Whitehaven Miners Social v Windscale

2pm  31 March 2012
Cumberland County League, Division One
Whitehaven Miners Social 0 Windscale 2 (att 25)

Windscale's withdrawal from the Wearside League meant the club's Cumberland County League team became the de facto first team, despite still having the "reserves" tag on the league's otherwise reliably up to date website.

They stayed on course for promotion to the premier division with this win, which was ultimately comfortable although they might have paid a price for failing to take their chances. Windscale dominated the first half, but only led 1-0 at half time with a goal late in the half.

In the second half Whitehaven created chances of their own, but the visitors were always superior and eventually a second goal sealed the win.

Whitehaven Miners Social play on a pitch right next door to Whitehaven's impressive rugby league stadium, with Whitehaven AFC's Northern League ground also part of the complex. There are plans to build a new rugby ground on the site of Whitehaven AFC's pitch, but I don't know what effect that might have, if any, on the Miners Social ground.

The facilities are better than many in this league. The touchline adjacent to the rugby ground is half railed and half roped off, with a pair of roofless dugouts flanking a small covered standing area.








Carlisle United U18 v Macclesfield Town U18

11am  31 March 2012
Football League Youth Alliance, North West Conference
Carlisle United U18 3 Macclesfield Town U18 0 (att 50)

Carlisle played some good football on their way to a comfortable win against a disappointing Macclesfield.

The visitors defended poorly, especially in the first half, and Carlisle scored twice in the space of three minutes early in the game to take a commanding lead. They added a third in the second period, and Macclesfield never looked like getting anything out of the game.

It's 10 years since I last saw Carlisle play a youth game at home. Back then they used one of the training pitches immediately adjacent to Brunton Park, but now they're based on the edge of Carlisle at Creighton Rugby Club. The one football pitch is a fair walk from the changing rooms and clubhouse, and like most Youth Alliance venues it's just a pitch with spectators standing on one touchline, and subs and coaching staff on the opposite side.





Hindley Juniors v Thornleigh

28 March 2012
Lancashire Amateur League, Division One
Hindley Juniors 6 Thornleigh 1 (att 16) abandoned after 77 mins, bad light

My third attempt to see a game at Hindley's Klaussner Park. A few years ago the away failed to turn up, and earlier this season I headed elsewhere when no one from the home side had arrived to open the ground to let the visitors in (although that game was at least played).

So with that track record it was perhaps no surprise that this game failed to last the distance. It certainly wasn't much of a surprise when the referee inexplicably played a full 45 minute first half, despite the game starting 10 minutes late, at 6.40pm.

I'd expected two 40 minutes halves, or even two periods of 35 minutes, and it was already fairly dark when the second half got underway just after 7.30pm.

Whether the result stands, or the game has to be replayed, will presumably be a matter for the league to decide. If it is replayed it'll be harsh on Hindley, who raced into a 5-0 first half lead. In the second half they added their sixth, before the visitors pulled a goal back.

Hindley Juniors are top of the division, and played enough good attacking football to suggest that they'll earn promotion this year, whatever the outcome of tonight's game.

Update ... the league website gives the result as 6-1, so I guess the score will stand.





Lucas Sports v Leyfield

27 March 2012
Liverpool County Premier League, Division One
Lucas Sports 2 Leyfield 3 (att 17)

Usually, watching early evening kick offs in the first week after the clocks go forward involves standing in the cold as a dull game is played amid gathering gloom. Not so this evening, glorious warm sunshine, at least until the closing minutes, and an entertaining end-to-end game.

Leyfield deserved their win, but had to work hard to get the better of a battling home side. In the first half Leyfield twice went ahead, the first an own goal, but both times Lucas equalised, with a couple of terrific strikes.

Leyfield went ahead for a third, and final, time early in the second half, surviving a few late scares as Lucas came close to gaining a point.

Gateacre School in Liverpool is a venue Lucas Sports only moved to this season. It's the fourth different home ground I've seen them on. It's as basic as you'd expect, just a couple of pitches on a playing field behind the modern school buildings.



Roffey v Forest

3pm  24 March 2012
Sussex County League, Division Three
Roffey 2 Forest 2 (att 92)

Roffey's first season in the Sussex County League might be their last, at least until they're next able to win promotion, as this result confirmed they'll finish bottom of the league's bottom tier.

Relegation would be harsh though, as the club have clearly worked hard to bring their Bartholomew Way ground, in Horsham, up to the required standard, and there are worse venues in the league. Whether ground gradings, or league positions, decide relegation remains to be seen.

On the pitch local rivals Forest were 2-0 ahead by half time, and looked likely to stroll to victory, but the hosts fought back after the break with two quick goals to draw level. After that Roffey never looked like scoring a third, and although I always thought Forest might score again a draw was probably a fair result.

The ground is basic, but very pleasant. It's in a clearing surrounded by trees, and the three sides open to spectators are railed off. There's a tea bar in the corner, a nice clubhouse, and a second pitch, used by the club's reserve and third teams, on the opposite side of the car park.







Liverpool U19 v Olympique Marseille U19 at Chelsea FC training ground

11.30am  24 March 2012
NextGen Series, Third Place Play Off
Liverpool U19 2 Olympique de Marseille U19 0 (att 40)

My second visit to Chelsea's plush Cobham training ground, returning to see a game on the new main pitch, which is enclosed with floodlights and a trio of stands, and, crucially for my groundhopping "rules", is not the same pitch that I'd previously seen Chelsea's youth team play on.

The Cobham complex has been transformed since my last visit in 2008, but I was surprised when I arrived to find the teams I planned to watch, Chelsea and Charlton's under 18 sides, warming up on an outside pitch. A friendly steward told me I had a choice of matches, and so I chose the NextGen play off between beaten semi finalists Liverpool and Marseille, a fixture I had no idea even existed.

