First Tower United v Sporting Academics reserves

4.30pm  30 January 2016

Jersey Combination, Division Two
First Tower United 1 Sporting Academics reserves 3 (att 25)

Booking a weekend break in the British Isles in January is always a risk, and so it proved as our short stay in the Channel island of Jersey coincided with weather so wet it wiped out all Saturday's scheduled games on grass.

Luckily for me, the island's de facto national stadium, Springfield in St Helier, now has a 3G pitch, allowing a couple of games to go ahead. Less fortunately, it wasn't a new ground for me, as I'd seen a Jersey Combination game at Springfield in 1991.

In the 25 years since, the stadium has been entirely rebuilt, and now looks completely different. As well as replacing the grass, the pitch itself has apparently been rotated 90 degrees, the old stand and huge open terrace opposite are gone, replaced by a neat and modern seated stand.

First team football in Jersey is restricted to the top two divisions, the Premiership and Championship (the two leagues created after a mid-season split of a single division), while divisions one and two are for reserve and third teams.

But First Tower's first eleven pulled out of the league earlier in the season so, while this was officially a reserve fixture, it featured the First Tower's most senior team. The club has a strong history, in fact I saw them at home last time I was Springfield, and hopefully they can return to senior football next season.

They looked to have a young side against Sporting Academics, whose players were mostly more experienced. The game was entertaining, even if the standard wasn't too high. It was a goal each after 10 minutes, but it was well into the second half before the visitors scored twice more to win.

First Tower were a little unfortunate not to get a point, and the Sporting Academics keeper had a very good game to help his side to victory.

Jersey is a long way to go just for a revisit, but at least I got to see a game, and Springfield Stadium is so transformed it felt like a new ground, even if I couldn't count it as one. More importantly, it's a lovely place for a weekend break, even in the rain.





Below are two views of Springfield in 1991





Sheppey United v Lewisham Borough (Community)

3pm  23 January 2016

Kent Invicta League
Sheppey United 7 Lewisham Borough (Community) 0 (att 208)

This wasn't the game I was aiming for, but it always pays to have a plan B. My intention, after the academy game at Crystal Palace, was a 2pm kick off at Gravesend-based Guru Nanak FC, but a late finish to the morning match, plus heavy south London traffic, meant I'd have missed the first few minutes. Instead, I headed further into Kent for a 3pm game.

Sheppey United's Holm Park is a ground I was keen to get to anyway. It recompleted the Kent Invicta League, and means I'm now down to just two grounds to complete the English non-League pyramid down to "step six" (some 47 divisions).

Sheppey doesn't feel much like a step six club, and are surely destined to climb higher. Few teams at this level can attract more than 200 paying spectators for a home game against struggling opposition, and the whole set up has a buzz about it.

The home fans will have gone home happy after a win that was all too easy. Sheppey were 4-0 ahead by half time, and could easily have got into double figures. Credit for Lewisham Borough though, as they never gave up, and they contributed to an enjoyable, if one-sided, 90 minutes.

Whether Sheppey can win promotion this season remains to be seen, there's some good sides in the Kent Invicta League at present and they're currently fourth. The ground must be compliant already, it's fully enclosed with a seated stand on the near side and a covered area behind one goal. There's hand standing all around, a decent clubhouse, refreshment hut, and even a club mascot (a tiger, not sure if they roam the isle of Sheppey).











Crystal Palace U18 v Brentford U18

11am  23 January 2016

Under 18 Professional Development League 2
Crystal Palace U18 3 Brentford U18 4 (att 60)

I was in two minds whether I really fancied the very early start and long drive needed to reach Palace's youth team ground for an 11am kick off.

I'd emailed the club earlier in the week to ask about admission, as it's a long way to go if there's a risk of being turned away at the gate, and the club has a reputation of insisting youth fixtures are "behind closed doors".

They replied on Friday to say I was able to attend, and that my name would be passed to security, so I decided I ought to make the effort. I left home at 6am, and found a parking spot close the to Goals Beckenham North centre, in south east London, about four-and-a-half hours later.

Palace have begun borrowing the pitches here this season. It's just across Copers Cope Road from their training ground, where youth team games used to be played. Palace's "security" might have had my name, but no one asked me for it and there seemed to be no restrictions at all on entering the ground. In fact, as the Goals centre is open to the public, I don't see how they could stop people.

From the pavilion, of what was once the Nat West Bank sports ground, there are football pitches to the left and the right, both running lengthways. The under 18s were on the right hand pitch, while Palace and Brentford met at under 16 level on the left pitch. Both pitches had dugouts on the near sides, and a railed off far side for spectators.

Having made such an effort to get the game, I was rewarded with great morning's entertainment. The home side went ahead early on, but it didn't take Brentford long to make it 1-1. Then the visitors ended the first half in the best possible way, scoring twice in stoppage time.

Crystal Palace weren't finished though, and in an excellent second period they scored twice to make it 3-3, before Brentford edged back in front with what proved to be the game's final goal.








Bradford v Salts reserves

2pm  16 January 2016

West Riding County Amateur League, Division Two
Bradford 3 Salts reserves 1 (att 5)

Another Saturday when the weather dictated the choice of game, at least in the north of England where grass pitches were vulnerable to being either waterlogged or frozen.

Once I knew a couple of options had been postponed I was more than happy to settle for another artificial pitch, this time the 3G surface at Bradford Academy, a school-cum-sports centre in the Bowling area of the city.

When it was an old-fashioned school, rather than a modern new academy, the playing fields provided a home to West Riding League Bowling FC. Their old pitch remains, some distance from the new 3G which is, typically, floodlit and enclosed by high fencing.

