Wibsey v Littletown

2pm  13 January 2018

West Riding County Amateur League, Premier Division
Wibsey 0 Littletown 7 (att 20)

The league table suggested a tight game, but it was anything but once visitors Littletown took a first half lead.

Good finishing helped them triple their lead by half time, and more goals followed in a dominant second had. On the rare occasions the home side threatened Littletown's defence coped with ease.

Whether this was merely an off day for the hosts, or the start of a new year climb up the league for the visitors, remains to be seen, but Littletown produced some impressive football and scored some quality goals.

Bankfoot Cricket Club is the third home ground I've seen Wibsey play on. It's close to the area of Bradford they take their name from, and just a hefty drop kick from Odsal Stadium, home of the Bradford Bulls rugby league club.

There was a time when a railed off pitch was a requirement for the West Riding County Amateur League, but Wibsey's pitch is just roped off along the touchlines. It's on the far side of the cricket square from the clubhouse and changing rooms, with two dugouts on the far side, although only one has a roof.

Darlington v Salford City

7.45pm  10 January 2018

National League, North
Darlington 1 Salford City 2 (att 1,350)

If ever a fixture demonstrates how football fortunes can change it is this one. Darlington fans were used to following a Football League team until relegation in 2010, followed a couple of years later by the club going bust, and reforming in the Northern League.

In 2010 I doubt many of Salford's fans realised their city had a football team, but a high profile takeover by former Manchester United stars has seen the club climb the leagues, and they're now much closer to a Football League spot than Darlington.

The visitors kept their lead at the top of the National League North thanks to a late winner, which was harsh on a Darlington side who deserved a draw. They might have got something from the game if they hadn't spurned a second half penalty, which would have put them in front after a goalless first half.

Having failed from the penalty spot there was an air of inevitability that Salford would take the lead soon after. A Darlington equaliser gave the home support reason to cheer, but they were left cursing the visitors' late winner.

At least they're able to watch their team in their home town again. When they reformed, initially as Darlington 1883 before taking the name of the former club, they played at Bishop Auckland, but now they're settling into a Blackwell Meadows.

The ground, home to Darlington's rugby union club, feels close to bursting at the seams with over 1,300 inside, but a new stand will appear soon to ease the pressure. At present there's a seated stand on one side, a few more seats in front of the clubhouse on the opposite side, and a covered terrace at one end with the other end just flat open standing.

It wasn't my first visit to Blackwell Meadows. In 2006 I watched the oxymoronically-sounding Darlington Rugby Club Football Club play a Teesside League game on one of the complexes outer pitches.

Bush Hill v Sway

2pm  6 January 2018

Hampshire Premier League, Senior Division
Bush Hill 5 Sway 2 (att 60)

While the opportunity to see a morning game at Southampton's training ground was welcome, it did give me a potential headache of finding something to watch in the afternoon, especially as a number of local fixtures were being postponed as early as Friday.

My first choice was Bush Hill, and they expected their Mansel Park pitch in Southampton to be playable. Their confidence was well placed, as although some of the grass surrounds were boggy the playing area was fine.

It's a basic venue, but the club have done well to create football ground in part of what is a large public park. The pitch is railed off, there's a pair of dugouts, and hard standing for spectators along one side of the pitch.

Changing rooms, as well as toilets and a tea bar, are housed in a pitchside building that's designed to be secure. It could look a little too austere, but painting it in Bush Hill's black and red colours is a nice touch and adds to the feel of it being a proper football ground.

On the pitch Bush Hill are good, and their current mid table position owes more to having games in hand than results. They took a while to get going against  Sway, but after leading just 1-0 at half time they raced into a 4-0 lead in the second half.

Maybe they thought the game was won at that point, as they eased off and allowed Sway to score two quick goals to set up an interesting final 10 minutes. The visitors were unable to reduce the arrears further though, and it was Bush Hill who got the game's final goal.

Southampton U18 v West Ham United U18

11am  6 January 2018

Under 18 Premier League
Southampton U18 3 West Ham United U18 1 (att 35)

I wasn't sure whether I needed to visit Southampton's training base in Marchwood. I came here in 1987 to watch Road Sea FC, then in the Wessex League, and when they folded soon after Saints took over the ground.

For years they used the Road Sea pitch for youth team games, but more recently the site has been expanded with additional pitches and the sort of facilities Premier League clubs seem to need at their training grounds.

The original Road Sea pitch still exists, as 'pitch one', but youth team fixtures now are usually played on pitches three and and four, far enough away for me to justify a return visit and to claim it as a new ground.

With the expansion of the site, and Southampton's Premier League status, it's no longer possible just to turn up and get in. I'd emailed the club during the week, more in hope than expectation, and was pleasantly surprised to get a reply on Friday morning to say I'd be allowed access.

