Thursday, 18 June 2020

GROUNDHOPPING HINTS & TIPS

It's been 96 days since my last game and I am missing it like mad. However, it seems as if it will be ages before we get to another game, thanks to our own government's handling of a no-good virus. I thought I'd deal with this cabin fever by putting a few tips about groundhopping that I've picked up over the years. If you disagree or have any other tips to offer, get in touch. I want as many people as possible to enjoy this wonderful hobby and although we can't participate at the moment, most of my time is spent thinking about where I'd like to visit when we are allowed to.

START AS SOON AS POSSIBLE

I wish I'd started hopping earlier. For one, I missed out on so many grounds that have long gone, also, it would have been cheaper with discounts on things, especially travel, with railcards and the like. These cards tend to discriminate against solo adults, which defies belief considering getting single-occupant cars off the road would have by far the most positive impact on the environment compared to groups of people in cars. Also, if you start young enough and you can rope your parents in, then basically, it's free. I managed a reasonable amount on this basis, but all of them came without me even being pro-active or asking.

STAY OPEN-MINDED

When I started hopping, I first concentrated on the 92, then expanded to down to step four and then down to step 6, my main inspiration being the 2013 Northern Counties East (er) hop where I visited some lovely places. Since then, I've done some below step 6 with a stand or cover and found them to be very decent and offering free entry. My latest 'requirement' is for there to be at least a rail around the pitch, though I'd not rule any ground out if the circumstances were right. Basically, for me, it's a balancing act between having a decent amount to choose from and not being swamped with too many choices (basically every single football pitch in the country)

TRANSPORT TIPS

Having a car is by far the easiest method of hopping, though not everyone has access to one, or can drive. Plus, they are very expensive to own and service on top of pricey petrol. Having other hoppers come with you can be a real help in keeping costs down and also you get some good company. I'm truly grateful to my two main hoppers, Anwar and Chris for coming with me and as neither of them can drive, I'd like to think that the feeling is reciprocated. Driving also limits pub visits, as I rarely drink midweek, I prefer to drive to midweek games when transport finishes early and use public transport (or my legs in the case of Wycombe home games) at the weekends.

Sadly, trains can be extremely expensive and seemingly the preserve of high-earners in most cases. There are some good value options to be had and Transport For London & West Midlands Railway are some of the better value operators out there. For the former, the walk-up prices mean you can have unlimited travel in London and a large surrounding area for little over £12 and if you use contactless cards, it's often a lot less than that. Sadly, I've very few grounds left to do in London, as the flexibility is great, especially in wet weather when games fall victim to the weather and a late replan is needed. Plus there is something for everyone in London, be it food places, pubs or other attractions, so you can make a real day out of it. Another good value way to obtain train tickets is to buy in advance. I can get a return to Birmingham for as little as £12 from High Wycombe, which is tremendous value and with Birmingham having both a large range of choice and being a good transport hub to other parts of the country, it is a good starting point for a game.

Otherwise, try Megabus or National Express where you can pick up returns to major cities such as Manchester and Newcastle for well under £20 if you pick the right times. The latter has better comfort and customer service but tends to have less cheap buses, especially overnight. Local bus services vary in cost. I've paid £6 in Derby for a five-mile round trip with only an hourly bus service too, but have found good value in the West Midlands and West Yorkshire with unlimited travel over a large area for around £4. Around my local area, I think it's a set £4.70 for a return bus, whether it be to High Wycombe, five miles down the road, or another 30 to Reading. Walking and cycling (if you have a bike) are free and provide a nice amount of exercise, though the former is only viable for local trips.

MAKE A DAY OF IT

I think that groundhopping should be about the whole day out and not just the time at the ground. The best way is to get yourself on a Groundhop UK day - they will typically provide the opportunity to 'tick off' three or four grounds in one day in a set area. They even lay on transport for those unable to drive and those who want to give the car a rest. Generally, these events run over weekends, but there's nothing to stop you from doing just a day if you can't make the whole event. They are generally good value for money and a nice opportunity to spend time with like-minded people. Generally, you can expect at least four events per season, sadly some leagues resist the opportunity to make money for their clubs and no one else does such tours.

Aside from that, there's very little opportunity to do more than one game in a day, especially at the weekend. There should be more morning games, such as the Midland U21 League which kicks off at 10.30. Aside from games moved for TV, or the occasional game in Wales, doubles are rare. There's other stuff to do of course and I always like to find something nice to eat when out and about, plus a decent pub at weekends. Basically, whatever your other hobbies are, try and fit them in before and after your game.

