Friday, 19 January 2018

2017 Stadium #35 - Hall Lane

Date: 26th December 2017
Stadium: Hall Lane
Location: Willington, County Durham

My thirty-fifth stadium of 2017 was on Tuesday 26th December at Hall Lane in Willington, County Durham. The match was Willington vs. Tow Law Town in Northern League Division Two.

Hall Lane is close to the centre of the small town of Willington and is surrounded by housing on all sides. The ground is 4 miles north of the nearest railway station at Bishop Auckland and 7.5 miles south-west of the nearest major railway station at Durham.

Spectators enter via the eastern side of the ground and there is a nice clubhouse building by the turnstiles. Directly in front of this is a small parking area before reaching the actual arena. This side has the Jackie Foster Terrace - an uncovered 4-row concrete terrace with one dugout in front of it. To the right of the terrace is a secondary club building with dressing rooms and a tea hut facing out towards the terrace. The roof of this building extends out slightly towards the pitch allowing a covered section with a handful of seats for players and officials. The the right of this is the second dugout and then an area of uncovered standing in front of a fairly flat grass bank.

The other three sides are all at the foot of a grass bank which encircles the ground. The largest stand at the venue takes up the middle third of the western side of the pitch. This structure has 5 rows of wooden benches fixed onto concrete foundations and has a capacity of 350. There are several supporting beams holding up the roof and two floodlight poles in front of the stand all of which restrict views to an extent. Either side of this there is uncovered standing. The southern end has a covered 4 row metal terrace directly behind the goal with uncovered standing either side and it is a similar set-up at the northern end with a single stand behind the goal. This construction, the Bob Nichols Stand, is a covered flat concrete area.

The away side went into the game one place outside the promotion places but struggled on the day against their mid-table opponents. The early going was marked by several strong tackles flying in from both sides. Fortunately rather than boiling a football match soon broke out as Willington went close in the 17th minute when Jeffrey Smith's delicate chip from 25 yards was just tipped over by Tow Law keeper Tom Orton. The visiting shotstopper was called into action again a couple of minutes later when a corner was headed towards goal requiring Orton to save on the line to keep the score level. Willington continued to have the upper hand and took the lead in the 35th minute. Jason White picked up the ball on the left and smartly cut inside beating two defenders in the process. Advancing on goal he rode a third challenge before striking a strong shot at Orton who saved but unfortunately for Tow Law the ball bounced back to Conor Winter who smashed into the roof of the net. In the period after the break it was the hosts again looking strong, it should have been 2-0 in the 58th minute when the ball broke to Jeffrey Smith on the left of the area but with only the keeper to beat he produced a tame shot which was easily saved. The respite lasted only a minute as Andrew Taylor got down the byline on the left and his low ball across found Damon Ellis who knocked in from a couple of yards out. To be fair Tow Law reacted to going 2-0 down and so nearly got a goal back in the 66th minute when a Lewis Teasdale free-kick came back off the post. The visitors had the perfect chance to reduce the areas with a quarter of an hour remaining when Teasdale was tripped during a scramble in the six-yard box. Dean Thexton struck the ensuing penalty kick to Lewis Graham's right but the Willington keeper guessed right and deflected the ball away to safety. This knocked the stuffing out of Tow Law and they were fortunate not to concede two minutes later when Damon Ellis' one-on-one encounter with Orton resulted in his weak shot being saved. If there was any doubt as to the result this was stamped out in injury time as the ball was played into Conor Winter from the right. Winter had plenty of time to control the ball and though his first effort was saved the ball fell at his feet again and this time he rounded the keeper and knocked the ball into the net to finish off a great 3-0 win for Willington.

Result: Willington 3-0 Tow Law Town
Division: Northern League Division Two
Attendance: 165

Friday, 12 January 2018

2017 Stadium #34 - Belle View Stadium

Date: 23rd December 2017
Stadium: Belle View Stadium
Location: Consett, County Durham

My thirty-fourth stadium of 2017 was on Saturday 23rd December at Belle View Stadium in Consett, County Durham. The match was Consett vs. Stockton Town in Northern League Division One.

