Chalvey (WMC) Sports v Sandhurst Town reserves

3pm  25 February 2017

Hellenic League, Division Two East
Chalvey (WMC) Sports 8 Sandhurst Town reserves 2 (att 20)

The third tier of the Hellenic League, divisions two east and two west, used to be just for reserve teams, but in recent years a few ambitious clubs have entered first elevens as a step on the ladder into the non-League pyramid.

Chalvey moved from the East Berkshire League and are flying high at the top the table. There's no doubt they could compete at a higher level, but to do so will inevitably mean leaving the basic facilities at Chalvey Recreation Ground.

I do think it's a shame when if clubs are forced into groundshares, which are often unsustainable in the long term, just to step up a level, but there's no doubt the current ground falls some way short of the requirements for 'step six' football.

The pitch is roped off most of the way around (the far side was left open) and a pair temporary dugouts are put in place for matches. There's a tea bar in a building that houses the changing rooms, which also has a covered standing built onto it, although the view of the pitch from there would be obscured.

Overall it was a better set up that I'd expected, and the club officials I spoke to were very friendly. Apparently the prospects for promotion and/or a groundshare for next season are still being decided.

Chalvey stayed firmly on course for the league title by demolishing Sandhurst's reserve side, although the size of the defeat was a little harsh on the visitors. Sandhurst took the lead, but the hosts came back and had a 3-1 advantage by half time.

Sandhurst again threatened to make a contest of it by scoring the second half's opening goal, but it wasn't long before Chalvey again extended their lead. Three goals in the final five minutes gave the final score a lopsided look.








Clarendon v St Matthews Walsall

10.30am  25 February 2017

West Midlands Christian League, Challenge Cup Quarter Final
Clarendon 0 St Matthews Walsall 1 (att 15)

There are a few Christian and church leagues dotted around the country, set up originally I presume to provide Sunday league-style football for clubs and players who'd rather not play on the Sabbath.

These days most clubs, though not all, have connections to a church, but beyond that there doesn't seem to be any strict requirements to take part. I'd never watched a game in one before, so didn't know what to expect.

I hadn't expected the three red cards, several bookings and the couple of melees that all added to the entertainment of this league cup clash. The three officials (another surprise - neutral assistant referees) had a busy morning.

The standard of football wasn't the best, despite this being the league leaders against the team in third, but it was fun to watch and I'd certainly return for more football in this league when it fits in well en route to an afternoon game.

St Matthews Walsall's win was something of a cup shock. Clarendon are unbeaten in the league had scored seven against the same visitors earlier in the month. The only goal was a penalty about 10 minutes into the second half.

Clarendon probably aren't used to going behind. They got frustrated and their ability to mount a revival was hampered when a very late challenge left at St Matthews player injured and earned the culprit a red card.

Not that the visitors benefited from any numerical advantage though, as the injured player was also sent off for the language he used to complain about the challenge. The hosts had another player dismissed before the end, and were unable to force an equaliser.

It's no use looking for Clarendon on a map of Birmingham, as the club takes its name from a parish in Jamaica. They play at the King Edward VI School in Handsworth, which is enclosed enough to feel like a proper venue.








Mere Town v Balti Sports

2pm  18 February 2017

Dorset Premier League
Mere Town 1 Balti Sports 1 (att 15)

Mere is in Wiltshire, but the town's football club looks across the nearby border into Dorset for football, and welcomed Weymouth-based league leaders Balti Sports for this game.

The match programme suggested Balti were poor travellers, and so it proved as they never really recovered from going behind very early. They equalised soon enough, but there were no more goals and if either team deserved to win it was the hosts.

Mere Town play on a railed off pitch in a the corner of the local recreation ground. It has advertising boards, dugouts and half of one side has hard standing for those who'd rather not muddy their shoes by standing elsewhere.

It was an enjoyable afternoon. A decent and very competitive contest, and Mere's opening goal meant I'd seen exactly 100 games since my last 0-0 draw (still some way to go to match my longest run of 194 though). Just Balti Sports left to complete visits to all the league's grounds.










