Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Dorking Wanderers - Meadowbank

Dorking Wanderers FC
Meadowbank Stadium
Mill Lane

Ground Number: 807
Tuesday 16th October 2018
Dorking Wanderers 1-2 Frimley Green
CCL D1 Cup 2nd Round


DORKING WANDERERS were formed in 1999, making them one of the newer clubs in the country. They've come a long way in a short amount of time too, starting out in the Crawley and District League, before progressing up through the West Sussex League. In 2007 they joined the Sussex County League at Division 3, winning the Championship in 2011. It was promotion 2 seasons in a row as they finished 3rd behind Hailsham Town & East Preston to seal promotion to Division 1, which sits at step 5 of the non-league pyramid. After initially avoiding relegation in their debut season of 2012-13, the following season saw a much-improved finish of 8th. In 2014/15 they did even better, finishing 2nd behind Littlehampton Town. But with the Champions not taking the promotion, they gratefully accepted a place in the Ryman D1 South for 2015/16. They enjoyed an excellent debut season where they'd finish 2nd, but go on to lose to Faversham Town in the playoffs. The following season saw other runners-up spot but this time victories over Hastings United and Corinthian Casuals saw them progress to the Isthmian Premier via the playoffs. Last season, a mid-table finish was a solid start, this season sees them chasing the playoffs, sitting in 4th at the time of my visit.

As for the cups, the best FA Cup progress has been the 3rd Qualifying Round. This was achieved in both of the past two seasons - losing 3-0 at Concord Rangers last season and 3-0 at home to Gloucester City this year, that in a replay after they'd gained a 3-3 draw in the original game. No real success had been had during their 3 seasons in the FA Vase, Since their promotion in 2015, the club has played in the FA Trophy. Last season saw a decent run as they beat both Ware and Leiston prior to a 3-1 defeat at Havant & Waterlooville in the 3rd Qualifying Round. Locally the club has been runners-up in the Sussex Premier Cup, Sussex Intermediate Cup and SCFL Division 3 Challenge Cup during the past 10 years. I'd be seeing the reserves on my visit, which were mainly U23 players. They'd spent most of their time in the Suburban League, bar 2015/16 when they finished 15th in the Combined Counties D1. They rejoined that league this season and are doing very well, sitting 2nd at the time of my visit. The town of Dorking has a population of 11,185, famous people born here include actor Laurence Olivier whilst current residents include radio DJ Christian O'Connell.


I'd originally been hoping to go to an FA Vase or FA Trophy on this day and there were decent options at both Peterborough Northern Star and Loughborough Dynamo. But when I offered them to fellow hopper Anwar, he showed little enthusiasm for a game on this night, bar one at Enfield Borough which would involve me going right out of my way to pick him up. So, I decided to head south on my own and originally considered a revisit to Met Police who were playing Hendon in an Isthmian League Cup tie. However, they were charging full whack when many clubs offer reduced prices. I decided to save it for a better game, especially as they were still in the FA Cup and there was the slim chance that I could have a revisit with Wycombe in the first round. All my potential new grounds were a long way away, all bar one. Dorking Wanderers was one that I'd rather have saved for a cold and rainy day, what with it having a 3G pitch. I'd also rather have saved it for a Saturday as it was near the town. But there was one advantage to doing it of an evening, there was no public parking at the ground and you had to pay to use a local car park as the cost of £1 per hour, that was unless you went after 6PM when it was free.

The day of the game came and I'd had the best night's sleep in a while, with it being my day off work. It was the usual Tuesday routine of walking down town and getting a lift back with my Dad. The afternoon was spent relaxing at home and doing my research for tonight's blog, including recalling my visit to the old Dorking ground that once stood on this site. Sadly, it was not for a matchday, but at least I did stop by for pictures, back in November 2011 whilst I was on my way to visit Brighton's ground. They'd remain at the ground until 2014 when it was closed for 'health & safety reasons' and would remain as a separate club until 2017 when they merged with Dorking Wanderers. They'd play for one season at Dorking Wanderers' old home of Westhumble before moving into their freshly refurbished home this summer. After a nice stir fry for dinner, I left home at 5.40, hopefully allowing plenty of time to make the 45-mile journey. There was a little bit of a delay on the M25 around junction 12 and then in Dorking town centre but overall it was a good journey and I got there around 7.10. I sat in the car for 10 minutes catching up on Twitter before going in. Entry was £6 and I also got a free teamsheet with the matchday programme online only. Unlike most hoppers, I'm not really against this as it saves space and money and I'm happy to read it on my tablet. I spent the time before kick off getting some pictures of the ground. I then went and sat in the secondary press area in the stand which didn't have the best view of the goal to the left with the side of the stand and a floodlight blocking my view. It did at least give me a place to type on my laptop and sort out my photos that I'd taken.

