The end is often the beginning

For my final game of the season there was no choice but to set out on the train from Sheffield to travel to Barrow in Furnace to see them play Northampton Town. Barrow had already secured their survival from returning to the National League by being mathematically secure despite sitting one place above the relegation zone. Northampton by contrast were in third place and in line for automatic promotion to League 1 should they win and Bristol Rovers win but score less than five more than Northampton on the day.

It was not the fascinating position of the game that led me to this game but more importantly it would be my daughters 92nd current League ground and as I had been with her in 1986 to see her first I wanted to be at her last. Her first game was on Boxing Day 1986 when she saw Watford beat Luton Town 2 nil at Kenilworth Road in a hotly contested derby. Since then as a Northampton Town fan she has followed them away up and down the Leagues and at cup matches. Some grounds in the Premiership she has had to make special journeys often to see cup matches that their fans did not see as attractive against lower clubs that gave ticket opportunities and lower prices. For anyone to achieve this feat is amazing and I was proud to go there to give her a hug.

The day though did not start well with the Northern Line train running 26 minutes late into Manchester Piccadilly and I missed my connection. Train information told me that there was no train for two hours and I would arrive into barrow 5 minutes after kick off. After disappointment I consulted Google to find that if I was to take other trains via Preston I could reach Lancaster and the local train to Barrow with 4 minutes to spare. I would still be in time for the match. Thank you google, perhaps Manchester train information should consult you in the future.

Its great that most of the football community are really helpful. When I arrived at the station I set off a few yards in the direction I thought the stadium was but after consulting a local he turned me round and we walked to the ground together. The young man, in his twenties, told me he was from Preston having moved here in the last year switching his allegiances to Barrow. He was in catering and his chef let him have time off to go to the match due to good work. He walked all the way to reception with me where I met my daughter who did not know I was coming and I received my hug, amazing.

Her mother had arranged hospitality and mention over the tannoy of her achievement, her brother and me had organised commemorative artwork. Mine was by the well known local artist in Derbyshire and Sheffield Matt Cockayne who also works under the name Goo.

Barrow in Furnace AFC 1 Norhampton Town 3

The day was warm with blue skies which were being edged out by quickening grey clouds that gave that muggy feeling. The pitch was in great condition striped and lush green. The crowd in the stand around me were very friendly a mixture of all ages and sexes.

A crowd of 4605 had turned up with over 500 from Northampton and they were rewarded as their team were off to a storming start scoring within 5 minutes. Barrow had foolishly stopped for a perceived foul which left Sam Hoskins able to stroke the ball from outside the goal area to the right hand corner of the net.

Nine minutes later the barrow defence stood still at a corner and left an easy task for Fraser Horsfall to head the ball in for an unopposed two goal lead. barrow seemed shell shocked and an innocuous pass was intercepted, passed to Hoskins who repeated his earlier feat to make it 3 nil. Northampton now dominated the game but with 10 minutes before the break they started physically to look tired and Barrow pulled one back on the stroke of half time as Josh Kay neatly headed home from a corner.

Barrow came into the game in the second half and they even hit the bar through a Josh Gordon strike. Northampton though nearly made it 4 near the end when the Barrow keeper Farman made a great save from the ever lively Hoskins who thought he had scored. Back at the other end on 90 minutes the Northampton goalkeeper Liam Roberts handled out of his area to stop two on rushing Barrow players reaching the ball and was sent off. Little did he know that this would mean him missing play off games. With all substitutes used the diminutive outfield substitute Rose saw out the last few minutes in goal.

The drama was just unfolding as the game ended as news came through that although Northampton had achieved the win and three points they needed their two goal margin was unlikely to be enough as Bristol Rovers in fourth place were leading by 7 goals to nil and their game had been help due to a pitch inspection so if that game stayed the same when restarted it would be Bristol who would be automatically promoted with points and goal difference equal their higher number of goals scored would be enough. The Northampton players and fans looked deflated and dejected in such an incredible situation. There had been an indication that something unusual was happening in Bristol as the Barrow fans kept cheering at random times which was infact each time a Bristol goal went in.

On the train back to Lancaster with many Northampton fans I listened with interest to their comments. they were gutted with the outcome and had only venomous words for the Scunthorpe manager who had put out a team that consisted with an average age around 20 including a 17 year old of their players, Oliver Lobley who was 18 made his debut in the Saturday game only to find that by Tuesday he was released by the club. The fans also mentioned that Scunthorpe sold Ryan Loft to Bristol Rovers in January with a clause that they would receive more money from the transfer if Bristol Rovers were promoted. The fans were also annoyed that due to the delay due to the crowd invasion Rovers knew exactly what they needed to do after Northampton had finished. They were also upset that the other teams in the play offs with the Cobblers had all won and had momentum on their side. Northampton in contrast although winners had the disappointment of what had happened. It will show true character if Northampton come back from this, starting with an away game against Mansfield.

Fans though were happy with Northampton’s achievement for the season on one of the lowest budgets in the league.

