Thursday 27 January 2022

Darlaston Town 1874 - Bentley Leisure Pavillion

Darlaston Town 1874 FC
The Paycare Ground
Bentley Leisure Pavillion
Bentley Road North
West Midlands

01922 616165

Ground Number: 1035
Wednesday 26th January 2022
Darlaston Town 4-0 Paget Rangers
Midland D1


The original Darlaston FC was formed way back in 1874, making them one of the oldest clubs in the Midlands. They spent their formative years in local leagues such as the Wednesbury Junior, Walsall & District (champions in 1904 & 1906), Birmingham Junior and Birmingham Combination (champions in 1908 & 1911). From 1911 until 1928, aside from wartime, they played in the Birmingham & District League, their best finish coming in their debut season when they finished as runners-up to an Aston Villa reserve team. Following a bottom-placed finish, the club returned to the Birmingham Combination, where they were champions again in 1946. Darlaston remained in the league until 1954 when it was disbanded. A newly formed second tier of the Birmingham & District League was established, reduced in 1960 to a single division and then in 1962, the league was renamed the West Midlands (Regional) League. Darlaston Town struggled in the league and up until 1974, their only top half finish came in 1967 when they finished 3rd. Things did improve for a few seasons but in 1982, they were relegated to the WMRL's second tier. They were promoted back in 1990, but despite finishing 4th, were demoted for ground grading reasons. Two runners-up spots in Division 1 to Ilkeston Town & Knypersley Victoria followed, the latter only on goal difference in 1993, the year they returned to the Premier Division. The 'Town' suffix was added to the club's name in 1996 and at the turn of the millennium, Darlaston Town would enjoy a 3rd place finish, behind Stafford Town & Causeway United, the best finish in the club's history. Ground grading reared its ugly head again in 2002 with the club demoted to Division 1 North. They'd finish as runners-up to Goodrich in 2004 and in 2007 were champions, returning to the Premier Division. They would remain here until their demise.

The original club folded in 2013, a contributing factor of this was down to vandalism at their ground four years earlier.  A new club was formed in the meantime and in 2014 they were accepted into the West Midlands (Regional) League Division 2. Their first season saw them finish 3rd behind Kington Town and FC Stafford. They moved into the Bentley Leisure Pavillion ground, which was also the home of Lane Head FC for a while. They remained here for four seasons, before being promoted to the Premier Division in 2019 as runners-up to Worcester Raiders. Both of these seasons were abandoned due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with Darlaston Town 1874 in mid-table. The league was disbanded at the start of this season with the club moved to the Midland League D1.

The new club has not yet played in the FA Cup and Darlaston has not had representation in the competition since 1995. Their best run came in 1976 when they beat Highgate United, Armitage and Sutton Coldfield Town before they lost in a 4th Qualifying Round replay to Kettering Town. In the FA Trophy, they reached the 3rd Qualifying Round twice whilst in the FA Trophy, the 2nd Round has been reached on two occasions. The first of these Vase runs in 1995 saw them beat Gedling Town 4-2, only for the game to be replayed as one goal was too small, this time Darlaston prevailed 3-2. Local Cup wins include the Birmingham Senior Cup in 1973,  the Birmingham FA Vase in 1991 & 1992, the Birmingham Junior Cup in 1898, the Walsall Senior Cup in  1908 and the Wednesfield Charity Cup on a record 18 occasions.

Though representing the town of Darlaston, the club currently plays in nearby Walsall. Darlaston has a population of around 28,000. It is located near Walsall and Wednesbury in the valley of the River Tame. It was once a coal-mining town and has several historically notable buildings. The most famous person to come from the town is Sue Nicholls, who plays Audrey Roberts in Coronation Street. Her father Lord Harmar Nicholls was also a Conservative MP in Peterborough & Manchester. A few well-known footballers come from the area including Netan Sansara who was on trial at Wycombe in 2010 and currently plays in Norway for RĂ¥de Idrettslag.


