Marshalls v Capenhurst Villa

3pm  25 January 2020

West Cheshire League, Division One
Marshalls 7 Capenhurst Villa 1 (att 36)

It's sometimes tempting to think there's a not a huge difference in standard between leagues when you get into the amateur ranks. But, enjoyable as the day's earlier Liverpool Old Boys League match was, this game was at another level entirely.

The West Cheshire League, in particular its top division which sits at 'step seven' of the non-League pyramid, usually delivers football of a high standard. Marshalls were excellent, and in the first half at least Capenhurst had no answer.

The hosts scored early, soon doubled their lead, and although the visitors got one goal back they trailed by an insurmountable 5-1 by half time. Marshalls had made it seven with half-an-hour left to play, and would surely have score more had they not been reduced to 10 men.

The straight red card, for a reckless challenge, was justified, but seemed harsh compared to other incidents in the game which had only resulted in yellow cards being waved at offenders.

Being a man down for the final 15 minutes or so didn't lessen Marshalls' dominance, but they saw the time out by keeping possession rather than chasing a bigger score. Capenhurst, although outplayed, looked a good side at times, and contributed to an enjoyable 90 minutes.

The game was on pitch three at Heron Eccles, the pitch furthest from the changing rooms and a right angles to pitches one and two. There's a spectator area on the near side, and a pair of dugouts on the far side.

As it's the only pitch with dugouts I assume it's where Marshalls' first team play all their home fixtures. While this game was happening Liverpool Hibernia were hosting AFC Kirkby on pitch two, and pitch one was unused other than for some impromptu kickabouts.







St Margaret's Old Boys v FC Salle

1.15pm  25 January 2020

Liverpool Old Boys Amateur League, Division One
St Margaret's Old Boys 2 FC Salle 1 (att 14)

I probably spend too much time looking at football fixtures. But groundhopping sometimes becomes a sort of logic puzzle, where the solution is in the occasional alignment of kick off times, matches and venues.

Two lunchtime kick offs at Heron Eccles, both with first teams at home, followed by a pair of three o'clock starts, again featuring first teams and in two leagues I like to complete, was all the incentive I needed for an afternoon on Merseyside.

There are a trio of 3G pitches at Heron Eccles, one of the excellent football hubs that have sprung up around Liverpool. None of them overlap a grass pitch, still there and with nets up but not it use today, where I watched Lucas Sports play in 2002.

Both the later games would require floodlights, and so I knew that even if the grass pitch was used for one of the day's early games I was still guaranteed two matches on two new grounds (well, pitches).

It turned out there were three fixtures at lunchtime, one of each of the 3Gs. As well as the two Liverpool Old Boys Amateur League matches I was expecting, there was also a top of the table clash in the I Zingari Combination (not that you'd know that from the league website, which gave a different venue).

St Margaret's Old Boys versus FC Salle was my first choice for the opening game, as a top division fixture featuring the league leaders. Not only that, but I'd seen St Margaret's Old Boys at their spiritual home two years ago.

I watched them win in 2018, and they did so again as they inflicted only the second league defeat FC Salle have suffered so far this season.

It was a decent game. The visitors got lucky when a free kick slipped through the home keeper's hands for a first half lead, but St Margaret's levelled shortly before half time. The winning goal was a penalty early in the second half.

The action took place on pitch two at Heron Eccles which, in common with pitches one and three, is floodlit and has a spectator area running the length of one touchline.







Vale of Leven v Maybole

1.45pm  18 January 2020

SJFA West Region, League Two
Vale of Leven 1 Maybole 3 (att 76)

I'm getting towards the final few grounds I've got left to visit in Scottish Junior football. Whether I'll complete the full set while the grade is intact remains to be seen, although so far the West Region hasn't suffered the exodus that's hit the East.

If the west of Scotland gets a pyramid league of its own, and Scottish FA licensing becomes sought-after by junior clubs, then Vale of Leven's historic Millburn Park, in Alexandria, might become a millstone for the club.

The ground hosted Scottish League football until the 1920s. Almost a century later it's a wonderfully atmospheric, if crumbling, football venue. Ground-graders in England wouldn't be happy, but fingers crossed any Scottish equivalents would take a lenient view.

For now though, and maybe for years to come, it's a classic junior football ground. Three-quarters of the pitch are surrounded by steep terracing, although you have to watch your step if walking around it.

Part of the far side is covered, and the neatest steps of terracing are under the roof. There's one open end with just flat grass standing, but there's no pitchside barrier and effectively it's just a shortcut to get from the entrance and snack bar to the covered side.

Vale of Leven are having a good season, but this defeat will have been a blow to their hopes of promotion from the fourth - and lowest - tier of West Region junior football.

Maybole, from Ayrshire, scored the first half's only goal. Vale of Leven soon levelled once the second half got under way, but a penalty for the visitors was decisive. Not only did they score it, but the home side had a player sent off.

What was an uphill battle for Vale of Leven became a mountainous one when they conceded a third goal, and then lost a second player to a red card ahead of the restart. With a two goal and a two man advantage Maybole ended comfortable winners.









Blackthorn Rovers v Uddingston

10am  18 January 2020

Strathclyde Saturday Morning League, Premier Division
Blackthorn Rovers 2 Uddingston 2 (att 9)

After the heady heights of the new Spurs stadium in midweek I returned to more more familiar groundhopping surroundings, being part of a single figure crowd watching a game on an open park pitch.

