Saturday, 6 August 2011

Congleton Town

The opening day of the English season, and Congleton Town entertain Bacup Borough in a North West Counties League Premier Division fixture. It is not that long since Congleton were playing higher up the pyramid, so not surprisingly their Booth Street ground is very impressive for this level. The weather throws up a real mixed bag, plenty of sunshine, but one torrential downpour late on, whilst Bacup's change kit, officially described as tangerine and claret, certainly brightens the day.

Congleton have a new management team, and a totally changed playing staff from last season, and the game offers a contrast in playing styles, the hosts much more direct than Bacup, whose short passing game is good to watch, but sometimes throws up some scary moments in front of their own goal.

It is midway through the second half before the deadlock is broken, ironically after Congleton's best spell when they hit the woodwork twice, Danny Cocks winning a penalty that is converted by Adrian Bellamy. It looks like game over when Cocks is again the creator, a delightful pass freeing substitute Lee Oldham to score, and the Bears frustration shows as joint manager Giuseppe Paladino is dismissed from the dug out.

However, an entertaining afternoon has a final twist, a professional foul by Bacup centre half Adam Turner bringing him a red card, and Matty Walsh the chance to reduce the arrears from the spot. Little more than two minutes remain, but Congleton throw the proverbial kitchen sink at their opponents, and Bacup have to defend a couple more attacks to secure their win.

Saturday, 30 July 2011


After a lengthy hiatus in updating my blog, the start of a new season, and a slightly different format to my posts, which will hopefully allow me enough time to keep posting regularly.

The Scottish Juniors get the campaign under way amidst glorious warm sunshine in South Lanarkshire. Larkhall Thistle won promotion from the same division as Lesmahagow last season, and having got under way in midweek with a win against higher ranked opponents, the visitors clearly started as favourites in this Sectional League Cup tie. However, it was a close contest throughout, and although Ross McGeachie headed Larkhall into the lead, James McGill equalised with a finish from a narrow angle, and Lesmahagow sealed a 2-1 win with a second half header from substitute Liam Fagen.

Craighead Park's high bankings provide some excellent vantage points, and having been invited into the committee room at half-time by the friendly hosts, I was able to take a snap of a couple of photos from 1948 when over 20,000 spectators packed into the ground for a Scottish Junior Cup tie!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Cardinal Langley High School

A spell of frosty weather very early in the winter has put paid to most games on grass, so I take in a Lancashire and Cheshire League Division One fixture played on the 3G surface at Cardinal Langley RC High School in Middleton.

Abacus Media are the hosts and they begin the day in 11th place in the league table, with visitors Burnage Metro seven points better off in 6th place, the main difference in the records of the two teams being that the visitors haven't drawn any of their matches to date.

The early stages set with the scene for the afternoon, with both goalkeepers making good blocks, Burnage's Joey Cavanagh denying Billy Sutcliffe, and his Abacus counterpart Lee O'Neil doing likewise from Tommy Greally. Home skipper Pat McDermott had a shot clip the top of the bar, but the only blot on an outstanding display from Joey Cavanagh saw him bring down Antony Campbell as he went away from goal, allowing Dave Doran to give Abacus a 23rd minute lead from the penalty spot.

Burnage are back on level terms after 36 minutes, Mike Eastham setting up Paul Costello to score with a good low finish, but they are again indebted to the keeper to keep the scores level at the interval, Joey Cavanagh blocking Antony Campbell's header and somehow hooking the loose ball away before it crossed the line.

Burnage make the brighter start to the second half with a Paul Costello shot hitting the post, but they do go ahead on 63 minutes, Matt Gittins putting Tommy Greally away to apply the finish.

Abacus took just two minutes to respond, Billy Sutcliffe hooking home Mark Heywood's cross at the far post, and they were only denied a winner when Joey Cavanagh produced another fine save to push Antony Campbell's header on to the post, though a share of the spoils was probably a fair reflection of an entertaining game on a very cold afternoon.

Sunday, 21 November 2010


The Second Round of the FA Sunday Cup sees me in Wallasey at the Villa Park home of Ashville FC for a meeting between Birkenhead Sunday League side Tower and Alder from the Liverpool Business Houses League.

