Forgot to say well done to Darlo for gaining promotion from the Northern League. The run-in, with Spennymoor trying to play catch-up, was quite tense for a long while, but maybe the FA – by banning Darlo from various cup competitions – did them a favour, as there were no distractions from the main task in hand. Also good luck to Berwick Rangers in the Scottish play-offs. Despite winning only one of the last 7 games – and I was there! – they’ve found themselves in 4th spot which means a two-legger against Div 2 East Fife. C’mon the Dream Team! Bad luck to Barrow Town who couldn’t keep pace with Basford Utd at the top of East Midlands Counties, and to Burton Albion, who did a Forest and blew the home leg after winning away. Talking of which… well, as always, there’s ALWAYS next season…..
Despite what I said at the end of the Potters Bar post, my head is having to rule my heart this weekend as I have a shedload of work to process during the next few weeks. So barring some miracle that Forest might get to the play-off final – and I can get a ticket – that’s about my season done and dusted.
The cold weather since December and a dip in my personal well-being saw my hopping season kinda peter out, despite the late flurry in which I knocked off three of my ‘must-visit’ grounds. In fact, looking back I only ticked off 29 new stadia this season, about half my normal amount, and attended just 37 games. At the end of 2012/13 I still need 17 grounds to accomplish my Numero Uno target of every stadium in the top 8 levels of English football. And looking at possible new constructions, who’s liable to be elevated to this level, and who’s going down, I suspect I’ll start next season with that figure around 30. My Scotland figure is down to 6.
Next season I’m not setting myself a punishing schedule. Well that’s what I’m saying now – come August, with the fixture lists in front of me, I might see things a little more ambitiously!
I like to think I have a pretty good geographical knowledge of the UK. Years of trekking round these isles seeking out good pubs and visiting breweries has helped, as has my ongoing quest to visit every football ground in the top 8 levels of English football (not to forget the top 4 in Scotland too). So I’ve been to a lot of places, could probably get a 99% success rating when asked to point them out on a blank UK map, and would hope to get this category if I ever appeared on ‘Pointless’.
Still there are one or two places I’ve never been to, but I do know them by reputation. Sadly that’s usually because of some atrocity or disaster which may have become synonymous with the name, like Aberfan or Dunblane for instant. Or Potters Bar, where I recall there was a serious rail accident some years ago. As one of the most northerly of the Isthmian League grounds I’ve yet to visit, I’d been looking at ways to get there without the need to travel into London. East Midlands Trains often offer cut price deals on their Nottingham-Norwich route, and a £10 return to Peterborough was too good a deal to miss. Just £20.20 return from Posh to Potters Bars seemed reasonable, and in the possible event that their game might be postponed (given our wildly unpredictable weather) where better a drinking town to be marooned for the day than Peterborough?
There is some rain around as I set off today, especially in Peterborough where I land about 9.00am and head for the Draper’s Arms, a Wetherspoon’s just five minutes walk from the rail station. There are bouncers on the door which seems a bit premature seeing as Posh’s home game today against Sheffield Wednesday doesn’t kick off until 5.20, but there are tables to be had and I settle down for a brekky and a nice glass of orange juice – the beer can wait for later.
The cheaper rail deal to Potters Bar means I must travel with Capital One Connect, which of course calls at every station in between, and takes just over an hour. Mercifully I cat-nap most of the way. When I arrive at Potters Bar it’s not that big a station. There’s a plaque on one of the platforms dedicated to those killed and injured in the accident, which happened in 2002, longer ago than I thought.
Out into the streets, and conscious of some pretty threatening dark cloud clumps circling the horizon, I head off in the direction of my first port-of-call, a McMullen’s pub in one of the town’s suburbs. It necessitates a long uphill trek for about a mile or so, taking me past the local Wetherspoons, and into Little Heath, where the robustly-constructed Builders Arms is set amongst large prosperous houses. It’s a spacious and well-furnished hostelry where the majority of the clientele are there to ‘do lunch’, but the friendly bar-chap recognizes my Midlands accent and explains he is from Worksop in Notts – so we speak the same language! There are three McMullen’s beers on handpump, and I go for an AK which is the perfect colour for a beer (none of your straw-coloured nonsense) if a little under-powered at 3.7%. A good swilling bitter nonetheless.
