Football is alive and well in the Outer Hebrides.

My trip to the Outer Hebrides found that football is alive and well in this outpost.
I wrote about the iconic pitch in Eriksay and the Jock Stein Cup Final in Stornaway and on my travels saw some really good community football grounds.
Scotland like England are developing a good pyramid system although both in my view need to make it easier for more clubs to go up into the professional ranks each year.
The Hebrides are served by two Leagues the Uist and Barra Amateur Football League with 6 teams and the  Lewis and Harris Football League with 9 teams. They all come together for the Coop Cup and compete in the Highland Amateur Cup. For a group of islands with a population of just less than 30000 this is some feat when you consider the logistics and distance (130 miles from the Southern to Northern point including two ferries).
The competition is healthy amongst the community clubs with the facilities often reflecting a community hub.

The football I saw would grace Step 5 in England and apart from no floodlights, which are not needed for a summer league the facilities would be up there too.

The grounds I saw were:

Eriksay FC

Goathill Stornaway home to Stornaway Athletic and Stornaway United.

Back FC

Back is roughly 5 miles north of Stornaway and have a very neat pitch along with other community sporting facilities.

Ness FC

Ness is right at the top of the Island of Lewis only a literal stones throw from the lighthouse of The Butt of Lewis. A fan I spoke to at the Jock Stein Cup final said that they have a lively vibrant social club that supports the football team.

Point FC

Points ground is to the East of Stornaway just beyond the airport. The facilities look good but there was no one there to talk to.

A visit to Lews House and Museum there was strong reference to football in the Island life exhibits.

My football year 2022

As always I looked forward to a great year of watching football but it didn’t start well with a very dull 0.0 draw between Heanor and Selston. The cobwebs were however blown away at Hucknall where they scored 10.

The following week I found myself in Spennymoor along with some long distance fans from Plymouth who at half time had smiles on their faces as they led one nil.Unfortunately they were reduced to tears and a long miserable drive home as the home side swept to an FA trophy win in the last ten minutes of the game. The mid winter month of January ended in a warm clubhouse in Rossington who lost the match but won the tie as heir opponents had played an ineligible player. It was also a night to remember for a tasty chicken and mushroom pie, mushy peas and gravy.

What a February, criss crossing the country from Poole where penalties were the difference to an evening game on top of Emley Moor. It was windy up there but that didn’t stop Emley putting 4 past Knaresborough. I didn’t win the meat raffle or all of the others I entered in 2022. A few days later I was back in the North East to watch Esh Winning who lost. But this is one of those iconic grounds to visit but it was the troubadour ‘Miserable Les’, a local poet and folk singer, who talked me through all things local for two hours and made it one of the highlights of the season. The chips at the local coal fired fish and chip shop added to the enjoyment.

March started with ‘WOW’ a visit to Loughborough Students. The facilities here within the University campus are amazing for this level of Non League football, well worth a visit.They also have a great team on and off the field that has a very progressive attitude.

I traveled next to nearby Eastwood which also have good facilities but an unusual sloping all weather pitch. The teams performance didn’t match the set up. This was followed by a visit to one of my favourite grounds in Belper but this time to see Belper United not Town who play on the same pitch although I have heard gossip that they will not be there next year. Belper beat Hinkley in a very competitive match. Onward to Mansfield Hosiery, you have to go just for the name, where I found a very homely, friendly club in a housing estate. There were no chips here but the hot chocolate on a cold evening was a warming sensation. Mansfield Hosiery’s win eased their relegation worries. March continued in Newcastle-under-Lyme on a beautifully hot clear day that would have graced mid summer.If only the football would have been as joyous. Still more in March which closed at Chesterfield where England’s under 19 team beat Portugal to qualify for the European finals which they went on to win in Croatia. I was impressed by the silky skills of Tim Iroegbunam who will be a full England star sometime soon.

