Monday, 25 January 2010

The Spartans vs Lothian Thistle (23/01/10)

Match 67

Ground #: 39

Ground: Ainslie Park

Competition: East of Scotland Premier Division

Kick Off: 2pm

Cost: £3 (concession)

Programme: £1

Attendance: 151

The Spartans 2

Manson 15’, McLeod 26’

Lothian Thistle 1

McIntosh 7’


Thanks to a job interview, I had an expenses paid weekend in Edinburgh (well the train journey) and despite wanting to go watch Hearts’ game away at Rangers the fact I would be putting myself next week through not 1, but 2 Hearts games, it meant my wallet had the final say and I had to stay local in Edinburgh if I wanted to see a game. I had a massive list of East of Scotland games that were on in and around Edinburgh, however I had been prewarned that bad weather was expected on the Saturday and low and behold when I woke up that morning it was raining. As my 78 year old Gran doesn’t have a computer nevermind broadband, I had to dash off to an internet cafe on South Bridge and use the Non-League Matters forum and the East of Scotland FA website to see where I would dash off to that afternoon. In the end, Spartans said their game should go ahead and I made the short journey over to the Granton area of Edinburgh, via Haymarket Station to pick up an AMT Banana Milkshake. (A taste orgasm)


Spartans play in the Granton area of Edinburgh in the North-West of the city, and too near Leith for my liking. Normally on my blog reports I’ll describe the town/city that the club I’m visiting play in, however if you’ve never heard of Edinburgh, firstly are you stupid!? Secondly, visit, visit now. Its the greatest city in the World and I could write for so long about why its so great, but that’s for another blog (which isn’t mine) After arriving at the Ainslie Park complex at around 1:10, I had a quick gander around the leisure centre and the astroturf pitch next door to Spartans main pitch where their youth team and junior team played their games. First sight of Ainslie Park is that its very shiny and new which is no bad feature, as there is room for expansion if Spartans ever do make it to the SFL. The guy on the gate must also get a special mention as he went to charge me £6 for entry and programme, until I asked if there was student concession available (I know thats cheeky) and then he just charged me £3 for both. With the words “dinae tell anyone else aye?” and a wink as I walked in. Legend. There is only one seated stand at Ainslie Park which runs down one side of the pitch where the rest of the ground is uncovered grass standing with it railed off the whole way round. The clubhouse is also excellent where the 1st floor holds some signed shirts of games played at Ainslie Park (check the extra photos) and a great choice of food as I had tomato soup with a roll, scotch pie and 2 cans of Irn Bru, all for £3 (!?) as I watched Chelsea’s 1st half of their FA Cup game against Preston while waiting for kick-off.


The Spartans were founded in 1951 by ex-players of Edinburgh University (who also have a team in the East of Scotland Prem) and their original idea was to have a team of graduates play for them, but players from other places also now make up part of the squad. They are one of the most successful East of Scotland teams and won the Premier Division title last season and went into this game top of the league with a 1 point and 2 game advantage of their opponents Lothian Thistle. They moved from their old ground at City Park, which I walked past to get to the Ainslie Park complex, a classic old ‘ground’ of sloping grass hills and no facilities at all. Great in the rain. Spartans have plans to eventually become an SFL side and applied in 2008 when Gretna imploded, but surprisingly lost out to fellow East of Scotland side Annan Athletic who have done a fine job in their 1st year and a half in Division 3. The visitors to this game were 2nd place Lothian Thistle who themselves were having a fine season after finishing 3rd last season, they were looking for a title challenge as they came from their Saughton Enclosure to Ainslie Park for this game and the programme notes mentioned the goalscoring feats of Wayne McIntosh who was already on 17 for the season. 1st vs 2nd, a big game ahead.


