Macduff v Cuminestown United

2pm  31 March 2019

North East Scotland League, League Two
Macduff 3 Cuminestown United 3 (att 45)

The clocks going forward is one sign that summer is approaching, another is the opening fixtures in the North East Scotland League, which like many amateur competitions in the north plays during the summer months.

This was Macduff's first competitive game as a North East Scotland League club, having switched from the Moray Welfare League. Geographically they're out on a limb in either league, but this was an promising start even if they didn't win.

They should have got all three points though. They were 2-1 up at half time and added a third right at the start of the second period. Both defences were vulnerable, and a penalty for Cuminestown made it 3-2 before an underhit back pass was seized upon to level it at 3-3 near the end.

That set up an exciting final few minutes, as the play was end to end and both sides had chances. Neither was able to score though, and so both teams settled for a point each in their opening game of the 2019 season.

Macduff play at the Macduff Community and Sports Centre, a newish venue that has a 3G pitch with a seated stand that's home to junior club Deveronside. Macduff play on the adjacent grass pitch, which is enclosed and has some grass banking to make it a decent place to watch a game.

It was a very enjoyable 90 minutes to set me up for the long drive home, and it was also encouraging to see a good turnout of locals to watch the game.

The Macduff Community and Sports Centre isn't on Google Maps yet here's a map of the location

Blackburn United v Preston Athletic

5.15pm  30 March 2019

East of Scotland League, Conference C
Blackburn United 4 Preston Athletic 1 (att 328)

Blackburn versus Preston might sound like a Lancashire derby, but when United meet Athletic it's West Lothian against East Lothian in the East of Scotland League.

Blackburn United were among a number of junior clubs who switched to senior football last summer, swelling the ranks of the East of Scotland League. Preston Athletic, from Prestonpans, made the same move more than 20 years ago.

The unusual kick off time was thanks to the fixture being included as part of this year's East of Scotland League groundhop, the third of four games in a single day for those dedicated enough to attend them all.

Groundhop matches often have a strange atmosphere, with a large crowd of neutrals who aren't always wholly engaged with what's happening on the pitch in front of them. Blackburn did their bit to grab people's attention though, a second minute penalty put them ahead and they doubled their lead soon after.

It took until the second half for more goals, United extended their lead before Preston got one back, but it was to no avail when Blackburn scored a fourth to complete a comfortable win.

I never visited Blackburn United's former Murrayfield Park ground, but it was right next door to New Murrayfield Park and the club even moved the covered enclosure from the old ground to the new one. The pitch is artificial, the ground is fully enclosed and it's a neat and tidy venue.

Gartcairn Juniors v Royal Albert Athletic

2pm  30 March 2019

SJFA West Region, League One
Gartcairn Juniors 1 Royal Albert Athletic 1 (att 68)

Gartcairn Juniors are a relatively new team at this level, and news that they're planning to relocate their home pitch for next season put a visit to their MTC Park home high on my groundhopping agenda.

Not that it's much of a move though, they intend to move from one caged 3G pitch at Airdrie Leisure Centre to another caged 3G pitch at Airdrie Leisure Centre, albeit one that can be developed into a better ground.

The current venue is typical of its type. The artificial pitch is enclosed by a high fence, and there's a barriered area for spectators running the length of one side. It's just about adequate for this level of football, but it's a long way from the traditional junior grounds that made long journeys north so worthwhile.

They've got a good side though, and victory today would have sealed promotion. In the end it was a bit of an anti-climax, but it's surely a case of celebrations being delayed rather than cancelled.

Gartciarn took a first half lead, just a few minutes after having a player sent off for a late and dangerous tackle on the visitors' goalkeeper. The 10 men looked like holding out, but eventually Royal Albert managed a second half equaliser.

Having lost only once in the league it seems inevitable that Gartcairn will win promotion by the time the season ends, and they deserve praise for scrapping an admission charge for this game, with spectators instead asked to make a donation to a local hospice.

Springburn Thistle v Holytown Colts

11am  30 March 2019

Strathclyde Saturday Morning League, Championship A Division
Springburn Thistle 1 Holytown Colts 2 (att 7)

This fixture became my number one choice for a morning match the moment I spotted it was an 11am kick off, as it fitted better with my afternoon game than the 10am starts that most games in the league have.

It also allowed me a slightly more relaxed start for the journey north from Manchester. It was still an early one though, but at least I was rewarded by a decent game between two well-matched sides.

