Sunday, 16 July 2017

London Colney 0 v 0 Kings Langley

Saturday 16th July 2017
Pre-season Friendly
Cotlandswick Park, London Colney
Admission: Free
Programme: £3.00
Attendance: 150 (estimate)
Match Rating: 3

There were not many appealing friendly fixtures today, and with Twitter feeds providing a lack of clarity about admission fees and whether games would be played on the club’s main pitch, I opted to visit a club that declared early that this fixture would be played on the club's main pitch, would be free entry, and that there would be a family fun day with plenty of activities going on off the pitch, which would hopefully generate more interest and a larger attendance than one would normally expect for a friendly game such as this.

Cotlandswick Park is about a 45 minute walk from St Albans City station, and the main entrance is located just to the north of London Colney village, and next to a leisure complex. Spectators enter via a turnstile block in one corner (although the gate was open today), and on a grass area immediately inside the Fun Day activities were taking place, consisting of various children’s activities, inflatables and stalls. Set some way back behind the goal is a large clubhouse which is rather dreary in its brown appearance, but is quite charming and homely inside, and live music was being played inside today. There is a grass bank immediately behind the goal, which spectators are not normally allowed to stand on. Down the length closest to the entrance there is a large modern metallic all-seater stand straddling the half way line, and to one side is a shelter covering a small area of flat standing. On the opposite side, what looks like a small old fashioned stand actually serves as the dugouts, divided into three sections with the middle section unused.There are signs along this length that spectators should not stand along this length, probably due to this being a road into the ground from another entrance leading to the car park, however certainly today this was not being adhered to. Behind the remaining goal there is another small shelter covering a small standing area. A large green hedge surrounds two sides and tall trees behind one length give the ground a nice rural feel, and is a comfortable enough place to watch football at step 5 level, but it certainly lacks in endearing features. Surprisingly, a very decent 36 page programme was produced for today’s match, with an attractive cover, plenty of interesting reading material, and eight pages of a comic, a most unusual inclusion in a matchday programme.

London Colney have had a strange close season. After winning the Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division by 5 points last season, they were all set for promotion to the Isthmian League, but then they changed their mind, lost the majority of their committee members, management team and their best players, and indeed their very existence looked in grave danger until a consortium led by former professional Ken Charlery saved the club and they are now preparing for life in the same league as last season. Charlery is the new manager of the club and is putting together a completely new team. Kings Langley survived in the Southern League Premier Division by the skin of their teeth, surviving on goal difference.

On a grey and relatively cool afternoon, this was a competitive game of football, with the new team of London Colney acquitting themselves well. Goalscoring chances were at a premium throughout, as both teams struggled with the final ball, and the deadline never looked likely to be broken during the first half.

Not only did Kings Langley field a new team in the second half, they sported a new strip too, donning a red and white kit after the break after the first half team wore white and black. They imposed themselves better on the hosts too, but generally the pattern of combative play without any real incisiveness continued, although gradually the visitors did have increasingly better sights on goal. The closest they came to breaking the deadlock was in added on time, when the ball was stabbed into the outer side netting from close range. But the match ended goalless, and no real surprise about that, but this was surely a useful workout for both sides in their first games of pre-season.

So, it is disappointing that I have seen just one goal in my opening two games of this (pre-) season, but both games have been entertaining enough for friendly fixtures, and today in particular was a most enjoyable occasion, a day when the action on the pitch was not the be-all and end-all of the day's entertainment. Well done to London Colney FC as well for putting on a good day's entertainment today, engaging with the local community, and after a turbulent summer, the future certainly is looking a lot brighter for the club now, both on and off of the field.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

St Neots Town 0 v 1 Cambridge United

Saturday 9th July 2017
Pre-season Friendly
Rowley Park, St Neots
Admission: £5.00
Programme: None
Attendance: 692
Match Rating: 2

And here another season of groundhopping commenced, after more than a month without football, and 8 weeks since my last men’s game. Pre-season games, particularly this early on, are not appealing in themselves, tending to be as dull as dishwater, all the more so when one has no interest in the teams taking part. However they do present opportunities to visit grounds at a reduced admission fee, and most likely in pleasantly warm conditions. To kick off my pre-season, I chose to visit the home of Southern League Premier Division outfit St Neots Town, with admission half price today compared with league matches. The visitors would be quite attractive too, near neighbours from Football League Two, and so a large crowd was expected.

Rowley Park is a very easy five minute walk from St Neots train station, passing through a recently constructed housing estate before reaching the football complex, which contains a well appointed 3G pitch outside of the main stadium. Opened in 2008, it is a very impressive stadium considering the level of the club, sensibly sized, neat and tidy, and a very good example of where modern facilities can be attractive when designed well. Spectators enter in one corner of the ground, and usually it appears that they must purchase a ticket from an adjacent ticket office window, but it was cash on turnstiles in operation today. In this corner there is a small metal shelter for standing whilst moving along the length, there is a brick building housing the changing rooms, an all-seater stand straddling the half way line offering slightly elevated and unobstructed views, and beyond the stand is the clubhouse, also housed in a brick building. Tight behind both goals are virtually identical stands, stretching between corner flags and covering three terrace steps, whilst along the remaining length there is just hard standing. Some trees around the perimeter provide a pleasant background, and there is a basic electronic scoreboard in one corner. No programmes were produced for this fixture.

