Monday, 9 November 2020

British Football's Greatest Grounds

With lockdown completely stopping the watching of live football at all levels, TLFG would normally lie dormant until grounds begin opening up again.

However, last week, my friend and former Non-League Day campaign manager Mike Bayly finally published 'British Football's Greatest Grounds: One Hundred Must See Football Venues'.

After initially asking football fans to nominate their favourite ones, Mike has spent the last six years selecting the top 100 and travelling the length and breadth of the country researching each one.

Groundhoppers, club historians, photographers and fans have all been interviewed or contributed to its production - I even helped with the Loftus Road part.


It is a fantastic book with thousands of copies pre-ordered before its publication by Pitch Publishing last Monday.

If you're a fan of football, the game's history or love a bit of groundhopping then this is the book for you.

Clubs at all levels appear throughout its 320 pages and it should keep you amused as we move towards the time when we can all watch the sport we love once again.

How many of the 100 have you been to? Which ones are on your list? In your opinion, are there any missing that should be on there? 

One that seems to be very popular is Cappielow Park, the home of Scottish club Greenock Morton which lies next to the town's docks to the west of Glasgow.



Although I've visited almost 150 grounds worldwide, I've never been to a match in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales - bar a play-off final at the Millennium Stadium.

I did once have tickets for Celtic v Motherwell but it was around New Year and the match got snowed off, I couldn't make it back for the re-arranged game and I've never come close to having the opportunity again.

Mike's book will give you all kinds of ideas about where to go next so treat yourself to an early Christmas present, you won't regret it.

Sunday, 1 November 2020

TLFG: 2-8 November 2020

With Covid Lockdown 2 looming towards the end of the week, it's a strange time at TLFG Towers.

Most of the announced restrictions make the continuation of football at all levels with spectators almost impossible.

However, at the time of writing on Sunday, nothing official has been announced so we're in a state of limbo at the moment. 

What does seem fairly clear is that football with spectators for games in the seventh tier and below should be able to continue up to and including Wednesday.

As a result the 'Daily Digest' towards the foot of the page only goes that far but the match maps have everything until Sunday, including a whole raft of youth fixtures from U18-U23 levels. The list at these levels is probably not exhaustive but there's plenty to be going on with.

So with possibly only three days of action remaining, it's time to fill your boots!

If you read last week's piece you might remember I've got some time off at the moment so I managed to cram two games in this weekend.

Bagshot's goalkeeper had a very tough afternoon

On Saturday I had planned to head south to Sussex to watch Burgess Hill Town against Harrow Borough but torrential rain and some last-minute errands from the Mrs made me re-think my plans and I ended up staying local.

Living in Shepherd's Bush my local non-league team in the top 10 tiers are Kensington & Ealing Borough who hail from very close by but currently groundshare at Hanwell Town which is still my nearest non-league ground.

After a bit of shopping in Westfield and a trip to the library (see 'errands' above), I jumped on the Tube at White City shortly before 230pm and was in the Powerday Stadium close to Perivale station in time for kick-off.

As it was fairly short notice, I hadn't looked into the form guide of K&EB or their visitors Bagshot ahead of this Combined Counties League game.

To say the early stages were open would be an understatement as the hosts seemed to carve the Bagshot defence apart at will and duly went ahead in the fourth minute with a simple enough goal.

The chances kept on coming and so did the goals with the west London club opening up a 3-0 half-time lead. With two others disallowed, their dominance was total.

Three minutes after the re-start, a fourth found the net to end the game as a contest.

Sadly for Bagshot there was to be no respite as the hosts rattled in another four to go 8-0 up with the best part of 15 minutes to go.

It looked almost certain that we'd get into double figures and we duly did, however, it was the embattled visitors who somehow managed two goals in little more than a minute who got us there.

With the match finishing 8-2 I finally had a look at the league table and discovered Kensington & Ealing were now positioned nicely in sixth whilst Bagshot were bottom, having lost all nine of their league games, conceding an average of 4.4 goals per game - a record that was clearly borne out by their performance here.

Aside from the stellar performance, I'd like to also highlight how friendly various players and officials of the club were with several of them saying a polite hello to me as the solitary person on the terrace behind the goal (everyone else preferred to stand along the sides).

I'd also like to note that on arrival at the ground there was no-one manning the turnstile and I just walked in. After the match I tweeted the club to say I'd send them the money online but they said not to worry and looked forward to me coming again so I will, lockdown permitting.

My match on Sunday saw me attend my first women's match.

I say first, I've been to a couple of FA Cup finals and an England game but never a run-of-the-mill club game.

Why now? Good question.

The answer is mainly down to the fact that since I started this blog I've become the proud father of two daughters and the eldest at seven is starting to get into the sport.