Belle View Stadium is in the south of the town in a mixed-use area with a retail unit to the south, housing to the west and fields to the north and west. The nearest railway station is Stocksfield, some ten miles north of the ground. The £3m venue became home to Consett in November 2013 when they left the new ground's namesake Belle View Park where they had played for the previous 63 years.

The southern side of the ground has an impressive clubhouse to the west of the half-way line which houses a 170 square metre function room, a bar, boardroom and dressing rooms. There is a flat concrete section separating it from the pitch and the building's roof is extended out over this to provide an additional covered viewing area. This area has had several picnic benches added to it so seating is an option as well. The centre of the southern side has the entrance and a flat concrete section in front of this followed by the two dugouts. Finally heading towards the eastern end there is a metal all-seater stand with 140 seats spread across 4 rows.

The other stand at the ground is a smaller all-seater one straddling the half-way line on the northern side of the pitch. This structure has 95 seats spread across its 4 rows. Beyond this the Belle View Stadium is uncovered standing though there are decently sized areas for it across the northern, eastern and western ends of the venue. This is a smart new venue and with the 3G pitch and reasonable space to build additional stands should they ever be required the club should be in good stead for the future.

Consett went into the game in good form having won six of their previous seven in all competitions. The form guide appeared accurate early on as they raced into the lead in the 9th minute. A Stockton defender was dispossessed on the edge of his own area, the ball was laid back to Calvin Smith who struck a sweet 20 yard shot into the top corner giving the keeper no chance. The lead was doubled in the 22nd minute after a quick counter-attack from a Stockton corner saw Josh Scott make his way down the left and cross to the back post where Michael Mackay rifled in from close range. The game was almost put to bed in the 35th minute when the ball was played out to Michael Sweet on the left and his shot across goal hit the post before bouncing away to safety. Stockton did show some intent during the first half but their defensive naivety saw them getting caught out. In the 55th minute they were thrust back into the tie when Kevin Hayes picked up the ball near the half-way line, rode two challenges and smashed a 35 yard effort into the roof of the net. This proved the catalyst for an extraordinary five minute spell where the away side turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead. The equaliser arrived in the 57th minute when the ball broke to Sonni Coleman on the far side of the danger zone and his unexpected quick turn and shot went in off the bottom of the post. The turnaround was complete just before the hour mark when the ball went to Chris Stockton on the left hand side and his fizzed shot across goal from 15 yards went in off the post. It was a remarkable few minutes for the visitors and they dominated this period of the match playing some really nice football. Consett finally got out of their own half shortly after and thought they had made it 3-3 in the 67th minute as a cross into the box was nodded onto Michael Mackay by Michael Sweet. Mackay stroked past the keeper from a couple of yards out only to see the official's flag stretched out. Much of the final spell of the game was spent in Stockton's third of the pitch as Consett hunted for the leveller. They huffed and puffed and went close a couple of times but they were unable to break down a Stockton defence that had become more organised in the 2nd half.

Result: Consett 2-3 Stockton Town
Division: Northern League Division One
Attendance: 377

Friday, 5 January 2018

2017 Stadium #33 - Miners Welfare Ground (Swallownest)

Date: 5th December 2017
Stadium: Miners Welfare Ground
Location: Swallownest, South Yorkshire

My thirty-third stadium of 2017 was on Tuesday 5th December at the Miners Welfare Ground in Swallownest, South Yorkshire. The match was Swallownest vs. Armthorpe Welfare in the Northern Counties East League Division One.

The Miners Welfare Ground is located on the edge of the village of Swallownest a few miles from Sheffield and Rotherham. It counts a church and a primary school as its eastern neighbours though the other three sides of the ground are bordered by fields. The ground is 1.5 miles east of the nearest railway station at Woodhouse. However with this station receiving very limited services the nearest major stations are Rotherham 5.5 miles north and Sheffield 7 miles west. The club only formed in 2006 and moved to the current venue in 2008.

The eastern end of the ground contains all the club's facilities. This includes a clubhouse with a decking area which faces out towards the car park and a building containing the players and officials dressing rooms - this sees the players emerge to the right of the turnstile entrance. Inside the ground there is a food outlet by the entrance and next to this the sole stand in the venue. At present there are no seating areas at the Welfare Ground with the stand a two-level concrete terrace which is covered by a roof. In front of this most of the eastern end is an area of flat concrete with this changing to grass heading towards the northern end of the ground.

