Codicote v Baldock Town

3pm  27 December 2016

Spartan South Midlands League, Division One
Codicote 0 Baldock Town 1 (att 106)

Football was an added bonus on a day when I had to ferry my in-laws back from Manchester to their Hertfordshire home. Despite the worst a traffic-clogged A1 could throw at me I made it to the John Clements Memorial Ground in good time for kick off.

The club only returned to their village at the start of the season, having spent a few years in exile borrowing venues that complied with ground grading requirements. They've now back, having added a seated stand, a proper walkway and floodlights to their own home.

It's a three-sided venue, with the touchline adjacent to a cricket square merely roped off and, with the exception of those in the dugouts, out of bounds.

In a feisty local derby, promotion-chasing Baldock won all three points thanks to a free kick about 10 minutes from time, and about 20 minutes after they'd been reduced to 10 men when a player got a second booking.

Codicote made them work hard for the win, but rarely looked like scoring themselves. I was beginning to resign myself to a first nil nil of the season until the visitors got their winner.

I was interested to read, in the match programme, that Codicote's ground is named after a school teacher who was born in the village and who was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his bravery in saving pupils from a hotel fire, in which he died, at an Italian ski resort in 1976.

Signol Athletic v Trafford United

2.30pm  17 December 2017

Lancashire and Cheshire Amateur League, Division One
Signol Athletic 3 Trafford United 4 (att 6)

A thoroughly entertaining 90 minutes ended in a surprise defeat for division leaders Signol, only their second loss of the season in the league.

It looked likely to be a routine home win when a well-struck shot put Signol ahead after just two minutes, but a sign of what was to come followed very soon after, as Trafford United equalised before the game had reached its fifth minute.

Both sides played some decent football, making good use of the artificial surface, and Signol got back in front only to concede again just before half time.

The second period picked up where the first had ended, with more goals quickly flowing. It was Trafford's turn to go in front, after 46 minutes, but three minutes later a penalty for Signol levelled the score at 3-3.

Signol Athletic may have been the fancied team but it was Trafford who scored next, for what turned out to be the game's decisive goal.

Venue was 'pitch 10' at Stockport Sports Village in Woodley. Pitch one is home to Stockport Town, although it was being used by Cheshire League AFC Macclesfield while my game was in progress. It's barely recognisable from my 1998 visit to watch Woodley Sports.

Pitch 10 is the only other full size artificial pitch (numbers two to nine are mini pitches, number 11 is grass and looks just about full size). Not an interesting venue, but I didn't have time to travel far, and it was a great game to watch.

Google Maps hasn't yet caught up with the expansion of Stockport Sports Village, but click here for a map of the location of Signol's pitch

Howe Bridge Mills v Hurlston Hall

1.30pm  10 December 2016

Lancashire Amateur Cup, Quarter Final
Howe Bridge Mills 2 Hurlston Hall 3 (att 60)

This wasn't the cup tie I'd set out to watch. Another of the quarter finals, at Southport and Ainsdale Amateurs, had a midday kick off, opening up the possibility of watching two games, on two new grounds, in a single afternoon.

But I arrived to find it had been switched to an alternative venue, and learnt via Twitter that my potential second game, at Burscough Dynamo, had failed a morning pitch inspection. So I headed back towards Manchester and to a cup tie that more than made up for the earlier disappointment.

Howe Bridge Mills, struggling in the top division of the Lancashire Amateur League, and Wigan Leaguers Hurlston Hall were surprising quarter-finalists.

It was the visitors who took an early grip on the game, scoring two very well taken first half goals that looked to be sending them into the last four. But slack defending gave Howe Bridge Mills a goal back in the second half, and the home side were further buoyed when a Hurlston Hall penalty was saved.

Inevitably Howe Bridge Mills scored an equaliser, to the delight of most of those watching. It set up a thrilling end to the game, which was settled in the 90th minute by a wonderful strike by Hurlston Hall's very impressive number three.