With it being half-term, the beginning of the week saw her attend her first two day football camp hosted by local women's club Actonians at their headquarters near Acton Town station.

It seemed to be a great success with IGF providing the coaches, one of whom is the Actonians goalkeeper. A couple of other players, including New Zealand's Ashleigh Ward, dropped in to do Q&As and even one of Chelsea's players chatted via a video link.

My daughter was inspired and more than happy to check out the first team's big Women's FA Cup match against Worthing today.

Coached by Danny Harrigan, a member of the QPR Trust Football Development team, Actonians play in the fourth tier of the women's football system and had been on a fine six-game unbeaten run coming into this. With Worthing playing two levels below, they were expected to win.

Left-back Ashleigh Ward had a fine game for Actonians

Playing games a few miles north-west of Acton at the Middlesex FA's HQ in Northolt, it afforded me the first chance to visit the new facility in Rectory Park.

Tickets were £3 for adults and free for U16s, which had to be bought in advance, so that was a good start.

To be honest, the facilities are great for players but not so great for spectators with everyone restricted to one side of the field, with the two small stands closed for Covid reasons. There is, though, a fine tea bar selling a wide variety of food to satisfy a number of dietary requirements.

The match itself was a little cagey to begin with but bang on the midway point of the first half, Meila D'Santos saw her corner cleared straight back to her and she curled it sweetly into the top corner to give the hosts the lead. 

A second followed 10 minutes later when Justine Buckmire-Monro drove into the box and saw her goalbound effort touched home by Alessandra Barreca.

Worthing had shown moments of skill so were by no means out of it as the second half kicked off but seconds later they were 3-0 down after Minori Ono's calmly converted after being put clean through.

When the fourth came just six minutes later, I thought I could be in for another 10-goal afternoon but it was not to be as Actonians made a number of subs and comfortably consolidated their lead.

Having spotted a fellow campmate in the crowd, seen her coach on the bench and witnessed a good performance, my daughter and I were both impressed.

The amount of recognition we got from the club, manager and a number of players on social media for simply turning up was also a really nice touch.

A Twitter conversation with club's chair Linda Fox earlier in the week had made it clear that there were a number of opportunities for my daughter with Wildcats sessions and an opportunity to join the U9s squad also on offer.

Whether we'll get into U9s football at this stage I'm not so sure but Wildcats sessions are fun and with QPR running a session too, we could mix them up depending on my shifts - and lockdown restrictions!

Anyway, if you want to get into women's football or have a daughter who does and you live in west London, Actonians seem to be a great club to get involved with.

Well I think that's about it from me. I hope to cram one more game in, at Harefield United, before lockdown on Thursday which is coincidentally my birthday - great timing Boris!

Stay safe everyone and hopefully it won't be too long before everything's back to 'normal'.


THE WEEK AHEAD

The highlights of the next few days include games in the Isthmian League, Southern League, FA Vase, FA Youth Cup and Women's National League. There are also games at higher levels but none of them are open to the public.

As always, please make sure you check with clubs before you travel just in case a game has been called off or the venue or kick-off time has changed - this is highly possible for some of the lower non-league clubs or youth matches. Also, please let me know if anything is wrong or missing.

Details on all of this week's games can be found on the following match maps. If you've never used them before, please note that when there is more than one match at a specific ground you'll only be able to see individual match pins if you zoom right in. If you don't, the pins obscure each other and you might miss them. To avoid this, you can also scroll down the list of games on the drop down menu at the top of the map page to make sure you get all the information. Games are listed from top to bottom in date order so Monday's games (yellow pin) will appear first and Sunday's (orange pin) last. Games are also ranked in terms of status so the higher the division, the higher up the list they will appear on each day.

Also if you're unfamiliar with the English league structure I indicate the level at which an individual league sits in the national 'pyramid' with the Premier League at the top (Level 1) and various minor leagues at the bottom (Level 10). Typically a top level game will see crowds of anywhere between 20,000-60,000. These figures will gradually decline as you go down the leagues until you get to Levels 8-10 where attendances of 150 or less are most common. However, capacity restrictions are currently in place at all grounds because of Covid-19 meaning only clubs from the seventh tier and below can currently admit spectators.

It should also be noted that the top four levels are for fully professional teams. Level 5 has a mixture of professional and semi-professional teams, while Levels 6-10 will see most players paid but it will vary from no more than travel expenses at the bottom, right up to several hundred pounds a week at the top.

MIDWEEK MATCH MAP
Monday fixtures - yellow pin
Tuesday fixtures - green pin
Wednesday fixtures - blue pin




TLFG DAILY DIGEST
In the following section I list, by day, what are in my opinion the most notable games of the week and give some brief reasons for my choice. Check the maps above for kick-off times, ticket info and directions.

