Friday, 23 September 2011

Liverpool FC

Ex codhead manager Bill Shankly
I had a week off last week but that didn't mean a week off from football, far from it my friends far from it.
Last Monday i took in a tour of England's second most successful football club; Liverpool FC. I must admit that i have very little interest in the Premier league these days. But it is always nice to see how the other half of the footballing world live.

Before today i had never been to Liverpool but had heard plenty about the place. The city centre is pleasant enough but the area around the football ground is, to be blunt, a shithole with boarded up and burnt out houses a plenty. Far too much barbed wire is situated on the walls around which tops off the atmosphere. This really isn't the kind of place you would want to be as an away fan of a team who have just scored the winner in the last minute on a night match. Not that Lincoln will be doing that anytime soon. We had time to kill before the tour so we had look around the clubshop which had a very impressive range of goods (as you would expect) My favourite item had to be the old retro shirts when "Candy" were the shirt sponsors from the late 80's and early 90's. I was very kindly bought a smart looking pin badge for £3 to add to my collection.
The tour starts outside the Shankly gates and from there takes you into the cooperate area media lounge then on to the changing rooms. The changing rooms are pretty much unchanged since the 70's. The Liverpool one has all the first teams shirts hung up but i was more interested in getting my picture taken out side the away team dressing room for in was inside this very room that the late great Bill Anderson masterminded a fantastic 3-1 win for Lincoln City here at Anfield in the second division in the 1959/60 season. Mr A Linnecor with one of the very few hatricks to be scored by an opposition player at Anfield.
The guide tells you bits and bobs about each area and gives you plenty of chances to take pictures. After the changing rooms you get to walk down the tunnel past the "This is Anfield" sign and on to the dugouts.
After the dugouts you get to sit in the Kop while they blast out a copy of fans singing YNWA. The ground looks fantastic and it must be speical to see a match here. After the tour we visited to museum which had plenty of interesting stuff to look at from various times in Liverpool's history.
After the museum we had a spot of lunch in the "Bootroom cafe" which was very nice and you get 20% off if you show them your tour ticket. Whilst you dine you get to watch LFC TV which was showing the 0-1 defeat at Stoke City. The last port of call was the Hillsbrough memorial gates that are on the far side of the ground.

All in all the tour was decent enough. I would have preferred to have walked round all four stands inside but you can't have everything in life i suppose.

Hendon 1-1 East Thurrock United

A spot of groundhopping in good old London Town tonight. The big match in town tonight was Chelsea v Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League. Hendon v East Thurrok however appealed to me far more! Whenever I am in the Capital I always like to sink a pint or two in the Red Lion pub in Westminster and today was no exception.
Hendon are currently homeless and are playing their home games at Vale Farm; home of Wembley FC. I was based in the Bayswater area of London which meant in was only a half an hour or so journey on the Bakerloo line up from Paddington to North Wembley tube stop. On the overground bit of the underground journey you get a decent view of the other Wembley stadium. I would love to visit Wembley one day but as it is a special ground (and bloody expensive) i would only want to do it if one of the following happens.
  • Lincoln City get to play in a playoff  final/ any other final
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers are sent over as part of the NFL's International series. 
I think we would all agree that at the moment option two is by far more likely to happen first.

Hendon's website is one of the best official football websites i have come across and has plenty of information on the club, it's history, the clubs facilities,  and a great set of directions for finding the ground. A lot of other clubs should take note of this. It even has links to the websites for each other club in the division. Check it out here!
From the tube station (Zone 1-4 underground ticket) it is about a 15 minutes walk with most of it being slightly uphill, but its easy enough to find. The programmes are on sale outside the turnstiles for a couple of quid, so I bagged one before heading into the bar. The bar was filling up quite nicely with both set of fans. There doesn't seem to be any pubs nearby so i imagine that the club bar does quite well most weeks.

Hendon FC have had a great start to the season and before tonight's game sat proudly on top of the Ryman Premier division after collecting 4 wins and a draw from their 5 matches played. Tonight's visitors East Thurrock United (Or the Rocks as they are known) were promoted to the premier division last season after winning the Ryman Northern division title last time out. Life hasn't been as straight forward for them as they had collected just one win and a draw from their opening 5 matches and sat in 18th place in the table. So on paper it looked like a home banker but as we all know football has a wonderful way of kicking you in the arse when you least expect it.