The northern and southern side are both uncovered standing - the northern side has a fairly large flat grass area behind with the southern side is more limited on space having a grass bank and the trees marking the border of the site behind this. The two dugouts are on this side of the venue. The western end is not accessible for spectators with metal fencing just behind the goal separating the pitch from an adjacent field.

Swallownest got the ball in the net in the 13th minute when a long free-kick by keeper Daryll Johnson was nodded onto a defender who struck the ball home. However the goal was ruled out for offside. The away side had a super chance to go ahead in the 16th minute when Johnson misjudged a cross and missed the ball with it falling to Chris Simpkins who with the goal gaping snatched at the shot and saw the ball come back off the crossbar. The game saw its first goal in the 24th minute - Swallownest had been threatening to get in behind the Armthorpe defence and managed it with a through ball to Alex Lill who collided with visiting keeper Liam Copley in the race to the ball. The referee allowed play to continue and Lill proceeded to stroke the ball into the empty net. Ten minutes later Armthorpe drew level in very similar circumstances when a through ball picked out the pacey Luke Williams who slotted past the advancing Johnson. The decent first half made way for a poor second half that was devoid of action - the home side had the upper hand and came closest in the 68th minute when a corner was headed inches wide. The game ultimately petered out to a draw, a result which didn't particularity help either side with both sitting in mid-table.

Result: Swallownest 1-1 Armthorpe Welfare
Division: Northern Counties East League Division One
Attendance: 128

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

2017 Stadium #32 - Parkside

Date: 4th December 2017
Stadium: Parkside
Location: Aveley, Essex

My thirty-second stadium of 2017 was on Monday 4th December at Parkside in Aveley, Essex. The match was Aveley vs. Concord Rangers in the Essex Senior Cup 4th Round.

Parkside was opened in August 2017 off the Aveley bypass on the western edge of the town. The stadium is within sight of the M25 but is mostly surrounded by fields with Belhus Park leisure complex to the north the main neighbours. Parkside is around 3 miles north-east of the nearest railway station at Purfleet. The venue became home to Aveley at the start of the 2017/18 season when they left their Mill Field ground where they had played since 1927.

The western side of the ground has the main stand - a 2 storey structure which runs around half the length of the pitch. There are 257 seats across four rows of seating including press seating at the back. The seating starts on a raised platform which leads back to the clubhouse and one 74 seat section is kept separate from the rest to allow the players tunnel to exit onto the pitch. The clubhouse itself is known as the Parkside Suite and is a very smart building which includes a balcony level which overlooks the bar on one side and the pitch on the other. Along from this on the top level is the boardroom. The club reception is through the bar and leads to a large car park and heading back towards the pitch there is a food outlet. Either side of the stand are uncovered standing areas.

The other seating area is opposite the main stand - the all-seater stand on the eastern side of the ground has room for 152 spectators and the two dugouts are either side of this. There are a pair of small covered metal terrace stands either side of the goals at both ends. This takes the total number of stands to six with the rest of the ground uncovered standing. The standing areas are all tarmac with no natural grass at the venue - the only grass is the 4G pitch placed atop the tarmac surface underneath.

The game was between Isthmian League North Division side Aveley and National League South side Concord Rangers. The hosts had a good chance to go ahead in the 6th minute when Sewa Marah crossed into the six-yard box for Jack West who brushed the side of the post with his header. From the goal kick the ball was sent up the other end of the pitch and found Concord's Femi Akinwande. As he went into the area a mistimed tackle by Alex Stephenson sent him over and a penalty was awarded. Steve Cawley went to the keeper's right but Rhys Madden in the home goal got down and palmed it away to avoid an early setback. In the 18th minute Aveley went close again when a ball from the back caught out the visitors and left Jordan Watson one-on-one with Louis Wells. However his shot was straight at Wells and the chance came to nothing. The rest of the half was fairly quiet with Conord having the upper hand but their shots were usually high and wide. The home side's best spell came in the opening ten minutes of the second half culminating in Alex Teniola's rasping half-volley from 20 yards which brought a good save out of Wells. A minute later the visitors grabbed the first goal of the match when Khale da Costa got on the right side of the area and pulled back for Steve Cawley to slot low to Madden's left. From this point Concord never looked back and would grab another four goals over the next twenty minutes. The higher league side notched goal number two in the 64th minute as Kyron Farrell's mazy run drew the home defence allowing him to pass to the free Akinwande to shot into the bottom corner. In the 70th minute Aveley had a lucky escape when Steve King's looping header was cleared off the line but within 60 seconds it was 3-0 anyway. Khale da Costa had a great run in on goal, showed neat footwork to beat the last defender before smashing in at the near post. Five minutes after this Billy Roast headed in a corner from a couple of yards out and in the 78th minute Concord were awarded their second spot-kick of the match for a chance to make it 5-0. Again it was Akinwande who drew the foul, this time from George Woodward, and he picked up the ball and dispatched the kick low to the keeper's left. Fortunately for Aveley this was the end of the scoring, though Steve King should have made it 6-0 when he missed an open goal with a header. In the end Concord's quality shone through in the final third of the match but the 5-0 scoreline was rather harsh on Aveley who had been a decent match for the opening hour of the tie.

