cloaked in darkness and resembled a building site in many places but a lot has changed in the intervening years. The ground itself is transformed, with a new stand (with an excellent view) facing the main grass pitch and a new 4G pitch behind it linked by a new building / changing rooms / bars etc and also Thamesmead Town have now moved out (currently groundsharing at Dartford FC) and the ground is currently jointly used by Sporting Club Thamesmead and Welling Town, both playing in the Southern Counties East League Division One.

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Sporting Club Thamesmead is the current name of the old Seven Acre & Sidcup FC, the name change following their move to the new Sporting Club Thamesmead sports complex in 2016.

The visitors Kent Football United, hail from the Dartford area and play at the Glentworth Sports Club (a ground i need to get round to visiting soon!) and began the game struggling near the foot of the table, with their hosts in mid table following an up and down start to the season results wise.

The game kicked off at 7.45pm on a pleasant evening, with the visitors starting brightly, as left winger Luke Markey showed some nice touches and intelligent running but gradually the home side came into the game and after going close with an earlier free hitting the woodwork, SC Thamesmead took the lead when Stephen Wetherley’s free kick found its way past the KFU keeper from distance and then suddenly it was 2-0 in the 17th minute as Wetherley was again in the right place to force the ball home from close range.

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The visitors continued to try and play football the right way and had a decent shout for a penalty for handball turned down just before the break and created several half chances, the second half though saw SC Thamesmead take over, the third and decisive goal came in the 63rd minute when Jamie Rawsthorne beat the offside trap and ran on to a through ball to round the keeper and slot home.

After that the game became very open, as KFU led their heads drop a little and SC Thamesmead were clinical in terms of exploiting the space that was given to them. The 4th goal arrived in the 66th minute when centre forward Josh Patrick nodded home from almost on the goal line following an initial shot from impressive midfielder Max Williams.

SC Thamesmead sensed the opportunity for more goals and the 5th and probably best goal of the night came from a lovely flowing move of quick incisive passes, which ended with David Duodu-Amoah’s cross driven home with a great finish from Patrick on the half turn for his 2nd goal of the night.

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Although another contender for goal of the night then followed in the 87th minute as Jamie Rawsthorne was allowed to run at the visitors defence and took full advantage by smashing a long range strike into the top corner to make it 6-0.

The visitors, didn’t give up however and although SC Thamesmead will have been disappointed to have a clean sheet spoiled on an otherwise excellent night for them, the neutral would have to say Kent Football United at least deserved a goal for their efforts and it came in stoppage time when substitute Jayden Hussain found the net from close range after a left wing cross from the hard working Taser Hassan.

All in all, an excellent night’s entertainment for the small crowd of 52, with some bright performances from a whole host of Sporting Club Thamesmead players who were well worth the victory. Some fine goals and excellent passing / movement on a decent pitch that encouraged both teams to try and move the ball around.

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Sporting Club Thamesmead push on into the top half the table and will have aspirations of remaining there, with their next game a stern test against groundshare neighbours Welling Town, which will provide a good indication of where they are at. As for Kent Football United, they have some decent players and tried to play the game the right way and were perhaps at times frustrated by some dubious refereeing decisions that went against them at key moments but they will have to tighten up at the back, as despite how bright SC Thamesmead were going forward, they were afforded far too much time and space in the 2nd half especially which just invited trouble.

With two clubs now playing there and the excellent facilities available, hopefully it won’t be quite as long until my next visit to Bayliss Avenue and the Sporting Club Thamesmead complex.

Cray Valley (PM) 2 v Hailsham Town 0 – FA Vase 2nd Qualifying Round – Sun 16 September 2018

Another round of FA Vase matches, brought a few more Sunday games and i decided to travel south of the river to Eltham, to see Cray Valley (PM) take on Hailsham Town who had travelled up from Sussex for this FA Vase 2nd qualifying round tie.

It must be a few season’s since i last visited the Badgers Sports Ground where Cray Valley play their home fixtures and a few things have changed most notably they are now head- tenants at the ground, with Greenwich Borough now the leaseholders, following their years as nomads.

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There is now lots of red and black paint in Greenwich’s colours everywhere but Cray Valley still attracted a decent crowd today, with quite a lot of groundhoppers present and a few fans travelling up to support the opposition.