The showers in April were turned on at half time in the match I watched at St Josephs Rockware Worksop when the referee abandoned the match due to a touch line altercation. However the full 90 minutes were played at Carlton in Nottingham where the home team beat Belper Town in a scramble for play off places. Easter Monday found me in Mexborough for the 125th Montagu Cup the oldest of its kind still being played. The game was between Dog Daisy United and Scawthorpe Athletic which the away team won 3.4. A very exciting game but I will remember the day as a great family fun event that must be visited again. The organisers even went round the ground with the cup letting fans have their photo taken with it. The large crowd was down to their dedication and commitment. April ended with a Welsh experience, first to see Llandudno’s last game of the season where although they beat Llangefni 6.1 they still finished second in their league.On the way back home I was lucky to get a ticket, via Southend, to visit the up and coming Wrexham who were pushing to get back in the Football League. This is the oldest ‘International’ ground still in use where their current high profile owners have big plans for the future. Wrexham won 1.0 but later failed in the play offs. One negative was the poor conditions I experienced in the away section. Their goal of redeveloping the ground cannot come soon enough.

May was perhaps the highlight of the year when I visited Barrow-in-Furness where I met my daughter completing the full current 92 Football League grounds, I was there at the start and the finish. Brilliant achievement but the drama of Northampton winning three one away and so achieving automatic promotion was bettered by Bristol Rovers incredulously winning seven nil to pip them by goal difference. It is a very strange game at times.

No football in June but in July I watched a UEFA womes Euro’s game which France beat Italy 5.1. France’s first half performance was out of this world and I expected them to go on and win the competition easily. Up stepped England and blew everyone away.

I sneaked a pre-season friendly later in July at Wells-next-to-sea where the rock hard ground and crispy grass seemed to inhibit the football and it became the first ever game I have left before the end. However if I am in that area again I would like to go to see a competitive game.

So a new season and the month of August found me at Shepshed Dynamo for an early round of the FA Cup. No goals meant a replay in a poor game. Shirebrook next as I gave them a chance to regain the Chip league, they won the game but the chips lost. Richmond in North Yorkshire next to see them play in a Weirside League game, new to me. Disappointing as they had moved to a school 3G pitch from their iconic ground under the castle, progress.

A much more traditional ground at Quorn and a a friendly warm clubhouse. They unfortunately lost to Heanor by three goals with the shouting and language of the visitors leaving much to be desired.

September started with an M1 trip to Selston a village in Nottinghamshire on the Derbyshire border where the ground shares facilities with the cricket club. The moon shining brightly couldn’t help them in their 3.1 defeat by Belper United. After a complete lack of organisation I found myself getting to Denaby Main late but enjoyed the football in what was the start of a longer dive into the Sheffield and Hallamshire League. Ilkeston up next for an evening game where I again gave a club the chance to regain their chip league top status but again a disappointment. What had changed was a 3G pitch and a digital program.They won competently 2.1.

October saw a run of three Sheffield and Hallamshire clubs. First Sheffield Town who were playing their first game at the newly agreed ground share at Kiveton. This was followed by visiting Dearne and District near Goldthorpe, this is a progressive community club running numerous teams. With future ground improvements this is are a team to watch. Then finally to Dodworth Miners Welfare where a true entrenched community spirit still thrives. Staying with the ex mining community theme I visited Linby Miners Welfare in this pretty Nottinghamshire village. A great history packed club house here, I wish I could have stayed for the after match curry and rice. I ended the month in Stratford on Avon to see ‘A Christmas Carol’ at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre and a visit to Stratford Town’s ground where FC Stratford play in the Hellenic League. Again a 3G pitch and an improbable late comeback for the home team to win.

An unbelievably wet journey and biblical rain through the match as I visited Horbury just off the M1 south of Wakefield.

Just promoted to the Northern Counties East League their facilities just meet requirements but they look to make forward strides in the future and definitely one to go back to on a drier day in the future. Hallam drew Bury in the FA Cup which Bury won on a replay so when they drew each other in the FA Vase I decided that it was one to see. Again a large crowd turned up in the Sheffield suburbs and again it was tight with Bury winning on penalties to go through. The rain had continued but Worksop Town’s game on their 3G pitch was on as they tried to maintain their top spot in the Northern Premier League East, this they did with some style under the lights. The following week back to Loughborough Students to see if they could remain unbeaten in the League and top of the United Counties League. They did that in style winning 5.1 against Heanor. Finally a trip to Prescott to see ‘A Christmas Carol’ again but this time at the Shakespeare North Theatre meant I could see Prescott Cables take on high profile and high flying Macclesfield. Macclesfield edged it but it was Prescott’s 10 man display for 70 minutes that caught the eye.

