Wednesday 29 July 2015

Atherstone Town- Sheepy Road

Atherstone Town FC
Sheepy Road

01827 717829

Ground Number: 500
Tuesday 28th July 2015
Atherstone Town 2-2 Bedworth United


ATHERSTONE TOWN FC was formed in 2004 - though 2 previous clubs - the original Atherstone Town who went into liquidation and the now-defunct Atherstone United have strong links to the club. So much in fact that the current incarnation was formed as a result of United’s demise during the 2003/04 season. The new club joined the Midland Combination Division 1 in their first season, becoming champions at the first attempt. They repeated the trick in it’s Premier Division the following season and were admitted to the step 5 Midland Alliance for the 2006/07 season. Though they finished 8th in the first season, they were champions the following season. They then spent 3 seasons in the Southern D1 Central, with their best ever finish being 3rd in the debut season of 2008/09. Financial problems dogged the club once more in the 2011-12 season as they resigned from the Southern League midway through the season. They did, however, complete all their games, finishing in 21st place. The next season they were relegated again from the Midland Alliance. Once more joining the Midland Combination at step 6, this was merged with the Midland Alliance to become the Midland League and they finished in 13th place last season.

The new club has reached the 3rd Qualifying Round of the FA Cup on 2 occasions, though the last one in 2013 resulted in a 4-0 defeat to Conference North side Barrow and huge crowd disorder by a minority of morons. They had beaten Rocester, Studley, Redditch United and Coalville Town to get this far - a remarkable achievement for a step 6 club. Other FA Competitions have not proved as fruitful - all 3 FA Trophy games ended in defeat and they face reached the 1st Round of the FA Vase on 3 occasions, lastly in the 2013/14 season. They won a trio of local cups in the 2005-06 season and also the Southern League Cup a few seasons later, beating Bridgwater Town in a 2 legged final.


So the time had arrived to visit ground 500. I had originally resolved to avoid friendlies for ground 500 but fate had dictated that it would not be possible, that was unless I wanted to hold off until Friday when I’d be seeing my first competitive game of the season. I only really started ground hopping seriously around 2011 or 2012 and had been ticking off grounds at a rate of around 100 a year since then. What really started getting the numbers up was a chance conversation with my now regular hopping partner Anwar. We only knew each other as passing acquaintances at the time and it must have been on a Wycombe away coach that we started discussing football grounds and how we both liked to visit them. He suggested that we do Leighton Town together, or to be more precise go and see Aylesbury United there. The hop was delayed a few weeks - on the week of our initial planned match I was working near 12 hour days and felt too tired. Nowadays though, that would not bother me, but I wasn’t so mad then. However, on 19th September 2012, I visited my 216th ground with Anwar and since then we have done 107 groundhops together which has saved us a lot of money on travel costs rather than doing it on our own. Though this meant I had done over 170 on my own during this period, it was still nice to save money where I could as I had spent an absolute truckload of cash on football over the past few seasons. I had been a bit better this season, having given a lift to people on every single game so far. Looking back as I complete my half century, I have tried to pick out my 5 favourite grounds I have visited.


I had heard a few good things about this ground before I visited my 205th venue in 2012, though my main reason for going was to meet up with my Luton supporting friend Alex. That I accomplished but I absolutely loved the ground too, with its old wooden terraces and rustic charm. The ground was under threat earlier this year as the Cow Commoners Trust who own the ground wanted to sell it to Tesco, but the move was thankfully blocked. Though sadly it may be up for refurbishment soon, hopefully, this will not spoil its charm.


This was my 15th ground visited and only my second neutral game. As Wycombe were away at Crewe, my Dad took me to Hayes v Basingstoke, a game that the hosts won 4-0. Though it took me a few years to appreciate this gem of a ground in all it’s glory, the 14 year old me was very impressed with the brilliant club shop which was a cavern of goodies at amazing prices. I remember I bought a couple of boxes of old annuals, programmes and other assorted stuff and it was all within my meagre pocket money budget. Sadly the ground is no more, and the newly merged Hayes and Yeading are in exile, though hopefully not for much longer.