Not surprisingly i didn't recognise any of the players in either squad bar one. Lining up for Hendon up front was former Arsenal and Bradford striker Isaiah Rankin. Back in 1998 Lincoln, then in League one, had drawn 1-1 at Bradford (then in the Championship) in the first leg of the League Cup 1st round thus setting up a great second leg. A couple of days later Bradford paid Arsenal 1.3 million pounds for Rankin's services. Rankin then went on to grab the only goal in the second leg at Sincil Bank as the Bantams went through 1-2 on aggregate. Later on that season Bradford were promoted to the Premiership. Lincoln were relegated back down to League Two. After Bradford, Rankins career when downhill. The poor sod even had a spell at Grimsby Town.

It was £9 entry tonight which is pretty much the norm for this level. Vale farm is a smashing little ground which has real character. As you enter through the turnstiles the snap hut, club offices, and clubshop are on your left hand side. The clubshop had all the normal stuff in and loads of boxes of old programmes to rummage through. Lee and Braintree Gary would have loved it. Also on sale were those Jester hats in green and white with bells on the end. Tempting as they were i decided just to buy a club badge for £3. The hats would look good at Lincoln away matches but not so good on the underground at 10pm.

We decided to sit in the seated stand that runs along the far touchline as you enter the ground. One slightly concerning fact was that even though it about 7.30pm the club hadn't switched the floodlights on yet. While there was still someday light left I took a stroll around the ground and took a few snaps. I quite like this style of stadium. The ground has been slowly built up over time and has plenty of covering. One strange thing i noticed was the amount of children's toys that were laying about behind the far goal. Maybe Wembley's youth development programme starts at a very early age or something.
The bar is one the far touchline opposite  the one we were sat on. It looked like you could access it at halftime which is always a good thing. Non league football isn't non league football without a halftime pint.
As the teams entered the pitch the first thing i noticed was that neither side had a shirt sponsor. East Thurrock were in all red with Hendon sporting an all green Panathinaikos style strip.
On my lap of the stadium i had overheard  a couple of Hendon fans chatting about the amount of injuries they had but it didn't seem to hurt them to much as they pretty much had the visitors penned back in their own half for much of the opening spell. Rankin my not be as mobile as he once was but you can see he still has a footballing brain by the way he organises those around him and makes space for others. Hendon launched quite  few balls into the box but they were dealt with by a well organised East Thurrock defence. The visitors were happy to sit back and hit their hosts on the break.
Then on 32 minutes the Rocks took the lead with a goal that was worth the admission fee alone. A mix up in the Hendon midfield allowed The Rocks Kye Ruel to collect the ball on the halfway line and skip past the Hendon central midfielders. He kept on going and beat the Hendon centre half (who seemed reluctant to tackle in case he conceded a penalty) then dinked the ball past the Hendon keeper. Minutes later Hendon's night got worse as the injury list got longer when Rankin hobbled off on 38 minutes.
This all led to the visitors holding the lead at halftime 1-0. It was a lead they barely deserved but nobody could argue with the quality of the goal.
Hendon didn't have to wait long to be on level terms. On 51minutes Hendon gained a free kick and whipped it into the box, this led to a mix up between goalkeeper and defender in which both thought the other would clear it. In the event neither did and this allowed Greg Ngoyi to head home the equaliser. After the goal Hendon really took the game by the scruff of the neck and laid siege to the Rocks goal. But a combination of good defending, Lady Luck, and the crossbar kept the score at 1-1. East Thurrock did have a go at it in the last ten minutes or so but in the end i think they will be happier than their hosts with the point
FT 1-1
If you ever get chance i can recommend a visit to Hendon/Wembley FC. Its easy enough to reach by public transport and the grounds a bit of a gem. There is a kebab shop right next to the underground station but i cant tell you if its any good as i had my fill of kebab when i got back to Paddington following a few pints in the Pride of Paddington just round the corner from the station.

Sorry for the lack of decent pictures on this log entry, My camera didnt get on with the lighting levels from the floodlights

Monday, 12 September 2011

A short break.

This blog will be taking a break for about ten days or so whilst i take a short break form it all. This does mean though that i will have plenty of stuff to share with you when i get back, including Lincoln City v Kettering Town, Hendon FC V East Thurrock United, and a trip to Anfield!
Keep ferreting folks and may the force be with you. See you soon.