Before kick-off there was a 1 minute applause for ‘Wheelie Jim’, a Spartans official who sadly passed away just before Christmas. The applause was impeccable and the game kicked off with Spartans going for it early on and forcing a couple of early corners which Thistle keeper Kevin Swain looked quite dodgy on as Lothian struggled early on to cope with the Spartans pressure. Then on 7 minutes, they went up and took the lead as a through ball found Wayne McIntosh who managed to beat Spartans goalie Chris Flockhart to the ball, skipped past two challenges and placed the ball into the empty net. The 4 Lothian fans went mental in the stand as Lothian took a surprise lead and Spartans needed to get back into the game quickly. They almost were a man down after 13 minutes when Keith McLeod received a late challenge and retaliated by stamping on the Lothian defender. What a stupid thing to do! And as the whole ground expected a red card, the referee only showed McLeod a yellow card as the Lothian team went ballistic at the awful decision. Spartans then went and equalized 2 minutes later when a great diagonal throughball played by Alex King only found a Lothian defender nicknamed “Shaggy”. He completely missed the ball however and that allowed Robbie Manson to skip through and easily stroke the ball past the keeper to make it 1-1. Both sides then began to create chances, but it was Spartans who took the lead on 26 minutes when McLeod finished off a great passing move by smashing the ball past Swain to delight the home support. Lothian Thistle must have wondered how they did not go in level at half-time as first Mark Lothian missed a sitter 3 minutes later and just before half-time a Lothian free-kick caused mayhem in the Spartans box and last ditch blocking allowed Spartans to escape with a 2-1 lead at half-time.


At half-time, tempers flared as I overheard the referee say to the Lothian manager “you dinae tell me wha tae do!”, classic. As I went up and had my 2nd can of Irn Bru (I’m giving it up for Lent, I may as well drink as much as possible!) and a lush Scotch Pie for a brilliant price. I also learnt my lesson, that East of Scotland scorers and times could be awkward to get a hold of so I became an uber nerd for this game and asked for a team sheet, or a picture of one, and ended up getting both sides team sheets with the addresses of the Lothian Thistle players on it. Not sure if I was meant to take it, but an official offered it so who knows! I also had a piece of paper to write the times goals and chances came and went at so I stood out like a sore thumb taking notes of the game!


The 2nd half was less intense as both sides decided to save their energies for a late burst in the final stages as I struggled to write any notes for the 2nd half until the 66th minute when Robbie Manson had a chance to add a 2nd when a brilliantly worked move gave him a headed chance that just flashed wide. Spartans then on 75 minutes should have made the game safe when a great Maradona-esque run from Gavin Malin saw him skip past Lothian Thistle player after player only for his one on one shot to be brilliant turned wide by Kevin Swain. Spartans’ corners all game hadn’t been great and it was no surprise when the corner won was wasted. By this time Spartans’ cult player Omar Kader had come on and was playing right wing and got a great cheer of “OMAR! OMAR!” whenever he got near the ball, so I expected big things. Lothian Thistle were creating chances to keep Spartans on their toes, but Omar Kader had two chances late on to wrap up the 3 points. Firstly he ran at the Thistle defence who were clearly worried at his pace and had to bring him down crudely to stop the run, the resulting free kick came to nothing. However, on 89 minutes another through ball found Kader who just had the goalie to beat and his shot flew past Swain……and skied the bar completely. Spartans then hung on during injury time to pick up a big 3 points.


Firstly, The Spartans are easily the friendliest club I’ve had the pleasure of visiting with every member of staff helpful and The Spartans have rocketed up to my "2nd Edinburgh club”, as if I move there after university then Ainslie Park will be getting a lot more visits from me. The ground itself (or the overall complex) is also a great place to be and I hope Spartans can one day gain their dream and become an SFL club as the place is a lot more appealing than many Division 3 clubs are. My next two games are also in Scotland as its a Hearts’ double with the League and League Cup at stake, so expect some angry ranting for my next two visits. As for this game, delighted to get here and an extremely enjoyable game!

Photos from The Spartans vs Lothian Thistle


Match Ratings:

- Match: 6.5/10 (decent stuff at times)

- Value for money: 9/10 (cheapest ever game, and got in reduced price!)

- Ground: 7/10 (whole complex is great, room for expansion too)

- Atmosphere: 6/10 (decent atmosphere again)

- Food: 10/10 (Scotch pies, tomato soup and Irn Bru for cheap prices, served by fairly attractive females - win)

- Programme: 7/10 (very professional looking)

- Referee: Allan Hogg – 4/10 (stamping gets a red? no?)