I visited this ground on my first ever groundhop day, where I did 4 games in a day. I’d only really gone on the hop as I wanted to go to the Bridlington Town v Scarborough Athletic derby. One game alone couldn’t justify the cost, but 4 could. It was the day I fell in love with the Northern Counties East League, and this ground was the main reason. Though fairly simple compared to my previous haunts, it was just so beautiful to look at and the place was so friendly. This resulted in me doing more step 5 grounds, as opposed to before when I mainly did steps 1-4 and the Football League.


Though I prefer the smaller grounds due to their individuality and quirks, I was really taken in by Anfield. Initially visiting for a tour I returned to make it ground number 250 for a Europa League game against Zenit St Petersburg. Though this competition is the poor relation of the Champions League, the atmosphere that night was electric - from the fans to the old boy’s distinctive voice on the tannoy who had been entertaining fans pre match for 40 years and very good he was at it too. Add the fact that it was under floodlights just added to the aura of the place, plus the fact that the wonderful city of Liverpool is walkable makes it a brilliant day out. Sadly my phone crashed and I lost all of my photos, but at least I had some of my ground tour.


It was really hard to pick a definitive 5th and the likes of Matlock Town can feel themselves unlucky to miss out. But the one I have plumped for is Melksham Town. This was my 312th ground and it was only fate (or the weather) that led to us going here. It was Monday night and choice was limited but it was still our 3rd choice after Gresley and Redditch United. Traffic problems on the way down meant that myself & Anwar arrived bang on kick off and were so hungry that we ordered a pizza to the ground. But as is often the case, fortune smiled on us. The ground was a real beauty, bags of character and photogenic opportunities, and sadly it’s another ground that will be gone soon. Bonus points also were awarded for having a local cider on tap and being a bargain £4 including programme to get in.

So the question was where to go. To be honest there was not a great deal that jumped out and inspired me, probably Wroxham v Lowestoft Town or Basford United v Mansfield Town XI would have been my top choices, but I had a fellow hopper to consider who would be paying a good chunk of the fuel money to help out. Initially, it was Walsall Wood v Kidderminster Harriers but then I discovered it would be strictly a reserve and youth side as their first team squad were at home to Shrewsbury Town. We then whittled it down to 3 options - the losers being Great Wakering Rovers v Canvey Island and the aforementioned Walsall Wood game, but we opted for Atherstone Town v Bedworth United, as it would at least be a decent ground. It was my usual day off work on the day of the game, and having not had much exercise thanks to the horrible weather of the past few days, I walked down town and back, covering around 8 miles. Though it was gloomy, it didn’t rain and it gave me a chance to get some cans of diet Irn Bru for tonight's game. I got home around lunchtime, having lunch and spending the afternoon typing and researching some of this blog. I left for Aylesbury at 3.30, meeting Anwar at 4 and we were soon on our way. We had a bit of delay, getting to Atherstone at 6.40. When we were in traffic I changed my sat nav to a chippy called Coleshill Road Fish & Chips as when researching I had seen it was good value. It lived up to the promise and I got a large hot dog, curry sauce and chips for just £2.50. Though I would have preferred more chips it was great value and very tasty. From then on it was a mile to the ground and we were there and parked up by just after 7. We paid a very reasonable £3 to get in. I had a look in the bar which had Strongbow on the cider front but I decided not to bother with a drink. I went around taking pictures of the ground and checking Facebook while I waited for the game to kick off. One thing I noticed was that the main stand was named after Andy Rammell who used to play for Atherstone United.


