Stoke City U23 v Liverpool U23

5pm  25 February 2018

Premier League Cup, Group G
Stoke City U23 0 Liverpool U23 4 (att 130)

At the same time as a couple of Premier League teams were playing the final of the Football League's cup at Wembley, the Premier League's own cup competition was progressing from its group stage to the knock out rounds.

The Premier League Cup doesn't feature first teams though, and it was Stoke and Liverpool's under 23 sides who battled it out for the chance to qualify from Group G of the Champions League-style tournament.

The sides went into their final group game level on points, but the visitors' superior goal difference meant they only needed a draw. From the start it was clear that Liverpool would achieve that objective with ease, as they were far the better side.

Two goals in each half were enough for a comfortable win, and Liverpool weren't hampered by the late dismissal of a player for retaliating after being fouled. To be fair, the Liverpool teamsheet had more familiar names than Stoke's, including England international Nathaniel Clyne, on his way back from a long-term injury.

Stoke's current venue for most games at this level is the FA's centre at St George's Park, near Burton. I'd phoned ahead to check which pitch the game would be on, and was tempted out on a very cold evening by the chance to tick off 'pitch four', which has a pair of seated stands running the length of one side of the pitch.

I think there are 12 full size pitches at St George's Park, and this is the fifth I've been to. Previous visits were to see Burton Albion reserves on pitch one, an Independent Schools FA game on pitch five, and Derby County under 21 on pitch six, as well as a pre-blog visit to a Burton Albion youth team game on pitch 12.









GNP Sports v Birmingham Tigers

24 February 2018

Midland Football League, Division Three
GNP Sports 7 Birmingham Tigers 0 (att 19)

Both these sides are new to the Midland Football League this season, and while Tigers have comfortably settled into mid table GNP Sports have taken the competition's fourth tier by storm.

This comprehensive win kept their healthy lead at the top of the division, and preserved their unbeaten league record, although the visitors were still in the match until just before half time.

GNP took an early lead, but failed to make the most of other chances and on occasions Tigers threatened to draw level. The game moved out of their reach in the few minutes either side of half time, as GNP scored twice just before the break, and again in the opening seconds after it.

It was then just a matter of how many more they'd score, by the end they managed another three, and had a penalty well saved along the way.

I visited what I assume to be the same GNP Sports back in 1998, when they briefly played Midland Combination football at a ground in Solihull. Twenty years on and they've moved a few miles into Coventry, using a pitch inside an athletics track that's run by Warwick University.

A reason the the venue was on my radar was a recent announcement that GNP Sports will be moving for next season, to groundshare with another local club.

Pitches surrounded by running tracks are rarely great places to watch football, but at this one spectators are able to stand on the track next to the roped-off pitch, so you are close to the action. The track's striking Coventry City-esque sky blue colour also makes it a little different.









Bilborough Town v Bingham Town

7.45pm  21 February 2018

Nottinghamshire Senior League, Premier Division
Bilborough Town 1 Bingham Town 2 (att 38)

I'd been waiting for a chance visit Bilborough Town under the floodlights for a while, and was rewarded by an entertaining game that completed visits to all the grounds in the top division of the Nottinghamshire Senior League.

Despite the drawbacks of watching football from a distance across a running track, the Harvey Hadden Stadium is a good venue, with a large seated stand and plenty of terracing to provide an elevated view.

The pitch itself was roped off along the touchlines, although when a handful of Bingham followers tried to watch from the side of the pitch they were promptly sent back to the stand. They were joined by their club's assistant manager just before half time, after he was sent off for a vociferous reaction to a penalty awarded to Bilborough.

I couldn't tell whether or not the referee got the decision right, but the spot kick was scored, cancelling out Bingham's early opener and making it 1-1 at the break. Both sides had chances in a good second half. Bingham wasted more of them, but converted one for a 2-1 victory they deserved.

Bilborough finished the match with 10 men, but rather than a sending off it was because they had a player sin binned, the first time I've seen that at a live game.

A 10 minute spell on the sidelines, officially termed a 'temporary dismissal' is being trialled in a number of leagues this season, including the Nottinghamshire Senior League, to deal with dissent. With barely five minutes left to play, the sin binned player didn't make it back onto the pitch before the final whistle.








Stonehaven v Kirriemuir Thistle

2.30pm  17 February 2018

SJFA, North and Tayside Inter-Regional Cup, Third Round
Stonehaven 3 Kirriemuir Thistle 3, 5-4 on penalties (att 50)

Stonehaven was plan B as we prepared to leave our Friday night base near Glasgow, but before heading north I learned that Colony Park's home game had fallen victim to the weather.

No such problems at Glenury Park though, and even if there had been a late postponement I had the back-up of an Aberdeenshire Amateur FA cup tie taking place on an adjacent 3G pitch. I watched a few minutes of that, before crossing the car park and handing over £5 for admission to the main attraction.

It proved to be money well spent, for a thoroughly entertaining and hard-fought 90 minutes followed by a penalty shoot out decider.

The GA Engineering Cup - to give the sponsors due credit - pits together junior clubs from the North Region and from Tayside, which was a junior football region in its own right until the most recent re-organisation saw it become part of East Region.

Stonehaven are mid-table in the North's top league, while Kirriemuir are bottom of the East's second tier, but as North Region football is generally weaker than other regions I expected a close encounter.

My prediction was spot on. Twice Kirriemuir went ahead, but twice Stonehaven equalised. The home side edged in front late in the game, but with less than 10 minutes to play Kirriemuir made it 3-3.

With no further goals, and no extra time in this cup, it went to penalties. Both sides missed an early spot kick, and it just got into sudden death before the Stonehaven keeper pulled off a save to send his side into the quarter-finals.

