Saturday, 12 May 2018

Peckham Town 2 v 1 Borden Village

Saturday 12th May 2018
Kent County League Premier Division
The Menace Arena, West Dulwich
Admission and Programme: None
Attendance: 70 (estimate)
Match Rating: 3

With senior football having pretty much drawn to a close for this season, I was left with scouring intermediate and junior football to eek out my groundhopping season today. In the end, it was a toss up between a Spartan South Midlands League Division Two fixture between AFC Southgate and Aston Clinton, which had the attraction of ticking off a ground hosting senior football (Hadley being the landlords), and this fixture, which had the attractions of being closer to home, the home ground is quite well appointed, and the club made impressive efforts to publicise the fixture on social media. In the end, I chose a visit to Peckham, which was just as well as the game at Hadley was called off around midday when the visitors announced that they could not raise a team.

The Menace Arena is about a 15 minute walk from West Dulwich train station, and is located next to the South Circular Road. Formerly the Southwark Sports Ground, an impressive amount of work has been put in to make this a very smart ground with excellent facilities far above what one usually encounters at Step 7. Attractive, prominent roadside signage welcomes visitors to the entrance of the ground in one corner, and first of all there is a narrow, old and precariously looking stand, half of which covers one row of eight old fashioned seats. Then, the clubhouse straddles the half way line, containing a tea bar window inside and a seating area. Along this length, hard standing is set quite a distance from the pitch, with grass to stand on close to the railing, and indeed there is no hard standing around the rest of the pitch. Behind the goal closest to the entrance there is a stand immediately behind the goal, while straddling the half way line opposite the clubhouse is a further stand, containing three rows of wooden sheets to sit on. Behind the remaining goal there is just hard standing. The stands and pitchside hoardings attached to the railings are brightly and colourfully decorated in club colours, and with trees closely lining both goals and a second pitch behind the length with the stand, this is a really attractive ground, despite a little shabbiness along one length. Some good music playing on the loud speakers before kick and as the teams walked onto the pitch certainly enhanced the relaxed, welcoming spirit of the place. It has the feel of a senior venue, apart from the mainly grass standing, an absence of dugouts, and perhaps more crucially, a lack of floodlights. Whilst they have applied for promotion to senior football again this year, it is difficult to imagine that the final answer will be positive. As usual here, no programmes were produced today.

There was not that much riding on this fixture. Peckham came into this game in fourth place, following 13 wins and five draws from 26 league games, and would have to win both of their final games and hope Bexley lose their one remaining game to finish third. Borden Village, for whom today would be their final fixture of the season, were in sixth place, following 12 wins and four draws from their 27 league games. Realistically, they could not rise any places as a result of today’s game, but could drop two if they lost. When the two teams met in the league in September, Peckham won 1-4, although when they met in the Inter-Regional Challenge Cup in January, Bexley won 1-0.

To continue the recent topsy turvy weather between weekends, after enjoying beautifully warm sunshine last weekend, today was overcast, chilly and with light drizzle falling almost continuously before and during the game. After a twenty minute delay to the scheduled kick-off time of 2.45, the first half hour was quite uninspiring, with both teams battling but struggling to fashion goalscoring chances. But on 33 minutes, the visitors took the lead. A low ball into the area caused some confusion between a defender and the goalkeeper, the ball spilt away allowing the striker to thump the ball home from close range. But Peckham got back on level terms within 5 minutes, a low ball was played forward diagonally into the box, and the forward struck the ball across the keeper and into the net. In the last minute of the half, Peckham saw a fierce shot deflected just wide.

The second half was virtually a repeat of the first half, with not much action to make the heart race, although Peckham looked slightly the more likely to score. On 80 minutes, an excellent measured shot from just outside the area heading for the top corner forced a good finger tip save, and five minutes later the home side were awarded a penalty, when a shot heading for top corner was saved by the hand of a defender, who was then shown the inevitable red card. The ball was struck low in the bottom left corner, despite the keeper going the right way. Peckham saw the game out quite comfortably to finish their season on a high, but Bexley also winning means that Peckham finished the season in fourth place. Borden Village will finish in sixth, as both teams below them lost today.

There was much to really enjoy about today, with the friendliness and hard working spirit obvious all around the place, and hopefully that is rewarded with good times to come for the club. Today was a good example of why I enjoy groundhopping in May - visiting clubs that I would not normally visit during the regular season, but prove absolute gems when the opportunity arises.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Robertsbridge United 2 v 2 Northiam 75 (4-5 on penalties)

Thursday 10th May 2018
Robertsbridge Charity Intermediate Cup Final
The Clappers, Robertsbridge
Admission including Programme: £3.00
Attendance: 65 (rough headcount)
Match Rating: 4

I always enjoy visits to the Robertsbridge Charity Cup finals, always relatively well attended with a nice friendly feel of a clubs from local villages contesting some silverware. Having missed the last couple of seasons competitions due to being on holiday, I decided to take in my second game in two evenings with this year's competition.

