Uxbridge 3 Tooting & Mitcham 2

Uxbridge 3 Tooting & Mitcham United 2 (23rd October 2021)

This wasn’t the first time I’d turned up at Uxbridge’s Honeycroft ground. The previous visit though, was to a suspiciously empty car park, to find the game had been called off an hour earlier. Today, with “a bit cold and cloudy” rarely being sufficient grounds for a postponement, there was no danger of that, and the car park was indeed full of cars there for the day. Saying that, the MX5 next to mine, with heavy condensation inside and four completely flat tyres, looked to have been there a little longer.

Despite being top of the table, Uxbridge find themselves fighting local apathy as well as the other teams in the division. Their previous five home games had averaged just 67 fans, and even with a fair contingent from Tooting & Mitcham, a season best crowd of 104 shows the difficulty they have attracting fans. At least the bar takings would have been up, where I was able to briefly discuss the merits of a slow poured Guinness with the barmaid, before setting down to watch the tail end of Norwich doing their biennial trick of being swatted back to the Championship like a Roger Federer backhand, with Chelsea putting seven past them. The match programme was now online, available on your phone by scanning some QR code on the wall. It’s not difficult to see why, but’s it’s not the same.

The low crowd, even if good for Uxbridge, didn’t really have the place buzzing as kick-off approached. It was made all the more sombre by the announcement over the PA that the chairman, Alan Holloway, has passed away two days before. A minute’s applause was observed before kick off for a chairman who had been at the helm for 30 years.

His legacy is a club that despite support struggles, is pushing for promotion to the Isthmian League Premier division, in a ground with cover on all four sides. True, it’s not going to win many awards for beauty, being somewhat functional, but it does have the odd quirk. The seated stand opposite the main stand, for example, follows a natural dip on that side, rather than being levelled flat, making it look like the roof is sagging with effort. The main stand has a bit of character, with the main boardroom and clubhouse being a fair distance behind. Signs in this “gap” pointed towards toilets that neither I nor another fan could find. Either we were both very unobservant, or they were suggesting you went behind one of the bushes on this side.

Maybe most quirky was amount of wooden fencing, including the perimeter fence, which almost managed to add a shade of rustic charm in the middle of what had seemed on the drive in, an otherwise charmless industrial estate. To the south, the odd rumble of jets departing Heathrow’s northern runway, about a mile to the south, could occasionally be heard.

Uxbridge had won all five previous home games, and Tooting had lost both of their away league games without scoring, so a home win did look on the cards, but it certainly wasn’t as simple as that. If they’d planned to get three points as a tribute to their late chairman, the plan wasn’t really working at first. Uxbridge probably were shading it, and had one disallowed for offside, but Tooting, backed by an enthusiastic knot of supporters definite had that “dangerous” look about them.

With Uxbridge’s attacking play getting increasingly bogged down, it was the visitors who struck first. A break into the box on the left was hit firmly past the advancing keeper to give the away side the lead, and when Tooting’s No.11 was upended in the box after a powerful run, it was starting to unravel badly. The penalty was put away calmly, in front of the travelling fans. “How shit must you be? We’re winning away” they sang, which must have made the Tooting players feel really appreciated.

Overhearing some of those fans talking at half time, they were clearly pleased, but certainly not overconfident of their team holding on, and not without good reason as it turned out.

Within a couple of minutes of the restart it was 2-1. A corner was taken short, then crossed in from a better angle. It was met by a powerful header from six yards out. No chance for the keeper.

For Tooting it was a case of weathering the storm from an Uxbridge side playing with a renewed vigiour and confidence. Tooting were defending pretty well though. Their No.2 was having a good game, winning his battles and being vocal, organising the rest of the back line, but when he got caught the wrong side of an attacker bearing down on goal, desperation got the better of him. The resulting foul saw him have to take the extra long walk back to the changing rooms, 18 minutes before the rest of his teammates.

Hopes Tooting had that they might have held on didn’t last long. From the resulting free kick a shot came in which the away keeper could only watch as it rolled towards the far post. Bouncing off the inside, he might have though he’d got away with it for a second, but with him stranded, it was followed in just inside the opposite post, to level the scores.

Uxbridge really were a on a roll now, looking for the third. It took just another four minutes to arrive. Another set piece, from the side of the box on the left, saw the ball played in towards the back post. Defended and attacker rose to meet the ball, but the attacker’s head was firmest, and Uxbridge had completed a turnaround that maybe only Tooting’s pessimists had predicted.

The only surprise after that was that there were no more goals. Uxbridge certainly looked good value to get a fourth, but it didn’t quite come off. Tooting, labouring away in this, the first Saturday of the season to make the “a tad nippy” bracket, never quite looked like snatching a late equaliser. The win actually kept my home town team, Bracknell, off the top of the table, but maybe it’s fitting that a sad week at the club ended with a little joy. If only they could attract a few more fans, it would seem all the more worthwhile.

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Kendal 0 Yorkshire Amateur 3

Kendal Town 0 Yorkshire Amateur 3 (9th October 2021)

It’s not often you get a personal apology from a player after a game. At full time, Kendal’s No.2 Chris Wraighte slumped over the perimeter fence in despair, then looked up and wearily said “If you’re Kendal fans, sorry we were shit.” In fairness to him, he’d probably been one of the more hardworking players for a Kendal team battling to keep the score down in what had increasingly become an uphill battle.

It won’t have been a novel experience. Kendal are currently are in the midst of one of those extremely ‘bad patches’ that non-league clubs often endure, starved of funds, the team suffers, results nosedive, crowds dwindle, and it become a vicious circle that’s hard to escape from. The previous Saturday had seen Kendal lose 1-5 at home to Trafford, their fourth home defeat in six games. It was watched by just 85 people, nudging the club’s average crowd down to 124, the lowest in the division. That was Kendal’s 9th defeat in 11 league games, keeping them off the bottom only on goal difference. The glory days of the 50s and 60s, when over 5000 once piled in to watch an FA Cup tie v Grimsby, are in every sense a distant memory.

That’s a shame, because as well as being a welcoming club in a nice part of the country (if you ignore the less friendly tendencies of the weather in the north west) there’s enough about the ground still to not only give it character, but make you also able to imagine four figure crowds able to watch and be actually able to see the game.

One end featured a terrace of a size more expected at grounds of clubs that have had Football League ambitions, topped with a bar/function room. The front of this was covered in scaffolding, which apparently has been there for a length of time that suggested it was an in-situ advert for the scaffolding company rather than being used for remedial work. Underneath the overhang here were three rows of seats, whose covered status probably saw them more used than normal of this wet afternoon, even if all the metal poles meant they offered a view like watching football from a WWI bi-plane.

One side featured two seated stands. One seemed to angle down the slope from halfway along its length, while the other was a real, old-fashion bench seat affair, with every other seat marked with a grey duct-tape ‘X’ as a social distancing measure, but even with nearly everyone seeking shelter for the first half at least, a crowd of just 94 today meant they weren’t really necessary.

