Saturday, April 26, 2008
Ebbsfleet United 1 Oxford United 3
Blue Square Premier
On the south bank of the Thames three miles or so downstream from the Dartford Crossing sit the towns of Gravesend and Northfleet. Before the advent of cheap rail travel to the likes of Clacton and Southend on the Essex Coast, Gravesend was a popular destination for Londoners wanting a weekend away from the capitol and was easily reached by one of many competing steamboats.
Between Gravesend and Northfleet sat an old chalk pit which in 1837 was transformed into Rosherville, 17 acres of gardens, mock Greek Temples and amenities including a theatre which engaged many famous acts of the time such as Blondin the French tight-rope walker and acrobat.
The gardens have long since disappeared and I doubt whether any of its visitors from that era would recognise the area now let alone choose to holiday in it. Northfleet, it is fair to say, is unlikely to win a Britain in Bloom contest. It’s shoreline is a procession of cement factories, paper mills, warehouses and rusting wharfs upstream to Dartford and downstream to the more genteel Gravesend.
Gravesend, once the residence of General Gordon and the final resting place of Pocahontas, is the birth place and was the home of yours truly during his formative years, an era recently celebrated by the demolition of the old Gravesend & North Kent hospital in which I was born and fittingly the car park for the new Gravesend Community Hospital marks the spot where I entered this world.
With a Wembley appearance coming up for Ebbsfleet United I thought I had better show my face at their Stonebridge Road ground at least once before cheering them on beneath the arch against Torquay United in the FA Trophy Final on May 10th.
Stonebridge Road is just a few hundred yards away from the brand new Ebbsfleet Eurostar Station, and it was as a result of a deal struck with Eurostar last summer than saw the original Gravesend & Northfleet club renamed Ebbsfleet United. I say original as Gravesend & Northfleet had in fact been formed by the merger of two other clubs, Gravesend United and Northfleet United in 1946, the new club adopting the colours and home of the comparatively more successful Northfleet side.
And of course more recently the whole kit and caboodle has been bought out by MyFootballClub.co.uk, a takeover more than adequately covered elsewhere. Plans to move away from the immediate area into a new stadium have also been discussed. No doubting this is necessary to secure the long term future of the club but it will be a great shame to lose Stonebridge Road which to me anyway is a quintessentially British football ground. See the panoramas here and here.
It’s crumbling concrete terraces, rusting roofs and rickety but charming main stand are all painted bright red and white. The Northfleet (Plough) End terrace has been partially converted into a seating area and it is in the corner between this and the Stonebridge Road terrace that the bank of turnstiles for home fans sits. Away fans enter the ground from turnstiles in the opposite corner where they are housed behind the goal on an uncovered terrace, the only side of the ground that offers no cover at all. There are three tea and burger bars to keep you fed and watered, a club shop, and sufficient electric pylons, chimney stacks and cranes on the skyline to count during breaks in the action.
The last league match of the season also saw The Fleets highest crowd of the campaign. With local support boosted by those still in need of a ticket for the Trophy final, great weather and an impressively large contingent of fans from Oxford the attendance was a pretty decent eighteen-hundred or so. With Ebbsfleet minds evidently elsewhere the visitors were three-up in under half-an-hour. And nobody apart from the away support seemed that bothered.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Needham Market 2 Harwich & Parkeston 1
Ridgeons League Premier Division
As the 2007-08 football season reaches it’s sharp end, and the silverware starts being handed out, now is the time to shamelessly attach yourself to one of the clubs likely to be the recipients of some of it. Last season Gosport Borough and AFC Totton where my chosen ones, the former successfully lifting the Sydenhams Wessex Premier Division title, while the latter were losing finalists in the new Wembley’s first FA Vase Final.
This year Needham Market and Ebbsfleet United have my undivided/divided attention as the former having already lifted the Suffolk Premier Cup in Tuesday’s final at Fortress Portman Road, push for their first ever Ridgeons League Premier Division title, and the latter, cheered on by MyFootballClub.co.uk members and the natives of Gravesham (myself being one – but more on that in a future post), take on Torquay United at Wembley in the FA Trophy Final in just over two weeks time.