Another mile walk, this time downhill, takes me to a road called ‘The Walk’ where most of Potters Bar’s sporting venues seems to be based, including the Cricket Club, the Tennis Club, and Potters Bar Town Football Club, whose Parkfield home is now less glamourously known as the Pakex Stadium, due to an all-encompassing sponsorship deal (the name is on the shirts too!) The stadium includes a changing room/clubhouse complex set back from the pitch, while a longish main stand features four rows of seats straddling the halfway line on one side, and there’s a squat covered stand with two rows of bench seats opposite. Given its design, construction and position (low slung and with views obscured by the dug-outs) I’d have to say this would only be of practical use if the heavens were to open and standing spectators could view it as a place to scurry to. Behind one goal is a small kit covered terrace, more of which later.
There’s a carnivores snack bar outside the clubhouse, inside which there’s live TV footy and a bar which, although not offering any cask beer, does have bottles of Fullers London Pride in the fridge – not a bad alternative to the proper stuff.
Today’s game is against play-off bound Witham Town. With the home team having had a reasonable season, despite coming up short in the play-off stakes, it looks likely to be a well-contested game. The Essex team have bought a few fans along, including one chap wearing the shirt who sets up camp in the kit-terrace behind the goal, securing his three flags before starting up his one-man choir. A couple of other characters join him and we almost get harmonies!
The game itself is compelling without ever threatening to be a classic. Despite there being little at stake aside from pride, there’s a competitive, argumentative edge which sometimes descends into hilarity, like the visiting No4 constantly asking the referee to explain why he has been penalised despite it being perfectly plain for all to see. The result – a 2-2 draw – is settled with a quick exchange of goals in each half, on both occasions Witham equalizing within 5 minutes of going behind. A five-minute frenzy at the end fails to provide a winner and it’s a fair result.
So today Potters Bar, tomorrow…? Who knows, probably somewhere just as exotic. Scanning next Saturday’s fixtures, I see there’s a full programme in The Northern Counties East League. Where’s me beach towel, Barton upon Humber, here I come!
Programme: £2 on the turnstile. Not really good value for money, consisting mainly of content that would be unchanged week from week, Isthmian League website lifts, and the usual potted history of the visitors. Very uninspiring and another naff cover!
Floodlight pylons: 8
Parakeets: I thought I heard a sqwark but maybe I was mistaken
Toilets: In the clubhouse
Club shop: No
Music the players run out to: None
Kop choir: No
Away fans: Quite a few, including the afore-mentioned vocal trio behind the goal
What’s in a name? There’s a suspicion that Witham’s Brad Stopher might not be a product of the Beckenbauer School of Defending. Potters Bar’s Frankie Lane is wearing well, given that his theme from “Rawhide’ was the first single I ever bought……
I’ve noticed that the back page of Groundtastic magazine usually features a photograph of a footy ground in a particularly scenic environment. Would that all grounds were like that, hey?
To be honest, I’m probably not so sure. Dark and dismal the streets around Leicester’s old Filbert Street home and Derby’s Baseball Slum may have been, but they were characterful grounds nonetheless, and there were plenty of others like those.
With the current trend being to move clubs out of town whenever a new stadium is put on order, it seems the immediate vicinity is invariably populated by retail and business parks or some other former industrial wasteland, yet to be re-assigned to purposeful use.
And then you get those grounds, very often in the lower leagues, where they’ve sprung up in the most unlikely of locations. Just over four years ago I stopped off for a night game at the Eynsham Hall Park home of Southern League outfit North Leigh. Literally set in a country park a good walking distance from the village centre, my evening’s entertainment was enjoyed to a backdrop of a flock of sheep steadily munching their way across an adjacent moonlit field, cheered on by owls hooting in the overhanging branches of trees – surreal!
Tonight my target is another one of those grounds where – unless you’ve had cause to go there before as I have – you’d give up trying to find it, so unlikely the location. I suppose the Gloucestershire town of Nailsworth has ‘form’ for this, home as it is to Conference success story Forest Green Rovers, that most ‘vegetarian’ of stadia with its real ale welcome for lucky visitors. Yet just across the valley, another club is making progress up the football pyramid, albeit three divisions behind the Rovers.
I had cause to visit the Meadowbank home of Shortwood United about a year ago, whilst undertaking an assignment for a local brewery. Sadly, there was no match taking place that night, but it did give me the opportunity of following the narrow windy road for about a mile gradually uphill until the ground was there before me.
