Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Jackson Three

Guard of honour from the youth teams and a pigeon club in the background!

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Saturday 21 April at the VT Sports Ground, Portsmouth Rd
Sholing 2 Halesowen Town 3
Southern League Division One South & West (Step 4)
Lifetime list #464
This match in one sentence
An odd game in which both sides looked likely to win at various stages, settled by a penalty meaning that the visitors twice came from behind..
So what?
Sholing were already guaranteed a playoff place, but this result means an away game at either Poole Town or Gosport Borough for the semi-final.  They will finish 4th or 5th depending on next weekend’s results.  Halesowen Town are safely embedded in mid-table.
Something random
Sholing is the re-named VT FC and the old Vosper Thornycroft Pigeon Club house is within the ground.

The drama unfolds
In bright sunshine, Halesowen had the better of the opening exchanges before Sholing took the lead after 7 minutes with a gift-wrapped comedy goal.  Halesowen centre-back Brendan Kelly’s back-header was too strong for the arriving goalkeeper Paul Evans, and Sholing’s leading scorer Lee Wort had an age and an empty net to open the scoring.  1-0

At that precise moment in time, Sholing had ten men on the pitch with full-back Marc Diaper receiving treatment to his ankle.  They nearly added a second when left-winger Marvin McLean reached the byline after a great run, but the visiting defence just about coped.  There was an end-of-season atmosphere about the game, with players getting plenty of time on the ball and both trying to play on the floor.  Sholing were now on top, so I headed towards the goal they were attacking just in time for Halesowen to equalise at the other end.  Marcus Jackson broke through from the right and placed an excellent shot to the far corner.  He’s a double-somersaulter by way of celebration.  1-1

Here’s a clip to set the scene.

Barry Mason creates Sholing's second
On 32 minutes, Sholing regained the lead.  Barry Mason did superbly well, although given plenty of space, to control a high ball on the right.  His low driven cross was parried initially by Evans but then Wort set up Byron Mason for a splendid finish.  There was no further scoring before half-time but I have one more clip which almost has an overhead kick.  2-1

After a half-time chat with the ref’s dad – yes, I can confirm that this one does indeed have a parent – the second half began in changing weather conditions.  The wind started to swirl and rain threatened.  I positioned myself in anticipation of a third Sholing goal.  Here’s an early clip and an if-only moment.

They should indeed have had the third on the hour mark.  Wort was unselfish and set up McLean for an unmissable chance, which he scuffed, so given that strikers will only be so unselfish once in a decade, we won’t see that again.

Sholing were forced to replace their keeper, Mike Hookway coming on for Lee Webber.  Halesowen subs Jean-Michel Gueyes and Nathan Jones combined from left to centre, and Jones’ shot brought a flying one-handed save from Hookway.  Unfortunately, it fell to Marcus Jackson in space who fired in from distance and we saw the double-somersault once again.  2-2

Both sides had half-chances as we entered the last 15 minutes.  It took what appeared to be a soft penalty to win it.  I think the decision is for handball but from the other end I wasn’t sure.  Marcus Jackson grabbed the ball and negotiated the hat-trick opportunity – here’s the clip showing job done and the trademark.  2-3

Sholing sub Jack McCarthy had a half-chance with a header within a minute and I took two more clips as Sholing pressed for a point.  The last one has the final whistle.  Final score 2-3

