Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Sinking Feeling in a Cinque Port - Hythe Should Say So!





The importance of reading the small print - MoD Firing Range behind the stand

Hopperational details
Tracks prove that a herd of lino passed this way earlier
Tuesday 28 December 2010 at Reachfields Stadium, Hythe Town 3 Lordswood 4 in the Kent Premier Division (step 5).  After my aborted trip to Kent yesterday (thanks to M25 congestion), it was great news that this fixture was confirmed as on (and communicated as such!) so early in the day.
This match in one sentence


Lowly Lordswood led 4-0 with 25 minutes to go and just about held on for an unexpected win as the mist closed in.
So what?
Hythe stay 4th but still have games in hand (after a good run in the FA Cup) to go joint top – if they win them, and they certainly will view today as three points lost too easily.  The club is very open about its promotion ambitions.  It is Lordswood’s first league victory over Hythe for many seasons and they move up three places.  Seven of their eleven points have been won away from home, and this is the first time this season that they have scored four goals in a league game.
Who caught the eye on the pitch?
Given the second-half conditions, identification of individuals was almost impossible!  Thanks to @hythetownfc on Twitter for the information about scorers.

Stephan Elliott burst through the middle and chipped the keeper beautifully for the first goal.  Rob Denness headed the second before half-time.  Elliott’s second was a fumble by Kieron Mann but to be honest the goalmouth was in an awful state by that stage.  Denness also got a second goal and you sensed that Lordswood really could not believe they were leading 4-0.

When Brendon Cass scored from a twice-taken penalty, and substitute Dan Cook made it 2-4 shortly afterwards, it was clear that Hythe still believed they could turn the game around in the 25 minutes or so still remaining.  As it happened, wave after wave of home attacks resulted in only one more goal by Kieran Byrne and the visitors defended stoutly for the last 15 minutes.  Young goalkeeper Ryan Burbridge punched crosses away several times and the centre-backs in particular put head, leg or body in the way of most things.




Great stuff for the passing neutral, frustrating for the home fans, who usually turn up more than anyone else in this league.
This match had the same effect on my pulse rate as …
… Tim Bresnan’s dismissal of Ricky Ponting in Melbourne last night – congratulations to England on retaining the Ashes by securing the victory, literally as I write this.
A snippet from the programme

From manager Scott Porter:
“The weather is frustrating but it is the same for everyone.  We tried to train on the Tuesday before Christmas as usual but had to give up because the pitch was waterlogged.  The 25 of us went down to the curry house and had a great night afterwards – the fact that so many turned up on such a cold night reflects the enthusiasm and hard work that everyone puts in.”
What I learned today
A total of 28 clubs have put themselves forward for a new step 6 league in Kent.
What Next?
I dare say there will be something for the weekend, weather permitting!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Ten O'Clock and Hall's Well



Ball in tree MAY be evidence of bad shooting last Saturday


Hopperational details
Tuesday 14 December 2010 at the Grass Roots Stadium, Cow Lane, Tring Athletic 1 Chalfont St Peter 0 in the step 5 South Midlands Premier League.  I am here because Gornal Athletic v Runcorn Town was postponed – that was the original game selection based on the number of times (2) that Graham Taylor said “no doubt about it” in the second half of the Spurs-Chelsea radio commentary on Sunday.  Therefore my randomness was thwarted on this occasion.
This match in one sentence
Tring shaded the goalless first half and missed several good chances, and then held on after a deserved goal with an occasional degree of desperation.
So what?
A vital and hard-fought win for Tring to keep the championship race alive, and these teams remain second and first in the table.
Who caught the eye on the pitch?
Ashley Addison had a good game up front for Tring and contributed everything except a goal before going off after 80 minutes.  However, it was captain Graham Hall who executed the game’s key moment, rising unchallenged to place a header for the only goal.  Tring hit the woodwork three times, and Chalfont once - I was hoping for two more from them for a "St Peter in Thrice-Denial Shock" headline, but sadly they kept shooting wide from good positions.
This match had the same effect on my pulse rate as …
… dressing in ridiculously coloured lycra, strapping two lubricated wooden planks on to my feet and sliding in a partially controlled manner down a one-in-ten snow-covered deforested slope in the Black Forest.
A snippet from the programme
The coverage of last Saturday’s game is bluntly honest:
“The cold weather may have temporarily gone but a chill wind is still blowing through The Grass Roots Stadium after we were bombed out of the FA Vase following this humiliating 6-1 defeat to fellow South Midlanders Dunstable Town.  The visitors … were hugely helped by some appalling defending which gifted them most of the goals.”
What I learned today



