Stick a fork in I’m done with 2021/22

Here is a review of my itinerant football watching during the 2021/22 campaign.

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Total Matches Attended: 302 

New Grounds Visited: 189 

Total Goals Scored: 1,326 (Average of 4.39 goals per game, down on 4.79 last season, I saw seven 0-0 draws this season)

Biggest Win: Hashtag United Women 17 Southend United Ladies 0

Biggest Crowd: 87,112 (Italy v Argentina, Wembley Stadium) 

Grounds Abroad: 0

BEST GROUNDS VISITED IN THE UK IN 2021/22

1.Boston United – Jakemans Community Stadium

2.Linlithgow Rose – Prestonfield

3.Glenrothes – Warout Stadium

4.Malvern Town – Langland Stadium

5.Troon – Portland Park

BEST PROGRAMMES BOUGHT IN 2021/22

(Based on status, resources, effort and originality)

1.Portland United

2.Walthamstow

3.Hill of Beath Hawthorn

4.Hoddesdon Town

5.Newport IOW

BEST FOOD IN 2021/22

I normally only recognise the top 3 in this category but 2021/22 was a veritable culinary extravaganza!

1.Doner Kebab Pie – Bonnyrigg Rose

2.Gyros -Hereford Lads Club

3.Chicken Paella – St.Albans City

4.Chicken Curry Pie – Hill of Beath Hawthorn

5.Chilli Scotch Egg – Westfields

There is a Season, Turn! Turn! Turn! – A Short History of Football Turnstiles

While the irregular beauty of grandstands, covered stands, and open terraces have been a source of wonder and admiration for football ground enthusiasts for at least fifty years, other parts of the make-up of a football ground such as floodlights and turnstiles have only recently seen an upsurge of interest and appreciation. This has largely been attributable to the increasing influence of social media, with searchable hashtags like #FloodlightFriday and #Turnstiles becoming increasingly popular.

One aspect of turnstiles I have always found exceedingly interesting is their provenance. Quite often you will find yourself sat in a ground that was only built in the post-World War II period, yet your method of egress will quite often be considerably older, maybe even as old as the Victorian period. In that era football was still relatively in its infancy, but clubs were progressive and the need to cover operational costs deemed charging of admission essential to survival. The first report of the installation of mechanical turnstiles at a British football ground was in 1873 at Hampden Park. This replaced the open gate system prevalent at the majority of football grounds which often saw operators completely overwhelmed with people trying to get into matches.

The means of restricting access to paying customers was relatively simple, a cast iron heavyweight barrier controlled by and operator once the admission charge had been paid. Several manufacturers of such devices appeared on the scene to cater for the demand of a burgeoning market. Interestingly several of the manufacturers centre around the Manchester area.

W.T.Ellison were one of these manufacturers and all their turnstiles have an individual serial number on the manufacturing plate. Ellison’s original workshop was in the intriguingly named Irlam O’ Th’ Height. The small town that sits on top of the Irwell Valley, had a railway station on the Pendleton and Hindley line of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway so was ideally situated to deliver these heavyweight devices to eager clientele.

W.T.Ellison’s plate at Colne FC

One of the scourges of early football was overcrowding and uncontrolled entry to football grounds led to many reported incidents of crushing injuries and even fatalities. Football club owners had also become patently aware that gate receipts often fell considerably short of expectation leading to the obvious conclusion that certain gate operators were “on the take”, and others were simply overwhelmed by eager spectators “rushing” the entrances. Ellison’s came up with a design which included a sealed in, tamper proof, incrometer to record the number of people entering each gate. Records show that Ellison’s Rush Preventive Turnstiles were patented by William Thomas Ellison Jr of 323 Bolton Road, Pendleton, Salford and James Unsworth Jr of Manchester. Their application was filed on February 19th, 1892 and assigned patent number 3,225. It gave Ellison’s a clear market lead which is why you will find they are the predominant manufacturer of turnstiles still in use today. The rush preventative turnstiles were design to safely admit up to 4,000 spectators per hour, reduced to 3,000 if change needed to be given. These figures are quite staggering when you consider the Taylor Report contended that safely operated turnstiles needed to admit 660 people per hour.

Ellison’s advert highlighting their patented incrometer

While there is no surviving definitive list of to whom their turnstiles were sold to, some diligent research by club historians has thrown some interesting light on the matter. For example, in the excellent “Farewell to Maine Road”, author Gary James and “Turnstile” Ted Pearson spent their spare time recording them and trying to date them. Four of Maine Road’s “Irlam” turnstiles were numbered 48, 59, 75 and 76 and club accounts show turnstiles were purchased from Ellison’s in 1896 and 1898. This, of course, means these were purchased for their previous Hyde Road ground and subsequently moved to Maine Road for the opening in 1923.

Ellison’s advert and clientele list

Maine Road also had nine Ellison’s Rush Preventative turnstiles which club records show were purchased from Ellison’s in 1904 and 1910, so would have also been at Hyde Road. Gary James also records that King George VI visited Hyde Road in 1920, the first reigning monarch to visit a provincial football stadium, and is likely to have used a turnstile. There is also proof that a future prime minister, A.J. Balfour, clicked himself through one of these earliest known turnstiles. The Kippax Stand had two very ancient W.Bailey’s turnstiles, also likely to have come from Hyde Road. Anecdotally, the wall of Kippax turnstiles was added to when the club acquired some from Belle Vue speedway stadium, highlighting the second-hand market for these heavy metal fixtures, which is still prevalent today. Two of the low numbered Ellison turnstiles were supposed to have been preserved for the club to take and display at the new stadium but sadly they were stolen and never recovered. 

Ellison’s already had lucrative customers like Hampden Park, Twickenham and Murrayfield so they were the obvious choice for the prestigious installation of 100 turnstiles at the new Wembley Stadium in 1923. William Ellison died around 1949 and was survived by his wife Mabel who died in 1984 and a daughter.

An Ellison plate from Winsford United FC and decoration plate from Stourport Swifts FC

The story of W.H. Bailey turnstiles begins with his father’s company, John Bailey & Co who opened the Albion Works, Oldfield Road, Salford in 1832 manufacturing turret clocks and steam and water gauges. Upon retirement in 1865 ownership passed to William Bailey and it is from this date turnstile manufacturing started to boom particularly for use in crowd control on pleasure piers, swimming baths, amusement arcades and horse racing venues.

Bailey’s huge factory

Under William Bailey the firm boomed into all sorts of heavy manufacturing, offering a book “Bailey’s Illustrated Inventions” replete with 1,000 engravings, free with orders over £10! He opened a second works at Hall Bank in Patricroft in 1885 and received a knighthood for industry in 1894.

William Bailey

In order to compete with Ellison’s hugely popular Rush Preventative mechanism, Bailey’s came up with a “Quick Action” turnstile but it never really dented Ellison’s market dominance. When Chicago Cubs renovated their historic Wrigley Field in 2009, a vintage “Bailey’s of Salford” turnstile was replaced and subsequently auctioned off. Sir William Bailey passed away in 1913 and, although, the Salford site was totally destroyed by bombing in 1940, the entire business continued to operate from the Patricroft works. The company continues to this day as Bailey-Birkett Valves, primarily producing components for the water industry.

Bailey’s manufacturing plates at Wingate & Finchley, Sutton United (since removed), and Bishop’s Stortford.

