Tuesday, 22 September 2015


The West Midlands League beckons me today and I am off to a new ground, that of Dudley Sports who play in the Brierley Hill area of Dudley. When I set off from Worcester, it's still a bit misty but by the time I get off the train at Stourbridge it's a nice and sunny day!

After having some stir fry beef and noodles at a local eaterie called 'Taste' I head for the bus station and catch the Number 246 bus bound for Dudley. I get off at Brierley Hill High Street and after thinking about visiting the nearby Merry Hill shopping centre, I see a sign post that says 'Waterfront'. Intrigued I go down the hill and soon see that the sign was indicating the location of the Dudley Canal, which I had noticed earlier on my street map. I'm pleasantly surprised  to see that there is a neat footpath along side the canal and walking along, soon I can see some moored boats and down below to my left is Merry Hill. As the walk along this canal is headed in the general direction of the football ground, I decide it's worth an explore. A bit later I come across an area called 'Delph Locks', where there are no less than 9 canal locks in total, taking boats up the hill to Dudley from Stourbridge. It's a great example of old British engineering and it's all in good working order. It's certainly making for an interesting stroll in nice weather. 

At the bottom of the hill I arrive just in time to see a canal barge coming through the first lock.  

Now I am heading for the ground and after some quick consultation with my map book, see that I need to finish my canal walk and soon I am heading up to and across the next bridge. The Dudley Sports FC ground is in Hillcrest Avenue and soon I see the entrance at the end of this road.

 After walking through the club car park, I go through the gate and pay my entrance fee and obtain the match programme at the hut on my left. In front is a football pitch with the main pitch beyond this, which is at a 90 degree angle to me.

When I walk across the first pitch I can see that there are 2 buildings on the right hand side of the ground. The first is the one housing the changing rooms and toilets while the smaller one houses the snack bar, from which I purchase my usual pre-match cup of tea (£1). Also on this side of the main pitch are the team dug-outs and 2 small stands with a single row of seats in each.

The main stand (the Joe Forrest Stand) is on the opposite side and has seating and shelter for about 25 spectators. All in all the ground has a basic feel to it and after a quick look at my programme I see the teams coming out. Dudley Sports are in an all green strip while Shawbury United are in dark blue and white striped shirts with blue shorts and socks. I think this must be the visitors away kit as they usually play in black and white striped shirts.

Shawbury, basically a village team who hail from Shropshire (and play at the town of Wem) have played 6 league games,won 5 and drawn one with a very healthy 20 goal difference lie in 5th place, while the hosts have played 9 games so far, have won 4 and lie 2 places below them.

For the first 20 minutes it's Shawbury who look the more dangerous side and Dudley are having difficulty in launching attacks of their own. It's a surprise when the home team in one of their rare sorties in their opponents half are awarded a free kick and it's taken by their No.10 and top goal scorer, Stuart Hillman. He hammers in a low shot which comes off the near post and rebounds in to the net off the Shawbury keeper.

The visitors come roaring back and after 23 minutes their No.9, Rob Millington delivers a great cross from the right for their No.8, Dan Beddows, to head in at the far post. Game on!

Just 6 minutes later, Dudley's Aaron Gordon has his ankles clipped while trying to turn his marker in the penalty area. Hillman takes the spot kick but shoots too close to the keeper,Ashley Spittlehouse, who correctly guesses and  dives to his right to save it (shown below).

While Shawbury still have the greater share of possession, Dudley are able break away at pace which causes the visitors defence some problems.

So it's 1-1 at the break and I must admit that Dudley Sports look a better team than I thought they probably were. They have a combative midfield,whose spirit is embodied by their No.8 Curtis Cocking who battles for everything, the goal threat of Hillman and the pace of their No.9, the exotically named Shepherd Machingauta. Their goal keeper, Sam Pearson, looks pretty useful too and is not afraid to take a few knocks for the team while diving at opponents feet.    

So the 2nd half starts and it's the home team who are posing the greater threat to start with and it's probably their best spell of the match. After 12 minutes they take the lead when from a free kick on the right, the ball is flicked on for Aaron Gordon racing in down the left to fire in to the net off the far post (as shown below).

It's a great goal and Shawbury have got a fight on their hands to preserve their unbeaten league record. They immediately try to hit back and Pearson makes 2 saves in quick succession.

A few minutes later and Machingauta slides the ball across from the right for the dangerous Hillman to smack a first time shot on the volley which hits the bar and out. 

Just a minute later and Shawbury's No.9 is put through by a great flick on and his volley is brilliantly tipped over the bar by the inspired Pearson. Shawbury's best opportunity for an equaliser is presented to them with a penalty award. Their No.3 steps up to take it but like the home side's 1st half effort, it's hit too close to the keeper and is easily saved.

On 39 minutes, a Shawbury substitute, their No.12 sees his shot tipped over the bar and a few minutes later their No.6 shoots in to the net off the post but it's disallowed.

Dudley Sports are still dangerous on the break and when Hillman pushes the ball to Machingauta, his shot is well saved by the onrushing keeper.