I moved back to the centre of the stand for the game as I didn't need the table. It was a really open game and Dorking Wanderers came close within the opening minute when they forced visiting keeper Chris Harris to tip a shot over the bar. It was a real end to end game, Frimley Green having their first decent chance on 17 minutes when they headed over the bar from a well-delivered corner and they were looking pretty dangerous from crosses for the opening period. The useful-looking Maxwell Iyamu came close for Dorking after getting away from the defence by using his pace but he took it too far wide of the keeper who got back and recovered. Leon Medrado game close on 25 minutes for the visitors but the shot from around the penalty spot was tipped wide by home keeper James Rabbetts. Further chances came and went for both sides before the scoring was opened on 34 minutes. A high ball was put forward and Dorking keeper Rabbetts was injured in the perfectly fair challenge. But with him out of his goal, it allowed Zach Horkan to tuck home at the back post. The hosts had a goal disallowed for offside just before halftime which had a good few minutes injury time after the goalkeeper injury, thankfully he was OK to carry on. The second half was still open, but with fewer clear-cut chances. The ref got a fair bit of stick from both sides but at least he kept the game flowing. Frimley Green really should have had a penalty on 69 minutes but the player who was tripped attempted to stay on his feet, his teammate said that he should have gone down which is fair enough when the referee failed to spot the infringement. It was all square on 76 when Frimley's Chris Harris could only parry an initial shot and a Dorking Wanderers man followed up. The visitors Jim Ward was sent off in the last minute for an off the ball incident spotted by the linesman, this was whilst the referee was taking care of a late free kick for the hosts. Extra time would separate the two sides with Christian Cumberbatch sliding home at the near post from around 6 yards after a low cross from Frimley Green. There was plenty of physical challenges and both teams had good chances to add to the scoreline but keepers came out on top. The hosts even had a goal ruled out for offside but Frimley played the offside trap well.

It had been a good game to watch, but it was 10:35 by the time I got back to my car. I don't get why they don't just go straight to penalties on smaller cups like this, although the fact that the extras time was unusually well-contested in this case does back their stance. It was annoying that the 30 minutes of extra time took around 50 minutes to complete thanks to extended breaks at the end and halfway through. It was all far from ideal with me up at 4 am for work but luckily it was a good journey home and I was in by 11.25. As ever though, it took me forever to get to sleep and so I needed a nap the following afternoon. Though an online programme had been promised, it had still not been uploaded to the website at 6.30 the following evening.


The new Meadowbank might not have the character of the old one but its still pretty decent for a new build. The main covered area is the seated stand which offers around 250 seats in the colours of red. Most of these offer decent views of the action thanks to being elevated. There are two further covered areas, these are of the Arena metal variety but do the job to keep another couple of hundred fans dry. The rest of the ground is open, capacity around 2000.

The food and drink facilities at the ground are pretty decent. There's the usual selection of burgers, chips and hot dogs at the tea bar, whilst upstairs the bar has a range of alcoholic and soft drinks. It also does food which I've heard good things about. If not, the town is fairly close by, this offers a range of outlets. I didn't visit, but a pub called Cobbets looks good, as presently the town has no Wetherspoons. Parking is £1 per hour during the day so you might be better off looking at alternatives if you are planning an extended stay on a Saturday, but there are plenty of spaces. It's also very close to the train station.