Hard to look beyond the somersaulting hat-trick hero for Halesowen, Marcus Jackson.  For Sholing, the wide play of Barry Mason and Marvin McLean always looked threatening.
A snippet from the programme
“The Boatmen have a long but fragmented history, running teams from the Woolston Works as early as 1884… Woolston Works won the first ever Hampshire Cup Final in 1888, beating Winchester 2-0.  There was some controversy that year concerning Woolston’s professional attitude, which was infamously referred to as “Kesson’s Boots”.  Andover were beaten in an earlier round, in a match in which a Glasgow-based player of that name played a prominent part.  Andover protested that Kesson should be disqualified on the grounds of residency.  Although he had played for Woolston Works earlier in the season, he had since moved back to Glasgow.  Woolston’s appeal rested on the fact that he had left a number of clothing items at his local lodgings, and this should be interpreted as evidence of his intention to return.  The Hampshire FA upheld the appeal and allowed Kesson to play.”
What I learned today
Many thanks to Sholing FC in general and in particular reserve team manager Dave Fear for their hospitality today.  For the record, Dave’s team have not so much won this season's Wyvern Combination League as smacked, owned, pwned, qwned, rwned and swned it.  Their lead stands at 20pts before today and will end up as at least 14.

For the second week running I encountered a player with a WBA link – Halesowen are managed these days by Shaun Cunnington.  They also have a few ex-WBA academy players on their books, but none on the pitch today.
What Next?
Other commitments mean that I will be hopping somewhere in or around Hertfordshire next Saturday, and at the time of writing I am not sure about midweek, so as ever, watch @GrahamYapp on Twitter for details.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Making a Point May Not Be Enough

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Tuesday 17 April 2012 at The Playing Fields, Mursley
Mursley United 0 Risborough Rangers 0
South Midlands League D2 (Step 7)
Lifetime list #463 and a 6.30pm ko without floodlights.  I’m here partly to set the record straight after I previously thought this division was sorted last week.
This match in one sentence
Spoiled by the wind in the first-half, dominated by Risborough in the second, but the lack of a goal dents their title aspirations.
So what?
Mursley United, third with one game left, can finish no lower than fourth.  Risborough are in second and still have a mathematical chance of the title, but this result makes it harder.  One of their games is against the leaders, Aston Clinton.  Risborough can get a maximum of 61pts if they win all four games remaining.  Aston Clinton have 58pts on the board so can even afford to lose to Risborough if they get a win and a draw from their other two games.
The drama unfolds
The first chance fell to Mursley (in the gold-and-black) as #4 came in at pace to meet a corner but the swirling ball wouldn’t have helped.  Then Risborough’s #11 smacked a post with a great left-footer – the ball came back and hit the goalkeeper and could have gone anywhere.  Fortunately for the home side it bounced to safety.  This early action was promising but the rest of the first half was a wind-affected disappointment.  Both teams’ centre-backs did well and dominated and players found it hard to control their passing.  Here are a couple of first-half scene-setter clips.  0-0 at half-time

There is not much to be said about the first half of the second half either.

Risborough began to press harder and were finishing the stronger.  With 15 minutes left it needed a great defensive block (by #3 I think) to keep the match level.  The final clip is with five minutes to go.

There was still time for the visiting #11 to fizz one more low shot just wide, but the man wearing the Aston Clinton jacket looked happy enough as we left.  Final score 0-0
What Next?
No idea – might try and fit in something local tonight, but more likely to be at the weekend.  Watch @GrahamYapp on Twitter for details.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Harrogate Town Draw Something at Colwyn Bay


Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Saturday 14 April 2012 at The Red Lion Foods Stadium
Colwyn Bay 2 Harrogate Town 2
Conference North (Step 2)
I am here on the second part of a Welsh weekend double after a scenic drive from Aberystwyth on Saturday morning.  Ground #462 was one of my hopping priorities for this season as I now only need Truro City and Workington (and also therefore about 200 litres of petrol, 16 cans of caffeine-based stimulants and four days of my life) to complete all the English grounds from Premiership to Step 2 Conference N&S inclusive. 

This match in one sentence
For this passing neutral, a fair result on the balance of play.

So what?
The relegation battle in this division will go down to the wire.  Colwyn Bay have slipped to 14th of 22 teams with 49pts and two games to play.  However there are five teams on 48 (one of which has a game in hand) and another on 47.  Harrogate Town is the lowest on goal difference of the five on 48.

