Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Stonehouse Town - The Magpies Stadium


Stonehouse Town FC
The Magpies Stadium
Oldends Lane
Stonehouse
Gloucestershire
GL10 2DG






Ground Number: 701
Tuesday 18th July 2017
Stonehouse Town 2-4 Slimbridge
Friendly


STONEHOUSE TOWN - A BRIEF HISTORY



The club was formed in 1898 and were initially known as STONEHOUSE FREEWAY until a merger in 2007 with their junior side saw them adopt the present name. They currently have four teams at senior level - the first team playing in the Gloucestershire County League and the others in the Stroud League. There's not a huge amount online about the history of the club, but they perhaps enjoyed their best spell in the 1940's and 50's. During that time, they spent time in the Western League, with their highest finish being 6th place in its top tier in 1952. There was also an initial spell in the Gloucestershire County League between 1968 and 1988 with Stonehouse winning the title in their debut season. They then dropped down to local leagues such as the Gloucestershire Northern Senior League. They returned to the league last season and had an excellent return, finishing in 3rd place which was their second best showing ever. There were even hopes of another promotion up to the Hellenic League, but with everything in order at champions Bristol Telephones, they took the promotion spot.

Stonehouse have played in the FA Cup, reaching the 2nd Qualifying Round on seven occasions. They had a singular season in the FA Trophy too, doing well to reach the 1st Round before a 3-0 defeat to Nuneaton Borough in 1969. There was also a spell in the FA Vase in the last 1970's and despite reaching the 2nd Round in their debut season, they then suffered four consecutive Preliminary Round exits. Local honours include the Harry Greening Memorial Trophy in 2011 when they beat Sharpness 5-0 in the final as well as the Gloucestershire County Cup for the first time in 40 years as they beat Charlton Rovers in the 2016 final.


MY VISIT

The game that I'd be doing on my 38th birthday was decided during the previous week. After being tired after coming back from Melksham the previous Tuesday, I was looking for something a bit nearer. Stonehouse might not have been as close as I'd have liked, but with a 7 pm kick off due to lack of floodlights, I should at least get home at a reasonable hour. I'd learned of the club when researching what step 8 grounds would be worth visiting at the end of last season. I'd originally planned to visit the ground back in May for a county cup final but was unable to due to my car being in for repair. I'd seen that the club had arranged a number of pre season friendlies thanks to their excellent Twitter and with entry at a bargain £2, it wasn't hard to convince fellow hopper Anwar that a visit would be in order.



I had a good night on Monday, going out for a birthday meal with the family, so it was annoying when I woke at my normal work time despite it being my day off. I had a lazy first few hours, setting dressed and opening my presents before walking down town. As usual, I got a lift back with my Dad and had a Katsu curry for lunch. I then spent the afternoon resetting my phone and reinstalling the apps after I'd been having some problems with it recently. By 3.30 it was time to leave, with me meeting Anwar in Aylesbury at 4. The journey started OK but we were soon experiencing the all too common delays that come with pretty much every midweek trip. From the Cutteslowe Roundabout to the usual traffic black spot of Witney it crawled, adding another half an hour to my own journey. At least we had some good tunes playing on Jack FM to keep us company and later on the Two Mikes Podcast. The rest of the trip went fine and we arrived in Stonehouse town centre just before 6.30. First stop was the local Co-Op where I purchased some local ciders that I'd not had before, though for the first time in over 20 years I'd be spending my birthday completely sober as these bottles for the weekend. We then went for a wander round looking at the takeaways and after being impressed at uninspiring choice and above average prices, we returned to a place right near my car called Trafalgar Takeaway. There was a reasonable choice and both Anwar & I opted for curry sauce and chips for £2.80. The portion was decent and the curry sauce nice as it tends to be in Chinese owned chippies. We then drove to the ground, arriving 10 minutes before kickoff and parking up in the adjacent car park.



