Wednesday 25 January 2017

Walsall Wood - Oak Park

Walsall Wood FC
Oak Park
Lichfield Road
Walsall Wood
West Midlands

07939 075285

Ground Number: 666
Tuesday 24th January 2016
Walsall Wood 1-2 Highgate United
Midland League Cup Quarter Final


The club were formed in 1915 under the wonderful name of WALSALL WOOD EBENEZER PRIMITIVE METHODISTS. They changed to their present name in 1986, but not before they merged with Walsall Sportsco to become Walsall Borough. Upon that merger, which happened in 1982, the club joined the Midland Combination, remaining there until 1992 when they joined the Staffordshire League for a season. The following season saw them joined the West Midlands Regional League, and the first season was a successful one with them finishing 5th and earning promotion to the Premier Division. However, they struggled and they were relegated back to Division 1 in 2003. Results were a lot better and in 2006 they rejoined the Midland Combination. They were champions in 2013 and joined the Midland Alliance, staying there for a season before it merged with the Midland Combination to become the Midland League. Since the 2014/15 season, they have been in the step 5 Premier Division and after decent finishes of 6th, 4th and 7th they sit in a mid-table placing of 10th prior to tonight's game.

In the FA Cup, Walsall Wood's best ever run came in 1988. After beating Louth United and Matlock Town, they lost to local rivals Dudley Town in the 2nd Qualifying Round. The last few seasons have seen a couple of notable runs in the FA Vase. The best of there saw them reach the quarter-final in 2012/13 when they took Guernsey to a replay before bowing out 3-1, though they had to battle through 9 games to get that far. Local cup honours include the Walsall Senior Cup on five occasions, the Wednesbury Charity Cup twice and the Staffordshire Challenge Cup.


For ground number 666 I was hoping to do something devil related, although nothing jumped out as obvious. Despite the cold January weather, there were a wealth of options available when I looked at the options during the weekend, with 21 possibilities in total. Due to the weather, it was going to be left till on the day to decide where I was heading. I had the day off, as per usual and did my usual routine of walking down town and getting a lift back with my Dad. Upon my return I expected to see at least one of my options called off, but the only news was that Lydney Town was definitely on. However, it was another part of Gloucestershire that I'd be heading off to in Brimscombe & Thrupp after negotiations with fellow hopper Anwar. It was a tad risky with there being no backups, but as long as we kept an eye on Twitter, we'd be able to make alternative plans en route.

I spend the couple of hours before I left relaxing at home. I would have used the time to research Brimscombe & Thrupp FC and food options for the local area but with a 3PM pitch inspection announced, I didn't want to waste my time if it was called off. They still hadn't decided when I left, but as soon as I pulled up to meet Anwar the bad news came that the game was off due to a frozen pitch. We decided that the one to do would be Walsall Wood who were playing Highgate United in the Midland League Cup. The traffic was slow getting out of Aylesbury and on the M42 but apart from that it was fine. We got to the ground at 6.30 and walked past a KFC and Chinese to the Mermaid Fish Bar. This turned out to be pretty decent and I had Jumbo Sausage and Chips for £2. In keeping with the local area, the chips were orange. The food tasted great, although I could have done with a bigger portion.  From there we made our way back to the ground, getting in at 7.10. We paid £6 to get in plus £1 for a decent looking programme.

We had a walk around the ground and sat in the stand while we waited for the game to start. The first half was awful, two teams constantly on the referee's back,  whining at every decision and not mustering a chance of note until Highgate hit the post from a free-kick, right on half time. The game livened up a little in the second half. On the hour, hosts had Ricardo Ricketts dismissed for bringing down the last man after an untidy challenge. The resulting free kick was smartly tipped over by the Wood keeper and from the resulting corner a stooping header was bundled in by Lei Brown to give Highgate the lead. Going down to 10 actually improved the home side and they fought back around 15 minutes from when Joey Butlin finished smartly after being played in for a decent ball. It was soon level on players too as Highgate's tall number 5 saw red for a very high tackle that was nowhere near the ball. The visitors won it 7 minutes from time when Josh Hawker drilled a low shot in from the edge of the area. Try as they might, Walsall Wood could only muster half-chances and there were no further goals.