The drama unfolds
I wandered around the perimeter taking lots of pics of this charming and tidy stadium for the first half-hour as the teams tested each other out.  There were no really clear chances and the defences were on top although both teams played with positive intent.  My scene setter clip is from 27 minutes.  Colwyn Bay had been marginally on top, territorially if nothing else.  They are in the claret and light blue.

On the half-hour, Harrogate fashioned a great chance but Lee Elam’s header from Andrew Burns' right-wing cross was straight at the goalkeeper.  Four minutes later, Colwyn Bay took the lead as caught in my second clip.  Jon Newby provides the cross for Mike Lea to head home.  1-0

Harrogate Town’s centre-back Richard Pell was looking dangerous from set pieces and a good bet for a goal.  There had been one chance earlier, and soon he had another (and picked up a yellow card along the way to put a blemish on an otherwise good day).  He should have at least hit the target.  Rain came down as the half ended and both teams played it safe before the interval.  1-0 at half time

The third clip is from early in the second half as Harrogate showed some attacking initiative.  Elam (11) was involved in most of the good moves.

The fourth clip has their equaliser, coming from Alex Meechan after 61 minutes.  1-1

Harrogate suddenly looked the more likely and their #9 Chib Chilaka rolled a teasing pass across the 6-yard line.  It only needed a touch.  Then a mix-up between the home keeper and a defender almost let in Tom Platt.  To the credit of both teams, neither looked as if they would settle for a point and we entered an end-to-end phase of the game.  The next clip is from 80min and we all thought Frank Sinclair had won the game with this set-piece routine.  Yes, that's the ex-West Brom Frank Sinclair, the very same.  2-1

I had only just finished tweeting this news (I am slower these days with podgy fingers on a touch screen) when Chilaka got an equaliser at the other end.  2-2

The last few minutes were remarkably open - it needed a massive intervention by Lea in his own box to prevent an away win.  A header had sent Elam into space down the left and his cross caused the danger.  There was time for Bay's Rob Hopley to have two chances in the 89th and 92nd minutes.  The first was presented by a mixup between Alan White and his keeper Mark Cook, but Cook redeemed himself with an excellent save from Hopley’s final chance.  Great for the neutral, but it remains to be seen whether this point will be enough for either club.  Town are on an unbeaten run but for Bay this is the first return from the last seven league games.  Final score 2-2

A snippet from the programme
Chairman Bob Paton has issued a rallying call after refusing to accept (player-manager) Jon Newby’s offer of resignation following a dismal 3-1 defeat at Workington.  A subdued Newby refused to make any comment afterwards except to say that he felt some of the players had badly let him down.  Bob Paton revealed the manager had offered his resignation straight after the game but that he had refused to accept it.  “I told him to forget it,” he said,  “This is not a time for anyone to be walking away.  There are nine points left to play for and we have to focus totally on that.”

What Next?
Back to work on Monday following the school Easter break but likely to be something in Hertfordshire on Saturday 21 April.  Watch @GrahamYapp on Twitter for details!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Aberystwyth Coasting

A signed shirt from Pele is one of the many items on display in the clubhouse

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Friday 13 April 2012 at Park Avenue, Aberystwyth
Aberystwyth Town 2 Airbus UK Broughton 0
Welsh Premier League
The first half of a double-header in Wales for ground #461 on the lifetime list.  Glad to be here with enough daylight left to take some reasonable still pix.

This match in one sentence
A second-half penalty and a late second gave vital points to Aberystwyth Town in their bid to stay in the league while denting or at least delaying the Airbus place in the Europa League playoffs.

So what?
According to my unofficial calculations this result sends Newtown down.  Carmarthen will join them if they do not win both their remaining games, or if Aberystwyth win their last game against Newtown.  Airbus will still get the final playoff place if they beat Afan Lido in their last game next week, and may have a lesser task if Port Talbot have not won their game in hand in the meantime.

