Saturday, 20 August 2016

Nicking the Win is Heanor's Crime


Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Friday 19 August 2016 at The Town Ground
Result
Heanor Town 3 Long Eaton United 2
Competition
FA Cup Preliminary Round
Hopping
I’m here because I happen to be in the Midlands on a Friday.  This game is on a Friday because of the space-sharing between Heanor’s football and cricket clubs.  The cricket club get Saturday priority.  Ground 590 for the lifetime list.
Pre-match preparation
Both clubs play at Step 5 in the Midland Football League and Long Eaton lead the division with two wins from two whereas Heanor have had a win and a draw.  In the FA Cup, Heanor beat Hinckley in a replay in the last round and Long Eaton won at Oadby Town.  It’s early in the season, though, and this match is too close to call.  Forgot to charge my main camera battery though, so still pix are not up to recent standards.
This match in one sentence
Heartbreak for Long Eaton in the dying seconds as Heanor take the lead for the first time in the game from a set piece.
So what?
Heanor Town travel to Matlock Town in the next round, and Long Eaton concentrate on the League, the Vase, the League Cup, the County Cup etc etc.
The drama unfolds
As the teams were announced, several of the Long Eaton names were identified as “former Lions” so I wondered whether there would be an edge to the game.  It was soon clear that this would be a good contest.  I think Step 5 sides are getting bigger.  No sign of a five-foot-eight trequartista anywhere on this pitch.  This was end-to-end and direct, sometimes too much so with long clearances going through to the opposite keeper with not a lot in between.  Long Eaton looked trickier and cockier on the ball but no-one has told #9 Gary Ricketts of new FIFA Rule 56 which says that it is a foul every time he goes within one metre of a defender.  He looked a bit frustrated to be fair.

Heanor made their presence felt and had three half-chances in quick succession to keep Jamie Hannis busy in the Long Eaton goal.  Long Eaton took the lead from a break down the left.  Jerome O’Connor brought the ball to the edge of the area and timed the layoff well.  Keeper Joe McCormack got a touch but Ricketts got the goal and looked happier.  0-1 after 40 mins and at half-time

Heanor levelled soon enough when captain Chris Smith poked the ball in after a scramble following a corner.  1-1 after 50 mins

The lead did not last too long though as O’Connor beat McCormack to a bouncing ball and he lifted it over the keeper into the net.  1-2 after 60 mins

The heavens opened in defiance of the BBC Weather App and I took refuge in the stand behind the goal, embedded alongside a Heanor Banter Machine who kept up a non-stop tirade of occasionally comprehensible inside jokes with the rest of us trying not to snigger.  I had to look up one reference in the Urban Dictionary and I hope to goodness I have never been accidentally sexist when buying a sliced loaf in Derbyshire.  Meanwhile, as the rain eased, Chris Smith repeated his right-place-at-the-right time feat and brought the scores level again.  2-2 after 83 minutes

Tempers frayed and there was a long consultation between referee and assistant before a yellow card was shown to a Long Eaton player, with the home supporters and bench clamouring for red.  The benches needed calming down too.  We therefore had a few minutes of stoppage time before the game would finish as an honourable draw … until this set piece.  3-2 in stoppage time


That is Heanor’s Joe Naylor with the glancing header as they take the lead for the first time with well over 90 minutes on the clock.  Long Eaton tried to score from the halfway line at the restart but to no avail.  Heanor had pinched the win.  What a great game for the passing neutral.  Final score 3-2
Ground Pix
This is a one-of-a-dying-breed ground full of character and characters.  Loved it.  In effect a three-sider as no spectators are allowed along the touchline which runs through the cricket outfield.  Still unsure about mascots to be honest, but I suppose there has to be some way for Politics graduates to enter the useful workforce.







Match Pix
Heanor are in the white shirts.




Goalkeeper Top Colour Stats
Green beats Orange.  Full table at the end of the month, but Green is doing very well, thank you.


What Next?
Watch @GrahamYapp on Twitter for details!  New term starts soon so decisions will be last-minute.  Good luck for next Thursday to any of my GCSE student stalker-readers.


