Crowle Colts v Dinnington Town

3pm  14 March 2020

Central Midlands League, North Division
Crowle Colts 0 Dinnington Town 1 (att 75)

This blog isn't the place to write about my day job, but after a working week dominated by coronavirus planning it was a relief to get back to something approaching normality on a Saturday afternoon.

Normality up to a point. Heading to a game when so much football has been stopped, and with no indication of if or when it might restart, was weird. Whether or not these two clubs will play again this season remains to be seen.

If the Central Midlands League season is curtailed then at least Dinnington will have remained unbeaten in the games they have played. They had to battle hard to come away from Crowle with three points though.

It was a tight game of few clear chances. Dinnington had more of the play but Crowle came closest to scoring. A goalless draw looked likely, until increasing pressure from the visitors eventually paid off with an 89th minute goal.

Dinnington had to defend their slim lead for a lengthy period of stoppage time, much of it due to Crowle's earlier timewasting, but they held out.

Crowle Colts are a recent addition to the Central Midlands League, having joined from the Scunthorpe League. Geography would suggest the Lincolnshire League would have been a more suitable step seven competition.

Windsor Park is a basic football ground, but nevertheless an excellent facility for a village that feels quite remote. The main pitch is close to a pavilion building, has dugouts and was roped off on the near side. The pavilion includes a bar as well as changing rooms, and an overhanging rood at the front provides shelter for spectators.

Needham Market reserves v Mulbarton Wanderers

3pm  7 March 2020

Eastern Counties League, Division One North
Needham Market reserves 0 Mulbarton Wanderers 2 (att 66)

Reserve teams who play a different venue to their first team present something of a groundhopping quandary. If they're close enough to home I might visit for a midweek game, but usually I just ignore them.

However, Needham Market's second team plays step six football, and I'm close to completing all the grounds down to and including step six (the top 10 levels of English football from the Premier League down).

The Suffolk town is too far for an easy midweek trip, and anyway Needham Market reserves play evening games on the main ground at Bloomfields, rather than their official home next door on the 3G Arena.

So rather than a long trip merely to watch a reserve team at home I took the opportunity to double a visit with the day's earlier game at Henley Athletic. That the visitors were table-toppers Mulbarton Wanderers was an added bonus.

The 3G ground at Needham Market is a decent venue in its own right. Entrance is via the same turnstyles as for the main ground, but once inside you go left to the reserves' pitch. Two sides are open to spectators, there's a seated stand, and you can also watch the action from the balcony of a two-storey 'hub' that's between the 3G and main ground.

It's an impressive set up, and it's all been built since I visited Needham Market for a first team game five years ago.

The home side's young players were no match for Mulbarton. The visitors were guilty of wayward finishing in the first half, and should have had more than the one goal lead they managed by half time.

Needham Market had much more possession after the break, but were unable to get through a well organised Mulbarton team. A second goal for the visitors put the outcome beyond doubt.

One curiosity for me was this was, to my knowledge, the first game I've been to where the match programme was available online only. I read it on my phone before the game started, and see no need to print out a copy as well. It's surely the future of match programmes, if they'll continue to exist in any form, and makes perfect sense.

The 3G Arena isn't yet on Google Maps but here's a map of the location

Henley Athletic v Ipswich Town U18

12 midday  7 Match 2020

Suffolk Senior Cup, Quarter-Final
Henley Athletic 2 Ipswich Town U18 1 (att 299)

It was men against boys and the men pulled off something of a surprise by knocking Ipswich Town's youngsters out of the Suffolk Senior Cup.

It's good to see a club like Ipswich entering county FA competitions. Surely it can only help the development of their young players to have occasional games against adult sides and where the result matters more than how neat the passing is.

It was a big day for Henley, and smart thinking meant this game kicked off early enough for many in the crowd to also get to Portman Road in time for Ipswich's League One fixture. It also allowed me to get to two games.

An excellent strike gave Ipswich a first half lead, but it was cancelled out by a Henley penalty just before half time.

An interesting contrast in styles of football, and a close game, was decided by a second half winner for Henley. The home side were hanging on a bit in the final moments though, as Ipswich threw everyone forward in search of an equaliser.

Henley is a village just north of Ipswich. The football pitch is next to the community centre and its car park. It was roped off, with advertising boards providing sections of permanent barriers. A pair of modern-looking dugouts are on the far side, which was out of bounds to spectators.

