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".

Thursday, 25 November 2010

An East Anglian Double-Header

The classic picture-postcard view of King's College
Hopperational details
Wednesday 24 November 2010 (3pm) at Grange Road, Cambridge University 47pts Steele-Bodger’s XV 27 pts.
This match in one sentence
CU Captain Jimmy Richards (in the fetching light blue outfit) receives the Varsity Match challenge from Nick Haydon of Oxford University.  To summarise: "See you at Twickers on 9th December".
The university side received their traditional challenge from Oxford before kick-off, were behind 7-13 at half-time, but ran in six more tries in the second half for a comprehensive victory over their “scratch” opponents in this traditional fixture.
So what?
Cambridge have one more game, against London Scottish, before the Varsity Match at Twickenham on 9th December.
Who caught the eye on the pitch?
Two highly respected officials and a scrum


The university side looked good enough with the ball in the first half, but worryingly fragile in defence as their line was broken as early as the second minute.  A flow of second-half replacements for both sides had a greater negative effect on the visitors’ fluency and the students sealed the win with four tries in a ten minute spell.  Only two penalties were kicked for goal in the very early stages - both sides ran the ball from their own 22 as often as possible.  Great stuff for the neutrals and the alumni in the crowd.
This match had the same effect on my pulse rate as …
… climbing over the fence into the adjacent Cripps Court (where I lived as a student for four years back in the 70s) after a late night of intellectual beverages and discussion of croquet tactics.
A snippet from the programme
This game against an invited XV is traditionally “a fast flowing, high scoring match”.  The team have also been bonding in time away from rugby with “fruitful trips to the American Cemetery and the Zoo … as well as supporting the Women’s lacrosse team in action.”
What I learned today
The gulf between the behaviour and atmosphere of rugby union crowds and football (i.e. soccer) crowds is as big as ever.  To be honest, you could really only recommend rugby as a family experience with young impressionable children in tow.
What Next?
The A14 Eastbound …






Hopperational details part 2
Wednesday 24 November 2010 at Notcutts Park, Woodbridge Town 2 Leiston 2 in the step 5 Eastern Counties Premier League.
This match in one sentence
Leiston were reduced to 10 men in the first half but deserved a point from a highly entertaining and somewhat feisty local derby.
So what?
Woodbridge Town’s run of six league wins in a row comes to an end. That’s 19 points from 7 games to add to the 5 from their first 12, so they should continue to climb away from the relegation zone. Leiston climb a place to 3rd but have an amazing 7 games in hand over both teams above them, with an unbeaten league record to go with a great FA Cup run this season.
Who caught the eye on the pitch?
It’s worth telling the story of this game as it unfolded. This was a really excellent spectacle on a freezing evening.
  • Woodbridge could not deal with Leiston’s physical presence at corners and Danny Smy headed the visitors ahead.
  • Leiston’s Danny Cunningham received a straight red card for a tackle. I was at the other end so am not in a position to comment on the tackle itself.  What I can comment on is the verbal and physical dissent by this player.  Two team-mates ushered him away towards the dressing rooms and, after a defiant gesture to the ref, he walked deliberately and petulantly slowly off the field.
  • Just before half-time, Liam Scopes equalised for Woodbridge. Visiting supporters behind the assistant directed a tirade of personal abuse at him, convinced that it should have been called offside.  I was almost but not quite in line – all I can say for sure is that it must have been very, very close.
  • Woodbridge took a 2-1 lead in the second half as they began to make the extra man count, but Leiston responded well and pushed men forward.
  • 35-yo Sam Banya was involved in clever link-up play for both Woodbridge goals.  He had great presence on the pitch and I trust that if volume controls are invented for humans, the management will put him forward.  19-yo Ryan Stafford had a confident game at left back for Woodbridge.
  • Woodbridge centre-half Chris Pratt miscued a clearance which spun into the air for Leiston’s Michael Brothers to smash it home for 2-2, triggering a frantic final few minutes.
  • Woodbridge keeper Glyn Dixon saved superbly from a one-on-one and Pratt balanced his evening with a crucial goalline clearance as the ten men of Leiston pressed for a win.  One point each and a happy ‘hopper.
This match had the same effect on my pulse rate as …
… going to Sainsbury’s to buy a tin of Schrodinger’s Cat Food, only to find that it is simultaneously out of stock and on special offer as part of a Quantum Physics Weekend Special.
A snippet from the programme
Prophetic words in the opening notes:

“Tonight’s match has all the credentials to be a cracking encounter with the two teams placed in first and second place in the form table.”
Modus Hopper Random Talking Point
This is the first time I have watched live games of rugby and football within a few hours of each other.  The debate about the FA “Respect” campaign, whether it is working to change players’ behaviour towards officials and each other, is missing a point.  The differences are fundamental, embedded and cultural and we need to include the spectators in the need for change.

