Thursday, 30 April 2015
Today I am off to another Cup Final. It's the Birmingham County FA's Saturday Vase Final that beckons to me. The teams taking part are Whitnash Town( who hail from Leamington and play in the Coventry Alliance league and Wrens Nest come from the Dudley area and play in the West Midlands Regional League, Div 1.
The weather forecast is not bad at all. Cloudy with sunny intervals but with the chance of a shower from about 5pm. That's OK by me as the Final starts at 2pm.
I have no problems with my train journey to Birmingham and soon I take the Rugeley train which takes me to the Tame Bridge Parkway station from where I walk to the County FA's, Ray Hall Lane ground. I'm a bit surprised when I pay my entrance fee to the ground, when I find out it's £5 today, rather than the £3 I had paid for the Junior Cup final I'd seen in March. This fee includes the match programme, which I study before a few minutes prior to the kick off. I note that Whitnash have beaten 4 Midland Football League teams on their way to today's final, namely Hampton, Barnt Green, Alcester Town and the mighty Coventry United in their semi-final who have been the runaway winners of the 2nd Division. Indeed they were last season's beaten finalists when they lost narrowly to Cadbury Athletic.
Wrens Nest had a close 1-0 win over the long term leaders of the Birmingham AFA Premier Division, Old Wulfrunians, in their semi-final and have made a good showing in the 1st Division of the West Midlands League after being promoted and currently lie in a creditable 6th place.
The teams come out in their usual first team colours, Wrens Nest in amber shirts and black shorts while Whitnash are in white shirts and black shorts.
When play starts, after 4 minutes the Whitnash keeper, Neil Stacey, spills a shot and a Wrens Nest player hits the rebound just wide.
It's very apparent even in the early stages of this match that play is very even between both of these teams.
Whitnash are the next team to go close when a cross of theirs is headed over his own bar by the Wrens Nest No.6 and from the resultant corner Whitnash have a header that goes just wide.
Wrens Nest fashion a good chance when their player, Todd Warner curls in a shot to the top corner but keeper Stacey tips it over the bar.
The last 10 minutes see Whitnash take the upper hand and just before half time their No.5 sees his header cleared off the line.
It's half time and even now I am thinking that extra time is a likely outcome in this match due to the evenness of the play and not that many clear cut chances being created.
I have been chatting to a guy who is a groundhopper who has come from Leicester today. It's his first visit to this ground and is certainly impressed by it. He tells me a bit about some of the clubs in the Leicester and East Midlands area and then the official match photographer, Gary Griffiths (of 353 Photography) walks over and tells us that he and his family have been moving house the day before and feels a bit in turmoil over the whole process and is glad to be at the match today.
So the second half starts and again play is pretty even. After 56 minutes a Wrens Nest attack sees the ball hoisted down the middle and their No.11 latches on to the ball but sees his shot saved by Stacey.
( Photographer Gary Griffiths in action by the side of the pitch )
Whitnash's No.8 goes close when he sees his shot just go the wrong side of the left hand post.
Wrens Nest though are presented with a great chance to take the lead when in the 65th minute they are awarded a penalty. They had played a free kick in to the Whitnash penalty area and one of their players had been pushed.
Joe Lawley takes the kick but Neil Stacey dives to his right to make a great save. He look a bit dodgy on crosses sometimes but he's a good shot stopper!
(Joe Lawley takes the Wrens Nest penalty watched by an eager audience)
3 minutes later and Whitnash make a good attack down the right and their No.10, Ross Briscoe sees the Nest keeper Aaron Morris make a brave save at his feet.
Extra time beckons but with just 4 minutes remaining, Ross Briscoe is played through on goal and lobs the advancing Morris to break the deadlock. Just 2 minutes later and it's all over! The ball is punted down the left after the break up of a late Wrens Nest attack and it's Briscoe again to make a great first time volley that sends the ball racing in to the far corner of the net. A worthy match winning effort!
So Whitnash Town have done it and have atoned for their defeat in their last visit here.
Match winner Ross Briscoe is unsurprisingly awarded with the Man of the Match award and then the Whitnash skipper (holding his young son) is given the trophy and holds it aloft in celebration (as shown below).
A good evenly contested match and Wrens Nest will be kicking themselves for not taking their chances (especially the penalty).