Spartans vs LT prog

Thursday, 21 January 2010

AFC Fylde vs Woodley Sports (16/01/10)

Match 66

Ground #: 38

Ground: Kellamergh Park

Competition: Unibond Division 1 North (Level 8)

Kick Off: 3pm

Cost: £4 (student concession)

Programme: £2

Attendance: 196

AFC Fylde 2

Penswick 20’, Walwyn 76’

Woodley Sports 1

Sheriff 90’


Back up in the North of England again and I decided to try and reach most of the closer grounds that I hadn’t been to from Lancaster. One that I had wanted to do ages ago was deep in the realm of pie and gravy, i.e – the Unibond League. AFC Fylde had been one that got away so far, with various trips planned and then cancelled due to money issues or the weather and even going to see Hearts, after I had planned to visit here when Lancaster City came in December, but a trip (foolishly) to Hamilton won the day. However, despite the weather being crap at the moment and nobody at university wanting to come to the Fylde Coast, I was undeterred and made the short(ish) trip deep into Fylde County.


Although AFC Fylde are actually based in the middle of nowhere (more on that later), they are officially mapped as being part of the Lancashire town of Warton which is a struggle to write about anything noteworthy there! (Sorry people of Warton) Apart from the BAE Systems base and airfield, the town is just in-between Preston and Blackpool and so can claim to be “THE team of the Fylde Coast”. AFC Fylde have come a long way in a short amount of time after being founded in 1988. Originally known as Kirkham & Wesham FC, they tore apart the West Lancashire League until being accepted into the Northwest Counties League in 2007/08. That season they were promoted to the Premier Division of the Vodkat League, but their FA Vase win over Lowestoft Town was a major highlight as they came from 1 goal down to win 2-1 at Wembley in front of a crowd of 19,537. Another promotion last season after winning the Vodkat Premier sees them make their Unibond debut this season and they have had a slow start and came into this game in 14th place (out of 22) with 22 points. Fylde also have big plans as they want to be a Football League club by 2022 (when I would be 32!?) and new manager Kelham O'Hanlon also took charge of his first game today to maybe start another bright chapter.


Having been on a decent run of getting to grounds without getting lost, I was always expecting that run to bite me on the ass and it really did trying to get to Kellamergh Park after coming off the M55. What should have been a gentle drive through the Fylde Coast ended up with a tour of obscure Fylde villages and only ending up a Kellamergh Park at 2:40, touch and go! Kellamergh Park is a strange ground, with it being in the middle of nowhere, literally nowhere. It appears to have once been a farmers field that football extras have been added to later on to give it a strange feel. One main seated stand which is pretty decent and gives good views as I sat there for the 2nd half when the heavens opened. To the sides of the stand are two clubhouse buildings which had Soccer Saturday on as all good football grounds should! The rest of the ground is uncovered, hard standing which has been railed all the way round. A new car park is also welcome here (and a must to be honest) and there is room for expansion, however ambitious AFC Fylde have pledged to move into a new sports centre that the whole region can enjoy, so who knows how long Kellamergh Park has left. The visitors to the ground for this game were Stockport based Woodley Sports who were also a fairly young side having been founded in 1970 and after finishing 13th in the Unibond Div 1 North last season were hit by the news that as Stockport County had gone into administration, the £150,000 they were owed for payment for Liam Dickinson was not going to be paid and so a period of struggle looks likely while they recover from this. Woodley were in 17th place but as the bottom two in the Unibond North 1 were so gash this season, Woodley were under no danger of relegation and so two lower mid-table teams could have a real go at each other.


The game kicked off with both sides having a decent stab at each other as both sides wingers were easily beating the full backs and getting some good early crosses in. Although, the final ball again was lacking from both sides to create any meaningful chances until the 20th minute when a blistering move gave Fylde the lead. Pacey winger Michael Barnes skipped clear of the Woodley fullback and drove a low cross into the box which although missed Matt Walwyn, fell to Danny Penswick who lashed the ball home from the edge of the area to give Fylde the lead. The rest of the half was also fairly even with both sides pressing but neither creating any real chances of note until late in the 1st half, when another great ball in caused Woodley problems and Walwyn headed over when he really should have scored. 1-0 at half-time and a pretty decent game. I went off to buy my pie (after-all I was in deep Pie county) and move under cover for the 2nd half as it started to rain.


