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The Dog Days of March 2012

After all the excitement of Spain and Wales and The Central Midlands League Bonanza, the last few days of March were a quiet period when dogs lie low and expectation rises in anticipation of the next big hop and before you know where you are……………..the cricket season! Already, I have got upwards of fifty cricket fixtures – either scoring or umpiring – for the forthcoming season and the time is fast approaching to dust off the cricket scoring computer and to download upgraded programmes! However with over one hundred and seventy matches this season, it is easily my most prolific campaign and probably the most enjoyable and these gentle few days before the Baris Northern Counties East(er) Hop were probably some of the finest days weatherwise in March on record with temperatures comfortably into the twenties and sunshine and blue skies wall to wall!

My son Michael and I went to see Desborough Town playing St Ives Town. He wanted to see the bricks on the wall of the newly refurbished and rebuilt Desborough Town club house. Five of us had our names inscribed and both he and his son (my grandson) were on display. Desborough Town have undergone something of a mini-revival since my last visit when I felt that relegation was a certainty. They have now moved out of the relegation places and tonight to my huge surprise, Eddie Mills was joined in the team by his brother Tom! This was a fine acquisition as I have long felt that Tom Mills is the most stylish player in the whole league! he had been playing for S&L Corby but the money dried up there and some of the players, Tom included, have drifted off to other clubs after the manager (and chief source of finance) left to take up a position as assistant manager at Corby Town FC. Sure enough, Desborough Town offered stiff resistance to a strong St Ives Town side and drew level after conceding an early strike. Before this however, Michael and I had been chatting with John, a local official, who was actually called upon to run the line when one of the referee’s assistants developed hamstring problems and had to go off! For the last ten minutes before half time, during which, the home side equalised, he ran the line in “civvies”, but after half time he came out in his official outfit. The second half proved to be a dour affair and there was no addition to the score.

The following night, I invited my youngest son to the match at Bugbrooke St Michaels, but he declined. I think he was still feeling the effects of the previous weekend when, after they had all been to see a successful point gained by Corby Town at Stalybridge Celtic, his brothers and friends descended on his house and drank him out of alcohol and caused other unmentionable mayhem! He didn’t miss much. Wootton Blue Cross, the away team, are coached by Callum Davenport, formerly of West Ham United who had to quit the game at the top, after a vicious assault with a knife to his thigh during a family argument sadly ended his career. Bugbrooke St Michaels, flying high in third place in the table, obviously expected to win this contest, but Blue Cross had other ideas and for seventy-five minutes, they frustrated the home side until their defence was at last breached by an unlikely goal. Wootton had never remotely threatened the Bugbrooke goal, but just as surprisingly,  they bundled in a very scrappy equaliser in the 87th minute and the shares were spoiled for the second evening in a row, or may be the spoils………………………..!

On a bright cheerful sunny Saturday, I drove down to Bloxham, near Banbury in Oxfordshire where my eldest son, James and I enjoyed a sumptuous repast at The Red Lion. We had decided on a little local game in Banbury to add to my stock of Hellenic League grounds, but Jim was under impressed because there would be no floodlights! He lives in Chipping Norton – David Cameron and Rebecca Brooks Country – but James was reading the Sports Guardian, which I doubt,ever swims into the ken of either luminary! I had chilli-con-carne and rice with a side order of chips which is a particular favourite of mine and James had lasagne and chips and whilst he quaffed three pints of Guinness, I made do with a couple of pints of local ale! All the while on Greek Sky TV we watched a boring Premier league 0-0 draw between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. Greek Sky TV is really strange. If you ignore the commentary which sounds like the low rumble of a car idling in neutral, the adverts are mostly in arabic script and some are even in spoken English! You can tell from my critique that I found the adverts considerably more entertaining than the match itself!

Easington Sports is on the outskirts of Banbury adjacent to the local RC comprehensive school.

