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Home Thoughts

Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England–now!!

Robert Browning (1812-1889)





Tuesday 1st April 2014 Baker Joiner Midland Football Alliance  k.o.:- 7.45pm

Walsall Wood                                                        1

Andre Gonzales 85,

Stourport Swifts                                                  2

John Griffin 70,

Jordan Jones 75,

Referee:- P. Lindsey                                   Attendance:- 71


Robert Browning drew his sentimental and nostalgic image of rural England in the days before the advent of the motor vehicle! He might have written differently, had he been born a century later! I know that I am not the world’s most patient driver, but there are times when even the most saintly of motorists must be driven to murderous thoughts! Travelling down the A14, the advice by radio and overhead gantry was to avoid the M6 at all costs because of severe congestion between  junctions 1-3. So I took the M1 and A5, and, eventually, the A461 towards Walsall. My sat-nav indicated 0.7 miles to my destination when all traffic came to a halt. Police cars hurtled past us and closed the road off. There had been serious accident. We were all turned round and my addled sat-nav had to find a completely new route to The Oak Park Ground. I arrived there, eventually, hot, bothered and not a little miffed, just about half an hour before kick-off.


The lovely old white painted stand looked very much like a marquee from a distance, but it is a substantial brick built structure with metal stantions and wooden bench steps to sit on. It was the only real cover on the ground, but it was very impressive. The stand dates from the 1930s and was opened with a match against Wolverhampton Wanderers. It is reputed to be the only stand of its kind in the country and despite recent vandalism, which has damaged some of the brickwork, it is still a fine edifice!


Behind the goal at the far end (and outside the ground) is this memorial to Walsall Wood Colliery. The dates on it are 1874 – 1964. Apart from this memorial, the only other connection with mining is the winding gear on the club’s badge. Also on the badge is an oak to commemorate an oak tree in the area after which the ground is named (and the club’s motto is ‘pro bono silvae’ which means ‘for the good of the wood’), a castle, again because at one time there was, reputedly, a castle in the vicinity and, finally, a cross. This last, is a reminder of the club’s religious heritage. They were formed in the early part of the last century. By 1915 or so, they were known as Walsall Wood Ebenezer Primitive Methodists!


‘The Wood’ have not always been at this exalted level. For much of their existence, they have played at Walsall & District League, Worcestershire Combination (and its successor, The Midland Combination) or Staffs League level. Latterly, they have enjoyed some success in The West Midlands (Regional) League. Finally, they have risen to The Midland Football Alliance, where they are currently in tenth place, a point and a place behind their visitors, but with a game in hand.

Tonight’s match was pretty awful for seventy minutes. Neither side was able to get going. The Swifts had brought some travelling support with them, but, even they couldn’t seem to raise the performance, which was pretty dire, from both sides!

Late in the game, two goals in five minutes left The Swifts in total control with but fifteen minutes left. ‘The Wood’ pulled one back with five minutes to go, but it was too little and too late. Stourport Swifts deservedly claimed the match and the points and ensured that, even should Walsall Wood win their match in hand, they would still be one point ahead of their rivals!


Wednesday 2nd April 2014  Chromasports & Trophies United Counties League k.o.:- 7.45pm

Division 1

Blackstones                                                              2

Michael Lucas (og) 6,

Adam Scotcher (pen) 12,

Lutterworth Athletic                                              0

Referee:- C. Henry                                        Attendance:- 33


Blackstones FC, one of my favourite United Counties League sides, is currently lodged deep in a ‘Slough of Despond’. When I first started watching them, twenty-five years ago, they were Mirrlees Blackstones, after the engineering company in the town (Stamford, Lincs). The company has gone, but the sports complex remains and, besides football, is home also, to bowls, tennis, netball and athletics.  During all the time I have been watching them, they have graced the top division, a good solid side and never in any danger, except when there was some talk at one stage, about a housing development on the pitch, but that is now all ancient history.

A couple of years ago, the club were dealt a mortal blow when, as happens, the manager left to join another UCL club, Peterborough Northern Star. Not only did he leave, he took most of the Blackstones players with him. Such a haemorrhage of playing talent caused the club’s relegation and their current plight in the lower reaches of Division 1.