The invention of rush preventative turnstiles had a huge impact on match day income, Simon Inglis recorded that in the season Aston Villa installed turnstiles, gate receipts rose by over 300% and Everton reported a similar hike in revenue. In 1895, Celtic are recorded as spending £445, a not inconsiderable sum at the time, on Ellison’s turnstiles for the “new” Celtic Park which had opened three years previously, the club would soon recover their outlay. Smashing the admission scams of a generation of crooked gatemen were not wholly successful, however, as some cunning operatives found the new mechanisms could still be beneficially tampered with. It was found that clever use of the foot pedal and marking the gate of a turnstile with a scratch or a piece of tape, could see the device only half rotate, allowing two people to enter on one click of the incrometer. If you look closely many of the old housings for the incrometer housing have gauges or even smashed glass as cruder attempts were made to stop the dials turning. While clubs thrived on their return of investment in turnstiles, they were not wholly popular with spectators, gentlemen of larger proportions complained about the narrow apertures and women found the experience demeaning and would often ruin their dresses!

There were other manufacturers of turnstiles, but none could wrestle the market share Ellison’s held over all the others. R. & B.M. Mayor of Manchester turnstiles are still a fairly common sight at non-league grounds. Mayors eventually moved to Ashton under Lyne and continued manufacturing turnstiles until the company was dissolved in 2007.

A Mayor’s turnstile still doing fine service at Goole AFC

There were two manufacturers that were primarily Abyssinian tube and Artesian well engineers who diversified into turnstile manufacturing during the heyday that saw incredible demand for the devices. Two such companies were Le Grand and Sutcliff (from 1920, Le Grand, Sutcliff and Gell) of Bunhill Row, London and Camillo Isler of Bear Lane, Southwark.

A Norton plate from Sutton United (since removed) and a Le Grand & Sutcliff advert

Le Grand and Sutcliff were originally sole manufacturers of the Norton’s patent turnstile, although later a licence was also granted to Hill and Smith Ltd of Brierley Hill. Norton’s were a particularly stylish looking turnstile and were commonly used in swimming baths. There is a particularly fine Norton’s turnstile at the Nelson Monument in Edinburgh and Norton’s are still actively used at Torquay Rugby Club, Frickley Athletic, Sutton United, Eastbourne Town, St Albans City and Tonbridge Angels. Le Grand, Sutcliff and Gell expanded into works at Southall and Rochester but were taken over by Platt & Co in 1956.

Isler’s “Elliptical Improved Patent” turnstiles were perhaps more common placed on piers, gardens and cliff lifts and were renowned for the large, heavy, brass counter housed under the manufacturers plate. Remaining Isler turnstiles in use at football grounds can be seen at St Albans City and Ebbsfleet United.

An even rarer manufacturer was Henry John Slark of Walham Green, Fulham. A Slark’s turnstile was still going strong at Boston United’s York Street until it’s recent closure and there is also one at Ardley United. Slark’s lattice metalwork designs are particularly ornate.

The only John Mann Lockerbie & Arthur Wilkinson of Tipton turnstile I have seen was at Walton & Hersham’s former Stompond Lane stadium. Lockerbie & Wilkinson started at a small factory in New Street, Birmingham before moving to the huge Alexander Works in Locarno Road, Tipton, from where they still conduct business today. Trading under the name “Locwil” they made all sorts of iron furnishings, vending machines, agricultural and abattoir equipment, but became famous for patenting the coin operated door locks for public conveniences in the 1880’s.

While many grounds still use these antique devices, they are slowly being replaced by more modern turnstiles and barcode scanning systems. One thing is for certain though, the Victorian design of these incredible machines still serves the purpose they were invented for, and long may they continue to click those customers in!

If you get bitten by the bug of “turnstile spotting” feel free to copy in @PeterRMiles into your Twitter posts especially if you locate one of the rarer manufacturers!

A version of this article first appeared in Issue 104 of the superb football grounds magazine, “Groundtastic”.

Stick a fork in I’m done with 2020/21

Here is a review of my itinerant football watching during the 2020/21 campaign.

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Total Matches Attended: 177
New Grounds Visited:
148

Total Goals Scored:
847 (Average of 4.79 goals per game, up on 4.05 last season and a record high. I saw just one 0-0 draw this season)
Biggest Win:
Anchorians Academicals 0Little Sharsted 18 (a new record score)
Biggest Crowd:
2,000 Southend United v Scunthorpe United

Grounds Abroad:
0

mmmm-097

BEST GROUNDS VISITED IN THE UK IN 2020/21

  1. COWES SPORTS – Westwood Park

Near centenarian stand still looking the part, lovingly maintained.

2.GOOLE AFC – Victoria Pleasure Grounds

Iconic skyline complimenting a stand all of which are redolent of a bygone era

3. SWINTON ATHLETIC – Mexborough Athletic Ground

Tidy seated stand and cracking terracing, all grounds should be this good.

4. SEDBURGH & DENT UNITED – Church Bridge

Got to include this just for its glorious vistas

5. HATHEROP – Church Street Ground

With the beautiful church of St Nicholas just behind one of goals the former home of Coln St Aldwyns, Hatherop and Quennington United is now used by just plain old Hatherop FC.

BEST PROGRAMMES BOUGHT IN 2020/21

(Based on status, resources, effort and originality)

  1. CRAY WANDERERS

2. WINTERTON RANGERS

3. WORCESTER CITY

4. WAKEFIELD AFC

5. GOOLE AFC

BEST FOOD IN 2020/21

Not too many candidates outside of the usual burgers and pies but these two excelled on my visits this season

  1. WINTERTON RANGERS – Chicken Curry and chips

2. BARTON TOWN – Chilli con carne and chips

The Hoff (Hoffmann Athletic)

The story of the Hoffman Manufacturing Company starts with Dresden born inventor Ernst Gustav Hoffman, who in 1892, aged just 28, invented the ball lathe, which allowed the rapid manufacturing of ball bearings. 

He briefly lived in Friern Barnet with his family before moving to the United States in order to patent his invention there, as well as his improved furniture castor. In 1897, Geoffrey and Charles Barrett persuaded Hoffman to return to England and go into business with them. His bearing lathe patent and other patents were sold to a new incorporation, Hoffman Manufacturing Company. The company opened a four acre plant on New Street, Chelmsford in Essex. 

The new company was hugely successful making numerous improvements to existing machines, devices and fittings as well as inventing new ones. In 1903 Hoffman resigned from the company and returned to the States where became a naturalised American two years later.

Under Geoffrey Barrett Hoffman’s boomed and the factory was extended in 1906, eventually reaching fifty acres in size. The expansion allowed the formation of Hoffman Athletic in 1907. By 1918 Hoffman’s were employing nearly 5,000 people and producing almost 250,000 ball bearings a month. Their market was in cars, aircraft and other industrial machinery. In 1938, the company opened a second factory in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire at the Bristol Road end of Oldends Lane. The second factory concentrated on micro bearings for gyroscopes, a vital component in all navigation systems. The Stonehouse site was ideal as it could use water from the Stroudwater Navigation Canal in their industrial processes. During World War II, the company’s significant involvement in the war effort made the Chelmsford plant an obvious target for the Luftwaffe. On December 19th 1944 a V2 rocket landed in nearby Henry Road, damaging the factory, destroying houses and killing 39 civilians. 

The firm rallied and were employing 7,500 people when in 1969, Hoffman’s merged with Ransome & Marles and Pollards to form RHP, Ransome, Hoffman and Pollard. The 1980’s saw Hoffman’s in decline, the factory gates closed for the final time in Chelmsford on December 23rd 1989. 