The other side had a small section of covered terrace that seemed to also double as a storage area in parts, and a partly terraced grassy hump completed the side. Signs warned not to stand on the grass banking, which clearly would be foolhardy after the rain, and maybe that explained why nobody ventured onto the banking to update the manual scoreboard as the goals went in. It would at least give those overlooking the ground a false impression of how well Kendal had played at home this season, even if the impression they draw 0-0 every week wouldn’t entice many to come and watch.

Today’s opponents for this FA Trophy tie were Yorkshire Amateur, who once boasted Elland Road as their home ground, before selling the lease to Leeds United in 1920 for £250. Even allowing for inflation, that’s still just £11,500. As a mid-table side in the Northern Premier League Div 1 East they’d undoubtedly be favourites for the tie, but their away from, which has seen them lose their last five, would have given the home side hope.

Indeed, watching from the home stand’s benches, as the rain tapped out a staccato accompaniment to the game on the metal roof, there didn’t seem to be any obvious gap in ability at the start of the match. If anything, Kendal, with an eagerness and enthusiasm for the contest, probably shaded the opening stages, including the first real effort of the game, even if the shot did go harmlessly over the bar.

As the half wore on though, despite the benefit of kicking down the slope, it became clear that enthusiasm alone wouldn’t be enough to create chances against a more organised Yorkshire Amateur defence. Moves down either flank were cut out before chances could be created, and there was a worrying trend to over hit passes to forwards, who would have need pace that even Usain Bolt would dream of, to catch. The Yorkshire amateur keeper, in his retina-burning shocking pink keeper’s strip, was having a far too easy afternoon, while their forwards were increasingly making inroads into Kendal’s defensive line.

After 26 minutes, with the tide having clearly turned, Yorkshire Amateur made the breakthough. Having just been foiled with one opportunity, it was fired back in across the keeper, going in off the post to put the away side ahead. With the meaningful moments of the game generally now being played in the Kendal half, the hope for the home side probably to get to half time and regroup. When things are going badly, luck doesn’t tend to help out though, and just before half time a Yorkshire Amateur shot took a huge deflection, giving the home keeper no chance.

Whether it was the home side as a whole now feeling they had no chance, or the joy for Yorkshire Amateur of winning an away game for the first time since August, the away side came out for the second half looking determined to finish the job as soon as possible. It took them just over 15 minutes. A corner was flicked on, and the the ball was turned in, high over the keeper, from six yards.

It could, and really should have been more, but the away team’s forwards developed a habit of whacking their shots directly at the Kendal keeper, rather than parts of the goal he wasn’t covering, as if they thought scoring through the middle of his chest was an option.

Eventually they eased, and Kendal even came bak into the game slightly. There best chance of getting some kind of consolation came from a direct free kick, but the man in pink was easily able to get across to make the save.

From there the threatening action rather petered out, with the away side happy with a job well done, and Kendal lacking the will to do much more than be competitive in the middle of the park. One sliced ball upfield, bouncing into touch, was enough for the ref to signal the end of the game, and spark the perimeter wall dejected slump and apology from the Kendal defender. Yorkshire Amateur progress to the next round. For Kendal, the long term future of the club is probably more of an issue now than any individual result.

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Shepshed 1 Spalding 3

Shepshed Dynamo 1 Spalding United 3 (2nd October 2021)

Right, let’s get one thing out of the way right at the start. Yes, Shepshed’s ground is on “Butthole Lane”. The locals aren’t embarrassed about it. It actually refers to when a ‘butt’ was a target for archery, and was a place where people of the town would go to practice. So nothing funny about it. Not one bit. None. So no smirking at the back.

That said, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t part of the appeal when an alternative to going to Boston was needed, as I’d be unable to get there and back on what remained in my car’s fuel tank. As it turned out, by getting up at 6 am, and going to the local Sainsbury’s, I was able to get some by joining a queue already snaking round the car park even at that ungodly hour. I’d mentally already switched to the alternative though, so Boston was out.

The appalling weather that was forecast had offered an alternative to this game, should it be in doubt, as Ilkeston were also at home, with their 3G pitch. I was actually quite tempted as it looked a better ground, and had the promise of a few goals, with the division’s highest scorers facing the leakiest defence. Naturally, if I had opted for that game, it would have ended 1-0 and six or seven goals would have been scored at Shepshed. A crash on the M40, closing the motorway, and driving through a sneak preview of prolonged downpour that would hit Shepshed shortly after while going up the M1 meant getting to Ilkeston for kick-off would be touch and go, so Shepshed it was. Also, Ilkeston’s location on Awsworth Road is far less amusing, although I would have seen eight goals there if I’d made it.

With not much call for archery practice in the Victorian times, fans from Shepshed have been …err… coming up Butthole Lane for football since the 1890s when it was first opened as a football ground, when Shepshed Albion were the team. The club got renamed Shepshed Charterhouse in the 70s, after the new owner’s company, rather than just being one of those quirky non-league names, and reformed as Shepshed Dynamo in 1994, with help from neighbours Loughborough Dynamo, taking the suffix in gratitude. Loughborough’s Dynamoes took their name (and ‘D’ logo) from Dynamo Moscow, who embarked on a famous tour of England in 1945, shortly after the war, lest anyone think this corner of Leicestershire is a hotbed of KGB and Russian secret police activity.

I would suspect most of the ground dates from the Charterhouse days, when money was put into to club to push it up the divisions. With the financial backing of those days removed, maintenance is clearly taken from a much reduced budget, meaning that for all the best efforts of what felt a welcoming club, the odd wonky wall or hole in a roof remained.

The place definitely had its quirks. Seated stands at one end and one side had the look of former terraces with seats added to meet a ground grading requirement, while a small off-centre seated area was perched next to the tea bar. Oddly, the roof and structure of this stand carried on over the tea bar, like a protective arm caring for a sibling.

Just along from this was an area of covered terracing with a roof so low that you suspect the designer was bullied at school by ‘taller boys’ mocking his diminutive stature, and this was his revenge. I was fine, but a taller friend of mine who visited this ground before would have left with splinters in his scalp from the roof here, unless he was very careful.

Around the corner from here was a rare example of an open, yet covered, end. No structures here, but large conifers behind the back fence overhung so much as to make a natural roof. They were so thick that they made the netting behind the goal – to stop balls being lost rather than some kind of Serie A style flare and missile throwing deterrent, I’d presume – rather redundant. Maybe balls get stuck in the branches, and the groundsman would rather not have to put up a tall ladder.

Such was the rain, which rushed it as 45 degrees with the intensity of an Extinction Rebellion activist, and about as welcome, this natural cover struggled to do its job as well as it could. The knot of young fans behind that goal in the first half resigned themselves to being a bit soggier and colder than they’d hoped, but still found the enthusiasm to sing the odd song.