So into December and the end of the year I finally made it to Swinton which again is in the Sheffield and Hallamshire League and making changes to their ground to hopefully progress in the future. It was here on top of the hill that I finally decided that winter was with us. Mid month I watched Chesterfield FC go out of two cups on consecutive nights. Monday at Staveley Miners Welfare’s ground to Belper United in the Derbyshire Senior Cup and Tuesday at home to Coalville in the FA Trophy. The end of my football year was on Christmas Eve when I watched Dinnington Town lose to unbeaten table toppers Retford United. Great crowd of 390 at this redeveloped 3G ground.

Another fantastic year and I can’t wait for 2023 hopefully it will be as exciting and enjoyable as 2022.

A football detox.

A trip to see relatives in Ireland and an extended holiday has meant a week or two with no football.

I could have watched Champions League or Premier League football on a huge screen in many bars but it doesn’t suffice for the real thing. I did try to fit in a League of Ireland game but none matched my travelling. It would have been great to compare the standard of play to what I watch at home.

But football (soccer) takes a back seat here to the local games of Gaelic Football and Hurling . Rugby Union also out performs football on an International playing field with their all Ireland team being highly competitive on the world stage and their regional teams are always there or there abouts on a European club basis. Perhaps football has to follow suit sometime in the future at International level. Derry have taken the plunge and for some time been playing in the League of Ireland having left the Northern Ireland Football League. I saw some of their recent quarter final win over the powerful Shamrock Rovers team in extra time in the Irish FA Cup on TV.

People do seem to want to tell you which Premiership team they support though as they often follow these teams on the TV. But it is definitely the Gaelic game that creates the passion which came home to me when in one small town, a cavalcade of cars bibbing horns and waving flags told me they had just won an important game. It also showed up in the market square of Kildare where a statue stands proud to Bill Gannon extalling his and the local teams exploits.

The Great Lochilphead Red Star Mystery

A ferry from Gourock to Dunoon and another from Portavadie to Tarbert on the Kintyre peninsular set me up for the local derby of Tarbert AFC v Lochilphead Red Star on Wednesday night 6.30 kick off. I hadn’t checked either twitter account for some hours and there it was on the S.A.F.A. website the game was postponed. I presumed that as there were no postings on the Red Star twitter account for a few days and that Tarbert had played their first League game of the season, a 5-3 loss and Lochilpgead were yet to start that it was the away team that were at fault.

The Scottish Amateur Football Association is one of, if not the oldest Football League in Scotland. I had looked forward to seeing the game, one because it was a local derby which I hoped would be competitive, two because I could judge the level of Scottish football and three to get my football fix even on holiday.

Scotland’s football pyramid is not as well developed as other European countries although promotion is now possible to the senior league system, although not directly but through a play off. Articles in ‘Nutmeg’, the quarterly Scottish football magazine have been critical of the slow progress and have set out views on how things could change for the development and growth of the game at large.

There are 4 Senior Leagues followed by 3 levels of Non League football and another 3 Junior Football regions. After this there is Amateur Football, which is whaI had tried to see and parallel with this Welfare Football that is mainly centered in the North of Scotland.

The Tarbert ground turned out to be behind the Quay through some housing and over a small narrow bridge into a park with some all-weather pitches and the Tarbert AFC pitch.

There was a slope from end to end and the grass was green and lush like an expensive carpet. Yes it was green, a major contrast to those south of the border. To the side and behind one goal are hills that give the ground its character.

So I checked the S.A.F.A. website after 2 days and the game had been given to Lochilphead along with 3 points as a walk over. Still no explanation on the Internet but I did read in the local paper that Tarbert could not get a squad for the game.

Oh well, I’ll watch out for S.A.F.A. results this seasonand perhaps make it to a match some time.

