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Between The Hops

Between The Hops


It is tiring stuff watching eleven matches in four days! Enjoyable but tiring! The appetite is whetted, however, rather than sated and after a late night back on Bank Holiday Monday, I was off yet again on my travels on Tuesday evening to ……. Roker Park! No, not that Roker Park, but the more homely and prosaic environs of Stotfold FC in deepest, darkest Bedfordshire.

Stotfold were entertaining Colney Heath and both teams had enjoyed indifferent starts to the season, in The Molten Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division.

The match sparkled into life with three goals in the first thirteen minutes – two to the home side. By half time, the score stood at 3-3 and I could have been excused for believing that I was still locked into the Welsh hop where the AVERAGE number of goals scored was 6.18. Into the second half and Colney Heath just steamed away like a well-oiled Formula 1 motor cruising past a tired model T Ford!

Tuesday 28th August 2012 FA Cup with Budweiser k.o.:- 7.45pm
Preliminary Round Replay

Stotfold                         3                       Colney Heath                7

Harry Hollands 8, 11                                Aaron Clarke 13, Jamie Eames (pen) 21

Paul Garrett 34                                         Kevin Ashwood 38, Josh Humbert 49

                                                                   Paul Armstrong 57, Steve Parker 80

                                                                Jack Coombs 90+3

referee:- James Whittaker                 attendance:- 60


The following evening I managed to find another FA cup replay, this time in Nuneaton. It was just a short trip down the A14, up the M6 and a look into Nuneaton Griff one of my least favourite grounds. My son Michael, when I took him there once, was horrified that they had no bar! It is an athletics stadium with a football pitch in the middle and whoever said that football and athletics don’t mix, need only cite The Pingles Stadium in Nuneaton as compelling evidence in support of their thesis!

They were playing Sporting Khalsa from Walsall, who were accompanied by a vociferous Asian contingent but both team and support were gradually worn down as the match progressed and the home side piled on the goals!


The Pingles Stadium, Nuneaton, home to Nuneaton Griff


Wednesday 29th August 2012  FA Cup with Budweiser  k.o.:- 7.45pm

Preliminary Round Replay

Nuneaton Griff                     5                   Sporting Khalsa                     1

Mark Williams, Ryan Slinn                                 Aaron Wills

Aden Moore (3)

referee:- Mr M. Scriven (Leicester)      attendance:- 106

On Saturday, Chris and I had arranged to meet at the “Downtown” complex on The A1 just north of Grantham at Gonerby Moor. From there, I transferred to the plush comfort of the leather-seated Jaguar for the onward journey to Boston. I was exchanging The FA Cup for The FA Vase today and the level of entertainment was in no way diminished!

Boston Town, playing hosts to the students from Loughborough University found themselves 0-2 down by half time and, despite a come back, which halved the deficit, the students scored again to maintain their two goal lead and seeming vice-like grip on the tie. It continued thus until Boston pulled a further goal back in what seemed like a consolation, but then the tie burst into life with two more Boston goals in the final four minutes of the game! Astoundingly…Loughborough University had been dumped out of the competition!

Tattershall Road, home of Boston Town

It was Chris’ first visit to the ground and he was nearly as impressed with the stadium as he was with the home physio, a comely lass who was called upon once or twice to massage her side’s uncomplaining wounded heroes!

Chloe, the home team Physio!


Saturday, 1st september 2012 FA Carlsberg Vase 1st Qualifying Round k.o.:- 3.00pm

Boston Town                       4                Loughborough University                    3

Josh Ford 67 (pen), 89                          Dan Nti 4,  Michael Emmerson  40

Matt Barber  77, 86                                 Gareth Webb 76

referee:- Paul McVey                               attendance:- 57

On the following Monday, Hitchin Town were playing hosts to (reasonably) local rivals St Albans City.

Top Field, home of Hitchin Town

It wasn’t much of a contest. The away side had Barry Hayles in their line-up. He had enjoyed a football career spanning Fulham and Charlton Athletic and his class shone through despite his Methuselah status and he opened the scoring in the 7th minute.

Top Field, home to Hitchin Town FC

St. Albans won comfortably enough in front of a bumper crowd. I like Top Field. It has a really Victorian feel about it, with its wooden stands (and even wooden terracing in parts) and it has hardly changed in the forty or so years I have been going there! They play Monday night midweek matches which means they will always attract the odd extra roving hopper and I saw a couple on my visit this time, too!

