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.Saturday 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 teamsheetGallery
I am not sure why it has taken me so long to visit the Isle of Man (or Ellan Vannin in the historical Manx language). A crown dependency in the middle of the Irish Sea it’s easy enough to get to, ferry from Heysham or a short flight from Birmingham. The latter sets you down at the Ronaldsway airport in good time for a scoot around the island to check out some of the island’s football grounds with the plan being a 2pm kick off at Castletown Metropolitan followed by the under 18 representative match at The Bowl in Douglas.
With the weather less than obliging it was prudent to check out Castletown ahead of their top of the table clash with rivals Pulrose United. Chairman Patty Quinney was at the Malew Road ground and confirmed the pitch would be no problem despite the weather. A nice little ground, dating from the 1950’s, boasting a small stand and a bit of cover the encounter with Pulrose had a bit of needle as both clubs are striving for promotion. The Isle of Man has a First and Second Division and then two Combination Leagues for second teams.
Castletown Metropolitan AFC – Malew Street
Our scoot around the island started at Peel’s superb Douglas Road ground which has recently benefited from a new pitch (after sand containing glass was accidentally spread on the pitch last season!) and a make over of the stand with new plastic seats and a liberal lick of red paint around the place. The ground also boasts an indoor 3G surface.
A very pleasant drive up the west coast road found us in Ramsey, their own game had been called off earlier in the week as several of their players were selected for the representative game against Norfolk. What a fantastic ground Ballacloan Stadium is, named after the large house behind the far goal this end of the ground has quite scarily vertiginous stone terracing which sadly has out of bounds signs on it these days. A great shame must have been incredible to stand on these steep but shallow steps. There is also a decent stand with substantial terracing either side. The stadium sits in between a boating lake on North Shore Road and Mooragh Park and is particularly scenic.
Ramsey AFC – Ballacloan Stadium
Laxey AFC were formed in 1910 and play at the Henry Bloom Moore Recreation Ground on Glen Road near the picturesque harbour. A substantial stretch of terracing is set off by a footpath that disappears up the cliff to higher ground.
Laxey AFC – Henry Bloom Moore Recreation Ground
Next was the Isle of Man’s equivalent to Cowdenbeath’s Central Park in as much that Onchan Raceway is primarily a motor sport venue with a football pitch in the middle. Home to Onchan AFC it was securely locked on this visit which was a shame as it looked to have a couple of stylish concrete stands.
Onchan AFC – Onchan Raceway
By now Patty from Castletown had contacted us to say that their game had sadly bitten the dust, not due to a waterlogged pitch but for the fact that the pitch markings had completely washed away despite his best attempts to renew them! A quick decision was made to return to Peel and watch their Combination side take on their counterparts from Colby. A tight first half was succeeded by an avalanche of Peel goals in the second half. The game finished 8-1 with the impressive Shaun Kelly netting a double hat-trick. A very friendly club in a truly wonderful setting.
Peel AFC – Douglas Road Ground
A quick dash to the island’s capital Douglas saw us in the Isle of Man FA Ground at The Bowl in good time for the 5pm kick off. This was a quarter-final in the FA County Youth Cup and a decent crowd of 279 turned out on a very soggy evening. The stadium was substantially renovated in 2011, and has an artificial surface. There is seating for 3,000 with one side covered with a tented style roof. A well contested game saw the visitors from Norfolk win 2-1 in extra time.
The Bowl Stadium
Heading back to the airport on the Sunday morning afforded the opportunity to visit one final ground right on the southern tip of the island in Port Erin. Croit Lowey is the home of Rushen United and has a clubhouse on an elevated platform above the pitch and this has a substantial section of cover running the length of the building.
Rushen United – Croit Lowey
Despite the poor weather it was a memorable trip to this scandalously overlooked island. One can’t help thinking how ideal Isle of Man football would be for an organised groundhop. Decent facilities, friendly folk and a real tradition in football and nowhere particularly far from anywhere else it is tailor made for a groundhopping extravaganza.
The current AFC Tubize is the result of a 1990 merger between F.C. Tubize and Amis Réunis de Tubize. The former had begun life in 1919 as Athletic Club Tubizien while Amis Réunis appeared on the scene in 1974. The old Tubize club had merged with several other clubs over the years so a merger of the two remaining clubs representing this small Walloon city made sense if the town was to compete at the highest level.
The combined club progressed quickly under the astute coaching of Theo Buelinckx and in seven seasons Tubize moved from the third division of the provincial league to the third division of the national league, a remarkable four promotions.
After Buelinckx retired the club still continued their meteoric rise, promotion to the second tier came in 2002/03 and five seasons later they were promoted to the top division for the first time in their history.