The drama unfolds
There was not a lot of great goalmouth action in the first half.  Both sides played positively but the midfields and defences largely cancelled each other out.  My scene-setter clip (and it’s a particularly nice view and a lived-in ground of charm) is from 18 minutes into the game.  The home side are in white-and-black.

The second very short clip was taken because of the momentary excitement caused by the potential of a set piece.  After this the game returned to the worthy-but-dullness of the first quarter.

Suddenly, with 41 minutes gone, there came the first gilt-edged chance of the night - in fact three of them in quick succession.  A double save from Airbus keeper Andy Mulliner and a block from a teammate kept the score goalless.  0-0 at half-time

Aberystwyth took the lead from the penalty spot after 54 minutes.  Danny Taylor got a yellow card for the trip on Andy Parkinson that the referee was well-placed to see.  Sean Thorton rolls in the penalty as shown here.  1-0

They should have gone two up soon after.  Josh MacAuley’s cross found Geoff Kellaway for an unmarked header, and his reaction confirmed that he should have scored.  Airbus defender Eddie Hope then showed great positional sense and composure to help snuff out a break.  Here’s a clip from this phase of the game.

I was expecting Airbus to have a real go as the game entered the latter stages, but they never really threatened until a last-minute goalmouth scramble.  Then this happened on the break.  The scorer is Kellaway.  Final score 2-0

A snippet from the programme
“It was great to see everyone smiling after the game (against Afan Lido) but alas Emyr James was unable to persuade the Ffostrasol Arms to stay open long enough to welcome the Boys in Black and Green on the way home - if  the bus stops there you know we have had a good day!”

What I learned today
Allow more time for this particular cross-country journey.  Thanks to mum & dad who were in effect coerced into groundhopping with me as we arrived in the town only a few minutes before kickoff!  They have now watched football with me in three countries (England, Wales and Iceland).

What Next?
Saturday - Colwyn Bay v Harrogate Town to get to one of my three remaining grounds-to-visit at Step 2.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Bucks Fizzle and Bucks Fizz

Ruthless Aston Clinton, Roofless Bletchley Town

The yellow-and-blue of the Robins from Buckingham Town

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Monday 9 April 2012 in Buckinghamshire
Result & Competition
See below for individual match details
These are grounds #459 & #460 on the lifetime list.

Bletchley Town v Aston Clinton
The drama unfolds from 12 noon

Manor Fields

South Midlands League Division Two  – step 7
In one sentence: An easy win once the first goal had gone in to deflate the home side’s aspirations.

I picked this game because my reading of the league table suggested that Aston Clinton, having drawn on Saturday with their nearest rivals Mursley, could seal the title with a win.  Perhaps the South Midlands League helicopter would turn up with the trophy.  Now this blog will never ever criticize people working hard in adversity, volunteering for free to keep grassroots football going, but this has to be one of the most depressing places I have ever watched a game.  I have been kind in my photographs – I could have presented the place in a much worse light.  I really hope that those who are working behind the scenes for this club can get some reward for their efforts.

For the first half-hour, I discreetly tried to guess which team was which.  Admit it, hoppers, it happens sometimes.  The corner-flags were blue and white but about 10 minutes in I noticed that the subs with orange socks were in the “home” dugout.  It was half-time and two goals later that I was satisfied that Aston Clinton were in the blue-and-white.

They had almost taken the lead in the first minute but to be fair this first 30 minutes was quite even.  The lino called the ref to have a word with their management.  The other lino came in for an unwarranted torrent of abuse from one of their strikers.  He knew he was in an offside position, he had the presence of mind not to go for the ball on the near side.  What he didn’t know (and the angle of the lino’s flag was the giveaway) is that one of his teammates was offside and had gone for the ball in the centre.  The ref must have heard what I heard, and did nothing.  I just don’t understand why the officials keep turning up every week.