Tring supported two teams as recently as 2003 and this ground was the original home of Tring Town.  After a clubhouse fire, the board are said to have had no alternative but to accept Athletic’s offer to move in.  This event is referred to in tonight’s programme as a “historic alliance”, but on a legacy Tring Town website as more of an opportunistic takeover.  Tring Athletic’s original home in Miswell Lane is still used by the club’s other sides.  The new clubhouse has some great displays of recent Tring Athletic exploits.
Modus Hopper Random Talking Point
This game was a great advert for the non-league game at step 5.

If Chalfont had won this evening they would have had the proverbial one hand on the league trophy and a seven-point lead approaching the half-way mark.  They also have a couple of games in hand over the third and fourth-placed teams, so Tring have been the nearest challengers.  The lead is now only four points, albeit with a massively superior goal difference that will be worth one more if it comes to a crunch. 

Amazingly, Tring had lost five in a row at home in all competitions before tonight (including two in the league), and they were unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Vase by Dunstable Town at the weekend. Even more impressively, Chalfont started this season with seventeen league wins in a row, but this is a second successive defeat.  I hope I get to see either or both of these teams again on my local midweek hops.
What Next?
Can’t be certain – weather forecast is not that good.  Follow me on Twitter for announcements!  The Gornal Athletic game has been provisionally rearranged for Saturday.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Lucan Found at Olympic Venue




Hopperational details
Saturday 11 December 2010 at Dales Lane, Rushall Olympic 2 Carlton Town 1 in the Northern Premier League Division One South (step 4).  I am here for two reasons.  Firstly, I paid a visit to my brother Martyn aka @BlurredBirding in the morning.  He lives on the edge of Walsall and will be in a neck-brace for six weeks after a successful operation on his collection of discs.  The Bon Jovi ones have been left alone, and I left him searching from his window for waxwings in nearby trees.  That is dedication.  Secondly, the @RushallOlympic official twitter feed gave a clear and timely announcement that the game was on.
This match in one sentence
A very good win for the home side from a bruising but exciting encounter, coming back from one down on a tricky surface.
So what?
Carlton stay second and Rushall climb to 7th.  Rushall haven’t drawn many and are in good form at the moment.  In fact they have not lost in the league to anyone except leaders Barwell (twice) since mid-September.  Carlton will be hoping that this is a “blip” – this was only their second defeat in the league this season.
Who caught the eye on the pitch?
Curtis Shaw scores from the spot to give Carlton the lead
Alex Melbourne equalises soon after with a screamer for Rushall
The key moment was the equalising direct free-kick from Rushall’s Alex Melbourne in the 8th minute, his third goal in as many games.  It was indeed a beauty, right into the corner.  Carlton had taken the lead through Curtis Shaw from the penalty spot after only five minutes, and the game might well have taken a different course if they had held on to that lead for longer.  As it is, Rushall made better use of the width of the pitch and their attempts at a passing game worked better on the day.  There were several times that clever flicks and layoffs from the target men brought wingers and full-backs into play.

At this point, I really thought someone was going to get hurt or we were going to have a game ruined by a red card.  Tackles were flying in, and the referee seemed to be making generous allowances for the surface.  However, later on he also let some obvious dissent go unpunished.  If you are on this ref’s Christmas card list, it won’t be yellow, that’s for sure.

