Blackhill and Ebchester v Sunderland University

7pm  29 October 2015

Durham Alliance Combination
Blackhill and Ebchester 1 Sunderland University 1 (att 10)

This was the first game I've seen in the newly-created Durham Alliance Combination (the result of a summer merger of what was left of the Durham Alliance and Wearside Combination leagues). A floodlit game on a Thursday night may not be typical, but it was entertaining to watch.

Sunderland University are playing midweek fixtures to catch up on games, having sat out the early part of the season while they waited for students to return after the summer break.

They'll have left Consett Leisure Centre wondering how they managed to win a point. Blackhill and Ebchester dominated the game but couldn't score. Several times they were denied by the frame of the goal, at other times by some good, and occasionally unorthodox, goalkeeping.

After a goalless first half, the second period was even more one-sided, with the students looking to hit their hosts on the break. They managed the unlikely feat with 20 minutes left, but hung onto their lead for just three minutes.

Back level at 1-1, Blackhill and Ebchester kept pressing for a winner, but it never came and somehow Sunderland University gained a point.

It was a great evening for the students, a frustrating one for Blackhill and Ebchester, and a thoroughly entertaining one for me.

The venue was a new artificial turf pitch at Consett Leisure Centre. The downside is a bewildering array of multi-coloured pitch markings, for various sports, but on the plus side it has, unlike some, been built with plenty of space around all four sides, so there's plenty of room for the handful of spectators.

Consett Leisure Centre, which has a school attached, is built on the side of Consett AFC's former Belle Vue Stadium, which brings up the controversial issue (among groundhoppers at least) of what constitutes a "new ground". By my reckoning, aided by Google Earth, the new pitch doesn't overlap the old one, the site of which is now covered by buildings, so definitely a new ground for me.







Nottingham Trent University v Loughborough University II

2pm  28 October 2015

BUCS Midlands 1A
Nottingham Trent University 4 Loughborough University II 0 (att 15)

More midweek afternoon university football, this time on a recently-installed 3G pitch at Nottingham Trent's Clifton Campus.

I was last at Clifton in January 2008 when the University's first team used a grass pitch, which still exists, close to the main students' car park. Presumably that was long before the impressive new all-weather surface was installed, in another part of the campus.

I seem to bring NTU's footballers good luck, last time I saw them hammer Staffordshire University 9-1, and while this game was a lot closer they were still far too strong for Loughborough's second eleven.

For much of the first half the visitors' keeper was busy, making several good stops to keep out the home side. Eventually NTU went ahead, and by half time they'd built up a commanding 3-0 advantage.

With the contest effectively over, the second half was low key. NTU had the better of the play, but it took an unfortunate slip by the Loughborough keeper to gift the home side their fourth, and final, goal.







The new 3G pitch isn't on Google Maps yet, but click here for a map showing its location

North Walsham Town v Loddon United

7.30pm  27 October 2015

Anglian Combination, Division One
North Walsham Town 3 Loddon United 1 (att 52)

North Norfolk is a long way to go for a midweek match, but my efforts were well rewarded, with a good game at a decent ground.

North Walsham Town are one of a handful of Anglian Combination clubs with floodlights, and so usually host a handful of night matches each season.

Their Greens Road ground is well-equipped, it's fully enclosed and boasts a clubhouse, railed-off pitch and three separate covered standing areas for spectators (four if you include the redundant former dugouts). Admission was a bargain at just £2, and included a free 20-page programme.

The home side had to come from behind to win this, overturning a first half deficit. Loddon's half time lead was wiped out soon into the second half, and not long later the tide turned comprehensively against the visitors.

The key moment, in the 55th minute, was a controversial second goal for North Walsham. The referee decided the ball had crossed the goal line, in the face of Loddon protests. The visitors' keeper protested too much, and was red carded.

With 10 men, a stand-in keeper and trailing 2-1, there was no way back for Loddon. To be fair to the outfield player who took over between the posts, he couldn't be faulted for North Walsham's third, gifted after a defensive howler 15 minutes from the end.