Saturday, 13 August 2016

A Journey Through Thame and Space


Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Saturday 13 August 2016 at The ASM Stadium, Meadow View Park
Result
Thame United 4 Highworth Town 2
Competition
Hellenic League Premier Division (Step 5)
Hopping
Ground 589 on the lifetime list.  I am here because I am incompetent.  I set out to go to Kidlington v Farnborough, for pragmatic reasons.  Today I needed to find a fixture that was vaguely between Hertfordshire and Staffordshire.  About 20 minutes away from the ground, out of nowhere came a blinding flash of realisation that I had been to Kidlington before.  This is maladministration on a grand groundhopping scale.  Fortunately, a quick stop-and-internet-search in an A41 layby revealed that I could just about get to Thame instead, and I did so with ten minutes to spare.  Must do better.
An apology
This is why, when the first goal went in midway through the first half, I tweeted "Kidlington 1 Highworth 0".  Panic! Panic!  Especially as the score changed again almost immediately, and I compounded the error by tweeting "Thame United 1 Kidlington 1".  I cannot imagine what confusion I caused on the Hellenic patch for the time it took me to find out how to delete those tweets from my phone.  I mean well and I was a bit tired.  Sorry.  Won't do it again.  At least I spotted the error, unlike the time when I tweeted an 8 instead of a 0 for a score at AFC Kempston Rovers. 
Pre-match preparation
Both sides won their FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round ties but in the opening league fixture, whilst Thame were thrashing Burnham 8-1 at home, Highworth were losing narrowly.
This match in one sentence
Thame United took control of the game with a three-goal burst in the second half.
So what?
Thame United sit at the top of the early league table on goal difference, and Highworth are one of four teams yet to gain a league point.
The drama unfolds
There was nothing much to say about the first 25 minutes except to note that both teams were working hard in the sunshine.  Thame (not Kidlington, oh no) broke the deadlock by breaking down the right.  The ball was squared, a first shot was well blocked but the rebound fell to Tom Ashworth who made no mistake.  1-0 after 26 mins

The equaliser came four nominal minutes later but actually most of that had been treatment time for a Highworth defender.  With their first attack after the restart, Highworth won a penalty and Ashley Edenborough converted before the game continued on an evenly matched basis.  1-1 after 30 mins and at half-time

Thame won the game with a burst of three goals in a twelve-minute spell around the hour mark.  First, a magnificent header by Andy Gledhill from a right-wing cross left the keeper no chance.  Then came the what-if moment as Highworth immediately fashioned a mirror-image chance from their left flank, but the unstoppable header was narrowly wide.  Thame players then queued up to shoot before Gledhill was successful at the third time of asking, and Lynton Goss added a fourth from the left side of the penalty area soon afterwards.  2-1 after 51 mins, 3-1 after 56 mins, 4-1 after 63 mins

The news of an actual West Bromwich Albion goal at Selhurst Park was shortly reverberating around the Twittersphere.  By this point I had moved into the shade at the back of the main stand, in time to watch Fabian McCarthy take his time and pick his spot for a late well-taken but only consolatory goal.  Final score 4-2
Ground Pix

This is a neat and tidy new ground with a very good, comfortable stand along one side.  It is a rare sight in Step 5 and one only has to look at the variation that I have encountered this season (Seaham Red Star, Cradley Town, Nuneaton Griff and here) to see that the national playing field is far from level.  Here in the Hellenic League the pitchside ads are for herbal supplements and hot air balloon insurance and I suspect Thame United will need to get back to Step 4 at least to sustain this facility over time.  I appreciate a well-designed new ground as much as a ramshackle collection of sheds, especially when the toilets are clean and present no hazard to health.  The refreshment bar menu is one of the best I have ever encountered at Step 5.  The whole place suggests that standards matter, and that gets applause from me.  The playing surface is excellent, and the programme is more than adequate.


 
Match Pix
Thame United are in red-and-black.





 
Why I was not at Crystal Palace v WBA
I am not a member or season-ticket holder, but the reasons go back several years really.  Most of the first hundred grounds that I visited were to watch West Brom play.  Then they got into the Premiership and suddenly I could not get tickets, and when I could then the outrageous bill for me and a brace of Yapplets left me feeling irresponsible as a parent.  Add the pressure to buy replica shirts on top of programme and refreshment costs, then the realistic necessity of a Sky Sports subscription to really follow the season as fixtures moved around so randomly, then add the anti-role model behaviour of "stars" like Saido Berahino and journeymen professionals with no more connection to and love for West Bromwich than the average mosquito (other bloodsucking parasites are available), add the fact that the chances of West Brom ever winning anything are about zero (though credit to Mowbray's side for getting to a Wembley FA Cup semi-final), and this interminable sentence can finally end leaving the reader with the explanation of how non-league groundhopping became my link with the game of the people.  When I heard that Paul Pogba will be allegedly earning enough in a year to pay for about 200 primary headteachers it made it even less likely that I will ever re-engage with the business end of the game.  Rant over.  Groundhopping is MUCH more fun.
Goalkeeper Top Colour Stats

