Monday, 16 October 2017

2017 Stadium #24 - Eslaforde Park

Date: 13th September 2017
Stadium: Eslaforde Park
Location: Sleaford, Lincolnshire

My twenty-fourth stadium of 2017 was on Wednesday 13th September at Eslaforde Park in Sleaford, Lincolnshire. The match was Sleaford Town vs. Peterborough North Star in the United Counties League Premier Division.

Eslaforde Park is a sports complex on the eastern tip of Sleaford. The stadium is bordered by three full-size pitches to the north, two mini-pitches to the west and one mini-pitch to the south. The eastern border is the edge of the complex so backs onto fields. The complex is one mile east of Sleaford railway station in the town centre. The club played at The Rec until 2004 when they moved to a temporary home at RAF Cranwell in order to gain promotion to the United Counties League. Eslaforde Park was completed in 2007 allowing the club to move to its new permanent home.

The western side of the stadium has a clubhouse which contains the dressing rooms and a club bar. Within this is a food outlet which faces both into the bar and out to the pitch. In front of the clubhouse is a grass section leading a strip of hard standing which runs the entire length of the field. The other side of the spectator barrier are the two dugouts.

This hard standing extends round the entire ground though there are a couple of stands to meet ground-grading requirements. On the eastern side there is a 160-seat structure while behind the southern goal there is a 4 row metal terrace for covered standing. There is an additional building in the south-west corner to house club property.

Sleaford began the match well and in the 2nd minute a corner was poked goalward and cleared off the line by Northern Star. This seemed to wake up the visitors who were the better of the two sides after this. They went close in the 18th minute when the ball was passed out to Matthew Barber on the right wing. Barber beat his man before driving the ball straight at Sleaford keeper Garry Doran. In the 29th minute Northern Star got their noses in front when Matthew Cox picked up the ball near the edge of the box, played a neat one-two with Craig Rook and steered the ball low across the goal in off the far post. At 1-0 down at the break the hosts needed to make sure they didn't concede a quick goal after the restart. Unfortunately for them this is what exactly what happened. Again it was Matthew Barber causing the home defence difficulties as he picked up the ball on the right and shot low. Doran palmed the ball straight to Zak Munton who tucked in the rebound from close range. In the 57th minute the game changed when Northern Star defender Daniel Wilson got tangled up with a Sleaford player. In frustration he lashed out and struck him in the face so received his marching orders. With the visitors down to ten men it was a far more even final half an hour. Sleaford's Ben Machin had a shot cleared off the line in the 84th minute before the hosts grabbed a goal back in the 90th minute when a through ball to Michael Haydon bypassed the defence allowing Haydon to shoot past the keeper from 12 yards. Sleaford were unable to generate any chances in injury time so went down to another defeat to leave them near the foot of the table.

Result: Sleaford Town 1-2 Peterborough Northern Star
Division: United Counties League Premier Division
Attendance: 65

Monday, 9 October 2017

2017 Stadium #23 - Sir Halley Stewart Field

Date: 12th September 2017
Stadium: Sir Halley Stewart Field
Location: Spalding, Lincolnshire

My twenty-third stadium of 2017 was on Tuesday 12th September at Sir Halley Stewart Field in Spalding, Lincolnshire. The match was Spalding United vs. Lincoln United in the Northern Premier League Division One South.

Sir Halley Stewart Field is ideally placed in the centre of the town so easily accessible for fans. Its western border sits adjacent to Spalding bus station with a retail park to the south meaning there is plenty in the way of parking. The northern and eastern sides are close to housing. The venue is a quarter of a mile east of Spalding railway station and has been home to the club since they formed in 1921.