The Clappers remains just a recreation ground, but with a pleasantly rural setting. The pitch has been rotated 90 degrees since my last visit, so that tall trees line one length, a cricket outfield (separated from the football pitch by wooden fencing) behind the other, a train line that is in the process of being restored for steam engines above a grass bank behind one goal, whilst behind the remaining goal, some houses are visible in the distance. A four page programme was provided on entry, and was perfectly adequate to preview the game.

Robertsbridge United finished their league season in fifth place in the 11 team East Sussex League Premier Division, following eight wins and four draws from their 20 league games. On league status, they would probably have been classed as favourites to lift the trophy this evening, as they play a division higher than Northiam 75. But Northiam have had a great season, and already assured of promotion to the Premier Division, they have a winner takes all game on Saturday to look forward to against Bexhill AAC to decide which of them will be crowned champions of Division One - a draw would not be enough for Northiam. Tonight would be the second of three cup finals for Northiam, who narrowly lost in the East Sussex League Cup Final against Premier Division Rye Town last month, and will play Bexhill AAC again in the final of the Hastings FA Junior Cup next week.

On a sunny but chilly evening, this was an entertaining, competitive game for long periods, and Robertsbridge were guilty of missing several gilt edged chances to open the scoring, but they finally did a minute before the break. After an initial shot was blocked, Curtis Coombes struck a well placed shot from towards the edge of the area into the bottom corner, with the keeper flat footed.

Robertsbridge doubled their lead on 55 minutes, following a long punt downfield, Guy Ballard headed the ball over the keeper and into the net. It all seemed to be relatively plain sailing for Robertsbridge at this stage, with a two goal lead that should really have been more convincing. But just two minutes later, Northiam were awarded a penalty, when a defender pushed a Northiam player as they waiting for a long aerial ball to fall to them in the box. Scott Embery slotted the ball low in the left side of the net. That certainly livened the game up, and although Northiam plugged away, Robertsbridge did look fairly comfortable until three minutes from time, when Northiam were awarded a free kick following an ugly foul tackle. The ball was dinked into the penalty area, and Steve Housago guided the ball with his head just inside the post.

Neither side looked like scoring in the remaining minutes, and with fast fading light, the match went straight to penalties, following the ABBA format. Both teams saw their second penalties saved, but in the sixth round, a Robertsbridge player missed, while Northiam scored, to cue the celebrations as they lifted the cup - a scenario that looked unlikely as they fell 2-0 behind in the second half.

Hollington United 2 v 2 Battle Baptists

Wednesday 9th May 2018
East Sussex League Premier Division
Gibbons Memorial Field, Hollington
Admission and Programme: None
Attendance: 150 (rough headcount)
Match Rating: 4

Visits to games in the East Sussex League are usually very unremarkable affairs, played on recreation grounds – although I do enjoy taking in the occasional game in this league, being rather relaxed in nature. This evening's fixture would be something a bit special however, being played at probably the best ground in the league in terms of facilities, and would be a genuine winner-takes-all affair.

Since my last visit to the Gibbons Memorial Field in 2014, the clubhouse has been dramatically improved and now serves as the Hollington United Community Café, which opens every morning to the general public, as well as when the football club are playing at home. With a varied menu, colourful decor, a sofa, tables with tablecloths and some trophies and club memorabilia scattered around, it makes for a nice venue to enjoy refreshments. A club sign has been placed on the exterior welcoming visitors, but otherwise the ground is unchanged, with metal railings all around the pitch, and hard standing only available in front of the clubhouse to one side of the goal. It is not possible to walk beyond the goal, however it is around the rest of the ground, on grass which is very overgrown in places the further around one walks from the clubhouse. The pitch has a bit of a slope from one side to the other, and trees tightly line one length and behind one goal, while the remaining length has a large overgrown grass bank, with a row of houses behind. As usual in this league, no programme was produced.

This fixture really could not have been better timed, as the winner would be crowned champions. Tonight would be Battle’s last league fixture of the season and they led the table by two points from Hollington, having won 17 and drawn one of their 19 league games. Hollington have a game in hand, and have won 16 and drawn two of their 18 league games. No doubt these two teams have proved a class apart from the rest this season, with a 17 point gap between Hollington and Sidley. Hollington have had the better of the fixtures between the two clubs this season, winning 1-3 away in September in the league, 2-1 at home in the League Cup in November, and 0-1 in Battle in the Hastings Intermediate Cup last month.