Non League day Part Three

Braintree Town 1-0 Lincoln City

The journey between Chelmsford and Braintree was the easiest leg of the day's journey. Even though our second match had been delayed by ten minutes we still made Braintree in good time. In fact it was slightly shorter than Baz had planned for so he redeemed some credibility after his earlier boo boos. Braintree's ground is quite well hidden behind a housing estate but we just about managed to find it. There is a Co-op not to far from it so Felice stocked up on bifters and even shared his sweets with us. We parked up just a short walk from the ground and i changed out of my Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley cup champions T-shirt and donned the famous red and white strips of Lincoln City.
We decided against going to the pub at the top of the road and went straight down to the ground to soak up the atmosphere. This was the only match on the hop that was segregated. As we stood outside the ground chatting to various Imps fans we were once again collared by Gary. The two hopper's buses had arrived. Gary made a bee line to see Lee and he quickly introduced him to Baz. While these three merry fellows chatted i took a few pics.
Left to right. Gary,Lee,Barry (Baz)

The three Musketeers!
As all good groundhoppers, do Gary wanted to get into the ground early so he didn't have to much time to chat. We bid our farewells but i got the feeling that if we are ever down "hopping" in Essex again, its sods law that our paths will cross again. I can neither deny nor confirm if any or our number swapped email address just in case our paths cross again.

Throughout the day we had heard from various fans of the different clubs telling us how much of a dump Braintree was so we were quite unsure as to what to expect.  The area around the ground may not have been the nicest but a hell of alot better than the likes of Hull, Bradford, and Doncaster etc.
As with most places you visit first impressions count. Due to the segregation we could not get to the clubshop from inside the ground to purchase the club badge but a club official kindly let us in to visit the shop. It was stocked with all the normal items and also had plenty of  DVD copies of Braintrees 5-0 demolition of Grimsby for sale. The programme was £2 and although it looked quite smart didn't have all that much to read in it. We got chatting to a club steward who recommend the "King Kebab" Kebab shop for post match refreshments. He told us about the plans the club have to move to a new stadium but i got the impression that it is still a couple of years away.
As we came out of the clubshop we again saw the Blue Square girls and this time they were handing out free "I did the Blue Square treble" Commemorative T-shirts to the hoppers who had traveled on the coach. We asked nicely if we could have one as we had indeed seen all three games and they seemed only to keen to get rid of them.
While i will admit that Braintree's ground is basic i do think people may have been a tad harsh about it. Imps fans had a section of seats in the main stand and some terracing behind the goal and some next to the seats. The terrace was only about three steps deep so we chose to stand at the side. The view wasn't as good as at the first two games but it was on a par to the view we get when we watch Retford United so it was all good.
Imps fans behind the goal.