The main stand is by the half-way line on the western side of the ground. This brick structure is raised high above the pitch to give good views of the action. The stand is split in the middle by a section carved out which contains the announcers area. As a result there is a set of stairs leading to the northern side which is just standard seating, and a set of stairs leading to the southern side which is standard seating the lower section and officials seating in the upper section. The split stairs also allows for the players tunnel to be positioned in the middle of the stand with this leading back to the dressing rooms. The two dugouts are also located in front of the stand. To the southern side of the stand there is an additional small metal terrace and to the northern side there is a decent area of flat concrete for hard standing as well as a food outlet and a programme selling area by the turnstile.

The only other stand at the venue is a 4 row metal terrace behind the northern goal which contains the most vocal home support. On the western side of this stand is the clubhouse and on the eastern side a small grass area. The eastern side of Sir Halley Stewart Field has a strip of concrete for its length for hard standing and behind this a large grass section which could double as a mini-pitch. The southern end is all concrete with the back section of it given over to car parking spaces.

Spalding took the lead in the 12th minute when a corenr into the box was cleared as far as Nathan Whitehead - he looped the ball back into danger and it went over everyone before dropping into the bottom corner. The best opportunity Lincoln had was in the 25th minute when a free-kick into the area was met by the head of Jack McGovern who nodded just wide. It was a pretty sparse first half in the way of chances but fortunately the second period saw more incident. In the 54th minute Spalding doubled their lead - the ball was played forward to Gary King who controlled it and fizzed a low shot past Lincoln keeper Jake Turner into the bottom corner. The balance of play changed in the 63rd minute though when Spalding's Conor Marshall saw red for a two-footed tackle near the centre-circle. This game Lincoln impetus and a the resulting free-kick into the box saw a shot saved at point blank range by the home keeper. With a quarter of an hour to go the away side grabbed one back - after good work down the right wing the ball was crossed to Rob Norris who tapped home. Just after the kick-off from the goal Spalding keeper Michael Duggan then had to produce a good double save to prevent an equaliser. A minute later things got even harder for Spalding as they were reduced to nine men. This came about when Jonny Lockie flung an elbow at an opponent in an off-the-ball incident. Unsurprisingly it was all Lincoln in the final stages and in the last minute Duggan saved a shot in the area - the rebound was then blazed wide and Lincoln's last chance of rescuing a point was gone.

Result: Spalding United 2-1 Lincoln United
Division: Northern Premier League Division One South
Attendance: 147

Thursday, 21 September 2017

2017 Stadium #22 - Test Park

Date: 28th August 2017
Stadium: Test Park
Location: Southampton, Hampshire

My twenty-second stadium of 2017 was on Monday 28th August at Test Park in Southampton, Hampshire. The match was Team Solent vs. Bournemouth in the Wessex League Premier Division.

The football stadium is part of the Test Park Sports Facility in the west of Southampton. Bordering the western side of the ground there is a full-size multi-purpose artificial pitch and there are further mini-pitches and Southampton rugby club to the south. A primary school sits on its northern edge with a scout group to the east. The venue is a mile north of Redbridge railway station.

The western side of the ground contains two unusual looking all-seater stands. One of the wave-like structures is towards the southern goal and has 49 seats with the other close to the half-way line able to hold 47 fans. The remainder of this side is uncovered standing.

The only other stand at the venue is a small 6 row metal terrace which sits at the northern end of the ground. The remainder of Test Park is uncovered standing. The eastern side has a large undulating grass area behind the hard standing area and the two dugouts close to the half-way line. The southern end is more limited on space but there is a very modern club building behind this end which includes the dressing rooms and the 'Pitchside' cafe and bar.