Needham Market is nine miles north-west of Ipswich and first developed around the wool industry until the plague swept through the place in the mid-to-late 17th century. It sits beside the River Gipping (one of the rivers that form the River Orwell) which was developed into a important trading route known as the Ipswich and Stowmarket Navigation, with the construction of fifteen locks, a successful enterprise that continued until it was closed to traffic in 1932 (but has since seen some restoration work at the hand’s of these folk).
Needham Market FC moved to their Bloomfield’s ground in 1996 having previously played at two other venues in the town since their formation in 1919. The ground takes it’s name from long time servant Derrick Bloomfield who first played for the club over 60 years ago and after hanging up his boots has served the team in one capacity or another ever since. A fitting tribute the place is too. The ground attendance record was recently set at 1,375 for the visit of Kirkham & Wesham in the 2nd Leg of FA Vase Semi-Final (a 4-2 aggregate loss for Needham sadly) with fan’s housed in neat and well maintained facilities that include a grandstand with seating for ninety, a small covered terrace along on half of the opposite touchline and hard-standing around the remainder of the pitch. The tea hut behind one goal serves up a pretty mean brew and burger, and for those requiring something stronger there is a large clubhouse (part of which is currently being refurbished). The playing surface is in pretty good nick too and played host to a few ITFC home reserve fixtures two seasons back.
Sixth place was achieved in the Premier Division last campaign along with victory in the East Anglian Cup Final, and a come from behind victory tonight leaves the Red’s just six points shy of leaders Soham Town Rangers with a pair of games in hand. The final fixture of the season pits the two sides against each other at Soham’s Julius Martin Lane ground on May 3rd.
Vital statistics: Admission 5 pounds, programme 1 pound, cup of tea 50 pence, attendance 134.
Match Number: 1434
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Leiston 0 Needham Market 0 (aet) (Needham win 5-4 on pens)
S1 Sports Suffolk Premier Cup Final
A far more balanced Premier Cup Final than last years affair when Ipswich Town Reserves trashed Leiston 8-0. Leiston were back again for another attempt at lifting the trophy, tonight being their third final in a row.
But in a game that produced no goals in the regulation ninety minutes or the extra thirty - the match, however, was not short on excitement or goal attempts - it was not to be third time lucky for one of Suffolk’s oldest clubs.
They briefly held the upper hand in the penalty shoot out, but two good stops by the Needham ‘keeper won the cup for the recent losing FA Vase Semi-Finalists.
Needham have further chances to pick-up silverware this season and currently lie in second place in the Ridgeons League Premier Division with a not impossible chance of beating Soham Town Rangers to the title.
Their various cup runs have left them playing catch up in the league with three games in hand over the Cambridgeshire side, but with a nine point gap to close starting with a home game against Harwich & Parkeston this Thursday.
Vital statistics: Admission 6 pounds, programme free, attendance 803.
Match Number: 1433
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Norwich City 1 West Bromwich Albion 2
Putting football rivalries aside for a moment it has to be said that Norwich is quite a pleasant city to visit and equally I’m sure quite a nice place to live. It is depicted in some quarters of the media as a geographic as well as political backwater, not helped (stifles laughter) by the exploits of the fictional Radio Norfolk presenter Alan Partridge, but it is often forgotten that Norwich was at one time England’s second city both in population and in commerce.
Today Norwich is one of the UK’s leading shopping destinations (it’s residents also lead the way as the nations most active EBay’ers) but away from the high streets it also offers many other attractions including a castle, a pretty splendid 11th century cathedral and a wealth of other architecture from the Medieval, Middle Ages, Edwardian and Victorian era’s. At one time Norwich is said to have boasted a church for every day of the week and a pub for every day!
While mentioning the cathedral I should also mention that my brother-in-law was at one time a member of it’s choir and it was he who invited me to today’s game as his guest for he is, it shames me to admit, a Norwich City supporter and season ticket holder. This deviant behaviour, I should point out, he hid from our family for almost two full years after his marriage to my sister.
I’m no stranger to Carrow Road having visited the place many times over the years to watch East Anglian Derby’s and the ground and surrounds have certainly seen some changes in that time. The ground dates from 1935 and it’s original grandstand and terracing were constructed in just eight-two days to make it City’s third home. Captain Evelyn Barclay (a club vice-president) financed the construction of a roof over the railway end terrace two years later and the Barclay Stand was born. Although completely rebuilt since it retains it originally name and houses the more vociferous of the club’s fan’s.