Unfortunately for Tubize the Belgian FA decided to reduce the top division from 18 clubs to 16 for the 2008/09 season and after finishing 17th the club slipped through the trap door with Dender and Mons, Roeselare surviving in the relegation play-offs. Tubize’s one season in the top flight had required the club to increase the capacity at the Stade Leburton from 5,000 to 8,000 seats and vastly improve media facilities.
The club has remained in the Second Division without really challenging for a return to the Pro League. The most recent time the club caused some headlines was in 2013 when they signed the former Korean international Hwang Jin-Sung. The signing provoked such interest in Tubize from his homeland that in August 2014 the Korean sports marketing firm, Sportizen, bought the club in its entirety.
The Stade Leburton has a modern stand on one side with plush corporate facilities and restaurants. Behind the far end goal is a huge seated stand which has one sector segregated off for away fans. Opposite the main stand is a small well elevated covered terrace where a small band of ultras congregate. Behind the near goal is a smart clubhouse. On the approach to the ground are two enormous statues of a Belgian forward and goalkeeper, they are quite an extraordinary sight.
Something Tubize may have to work on is their customer service. The ticket seller indicated that the seated stand was not available (there were loads of empty seats), and the stewards then said all bags of any type were not permitted into the stadium! There were only 500 people in attendance and they could have easily searched all those with bags but instead insisted that they were returned to cars. Quite what someone unaware of this ridiculous rule would do with their bag if arriving by public transport is beyond me. If that doesn’t rub you up the wrong way enough the insistence of checking your ticket every time you leave or go into the stand is a considerable annoyance. The standing ticket only gets you into one sector and you cannot physically get into another sector, so the checking of tickets is absolutely pointless.
On the field Tubize are soundly beaten today by an impressive looking Lommel side. The hosts’ cause is not helped by the dismissal on the half hour mark of Mamadou Diallo for apparently elbowing an opponent. The defeat had repercussions for the Tubize coach, Thierry Goudet, who after just three months in the job was relieved of his duties in the days after this heavy loss.
Aside from the poor stewarding of the ground the Leburton is a modern venue set in a wooded hollow and makes for a pleasant afternoon. The food kiosk sells a “country” sausage which was extremely tasty.
With this being the first season of the smaller eight team professional Division 1B, it must be a concern to the club that they only managed to pull in 500 customers for this game. It will be interesting to see how this modest club from out in the sticks will compete with the more traditional powerhouses like Antwerp, Lierse and Union Saint-Gilloise.
Proximus League – 14/08/2016
AFC Tubize 0
Lommel United 4 (Berben 17, Cauwenberg 40, De Bruyn 68, Adesanya 90)
Admission €8 (standing) Programme Free
The North Berkshire League has really always been a village league with the strict ruling that member clubs must be situated within a 20 mile radius of Steventon Green, however, latterly the burgeoning reputation for the League has seen it take in various waifs and strays that have fallen on hard times following exploits at a higher level. Similarly to last year, the 2015 Groundhop commenced with an additional Friday night game at one of the few floodlit grounds in the League. Last season it was Abingdon Town that provided the venue for the additional game to the main event and this time they were the opponents for another club that had also chosen to drop out of the Hellenic League.
Friday September 18th 2015 – North Berks League Div.1
Wallingford Town (0) 0
Abingdon Town (0) 1 (Pitson 60)
Attendance: 125 (at Hithercroft Sports Park)
A very tight encounter with two very evenly matched sides looked initially as if both sides would cancel each other out particularly as both goalkeepers were in fine form. However, it was the visitors that took the points when Steve Pitson netted with aplomb when Wallingford were caught on a swift counter attack.
Hithercroft has changed considerably in recent years notably the old main stand has been replaced by the increasingly ubiquitous Arena Seating modular unit. The club have prepared well and the old double decker bus converted into a bar downstairs and an elevated viewing gallery upstairs is every bit as genial as it is quirky. A crowd of 125 isn’t bad at all considering the ground had been “hopped” in the inaugural North Berks hop and the considerable attraction of the televised England v Fiji opening game of the Rugby World Cup.
Saturday September 19th 2015 – North Berks League Div.2 (Kick-off: 10.30am)
Hanney United (2) 4 (J.Bishop pen 16, 41, Woodside 77, Webster og 88)
Marcham (2) 2 (Larman 7, Dodds 24)
Attendance: 171 (at War Memorial Ground)
Hanney originally played at The Meads in West Hanney before the War Memorial Hall was built in the 1970’s. The clubs pitch was originally at the far end of the cricket field but in recent years the club has used a pitch to the right of the cricket pitch. The club put on a grand opening to the day’s events making superb use of limited facilities to make sure everyone is fed with breakfast followed by enough cake to give Mr Kipling a run for his money. The North Berks Cup is on display as well as a fascinating display of the clubs history which included winning this handsome trophy in four consecutive seasons in the 1940’s. Heady days for Hanney.