I'd be busy with family stuff on Tuesday this week and so was looking for games on Monday, Wednesday or Friday. This tied in with fellow hopper Colin being off work, so I thought I'd have some different company for once. However, despite begging me to offer him options, I wasn't even offered the courtesy of a reply to my offer of Market Drayton on Monday or Baffins Milton Rovers on Wednesday. Happily, my usual passenger Anwar was available for the latter and was happy to do Darlaston Town. With an ever-dwindling list of options to visit, it was a good thing that we were trying a different day. On the rare occasion that I do a game on Wednesday, I usually take my mate Chris but he had done Darlaston. The day of the game came and I woke up earlier than I needed to for work. I scanned in the Cheshunt programme I had sold on eBay. Unlike most hoppers, I prefer a digital programme as it takes up less space and doesn't get creased in your bag. Traffic was worse than usual on the way to work so I was a couple of minutes late in. Thankfully, it was a fairly easy day and I was out on time. I had just over half an hour at home to get changed and have a rest.


I left at 4 and was with Anwar half an hour later. For once it was a decent journey, even with a stop at Sainsbury's for petrol, we were there by 6.40. After parking up, we went in search of food. I'd earmarked two places nearby, Daisy’s Plaice and Aladdin's Pizza. However, contrary to their Google listings, they were both closed. Both got one-star reviews from me before we found another place, Bentley Fish Bar. Here I had Fish, sausage, chips and curry sauce on a £4.40 deal. The price, portion and service were reasonable and the food was OK if not spectacular. We then walked back to the ground, arriving at 7.30 and paying £5 to get in. I then headed to the clubhouse to see what food was on offer there. I had an excellent portion of chips for £1. Though I was pretty stuffed, I wish I'd just headed straight in and not wasted time outside. It's just that club offerings vary greatly, some at this level only do drinks and snacks, but Darlaston were way above average.

Darlaston Town were in excellent form, unbeaten in all competitions since 30th October when they lost 2-0 to leaders Atherstone Town. The run stretched to nine games and in their latest game they had beaten Cradley Town 5-1. In fact, the only side that they'd not beaten was Dudley Town in the JW Hunt Cup and even then, they prevailed on penalties. They sat 4th in the league whilst Paget Rangers were 12th. Paget Rangers were in mixed form. In their latest game, they'd lost 5-1 to Stapenhill and had also lost 4-1 against AFC Bridgnorth in recent times. They'd won 3-1 at Dudley Sports and 3-2 against Chelmsley and had shared 2-2 draws with Dudley Town & Wednesfield. Paget Rangers edged it early on but they couldn't carve out an opportunity of note, though they did have a shot hit the side netting. On 13 minutes, Darlaston took the lead, a low cross was put home by Ben Lund. After 19 minutes, Paget's Ryan Kimberley was sent off for hauling down the last man. The resulting free-kick came to nothing. Darlaston weren't to be denied for much longer though, as, on the half-hour, they doubled their lead. Paget keeper Ben Nitri spilled a fairly simple ball and Andrew Nichol followed up for the hosts. Paget had a couple of half-chances but it remained 2-0 at the break. The visitors had competed well up until this point but they tired with ten men in the second half and the pace of the game slowed down. On 71 minutes, Nichol grabbed his second to make it 3-0. It was the best goal of the night as he used his strength and pace to hold off his markers before a neat low finish from the edge of the area. On 82 minutes, Darlaston nearly had their fourth as the ball bounced down off the bar on the line. A minute later, it was 4-0, another one where the visiting keeper could have commanded his area better with Maxwell Ngbeken having a fairly simple finish from close range.

