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.

These are the days of miracle and wonder

You will have seen these words before in Paul Simon’s song ‘The Boy in the Bubble’ but they are how I feel about my 2021/22 football season.

We all started the season hoping that it would finish and not be cut short by the Covid Pandemic as it had been in the two previous.

The Non-League scene had seen some major changes of league structures and a new landscape beckoned. New to me and new to the Toolstaion North East Counties were Teversal F.C. who I visited in July. The ground was homely but the football was dull and they lost 1 nil which was a bad omen towards their eventual relegation at the end of the season back to the feeder leagues. The club house was reassuringly warm and friendly and the chance to eat football ground chips was a delight.

Spalding up next saw them beat Loughborough Dynamos in a detour on the way home from holiday.

My first F.A Cup game was at Belper Town who progressed against Whitchurch in a ground that I fell in love with because of its view of the local church and Salts Mill along with great facilities

More F.A. Cup action followed at Lancaster 1874 as they beat Northwich in a disappointing game that was enhanced by the staff at the ground.

As September rolled on the evenings were darker and the lights were on at Dinnington Town. It was fascinating to sit in the small stand with the locals and hear about the development of their club.9

A highlight was my 5th attempt at visiting Tow Law Town to see a competitive game against Birtley. The ground clinging to the Durham hillside has some stunning views and its history seems to hang in the air. A great chat with a Birtley fan was all that is good about the game at this level.

Having messed up on visiting Quorn I went to see Rainworth Miners Welfare play Hallam in a game previously abandoned due to a medical emergency to an official. He was there to start the game having made a welcome recovery. Hallam ran out 4-0 winners at this near Mansfield ground.

Back to Staveley Miners Welfare because it was one of the only games I could reach as others had been called off due to the constant rain. Their artificial pitch meant the game was on but it didn’t help them with the result. The facilities here are amazing for their level and they intend to make them even better. Despite a mid table finish they have accepted a demotion to ensure that they achieve their plan for ground improvements and ensuring that the club achieves a debt free position. I believe that this mature governance of the club will see them becoming a beacon in this level of football for some years to come.

By the end of October I visited Folkstone Invicta to see them overwhelm Kingstonian. Good facilities here that are being used by good crowd support. The fanzone was one of the best I have seen.

A night time drive to Milton Keynes Dons to see them play Aston Villa in the EFL Trophy was special as I met my son and my 5 year old grandson. Three generations of fans felt good. The ground changed my mind about the new stadiums that are sprouting everywhere. Often they just seem like a concrete bowl with no soul but this has a great feel being next to a vibrant retail area, lit up at night by food outlets. You walk in off road level and you are at the top level of the seating which unfolds below you. You can stay in the hotel built into the stadium and watch from your room. There is also space to increase the capacity in the future. One thing I would say though is please it is time to drop the Dons name’ your roots have now been firmly planted in Milton Keynes.

Next up was Percy Main in the Northern Alliance not far from the North Shields Cruise terminal. I had to visit here after reading Ian Cussack’s book about his experiences with the club.

It was all I expected, a small homely club and ground providing local football in these parts. Long may they continue and also keep serving the enormous amount of chips that they do.

St Albans City F.C. – YES!!!! The F.A. cup again brought me to my original home town where I saw my first match in 1955. In all those years since either watching games or the results, St Albans had never beaten a Football League side in the F.A. Cup but they did it at this match beating the League 2 leaders and eventual winners, Forest Green Rovers. It was a tremendous game not just for the players but the supporters too, the excitement could be sliced and taken home. City unfortunately went out to local rivals Boreham Wood in the next round and then having been in a position that could have seen them win their league they faded away and didn’t even make the play offs. Oh well there is always next year.

Kiverton Park was a complete change to St Albans but this feeder league club is trying hard to develop. Where else have I ever been served chips in my seat in the stand. Thank you for this unusual but appreciated experience.

The end of November saw me visit Turf Moor to see Burnley play a hectic 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace. The continual rain that drenched me did not dampen my appreciation of visiting a ground that I have wanted to see for many years. It didn’t disappoint.

