Today it was a visit to the West Midlands, as my quest to complete a visit to all the grounds in the Conference North continued with a trip to Damson Park, the home of Solihull Moors. The fact that it was a local derby against Tamworth only whetted the appetite further. It was also a game in which the points were vital to both sides but for differing reasons. At the start of play Solihull sat only four points above the relegation zone, whilst Tamworth sat one point off the top of the table.

Just to give you a bit a background, Sollihull Moors FC was formed by the merger of two teams. Moor Green were left homeless in 2005 when an arson attack on their Moorlands ground destroyed their main stand and clubhouse. As a consequence they became tenants at Damson Park, the home of Solihull Borough. In 2007 it was decided to pool resources and merge as one club. Whether this has been successful, or was indeed the correct thing to do, is open to conjecture.

Onto the game and it turned out to be pretty uninspiring stuff. It was a game of lots of endeavour but very little quality in the final third. Solihull had plenty of the early possession but failed to really trouble the Tamworth 'keeper. It was somewhat against the run of play that Tamworth scored in the 28th minute through a shot from just inside the area by Matt Birley.

From this moment on Tamworth looked very comfortable and easily dealt with everything Solihull could throw at them. That was until the last minute when they needlessly conceded a free kick on the edge of the box and Jake Sedgemore curled the ball into the top corner to grab a share of the spoils.

On the balance of play I suppose it was a fair result.

Can I also point out that Solihull have a cracking social club...hic :)

Solihull (in white) put pressure on the Tamworth goal

Saturday 28th February 2009
Conference North
Solihull Moors 1-1 Tamworth
Attendance: 546

THURROCK (Ship Lane)

Today it was a visit to Ship Lane, the home of Thurrock as they took on the "real" Wimbledon, who continue their remarkable rise up the pyramid. At the start of play Wimbledon sat top of the Conference South and needed the three points to maintain their promotion push, whilst Thurrock were third bottom and needed the points just as badly, for different (obvious) reasons.

Sadly for the paying punters, of which there were over 1,000 the game turned out to be a pretty drab affair, which Wimbledon won by virtue of a free kick six or five minutes from time, depending on who you believe! (More on that later).

In the first half The Dons had most of the possession but did little to threaten the Thurrock 'keeper. However despite the away teams dominance the best chances fell to Thurrock, during a six minute spell before half time. David Bryant beat the offside trap but lobbed his shot over the bar, Craig Hughes shot tamely in the arms of 'keeper with the goal at his mercy and the final chance was a shot by Sam Lechmere which was brilliantly saved by James Pullen. Thurrock should have been in front at the interval and how those missed chances would come back and haunt them.

The second half continued in similar fashion with Wimbledon dominating proceedings but Thurrock held firm, with centre back Rob Swaine absolutely outstanding. However in the 84th or 85th minute Thurrock conceded a needless free kick and Sam Hatton fired it home via a wicked bounce in front of the keeper, which gave him no chance, to give Wimbledon an undeserved win. Thurrock were good value for a point but sadly for them it wasn't to be. The victory put Wimbledon 9 points clear at the top and they look nailed on certainties to clinch promotion to the top tier of the non-league football.

Anyhow the reason for the ambiguity of the goal time is that muggins here bought three "golden goal" tickets and guess what? One of them was 85 minutes! Thank you very much and I hearby claim my £20...or so I thought. Obviously a mate of whoever the organiser was must have had 84 minutes as that what Thurrock officials insisted the goal time was. Every other media outlet the following day had the goal listed as 85 minutes. Oh well another hard luck tale in the life of a groundhopper...moral of the tale don't buy a golden goal ticket off f****n' mockneys!!

Saturday 21st February 2009
Conference South
Thurrock 0-1 AFC Wimbledon
Attendance: 1,173

PEN-Y-CAE (Afoneitha Road)

Today was one of those rare days when an opportunity arose to "tick" off a new ground that was only half an hour away from home. Penycae, of the Welsh National League Wrexham area, were playing Blaenavon Blues, of the Gwent County League, in the quarter finals of the Welsh Trophy, a competition open to teams not eligible for the Welsh FA Cup. This was too good a chance to miss!

Penycae play at Afoneitha Road in the village of the same name, which is just a few miles outside Wrexham. As with most grounds in this league, the facillities are as basic as they come and the ground was simply a railed off pitch with a couple of portable dugouts (these were removed at the end of the game along with the goalposts). As a bonus today the club produced a 28 page programme which was included in the price of your admission...which was a whopping £1. Now thats what I call value for money!

