Wednesday, 9 December 2020

North Leigh - Eynsham Park


North Leigh FC
Eynsham Park
North Leigh
Witney
Oxfordshire
OX29 6PN

07583 399577






Ground Number: 263
Thursday 4th April 2013
North Leigh 4-2 Didcot Town
Southern League Division 1 - South & West








NORTH LEIGH FC - A BRIEF HISTORY

North Leigh FC was established in 1908 and spent the first 72 years of their history playing in local leagues such as the Witney & District and Oxfordshire Senior League. Highlights of this period include twelve Witney & District League Premier Division titles, the latest of which came in 1990. That year, they moved up to the Hellenic D1 and after a couple of 4th place finishes were promoted to the Premier Division in 1993 after they finished as runners-up to Tuffley Rovers. Again they adapted well to the new level and in all but one of their seasons here, they finished in the top half of the table. They were champions twice in a row in 2002 and 2003 and runners-up in 2007, however, their ground did not meet the requirements of the Southern League. North Leigh were Hellenic League champions for a third time in 2008 and this time they had the ground up to scratch. They've been in the Southern League's second-tier ever since - up until 2018 in the South Western Division and ever since in the more geographically friendly Central Division. They started very well, finishing in the top half every season up until 2017, with two 6th place finishes their best effort. They've found things a little tougher since though - despite being in a credible 10th place when the season was cancelled last March, they currently sit in 18th prior to my latter visit.

North Leigh enjoyed a memorable run to the FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round in 2016. They thumped Thame United 7-1 won 3-2 at Corinthian-Casuals and beat Folkestone Invicta 3-1 before a 6-0 humbling at Conference Premier side Eastleigh. The FA Cup also provided their record attendance when 426 turned out to see them hold Newport County to a 0-0 draw in a 2004 3rd Qualifying Round tie. Their best run in the FA Trophy came in 2016/17 when they beat Bridgwater Town, Yate Town, Folkestone Invicta and Kingstonian prior to a defeat to South Park in a 1st Round replay. The FA Vase 4th Round was reached in 2004 when North Leigh beat Redhill, Clapton (by a massive 11-0 scoreline!) & Southall before losing to Andover. Local cup wins include the Hellenic League Shield in 2008, the Oxfordshire Senior Cup in 2008, 2012 and 2017, the Oxfordshire Charity Cup in 1985 and 1989 as well as a host of trophies whilst competing in the Witney & District League. Well-known players to turn out for the club include Michael Pook & Matty Taylor whilst former Cheltenham Town man John Brough managed the club for a period. The village of North Leigh is situated near Witney and has a population of just under 2,000.


MY VISIT

I had been to a game on the Monday of this week and was actually planning to go to a name every night of the week if I could, But with being tired, and an upcoming walk from Wycombe to Oxford this Friday night to raise funds for the club, I thought better of it. But there was still time to squeeze in a game on Thursday evening, the relatively short trip to Witney, to see Southern League side, North Leigh. The game would be against local rivals Didcot Town. I had already had 2 failed attempts on a Friday evening and a Tuesday evening, both ruined by waterlogged pitches. With the weather still being freezing well into April, I would be keeping a close eye on Twitter to avoid another wasted journey. Both sides had little to play for, ensconced in mid-table mediocrity, facing no danger of relegation, but no chance of the playoffs either. Local pride would be at stake though, and I'd imagine that North Leigh, a couple of places higher than their rivals would be happiest with their season so far.




I wanted to get this game done as quickly as possible, so left it as late as possible to leave, having my dinner pretty early and leaving at 6. By 6.30 I was in Aylesbury to meet Anwar, and we were soon on our way. It was a nice easy journey, better in fact than going from via Wycombe and we were there at 7.25. After paying to get in and getting a programme, we went in the bar for a bit to keep warm. I then went to the tea bar and got what turned out to be excellent chips for £1.50. A generous portion and cooked to perfection. We found a place along the side to watch the game from. It was rather one-sided, North Leigh playing some great football and taking a 2-0 lead through former Oxford United and Oxford City striker Connor McDonagh. They were then awarded a penalty which was saved by the keeper but followed up by former Wycombe youth teamer, Stuart Hole. McDonagh then completed his hat trick to make it 4-0. Didcot then rallied, getting a goal back when Alex Stanley headed in. And arrears were further reduced when Elliot Osbourne-Ricketts netted from the spot, to give the scoreline a more respectable look. It had been another good night out, to a nice club. It was mainly Didcot fans there, and I had a good chat to a few. On the way home I missed my turning off the A40 and had to go nearly 10 miles out my way via Watlington, but even that couldn't mess up an enjoyable evening.