Sunday, 14 October 2018

Sheppey United - Holm Park

Sheppey United FC
The Havill Stadium
Holm Park
Queenborough Road
ME12 3DB

Ground Number: 806
Saturday 13th October 2018
Sheppey United 4-0 East Preston
FA Vase 1st Round


The club was established in 1890 at the Britannia Hotel, Sheppey after two local clubs - Sheppey Victoria and Sheppey Invicta took the decision to merge. They played local games for a few years before becoming founder members of the Southern League in 1894. Starting in Division 2, they finished as runners-up in their first season but were not promoted after losing a 'test match' to Clapton. The following season saw another 2nd place finish and this time they were promoted after beating Royal Ordnance Factories. They'd remain in Division 1 for four seasons but despite finishing as high as 7th in 1898, they were relegated two years later. They'd spend one season back in Division 2, finishing 3rd before leaving for the Kent League. After being crowned champions twice in 1906 & 1907, Sheppey would rejoin the Southern League for 5 seasons in the late 20s and early 30s but despite two 7th place finishes, their time here was largely unsuccessful. A return to local football followed, with spells in the Aetolian League (1959 - 1964) and the Metropolitan League (1965-1972) sandwiched between regular appearances in the Kent League, a competition that they were largely successful in. After winning the league three times in the 1970's, they rejoined the Southern League in 1984. Despite finishing 7th in the Southern Division in 1985, they struggled and returned to the Kent League in 1990. They fared well and were champions again in 1995 but in March 2001 they resigned, citing financial difficulties. due to being unable to find a home ground and having to share with other clubs.

The senior team disbanded, but they still kept the youth team going and this proved useful for when they re-established themselves in the Kent League Division 2 East (step 9) for the 2003/04 season. After finishing as runners-up behind Borden Village, they took the promotion to Division 1 East where they were runners-up twice, this under the guise of AFC Sheppey which was the clubs name between 2007-10. A 4th place finish in 2012 was good enough for promotion to the Premier Division but the club again folded part way through the 2012/13 season, citing lack of players. A merger with Sheerness East led to the club being renamed Sheppey & Sheerness United for a season and despite a highly successful season where they finished as runners-up to Metrogas and earned promotion, they returned to their former name for the 2014/15 season. Two seasons were spent in the Kent Invicta League with a runners-up spot in 2016 being good enough for promotion the Southern Counties East Premier Division. They enjoyed a 6th place finish in their first season, before a mid-table finish last time out. This year has seen them start well and they stood 4th prior to my visit.

Sheppey United have been regular participants in the FA Cup throughout their history, getting as far as the 6th Qualifying Round in 1919. In the modern day, they've made the 2nd Qualifying Round a number of times, lastly in 1998 when they went out to Leatherhead after a replay. The FA Vase Round has been reached on a few occasions too, though latterly they've competed in the FA Vase. They've reached the 2nd Round twice, the latest as recently as last season when they lost 3-2 to Beckenham Town. Victory on the day of my visit would see them at least match that. Local cup honours include the Kent Senior Trophy (2016), Kent League Cup (twice), Kent Senior Shield (1978), Kent Intermediate Shield (2014), Les Leckie Cup (2006), Kent Junior Cup (East) (2004), Kent Amateur Cup (twice), Chatham & Rochester Charity Cup (twice) and the Sevenoaks Charity Cup (1896).

The club hold the record attendance for the Kent Invicta League when 718 fans attended their game against Glebe in the 2015/16 season and the club generally get excellent support for the level. The most famous player to play for the club is Herbert Chapman who played for Sheppey during the 1899/1900 season. He went on to be a highly successful and influential manager, most notably with Huddersfield Town & Arsenal. The Isle Of Sheppey has a population of just over 40,000 and is actually an island connected to the mainland by a bridge. The latest of these, the Sheppey Crossing was opened in 2006 and in 2013 was the scene of a 130 car pile-up following fog with 8 people seriously hurt and 30 more hospitalised. The most famous person to have come from Sheppey is comedian Rod Hull, famous for his double act with Emu whilst footballer Gary Mills was also born there. The island has 3 prisons with a population of over 2,000. They have housed several notorious criminals including serial criminal and road-rage murderer Kenneth Noye.