The Hoffman Athletic club fielded teams in football, cricket, tennis, badminton and athletics. The football wing had sufficient numbers to field teams in the South Essex, Mid Essex and Spartan Leagues. Reproduced here are two pages from their programme from a 1919 match with Custom House in the South Essex League, with the superb name of “The Sphericals’ Budget”. 

The club initially played on a field at Coval Lane but in 1910 were reported for “unruly scenes” during a Chelmsford League match against Manor Works (now known as Braintree Town). The club had to put up notices of censure with regard to spectators’ future conduct at matches! Coval Lane had a grandstand, and four figure attendances were a regular occurrence. For the 1912/13 season Hoffman Athletic groundshared at Chelmsford’s King Head Meadow ground, although the arrangement was short lived as the host club insisted on keeping all gate receipts.

In 1919 Hoffman’s established their sporting base at an eight acre field in Rainsford Road. The new ground had seating for 1,000 people, mainly on wooden bench seating, but there was also a modest grandstand, costing £50 to erect and housing 80 people. 

The Rainsford Road Ground (Photo: Percy McDonald)

Athletic joined the Essex & Suffolk Border League in the 1930’s finishing as Senior Division runners up in 1935/36 an 1936/37. These successful campaigns were followed by Hoffman’s enjoying their best ever run in the FA Cup of 1937/38. The Sphericals’ defeated Ford Sports (Dagenham) 3-2 at home in the Preliminary Round before being paired with Athenian League Romford. A bumper crowd of 4,100 attended the game at Brooklands, and Hoffman’s pulled off a major shock coming away with another 3-2 victory. Clapton were then defeated 2-1 at Rainsford Road, before the Third Qualifying round tie at home to Leytonstone produced a record crowd of 3,500 at Rainsford Road. The Sphericals’ run continued with another 2-1 success.

In the Fourth Qualifying round Hoffman’s were again drawn at home to the professional Southern League side, Ipswich Town. Town’s owners, the Cobbold family, had made Scott Duncan the highest paid manager in the county when he had joined them from Manchester United in November 1937. Journalists from all over the country flocked to Rainsford Road to get an interview with, and photographs of, Duncan. One journalist had a rather disparaging view of facilities condescendingly stating that the stand was no bigger than a rabbit hutch! Another huge crowd gathered but Hoffman’s were finally eliminated with a 3-0 win for the visitors, who would be elected to the Football League for the following season.

The experience served Hoffman’s well and they applied to join the Eastern Counties League. Surprisingly, their application was rejected, but it mattered little, as they swept to the Senior Division title in the Border League. By 1950 a new bowling green meant the tennis courts were relocated to the site of the stand which was demolished. Two years later the company bought the adjacent former YMCA ground in St Fabian’s Drive. The footballers moved to the new field, walking down from the existing pavilion at Rainsford Road. The team was renamed RHP (Chelmsford) Sports & Social Club following the merger and would return to the original pitch in Rainsford Road in 1980.

By the 1980’s the company was struggling financially and in 1984, the sports activities ceased. All land, bar the bowls club, was sold off and is now largely engulfed by housing. The site of the old ground can be located down a small alley at the junction of Rainsford Road and Roxwell Road.

Similarly, to their counterparts in Essex, the Stonehouse factory formed a football team during the Second World War and Hoffman Athletic joined the Western League for the 1946/47 season. They spent thirteen seasons in the Western League before dropping down to the Gloucestershire Northern Senior League. They also entered the FA Cup with their best performance coming in that initial 1946/47 season, when they reached the Third Qualifying round before losing by the odd goal in seven to Trowbridge Town. The club folded in the 1960’s. 

The Hoffman factory in Stonehouse

Notes From A Small Island 5 – Isle of Wight

Football came relatively early to the Isle of Wight and, undoubtedly, Cowes were one of the first organised clubs on the island, being formed in 1881. However, the club failed to complete the 1899/1900 Southern League season, disbanding after a home League game against Tottenham Hotspur, which Cowes lost 6-1. The club was resurrected as the existing Cowes White Star club took over the Cowes name in 1903 and bought football back to the Brooklyn Ground in Park Road which boasted a stand to house 700 people. The pitch had a notorious slope but this had been levelled in 1898. Sadly, by 1912 the landlord wanted to build houses at Brooklyn so the club had to look for a new site in the Northwood Park area of the town. The resulting move to their current ground at Westwood Park in 1912 proved hugely beneficial and Cowes saw crowds regularly surpass four figures for Hampshire County Division matches. In 1917 Westwood hosted a match between Cowes and a Portsmouth ladies team, it was agreed the men’s team would play the match with their hands clasped behind their backs!

The current stand at Westwood Park was built in the mid 1920’s, apparently by local shipbuilders who who had been given 24 hours notice to erect it ahead of a match against Newport. Prior to then, a small stand with bench seating had been erected on the opposite side. It is recorded that the 1926 Good Friday match at Westwood against Ryde, attracted 3,400 people. In a smart move Cowes purchased the freehold of Westwood Park in 1945 for £665. In the 1980’s Cowes merged with Whites Sports to become Cowes Sports.

Cowes Sports

Newport were relatively late to the burgeoning growth of football on the island. The first mention of the club comes in January 1888 when they lost a game against Lugley House School. Newport moved to Church Litten, then called Well’s Field, around 1898 and erected a grandstand in 1920. The club bought the ground from Winchester College for £3,000 in 1924. Football was proving so popular the stand had to be extended further in 1928. The ground was big enough to allow 6,000 people to gather for the visit of Watford in the FA Cup in 1956. The pitch was eventually turned around ninety degrees meaning the main stand was behind the goal. By 1988 the club had accepted £2.5 million for the land which became a Morrisons supermarket, and a purpose built ground at St George’s Park. In a remarkable parallel to their Church Litten departure, the St George’s Park ground had only just had it’s 30th birthday, when the club were ousted from it at the end of the 2018/2019 campaign.

St.George’s Park, former home of Newport

The club were promised a new ground by the developers and entered into a temporary groundshare at East Cowes Victoria Athletic. Newport’s new ground, to be called WhiteFibre Park, is to be built near the Racecourse Roundabout between Newport and Wootton Bridge but the start has been delayed due to the global pandemic. The St.George’s Park Stadium lies derelict, a new Asda Superstore has been built next door and McDonald’s and Wickes have stated their intention to open units on the site of the old ground.

East Cowes Victoria Athletic were formed in 1885, and originally played at the Recreation Ground in York Avenue and then at the field near Norris Castle. Similar to Cowes they lost the use of their ground in 1912 and after considering a return to York Avenue they nearly moved to the Tower Road Recreation Ground but objections were raised by the neighbouring hospital. They then secured land at Beatrice Avenue and built a wooden grandstand which was replaced until the current stand in the mid 1990’s.

Newport playing a home game at East Cowes Victoria Athletic’s Beatrice Avenue ground

For clubs that don’t play in mainland leagues, the Isle of Wight league was formed in September 1898 with East Cowes Victoria Athletic being crowned inaugural champions. At that time Cowes, Ryde and Sandown Bay were competing on the mainland as members were of the Southern League. There had been organised football on the island before this with ad hoc leagues operating in both Cowes and Ryde featuring long lost teams such as Osborne Corinthians, Cowes St Mary’s Guild, Newport Excelsiors and St Helen’s Blue Star. It is perhaps also worth noting, as it was reported in the County Press newspaper, that at Christmas 1892 a match had taken place at Appuldurcombe between the Total Abstainers and the Moderate Drinkers!

The Isle of Wight league started with seventeen teams, of which founding members Brading Town, Bembridge and Ventnor still compete in the competition while fellow founders, East Cowes Victoria Athletic and Newport have competed in mainland leagues for many years.

