Walton Casuals v Taunton Town

3pm  9 February 2019

Southern League, Premier Division South
Walton Casuals 0 Taunton Town 1 (att 238)

When I began watching non-League football in the 1980s Walton Casuals were a curiosity, as the only first team playing other clubs' reserves in the Suburban League. They'd moved to the Surrey County Premier League by the time I visited in 1992, and their progress since then has been huge.

I was one of fewer than 20 people who watched them beat British Telecom in 1992, on a ground next door to the site of the newly-developed Elmbridge Sports Hub where they now play. As far as I could make out, the site of the old pitch is now an athletics track, with the new football ground right next door.

The venue is dominated by a large seated stand, with a clubhouse facility behind the seats at the top. The rest of the ground is open flat standing, but there's plenty of room for further development and a base that's been laid behind the dugouts on the far side suggests more spectator accommodation is imminent.

The ground is also home to Walton and Hersham, once the town's main club but now playing two divisions lower. Unless the banners and signage around the ground are changed depending who's at home then it's very much Walton Casuals' ground.

Casuals' rapid progress in recent years may be stalling a bit this season. Relegation remains a possibility after a comfortable but unspectacular loss to league leaders Taunton, who scored the only goal midway through the first half.

Walton passed the ball around nicely enough, making the most of the excellent 3G surface, but in the first half they rarely made any meaningful inroads into Taunton's defensive third of the pitch. The home side were more direct after the break, but even then chances to level the score were fleeting, and Taunton were largely untroubled.

Old Bradfieldians v Old Chigwellians

12 midday  9 February 2019

Arthurian League, Premier Division
Old Bradfieldians 1 Old Chigwellians 2 (att 3)

With the weather making football on grass a bit of a lottery I opted for a risk-free option of a pair of games on artificial surfaces, taking advantage of one of the Arthurian League's regular lunchtime kick offs.

The 3G pitch at Hampton Sports Centre is home to a several clubs, so most Saturdays there are games at both midday and two o'clock. Today's early game was a premier division fixture, more attractive than delving into the lower divisions.

It wasn't the greatest of games, although a strong breeze didn't help the players, but Bradfieldians will be wondering how they lost. They were on the front foot most of the game, and were denied time after time by Chigwellians' excellent goalkeeper.

The home side eventually broke the deadlock with about 15 minutes left and, as Chigwellians had barely managed a shot, that looked to be game over. But in stoppage time the away team stunned the hosts, scoring twice with what might have been the only efforts they had on target in the entire match.

The buildings at Hampton Sports Centre are showing their age, but the 3G pitch looks quite new and provided a decent surface. It's a typical caged venue, but there was no problem for the three spectators (two of us groundhoppers) to stand inside next to the pitch.

Little Oakley v Halstead Town

3pm  2 February 2019

Eastern Senior League, Division One South
Little Oakley 1 Halstead Town 3 (att 100)

Groundhopping in winter weather can take you in unexpected directions, sometimes literally. I was planning to go Scotland, but pitch inspections even for games on artificial surfaces put me off, whereas Little Oakley tweeted early that their game was definitely going ahead.

So instead of a 400 mile round trip north I made a 500 mile round trip south, to the outskirts of Harwich and one of the few 'step six' venues I was yet to visit.

Having made the long journey I was relieved when I arrived that temperatures were above freezing and players were on the pitch warming up. Late postponements on days like this are becoming too common, often with no thought to those whose have travelled to watch (not that groundhoppers should get any extra consideration, no one forces me to drive hundreds of miles in poor weather).

I got a friendly welcome at Little Oakley, and after a welcome pre-match coffee I eventually left the warmth of the clubhouse to stand pitchside in the cold. The weather might have impacted the first half, which wasn't great.

Halstead, second in the league, were the better side. They went ahead with a well taken goal, then doubled their lead with a penalty. By half time it was 10-a-side, as well as 2-0, after a bad challenge, and the reaction to it, earned a red card for each side.

The second half was better, and Little Oakley pushed hard to get back into the game. The visitors held firm though, and got a third goal to put the points out of the home side's reach. Little Oakley did get a late consolation.

The Memorial Ground is a basic venue but a pleasant one. There's a small seated stand on one side, a small covered area behind the goal nearest the clubhouse, and a path that provides hard standing on two sides.

BRNESC v Liverpool NALGO

3.15pm  26 January 2019

Liverpool County Premier League, Premier Division
BRNESC 1 Liverpool NALGO 4 (att 35)

There were two top division Liverpool County Premier League fixtures scheduled for after my first game, so I opted for the one that was on a different pitch.

Custy's and MSB Woolton took over pitch three, but BRNESC and NALGO were on pitch one, which had staged a lower division Liverpool League game earlier. Pitch two was hosting a West Cheshire League game.