Cray Valley have had a decent start to the season in the Southern Counties East League Premier Division, sitting towards the top with a few games in hand on teams, after their recent cup exploits which have seen them reach the 2nd qualifying round of the FA Cup for the first time in their history, after what was by all accounts a thrilling penalty shoot replay win against Merstham in midweek and they now they face a trip to National League South Oxford City next weekend, a fitting way to celebrate their 100th season as a club.

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In all honesty, today’s game was a little after the Lord Mayor’s show following their midweek heroics and whilst Cray Valley were very comfortable throughout the game, it never really completely came alive.

Cray Valley sit a tier above Step 6 Hailsham Town who play in the Southern Combination First Division and give or take the odd moment, it showed, as Cray were always in control of the game in terms of possession and attacking intent.

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The opening goal came after a period of pressure, when Hailsham failed to close down midfielder Josh James and his low drive from 20 yards had too much on it for the keeper and it nestled in the bottom corner in the 13th minute. Hailsham had a couple of half chances in the first half without ever really stretching the Cray Valley goalkeeper and in the main it was the home side who dictated play, led by the very gifted Anthony Edgar who was technically head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch, good close control, strength, quick feet and a turn of pace. He was excellent but also slightly frustrating as the one thing lacking at times in his game, was the ability to release the ball to a team mate when they were better placed. Very impressive and he comes with a pedigree i believe as a junior at West Ham and has had numerous other clubs in the league /  upper echelons of non league.

The second half continued in much the same vein as the first, with Cray Valley dictating the game, boasting most of the possession and continuing to fail to put the game to bed as they wasted a number of good opportunities or didn’t pick the right final ball. Hailsham for their part never gave up, had an excellent spirit and work ethic which a decent opening to the season has obviously helped build but they just didn’t really have the guile to open up Cray and other than the odd half chance again didn’t really create a clear cut opening.

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The game was finally put to bed in the 80th minute when hard working forward Francis Babalola latched onto a ball over the top and coolly rounded the visitors keeper and made it 2-0 and that was pretty much that.

After their exertions in midweek, Cray Valley will have be happy with the result and progression in another cup competition, whilst the visitors will have been pleased with their efforts to contain a dangerous attacking side but will probably acknowledge they just lacked a cutting edge against higher level opposition and will go back to concentrate on maintaining their unbeaten league record.

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All in all, a pleasant afternoon’s football in bright sunshine (the jacket proving unnecessary after a cloudy morning in London) at an excellent club, who provide everything a supporter could ask for ( excellent programme , an well stocked tea bar with friendly staff and by the looks of it a very busy bar). I look forward to returning again at some stage in the near future.

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St Panteleimon 4 v Long Buckby 1 – FA Vase 2nd Qualifying Round -Sat 15 September 2018

The FA Vase is still my favourite national competition, giving the opportunity for clubs mainly at Step 5/6 a chance to compete for a trip to Wembley next May. It still has that proper feel of a proper non-league competition with a real prize (although the double finals day with the FA Trophy has taken a bit of the gloss off it in my opinion).

At the moment for various reasons, mainly financial, i am having to stay closer to home with regards to choice of games / grounds to visit. Having visited nearly every Step 5/6 ground within god knows how many miles of London, it does throw up the issue of trying to find something a bit different.

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I scanned the Vase fixtures the other day and amongst a few possibles, one name intrigued me St Panteleimon FC, i will be totally honest it wasn’t a name i had come across before and i had to do a little digging. I discovered they hail from the Harrow area of North West London and were established in 2015 by the Greek Orthodox community in the Harrow area to provide a football team to represent them.

I have watched quite a bit of Middlesex County League football over the years mainly the Premier division at Step 7 and hadn’t come across St Panteleimon at any of these games, mainly because after 2 seasons in the Cypriot KOPA League in London, they only entered the FA non-league pyramid at Step 8 in 2017/18 and won the Middlesex County League Division 1 at the first attempt. This season they are playing at Step 7 in the Middlesex County League Premier Division and it seems have aspirations to continue to climb the pyramid.

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They are playing in the FA Vase this season, thanks to the facilities provided by a groundshare with North Greenford United and beat the higher ranked Holmer Green in the 1st qualifying round, to set up another home tie today with Long Buckby, who had travelled from Northamptonshire. Long Buckby the last time i saw them a few years ago were at Step 5 but have struggled recently and arrived in London, one off the bottom of the United Counties League Division 1 (Step 6). I guess on paper however, they were still favourites against opponents playing County League football.