One of the enduring memories of the Isle of Wight League came from Professor Barnes Wallis, inventor of the “Dambuster” bouncing bomb which had such a pivotal impact on World War II. As a young man in the 1920’s he worked for the aircraft manufacturer Saunders-Roe and latter in life he recalled a game involving the works team being played in torrential rain, possibly at Wroxall (his recall wasn’t clear and alas there was no record of whether he played in the game or was a spectator, although island folklore says he definitely played island football in his younger days). During the game the already heavy leather ball had become waterlogged and the pitch so awash with water a hefty clearance saw the ball bounce continuously across the surface of the water. He said the memory stayed with him and recalled how a heavy spherical object had its path controlled by repeatedly striking water was the inspiration for his bouncing bomb.

The league membership has fluctuated greatly over the years with in excess of 500 teams having participated in the competition. Sides like Long Common,Totland Bay, Ryde St John’s, Shanklin Rangers, Royal Ulster Rifles, Saro Sports, Cowes Denmark Road Old Boys and works teams like Plessey (electronics), J.Arthur Dixon (greetings cards), Ratseys (sailmakers) and the British Hovercraft Corporation have come and gone.

Currently the Isle of Wight League consists of two divisions of 23 clubs plus the reserves of Cowes Sports and the “A” team of Newport. Then there are two further Combination Leagues for the reserve and “A” teams of Isle of Wight League teams. Whilst many member clubs play on public parks with spartan facilities in this article I will highlight some of the more interesting grounds from the Isle of Wight League.

Brading Town have played at Vicarage Lane since their formation in 1871 although in the early days they also used a pitch at Beech Grove. Life at Vicarage Lane wasn’t always easy, for season 1938/39 the club had decided to charge admission for the first time, to which the Archdeacon would only give his consent if the club erected a canvas screen to block visibility of the pitch from the graveyard. The club now boast one of the best facilities in the island league mainly due to their lengthy stint in Hampshire/Wessex Leagues between 1973 and 2012. The clubhouse was built in the 1980’s and around the same time the floodlights were acquired from Erith & Belvedere. In more recent years the ramshackle old wooden cover has been replaced with modern modular units on either side of the pitch. In 2008 Vicarage Lane was renamed The Peter Henry Ground following the passing of a club stalwart who had given 62 unbroken years of service to the club.

Brading Town

Ryde Saints are the current incumbents of the Smallbrook Stadium in Ryde, primarily a speedway venue used by the Wight Warriors team. The traditional Ryde team, Ryde Sports, were formed in 1888 and enjoyed lengthy spells in the Hampshire League and a single season, 1898/99, in the Southern League. The club’s demise was precipitated by a move from their traditional home at Partlands which was sold to developers in 1990. The Smallbrook Stadium is somewhat out of town and despite arranging high profile friendlies against the likes of Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and Southampton, the club struggled financially and failed to complete the 1997/98 season. They were briefly replaced by Ryde ‘98 but they too fell by the wayside. The stadium has one very long shallow stand more suited to watching speedway than football. Ryde Saints also struggle to attract support which must be a concern for of the island’s traditional footballing hotbeds.

Ryde Saints

Whitecroft & Barton Sports play at the Whitecroft Sports Ground and have won the last five completed Division One titles. Their ground, opened in 1904, is situated off Sandy Lane and boasts a sizeable clubhouse with a shallow seated stand attached to it. The ground has fine views of the listed clocktower of the former Whitecroft asylum.

Whitecroft & Barton Sports

Moving to the south of the island and the town of Ventnor provides stunning vistas of the English Channel. Ventnor FC play at the Watcombe Bottom Sports Centre which also provides facilities for Ventnor Rugby Club and Rew Valley Youth Football Club. Although Ventnor was used as a venue in the 1993 Island Games it wasn’t used during the 2011 Games, despite the football pitch having decent cover on the sizeable banking.

Ventnor

The best of the grounds to the east of the island is to be found in Seaview. The club are one of the oldest on the island with a history dating back to 1890 when they played on a field off Seagrove Manor Road before moving to Holgate Farm in 1935. The old wooden pavilion at the current ground, Seaview Park, was destroyed by fire in December 1974 and the current Seagrove Pavilion was opened the following year with the help of a fund-raising match against Portsmouth. It is a quite magnificent and well maintained structure, and the ground is augmented further by a large covered stand which replaced a smaller wooden stand. As if this venue couldn’t be any more perfect the far end provides stunning views of the English Channel.

Seaview

The western town of Freshwater has been represented by a number of clubs in the Isle of Wight League including Royal Garrison Artillery Freshwater and Freshwater Royal Artillery who were champions in 1906/07. However, the best known town team is West Wight who started life at Freshwater Comrades. In 1922 the club were asked by the Freshwater British Legion to drop the Comrades suffix as the Comrades of the Great War Society from where they had taken their name, had amalgamated with other associations to become the Royal British Legion. The club elected to change the name to West Wight Athletic. The Camp Road ground was railed off with a decent stand, largely due to a stint in the Hampshire League from the mid 1980’s. The old stand has since been replaced with a more modest structure, but one that will still keep spectators dry when needed.

West Wight

Other Isle of Wight League venues worthy of mention despite their lack of spectator accommodation are Shanklin’s County Ground, a substantial railed off venue which recently saw upgrading work being carried out to the clubhouse. Oakfield’s Recreation Ground is also a railed off pitch but has the added bonus of a dramatic backdrop of hillside houses. Sandown & Lake now use the Fairway Sports Complex having lost their traditional ground at Fairway Park which boasted a sizeable wooden grandstand.

Oakfield
Shanklin’s County Ground

While most other clubs play in public parks, the Clatterford Recreation Ground, home to Carisbrooke United, is no ordinary public park. While it is bereft of any football furniture of note it affords quite stunning views of the neighbouring castle parts of which date back to the twelfth century.

Carisbrooke United

A version of this article first appeared in the December 2020 issue of Groundtastic Magazine (Issue No.103)

Far Away In Time (Ekco Sports FC)

The story of Ekco Sports starts with the story of Eric Kirkham Cole, a genial engineer born in Rochford in 1901. He began manufacturing radios in the early 1920’s in a garden shed at his house in Beedell Avenue, but was taken by a newspaper article by William Verrells that espoused the potential benefits of mains powered rather than battery powered radios. Cole set about developing a battery eliminator radio and showed his invention to Verrells. He was so impressed the pair went into business in 1926 as E.K. Cole Ltd, initially based in Leigh-on-Sea. Within four years the firm moved to a much bigger site built on a former cabbage field at Priory Crescent in Southend.

The company boomed and while they diversified into many areas such as domestic appliances, car radios, heaters, Geiger counters, tape recorders, televisions, radar, aircraft and tank radios, they were most famous for the production of domestic radios housed in striking bakerlite cases. Initially Ekco imported the bakelite casings from AEG in Germany but prohibitive import duties saw Cole set up his own moulding plant next to his factory. He employed some well-known designers like the modernist designer Wells Coates (perhaps best remembered for the Isokon Buildings in Belsize Park) and it was Coates that designed the casing for Ekco’s iconic product, the AD-65 radio. Cole also similarly engaged the Russian born designer Serge Chermayeff who is best known for co-designing the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill.

The iconic Ekco AD-65

At its peak, Ekco employed 8,000 people and E.K. Cole even did a lot of secret government work on the Enigma code breaking machine during World War II. The company merged with Pye in 1960 and the plant diversified to electrical lighting before closing in the 1970’s, with the factory being sold to the credit card company Access. Cole himself met an unfortunate end, drowning in the Bahamas in 1966.

