Vauxhall need a higher gear to pass Maine Road

This was a trip down memory lane to watch Vauxhall Motors FC, but this was Ellesmere Port and not Luton.

My first ever matches were at St Albans City but my first cup run was with Vauxhall Motors FC (Luton) in the 1957/58 F.A. Amateur Cup. On a cold morning I sat in the front bench seat of a Bedford CF van on its way to the Vauxhall Sports and Social Club ground in Luton from the canteen. The van was full of tea urns and food for sale for the afternoon First round Amateur Cup match against Hounslow.

My Dad served the tea which I remember was then always premixed with milk and always tasted stewed. However the tea was great with the Wagon Wheel which at that age seemed to be the size of a dinner plate and a second cup with a Blue Riband  went down well too. Vauxhall duly won the game 3-1 and set up a second round away game at Devizes Town which was too far to go. Huddled round the radio, Amateur Cup results were after the Saturday evening sport program,   Vauxhall were triumphant 7-1.

Next up were Bromley from the Isthmian League which considered itself superior to the Spartan league in which Vauxhall played. Bromley was near relatives in South London so a trip was on and Vauxhall astoundingly won 3-1. The works team had won and it made the early evening news on TV. Vauxhall were also using the matches as publicity for the newly launched ‘F’ type Victor which were displayed on flat bed trucks at the ground entrance. This tail finned car at the time was a huge success satisfying the hunger for cheap modern styled cars, even exporting them to the USA where they were sold through Pontiac dealers. Unfortunately the poor build quality initiated a Vauxhall reputation for rust that took years to live down.

Vauxhall were now into the quarter finals but the draw was not kind with another away game this time to Isthmian League team Ilford. All I remember of the game was how dark it was and the misery of walking past the displayed cars at the end of the game after a 3 nil defeat. Ilford went on to make the final but lost to Woking. Despite this Vauhall Motors works team had gone a long way and created a warm interest in their progress. The company had gained great advertising for their cars.

Some years later I joined Vauxhall as an apprentice and stayed for 18 years and was lucky enough to play on their pitch in an inter department cup. The Sales Division had made it to the Semi Final but our two best players could not play that evening as they were on duty for Hitchin Town and Fakenham Town and I duly deputised at centre half but came up against ‘Stretch’ Godfrey a local senior non league goalkeeper playing at centre forward. My 6 ft 1 inch was out jumped on the half way line and he ran on to score the only goal of the game, gutted.

It was with disbelief when I heard that Vauxhall Motors FC (Luton) were to be disbanded after they had just won the 90/91 Isthmian League North and were about to be promoted to the Premier Division. It was said at the time that the social club wanted to promote Hockey but it was at one of those down points in Vauxhalls history and works teams were on the decline everywhere.

However in 1963 a Vauxhall Motors team had been set up in Ellesmere port where the new factory had been built and this team continues today now playing in the Hallmark Security North West Counties First Division South. They have over the years done extremely well rising from the Ellesmere Port league as high the Conference North and defeating Queens Park Rangers in a First Round FA Cup game on the way. But in 2014 the club had to resign from the Conference North due to financial troubles and regroup. They have fought back to where they are today.

Their opponents Maine Road FC started out in 1955 as ‘City Supporters FC’ and changed to their current name in the late 60’s when they moved to play at Maine Road Social Club. Maine Road have worked their way from Sunday football to their current level.

The facilities here are fantastic being part of the Vauxhall Motors Sports and Social Club which is also a community stadium. There are a few pitches, two of which are 4G, as well as a Rugby pitch and a fabulous multi purpose club house. Everton FC run a satellite football college here. https://www.vauxhallsportsclub.co.uk/

The pitch was flat but patchy in places and with no rain recently the ball kicked up dust and travelled fast over the hard ground. There was little wind and a grey overcast sky on this cold April day.  A good seated stand on one side behind the dugouts is opposite some covered terracing otherwise there is a concrete path around the ground which has few advertising boards. The program was sparse and there was no raffle, one presumes the running of the club is generated from the Sports and Social Club.

