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Ground Number 123
First Visit = Tuesday 19th August 2014 – Market Drayton Town v Leek Town (Evo-Stick Division One South)
Bit of a slog this one and despite the best efforts of several drivers, we made it through the turnstile just after the referee blew to start the game. This is a proper non-league ground at its best, with several different stands and a patched up sort of look to the place.
The football club is set in a huge area that contains rugby and tennis clubs, with several other grass pitches. It felt a bit like the setup they have at Stone Dominoes. £12 for me and the old man seemed good value at the time, and whilst I liked the random nature of the ground, the game certainly didn’t warrant the long drive. Another feature was the unusual entrance which brought you through the turnstiles and out directly behind the goal. With no stand here, there is a strange covered terrace which is crammed in the corner. Next to this is very strange area of seating, uncovered which can house around 40 fans. This is is the sort of thing you see across the leagues as clubs scramble to meet ground regulations.
It was also noted that just four floodlight pylons, again another rare sight at this level, even more surprisingly they proved more than adequate as darkness quickly set in. I took some pictures, but the combination of my phone and failing light means they are better off not shared.
The clubhouse was decent enough, although I’m not sure about their decision to go for Casualty over Besiktas v Arsenal on ITV. It also features a first for me, a verandah from which many fans were able to sample an ale or two. Drayton were pretty subdued all game, so it was hard to judge their fans, although there were a plethora of different football shirts on display amongst the small crowd.
On reflection this is probably more of a North West Counties level ground, but I can forgive that because it has so many quirky features.
Game 1 of the 2014/15 season – after a busy summer of world cup viewing, 67 matches in 2013/14 and the very real prospect of not having a team to go and support come August.
A very picturesque if slightly unusual setting to watch a football game, sat on a grassy bank at Mottram Hall Country Club and Hotel, with a gathering of golfers, agents, walkers, half of the Apoel team who had played there earlier, and live on Romanian TV via one precariously position cable. If we ever have to sell the Moss then this would be ideal for me every week.
For a friendly there were some hefty tackles flying in, with Kissock starting off the fun with a full blooded lunge after about five minutes. It was also interesting to see the officials linked up with their fancy walkie talkies, can’t see that happening in the conference any time soon.
The first friendly always has a bizzarre mix of trialists, youth teamers and those weren’t good enough to get a move to somewhere better, and this did not disappoint. The first x1 we were fine with, but the bench was anyone’s guess, even veteran kit man Etch couldn’t shed much light on the mystery men for us.
Another feature of the friendly is that in your mind you are wielding the axe as if you were the manager. One misplaced pass or weak tackle and you have ruthlessly dismissed another player to roam the world of non league. Often these are the players that end up signing for you, like Jimmy McNulty (who has since gone on to greater things, since his nightmare debut in a 4-0 rout at Southport).
Equally as confusing as the identity of our new number 16, was the format of the game. Who needs halves when you can have thirds? Slightly hazily timed thirds, with something like 85 minutes played.
Highlight of the game has to be the two tracksuit bottom wearing substitutes that played the final ten minutes for Murges; pretty sure they were just coaching staff having a run out. Oh and Macc won 3-2.
Entertainment = 5/10
The Premier League began in earnest today, after a superb World Cup in Brazil and with a raft of expensive signings costing over £360 million. Chelsea have strengthened with the addition of two Spanish stars, Arsenal have made another marquee signing similar to Ozil last summer, Manchester City look to have finally got a partner for Kompany, Liverpool have bought well to replace the irreplaceable Suarez, and LVG has been recruited to jolt RVP and co back into some form.
What about the other 15 teams? Well they have been busy as well; Everton have made a statement with the £28million signing of Lukaku, Spurs have added quality and Stoke will hope Bojan can finally fire in senior football.
Goal line technology is here to stay, with the addition of the wonderful shaving foam the other referees aid this season. Howard Webb and Alan Hanson have gone, Lawrenson remains….
The problem is that the ‘Best League In The World’ is that the it is very difficult to look past Chelsea or City for the league. The top 4 looks to be a closed shop, with Tottenham, United and Everton looking on from below. There are a raft of clubs like Stoke and Newcastle who will be glad of mid-table, and the new boys will be battling in out with average sides like Villa, Crystal Palace and West Ham. Who will be the surprise package, the Ipswich of 2014/15?
Ground number 120
first visit = Barnton v Ashton Town (2nd August 2014) Vodkat North West Counties Division One
A first season at this level for Barnton at step 6 of the non league pyramid. In quite an unusual location, down a non-descript looking path that leads to a modern church, there is not much of a give away that a football ground lurks a matter of yards away. Another ground lacking in turnstiles, but does have a little hut for the gateman. Bit of a surreal moment as I quickly recognized the Barnton warm up goalkeeper as someone I played with a bit at uni.
This ground takes non-league to a whole new level; the fans were friendly enough, and the pitch decent, with a good pie hut. However, I’m not quite sure how they been accepted into the league. There are several things missing that seem to have been a feature of all clubs we have visited in the NWC. Firstly there are no floodlights, fine if we are in early August, but once the nights start to close in or they have a midweek game I don’t see how it can work. There was also a complete lack of seating, and even worse, half of the perimeter rail was fenced off meaning we couldn’t walk all the way round.
It’s not all bad though, the rail around the pitch means you are very close to the action, and there are a couple of decent sized covered standing areas for the locals. We will probably be back but hopefully some improvements will be underway by then.
