Thursday 29 December 2016

St Francis Rangers - The Colwell Ground

St Francis Rangers
The Colwell Ground
Colwell Road
Haywards Heath
West Sussex
RH16 4SP

Ground Number: 660
Tuesday 27th December 2016
St Francis Rangers 2-3 Ringmer
Southern Combination D1


The club were formed in 2002 following a merger between St Francis and Anstey Rangers. Starting in the Sussex County Division 3, they won promotion in their second season as runners-up to Crowborough Athletic. They adapted to the higher level well, and after three top 4 finishes, they were promoted to Division 1 at the end of the 2006/07 season as runners-up again, this time to Pagham. They remained in Division 1 until the end of last season, which by now had been renamed to the Southern Combination Premier Division to reflect the league's larger geographical footprint. The club generally found things tough, with their best finish at step 5 coming in 2014 when they finished 10th. Last season was especially tough  - a rock bottom finish, just one win all season and 214 goals conceded in 38 league games. This season has been slightly better - second bottom at the time of play, although lack of applicants from lower down may mean that they could still survive.

St Francis Rangers have seen little success in the FA Cup with their sole victory in nine attempts coming in 2014/15 at Erith Town where they won 2-1. They went on to lose to Greenwich Borough in the Preliminary Round. Their debut season in 2008/09 saw their best-ever run in the FA Vase when they reached the second round before losing to Molesey.


After my game at Three Bridges I made my way over to Haywards Heath where St Francis Rangers were based. Getting to the town was easy enough, but finding a route to get to the ground was a bit of a nightmare. Finally, I found it and was pleased to see the club sign,  but not without several unsuccessful attempts where Google Maps believed that there was a through road where there wasn't one. Looking at the directions on the club website helped - I just aimed for a certain road and followed the directions from there, I still had over an hour to kill and so I drove back into town to find something for dinner. My problems continued when I didn't notice a low post coming out of an entrance and I scraped the wing of my car, marking the paint which was very irritating. I'd lost my appetite after that, and so after parking up I went for a walk., during which time I bought the non-league paper, Around 6.50 I drove back to the ground.

I got back at 7, paying £5 to get in, plus £1 for a well-produced but fairly thin programme. Originally I was going to park at the ground and walk to a pub, but with it being freezing on didn't want to risk it if I was going to have to drive early. Thankfully the game looked as if it was going to be on, and so with my hunger returning I got a portion of chips from the tea bar. These were a decent sized portion for £1 and were pretty nice. I made my way out and stood along the side for the game which kicked off 15 minutes later than advertised. This was due to a local resident complaining if the lights went on a minute before 7 pm, though last time I checked Haywards Heath had indeed had the invention that is the curtain for some years now.

The game flowed from end to end,  but it was hosts St Francis Rangers that took the lead on 16 minutes. An excellent through ball was latched onto by Rhys White who finished with aplomb. Ten minutes later it was all square, a free kick was whipped into the back post and Ben Palmer was there to slide home. They took the lead just before the half-hour mark with another Palmer goal, though I didn't get a great view of it as I was up the other end of the pitch at the time. In what was a similar goal to the first, another decent ball was played through, and a Rhys White used his pace to get clear of the Ringmer defence and level things up, nine minutes before half-time. Both sides had half chances at the start of the second half, the best of which on 55 minutes saw Ringmer thunder a free kick against the bar. The hosts had a free kick of their own, following a cynical trip on the edge of the area but it came to nothing. The visitors went ahead with 21 minutes remaining when Stephen Jackson tapped home from close range. Despite some good saves and glaring misses from either side, Ringmer clung on for a rare 3 points. It was a good journey home, with me in just after 11. I watched a bit of TV before going to bed around midnight, not really looking forward to my 5 am start at work in the morning.


THE COLWELL GROUND is situated within the grounds of the Princess Alexandra hospital and is a pain to get to if you are trying to use a Sat-Nav. Your best bet is to navigate to a road listed on the official website and follow the directions from there. The location is set half in woodland down the bottom of a narrow hill and has quite an eerie feeling on a dark winters evening. The tea bar facilities at the ground are decent - hot and cold drinks including cans of beer and cider as well as burgers and chips. The latter are great value and well cooked at £1 a portion.

The ground itself is pretty good - a 100 seated stand and then covered accommodation for people wishing to stand for around the same amount. The ground is unlikely to be good enough for any higher than step 5 due to is access and location, though it's well worth visiting. In the day time you have the imposing backdrop of a former mental hospital which has since been converted into flats.