The game got itself first real chance after a quarter of an hour when Solent's Jim Orvis got into the area from the right wing but his shot was easily saved by Nick Thomas in the Bournemouth goal. In the 36th minute the best chance of the half also fell to Solent when the ball ricocheted in the box for Silvano Obeng who should have scored but his tame shot was palmed to safety by Thomas. The first 45 minutes were an even affair but both side were low on quality in the final third. This theme continued into the second half as well. In the 65th minute Solent went close again when a ball into the area was headed down by for Jemal Wiseman by Silvano Obeng but Wiseman dragged his effort wide from close range. A couple of minutes after this the home side had a corner cleared off the line. The visitors created their best opportunities in the final stages of the fixture. In the 85th minute Ali Fakhal curled an effort from the edge of the area which came back off the crossbar and in the 96th minute the last kick of the match saw a Sami Makhloufi free-kick require a good save from home keeper Scott O'Rourke to secure a point for Solent. In truth it would have been harsh on Bournemouth to leave with nothing as the 0-0 scoreline was a fair reflection of the balance of play on the night.

Result: Team Solent 0-0 Bournemouth
Division: Wessex League Premier Division
Attendance: 30

Friday, 15 September 2017

2017 Stadium #21 - Privett Park

Date: 28th August 2017
Stadium: Privett Park
Location: Gosport, Hampshire

My twenty-first stadium of 2017 was on Monday 28th August at Privett Park in Gosport, Hampshire. The match was Gosport Borough vs. Basingstoke Town in the Southern League Premier Division.

The football stadium is part of the wider Privett Park in Gosport. This park is an area of green space surrounded by housing estates on all sides. In addition to the football ground there are four more full-size pitches, a cricket pitch, a concrete court and a playground. Gosport is the largest town in the UK not served by a railway station. The nearest is Portsmouth Harbour station though this does require an additional connection via the Gosport ferry to cross the channel between the two settlements. The venue was opened in 1937 hosting Gosport FC initially before Gosport Borough were formed in 1944.

The main stand is on the western side of the ground and consists of 7 rows of wooden benches. The middle section of the stand has plastic seats attached to these wooden benches. This middle area includes a separate section carved out for officials, a press box at the back of the stand and the players tunnel in the middle of the stand. The stand has a total of 4 supporting beams helping to support the roof so there are a number of restricted view seats as a result. In front of this stand there is a flat concrete area with the two dugouts in front of this. East of the main stand there is a long single-storey building which has a food outlet, toilets and a club shop. West of the main stand there are two other buildings which were both closed during my visit.

The eastern side of the ground has the Harry Mizen Stand which runs about half the length of the field. This modern all-seater stand has a TV gantry on top of it and the rest of the eastern side is uncovered standing. The southern end has a large clubhouse called 'Inn Off The Post'. This clubhouse has a covered standing platform section in front of it and a flat area with picnic benches adjacent to it in the south-east corner. To the west of the southern goal there is a large flat concrete section with a dozen car park spaces. The opposite end of the ground is uncovered standing with a sizeable grass section behind the hard standing area. This was once given over to a temporary stand when the side reached the 1st Round of the 2014/15 F.A. Cup.

