Ground Hopping: Bishop Stortford FC v Bradford Park Avenue – Blue Square Bet Conference North: 20th April 2013

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Today’s trip saw me travelling up North from London to a game in the Conference North. So, I drove the 25 or so miles from Ilford to Bishop Stortford. The FA in their wisdom, sorry short sighted stupidity have set up the national pyramid so the boundary for the North/South split moves south every year.

The reason for this is that below the Conference North/ South, there are 3 feeder leagues, the Northern Premier League, The Southern Premier League and the Rymans League (Isthmian League). Each league promotes 2 teams into the regional conference divisions and 3 are relegated from each of Conference North & South. However, the Southern & Isthmian Leagues are both Southern based Leagues, so it means 4 Southern teams get promoted each year and only 3 southern teams are relegated.

Pretty obvious when you think about it, but that is the FA for you.

Anyway, back to today’s game. After perusing the Non League Papers for fixtures on Saturday, I saw that Bishop Stortford were at home and are only 25 or so miles from my home. I like Bishop Stortford as when I was a kid, they were a member of the Isthmian League which like the Northern League (and the Western League) were sponsored by Rothmans. They were traditional amateur leagues full of clubs with lots of Amateur cup tradition like Enfield, Ilford, Wycombe, Dagenham and others. Indeed, Bishop Stortford were the last winners of the FA Amateur Cup in 1974 when they beat Ilford in the Final at Wembley.  Bishop Stortford went on to become the first club to win both the FA Amateur Cup and the FA Trophy when they won in 1981.

Since then, they have experienced mixed fortunes, including moving to a new ground in 1999.

I have experienced some issues about taking pictures at some grounds, so I decided to email Bishop Stortford on Friday to see if they would agree to my taking pictures. I got a very nice response from the club Website & PR Manager, confirming I’d be most welcome and that if I introduced myself at the club shop he would give me a pin badge. Such a welcoming approach made my mind up that Bishop Stortford was to be today’s game.

It was also 39 years ago today that Bishop Stortford won the FA Amateur Cup

The ground itself is just off the M11 at the end of an industrial estate. The only parking nearby is at the ground for which the club charge £1. A nominal fee for a well maintained and relatively secure car park.

The ground is entered by turnstile at either side of the main stand, which also houses the function suite / club house. Admission price of £12 is about average for this level of football. Once in the ground, I sought out the PR officer, Tim Lamb who welcomed me to the ground as did a couple of other fans. Tim handed me a badge and enquired about my ground hopping. The initial impression of the club was very favourable.

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A look at the ground made me realise how simple and effective it was. Each end of the ground has a terraced covered stand (about 9 steps of terracing. The stands run about half the width of the ground with 3-4 steps of uncovered terracing at either side

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The main stand houses the dressing rooms and the club bar (which I did not visit- honest!). The main stand straddles the halfway line and is simple yet very impressive. At the side of the main stand is tarmac/concrete hard standing and catering outlets which serve the usual football fare at very reasonable prices.

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Opposite the main stand is a much smaller seated stand with terracing to either side of it. All in all the ground is very simple but very effective and one of the best non league grounds I have been to. The pitch seemed to be in excellent condition.

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Enough of the ground, what about the football? Well it started of slowly and for the first 20 or so minutes it had the feel of a meaningless end of season game, despite being one that mattered to both sides. Bradford with a slim chance of the play offs and Bishop Stortford needing a win for safety. The game improved as it went on, with Bishop Stortford equalising on the stroke of half time.

The second half was a better contest with bishop Stortford scoring a second goal and deservedly winning 2-1. This despite the referee who seemed to dislike Bishop Stortford and could not be called a “homer”.

The support from the Bishop Stortford fans behind the goal was impressive given how few there were. They sang for most of the 90 minutes. The songs would have earned low marks from the Northern League’s happy shopper but were in the best traditions of football and the non league scene in particular. There were songs about there hatred of Harrow Borough – presumably an Isthmian in league rivalry. There were songs suggesting the rather portly Bradford keeper was “paid in Pukka Pies”, songs about Bishop Stortford never having lost at Wembley and a very politically incorrect chant suggesting the linesman from Hampshire/Dorset was a “mermaid buggerer”. That was a new chant to me.

The fact that Bishop Stortford bizarrely have to play in the Blue Square Bet North division clearly is not popular with a chant of “This is the worst league, we’ve ever been in. We want to go home” to the Sloop John B tune.

