End of the season

The fact I'm at home writing this on a Saturday afternoon suggests that my 2011/12 season is over. I had planned a trip to southern Scotland for a final game tomorrow, but the heavy rain, and the prospect of a long drive with no certainty of games surviving the deluge, made me decide otherwise.

When I first thought about starting a groundhopping blog, last summer, my aim was to document all the new grounds I got to during the season. Eleven months on and I've managed that, with posts about 158 games, all but two of the matches I attended during the season. I didn't blog about revisits to Annan Athletic (4-2 v Peterhead in August) or Wembley Stadium (England 1 Belgium 0 last month). In fact it was my first visit to the "new" Wembley, having been to the old version countless times, but by my rules didn't count as a new ground.

Having reached the end of my season, I've been considering whether the blog should end with it, or whether to continue in 2012/13 and beyond. Encouraged by positive feedback I've had, both online and in person, I think I'll keep it going.

So far "Steve B the Groundhopper" has had over 12,000 page views, from a remarkable spread of countries. I'm occasionally baffled by the Google searches that lead some visitors to arrive, or what they might make of it. The most read post, by far, was about Liverpool's NextGen defeat to Ajax at Langtree Park.

For the new season, I doubt the blog's format will change much ... a brief match report and description of the venue (I tend to skip over very lengthy posts on some other blogs) and a few photos. The photos are there to illustrate the ground rather than the game, I don't have the equipment, ability or patience to concentrate on action shots. Where I get a programme I'll include the front cover.

There's not long to wait for 2012/13. I think the pre-season Stan Brewster Memorial Trophy begins next Sunday, and if it follows the previous format of two simultaneous matches at the Derbyshire Police HQ in Ripley then I'm guaranteed a new ground (well, a new pitch). Failing that, a few days later we'll be on holiday in Shetland, where football is a summer sport.

Wherever I end up, there'll be a brief report on here - although the Shetland games may have to wait a while until I've made it back home.

FC Black Mamba v Grimsargh

20 June 2012
Catforth & District Summer League, Division One
FC Black Mamba 1 Grimsargh 1 (att 15)

Not yet sure if this will be my final match of 2011/12, but if it is then it was an entertaining way to wrap up my groundhopping season.

With half the "crowd" consisting of fellow groundhoppers the chat on the touchline was in danger of keeping us more occupied than the match itself. Both goals were in the first half, the home side going ahead, and a draw was a fair result.

FC Black Mamba was the third and final of the new grounds I had to visit in this summer to recomplete the Catforth League. The venue is a basic pitch in the grounds of Archbishop Temple School, in the Fulwood area of Preston.

The Broons v Elgin Albion

17 June 2012
Moray Welfare League, Division One
The Broons 2 Elgin Albion 1 (att 43)

The Moray Welfare League is one of northern Scotland's summer leagues, but it didn't feel much like summer on a wet and gloomy afternoon inside an all weather 3G "cage" pitch at Speyside High School in Aberlour.

The Broons (I've no idea if DC Thomson have approved their use of the name) are new to the league this year, and look on course for a swift promotion to the Premier Division. Having made a strong start to the league I expected them to win this game more comfortably than they did.

Perhaps they became complacent after going ahead after just four minutes, and adding a second well before half time. Elgin kept battling though, and pulled a goal back shortly before half time.

That was the end of the goalscoring, although The Broons dominated the second half, hitting the frame of the goal three times and forcing a string of good saves by Elgin's keeper. There was always a chance Elgin Albion would level, and they had a few chances on the break.

The Broons home venue is a typical 3G pitch, surrounded by high fences. Unlike some, spectators can stand inside, and the nearside has hardstanding and a barrier for spectators to stand behind. Speyside High School was a busy place, with a children's football competition on the adjacent grass pitches.

Rosehearty Thistle v St Drostans

16 June 2012
North East Scotland League, Brucklay Cup, Quarter Final
Rosehearty Thistle 2 St Drostans 2 aet, 6-5 on penalties (att 30)

An early start and a long drive north for a league which helpfully (for me) plays on Saturday afternoons throughout the summer.

As always after a long journey, it was a relief to see players warming up on the pitch when I arrived at Rosehearty, a small fishing village just a few miles from Fraserburgh. The pitch, enclosed on two sides by high fencing and with a few park benches for spectators, doubles as as the village school playing field.

To be honest I wasn't expecting a great deal from the game, with both sides struggling in the league. Rosehearty could have scored in the opening moments, but by half time they were 2-0 down. There were few chances for most of the second half, and the match appeared to be heading for a comfortable, but unspectacular, away win.

Then with less than 10 minutes left Rosehearty pulled a goal back, despite suspicions of handball. It looked nothing more than a consolation, especially when a red card reduced them to 10 men soon after, but just moments from the end the home side levelled.

Extra time was entertaining but goalless, so it took penalties to separate the sides. Early misses put St Drostans in the driving seat, but they couldn't hang on to the advantage. It went into sudden death, and Rosehearty's young keeper became the the local hero, saving St Drostans' eighth spot kick, before stepping up and scoring his side's eighth, and sending them into the semi final.

Newman Athletic v Ribbleton Rovers

7 June 2012
Catforth & District Summer League, Division Two West
Newman Athletic 3 Ribbleton Rovers 4 (att 11)

Following a weekend revisit to Wembley Stadium it was back to groundhopping tonight, and for the second Thursday evening in a row I had the pleasure of watching Catforth League newcomers Newman Athletic.

They remain pointless at the foot of the league, but that will surely change soon if they continue to play as they did this evening. In fact, the points looked safe when they led 3-1 with around 10 minutes to play, but they wilted under a late onslaught from the visitors who scored three times in the closing minutes.

Ribbleton had started well, and took an early lead, but Newman battled back well to equalise, and then to take a 2-1 lead before half time. Both those goals owed a lot to poor goalkeeping, but a good finish early in the second half put the hosts 3-1 ahead, before Ribbleton's late comeback.

Although not far from the centre of Preston, Newman's home pitch isn't easy to find, even with maps and directions. It's a long walk from the nearest car park, and even further from the official changing rooms at Penwortham's Vernon Carus club.

When you eventually locate the pitch it's in a very rural setting, and looks well maintained. Its one feature is a small building, basically a groundsman's hut, which is adorned with a striking mural. It's a sort of holy graffiti, which apparently appeared "overnight" some time last year.

It looks to be based on a 17th century Bernini sculpture, "The ecstasy of St Teresa" ... at least that's what I discovered after a Google search, and looking at the original sculpture that must be the inspiration.

Teamsport 90 v Newman Athletic

31 May 2012
Catforth & District Summer League, Division Two West
Teamsport 90 3 Newman Athletic 1 (att 7)

The emergence of summer league football is a sure sign the season is finally drawing to a close. Teamsport's home, a playing field next to the Bourne Poacher pub in Thornton Cleveleys, was the first of three new venues in this year's Catforth League that I hope to get to during the next few weeks.

Hopefully the football at the other will be a bit more entertaining, as in truth this wasn't the best 90 minutes I've watched this season. Teamsport were the better side, and were 2-0 at half time. They added a third towards the end, before a last minute penalty gave Newman some reward for their hard work.

As expected, the ground is typically basic for this level of football. It's just an open pitch towards the corner of a large playing field. I was able to get a pre-match cup of coffee from makeshift cafe near the changing rooms, but that had more to do with Blackpool FC girls' teams having a coaching session nearby than anything to do with Teamsport.