DO YOUR RESEARCH

To find fixtures in the first place, the lazy man's way is to download the Futbology App. This covers steps 1-6 (not cup games though) and if you fill in your details of grounds visited, then they can filter them out and sort by distance. The Football Traveller Magazine covers all the cups, plus leagues below and is handy to go through with a highlighter and pick options out.

Once you have chosen your game, double-check the address and route on Google Maps. It's also advisable to plan in a few backups, especially in wet weather. It's also good to keep an eye on social media accounts. Some clubs don't update them very often, or the volunteer that runs the account may be busy. For that reason, I will set up a Twitter list with the home team, away team and leagues of all my fixtures to reduce the chance of a wasted journey. Finally, follow and interact with fellow groundhoppers on Twitter and forums and you'll find plenty of stuff that you'd otherwise miss.

FOR THE 92, CONSIDER CUP GAMES

Tickets, especially for the bigger clubs, can be tricky to get, virtually impossible for the likes of Liverpool, Spurs and Manchester United. Added to that, they are sold at high prices, especially when through a third party. The FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League are undervalued, meaning less interest and cheaper tickets. Also consider going in the away end, useful tip if the visitors have a small support or have to travel a long way for a midweek game. As an additional tip, Twitter competitions can provide free tickets, as can the SkyBet Rewards app. The fact that you didn't actually go to the game is not an issue, just download a Fake GPS app from the Google Play Store. I used mine to check into the Futbology App early, but it has many purposes.

TAKE PLENTY OF PHOTOS

Back when I started watching football there was no such thing as digital cameras and everything had to be taken on film. Looking at some old Argos catalogues, it wasn't as an expensive business as I remembered (around 30p a print in today's money) but it was still a lot of money for me when I only got just over a quid a week pocket money. I've had a digital camera since 2003, though memory was expensive at the start - I remember paying £30 for a 32MB (not GB) back in 2004. Nowadays, any modern phone will have a half decent camera on it and the pictures are great to look back on. I tend to get snaps of random stuff such as the tea bar list- useful for other hoppers to see and be interesting to look at the prices in years to come.

ENJOY YOURSELF

Most important of all, enjoy yourself. If you go into something with doubts, you'll never enjoy it. You never know when the next cracking game is going to come up, even if the ground isn't up to much. Also, to tie in with the tip above, make a day of it, visit a nice pub, treat yourself to a nice meal and explore the town, then even if the game is rotten you'll have done something good.

BLOGGING TIPS

If you are thinking of blogging, or already blog, then I'd suggest taking a look at other blogs to see what they do. Though mine will never be the best blog on the internet, a couple of other bloggers have used what appears to be the same template as me and I'm glad to have helped. I started blogging in 2011, started seriously hopping in 2012, but it wasn't until 2016 that I finally hit upon the format that I am fairly happy with. It had meant that I've done a fair few revisits to get older blogs up to standard and during the coronavirus pandemic, revisiting and rewriting old blogs to improve them. The main reason for starting a blog was that I'd forgotten so many little details of my trips over the years and wanted something to look back on. Also, like with social media, it seemed a good way to find and interact with like-minded people. Having people read my blog is nice, but it's not the endgame. I tag all clubs in my tweet publicizing my blog, but the vast majority don't even respond or retweet, which a shame as another aim of this blog is to inspire people to visit their club.

A few days before the game, I'll set my mind on a first choice, detailing food and drink options around the area and if needed, pubs and public transport details. Although this should really be included in the hopping section above. I'll also research the club's history and any local area information to try and get a feel for the place and put the club's current status into perspective. Good sites, at least for clubs down to step 6 of Non-League are the FCHD (Football Club History Database) and Wikipedia. Old Non-League Directories are available on eBay for a few quid and these often fill in any gaps or provide information on clubs that have slipped down the rankings. Generally, the 1990s was when the directory was at it's strongest as it had time to gather more information and was not like the modern-day stripped back version that has become less relevant with the emergence of online resources. If all else fails, then a Google search can often help, some league websites are more useful than others, with the Essex Olympian League providing good information that is unavailable elsewhere.