Twelve months on I am in the neighbourhood working for the same brewery, but this time visiting Meadowbank on a social basis, and I now know how to find it!
I’m well early, so settle into the clubhouse with a J20, a copy of the programme, and a weighty tome about Dunkirk to wile away the 90 minutes until kick-off. The small but comfortable clubhouse does in fact sport two handpumps, one of which is dispensing Moles excellent Rucking Mole, a 4.5 ‘proper’ premium bitter with not a hint of citrus. Sadly, my need to drive two hours home in the dark after the match precludes me from sampling it.
Near the turnstile the snack bar is doing a roaring trade, but the only thing on the menu for veggies is the ubiquitous chip – not tonight, thanks.
The playing surface at Meadowbank looks like it has been cut out of a slope, as the backdrop to the main stand is a grass bank atop of which are fields and trees alive with gangs of kids and dogwalkers – ah, that country air. A peacock is calling from somewhere within the trees, which makes a change from owls – or parakeets even!
Opposite the modest, purpose-built main stand is a small 50-seat kit stand, sheltered from the breeze, where I deposit myself to enjoy the action.
Curiously enough, given my intro to this editorial piece, tonight’s visitors are the afore-mentioned North Leigh. Both sides are mid-table, with no chance of making the play-offs, so I’m not expecting a feast of football, which is just as well as the ball is in the air for much of the first half, and when it does fall to earth, a bone-hard pitch speeds it on its way into touch. It’s 30 minutes before either keeper is troubled.
Shortly after the break the visitors – marginally the more positive force in the first half – pick up the initiative and take the lead with a fierce cross-shot. Fifteen minutes later a deflection makes it 2-0 and it seems the end of the matter. Enter Shortwood super-sub Jody Bevan, not at first glance the most athletic of players, but a greying, spreading veteran with a surprising turn of pace and no little presence in the six-yard box. His powerful charge and header on 85 – which the keeper clearly doesn’t fancy – makes it 1-2 and we are set for a finale. Sadly for the home side, too little too late and the visitors take the spoils.
And I wind my way back down that narrow country lane, squeezing past parked cars on a route no fire engine would dare to tread, and wonder why you never ever heard a peacock calling at Filbert Street or the Baseball slum – funny that…!
Programme: On the turnstile – included in the entrance fee of £8. Lots of adverts but quite readable and informative nonetheless. Cover a bit naff!
Parakeets: No just that peacock I mentioned earlier
Club Shop: Didn’t see one.
Toilets: in the clubhouse, which is surprisingly busy during the game. On investigation I discover a skittles match taking place!
Music the players run out to: Just that peacock
Kop choir: A bunch of locals behind the goal and standing on a raised terrace utter occasional words of encouragement.
Away fans: a bunch near me
What’s in a name? Shortwood fans are concerned at the man-marking skills of Kevin Slack. But there’s no else to do it, as James Cant. Presumably the gap in North Leigh’s defence has now been plugged by Stuart Hole.
Coach trips to the seaside may have had their heyday in the 1960s, but it can still be a good, cheap way of reaching a distant new ground, so hey, don’t knock it! In fact I’ve had my eye on the Devon town of Bideford for some time, and the fact that the resident football club are currently in the same Southern Premier division as Barwell – a Leicestershire village side about 25 miles from where I live – set me thinking. It also helps that an old companion from my Darlo-watching days now goes to every Barwell game, home and away. A quick text, we’re booked on the bus, and my Magical Mystery Tour awaits!
Now there’s a film that polarises opinion. Amongst the Beatles’ finest in my eyes, a real mess in those of others. Does it follow the Blue Jay Way? Your mother should know…..
I’ve not been out and about much for the past few weeks, the result of letting a bout of flu take a serious turn for the worse after shivering my way through trips to Royston and Maidstone. And it’s just stayed too damn cold to be standing around in draughty non-league stadia. Yep, I think I’m becoming a fair-weather groundhopper. The plus side is that I’ve lost a few pounds, most of it beer gut.
Our coach – the Barwell FC team coach in fact – leaves the Kirkby Road Sports Ground at 7.45am containing a motley collection of supporters of varying age and agility, plus a couple of players, the rest to be picked up in Coventry. Before switching his undying allegiance to his local club, my pal Steve barely missed a Darlington FC game, home or away, for many years, despite being unable to drive. Public transport, lifts, and lots off time of work were key to his passion, sadly dimmed by Darlo’s unjust descent to the Northern League.
