Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Hollands & Blair - Star Meadow

Hollands & Blair FC
Star Meadow
Darland Avenue

Ground Number: 838
Wednesday 20th March 2019
Hollands & Blair 2-0 Croydon
SCEFL Premier


The club was established in 1970 as H&B United and started out in Division 6 of the Rochester United. Three years later, they merged with Hollands & Blair, the H&B United side acting as their reserve side. The first team folded at the end of the first season and so the reserves carried on under the Hollands & Blair name. They'd remain in local leagues until 2004 when they joined Divison 2 East of the Kent County League. This bought about a great deal of success and within a couple of seasons, they were in the step 7 Premier Division. The success continued and in 2011 they were founder members of the Kent Invicta League which sits at step 6 of the Non-League pyramid. In their four seasons here, they never finished lower than 3rd, winning the league twice, but it wasn't until 2015 with floodlights installed that they could join the SCEFL Premier. Their first season saw an excellent runners-up spot, scoring 108 goals in 36 league games. The following season saw a respectable 8th place finish, whilst last season saw a relegation battle, an 18th place finish, just a couple of points above the drop zone. This season sees them safe by just a point at the time of the game with just Rusthall and tonight's visitors Croydon below them.

Hollands & Blair have been entering FA Competitions for the past few seasons, but have not seen a great deal of success. Their debut season in the FA Cup represented their best progress so far, winning 3-2 at Horsham YMCA before taking Isthmian League side Whyteleafe to a replay, ultimately losing 4-2. They've also twice reached the FA Vase 1st Round, although their only victory in the five games that they've played came against Newhaven in 2017. Local cup wins include the SCEFL Challenge Cup (2016), SCEFL Challange Shield (2017), Kent Invicta Challenge Trophy (2013), Kent Invicta Charity Shield (twice) and the Kent Senior Trophy (2012) as well as a decent amount of cups at lower levels. Records include an attendance of 406 for a March 2016 game against Greenwich Borough, 399 appearances for Mick Moran and 155 goals for Ben Christy.


For the second day of my week off there were barely any options for myself and Chris to do. I fancied a Campion or a cup final at Hanley Town, whilst he fancied a game at Ravenshead. With neither of us fancying each other’s choices, we decided to give it a miss. I already had my backup plan in place, Hollands and Blair near Gillingham was doable on the train, even if it was around a fiver more expensive than driving. I figured it was worth it, as I could have a drink and use the journey to be more productive. I only knew the day before that I was going, so was unable to make any savings on advance tickets. I did try split ticketing and paying part of my journey on TFL but it was too fiddly and would need me to take certain trains. TFL’s £8.20 return to London Bridge was fantastic value, SouthEastern’s near £18 return to Gillingham less so, especially when it was only four miles further. The day of the game came and I’d had a typically poor night’s sleep. After getting ready, I walked down town, four miles in all as I needed some shopping. I got a lift home and had the Chicken Enchiladas that I’d bought for lunch. I finished off researching the club history before leaching later than planned at 2.40. Fifteen minutes later I was at Amersham station and after a 5-minute walk after dumping my car on a side street, I only had a few minutes to wait for my train.

I caught the 3.09 Chiltern Railways train to Harrow on The Hill on which I saw family friend Dave and some of his workers up off to London for a lecture. After a change at Finchley Road, I got to London Bridge at 4.10. After a 10 minute walk, I was at The Miller pub, near Guys Hospital. This was a place I enjoyed, even if it wasn’t as good as The Harp near Trafalgar Square. It didn’t open until 6 though, which meant that my usual point of liquid refreshment when in this neck of the woods was the cider stall at Borough Market. I sampled two new ciders - Hallets Dry and Ascension 'Love Is In The Pear'. The former was by far the best with the latter being some fruit pop that while pleasant, was not cider. I made my way to London Bridge, arriving just after 5. A benefit of buying the more pricier ticket was that my train was quicker by over half an hour, meaning that the 5.14 train had me in Gillingham by 6. Being rush hour, it was standing room only, but I accepted that that was the way of the world at this hour. I got to the station on time and headed straight to the Past and Present Micropub. Advertised as open until 7, they were already calling last orders at 6 pm. I’d been hoping to try a Kent cider, but with only a daft Raspberry Ripple one I opted for half of Gwynt Y Ddraig Black Dragon. Frowned upon by some cider drinkers due to its use of concentrate, it was not ideal, but it was a cider I’d enjoyed many times in the past and my favourite at most Wetherspoons. Kent may be the Garden of England, but Gillingham was not unless that garden had a discarded washing machine and a dumped supermarket trolley. No worse than Wycombe mind and with a plethora of takeaways, I opted for a hot and spicy pizza for a fiver. It was then a half hour walk to the ground, yet more takeaways watching my every move. I got to the ground at 7.20, £7 entry including a decent programme was a fair price. The ground was a lot better than expected, lots to photograph and delightfully ramshackle. It was good to see Dulwich fan Mishi looking good after his recent heart attack, he had come along with a mate for the game.

