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Jaunt No 32

Hoyland Town Jaguars 3 Arundel 2
Meadowhall League Cup Final
Thursday, 06/05/04
 
For the 32nd and final Jamesie's Jaunts of the season we have gone full-circle; having started this season's series seeing a team from Bramall Lane play at Silkstone Road on a Tuesday in July, we are back to end the series with my traditional 100th game to finish my football exploits for another season by watching a team from Silkstone Road play midweek at Bramall Lane, clever or what? Having started the season by watching Sheffield United bang a lot of goals in at Frecheville on a balmy evening in front of three thousand people, regular followers of the column will know we have gone via the Punjab, Cyprus, Milan, Glasgow, some dodgy places in the middle counties of England (even watching a team from China along the way) to get back here in good ol' Sheffield at "downtown Bramall Lane" to watch the mighty Jags take on Frecheville's co-tenants Arundel FC in their League Cup Final. One hundred games and God knows how many goals this year, (I can't be bothered to count) and I'm "Jaunting" not more than ten minutes from our house, can you tell I'm starting to get fed up of driving? With me most of the way this year has been my very own Passepartout, my son Liam, who himself has clocked up the best part of fifty games in his first proper season of watching live football. He's picked up some favourite teams along the way, many of which have influenced where we have trekked when there isn't a Club game on, the main two have been Dinnington Town and Hoyland Town, the latter of which are making their almost regular annual trip to Bramall Lane for yet another Cup Final. Also with me tonight is the legend himself Mr Travels, or Trev as he is known to everyone in the celebrity world, who is taking in his first taste of the twilight world of Meadowhall League Football, the place where Northern Counties Players go and play when there's not a Saturday game to play in.
 
The amazing thing that strikes just about everybody you mention this to is where this final takes place, at the home of the city's premier football team (remember I'm objective here, I don't follow either United or Wednesday), and this is for the League Cup Final of a Sunday League. What amazes people is when you mention that the NCEL final takes place at (no offence meant to these mentioned by the way) grounds like, Buxton, Brigg, Alfreton and suchlike, yet other Leagues manage to get their showpieces at their local senior league ground. I understand there are prohibitive things such as hire cost and stewarding, but it would be nice if we could get OUR cup final held at somewhere like Oakwell or Valley Parade or even Saltergate (at a push), just to give the League a higher profile. Either way, nothing I'm going to spout on about is going to change anything in our league, so let's concentrate on this game and forget about those issues for this season, shall we? As I've covered the Jags in a previous article in this column, I'll give you a bit of what I know about Arundel. I've already mentioned they play at Silkstone Road, and they've just won the Division One title, but where exactly do Arundel originate from? Well the easy answer to this once more is "Manor Top", the same as Elm Tree earlier in the series, as this is the team from Arundel Ex-Servicemen's Club on the junction of City Road and Eastern Avenue (ah, the memories are flooding back again!) not more than half-a-mile from the birthplace of yours truly. Whilst I can't give you much about the history of the club, ardent followers of Sheffield will no doubt raise an eyebrow some of the names of some of the Arundel squad; Adam Fretwell, Rob Ward (both Ossett Albion), Darren Bland (Glapwell) and Gary Jones (Armthorpe) all are players who have come up against Club in the last season, and all are plying their trade on Sunday's for Arundel. They were certainly the underdogs prior to the game, not only because the Jags were on for the treble but because they play in a division lower. I for one gave them no chance, and fully expected that the boys in green would get a hat-full, but having seen quite a few turn-up-for-the-books this season, who could say what would happen? There wasn't such a strong Sheffield presence in the Hoyland line-up as in the past though, perhaps injuries had taken their toll, but missing were the likes of Asa Ingall, Tom Jones and Chris Hilton. We were represented by Ben Naylor and Daz Utley though, and with a couple of ex-players in the line-up, it was still a strong looking side.
 
It didn't take long for the Jags to take a good old grip on the game; they went in front on 12 minutes when Lee Wasden capitalised on a defensive mix-up and slot into the empty goal, with keeper Karl Lucas stranded. Eight minutes later and it looked all over for Arundel when Wasden got his second, this time with Lucas off his line; the centre forward belied his size with the most delicate of chips. And that's how it stayed for the most part of the game; Darren Bland nearly pulled one back for Arundel midway through the second half, but a great fingertip save by Andy Brooke kept him out. Wasden was going all out to grab his hat-trick, and should have wrapped the game well and truly when he headed against the post from a Richard March cross, good old "Sponsored" showed some pretty nifty footwork (not so much "Tiger Feet" as "Jaguar Feet" I guess) to get the ball in. Moments later Craig McCormick put a cross in, and once again Wasden hit the post, this time with a shot. With five minutes left on the clock, and the trophy seemingly heading to Park Road, Arundel's Paul Hurrell set off on a fifty yard run leaving players sprawling in his wake. Just as he got into the area he was sent sprawling by our very own Mr Utley, apparently he couldn't beat the Daz Challenge, and the referee awarded a penalty. Hurrell picked himself up, dusted himself down, and planted the ball past Brooke who was rooted to the spot. Now we had a game on, and the Arundel fans were starting to find their voice, and in injury time they got what had seemed moments earlier an unlikely equaliser. It looked a bit suspect to say the least, with Brooke being bundled off the ball following Fretwell's free-kick, the ball hitting the post and Rob Ward heading home to send the place delirious. And so into extra time and there was a bit of controversy when John Sunderland put the ball into the back of the net - with his hand, and you know how we English hate that don't you? Sunderland nearly grabbed the lead moments after, again the post was there to deny the Jags, and the bar denied Lee Wasden later on. You got the feeling the game was going to penalties, and seeing as luck seemed to be shining on the Manor Top boys, it wasn't looking good for Hoyland. Then as injury time crept in, weighing in at thirty seven years old, the ex-Sheffield man Prince Paul Nasim drilled the ball home after being set up by our very own Ben Naylor. Justice seemed to have been done, but it wasn't the end of the drama as Rob Ward got his marching orders for kicking Andy Brooke, whilst the keeper was trying to run time down. It was an unsavoury end to the final, and totally out of character with what I've seen through the season, but overall it was a highly entertaining finale to the season. Here's to the next season, wherever it'll take me!

Jaunt No 31

Celtic 1 Dunfermline Athletic 2
Scottish Premier League
Sunday, 02/05/04
 
"Hail, hail! The Celts are here!" They say you are born with your football club; unfortunately some of us get lumbered with more than one because your family sprawls to the four corners of this big island, and they say you can't change them. So by rights, I was born into a family that was strongly Sheffield United related, and elsewhere it had to be Celtic. Now those who know me say that I'm an awkward bugger, so it wouldn't surprise anyone to know I dumped the Blades for Luton Town (and of late Sheffield Club) and north of the border the Hoops were dumped for the now defunct Airdrieonians. The trouble is this awkwardness has skipped a generation (or should I say, the awkwardness simply landed at my generation) so I find myself with a kid who is a fairly staunch Sheffield United fan, and just recently found out he also has the Hoops gene too. So with Sheffield not having a game planned for the May Day Bank Holiday weekend, we (as a family) decided to embark on a trip to the other side of Hadrian's Wall for a pleasant short break to Scotland. Lynn had decided she wanted to visit Edinburgh, to visit Princess Street and the Castle, Liam on the other hand (and of course this was me as well here) wanted to go to a footy match. With a quick browse of the fixtures we let Liam decide which game he wanted to visit, "Celtic are at home to Dunfermline, Dad" came the first reply, "but I can't guarantee you'll get a ticket to see Celtic, it'll be a sell-out". "Okay then, East Stirling!" Anyone who knows the kid will know that this isn't out of character, he just goes from one extreme to the other, and if he can't go to the San Siro he'll choose Laughton Road at Dinnington! The fact the Jameses were possibly going to see East Stirlingshire brought more interest from certain parties than you've ever known, but as luck would have it (yes I mean luck, although I have had to promise a trip to Firs Park next season) we got tickets for Celtic Park. Now getting tickets for Celtic as you can imagine is no mean feat, Lynn (bless her) was on the phone for the best part of an hour pressing re-dial after re-dial on the day they went on sale, but eventually we managed to get three together. So on Friday, straight after school for Liam as well, we headed on the long drive north to Bonnie Scotland.
 
I failed to mention this was Lynn and Liam's first trip to Scotland, and seeing as I've been with Lynn for the best part of twenty years it may come as a bit of a surprise. It's not that Scotland is one of my least favourite places, it's just after going so many times as a kid you tend to get bored of the place, and despite nagging me for just about every one of those last twenty years I still managed to avoid going up until now. We stayed over somewhere between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and without handing out a prize to anyone who guesses right, not too far from the Tunnocks biscuit factory. We had a sweltering Saturday walking around Edinburgh (we went to the castle and asked "what time does the one o'clock gun go off?"), avoiding any football throughout the day (although I wish I'd have known the Luton versus Sheffield Wednesday score!!) and headed to Glasgow on the Sunday to pick up the tickets for the afternoon's game. The area around the ground was nothing like I remember; even so some of the local bars and shops seem to have changed very little, although I have to say my memory of where the ground was just happened to be spot on. We got to the ground quite early, in plenty of time for the ticket office to open, and had a good old shop around the club superstore (amazingly enough they'd sold out of "plain" metal badges and only had "champions" ones in!) spending not only Liam's money, but mine too. In the queue for the tickets we had quite a surprise; you see Lynn was nervous about this football trip, even though she wasn't at the San Siro or in Cyprus, but because she'd met my Scottish relatives (the ones Rab C Nesbitt was based on) and had a preconceived idea of the locals before she'd even stepped foot in Celtic Park. The surprise came when the people behind us said they were from Burnley of all places, and to top it all off had accents more akin to Lancashire than Lanarkshire. Apparently they get up to the games most weeks, but to be honest it must be a costly exercise for them, although they do get to see a winning team most weeks. Once inside the ground I was amazed to see how much it had changed in twenty years, the last time I came to Celtic was against Partick Thistle and stood behind the goals, not this time though as it is all seated now. The view wasn't the best we have had this season either but sometimes, it goes without saying, that just being there is good enough and we managed to see everything that mattered.
 
The match itself was a bit of an anti-climax, the Hoops had won the League Flag weeks ago and had lost the chance of going the season undefeated the week before, but as always in these kind of games once there isn't anything to play for the games tend to be a bit bland. I was stunned to see how slack Celtic were in some of their play, and even more stunned when Dunfermline took the lead with a volley from Barry Nicholson midway through the half. I was that stunned I was convinced the goal was offside, this just wasn't in the script, and surely Celtic would come back and win. Songs were being sung, flags were being waved, and a good time was being had by all in the stands, whilst on the pitch the home team couldn't break through. A minute into the second half Celtic equalised and the place went nuts; out going Celtic legend Henrik Larsson rose like Asa Ingall at the near post to head home a corner, from the Bhoys future legend Aiden McGeady, and everything was rosy again. Once again Liam had managed to see another one of his favourites score on home soil, first Shevchenko and now Larsson, and soon Celtic would come on and win the game. Erm no, that wasn't in Dunfermline's script, was it? Just on the hour the visitors made a rare sortie into enemy territory and Gary Dempsey let a speculative long range shot go, it looked okay from where I was sitting and the goalie had it covered, but then the ball bounced up and over David Marshall's hands at the near post. It was just as I had feared, but the songs continued and the flags were flown, then up the other end of the pitch Chris Sutton headed against the post from Alan Thompsons corner, then to top it all Derek Stillie saved Johan Mjallbys follow-up and there was a pile of injured bodies to sweep up. It wasn't going to be Celtic's day, and in a dressed rehearsal for the Scottish Cup final, the Pars held on for a surprise win to send their hundred or so fans delirious. A bit disappointing in front of Celtic's biggest crowd of the season I suppose, but then came the presentation of the League Trophy and a lap of honour by Martin O'Neill and his players, a major bonus for everyone in the end and the flags were flown, balloons and confetti showered the pitch, the songs continued and I went home with a sore throat with this bloody tune firmly stuck in my head. "For it's a grand old team to play for, for it's a grand old team to see. And if you the history, it's enough to make your heart go nine-in-a-row......"

Jaunt No 30

Yorkshire Main 2 Welbeck Welfare 4
Central Midlands Premier Division
Wednesday, 28/04/04
 
When the heavens open, and monsoon season is upon us, there aren't many places that can lay claim to almost certainly guaranteeing the game will go ahead. Sadly the Coach and Horses isn't one of them, although just lately everyone seems to be doing a bang up job of trying to prove me wrong, so it always helps to be in the know about a couple of venues that are almost never postponed. Dinnington Town are one of these, they are always a good back-up if the game goes down, but most of these grounds tend to be around the Doncaster area. It's the mine shafts you see, apparently it helps with the drainage, so by rights if a club is (or was) affiliated to a Miners Welfare or pit you can be fairly certain the game goes ahead no matter what weather. So this week, along with the planned Sheffield games, I have planned back-ups at Yorkshire Main and Dinnington Town. As everyone will be aware after the bone hard hot weekend we had, we had two or three days of solid downpours, which isn't surprising as I'm on holiday this week. Tuesday the Club game survived (just), but Wednesday was a complete wash-out, only one local game of note surviving, Yorkshire Main versus Welbeck Welfare in the Central Midlands Premier Division. Not much of a crowd puller this one, but at least it is a game of football, so off to Edlington it is.
 
The Yorkshire Main sports ground is a sprawling complex in Edlington, with about five football pitches, a floodlit five-a-side court, an enclosed ground (where Yorkshire Main play) and a cricket pitch. Ah, the cricket pitch! Now that brings back memories. Let me enlighten you; plenty of football teams in our area are adjacent to the cricket pitch, it's the nature of the welfare ground and people tend to use it as a thoroughfare, but Yorkshire Main is somewhat different, the cricket pitch is a shrine. The first time I went to Yorkshire Main I was early, not too early, but early enough to be able to go into the clubhouse by the cricket pitch. Inside the bar was empty, apart from one stereotypical bar-type bloke polishing glasses, and we struck up conversation. Very pleasant this chap was, told me about the glory days of the team, about the other teams who play there like Edlington and the Cecil, when all of a sudden he was distracted and ran across the bar to burst open the doors onto the cricket pitch. "Hey, gerroff me f****** cricket pitch you bunch of c****, I'll come down there and f****** do the lot of yer! Set of t****!" Then he came back in, started up the conversation where we left off, as polite as anything! When I went down, I made certain to walk around the cricket pitch, I can tell you. There are signs all the way round too; "keep of the cricket pitch", and then five yards on "walk round the cricket pitch" and most disturbingly, "people who walk on the cricket pitch will be beheaded". Actually I lied about the last one, but obviously things haven't changed in the slightest as I heard the coach of the Edlington White Stars telling one of his under tens on the way round tonight, "Nathan, gerroff of t'cricket pitch, tha'll get me shot!" But enough of the legend of the cricket pitch we are here to talk about football, although Yorkshire Main aren't what you'd call top guns in the sport (I'm yet to see them win), and neither for that matter are Welbeck (I haven't seen them win either, dead cert for a draw). Recently Yorkshire Main haven't done very well at all, they have had to be re-elected to the CMFL the last couple of years (and succeeded), but this season things have looked up and they aren't even close to the bottom three. Neither for that matter are Welbeck, both are sitting in the lower half of the middle of the table, not troubling promotion or relegation. For me tonight would be about seeing how much both of these teams have improved, and based on the games I've seen they wouldn't have to work too hard, after all they were bloody shocking to start with.
 
Yorkshire Main's ground is at the foot off the complex, about three minutes walk around (I repeat around) the cricket pitch, which was just enough time to get bloody soaked. Once inside the ground there is a little tea bar, which was nice and warm, so it didn't take me too long to dry out. Outside the tea bar is a covered stand (no seats, but a stand nonetheless), and across the pitch is another stand, but to get to this you have to negotiate some pretty long grass which would soak your feet, so I chose to stand under the nearside stand. I still got soaked, the roof was leaking and the wind was blowing the rain in, it truly was a murky night and with no floodlights it was doubtful that anyone would be able to see come ninety minutes. Either way it lasted, and the game was an entertaining one with Main doing all the pressing on a pretty slippery pitch. It was Welbeck who took the lead midway through the first half, with Kevin Nussey turning the ball home after a bit of woeful defending. That's how it stayed to midway through the second half, when Nussey repeated the feat, again after some slipshod defending. When the substitute Harris knocked in a third for the visitors with quarter of an hour to go, there was a sense of injustice that said Welbeck were by no means three goals better, no way! So when Main pulled one back a minute later Jon Wilson hitting in Andy Betts' rebounded shot, there was a hope The Donny boys could pull of a big comeback. A dodgy penalty with five to go made it 2-3, Betts knocking it in for Main, and we had a real game on our hands. It really was entertaining, but with three minutes to go the comedy football that Yorkshire Main are renowned for crept back, Pete Durkin tripped over the ball (landing on his arse in the process) allowing an easy cross and an easier tap-in from Greg Harris to complete the scoring. It is true both teams have improved, but defensively they still have a long way to go, but there were some outstanding players who could do so much more, namely Mark Cooper, Andy Betts and Jamie Irwin, all of who had good games, with a little luck someone might spot them and give them a try.

Jaunt No 29

Houghton Main 8 Gate Thirteen 2
Windsor Foods County Senior League Division Two
Wednesday, 21/04/04
 
Ey up ah'll tell thi summat. I bet tha' can't guess weer ah've just bin. No don't worry, I've not been over exposed to a certain Mr Bray Senior, although I worry Liam has. No I've just got back from a little midweek footy match near Barnsley, and I thought I'd write a couple of lines about it. Jamesie's Jaunts, number twenty nine no less, heads back into the world of County Senior football, to the land of AFC Barnsley and company. This time I'm heading out to Houghton Main, to see a bit of a midweek filler I guess you could say, where Gate 13 are the visitors. I have a tendency to head out to quite a few of these games at this time of the year, light nights and early evening kick offs mean I can get to a game and be home before 9.00 pm, but not many of the places I visit warrant writing about. Sometimes, and very seldom sometimes, I get impressed by the set up I visit and write something about the place. But as I said, in the County Senior League these grounds tend to be the exception rather than the norm. There tends to be something about these places, the organisation, the facilities or whatever, that makes me think "this team doesn't belong here and could do so much more". In the County Senior there aren't that many, AFC Barnsley are one, others are Penistone Church, Oughtibridge, Frecheville, Mexborough, and my personal favourite South Kirkby. Most of the rest play on pretty poor recreation ground style pitches, but one who fits into the first group is Houghton Main, and with the season drawing ever nearer to a close I thought I'd try and pay a visit to Middlecliffe Lane to see what was on offer.
 
To be up front and honest, I only expected to get to see a game of footy on a rec' between two sets of cloggers, so when I turned up in Middlecliffe to see such a modern facility, I admit I was surprised. I was even more surprised when I looked over the cricket pitch to the football pitch to see that I would have cover if the rains DID follow me from Sheffield, and even more surprised there was a cosy little bar. I was also surprised when I went in the bar to be tapped on the shoulder by a giant of a man who asked "does tha' want a programme young 'un?" "Erm, yes please. How much?" "Oh, they don't cost owt son, 'ere 'ave a read while thy 'as a pint" Programmes at County Senior games, whatever next? That's three this season (not including the cup games), and three more than I've ever had before this season. So, I took the programme and had a pint (£1.80, and I had just the one because I was driving) whilst sitting in the smart and tidy bar, before venturing out in the early evening sunshine across the cricket pitch to the covered stand. The groundhoppers were there in force, probably about five or ten of them, so perhaps word had got around about a decent ground that served up free football and (more importantly for them) free programmes. Middlecliffe seems to portray what can only be described as a bog-standard for the region as far as grounds go, let me explain. Little Houghton is (for this is where the ground is) on the road between South Kirkby and the M1, in fact me, John and Trev passed through the village on our way back from the recent County Senior League Cup semi final tie, and bears a striking similarity to Millars Walk with the cricket pitch, bar and stand. The style of stand seems to follow plenty of ex-mining areas grounds elsewhere in the region; Kiveton is another one as is Mexborough, so when the torrential rain did eventually arrive everyone who wanted to stay dry did. Houghton Main FC have been going for nigh on eternity apparently, I found out they had won the Yorkshire League in 1922, but this is their first season in the County Senior League and they've made a good first of it. Along with two other newcomers (AFC Barnsley and Silkstone United) they've been promoted at the first attempt, unlike AFC though they haven't applied for the Central Midlands, although I suspect they would have probably been a good addition if they went for it. Their visitors on the night were Gate 13, another newcomer to the CSL, are someone I know absolutely nothing about. One thing I did know though was they were up for a right old hammering as they turned up at the ground, looking tired already, and ten minutes after the scheduled kick-off time.
 
The game was a contest for about fifteen minutes, which was when Houghton's big forward Chris Glover opened the scoring; the keeper watching the ball wide of the goal, only to see the ball take a bobble and into the net (d'oh! That's never happened to me, honest). On the half hour Glover got his second, heading home a cross from the best player on the night, Mick Jones. Just before half time Houghton killed it, again the goalie was at fault letting Chris Stead's shot go through his legs. In the second half Gate pulled one back with a wonderful shot beating Joburns in the Houghton goal, and for a minute or so it looked as if we might have a game on our hands. Sadly not, and after Houghton had two goals ruled out for offside, on the hour the floodgates opened. Main's fourth came after Craig Allen had zipped through the Gate-like defence; his shot was saved only to fall for Glover to net his hat-trick with an easy tap-in. Two minutes later Glover got his fourth, and Houghton's fifth with another easy looking effort, and once more the home team looked as though they would hit double figures. Gate's substitute pulled another back shortly after, against the run of play, with a neat volley leaving the keeper well beaten. With fifteen to go Jones got a well-deserved goal to make it 6-2, before Houghton wrapped it up with another two from the substitutes in the last five minutes. Overall it was an impressive performance from the home team, despite the visitors looking a little ropey, and the result underpins what has gone before this season. Houghton haven't splashed the money around like AFC Barnsley, but I can see them becoming a force at this level over the next season or so.

Jaunt No 28

Stapenhill 1 Ratby Sports 2
Leicestershire Senior League Premier Division
Monday, 19/04/04
 
As April starts wending its way to a close, the majority of the questions asked back in August have been answered. Most of the relegation and promotion issues, however just they may or may not be, have more or less been settled with their clubs supporters starting to look forward to the next season or (in most cases) reflecting back on what might have been. So it gets to this stage where people start planning on the possibility of Cup Finals, or the potentially challenging last run to the finish post or as the case has been for us lately, playing out the last couple of games out for the season. I don't want to sound too lethargic with this start, but I always find myself counting down to the end of the season with one eye on the summer; as soon as the season ends though, I find myself eager to get back into the swing of things. Now to combat this end-of-season-lethargy I try and get to some of the grounds I ear-marked at the beginning of the season as "must visits", which for one reason or another catch my eye as potential Jaunts, to try and re-energise myself for the last month. Normally these tend to tie themselves in with a title run-in or relegation decider, or at least something of that ilk, and when I stuck this fixture in my diary this was one of those games. The trouble is the team I decided to visit had a relegation-busting run where they took ten points from a possible twelve to elevate them to safety. The place I'm heading to this week is Edgehill, home of the Swans of Stapenhill Football Club for a game in the Everards Brewery Leicestershire Senior League Premier Division, where the visitors are Ratby Sports.
 