MY SECOND VISIT

Though it wasn't near the top of my list for a revisit (due to me already having done a blog on it), I was happy to do a revisit to North Leigh under the right circumstances. It was fairly local and the chips had been excellent when I visited last, plus as with most clubs, they'd been really friendly on our last visit. The opportunity came on this Tuesday, what with all the possible new grounds being over 100 miles away. Maybe I'd have made the long journey had their not been a number of attractive FA Trophy ties but after considering games at St Neots Town, Royston Town and Welwyn Garden City, myself and fellow hopper Anwar settled on North Leigh v Frome Town. It was the closest of all the options, never a bad thing when you have work at 4 am the following morning. Little had changed since my last visit, it would appear - even the admission fee had stayed at £8, pretty decent value for the level of football. The club had done pretty well to sustain football at this level, with the fourth-lowest attendance average in the league, although 118 was still fairly respectable for a village of their size. Local rivals Witney Town had been liquidated in 2013 due to a lack of interest, with the locals doing to the club the same as their club patron David Cameron (allegedly) did to a pigs head, so North Leigh prospering was even more credible. I'd checked the club website the day before the game and this had loads of useful information about the club on it.


I stayed up until 11.30 on the day before the game but still woke at my normal work time. I got back to sleep for a couple of hours but woke up again and had some breakfast. I then went back to sleep once more for a couple of hours before getting up and having a shower. I spent the morning at home, catching up on things. I was disappointed that North Leigh announced that the tea bar would be closed tonight, as I was looking forward to having their chips again. However, I understood why -  what with the authorities making it as difficult as possible for them. Around 11.40, I started to walk down town to get a few things and have some lunch. It turned out to be a bit of a manic day. I sold my camera on eBay and when I got back home in the afternoon, I posted that out. I then spotted its replacement on CEX and got together the PS3 that I've not used in ages to partially fund my new purchase. I'd have to take that down the following day but I was tight for time and so had a quick dinner before leaving at 6. The roads were fairly clear, although there were plenty of slow drivers on the single carriageways, both before and after I met Anwar at 6.30. We go there at 7.30, the entrance a bit tricky to find in the dark, but soon enough we were parked up. I'd spotted a sign on the way in, so we walked back up to get a picture of it. By the time we had walked back and paid to go it, it was pretty much bang on the advertised kick-off time. However, the kick off was delayed until just before 8 PM for whatever reason. The weather wasn't the greatest, chilly and rainy, though it never really got worse than the occasional drizzle. There was no physical programme tonight, but the online effort was excellent and had plenty to read. Unlike most hoppers, I prefer a digital copy anyway as they take up less space and don't get damaged.

 

North Leigh had got this far by winning at Melksham Town on penalties following a 3-3 draw, 4-2 at Thatcham Town and then 4-1 at Wantage Town, a game on a Friday night that I'd been at. A win tonight would see them make their best ever progress in the competition. Frome Town were in the adjacent Southern League Southern Division and sat in 9th place. They'd travelled just over 70 miles to get to tonight's game. They'd won on penalties against AFC Totton following a 2-2 draw and beaten higher-level side Farnborough 3-0 at home to get this far. They'd be looking to progress to the 2nd Round for the first time since 1985 when they lost 4-0 to Boston United. It was a scrappy game at first but the visitors were edging it and seemed to have more finesse in the final third. North Leigh had plenty of unity and team spirit though and they had the ball in the net on 14 minutes, but it was ruled out for offside. The game started to open up, especially after the break and the home keeper was on top form, making a number of great saves. North Leigh's #9 was tripped in the area on 56 minutes after showing quick feet to the Frome defender but was booked by the referee for simulation. The linesman on our side then gave a very marginal offside and during their best spell, the hosts weren't getting the rub of the green. A late tackle by a North Leigh man resulted in a large melee and as a result, the man was given his marching orders. Just as it looked like we would see a penalty shoot-out - and my first 0-0 in over a year, Frome's Jon Davies popped up with a winner in the third minute of injury time, as his shot was deflected past the unfortunate keeper. The hosts scrapped to get back into the game in the few minutes left but didn't really have a clear cut chance. It had been a decent game for such a low scoring affair but it was nearly 10 by the time we left. I dropped Anwar off at 10.45, getting home myself at 11.10. I didn't stay up for long and was in bed and asleep within half an hour of getting in.


THE GROUND


EYNSHAM PARK is a ground set in the pleasant surroundings of woodland. Not that I would have noticed it at tonight's game, but I had already been on the way to a Hereford v Wycombe game one year. It's pretty basic, though more than enough for this level of football and essentially is a very nice place to watch football, though a mild warm Autumn afternoon would be far more suitable than the freezing evening I went to see the game on. Whilst the ground is mainly open standing, there are 2 areas of cover. Behind the goal there is some cover, holding around 300, whilst the main stand holds around 150 - more than enough for everyone to keep dry, going by their average attendances.


The clubhouse is small but nicely furnished, with plasma TV and a decent range of drinks.  The tea bar is also excellent, the chips and Bovril I had were perfect and as good as I had anywhere. There was no shop that I could see, but that's not too much of a shock given the small crowds that they get. It's a shame as they deserve more and it's a decent place to watch football at.



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