BALA TOWN (Maes Tegid)

Gary Speed 1969 - 2011
To be honest, football seemed quite irrelevant today as en-route to Bala the news broke on the radio that Gary Speed had died. For an all too brief period, I had the pleasure of seeing Gary Speed play for Everton and fullfilling every Evertonian's dream of going from the Goodison terraces to wearing the famous royal blue shirt.

Obviously the acrimonious nature of his departure back in January 1998 tainted his relationship in the eyes of many Evertonians and he was subjected to, with hindsight, unfair abuse on his subsequent visits. I have to confess to barracking him on his initial return with Newcastle.

Gary Speed was painted as the villain of the piece but the fact that he chose to keep his own council, rather than, as he stated at the time "damage the good name of Everton Football Club" by giving his side of the story, showed him to be the bigger man. Bigger than the people who barracked him.

Today put it all into perspective. I just hope you forgave us. Thoughts are with your family and friends. Rest in peace Blue.

Onto the trivial matter of a game of football. It was another "Sunday bonus" of a chance to head to a ground last visited in the dim and distant past. Maes Tegid has had quite a bit of work done to it since my last visit in 2004, when they were a Cymru Alliance outfit.

The ground now has seats along one side of the pitch, a covered terrace behind the goal and hard standing all the way around.

From memory the only thing I can recall from my last trip are the changing rooms, with the overhang (still in place) and the fact you couldn't walk around the pitch without getting your feet very wet and/or muddy, oh and Flint were 5-0 down at Half Time!

Full-time outfit Neath were the visitors today but there was no such joy on the goals front, as the game somehow ended goalless.  After an impeccably observed minutes silence in tribute to Gary Speed, the visitors had the best chances of a lacklustre first period, hitting the woodwork twice. Craig Hughes smashed a shot against the crossbar before Chris Jones did the same from a free kick.

The second half was more entertaining as Bala took control of the game, substitute Stef Edwards being the catalyst as he caused plenty of problems for the Neath defence.

Bala hit the woodwork twice themselves in the second and missed numerous other chances. Edwards was the first to hit the post, followed by Stephen Brown. Brown also missed a sitter, when it seemed easier to score and on another day Mark Connolly may have had a hat-trick.
In the end both teams had to settle for a point, but as mentioned at the beginning, it was all really irrelevant today.

Sunday 27th November 2011
Welsh Premier League
Bala Town 0-0 Neath Athletic
Attendance: 304

STOURBRIDGE (War Memorial Ground)

Today was a "mopping up exercise" visit to Amblecote and the War Memorial Ground. I say mopping up exercise as I had previously visited this ground to see tenants Causeway United, but I'd not visited to see landlords Stourbridge.

It had been a big week for the Southern Premier League Glassboys as they had beaten Football League side Plymouth Argyle in midweek to reach the FA Cup second round proper, where they will now host Stevenage.

In the meantime they had an FA Trophy game to contend and the opposition were high flying Chester, who are at the same step but in the Northern Premier League.

A visit to Stourbridge could not be undertaken without enjoying the delights of the Duke William, with it's 9 handpulls, and where Craddock ale is brewed. I must say I particularly enjoyed my pint of 'Crest'

The War Memorial ground hasn't changed much since my last visit, but today there were two temporary stands in place, put up for the Plymouth game, which meant watching the game from upon high and on the cricket pitch side of the ground, which is usually just roped off.

I was glad I had a few pre-match beers, to numb the pain, as the game was pretty bad.

An insipid affair was settled by two second half strikes for Chester, with two of the very few shots on goal, never mind on target!

The game was heading for a drab 0-0, and replay, when in the 66th minute, the Stourbridge centre halves got themselves in a muddle and between them failed to clear their lines, the ball dropping to Iain Howard who smashed it home.

The tie was settled after 80 minutes when Matty McNeil's effort was deemed to have crossed the line, despite the best efforts of the Stourbridge defender.

