Ireland again!

July 13, 2015

Just back from a successful and highly enjoyable second trip to Southern Ireland courtesy of Groundhop UK. The usual good mix of footy and sightseeing, with the added bonus this year of free time in Dublin to explore a bucket list of crafty pubs in the company of Aussie Jack and like-minded others. Two Premier grounds and another in Division One, and although the fourth game – at UCD – was subject to a last minute cancellation, the bulk of the party went to Croke Park to see the Leinster GAA final – hey well at least they use a ROUND ball!

Roll on next year!

Oh and here’s me with the Irish Cup outside Richmond Park, the home of St Patrick’s Athletic, where we were given a pre-match tour!

The biggest trophy i've held since winning my Subbuteo League....

The biggest trophy i’ve held since winning my Subbuteo League….

Back at Berwick – Saturday April 25th 2015

April 26, 2015

It’s maybe a tad ironic that after a hiatus of almost 4 months in which I’ve added around 30 new grounds to my tick list, I’m blogging again on the occasion of a revisit! But it’s not just any revisit – it’s my annual trip to a club that showed me and my family some kindness around 15 years ago and I vowed therefore to return at least once every season.

Recently I’ve coincided that with their last league game of the season, the club in question being Berwick Rangers, the only English football club in the Scottish League. No different today as the club attempt to secure a play-off slot with a late run. As usual I’m wearing the Berwick shirt I bought back in 2001, and I’m starting to type this as I enjoy a second pint of Broughton Dark n’ Cloudy in the town’s Wetherspoons – the Leaping Salmon – for the princely sum of £1.19 per pint, aided and abetted by my Camra vouchers. Well at that price it would be rude not to!

During the run of weeks where I’ve not posted a blog, I’ve debated with myself where 300 Grounds & Counting should go after more than 6 years of uninterrupted reporting. Like any blogger, I look at the visits stats, and with it having reached some kind of peak but then flattened out over the past couple of seasons, I’ve considered giving it up. Maybe Sunday mornings are better spent with a good lie-in catching up on Saturdays goals on TV.

I think that the existing formula – me reporting on the availability of decent beer and veggie food in and around football grounds, interspersed with publishable bits of my life experiences – is still worth pursuing, but maybe not on the ‘every match’ basis that I’ve previously adhered to. In short, if there’s not a lot to say, maybe I shouldn’t be trying to say it.

So – and things can change over the course of a close season – that’s maybe the way I’ll go forward with the blog.

Curiously enough, over the last few months, I’ve started to enjoy the hopping experience a lot more, having made several new ‘buddies’ each suffering the same affliction as me, that insatiable drive to add more grounds to the ‘been there’ list. Everybody seems to have a different plan as to how we do it. Mine has been to work my way down through the pyramid, picking off occasional lower league grounds as they crop up along the way. And although I’ve been on one or two of the organised ‘hops’ I’m not a massive fan of what I generously refer to as ‘cowpat meadow’ events in what some other hoppers might consider to be ‘stadiums'; as for Sunday morning public parks where desperate fellows can add a dozen new pitches at a time, count me out!

On my numerous visits to Berwick it tends to have been the same old pubs, dependable as they usually are. So surprise surprise, I find there’s a new kid in town, the Curfew micropub which sits right opposite one of my favourite Indian restaurants. A newly discovered B&B almost adjacent sets my mind racing regarding future visits (until I check their prices online that is!).

The Curfew boasts 4 handpumps and although one is dispensing a porter, it’s from East London and I want to try something local. Fortunately there’s two fridges full of bottles and I’m pointed in the direction of Brunette, a 5.5% dark brown bottle conditioned beer from Bear Claw, the local Berwick brewery. It’s quite lively on the throat, with coffee chocolate notes on the aftertaste. With a further opportunity to try the local brew, I next go for the 5% Saison which is also bottle conditioned; it’s slightly hazy but spicy and very enjoyable which for me, very much not a gold beer fan, says everything. Reminds me a lot of Lachouffe. The owner of the Curfew duly arrives and I recognise him as one of Berwick Rangers die-hard supporters, and not one to mince his words! Small world.