Vauxhall Motors 3 Maine Road FC 0

There was little between the teams in the first half although Vauxhall were the slightly livelier and they did get the ball in the net but they were adjudged to have fouled the goalkeeper from a corner. The teams went in at half time 0-0 and the small crowd of 64 returned to the social club.

Vauxhall upped a gear and put pressure on their opponents right from the start of the new half and it was no surprise when on 52 minutes the ball ran across the area for their centre back Thomas Mitchell to side foot them into the lead. Initially Maine Road fought back and a curling right foot free kick from 20 yards out brought a fine save from the Vauxhall keeper. But renewed Vauxhall pressure resulted in goal number two as Mike Burkey followed up a parried save by the keeper placing the ball firmly in the centre of the net. As the game ended Vauxhall added a third through an own goal deflected in after a strong run down the right by number 12. Only a few minutes later the referee blew promptly for the end of the game which sees Vauxhall move up to second in the table.

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Again there were no chips but the social club was first class.

Rotherham and Villa give it their all.

Villa’s class and determination overcame a tenacious Rotherham who were battling to get out of the relegation places in the Championship.
The New York Stadium is high profile as you drive into Rotherham. This relatively new stadium which holds 12000 fans greets you with a smile.

Rotherham United FC 1 Aston Villa FC 2

The dry cold evening seemed to have a sparkle in the air and that proved to be the case as early Rotherham pressure was countered by a penalty to Villa after Jack Gralish was brought down. Tammy Abrahams, Villa’s top goal scorer, stepped up and tamely struck the ball to Marek Rodak’s left and his dive stopped the poor effort. Rotherham were putting increasing pressure down the right and causing trouble with long throws into the penalty area.

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On 36 minutes Mings was adjudged to have handled in the penalty area and this yellow card added to the one received earlier in the game for an off the ball incident meant he left the field after seeing red. Vaulks smashed the ball past Jed Steer who could not match his heroics at Hillsborough on Saturday and Rotherham took the lead and control of the half

Villa immediately  took Albert Adomah off and replaced him with Mile Jedinak who has not featured much this season under Dean Smith. Jedinak took over Mings central defending role but Rotherham kept the pressure on.

The second half saw Johnathan Kodjia replace El Ghazi and he took charge after 48 minutes to take another penalty this time awarded for hand ball by Semi Ajayi. He made no mistake hitting the back of the net in the top right hand corner.
Villa had stepped up a gear and only three minutes later they led 2-1 after Grealish  had run from his own half down the left to beat three defenders, spinning round them towards the centre of the goal and passing to Elmahamady on the right who feigned to shoot but cut the ball back to Greaslish now in the centre of the D who precisely slotted the ball passed a sea of legs into the bottom right of the goal.
An amazing turn round with 10 men.
Rotherham did not give up and tested the Villa defence with Jedinak playing his best game of the season despite his lack of competitive pitch time.
Jedd Steer in the Villa goal was called upon to make an outstanding left handed save from Rotherham’s Mattock.
Man of the match though was McGinn who seemed able to cover every blade of grass on the pitch often with the ball at his feet and able to draw a foul to calm the game down and stop the pattern of play.
A pulsating game that keeps Villa’s promotion hopes alive and gives Rotherham hope that they have the backbone and skill to keep them in the division.

Attendance 10558

There were no chip

Retford FC, Champions of their Universe.

Having visited Retford United earlier in the season it was time to visit Retford FC who needed two more points to become Champions of the Abacus Lighting Central Midland League North Division. Their opponents were Appleby Frodingham FC from Scunthorpe who have been playing for just over 30 years in their current guise with a team of a similar name having been started in the 1940’s.

Retford are even younger than Appleby Frodingham formed in 2015 and have played at their ground ‘The Rail’ since 2017. The ground is developing and as yet with little cover or seating but with the strides that are being made you expect new developments shortly. The grounds name is very apt with the main East Coast rail line passing down one side.

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The pitch is mainly flat but with some bumpy areas and  has good grass cover. The dry, cloudy, windless day was ideal for playing football. A crowd of 262 was present and there was a good mix of ages and gender.