I’m always impressed at how players can show enthusiasm for playing in weather like this. It reminded of cold Monday mornings play rugby at school, which made me hate the sport for about 30 years. True, there was the odd moment when the wind picked up and the rain lashed in, that you saw the odd player hunch up like they were thinking ‘wtf am I doing here?’ but they largely looked oblivious to it.

Neither side had a great scoring record, with Shepshed averaging just one goal a game at home, and Spalding just one goal a game away, and the opening stages didn’t hint at any possibility of the goal bonanza I was missing in my head (and in reality, as it turned out) at Ilkeston. Spalding did have an early chance, but it didn’t even hit the large safety net behind the goal, let alone be on target. The play could be described as energetic, with both sides attacking at speed, knocking the ball about pretty well considering the conditions. The old fashioned hoof up front to the ‘big fella’ has all but been eradicated, even at this level, but it did still have the feel of a game where goals might come from mistakes though, but I wasn’t counting on them being from officials.

I couldn’t say which official was wrong for Spalding’s first goal, but a break down the right had the linesman waving his flag furiously for offside, like he was auditioning for Jenny Agutter’s part in a remake of The Railway Children, but to the surprise of many, including the odd player probably, the ref played on. Cutting into the box from the right, the ball couldn’t be turned in at the first chance, but the loose ball was whacked in from six yards with the home keeper stranded. The home players understandably protested, and a discussion between ref and linesman ended with the ref deciding he was right, and the goal stood. I always wonder if such discussions are amicable, or whether the overruled linesman sits sulking over his half time cup of tea.

The goal prompted a strong spell from Spalding, spurning a few reasonable half chances, and forcing one excellent save from the home keeper, turning away a goalbound volley with one hand. Even with the wind at their back, Shepshed were failing to turn some promising play into actual chances. The biggest other talking point in the end they were attacking was a head injury to a Spalding player from an aerial challenge. Tempers frayed slightly, with the poor guy bleeding from a cut above the eye, but never got out of hand.

The second half saw a renewed vigour from the home side, seemingly rewarded when a clumsy attempted tackle saw the Shepshed player have his legs taken away for a rather obvious spot-kick. The penalty thudded against the base of the post though, with the keeper sent the wrong way, and sadly rebounded too far wide for anyone to rush on to. Given how the game had gone, it was a very big miss, made worse just a few minutes later when Spalding turned the ball in to make it 2-0.

It would be a long way back now for the home side, but they gave themselves a chance with just over 15 minutes left, when a move down the right saw the ball tucked inside the far post to give Shepshed a chance. This prompted the best spell of the game, with Shepshed looking for the equaliser, and Spalding looking to clinch it on the break. Shepshed had chances, but it was the visitors who did get the game’s fourth goal just going into injury time. A good ball through set up a one on one, and a tidy low finish, poked past the home keeper, was enough to seal the game.

So yes, I would have seen four more goals had I gone to Ilkeston, but I saw an actual competitive game here, settled as all good games should be, by a last minute goal. Disappointment for the home team though, but even if the signs are good for Spalding with this victory, they aren’t a good as the one at the end of the lane here in Shepshed.

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Shaftesbury 0 Bath 1

Shaftesbury 0 Bath City 1 (18th September 2021)

There have been a few unusual reasons for my choice of game to go to, but perhaps the most obscure is one being down to the existence of a bread advert from the 1970s. Everyone of a certain age will recall the Hovis advert, with a 1930s(ish) lad pushing a bike full of Hovis loaves up a stupidly steep rural hill, and riding down it at the end.

I think most, in their memory, remember it with a Yorkshire voiceover, but it was actually a West Country accent, and the hill, Gold Hill, is in the middle of Shaftesbury. With the rest of the centre also having something of a rural, and hilly, charm, I’d fancied going along to a game for a while, providing the weather was decent. Not only would I rather see Gold Hill when the weather was more golden than murky and wet grey, but Wessex League grounds are not usually noted for copious amounts of cover.

Shaftesbury’s “Cockrams” ground isn’t a huge exception, despite a covered seated stand for about 200, and a smaller covered terrace opposite, but at least some degree of shelter from the elements must be provided by the giant hedges that surround the ground on nearly all four sides. If someone had had the foresight to put some of those up alongside the A303 by Stonehenge they’d save the country £1.7 billion on a tunnel project, and would have made my journey down about 20 minutes quicker too.

Spared the traffic pain of being stuck behind a succession of drivers saving themselves £21 by opting to view Stonehenge from their car window at 5 mph, were visitors Bath City, 30 miles to the north. A more significant gap between Shaftesbury and Bath were their respective league positions, with Bath, in the National South, being three divisions above their hosts.

They’d have arrived to find a decent little set-up, with a 3G pitch and everything looking very tidy, new hard standing on all sides, with the bonus of Shaftesbury Youth Club, next door offering handy car parking. Handy, that is, if sat-nav users entered the postcode of the correct Shaftesbury Youth Club, and not the Shaftesbury Youth Club in Birkenhead – although if they’d somehow made it there in time it was at least just round the corner from Prenton Park.

While Bath would no doubt have been confident, they wouldn’t have been complacent. Shaftesbury are a team who are very used to scoring goals at home this season, rattling in 21 goals in just four games. They’d also conceded seven, so a high-scoring game looked on the cards, although anyone reading the top line of this report will know how that idea panned out.

The way Shaftesbury started certainly gave an indication of why they’ve scored a lot of goals this season. No thoughts about ‘keeping it tight for 20 minutes’ or anything like that. They were right at Bath from the off, buzzing with energy, looking to get at them at every opportunity. Bath seemed a little caught out by it, and on the balanace of play in the opening 15-20 minutes, you’d have struggled to pick out which team was three divisions above.

There were small indications though. The Shaftesbury passing’s accuracy couldn’t quite match the ambition in the final third, and all too often when it did, the experience of the Bath backline was often just enough to shepherd away the danger. At the back, the intensity and determination of Shaftesbury’s play was also coping when Bath did get forward, but it was done with more of an ‘all hands to the pumps’ feel than Bath’s defending. However it was achieved though, the half-time break came with the score still at 0-0, and the underdogs were still very much in the game.

Many Bath fans had had a leisurely stroll round the town before the game, but by the second half, Bath had realised they couldn’t also stroll through this game and get a result. After an initial flurry, with the home side getting a bit of joy down the right wing, home attacks were very much limited to breakaways as Bath looked to grind out the win.

Time and time again they met stubborn resistence from the men in red and white, and when they did get shots away, they found a home keeper it good form. One effort looked to be looping under the bar all the way, until the keeper somehow clawed it over.

Given the openness of the game there should have been goals, but into the last 10 minutes, and the game was still waiting for the first. For all of Bath’s pressure, Shaftesbury were still in it, ever threatening if not quite succeeding. Cup football has a habit of seeing teams withstand pressure, then nick a winner on the break. One such break saw a Shaftesbury move into the box. A clear shot was on, the home side’s best chance of the game, but the Bath keeper got down well to save the effort.

