Saturday, 21 May 2011

Rapture Postponed in Kelvedon Hatch

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Saturday 21 May 2011 at School Road
Kelvedon Hatch 2 Rayleigh Town 1
Essex Olympian League Premier Division (Step 7)
New venue #403 on the lifetime list and #97 for the season.  One of the friendliest too, it has to be said.
This match in one sentence
Kelvedon scored two early goals but in the end were hanging on rather desperately for a nervy win which may yet be enough to see them confirmed as league champions next week.
So what?
As things stand, Kelvedon Hatch have now completed their fixtures and have 60pts and a GD of +29.  Reigning champions Harold Wood Athletic beat runners-up Kelvedon Hatch last year by 2 pts.  They needed to beat Frenford Senior in their last game, and did so helped by a controversial penalty – I was there.  This season, Harold Wood now have one game left, 57pts and a goal difference of +24.  They will therefore need to win their last game by a six-goal margin to secure the title, and it is at home against … Frenford Senior.

There have, however, been some unsatisfactory elements to this league’s outcome this year.  Last week, White Ensign failed to fulfil their fixture against Kelvedon Hatch.  Today, while this match was in progress, Epping failed to fulfil theirs against Harold Wood.  The league has awarded the three points, but left the goals for column unchanged.  This is going to feel very unsatisfactory for one of these teams next weekend.  As things stand, I would say the odds favour Kelvedon Hatch - a six-goal margin over Frenford Senior next week would see the groundhoppers outnumbered by conspiracy theorists.
The drama unfolds
Kelvedon Hatch started calmly and gradually took hold of the game.  The first clip sets the scene.

There was no real surprise when the first goal came – the centre forward followed-up to be in the right place when the ball came back to him off the post.  1-0

The ping of ball on post ...

... and an effective follow-up by number 9
The second goal came from a set piece and has been captured on video.  2-0

With only 20 minutes gone, Kelvedon Hatch were cruising but Rayleigh really should have pulled one back before the half-hour mark.  My final clip is also from the first half.  Half-time 2-0

The second half was a different story.  Perhaps the news that Harold Wood would have a “winning 0-0” filtered through by carrier pigeon or something.  Rayleigh started to do better things with the ball and they were not in the mood to go quietly.  Kelvedon Hatch started to defend deeper – although to be fair their centre-backs were commanding in the air – and to rely on the breaks.  On the hour, the Kelvedon Hatch goalkeeper saved very well after an initial shot had hit the post and rebounded back into play.  The home team started to look nervy.

Rayleigh got a deserved goal after 84 minutes, when a low shot from the right corner of the box nestled in the left corner of the net.  There was nothing impressive about the prospective champions’ last few minutes, as they just took the ball into the corners and ran the clock down for the win.  Final score 2-1
Alternative activity of equal excitement for tourists in Kelvedon Hatch
Shelter from nuclear attack.  Honestly.  There is a big bunker, now wrongly called “The Secret Nuclear Bunker”, probably because, “The Once-Secret Nuclear Bunker” won’t fit on the signs.
A snippet from the programme
From “The Gaffer’s Corner” (Darren Hunt):

“Last Saturday was a huge disappointment to be supposedly playing against a club that runs three teams, to not to be able to muster 11 players is a disgrace and should be looked into.  To worsen the blow, to be given 3 points but a 0-0 scoreline is totally wrong in my opinion.”

(Written before a similar thing happened to rivals Harold Wood Athletic today.)
What Next?
I fear that this is the last meaningful fixture at a “new” venue for the 2010-11 season – if anyone knows of anything happening next weekend give it a mention here or on Twitter, and I’ll get there if I can.  Thanks for reading – it has been a real pleasure to watch the number of hits grow and a real privilege to have your attention.  I hope to keep you entertained with some occasional tangents during the summer months.  It’s an eclectic atmosphere round here.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Ecstatic in Prestatyn

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Sunday 15 May 2011 at Bastion Road
Prestatyn Town 2 Port Talbot 1
Welsh Premier League Playoff Semi-Final
#402 on the lifetime list and #5 for the Welsh Premier
This match in one sentence
A late, late wind-assisted winner in a game of two halves keeps open Prestatyn’s chance of European football for the first time.
So what?
For the final, Prestatyn Town will go to Neath, who beat Aberystwyth Town by the same scoreline today.  The winner will join TNS (league runners-up) and Llanelli (cupwinners) in the Europa League while champions Bangor City are not unreasonably in the Champions League qualifiers.
The drama unfolds
Port Talbot (in white) attacked with the wind in their favour during the first half, and they caused the more scary moments in their opponents’ penalty area.  Both teams had half-chances, but Port Talbot augmented the wind with a pressing game and kept Prestatyn largely on the back foot.  Ball control was relatively difficult in the prevailing conditions so the biggest threats came from set pieces.  The first clip is a scene-setter, and the second is also from the first half.

