Headingley v Pool

2pm  27 January 2018

West Yorkshire League, Premier Division
Headingley 1 Pool 0 (att 20)

The weather was just one of several factors that meant a late decision on where to head for my game. I thought I might be seeking the safety of an artificial pitch until a couple of phone calls confirmed the grass pitches at Leeds University's Weetwood sports ground were playable.

I was last here in 2005 for a match on 'pitch one', today staging a Yorkshire Amateur League fixture. This time my destination was some distance away on 'pitch two', neatly railed off with a pair of dugouts and the regular home of Headingley AFC.

It's the third home ground I've seen the club play on, although the first since they changed name from Old Headingley, and recompletes visits to all the top division venues in the West Yorkshire League.

Headingley's chances of continuing in the top flight next season were boosted no end by the 82nd minute goal that won this tight and entertaining game. The three points move them away from the foot of the table, while Pool drop to bottom.

A draw would have been a fairer outcome of an even game. Both sides had chances but were denied by poor finishing, bad luck and some good goalkeeping. I was resigned to a nil nil draw, albeit an enjoyable one, until Headingley's late winner.











Tooting Bec v Sporting Hackney

3pm  20 January 2018

London Senior Trophy, Quarter-Final
Tooting Bec 2 Sporting Hackney 1 (att 11)

Both these sides were revealed this week to be among a list of step seven clubs who have applied for promotion to step six for next season, and on the evidence of this very enjoyable cup tie they would have no problems competing at a higher level.

For Tooting Bec it might mean a move away from the ground they call home currently, a 3G pitch at the rear of Tooting and Mitcham United's Imperial Fields ground, and that was a factor in me choosing this game for my afternoon's entertainment.

It's a better ground than most 3G venues though, with proper spectator areas around all four sides, and an elevated section along one side the provides a good vantage point as well as increased capacity.

Not that the ground's capacity was tested, with just 11 people watching the tie (a couple more stayed for a while but disappeared before half time). For a cup quarter final, with Tooting and Mitcham playing away and many local games on grass called off because of the weather, I'd expected a larger crowd.

The many who stayed away missed a good game. Tooting Bec are going very well in the Surrey Elite Intermediate League, and two first half goals put them in control against their Middlesex League visitors.

Sporting Hackney improved in the second half, deservedly pulling a goal back with seven minutes to play. They had chances to pull level, but despite some nervous moments at the back Tooting Bec held out to advance into the last four.









Old Marlburians v Old Foresters

12 midday  20 January 2018

Arthurian League, Premier Division
Old Marlburians 1 Old Foresters 2 (att 1)

It took until Friday evening before I settled on a plan of where to go, deciding the London area would avoid the worst of the weather while at the same time giving me plenty of choices of games to watch.

It also opened up the possibilities of a double, with a pair of Arthurian League fixtures starting at midday on nearby pitches, and two options of three o'clock kick offs to follow, all on 3G so with little chance of postponements.

The Arthurian League is one of the remaining bastions of true amateur football. Its clubs are old boys sides from public schools, so this fixture saw alumni from Marlborough School take on opponents who were educated at Forest School in Epping.

Old Foresters were once regular FA Cup entrants, and made the quarter finals in 1882. This season they have their eyes on the Arthurian League title, and went into this game top of the table, unbeaten and having conceded just twice while winning seven of their eight games.

Bottom-of-the-table Malburians made them work hard for this win, and were unfortunate not to get a draw. They had plenty of possession, Foresters early lead was against the run of play and Malburians' well-taken equaliser before half time was deserved.

The visitors always looked dangerous when they attacked though, and a second half goal meant they claimed all the points.

Old Marlburians' spiritual home is the school playing fields in Wiltshire, and they occasionally play home games there, but like most Arthurian League teams their usual base is a hired pitch in or around the capital.

They currently use a 3G pitch at Lincoln Field, a sort of annexe to Whitton Sports Centre in Twickenham. The midday kick off, as well as being useful to a groundhopper like me, was a necessity with fellow Arthurian Leaguers Old Wykehamists playing on the same pitch from 2pm.

Being very much a league for players rather than spectators, I wasn't too surprised to be the only person watching the match, but it was a decent game that deserved a bigger audience.










Wibsey v Littletown

2pm  13 January 2018

West Riding County Amateur League, Premier Division
Wibsey 0 Littletown 7 (att 20)

The league table suggested a tight game, but it was anything but once visitors Littletown took a first half lead.

Good finishing helped them triple their lead by half time, and more goals followed in a dominant second half. On the rare occasions the home side threatened Littletown's defence coped with ease.

Whether this was merely an off day for the hosts, or the start of a new year climb up the league for the visitors, remains to be seen, but Littletown produced some impressive football and scored some quality goals.

Bankfoot Cricket Club is the third home ground I've seen Wibsey play on. It's close to the area of Bradford they take their name from, and just a hefty drop kick from Odsal Stadium, home of the Bradford Bulls rugby league club.