From a wet Burnley I next went to an even wetter Sherwood Colliery who beat Knaresborough Town in a thrilling game. Sherwood Colliery are on the outskirts of Mansfield and are a team on the up, supported by a lottery winner who is building the club slowly putting in building bocks one at a time. After a successful season in the Toolstation Northern Counties East League they have now been moved along with other Nottinghamshire clubs to the United Counties League.

Corby Town in Northamptonshire was next just before Christmas but the damp cold fog put a damper on the experience although the coffee and mince pie at half time kept me going.

My Christmas game found me at Hallam F.C. in Sheffield to see what was going on. The crowds had been growing as Hallam edged up the league and now in 2nd place they entertained the third placed team in front of 1198 spectators in this step 6 clash. Hallam won and went on to finish top of the league with 100 points and 100 goals for. It will be interesting to see the crowds in the Premier Division next season.

2022 saw me welcoming the New Year at Heanor v Selston which was an edgy 0-0 draw.

From a goal less draw I couldn’t believe that I saw Hucknall Town hit 10 in my next match. Hucknall are trying to get back to former glories and the set up is all there but the United Counties League Division 1 looks like one of the hardest in the country to escape from.

A long journey to Spennymoor was nothing to their opposition that day in the F.A. Trophy, Plymouth Parkway. Parkway looked like making the journey worthwhile but a Spennymoor revival in the last ten minutes must have broken their hearts and made the return home seem like an eternity.

Mid week and it was Rossington Main near Doncaster Airport and the floodlights piercing the darkness always make evening games exciting. Brigg Town won in this league Cup game but were eliminated due to playing an illegible player.

Now down to the South Coast where I saw Poole Town beat Swindon Supermarine a game which was decided by penalty incidents. I stayed at the Royal National Life Boat H.Q. in Poole for this one where you can stay if members are not using the overnight facilities. Look it up if you are planning to stay in the area.

Another night under the lights, this time at Emley AFC, and also under the two Emley Moor towers. A solid 4-0 win against Knaresborough Town being the outcome, I had now seen Knaresborough concede 9 goals in two matches.

Then to Esh Winning for a Northern League match, a great club house, an interesting ground in the country, an unusual name and Dec, Alias Miserable Les who enthralled me with stories of the club, the area and his music career. Thank you Dec for a great afternoon. Afterwards we nipped into the village chippy, Fields, to get chips cooked on one of the last coal fired chip shop ranges left in the country.

With February nearly over I attended Non League heaven when I went to Loughborough Students. What great facilities this University has for their students and rightly so an investment in young talent to see us into the future. Loughborough won in the league against Eastwood but their exploits in the F.A. Vase were where it was at this season, reaching the semi finals only to lose away at Newhaven. Unfortunately the purple didn’t make it to Wembley.

Having seen Eastwood Community play away the previous week at Loughborough I decided to visit their ground. The facilities were good for the level though the two level synthetic pitch was unusual. Eastwood unfortunately lost again, this time to visitors Newark Town.

Having enjoyed my visit to Belper to see Belper Town I noticed an evening game at the same ground which is shared by Belper United. I again took the wrong turning some where and arrived just in time for kick off. If you go to Belper to see either team go early to park near the ground. The walk down the hill to the match is fine but up hill on the way back is a killer. Belper United won but just missed out on promotion unlike their bigger brothers Belper Town who won their play offs.

Mansfield Hosiery mid week was next, where I enjoyed the evening football and a second half chat with a budding coach. Great name for a football club though.

A hot sunny day in Newcastle under Lyme and a very long walk from the town via a cemetery to a park with all types of sports grounds and a football stadium with a velodrome around its perimeter. Newcastle Town played Glossop North End in a not to remember game where I watched the end of a rugby match from the back of the goal on an adjoining pitch.

The chance to see England’s under 19’s at Chesterfield couldn’t be turned down and I enjoyed a slick performance to see them qualify for this summers UEFA competition.