I'll also start my blog, writing about the build-up to the game and the reason why I chose that game. The bulk of the blog is done on the day though and by far the most useful app for this is Simplenote. This allows editing on your phone, tablet and computer - in fact, anything with an internet browser. For keeping notes on the game, I'll generally use a notepad and pen, or if I forget, Google Keep voice notes. If I'm on public transport, I like to get the most of this done before I get home, therefore remaining productive on my journey and not forgetting anything. I prefer to edit my pictures when I get home, though it's doable on my Chromebook, it's far more comfortable to do on a PC with bigger screen and better editing tools.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

The Wycombe Wanderer Awards - Season 2019/20

Well, I wasn't expecting to do this after so few games, 89 in total, by far my lowest since I started groundhopping. Football has taken a back seat for now, what with a worldwide pandemic. With so many lives lost and many more ruined, that is understandable. Once we are rid of this vile, racist, ageist, elitist murdering virus we will be back and non-league clubs especially will need our support and I'm certainly not planning on holding back when we resume. I hope I can do so in the good company of the many great people who I have met over the years pursuing this wonderful hobby. It's been 81 days since my last game (at the day of writing) and this will surely surpass the 95-day record that I have between games since I started watching in 1991.

I've saved a good amount of cash mind, staying in, indeed having to self isolate due to health reasons and I'm hugely grateful to my employer (which hasn't always been the happiest areas of my life) for continuing to pay me and support me during this tricky period. The year of 2020 was meant to be the year I finally gave myself the kick up the backside I needed - find a new job, get onto the property ladder (even in a new area if needed, I favoured the North-East) and visit some new countries. But this has now all been kicked into the long grass by a worldwide crisis and it's a venture into the unknown for most. But nevertheless, enough waffle, here are the awards for my truncated season.



BEST WYCOMBE GAME: MILTON KEYNES (H) W3-2

Though they are not worthy of being called our rivals due to the way they formed, getting a result against this illegitimate mob is always good. Even better when we came from behind and got a last-minute winner in a drama-packed game.



WORST WYCOMBE PERFORMANCE: COVENTRY C (H) L1-4

A dreadful performance in the last game of the decade as we were totally outclassed by a Coventry side that had not won away all season. And there was kit envy on our part as their black and white away kit was dead smart.



BEST GROUNDHOP GAME: EPPING 3-3 HAMPTON

A real treat of a game at a fairly basic but historic venue as Epping came from two goals down to draw in an exciting game only to lose on penalties in an Anagram Trophy game.



WORST GROUNDHOP GAME: TRING C 0-0 AYLESBURY VALE

Friendlies are rarely decent games and this one was no exception as two sides played out a dull contest on a warm July afternoon. At least entry was free.



BEST GOAL: MICHAEL TUNNICLIFFE (GOLCAR UNITED) 

On my penultimate day of football, I was at AVRO FC for Golcar United's North West Counties League game, the venue having been changed due to a waterlogged pitch at Golcar. It allowed me to see a game in the Manchester area before an overnight coach home and the opener was a real beauty. A free-kick was hammered against the defensive wall, only to fall at the feet of Michael Tunnicliffe who smashed the ball home via the underside of the crossbar from 25 yards for a brilliant strike.



BEST NEW GROUND: LOUGHBOROUGH FC

A hidden gem at step 8 of Non-League - the Leicestershire Senior Division 1 in this case. You'll have to go during the day as there are no lights and the track leading down to the ground is a real challenge for most cars, but once you get there, it's well worth it. Delightfully ramshackle and plenty of cover for wet weather.



BEST PUB: ORCHARD INN, BRISTOL

Sadly, my visit to the cider crazy city of Bristol was all too brief, but this pub was an absolute cracker with around 20 good ciders on offer. A lovely vibe too and the only pub that my journey involved a motorboat as I took a shortcut across the River Avon.



BEST WYCOMBE PUB: THE ROSE AND CROWN

Not a world-beater by any means, but I have been waiting for many years to find a semi-decent pub in the previously terrible area of High Wycombe. This was a chance find on the first day of the season when I visited to redeem a free pint off of a phone app. I finally found a pub that served decent cider in High Wycombe and at very fair prices too. I straight away made it my designated pre-match pub in Wycombe and as well as the good drink choice, a friendly King Charles Spaniel called Bruce and brilliant landlord and landlady (Chris and Kirsten) have made sure that I have visited on plenty of non-matchdays too.

