Category Archives: Non-League

Grey Day in Dagenham

Saturday 17th September 2016 – Dagenham & Redbridge 2 – 0 North Ferriby

National League @ Victoria Road, Dagenham, London

“…oh I’d rather be a sausage than an egg…”

A university reunion coupled with a vow to get to some Ferriby games now they were venturing south, took me to Dagenham’s Victoria Road. It was a grey September day and cold enough for a jacket; a contrast from the heat wave earlier that week, which was ended with torrential rain the day before this match up.

Dagenham, most famous of course for the Ford factory, is found in London’s eastern most reaches. It took around 45 minutes on the Victoria Line (from Victoria) to reach Dagenham East for this one, and the ground itself is around a five-minute walk from the tube station.

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The area around the ground is fairly residential so supping options are limited to a pub just past the tube station, the Pipe Major. We didn’t venture in on this occasion; there were plenty milling around outside albeit a majority seemed to be in West Ham shirts, so they probably weren’t all going to the match.

Entering Victoria Road (or the Chigwell Construction Stadium for sponsorship purposes) feels akin to entering a leisure centre, with a car park straight in front, and the relatively low stands meaning it is only the floodlights that indicate the venue is used for football.

We headed to the club bar pre-match. It cost 50p to get in (though no restrictions on away fans) and you have to sign in; it is however a nice sized bar, albeit beer on tap is limited. Seating is in what is best described as a sports hall with a couple of tables dotted around. Sutton’s defeat of Tranmere Rovers was being shown on the big screen which we watched with the locals before heading to the away end.

Away fans are accommodated in the ‘Traditional Builders Stand’ at the far end of the ground. It cost £21 to get in; the half of the stand closest to the entrance is populated with home fans, with the away fans having to walk along the bottom of the stand to the far end. There were no problems however, and given the size of the away following that day (23…) the stand felt a bit cold and, stating the obvious’ empty!

There is a small bar underneath the stand, which seemed only to serve Carling, that both home and away fans use. Other chow and sup can be bought at a small kiosk near the entrance, with reasonable prices (£1.20 for tea or coffee).

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To the left of the stand is a small terrace, half of which was closed, but the open half appeared to be full. To the right is a smaller seated stand. Interestingly the teams come out from behind the goal, so I assume more modern changing rooms were installed when the stand was built.

img_0084 img_0089In the context of each club’s respective positions last season, and results and league positions thus far, this seemed very much like David vs Goliath. Dagenham & Redbridge’s team contains a smattering of ex-league players (including the experienced Luke Gutteridge and Paul Benson); having spent nine years playing league football (including a short stint in League 1), presumably the home side are gunning for an immediate return.

This is Ferriby’s first season at this level, with mixed results ranging from a hammering away at Lincoln, and a win at Gateshead mid-week before this one. My hunch however was that the home side would prevail in this one.

The atmosphere at Victoria Road is relatively flat, with the exception of the fans immediately to the left of the away end, who enjoyed frequent exchanges with the three fans in the away end who had some voice (though most of the chants seemed to be food related as opposed to football, hence I guess the ‘Pie Cob Society’ flag).

Ferriby played like they were trying to avoid a loss as opposed to trying to get something from the game. The home side went in one nil up and at half time though it felt like it could be much more. Ferriby had a good crack of it in the second half, but couldn’t build up any meaningful sort of attack.

It was one nil for much of the match, but it never really felt close. The home side doubled their lead shortly before time, wrapping up the three points and securing top spot in the league. This result sent Ferriby into the relegation places. The difference in quality was quite stark; Ferriby constantly giving the ball away and making silly mistakes, which their more experienced equals often capitalised upon.

It might have been because the day was grey, and cold but Victoria Road feels like it has seen better days. Prices are however reasonable and the fans & staff care for the club; the attendance felt low that day (1,119) despite local Premier League behemoths being away at West Brom. The game was however both watchable and enjoyable; Victoria Road is a bit of a trek from Central London for a capital ground tick if truth be told. It feels very much like a non-league ground but with some tweaks to allow for bigger followings that must have come here when they played league football.

