Saturday, October 31, 2009
Thank **** that's over
31-10-2009: Ipswich Town 1 Derby County 0
These Derby County fans pictured in 2008 appear relieved that their wretched season in the Premier League is over – the Ram’s officially the worst team to ever appear in the Premiership. As the final whistle went at Portman Road this afternoon, with Ipswich recording their first league win in fifteen attempts, this image suddenly sprung to mind. One unwanted record firmly behind us too.
A proper report here.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
27-10-2009: Bury Town 1 Cambridge City 2
In recent years both Bury Town and Cambridge City have been forced to switch leagues, although for entirely different reasons.
Town’s switch from the Isthmian League (Division One North), in the summer of 2008, to the Southern League (Division One Midlands), came about as the result of the reorganisation of the National League system, the seven levels of English football below the Football League. A number of clubs were shunted from one league to another, in an attempt to align clubs and leagues geographically and so cut down on travel costs, although for Bury Town this resulted in a large increase in mileage covered, from 1,408 miles in 2007-08 to around 2,024 in the 2008-09 campaign.
A few years back the outlook was looking bright for the Cambridge City. Having joined the newly formed Conference South for the 2004-05 season, they not only enjoyed a decent FA Cup run (reaching the second round proper where they succumbed to the MK Dons) but reached the play-offs too, losing to Eastbourne Borough over two legs (first leg coverage here). But after their best season for over thirty years it all started to go pear shaped.
Financial problems forced the club to sell their Milton Road ground and in 2006 the board announced that an agreement had been reached to amalgamate with cross-town rivals Cambridge United who had just been relegated out of the Football League. In stepped the Cambridge City Supporters' Trust, and after extensive campaigning they were able to force the existing directors to resign and replace them with their own members.
Next followed a legal dispute, eventually settled in the High Court, over the sale of Milton Road that the previous board had off-loaded or a price well below its market value. City can now stay at the ground until 2010 (at the very least) and will receive 50% of all profits arising from its future development. Good news though was to be followed by bad.
At the end of the 2007-08 season the Lilywhites were demoted from the Conference South to the Southern League Premier after Milton Road failed to meet the FA's Ground Grading requirements (Category B at this level), namely no terracing behind either goal and inadequate turnstile facilities. They appealed but the FA were having none of it and so in the summer of 2008 twenty-two consecutive seasons in non-league football’s second tier came to an end.
So now both clubs are in the Southern League (albeit a division apart), which found a new sponsor in the summer in the form of drinks company Zamaretto. Actually it found two sponsors, the League Cup being sponsored separately by Red Insure, and it is for the latter that the two sides were in competition tonight.
Bury have a good pedigree of late in cup competitions and as recently as Saturday almost made it to the first round proper of the FA Cup for the second year in succession. Despite going ahead at Oxford City they suffered the agony of conceding two late goals and went out (but not without a fight) 2-1. A recent surfeit of cup games (they’ve also competed in the FA Trophy and Suffolk Premier Cup in recent weeks) has meant that they have not played a league game for over five weeks.
A proper report on tonight’s proceedings can be found here.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
24-10-2009: Mildenhall Town 4 Harwich & Parkeston 3
Two years ago I made the journey from East Suffolk to Mildenhall through torrential rain arriving at Mildenhall Town’s Recreation Way Ground only to find that the game I was planning to watch had been postponed over two hours earlier due to a waterlogged pitch.
Today it rained intermittently - in between bursts of brilliant sunshine as the clouds moved elsewhere to shed their loads - but not enough to threaten the game or indeed (as it turned out) the entertainment level in a gripping, OK moderately engaging, seven-goal tussle that the home side, the ‘Hall, clinched by the odd goal. A win sealed by a second half penalty, one of two shared by the two sides.
The home side enjoyed a purple patch between 2004-05 and 2007-08 finishing in the top six four seasons in succession, a run that included a runners-up spot in the Ridgeons Premier Division in 2007. Last year they settled for mid-table but have struggled during the opening months of the current campaign with today’s three points lifting them just clear of the drop zone. Harwich (a bit more on them here), on the other hand, are now without a win in thirteen outings, and remain firmly rooted to the bottom of the table.
