Ground Hopping: Crawley Town v Bristol City FA Cup 3rd Round – 7th January 2012

Finding myself with a free weekend, I decided to put it to good use. I could tidy the house, do the /DIY that needs doing, sort out the bills or go to a new football ground. I completed the 92 football league grounds in 2009, but since then new clubs have come into the league and some clubs have moved ground. One of the new clubs was Crawley Town managed by convicted tax fraudster Steve Evans. Much as I dislike him (and have told him to his face what I think of him when he came to Orient with Boston United), I needed to visit Crawley to keep up my membership of the 92 club.

So a phonecall to Crawley Town to check there were tickets available and I was on my way driving there for the game. Crawley play at the Broadfield Stadium which is a modern ground built in 1997 on the outskirts of Crawley. It is a small ground holding only 4997 spectator, which is below the minimum requirement for football league grounds. Crawley have until 2013 to meet these requirements and have plans for a new stand down the touchline on the west side of the ground.

The ground itself is easy to find. The roundabout outside the ground has a huge football on it!

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I saw an interesting sign on the turnstiles to the away end of the ground as I walked to the ticket office – ok portakabin

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Does this mean that you are allowed to take weapons in which are not offensive? I wonder why they don’t just ban all weapons? Life is full of these big questions.

I got my ticket from the ticket office

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and had a walk round the ground where I discovered the REDZ bar, which is Crawley’s clubhouse. They had a rather efficient service system in there with a bottle bar as well as a draft bar. A couple of pints purchased and I took them outside. Quite sensibly the club allow spectators to mingle and drink outside by the all weather pitch. As parents drank their kids played on the all weather pitch.

It was a good chance to mingle and to get to speak to some long suffering Bristol City fans. Exchanging stories about the treatment over the years by West Midlands Police and stories of watching Bristol or Newcastle humiliate ourselves in the FA Cup. Of course there was the obligatory reference to Ronnie F*cking Radford and THAT goal. I also met a fellow Newcastle fan who lives in Crawley. Geordies here, Geordies there…..

Then it was time to get into the ground.

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The above photo is of the North Stand and the Bristol City away support and the photo below is the main West Stand, the only seated part of the ground.

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Below is the east side of the ground with 900 standing spaces, no toilets or refreshment facilities. Indeed the nearest facilities are where the west stand joins the south terrace. If you have a weak bladder or a hunger do not stand in the north east corner of the ground.

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There are plans for a new stand on the east side of the ground. This should be built by the end of the season. The club have a simple structure for the stand and it will increase capacity by around 1200 spaces and provide over 2,000 seats.

The pitch itself had far more sand than Brighton beach! In fact I did wonder if Crawley were trying to emulate Blackpool beach

CRAWLEY’S PITCH

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BLACKPOOL BEACH

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The game itself was an interesting affair. Bristol City of the Championship were definitely second best to Crawley throughout the game. In fact ex England keeper David James was saved twice from embarrassment by the woodwork. However, the highlight of the first half was the pie and chips from the refreshment kiosk.

Normally I do not buy food in football grounds, but as I had been cycling in the morning and not had any breakfast and lunch so I indulged myself. Well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. The food was the best part of the day.

The second half of the game was a bit of a non entity until near the end when the inevitable happened and Crawley scored the only goal of the game. Then with 9 minutes left Bristol were reduced to 10 men after a 2nd yellow card was given to one of their players. However by this time the game was effectively over and it was a matter of playing out the time.

It was funny to see the panic in the home fans when the 4th official announced there were 4 minutes of added time to play. Its not funny when it is your side though.

So what do I make of Crawley Town?

Well, the ground will look a lot better when they have the new stand built. Facilities were limited in the ground. It is a ground for a non league club. The food was great and the staff in the bar and at the refreshment stand were very friendly.

Mind you at £22 to stand on a terrace, I expected silver service and someone to cheer for me. Mind you Steve Evans probably needs the money to pay back the tax he fraudulently failed to pay whilst at Boston

A nice little club with a horrid criminal as a manager

Ground Hopping: Consett AFC v Spennymoor Town FC–2nd January 2012

This will be a brief report for reasons which will become evident.

Today I was due to return to London after Christmas and New Year with Michelle. I had noticed that Spennymoor were playing in an 11am kick off at Consett. i had checked the kick off time more than once and it was definitely 11am.

Consett was just off the A68 road I would be driving down, so I detoured to Bell Vue the home of Consett AFC arriving 15 minutes before the advertised kick off only to find the game had been postponed. Why? well the referee said the pitch was frozen. This was a little odd as apparently the Spennymoor team were prevented from warming up on the pitch as it was cutting up! Hardly frozen by the sounds of it.

