Tuesday 12 September 2023

TLFG: 12-17 September 2023

Well this is probably the most delayed publication of TLFG since October 2014 when I went to Berlin to experience the first edition of the now defunct Lokalrunde - also known as German Non-League Day. 

This edition is late for almost the same reason - the first edition of Basque Non-League Day.

Some readers might know that I set up Non-League Day (NLD) in England back in 2010.

Since then there have been sister events set up in France (Vrai Foot Day) and another new one in Germany (Tag der Amateure which replaced Lokalrunde).

Last autumn I got approached online by one of the directors of Athletic Bilbao, one of the biggest clubs in La Liga, wanting advice on how to set up a version of NLD in the Basque Country.

Sardines at Santurtzi

After some further online conversations, the NLD team were invited to Bilbao in January for further discussions, a tour of the stadium and training ground and to watch their derby against Osasuna - it was a fantastic experience.

Thankfully, we did enough to persuade them of the merits of hosting NLD and this weekend they delivered it.

I was invited over as the guest of honour and, with my friend Mike tagging along, we had a highly eventful 24 hours.

Finishing work shortly before midnight on Friday, I was pretty exhausted when I arrived at Gatwick around 0630 the following morning but with some coffee and porridge inside me we boarded and took the short flight south.

After settling in to my hotel (coincidentally the one Osasuna stayed at when we last visited), we were picked up in a club car by Athletic director Jon Ruigomez who had initiated contact in the first place.

We first headed to the fishing neighbourhood of Santurtzi to see the local team play Getxo from the other side of the river. 

With a large terrace behind one goal and the ability to walk around the whole stadium, this was the most similar to an English non-league ground and was unsurprisingly my favourite.

The teams were playing in the Torneo De La Sardina - a triangular competition with another club which had been played throughout the week and this appeared to be the deciding match.

Rather than trophies, models of fishing trawlers of different sizes and colours were awarded to the competing teams.

On arrival we met the larger-than-life president who kept everything going around the club and was a brilliant character.

We were introduced to other officials and fans and also the town's mayor and two councillors who we sat with during the game.

Sadly, our schedule was so tight that we had to leave at half-time but not before we'd both been presented with Santurtzi shirts and enjoyed some sardines fresh off the grill.

Holding the Copa del Rey with Mike at Arenas

There were literally hundreds being cooked by a couple of older gentleman which the crowd would be allowed to enjoy for free as part of the festivities.

We didn't see any goals but I believe Getxo went on to win 1-0.

Next up, we had to cross the river to get to Getxo to see one of the town's other teams - Arenas.

To do this we drove on to the old transporter bridge which was an amazing experience in itself.

There are only a tiny number of these in the whole world and we have some of them in the UK but I'd never been on one and it was incredibly quick and smooth.

Anyway, after that we made it to Arenas.

I have to admit to not being a huge expert on football in this area but I'd discovered that they were founder members of La Liga in the 1920s and also won the Copa del Rey in 1919.

As soon as we got out of the car we could tell it was going to be a very different experience.

Their opponets were Barakaldo and, like Santurtzi, came from the other side of the river.

Not only was this a derby but it was played at a higher level and the atmosphere was amazing.

We entered the stadium close to the away fans who were singing their hearts out.

The ground is know as 'The Cage' and it's easy to see why.

With one large grandstand holding 2,000 down one side, the other three sides are devoid of fans and effectively walled off to make it resemble a large 5-a-side pitch/cage.

Everything about the match was intense from the off.

The pace was frenetic, the chanting was loud and a lighting storm flashed in the clouds above without deluging us with rain.

There were chances galore at either end, theatrical dives and shortly before half time, a missed penalty by the visitors!

Somehow it was goalless at the interval.

During the break, we were taken to the directors' lounge where we met the president of Arenas and the head of the Basque Football Federation.

As part of my duties, I took part in presenting the signed shirts and VIP tickets which Athletic had donated to all host clubs for taking part in Basque Non-League Day.

The winners were selected via a raffle with the club getting to keep the proceeds - at least one club decided to donate their earnings to a local charity.

With half-time nearly up, we were ushered into a back room by Arenas' president to hold that Copa del Rey they won back in 1919 - another great moment.

