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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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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Hendon 2 Harrow Borough 4 – Southern League Premier South – Mon 27 August 2018 KO 3pm

Bank Holiday Monday football at Silver Jubilee Park, saw the visit of near neighbours Harrow Borough, for a game which based on early season form, Hendon probably started the slight favourites. Alas it was not to be….

With Marvin Morgan and Ricardo German again leading the line together, hopes were high that Hendon could continue their good early season form, however for one reason or another they never seemed to click and for much of the game looked disjointed, finding themselves over run in midfield at times, which put pressure on a defence which sadly creaked throughout the game.

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After early half chances at both ends, Harrow began to take control, looking brighter and quicker to the ball and it was no surprise when they scored the opening goal, with O’ Connor’s shot taking a deflection to take it past the stranded Hendon goalkeeper Boness and into the net.

Hendon didn’t heed this warning though as to Harrow’s intents and the visitors went close on several more occasions before the second goal arrived, with the Hendon goalkeeper sadly at fault as the ball when Keita’s cross shot squirmed through his grasp and into the net.

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It has to be said 2-0 at half time in no way flattered Harrow who had dominated proceedings in the first period but there was hope that the half time break and some reorganisation would help Hendon get a foothold back in the game. However, the second half couldn’t have started any worse for the home side, as Harrow went further in front in the 48th minute, with yet another deflected shot from Cole, finding its way past Boness and into the corner of the net.

Just before the hour mark, Harrow should have been reduced to ten men, when a challenge from O’Connor which was very late and high and left Cole Brown unable to continue after lengthy treatment, was somehow only punished with a yellow card by the referee, despite the close proximity of both himself and a linesman to the incident.

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The game became more tetchy after this and Morgan let his frustrations get the better of him, as he was late on a Harrow player with a challenge that probably also deserved a red card but with the referee having set the bar for dismissal quite high following the O’Connor challenge, again it was only a yellow. Morgan was substituted moments later to probably save him from the inevitable.

Hendon found a glimmer of hope in the 79th minute when a clear push in the box on a Hendon forward saw the Greens given a penalty kick which top scorer German dispatched. Harrow had begun to sit back and it invited more pressure from Hendon, as defender Demuria was sent further forward to bolster the forward line and they went far more direct. However, as Hendon threw men forward, they were exposed to the counter attack and from one of these Harrow added a 4th goal as Rush tucked home the goal that finished off any lingering Hendon hopes of getting back into the game. German did pull another goal back almost immediately but in all honesty the game had got away from Hendon a long time before and Harrow were in the end very good value for their 4-2 victory.

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So, after the bright start to the season for Hendon, the first real set back has arrived and it will be interesting to see how Jimmy Gray’s side reacts. During the game, frustrations became visible between players once the home side fell behind and the positive spirits of the opening games seemed to dissolve.

Hopefully, this result can be put behind Hendon quickly as a one-off, when for whatever reason, tired legs following the long trip to Taunton 48 hours previously or just a general off day for too many players, the Greens did not gel at all. There is a lot of individual talent within the side but on Monday sadly too many players were off the pace. Now it’s a trip to Swindon Supermarine on Saturday where hopefully things will come together again. As for Harrow, they will be pleased with the three points which push them up into mid table but they will be also looking for defensive improvements, as to date they have conceded 14 goals, which is the most in the division.

For both sides, their opening season in the Southern League Premier South will no doubt continue to be a learning curve, with ups and downs along the way.

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Isolation and how it affects what is currently going on in my mind.

It’s hard to talk about how you feel at times.. I suppose it is ultimately why i started doing this blog and talking about what i do, who i am and all the other boring sh*t that no one else should have to care about but that makes me who i am..

Over the last few months, since the extremely toxic work environment i was now working in pushed me close to who knows what and i made the decision to leave after 15 years service (the last 12 months of which were terrible) to try and get my mind back, my emotions are constantly flitting around.

I have spoken before about how i have tried to give my life some structure on a daily basis.

  • searching for suitable new positions
  • volunteering for a homeless charity
  • trying to learn new skills and improve my existing ones, marketing wise to hopefully help me on a return to a suitable position
  • writing to new and old network contacts to see if they will speak to me or consider me for any suitable positions or projects
  • trying to do things i enjoy, watching football, reading, listening to music etc

And you know what most of the time, i think  i am getting better, i still have a value and some worth and one day an employer will value the 20 years of experience i have within the football / sports industry and that i am someone who just wants to be of value and help people and make a difference.