Northampton have lodged a complaint to the EFL and their adjudication is awaited.

So what seemed like the end of the season for Northampton became the start of a play off struggle and for Alison at the end of her 92 club journey there are many more fascinating games and grounds to conquer.

Unfortunately there were no chips again but I bought a meat and potato pie with peas and gravy from the fan zone. The pie was deep and with a lot of tasty filling but was let down by the tepid temperature, luckily the peas and gravy were very hot.

The Wrexham dream edges closer.

On the way back from a holiday in North Wales I managed to get a ticket for the Wrexham v Southend National League game. I tried to get a ticket from Wrexham a while ago but was told that I would be better approaching Southend

The brush off by Wrexham was the contrast with the ticket staff on the East coast who helpfully obliged. Being dropped off at the railway station which is very close to the ground I walked with the happy crowd to the ground and the away area dedicated to the Southend Ultras. The temperature was 15 degrees and in the sky was grey but it was warm enough to leave the jacket in the car.

Wrexham have seen poor times but are now bouncing back after being bought out by Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney and have climbed up the league to second place after some costly signings for this level of football. Momentum has a great deal of influence in football and it shows here.

The ground is regarded as the oldest international stadium in the world and still hosts them. The Racecourse ground though needs some money spent on it with only three sides in use, one closed off due to ill repair. The away section like many at football grounds was dull/dire with dirty seats and one tiny food and drink kiosk for all. Why should away fans be treated as second class citizens when they are so integral to our football experience. The Southend band kept beating all game and the travelling fans out sung the home crowd for most of the game. I hope that the success on the pitch will work its way through to success in the redevelopment of the stadium. My view was also restricted by a post, what is it about Welsh grounds and me, back in the seventies I sat behind a post at the old Cardiff City ground.

The playing surface looked beautiful and green and was being heavily watered after a dry week. The heavy watering meant that towels were provided for players taking throw ins so that they could get some purchase on the ball.

Wrexham and Southend are like most teams now in the National league ex football league teams in fact many have better stadiums and support than teams playing at a much higher level and it is definitely the fifth division of English football.

Wrexham are one of five Welsh teams now playing in senior English football with the Welsh league now attracting its own base with entry into European competitions now available. Wrexham are said to be the second oldest professional football club in in the world being formed in 1864. They have won many Welsh Cups and won promotions within the English League system. An administration of the club in 2008 set them back and relegation out of the English Football League system followed in 2012 and have been unable to regain that position since. They have however won the F, A. trophy in 2013 and are finalists again this year.

Southend were started in 1906 in the blue Boar pub and are known as the shrimpers due to their coastal location and local fishing. They joined the Inaugural English Third Division in 1920 but 101 years later they found themselves relegated to the National League. Financial problems caused a near closure in 2010 but after a few years times improved and they won promotion to the Division 1 in 2015 but successive relegations and off field problems saw them starting life in the National League this season.

Wrexham F.C. 1 Southend United F.C. 0

National League, Saturday 30th April 2022 Kick off 15.00 pm

Southend weathered the initial Wrexham pressure but it was Southend who looked secure for most of the first half as they pressed down the wings. They lacked a convincing strike partnership and possession did not lead to attempts on goal. it was Southend’s keeper whose reflex save on 44 minutes that kept them in the game scooping out what appeared a certain goal.

So at all square at half time Southend must have been pleased with their efforts. All the hard work was forgotten in the first minute of the second half when Jordan Davies’ of Wrexham went beyond the Southend defence to knock the ball along the goal line where there were any of three attackers to knock it in. It was Ollie Palmer who tapped it in for his 14th goal of the season.

The same pattern of the first half continued with Southend having more possession but no cutting edge although it did take a good save from Wrexham’s Christian Dibble to keep them ahead.

The Wrexham crowd came alive at the final whistle especially when they heard the news that Stockport had lost at home and were now only one point ahead of them in the automatic promotion spot. There is a lot more excitement to come in Wrexham’s last five games of the season with a home game to Stockport two games away. The 9269 fans went home happy including the 505 from Southend.

My player of the match was Shaun Hobson who looked assured throughout.

No Chips here although if there had been I wouldn’t have joined the very long queue.

125th anniversary of the Montagu football Cup.

There is always an amazing football program at Easter and to choose one is like picking sweets in a sweet shop. This year I chose to travel to Mexborough Athletic’s ground to see the Mexborough Montagu Hospital Charity Cup Final. The significance of this was that it was the 125th Anniversary of this cup which is believed to be the oldest football competition still played at its original venue. Affectionally known locally as the “Mont” it has been played on Easter Monday with an 11.00 a.m. kick off.

This competition was first played in 1897 and was one of the first Hospital Cups. Prior to our beloved NHS local hospitals were dependent on local benefactors and fund raising. Charity football matches were a popular way of raising funds and Mexborough were one of the first, supporting the Montigu Hospital that served the Dearne Valley with its mining and industrial workers high incidence of accidents and disease. The money that is raised these days is donated to the Montagu Hospitals Comfort Fund.