Other photos from the day

 

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Non League Day 2016

Saturday 3rd September 2016 – Maidstone United 2 – 2 Wrexham

National League @ Gallagher Stadium, Maidstone

A rare afternoon off following our arrival earlier in August coincided with this year’s Non League Day. And with tiredness limiting the appetite for travel too far, I opted to start my foray into Kent’s non-league scene, and visit Maidstone United‘s Gallagher Stadium for their National League match against Wrexham.

Maidstone is one of the original phoenix clubs. Formed in 1992 following the demise of the original, the National League (or Conference for us traditionals) marks the highest level the ‘new’ (if you can call 24 years new….) club has been, gaining promotion in the play-offs last season against local rivals Ebbsfleet United.

I travelled to Maidstone by train from Otford; the Gallagher Stadium can be seen as you enter Maidstone East, and is c. 5-10 minutes walk from the station. The walk is rather mundane along a series of roads outside of the town centre. There are a couple of pubs en route for those who wish to stagger the trip.

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It cost £15 to get in that day, which was easier said than done as for some reason the turnstiles wouldn’t work for me. Feeling like a bit of an amateur, I opted for some refreshment. To the left of the entrance, the Gallagher Stadium has an array of options for eating; pie and chips (with FREE gravy), burgers, hot dogs, and something of a first, a tuck shop selling sweets! I opted however to head right to the Spitfire Lounge. On tap was a club special lager which I chose over a Whitstable Ale – an error. Fairly sure it was re-branded Carling, or perhaps the late nights tending to a four-week old have killed my taste buds!

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The Gallagher Stadium comprises of two terraces behind either goal, and to the right of the Spitfire Lounge, a main stand with seating. Opposite is standing only. The view is quite scenic with trees along the perimeter (and some flats behind the main stand).

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Stands behind goals

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Main Stand

A wander around the ground showed decent views from all angles. There is a slight industrial feel to the ground however, caused I think by the corrugated metal perimeter. Fans were segregated that day, with the 200 or so Wrexham fans who made the trip situated behind the far goal (opposite the main entrance). I opted to stand opposite the main stand that day, next to the away end.

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The crowd for this match exceeded 2,000, and as mentioned it was Non League Day. I was unsure how many had come for that reason only, like myself, however there was a lot of black and amber on display, indicating I probably wasn’t giving Maidstone enough credit for their support. Indeed I wasn’t. The crowd was noisy behind both goals and got behind their team from the start.

The Wrexham fans, seemingly used to playing clubs smaller than themselves, clearly had a repertoire of songs they wanted to sing despite the ground being full and the support noisy: “Shit ground no fans”, “Your ground’s too big for you”, and “Your support is f’ing s***” all getting an airing. A word for the Wrexham fans. I’ve seen fans taunting Welsh clubs with the usual “In-ger-lund” chant many times over the years, normally responded to with appropriate hand gestures. So it was both refreshing and amusing to see the Wrexham fans that day respond in a deadpan manner with an Icelandic thunderclap. Cap doffed. I imagine it may be some time before the summer of 2016 is forgotten.

Back to the game….

As the teams came out, the guys next to me seemed very excited that Wayne Rooney’s brother was lining up for Wrexham; I was more bemused by their player by the name of Nortei Nortay. Maidstone looked decent in the opening exchanges, and took the lead through a very nice free kick shortly after 20 minutes.

“One nil, to the little club…”

The last time I saw Wrexham was against North Ferriby United in the 2015 FA Trophy Final. The perennial scalp at this level (despite being non-league since 2008), they look a little now like the bigger club money from higher gate receipts has run out. It was however fairly even after the opener, and Wrexham equalised shortly before half-time. An entertaining half and two good goals to boot.

Full from pie and chips, and of course the free gravy, I changed vantage point for the second half, opting to stand between the Spitfire Lounge and the home stand behind the goal. I started to regret not being in a stand as spots of rain started to emerge; Kent had avoided the downpours that had caused an abandonment elsewhere in England that day.