On a bright evening though noticeably cooler than over the bank holiday weekend, and with quite an impressive attendance for intermediate football, the first half was quite an even, entertaining game for the most part, and although Battle created some good chances themselves, Hollington will wonder how they did not score, missing something glorious chances.

The game continued in much the same vein after the break, with the Battle goal continuing to lead something of a charmed life. Hollington thought they had scored on the hour mark, when a goal was ruled out for offside by the Battle official linesman, who only put his flag up after the ball hit the back of the net and the general consensus was that it was not offside. On 65 minutes, Battle saw a looping header hit the top of the bar, but within a minute they took the lead, the ball headed home from a corner, just finding its way between the crossbar and above a defender’s head on the line. On 84 minutes, it looked like Battle had scored the goal to win them the title, a ball forward being flicked on into the path of his teammate, who struck the ball across the keeper and inside the far post. One sensed that the game was far from over, given Hollington's strength and their winning mentality as a club built up over the years, and so it proved. On 88 minutes, a driven shot from towards the edge of the area flew into the top corner, and a minute into added on time, Hollington equalised with a header from a corner to break Battle's hearts.

Whereas a positive result tonight would have decided the destination of the title, tonight’s draw means that Hollington should be confirmed as champions on Saturday, as long as they win at home to Sidley United. Although Sidley are third and will probably need to win themselves to finish third, it would be a major shock if Hollington did not win. But if they do not, then Battle would be crowned champions.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

TD Shipley 5 v 0 Predators

Monday 7th May 2018
West Sussex League Premier Division
Dragons Lane, Shipley
Admission and Programme: None
Attendance: 19 (head count)
Match Rating: 3

Following my morning game at Hassocks, I planned to drive half hour north westwards to visit a ground that I had wanted to visit during the club's four season stay in what was the Sussex County Football League until they tendered their resignation at the end of the 2012-13 season, but not having a car at the time made it difficult to visit a ground literally in the middle of nowhere. I was anticipating a leisurely drive before taking in a lunchtime pint in a nearby pub ahead of the 3 o'clock kick-off. But luckily I checked the West Sussex Football League website at half time during my game at Hassocks and noticed this game kicking off at 1.30, which meant a rather more hasty exit from the game at Hassocks and along the roads, arriving just ahead of the scheduled kick off time. As it happened, the game kicked off 8 minutes late anyway.

Dragons Lane is situated immediately adjacent to the busy A272, between Cowfold and Billingshurst, and the nearest train station is at Billingshurst, about five miles away. The ground is accessed along a small track leading into a long, narrow gravel car park alongside one length of the pitch. Beyond the car park, there are three wooden buildings, housing the changing rooms and the match official's room, either side of an intimate cafe/bar area offering two sofas and a range of hot and cold refreshments. The pitch is enclosed with wooden railing all the way around, with some rather ageing advertising boards placed on them intermittently. Hard standing in the form of wood chippings is available along the main length and behind one goal, while the other two sides were accessible, and the length in particularly provided welcome refuge from the hot sun, closely lined by tall trees. Indeed, apart from the traffic noise coming from the adjacent A272, this was a really pleasant setting, with plenty of greenery around. Unsurprisingly, no programme was produced for this, nor presumably any of TD Shipley's games these days in the West Sussex League.

TD Shipley have had a decent season, coming into this game in fifth place, following 11 wins and 1 draw from their 17 league games. Predators, who I recall watching win a league cup final on penalties in 2015, were second bottom of the division, having won four and drawn one of their 20 league games. They cannot finish bottom, and have four points to make up from their last two games if they are to rise a place. When the two teams met in February in Bognor Regis, the match finished 5-5.

On a hot, sunny afternoon, this was an understandably slow paced game, with the home team looking much the better side throughout, although it took them 25 minutes to open the scoring, Just after a short drinks break, a poor kick out by the Predators keeper so the ball pumped forward and the onrunning striker struck the ball past the keeper. They double their lead six minutes later, another poor kick upfield was met with a powerful header back downfield, presenting a one-on-one for the forward, and he slotted home. But two was how it remained at half time, a scoreline which did little justice to the home side's superiority.

The match was actually rather more even for a long period after the break, not that the visitors ever really looked likely to threaten a comeback. And after spurning several good chances, TS Shipley added a third on 74 minutes, when a lovely cross close to the corner flag was headed home from close range.They added a fourth on 78 minutes, following a drive along the byline and after the ball was passed into a more central position, the ball fell at the feet of the TD Shipley player by the penalty spot, and he struck the ball home. And TD Shipley made in five on 89 minutes following a quick break, the onrunning forward eventually passing to his unmarked team mate for a simple finish inside the near post.

The final whistle was probably welcome for everyone involved, in conditions much more suitable for enjoying a few beers and a barbecue rather than chasing around a football pitch - although the match was unsurprisingly played at a rather pedestrian pace for long periods.