The game itself is an entertaining affair with the opponents Marcham out of the traps the quicker and looking stronger than their hosts. However, an equaliser for the hosts before half time proved pivotal and Hanney dominated the second half as Marcham seemed to run out of puff.
Saturday September 19th 2015 – North Berks League Div.3 (Kick-off: 13.30pm)
Grove Rangers (4) 4 (Pickering 2, Dix 18, Cramp 21, 23)
Benson Lions (0) 1 (Radcliffe 88)
Attendance: 154 (at Cane Lane)
Grove Rangers have a lengthy history dating back to the turn of the 20th Century and usually play on the pitch behind the clubhouse of Grove Rugby Club. With the oval ball guys also having a big match on today the football club were asked to use the “back pitch” ironically their original pitch often called Wasbrough Field. Still the unexpected change of venue gave the added bonus of the statue of a DeHavilland Venom close by which marks the runway of a wartime RAF base.
The hosts take the lead within two minutes of the start of the game and when three more quickly follow the watching crowd begin to fear for the visitors shorn of many regulars due to active service. However two half time changes, a late arriving centre back and outfield player taking over in goal from another outfield player had a steadying effect and Benson escaped further punishment. Indeed their veteran player/manager Jon Radcliffe earned a late cheer when he scored a cracking goal which was celebrated in equally fine style.
Saturday September 19th 2015 – North Berks League Div.1 (Kick-off: 16.30pm)
East Hendred (0) 1 (Rowe 48)
Long Wittenham Athletic (1) 1 (Cheong 25)
Attendance: 204 (at Mill Lane)
Back into the top division for the days’ final encounter and the step up shows with both sides looking fitter and faster. Another very even encounter eschews on a good service which sloped alarming downhill in the final third of the pitch at the far end. A goalkeeper taking a goal kick could only be seen from the waist up from the pavilion end such is the camber of the pitch at that end. The match was for the James Rennie Memorial Trophy and a draw was just about the right result although the hosts missed several chances in the second half.
The club put on a great event with curry and Bolognese available as well as yet another cake stall (oh I couldn’t possibly…well ok then just a small piece). The club live up to their nickname of The Owls by having a local expert conduct a display with a collection of different owls, one of which was purported to be 36 years old. East Hendred were originally formed in 1912 but folded in 1982 due to a lack of volunteers. Fortunately they reformed in 1994 and gained promotion to the top division last season having finished runners up in Division 2. On today’s display they certainly do not look out of place in the top tier.
So the third and final year of the Welsh Alliance League Groundhop proved to be a fitting finale to what has been a fantastic series of weekends in some of the most scenic locations in Britain.
Friday August 28th 2015
6.30pm – Division Two
Mochdre Sports (0) 1 (Owen 63)
Prestatyn Sports (0) 0
Att: 313 (at Swan Road)
The weekend opened with a tight encounter between two of leagues newest incumbents. The football ground shares with a mightily impressive cricket ground and adjacent hills provide an attractive backdrop, which is somewhat unexpected having reached the ground walking through an industrial estate. Mochdre have done very well from nearly having to fold in the summer of 2012 to gaining promotion to the Welsh Alliance for the 2014/15 season and they win this encounter with a fine free kick from the left boot of Niall Owen.
Saturday August 29th 2015
10.45am– Division Two
Amlwch Town (1) 1 (Griffiths 45)
Nantlle Vale (2) 2 (A.Hughes 2, S.Williams 40)
Att: 318 (at Lôn Bach)
A reverse fixture from last season’s groundhop sees the visitors win the points in another close game. Prior to kick off a frankly moving speech sees the unveiling of the new stand at Lon Bach, shoehorned into the only available space at the ground, with the widow of former club stalwart John Thomas cutting the ribbon. The club had played in the second tier Cymru Alliance in 2002/03 but after a disastrous campaign they regrouped in the Anglesey League.
13.30pm– Division Two
Llanerch-y-medd (2) 3 (J.Jones 5, M.Jones 29,47)
Blaenau Ffestiniog Amateurs (2) 2 (Bradley 35,45)
Att: 317 (at Cae Tan Parc)
A steep climb up into the hills and a real surprise to find a super ground at Tan Parc complete with a seated stand on the far side of this exposed venue. A cracking end-to-end match culminated with just about the right result.