  


BEST TAKEAWAY: MUCHACHOS, GLOUCESTER 

I visited when I took fellow hopper Anwar to Tuffley Rovers. It had been a couple of years since we had last visited here due to lack of grounds around the area but it was excellent as ever, delivering great food at reasonable prices and with a sit-in option too.



BEST WYCOMBE TAKEAWAY: PERI PERI GRILL BOX

Just as with my pub of choice, I've been going to the same takeaway all season. I first discovered this place when in the area getting my car fixed a few years previously and it has been spot on every time. A wide range of tasty options and all at great prices and an ideal stopping place, halfway between town and the ground.



BEST CLUB SHOP: RETFORD UNITED

Club shops that sell old programmes are rare nowadays, so to find this was a real bonus as there must have been a couple of thousand at least on offer. I got two books for 50p each. Sadly, clubs don't see old programmes as profitable but what they don't realize is that people will make a special effort to visit a good shop and it might put a few on the gate.



BEST PROGRAMME: CLAY CROSS TOWN

It's hardly been a vintage season for programs, with demand falling thanks to a lot of information being available online, a lot of programmes are no more than a token effort to meet requirements. But the Clay Cross Town effort ranked well in the awards and was well presented with a decent amount of facts and articles. Impressive for a step 7 side.



BEST FOOD: BRIGG TOWN

I don't often eat in the ground, for reasons you will see below. But Brigg was a real treat, some made pie, well-cooked chips, mushy peas and gravy, all for £4. Totally delicious and you'd struggle to find better in an outside establishment.

WORST FOOD: GREAT WAKERING ROVERS

I don't like nominating 'worst' awards as I want to keep this blog positive and encourage people to visit clubs. But this was poor. It was actually for a White Ensign game, the day after a Great Wakering game. As a result, fans were treated to a single choice - hot dogs comprising of a cheap sausage in a stale bun, clearly leftover from the previous days game. And they put butter in the bun too, revolting!



BEST CLUBHOUSE: AFC MANSFIELD

Nothing special on the drinks front, but a better range than most and nice cold drinks too. Spacious and had sports TV too and well priced.



BEST SOCIAL MEDIA / MOST READ BLOG: SARRATT

I don't do this blog for views, I do it to keep a record of my visits to look back on, however, I do like people to see it and hopefully visit a ground they like the look of. Also to meet new people. Sadly, after spending a fair bit of cash and time visiting clubs, few bother to take the few seconds to retweet (I'd say the ratio was about 10% at most) Sarratt were one of the smaller clubs that I visited, but they did retweet and as a result, it was my most read blog of the season with a (still small) 405 views. Decent considering the average of 150 - 200 though.



FRIENDLIEST CLUB: PEACEHAVEN & TELSCOMBE

Plenty of brilliant clubs on this front, so hard to pick a winner. But I plumped for Peacehaven & Telscombe who gifted me free entry after my original visit there was called off. This was despite it not being their fault as opponents Eastbourne United pulled out a few days before the game. They also made the effort to DM me on Twitter to keep me up to date to make sure I was kept in the loop. Top class.



SPECIAL OBITUARY: MISHI MORATH

There will be many better tributes elsewhere online, but Dulwich Hamlet fanatic and groundhopper in denial Mishi was a much-loved part of the non-league scene. Having met him on a number of occasions, I could vouch for the fact that he was a top bloke. Having survived a heart attack and foot infection earlier in 2019, the year had been an awful one for him. A second heart attack saw him not so lucky and he will be much missed by many.

C**T OF THE SEASON: PRESIDENT XI OF CHINA

Well, after the fiasco at Stowmarket, I didn't think that someone could get any lower, but the 'gentleman' who masquerades as the president of China absolutely trumped it by ending the season once and for all and causing the whole world misery. Not content with making his own people's lives a misery, allowing filthy hygiene standards at a local market and then being economical with the truth has meant that the whole world has suffered. Not deliberate of course and football is way down the pecking order with getting on for 400,000 dead at the time of writing, far more than there should have been over here thanks to own government's hopeless handling of the pandemic. This is not a slight against the good people of China who have provided the world with so many good things, but their government I don't have any time for.