But then i have moments, like the last 48 hours when it all caves in around me, it’s hard to describe what mental illness / depression feels like but it’s overwhelming when it grabs me again.

The last 48 hours i have been totally by myself, i went out for a pint of milk last night and for a five minute walk today to the book shop to see if there were any new titles i could ask the library to find for me.

I haven’t spoken to anyone. And the thoughts start to build up again

  • Would anyone honestly miss me if i wasn’t around?
  • Will anyone even have the decency to respond to job applications, networking letters / emails i have sent out? I sent out another 15 speculative applications and CV’s etc last Thursday to various organisations (in an industry where i have spent 20 years working at a senior level). One responded immediately and professionally the following morning thanking me for writing but advertising they had nothing suitable (which is a professional response and my mind moves on). The rest, not a peep again, similar to most applications, networking moves i have made over the last few months. Being totally ignored is not a pleasant feeling. It doesn’t take much effort even to politely say ‘no thank you’ to someone, no matter what their request.
  • What is the point of ‘all of this’?
  • Why is the world or at least the news i seem to read everyday, full of so much bad news, bitching, self-interest and money mad people.

And no matter how hard i try to rationalise things and tell myself the thoughts about are stupid and that people do care, things will get better, the rest of my life isn’t going to be like this.

It scares me…

I am obviously too sensitive for my own good at times but what good comes from all this nastiness in the world both on a macro and micro scale, trolling on social media  etc and where do i fit into it all?

Hopefully things will get better, to be honest i just wanted to get how my head felt for the last 48 hours down on paper, as it’s the closest thing to a voice i have at the moment.

These feelings of isolation, lack of value, self-worth, who the hell i actually am etc , i hope will pass again and i will step back into work, day to day contact with people, laughter, friendships, challenges, goals, achievements but at the moment i have none of it and it saddens me.

Roll on tomorrow…. and probably another blog about something nicer, like watching a football match or reading a book and spot of volunteering tomorrow night, trying to help people i know really need help. I just felt i had to get this out of my mind and into words.

 

Ilford 3 v West Essex 2 – Gordon Brasted Memorial Trophy (Essex Senior League) – Wed 22 August 2018

Cricklefield Stadium in Ilford, is one of those grounds you either love or hate, the Athletics track around the pitch edge often makes a lot of groundhoppers dislike a place immediately but my visits here over the years have always been interesting, whoever i have seen play at home there and over the years as well as Ilford, i have also taken in games hosted by Barkingside and Waltham Forest.

I must admit though, i enjoy visiting the ground, it has a bit of character for an athletics type stadium, huge amounts of banked old fashioned terracing and a decent view and the welcome last night was a nice one as well, as Steve the club secretary said hello and thanked me for coming along, whilst i pondered my tea bar selection.

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The stadium is hidden away behind between the redeveloped Isaac Newton academy and a stone’s throw from Seven Kings station, giving easy access from central London. £6 on the gate and an extra quid for an excellent programme. There seems to be a lot of debate re programmes at the minute but for me they will always be a part of the matchday experience and i love it when you come across a programme which has had real effort made with it and last night’s was definitely one of these. A cracking design, fabulous old school style cover and team layouts and everything you need including a proper welcome, league tables, recent results and some terrible jokes! A fantastic effort for a quid and an example to many other clubs in the Essex Senior League.

The game kicked off in pleasant late summer conditions again, on a pitch that is the one downfall of the stadium. It never seems to improve, come rain or shine and i felt sorry for some of the players last night , as Ilford especially tried to play some flowing passing football on a pitch that does very little to help them do so.

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In spite of the surface though, last night was as good a game as i can remember seeing at Ilford, the first half was probably just about edged by Ilford in terms of possession and chances created as they took the game to West Essex from the off but the visitors were dangerous on the break as well and took their chances well. Ilford took the lead midway through the first period, with Callum Maltese coolly tucking the ball home after a nice through ball but not long afterwards the visitors were level as Emmanuel Obeng-Kouassi finished from a ball over the top that left the Ilford keeper exposed as it dropped behind the Ilford defence.  Not long after that Maltese put the hosts ahead again after good work from Mitchell Victorin, who showed great composure on the difficult surface all night. The scores were level again at half time though, as West Essex made it 2-2 just before the break with a fine header from Joe Lefley from a corner which flew into the roof of the net.

