Stick a fork in I’m done with 2017/18

Here is a review of my itinerant football watching during the 2017/18 campaign.

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Total Matches Attended: 258

New Grounds Visited: 185

Total Goals Scored: 984 (Average of 3.81 goals per game, down on 3.91 last season, seven 0-0 draws this season)

Biggest Win: Southampton 12 QK Southampton 0

Biggest Crowd: 42,679 Tottenham Hotspur v APOEL

Games Abroad: 43 (Serbia 14, Romania 9, Slovakia 4, Belgium 3. Cyprus 3, Latvia 3, Austria 2, Isle of Man 2, Liechtenstein 1, Lithuania 1, Northern Cyprus 1).

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED IN THE UK 2017/18

1.   FORT WILLIAM – Claggan Park

One of the most beautifully scenic grounds in the world let alone the UK. Set in front of Càrn Dearg, one of the foothills of Ben Nevis, the thought of this ground closing for football sent many scurrying up to the Highlands this season. Fortunately the club live to fight another campaign at this wondrous place.

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2.   GREENOCK MORTON – Cappielow

Classic grandstand and terracing, iconic floodlights and maritime cranes. One of the UK’s finest surviving old school football stadiums.

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3.  TON PENTRE – Ynys Park

Steeped in a century’s worth of history. Boasting a superb example of covered terracing, even with no one it, Ynys Park is the type of place that just crackles with atmosphere.

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4.  JK SILVERTOWN – Lyle Park

A fine ground hidden away by East London industry. Nearly 100 years old and what a rich story that lies within.

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5. BRECON CORINTHIANS – The Rich Field

Lovely little ground in a fantastic town, one of those sort of places you wouldn’t mind moving to and following the Corries.

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED ABROAD 2017/18

1. AS TRENČÍN  – Stadion na Sihoti

Despite undergoing a rebuild the floodlights and medieval castle backdrop at this stadium are stuff of dreams.

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2. FC TRIESENBERG – Sportplatz Leitawies

I had always known this was a beautiful setting but it truly defies description

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3. CSM SCOLAR RESITA – Stadion Mircea Chivu

Hewn rather than built into a valley, this is a magical ground. You will not be disappointed.

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4. FC POJORÂTA – Stadion Pojorâta

Like watching football on a fantasy movie set, just stunning.

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5. RSD JETTE – Stade Communal de Jette

Crumbling terracing in a decreasing curve from start to end. Really unusual and yet another on the never ending list of sublime Belgian football grounds.

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BEST PROGRAMMES BOUGHT IN 2017/18

(based on status, resources, effort and originality)

1.   BOSHAM

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2.   HORNSEY & HIGHGATE

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3.   OSSETT ALBION

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4.   CANVEY ISLAND

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5.   BARRY TOWN UNITED

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A special mention for the tournament programme for the CONIFA World Football Cup held in London. Superbly produced and very informative.

BEST FOOD IN 2017/18

1. AYA NAPA – Koupes

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2. BISHOPS LYDEARD – Thai Curry

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3. SUTTON UNITED – Fish Finger Roll

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The Struggle Within (Fort William F.C.)

Football in Fort William arrived late as the Western Highlands region is much more interested in shinty, a traditional Scottish Gaelic game played with wooden sticks. Comann Camanachd A’ Ghearasdain (Fort William Shinty Club) date from 1893 and Kilmallie Shinty Club from 1929 so their long standing foothold in the town meant that the town did not have a football club until 1974.The club has always played at Claggan Park, an enclosed pasture in the foothills of the Ben Nevis mountain range. The stunning backdrop is rightly lauded as one of the best in Europe but the peak is not actually Ben Nevis itself, but a hill called Meall an t-Suidhe. The venue itself has a decrepit covered stand on one side of the pitch but this is now fenced off and condemned. There are now two identical modular Arena Seating units with around 70 seats each on the opposite side. The pitch is close to the River Nevis and is prone to waterlogging. In an attempt to help the pitch recover from the shocking winter the club turned the pitch ninety degrees in December which has left the playing surface decidedly narrow and the stands now behind either goal. Fort William FC initially contested friendlies and entered cup competitions such as the Scottish Qualifying Cup, the Inverness Cup and the North of Scotland Club. The clubs’ remote location meant there was no obvious league competition for the fledgling club to join. The club eventually joined the North Caledonian League for the 1983/84 season and finished runners-up to Muir of Ord before winning the title the following season. The club were in the ascendancy and joined the Highland League for 1985/86. It’s been another tough season on the field for The Fort, with five games left they have already conceded 156 goals including a 2-12 loss at home to Cove Rangers, a 0-10 at home to Fraserburgh. However, the nadir came when they visited reigning champions, Brora Rangers, at Dudgeon Park. The 16-0 thumping was just one goal away from Fort’s record defeat of 17-0 against Peterhead in 1998.Assuming Fort do finish bottom of the table this season it will mean they have been wooden spoonists 16 times in the 33 seasons they have been in the Highland League. This includes a run of four seasons finishing in last place, the fourth of which, 2008/09, saw them secure just one point all season in a 1-1 draw with Wick Academy. The size of their problem can be measured by looking between 1996/97 and 2013/14 when in those 18 seasons the club were bottom of the table 14 times.Their on field struggles have been well documented, but its immediate future lies off the field as all six board members announced in January that they will be stepping down at the end of the current campaign. This includes primary benefactors Stewart Maclean and Gerald McIntyre whose cash injections have kept the club afloat and funded the tortuous road trips needed in the Highland League. Despite a thriving academy set up the Forts have always struggled to attract players of sufficient quality often resorting to shipping in players from Glasgow and Inverness. Their traditional dragnet for local talent is from the surrounding areas of Lochaber, Oban and Speyside as well as the Isle of Skye. However, this flow of talent has dwindled since the closure of the Lochaber Welfare League, a summer competition, in 2016. Fort William has produced players of a very decent standing, Bolton Wanderers legend, John McGinlay, started his career at Claggan Park, while ex Chelsea and Swindon forward Duncan Shearer was also born in the town.The club have notified the Highland League that they are likely to resign from the competition at the end of the current campaign. The club have an EGM this week to decide whether the club will join either the Scottish Amateur set up or rejoin the North Caledonian League. Another option, should there be no offers of new blood and financing, would be to fold the club altogether.If the club rejoin the North Caledonian League for the new season their nearest opposition would be Inverness Athletic who are located in Muir of Ord. The away trip to Thurso would take over four hours each way on the 173 mile journey.It would be a real tragedy if this doughty but luckless club call it a day. Claggan Park is an iconic British football ground but undoubtedly these are troubled times at this remote outpost of the beautiful game.indexSaturday April 14th 2018 – Highland LeagueFort William (0) 0Formartine United (3) 6 (Barbour 22,35,51, Rodger 38, Gethins pen 59, Crawford 65)Attendance: 94   Admission £7, free teamsheetGalleryIMG_7411IMG_7409IMG_7342IMG_7408IMG_7381Fort William 140418 028IMG_7355Fort William 140418 018_edited-1ticket

