Saturday, September 03, 2016

Harland and Wolff Welders FC

Harland & Wolff Welders 1 Warrenpoint Town 2 - Northern Ireland Championship

Harland & Wolff was formed in 1861 by Edward James Harland and Hamburg-born Gustav Wilhelm Wolff. In 1858 Harland, then general manager, bought the small shipyard on Queen's Island from his employer Robert Hickson. After buying Hickson's shipyard, Harland made his assistant Wolff a partner in the company. Belfast's skyline is still dominated today by Harland & Wolff's famous twin gantry cranes, Samson and Goliath, built in 1974 and 1969 respectively. In the First World War, Harland and Wolff built monitors and cruisers, including the 15-inch gun armed "large light cruiser" HMS Glorious. In 1918, the company opened a new shipyard on the eastern side of the Musgrave Channel, which was named the East Yard. This yard specialised in mass-produced ships of standard design developed in the First World War. 

Harland and Wolff Welders FC was formed in 1965 after a collection in the Welding Department of H & W's Musgrave Yard, it was agreed to enter a team into the Saturday Morning League. The first fixture in the league was against Primrose Star on Saturday 25th September 1965. Progression was fairly swift and by 1967 the club had secured a first trophy by winning the league title. A permanent home for the club became reality when they moved to Tillysburn Park in 1983 and the cub has continued to progress since then winning the Intermediate Cup in 2003 and 2007, and the Smirnoff Cup on three occasions (1998, 2001 and 2002).  Championship league and cup doubles back to back in 2009 and 2010 were followed by promotion to the Championship for the 2010/11 season. The club's colours are yellow and black to display the link with Harland & Wolff shipyard and its iconic cranes. 

A morning flight from London Gatwick to Belfast International enabled this Pieman to reach the city centre by 11:30. To reach the centre it is convenient to use the express bus service direct from the airport (£10:50 return). As you exit the bus station via the shopping centre, immediately opposite is The Crown. This iconic public house exudes history and retains its private Victorian booths. It was here that I enjoyed a pint of Belfast Ale (4.5%) from the Whitewater Brewery. This aromatic russet ale is brewed with the addition of wheat and roasted barley. Rich fruitiness and a gentle hop flavour lead to its smooth succulent finish. 

From the centre, Tillysburn Park can be reached easily by bus with services 3A and 28 stopping just a few yards along from the entrance to the ground. Once inside the ground, immediately to the left is the club building which houses the changing rooms, board room and refreshment facilities (snack bar and small seated bar area). Along one side of the pitch, straddling the half way line, is a covered seated stand. On the opposite side are the dugouts and a pair of old wooden covered areas. These structures appear to be relics of the club's past but were clearly functional on this rainy day. 

This Pieman spent the first half of the match in the stand. The Welders supporters are a friendly and welcoming bunch and particularly so when offering sweets, fruit and tea. The view from the stand is good and also allows sight of planes taking off from the nearby George Best City Airport.

Visitors Warrenpoint Town were relegated from Northern Ireland's top flight last season. Leading 1-0 at the break, they doubled their lead ten minutes after the interval. The home side pulled a goal back later in the half but were denied a point from this match when they missed a penalty in the closing minutes. 

The 17:03 3A bus service was running a tad early but enabled this scribe to be back in the city centre by 17:15. The flight to Gatwick by contrast was slightly delayed but this did not impact too much on my onward journey via London.

HW Welders: Johnston, Armstrong, McMillan, McMurray, Middleton, Nixon, Deans, K. Devine, McKee, Harris, McLellan subs Davidson (not used), Boylan (replaced McKee 73), Dickson (replaced Devine 59), Spence (replaced McMillan 68), Bowers (not used)
Warrenpoint Town: Parr, King, Traynor, McMenamin, Murray, Moan, Lynch, Dane, Bagnall, Boyle, McGovern subs McVeigh (not used), McKenna (replaced McGovern 74), Bain (not used), Maguire (not used), Croskery (replaced Murray 90)