After paying £2 to get in, I went around getting some pictures of the ground, which, as expected, is a good setup for step 7.  The game kicked off and started with visitors Slimbridge in the ascendancy. I'd seen the Southern League D1 South & West side at their own ground last season as they defeated Fleet Town 1-0 in a dull FA Cup replay. Fortunately, this game was a lot more open, but it was the visitors who took the lead on 7 minutes. Marley Watkins played in Joe Stokes who shot superbly on the turn to give his side the lead. However, Stonehouse hit back immediately when Tim Williams finished from just inside the area. The same player gave the hosts the lead on 25 minutes as he headed in at the back post following a cross from the left. They held that lead until half time and despite another spell of dominance by Slimbridge, it wasn't until the final 15 minutes that they showed their higher status. They could have paid the price for their lacklustre finishing as Stonehouse had some good chances on the break but on 76 minutes trialist Joe Wilton equalised with his low shot from the edge of the 6-yard box clipping the left-hand post on the way in. A couple of minutes later Wilton got his second in as many minutes with a shot from around 15 yards, although there appeared to be a head injury to a home defender in the build up. to the goal. Straight from the kick off Stonehouse gave the ball and were immediately punished with  Marley Watkins finishing from 8 yards. Joe Wilton was clear man of the match and followed his father Russ and brother Lewis by signing for Slimbridge after the game following his performance.



It had been a decent game for a friendly, despite lacking pace at times it was certainly combative with several hard but fair tackles going in. We left at 8.45 and had an immediate delay when we had to wait for a few minutes at a level crossing outside the ground. Apart from a few slow lorries, it was a good journey home, traffic wise anyway. I'd had an inkling of what was to come whilst watching the weather forecast earlier, but there was no sign of what was to come on what was a very pleasant evening watching football. Around 9.15 and for over an hour we were hit by a huge storm. It bucketed down which meant loads of roads had surface water and even floods where the drainage system was unable to cope.  There was also lots of lightning with some forks coming down pretty close to where we were driving. Even so, there wasn't too much delay and I dropped Anwar off at 10:25. Due to the flooding being even worse on the way home, it took half an hour to get back, but at least I was in by 11. I stayed up for around an hour, meaning I got more sleep than usual. I was still tired the next afternoon though and needed my usual nap. My next destination and even day of the game is in doubt and as per usual will depend on my fellow hopper. There's the potential of an extra game at Eastbourne Borough or Andover on Friday, and Saturday is also undecided. If Anwar goes to Aldershot v Wycombe then it will almost certainly be Brentford v Southampton on the train as my Braintree pals will be there. If not, then there are a multitude of games to choose from.



THE GROUND

THE MAGPIES STADIUM is an excellent venue for a step 7 team. The pitch is fully railed and has hard standing part way round. There are two stands - one with flat standing for a couple of hundred and a covered terrace along the side for around double that along the side. Aside from sticking a few seats and lights in, the ground would be good enough for any step 5 league. As it is, it's a lot better than a lot of the grounds in the lower tier Hellenic League that they are aiming to reach.

The tea bar at the ground is fairly basic, selling hot drinks and snacks. There's also a bar which is large and offers the usual range of drinks. Further afield, the town is around half a mile away and offers a range of takeaways and pubs. The best bet drinking wise appears to be the Globe In which does real ale and cider, although I didn't visit when I went. Overall, a ground well worth a visit.

SCORES ON THE DOORS

1: Ground facilities & condition (for the level)
A great ground for step 7, and well-kept grass verges (8)

2: Area around the ground (parking, food/drink, public transport)
Half a mile from town and lots of parking. Fairly regular bus service (7)

3: Welcome / Club Friendliness
Decent enough (6)

4: Value for money
Decent value, only £2 (8)

5: Social Media & Website
Regular updates on Twitter and reasonable site (7)

6: Programme
(N/A)

7: Game entertainment
Not bad for a friendly (6)

8: Tea Bar
Not the best range, but acceptable for the level (5)

9: Bar / Clubhouse
Large, and the usual range of drinks (6)

10: Club Shop
(N/A)