Stick a fork in I’m done with 2015/16

Here is a review of my itinerant football watching during the 2015/16 campaign.

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Total Matches Attended: 244

New Grounds Visited: 200

Total Goals Scored: 885 (Average of 3.63 goals per game, up on 3.45 last season, though still eight 0-0 draws this season!)

Biggest Win: KFC Uerdingen 12 TSV Bockum 0

Biggest Crowd: 46,781 Combined attendance for Non League Finals Day (Wembley Stadium)

Games Abroad: 50 (Belgium 9, Sweden 9, Germany 7, Serbia 7, Romania 5, Malta 4, Estonia 2, Netherlands 2, Spain 2, Italy 1, Finland 1, France 1)

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED IN THE UK 2015/16

1. AYR UNITED – Somerset Park

A visit to Somerset Park is a 90 minute wallow in the way things used to be. An utterly brilliant ground.

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2. BARROW – Holker Street

Finally managed to get to Holker Street after several previous attempts failed due to poor weather. Great ground that has retained character along with modernisation.

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3. MERTHYR TOWN – Penydarren Park

A weather enforced revisit but a timely reminder of this majestically ageing leviathan, not a minute too soon as bulldozers loom over the old main stand like vultures over roadkill.

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4. BILSTON TOWN – Queen Street

A very well maintained big ground at odds with the declining fortunes of the team. One of the many great grounds of the Black Country.

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5. WENDRON UNITED – The Underlane

Not often a ground in the UK catches me by surprise but this one did. Such a welcome panacea to see something different to the usual kit made stands favoured by so many progressive clubs. Built on an audacious scale for the the level club not to mention with sustainable energy incorporated into the construction. Magnificent!

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BEST GROUNDS VISITED ABROAD 2015/16

1. RFC TILLEUR – Stade du Bureaufosse

Massive weed strewn terrace, big pitched roof main stand, sizeable covered terrace. A truly magical place.

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2. KFC BERINGEN – Mijnstadion

Tenant free for a number of years the chance to this fantastic stadium for a reunion match was too good to resist.

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3. RAYO VALLECANO – Campo de Vallecas

Hemmed in among the urban sprawl of the Vallecas, working class, passionate and resonant. An absolute must do venue.

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4. RRC BOITSFORT- Stade des Trois Tilleuls

Built on a preposterous scale, huge sweeping terraces immaculately crafted. A quite wonderful arena.

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5. KFC UERDINGEN – Grotenburg Stadion

Built on a vast scale before the club collapsed financially, the Grotenburg is big on concrete and floodlights.

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BEST ATMOSPHERE 2015/16

Olympique Lyonnias v Angers SCO

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MOST UNUSUAL GROUND VISITED 2015/16

Fratia Bucharest, home to the lost and lonely, seemingly bonded by uncommon blood. An utterly unique and life affirming experience.

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BEST PROGRAMMES BOUGHT IN 2015/16

(Criteria being status, resources, content, effort and value)

1. Whitehill Welfare

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2. AFC St Austell

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3. Elstow Abbey

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4. Airbus UK

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5. Barrow

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BEST FOOD IN 2015/16

1. Sporting Khalsa – Chicken tikka wrap

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2. Brackley Town-  Sausage baguette
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=3. GoIF Kåre – Reindeer kebab


=3.Coventry Sphinx – Pasta and chips

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Underneath the Linden Trees (RRC Boitsfort)

The simply magnificent Stade des Trois Tilleuls is the largest club stadium in all of Belgium with a capacity of 40,000 yet currently plays host to modest sixth tier club Royal Racing Club Boitsfort of Division 2A of the Brabant Provincial League. Only the King Baudouin Stadium currently exceeds the capacity of the Trois Tilleuls although in its heyday the capacity was often put at an amazing 70,000!. The Three Limes Stadium (Drie Lindens in Flemish) was originally built in 1948 and lies in the Avenue des Nymphes in the quiet Brussels suburb of Watermael-Boitsfort.

The original occupants of the stadium were Royal Racing Club de Bruxelles who had just vacated their original home at the Stade du Vivier d’Oie, which still exists today as a hockey ground and was the venue for Belgium’s first international match against France in 1907.