By the time I depart the Curfew, it’s full of Midlands based English guys, some of whom I have met before, usually for the last game of the season. We swop a bit of banter about the rapidly burgeoning beer scene – cask and otherwise – in Nottingham before I adjourn to Barrels, the ever dependable real ale establishment just down the road. There’s five beers on hand pull but sadly the only dark brew is from well south of the border – from Adnams, in fact. But that’s the mood I’m in so that’s the one I go for.

My seat in the corner is rapidly hemmed in by a bevy of mature ladies out on the lash, and there’s a bit of cheery banter to be had, before I depart across the bridge in the direction of Shielfield, with Robert Smith’s chippy en route. Beforehand there’s just time to reaffirm that the Angel in Tweedmouth is still an ex-real ale pub, and I also call into the Queens Head on the main road, which has a banner outside advertising cask beer, but a quick look inside affirms that the only hand pump on view has it’s clip turned round. I don’t dally, the curry & chips are a-calling!

It’s my 15th visit for a match at Shielfield Park and I still get a bit of a buzz as I approach one of my favourite stadiums. In fact it’s a shame I hadn’t booked an overnighter, as after the game in the Black & Gold Bar is the ‘Player of the Year’ event which all fans are invited to. Nothing much changes at Shielfield, although for the first time I decide to do a complete walk around the ground, even behind the lower goal which is normally off-limits.

Any thoughts that Berwick can gatecrash the play-off party come tumbling down around our ears as the home team put in an uninspired performance and look decidedly second-best to an East Fife outfit they had beaten 4-1 away only a month or so ago. Having a man sent off doesn’t help matters, although the theatrics of the visiting player deemed to have been wronged seem to make the ref’s mind up for him. It finishes 0-3.

And that’s it – my first post for almost 4 months. Not quite the usual format, but a close season of some thought will decide if 300 Grounds & Counting comes out of the traps for 2015/6, or retires gracefully to the old dog’s home.

Blog postponed!

January 11, 2015

Sorry, but there won’t be any blog postings for a while, other than to update the diary and the listings for the various new grounds I’m hoping to visit in the meantime.

An excessive work schedule during Jan, Feb & early March means I just won’t have time to sit down and try to write creatively! With a bit of luck I should be back up and running before the end of the season.

Matches attended:

Jan 6th – Shaw Lane Aquaforce v Tadcaster Albion 589

Jan 10th – Melksham Town v Shepton Mallet 590

Jan 17th – Bradford Town v Melksham Town 591

Jan 31st – Larkhill Athletic v AFC Totton 592

Feb 7th – Great Wakering Rovers v Chatham Town 593

Feb 14th – Wantage Town v Bashley 594

Feb 21st – Stamford v Trafford 595

Feb 24th – Bristol Manor Farm v Cheltenham CS 596

Feb 28th – Crook Town v Marske United 597

Mar 7th – Hanwell Town v Daventry Town 598

Mar 14th – Thetford Town v Norwich United 599

Mar 14th – Mildenhall Town v Gorleston 600 (!!!!)

Mar 14th – Newmarket Town v Haverhill Rovers 601

Mar 20th – East Kilbride v Whitehill Welfare 602

Mar 21st – Vale of Leithen v Preston Athletic 603

Mar 21st – Selkirk v Spartans 604

Mar 21st – Gala Fairydean Rovers v University of Stirling 605

Mar 22nd – Dalbeattie Star v Edinburgh City 606

Mar 22nd – Threave Rovers v Edinburgh University 607

Mar 27th – Nelson v Colne 608

Mar 28th – Atherton Collieries v Litherland Remcya 609

Mar 31st – Northwich Victoria v Darlo 610

April 3rd – Forest v Wolves

April 4th – AFC Emley v Hemsworth MW 611

April 4th – Colne v Ashton Athletic 612

April 4th – Penistone Church v Pontefract Collieries 613

April 6th – Camberley Town v Badshot Lea 614

April 6th – Petersfield Town v Horndean 615

April 6th – Henley Town v Old Woodstock Town 616

April 11th – Forfar Athletic v Airdrieonions 617

April 12th – Kilmarnock v Aberdeen

April 18th – Norwich United v Felixstowe & Walton 618

April 21st – Brocton v Kirby Muxloe 619

April 25th – Berwick Rangers v East Fife

May 1st – Bardon Hill v Ellistown & Ibstock 620

May 2nd – Louth Town v Dronfield Town 621

Lichfield City – Saturday January 1st 2015 (588)