The first Hospital Cup was the East Lancashire Hospital Cup of 1883 and examples of others are the West Ham, the Ipswich and the Isle of Mann Hospital Cups. The “Mont” was open to teams within a seven mile radius and the most successful clubs have been three who have won the trophy seven times, Swinton, Wombwell Main and Mexborough Main Street.

Before the game a reception was held for previous players and one of the finalists was 94 year old Albert Burrows. All of this could not have happened without the dedication of Chairperson Linda Carlton and Secretary Steve Poole of Mexborough Athletic Football Club founded in 2002. They keep the sports ground going and in the magnificent condition it is today. There are two football pitches, a cricket square and pavilion along with clubhouse facilities. The football pitch has concrete banking on three sides interrupted by a small covered seated area and the fourth side is open to the cricket ground.

The whole atmosphere was family, all ages, sexes, children in prams, dogs on leads, children kicking balls into the goals at the half times. Hats off to our hosts of whom Linda Carlton walked around the crowd encouraging fans to have photos with the 125 year old cup and hold as if they had won it. 1700 turned up to help the charity and see an anticipated final between two well matched local teams of which I perceived Scawthorpe to be the favourites.

The sky was light grey with fluffy clouds scurrying by, interspersed with sunshine. A little cooler than Easter Sunday due mainly to a good breeze that swept down the pitch which sloped side to side and gently end to end and was covered by a lush green carpet of grass.

Dog Daisy United 3 Scawthorpe Athletic 4 after extra time.

The game was off to a pulsating start with Dog Daisy United opening the score within five minutes when Josh Moore rose to head a corner into the back on the net at the near post. Three minutes later Dog Daisy’s Jake Ford was put through and he coolly slotted the ball past the goalkeeper to double the lead. Surely it was de ja vu when three minutes later the same tactic and the same player did it again to make it 3 nil to Dog Daisy United. The game was over, and the crowd were wandering how many they were going to score in total. Dog Daisy continued with confidence and should have added to their tally but on 34 minutes the ball was flicked on from a long ball to Scawthorpe’s Lee Tilley who pegged one back.

Scawthorpe’s goal gave them more confidence and it was them that ended the half pushing forward.

Dog Daisy had the advantage of kicking down hill in the second half but there was no quick goals for them in the second period, in fact Scawthorpe continued to make the running especially down the left side. With 8 minutes gone the Dog Daisy goalkeeper made a reaction save to his left to deny a goal but 4minutes later he had no chance as Adam Watson met the ball from a corner with his head to bring the deficit down to 1. At 23 minutes it should have been level when Scawthorpe missed to the right but their captain, Gary Mundy, met a freekick from the left with his head and planted the ball in the net. Three all, what a come back and who could grab another before full time.

Dog Daisy’s legs seemed to tire, their two goal hero was replaced because of a hamstring injury and two others went down with cramp. More Dog Daisy substitutes were made to try to inject some momentum but full time soon crept up and extra time was upon us.

Dog Daisy did show some more attacking threat but the continuing momentum of Scawthorpe led to a winner that looked impossible when they were 3 goals down after 12 minutes. The goal came when a ball was flicked through to the advancing Sam Corner who didn’t hesitate to bury it in the bottom right hand corner. The game didn’t produce any more chances so it was Scawthorpe Athletic who won this amazing game and their names on the cup on its 125th Anniversary.

What a fantastic family football event that not only raised money for the local hospital but gave fun and a community time out on a Bank Holiday.

Football is not just Champions League.

The impromptu often turns out for the best. With an evening free I noticed a football match in the Sheffield and Hallamshire County Senior League between North Gawber Colliery F.C. and Wakefield A.F.C.

North Gawber play at the cricket club ground in Darton between Barnsley and Wakefield. The kick off time was 6.15 because there are no floodlights and it was easy to find the ground a few miles off junction 38 of the M1. The car park was full and everyone else was parking half on the verge and half on the road.

The football pitch is in the distance beyond the cricket pitch but I first went in the club house that has an upstairs bar vantage point to watch the cricket. No chips or coffee here so it was a bottle of water.

I walked around the cricket field towards the football ground but the outfield was boggy to say the least which also seemed partially true of one end of the football pitch. The pitch was flat and apart from the softness underfoot looked great for this time of the season. There is a railing around the whole of the playing surface with some grass banking on two sides. There s no hard standing but tufted grass in places and on one side a well tiered stand. The seats have been taken out some time ago but people were happy to sit on the concrete or the bench at the back of the stand. The view from the back was as good as any.

When the game was underway I had time to count the crowd which I believe was at one time over 120. People walking their dogs, families out for a walk or youngsters just kicking a ball wandered over to chat to fiends and relatives. There were a small contingent of Wakefield fans and all in all a very happy atmosphere. The turnout may have been partly due to the glorious evening sunshine but it was heartening to see. The draw of English teams playing in the Champions League Quarter Finals on the television did not register here. It was also interesting that there was no payment to see the game or collection.