Trois Tilleuls was built on an audacious and frankly preposterous scale with hopes at the time of being a regular host of international football. The stadium has a massive main stand and a huge sweeping terrace that wraps itself impressively around the rest of the site. The stadium was inaugurated in suitably laudable style with a match with the legendary “Il Grande” Torino side just months before the fateful Superga air crash that decimated the Italian giants.

RRC Bruxelles had only been at Trois Tilleuls for six years when they fell into dispute with the stadium’s owners and decamped to the Heysel Stadium. There they played in front of dire crowds and would subsequently merge with White Star Athletic Club in 1963 and ten years later with Daring Club de Bruxelles to form Racing White Daring of Molenbeek. Sadly the old RWDM club folded in 2002, although happily have reformed this season playing at the Edmond Machtens Stadium in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean. In 2010 Trois Tilleuls was listed as a building of national arcitectural importance which should dispell any doubts about its future.

In 1985 a new Racing Club Bruxelles was formed but subsequently merged with SK Watermael and later still with Boitsfort forming the club that presently plays at Trois Tilleuls. Today the stadium is in reasonable condition although graffiti proliferates and the terracing has been shorn of all its crush barriers. The main stand has eye catching metal guard rails although these have been blighted somewhat by the addition of orange plastic mesh to prevent anyone falling from what his quite some height.

Today’s game has a low key feel to it, a very modest crowd gathers in this vast ampitheatre basked in glorious autumnal sun. The hosts are always on top despite having their early penalty wiped out by a cracking header from the visiting captain. Machelen missed a penalty themselves before losing their discipline completely with numerous bookings and conceding a second penalty in injury time which gave the hosts a comfortable win.

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Sunday September 27th 2015 – Brabant Provincial League Division 2A

RRC Boitsfort (1) 3 (Groyne pen 4, O’Brien 49, Vandenplas pen 90)

KCS Machelen (1) 1 (Madawa 22)

Attendance: 67 (at Stade des Trois Tilleuls) Entry:  €5

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The Perennial Struggle (East Stirlingshire)

The East Stirlingshire Football Club have an official formation date of 1881 although it roots go back a year earlier to a club called Britannia in the nearby town of Bainsford. The new club took over Randyford Park in Grangemouth Road from neighbours Falkirk who had decamped to a ground called Blinkbonny.

However, Randyford proved problematic and within months East Stirlingshire moved to Merchiston Park. The club remained at this ground until it was purchased to extend the adjacent Burnbank Iron Foundry. Shire then opened their new town centre ground, Firs Park, in August 1921. Although modest in dimensions the ground managed to accommodate 11,500 spectators for a 1968 Scottish Cup tie against Hibernian.

Life at Firs Park was never dull, in 1964 the incumbent board relocated the club to New Kilbowie Park and an ill-fated merger with Clydebank. After twelve months of litigation the Shire returned to Falkirk. During their absence the cover from the standing enclosure and the floodlights had gone to Kilbowie and local vandals had also held sway in the unoccupied ground. New lights and a replacement cover were erected before football returned to Firs Park. The small barrelled roof main stand became something of an icon of Scottish stadium architecture. Since the 1964 debacle the club has periodically considered further relocation, with Grangemouth Athletics Stadium being considered on more than one occasion.

The club played its last game at Firs Park in 2008 when the momentous decision was taken that the old ground would be prohibitively expensive to upgrade to the new ground grading criteria imposed by the Scottish League. The club signed an initial five year deal to play at Stenhousemuir’s ancient Ochilview Park while the club actively looked for a new site in the Falkirk area. In May 2014 East Stirlingshire signed a deal with LK Galaxy Sports to develop a new ground with the preferred site being the former BP Club ground in Grange Road, Grangemouth. Strangely this would mean both of Falkirk’s senior teams will have moved out of their own town to the same town.

Ochilview is one of Scotland’s oldest grounds having opened in 1890. It has been substantially modernised since 1994 when Stenhousemuir failed in their attempts to sell the ageing ground to a supermarket chain. A new main stand replaced the south stand terrace in 1995 and four years later the old “Dolls House” stand was refused a safety licence and was subsequently demolished. This side is now used for car parking and community 3G pitches and has left the stadium with a modest capacity of 3,750 and a distinctly open feel to it. The Tryst Road terrace was covered in 2004 with volunteer labour from supporters. The club has also installed a FIFA approved artificial playing surface in recent years.

Many casual fans follow East Stirlingshire seemingly annual battle to avoid the wooden spoon in Scotland’s fourth tier. The Shire have finish tenth and last of the Scottish League’s lowest tier for seven out of of the last twelve seasons, although last season they finished a heady eighth with Elgin City and Queen’s Park finishing below them. The club won the Scottish League Division C (the old fourth tier) in 1947/48. They have not won anything since.

This season has once again been a struggle for the Shire the league table shows them a point above bottom placed Elgin so today’s Scottish Cup game against Championship side Dunfermline Athletic must have been eyed with no little trepidation.

To the Shire’s credit they keep their guests from the Championship quiet for more that half and hour with some resolute defending. Dunfermline look the better side with Faissal El Bakhtaoui looking the pick of the visitors eleven. It’s no surprise that the young French/Moroccan playmaker opens the scoring with a deft finish just before half time. He doubles the visitors total just after the hour with another impressive strike.

