Abbey Vale v Newton Stewart

7.30pm  29 July 2015

South of Scotland League
Abbey Vale 1 Newton Stewart 2 (att 42)

I thought I'd missed the opportunity to see a game on the 3G pitch at Dumfries High School when Crichton FC, after nearly folding completely, returned to their former ground after just one season here.

But, fortunately for me, Abbey Vale have taken up temporary residence while maintenance work is carried out on their usual home ground.

It's not an interesting venue though, just a caged, floodlit, artificial pitch at the back of some ageing school buildings. On the plus side it does have a fenced-off area for spectators along one touchline, some nice views on the far side, and it allowed me to complete visits to all the current South of Scotland League grounds.

It was a decent game as well. Abbey Vale, whose opening league fixture on Saturday was abandoned after just 20 minutes due a waterlogged, artificial, pitch, took an early lead. Newton Stewart, who drew their first game, were soon level.

Both sides created chances, and really should have scored a few of them, but the winning goal for the visitors was a well-taken volley about 20 minutes from the end.








Bwlch Rangers v Tumble United

6.15pm  28 July 2015

Star Cup, Group Four
Bwlch Rangers 4 Tumble United 1 (att 40)

First time I've seen a game in the Star Cup, a pre-season tournament sponsored (and I think also organised) by Llanelli's weekly newspaper.

On this showing it's certainly competitive football, and I'd be quite happy to watch more games in it as a good alternative to pre-season friendlies.

Bwlch Rangers and Tumble United are rivals in the Premier Division of the Carmarthenshire League. Bwlch finished last season a few places higher, and were comfortable winners even if the scoreline flattered them.

Highlights were two perfectly-executed direct free kicks, one in each half, by Bwlch's impressive number eight. They were two-thirds of his hat-trick, and Bwlch were 4-0 ahead before a defensive lapse allowed Tumble a consolation goal from a penalty.

Tumble played some decent football at times, but didn't have anyone on the field who looked confident in front of goal. Overall the game was a little scrappy, to be expected in July, but was entertaining enough.

Bwlch Rangers play at Glanmorfa Park, to the south of Llanelli. There's a car park and community centre, in which the players change, from where the single pitch runs lengthways. The pitch is fully railed, but the railings on the sides are set so far back from the pitch that spectators stand pitchside to get a decent view.









Lairg Rovers v Golspie Stafford

3pm  25 July 2015

North West Sutherland League
Lairg Rovers 4 Golspie Stafford 3 (att 25)

It's hard to avoid Lairg on journeys to and from the far north west of Scotland. Not that you'd want to avoid it, it's a nice small town with a handy tourist information centre that also offers a coffee shop and, crucially, public toilets.

As a result I've stopped at Ferrycroft in Lairg many times over the years. This time I finally got to see a game on the adjacent football pitch, that's home to Lairg Rovers in the North West Sutherland League.

Next to Loch Shin, it's a lovely place to watch a game of football, and when you get a seven-goal thriller it's pretty much a perfect afternoon, ahead of the long drive home to Manchester.

I'd had Golspie as pre-match favourites to win this game, but they were out-battled by a very determined Lairg.

The home side went in front early, but it didn't take Golspie long to make it 1-1. The home side went back in front just before half time, which set up a great second period.

After the break it was all Golspie, with Lairg defending deep and trying to catch the visitors on the break. A Golspie equaliser looked just a matter of time, and then seemed a certainty when a deliberate handball, preventing a clear goalscoring opportunity, earned Lairg a red card with 20 minutes to play.

But then the 10 men hit Goslpie on the break, twice in as many minutes, to go 4-1 ahead. Golspie refused to give up, and were rewarded with two late goals to set up a thrilling climax. Had we played a few more minutes I'm sure they'd have equalised, but despite half-chances they ran out of time, and Lairg were celebrating at the final whistle.

Despite being just a pitch, Ferrycroft feels like an enclosed football ground. Changing rooms are behind the goal, close to the tourist information centre, with plenty of pitchside parking for those to prefer to watch the action through a windscreen.

This game recompleted the North West Sutherland League for me, at least until Kinlochbervie and/or Tongue United return from exile to pitches in their own villages.









ICM Electrical v Dores

7pm  24 July 2015

Inverness & District AFA Cup, last 16
ICM Electrical 4 Dores 1 (att 7)

There were three matches to choose from at Bught Park in Inverness. Two ties in the local amateur football association's cup, and, on their enclosed pitch, Inverness City were taking on Caledonian Thistle's youngsters in a pre-season warm-up.

I opted for competitive football, and a last 16 tie between two Premier Division rivals. On paper, judging by the league table in the Highland News, it looked likely to be a close encounter, but on grass it was anything but.

ICM Electrical started well, but against the run of play it was Dores who opened the scoring. ICM were soon level, and edged ahead by half time. In the second period a terrific volley from distance made it 3-1, and a late fourth goal completed the scoring.