Wrexham took the lead mid-way through the second half, and in fairness had been the better side after the break, A mistake by their defence however gifted an equalizer. And the match held out for 2-2.

Thankfully it didn’t pour with rain.

Maidstone United; a very friendly club, with a support that wouldn’t look out-of-place if they ever did return to the football league. And any ground that offers free gravy with your chips is always worth a trip in my book!

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End of the line….Corby

Saturday 5th March 2016 – Corby Town 1 – 4 North Ferriby United

National League North @ Steel Park, Corby

“Get back to your farms, you Northerners…”

Saturday 5th March was supposed to be a trip to the second city to watch Hull take on Birmingham City at St. Andrews. Sky Sports however had other ideas, switching the game to a Thursday evening, making travel for the exiled fan (and I imagine those with HU postcodes also) almost impossible, especially on a school night.

But a game was needed. And so it was we opted to follow Hull’s neighbours down the river, North Ferriby United, in one of their most southerly fixtures, away at Corby Town.

The title of this blog entry is “End of the line….Corby”, in reference to the fact the town sits at the end of a single train line into London St. Pancras. An easy trip for me, but not for my mate travelling from Birmingham, who had to change twice.

Corby is a steel town (as the name of their football ground suggests). Also of interest is that it has a large Scottish population, due to the fact many from North of the border came here to work in the industry, and stayed. This was observed in our first pub (a small place near the train station, I don’t recall the name) where the order of the day was the early kick-off between Rangers and Dundee.

We didn’t stay long in the centre as were keen to get to the ground, which we heard had a good bar (always prefer to line the pockets of a small club than a pub chain).

Steel Park is quite a walk from the centre of Corby. We were lucky that day, a mate giving us a lift to the ground, on the outskirts of town, in amongst a business park and leisure facilities.

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At the entrance to the ground we came in, there were two pitch side areas along the left of the ground (including behind the goal, where the bar could be found), a small terrace opposite, but quite a large seated stand to our right. Along one side of the ground, it appears as if there is a second stadium next door (I believe it is a leisure centre).

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Through the turnstile (only £10 to get in) there is a small club shop, with what has to be the weirdest mannequin I have seen anywhere on display!

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Prior to the match we frequented the club bar, a friendly place with a good range of beers on tap. Corby were (and still are) bottom of the National League North (Conference North to us traditionals) so I wasn’t expecting a huge turnout. I was wrong, and was assured that often there are more. The weather that day was pretty treacherous; freezing cold with constant showers and wind. That may have been a factor.

The score was 2-1 to North Ferriby within 15 minutes of the game kicking off – proper schoolboy scoreline, with the dozen or so North Ferriby United fans in a good mood. Not that surprising given North Ferriby were sitting in the play-off places. Corby didn’t look like a bottom of the table team though, with their fans urging them to attack and pull something back.

I liked their fans; the ‘Northern abuse’ hurled at Ferriby’s players was decent. There was also a cracking moment when a Corby player went down near the box in an attempt to win a free-kick – real Ronaldo stuff, feigning injury. A couple of dozen or so home fans shouting at him that they had paid money to watch him roll around soon cured whatever injury he had.

It finished 4-1 to the visitors though. The game memorable in reality more for the big skies created by the weather than the football. It was good to see Ferriby again, the last time being their FA Trophy Final win at Wembley last year. For Corby though, it looks like they will be going down.

Steel Park, whilst quite far away from the centre of town, is well worth a trip; decent fans, a nice neat little ground, good bar, and palatable enough food kiosk.

Other photos from the day

Pre-season in South London

Saturday 11th July 2015 – Dulwich Hamlet 3 – 5 Altona 1893

Pre-Season Friendly @ Champion, London

My second visit to Champion Hill in 12 months, original review can be viewed here – this time for a pre-season friendly between Dulwich Hamlet and German non-league outfit Altona 1893.

A visit to Champion Hill by the Hamburg based outfit may seem odd at first, but these two have history; Dulwich themselves articulate it much better than I can on their website.