Just before the half-hour mark, Port Talbot took the lead from a corner, as shown in the third clip. The scorer is Lee Surman.  0-1

0-1 at half-time  With hindsight, one goal was not enough.

To quote a member of the Prestatyn backroom staff as he walked back to the dugout, “If I’d had a swear box I could retire now.”  Port Talbot held their own for fifteen minutes or so, and kept the ball on the floor for their own forays upfield.  However, Prestatyn were gradually mastering the conditions and pushing Port Talbot back in the same way that had happened in reverse in the first half.  On the hour, Lee Hunt came very close to an equaliser – his delicate roll of a shot went agonisingly past the post.  However, Port Talbot were also looking strong at the back and forcing Prestatyn to shoot from distance.  They were as comfortable as they were ever going to be - but the tide turned.

Three clips show critical incidents in the last ten minutes of the game.  The next two are "You are the Ref" moments and you can see whether you agree with the decisions for a couple of penalty claims.

The first one after 82 minutes, as you see, was turned down, but one was given two minutes later and Hunt stepped up.  1-1

As we contemplated extra-time with two minutes left of the ninety, a left-wing corner was viciously bent in and David Hayes got the final touch for a dramatic winner.  You can decide for yourself from the clip whether he meant it.  Straight out of the Faroese Premier League Book of Tactics, that one.

Final score 2-1
Alternative activity of equal excitement for tourists in Prestatyn
First hour – applying to the town council for planning permission to build two-up two-down sandcastles at the beach.
Last half-hour – playing human table football at the holiday camp next door in a gale against Robbie Savage, Gary Bellamy, Ryan Giggs and Neville Southall.
A snippet from the programme
From On the Ball with Robbo Goch:
“Even should we qualify for a European jaunt, what do you reckon the chances are of us enjoying a jolly somewhere like Madeira or Cyprus or Malta even?  Zip in my book.  You all know as well as I do that in the event we’d be paired with some bunch of shepherds from the Faroe Islands or stuck in the middle of some godforsaken industrial Belgian town or worse still packed off to Finland where the ale’s £42 a pint these days.”
What Next?
I am hopeful of one more meaningful game this season in a step 7 league somewhere in the mystic east.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Another Title in the Royal County of Berkshire

Saxton Rovers are 200m from the River Thames in Abingdon

Hopperational details
Date & Venue: Sat 14 May 2011 at Caldecott Road Recreation Ground
Result: Saxton Rovers 1 Lambourn Sports 2
Competition: North Berkshire League Division 1 (Step 7)
Hopping: #401 on the lifetime list

This match in one sentence
Lambourn Sports, despite wasting a host of first-half chances, eventually beat the most serious of two mathematically remaining rivals to take a big step towards the league title.

So what?
It will take three massive wins for Didcot Casuals and a big loss for Lambourn Sports in remaining games for the former to pinch the title, and frankly, there is no realistic chance of this.  Lambourn Sports need only a point in their last fixture against Harwell Village next Saturday but even this will not be needed if Didcot Casuals fail to win their midweek game.

The drama unfolds 
After an even opening spell, Lambourn Sports took the lead with a neat move after 20 minutes.  A ball down the line from right full-back was controlled and crossed, and a looping header was placed well to give the keeper no chance.  0-1

Saxton Rovers nearly equalised immediately, the ball shaving the post as they immediately pushed forward, but there then followed a whole series of misses by the visitors.  The game ought to have been dead and buried in the first half but, incredibly, there was no more scoring before the whistle.  0-1 at half-time

Cleared off the line ...
Missed ...
Missed again ...
Here are a couple of clips from late in the first half.