Match entrance fee: £5
Match programme: free with entrance fee
Match attendance: approximately 80
Match entertainment: 7/10
More match photos at http://facebook.com/wmtraveller
Wednesday, 22 April 2015
I am heading up to the Cannock area in Staffordshire today to see Hednesford Town play their last home League game in their match against visitors Stalybridge Celtic, who hail from the foot of the Pennines in eastern Greater Manchester. This will be my second visit to the Keys Park stadium after watching a game v Bradford Park Avenue, 3 years ago.
The forecast is for a sunny day but with a cool breeze and as I make my way down the road to the rail station it certainly is very pleasant in the sunshine.
Hednesford, like my home team of Worcester City have fallen away in the last few weeks after they had looked to have been in the running for a play-off place. Stalybridge on the other hand have been struggling somewhat this season and are fighting off possible relegation.
After no transport problems in getting to Cannock station I walk up the hill to the town centre. After a rather underwhelming lunch at the local Subway store I have a quick wander around the town centre. There seems to be a few more empty shops than when I came here last year.
I them go to the bus station and take the X60 Arriva bus that eventually goes to Tamworth via Lichfield. It only takes 10 minutes to get near the ground and soon I am walking to Keys Park through the car park.
I pay my admission fee and head for the nearest tea bar and have my usual pre-match cuppa.
The ground has the Main Stand (seen in above photo) on the western side of the pitch, which officially holds 710 seats. There's more seating at the northern (Hednesford End), holding 301 (covered) seats. The eastern side features the Wimblebury Terrace and where I go for the duration of the match is the southern, Heath Hayes End. All in all, a crowd capacity of 6,039 and the Keys Park stadium is celebrating it's 20th anniversary this year.
Before kick-off I find the club shop, at the northern side of the Main Stand and buy a club badge for £3.50.
When the teams come out, they are both in their first choice colours of white shirts and black shorts for the home team and Stalybridge in blue shirts and white shorts.
It turns out to be a nightmare start for the visitors as Hednesford's Glenn Walker takes a long throw from the right and defender Ben Bailey pops up to guide in a header at the near post. The Stalybridge defence seemed to have gone to sleep.
(The Hednesford players congratulate scorer, Ben Bailey, who is third from right)
Stalybridge are stung in to action and come back strongly. One of their best efforts sees their No.9, Chris Simms, have a close range shot that is brilliantly tipped on to the cross bar and out by Dan Crane in the Hednesford goal.
Hednesford create some chances too but they are reminded of Celtic's threat when their No.5 and captain, Matty Hughes, sees his header hit a post from a corner.
I am surprised to see the ex-Worcester City play maker, Hednesford No.6 Tom Thorley, playing at right back. Might be because of injuries?
( Dan Crane collects the ball in front of a crowd of players )
So it's 1-0 for Hednesford at the interval but with Stalybridge certainly looking to be no pushovers.
Worryingly, Hednesford have been on a bad run of form in the league recently. Since their win against promotion hopefuls AFC Fylde on March 3rd, they have not won in their last 6 matches. Stalybridge on the other hand have had a handy little unbeaten run of 4 matches.
In the second half, it's Hednesford who go close early on with No.9, Nick Rushton, shooting straight at the visitor's keeper, Ross Etheridge.
Celtic have been coming back strongly and several times, Dan Crane the home keeper, has to be on his toes to keep them at bay.
Then Hednesford go close to scoring a second goal when Etheridge makes saves from first Batchelor and then the shot from the rebound from substitute, Steve Diggin.
( Andy Todd of Hednesford crosses the ball )
Stalybridge score the equaliser they have been threatening to get in the 84th minute. A shot is blocked but breaks to Aidan Chippendale who duly dispatches it in to the right hand corner of the net with a great volley.
( Stalybridge Celtic's, Peter Wylie, helps set up a second half attack )
Heartened by this turn of events, the visitors go in search of a second goal and they score it in injury time through a Chris Simm header from a free kick.
A valuable away victory for Stalybridge, which gives them a 2 point advantage over their fellow strugglers Colwyn Bay who lie 2 places below them in the relegation zone and have played a game more. 2 points from their last 2 games will ensure the Celtic's league status. Hednesford must be disappointed to lose in their last home game of the season and surely will be looking to make new signings this summer if they are to make a renewed promotion push next time round. They now lie in 8th place.
Match entrance fee: £12
Match programme: £2.50
Match entertainment: 6.5/10
Match attendance: 482
More match photos at http://facebook/wmtraveller
Monday, 13 April 2015
Another new ground beckons today, namely that of the Bolehall Swifts club who hail from Tamworth. Indeed it will be my first venture to this town as well. They are lying second in Division 1 of the Midland Football League and still have an outside chance of the championship title, as they will be playing the current leaders, Highgate United away next Saturday and I also notice that Highgate have a tough away trip at Uttoxeter today.