We'd been chatting to some Hednesford Town and Wolves fans as they provided good company and were amused to find out that this was my 666th ground. It had been a fairly combative game, with both sides giving it their all, both in terms of tackles and getting at the referee. The visitors were slightly the worse, and could possibly have had another sent off. This, as I discovered later, Twitter storm in response to Highgate's tweet confirming the result. Generally, the referee did well in trying circumstances though.  Elsewhere, myself and Anwar were pleased to discover that Wycombe had won 2-1 in the Checkatrade Trophy up at Mansfield. A tinpot competition it mat be, but the £50k prize money is most welcome to the club's coffers. In another game in the competition, Oxford United's game with Bradford City was called off right on kick-off. It might have been 'just one of those things' that were unavoidable, but it does affect the overall worthlessness of the competition though. The journey home was a decent on, though very thick fog and temperatures of -3. meant that our progress was not as quick as it could have been. The journey was made to the soundtrack off the ill-educated and misinformed thoughts of TalkSPORT's  'Sports Bar' with their views that anything outside the top 10 of the Premiership was 'dross', but there wasn't much else to listen to. I dropped Anwar off at 11.30, getting home myself shortly before midnight. I couldn't get to sleep until 2am, and with me up at 4 I was pretty tired and needed a sleep to catch up the following afternoon.


OAK PARK is an old fashioned non-league ground with just the one stand. This is all seated with benches and supporting pillars, but the view is not too bad. The rest of the ground is open, bar a small area of cover in front of the bar. There is also, unknown to me at the time, a club shop selling a great range of merchandise behind the bar, you can view the range online HERE

Talking of the bar, this offers a few real ales including one specially made for the club. For cider drinkers there is Strongbow plus Kopparberg and Rekorderlig in bottles. Food wise there is a burger van with burgers, sausage and bacon rolls. Locally there is a KFC, a Chinese,  two Indian restaurants and a chip shop as well as a few pubs. The Mermaid Fish bar is excellent, doing the local delicacy of chips cooked in orange batter whose prices are very reasonable.

Thursday 19 January 2017

Larkhall Athletic - Plain Ham

Larkhall Athletic FC
Plain Ham
Charlcombe Lane

01225 334952
Official Website

Ground Number: 378
Thursday 10th July 2014
Larkhall Athletic 0-2 Bath City


Larkhall FC was celebrating their centenary, having been formed in 1914. The club played local football until 1976 when they were elected to the Western League, which had expanded to 2 divisions at that time. After a series of mid-table finishes, they started to get better and better and won the league for the first time in 1989. They would win this division twice more, finally being in a position, finally being able to take promotion in 2009, 20 years after their initial triumph. This meant they were at step 5 of non-league, in the Western League Premier Division.  After finishing 14th in their first season at the higher level, they won the league at the second time of asking but again had to wait till last season's league win to gain promotion, due to the delightfully named 'Plain Ham' ground not being up to Southern League standard. 

The club must be hoping that this elevated status gives them a better chance of a run in the FA Cup, for they have only ever reached the first qualifying round, a feat they have achieved the last 3 seasons running, losing out to a Southern League side on each occasion. Once competition their promotion will exclude them from is the FA Vase, which they have done pretty well in. As recently as last season, they have reached the 5th round, repeating 2012/13 where they lost a pulsating tie 4-3 to Tunbridge Wells, the eventual finalists.


As my parents were away for the week, I was looking to take extra opportunities to get out and see new grounds and games. Sadly it was just at the start of pre-season, so options were not as varied as they could be. Initially, I was going to go to a game on Friday - either Yate Town v Swindon Town or Norton United v Crewe Alexandra. But then I saw there was a centenary match between Larkhall Athletic and local side Bath City, to celebrate the hosts being 100 years old. There was also a really good cider pub in Bath, so it would make a good day out. Added to the fact that there was the possibility that a couple of people that I knew from Bath might turn up, and I was sold. The only downside was that I was up at 4am both days, so again, I'd be short on sleep, but I can cope with that. 
I had quite a busy day at work and was rushed off my feet until 1pm. I finished work, bought some Irn Bru and other stuff for tonight and went and checked the latest on Facebook before leaving at 1.20. The journey was a lot quicker than I thought, and I made good progress down the M4 and into the Westcountry. After a brief stop at Membury services to change into some more comfortable shoes, I was at Larkhall by 3.20.

I walked into Bath as previously planned and went to the Stable, which on the internet looked very nice. When I got there I was not let down, the place was manna from heaven for a cider head like me. There were around 50 that I could try, and so I settled on 5 thirds that I could have for £7.50 on one of their taster boards. All of it was lovely and I had Devon Gold, Dorset Dabinett, Devon Bloom, Bridge Farm and Dorset Draught. I then checked out Facebook and had a think about my plans for the coming season.  By the time I had finished that lot, I was feeling pretty nice and relaxed and headed off to my second port of call, the Pink Planet games shop, which came highly recommended by LawnboysPost1975, one of the retro gamers I subscribe to on YouTube. There was a decent selection there, but none that I was willing to pay collectors price for, the only one I was looking for was Soccer 97, the follow-up to Olympic Soccer. I then went in search of food, putting the ground into google maps and stopping at a Chinese for some chips. I also stopped for a Kangaroo Burger at Billy's Burgers on the way back to the ground. By the time I had reached my destination at 6.45, I was really hot but still needed to put some charge into my phone, which was under 30%. I got my stuff together to go in the ground, going in just before 7, half an hour before kick off. I was glad I had got my programme beforehand, as they sold the last one, a couple of customers before me. First port of call was the clubhouse toilet to clear myself out, and with that done, I found myself a place to watch the game with 10 minutes till kick off. I met up with Andy, a Bath fan, who I watched the game with and we had a good chat and catch up.