The first clip includes the first goal, scored by the blue-and-whites after 34 minutes.  The league website names the scorer as J Gordon.  0-1

The blue-and-whites went two up after 41 minutes.  Their number 9 broke the offside trap, headed for the right corner of the box, and with the keeper caught in no-man’s land curled a good ball in for an unmarked #3 (D Parsons) steaming in from midfield.  0-2 at half-time

Having satisfied myself that Aston Clinton were indeed in the driving seat I readied myself for 45 minutes of celebration and a helicopter landing.  Here’s a second half clip.

The third goal (scored by S Ward) came just before the hour after a defensive mix-up.  0-3  Bletchley’s full back #3 was sent off for a dangerous tackle with a quarter of the game to go, and the visitors (through P Weirich) scored a fourth within a minute.  Their centre-half had been urged to go up for a corner, he arrived late and won the ball in the air, and two rebounds later his teammate had the angle to shoot left to right across the keeper.  0-4  They had one more shot cleared off the line but the match fizzled out.  There was a distinct lack of celebration at the end, and I went off to the car to check the table.  I still think I am right.

Final score 0-4 

So what?  Aston Clinton win the division and Bletchley Town are in mid-table.

Postscript: Aston Clinton should indeed win this division but they were right not to be celebrating just yet.  I'd failed to notice that Risborough Rangers were sitting a few places lower down but with a ridiculous number of games in hand.  At the date of this edit (one week later) Aston Clinton are 10pts ahead of Risborough who are now in second place.  The leaders have three games left and the chasers have five, so Aston Clinton need two more wins if Risborough win everything remaining.  The second of their three matches pitches these two teams against each other, so the champagne must stay on ice a little longer.  Both had big wins this week.

Buckingham Town v Harborough Town
The drama unfolds from 3.00pm

The Winslow Centre

The United Counties League Division 1 – step 6
In one sentence:  Harborough needed a win to keep their title challenge alive and looked to have messed things up until Buckingham’s late equaliser was negated by an even later winner.

My second venue of the day found a home team called The Robins playing in yellow-and-blue on a pitch with red corner-flags against a team in green.  However, any confusion over identity was removed after two minutes as it was spectators with Buckingham Town jackets who were holding their heads in their hands.  Harborough’s full-back (the league website says W Arnold) shrugged with disbelief himself as his long curling ball into the box was whipped by the wind and through the slippery hands of the home keeper.  A comedy goal, sadly.  0-1

He continued to have a bad day at the proverbial office, almost passing to an attacker for a second.  The goal arrived, though, after 17 minutes.  #9 (R Barnett) broke the offside line and though the keeper got a partial block on the ball, it rolled over the line.  0-2

Here’s a clip from midway through the first half.

After 24 minutes, Buckingham got back into it.  The scorer (thank you to the club website) was Kyle Stimpson whose chance was served up on a plate following good work on the right.  With the better of the wind conditions to come later, this was a good sign for the neutrals (there were several hoppers present completing a double or the second leg of a triple).  1-2

Although I was at the other end at this point, I was surprised that Harborough’s #5 escaped without a card of any description for a late tackle to deny a clear run on goal.  The ref was much closer so must have the benefit of the doubt.  1-2 at half-time

The second half, whilst not a classic, was always competitive.  Buckingham forced Harborough’s goalie into a good tip-over as we entered the closing minutes, but it looked as if the visitors had done enough.  Then, with the triple-chaser hoppers edging towards the car park, we had a crazy final two minutes of action.

First, a bizarre equaliser.  Nick Bines sent a high, looping wind-assisted shot over the Harborough goalkeeper, who was way too far off his line.  I reckon it was 90th minute, give or take one.  2-2

The anger and frustration among the visitors was short-lived.  They scored themselves two minutes later – a low shot from left to right across the box by G Owen – to grab a vital win.  Unbelievable.  Final score 2-3

So what?  Harborough are two points behind Huntingdon Town but the two meet next week for what may be a title decider.  Buckingham Town lurk in mid-table.