Main Stand
Most of the home fans were stood on the open terrace to our left and were in good voice as the kick off approached. By contrast to all the other sets of fans on the hop the Lincoln fans were quite twitchy and were very quiet. Granted the ground doesn't really lend itself to creating a good atmosphere but as a group of fans you could just tell that people were waiting for the team to perform and expected the worst.
Throughout the day i had managed to resist the temptation to buy any food at any of the grounds. But as we were stood right next to the snap hut i eventually succumbed and purchased a hotdog for £3. It wasn't great but it did the trick. The other guys just had a tea which went down quite well.
One triple burger please with bacon, double cheese and no salad Oh and a diet coke
The match report for this last game will be rather brief as from a Lincoln perspective there was very little to report. Braintree were simply better than Lincoln in all departments and just seemed more hungry. Lincoln struggled to get anything going and rarely troubled the home side's keeper. Braintree weren't creating many chances but they created more than Lincoln did. As the game went on the fans became more and more disgruntled with the side and they received plenty of strong words as they trudged off at halftime.
The second half wasn't much better. Braintree created more chances while City toiled. Manager Steve Tilsion made a double substitution when he swapped the front two. For my money it was harsh on the strikers as they hadn't had any service all game. The only time we looked like scoring was when Sam smiths effort smashed against the bar came down and bounced out.
As the game wore on the fans became more and more annoyed with both the players and the manager. At the final whistle the players came over to applaud the fans only to be meet by a barrage of insults as the fans told them in no uncertain terms what they thought of their "efforts". A couple of players led by captain Josh Gowling to their credit came over to try and talk to the fans and claim the situation down. In my 17 years supporting City i have never seen the fans as angry and wound up as this. Had we been playing at somewhere like Darlington for example it wouldnt have been as bad, as the fans are quite a way back from the pitch but at Braintree, fans are a mere foot or two from the players so every word can be heard.
As we trudged back to the car we felt quite punch drunk really. City were poor tonight and after we had a great time at the first two games this was a real body blow. Had we lost 4-3 and had a go it wouldn't have been as bad. Braintree weren't brilliant but they had easily beaten us. Even if Bratintee had had us four hoppers at playing at the back today, i am sure they would have kept a clean sheet. We left the ground and headed for the King Kebab shop. As we grazed away on our food we wondered what was next? Quite a few fans had been very vocal in their wishes for Steve Tilson to leave. I for one am not in that boat. No club gets anywhere chopping and changing managers every season. Others want the chairman out. That's fine but who wants to takeover? I am the first to admit that he has made mistakes but as he admits he only took the job because nobody else stood for it. We dont have a devine right to beat anybody. Each and every side in this division have one thing in common. We all deserve to be in this division.
We have a new side and it going to take time to gel as a unit. Its only a couple of games since we played Stockport County off the park and everybody was singing our praises.
Have we hit rock bottom? I don't know and we wont know for a good few years yet when we can look back. Manchester City fans look back at the 2-1 defeat at York City in 1998 as the club's lowest point. Could Braintree be Lincolns lowest point? Or is there worse to come? Whatever happens we will be there. On a final point i don't see why everybody said Braintree was a dump. Yes it could do with a lick of paint but for me its no worse than most grounds at this level. Its good to see a club like Braintree doing well and i wish them all the best for the rest of the season (apart from when they play at Lincoln of course).
Kebabs got a decent enough 8/10

So what of Non league day? I think i speak for all the guys when i say that we had a throughly enjoyable day until the last game kicked off. Well done to the three host clubs, the League, and the Blue Square for putting all this together. Roll on next year!

Although the video below perfectly sums up our mood after the Lincoln game I will leave you with the immortal words of Mr Del colle.
" Lincoln were shite but at least we ate well" Amen to that sir!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Non league day part Two

Chelmsford City 2-3 Dover Athletic

Baz with the aid of the AA Route planner had told us that it was a mere 19 miles from Stortford to Chelmsford and that on paper at least, it was a simple enough journey. However as ever with this type of thing it wasn't quite as straight forward. Our journey started well enough as we went through Stortford town centre then ended up in the country side of Essex with very few road signs to aid us. As we munched our way through various sandwiches and pasta salads we started to think we may have gone wrong. You would have thought that there would have been a fair few cars full of hoppers making the trip but it seemed as if we were the only car on the road. Then just as the beads of sweet started to appear on Baz's brow due to the thought of getting us lost and a second kangaroo court in a day we saw a sign for Chelmsford. We were going the right way! Although it had taken us 5 miles longer than Baz had planned for. This time a vote of 2:1 found Baz guilty." Bollocks" came the defence from the dock in the back seat. 
On every hop i have been on there is always one club that doesn't quite plan their leg of the day quite as diligently as they perhaps should have done. Step forward Chelmsford City. Firstly the parking arrangements weren't too great, although a great piece of parking from Mr Del Colle allowed us to get a prime spot right next to the exit. Shortly after this we discovered that the club had only opened one turnstile and there must have been a good 30-40 folk in the queue when we arrived and this was before the two buses full of hoppers had turned up (the buses left Stortford 15 minutes after the end of the first game) All this led to the game being delayed by 10 minutes to get everybody in. For this i don't blame Chelmsford City, i think the hop organisers underestimated the amount of punters doing the hop and that although it isn't very far between the first two games the roads aren't too great.

Chelmsford's ground is also an athletics stadium. I have been to quite a few of these type of stadiums which try to accommodate both sports and i would say that Chelmsford's is by far the best i have visited and gets the balance between the two as good as you can do in my opinion. The fact that there are two stands very close behind each goal means that fans can get a bit of an atmosphere going.