Pitch one is closest to the entrance, and has spectator areas on both sides, but as usual at amateur football in Liverpool plenty of those watching chose to stand on the touchline, often encroaching on the pitch itself.

One thing the Jeffrey Humble ground lacks is any shelter for spectators, and as this game started the heavens opened, making watching it a challenging experience. Luckily there was enough quality on the pitch to make it worth the effort.

BRNESC, going well in the league, scored first but NALGO soon hit back and were deservedly 2-1 up by half time. The home side came close to getting level after the break, but good goalkeeping and at least one goal line clearance kept them out.

A penalty provided NALGO's third goal, and they rounded off a comprehensive win with a forth near the end. With the outcome beyond doubt, the rain falling heavily, and the time approaching 5pm, the referee did everyone a favour by blowing for full time a few minutes early.

East Villa v Alumni

1.15pm  26 January 2019

Liverpool County Premier League, Premier Division
East Villa 6 Alumni 3 (att 10)

The Jeffrey Humble ground in Fazakerley is one of several new football hubs opened in Liverpool this season, all on the sites of multi-pitch sports grounds that were in need of investment.

I last visited in 2006, and the pitch used by East Villa back then is still there, but I doubt it's used now that there's a trio of 3G pitches that provide superior facilities. Various clubs call Jeffrey Humble home, and I took advantage of staggered kick offs to see games on two of the new pitches.

This game, on pitch number three, should have got underway at 1pm, but that was the time players got onto the pitch and they needed time for a warm up ahead of kick off. Perhaps Alumni needed a bit more time, as they were 2-0 behind in just seven minutes.

They let in a third before half time, and things didn't get much better for them in the second period. East Villa played some good football and led 6-1, but they eased off ahead of the final whistle and allowed Alumni two late goals to provide some consolation.

Pitch three at Jeffrey Humble is a right angles to pitches one and two, and is the only one equipped with dugouts. They're on the far side, and the near side has a spectator area running the length of the touchline.

Swinton v Dom Doyle

2pm  19 January 2019

Lancashire and Cheshire Amateur League, Division One
Swinton 1 Dom Doyle 3 (att 12)

I needed to stay close to home today, and once my first choice game was off I thought I'd be watching football on an artificial surface, until a lunchtime phone call confirmed that Swinton's grass pitch was playable.

It was a heavy and muddy pitch though, but Swinton and Dom Doyle made light of it and produced a very enjoyable 90 minutes. Some of the football was very high quality, and certainly above what you'd expect in the Lancashire and Cheshire Amateur League's second level.

Dom Doyle FC have an interesting history, having been formed in memory of a Denton youngster who was murdered in 2015. They're doing him proud on the pitch, the first team are unbeaten in the league and on course for promotion to premier division.

They had to be on good form to see off a decent Swinton though. The home side matched the visitors in the first half, and both sides had efforts which came back off the post. The deadlock was broken seconds from half time, when an unstoppable free kick put Dom Doyle in front.

They doubled their lead with another quality goal two minutes after the break. Swinton had hope when they pulled a goal back, but eventually a third goal for the away side settled things.

Like a lot of clubs at this level, Swinton FC's main focus is their many youth teams. They have their own ground, in Barton Road, and it's an impressive facility. There's a large pavilion building and car park, and the playing field has space for junior pitches as well as a single senior pitch. I assume from the layout of the ground that it used to host cricket.

Hartland Clovelly reserves v Lynton

2pm  13 January 2019

Holman Cup, Quarter-Final
Hartland Clovelly reserves 0 Lynton 3 (att 5)

I don't usually visit grounds for reserve games but I do make exceptions if a club's second team has a different home venue to the first team. Even then such visits are usually to local games, but I was in the south west for the weekend and this cup tie filled what would otherwise have been a blank Sunday.

Hartland and Clovelly used to be separate clubs until they joined forces a couple of years ago. The first team's official home is at Hartland, while the second team usually plays home matches at Clovelly Playing Field.

The village of Clovelly is mostly known as a tourist attraction, with its steep pedestrian street, crowded with day trippers, winding down to a picturesque harbour. Just before the the visitor centre and car park is Higher Clovelly, which has enough flat land for a football pitch next to the village hall.

There are some surprisingly well-equipped football grounds lurking in the depths of the North Devon League, and Clovelly is one of them. The pitch is tightly hemmed in, with dugouts bookending a small stand for spectators on one side, and views out to the Atlantic, beyond trees, on the other.

It's an exposed spot though, and I imagine most games at Clovelly are affected by the wind to some extent. There was a certainly a strong and cold wind that challenged the players in this cup tie, but Lynton always had the edge and deserved to progress.

The final of the Holman Cup is played at Lynton, giving their players an extra incentive to progress. They did so thanks to one first half goal and two more after the break.