Saturday, 27 April 2013

Stalybridge Celtic - Bower Fold


Stalybridge Celtic FC
Bower Fold 
Mottram Road
Stalybridge
Cheshire
SK15 2RT


0161 338 2828





Ground Number: 268
Thursday 24th April 2013
Stalybridge Celtic 2-2 Oxford City
Blue Square North







MY VISIT

My 3rd game in 3 days would be the longest trip of all. And again I would be taking advantage of the offer to travel on the Oxford City team coach for £10, as I did ever more Conference North grounds. The coach left quite a bit later than last time, at 2.45, so it wouldn't be as much of a rush as last week. I had been wanting to see a game at Stalybridge for a while. I had first visited the ground back in 2008, when up north for a Bury v Wycombe game. 
I worked till 12.15 on the day and with the coach leaving at 2.45, I thought I would go home to kill some time and get changed. After getting some lunch and some snacks for on the coach, I was back home by 12.45, giving me an hour to relax. Knowing it would take me around a 45 minutes to get to Oxford City, I left an hour beforehand to allow a comfortable journey. Even then, my Sat Nav estimated I would get there 5 minutes late, due to a traffic delay. So I put my foot down to make sure I would make it in time. I got off the motorway with 35 minutes to get to my coach. And as it turned out, there was no delay and I made it with 20 minutes to spare. This would be my 4th time watching Oxford City this season. As well as tonight, I had also seen them at Halifax, Corby and Colwyn Bay. As for Stalybridge, I had last seen them when Wycombe beat them 4-0 at Adams Park back in 1992, in fact that was the only time I had seen them. I learned on the way that Wycombe would travel to Oxford City on the 13th July for a pre-season friendly, and that City also had home friendlies against Oxford United and Birmingham City. In the end, the coach left just before 3 and after a couple of pick ups, we were on our way. I had been planning to walk into town but sadly lots of traffic and a big delay put paid to that. We arrived at the ground about 7 and as I could see nothing much around the ground, I went straight in. After buying a programme and looking in the club shop, I went into the bar, hoping for a pint of cider. But they only had some fancy strawberry and lime stuff, so I didn't bother. I made do with a burger, which was pretty nice.



It was soon time for kick off and although Stalybridge had the first chance of the game, it was Oxford City that had the best of the game in the opening 10 minutes. Twice Louis Joyce worked himself into great positions, only to fire tamely into the Stalybridge keepers arms. This turned out to be to their cost as the home side took control of the game. Goals from Mark Lees and Adam Pepper put them in control and it could have been a few more if luck had been on their side. City had the occasional chance, but Stalybridge were well in control. Going into the final 5 minutes, Felipe Barcelos gave the visitors a lifeline when he scored. I had a feeling that City may push on from this and so it proved to be true when Mark Bell finished neatly past Stalybridge keeper Jordan Barrow.  
After the game, I waited the usual hour for the team to get changed and back on the coach. I had run down to a shop that I had found on google maps, but sadly it was closed. I didn't want to go any further and risk missing the coach, so I made my way back to the ground. I wanted to get some sleep on the way home, but I didn't feel tired. They put Mike Bassett: England Manager on the TV, so I watched that. I must have fallen asleep, as I missed half of the film and probably got about an hours sleep in all. I got back to Oxford at 2.25 and was home by 3am, in time for a quick hours nap before work the next day. I had really enjoyed my away trips with Oxford City this season, and am hoping they will be in the Conference North next year so I can complete the league. The team are all friendly, even though I don't recognise them. A far cry from some of the teams of the past, which had a number of ex Wanderers. And the directors, all probably retired are friendly too. They go to every game, including the Nomads (reserves) team and youth side. It's nice to see real supporters in charge, rather than people who just get on the board for the kudos.


THE GROUND

BOWER FOLD is probably one of the best grounds in the Conference North and is better than some in the football  league. All 4 sides have cover, with a terrace at each end. Along the side are 2 seated stands, both high enough to offer a great view of the pitch from the top row. The club shop offers a small range of club merchandise and the tea bar is pretty average for this level, the burger I had being decent. The clubhouse was a disappointment, not even doing a basic cider. I'd recommend walking half a mile down the road, where there is a pub and a better range of takeaways.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Guildford City - Spectrum Arena


Guildford City FC
Spectrum Arena
Parkway
Guildford
Surrey






Ground Number: 267
Wednesday 24th April 2013
Guildford City 1-3 Biggleswade Town
Southern League - Division 1 Central






