Downham Town v Mildenhall Town

7.45pm  29 October 2013

Eastern Counties League, League Cup, First Round
Downham Town 1 Mildenhall Town 3 (att 42)

Premier Division Mildenhall might have expected an easy passage into the second round of the league cup after being drawn away to Division One's bottom-but-one side Downham, but they had to come from behind and only made the tie safe in stoppage time.

Mildenhall dominated possession, and most of the game was played in the Downham half, but the home side had their moments as well in a scoreless but enjoyable first half.

The Premier Division side were more direct after the break, which suited the undulating and uneven surface rather better than their first half play had. Yet it was Downham, who had picked up just three league points all season, who went ahead.

The lead lasted 12 minutes, and it was no surprise when Mildenhall added a second to go in front. Downham weren't finished though, and threatened to equalise more than once before a stoppage time third goal made the game safe for Mildenhall.

Relief for the visitors, and relief for me, as I didn't fancy 30 minutes of extra time before starting the long drive home from Norfolk.

Downham's ground, off Lynn Road in Downham Market, is among the more basic at this level. The pitch is railed off, and spectators have a choice of standing on grass, on the cricket pitch side, or under a combination of covered seated and standing areas on the opposite side.

Having paid £5 to get in, including a decent programme, I won £5 on the club's raffle, making it a free evening out (if I ignore the cost of driving between Manchester and Norfolk, and of spending £1 on a raffle ticket).






Dinamo Tbilisi v Torpedo Kutaisi

5pm  26 October 2013

Georgia, Umglesi Liga
Dinamo Tbilisi 2 Torpedo Kutaisi 1 (att 3,000)

Despite the best efforts of my taxi driver, I didn't quite make kick off at the Dinamo Arena, and while the game was still goalless when I arrived the home side had already been reduced to 10 men following a red card

Unlike Sioni, this game wasn't free to get in, but to save time I'd taken the precaution of buying a ticket earlier in the day, a bargain at about 80p.

The later kick off was so the game, between the league's top two sides, could be shown live on TV. Viewers will have seen an enthralling game, as Torpedo made the most of their extra man to take a first half lead.

They looked likely to score more, but received a lucky escape just before half time when Dinamo wasted a penalty, the ball going high over the bar.

The home side came back strongly after the break, first equalising with a second penalty, and then getting a very later winner.

The Dinamo Arena, formerly known as the Boris Paichadze Stadium, is Georgia's national stadium. Like many former Soviet stadiums it's a huge bowl, with a running track around the pitch, and seats around 55,000.

The entire stadium appeared to be open, and my 80p ticket would have entitled me to sit anywhere. The two sets of fans were kept well apart, and created a good atmosphere, although I a bit alarmed when they both lit dozens of flares and then staged fireworks displays during the second half.






Sioni Bolnisi v Metalurgi Rustavi

3pm  26 October 2013

Georgia, Umaglesi Liga
Sioni Bolnisi 0 Metalurgi Rustavi 1 (att 300)

Another tick on my long-term quest to see a game in every European country, this time Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.

I had hoped to see three games while here, but I'd reckoned without Sunday's Presidential elections, which caused the cancellation of the day's third division football.

Luck was on my side on the Saturday though, with Dinamo Tbilisi's game starting at 5pm, local time, and this match, also in the county's top division, at 3pm just a few miles away on the western edge of the city.

A language barrier at the stadium, and the lack of any information online, means I'm still none the wiser as to why FC Sioni are spending this season away from their home town. Most games are being played at the impressive Mikheil Meskhi Stadium, a large all seater bowl, with a roof covering a limited area intended for VIPs and press.

The stadium, which looks recently refurbished, is next door to the Georgian FA's modern headquarters, and appears to provide a temporary occasional home for various clubs. It was previously known as the Lokomotive Stadium, but the then resident club, Lokomotivi Tblisi, currently play elsewhere in Georgian football's second division.

I expected a small crowd, although I hadn't expected admission to the game to be free. A lively band of Rustavi fans did their best to create some atmosphere, and were rewarded when their team scored the game's only goal early in the second half.

It wasn't a great game to watch, but the experience of seeing a game in a foreign country is rarely dull. As the final whistle went I ran back to the main road to flag down a taxi for a swift ride to FC Dinamo Tbilisi.





Dolton Rangers v Holsworthy

2pm  20 October 2013

Torridge Cup, Preliminary Round
Dolton Rangers 1 Holsworthy 3 (att 39)

The Torridge Cup is one of the more prestigious of the independently-run local cup competitions for clubs in north Devon, and for the groundhopper it's a very useful source of extra matches on Sundays.

Dolton Rangers play in the top division of the North Devon League, which in theory is only one level below Holsworthy, who are in the South West Peninsula League. In reality though there's a large gulf between the two, but a small, uneven and sloping village pitch isn't the sort of surface Holsworthy are used to, and they had to work hard for their win.

Dolton started the game brightly, but after 15 minutes a defensive error gifted Holsworthy the lead. Not long later it was 2-0, and a goalmouth scramble following a corner.

I assumed Holsworthy would add a few more goals for an easy win, but Dolton kept battling, coming close themselves on more than occasion. Holsworthy's third goal, early in second half, effectively ended the contest, but Dolton deserved a goal and their late consolation was the game's best, a long range shot from close to the centre circle.

There are some lovely village football grounds hidden in north Devon, and Dolton's home is one of them. The tightly-enclosed pitch has dugouts and a pavilion, housing changing rooms and a tea bar, and with a covered standing area at the front, on one side, and a tiny seated stand, next to a park bench, opposite.

All in all great afternoon out, and well worth the 500 mile round trip.