FC Parson Drove v Netherton United

7.45pm  3 March 2020

Peterborough and District League, Premier Division
FC Parson Drove 0 Netherton United 3 (att 50)

Both these sides have applied for a place in next season's step six, but Netherton's comfortable victory means they remain clear at the top while Parson Drove's slim hopes of promotion have surely gone.

The visitors were ahead early, their goal a rare highlight of a disappointing first half. The second period was much better, and Parson Drove were unfortunate to concede a second goal after a they'd been on top for a spell.

By the time Netherton got their third goal the result was beyond doubt. It was competitive and feisty encounter, and I was a little surprised no red cards were shown. The closest we got to that was 10 minutes in the sin bin for a Netherton player.

Parson Drove are likely to face at least another year at this level, but they've been busy developing the facilities to enable them to step up when the chance comes. The pitch is behind the village hall, has hard standing all around, a pair of small seated stands and a covered standing area.

Hartford v Partington Village

3pm  29 February 2020

Cheshire League, League Two
Hartford 4 Partington Village 7 (att 10)

A weekend dog and house sitting in the Peak District and I was hoping to spend Saturday afternoon at one of the Hope Valley League's picturesque village grounds. But the endless wet weather meant that once again a 3G pitch was the only way to guarantee a match taking place.

The venue, at the Cheshire Football Association's Moss Farm headquarters in Northwich, may not have been very interesting but I got lucky with a goal-laden game. Title-challenging Partington were always likely to win against bottom of the table Hartford, but they made hard work of it.

The home side had the considerable breeze at their backs in the first half, but it was sleepy defending that allowed them to go in front in the opening minute. Partington created chances but put on a disjointed performance before they finally levelled well into the half.

An injury to the Hartford goalkeeper, meaning an outfield player took over, made Partington's task easier. The visitors finally hit their stride in a short but devastating spell towards half time, scoring four times in about 10 minutes.

The second half should have been a stroll for Partington. In a sense it was, but despite adding two more goals they also allowed Hartford to 'win' the half by conceding three.

The 3G pitch has spectator area running most of the length of one side, and a pair of dugouts, but little else of note. Perfectly adequate for this match, and had the fixture been on grass it'd almost certainly have been called off.

Newton Athletic v Pilkington reserves

2pm  22 February 2020

Cheshire League, League Two
Newton Athletic 1 Pilkington reserves 2 (att 30)

My second match of the day on a 3G pitch. The artificial surface was the only one staging sport at the Cheshire County Sports Club today, with games scheduled on grass pitches all called off.

Having been to the ground in Chester twice before, for games on grass, the prospect of visiting to tick off the 3G wasn't an exciting one, but at least I was confident the match would be on.

As these venues go it's not too bad though. There's a roped off area for spectators, complete with some bleacher-style seating, where the home side's subs joined spectators. The official dugouts are on the opposite side, and there's a decent view from outside the cage from the balcony on the upper floor of the two-storey pavilion.

Newton Athletic are in their first season as a Cheshire League club, having stepped up from the Chester and Wirral League. They're going well and started this game positively. When Pilkington's second team took the lead it was against the run of play.

An unfortunate own goal soon levelled the score, but despite that blow Pilkington grew into the game, and got their reward for a strong second half when they got what turned out to be the winner.

Beechfield United SM v Manchester North End

10am  22 February 2020

Manchester Saturday Morning League, MEN Cup Quarter-Final
Beechfield United SM 5 Manchester North End 3 (att 8)

After days of heavy rain I knew I'd probably be watching football on artificial surfaces, but I hadn't expected the wet weather to affect the 3G pitch that was hosting my first choice for a morning game .

Standing water meant the pitch at Manchester Health Academy was closed, forcing a South Manchester and Cheshire Christian League cup final to be moved to an alternative venue - annoyingly one I'd already been to.

Instead I headed to a recently-installed 3G at the David Lewis Playing Fields, a ground Salford University has taken ownership of from the city council. It's a typical caged and floodlit pitch, with a spectator area on one side.

Beechfield United run two sides in the Manchester League, both playing at Salford Sports Village. Their Saturday morning side previously played there as well, but for some reason have settled on this as a new home.

It was a lively and entertaining game, particularly in the first half. North End opened the scoring, but Beechfield soon hit back and within the space of a few minutes had gone 4-1 in front. A penalty for the visitors made it 4-2 before the break.

The second period couldn't match the first, but a goal each kept up the entertainment level, and sent Beechfield into the semi-finals.