An entertaining match attended by a healthy contingent of travelling Germans, this one finished 5-3 to the visitors in glorious summer sunshine, accompanied by beer, (huge) burgers and an interesting collection of political posters.

Photos of the trip below – hope you enjoy.

 

Wem-ber-leeey

Sunday 29th March 2015 – North Ferriby United 3p – 3 Wrexham AFC

FA Trophy Final @ Wembley Stadium, London

London hosted an all time classic of a match on the last weekend of March in 2015. If like me you travelled through Central London that evening, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was Brazil’s 1-0 victory over Chile at The Emirates, given the sheer number of Brazilian flags flying around the tube.

But no. For a fraction of the price (£20 I paid for my ticket) you could have seen a match with, as the saying goes, everything. Second-half comeback, extra time, penalties, the underdog lifting the trophy. Real Roy of the Rovers stuff.

That match was the FA Trophy Final 2015, at our National Stadium, Wembley. North Ferriby United of the Conference North vs Wrexham of the Conference Premier.

Living in the South I have been fortunate enough to visit Wembley for all manner of events; firstly the 2008 Play-Off Final (The Windass Final) as well as two trips last season for Hull’s FA Cup run, over a dozen England matches, Rugby League World Cup, Olympic Football, a Groupon Tour and an Oasis concert……! I have very mixed views on it; it is a pain to get to (and away from!), the surrounding area is pretty ugly, there are very few watering holes nearby. But at the same time, the very act of getting to Wembley means your club must have done something right. It has that prestige about it, and as much as you don’t think it will get to you, you’ll do well to hold back a tear when the teams come out.

I probably wouldn’t have given this match a second thought had North Ferriby not been present. Most City fans have a soft spot for Ferriby; never really rivals (historically quite a few divisions apart) but friendly opponents in the pre-season curtain raiser, the Billy Bly Trophy, and home to many an ex-City pro. It is nice to see them do well, and they exemplify everything a lower league club should be. Well run, focus on youth and a community feel to it. So I had to go, they were my team for the weekend.

Pre-match first though….

Getting to Wembley from Central London is relatively straightforward, but for the full experience it is recommended you go via Wembley Park Station, so you can take the famous walk down Wembley Way. These days that involves also navigating the stands selling ‘Half and Half Scarves’, Wembley owned burger joints, and for the more subscribed games, layers of ticket sellers. Still, great place to hang the flags and saviour the ground.

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As mentioned previously, suppage around Wembley is quite a hard task….

For the larger games, fans are designated pubs, but these are often at least a 15 minute walk from the ground. The alternative is £4.50 bottles of Carlsberg inside the ground, or seeing if Frankie and Benny’s might serve you.

For previous visits with City however, there is one ‘institution’ that has achieved something of cult status; The Crystal Club. This is in effect an old sports hall, that on matchdays is turned into a drinking venue, selling warm multipack cans from a hatch inside. From 200 people strong renditions of Caravan of Love, Eminem style chanting, and the great view of the Cemex plant from the beer garden, whilst disgusting (both toilets were out-of-order 2 hours in on final day last season), it was the place to go. So it was there that we went.

Despite checking however, it was closed…!

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Memories…

We made the mistake that day of heading to the retail complex to the right of Wembley Park Station – nothing. Perhaps we were looking in the wrong place? But then we stumbled upon a place with a sign outside “3 beers for £10” – BARGAIN! In we went…..it was a bakery. But it was raining so had to do, and so we sat drinking our warm Coronas in amongst couples having afternoon tea and a baby shower.

Watered (but not fed, beer and cake didn’t seem a good mix) we headed for the ground. Wembley is huge inside, not just pitch side, but concourses too. It really is a well designed ground, and there was a growing sense of excitement in the Ferriby end, who on that day were positioned to the left of the Royal Box.

