Chinnor v Penn and Tylers Green

3pm  28 December 2013

Hellenic League, Division One East
Chinnor 2 Penn and Tylers Green 3 (att 68)

Not the first game I've see at Station Road in Chinnor, but the club are now in their second season on a new pitch, fully railed off and with floodlights, which doesn't overlap the old pitch and so counts as a new ground by my rules.

It's an improvement on the former pitch, which was among the most basic "step six" venues in the country. The new ground also features a pair of small prefab-style stands, one with seats and the other providing cover for standing spectators.

An ageing but cosy clubhouse is very close to the pitch behind the goal, and, according to the match programme, is due to be replaced during 2014.

The game started brightly, with Chinnor going ahead thanks to a long range strike after about 15 minutes. After that the entertainment dipped and it became a scrappy battle, until the visitors upped their game in the final quarter.

They scored twice in quick succession to go in front, then added a third near the end. Chinnor ensured a lively final five minutes or so by pulling a goal back, but they couldn't manage an equaliser.










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Muir of Ord Rovers v Thurso

1pm  21 December 2013

North Caledonian League
Muir of Ord Rovers 3 Thurso 0 (att 21)

This was a personal milestone, my 4,000th football ground. Ideally I'd liked to have planned a trip somewhere particularly memorable for the occasion, but once I realised it would fall sometime around Christmas and New Year, the uncertainties caused by the weather, coupled with work and family commitments, meant it was Saturday morning before I settled on a destination.

Having stayed overnight in Perth the plan was to head north, and Muir of Ord's early kick off, at 1pm, left the option of diverting to Lossiemouth's 3pm game if there had been a late postponement. As it was the pitch, and the weather, was fine, and so my 4,000th venue was Pavilion Park in Muir of Ord, a few miles north west of Inverness.

Although there's no spectator accommodation the ground is fully enclosed, with the near side railed off and the far side having dugouts and advertising boards. A pavilion in the corner near the entrance houses the changing rooms, and a table was set up inside to serve welcome hot drinks and pies at half time.

On the pitch is was a straightforward win for the home side. Muir of Ord scored twice in the first half, adding one more, a penalty, in the second. Thurso had plenty of possession but rarely looked likely to score. When they did have decent chances, mostly in the second period, the Muir of Ord keeper made some good saves to deny them.

All in all a reasonable game and a pleasant ground in one of my favourite parts of the UK, which set me up well for the long drive home.








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Ayr United U19 v Queens Park U19

7.15pm  20 December 2013

Scottish Professional Youth League, Under 19 League
Ayr United U19 2 Queens Park U19 3 (att 22)

Spent the day working in Scotland, so the late discovery of a Friday night game was a welcome bonus, even if the weather was so awful that the game surely wouldn't have survived if it hadn't been for the 3G pitch.

Both sides coped surprisingly well with the wind and the rain, providing an entertaining and at times feisty game. It was 2-2 by half time, Ayr having led twice.

They should have gone ahead for a third time early in the second half, but blazed a penalty high over the bar, allowing Queens Park to score the game's final goal to win the game.

Ayr's youth venue is a typical 3G set up, in the grounds of the town's Belmont Academy, although spectators are allowed to stand inside the fence surrounding the pitch.





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Bishop's Stortford Swifts v Buckhurst Hill

2pm 14 December 2013

Essex Olympian League, Premier Division
Bishop's Stortford Swifts 2 Buckhurst Hill 3 (att 18)

My first Essex Olympian League game for a few years, and it was a decent game between two of the league's better sides.

Buckhurst Hill, league leaders, went ahead thanks to an early penalty, and doubled their lead during the first half. Swifts pulled a goal back before half time, then equalised with the game's second penalty early in the second half.

Both teams tried hard for a winner, with chances at both ends, but it was Buckhurst Hill who scored the game's fifth, and final, goal to take the points.

Bishop's Stortford Swifts home is Silver Leys, a busy multi-sport venue. The dominant sport is rugby union, with Bishop's Stortford RFC attracting a three figure crowd for their game against Canterbury.

The football pitch, roped off through permanent wooden posts, runs parallel to the fenced off rugby pitch, but got rather less attention from the locals. I don't know how good the rugby was, but the people watching that missed a decent game of football.









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Colchester United U18 v Barnet U18

10.30am  14 December 2013

Football League Youth Alliance, South East Conference
Colchester United U18 4 Barnet U18 0 (att 39)

Another ground ticked off in my quest to see a match at every professional academy venue in England, or at least it would have been if Colchester had used the main pitch at their new Florence Park training ground in Tiptree.

The main pitch, nearest the impressive two storey pavilion, was too wet, so this game was switched to an outer pitch, running parallel to a pitch staging the under 16s fixture between Colchester and Barnet. I gives me a extra "ground", but the early morning start needed to get from Manchester to Essex for a morning game isn't something to look forward to.

This time I was staying overnight not far away, so it was an easy journey to Tiptree, where Colchester have built a large training ground.

Their under 18 side currently lead the Youth Alliance's South East Conference, and had no difficulty in seeing off Barnet's youngsters. The first half was quite even, with Colchester going into the break with a one goal lead they just about deserved.

But the home side were much better early in the second half, scoring three quick goals to put the outcome beyond doubt. The only surprise was that they didn't add more goals.