The Golden Age of Subbuteo never had fluorescent goalkeepers.  Just saying.
There must have been a special offer this season on Radioactive Bile keeper tops as sported by the Highworth goalie (nearest camera).  I've seen three in a fortnight.  To be honest, the home effort is only marginally less garish (at the far end) and is barely allowable as Green.  The full league table appears here from time to time, but Green is doing well, the best of the frequently-seen colours.  While we are on the subject, a special mention must go to Thame United's Number 10, the first Step 5 player that I have seen with different colours for left and right boots.  Not even quantum physics predicted that this would happen.

Pink and Yellow.  Sorry, I don't get it.  Old-school, me.
 
What Next?
Watch @GrahamYapp on Twitter for details!  Hope that any of my A/AS level students reading this have a pleasant week leading up to a successful outcome on Thursday.  I'm just as nervous as you to be honest!  Meanwhile, not sure whether a midweek hop will happen but I hope to be on the road again next Saturday.

Cool Rowings


Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Friday 12 August 2016 at Canada Square Park, London Docklands
Result
A double victory for Thames Rowing Club.  Very respectable team and individual times for the Firefighter Challenge Team.
Competition
Invesco Perpetual City Regatta
Hopping
First regattahop for the blog.  I am here to give moral support to elder son Matthew as he is in the Firefighter Challenge Team.  They have a respectable pedigree as a non-specialist team, having taken a team relay bronze at last year’s English Indoor Rowing Championships.
Pre-regatta preparation
Teams of four will compete head-to-head on Concept 2 indoor rowing machines linked to a virtual 1000m course with a big screen for spectators.  The teams will be placed in order of average team member split time.  It is not yet clear whether an element of tactics will be required – in particular whether to conserve energy in the first round.  The winning team will have to race three times – heat, semi-final and final.
This event in one sentence
A very enjoyable evening watching lots of other people suffer intense pain.
So what?
Everyone seemed happy enough to do something similar again.  Matthew and I spent a fortune on healthy food (honest) back at St Pancras.  The team will be back at this year’s English Championships in December.
The drama unfolds
Warwick Boat Club won the first men’s heat by a virtual mile.  The second was much closer, with the Royal Navy’s Drill Power team narrowly winning by only 0.1s on the average time.  The third was even closer – the big screen showed an astonishing dead heat between Crossfit Thames and the Nonesuch team, and it was not until later that Nonesuch were declared the winners by a virtual 55cm.

In Heat 4, the Firefighter Challenge team (Harrison, Mayo, Phillips & Yapp) gave Thames RC a good contest and came in second by a virtual 10m but with a very competitive time.

At this point, it was evident that the event was taking shape on the hoof and it became clear that several pre-registered teams had not turned up.  The remaining men’s heats were set aside and the women’s competition began.  The teams from Warwick and Thames Boat Clubs again made the best impression.

An anticlimactic men’s Heat 5 then took place with only two teams and the aptly named Lastminute Dot Com had a relatively easy passage into the semifinal with the slowest time of the heat winners.  The organisers then announced that there would be two semi-finals of three teams and two teams respectively, followed by a two-team head-to-head final, meaning that the sporting outcome had definitely been influenced by non-sporting factors.  Given that the rest of the event was extremely slick and professional, and all of the technology involved worked almost flawlessly, this particular partisan spectator felt that it suddenly all looked a bit amateur.  If the organisers want this to be an annual event, and they want teams to incur the expenses of entry, travel and time off work, then they need to protect the sporting core of the event alongside all of the corporate image.  Especially as the teams included some former Olympians and Henley Regatta medallists.  (I am saying this constructively in the context of an enjoyable evening with great potential for future seasons.)

The first men’s semi-final saw Warwick hold off a late surge from Nonesuch, with the Royal Navy team in third with another competitive time.  The line-up for the first women’s semi-final was then arbitrarily changed because one of the teams had had insufficient recovery time.  Two out of three went into the final, Warwick leading the way over the Rogue Regatta and Lansons Ladies bowing out at this point.  In the second men’s semi-final, Thames RC cruised to victory over Lastminute Dot Com in their slippers whilst smoking cigars and passing the port from left to right and back again.  The second women’s semi-final saw the University of London Boat Club and Thames RC get through to the final at the expense of the hardworking Fitness First team.