TOTAL OUT OF 80: 53
AVERAGE SCORE: 6.6

GROUND PHOTOS

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Melksham Town - The Oakfield Stadium


Melksham Town FC
The Oakfield Stadium
Eastern Way
Melksham
Wiltshire
SN12 7GU







Ground Number: 700
Tuesday 11th July 2017
Melksham Town 0-5 Swindon Town
Friendly





MELKSHAM TOWN FC - A BRIEF HISTORY

The club was formed in 1876 under the name of MELKSHAM FC making them one of the oldest clubs in Wiltshire. They were founding members of the Wiltshire League which was established in 1896 and changed their name to MELKSHAM TOWN in 1951. They joined the Western League in 1974 and have been there ever since apart from 1993/94 when they returned to the Wiltshire League for a season after finishing bottom of the Western League Division 1. They've spent spells in both tiers of the Western League in recent years and apart from a couple of seasons between 2010 and 2012, they've been ever present in the Premier Division ever since. In the 2011/12 season, they finished runners-up behind Cadbury Heath to seal their return to the top tier. They've had some good seasons in recent years, even winning the Western League in 2015. Ludicrously, however, their ground was not considered good enough for the Southern League. They left their iconic Conigre home in the town centre earlier this year, with the sale of the land completely funding their current home.

In the FA Cup, there hasn't been a huge amount of success with the club last reaching the 2nd Qualifying Round back in 1996. You have to go back to 1957 for their best ever progress - that year they beat Frome Town & Warminster Town to reach the 3rd Qualifying Round where they lost 6-0 to Trowbridge Town. Melksham Town also entered the FA Trophy in the early 1980's but again their best progress has been the 2nd Qualifying Round. There have been a couple of notable runs in the FA Vase in the last few years with the 4th Round being reached in 2015 when they lost 3-1 at Bradford Town and last season when they went out 5-3 at home to Western League champions Bristol Manor Farm in a replay. Locally Melksham Town has won the Wiltshire Premier Sheild five times and the Wiltshire Senior Cup on seven occasions. Famous former players include Andy Sandell, Murray Fishlock & David Seal. Famous residents of Melksham include former Stockport County defender Matty Bound and Andy 'Mr Christmas' Park. Electrician Park has celebrated Christmas Day every day since July 1993, costing him a huge amount of money and significant weight gain.




MY VISIT

Originally on this day, I was going to go to Histon v Biggleswade. It seemed the best choice of a fairly local game and a decent revisit as I was ideally saving my upcoming 700th ground for a competitive game. The only problem was that there were no updates on the game anywhere and I wasn't even sure where it was being played. The previous weekend Wycombe had taken part in an uninspiring 0-0 draw at Slough Town on Saturday. I'd gone to that game on the bus for a quid and with entry £6 and a lunch of pizza for £3, it had been a good value day out. I'd also been cracking on with the Wetherspoons cider festival, ticking 10 of the 20 ciders on offer so far. 

On the day of the game, I'd had a decent night's sleep and was feeling refreshed for my weekly walk down town on my day off. I picked up a few bits and got a bit wet thanks to some rain. I was hoping that it wouldn't affect tonight's game as it was scheduled to tip down all afternoon and into the evening. I got back home and was pleased to see confirmation of tonight's game on Histon's website. In the afternoon I went out to get some petrol, originally I'd intended to get it before leaving work yesterday but half the pumps were closed and it would have been a 25-minute wait to get served. The extra 2p a litre was worth paying for saving time. Frustratingly, the afternoon deluge had put pay to my original plan of Histon, with the Biggleswade Twitter announcing it had been put back until Thursday at around 4.15. I contacted Anwar and we decided that the best course of action would be to meet at his at 5.10 and plan from there. I quickly heated up and eat a Chilli Con Carne before leaving just after 4.40. I got to his house in Aylesbury half an hour later and we decided that being a bigger game, Melksham Town v Swindon Town would be the least likely to suffer a postponement. It seemed utterly ludicrous for this to be a deciding factor in mid-July, but it had been a wet day and so unexpectedly I'd be completing my 700th ground tonight.