The men from East End Park effectively seal the victory when Shaun Byrne picked up a loose ball in his own half and outpaced the home defence to score with some aplomb. East Stirlingshire’s biggest goal threat comes from the burly Ivorian striker Guy Tahin who bizarrely is only currently permitted to play in cup ties and friendlies. However, Tahin is well shackled today by Gregor Buchanan. Shire continue to press forward and suddenly reduce the arrears with a powerful strike from distance by David Greenhill, his shot finding the net via the inside of the post.

Visibly irked by conceding a goal Dunfermline take charge again and the pressure pays off when Connor Greene makes an injudicious challenge in the area and Ross Millen nets the spot kick with a cheeky “Panenka” style chip down the middle of the goal.

Although well beaten today you have to admire the indefatigable spirit of East Stirlingshire. Homeless and regular wooden spoonists they dig in week after week and you have to salute them for that.

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Sunday November 2nd 2014 – Scottish Cup Third Round

East Stirlingshire (0) 1 (Greenhill 79)
Dunfermline Athletic (1) 4 (El Bakhtaoui 37,62, Byrne 76, Millen pen 84)

Attendance: 991 (at Ochilview, Stenhousemuir F.C.)

Shire:

1. Richie Barnard (c), 2. Connor Greene, 3. Lloyd Kinnaird, 4. Michael Bolochoweckyj, 5. Chris Townsley, 6. Graeme MacGregor, 7. Andy Kay, 8. Neil McCabe, 9. Guy Tahin, 10. David McKenna, 11. David Greenhill.

Subs: 12. Billy Vidler, 14. Steven Brisbane (for 6,62 mins), 15. Martyn Shields, 16. Ross Gilmour, 17. Sean Quinn, 18. Paul Brennan (for 9,71 mins), 19. Alan Deans.

Dunfermline:

1. Ryan Scully, 2. Ross Millen, 3. Alex Whittle, 4. Stuart Urquhart, 5. Gregor Buchanan, 6. Andy Geggan (c), 7. Faissal El Bakhtaoui, 8. Lewis Spence, 9. Michael Moffat, 10. Ross Forbes, 11. Shaun Byrne.

Subs: 12. Ryan Thomson (for 10,77 mins), 14. Andy Stirling, 15. Allan Smith, 16. Chiogozie Ugwu (for 9,72 mins), 17. Ryan Williamson, 18. James Thomas for 7,72 mins), 20. Ryan Goodfellow.

Yellow Cards: Bolochoweckyj , MacGregor, Townsley, Greene (all Shire)

Gallery

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Shire prog

Red Light (Arbroath)

The remote Angus coastal burgh of Arbroath is famous for two reasons, the “smokie” a kiln smoked salted haddock and for the fact that the town’s football team hold the record for the biggest victory in senior football.

In September 1885 Arbroath defeated the hapless Bon Accord by an incredible score of 36-0. Arbroath forward Jocky Petrie helped himself to thirteen of the goals, itself an individual scoring record. Amazingly on the very same day Dundee Harp missed their chance of lasting fame by only racking up 35 unanswered goals against Aberdeen Rovers.

The club has the nickname of “the Red Lichties” which was derived from the red lights that were illuminated on the harbour front to safely guide the fishing boats back home.

Arbroath were formed in 1878 and initially played on a basic pitch between the sea and the railway line. It was known as the Hospital Field. In 1880 the club moved to a new site which was called Old Gayfield. It was tightly hemmed in and on one side the external wall was yards from the touchline meaning spectators could not watch from that side. The first game at the ground was against Rob Roy. However, the new ground irked mighty Rangers who complained that “the back green” they had just lost on was too small for purpose. The Scottish FA acquiesced to their demands for a replay which the Glaswegians won 8-1. Old Gayfield was subsequently enlarged with the acquisition of seashore owned by the local railway company.

The club played their last match at Old Gayfield in March 1925 against King’s Park before moving the ground around sixty yards south west. The old seaside stand was demolished and a new stand erected on the Dundee Road side of the new orientation of the ground now called Greater Gayfield. The ground was ready for the new season and 7,000 people packed in to see the Earl of Strathmore declare the venue open before a game against East Fife.

In 1949 the record attendance of 13,510 was set at Gayfield when another visit from Rangers passed without complaint. The floodlights at Gayfield have a chequered history to say the least. The first temporary set were erected in 1955 and in only their second game against Dundee United an Arbroath player caused much merriment by smashing one of the lights with a wayward boot of the ball. These were replaced with lights bought from Aberdeen in 1970 although sixteen years later they were sold on again to Eastwood Town.

Gayfield survived a serious fire to the main stand in September 1958, the alarm being raised by Partick Thistle players lodging in the hotel opposite the ground. The old stand suffered significant damage and was replaced by the present brick and concrete structure. Two of the three covers were erected in 1979 and the fabled “seaside” stand was covered a year later. It truly must be the closest football stand to the sea in the land, both Gay Meadow and Craven Cottage being merely riverside rather than adjacent to the howling, elemental and endless North Sea. The word “bracing” somehow just doesn’t cut muster.

Today’s game is played in a strong wind and fair light and Gayfield rocks to an early penalty kick which is comfortably dispatched by Paul McManus. The hosts failed to build on it though and only lead their Highland League visitors by a one goal margin at the turn around.

Arbroath double their lead when left back Scott McBride powers in an impressive header from a corner. Almost immediately after the restart there is concern for the home goalkeeper who was subject to a heavy but fair challenge. He is down for some five minutes receiving treatment and has to be replaced. As the sun sets over Gayfield it is the visitors of Nairn that push forward, Sean Webb reduces the arrears two minutes from time. There is of course lengthy stoppage time and Nairn pile on the pressure seeking to take the tie back to Station Park for a replay. They can count themselves unlucky that the equaliser didn’t materialise and the Red Lichties held on for the victory.