The grandstand was badly damaged by fire a few months into the 1984-85 season and it’s subsequent rebuilding was the catalyst for the first major improvements at Carrow Road in fifty-years. Named the Geoffrey Watling City Stand it houses the players changing rooms, directors box and media areas but has since been dwarfed by the stands on the other three sides of the playing area.
Behind both of the goals are the similar but not identical Norwich & Peterborough (1979) and Barclay Stand’s (1992). These are two tiered affairs with a row of executive boxes between the two levels, the former being the home to Delia’s Restaurant and Yellow’s Bar. The newest of all the stands is the Jarrold Stand (a panoramic shot of which can be found here) which, opened in 2004, runs along the southern touchline.
It is a cantilever stand with a single tier and seats 8,000 supporters including visitors. The corner between it and the Norwich & Peterborough Stand has since been filled with further seating, but the construction of a Holiday Inn between it and the Barclay Stand means that corner is unlikely to be filled with seating leaving the ground not quite fully enclosed.
I hate to admit it but this really is quite a decent ground.
Brother-in-law’s two seats occupy a good spot in the Jarrold Stand, about a quarter of the way along the touchline and fifteen rows back (far better than the rubbish pictures taken on my new-ish mobile phone would suggest). A fairly sedate area apart from two oiks a couple of rows back who f’ed and c’ed their way through the first 71 minutes, gave us all a brief respite when Zoltan Gera scored the Baggies second of the afternoon and they appeared to have left, only to reappear a few minutes after the Canaries had pulled a goal back from the penalty spot courtesy of Ched Evans (73’).
They may as well have left after ninety seconds which is all it took for the Championship title contenders to take the lead through Robert Koren following some comic defending by the home side who seem determined to carry on from where they left off from last weeks 2-1 trashing at Fortress Portman Road in the East Anglian Derby.
The two thousand Baggies fan’s that shared the stand with us left quite happy with themselves and their team as manager Tony Mowbray looks to be on the verge – and a couple of games - of guiding the Midland’s club back to the Premiership.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Ipswich Wanderers 1 Walsham Le Willows 2
Ridgeons League Premier Division
Vital statistics: Admission 5 pounds, programme 1 pound, cup of tea 60 pence, attendance 97.
Match Number: 1430
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Ground Visit RecordENGLAND
(Fitness First Stadium)
(Wicor Recreation Ground)
(King's Marsh Stadium)
(Alton (Bass) Sports Ground)
(Brantham Athletic Sports & Social Club)
Brighton & Hove Albion
Brighton & Hove Albion
(New Writtle Street)
(Chelmsford Sport & Athletics Centre)
(Saunders Honda Stadium)
Dagenham & Redbridge
Debenham Leisure Centre
(Brewers Green Lane)
(Rush Green Bowl)
Felixstowe & Walton United
Great Yarmouth Town
(Wellesley Recreation Ground)
Harwich & Parkeston
Havant & Waterlooville
(West Leigh Park)
(Glass World Stadium)
(Five Heads Park)
(SEH Sports Ground )
(The New Den)
(National Hockey Stadium)
Netley Central Sports
(Station Road Recreation Ground)
(St James' Park)
(Cricket Field Road)
Preston North End
Queens Park Rangers
Saffron Walden Town
(Raymond McEnhill Stadium)
Soham Town Rangers
(Julius Martin Lane)
St Albans City
(New Farm Road)
(Green Meadows Stadium)
(Stadium of Light)
(White Hart Lane)
United Services Portsmouth
(Vosper Thornycroft Sports Ground)
Walsham Le Willows
(Walsham Sports Club Ground)
West Bromwich Albion
West Ham United
(King George V Playing Field )
(Denplan City Ground)
(St. Georges Lane)
Heart of Midlothian
(North Sydney Oval)
SW Wacker Innsbruck
(Constant Vanden Stock Stadium)
1. FC Koeln
1. FC Union Berlin
(Stadion An der Alten Försterei)
(Olympic Stadium, Amsterdam)
(GN Bouw Stadion)
(Abe Lenstra Stadium)
(Willem II Stadion)
(Gamla Ullevi (Old))
(Comiskey Park I)
Tampa Bay Rowdies
(Tampa Bay Stadium)