There is little history for North Gawber that I could research but I understand they were formed in 2011. They moved to the Sheffield and Hallam League in 2013 from The South Yorkshire Amateur League. They have since then won promotion from Division 1 and won the Premier League Pre-Covid. Where they play was previously the home of Wooley Colliery Road who reached the Northern Counties East League before folding.

It would be wrong of me to look at the history of previous Wakefield teams that have been littered with failed aspirations in this large Yorkshire town. The Wakefield infont of me were only formed in 2019 by a group of local businessmen but a controlling interest was bought out in 2021 by VO2 Capital, a Connecticut based company. VO2 Capital have also taken control of Wakefield Trinity Ladies F.C. to create a women’s team, Wakefield F.C. Wakefield have plans to share Wakefield Trinity Rugby League Club’s, ground when a current upgrade is complete.

North Gawber Colliery F.C. 0 Wakefield A.F.C 3

With both teams still in with a chance to win the League there was some healthy rivalry in the football.

Wakefield started by defending the goal with the sun in their eyes but this didn’t seem to deter them as they looked likely to take control with some fast play from the wings. They had more time on the ball and ideas and should have been ahead on 35 minutes when they hit the bar. The goal did come three minutes before half time when Mason Rubie outpaced the defence on the left and cut the ball back along the ground for Owen Kirman to tap in for a one nil lead at half time.

The half time turn round was only 5 minutes but time enough for the managers to give their views. Just in front of the stand the North Gawber manager urged his team to give greater efforts in the second half. The reply from one of the team was they train two times a week, we go to the boozer.

But the talk had a good effect because for most of the second half the home team rallied and kept puting continual pressure on the Wakefield defense. With time running out a Wakefield corner deflected to the far post for Brad Swaine to head a good goal. This seemed to drain North Gawber’s resistance and just as time was up they added a third through Bruno Baggi who took advantage of a ball that rebounded after some Valliant stops on the line with the goalkeeper stranded.

Wakefield’s 3 points mean they are up to second, 5 points behind Swinton with a game in hand and a meeting between the two before the season closes. Too close to call.

For me and the good crowd this was football at its best in the evening sun.

With five minutes left a bus ‘ luckily with no passengers could not get down the road with vehicles parked on both sides. He had to wait but as I drove away he was going back with ‘not in service’ on his head board. Perhaps he just wanted to see the end of the game.

Play off places at any level of football keenly contested.

A journey to Carlton in East Nottingham to see what looked like a fascinating encounter between the Northern Premier Leagues Midland Divisions 5th and 6th teams. If Belper Town won it meant that they would almost book their place in the play offs but if the home team could prevail they would be only 4 points behind and still in the hunt.

The ground is reached from a turning off the A612 dual carriageway oposite a large out of town retail park. You immediately can pull into a large car park and walk across it to the turnstile. It was a bit disconcerting to be greeted by two security guards but there must be a reason.

Carlton Town have only been at the Bill Stokeld stadium for 30 years and are steadily improving the facilities. There is a small seated area behind one goal otherwise there is flat standing around the rest of the ground. On one side there is a brick changing room with a small kiosk selling hot drinks and snacks. On the same side there are some portakabins that have been made into a club house and a few other rooms. During the coming closed season plans are in place to create some tiered standing behind the goal.

It was a sunny day with a few threatening black clouds which was spoilt by the cool strong wind that blew down the ground towards the stand which chilled the air below the 10 degrees that were registered on the car. It needed a scarf, gloves and hat to feel comfortable.

The pitch here was flat but had some undulating patches which were partly hidden by a good grass cover.

Sat a few seats away from me was a man noting down all kinds of patterns and numbers on an A4 sheet. I had to ask what he was doing and he told me that he was from Stamford FC, who have already qualified for the play offs, and they were sending people to visit all potential rivals for the next few games. This showed me the dedication of team seven at this level to try to gain any advantage to progress up the pyramid system. Good luck to Stamford for showing such enterprise.

I wrote about the history of Belper United earlier in the season when I visited their ground so I will not mention it again.

The Carlton Town name was adopted in 2002 at their current location having previously been known as Sneiton where they played on the Sneiton Cricket Club ground. Starting in 1904 as amateurs in local Nottingham leagues they were in their first decades at the pinnacle of Nottingham football. Disruptions by the wars meant that they were reformed in 1947 when they merged with another local team, Trent Rangers. They had performed well in the FA Amateur cup in those early years reaching the third round on 4 occasions each time going out to much stiffer opposition.

The team didn’t leave local football until 1995 when it joined the Central Midlands League and they were able to gain promotion to the Northern Counties East League despite previous ground grading issues. By 2007 they again gained another promotion to the Northern Premier League and have been moved in the geographical changes to now play in the Northern Premier League Midlands Division.