With the match moving in to injury time and the outcome still in the balance I decide to head off to catch my bus hoping I don't miss any goals. I'm lucky, when I find out later that there aren't but it's been a good match to watch today, especially the 2nd half and Shawbury may feel that they were a bit unlucky to lose. I think they should be one of the front runners for the Premier League title, as they have done over the last few seasons and Dudley Sports can certainly give most teams a run for their money on today's evidence.

Match entrance fee: £5
Match programme: £1
Match attendance: 25-30 (estimate)
Match entertainment: 8/10

Monday, 7 September 2015


It's the start of the FA Vase today and I have decided to see a tie that features 2 West Midlands League teams, as I have neglected that league so far this season. Also I am going to a new ground, namely the Phoenix Park home of Shifnal Town who are hosting Malvern Town. It's my first football visit to Shropshire for some time too.

Shifnal were relegated from the Premier Division last season but have made a solid, unspectacular start in their league campaign, with 2 wins and two draws so far. The visitors from Malvern Town of the Premier Division, have made a dreadful start with just one win and 4 defeats. Last Season they finished in fifth place and also won the Worcestershire Senior Urn, so it's been a surprise that they have struggled so far this time round.

The weather in Worcester before I set out is not promising, with rain and a cool wind. There is a good forecast though and by the time I board the train, the rain has stopped and by the time I arrive in Shifnal, the sun is breaking out. It's a town I have noticed before when travelling by train on this line. 

By the time I arrive in Shifnal today, I only have about 45 minutes to have a wander round. I had something to eat at Wolverhampton on the way here as I had some time to spare while waiting for a connecting train. The train line in Shifnal is on a viaduct over looking the town and the town centre itself is very pleasant with good looking old shops and houses, with a few black and white buildings too. Shifnal is a small town with only a population of six and a half thousand and it's very quiet today so I expect the locals travel to nearby Telford, Shrewsbury, Birmingham or Wolverhampton for their main shopping trips. 

Phoenix Park is on the north east edge of the town in Coppice Green Lane and I can see that there is some house building in progress on the north and western sides of the ground. The entrance is to be found after walking through the car park and when I go in I can see the impressive main stand on the other side of the pitch. On the entrance side are the dug-outs with a refreshment hut that is up a slope. The changing rooms are alongside this with steps down to the pitch. The club house I found out later on is located elsewhere in town, which makes for an odd set up. The pitch itself though is one of the best I have seen at this level, a great looking playing surface so there is no excuse for not playing good football today.

The teams come out in their usual kits, Shifnal in red and white striped shirts and black shorts while Malvern are decked out in their claret and blue. It could be Southampton v West Ham with a big leap of imagination!

From the outset both teams are both looking to go on the attack and it looks as if it's going to a good cup tie, with the victors receiving £600 and an away tie away to Ellesmere Rangers in the next round their reward.

Although it's proving to be an open game with both defences being threatened on a continual basis, it's the home team that are the more dangerous. Malvern Town are finding it difficult to get many meaningful attacks going and are increasingly more and more on the back foot. The Shifnal attacks are especially dangerous on the left flank with their No.11 making several surging runs (as shown below).

After weathering the storm, Malvern launch some attacks of their own and after 30 minutes they should have taken the lead when their No.10 with only the keeper to beat sees his close range shot saved.

It's been a surprise that no goals have been scored but that changes in the last minute of the half when a loose ball goes to the Shifnal No.10, Seth Lewis and his shot crashes down from the cross bar and over the line.

So a very entertaining first half ends with the home team, well deserving their 1-0 lead. Can they provide a Cup upset today?

Malvern Town come out with all guns blazing and Dane Aldington fires in the equaliser after some shaky defensive play from Shifnal.

If Shifnal had been on top in the first period, it's Malvern who now seize the initiative with their players harrying the home players at every opportunity and the Shifnal defence look distinctly nervous at times.

The home keeper Tom Whittaker is keeping his teams cup hopes alive with some good stops but the pressure finally tells after 62 minutes when Hooper fires in a great shot when he receives the ball from a short corner (as shown below) with the keeper possibly unsighted.

Ten minutes later and it looks all over for the home team when Matt Turner receives the ball on the right and beats Whittaker for goal number 3 (as shown below).

Shifnal's woes are compounded when there is a defensive mix up and Malvern's No.9 Dave Reynolds is left with the simple task of scoring in to an unguarded net. Understandably the Shifnal Town keeper is seriously pissed off and is using some choice language to voice his displeasure at the way things are going.

Malvern create a few more chances with the live wire Reynolds going closest with a flying header that clips the bar.

A convincing win for Malvern in the end but Shifnal showed in the first half that they will probably be one of the front runners in the 1st Division title race, especially if they can tighten up their suspect defence.

After their triumph today, maybe Malvern Town can now take some confidence from it and start to rise up the league table over the coming weeks?

Just before the end of the game I meet and talk to 2 other ground hoppers from London, a man and an Irish lady who I accompany on the walk back to the train station. 

Match entrance fee: £5
Match programme: free with programme
Match attendance: approx 50-60
Match entertainment: 8.5/10