The second half saw more of the same high-octane action.

It felt destined to be another 0-0 draw as chance after chance went begging but then the hosts managed to bundle one home from close range around the hour mark.

They looked set to see out the win until a sublime free-kick found the net deep into injury time to send the away fans into raptures and it finished 1-1.

By this time it was about 2130 but our night didn't end there as we drove back into central Bilbao to socialise and eat pintxos with a large chunk of Athletic's board including President Jon Uriarte, Secretary Jon Salinas, Vice-Secretary Xabier Alvarez and Josetxu Urrutia who had worked a lot on NLD and I'd met before. 

My friend Mike who hadn't been on the last trip found it incredibly surreal to find him himself hanging out with people like this outside a regular bar surrounded by regular people.

Unlike Premier League clubs, Athletic's board is elected by its members - you can't buy your way in.

The board members are fans who are there to serve.

Don't get me wrong, these people (there are several women on the board too) are all incredibly intelligent, successful and no doubt wealthy but they don't let it get to their heads and are really down to earth.

With most of the directors representing Athletic at non-league clubs around the region over the course of the day, it was interesting to catch up on how it had gone at all the different games.

I was also able to quiz Mr Uriarte on the Rubiales affair as he sat on the Spanish FA's board and knew him well - he had, however, resigned swiftly after the event.

It was also interesting to get the latest on the players' strike in the women's league which had seen that weekend's opening set of games called off.

And that was that for day one.

Day two was supposed to begin with Mike and I going for a run along Bilbao's picturesque riverfront but I forgot my shoes and we had to go for a walk instead.

Me with Jose Angel Iribar (to my left) and Athletic director Jon Ruigomez at Basconia

After breakfast and a freshen up, Jon met us again and after picking up Xabier (mentioned above), we headed upstream to Basconia.

In 1997, the club found themselves short of money and asked Athletic to buy them out.

They did and effectively made them their C team.

Playing in the fifth tier, they're made up almost entirely of Athletic's hottest teen prospects and in this game we were told to watch out for Peio Huestamendia who is an extremely gifted 16-year-old midfielder who could set La Liga alight in the years to come.

Javier Sola was also worth keeping an eye on too.

Before the match, we were taken to the club offices where we met the president, the mayor, some high-ranking officials and also had the great honour to meet Jose Angel Iribar.

Arguably Athletic's greatest living legend, he had played in goal for Basconia as a youngster before moving to San Mames in 1962 and making around 500 appearances for the Lions.

He also played 49 times for Spain and represented them during the 1966 World Cup here in England.

An incredibly humble man, he is adored across the region so it was a real privilege to shake his hand and be welcomed to the club by him. 

We then joined him on the pitch as he performed a ceremonial kick-off prior to the action getting underway.

The match itself, in scorching conditions, saw the young guns fall behind early but then fight back to win 2-1.

With that all the football action came to an end and we were whisked back into town for a meeting with Dan Parry, one of the club's media team, and his wife who took us for lunch at a lovely Basque restaurant.

He's English and has been living in the area for around nine years and working at the club for three.

We last met when Athletic sent a delegation to Dulwich Hamlet to support the English Non-League Day in March so it was great to catch up, chat football and discuss whether or not it's a good idea to take part in the Pamplona Bull Run!

With lunch complete we headed back to the airport and home.

I've made two trips to Bilbao this year and they've been two of the best football trips/experiences of my life.

The access I have been granted and people I've met has been amazing and I can't wait to go back.

So, dear reader, that's why this blog is late.

It's also not yet complete, with previews only going up to Friday at the moment but I'll endeavour to finish by tomorrow (Wednesday).

I'm lucky enough to have Saturday and Sunday off again this week so will hopefully get to at least one match.

Have a great week and enjoy your football.


The international break is over so the Premier League and Championship make their return.

There are also games in the rest of the EFL, National League, FA Cup, Women's Championship and most of our other local non-league and women's competitions.

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 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.

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.

Tuesday fixtures - green pin
Wednesday fixtures - turquoise pin
Thursday fixtures - purple pin
Friday fixtures - black pin

Saturday fixtures - blue pin
Sunday fixtures - orange pin

In the following section, I list 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.

