Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Saints fall by Wey-side


The big match of the non-league football weekend was arguably the clash of the Conference South titans on Easter Monday, as league leaders (and full-time cash-splashing) Weymouth took on second-placed free-scoring St. Albans City, at the Dorset side's Wessex Stadium. With both teams away and clear from the rest, with just a few games remaining, whoever came out on top in this long-awaited encounter would be in pole position for promotion to Conference National.

By all accounts it was a tight affair for much of the game, with St. Albans playing some pretty football but Weymouth's more direct approach reaping rewards. The tackles were flying in (pictured: Saints' Matt Hann, formerly with Weymouth's fierce local rivals Dorchester, takes out Lee Elam), with seven booked, and the opening goal came on 28 minutes through Weymouth's on-loan Carlisle striker Raphael Nade. Lee Clarke levelled matters within 90 seconds however, only for the Saints to concede a free-kick on the edge of the box just before the break which Terras captain Matt Bound fired into the net.

Weymouth began the second half with their tails up and further extended their lead when former Shrewsbury midfielder Ben Smith tumbled in the box under some pressure and the ref awarded a penalty - set-piece specialist Bound stepped up to convert to make it 3-1. But Saints reduced the arrears through Gary Elphick and were further boosted when Terras midfielder Shaun Wilkinson was sent-off for a late challenge. They also came close to snatching a draw when Paul Hakim lobbed Weymouth 'keeper Arran Lee-Barrett - only for the all-action Bound to make a dramatic clearance off the line. Weymouth held out and with their financial backing and full-time status are well set for Conference National football.

Unsurprisingly, a new Conference South attendance record was set - in fact, the astonishing figure of 5,022 surpassed all Conference National and most League Two attendances and there were even more people at the Wessex than attended Colchester or Port Vale's home games in League One! It was also the second highest non-league attendance this season (Exeter v Grays Athletic in the Conference National attracted 6,682).

Borough re-Bourne

While all that was going on at the Wessex, I made the journey to Welling's Park View Road ground for BBC Southern Counties Radio, to see Eastbourne Borough grind out an impressive 2-1 victory over the play-off chasers. It hadn't looked good for Borough when Matt Bodkin opened the scoring on 11 minutes, but Matt Smart finished off a fine flowing passing move to level on half hour. Borough and Welling both had several good chances in a pulsating end-to-end second half, including an Eastbourne goal disallowed, before Scott Ramsay struck the winner on 83 minutes.

The result leaves Borough on 41 points and takes them very close to ensuring their safety in Conference South. Roll on next season!

One way to ruin a decent headline...

As part of my post above will tell you, I can now add Welling United's Park View Road ground to the list below of stadia visited. Now, can anybody find a decent headline with 37 in it...???

Friday, April 14, 2006

The dirty three-dozen

(pictured: the John Smith's stand at Stoke City's Britannia Stadium)

Still persuing the groundhopping theme, I mentioned in a previous post that I'd visited 36 professional and semi-professional football grounds in my 21 years on this planet. The full list is as follows (Skif, prepare to laugh at the inadequacy of it!)...

Aldershot Town (Recreation Ground)
Aston Villa (Villa Park)
Basingstoke Town (The Camrose) *
Bishop’s Stortford (Woodside Park) *
Brighton and Hove Albion (Withdean Stadium)
Burgess Hill Town (Leylands Park)
Chelsea (Stamford Bridge)
Cobham (Downside Bridge Road) *
Cork City (Turner’s Cross)
Crystal Palace/Wimbledon (Selhurst Park)
Eastbourne Borough (Priory Lane)
Eastbourne Town (The Saffrons)
Eastbourne United Association (The Oval)
Farnborough Town (Cherrywood Road) *
Farnham Town (Memorial Sports Ground)
Gillingham (Priestfield Stadium)
Hailsham Town (The Beaconsfield)
Hassocks (The Beacon) *
Hastings United (The Pilot Field)
Hayes (Church Road) *
Lewes (The Dripping Pan)
Metropolitan Police (Imber Court Sports Ground) *
Newport County (Newport Stadium)
Oxford United (Kassam Stadium)
St. Leonards (The Firs; defunct 2003)
Stoke City (Britannia Stadium)
Sutton United (Gander Green Lane)
Three Bridges (Jubilee Field) *
Thurrock (Ship Lane)
Whitehawk (East Brighton Park) *
Whyteleafe (Church Road)
Wick (Crabtree Park) *
Worthing (Woodside Road) *
Worthing United (Robert Albon Memorial Ground) *
Yeading (The Warren)
York City (Bootham - now KitKat - Crescent).

* indicates grounds I have only ever been to as a match reporter for press or radio - the other grounds I have been to at least once of my own volition.

Ground guides provided by Pyramid Passion, Nomad Online, Football Ground Guide and, in the case of Cork City, Football.co.uk

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Pyramid Passion

Following on from the previous post on football 'groundhopping', just a quick word about the excellent 'Pyramid Passion' website, which goes into great detail about non-league football grounds up and down the country.