However, within 5 minutes of the kick off it became very clear to everyone watching that it was going to be a difficult afternoon for the visitors. St Panteleimon were very impressive going forward early on, moving the ball well, looking a very well drilled side and having a midfield and forward line who were keen to impose themselves on the opposition. After a couple of near misses , it was no surprise when the home side went in front after a cool finish from number 15* and the lead was doubled in the 24th minute when number 11 showed great composure to find the room to drill home a left foot shot. The visitors were struggling to cope with pace and directness of the St Panteleimon forwards and to be honest at that stage you really did fear for them.

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However Long Buckby did begin to piece together a few attacks and trouble the home defence and from a knock down, the visitors captain number 5 managed to poke the ball home and bring them back into the game. The respite was brief though as the home side continued to dominate and went further in front after a perfect through ball left 11 through on goal again and he coolly finished past the advancing keeper.

Long Buckby looked a dispirited side at times and argued amongst themselves but to be fair to them i doubt they have come up against a side who pressed and harassed and looked for a mistake quite like  St Panteleimon this season, they were relentless and it continued into the second half, where it is no exaggeration to say the home side could and probably should have scored 8 or 9, they really were that dominant going forward, only some poor finishing and players taking shots on when team mates were better placed stopped them. In the end they had to make do with just one more goal, as 11 again finished after a ball over the top on 82 minutes to make it 4-1.

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So, in evaluation, St Panteleimon were as complete a Step 7 as i have seen play at this level in a long time, some of the football they played was a delight to watch and their pressing and hunting for the ball was reminiscent of a team or two much higher up the football pyramid. Long Buckby never gave up but they were up against opponents who on the day were far too good for them and it showed.

It will be very interesting to watch St Panteleimon as this competition progresses, i have watched a lot of FA Vase football over the years and this was as good an attacking display as i have seen from a Step 7 side. Teams higher up won’t know too much about them in future rounds and one or two more could come a cropper if they aren’t careful. On the flip side their defence wasn’t overly tested today and it will be interesting to see how they fare against a more purposeful attacking side.

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Long Buckby will go back to league football now and hope to improve their league position, i believe they were missing a cup-tied forward on loan from Rugby Town today who may add more of an attacking threat, as they just seemed a bit off the pace today all over the pitch.

One thing is for certain though, i definitely know who St Panteleimon are now, an excellent afternoon’s entertainment. I look forward to taking in another game involving them if the opportunity arises.IMG_20180915_150407-PANO

 

Couple of side notes! (i don’t normally do this!)

1 * no teamsheet i could see today, so apologies for no players / scorers names in the report.

2. For any future Saturday / Sunday afternoon home games in the FA Vase , it would be great if St Panteleimon could persuade NGU to open the tea-bar and provide some hot food for supporters to purchase!

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Romford 1 v Kettering Town 4 – FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round – Sun 9 September 2018

The early rounds of the FA Cup continue to present opportunities to watch some Sunday football and on a very pleasant late summer (early autumn?) afternoon, I was able to take in the Romford v Kettering Town FA Cup tie, played at the ever nomadic Romford’s latest home at Rookery Hill, the home of East Thurrock United FC. I think this is now the 4th different home ground i have seen Romford play at over the years, with previous games at Rush Green, Aveley and more recently Thurrock. So it is heartening to see that the plans for a move back to Romford itself at some stage in the future seem to be stepping up a gear with a crowd funding page set up and a focus on planning & initial legal costs. https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/romfordfc . Hopefully they will get some support from the local council and local businesses to get them back home after such a long time away.

The visitors Kettering Town, another club with a long and proud history, have themselves had their trials and tribulations in recent years, falling a long way from their days as a leading light in the Alliance Premier / Conference National league and sadly losing their own wonderful Rockingham Road stadium which i was lucky enough to visit about 10 years ago and which i was sad to read has now been demolished after years of lying dormant.

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Without getting on my soapbox, it continues to sadden me that as the game continues to drown in money at the very top end of the game, not enough is being done by those in authority both on a national and local basis, to at the very least enable club’s to play and engage with the local community in their own town’s. Maybe i am an old fashioned sod but it is sad to see so many club’s with long histories drifting from ground to ground as loyal volunteers and supporters try and keep them going.