As soon as we got into the ground my impressions of the club changed. They have clearly spend a fair bit of money on there facilities and the whole set up is quite smart. The programme was £2.50 and is one of the best i have very seen at non league level. It is certainly a hell of a lot better than most League Two ones i got last season and it certainly wouldn't look out of place in the Championship. It did carry quite a few adverts but that was more than offset by the sheer amount to read in it. The club shop was situated just to the right of the turnstiles as you walk in and did a great range of stuff. I snapped us a badge for £3.50. It is here that also got our first view of the club mascot!
The Chelmsford Parrot
As we were milling around just outside the very smart looking club bar we heard that the kick off had been delayed by 10 minutes, but that wasn't all we heard.
"Lee, Lee" came a cry from behind us. It was our new friend Gary and he had found us to tell Lee that there was a programme stall inside the club house and that it was really worth checking out. We went in to check it  out and it really was a decent enough stall with quite a few programmes dating back to pre war and pretty much everything you could think of. The clubhouse itself was spacious, with club memorabilia all over the walls. The large screen was showing the Scotland v Czech Rep European Championship qualifier, but enough of that crap. We had some decent football to watch.
Felice has a bit of an affinity with Dover Athletic (ie he has been through it on his way to France on holiday) So we went over to the far side to stand with the travelling black and white army. The stand we were in was a covered temporary terrace but it did allow you to get a decent atmopshere going. The Dover fans welcomed us and seemed quite chatty and seemed quite surprised that a group of Lincoln fans had made the trip down to see all three matches.
The Dover fans were in fine voice and were really up for this game.And they raised the volume up a notch when  Harry Barker stabbed in from close range to give them a 2nd minute lead. The joy was short lived though however when Chelmsford were award a penalty on 7 minutes which was converted by David Rainford. After the cat and mouse of the opening game it was good to have such an open match on our hands.
Dover fans celebrate the opening goal
Both sides seemed to throw caution to the wind and create chances. Dover retook the lead on 12 minutes when George Purcell outpaced the last defender and dinked the ball past Searle whose positioning for the goal could have been better and i am not totally sure if he need to rush of his line like he did. The rest of the half went by quite quickly as both sides continued to make chances. The home side came close to a second equaliser when they hit the side netting  but Dover held out
HT 1-2
The main stand
We took a stroll round to the area outside the bar so the guys could have a fag, or a as the cool cats at Rampton call it "A biffter". Felice was giving up smoking after our trip to Celle in 2009 and even as recently as our trip to Cray Wanderers last year, but he announced that he is stopping after his trip to Paris next week or so. I was going to ask the Blue Square bet promotional bet girls strolling round as to what odds i could get on him quiting the "biffters" but i am pretty sure that they would have given me whatever odds i asked for.  While here i also saw a Barnet fan getting way to close to what i assume was a WAG. I hope she didnt get to close. She was waaayyyyy too nice to be near anything from Barnet.
"So who the f**k are Barnet you freak?
We were stood at the opposite end of the ground for the second half which was a terrace roughly the same size as the first but without a roof on it.This was quite pleasant as it was quite a hot day and the stand gave you a decent enough view of the action. The pace of the game slowed down a little and it seemed as if the homeside were running out of ideas. Dover were happy to sit back and try to hit City on the break. Dover looked the more likely to score from set plays and they were getting plenty of them as the home sides frustrations grew and gave away plenty of free kicks. About half way through the half i took a walk around to get some pictures of the ground and due to the lay out of the ground its quite a walk.

Dover fans second half.

Chelmsford fans 2nd half
As i was walking back down the side of the pitch to the left of the away fans Dover got the third goal. It was as untidy as they come following a goal mouth scramble but they all count. Billy Bricknall with the final touch in the 71st minute for the record. At 1-3 up you would have thought that it would have been game set and match to Dover but for some reason they seemed to try and hit the self destruct button. Fair play to Chelmsford who suddenly woke up but it really did look as if Dover were almost letting them come on to them.
There was to be plenty of drama in the final few minutes. Chelmsford were awarded their second penalty of the match when Joe Benjamin was tripped in the box. The resulting spot kick was well saved by Jaimez-Ruiz (Venezuela's number one according the Dover fans) After this there seemed to be confusion as to whether the ref had signaled for the kick to be retaken. He hadn't and was pointing for a corner to be taken. Whether the Dover players were thinking about what they were going to have for tea that night i don't know, but they weren't concentrating on the corner as Kenny Clarke was allowed to go unchallenged as he headed the ball back across goal and into the corner to give the home side a glimmer of hope.
The home side launched everything they had at the Dover goal but the defence held out. This was a decent game and played in front of a good sized crowd. We bid our farewells to the Dover fans and wished them well for the season. They in turn wished us all the best for our game at Braintree and warned us about the stadium. Would the Imps make it three away wins on the hop? Would the game be as good as this one had been? And is Braintree as bad as the other fans have said on the hop? We were about to find out. One thing was for sure, as well left we heard a "see you at Braintree Lee" yep it was Gary, we stopped for a very brief chat as he met Barry and Felice but before he could get into full flow on South East groundhopping we had made a dash for the car.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Non league day 2011 Part One