From dreaming of hitting the winner, to settling for a replay, to accepting probable elimination came pretty quick. A minute later, Shaftesbury’s brave resitance was broken. A nice passing move saw the ball crossed in from the byline on the right. It dropped into the perfect back post space to be attacked, and Bath’s Omar Holness was able to rise above the defence to head in from six yards. Delight mixed with relief for the Bath players and fans, but it was hard on Shaftesbury to have come so close to the draw.

Home heads, to their credit, didn’t drop, but they couldn’t really threaten in the closing stages, and Bath took the win you would have to say they deserved overall. This was Shaftesbury’s first game at this stage in 133 years, and if they can keep up the same levels of performance and determination, it shouldn’t be 133 years before they are here again.

They can be pround of their achievement and performance on this day, with a healthy crowd (approx 600?) there to enjoy it as well. The FA Cup might have it’s knockers at the top of the pro game now, but at this level, like the Hovis, it’s as good today as it’s always been.

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Worthing 1 Corinthian-Casuals 1

Worthing 1 Corinthian-Casuals 1 (4th Sept 2021)

Way back, when I first started going to random non-league games, one of the first was a visit to Corinthian-Casuals. I think I was tempted by the name of the club, evocative of a bygone era of gentlemen players, with a character largely missing from the modern game.

Sadly, it wasn’t the greatest day. The ground is located in Tolworth, whose centre, carved through by the concrete canyon of the A3, was devoid of all charm. We ended up going for a drink in the only place that seemed to offer such an opportunity, a bowling alley by a roundabout, which offered a view looking across a fenced off area of weeds, old mattresses and other fly-tipped rubbish, with the greyest of 60s cornflake packet office blocks as a backdrop.

Corinthian-Casuals’ ground, just a short walk away wasn’t that much better. OK, compared to what else I’d seen of Tolworth, it was almost Disneyland, but it was distinctly functional and didn’t really convey the kind of charm you’d associate with the Corinthian-Casuals name. The support too seemed to live down to the “three men and a dog, 1980s betting shop” vibe that fans who don’t know non-league football assume it to be.

I don’t know what’s happened in the time since then, but I can only assume it’s good, as yesterday’s evidence suggests a new, enthusiastic and vocal fan base has sprung up at the club, wearing the club colours with pride. “We’re pink, we’re brown, we’re coming to your town” they sang, among other things, as they made their presence felt during this cup tie.

They’d have arrived at a ground whose entrance is tucked away among tidy semis and bungalows, of the kind you can imagine your Nan living in. They were visiting a club on the rise, albeit a rise thwarted two years in a row by having its league season cancelled, both times with Worthing top of the table. “Expunged, but not forgotten”, as one t-shirt proclaimed.

This relative success had seen crowds rise to an average of around 900, and over two thousand had been at the bank holiday derby with Bognor a few days earlier. Worthing’s record win was in a derby game, v Littlehampton, who they beat 25-0, but that was a very long time ago, and in this young season Worthing haven’t been quite as dominant as in the last couple of years. Bognor won the derby, and Worthing are 10th after four games.

Despite the slow start, Worthing definitely still has that feel of a club on the rise, with the ground tarted up, shiny and painted, and the fans and staff looking happy an enthusiastic. It makes such a difference to be at a ground where everyone looks to be enjoying their day, whether watching or helping out.

Corinthian-Casuals, despite the upbeat nature of their support, haven’t found life in the Isthmian Premier too easy, and probably – from a purely results perspective – weren’t quite as devastated as Worthing to have their last two seasons expunged. They only have one point from their opening four games this year too, so they’d have gone into the game knowing Worthing were clear favourites.

In the cup in particular, it seems, things don’t always go to plan. Undaunted by the difficult challenge ahead, Corinthian-Casuals took the game to their host in the opening stages. Wearing their away kit of white shirts and black shorts, the colours of the Corinthian half of their 1939 Corinthians and Casual merger, they surprised everybody by taking a 3rd minute lead. Most surprised were probably the goalscorer and keeper, as neither would have been expecting the routine shot hit directly at the keeper to somehow slip between his hands and legs, like a greased ferret, into the bottom corner.

“Something tells me I’m into something good” sang the Corinthian-Casuals fans behind the goal, but the Worthing keeper probably didn’t share the sentiment.

Clearly this was going to be a much more even game than I was anticipating, but it was an open one too. In the 14th minute Worthing were level, heading a cross back across the keeper into the empty half of the net with an ease that suggested “there could be a few more goals in this one”.

There wasn’t, but I’m not really sure how. After the equaliser, Worthing began to assert themselves a bit more, but Corinthian-Casuals were still always a threat. Both sides were playing some decent attacking play, but Worthing were coming closest, hitting the post, and forcing one fine save from the Corinthian-Casuals keeper.

The second half saw Worthing begin to dominate, with the visitors maybe realising a draw, and a replay, might not be a bad outcome. The game took on a pattern of Worthing having most of the play, but Corinthian-Casuals looking very dangerous on the break. The actual chances though were increasingly of the kind that could be stuck in the “should have done better with that” variety. Corinthian-Casuals managed to miskick one great chance from the edge of the six yard box. Worthing went one better, with two players looking set to knock in a loose ball, but neither managing it, allowing it to be cleared.

There was some good last ditch defending, and a few decent saves. The Worthing keeper (almost) made up for his earlier error by rushing out to block a shot from a one on one. Given his earlier error, not to mention the size of the player running towards him, it was a brave move.

With the pattern of play dictating that there really ought to only be one winner (and I’ve never yet seen a game won by both sides) it was perhaps inevitable that it was actually Corinthian-Casuals that came close to nicking it against the run of play. Again though, faced with a ball loose in the box handing out written invitations for it to be turned into the net, it somehow didn’t happen.

There was still time for a few more Worthing chances. A header from a free kick was flicked on, but over the bar and never troubling the keeper. There was even a small flare up between a few players, which seemed completely out of place in a game played in such a good spirit, but in the end a game that really should have had more than the two goals, didn’t.

At a league game, even such a mild disappointment would probably have resulted in a few half-hearted boos from fans who think that’s just what you do if your team doesn’t win. In contrast, I just heard fans saying they enjoyed the game despite not winning. Supporting, as I do, a Championship club that’s over £100 million in debt, with seemingly benevolent but utterly clueless ownership, it’s not difficult to see the appeal of following clubs like these, who are interested in you, not just your money.

I couldn’t tell you who will win the replay. The team who remembers how to get a decent shot away, most probably, but it increasingly feels that it days like this, where the FA Cup means something rather than being a chance to give reserve players some game time, it where the competition’s soul still exists. If only both teams could get a chance to mix it with the “big boys” of the pro world in later rounds. I guess after Tuesday’s replay, one of them, at least, will be step nearer.