Easington Sports 6 Purton 2

The ground is somewhat careworn and the rust coloured rail surrounding the pitch is crooked and gently erupting from the ground beneath it. The club house is tiny, but James made the most of it. He had paid for lunch, so I paid at the gate and got the drinks – “gin and tonic for me”, said Jim, expecting a large one and getting it whilst I endured a J2O. The last time I had seen their opponents, Purton, was at Christmas when they were at Old Woodstock Town and enjoyed a comfortable 3-1 victory, so comfortable in fact that I really thought they would win promotion (if they’ve got floodlights!). Thus, I presumed that they would make a reasonable fist of mid-table Easington How wrong I  was proved to be! By had-time when Jim was into his second helping of G&T, Easington had established a 3-1 lead, including an incredible own goal from Jonathan Coole who rolled the ball back to his keeper, straight through his butter fingers and into the net! Easington swept  on to score six in the sunshine and trounced their surprised opponents by 6-2.

On Monday, I chose to go to the top of the table clash in The Baker Joiner Midland Football Alliance at The Sphinx Sports Field in Stoke Heath in Coventry. Westfields, from Herefordshire, were sitting on top of the league, but only on goal difference from their hosts for the evening, Coventry Sphinx. I arrived in good time and was surprised to find the car park heaving with cars. On previous visits, there were fewer cars than could be found on Sark! I popped into the bar for a pre-match pint of Mild and it was so crowded that I had difficulty in locating a seat! The place was teeming and I’d never seen so many people at the ground! The game  was a thriller despite the lack of goals. It was perhaps fortuitous for Sphinx that Westfields were reduced to ten men after one of their players was sent off for violent conduct in the first half. The game  teetered on the edge of producing a result, but both sides defended determinedly and the large crowd were treated to as entertaining a 0-0 draw as you are ever likely to  see!

The following evening, I drove once more to Chipping Norton to meet up with Jim for an evening match in the Cotswolds at Highworth Town.Jim likes Highworth Town because they have Sky Sports (and tonight they were showing Benfica 0 Chelsea 1 from The Champions League Quarter Final), because they have a good bar (and the G&Ts once again took a hammering) and because the food is good there.

Highworth Town 0 Reading Town 2

Highworth itself is a small, sleepy town of maybe 15,000 souls and in contrast to the previous evening, this was reflected in the modest attendance.

The Elms recreation Ground, Highworth, Wilts

The ground slopes slightly from goal to goal and I have never seen the home side win there – and so it was this evening! Reading Town, their opponents, had brought a small band of vociferous followers, but Highworth who were much further up the league were so lacklustre that vocal support was hardly necessary for the away team who won 2-0 in a canter with a goal in each half.

Jim in The Tanner Stand at Highworth Town

It was a pleasant half-an-hour’s drive back to Chipping Norton where I  decanted Jim floating pleasantly on a lake of gin, and drifted back along the A43 back home for midnight.       An expensive Wednesday visit to the dentist to repair a cracked tooth and replace a filling was followed by a second visit to another dentist with my middle son Mike, who had been suffering from an abscess under a tooth that was itself growing roots under other teeth. Michael is no great lover of the dentists chair and it all goes back to one Christmas Eve when he was seven and he had to go and have eight teeth out in one session. He bravely endured this latest extraction and came out with a swab in his mouth muttering what sounded to me  like profanities against the deity of dentists, but professed himself gingerly up for a visit to SteelPark in the evening. After a long run of eight home league defeats in a row, Corby Town had narrowly defeated Colwyn Bay the previous Saturday by 1-0. There was hope in the air, my walking colleague, Barry was coming for his first visit to Steel Park, and all the usual crowd met up in the bar before the game. There was a fair contingent from Altrincham, too, Mike and me and Gary and Jimbo had all been up to Altrincham early last December, when Corby had grabbed a very creditable 1-1 draw. However, that had been before Corby’s fall off the pace and tonight, we felt, it was touch and go!  The referee was a statuesque blonde and very effective woman from the West Midlands who stood no nonsense from either side! It was not to be, however, Altrincham wanted the points more than mid-table Corby. They still had play off ambitions. So whilst Corby pulled level by half time following Altrincham’s ninth minute opener, goals from top scorer Damien Reeves and recent signing Leighton McGivern, sealed a 3-1 victory for the visitors.

Finally, on the last day of March,  and a day considerably cooler than of late, I made my first vista to Bracken Moor, the home of Stocksbridge Park Steels FC, perched high on a hill just off the M1 a little north of Sheffield.