January 3, 2015

‘Despite near-perfect barbecue weather, trade today is a little slow…’

Visiting the City Ground for the first football fixture of the New Year used to be a regular occurrence in my younger days, but this New Year’s Day there is a slight difference. This ‘City Ground’ is 40 miles to the west of the stadium where I guess I’ve watched 500 games or more during my time supporting Forest. Today I’m at the home of Lichfield City of the Midland League Division One and although the surroundings are on a tad smaller scale in comparison to that structure on the banks of the Trent, I’m happy to be here nonetheless.

Because it’s a fixture that’s ON and during inclement weather it’s helpful to a ‘hopper’ to get that information reasonably early. Which is where Twitter comes in very useful. I’m not actually on Twitter, on the basis that I don’t think anybody is that desperate to discover trivial things about my lifestyle, but I do believe it serves an important role in updating the football-following public with imminent match prospects. I notice that most clubs seem to have a Twitter ‘feed’ these days, with some used more sparingly than others, but it’s now my first port-of-call for the latest match information. Fixture Secretaries please take note!

Having perused the weather forecast, noting heavy rain coming in from the West – and seeing fixtures further South written off – I’m looking for somewhere more local, and although Lichfield’s City ground is handy for the town’s rail stations, I decide to go by car just in case I need to divert elsewhere at short notice.

The stadium is to the east of the town centre, and access is down a narrow lane which opens out into a car park which is almost full when I arrive. Nobody seems to be manning the pay-gate and enquiries in the very smart clubhouse about access and programmes seem to draw a blank. I’m not the only ‘hopper’ milling around looking for signs of any official activity but eventually a man with a money tin turns up, to be followed five minutes later by another chap clutching a small bundle of programmes. As my particular fetish is to get a match programme for every new ground I visit, this is the sign for me to relax!

Which I do in the bar now full of people, many of whom have no intention of watching the match (I know this having cause to visit the loos during the game). I chat with a couple of chaps who have travelled a good distance to visit the ground (Wrexham and London) and watch the last dregs of the Premier League game on the TV. There’s no cask beer, but they do stock bottles of mainstream British brands (Pedigree for one) either chilled or at room temperature. Behind the bar there’s also a Pukka Pies cabinet. I have to admit that when I used to be a carnivore, I considered that brand to be the best (discuss)!

The pitch itself is on a slope and looks heavy. To make things worse for the team kicking uphill (visitors Bolehall Swifts in the first half) there’s a howling gale – and later driving rain – facing them. There’s some covered standing behind the goal,  with two covered kit-stands – one seating, one terrace – down one side. Most folks gather out of the wind, with the exception of a redoubtable lady with a toddler strapped to her back who completes numerous laps of the pitch. Said toddler steadfastly refuses to nod off, however.

Although the visitors sit in second spot in the Midland League Division One (Step 6) table, the handicap of taking on the slope and the elements in the first half contributes to an even game, with the hosts having early chances to go in front, while Swifts struggle to control the killer ball in the swirling wind. And although City do take a one-goal lead into the break, you get the feeling that the second half will be like the Alamo. Which in general it proves to be, especially when the home team effectively go down to ten, with a limping No9, and having run out of subs. The equaliser when it comes is not unexpected, and you expect Swifts to go on and take all the points, but Lichfield hold out and it’s a fair result at the end.

22 years ago today I stood on the wall at the ‘other’ City Ground, when Forest legend Des Walker scored his one and only senior goal. Ah, I remember it well. Whether or not I recall today’s match in nearly a quarter of a century’s time is open to debate, but at least I got to see a game. And I knew it was ‘on’, because a little bird told me…..

Programme: £1 from a bloke outside the turnstile being mobbed by hoppers! A tidy little affair with colour action pictures and minimal advertising. Commendable at Step 6.

Floodlight pylons: 6

Birdlife: the odd pigeon or two

Toilets: Back in the clubhouse

Clubshop: Badges being sold (outside the turnstile I think)

Music the players run out to: Just a howling gale!