Earlier today I saw a referee with a smile on his face, a player sin-binned for 10 minutes without a murmur, and a crowd that appreciated the efforts of both teams.  This evening I saw overt dissent, foul and abusive language as the norm, and tribalism.  No-one can tell me that the rugby lacked passion.  I reckon it should be possible to be partisan and civilised simultaneously without sacrificing a determination and a will to win within the rules.

Everyone now seems to accept that a certain amount of dissent is the expected norm from players and spectators, and it is still getting worse, not better.  I can say this with credibility because I have had the good fortune to be able to watch 184 games at 184 different venues in the last season and a half. I have no axes to grind, and this blog has never made fun of people doing their best in challenging circumstances. Most of my humour in here is affectionate.  However, I hate bad sportsmanship with a passion.  Leiston’s Danny Cunningham, even if it was a harsh red card, should get more of a suspension because of his reaction.

I will always prefer “soccer”.  It’s a simpler game, the one I grew up with, learned to play (up to a point) and to referee (likewise).  I love the fact that giant-killings happen more often, and that the result of so many games is still in the balance after seventy minutes or so.  I love the fact that West Brom’s next match against Everton on Saturday  is essentially the same game as Woodbridge against Debenham Leisure Centre here at the same time.  I’m a groundhopper because I am celebrating that this is our NATIONAL game, that became, if you like, a gift to the world.

If the authorities want to change the culture, they have to find some way of changing the rules so that teams lose out on the pitch if they are indisciplined.  Yes, of course this has to be alongside better development and accountability for officials too.  Rugby union has the immediate 10-metre advance – that works because gaining distance is an integral part of that game.  It is less applicable to the round ball game.  My ideas for how “soccer” could be tweaked are no better than anyone else’s, and I know it’s never easy to make changes, but the FA should be leading the way more effectively than at present. 
What Next?
Too early to say – the weather forecast for these parts on Saturday is along the lines of, “Stay Inside! Don’t Go Anywhere! Eat Up Your Tinned Food and Cup-a-Soup”.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

One Man Hopped to Ram Meadow





Hopperational details
Tuesday 23 November at Ram Meadow, Bury Town 2 Canvey Island 1 in the Isthmian Premier League (step 3).  I am here because it is my nearest step 3 chance for a midweek hop.
This match in one sentence
Bury Town led 2-0 at the break after a scintillating display, but Canvey improved after the break and got an 89th minute consolation goal after a niggly second half.
So what?
Bury Town are up to 2nd place in their first season in step 3 after their Southern D1 Midlands Championship win last year.  Their 102 points left a team with 100 points to the playoffs, and it’s best not to mention this around the Hitchin area.  Canvey Island sit in mid-table.
Who caught the eye on the pitch?
The first half was as good as I have seen anywhere this season.  Canvey’s keeper James Russell was a busy man and were it not for him and the woodwork, Bury could have had four or five before the break.  Bury played fast one- and two-touch football with good linkup play between midfield and attack.  “Big name” signing James Scowcroft was always willing to receive the ball.  He hardly ever gave it away, and it was interesting to watch a mid-30s player adapting to life at this level.  Sam Reed took the first goal well.

Canvey gave a better account of themselves in the second half, but it was much less entertaining with referee and assistants taking abuse from both sets of fans.  There was a dismissal from the Canvey bench triggered by an assistant, and Matt Game picked up a late second yellow card.  Bury goalkeeper Marcus Garnham also had to make one late excellent save and the visitors will have gone home thinking, “If only”.
This match had the same effect on my pulse rate as …
… directing an amateur production of The Three Musketeers and having to explain the difference between pathos and bathos to Athos.
A snippet from the programme
“The news on the new stadium is that the architects and the council are currently tying up some loose end and then the plans will be submitted for planning permission. There will then be a wait of around three months while the planning department at St Edmundsbury Borough Council study the plans.”   