Carlton Town FC 2 Belper Town 1

Belper Town soon took control of the first quarter of an hour with Sam Muggleton launching throw ins longer than any I have seen for years, coupled with their exceptionally quick number 11 sprinting past a static Carlton defence and providing good crosses gave them scoring chances. This dominance continued but a through ball by Carlton nearly led to the first goal but for a brave stop from Belper’s goalkeeper. Carlton had a good appeal for a penalty waved away and their number five hit the upright with a header which he then took out his frustration on the perimeter fence. How Belper did not lead at half time bemused the 155 crowd of which it seemed half were from the away team. The crowd seemed small compared to their other games this season despite the importance of the game. It may have been because Nottingham Forrest were at home in an equally important game to reach the play offs.

As often happens despite Belper’s dominance it was Carlton who took the lead within 4 minutes of the restart when Aaron O’Connor ran on to a through pass and coolly hit the ball along the ground past Moore.

If I was the Stamford scout I would have reported that Belper’s threat of the long throws from their left back to their forwards often supported by their centre backs leaves them open to sudden direct attacks. Saying this Belper were level 4 minutes later when one of those Muggleton missiles was not cleared and it passed to Tom Wilson to head home.

Belper kept up the onslaught but Carlton came back in the last 10 minutes and both sides made numerous changes with Belper taking an age over each of theirs. Just in the final minutes there was a a five minute stoppage for a injury to Belper’s keeper. He managed to resume but could not move about and Carlton took the advantage. Well into the stoppage time, this time a Carlton throw in came back to Tom Maddison who chipped it over the defence to Tyler Blake to head over the static keeper to give the home team a win that they did not look like getting for much of the game.

I could not understand why the goalkeeper was not substituted when injured but this may have been because they had not used all of their subs earlier.

Great excitement from the home fans and a narrowing of Belper’s advantage in the race for the last play off place.

The chips were an immense quantity that were not greasy, hot and soft inside. They could have been cooked a little longer and scored a good 69.

Skin on chips though would not have been a favourite of John Torode of MasterChef fame who always complains if a contestant presents them. A nutritionists delight though because of the fibre.

Hosiery pull their socks up.

Mid-week I made the journey to see a team whose name has intrigued me for some time. Leaving the M1 at the A38 junction No. 28 you drive through the large industrial estate, Huthwaite and a housing estate to the carpark for Mansfield Hosiery Mills FC. for a Central Midlands League, South Division, game against Long Eaton United Community. A game that pitted the third placed team against the bottom club Mansfield Hosiery Mills. You would have to win 11 leagues to play in the Premier League yet that in no way diminished this competition. The football club is part of a larger sports and social club and the cricket clubs bar facilities shone out as I crossed the car park.

The evening was still, dark, dry and warm for the time of year. The pitch slopes from side to side and there is a steep slope from end to end which has a good grass covering with some wear in the goal mouths. The ground was compact with a barge board fence around the ground, a small seated area to one side of the goal, a club house on one side and hard standing fully around the pitch. Considering this is one of the smaller clubs I have visited I have to say they are some of the cleanest toilets I have ever been in.

Mansfield Hosiery Mills FC were formerly known as North Notts FC but have been playing under their current name in 2002. They reached the Northern Counties East League Premier Division before dropping back down the League structure and disbanding for ground problems before re-forming in the Nottingham Leagues and rejoining the Central Midlands League only three years ago.

Long Eaton United Community are an off shot of Long Eaton United who play in the United Counties League.

Mansfield Hosiery Mills FC 2 Long Eaton United Community 1

Wednesday 23rd March 2022 7.45 pm. 17th (Bottom) v 3rd, The Millers v The Blues

M.H.M. payed in change kit, yellow shirts and black shorts: L.E.U.C. red and black vertical shirts and red shorts.

With the clocks changing this weekend it was great to get in one of the last games fully under the floodlights which always seem more exciting. This game re enforced this as Long Eaton took immediate control with their number 11 proving a handful. It was on one of his fast tricky runs that the home sides right back brought him down in the goal area for the referee to have no doubts about awarding a penalty. The away teams number eight placed the ball well along the ground into the left hand corner of the net to give Long Eaton the lead.

With the away team continuing the pressure it was a surprise when Mansfield equalised only 3 minutes later. A long ball in from the left was totally misjudged by the goalkeeper and Liam Walker accepted the dropped ball, swiveled round and tapped it home.

Long Eaton should have retaken the lead on 21 minutes when the goalkeeper ventured out of his goal to stop an attack leaving an open goal that was missed as the ball sailed over the cross bar. Long Eaton dominated play for 35 minutes of the game but let Mansfield gain their composure and start to take control. With only 2 minutes to half time Mansfield were awarded a free kick for a high tackle and the ball was swung in from the left which again caused havoc in he air. Liam Walker was there again to give the home fans some cheer at half time.

Mansfield Hosiery played down hill in the second half and played with more composure. Their right back who was under pressure in the first half took control of that dual and even ventured forward at times. For me their man of the match was their number 5 who played with some maturity considering what looked like a young age.