When putting the ground into Google Maps, it was obvious that time was going to be tight, with us getting to the ground right on the kick-off. We needed the roads to behave, not something that usually happened for our midweek jaunts. Thankfully, Google had set me up with a route that avoided any major traffic and 10 minutes extra on Oxford's Eastern Bypass due to a broken down lorry was our only delay. On the way, I'd had notifications set up on my phone for Melksham Town's tweets and was worried when one came through around 7.10. I got Anwar to check on his phone as I was driving and thankfully it was just news of a 15-minute delay to the kick-off, a real blessing in disguise given our situation. We got to the ground around 7.25 and were directed by a steward to a parking space around 10 minutes walk away from the ground. There looked to be a decent crowd in attendance and I was glad that the atrocious weather had not affected a decent payday for Melksham too much. I walked up to the ground in light drizzle, paying £7 to get in, plus £1.50 for a programme.



The rain had gotten a little heavier by now and with a big crowd in attendance, the limited cover had already been taken up. I had to settle for a spot on the far side and was glad I had a raincoat and umbrella for protection. The umbrella, costing just 99p, was an especially wise investment as it kept me sheltered in the main. Fears about the pitch being waterlogged were quashed when I saw an excellent surface which was as good as any I have seen. The hosts actually started off the brighter, but as was the case for most of the evening, the build up play was good, but they just couldn't make it stick up front. The Swindon Town defence repelled anything that was thrown at them and soon, the football league side took control. Melksham keeper Rob Brown made several good saves during the night but he was unable to prevent Luke Norris following up from close range on 33 minutes. The hosts were defending well with Brown even saving a 51st-minute penalty from Paul Mullin and it wasn't until 63 minutes that the lead was doubled when Conor Thomas scored with a deflected strike. It wasn't until the final 10 minutes that Swindon Town out some daylight between themselves and Melksham. 81 minutes saw the goal of the night as Scott Twine fired home a superb 30-yard strike. Conor Thomas tapped home from close range before Mullin made up for his earlier penalty miss by making it 5-0 a couple of minutes from time.

I'd only seen the last goal in the distance as I was walking around the ground to get a speedy exit. The rain continued to come down as we made our way back to the car. I was peckish by now, so we stopped at the local Co-Op where I got a drink and a bag of crisps. Usually, they have a good range of local ciders but on this occasion, they had nothing of interest. We got away at 10 and made good time home. I opted to stick to the main roads this time, even if it meant that I'd add 10 miles to my journey. I dropped Anwar off at 11:35, getting home 20 minutes later. I was still pretty wide awake by then and was dismayed as I unpacked my stuff to find a soggy programme from earlier as the water had gone straight through my bag. I went to bed half an hour later, not drifting off for a while. As a result, I was pretty tired the following morning at 4 am for work. I caught up the following afternoon but I'll certainly be trying to keep the miles down in midweek for this very reason.



THE GROUND

THE OAKFIELD STADIUM might not be a patch on Melksham's former Conigre home, but it is a pretty decent effort. The main stand also incorporates the club bar and although it was too busy to visit on this occasion, it looked pretty large and at their old ground, they did an excellent cider called 'Black Rat' which is made in the town. There are also food kiosks which do an excellent range but at a premium. There's also a metal stand on the far side, giving a total seated capacity of 350. The rest of the ground is open, which for most games is not a problem, apart from wet busy games.

Overall, it's a very decent venue and you are assured of a friendly welcome when you do visit. The programme was decent too, with enough content to justify the £1.50 asking price. The ground is just over a mile from the town, though I did see a chippy close by, whilst there is plenty of parking available too. 