Result: Aveley 0-5 Concord Rangers
Competition: Essex Senior Cup
Attendance: 174

Friday, 15 December 2017

2017 Stadium #31 - Allianz Riviera

Date: 23rd November 2017
Stadium: Allianz Riviera
Location: Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, France

My thirty-first stadium of 2017 was on Thursday 23rd November at the Allianz Riviera in Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, France. The match was Nice vs. Zulte Waregem in the Europa League Group Stage.

The Allianz Riviera is located on the banks of the River Var in the Saint-Isidore area in the far west of the city. Opened in September 2013 the venue is part of a wider redevelopment of the area with plenty of free land around the stadium complex. The ground is attached to the Nice Valley commercial centre which includes many restaurants, shops and supermarkets and there is a large underground car park to cater for customers. The stadium is half a mile south-west of Saint-Isidore railway station and there are plenty of shuttle buses that ferry fans between the stadium and the city centre a few miles to the east. In addition to this the ground is just 3 miles north of Nice Côte d'Azur Airport so can be reached via here rather than going into the city centre. OGC Nice moved to the venue from their former home at the Stade Municipal du Ray where they had played since 1927.

The stadium sits on a raised platform with some external facilities at ground level and others at the raised level. At ground level the eastern side is taken up by the Nice Valley commercial centre, the National Museum of Sport sits on the northern side, the ticket office and underground car park on the southern side and an overground car park on the western side. There are wide entrance steps leading up to the raised area which consists a wide concrete expanse which encircles the stadium itself. As well as giving fans a place to congregate the club shop is also included on this level. Inside the ground there are wide concourses with many concession stands in a similar vein to new MLS stadiums.

The stadium has a total capacity of 35,624 nearly double the 18,696 capacity of the club's former Stade Municipal du Ray home which they left in 2013. The seating is split into a three-tier bowl with similar sized first and second tiers and a slim 3rd tier where the viewing areas dovetail in line with the shape of the roof. In the north-west and south-east corners this lack of seating space sees two big screen TVs in their place. The club's dated former ground did not afford much in the way of hospitality but the new venue has been designed with this in mind. The back of the 2nd tier is given over to hospitality the entire way around the stadium and the western and eastern sides have some of the 2nd tier also taken up for the same purpose. The eastern side is also where you will find the two dugouts and the media section which sits in the middle of the top tier. In terms of fan support the club's ultras inhabit the southern end of the stadium and during my visit away fans were located in the north-west corner.

Nice went into the game in seriously difficulties domestically with them hovering one place above the Ligue 1 relegation zone but they knew avoiding defeating in this game would see them advance to the next stage of the competition. They had a perfect start when they were awarded a penalty with less than four minutes on the clock. A ball into the area saw a race between Nice attacker Mario Balotelli and Zulte goalkeeper Louis Bostyn. Unfortunately for Bostyn he got to the ball just after Balotelli and sent him flying. Balotelli took the spot kick and sent the ball to Bostyn's left as the keeper dived to his right. The hosts looked comfortable in the early going playing some good passing football including a number of neat backheels. They went 2-0 up just after the half-hour mark when Jean Seri split the defence with a pass into the area for Alassane Pléa. He was free to square the ball for Balotelli to smash into the roof of the net from a couple of yards out. The away side didn't have too much of the game but the threat of Aaron Leya Iseka on the left wing kept Nice wary. The second half saw both sides cancel each other out with limited goal mouth action. However with ten minutes to go Brian Hämäläinen smashed a stunning 35-yard free-kick into the top corner to give Zulte hope of a comeback. The home side wanted to reassert their two-goal lead to kill off any chance of a nervy finish and managed to do that in the 86th minute when substitute Adrien Tameze went on a mazy run, beating three defenders and lashing the ball home from 12 yards out.