Three Bridges - Jubilee Field

Three Bridges FC
Jubilee Field
Jubilee Walk
Three Bridges Road
West Sussex
RH10 1LQ

Ground Number: 659
Tuesday 27th December 2016
Three Bridges 2-4 East Grinstead Town
Isthmian D1 South


THREE BRIDGES were founded in 1901 and played in local leagues prior to becoming founder members of the Sussex County League in 1952. Starting in Division 2, they changed their name to THREE BRIDGES UNITED for 11 seasons in 1953, before reverting to their original name. It was during this time that they had their first taste of Sussex D1 football, though the 1955/56 season saw them finish rock bottom and return from whence they came. They'd continue to flit between the 2 divisions, last playing in the second tier in 1998/99 when a runners-up spot behind Sidley was enough to gain promotion back to Division 1. They would stick around this time, finishing in the top-half of the league table in 9 out of the next 12 seasons. The last of those seasons, 2011/12 saw them finish as Sussex League Champions for the first time, and gain promotion to the Isthmian D1 South. They've remained there ever since, with a 7th placed finish in 2014/15 seeing them finish in 7th place, just short of the playoffs, and recording the best ever finish in the club's history. Results have tailed off since, and they currently find themselves embroiled in a relegation battle, sitting second-bottom at the time of the game.

In the FA Cup, Three Bridges have reached the 2nd Qualifying Round on three occasions, losing to Kingstonian in 1982, Sittingbourne in 1983 and Aveley in 2002. The 2nd Qualifying Round has also proved their limit in the FA Trophy, losing to Hampton & Richmond Borough in 2012 and Ramsgate in 2013. The FA Vase is the national competition where the club has seen the most success - in 1981/82 Three Bridges reach the 5th Round, beating Old Salesians, Welling United, Ash United, Eastbourne United and Southall before a 2-1 defeat at Molesey. Local honours include the Sussex Royal Ulster Rifles Charity Cup on 3 occasions, the last of which came in 2008.


From my game at Saltdean, I was in desperate need of fuel, so I navigated to the ASDA at Brighton Marina to fill up. I also popped into the store, getting myself some chicken for lunch amongst other things. It was then a 30 mile trip to Three Bridges, with me arriving at 2pm. I paid £8 to get in, plus £2 for a programme though the latter was really unnecessary as I got a paper ticket as when I entered, which would do me as a memento. I went into the plush bar at the ground whilst I waited for the game to start, having a pint of Carling Cider whilst I typed my blog. I also caught up online, prior to going out bang on kick off to watch the game. This was to be my 100th game of the season already, and I'd reached this amount with a few setbacks when others couldn't make games I wanted to go to, which would have proved too expensive on my own.

I met fellow hoppers John and Graeme who I'd seen on multiple occasions already this season.  It was a bright opening start to the game with both sides struggling in the league but creating chances. It turned out to be a good opening period for second-bottom Three Bridges who took the lead on 23 minutes with an instinctive finish by Allan Tait. They doubled their lead a couple of minutes later, Devon Fender catching the keeper out of position and finishing from outside of the area. East Grinstead pulled one back on the half-hour mark when Tashie Jay Kwayie headed home from a decent cross. The tie was turned on it's head in first-half injury time as a Marcus Elliot double exposed Three Bridges brittle defence. Both were pretty simple finishes, brought about by lack of marking. The visitors deserved their lead, just about, but both sides had played their part in a cracking game  The second half was more of the same, with the first 20 minutes seeing no more goals  On 65 minutes East Grinstead hit the outside of the post with a great free kick. Three Bridges threw everything forward for a bit, but a packed visiting defence held firm. Once they had weathered the storm they had a few chances of their own, but nothing came of them. There was pinball in the visiting area in the final minute of normal time and although the hosts bundled home what they thought was an equaliser, it was ruled out for offside. East Grinstead made sure of the win in injury time, Marcus Elliot driving into the bottom left-hand corner of the area to make it 4-2 and complete his hat-trick. This sent the East Grinstead fans who had got behind their team vocally into raptures as they secured a vital victory in this bank holiday derby.


JUBILEE PARK is a smart and tidy ground, most of which is open to the elements. The main stand holds around 200 and although it's a metal 'arena' type stand, the club have done a good job of personalising it with the seats in club colours and a bold fascia which has the club's name on it. There's another smaller stand with around 70 seats  on the other side. This side also contains the clubhouse, which has some cover in front of it for around another 100 fans.