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Saffron Walden Town - The Meadow


Saffron Walden Town FC
The Meadow
1 Catons Lane
Saffron Walden
Essex
CB10 2DU





Ground Number: 699
Tuesday 4th July 2017
Saffron Walden Town 0-7 Chelmsford City
Friendly




SAFFRON WALDEN TOWN FC - A BRIEF HISTORY

The club was formed in 1872, making them the oldest club in Essex and one of the oldest in football overall. They were initially known as SAFFRON WALDEN, changing their name to their present one in 1967. Their formative years were spent in various local leagues such as the Haverhill & District, Stansted & District, Cambridgeshire League, Essex & Suffolk Border League and from 1955 until 1971 in the Hertfordshire County League. After finishing rock bottom, they moved to the Essex Senior League. They were a lot more successful here and were champions in 1974 when they moved to the Eastern Counties League. Their first spell here was mainly successful with them being champions in 1983. A year later, they made the step up to the Isthmian League, playing in Division 2 North. Their best finish here came in their first season when they finished 5th. They'd remain here until 1996 when their sloping pitch meant that they were demoted to the Essex Senior League. They listed the championship for the second time at the turn of the century, but ground issues meant that they were not promoted. After being refused a transfer to the Eastern Counties League, they spent the 2003/04 season without a league to play in. Since 2004/05 they have been back in the Eastern Counties League, starting out in the step 6 Division 1. After a third place finish behind Long Melford and Swaffham Town in 2014/15, they were promoted to the Premier Division. They've had two decent finishes of 8th and 9th in their first two seasons here.

In the FA Cup, the club first entered the competition in 1876, being drawn away to the famous old Wanderers club. However, they could not afford to travel and forfeited the tie. In 1878 they started in the first round, losing 5-0 to Upton Park, but this remains their record progress. In more recent times, their best effort came in the 1999/00 season when they beat Kempston Rovers and Hoddesdon Town before a 4-1 defeat to Hitchin Town in the 2nd Qualifying Round.  In the FA Vase, Saffron Walden Town reached the 5th Round during the 1990/91 season. After beating Soham Town Rangers, Gorleston, Witham Town, Burgess Hill Town and Newquay they lost 2-1 at home to Buckingham Town.  Local cup wins include the Essex Senior Trophy three times and the Essex Junior Cup in 1897.

MY VISIT

I'd spotted this game early on in the summer and was fairly confident that fellow hopper Anwar would be keen to go. We had both wanted to visit here for ages, but it very rarely came up as an option. We were actually considering this exact same friendly around this time last year but decided against it. The main reason was that Anwar was on Ramadan and with such a good range of eating places around the ground, I didn't fancy him having to watch me eat while he went hungry himself. With all that religious stuff out of the way this year, this attractive fixture was a no-brainer and we had decided upon it as our first Tuesday game of the season whilst we were at Salisbury on Saturday.

I'd had a good night's sleep on the night before the game and woke up at 8 feeling nice and refreshed for once. After lazing around for a couple of hours, having breakfast and getting ready, I walked down town. After picking up some drinks for tonight's game amongst other things, I got a lift home with my Dad. After having lunch, I spent the afternoon listening to Jon Holmes on TalkRADIO whilst playing on my Football Manager 17 save, where I am managing Chorley.  I'd made a good start to my debut season in the Conference Premier before I saved the game and left at 4. I made the trip across to Aylesbury, meeting Anwar in Aylesbury at 4.30 I had planned to go via Leighton Buzzard and save myself 20 miles but a delay on that route would have seen me arrive at Saffron Walden later than I'd have hoped. As it was, there were a couple of delays anyway, the main one being 20 minutes on the M25 caused by rubberneckers gawping at a minor bump. Quite why people enjoy looking at other people suffering, albeit when no-one was hurt, I don't know. We were still in Saffron Walden by 6.15 though, parking up near the ground.



Finding some dinner was in order and steak night at the local Wetherspoons, The Temeraire was a decent option. It was a shame that my favourite cider, Black Dragon, was not in the meal deal, so I just got a lemon San Pellegrino soft drink and bought the cider on it's own. I had the mixed grill, which arrived within 5 minutes and was very good. Overall my 134th Wetherspoons was above average. From there we made our way to the ground, arriving at 7.15 and paying £6 to get in. After looking around the ground, we took our place near the halfway line. It was a terrific ground, better than some in the Conference South and North and really well kept. The entrance price of £6 was their normal league price and is one of the better value at this level.