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The attendance was just over 14,000 – the majority being Wrexham fans behind the goal to the right of my seat, but with, by my estimate, c. 5,000 in Green and White. I have to confess, I was sceptical pre-match that the low numbers would mean the stadium echoed a bit. I have questioned previously how it is viable for The FA to host such matches at Wembley given its sheer size – surely it would make more sense to host somewhere like Villa Park or Elland Road? Fine, it still wouldn’t sell out – but would make for a better atmosphere.

I admit, I was a snob, and I was proved wrong. Both sets of fans made a decent amount of noise – and why should non-league clubs, and their fans, be deprived of their big day out? It is schoolboy stuff to score the winner in a cup final at Wembley. So what then if the FA makes a loss on it!

To the game….

The first half started well for Ferriby, but it was Wrexham who took the lead and were most dominant going into the break. When they went 2-0 up shortly after the restart, I feared a drubbing similar to the season before, when Cambridge United put four past Gosport.

But that’s when the game really got going….

Some will say Wrexham switched off. Some will say Ferriby went for it. It was a mixture of the two I’d say, perhaps a smidging more of the latter. On the 75th minute, Ferriby were awarded a penalty, and fan favourite Liam King duly did the honours. The comeback was on – but I don’t think anybody really believed it at the time.

Ten minutes later, substitute striker Ryan Kendall grabbed the second, sending the Ferriby fans wild and the game into extra time. The Wrexham fans were stunned, their players too. It was Ferriby’s to win now, and it felt almost disadvantageous that the Welsh side would get a breather.

The Ferriby attack continued, and in front of the Wrexham fans, Kendall struck again. Manager Billy Heath and his staff joined in the celebration this time, and the place was alive. Were the part-timers going to go all the way? Unfortunately Wrexham had other ideas…

The team in red went for the equalizer in the second half of extra time and got it. In fairness, Ferriby were running on gas by this point and did well to hang on. But it felt something of an injustice that the match went to penalties. This would be a horrible way to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory.

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Penners!

I can’t remember the running order, or who scored / missed first, but even though I didn’t support them, it was a nerve-wracking experience. Ferriby did though win, thanks to goalkeeper Adam Nicklin (who I have since heard works in a hotel bar -??? – if true, I imagine he’ll be getting “…and one for yourself…” for some time to come).

North Ferriby United – 2015 FA Trophy Winners!!!

What a game and what a day. It felt surreal to see them do it; the press beforehand had only really focussed on Wrexham, and to see a former league club humbled in this manner was truly enjoyable, particularly when it is a club just down the road from your hometown. I felt like a proper plastic fan at the start, but by the end I’m pretty sure part of me was Ferriby. For their true fans, when you spend your season trawling the likes of Bradford PA and Hyde United, wining in the luxury of Wembley must have been an amazing experience.

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So that is Wembley. Unless you attend a match like this, or En-ger-laaand, it is a ground tick that is dependent upon the success of your club, which doesn’t come to many. Forget the lack of pubs, the concrete exterior and the overpriced merchandise, it is a ‘memory making machine’. I’ve experienced both the good and the bad side of that. It was nice to walk back down Wembley Way again with a positive one, healing in part the sense of gutting after last season.

And again, congratulations to North Ferriby United and their cracking fans – see you at Church Road, for a long overdue ground tick, next season!

Other photos from the day

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Boxing Day at Top Field

Friday 26th December 2014 – Hitchin Town FC 2 – 0 Arlesey Town

Southern League Premier Division @ Top Field, Hitchin

Ground Grab was at the in-laws in Bedfordshire this Christmas. The geographic distance, coupled with ‘weather bombs’ and total shut down of the rail network, meant that whilst many a Hull City fan started 3pm in the 7th tier of the Stadium of Light’s North Stand, I opted for the 7th tier of the English football pyramid. My destination for 2014’s Boxing Day match was Hitchin Town, playing local rivals Arlesey Town (the second time I would see the latter this season).

Some research in the week running up to the game revealed turmoil at the club; Hitchin have played at their ground, Top Field, since 1928. It seems however that they are being forced out by their landlords, seemingly not cognizant of the importance of a town having a football club within its boundaries, who are intent on making a few quid by selling the land to Tesco. This would force the club outside of the town onto green belt land.