Kop choir: No

Away fans: a few scattered around the ground

What’s in A Name: Presumably City’s Adam Breeze felt most at home in the conditions

Holiday Double – December 26th & 27th 2014 (586/587)

December 28, 2014
'With demand at the tea bar stretched to capacity, the club's decision to keep extra stocks on hand looks a wise one...'

‘With demand at the tea bar stretched to capacity, the club’s decision to keep extra stocks on hand looks a wise one…’

Christmas comes but once a year and I usually make a point of wearing my flashing ‘Bah Humbug’ hat whenever I can during the festivities. Not that I’m particularly against this annual jamboree of excessive gluttony and inclination to imbibe excessively, it’s just that with all the trimmings, tinsel and other seasonal stuff that bedecks our house, I feel it’s my solemn duty to redress the balance somewhat.

As a not particularly church-going sort of chap (weddings and funerals excepted) this time of year to me means the potential for a few Boxing Day fixture ‘Double-Headers’, given a satisfactory weather prognosis, and I had set my plans on a North-East double involving the Northern League and Berwick Rangers, even going so far as to provisionally book overnight digs. But as the events approached, and with a forecast for mucho frost and the potential for snow, the proverbial cold feet set in. Digs cancelled and plans re-evaluated. Suddenly a day in the United Counties League seemed far more attractive, followed by a trip to London on the Saturday.

Boxing Day dawns with a number of windows open on the iMac, each one linked to an appropriate Twitter feed. The key is Huntingdon Town, scheduled to kick off at 11.30am, after which I have 3 Lincolnshire options. The only fly in the ointment? Approaching snow due around 5.00pm, and I know from past experience that when it snows in that part of the world, not much moves!

But the initial Twitter good news is that the game at Huntingdon is on, so it’s warm-up-the-motor time and then head off down the M1 to the A14 and the 90-minute drive to Cambridgeshire. The club’s new ground is Jubilee Park, which is some way from the town centre, and indeed the railway station. Whilst it is certainly walkable from the latter, I’d want to do it on a Summer’s day. So this time of year is ideal for a car trip.

There’s a spacious car park out front, and the ground is approached down a path through the turnstile and straight into the clubhouse. This is a smart, modern complex with bar (slow to open) and snack hatch, and it’s no surprise the latter is doing a roaring trade in hot drinks and bacon rolls on such a chilly morning. Sadly, the availability of dead pig on bread is of little value to a veggie like me and so I rely on the good old cup-a-soup option to provide some much-needed hot nourishment, whatever the nutritional value. A quick scan of the bar reveals no evidence of either cask beer or any British bottled brews, not that I’d be in a drinking mood as it happens (too concerned with staying warm!)

There’s a lot of chatter therein concerning the second game of the day, and I’d guess that at least a quarter of the attendance is composed of ‘hoppers’, with a Merseyside element much in evidence.

The stadium itself consists of flat standing all round, with the area in front of the clubhouse, behind the goal, proving quite popular. There are two covered, seated kit stands virtually side-by-side down one side towards the corner, with a covered standing area straddling the halfway line. The pitch is flat, although the playing surface looks uneven which becomes apparent as the match progresses. It’s a local ‘derby’ in the United Counties Premier against Eynesbury Rovers, the visitors sitting much lower down the table but arriving on the back of a couple of useful wins following a poor run. Town, with just two wins in the last 9, look to be on a slide.

And that’s the way it pans out, with Rovers far more purposeful in attack and scoring twice just before half time to set the home side a few posers. They never really solve these during a second half which doesn’t scale the heights, and a penno near the end seals the points for the visitors.

And so the dilemma. Do I go up to Lincolnshire for the second game – conscious of the forecast snow risk – or head off home early to beat the elements? Common sense prevails!

The following morning starts like GroundHog Day. The iMac is on, the Twitter feeds are open, and I survey the options. Anything north is out because of all the lying snow and travel problems around Sheffield. London is an option with North Greenford United a Step 4 ‘need’ but it’s notorious for pitch inspection failures, while the possible ‘double’ with Wembley FC seems to have disappeared from the fixtures list! Confirmation when it comes that the North Greenford game is off turns me towards a good-looking fixture in the Hellenic Premier and a definite ‘car’ fixture – Ardley United v Kidlington. And so I set off.