Football is coming back in Bangor.

Recently in North Wales I passed the closed ground of Bangor City which has not been used since they abruptly ended their fixtures not even halfway through last season. Bangor City had an illustrious past as one of Wales most successful sides and were renowned for their European nights. But all had not been well at the club, one of the oldest in the UK and one of the founder members of the Cymru Premier (Welsh National League).

Perhaps the beginning of the end was when they moved from their atmospheric Farrar Road ground, that they had used for nearly 100 years, when it was redeveloped as an Asda supermarket and they moved into a new purpose built stadium with views up and down the Menai Straits. The new ground with its provision for 1500 seats would enable Bangor to welcome European games should they qualify as they had always had to play at other North Wales grounds in the past due to their home ground not coming up to UEFA standards.

The club, one of the oldest in the UK, was founded in 1876 and was instrumental in being founder members of many of the premier leagues in Wales as well as the Northern Premier League in England. They took part in the inaugural Welsh Cup and won it on eight times including three back to back victories in 2008/2009/2010 and won the Welsh Premier League three times.

Their new ground was not without local controversy, The Nantporth Stadium (Bangor University Stadium) was built for Bangor Council and leased to the football club for I believe 30 years. It was finally opened in December 2012 having been started in 2008. The Auditor General of Wales review of the lease in December 2020 critisised the councils governance over the lease and recommended that in future there should be proper recording of all meetings where the public and the press are not present and that they should ensure the appropriate advice is taken prior to decision making.

After falling to near the bottom of the Cymru Premier in 2016 the club was sold to a Cheshire based consortium who promised strong investments into all aspects of the club. Members of the Vaughn family were involved in running the club. In April 2018 the Football Association of Wales Club Licensing Appeals Body decided to revoke Bangor’s Tier 1 and UEFA license due to not meeting financial criteria and the club were to be relegated to the second tier the following season. HMRC in June 2018 revoked a second winding up order for non payment of tax as it was paid late but their auditors resigned in October 2018.

In 2019 the FAW charged the club with varying offences which would have resulted in points deductions but the club were eventually successful in challenging all of these. By September of 2019 the owners of the club, VSN, sold their shares to an Italian based musician Domenico Serafino whose son was a Bangor City player.

Serafino brought in Pedro Pasculli as manager whose pedigree included a World Cup medal with Argentina. The Covid restricted season, 2019/20 was based on points per game played before the cessation of the league program and Bangor finished 5th in the second tier. The 2020/21 season was totally scraped due to Covid restrictions but in April the clubs Tier 1 license was refused due to the non provision of accounts and the issue of coaching qualifications. Another new head coach was hired but non payment of player wages was the latest problem and it became known that the same issue had arisen at an Italian club owned by Domenico Serafino, A.S. Sambenedettese that had been declared bankrupt and expelled from their league. The FAW called the club to a disciplinary hearing in October 2021 to put their case and ruled that all outstanding monies should be paid within 31 days. When this deadline passed the FAW fined Bangor City and deducted 3 points for each un played game until 18th February when the club informed them that they had withdrawn from the league. At the end of February a club that was recognised as Bangor City was offered for sale for £1.25 million.

Since then there has been no further published information but the majority of supporters have now switched allegiances to a newly formed fan-led club, Bangor 1876 FC. The new club have been elected to the third tier of Welsh football after finishing fourth in their league last year.

They are playing at the Treborth Ground of the University of Bangor and as they progress maybe one day they may play at Nantporth.

Wimbledon made it back to the English Football League and a ground in Plough Lane, Clapton will soon be back at The Old Spotted Dog ground and Bury F.C. have regained Gigg Lane so anything is possible.

Lets hope that Bangor will once again be involved in European football.

Season 2021/22 Chip League

Of the 36 games I watched this last season I tasted the chips at 21 of them with 15 offering no chips at all. This year there is a tie for first place on 85, Kiveton Miners Welfare and Folkestone Invicta so I needed to make a value judgement on who the overall winner was. Folkestone’s fan zone and refreshment offering is one of the best that I have seen in Non League Football but I have given first place to Kiveton Miners Welfare. Where else would I have had great chips cooked for me and brought to me in my seat in the small stand at this Central Midlands League Premier North Division ground. Great service deserves the accolade.