St Josephs Rockware Worksop was the venue for the most unreal game of the whole season when the referee abandoned the game after 44 minutes due to what appeared to be alleged threats from the home sides bench. I still haven’t been able to find out the outcome of the episode.

A full 90 minutes were restored at Carlton Town in Nottingham where the home team beat Belper Town to keep their play off hopes alive. Carlton eventually failed in their quest but Belper gained promotion.

My first Sheffield and Hallamshire League game found me at North Gawbor Colliery for an evening game which with the lengthening daylight didn’t need lights. The away team Wakefield AFC won on their way to win the league and promotion to the Northern Counties East League. Wakefield are a team to watch in the future. this was one of the best games of the season as it was amazing to see families, dog walker et al turn up to watch, no payment needed. I was sorry for the bus driver who had to wait till the game ended to pass the spectators cars and vans parked on the road. Luckily no passengers were inconvenienced in the playing of this game as there were none on the bus.

Easter Monday and the playing of the 125thMexborough Montagu Hospitals Charity Cup Final at Mexborough, believed to be the oldest cup competition still played at the original ground. A real family local football crowd of 1700 helped the Hospital Charity. By the way Scawthorpe beat Dog Daisy Athletic.

Nearing the end of the season on the way to a holiday in North Wales it gave me the opportunity to see some Welsh football when I went to Llandudno v Llangefni. I was impressed with the quality of their second tier football and I think they are building a good future.

On the way back I managed to get a ticket to sit with the Southend fans at Wrexham. Wrexham won the game and eventually finished the season in second place and are favourites to win the play offs. Their new owners have the money to develop the squad and stadium but the National League must be the hardest in the country to win.

The last game of the season unusually not a Non League game but Barrow v Northampton in League Two. Not to see the drama that unfolded but to see my daughter attend her 92nd current League game, an amazing achievement. A proud Dad who was there at the first.

These are definitely the days of miracles and wonder in that the season was completed and I attended 36 diverse and enjoyable football matches.

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 goalkeeper.one 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.

Welsh league football at last

I had seen football in Wales before but never a Welsh League game so it was with anticipation that I drove along the A55 North Wales dual carriageway. The road is a pleasure except on those manic holiday weekends when queues can often cause frustration. There are some huge vistas, castles, sea views, on a late April day Bluebell and yellow splodges of gorse and to finish off Snowdonia.

Llandudno F.C.’s ground was on the edge of an industrial estate behind the town centre and the game was against Llangefni in the Cymru North League which is the second tier of Welsh football. Only one team is promoted from the Cymru North League along with the winner of the Cymru South League. The game was the last of the season for both teams Langefni sitting near the bottom table and Llandudno in second place but with no chance of catching runaway leaders Airbus UK.

There was ample parking just outside the ground and on entering the brightness of the synthetic pitch hits you first. The pitch was mainly flat with a few undulating areas. The pitch was heavily sanded evident by the amount being kicked up by the players warming up. The weather was glorious with blue skies and a few grey clouds but unless you could shelter from the strong coastal wind it felt chilly.

The OPS Wind Arena has low level seating on three sides with hard standing behind one goal and along the areas where there is no seating. There are one strorey buildings behind the goal and on the sides for changing rooms, administration, bars, food, shop etc. Three of the floodlight poles are also telecommunication antennae which may add to the clubs income along with the multipurpose pitch. The crowd was a good mix of all ages and almost 50/50 males and females.

There is recorded evidence that there was a team in Llangefni in 1882 which like many of the time was born out of religious attendance. The Llangefni Town Football Club was founded 5 years later in in 1897. They initially played in the newly formed Anglesey Football League formed in the same year. nearly 100 years later in 1988 they were promoted to the Gwynedd League. There stay here was nowhere near as long as only two years later after a very successful two years they joined the Tyn Lon Volvo Welsh Alliance League. Their success at this time was emphasised when in 1992 they won the Welsh Intermediate Cup, the only Anglesey club to do so. Keeping up their rapid change saw the advent of the new millennium bring a new ground and another move this time to the Cymru Alliance.