But, no matter what the venue, every football match provides its own dramatic narrative. The story of this game was two late penalties that gave the home side a share of the spoils against the unbeaten league leaders.

For a side without a league defeat this season Uddingston underwhelmed for most of this game, although to be fair to both teams it was a heavy pitch and a chilly morning, neither conducive to great football.

I arrived at Greenock's Battery Park expecting the match to be on the caged 3G pitch, but that was busy with kids' football while the adult players were warming up and preparing to play on one of two grass pitches.

There wasn't much between the sides, but Uddingston had the edge and a goal after 30 minutes put them in front. They doubled their lead in the second half, and were on course for a comfortable if unremarkable win.

But with 77 minutes played Blackthorn were awarded a penalty for a clear foul. They scored and suddenly Uddingston had a fight on their hands. The home side's second penalty, again correctly awarded I felt, was in stoppage time.

Again they scored, and claimed an unlikely and slightly fortunate point. Blackthorn had had plenty of chances before the spot kicks, but poor finishing had let then down, yet they were deadly from 12 yards.









Tottenham Hotspur v Middlesbrough

8.05pm  14 January 2020

FA Cup, Third Round Replay
Tottenham Hotspur 2 Middlesbrough 1 (att 49,202)

Recompleting the 92 clubs that make up the Premier and Football Leagues in England can be a chore. The likely hassle of securing a ticket to visit the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium didn't fill me with enthusiasm when the club finally moved into its new home.

Cup matches are usually a good bet to go on general sale though, and Spurs sensibly reduced prices for this midweek replay. Their website was well designed to cope with high demand, with an efficient and swift queueing system, and by last Friday lunchtime I had a pair of tickets. Not quite in my hand, but in my email inbox.

Even with a booking fee the print-at-home tickets were good value, and preferable to paying around twice as much for a Premier League fixture.

Practicalities aside, another reason visits to new grounds at this level aren't great is that the venues are too often soulless and forgettable. That's is emphatically not the case here. The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium may have a dull name (at least until a suitably-lucrative sponsor is snared) but it must be the best stadium in the British Isles, and among the most impressive in Europe.

That it's been built on the site of its hemmed-in predecessor - with minimal if any pitch overlap, hence a new ground even by my obsessive compulsive rules - is remarkable.

A crowd of close to 50,000 for a midweek FA Cup replay, in miserable weather and live on BBC TV, is good going. Middlesbrough fans faced a huge round trip, yet still sold their entire allocation and deserve maximum credit.

Shame they didn't have a much to cheer. They gifted Spurs an early goal, and when a second followed soon over it looked like being a matter of how many the hosts would score. But they didn't manage a third and Middlesbrough, much improved in the second half, made them sweat when they pulled a late goal back.

They couldn't force extra time though, which was shame as it would have been one in the eye for the many home fans who decided to leave several minutes before the end. To be fair it was a late kick off and a late finish, but why go at all if you're going to leave more than five minutes from the end of a finely-poised cup tie that could yet go to extra time and penalties?










Alumni v FC Pilchy

3pm  11 January 2020

Liverpool County Premier League, Premier Division
Alumni 1 FC Pilchy 3 (att 11)

From the game at Tiber Street it was took no more than 10 minutes to drive the Jericho Lane Football Hub, where Alumni have set up home.

They played on pitch three, furthest from the hub buildings and beyond pitch one which is the new home of South Liverpool FC. They were at home as well, but I'll save a visit to their pitch for another day.

Pitch two wasn't in use, and had rugby posts as well as football goals. All three pitches are artificial, and none of them overlap the grass pitch where I saw Essemmay Old Boys in 2006. The site of that is now covered by the car park.

The official spectator area for pitch three is limited to just the centre section of the near touchline, but Pilchy's supporters gathered on the far side and I wasn't challenged when I walked around the pitch perimeter.

Alumni are bottom of the table, but must have had hopes of a welcome three points when they took a 1-0 lead into the second half.

Pilchy levelled, but the deciding moment was a red card for the Alumni goalkeeper, deserved for clattering into a Pilchy player just outside the box. The resulting free kick was off target, but it didn't take long for the visitors to make their numerical advantage count, scoring twice for a 3-1 win.








The Empress v AFC Kirkby

1pm  11 January 2020

Liverpool County Premier League, Division One
The Empress 8 AFC Kirkby 2 (att 13)

My primary reason for a day watching football in Liverpool was an alignment of fixtures that, I hoped, would allow me to watch this game at 1pm followed by another just a couple of miles away at 3pm.

It might have been tight, but it turned out to be easy thanks to this match getting underway a little early, a swift turn around at half time, and a slightly truncated second half.

Maybe the referee had also had plans for three o'clock, but more likely he decided that AFC Kirkby had suffered enough by the 85th minute, and so he called time a few minutes early.

To be fair on the visitors the scale of this defeat was harsh. They took a 10th minute lead from the penalty spot and were more than a match for promotion-chasing Empress for the first quarter of the game.

But when The Empress clicked into gear they steamrollered Kirkby. Five goals in about 20 minutes turned a 1-0 deficit into a 5-1 lead by half time. The visitors again looked the better side early in the second half, and pulled a goal back, but as in the first half once The Empress got going there was no stopping them.

I assume The Empress take their name from a Liverpool pub. They're based at Tiber Street in the city's Toxteth area, which is a community facility with a single enclosed artificial pitch. They share the venue with fellow Liverpool County Premier League side Botanic FC.