Unfortunately, this is one 3G venue where spectators are not permitted inside the cage. Access was controlled by staff, and without the necessary "pitch pass" it was difficult to get a decent view.

To be fair, spectators haven't been ignored. There's a shallow covered terrace, with some bench seating, towards a corner, and a steep grass bank, giving an elevated view, towards the centre of the near side. Sadly, both vantage points involve peering through the fence.

At least it was a lively game. A goalkeeping error gifted Bradford the lead after just five minutes. The visitors got into the game, but were unable to score and found themselves 2-0 down before half time.

A second half penalty, for handball, reduced the arrears and set up an entertaining second half. Both sides had chances, but Bradford's victory was ensured thanks to a third goal in stoppage time, coming shortly after a Salts player was dismissed after getting a second booking.






The 3G pitch isn't yet on Google Maps, but click here for a map of its approximate location

Heyside v Holme Valley Academicals

1.45pm  9 January 2016

Huddersfield and District League, Barlow Cup 2nd Round
Heyside 5 Holme Valley Academicals 1 (att 10)

Evening plans meant I needed a local game, so this cup tie appealed primarily thanks to its early kick off, and an artificial pitch which meant the rain was unlikely to pose a problem.

I've not seen a lot of Huddersfield League football, but the games I have watched have been a decent standard, so I was looking forward to a cup tie in which top division Heyside were hosting HV Academicals (as they're usually known) from the league's second tier.

I guess Heyside, to the east of Oldham, is a bit of an outpost of the Huddersfield League. They play on a newly-constructed all-weather pitch in the grounds of Crompton House School in Shaw.

Like most venues of this type it's floodlit and enclosed by a high fence, but on the plus side there's an area on the near side for spectators, plenty of room around the pitch for those, like me, who prefer to roam, and of course it's very unlikely to be off waterlogged.

Heyside, going well in the league, began the tie playing the sort of bright football that I hoped I might see. It wasn't long before they were 2-0 up, and they threatened to run away with it. But the Holmfirth-based visitors got a lifeline thanks to a penalty.

The spot kick was converted, and with their lead reduced Heyside lost their way, struggling to create clear chances against well organised opponents. It was well into the second period before a third goal for the hosts made the tie look safe, and two late goals rounded off the afternoon.

Once again Huddersfield League teams showed they're capable of playing decent football, comparing well with supposed higher leagues such as the West Riding and West Yorkshire competitions.









Brownley Albion v Blackley Town

10am  9 January 2016

Manchester Saturday Morning League, League Cup 1st Round
Brownley Albion 2 Blackley Town 4 (att 3)

After days of rain I was surprised to learn that Stockport Council's grass pitches were to be open at the weekend, and playable subject to referees' decisions.

Two Saturday morning games were scheduled at the William Scholes Playing Fields in Gatley, so despite a previous visit I was guaranteed a new pitch, subject of course to a final decision by the match officials.

Heavy rain as I left home for the short drive to Gatley meant I was expecting a wasted journey, but I was in luck. One game was off, Parrswood Thursday's pitch was waterlogged, but Brownley and Blackley's Manchester Evening News-sponsored league cup tie was on.

Last time I saw a game at the venue, the now defunct Gatley FC in 2000, they played on an open pitch alongside an enclosed ground that was surrounded by an ageing running track. The playing fields have had a makeover since then, but the pitch Gatley used that day was Parrswood's waterlogged pitch, while Brownley Albion were playing on the "track pitch".

The old running track now looks entirely abandoned, but the ground is fenced off from the rest of the playing fields, giving it the feel of a "proper" venue. The pitch must drain fairly well, as although it was muddy it wasn't in bad condition considering the rain. The old track provided some useful hard standing for spectators (all three of us).

It was a lively and entertaining game, and one played in a commendably good spirit. Both sides are in the league's second division, but Blackley have the better playing record and their win was no surprise.

They had to work hard for it though. They started well and took a deserved lead, but Brownley fought back, took advantage of some slack play by the visitors, and went into half time 2-1 up. Blackley turned things around in the second half, but it took a pair of own goals to put them in front.

Brownley weren't out of the tie, and the outcome remained in the balance until a late fourth goal for the visitors secured their place in the second round.








FC Cavaliers v West Bridgford

3pm  2 January 2016

Nottinghamshire Senior League, Premier Division
FC Cavaliers 0 West Bridgford 5 (att 65)

With lots of rain having fallen, and plenty more forecast, it made sense to avoid to risk of a late postponement by taking the safe option of a game on an artificial surface.

I chose table-topping West Bridgford's visit to FC Cavaliers, a nomadic club who, for this season at least, are based on a new all-weather facility at the Forest Sports Zone. The ground seems to be part of Nottingham Forest's community commitment, and is on the edge of a large park which stages the city's annual Goose Fair.

The pitch is typical of its type, being floodlit and enclosed by a high fence. The official spectator area is on the side nearest the entrance, but I opted for a better view by sneaking to the far side.

On a gloomy and damp afternoon, although it was nowhere near as wet as weather forecasters had predicted, there was plenty of bright football to admire. Most of it was thanks to West Bridgford, who made good use of the excellent surface to play neat passing football.

They went ahead early, and were 3-0 up by half time. With the contest already over the second half lacked a little bite, but two late goals gave the scoreline an emphatic look. The visitors thought they'd got a sixth in stoppage time, but it was ruled out for offside.








The ground isn't on Google Maps yet, but click here for a map showing its location