But in runners-up spot, what is it with the Eastern Counties League and stupid referees. This is the second occasion a referee has opted to be the centre of attention rather than show common sense. The man concerned (name deleted given the bigger picture) called the game off eight minutes before kick-off with both teams happy to play. The groundsman was even willing to fix the problem if only the referee would delay kick-off at Stowmarket Town v Walsham-Le-Willows by 15 minutes but the man in the middle was not listening. This came after another referee, (name deleted again) called off a match at Felixstowe with a few hundred in attendance on a Friday night. By the time we'd got our money back and got back to our cars, the fog had cleared, by which time the referee was filling his face with free food in the hospitality tent! Late kickoffs are becoming a real problem with several late call-offs with zero consideration for the fans. It affects attendances no doubt, as I and other hoppers have reduced faith in games going ahead and so opt to stay in and save a wasted journey. 

PLANS FOR NEXT SEASON:

Very much up in the air at the moment, what with the current situation. But I've not been aboard for a few years, so that is a must, especially with vouchers to use from my cancelled booking this season. Belgium & Holland was my original intention and that stands a high chance of figuring again. I also plan to do a lot more Friday nighters, with some long-distance ones involving an overnight stop and a game or two on Saturday.

Costs for this season are as yet unknown, what with me not knowing what is happening with my season ticket and also not yet having worked out all my car costs fully. However, I can reveal that I spent £207 on 'extras' - this includes programmes and more basic food and drink. It doesn't include when I have gone somewhere special to eat, nor does it include special ciders as I regard that as a separate hobby. For Wycombe games, if we win I add nothing to my costs if we draw, my football costs added are half of what I spent and if we lose my costs cop for the lot. My hobby, my rules.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Chester FC - Deva Stadium



Chester FC
Deva Stadium
Bumpers Lane
Chester
Cheshire
CH4 1LT

01244 371376
Official Website
Twitter







Ground Number: 92
Tuesday 10th April 2004
Chester City 0-2 Wycombe Wanderers
Coca Cola League 2




TEN FACTS ABOUT CHESTER CITY FC

1:  FORMATION & DEMISE

The club was formed as Chester FC and was established in 1885 as an amalgamation of Chester Rovers and Old King's Scholars. They added the 'City' suffix in 1983. In 1999, American Terry Smith took over the club and despite no knowledge of English Football insisted on becoming the manager and baffling the players with bizarre tactics. Steven Vaughan took over as owner in 2001 and initially appeared to be a saviour. However, during his controversial reign, the club entered administration in 2009. Laughably, the FA allowed the club to be taken over by a company owned by the Vaughan family. Unsurprisingly, the season was a complete disaster with the club starting the season with a 25-point penalty due to debts not being paid. A record-low attendance of 425 was recorded for the 1-0 defeat at home to Salisbury on Tuesday 19th January 2010 as fans stayed away in protest. The club's final game on Saturday, February 6th 2010 recorded an attendance of just 460 for a 2-1 defeat at home to Ebbsfleet United. The club failed to fulfil their next fixture at Forest Green Rovers and were thrown out of the league and their record expunged.

2:  GROUNDS  

Former grounds include Faulkner Street, The OId Showground, Whipcord Lane and Sealand Road. The latter was Chester's home from 1906 until 1990. Following the failure to gain a safety certificate for the venue, the land was sold to a supermarket and the club was forced to share with Macclesfield Town for two years. They moved into their purpose-built Deva Stadium in 1992, the first match coming on 25th August with a 2-1 defeat to Stockport County. The club's nickname of 'The Seals' is a nod to the name of their former home. 

3:  LIFE IN NON-LEAGUE  

Chester started out playing friendlies only before joining the Combination in 1890. They'd remain here until 1910, save for between 1899 and 1901 when the club was temporarily disbanded as they did not have a home ground. They were champions here in 1909, following five runners-up spots in a row. The Lancashire Combination was next up, with Chester staying between 1910 and 1914 before the outbreak of World War 1. When football resumed in 1919, they played in the Cheshire League and were champions in 1922, 1926 and 1927. They'd leave for the Football League in 1931 but return in 2000, spending four years in the Conference before winning promotion back as champions in 2004. Following another relegation in 2009, the club would return to the Conference but would go out of business later that season with their results being officially expunged.

4:  CHESTER IN THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE

The club would have two spells in the Football League, the first lasting from 1931 until 2000 and the second from 2004 until 2009. Their best season would come in 1978
when they finished 5th in the third tier and the joint worst being in 1953 and 1954 when they finished bottom of the 3rd Division North which was the bottom tier at the time. The club was not automatically relegated though but they'd finish bottom of the lot again in 2000 and this time they were relegated.