Tucked away behind the local swimming pool and town centre car park the first thing you notice about the ground (apart from an interesting mural-ly looking thing on the side of the clubhouse) is the pronounced slope of the pitch. Second are the mature trees at the bottom end of the ground and their colourful autumnal display. These occupied camera and I for a number of minutes before kick-off, and during breaks in the action, although I’ve spared you all but one tree picture in today’s offering of snaps (link at bottom of this post).
Mildenhall, a not unattractive market town sitting on the edge of the Fens, is probably best known for the two large US Air Force bases close by. During the Second World War East Anglia was covered with airfields of a multitude of shapes and sizes, and two survivors from that era, RAF Mildenhall and, three miles to the north-east, its sister base RAF Lakenheath are the largest US Air Force bases in the UK. They both continue to feature regularly in post WWII action. Two examples…
After the Rome and Vienna airport massacres of January 1986 allied intelligence services revealed conspiratorial Libyan involvement, and three months later, on April 14, fighter-bombers from Lakenheath and three other support bases in England launched a retaliatory strike on Tripoli.
Fifteen years later the record for the longest long distance bombing raid in history was set during Desert Storm by an American B-52, when it flew from the US to Iraq, and then returned to RAF Mildenhall afterwards. Many other missions during the conflict flew in and out of the two bases too.
Today RAF Mildenhall provides air refuelling to US and NATO aircraft over Europe, while Lakenheath is home to the USAF’s 48th Fighter Wing.
From Battle fields to ploughed fields and Mildenhall grabbed the headlines back in the 1940’s when a Suffolk Ploughman discovered a hoard of 4th century Roman Silverware which has since become known as the Mildenhall Treasure. Now housed at the British Museum, the haul included a two-foot diameter silver platter (which weighed in at 18lbs) plus other mostly tableware items.
Back to football (although I’m done with Mildenhall Town I think), and in the latest post on the entertaining 300 Grounds and counting the author says that one of his criteria for adding a new ground to his list is that it must have hosted a meaningful contest, basically no friendlies. Which is fair enough. Others won’t count a ground unless they’ve seen a goal scored there. Which seems a bit odd. A friend of mine has “done” Doncaster Rovers (two visits to their old Belle Vue ground) although he’s not been to their new Keepmoat Stadium and doesn’t plan to either. Just a bit obstreperous.
A simple soul I have no criteria whatsoever. If a ball is being kicked around on a pitch in anything remotely resembling a ground it goes on the list. My rule used to be that an entrance fee had to have paid but then that would have ruled out my visit to the Nou Camp in 1979 when I was given a complimentary ticket. Rules are there to be broken. Or dropped.
To do a ground properly a visit during day light hours is best so that I can photograph it without the aid of a flash gun although I do prefer the atmosphere at night games the best, even when there are just a few fans on hand to watch.
Likewise, the criteria for selecting a game to watch is also quite simple: proximity to where I’m staying/working at the time in a village/town/city that has something else remotely of interest in it or close by. Which could be anything from a jam factory to a cathedral to a decent Chinese Restaurant. I’m easy to please.
More pictures here.
Friday, October 23, 2009
13-02-2004: A lap around Arsenal Stadium
As Arsenal’s new stadium, the Emirates, was beginning to take shape half-a-mile away to the west I took the opportunity presented by a slack day at work to bunk off and head over to it’s forerunner Highbury (a.k.a. Arsenal Stadium) and take some shots of the exterior (and it’s surrounds) of what had been the Gunner’s home for previous 91 years.
Archibald Leitch was the architect of the original stadium hurriedly constructed during the summer of 1913 as Arsenal (then with a Woolwich prefix) moved north of the Thames from Plumstead. Rectangular in shape, three sides of the new ground had banked concrete terracing while the fourth a covered grandstand with 9,000 seats.
In a principally residential area the stand, on Avenell (?) Road, was the only one not backed onto by the gardens of the neighbouring terraced homes (a not inconsiderable fact that would prevent the club from extending the capacity of the ground in the later part of the 20th century and ultimately lead to the move to Ashburton Grove).
In keeping with the clubs domination of English football during the 1930’s (five League Championships and two FA Cup wins) Highbury underwent a major and rather grand facelift, with most traces of the original Leitch design disappearing in the process. First, a new stand on the west touchline was constructed (opening in 1932) followed by demolition of the original grandstand and building of a new one in 1936.