This is the fourth season of this league with Shirebrook Town, twice and Ilkeston Town previous winners. I am having to review whether to have the chip league next year as a recent ‘Wellman’ check has shown up a rise in bad cholesterol and I m trying to remedy this by diet. Hopefully I will be successful and can continue this year. I failed to give Shirebrook and Ilkeston the chance to regain their crowns and intend to do this early in the newly awaited season if possible.

Another highlight of the chip year was going to ‘Fields’ in Esh Winning to try their chips cooked on a coal fired range. Although they don’t look very appetising in my photo they were just like I remember as a child. Coal fired chip shops will most probably not be with us much longer.

Football ClubScoreComments
Kiveton Miners Welfare85
Folkestone Invicta85
Belper Town85
Eastwood Town81
Percy Main80
St Albans City80
Emley FC78
Heanor Town78
Hucknall Town78
Newcastle Town73
Sherwood Colliery69
Carlton Town69
Staveley Miners Welfare62
Lancaster City55
Poole Town53
Tow Law Town50
Spalding United50
Belper Town45
Corby Town40
Spennymoor Town35
Hallam FC0Queue too long
Rossington Main0No Chips, Great pie & Peas
Milton Keynes Dons0No Chips
Burnley FC0No Chips
Rainworth Miners Welfare0No Chips
Dinnington Town0No Chips
Loughborough University0No Chips, Fantastic facilities
Esh Winning0No Chips, Fields in village after game.
Barrow in Furnace AFC0No Chips, Good deep filled pie
Wrexhan0No Chips, Poor food for away fans
Montagu Cup Final0No Chips
North Gawber Colliery FC0No Chips
SJR Worksop0No Chips, No 2nd Half
Chesterfield FC0No Chips, England Under 19 game
Mansfield Hosiery0No Chips, Great hot chocolate

Villa Park’s 125th Anniversary

My trip to the 125th Anniversary of the Montagu Cup this year was a highlight, so too are my memories of Villa Park which this year is also celebrating it’s 125th anniversary. I first went there in 1969 when Villa were in the Second Division and stood on the then Witton End unimaginatively later to be called The North Stand when redeveloped. I was supporting Watford who duly won two nil but what struck me most was the Holte End which was like a cathedral to football.

I did not know that some years later I would return with my son for Villa’s opening game of the season to see them draw 1-1 with Southampton and would start a 15 year period standing and sitting on the Holte and other parts of the ground, some notable away trips and Wembley more than once. But forget the players games and results it was Villa Park that was the star. The ups and downs, wins and losses that created the volume which can be amazing when all is well.

The second game was in the North Stand for a League Cup game and on buying a scarf my son was hooked and I was committed. After this game we then stood on the Holte, paying on the gate and getting in early to make sure we were behind a barrier and away from the more frantic support at the back behind the goal. What was astonishing was that children stood on ‘devices’ bought into the ground by their chaperone. There were wooden boxes, kitchen steps and milk crates and I soon found that in the old Asda car park near the ground there was a supply of milk crates that were used for each game. When I look back I can’t believe that we like many others took into the game items to stand on that could have been used as serious weapons if thrown.

We progressed to a season ticket and were there for the last game in the old Holte before it was demolished and we booed like everyone else when they asked us to sing ‘you’ll never walk alone’. We were moved to the Witton Lane Stand for the start of the next season but in the close season we went to the ground to get some souvenir bricks from the old Holte that the demolition team were happy to give us.

As soon as they could we were moved back into the Holte and sat with an unfinished roof which meant that water was pouring down on us when it rained and we paddled around. A burger van was somehow moved into the back of the building site until it was finished. The new Holte was soon fully adopted by the fans and still emits the best support in the land.