Now the first question to ask is "why are Stapenhill a must-visit, when you always say you don't like the Leicestershire Senior League?" Well to answer the first part Stapenhill are a bit of a phoenix club, one that has risen from the ashes so to speak. They were formed in 1947, and played to Midland Alliance (or thereabouts) level up until the 2001-2002 season at which point they folded mid-season. The reason given was something to do (as always) with finances, and they were unable to retain the majority of their players, subsequently they dropped out of the Midland Alliance after 23 games. The following season (last season this is) they reformed, and strangely enough joined the Leicestershire League. It is strange for the obvious reason they are part of the Derbyshire Football Association, and even stranger is that Stapenhill is in Staffordshire! Well it's near Burton-on-Trent to be exact, not too far down the way from teams recently featured in the Jaunts series, Gresley Rovers and Newhall United, and is only a couple of hundred yards over the county boundary. They played last season in Division One of the Leicestershire Senior, a league that you could put on par with the top division in the Central Midlands or Midland Combination One, they finished runner-up to Epworth but were the only team promoted to the Premier Division (equivalent to NCEL Division One). It's not the first time I've seen Stapenhill play, no in fact they used to be the usual visitor to some game or another while I was in the West Midlands area, but I always regretted not getting to Edgehill before they jacked it in. So, even though it was in the Leicestershire Senior I thought I'd get over to see them at some stage, because you never know lightning could strike twice. Edgehill is set in a very (VERY) nice area, very quiet and very clean, and the ground is at the bottom of Maple Grove, just off Sycamore Road (next to Lime Grove, Laurel Grove, Sandalwood Road, you get the picture) which is just off the A444. The ground looks very similar to many you would see on your travels throughout the Northern Counties or indeed the North West Counties, with a small 200 seater stand (with padded seats!), hardstanding all the way round and of course floodlights. There is a small covered area behind one goal, probably big enough for another 200 people and next to that a strange building made from corrugated metal. It is a curious looking thing, two stories high with nothing underneath, but steps leading up to a gantry which is similar to a television camera area only in the wrong place (surely if it was it would be behind the dugouts?).
 
Anyway onto the game, which had me a little confused from the off. The reason was that in the years I had seen Stapenhill in the past, they wore RED. The ground is painted RED. One team was wearing RED, the other white and black, so I assumed that Stapenhill as in the past would be wearing RED. There were no programmes on sale to tell me otherwise, and seeing as this is the lazily polite Leicestershire Senior League AND a meaningless end of season fixture, I was oblivious until 30 minutes into the game. No-one from either side (fans OR players OR bench personnel) shouted "come on Stapenhill" or "come on Sports", so it wasn't until I overheard someone else in the stand mention it was a good attack from Stapenhill whilst the WHITES were on the attack that I twigged. Either way the game whizzed by in the first half, end-to-end stuff with no end of goal attempts from both sides. In the second half the Swans took the lead after twenty minutes or so with a simple header at the back post by the young midfielder Dean Bromley, and that looked to have secured all three points for Stapenhill. Ratby on the other hand had different ideas for the outcome and (not so) promptly snatched the game in the last five minutes with Elliott Wright turning home a cross and then Danny McNulty heading home the winner in injury time. Overall it was a good game, however meaningless, and the Swans were dreadfully unlucky (and I AM certain they lost, because I heard someone say on their mobile on the way out "Stapenhill have lost 2-1") not to come away with at least a point. The main thing for me is the point that Stapenhill have the basis for a good future, looking at the way Loughborough Dynamo (a team I covered last year who have now WON this league) have come on in a year, there is no reason why the Swans won't be gracing the Midland Alliance once more in the not too distant future. Here's hoping they don't blow it next time around.

Jaunt No 27

Dearne CMW 2 Westville 2
Montagu Cup Final
Monday, 12/04/04
 
Apparently Easter is split into three categories; one for the ladies, one for the gents and one for the kids. Let me explain, for the ladies Easter means chocolate, lots of it (it's what women like) the more extravagant the better. For the men it means sports, rugby, football, horse racing, there's always one or the other to keep the lads going. For the kids it's a mixture of the two, so after getting up at a leisurely hour on Easter Sunday we headed over to watch the Jags (with Liam munching chocolate), whilst the missus sat at home and had (Easter) eggs on toast. After getting home it was a case of Celtic versus Livingston, followed by Newcastle and Arsenal, all-in-all a delightful day! Easter Monday carries on that tradition, but for folks like me and hundreds of others it gives us a chance to have a rare day of taking in an extra game or two along with the one your team is playing. This tends to take the form of an 11.00 am kick-off, with a 3.00 pm kick off or a 7.30 pm kick off, whichever takes your fancy. Now with most people being like me, the 7.30 option isn't what you'd call appealing with work the following day, so with Club kicking off at 3.00 against Pickering Town the search was on for a match with an 11.00 kick off. I didn't have a great deal of joy finding anything to be truthful, but with an air of desperation I plumped for the traditional Easter Monday fixture at Hampden Road in Mexborough, the Montagu Cup Final. This year the finalists were both from the realms of local Sunday football, Dearne CMW (a team I'd seen earlier in the season in the Rotherham Charity Cup) and a team from Wath called Westville who were making their debut in the final.
 
For the uninitiated amongst us, the Mexborough Montagu Cup is a well established competition for all of the lower league teams around the Rotherham to Doncaster area and out towards Barnsley. It's been going for some years now, longer than any of us have been around anyway, and the trophy is pretty magnificent. Normally the final is contested by a couple of County Senior teams, with Wombwell winning the last three times, but this time we had a team from the Rotherham League (Dearne) and one from the lower Mexborough League (Westville) after a season full of shock results and upsets. Dearne, who had overcome the pre-tournament favourites Wombwell in the quarter finals, started clear favourites to win the cup outright, whereas Westville were pretty much rank outsiders as they'd only just been promoted into a league Dearne had won (and been promoted from) two years ago. The whole event is seen as a pretty big thing around the Dearne Valley, and some of the crowds that turn up are simply astounding, which proves the interest in the competition at this stage is phenomenal. It tends to be seen as both a good excuse for a bit of a p***-up, whilst also serving as a bit of a family day out for the competing clubs along with a nostalgia trip for the old blokes. An old chap in his seventies told me before the game that he'd played in the final in 1947 or 48, winning the cup with Wath Wanderers, and he'd been to just about every final since. As I said earlier the game is held, as tradition states, at Hampden Road in Mexborough a few hundred yards from the Montagu Hospital from where the competition takes its name. Now as far as grounds go, this one is a sad waste as it should be staging at least some kind of pyramid football. In the past there have been all sorts of teams playing there, but none have really made the grade, which is a shame considering what a nice little ground it is. Alright it does only have three sides (like Hallam and Pickering), but on those where you can stand it has terracing to hold about 2,000 plus a nice little stand which holds about 200. With a little tidy up, and floodlights, this ground could easily stage Counties football.
 
The final had really been billed as a biggie in the local press, as I said Dearne were clear favourites, but the Westville side were buoyed by the fact that Dearne had been racked by injuries and call-ups (as sometimes happens) to UniBond games. Both sets of fans were well up for it, both faring the colours of their favourites, with Westville probably outnumbering the Dearne supporters by two-to-one. It was also a great family atmosphere; there were probably more mascots than anyone has ever seen in a cup final ever. The game though didn't live up to expectations, even though it was a cliff-hanger in the end, with neither side showing much in the way of creativity. Westville's Jamie Williams had a lob tipped over the bar by Craig Mellor after just ten seconds, and Dean Meakins hit the post five minutes before half time, between these two events nothing happened - literally. Just as we were heading into injury time in the first half, and as I was making my way round for my half time cuppa, Tom Rae put Dearne into the lead with a close range volley. With the lead looking rarely troubled, Dearne sat back and basically soaked everything up that came at them. It wasn't too inspiring a game, so with three minutes to go I made my way to the exit again and guess what? Yes another goal, this time an equaliser from the spot by Westville's best player on the day Jamie Williams, after Williams had conned Nicky Thrustle into making a rash challenge in the box. So extra time, and it didn't take that long for Dearne to get their noses back in front; four minutes after the restart, Dearne's best player Phil Taylor (who had entertained the crowd with some forceful runs and fancy showboating) headed home from a corner. Once again, Dearne sat back and soaked it all up again and once again I made my way to the exit. And once again there was another equaliser, a lovely little shot from Luke Sykes going in off the post. Fortunately there wasn't to be penalties, not in this competition anyway, as I had to get in the car to head home to the Coach in the afternoon. There will be a replay instead, when it is I don't know and neither do the committee just yet, but when it comes up the Charity can be pretty sure of a big pay-day.

Jaunt No 26

Southwell City 2 Blidworth Welfare 0
Central Midlands Premier Division
Tuesday, 06/04/04

It seems a long time since I had to arrange to go to a game at the last moment, compared to last season there just doesn't seem to be as many free Tuesdays or Saturdays that have been caused by a Sheffield postponement, so when the news that the Harrogate Rail game had gone by the wayside I was caught a bit flat-footed. Normally I'd be worrying myself about if any other games were on, and flicking frantically through the pages of the Non League Paper to find a fixture that appealed and then ringing secretary's homes in a vain hope of getting a positive response, but this time I found it all a bit too easy. There were a couple of interesting ones for a start, Derbyshire Cup final at Ilkeston or even a trip to Clipstone to see Dinnington once again in the League Cup Semi-Final (both of those were definitely on according to the phone calls), but to be honest I wanted to head off to a ground I'd not been to before. There were two fixtures that screamed out at me, the first was a local derby between Ollerton and Thoresby, the second was a "six-pointer" (and we know all about them don't we?) between Southwell City and Blidworth Welfare in the Central Midlands Premier. Seeing as the first was a 6.00 pm start, that was out of the question seeing as I didn't get the car until 6.00 pm, but a phone call to Southwell to see if it was on was met by (very polite) incredulity "yes, off course it's on. No problems here!" So with no further-a-do I started planning a route to Southwell, and getting a bearing of where the ground was in the "City", and as soon as my car arrived home it was away we go.

Southwell is NOT a City, just as Stockport is NOT a County (see previous Jaunts), it's just one of those things that stuck over a period of time with the club. I guess it's not down to the size of the place; you don't land in a strange CITY and find your way to a strange ground in two minutes flat, do you? But it does have a Minster, as York does although not as big, which dominates the town, and I suppose the locals felt "we have a Minster, that means we are a city". The football Club took that handle at the start of the century, and when they reformed in 1955 they obviously picked up the same name as their predecessors, so you could say it's them that helped bestow an unofficial city status on the place. And what a nice little place Southwell is, almost "chocolate-box-quaint" if you like, with the A612 winding through some very old looking buildings. This transposes itself onto Southwell's ground, which isn't as much a ground as a park, which is surrounded by country-village type things as "Southwell Lawn Tennis Club" and Southwell Scout Group Headquarters". Which takes me back to the start of the season when I did the Matlock United Jaunts and AFC Barnsley Jaunts; The Memorial Ground, the name of Southwell's ground, like Matlock's ground is simply a park (albeit with floodlights this time) and was accepted by the CMFL ground grading committee, whereas AFC's ground with all its covered seats was not. But with our own upcoming situation in this area it's wise to drop the subject here and now, because it could take over the rest of the article, so we'll leave this point well alone. One thing about Southwell which will stick with me for a while, and I've already delicately touched this earlier in this piece, is the "niceness" of the people that run the show. From the bloke on the phone to man behind the excellent little bar, the fella that sold me the programme to the players, they were all "nice". Not the sickly twee nice, but the kind of nice that makes you want the team to do well and think "I'll have to come here again". It's a good set up too, the team are doing well (fourth place before the game, third place after the game) and are looking pretty good bets for promotion. They didn't really convince me that they were all they were written up to be at Sheffield City, so with their visitors tonight being promotion contenders at Blidworth Welfare, I was hoping they'd convince me this time around.

I was supposed to be watching Blidworth (Blid-huff) the other week at Rainworth (Wren-Huff), but that went by the wayside as you may (or may not) remember, so tonight was going to be the first time I've seen them this season. The last time I saw them they were god-awful and were beaten by Harworth, a team we'd done 11-1 that pre-season, but looking at the table they had to have had some kind of improvement. They came to Southwell (which is Suv-all to racing commentators) in third place and according to keeper "Sinbad" Atkins "a point won't do, we need all three points". Oh, that's a thing, the Blidworth keeper is Sinbad Atkins (or Wayne to his Mum) one of the most eccentric goalkeepers since Jan Tomaczewski (youngsters, ask your Dad) or if you've ever seen me play, ME! He has an amazing array of shot stopping moves, but is prone to letting the odd daft goal (or seven as he did for Welbeck last season against Bentley) and never stopping talking throughout the game to his players, the spectators and (most amusingly) himself. Well he was the most employed person on the pitch on the night as Southwell had a blistering all out attack on the visitors goal; Sinbad managed to deny wave after wave of City attacks with all manner of stops and slaps, some so bad the linesman even commented to me "that was bloody awful", and I had to agree. It was all a bit one-sided, but then again who hasn't seen games like this where the defending team goes up the other end and snatches a one goal win against the run of play? I know I have and I thought that would be the case when Blidworth's front-man Booth lobbed the otherwise redundant Joe Parlatt in the City goal into the empty net, sanity though was on hand in the shape of the referee (and my mate the linesman) who ruled the effort offside. At half time and the game still goal-less I had a taste of déjà-vu, like a sort of one-sided game with no goals in a Central Midlands match being played in a glorified parks pitch and then it struck me, it was exactly what had happened at Matlock United against Selston in August. All my fears of a repeat were put to bed in the 59th minute when Sam Saunders (one of a pair of twins at the club) was set free by James Hendry, the Southwell player steadied himself and slotted the ball underneath Atkins' body. Naturally with such poor defending Sinbad went nuts, with himself obviously and went into a fit of tourettes! When he finally calmed down he was coaxing his defenders with nuggets of advice like "ball - foot - that way!" In the dying seconds Saunders got his second, a curling shot beating Sinbad all hands down, but to be honest at that stage he was having a lovely conversation with us about paying three quid a match subs and probably didn't even notice the ball going past him! Either way he, like myself, enjoyed the game and it made for a big consolation for missing the Sheffield game.

Jaunt No 25

Cheadle Town 0 Stockport Liaoning Tiger Star 1
International Friendly
Thursday, 01/04/04
 
This season the Jaunts column has had its fair share of diversity, not only has it covered a plethora of minor league footie, it has also covered games from the four corners (well not literally) of the globe. Yes this season it has to be said the Jaunts has truly gone international; I mean we've had games involving teams from Cyprus, Ireland, Italy and even the Punjab (well alright that one WAS a team from Derby, but all the same...). This week we are going that one step further, Chinese football no less (and no it's not an April Fools joke), with a visit to see Liaoning Tiger Star on their pre-season tour. Now not a great deal has been known about football in China, and very few Chinese players are known over here; some have made it into the top two English divisions, probably Fan Zhiyi is the best known of the few who have made the journey. Just recently our very own Paul Gascoigne had a well publicised stint with the B-League outfit Gansu Tianma that put the country in focus; it didn't last too long though. When the country's season was suspended due to the SARS outbreak, the man that couldn't be felled by the best attempts of Newcastle and Scottish Brewery scuttled off home to try and resurrect his career for one last time. At the start of the year though came news that the "fake hatters" (there's only ONE Hatters folks) Stockport County had struck a groundbreaking deal, taking a 50% share in the Chinese Second Division Club from Shenyang, one that would be hoped to both propel the Chinese team into the top flight, whilst giving County a chance to develop a foothold in China with the aim of taking advantage of the country's huge commercial possibilities. It was a marriage made in heaven, so much so Liaoning took their "husband's" name, they were to be "Stockport Tiger Star" (which to be honest sounds like a restaurant) from next season. To promote this coupling Tiger Star were to go on a pre-season tour, their season starts in May, visiting Woodley Sports, Cheadle Town and Hyde United. Seeing as Sheffield had games on the same day as the first one and the last game, I plumped for a visit to the middle one, a Thursday night fixture at the Park Road Stadium just down the road from Edgeley Park. I was in two minds whether or not to wander over to Stockport for this game, but I was goaded (let's say) by a work colleague into going to the game and writing a piece full of puns about take-aways and so on, but with Spring Roll-ing in (see I've started) and the weather getting warmer, I found it too hard a chance to miss.
 
One thing I neglected to mention in the introduction (well there are a few things to be honest, but let's not pick spots I'm a very tired man) and that is the Manager of Tiger Star, he's English! He's also a legend, and one of my childhood favourites from the real "best ever Chelsea side" in the seventies, the one and only John Hollins. Now how this hero ended up in the Chinese Second Division I'll never know, frankly someone of his magnitude should be doing something like summarising games on Sky for mega-bucks. Alright, he might have done the manager's job at less salubrious surroundings like Rochdale and Swansea, but to head out to China is a major challenge to say the least. There are so many unknowns in taking a job like this, the language barrier for example, although Mr Hollins seems to have used his noodle (sorry!) to overcome that barrier with a series of whistles that wouldn't be out of place in "One Man and His Dog". He took the job in February, and according to his press statements, he is quite impressed with the standard of football likening them to a Division Three or Conference side. We'll see how accurate he thinks his assessment is later perhaps, a 2-2 draw at UniBond contenders Woodley Sports opened his account, and with a game at UniBond side Hyde to come I think he'd be hoping for convincing wins all round. But enough about the Chinese side, what about tonight's opponents Cheadle Town; you see they too have an illustrious International past. No I'm not kidding, and April Fool's Day HAS gone by the wayside now, they really have. In fact they lay claim to have played more International Friendlies than any other non-league team in the United Kingdom. They've played in Holland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Bulgaria, Romania, San Marino, Morocco, Jamaica, Barbados, Cuba, Haiti (the list goes on and on), America, Canada, France, Mexico (in front of 65,000 spectators) and they've even been to China, so I suppose this is not new to them. Cheadle (if you didn't know) is in Stockportshire (well Stockport is supposed to be a County, isn't it?) a couple of minutes from the M60, and they play in the North West Counties Division Two the same as our old foes Blackpool Mechanics. Park Road stadium, which incidentally is set alongside the local cemetery, is very similar to most you'll see in this league, a big flat expanse that has a large old stand along one side with a tea bar and clubhouse alongside. One sad thing though is the state of a very nice little ground, they've suffered lately from the society problem of vandalism to the ground, and only recently they've had to put a good deal of work in to appease the league's ground graders. Unlike the current NCEL committee, the NWCL has had a very recent incident of expelling a team OUT of the league (Formby) due to the ground standard; let's hope that doesn't happen to Cheadle.
 
Anyway, on to the football and you could say Cheadle went out of their way to make this game have an International feel to it, National Anthems included. This was a bit of a mistake I guess, with the local officials playing a twelve-inch extended remix version of the Chinese Anthem which had everyone (including our Oriental visitors) in absolute stitches as it went on for the best part of five minutes. Despite it being March, the game had that pre-season feel to it with neither side having too much urgency, or was that the quality of the sides? If you needed any clarification behind the scale of the task in front of John Hollins, it was certainly highlighted in this game. The communication problems I touched on were there for all to see, with Hollins still unsure about the names of his players he had to resort to shouting the numbers to identify them. So coupled with his Phil Drabble whistles we had to endure ninety minutes of a mad Englishman shouting "number ten! Number ten!" It was no surprise when someone actually brought him a Chicken Chow Mein with extra cashew (well they didn't really, but it was too tempting to miss the opportunity of another take-away joke). Cheadle did all the attacking in the game, and I suppose you could say it was a surprise when Tiger Star took the lead on 39 minutes after the tourists number eight Gao Song was bundled over in the box by the Cheadle skipper Paul Riley. Gao Song got up to score from the spot, but not until after the referee had him retake the spot-kick for an encroachment in the box, and here's me thinking it was a friendly. Cheadle had their share of Chinese players in the side, three to be exact, although whether these were Cheadle trialists or tourists who couldn't get in the visiting team I couldn't say. Either way the result seemed to be a bit of a travesty, that's if you were taking it seriously, and Tiger Star could be considered lucky to come away with the win. To be truthful the Chinese looked to be more or less a raw version of a side from the NCEL, with their main (tiger) stars being more rough diamond than the polished variety. And what did I think of the game? Well, it was alright - but halfway down the M60 I just fancied another one....
 
Attendance:150

Jaunt No 24

Groves Social 1 Hoyland Town Jaguars 5
Sheffield & Hallamshire Sunday Cup Semi Final
Sunday, 21/03/04
 
Sunday football has had a bit of a bad press over the years, the image of a field filled with twenty two Telletubbie / hungover-skinhead hybrids running round the field belching and farting their way through ninety minutes of schoolyard quality football that I had seems to back that up, however with the launch of Bravo TV's "Fash FC" series things have taken a bit of an upturn. It also got me interested in what exactly OUR boys were getting up to on a Sunday, our boys of course being the lads at Sheffield FC, so I thought where better to start with than Hoyland Town Jaguars. Now the Jags share their home with Worsborough Bridge Miners Welfare from the NCEL Division One, more often than not the Sunday team get about TEN TIMES the attendances Bridge get on a Saturday. Why is this? Well, one reason I suppose is there isn't any competition or at least not as much competition anyway, on a Sunday. Another reason could be that you don't pay to get in to the Sunday games, or more often than not you don't, as the players don't get paid to play so there are less overheads for the teams. The main reason for the numbers who turn out to see the Jags in action, in my opinion anyway, is that the quality of football served up is as good as some games we get to see on any other day of the week at Non-League level. You see Hoyland play in the Meadowhall Sunday League Premier Division, which is the highest level of Sunday football ANYWHERE in South Yorkshire, and to top that they are nigh on invincible in this league, at the time of writing this article they were undefeated in the league and were already in the League Cup Final having won that semi-final the previous week. They are truly an excellent side who would do very well against most teams in our league.
 
So, who does play for the Jags then? Well, to start we have the Club contingent; Ben Naylor, Chris Hilton Tom Jones, new signing Darren Utley and ex-Sheffield player Richard March are core players, along with Stocksbridge Park Steels' new signing Stuart Copnell. A look at the Jags line up makes interesting reading, with many names familiar to us from our journeys following Sheffield over the years. Asa Ingall joined not long ago, although he was cup-tied from this game and didn't play; he played a big part in the League Cup semi final the previous week, picking up an injury for his efforts. I can understand the frustration the Saturday team managers go through when their players they pay for get injured in the game on Sunday, but it has it's flipside too. Take for example the fitness levels these lads need to achieve to compete in two games in twenty-four hours; you couldn't imagine Football League players wanting to go through that could you? From what I'd seen up to now all my previous misgivings about Sunday footie had been a bit wrong, the Jags had played some good passing football under the guidance of manager Sam Pickering, and the opposition who featured some noted non-league names (from Sheffield FC and other NCEL teams) whilst putting up a good fight weren't much of a match for this entertaining team. Today the Jags were taking their road-show outside their normal boundaries, and taking in the sights of one of Club's old regular battlegrounds, to play Groves Social at Tickhill Square, once the home of the now defunct Denaby United.
 