A draw was no good at all for Saxton Rovers and they had to push forward.  They needed some assistance from a somewhat eccentric decision by the referee, who gave a penalty when their winger was bundled over in the area.  Actually, I am being kind - rewind.  The referee was completely conned when the winger, running away from goal, went down as if shot under the tiniest of defensive challenges.  Shocker of a decision, but the penalty was despatched in a tide-turning moment.  1-1

The game suddenly became open as Saxton searched for the essential winner.  However, it was Lambourn who scored again with just a few minutes to go.  A neat move down the right led to the striker holding the ball up well in the area before laying it off to a teammate who scored to trigger great celebration.  Final score 1-2

Alternative activity of equal excitement for tourists in Abingdon
There is a collection of varnished buns in the town museum that date from the 19th century.  They were thrown from the roof on special occasions for crowds below, and this ceremony still occurs today and last happened at the recent Royal Wedding.  No, I have not been drinking.  No, I did not make that up.  My American readers will love this stuff, especially as they may misconstrue the meaning of buns.

Something random
Abingdon is within range of the M40 Red Kites and two of them were in the vicinity throughout the game, sometimes just above the rooftops of Saxton Road.

The distinctive V-shaped tail of the red kite

What Next?
Prestatyn Town v Port Talbot Town in the Welsh Premier Play-Off Semi-Final tomorrow with the chance of a Europa League Place at stake.

Monday, 9 May 2011

H'way the Bay

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Sunday 8 May 2011 at Wembley Stadium
Whitley Bay 3 Coalville Town 2
FA Vase Final
Not a new venue, but my 15th visit to the refurbished national stadium – sadly I have no reliable record of how many times I had been there in its “Twin Towers” days.
This match in one sentence
Bay’s Paul Chow got two goals meaning that he has scored in every round this year but the man-of-the-match was goalkeeper Terry Burke as Coalville Town went down fighting to the end.
So what?
Whitley Bay win the Vase for the third consecutive year and a record fourth time altogether.
The drama unfolds
As a spectacle, this was probably the best game of football I have seen all season.  My brief summary is followed by a series of clips, and hopefully the clip titles tell the story in a self-explanatory way.  I decided to sit with the Coalville supporters simply because my ancestors on my dad’s side have some Leicestershire connections.  It's the old "nearest-team-to-where-you-were-born" test of my generation.

Any thoughts that Coalville might be overawed and Bay’s experience would see them home were dispelled in the first moments, when a goal-line clearance was required.  Coalville forced a number of early corners and had much the better of the first fifteen minutes.  With the hindsight that is always perfect, their failure to find the net at this point probably cost them the game.

Whitley Bay gradually settled and got into the game.  A short backpass from Stewart gave them a chance, but fortunately ‘keeper Bowles got there first and his clearance rebounded wide off Chow.  They took the lead after a piece of brilliance from W2, who set up an unmissable opportunity for Chow to score his 26th goal of the competition.  1-0

Coalville had a goal disallowed after 33 minutes and hit the post on 38 minutes, the ball rebounding fortunately straight into the arms of Burke.  1-0 at half-time

The well-deserved equaliser from Moore came after 58 minutes (sorry I did not react quickly enough at the key moment!)  1-1  However, Bay restored their lead only three minutes later with a glancing header from Kerr.  This meant that Kerr and Chow had both scored in all three Bay finals.  2-1

When Coalville hit the bar, you began to wonder whether the footballing gods were against them, but Goodby’s goal came with ten minutes to go and we licked our lips at the thought of extra-time.  2-2  However, a free-kick from Kerr gave a poacher’s opportunity for Chow and he took it.  3-2  Coalville threw substitutes, goalkeeper and kitchen sink at the Bay goal in the final few minutes, but this was a stunningly resilient performance from the cup holders.  H’way the Bay, as they say.  Final score 3-2

The Coalville fans applauded both teams (as I am sure the Bay’s did too) and they stayed to watch the trophy lifted by their opponents.  There was no anger, recrimination or nastiness from those around me – it was old-school sportsmanship and appreciation of their side’s fantastic effort.  I am sure that most people who really cared about this result were actually here today to see it, so I am writing this for an audience of potential non-league fans.  It really is a different experience, and look back over some previous posts on this and other blogs if you still need convincing.