Cole was undoubtedly a caring employer, a real leader on providing apprenticeships, workplace pensions and paid holidays. He also provided excellent social and welfare facilities for his workers. Football and cricket (from 1935) for the men and netball for the factory’s numerous female employees. The works football team first started with friendlies in 1929 before entering competitive football for the 1930/31 season, fielding two teams in the Southend Borough Combination. The first team won Division Two in 1931/32 seeing off the challenge of runners up, Leigh Wesley. The team played in amber and green colours, the livery of works vans and of the flag flown above the factory. Initially games were played at Bournes Green Park and then at Rochford Corner before a sports field and pavilion was established at the factory site.

During the war Ekco’s sports teams had to adopt the name “Nomads” for security reasons, as the firm was involved in the production of components to aid the war effort. The footballers won the prestigious Southend Charity Cup under the Nomads moniker in 1944/45. Many of the companies’ workers either enlisted or were evacuated to Ekco’s other sites in safer areas. The two Ekco cricket teams, the Monarchs and Trojans, struggled to field sides and drafted in the help of professional footballers from Southend United, like Stan Montgomery (who had played first class cricket for Glamorgan), Frank Dudley, Jack French and Frank Walton.

In January 1946, Ekco travelled to Layer Road to take on the first team of Colchester United, then of the Southern League, in a friendly. A crowd of 2,000 watched the works team achieve a very creditable 3-3 draw. It was clear Ekco were ready for a higher level of football and they joined the London League for the 1946/47 season.

To coincide with their elevated status the club erected a stand at the ground. Many years later the stand was re-erected at the Victory Sports Ground in Eastern Avenue. Sadly, it didn’t last very long and with the area being an open public park it was soon badly vandalised and demolished for safety reasons. Unfortunately, to date, searches for a photo of the Ekco stand have proved elusive.

The London League had become an interesting competition with reserve teams of the likes of Chelmsford City, Guildford City and Bedford Town, as well as first teams of established clubs like Tilbury, Eton Manor, Woodford Town and Epsom. Other works teams such as Crittall Athletic and London Telecoms also rubbed shoulders with the likes of Leavesden Mental Hospital, Woolwich Polytechnic and Royal Naval Depot. Playing in a higher level meant entering the FA Cup for the first time. Ekco reached the second qualifying round in 1947/48, succumbing to Grays Athletic.

An Ekco programme from their London League days

Ekco spent three seasons in the London League before a bottom place finish in 1948/49 saw them elect to return to the Southend Borough Combination. Ekco won the title in their first season back in the competition relegating defending champions Gaslight (Southend) into the runners up spot. Ekco remained in the Borough Combination for many years, winning further titles in 1956/57 and 1965/66, and competed long after the company closed down. In 1981/82, and now called Ekco Social & Sports, the club moved up to the Essex Olympian League. A further name change occurred in 1996 to Ekco First Data, reflecting the change of site ownership to Access. The club left the now Essex Intermediate League at the end of the 1999/2000 season.

The club rejoined the Southend Borough Combination and merged with Thames Park. Ekco/Thames Park won the Premier Division in 2004/5 two points clear of Old Southendian, retaining the title the following season. The Ekco name disappeared from local adult football at the end of the 2008/09 season and Thames Park carried on under their own name. In the same year Ekco’s two cricket sides merged with Southend-on-Sea Cricket Club. The Ekco name does continue at youth level with the long established Ekco Whitecaps club. Whitecaps have also been fielding an adult team in the Borough Combination from 2015. While the team may have gone the sports ground and social club remain as actively used facilities to this day.

The whole site of the former factory was demolished to make way for a housing development and for a new site for Fair Haven’s hospice. In 2020, the long and fascinating history of Ekco and Eric Kirkham Cole has been marked with a superb statue, by sculptor Anne Schwegmann-Fielding, of Cole made out of 182 ceramic mosaic tiles of photos of the factory and its workers, standing atop of that iconic radio.

With grateful thanks to Vince Taylor of Groundtastic Magazine

Lost Clubs & Grounds of the Old Scottish Third Division

In the mid 1920’s the Scottish Football League ran an ill fated Third Division which lasted just three seasons before the 1925/26 season failed to finish. Several member clubs were struggling financially, and some fell by the wayside altogether after, or soon after, the collapse of the Third Division. It’s a fascinating period where doughty sides from very small towns briefly rubbed shoulders with the traditional big city clubs.

The Third Division began in season 1923/24 with clubs being elected largely from the Western League.

The first Third Division Champions were Arthurlie from the town of Barrhead. They played at Dunterlie Park and remained in the Scottish Second Division until they folded in 1929 being immediately replaced by a junior club of the same name who remain playing at the same ground. It should be noted Arthurlie have played at Dunterlie Park since 1919, although this is the third ground bearing the same name over the years.

Runners up in the inaugural season, and also promoted, were East Stirlingshire who played at Firs Park, their home ground until 2008, save for the 1964/65 spent at Kilbowie Park following the controversial, and short lived, merger with Clydebank. The club have since groundshared at Stenhousemuir and, currently, Falkirk and lost their place in the Scottish Football League in 2016. The club had used various grounds such as Burnhouse, Randyford Park and Merchiston Park before the latter was required for the expansion of a foundry. Firs Park in Firs Street became their home in 1921 and remnants of the old ground, derelict for a dozen years now, remain in an overgrown and unloved state.

Beith were originally formed in 1875 although the club had several periods of inactivity throughout its lifetime. In their early years they lead a nomadic existence playing at Gateside Toll, Marshalland, Knockbuckie, Juckes’ Meadow and Glebe Park before the First World War. Glebe Park must have been a substantial ground for the time as a 1905 Scottish Cup tie against Kilmarnock attracted a crowd of 4,000. Their lease at Glebe Park expired during wartime and, upon reforming in 1919, Beith had to play home games in Glengarnock at Kersland Field, home of Vale of Garnock. They completed the 1919/20 campaign back in Beith at Mains Park. In 1920 the club purchased their former field at Juckes’ Meadow, now called Muir Field, and renamed it Bellsdale Park in recognised of the work done by Archibald Bell, a local solicitor, in acquiring the site. Beith left the Third Division after the ill fated third season and joined the Scottish Football Alliance before eventually folding in 1938. They were immediately replaced by Beith Juniors who still play at Bellsdale Park in Meadowside.

Brechin City and Montrose played in all three seasons before leaving the Scottish League at the end of the uncompleted 1925/26 season. Brechin have played at Glebe Park since 1919 and Montrose at Links Park since 1887. Both clubs had nothing more than a brief hiatus from the Scottish League being readmitted to Division Two for 1929/30 when both Arthurlie and Bathgate failed to finish their fixtures. Queen of the South were runners up in the 1924/25 season and continue to play at Palmerston Park, their home since 1919.

Clackmannan were formed in 1885 and after playing at Tower Park and Glebe Park in their first year, they moved to a permanent home at Chapelhill Park for the 1886/87 season. The club played one season in the Scottish League Division Two in 1921/22 before dropping down to the Eastern League. The club folded in 1931 but the ground remained until the 1950’s when it was demolished for the construction of South Pilmuir Road and Chapelhill Road. The town’s current football ground, the King George V Playing Field, is a few hundred metres north of the old ground.