Tickhill Square hasn't changed a jot since our last visit, the fallen floodlight pylon still lying in the same position rusting away, although time has taken its toll and the rest of the ground is looking a bit neglected. The story of Denaby's demise is a well-told one, what hasn't really been told is that the tenancy is now been held by the local amateur side Groves Social (we beat them 5-1 in the County Cup in the 99/00 season, and drew 1-1 in a friendly a couple of seasons ago) who moved down the hill from the playing fields in Conisborough. They have teams in both Saturday AND Sunday leagues, so today it would be their Sunday boys up against the mighty Jags and as you'd expect the game was a little one-sided. The wind that had been so fierce the previous day was now just a strong breeze, and Hoyland took the advantage by playing the first half with the wind at their backs and raced into a three-goal lead in the first half. The visitors took the lead after just 14 minutes when Groves failed to clear a corner, our very own Tom Jones headed home from close range to open the scoring. A minute later, "Jonah" had his second, this time he used his feet to good effect, driving home from just inside the area. On the half hour the game was over as a contest with Lee Wasden grabbing the third in the predictable one-sided contest, prodding home at the second attempt after his first was blocked by the keeper. The scoring stayed the same until twenty minutes into the second half; an excellent cross by Carl Calvert was headed home by Wasden for his second and Jags' fourth. The fifth goal came in the last five minutes, again one of our boys involved, Chris Hilton's cross was turned in by Stuart Copnell, who incidentally has a massive 91 day ban coming up shortly, to give a truly emphatic scoreline. Groves managed to get a late consolation with virtually the last kick of the game, the first time keeper Andy Brooke had anything of worth to do for the entire game. Another week, another final date sorted; and all in a weekend's work for the team who seem to have forgotten how to lose. )

Jaunt No 23

Sheffield City 0 Southwell City 3
Central Midlands League Premier Division
Saturday, 20/03/04

Okay, where were we? Oh yes, that's right - At the full time whistle everyone shuffled over to the corner, to get into the Pelican versus Dinnington Town game that was kicking off in 15 minutes. Me? I was out of there like a shot, desperate to get up the M1 to see MY club, THE Club at Sandygate. Wheels spinning, the rubber on my tyres burning like the words of wisdom Bill Hayward and Trev had left me with at the game on Tuesday about getting stuck on the M1 in a tailback of traffic following an accident on the motorway, this after they were trying to get back from Notts County to get to a second game in Sheffield. Not that this was going to happen to me, no way! No, here I am onto the A52, round onto the ring road, out on the A610 to the M1; no delays folks, it's like clockwork. Onto the M1, and whoosh I'm heading at 90 MPH straight towards a (yes, you've guessed it) five mile tailback! Bugger! Undeterred, I took the next exit and fiddled my way through the back roads to end up at just before 2.00 pm in Chesterfield; and with no further delays I'm outside my house for 2.10 pm, pick Liam up and off to Sandygate. No worries, I thought - but no! Onto Ridgeway Road, and it's log-jammed all the way to Manor Top. No fear, I know this area like the back of my hand, a quick left, a quicker right and I'm back on track until (yes, you've guessed it! Getting a bit predictable now isn't it?) I'm stuck behind the Ice Rink in all the Sheffield United traffic. Not to worry, I'll ring Trevor up and tell him the situation. I get through at the third attempt (which is good considering it's Trev's mobile we are talking about here) only for Trev to tell me "turn round Stu, it's off!" "What do you mean, OFF????? How can it be off?" I'm thinking here, must be the rain. Well, at least I'm not outside the gates (or inside in Les' case!) and I can head somewhere else. A quick U-turn up towards Norfolk Park and on the phone to Lynn, this is not what I expected to happen, to check the fixture list in last week's Non League Paper. ("Where is it?" "Try the recycle bin") The first question is where can I get to in thirty minutes? A quick run down of the list shows that Sheffield City are at home to Southwell City, that is only fifteen minutes away, and IF the game is on and IF I avoid any further traffic jams I can get there. Only one small traffic jam AND the game was on, we had SOME football at least.

Now for those of you who are wondering who are Sheffield CITY, the here's a brief explanation. You've all heard off Sheffield CLUB, some will have heard off another couple of obscure league teams called Sheffield UNITED (?) and Sheffield TUESDAY (I think), but CITY are a new-ish club formed at the beginning of last season. They play out at Ferrars Road, which is on the way to Magna at Templeborough, at the Rotherham side of Meadowhall, where Dinnington Town played their home games a couple of seasons ago. It is the site of the old Tinsley Wire Sports Ground and is owned by John Wilson who, along with Steve Toyne, resurrected Dinnington Town Football Club in 2000. When the Dinnington Council opened the door for Town to return to the (err...) Town, Mr Wilson was left with a big plot of land and no team to play on it - enter Sheffield City; and after last season's disappointment of finishing near the bottom of the Central Midlands Premier Division, this season has seen them with a new found hope and optimism. This unfortunately hasn't materialised and, coupled with some pretty dismal results and lack of goals scored, they now find themselves languishing in seventeenth place out of nineteen. Things are not looking good for City, they don't get a massive support (to be honest not many people have heard of them) and with today's opponents Southwell City on a roll (they'd scored six-goals three times and got seven in one game), things weren't going to get much better. The ground at Ferrars Road is a wide open space (a bit like Lenton Lane in the Greenwood Jaunts), ten acres to be exact, and the wind (not rain as I first thought) that had put paid to the game at Sandygate was whipping across the ground at great knots. Luckily in one corner of the ground is a small "stand", we'll call it that but it's more likely to be what's left of the old cricket scoreboard albeit with steps to elevate you, where everyone sheltered from the elements. Unlike Lenton Lane there weren't that many groundhoppers, one to be exact (who'd come up by TRAIN from London) and the majority of the crowd were up from Southwell in Nottinghamshire, so minus the three neutrals (me, Liam and this bloke) the paying crowd numbered fifteen!

I expected this game to be a bit one-sided, what with their respective positions, but after the first half where Southwell had the hurricane behind their backs and the game was still scoreless there was a chance City would nick a wind-assisted goal. The nearest they DID come was from the City keeper whose clearance out of his hands went over the midfield, attack AND the Southwell keeper's head, unfortunately it also went over the bar (and Magna and Millmoor and landed somewhere near Leeds). As luck would have it Southwell decided to stick to the script and snatch a goal in the 67th minute from John Reid. They followed this up with a second in the 75th minute from Alistair Bird, and completed the scoring in the 86th minute from the spot, James Hendry converting the penalty. It wasn't the most entertaining game I've seen, but you could have stuck Milan and Real Madrid out on that paddock and it wouldn't be entertaining, but at least the game went ahead. The guys at Sheffield City have got a right old struggle ahead of them, I hope they can pull through and maybe one day Sheffield Club will be the visitors to Ferrars Road in front of a big crowd. It could happen, but I won't hold my breathe just yet.

Jaunt No 22

Greenwood Meadows 1 Radford 2
Central Midlands League Supreme Division
Saturday, 20/03/04
 
Groundhoppers - I'll be damned if I can understand them. I know I've touched on this before in the series, but I just don't get them. I mean, for us "normal folk" we are brought up to follow the fortunes of one club, that club might change along the way based on circumstances and you might pick up a couple of favourites along the way whose fortunes you might follow, but for the majority you stick by one club. Not groundhoppers, no they don't have allegiances as such, football is their allegiance. They were amusingly described in a book called "the Far Corner" by Harry Pearson as the Casanovas of football spectators who compare their conquests like notches on a bedpost, whilst the rest of us are faithfully married to one club. I suppose if you look at it like that, I'm married to Sheffield Club but I like a little bit on the side, if you know what I mean. Well the reason for this little introduction was my missus was asking me what a "hop" was, you see I mentioned this game was part of the "Central Midlands Hop", and I started off on this little tirade about groundhoppers. When I'd finished she asked me "so, what IS a 'hop', anyway?" When I explained that it was a carefully choreographed bunch of fixtures that encourages sets of groundhoppers from around the country to come to an area for a weekend, she asked "If you're not one of these groundhoppers, why are you going?", I couldn't answer to be honest without slipping the point about I'd not been to this ground before. "So, I suppose that makes you a groundhopper then?" "Well no", I explained "It doesn't. You see the Central Midlands League are trying to set a world groundhopping record of five (yes, FIVE) games in ONE day. Then I'm off up to Hallam after the first game". That still didn't wash too much in the definition stakes, but needless to say I think she understood that if I was a "real" groundhopper I'd have stayed for the full five-games-in-a-day dosage that these maniacs were attempting to achieve.
 
Rob Hornby is the brainchild of the Central Midlands Hop, Rob if you didn't know was the programme editor at Arnold, Dunkirk and Ripley before taking on the role of club's liaison officer with CMFL. Rob has a certain affinity with the hopper fraternity and I think he realised that in some of the other league's organised hops (the Northern League, and South Western League for example) attendances for the games are up to 500% above the normal average gate, so in effect he is doing a stand-up job in marketing the League. The "tour" (if you like) was organised along the A52 corridor, which if you don't know is the main road from Nottingham to Derby. The first game was at 11.00 am, the second at 1.00 pm, then 3.00 pm, 6.00 pm and finally 8.00 pm, taking in Greenwood Meadows (the one I'm at today), Dunkirk, Pelican, Sandiacre (all covered in the Jaunts series before) and finishing at Graham Street Prims (which is the ground next to Borrowash Victoria) over ten and a half hours after the first whistle of the day, absolutely mind boggling. One of the reasons behind this route is the first three (for those who haven't followed this series from the start) are all on Lenton Lane in Nottingham, with six pitches all within the space of a quarter of a mile of road this obviously influenced the logistics of the whole thing. Now, Lenton Lane is a fairly flat area, and with that I guess you can say it is fairly exposed; so, when the forecast came of high winds, I naturally felt apprehensive about the whole venture (seeing as both previous ventures down the lane had games played under pewter coloured skies with a strong breeze). The other thing about the three grounds on Lenton Lane is they are all pretty basic, with Greenwood and Dunkirk having just a little shelter down the touchline. This gives limited protection from the elements, and if there was your usual 30 people lining the pitch, you'd have a fairly safe bet of keeping warm. This however was an organised hop, and people were going to coming from all four corners of the United Kingdom, so if it WAS windy chances were you were in for a blowing.
 
On the morning of the game, you guessed it, gale-force winds and driving rain - perfect for over-exposure and hypothermia. Now I'm not a wuss when it comes to the weather, but it would be nice to get under cover in case it rained (it didn't fortunately), so with the expected 500% plus increase on the gate (it was more like 1000% on my calculations, 302!!) the cover was quickly taken. The whole day looks like it was set out to be a carnival, with the game in the middle taking second stage to the programme stalls and (my personal favourite) badge sellers and all the while the hoppers discussing their "conquests". The game was spoiled a fair bit by the wind; Greenwood had the advantage in the first half, with Beech getting their goal after 25 minutes, and Radford having it in the second. The second half saw Radford claw back the deficit from two goals from Dean Taylor corners; the first was stabbed in on 62 minutes by Wooldridge, the second on 77 minutes saw Hopley head it home from close range. Overall it was an entertaining game, or as entertaining as the wind would allow, but it has to be said the whole affair was second place to the social side of things. At the full time whistle everyone shuffled over to the corner, to get into the Pelican versus Dinnington Town game (Dinno won that 2-1, incidentally) that was kicking off in 15 minutes. Me? I was out of there like a shot, desperate to get up the M1 to see MY club, THE Club at Sandygate. But that's another story isn't it folks?

Jaunts Nos 20 & 21

AFC Barnsley 4 Athersley Recreation 2
Windsor County Senior League Cup Semi Final
Wednesday, 10/03/04
 
Elm Tree 1 Edlington WMC 0
Windsor County Senior League Cup Semi Final
Wednesday, 17/03/04
 
There's nothing new about this edition of the Jaunts, both of the grounds most of you will have visited before, so you ain't going to learn owt new today readers. You see this week I'm covering two games from the County Senior League Cup Semi Finals, which took place over two consecutive Wednesdays at neutral grounds (as is the usual practice) between two pairs of contrasting teams with varying fortunes in the highest non-pyramid league in the area, the Windsor Foods County Senior League. The first one is at a ground most of you will remember as being the stage for one of Sheffield's most forgettable performances of last season, South Kirkby Colliery, where two of the league's higher echelon were going to do battle, Athersley Recreation of the Premier Division and AFC Barnsley of Division Two. The second is a clash between (my old local) Elm Tree from the Premier division and Doncaster's Edlington Working Men's Club of Division One, taking place at Maltby Main's Muglet Lane Ground. The motivation behind going to these games was an offhand comment about paying a visit to the first game (along with Messrs Bray, Herrington and Shepherd) to check out how ex-Clubbies Matt Higginbottom and John Senior were getting on at the big-spending AFC Barnsley, seeing as nothing else was happening on that day it seemed a good idea. After the first semi, it was agreed by myself and seasoned traveller Trevorori we might as well take in the second game AND the final when it takes place, so we did.
 
The first game was a ding-dong Barnsley derby, Athersley Recreation from the north of the town (the team where Geoff Horsfield started playing his footie) and newcomers AFC Barnsley from, well I suppose the south of town but I guess they don't have any geographical preference. Athersley don't lose, simple as that - never, ever. Not once this season. Penistone Church had the temerity to hold them to a goal-less draw, then paid for it by getting a reight owd thumpin' three-nowt in t'rematch (just getting into character, it is Barnsley we are talking about after all). AFC Barnsley are not doing so bad themselves, lost just the one in Division Two, plus one in the County Cup, so they aren't used to doing anything else apart from winning. The thing to remember though is AFC are in DIVISION TWO, and haven't had much in the way of serious opposition except in the cup competitions where they've made a good fist of it. So if you look at it from the prospective that we have an unbeatable Premier Division team up against the runaway Division Two leaders, it's a bit like pitting Arsenal against Plymouth Argyle, but more likely to be similar to pitting Celtic against Greenock Morton. Only one winner, right? Wrong! AFC have splashed big bucks out on their players (well, in relation to the average pay packet in the NCEL) whereas Athersley are just a good bunch of players who probably still pay their subs. It was going to be a tight affair in reality, which added to the spice and the attraction of the game, and so it proved.
 
The game turned out to be a pulsating affair, and it certainly drew the crowds. The Sheffield Star reported it as having attracted 700 plus to the game; I'm not inclined to disagree with this figure seeing as the last time I went to South Kirkby there were about 500 against Worksop Town. The South Kirkby committee definitely did themselves proud laying on enough pies and pasties to cater for the crowd, in fact probably enough to cater for a Champions League Cup Final let alone a minor league cup semi final. Both teams (as you'd expect being used to winning) played attacking, enterprising football; not surprisingly though Athersley took the lead according to the script, Shane Kelsey (a player described by a certain Sheffield player's parent as being amongst the thickest people he has ever met, and that includes me!) took advantage of some sloppy defending after just seven minutes. The tables were turned before half time as AFC got two inside the last five minutes of the half, the first from Stuart Preston and the second from Gary Lafferty, as the conditions got steadily worse with rain and snow dampening everyone's spirits, as well as the pitch. The majority of the 700 appeared to be following the fortunes of Athersley, well judging by the noise they made when AFC's keeper did a Howard and spilled the ball into the path of Scott Allcock who smacked it into the roof of the net. Green nearly snatched it for the Rec when he headed against the bar, as did the scorer Allcock who hit the bar with a shot. The inevitable period of extra time (what is with these cup-ties, eh?) came, and with it the decisive two goals. Ryan Till made it 3-2, whilst ex-Broddy player Terry Taylor nodded home the fourth with five minutes left. With the fourth goal any hope of Athersley doing a grand-slam went, as did about 500 of their supporters, leaving en-masse. It was a fine flowing game of football, now if only the second game could be as good!
 
Now - the Elm Tree! What a pub! I went past there on my home from the first game, it was boarded up due to "what happened last night" (according to the sign on the ex-window), whenever last night was. If you don't know the Elm Tree it's at Manor Top, now you must have heard of that location somewhere. As I said it used to be my local, which is why I have this nervous twitch every time I see those two words (ELM - TREE. Twitch, there I told you so) together. Now I'm not sure if this Elm Tree team is from the same "large mock-Tudor-style fronted pub at 980, City Road, Manor Top, Sheffield" I know, but as far as I can see there aren't any other establishments of that name in the town. What I can tell you is they aren't a bad little team, they have just won three promotions in three seasons AND won the County Association Cup last season knocking out Dinnington Town along the way in the semi final, a game which I had the privilege to watch two minutes down the road from my house at their Ridgeway Village ground. I suppose you could say I'd be rooting (gedditt?? It's a tree joke) for them, seeing as their opponents were all the way from sunny Donny, we simply had to go for the Sheffield team. Now Edlington play on or near (not sure which at the moment, maybe I'll be bothered enough to find out one day) Yorkshire Main's (the crap team from the Central Midlands League) ground, which is not that far up the road from Muglet Lane, so I expected me and Trev to be in the minority. Edlington were the reigning holders of this cup, they beat Penistone Church 1-0 in the final, so you'd imagine they'd put up one hell of a fight against their higher division opponents.
 
Well, the "Tree" supporters were in the minority, outnumbered about ten-to-one. The thing is there were only about ten percent of the people there were at the previous semi final, and the Edlington lot were the more vocal of the two sets of supporters, about thirty or so stood next to me and Trev. Unlike the first semi this wasn't a flowing game, the standard of football just didn't have the quality and some of the challenges bordered on crude. Even so Edlington proved me right by taking the game to Elm Tree and hit the post with a header after just four minutes, and just before the break Steve Parkes hit the bar after lobbing Dayle Beech in the Elm Tree goal. As the temperature started to drop (rapidly!) there was only going to be one outcome, as there always is at a cold cup-tie, yes - extra-time! Throughout the game Edlington had played a dodgy offside trap, and as anyone will tell you the lower you get down the leagues the more inconsistent linesmen get, and just to prove me right in the second minute of extra-time, Elm Tree went and sprung the trap and grabbed a goal. A break from Tony McKernan saw the linesman keep his flag down for once; his shot hit the very large frame of the keeper (he was so big he had bankrupted three all-you-can-eat-buffets that week alone) only to fall into the path of Simon Cartwright who slammed home. Undeterred Edlington pushed forward, leaving their defence to the mercy of this offside malarkey, sometimes it worked, sometimes the liner got it wrong stuck his flag up, but more often than not Cartwright was put through on goal to squander another chance. As a whole Edlington were on top, but their chances of retaining the trophy went two minutes from the end when substitute James Gatt scythed Cartwright down; whilst Gatt was receiving his yellow card, last season's cup final hero Lee Danysz decided to be a complete jackass and stamp on Cartwright's damaged ankle - sheer class! A scuffled ensued, Danysz was off, and with it went the game.
 
So the final is going to be between Elm Tree and AFC Barnsley, a battle of the Reds. Elm against Oak-well I guess you could say. The game is due to take place at Stocksbridge Park Steels on Thursday 15th April, kick off at 7.30pm. AFC are bound to be favourites, but you never know, Elm Tree did the business against Dinnington against the odds last year. Whatever, it will provide some good entertainment and for £2.00 you can't go wrong, so why not get yourself along to the final, chances are you might enjoy it.

Jaunts No 19

Long Eaton United 0 Mickleover Sports 0 (Mickleover won 7-6 on penalties)
Northern Counties East League Cup Third Round Replay
Tuesday, 17/02/04

Rainworth Miners Welfare 0 Gedling Miners Welfare 2
Central Midlands League Cup Second Round Replay
Wednesday, 18/02/04

It's a double dose of the Jaunts this week, the first to a ground I haven't visited since the early '80's; whilst the second is to ground I have had on my "to visit" list since the Jaunts series started. Both of the grounds I visited had been pencilled in on these dates in my diary since the February fixture lists were published, however (like the Nuneaton Griff Jaunt) neither of them were playing host to the opponents they were down to play, this was down to both of the home teams drawing away from home in their respective League Cups in the past seven days. So instead of seeing Long Eaton United at home to Gedling Town, I got to see the Blues play host to Mickleover Sports; instead of having the experience of catching Rainworth Miners Welfare at home to Blidworth Welfare, I got the privilege of seeing the other Gedling team, Gedling Miners Welfare. As I said, the first game on the Tuesday was at Long Eaton's Grange Road Ground, a place I last went in the halcyon days of speedway, a time when everyone would head off to a meeting somewhere just about every day of the week. Back then I used to make a habit of catching a game in the afternoon followed by a speedway meeting in the evening, god knows how I managed to afford it, but we did this virtually every week. Don't ask me who they were playing, or who the speedway team was in opposition, but I should imagine it was one of the usual suspects in the old Midland League. From what I remember back then, I was told it used to be a good stadium, I found it to be a bit dilapidated even then, but I have since been led to believe it got a good deal worse before the recent renovations.

The difference a couple of decades makes on the memory, or a football ground for that matter, is amazing; I had this picture of a bit of a hulk of a ground, with grass banking and crumbling terraces, however it is anything but nowadays. For one thing, I can't remember Grange Park having a fence, which must be a fairly recent addition, as (obviously) are the floodlights and clubhouse. The last time I actually saw Long Eaton play was in a Central Midlands game away at Hucknall Rolls Royce, and for a while (based on my distant recollections of Grange Park) I could never see them being one of teams ever to progress out of that level. They did however finish in third place in the Central Midlands Supreme, behind Hucknall Rolls and Shirebrook in 2002, and applied successfully (if not controversially) to be elected into the Northern Counties, something that obviously still rankles a bit at CMFL headquarters. The ground obviously had to have had some major improvements, thus my curiosity to go and visit, and as expected the ground is unrecognisable from the last time I went. The new clubhouse is spacious and welcoming, and fairly full with less than ten minutes to go before the game I may add, and it is a testament to the work the club does with the youngsters in the area, running teams from as young as under eights. Inside the ground the shell of the old ground is still there, however it is a damn site neater with the fence and five-a-side courts at the back of the far goal making the place a whole lot more modern. There is one massive absence though, one that will hold them up progress-wise if they don't get a move on; you see Long Eaton are at the top of Division One, and with the possibility of three or four teams getting the nod for Premier Division football next season, the obvious missing criteria is the lack of seats. It would be a shame if a nice little club was held back by such a little omission, probably the speed of their progression has taken them by surprise, or maybe the club is being just a little money-wise, who can say?

