Walton Casuals v Taunton Town

3pm  9 February 2019

Southern League, Premier Division South
Walton Casuals 0 Taunton Town 1 (att 238)

When I began watching non-League football in the 1980s Walton Casuals were a curiosity, as the only first team playing other clubs' reserves in the Suburban League. They'd moved to the Surrey County Premier League by the time I visited in 1992, and their progress since then has been huge.

I was one of fewer than 20 people who watched them beat British Telecom in 1992, on a ground next door to the site of the newly-developed Elmbridge Sports Hub where they now play. As far as I could make out, the site of the old pitch is now an athletics track, with the new football ground right next door.

The venue is dominated by a large seated stand, with a clubhouse facility behind the seats at the top. The rest of the ground is open flat standing, but there's plenty of room for further development and a base that's been laid behind the dugouts on the far side suggests more spectator accommodation is imminent.

The ground is also home to Walton and Hersham, once the town's main club but now playing two divisions lower. Unless the banners and signage around the ground are changed depending who's at home then it's very much Walton Casuals' ground.

Casuals' rapid progress in recent years may be stalling a bit this season. Relegation remains a possibility after a comfortable but unspectacular loss to league leaders Taunton, who scored the only goal midway through the first half.

Walton passed the ball around nicely enough, making the most of the excellent 3G surface, but in the first half they rarely made any meaningful inroads into Taunton's defensive third of the pitch. The home side were more direct after the break, but even then chances to level the score were fleeting, and Taunton were largely untroubled.

Old Bradfieldians v Old Chigwellians

12 midday  9 February 2019

Arthurian League, Premier Division
Old Bradfieldians 1 Old Chigwellians 2 (att 3)

With the weather making football on grass a bit of a lottery I opted for a risk-free option of a pair of games on artificial surfaces, taking advantage of one of the Arthurian League's regular lunchtime kick offs.

The 3G pitch at Hampton Sports Centre is home to a several clubs, so most Saturdays there are games at both midday and two o'clock. Today's early game was a premier division fixture, more attractive than delving into the lower divisions.

It wasn't the greatest of games, although a strong breeze didn't help the players, but Bradfieldians will be wondering how they lost. They were on the front foot most of the game, and were denied time after time by Chigwellians' excellent goalkeeper.

The home side eventually broke the deadlock with about 15 minutes left and, as Chigwellians had barely managed a shot, that looked to be game over. But in stoppage time the away team stunned the hosts, scoring twice with what might have been the only efforts they had on target in the entire match.

The buildings at Hampton Sports Centre are showing their age, but the 3G pitch looks quite new and provided a decent surface. It's a typical caged venue, but there was no problem for the three spectators (two of us groundhoppers) to stand inside next to the pitch.

Little Oakley v Halstead Town

3pm  2 February 2019

Eastern Senior League, Division One South
Little Oakley 1 Halstead Town 3 (att 100)

Groundhopping in winter weather can take you in unexpected directions, sometimes literally. I was planning to go Scotland, but pitch inspections even for games on artificial surfaces put me off, whereas Little Oakley tweeted early that their game was definitely going ahead.

So instead of a 400 mile round trip north I made a 500 mile round trip south, to the outskirts of Harwich and one of the few 'step six' venues I was yet to visit.

Having made the long journey I was relieved when I arrived that temperatures were above freezing and players were on the pitch warming up. Late postponements on days like this are becoming too common, often with no thought to those whose have travelled to watch (not that groundhoppers should get any extra consideration, no one forces me to drive hundreds of miles in poor weather).

I got a friendly welcome at Little Oakley, and after a welcome pre-match coffee I eventually left the warmth of the clubhouse to stand pitchside in the cold. The weather might have impacted the first half, which wasn't great.

Halstead, second in the league, were the better side. They went ahead with a well taken goal, then doubled their lead with a penalty. By half time it was 10-a-side, as well as 2-0, after a bad challenge, and the reaction to it, earned a red card for each side.

The second half was better, and Little Oakley pushed hard to get back into the game. The visitors held firm though, and got a third goal to put the points out of the home side's reach. Little Oakley did get a late consolation.

The Memorial Ground is a basic venue but a pleasant one. There's a small seated stand on one side, a small covered area behind the goal nearest the clubhouse, and a path that provides hard standing on two sides.