This was the second consecutive season that Cambridge United  opened their pre-season with a trip to St Neots Town, winning 1-2 on the equivalent year ago to the day. Cambridge United went on to finish in 11th place in Football League Two, four points adrift of the play-offs, whilst St Neots Town finished in 19th place in the Southern League Premier Division, just two places and one point clear of the relegation zone, and with an inferior goal difference to that of relegated Cambridge City.

On a very warm afternoon, this was a competitive game of football, although predictably lacking a cutting edge for the most part, without any real incentive to score or win the match. The first half was very even as the home team acquitted themselves very well, and there was very little indication of the three step difference between the sides. They could easily have led at half time, but a goalless scoreline was probably a fair reflection on proceedings.

With a new XI introduced after the break, Cambridge were much improved as they applied increasing pressure on the St Neots goal, although without much urgency, or indeed quality. While St Neots defended in numbers , they still looked quite dangerous on the counter attack, and on 71 minutes saw a well struck curling shot from outside of the area by Jevani Brown came back off the crossbar. It was Cambridge's turn to hit the woodwork on 83 minutes when the ball was crossed into the box and headed against the far post by new signing Jabo Ibehre. Just as it looked certain that I would open my hopping season with the dreaded goalless draw, Cambridge scored the winner on 90 minutes. The St Neots keeper couldn’t hold on to a powerful low shot by Brad Halliday from outside the outer corner of the penalty area, and Ibehre tucked home the rebound.

Cambridge deserved the win, although this really was a game to ease back into game play, with gaining fitness far more important than the quality of play, and certainly more than the scoreline. St Neots put on a good show, matching their professional opponents for long periods despite several of their players being very recent arrivals.

Video highlights of this match can be viewed by clicking here.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Birmingham City Ladies 0 v 2 Chelsea Ladies

Saturday 2nd June 2017
FA Women’s Super League 1 Spring Series
Damson Park, Solihull
Admission: £7.00 in advance, £8.00 on the gate
Programme: £2.50
Attendance: 1171
Match Rating: 3

For what will be my last game of the 2016/17 season, I decided to tick off a National League National Division ground, for what would be a title-deciding match in the top flight of the Women’s game.

Damson Park is about a two and a half mile, 45 minute walk north eastwards from Solihull train station and as well as hosting Birmingham City Ladies matched, is also the home of Solihull Moors FC. The ground is adjacent to the very large Land Rover plant and not far from Birmingham Airport, and spectators enter the ground in one corner. Having only hosted Step 1 mens football for two seasons, it is no surprise that facilities here are modest, and have clearly been added to as ground grading requirements have demanded as Solihull Moors have progressed. The result is a rather hotch-potch look, but this makes it an interesting venue which is more than adequate for non league football. Just inside the turnstile there is a portakabin painted in club colours selling merchandise and programmes, and beyond a burger van and backing onto the large clubhouse building (which contains several different bar area) there is covered seating, with a floor above which is not available to the general public. Some attractive club signage is placed on the lower roof to the sides of the upper tier. Towards the far corner along this length is a temporary looking all-seater stand which is uncovered and is the most recent addition, opened in March this year. Behind the goal a low modern black metallic stand covering steps to stand on stretches between corner flags, whilst behind the other closest to the entrance there is a more attractive stand between corner flags, with a mixture of seating and standing. A “tuck shop” is situated in the rear wall. Along the remaining length there is mainly just hard standing, but there is another temporary looking all seater stand which is half uncovered, half has a tarpaulin type roof to it. The 24 page programme was an interesting read although rather over priced and did not contain basic information such as league table and season’s results.

On the last day of this Spring Series, Chelsea were in pole position to be crowned champions, just needing to win this game as they led the table on goal difference by 18 goals. Any slip up today could let in any of the three teams below them. They were certainly in great form, scoring 11 goals in their last two games, including seven against leaders at the time Liverpool. The highlight of Birmingham's season was a trip to Wembley for the FA Women’s Cup Final, which they lost. Their Spring Series campaign has been rather unremarkable and came into this game in sixth place, having won just one and drawn four of their seven games. Today’s teams met in Solihull in April, with Birmingham winning the FA Cup semi final on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

On a mainly sunny afternoon, this match started quite evenly, with Chelsea playing a patient game whilst Birmingham remained solid but always looked for the forward ball. However, Chelsea were awarded a penalty on 21 minutes when Fran Kirby ran onto a ball over the top, only to be rammed into by the keeper. Karen Carney struck the ball down the middle to give the visitors the lead. Chelsea went on to dominate thereafter, coming close to scoring on several occasions, but the scoreline remained goalless at the break and with work still to do, with two of the club’s below them, Manchester City and Arsenal, winning.

Chelsea’s dominance continued after the break, and on 57 minutes, they added a second. Gemma Davison crossed the ball low in the box and under no real pressure, the Birmingham keeper spilt the ball, which bounced gently against the post and Kirby took a touch from the byline before tapping home. That very much seemed like the title winning moment, and in some ways it was a shame that it came about thanks to a goalkeeping error. Chelsea saw the game out quite comfortably, although Birmingham did keep battling away to their credit right up to the end. So it was Chelsea who won the league on goal difference, as Manchester City also won, and they were awarded the trophy and medals on the pitch shortly after the final whistle. Birmingham finished in seventh place in the nine team division, and will certainly need to win more games to have a better campaign when the winter season starts in September.

Video footage of the goals can be viewed by clicking here