I can't remember what was around the ground but in any case the facilities at the ground are decent. The clubhouse is smart and modern, and has a fair amount of club related stuff. The drinks range is fairly typical of an establishment like this - nothing special, but does the job. Prices are in line with what I've paid elsewhere. The tea bar looked to have a good selection of food at reasonable prices, though I didn't try anything. Merchandise available at the bar included scarves and badges.

Wednesday 28 December 2016

Saltdean United - Hill Park

Saltdean United FC
Hill Park
Coombe Vale

01273 309898

Ground Number: 658
Tuesday 27th December 2016
Saltdean United 3-0 AFC Varndeanians
Southern Combination D1


Saltdean United were formed in England's World Cup winning year of 1966. Starting out in the in the Brighton Saturday League they progressed through its structure with some impressive results. In 1984, the club joined the Sussex County League. Starting out in Division 3, results were generally good and in 1989 they were champions, progressing to Division 2. An impressive first season saw them finish 8th, but then results tailed off for a few season. A 6th placed finish in 1995 was followed up by the championship a year later. 1999 saw the best ever finish in the club's history when they finished at the then step 4 Sussex County D1. The early part of the new millennium saw results tail off and in 2002 they were relegated after finishing bottom. Another bottom-placed finish in 2007 meant another relegation and the club found themselves back in the Sussex County D3 for the first time in nearly 20 years. From here results picked up, but it still took until 2012 when the club finished as runners-up behind Newhaven on goal difference before they earned promotion back. Despite a bottom-placed finish in their first season back, the club survived in what was by now, a league at step 6 of non-league. They've generally found things tough since returning, even finishing bottom of the newly formed Southern Combination D1 last season. However this season has seen results improve dramatically, and the club sat in 3rd place at the start of play. They are on course for their best season since the turn of the century if things stay as they are.

In the FA Cup the club had an impressive run to the 3rd Qualifying Round in 2001/02. Camberley Town, Andover and AFC Totton were beaten before a 2-1 home defeat to Devizes Town. The 1999/00 season saw a run to the FA Vase 4th Round, where they lost to north-west side Mossley. Plenty of local success has been  had in local cup competitions including the Vernon Wentworth Cup in 2012, the John O'Hara League Challenge Cup in 2000 and the Sussex Junior Cup in 1973.


This game was only decided as the first part of my bank holiday treble on Christmas Day evening and it won out over Billingshurst and  Sheerwater on the account of it being the best ground of the three. I'd got games at Three Bridges and St Francis Rangers planned for later on and it would be a rare venture south for me as all the usual hoppers I give a lift to were unavailable. On the day of the game I woke at 8am, with my first job being to check Twitter to see if the game was still on. It was, and even better it was listed as free entry. It would be helpful as I'd be spending a fair amount of fuel money getting down there and every little thing I can do to reduce my costs helps. It was a chilly old morning with the temperature at -3 and me having to scrape ice off of the car before I left at 9. The roads were really good to me, and after a very scenic last few miles, I got to Saltdean at 10.40. The ground was down a rutted track, and there wasn't a massive amount of parking, though luckily I got a space. I took up the free entry and picked up a programme for £1, also buying a reasonable burger at half-time to help the club out.

I went in the warm bar to catch up whilst I waited for the game to start, going outside 10 minutes before kick off. A decent view was to be had from the high bank on the far side , though I later moved into the stand and then on to the far side as the sun was getting in my eyes. Hosts Saltdean took the lead on 7 minutes, a shot from the edge of the area was helped in by visiting defender Scott Berridge. The home side continued to dominate and after hitting the post on 23 minutes, extended their lead 10 minutes later. This time it was a Joe McTiffen header from a corner. They completed the morning's scoring on 52 minutes. Indecision in the Varndeanians defence was capitalised upon by Andy McDowell, who but for a deflection would have claimed the first. The game petered out from here, with no serious chances from either side. The one name I recognised on the teamsheet, former Lewes keeper Rikki Banks was rarely tested by AFC Varndeanians as he had a decent defence in front of him.


HILL PARK is set in the rolling hills of the Sussex coast and is a lovely place to watch football, even on a nippy December morning. The ground is three sided due to lack of space, with one goal being out of bounds to supporters. The other end is a small path, whilst the side where you come in contains the spectator facilities and dressing rooms. It's a smart bar with your typical range of drinks as well as snacks and burgers. The one remaining side is the most impressive. A stand holding around 200 in a combination of seating and standing is built into a large grass bank which you can stand on to get good views of the game.