Attendance: ?
Admission: £7:00
Programme: None issued
Tea: £1:00

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Cobh Ramblers FC

Cobh Ramblers 2 Cabinteely 0 - League of Ireland, Division One

Cobh was originally called "Cove" ("The Cove of Cork"). It was renamed "Queenstown" in 1850 to commemorate a visit by Queen Victoria. This remained the town's name until the late 1920s, when it was renamed Cobh by the new authorities of the Irish Free State. Tourism is a large employer in Cobh. Large cruise liners visit Cobh each year, mainly during the summer months, although many of the tourists are transported out of Cobh by bus to other tourist destinations. In all, almost 100,000 cruise liner passengers and crew arrive in the town each year when their ships berth right in the centre of the town at Ireland's only dedicated cruise terminal. Tourist attractions are focused on the maritime and emigration legacy of the town and include the Queenstown Story at the Cobh Heritage Centre, Titanic Experience, Titanic Trail walking tour, Cobh Museum, Cobh Road Train, Spike Island tours and St Colman's Cathedral. The town has remained largely unchanged since RMS Titanic departed from Cork Harbour in 1912, with the streetscape and piers still much the same. Facing the town are Spike Island and Haulbowline Island. The latter is the headquarters of the Irish Naval Service, formerly a British naval base.

Cobh Ramblers Football Club was founded in 1922 and elected to the League of Ireland in 1985, after many successful years as a Munster Senior League side. The club was originally a field hockey club but until the British withdrawal from Ireland many club members played football with the soldiers who were stationed at Cobh, leading to the Ramblers' eventual re-formation as a football club. Home matches are played at St. Colman's Park. The club's colours are claret and blue. Cobh Ramblers most noted past player is former Irish international and Manchester United star Roy Keane, while Irish international Stephen Ireland is a product of the Youth System. Westlife singer Nicky Byrne, also a talented footballer who was on the books at Leeds United, had a spell with the club too.

It is very easy to reach Cobh from the centre of Cork as there is a regular train service from Kent Station. There is also an interchange facility with a couple of local bus routes serving the station, including the airport service, but don’t expect the bus and trains to connect, my experience was quite the opposite.

The journey takes around 25 minutes and provides passengers with a fine view as the train curves around the bay. On reaching Cobh you are faced with a very steep climb to reach the district where the football ground is located. The most direct route is via a series of steps, but there are road routes that also climb and are not quite as steep (though you may be forgiven for not thinking so).

Once again an early opportunity was taken to access the ground and take some photographs. The club has played in the top flight of Irish football and the facilities reflect this. There is a covered seated stand running the full length of the pitch and another behind one of the goals. On the other side of the pitch where the dugouts are situated is an open terrace offering a good view. The remaining end of the ground contains the club offices, changing rooms and refreshment facilities including a function area with licenced bars.

Having had a wander around Cobh, which is a very pleasant place to visit, it was time for a meal in one of the many eating establishments. This Pieman enjoyed his fish and chips with mushy peas. A slight detour to the previous route to the ground avoided the steps but still involved a very steep climb. With just over an hour before kick-off there was nobody outside the ground which was a complete contrast to the previous evening at Cork and there were very few people inside the ground. The main bar was being used for a birthday party but an adjacent area was opened and a pint of Beamish was subsequently enjoyed.

Fourth placed Cobh Ramblers were hosting bottom of the table Cabinteely (only 8 teams in this division). Despite being played in front of a sparse crowd, both teams put on a good display. The home side secured victory with two first half goals, a penalty breaking the deadlock. Cabinteely, managed by former Spurs man Eddie Gormley, played better than their league position suggests. The 19:15 kick-off facilitated catching the 21:30 service back to Cork, although missing my bus back to the hotel by minutes. I had expected this to be the outcome as timekeeping and connections are not at the fore in the region.

Attendance: ?
Admission: €10:00
Programme: €2 (16 pages)
Tea: €1:00

Friday, June 03, 2016

Cork City FC

Cork City 1 Dundalk 0 - League of Ireland, Premier Division

Cork is a city in Ireland, located in the South-West Region, in the province of Munster. It is the second largest city in the state. The city is built on the River Lee, which splits into two channels at the western end of the city; the city centre is divided by these channels. They converge at the eastern end where the quays and docks along the riverbanks lead outwards towards Lough Mahon and Cork Harbour, one of the world's largest natural harbours. The city's charter was granted by Prince John, as Lord of Ireland, in 1185. The city was once fully walled, and some wall sections and gates remain today. Since the nineteenth century, Cork had been a strongly Irish nationalist city, with widespread support for Irish Home Rule and the Irish Parliamentary Party, but from 1910 stood firmly behind William O'Brien's dissident All-for-Ireland Party. O'Brien published a third local newspaper, the Cork Free Press. In the War of Independence, the centre of Cork was burnt down by the British Black and Tans and the city saw fierce fighting between Irish guerrillas and UK forces. During the Irish Civil War, Cork was for a time held by anti-Treaty forces, until it was retaken by the pro-Treaty National Army in an attack from the sea.

