Achilles v Claydon

2pm  29 December 2018

Suffolk and Ipswich league, Senior Division
Achilles 0 Claydon 1 (att 100)

The top tier of the Suffolk and Ipswich League was the only one of the 45 step seven leagues in which I'd not been to any of this season's grounds, so I put that right at reigning champions Achilles.

They're based at the Pauls Sports and Social Club in Ipswich, a logical place to go before heading home to Manchester after a couple of nights away on the Suffolk coast.

It's a decent venue for this level of the game. The single pitch runs lengthways from the modern social club, and on the left hand touchline there are large dugouts, painted in club colours, and a section of railing with advertising boards. The rest of the pitch is roped off.

A free programme was a nice surprise, especially as producing one during the Christmas holidays must be an extra challenge.

The match didn't go as I'd expected, as Achilles' hopes of retaining their title took a knock thanks to mid-table Claydon's first half winner. It came against the run of play, but once they were in front the visitors defended well to keep out the hosts.

The action was entertaining and watched by a large crowd. I wonder if any of them were tempted by the efforts of the Suffolk FA, who deserve credit for taking out a full page advert, in at least one local paper that I saw, advertising festive fixtures at local clubs.

Colden Common v Overton United

2pm  22 December 2018

Hampshire Premier League, Senior Division
Colden Common 1 Overton United 1 (att 30)

Family commitments around Christmas time often present additional challenges to finding games to watch on new grounds, especially if the weather is unkind.

I needed a game that was reasonably close to west London and without going too far out of our way on the journey down from Manchester. It also needed to tick the box of providing somewhere for my partner to spend her afternoon while I was at football.

Colden Common was the ideal solution, being a manageable detour and just a few miles south of Winchester, which had plenty to occupy my other half while I ticked off a football pitch.

The Hampshire Premier League is one of my favourite competitions at this level and, while Colden Common Park is among its more basic venues, they are a club that puts the effort in to make it a decent matchday experience.

Programmes are a rarity in the league, but Colden Common's effort is a good one and well worth the £1 cover price, especially when admission to watch the game is free.

The last time I saw Colden Common at home they played on a pitch close to the centre of the village. Apparently the changing rooms there weren't large enough so they had to relocate to a sports ground off Boyes Lane.

If you're not getting changed to play then the facilities are the two sites are similar, just pitch with rope around the playing area. But whereas the old ground was an enclosed single pitch the new one is part of a large playing field, which feels more exposed and less interesting.

It was a reasonable game between two sides who lacked a cutting edge in front of goal. Overton spurned some good early chances and looked the more dangerous side throughout, but it was well into the second half before a free kick, controversially awarded, came back off the post and the rebound was scored.

That saved me from what had looked a likely nil nil draw, but Colden Common equalised late on thanks to a controversial goal of their own, which on another day might have been ruled out for offside (I couldn't tell from where I was standing).

Apparently this was one of the final Hampshire Premier League games likely to be played at Colden Common Park. The club are unable to improve the facilities so are set to move to nearby Otterbourne, and to the ground left vacant when that village's club folded.

Chorltonians v AFC Stockport

2pm  15 December 2018

Lancashire and Cheshire Amateur League, Rhodes Cup First Round
Chorltonians 1 AFC Stockport 1, 7-6 on penalties (att 2)

I needed to stay close to home today and in view of the weather I had expected to spend my afternoon standing inside a caged 3G pitch.

But the grass pitches at the Hough End Centre were playable, so I braved the horrid conditions to watch an intriguing league cup tie between teams separated by four divisions.

AFC Stockport are going well in the Lancashire and Cheshire Amateur League's sixth tier, but it was still a major surprise that they took division one Chorltonians to penalties. The feat was even more remarkable as they had a bare 11 players and no substitutes.

The weather was a leveller though. Heavy rain blown in by an icy cold wind made watching the action while keeping hold of an umbrella a challenge, and players on both sides did well to provide a decent spectacle in the conditions.

Chorltonians played into the wind in a first half that ended goalless. The home side had the better chances but AFC Stockport looked dangerous, and it was clear it wasn't going to be the easy home win I'd anticipated.

With the conditions more in their favour after the break Chorltonians broke the deadlock after 57 minutes. AFC Stockport held firm though, and deserved their equaliser.

They were hanging on towards the end of the 90 minutes, and goal line technology might have awarded the home side a late winner when the ball looked to have crossed the line before being cleared.

With no extra time it was straight to spot kicks to decide the outcome. AFC Stockport had a chance to win but what would have been the decisive penalty was saved. As it went into sudden death it was the home side who progressed.

Chorltonians are based at the Hough End Centre in south Manchester. It's the Greater Manchester Police sports and social club, and 20 years ago I visited to see the police team play a Manchester League fixture.