For context, Hitchin is a small, quiet market town, which like many on the same train line, has expanded as more of the populus move south to commute to and work in London. A quick walk around before the match revealed it is a friendly and pleasant place, small in size, but with plenty of greenery, old buildings and small shops (similar to my own hometown of Beverley).

Top Field itself is about 10 minute walk from the centre and is set opposite a common, with houses either side. It is quite well hidden from the road by the trees.

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Which I guess begs the question, would the residents want a Tesco there? Surely having c. 400 football fans outside your house every other Saturday is preferable to car parks, shoppers, litter, delivery lorries at 4am, and the eyesore of a superstore when you leave the house?

Guess you’d never be short of milk…

I feel for Hitchin, I really do. Their fans and the club have put on a united front in opposing such plans. Top Field is something of a ramshackle offering (more detail later – I believe the legal battle with the landlords has stopped them developing the ground further), but it is their home. I really am an advocate of a club staying close to the centre of the village / town / city it is representing. My own Hull City moved from the dilapidated Boothferry Park to the shiny KC Stadium over a decade ago now, but it worked because it stayed within the periphery of the city centre – people could still walk / get a bus there in 20 minutes max, and away fans had a short walk from the train station. One only has to look to the likes of Reading and Bolton to see how ‘stale’ a club can become when it moves outside of the confines of the city.

So best of luck in your fight; those wishing to support them can do so here.

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Entry price to Top Field was a very inexpensive £10, and only £2 for a matchday programme. Ground Grab arrived about 25 minutes before kick off, so immediately set off on an anti-clockwise wander around the ground. Immediately to the right of the entrance is the club shop and snack bar ‘Canary Corner’. Hitchin play in yellow and green (hence the nickname), which gives a retro colour theme throughout the ground. The stand immediately next to this along the long side of the pitch is a wooden terrace, covered for  a section immediately before and after the halfway line next to the dugouts (but uncovered otherwise). They reminded me somewhat of the benches you see on prison dramas….

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Left: Canary Bar. Right: Dugouts and covered wooden terracing

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Similar? No?

Opposite the entrance is a fairly sizeable terrace behind the goal (also uncovered) at the other end of which is the main, fully seated and covered, Club Stand. There are a number of club buildings behind this, which, as mentioned previously, are quite ramshackle (pictures below).

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Left: Terrace behind goal. Right: Seen better days…..

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Left: Football’s smallest boardroom? Right: impressive art on side of physio room.

Completing the tour, there is another terrace behind the other goal, partially covered with a wooden structure.

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Left: Wooden terrace behind goal. Right: view of Club Stand from terrace behind goal

So that is Top Field. I believe there is also a club bar; I saw a couple of people milling around with pints before the match and at half time but couldn’t find it. In fairness, my liver has received something of a pickling over the Christmas period, so probably for the best.

My perch for the first half was the wooden terrace (uncovered next to the entrance):

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It was a very cold and grey December day; I did actually wonder whether this one would be called off given I woke up to find a thick frost outside – but it went ahead. The pitch was a muddy quagmire, and with the drizzle that came and went throughout the first half became a whole lot worse. Hitchin dominated the first half and went in two goals up following a penalty on the quarter-hour mark, and a second right at the death. Arlesey could have had no complaints. The rain started to pick up towards the end; suddenly standing at the top of some slippery and wet wooden terracing didn’t seem the best of ideas….

The drizzle turned into a pour during half time (but thankfully wasn’t sleet / snow), so along with the Bovril and dozens others, I sought refuge in the covered area of the same stand:

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The second half was a much more even affair, with Arlesey only being denied a foot back in the game following some great saves by the Hitchin keeper. As the rain picked up, the tackles became more adventurous. Thankfully the ref, who wasn’t particularly card happy anyway, didn’t start flashing the reds around. It finished 2-0 to Hitchin. I feel slightly to blame for Arlesey’s plight; I have seen them twice this season, first time they were put out of the FA Cup, then a league defeat. Sorry guys (though your place is on my ‘ToDo List’…)

Last mention to the crowd, just shy of 500, and the odd smattering in a santa hat. Fairly large for a club at that level and nice to see.