Groundhoppers everywhere take note, then.
What I learned today
It is possible to buy one tonne (1000kg) bags of sugar from British Sugar, which operates the factory that dominates the skyline near the ground.  Standard granulated sugar has a particle size of around 500 micrometers (or half a millimetre) within a range of 450-600, but smaller and more consistent particle sizes of around a quarter of a millimetre are needed in biscuit manufacture.  Sweet, as they say in the vernacular.
What Next?
A tangent on Wednesday afternoon.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

A1 for Hatfield







Hopperational details
Saturday 20th November 2010, Hatfield Town 3 Hertford Town 0 in the step 5 South Midlands Premier League.  I am here because I live only 15 minutes away and needed a local hopping venue today.
This match in one sentence
An efficient win for Hatfield Town in manager Adam Parker’s first league game in charge.
So what?
Hatfield Town climb to 7th and Hertford Town stay in mid-table.  These two meet again in a county charity shield competition on Tuesday.  I’ve seen Hertford Town twice this season, three times in all, and they have lost all of them.
Who caught the eye on the pitch?
For the right reasons, no-one in particular this week.  Hatfield were “up for it” and played directly and efficiently, although all three goals had a helping hand to some extent from the visitors.  Hertford lined up with five at the back, and one of the centre-backs headed an own goal for the first.  Their more measured passing game did not work well on this step 5 shared surface.  Epic confusion between the defence and the goalkeeper Ashley Harris led to the second goal, and the game was virtually over as a contest by half-time.  The third came just after the break and killed it off completely, which makes a ridiculous incident described below even more inexplicable.  In the meantime, Hertford's Chet Johnson was lucky to avoid a card after his shout of, "Do you know the rules, Lino?".  The ref didn't hear it, and the lino was generous in not telling him.  No wonder we have an officiating crisis in the grass roots game.
This match had the same effect on my pulse rate as …
… finding my marbles.
A snippet from the programme

Hatfield Town are an ambitious club whose plans for the future include the building of their own ground and advancement within the pyramid.”
Fair play to them – I saw them last season as the middle game of my first-ever bank holiday triple in a feisty 3-3 draw against their landlords Welwyn Garden City.  They seem to be a club full of fighters for the shirt.  They have moved to the Gosling Sports Park this season and the sooner they can move again the better.  I am struggling to think of a game that I have really and truly enjoyed from the other side of an athletics track.
What I learned today
Saturday was some sort of deadline for ordering made-to-measure curtains in time for Christmas in these parts. Just don’t talk to me about it, please.
Modus Hopper Random Talking Point
Let me say at the outset that by this stage I had climbed to the back of the main stand and I was a starship journey away from the first stage of this incident.  With the game dead at 3-0, the ball went behind the Hertford goal and was in the hands of a Hatfield “official”.  This was not a ball-boy, but a mature man (of sorts).  No doubt both parties will have their own accounts of what happened but here’s what I can say for sure:
It's a long walk for the red-carded
  • The goalkeeper tried to get the ball back but the man passed it round behind his back to prevent him from getting it.  There’s no doubt that he could have given the ball to the ‘keeper, but I can’t tell you what was said between the two of them.
  • The goalkeeper objected and views were exchanged.  The man, still with ball in hand, definitely made a slight movement towards the keeper.
  • There may have been minimal contact but the keeper went down with an acceleration of more than 9.8m/s2.  Trust me on that one. The ballholder was out-of-order but no way should the keeper have ended up on the floor.
  • Neutrals groaned at the prospect of a later finishing time as the obligatory period of “handbags” ensued.
  • The man made his way to the Hatfield dugout, and the referee, after consulting his assistant, sent him from the field of play (which meant a walk round behind the same goal and the chance to exchange further pleasantries with the now-upright Ashley Harris).
  • Hormonal levels subsided enough to allow the game to finish without further incident.  My view, for what it’s worth – the red card was correct.  I then proceeded in a north-westerly direction away from stadium as soon as I could.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

One 4-1 Exchange



Hopperational details
Tuesday 16 November 2010 at Dacre Field, Cockfosters 4 Amersham Town 1 in the South Midlands League Division One (Step 6).


This match in one sentence
Better finishing and one fluke goal from a cross secured a good win for Cockfosters, but Amersham missed a chance to come back from 3-0 to 3-2 which could have turned the tide and set up an interesting finish.


So what?
Cockfosters edge towards mid-table and Amersham Town will be bottom once the record of Sport London e Benfica has been expunged.  Isn’t “expunged” a lovely word?