There was a time when a railed off pitch was a requirement for the West Riding County Amateur League, but Wibsey's pitch is just roped off along the touchlines. It's on the far side of the cricket square from the clubhouse and changing rooms, with two dugouts on the far side, although only one has a roof.









Darlington v Salford City

7.45pm  10 January 2018

National League, North
Darlington 1 Salford City 2 (att 1,350)

If ever a fixture demonstrates how football fortunes can change it is this one. Darlington fans were used to following a Football League team until relegation in 2010, followed a couple of years later by the club going bust, and reforming in the Northern League.

In 2010 I doubt many of Salford's fans realised their city had a football team, but a high profile takeover by former Manchester United stars has seen the club climb the leagues, and they're now much closer to a Football League spot than Darlington.

The visitors kept their lead at the top of the National League North thanks to a late winner, which was harsh on a Darlington side who deserved a draw. They might have got something from the game if they hadn't spurned a second half penalty, which would have put them in front after a goalless first half.

Having failed from the penalty spot there was an air of inevitability that Salford would take the lead soon after. A Darlington equaliser gave the home support reason to cheer, but they were left cursing the visitors' late winner.

At least they're able to watch their team in their home town again. When they reformed, initially as Darlington 1883 before taking the name of the former club, they played at Bishop Auckland, but now they're settling into a Blackwell Meadows.

The ground, home to Darlington's rugby union club, feels close to bursting at the seams with over 1,300 inside, but a new stand will appear soon to ease the pressure. At present there's a seated stand on one side, a few more seats in front of the clubhouse on the opposite side, and a covered terrace at one end with the other end just flat open standing.

It wasn't my first visit to Blackwell Meadows. In 2006 I watched the oxymoronically-sounding Darlington Rugby Club Football Club play a Teesside League game on one of the complexes outer pitches.









Bush Hill v Sway

2pm  6 January 2018

Hampshire Premier League, Senior Division
Bush Hill 5 Sway 2 (att 60)

While the opportunity to see a morning game at Southampton's training ground was welcome, it did give me a potential headache of finding something to watch in the afternoon, especially as a number of local fixtures were being postponed as early as Friday.

My first choice was Bush Hill, and they expected their Mansel Park pitch in Southampton to be playable. Their confidence was well placed, as although some of the grass surrounds were boggy the playing area was fine.

It's a basic venue, but the club have done well to create football ground in part of what is a large public park. The pitch is railed off, there's a pair of dugouts, and hard standing for spectators along one side of the pitch.

Changing rooms, as well as toilets and a tea bar, are housed in a pitchside building that's designed to be secure. It could look a little too austere, but painting it in Bush Hill's black and red colours is a nice touch and adds to the feel of it being a proper football ground.

On the pitch Bush Hill are good, and their current mid table position owes more to having games in hand than results. They took a while to get going against  Sway, but after leading just 1-0 at half time they raced into a 4-0 lead in the second half.

Maybe they thought the game was won at that point, as they eased off and allowed Sway to score two quick goals to set up an interesting final 10 minutes. The visitors were unable to reduce the arrears further though, and it was Bush Hill who got the game's final goal.









Southampton U18 v West Ham United U18

11am  6 January 2018

Under 18 Premier League
Southampton U18 3 West Ham United U18 1 (att 35)

I wasn't sure whether I needed to visit Southampton's training base in Marchwood. I came here in 1987 to watch Road Sea FC, then in the Wessex League, and when they folded soon after Saints took over the ground.

For years they used the Road Sea pitch for youth team games, but more recently the site has been expanded with additional pitches and the sort of facilities Premier League clubs seem to need at their training grounds.

The original Road Sea pitch still exists, as 'pitch one', but youth team fixtures now are usually played on pitches three and and four, far enough away for me to justify a return visit and to claim it as a new ground.

With the expansion of the site, and Southampton's Premier League status, it's no longer possible just to turn up and get in. I'd emailed the club during the week, more in hope than expectation, and was pleasantly surprised to get a reply on Friday morning to say I'd be allowed access.

Once past the security gate the atmosphere was more relaxed than at other top level training grounds, although the crowd for the under 18 game against West Ham was low compared to similar fixtures I've seen elsewhere.

It was played on 'pitch four', while the two clubs played at under 16 level next door on pitch three. The pair of pitches are separated by a two-tier building that includes some seats for spectators, with a few steps of open terracing to the sides.

Top level youth team matches can often be sterile affairs, but this was a good game. A fine free kick put West Ham ahead early on, but a defensive error allowed Saints to level not long later.

The pendulum looked to have swung in the visitors' favour after 30 minutes when a rash challenge resulted in a red card for Southampton. But West Ham's numerical advantage lasted less than 15 minutes, as a red card was dished out to them just before half time.

The extra space on the pitch in the second half benefited Southampton. They scored soon after the break to go in front, and added a third for a comfortable win. They could easily have scored one or two more.