Retford FC 4 Appleby Frodingham 0

The pattern of the game soon became set as the younger more energetic Retford team took control and on 12 minutes No9 turned in the penalty area and was tripped with the resulting penalty being dispatched efficiently to the right of the static goalkeeper by Gareth Davies.

The  post and bar denied Retford a bigger lead until the 29th minute when Graeme Severn met a corner from the left and it was 2 nil, which it remained until half time.

Retford continued their domination but it wasn’t until the 80th minute that Gareth Davies  made it 3 nil, again from a penalty and again awarded for a foul on number 9.

A fourth was added by Jack Johnson on 89 minutes latching onto a cross from the the right, the ball deflecting of an opposition defender into the net.

The referee blew the final whistle dead on 90 minutes which cued wild celebrations by the team on becoming Champions having lost only once in the League campaign with one game left to play. New horizons for next year and who knows how far this new energetic club can go.

 

The sign says it all, ‘No chips today’.

There are two teams in Lincoln!

Lincoln City maintained their top spot and 11 point advantage over the chasing pack who are just outside the automatic promotion positions in The English league 2. Their unconvincing 1-1 draw with the bottom club Macclesfield belied their march on promotion under the Cowley brothers which has seen the brothers given the freedom of the city (Lincoln).

Just two miles away Lincoln United were at home to Gresley the bottom side in the Evostik East Division.

Lincoln United are the junior team in Lincoln by age as well as status having been formed in  1938 (Lincoln City FC were formed in 1884) first known as Lincoln Amateurs but changed their name to United in 1951 after signing their first professional player. They play in all white with some red trim hence the nickname the ‘Whites’. Apart from two good runs in the FA Cup in 1991/2 and 97/98 they have maintained a level of football averaging where they are today.

Lincoln City’s opponents Gresley FC were only reformed in 2009 but have had a very successful 10 years that seems to have hit the buffers this year as they lie last in the league and look doomed to be demoted back to a similar level as to where they started. There had been a previous history of football success in Gresley under the name of Gresley Rovers since 1882, they were unlucky to lose the 1991 FA Vase Final against Guiseley that went to a replay.

Lincoln United FC 1 Gresley FC 0

The conditions were great for football on this warm end of March Saturday with rolling grey skies interspersed by sunny spells. The stadium is at the end of a housing estate and part of a sports and social ground. The next door cricket ground looks magnificent and ready for a summer season. There was little wind, made calmer by the trees along two sides of the ground. The pitch was flat and well drained but the grass was patchy in places. There is plenty of covered areas and seating in the ground but the crowd of only 105 was disappointing, perhaps they should play when Lincoln City are away.

Gresley countered any United threat and were on top with long throws from either side into the goalkeeping area causing angst for the defenders. Lincoln United had little to offer and a young Ben Alsop in goal for Gresley looked comfortable.

The half time score of 0-0 showed little promise of a high scoring second half  and when on 72 minutes Lincolns No.3 Scott Mathews stepped up to take a free kick to the left of the D everyone seemed surprised when he bent it accurately left footed round the wall and into the far corner. Apart from United’s No.9 winning the majority of aerial battles they lacked any great intent and if someone would have played off his winning balls more could have been accomplished.

When your down your down and Gresley continued to dominate the game after the goal but to no avail.

The food facilities ‘The Canteen’ were good with a great choice served by a friendly duo and doing brisk business.

Chips and coffee were £2.50 and the chips were very hot, large, a good portion, golden but the soggy centres let them down to score 68.

 

 

‘Dirty Old Town.’

They play ‘Dirty Old Town’ as the teams come out and it is written large in the stadium, but this is Salford City FC the nouveau riche of Non-league football.

‘Dirty Old Town’ was written about Salford by Ewan MacColl  in 1949. He was born in Salford and wrote this song about the dirty industrial polluted landscape and people that he loved and grew up with. The song is said to have been written by him to help promote a play’Landscape with Chimneys’ that he had written a year earlier. He also tamed the words after protests by local Salford dignitaries. L.S Lowry also painted many pictures of the dirty local Salford landscape and the people who just got on with life.