The next highlight for the club was in 2008 when they were promoted to the Welsh Premier league but unfortunately having reached the summit of Welsh football they were relegated the a year later. After nearly getting back into the Premier League by 2012 they were relegated back to the Welsh Alliance and due to organisational problems had to start the 2013 season in the Anglesey league back to where they started. By 2015 their efforts had lead them back to Welsh Alliance Division 1 and 4 years later they went up to the Championship North. So after some very static early years you have to say that more recent times have been quite a roller coaster.

Football in Llandudno started 1878 4 years earlier than Llangefni with a club believed to have been called Gloddaeth Rovers formed out of a cricket club.

A Llandudno team were founder members of the Welsh National League (North) in 1921 but the current team were started in 1988 as Llandudno F.C. moving to their current location in 1991. Since then the team have managed to improve the ground with the seating, covered areas, the floodlights and buildings with disabled access all to Cymru Premier League criteria. All in all a herculean effort topped off in 2014 with the addition of the 3G pitch and a year later promotion to the Welsh Premier League for the first time. The dream continued with a first season 3rd place finish and qualification to the Europa League. Unfortunately ups are often followed by downs and they were relegated to the Cymru North in 2019 where they currently play.

Llandudno F.C. 6 Llangefni F.C. 1

Saturday 22rd April 2022 Kick Off 2.30 pm Last League game of the Cymru North Season

With Snowdonia as a backdrop the teams kicked off and it soon seemed obvious that Llandudno were well on top of the conditions Within 1 minute they were ahead when the Llangefni defence were static appealing for offside that left Toby Jones on his own to easily score past the rooted goalkeeper. I hardly had time to settle in my seat and it was two nil after 9 minutes when Mark Williams deflected a ball into the net despite vociferous appeals from the Llangefni goalkeeper for hand ball.

Players had difficulty taking free kicks or goal kicks as the blustery wind refused to let it stand still. Llandudno showed some skill with long pin point passes often from one side of the field to the other and their defensive dominance enabled their right back to threaten as an extra wide player. On the half hour Llangefni were on the score sheet when Phillips curled a glorious ball into the top left of the net from outside of the goal area. However the home team cemented their dominance when Danny Hughes cut back the ball to the back post for Guto Williams to restore the 2 goal lead. which was maintained until half time.

Llandudno playing against the wind in the second half continued the scoring when 10 minutes into the half their captain stalwart Lee Krusty Thomas who was playing his last game for the club ran on to a pass to smash the ball home. Although

Landudno were already assured of finishing second in the league but they did not sit back and made it five with 15 minutes left when another plyer, Neil Ashton, also making his last game for the club used his left foot to volley a good goal.

Five minutes later Lee Thomas, wearing number 99, was substituted for the last time before his retirement and was clapped off by the crowd of 308.

Marc Williams made it 6 with a few minutes left to end my Welsh League experience.

The chips were cooked to order and were hot, golden and fluffy inside but had a neutral taste gaining a score of 70.

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.

Marvellous

My recent aborted trip to try to see Keele University play football was also to take in the play ‘Marvellous’ at The New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme. The football reference will come later.

The New Vic theatre deserves a mention because if you are in the area it is well worth a visit to see not only their often locally produced plays but also the facilities it offers. We had opted for an Italian meal in Newcastle which in all respects turned out average and was further put to shame when having a drink in the bar we saw what the theatre had to offer which was a great menu at reasonable prices and seeing the food that was being served a better quality than we had eaten.

This was built in 1986 with a lot of local fund raising and replaced the Victoria Theatre which was a converted cinema. The theatre presents in the round which gives you great views and a closeness to the cast. It is a cultural Centre for the area and is a charity with a partnership between the Arts Council and Local Authorities.

The play is about the life of local lad Neil Baldwin who has a warm spot in most locals heart as well as many others.