Teamsheets used to be common at youth team games, but as clubs become increasingly wary of making life too easy for predatory scouts they've become scarce. Not so at Colchester, where as well as teamsheets there's also an official programme and an unofficial "fanzine", all available free of charge.







Shaw Lane Aquaforce v Louth Town

8pm  10 December 2013

Northern Counties East League, Division One
Shaw Lane Aquaforce 11 Louth Town 2 (att 128)

Bottom of the table Louth Town were delayed on their way to Barnsley, resulting in the game kicking off 15 minutes late. Within another 15 minutes they were probably wishing they hadn't bothered making the journey at all, as Shaw Lane raced into a 3-0 lead.

The visitors pulled one back but trailed 4-1 at the break, and had their keeper to thank for a string of good saves to keep the score down. He didn't do so well early in the second half though, fumbling the ball into the net for an own goal to put the home side 5-1 up.

More goals followed as Shaw Lane moved into double figures, a trio of players scoring hat tricks, although Louth's second was probably the best goal of the night.

Shaw Lane Aquaforce are in their first season at this level, and while they'll face tougher challenges than Louth they're top of the league and on course for a swift promotion.

Last season they played on an outer pitch at the Shaw Lane sports ground, but have since moved to share a rugby ground, floodlit and with a seated stand on the far side.








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Crumlin United v Glebe North

2pm  8 December 2013

Leinster Senior League, Senior Division
Crumlin United 0 Glebe North 0 (att 64)

The top sides in the Leinster Senior League are usually good to watch, and with reigning champions Crumlin unbeaten and having failed to win just once in the league this season I was looking forward to this match.

Unfortunately though the home side never really got going, and Glebe North's well drilled and disciplined defence succeeded in frustrating the home side, and me, to earn a point they'll be very happy with.

Crumlin twice stuck the post in the first half, but they were among very few clear chances they created. As the second half progressed Crumlin tried to put the visitors under pressure, but they were let down by stray passes and hampered by determined defending.

In the end Glebe North deserved their point, and I had seen just my second nil nil draw of the season.

Crumlin United's home venue is confusingly listed, in the Leinster Senior League's handbook, as "CBS Captains Road Pearse Park Astro". In fact that's two grounds, with first team games currently at CBS, the initials standing for the Christian Brothers School, in Captains Road in Crumlin, a Dublin suburb.

It's a basic venue. Having paid 5 euro at the gate to get in you find a pitch, running widthways, which is partly railed off but mostly roped off. A brutal-looking concrete shelter near the entrance provides some limited cover, although not by design. The ageing and imposing school buildings at least give the ground an enclosed feel.








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Newtown Rangers v Newbridge Town

11am  8 December 2013

Leinster Senior League, Senior Division One
Newtown Rangers 2 Newbridge Town 1 (att 16)

Having watched a game on a hill high above Belfast on Saturday, I watched one on a hill high above Dublin on Sunday.

Newtown Rangers play on the very edge of the Irish capital, and on a windy morning the sloping pitch at Farrell Park can't have been an easy venue for skillful football.

Both the first half's goals probably owed something to the conditions. The Newbridge keeper may have been deceived by the wind when he dropped a speculative long-range punt allowing Newtown to take the lead. The home keeper was certainly caught out when a shot that looked to be going over was slowed by the wind and dropped beyond his reach into the net. Rangers had the better of the second half, and deserved to score the game's final, and decisive, goal.

Farrell Park in the Kiltipper area of Dublin, has two grass pitches and floodlit all-weather training area. The main pitch is railed off, with a few advertising boards and a a dugout on either side. The basic clubhouse is a short distance away, and serves hot drinks at half time.








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Arklow Town v Verona

7.30pm  7 December 2013

Leinster Senior League, Senior Division One
Arklow Town 3 Verona 0 (att 77)

These days it's rare to visit a football ground without having a good idea in advance of the facilities you're going to find. Even rarer to make a surprise discovery of a proper football ground with a massive covered terrace running the length of the pitch.

I knew Arklow had floodlights, the 7.30pm kick off in December being a clue, but the ground was far better than I'd expected for a team in the second level of the Leinster Senior League.

The terrace, seven steps with crush barriers topped by a high angled roof, is at the top of a grass bank above the pitch and dominates the ground. To the right are turnstiles, unused tonight, and a raised open standing area with some seats bolted onto the wall.

In the right hand far corner is a clubhouse, housing the bar and changing rooms, and with a few more open seats nearby, while there are dugouts on the far side opposite the stand, with open flat standing and car parking behind.

The vehicle entrance, which doubles as the spectator entrance with the turnstiles shut, is to the left of the terrace, and as you enter the ground you pass shrubs in neat pots each with ATFC painted on. A wooden hut in the far left hand corner is the place to go for teas and coffees.

The pitch itself is enclosed by a combination of brick wall and wooden fencing. Beyond the entrance driveway to the left is a full sized floodlit all-weather pitch. There may even have been another pitch beyond that, but it was difficult to tell in the dark.

The ground's traditional name appears to be Lamberton, but a sponsorship deal with a local shopping mall means it now has the less romantic name of Bridgewater Centre Park.

With so much to admire off the pitch the game had a lot of live up to. It wasn't bad, with Arklow pleasing their supporters with a convincing and deserved win. They were relegated from the Leinster Senior League's top division last season, and are involved in another relegation battle this time. Hopefully the club's fortunes will soon be on the rise, as as the ground deserves to stage a decent level of football.










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