Anyway, back to the football and the game saw Kettering set as firm favourites given their early season form, which has seen them shoot to the top of the Step 3 Evo-Stik South Premier Division Central (they don’t get any easier the names of these leagues do they!), with six wins on the bounce in the league and a 100% record. Romford at Step 4 in the Bostik League North Division had also made a decent start and sat towards the top of the table with a 100% home record.

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Romford who were injury hit going into the game, set out their stall to contain Kettering, getting men behind the ball, squeezing the space and trying to hit the visitors on the break, utilising the pace of their front men and for the most part it worked in the first half, with Kettering having most of the play but little in the way of clear cut goal scoring opportunites and in fact Romford probably had the best chance of the half with a teasing cross from the left hand side begging to be put away as it went across the six yard box but the centre forward was unable to apply a finishing touch.

However, whatever was said at half time seemed to work for the visitors, as just 22 seconds into the second period, Brett Solkhon applying the finishing touch to a cross and broke the home side’s resistance. If i am honest, i thought a goal for Kettering would push the game beyond Romford but they were level soon after with a fabulous strike from Kurt Smith after some determined approach play from Akpele. However, the home side committed the cardinal sin of allowing their concentration to lapse and almost immediately gave away a penalty which was tucked away by Solkhon to give Kettering a 2-1 advantage.

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Following that there was only going to be one winner, as Romford tried to be more positive, gaps started to appear and Kettering were too good not to take advantage of them, with Hoeness racing onto a through ball to comfortably fire home a third, before he completed the scoring following up to tuck the ball home after an initial shot was blocked. Although Romford continued to push forward and created another couple of very decent chances, you always felt that Kettering had that extra yard and touch of class when needed and so it proved in the end.

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An enjoyable game, which really came alive after the break and in the end Kettering progressed comfortably into the 2nd qualifying round of the FA Cup but the 1-4 scoreline probably doesn’t reflect the endeavours of Romford who will be disappointed by the timing of the goals they conceded immediately after the break and then again moments after hauling themselves level.

Kettering progress in the FA Cup on the field but hopefully over the next few years both these famous old non-league names can also progress off the field and return to play football in their own towns for generations to come.

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Bourne Town 1 v Aylestone Park 4 – United Counties League Division One – Sat 8 September 2018

A day that actually. started out with plans to watch two other Leicestershire teams contest an FA Cup 1st qualifying round tie, ended watching another of their Leicestershire rivals win a hard-fought victory in rural Lincolnshire.

The original plan was to watch Anstey Nomads v Oadby Town in the FA Cup but traffic warnings of long delays northbound on the M1, saw us make a decision to go up to the A1 and cross country into Leicestershire via the A47 , however just past Peterborough the A1 itself ground to a halt and after sitting in traffic for ages, a Plan B had to be found. Having visited many of the United Counties League grounds, it isn’t always the easiest league to find a new ground in but we decided that we could still reach the previously unvisited Bourne Town and decided to continue up the A1, through Stamford (passing their new ground – which remains unticked for now) and arrive in Bourne to take in their United Counties Division One home fixture with Aylestone Park, who i hope had a more relaxed journey the 50 miles or so across from Leicester.

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Having family connections to Leicester, it is always enjoyable to see a team from the region and Aylestone Park would be a new side for me as well, with this their first season in the United Counties League, as they moved across from the East Midlands Counties League after recently stepping up from County League football. Bourne seemed a lively market town on arrival, with plenty of shoppers on the streets and after finding a parking space outside the recreation grounds which seem to host most of the town’s sporting facilities, we passed by the cricket ground and watched a couple of overs play before entering the well appointed Abbey Lawn ground, home of Bourne Town FC. whose history extends back as far as 1883. Admission was £5 with a small programme an extra £1 on top.

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The ground is very well tended, the club seemed to have lots of helpful volunteers and a decent clubhouse and on top of that the best pitch i have seen at Step 6 (or for that matter many levels above for quite a while). It was interesting later reading in the programme, the chairman expressing gratitude to the groundsman and helpers for producing such a quality surface and it definitely looks like money well spent.

Unfortunately for Bourne, the visitors seemed to enjoy the quality surface even more than them and took the lead with an early goal from Leon Doughty, which was doubled soon after by hard working centre forward Sam Taylor who was left in space to put the visitors 2-0 ahead, Bourne had worked a number of promising openings themselves going forward but were not helped by the loss of centre forward Jake Mason after a heavy challenge left him unable to continue.