Glenury Park, like many North Region junior grounds, is pleasant but basic. The pitch is railed off, and the ground enclosed by a mesh fence, but there's no stand or even cover for spectators. There are a small handful of seats though, behind the goal in front of a building that houses changing rooms.

The same building is also where the tea bar is to be found, and I must praise the quality of the steak pie, a bargain at £2 and one of the best I've had at a football ground for some time.









Dodworth Miners Welfare v Hepworth United

2pm  10 February 2018

Sheffield County Senior League, Division One
Dodworth Miners Welfare 2 Hepworth United 1 (att 33)

Dodworth's ground is one of a sadly declining number of traditional miners' welfare sports grounds that's not only still in use but that still has the spectator accommodation dating back to the time when large crowds gathered on match days.

The crowds aren't so large now, but there was still a decent turnout for this game, in the second level of the Sheffield County Senior League, especially considering it clashed with Barnsley playing Sheffield Wednesday in a lunchtime kick off, and Sheffield United hosting Leeds live on TV.

The football pitches are separated from the cosy clubhouse by bowling greens. The main pitch is dominated by nine steps of terracing covered by a cavernous roof, the sort that's usually only found these days in Scottish junior football.

A pair of dugouts are more recent additions at the front of the stand, and the rest of the pitch is railed off. The current Dodworth Miners Welfare FC is a recent reincarnation, and is on an upward trajectory, following promotion last season they still have a 100% league record in 2017/18.

They had to work hard to keep their impressive record intact against a stubborn Hepworth side. The first half was a bit of a slog on a heavy pitch, and it was the visitors who opened the scoring with a deflected free kick after an hour's play.

Going a goal down sparked Dodworth into upping their game. They drew level just four minutes after conceding, and with momentum behind them they got a winner to make it 15 winds from 15 games, to the delight of their supporters.











Chesterfield U18 v Bradford City U18

11am  10 February 2018

EFL Youth Alliance, North East
Chesterfield U18 5 Bradford City U18 1 (att 53)

Chesterfield never seem to settle on a youth team ground for long, and this season most games are at St George's Park Sheffield Graves, one of a trio of St George's Park-branded football centres in Sheffield.

I think the Sheffield venues are a pilot which will hopefully lead to similar facilities, part-funded by the FA and named after its national football centre, appearing across England. There are a pair of 3G pitches at Graves, beyond which is 'pitch three', with a grass surface and home to Chesterfield's youngsters.

Considering the recent weather the pitch was a good condition, although one of the 3G pitches had been reserved as a back up in case it was unfit. As is the custom at these games, spectators lined one side of the pitch, with the 3G pitches to our backs, while substitutes and coaches were along the far touchline.

Being buffeted by a very cold rain-carrying wind for 90 minutes made it an uncomfortable watch, even more so for those supporting Bradford City, who were woeful at the start and found themselves 4-0 inside 20 minutes.

They got a goal back from the penalty spot before half time, and the loss of just one second half goal gave the scoreline a more respectable look than it might have done, as Chesterfield spurned chances to add more to their tally.








Rossvale v Glasgow Perthshire

2pm  3 February 2018

SJFA West Region, Central League, Division One
Rossvale 3 Glasgow Perthshire 1 (att 60)

It took no more than a couple of minutes to drive from the Springburn Football Centre to Rossvale's newly-opened home at the Huntershill Community Sports Hub, so I had ample time ahead of kick-off.

Normally if I've got time before the start of a Scottish junior game I'll seek out the tea bar in search of a hot drink and perhaps a pie, but while Huntershill is without doubt a fine facility, it's not like other junior grounds.

For a start there's no tea bar, but I was least able to get a coffee and a chocolate bar from vending machines in a building that also houses the changing rooms.

The pitch has an artificial surface, and two separate areas on the far side to accommodate supporters. Local rivals Glasgow Perthshire had quite a few fans with them, and while there was no formal segregation the support broadly divided into each 'pen' depending on their allegiance.

I counted around 60 people inside the ground, and it wouldn't take many more before getting a good view of the action would be a challenge. Rossvale are currently top of Central League Division One, and the ground capacity could be tested as they climb the leagues.

While off the pitch it wasn't the usual junior football experience, on the pitch it certainly was. Two good teams, well-taken goals, and very competitive with some eye-wateringly robust challenges.

Glasgow Perthshire were a little unlucky to be 2-0 behind at half time, and set the game up for an excellent second half when they reduced the deficit five minutes after the break. They couldn't find an equaliser though, and Rossvale's third goal ensured they were deserved winners.









Huntershill v Blackthorn Rovers

12 midday  3 February 2018

Strathclyde Saturday Morning Amateur League, Division One Trophy
Huntershill 1 Blackthorn Rovers 9 (att 9)

From my morning game at Glasgow Club Milton it was a very short and simple drive to to the Springburn Football Centre, which was just as well as this game kicked off a few minutes before the advertised noon start.

Visitors Blackthorn were ahead before midday, and scored a second not long after. They led 5-0 by half time, and a second half red card did little to stop them overwhelming a young Huntershill side, who at least managed a goal back.

Both these sides are new to the expanding Strathclyde Saturday Morning League this season, and so play in its third tier in parallel division ones. This cup is played on a league basis, and seems designed to provide extra fixtures for teams at this level.

It's sponsored by Zandernation, which Google suggests are DJs, although I tend to avoid sponsors' names when recording games I've been to, in the hope of making it easier to keep track of what competitions I've seen matches in over the years.

Whatever it's title, the cup provided little respite for Huntershill, who've managed just a single point and several heavy defeats in the league so far. They deserve credit for trying to play good football though, despite being up against superior sides.

The good surface at Springburn helped the game. It's a 3G pitch, but one with plenty of space for spectators around the pitch, including a fenced-off area the length of the near side.