Monday, 3rd Sept. 2012   Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division  k.o.:- 7.45pm

Hitchin Town                                   0                   St Albans City                     2

Barry Hayles  7   Chris Henry 29

referee:- W. Novatt                                          attendance:- 491

The following evening, I made the short journey to Desborough to visit one of my favourite teams. I can’t remember the last time I saw them play on a Saturday afternoon, but I always try to get to the five or six evening matches that they play each season. This evening, they were playing Shepshed Dynamo, recently relegated from The Northern Premier League Division 1 South. The raucous away contingent clearly believed that their team were far too good for this league and that they were due for a temporary stay only!

They were given a rude awakening. Desborough handed out a convincing defeat and the silkiest player in The United Counties League, Tom Mills, saw himself on the score sheet with a thirty yard effort that ought not to have troubled my 2-year-old grandson!

The Waterworks Field, home of Desborough Town FC

The usual guys were there. John in his late fifties, who still runs the line in UCL matches and who can tell you what day of the week you were born on if you give him your date of birth! Ian, who must be seventy and who once was interviewed for the same headship post as I was, played for Desborough in the 1960s when they were last champions. Graeme and Paul and others who all provide great crack and soccer wit and wisdom. It is a night out not to be missed!

Tuesday 4th Sept 2012 Chromasport & Trophies United Counties League  k.o.:- 7.45pm

Premier Division

Desborough Town                        3                   Shepshed Dynamo                           1

Adam Randall 17, Tom Mills 30                          Kieran Bradshaw  40

Kevin Byrne 60

referee:- J. Thorold (Spalding)                             attendance:- 88

I’d enjoyed the FA Vase adventure at Boston Town so much that I decided to take in another Vase clash, this time a replay in deepest Wiltshire, a round trip of some 230 miles! Calne Town are members of the 1st Division of The Western League, whilst their more illustrious opponents were members of The Hellenic League Premier Division.

It was my first visit to Calne Town and I was pretty impressed!

















I was particularly impressed to find that Calne  could even offer a hospitality package!!!!

Calne Town FC Hospitality?

Calne Town FC

Calne Town overcame their higher league opponents in a titanic struggle which went to  extra time! They were deserved winners, however, and will provide plenty of sides at this level with strong opposition!

Wednesday 5th Septemb FA Carlsberg Vase 1st Qualifying Round Replay k.o.:- 7.45pm

Calne Town                           4                            Highworth Town                        2

after extra time, score at 90 mins:- 2-2

Levi Cox 31, 62, 93                                                  Talif Hamza 27

To Boakes 100                                                          Craig Whitbread 87

referee:- Mr Kevin Williams                                  attendance:-  52

I had to wait until Friday for my next game, and that too, was in darkest Wiltshire. For the second time in three days, Highworth Town were the visitors. Wootton Bassett Town (the town honoured for its respect for the returning fallen heroes from Middle Eastern war zones and now re-named “Royal Wootton Bassett”), play in the same league as their opponents this evening, but in a lower division. This is their third game in the competition so far this season! They have already overcome Calne Town (4-2) in The Extra Preliminary Round and Hamworthy (1-0) in The Preliminary Round and they have never got beyond the 1st Qualifying Round!

They did tonight!

There was a huge crowd for this match which was something of a local Derby. Mark, from Camberley was there and he spoke of taking in several games in Cornwall on his holiday there next week! Once again, Highworth scored first, but for the second time in three days they were dispatched from a cup competition and deservedly so!

Wootton Bassett Town FC - the main stand

Also there, were Leslie Sollis and his partner Annie Langton. They were locals who regularly came to watch The Town. Not young in years but certainly so in enthusiasm which epitomised the large good natured crowd who had come to see history in the making!

Friday 7th September 2012           FA Cup with Budweiser          k.o.:- 7.45pm

1st Qualifying Round

Wootton Bassett Town                      3                            Highworth Town                1

Steve Yeardley 30                                                                         Aaron Maximen 4

Matt Brown (pen)64,  Mark Barnes 75

referee:- James Chalmers                                           attendance:- 299

I was down in Sussex for the weekend, officiating at The Twenty/Twenty Schools Cricket Finals at Arundel Castle. Needless to say, I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to take in a south coast fixture. There are precious few of those in my locker! The traffic was appalling and I was very lucky to get there in time on a sunny, warm, shirtsleeves afternoon and you learn something new on every journey and this time, my fund of knowledge was increased to find Fontwell Park Racecourse on the outskirts of Bognor!

