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.