Sharpness v Frampton United

2.30pm  25 October 2015

Stroud Charity Cup Quarter Final
Sharpness 3 Frampton United 3, 1-4 on penalties (att 60)

Local cup competitions that play matches on Sundays are getting rarer, but the Stroud Charity Cup is still a useful source of extra games, and based on this tie it remains fiercely competitive.

The villages of Sharpness and Frampton-on-Severn are only a few miles apart, and the clubs are separated by one division, Frampton in the Gloucestershire County League while Sharpness compete in the county's lower Northern Senior League.

For most of this game Sharpness belied their lower status, racing into a two goal lead, before Frampton pulled one back ahead of half time. In the second period Sharpness added a third, then missed several chances to put the outcome beyond doubt.

Eventually they paid the price for poor finishing, Frampton pulled a goal back, and the home side tired as the visitors upped the pressure in the closing minutes. Frampton equalised with just three minutes left then, with an air of inevitability, won the penalty shootout decider (no extra time in this cup).

Sharpness used to play Hellenic League football, but following the loss of their ground they dropped down the leagues to their current level in the Gloucestershire Northern Senior League. They're yet to find a new venue in Sharpness itself, and now play in nearby Berkeley, at Hamfields, effectively the sports and social club for the disused Magnox nuclear power station, being decommissioned on the outskirts of the town.

There's no rail or rope around the pitch, and no dugouts, but it feels enclosed and it's a perfectly decent venue for this level of football.








Old Lyonians v AFC Oldsmiths

3pm  24 October 2015

Southern Amateur League, Division Three
Old Lyonians 1 AFC Oldsmiths 0 (att 5)

Just like last Saturday, my choice of a 3pm game was entirely dependent on a new ground that was within range of a nearby lunchtime kick off.

Car journeys in London can be unpredictable, but I made it from Pitshanger to Old Lyonian's South Vale ground with a few minutes to spare, only to find it was going to be a challenge to locate somewhere to park.

The club's small car park had a barrier to control entry, and looked full, while the street outside was restricted to residents with parking permits. I eventually found a space a couple of minutes' walk away, and the referee helped me by kicking off a few minutes after 3pm.

This was only the second Southern Amateur League match I've ever watched, and the first was 23 years ago (at Polytechinc FC). I have, however, been to plenty Southern Amateur League grounds, mostly for midweek afternoon representative games, which these days are, sadly, few and far between.

Like many of the private sports grounds that host Southern Amateur League football, the John Lyon School sports ground in Harrow is very well maintained. The first team pitch, separated from the pavilion by a small training pitch, has an immaculate surface.

To be honest the quality of the football didn't quite match the quality of the pitch, but then this is the third tier of a league that's sits outside the footballing pyramid.

Old Lyonians were deserved winners, but they made very hard work of beating an Oldsmiths team reduced to 10 men by injury just before half time (they only had 11 players, no subs). The winning goal came midway through the second half.









Pitshanger Dynamo v Southall reserves

12.45pm  24 October 2015

Middlesex County League, Premier Division
Pitshanger Dynamo 9 Southall reserves 0 (att 8)

There was due to be a Middlesex County League "hop" game this morning at AFC Wembley, but it disappeared after it was discovered the pitch didn't meet the league's  minimum size requirements. Luckily for me, another game in the same league kicked off early instead.

Pitshanger's game with Southall reserves was a late addition to the fixture list, and the early start was to accommodate another event already planned for the Argyle Road pitch later in the afternoon.

Whatever the kick off time, it wasn't going to be an easy task for Southall, who are struggling at the wrong end of the table. They battled well, and restricted mid-table Pitshanger to just two first half goals.

The second half was very much one-way traffic, and Pitshanger were ruthless enough to take most of their chances for my biggest win of the season so far. Southall deserved a goal for their efforts, and were twice denied by by the same post in the second half.

A previous Pitshanger club played in the Middlesex County League in the 1990s, and when I went in 1994 they played on a railed off pitch on Scotch Common. That pitch still exists, minus its wooden railings, but Dynamo play just to the north at the West London Sports Ground.

