Sunday, 19 November 2017

Harpenden Town 2 v 2 Leighton Town

Saturday 18th November 2017
Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division
Rothamsted Park, Huntingdon
Admission: £6.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 79
Match Rating: 3

Needing to be back in my home area by early evening, I needed to visit a ground that was quick to get to by train, and not far from the train station. Rothamsted Park fitted the bill, with an interesting looking match between two fairly local rivals, who are both going well in the league so far this season.

Rothamsted Park is about a ten minute walk westwards from Harpenden train station, via the town centre, and the ground is located down a small lane from a large council pay and display car park, on the edge of a large attractive park which contains the town's various indoor and outdoor recreational facilities. The clubhouse is situated outside of the ground and was refurbished a couple of years ago, with a clean, fresh and bright look but is hardly cosy nor spacious. Spectators then enter the ground in one corner, paying admission at a picnic table. There is actually a standalone old-fashioned turnstile to one side of the entrance, but it appears to have been long since out of use. The ground itself is basic, but it does has a nice rural and perfectly adequate feel to it. The only spectator facility is a stand straddling the half way line, containing three rows of bench seating, with a couple of steps to stand on to the rear. This centenary stand, erected in

Hard standing is available around the rest of the pitch, with trees giving the ground a pleasantly naturally enclosed feel to it. The programme was very basic, an eight page insert for today’s game inside a 16 page generic shell printed on stiffened glossy paper and with an attractive cover. The insert covered the basics, the shell covered the advertising although it did have a comprehensive history of the club and brief history of the league.

This promised to be a close match, with Harpenden cooking into this game in fourth place, Leighton in fifth, with two points separating the two teams. Harpenden, who were promoted as runners' up last season, came into this match in great form, winning their last seven league games, following a 4-1 defeat at today's visitors, Leighton Town. Overall, Harpenden had won nine and drawn two of their 13 league games. Leighton were also in very good form, winning their last five league games (as well as sealing progress to Round Three of the FA Vase, and overall had won eight and drawn three of their 13 league games.

On a disappointingly overcast and dank afternoon, with drizzle of varying intensity, this was a certainly lively match, an end-to-end affair for long spells, plenty of feistyness on show with some strong tackles and an inconsistent referee, and a heavy surface generally making long balls more productive than trying to pass the ball along the floor. After the visitors made the stronger start, it was Harpenden who took the lead on 7 minutes following a quick counter-attack. The ball was eventually passed low from the right for James Yates to tap in at the far post. But on 14 minutes, the score were level, a perfectly judged low ball forward found the run of Tom Silford, who ran towards goal and showed good composure to slow the ball low past the keeper. Both sides then created some good chances, but it was Leighton who took the lead on 35 minutes. A free kick from close to the corner flag was met with a glanced header by Alex O'Brien to guide the ball into the net. Overall, the visitors certainly deserved their narrow lead at the break.

The second half did not see so many clear-cut chances, but was still played with plenty of passion, with some rather ugly tackles going in. On 75 minutes, Harpenden levelled the scores, following a long hoofed ball forward. Dave Keenleyside took control of the ball before cutting back and firing the ball low past the keeper. Both teams tried to find a winner in the remaining minutes but it never looked likely, and overall a point apiece was probably a fair result.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Hackney Wick 1 v 3 Wadham Lodge

Saturday 11th November 2017
Essex Senior League
Old Spotted Dog, Forest Gate
Admission: £5.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 106
Match Rating: 3

It was always going to be touch and go whether I would manage to get to this game in time for the 5.30 pm kick-off, with the eventful conclusion at Mile End Stadium delaying my exit. But a little running to Mile End station, a prompt District Line tube train to Plaistow, and a further combination of running/rapid walking to the ground meant that I arrived at the Old Spotted Dog just in time for the scheduled kick off time. A five minute delay by the referee meant that I even had a little time to spare before kick-off.

The Old Spotted Dog ground, the oldest senior football ground in London with Clapton FC playing there since 1888, is situated down a short path from the main road, with the turnstile block in one corner of the ground. Facilities are modest and a little ramshackle in places, with some signs of the presence of the Clapton Ultras still on show, despite their boycott of Clapton's home matches this season. Straddling the half way line on one side is an all-seater stand, whilst on the opposite side there are a couple of stands made of scaffolding, which make a good place to watch the action from, being quite intimate and elevated, and is where the Clapton Ultras used to watch their games from. Behind the goal by the entrance there is a rather basic clubhouse, with a slight grass bank behind the goal with some tables and chairs, and a wooden bench. An African themed barbecue was set up this evening, and was doing a roaring trade at half time. Behind the other goal, there is an overgrown grass bank, with a couple of uncovered terrace steps immediately behind the goal. A 12 page programme was produced, which was basic but covered the essentials.

This is the first season since Hackney Wick merged with London Bari, taking their place in the Essex Senior League, as well as their groundshare at the Old Spotted Dog. They came into this game in 18th place in the 21 team league, following four wins and a draw from their 17 league games. Wadham Lodge were bottom of the table, having won three and drawn two of their league games so far.

