Monday, 9 March 2020

WALTON CASUALS V HENDON

ELMBRIDGE XCEL SPORTS HUB

SOUTHERN LEAGUE
PREMIER DIVISION SOUTH

MARCH 7, 2020

GROUND NO 227










ALRIGHT, hands up. I admit it - I made a schoolboy error.

After arriving at the Herds Renault Stadiu, home of Molesey FC, the sight of more cars leaving an already fairly empty car park than arriving aroused suspicion.

And sure enough, a quick glance at the club's Twitter feed confirmed that the game against Badshot Lea had been called off because of a waterlogged pitch. Some hours earlier... 

Oh well, I'd checked that morning but clearly should have done so again before setting out.

A quick glance at the quite wonderful London Football Guide told us that Walton Casuals were at home and the ground was only a five-minute drive away. Result! The groundhopping equivalent of an 89th minute winner after being outplayed all game.

When you approach a new ground for the first tim, it's often the first sighting of the floodlights that offer a tantalising glimpse of what lies within - as well as giving a useful clue as to where you should be heading.

That scenario bcomes a little clouded at Walton due to the sheer number of floodlights. Due to the Casuals' home (which they share with Walton and Hersham), an adjoining athletics stadium and a number of five-a-side pitches being housed in the complex, you're greeted by a sea of floodlight pylons.

Apparently the team's original crest bore the motto "suprr ominis superbia", which by all accounts is spelt incorrectly but means "pride above all". Maybe the Latin for "floodlights above all" would be more appropriate these days.

The Elmbridge Sports Hub sprawls across an area that was previously the site of the Stags' Waterside Stadium home.

They had to groundshare elsewhere for two-and-a-bit season while the £20 million transformation took place, eventually taking up residence in September 2017.

The development wasn't without controversy, with a revised planning application needed and fears raised last year that it may even have to be demolished following a process of legal to-ing and fro-ing prompted by concerns over building on green belt land.

Thankfully it's still here and it's clearly a tremendous community asset (

And it still has that new feel to it too. You almost expect cellophane to still be on the clubhouse windows and the price tags still stuck to the 500 seats in the main stand,

The ground is smart, tidy, functional and spacious and there's a nice, big car park too.

It does its job perfectly but, without doing it down, if you're a discerning groundhopper with an eye for character, eye-catching architecture and memorable features, this isn't one that's going to feature high on your 'must visit' list.

The main distinguishing feature is the main stand which serves both the football and athletics stadiums - the clubhouse at the top designed to be shared by spectators of both sports. Although presumably not at the same time. 

Straddling the two stadiums with its flat roof and seats cascading down either side, it looks like a giant coffee table as you approach it.

Aside from that, it's flat, uncovered standing all around the 3G pitch.

All in all, not a great deal to wax lyrical about - but the match (which turned out to be an enjoyable 1-1 draw) was on and therefore saved me from paying the price of that basic error earlier.

At one point in 2017 

Sunday, 2 February 2020

SLOUGH TOWN v OXFORD CITY

ARBOUR PARK

NATIONAL LEAGUE SOUTH

FEBRUARY 1, 2020

GROUND NO 226













"COME friendly bombs and fall on Slough," wrote John Betjeman in 1937. A bit harsh, if you ask me.

Maybe he was just miffed that, a year before the publication of his famous poem Slough FC, as they were known then, had been told they were being booted out of The Dolphin Stadium because it was being turned into a dog track.

That wasn't the last time they were evicted from a home ground either. It happened again in 2003 when the owners of Wexham Park Stadium got the hump about something or another.

But after a decade groundsharing outside the town, they returned to Slough in 2016 when Arbour Park was opened. And a fine ground it is, too.

Due to a combination of factors (including the late arrival of the pizzas we'd ordered a our hotel, which actually turned out to be well worth the wait) we arrived much later than we'd planned.

But the friendly and helpful stewards directed us to a parking space outside the college next to the ground.

Turns out the college was rebuilt there after its original site was sold and cleared to make way for the Rebels' new home.

Bright, shiny and new, Arbour Park is equipped with all mod cons (you can even get a lift from the ground floor up to the bar) and the perimeter railings are right up close to the edge of the 3G pitch, helping to create a crackling matchday atmosphere.

The space age main stand contains 250 seats, the glass windows above them belonging to the bar which gives a good view out to the playing area.

The flat roof juts out like the peak of one of those hats the trendy, young people wear.

Look at it from behind (you'll have to imagine this because I forgot to take a picture), and you'll see the central area is flanked by two silver semi-circle facades that remind you of those Silver Bullet caravans that used to be popular in America.

The dugouts are situated either side of the stand, eating into the flat standing area behind.

Opposite is a long covered standing area, the Lynch Hill Enterprise Academy behind it looking down upon it, and there are covered terraces behind each goal, both containing prefabricated metal steps.

Both sets of fans, who naturally sapped ends at half-time. used them to make a fair old din throughout the game.

Visiting a modern ground that bucks the identikit stadium trend is always a joy, and Arbour Park certainly ticks that box.

That it's home to a club that's been through the mill a bit and is now finally home after forced to play elsewhere for so long is all the more pleasing.

If Betjeman's bombs do fall on Slough, let's hope they miss Arbour Park.

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Saturday, 25 January 2020

WALTHAM ABBEY v NORTHWOOD

CAPERSHOTTS

Isthmian League South Central Division

January 25, 2020

GROUND NO 225














AFTER King Harold got a closer look at an arrow than he'd have hoped for in the Battle of Hastings, word is that he was taken off to Waltham Abbey to be buried.