It was during this period that the Art Deco style came to the fore and architect Claude Waterlow Ferrier used this as the principal theme for the new West Stand and then, joined by Major William Binnie, for the East Stand too. While the former cost £45,000 costs for the later were well over budget at £130,000, most of this additional expense being lavished on the stand’s famous façade and the oppulent interior (many years ago I watched a game from a padded (and heated?) seat in the directors box and can atest to this).
Seven steps up from the pavement the entrance door has metal lamps on either wall and above a frieze containing the clubs initials AFC. Over the frieze there is a window that provides light to the first floor landing on the inside, and this in turn is topped by a further frieze with the Gunner’s logo.
Inside the front door and you begin to understand why Highbury was once referred to as the Marble Palace by the Illustrated London News. The floor and stair is paved with terrazzo (actually a fake marble), an imposing bust of legendary manager Herbert Chapman looks out at you from a niche in the wall while the Gunner’s logo is set in black stone within the paving. Doors off the entrance hall and an impressive Art Deco staircase with polished hardwood rails in the original building led to…
… a general office, typist rooms, accountant’s and cashier’s rooms, spacious players changing rooms and bathrooms (with underfloor heating), match officials changing room, managers office, a Ladies' Tea Room, a general Refreshment Room, a press area and board room. In addition telephone booths, a control room and a radio broadcasting box for the BBC were provided, and in a very forward looking piece of thinking a room was set aside for television equipment and cabling.
Described as “the grandest pieces of football architecture ever built in Britain with the single possible exception of the East Stand at Ibrox Park", the East Stand is Grade II listed. Both it and the West stand have since been converted to apartments as the site is redeveloped for residential use (the North Stand and Clock End demolished to make way for purpose-designed apartment buildings), Arsenal’s having played their final game there in May 2006.
More pictures here
How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers won the FA Cup
Just before the 2002 World Cup in Japan I attended a course at Birkbeck College in London entitled Football, Culture and Society, a series of 6/8 lectures on covering footballs role in community and culture. Not only was it an excellent course but it also gave participants a chance to meet the likes of Professor John Williams (from the Centre for Football Research, Leicester University) and Mark Perryman (football activist and writer and convener of the London England Fans supporters' group).
The series of handouts from the lecturers included several pages of recommended reading (which I have reproduced here, here, here, here, here and here for anyone that’s interested) and I’ve been working my way through the list every since.
Up until that time I’d given up on finding any half decent writing on the game (Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch excepted) after starting and stopping after a few pages on at least a dozen of footballers autobiographies. Nobby Stiles’ autobiography for instance. How can the story of a man who played for one of England top clubs – winning World Cup and European Cup medals in the process – be converted in to two-hundred or so utterly tedious pages.
Anyway, this links very untidily with a book that is not on the list, which I picked up on my recent holiday in Lincolnshire, the truly wonderful How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers won the FA Cup by JL Carr (1975). Set in a fenland village it tells the story of how the local amateur side – guided by an ex-patriot Hungarian academic and two retired football league players – not only reach the FA Cup Final, but win it in style with victory over Glasgow Rangers. Is it believable? “Depends on whether you want to believe”, says the author in the introduction. The title is a bit of a spoiler but if fantasy, David v Goliath or whimsy are you’re thing then you should try and get hold of a copy.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
20-10-2009: Ipswich Town 1 Watford 1
Well that was by far and away the best home performance by an Ipswich side this season, perhaps the best in the last twelve months.
We dominated the game for large spells, we passed the ball around like Town teams of yore, and we defended so well that we restricted Watford to just one shot on target.
Unfortunately they scored from that one shot and unbelievably we’re denied yet another win by a goal deep into injury time.
And so after thirteen attempts we remain the only side in the top four divisions in England without a win – but that win can’t possibly be far away if tonight’s performance is anything to go by.
The reaction of supporters after the game was quite something. Rooted to the bottom of the table but still applauded off the pitch.
Proper report here.