MY VISIT

To be honest, I wasn't really looking forward to doing Guildford City. I had been there a few years back, and from the outside, it looked pretty poor and had a running track around the pitch. Several times I decided against going, but I got to the point where I needed it to complete the Southern League Division 1 Central. I found a date that I had no other game planned on and would go there with an open mind. After all, the league that I would be watching had provided by far the best games of all the competitions that I had seen this season. And from looking on the Guildford website, there were a few good points about it, if not the view itself. Also, it would be nearby and a fairly cheap night out as well. After having a curry for dinner, I left home just before 6.30, hoping for little traffic, as I had not left much margin for error if I wanted to make kick off. There did turn out to be traffic and according to my sat nav, I was due to arrive 5 minutes late. so I put my foot down to make up time. In the end, the traffic cleared and I was there just before 7.30. The ground was a bit tidier and smarter than I remember it and so after taking some pictures, I went and took a seat in the stand, which was some way from the pitch. Entry was also great value at £4 thanks to an offer that I could take advantage with, thanks to my season ticket.



Guildford City had a bright start and they were ahead in little over a minute. Simon Cooper latched onto a ball over the top before rounding the Biggleswade Town keeper. Biggleswade had a number of chances to equalised but eventually drew level on 35 minutes, thanks to a Joel Mason header. By this time the visitors had the bit between their teeth and were ahead within a few minutes, Mason getting his second, this time volleying home from the edge of the area. Mason turned provided for the goal that sealed the game on the hour mark, setting up Paul Barnes for a header to make it 3-1 to Biggleswade Town. After the game, it was a fairly easy trip home and although the ground wasn't the best, I'd still enjoyed my visit, it had been another good game of football and a reasonable price to get in. After watching Corrie that I had recorded earlier that evening, I went to bed, knowing that an even later night was to follow tomorrow.



THE GROUND

THE SPECTRUM ARENA is one of the most uninspiring grounds at any level, thanks in a large part due to the running track. 10 lanes, plus extra space separate the main stand from the action on the pitch. At least it's raised well above pitch level, so the view is improved somewhat. Even so, you feel totally detached from the action and can hear the nearby roads better than you can the players. Standing is also up here, along with more in front of the stand. The only other area of cover is opposite, a small area of covered standing. The tea bar is pretty standard for this level, as is the club shop. The clubhouse is a small PortaCabin offering cans and bottles. Despite all this, the ground is in nice surroundings, with grass banks and trees surrounding it. And this friendly club offers half-price admission to season ticket holders of any club, which is a great thing to do.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Solihull Moors - Damson Park


Solihull Moors FC
Damson Park
Damson Parkway
Solihull
West Midlands
B91 2PP

0121 705 6770





Ground Number: 266
Tuesday 23rd April 2013
Solihull Moors 1-1 Histon
Blue Square North







PRE MATCH RESEARCH


Solihull Moors were founded in 2007, with 2 clubs - Solihull Borough and Moor Green coming together to form a stronger club. They took Solihull's ground as their new home, mainly because Moor Green's stand had been burnt down in an arson attack. They have been in the Conference North since then and were on course for matching last season's finish of 9th. When I had seen them sweep aside Worcester, back in February, they looked a good bet for the playoffs if results went their way, which would beat their best ever finish of 7th, back in the 2010/11 season.

Histon meanwhile, had fallen a fair bit from when I last saw them, back in 2010. They were on the decline then, not long ago having beaten Leeds, live on ITV, they were experiencing financial troubles and were only able to recruit very cheap players. Although they beat Barrow 3-1 on that August day, the season was to end in relegation, and they were facing a similar battle tonight - defeat would almost certainly see them relegated to the Southern Premier, and guarantee Colwyn Bay, who had seen a dramatic improvement in their end of season form, guarantee safety.



MY VISIT


After regretting not going to a couple of games last week, I was going to make the most of getting games in this week, with the end of the season fast approaching. First up of 3 games in 3 days was Solihull Moors. Originally I was planning to have a good day (or afternoon) out in Bury St Edmonds, with a game that Bury Town in the evening. But what with me visiting more and more Blue Square North grounds (thanks in part to getting a good deal with Oxford City on coach travel) and the fact that I could get home a little bit quicker doing this game instead, I opted for Solihull. With 3 games in 3 days (2 of them being late nights) and having to get up at 4am, the extra sleep would be appreciated.