The 2nd half was more about Woodley missing chance after chance to grab a deserved equalizer as Rochdale loanee Dennis Sheriff twice got into good positions and Woodley were on both times extremely close to scoring and Fylde looked nervous with only a 1 goal lead. Woodley’s set pieces also caused problems as Fylde again struggled to get into the 2nd half, although once they began to work their counter attacks well they managed to tear Woodley apart and a 2nd goal came on 76 minutes when a rapid counter was finished off at the back post by Walwyn after some more great work by Barnes. Fylde could have had another as they zipped a long range shot oh so close to the far post as they pushed for an undeserved 3rd, but it was Woodley who got the final goal of the game, scored in the only minute of injury time announced when Sheriff’s cross looped straight in from the right wing as Woodley got their goal. Nowhere near enough time to create another chance as Fylde picked up the 3 points.


An entertaining day out then as it was good to get back to the Unibond and visit another nearby ground. Fylde could be a team rapidly on the rise soon, or it may well just be another pipe dream but whatever happens it will be interesting to see where they do eventually end up. Chorley should be my next Unibond port of call at the end of Feb (I’m organised!) and my next game is a surprise for me as I have an unexpected weekend in Edinburgh! No, it won’t be Easter Road.

Photos from AFC Fylde vs Woodley Sports


Match Ratings:

- Match: 6/10 (fairly standard)

- Value for money: 7/10 (nice to get discount at this level)

- Ground: 5/10 (strange, but not too bad)

- Atmosphere: 5/10 (for chants and shouts here and there)

- Food: 7/10 (decent pie for a decent price, no complaints)

- Programme: 6/10 (very professional looking, but not worth £2)

- Referee: Simeon Lucas – 7/10 (no complaints)

Fylde vs Woodley prog

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Ilfracombe Town vs Bideford AFC (02/01/10)

‘North Devon Derby’

Match 65

Ground #: 37

Ground: Marlborough Park

Competition: Western Premier League (Level 9)

Kick Off: 3pm

Cost: £5

Programme: £1

Attendance: 378

Ilfracombe Town 0

Bideford AFC 1

Squire 47’


2010, a new month, new year and new decade. My first game of this new year was actually one I didn’t have to scarper round on the morning of the game to find anywhere that had actually survived the freeze. It was touch and go though as the game had a pitch inspection in the morning and when nearby (sort of) Wells City failed their inspection, I was starting to get the Facebook Ground Guide app ready again until a surprise result came through that Ilfracombe’s Marlborough Park pitch had passed the inspection and it was game on! Also, normally when you probably look at where I go, you might wonder, “why the f**k did he go to that game?!”, this game however, actually meant something! (Honestly) Not only was this a local derby, but also was 2nd vs 1st in the Western Premier, with Bideford having a 5 point gap over their rivals, but had played a game more.


Ilfracombe is a seaside resort on the North side of Devon, and sits right on the coast surrounded by cliffs. The town itself is known for some unusual landmarks such as Hillsborough Hill which was the site of an iron age fort and the Landmark Theatre which with its double-conical design which is always seen if you want to go into the centre of Ilfracombe as its one of these places with one road in, one road out, etc. The town is a fairly touristy town, although it lacks a proper beach so I’m not its biggest fan. The town’s football team, Ilfracombe Town have played at their Marlborough Park home since 1923 and home to competitive football since 1924/1925 when the club played in the E.Devon League. They joined the Western League in 1949 and although starting in Division 3 then, they had become a Division 1 side by 1952/53, but relegation and poor support meant the club withdrew from the league, back to local football in 54/55. After cruising in the North Devon League at the beginning of the 80’s, re-entry to the Western League was only a matter of time and they were back by 1984. They finally became a Western Premier club in 2007/2008 and finished 8th, before struggling last season to a 14th place (out of 20). Under Barry Yeo, the Bluebirds currently sat 2nd after a blinding start and were looking to continue this against local rivals Bideford.