Result: Nice 3-1 Zulte Waregem
Competition: Europa League
Attendance: 20,274

Friday, 1 December 2017

2017 Stadium #30 - Withdean Stadium

Date: 28th October 2017
Stadium: Withdean Stadium
Location: Brighton, East Sussex

My thirtieth stadium of 2017 was on Saturday 28th October at the Withdean Stadium in Brighton, East Sussex. The match was AFC Varndeanians vs. Seaford Town in Southern Combination League Division One.

Withdean Stadium is part of the Withdean Sports Complex in the north of Brighton. Built in 1936 the ground is three-quarters of a mile north of the nearest railway station at Preston Park. The stadium is bordered by the rest of the sports complex to the north, has a wooded area to its south and east and housing to the west. It was the home of Brighton & Hove Albion between 1999 and 2011 before they moved to their new home at Falmer. AFC Varndeanians have been playing at the Withdean since 2015.

The North Stand runs from the six-yard box at the western end of the pitch to just past eastern end of the pitch with the furthest sections slightly behind the goal. This is the only permanent stand at the site and has a capacity of 1,350. The seating varies between five and seven rows and at the back there is a flat concrete space allowing for some media tables and a commentary box building. This side borders a pub and the leisure centre which can be accessed via the stadium. The bulk of the temporary seating used by Brighton & Hove Albion was removed when they left the stadium with only one uncovered temporary stand remaining behind the western goal with around 800 seats. With the venue being an athletics track this stand is quite some distance from the pitch and in between it and the goal has shotput netting and a storage box. There is a flat section behind allowing for more athletics facilities including the athletics club building, dressing rooms and a Varndeanians clubhouse which all sit in the north-west corner.

The southern section has the two dugouts placed next to the pitch. Behind these is the running track and then a flat area with a mixture of grass and concrete. Beyond this it starts to get steeper with a grass bank punctuated by a concrete walkway running through the middle of it. This side of the ground used to see the largest stand in the venue - the South Stand. This uncovered temporary structure was able to house around 4,700 supporters. The eastern end of the Withdean is another area which used to have additional seating. There were two uncovered temporary stands which made use of a portion of the car park to bring the venue's capacity up to 8,850 when the Seagulls departed. With these since removed there are no spectator areas with the running track running close to the boundary with the fully restored car park.

Varndeanians entered the game having lost their last seven league fixtures but despite this were much the better side early on. They took the lead in the 17th minute through Ryan Walton after work from James Walters down the left wing. Walters had picked up the ball in the final third and after advancing into the area shot at the keeper, the ball was palmed away but then found its way to Walton to knock in from close range. A couple of minutes after this the lead was doubled. This time Walton turned provider whipping in a free-kick from the left with Elliott Wood rising unchallenged to head home. The quick-fire double woke Seaford up and they went close a couple of times around the half-hour mark. In the 42nd minute they should have grabbed a goal back when an attacker went clean through but he blazed wide with just the goalie for company. The visitors improved in the first section of the second half but their shooting again let them down. After an even half an hour the away side suffered a disastrous six minute collapse where they conceded three more goals. The first of these came in the 77th minute when an attack was cleared as far as James Walters some 30 yards out. Walters let rip with a volley which flew past the keeper into the back of the net. In the 81st minute Varndeanians won a corner on the left and it was crossed to the backpost for Connor Martin to nod in from close range. Two minutes after Seaford let in a near-identical goal when a corner from the right went to the backpost and Connor Martin headed in once again. The hosts were reduced to ten men in the 87th minute when Ryan Walton picked up two bookings in the space of a minute - the first for a dive in the area and the second for a push trying to beat a defender and the keeper to the ball and score from another cross to the backpost. Thankfully for Seaford this stemmed the tide and ensured the score was kept at 5-0 - a scoreline few would have predicted at the start of the afternoon.