Something a tad different for us this weekend. Today was "National Non League day" A chance for clubs up and down this great country of ours to show off all that is good about the non-league game. Many clubs had dropped admission for games this weekend and run various promotions. The flagship event was the "Blue Square hop". This involved three matches (all in Essex) from the three Blue Square divisions being played back to back with different kick off times to allow fans to attend all three games. The itinerary was...

Bishop Stortford v Boston United (12.30 KO)
Chelmsford City v Dover Athletic (3.30KO)
Braintree Town v Lincoln City (7.00 KO)

So we had a great day of football ahead of us and many questions to be answered. How would we cope with having to watching Boston United? Would we be able to find all three grounds? Would Baz's long lost friend be at Bishop Stortford to greet us? Can Lincoln get a point? And would Felice stand his round at the tea bar? I will let the great Buddy Holly answer that one...

Bishop Stortford 0-1 Boston United Blue Square North

We set off on our merry way down to Essex at just gone 9.00am. My new man bag was given its 2nd outing of the season. As we were going to be on the road all day it made sense to stock up with sandwiches and other refreshments rather that pay through the nose for them en route. Also packed was the infamous Donkey card game that went down a treat at the Oxford united trip last season.
As with most jolly boys days out the banter and stick started flying around pretty much as soon as we left Retford. I had already had breakfast (a slice of last nights takeaway pizza following the England game) but Felice and Lee hadn't eaten so we so we popped into McDonald's so they could fill up as it were. Just prior to this we filled the car with petrol. At the next pump was a car full of fine young ladies who managed to catch a couple of our party casting an admiring glance in their direction (Not me, i was in the back with the pump blocking my view) When they cottoned on of them flung open the car door and shouted "busted!!" at us. Then asked if we were going to the  Burghley horse trials. Hmm not quite love.
After this little exchange we headed down the A1 armed with Baz's directions to guide us on our Blue Square quest. We did actually pass the queues for the horse trials turn off on the way down. We came to the conclusion we wouldn't last 5 minutes there due to the fact that 1. We weren't driving a 4x4 vehicle and 2. None of us was wearing a checked button up shirt. Besides who wants to watch that when a historic groundhop is taking place?
Shortly after this we found that a section of the A1 was shut due an accident yesterday and we would have to take a detour. Baz then commented that he had seen this on the news before we set off but didn't know how far the diversion would take us out of our way or how long it would take. As Baz had said before we left "Don't worry boys I have all directions sorted" this was viewed as something of an own goal by Mr O. Baz objected to this, however a vote of 3:1 found him guilty of  planning without due care and attention and doing half a job. "Fucking Kangaroo court"was Baz's reply. Even with this little detour we managed to pull up at our first destination a good 25 minutes before kickoff.
Bishop Stortford received somewhat of a shafting in the summer. Due to Rushden and Diamonds going tits up and a large number of Southern based relegation's from the BSP, Stortford who are based a stones throw from London's Stanstead airport, have been shunted into the Blue Square North. This means they are now facing 5 trips up to places like Wokington and Blyth in the north of England which will send their travel costs through the roof. A number of players have who had agreed to join the club left due to work commitments. I can't say i blame them. If you are up for work at 5am the last thing you want is a midweek trip up to Wokington and getting in at say 3am. As a sweetener the League did give the club a one off payment of £10,000 to help with travel costs etc. While this is ok for this season its the possibility of an extended stay in the Northern section that is of a huge concern to the club. Hopefully those at the helm can shuffle the league around a bit better next season and Stortford can go back to the Southern division. Which is where they belong, but it all depends on who gets relegated and promoted. In the League's defence there isn't a boundary line between the Northern and Southern divisions. It is simply the 22 most Northerly clubs in one half and the 22 most Southerly clubs in the other.
With all this in mind its not surprising that Bishop have struggled so far this season collecting only 3 points from their opening games and sitting 2nd bottom in the table. Boston were fancied to have another good season after losing in the playoffs last season but have had a mixed start to this season having gained 7 points so far and sitting in 11th place. Baz, Scott, and myself visited Bishop a couple of pre-seasons back with Lincoln and found them to be a very welcoming club with a nice set up so I was well and truly in their corner for this game, even though i have picked Boston as one of my clubs in the Non League paper's fantasy football competition. Boston had brought a good number of supporters down with them for this match and for much of the game they made a fair amount of noise.
Admission for this first match was 12 quid with an average programme selling for £2.