Nyewood Lane, home of Bognor Regis Town FC

This was no contest! Epsom & Ewell, the opponents for Bognor Regis Town, languished some two divisions below their rivals in The Combined Counties League Premier Division. They provided scant resistance and, for the home side, it was a walk in the park!

It wasn’t all smooth going, however. The club house wash’t open because a supporter had booked it for his wedding and sure enough, shortly after half time, a veteran Rolls Royce pulled up with bride ensconced and, briefly, eyes darted away from the fixture on the park to the match in the club house!

Close the club house for a wedding!

It is an expensive business watching football on the south coast with Blue Square Bet prices being charged for an early round FA Cup tie. Not surprisingly, despite the lovely weather, the attendance was a couple of hundred down on recent league fixtures. They even charged £2.00 for a programme!

Bognor regis Town FC

The “Rocks” is the nickname of Bognor Regis Town. Apparently, a ridge of rocks appear out in the bay at low tide and it is from these that the football team receives its nomme-de-guerre.

Bognor Regis Town FC

Saturday 8th September 2012        FA Cup with Budweiser      k.o.:- 3.00pm

1st Qualifying Round

Bognor Regis Town                         4             Epsom & Ewell               0

Ben Johnson 12, 32

Terry Dodd 58, James Crane 78

referee:- M. Taylor (Southampton)               attendance:- 368

I didn’t get back from Arundel Castle until late on Monday evening and so it wasn’t until Tuesday that I saw my next match at dear old faithful Desborough Town. Not all the gang were there. Ian and Mike were on holiday but Graeme and Mark and John and Paul contributed to a running commentary of local football trivia and, as usual, the match flashed past in a blur!

Desborough were entertaining whipping boys Wellingborough Town. This season, Wellingborough Town are sharing their ground with the rejuvenated AFC Rushden & Diamonds. The tenants are pulling in crowds of several hundred apparently, whilst the landlords can muster attendances only in tens! The word is that the roles may be reversed before the end of the season and Wellingborough may become the tenants of AFC Rushden & Diamonds!!

The Waterworks Field, Home of Desborough Town

Wellingborough had just sacked their manager after four straight league defeats, but it didn’t make much difference, even if Kevin Byrne, the much travelled home striker was missing injured. “Ar Tarn” swept their opponents aside like chaff in the wind.

These referees do get around! Tonight’s referee, Paul McVey, also refereed the FA Vase tie at Boston Town on 1st September (see above)!

Tuesday 11th Sept 2012 Chromasport & Trophies United Counties League  k.o.:- 7.45pm

Premier Division

Desborough Town                       4                   Wellingborough Town                   0

Adam Randall 36

Jon Mitchell 44, 86

Jack Burrows 56

referee:- P. McVey (Peterborough)                   attendance:- 71

It was a pretty thin week! My next match didn’t arrive until Friday, not entirely due to laziness on my part, I have to say. On Wednesday evening I went to see a pretty explosive T20 encounter between England and South Africa at Edgbaston. The rain interfered and in a reduced overs match (eleven overs per side) play only got under way at 8.15pm. England were inserted and were knocking up a pretty useful total when young Josh Buttler came to the crease and majestically smote thirty-two runs off just ten balls! That took the game beyond South Africa. England ended up with 118 for 5 off their eleven overs whilst South Africa could manage only 90 for 5 off their allotment!

Thursday is awful for football! Somebody should invent a reward for playing on Thursdays. How about a guaranteed bonus point for your team if they elect to play on Thursdays?

So it was Friday before I saw my next match when I travelled into Warwickshire for an FA Vase tie at Banbury Road, home of Southam United FC.

Big plans are afoot at Southam! In the next ten years the new high speed rail link will flash by the ground. At the same time there will be two new floodlit football pitches, a new bowling green, a new housing estate and car parks and adjusted access routes. This evening, however, Southam were once again rewarded for their foresight with a comparatively bumper crowd (on my last visit, they were the only side for miles around playing on Easter Bank Holiday Monday evening in 2010 and drew a crowd of 136) which was treated to a footballing feast of goals, though not without some curious refereeing!