I noticed that the Mansfield goalkeeper placed a camera behind his goal to record his game, good dedication this to review his strengths and weaknesses.

Mansfield’s win moved them off the bottom of the League and up two places. Two wins out of three now must surely mean they are finding the right blend in their team although too late this season to progress much higher.

No Chips here so I went for a hot chocolate served by very friendly helpers.

Belper again for some football delight.

I made the journey back to Belper for the second time this season to The Raygar Stadium in Christchurch Meadows but not to see Belper Town but Belper United who rent the ground off their neighbours. United moved here in the 2013/14 season but moved away to return in 2018.

I must go to Belper sometime to visit Strutt’s Mill that gained UNESCO World Heritage Status over 20 years ago and was a major cotton spinning Mill in the Derwent Valley. I also need to go if I am to go back to watch football again to work out the best parking places as I have on both occasions ended up walking a long way (good for me in reality).

It was a pleasant evening of 12 degrees with a stillness in the air and very black skies that made the floodlights shine brightly. I was greeted by a friendly team at a table selling tickets and programs and there was a crowd of 168. Belper United’s biggest league crowd of the season.

The pitch here slopes slightly and the grass cover is very good considering two teams are playing on this ground regularly. There was a very good programme (The Green Army Review) and one of the support staff walked round the ground handing out team sheets.

There is photographic evidence that Belper United came into existence around the early 1920’s and were active for around 20 years. A merger in 1969 between Milford Sports and Belper Park Rangers created the current club. They have played in the Midland Regional Alliance, the Central Midlands League, East Midlands Counties League and in the reorganisation of the Non-League structure now find themselves in The United Counties League.

Like Belper there are two teams in Hinkley, Hinkley LRFC who play in the United Counties Premier Division South and Hinkley AFC who are one division lower, both were formed with the demise of Hinkley Town. Hinkley AFC are a community club playing in Barwell just to the north of Hinkley. They initially played in the Midland League and were place in the current League this season,

Belper United 2 Hinkley AFC 0

Tuesday March 15th 2022, 7.45 p.m. kick off.

United Counties league Division One – Division Position: Third v Top.

Kit – Belper United, Green and Black vertical stripe shirts and shorts v Hinkley AFC away kit Purple shirts, shorts and socks.

Hinkley were on a thirteen game unbeaten run and top of the table with Belper third and seven points behind. The game started immediately in a competitive. combinative tone which continued all match. The home team playing against the slight slope had the best of the first 15 minutes but it was Hinkley on 28 minutes who had the best chance to take the lead from a corner when Curtis Hall made a stunning save low down. Hinkley again looked dangerous when awarded a free kick on the left edge of the area for a foul on the dangerous Isa Abraham who had an intriguing tussle with Belper’s Jake Dodds all night. The free kick was wasted and half time came with Belper still looking the strongest team.

Belper kept up the pressure and as the bells tolled nine from the next door Christ Church it seemed that an exciting goal less draw was on the cards. Six minutes later the energetic Kieran O’Conell was sin binned for decent and what looked like arguing with the referee.

Hinkley should have made the extra man count but it was O’Connell’s return 2 minutes earlier that made the difference when with ten minutes remaining he was put through on the left by substitute Ben Ollett and after drawing the goalkeeper curled the ball across him into the right hand corner of the net to take the lead.

With Hinkley pushing for the equaliser Belper broke away leaving Ben Ollett on his own to beat the keeper, Mathew Hill, to put the game out of sight for Hinkley. The referee blew the final whistle one minute after the re-start and Hinkley’s run was over.

One of the best games I have seen all season and my man of the match was Belper’s whole back four who were steadfast all game.

The chips looked great and were real chips, red hot, just cooked, crispy on the outside but hard in the middle. What started as potentially the best chips of the season ended up a disappointment and a score of only 45.

N.B. I have always considered the United Counties League a bit of a Cinderella League but the recent restructure has ended up with a better quality of football across a wider region. This shows up in that a team from each of their Premier Leagues have made it to the semi finals of the F.A. Vase. Loughborough Students and Newport Pagnell. The games in the League this year have all showcased some very good talent.

Eastwood’s football unfortunately doesn’t match the facilities.

A morning ground inspection put paid to my planned game so looking back to the previous weeks game at the incredible Loughborough. University I had read that their opponents Eastwood Community had an all weather pitch and good facilities.

So it was a change of plan and Google Maps to get me there. The lady on Google maps I call Betty, a long story, often she confuses me and this was no exception. Being told my destination was on my left but all that was there was a fire station belied the fact it was hidden by this building. Turning off google and driving around the block I eventually found a large sign directing me in.

Easy parking, although it was nearly full, led to a short walk past a large park to the ground. As I expected this is a good facility for this level of football.

An artificial pitch that when laid there was an attempt made to even the end to end slope which has resulted in a slope from one end to the centre and the other half being flat which initially looks a little odd. One side has a very large and well appointed club house, a steep comfortable seating area and a food bar. There is hard standing on all of the three other sides with cover at both ends and a very small covered seating area on the far side where some of the seats are smashed.

