University of Stirling v Tynecastle

3pm  30 November 2013

South of Scotland Region Challenge Cup, Second Round
University of Stirling 4 Tynecastle 1 (att 61)

My first visit to a member of the new Scottish Lowland League, although Stirling University's Lowland League matches are played at Stirling Albion's stadium, leaving the pitch at the Gannochy Sports Centre for regular use by their reserves.

Cup matches, however, aren't bound by the same ground grading rules that dictate that Lowland League spectators need a stand and can't be more than a couple of hundred yards from a toilet or a tea bar, so this was a rare chance to see a first team game at Gannochy. It's a large sports ground, with the main pitch railed off inside a running track.

Tynecastle had twice been beaten by the University's second team in the East of Scotland League matches in recent weeks, yet they'd knocked the first team out of another cup in their last match. But there was to be no repeat cup upset in this game, as Stirling raced into a 3-0 lead by half time.

Tynecastle played some neat football, but were a definite second best against the students. They gave themselves a hope by pulling a goal back in the second half, but the home side then upped their game to score a fourth.

The tie ended on a sour note. An brief altercation between a visiting player and some home supporters earned Tynecastle a yellow card, but worse was to follow moments later when a brawl involving just about every player, with a couple of supporters attempting to join the fray, saw the visitors collect two red cards.

By the time the officials had restored order the 90 minutes were up, and the referee wisely blew for time just as the game restarted.








Consett v Spennymoor Town

7.45pm  29 November 2013

Northern League, Division One
Consett 2 Spennymoor Town 1 (att 458)

Not many teams have to wait until the end of November before playing their first home league fixture of the season, but with Consett's new Belle View Stadium only opened a week ago, their supporters will at last have plenty of home matches to look forward to.

On the evidence of this game they seem to have plenty of fans, with healthy attendance inside the ground, which is on the outskirts of the town next to an abandoned Tesco supermarket, which handily provides overflow parking.

New football venues at this level are rarely exciting, and a couple of identikit seated stands are a long way short of Consett's fantastic former Belle Vue home. But at least the stands have been thoughtfully placed, one on either side of the pitch, so the view isn't obscured, and the clubhouse looks well equipped, although far too busy to try to squeeze into.

Apart from the stands the rest of the ground is flat open standing, but there's plenty of room for more facilities should the demand, and the finance, be there. The pitch is plastic, and helped provide an entertaining game despite the strong wind.

Consett scored the game's opening goal, and so the first competitive goal at the new ground, half way through the first half. Spennymoor were much better in the second half, creating chances and looking certain to score.

The did score eventually, from an 85th minute penalty, but that came moments after a tremendous long-range strike had doubled Consett's advantage, against the run of play.








Caterpillar v Allexton and New Parks

7.30pm  26 November 2013

Leicestershire Senior League, Premier Division
Caterpillar 0 Allexton and New Parks 4 (att 32)

Caterpillar FC are the works team attached to the huge Caterpillar complex on the outskirts of Desford. Factory sports grounds are few and far between these days, with companies less likely to spend money on leisure facilities for staff than they used to be.

I only had time for a brief look inside the sports and social club, but the facilities looked impressive. The football pitch is railed off and floodlit, but there's no hard standing and, apart from dugouts, the only cover for spectators is an overhang in front of the clubhouse, which is set back from the pitch.

I'm not sure how many of Caterpillar's first team players work at the factory, if any, but the club has progressed well in recent years to reach reach the top division of county league football, and "step seven" status.

The rise of visitors Allexton and New Parks has been even more meteoric, and a string of successive promotions shows no signs of abating as they're currently top of the division.

In this match Allexton never looked in danger after going ahead thanks to a second minute penalty. Their second goal didn't arrive until the 63rd minute, but two more later in the game, the final one another penalty, gave a scoreline which reflected their dominance.

Overall it wasn't the greatest of games though, with the poor playing surface not helping either team, and the cold weather not helping the spectators.






Leonard Stanley v Chalford

2pm  24 November 2013

Stroud Charity Cup (Section A), First Round
Leonard Stanley 2 Chalford 1 (att 29)

The Stroud Charity Cup is a good source of Sunday matches, although this was the first game I've seen in it for quite a few years.