The winning goal was from #2 Lucan Spittle, who attacked a Melbourne free-kick at the near post and showed the unfettered joy of a man who doesn’t score many as he danced back upfield.  Was it an own goal? Did he mean it?  Well, as someone who played #2 occasionally and never got anywhere near the six-yard box, I’ll keep quiet.  The official club tweeter (nice to meet you, Steve) was close enough and assured me it’s Lucan’s.

Carlton keeper Neil West keeps it at 2-1 just before half-time
The conventional stats would probably make Alex Melbourne the man-of-the-match for the goal & assist combo, but I’ll also pick out the pair up front.  Chris Morris and Danny Lennon worked tirelessly and mostly unselfishly up front and gave the Carlton defence a tough time with movement and pace, and some nice triangles.
This match had the same effect on my pulse rate as …
… an exhibition of Suzi Quatro’s trousers in the Walsall Leather Museum (and if they don’t have one then they should in my opinion).
A snippet from the programme
This is not so much a programme as an encyclopedia of Midlands non-league football.  Two transfer snippets are of local interest.
The club have moved to sign talented young midfielder Richard Blythe … from Barwell.  The 19yo … was an integral part of Aston Villa’s academy and reserve sides, and played in the 2010 FA Youth Cup Final.  Pics Manager Neil Kitching says, “Richard fits the mould perfectly in terms of the stature of player we are looking to attract – he is young, talented and ambitious.”  This follows the news of Stuart McNaught’s surprising departure to neighbours and league rivals Sutton Coldfield Town.  “Neil Kitching said he was “amazed” by McNaught’s decision to leave.”
What I learned today
I see that Rushall have a John Littler on their playing staff.  If John is a local lad (and the programme suggests that he is), please could someone ask him whether he has ancestors called Joseph, Ann or Maria or any connections to the Gentleshaw area.  If so, then we might be distantly related!
Modus Hopper Random Talking Point
Olympic were one of five clubs who entered a league competition, to try to secure a much-needed ground improvement grant.  Their video, capturing the essence of non-league football, is here:


The voting process, though not on a FIFA level of alleged corruption, did not favour Rushall and they didn’t win, but the video deserves another outing if only for the “pothole” moment.  Timing is everything in comedy.
What Next?
Hard to plan in advance at this time of year but I hope to hop somewhere on Tuesday evening, and I might be able to restore the randomness that has been missing for a week or two.


UPDATE - the provisional plan is Gornal Athletic v Runcorn in the FA Vase for Tuesday evening.  This is because Graham Taylor said "No doubt about it!" twice during the second half of 5 Live's Spurs v Chelsea commentary.

Light Blues Blow It




Hopperational details
Thursday 9 December 2010 at Twickenham, Oxford University 21pts Cambridge University 10pts in the 129th Varsity Match.
This match in one sentence
Technical note - looks like Oxford have an overlap here


The first points of the game - a penalty to Oxford
Oxford piled up some early points and Cambridge made too many unforced errors as they tried to fight back, so the result was never really in doubt in a disappointing game.
So what?
Oxford narrow the historical gap and only trail by 7 (54-61 with 14 draws) in the long history of this fixture.
Who caught the eye on the pitch?


The Cambridge scrum was dominant enough to get a second-half penalty try after a series of confrontations near the Oxford line.  However, two forward passes in the backs wasted two golden opportunities and there were several other unforced drops and knock-ons.  Oxford took their chances and deserved the win.
This match had the same effect on my pulse rate as …



… the gradual reddening of fluffy white clouds as the sun heads off into the sunset (as it always does).