Saturday 26th November 2011
FA Trophy 3rd Qualifying Round
Stourbridge 0-2 Chester
Attendance: 1,481


This weekend was spent in the company of four other 'hoppers' taking in four Dutch games in two days...3 Eredivisie and 1 Topklasse. Thanks to the organisation of others who sorted out the notoriously difficult to obtain tickets (due to the Dutch ID card system) the hotel and transport, it was just a case of arriving at Schipol airport then enjoying the ride.....

12.30pm, Sunday 20th November 2011
ADO Den Haag 2-2 FC Utrecht
Attendance: 11,350

It was a very foggy trip on the the motorway from Deventer to The Hague and at certain stages it was quite worrying as to whether the game would be going ahead. Fortunately the fog had cleared by the time we reached the ground and there were no immediate problems.

The tickets had been secured through the Den Haag supporters club and upon arrival we had to head to the supporters bar to pick them up. The guy then proceeded to hand us some comps, which was a welcome gesture. In the supporters club there was plenty of Swansea City memorabilia on the wall and, in the ground itself, Welsh flags on display. I'm not sure what the link is but it certainly was bizarre.

Statue of Den Haag
legend Aad Mansveld
The Kyocera Stadium, as it is now sponsored, was opened in 2007, to replace the old Zuiderpark Stadium, and has a capacity of 15,000. It is a typical new build stadium and predictably it is out of town, in the middle of an industrial park.

Our seats were in an unreserved section of the ground, so we found ourselves sitting in close proximity to the Den Haag ultras. If Sepp Blatter thinks there is no problem with racism in football then he ought to pay a visit to this section of the Den Haag support as every time the black Utrecht forward went anywhere near the ball he was greeted with monkey chants. Very distasteful. The paradox though is that Den Haag had black players in their team, including one of their goalscorers.

The opposition today were Utrecht and the game was an absorbing encounter with two evenly matched mid-table sides. Utrecht took the lead when a corner was flicked on and Daan Bovenberg fired home at the back post.

Den Haag were deservedly level just before half time when Charlton Vicento was played through on goal to slot home the equaliser.

The homesters took the lead on the hour when an absolute thunderbolt by Lex Immers, from the edge of the box, nearly broke the back of the net. A glorious effort. With 10 minutes remaining Utrecht made it all square when Leon de Kogel scored from the penalty spot, after a handball in the box. The homesters had chances to nick the points but a draw was a fair result.

As the fog made an unwelcome return and began to descend over the ground, there were the first mutterings of whether the Excelsior game would be on and, more importantly, would our flights home still be going ahead?

Leon de Kogel equalises for Utrecht

Match highlights available via this link....

4.30pm, Sunday 20th November 2011
Excelsior 0-0 AZ Alkmaar
(Abandoned at half time due to fog)
Attendance: 3,500

This was a thrilling end-to-end game with lots of goalmouth action and fantastic displays of footballing skills. Total Dutch football at it's finest. Well it could have been for all that could be seen in the ground!

It was clear from the off that this game was never going to reach a conclusion and to be honest, it should never have started. Upon arrival at ground it was clear to see, or rather not, that this game had no chance.

From where we sat in the stand you couldn't see the other side of the pitch or the stand behind the far goal. The referee did start the game but when the ball was in play, once it crossed the halfway line it was anyone's guess as to what was happening.

Ten minutes before the interval, the fog became thicker and really the referee had no choice to bring the game to a premature conclusion. As is the way in Holland, the 2nd half will be played on Wednesday 7th December. Unfortunately I will not be there!

The view from my seat...absolutely pea soup!

Game over!

Match, err, highlights available via this link....

It was a very worrying trip back to Schipol Airport, as the fog showed no sign of relenting, and, with flights to the UK being cancelled all over the place, there was a growing sense of anticipation that we would not be going home. However everything turned out fine in the end and the plane was only delayed by about 20 minutes, bringing to an end another great weekend of hopping!