There have been improvements since my last visit (Monday 22nd April 2013, Chromasport & Trophies United Counties League Premier Division: Blackstones 3 Huntingdon Town 5 attendance:- 43). There is now a new impressive green fence to delineate the football club from the rest of the sports complex, the car park and the bar. The ‘turnstile’ is now on the far side of the car park. Otherwise, the friendly atmosphere remains and there is still European football an the television in the bar (Chelsea lost 3-1 at Paris St Germain).


On a misty, murky night when the pollution count was very high, and, no doubt, contributing to the haze, their opponents were Lutterworth Athletic, one of two teams from the Leicestershire town (the other one being Lutterworth Town),  who have vied with each other over the years for supremacy and even swapped grounds during periods of ascendancy. At present, it is Athletic who hold sway. By joining the United Counties League (along with Oadby Town and Quorn), they have helped to move the base of the league further north (although Quorn have now moved on again).


Tonight, however, they were just not good enough! They lie in fourth place in the table and their hosts are third from bottom. I recall thinking at the beginning of the match that it should be a canter for Lutterworth, but they were stunned after only six minutes when a breakaway home attack saw the ball cannon off a defender, loop high over the goalkeeper’s head from the edge of the area and land precisely in the middle of the goal!


The second goal came six minutes later and was the result of a penalty for hand ball which was converted by Adam Scotcher. I will probably be meeting some of his family on the cricket pitch in the forthcoming season! There was no further scoring. Blackstones more than easily contained their more illustrious opponents and deservedly took the points!

It was good to see Jeremy there, too. I often bump into him on my United Counties League travels, and this evening he was able to provide all the team news for my jotter.



Thursday 3rd April 2014 Baker Joiner Midland Football Alliance  k.o.:- 7.45pm

Gornal Athletic                                                             5

Ravi Sangha 44,

Grant Joshua 60 (pen), 68 (pen),

Tom Piggott 82, 90+5 (pen),

Tipton Town                                                               1

Connor Gater 37 (pen)

Referee:- Ollie Spillett                                        Attendance:- 138


This was my first visit to Gornal Athletic’s Garden Walk Ground in Lower Gornal in The West Midlands. It was not the easiest of grounds to locate and it wasn’t much help when, very close to the ground and running short of diesel, I espied a Tesco Service Area and leapt in to replenish my tank. Needless to say, I had chosen the only fuel station in the area that was NOT serving fuel, because a tanker was re-stocking the underground tanks! Sometimes, I think I fulfil all the requirements for a motorists version of Murphy’s Law:- “anything that can go wrong, WILL go wrong!” I did find a service station eventually, and then made my way down the last narrow lane to ‘Garden Walk’, just as the rains came.


When I got there around seven o’clock, the gates were still waiting to be opened. There was some difficulty in locating the key! However, before long, all was well and I had paid for my entrance and programme and come outside the ground again and popped into the portakabin adjacent, which housed the directors and officials, and jotted down the teams as supplied by Leslie Hancox, the Matchday Secretary at the club.


Garden Walk really is a fine, majestic old stadium. Once through the turnstile, the terraced steps drop to the touchline and way over on the far side (and, perhaps, some twenty-five metres lower), is a covered and seated area.  Otherwise, there is precious little cover, and as the game progressed, the rain intensified!

‘The Peacocks’ were formed in 1919 and, until 1972, were known as ‘Lower Gornal Athletic’. Even now, says Leslie, the club still receive license renewals under the heading of ‘Lower Gornal Athletic’. The club owns the ground, but some years ago were forced to sell the social club and changing rooms for which they now pay rent. They are still looking at ways to buy back these vital assets.