The main difference between the two was their finishing. Springburn were wasteful in front of goal, while Holytown, whose keeper was in fine form, effectively won the game by scoring twice in a couple of minutes midway through the first half.

A second half goal gave Springburn hope, but it was effectively dashed when had a player sent off. The match got a bit feisty towards the end, and the referee had little option but to dish out two more red cards, one for each side, in the closing moments.

Springburn play at the Loretto Playing Fields on the outskirts of the Bishopriggs area of Glasgow. There are four pitches, two of them were staging youth games when I arrived. One of the four is floodlit, although it has no other facilities, and Springburn played on the pitch next to the one with lights.

Calver v Railway (Whaley)

2pm  23 March 2019

Hope Valley Amateur League, Division B
Calver 0 Railway (Whaley) 5 (att 4)

This was one of our occasional weekends based in the Peak District so there was no point travelling far for a game. Once I discovered the all-Buxton divisional cup semi-final was at a ground I'd already been to, Calver moved to the top of my list.

Having driven past the ground many times I knew roughly what to expect, although the quality of the pitch was a pleasant surprise.

Like most village venues in the Hope Valley League it's essentially a pitch in a field, with nice scenery making up for a lack of facilities. At Calver players change in a pavilion in the adjacent field and near the small car park.

The home side looked young, and were no match for a more experienced Railway. The visitors scored three in the first half, and just two more after the break.

Calver never gave up, but they rarely looked like scoring and Railway should have scored more. They would have added further goals had they not over-elaborated in front of goal during the second half.

The third tier of the Hope Valley League is never likely to provide high quality football (although Railway's final goal was a great strike) but there was plenty to enjoy in this game.

Retford v Retford United

7.45pm  20 March 2019

Central Midlands League, North Division
Retford 5 Retford United 0 (att 706)

The Retford derby certainly caught the attention of locals, with a far bigger crowd than I'd expected and a huge one for the Central Midlands League. I arrived about half-an-hour before kick off and hundreds were already inside the ground.

If anything I thought it looked like more than the official figure of just over 700 were packed into The Rail, on the outskirts of Retford. Several more opted for a free view from the adjacent road, elevated as it crosses the railway.

The name of the ground and its closeness to the railway are clues to its history. It's been used by various clubs over the years, including a British Rail-connected club, but this was my first visit.

Retford FC are only a few years old, but they're turning the ground in to a venue suitable for higher levels of football, and on the pitch they have a team capable of climbing the leagues. They're on track to finish the season as champions, but it remains to be seen if promotion to step six will follow this summer.

The floodlit pitch is mostly enclosed by permanent barriers and hard standing, but the far side is just roped off and spectators stand on the grass. There's a small stand at one end, and a tiny bit of cover at the other, but little else.

That said, the ground, coupled with excellent organisation by the club, coped well with a large crowd, with enough space for everyone to get a decent view, good catering and plenty of programmes.

On the pitch it was a bit of a mismatch. Retford United had their own meteoric rise a few years ago, but have since found a more sustainable level. They were outgunned by Retford FC, who went ahead thanks to a penalty in the opening minute.

The hosts were 3-0 up by half time, including a second penalty. They should have have a third spot kick early in the second half, but the fact it wasn't given made little difference, and they added two more goals for a comfortable win.

Heyford Athletic v Cropredy

2pm  16 March 2019

Oxfordshire Senior League, Premier Division
Heyford Athletic 1 Cropredy 1 (att 18)

The wet weather in Wales meant a late change for my earlier game, so I then needed to find a suitable afternoon match in the right range from Birmingham. Once Heyford confirmed on Twitter their fixture was on my decision was made.

Heyford Athletic play on the village sports field in Lower Heyford, not far from Bicester. It's an attractive place, and while the football facilities are basic it's a nice venue.

It's not enclosed, and several walkers watched a few minutes of the action as they strolled past. A new clubhouse includes changing rooms and a bar, and the pitch has temporary dugouts and tape and rope barriers erected on the touchlines.

Just like my earlier game in Smethwick the wind was a major factor, and at Heyford players also have to contend with a sloping pitch. Heyford had the better of a goalless first half, and should have been in front given the chances they spurned.

They finally went ahead in the second half, but had the lead for just a few minutes before Cropredy equalised. There were no further goals, but it was the visitors who finished on top, and were denied by a post when they should have scored in the final moments.