Both sides had experienced poor starts to the league season with Basingstoke having lost three of their opening 4 games and Gosport still looking to pick up their first point. It took all of 60 seconds for the visitors to take the lead when a cross from the right wing was met with a header by Ben Wright which looped over the keeper into top corner. On the quarter-hour mark Basingstoke doubled their lead after a dreadful defensive mix-up between Gosport keeper Matthew Cafer and defender Declan McCarthy saw a long ball over the top left by both of them. Sam Smart reacted quickly to the indecision, flicking the ball up and heading into the empty goal from 12 yards. The early going was all Basingstoke and they came close to extending their lead with half an hour gone when some nice link-up play saw Ben Wright's great volley from the edge of the area skim the top of the crossbar. Wright went close again from the edge of the area shortly after but his shot went just wide with the keeper watching. To be fair to Gosport goalie Cafer he made several saves to keep the score down during this period but the resistance only lasted until the 39th minute when Ousman Saidy brought down Sam Smart as he went past him on the left wing. Ben Wright placed his penalty low to keeper's right. Cafer did get a hand to it but it wasn't enough to keep it out. The visitors ran rings round Gosport in the opening 45 minutes and the hosts were fortunate to be only 3-0 down at the break. Any hope Gosport had of keeping it tight in the start of the second period were dashed when Basingstoke went 4-0 up barely a minute after the restart. Sam Smart was given the ball on the right wing and was allowed all the time in the world to cut inside and shoot across goal into the bottom corner of the net. The home side had their first chance of the game in the 54th minute when Tyrell Mitford was played in on the right wing and the visiting goalie pushed his shot onto the bar. Shortly after this Tyler Roach took a shot from the left wing requiring the Basingstoke shotstopper to get down well to stop the ball going in the inside post. This decent ten minute spell for Gosport was as good as it got and they found themselves 5-0 down in the 69th minute. The hosts were sleeping when a quickly taken free-kick was played to Ashleigh Artwell on the left wing and he crossed for Jack McKnight to smash into an empty net from a couple of yards out. It didn't take long for goals six and seven to arrive. In the 75th minute Connor Davis did well on the right wing and crossed for Jack McKnight to tap in. However before it got to him Gosport defender Ed Sanders stuck out a leg and ended up flicking it up with his heel, with the ball looping into the bottom corner. From the kick-off Basingstoke nicked the ball and forced a corner. The corner found Dan Collier who chested it down and smashed the ball through the keeper's legs from 6 yards out. The visitors weren't done yet and on the stroke of 90 minutes added an eighth. Good work by Marcus Johnson-Schuster down right wing allowed him to cross for Jack McKnight who shot well into the corner past a sea of players. In injury time the away side almost grabbed a ninth goal when a long ball put Connor Davis in the clear but his first touch was smothered by the keeper preventing an otherwise certain goal. After this the whistle went putting Gosport out of their misery until the next game at least.

Result: Gosport Borough 0-8 Basingstoke Town
Division: Southern League Premier Division
Attendance: 271

Monday, 11 September 2017

2017 Stadium #20 - High Street Ground

Date: 28th August 2017
Stadium: High Street Ground
Location: Selsey, West Sussex

My twentieth stadium of 2017 was on Monday 28th August at the High Street Ground in Selsey, West Sussex. The match was Selsey vs. Midhurst & Easebourne in Southern Combination League Division One.

As its name suggests the High Street Ground is in the centre of the town of Selsey. The stadium is bordered by housing estates to the south and west and several businesses to the south. The football club are neighbours to a Co-Op supermarket and the town's cricket club which sits behind the northern side. The town is not served by a railway station with the nearest one at Chichester which is 7.5 miles north. The venue has been home to the club since the late 1940s.

The turnstiles are located in the north-eastern corner of the ground and upon entering there is a flat concrete area which extends for a third of the northern side. The middle third of the northern side is home to the clubhouse which consists of dressing rooms, a spectators bar, a separate members room and a food outlet facing out towards the concrete section. There are then three picnic benches in front of the food outlet. The remaining northern third is off-limits to fans with an adjacent property backing onto it.

The venue's only stand straddles the half-way line on the southern side. This was formally a covered concrete terrace but has had 118 seats added to the structure with the back row remaining as a standing viewing area. The two dugouts bookend this stand so are quite a distance from each other. The remainder of the stadium is uncovered standing. There is a decent amount of space behind the western goal but with a car park directly behind the eastern end this is little more than a walkway with a thin section of grass behind the hard standing area.