The second half was finely balanced as both teams had opportunities to win the game but the home side claimed victory as Maltese completed a deserved hat trick, with a free kick from over near the touch line, which the West Essex keeper and defence left each other to deal with and which bounced on the six yard line and into the net.

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All in all, a great night’s entertainment on a bobbly surface, with a real effort to try and play football, Ilford look to have a young squad this season but have some real quality in the likes of Callum Maltese, tireless right winger Ellis Lentell and central midfielder Mitchell Victorin and whilst the physicality of some of the league’s more direct teams will probably cause them an issue or two, it was great to see a team really try to play football.

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My only gripe on the evening was nothing to do with either team but more the ongoing issue that non-league clubs (especially in and around London) need more support from the governing body in promoting games and encouraging attendance. It is sad to see such a small crowd (probably 40 odd spectators on a rough count last night) in such a large stadium, for what was a great game of football.  Sure, there are now so many distractions for people’s leisure time attention but we should treasure what we have in this country, a non -league pyramid that is as broad as it is wide but club’s need more support. London has a population of nearly 9 million people but non-league clubs throughout the capital all seem to struggle for attendances, perhaps it is the transient nature of the capital’s population who don’t always identify so much with the area they live in, as people in town’s and cities outside London do but surely the FA should look at some level of support to try and drive attendance and interest from locals who might not even know they have a club and assistance in centrally finding sponsors for competitions at a lower level etc. I guess there is no solid solution but given the product on offer, it would be great if those in charge of the game did offer more support the game at this level (although to be fair the re-distribution of prize money in the FA Cup, so losing teams in the Extra-Preliminary and Preliminary rounds do get financial reward from this season is a start).  Not getting political at all, but football in this country seems to see the rich seem to get richer, whilst the other clubs struggle along…

Climbing down from my soapbox for a moment , all in all an enjoyable evening at a very friendly club and i wish them all the best for the rest of the season and will hopefully see another game or two at some stage.

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Cray Wanderers 2 v Whitstable Town 0 – Bostik League Division One South East – Sunday 19 August 2018.

At least a couple of times a season over recent seasons , Cray Wanderers have had to move games to a Sunday afternoon, due to their continued long term groundshare at Bromley FC’s Hayes Lane ground and generally if i am able to, i will pop along, as Hayes Lane is always a great old ground to visit, plenty of old school terracing  and bench seating (though some of it behind the far goal has disappeared since i was last year in the spring! – a new stand in the pipeline for Bromley it would seem).

All these new divisional names at Step 3 and 4 are taking some getting used to this season but this fixture was in the Bostik League Division One South East, as Cray entertained Whitstable Town who had made the journey up from the coast, backed by a decent number of supporters, who as is always the case when i have seen Whitstable over the years, provided some good vocal backing!

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Cray just missed out in last season’s play offs, a bitter pill to swallow given the number of goals they scored and their style of play but have had to re-group and on this showing are still going to be a very competitive side in this new division.

Cray created several chances in the first half and with more composure in front of goal definitely should have got their noses in front, with some slick passing and two wingers in Junior Dadson (who i seem to remember seeing play for Halifax Town on loan from Blackburn Rovers many moons ago) and Aaron Rhule who got into good positions throughout the first period. Rhule especially, has great technique and pace to burn,  one of those increasingly and sadly rare old fashioned wingers who just seemed at will to be able to go past the full-back like he wasn’t there but he was frustratingly let down by his final touch or finish on a few occasions, which was a shame given the quality of his approach play.

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Whitstable themselves though, were threatening on the counter-attack and Ricky Freeman drew a great save from Cray goalkeeper Nick Blue, as he hit a dipping half volley on the turn.

After the break, the early stages were fairly quiet but eventually Cray got the goal they deserved in the 68th minute when a low shot was parried by the goalkeeper and Junior Dadson made no mistake with the follow up, as he side footed the ball home into the bottom corner.

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Whilst at 1-0, the game was still open but Whitstable although threatening from set plays, didn’t really look like they would draw level and with a couple of minutes remaining, Aaron Rhule moved onto a pass from centre-forward Power and slotted the ball home to make it 2-0. A goal his endeavours more than deserved and one that produced a final scoreline that probably reflected the overall balance of play.

An enjoyable enough afternoon, in a game played yet again in bright sunshine in front of a decent crowd of 316, including numerous groundhoppers taking in a Sunday game like me and lots of Cray’s youth teams and parents.