Howe Bridge Mills play on a new 4G pitch at Howe Bridge Sports Centre in Atherton. The game was always going to be more interesting than the venue, especially as I'd already seen Howe Bridge play here twice on different grass pitches (plus two visits to see Manchester League Atherton Town on different pitches).

The 4G, next door to one of Howe Bridge's previous pitches, is floodlit and enclosed by the usual high fence. One touchline was roped off to keep spectators clear of the action.

Oldham Victoria v Bury Amateur

2pm  3 December 2016

Lancashire and Cheshire Amateur League, Division One
Oldham Victoria 3 Bury Amateur 2 (att 4)

I had planned a trip slightly further afield but non-football matters meant I needed to be back home early so a visit to Oldham Victoria's new ground suited me well.

The last time I saw the club play a home game they were little more than a long goal kick away at Broadhurst Park. After a short spell in nearby Failsworth they've returned to the area and now play on an artificial pitch at St Matthews RC High School in Nuthurst Road.

The venue is entirely as you'd expect for a 3G pitch in the grounds of a school. It's a floodlit pitch enclosed by a high fence, and totally lacking any facilities for spectators, not that you'd expect any at this level of course, and not that any are needed when a generous headcount of the crowd was lower than the number of goals scored.

All four of us watching, or certainly the two of us watching closely, had to wait until well into the second half for the first of the afternoon's five goals.

Victoria had created plenty of chances but wayward shooting and over-complication in front of goal cost them, until they broke the deadlock with about 20 minutes left. Within two minutes they doubled their lead, but then allowed Bury Amateur back into the game.

The visitors looked to have snatched an unlikely draw, until an excellent passing move in the final minute gave the home side a dramatic, and deserved, winner.

Wisbech St Mary v Halstead Town

3pm  26 November 2016

Eastern Counties League, Division One
Wisbech St Mary 1 Halstead Town 1 (att 36)

Wisbech St Mary were one of several new clubs promoted to the Eastern Counties League this season, and they've made a good start at the higher level after stepping up from the Cambridgeshire League.

The visit of Halstead, beaten only once in the league, was going to be a tough test, but after a hard-fought afternoon I imagine both sides will be relatively satisfied to have taken a point.

Halstead went ahead early, and should have extended their lead by half time. They paid the penalty for failing to do so when Wisbech St Mary scored to level the game during the second half. All in all it was a decent game.

Wisbech St Mary is a village just outside the town of Wisbech. The football club is based at the local sports and community centre, which as well as the first team pitch has plenty of others for the club's many youth teams.

First team games are played on an enclosed ground that's floodlit and has cover along the near side, although at present there's no seats.

Hard standing runs along the near side, where it is set back from the pitch, and at both ends, but the far side is out of bounds, presumably because the lack of a path means it falls foul of league rules. I'm not a fan of three-sided grounds, and I can't understand why the Eastern Counties League should care whether or not I might get my shoes muddy, but despite that very minor irritation I enjoyed my visit.

Lincoln City U18 v York City U18

11am  26 November 2016

EFL Youth Alliance, North East
Lincoln City U18 1 York City U18 1 (att 56)

The first teams of Lincoln and York may be outside the Football League at the moment, but their youth sides are still members of the rebranded EFL Youth Alliance.

Unlike York, who've staged Youth Alliance games at their own training ground for years, Lincoln's youngsters lead a nomadic existence. This was the third home ground I've seen them on, and each one has been a school pitch.

For now at least they're at the Priory City of Lincoln Academy, which has a large playing field on Skellingthorpe Road. One side of the pitch is roped off, to keep spectators at bay, and that's about it in terms of facilities, although hot drinks seemed to be available from somewhere inside the distant school buildings.

The game began in bright sunshine, but that soon gave way to cloud, mist and falling temperatures. A goalless draw looked likely until an excellent finish put York went ahead midway through the second half.

