Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Welling United 2-1 Lincoln City

Welling United 2-1 Lincoln City  

This was the first time the four of us had got together for an away game this season and although Baz and myself had been to Welling United last season (A crappy 2-0 defeat), this was Felice and Lee’s first trip to the stadium. This was because they took a trip to Italy together to watch Felice’s beloved Inter last year and although they got back into London on the day of the game at Welling, they were too tired to make the game and headed home early. Quite what they were tired from hasn’t been established.  They also missed last season’s home win over Grimsby for the same trip. A shocking state of affairs I am sure everybody reading this will agree with.

But no cock and bull excuses for missing this season’s trip though and at just gone 2.45pm the car was full and we were on our merry way to Welling. The journey was spent impressing my fellow passengers with my recently obtained knowledge of all things German. We are planning a jolly boy’s trip to Berlin next year and I have a sneaky feeling I will be saving Felice’s bacon like I have done on so many occasions in the past; Barnet, the Women’s Champions league final, and Crystal palace to name but three.
We arrived about 6.00pm then headed off to find a kebab shop. We found a pretty good one last year and decided to revisit it. It was standard fare with a large donner coming in at £6. It did the job although it wasn’t quite as nice as I remember from last year. After a quick scoff it was off to the ground.

Welling United’s Park View Road stadium is what I would call a traditional non league top flight ground.  And I say that in a good way. It’s a proper ground in the heart of the town and has a real football feel to it. Yes it may be a little run down here and there and in need of a little TLC but it really does feel like a real football ground and not a plastic out of town stadium with no soul like somewhere like Telford for example.  Sadly as the seasons go by these stadiums will become rarer so make the most of them while you still can.
Actually the stadium is shared by two teams; Welling United and Erith and Belvedere. Now it’s not uncommon in non league football for sides to share stadiums, but what is rare is for different areas of the stadium to be decorated in the colours of the respective teams that play there. This is because normally one side owns the ground and the other rents. This isn’t the case here though as the local council owns the stadium with both clubs paying rent to them (According to the steward outside the ground), He also added that Welling do pay the lions share towards the costs for the ground and this is backed up by the fact that 3 of the 4 sides and a section of terrace on the 4th are painted red.

Erith and Belvedere have recently been relegated to step 5 (The same as Retford United) and normally attract around a 100 or so fans. They play in blue and white and so the remaining side is decked out in blue and white with blue seats in the seated area with blue splashed around the stand for good measure.  I am not sure how much of the stadium is open for Erith and Belvedere games but It wouldn’t surprise me if they only opened the one side of the ground. I highly doubt that I will ever go to an Erith home game as I make it my aim to visit different stadiums and not clubs so I may well never find out. And I can live with that. 

Welling united have a smashing little supporter’s club shop inside the ground as well as the official club shop that is located outside the stadium next to the turnstiles. There is also a very good bar inside the turnstiles that we were going to visit pre game. However we were told that segregation was to be in force for tonight’s game which was a change in policy from last season.  This wasn’t a huge problems as we were told that we could use the bar on the Erith side of the ground. However Lee was disappointed with this news as he had set his heart on visiting the supporters shop to pick up some more programmes (Or junk depending on your point of view). The stewards were thoroughly good eggs though and let him and Del go through and visit the shop to buy as much crap as he could carry. In the end he ended up with a bag full of Portsmouth programmes. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure as they say. 

After Lee had got his random crap highly valuable football memorabilia, we took a gentle stroll over to the blue painted turnstiles and parted with the entrance fee of £15, which is quite reasonable for  this league. Once inside the ground to your right is the Erith and Belvedere club shop which had a selection of programmes, old shirts, and a nice collection of different mugs.  This area of London isn’t really an Arsenal hotbed of support but Felice was happy to see a few Arsenal mugs for sale. However, as he is a long time member of the Gunners (Along with Fulham, West Ham, Manchester City, Juventus amongst many others) He likes to buy his merchandise directly from the club; his (snug) Arsenal jacket being a case in point.  I was quite pleased to pick up a club badge and also tonight’s matchday programme that came in at £3 and was a steady enough issue. Nothing special but I am pretty sure I will read much worse this season. 