As I tuned in for my weekly dose of Manish Bhasin on Saturday evening the goals were flying in, debut heroes and scapegoats were being established, and ‘we are top of the league’ chants were echoing around stadiums from Bournemouth to Middlesbrough.
There are always teams who get off to a stinker; new players take time to gel, we only signed him last week so he’s not fit, the coach was delayed so we only got here at 2.30, a couple of deals fell through late, the budget won’t allow for another goalkeeper, we can’t afford experienced players, we just need a tall quick striker who can score 20 goals a season, we were a bit ring rusty, it was a big step up, it’s always difficult going to places like……..
Despite most likely trotting out these and a few more, Mark Robins lost his job as Huddersfield manager after a 4-0 reverse to Bournemouth on the opening day. I hear Michael Appleton is in the frame. Despite being the man that saved Fergie and started an evil dynasty that has ruined vast portions of my childhood, it is difficult not to feel sympathy for Robins.
There were 37 managerial casualties in the 92 football and premier league clubs in 2013/14. Each manager also has his staff of choice, with over 125 coaches leaving their club last season. This is a ludicrous level of turnover and financial waste.
The Sky Sports fueled state of constant crisis that every football club appears to be in, is damaging the game. Instant success is demanded, the result being endless wastage on mediocre players at the top level, and a horrendous culture of safety first football in lower levels such as League 2. As a Macclesfield fan, I can tell you that some of the sides in that league are paralyzed by fear of the dropping into the Conference, and thus produce sides of direct, hard running athletes, rather than footballers.
So next time your team are 2-1 down, please resist the temptation to call for the manager’s head, because chances are you will be doing the same thing to his replacement in 6 months time.
Ground number 121
first visit= Ball Haye Green v Leek Town (6th August 2014) Friendly
No idea why I haven’t managed to make this one before, just a mile through Leek town centre and 25 minutes from home. An unconventional ground, with no turnstiles, a huge social club dwarfing the facilities, a large factory down one side of the ground and a car garage on the other.
Several excellent quirks:
– the most poorly stocked pie hut I have ever come across, with the usual drinks and the only food option being a 2 finger kit-kat; Redeemed itself by serving in mugs (something last treated to at Abbey Hey several years ago).
– a total of four seats, all of which are dining room chairs; the upside of course is they offer a choice of sitting position.
– an excellent value admission of £2, which included raffle ticket.
– a high tech broom stick to retrieve footballs from a row of stubborn trees behind one goal. At least fifteen minutes hard graft in the second half were rewarded with the recovery of a new seasons match ball and £30 quid saved.
Overall, an enjoyable game and a nice surprise to see such unusual features, definitely an antidote to the identikit modern stadium.
The pantomime reaction of those inside Wembley watching a one sided Community Shield between Arsenal and Manchester City marked the occasion. The first use of a simple yet highly beneficial technology, the shaving foam.
The positives, well rehearsed training ground routines and hours of practice are not stopped by cynical cheating. Leighton Baines is going to get close to 200 points on fantasy football this season
The negatives, possible long-term damage to multicolored football boots everywhere and no excuse as your side fails to score a free-kick for the fourth consecutive season.
Next step – give the linesman a canister to stop full-backs nationwide stealing 10 yards on every throw-in.
Ground number 122
first visit = AFC Telford v Macclesfield (12th August 2014) Vanarama Premier Division
An impressive looking modern facility, there are far worse in League 2! Lots of onsite parking to help boost income from each game. I inadvertently managed an almost complete circuit of the ground in my haste to get inside, with several aborted attempts to hand over my £15.
Can’t comment on the pie hut unfortunately, but I did witness one Macc fan trying to tackle a pie the size of his head, so at least someone enjoyed the hospitality. Had to stand behind the goal, but was nicely elevated so I could see all the lines of the pitch. Also a mention to the very helpful steward who pointed out where everything was and made us feel very welcome.
The only let down for me was that the stand behind the dug out was merely an open terrace; as if the money had run out, something seen at Morecambe and many other grounds.
Game number 12 of the 2014/15 season
The second round of fixtures in the top tier of non-league football brought together two sides expected to struggle this season. The Silkmen came into this on the back of an opening day victory over Braintree, while the Bucks held on for an impressive away point at Welling; despite being reduced to nine men.
The result was a thoroughly entertaining game played at an impressive tempo considering the stage of the season. The first half produced four goals, the pick of which was a superb volley from Owens. Struck after good control of the chest, it just clipped the underside of the bar, with Taylor well beaten. Goal of the season contender and one which will no doubt see Owens try his luck at every opportunity for the rest of the season.
A memorable moment in the first half, as an errant Telford effort from the edge of the box struck the face of the stand, high above Rhys Taylor’s goal. Whilst it was disappointing to miss the sight of all available ball boys within 3 miles being scrambled to retrieve the ball from someones garden; we were treated to a giant ‘R’ tumbling from the stand, narrowly avoiding the Macclesfield custodian. Cue possibly the loudest cheer of the evening.
As so often happens, 3-1 proved to be a dangerous lead. Macc seemed intent to sit back and invited pressure for long periods of the second half. Telford’s bombardment comprised long throws, what seemed like 15 corners and a central defenders making various forays into Silkmen territory. A combination of luck, Rhys Taylor and some woeful finishing allowed the away side to cling on.
An excellent victory for Macc, to maintain a 100% start. A marked contrast from last season, where six points took an excruciating ten games to accumulate. Just another 44 points from safety………
Entertainment = 7/10