On a chilly evening, this match started off evenly, with both sides feeling their way into the game and managing to create some half chances. It was the visitors who took the lead on 22 minutes though, when the ball was crossed to the far post and Mario Gnijaj stabbed the ball home from close range, injuring himself as he crashed into the post. On the half hour mark, the visitors were awarded a penalty following a foul tackle. Dwade James struck the ball low into the bottom left corner of the spot to give Wadham Lodge a comfortable lead. On 34 minutes, they saw a shot from outside the area parried on to the bar, and a minute before the break, the visiting goalkeeper had to save at full stretch to prevent the hosts pulling a goal back.

Wadham Lodge certainly deserved their half time lead, and they looked comfortable retaining it until the 78th minute, when Hackney Wick's Ibrahima Camara shot low across the keeper to halve the deficit. The match was suddenly back in the balance, but shortly after they forced another good save from the visiting keeper, Wadham Lodge sealed the win two minutes from time when the ball was stabbed home from close range following a corner. It was a deserved win for the visitors, and it lifted them four places up the table, while Hackney Wick slipped to 19th.

And so ended the groundhopping event, and a most enjoyable day it proved to be too. I certainly hope that the Essex Senior League will organise similar events in the future, although more hopper friendly kick-off times would be most welcome.

Tower Hamlets 1 v 2 Enfield 1893

Saturday 11th November 2017
FA Vase Second Round
Mile End Stadium, London
Admission: £6.00
Programme: £1.50
Attendance: 77
Match Rating: 3

At the conclusion of my midday kick off at Redbridge, I had to part company with the Essex Senior League groundhop event, as there would be no chance I would be able to get to the nominated game at Waltham Forest (against Woodford Town) anywhere close to on time for the 2.30 kick off there. So instead I raced back to Barkingside tune station and hopped on a Central Line underground train to Mile End, for a match in the FA Vase. It was perhaps convenient in keeping the day exclusive to the Essex Senior League that both clubs ply their trade in that league.

The Mile End Stadium is about a ten minute walk from Mile End tube station, much of it through Mile End park. Spectators enter through the sports centre building, paying admission at a turnstile inside. Spectator facilities are extremely basic, with most people sitting in the stand, which offers a good elevated and mostly unobstructed view, although views of the game are distant thanks to the running track in between. Virtually everyone preferring to stand did so on the flat standing along this length, although it is possible to walk all the way around the outside of the running track. There are a few steps of uncovered terracing towards the corner from the main stand. A leisure centre wall opposite the main stand offers quite a colourful background, behind one end there are trees in the adjacent park, with colourful leaves today, whilst behind the others there is a train line as well as various skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. The 16 page programme was overpriced, but did cover the basic information and had some interesting reading material.

Tower Hamlets came into this game in eighth place in the Essex Senior League, following seven wins and three draws from their 14 league games. To reach this stage of the FA Vase, they had beaten Hackney Wick 2-1 at home, Little Oakley 10-1 at home, and most recently Halstead Town away on penalties after a 2-2 draw. Enfield were in 17th place, having won four and drawn one of their 14 league games. In previous rounds, they had dispatched Haverhill Borough 1-0 at home, Stowmarket Town 4-5 away, and most recently Coggeshall Town 1-0 at home.

On a bright afternoon, Tower Hamlets looked the more dangerous in the early stages, and took the lead on 14 minutes. The ball was played forward and Curtis Pond shrugged off a covering defender to run towards goal and strike the ball low past the keeper. Their lead was to last barely two minutes though, a ball over the defence finding Andrew Tiravanhu, who fired the ball into the net via a deflection off of the keeper. On 25 minutes, the visitors were awarded a penalty, a rather mysterious award apparently for a pull as the ball was being thrown in towards the box. However, the penalty was saved by the keeper, and for the remainder of the half, it was Tower Hamlets who looked the more likely to score. 1-1 was how it would remain at the break, though.

The game was rather scrappy either side of the interval, but slowly Enfield grew stronger and stronger, and after creating a couple of decent chances, they took the lead on 70 minutes. Following a corner, there were a couple of stabs at goal that were blocked, before Joe Clark drilled the ball home. Things then really started to go wrong for Tower Hamlets, as they they had two players sent off, on 76 and 78 minutes, both being shown second yellow cards and then reds. The game was pretty much up, but they did battle to try and get the ball forward, but deep in added on time, a mass brawl ended with a further two Tower Hamlets players being shown red cards, including the goalkeeper who needlessly sprinted from his area to get involved, as well as an Enfield player. Fortunately for me, bearing in mind my need for a quick getaway, and probably for both teams too, the final whistle blew shortly earlier, with the match finishing with 7 players against 10 left on the pitch.

So it was Enfield who progressed to the third round of the FA Vase, and perhaps the red card count was more a reflection on a very inconsistent and at times baffling performance by the referee, as the game was certainly not ill tempered, at least until added on time at the end of the match.