The club moved on and the ground was redeveloped further with the Witton Lane side completed and then on to The Trinity Road (Main Stand) which again we went to see the demolition. On our walk up the road we passed the unloved Holte Hotel which stood in disrepair. In the gutter were two tiles and on the path another from the pathway in front of the entrance. We picked them up and kept the terracotta tiles and now that the building has been refurbished you can see three tiles are newer than the others. Walking on to the demolition site we chatted to the work team and they produced some of the mosaic small tiles that had been saved from the Lion that was the focus of the stand wall. They gave us some but said that they had kept the gold ones. What vandalism that this mosaic was not saved and I have often felt that Villa have lost their way since they threw out their illustrious ancestors architectural heritage and although they are now pushing back to the top I hope that the new stand redevelopment will erase the hurt with a new name, a new lion on the exterior cladding and a nod to the stained glass windows in the new hospitality suites.

My son moved on to playing football on a Saturday which I fully realised when I had tickets for Villa against Coventry for the last game of the season when we relegated them. The tickets were in the new Trinity Road Stand which we had not sat in but there was an empty seat next to me as he chose to play rather than watch. Times have changed and we try to go to a few games each year although it has now become more difficult with Villa’s recent brilliant revival.

I have great memories like so many others that have been involved in the 125 years and wish those in the future feel that same thrill that I have.

Would Spa break help Everton.

With Everton in a fight for Premier League survival would a look back in their history help them.

As I have said previously football can be everywhere and again on a Buxton Crescent Experience there on the wall was a trip back to the past with Everton F.C.

Everton F.C. went to Buxton for eight days prior to the 1933 cup final against Manchester City. They were subjected to coaching, running, massage and spa treatments and won the game 3 nil. Perhaps to avoid relegation they should go back and stay at the magnificently refurbished Buxton Crescent Hotel.

However they returned in March 1956 prior to another game against Man City but lost.

Buxton Spa Hotel

Rotherham has two football grounds!

I recently had some time to kill in Sheffield and decided to drive to Rothetham. When you travel through the road system in Rotherham centre you drive along Centenary Way over the river Don bridge and your eye is immediately drawn to the Millers home, The New York Stadium which dominates the view as much for its modernism and brightness in an industrial landscape that has served the employment prospects of locals for a long time. New York because of the area’s name not because it is homage to a far larger Trans Atlantic metropolis. This is one of the new concrete homes to many football clubs that are slowly replacing outdated stadia originally implemented with the rightfull move to safety and more or all seater grounds. In my view Rotherham is one of the most successfulI Community Stadia, I always feel at home there and get a good view and feel for the game. Yes we have lost some of the history and the atmosphere but when we look back was steep terracing, tobacco smoke and urine where we want to be.

Rotherham though stands out for another reason in that if you look left insteasd you see another football Stadium, Millmoor, the home to Rotherham United FC until 2008 when the new owners of the club fell out with Ken Booth of C F Booth the owners of Millmoor. The Millers then became nomads before they moved into the New York Stadium in 2012 playing for a time at the now also defunct Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield. At least the Don Valley Stadium and surrounding area have become a Millenium Park with Hallam Universities nationally renouned sports science facility, an ice rink, school and soon to be the new home of Sheffield Eagles Rugby League club a very fitting replacement for the previous sports facilities.

Millmoor was used by a youth team playing Sunday football for a time but now sits an eerie empty place with the new main stand never completed. The grass looked cut and very green from a distance but the advertised redevelopment seems stalled. Millmoor was an Athletics Stadium and I believe I have read that there is a long standing covenant on the ground that prevents it from being anything else for some time to come.

My last recollection of Millmoor was with my son when we stopped on the way back from a Harrogate show to see their last match of the season in 1990. Although we stood out of the way of the bulk of fans their exhuberance or end of season fun almost knockef us over. I also remember the disgusting toilets that you had to toptoe around in or wade through the liquid on the floor.

The old ground is now well protected by razor wire, a dense undergrowth in places and a security company whose van was parked within the confines. Very sad to see but the progress that has been made at the new ground was worth it. Walking down one side of the old ground you can smell that oilly metal smell of engineering and you can hear the sound of scrap metal being processed.

An interesting two hours to see this odesey of the old v new that seems will not be resolved or removed any time soon.