Hardwicke v Stonehouse Town

2.30pm  25 September 2016

Stroud and District Charity Cup, First Round
Hardwicke 0 Stonehouse Town 3 (att 64)

Newly-promoted Stonehouse have made a strong start in the Gloucestershire County League, and they had few problems seeing off fellow county leaguers Hardwicke in this local cup tie.

The Stroud Charity Cup - actually several cups for teams at different levels - is a good source of Sunday matches, and it was an ideal opportunity for me to visit Green Lane in Hardwicke, just south of Gloucester.

The ground is behind the village hall, and consists of a pitch enclosed by a plastic post and rail barrier, which is presumably removed during the close season, or even between matches. There's a pair of permanent dugouts on the far side, with houses beyond.

The Royal British Legion club sponsors Hardwicke AFC, and its social club is behind the goal, providing a source of alcoholic refreshment for some spectators during the match.

In truth it wasn't the most gripping 90 minutes of football I've seen. Two goals in the final five minutes gave Stonehouse a comfortable winning margin, but if they'd not scored those then their 11th minute opener always looked enough to win against a disappointing home side.








Swarthmoor Social v Hurst Green reserves

3pm  24 September 2016

West Lancashire League, Division Two
Swarthmoor Social 2 Hurst Green reserves 1 (att 16)

To be honest this wasn't a fixture that filled me with anticipation. I was a little disappointed when the West Lancashire League's third tier was diluted by reserve sides, and neither Swarthmoor nor Hurst Green's second string had made great starts to the season.

But a visit to Park Road fitted in well following the morning's game at Myerscough, and Swarthmoor was the final venue I needed to recomplete the full set of West Lancashire League grounds.

Swarthmoor is a small village just beyond the outskirts of Ulverston, and the club's Park Road ground is a good one for this level. The pitch looks fantastic, and is enclosed by a rail, with dugouts and advertising boards.

On the pitch it wasn't a bad game to watch, even if the quality was a little lacking at times. All the goals came in the first half, the home side went ahead a little against the run of play I thought, and it was no surprise when Hurst Green equalised.

Swarthmoor's second goal proved decisive, but the sides were evenly-matched and a goal for either team always looked likely during an entertaining second half.











Blackpool U18 v Bury U18

11am  24 September 2016

EFL Youth Alliance, North West
Blackpool U18 1 Bury U18 0 (att 60)

My seemingly never-ending quest to watch a game at every professional youth team venue took me to Myerscough College, not far from Garstang in Lancashire.

In two previous visits to the college I've watched Catforth Summer League football, but Blackpool's youngsters have moved in this season and play on a pitch that's in a different part of the campus to the ones I 'ticked' previously.

Typically for a Youth Alliance venue, one side of the pitch was roped off as the designated area for spectators. A handful of scouts were restricted to a corner, away from others watching the game.

I imagine the scouts saw plenty that interested them, as both sides played some good football and had some promising players. Had a I been a scout I'd have been taking notes on Bury's keeper, he had a fantastic game, making a series of excellent saves to keep the home side at bay until well into the second half.

The only goal cam with about 20 minutes left, and was well deserved as Blackpool continued their unbeaten start to the league, while at the same time denting Bury's perfect 100% record.







Burghclere v Wallingford Town

5pm  17 September 2016

North Berkshire League, Charity Shield Group A
Burghclere 2 Wallingford Town 2 (att 169)

Burchclere were staging the day's final 'hop' match, with a cup tie against a Wallingford Town side who I'm more used to seeing at higher levels prior to their drop into local football.

They were second best against Burghclere, falling 2-0 behind after conceding a goal in each half, but managed an unlikely comeback late on thanks to two goals in quick succession.

The North Berkshire Charity Shield is organised on a group basis, so the drawn game meant a point each rather than extra time and/or penalties. Just as well, as the game finished quite late after being held up due to a nasty-looking injury to visitors' goalkeeper, who left the ground in an ambulance.

Both Burghclere and Wallingford are in the top division of the North Berkshire League, and the standard of football was noticeable higher than at the morning's game at Blewbury.

Burghclere Sports Club has the feel of a proper football venue, helped by advertising boards and dugouts on the far side of the pitch. The near side was roped off, making it essentially a one-sided ground for spectators.







Mortimer v Marlow United

2pm  17 September 2016

Thames Valley Premier League, Premier Division
Mortimer 1 Marlow United 6 (att 25)

The afternoon's North Berkshire League hop match was at Compton FC, but I fancied something different and 2pm kick offs in the Thames Valley Premier League allowed me to see a game and still get back for the final hop match at 5pm.

League leaders Marlow United went into this fixture with a 100 per cent record, and its continuation was never in doubt as they went scored early and raced into a 4-0 lead in the opening 25 minutes.

The second half was tighter, two more goals for the visitors and one back for Mortimer, but it was easy for Marlow who looked a good side. The only blot on their afternoon was ending the game with 10 men after a late red card.

Mortimer is a small village roughly south west of Reading. The ground, in West End Road, is perfect for this level of football, and has scope for improvements should the club want to climb the football pyramid.

The pitch is partly enclosed by metal barriers, and partly by rope, there's a cosy clubhouse and changing rooms behind the goal, a pair of dug outs and plenty of car parking.








Blewbury v Drayton

10.30am  17 September 2016

North Berkshire League, Division Four
Blewbury 4 Drayton 0 (att 123)

A 10.30am kick off and three-figure crowd for a game in the fourth level of the North Berkshire League, sure signs that it's the opening game on another organised 'hop'.

In fact the opening game was a Friday night fixture under floodlights at Uffington, but having been there before I settled for an early morning drive from Manchester to an Oxfordshire village not far from Didcot.

Blewbury play at a typical village sports ground, which the football pitch some distance from the pavilion, and roped off along the near side. The club were well organised to cater for the influx of spectators.

They were well organised on the pitch as well, and had no problems seeing off Drayton thanks to to goals in each half. A good start to a busy day of football.











Stockton Town v Annfield Plain

7.30pm  13 September 2016

Durham Challenge Cup, Preliminary Round
Stockton Town 8 Annfield Plain 0 (att 70)

Stockton Town are new entrants into the Northern League this season, and with their elevation they've moved into a new ground. It's got the same address as their old venue, but is an entirely separate all-weather pitch in a different part of a large complex that also includes Stockton's sixth form college.

A 3G pitch doesn't usually make for an interesting football ground, but Stockton's base isn't bad. There's hard standing around all four sides of the pitch, a small but useful covered standing area, and a tea bar serving hot drinks and snacks.

The old ground had grass surface, but in every other respect the new ground is a better place to watch football.

They're not bad on the pitch either, easily seeing off an Annfield Plain side who were Wearside League rivals last season. Both teams played some neat passing football, making the most of the smooth artificial surface, but Stockton were well on top from the off.

They netted five goals in the first half, and three more in the second, while the frame of goal saved Annfield Plain on several occasions. Credit to the visitors though, as they never stopped trying to play good football.