The first quarter of the game had very little in the way of action but as the game passed the 20 minute mark Selsey began to stamp their authority on the event. They came close in the 23rd minute when a ball over the top found Joe Clarke but when Midhurst keeper Bill Nash came out to meet him Clarke could only steer his shot the wrong side of the post. The final ten minutes of the half saw good chances come and go for Morgan Forry, James Kilhams and Forry again as Selsey were unable to make the breakthrough. In the end Selsey's opening goal was given to them on a plate. Less than a minute after the restart a risky backpass led to Nash slicing his clearance straight up in the air and as it came down it landed with a Selsey attacker who was felled by a defender going for the ball at the same time. Morgan Forry struck the penalty low to the keeper's left and it went in off the post. A quarter of an hour later the referee pointed to the spot again after he spotted an infringement in the away penalty area after a corner was swung into the danger zone. This time it was Jake Goulding on penalty duty and he dispatched the penalty straight down the middle. In the 75th minute Selsey almost wrapped things up after dispossessing Midhurst in their own third of the field - the ball was played through to substitute Jake Edwards but with the goalie to beat he shot over the bar. In the 82nd minute the visitors were reduced to ten men when Lewis Hamilton received his second booking for persistent fouling. Selsey's anticipation of seeing the game out calmly took a knock in the 86th minute when Midhurst grabbed a goal back - the ball was sent across the area from the right and with it being missed by a defender it fell to Gary Norgate at the far post. Norgate smashed an excellent finish across goal into the top corner. This meant a nervy final few minutes but into stoppage time the hosts were able to get the ball in the corner and run down the clock to keep up their winning start to the season.

Result: Selsey 2-1 Midhurst & Easebourne
Division: Southern Combination League Division One
Attendance: 110

Friday, 1 September 2017

2017 Stadium #19 - Crofters End

Date: 15th August 2017
Stadium: Crofters End
Location: Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire

My nineteenth stadium of 2017 was on Tuesday 15th August at Crofters End in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire. The match was Sawbridgeworth Town vs. Stansted in the Essex Senior League.

Crofters End is in the north of the town of Sawbridgeworth with its name taken from the fact it is at the end of a residential street called Crofters. The football complex is surrounded by housing on three sides with only the western end bordered by fields. One mile west of the town's railway station the venue has been home to the club since 1930.

The southern side of the ground has a mixture of structures - starting in the south-east corner there is a snack outlet and next to this a covered area with 30 seats including several on a raised section up some steps. Near the half-way line are the turnstiles and a clubhouse with a covered standing section in front of it. From here working towards the western end is the players tunnel, a covered 76 seat stand and finally a section of uncovered standing.

The remainder of the ground is uncovered standing. The northern side has two brick dugouts which are a significant distance apart and behind the viewing area a second full size pitch. The eastern end has a decent sized grass area behind the hard standing area with fencing directly behind the goal to prevent the ball going into the adjacent properties. The western end is narrower with lots of trees behind. This too has a fence directly behind the goal to catch errant balls.

The hosts raced out of the traps and dominated the first quarter of the match-up. Sawbridgeworth hit the back of the net in the 4th minute after a very poor pass across the backline was intercepted by Lewis Francis who ran in on goal and slotted past the keeper from 12 yards. A few minutes after this Francis went close again when he knocked on a cross from the right wing and Stansted goalie Tim Pitman did well to get down low and block the ball. Another great chance was spurned in the 18th minute when a superb long ball put Gavin Cockman clean through only for him to scuff his shot and have it pounced on by Pitman. Stansted only got a foothold into proceedings around the half-hour mark but when they did they immediately scored. A ball over the top found Reggie Yembra who ran into the area before hitting the post with low effort. The ball bounced back at the feet of Jack Sykes who shot past the remaining defender on the line. The hosts were determined to get back in front and had a great chance within 90 seconds of the goal - the ball was played to Cockman on the left of the box but again it was Pitman who came out on top of the one-on-one situation. The twenty minutes after the interval saw nothing of note with the game getting bogged down in midfield. This changed in the 66th minute when home defender Matt Trew turned his knee and in the process ended uputting Jack Sykes through on goal. Fortunately for Sawbridgeworth Sykes got his feet in a muddle and failed to get his shot away. Sykes had no such trouble in the 73rd minute though when he picked up the ball in the final third and took a shot from 25 yards which went low past home keeper Matt Ponter. Sawbridgeworth reacted well to going behind and peppered the away goal with efforts but Tim Pitman was up to the task. The nearest either side got to another goal was the visitors in the 81st minute when Reggie Yembra nodded on a goal kick to Jordan Carter but as was the pattern of the game when he went one-on-one he failed trouble the keeper.