Tuesday 12 September

Southern League Premier South
Hendon v Bracknell Town @745pm - with a significant influx of decent players over the summer, the Greens would probably have expected to have been higher than 13th at this stage. Having also made an early exit from the FA Cup, three players have already been released. Bracknell have one of the largest budgets in the division and made the play-offs last season but they too have been a little underwhelming and are already nine points behind leaders Chesham
Walton & Hersham v Hayes & Yeading United @745pm - after a blistering start which saw them score 21 goals and accrue 13 points in their first five games, the Swans have now lost two in a row and are out of the FA Cup. Next up they host a tricky Hayes side who have challenged for the title in recent seasons and are just three points behind them

SCEFL Premier
Erith Town v Corinthian @745pm - the Dockers moved to Bayliss Avenue to begin a new groundshare this season and it appears to be going pretty well. After six games, they find themselves only a point behind leaders Glebe and on level points with Corinthian who are second on goal difference

Wednesday 13 September

Isthmian League North
Walthamstow v Witham Town @745pm - the Stow may have only played two league games so far but a big enough win here against Witham could see them go top

Essex Senior League
Woodford Town v West Essex @745pm - although a level below the game above, this would be where I'd be heading on Wednesday if I was free. Currently third and second in the division, either could go top if leaders Romford slip up at Frenford on Tuesday


Thursday 14 September

Development Football
All the action today features U23 and U18 sides from non-league clubs. There are matches all over London and some at grounds that we don't often feature. However, check all details before you travel as I've been unable to verify everything at this stage

Friday 15 September

Premier League International Cup
West Ham United v Celtic @7pm - this highly entertaining and but very much overlooked U21 competition has its next fixture on Friday night and what a game it is. The Hammers won the FA Youth Cup last year at U18 level and this U21 side have won five in a row so should be capable of beating the Glasgow giants. The match is being played at Dagenham & Redbridge with adult tickets only £5. Given how popular games featuring Celtic tend to be, I'd strongly recommend buying in advance

Saturday 16 September

Premier League
Fulham v Luton Town @3pm - having played and lost to Brighton, Chelsea and West Ham since returning to the Premier League, it could be argued that Luton have had a pretty tough start. On Saturday they face a Cottagers side who've blown hot and cold. Consequently, there might be an opportunity to get something out of this. Having said that, Fulham are unbeaten in seven against the Hatters and beat them 7-0 when they last met in May 2022. The match has sold out
Tottenham Hotspur v Sheffield United @3pm - after four games, Spurs are one of six teams to still be unbeaten. New boss Ange Postecoglou has had a very positive impact following his arrival from Celtic with his side averaging almost three goals a game. With only one point to their name so far, it looks like being another tough season for the visiting Blades. Tickets are only available to members
West Ham United v Manchester City @3pm - the biggest game sees fourth host first. When Declan Rice left the Hammers in the summer, some feared the side could struggle like they did for most of last year. However, the astute purchase of James Ward-Prowse has seen them swap top spot with City in the opening weeks of the season as they've made an unbeaten start. The east London club are unbeaten in three of their last four against Pep Guardiola's side at the London Stadium and a draw looks possible given their current form. Apparently some tickets are available via the club's exchange service

QPR v Sunderland @3pm - although these clubs are eight places apart in the table, there's only one point between them as the second tier looks like being as tight as ever. Gareth Ainsworth's R's were expected to struggle this season and when they got thrashed 4-0 at Watford on the opening day, it looked like things were going to be really bad. However, the performances have improved a lot and even in defeat, the players are being applauded off the pitch. The Mackems made it to the play-offs last season and are fancied by many to repeat the feat. Last season QPR pulled off a dramatic draw at the Stadium of Light when goalkeeper Seny Dieng equalised in injury time after being sent up for a corner. Tickets are available
Watford v Birmingham City @3pm - it's a far less positive story at Vicarage Road where all those who were celebrating their demolition of QPR a month ago, now find their team below Rangers in the table after failing to win a game since. The Blues, under former QPR coach John Eustace, are in the top four and one of only two unbeaten teams in the division. However, this ground is not a happy one for Birmingham who've lost their last five here. Tickets are available