In the men’s final, Thames proved too strong for Warwick as they were able to hold on to a lead that they established early on.  The result of the women’s final was in doubt for longer but Thames came through to see off the challenge from ULBC followed by Warwick and Rogue Regatta.  Here's a video clip (sorry about the shake).


The Firefighter Challenge team took consolation in their respectable average and individual times, in particular for FF Mayo who was second overall on the night in the individual rankings at the end of the heats.  FF Harrison also came a very creditable fourth in the last event of the evening, a 500m virtual sprint for individuals from the competing teams.
Arena Pix
  






Competition Pix
  

L to R: FFs Yapp, Mayo, Harrison & Phillips
 







What Next?
Watch @GrahamYapp on Twitter for details!  I am heading back to the Midlands tomorrow and I may have to make a pragmatic groundhopping choice rather than a random one.


Thursday, 11 August 2016

No Pies, So Nuneaton


Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Wednesday 10 August 2016 at The Pingles Stadium
Result
Nuneaton Griff 3 Dudley Sports 3 after extra time
Dudley Sports win 6-5 on penalties
Competition
FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round Replay
Hopping
Ground 588 on the lifetime list.  I am here because I happen to be in the Midlands and I have never been to this ground before.  Both sides play at Step 6 but in different leagues.  Griff are in the Midland Football League D1 and Dudley are in the West Midlands (Regional) Premier.
The best-prepared dugout ever seen at step 6

 
Pre-match preparation
The teams drew 1-1 at Dudley, sharing first-half goals.  I just about made it to the ground in time but found that the food on offer was restricted to crisps and chocolate but at least that gives me the pun for this particular blogpost title.  No hard feelings.
This match in one sentence
A hard-fought and uncompromising game at times, in which Nuneaton Griff from two down deservedly earned a period of extra time, failed to defend a lead and then suffered the agonies of a shootout defeat. 
So what?
Dudley Sports will travel to Cradley Town in the next round.  See my previous blogpost if you need any pre-game analysis!
The drama unfolds
If you had arrived after 50 minutes you would have found Dudley in control.  They scored a goal early in each half to secure the proverbially dangerous 2-0 scoreline in their favour.  The first came after a freekick for handball in a central position.  The home keeper could only parry it out and it fell nicely for Tom Watkins who buried it.  0-1 after 6 mins

The game settled into a pattern of neat approach play from Griff and a more direct style from Dudley.  I took the opportunity for a walk around the pitch perimeter and the occasional surreptitious check for Pokémon when no-one was looking.  The ground is also right next to a trainline too so plenty to keep the obsessives attentive.  0-1 at half-time

Dudley got a quick second after the restart.  It was a good finish from Mark Gore who got on the end of a through ball and kept his composure to round the keeper and avoid the defender on the line with his shot.  0-2 after 47 mins

First-half history kept on repeating itself as Dudley defended well despite growing Griff pressure.  Then the hosts bought a soft-looking penalty (imo and I was reasonably close) which led to a yellow rather than a red card for Luke Williams under the provisions of new rule 328B (or something).  John Russell despatched the spot kick and looked very pleased.  1-2 after 81 mins

Nuneaton looked even more pleased in the last minute as sub Matt Brennan's (I think) close-range header crossed the line to send us into extra-time.  Cue whooping celebrations.  I wonder how many people had left by then.  2-2 after 90 mins

Extra-time continued to be entertaining with both teams looking for the winning goal and the home side looking a bit stronger.  Tyson Knight smacked the crossbar from distance and then Dudley's Joe Sidaway saved well to keep the scores level.  Then Nuneaton completed the comeback by taking the lead just before the end of the first period of extra time.  Brennan again.  3-2 after 105 mins

Adam Skeldon then sent us to penalties with a splendid direct freekick with just five minutes left.  Think Beckham v Greece but without the insane remuneration.  3-3 after 115 minutes and at the end of extra time

The penalty shootout was as gripping as you would expect.  Griff went first, and the first seven penalties were all scored safe and sound.  The what-if moment arrived with the eighth as Nuneaton keeper Andy Needham got his hand to the shot but it still went in.  Two more successes took us to a perfect 5-5 before Nuneaton missed, leaving Dudley a sudden-death chance to win, which they duly took.  Not bad for the passing neutrals, but a heartbreaking end to a keenly-contested match.  Dudley Sports win 6-5 on pens
Ground Pix
It's one of those inside an athletics track with an adjacent leisure centre.  The programme is titled "Underneath the Arches", a reference to the nearby railway bridge.  The line runs parallel to the touchline so trainspottergroundhoppers can have an occasional fix of Diesel Multiple Units too.