Result: AFC Varndeanians 5-0 Seaford Town
Division: Southern Combination League Division One
Attendance: 49

Friday, 24 November 2017

2017 Stadium #29 - Rodney Parade

Date: 17th October 2017
Stadium: Rodney Parade
Location: Newport, Wales

My twenty-ninth stadium of 2017 was on Tuesday 17th October at Rodney Parade in Newport, Wales. The match was Newport County vs. Colchester United in Football League Two.

Rodney Parade is close to the River Usk which runs through the city of Newport. The south-western side of the ground leads through to the Newport City Footbridge which links it to the new retail district and the rest of the city centre. The north-eastern side is bordered by housing with a primary school to the south-eastern end and the other half of the Newport sports complex to the north-western end. The stadium is one mile east of Newport railway station on the other side of the river. Built in 1887 the venue has predominantly been used for rugby during its history. Newport County have played there since 2012 when they left the Newport Stadium after 18 years at that ground.

The entire length of the north-eastern side of the ground is taken up the Bisley Stand which was constructed in 2011. The smart stand has a capacity of 2,526 and includes corporate hospitality boxes at the back of the seating deck. There is also a TV gantry which overhangs the seating in the centre of the stand. The eastern section of this stand is usually given over to away fans. If there is a particularly large away following the other section that can be utilised is the uncovered Sytner Stand behind the goal at the south-eastern end. This temporary stand has been added to the venue in recent years and was last extended in 2013. Directly behind the stand is a large screen TV and there is a club building in the corner which includes the dressing rooms.

The Hazell Stand sits on the south-western side of Rodney Parade. This stand has a raised all-seater upper section which can house 1,996 spectators. Due to the stadium primarily being a rugby one its eastern end into the corner. The western end extends up level with the 18-yard line. The lower section is a concrete terrace but this is covered as the roof, which contains a number of supporting beams, goes out over this near to the edge of the pitch. The two dugouts by the half-way line are nestled very close to this standing section. With the stand stopping at the 18-yard line the final section of this side is uncovered terracing. The Grafton Road End is an uncovered concrete terrace. This end backs onto the rest of the complex which includes a full-size rugby/football pitch, a family zone including a large gazebo structure and a car park. There are a few additional buildings including a football club shop at the far end, a couple of Newport Gwent Dragons specific structures and a hospitality building in the corner with the Bisley Stand.

An even first half saw little in the way of chances in the opening period. The best one came in the 33rd minute as Doug Loft threaded a defence-splitting ball through to Brandon Hanlan who raced into the area. Newport keeper Joe Day reacted quickly and was able to close Hanlan down and deflect the shot into the side netting. Newport's best chance came in the 54th minute when David Pipe showed strength to win the ball in midfield before an excellent pass unleashed Pagraid Amond in on goal. Sam Walker was a match for him though and was able to palm the ball away to safety. From the resulting throw-in the ball was whipped in from the left and headed out as far as Ben Tozer on the edge of the area. Tozer shot into the danger zone and a deflection on the way through saw the ball come back off the post. The visitors managed to escape unscathed from this period of the game and in the 71st minute got their noses in front. Brandon Hanlan advanced from midfield, laid the ball off to Mikael Mandron on the left and his ball across the box was missed by a couple of players before landing at the feet of Ryan Jackson. The Colchester wing-back controlled the ball and shot low into the net from 12 yards out. Five minutes later Colchester doubled their lead when Sean Murray's free-kick into the area was flicked on by Mandron with the ball just getting past the outstretched arm of Joe Day before nestling in the bottom corner. Once going 2-0 up the away side sat very deep inviting Newport on. It was no surprise when the visitors grabbed a goal back in the 86th minute as Shawn McCoulsky headed in Dan Butler's lofted ball. The visitors seemed to realise at this point that continuing to sit deep would see Newport get more opportunities so modified the tactics accordingly and in the final minutes were more successful at running down the clock preventing the hosts from getting back on the ball. The full-time whistle signalled the first home defeat for County since March as Colchester went back to Essex with all three points.

Result: Newport County 1-2 Colchester United
Division: Football League Two
Attendance: 2,704