Gayfield is just glorious, there is no other word for it. Sweeping terraces and hefty covers built, no hewn, to withstand this unforgiving coast and its unrelenting wind, sea, salt and weather. This is visceral, primordial football not only do you have to outwit your opponent but you also have to do battle with the unpredictable elements. It’s not too glib to say this is an iconic lower league ground, ridiculously photogenic, all big skies and lucent light. I excitedly snapped photograph after photograph, until the red light indicated battery power down. This ground has a mythical feel to it, truly up there with the best grounds in the kingdom.

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Saturday November 1st 2014 – Scottish Cup Third Round

Arbroath 2 (McManus pen 22, McBride 67)
Nairn County 1 (Webb 88)

Attendance: 682 (at Gayfield Park)

Arbroath:

1. David Crawford, 2. Ricky Little, 3. Scott McBride, 4. Kevin Nicoll, 5. Aldin El-Zubaidi, 6. Mark Whatley, 7. Bobby Linn, 8. Keiran Stewart, 9. Paul McManus (c), 10. Simon Murray, 11. Jordan Lowdon.

Subs: 12. Kevin Buchan (for 9,78 mins), 14. Michael Travis, 15. Johnny Lindsay, 16. Michael Wallace, 17. Connor Birse, 18. Craig Johnstone (for 11, 63 mins), 21. Scott Morrison (for 1,71 mins).

Nairn:

20. Callum Antell, 2. Sean Webb 3. Glenn Main, 4. Michael Morrison (c), 5. Martin MacDonald, 6. Wayne MacKintosh, 7. Bradley Halsman, 8. Alan Pollock, 9. Robert Duncanson, 10. Conor Gethins, 11. Kyle Wilkie.

Subs: 1. Michael MacCallum, 12. Paul Macleod, 14. Ross Naismith (for 11,82 mins), 15. Sam Urquhart (for 9,73 mins), 16. Adam Naismith, 17. Chris Moir, 18. Matthew Murphy.

Yellow Card: Morrison (Nairn)

Gallery

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Lichties prog

 

20 Glorious Non-League Grounds

There are literally hundreds of eye poppingly beautiful non-league grounds in England, here are just twenty good ones with some background and pictures. Before any arguments ensue they are ranked in no particular order!

Bexhill United – The Polegrove (Sussex League Division Two)

The Polegrove, Brockley Road, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex TN39 3EX

Bexhill United have only ever played at The Polegrove since their formation in 1926. The superb mock Tudor brick and timber built grandstand was opened in 1929. The spectacular stand houses the teams changing rooms and a smaller officials room. Adjacent to the stand on the seafront side of the ground is the clubhouse which was completed in 1987. The club has spent recent years in the lower reaches of the Sussex County League, but are rightly proud of their grandstand, one of the most attractive in the country. In the summer of 2002 the old Bexhill Town club merged with Bexhill Amateur Athletic Club to be renamed as Bexhill United.

Bexhill United (3) Bexhill United (1)

Bodmin Town – Priory Park (South West Peninsula League Premier Division)

Priory Park, Bodmin, Cornwall PL31 2AE

As you arrive in Bodmin on the A389 the huge site that is Priory Park lies in the shallow valley to the left and its photogenic stand looks great from the roadside. Adjacent to the ground is Athelston House and behind it the valley banks up sharply and the superb vista is completed by the distant focal point of Gilbert’s Monument. The stunning pitched roof stand was opened in September 1958 some ten years after the club started leasing the site from Bodmin Council. At the time the stand cost some £2,500 to construct but was worth every penny as it remains one of the best in the area. However, the club have lofty aspirations and either a move or substantial redevelopment remains a possibility. For stadium purists these plans are sacrilegious.

Bodmin Town - Priory Park (1) Bodmin Town - Priory Park (3)

Brimscombe & Thrupp – The Meadow (Hellenic League Division One West)

The Meadow, London Road, Brimscombe, Gloucestershire GL5 2SH

One of the many picture postcard grounds that grace the Gloucestershire countryside. Opened in 1946, The Meadow was levelled off to form a useable playing surface and much of the earth was compacted to form a sizeable bank on the London Road side of the ground. A wooden cover was erected into a cutting in the bank and although appearing somewhat precarious, provides a marvellous view of the match. The pitch is set off by a smart white post and rail fence. Looking past the stand and bank, the overall picture is complete by extensive woodland rising sharply in the distance. Brimscombe and Thrupp, a modest club with a pretty little home.

 

Update: This picturesque stand was replaced during the summer of 2013 by a modern kit build stand at the request of the Hellenic League.
Brimscombe & Thrupp Brimscombe & Thrupp (7)

Buxton – The Silverlands (Northern Premier League Premier Division)

The Silverlands, Silverlands, Buxton, Derbyshire SK17 6QH

Buxton is an ancient spa town in the beautiful area of the Peak District and is one of the highest towns above sea level. Buxton claim to have the most elevated ground in the country, although the good folk of Tow Law Town came very close on a battle of the altimeters. The club played their first match at Silverlands in November 1884, when it was little more than an unenclosed field. The first covered accommodation was erected in 1890, primarily “to encourage lady supporters to the ground”. Soon after a grandstand was opened and stood until it was replaced by the present main stand in 1965. In 1980 the dressing rooms were replaced with new facilities under the main stand. The club invested in a new drainage system in 1979 and the move has paid dividends, with waterlogging in this area of copious precipitation being a rare occurence. In the early 1990’s the terracing was re-laid and the old covers replaced. A visit to this ancient sports ground and delightful town is a must for any stadium buff.

