Another day and another FA Cup tie, this time in the North East, a combination of change of date and the offer a lift was a too good of an opportunity to pass up. Newcastle BS groundshare at Kingston Park (the home of the Newcastle Falcons Rugby Union Club) where they moved to upon promotion to the Unibond league last season. They originally played their games at the Wheatsheaf, which is a couple of miles down the road and is now a training facility for both clubs. It was because Newcastle Falcons had a big rugby game on the Friday that this cup tie against Altrincham was (luckily for me) moved.

As mentioned, Newcastle BS play in the Unibond League Division One (North) and currently sit in second place in the table. They were controversially promoted to the league last year, after finishing 11th in the Northern League, in order to make up the numbers in the re-organisation of the pyramid. Altrincham, of course, play in the top tier of non-league football, the Conference and currently sit in their usual place amongst the middle to bottom of the table (they have avoided relegation for the past three seasons due to the misfortunes of other clubs).

Kingston Park is neat and tidy, with a capacity of 10,000 and all the comforts of a modern stadium. It has a very large all seated stand along one side of the pitch and as smaller seated stand opposite, which has the clubhouse directly behind it. There is a large covered terrace behind one goal and a smaller open terrace behind the other. I have to say the pitch looked in great nick too, especially after a rugby game and heavy rain in the previous 48 hours. The ground would easily satisfy football league criteria, but its highly unlikely that that day will ever come as there is simply not the support. Newcastle’s average gate is less than 150 and the crowd in attendance today is around 300 and it does create a eerie atmosphere in such a large stadium.

I paid my £7 to entrance and then the bleeders ripped me off by charging £3 for the programme. At least Dick Turpin wore a mask! It was dreadful and pretty thin on content. I don’t want to be disparaging as I appreciate the effort that goes into producing a programme, but I’ve seen better efforts for a fraction of the price.

Just to compound my mood the game was pretty crap. Newcastle took the lead within a minute and then never really took advantage after that. They were happy to let Altrincham back into the game and it was no surprise when they soon levelled and took then took the lead right on half time. I was expecting Newcastle to come out second half with all guns blazing, but it never happened and both teams seemed to go through the motions and a poor Altrincham side was never in trouble as they saw the game out.

It will now be a case of seeing what the first round proper brings and whether there is a chance to fit in another game, otherwise this is the end of my FA Cup journey for this season, I hope it isn’t the case as I would be disappointed if this damp squib of a game was the one that brought my journey to its conclusion.

Sunday 26th October 2008
FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round
Newcastle Blue Star 1-2 Altrincham
Attendance: 305


As the FA Cup reaches the tedious business end of proceedings, i.e. all the non-league teams slowly vanish and the so-called big teams come into the equation, the opportunity for new ground visits also vanishes too, however there was one or two places still left and fortunately for me an East Midlands clash was just the ticket.

Retford United have had a remarkable rise up the pyramid in recent seasons and were plying their trade in the Central Midlands league as recently as 2004, when the won the title. Promotion to the Northern Counties league soon followed and after a season of consolidation they won the 1st division title in 2006 and the Premier league title quickly followed in 2007 and with it another promotion into the Unibond league south. Again they finished as champions in 2008 but promotion was denied this time because of ground grading.

Looking around today you can see why. Cannon Park is still your typical Central Midlands ground. There is a small, seated stand on one side of the pitch and that is about it. The rest of the ground consisted of just hard standing. There was nowhere to shelter from the Siberian type conditions today!

Alfreton Town are members of the Conference North and are currently have a mixed season, sitting in mid-table, but there are one or two ex-professional within their ranks, Leo Fortune-West being the most famous. On paper it should be a comfortable away win, but games are never won on paper and with wintry conditions there was always the chance of an upset.

As mentioned it was a very cold, wet and windy day but the upset was never going to be on the cards as Alfreton comfortably managed to see off Retford in this FA cup encounter. The conditions were never going to be conducive to flowing football but both teams gave their best to produce a decent game. The Alfreton keeper was the busier of the two, with the wind behind him, struggling to take crosses and Retford hit the post during ones of these wind-assisted flaps. Alfreton also had a wind assisted shot which crashed the crossbar, via the fingertips of the Retford keeper. Generally it was an end-to-end first half with both teams having half chances.

However, two goals in three minutes just before half time for Alfreton effectively killed the tie. Leo Fortune-West scored on 42 mins, and then on 45 mins Paul Clayton added a second. I can't tell you any more than that as I missed them both getting my half time brew in a futile attempt to warm myself up!

On the balance of play, it was a bit harsh on Retford to go in 2-0 down.

The second half was a bit of a non event until Retford sub Lee Whittington reduced the arrears on 72 mins with a glancing 12-yard header but the comeback wasn't to be as Clayton scored his second goal of the game, with a shot into the roof of the net from close range, just 6 mins later...I seen those two goals, btw!

Weather apart, a nice day out in Nottinghamshire.

Saturday 25th October 2008
FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round
Retford United 1-3 Alfreton Town
Attendance: 922

NEC NIJMEGEN (Goffertstadion)

After the last few days in Germany it was a mad 6.40am dash across the border for an 11.30am kick off in the local derby between NEC Nijmegen and Vitesse Arnhem.

Considering the rivalry it was played at a very slow tempo. Arnhem, who have yet to register a win so far this season,  took a shock lead through Nicky Hofs on 17 minutes before NEC came back to run out very comfortable winners.

Second half goals from Arek Radomski (49) Youssef El Akchaoui (83pen) and Saidi Ntibazonkiza (90) gave the home side the points.

Sunday 19th October 2008
NEC Nijmegen 3-1 Vitesse Arnhem
Attendance: 12,500


Another fantastic stadium and the Hannover Ultras are a sight to behold. Hoffenheim are the suprise package of this season and they comprehensively outclassed their opponents. Admittedly the dodgy home keeper didn't help but that doesn't hide the fact the Hannover were well beaten.

Vedad Ibisevic gave Hoffenhiem the lead after 36 minutes before Hannover took the lead when Christian Schultz (48) and substitute Jiri Stajner (63) scored.

This was a good as got for the home side as the visitors went on a lateUscoring spree. Goals from Chinedu Obasi (70) Sejad Salihovic (72) Demba Ba (80) and Ibisevic's second (86) completed the turn around. Hannover's Arnold-Jan Bruggink was sent off late on just to complete the misery.

Saturday 18th October 2008
Hannover 2-5 Hoffenheim
Attendance: 42,321

Here's a link to the goals....