On the day of the game, I was off work, as per usual for a Tuesday. I spent most of the day chilling and left home just after 3.30, planning to have a look round Aylesbury Town Centre before meeting Anwar at 5. I got there bang on time and we were soon away, making good progress considering the rush hour, getting into Shirley, around 5 miles from Solihull's ground, just before 6.30. There was a reason for stopping here before the game. My CAMRA good beer (or cider in my case) guide informed me that there was an off license with a great choice of real ciders for sale, called Bernie's. So I decided to take a look. It turned out to be a good shout - I bought 5 bottles of stuff I had not had before for just over a tenner. There was also a chippy on the parade of shops, but it looked uninspiring. Again I had done my homework, looking on the just eat website for something a bit different. I found a place called Perfetto Pizza, about a mile away that did Piri Piri Chicken Breast burgers along with Piri Piri fries. Having had the chicken in Portugal, I knew it was very nice and so it turned out to be the case, with the meal being great value at just £4. I will certainly come back if I am in the area, combined with the off license, that's a nice little pair of places to visit, and not too far off the M42 if I want to stop on the way to or from somewhere.



We got to the ground around 7.25 and after a few quick pictures of the outside, we went in and got a programme each. It was nicely presented, one of the better-looking ones in this league. But sadly it was an out of date version, from the original game on 23rd March, with no update or insert included to give up to date details. I went and had a look in the club shop, which offered a huge selection of programmes for just 30p each, as well as old books and the usual club merchandise. Sadly the programmes didn't seem to have any organisation and I only skimmed the surface looking through my wants list, due to kick off rapidly approaching. Bedford Town have a great shop in this regard, everything neatly laid out and easy to find what you want.  
Current Peterborough United director Barry Fry was at the game also, looking for new talent to add to the impressive number of bargains that he has picked up at non-league level. I was pleased to see him, as he is one of my favourite people in football. A lot of Wycombe fans might not agree, well those with long memories anyway. Back in 1997 or 98, Wycombe were leading Peterborough 2-0 on a cold day at Adams Park. The visitors, believed in the Wycombe camp to be coerced by Fry started to fall over and 'struggle' with the conditions, leading to the referee abandoning the game and the result being null and void. It turned out OK though. I was below betting age, but still managed to win £50 from a few quid stake, getting someone else to place the bet for me, and my Dad to pick up the winnings. And we won that rearranged game 2-0. And as I worked for the club at the time, I got an extra games pay, which was a fairly big deal as it was before I had any kind of any other job. So no grudges from me, and Bazza was as friendly as anything, posing for pictures and shaking hands after out chat. Sadly mine and Anwar's plan to get him to buy Jo Kuffour off of Wycombe didn't work, as he had seen him play!



The game kicked off with Solihull dominating the early period. But Histon were playing some good passing football and started to control the game. Both sides had chances, mainly from headers from crosses. And the first goal came from one of these situations on  39 minutes - Michael Richens heading home from Jay Dowie's corner. The home side was looking an entirely different team from the one I add seen comfortably beat Worcester 3-1 a couple of months ago. 
Like the start of the first half, the second opened with Solihull being the better team for the opening 10 minutes. A tubby striker called Gary Birch, who was ex Telford was especially impressive, as he was last time I watched him. He won everything in the air and had a decent touch on him. And even at a couple of stone overweight, he still showed more athleticism and pace than the aforementioned Kuffour! Histon's most impressive player was Danny Fitzsimmons, the captain won pretty much every ball, marshalled his defence well and organised well as the club captain. He turned down a deal to extend his youth contract at Yeovil Town to play first team football at Histon, and you can see that he has the talent to play higher up. Histon had some good chances to make it 2-0, but didn't take them and were eventually undone by sloppy defending, 3 minutes from time. A corner was put in and Stuart Pierpoint headed home for an equaliser. It was harsh on the visitors, and they even had a half chance to win the game after that, but again they couldn't finish. Their league future now hangs in the balance, currently, they are out of the relegation on goal difference only, by an amount of a single goal. But they have a tough trip to Bradford Park Avenue, while Corby, on the same number of points as them, have a better chance of picking up points with a home game against out of form Gloucester City. It has been another good night of football, the 15th that I and Anwar had done together in fact. After a decent journey home, I was back in by 11.20PM. I wasn't that tired, due to getting up late, and so I watched the excellent Wheeler Dealers: Trading Up on Sky Plus before going to bed at just after midnight.



THE GROUND


DAMSON PARK is one of the smaller grounds in the Blue Square North. The original main stand is an interesting design. A lower tier with around 200 seats, is supplemented by an upper tier with around a further hundred seats for members or season ticket holders. Looking at it, it must have a decent view. The only other structure of note is further seats in a new stand behind the goal. This also has areas of terracing and holds around another 200 seated and 300 standing under cover. The other 2 areas of the ground are open flat standing.

As mentioned before there is a club shop with old programmes and club merchandise which has a good selection. The tea bar looked to have a good choice of burgers and hot rolls, but no chips that I could see. And I didn't go in the clubhouse, so don't know what that is liked, but it is hired out for functions to make the club money, so it can't be that bad. All in all, above average, and in a pretty central location in regards to the rest of England and so worth a visit.