Postal United v Inverclyde

30 May 2012
Scottish Amateur League, Premier Division
Postal United 6 Inverclyde 1 (att 27)

Staying in Glasgow for work gave me the chance to see my first ever game in the Scottish Amateur League, and I was impressed with what I saw.

This was the league's final game this season, and the only thing at stake was Postal's unbeaten league record. That was never in doubt at the champions played some very good football on their way to an easy win. Inverclyde  had their moments as well, and overall the standard was good.

Postal play at Alexandra Parade, to the east of Glasgow city centre. The narrow pitch is tightly hemmed in, on three sides at least, by high mesh fence. It's a bit like being inside a "caged" 3G pitch, except the surface is grass.






Shotts Bon Accord v Kilsyth Rangers

29 May 2012
SJFA West Region, Super League, Division One
Shotts Bon Accord 2 Kilsyth Rangers 1 (att 350)

I never have sympathy with Premier League sides who complain of playing too many games in a short period of time towards the end of the season. After all, they have large squads of full time professionals, and a hectic end of season schedule is the price of success.

But Shotts don't have a large squad, at least I assume not, the players have to fit their day jobs around football commitments, and this game came just 48 hours after winning the Scottish Junior Cup, and 48 hours before another cup final.

The remaining league games are vital too, with promotion to the Super League Premier Division the prize if they can gain enough points from their remaining games.

I hope they do it, and they deserved this win despite an unsurprisingly sluggish start. Once Shotts went ahead, in the second half, they always looked likely to win. A second goal seemed to have made the points save, but a Kilsyth goal left the result in the balance as the final whistle approached.

Shotts picked up two injuries on their way to this win, which will no doubt further stretch their resources with six more league games to go.

With so many games left to play it was almost inevitable that I'd get to Shotts' Hannah Park this season. It's a typically impressive Junior venue, with terracing all round and a large covered section.






Carluke Rovers v Ashfield

26 May 2012
SJFA West Region, Cup Winners Cup, Quarter Final
Carluke Rovers 2 Ashfield 6 (att 103)

A comfortable afternoon for Ashfield, apart from a short spell towards the end of the first half when they conceded twice to see their commanding early lead cut to just 3-2 before half time.

Any hopes the home side had of completing their fightback in the second half were dashed as the visitors, who play three divisions higher, quickly reasserted their control. If the John Cumming Stadium had goal line technology then Ashfield would have had a seventh goal.

Apart from being a useful source of late season football, I've never been sure what the point of the West Region Juniors' Cup Winners Cup is. Not just cramming an extra cup into an already lengthy season, but as the entrants are all winners of the region's various cups and leagues several are not known until the competition is underway.

To add to the confusion, this was Carluke's second heavy defeat in the cup. They were reinstated after Petershill fielded an ineligible player in their 6-0 win against the Second Division Champions in the last round.

Carluke's John Cumming Stadium, on the edge of the Lanarkshire town, is fairly new. The all-weather pitch looks immaculate, but it's surrounded by an athletics track so getting a decent view of the action is difficult, despite a central section of covered terracing, some shallower open terracing, and grass banking on the far side.








Great Harwood Rovers v Royal Oak

23 May 2012
Accrington Combination, Division One
Great Harwood Rovers 2 Royal Oak 3 (att 50)

If Manchester's City and United had concluded their Premier League campaigns by playing on adjacent pitches it might have been a bit like tonight's entertainment at the Wilson Playing Fields in Clayton-le-Moors, albeit with a few more spectators.

Going into the evening's final matches, Royal Oak headed the table by a point from Crown Rovers, who had the better goal difference. So Royal Oak had to win at Great Harwood Rovers, on pitch number four, while knowing that any slip up could be exploited by Crown Rovers, at home to St Mary's College OB next door on pitch three (pitches one and two were the outfield for a cricket match).

Had this been BBC Radio 5 Live they'd switched between matches depending where the action was. However, my self-imposed groundhopping rules dictate that I watch one match from start to finish, so I took up a position on the grass bank overlooking pitch four, while keeping half an eye on what was happening in the other game to my right.

From the off it looked as if the other game would be irrelevant, as Royal Oak scored twice in the first ten minutes to get one hand on the trophy, much to the delight of their fans - several of whom showed signs of having been celebrating rather hard from well before kick off.

The lead was still 2-0 at half time, while next door Crown Rovers had edged 1-0 ahead by the break in their match.

Towards half time though Great Harwood had begun to look dangerous, while for a side seemingly on their way to a league title Royal Oak spent too much time arguing about decisions, and even among themselves.

As a neutral, Great Harwood's goal early in the second half livened things up no end. It should have been a warning to Royal Oak, but their response was limited. They had a chance for a third thanks to a penalty, but it was saved, and Great Harwood were looking more likely to score.

While this was going on, next door Crown Rovers were racking up the goals against St Mary's. Great Harwood's equaliser, a terrific volley from a long way out with 15 minutes to go, was the first time I can recall seeing players celebrating a goal that wasn't scored on their own pitch.

As the game drew to a close Royal Oak threw everyone forward in a desperate search for a winner, everyone that is except the player given a straight red card near the end for stupidly throwing a punch.