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Hopefully, Cray will get to the promised land of their own stadium back in their own heartlands soon, the battle goes on to get their Flamingo Park development underway and i know they have the support of all of those in London with the non-league game at heart. For now though as the wait continues , i will certainly have no complaints about enjoying one or two more pleasant Sunday afternoon visits to Hayes Lane.

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Cross Border Double – Saturday 4 August 2018. Kerry FC 0 v 1 Abermule followed by Ellesmere Rangers 1 v 5 Rylands.

The opportunity for a double game Saturday occasionally presents itself and especially when it is a good run mileage wise and there is a chance to capture two new grounds in an afternoon, it always seems too good an opportunity to miss.

So on Saturday, the Sat Nav pointed us firstly to mid Wales and Dolforgan Park , the picturesque ground of Kerry FC, from the Mid Wales League. I visited many of the grounds in this league at a number of organised groundhops a few years back but i missed a few, of which Kerry was one and it is always a fabulous part of the world to visit for football.

After a surprisingly trouble free journey via the M1, M6 and M54 , we stopped off to refuel at an old favourite the ex Little Chef at Shrewsbury, which Eurogarages decided to run into the ground since they bought the chain (but not the name) a couple of years ago and have now rebranded the few remaining restaurants they can’t franchise out to another chain into their self named EG Diners. Still the same friendly staff at this one from the old days and an Olympic Breakfast (re-branded as The Mighty One by the marketing geniuses at Eurogarages!) set us up for the day.

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Then it was a case of getting off the A5 and driving through some lovely countryside until we arrived at Kerry about 11.45am for the advertised 12 noon kick off. Unfortunately for some reason, they tweeted whilst the players were warming up to say they were now kicking off at 12.30pm, which was going to make getting to our planned second game very tight indeed. Not sure why, perhaps the late arrival of the referee or something was all we could surmise…

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Anyway proceedings did get underway about 12.25pm, as Kerry entertained local rivals Abermule FC, a neighbouring village 4 miles or so away. The first half was quite even, with few chances of note but the visitors took the game to their opponents early on in the second half and were rewarded by the only goal of the game after about an hour.

The setting of the ground is very pleasant, tree lined and a small amount of cover available on one side with the pitch fully railed and a huge sweeping tree lined hill behind the far goal. The tea-bar wasn’t open unfortunately on Saturday, so i am unable to give a lowdown but i am sure the standard fare is available at league games.

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One surprise was to hear a voice i recognised from television,  well at least for anyone who has watched the fabulous BBC One Wales series’ on Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons in recent years, that of naturalist and presenter Iolo Williams, who lives locally and i am guessing must have been watching a family member in the game.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09qq181  for anyone interested!

The referee brought the game to a halt at 2.05pm and this left just under an hour to do the 60 minute journey to our second planned game. Arriving a minute or so after kick off after spending much of the route stuck behind a Sunday driver (obviously making a weekend of it!).

Our destination was back across the border (well a couple of miles or so) at Ellesmere Rangers, who play in the market town of Ellesmere in Shropshire, again a very pleasant part of the world.

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After spending many seasons in the West Midlands Regional League, Ellesmere were one of the victims (or beneficiaries depending on your point of view), of the recent movement of teams at various levels of the non-league game, so were kicking off the new season, with a home league game in the North West Counties League Division 1 South, with their visitors also newcomers, Rylands FC, hailing from Warrington and playing their first ever season at Step 6.

After spending much of my childhood playing junior football in Warrington Leagues, Rylands was a name i had heard before since playing against one of their junior sides many moons ago but it seems the club has progressed hugely in recent years with some recent outside investment from the football agent Paul Stretford ( an ex Rylands player and Wayne Rooney’s agent).

After a fairly even start, once Rylands had gone ahead after the home defence were unable to clear a corner, the visitors took over. They added 2 further goals before the break, with the home side continuing to fail to deal with set pieces and in the second half could have scored plenty more, in the end they had to make to with just a couple, to push them 5-0 ahead before the home side grabbed a late penalty as a reward for their efforts.

Rylands look a very well drilled side for this level and it will be interesting to see how they progress, the home side looked a little short (though it is always hard to judge at this stage of the season) and they may find the switch to the always competitive NWCL a tough one.

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Ellesmere are one of those clubs you wish every success though, a friendly welcome, a lovely new clubhouse and well stocked tea bar (thumbs up for the home made flapjack!) and volunteers smartly turned out in club polo shirts who were very helpful, even tracking down a programme for us after they had initially sold out on the gate.

All in all, another enjoyable day in the sunshine and two new grounds to add to the list.