Four years old and still going strong!
 
Match Pix
Nuneaton Griff are in blue.






 
Dudley Sports' wonderful retro shirt-number font

 
Goalkeeper Top Colour Stats
Nuneaton's keeper defied the boundaries of sartorial sense and decency so this is another defeat for Radioactive Bile.  Grey takes the win, but not much positive points scoring this time what with so many goals being conceded.  Full table will appear from time to time.
What Next?
Watch @GrahamYapp on Twitter for details!  I dare say I will turn up somewhere on Saturday, but there could be an as-yet-mysterious aerobic non-footy diversion on Friday night.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Cradley Rocked by Optimal Sub


One of the best Step 6 programmes you will find anywhere

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Tuesday 9 August 2016 at Beeches View Avenue
Result
Cradley Town 1 Coleshill Town 4
Competition
FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round Replay
Hopping
Ground 587 on the lifetime list.  I am here because I happen to be in the Midlands and I have never been to this ground before.  These teams play in the West Midlands Regional and the Midland Football Leagues at Step 6 and 5 respectively.
The Club Emblem


The club nickname is The Hammers, and the associated chains and anvil also refer to the great industrial metalworking traditions of the Black Country.
Pre-match preparation
The teams drew 2-2 last Saturday.  Coleshill went two up in the first half before Cradley got one back before the interval and then a second-half equaliser.
This match in one sentence
The scoreline is harsh on Cradley Town who competed well for most of the game but were beaten in the end by Coleshill's more clinical finishing.
So what?
Coleshill Town will play either Dudley Sports or Nuneaton Griff in the next round.  Maybe I should go and check them out.
The drama unfolds
I watched the match in the company of my brother Martyn and we reflected on the fact that our respective hobbies (Birdwatching: Twitch Level in his case) leave us vulnerable to obsessive elements.  He just missed something important after a long drive to East Anglia last weekend, a bit like my arrival at a just-postponed game in Sussex at the end of last season.  Meanwhile, the two teams squared up to each other with a decent tempo and the occasional hint of feistiness.  Later on I would express surprise that there were still 22 players on the field.  Cradley weathered the early Coleshill storm and their striker Liam Hickman gave me my first Step 6 stepover of the season before failing to find his strike partner.  Much like Raheem Sterling but without the insane remuneration.  It was all pretty even.

The deadlock was broken by Simeon Colbourne (thanks to the club Twitter feed for the ID).  A scuffed Cradley clearance led to a one-on-one that was initially defended well but at the expense of a corner.  Coleshill had always looked to have the edge at set-pieces and the corner led to some pinging around in the six-yard box before the ball ended up in the net.  0-1 after 38 mins and at HT

Cradley started the second half well and Paul Hathaway made a flying save to keep his side in front.  However, a deserved equaliser followed just aftrer the hour.  Sorry, the scorer remains unidentified at the time of writing.  1-1 after 62 mins

Coleshill took the lead again following another set piece.  A towering header (note: headers that hit the bar must be described as towering, one of the new rules I think) hit the bar and came down on but not over the line.  Any need for controversy was removed as the initial clearance fell to sub number 17, on the teamsheet as Aaron O'Neil but on Coleshill tweets as "Pellet", and the defence could not keep the shot out.  1-2 after 72 mins

The remaining two goals added an unfair bias to the final score as Cradley were forced to commit to attack, but they were both well-taken by the aforementioned multiple-monikered Number 17 for a hat-trick from the subs bench.  Harsh but effective.  1-3 after 83 mins, 1-4 after 90 mins and at FT
Ground Pix
Plenty for groundhoppers to enthuse about here.  A ground with some character - a bit of ramshackle building, a fence made from pallets, and a great view of the Clent Hills thrown in.  A well-stocked club shop, an excellent tea bar and one of the best Step 6 programmes you will find anywhere.
 






 
Match Pix
Cradley Town are in the red and black.




 
Celebration Time

 
Goalkeeper Top Colour Stats
Coleshill Town's keeper turned up in something allowable as "Green", but the Cradley Town keeper is neither yellow nor green so he has to go down as an unfortunate night for "Radioactive Bile".  Green continues to do well, second only to the much rarer Red.  The full table will appear in the blog from time to time. 
What Next?
Watch @GrahamYapp on Twitter for details!  Nuneaton Griff v Dudley Sports looks tempting.