The visitors had been the better team, but although they just about deserved the lead they held it for barely two minutes before Lincoln City equalised. No more goals, and overall not a bad game on a chilly morning.

Darlaston Town (1874) v Alcester Town

1.30pm  19 November 2016

Birmingham FA Vase, Second Round
Darlaston Town (1874) 2 Alcester Town 2, 4-2 on penalties (att 36)

Darlaston's former ground was among my favourite venues. Sadly it seems the City Ground is unlikely to stage football again, but at least the revived club now have a ground of their own and are making good progress.

Their progress to the third round of the Birmingham FA Vase was trickier than it should have been. After an undistinguished opening 65 minutes the tie came to life when Darlaston were awarded a penalty, from which they took the lead.

The Alcester player who gave the spot kick away has been booked in the aftermath, and collected a red card five minutes later after unwisely continuing his complaints to the assistant referee who'd given the decision.

But ten-man Alcester, who play Midland League football one level lower than West Midlands Regional League Darlaston, took advantage of sloppy defending to get a surprising equaliser. It wasn't long before Darlaston were back in front, but in the final minute Alcester managed to level again.

I was expecting extra time but instead the game went straight to penalties, and Darlaston progressed after scoring four out of four while Alcester missed a couple.

Darlaston Town (1874) were formed following the demise of the original club, and are developing a decent venue, The Paycare Ground. It's a former company sports ground, with a railed off pitch adjacent to a building that contains a clubhouse and the changing rooms.

At present there's no cover for spectators, but that will change soon as a concrete base has already been laid ready for a stand. Long-term the club will need to enclose the playing area and erect floodlights to progress, but they seem to have the necessary enthusiasm.

It was great to visit a club at this level run by such keen and friendly people, and with proper supporters embracing the grassroots game (including one who was very much dressed for the part). I'd love to see a Darlaston side climbing the football pyramid, and I wish them well.

Bellshill Athletic v St Roch's

2pm  12 November 2016

SJFA West Region, Central League, Division One
Bellshill Athletic 1 St Roch's 2 (att 125)

My reasons for choosing a particular fixture, or even an area of the country to head towards, can vary week to week. This time it was primarily the weather forecast; a band of heavy rain was due to have cleared the Glasgow area by early morning, and no matter how torrential it was I had several back-ups on artificial pitches.

A few games did succumb to the conditions, but not my first choice, which went ahead on grass at Rockburn Park in Bellshill.

Bellshill have been nomadic in recent years - this is third home ground I've seen them on - and after a period away only moved back into the town itself last season. Rockburn Park is basic for a West Region junior ground, but I gather it's intended a temporary venue until a permanent home is completed.

Basic it may be, but Bellshill Athletic are well organised and put plenty of effort into turning the ground into an acceptable venue for this grade of football.

A sturdy fence encloses the ground, allowing the club to take a gate, while potential free views are obscured by the use of sheeting attached to the fence. The pitch is roped off along the areas available to spectators, with the far end and most of the far side out of bounds.

Like (almost) all Scottish junior grounds there's a decent snack bar, part of a building behind the near goal that also houses the changing rooms, and a match programme adds to the feel of a proper football club.

On the pitch Bellshill, relegated last season, are again having a tough time. Visitors St Roch's, on the other hand, are on an upward trajectory, and did their promotion challenge no harm at all by collecting all three points.

It wasn't an easy afternoon for them though, despite the cushion of a fifth minute lead and Bellshill having a player sent off with over an hour to play.

Although they were second best, Bellshill looked capable of equalising despite their numerical disadvantage. They did so with just seven minutes left, but their joy was short-lived as St Roch's found time to get a winner before the end.

It was an enjoyable and at times feisty encounter, albeit one that threatened to boil over as the players returned to the changing rooms after the final whistle. By then I was outside the ground heading back to my car, so it was hard to tell what happened. As usual though, Scottish junior football is very competitive, and well worth the journey north.