The ground is a little better than I'd expected. The pitchside pavilion is ageing, but houses changing rooms and a snack bar and provides a covered standing area for spectators. There's a pair of dugouts on the opposite side, but I was surprised the pitch wasn't even roped off, usually a requirement for "step seven" football.










Hadleigh United v Brantham Athletic

7.45pm  23 October 2015

Eastern Counties League, Premier Division
Hadleigh United 5 Brantham Athletic 0 (att 115)

Hadleigh United's Millfield home was the final ground I needed to complete both divisions of the Eastern Counties League, and so a Friday night match was an ideal way to finish the league.

Hadleigh certainly turned on the style, as they steamrollered a disappointing Brantham and ran out easy winners. A 5-0 scoreline didn't flatter the home side, and with better finishing they could easily have won by more.

They scored twice in the first half, then two of the three second half goals were in the closing minutes, and at least ensured the result reflected the balance of play.

I liked the ground. The seated stand is "old school", with wooden bench seating inside, and is on the far side of the pitch from a nice clubhouse. There's plenty of cover built in front of the clubhouse, from where most of the home side's supporters watched the action.







Wales U17 v Netherlands U17 at Dragon Park, Newport

12 midday  22 October 2015

UEFA Under 17 Championship, Qualifying Group 1 at Dragon Park, Newport
Wales U17 2 Netherlands U17 1 (att 169)

Dragon Park is the newly-developed Wales National Football Development Centre, a sort of St George's Park for the FA of Wales, and is staging all three Wales games in the qualifying group for the next European Under 17 Championship.

In fact, Wales is hosting all six group games, with rivals Albania and Switzerland playing their opening fixture a few hours after this at the very nearby Newport Stadium.

Given recent results by the two nation's senior teams, a Wales win might not be such a shock result, and the home side's youngsters were good value for the three points in what was a refreshingly entertaining game.

Wales took an early lead, and held their advantage until the final moments of the first half. Youth games at this sort of level are too often sterile affairs, but this was a good game, and both sides came close to scoring, and both hit crossbars, before Wales got a winner 10 minutes from time.

Dragon Park is a decent facility, although it's not the best for spectators, who are restricted to one side with a 200-seat stand and a standing area beyond. I didn't spot any refreshments available, and the few toilets are of the portable variety.

On the opposite side a large modern building houses changing rooms and offices, from where teamsheets were available, and has a viewing balcony for officials. No point complaining about the venue though, especially when tickets were at bargain at just £1 each.







Liverpool John Moores University v Leeds University

2pm  21 October 2015

BUCS Northern 1A
Liverpool John Moores University 1 Leeds University 0 (att 2)

More midweek afternoon university football, this time a home game for Liverpool John Moores which allowed me to tick off the newly-installed 3G pitch at what used to be called Breckside Park, but is now the Anfield Sports and Community Centre.

I last saw a game here in 2010, on one of the grass pitches that remain. The artificial pitch, floodlit and enclosed by a typically high mesh fence, doesn't overlap the pitch used by Clubmoor Farmers FC that day, so this was a new ground for me.

I'm currently enjoying an unusually-long run of games without a goalless draw. I've some way to go to match my best ever (194 games), but I've got to more than a hundred. However, for 89 minutes or so it looked as if the run would come to an end in Liverpool, before a last minute winner gave the home side a win.

They'd been the better side, although had it remained at nil nil I couldn't have complained at the entertainment, as this was a thoroughly enjoyable game.

John Moores had the better of a tight first half, but it was after the break that the game really came to life. Leeds started the second half well, creating chances and looking the more likely goal scorers, but the home side recovered and got themselves back on top.

It took some fine saves by the Leeds keeper to stop John Moores from going in front, aided occasionally by poor finishing, and it looked to have been enough for a point, until the home side's 90th minute winner.

The players celebrated the goal as if they'd won the title, while I had a quieter celebration that I'd made it to 108 games without enduring a nil nil draw.