It had been a decent enough game, though a bit one-sided in the end. Far better was the various people we met, which is one of the best things about groundhopping. There were a group of Darlaston fans that were delighted that we had chosen to visit them and made us feel welcome. There was someone from Wellington Amateurs who used to play for Port Vale, who had many a great story and was very friendly. There was Simon from the groundhopping group that I was on and there was also a carload of Oldham fans, one of whom played for Abbey Hey. All in all, it was nice to spend an evening with like-minded people. They were part of a fantastic 198 attendance and the club deserved every one of the fans. It's just a shame that more teams don't play on odd nights to get more fans in. We left at 9.45, listening to the usual radio show on the way home. I dropped Anwar off at 11.30 and got home myself 25 minutes later. I noticed from the games that other hoppers had been to a cracking game at Baffins Milton Rovers with Fareham Town winning 5-4. Colin had finally opted out of this four days after I'd texted him. It was a real shame as it would have been closer. With such far away options on Friday - the nearest new gound 160 miles away, my next game will be on Saturday as Wycombe Wanderers face Milton Keynes.


The Bently Leisure Pavillion or the Paycare Ground as it is known for sponsorship purchases is a decent ground. The place is very well-kept and the large pavilion building makes for a great backdrop under lights. Being a former works ground, improvements had to be made to bring it up to standard, a couple of Arena stands have been dropped in. These tick the ground grading boxes without much fanfare but overall the ground is better than these. The food and drink on offer at the ground is excellent and freshly cooked, far better than the three options that I saw outside. There's plenty of car parking at the ground and like most grounds, this friendly club makes it well worth the effort to visit.

Saturday 22 January 2022

Gillingham Town - Bourne Park

Gillingham Town FC
Bourne Park Stadium
Central Park 
Church Rd
ME10 3SB

07397 630230 (secretary)

Ground Number: 1034
Saturday 22nd January 2022
Gillingham Town 4-1 Lokomotiv Canterbury
Kent County League D3 Central & East


The club was established in 2010 and has the motto - 'Fratres In Armis' - the Latin for 'Brothers In Arms'. They joined the Rochester & District League upon formation, finishing as runners-up to Rainham Cricketers in Division 6 in their first season. For the 2011/12 season, they were parachuted into Division 3 gaining another promotion but again had to settle for a runners-up spot, this time behind Charta Lions. Division 1 where Gillingham Town found the going tough, finishing bottom in 2014 but avoiding relegation. After a 5th place finish in 2016, they were promoted to the Premier Division, finishing 8th in their first season. The following years are a bit of a mystery, as records have been erased. But in 2019 they joined the Kent County League, starting out in Division 3 Central & East. Both the seasons that they have competed saw results expunged, but they were near the bottom when the plug was pulled in 2020. The club has a strong Brazilian contingent with several immigrants from the country turning out for the team.

Local cup honours include the Rochester & District Quarter Century Cup in 2011 and the Group A Sittingbourne and Milton Charity Cup in 2019. Though the club was originally based in Gillingham, or at least I assume so, given the club's name, they moved to Sittingbourne's old Bourne Park ground at some point, with the ground being renovated in 2020. The ground is located next to Central Park Greyhound Stadium and this is the location given on FA Full Time. The ground was used by Southern League side Sittingbourne from 2002 & 2012 but they now play nearby at Woodstock Park. Other teams in the area include Borden Village, a couple of miles away who play in the Premier Division of the Kent County League. The town of Sittingbourne has a population of 62,500. The town was initially famous for brickmaking, although this died down in the mid-1900s. Other industries include paper mills and barge making.  The town is twinned with Ypres in Belgium and was the place where the former archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket died in 1170.


It had been far too long since I had been to a game on public transport and enjoyed a good day out. The last was for the game at AFC Green Court on 4th December but I'd opted to do Wycombe home games and drive ever since then, due to the Christmas rush and crazy Covid rates in London. Things had calmed down a bit since then, so I was happy to take the train once more. When I started looking for games around ten days ago, my only criteria was that it should be near a Wetherspoons for the Burns Week celebrations. I'd enjoyed a Highland Haggis Burger almost every year for some time now and wanted to continue. Since then though, I'd had one in High Wycombe on the way home last week, so it wasn't as important. I'd drawn up a list of six possibilities, with Gillingham Town v Lokomotiv Canterbury the leading candidate. All six could be done with my Network Railcard, which I was looking to use as much as possible in the year that I'd paid for. I did have a couple of hoppers offering alternatives, but they would involve me driving and I was getting pretty fed up with that. When looking ahead on Thursday, the weather looked fine and both clubs were fairly active on Twitter, so I started doing my research.