The weather is a few degrees cooler today and early this morning in Worcester, we have had some rain. By the time I walk to the rail station the weather is brightening up and I'm looking forward to my trip today.
When I get to Birmingham Moor Street station I make my way to New Street to catch the Nottingham bound train. It's a good service with only a journey time of 17 minutes.
The station at Tamworth is based on 2 levels. The Birmingham line on the top and the Liverpool to London line on the bottom.
After a few minutes walk I am in the town centre and soon I am going in to the Peel Cafe in Market Street, which is adjacent to the statue of Sir Robert Peel, the old Victorian Prime Minister, who represented the town as it's MP for many years.
Refreshed by my light lunch I have time to have a quick look at the nearby castle, which is flying a flag I don't recognise. It features a diagonal yellow cross on a mid-blue background. I later find out from a guide standing outside the castle, that it's the Mercian flag from England's Anglo Saxon past. I remember reading earlier that Tamworth was the capital of Mercia in those days. Also I had noticed when looking on my map earlier on the train, that the old Roman road of Watling Street, lies just to the south of the town.
After also having a gander at the nearby Ankerside Shopping Centre and seeing some Leamington supporters roaming round there who are later going to watch their relegation threatened team play Tamworth, I make my way for the walk to Bolehall's ground. It takes me about 20 minutes to get there and lies just beyond the Ankerwood Primary School in Rene Road on the Bolehall estate.
When I walk in to the ground, the nearest building is the club house and further along is the changing room complex which also houses the tea bar. On the gate I pay the £5 entrance fee and also buy a programme but am informed that unfortunately there are no club badges as they need to get fresh supplies.
The ground is more impressive than I thought it would be. On the other side of the pitch to the changing rooms is a long covered stand and on the eastern side is situated the main stand with it's terraced seating. Behind the northern side of the ground is the London rail line.
Bolehall come out in their usual yellow and green strip while Alvis Sporting Club, who come from Coventry, are in a change strip of red and black striped shirts.
Surprisingly it's the visitors who start off the strongest and for the first 5 minutes are threatening the Bolehall goal.
After their slow start though, Bolehall are soon looking dangerous in attack. It's no big surprise when after going close to taking the lead on several occasions, the Swifts finally do so after 26 minutes when Dave Boal is supplied through the middle with a great pass and he lobs the advancing keeper.
Just 3 minutes later and Bolehall's goal machine, Dave Yonwin, heads in another goal from a free kick that was awarded to them on the right (as seen below). That's his 36th league goal of the season. Not too shabby a total!
The Alvis defence at this point is looking decidedly shaky and I am thinking the final result could finish up 6 or 7-0!
The visitors escape any more punishment due to some desperate last ditch defending and some great saves from their keeper, Thomas Byce. 2-0 at half time and the prospect of a few more in the next half.
Alvis Sporting Club are having a tough season and lie just one place above the basement boys of Pelsall Villa. They have shipped in 86 goals in 30 matches so far before this match and it's not hard to see why. Just 2 seasons ago though they probably had their best season ever when they were crowned Midland Combination Div 1 champions and were winners of both the Coventry Charity Cup and the Coventry Evening Telegraph Cup while playing both finals at the Ricoh Arena.
I notice during the interval while looking at my phone that Aston Villa are winning 1-0 at Spurs, courtesy of Mr.Benteke. Tim Sherwood must be well pleased!
The second half sees Bolehall carry on where they had left off and it only takes them 3 minutes to score again. This time it's midfielder, Alex Pollard who belts in a shot from just over the half way line. I reckon it could have been helped in by the following wind as it shoots past the hapless Tom Byce.
(Alex Pollard takes aim before firing in The Swifts third goal)
After several near misses by Bolehall, it's that man Yonwin again. This time he's on hand when full back Scott Goodby chips the ball over and he guides his header over the advancing keeper.
In the 85th minute, the overworked keeper Byce, makes a great double save from 2 quick fire shots from the Bolehall No.9, Chris Sturridge Packer.
The days only sour note for Bolehall occurs right near the end of injury time when Scott Goodby injures himself while making a last ditch tackle to stop an Alvis forward from scoring a near certain goal.
Then there's still time for Bolehall to go close to scoring again when 2 or 3 shots are all blocked in quick succession.