Run solely by Eastbourne Borough's website manager David Bauckham, it features a ground guide A-Z (well, A-Y as it happens) - from Abbey Hey to Yeading, if you will - which includes a full history of the grounds and the clubs that play their home games there, plus some superb photography. Elsewhere on the site, there is the slightly more anoraky sections on the minutiae of football grounds - signs, entrances, floodlights, rollers and mowers (!) and dugouts. The latter is a particular fetish of Mr Bauckham, who has written "the first ever book devoted entirely to the evolution and history of the dugout, featuring full colour photographs of over 70 Non League dugouts from England and Wales". For those of you veritably moist at the prospect (and let's face it, who isn't), you'll have to wait - it comes out in October.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Football is different here...


Having blogged about things such as Wikipedia, the 2012 Olympics and one Guernsey man's attempt to throw a discus, I'm now going to focus this 'ere blog on one core subject - non-league football.

Why? Well for ten years now, my football allegiances have been split between the dire underachievement of Aston Villa (in the English Premiership, for foreign readers - "readers all over the world...none in this country, but all over the world..."*) and my local side - Eastbourne Borough (in action, in red, against local rivals Lewes, above right), now in the Conference South (five leagues below the Premiership).

Non-league football has fascinated me for the last five or six years, particularly as Eastbourne Borough rose up through the ranks, from the Sussex County League to where they now find themselves - one division below the Conference National, the top tier of non-league football. And there's a hell of a lot more pride and passion shown, even in defeat, by those players who are not signing multi-million pound contracts every year.

And there's plenty of passion amongst the fans too, who are some of the most fiercely loyal in football. It's one thing taking your comfy seat at Stamford Bridge or Old Trafford once in a blue moon - it's quite another to travel from, say, Dorchester to Bishop's Stortford on a wet Tuesday night to watch your local side in action.

Unsurprisingly, there's a couple of really good blogs on the subject which I shall be taking inspiration from. Exiled Havant and Waterlooville fan Skif's excellent Hobo Tread blog sees him take in random matches across the non-league spectrum, from Accrington Stanley v Barnet in the Conference National down to Cammell Laird v Nantwich Town in the FA Vase. And every one of his visits is recorded in effortlessly verbose style - but very entertaining to read nonetheless. In fact, had I the time and money to do something similar, I would. My 'grounds visited' list, which includes those I've been to as a reporter, is only up to 36 - our friend Skif is bordering on a double century! However, he's never been to Farnham Town!

And then there's Extreme Groundhopping - which sounds less like a blog, more like a reality game show on Challenge TV. Its another good read, particularly if, like the author, you are an Ipswich Town fan, as coverage of their first team and reserves matches dominates the blog. However, Newmarket Town and Gosport Borough - two of those "only ever see them in the Non-League Paper" teams - have also had the honour of a visit from the Extreme Groundhopper.

Friday, April 07, 2006

O/T: Wikipedia - future tellers...

With reference to a post I made below last week, entitled "O/T: A Wiki-bituary..."

"PLEASE NOTE! The articles linked above concern events that are YET to happen. Neither Jimmy Carter nor Gerald Ford are dead, and bird flu has NOT yet reached UK shores.

OK...erm...it has now...

Monday, April 03, 2006

O/T - Guardians of the future of news?

It's taken a while but the UK's newspapers finally appear to be exploiting the potential of the net. The Guardian in particular is leading the way with two very recent innovations on its Guardian Unlimited site.

Earlier this year, it launched 'Comment Is Free', a blog-style collection of columns, opinion pieces and analysis that the Guardian says aims to "host an open-ended space for debate, dispute, argument and agreement". A very Guardian sentiment in fact. The result is a daily stream of comment pieces from a wide range of writers, normally reflecting political issues of the day. But blogging can often be an anti-establishment activity, particularly in the US (where journalists such as Dan Rather have been targeted by right-wing bloggers) and a newspaper entering the blogging fray smacks somewhat of "if you can't beat them, join them". But for pure political debate sparked off by Premier League columnists and thinkers, the Guardian's new site should make a good read...

And a good listen, for that matter. The newest addition to the Guardian's online stable are regular podcasts, audio debates available to download and listen to at will. It's a decent blow for newspapers who have been searching for ways to compete with the 'news on demand' delivered by 24-hour TV news channels and radio stations. Now you can listen to political debates on your iPod on the tube instead of waiting until you get home before switching on Sky News or BBC News 24.

But is this the beginning of the end for the printed newspaper? What will be the point of a printed record of the previous day's news when you can simply download the latest up to the minute bulletins to your mp3 player? Well, TV was predicted to replace radio and music file sharing websites were meant to make the physical CD obselete. Time will tell however if people are ready to abandon the morning newspaper and switch to the anytime podcast.