The visitors to Grange Park are the model of how to progress, Mickleover (who as predicted in last season's Jaunt here) were promoted to the Premier Division, taking the same route Long Eaton are on now. The game has an interesting bit of a background to it, seeing as the week previously the two teams battled out a scoreless draw after ninety minutes, one-all after extra time before Mickleover won 5-4 on a penalty shoot-out. One thing though, this is the League Cup and you have to have replays! Oops-a-daisy, Mr Referee! So the replay had to go ahead, even though Mickleover had "won" the first encounter. As you'd imagine after such a tight first game, the replay was going to be tight as well. So tight it was boring! Ninety minutes, scoreless; extra time, you guessed it, scoreless - and it was cold. So, what a surprise, as the script was so bloody obvious from the start it went to penalties again. After NINE penalties each we finally had a winner at 10.35 pm, and guess what it was Mickleover once more, this time the victors by 7-6. I doubt that's ever happened before, "the only team ever to have won a cup tie TWICE on penalties". Maybe it has, I just prayed that tomorrow's game would be settled inside ninety, it was supposed to be getting colder.

The reason I wanted to visit Rainworth was always one based on the fact they were the only Notts Alliance team ever to get to the final of the FA vase, back in 1982 when they lost 3-0 at Wembley to Forest Green Rovers. At the time I was working in Mansfield and all the talk was of this "wren-huff" or something going to get to Wembley, totally oblivious at the time as to who or what a "wren-huff" was. On the Monday after the final I was told to watch the BBC regional programme (whatever it was back then) because one or two of the locals I knew would be on telly that evening (they were too, if I remember rightly!) on their big day out. It was then, and only then I got the drift of what a massive achievement it was for the little village on the outskirts of Mansfield, although it took an age for it to sink in that neither they, nor anyone else from that league would ever be able to repeat that feat. The shame for me was that I waited too long to get to see Rainworth appear in the Notts Alliance, joining the exodus of teams that "defected" to the Central Midlands in the Summer. So a minor consolation for this visit was that I was to get to see a local derby between Wren-huff and very close neighbours "Blid-huff" (Blidworth, I did mention this earlier) for the first time in a league fixture since... well God only knows. As I said, that went out of the window on Saturday; Rainworth drew at Gedling's Plains Road ground, a last second equaliser taking it to the replay, so as always a hastily rearranged fixture list came up with this one. The small consolation though was at least I knew of the fixture change, (with many thanks to Gordon Foster for this one) unlike the other week!

Rainworth play at the Welfare Ground on Kirklington Road, I must have passed the ground at least a hundred times on my way to places to the East of Nottingham, so getting there and finding the place was never an issue, the only thing that puzzled me was why I'd never been to a game there before. The best description of the ground is it is very similar to Thoresby, but with floodlights, and for those who don't know what Thoresby is like then it is like Selston with lights (oh, alright. It is a pitch with a little covered stand adjacent to a cricket pitch with a little pavilion in the corner). In the semi-final of the aforementioned Vase run, they squeezed 5,071 into the little bowl to see their heroes overcome Barton Rovers. In the pavilion is a little shrine to their exploits, although it's a little out of the way, with souvenirs from the cup run. They even had a Wembley song, sung by a Carlo Santana or someone (I wish I'd written this down because it made me chuckle a bit) and a copy of the seven-incher is in the cabinet too. Naturally the locals are a friendly bunch, and having known dozens of people from the area I speak the language pretty well. The tea bar lady was a very nice person, although I think I was a little hasty getting my pot of tea, I think I should have got one at half time to warm me up instead of getting one before the game.
 
Anyway, in the absence of Blidworth the visitors were Gedling Miners who I plan to visit later in the season; they too are from the Notts Alliance although their election to the CMFL puzzled me somewhat. In their last season in the Notts Alliance they finished halfway up Division One (not the Premier Division please note) and then went straight ahead and gained promotion to the Supreme Division in their first season in the Central Midlands, obviously a progressive club with serious team building plans. The first game (or so I was informed) shouldn't have gone to a replay, only a last ditch equaliser for Gedling saving the day for the Nottingham team. I should have learned my lesson from the previous night about cup replays, they are replaying for a reason and that is there is little or nothing between the two teams. After a freezing cold goal-less first half, the second looked to be going the same way as the Long Eaton affair, although this one was a little more end-to-end entertainment. Gedling finally broke the deadlock on 75 minutes (195 minutes without a goal in open play, I was starting to get desperate) McGINTY beating the offside trap from a free kick from McCaughey wide on the Rainworth right and unchallenged at the far post lifted the ball over the advancing Wilson to give the visitors the lead for the first time in the tie. That lead was doubled in some style ten minutes later when Bovey's cross was volleyed in off the post by the Gedling skipper Booth, and as a game the tie was finished. Out of the two games this was probably the more entertaining, the quality belying the fact that both teams are two levels lower than the night before, although that opinion might be jaundiced due to me being back in my house before 10.00 pm, a good thirty minutes before the previous game had finished. But remind me in future not to go to cup replays, you can never tell what time you'll get home.

Jaunt No 18

Newhall United 0 Wellesbourne 1
Midland Combination Division Two
Saturday, 07/02/04
 
I thought I'd been to the lot of them, I really did! Not that I'm into doing the checklist thing, but I had myself convinced that I'd been to the lot after I'd been to Gresley the other month. Alfreton, Ashbourne, Belper, Blackwell, Borrowash, Buxton, Glapwell, Glossop, Graham Street Prims, Gresley, Heanor, Holbrook, Ilkeston, Long Eaton, Matlock (Town and United), Mickleover, New Mills, Punjab United, Ripley, Sandiacre, Sheffield FC (if you are pedantic) Shirebrook, Staveley, even Chesterfield and Derby County; yes, the lot of 'em. But I was mistaken, I'd missed one; a team in the top eleven levels of the pyramid (that's how many really matter, folks) who play in Derbyshire, and I didn't know they existed. I suppose not many people actually knew they existed, nor cared for that matter, but when I stumbled upon Newhall United Football Club, based two minutes along the road from Gresley Rovers' ground, it had to be one to add to my list of "to be visited". Don't ask me why I needed to go; I suppose it was just that curiosity got the better of me, coupled with the fact Club hadn't got a game and I needed a game no more than an hour's drive from home. You see Derbyshire is a county that (as I must have stated before more than once in this series) is one that spreads a very big divide in the existing football pyramid system. The fact that you have teams in both the UniBond and Dr Martens leagues starts the ball rolling, as does the point that the feeder leagues to those sprawl across four different set ups; NCEL (including Central Midlands), NWCL (including the Manchester League), West Midlands League and Midland Combination. Newhall play in the latter, the only team from the County to do so, and at present they are battling for a promotion spot at the top of Division Two, the same Division Two where I saw Leamington play for the first time.
 
Newhall United aren't exactly what you'd call a new team though, they've been around since the before the war, but they are on they're way back up after taking a bit of a tumble recently. They were formed in the 1920's, and took their place in the original Leicestershire (what? why?) Senior League; when that league ceased to function they played their part in Junior Football around the area, that was until the Central Midlands League took its entrance in 1983. They played in this league until the mid 90's when they changed their allegiances to the Midland Combination League, a league more in tune with their locality. In 1998 they dropped out of the Mid Comb due to financial reasons, to resume their place in local junior footie, until they were resurrected to the Mid Comb (Division Three) last season. They showed their worth by marching into the runners-up spot, gaining promotion to Division Two where they have done better than most expected. So far, they have shown up pretty well, holding up in fourth spot behind runaway leaders Wellesbourne, who by chance were today's visitors. The ground is known as Hawfields, hidden somewhere in the middle of a housing estate (how I found it in time I'll never know) and the pitch must have one of the biggest slopes, from goalmouth to goalmouth, in football, and believe me I've seen some slopes. What compounds this fact is that the pitch has more lumps in it than my Mother-in-Law's gravy (not really, but you get the point), and looks a bit like that comedy photo of the lined pitch on the side of a rugged hill. They are trying to raise money to flatten it, but why they'd want to do that I don't know, Hallam haven't had theirs fixed and they've been at their ground for 140 years! They have also started to improve the surroundings too, building a new clubhouse, but in the main the ground is at best Central Midlands League standard with little or no hard standing. There is cover on two sides, with seating as well, unfortunately these still need a bit of renovating due to the fact they are over-run with the local hedgerows. I suppose all of this could be flattened and started again too, if they have the time energy and money, because looking at it I think a lot could be done with this place.
 
The blustery (my current favourite word) conditions didn't really help matters on the pitch; with it blowing uphill the slope didn't really give much of an advantage. Wellesbourne played downhill in the first half and scored the only goal of the game in the 11th minute following some pretty chaotic defending from the home side. Newhall needlessly conceded a corner after trying to play some passing football, which on this pitch was bleedin' suicidal, the ball came across and the visitor's striker Craig Hodgkins (I think) headed home. I say "I think" in brackets because I was stood in front of some Wellesbourne "supporters" who must of been the family of John Paul Turpin, the league's leading goalscorer, who somehow got THEIR credit for it when he'd done bugger all. To be honest they criticised everything every other Wellesbourne player did, but praised even the crappest misdirected pass from "JP" blaming the inadequacy of his team-mates for not being as super human as their hero. If you want to know what it was like, imagine the OPPOSITE of how Geoff reacts to Duncan when he cocks up, now do you understand where I'm coming from? Anyway, Newhall played the rest of the ninety minutes pressing the visitors back without much joy, and as much as I'd have loved for them to get the win to shut the JP Turpin fan-club up, the Derbyshire lads couldn't pull it off. Wellesbourne didn't play well at all, and certainly didn't deserve the win (one-man team if you ask me, and he didn't play), nevertheless they are going to win the league easily just as Leamington did a few years ago. Newhall will no doubt carry on the fight to get to a higher place in the pyramid, after all to quote one of the committee men "you watch us when we get this place levelled". I wonder if he meant the pitch, I hope he did anyway.

Jaunt No 17

Nuneaton Griff 3 Rugby Town 1
Birmingham Floodlit Cup Round Three
Wednesday, 04/02/04

You know that old saying, "the best laid plans of mice and men"? Well they ought to add me to the end of that, for someone whose life orbits around the word "plan", they tend to backfire on me in the football scene more than I'd like to. Let me give you an example; New Year's Day 2003 and I'm planning a trip to Rugby Town, I start the day as always by checking the game is on, drive an hour and a half down South to try and get to the game only to find it had been called off at the last minute and had to watch their local rivals United (as featured in a Jaunts on last season's site). It's not the only time I've had something like that happen, the majority of them involve Eccleshill, or more local teams than those in the West Midlands. So, imagine the scene on Wednesday; I'd planned to go to see Leamington (I'll explain why in a bit, bear with me) play a Midland Combination Premier Division game at Nuneaton Griff's Pingles Stadium, for no other reason than I fancied seeing how the Brakes were doing this season and catching up with some acquaintances I'd made a few season's ago. I did the usual trick of getting my directions straight, printed them off, got all my contact numbers sorted and made my mind up I would be able to get to this game. The first problem was when my computer packed up on me, unable to send or receive e-mails or (most importantly) get onto the internet. I have internet access at work, but that is strictly limited to Reuters and the company website, neither of which give much info on the Midland Combination. The second was the weather, rain, more rain and some rain for afters. The thing with that though was I'd been to Woodley Sports the night before, no problem; rang them up, the game was on and played without a drop of rain throughout the ninety minutes. So I thought I'd have a gamble on this one, I set off in good time got Lynn to ring up the Club Secretary to check (yes, definitely on!) and ring me en-route. With the all-clear confirmed I had a steady run down into Warwickshire to arrive at the ground no more than 25 minutes before kick-off. I parked up nice and easy (too easy for a Leamington away game in hindsight) then I saw the poster by the gate. "Nuneaton Griff versus Rugby Town, Birmingham Floodlit Cup Round Three, Wednesday, 4th February, kick off 7.45pm". The thought of the opposition being changed never entered my head, it was a new one on me, and it was Rugby Town of all teams!

Just to give a bit of clarity behind my disappointment here, a few seasons ago I was stuck for something to do one Saturday in June (yes, June) and noticed that the newly re-formed Leamington Football Club were away to Barnt Green Spartak, but the game was to be switched to Leamington. I wasn't expecting much to be honest, but found an ambitious little club with about 500 supporters celebrating their imminent championship of the Midland Combination Division Two. It was in lengthy discussion with the Brakes' fans I learned all about the club, the set up and the local rivalry with Rugby Town (hence the New Year's pilgrimage to see for myself) that is as deep as ours with Hallam. I also made a point to get to see Leamington at least once a season from thereon in, thus me turning up at some weird and wonderful grounds in the Birmingham area. Griff were meant to be the next, but on seeing the poster I knew I'd made some kind of blooper of immense proportions, I was about to witness Leamington's arch-rivals in what I only imagine to be a Mickey Mouse competition. At first I was at a loss as to what I should do next; should I get back in my car and drive all the way back North? Or should I tough it out and watch ninety minutes (oh, and extra time if it is warranted) of unknown grade football. You don't have to be a genius to guess which I decided to do, I stayed and I was well surprised by the quality of the game. The night before's game at Woodley was dire, seriously dire, so much that it was only the pies that kept me there, but this was a really good game. But before I get on to that, let me give you a bit about the hosts. What little I can tell you is they were formed in 1974 and they competed in local football up until very recently. Whether or not this coincided with their move to the Pingles Stadium or not, I don't know, but they were the first team to be fast tracked into the Premier Division on request AND to win the title, in fact they won the title two seasons in a row. The people I met at the ground were very affable, although the facilities could have been better given the newness of the place. There wasn't any food on sale, a bit unusual I guess at this level, but I did get a custard cream with my half time cuppa. Thank heavens for small mercies, or so they say.

The Pingles is a new Athletics stadium built alongside a leisure centre, something along the lines of Woodburn Road or the Dorothy Hyman Stadiums in South Yorkshire. The downside of this of course is whilst you may want to sit in the stand for comfort, you will be quite a way from the pitch, which is why the locals tend to watch from the pitch-side. On a windy day (which it was) or a rainy day you tend to find yourself choosing the lesser of two evils, whichever that is. Being a little unsure about this, I plumped for the first option sitting in the stand, the problem with that though was I couldn't see who was who on the Griff side, the numbers got lost on their Wednesday-alike shirts, so for the second half I went down to the pitchside. The game was dictated more than a little by a blustery wind, which gave Griff the advantage in the first half. The home team used the wind to good advantage, and they took an early lead when Wayne Pulford turned on a sixpence to whip the ball past the keeper with only ten minutes on the clock. Rugby, who are top of the Midland Combination, went further behind to a bit of a freak goal from the hosts, who are mid-table in the same division, in the 33rd minute. A long was being dealt with rather routinely by the keeper John Oldfield, however he fell into the trap of being too over elaborate with the ball and was dispossessed by Griff's forward Matt Dyer who walked the ball into the empty net. At 2-0 the favourites looked well out of it, but with the wind in their favour for the second half anything could happen. I decided to stand behind the Rugby dugout for the second half, and was glad of it too, it gave me all the more reason to dislike the team after having to endure a full half's torrent of abuse to opposing players, officials and old folks on the touchline. The visitors (boo!) pulled one back only eight minutes into the half with Jagtar Bahi lashing the ball in from a badly defended throw. Rugby then pounded the Nuneaton side's goal for the rest of the half, but a mixture of bad finishing and me jinxing them made certain there wasn't to be extra-time or an away win. With about three minutes to go, Pulford got his second, and Griff's third, with a lovely little looping header over the keeper. 3-1, and a home win in a very entertaining game which I didn't regret going to in the end. It might have been a bit of a Mickey Mouser, but it was still a giantkilling after all.

Jaunt No 16

Milan 5 Ancona 0
Serie A Tim 18a Giornata
25/01/04

Okay, I suppose I should start at the very beginning with this one; in May I was having a conversation with my (then) seven-year old, Liam, who at that time was gradually getting more and more interested in the old football scene, the subject got around to who was the best team in Europe. "Was it Real Madrid or Juventus or Manchester United like all the kids at school say?" "Well, if you want to know who the Champions of Europe are, then it's AC Milan." That was it, wasn't it? "Tell me all about AC Milan Dad". Some parents tell their kids bedtime stories of Thomas the Tank Engine or Whinnie the Pooh, I'm telling mine about the time Milan beat Barcelona 4-0 in the final of the European Cup and tales of Gullitt and Van Basten pass instead of ones of Jack and the Beanstalk. Things started to accelerate around the time we went to Nicosia to see Apoel, Cyprus was good but Milan would be better wouldn't it Dad? I fell into a trap of agreeing, and in a weak moment I promised that a trip to the San Siro would be on the cards, and very soon at that. So when Liam's eighth birthday celebrations came up as a topic of conversation, Lynn gave him the choice; either a few friends at the Hollywood Bowl for a spot of ten-pin entertainment, or Milan with Mum and Dad. Now come on the kid isn't daft, given the choice what eight-year old (or thirty-eight year old for that matter) would pick bowling? After a remarkably simple day on the net searching for tickets, flight and accommodation, everything was booked and the trip was on, and amazingly cheaper than we all thought. It also got me thinking, "what did I get for MY eighth birthday?" I think I got a board game and was dragged along to Cowdenbeath or Dunfermline for a Scottish Second Division game (ooh thanks!) against some high flier like Brechin City! Not that Lynn and me were complaining about all this, after all a long weekend in Milan is a damn site more appealing than a Saturday at Glasshoughton and you're not likely to bump into Brad Pitt at Leeds Road are you? The excitement kept on building for this trip and eventually come Friday, everything was packed up for the drive down to Stansted, and Milan - here we come!

Surprisingly everything went according to plan, not that it stopped me from whittling about every little detail going wrong. I had pictures of getting stuck on the M11, missing the plane, getting to the hotel to find it double booked and finding out there weren't any match tickets waiting for me at the San Siro. I needn't have worried, not one traffic jam on the way down to Stansted, the plane left on time (and arrived 20 minutes early) and yes, the hotel DID have a room for us, phew!! We'd based ourselves on the outskirts of Milan in a little place called Corsico, roughly the similar distance to Milan as Rotherham is to Sheffield or Bradford is to Leeds. The hotel was a fairly plush new affair, with the location being the driving force in its affordability, and being out of the more touristy areas the locals found it hard to believe we weren't Italian - no-one (and I mean no-one) spoke English in the area, so we had to make do with the bit of Italian I could speak, which I'd mainly learnt from Dolmio adverts and Calcio Italia on Eurosport. Nevertheless we got by, I actually made myself well understood to the extent some locals thought we WERE Italians taking the Mick out of them. The TV in the room gave us 16 channels, BBC World, CNN, a shopping channel and 13 seemingly dedicated to Calcio (or football as we Brits like to call it), I didn't understand a word of it, but it didn't stop it being on the whole time we were in our room.

The Saturday before the game we did the tourist thing and went to all the sights; Il Duomo, which is the big Gothic Cathedral in the city centre, Via Montenapoleane where all the fashion wannabes get served by snooty assistants in shops like Prada and Gucci and a trip by Il Navigli Grande (also the name of our hotel incidentally) which is the big canal where the locals hold a Saturday market on the banks. I was walking through the latter when I got a nice phone call from our own Craig Williamson asking if I was going to Glasshoughton, "No mate, I'm in Milan" was the best answer I could come up with, which as you'd imagine went down well. Near the canal is the official AC Milan club shop, not at the stadium please note, and it sells just about everything from Zippo lighters to shirts signed by Andriy Shevchenko. You can get anything, if you are willing to pay the price, and everything in here is expensive. It also has a little cafe, in here we took an opportunity to get a nice hot strong espresso whilst getting our breathe back. I was sat in here when I got a text message, Caine Cheetham 1-0 after 12 minutes, nice work. I could now settle back and enjoy the weekend safe in the knowledge Club's new signing had started to do the business. One thing I failed to mention, and Lynn would kill me for not saying, was despite the weather forecasts of wet and mild, it was in fact clear and cold, very cold. So cold that we looked as though we'd been skiing on Saturday evening, the main thing was it was dry and we were able to scoot around Corsico that night relatively well wrapped up.

Sunday, the day of the game we were up super early, and heading in the direction of the San Siro by 10.00 am with one minor problem that needed sorting before we did anything. You see it's like this, Milan runs a very efficient public transport system; a network of buses, tram, trolley-buses and underground trains interlink under one banner "ATM" (don't ask it's Italian, but the last word is Milano") and a ticket from ANY part of Milan to another is only €1,00 (about 70p) which you buy before boarding at newsagents or newsstands. On Sunday, all the newsagents in Corsico were shut, so Lynn suggested (Lynn I emphasise) we do a bit of fare dodging; "If we get caught, we can act daft and say we are English and don't understand". Yeah, right I thought, but agreed nonetheless, and surprise, surprise we got away with it. Guilt got the better of us though when we ended up buying the tickets retrospectively in Milan. On the subject of transport, as I said it is very efficient and we never had to wait more than five minutes at a time throughout the changes of train or bus (even on a Sunday), and we had to change quite a few times. The nearest train station to the San Siro is Lotto on the Red Line, a pleasant 10 minute walk from there alongside the Ippodromo (horse racing track) and then all of a sudden around a corner the full awesome sight of the Stadio Guiseppe Meazza hits you in the mush. At that point we found where we were to pick our tickets up from, closed until 12.00 sadly, so we decided to have a trawl round all the hundreds of vendors selling scarves, shirts and suchlike. We decided to buy seat cushions (cuscini) for the game at €1,00 each and chose to sit it out and wait for the bigleterra (ticket office) to open. It was here I managed to have a chat to my first tifosi Milanista (Milan Fan), who in fact was a Tottenham fan from Hackney who was flying home straight after the game. Once we got our tickets it was another hour wait for the stadium to open, nothing like getting there embarrassingly early eh? Inside the ground we climbed the 25 (yes, twenty-five!) flights of stairs to our seats, which were at the edge of the eighteen-yard line along the touch-line, and amazingly enough an area devoid of Italians. Honest, there were Germans, Japanese and a group of lads over from Yeovil. Talk about the International attraction of AC Milan!

The San Siro holds the best part of 86,000 spectators when full, at three-quarters that amount it still is quite a spectacle. Milan have 49,146 season ticket holders, which means they will hardly ever get fewer than 50,000 for a Serie A game. They did get quite a few less than that for the recent Cup game at home to Sampdoria in the Italian Cup, 2,742 rattling around the giant arena, but that shows just where their priorities lie. For an attraction like Ancona, bottom of the table without a win all season, you'd expect not much more than 50,000, lets face it they are crap and are at the lowest end of the entertainment scale. They didn't bring many fans with them either, about 150 at the most, tucked in a corner with two pitiful little flags. Maybe the fear of getting beaten up by crazy Rossineri Ultras too much for them, although I was assured that violence inside the grounds is now virtually non-existent (although the highly publicised riot the day before between Napoli and Hellas Verona fans had me doubting that statement) so they should have been fairly safe. It was also expected to be a one sided contest, and that tends to put a lot of season-ticket holders off, as testified by the sight of several trying to tout their voucher for that day's game from as early as 11.00am. The local "Ultras" give a nice bit of a pageant before the game, with flares and banners and some pretty familiar songs with Italian words. Throughout the game however, apart from the Curva-Sud (where the local nutters gather), the home supporters didn't do much in the noisiness department other than give a yell if Milan were attacking or scoring a goal. Even so, the atmosphere was electric and the scene was one it'll take some time to forget. One last thing to note is the match programme situation in the San Siro; I had been told they didn't produce programmes as such, or they were only available at no charge to the executive/sponsor sections of the ground, so despite having requests from half-a-dozen people to bring one back, I expected to be disappointed here. Imagine my surprise when Lynn noticed a little vendor coming through 25 minutes into the game (there are literally hundreds of vendors who wind their way through the seats to sell extortionately priced goods, like a Kit-Kat for €3,00 or a carton of juice for €3,50 each) with what appeared to be programmes he must have liberated from the sponsors area. The poor little fella didn't know what had hit him when the Germans and Brits mugged him for his entire stockpile which he was selling at a cheap, by comparison, €1,00 each.