League Two
AFC Wimbledon v Crewe Alexandra @3pm -  after a bright start, the Dons are winless in three and have slipped out of the leading pack and back into midtable. With one more win than Wimbledon, Crewe will arrive at Plough Lane as a top-six side. Both games between these two last season ended in a draw and it could be a similar story here. Tickets are available

Premier League International Cup
Chelsea v Lyon @2pm - if you're on a tighter budget or want to see some of the next generation of top talent, then this U21 game at Kingsmeadow could be for you. Given Chelsea have been hoovering up young talent in recent months, they could field quite an impressive team against their French opponents. Tickets are available

National League
Bromley v Oldham Athletic @3pm - after a shaky start, the Ravens have now won three in a row and are up to ninth. Last season was Oldham's first at this level following relegation from League Two and they initially found it very tough, only turning things round late on to finish 12th. Things have also begun in underwhelming fashion this time with only one win from eight. On paper, Bromley should win. Tickets are available
Wealdstone v Altrincham @3pm - currently a point apart in midtable, these are two of the smaller sides in the division. The Stones managed to arrest a worrying run of three straight defeats with a decent 2-1 win over Ebbsfleet last time out. They'll also take heart from the knowledge that since returning to the fifth tier in 2020, they've won all three home games against Alty so should start as favourites here. Tickets are available

FA Cup Second Round Qualifying
The next round of the FA Cup takes place this weekend. At this stage, all clubs in the sixth tier enter the draw alongside all the survivors from the previous three rounds. The winners of each tie receive £3,375 and the losers £1,125

Dartford v Welling United @3pm - the tie of the round sees two local rivals from the south-east side of town meet at Princes Park for what should be a huge clash. Both sides play in the sixth tier National League South and know each other well. Last season, the Darts were runners-up in the league and Welling floated around the lower reaches but at the moment, they're both at the wrong end so this should be well worth watching. Tickets are available
Carshalton Athletic v Kingstonian @3pm - with the K's now based in Mitcham, this should be classed as derby too. Both these sides play in the seventh tier Isthmian Premier and have been facing each other for decades. The Robins have made a great start and I'd expect them to have too much for the K's. Tickets are available
Enfield Town v Felixstowe & Walton United @3pm - the Towners first entered the FA Cup 20 years ago and despite becoming one of the best clubs in the seventh tier, they've never made it to the First Round proper. On Saturday they face a team from a level below them so they won't get a much better chance to progress. Tickets are available
Haringey Borough v Tonbridge Angels @3pm - a short distance to the south of Enfield, is Coles Park. After beating Dulwich Hamlet in a replay, Haringey next face opposition from the division above them. Tonbridge are in lower midtable so there's a glimmer of an upset here. Tickets are available on the gate
Hayes & Yeading United v Slough Town @3pm - just a few miles apart on the M4 or just a few stops on the train, this tie also leapt out at me when I saw the draw. The hosts currently play a level below the Rebels but they've hard a poor start to the season and look vulnerable. H&YU have one of the best recent FA Cup records of any seventh-tier club in the country, making the First Round in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Tickets are available on the gate
Northwood v Cray Valley PM @3pm - the hosts haven't made it this far in the competition since 2015 and I was quite surprised to see them here but I really shouldn't be as they've made a good start. To get this far they've beaten Buckhurst Hill and Binfield and CVPM play in a parallel eighth-tier division. However, the visitors are a club with great cup pedigree, making the First Round of this in 2020 and the final of the FA Vase at Wembley the year before. Tickets are available on the gate

Southern League Premier South
Hanwell Town v Harrow Borough @3pm - if the promise of thrilling FA Cup action isn't enough to lure you to one of the above then this local derby in the seventh tier should be worth a watch. Originally scheduled to have been played in midweek, the clubs moved it to Saturday as they were both already out of the cup. With Harrow winning their first game of the season last Saturday, they'll travel to the Powerday with renewed confidence but will probably be more than happy with a point. Tickets are available

Hendon v Dulwich Hamlet @130pm - rather than sit with their feet up, two other clubs to have made early exits from the FA Cup have decided to play each other in a friendly. Competing in parallel seventh-tier divisions of the Southern League and Isthmian League, this is a reasonable consolation game for fans of the two