The game kicked off at a quick pace and with the visitors looking extremely impressive and well on top. There was a bit of a kit clash too - the black and red stripes of Saffron Walden looking a little too much like Chelmsford's claret for my liking. It was remedied at half time with the visitors changing into their blue training kit at the request of the referee.  Captain Micheal Spillane headed in from a corner after just three minutes and I captured the moment on Instagram. I had hoped to film all of the goals, but I gave up after the second goal was not captured - Kudus Oyenuga capitalising on a defensive mix-up to double the lead after 8 minutes.  Home keeper Neil O'Sullivan had already made several good saves to keep the score down, but it always looked as if Chelmsford were going to run riot. On the half hour mark, Oyenuga got his second when he headed in Luke Daley's right wing cross. That was the end of the scoring in the first half, but there was no let-up in the scoring. Chelmsford started off so quick that I missed their fourth, which according to Anwar and their Twitter was a low drive into the bottom corner by Kane Haysman. New signing Lee Barnard, recently signed from local rivals Braintree Town made it 5-0 after 57 minutes when he converted a penalty after Chris Dickson was hauled down in the area. Jim Stevenson flicked home from the edge of the six-yard box to make it 6-0 after 68 minutes. Saffron Walden's chances were few and far between, but they did have a reasonable spell at this point. Eight minutes from time, Chris Dickson made it 7-0, heading home a right-wing cross.


A post shared by Russell Cox (@russ_wwfc) on

It had been an excellent display from the Conference South side and it's hard to look past them for the title for the coming season. Certainly, their contingent of fans amongst the healthy crowd of 221 would have gone home happy. We left at 9.30, having decided to go to Histon next Tuesday. It will be a revisit for me, but one that I need to update my blog on, with them suffering a fall of grace since I last visited them in the Conference eight years ago. As ever, a midweek trip home was fraught with road closures - part of the M25 was closed, so I had to make a diversion via the North Circular which added 20 minutes to the journey. I dropped Anwar off at 11.10, getting home myself at 11.25. I didn't get to sleep for around an hour, not ideal with me being up for work at 4 am the next morning. I felt fine though but caught up with a couple of hours sleep the following afternoon.

THE GROUND

THE MEADOW or CATONS LANE is an excellent venue for step 5 football and is probably better than some at step 2.  There's cover on all four sides and the ground itself is very well kept. The oldest stand had recently been painted and this has bench seating for around 200. It has supporting pillars, but views are still pretty good. Opposite is further seating for around 100, plus some standing space behind. The same can be said of behind the far goal - this has around 40 seats, plus some steps of terracing. The remaining side, near where the turnstiles are, there is flat covered standing for around 100, whilst the rest of the ground is uncovered.

The ground is situated very close to the town centre and this has a range of takeaways and pubs including a decent Wetherspoons. It's a very pretty and well-kept town, in keeping with the ground. Back at the ground, there is an excellent tea bar with a range of items that is as good as any in football and although I didn't sample anything, the prices seemed reasonable. The bar has the usual range of drinks you'd expect and is fairly large. There was no club shop or programme on my visit, though this is to be expected at a club of this size for a pre-season game.

SCORES ON THE DOORS

1: Ground facilities & condition (for the level)
An excellent, well-kept venue for the level (9)

2: Area around the ground (parking, food/drink, public transport)
Plenty of parking, close to the town centre (8)

3: Welcome / Club Friendliness
Decent enough welcome at the turnstile (6)

4: Value for money
Standard pricing for this level (6)

5: Social Media & Website
Twitter has regular updates, website is good (7)

6: Programme
N/A

7: Game Entertainment
A good game for a pre-season friendly, if a little one-sided (7)

8: Tea Bar
One of the best in football, large range (9)

9: Bar / Clubhouse
Decent enough, lots of space (6)

10: Club Shop
N/A

TOTAL OUT OF 80: 59
AVERAGE 7.3

GROUND PHOTOS