I'd initially been planning to do a game on Friday night, as it's one of the best nights to see a game. My original choice was Downton v Laverstock & Ford, the reverse fixture of a feisty local derby I'd been to earlier this season. However, the temperature was set to be 1° at kick-off which at the very least, would not be very nice to watch football in. At the worst, it would mean a call-off by the referee and despite the club's great confidence in their pitch, I decided to give it the swerve. My game on Tuesday had been abandoned with the temperature at 3° and whilst at Stockbridge in Hampshire earlier this season, the game was fortunate to finish with the mercury at 1° when I got back to the car. I did briefly consider either Penybont or Penydarren BGC in Wales, but these entailed a 300-mile round trip. With a fairly early start on Saturday, I decided to give it a miss. There was a saviour though, a few miles walk away. Penn & Tylers Green Development were playing Taplow United in the Hellenic D2 East. I'd had a good evening up there a couple of weeks ago and entry was a very reasonable £2, so it was a no-brainer really. The Downton game did go ahead but my game at Penn was not bad with the hosts running out comfortable 3-1 winners.

The day of the game came but I took a while to get going. As a result, I went out in a rush and forgot my face mask. After an hour or so walk, I was at the station well in advance of my 9.25 train. After one last check that the game was on, I bought my return train ticket for £23.25. The train was packed and I had to improvise a mask with my coat but at least it was a fairly quick journey with us there at 9.55. I popped across the road to a corner shop, getting a disposable face mask for £1.50. A small expense for me, but a nice little earner for them if they bought in bulk.  It was a busy trip across London but I was at Victoria well in advance for my 10.40 train. After boarding, I noted on the Futbology app that it was 20 years since Carlos Lopes' one and only appearance for Wycombe Wanderers. This was near the beginning of my seven-year stint of not missing a Wycombe game home or away. It was a midweek trip to Cambridge United and Lopez did not get off to the best start as he failed to acknowledge the fans singing his name in the pre-match warm-ups, at least until he was nudged by a fellow player. It did not get much better as he gave a totally inept performance, barely getting near his man all night. That said, the rest of the team were not much better, failing to beat a Cambridge side who had ten men for 74 minutes, following the sending off of goalkeeper Lionel Perez. The 223 travelling Chairboys contented themselves with singing 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in its entirety, such was the on-field action so uninspiring. It wasn't the best time to start my Wycombe obsession, and shortly after, we went over a year without an away win. I also thought about the main team from the city where today's visitors would be coming from. Canterbury City FC went bust in 2001 after the council booted them out of their stadium to make way for a residential development. Though they reformed in 2007, they still haven't been found a new home in the city. It may very well be a decent city, I don't know. But until they return, I certainly won't be going there.

I was in Sittingbourne by 11.40., It was just over five minutes walk to The Golden Hope Wetherspoons, my 217th in the chain. I got a table and ordered a fish and chips meal with haggis on the side. Happily, I was able to get Black Dragon as my meal drink which partially made up for the disappointing fish which was mainly batter. Normally Spoons fish and chips are spot on and I was filled up anyway, so couldn't be arsed complaining. It was a nicely kept pub, though the ambience was slightly spoilt by noisy kids. A sneak preview of work tomorrow, it's annoying that people feel the need to inflict their irritating offspring upon the world. The next stop was the calmer Donna’s Ale House where I was able to get a new cider, a bottle of Kent Cider Company Blend 23. This was a decent drink and a great Micropub. Its just a shame there is no such establishments in Wycombe. It was then off to Lidl where I picked up some snacks, including some stuff from their excellent bakery. From there it was a half-hour walk to the ground, with me there ten minutes before kick-off. I was given a nice welcome and was glad of my game choice. The ground appeared to be mainly owned by Bredhurst Juniors and they were playing a Rochester and District game on the back pitch. 

