Ground Number: 324
Tuesday 7th January 2014
Leiston 2-1 Dulwich Hamlet
New Years Day was supposed to be my 69th game of the season, but utter farce descended on Adams Park on Sunday 29th December as out game was called off 20 minutes before kick off. The long and the short of it was that someone chose not to turn the undersoil heating on the night before. Whether this was down to an inaccurate weather forecast or the club trying to save money, we will never know. It's also unlikely that we will find out who made the decision, but below are the sequence of events as I saw them.
I arrived in my usual parking spot at around 1.50 and started walking to the shop before going to the ground. I bumped into Anwar and a few other fans, who were saying that the game was in doubt. I laughed this off and thought they were taking the mick. After all we have undersoil heating thanks to being lumbered with Wasps rugby team and so it shouldn't even be in question. The next person I encountered was Chris, a 50/50 ticket seller who said 'That was a close one, but the game is going ahead' This was due to a tweet at 2PM by the club, telling the supporters that the referee was happy with the pitch and the game would be going ahead subject to another inspection at 2.30. With the undersoil heating now on it looked like it would be a normal match day, but fans were still being locked out of the ground as the players warmed up.
Whatever happened between this time and the 2.40PM call off time is not clear, but the club hardly covered themselves in glory. There were rumours flying round about what the outcome was, and the club said an announcement would be made at 2.30. There was absolutely nothing said in the Vere Suite (the club bar that I was enjoying a pint in) and people had to rely on Chinese whispers as my phone signal is poor in there. I saw it on someone's phone, but even though I waited until after the kick off time of 3PM, no one came in and told us and left us all in the dark like mushrooms. There were a number of theories bandied around - the ref had initially said it was on, then to dither and backtrack when pressurised by the players being the most popular. In any case, a lot of fans went home angry, disappointed and confused, and this can only do harm in the clubs quest to keep existing fans, or attract old ones back.
And it was another utterly miserable day for football on New Years Day, as the selfish weather intervened once more. I was originally planning on going to Weston Super Mare v Bath City, but that bit the dust at around 10.30. I had a list of about 20 backups, but one by one they went. The nearest that were still on were Hastings, Stafford and Grantham and with constant rain predicted and these all being well over 2 hours and 100 miles away, I wasn't going to risk it. This meant that match 68 was going to have to wait for a bit longer - and turned out to be Wycombe Wanderers v AFC Wimbledon.
The less said about that shambles, the better. In a disgracefully inept performance Wycombe lost comprehensively to a pretty poor side who had not won in 7 games, with Wycombe's dismal home run - no win since October 12th - continuing. We couldn't string more than 2 passes together and just hoofed it up to the short Jo Kuffour who ploughed a lone furrow as the sole striker up front. We had yet another red card as Anthony Stewart went off for 2 yellows. The final whistle was met with a chorus of boos from the terrace and the players totally deserved the stick. Where we go from here is anyone's guess, one thing is for certain, we will be heading for non league football if we carry on as we are.
So understandably I was looking forward to seeing some football away from Wycombe, just so I can enjoy the game again. With the inclement weather I was not totally sure where I was going. The start of this blog was meant to be for the new years day game between Weston Super Mare and Bath City but that but the dust as detailed above. Next target was completing the Southern League D1 Central with the game between Kettering and Redditch United in the Red Insure Cup. Though I had built up a comprehensive list of alternatives in case of bad weather. Looking at it on Sunday, more rain was due, but at least it was stopping on Tuesday, making a wasted journey less likely, as long as clubs got their pitch inspections done correctly.
On the day of the game I was disappointed to see Kettering get called off at lunchtime, but there were still a few alternatives left on. Favourite as I left the house was Basford United as I fancied doing some more NCEL grounds, as I had really enjoyed the groundhop day back in March. But Anwar fancied doing a higher step, and as he was paying a good chunk of the fuel costs, and I wasn't that set on my choice, we had a committee meeting in the front of my car. Chorley and Merthyr were discounted as being too far. That left us with a shorter trip to Leiston v Dulwich Hamlet, still over 3 hours away, but it was guaranteed on, and the weather forecast said no further rain in that area.
So off we set at 3.45, a bit slow getting out of Aylesbury and the poxy average speed cameras for 20 miles on the M25, but apart from that we made pretty good time and it was dual carriageway until the last leg of the journey. We then hit a few miles of really remote roads, before arriving at the ground at 6.40. Hungry, we headed into town to look for a takeaway. There was a pretty good place called Tasty Bites, and it had a sit down area too, which is a lot better than eating dinner in the cold. I had Spring Roll, Gravy and Chips for £3.20 which was very nice and quite a decent sized portion for the price. After we had eaten, we made the short 5 minute walk back to the ground, arriving about 7.20.
I went in and got a programme too, before heading to the bar for a look around. It had been a really friendly welcome so far so I decided to get myself a pint of cider to put some money into the club. It was a reasonable one - Somersby - and was fairly priced at £2.95. I sat at a table and drank it while checking my phone. It was a nice touch that the club handed out teamsheets to everyone so you knew who was playing. It's something that they do at Wycombe too, and it's a useful and good thing to do, maybe only a small thing, but it all adds to the feeling of goodwill towards the club.