Croxton Kerrial Dons v Barlestone St Giles

3pm  19 October 2013

Leicestershire Senior League, Division One
Croxton Kerrial Dons 3 Barlestone St Giles 5 (att 11)

This game nearly didn't take place, but thankfully it did as it produced an incident-packed and very enjoyable 90 minutes, albeit in unusual circumstances.

The appointed referee failed to arrive, I think his car had broken down en route. After some delay it was agreed that a home official would take charge. Wearing a bright yellow training bib he finally got the game underway at about 3.20pm.

I feared we night be in for a bit of a farce, but he handled the game fairly, and instead the early comedy was provided by Barlestone's keeper, who was twice beaten from very long range in the opening few minutes.

The visitors were unbeaten going into this game, but perhaps they delayed start unsettled them,. CK Dons first goal was scored by their keeper, whose clearance from deep inside his own half bounced over Barlestone's keeper into the net.

The home side's second was a lofted clearance from the half way line. This time the visitors' keeper tripped as he stepped backwards, and was helpless on the ground as ball sailed over him and in.

Barlestone had pulled one back by the end of a scrappy first half. They were much better after the break though, and it was no surprise when they equalised. It was a surprise that they didn't go on from that to make the game safe, but instead they lost their way and allowed Dons to go 3-2 up.

That was the spur Barlestone needed though. An own goal levelled the scores again, and this time the visitors made no mistake as they scored twice more to win the game.

Croxton Kerrial's own pitch doesn't meet the criteria for the Leicestershire Senior League, something to do with showers for the referee apparently, so for their first season in the league they're playing in the nearby village of Skillington, which is actually in Lincolnshire. Apparently they plan to return to Croxton Kerrial next season.

The pitch at Skillington Village Hall has a good surface, and is roped off with a pair of neat dugouts, as well as a redundant older third dugout, which I guess could now be described as a very small stand for spectators.

I look forward to visiting Croxton Kerrial again when they're back in their own village, although I can't help thinking they could have chosen a better name than modelling themselves on the MK Dons!







Brushes Rangers Spartak v West Didsbury

10.15am  19 October 2013

Manchester Saturday Morning League, Division One
Brushes Rangers Spartak 7 West Didsbury 1 (att 4)

One of my occasional forays into the local Saturday morning league, and a resounding win for the home side who played some good football against opponents who wilted somewhat as the game went on.

The Manchester Saturday Morning League isn't the greatest standard of football, but this was a top division game and Brushes Rangers Spartak are one the better sides in it. They thoroughly deserved this comfortable win, leading 2-0 at half time they took complete control after the break.

West Didsbury were never in it, although as well as managing one goal they did have a second half penalty saved. Had it been scored it would have been harsh on Brushes, as it looked like a dive from where I was standing.

If you believe the league's website, part of the FA's Full Time system, you'd think Brushes play at Blocksages playing fields in Dukinfield. The players do change there, but then walk to a pitch off Armadale Road. No facilities, as you'd expect at this level, and a youth team game was played on the adjacent pitch.






AFC Oakley Sports M & DH v Wilstead

4.15pm  12 October 2013

Bedfordshire County League, Premier Division
AFC Oakley Sports M & DH 1 Wilstead 1 (att 172)

The challenge facing the final game of any "hop" is that it needs to be particularly good to be memorable, or even to hold the attention during the 90 minutes for many of those supposedly watching.

This wasn't really a bad game, in fact for the most part the second half was entertaining, but as the third game of the day, and the first in which the threatened rain arrived, it felt like a bit of a struggle to watch.

Oakley looked the better side, and scored the first half's only goal, but the visitors equalised after the break and over 90 minutes there wasn't much between the two teams.

The ground may have been another roped off pitch, but it was the best of the day, with a lively social club and the feel of a "proper" sports venue.

During the second half the action on the field had to compete with the announcement of the raffle winners, a list of winning numbers so long than even I came away with a bottle of Breton cider.






Pavenham v Caldecote

1.45pm  12 October 2013

Bedfordshire County League, Premier Division
Pavenham 7 Caldecote 1 (att 136)

Unlike some groundhoppers I don't keep a note of team line ups or goalscorers, so I can't be sure whether I've ever seen a player match the feat Pavenham's number nine, James Owen, achieved in this game.

He scored all seven of his side's goals, which apparently followed a five goal haul (out of Pavenham's six) last weekend.

While his contribution wasn't the sole difference between the two sides, he did ensure the scoreline was a little harsh on the visitors. Caldecote are struggling in the league, but while they created a fair few chances but lacked a goalscorer. They even failed to convert a second half penalty.

Pavenham's ground was similar to the morning's venue at Marston Shelton Rovers, and presumably many other Bedfordshire League grounds, as it was a roped off pitch on the village recreation ground. It has an enclosed feel though, with the pavilion immediately adjacent and a car park directly behind the goal, and once again the club were well organised to cope with the "hop".






Marston Shelton Rovers v Shefford Town and Campton

10.30am  12 October 2013

Bedfordshire County League, Premier Division
Marston Shelton Rovers 3 Shefford Town and Campton 1 (att 162)

An early start for the first of a trio of games in this year's Bedfordshire County League hop, and a pleasant enough beginning at a game in which goals flowed during the second half.

The home side started brightly and dominated the early exchanges, but having failed to score the game became more even, and scrappy, as a goalless first half reached its conclusion.

Things picked up in the second half, and the game really game to life after around an hour, when Marston Shelton scored twice in quick succession, before Shefford pulled one back moments later. The game's final goal was a third for the home side, who deserved their win.

The ground is the village playing field in Marston Moretaine, which is close to Shelton, and not far from Bedford. The pitch was roped off, and, with hot drinks available in the clubhouse and bacon and sausage rolls available outside, the club catered well for the larger than average attendance.