You can never be quite sure how seriously teams will take competitions like this, but there was no shortage of effort and endeavour from either side, which made for an entertaining cup tie.

A mistake by the visiting keeper allowed the home side to take the lead in the second minute. They doubled their lead before half time, but Chalford pulled a goal back with literally the final kick of the half.

Surprisingly the second half didn't produce any more goals. Leonard Stanley had the edge, but Chalford put them under increasing pressure as the tie neared its end, with the home side relieved to hear the final whistle. Although a first round tie, it was one of only four, so Leonard Stanley progress to a semi final away to Taverners.

Both Leonard Stanley and Chalford are in the second division of the Gloucestershire Northern Senior League. Although there are some good venues in the league, ground gradings are relaxed, and Leonard Stanley's home is an unroped pitch on the village recreation ground.

A building behind the goal near the entrance houses changing rooms and a bar, but that's it as far as facilities are concerned.







Uttoxeter Town v Hilton Harriers

1.30pm  23 November 2013

Staffordshire County Senior League, League Cup, Third Round
Uttoxeter Town 2 Hilton Harriers 0 (att 62)

Not my first choice game for the day, but I abandoned plans to travel to Scotland for fear of frozen pitches, for once justified as my intended match was postponed.

I'd wanted to visit Uttoxeter for a while though, as they've taken the Staffordshire County Senior League by storm since joining, and now sit top of its Premier Division.

Further progress will need some rapid ground improvements, or maybe a move elsewhere, although the Oldfields Sports Ground is a perfectly good place to watch football at this level. The pitch, some distance from an impressive-looking clubhouse, is newly-railed off, with two dugouts on the far side. A third dugout is behind the goal, serving as a tiny stand.

On the pitch Uttoxeter certainly seem equipped to climb higher, even if they made hard work of seeing off Hilton in this league cup quarter final. Uttoxeter were ahead after seven minutes, but missed a number of good chances to increase their lead before half time.

Uttoxeter lost their way in the second half, and with more luck Hilton might easily have equalised. But the home showed flashes of how good a side they can be, one of them resulting in a fantastically well worked team goal which sealed the tie with about 15 minutes remaining.








Eccleshill United reserves v Witton Albion reserves

8pm  22 November 2013

Lancashire League, West Division
Eccleshill United reserves 1 Witton Albion reserves 2 (att 30)

The only attraction of this fixture, on a very cold Friday night in Leeds, was the venue. Eccleshill's main ground is reserved solely for the first team this season, so reserve and 'A' team games in the Lancashire League are played on the 3G pitch at Leeds Metropolitan University's Beckett Park Campus in Headingley.

It's a typical 3G set up, the fenced in pitch is between an artificial hockey pitch and a grass rugby pitch. Two football pitches are behind the goal, one of them, where I've previously seen Leeds Metropolitan University play, is now railed off.

Eccleshill United have some sort of tie up with the grandly-titled Richmond International Academic and Soccer Academy, which seems to specialise in bringing young soccer players over from the United States. There appeared to be more American accents than Yorkshire ones among the home players and staff.

Witton started the game well, taking the lead in just the second minute. Eccleshill equalised  about 20 minutes later, but unfortunately neither side could maintain the evening's bright start, and as the temperature dropped so the quality of the football.

The visitors always looked a bit sharper and stronger, while Eccleshill showed the greater skill, but both sides were let down by too many sloppy passes.

Oddly, Eccleshill chose to substitute their keeper about five minutes from the end, despite no obvious injury. Inevitably the replacement's first job was to pick the ball out of net after Witton immediately scored their late winner.






Barnet v Cambridge United

5.30pm  16 November 2013

Football Conference, Premier Division
Barnet 2 Cambridge United 2 (att 2,853)

I didn't expect to enjoy this experience very much. Conference football no longer feels like non League, it cost £16 to stand behind the goal, £5 to park, and unsmiling stewards in high vis were quick to tell me that I was prohibited from taking photographs of the match.