Monday 2 November

ECL Division 1 South
Barkingside v Burnham Ramblers @745pm - the week opens with a 10th-tier fixture in Ilford. These two are only a point apart in midtable. A win for either will send them into the top eight

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Tuesday 3 November

Isthmian League Premier Division
Wingate & Finchley v Cheshunt @745pm - it was hard to pick a game of the night at this level but I've gone for this as it's important at either end of the table. As one of the smallest clubs, staying up is always the priority for a club like Wingate and at the moment they're keeping their heads above water. Cheshunt, who don't play a million miles away, are having one of their best seasons for a while and will go level on points with leaders Worthing if they win. Tickets are available in advance but can be bought on the gate too

FA Trophy Third Round Qualifying
Uxbridge v Hayes & Yeading United @745pm - after seeing this match rained off on Saturday, these two local rivals will try again on Tuesday night. Uxbridge are struggling at the level below H&YU so start as considerable underdogs. Tickets are available on the gate for £10

Isthmian League South East Division
VCD Athletic v East Grinstead Town @745pm - this was supposed to have been played earlier in the season when the sides made up the top two. Not much has changed since with VCD second and East Grinstead third. However, the visitors have games in hand on all those around them and have top spot in their sights. Tickets are available on the gate for £10

FA Vase First Round
Cockfosters v Cogenhoe United @745pm - another game to fall foul of Saturday's bad weather gets another chance to be played on Tuesday. Cockfosters are among the frontrunners in the Essex Senior League so should fancy their chances against a midtable side from the parallel United Counties League. I haven't seen any ticket prices but they are available on the gate and shouldn't be more than £7
Newbury Forest v May & Baker @745pm - next to Barkingside Tube station these two east London clubs meet in an Eastern Counties League derby which should hopefully be thoroughly entertaining. The hosts will start as strong favourites as M&B are bottom of the league

SSML Premier Division
Harefield United v North Greenford United @730pm - the hosts could break into the league's top four if results go their way on Tuesday night. With no game on Saturday, they should come into this game rested and ready to go. NGU have had a tough time in the league but stunned then leaders  Eynesbury last weekend and rattled in six goals on their way to victory at Sandhurst in the FA Vase on Saturday so they arrive in great form. Tickets are available on the gate and are usually around £6 - I'm going to this one

CCL Division 1 Cup First Round
Tooting Bec v Farnham Town @745pm - fifth placed Bec host the leaders for the second time in 10 days after the two fought out an entertaining 2-2 draw in a league match last weekend. Let's hope we'll get some more of the same here. Tickets are £6 and available on the gate

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Wednesday 4 November
At the time of writing on Sunday, it's looking highly likely that Wednesday could be the last time you get to watch any live football before the lockdown kicks in so don't miss your opportunity

Isthmian League Premier Division
Kingstonian v Haringey Borough @745pm - neck-and-neck on 12 points, one of these two could make a giant stride towards the play-off places with a win here. After winning at Faversham in the FA Trophy on Saturday, Haringey arrive in slightly better form as the K's came unstuck at Maldon & Tiptree. Tickets are available online in advance for £10

FA Vase First Round
Raynes Park Vale v Sheerwater - rearranged at relatively short notice, this tie should have happened on Saturday. It features two midtable CCL Premier Division teams so should make for a pretty even contest. Tickets are £6 and available on the gate

CCL Division 1 Cup First Round
Westside v Sandhurst Town @730pm - when Westside thrashed former landlords Chessington & Hook 5-0 on 17 October things were looking very rosy indeed. Since then, back-to-back defeats to Epsom & Ewell and Eversley & California have seen them drop to third. However, they are still only four points off top spot and well in the hunt for promotion. With Sandhurst towards the wrong end of the table and shipping six goals in an FA Vase tie on Saturday, the hosts should make progress here. Tickets are £5 and available on the gate

Emergency Services Football League
London Police v London Fire Brigade Eastern @6pm - for something a little different, head west to North Greenford United's ground to enjoy this early kick-off. Tickets are free but must be secured online in advance
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5 November-2 December
With a national lockdown kicking in on the 5 November and lasting until at least 2 December, no matches are being played with spectators during this period. Hopefully we'll have some positive news soon


GET INVOLVED
If you're going to see a game, whether you're a local or a visitor, please let me know what you've been up to. If you're interested in reviewing a ground in the London area for this blog then get in touch. I also very much welcome photos of your football travels.

NEED HELP?
Got any questions about visiting London? Don't hesitate to ask - be they football or more general travel/touristy queries. I do not charge for this advice like some other sites so don't hold back!

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