As we still had time to kill we headed into the club bar and I must say it was the total opposite to the bar on the Welling United side of the ground. The walls were all decked out with scarves from a wide range of teams and also many half and half matchday scarves, with the standout one for me being one from the Women’s Olympic final at the London Olympics between Japan and the United States, Or the USWNT as they like to be known as.  It was a shame they didn’t have a 1993 FA Cup final half and half between Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal so Lee and Felice could make them an offer to buy it, as the rumour is they intend to go to the league cup tie between the Oinkers and the Gunners in the next couple of weeks.  The entertainment however left a lot to be desired with the Wales v Andorra game on the radio and Eastenders on the television.
At the start of the game the Imps fans were all segregated on one side of the ground. But after about 10 minutes of the game the segregation was lifted allowing all supporters access to all areas of the stadium. Quite why we had to go through the pointless exercise of segregating for 10 minutes was a bit of a mystery.  The only reason I can think of is so that Erith and Belvedere got the bar and food takings from the Imps fans pre game because had we all gone in through the Welling turnstiles then everybody would have headed to the Welling United bar. If that was the reason then I can’t say I had a problem with it. On balance the Erith bar had a better football feel to it. 

Lincoln City are currently enjoying their best season since being relegated to the conference (Yes I know that’s not really saying much but still...), and are on the outskirts of the playoffs.  It’s far too early to say whether this form will be maintained but for now I am enjoying it while it lasts. Lincoln went into this game having won their past 3 away games and from the way they started this one it looked like they could be on for a 4th on the trot.  Lincoln knocked the ball around quickly and it looked like it was only a matter of time before the scored.  Welling to their credit got better as the game went on but were still second best to the Imps for the entire first half.

However after having so much of the ball for the first half The Imps got hit with a sucker punch just before halftime when yet again this season they failed to deal with a ball in the air allowing Welling to score from close range.  At HT we ambled around to the end of the ground that Lincoln were to attack second half.  We were in a prime position to see Liam Hearn draw City level when he turned in a close range effort and from then on City took the game to their hosts. However in typical Lincoln style they shot themselves in the foot. Bradley Wood has been one of Lincoln’s most consistent players this season but tonight wasn’t his night as he received his marching orders for two yellow cards. Fair enough these things happen in football and this was the Imps first red card of the season.  However seeing as there was about 7 minutes left to play the sensible thing to do would have been to employ an effective game managing strategy and settle for a well earned point.

Alas Alan Power had other ideas and attempted to launch a cross field pass and launch a City counter attack after Welling had lost the ball. The pass however failed to reach its intended target as it went straight to a Welling player which was a gift as the hosts had plenty of players up the field from the original attack and a few seconds later the hosts went 2-1 up and there was no way back for the Imps.  It was very harsh on City but this is what happens if you dominate a match but fail to capitalise on your dominance. 
Sometimes in sport you get patterns of results between teams that just cannot be explained. Over the years I have known Lincoln go through phases when they just couldn’t get results against certain sides. For example between 1999 and about 2009 the Imps just couldn’t beat Darlington for love nor money. In the 90’s Chester always seemed to be the side that held a jinx over City. It does of course work the other way too. Under the late, great Keith Alexander the Imps always did well against Shrewsbury, especially away from home.  In more recent times Braintree Town seem to be the side that no matter what the league positions of the two sides always seemed nice enough to lose to the Imps. However to counter that Welling seem to be the team that always have the upper edge on Lincoln as this was their 5th win on the spin.

Last season the Imps were dreadful in both games v the Wings but that most certainly wasn’t the case this time around. For most of the game City took the game to the hosts who very rarely looked like causing them any real problems at the other end.  It does have to be said though that although the Imps had plenty of the ball, they didn’t really make the Welling keeper work too hard. In fact he only really had a couple of saves to make.  
The journey back home was pretty uneventful with the highlight being a debate on which flavour McDonalds milkshake is the best. At the time I was far too tired to offer an educated opinion but on reflection I would have to say I am firmly in the strawberry camp.

Result aside though it was a decent night out with great company.  Long distance night matches are always special regardless of the result. And the good news? We get to do it all again in a full weeks time at Aldershot!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Pinxton 3-0 Blidworth

 A few weeks ago I made a trip I should have done a long time ago. I finally made it to Pinxton to watch Pinxton FC play and had a chance to catch up with Mr Lee Cook, one of the finest footballing minds in the whole of the East Midlands region.  As I said I should have made this journey a while back and now that I have finally made it I can say I will definitely be back.
Pinxton are currently plying their trade in the Central Midlands league southern division, (Step 7 of the pyramid) and in truth you will struggle to find a better run club. The club has narrowly been pipped at the post for promotion in recent years by sides that shall we say, aren’t run the correct way. To be blunt Pinxton seem to have been shafted but with the set up they have both on and off the field it can only be a matter of time before they gain their rightful place higher up the league structure. 