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Buxton (2)

Chorley – Victory Park (Northern Premier League Premier Division)

Victory Park, Duke Street, Chorley, Lancashire PR7 3DU

Victory Park is a quite magnificent venue, its main stand, built in 1947, is a national treasure. The roof is supported by an impossible amount of criss-crossing metalwork. Following the discovery of asbestos recently the ancient roof has been sympathetically replaced with more modern material. Both ends at Victory Park have large covered terraces, the car park end, the elder of the two, is another design classic with a myriad of roof supports. The ground, however, has had its share of disasters with the original Pilling Lane end being blown down in a gale in 1929 and the first grandstand being reduced to a pile of smouldering ash in 1945. The side opposite the main stand has substantial grass banking and has never seen any real development. The club’s catering hut even sells the local delicacy of butter pies! Victory Park has survived the push for modernity intact and is a welcome reminder of how grounds used to look. A truly classic venue.

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Crook Town – Millfields (Northern League Division Two)

Millfield, West Road, Crook, County DurhamDL15 9PW

A very famous club from the old amateur days, being five times winners of the F.A. Amateur Cup. The club is renowned throughout Europe and even played the mighty Barcelona no less than ten times between 1913 and 1922, losing only four times. So close were their ties with the Catalan club that they even borrowed Barca’s famous goalkeeper, Ricardo Zamora for one game. Crook also went on tour to Norway in 1963 and, famously, to India in 1976 when crowds in excess of 100,000 flocked to see the side from the Northern League. In 1898 the club left their Welfare Ground at Bankfoot having purchased a new site in West Road for the princely sum of £625. The ground at Millfield expanded rapidly and the original grandstand was replaced by the current 500 seater in 1925 at a cost of £1,300. The rest of the ground was steeply banked with ash to create a massive capacity. Millfield was packed for an Amateur Cup tie against Walton & Hersham in 1952 when the official record gate of 17,500 was set. Contemporary press reports put the real crowd as being in excess of 20,000 as entrance gates were barged down. In the late 1940’s and fifties the ground never saw a match with a crowd of less than 4,000, remarkable for such a small town with a population then of 12,000! The stand was joined on the same side in 1960 by a large section of covered terrace. The old grandstand, however, was condemned in 1989 but sympathetic renovation has seen it restored to its former glory. Although the crowds are long gone, Millfield remains a classic venue, albeit one under constant threat of redevelopment or relocation.

Crook Town (1) Crook Town (2)

Ebbsfleet United – Stonebridge Road (Conference)

Stonebridge Road, Northfleet, KentDA11 9EN

This classic ground has been home to Northfleet United and the latterly merged Gravesend & Northfleet club since 1905, and is leased from the cement manufacturers, Blue Circle. The vast main stand was erected in 1914 and complemented a smaller stand on the Stonebridge Road side of the ground erected some six years later. The smaller stand was later demolished and replaced by the present large covered terrace in 1959 which matched the then seven year old cover behind the East goal. In 1980 the Swanscombe End was reterraced to modern safety standards. All the developments at the ground over the years, including the installation additional seating, have been sympathetic and in keeping with the site’s great age, but have been done in such a manner that Stonebridge Road remains well up to modern ground-grading criteria. For that the club’s management should take a well deserved bow.

Update: the covered terrace on the Stonebridge Road side of the ground was replaced with a modern seated stand which by summer 2017 had still not been finished as the contractor has gone bust.

Ebbsfleet United (25)

Ebbsfleet United (26)

Esh Winning – West Terrace (Northern League Division Two)

West Terrace, Waterhouses, County DurhamDH7 9NQ

Several incarnations of Esh Winning have been in existence since the village’s first club, Esh Winning Rangers were formed in 1889. Many of the clubs played at the Stag Hill Recreation Ground but all subsequently disbanded until a Sunday side were formed in 1967 under the curious title of Esh Winning Pineapple. The club secured the use of the Welfare Ground of the disbanded Waterhouses Colliery, eventually purchasing the venue. They only converted to Saturday football, losing their interesting suffix in the process, as recently as 1980 by which time the ground had been developed to the first class venue it is now. Originally the ground had twin stands with the unusual lofted roof spans, lucky one still soldiers on. The ground’s location in the beautiful Deerness Valley makes this a truly evocative and peaceful venue.

Esh Winning (9) Esh Winning (15)

Great Yarmouth Town – Wellesley Recreation Ground (Eastern Counties League Division One)

Wellesey Recreation Ground, Wellesey Road, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk NR30 1EY

Without doubt the 120 year old grandstand at the Wellesey is the single most photographed ground in non-league history. It is understandable as everything about its construction is aesthetically pleasing. From the dog-tooth fascia board, turned roof supports, roof gable and pierced roof ends down to ornate dressing room window frames it is just a joy. The opposite side of the ground has a not unattractive run of covered benching. However it is the 1,000 seater stand, built in the summer of 1892, that is the ground’s pride and joy. It even manages to avert the eye from the ghastly all-weather athletics track that replaced a cinder track in the early 1990’s. It was also during that time that the stand was closed for patronage under the Safety of Sports Ground Act due to the presence of large amounts of inflammable timber. However, the preservation order on the stand assures its survival for many future generations to enjoy.