Whoever fired the bow that did for the last crowned Anglo-Saxon king of England was a decent shot, and make no mistake.

And if the spirit of King Harold is looking down over Capershotts, he'd have been pretty impressed by the shooting here too. Seven goals, including a couple of crackers, lit up a chilly afternoon on the Essex/Herts border.

On arrival we headed into the clubhouse on the other side of the car park after looking over at what we thought was the entrance and arriving at the conclusion that the turnstiles weren't yet open. 

Turns out they were actually boarded up and the entrance was around the corner but at least it was warmer inside and the early FA Cup game was on the big screen.

After locating the correct entrance we made our way in. It's still only eight quid for admission - I think I'm right in saying it's the cheapest in the league - so hats off to the Abbotts for keeping the price down.

The ground, tree-lined and hemmed in by allotments and a cemetery, is neat and tidy and predominantly decked out in green and white.

The exception is the concrete stand to the right of the entrance. Its rear wall is distinctively painted in alternate green and white blocks with WAFC in big letters.

But the seats are sky blue - and that's because they came from Maine Road in 2005 after Manchester City had moved to bigger and better things at the Etihad. And I believe the floodlights came from Walthamstow Avenue - so if you're moving out of your ground and need to get rid of some odds and ends, you know who to call.

Behind one goal is a pair of side-by-side covered terraces - one sturdy and permanent, the other covered by corrugated iron held up by scaffolding, Behind are the changing rooms.

Apart from that is hard standing all round.

By all accounts the pitch used to have a big old slope on it, and that's very noticeable as you compare the height on one side of the pitch to the other.

Waltham Abbey have made a lot of progress in recent years and were eying a play-off place on the day of our visit.

Maybe this is a battle the team representing the town that is King Harold's final resting place will win.

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Monday, 20 January 2020

BRITISH AIRWAYS v TOOTING BEC

THE ORCHARD

(Home of Bedfont & Feltham FC)

COMBINED COUNTIES LEAGUE DIVISION ONE

JANUARY 18, 2020

GROUND NO 224

















THERE'S no sound quite like the unmistakable whoosh of a big metal bird's jet engines that signals the start of its high-speed bolt along the runway before heading up into the sky.

You'd checked in hours ago, mumbled barely concealed words of frustration at the woman in front of you who took the opportunity to repack her bag while you waited less than patiently to plonk yours on the conveyor belt that for the x-ray machine, you'd waited patiently to get on board, pretended to pay attention to the safety instructions, stared blankly out of the window as the plane taxied at snail's pace to the runway and now, finally...... whoosh. You're on your way to Holiday Central.

Close your eyes at The Orchard and you could be forgiven for thinking you were on a 747 headed for the sun rather than watching a game of football.

The ground, you see, is a stone's throw from Heathrow Airport so you can guarantee your visit will be punctuated constantly by take-offs and landings.

In fact as we walked from Hatton Cross tube station to the ground I swear that if they'd sat on my shoulders, someone could have touched the undercarriage of the plane coming in to land as it passed overhead.

Once inside the ground, the roar of a plane about to soar was so frequent that on more than one occasion I mistakenly reached for the in-flight movie listings and found myself disappointed at being unable to buy an overpriced tube of Pringles.

The Orchard is home to Bedfont and Feltham FC along with tenants and fellow Combined Counties Division One club British Airways, and it was pleasing to see that they rub along nicely. In fact the Bedfont and Feltham chairman was there to give his support following the postponement of his own club's match.

The BA boys moved in after their fortunes took off and they began to spread their wings at senior level (that's it for the puns, now).

Effectively the works team, they come as part of a package with the British Airways sports and social club - known as BA Clubs - now also based there.

This makes it more of a partnership than a simple ground-sharing arrangement. There's a genuine belief the clubs can move forward together - there could even be an all-weather surface further down the line. 

I attended this game as official match ball sponsor (thanks to Non-league Snapshots for sorting that out) and I couldn't have been happier to help. I'm not one who believes the Premier League is the root of all evil, but clubs at this level do get a raw deal.

This is a club operating at the base level of the pyramid, and it's so far to the top that you wouldn't even bank on one of BA's jumbos getting you there.

Chairman Ray Pipe works wonders to run the club on a shoestring and does everything right. There's a programme, a matchday announcer and a real enthusiasm for the project.

The bar is a nice place for a pre-match pint too. With QPR v Leeds on one telly and Watford v Spurs on the other, it was definitely geared up for matchday. We'd have arrived sooner had we not been tucking into some excellent Indian food in the pub across the road.

The sports and social club apparently has around 10,000 members - it's a shame a few more of them couldn't come along and see for themselves, or maybe even lend a hand.

There's a tea bar on your left as you enter through the turnstiles (very necessary on a cold day such as this) with plenty of benches and some seats which, I suspect, started life in a station somewhere, at this end of the ground too.

On the left is the slightly larger of two small, squat stands - one of them searing 60 people and the other 40 - while behind the goal at the far end is a covered standing area made up of two contrasting structures side-by side.

And just over the fence in the far corner is another ground - the home of Isthmian League club Bedfont Sports, who were away on this occasion.

A fellow groundhopper came in for all sorts of stick for doing a half at each ground and counting both on his tick list a while back, but I'd still have been more than happy sticking with the British Airways game even if the posh neighbours had been at home (Bedfont Sports is definitely on the hit list though, especially if it means more lovely food at the Duke of Wellington).

As matchball sponsors we were invited into the bar post-match by Ray but unfortunately we had to get a flyer (OK I lied about that being the end of the puns) which was a shame. But hopefully we'll check in there again in the future.

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