I'd not seen Leiston play before, but they were a club who had made great strides in recent times. As little as 10 years ago they were at step 6 and spent 7 seasons at step 5. In this time they managed to gain a draw in the FA Cup with higher league Fleetwood in front of a crowd of 1250 before going out in a replay. Then in 2010/11 they won the Eastern Counties League Premier Division, thus earning promotion to step 4 and the Ryman Division 1 North. They had another good cup run that year, getting to the 4th Qualifying round and playing Dartford, before again going out in a replay. The first season at the higher level proved to be a huge success and they gained another promotion to the Isthmian Premier. A steady first season saw them finish 12th. They had slightly tailed off this season and were 16th before kick off but that was still a big achievement considering that the small town that they represent has a population of just 6240. The town's main economy is dominated by 2 power stations and if that sounds a bit unglamorous, they have the oldest purpose built cinema in Suffolk, a nice looking building that I noticed when I went for food. It was quaint and really small and unique, looking to have only 1 screen, albeit a 3D one when I checked on the website.
As for Dulwich Hamlet, I had only seen them once. I was initially heading to Whyteleafe v Windsor. These were in the days when the internet was not really the treasure trove of information that it is now, certainly not for non league clubs anyway. So I got there not knowing that the game had been called off earlier in the day, due to the pitch being underwater. Luckily they were really helpful in the bar at the ground and offered us alternatives that had been confirmed as on. Dulwich sounded the most appealing as they were playing Windsor's league rivals for the championship, Lewes. So we made our way there, getting in with plenty of time for kickoff. We still had to wait another hour though - the Lewes coach had been stuck on the M25 and only got there at 8.30. They had got changed on the coach and so the referee gave them 10 minutes to warm up and we kicked off at 8.40. Nowadays it seems as if referees use any excuse they can to try and get a game called off, but back then they were made of tougher stuff. The poor pre match preperation didn't do Lewes much good as Dulwich won 4-2 in an entertaining game. Former Wycombe striker Dennis Greene was the manager of Windsor at the time, and he too came along for the game. I got drenched in his tea after a clearance flew in the stand and knocked his cup out of his hand!
After coming out of the bar I was surprised to see a club shop, and a good one at that. It had a fair old selection of programmes, but I was a bit too late to look through them for my wants, given that it was a few minutes till kick off. Lately I have been collecting pens, but I spotted a nice pennant which I also collect. There was also an Ipswich one, so I bought the pair of them for a fiver, a decent deal in my opinion. I then went out and bumped into Mishi, a Dulwich fan I know, before taking some pictures and finding a space along the far side to watch the game.
The game itself was very good, with both sides attacking and passing well and wanting to win. Dulwich had the better of the early stages and took the lead within the first 10 minutes. It was a great strike too, Nyren Clunes picked the ball up on the right, and out wide from a tricky angle smashed it in the top left hand corner. They continued to have the better of the opening 20 minutes, but Leiston were always dangerous on the break. Around 25 minutes they got their equaliser. This time it was another good strike in the top corner, this time from a bit closer in, scored by Craig Parker. From then on in, the home side had the better of the game but it was still all level at half time. About 10 minutes into the second half Leiston got their winner and from then on in never really looked back. They had the better chances from then until the end. Dulwich did have the ball in the net late on but it was ruled out for offside.
So another good night groundhopping, but now we had a long drive home. This was made worse by a few road closures. Luckily my Sat Nav managed to re route us without any issues unlike in the past. Even with stopping for fuel on the way home we still got back to Anwar's by 0.20, with me getting in about 20 minutes later. The radio was an interesting listen on the way home with Man U losing their 3rd game in a row. And for the 3rd game in a row, Moyes blaming the referee. Pretty pathetic really, a sign of a man under pressure and out of ideas. I was also glad to see that Barrow won as I have a few mates up there, who are decent lads. As ever with football I stayed up about an hour longer after I got home, meaning I only got 2 hours sleep. I felt OK the next morning though, so it had been worth the long trip the previous night.
VICTORY ROAD looks like it has seen a lot of redevelopment in recent years, to match the clubs rapid rise up the pyramid. It's mainly metal type pre fabricated stands which is a shame, but it's a sign of the times and financial constraints that this is very common. They've done an OK job of it to be fair, but it will probably need a bit more if they get another promotion. There is a seated stand along the far side, 4 rows high and holding around 300. There is a metal terrace behind the goal holding around 200 as well, but apart from that it's open standing.
Luckily the other facilities are a lot better. The clubhouse is smart and modern with big screen Sky TV and reasonably priced drinks. Also in here is the food. Although I only had a tomato soup due to eating earlier, the choice, prices and portions looked decent. Finally the club shop has a wide range of merchandise as well as lots of old programmes. The town is only a quick walk away if you have time to kill, and overall I enjoyed my visit to this friendly club.