Great Yarmouth Town 121

Great Yarmouth Town 118

Harwich & Parkeston – Royal Oak (Essex & Suffolk Border League Premier Division)

Royal Oak, Main Road, Dovercourt, Essex CO12 4AA

One of the most historic of Essex grounds, The Royal Oak ground opened for business in 1898. It was a good financial move for The Shrimpers as their ground at the Phoenix Field was so close to the North Sea that the club went through a considerable amount of footballs during the course of a season! The ground has suffered the loss of a superb covered terrace, opposite the main stand, in 1979 and 16 years later the open terrace at the south end was deemed unsafe and was demolished. The removal of the terrace has left the dressing rooms stranded on there own someway distant from the rest of the ground. However, the ground retains its famous main stand, erected in November 1948. Its fame, or perhaps infamy, stems from the unusually sharp sightlines caused by the angle of construction of the stand. Visitors of vertiginous disposition may need to view the game from ground level. The current ground is completed by the covered terrace at the Main Road end which features quite possibly the deepest steps of terracing in the country. One time FA Amateur Cup Finalists, the club has fought valiantly with severe financial woes and now finds itself in the somewhat reduced circumstances of the Essex and Suffolk Border League. In short the Royal Oak is an essential and quirky visit. The most recent of many threats to this dear old ground comes with the local council wishing to sell the adjacent car park for new housing.

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Hastings United – The Pilot Field (Ryman League Premier Division)

The Pilot Field, Elphinstone Road, Hastings, East Sussex TN34 2AX

The Pilot Field and “the upper ground” known as The Firs, formerly the home of St.Leonards and Stamco, have had a quite remarkable and at times torrid history. Hastings Town were formed in 1894 and had three separate spells playing at the top pitch. However, the club played at The Pilot Field between 1923 and 1948. The council had opened both grounds in 1921 at a cost of £32,000. In 1923 the present vast main stand at the Pilot Field was opened at an additional cost of £8,000. In 1948 a professional club, Hastings United, were formed and Town returned to the smaller ground at The Firs. Speedway had come to the Pilot Field in 1948 and some of the old track still remains today. However after one season racing was banned by the council after complaints of noise from neighbours. The 1950’s saw some huge crowds at the Pilot Field, the largest being 12,727 for the visit in an FA Cup tie of Norwich City in January 1954. However by 1985 Hastings United had folded following bankruptcy. Town seized the opportunity to return to the Pilot Field and took United’s place in the Southern League. The club remain in this vast venue despite modest support, and to complicate the story still further Hastings Town opted to change its name during the summer of 2002 to… Hastings United!

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Kings Lynn Town – The Walk (Northern Premier League Division 1 South)

The Walks, Tennyson Road, Kings Lynn, Norfolk PE30 5PB

The long trek for a visitor to this remote part of North Norfolk will be rewarded with a truly classic venue. The Walks has been home to the club since its formation in 1879 as Lynn Town. The vast main stand was built in 1956 and replaced an older wooden stand. As well as seating 1,200 people, the stand also houses the clubhouse, dressing rooms and club offices. Opposite the main stand is a long covered terrace, although originally this had additional seating. The seats were disposed with in 1968, but still live on at Hereford United’s Edgar Street ground. The rest of the ground has ample terracing. The club’s heyday was undoubtedly the 1950’s and 60’s when large crowds thronged to The Walks, including nearly 13,000 for a 1951 FA Cup tie with Exeter. Between 1956 and 1962 the club made seven successive, but ultimately unsuccessful, applications for Football League membership. Another run in 1962 culminated in a third round tie at Everton where a 45,366 gate secured a share of gate receipts of £4,341, which cleared all debts and paid up mortgages for houses owned by the club. The old Kings Lynn club collapsed financially in 2009 and reformed as Kings Lynn Town. Even by today’s stringent safety guidelines, The Walks has a capacity of 8,200 and with Kings Lynn having a potential catchment area of 150,000 people, you can’t help but think that the club really should have achieved so much more.

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Lancaster City – The Giant Axe (Northern Premier League Division 1 North)

The Giant Axe, West Road, Lancaster, Lancashire LA1 5PE

The then Lancaster Town’s first two games were at a field adjacent to the current ground which was known as Quay Meadow. Since then home has always been the unusually named Giant Axe Ground. Now 100 years old, The Giant Axe has undergone numerous changes over its lifetime, most recently in November 1976 when two wooden grandstands were gutted by fire. The ground now has amazingly fortified retaining walls to try and put off would be vandals. The old clubhouse was also left as charred remains after an arson attack. The impressive main stand was built on the site of the burnt out stands. There is also ample covered accommodation, all of recent vintage, to give The Giant Axe a thoroughly modern outlook. The oldest remaining part of the ground is the wooden pavilion that serves as the changing rooms, just about the only part of the ground that has survived the attention of the local delinquents.

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March Town United – GER Sports Ground (Eastern Counties League Division One)

G.E.R. Sports Ground, Robin Goodfellows Lane, March, Cambridgeshire PE15 8HS

The obvious focal point of the GER sports ground is the superb wooden main stand. Originally striped in club colours of yellow and blue, with an intensity of palette straight out of a gaudy modernist painting, nowadays a wash of plain blue suffices. The ground was originally opened in 1925 when it was home to GER United. However, this club did not reappear after the shutdown of football during World War II and March Town, who had lead a nomadic life before the hostilities, took over the venue. The ground was originally called Shepperson’s Field and was owned by the March Grammar School before GER bought the site. Although the pitched roof wooden stand is certainly impressive to look at, the view from within is hampered by the presence of no less than twelve roof supporting struts, a floodlight pylon and the modern two story administration block that obstructs the view of the goal areas for many of the seats. On the opposite side is a covered terrace erected in 1950. There was originally a greyhound track around the pitch but this has long been grassed over and the pitch widened slightly to bring the action nearer to the stands. A truly diverse sporting venue, the ground has played host to a large number of sports over the years including cricket until 1960.