Bideford’s solid start this season had seen them sat at the top of the league for a few weeks now and there had been big news come out recently that Bideford had applied for promotion to the Southern League for next season. (A Top 2 position has to be secured first and ground improvements also would need to be implemented) Bideford had won their more important derby against Barnstaple on Boxing Day with a 4-3 win, which instantly meant this game wouldn’t be as good. (Sod’s law) When I arrived at Marlborough Park, I was quite surprised by how different the ground was to other Western Premier grounds that I had visited, with the ground seemingly built into a hill which resulted in a “Clitheroe” style sloping pitch. There was a decent clubhouse and tea bar, although it couldn’t really deal with the 378 people using it – but thats understandable. There was a small seated stand next to the clubhouse and another seated stand behind a goal which was also a novelty while the rest of the ground was hard standing and railed off. I stood behind one of the goals as it had a large wall there which at the time covered up the bitterly cold wind and had a decent view of the action that was about to unfold.


As a Bideford fan said in the clubhouse pre-kickoff, “Ilfracombe had to win this” and they came out with that attitude and won a free kick inside the first minute which Bideford’s ropey defence managed to get away. The pitch was awful today and so trying to play pretty passing football was a no no as both sides tried to combat this. The referee was already losing control after not showing yellow cards after some strong and late challenges when on the 26th minute, Ilfracombe broke away and Mike Hedden raced clear only to be brought down by Bideford player Dominic Rivans. Surely a red card! Everyone in the ground seemed to agree so too, so imagine Bideford’s delight that the referee only showed a yellow. As Ilfracombe boss Yeo shouted, “thats the biggest pile of bollocks I have ever seen”, I had to agree with him, an awful decision. The resulting free kick went close as Ilfracombe pushed on with set plays looking their most likely way to find a goal. They should have had it just before half-time when Bideford again failed to clear a corner properly and Shaun Lewis had a shot cleared off the line and two others were blocked by some last ditch defending as Bideford managed to get to half-time at 0-0, only just.


As I made the dash to the clubhouse to keep warm at half-time and attempt to regain some feeling in my hands and toes, you had to wonder how long it would be in the 2nd half before Ilfracombe were made to regret their missed chances. The answer was 60 seconds as Bideford kicked off – they crossed the ball out to the left wing straight away where the ball was worked to the edge of the area. Ben Wood’s cross wasn’t great and Ilfracombe defender Neil Bettiss was on hand to clear the ball. However he missed the ball completely and danger-man Kevin Squire was on hand to sweep the ball home, much to the delight of the travelling supporters and his team. Ilfracombe then spent the next 10 minutes trying to recover from that shell shock at the beginning of the half but Bideford didn’t really create any chances of note. Once Ilfracombe had got back into it, they nearly had a superb equalizer when Bettiss launched a low shot from outside the area, only to see Bideford goalie Ryan Draper make a great save to deny the defender. Again, from the corner, Bideford looked ropey, but they got the ball clear. Bideford had chances to wrap up the game late on, firstly Squire’s clever flick from a corner needed Darren Parish to clear off the line before Clay Bond fired past Steve Oliver after 80 minutes but saw his shot hit the post on roll into the safety of Oliver’s arms. The last 10 minutes Ilfracombe threw a lot at Bideford but again, some last ditch blocking and a defence well marshalled by Darren Hawkings (after his shaky start) saw Bideford home. When the final whistle blew, cheers of delight came from fans and players as this was a big 3 points.


Ilfracombe will really wonder how on earth they lost this game, but if you don’t take your chances then you’ll always leave yourself open to concede. I should know this, I’m a Hearts fan. As for Bideford, every league winner this season will win a game like this. Riding their luck and then scoring a goal that comes off someone’s arse – its not pretty, but sometimes thats how Champions win. Bideford will be very hard to catch in the new year. Marlborough Park is a great wee ground and continues my every growing love of the Western Premier, its a shame now that the next nearest Western Prem ground to me is Williand Rovers which is 33 miles away. Its also my last game down in Devon until Easter at the earliest and I was extremely lucky compared to other people I know to get 3 games in over the Christmas/New Year period. Its back up North now and its Unibond time again!

Photos from Ilfracombe Town vs Bideford


Match Ratings:

- Match: 7.5/10 (highly compelling)

- Value for money: 6/10 (the norm at Level 9)

- Ground: 6/10 (I like Marlborough Park – another good Western League ground)

- Atmosphere: 8/10 (for non-league, it was great)

- Food: 4/10 (chip buttie, which wasn’t that nice)

- Programme: 4/10 (wasn’t great to be honest)

- Referee: Steve Annis – 3/10 (lost control is an understatement)