The production used seven people to play Neil from being a twinkle in his parents eye until today and the play ended with the spotlight focusing on the real Neil Baldwin as he left the theatre. The play was written by Neil Baldwin and Malcolm Clarke another notable person from the area who could also have a play written about his life story.

We were first drawn to the Neil Baldwin Story when the film ‘Marvellous’ was shown on the BBC in 2015 with Toby Jones ( One of the UK’s all time greats) playing him. The film had us in tears as the human story was moving, funny, inspirational, uplifting and most of all showed the best in mankind.

Neil was born with learning difficulties but did not let that stop him from living an extraordinary life. He had a short career as a Clown in circuses and went on to unofficially act as a maĆ®tre de to Keele University and as a Kit man for Stoke City Football club. He was appointed Kit man by Lou Macari who once said that ‘it was the best signing he ever made’. He dressed up in many outfits and was a great motivation in lifting team spirit in the dressing room. He was loved by the fans and players as emphasised by Neville Southall giving him the taxi fare to get home from a south coast game when he heard that his mother was ill. Neil also founded Neil Baldwin F.C. at Keele University.

Neil is also famous for turning up for chats and tea with Bishops, politicians and royalty who he soon made friends with.

If you have time make sure you watch the film but also look out for a New Vic production which was truly Marvellous.

It may well be put on again as Covid forced the last four days productions to be cancelled.

Referee abandons football match before half time because of threat.

On a cold afternoon I made the short journey to see SJR Worksop F.C. play Harworth Colliery F.C. in the Central Midlands Black Dragon Premier Division North League.

The ground is adjacent to Sandy Lane in Worksop just a quarter of a mile down the lane from Worksop Town’s ground.

It was a cold windy afternoon interrupted by a few sleet and rain flurries decending from the dark grey sky. The car temperature gauge had shown 3.5 degrees as I entered the ample car park. I had no idea that the game would up the temperature and boil over later.

The pitch is set apart from the clubhouse and changing rooms, another pitch being in between. I had a coffee to warm up but there were no chips here for my chip league.

The pitch is surrounded by a white fence and the playing surface sloped slightly end to end with a good thick grass cover.

I would normally write a few paragraphs abut the clubs but this was all about the game.

St Josephs Rockware Worksop 1 Harworth Colliery F.C. O

Central Midlands Black Dragon Premier Division North: Kick off 3.00 pm

Glassworks Pitches, Sandy Lane Worksop.

This local derby, 10 miles apart by car and less as the crow flies started with SJR playing down hill and the grey skies had cleared and now bright blue skies meant you could see planes making their decent into Doncaster Sheffield airport. Harworth took complete control and had most success attacking down the right, they even clipped the post after 7 minutes with the ball rebounding into the keepers arms. For all of Harworth’s pressure it was SJR who took the lead on 15 minutes when from a corner the ball was worked back to no.22 who from just over 20 yards out took down the ball with his right and curled it with his left into the top right hand corner of the net.

Worksop now took control but were pegged back to 10 men when one of their players was sin binned five minutes later for continual arguing with the referee’s decisions. Harworth did not take advantage of this but had a further chance to take the upper hand when the referee sent off Worksop’s number 4 for a second yellow card received for two strong fouls just 5 minutes from half time.

At this point I was thinking of another coffee or even a hot OXO came to mind as I could see an OXO factory in the distance.

A few minutes after the dismissal the referee approached the SJR bench to get them all to vacate the touchline and some ensuing verbal’s resulted with a yellow card for one of their management team which turned red when further words were exchanged. The referee then blew his whistle and shouted that the game was abandoned as he had been threatened by the home team.

The referee gathered the other officials and walked back to the changing room leaving the players bemused on the pitch. The crowd of circa 70 were stunned too and one of them said that someone had threatened the referee to sort him out in the carpark later! The players eventually trooped off and as it was just on half time the crowd stayed hoping that the game would resume for the second half. However the players started to come out of the club house having changed and the crowd drifted back to their cars. I overheard one of the Worksop players say, that was an easy win and an early finish too. Unfortunately I think it will be the Central Midland League’s committee that decide the result of this one in the future.