As for the game, Milan attacked from the off, non-stop for ninety minutes and Ancona just couldn't live with them. Amazingly, they survived with their goal intact until the 64th minute; Shevchenko beat the offside trap (which looked dubious on telly after the 39th showing) and hooked the ball on to Maltagliati's arm, the linesman (the male one, the other one was the first FEMALE official in Serie A history) was pretty quick to award the penalty. SHEVCHENKO slotted the penalty home for his 15th goal of the season, a goal that made Liam's day as he'd seen "Sheva" score in the San Siro. The lad's day was made even better nine minutes later when RUI COSTA scored his first EVER goal for Milan after a good build up move involving Shevchenko. With a game against Siena coming up on Wednesday, Signor Ancellotti replaced Sheva in the 75th minute with Newcastle reject Jon Dahl Tomasson ("are you mad, he's crap?" came a scream from an eight-year old to my right) who took less than two minutes to make his mark on the game. The referee awarded what was perceived in the Monday papers to be a "rigore dubbioso" (dodgy penalty), when Maltagliati tripped Tomasson on the edge of the area (JDT scored 9.9 for the fantastic dive that had the Brit contingent rolling with laughter in the aisles). There are doubts over whether this was a foul or even inside the box, but the Dane converted the resulting penalty. The fourth and fifth came in the 82nd and 89th minutes from the young Brazilian, and another one of Liam's favourites, KAKA'. The rout was complete, you don't get to see many five-nils in Serie A, not even against the likes of Ancona. So much so that after the game the visitors sacked their Coach, Nedo Sonetti. Funnily enough though, the biggest roar of the game came a minute after the final whistle, Roma had only managed to draw with Udinese, Milan would be top on Wednesday if they beat Siena.

It was a fantastic experience, so much so even Lynn enjoyed the game, although she feared at one stage it was going to be scoreless and it was "a long way to come for a goal-less draw". Liam was over the moon, and told everyone who would listen, even if they didn't speak a word of English, a full and detailed match report. He's even made his plan for the next excursion; at the check-in desk at Linate airport we got talking to a Language teacher who comes home for the weekends and was on her way back to work, he told her "it was great, Milan won 5-0 - Sheva scored, Kaký scored two and even Rui Costa scored. Mind you I can't wait till next year. We are going to see Real Madrid play in the Bernabau!" It's news to me and Lynn, but if it's as good as Milan, who are we to say no?

Jaunt No 15

Blackwell Miners Welfare 1 Sandiacre Town 3
Phoenix Trophies Floodlit Cup Round 2
Wednesday, 14/01/04
 
There aren't many grounds I'd choose to return to more than once, I suppose you could write their names on the back of a bus ticket. Usually there's a feelgood factor on one of my visits to such a place, or I've enjoyed the craic with the locals or something, or maybe it's just I like going to the place. What it is I can't say, but these places number very few, Askern is one of them, Dinno another, South Normanton a third one. One of the few I haven't mentioned is pretty close to the latter, across the little valley north of South Normanton in the Derbyshire village of Blackwell. I think it maybe the fact I can get to a midweek game or Blackwell or Normo and be back home before ten o'clock, the other thing is the fact (as has happened in the past) if one game falls foul of the weather, you can guarantee there will be one at the other ground that has survived the elements. What with the apparent drought of midweek games in the region, and my somewhat erratic work commitments of late, I thought it would be a nice idea to get myself over to Primrose Hill (the very flowery name of Blackwell's ground) to take in a game in one of my least favourite competitions, the Central Midlands Floodlit Cup, and to write a few things about a very friendly little club who are going through a bit of a difficult time.
 
As I said the ground is called Primrose Hill, unusual in the fact it isn't called the Welfare Ground I guess, and it is situated in one of the easiest to find places I know. The directions are simple, if you know the McArthur Glen retail park off the A38 that is, the ground being literally minutes (and signposted) from the discount designer outlet which is right next to junction 28 of M1. It's also a little exposed, but I think you'd have gathered that from the "hill" bit in the name, so when the elements strike you know about it. The football team share the grounds with the cricket club, Primrose Hill staged the World Record ninth wicket stand in a senior cricket match, although nowadays you'd be surprised to see County Cricket on the ground. The surroundings are a bit on the Spartan side, but hey this IS the Central Midlands League after all, but every effort is being made to make the ground a bit more progressive; seats were installed a few seasons ago as were floodlights, and despite being on the face of a hill, you can get shelter. The club isn't on what you'd call a high at the moment; in the middle of a massive slump, with some big losses on the pitch to boot, and allegedly with a notice to quit the ground at the end of the season from the Miners Welfare Club up the road. Not that this dampens the enthusiasm at the club, the effort put in by the committee and volunteers is second to none, as is the wonderful programme produced by secretary Steve Harris which put most I've seen (including ours!) this season to shame. It's also a bit of a magnet for the groundhopping community with its location, and I took the opportunity to mingle with a few on the night along with ex-Ripley, Dunkirk and Arnold programme editor Rob Hornby (who kindly stumped up for the teas). On the subject of Rob and groundhoppers, he asked for me to give a plug for the CMFL five-in-a-day-hop on the 20th of March, six games for a £15.00 ticket (programmes included) that covers all the games on Friday and Saturday. Chances are if this is successful a second may be on the cards next season, with Blackwell amongst the possible venues.
 
Anyway, back to the game; the visitors were to be Sandiacre Town who are having a somewhat better time of it with some pretty impressive wins under their belt. They were sure-fire favourites, and when the Saints' centre-forward Ian Trueman's delicate chip caught Richard Parker in no-man's-land with just five minutes on the clock, you had a tendency to fear for the Miners. As it was the ex-Teversal man between the Miners' sticks was in inspired form and kept Sandiacre at bay with some thrilling stops, the best being a double save from Slinger and then Mellors. The weather wasn't helping things either as it deteriorated as the night went on, switching to cold and still to windy, cold and very, very wet. Blackwell never looked likely troubling the scorer's in the first half, but ninety seconds into the second half a goalmouth scramble saw the Miners level the scores, Tilley the man taking the credit. In the 71st minute the score took a more expected look with the unpredictable Nick Ghislanzoni rising at the back post to head the visitors into a two-one lead. The hosts never looked like equalizing, a third being added in the last minute Jim Slinger beating the offside trap to reach a cross and Blackwell were out of the cup. Hopefully they'll be back for next season, I'd hate for Blackwell to become another Denaby that loses its tenancy because the local welfare decides they want them out, it'd be too sad. Hopefully something good will come up before the season ends.

Jaunt No 14

Solihull Borough 1 West Bromwich Albion 0
Birmingham Senior Cup Third Round
Monday, 05/01/04
 
Well it's the end of the festive season and time for everyone to get back to normality; the trees and lights are coming down, the unwanted presents are packed away, the last of the Christmas pud and trifles have been consumed and it's time for me to get back to doing some serious football watching. For a change the Christmas period has been rather unkind to me in the football sense, my new working arrangements have seen to that along with some bad fixture arrangements. Since we exited the Vase in Staffordshire, me and my little Passepourtout have managed one solitary game - on Boxing Day at Wakefield and Emley to watch a dire game against Frickley. A planned trip on New Year's Day to Ilkeston got watered off, when every other game in the close vicinity went ahead, so in a nutshell the goal-less game at Arnold on Saturday was a godsend. With a well-earned (well I thought so) three-day break I decided to spread my wings a little further than usual and head to the West Midlands for a change, for a visit to the quaintly named Damson Park, home of Solihull Borough who play in the Dr Martens Western Division.
 
The ground at Solihull is a new one, built in time for the 2001/02 season, and is within amazingly easy range of the M42 making it accessible from South Sheffield within an hour and a half. It is in very close proximity to Birmingham Airport, and also right next to the Land Rover plant. Before that they'd spent a fair old time ground-sharing, at Moor Green and at Redditch (where ironically I saw them play as the away team a couple of years ago), so like Sheffield are just about settling in with their new surroundings. It's quite cosy to be honest, plenty of cover and a nice stand, cheap too at only a fiver entry. The parallels with Sheffield continue with the fact it took them a while to actually move in to their new ground, and also the little matter of moving in cuckoo-style to a derelict business. With us it was another football club, Borough on the other hand moved in on a golf driving range and a nightclub; at least the nightclub makes a ready-made clubhouse and a tidy one to boot. Obviously a lot of work had to go in to make Damson Park what it is today, and that itself is near perfect for the level they are playing at. The stand is somewhat unique, very similar to the one at the Willows (Salford Rugby League) being two tiered; the top tier appears to be for sponsors, but I would imagine if they ever get a televised game it would be shot from there. Behind the top goal is a very tidy (that word crops up whenever I think about the ground) covered terrace, complete with tea-bar; the rest of the ground however is open, although it looks as though the foundations for another covered section are there opposite the main stand on the opposite touchline. For a while they were managed by Dave Busst (him from that nasty broken leg incident with Peter Schmeichel), but he upped sticks due to financial restraints and went to join Evesham United not too long ago. They are now managed by Paul Holleran who was once at Birmingham City, which brings me to tonight's game. The visitors to Damson Park were to be West Bromwich Albion, the competition the Birmingham Senior Cup, and yes I did cover the League Club thingy in County Cups in the last jaunt, I totally overlooked the fact that the Birmingham FA are another county that asks the senior teams enter a side. As you'd imagine though the Baggies were never going to enter their first team were they? Trouble is I'd never heard of any of their players and neither had the home contingent, at least Leicester had Tomi Petrescu who I'd heard of. 
 
Unlike the last Jaunt (with Leicester City) the two teams were evenly matched, although for the first hour or so only Solihull went anywhere near scoring. West Brom looked lively but never really tested Mark Gayle in the Borough net, the best effort came from Ross Clarke whose effort was tipped over. The game breaker came in the 72nd minute from substitute Junior Hewitt; Albion found it tricky to clear a corner, the ball came back in to the feet of Adam Cooper and HEWITT who showed composure to slot it past Matt Jones. It wasn't the best game I'd seen, but it was one of the best matched, the home side just seemed to have that little extra determination to win it though. The last time Solihull won this competition was in 1994/95, a feat made all the more special by the fact they beat FOUR League clubs (Birmingham, Albion, Walsall and then Villa in the final at Villa Park); well after tonight they have one down and three to go to win it, perhaps they have the steel to do it.

Jaunt No 13

Holwell Sports 1 Leicester City 8
Leicestershire Westerby Challenge Cup Quarter Final
Wednesday, 03/12/03

To professional clubs, the local County Senior Cup is about as important as something very unimportant; they tend to treat it as an inconvenience similar to the LDV Vans Trophy. The local County FAs used to make all their members enter the County Cup, I remember being dragged to Bramall Lane to see United play Wednesday in one of these ties, but the pros used to simply field a reserve team, or a youth team or a combination of both. Sooner or later, I can't say which one, the majority of the County FAs gave exemption to all teams with Football League status, only making it compulsory for non-league teams to enter (much to Doncaster Rovers' dismay when they fell into the Conference) and usually coercing the senior league team to host the prestige final. Some Counties have maintained the "old ways" and insisted their league clubs enter A competition, usually one where they are coupled with the "Senior" non-league clubs in the area. Luton Town are one of the teams that have to endure that fate, entering the Bedfordshire Premier Cup, usually the reserve teams enter that one - and fixtures often clash with first team outings - and another team put through this are Leicester City. Now the Foxes have to enter the grandly named Leicestershire Westerby Challenge Cup, and seeing they are the only league team in the area, tend to do very well. They can also generate some decent crowds, and a tidy little pay packet for the lucky little team that draws them, this season the lucky winners of that honour are Holwell Sports of the Leicestershire Senior League.

When you look at a map of Leicestershire there aren't that many "big" towns; Leicester (naturally), Loughborough, Hinckley, Melton Mowbray and Shepshed are the only ones that spring to my mind, and the county town excepted only Hinckley and Shepshed have a team (in the Dr Marten's) that comes close to being competition. Lower down the scale you go you get teams from the minor villages and outlying areas of Leicester; Quorn, Coalville, Oadby (all covered in previous Jaunts) and Barwell play in the Midland Alliance, which as previously explained is the same level as Sheffield FC, so the rest of the entries come from the Leicestershire Senior League, which is the same as Maltby, Rossington and Parkgate. For Holwell then, the visit of the mighty Fosse is a big occasion and a big crowd was expected to Welby Road, with Leicester expected to field some names with Premiership experience. Holwell Sports are based in Asfordby, which is on the main road between Loughborough and Melton Mowbray (home of the pork pie), and the ground would expect to be full to busting with anything touching a four figure crowd. Not that anyone expected a crowd that big; after all the advertising was minimal to say the least, I only stumbled on it by accident whilst reading the papers on Sunday. The ground is a basic little paddock, with hard standing only a third of the way round, and a little covered shed behind the goal. Refreshments are available from a little tea bar by the entrance, whilst the "Stute" club gives the visitor the alcoholic option. Despite the big-time visitors, Holwell didn't go out of their way to make a quick profit out of the fixture like some would; £3.00 admission was the same as they normally charge, with a natty little eight-page programme chucked in for free. Leicester for their part predictably fielded that side of youngsters and reserve team players; after all you wouldn't expect them to field a full side of Premiership stars would you? The quality of the side was not in doubt though, and a little cosmopolitan too; Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France, Finland, Sierra Leone all represented along with England. I doubt any of the Holwell team were born more than twenty miles from the ground.

The game was as you'd expect one-sided, with Finnish wünderkind Tomi Peterscu banging in four goals for the Foxes. Even so, Holwell had two early chances to snatch the lead, with Matt Panter having his shot cleared off the line and Graham Keast skewing wide when a goal looked a certainty. On 9 minutes the rout began, ex-England schoolboy LARVIN scoring, followed four minutes later with PETRESCU getting on the end of Jamie Doyle's little chip. The third came five minutes later, PETRESCU once more whilst BROOKER chipped in on 20 minutes with a looping header. When Dominic Pearmain fed PETRESCU on 24 minutes to make it five for Leicester, you started to wonder how many they would rack up against a shell-shocked Holwell team. On 33 minutes Sports got there just desserts for some endeavour with KEAST stabbing the ball home after the Foxes defence failed to clear. Normal service was resumed just before the interval when LARVIN intercepted Wayne Crutchley's back-pass to tuck the ball past Holwell keeper Richard Haffenden. It was 6-1 at half time and remained that way until 30 minutes into the second period when Leicester's French Captain Nicolas Priet headed in from a corner. PETRESCU put the final nail in the coffin with six minutes remaining, turning in Chris O'Grady's cross. Based on the second half, Holwell weren't disgraced; the first half performance from the young Foxes simply blew them away. Based on this performance by Leicester, I might be tempted to have a look at them in the next round.

Jaunt No 12

Gresley Rovers 3 Stourport Swifts 2
Doc Martens League Cup Round Two
Tuesday, 11/11/03
 
I don't know what it is this season, but lately the midweek fixture lists are as barren as something really barren. Nothing on at all at the moment, I just don't seem to be inspired by any of the games on offer. Faced with yet another non Sheffield midweek, I decided to take a trip down Memory Lane and complete a promise made over twelve years ago. Back in 1991, when Luton had a semi-decent team I hasten to add (alright we just avoided relegation, but who's bothered), one of our regular delivery men from Northern Dairies in Ashby-de-la-Zouch told me he would be coming back to Sheffield that night. Not having the greatest knowledge of non-league footy at that time, I asked why. Apparently his local team were playing in the FA Vase Final, the week prior they had drawn against Guiseley at Wembley, and the replay was that night at Bramall Lane. "Who do you support then?" I asked with a modicum of interest, "Gresley Rovers" was the reply. "Oh really? Never heard of 'em". To cut a long story short, I took on the invitation to head on down to the Lane to watch this game, which I thought was "alright" and accepted an invitation to come visit the driver's team down in deepest Derbyshire. I never fulfilled this agreement for one reason or another, and basically Gresley was cast to the back of my mind, that was up until two seasons ago. I went to a Derbyshire Cup game at Glossop North End, the visitors? Yep, Gresley Rovers - and managed by John McGinlay, he of Bolton Wanderers (and later Bradford City) fame. It was at that stage I put Gresley on the list of places to visit, pretty low on the priorities I admit, and after putting it off for too long, the crappy fixture list dictated the time had come.
 
After the Glossop game I made a point of looking for directions to Gresley - sorry, no such place. So where do they play? CHURCH Gresley, near Swadlincote (where?), South Derbyshire to be exact, near Burton-on-Trent on the A514. Fair enough, although a bit awkward with the "middle-of-nowhere" location, I never fancied the apparent difficulty of finding the damned place after learning that, too much messing about for my opinion. Sooner or later I thought I'd end up doing a jaunt to the place, I just thought it would be later rather than sooner. So with an advertised kick-off time of 7.30 pm for a Tuesday game, I headed south to find Moat Street, home of the Moatmen. It was a bit of a rush getting there, the murky driving conditions didn't help much, but with the directions ensconced in my head I managed to read the "Welcome to Church Gresley" signpost by 7.15 comfortably. The hard bit was finding the ground; well actually no, the hard part was finding a parking space THEN finding the ground. You see Church Gresley is a massive one way system, due to the narrow terraced housing and traffic calming, parking is at a premium. Now there is a sizable parking lot across from the ground, but naturally (a la Clitheroe) that gets taken up quickly by players, officials and club staff, so I had to trek round the myriad of side streets to find ONE solitary parking space - I found one at 7.28, 400 yards away from the ground and two minutes before the due kick-off time. So legging it as fast as a walk would let me I entered the ground at 7.32 to see the players still warming up, the game had been put back to the more traditional 7.45, nice. Bit of a cheap night this considering, £5.00 entrance the same as Goole yet one level higher in the pyramid, programme £1.00 good value and a good read, and faggots and peas £1.30. "Faggots and peas?" I hear you ask. "Why yes" I reply, a footie delicacy around these parts by all accounts; I first experienced this cuisine at Eton Park, Burton Albion a couple of seasons ago and thought it a very nice alternative to pie-burger-hot dog standard. I didn't need a second invitation to get stuck in to a couple of faggots (careful now!) washed down with some excellent beef soup, top nosh and hard to better.
 
The ground itself is very tight, very small (about 2,000 capacity) but about 80% is under cover, covered by a right old assortment of corrugated metals. There are two seated areas, a narrow set up on the far side, and a main one on the near side, neither though give a really good view of the pitch, the best vantage point is to the left of the main stand in front of the social club and souvenir shop. Trouble is here you tend to share the turf with the grumpy old men you tend to get at games of this level, no matter how well the team is playing, "bloody rubbish" "take so-and-so off", you know the sort, but if the view is good, well I can put up with it for ninety minutes. I've mentioned the grub already, but failed to mention there are TWO snack bars, one either side of the ground, which is always good if you get a big crowd (or if the queue's too big at one or the other). One of two downsides to the ground is the fact it seems in a bit of a bad way, I expected it too be tidier but it's no better than say Ossett Albion, which is the nearest I can relate it to. The other downside is the pitch, which is interesting to say the least; one half slopes down from the goal to the halfway line, the other half is almost flat so you get no real advantage from the slope only a disadvantage. Tonight it was going to be graced by Gresley, who had knocked local rivals Sheeps-head out in the previous round, and their visitors Stourport Swifts in a Doc Martens League Cup second round tie. For a midweek tie it was a bit of a trek for the visitors, from the other side of Birmingham, but looking at some of the others left in the competition it was virtually a local derby. That's the thing about this level, the distances between the grounds get to be a little bit further every time you progress up the ladder. Perhaps that's something we might come to get used to ourselves in years to come, with a little luck.
 
On to the football and in reality Gresley should have won this game by three or four clear goals, but a stout defence kept them at bay, with Stourport happy to hit on the break. It was an exciting game to say the least, early chances went begging at both ends as both sides went on the attack right from the start. Rob Taylor was denied by a good Dale Belford save on just two minutes with Gresley's Leon Doughty heading straight at the keeper moments later. Stourport made the breakthrough on 20 minutes when TAYLOR collected a Ronnie Sayer pass 35 yards out, ran to the edge of the area and placed his shot past the Gresley keeper. Stourport's Ryan Price was forced into an excellent double save on the half-hour to keep the visitors at bay but they finally levelled the scores on 38 minutes. There was one of those nice moments just before the goal; an old-stager obviously peeved with the Gresley front two's lack of success called for them to be substituted. No sooner had he finished his sentence, Doughty found FRANCIS with a quick free-kick and the young striker shot home at the second attempt. Swifts began the second half in style and two minutes after the restart Taylor fired against the crossbar with Richard Ball putting the rebound wide. But after such a good start, the Swifts went behind on 66 minutes when BARRETT turned the ball home less than a minute after coming off the bench. Just when it looked like Rovers were home and dry, TAYLOR popped up to strike his second on 70 minutes, rounding Belford following good work in midfield from John Hayward. Extra-time looked on the cards until a late deflected strike from BARRETT in the second minute of injury time won the game for the Moatmen. Overall it was one of the best games of football I've seen this year, I'm glad we had a winner in regulation time though, the rain and mist started to get bad as soon as I got back in the car, extra-time and penalties might have been a little too much to handle.

Jaunt No 11

Coalville Town 1 Grosvenor Park 0
Midland Alliance
Tuesday 21/10/03
 
Naturally, when you have an empty diary and little option of an alternative game, the chances of Club drawing up in Blackpool and bringing a replay back to the Coach are going to be remote. I sussed out the exact remoteness of this possibility at approximately 3.45pm on Saturday with a phone call to our man at the game Mr Herrington who told me, at half time, we were 2-0 in front and coasting (pardon the pun) by the seaside. In respect of this a game was going to have to come from somewhere, and seeing there were no Central Midlands games, nor were there many other games taking place at grounds not yet covered in this column I was left with the old chestnut of heading back down Leicestershire way. The two choices I was left with were an FA Vase replay between Barrow Town (near Quorn just off the A6, south of Loughborough) and Leamington Town (old friends) and a Midland Alliance game between Coalville Town and Grosvenor Park, two teams I know pretty little about. So to help with the ease of a) trying to find the ground and b) knowing a bit about the two teams, I set off in the general direction and intention of visiting the pretty little Riverside ground in Barrow-upon-Soar. Having visited the Riverside before, for a Leicestershire Senior League Cup Final a couple of seasons ago, finding the ground wasn't going to be an issue, the time it takes to get through Loughborough town centre on the other hand was the unknown quantity. As a back up then I set off with directions to Coalville's Owen Street ground as a trusty alternative, if needed. It was needed. Slow moving Southbound traffic and a nagging doubt about the size of the Leamington following (taking up the car parking situation) lumped together with the Loughborough scenario, I took the coward's way out and went the extra junction on the M1, to turn up the A511 to Coalville.
 