This modern stadium is in a leafy suburb and next to a park with facilities that belie their current League status. Much has been written about the clubs ownership, 40% Peter Lim, and 10% each by Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham and you can’t take away what has been achieved.

The stadium was opened by Sir Alex Ferguson in October 2017 and has seen the old ground completely demolished and a new kit stadium built for 5000, half seated, that can be easily changed as they grow. Is this a blue print for others in the future.

This is Non League on steroids, no raffle tickets here just containers converted to club shop, food service and drinks, all very busy. The seating on the two sides is good and is fixed to Checker plate terracing that goes right round the stadium. Everything is at the same height and there are what appears to be 20 boxes to facilitate corporate hospitality. It is so clean and tidy and you can imagine the pride of being a spectator here. All pitch side advertising is taken and it is significant that there are a good proportion of women and younger people in the crowd. I felt the crowd of 2452 was disappointing considering there were no Premiership or championship games to compete with and their position in the league.

 

Salford City FC 0 Barnet FC 0

Sun shone on a level pitch that was worn in the goal areas, the corners and along the touch line. There were only a few Barnet fans and everyone stood for a minutes silence to show respect for those recently maliciously killed in New Zealand.

The game started with Barnet showing the most promise and they kept possession for long periods but with no cutting edge. Salford managed some domination as the first half came to an end forcing the Barnet keeper to make a great diving save to his right. He was completely beaten when a shot hit the cross bar but he survived the pressure until half time.

The second half was dominated by Salford but although they had the ball in the net the referee had previously blown for a handball offence. The referee had a good game in that he was never noticed and booked one player from each side when the tackles were too strong. Barnet showed a lot of resilience and their low league status seems only due to their games in hand. Salford should easily make the lottery of the play offs where anything might happen and get them into League two a year ahead of their aspirations

For me Salfords men of the match were Carl Peligianni and Nathan Pond who marshalled their defence with calmness. For Barnet Dan Sweeney was immense in defence but Andre Bouchard Barnets No 17 was overall man of the match as he tried and did make things happen the whole game as well as making many covering tackles.

The 64 page program was beautifully put together with great pictures and content, certainly well worth the £2 and it was no surprise that they had run out which I found out when a fan tried to buy mine off me.

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The coffee and chips were £3.50 but were disappointing. The coffee was weak and the chips were only warm and a bit anaemic looking. They were also a bit stodgy and floury resulting in a score of 57

Who would bet against Salford City FC being in League Two in the not too distant future.

Crook can’t outwit Lawyers.

A Friday night in County Durham to see the local derby, Crook Town AFC v Tow Law Town FC in the EBAC Northern League Division Two. You could see the lights of the ground as I headed up a very dark A68 and although the temperature was supposed to be 4 degrees it was colder with the gusting wind.

This is a big ground for this level of football and has good terracing at one end and covered seating and covered standing on one side. There is a small club house near the entrance to the ground that was busy. It is less than 5 miles between these two clubs resulting in a long standing local rivalry.

Tow law were started in 1890 and nicknamed the lawyers playing in local leagues until 1894 when they first joined the Northern League, they dropped back to local football but regained Northern League status in 1920. The late 60’s saw a great FA cup run and only a replay defeat to Shrewsbury stopped the mighty ‘Gunners’ visiting Ironworks Road. There have been some local cup wins and league titles but their best performance at a National level was in reaching the 1998 FA Vase final at Wembley where they lost 1-0 to Tiverton.

Crook Town Football Club was formed around the same time as Tow Law (1889) by a merger of Crook and Crook Excelsior and have had a long history of success in non league football winning the FA Amateur Cup on 5 occasions, 1900/01, 1953/54, 1958/59, 1961/62, 1963/64. The 1953/54 final was memorable in that it was against other local rivals Bishop Aukland, The teams drew the first game at Wembley 2-2 after extra time, drew 2-2 at St James Park A.E.T with Crook eventually winning 1-0 at Ayresome Park, some 200000 attended the three games. They find themselves currently at a lower level but a respectable mid table position and above Tow Law.