Boston have plenty of ex Lincoln links with Jason Lee as joint manager and winger Ryan Semple. On the bench was one of the best Lincoln centre halves i have ever seen in Kevin Austin. Boy what Lincoln would do  to have a player like him in his prime now.
Jason Lee
The first half was decent enough, Boston were on top early but didn't force the home keeper into many saves. After about half an hour of listening to Boston fans chant songs they nicked off other sides; Sheffield United's "you fill up our senses" and Man United's "we will do what we want". I went for a wander around the ground to take a few snaps and take in the atmosphere. Stortford are managed by former Spurs and England keeper Ian Walker and he seemed quite annoyed that his side weren't taking more shots at goal. Its always good to see a player who played the game at the top level learning his trade at lower levels of football. Just before half time Stortford missed a couple of decent chances to take the lead. Overall Boston had slightly more of the play in the first half but Stortford had the better chances and were well on top towards the end.
Boston(and Lincoln) fans

Bishop Storford (and a Barnet) fan.

HT 0-0
I did try to get a pint at halftime but the bar service was slow. Not the staff's fault mind, I think the club underestimated the amount of away fans/sad hoppers that would be in attendance today. I did get a good few texts while i was on my walkabout asking to get the teas in, but seeing how I set my text messaging tone to silent, I didnt see them till after I had finished my walkabout. Unlucky boys as the saying goes.
As normal at this level of football quite alot of the fans swapped ends for the 2nd half. So we were stood with the Bishop Storford fans for the second half. The only downside was that one of there fans seems to have the one surviving Vuvuzela left from the 2010 world cup. Thankfully it didn't go off too often. One or two home fans came up and asked us if we were doing all three games today and informed us that Braintree Town's ground wasn't up to much (I have to say that they were wrong and it wasn't half as bad as the made it out to be). On the pitch the game was getting scrappy with neither side looking like scoring. Stortford kept launching high balls into the box but their lack of height in the area enabled the two Boston centre halves to head everything away with ease. The home fans were also not very impressed with their number nine and a cheer when up when he was subbed. Quite how they think that will help the lad i am not quite sure. Both sides were reduced to shooting from range and even the Boston keeper said that the game wasn't very good during a break in play. He also added that "This is what an overnight stop does for you, nothing to do but eat and sleep".

The pivotal point in the game came in the 72nd minute when the homeside were reduced to 10 men when Phil Anderson was given a straight red for a scuffle with Semple. No complaints with the card for me but i do feel Semple should also have walked but he only received a yellow. The game had became quite niggly up to this point and this only made things worse with the home fans really getting on the refs back. Despite the man advantage Boston never really made it count. As the game petered out we made our way to the gate so we could make a quick exit and get on our way to our next destination. Then in the sixth minute of added time Boston grabbed the winner when Marc Newsham scored from close range. Some folk around us asked where the added time came from but i felt the ref just about got it right with all the subs, time for the sending off etc. The scoreline was tough on Stortford as they didn't deserve to lose the match but if you dont score you dont win. I said to the guys at halftime that Boston do get a fair few late goals and for once it was nice to be proved right. I am not sure but i think that thats three last minute winners for them this season. Its never over till its over as they say.
FT 0-1

As always on this kind of hop and at non league football in general you do get some real characters in attendance, with today being no exception. Step forward Gary. Lee had became acquainted with Gary in the programme shop before the match and had got it into his head that he was a specialist West Ham programme collector and then proceeded to go on and on about programmes, and hopping in general. As Lee and myself hovered near the exit at the end Gary dashed up to ask Lee if he was on the coach for the next game and babbled on some more about ground hopping and other shit. After getting the shake of the hand it was time to dash onward to out next ground. Little did we know we would be seeing plenty more of Gary....