Monday, October 19, 2009
22-01-2005: Reading 1 Ipswich Town 1
Quite a while back there was a documentary (on Sky) about football supporters who go too extraordinary lengths to support their respective teams. It featured the likes of the famous bell-ringing and heavily tattooed Portsmouth supporter and an acquaintance of mine who travels from Clacton-On-Sea up to Scotland every weekend to follow the exploits of Greenock Morton.
Another series (ITV or Channel Four) focused on the more bizarre aspects of football fan-ship. It featured a Leeds fans who had developed such a hatred for Manchester United that he had been prosecuted for vandalism by the local council after he had repainted a red bus shelter at the bottom of his road white.
Also interviewed was a Reading supporter who was convinced that the newly constructed Madejski Stadium (the programme was made in the late 90’s) had been built on the meeting point of a number of Planet Earth’s magnetic fields and as a result was ready for use by aliens as a time-portal (along the lines of the one that featured in the movie Stargate).
One thing that is certain is that stadium was built on an old household waste site and there are outlet points at strategic locations to allow for the release of the methane gas that continues to be generated underground (notice how I’ve avoided adding any gratuitous jokes here). Club owner, Sir John Madejski, after whom the stadium takes its name, is said to have paid the local council just one pound for the land, although a further £50 million was required for the construction of the 24,161 capacity all-seater bowl.
Opened in August 1998, Reading share Madejski Stadium with Rugby Union side London Irish.
More pictures here.
Friday, October 09, 2009
The final day of our week break in Lincolnshire takes us for a quick look around the seaside resort of Skegness. Not really our thing but the town is far nicer that a number of it’s peers (Great Yarmouth for example) (no pun intended). Anyway, on the way out of town and back to our cottage the ministering angel of domestic bliss spotted Skegness Town FC’s Burgh Road ground and I was allowed to stop and take a few pictures.
Not content with exterior shots alone I poked by head inside and noticed someone cutting the grass. Turns out that this was Allan Gray who as groundsman, secretary, treasurer and reserve team coach is known locally as ‘Mr Skegness Town’ and won a Lincolnshire Sports Partnership award a few years ago for his twenty-years of service to the club. We had a quick chat about the pitch (which looked in pretty decent shape to me despite playing host to Car Boot Sales every Sunday) and the local football scene, and he was more than happy for me to wonder around and take the pictures you see here.
Now in the Central Midlands League, Skegness won back-to-back Lincolnshire League Champions in seasons 2006-07 and 2007-08 also winning the Supplementary Cup in that second title-winning season. Less than a month after the double win manager Paul Walden resigned, following a fall out with the club’s committee, shortly to be followed by the entire first team. Later that summer Walden (and players) resurfaced at nearby Louth Town, leading them to the Central Midlands League Premiership title that very same season.
More pictures here.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Louth Town 1 Westella & Willerby 0 (Abacus Central Midlands Football League – Supreme Division)
We have a copy of the AA Illustrated Guide to Britain (purchased around 1984) which gets carried around with us on holidays in the UK. In its margins the ministering angel of domestic bliss has noted - next to the books descriptions of each regions principal towns and villages - what we thought of each place that we’ve visited or driven through. “Nice” she noted next to Louth after we drove through the town in 1988, but twenty-one years on we are not quite sure why.
“One of the most perfectly preserved Georgian towns in England, and a good centre from which to tour the Wolds”, reads the guide. The narrow pavements and constant flow of traffic right through its centre make navigating it on foot an unpleasant experience. Yes, there a great variety of Georgian and early-Victorian architecture but it struck us as all being a bit grubby. A succession of souped-up Vauxhall Astra’s and bulky four-by-four whipping past the impressive St James’s Church fail to add much to the 1515 building and its soaring spire either.
That aside we found the Lincolnshire folk to be particularly friendly during our holiday and that continued in the town and at the game tonight – starting with the friendly welcome from the young lady operating Park Avenue’s single turnstile.
Local side Louth Town were formed in May 2007, when forerunners and former tenants of Park Avenue Louth United withdrew from the Central Midlands Football League. Town completed their debut season (2007-08) with a creditable mid-table finish and the following campaign collected the league’s “Team of the Season” award when they clinched the championship and promotion to the Supreme Division, winning all but three of their twenty-eight league matches.