The current Cork City Football Club are not the first to use the name Cork City. During the 1920s teams referred to as Cork City competed in both the Munster Senior League and the Munster Senior Cup. A team named Cork City finished as Munster Senior Cup runners up in 1924–25. Another Cork City FC also played in the League of Ireland between 1938 and 1940. Following the bankruptcy of Cork United in 1982, senior football returned to the city with the formation of a new Cork City FC in 1984. Founded by officials from several Cork clubs (including Cork United and Avondale United), the new club was elected to the League of Ireland. The club play home games at Turner's Cross.

This was not my first experience of Cork as I had visited the city in 1989 to watch Tottenham Hotspur play a friendly match at Musgrave Park (a rugby ground) I remember on that occasion having a look inside Turner's Cross when I passed by on the way to the match. I don't recall too much detail from that occasion but clearly a lot of work has taken place on the ground in the interim period.

The stadium is now an all seated venue with a capacity of 7,485. I had arrived in Cork early on the morning of the match and took the opportunity to visit the stadium at lunchtime. I was able to gain access and take some photographs. The ground staff were busy preparing the pitch for the match and it was in superb condition. Three days beforehand the Republic of Ireland had hosted Belarus in a warm up match to the forthcoming European Championships at Turner's Cross but the playing surface showed no sign of this.

Before the match, this Pieman enjoyed the hospitality in a couple of the local bars and the Cork brewed Beamish was in fine form. The match had been selected for live TV screening and pitted current champions Dundalk (top of the league) against second placed Cork City with the gap being four points. Accordingly, an interesting match was anticipated and the local interest was such that a highest crowd of the season was not in doubt.

The match was a fine advertisement for Irish league football and although only my third experience of this league, was easily the best that I had witnessed. The large crowd was treated to an intense contest as both sides were committed to an absorbing game. The goal that settled the match was scored by Stephen Dooley. The same player also managed to blaze a penalty over the bar in the second half. Despite trailing for much of the match and being reduced to ten men when Chris Shield received a red card, Dundalk still posed a threat and it was only on hearing the final whistle that Cork City could relax.

The match ticket enabled entry to all areas of the ground and an early decision to sit at the back of the main stand paid dividends in avoiding the June sunshine. Spectators elsewhere had to shield their eyes. Turner's Cross is probably around a fifteen minute walk from the City Centre, but is also served by buses and there is also an hourly direct service to the airport (last bus 22:12).

Attendance: 5453
Admission: €15
Programme:  €4 (60 pages)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Sheerwater FC

Sheerwater 4 Frimley Green 0 - Combined Counties League, Division One

Sheerwater is a residential neighbourhood or small suburb of the Borough of Woking in Surrey. Its border is defined to the north by a gently winding part of the Basingstoke Canal and to the south by the South Western Main Line. Sheerwater was also spelt Sherewater until the early 20th century. It was since the Norman Conquest a high sandy heath and notable pond (small lake) of Pyrford. Sherewater Pond, on the borders of Pyrford and of Chertsey parishes, was an extensive mere on the high Bagshot Sand, drained and planted at the time of its enclosure, 29 September 1815. Sheerwater was designed as a new neighbourhood by the London County Council and approved by the local Urban District Council allowing nearly 1,300 homes to be built in the early 1950s and over 5,000 people to settle in the Borough. Notable former Sheerwater residents and pupils are Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler who together with other pupils of the then Sheerwater Comprehensive School formed The Jam.

Sheerwater Football Club was founded in 1958, by John French, and they began life as members of the Woking & District League. After achieving Intermediate status, they joined the Surrey Intermediate League (Western) in 1967. The club was a founding member of the Home Counties League in 1978, which was renamed a year later to the Combined Counties League. Sheerwater play their home games at Sheerwater Recreation Ground. The Jam played some of their early gigs at the clubhouse, before releasing their breakthrough song "In The City".

The bank holiday weekend offered an opportunity to visit a new venue. Sheerwater had been on my radar for a number of years but progress in getting there had always stalled. In the past this had been due to Sheerwater occasionally playing matches on a pitch outside the main arena. If I’m going to take the trouble to visit, I want the match to be at the main ground.

Some quick research helped me to ascertain that the cheapest travel option for me was to buy a day return from Hackney Downs. So via Liverpool Street, Bank and Waterloo, I was sped to Surrey. During my formative years, my aunt lived at Sheerwater and those occasional visits well over forty years ago were now being retraced as I left West Byfleet Station. The walk to the ground through the estate was very familiar. I stuck to following the roads through the estate but was later to realise that hugging the canal towpath brings you to the ground.