Once past the security gate the atmosphere was more relaxed than at other top level training grounds, although the crowd for the under 18 game against West Ham was low compared to similar fixtures I've seen elsewhere.

It was played on 'pitch four', while the two clubs played at under 16 level next door on pitch three. The pair of pitches are separated by a two-tier building that includes some seats for spectators, with a few steps of open terracing to the sides.

Top level youth team matches can often be sterile affairs, but this was a good game. A fine free kick put West Ham ahead early on, but a defensive error allowed Saints to level not long later.

The pendulum looked to have swung in the visitors' favour after 30 minutes when a rash challenge resulted in a red card for Southampton. But West Ham's numerical advantage lasted less than 15 minutes, as a red card was dished out to them just before half time.

The extra space on the pitch in the second half benefited Southampton. They scored soon after the break to go in front, and added a third for a comfortable win. They could easily have scored one or two more.

Aveley v AFC Sudbury

3pm  30 December 2017

Isthmian League, Division One North
Aveley 1 AFC Sudbury 1 (att 271)

Having spent Friday in Brighton I was hoping to see a game in Sussex, but wet weather meant postponements so I journeyed north into Essex and the safety of the artificial surface at Aveley's new home.

The Parkside ground opened at the start of the season, and so for the third Saturday in a row I visited a newly-built football ground and was impressed by what I saw.

The main stand backs onto a nice clubhouse, with plenty more seats in another stand on the far side and covered standing areas behind both goals. The pitch is artificial grass, but the only markings on it are for 11-a-side football, unlike most of the 'caged' 3G and 4G pitches around.

Aveley seem to be getting good support in their new home, despite some indifferent form on the pitch. They should have won this game, but AFC Sudbury rescued a point thanks to an 88th minute equaliser.

The visitors had 10 men by that stage, after a player was red-carded for his reaction to the referee refusing to give a free kick (correctly, it looked a dive to me).

With a man advantage Aveley should have built on their first half lead, but despite playing well they failed to take any of the chances they created, including missing a penalty. In the end they paid the price with Sudbury's late goal.

CB Hounslow United v Banstead Athletic

3pm  23 December 2017

Combined Counties League, Premier Division
CB Hounslow United 0 Banstead Athletic 1 (att 56)

Pre-Christmas family commitments meant I was going to be in west London anyway, so I was fortunate the fixtures fell kindly and the weather was benign, allowing me to visit CB Hounslow United's new ground.

For a newly-built ground at this level 'The Lair', in Green Lane, is an impressive venue. A large clubhouse dominates the turnstile side of the ground, there's a well-proportioned seated stand on the opposite side, and a small covered standing area behind one goal.

The most surprising and unusual feature is an electronic scoreboard in the corner of the ground, which counts off the 90 minutes as well as keeping track of goals.

Sadly the scoreboard operator had little to do during this game (although being non-League I'm sure he or she had plenty of other jobs to be getting on with while we spectators enjoyed the action).

It was a game that needed a goal to come fully to life. Luckily we did get a goal, but unfortunately it came so deep into stoppage time there was barely time for CB Hounslow to restart the match.

The home side should have won. They were the better side and had more of the play, but they rarely looked like breaking down Banstead's well organised defence. The visitors occasionally looked dangerous on the break, and having withstood plenty of pressure they succeeded on the break in the final seconds.

Melksham Town v Hallen

3pm  16 December 2017

Western League, Premier Division
Melksham Town 3 Hallen 0 (att 285)

The south west seemed a good place to head to avoid the threat of frozen pitches, and once Melksham had confirmed the game was on I headed to the Wiltshire town to tick off the club's new Oakfield Stadium.

Like many new grounds it's very much on the edge of town, although it's close to, if not part of, a recent development that includes plenty of houses, at least one pub and several shops. On today's showing local people are supporting the club in numbers at the new ground, which is encouraging.

Most new grounds at this level have similarities with others, and Melksham's is a familiar design with the main feature being a seated stand built to the front of a two-storey building that houses changing rooms below and a clubhouse at the top.

It looks good though, and the clubhouse would have been a nice place to enjoy a pre-match pint had I arrived early enough. There's a smaller seated stand on the opposite side, while the rest of the ground is flat hard standing, with room for more building if necessary.

As well as the main football stadium there's several other pitches, and a home for Melksham's rugby union club, so it's a busy place most Saturdays.

The game was very much a slow burner. Clear chances were few and far between and although Melksham looked the better side it took them until the 78th minute before they opened the scoring. That was enough to beat Hallen, who conceded twice more in the time that was left.

Melksham's new ground isn't on Google Maps yet, but here's a link to to roughly where it is