ICM's winning margin should have been wider, and would have been had they taken a few more of the many chances they created.

Bught Park is a large, and rather pleasant, park alongside the Rover Ness. It's main sporting feature is a shinty stadium, with a stand running the length of the pitch. Next door is Inverness City's newish venue, while I counted four other football pitches, used by city-based clubs in the Inverness and District League's three divisions.

Players changed at the shinty ground, and then had a lengthy walk to a pitch to the north, for ICM Electrical and Dores, or to the south, where Heathmount Loch Ness played Merkinch.

Despite excellent local paper coverage, information about amateur football in Inverness can be hard to come by. There's no official online presence, and as many clubs are named after pubs and sponsors their identities change frequently, ICM Electrical were previously The Phoenix FC.







Avro v Middlewich Town at Ten Acres Lane Sports Centre

2.15pm  18 July 2015

Pre-season Friendly at Ten Acres Lane Sports Centre, Newton Heath
Avro 2 Middlewich Town 0 (att 15)

Another pre-season game on an unusual venue, this time a recently-installed 3G pitch at the Ten Acres Lane Sport Centre in Newton Heath, Manchester.

At one time this was going to be the location for FC United's new home ground, but instead there's a sports centre building that looks to be in the middle of being built, or re-built, a car park and an enclosed artificial football pitch.

One plus point is that the 3G pitch, unlike many, has been built with a barriered area for spectators running the length of one side. The handful of spectators for this warm-up match were treated to a fairly decent and competitive encounter, for a friendly.

Avro effectively play one division higher than Middlewich, in the Manchester League's top division against the Cheshire League's second tier. They were the better side, and deserved the win that came courtesy of two decent goals, the first a minute before half time and second roughly midway through the second period.

Crossbars were hit at both ends, several times, and at one point in the first half the competitive edge threatened to spill over and turn nasty.

All in all a good afternoon out, and a rare chance to tick off a football venue that's only about three miles from my house.







Mersey Valley v West Didsbury and Chorlton at Partington Sports Village

7pm  14 July 2015

Pre-season Friendly at Partington Sports Village
Mersey Valley 1 West Didsbury and Chorlton 1 (att 19)

The prime attraction this friendly held was a chance to see a game at Partington Sports Village, a well-equipped sports centre on the edge of Greater Manchester.

The venue was switched to here, at short notice, because Mersey Valley's own ground wasn't available. Football-wise, there's a large playing field, on which this game was played, and a caged, floodlit 3G pitch.

In truth it was a rather scrappy and disjointed game, not helped by the visitors' mass half-time substitutions. It was 90 minutes that reminded why travelling more than just a few miles for for a pre-season is rarely, if ever, worth the effort.

That said there was plenty to admire, especially from the "home" side, who played better football than I'd expect for a team in the Cheshire League's third, and lowest, tier.

They went ahead with a well-taken early goal, but it wasn't long before West Didsbury and Chorlton, who play four divisions higher in the North West Counties League, were level. Surprisingly there were no further goals, despite chances for both teams.







Wallington v Ponteland United

6.45pm  13 July 2015

Clayton Cup, Group A
Wallington 0 Ponteland United 4, 2-3 on penalties (att 20)

A game which stayed on just about the right side of the blurred line between pre-season friendly and competitive football, and saw Ponteland not only win the match, but also the penalty shootout which followed the final whistle.

To avoid any ties in the final tables of the Clayton Cup's two three-team groups, each match is followed by a penalties, regardless of the final score. As I understand it, Ponteland's three points for winning the match were boosted by a extra point for winning the penalties.

Ponteland next play Prudhoe, the third side in the Group A, on Wednesday, also at Wallington's trim and tidy Oakford Park, which is staging all three group games. Wallington and Prudhoe clash next week.

The Clayton Cup has a long history, and in recent years has been revived as a pre-season competition for a mixture of Saturday and Sunday sides. This year, two groups of three compete to produce the two finalists.

Ponteland play a division lower that Wallington, but won this game surprisingly comfortably. They looked sharper across the pitch, and took their chances well, while Wallington created few clear chances with their possession.

The visitors had the perfect start, scoring from a penalty in the second minute. They doubled their lead by half time, and doubled it again in the second half. For some reason the game was just 40 minutes each half, despite starting a few minutes early and when, even with the penalties and allowing for a cloudy and damp evening, there was easily enough light to play for longer.

Wallington are based in the tiny Northumberland village of Scot's Gap. It's remarkable that such a small place can sustain a football club at all, let alone one playing in the top division of the Northern Alliance.

Oakford Park is a one-sided ground, with the near side railed off and with dugouts. Cars can park pitchside, and players change in a wooden pavilion which has an overhanging roof capable of providing cover. The opposite side, and both ends, are bordered by rolling hills, making it an enjoyable venue to watch a game.