Tonight was a grudge match. Not only were the two teams reasonably close neighbours, but Tipton Town are now managed by Ian Rowe, who was manager of Gornal Athletic when they took The West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division title in 2011/12. This is the first time that Ian has been back to Garden Meadow and he and his team  were warmly received by a cacophony of noise and a rash of smoke bombs from around seventy or so Gornal ‘Ultras’ who kept up their verbal barrage through the entire match. At half time, as I was standing in the same stand, one of them came over and said that he hoped that their noisy support wasn’t spoiling my enjoyment of the match. Not a bit of it, I thought, how lucky the club were to be able to call upon such a devastatingly effective twelfth man!


Sadly, after half a dozen smoke grenades in the first half, the referee put his foot down after the first one in the second half and admonished the home bench and officials.Thereafter, it was only the cacophony which berated the opponents and  greeted every Peacock’s success!


Gornal Athletic are struggling this season and are in the relegation bottom three. Tipton are comfortably placed in the top half of the table and I expected it to be a tough evening for the hosts. ‘The Ultras’, as I called them, were brilliant. There were all pretty young, but they kept up their noisy support of the home team throughout the match. Even when Tipton opened the scoring late into the first half with a penalty, they still cheered their team on. By half time, Ravi Sangha, one of the players who didn’t follow Ian Rowe to Tipton Town, had equalised. The second half belonged to the home team who rammed in four unanswered goals, three of them penalties! They were deserved winners, much to the delight of ‘The Ultras’!


 Saturday 5th April 2014  Sky Bet League One       k.o.:- 3.00pm

Brentford                                                  3

Adam Forshaw 32 (pen)

Alan Judge 43, 51,

Notts County                                           1

Jimmy Spencer 84,

Referee:- C. Breakspear                               Attendance:- 8,188


Eleven of us, from various parts of the country, descended like a mercenary army on Griffin Park, home of Brentford FC. This was the annual get together which we normally hold on Boxing Day, but which, this year, had been put back because my son Mike became a father for the second time at the beginning of January.


We all (or most of us; Jonny was a tad tardy in arriving) met at The Griffin, which is one of four public houses which adorn the corners of the ground. From there we piled into the tiny Brentford FC Hospitality Room, where sixty or so guests were gathered for the occasion. We were somewhat cramped for space, but I have to say that the service was excellent. I was pretty impressed when Chris, who is no lover of fish, asked for a substitute for his prawn cocktail starter and was served a huge plate of ham and tomato and later, Graeme, who is a vegetarian, was able to take all the vegetables – large portions – and not the lamb for his main course, even though there was a pasta alternative available!

Before the match we were treated to a tour of the ground, now, sadly, much reduced from its forty thousand capacity just after WWII. It holds, perhaps, twelve thousand and requires many more stewards than other grounds because of several hidden hazards which need to be policed. However, I believe that a new ground is on the horizon, not five miles away, although no date has been set for the move.


My first vist to the ground was more than thirty years ago (Boxing Day 26th December 1980:- Football League Division III Brentford 2 Colchester United 1 Attendance:- 6,240). In those days, and even now, to some extent, Boxing Day was a day for two or three matches. Before that Brentfiord match, I had visited Luton Town in the morning for a Second Division fixture in which The Hatters defeated Chelsea 2-0 in front of 16,006 supporters!


Nearly two and a half thousand matches later, and here I was, back at Griffin Park! On my first visit, the entrance fee was £1.60! The vast terracing, where I had stood thirty-four years ago, opposite the main stand, had been replaced with seating, and the seats which we had reserved in the main stand for today’s match, were perilously close to the ones in front, not the best nostrum for arthritic kneecaps!


 Jim with the Brentford Mascots


From the left:- Chris, Eddie, Graeme and Phil with the team mascot 


 The whole party – from left:- Brad, Chris, Jimbo, Jonny, Daz, Mike, Rory, Phil (hidden), Graeme and Conor.


We had a great day! The match was good and so was the hospitality. I rather suspect that greater quantities of alcohol were consumed than I was aware of, although I did, myself, make major in-roads into the supply of wine thoughtfully provided by Phil! Most of us came by train and after the match, in which Brentford had brushed aside in-form Notts County, we all walked down to the station and gradually dissipated to our different destinations.


Matches this season:- 180    New grounds:-  123

Matches this year:-  62   New grounds:-  37

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