Isthmian League South Central
Raynes Park Vale v Chertsey Town @3pm - the game of the day in the eighth tier sees two of the top five meet at Grand Drive. RPV are new to this level after promotion from the Combined Counties League and have a 100% record after three games. The Curfews have dropped a couple of points but remain unbeaten too

Essex Senior League
Sporting Bengal United v Little Oakley @3pm - in the ninth tier, the pick of the games would appear to be this top-six clash. Playing at the Mile End Stadium, SBU are one of the most centrally located clubs in London and have started well after their promotion from the Eastern Counties League. The visitors come from a village on the outskirts of Harwich, a far cry from the urban setting for this game

CCL Division 1
Molesey v Eversley & California @3pm - around a half an hour walk from Hampton Court Palace, Walton Road is the venue for this big game in the 10th tier. Currently second and third, the Moles could go top with a big enough win here. E&C, although third, have games in hand on both of the top two and would go three points clear at the top if they won them all

Sunday 17 September

Millwall v Leeds United @12pm - if ever there was a game that required an early kick-off for security reasons, it's this one. Although this kick-off time is primarily for TV purposes, both clubs are famed for the unsavoury element among their supporter base. Consequently there should be quite an atmosphere. As one of the smallest clubs in the second tier, the Lions did really well to just miss the play-offs last season and they've made a steady start this time. Leeds got relegated last season and with two wins from five, haven't quite adjusted to life at the lower level. Games at The Den rarely sell out but this one has showing just how big an occasion this is

FA Cup Second Round Qualifying
Cray Wanderers v Ramsgate @3pm - elsewhere in south-east London, the capital's oldest club will hope this is the year they finally make it to the First Round. Still three rounds away from it, they face a very tricky tie here. Cray are struggling in the seventh tier, whilst Ramsgate are in the top six of the division below. They also routed Chatham, who top Cray's division, 5-1 in the last round
Wingate & Finchley v Farnborough @3pm - the hosts have their roots in north London's Jewish community and usually always move a game to a Sunday at this time of year to avoid  a clash with the festival of Rosh Hashanah. This year it's this big game with NLS side Farnborough. W&F are another side never to have made the First Round whereas Farnborough made it all the way to the Second Round last year. The Hampshire club, under the name Farnborough Town, also famously took West Ham to a Third Round replay at Upton Park in 1992 and faced Arsenal in a Fourth Round tie at Highbury in 2003

FA Women's Championship
Watford v Blackburn Rovers @2pm - with the WSL still two weeks away, this second-tier match is the pick of the women's games on Sunday. Being played at Wealdstone's ground, the Hornets will be looking to build on their fine 3-2 win over Charlton at The Valley last time out. With two wins from three, Rovers are in the top four and will be tough to beat. Tickets are available

FAWNL Division 1 South East
Ashford Town (Middlesex) v Cambridge City @2pm - having put title favourites AFC Wimbledon to the sword the week before last, Ashford saw their 100% record end against Actonians who they held to a 1-1 draw at Rectory Park. Nearest rivals Norwich didn't capitalise and they're now two points clear at the top. Cambridge City have been pretty woeful so far, losing all three league games and conceding 16 goals in the process - I can see only one winner here
AFC Wimbledon v Chesham United @2pm - having pushed Hashtag United so hard in the title race last year and with some of the best players in the division, many thought this season would be a bit of a procession for the Dons. Having recorded some ominously good results in pre-season, the title looked like theirs to lose. However, having edged past an average QPR side 5-3 in their first league game, they then lost 2-0 at home to Ashford and conceded another four against Swindon in a cup match. If they fail to beat Chesham, who have shipped 10 in their three league games, the alarm bells will really start ringing. This is being played at Carshalton Athletic
QPR v Worthing @2pm - the mood music coming from the R's camp swings wildly from week to week, with squads on the verge of collapse to suddenly everything being ok. On the pitch they've done probably better than expected with two wins from three to put them in the top four alongside Sunday's opponents. Newly promoted Worthing have enjoyed some investment and could well challenge for the title but in these crazy opening weeks of the season, this could go either way. This is being played at Hanwell Town

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.

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!

You can contact TLFG through the comments section below or via FacebookTwitter or even by good old email.

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