It was a pretty decent first half with chances for both sides. Bath took the lead early on, when the Larkhall keeper lost the ball, leaving an empty net to tap in to. It was a pretty even game in the first half as Bath were fielding a team of trialists. More of the first team came on in the second half and that resulted in them having more of the play. The visitors extended their lead with a neat and clinical low shot about 10 minutes into the second. Larkhall did have a chance to pull a goal back from the penalty spot but they spurned it, blasting it straight at the keeper. That was it as far as goals were concerned, and it had been a decent if unspectacular game. I made good time on the way back listening to some tunes and getting back around 11. I had a quick chat with my mate Kieran when I got back, and I will be glad to catch up properly with him when we meet at Harrogate next Tuesday, as well as a load of other Grimsby fans. I got to sleep just after midnight, thankful that I only had 2 more 4am starts before my week off.


PLAIN HAM is a wonderfully named ground and is typical of a recently promoted step 5 ground in that it has newly erected temporary stands. Pretty much half the ground is raised above ground level and offers a nice view. There are small stands on either side with a mixture of seating and standing. Behind the far goal is a small area of cover.

I didn't use the bar or tea bar but know that they had Blackthorn on draught, which makes a change. The city of Bath is 40 minutes away and is well worth the walk, you pass a few takeaways on the way if you fancy something to eat. The programme on the is occasion was very good, with plenty to read and I learned a fair bit about the club from it. I enjoyed my visit there, as everyone was really friendly. I will certainly be aiming to do more grounds in the West Country, as it is excellent for cider.

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Carlton Town - Bill Stokeld Stadium

Carlton Town FC
Bill Stokeld Stadium
Stoke Lane

0115 958 1735

Ground Number: 655
Tuesday 17th January 2017
Carlton Town 3-2 Sherwood Colliery
Notts Senior Cup Quarter Final


CARLTON TOWN were formed in 1904 under the name SNEINTON FC. They changed their name to their present one in 2002 by which time they had progressed through the Notts Alliance and Central Midlands League. In their first season under their new name, the won the latter's delightfully named Supreme Division and progressed to the Northern Counties East League, starting in its Division 1. After finishes of 9th and 3rd, they were champions in 2006 and the following season, third place behind Retford United and Sheffield was good enough to see them promoted from the Premier Division. Since that time they have been in the NPL Division 1 South with their highest ever finish coming in 2012 when they were runners-up. However, they lost in the playoff semi-finals to Leek Town, having fallen at the same hurdle three years previously when they lost to Stocksbridge Park Steels.The last couple of seasons have seen them struggle, with two consecutive 18th place finishes and a similar season this time sees them sitting in 19th place at present.

The club's best-ever progress in the FA Cup is the 3rd Qualifying Round - a feat which they achieved in 2012 (losing to Bradford Park Avenue) and 2013 (losing to Vauxhall Motors). In the FA Vase they reached the 3rd Round in 2005/06 before losing an epic game 4-3 to local rivals Gedling Town. 2009/10 saw their best run in the FA Trophy, reaching the 2nd Qualifying Round before losing to North Ferriby United. In terms of local cups, Carlton 
Town won the Notts Senior Cup in 2013, defeating Rainworth Miners Welfare 6-2 in a game played at Hucknall Town's Watnall Road ground.


There were 17 options for this Tuesday's groundhop, though one of them, Cinderford Town would almost inevitably be off due to the weather. It was a shame as it was the one I really wanted to do as it would complete the Southern Premier for me. But with the weather scheduled to be cold and wet, I wasn't going to get my hopes up, even though my blog was half-done for that ground. I even had three 3G backups in the case of the weather being really bad, though with two of them - Eastbourne Borough and Hamworthy United, involving a lengthy trip round the M25 in rush hour, it was something I'd rather avoid.

I was glad of my usual day off on the Tuesday, as work had not been good. The recently appointed boss had adopted a new way of working, which for my job meant that everything took twice as long. I had to stick to it though, as I was warned I'd face disciplinary action if I didn't. As a result I was not enjoying my time at work one bit. As soon as home time came, I was out the door with no overtime worked. A number of my colleagues felt the same, and in footballing parlance, I believe he has 'lost the dressing room'. I did consider trying to cheer myself up by going to Chelmsford City v Braintree Town in the Essex Senior Cup Quarter Final on the Monday night. It would have been a good chance to see my Braintree supporting mates, but at a ludicrous £13 entry for what amounted to a reserve team game, I gave it a miss. On the day of the game I woke up at around 5 am, which was most annoying when I wanted a lie in. I spent the tine getting together a Twitter list for tonight's game to give me an easy way to keep an eye on potential postponements. I walked down town, but not before discovering that one of my options at Birstall United was already postponed. After coming back and having some lunch, there were further postponements, with six games falling victim to the weather, and just Carlton Town and Market Drayton Town confirmed as on. I phoned fellow hopper Anwar and we decided on the former as it was quite a bit nearer.