If it wasn’t the football or the fans entertaining me, I could always watch the planes coming in to land at nearby Stansted Airport behind the “Airport End Stand”.DSCF0115

Overall, I had a great afternoon at a club that has made the transition from a successful transition from a leading amateur club to a professional club going places. Other clubs have done this, but I’m not sure any have done it without losing that great friendly spirit of the old amateur days. The other pleasing thing was to see the number of children at the ground. A sure sign of a positive future for the club.

This is a club that is well worth a visit and one I will definitely return to, the football, the people and the terrace banter made it a good day. That and the fact I was halfway back to London by the time Sports Report started on Radio 5 Live. Indeed by 17:30 I was in the Gym in Ilford trying to exercise off the calories in the Jumbo Hotdog and other delicious food in the ground.

Ground Hopping: New Mills v AFC Goole Evostik Northern Premier League Div 1 North – 8th April 2013

I was in Manchester for a couple of days work, so I took the opportunity of a bit of ground hopping. It was the night of the Manchester United v Manchester City game and I was staying in a hotel which had a free bar for 2 hours. So did I stay in the bar and watch the game on Sky TV like most sensible people would?

You already know the answer to that when you read the word “sensible”. Yes, I decided to drive up into the Peak District on a freezing cold night when it was blowing a gale to watch New Mills against AFC Goole.

I was staying in the same hotel in Manchester that is used for the Prawn Sandwich brigade hospitality. As I was leaving the hotel, coaches were loading up with Asians and Eastern Europeans who had paid an arm and a leg for a prawn sandwich and a match ticket. The concierge at the hotel asked if I was going to the football, when I said yes, he tried to escort me onto one of the coaches. He wouldn’t accept my protestations that the coach wasn’t going to take me where I wanted. He did not appear to understand that there could be more than one football match that night.

I eventually got away and drove to New Mills which is situated seemingly on top of a hill in the Peak District. The sight of snow as I got higher and higher should have been a warning as to how cold it was.

The ground itself is easily missed. The main stand is very low rise and not particularly striking from the outside. The ground is also a little way from the centre of New Mills.

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Arriving at the main entrance, I got an unwelcome surprise.

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The poster showed the game was on the 10th April, not the 8th. Had I misread the fixture list in The Non League Paper or had the paper got the listing wrong. Either way, it was a waste to come this far for a game that wasn’t on.

Fortunately, the turnstiles were open, and an enquiry revealed that New Mills were playing against AFC Goole tonight instead of the Wednesday. Apparently the fixture had be re-arranged again to try to fit all the remaining games in.

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The main sign outside the ground still showed the game from the preceding Saturday!

Inside the ground and my first look at the ground. The first think I noticed was the slope on the pitch and the fact the changing rooms are behind the goal, and up several steps. An unusual layout.

The crowd seemed rather sparse, this was because many people stayed away to watch the Manchester derby on Sky TV. Indeed, the game was being shown live in the clubhouse inside the ground and it seemed as many people were watching the Manchester derby in there as were watching New Mills v Goole.

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The referee appears to be hunting for the teams.

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The above pictures shows some of the quirks of non league football, with picnic tables in side the ground and the player’s tunnel being a couple of pieces of fencing which are opened after the team is on the pitch.

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The ground is locate at the top of a hill and provides a great view across the Valley. It is a very picturesque location and the ground is in keeping with the surroundings, doing its best to blend in.

The game itself is between a New Mills team chasing promotion and a Goole team fighting against relegation although that was not obvious for the first 25 minutes with both sides coming close to scoring. New Mills scored first, Goole hit straight back, but then 2 quick goals demoralised Goole and heads started to drop. The fact that Goole were playing downhill and with the wind behind them probably made the game look more even.

I spent most of the first half chatting with a very knowledgeable football fan who watches Macclesfield, New Mills and one or two other local sides and had travelled all over the country to games. He’d been to most of the Northern League grounds over the years.

He pointed out to me that I would be unable to walk around all the ground as they had shovelled snow over the advertising hoardings at the bottom end of the ground. Sure enough, the bottom part of the ground was closed to spectators. Not that this made a lot of difference with the size of the crowd (92).

The only stand was a slightly unusual affair consisting of terracing at one end and seats at the other end. This was down one side of the ground. The other 3 sides of the ground were open to the elements. The ground did have the almost compulsory phone mast though.

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The wind made for a very cold night, and it did little to encourage some fans out of the bar to watch the football of New Mills rather than the SKY TV offering of the Manchester derby.

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A very friendly little club with a draw back of being surrounded by bigger clubs in easy commuting distance. It would be good to see a club like this progress. A non league club whose fan’s don’t have a chip on their shoulder unlike some clubs.