It was a good open game with Bedworth slightly the better side early on. However, it was the hosts who took the lead on 13 minutes. A good through ball found the striker and he took advantage of the keeper being out of position with a long-range shot. From that point onwards Atherstone had a period of domination and would have scored had Peter Folkes not cleared off the line for visitors. Despite this, he was branded 'dog shit' by an Atherstone man, and this raised tensions a bit. The same player was involved in a bit of argy-bargy with some home players and at half time there was plenty of verbal between a Bedworth director and a female Atherstone fan. She accused him of being childish and asked him how old he was. His retort was 'not as old as you, love!' The first half had been entertaining with Atherstone on top and it took a good save from visiting keeper Denham Hinds to prevent the lead being extended further. During half time I commandeered a team sheet so at least I'd have some paper for my 500th ground. The second half was a bit calmer at the start and Bedworth equalised on 50 minutes when a shot went straight through the home keeper to make it all square. The aggro soon started again, Bedworth's Peter Folkes was sent off for booting an opponent 3 times and Atherstone had a man sent off after a massive 20 man brawl. Bedworth then came close to leading as a free kick was saved by the Atherstone keeper and the follow up hit the outside of the post. The visitors were dominating by now and had a shot cleared off the line on the 70-minute mark. Atherstone were starting to look tired but they took the lead on 75 minutes when Nathan Haines deflected a cross into his own net despite there being no one near him. It was soon level as Bedworth’s Daniel Creaney caught out the keeper with a great free kick. The glovesman was busy lining up his wall when the kicker took him by surprise and shot high into the middle of the net. That was it as far as goals were concerned with the game ending all square. It had been a thoroughly entertaining game, though I doubt you would see this if you looked up 'friendly' in the dictionary as 2 local sides went hammer and tongs at the game. It had been easily the best game of the season so far and a ground thoroughly deserving to be my 500th. The night had been great value too and I drove home in good spirits. We listened to BBC Radio Leicester on the way after the Premiership side had won 2-1 at Burton Albion. I dropped Anwar off at 10.45, getting home myself 20 minutes later. I watched TV for a bit before going to sleep just after midnight.


SHEEPY ROAD is traditional old ground, that would probably be fit for Conference North. The biggest stand on the far side has round 500 seats and flat standing for a similar amount. It stretches the full length of the pitch and is named in honour of Andy Rammell, the striker whose £40,000 move to Manchester United funded the stand. Opposite is another covered terrace, holding around 500. The rest of the ground is open terracing and I’d guess it holds around 4000 in all. There is a bar at the ground which offers a basic range of drinks, while the tea bar looked to offer some good value food. The town is a half mile walk away, but if you are coming by car it’s well worth stopping off at the Coleshill Road Fish & Chip Shop which is on the edge of town but has free parking, The food was tasty and great value when I went.

Saturday 25 July 2015

Sporting Khalsa - Aspray Arena

Sporting Khalsa FC
Aspray Arena
Noose Lane
West Midlands
WV13 3BB

Ground Number: 499
Saturday 25th July 2015
Sporting Khalsa 2-1 Hinckley


SPORTING KHALSA was formed in 1991 and have since become the only Asian team in the English leagues to own their own ground. Located in Willenhall, Noose Lane was originally the home of Willenhall Town, but Khalsa bought it off of them in 2010. Footballing wise, they joined the West Midlands Regional League on a permanent basis in 2004 after spending one unsuccessful season there during 1996-97. Starting in Division 2, they won promotion at the first attempt. Despite struggling at first at the higher level, they had a big turnaround in the 2010/11, finishing 3rd and winning promotion to the Premier Division. After finishing 14th, 11th and 6th they were Champions last season and won promotion to step 5 of the non-league pyramid. For the coming season, they will take their place in the Midland League, alongside Phoenix club Hereford FC.

Success in the FA Competitions has been limited. It wasn't until last season that they won an FA Vase game, after 7 defeats. They beat Wolverhampton Casuals 4-0 before going out to North West Counties League side Hanley Town in a 2nd Qualifying Round replay. They've also reached the Preliminary Round of the FA Cup on 2 occasions, taking Nuneaton Griff to a replay in 2012/13, their debut season in the competition.


With my 500th ground being next up after this one, I was not too fussy about where I groundhopped, so much so that I had 40 options to choose from. As Anwar was coming with me, I passed the list on to him and he whittled the list down further to 5 or 6 choices. Ideally, I'd have wanted one near at Wetherspoons as it was the last weekend of the cider festival. In the midweek before the game, I had sampled 27 of the 30 ciders on offer, thanks to previous tries. I knew that the last 3 would be tricky to find and so I wanted to spread my net as wide as possible. I found one that had been on our 'to do' for a while. Sporting Khalsa had an excellent looking bar that did a nice selection of curry and other spicy food, and all at very good prices. So their game v Hinckley was chosen as our match for the day. There was a Wetherspoons a mile walk away, but it would depend on how much time we had as to whether I would pay a visit. The weekend started off with a big disappointment. On Friday I was hoping to walk to and from town. I always enjoy a good bit of exercise and there would have been a good reward in the middle what with the cider festival. Instead, I had to sit in while it rained heavily morning, noon and night. I had a few bottles that I had got for my birthday and went to bed quite early. I took the liberty of texting Anwar to tell him to get ready half an hour early so we would have time to walk into town as I'd not managed to get down to Wycombe. On the day of the game, I'd had quite a good night's sleep beforehand and woke up about 9 feeling nice and fresh. I had a bath and got ready, leaving at 9.40. After I had stopped at B&M Bargains and got some Irn Bru and Crunchies I made my way to Anwar's and we were on our way by 10.40. What with all the holiday traffic, there was around 20 minutes delay on the M42 and M6 and we were parked up at Sporting Khalsa by 12.40. 