And so into the night. I liked Top Field, and hope the club and their supporters are successful in staying there. It’s a decent place to watch a game and has real character to it. I’ll definitely be back, and perhaps next time I may find the bar…

Forza Bromley!!

Saturday 22nd November 2014 – Bromley FC 2 – 1 Sutton United FC

Conference South @ Hayes Lane, Bromley

An opportune and unexpected ground tick, and a pleasant way to fill a Saturday afternoon. Hayes Lane (I think, seen it referred to also as Courage Stadium, Fortress Stadium and Bromley Arena…) offers excellent value for non-league football at just £12 for adults (cap tipped) complete with not one, but two bars!

Bromley itself is situated in the far south of London as it sprawls towards Kent. My intention was to have a couple of drinks in the town itself to start with, but my mate was late, and there also wasn’t very much in terms of options; we did sample however the Richmal Crompton on the way back to Bromley South station, an agreeable and well sized Wetherspoons just across the road. I would recommend however you drink at the club itself, which has two bars next to the main stand, where pints cost an amazing (for London) £3.50 a go…! The ground is about a 15 minute walk from the station.

There is a great family atmosphere at Bromley FC with both sets of supporters (Sutton brought with them a good number) mingling freely and enjoying the afternoon. My first surprise at Bromley was the size of the crowd (1,043 in total, though it felt like more given the compact nature of the ground) and the great support from both sets of fans; I’m a big fan of the non-league game and it was great to see such an interest being taken at a game being played at the sixth level of the football league pyramid.

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Left: Bromley fans making some noise. Right: travelling Sutton fans with flags.

Bromley were knocking on the door of the Conference Premier last season (ultimately finishing 3rd and losing in the play-offs); the club certainly felt like it was ready for it. A quick look at the teamsheet threw up one familiar name in Adam Birchall – as well as his goalscoring heroics at Dover a few years back, known also to many football fans as being the first player you signed on the old Championship Manager if you wanted to get Whitby Town into the Premier League in record quick time.

Also noteworthy that Bromley are managed (and I believe owned) by none other than Mark Goldberg, the man who put Lombardo in charge of, and lost his entire fortune at, Crystal Palace. A long time since 1997 though……

The ground itself is accessed via a short road which runs alongside some fields (smelled of farm on the way in, not something you normally get at a match…!). Upon entering you are alongside the main stand, where aforementioned club bars are located. Pleasingly you can sup along the side of the pitch by the main stand, removing the need to neck the final 1/3 before kick off. At either end of the ground are two ‘sheds’ behind the goals, were the more vocal home and away supporters were stood. Across from the main stand is an uncovered terrace, which even in the rain had people stood on.

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Bromley were 3rd at the start of the match, Sutton bottom half of the table. Any ‘gulf’ in class wasn’t at all evident, with the game played at a fast tempo and with gusto – some very tasty challenges going in (as the Sutton goalkeeper experienced early on) and two very vocal captains. It was Sutton who took the lead, however Bromley were back in it before half-time. Sutton seemed to mellow a bit in the second half and Bromley started to take more control over the game. I thought 1-1 would have been a fair result, but the sucker punch was delivered late on; 2-1 Bromley, home fans heading off with a spring in their step, Sutton with zero points.

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A very enjoyable day out; not sure why I was surprised at the number of people there – Bromley play some exciting, attacking football, the tickets are reasonably priced, and the club very welcoming. They also notched up over 4,000 for the FA Cup 1st Round match against Dartford a few weeks back. I will be back.

One tip if you are visiting over the festive period; at the end of Hayes Road you turn right onto Hayes Lane to get to the ground. We accidentally turned left, but if you have some time, make the left turn also. You will be met with this (a sign of the times when Santa takes a helicopter rather than sleigh) – my only regret is we didn’t go back in the dark:

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