16.45pm– Division One
Trearddur Bay United (3) 4 (Murphy 6, Thomas 17,28, C.Williams 46)
St.Asaph City (0) 3 (J.Jones 48,86, Johns 74)
Att: 304 (at Lôn Issalt)
A real seaside location on Holy Island sees Trearddur Bay’s narrow Lon Issalt packed for this encounter. The boundary wall does makeshift service as a grandstand and many take the hike up the adjacent hill to really appreciate the natural beauty of this fine venue. The home side look hugely impressive in the first half before seemingly running out of puff as the visitors almost clawed back a huge deficit.
19.45pm– Division One
Llangefni Town (0) 4 (Evans 58, Hughes 65, I.Jones 74, S.Jones 79)
Llanfairpwll (0) 0
Att: 409 (at Cae Bob Parry)
The best appointed ground of the weekend as you would expect given the club’s former tenure in the Welsh Premier League. Cover on all four sides and plastic seating with no little provenance having been acquired from both Gay Meadow and Maine Road. A close first half is followed by the complete opposite in the first half as the hosts threatened to run riot.
Sunday August 30th 2015
11.30am– Division One
Llanberis (0) 1 (R.Parry 68)
Pwllheli (0) 1 (M.Jones 76)
Att: 333 (at Fforde Padarn)
In the shadow of mighty Snowdon you would expect a scenic ground and Fforde Padern certainly didn’t disappoint. Mountains prevail all around and Llyn Padarn glistens in the early morning sun. A tight encounter is frequently punctuated by the whistles and expelling of steam from the nearby mountain railway. Glorious.
14.30pm– Division One
Llanrug United (0) 2 (Palmer 63, D.Williams 86)
Llanrwst United (0) 1 (Jenkins 79)
Att:324 (at Eithin Duon)
A short drive out of Llanberis finds a lovely little football ground which is dwarfed by a pylon in the adjacent field. The club have played here since 1968 when the village team was re-established after a nine year hiatus caused by numerous problems trying to find a suitable home ground. Prior to that the club had also been in trouble with the North Wales Coast Football Association, for staging several illegal matches outside of the official football season! The two sides really slug this one out and the hosts secure the points with a goal from David Williams.
18.00pm– Division Two
Mynydd Llandegai (1) 3 (Hughes 6, pen 70, Whitmore 74)
Meliden (1) 2 (Szabo 21, Buckley 76)
Att: 305 (at Cae Peldroed)
Wow. Just wow. A steep ascent into the mountains again to some 850 feet above sea level. This tiny village’s playing field is probably the only relatively flat piece of land for miles. The scenery is breathtaking, from heather covered mountains to a derelict stone built dwelling, from a stone monument to a planted garden it’s a very attractive place to watch a football match. It’s a very decent encounter too, just shaded by the hosts.
Sunday August 31st 2015
11.30am– Division Two
Pentreath (4) 10 (McGonigle 1,19, 55, 56, R.Roberts 14, Monument 37, 53, C.Jones 57, 89, D.Owen 73)
Gaerwen (2) 2 (McGuiness 21, Leuthwaite 27)
Att: 376 (at Bryniau Field)
Back onto Anglesey for this match at a typical small village playing field. Minor consternation occurs when one of the coaches reverses perilously close to the local war memorial. The ground also features a set of medieval stocks, punishment for a bad performance maybe? A very one sided game saw the hosts score at will in the second half. It will certainly be a long season for poor old Gaerwen.
14.45pm- League Cup 1st Round
Llanllyfni (1) 4 (A.Owen 3,90, C.Parry 49, Daniels 57)
Trearddur Bay United (1) 1 (Moore 42)
Att: 307 (at Cae Brenin Sior V)
The game that nearly wasn’t following the pull outs of both Bethesda Athletic and Halkyn United. Fortunately Trearddur Bay came to the rescue and sent a side to contest this League Cup tie. So late was the re-arranged game you can certainly forgive five of their players turning up late for the game. The home side, new to the league following their triumph in the Gwynedd League, look very impressive and the result was never in any doubt.
18.15pm– Division Two
Penmaenmawr Phoenix (2) 3 (A.Caldecott 21, Davies 44, T.Paddock 90)
Greenfield (1) 4 (Pritchard 39, Shaun Beck 56, G.Henley 59,80)
Att: 431 (at Cae Sling)
A packed Cae Sling provides the perfect coda to this wonderful weekend of football and the two combatants produce a goal feast as well with Greenfield just doing enough to win the points. You almost get blasé about the scenery of these grounds but Cae Sling is a really stunning place to see a game.
Tastes and Smells of the Weekend
Chicken, leek and potato stew – Trearddur Bay United
Fish Finger baps – Llanrug United
Corned Beef hash – Penmaenmawr Phoenix
I for one felt a little sad at the end of this fabulous weekend of football as the league is now completed and the Groundhop circus will roll up elsewhere next August bank holiday.