The view from near the top of the stand is really good as I looked out on the grey clouds that were building on this relatively cold, still day.

Eastwood Community FC have only been in existence since 2014 when they took on the mantle of football in the town after Eastwood Town folded. Eastwood Town had reached as high as the Northern Premier League. Community play at Haltbrooke Stadium, a modern facility with a 3g pitch. The Stadium also has great hospitality rooms to allow for a good income stream from off pitch activities. They have risen through the Central Midland League and are now placed in the United Counties League. They look certain to be contenders in this league in the future.

Newark FC have had a chequered career starting life as A. J. Simpson in 1901 in the Ironmonger’s League and the next mention of the club is as Worthington Simpson in 1935 in the Nottingham Spartan League. After fourteen years they moved to the Notts Alliance where they had some success and further name changes to IDP Newark and then Newark Flowserve in 2001. By 2004 Newark Flowserve joined the Central Midland League but lased only 5 years before joining the Notts Senior League. The senior team was reformed in 2013 and successive promotions saw them playing in the East Midlands Counties League where they soon achieved promotion to the Midland League. They had to drop the Flowserve name in 2020 at the request of the F.A. due to their sponsorship rules and with the Leagues restructure now play in the United Counties Football League. The team play at Basford United’s ground after their leased Lowfields ground in Balderton was subject to a plan to build housing. Long term this ground sharing 25 miles from their base will be difficult to sustain and efforts are being made to try to move back nearer to their roots.

Eastwood Community 1 Newark FC 2

Saturday 5th March 2022 Kick Off 3 pm

United Counties North Premier Division

Badgers v Highwaymen : League Position 14th v 15th

Attendance 197

Eastwood, red shirts and white shorts – Newark, royal blue shirts and shorts.

Eastwood initially looked as if they would take charge of the game but on 12 minutes the Newark forward, Josh Mundell, who had been a hand full, passed the defenders to the byline and cut back the ball where the striker, James Berrett was checked and the referee had no choice but to award a penalty. Mason Rowley stepped forward and hit the ball into the centre of the goal with the goalkeeper diving to his right. Both teams created chances but the defences were well up to it and the score remained at 0.1 at Half Time.

Eastwood did not seem to have the same confidence of the previous week but that appeared to be because the opposition were not letting them play.

Eastwood pressed at the start of the second half but on the hour a long ball forward was chased by Newark’s Richemone Sylla who controlled the ball and took the defender and goalkeper to the right of the goal and then crossed the ball for Nyle Blake to simply tap in.

As the game neared the end the heavens opened and a biblical deluge that had threatened all afternoon lasted for only five minutes.

Eastwood now took control and forced successive corners but could not beat the resolute Newark defence until on 80 minutes when Ben Henderson received the ball on the left, strode forward past lunging defenders and hit a powerful shot past Sam Andrew from range. Eastwood pushed for an equaliser but had no clear chances and Newark went home happy. My man of the match was Dean Freeman Newark’s centre back who marshalled his line and never missed a tackle or header.

The chips were crispy, fluffy inside, golden, tasty, an amazing amount for £1.50 but disappointedly a little cool but a good score of 81.

University Football is Flourishing

There has been a beacon for University Football this season and that has been Loughborough Students who have reached the quarter finals of the F.A.Vase and play Wythenshawe Town at home on the 12th March. They are only two wins away from Wembley when if they get there they say they will paint it purple. I decided to go and see them play at home to Eastwood Community FC on Saturday in the United Counties Premier Division North to see what was going on.

First you have to get past one of two campus gates to see an amazing University with indoor and outdoor sports facilities to die for. It is around a one square mile area and has always been known to me as the best sporting University in the country. But these days there are around 20000 students that not only excel at sport but many other degrees of which Business Studies is one of their prime offerings.

We parked in a very leafy car park walking past the beach volleyball area and in the distance the Steve Beckley javelin building that looks like a modern train station where you can launch your javelin under cover, Wow.

The University Stadium was opened in 2012 but still looks like it was last week. This is Non-league heaven with a beautiful stand down one side incorporating changing rooms, and a plush hospitality area for all up stairs where you enter the seats or look out on the pitch while having a drink or eating your pie. There is standing on three other side and to cater for the Quarter Final they are going to install a fans zone on the hard standing pitch behind the open side. There is an electronic score board and a perfectly flat pitch that is grass and looked after by a Wizard who has presented a lawn that would not be out of place for a bowls team.

There are records of a team called Loughborough Technical Institute as far back as 1919 and a year later they became a College of Technology and a University in 1966. They have won University Trophy’s on many occasions in their history.