 

I arrived back at my hotel just as the prawn sandwich brigade were returning from seeing Man U lose at home to Man City. From the looks on their faces, I had a far better night than they did. My match cost me £6.50. Their night cost the several hundreds of pounds each.

Ground Hopping: Rotherham v Chesterfield League 2 February 16th 2013

A very belated post I know. There are good reasons for the delay, but at present I have not made the excuse up.

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Anyway, this game was 24 hours after the Spennymoor v Darlington game. It was appropriate as  back in 2000, Darlington missed out on promotion after losing in the promotion play off to Peterborough. The other 2 sides promoted that season from what is now League 2 were Swansea City and Rotherham. It is interesting to see what has happened to those clubs in the intervening years.

Swansea narrowly avoided bankruptcy and going out of the league and are rejuvenated in a new ground and in the Premiership and won the League Cup this season. They are having the most successful season in their club’s history.

Peterborough have oscillated between the Championship and League 2, but at the time of writing are still in the Championship.

Rotherham have also oscillated between the Championship and League 2, have been into administration more than once, and been forced to play home games in Sheffield. They now have a brand new stadium in Rotherham, hence my visit there. Rotherham have been into administration at least twice in that time.

Darlington however appear not to have seen any ups in those 13 years. The best they have managed was a very unlucky play off defeat in 2008, when they lost on penalties after a brave struggle with Rochdale. Darlington struggled to get 11 players out for the 2nd leg game. The players did the club proud in the circumstances. Darlington have been into administration 3 times in this period and are now playing at Level 9, some 8 levels below Swansea, 7 levels below Peterborough and 5 below Rotherham. It is amazing how the fortunes of clubs that were so close that season have varied.

Anyway, back to the trip to Rotherham. I decided to visit as they are playing in a new ground, The New York Stadium which was built by the council on a brown field site in the town. I stayed in Sheffield the night with my son who is a student there and his Godfather who came up from Cardiff for the weekend. No, not Marlon Brando, although there is a resemblance some may say.

Arriving at Sheffield railway station for the train to Rotherham, we were greeted by numerous police officers on the platform surrounding the 2013 version of the infamous Chesterfield Bastard Squad. I have to say they were an embarrassment to the name. If they were anyone over 18 I’d be surprised. They couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag, but they thought they looked the part. They did, if the part is to look like a geek.

They made themselves look silly when they got off the train in Rotherham and waited for the police to escort them to the pub whilst chanting about what they would do to Rotherham fans. Its hard to be brave behind lots of police isn’t it?

The three of us decamped into Wetherspoons for a bit of light refreshment before wandering over to the ground. The real ale in Wetherspoons had a familiar name.

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I thought Double Maxim had died when the Vaux Brewery Closed. Wishful thinking?

This is another of those modern concrete grounds that looks as if it comes from IKEA. It is functionally very good, with plenty of leg room in the seats, not a bad view in the ground etc.

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It might be the New York Stadium, but there are no Giants playing there!

The family stand seems to have been named knowing Tom & I were coming

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Anyway, into the ground and the first thing is that all the stands were not identical. They do provide a great ground for a League Two club.

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The game itself was a frenetic local derby which was eventually won 1-0 by Rotherham. The atmosphere was great for a League 2 game.

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So, you may think that it was all positive at the game? Well, there was one thing that surprised me, the catering outlets all shut at the end of half time. They are surely missing a trick there. Think of the extra income they could gain by actually selling food & drink.

After the game, ok during the 2nd half, we left the ground and headed back to Wetherspoons for a quick pint of 3. As we left Wetherspoons to go to the railway station, there appeared to have been an incident outside. The police were trying to separate fans, directing Rotherham fans back to the bars and Chesterfield fans to the railway station. They were bemused when they asked us “Rotherham or Chesterfield lads?” and got the replies “Newcastle United”, “Leyton Orient” and “Fulham”. They were even more bemused after we got to the station and then walked back through the police lines to the pub again. Well we had 30 minutes to wait for a train, so time for another pint.

So, game over, drink on board, it was time to head back to Sheffield and meet up with Matt & Lynn from Barnsley for a few beers. Tom decided to order food for us all in the pub. So, I let him… more fool me. This is what I got

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Was he trying to tell me something?

Ouch: Another Friday, Another Accident

So, once again, I find myself spending a Friday night recovering after an accident. This time, I was sensible enough not to use the STEAM CLEANER. In fact this was not a Friday night accident, but a Friday morning accident.

I was cycling to work….yes, its another cycling accident…..! I really need to take up a safer hobby like Free Running (aka Parkour ). Its got to be safer for me than this cycling lark.