Result: Sawbridgeworth Town 1-2 Stansted
Division: Essex Senior League
Attendance: 42

Friday, 25 August 2017

2017 Stadium #18 - St George's Park

Date: 5th August 2017
Stadium: St George's Park
Location: Newport, Isle of Wight

My eighteenth stadium of 2017 was on Saturday 5th August at St George's Park in Newport, Isle of Wight. The match was Newport (IoW) vs. Guildford City in the F.A. Cup Extra Preliminary Round.

St George's Park is on the south-eastern outskirts of Newport - while the town is not close to any railway stations there are regular bus services connecting it to the ferry ports at Ryde and Cowes. Until recently the ground was mostly surrounded by fields and wooded areas. However construction of a retail park bordering the ground is ongoing and the club have been given notice to vacate the site in the summer of 2018. The venue has been home to the club since 1888 so this will see the end of a 130-year stay.

The main stand is on the west side of the stadium. This structure has 300 seats with supporters assigned the left and right thirds of the stand. The middle section is given over to officials and is also split by the players tunnel which leads back to dressing rooms. The interior of the stand also includes the main facilities and a directors box and boardroom at the top of it which look out onto the pitch. The two dugouts which drop below pitch level are in front of the stand. There is one additional building on the western side which houses a snack bar and toilets and there is a flat concrete viewing area in front of this. Other than this the rest of this side is uncovered standing.

The remainder of the ground is hard standing with a strip of concrete behind the barrier and decent grass sized areas behind this. Each of the three sides also have one covered area with the eastern one by the half-way line and the northern and southern ones directly behind the goals. The eastern and southern sections have one raised level with a large flat concrete section with the northern end having two raised levels of concrete.

The game was between Wessex League Premier Division side Newport (IoW) and Combined Counties League Premier Division side Guildford City. Guildford started well creating a couple of decent chances in first couple of minutes. Newport were on the back foot in the opening part of the match but had their first half-chance in the 23rd minute when Jake Ballentyne fizzed a low shot from 30 yards out requiring visiting keeper Luke Badiali to get down quickly to palm the ball to safety. In the 39th minute the hosts took the lead - it came about when the visiting right-back went down injured which left a gap for Charlie Urry to race into. Urry was then able to beat the last defender and goalkeeper in one move and roll into an empty net from 12 yards out. Guildford very nearly equalised in first-half injury time after a header from a corner was saved on the goalline by Newport shotstopper Gary Streeter. The away side started the second half well and went close again in the 48th minute after Louie Downey's weak shot squirmed through keeper Gary Streeter's legs. Fortunately for Streeter there was a covering defender in the shape of Will Quigley who cleared off the line. Newport's respite didn't last long though as four minutes later Guildford did get back on level terms - a corner was whipped into the home area and bounced up kindly for Kieran Campbell who smashed home from 12 yards. The Combined Counties League side continued to attack and in the 68th minute Gary Streeter had to be on good form to produce a double save to deny Campbell his second and then Downie on the rebound. The next goal surprisingly came from Newport - after going after the home goal the hosts were able to break on the counter. An initial shot in the area was cleared off the line but as Charlie Urry went for the rebound he was clattered into. The referee pointed to the spot and Aiden Sainsbury shot low sending keeper the wrong way. Newport's hopes of advancing to the next round took a hit in the 81st minute when City drew level for the second time of the day. One of the away midfielders did well in the middle of the park before threading the ball through to Kyen Nicholas who poked past the advancing Streeter. Both sides were keen to avoid a weeknight replay on the mainland so went for it in the final minutes trying to snatch a winner. However neither side could grab the crucial fifth goal meaning they would have to do it all over again.

Result: Newport (IoW) 2-2 Guildford City
Competition: F.A. Cup
Attendance: 174