5:  CUP EXPLOITS

In the FA Cup, the club's best-ever run in the FA Cup has been to the 5th Round twice - firstly in 1977 when they lost 1-0 at Wolves and then again in 1980 when they went out 2-1 at Ipswich Town. Chester reached the League Cup semi-finals in 1975, losing 5-4 to Aston Villa over two legs. Cup wins include the Welsh Cup (three times) and the  Bob Lord Trophy (Conference League Cup) in 2001. They also reached the area final of the Football League Trophy in 1987 (losing to Mansfield Town) and the semi-final of the FA Trophy in 2001 (losing 4-0 on aggregate to Canvey Island)

6:  THE CROSS BORDER DERBY

Chester have a bitter rivalry with local rivals Wrexham. The vast majority of Chester's stadium is actually in Wales and just 12 miles separate the two clubs. The rivalry is so intense is that the game is one of the only in the UK to be designated a 'bubble match' where away fans are forced to travel to the games on official coaches. Wrexham held the upper hand over their rivals with 66 wins to Chester's 49 with 31 games ending in a draw. Big wins include a 6-1 win for Chester in February 1965 and a 7-0 win for Wrexham in April 1953.

7:  RECORDS

Chester's record income from a transfer came when they sold Ian Rush to Liverpool for £300,000 in 1980 and the record spent was £150,000 for Kevin Ellison from Tranmere Rovers. Record football league appearance holder is defender Ray Gill who played 406 times between 1951 and 1962. Their record scorer was Stuart Rimmer with 135 goals in 361 games over two spells in the 1980s and 1990s.

8:  WYCOMBE CONNECTIONS

The two clubs were regular opponents during the early 1990s and mid-late 2000s. Over the 14 meetings, Wycombe very much holds the upper hand with ten wins to Chester's two with the other two games ending in draws. Chester City was Wycombe's opponent for a home game in 1993 with Wycombe winning 1-0 thanks to a Keith Scott goal. By coincidence, Wycombe would be the first-ever opponent for Chester when we beat them 2-0 in August 2004.  

Several players have played for both clubs.....

Cyrille Regis - sadly no longer with us. A great player who scored 9 in 35 for Wycombe and 7 in 29 for Chester.

Tony Hemmings - another good one for Wycombe, the pacy striker scored 12 goals in 49 for us and 2 in 19 for Chester.

Terry Howard - cultured defender who made 61 appearances for Wycombe in the 90s, on loan at Chester as a youngster in 1987.

Jermaine McSporran - great striker picked up from Oxford City for £75k in 1998, 41 goals in 186 apps for Wycombe. Single outing for Chester.

Iain Turner - young Everton keeper (at the time) who had loan spells at both clubs.

Carlos Lopez - a single appearance for both as a defender, the worst player ever to play for Wycombe in the Football League.

Brian McGorry - another hopeless player, a midfielder with 4 appearances for Wycombe and 14 for Chester. 

Drewe Broughton - a well-travelled striker who made 3 apps for Wycombe and 14 for Chester scoring 2 goals.

Alex Lynch - a goalkeeper who made 4 appearances (covering injury) for Wycombe and 27 for the new Chester club.

9:  RESURRECTION

Following the demise of the old club, Chester fans would get together to form a phoenix club. Chester FC was formed in 2010 and would start out in the NPL D1 North (step 4 of non-league) Three straight league wins saw them promoted to the Conference / National League, but they struggled, with a best-ever finish of 12th in 2015. They were eventually relegated in 2018 and remain in the National North to this day. The club remains fan-owned and are currently managed by no-nonsense pair Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley who became well-known thanks to the BBC documentary about Salford City where they managed previously. 

10: HOME TOWN

The walled city of Chester dates back to Roman times and is close to the Welsh border. It has a population of 79,645 and is twinned with Sens in France, Lorrach in Germany and Senigallia in Italy. Famous people from the city include radio presenter Mike Parry, actors Daniel Craig and Malcolm Hebden, comedians Russ Abbott and Bob Mills and footballers Tom Heaton, Danny Murphy, Michael Owen and Ryan Shawcross.



MY VISITS

I've made five visits to the Deva Stadium in all, but don't really have any strong memories of them. All of them were made during my seven-year run of not missing a game home or away for Wycombe but it was never a ground I really looked forward to visiting, owing to its isolated location. Nowadays with Google Maps, it wouldn't be so much of an issue, but I had a rotten sense of direction and no knowledge of the local area. On the upside, the Chester fans were always very decent and friendly and the stewarding fairly relaxed.