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However the home side, brought themselves back into the game with a fine individual goal from Zac Munton who provided their most notable attacking threat throughout the game and fired a great strike into the roof of the net to make it 1-2. The home side continued to look troubled at the back though and Toby Warner restored the visitors two goal advantage at the break, when again he was left in far too much space to pick his spot on nod the visitors 3-1 in front.

The second half, saw more of an attacking threat from the home side but on several occasions good approach play and inviting crosses into the box were not capitalised on and the visitors made sure of the game later on in the half when Warner again strode through the defence and picked his spot for his 2nd and his side’s 4th goal of the game.

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Overall, Aylestone Park deserved their win, looking more clinical in front of goal but the home side had chances themselves and looked bright at times in attack but their defence did look very vulnerable when put under pressure and after conceding 4 at home the previous week as well in the FA Vase,  it will definitely be a cause for concern.

So, as often happens the most enjoyable days whilst visiting new grounds, come when you had no set plans to visit the place at all! But Bourne was of those places that make you realise why non-league football is so enjoyable, friendly people, a lovely well cared- for ground and for a fiver admission an excellent game of football (though on this occasion those of a Bourne persuasion may disagree given the scoreline!). Aylestone Park looked a decent side and this result pushed further up a contested mid table and i am sure they will be looking to build on this excellent result.

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Walthamstow 0 v Ilford 2 – Essex Senior Cup Round 1 – Wed 5 September 2018

After a very rare weekend away from at least one match due to a special family occasion, I have had to wait a while between watching games but managed last night to visit Wadham Lodge, home of the newly renamed Walthamstow FC to see them entertain Ilford in the 1st Round of the Essex Senior Cup.

It was a game i was looking forward to as Walthamstow seem to have made a bright start to the season (only Takeley had managed to beat them so far – albeit twice!) and having seen Ilford myself a couple of weeks ago against West Essex, I had already seen they were a very useful side who like to get the ball down and play.

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A few changes were  made to the line ups, compared to the recent starting elevens’ in the league but both sides still had strong sides out and the game started at a decent pace with Walthamstow probably having the better of the opening exchanges and they tested the Ilford goalkeeper on a couple of occasions. However the visitors began to come more into the game and pushed their noses in front, with the opening goal midway through the first half, the home goalkeeper and defenders made a meal of dealing with a cross into the box and centre forward David Oyeleku spun sharply and fired low into the bottom corner.

The game continued in the same attacking vein, on a Wadham Lodge pitch that looks in the best condition it has for a long while and it allowed both teams to move the ball sharply and create chances.

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After the break, Walthamstow again took control and will really still be asking themselves how they didn’t get on the scoresheet, they had several fabulous chances which on another night could have brought them 3 or 4 goals but sadly their finishing let them down tonight. Ilford remained dangerous throughout though and the midfield pair of Callum Maltese and Morgan Seaman were very impressive in terms of their creativity and general awareness and will cause a lot of problems for teams in this division.

After more Walthamstow pressure which again failed to yeald a goal, Ilford broke away in the last minute and after Maltese’s initial shot was saved by keeper Harkin, the hard working Yusuff Olajide followed in, robbed a defender of possession and fired goalwards, the ball was parried by Harkin and looped up and just crossed the line, despite the best efforts of a defender to clear the ball.

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An enjoyable game to watch overall, two decent sides, a referee who let the game flow whenever he could and a refreshing desire to get on with things from both teams. 2-0 to Ilford was a strange scoreline on reflection though, you couldn’t say Ilford didn’t deserve the victory as they are an exciting side and played well but on another night Walthamstow could have notched a few goals if they had shown more composure in front of goal.

So Ilford progress to round 2 of the competition, where they face a trip to another Essex Senior League side in Southend Manor. Walthamstow now turn their attention to a FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round tie against higher level opponents in Beaconsfield Town, which should be an interesting game at Wadham Lodge this coming Saturday.

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Overall though, I have been quietly impressed by Essex Senior League sides this season, it is a league that has lacked quality at times in the recent past but does seem to growing in stature and there are a few good sides knocking about at the top end of the table including these two, so despite Takeley’s great start to the season, i think there will be a few twists and turns before the end of the campaign, with Ilford definitely looking more impressive than they have for a number of years.

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