The game was apparently called off about 25 minutes before kick off much to the annoyance of those fans who had made the trip to the ground, especially after the pitch had been passed fit by a local referee at 09:00! The matter has been the subject of much debate on non league forums in the north east.

Spennymoor Town Forum

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Me? I drove on south and headed back to an empty house and no Christmas Decorations and was left to reflect the fact that whilst I had great food over Christmas and lots to drink, I had no Christmas cake this year

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Ground hopping: Shildon AFC v Spennymoor Town FC 26th December 2011

A belated post about my trip on Boxing Day to see well half a game.

Its many years since I’ve been to Shildon. In fact I have to say that Shildon was the first town I visited, well when I say visited, I mean lived in. When I was born my parents lived in Shildon and therefore so did I for the first 2 –3 years of my life. There was only 1 thing that spoilt those early years in Shildon. This was having this criminal as a neighbour!

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Its somewhat ironic I write this blog post today as its potentially the last time Darlington FC will be in existence. One of the big reasons behind their huge financial debts is the White Elephant of a 25,000 seater stadium he built and moved the club to. Now what is wrong with this you ask, well Darlington have averaged circa 2,000 crowds for many years and the town only has a population of 97,000 so it was never going to be filled! The rates and other operating costs of the new grounds have crippled the club. Oh and the club do not own the ground!

If you see this man, beware, he is a convicted thief, and has a track record of dishonesty offences as well as destroying a proud football club.

Anyway, back to my ground hopping. The Skill Training Northern League tend to kick off matches early on bank holidays. So I travelled down from the Tyne Valley where I was spending Christmas being pampered by Michelle, to get to Dean Street for the 11am kick off. I arrived there at 11am only to find the ground closed. It was very windy, so had the match been called off? No, the truth was it was a 1pm kick off not an 11am kick off d’oh!

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A rapid rearrangement of my plans meant a shopping trip in Bishop, then to the game. The only problem was that the 2 hour delay meant I could not stay to watch the whole game as my pass out from Michelle expired before the end of the game and I’m not brave enough to disobey her as she would ground me and make me sit on the naughty step.

No seriously, I had commitments back on Tyneside that afternoon. Arriving at the ground, the first thing to notice was the great chip shop next to the ground. The portion of chips they serve was far more than even I could manage. A good businessman as he ensures he is open to kick off time for all Shildon games.

The turnstiles are only at one end of the ground. Over the years, it seems the number of turnstiles have been reduced and you can see the bricked up entrances. For the first time in a long time, I had to queue to get into a non league game. Not that the crown was huge (circa 340) but I think the all arrived at the same time as me. The admission price a massive £5.

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Two views of the turnstiles – from the outside and inside.

The ground at Shildon is rather basic and until a few years ago only consisted of the main stand and  no other development. The main stand now has a new roof and bucket seating and opposite this is a small covered stand rather like a long bus shelter. This ily exists because when Bishop Auckland were in the Northern Premier League and wanted to ground share they had to build this to comply with the rules on covered accommodation in that league. These days, the stand is named after Lee Hainsworth a 26 year old player who was killed in a car accident on the way to training back in 2004.

The main stand is large and distinctive. Within the stand are the dressing rooms, bar etc. To either side of the stand is a concrete walkway and the remains of steps of terracing.

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On one side of the main stand is a portacabin hosting the club shop and a hospitality suite. Sadly my £5 did not gain me admission to the hospitality suite.

One of the joys of watching football at this level is you see things you would not see at Premiership games; for example would you see a young child on a scooter inside Old Trafford?

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Where apart from amongst the peasant in Sunderland would you find a spectator sat on a chair on the roof of his garden shed to avoid paying the £5 admission fee?

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The game itself was spoilt by the wind and by a referee who seemed to know all the rules, but none of the spirit of the game. The wind was blowing the length of the pitch

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and as you can see from the picture above had an effect on the corner flag. Spennymoor went a goal up early on, but by half time it was 1-1. I left at half time and as a result missed Spennymoor’s winning goal.

Footage of the game is available here

This comes courtesy of  a great website Northern League Football Premiership Passion and thanks must go to Hayley who attends and films so many Northern League games.

Quality security at this ground. If you look closely in the 2nd picture below, you will see the security fence is not actually even attached to the wall to the right of the gate.

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I think the netting in the first photograph is in case Shildon ever get to play at home to Aston Villa with Emile Heskey in the side or Chelsea with Fernando Torres or any of the current Sunderland AFC side.