What I learned today:  This is the first season that Buckingham Town have played here – they were, it appears, served a late notice to quit their previous ground.  Whilst I do not know or understand the full details, you can see an open letter written by John Bercow MP here:

Programme Snippet:  From the double-header Easter programme (which is a superb product for step 6 in my experience!) ... "The apathy that we have been shown (by our immediate neighbours) has only served to galvanise us as a club and instilled a determination to survive and succeed.  We are Buckingham Town, we are almost 130 years old, we will come through these difficult times."
What Next?
No idea!  Follow @GrahamYapp for hopping information interspersed with puns and random observations about the English education system.

Time to Put the Wildcats Out

Sadly, this is not the Zamboni.  It is a raffle prize.
Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Sunday 7 April 2012 at the Altrincham Ice Dome
Manchester Phoenix 4 Swindon Wildcats 0
(Phoenix win 6-1 on aggregate)
English Premier League playoff quarter-final second leg
#6 on the rinkhopping list
This match in one sentence
A fast and open game which was controlled by Phoenix from beginning to end.
So what?
Phoenix will take on Sheffield Steeldogs in the semi-final at Coventry next weekend.
The drama unfolds
Swindon have scored plenty of goals this season and, as they started this away leg with a deficit of one, a first score from them could have made life interesting.  However, Phoenix, who finished the regular league season in second place behind Guildford Flames, gave a very solid performance to seal their semi-final place.

Both sides went close in the opening seconds and a first period powerplay for Swindon was shut out, an “If only…” moment, and to be fair to Phoenix, the only one they allowed the visitors to have.  Tom Duggan passed to James Archer who finished superbly to open the scoring after 12 minutes.  1-0

Here are some clips to capture the occasion.  Phoenix are in white-and-black.

Swindon were not down yet and Phoenix netminder Steve Fone distinguished himself with an excellent save (from Michal Pinc, I think!).  Both sides had unconverted powerplays but there were no more scores in the first.  1-0 at the end of the first period

Duggan assisted Archer for his second goal after only two minutes of the second, and this calmed any residual home nerves.  2-0  You knew that Swindon were going out when they then conceded during their own powerplay chance (a “shorthanded” goal, apparently).  This time Archer returned the compliment with an assist for Duggan.  3-0  Phoenix so nearly added an intricate fourth but then got it soon afterwards.  Stephen Wallace got the goal with an assist from that man Archer.  4-0  They then eased through a powerplay of their own and ran the clock down with the job done and a whole period to go.  4-0 at the end of the second period

Wildcats gave some ice time to another netminder, Dean Skinns, and he was very busy.  Pinc got two minutes for slashing in the game’s remaining flashpoint, and the only matter of interest became whether Fone would get a shutout.  He did.  Final score 4-0
Something Random

See previous hockey posts on this blog – all I am saying is that it went clockwise and the Northern Hemisphere Residual Corolis Force Clockwise Circulation theory is intact ;)  Sadly, the Nobel Prize committee remain unimpressed by my late contribution to the canon of scientific knowledge and understanding.
A snippet from the programme
“Sledge hockey is a variant of ice hockey and can be played on and off ice, using sledges to allow paricipants to move about the rink at high speeds hitting a puck travelling at speeds of up to 100kph.  Players sit in sledges, propelling themselves with sticks adapted to allow propulsion in a manner similar to skiing.”

Among the teams competing in the 2012 league will be the Battle Back Bisons, consisting of injured military personnel, who will be supported by players and staff from the Swindon Wildcats sledge hockey team.  There will be a series of tournaments during the summer months at the various home rinks, with free entry for fans.  Other teams involved are the Kingston Kestrels, Peterborough Phantoms and Manchester Phoenix.  Phoenix will be linked with Coventry Flames and Widnes Wolverines in order to help the sport grow and develop.
What Next?
A Monday groundhopping double in Buckinghamshire – post to follow.