A snippet from the programme
“The School of Hard Knocks is a rugby development programme using rugby as a tool to develop life skills, as well as introducing young people to a new sport and encouraging physical exercise.  This school term alone, over 300 children have been involved in the programme … participants are given a year’s membership of their local club to enable them to continue their skills after the formal end of the programme.”  England’s Andy Gomersall presented the prizes for the schools taking part on the day.
What I learned today
Fuller’s ESB has a nutty 5.5% alcohol content.  The name probably means Extra Special Bitter and not Enterprise Service Bus or Empire Strikes Back.  The 2pm kick-off time for this fixture means that this is the one day of the year when I commune with an ante meridiem pint.
Modus Hopper Random Talking Point
The attendance for this fixture has been slowly declining over the years, and this time only the lower tier of Twickenham was open for around 24,000 of us.  At one time, other than the internationals, this was one of the very few rugby union games that could be viewed live on TV.  It is now, perhaps like the Boat Race, struggling somewhat to keep its relevance for the wider audience. Twickenham is a fine stadium and much improved since the 80s when the simple act of recycling the aforesaid Fuller’s ESB (or similar) needed the athleticism and courage of a front-row forward.
What Next?
The original plan was a Friday night hop to Wellingborough Town but this was scuppered by a cancelled train from King’s Cross followed by a long delay on the M1 Northbound.  However, Saturday’s Hopperation was a success and details follow shortly!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Nothin' for Hinton in the Anagram Records Trophy



Padbury United often played the ball out from the back - all credit to them for that



Hopperational details
Saturday 4 December 2010 at Holtwhites Sports and Social Club, EnfieldHinton 0 Padbury United 4 – two step 7 clubs meeting in Round 1 of the Anagram Records Trophy.  Hinton are currently 2nd in the Hertfordshire Senior County League and Padbury United are top of South Midlands League Division 2 with an unbeaten league record.
This match in one sentence
Padbury United achieved a comfortable win, even adding two goals after they had been reduced to ten men by a red card.
So what?
Padbury United are away to Tring Corinthians in Round 2.  The full draw has already been made for this competition (no celebrities were involved) and they will be away at either Lemsford or Sandridge Rovers if they make it through to Round 3 (the quarter-final).
Who caught the eye on the pitch?
A happy debutant
Padbury United’s Michael Mackenzie had a goal and two assists on his debut.  Thanks to their goalie’s dad for the name information!  Mackenzie is one of those strikers who is best when facing the opposition goal with the ball at his feet or racing with considerable pace on to a through ball.  Early on the Hinton keeper was booked for bringing him down outside the area – fortunately the ref decided that it was not a clear goalscoring opportunity.  Soon after he put in a dangerous low cross from the right that was turned in for the opening goal.  Padbury relaxed after a penalty had made it 2-0 and Mackenzie and his strike partners enjoyed the open spaces as Hinton were forced to adjust and send men forward.  Even after a red card had lost them a defender, he took a goal well, and then put one on a proverbial plate for a substitute.  The final score was slightly flattering perhaps, but the right team won.


The penalty early in the second half made the result safe enough
Celebrations after the third goal, scored by Mackenzie
This match had the same effect on my pulse rate as …
First half: the anticipation of a chilled glass of Chablis to accompany chicken breast in a cream sauce on a bed of wild rice.
Second half: the arrival of a mug of dandelion and burdock with a bag of pork scratchings.
What I learned today
This competition is also known as the Capital Counties Feeder League Trophy, open to clubs in the London area that are not taking part in the FA Vase.  Anagram Records is a part of Cherry Red (who sponsor the step 5 Combined Counties League) and their website states that they have the “world’s largest collection of punk, psychobilly and goth records”.  Their A-Z of artists includes Alien Sex Fiend, Extreme Noise Terror, Peter and the Test Tube Babies and the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra.  Well, that’s my Christmas shopping sorted.
Modus Hopper Random Talking Point
The football week was dominated by the news from Zurich about the 2018 and 2022 World Cup venues.  The decisions are unlikely to result in a greater emphasis on the national team for our current young players.  There is no doubt that the decision-making process is peculiarly susceptible to politics and hidden dramas.  Whether it is any more corrupt than many of the other choice processes in this country is open to debate.  It is not a decision that is based on technical merit or national status – we knew that.  FIFA is an institution with more in common with benign autocracy than with transparency and accountability.  The most surprising thing, with hindsight, is that England ever believed that it could win.  The second most surprising thing is that so many people here believe that they have the right to host a World Cup more than once in their lifetimes.  The most disappointing thing, for me at least, is that over half of the instant reactions that I observed on Twitter were simply crude and abusive.  It’s the same thing that happens to refs and linos every day when they make a decision in favour of the other side.  Call me old-fashioned – fine by me – but be aware that I do have some Danish Gothabilly on my iPod.
What Next?
I would imagine that fixtures will be in doubt again but I hope to find a local hop on Tuesday evening.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

