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. . 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



Stansted 0 v Takeley 1 – FA Cup Preliminary Round – Sun 26 August 2018.

My second FA Cup Preliminary tie of the weekend, took place on Sunday at Bishop’s Stortford FC, where Stansted hosted local rivals Takeley.  Stansted’s own home ground is currently still tied up with cricket fixtures, so both their FA Cup games this season have been switched to Woodside Park, in Bishop’s Stortford, which allowed over 200 people to enjoy this clash on Sunday afternoon.

And for the first time in a while, we were reminded of what is like to be damp and a bit chilly at a game, as the light rain didn’t lift all afternoon and saw the game played on a zippy surface.


Takeley began proceedings as leaders in the Essex Senior League, with three wins from their opening three league fixtures and an impressive away win in the FA Cup Preliminary round at Norwich United, whilst the home side sat mid table in the same division.

The early exchanges saw both sides mount attacks without really extending either goalkeeper before the turning point in the game, came in the 14th minute, when Stansted goalkeeper Charlie Turner had a bit of a rush of blood and came out of his area at speed to make a tackle on the onrushing Mitchell Das and arrived very late and took the Takeley winger out. Given the ball was drifting towards the corner flag and there were other players retreating into the box, it probably wasn’t as clear cut a red card as some but given how late the challenge was Turner unfortunately probably couldn’t have too many complaints as the referee sent him off.


Stansted had to reorganise with outfield player Jack Smith going in goal, due to the lack of a replacement keeper on the bench and in all honesty he had a decent game in goal without being overly extended. Takeley did in fact have the better of the remainder of the first period but missed several good chances, including a far post header from George Wappett , who nodded wide when well placed.

Stansted had their moments too throughout the game but you always felt if there was going to be a goal, it would be the visitors that scored it and so it proved when after an hour or so’s play Mitchell Das finally found the target from the right hand side, after Stansted failed to clear their lines. After that Takeley continued to press and a delightful cross from Wappett was nodded home by centre forward Stuart Zanone but it was ruled out for offside.


Stansted deserved create for their attitude on the day, playing for so long with 10 men but you never quite felt they had the goal they needed in them, despite a couple of late opportunities. So it’s Takeley who progress to Wednesday’s first qualifying round draw, which could even see them return to Woodside Park, as Bishop’s Stortford enter the competition at this stage.

A decent enough game for a Sunday afternoon without it ever really catching fire, with the star man for me probably Takeley left winger Wappett who showed good technique and an eye for the right pass throughout the game.



FC Romania 2 v Grays Athletic 0 – FA Cup Preliminary Round – Sat 25 August 2018

I expected a rare Saturday without football yesterday, as i was heading off to see Warrington in the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at Wembley later in the day (my thoughts in a later post – sadly!) but the early rounds of the FA Cup often throw up the odd kick off time in the very early rounds, given the number of groundshares these days and clashes with league games that are already in place.

And that was the case yesterday, with a very unusual FA Cup kick off time of 11am, as FC Romania took on Grays Athletic at the new Parkside home of Aveley FC. FC Romania were struggling to find a time to schedule the game at their usual groundshare home of Cheshunt FC, so the game was switched to an early kick off time at Aveley FC (who also played in the FA Cup at home the same afternoon) and just to add to the complexity of this one, Grays Athletic currently groundshare at Aveley but for this fixture were the away side! Hope you managed to follow that!  By all accounts according to the programme notes, both Aveley and Grays were a massive help to the FC Romania admin staff in getting this game played and it is always great to hear of clubs helping each other out at this level.


FC Romania and Grays Athletic are at Step 4 for the 2018/19 season in the South Central and North Divisions of the Bostik League respectively. Grays had begun the league season well and with FC Romania having suffered a 1-3 home defeat to Northwood in their first game at this level, perhaps the Essex side started as slight favourites, especially given their long standing non-league pedigree.

But for some reason, Grays never seemed to get going and whilst the first half was relatively cagey with few chances, the Romanian side were always threatening moving the ball well on the artificial surface and in centre forward Toby Cleaver had a target man who held the ball up well and whose movement never allowed the Grays central defenders to settle and FC Romania in fact took the lead mid way through the first half when Cleaver moved onto a long through ball, got the wrong side of the defender and drew a foul just inside the area for a clear penalty. This was dispatched comfortably by Gabriel Ghinea to give the hosts a 1-0 half time lead.


At half time, we were entertained by the unique PA announcer who gave us his views on anything and everything , before the players re-emerged! In the second half , you expected Grays to offer a little more in terms of goal threat but if anything they continued to lack in ideas going forward and whilst FC Romania were content to remain solid at the back and attack on the break, it was they who continued to create the best chances. Eventually a second goal arrived, five minutes from time following more impressive hold up play by Toby Cleaver, the ball should have been cleared by the Grays defence but they failed to do so and the ball was worked through to substitute Oliver Cleaver in the box who tucked it away and FC Romania saw the remaining time out comfortably to seal an excellent 2-0 win.

So Grays Athletic exit the FA Cup at the earliest stage in their history and FC Romania progress to the first qualifying round, where on this display they will be a handful whoever they are drawn against.


As for the ground, whilst of course it lacks the character of the old Aveley stadium, with it’s fabulous main stand and views of half of Essex! , the new Parkside ground is definitely one of the best new builds at this level, an excellent main stand with lots of function room space and cover on all 4 sides of the stadium, definitely a club keen to make progress.

Overall, an enjoyable match and one that FC Romania deserved to win and from their very humble origins as a Romanian workers team in the London Sunday leagues, playing on Hackney Marshes in 2006, the club must be delighted with the progress they have made both on and off the field and hopefully one day soon they can find a stadium they can call their own, in order to take things to the next level. As for Grays, they are a long way from the team i saw take the old Halifax Town all the way in a fabulous Conference Play off semi final back in 2006 but they are one of those proper non-league clubs run by good football people and now under the management of ex player Jamie Stuart, you hope they can begin to find the good times again and a base of their own back in Grays from which they can build for the future and increase attendances once again.