Swindon Town U18 v Luton Town U18

11am  18 August 2017

EFL Youth Alliance, Merit League One
Swindon Town U18 1 Luton Town U18 1 (att 45)

The southern sections of the EFL Youth Alliance have begun their second stage 'merit leagues', in which the top and bottom halves of the south east and south west divisions form two new leagues.

Swindon and Luton both finished in the upper halves of their respective leagues, and kicked off their merit league campaigns with a point each after a lively game at Stanley Park in Chippenham.

Stanley Park is a sprawling football centre on the outskirts of the town. It was a busy on a Saturday morning with plenty of local youngsters making use of the facilities and enjoying coaching sessions.

My fixture was on the 'premier pitch', directly behind the pavilion building and fenced off along one side where there's also a pair of dugouts. The ground has been used for Wiltshire League football in the past, although as far as I'm aware it's not currently used regularly on a Saturday afternoon.

The first half wasn't great, the only moment of real quality was an excellent free kick which gave Swindon a deserved lead as half-time approached.

Thankfully the second half was much better. Luton stepped up and made more of a game of it, twice hitting the crossbar before eventually forcing home an equaliser. Both teams had chances to win, but in the end a draw was probably about right.








New Street v Cromwell

2pm  11 February 2017

Warrington and District League, Premier Division
New Street 1 Cromwell 2 (att 15)

A day when the weather was a factor in deciding where to go, and once my first choice game was called off I settled for the safe and easy option of a local trip to a match on a 3G surface.

The artificial pitch at Rainhill High School is relatively new, and provides a home ground for New Street FC, playing their first season in the Warrington League's top division.

There's not a lot to say about the venue, it's typical of its type with floodlights and enclosed by a high fence. No problems getting access inside the 'cage' for spectators.

Premier Division football in the Warrington League is usually good to watch, and this was no exception. New Street will be wondering how they failed to get anything from the game, although the blame lies with their poor finishing.

Cromwell's 20th minute opener was against the run of play and the only first half goal. New Street eventually converted a chance to equalise in the second half, but Cromwell got a decisive second to steal all three points.








Alnmouth United v Cullercoats

2pm  4 February 2017

Northern Alliance, Division One
Alnmouth United 2 Cullercoats 3 (att 17)

This fixture fitted in well at the end of a few days away in Northumberland, and what it lacked in skill it more than made up for in entertainment.

To be fair to the players the surface at Hotspur Park wasn't conducive to free-flowing football but, as is often the case at this level of the game, effort and endeavour are the important factors.

There was plenty from both teams. Alnmouth, finding their feet after promotion to this division last season, took a first half lead but held it for just five minutes before conceding an equaliser from the penalty spot.

They went back ahead thanks to a penalty of their own early in the second half, but always looked vulnerable in a game between two evenly-matched teams. Once Cullercoats levelled for the second time they had momentum, and it was no surprise when, moments later, they scored what proved to be the winner.

Hotspur Park is a rural venue. It's next to a cricket ground in countryside between the villages of Alnmouth and Hipsburn, not far from Alnwick. The pitch is roped off through wooden posts, and on one side there's a pair of dugouts and a few advertising boards.










Treharris Athletic Western v Caerau at Fochriw AFC

2pm  28 January 2017

Welsh League, Division Three
Treharris Athletic Western 1 Caerau 0 (att 43) at Fochriw AFC

I saw Fochriw lose comprehensively at Aberfan back in August, and since then the club has folded after pulling out of the South Wales Alliance League.

Rather than lying empty though, the Welfare Ground is now providing a temporary home for some Treharris games. The club have a new home in the pipeline, but the sudden closure of their historic Athletic Ground earlier this season, for health and safety reasons, left them needing to find alternative venues, and one of them is Fochriw.

Once Treharris move on I hope football is revived in Fochriw, as it'd be a real shame if such a fine football ground was left to be become derelict.

It's not just that it's enclosed, with a large covered standing area and grass banking on one side and some extra cover in front of the changing rooms in the corner, but it's built into the hillside in a village that's at the head of the valleys, and on a clear afternoon the views all round are great.

On the pitch a scrappy game was won thanks to an early goal for the hosts, while Caerau were disappointing for a team challenging at the top of the division.