I knew as soon as the fixtures came out back in June that I'd be free on this day as I'd been to Coventry City, where Wycombe were playing on that day, last season. With it being non-league day, I was hoping that there would be a groundhop organised, but there was nothing doing, bar the Bedfordshire Hop that seemed to concentrate on fields. It was FA Vase day, so I decided I'd go and see a game in that competition, preferably on the train. May & Baker was the early favourite, but there was not much in the way of pre-match pub options. I looked further afield and managed to secure a good deal on a return set of train tickets to Sheerness-On-Sea which would allow me to 'tick off' Sheppey United. This was one that was a fair distance by car, so I was glad that I'd be going via public transport.

On the day of the game, I was rudely awakened by my alarm at 8 am after not enough sleep. I got dressed and had a sausage and egg muffin for my breakfast before setting off. I got to Amersham station at 9 to be greeted by torrential rain, though I was assured that the weather was better nearer my destination. That turned out to be the case and once I’d got to London Victoria after a couple of changes, it was much brighter. I had around 20 minutes to wait for my train and so went to a shop to get a paper and some drinks. Leaving at 10.40, I changed at Sittingbourne, getting to Sheerness on Sea at 12.15. It was a slightly longer walk to the ground than Queenborough but had much better pubs near it. First stop was the local Wetherspoons, the Belle and Lion where I had a pint of Harry’s Scrummage. A very pleasant medium cider that came in at £2.95 a pint. Money well spent, though I could have had a pint of something in their festival for a ludicrously low £1.99 a pint, though the choices were a rhubarb cider and a very sweet perry, neither of which I fancied. I walked to my next pub, the Flying Sheep via a very pleasant town centre which had a number of interesting retro shops. Not a horrific indoor shopping centre that I could see and all the better for it. My second pint was a Kentish Pip Vintage, another nice drop in a friendly place. It was conveniently located for lunch at Sheppey Piri Piri where I had a Piri Piri burger and chips with a drink. It was then around half an hours walk to the ground with me stopping at another micro pub called The Heritage where I had a bottle of Biddendens Sparkling Dry before making my way to the ground.

I arrived pretty much bang on kick off, paying £7 to get in, which seems the standard and fairly reasonable price for this level. It was pretty busy, so I left getting a programme until halftime and went and watched the match. Sheppey United's ground is sponsored by a local funeral service and they made sure East Preston's FA Vase dreams were dead and buried almost straight away. Six minutes in it was 1-0 when a good through ball found Luke Girt and he finished from inside the area. A brace of goals from Dan Bradshaw on 21 and 29 minutes pretty much sealed the game, the second being followed up after visiting keeper George Bentley parried the initial shot. The game didn't see any further goals until the 84th minute when substitute Dave Botterill made it 4-0 and it could have been more. Chances for East Preston were minimal, their best effort a header just wide of the post by captain Craig Jenkins when they were a single goal behind.

It had been a very much one-sided game with the vast majority of the 279 crowd going home happy. The support had been decent and the whole place had the feeling of a team and a club that could really go places and garner big support, not that the crowd was not a very good one for the level. I had an hour or so to kill before my train, but it was a fairly long walk to the town and after having a look around some shops and getting some dinner from McDonald's, it was time to go home. I got the 6.15 train back, getting back to Victoria around 8. From there, it was a reverse of the journey I'd completed that morning. I'd listened to the match summary as Wycombe had lost 1-0 up in Coventry, which was a shame. I got back to Amersham and then home around 9. I had a couple of hours relaxing and plenty of catching up to do before I went to bed around 11. The thought of being up at 4 am was not overly appealing, but it was reality and in the end, it was not hard to get back in the swing of things, work-wise.


HOLM PARK or THE HAVILL STADIUM (as it is known for sponsorship reasons) was opened for the 2013/14 season. As with many modern grounds, the stands are of the metal variety, although at least in this case they are painted in the club colours of red rather than the standard grey. There's cover on three sides with 170 seats and a further 300 standing spaces under cover. The rest of the ground is open and has a capacity of 1500. There's a club shop at the ground and this offers a reasonable range of merchandise. The programme costs £1 and is a decent & glossy effort.

Food and drink at the ground is pretty much in line with what you'd expect, but I didn't sample any. Around 10 minutes walk away is an area called 'Halfway' and this has a number of takeaways and a great micro pub called 'The Heritage' Around another half an hours walk away is the town of Sheerness and this has a much wider range of places to eat and drink