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York 1 Brackley 2

York City 1 Brackley Town 2 (28th August 2021)

One of the saddest footballing impacts of the Covid outbreak was that fans of clubs planning to move from much-loved grounds were denied the chance of a final goodbye to places they knew they’d be going to only a few more times. As much as fans accept the cost of progress, those last few games take on a large significance, as take in those “lasts”, the last time they’ll stand on a certain spot of terrace, the last time they’ll buy a dodgy hot-dog from the tea bar, the last goal they’ll celebrate, the last song they’ll sing. It’s not good to have that snatched away before you are ready, but that’s what happened to many clubs, including York.

I’d even planned to have one last look at Bootham Crescent myself, a ground I quite liked on my only visit way for a night game back in 1994. I liked it even though Reading lost 0-1, and a last-minute Jimmy Quinn penalty had been put so high over the bar that I wondered if I’d be able to catch it when it eventually landed over 25 years later. Critics of the place might suggest “at night” was the best time to view the place, but within its cosy, tightly packed confines, it just seemed like the quintessential lower division ground. Big enough to get a good atmosphere, but small enough to feel every fan could almost reach out and touch the players if they wished. OK, stuck in the open away end, I might have had a less charitable view of the ground if it had rained on that spring evening in 1994, but I’m glad I went, even I only managed it the once.

Another reason I wanted to go back was to be able to spend a little time in the centre of York itself, even if going up on the day might result in a whistle-stop tour of only a few of its attractions. With the new ground located in a retail park next to a Park & Ride for the city, it should have been doable. Sadly, partly due to me failing to sell the attractions of the city well enough to my mate who was driving up on this day, and a bit of general time-wasting faffing about for various reasons, it didn’t happen, and I’d have to be satisfied with taking in the architectural delights of the modern retail/leisure park aesthetic, rather than the historic remnants of the city centre.

It has to be said, at least while everything is still gleaming and new, the modern frontage of York’s LNER Community Stadium is actually pretty impressive. Ambition shines from it, and it gives an impression of a club on the rise. It looks like a place that’ll generate that all-important extra commercial revenue that would have been a dream at Bootham Crescent. Spaces for retail units built into the stand would be an extra source of revenue too, assuming the club would get to keep it, and they could actually hire them out.

Interestingly, the architecture is unified for this whole corner of the business park, meaning the stadium, bowling alley, cinema, gym, leisure centre etc all seem part of the same complex, giving it a unity which works. Even the other sides, while not up to the same level, are still pretty smart, with the odd bit of signage to liven things a little. It would have been nice to have had a little more showing it as the home of York City, but maybe that will come over time.

Inside, there’s a feel of quality. There’s no sense of thing just being done as cheaply as possible. A little bit of painting is enough to dispel that feeling of being a breeze block bunker that blights many modern builds, and the place feels adjusted to the higher levels of comfort that modern fans now expect.

The stands are all smart and offer a decent view, without being that big, main stand excepted, and they are not even all of a uniform size, so avoiding a common failing that makes places like Shrewsbury’s New Meadow so dull. True, I wouldn’t have chosen the seat pattern colours of red, yellow and blue blending, but with two teams calling the ground home (the other being rugby league team York Knights, who play in yellow and black) finding colours that suit both isn’t easy. The worst part is that rather than hiding low crowds, as these ‘broken’ seat patterns are meant to, they seemed to hide the crowd, making the 2400 or so in the ground look smaller.

While the ground is definitely better than I thought it would be, if there is one failing, it’s the lack of a proper home end. While more than adequate for the crowd today, the current home end just feels too small, not being even the slightest way imposing. Maybe in the future, if needs must, the even smaller away (just 6 rows of seats) could be expanded to create a better end, and a better atmosphere. As all too many have found, going all-seater without the focus of a proper end, can make the fans become an audience rather than a crowd. They watch the event, rather than being part of it.

While a number of fans in the home end, which included one guy dressed as a giraffe, did their best, albeit singing in the modern ‘ultras’ style, which needs a few thousand to sound even remotely impressive, one of the strangest things was just how laid-back the atmosphere was, more like a pre-season game than a league match.

It probably didn’t help that York haven’t exactly made the best start to the season, being bottom, having lost both games, and you got the sense that many fans had already slipped into that arms-folded “go on then, prove to me you aren’t rubbish” mentality fans get when they lose faith in the players filling the club shirt.

I’d seen how bad they could be at Gloucester last week, and I don’t seem to be much of a lucky charm for the club, even if it did start rather better for York this time, at least. There was certainly more ambition and determination from York than last week, even if the quality in the final third was again something of a concern. One of their better chances early on came from a goalkeeper’s clearance that was kicked directly at a York player. Luckily for the keeper, it rebounded straight back at him.

Under lazy sunshine, York were definitely having the better of the half. One header had been turned over the bar, but the resulting six yard box scramble had resulted in a Brackley free kick. A very similar situation on 20 minutes resulted in the first goal, when a similar scramble in the box saw the ball being prodded in from close range. Later in the half, a third six yard box melee, would see the ball in the net again, but this one ruled out for dubious foul on the goalkeeper. Had that stood, things could have been very different.

Instead, the York team took the field for the second half, and gave the impression they thought three points were in the bag, and they were thinking about what to cook for a back garden barbeque in the evening sun. Brackley, despite upping a gear, weren’t really clicking up front either, but they were increasingly controlling the game, but with their own take on being wasteful in the final third as well.

York seemed to be doing the bare minimum, just enough to hold off a team for whom things were quite coming off. You felt it would need something out of the ordinary, or a bit of luck, for Brackley to get back into it. It turned out to be the latter of those two options. Towards the end of their match at Gloucester last week, York conceded a goal from a shot that looked like it was meant to be a cross. With five minutes to go here, it happened again, this time from the right wing rather than the left, but ‘lucky’ or not, the York players only had themselves to blame for not trying to kill the game.

Hints of the anger present at the Gloucester game came from individuals around the ground, and suddenly there only looked one winner, and it wasn’t York. It took just three minutes for it to arrive. Possession was conceded cheaply, and race to the ball between attacker and keeper saw the ball being poked past the keeper into the net. The Brackley players celebrated in front of their delighted travelling fans, all 28 of them, and the boos and abuse from the home stands grew in volume.

The home players had one last chance to redeem themselves. An injury time break into the Brackley half saw the anger put on hold temporarily. The chance to be heroes in the eyes of the fans who’d been shouting rather angry comments just seconds earlier came, but a ball into the box was header over the bar, and that was that. Not just for the chance, but for the game, as the ref blew shortly after.

The game was over, and so was the truce. Anger flowed at the players, and “sack the board” sang the fans. Three defeats in three for York, including a 0-4 lumping and two home games lost to very late winners – hardly the dream start at the new ground (*with fans present) anybody was hoping for, and the possibility of yet another relegation no doubt troubling a few. I may not have had the chance to see York’s famous street “The Shambles”, but there’s little doubt I’ve managed to stumble across a York-related shambles of a different kind twice in eight days. It’s a shame. The 2500 who watch them still, in the 6th tier, deserve better.