Continental Star, reigning champions of The Midland Combination and recently promoted to The Midland Football Alliance were playing Midland Combination runners-up, Southam United and by half-time, the game appeared over as a contest with Star coasting into a two goal lead and scorning a bagful of further chances!

A ragged, but dogged Southam side pulled a goal back with twenty minutes to go. The referee missed a stonewall Star penalty and within two minutes had not only awarded a dubious spot kick at the other end but also sent off a Star defender! Suddenly, the game was alive, all square, all to play for! I still fancied Star, but two goals in the last ten minutes allowed Southam to ease ahead and Star’s injury time strike was small consolation!

Banbury Road, home of Southam United

Friday 14th September 2012                FA Carlsberg Vase              k.o.:- 7.45pm

2nd Qualifying Round

Southam United                       4                   Continental Star                        3

Josh Cole 65, Simeon Smith 70                    Ibrahim Benjamin 3,

Craig Watkins (pen) 81                                    Aaron Garvey  23                                                    

Lee Thomas 85                                                   Shane Paul 90+1

referee:- M. Scriven                                        attendance:- 129

I’d carefully worked out Saturday. There would be two matches and the first would bring the season’s total of new grounds up to twenty!

Fulbourn lies to the east of Cambridge and is a small fairly compact village boasting a huge sporting complex and a fine hostelry in “The Six Bells” where I feasted sumptuously prior to the match on turkey and ham pie with new potatoes and vegetables.

The Six Bells In in Fulbourn

The club is well organised and I enjoyed a pre-match aperitif in the bar and then, pitch side I purchase a rather splendid slice of Victoria sponge for the princely sum of twelve shillings (or 60p to you youngsters!).

The Recreation Ground, home of Fulbourn Institute

There was a collection after half time to pay for the “expensive officials” and I contributed a couple of pounds and in a pretty dour encounter, the home side fittingly triumphed against lacklustre opponents.

Saturday 15th Sept 2012 Kershaws Cambridgeshire County League   k.o.:- 3.00pm

Premier Division

Fulbourn Institute                         2                    Littleport Town               0

Matt Lilley 36, Martin Turner 62

referee:- Tim Doe                                                         attendance:- 51

Only five miles separated Fulbourn Institute’s Recreation ground from The Costings Abbey Stadium, home of Cambridge United but there was a scant half hour between the end of one and the beginning of the second match!

Quite surprisingly, having arrived only ten minutes before kick-off, I was able to find a parking slot directly across the road from the ground and I got a seat with a view and a programme in good time for the bully-off! Nothing happened in the first half. Struggling Cambridge were easily held by mid-table Telford and to conjure up a goal, I had to utter the immortal words “this game has 0-0 written all over it!”

The Costings Abbey Stadium, home of Cambridge United

That did the trick! Six second half goals lit up even the sunny evening and honours were just about even, although Telford were the better side. A curious incident towards the end saw a collapsed Telford forward brought to his feet by colleagues and opponents and then strapped to the stretcher whilst still standing up! I hope he wasn’t too badly hurt. There was certainly no-one near him when he collapsed!

Cambridge United 3 AFC Telford United 3

Saturday 15th September 2012      Blue Square Bet Premier            k.o.:- 5.15pm

Cambridge United                           3                        AFC Telford United                     3

Andy Pugh 70, Michael Gash 75                           Steven Jones 57, Richard Davies 83

Tom Shaw 90                                                              James Spray 87

referee:- Robert Whitton                                          attendance:- 1,962

On Tuesday, I popped down to Chipping Norton where my eldest son lives and met up with his wife Cora’s parents and Cora’s Dad, Liam accompanied us to the match at Oxford City’s strangely named Counts Place Farm Stadium in Marston. We would have arrived in good time, but chose to test the resolve of a road marked as “closed”. At the first barrier, we just pulled it temporarily aside to get through, but the second barrier was not to be so recklessly trifled with and with little grace we gave in and took the long way round, so that when we arrived, my youngest son was already there with a car load of mates!

Counts Place Farm Stadium, home to Oxford City.

They had all come from Corby to support the away team and, apart from the score, it was a pretty good night! They all stayed in the bar until 11.00pm and copious amounts of Guinness were washed down whilst my youngest son, Liam and myself were the only sober ones present… because we were driving.