I left at 3.30, meeting Anwar in Aylesbury at 4pm. Anwar had heard about an accident on our usual route, so we had to go cross-country to avoid it. What with those slow roads and the usual palaver on the M1,  we didn't get to Nottingham until 6.40, after half an hours delay. Dinner was at Morrisons Cafe a mile from the ground where we both had Mozzarella and red pepper Panini with chips for £3.90. Initially we thought it was going to be a bit of a pain with them saying that they were closing and had hardly anything left. However, we both got our first choice, and it was very nice and freshly cooked too. From there we drove the mile to the ground, arriving at 7.15. Paying a well-priced £5 to get in, I found there was no programme as 'the printers had not delivered them' I wasn't that bothered though as I am rapidly running out of space. The club were very welcoming and friendly, even opening the club shop for me when they saw me looking through the window. As they had been so helpful I bought a pen off of them. At £3 it was more than I was used to paying, but it was a nice metal one, a lot nicer than the usual plastic biros that are sold.

For the game we stood on the far side at first. There we saw some other hoppers, including Malcolm, who I had been chatting to recently on Twitter. He runs the useful and entertaining On The Road Blog which I'd have turned to for alternative games should tonight's game have suffered a late postponement. It also provided me with a scan of the teamsheet that I'd missed out on and the names of the scorers which I was unsure about. As for the game, Carlton Town fielded a full first team according to my sources. But it was step 7 Sherwood Colliery who were 5th in the Central Midlands League South that were much the brighter side early on. They took the lead on 4 minutes - a low cross was put in, a save was made following a sliding shot and Triston Burrell was on hand to drill the rebound into the net past home keeper Jack Steggles. It was a fully deserved lead with the visitors well on top, though Carlton did come back into it later on. Sherwood Colliery looked to be home and dry when Danny Williams netted from another cross on 78 minutes, but they were starting to tire. The hosts were given hope when Danny Gordon fired home from an acute angle on 82 minutes and from then on they threw everything forward. In the second minute of injury time, the ball was bundled home by Josh Rae. It was chilly by now, so I moved behind the goal to keep warmer. An unremarkable first half of extra time followed and it looked as if we might be heading for the drama of penalties to warm us up. However, 9 minutes from time Laurence Gorman netted from an excellent corner to give the hosts the win and set up a semi-final at home to Teversal. I caught the goal on video and have put it below on my Instagram post.

The result was very harsh on an excellent Sherwood Colliery side who were the better side on the night. I was also denied the excitement of a penalty shoot out, which is hell when it's your own team, but great when it's someone else's. It had been a good night's entertainment overall though for the 85 fans present, and there was plenty of drama elsewhere. Lincoln City had grabbed a last minute winner against Ipswich Town in a giant-killing act. I was more pleased for Sutton United as they beat AFC Wimbledon 3-1, especially for my mates and huge Sutton fans Ryan and Johnnie who had a great time watching their team pull off a huge feat. With extra time, we were late leaving and it must have been around 10.30 when we left. Mercifully, the irritating Andy Goldstein was absent from TalkSPORT's 'Sports Bar' phone in, so that provided good entertainment on the way home. The journey home was a reasonable one, part of the M1 was closed, so my Sat Nav took me down the A5 to Milton Keynes where we usually get off, which was nice and clear in the main. I dropped Anwar off at 12.20, getting home myself 20 minutes later. After staying up for around an hour, I only had a couple of hours sleep before getting up to face another unhappy day at work.


THE BILL STOKELD STADIUM is named in honour of the club's former chairman and is actually located nearer to the town of Gedling than Carlton. On paper its a fairly unremarkable venue with a capacity of 1,500 and a metal stand holding 164. However, this stand does have its seats in club colours, making it a bit better. The rest is open standing, save for an area of cover in front of the dressing rooms building. The bar is warm and welcoming, with Sky TV and the usual range of drinks you'd expect to find in a football clubhouse. The tea bar offers a good range of food, although I didn't sample anything on the night. The club shop has a good range of merchandise, as well as a good range of random old programmes. Overall, an enjoyable and friendly ground to visit, and on the occasion I visited, a decent game. Some of these pictures were taken on a 2007 visit, probably on the way to a Wycombe away game at Mansfield.