No Quarter-Final Effort Given


Memo to self: always take two pix of Ipswich & Albion legend Bobby Robson in case a passing snowflake gets in the way of him pointing towards the Exit for WBA
Only 11,000 at Portman Road for this quarter-final. Shocking. Plus another early EXIT sign.
First-half pressure from Ipswich
Late and predictable attempts at an equaliser. You might even say half-hearted.
More of the same
... and more.
Hopperational details
Wednesday 1 December 2010 at Portman Road, Ipswich Town 1 West Bromwich Albion 0 in the Carling Cup Quarter Final.
This match in one sentence
Leadbitter scores from the spot
An abject performance by my hometown team who even created the chance for the winning penalty.
So what?
Ipswich go on to a two-legged semi-final with Arsenal in January, some of the media pressure on manager Roy Keane is reduced, West Brom’s assistant manager Eddie Newton was left to apologise to the TV cameras, and I have £28 less in my bank account.

I watch most of my football as a neutral these days, and I was so looking forward to a night of partisan behaviour and even a Boing! Boing! on a cold night.  Albion, you had a chance to re-ignite my passion for following you expensively week in and week out, and you blew it with an uncaring display of breathtaking lethargy.  I’ll be groundhopping if you want me.
Who caught the eye on the pitch?
Only one man emerged with any credit, and that is WBA keeper Boaz Myhill.  Myhill signed this season as the experienced and credible understudy to Scott Carson, and West Brom are following the lead of the so-called bigger clubs in using this competition as a chance to give games to the fringe players.  I have no problem with that per se, although I would have objected more if West Brom had been at home and charged £28 for this rubbish.  (I could have saved a few quid by booking earlier, but the weather conditions had put the game, and safe driving, in doubt until the day of the match.)
Myhill is about to save a free-kick in an excellent first-half display
Myhill kept his side in the game in the first half with a series of decent saves and blocks.  Ipswich had a shout for a penalty when he dived at Priskin’s feet, but I was in line and for what it’s worth my view is that he got the ball first.  Most of the early opportunities came down the Ipswich right where Marek Cech was having a lamentable game in defence.  And in attack.  And, dammit, even in standing still.