I won’t details all of the transport issues that sees me behind the wheel for five of the next seven hours, but suffice to say that I arrive at Ardley’s ground – the Playing Fields – in time for the match and indeed a pre-match drink. Maybe it’s the cold weather and clogged roads around the ground, which is just a stones’ throw from Junction 10 of the manic M40, but the attendance for such a fixture seems quite low, with the club’s elevated clubhouse virtually empty before the game. A shame really, as they serve a tasty drop of Rebellion IPA from beer-boxes mounted on the bar, and if that doesn’t suit, there are bottles of Hook Norton ales too. Exactly what a football clubhouse should be offering, in stark contrast to Huntingdon the day before.

The ground itself is flat standing, with some wind protection from a row of tall trees down one side. There is a modest seated stand straddling the halfway line on that side, plus a four-step covered kit stand terrace behind one goal. The pitch itself looks reasonable for the time of year, although boasting a substantial end-to-end slope, if not quite to Berwick Rangers levels!

The match itself provides plenty of good entertainment. With Ardley well-placed in the Division, and visiting Kidlington just one off the top, there’s the potential for a classic and although not quite that, the skill level is high with visiting winger Tommy Castle catching the eye. His early strike knocks United back, but they get more into the game and are unlucky not to be level before they are reduced to ten men halfway through the second half. Castle’s second of the game shortly thereafter would seem to seal it, buy United won’t lie down, and having reduced the arrears through hard-working number 9 Rocky Johnson, trade blows with Kidlington to the end, both keepers earning their corn.

And so the long trudge home. Only the two games over two days, but at least the inclement weather hasn’t prevented me from my festive footy fix. It’s back to the house to consume more leftovers, some of the stock of ale bought for me by understanding relatives, and, oh yes, to don the ‘Bah Humbug’ hat once again, just in case anybody mistakenly thinks I’m actually enjoying myself! Merry Christmas and roll on the New Year!

Programmes: Although both bear a cover price, the entrance fee at both grounds seems to include a free prog. Commendable! Both neat and tidy affairs without winning any plaudits, Ardley’s boasting marginally the better content-advertising ratio.

Floodlight pylons: 8 at Huntingdon, 4 at Ardley

Birdlife: Wouldn’t have been surprised to see the odd penguin…

Club shop: Chap selling old progs at Ardley

Toilets: In the foyer of the clubhouse at Huntingon, inside and outside the clubhouse at Ardley

Music the players run out to: Abject silence!

What’s In A Name: With all the mud and slop this time of year I suspect Huntingon’s Medwynter brothers are in their element, although teammate Andrew Buckle might not be able to take the pressure, with Rovers Robert Ducket also opting out….

Bedfont Sports – Saturday December 13th 2014 (585)

December 18, 2014
'There could be trouble ahead for any poor soul confused as to which day of the week it is...'

‘Heavy drinking is not advisable as there could be trouble ahead for any poor soul confused as to which day of the week it is…’

Despite reaching the grand old age of 34 before I stepped nervously onto a plane for my very first flight, I’ve soared into the sky on numerous occasions over the ensuing years, essentially considering it to be an enjoyable part of the whole holiday ‘experience’. What HAS become a pain, however, is the massively increased security which virtually strips you down to your y-fronts before they let you through to board.

We experienced some of that while travelling to and from Dublin last weekend, as the wife and I enjoyed a four-day ‘cultural’ break which involved some Christmas shopping, a John Bishop show, and many hours spent researching (yes, that’s the right word) the Irish craft – and cask – beer scene. I’m pleased to report that not one pint of Guinness passed my lips during the four days in which we sampled several brews from the Galway Bay Brewery range (primarily stouts and porters) and cask beers – yes, real ales – from J W Sweetman and Trouble Brewing.

Sadly – as the Irish football league plays during the Summer months – there was no football to be had, so back in blighty where should I end up watching my first game for two weeks? Virtually under the flight path for Heathrow Airport! All of a sudden planes and airports are providing a noisy backdrop to my social life.