Dumbarton Harp were in the Western League when they were elected to the Third Division for the inaugural season. They finished tenth in the 1923/24 but failed to complete the following campaign, folding after seventeen games. One of their Scottish Qualifying Cup games from 1923/24, against Queen of the South, bought a huge crowd of 3,000 to Harp’s Meadow Park ground which had been their home since formation in 1894. Meadow Park, probably the same site as Broadmeadow, an early ground of Dumbarton FC, and remained in use for football until 1950 when all vestiges of the ground were removed. The area is to the west of Broadmeadow Industrial Estate and still has several football pitches on it.

Dykehead is a very small town next to Shotts in North Lanarkshire, and its football team were formed in 1880. They played at Dykehead Park, Youngston Park and Craigmillar Park in its early years although records show players changed in a public house called Kirkwoods at Dykehead Cross these venues could well be the same field with name changes as a result of ownership changes, or fields very close to each other. They moved to Parkside on Rosehall Road in the late 1890’s, playing their until they left Division Three for the Scottish Football Alliance and then the Provincial League until their demise in 1928. The ground was left to the YMCA and is still in use as Shotts YMCA Park.

Galston were formed in 1886 playing at Riverside Park. They moved to Portland Park in 1894 and in successive weekends in 1907, Motherwell and Rangers visited Galston both drawing gates of 4,000. This was more than the village’s entire population at the time. They played all three seasons in the Scottish Third Division before folding and re-emerging as a junior club which subsequently folded in 1940. Portland Park still exists in truncated form, there area where the football ground lay was consumed by the construction of the A71 bypass.

Helensburgh is a remote town, south west of Loch Lomond, and had three other town clubs before the club that would eventually play in the Scottish Third Division, were formed in 1874. The club had two spells at Ardencaple Park in between playing at Kirkmichael Park, off Old Luss Road (1876 to 1885) and Mossend Park, home of Victoria FC (1885-86). There is some debate as to the location of Ardencaple Park with some five sites under consideration. The most likely is to be the “upper” field north of the Helensburgh Cricket Club. The ground was said to have substantial terracing which allowed a crowd of 2,000 to gather for a cup game against Royal Albert in September 1925. Helensburgh were actually winning the Third Division when the 1925/26 season ended prematurely. The club folded two years later being replaced by a new amateur entity.

Mid-Annandale, from the town of Lockerbie, were formed in 1877 as Vale of Dryfe and played at Mill Field and Broomhouse Park before moving into Kintail Park in 1902. After competing in all three Third Division campaigns the club joined the Scottish Football Alliance. Kintail Park had a stand and a record gate of 2,100 gathered in November 1923 for the Division Three match against Queen of the South. The club later played in the South of Scotland League before folding in 1936. Kintail Park became a residential street. The current Mid-Annandale club were formed in 1959 as Lockerbie Boys Club and these days play at New King Edward Park which is close to the old Kintail Park ground.

Nithsdale Wanderers from Sanquhar won the Third Division in 1924/25 and were promoted to the second tier. However, they soon suffered a dramatic fall from grace when they failed to be re-elected after finishing bottom of the table in 1926/27, ending up in the Provincial League. Their rise had been equally swift, having been formed in 1897 they largely played friendlies and cup games only save for short stints in the Football Combination and Scottish Union Leagues. This changed when they moved from their basic pitch at Castleholm to a new home on the banks of the River Nith called Crawick Holm. This enabled them to join the Western League for 1922/23 and after a solitary season found themselves elected with many other clubs to form the new Scottish League Third Division. Nithsdale spent the post war years in the Ayrshire Region of the Western League before folding in 1964. Crawick Holm was developed sufficiently to allow 4,200 spectators for a Scottish Cup tie against Queen of the South in 1924/25. The ground remained into the 1970’s when a small factory was built right next to it. A now unenclosed pitch still remains next to the factory. The current South of Scotland club bearing the same name were formed in 2001 and still play in Sanquhar, at Lorimer Park.

Solway Star from Annan were formed in 1911 playing games at Greenlea Park, on a pitch known locally as “Old Mudhole”. The club moved to Kimmeter Park Green in 1921 which allowed then to rise to the Western League and then to the Scottish League. The new ground had a grandstand and over 2,000 people watched a cup tie with Vale of Leven in 1924. After losing their League place the club competed in the South of Scotland League until World War II. After the war they played a few friendlies but then folded with the recently formed Annan Athletic assuming the role of the town’s pre-eminent club. Intriguingly, the ground became grazing land and the lower half of the wooden grandstand remained as a cow shed well into the 21st century.

Peebles Rovers were formed in 1893 playing matches at Villa Park and Victoria Park, the latter being a still existent public park. The club moved to Whitestone Park in 1906 a ground they share to this day with Peebles County Cricket Club. After their three season stint in the Scottish League, Rovers have been stalwarts of the East of Scotland League.

Royal Albert from Larkhall were formed around 1878 although some sources quote five years earlier. They were members of the Western League that were the backbone of the new Third Division of the Scottish League in 1923. In a similar vein to others after their three season stint Royal Albert dropped into the Scottish Alliance for a season and then into the Provincial League for 1927/28 before folding. Once again, they were replaced by a junior club bearing the same name who took over occupancy at Raploch Park. Their record attendance was said to be 5,000 from a match against Celtic that was abandoned after 80 minutes. The ground is now covered by housing and was directly opposite Larkhall Thistle’s Gasworks Ground behind the houses on the north side of Raploch Road. The junior club played at Robert Smillie Park between 1964 and 2007 before sharing with Larkhall Thistle until 2013, when they took over Tileworks Park in Stonehouse, former ground of the defunct Stonehouse Violet.

The two clubs that dropped into the Third Division for the 1924/25 season were Vale of Leven and Lochgelly United. Vale enjoyed several stints in the Scottish League, but this ended with the third and final Third Division season. The club folded in 1928 and were replaced by the junior club of the same name. Their home remains the same since 1889, the magnificent Millburn Park.

Lochgelly United were formed in 1890 upon the amalgamation of Lochgelly Athletic and Fifeshire Hibernians. Early seasons were spent at Schools Park and Reid’s Park until settling at the enclosed Recreation Ground off North Street. The club folded in 1928 and decided against reforming as a junior club. The ground remained until 1934 and is now under residential houses in Timmons Park.

Leith Athletic joined the Third Division for 1924/25 rising from the Scottish Alliance. Formed in 1887 they played at a myriad of grounds during their first stint in the Scottish League between 1891 and 1915. Their two seasons in the Third Division saw them using one of their former grounds at Old Logie Green which had also been used by another Scottish League Club, St. Bernard’s. After the Third Division was dropped, the club were elected back to the Second Division in 1927/28 and stayed in the Scottish League until 1953, playing post War seasons in the “C” division. During this time their nomadism continued, playing home games at New Powderhall, Marine Gardens and Meadowbank, a venue that would become Meadowbank Stadium. After twelve ground moves in their history, none of which remain, Leith Athletic were liquidated with sizeable debts in May 1955. Old Logie Green now lies under a retail development. The current East of Scotland League club with the same name are a 1996 reformation and currently play at Peffermill.

The location of Old Logie Green, one of twelve grounds used by Leith Athletic

The two clubs that dropped into the third tier for that fateful 1925/26 season were Forfar Athletic and Johnstone. Forfar were playing, as they still do, at Station Park, their erstwhile home since 1888. They were in third position in the table when the season abruptly ended and were somewhat fortuitous to be elected back into the Second Division for 1926/27.