In recent years they have re-entered the non-league football world in the Midlands. Initially in the Midland Combination in 2007 and then the Midland Alliance and as founder members of the Midland Football League in 2014. With recent seasons being curtailed and with the team being highly placed the restructure of the leagues has seen them placed in the United Counties Premier Division North. At the start of this new era they have changed their name from Loughborough University to Loughborough Students a name they now use across all of their team sports for both Men and Women.

Eastwood Community FC have only been in existence since 2014 when they took on the mantle of football in the town after Eastwood Town folded. Eastwood Town had reached as high as the Northern Premier League. Community play at Haltbrooke Stadium, a modern facility with a 3g pitch. The Stadium also has great hospitality rooms to allow for a good income stream from off pitch activities. They have risen through the Central Midland League and are now placed in the United Counties League. They look certain to be contenders in this league in the future.

Loughborough Students 2 Eastwood Community 0

26th February 2022 3pm Loughborough University

United Counties Premier Division North

The Scholars v The Red Badgers

Purple shirts and shorts with pink shoulder stripe v Red shirts and white shorts

The first quarter of the game was very equal as it had been when the teams fought out a draw in an early round of this season’s F.A. Vase that had to be decided on penalties.

Just as Eastwood were beginning to get on top the Students hit the post and cross bar in a flurry of activity on 18 minutes. The game continued to see saw and Ben Whiting in the Loughborough goal (later to be named man of the match) flipped a header that had been powered down by Kyle Stovell of Eastwood up onto the bar and away.

At half time it was all square with a talented home team matched by a well disciplined and organised Eastwood.

Loughborough came out in the second half with all guns blazing but Eastwood kept their cool until the 66th minute when Dylan Edwards placed the ball along the ground into the left hand corner of the net from a position in the centre of the goal.

With Loughborough one goal up they continued pressure to make it 2 nil in the 82nd minute when Tope Fadahunsi’s pass was controlled by Cam More who spun and hit a bullet shot across the diving Warren Squires the Eastwood goal keeper.

The 162 fans left happy after a good competative game in fantastic facilities.

No chips unfortunately but a tasty Chicken Pie.

Dolphins ride a penalty wave.

Back to a Saturday and this time a trip to School Lane in Poole to watch the Dolphins play The Marine.

Poole Town’s ground is part of a school complex and allows for plenty of parking.

There are some more developed grounds in this League but what Poole have is adequate for the level and the crowd of 508.

With storm Malik battering Scotland and the North of England the balmy 9 degrees on the coast with a light breeze and dull grey skies was a benefit.

The playing surface was mainly flat with a good grass cover and there was an ample covered seating area with covered terracing at each end of the ground as well as more next to either side of the stand. There is a well frequented club house as you enter the ground.

Poole Town FC were formed in 1890 with the merger of Poole Rovers and Poole Hornets and I remember them being a strong force in Non League Football in the 1960’s when their reputation for cup heroics went before them. They have been dogged with ground issues, Poole Stadium used by Speedway was lost to them, but have now settled into The Black Gold Stadium, Oakdale School, School Lane, Poole and in recent years have been pressing for promotion.

Swindon Supermarine FC are a more recent club being forged from a merger of Swindon Athletic and Supermarine in 1992. They stayed nearly 10 years in the Hellenic League and in 2001 moved up to the Southern League and were promoted to the Premier Division in 2007 where they stayed for 5 seasons until being relegated. They regained their Premier status in 2018 where they now sit.

Poole Town 2 Swindon Supermarine 1

Southern League Premier South

Dolphins v The Marine: 9th v 15th

Poole. Shirts – gold and black vertical stripes with black sleeves and shoulders, shorts- black.

Supermarine. Shirts – White, Shorts – Royal Blue

Before the match started there was a minutes applause to celebrate the passing of Jack Fisher a 96 year old who had been a stalwart at the club for many years and had been the trainer for 19 years and stand in manager when needs were great.

A small knott of Poole ultras began chanting in time to an incessant drum beat to get the game under way and the home team were soon on top when on only 5 minutes Jack Dickson dribbled in from the right only to be up ended by a defender and Will Spetch sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to convert the awarded penalty.

The game was then scrappy and had not really settled down when Will Spetch went up to challenge for a ball and was adjudged to have fouled by a Swindon defender and goalkeeper Jed Ward. Spetch made sure that the ball was his and blasted the awarded penalty straight into the net with the keeper diving to his left where the first penalty had been placed.

The away side came to life and both sides seemed to be competing harder for possession. On thirty seven minutes, seven minutes after the penalty the referee gave a free kick to Swindon for what seemed to everyone was a very theatrical dive. Perhaps it was an evening up after the home sides dubious second penalty. The ball went well over the bar but found its way into Poole’s net with the first half coming to an end when Tom Mehew hit the ball into the left side of the goal after two defence splitting passes.

It was as if that both teams left their spark in the dressing room in the second half and on territorial play alone it felt like Poole were hanging on for the win which they duly did. Not the best game I’ve seen this year which I will remember most for the competitive first half.

I seem to be having a run of very poor chips. These were a large quantity but were soggy, only warm and dull, meaning only a score of 53.