Who caught the eye on the pitch?
The pitch itself was understandably tricky and it took both teams a little while to adjust.  I can’t definitely confirm any particular names, but there were two key moments.  Cockfosters’ third goal was an outrageous fluke as a deep cross hit the back post and rolled back along and across the line to general surprise.  Nothing the scorer says otherwise will convince me.  (I scored one like that myself once and understand that critical moment that you have to decide whether to pretend you meant it.)  Amersham got one back and were doing most of the attacking and had a decent chance to get a second.  If that had gone in, we might well have had a 3-3 rather than a 4-1.  Cockfosters #9 (possibly Ben Andreos) always wanted the ball and was involved in most of the attacks, providing the fourth which killed the game off.  Amersham’s #12 (definitely Jack, possibly Edmeads) came on and provided my first snood of the season, which he threw aside before I could get my freezing fingers to secure the photographic evidence.


I also felt sympathy for the very young (and very competent) lino whose flag for an obvious foul was overruled by the ref from a distance away.  He had gradually doubled in weight during the evening as Cockfosters mud accumulated in great clumps on his boots as he ran the line, and he was much better placed to see the incident.  I had been worrying earlier about whether he'd had the chance to do his homework before coming out for the evening, but old habits die hard, I guess.  I hope he didn't get too upset by that and that he keeps going with officiating.  The game is going to need him.  (Memo to self: get on to Dragon's Den with Teflon Lower League Lino Boots as soon as possible.)


This match had the same effect on my pulse rate as … 
… slow cooling to a temperature of minus 270 degrees Celsius, in the hope that cryogenics will have advanced enough for me to be thawed out successfully for the 2066 World Cup Sponsored by Bovril in England, so I can watch manager Theo Walcott grapple with the issue of how to fit Frank Lampard the Fourth into a midfield pentagon.


A snippet from the programme
A minute of silence was observed before the game in memory of Cockfosters president Les Langdale, who died on 28 October at the age of 99.  83 of those years had been as a member of the club, being a founder member and elected to the committee at age 16.  The programme outlines his contributions to the grass-roots game as a player, referee, club official and league administrator.  He received a medal from the FA in recognition of 50 years of service to the game.


“It is impossible to appreciate how much Les was a ‘Cockfosters Man’ and how much he contributed to local football over such an incredible lifetime.  Les was Cockfosters thro’ and thro’, he was a member of our club for 83 years.  Even up to his last days, with failing eyesight, he insisted that our latest match-day programme was read to him ‘cover to cover’.”  “83 Years involved with a single Club - now that’s Loyalty with a capital ‘L’ - it’s come to an end now, but will never be forgotten - neither will Les!”


What I learned today
Nothing to do with football, but while working on my other current obsession, my family tree, I learned through an internet contact that I am directly descended from a Horse Trader in Gloucestershire.  This may explain genetically why I was good at managing secondary school budgets.


Hopper Random Talking Point
The fixture schedule for this division has been abandoned because of the resignation of Sport London e Benfica.  Four of Cockfosters’ fixtures in November/December have been rearranged and they end up with six homes and one away before January.  This is also irritating to say the least for Ben Andreos and Dave Pigden.  When the SLeB records are expunged, they lose four and two goals respectively that they scored in an irrelevant 7-1 win over the strugglers.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Gulliver and Travels





Hopperational details
Saturday 13th November 2010 at Crown Meadow, Lowestoft Town 0 Wealdstone 0 in the step 3 Isthmian Premier League.  I am here because darts player Phil "The Power" Taylor chose BROWN sauce on the sausage sandwich game (Suggs sitting in for Danny Baker again) thus avoiding Hednesford (Red) and Bury Town (None) for the moment.
This match in one sentence
Lowestoft hit the post and missed a number of half-chances, so Wealdstone fulfilled their ambitions and went away with a point.
So what?
Lowestoft stay 5th with two games in hand over both Cray Wanderers in 4th and leaders-by-six-points Sutton United.  Wealdstone are above the relegation zone in lower-mid table in the section for dogged resistance.  Their fans made plenty of noise and they too were happy with the point if not the performance.
Who caught the eye on the pitch?
I only just arrived in time – I swear someone has moved this place further east – so I spent the first half watching without having really identified the players.  I noted that both teams often played high balls to wide men who both had the ability to leap high and flick the ball on.  At half-time I found the teamsheet and realised that I had picked out the Forbes brothers Adrian (Lowestoft) and Kieron (Wealdstone).  There must be an obscure bit of DNA relating to headers.  Adrian seems to be a big favourite with the home supporters. 
Jonathan North busy in the first half
Other than that, it is hard to pick anyone out.  Lowestoft hit the post and Wealdstone keeper Jonathan North had his best moment in a busy day with the save from the follow-up.  The best thing by far about the second half was a spectacular sunset which made the journey worthwhile.
This match had the same effect on my pulse rate as …
… chapter 3 on ceramic insulator design in the I-Spy Book of Pylons.
A snippet from the programme
I liked the page with “An Away Fan’s View”, written by Clive Leaper.  “We’ve been extremely fortunate in one respect that we’ve had (Wealdstone manager) Gordon Bartlett stay with us through all the heartaches and soul searching of the wilderness years as we moved around grounds trying to find somewhere to call home.  He has consistently produced entertaining sides on a shoestring budget.  He has a fantastic reputation among his peers and is a legend!”