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Gloucester 4 York 0

Gloucester City 4 York City 0 (21st August 2021)

Things are relative. My drive home from Gloucester, just 85 miles away, took over three hours thanks to a section of the M4 being shut, and a terrible detour. That’s obviously a long time, however, but for my hosts for the day, Gloucester City, getting home has taken rather longer.

In July 2007, large scale flooding inundated much of the country, and Gloucestershire was particularly badly hit. Gloucester City’s football ground, Meadow Park, was flooded to the height of the crossbars. It wasn’t the first time it had happened. There had been really bad flooding seven years earlier, which had put the ground out of action for six weeks. This time though it would be over thirteen years until the ground reopened, and fourteen years until fans were allowed back in. It was strange to think that many on those with children attending the game would have been still in school themselves the last time they attended a Gloucester home game in the city.

Exiled to four different venues, the club did remarkably well to avoid the spiral down the leagues that usually hits clubs forced to play away from their city, as crowds and local interest dwindles.

Instead, they find themselves in what many still refer to as “the Conference North” despite its renaming several years ago, and head-scratching strangeness of a club slightly further south than Luton being classed as being in the north of the country.

What is clear is that “New Meadow Park”, built about 30 yards north of, and crucially four metres above, the old ground, is a work in progress rather than the finished article. Getting home was the main priority, and if it is a little functional for now, that’s of less importance. One unexpected interesting aspect of this was the remains of the old home end, still visible a distance behind and below the new away end. Shorn of its roof and crush barriers it may be, but it was still clearly recognisable as a terrace, now overlooking a rubble-strewn car park rather than a pitch. Slightly strangely, two floodlight pylons at either end, not used by the new ground, still exist too.

Inside the new ground, the facilities of the two new stands, plonked interestingly either side of the existing clubhouse, are housed in converted shipping containers, although it’s not obvious from the pitch side where the red and yellow plastic seats add a splash of colour. While the position of the two stands look odd, they do look to be positioned exactly so that if the club ever wants to fill in the gap, it could do without having to knock down the clubhouse, but by building over it instead.

The club bar within served me my first ever beer in a paper cup, as if Starbucks had started selling alcohol, but that did allow me to sneakily take the beer to my seat. I’ve no idea if that’s allowed at this level in truth – it seems to vary in the non-league world – but a Guinness in a paper cup does look like a large latte anyway, so I might have got away with it. Nobody was checking, but nor was anybody checking the paper wristband I had to wear to indicate I’d bought a seat ticket – a cautious investment given the suspect weather forecast, and the miserable weather for the drive across from Berkshire.

Thankfully, buy the time I decided to opt for some food from one of the two tea bars on the far side, the rain had eased to the lightest of drizzles. An odd system involving three people taking orders, and just one doing the cooking, delivered £6 worth of cheeseburger and cheesy chips goodness in a Styrofoam box, as I prepared to take in the game sat directly in front of the co-commentators from Radio York, with City being the visitors today. Apparently the trip down from York had been as equally terrible the previous night as my journey today had been.

York City, enduring their own little exile from where they no doubt feel they should be – the Football League – brought an impressive 250 or more down from Yorkshire, but unless their motivation was to enjoy this historic day for Gloucester City, they probably regretted the decision afterwards. The home fans, of which there were plenty in the 2000+ crowd, would be somewhat happier.

As if not wanting to spoil the day, the gloomy weather eased as the teams took the field. As is increasingly common in non-league circles, the pitch was the artificial 4G variety, which may displease the purists, but as well as easing the concerns of those driving to games in heavy rain, it allows little flourishes like have the club badge on the perimeter. Little touches like that add a bit of character, doubly important where budgets have constrained aesthetic concerns elsewhere.

When the previous season had been declared null and void due to Covid, Gloucester had been five points clear at the top, and not really thrilled with the decision. They seemed to treat this game as not only a celebration of coming home, but also a chance to pick up where they left off.

After quite an even start, with York perhaps even edging play, the home side started to get on top. While York had a fair bit of early possession, they weren’t really doing too much with it. Time and time again they got into good positions, but then overhit the ball like they were playing with one of those £5 footballs from a garage.

Gloucester, it has to be said, weren’t exactly finding good chances easy to come by either, but nearly everything good from them was coming from the left wing, where No.19 Danny King, was running the show, causing the York defence no end of problems – perhaps not surprising as both fullbacks were apparently midfielders forced to play out of position due to injuries.

King had supplied the best chance in the first half, turning his man by the touchline, before running in and send a low ball across the six yard box, but somehow nobody was able to add a touch.

It looked like the teams would go in 0-0 at half time, but King was enjoying the half, and a minute before it ended he was able to get a shot away that evaded the keeper and bounced in off the base of the post.

York came out in the second half showing a bit more determination, but sometimes it’s just not your day. Ten minutes into the half, with Gloucester beginning to assert themselves again, a shot took a huge deflection and the stranded York keeper could only watch it roll into the net.

York’s last real chance to get back into the game came midway through the half. Gloucester’s keeper couldn’t punch clear far enough, and it was knocked back towards goal. Two defenders went for the same header to clear, right under the crossbar, and for a second it looked like the ball had gone in, but a relieved keeper was able to fall on the ball and end the danger.

Any nerves the home fans might have had that the party could be spoiled were put to bed with 15 minutes left, when Gloucester captain Kevin Dawson hit a shot from distance that was a goal from the moment it left his boot. The contrast between the two ends couldn’t have been more stark, with home celebrations being matched with increasing grumbles and angry shouts from the away end. The contrast only grew when Gloucester put the icing on the cake when a cross/chip from out wide went over the keeper and dropped into the net behind him to make it 4-0, to end the game.

Seeing the team bottom and pointless after two games, the York faithful weren’t too generous in their appreciation of the team’s efforts after the final whistle, but today was about Gloucester City. The biggest home crowd for 25 years was probably expected, but they can’t have dreamed things would have gone so well on the pitch too. They’ve put right the wrong of being unable to play home games in their city for so long, and if they can keep up this level of performance, they might right the wrong and having last season’s promotion push taken out of their hands too.

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Bury 2 Campion 1

Bury AFC 2 Campion 1 (15th August 2021)

In the sadly ever-growing saga of non-league clubs who really still ought to be league clubs, Bury are one of the latest victims, looking from a low rung on the football ladder at the long climb ahead of them to get back to where they were before.

Tales of smaller clubs failing due to incompetence and the avarice of false saviours, who see a club’s stadium and think it’d be a great location for small housing development, are nothing new, but perhaps the strangest thing about Bury’s demise was that rather than being at the end of a period of decline, the club has just achieved promotion to League One. Sadly the subsequent departure of players, the manager, and any sense of competence at the top, sealed the club’s fate.

No League One fixtures would take place for them, and unable to convince The Football League they’d be able to complete the 19/20 season, they were expelled from the League.