The main arena at the Recreation Ground is an athletics stadium and home to Woking AC. Due to the layout of this venue; it is not always possible to get an unrestricted view of proceedings. During the first half of the match I walked the full circuit of the stadium and there were a number of points where I had sped along so as not to dwell in an area where the view was obscured. That said, the primary function is clearly athletics and it would be harsh to criticise too much.

There are two seated stands along one side of the pitch. The covered stand containing three rows of seating backs onto the clubhouse facility block. This building contains changing rooms and the refreshment/hospitality room. The uncovered stand from where I watched the second half of the match, affords the best unhindered view. This stand is not as long as the covered stand but contains seven rows of seats.

Sheerwater were looking to win their third successive match having beaten today’s visitors Frimley Green in their last outing. In fact, a win for the home side would take them ahead of their opponents on goal difference, with one match each left to play after this. The first half was a fairly tame affair but Sheerwater certainly stepped up a gear in the second period and were worthy of their 4-0 victory. A very pleasant stroll along the canal towpath enabled me to reach the station in plenty of time for the 17:27 fast service to Waterloo.

Admission: £4:00
Programme: £1:00 (36 pages)
Tea: £1:00

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Phoenix Sports FC

Phoenix Sports 2 Harlow Town 2 - Isthmian League North

Barnehurst is a town and electoral ward in southeast London within the London Borough of Bexley. It lies north east of Bexleyheath, and 13 miles southeast of Charing Cross. The town came into being after the sale of land in 1881 to build the Bexleyheath loop line between Lewisham and Dartford. Barnehurst's name originates from the name of the railway station, which was so-named after Colonel Barne, who owned a local property, May Place House and was vice-chairman of the railway company. As in much of suburban London, Barnehurst railway station was opened to encourage building of houses. The Barnehurst Estate was built in 1926. In 1920 the area became part of the Crayford Urban District of Kent. In 1965, under the London Government Act 1963, the urban district was abolished and its area transferred to Greater London to form part of the present-day London Borough of Bexley.

Phoenix Sports Football Club was formed in 1935 as St. Johns Welling, which later changed its name to Lakeside. After the Second World War the club was renamed Phoenix, as it was seen as rising from the ashes of the previous clubs amid the destruction of the Blitz. After entering the Sidcup League, Kent Amateur League, and the Dartford League, the club settled in the Kent County Football League Division One West, finishing runners up twice in the 1950s, and once in the 70s. The club entered the Spartan League in 1986–87 and competed there for six seasons. They then returned to the Kent County League Division One West, winning the challenge cup in 1993–94. They won the league in 1999–2000, gaining promotion to the Premier Division, however after two relegations they ended up in Division Two West.  They won Division Two West in 2004–05 and Division One West in 2007–08, regaining their Premier Division status. For the 2011–12 season the club was accepted into the Kent Invicta Football League at level 10 of the English football league system for the league's inaugural season. In 2012, they were runners-up in the Kent Invicta League. In the 2012–13 season, they went one better, winning the Kent Invicta League championship, gaining promotion to the Southern Counties East League. By winning this competition the club was promoted to the Isthmian League in 2015.

The journey to the Phoenix Sports Ground is relatively straightforward by public transport and I had already planned my route. This involved getting a train to Stratford, Docklands Light Railway to Lewisham, followed by another train to Barnehurst. This journey will have avoided Zone 1 reducing the cost on my oyster card. Despite this research, I was subsequently offered a lift and the adventure became the M25 and the Dartford Crossing which resulted in journeys of less than hour to and from Cheshunt.

On arrival at the ground I took the opportunity to wander around taking photographs. In conversation with a club official, I was informed that if I had visited a couple of years previously, there would have been very little to see. However, the progress of the club and associated promotion to the Isthmian League has seen the required upgrade of the facilities.

As you enter the ground, the main club buildings are situated on the right behind one of the goals. In the near corner are the changing rooms which resemble a cricket pavilion (possibly doubled up as that in a previous life). The clubhouse and bar is the next building you come to and further along from there is a covered flat standing area followed by the remaining structure which contains the refreshment facilities. The usual fare of hot and cold drinks, burgers, chips etc was on sale at reasonable prices. The pitch has a defined slope running from left to right as you enter the ground in the corner.