Stocksbridge Park Steels

Graeme drove us both up from Leicester and we arrived in good time to collect a meat and potato pie, peas and gravy (well, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast!) and a pint in the bar high up behind the goal. (Graeme, being in a more determined, abstemious frame of mind made do with a sausage roll and coke). The TV match was Sheffield Wednesday 2 Preston North End 0 and the locals were all watching avidly. Around the room were prints of famous sporting arenas, both cricket and football, for this stadium started life as a cricket ground and in the next door bar, it was possible to get a grandstand view of the match from a gallery window overlooking a corner of the ground.

The view from the bar!

Outside, a wooden fence separated the football pitch from the cricket pitch and when the cricket season starts, not only will the fence have to be taken down, but also one of the floodlight pylons!

The main stand and clubhouse

The cricket area looked somewhat run down and dilapidated but the three sided football  ground was spruce and neat with a high seated stand down one side and covered terracing behind one goal. Today’s visitors were Chorley, town of my birth and the team I had been supporting since childhood. Of late they have suffered since the glory days of The Football Conference at the end of the eighties, but with former Blackburn Rover Gary Flitcroft in charge, they gained promotion from Division 1 last season and now hold down a play off spot in this season’s campaign. Earlier in the season they were in serious trouble when a large sum of money disappeared in mysterious circumstances, but finances must have improved because they recently acquired the services of much travelled striker Ciaran Gilheeney and he has helped to strengthen their challenge!

On the other hand, Stocksbridge Park Steels are in relegation trouble, just one point above the trapdoor!

The main stand which had tip-up seats.

However, they have won four of their last seven matches including a 7-0 drubbing of North Ferriby United and only lost two in that period. Their average attendance, according to a very informative and lively programme is 209, but a well supported Chorley brought along a strong following and t was they who went home well contented! The 3-0 scoreline by which Chorley won the match was probably a little unfair on the home team, who had a penalty saved at 0-2 and during a period when they were threatening to gain the upper hand midway through the second half.

The cricket sight-screen in the far corner as the Steels players begin their pre-match handshake.

The game started in a lively fashion with two bookings and a goal in the first ten minutes. By half time, and two goals to the good, Chorley looked comfortably placed. Five minutes from time, the dangerous Kilheeney broke through on goal, from what looked suspiciously like an offside position, and cooly slotted home his second and Chorley’s third goal of the match.

Stocksbridge Park Steels FC




The Dog Days of March are over and Poisson D’Avril is upon us. The last ten days have seen a motley collection of grounds and an even more eclectic range of football matches! The Baris Northern Counties East League Groundhop looms large on the horizon, but before that? Maybe a soupçon or two to whet the appetite!

Chromasport & Trophies United Counties League Division 1 – Wednesday  21st March 2012, 7.45pm

Bugbrooke St Michaels               1                Wootton Blue Cross         1

Nick Ling 75                                                         Shaun Winconet 87

referee:- P. Stradling                                          attendance:- 38


Uhlsports Hellenic League Division 1 West – Saturday 24th March 2012 3.00pm

Easington Sports                  6                                   Purton                       2

S. Howkins 17, Jonathan Coole (og) 20               Marcus Hall 37

Callum Convey 22, Andrew Stidder 53,56              Nick McCrae 80

James Trevitt 83

referee:- K. Tribe                                                           attendance:- 56



Baker Joiner Midland Football Alliance – Monday 26th March 2012, 7.45pm

Coventry Sphinx                    0                      Westfields               0

referee:-                                                             attendance:- 256



Uhlsports Hellenic League Premier Division – Tuesday 27th March 2012 7.45pm

Highworth Town                    0              Reading Town                 2

                                                                           S. Dewar, G. Lewis

referee:- E. Turner                                       attendance:- 63



Blue Square Bet North – Wednesday 28th March 2012 7.45pm

Corby Town                   1                              Altrincham              3

Mark Jones 34                                                Damien Reeves 9, 49, Leighton McGivern 53

referee:- Sarah Garratt (Halesowen)        attendance:- 280


Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Premier Division

Saturday 31st March 2012, 3.00pm

Stocksbridge Park Steels         0              Chorley                3

                                                                                  Shaun Teague 5                                          

                                                                                 Ciaran Kilheeney 25, 86

referee:- Paul Cook                                             attendance:- 247

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