My first visit came in August 2004. The two teams were getting used to League Two - Wycombe after being relegated the previous season and Chester playing their first home game back in the Football League after a four-year absence. I travelled on the official supporters' coach and had a pretty decent Tuesday evening with Wycombe running out 2-0 winners thanks to goals from Mike Williamson and Danny Senda. The same method was used for the following seasons game. Chester triumphed 1-0 thanks to a goal from Stuart Drummond as we slumped to a fifth consecutive defeat. I also used the same coach for our game there in January 2007, Wycombe winning 1-0 under Paul Lambert thanks to a Jermaine Easter goal.



I'd be roped into driving for our game during the 2007/08 season where we shared a 2-2 draw with Chester City. Sergio Torres opened the scoring on 13 minutes for Wycombe but Chris Holdroyd would equalise for the hosts three minutes later. They turned the game on its head, taking the lead through a John Murphy goal but John Sutton would equalise for the Chairboys. My final visit in August 2008 would be the final game of my seven-year run as I got fed up watching dull football at the same old places. I went on the Independent Supporters Club coach this time with my Dad and as always, we stopped at a pub. On the day goals from John Mousinho gave Wycombe a 2-0 victory. The season would end in contrasting fortunes for the clubs, Wycombe unconvincingly winning promotion under Pater Taylor playing dreadful football which was preferable to Chester City's season as they were relegated out of the Football League.



THE GROUND

THE DEVA STADIUM is a smart but unremarkable ground that opened in 1992 and was not unlike Wycombe's home at the time. Three sides are seated with a capacity of 5.500 seats although the away end was originally terraced. Now the only standing area is the Hary McNally Terrace whose 1000 capacity is for home fans only. The food and club shop is fairly standard fare from what I remember. There's a small bar at the ground, otherwise, your options are limited to retail parks (10 minutes walk) or the city centre (25 minutes walk)



Sunday, 15 March 2020

Allscott Heath - Allscott Heath Sports & Social Club


Allscott Heath FC
Allscott Heath Sports & Social Club
Shawbirch Road
Allscott
Shropshire
TF16 5EQ

Official Website
Twitter







Ground Number: 911
Saturday 14th March 2020
Allscott Heath 0-2 Bromyard Town
West Midlands (Regional) D1









ALLSCOTT HEATH FC - A BRIEF HISTORY

The club was established in 2011 and immediately joined the Shropshire County Football League. Starting in Division 1 (which is at step 10 of the non-league pyramid, or step 14 of the league system overall). They were champions in their debut season but the league folded and Allscott were transferred to the West Mercian Regional Premier which was a step higher than where they were). They'd spend four seasons here, finishing as runners-up to FC Oswestry Town in 2016. This earned them promotion to the West Midlands (Regional) League Division 2 where they finished 3rd behind Telford Juniors and West Bromwich United to win promotion to Division 1 in 2017. They've been there ever since and are set for their best season ever this year following two 9th place finishes in their first two seasons.



MY VISIT

To say the start of my holiday had been a disappointment would be an understatement. Back in September, I’d booked on the Eurostar and was looking forward to spending the weekend away there. But the spread of Coronavirus across Europe was quickening and so, understandably, my main game at PSV Eindhoven was called off on Tuesday. Sensing that others would quickly follow suit, I bailed out of the trip altogether and managed to get my money back on everything but the Eurostar train. The weather had also been up to its usual tricks and so after playing havoc with my midweek in Manchester, it also ruined my plans for Friday at AFC Totton. I was pleased when fellow hopper Anwar said he’d join me for Saturday, following the cancellation of the Football League games, understandable given the large and tightly packed crowds. What was disappointing was to see so many lower leagues follow like sheep when crowds rarely exceed a few hundred and you’d be in more danger with a visit to a shop or pub. Our treble in Wales at Cambrian & Clydach, Pontyclun and Cardiff Met Uni had bitten the dust after Wales called everything off.  Luckily, there were some carrying on and so Friday afternoon was spent trying to keep up with leagues decisions on whether to play or not after the FA had left it up to them to decide. There were just under 40 options available and so after consulting with my fellow hopper, we decided upon a double. The Midland League still had U21 games on and there was a reasonable ground with a railed pitch at Barlestone St Giles for our morning game between NKF Burbage and Milton Keynes College as well as backups should we need them. As part of a double today, I needed a second game. Fellow hopper Anwar was had been keen on going to AFC Telford for a long time, but with me having already visited in recent times, this was never really considered as an option on my part. However, with choice severely restricted on this day, I looked at what else was nearby and was pleased to see that Allscott Heath were at home. I'd spotted them on a fellow hopper Gareth's blog a couple of weeks ago and fancied a visit as it looked pretty decent for the level.