Despite being armed with the very scant scribble on a bit of scrap paper, the directions shouldn't have been a problem for me (an experienced footy traveller with many miles under his seat-belt and a knack for finding grounds others wouldn't find) after all you could see the lights on the way into the town on the dual-carriageway. The issue started when I got into Coalville, you see I could no longer see the same floodlights, the housing being that of a very tight terraced nature with tight streets, similar in nature to Shirebrook. I followed the directions, 2nd set of lights - left - 2nd right into Owen Street - follow to end of road. What they failed to add was "turn sharp left immediately after 107 Owen Street!" To the end of Owen Street I went, "oh, there's the ground" I said to myself sailing straight past, doing a 'U' turn and trying to find which dark alley I was expected to drive down to get to the damned thing. Talk about tight, the initial car park was full, so I approached the gate (in the car) and asked if I could park inside, the answer - "yes". And, if I wanted I could park up and then come back and pay if I wanted to, my answer - "yes". So, I'm inside the ground, plenty of time to spare for a phone call home, and then back to pay my entrance money. Remember the Curzon Jaunt a few weeks ago? Well that was a game played at the same level as this, and Sheffield for that matter, and the managed to charge a curiously high £4.50 entrance fee; well Coalville charged a mere £3.00 to get in, plus a £1.00 for a full colour programme. The standards of the surroundings were higher too, albeit on a smaller scale than Curzon; the clubhouse-cum-changing-rooms looked modern, as did the toilet blocks and little stands. According to the yearbook, Owen Street has 24 seats (24?), well that must be old news because there were covered seating areas on either side of the pitch, which combined must have held over 200. Overall I was impressed by the tidy nature of the ground, another team with bigger ambitions than I imagined. After my little reconnoitre around the facilities, I managed to meet up with who else but Billy (Big Lens) Hayward, who like myself had somehow stumbled on this little backwater game, and like myself had little or no idea about the clubs' backgrounds, apart from he'd seen Grosvenor Park at Glapwell earlier this season.
 
Coalville, or the Ravens, are former champions of the aforementioned Leicestershire Senior League and took the ambitious step up to Midland Alliance level after being denied once already with the facilities a concern. Those concerns obviously now rectified, they have set upon the task of gaining a creditable finishing position by starting the season unbeaten at home, whilst picking up some vital points on the road. They had also managed to wing their way through to the second round of the FA Vase, a potential opponent in the near future I wonder? They shouldn't have much problem getting to the third round either, an away tie at crisis club Racing Club Warwick is the only hurdle they have to overcome, not a problem I would imagine. As you may guess, the Ravens play in black and white, not surprising given their nickname; it just makes a refreshing change from the "Magpies" as a nickname for a black and white striped team. But the nickname comes from the fact they were once a village team from just up the road in Ravenstone, only a dispute with the village elders saw them relocate to Coalville where they took the town's name. I found all that lot out at half time by reading the programme, the same way as I found out Grosvenor Park (another team advancing into the FA Vase third round, meeting Nantwich away) play their home games at the Red Lion Ground. I know that means nothing to you lot reading this, but that was the old ground of Bloxwich Town (1976-2001) a team a good friend of mine watched for the full 25 years of it's existence, that was before the ill-fated merger with Blakenall. If you haven't guessed, Grosvenor Park are based in Walsall in the West Midlands, and are almost as new to this level as their hosts. They hadn't had so much of a good start to the season, although they had managed to win more of their away games than they had lost, however they had yet to win at home. I have to admit though, I know who my money was going to be on; any team who has a Brown, Tonge and Lester in always has a chance, Coalville's version though was Ashley, Chris and Reece as opposed to Michael, Michael and Jack!
 
The game was all set to be a delicately balanced one, although Coalville were rocked in the 10th minute when their keeper Richard Williams had to be stretchered off after coming off second-best in a 50-50 challenge with Grosvenor's Michael Campbell. The drama wasn't all I'd expected as on the bench (as is apparently allowed in the Midland Alliance) was reserve keeper Darren Hearne and he slotted in effortlessly for the next 80 minutes. The only goal of the game came on the half hour, a Dave Puttnam header converting a Richard Saunders cross being the difference between two energetic sides. It was end to end stuff for the most part but very little in the way of chances, if it wasn't for the goal a scoreless draw would have been the deserved result. As it was, I was grateful for having Bill to chat to the full game, made for easier watching. If we were to come up against either of these teams in the future, I don't think we'd have too much to be afraid of.

Jaunt No 10

Cotgrave Colliery Welfare United 1 Nottingham Forest 8
Floodlight Inauguration Game
Wednesday, 15/10/03
 
As far as Leagues go, the Notts Alliance is one I never paid much attention to; given the teams are of similar standing as County Senior League teams, and out of the region, I just never thought of them anywhere near the top of my priorities. Okay, I thought about giving Rainworth a visit, and Southwell City, but they are part of the Central Midlands family now, and of those that are left very few are worth a mention. It might sound a bit harsh, but that's how I see it; the one game I have seen at this level was at Kimberley Miners Welfare, and that was nothing to write about. It seems to me that any team with any ambition in the Notts Alliance is soon a member of the Central Midlands League within a season, facts are facts. For example: Retford United, Pelican, Gedling, Greenwood Meadows, Clipstone, Teversal, Dunkirk (and they are just off the top of my head) are all ex-Notts Alliance teams plying their trade in the top division of the Central Midlands. This last summer saw the breakaway of teams that broke the back of the league, Rainworth, Southwell and Radcliffe all up and went, three of the league's most attractive teams in one fell swoop. This doesn't leave a great deal in the way of grounds I'm likely to pay a visit for a while, this season at least. Boots Athletic and Notts Police doesn't fill me with "need to visit" spirit, although I'm still tempted by a visit to Wollaton and Keyworth but not for a while. It would have to take something a little different to get me interested, perhaps a high-profile friendly or floodlight opening game, or both. This is the reason for heading down to Woodview, Cotgrave, home of Cotgrave Colliery Welfare United Football Club (what a mouthful) where a Nottingham Forest XI are guests of honour.
 
It's pretty obvious that Forest wouldn't send a first team squad down to this little village on the southern outskirts of Nottingham (after all they were playing Rotherham the night before), no the best to expect would be a reserve side, or youth side or even an all-stars-veterans side. Even so, I thought it would be a smashing idea to head off to see this little ground as full as it was going to get on a pleasant autumnal evening, and also to see how ambitious this little team was. After all by my reckoning they must be ambitious enough to get floodlights in the first place, and it will probably end up being their last season at this level (perhaps). Last season they finished fourth in the Notts Alliance Senior Division, their best standing for at least fifteen years, maybe the best in their history, I can't say. This season they've had a slow start in the league, winning just one game 2-1, and drawing all their others 2-2, but it is early in the season. Tonight though was going to be a different matter, one where the result always comes second place to the occasion, a kind of mid-season pre-season friendly if you like. As it turned out Forest managed to take a squad mixed with fringe, reserves and academy players and the village folk of Cotgrave turned out in abundance to witness the switching on of the lights.
 
Being a townie the whole of my life, I always have this quaint notion that people who live in villages don't need a great deal to get excited. I think it's down to the fact that I was born not to far from a floodlit football ground, but I was amazed at the turn out for something as simple as switching on some lights. I mean, it was obvious there wasn't going to be Marlon Harewood or David Johnson playing, nor for that matter Andy Reid or Matthieu Louis-Jean, so I turned up for the game with minutes to spare and there wasn't a parking space to be had. The Welfare car-park was for officials only, and the leisure centre across the road was full to busting. In the end I had to park about 100 yards down the road, cutting it very fine indeed with regards to seeing the kick-off. There were queues to get in, yes queues, and that's the first time I've had to do that this season not counting waiting for the people in the same car as me to go in. When I got inside it looked as if the whole of the village had turned out to witness the spectacle, and the lights looked pretty good. You see they'd made a big community thing out of the event, all the schools in the village had a penalty competition culminating in a grand final at half time, and all the local dignitaries were present too with Forest Manager Paul Hart doing the honours and switching on the main attraction. With this, as you'd expect the crowd was swelled by loads of kids, who soon got bored with the game, and this gave a special little atmosphere to the place.
 
On a normal day, I expect Woodview is a flat recreation ground kind of place, very tidy too, and at best at the moment up to Central Midlands standards. For the occasion Cotgrave had erected two temporary mezzanine style bleachers stands, which given the evening chill were (wisely) stood on, not sat on. These were full to capacity, as were the rails all the way round the ground as the spectators settled into the start of the game. The facilities were good too, for tonight at least; a burger van was on site and also a tea bar open, serving hot food and giving all the Cotgrave player profiles on the wall. Like many grounds in the area, there was also a spare pitch behind the far side, which was where all the bored youngsters ended up  playing in the second half. It certainly is an impressive set-up for a team at this level, with teams from the very young to a Sunday side, and the addition of lights certainly gives the impression of someone who wants to go far.
 
As friendlies go, the game went more or less according to script; a feisty first half performance by the home side gave the locals something to cheer about, with the second half going absolutely in Forest's favour when they ran riot. Cotgrave had the audacity to go in front on 20 minutes with Kevin Doyle lobbing the keeper from 20 yards. Forest equalized four minutes later through Matt Bodkin to level the scores at half time with a clinical goal worthy of a professional outfit. It took Bodkin three minutes of the second half to get his and Forest's second, followed two minutes later by a penalty by Craig Westcarr after the scorer had been fouled. Westcarr got his second on 55 minutes, making it 4-1, and Neil Morgan made it five on the hour. Forest Academy player Gavin Hurren got the sixth after 63 minutes, Morgan got a second on 81 minutes before James Biggins completed the rout in injury time. By this time many of the locals had long gone, around 500 were left to witness the final throes of the game; bedtime obviously comes before full-time in Cotgrave. As for the future of Cotgrave CW United, who knows? The performance they put up in the first half was good, and they'll probably be able to do pretty well in the league this season.

Jaunt No 9

Winterton Rangers 1 Worsborough Bridge 0
Northern Counties League Cup Round One
Wednesday, 08/10/03
 
Remember Winterton Rangers? We played them last season, in the FA Vase I seem to remember, we won, naturally being a division higher. Well they are one of only two teams in the NCEFL (Tadcaster being the other) where I haven't seen a game being played. The reason behind this is that (normally) there are very few midweek games played in Division One due to the short number of teams in the league, this week however is the League Cup round one week, and lo' and behold Winterton are at home to old favourites Worsborough Bridge and on a night we don't have a first team game. Too tempting to miss, so I decided to venture along to West Street to see what they are doing up there.
 
First off the geography lesson; Winterton is a smallish village-cum-town north of sunny Scunny, just off the A1077 which eventually reaches Barton-upon-Humber and the Humber Bridge. The ground is set smack in the middle of the village, although it is hidden somewhat amongst the houses. With it being a midweek game, the "search for the floodlights" tactic should have paid off, it didn't. West Street's floodlights aren't the brightest in the village, that honour goes to the local five-a-side courts down the street, luckily for me I'd written the directions down otherwise it'd have ended up a right old wild-goose chase. The floodlights weren't the only lighting problem the Winterton people were suffering as the turnstiles were left in a state of darkness due to the lack of a permanent light. As I arrived they were busily trying to get a temporary light in place in the pay-booth, getting power via an extension cord all the way from the club house. After giving the usual "one and a programme please", "four pounds mate", I handed over a five pound note, "what is it mate, I can't see" "it's a fiver, no sorry it's actually a fifty pound note - that's right". Nice try, no forty-six quid change, but at least they had a good sense of humour about it. Once inside I was surprised to see the quality of the facilities, pretty good if I'm honest, especially in comparison to some of the teams that dwell in Division One. The first thing that strikes you is the newness of the place; a large and modern clubhouse to the left contains possibly the tidiest toilets (the other end of the scale to Curzon and Brid) in the league, a tidy bar and a very tidy food kitchen. Tidy, as you might guess, is the operative word when it comes to Winterton. The food kitchen was very well staffed, the last time I saw that many kitchen staff at a Non-League football ground was at Hemsworth and that was an exception, and although there wasn't a visible menu pie and peas was a good value £1.50. There was even the biggest pot of mint sauce I've had the privilege to see, and believe me I've seen some pots of mint sauce! Everything was so clean; the hardstanding was well tarmac-ed and everything seemed to have been painted very recently.
 
Just lately, what with all the changes to the pyramid structure, I've become a little obsessed with the ground grading at the places I visit. With all the new buildings and paintwork, I had to wonder if Winterton could progress up the ladder. Okay, first off the turnstiles are new and up to date, clubhouse up to standard, about 175 covered seats, hardstanding all the way round. There had to be some kind of catch that lets a lovely little club down and I started to wonder along these lines; Worsborough Bridge (ironically tonight's visitors) would have been turned down for promotion because people could see into the ground from the bridge on Park Road. At Winterton, we have a row of houses that overlook the ground, and separating the houses from the ground is a wire fence. This I'm afraid is the one point I can see letting the team down. But I can't see why, Liversedge is the same, and I'm sure you can see through at Pickering (although I cannot say for definite as I've only been up in midweek) so where the league draws the line I don't know. I for one wouldn't mind having Winterton come up into the same league as Club, but I just can't see it happening. At the moment they are languishing near the foot of the table, Worsborough hammered them 4-0 just ten days prior to this meeting and following that Rangers' man-mountain of a manager John Wilkinson (must be 6'7" at least this fella and you don't argue with him) had tendered his resignation. The committee wisely turned Mr Wilkinson (for that is what he will be called by me) down and despite losing to Sutton in the last ten minutes on the previous Saturday; he remained in charge for tonight at least. On the subject of the Sutton game, the programme interestingly enough was a combined production for both games, it's a good job I read magazines, programmes and papers from the back to the front otherwise I might have thought I'd been duped into buying an old programme.
 
The evening was extremely pleasant weather-wise, especially after the blustery day we'd had to suffer, I'd been worried that with the banks of the Humber not too far away I might have been in for a rough night. The game was a lively old affair, and very sporting too I may add, but I suppose I could attribute that to the referee who let the game flow and didn't produce a single card. That is despite the fact there were THREE different altercations between players, handbags of course, but this referee deemed the common sense approach would work better. It did, and the game was end-to-end; I thought Worsborough were the better of the two sides in the first half, but in the second Winterton turned the tide and had the visitors on the back foot. The only goal of the game came from Phil Doyle, a penalty following a handball incident in the 74th minute. Winterton went close a couple of times, the best effort was when a volley from Tom Spall rattled the upright, Bridge on the other hand had to wait until injury time to go remotely close. Worsborough's Craig Wilkinson saw his "goal" ruled out in the fourth of ten minutes of injury time for offside, and considering the game had no bookings and only one substitution the TEN minutes added on did seem a little excessive. Perhaps the referee was enjoying Winterton so much he didn't want to go home!

Jaunt No 8

Curzon Ashton 3 Abbey Hey 1
North West Counties Division One
Monday, 29/09/03
 
It's been stocktake week at work this week, and that means loads of extra late nights and with having missed a weekend's worth of football and a great win over Eccleshill, I started to get a little desperate to get to a game before I forget how the game is played. Sadly, this side of the Pennines offers very little football on the day I wasn't working late, Monday to be exact, so I had to trek a little over Manchester way to pay a visit to a side that unusually has had some experience in the Northern Counties East League, Curzon Ashton. It also gave me a chance to get a gauge of how good the football is over the west of the country, after all with luck we may be playing someone from this league soon in the FA Vase.
 
Curzon play at the rather grand sounding named ground "National Park", which is not part of a ground sharing deal with England nor is it in the middle of the countryside. The ground is actually set just off the M60 on the western edge of Ashton-under-Lyne, which makes it an ideal location to get to if you are coming from anywhere but Sheffield. To be truthful, you couldn't imagine Messrs Beckham, Owen, Rooney et al even thinking about stepping into this place to play football for their country, I'd love to see it though, no in fact I demand to see it. Especially given the surroundings which are hardly National level, seemingly held together by a series of advertising hoardings, the UniBond sign a reminder of their higher level of a few years ago before their relegation to Counties level. There seems to be a cobbled together sort of set up, with several kinds of buildings adding to the mish-mash of facilities, which includes a five-a-side court at the dressing rooms side of the ground. The clubhouse seems to be the only fixed building, the rest are either portakabins or prefabricated huts for the tea-rooms and souvenir hut. The main stand has a familiar feel to it, very similar in nature to the "bobbers" stand where I used to sit way back at Luton Town, the only difference is the length of the stand, Curzon's being shorter. At the main stand side we have a contender for "worst bog in the country", with Bridlington and Armthorpe pushed to the limit, don't ask for a description, I'd only offend. They don't believe spending too much on sign-writing either, the home and away benches gave me a brief smile ("HO" big gap for players/coaches to sit down "ME", and an equally painted "AW" - "AY" on the other) as did the weirdly painted white stripe down my seat (only when I got home and saw the programme cover, it reads "CA" from a distance). To top it all, the tannoy was the quietest in the world (unofficial data source), either that or the announcer wasn't using an amplifier and it was his normal voice. Okay, so I HAVE been to worse grounds, much worse as well, but none of them have charged the interesting fee of £4.50, and no-one charges £1.10 for a programme do they? Or do they? Anyway, they won't be playing at National Park for much longer, they are supposedly moving to a new ground somewhere, and maybe they'll call it Continental Park. I still don't know why it's called National Park, is it a tyre company who owned it? National Tyres are based in Stockport not too far down the way, Continental's a tyre company too if you're interested.
 
The reason behind the name National Park is the one unanswered questions I came away with, the others I was curious about I had solved by the end of the night. Like, "Why Curzon?" Well the answer to that one lies in an amalgamation of the Curzon Road and Ashton Amateurs teams; don't ask me where Curzon Road is because I don't know. The other one was why did Curzon Ashton get relegated into the Northern Counties East Premier Division, when a natural course of action would see them move to the North West Counties Division One? Now, many who have been involved with Sheffield long before I turned up on the scene will know the answer but for me it was a source of confusion. The season before they had finished in the UniBond relegation spots with Atherton LR and Warrington Town, and being the most Eastern club ended up (despite appeals) on our side of the hill. Now that's all history, and now they are plying the trade in the upper half of the North West Counties Division One and having made a pretty good start to the season, they had hit the stumbling blocks with a couple of defeats in the last week. Their visitors were Abbey Hey, a team I know very little about other than alphabetically (not including all those with that nonsense A F C prefix) they are at the very top of the list of teams I've seen play. Actually that's a lie because back in the 80's I spent some weekends over at a friend's house on Goredale Avenue (near where they play), they were building the clubhouse whilst they were playing in the lower local ranks of the football echelons, and I remember taking notice of when they thrashed Maltby 8-1 last season in the FA Vase. Their base in Gorton isn't a million miles away from Ashton, so it could be considered to be a local derby. Let's put it this way, it's between Ashton and Belle Vue speedway track and I could hear the bikes going round the Aces' track while the game was going on! Belle Vue beat Wolverhampton 51-39 by the way, not that it relates to this in any way whatsoever. 
 
The game was as one-sided as any I've seen this season, although the score doesn't reflect it. Curzon were one up inside four minutes when the pacey Nigel Evans rounded the defence with ease, and they could have had three inside the first ten minutes but for a goal line clearance and bad finishing. Ashton were playing with three up front, and Abbey Hey could only counter with an offside trap that was aided by the worst linesman in memory. The visitors offered nothing in the way of attack, what they did was snuffed out early by Andy Watson, an excellent defender who bizarrely resembled a certain A. Watson who plays somewhere else! One became two on the half hour when Evans fed Nick Fisher on the break after a spell of Abbey Hey pressure, and ten minutes later the visitors pulled one back from the spot, Carlos Meakin the man converting. The scoring was completed on 64 minutes with the otherwise untroubled keeper David Fish taking the route one approach finding Evans who stabbed home for his second and Curzon's third. The hosts could, and should have scored at least another four goals to give the scoreline the convincing edge they deserved. Overall they look impressive, after this game they sit in seventh but they are way off the pace at the top; my impression of this season's North West Counties standard - nothing to be afraid of, yet.

Jaunt No 7

AFC Barnsley 2 Penistone Church Reserves 0
County Senior League Division Two
Wednesday, 03/09/03

A few years ago the trend was all about resurrecting ex-league clubs that had gone to the wall; Aldershot, Maidstone United, Newport County and I suppose the daddies of them all Bradford Park Avenue and Accrington Stanley. All of them have come back and been trumpeted with more enthusiasm from the fans than their original bankrupt counterparts were lauded. Nowadays the trend seems to be towards fans forming their own club on the back of some dispute with the fat-cat in charge who doesn't share the same vision. The first of these was Enfield, who sold their ground, moved out of the Borough, thus Enfield Town was formed by the "true" supporters. The next was the more famous Wimbledon, linked with a move to Milton Keynes (and more recently to a merger with the mighty and immortal Luton Town by the probably insane and evil John Gurney) the fans revolted and formed AFC Wimbledon with unprecedented success. Now everyone appeared to want to jump on the bandwagon, and people wondered where it would end. Would we have an AFC Leeds United? An AFC Sheffield Wednesday? What about an AFC Sheffield FC? What if the factions at AFC Wombles weren't happy and they splintered to make an AFC AFC Wimbledon? I know it's a bit silly, but that's how trends go. The latest to get bit by the publicity bug were the Barnsley boys. Dispirited by the course of events they describe as "the darkest days in the clubs history" and being insulted by the chairman, they were eventually goaded into forming the regions newest club AFC Barnsley.

They got a good deal of publicity on the formation, I think a lot more than expected due to the success of AFC Wimbledon, and with it I suppose you could say AFC Barnsley Chairman Paul Bestall achieved a bit of celebrity. The formation of the club received mixed reactions from the Barnsley FC fans and not all them were good, after all us Yorkshiremen are a different breed to the Londoners and the club weren't exactly moving out of the region a la Wimbledon, but the lads had made their mind up and after a short while the club was formed. Things seemed to be going swimmingly at first, accepted into the Central Midlands League and a ground lined up in Wombwell, then it went a bit sour. When they announced their ground was to be the Dorothy Hyman Stadium in Cudworth (a ground graced by yours truly in his Rugby League days) the CMFL dropped interest and refused them entry on the grounds of the facilities. Now I don't want to get all political on this but if I can hark back to my Matlock United Jaunt, Matlock were elected with "a feature pitch with a rail round" in the middle of a public park. Anyone who has visited the Dorothy Hyman will tell you the surroundings are top notch, a 400 or so seater stand, bar, food stall you name it, excellent facilities. I must be missing something somewhere, but if the ground was refused on facilities' basis then I don't inhabit the same planet as the ground graders. Undaunted though the ex-Tykes went ahead and joined the County Senior League, which could only be described as a major coup for the league.