The NextGen series is supposed to provide the next generation of players an introduction to Champions League style football. Quite how a Saturday morning game, in front of a few dozen people at Chelsea's training ground, is a useful preparation is anyone's guess.

While a far larger crowd lined the touchline of "pitch 8" to watch Chelsea's youngsters, the few of us watching this weren't exactly rewarded with much of a spectacle. Liverpool dominated, and deserved their win thanks to an opening goal in the first half and second deep into stoppage time at the end of the second.

Marseille rarely threatened, and Liverpool should have won more convincingly, having wasted the game's few other clear chances.

The contrast between this, and Liverpool's semi final defeat to Ajax in front of 6,000 fans at St Helens, which I also attended, could hardly have been any starker.

Bristol Academy v Tuffley Rovers

21 March 2012
Gloucestershire County League
Bristol Academy 2 Tuffley Rovers 0 (att 56)

Bristol Academy may be unique, as their programme suggests, in being the UK's only men's club formed as an offshoot of an established women's team.

While Bristol Academy Women play in the FA's Super League, the men's team are coming to the end of their first season in the Gloucestershire County League. They've done well, and deserved this victory, which all but ended Tuffley's title hopes.

That said, on another night Tuffley's keeper might not have given the ball away, allowing the home side an easy goal for a first half lead, and he might not have allowed a long range shot to somehow pass him for Bristol Academy's 85th minute second.

Perhaps his pre-match preparation was adversely affected by the traffic chaos on the approach to the ground, I think caused by an earlier accident, that held up several Tuffley players and resulted in a delayed kick off.

Bristol Academy's Stoke Gifford Stadium, basically a barriered pitch inside a running track, is part of the sprawling WISE Campus on the outskirts of Bristol. There were no less than six identical prefab seated stands behind the goal at the far end from the entrance, although for this fixture only one, directly behind the goal, was positioned to make it usable. Presumably the others are spread around the ground when the women's team are at home.





Cwmbran Celtic v Cardiff Corinthians

2.30pm  March 17 2012
Welsh League, Division One
Cwmbran Celtic 1 Cardiff Corinthians 3 (att 24)

Having seen Cwmbran Town earlier in the day I spent the afternoon at the humble home of the club who have replaced them as the town's top side.

Celtic Park is in the shadow of the Cwmbran Stadium that Town use, but following a rise rapid enough to match Town's fall, Celtic are just one promotion from the Welsh Premier League. In reality though the ground is a long way short, no floodlights and just a small covered standing area similar to that at PILCS, and Cwmbran Town had more fans at PILCS than Celtic had at home, although clashing with the rugby won't have helped.

The game was great. Corinthians, a rare amateur side at this level, looked far better than their league position, bottom but one, would suggest, and deserved their win. Celtic's keeper made some fine saves to stop the Corries scoring more.

Corries went ahead in the opening minutes, but Celtic were soon level and I expected them to go on to win. But the visitors had other ideas, and went back in front before half time, before scoring the second half's only goal.






PILCS v Cwmbran Town

12 midday  17 March 2012
Gwent County League, Division One
PILCS 1 Cwmbran Town 2 (att 57)

A handful of Welsh clubs moved their kick offs forward to avoid clashing with the afternoon's Six nations rugby in Cardiff, which gave me a chance to get to two games, and two new grounds, in a day.

I don't see a lot of Gwent County League football, but two of the top division's better sides put on a decent show. It wasn't so many years ago that Cwmbran Town were competing in Europe, including a tie with Celtic, but recent relegations see them in the fifth tier of Welsh football.

This win kept them second in the league, but they're too far behind leaders Chepstow to make an immediate return to the Welsh League likely.

The result was harsh on PILCS (an acronym that stands for the Pontyfelin Institute for Leisure, Culture and Sport), who another day might have got a draw. All three goals came in a few minutes either side of half time. Cwmbran scored just before, and just after, the break, before PILCS quickly pulled a goal back.

PILCS came close to promotion to Welsh League last season, and the ground has been brought up to, or at least close, Welsh League standard. The pitch is fully railed off, with a small covered standing area on the far side from the entrance.

Gwent League rules state clubs must produce a match programme. The PILCS programme is very good, but just three copies were available for spectators. I can understand a club not printing too many programmes if they're unlikely to sell them, but Cwmbran have a good following, and given the effort that obviously goes into the programme's content it seems odd not to print a few more.







Liverpool U19 v Ajax U19

14 March 2012
NextGen Series, Semi Final
Liverpool U19 0 Ajax U19 6 (att 6,000)

An unusual fixture, but the main attraction for me was the chance to see a game at St Helens' new rugby league stadium Langtree Park. Whether or not St Helens Town will ever play football matches here, as I believe was originally the intention, remains to be seen, but it seems more likely to become a regular venue for Liverpool's reserve games.

It certainly captured the imagination of supporters. The kick off was delayed 30 minutes, from the scheduled 7pm, to get the crowds in as long queues formed outside those turnstiles offering cash admission.

Once the action finally got underway it didn't take long for Ajax to take control. They were goal up inside 10 minutes, Liverpool missed a penalty soon after, and Ajax scored again before half time.

Ajax's third was soon after half time, and for a spell Liverpool's youngsters appeared to give up, with the visitors looking like scoring with every attack. They managed three more, one a penalty, to give Liverpool a harsh lesson.

Some of Ajax's neat and quick passing was delightful, and when passes went astray it was notable how hard they worked, and how well they tackled, to regain possession. Liverpool created chances, mostly in the first half, but their finishing let them down, whereas the visitors were clinical in front of goal.

Langtree Park is a nice enough ground. Two seated stands, with covered terracing a both ends, and it blends in well with the adjacent Tesco built as part of the development deal.