With a certain ironic twist, the last game Bury played was a friendly at Radcliffe, as when the fan formed phoenix club looked for a home, Radcliffe’s ground, just 2.5 miles from Gigg Lane, was where they ended up.

Gigg Lane still exists, as does the company “Bury FC”, technically, but with large debts, no players, no league to play in, and seemingly no desire to play any more, given how the old ground has been left to rot, this new club is the heart of soul of the original club, whatever “Bury FC”’s owner wants to claim.

A four hour drive up north saw the traditional Greater Manchester rain rolling in, but also saw a traditional warm welcome from the club, where all supporters are valued, rather than being regarded as customers to be milked for cash in any way possible. They also had the good taste to name themselves “Bury AFC” rather than “AFC Bury” – the usual imagination free copycat moniker for reformed clubs after AFC Wimbledon chose it nearly 20 years ago, that irks me to an irrational degree because it sounds so daft if read out in full.

As well as the warm welcome, there was some genuine warmth too, as the rain, which threatened to make the afternoon a soggy one at one point, departed just before kick-off.

With Bury clearly going to be drawing crowds far in excess of the league’s average, and also far more than Radcliffe would get, the ground being able to cope would be an obvious concern, but despite being an obvious downgrade from Gigg Lane, The Neuven Stadium, as the ground is known, should be OK for now.

Unusually, all the seats at the ground are at one end, with a modern 350 seat stand that wouldn’t look out of place much higher up the pyramid. The back wall was covered in flags for Bury, but also one for Rangers, and one talking of a link between Bury and German Regionliga side Rot-Weiss Oberhausen. I’ve no idea how that came about, I don’t recall seeing a similar flag at Oberhausen when I went in 2015, but maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough.

The other end has a covered terrace, about the width of the six yard box, blessed with several chunky steps of terrace. Also here is the tea bar and a beer garden, even if drinking beer outdoors in Manchester weather risks your glass filling up faster than you can empty it.

One side is narrow, with a bit of shelter, with the clubhouse and changing rooms, while the other side has a few more chunky steps of terrace, offering a bit of a vantage point should Bury’s crowds rise as they gain success. Two curious onlookers watched over the back wall of this terrace from their garden, presumably on some kind of ladder, unless they are an exceptionally tall couple. An older woman would walk along this terrace picking up litter with a grabber in the second half. “I’m just practicing for dark nights” she said, ”when I’ll be picking your wallets instead.”

The visitors for this North West Counties League Div 1 fixture were Campion, from Bradford, who were slightly confused as to how a team from Yorkshire were deemed to be in a North West county, but were no doubt still up for a game which would be played in front of the biggest crowd many of them would play in. Such ‘game raising’ will no doubt be a feature of Bury’s life at this level, but it made for a closer game than some might expect, given the financial mismatch.

With the game, even at this level, being far less “agricultural” than maybe it was in years gone by, there is some tidy football played. Radcliffe’s pitch has a significant slope end to end though, and while logic would dictate that kicking down the slope would be easier, it did mean that any overhit pass would tend to run away down the slope. Bury, despite having most of the play, were struggling to quite get in right in the final third. Campion, on the other hand, were looking lively on the break, but were being hampered by a reluctance to push too many forward.

When they did get bodies in the box, towards the end of the first half, they took the lead. A tangle of players inside the area was deemed a foul, giving Campion the chance to go in front. Penalties at this level, unlike all the fannying about in the pro game, do tend to have a “run up and whack the bugger” approach, and this again worked, thumping into the net low and hard to the keeper’s right.

It was maybe something of a wake-up call to Bury, and the lead only lasted a few minutes before they deservedly drew level, with No.10 Greg Daniels turning the ball in at the back post for the equaliser.

Whether it was this alone that lifted Bury, or if they had a few stern half-time words, they certainly came out in the second half with a lot more determination, and a lot more use of the width pitch the pitch too. It was one such fast and wide attack the lead to Bury going in front. Tom Greaves, the club’s “all-time” leading goalscorer was put through, and he fired across the keeper into the far corner of the net to put Bury in front early in the second half.

It looked for a while that Bury could run riot if they added a third, and they did come close, but Campion were still a threat too. It look some good defending to keep out a succession of corners, and one flying save from the Bury keeper stopped Campion drawing level. They certainly didn’t look like a team that had would end the day having lost all three games this season.

For Bury it’s 10 points from the first four games, as they embark on the long journey back to Football League status – six seasons at the absolute minimum. The club seems to have the right attitude though, and at least the short journey back from Radcliffe to Bury won’t take as long.

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Brentford 2 Valencia 1

Brentford 2 Valencia CF 1 (7th August 2021)

It’s not that often you get the chance to go to a brand new ground. It’s even rarer to be doing it among home fans experiencing it for the first time too, but that was the situation at Brentford’s new Brentford Community Stadium, among several thousand Brentford fans who’d never been there before either.

Of course, it’s not an entirely new stadium, having opened a year earlier, but with COVID in full swing, the highest crowd that had been in the place was 3830 for a play-off game, with nearly all others played behind closed doors. The 10,007 that would attend this game would be the highest by a fair margin, albeit still less than could fit into Griffin Park, a few hundred metres to the west.

A surprising amount of Griffin Park still exists. Parking in an atrocious car park underneath a Premier Inn, I popped by to see what was left, expecting to see a flattened site. The main stand was still there, even if it was missing a chunk out of it, and much of it look gutted. The stand opposite had lost its roof, and was just bits of exposed steelwork. Both ends have probably gone completely, but it was impossible to tell from the outside. Surprising the club shop was still there and functioning, as the only one at the new place, currently, was a portakabin outside the ground.

Sadder to some will be that the old ground no longer has a pub on each corner, with The Princess Royal now boarded up. It looked like the pub on the opposite corner might have shut too (or just had invisible patrons and bar staff) but it appears it now only opens in evenings.

There weren’t quite so many pubs near the new place (just the one, very close, and a coffee bar) but it looks like there are a few in the locale, plus various cafes and shops that you get from being able to build a new stadium in a town, not stuck out on an industrial estate. It adds to the character of the ground massively.

Not that the ground is easy to see at first. Part of the reason Brentford were able to finance the move was down to using much of the site for large apartment blocks, which only offers glimpses of the ground within, from many directions. This restriction, along with being squeezed on three sides by railways lines, means the ground avoids the dull uniformity found with most new grounds, All the odd angles and cutaway sections make the outside look slightly reminiscent of an origami crane, folded in impossible ways, and it’s all the better for it.

Every stand looks different, and it just makes the place much more interesting. American stadium designers realised this nearly 30 years ago when building the Camden Yards baseball stadium on a restricted site in Baltimore, and I really hope designers here will realise this when designing new grounds here too.

Even the concourses had enough splashes of colour and detail to give them a little life. OK, you’re not going to think you’ve walked into The Savoy by mistake, but it does avoid the underground car park celebration of the breeze block that most modern grounds resemble.