The ref blows the final whistle and like a punch drunk boxer, the Alvis team are spared any more punishment. Due to desperate defending and some outstanding saves by Byce today, the score is only 4-0 rather than double that score that it probably should have been.
I see later that Highgate were held 2-2 at Uttoxeter, so this sets up next week's clash at Highgate very nicely, with Bromsgrove Sporting waiting to pounce too with their 2 games in hand.
Match entrance fee: £5
Match attendance: 40
Match programme: £1
Match entertainment: 7/10
More match photos can be viewed at http://facebook/wmtraveller
Thursday, 9 April 2015
Ah, the warmer weather is here at last. The last time I visited today's destination, the Valley Stadium in Redditch, it was a January afternoon, 4 years ago, with a raw northerly wind blowing down the pitch. Funnily enough, that day's match featured the same opponents, Banbury United.
After changing trains at Birmingham New Street, I take the Redditch train and admire the countryside scenery in the Barnt Green and Alvechurch area. After a 35 minute journey I arrive at Redditch and quickly find a cafe for an all day breakfast meal. I have enough time to have a quick look round the Kingfisher Shopping Centre and then I walk up the nearby Bromsgrove Road to Redditch United's home.
There is a long drive down the hill to where the stadium is located. As you enter the ground, there is a club shop immediately on your left (where I buy a club badge for £3:50), with a tea bar beyond that and then there is the impressive looking stand with seating on the lower tier and then boxes above them. The changing rooms are located underneath this stand. Down the bottom (southern end) of the ground is a terrace which has a row of seating at the top with a covering roof. On the side opposite the stand is a covered terrace (seen in the cover photo). The top end of the ground is uncovered, with just a path.
Redditch United have a small mathematical chance of reaching the play-offs but will probably have to win all their remaining games to do so. A 0-4 home defeat on Saturday against high flying Truro City has not done their confidence any good and they sold their promising young 20 goal striker, Jermaine Hylton, to Swindon Town a few months ago too.
Banbury United on the other hand are playing for their Premier Division lives as they are looking likely to be relegated, with them firmly in 22nd place out 23 teams.
When the teams troop out on to the field, Redditch are in their usual red and black strip while the visitors are in their change strip of all yellow.
After a slow start, Redditch dominate the play for large periods of the first half with No.10, Ashley Sammons marshalling their midfield play well.
I notice that in the Redditch line up that they have 2 players in midfield who were playing at a lower level last season. They are Simeon Maye (ex-Boldmere St.Michaels) and George Carline (ex-Cadbury Athletic) and they certainly don't look out of place in this company.
Redditch deservedly take the lead in the 39th minute when after some good build up play, Sammons shoots home after the ball is knocked down to him. It's his 16th goal of the season so far.
So it's 1-0 to the home side at the interval and are looking likely to be building on this lead after the interval.
It's certainly pleasantly warm today, with many spectators in shirt sleeves and it feels about 17 degrees Celsius.
The second half starts and it's Redditch who are still having more of the play. After 49 minutes their young No.9, Courtney Baker-Richardson, sees his shot hit the post and then 8 minutes later, their energetic No.7, Leigh Phillips, takes the ball round the Banbury keeper but then from a narrow angle he too hits the post with his shot.
The Redditch captain, Ashley Sammons, suffers a heavy challenge and it's noticeable to me he's not so influential and effective for the rest of the game. Banbury United manage to get back in to the game and their forward Leam Howards sees his shot well saved by Sam Hornby in the Redditch goal after 64 minutes.
With just 8 minutes to go, Redditch pay the price for their earlier misses when from a free kick, they are unable to clear the ball and it eventually falls to the Banbury No.5, Sam Westbrook, who manages to shoot past Hornby.
Although Carline manages to get in a header on the Banbury goal with just 2 minutes to go, unfortunately he is only able to direct it in to the Banbury keeper's safe hands (as shown below).
So the final whistle blows and the draw is no good for either team. It surely ends Redditch's final hopes of reaching the play-off places and leaves Banbury with an 11 point gap to make up on Frome Town to escape relegation with just 5 games to go.
I think Redditch under the guidance of Liam Mc.Donald have had a good season on the whole with a young improving team and now need to look for a reliable striker to make progress yet again next season.
Banbury on the other hand will probably need to regroup next time round if they are relegated.
Match entrance fee: £10
Match attendance: 285
Match programme: £2
Match entertainment: 6.5/10
More match photos can be viewed at http://facebook/wmtraveller