 

Crook Town AFC 0 TowLaw Town 0

Crook chose to play with the wind behind them on a level well drained pitch considering the amount of recent rain. The grass was quite long with a full covering all over the pitch. Rain gusted with the wind occasionally but had fully stopped by half time.

Crook dominated play with No 11 showing some speed and skill down the right, and their best chance was headed just over by number 6 from a corner after 20 minutes.

The same pattern of play was resumed in the second half but the Tow Law defence stood firm and Crook had little cutting edge up front to capitalise on their domination of the ball. Crook too had a strong defensive team and their number 4 was dominant throughout in midfield being the most competitive and skilful player on the park.

Crook did hit the outside of the right post in the 88th minute but it was difficult to remember any great save by either goalkeeper throughout the game. A 0-0 draw had been competitive and enjoyable to watch and the healthy crowd of 172 went home or to the bar happy.

This has to be the best snack bar I have visited this year, considering the level of football, they offered pies, chips, chicken curry with rice and other goodies. The two women running the kiosk were happy and friendly and the name above it ‘Only Foods and Sauces’ inspirational.

The chips were big and chunky, very hot, fresh and a great colour but were a bit under cooked and hence a sore of 68.  Chips and coffee for £2.50, I’ll be back.

 

 

The Art of Football

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On my recent visit to Sunderland I enquired about seeing the iconic Painting of Sunderland V Aston Villa that hangs in their reception and is recognised as the oldest painting of an Association Football match anywhere in the world. The painting by Thomas Maria Madawaska Hemy was painted after the end of the 1912/13 season when Sunderland won the Division 1 title and Aston Villa beat them in the FA Cup final at Crystal Palace in front of 120000 fans. This followed a 20 year period when the two teams dominated the First Division Championship, Villa winning it 4 times and Sunderland 3.

The painting is of an exciting 4-4 draw at Newcastle Road on 2nd January 1895 with a sprinkling of snow on the ground. It appears to depict a corner with all players in the painting except for the opposing goalkeeper.

Unfortunately I was unable to see the painting as I was informed that I would have to pay extra and return on a tour day.

My disappointment lasted a day as while leaving Sunderland I saw the above painting on the side of the Blue House pub. The painting is of Horatio (Raich) Carter who was regarded as the finest inside forward of his time. The painting is by local Sunderland artist Frank Styles and was completed in 2015.

A brilliant piece of local folk art.

Village Voice by Ian Cusak

Village Voice – The Story of Percy Main Amateurs 2009/2010 Season written by Ian Cusak and published by Ian Cusak Publishing 2010.

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What a find, this book was £1 on a book table at Stocksbridge Park Steels and is the best read of the year so far.

Ian Cusak a long time Newcastle United fan and a part time follower of the local Non-League scene finds that his disillusionment  with the big time leads him to Percy Main Amateurs. The book tells of Percy Mains season 2009/2010 and his election onto the committee and his involvement in time, energy and emotion. It also gives an insight into how the club survives and the characters who make up the team, management, committee and fans (all of which are known by name). The book was written to chronicle the event and to raise funds for the club. My secondhand purchase won’t help this but it has meant that I will visit them in the future. The club comes across as very friendly and welcoming of ground hoppers.

During the season in question Percy Main attempt to gain promotion from Division 1 of the Northern Alliance a league that is based mainly in the North East but due to historical reasons has teams from as far away as Berwick and Carlisle. I will not give away what the outcome is and spoil it for other readers.

If you see this book buy it and enjoy the pleasure of football at this level and wander why the powers that be do not filter down more money to keep this life blood of the game in better health.

 

Red Haze beats Maltby

Having had the warmest February on record it was back to normality at Maltby Main with storm Freya threatening and the winds beginning to gather strength and the temperature dropping to usual levels. Maltby were all prepared to take on Penistone Church FC the current leaders of the Northern Counties East League – Premier Division, although Penistone had faltered at home in midweek and the chasing pack were gaining.

Today, March 2nd, is the anniversary of the late great William McGregor’s letter to other senior English teams proposing a League structure. That letter in 1888 and its acceptance spawned many competitive leagues and was more than a small part in us all watching such games today.

