Punjab United v Newhaven

3pm  12 October 2019

FA Vase, First Round
Punjab United 0 Newhaven 3 (att 42)

Punjab's progress to 'step five' of the Non-League pyramid - the top division of the Southern Counties East League - has been rapid. So rapid that they're one of very few at this level I'd never been to.

I put that right as Gravesend was an ideal destination, in terms of distance and journey time, after my earlier game near Bedford. An FA Vase tie against Newhaven also looked an attractive fixture.

Punjab have had a tough start to this season, and they won't have the Vase to distract them any further after they were well beaten by their Sussex visitors.

It was decent game, but Newhaven always had the edge. They led 1-0 at half time, and added a second soon after the break. Punjab's slim hopes ended with a red card mid way through the second period, and a third goal for Newhaven settled things.

Punjab Unuted's Manak Stadium is on the southern outskirts of the Kent town and has a homespun feel. That's no bad thing, as the collection of small stands, snack bar, clubhouse, changing rooms toilets make it a much more interesting venue than many purpose-built modern non-League grounds.











Real Haynes v Blunham

10.30am  12 October 2019

Bedfordshire County League, Division Three
Real Haynes 7 Blunham 0 (att 196)

It may have been Non-League Day but that wasn't the sole explanation for a crowd of almost 200 to line a village recreation ground pitch for a game in the fourth tier of the Bedfordshire County League. It was also the opening attraction of the league's annual 'hop'.

I needed all of the day's hop venues, but rather than watch three fixtures in the same division I opted for just the morning match before heading elsewhere for a different matchday experience.

This was a enjoyable start to the day though, and the home side played some good football as they totally dominated their visitors. Credit to Blunham for keeping going, but Real Haynes could well have got comfortably into double figures.

As it was they had to settle for three goals before half time and another four more after, and had a penalty saved as well.

Real Haynes are a relatively new club, building on the history of former teams representing the village of Haynes, just outside Bedford. They seem an integral part of the community, and it was noticeable how many locals were watching the game, alongside the many groundhoppers, despite the rain.









Stonewall v Pitshanger Dynamo

2.30pm  5 October 2019

Middlesex County League, Premier Division
Stonewall 1 Pitshanger Dynamo 1 (att 12)

After my lunchtime game at Barn Elms Sports Centre it was just a short walk to the adjacent Barn Elms Playing Fields for this fixture. I even had time for pre-match (or post-match) pint in the nearby Red Lion pub.

There are lots of pitches at Barn Elms Playing Fields - one of them was staging Stonewall's second team game - but the club's first eleven use the 'stadium pitch'. It's enclosed, surrounded by a running track, and has a small stand.

Stonewall bill themselves as 'the most successful LGBT football club in the world', and it'd be hard to argue. They've been going close to 30 years and this season they're back at 'step seven' following promotion to the Middlesex League's top flight.

They also compete internationally, winning a Europe-wide LGBT tournament in Rome this summer. The visit of Pitshanger Dynamo for a Middlesex County League game may have been a bit mundane by comparison.

Stonewall seized on slack defending to take an early lead but it didn't take too long before the visitors levelled with a well-taken goal. That was it in terms of scoring, although there was no lack of effort. It was a very competitive game between evenly-matched sides and a draw was a fair outcome.











Old Eastbournians v Old Kingstonians KGS

12 midday  5 October 2019

Arthurian League, Division Five South
Old Eastbournians 3 Old Kingstonians KGS 1 (att 3)

I was groundhopping by public transport having stayed on in London following a work trip, so games on adjacent sports grounds, one at noon at the other at 2.30pm, was a perfect itinerary.

It did mean dropping to the lowest level of the Arthurian League for the first time, but at least it was a fixture between two first teams and the entertainment made up for what the match lacked in quality.

Old Eastbournians have suffered two successive relegations to this level, but are at least assured that they can't fall any further.

They got their first win of the season after coming from behind against Kingstonians. It was 2-1 by half time, and in a game of plenty of plenty of chances the biggest surprise was there was just a single second half goal.

For a spell towards end Eastbournians had two players sin-binned at the same time, but even with with a temporary two-man advantage the visitors were unable to get back into the match.

The venue was pitch number seven at Barn Elms Sports Centre in Barnes. It's set slightly apart from the other pitches and enclosed by greenery on three sides, making it a better ground than I'd expected.