Having moved from the Wallasey Sunday League to the stronger Birkenhead competition, Tower have quickly reached the Premier Division, but are struggling for form this season, so this is sure to be a tough test against an Alder team lying in fifth place in the Premier Division of what is always a very competitive league. Alder actually came out of hat first in the draw, but conceded home advantage, with Tower staging the tie at Ashville's home, which, as can be seen beyond the stand in the next photo, stands next door to Wallasey RUFC.

Apart from the stand most of the facilities at the ground are in the building that stands in one corner, and houses both clubhouse and changing rooms.

The match starts off as a pretty tight contest, but it is Tower who make the breakthrough on 27 minutes, Niall McHale penalised for handball as he challenged Joe McClennan after a half cleared corner, with James Locke stepping up to convert the penalty.

It takes the Liverpool based team just six minutes to hit back, Niall McHale atoning for his error at the other end by converting Chris Noon's cross with a diving header at the near post, and Alder are ahead after 35 minutes, a long ball putting Liam Caddick away to run on and drive home a shot that went in off the post.

A stroke of good fortune brings Tower level before the interval, with a Mick Pickles cross hitting Tim Naylor and rolling into the net for an unfortunate own goal, but Tower are then unfortunate not to go ahead early in the second half as Craig Smith's header hits the post.

Alder quickly take advantage of that escape, with Paul O'Hare squaring the ball on the break to leave Liam Caddick clear to restore their lead, and from that point on their pre match tag as favourites looks fully justified as they go on to win relatively comfortably, Courtney McCauley wrapping up a 4-2 scoreline with a near post finish after a corner was played back to him.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Kendal County

The Association of Northern Counties Senior Competition, in which the respective county FA's are represented by selected club sides, often throws up some interesting ties, and today's Preliminary Round encounter sees Kendal County represent the Westmorland FA as winners of their Invitation Trophy, playing host to West Kirby who qualify as holders of the Cheshire FA Amateur Cup.

Kendal County are based at Netherfield Cricket Club, the football pitch sited on the outfield of the second cricket pitch, which stands above the main pitch and clubhouse, and just across the road from Kendal Town FC.

Changing rooms are in the Football Foundation funded building beyond the cricket nets.

This is a busy area as far as the town's sporting facilities are concerned, and beyond the far goal can be seen the dug outs and changing rooms on Westmorland League side Kendal United's ground.

Having moved up from the Westmorland League to the West Lancashire League this season, Kendal County have made a good job of upgrading their facilities, with the pitch now fully railed off and dug outs in place, and the ground enjoys an idyllic setting nestling below Kendal Castle.

Despite their promotion Kendal County still play their football two levels below their visitors, but the teams met in this competition at West Kirby last season, and it took two goals in the last ten minutes to give the West Cheshire League side a 3-1 win. The visitors make a great start to today's game, Adam Lea's glancing header from a Terry Cotgrave free kick giving them a 7th minute lead, but it is an even first half, and the hosts are a little unfortunate to trail at the interval after an Aiden Caswell shot comes back off the post.

Chay Dysart is close to adding to West Kirby's lead just after the break, putting a free header over the bar, but the second half sees Kendal County increasingly dominate play, and Shane Dixon runs in unchallenged to meet Craig Robinson's cross, only to head narrowly wide. However, the game is becoming very tetchy, and a seemingly inevitable red card arrives on 80 minutes, West Kirby's Paul Hughes collecting a second yellow, with his team incredibly fortunate not to go down to nine men just two minutes later, substitute Billy Foster somehow only seeing yellow for a reckless challenge that put Matthew Swallow out of the game.

Even against ten men Kendal County are unable to apply the final touch to their good approach play, coming closest when Chris Reilly gets back to deny Joe Baker, but West Kirby held on through eleven minutes of stoppage time to secure a 1-0 win, during which numbers were reduced to ten against nine, with Craig Robinson and Paul Casey red carded after the later's late tackle led to a scuffle.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Stafford Town

The second round ties in the Staffordshire FA Challenge Vase gave me an opportunity to make a first visit to Stafford Town's new Evans Park home, a ground they only moved in to earlier this year.

Todays's visitors are Eccleshall, and both teams occupy similar positions below the half way mark in their respective step six leagues, the West Midlands League Premier Division and the North West Counties League Division One, so it is difficult to call the likely outcome.

The 3pm kick off means the sun is extremely low in the sky, which makes for challenging photography conditions, as well as providing some spectacular views.