I wasn’t planning to be at Bedfont. But after arriving at Victoria Station with my son – who’s off to Stamford Bridge with his mate – a scan of the Southern League website fixtures list reveals that my chosen game for the day – at North Greenford United – is off. As is the back-up choice at Barking. So it’s back on the tube heading for Hatton Cross, just one stop from Heathrow, and the familiar walk to Bedfont. I say familiar because I have been this way once before, to visit The Orchard, which was then home to Bedfont Town. That stadium is virtually adjacent to The Recreation Ground, which is where I’m heading today.

Airliners thunder barely a hundred feet overhead as I walk along Hatton Road, and I marvel once more at the many horses who calmly go about their grass-munching just below the roar of descending jet engines. More so the people who live in the house directly beneath the flight path! It’s a little calmer a few hundred yards down the road at the football ground, the entrance being just past the car park that serves the Orchard, which is now the home ground for Bedfont & Feltham FC.

Set back from the road, the first building I encounter is the rather grand clubhouse bar, with a plush interior including table booths each served by a flat screen TV. When I arrive they’re all playing Christmassy videos but by half time Sky Sports News holds sway. Although there is no hand pulled beer to be had, they stock a good range of bottled British ales – chilled or otherwise – from the usual suspects. A bottle of Fullers London Pride does for me. Outside there’s a snack hatch, with chips and tomato cuppa-soup the only veggie options.

The stadium itself consists of an area of cover backing onto the clubhouse, with several rows of seats, albeit set well back from the pitch with a low Winter sun adding to the inconvenience. It would have the same effect on the new block of seats directly behind the goal, had they been available for use. By all accounts a bike shed needs to be installed before the punters can gain access. Don’t ask me! On the opposite side of the pitch to the clubhouse is another area of seating, although somewhat in a state of decay. Elsewhere, flat standing.

It’s a tricky one for the home side today because, although visitors Guildford City are second-bottom of the Combined Counties Premier, they have had an infusion of new blood after a management change, and they arrive with several former members of the youth team in the ranks, who seem to know no fear.

They take the game to Bedfont from the off and are two-up inside ten minutes, before allowing the hosts to pull one back just before the break. But any thoughts of a home comeback are dashed on 55 minutes and although Bedfont do peg it back to one goal again, three further City strikes in a 12-minute flurry put the game beyond doubt, despite a last minute effort for Bedfont. It ends 3-6 and a well-deserved victory for the visitors, for whom 16-year old wide-man Nathaniel Williams catches the eye, with his two goals and two assists.

In fact so absorbing is the game that the thunder of aircraft engines has become an irrelevance, until I walk back down the road again towards the tube station, right beneath the infernal roar yet content in the knowledge that at least I don’t have to run the gauntlet of airport security. Not today, anyway.

Programme: Just 12 pages of basic information. The fact that it’s given away free makes it hard to criticise!

Floodlight pylons: 4

Birdlife: Parakeets! Not as many as I would have thought, given that the area south of Heathrow is a known roosting ground, but enough to tempt me to looking skyward during breaks in play

Club shop: No, but badges on sale at the snack bar

Toilets: You have to go back into the clubhouse, which means going outside the ground at least until half time

Music the teams run out to: Nothing noticeable

Kop choir: No

Away fans: A sizeable contingent from Guildford, buoyed by the performance!

What’s in a name: I wonder if City’s Harry Fake is the real deal!

Wisbech Town – Saturday November 29th 2014 (584)

December 1, 2014
'The three-man seat easily converts to a one-man 'pie-eaters' version

‘Although the new seating design has found favour with some spectators, it’s questionable whether this particular style will make it into the re-build of the Olympic Stadium…’

As a child of the 1950s and an adolescent of the Sixties & early Seventies, I grew up in a time before ‘Political Correctness’ was invented. This generally meant we tended to call things as we saw them, without being demonised for doing so. If somebody was of a different race, size, gender or sexual orientation, we would and could comment accordingly, without fear of castigation. It was not malicious. We had a word for it. The word was ‘banter’.

And we were all the subject of somebody’s ‘banter’ at some time in our lives, and the theory was that you developed a thick skin, saw it for what it was (err, banter) and got on with your existence on Planet Earth. You only need to watch re-runs of black & white British movies (St Trinian’s anyone?) and 1970s sit-coms to see what used to pass as acceptable behaviour.