Johnstone were, however, less fortunate and after dropping into the Scottish Alliance for 1926/27, the club soon folded. Based a few miles west of Renfrew, Johnstone were formed in 1877 playing at Cartbank Park. They moved to a sizeable ground called Newfield Park in 1894 and it was sufficiently developed to allow 6,000 people in to witness a Scottish Cup tie with Hibernian in 1906. After Johnstone’s demise, the ground, named after Newfield House, a nearby property, remained for some time as disused land before being cleared for the construction of the A737 bypass.

So, there you have it, three seasons, 21 clubs with a variety of pathways taken after that brief, ill fated, attempt to get a third level started in the Scottish League.

Treasures of Yerevan

There has been a football stadium in Yerevan’s Vardanants Street since 1935 when the old Dinamo Stadium was opened. In 1931 the city’s Dinamo Sports Club had asked the City Council of Armenian Commissars to provide a suitable site for a new football stadium for the city. A centrally located 16 hectare site was provided and after two years of construction, the new stadium was inaugurated with a match between Dinamo’s arch rivals Spartak Yerevan (later Ararat Yerevan) and KBKT Moscow.

Despite several renovations the elegant curves and classical pillars survive into the modern era, and provide Yerevan with a visually stunning national stadium. The first major renovation of the Dinamo Stadium came in 1953 under the auspices of architect Koryun Hakobyan who was also partly responsible for Yerevan’s much lauded concert and indoor sports venue called the Hamalir. The Dinamo Stadium gained its wonderfully ornate western facade during this initial refurbishment. However, by the end of the 20th century the stadium played very much second fiddle to its crosstown rival, the mighty Hrazdan Stadium. Opened in November 1970 it was also the work of Hakobyan, a former weightlifter, he was a favourite of the Soviet Union’s Politburo and became known as the “People’s Architect”.

Koryan Hakobyan

In 1999, with the help of a sizeable injection of funds from UEFA, a two year project of upgrading the Dinamo Stadium began, costing €3 million. The beautifully sympathetic modernisation turned the venue into a fully covered all seater stadium for the first time. The classical colonnades and Hakobyan’s facade, adorned with flag poles and bas-reliefs, were retained and the stadium’s extraordinary new roof turned the venue into a modern, but beautiful, international standard venue capable of holding 16,000 spectators.

Even though the stadium was owned by the City of Yerevan it was renamed the Republican Stadium (Hanrapetaken in Armenian). The closing year of the century was a pivotal one in the Pink City’s long history. On October 27th 1999, five masked gunmen lead by dissident Nairi Hunanyan broke into the Armenian Parliament and killed eight people including prime minister and national hero Vazgen Sargsyan and the President of the National Assembly, Karen Demirchyan. Sargsyan had risen to prominence as the commander of Armenian forces in the 1989-1994 Nagorno-Karabakh War with Azerbaijan. He was appointed Defence Minister and had only become the eighth Prime Minister of Armenia in the June of the year of his assassination. As a remark of respect, the Republican Stadium became the Vazgen Sargsyan Republic Stadium and his image was incorporated into the entrance to the stadium.

The first game in the upgraded stadium came in October 2000 when Armenia took on Ukraine and raced into a two goal lead before the Ukrainians spoilt the occasion somewhat by rattling in three goals, two by Andrei Shevchenko, to take the points in a World Cup qualifying match.

The 16,000 capacity was reached in October 2003 when a European Championship qualifying match bought Spain to Yerevan. In 2008 the capacity was reduced to 14,403 when more VIP sections were installed by Israeli company Green Diversified.

Across town the Hrazdan Stadium and its iconic Soviet era floodlights dominate the city skyline. A proposal for a stadium in the gorge of the Hrazdan river was first muted in the 1950’s when Soviet First Deputy Chairman Anastas Mikoyan, a close ally of Stalin, visited the city and could see the natural amphitheatre of the gorge from where he was staying in the Presidential mansion.

However, work on the project did not start until 1969. Under the exacting eye of Koryun Hakobyan and fellow architect Gurgen Musheghyan, the work was remarkably completed in just eighteen months, no doubt more than a little pressure being exerted from Moscow to finish in 1970 to mark the 50th anniversary of the “Sovietisation” of Armenia.

The 75,000 capacity stadium cost five million roubles which included financial support from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. It was officially opened in November 1970 in front of General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, although the planned parade had to be put back 24 hours due to heavy snow.

The magnificent stadium became home to the city’s powerhouse club, Ararat Yerevan, regular challengers in the Soviet Top League. The first official football match at the Hrazdan took place in May 1971 when an all time record attendance of 78,000 was set for the visit of Kazakstan’s Kairat Almaty.

The mountainous stadium became a fortress for Ararat and in 1973 they won the Soviet Top League and Soviet Cup double. It was the third season running the League had been won by a non-Muscovite club after successes for Dynamo Kyiv in 1971 and Zarya Voroshilovgrad (now known as Luhansk) a year later. The legendary 1973 Ararat side was commemorated in 2016 by Tigran Barseghyan and Vladimir Antashyan’s quite extraordinary bronze statues of 19 Ararat players and coaches standing behind the vast Soviet Top League trophy. Sadly, it was reported in May 2020 that four of the bronze statues had been stolen from their lofty position overlooking their fortress.

The Soviet Union national team even held two international matches, against Finland and Greece, at the Hrazdan in 1978. The stadium was privatised in 2003 and the new owners, the Hrazdan Holding CJSC, set about modernising the stadium. It became all seater for the first time with a reduced capacity of 54,208. The renovation was completed in 2008 and held an international for the first time in eight years when Armenia took on Turkey. It was something of an ironic opening fixture as one of the best views of the stadium is afforded from the Tsitsernakaberd Genocide memorial, erected in 1967 to remember the 1915 genocide of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

The owners of Hrazdan spent €6 million on the stadium in 2012 with the view to obtaining the grading to enable the hosting of UEFA finals. Now trading as Hrazdan Leasehold Venture CJSC the owners fell out with the Armenian Football Association and the mighty stadium was mothballed in 2016 and a year later even the pitch was dug up.

Meanwhile, Ararat, who had been continuous members of the Soviet Top League from 1965 to Armenia’s independence in 1991, had a huge fall from grace. They have only one Armenian title, in 1993, and fell some way below the new dominate Yerevan club, FC Pyunik. Pyunik’s ten consecutive Armenian championships between 2001 and 2010 have come under serious scrutiny with allegations of bribery and corruption. Match-fixing in general has caused seemingly irreparable damage to attendances in Armenian League matches and Ararat have been forced to play home games in modest venues like the Mika Stadium and the Yerevan Academy Stadium, with only the odd bigger match being held at the fabulous Republican Stadium.

The most recent Governmental talks surrounding the Hrazdan Stadium leave it’s future still somewhat in limbo. Armenian FA President Arthur Vanetsyan has lobbied Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for a new national stadium, calling Hrazdan “obsolete” for international competition. When pushed for a resolution with the impasse with the owners of Hrazdan, Vanetsyan stated negotiations were currently ongoing with a view to returning Armenian Championship football to this leviathan of a stadium. In many quarters, eyes would mist over at the prospect of Ararat, the mountain kings, returning to their spiritual home.

This article first appeared in the September 2020 edition of Groundtastic Magazine (No.102)

The Death Match

Should you ever go to the wonderful Valeriy Lobanovskyi Dynamo stadium in Kyiv, please take a moment to look at the small steel sculpture tucked behind the ticket office. The sculpture of four men gazing into a distant horizon is a memorial to the four former Dynamo players that lost their lives in as a result of the infamous “Death Match” in 1942.