The journey to Pinxton on the Nottighamshire/Derbyshire border is an interesting one from Retford. It involves two trains (Retford to Worksop then Worksop to Mansfield) and a bus from Mansfield to Pinxton.  I always thought that Pinxton was in Derbyshire given that the club are affiliated to the Derbyshire FA and play in the Derbyshire cup etc but all the adverts for local business in the programme give their address as Nottinghamshire so who knows.
After a short walk from the bus stop and walking past a couple of decent looking chip shops I arrived at the welfare club house.  I always like these sorts of clubhouses; they are from another era but a good one, and tend to be only found at clubs that had connections to the local mining community. True they may not be as modern as bars at newer stadiums like Retford and Arnold but what they lose out on it terms of decor they more than make up for in character.
Shortly after I sat down in walked the assistant gaffer Mr Lee Cook, who was kind enough to offer me a guided tour of the stadium once he had set up his tactic board and given his troops their instructions for today’s encounter.  As we toured the facilities the two things that struck me were firstly the passion and enthusiasm that the various staff members have for the club, and secondly the ground itself which is certainly one of the better grounds you will find in the CML. It’s safe to say that this set up is a lot better than many other clubs in the EMCL or NECL.  In an era of clubs springing up built on foundations of quick sand and false promises, it’s refreshing to find one that has built off the pitch as well as on it.
The ground has a small seated area to the left of the changing room end with the turnstiles on the entrance side.  The food bar can be found at the far end of the ground on top of the banking. This area offers a bird’s eye view of the game and is one of the best views I have found in non league football. 

Up until this game it had been a tough season for Pinxton.  Whenever a side finishes high in the table they are always there to be shot at to a degree which can be hard to deal with.  Pinxton were yet to win a game but as a wise man once said due to players being unavailable for holidays etc the CML really starts after the first of 4 or 5 games of the season.
That day however Pinxton were not to be denied their win and pretty much dominated the game from beginning to end. The players carried out Lee’s perfectly constructed plan to a T with the only real criticism being that they could have won by more than the 3 goals that they did.  As ever with non league football there is always a character to be found who is often either the hero or villain of the piece and today it was none other than the Blidworth goalkeeper who bore an uncanny resemblance to former Turkish international goalkeeper Rustu Recber, although the appearance was where the comparison ended.   

Pinxton had already had a number of chances before they took the lead when the keeper failed to hold a low shot which was slammed home by an on rushing striker.  One nil soon become two nill when a slick passing move gave the home side some breathing space.  After a bright start Blidworth had seemed to be more occupied with taking out their frustrations on the officials instead of trying to unpick the Pinxton master plan. The home side made the points safe on the 30 minute mark when a cross from deep on the left flew over the hapless keeper’s head into the net. 
HT 3-0
Quite often when a team has the points wrapped up so early in the game it can be hard to keep up the energy levels and high tempo play. Pinxton did play well within themselves in the second half but they were still far too good for their opponents.  The main talking points of the second half were a couple of incidents that should have lead to a red card or two as the visitor’s tempers started to flare. However, I never like to criticise referees at this level as its truly a thankless task with little reward and a shitload of abuse.  In the end though the respective sides both got what they deserved, 3 points for the hosts and none for the visitors.  

The last word however has to go to the Blidworth goalkeeper who, as the players walked off, wanted to try to take on the entire Pinxton coaching staff even “Dropping his gloves” ice hockey style trying to get it on. Naturally the coaching staff were to sensible enough not to rise to the bait. Football is obviously a passionate game but there is a fine line between being passionate and looking a fool. 
After the game I had a chance to chat about all things local football and pick the brains of Lee and Ben (first team manager) about the local footie scene and it was great to hear about the plans for Pinxton going forward. You can tell that the guys have a genuine passion for the club and this is evident from everybody connected with the club from the chairman to everybody who helps the club tick over on a matchday. I must say a huge thanks to everybody at the club for making me feel so welcome and a special shout-out to Lee for going out of his way and giving me a lift home.
Since this game Pinxton seem to have hit a bit of form; 3 league wins on the spin were obtained along with a very good 4-1 away win at Lincoln Moorlands in the FA Vase (who play at a higher level in the footballing pyramid) in the second qualifying round. The club’s reward for this is a home tie against Cradley Town which is to be played on October the 31st. If you are looking for a game to attend on that date I strongly suggest you make it this one.  You won’t be disappointed.