The adjacent game was already over, Crown Rovers 6-0 winners and their players watching our game, when, deep into stoppage time during yet another goalmouth scramble, the ball was forced into the net for a Royal Oak winner. There wasn't even time to restart.

This was my first game in the Accrington Combination. If the Royal Oak are, just about, the best team in the league, then it's fair the say the standard isn't great, but it'd be hard to fault this for an evening's entertainment.








Grassington United v Settle United

22 May 2012
Craven & District League, Premier Division
Grassington United 6 Settle United 0 (att 10)

The first game I've seen in the Craven League, but with other venues in equally idyllic locations I'm sure it won't be my last.

The football wasn't bad either, especially for a late season game with little at stake other than Settle's forlorn hopes of finishing off the bottom. Grassington scored some good goals on their way to a comfortable win, although Settle had their moments.

Grassington's Town End Field ground is close to the centre of the attractive North Yorkshire village. It's basically just a village recreation ground, bordered on one side by a children's play area, and on the other by grass banking and the changing rooms.

A few park benches provide the seats, and views of the surrounding countryside provide an extra attraction if, unlike tonight, the football's not up to much.






NK Maribor v FC Luka Koper

20 May 2012
Slovenia, Prva Liga
Maribor 1 Luka Koper 1 (att 9,000)

The final round of matches in Slovenia's top division, and it was party time for Maribor who had won the league by a mile and were being presented with the trophy after the game. Luka Koper  began the game in third, and needed a win to guarantee European football for next season.

They were denied by an 89th minute equaliser for the home side, after an engrossing game amid a lively atmosphere. So lively, in fact, that the referee had to take the players off the pitch for a few minutes just before the end, following a pitch invasion by home fans who thought the final whistle had gone.

The noisy home fans had been silenced, albeit only briefly, by Luka Koper first half goal. It had come again the run of play, and it always seemed unlikely that they would hold out for the rest of the game.

I liked Maribor's stadium. The main stand, with its distinctive curved roof, has been complemented in recent years by similar structures around the rest of the stadium, and the arena is just a short walk from the centre of what is a very pleasant town.

Despite the higher than usual crowd, there was no problem buying a ticket, just 10eu for a seat in the main stand, from the ticket office ahead of the game. The away end was empty, and I couldn't see or hear any celebrations, off the pitch, when the visitors scored their goal.

After the game, and once a second celebratory pitch invasion, has been cleared, Maribor's players were presented with the league trophy on a balcony, at the back of the stand, overlooking their fans who'd gathered below.

I planned to hang around to watch, but it dragged into a drawn out affair, and when an ageing crooner took to balcony to sing to the crowd I decided catching my train for the two hour journey back to Ljubljana was more important.






Zarica Kranj v Svoboda Ljubljana

19 May 2012
Slovenia, 3.SNL Zahod
Zarica Kranj 1 Svoboda Ljubljana 1 (att 50)

My first ever game in Slovenia was a third division match with visitors Svoboda in need of points at the wrong end of the table.

They would have left Kranj with all three where it not for a harsh penalty 15 minutes from the end. The visiting keeper punched bouncing ball straight into the face of a Zarica forward, who went down in pain. I can only assume the referee missed the involvement of the ball and thought the keeper had punched the player, although that offence would surely have earned more than the yellow card he got.

The home side's spot kick equaliser was a fair reflection on what had been an even game. It was played at a sedate, and in truth an often dull, pace on a very hot afternoon. Much of the football was neat and precise, but control and finishing were poor. Svoboda first half goal came after they sprung an offside trap and the scorer kept cool and rounded the keeper.

Kranj is a pleasant town about about 30 minutes by train from Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana. Zarica's ground is about two miles south of the town, and tennis vies with football as the venue's main sport.

Having overestimated the time it might take to walk to the ground I arrived early for the 5pm kick off, and was pleased to see the modern clubhouse doubles as a pizzeria. Just as well I had plenty of time, as the pizza I ordered to accompany a pre-match beer was huge.

There's no spectator access on clubhouse side of the football ground, but on the far side four steep rows of terracing, with uncovered plastic seats, are built into the hillside. Entrance, for 4eu, is via the corner, from where the left hand end has flat open standing. the far end backs onto a training pitch.





Fothergill and Whittles v Wardle

16 May 2012
Rochdale Alliance, Premier Division
Fothergill and Whittles 1 Wardle 5 (att 39)

The first time I've seen a game in the Rochdale Alliance, so what better way to start than with a title decider?

Wardle needed all three points to leapfrog leader Weavers Arms, and claim the Premier Division, and did so comfortably and, unfortunately as a neutral, with little drama. They went ahead after five minutes, added a second after 15, and were 4-0 ahead by half time.

The home side weren't bad, but they were no match for the visitors who were clearly very motivated, as you'd expect, from the off.

With the game safe the second half inevitably flagged a little. Fothergill and Whittles got a deserved goal back, but Wardle quickly reinstated their four goal cushion.

Fothergill and Whittles are based at Whittles Park in Littleborough, near Rochdale. It's a compact cricket ground, with the football pitch squeezed in between the cricket square and a pavilion that's seen better days. New houses surround the ground.