Of course times change and my teenage daughter, a child of the 21st Century, is the new guardian of ‘Political Correctness’ in our house. Woe betide me if I dare to comment on the potential pie-eating prowess of any character on a TV quiz or reality show!

I suppose football is one area that was slow to move with the times. As recently as the late 1990s I can recall standing on the Polam End at Feethams when a gang of youths began uttering monkey noises at a visiting black footballer. Outraged as we might have been, no-one confronted the bigots. And only last season at Barnet I sat within earshot of some bloke spouting forth with advice of a kitchen-based nature at the female referee. Even the stewards were laughing at him!

So I suppose I still feel a sense of familiarity when I’m amongst football-supporting folk on match days. Overt racism may well be a thing of the past, but if we think the opposing keeper is a bit too fond of the pastry we still feel able to comment accordingly. And I’m pretty sure the keeper would accept that for what it is – banter.

Today I will have a chance to catch up on any pre-PC gossip with my old pal, Nick. He’s a few years younger than me, and the joke at his wedding was that I used to hang around outside his school gates in my battered Mark 2 Cortina, waiting for my shorts-clad young companion to emerge. Roars of laughter when recounted in 1994, doubtless the subject of Operation Something-or-other in 2014!

We’re off to Wisbech Town, who ply their trade in the United Counties Premier. Wisbech is a town with which I am familiar, having attended numerous meetings and functions at the local brewery over the years. Although there is no railway station, an excellent bus service (X1) runs from Peterborough on a regular basis.

The region has seen a large influx of EU migrant workers in recent times, which is self-evident in the shop signage and overheard street conversations as you walk through the town. I’d hazard a guess that, despite the presence of the local brewery, real ale wouldn’t be the pre-dominant drink in the area’s pubs nowadays.

We arrive in a vicinity of the Fenland Stadium, which is a few hundred yards further out of town than the now-disused but still standing Fenland Park ground (Town’s previous home), at around 2.00pm so decide to call into one of the local pubs for a pint. There’s two or three close to the ground, but we choose the spacious Black Bear which is more-or-less across the road. They have a couple of cask beers on tap, one of which – Adventurer –  is produced locally by the Mile Tree microbrewery. It’s typical of the modern style, being straw-coloured and slightly citric, and not one I’d be rushing up to the bar for another. But that’s just my personal taste.

Into the ground, which has a spacious car park with stewards directing. Be warned. The rows are arbitrary and if you plan on making a swift getaway, think carefully where you position your vehicle! Inside the stadium the playing surface looks heavy but certainly playable, hence the pitch inspection earlier. There’s a two-step covered terrace behind each goal, and a small seated stand straddling the halfway line. Opposite is the clubhouse bar area, where a good chunk of the crowd tend to congregate. The bar itself is reasonably large and benefits from a food hatch (just chips for the veggie) and a handpump selling Elgood’s Cambridge Bitter, which sadly is not a good advertisement for the brewery, being not far short of undrinkable.

The game is between 8th-placed Wisbech and 4th-placed visitors Cogenhoe United, and is one in which the home side have the edge throughout, although a penalty on 48 is all they have to show for it going into the last few minutes of the match. But as the game becomes stretched, chances begin to appear and two late strikes put some gloss on the scoreline and Town run out 3-0 winners.

During the match we position ourselves at various points around the ground, conversing with local stewards and commenting on how smart the linesmen look (or words to that effect), estimating the calorie intake of both goalkeepers, expressing disappointment at the absence of any fit lady physios, and bemoaning the lack of a good old-fashioned 22-man punch-up to enliven the proceedings. All classic old-school banter. I suspect my daughter would have been appalled!

Programme: £1 from a seller inside the turnstile. 40 pages of which 24 are adverts. Standard fayre, although the ‘On This Day’ feature is well-researched. Nice cover.

Floodlight pylons: 4

Birdlife: eerily quiet

Club Shop: Yes, a nice cabin near the corner flag. A lot of old Wisbech programmes plus many from other clubs. Worth a visit.

Toilets: Outside and inside the clubhouse

Music the players run out to: none evident

Kop choir: a sizeable contingent moving from end to end at half time, although not particularly vocal

Away fans: None evident


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