So, back to the accident, well the good news is it did not involve a motor vehicle or another cyclist. I was heading down the Mile End Road towards Whitechapel. The ride was getting better as the rain had stopped and the sun was coming out. It was the warmest morning of the year so far and my thoughts were turning to how long a ride I could get in after work. I didn’t have a care in the world.

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Then, I did have a care…

I passed through the traffic lights in the above picture doing 16.4mph and moved to my right to overtake a bus that was at the bus stop on the left. As I passed the blue square on the road, a male ran across the road without looking. He was clearly (in my opinion) running for the bus. He did not look at all, and despite my shouting a warning to him, he ran into the side of my bike propelling me rapidly to the ground. Fortunately,

I bounce well, and I landed on my bike handlebars. Said pedestrian was prevented from leaving the scene. In fact, I think an irate cyclist terrified him. It turns out the myopic pedestrian is a student from the Philippines who has only been in England a few days.

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Warning to all cyclists in East London, keep your eyes open for this risk to your health. He goes by the name of GLEN REGONDOLA.

The damage done consists of:

1. Handlebars of my bike bent beyond repair as they are creased. You may note in the photo below the way the bars are now curved

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2. Front wheel damaged beyond repair. In fact the wheel is so buckled that even with the front brake released completely the wheel could not be forced to turn round, let alone be ridden.

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3. Rear Wheel Buckled beyond repair

4. Mudguards destroyed as the fixings are snapped at the front wheel.

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5. Rear Light broken in fall

6. Helmet – did its job and hit the floor, protecting my head. As a result it needs replacing as helmets should always be replaced after an accident when it has hit the ground.

7. Bib Tights – ripped as I hit the ground

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The cost of replacing all the above amounts to £500. That is not including the cost of the labour to replace the handlebars/ tape up the new ones.

 

Then the observant amongst you will note the blood on my knee in the last 2 pictures. Fortunately the knee was grazed and did not appear to take a significant blow.

 

Anyway, after exchanging details with the homicidal pedestrian, I had the joy of getting home. I was 3 miles from the train station and 8 miles from home. The bike could not even be wheeled, so I had to hoist it up onto my shoulder and set off walking home. I walked 3/4 mile  or so to Mile End Tube station and decided to try to take my bike on the Tube. I know bikes are not allowed on the Central Line which  is the one I needed to get to Stratford (1 stop) or else I would have to travel several stops on District Line & Jubilee line to get to Stratford from where I take the overground train. Being a rebel, I ignored the rules and sneaked onto the Central Line & got away with it.

 

Once back in Seven Kings, I had to carry my bike the last half mile home.

 

I had already rung work to let them know of the accident and agreed I would work from home. Fortunately I had work I could do and had my laptop with me. It was fortunate that it did not get damaged in the accident.

 

I had my medical diagnosis on the telephone from Michelle, after sending her picture of the wound. She gave me advice on cleaning the knee and resting it. She does look after me, and she wasn’t slow to point out that I should have had the accident last week when she was down here to look after me.

 

Resting at home, I discovered I had bruising on my left leg as well, and on my arms.  As the day wore on, I started to get pain and stiffness in my shoulders and neck – classic whiplash symptoms! I also realised I was suffering from shock, and it took some 4 or so hours before I was actually able to function effectively. I hadn’t expected the whiplash or the shock. The cuts to the knee turned out to be minor, and looked far worse through the ripped tights than later.

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Tonight, I made the effort to drive to the home address of the homicidal pedestrian to deliver a formal letter before action demanding the payment of the £500 to repair the bike and replace my kit. I have to confess to leaving the block of flats he lived in feeling rather sorry for him. The block of flats had evidence of crack / heroin smoking in the stairwells, the lifts smelt of urine, and many of the flats had metal grills over the windows and doors to protect them from burglaries. It is not a pleasant place for anyone to live in. Especially when it was clear that despite being a danger to cyclists, he was not a junkie or a bad lad at all.  To come from abroad to study and end up living in such squalor is not pleasant.

 

So, Saturday will see me trying to replace the handlebars on my bike and tape up the new ones. Then I will have to try to mix and match spare wheels to see if I can get the bike back on the road for Monday’s commute to work.

 

The positives are: –

a) I do not appear to have any serious or long term injuries, just cuts and bruises

b) It could have been far worse

c) The bike is repairable

d) It wasn’t my good bike for the Police Unity Tour. That is safely in the house ready to ride.

 

 

And to those who suggested I should get stabilisers/ training wheel, all I have to say is …”Ha bloody ha”