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Marlow – Alfred Davis Memorial Ground (Hellenic League Division Premier Division)

Alfred Davis Memorial Ground, Oak Tree Road, Marlow, Buckinghamshire SL7 3ED

The Alfred Davis Memorial ground has been home to Marlow since 1924. Marlow were formed in 1870 and were one of the 15 clubs in the very first FA Cup competition. The clubs ground at Crown Meadow had been sold during World War I and after five years at the basic and unsatisfactory Star Meadow, the club secured the use of a field just off Oak tree Road. The finances had been organised by club secretary Alfred Davis who sadly passed away before the ground was opened. Fittingly the committee named the new venue in his memory. The wonderful main stand was built in 1930 and looks as good now as it has ever done. Lovingly kept and with only the slightly unsightly addition of steel fire escapes in recent years, the stand is a masterpiece of construction. The cover opposite was opened in 1950 and was joined behind the goal by one of a modern design in 1992. The top goal has a shallow open terrace behind which is an all weather surface opened in 1991. The club has gained an extra source of revenue by turning over one corner of the ground to a small electricity generator. The retro feel of the ground is augmented by the presence of 1970’s R.Whites Lemonade steel rubbish bins dotted around pitch side. However, the ground remains picturesque and a more than fitting tribute to Alfred Davis.

Marlow FC (2) Marlow FC (11)

 

Matlock Town – Causeway Lane (Northern Premier League Premier Division)

Causeway Lane, Matlock, Derbyshire DE4 3AR

Another ground that has now well passed its’ centenary having been home to Matlock Town since 1895. The Causeway Lane ground is set in one of the most picturesque towns in the Peak District. It has a splendid setting with panoramic views of the Matlock Dales with RiberCastle perched on high overlooking the ground. The ground had a ramshackle wooden stand which had been erected in 1920 but had sadly reached the end of its serviceable life. A £300,000 redevelopment programme has seen a new modern stand taking its place, with provision for 500 seats. Refreshingly it was built with considerable assistance from local steel specialist Twiggs. The Causeway Lane side has a simple wooden cover. Without a doubt the new stand has bought the ground kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

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Nanpean Rovers – Victoria Bottoms (East Cornwall League Division One)

Victoria Bottoms, Fore Street, Nanpean, Cornwall.

Victoria Park has gained cult status amongst ground aficionados over the last two decades. It was carved out of a clay quarry in 1936 and the resulting banking has created a unique footballing venue. The banks are covered in grass, trees and bushes and are criss-crossed by numerous pathways. Behind both goals are white shelters, useful in inclement weather, but the regular followers of The Rovers could choose a different vantage point for every home game during a season and would still have plenty more to try out! The attractive pavilion also doubles as a memorial to lads from the village killed in World War II. Victoria Park is a football watcher’s paradise, plenty to look at around the ground if the on pitch action is not too great!

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Penzance – Penlee Park (South West Peninsula League Premier Division)

Penlee Park, Alexandra Place, Penzance, Cornwall TR18 4NE

Another of Cornwall’s many glorious grounds, and another like Falmouth and Bodmin that looks older than it really is. What makes Penlee Park special is the fact that it was built solely from volunteer labour. Many tonnes of soil were moved by hand as the pitch was levelled and drainage laid. Due to appalling weather, the workers would often return to find their previous day’s toils washed away by torrential rain. The ground finally opened in time for the 1952/53 season and the club enjoyed their halcyon days at their new home. However in recent years the club fell on hard times and Penlee fell into a state of considerable disrepair not helped by the unwanted attention of local vandals. In the late 1990’s the club undertook extensive repairs, fencing was reinstated, and the stand and the ground’s ornate entrance were restored to their former glory. The original builders, some of whom still attend matches, would have been proud as Penlee Park is once again a beautiful venue and a suitable monument to their endeavour.

Penzance - Penlee Park (7)Penzance - Penlee Park (1)

 

Stonehouse Town – Oldends Lane (Gloucestershire Northern Senior League)

Oldends Lane, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire GL10 2DG

Of the many wondrous grounds in Gloucestershire, Oldends Lane remains my personal favourite, it positively reeks of atmosphere and cries out for a large crowd to gather. A large crowd did gather in September 1951 when 5,500 packed in to Oldends Lane, then two years old, when the FA Cup brought GloucesterCity to Stonehouse. The ground is essentially the same now, except for a few coats of paint, as it was when it was opened by Wolves and England captain Billy Wright in August 1949. The ground has a magnificent seated stand on one side and a large covered stand on top of a grass bank at the car park end of the ground. The club enjoyed some heady days in the Somerset Senior League, but fell into decline due to loss of revenue incurred when the clubhouse was sold off. Encouragingly the club has reinstated the covered stand behind the goal and undertaken considerable work around the ground. The days of four figure crowds are long gone but to me it is a splendid reminder of how village football used to be.

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Stourbridge – War Memorial Athletic Ground (Southern League Premier Division)

War Memorial Athletic Ground, High Street, Amblecote, West Midlands DY8 4HN

Now well past its 120th year the War Memorial Ground is most unusual, but has suffered from the loss in 1990 of the old High Street end wooden stand during its centenary year. At the opposite end of the ground is a large cavernous covered terrace which has stood since before World War II. At the same time the unusually roofed seated main stand was also built, but was joined after the war by its less aesthetically pleasing wing extensions. The most recent developments at the ground came in the sixties when floodlights, as well as a new clubhouse and changing rooms, were provided. Several plans of relocation, including one to the old Brierley Hill Town ground, have luckily come to nought and this ancient venue struggles manfully onwards.

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Stourbridge (2)