The game , as it turned out, was a routine home win for Penycae. Having said that Blaenavon did have their moments and, indeed, they went in front on 15 minutes through Neil Cox but after that it was more or less one way traffic as Penycae took control and virtually camped themselves in the visitors half. The closest Blaenavon came to a second goal was when Darren Harris broke free on the counter and appeared to be tripped in the area, but the referee waved play on, if that would've been 2-0 then who knows? but after some more determined defensive work by the visitors, their resistence was eventually broken just before half time when a Gavin Davies header squirmed past the Blaenavon keeper, who should have done a lot better, to level at the break.

The second half continued in similar fashion but Penycae took until the 72nd minute before taking the lead when Matthew Scott chested a corner past the keeper, who again had to shoulder a fair amount of the blame. The game was over two minutes later when Gavin Davies had all the time in the world in the area to turn, slot home his second, and put Penycae into the semi's, where they will play Nefyn United.

All in all, a thouroughly enjoyable day out at Afoneitha Road was had and both teams contributed to a good game of footy on a very heavy pitch, however the final scoreline does give a true reflection of the match.


Penycae (wearing blue) on the attack again

A Blaenavon defender clears the ball away (again!)

Some of the 75 people in attendance

Saturday 14th February 2009
FAW Trophy Quarter Final
Penycae 3-1 Blaenavon Blues
Attendance: 75

LEIGH GENESIS (Leigh Sports Village)

Another 2009 Saturday, another Saturday fixture list decimated by the weather. I was supposed to be heading to Clarence Road, the home of St. Albans for their game versus Wimbledon, and a trip which had been planned since November last year. There is no accounting for the bloody snow!

Anyhow, because of said snow, it meant the choice was rather limited but there was one fixture that stood out and that was Leigh Genesis at home to Hednesford in their new Sports Village Stadium. This was purpose built to be shared with Leigh Centurians Rugby League Club, but if the rumours are true the costs are so high that the football club will not be able to afford to share there for any length of time, so it was a case of visit while you can!

The new ground was dead easy to find, with it being just off the main A579 Bolton road, so there was plenty of time to spare on arrival in Leigh, so that meant a chance to nip into town and go and take one last look at the old ground before it goes and joins the great housing development in the sky! Luckily some local vandals had wedged open a gate which even I could squeeze here are the photo's I took of the gem that was Hilton Park....

It was then onto the new ground. There is not a lot I can say about new grounds. Yes, they are clean, Yes, they are comfortable BUT they are soulless and to me they make watching football a similar experience to going down the cinema. Unfortunately this seems to be the way forward and sadly most grounds will be like this in the future. If your team currently plays in what is deemed a rickety old stadium then don't listen to the heathens, they must be treasured and protected!!!

I was lucky that I managed to get some snaps of the ground, as the over zealous stewards clamped down on anyone with a camera.

Anyhow, onto the game itself and it wasn't that bad. Leigh had the better of the opening exchanges and should have been a couple of goals up but against the run of play Hednesford took the lead on the half hour though a Ross Dyer penalty (see below). This was after a needless foul in the area by a Leigh defender.

After this a rather young-ish Leigh folded like a pack of cards, Dyer scored his second with a powerful header on 36 minutes and then completed his hat-trick with a cool finish just after Half -time. It wasn't until the hour mark that Leigh got a goal back, a good finish by Phil Marsh, this lifted their confidence and they started to make a fight of it, however they could not force any more goals and Hednesford seen out the game to the delight of their travelling army of supporters.

Saturday 7th February 2009
Northern Premier League
Leigh Genesis 1-3 Hednesford Town
Attendance: 344


A bonus of some Sunday 'action' as Goytre took on Caldicot in a weather delayed Gwent cup tie. On a bitterly cold afternoon at Plough Road, 120 minutes of football couldn't seperate these teams. The game was by no means a classic, as both sides were playing their second game in 24 hours, but what the game lacked in inspiration was made up with perspiration as both sides were fully committed to the cause. What football there was was mainly played by Caldicot, defending the trophy they won last season, but they came up against a superb and stubborn Goytre backline.

It was Goytre who took the lead on 27 minutes when a free kick from the left was launched into the box and not dealt with convincingly, it fell to Adam Roberts who smacked it home from 12 yards. Caldicot equalised on 58 minutes with a speculative 30 yard lob over the 'keeper by Mark Williams. It looked as if the 'keeper thought it was going to drop over the bar and seemed to leave it, but was soon red-faced as it nestled in the back of net!

Both teams hit the post and both 'keepers made some great saves, but chances throughout the game were at a premium. There was no surprise when it went to the lottery of penalties and it was Caldicot who held their nerve to take the shoot out 4-2.

The ground is a typical welsh lower league ground with basic facillites. The pitch is simply railed off and the only cover from the elements is the extended roof on the clubhouse.

Sunday 1st February 2009
Gwent Senior Cup
Goytre United 1-1 Caldicot Town
(Caldicot won 4-2 on Penalties)
Attendance: 48 (h/c)