Here are my clips, in chronological order.  Watch as many or as few as you like.  I am sure that this match will get plenty of coverage from the non-league blogging fraternity, and quite right too.  Sorry that Coalville's first goal is slightly out-of-shot.

A snippet from the programme
"Aficionados of the Vase competition tend to rate the 1992 Final between Wimborne Town and Guiseley as the best.  Wessex League Wimborne had never been beyond the Third Round before, but they embarked on a spectacular Vase journey that took them all the way from the First Round to the Final.  A goal down after 14 minutes at Wembley, the Dorset side fought back to win 5-3."

For the record, Whitley Bay's route to the final this year was:
Round 2: Thackley 0 Whitley Bay 1
Round 3: Whitley Bay 7 AFC Liverpool 1
Round 4: Herne Bay 1 Whitley Bay 2
Round 5: Whitley Bay 5 Dunstable Town 1
Round 6: Dunston UTS 1 Whitley Bay 2
Semi-Final (2 legs): Poole Town 1 Whitley Bay 2 & Whitley Bay 3 Poole Town 1
Something random
Whitley Bay finished 3rd in the Northern League Division One (step 5) and will be able to defend the Vase next year and try for an amazing fourth win in a row.  Coalville Town, as Midland Alliance champions, will be heading for step 4 and therefore will be ineligible for this particular competition.

I saw Bay’s victory over Glossop North End two years ago and don’t remember the crowd being herded on to one side of the stadium.  (I didn’t see last year’s win over Wroxham.)  Today’s crowd was around 7,800 which must be on the margins for creating “atmosphere” at Wembley and I am among those who wonder whether this game should be played as a one-day double-header celebration of the non-league game with the FA Trophy final.

I’m not one of those complaining too loudly about the £25 match ticket, but I thought £22.50 for the “official” carpark was nothing short of extortion, so I handed £10 over to a random bloke in one of the side streets instead.  I have done this many times at Wembley and never had any problems.

As an aside, who misses the Twin Towers of the old Wembley any more?  Foster's arch has really become as iconic as it was meant to be, and it gives the stadium a brand that is instantly recognisable.  I have yet to be convinced that the London 2012 logo is going to do the same for the Olympics.
What Next?
If work commitments allow, something from step 7 or 8 on Tuesday evening.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Northern Star in the Ascendant

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Saturday 7 May at Kiln Park (Raunds Town FC)
Peterborough Northern Star 2 St Ives Town 0
United Counties League KO Cup Final
Lifetime ground #400, and I am here because a tetrahedron landed on face number 3 in the middle of the night.  See previous post for explanation.  (This is the second time I have watched PNS this season - click on the team name in the tag cloud on the right to get to the earlier post on the home league win over Irchester United.)
This match in one sentence
An efficient goal-in-each-half win for Peterborough Northern Star, with the second coming from Karl Gibbs who has the satisfaction of scoring in every round.
So what?
This is PNS’s second cup win in consecutive seasons – they were the holders of the Hinchingbrooke Cup until yesterday.  St Ives were the cup-holders in this competition but have lost two finals this year – one here and one to St Neots Town in the Huntingdonshire Senior Cup.
The drama unfolds
The first half was rather uneventful in terms of real chances and incident, but gradually Northern Star gained the ascendancy and it was no real surprise when they took the lead after 39 minutes.  Ali Nyang was prominent in midfield.  Yellow-booted Josh Moreman received the ball on the left and someone shouted “One on One!” from the touchline.  He made the space to shoot and finished well from just outside the area.  The first clip shows Moreman finding his shooting range just before the goal.  1-0 at half-time

Northern Star nearly added a second right after the restart but Conroy-Owen made a good stop in the St Ives’ goal.  However, the second was not long in arriving.  St Ives’ Scott Fielding was booked for a cynical trip on an opponent.  The ball was floated into the box from the free kick and Gibbs placed a header just inside the post.  2-0

St Ives made a double substitution and managed to exert some pressure while leaving themselves vulnerable to the break.  Full-back David Cobb in particular ran his socks off and turned up anywhere and everywhere on the pitch.  Northern Star should have added a third just after the hour when Jon Stead rounded the goalkeeper but his shot from wide towards the open net clipped the post.

The second and third clips show some of the St Ives' attempts to get back in the game.  English viewers will enjoy the tackle at the end of the second and may reflect on how long the game would have paused for theatrics had that happened in the Premiership.