Gillingham Town were in mixed form. They'd lost their last game 6-3 at Canterbury City U23, but this was way back on 11th December. In recent times, they'd also lost 6-0 to AFC Rangers, 3-2 at Lenham Wanderers and 4-0 at Larkfield & New Hythe Reserves. On the bright side, they had avenged the defeat against Larkfield with a 4-1 win and had also won 3-1 at Paddock Wood. They sat 8th with visitors Lokomotiv Canterbury in 5th. The away side had been in slightly better form and had progressed 3-1 against Otford United Reserves in the Kent Junior Cup last week. They'd also won 1-0 at Cinque Ports Reserves, 6-0 against Paddock Wood and 1-0 in the Cup against New Romney Reserves. On the flip side, they'd lost 7-0 to West Kingsdown and 4-0 at AFC Rangers. Gillingham Town had a couple of corners early on, but they came to nothing. On 13 minutes, Lokomotiv Canterbury took the lead, Phil Russell finishing from around the penalty spot, but a visiting player was injured during the action. Cuba Gill equalised on 33  minutes, a finish from a tight angle out on the left from around ten yards. The hosts started the second half strongly and on 48 minutes Tiago Nunes De Miranda curled a shot into the top right-hand corner to give them the lead. On 50 minutes, Lokomotiv Canterbury were awarded a penalty for a foul. This proved to be the turning point of the game, the spot-kick was saved at a crucial moment. On 58 minutes, Gill won the race for a loose ball and finished with a low shot from just inside the area for his second and his teams third. The game died down a bit after that but there was still time for Gill to complete his hat trick on bit after that but there was still time for Gill to complete his hat trick on 89 minutes, sweetly controlling a high ball and finishing on the turn. The visitors would hit the bar soon after but the score stayed the same.

It had been a deserved win for Gillingham Town, though the margin would have been harsh on Canterbury. The hosts had shown plenty of Brazilian flair and it had been a good game. I left the ground at 3.55 in a good mood, even more so when Wycombe scored to make it 2-1 against Morecambe. However, 35 minutes later, I was at the Yellow Stocks Micropub and we were 3-2 down. I contented myself with a half of Wild Haze. It should have been a pint but they misheard me and I wasn't that bothered to be honest. It was nice if a tad sweet. It was made by nearby Duddas Tun, so that was good. From there, it was a quick stop at Poundland for more snacks, then on to the Fountain Of Ale. Though there was no real cider, there was an adorable Springer Spaniel and Strongbow at £2.55 a pint, so it wasn't a dead loss. I saw I had another 25 minutes to wait for my train, so I had another pint. I'd allowed extra time to get to the station, but as it turned out, it was a couple of minutes across the road. I was at the station in good time and boarded the 5.45 train to London Victoria. I got cracking on my blog, having had a great day. I may have stopped at extra pubs on the way home, but that was very much undecided as I published this blog.


BOURNE PARK is an excellent venue for the tenth step of non-league of the fourteenth level of English football overall. There are three covered areas overall, with small standing shelters along one side and behind one goal. The most impressive structure is an elevated metal stand which appears to have come in flat-pack form. Far more impressive than the far more common 'Arena' stands. This has a capacity of around 250 whilst the covered standing holds around 100. The ground is 30 minutes walk from Sittingbourne train station but has plenty of parking around the ground. 

A 2021 update, the ground had been tidied up, there was a small area of cover behind the near goal but aside from that, the only cover was the stand. The main tenant appears to be Bredhurst Juniors, but they use the back pitch which is a decent venue in itself.


2021 PICS