Maltby Main FC 0 Penistone Church 1

The match pitted the leagues highest scorers (Penistone) against the meanest defence (Maltby) and early play indicated that this was to be a tight game. However on just five minutes Jordon Turner, Maltby’s number 11, elbowed an opponent in the face and received a straight red and also appeared to attempt a kick on another Penistone player as he walked off. The resulting scuffle was no more than attempts to get him off the field quickly and the game resumed. Maltby playing uphill on a very even dry pitch matched Penistone with the disadvantage of being one man down. Both goalkeepers were called to make good saves to turn shots over their bars and it stayed at nil nil at Half Time.

Penistone put on the pressure from the start of the new half and a free kick into the box was headed goal wards for their number 5, Thomas Cadzow, to head home. With the score 1-0 on 50 minutes the floodgate should have opened but Maltby showed their composure and started to get on top. A series of Maltby substitutions added fresh legs and they were denied by Chris Snaith in the Penistone goal. Penistone seemed to lose momentum up front and started to play out the game holding onto their advantage. They ended the game more willing to run out time by the opposing sides corner flag than attempt to play an attacking move that may have given possession away.

The One nil score to Penistone kept them top of the league but the fact that they did not take further advantage of their extra man suggests that their tenure at the top may not be long. Maltby again showed their defensive qualities and could be partially happy with the result.

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No chips here and a poor refreshment offering. I settled for a coffee at £1.

Conversations are easy to have at Non-League games and today was no exception. A Penistone fan took me under his wing and explained about their rise from the Sheffield & Hallamshire Senior League to where they are now. This has been due to a visionary committee and a Management team of brothers Ian and Duncan Richards both in education like the Cowley brothers currently leading Lincoln City’s assault on gaining promotion from league Two. Whatever happens to the team this year you would expect them to move on to a higher level. However their local commitment to the team and their jobs might just keep them pushing the Penistone dream.

Manchester City Fly High

What a glorious February day to see my first ever women’s football match, the final of The FA Women’s Continental League Cup at Bramall Lane, home of Sheffield United.

The sun was out, the sky was blue and there was no wind as I entered the ground. There seemed little activity at the one kiosk open in my section of the family stand and I realised why when I went up the steps to my seat. Only one side of the ground was open to fans with a smattering of officials and family members on the far side near where the teams come out and the dugouts are. The crowd was only 2424 and with concession prices at only one pound the full takings could not have been great. However there were a lot of families and and younger people than at men’s football and this must surely be a base from which to start. There were more females than males but it was not by much.

The early start of 12.15 may have made it difficult for the fans from Manchester and London to get to Sheffield and it was the Arsenal fans who seemed to have the loudest voice and used the cardboard clackers on the seats the most.

These are two of the top teams in the country and have the backing and sponsorship of their Premier League partners. Arsenal are sponsored by Emirate Airlines and Manchester City by Etihad Airways.

Each team probed in the first half and Arsenal had the upper hand with every attack prompted by the solid back four. City’s best chance came right on the stroke of half time when they tried to convert a loose ball after a headed clearance from a corner. The half ended all square but the second belonged to Manchester City. They started to overwhelm the Arsenal mid field forcing them into numerous poor passes and Arsenals forwards never got into the game. On 58 mins City hit the post and seemed to have more time on the ball and would let the ball run to create space. Arsenals forwards and mid fields inability to get into the game put more and more pressure on Arsenals back four and goalkeeper and again City hit the woodwork just before full time.

Extra time proved no different and if it was not for Leah Williamson, Louise Quinn in the centre of Arsenals defence along with goalkeeper Sari Van Veenendaal  Manchester City would have wrapped up the game earlier. In fact these three were my outstanding players of the match.

So to penalties which Manchester City won 4-2 after both goalkeepers saved shots.

An enjoyable match that was greeted with cheers and a standing ovation from all supporters.

There were no chips available when I bought the Balti Pie which was hot on both accounts and very good. Chips eventually were ready and they were very very good. Hot tasty and fried, not oven chips, they scored an outstanding 74, but at £3 a tray with the coffee and pie at £5.50 it seemed like daylight robbery compared to the many non-league games I have attended this season.