The left hand side has raised areas in the first half of the field which can afford a good view if standing. This side of the ground is also where you find the remaining spectator facilities in the form of two covered seated stands. The viewing from these areas, specifically that central to the pitch, is not particularly good and is obscured by a combination of dugouts and floodlight pylons. I suspect that sight of the playing area was not at the fore as a consideration when the club was hastily trying to comply with ground grading criteria. 

Visitors Harlow Town were in 2nd place going into this match. With leaders AFC Sudbury "out of sight", Harlow were keen to secure all three points on offer in their quest to claim home advantage in the play-off matches. All looked good when they took the lead shortly after the break. However, with possibly their only two direct attempts at goal, the home side led 2-1 with time running out for Harlow. In the end, a late equalizer spared their blushes and the match ended in a draw.         

Attendance: 125
Admission: £8:00 
Programme: 24 pages - Free with admission
Chips: £1:20

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Peterborough Northern Star FC

Peterborough Northern Star 1 Leicester Nirvana 4 - United Counties League, Premier Division

Peterborough is a cathedral city and unitary authority area in the East of England. Historically part of Northamptonshire, for ceremonial purposes it now falls within the county of Cambridgeshire. Situated 75 miles north of London, the city stands on the River Nene which flows into the North Sea approximately 30 miles to the north-east. Railway lines began operating locally during the 1840s, but it was the 1850 opening of the Great Northern Railway's main line from London to York that transformed Peterborough from a market town to an industrial centre. Lord Exeter had opposed the railway passing through Stamford, so Peterborough, situated between two main terminals at London and Doncaster, increasingly developed as a regional hub. Coupled with vast local clay deposits, the railway enabled large-scale brick-making and distribution to take place. The area was the UK's leading producer of bricks for much of the twentieth century. Brick-making had been a small seasonal craft since the early nineteenth century, but during the 1890s successful experiments at Fletton using the harder clays from a lower level had resulted in a much more efficient process. Following the Second World War, growth was limited until designation as a New Town in the 1960s.

The football club was originally formed from two brickyards (Northam in Eye and Star in Peterborough) and was based in the village of Eye in the early 1900s, the club was initially named Northern Star, before adopting the name Eye United. They joined the Peterborough & District League and in the 1960s moved to Lindisfarne Road. They were promoted to the Premier Division in 1973. In 1982 the club won the Northants Junior Cup, the last from the United Counties League to do so. The club won the Premier Division three times at the end of the 1990s and start of the 2000s. In the 2000–01 season they won all 30 league matches, as well as the Peterborough Senior Cup and the Jack Hogg Charity Shield. The club moved to its current ground in the Dogsthorpe area of Peterborough in order to gain promotion to Division One of the United Counties League, which they achieved in 2003. The club reached the Quarter-finals of the FA Vase in the 2011–12 season.

I was fortunate to be offered a lift to this match and the roads (M11, A14 and A1) behaved themselves on this Saturday afternoon. This enabled a journey time of 1 hour and 20 minutes from my pick up point between Cheshunt and Waltham Abbey. A hopping associate from the South Coast had warned me that this venue was not particularly good. However, on arrival at Chestnut Avenue (I prefer original names rather than sponsored titles for grounds) I could see that my view differed from his.

The ground is tidy in appearance, with two small covered seated stands either side of the half way line along one side of the pitch. These stands straddle a narrow brick built structure which incorporates the home and away benches with a separate area in the middle for the use of match officials. On the opposite side of the pitch, in the corner nearest the administration block is a small covered standing area.

Behind the goal at this end is another covered standing area. This is adjacent to the main building which houses a licenced bar with TV and changing facilities. A refreshment trailer is situated at this end of the ground selling burgers, hot dogs, chips along with teas etc. The remaining end of the ground is open to the elements and backs on to housing.

Visitors Leicester Nirvana are having a very good season and went into this match in second place behind leaders AFC Kempston Rovers. This match was a feisty affair with both teams being reduced to ten men following separate unrelated incidents. The first red card for the home side was for a second yellow card, possibly for comments made to the referee. Leicester Nirvana’s dismissal followed a reckless lunge.

The home side produced a spirited performance in a match where they could have scored more goals. I was pleased when they grabbed a goal towards then end as their efforts deserved that. However, Leicester Nirvana are a good side and worthy challengers for the United Counties League title. As this match progressed they grew in stature and confidence. This result ensured they went top of the table.A good afternoon out and a decent match seen. The journey home was again trouble free. A different route this time following the route from Godmanchester down to Royston and then following the A10 to Cheshunt.

Attendance: 38
Admission: £6:00 
Programme: £1:00 (32 pages)
Tea: £1:00