Inside, if you overlook the unusual multicolour seat pattern, you couldn’t want much more from a ground this size. Good views, and interesting look to the stands, and bit of a backdrop outside the stands too, with all the development, and maybe best of all, a roof which really aids the acoustics. If I had one gripe it would be that the TV screen placed inside the roof of the stand I was in were placed so far back that the people in the first 15 of so rows wouldn’t be able to see them at all, and most of the rest would end the day with bad necks, having to look up near vertically to watch.

The pre-match build-up continued. Steve Coppell and Martin Allen were interviewed. Some young guys with a mixing desk, speakers, and microphones did “something urban” (any further detail of the musical style is impossible for me) in one corner, which seemed to be appreciated, then most of the crowd joined in, You’ll Never Walk Alone style, with “Hey Jude” played over the PA system. The previously mentioned great acoustics of the roof really helped, and all was set for a sunny early evening of football.

Friendlies aren’t always the best way to judge the abilities of teams, but I was hoping for a good game, and at very least a better one than the only time I’d seen Valencia play before – a dreary 0-0 at their place three years ago.

Brentford certainly looked hungrier than their Spanish opponents, but they in turn looked more composed on the ball. It was therefore something of a surprise when a Valencia defender was dispossessed in the box, and the ball squared for a tap-in from 10 yards out to give Brentford an early lead. Unfortunately the pass was made from ten and a half yards, and Brentford fans had their first chance to sing uncomplimentary songs about VAR, as it ruled the goal out.

Valencia upped their game a bit after that, without ever really looking like their hearts were totally in it, taking the lead after half an hour. A nice move into the box ended with the ball being stroked in past a wrong footed keeper, to give the Spanish the lead. About 70 Valencia fans in the far corner celebrated, able to enjoy something other than the novelty of seeing a new stadium actually being completed – their own half built Nou Mestalla has been a concrete shell for 12 years now.

Having seen cloud and sun during the first half, Valencia’s fans and players got to experience the full English summer experience, as rain started to hammer down during the half time interval. Brentford’s players, on the other hand, seemed to experience a traditional bit of half time “encouragement” as they came out with a determination that had been lacking in times in the first period.

With the sun returning and so many players departing (the PA guy gave up announcing all the Valencia subs, ending “and I think somebody else as well”) Brentford started to get on top. They equalised after about an hour, heading in a set piece that was perfectly placed in the top corner – but also sadly imperfectly placed for me, with the ball obscured by a fan jumping up in anticipation. I can’t blame fans for getting excited though. That’s what the game is all about. He was much less annoying than finding myself, yet again, on the weak bladder row, finding myself up and down every few minutes as a string of people on my row sought out the toilet.

It was no surprise that after getting on top, and drawing level, Brentford went in front a few minutes later. A cross wasn’t cleared, and it was drilled in low inside the near post to put the hosts 2-1 up. Not so long before, a nice rainbow was about the limit of their 2nd half joy, but now they had something real to get excited about.

Brentford had other chances too, and could have made it more convincing, while the much-changed Valencia team had a remaining 20 minutes or so of the kind that managers usually call “a good work out”, where they pass the ball nicely, but don’t really do much.

What this day says about Brentford’s prospects for the new season is hard to say. They’ll certainly face tougher and more interested opposition than Valencia, and the play between the keeper and back four might result in them being picked off for a few goals this season, but they look a positive side, and that always seems to count for a lot. The real test is next weekend, not this one. Whatever happens though, they’ve got a really nice new ground, probably the best ‘smaller’ stadium in the country, to watch it in.

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Arundel 0 Midhurst 3

Arundel 0 Midhurst & Easebourne 3 (31st July 2021)

With two options to choose from, the other being a match at Ramsgate, it was inevitable that I’d choose the one with fewer goals, but I didn’t count on one of the other reasons for picking Arundel, the shorter journey time, also being negated as well. Some heavy rain and some heavy traffic added 45 minutes to what was supposed to be a 75 minute journey, almost putting in doubt the deciding factor – a chance to have a look round Arundel Castle.

The fact that Arundel Castle was hosting a medieval event (falconly, axe throwing, food prices that were highway robbery) made the traffic even worse, but did add a bit to the day. It would have been nice if one of the castle windows or battlements had offered a view of the ground, handily just over the road, but you can’t have everything.

Other than one small but perfectly formed stand, and a covered area in one corner, there isn’t a vast amount to Arundel’s ground, but with the castle poking over the trees, plus glimpses of the South Downs in the other direction, on a surprisingly pleasant summer’s afternoon it doesn’t really matter. It’s a place to take a beer out and watch the game and enjoy the surroundings.

That said, there does seem to some kind of thatched yurt just beyond the fence in one corner, making it also feel like a continuation of the castle’s medieval theme. A white wood-panelled set of changing rooms looked like they be more at home next to a cricket pitch, while the far end had a long expanse of turf before the boundary fence, just big enough to make anyone stood there have to act as ballboy for any shot going over.

There was also what looked to be a tv gantry near the halfway line, strangely covered in camoflage webbing, as if it also concealed a hidden machine gun post, defending Arundel from airborne invaders.

In contrast to last week’s Met Police effort, Arundel’s programme contained no examples of a certain four-letter word beginning with ‘F’. It did, however, did include the line “We will be a very young talented squad but I’m sure you will appreciate the way they play football”, which is normally enough to have the odd alarm bell ringing at the start of the season.

“The Mullets” as Arundel are known (thankfully based on the fish, rather than the 80s fashion crime) did indeed look a reasonably young side, but they did start out acquitting themselves pretty well. The visitors, Midhurst, did look stronger, but in the first half anyway, it was Arundel who were generally having the better chances.

The best of these was 30 minutes into the first half, when a shot thudded against the bottom of the upright, and squirmed along the goal line. A tap-in looked inevitable, but brave Midhurst defending allowed a the ball to be cleared, and the defender bundled into the net instead.

Another Arundel effort was strongly saved, being turned onto the crossbar, shortly after, although Midhurst did have an effort ruled out for offside, albeit with the whistle clearly already gone.

It was looking like Arundel had enough sharpness to maybe nick the win, but the game turned just before half time when they had a player sent off for a “last man” foul. He didn’t really look clean through, and there was a ‘frank and robust’ discussion of the finer points of the ruling from both benches.

It took a long time for the extra man to really tell, but midway though the 2nd half two chances in succession were turned in by a Midhurst attack that previously had had “something we need to work on in training” stamped all over it.

As Arundel head’s understandably dropped, having worked so hard for so long, it didn’t take long for a third to be added, calmly sidefooted in at the back post. The keeper shouted at the defenders, the defenders shouted at other defenders, the ref, anyone who might hear really, and for a while it looked like it might be a case of how many.

That would have been very harsh on Arundel. True, their ‘top of the league after 0 games’ table in the match programme probably won’t feature Arundel in that position again, but they battled well, and did create some good chances, and might have got something out of the game 11 v 11. Midhurst, if they can get a bit sharper, could have a good season.

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