A couple of comfort stops en route ensure we arrive at Bideford’s Sports Ground stadium at the appointed time of 1.30pm, to be met by bright sunshine, a chill wind …. and no sign of any programmes. Readers of my blog will know that a printed prog is essential to my visits, and I find it difficult to relax until I have one safely nestling in my shoulder bag. Just round the corner from the ground is the town centre, and Lacey’s Ale House, which internet posts had led me to believe was closed. Not so. It’s a large, echoey bar with TV sport and a choice of three real ales on handpump which include two from the local Country Life brewery, and one from another Devon brewer, Forge, this being a nice, brown 4.0% bitter, Maid in Devon, at the very agreeable asking price of £2.50 per pint.
Back at the ground the programmes still haven’t showed, and after checking out the upstairs clubhouse – complete with a Stannah stairlift which no doubt comes into its own after a particularly heavy post-match session – and noting the Country Life Old Appledore Ale – a good amber drinking bitter – on handpump, I return downstairs to join other concerned hopping types milling around outside the club offices. The story is that the progs are printed, but a cock-up on the delivery front means they are still at the printers at 2.00pm, the printers being the other side of Devon in Exeter! A club director in a speedy car has been despatched to collect them, and his triumphant return at 2.55pm is heralded by the tannoy announcer. “I was sweating a bit,” says I to the director as I clutch my newly-acquired prog. “You weren’t the only one…” is his reply.
And so we can settle down to the game, played on a hard pitch with a gusty breeze lurking. Visiting Barwell are looking for a play-off slot and make much of the early running, going ahead on 5 minutes courtesy of a flick-on from a long throw. The same tactic pays dividends halfway through the second half with Barwell’s winner, but before then the home side threaten to make a game of it after pulling it all-square with a penalty just after the break. The game could go either way, but Barwell hang on for the point that sees them sneak into the final play-off berth.
And so the journey home, after the players have had their post-match snack and made a start on the beer. In fact, most of the occupants of the bus seemed to have enjoyed sampling the local firewater, judging by the level of vehement argument inspired by relative trivia. Me, I’ve got my headphones on, listening to the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour. That’s how I want to remember MY coach journey to the seaside.
Programme: £2 straight from the club director’s car! Nicely designed with lots of facts and figures.
Floodlight pylons: 4 of the distinctly tall, old-fashioned type. Possibly the most attractive part of the ground.
Parakeets: No, just seagulls.
Club Shop: A hut next to the turnstiles, mainly selling old programmes
Toilets: Upstairs and downstairs in the clubhouse
Music the players run out to: None
Kop choir: No
Away support: About 25 or so
Well would you Adam & Eve it.
I venture out non-league for the first time in weeks only to see my game postponed.
I take a bus from Loughborough to Quorn in Leicestershire heading for the big crunch match in the East Midlands Counties League between 2nd placed Barrow Town and visiting league leaders Basford United. Those who know Barrow’s Riverside Park ground will be familiar with the footbridge that spans the A6 and affords a virtual ariel view of the playing surface. At 1.00pm there is some surface water in the centre circle and a puddle in each goalmouth – nothing a couple of handy men with a pitchfork and stiff brush couldn’t have dealt with in fifteen minutes or so. The rest of the pitch appears fine. I continue on my way into Barrow Upon Soar village and the Navigation Inn – the ‘birthplace’ of my real ale drinking – to enjoy a pint of the house beer (actually Caledonian 80/-), a pint of Theakston Old Peculier ( the nearest thing they stock to the Shipstone’s Mild I used to quaff here in my ‘yoath’) and the company of a fellow Forest fan for an hour or so.
I return to Riverside Park to observe that no action has been taken against the puddles, the game is clearly off (confirmed on the EMCL website) and – the trip to the Navvy aside – this sojourn to my village roots wasted.
And then suddenly I remember reading something in the local paper - Barrow have their captain and their leading goalscorer both unavailable today due to work commitments. Clearly THEY would have been the guys earmarked to fork and brush the water off the pitch!
That explains everything.
For a number of different reasons, 300 Grounds & Counting is taking a short break….
Pressure of work and family commitments is wiping out much of the rest of this month, and watching Forest – and Barrow Town – early in March means the next targeted new ground is Chatham Town on the 23rd of that month.
Normal service will be resumed….