It was Hollands and Blair that started on the front foot, but they didn’t really trouble the keeper. Croydon rattled the crossbar on the break, but the opening period saw no goals. The second half saw the hosts do better and they took the lead on 47 minutes, Steve Ratcliff with a finish for a scrappy goal. The second arrived on 78 minutes, this time Luis Medina was the scorer with an incisive finish after a good setup. Croydon never looked like getting on the scoresheet from that point, the limited chances falling to the hosts. It was a half hour walk back to Gillingham station so I decided to jog. The trains had dried up by that point and we were on to the last few of the evening. All the entrances to the station were closed by now, with just one route to my platform. It was a very slow train back to Victoria, but at least I’d be getting home. The service was utterly abysmal, something you’d expect in a third world country and it wasn’t until 11.40 that I was back in London. I had to sprint to the underground, changing at Oxford Circus and Marylebone to get the Chiltern Line to Amersham. This was a lot quicker and less than half the price, I was back at Amersham just after half midnight. I headed straight home, getting in at 12.50. I had a bottle while typing my blog, not having to worry about work in the morning.


STAR MEADOW is a great venue, situated a mile and a half from Gillingham centre. Three sides are available to supporters with cover on each of these sides. Along both sides are seated stands with cover for around 200 between them whilst the standing area behind one goal has space for around 100. The rest of tigers ground is open, with the far goal closed to spectators. The tea hut and the clubhouse looked good but I tried neither. There are plenty of places to suit every taste near the ground and in the town anyway. The programme is decent, nothing amazing, but much better than most others at this level, even though some of it had been recycled from the original fixture. I'd definitely recommend coming here, either as a groundhopper or as a Gillingham resident.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Brockenhurst - Grigg Lane

Brockenhurst FC
Meadens Skoda Arena
Grigg Lane
SO42 7RE

01590 623544

Ground Number: 837
Tuesday 19th March 2019
Brockenhurst 0-1 AFC Portchester
Wessex Premier


The club was established in 1898 and spent their early years in local competitions such as the New Forest (winning it serval times) and Bournemouth Leagues as the Hampshire League of which they were champions in 1971. In 1986 they became founder members of the Wessex League, managing two 6th place finishes whilst it was a single division. It expanded to two division in 2004 and despite finishing 5th in the Premier Division in 2009 (their best ever finish in the modern-day pyramid) they were relegated to Division 1 a couple of years later. They bounced back as champions within two seasons, winning Division 1 in 2013. They've been in the Premier Division ever since, after a series of mid-table finishes, they sit 15th in the table prior to tonight's game.

A good number of FA Cup runs have been enjoyed by Brockenhurst with the club reaching the 3rd Qualifying Round on three occasions. The most recent of these saw them defeat Fareham Town, Yate Town, Mangotsfield United and AFC Portchester prior to a 5-1 defeat at home to Conference South outfit Wealdstone.  There have also been a number of good FA Vase runs, the best progress being in their debut year of 1975 when they reached the 5th Round before losing to Stamford. Local cup wins include the Bournemouth Senior Cup in 1961 and the Hants Intermediate Cup a year later. The club holds the record for the most consecutive penalties converted in a penalty shoot out when 29 spot kicks in a row were converted in a Hampshire Senior Cup tie with Andover Town. Andover missed the 30th, with Brockenhurst going on to win the shoot out. Brockenhurst itself is the largest village in the New Forest and has a population of just over 3,500.