There's an unusual professionalism to the club, probably as you'd expect from people who'd spent their time only a few years ago watching the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United down at Oakwell and then nearly getting relegated to the murky depths of the Football League, and you get the feeling this is a big fish in a very little pond. The County Senior League Division Two is as low as you can get without being a park team, and with that you don't expect to pay for entry or get a programme. Well at the Dorothy Hyman you get both; a quid entry and £1.50 (yes, £1.50) for a programme that would be expected to grace the Conference, yet when (apart from County Cup ties) was the last time anyone saw a programme at a County Senior game? It's a mass of contradictions; like the inaugural visitors to this auspicious opening, Penistone Church RESERVES, not even the Penistone first team, yet over 200 paying spectators turn up. With the playing staff and local backing, this season at least I'd be surprised to see them drop a point, and with it take the title. If they stay in the County Senior they'll probably go through it like a hot knife through butter, that's IF they stay at it. As I was saying with the professionalism, there was also a tannoy announcer to read the substitutions and team changes. At the last County Senior game I went to they announced the crowd changes to the players (© Barry Fry, 2001) there were that few people there. The whole experience was one of the new boys trying to impress, they certainly did that, but whether they will be able to get the buy-in of the locals once the novelty has worn off remains to be seen. Also there amongst the 216 paying spectators was Peter Resale, potential saviour of Barnsley FC, sponsoring the man-of-the-match award. Something tells me the animosity between the two parties won't last if big Pete gets his way.

As I said the game drew over 200 spectators, but the atmosphere was a muted one from the off, the only real cheers came when the goals went in. I fully expect the players will become folk heroes soon enough, the Wimbledon boys certainly have, and when they do things will be a lot livelier at the Dorothy Hyman. As it was the game wasn't much of a flowing spectacle either, Penistone sat ten players behind the ball for much of the ninety minutes and with this the play took place almost completely in the visitor's half (causing a stiff neck from craning round the stand supports). AFC took the lead, not unexpectedly, around the half hour mark when Liam Radford hooked the ball over the keepers shoulder. A lot of pressure was taken off the Reds' shoulders and coasted through the rest of the game with comfort, player-manager (and captain) Mark Hancock seemed to be relishing his role dictating the play with a man of the match performance. A second was added early in the second half, Callum Pile driving one home after some good build up play. It could have, and should have been more, but predictably after just two games AFC Barnsley are already above and clear at the top of the table. I think it will be interesting to keep an eye on their progress.

Jaunt No 6

Appleby Frodingham 2 Yorkshire Main 1
Central Midlands Premier Division
Tuesday, 02/09/03

When the CMFL released a press statement towards the end of last season giving the new applicants who had been accepted into the league, I was delighted that Appleby Frodingham were amongst them, for more than one reason. The first is that it gave me the opportunity to visit a club I'd last visited in 1981 when I saw them up against the mighty Boston FC (now Boston Town, I'm reliably informed) and to see how things have changed in twenty-odd years. The second reason, as I might have mentioned in a past jaunt, is that I always kept an eye on their results when I got the Green 'Un every Saturday (them, Kimberley and Skegness), something about the name "Appleby Frodingham" I guess, so with their re-ascension into the football pyramid after years on the sidelines a visit was always going to be on the cards. When I started back up on the Non-League footy malarkey, one of the first things I did was to have a dig on the internet to see what had become of Appleby Frodingham and to find out if they were still at Brumby Hall. What I found was a bit of a downer to be truthful, the transition to the combined Northern Counties East League Premier Division seems to have been a bit too much and like Skegness Town they dropped out into local level football. For the last few years I've followed their progress in the Lincolnshire League, a league that hosts the reserve sides of Lincoln United, Moorlands and so on. They weren't doing very well either, which is why it was a downer really, the last two seasons they've been around the foot of the table, so how would they complete the transition to a higher level of football, especially as they had been joined by some pretty strong outfits from Nottinghamshire.

First off is a bit of a geography lesson, which is probably wasted on some of our band as they've already visited with the under 19s; Appleby Frodingham Athletic Club (to give it the full title) was formed as part of the British Steel Works Sports and Athletics division in Scunthorpe. They play on a large recreational development called Brumby Hall, a place that hosts more sports than I can care to mention. The ground has floodlights, which I always thought was a waste when they were in the Lincolnshire League and it's also a bonus for their progression into this league, and one of the best bars around. It's good in the fact that it overlooks the pitch, a great view to be honest, and when the cold winters come, I suspect it will be more populated than the terrace. The terrace I mention is partly covered by the overhanging bar, thus giving a bit of shelter in case of inclement weather, and a tea bar is situated at one end. Being part of a sports centre, rather than being a dedicated arena, there are no turnstiles, nor would there be in the future given the fact an access road runs behind one goal, so "admission" is by programme only. Since I visited last time, the grounds seem to be bigger, if that could be the case, although as they say "time clouds your memory". Even so, the layout of the ground is fairly unique in the fact the dugouts are set further back than the boundary rails, which means you can have a close-up nosey at what goes on with the team's management teams.

Frod have had a mixed start, winning a nine-goal thriller against one of last season's top sides Thorne Colliery, drawing at Selston (0-0 surprisingly enough) before losing against two of the league's perennial strugglers Kimberley and Yorkshire Main. They had started to get back on the winning track before I visited, and I fully expected them to continue, their visitors being the very same Yorkshire Main. As well as seeing if Appleby Frodingham could gain a measure of revenge against their Doncaster based rivals, it would also give me an opportunity to gauge how (if at all) Main had improved over the close season. Without sounding too condescending (I hope), Main's boss Matt Wynne (ironic surname) always seems to try his damndest to get a result, he's just not "blessed" with the good squad he deserves. The team always seem to be poor; they look poor, and perform likewise whenever I see them. I've never seen them win, or for that matter draw, or for that matter SCORE! They just happen to have been one of the league whipping boys for the last couple of years. Personally, I'd love to see them break that run of luck and win something, and this season could be the start of a turnaround, they went the first four games unbeaten beating Frod as I said in the process. Nevertheless, as the sides emerged from the dressing rooms, you got the feeling there was only going to one team in it, and the home team's attitude reflected the opinion it would be them.

It was a lively game which lived up to the old cliché "a game of two halves" with Frod undoubtedly dominating the first half and Main the second. The home team went in front on five minutes when the giant centre half JACKSON headed home a corner from Markham. Main couldn't get out of their own half for the next half hour and the only surprise was that it took that long for the hosts to get a second, leading scorer MARKHAM had a simple tap-in from an excellent cross by substitute Darren Comberford. If anything Appleby Frodingham were a little too cocky coming out for the second half, despite hitting the visitors' bar twice they were clearly second best and for much of the remainder were running on empty. The home defence were caught flat-footed when Kevin Adcock slipped the ball behind them, BETTS slotting the ball beyond Gavin Chapman. Main kept on plugging at it but were unable to break the rocky defence, even though a draw wouldn't have been undeserved. The final whistle was met with relief from the Brumby Hall mob; they'll probably learn a lesson from this and not take their opposition so lightly in future.

Jaunt No 5

Hall Green United 3 Storthes Hall 1
West Riding Premier Division
Friday, 22/08/03
 
Towards the end of last season I did a couple of trips up the M1, as opposed to the trip Southbound as I normally take in search of football, to take in the sights of the West Riding League title race. As you may remember Silsden pipped Brighouse amidst controversy and accusations of ringer employment which eventually cost the Brighouse boss his job. It was all good footballing entertainment that's for sure, and to keep up to speed with everything at the time I found myself a regular visitor to the WRCAFL website forum, as you'd expect a medium which attracts all manner of arguments between the top clubs' fans and players. It was while I was on here that I found there was another bit of heated rivalry going on between two clubs in the division beneath Silsden and Brighouse, namely Steeton (Silsden's neighbouring village) and Hall Green United. The title run-in in Division One turned out to be even closer than the Premier Division, the margin being a mere two points in the favour of Hall Green, a fact that I was pretty pleased at as HGUFC are one of "my" teams. I say "my" because up until recently I ran a website which gave information on teams within the Sheffield and Hallamshire County Football Association, and Hall Green United are affiliated to that football association and were featured on my website.
 
First off comes the question from most people, "I'm from Sheffield and I've never heard of Hall Green, where is it?" Well the strange answer to that one is Wakefield, or to be more precise Crigglestone a village on the outskirts of Wakey where I suffered the worst rugby tackle in my life. "Why are they in the S+HCFA?" To be honest, I wish I knew, either way they were sat there in the County Handbook and went on my website. Naturally when I started the website I visited all the grounds and was delighted with the place, so much that I decided that I'd go again IF they got in the Premier Division. Well, I watched their progress throughout the last two seasons and was really pleased when they won Division One, so I decided on keeping the little promise I'd made to myself and put Hall Green on the list for this season. What caught me out was when I looked at the fixture list to find they were playing their first couple of home games on a Friday evening, thus not clashing with Sheffield, making my appointment with Hall Green a lot earlier than anticipated. The weather was still on the summery side so I didn't take much self persuasion to get my self in the car and tootles the 25 minutes up the road.
 
What makes Hall Green's success all the more amazing in my eyes is something I touched on briefly earlier, the fact it is in the heart of Rugby League country, Crigglestone All Blacks one of the top amateur RL sides play just a mile up the road. For years I always saw football being a poor second string to Rugby League in the Wakey-Cas-Ponte triangle, and the number of rugby posts you pass is testament to this. The ground at Painthorpe Lane though couldn't be more pleasant, set between Crigglestone Sports Club and a golf course, it is more picturesque than you'd expect on the edge of a Wakefield council estate. The clubhouse too is a bit of an eye-opener, the carpet alone is worth travelling up the M1 to see (not that I advocate visiting carpeted areas, of course) being one of the thickest around, and the bar-staff are amongst the most pleasant around. It's in here where you get your programme, it never ceases to surprise me to see these to be honest at this level, a lovely lady doing the honours selling them behind the bar. I managed to pass the time to kick off with a drink and a read in here, and you get the sense of a good community centre in here with the cosy surroundings, I imagine this probably is the nearest thing to a local in this neck of the woods. The pitch as I said earlier is accessed by walking across the cricket pitch, the game was moved to a Friday for a weekend cricket fixture apparently, and I suppose with the facilities this means the WRCAFL Premier Division is as high as a team like Hall Green will progress to. A lot of back-gardens back onto the cricket pitch, and with the pleasant summer weather the estimated attendance was doubled during the course of the game by locals popping out to see how the locals were doing.
 
The visitors to Painthorpe Lane were Storthes Hall, a bit of a fallen giant in the WRCAFL having dominated the league for a while. They've fallen a bit on hard times success-wise lately, and only escaped the drop last year with a late spurt of form. Based in Huddersfield, they too were a member of the Sheffield and Hallamshire, now though they are affiliated more sensibly to the West Riding. The game was entertaining, and fears of a goal-less week proved unfounded by an impressive second half show by the hosts.
 
Hall Green managed to win this game with two quick goals inside the first ten minutes of the second half. Before that Storthes Hall, despite being short of four or five regular first teamers had more than one opportunity to put the game out of reach by the break. Luke Jessett had FOUR clear cut chances alone, and with better finishing would have had the game buried. Hall Green in response only had a great shot from Callaghan, well blocked by Brook in the Huddersfield team's goal. The first goal came just three minutes into the second half; Mark Johnson lobbed the keeper from 15 yards out however Storthes defender Slack's attempts at a clearance could only hoof it into the top of the net. Hall Green doubled their lead on 55 minutes; Matthew Quinn headed home a bullet from an Andrew Barker corner. With Storthes on the back foot, a long ball caught them on the hop and the pace of Matt Callaghan beat the defence and his shot beat Brook to make it three. Storthes managed a late consolation from Matthew Martin in injury time, but by then the game was cut and dried and Hall Green had their first points of the season.

Jaunt No 4

Matlock United 0 Selston 0
Central Midlands Premier Division
Tuesday, 19/08/03

After the heat and hostility of the APOEL experience it was nice to get back into the swing of the mundane (by comparison) routine of Central Midlands football. To make things interesting, this season the CMFL has allowed a whopping SEVEN new clubs (one of which Punjab United I covered earlier) to be elected into their second level, the Premier Division, bearing in mind there are only twenty clubs in the league, and one of them was relegated from the Supreme Division, you can't say the clubs in that division don't get any variety from season to season. With the weather being relatively pleasant, I choose to amble the 30 minutes or so down the road to see one of these newcomers at Cavendish Park, home to the other MUFC, Matlock United.

Matlock is a name synonymous with local non-league circles, the Gladiators of the Town club have been plying their trade as one of Derbyshire's finest non-league clubs for years, but until recently Matlock UNITED were a fairly new entity to me. I first became aware of their existence about two years ago, purely by chance as well, when reading a Teversal programme at the beginning of this particular season. Sure enough in the fixture list, in the pre-season friendlies, I found Tevie had beaten Matlock United 2-0 away, and being a little intrigued a did a bit of a dig about to find out who they were and where they played. Well information like that is a bit hard to find if you don't know where you are looking, although if you wanted to find Matlock United Reformed Methodist Church then Google gets it every time, so I had to wait until this season's CMFL handbook hit the mat to get all the details I wanted.

United it seems were previously members of the Midlands Regional Alliance, a league I have little or no experience in (one  scoreless game between Borrowash and Swanwick to be accurate), apparently they performed pretty well for the last couple of seasons and decided to get a little ambitious and give it a proper good go. Towards the end of last season the Central Midlands board accepted their application to join, subject to minor ground improvements of course, and so this season they made a fanfare into the league with three straight wins scoring ten goals to boot. It was this start, coupled with the lack of floodlights and prior knowledge of what Matlock is like in February that made the trip so tempting, and having been off the plane no more than 24 hours earlier a long trip wasn't going to be on the cards. The ground wasn't to hard to find either, I say this despite the directions in the handbook which would have tripled my journey time, being located just a short way off the main Chesterfield to Matlock road.

When I got there it was a little confusing as to which game was the one I was supposed to be visiting, the reason being that Cavendish Park is exactly that - a park! Scenic as it may be, the ground consists of three or four pitches with one being a feature pitch with a rail round, and with THREE games going on it was a little baffling how they got elected to the league. What improvements had they made? What was it like before? I have my reasons for asking this, which I will elaborate on in a later article I'm sure, either way they were elected and a Central Midlands Premier League game was going to take place.

Despite the surroundings the hospitality was great, outstanding even, with the tea ladies and club secretary some of the friendliest people I've met. Whether they will be like that in November when the novelty wears off I don't know, but tonight they were pushing the boat out. I arrived a good 30 minutes before kick-off to find they'd sold out of programmes, no worries though it'd happened at their previous three home games too, a bit of a bad time for the programme editor as his missus had just given birth, and they had a plan in place. They'd post one on if I left my address, which I did. Sure enough the thing was waiting on my doormat three days later, well done!

So, onto the game, this is what I was there for. Their visitors this evening were Selston, a club I covered last season and one I have a tradition of seeing with very few goals (one goal in about five if I remember rightly); they too were undefeated but having drawn their first two I half expected them to be a bit of cannon fodder for the proceedings. Well I was wrong, and yet again the Selston-Jamesie tradition carries on with a lively nil-nil draw. Despite Matlock plugging away for the entire ninety minutes, the nearest they came was when the Selston number three Bainbridge sliced the ball onto his own crossbar.  The game wasn't really one of the best, and not a lot can be said on the subject and the less said the better, but a draw was a little hard on the hosts who gave some real hard work on the evening.

Matlock look a good team, and look a bet for being in the top two or three come the end of the season, whether they get promotion or not due to the ground standards is open to speculation.

Jaunt No 3

APOEL Nicosia 2 Derry City 1
UEFA Cup Qualifying Round
Thursday, 14/08/03

You may or not be aware of this fact, but the Football Association of Ireland decided for one reason or another to transform their football season from a winter one to a summer one. Plenty of the groundhopper fraternity picked up on this little nugget and have been wending their way over the Irish Sea to get their regular fix of the football narcotic they crave, giving them a possible year-round season. Now I don't think I'm that bad to be honest, but when I found that Derry City from the FAI would be playing a game near to where I was holidaying, it was a prospect not to be missed. Not that I was holidaying in Ireland, no the Jameses were taking a sunshine break in sunny Cyprus, and the Derry boys were playing just up the road at the Cypriot National Stadium, away in the UEFA Cup to APOEL Nicosia.

Before this came up in my diary I knew pretty much nothing about Cypriot football, and for that matter Irish football, apart from I vaguely remember being dragged off to Dunfermline to see the very same APOEL when I was a nipper. So, a great deal of research had to be done to get some idea of what I was letting myself (and for once a reluctant wife and ever eager "mini-me" in for Liam) in for, and that meant being a daily visitor to the respective websites of APOEL and Derry City. As Derry were due to be playing Barcelona (yes the same Barça who WE have ties with) less than 48 hours before the tie, their attentions were naturally elsewhere. APOEL on the other hand didn't seem to give the game any priority whatsoever, a mention of "oh, by the way, we've got Derry City in the UEFA Cup, if you're interested" was the nearest hint of information of the game. With flight time getting nearer and nearer and no idea of how to get tickets, it was time to start sending a flurry of e-mails to the sunny isle. A Cypriot contact I'd made over time, Takis (short for Christakis Ioannou but I can't say it) tried but couldn't give me any info and the club fan forums were absolutely useless, although I got to find out some fascinating stuff about both teams and their backgrounds. In the end the APOEL website replied the morning of our flight with the following mysterious message "You may obtain your tickets from APOEL head offices, next to Kenny Rogers, Nicosia". Okay fine, that's easy all I have to do is hire a car, drive to Nicosia and find the big bearded Country and Western singer busking and nip next door, good I think I could manage that. Cases packed, off to East Midlands Airport and away to Cyprus.

I won't do the boring thing about the holiday, needless to say it was swim-sun-swim-sun etc, but I will waffle a bit about Cyprus, and in general Nicosia. It's common knowledge that Cyprus is a divided island, the Turkish invasion of 1974 is still a focal political point (and who would be surprised) and you tend to get reminded at just about every corner especially in the football. The Turks occupy the Northern 38% of the Island, separated by the "Green Line" and they forcibly repatriated Cypriot First Division teams like Doxa Katokopias, Ethnikos Achnas, NEA Salamina and the famous Anorthosis Famagusta to become refugees in the South of the island. The Green Line runs smack through Nicosia, making it the last divided national capital in the world, and the most visited landmark in the city is probably the NATO lookout post where you can look into no-mans-land and see sights reminiscent of Beirut. One sight that can be seen from miles around, especially on the drive into the city on the A1 motorway, is a Turkish TRNC flag carved into the side of the Pentadaktylos Mountains, large enough to be considered a "two-fingers up" at the inhabitants of Greek Nicosia. It was shortly after this seeing this sight that I saw the most important sight of the day, looming up on the left hand side four floodlights and a massive grandstand with the initials GSP (in Greek) spelt out in white on the blue seats. If anyone feels inspired to visit Cyprus for a football match, you need a car simple as that, basically because the bus system to the capital is a little haphazard and taxis are just so expensive, and if you were to visit a game in Larnaca, Limassol or Paphos from the relative closeness of your apartment, walking is out of the question due to the damned heat. So, as you'd expect a car was hired, air-conditioning on full, and off we sped to find good old Kenny.

Before I landed in Cyprus I found out a few "key" facts; first, the game was being played the day before a bank holiday, so I was reliably informed the crowd would be lucky to touch 2,000 as everyone would be heading OUT of Nicosia to the cooler coast (seeing as the temperature at the coast was in excess of 40°, god knows what Nicosia would be like). The second fact was that APOEL's last game at Anorthosis Famagusta, a pre-season testimonial for a long standing Anorthosis player, was abandoned after an hour's play after the APOEL fans rioted, invaded the pitch and attacked the Cypriot national team skipper Nicos Panayotou (imagine that happening to Beckham?). Finally to contradict the first fact I was told there would be over 10,000 rabid APOEL fans baying for foreign blood on Thursday. Armed with this array of trivia firmly ensconced in my noggin, we headed the hour's drive from the east coast up into Nicosia, yours truly panicking a little now, searching for our Kenny who was bound to be strumming "Coward of the County" when I popped along looking for the club offices. It turns out "Kenny Rogers" is a fast food restaurant, how silly of me, and the club offices are sure enough around the back of this. Inside it was quite busy, but far from as professional as you'd expect for one the Nation's premier sides. It doubled as the lowest stocked souvenir shop in the world, with a few token orange tee-shirts for sale, and with that comes a story. The facade of the offices were emblazoned with a sign saying "Orange Shop", and seeing as the club colours are yellow and blue, orange appeared to be an odd choice of fan wear. It turns out that this dates back to 1992 and the formation of the supporters club, the members of whom wanted to be distinguishable from the yellow and blue in the stands, they chose orange, clear as mud really. Anyway, I bought two adult tickets at £10.00CYP (about £12.00 each) and a child's at £0.50CYP (about 60p) from the very nice lady, who obviously knew we were foreigners, had a check we were to go through gate 22.

I mentioned earlier that we passed the GSP Stadium on the motorway in a southern suburb called Strovolos, when we actually tried to get to it was a right old farce. A turn off the motorway, following the signs for the ground took us up through a mini Meadowhall (Orphanides Centre) through an industrial estate and eventually to the car parks five minutes later. When we arrived, and then parked in the ample sized car park, I noticed the graffiti on the walls "APOEL Ultras. Gate 22 Pirates", wooo! This is the bit where I start questioning the point of the whole experience, tickets for "Gate 22", standing amongst mad rioting Cypriots, excellent Jamesie, way to go! A little lap of the ground and the Derry fans have arrived, so I take the chance to check their tickets, yep, North Stand gates 1 to 4, lovely. The very nice lady had gone and stuck us right in the middle of the hardcore APOEL fans, top stuff, and here's me wandering round in a red and black SFC shirt looking very English, and Liam in his new Sheffield United away shirt. A bit nervously, the three of us (well me anyway, Liam couldn't see what the fuss was about, football's football isn't it?) approached the said gate, only to be stopped by half a dozen stewards. "Are you English?" "Yes" "You supporting Derby City?" "You mean Derry?" "England?" "Yes, I just told your mate" "Cyprus only, you other end". Saved! So off we trotted round the other end, being glared at by Eastern Mediterranean types in orange tee-shirts, to see if we could get in gates 1 to 4. The other end was stewarded by one man and about ten policemen (looking bored with the whole thing) the steward took one look at the tickets, looked at me, smiled and said "Got tickets for the wrong end, did yer?" in a very broad IRISH accent, then waved us through. Inside there were more police, all armed naturally, the youngest of them deciding to frisk me (nice) taking more than a little interest in fondling my trainers ("Yep, that's where my lethal weapons are kept, Officer") then telling us to empty a 2 litre bottle of water before entering the stand. Now seeing as it was touching 40°, the water was a lifeline, so we managed to drink the whole lot in his presence not wanting to offend the locals by carrying a volatile weapon into the ground.