Full-back James Hurst had a decent enough debut.  Graham Dorrans and Steven Reid showed moments of class and control.  However, the attack of Marc-Antoine Fortuné and Simon Cox had the cutting edge of a cucumber.  Albion gifted the goal opportunity.  Cech miscontrolled Myhill’s throw and lost the ball, giving Carlos Edwards a clear run on goal.  Dorrans sprinted back and caught him right on the edge of the area.  I was a long way away from the incident but I was not surprised or outraged when the referee pointed to the spot.  Myhill dived the right way, but Leadbitter’s penalty was a good one.
This match had the same effect on my pulse rate as …
… opening door number 2 on my Advent Calendar to find a picture of Roberto di Matteo agonising over whether to have Toblerone or pannettone for the dolce after his secondo team have served up a contorni of leftovers.
A snippet from the programme
In Roy Keane’s programme notes, he talks about the frustrations of this season and the inevitable pressures on him as manager. “I’ve always done what I consider best for the club.  I did it as a player at United and Celtic.  The club is always bigger than the individual and I’m pretty sure I’ll make the right decision if it comes to it.  That might be next week. That might be next month. That might be in 10 years’ time.  At the moment, I don’t feel we are at that stage.  Some supporters I’m sure have “turned” and when that happens it’s very hard to turn them back again.”
What I learned today
It was good to meet up with my twitter friend @the_penny_drops.  She has inherited true Baggie genes (see what I did there?), and if either of us is even mildly optimistic before the game then you are no doubt in store for 90 minutes of doom and gloom.
Modus Hopper Random Talking Point
Like I say, I can understand the policy of using squad players in this competition as part of the management strategy for a Premiership club.  I don’t like it from a sporting point of view, but I can understand the pragmatism.  I no doubt made many such pragmatic decisions in my years of running schools.  However, I would have expected those players to be playing as if they wanted to be in the regular first eleven, with more urgency, and more respect for those of us that had taken the trouble to get there.  In the last ten minutes, with only one substitution made, it actually felt like the team were not prepared to go to extra time.  I could have had three or four competitive lower league hops for £28 and had better value for money.

I try so hard not to hanker after the past but I look again at the groundbreaking 1978-9 season where the club played 42 league games, 6 FA Cup ties, 3 League Cup ties and 8 UEFA Cup ties, essentially with fourteen players and the very, very occasional need for a reserve.  OK, perhaps the game is more athletic now, but the travelling is better, there are fewer fixtures (especially replays), the playing and training surfaces are better, and medical treatment and nutrition are better.  The spectacle was cheaper in real terms for the spectators and remained within the reasonable grasp of the Black Country family budgets.  Could West Brom ever finish 3rd again given the way the game is now run and funded?
What Next?
If Thrapston Town v Burton Park Wanderers survives the freeze on Friday night, it’s back to step 6 and the United Counties League Division One.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Sheep May Usually Safely Graze










Hopperational details
Saturday 27 November 2010 at Eynsham Park, North Leigh 1 Hungerford Town 1 in the Southern League Division 1 South & West (step 4).  I am here because it was the first game I could find confirmed as “definitely on” (thanks to the club website) on a freezing cold day that decimated the local fixtures, and I made it with five minutes to spare.
This match in one sentence
Both sides will feel they could and should have won this one.
So what?
This was a thoroughly entertaining draw for my 50th hop of the season (there were a few in August before this blog started).  North Leigh are solidly in mid-table and Hungerford Town will move from 6th into the playoff zone if they can win games in hand.  Eynsham Park goes on to my personal list of “most picturesque settings for a game of football”.
Who caught the eye on the pitch?
If I have to pick one player today it will be Hungerford Town’s goalkeeper Kieron Drake.  An excellent early save in a one-on-one kept the score at 0-0 and then he talked the whole team through the first half, in which he personally had relatively little to do.  North Leigh made him work harder after the break, and there was not much he could do about the equaliser.  However, he also made a very good late save to deny the home side their second win of the week.

The Hungerford goal was well worked, with Jemal Johnson beating the defender and the referee playing advantage.  The ball was teed up for Ryan Crockford who finished with aplomb.  Ben Reardon was given too much space on the right wing for the North Leigh equaliser – he cut inside and fired a shot into the far corner.
This match had the same effect on my pulse rate as …
… Wagner singing The Song of the Rhinemaidens from Das Rheingold accompanied by Jedward on duelling banjos.  My overseas readers may have trouble with that one.
A snippet from the programme
North Leigh “has had two top ten finishes in its first two seasons in the Southern League Division One South and West, and is looking to consolidate its position further in the forthcoming season.  Facilities at the Eynsham Park ground have improved significantly over the past few seasons.”
What I learned today

This is not a level playing field!
What Next?
A week of watching weather forecasts and watching club websites, I would think.  As the saying goes, "Red sky at night, shepherd's getting the balls back off the sheep".