The ground stands at the rear of Stafford Cricket Club, whilst there are also facilities here for rugby and hockey.

Eccleshall make the brighter start, but are denied when a Tom Betts clearance hits Dwayne Spence and rebounds back off the post, but Stafford score the only goal of the first half on 27 minutes, Josh Anderson finding Matt Buckham in space on the left to drive his shot home.

Stafford make it 2-0 after 55 minutes, Paul McMahon beating the visiting defence to Mat Dockerty's long ball rather too easily before finishing with a neat chip over Dave Watson, and Eccleshall must have felt it was not their day when skipper Gavin Wood's free kick comes back off the post.

For a while the game becomes rather ill tempered, and, when Eccleshall have Dan Counter red carded on 72 minutes for a professional foul on Paul McMahon, there is a squabble between the two benches. However, despite going down to ten men Eccleshall are not out of the game, and they give themselves a chance on 84 minutes, Dwayne Spence heading in Peter Shore's corner.

There is to be no dramatic late comeback, and with Eccleshall committing men forward for a free kick, Phil Ellerby breaks away in stoppage time and puts Paul McMahon clear to wrap up a 3-1 win for Stafford Town.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Boreham Wood

The UEFA Women's Champions League Round of 16 has thrown up a fascinating second leg tie, with English champions Arsenal having been beaten 2-0 by their Spanish counterparts Rayo Vallecano last week. Arsenal have never failed to reach the quarter finals when they have qualified for this competition, whilst no Spanish team has ever gone that far, so a real shock is on the cards. The game is staged at Arsenal Ladies regular home venue, Boreham Wood FC, with the main stand at Meadow Park shown in the first photo.

The Rayo Vallecano players applaud their small but vociferous group of travelling supporters before the game.

On what was always a blustery afternoon, the English weather seemed determined to have its say, but the deluge that engulfed the ground shortly after kick off was probably not the sort of welcome the Spanish team would have appreciated.

The various UEFA flags had been draped over the covered terrace opposite the main stand, and they too faced a battle in the face of the fierce wind.

The visitors were clearly ill at ease with the abysmal early conditions, and Rachel Yankey and Kim Little had both gone close before Arsenal took an 11th minute lead, Rachel Yankey's shot from wide on the right evading a crowd of players and beating keeper Alicia low down at the far post.

The weather did improve, eventually to the point of blue skies, and as it did so Rayo Vallecano started to settle in to the game. They had the best chance in the remainder of the first half, skipper Natalia trying to roll in Adriana for what would have been an easy finish, only to slightly overhit the pass.

Rayo Vallecano again came close early in the second half, Jenni's flick putting Sonia clear, whose shot beat keeper Emma Byrne but rolled just wide. However, Arsenal were starting to build some pressure now, and they levelled the aggregate scores on 61 minutes, Kim Little seeing a shot blocked, with substitute Julie Fleeting, who had been on the pitch little more than a minute, hooking the rebound home.

Latin temperaments were showing signs of fraying, not least captain Natalia who seemed, more often than not, to find herself the one on the wrong end of Jordan Nobbs tremendous work rate and tackling in midfield. The tie now looked there for Arsenal's taking, and after 68 minutes they had the aggregate lead, Kim Little's corner holding up in the wind and Ciara Grant powering in a header.

The Spanish coach took the decision to replace his skipper, and it proved an important move on 78 minutes as substitute Claudia delivered a delightful through ball to release Adriana, and she rounded Emma Byrne and found the net with her shot despite the desperate attempts of two defenders to get back to clear.

Now trailing on the away goals rule Arsenal had to chase the game again, but their chances suffered a massive blow on 82 minutes as, following a half cleared attack, Gilly Flaherty tangled with Anita, and the German referee spotted an alleged stamping offence and issued a straight red card to the England defender.

Despite their numerical disadvantage Arsenal kept pushing forward, and a minute into stoppage time Kim Little delivered the free kick shown in the next photo into the box, Jennifer Beattie won the header, and amidst scenes of pandemonium both on and off the pitch Katie Chapman hooked in from close range to make it 4-1 on the day and 4-3 on aggregate.

There was still time for Rayo Vallecano to launch a couple of desperate attacks, but Arsenal held out, and were fully entitled to their celebrations at the end of a tremendous game that will live long in the memory for the 250 or so spectators that were fortunate enough to be here to see it.