Having got the worry of the whole day out of the business, it was time to take our places amidst the Irish hordes and enjoy the day. The GSP holds about 27,000 and is a pretty impressive complex, split into three parts, the main stadium, a 5,000 capacity athletics stadium and training track, all very modern and space-agey, and with a twelve foot moat surrounding the pitch, little chance of a repeat of the previous week (or for that matter Encroaching). As I said, we were at the North Stand, one of the three that were without a roof, not that it rains here, to shelter you from the sun. Luckily the 7.30 pm kick-off time ensured we wouldn't have to suffer too much. At the opposite end were massed the APOEL supporters, everyone to a man wearing orange, and having being privy to Cypriot waiter's arm-pit odour for most of the week's mealtimes I'm glad we were as far away as possible. Being fair, the boys in orange made an impressive sight, bouncing in unison and (don't laugh) the best display of synchronised clapping I have seen. The noise they made BEFORE the game was louder than any I'd heard from a home crowd in many a year watching Luton (remember, that includes every team in Yorkshire folks) and they continued in the same vein throughout the ninety minutes, only pausing to get louder when they scored. They certainly proved that old adage of being the "Twelfth Player", and even put enough pressure on the Ukrainian referee, who was more feeble than many I have seen at Northern Counties Level, to sway decisions APOEL's way. But given the fervent supporters who would claim they'd die for their club, the lack of souvenirs at the place was lamentable, whether it was the Bank Holiday or what I don't know, but there wasn't a bean on sale and I wanted stuff! Even the programme summed it up; anyone remember the season Sheffield United and Wednesday were in the third division? Anyone visit the delights of Blackpool etc, where the programme was a newspaper? No? Well, APOEL, among others like Omonia and Olympiakos, chose this as their matchday medium, others don't even bother. In England we have people get hot under the collar at the prospect of not getting one at a park game (no digs intended at anyone, I see enough of these on the jaunts), over here it's accepted as the norm. My darling wife thinks it's a great idea, can't remember why she thinks this, I just hope it doesn't catch on again in England. Oh, and it was all in Greek too, nice to read.

What about the Irish then? Well, Derry numbers were boosted by a fair old number of ex-pats and tourists, in fact you could gauge who was who by leg colour. Let me explain; 99% of people in the North Stand were in shorts, it was 40° plus after all, the ex-pats were the darkest (a mention to the lads at Bhoys Bar in Agia Napa who made us welcome in the ground), tourists freshly tanned, and those fresh from the Barça game as white as lilies. They had plenty of flags too, so at least we felt at home, but to be truthful the lot of us couldn't have numbered more than 200 combined. Try as they might to make some noise, the Derry boys were drowned out by the jungle drums and chanting up the other end. They were onto a hiding on the pitch too, APOEL were so clear favourites, the bookies in Nicosia were giving a three goal handicap. When the game got going the bookies looked to have been proven right as the Cypriots pounded the Irish backline like no-ones business. The APOEL number 10, Kostakis Malekkos was running the show (and the referee) with some devastating runs, only spoiling his display by going down every five seconds as if a sniper had hit him. He set the scoreboard ticking with a quickly taken free-kick which was volleyed home superbly by striker Wojciech Kowalczyk into Neil Bennett's left-hand corner. This sparked wild scenes at the other end with flares and fireworks raining down onto the pitch, and they said my bottle of water was dangerous? Derry, for all their worth scrambled everything they could away and even had the audacity to draw level when Gary Beckett punished some slack defending a minute before half time, their first away goal in Europe since 1965 (apparently). It wasn't long after the break that APOEL regained the lead Stelios Okkarides headed home a Chrysostomos Michael cross from about two yards leaving Bennett no chance, and that was it as far as scoring went. APOEL huffed and puffed, but seemed to lack creativity to stretch the scoreline, Derry seemed to have done what they came to do, mission accomplished and a bloody entertaining game to boot.

After the game it was straight into the car-park, I'd expected to be kept inside for safety, and straight into a daft 2,000 cars into one narrow lane scenario. Oh, what fun and I complained at Clitheroe, this was hysterical. To the police's credit, they had us out and onto the A1 inside fifteen minutes; apparently it used to be worse. After the game both sets of fans mingled without incident, both seemed in good spirits with the result. Me? I wouldn't have missed this for the world and Liam's still walking round singing APOEL songs now. And there was me worrying about riots and stuff, what was I thinking?

Jaunt No 2

Punjab United 3 Ollerton Town 2
Central Midlands League Premier Division
Saturday. 09/08/03
 
Well it's holiday season for me now, and it's reflected as much in my latest set of Jaunts. Today I'm visiting the home of Punjab United and as you can imagine the heat is absolutely blistering, typical Indian weather you might say. The pitch is brown and rough looking and drink breaks are bound to be at a premium, seeing as the temperature gauge is now tipping 35°C and it looks as though both sets of players will have to be at their best to keep up a decent pace. Well, for those of you who don't know, Punjab is a region in North West India bordering with Pakistan with its main cities being Amritsar, Jalandhar and Chandigarh. The place I'm at is a little village called Shardlow, ten minutes drive from East Midlands Airport and it's where Central Midlands League Premier Division new-boys Punjab United are starting their league campaign against Ollerton Town.
 
I must confess this isn't the first time I've seen this Punjab team, the first game of the 2001/02 season I went to see CMFL founder members Shardlow St James play at Dinnington in their final season, only to find the team in it's entirety were training in "Punjab United" tops. Turns out that the St James' manager Trevor Hammond and his team had packed their bags and bogged off to pastures new (Blackwell Miners Welfare, I think) and in order to field a side these boys were only too willing to fill their boots. Anyway, it was something like that and Dinno turned them over comfortably 5-0. Apparently they wanted to drop the Shardlow name and revert to the Punjab United title last season; the league however wouldn't let them. So after a year's hiatus they successfully applied for League membership under the new title and were accepted, their first game "officially" is today against Ollerton, which is why I am here today along with a dozen or so likewise souls and the League Chairman, Mr Frank Harwood.
 
Shardlow is as south in Derbyshire as you'll get, which probably makes Punjab United the most southerly team in the league, which accounts for the weather I suppose (or maybe not), a couple of hundred yards out of the village and you're in Leicestershire. It's a picturesque little village too, or at least it is at this time of year, with the focal point of the village being the wharf, which is also the name of the football ground. Lined up, one after another, are dozens of barges (canal variety, not the onion type) and there are several pubs along here and by the marina doing a roaring trade with people trying to cool down in one way or another. The ground is set behind the Village Hall, and as basic as you'll get with no cover or proper shelter if it rains, but still has a certain countryside charm about it. The changing hut lasts a reminder of its old tenant, bearing as it does the name of Shardlow St James above it, however the team that resides here is definitely as far adrift as you'll get from this quaint old English backdrop. Kitted out in an old Derby County strip, (with a couple of number 2's, a couple of 4's, a number 17 starting and so on) the side is a mix of mainly Asians with a couple of black players. The whole set up seems to be held together by a charming bloke called Doug Wilson, who was only too willing to play the genial host over the whole of the proceedings. When we got there he was getting some lovely words of advice from Mr Harwood, basically around charging MONEY for admission and the programmes that were being bandied around free of charge. I suppose a bit of guilt took a hold as a couple of us volunteered a quid each to boost the club funds.
 
The team was founded way back in 1966, so they've been around as long as I have, from members of the local Asian community around Derby. 37 years on and they are purported to be the best Asian football team in England, reportedly better than GAD Khalsa, (also of Derby, who found the going too tough and left the CMFL at the end of last season) Sporting Bengal United, (from Kent League) London APSA (from Essex Senior League) and Sikh Hunters (from the West Midlands). At this level though, I think they'll be hard pushed to make an impact and there are some hard cookies to crack who are also making their Central Midlands bow this season, not least FA Vase heroes of the past Rainworth. Their visitors Ollerton on the other hand have a more "traditional" background more in touch with the history of Central Midlands football. They play at a typical Miners Welfare set up in Nottinghamshire, and have been playing at this level a while longer, finishing sixth last season, eleventh consecutively the two seasons prior to this. They've also drafted in some experienced quality players for the new season, and are one of the dark horses for the season ahead. It could have been a tougher baptism for the newcomers, although not much tougher, but they gave a damn good showing either way, overcoming some spicy obstacles.
 
After a cagey start Ollerton took the lead in the 35th minute with a goal straight out of the "route one catalogue"; Lee Jordan's long clearance found the Punjabi defence flat-footed and SHAW was left with a simple tap in. Five minutes later and the hosts were level after one of the solo goals of the season (I know it's the first day of the season, but hey) with DAN-BEREH weaving a path through the Ollerton defence to poke past Jordan.
 
Ollerton regained the lead five minutes after the break after CHAMBERS half hit a shot that squirmed under Gurminder Avjla to make it 2-1. Despite the wilting heat both teams battled at it, both committed to some strong challenges. Punjab were level again in the 67th minute, once more with a challenger for goal of the season, SARNJIT SANGHERA hitting over Jordan from well over 40 yards (yes, forty) with a perfectly weighted lob. The heat started to get the better of both teams and tempers started to get a bit frayed with both sets of players' tackling looking very tired. With five minutes to go, Gursharan Shahi went a little over the top with a harsh and unnecessary trip on an Ollerton player, leaving Punjab to play out the remaining minutes with ten players. Punjab managed to steal it though in the dying seconds with Zaki Dan-Bereh hassling three defenders, Adam Jones handled the ball in desperation. DAN-BEREH  stepped up to the penalty spot and stroked home his second to make the final score 3-2.
 
So, against the odds Punjab United start their Central Midlands campaign with a nice three points in the bag. Maybe they'll raise a few eyebrows along the way.

Jaunt No 1 Season 2003-2004

Frecheville Community 0 Sheffield United 9
Pre-Season Friendly
Tuesday, 15/07/03

Its amazing how the close season passes so quickly, isn't it? I mean, it only seems two minutes ago and put my pen down in Silsden and said Thank God that's done for another season. It was in fact eight and a half weeks ago, and tonight sees my first Jaunt (as such) of the new season. I did, of course, go to my first game of the season on Saturday, to see Dinnington draw 1-1 with a Sheffield Wednesday pups team, but tonight is the one where I finally pick up my trusty pen and start again. Where have I chosen to start my 2003-2004 season Jaunts? Silkstone Road, home of Frecheville Community Football Club, that's where!

Okay, I'll start and be honest, Frecheville is the one of the closest grounds to my house, in the southern suburbs of Sheffield, and I can walk there in about 10 minutes, which I chose not to do tonight for obvious reasons (mainly heat related), so it isn't exactly a big Jaunt. I had a tendency a few seasons ago to take in the first half of the 2.00 pm kick off games there, before heading off to the Coach and Horses to see Sheffield, I even played some schools cup finals there some years ago too. So why would I chose to write about a team I've seen about twenty times, or a ground I've visited twice that number? Well the answer is simple, local near-miss team Sheffield United's first-team squad are opening their pre-season schedule off at this very place, and it is the biggest game in Frecheville's history.

Now everyone knows about Sheffield United, but not many can remember how good Frecheville actually were. Whilst I was at school, the team were in the Yorkshire League first division for the majority of the time, they were runners-up as I remember one of the seasons I played there as a kid and they got to the quarter final of the FA Vase once as well. I suppose things went a bit astray for them when the Northern Counties East League was formed, the facilities were never going to be able to meet the criteria that were set for them (and others) and subsequently they resigned from the league in 1990. Since then they have played in the Sheffield County Senior League, not performing too badly it has to be said, however the season before last they found themselves relegated to the second rung in this ladder.

Personally, I'm not too keen on this pre-season friendly lark, I think its the lack of any meaning in the games. I went to a few last season, but none really stood out as being entertaining games. So this year I'm making a point of going to the ones that matter in some way. As I said, this is probably one of the biggest games in Frecheville's history, that's why its in my diary, but why is the Sheffield United FIRST-TEAM here? Well, to be honest I'm not sure; I guess its one of those nice easy starts to the season most managers want for their team, last season I saw them at Baslow, accompanied by my tax-paying-ex-tax-dodging-friend-from-north-of-the-border, where they had a 14-1 canter. It was a meaningless exercise in some peoples eyes, but over 2,000 people turned up to watch the event on a nice evening in Derbyshire. It might also have something to do that Neil Warnock is from Frecheville. Its for charity too, the Motor Neurone Disease benefiting apparently, but I would reckon that any team that hosts such a fixture wont have to worry about kit costs for a while with their share of the takings and their profile gets raised for a short period.

So, on a HOT evening (30°C), I persuaded my wife to run myself and my son Liam (self proclaimed Dinnington fan) the two minutes up the road to avoid the almost inevitable calamitous parking situation. A shrewd move, I must say as the roads were jammed to say the least. The fifteen parking spaces were filled dramatically early I imagine, and at 6.20 pm the ground is already twenty times more populated than I've ever seen it. By 6.45 pm; Erm well you can imagine the scene. Swelled by the local mass of Sheffield United fans and clutch of groundhoppers hoping to get a programme from this obscure little ground, I can only guess the crowd is in excess of the number at Baslow. The ground at Frecheville for those who have never been is in the main a cricket pitch, with the football pitch down the bank over to the left. A covered shed-end standing area, holds about 100 people, the rest of the ground is just a grassy area with a pole barrier; everyone struggling to gain a decent view of the game.

The result of such a fixture is never in doubt, being fair I don't think Frecheville had anything to lose, so the question was always going to be how many would the Blades win by? After all, there are TWELVE leagues (and if United had been promoted to the Premiership, it would have been thirteen) between the two sides, so nine-nil was by no means a disgrace. It could have been more, if it wasn't for poor finishing, the cross-bar and some inspired keeping. The main thing out of this game was the PR exercise, a bit of a carnival atmosphere, and a chance for the fans to meet their heroes close up. Neil Warnock said before the game he wanted to see Silkstone Road full, he got his wish that's for sure. One final certainty though, the Frecheville team wont forget this match in a hurry.

Jaunt No 23 The Final Jaunt Of 2002-2003

Silsden 0 Otley Town 0
West Riding County Amateur League Premier Division
Saturday, 10/05/03

Im not sure Ill ever be able to understand Groundhoppers. I know that sounds a bit strange, but let me explain. At the end of January I ventured to Loughborough Dynamo for a Jaunt, for the record it was my 63rd game of the season which I thought was quite amazing. In the bar before the game, I overheard a particular bunch of Groundhoppers in the depths of conversation. One was pretty ebullient at reaching his 100th game for the season, IN JANUARY! Another was planning HIS 100th on the Saturday after to see Coalville playing at Thurnby, at the start of February. And there was me, Mr Lightweight in comparison to these die-hards thinking Id been to a lot of games. How do they do it? Id been to three games a week to that point, although my wife would swear it was more. How do they afford it? I have a well paid full time job, AND I get to pick and choose my working hours to suit. It baffled me for a while, and then I thought What of it? and got on with my pitiful Jaunting. So anyway, what brought this rant on? Ill tell you; on May 10th I attended MY 100th game of the season (I repeat in May, NOT January), and wearily the last.
 
If you remember my previous Jaunt was at Brighouse for a big game against Silsden, a game that had effectively decided the course of the West Riding County Amateur League. Whilst I was at Brighouse, I got chatting to an old fella from Silsden, quite a wily old sage who told me a potted history of the Cobbydalesmen (what a name, stick to Silsden) and also a little nugget about their final game. Next season they are off to ground-share three miles down the road at Cougar Park, Keighley and their following game would be the last at their old stamping ground at Keighley Road in the village. Silsden needed a point to win the league, and they were up against Otley Town who were at the bottom of the table, quite coincidentally needing a point to survive. With the final game landmark in mind, and the fact there could be two fates settled in an afternoon I decided to take the trek up north to Bronte Country.

For those who have ever travelled to Keighley from the south, youll be aware that its plain flying as far as Bradford then you stop, and travel v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y up through Saltaire, Shipley and Bingley on the A650. Dont get me wrong, its a pleasant drive but Im strictly an A to B driver who likes to get there as quick as possible. Once you get to Keighley, simply go through the town towards Skipton for three miles and at the first roundabout turn right towards Silsden. On your left is the ground, and there isnt any parking! You can park in here if you want, but if anyone hits a six and puts your window through dont complain said a strange man dressed all in white. Hang on; the sign said Silsden CRICKET Club!  So its an embarrassing Is this where the football is? moment. Fortunately it was, and like so many clubs in our area they share the premises with the local cricket team. Normally these teams play on separate days, not here the two games were playing simultaneously, with some funny moments to boot.
 
Let me try to paint the picture of the Silsden ground for you. Like many of the grounds in this league there arent any floodlights, probably the reason for the ground move along with the lack of an enclosing wall. One difference was the antique wooden stand with seats, something very hard to come by in this area, at the back of which was a little gap to see onto the cricket pitch. Around the pitch was a rail, but no hard standing which is a mare in the wet, entrance was £1.00, by programme and there was no sneaking in without one as members of the local youth hit squad were searching out members of the public without one, and that sums it up. Apart from the fact it is set in the most picturesque scenery you can imagine, hills to the left, right, front and behind of you make it a very pleasant place to visit in summer. The cricket team as you may surmise from the signposts are the landlords in this arrangement, and they also have a cosy little bar that serves your usual beverages. The team that was playing the cricket was the second XI, their visitors were Menston (whoever they are, not that we care) who beat them.
 
As you may also guess the football game was a bit of a damp squib, 0-0 both teams getting what they wanted a point to achieve their objectives. Probably the similar objectives kept the attendance down, as people can be suspicious in these circumstances. Contrary to what people may think, it was not a result of convenience, put simply Silsden were poor and Otley were desperate. Nil-nil was the most likely outcome, even though both teams had a goal disallowed and Otley had a penalty saved. It was the penalty save that was the most significant thing about the game, not because it would have denied Silsden the point as in the end they didnt need it, but due to the little matter of being the first team to remain unbeaten for a season in the league since 1955. For the last ten minutes Otley threw every man behind the ball and hoofed it 150 yards every time it came near a defender, which was funny because more often than not the ball landed in the cricket square! Imagine it at Lords, Darren Gough running up to deliver a 80mph ball at Brian Lara only to be put off by a football landing in mid run-up. Well okay, that wouldnt happen there but it did at Silsden, and frequently and the cricketers were getting quite fed up of it. And that was the highlight of the game for me, that and seeing all 22 players cheer in relief at the full time whistle, obviously glad it was all over. And to be honest, after 100 games from Brading to Blyth, 364 goals (and NO sixes) Ive got to say I was too.

Jaunt No 22

Brighouse Town 0 Silsden 1
West Riding County Amateur League Premier Division
Wednesday, 07/05/03
 
When you get to May each year, the fixture list seems to be pouring with Cup Finals and the like. This year with my two main Non-League teams (Sheffield and Dinnington Town for those who didnt already know) being in their respective League Cup finals, I decided to give the whole final thing a miss. It tends to get a bit much anyway at this time of the year anyway, but this season its a bit TOO much, so about two weeks ago I started searching for good fixtures that could have a little more than teams playing their seasons out. So, imagine you are one week away from the end of the season, at the top of the league you have two teams, both have played the same number of games (two left) and both have won the same number. On top of this they have drawn the same number of games AND are both UNBEATEN! Talk about tight, only three goals separate them at the top of the league, and guess what? The two teams were playing each other the day after Sheffields League Cup Final date at Brigg. Who were the two teams? Celtic and Glasgow Rangers? No, try Brighouse Town and Silsden of the West Riding County Amateur Premier Division, and a big crowd were expected. Okay, who laughed at the last bit? A big crowd in a game no bigger than parks football, well nearly 300 people turned out on a windy night to get a glimpse of the titans in action.

So, where is Brighouse? Well, the ground is just off the A644 Huddersfield to Keighley road, just behind the Dusty Miller pub, and just off a nasty bend on a country lane, blink and youll miss it! And it is surprisingly close to Sheffield, less than an hour. When you ask people if theyve been to Brighouse whove actually been, they often reply Yes, I saw Halifax (or Huddersfield) play there pre-season. I tend to make a trip to St Giles Road every season, generally in May, but very seldom to see Brighouse Town themselves. Normally at this time of the year the League tends to host its League Cup finals at their ground, as well as at Littletown and Altofts, but this year as Id said earlier Im not doing the finals routine this year. So it was as good a time as any to go and watch the team that lives there in action. The one thing about the West Riding County Amateur League is there is no requirement to take a gate or produce a programme, probably as most of the clubs in the league play on glorified recreation grounds. Brighouse are no different to many of the other teams, apart from the fact of the programme. Costing £1.00, it is a pretty good read and is also a way of taking a gate when there are no natural boundaries to the ground.

They obviously try hard at Brighouse, they've won the League title the last two seasons, but off the field they also endeavour to give a bit of the creature comforts of grounds in the higher echelons. The ground is floodlit, an oddity in this league, and wouldnt be out of place amongst the Central Midlands grounds further south. Along one side is an elevated terrace, with concrete steps, elsewhere though around the ground it is the primitive standing on the grass routine. Car parking is also at a bit of a premium, never more-so than at the biggest game of the season; I parked my car on the second team pitch, others parked on the narrow lane outside the park which made a nightmare getting out on the way home. They also want to win, and badly so. For the visit of Silsden, they employed a ringer which caused a bit of an uproar amongst the Silsden contingent. The man in question was a Brad Willis, who in reality was Mark Wilson of Wakefield and Emley of the UniBond League, a bit naughty wouldnt you agree?

As for the visitors, Silsden are a bit of an upcoming force in the League and are the team Most Likely to Progress to bigger things. In other words to the Northern Counties East League, or whatever guise it is in next season, as they are planning to ground-share with Keighley Cougars Rugby League team two miles down the road at the exotically named Cougar Park, or as it was called for the 75 years prior, Lawkholme Lane. More about them and their ambitions later, and on to the game in question. The cold hard facts were that Brighouse had to win to have any chance of winning the title, all Silsden really needed was a draw, as their last game of the season was at home to bottom of the table Otley Town AND they had a three goal cushion in the goal difference column. Another bone of controversy that added needle to the contest was the fact that Brighouse had a game abandoned in the 67th minute in February at home to Hemsworth, a game they were losing 2-0. The league ruled (after an appeal by Brighouse) the game should be replayed, the Saturday AFTER this game, thus giving Brighouse a lifeline. As I said it couldnt have been tighter, that was the pulling power that drew the big crowd, and like it or not, it also gave the closure that comes with a Cup Final.

The wind played a massive part in the game, with this in their favour and coupled with home advantage; Brighouse tore into Silsden and were the better of the two sides. Up front leading goalscorer Shaun Walsh was doing his utmost to break the deadlock, but missed some pretty glaring opportunities. Emley man Wilson was making his impact on the game with his kamikaze approach to midfield football, this despite the goading of the very large Silsden following. In the end the contest was settled by a 20-yard thumper of a shot from Gavin Finn on the hour, who returned a half-clearance into the roof of the net to give Silsden all three points. What this means is that barring a miracle the title goes to Silsden for the first time since 1971/72, the only previous time they won it. What does that miracle look like? Well, Silsden need to lose at home to Otley and Brighouse need to beat Hemsworth by two or more clear goals. Seeing as Otley only need a point to survive, the same as Silsden, a draw would be a nicely contrived result. Somehow looking at Silsden I cant see that happening. Winning the title in front of your own fans, after winning handsomely seems to be the way the script is written.