On the day of the game, I woke at my usual work time around 4 am, my body clock still not figuring out I was on my time off. With the decision being left so late, I'd not had time to research club history and form so I used the time to do just this. I ran out of time in the end, getting my things together and leaving just before 8. I was with Anwar by 8.20 and he was there waiting for me, so we got on our way. It was a decent journey up and we were at the Barlestone St Giles FC by 10.10. Sadly the referee decided to call it off around five minutes later, much to the annoyance of the MK College team from whom it was a 100-mile round trip and both teams were happy to play. Luckily, we had a backup in place, so after getting some pictures of the ground we made the ten-mile dash to Quorn, a revisit for me but a new ground for Anwar. Opponents Beaumont Park were already 1-0 up when we arrived ten minutes into the game in what was a decent contest on a 3G surface. Both teams played some decent football and there were plenty of saves made by both keepers. The visitors got a second from a tight angle around twenty minutes from time and probably deserved their win. We left at 12.20 and it was another easy journey across to Shropshire. We'd been hoping to find a takeaway en-route but saw nothing obvious and so after dropping Anwar at 1.40 I looked on my phone and found a chippy. As I was getting near, I spotted a Morrisons and decided to go there instead as I needed a drink as well. I got myself some chicken for lunch as well as a few other bits before carrying on to the ground. I arrived at 2.30 and went straight in, paying £3 for entry and a basic programme. I had a brief chat with Gareth whose blog inspired my visit whilst I was walking around the ground taking photos before settling on a spot near the halfway line for the game.




Hosts Allscott Heath were in 2nd place going into today's game but were in indifferent form with one win (3-2 at FC Darlaston), two draws (1-1 against Wrens Nest & 2-2 at Willenhall Town) and one defeat (2-3 at Sikh Hunters since the start of February. Bromyard had played a game in this period but had won one (5-3 against Wellington Amateurs) drawn two (1-1 at Wrens Nest and 3-3 against Wyrley) and two defeats (0-4 against Westfields and 1-2 against Droitwich Spa). The start of the game was delayed slightly after the referee ordered someone to apply some tape to the goal nets as they were coming away from the post. Allscott started brightly and the Bromyard keeper made a couple of smart saves to keep the scores level. Generally, though, real chances were at a premium in what was a physical game with robust challenges from both sides. I thought I was going to see a dull 0-0 but on 65 minutes the scoring was opened in strange circumstances. I didn't have the best view as I was up the other end but a home defender appeared to slot the ball past his own keeper with the glovesman well out of his goal. Two minutes later the score was doubled, this time a short backpass left the keeper with little time to make a proper clearance with Lewis Page charging the ball down and deflecting the ball into the net. To compound Allscott's misery they had Armando Wood sent off and missed a good chance to pull a goal back near the end.



I left the ground at 4.55 and turned on BBC Radio Shropshire to listen to the footy. Anwar had seen Telford beat Kettering 3-1 and that was the main talk with all the football league games off. I reached him by 5.10 and we made our way home. The radio was dull without football phone-ins so I listened to a few podcasts instead. After stopping for petrol at Tesco, I dropped Anwar off at 7.20 and made my way home. There was a road closure with a couple of miles diversion, so it was 7.50 before I got in. I spent the evening typing some of this blog and catching up on things, although with no Match Of The Day, it was a rare sober Saturday for me with no Match Of The Day which was probably for the best as I'd had a fair few drinks in the previous few days. It's sad to think that this could be my last football match for some time, but I'll just have to wait and see what decisions are made in the coming days with regards to postponing leagues schedules.




THE GROUND

ALLSCOTT SPORTS & SOCIAL CLUB is a decent setup for step 7. The pitch is fully railed and has hard standing on two sides. There's a small area of cover for around 20 standing and a few sitting on a bench. There is a basic clubhouse selling cold beer and cider, hot and soft drinks as well as snacks. There are a couple of pubs nearby and a reasonable amount of parking but no public transport. The nearest train station is Wellington, over three miles away and getting to the ground involves a walk along roads without pavements.