This week's programme has helpfully got an action pic of Adrian Forbes on the cover.
What I learned today
The large local wind turbine is known as Gulliver.  He is lurking in the background, as you can see.  I think all energy sources should be given names – perhaps Dungeness B would have been more popular if we’d known it as Dave.
Modus Hopper Random Talking Point
Lowestoft Town is probably the most eastern club in the UK, which got me thinking about my personal hoppeographical extremes.  Blogging is great, you can make words up.  A quick look at the map suggests that St Johnstone is the most northerly in these islands, but KA Akureyri is both more northerly and westerly than Plymouth Argyle, which is also edged out as most southerly by OS Belenenses in Lisbon or Palermo in Sicily.  I think Palermo takes that honour by less than a degree of latitude, and it is certainly east of Lowestoft (and a tad warmer).

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

They Think Warm Days Will Never Cease ... They Will Now!

Hopperational details
Tuesday 9 November 2010 at The New Croft, Haverhill Rovers 4 CRC 0 in the step 5 Eastern Counties Premier League.  I watched the game in the company of my friend Ian, the man who persuaded me to take a refereeing qualification back in our student days.
This match in one sentence
Haverhill were more effective in their use of the ball and you can’t really argue with a 4-0 scoreline.
So what?
Haverhill improve their record at their new home.  This was ground #350 on my lifetime list and the first time that I have re-visited a non-league club because they have moved to a brand new stadium.  A very neat and tidy place it is too, with a spacious clubhouse and decent parking.  I would have written more about The New Croft but Google keeps diverting my attention to a ring road in Derby named after the fictional namesake Lara.
Who caught the eye on the pitch?
Good night for #9, bad night for #1
There were two moments at the opposite ends of the skill spectrum.  Haverhill’s third goal was a delightful “dink” by their #9 (Dalton O'Brien, I believe), played through for a one-on-one.  Anyone who has played football up front will understand the joy and beauty of a perfectly executed dink, but I’m glad that I don’t have to write the dictionary definition.  The fourth was a comedy own goal.  The CRC keeper shouted, “No cross!” at his defender (as seems to be the fashion these days) moments before a cross came in from his left.  He caught it momentarily before losing control and then palming it agonisingly behind him into his own net.  The five of us standing at that end to gain some shelter from the Siberian airflows shared his pain in a moment of silence.
This match had the same effect on my pulse rate as …
… a three-point penalty on my provisional poetic licence for speeding through Keats’ Ode to Autumn in search of this post’s title.
A snippet from the programme
CRC (standing for Cambridge Regional College) is effectively the development side for Cambridge United and they play their home games in amber and black at the Abbey Stadium.  The programme lists the visiting players by seniority, with one senior player-coach and then “development players” (3rd/4th years), “second-year scholars” and “first-year scholars”.  Five of those listed have already played for the first team at some point.  A two-year scholarship can lead on to a two-year development contract.  Many of them have come from higher-level league clubs or their academies and I imagine that inter-club networking is vital when running a side like CRC.  It seems fairly common that the lads have been given another chance but in a different playing position.
What I learned today
CRC captain Blaine Hudson was seriously injured in a car crash last week and will be out for some time with a dislocated shoulder.  Newspaper reports said that he punched his way out of the overturned car, fearing that is was about to catch fire.  CRC is a side that by its nature is perpetually “in transition” to some extent and Jez George has written on their website that “this is obviously a period when the side has suddenly become considerably younger and less experienced. This is crucial for the conveyor belt of players to continue though and that is why we will always look at the big picture rather than being result orientated.”  CRC were second in this league last year, scoring more goals and conceding fewer than anyone else, but losing out by one point to Needham Market.  Those two clubs, along with Leiston, were the applicants from this league for promotion to step 4 last season, so there is no question of CRC being content with their step 5 grading.

Also, I learned that it is better not to leave your woolly hat at home when attending midweek evening matches in the Eastern Counties in November.
What Next?
Nothing definite to report as yet, but watch this space.