St Ives came close on a couple of occasions – Nicky Conroy saved at close quarters from substitute Liam Read, and then a stoppage-time consolation was denied for offside.  This was a workmanlike and efficient performance from a strong and well-organised side – PNS were better on the day and deserved the win.  Final score 2-0

Conroy saves from Read late on

Alternative activity of equal excitement for tourists in Raunds
This was not a pulse-racer of a game to be honest, so it would be watching the DVD of Time Team’s 2003 visit to the town when an Anglo-Saxon cemetery is unearthed in someone’s garden.  Then burying your DVD collection nearby so someone can get equally excited in the year 3011.
A snippet from the programme
Peterborough NS were promoted from step 6 last season and have had a good season in the higher division – for the record, this is their route to the trophy:
1st round: Sileby 2 Peterborough NS 3 (a Gibbs hat-trick)
2nd round: Huntingdon T 4 Peterborough NS 4 aet
(Peterborough NS win 5-4 on penalties)
QF: Newport Pagnell 2 Peterborough NS 3
SF: Peterborough NS 2 Boston Town 1
What I learned today

The Hinchingbrooke Cup is a more impressive trophy than the United Counties League Cup, but the UCL have a natty tablecloth to add class to the presentation.  League winners St Neots had been kicked out of this particular competition for fielding an ineligible player in the QF against King’s Lynn, but King’s Lynn themselves were beaten in the SF by St Ives Town.
What Next?
The FA Vase Final at Wembley – Coalville Town v Whitley Bay.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Every Underdog has its Day

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Friday 6 May 2011 at Jubilee Park (Huntingdon Town FC, who play in the step 6 United Counties Division One)
St Neots Town 0 AFC Kempston Rovers 1
The Hinchingbrooke Cup Final
#399 on the lifetime list, the 100th match watched this season (at the 93rd new venue of the season).
This match in one sentence
A man-of-the-match performance by the Kempston goalkeeper, closely followed by those of his centre-backs, allowed the underdogs from the division below to protect a slender first-half lead.
So what?

The AFC Kempston Rovers captain had to lift this thing, and it is the first and only time in the season that St Neots Town have failed to score in a game.
The drama unfolds
To be honest, the first half was pretty tame before the goal, which came just after half an hour.  St Neots looked very pretty going forward but were sometimes guilty of over-elaboration around the box.  They did not really make the ‘keeper work very hard, though they had a lot of the ball.

Here’s a scene-setter clip, and then the goal, a neat break and finish by Aaron Baldwin.  0-1 at half time

Everyone expected St Neots to improve in the second half and so it proved.  Titanic defensive performances with several excellent saves and a goalline clearance secured this win.  Here are a few clips which show how and why AFC Kempston Rovers managed the win.  I am assuming from the programme that the goalie at the centre of the action is Martin Conway. Final score 0-1

Alternative activity of equal excitement for tourists in Huntingdon
A day at the races, pretending to know something about racehorses but in fact placing your bets on the basis of which ones demonstrated any impolite bodily functions in the parade ring or on the way to the start line.
A snippet from the programme
This particular competition, with its impressive trophy, has been in existence since 1894-5.  The Earl of Sandwich contributed five guineas to the 48 guineas to have it made.

For the record, here is AFC Kempston Rovers’ route through this competition this season:
Round One – AFC Kempston Rovers 1 Eynesbury 0
Round Two – AFC Kempston Rovers 2 Irchester United 2
(AFC Kempston Rovers win 4-2 on penalties)
Semi-Final – AFC Kempston Rovers 3 Deeping Rangers 1
What I learned today
Gavin Strachan has joined St Neots Town, who are heading to step 4 after winning the United Counties Premier League and edging out King’s Lynn.
What Next?
Ground #400 … !  Decided in the original spirit of this blog by the fall of one of nature's most beautiful and perfect shapes - the tetrahedron.  Four identical faces in the shape of an equilateral triangle, with four vertices (corners) and six edges.  Some tetrahedral dice are simply numbered one to four on each face and the number that is hidden on the bottom face counts when you have thrown it.  On mine, the edges are labelled, and it is the number on the bottom edge that counts.

So ...

It's random.  Thank you, as ever, for your interest.