The German army had invaded Ukraine in 1941, silencing the mighty roar of the Russian guns and forcing the population into a cruel level of starvation. During the German occupation of Ukraine, football was largely banned and Soviet clubs were dissolved. Dynamo, of course, were favoured by the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs), to the Nazi’s, therefore, the very embodiment of communism, and were immediately forced to disband. Many of the professional players in Kyiv joined the Red Army or the partisan resistance movement.

Charged with instilling a pacification process in the city, Lieutenant General Friedrich Georg Eberhardt suggested football matches be arranged between the local population and the occupying forces teams.

It was therefore, unwittingly, permitted that eight Dynamo players and three from Lokomotyv, who had remained in Kyiv and were now consigned to working in the Kyiv Bread Factory No.1 owned by a Dynamo supporter, could form a team called FC Start and play exhibition matches promoted as the “City of Kyiv All-Stars”.

Under the impression they were facing a team of bakers and blissfully unaware they had all been professional players, the first matches organised against Start were against a team of the Wermacht’s Hungarian and Romanian regiments. The match against the Hungarian regiment saw Start win easily by 6-2. They then defeated the Romanian regiment 11-0. It was reported that Start player Ivan Kuzmenko trained with a ball three times heavier than a standard ball so his shots were so hard the Romanian keeper would duck out of the way to prevent injury! Then a German army team were beaten 6-0.

The Germans then sent the stronger Hungarian team MSG Wal to play Start twice in a few days. Wal were beaten 5-1 and then again 3-2. The Germans by now trying to save face then sent their crack undefeated “all Ayrian” Luftwaffe side known as Flakelf to play Start, who defiantly wore red shirts, but they were humiliated 5-1. A rematch was ordered and despite commands for Start to “ease up”, the Kyiv side won yet again 5-3. Flakelf’s second and third goals had come in quick succession, after the Start goalkeeper had deliberately been knocked unconscious by some rough play by the Germans, and had pulled the score back to 3-3. He then came to his senses and Start roared back to claim yet another victory.

It was the last straw for the Germans. According to the Russian version of events, five Start players were arrested and tortured, Nikolai Korotkykh died during the torture and Olexander Tkachenko was never seen again. The other three players were sent to the labour camp at Syrets. During their internment there was an uprising against the camp’s administration and the remaining Start players Ivan Kuzmenko, Oleksey Klymenko and goalkeeper Nikolai Trusevich were singled out and executed by firing squad. Their bodies were tossed into the mass graves in the ravine at Babi Yar alongside nearly 34,000 bodies of Kyiv’s Jewish population, massacred in September 1941.

There has always been a historical dispute over the version of events surrounding the death of the Start players, the official German report into the atrocity cited the reason for the arrest of the Start players was not due to the Flakelf result at all and, indeed, the game had been played in good spirits in an unguarded stadium. According to the Germans, some days after the 5-3 game Start played another Ukrainian side, Rukh, and had soundly beaten them 8-0. Rukh’s trainer, Georgi Shvetsov, was said to be so incensed at the result that he told the Gestapo that certain Start players were working for the NKVD and it was for that reason, say the Germans, the five players were arrested.

The 5-3 match was played on August 9th 1942 at the Zenit Stadium in front of 2,000 spectators paying an entry fee of five rubles. This would have been considered prohibitively expensive at the time and was designed to deliberately keep the crowd small in case of further embarrassment to the Wermacht. They had also banned a lot of the local press from attending.

The Zenit Stadium was renamed the Start Stadium, and still stands in a very run down form in Sholudenka Street, a ten minute walk from the main train and metro station, Vokzalna. The entrance remains impressive with the name Start still proudly displayed in Cyrillic. The stadium appears to be no longer used for football, the remaining small stand is strewn with graffiti and the extensive wooden bench seating has been either vandalised or appears to be suffering from subsidence. The pitch is badly rutted and uncared for. Local children run around the wrecked turf, while parents sit smoking on the few serviceable benches left intact.

Also inside the dilapidated stadium, and notably having avoided the attention of the local vandals, is Anatoly Kharechko’s Death Match memorial sculpture. Unveiled in 1981, and cast in bronze, it depicts a naked athlete trying to kick a ball but being attacked by ungodly creatures. While the scene of this tragic episode in World War II may be crumbling into oblivion, the two memorials at both stadiums remain poignant reminders of this sombre time in Kyiv’s footballing history.

This article first appeared in the December 2019 issue of Groundtastic Magazine (No.100)

Stick a fork in I’m done with 2019/20

Here is a review of my itinerant football watching during the 2019/20 campaign.

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Total Matches Attended: 175 (last game of the season was 14.03.2020)

New Grounds Visited: 123

Total Goals Scored: 708 (Average of 4.05 goals per game, down on 4.10 last season, I saw four 0-0 draws this season)

Biggest Win: Brodsworth Main 12 Dearne & District 1

Biggest Crowd: 77,277 England v Montenegro

Grounds Abroad: 19 (Romania 6, Serbia 5, Israel 3, Ukraine 3, Belgium 2)

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED IN THE UK IN 2019/20

1. RAITH ROVERS – Stark’s Park

Quite why it has taken me so long to go here is beyond me as I knew it was a classic old school, hemmed in, football ground. That “L” shaped main stand is sublime and the view of the houses over the open side gives a real sense of community.

Raith

2. TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

All parts magnificent as a structure and I can forgive the travails of getting there for remaining in their heartland. Impressive enough that I went twice in it’s nascent season. However, it was denied top spot for choosing to call its stands “atriums”

Spurs

3. ABERTILLERY EXCELSIORS – Jim Owen Field

Who doesn’t like sweeping Welsh vistas? I’ll wait.

A Ex - JimOwen

4. NEWPORT CORINTHIANS – Coronation Park

The picture does the talking, the backdrop of the Grade I listed transporter bridge, opened in 1906, is just immense.

Newport Corries

  5. HORSHAM – Hop Oast

Perfect sightlines from an elevated main stand, superb clubhouse, leafy surroundings, what’s not to like? A fine new build.

Horsham

BEST GROUNDS VISITED ABROAD IN 2019/20

Slimmer pickings than usual due to the curtailed season but here are the best ones.

1. DYNAMO KIEV – Valeriy Lobanovskyi Dynamo Stadium

A real bucket list tick from boyhood memories of great and mysterious clubs from the old Soviet Union. It does not disappoint in any way, other than that Dynamo don’t play there!

Dinamo

2. BEITAR JERUSALEM – Teddy Stadium

I wanted to dislike it because of their notoriously racist ultras but the stadium itself is just magnificent. Bit of a shame the iconic multi coloured seats are gradually being replaced by ordinary blue ones.

Beitar

3. OLIMPIC COMARNIC – Stadionul din Comarnic

Not much of stadium in a very depressed town. However, the welcome and hospitality afforded by the locals will stay with me always.

Comarnic

4. ROMANIA – Arena Națională

A truly beautiful modern arena that looks even better at night.

Arena Nationala

5. NAPREDAK – Stadion Mladost

Really neat and attractive “English” style stadium in central Serbia.

Napredak

BEST PROGRAMMES BOUGHT IN 2019/20

(Based on status, resources, effort and originality)

1. Walthamstow

Walthamstow

2. Winsford United

Winsford

3. Kimberley Miners Welfare

Kimberley

4. Rainworth Miners WelfareRainworth

5. Hinckley AFC

Hinckley

BEST FOOD IN 2019/20

  1. Stovies (Raith Rovers)

Stovies - RR

2. Pasta (Whittlesey Athletic)

Pasta

3. Curry (Cheadle Heath Nomads)

Curry CHN