Oxford City 2 Corby Town 0

Corby Town had been enjoying a mini revival after opening the season with five straight league defeats and the manager Ian Sampson falling on his sword. They had won the previous two games and had high hopes of this one too. It was not to be. Oxford City are a strong well organised and compact team who offered Corby town precious few chances. Whilst they didn’t create many themselves, they took the two that mattered!

Tuesday 18th September 2012      Blue Square Bet North         k.o.:- 7.45pm

Oxford City                         2                           Corby Town                        0

Steve Basham 8, Darren Pond 48

referee:-Adrian Quelch                                  attendance:- 261

The final match “between the hops” came the following evening. I enjoyed a very pleasant night at The Crown & Cushion Hotel in Chipping Norton and after a hearty breakfast, I spent the morning exploring the small town centre and in particular the book shop opposite the hotel where I enjoyed coffee and a read from my present volume “Bring up The Bodies” by Hilary Mantel (the sequel to “Wolf Hall”). Around midday, Cora, Jim’s wife, and her parents joined me and we enjoyed a passable repast at The Mill, before I took Liam and Kathleen to East Midlands Airport for their return flight to Galway. About ten miles from the airport on the A42, the tyre warning light came on. I stopped the car and Liam and I kicked the tyres, but they seemed to be all right, so we drove on and I decanted them outside the terminal and went over to the services to put air in the tyres. All seemed well and I drove down to Burton for the evening kick-off and parked the car.

Burton Albion FC

I hadn’t been to The Pirelli Stadium since January of last year when they defeated Middlesborough in a memorable FA Cup 3rd Round tie. Tonight, they were entertaining York recently promoted to League 2 after play-off victory at Wembley over hapless Luton Town.

An over zealous jobsworth of a steward ensured that no photographs were taken inside the stadium!

York, it was who struck first in the ninth minute after Patrick McLaughlin’s mazy run and shot and for the first twenty or so minutes, York were good value for their lead. Gradually, Burton girded their loins. They equalised, somewhat fortuitously, when Lee Bell’s effort struck a defender and looped over the goalkeeper, but in the second half, they took complete control and two further goals were just reward and enough to guarantee the spoils. Gutsy York, unbeaten in four before tonight had brought a large following, but I never did find out if my nephews, Andrew and Christopher were amongst them!

Burton Albion 3 York City 1

Wednesday 19th September 2012            npower League 2            k.o.:- 7.45pm

Burton Albion                               3                       York City                  1

Lee Bell, 23, Calvin Zola 65                                 Patrick McLaughlin 9

Matt Patterson 90

referee:- F. Graham                                                 attendance:- 2,368

When I got back to the car, the tyre warning light came on immediately! Even so, I drove onto the A50 to the services before I stopped to inflate all four tyres and it seemed that the rear nearside tyre was the one causing the problem. Driving very gingerly, I arrived home a little before midnight!

The following morning, I had to use a foot pump to inflate the offending tyre just so that I could drive it in for repair. When I got to the garage, I was told that not only was the tyre un-repairable with a nail embedded in its shoulder, but that the tyre itself was long past its legal roadworthiness – as was the other rear tyre! So I had two new tyres to pay for, but I suppose I should be quite impressed that they had lasted 47,000 miles!

“Northern Wisdom”, the newsletter of the Northern League Club arrived this morning with Martin Haworth’s front page editorial discussing the possibility of a Northern League Groundhop in 2014, nearly twenty years since the last one in that league in 1995. “It takes a special sort of person to go on a Groundhop.” says Martin. “During the last round of visits, I didn’t see many of those games, as I just didn’t have the stamina to see multiple games in one day. I can just about manage three now, and that is after years of ‘training’. I remember once doing five in one day on The Central Midlands League Groundhop, and let me tell you, I can remember little about the day………..There were some goals, I have no idea of the teams or the scores. At the end of the day I felt more than a little punch drunk. It still won’t put me off 2014, and I’m looking forward to it already.”

And so are we all!

Before that, however, we have The North Berks League Groundhop this weekend. An FA Cup match on Friday evening and four North Berks League matches on the Saturday and we are all a little intrigued at the final match under floodlights being a North Berks League Division 5 match. How many steps is that down the pyramid……with floodlights?

Will you be there?






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