The pitch used then has since been turned into paddocks for police horses, although none were out in today's bad weather. There's still room for a pair of grass pitches though, and Chorltonians fourth team were at home on the other one.

Beverley Town v Pocklington Town

2pm  8 December 2018

Humber Premier League, Premier Division
Beverley Town 4 Pocklington Town 3 (att 38)

I had little opportunity to check matches on Friday night or Saturday morning so I made a late decision to head east. Not only did it seem the best direction in view of the weather, but Hull has plenty of 3G pitches as backups should games on grass fall to the conditions.

I didn't need a backup though as the grass pitch at Beverley's Norwood Recreation Ground was in perfect condition, showing the value of drainage work carried out while the club temporarily played elsewhere last season.

There are some very basic venues in the Humber's league's top division, which has step seven status from the FA, but Beverley's ground is one of the better ones. The pitch is part of a large sports club, but is enclosed by houses and a squash club building.

A combination of railings and rope provides a barriers to keep spectators at bay along both touchlines, and on the far side there are pair of new-looking dugouts. A few advertising boards are attached to the railing to give the ground a 'proper' feel.

It was good stuff on the pitch as well, not too surprising as hosts Beverley began this game in third place while Pocklington were top. It was lively throughout, with both sides playing some attractive attacking football.

Beverley got an early lead but it didn't take Pocklington long to get back level. The decisive moments were just before half time, when the home side scored twice in as many minutes to get a healthy 3-1 lead.

Pocklington were better in the second half and had they got the next goal the outcome might have been different, but it was Beverley who eventually struck. A 4-1 deficit was a tall order for Pocklington but they had some hope with they pulled one back with 10 minutes to go.

Beverley were hanging on at the end but it took the visitors until stoppage time to get a third goal back, and after that there was barely time to restart. It was a good advert for the Humber Premier League though, and I'd be keen to see either of these sides again this season.

Caribbean Sports v South Kirkby Colliery

1.45pm  1 December 2018

Sheffield County Senior League Cup, Third Round
Caribbean Sports 3 South Kirkby Colliery 0 (att 4)

In some ways this felt a little like a groundhopping throwback to a different time. A cup upset on a very muddy surface at a ground that surprisingly had cover, dugouts and an enclosed pitch.

The cover looks ready to collapse, and anyone standing under it would have to take care not to trip over the groundsman's mower. I didn't risk leaning on the the railings too hard, and I assume the rope is left permanently in place as on today's evidence there's little need to keep crowds off the pitch.

The Caribbean Sports Ground is a good one to visit though. Players change in a pavilion near the entrance then walk across a cricket pitch before heading down a steep bank to reach the football ground.

I arrived just a few minutes before the scheduled kick off, but apparently the home players assumed it was a 2pm start and so weren't ready on time. It got underway 15 minutes late at 1.45pm, but when they weren't warming up South Kirkby's players spent the extra preparation time watching their veterans team, playing over the fence on the adjacent Civil Service Sports Ground.

Perhaps South Kirkby should have insisted on a prompt start, as when play began they were on the back foot. Division One Caribbean Sports deserved their 15th minute lead from a penalty, and looked better than their Premier Division visitors.

But they failed to take their chances and the lead was still just 1-0 at half time. South Kirkby were better after the break and it became a very enjoyable end-to-end game. Neither side could find the net though, until a late Caribbean goal made the game safe. They added a third just before the end.

Sheffield Wednesday U18 v Hull City U18

11am  1 December 2018

Under 18 Professional Development League
Sheffield Wednesday U18 3 Hull City U18 1 (att 45)

I visited Wednesday's Middlewood Road training ground in 2002 but recent photos of youth team games suggested their under 18s now play on a different pitch to the one used back then, giving me an excuse to return.

The place has had a makeover in the last 16 years, with a new entrance and new facilities. The two grass pitches haven't shifted, but the one used by Sheffield Wednesday's under 19 team years ago has been turned 90 degrees and was staging an under 16s game today.

The pitch now used by the under 18s is closest to the club buildings, and the first you encounter on foot from the entrance, although how to reach it isn't immediately obvious when you go in.

Once they've found the pitch, spectators can watch from behind the goals, albeit through a fence, or along the far side, where only the area between the dugouts is off limits. I've no idea why dugouts aren't on the opposite side, if it's so important that spectators have to keep their distance.

There was more than enough room for the crowd who turned up on a dark and damp morning for a comfortable win against Hull's youngsters. An early penalty put Wednesday in front and a second goal came just before half time.

The home side added a third near the end, but will doubtless be annoyed at having allowed Hull City a consolation goal in the final moments.

All in all it wasn't a bad game for a youth team fixture at this level, and watching football at Sheffield Wednesday's training ground was a more relaxed and laid back experience than is sometimes the case at such venues.