A bit frayed around the edges, their Park Avenue ground had already been sold prior to the club’s formation (it occupies a sizeable spot in a residential area to the east of the town centre making it ripe for redevelopment) but they’ve been able to secure a short term lease while a new home is found.
All of the grounds facilities are housed in a single two-storey building along one touchline. At pitch level are the changing rooms (and a function room large enough to house the Louth Pavilion and Bingo Social Club) and above this the club’s bar which in addition to providing the usual lubricants has a glass frontage offering views of the action as it unfolds on the pitch.
There are half a dozen flags of St George decorating the walls and further flags are draped at the back of the small area of covered terracing below the windows on the outside. The Louth Town “Crew” also have flags positioned at various points around the perimeter of the pitch.
On the touchline opposite the main stand is what appears to be a TV gantry – although neither Town or Louth United have had any recent cup run’s that would help explain its presence (let me know if you know why it’s there).
Tonight’s opposition Westella & Willerby (who this campaign will field an impressive 21 teams at a range of age levels) hail from East Riding (just to the north of the Humber Bridge) and are thought to have been playing competitive football since 1910. Counting Dean Windass amongst a number of famous “names” to have begun their senior careers with the club they have a reputation for the development of young players a reputation which earned them FA Community Club status in 2003.
The only goal of the evening - in an evenly contested match - came after just 13 minutes and put the home side top of the table with the only unbeaten record in the Supreme Division. Westella & Willerby, Town’s rivals for the Premier Division title last season, had previously been unbeaten until tonight.
More pictures here.
Saturday, October 03, 2009
03-10-2009: Horncastle Town 1 Lincoln Moorland Railway Reserves 3 (Sills & Betteridge Solicitors Lincolnshire Football League Challenge Cup 1st Round)
A hastily arranged holiday finds us (myself and the ministering angel of domestic bliss that is) renting a nice little cottage just to the north of Horncastle on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds.
Driving across the Fens for the second time in a month (see the Wisbech Town post) the flat unattractive fenland slowly gives way to gentle hills as you pass through Boston and by the time Horncastle is reached – around 40 minutes later – I’m sold on the area already.
We’ll be doing quite a bit of hiking malarkey over the next seven days and will exploring the “rolling hills and deep valleys, quiet streams and hanging beechwoods” (as described in our guide book) during that time, but first things first and some footie.
Despite complete ignorance of local football in the region I’ve managed to come up with a couple of games for the coming week, starting today at the “Wong”, the home of Lincolnshire Football League side Horncastle Town.
There’s no programme on offer so all I can offer in this humble post is a hastily mashed together history of the club c/o Google: They joined the Lincolnshire League in 1996, making this their fourteenth season in the competition, and have managed a top six finish in each of the last six campaigns.
Last year seems to have been a somewhat traumatic time for them with the resignation of their manager and the loss of a number of key players that had been brought in from out of town. The later it seems had been a bone of contention with supporters and players alike with many feeling that the progress of local players was being stymied by the use of so many players from other areas.
All seems to be well again though with Charter Standard Club Status being conferred on the club by the FA, and a thriving junior section with sides for Under-10’s through Under-16’s all being fielded (the Under-15’s winning their league earlier this year).
Despite a strong wind that whipped across the pitch Horncastle and their visitors from Lincoln, served up an enjoyable 90 minutes by keeping the ball on the deck rather than opting for hoof-ball. The home side had more than their fair share of goal scoring chances in the first period and could have led at that point by two or three (as this proper report points out) but, as they say, missed chances come back to haunt you - the visitors taking the chances that they engineered for themselves and deservedly running out winners.
Incidentally, Horncastle (the place) is a small leafy market town originally settled by the Romans - there are still traces of a five-mile stretch of Roman Road to the north of the town – and in the 19th-Century was famed for it’s huge 10-day long annual horse fairs. Today’s markets are on a much smaller scale of course although no less exotic – one stall offering Ostrich Burgers!
The town boasts a number of really good books shops one of which, Good For Books, the missus and I spent a good hour rummaging around in (dropping a more than healthy amount at the till on the way out). For those preferring to while away their time in drinking establishments the King’s Head comes recommended (a thatched pub wedged rather incongruously between two Georgian buildings on the main north-south road through town).
More pictures here.
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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)