Yet despite all that it was a decent 90 minutes at Barnet's new home, The Hive in Edgware. No doubt detailed match reports are easily available elsewhere on the web, so I'll summarise but saying Cambridge looked to be coasting at 2-0 up, but Barnet's unlikely fightback meant it was level by half time.

No further goals in the second half, although the home side were unfortunate that an eagle-eyed (or incorrect) linesman ruled the ball had gone out of play just before they bundled home what might have been a late winner.

The last time I visited The Hive was for a Barnet under 18s match on an outside pitch. The stadium then was still and unfinished shell that was originally intended as a home for Wealdstone FC. It made sense for Barnet to develop it as a replacement for Underhill, but it remains to be seen how long they'll stay here.

A consequence of the changes is that Barnet's Youth Alliance side now play elsewhere in the complex, further from the main stadium, so another Saturday morning visit here beckons. The stadium is quite impressive, and more than adequate even for today's higher than usual attendance.

The main stand, next to the railway line, is a good size, while opposite a smaller seated is built onto a building that houses the club offices. Both ends have covered terracing.





Indian Gymkhana v FC Deportivo Galicia

1.15pm  16 November 2013

Middlesex Intermediate Cup, Second Round
Indian Gymkhana 3 FC Deportivo Galicia 1 (att 6)

For the third Saturday in a row I ticked a ground in the Middlesex County League, leaving just two more left to complete the Premier Division.

Indian Gymkhana's Thornbury Avenue ground, in Osterley, is a place I've been to several times before, but not since the mid 1980s. I went to school a couple of hundred yards away, and we used the ground for school hockey lessons.

The ageing and decaying clubhouse and changing rooms I remember from those days are long gone, replaced by a much larger and smarter clubhouse. Hockey is still the number one sport here, and the impressive floodlit artificial hockey pitch is another more recent addition.

The football pitch, one of two, is on the far side of a cricket square from the clubhouse. It was roped on the near side, with a pair of dugouts on the opposite side. A Middlesex County League rule means programmes should be produced for Premier Division games, but there was none for today's county cup match.

The game was scheduled to begin at 1pm, but I assume the late start was caused by the visitors getting stuck in the same rugby-related traffic chaos that had delayed my arrival. Had it begun on time I may have missed the kick off.

It was a lively cup tie, with the home side in particular playing some very good football. All four goals were scored in the five minutes either side of half time.

Indian Gymkhana scored twice just before the break, both well taken goals. Deportivo pulled one back moments into the second period, but two minutes later the home side had their third, and the game's final goal.

Deportivo's hopes were effectively ended by a red card with about 30 minutes remaining, a player sent of for a violent reaction to being fouled. Gymkhana should have added more goals with the numerical advantage, but missed several good chances.






Cricklewood Wanderers v Bush Hill Rangers

3pm  9 November 2013

Middlesex Intermediate Cup, Second Round
Cricklewood Wanderers 6 Bush Hill Rangers 2 (att 12)

Having spent the earlier part of the afternoon watching a club founded in 1859 and catering for former pupils Harrow School, I headed to Wembley to watch a side at the other extreme of the social spectrum.

Cricklewood Wanderers were apparently founded as recently as 2011 by homeless and "street active disengaged young people". They've made rapid progress since, having established themselves at "step seven" level in the Middlesex County League Premier Division.

I expected close cup tie against another step seven club, from the Herts Senior County League, but it was anything but. The visitors took an early lead, but the first of a couple of goalkeeping errors allowed Cricklewood to equalise.

The home side were 2-1 ahead by half time, but the tie was back in the balance when Bush Hill equalised in the first minute of the second half. I thought Bush Hill might go to win, but instead they were no match as Cricklewood stepped up a gear or two to run in four more goals.

Cricklewood play at the newish Ark Academy, a school and sports centre built on what I remember was formerly a London Transport Sports Ground in Forty Avenue, close to Wembley Stadium. Once I'd successfully solved the puzzle of how to get in I found a caged floodlit 3G pitch, which Cricklewood share with fellow Middlesex Leaguers Kilburn FC.

I think that for league games spectators have to stand outside the fence, to comply with ludicrous ground grading regulations for step seven football, but fortunately for this county cup tie the rules were more relaxed.