It had been 5 months since my last week off from work, so I was really looking forward to a glorious 15 days off from the hard slog. There'd be plenty of football of course and I'd was delighted when Milton Keynes based hopper Chris was available for a rare Tuesday game. With my other hopping pal, Anwar not being that keen in recent weeks, it was most welcome. With me not having work in the morning, the distance was not a problem. I drew up a shortlist of around 10 with both myself & Chris concluding that Droylsden would be our best bet. It was a ground that I'd wanted to visit for a while and one that I was unlikely to do with Anwar due to his limited funds and other commitments. A groundhop would be a welcome break from watching Wycombe who had been a right misery to watch lately, making basic errors which had resulted in 9 games without a win. The day of the game came and it started well enough with reasonable nights sleep. I relaxed for a few hours before walking down town. It was whilst on that walk down town that I got a text off Chris to say that his train had been cancelled and that tonight was potentially off. This was due to a poor person being hit, the same reason my trip to Lye a couple of weeks earlier had been restricted. He was unable to get back or stop en route to go to one of the limited options available and didn't fancy any of the options tomorrow night either. Not the best start to my holiday, but I tried to salvage something from the day by texting Anwar to see if he fancied Bustleholme. He didn't and despite much pleading, I couldn't persuade him to do a game as he needed to save money for the stupidly early Wycombe Wanderers season ticket deadline. It boiled down to three options for me on my own - Brockenhurst, Wimborne Town & Portland United. In the end, after much deliberation, I opted for Brockenhurst as it was the nearest and I'd already planned to go on the Chesham team coach to Wimborne. To cheer myself up, I ordered 12 bottles of cider from a craft shop called Scrattings, this would be partially sampled during the upcoming England games, one of the rare times when I watch footy on TV.

After getting my things together, I left at 4.15. Getting out of Wycombe wasn't great, what with the abundance of roadworks. But generally the journey was good, the only further delay being through Lyndhurst thanks to yet more roadworks. I got to the ground at 6.30 and although there were a few spaces, I decided to park around the corner. I needed cash so I got some crisps from Tesco and £20 cash. I then walked to a pub, the Snakecatcher. They didn’t do any ciders I hadn’t had, so I headed to a nearby chippy. They were charging £2 for a half portion of chips, so I went back to the Chinese I’d seen. Their chips were the same price, only freshly cooked and a huge portion, so they really filled me up. It was a few minutes to the ground where I paid a reasonable £6 entry. I opted against the £2 programme as they usually contain very little to read and a browse through an old copy in the bar confirmed this. I did want to put some more money the club’s way though and so had a pint of Thatchers Gold for £3.50 which was as good as you could expect it to be.

Around ten minutes before kickoff, I went outside and took a seat in the stand. This offered a good view of a lively opening period. Both sides had chances but it was visitors AFC Portchester that had the slight edge. Brockenhurst soon grew into the game and made some chances, but finishing was generally wayward. That was the story of the first half which was entertaining, but goalless at the break. The second half followed the same pattern, the play getting ever more desperate and wayward and for a long time it looked as if an increasingly physical game was gonna end 0-0. AFC Portchester had other ideas and scored on the break. A ball was played forward out of the defence, the left winger got away and provided a cross for Stuart McConachie to tap home from just inside the six-yard box. Though there had been plenty of shots, this was one of the first on target that the crowd of 86 had seen. The game finished quite late and it wasn't until 9.45 that I left. I had to stop at ASDA in Eastleigh for petrol on the way back, this took 15 minutes as there were so few pumps for so many cars. With me up to date on my podcasts and nothing decent on the radio, I listened to an audiobook of George Orwell's 1984. I had a good run but it was ironic seeing people getting flashed speeding on the M25. I was wise to the authorities dirty tricks though and still got home in decent time, getting back at 11.40. I typed my blog and sorted photos and videos before going to sleep at around 1.30 am.

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GRIGG LANE is a decent venue, the main area of cover being a stand that holds around 200. It’s elevated and has good legroom, but does have a few supporting pillars. There are smaller areas of cover behind each goal, whilst the rest of the ground is open. The tea bar is quite basic, offering burgers and hotdogs from a cabinet. The bar is better, spacious and offering a decent range of drinks at reasonable prices. The ground is right by the village, offering shops, pubs and takeaways with the Chinese being decent. The ground and village are very well kept and friendly. One notable point about the ground is the large corner floodlights which light up the pitch well and make it a good midweek choice. The club car park is of a reasonable size, with plenty of alternatives nearby.