The game's audio backdrop was the noise of the crowd at Craven Cottage, just across the Thames from Barn Elms, watching Fulham's lunchtime kick off against Charlton.










North West Alliance v The London Cosmos

8pm  3 October 2019

London League, Midweek Cup Group B
North West Alliance 2 The London Cosmos 1 (att 3)

My only previous experience of a London League game wasn't great, but I gave it another go while in the capital overnight for work, and was glad I did.

It was a damp evening at the Capital City Academy in Willesden, but while the quality of the football was never going to be great it was an entertaining game. It was certainly preferable to the alternative of sitting in a hotel room for the evening.

The venue was an artificial pitch, typical of its type, in the grounds of a modern school. The school building provides a striking backdrop, and its design means there's also plenty of cover from the rain, albeit set back from the pitch and behind a high fence.

Two-thirds of a 'crowd' elected to move under cover outside the ground once the rain started, but I stayed pitchside and watched as Cosmos took the lead, against the balance of play, just before half time.

The duration of London League games depends how close to the booked time they begin. This match got underway about seven minutes late, so half time came after 38 minutes. A short break meant the second period extended to 41 minutes, but NWA (as they’re listed on the league website) got their two goals to turn the match around early in the half.







Caledonian Braves v Dalbeattie Star

7.45pm  1 October 2019

Scottish Lowland League
Caledonian Braves 5 Dalbeattie Star 5 (att 52)

Caledonian Braves are a curious club. They were formerly Edusport Academy, a residential academy for young French footballers, and four years ago I was part of a single-figure crowd that watched them win a cup semi-final.

They've now rebranded, moved ground, have a first team packed with decent Scottish players (I believe the French youngsters turn out for the reserves in the South of Scotland League), and are now just one division below the Scottish League.

Support is growing, but as Caledonian Braves the club is as much about virtual supporters as actual ones. Apparently you can download an app and become not just a fan but also a part-owner with a say in key decisions (my attempt was met with an 'app not available' message, but I’m told it’s in development).

I don't know whether any of Caledonian Braves' virtual fans were able to watch this game, but if they did then were treated to a hugely entertaining game. Not surprisingly given the score, it's fair to say that neither side were great at the back but up front they impressed.

Braves took an early lead, and from that point I expect them to canter to a win, but Dalbeattie made the made the most of defensive frailties to equalise and then go in front. The home side levelled, but not long later it was 3-2 to Dalbeattie ... all before half time.

The fun continued after the break. Dalbeattie withstood pressure from the hosts and hit them very effectively on the break, getting a 5-2 lead. But the home side weren't finished, a third goal gave them the momentum and further scoring was inevitable. They made it 5-5 in stoppage time.

After leaving Hamilton Palace, where I saw them in 2015, Edusport Academy moved in to groundshare at Annan Athletic. This season they've returned to the central belt, taking up residence at Bothwellhaugh in Bellshill.

The 3G pitch has been renamed Alliance Park, and features a neat pair of seated stands. For some reason the side opposite the stands was closed off, making it in effect a two-side venue. It meant that for those, like me, who prefer to stand when watching football the best view was behind the goal. Not ideal but I can't fault the entertainment.








Lyne v Battersea Ironsides

3pm  28 September 2019

Surrey Elite Intermediate League Cup, First Round
Lyne 1 Battersea Ironsides 3 (att 14)

My second game of the day and it was another visit to a school, but Jubilee High School in Addlestone is very different to Charterhouse.

A playing field behind the school is home to Lyne FC, newly-promoted to Surrey's 'step seven' league, but the club's first team won't be here for long.

The venue looks more than adequate for the Surrey Elite Intermediate League, but presumably Lyne have set their sights higher, and have arranged a groundshare at Ascot United, thus ensuring they have a ground suitable for further upward progress.

Ascot's new artificial pitch isn't yet ready, so I took the opportunity to visit Lyne at what is likely to be one of the final first team games at their current ground.

The main pitch, like several smaller pitches (Lyne FC's main focus seems to be youth football), is enclosed by barriers painted a bright shade of orange. Coupled with the sports field's blue perimeter, it's a colourful sight and reflects the club's kit.

A snack bar - in a cleverly-converted shipping container - is a rare find at this level, and probably does a brisker trade when youngsters are using the ground on Sundays. Pre-match and half-time coffees were welcome though.

On the pitch it was a slow burn of a cup tie. It was goalless at half time, but Battersea took control in a much more lively second half, eventually running comfortable and deserved winners.