We took a walk into town, though thanks to Google Maps getting its knickers in the twist, we had to walk an extra half mile. But eventually, I got to my target, the Malthouse. It was the most deadbeat welcome I'd ever had to a Wetherspoons, with drug deals openly going on outside, people swigging from Special Brew cans and if I'm not very much mistaken, a container of white spirit. It looked very much like the Dog and Gun pub in Corrie and I was half expecting Callum to turn up. Luckily inside was a lot nicer and it presented 2 new ciders - namely Dorset Dabinett and Sandford Orchards The General. As I was drinking in thirds, I also had a retry of another one which was also nice. It didn't take me long to drink and so after 15 minutes, I met up with Anwar who had completed his walk around town and wasn't impressed. Though after what I'd seen outside the pub, it looked like the garden party at Buckingham Palace when we walked back. We got back to the ground at 1.50, starving and really looking forward to a curry or another spicy treat. But despite the kitchen being advertised as being open from 12, the chef had still not reported for work. We asked at the bar and they said 'he will be here within 4 hours'. As we had seen nothing near the ground, and town was a mile away, we asked at the turnstile if there was food in the ground, and assured there was, we paid a fiver to get in. But despite assurances to the contrary, there was no tea bar open and the programmes had not arrived yet. I was beginning to get annoyed. 
The only option was to drive somewhere, luckily I had only had one pint, and that was an hour ago so I was fine. The turnstile operator was fine with letting us back in and so we put the town centre in the sat nav and drove. With no visible takeaways open, I got chicken, bread and a Belgian Bun from Lidl and made my way back to the ground. The chef had still not turned up and considering the food was the sole reason I had chosen Sporting Khalsa as today's game, I wasn't in the best of moods as I had a chat with Hinckley fan 'Kirby Knitter' who I had met a couple of times before.

There was slight redemption when we went in the ground and nabbed the last 2 programmes, and I felt a bit better after eating my lunch. The tea bar was just opening as we got back and there was some nice stuff like Samosas and Chicken Tikka wraps, but I was already full. For the game, we decided to stand on the halfway line and got chatting to a father and son who were Retford United fans. They were good company and had lovely Yorkshire accents and the Dad sounded a bit like Neil Warnock. As for the game, the first half was a decent affair and Hinckley were unlucky not to take the lead when a neat lob was fractionally over the bar. Sporting Khalsa soon took control however and they took the lead on 6 minutes when a player had a simple finish from a very good cross. It was a good low shot on 15 minutes that doubled the advantage and it was only a great performance from the Hinckley keeper that kept the score down. With Sporting Khalsa well on top, it didn't look as if things were gonna change. However, with the second half starting at a slower pace, they pulled one back on 55 minutes with a low piledriver and the goal of the game. Chances came and went for both sides, with efforts being cleared off the line at both ends, but there were no further goals. After a bad start, it had been a good day. The journey home was much better and apart from some slow drivers on small roads, it was plain sailing. I dropped Anwar off at 6.40, getting home myself at 7. I typed this blog and later on watched Man U v Barcelona on my Raspberry Pi before going to bed at 11.


ASPRAY ARENA is a much smarter venue than when Willenhall Town owned it. It's been completely refurbished and done out in Khalsa club colours. With seating for 500 and cover for another 250, it should be good enough for step 3 football. The rest of the ground is open hard standing. The tea bar in the ground looked decent and they hope to have more merchandise once the season starts. The bar has a nice selection of drinks and the only thing that let it down was a lazy chef. I'd recommend doing a midweek visit as the menu looked very promising, and it was well priced too. The matchday programme was also an excellent effort and well worth the quid I paid for it.