ABBEY HEY (The Abbey Stadium)

It was a short journey down the M56 for today's entertainment as Abbey Hey took on Wigan Robin Park in a North West Counties League Division One game. I had no special plans in place for today, but after scanning the fixture lists this 1st v 2nd clash fitted the bill perfectly.

Abbey Hey is a district in the Gorton area of Manchester, after which the club is named. Gorton's major landmark is the local Monastery, which features prominently on the club's badge. Some parts of Gorton have suffered from serious deprivation, which resulted in high crime and burglary rates. The early series of the TV series Shameless were filmed in West Gorton.

It was these kind of facts, and stories from others, that had put me off visiting Abbey Hey previously but I take as I find and it's no worse than some parts of other major cities.

The Abbey Stadium is at the end of Goredale Avenue and, if you are worried, there is ample parking within the ground. The welcome from the people on the gate, and in the clubhouse, was warm and friendly.

The stadium has cover down the one side of the ground, with the seating at either end of a terrace. It was a beautiful sunny day today but there was a chill in the breeze.

At the beginning of play Abbey Hey were top of the table but Wigan Robin Park were just two points behind in second place, so it appeared it would be a tight game between what looked like two evenly matched sides.

Thats exactly how things panned out. It was a game of very few chances, with neither 'keeper really troubled, but it was a throughly absorbing contest. Both sides were giving no quarter and there were some tasty challenges being put in, the vast majority on the right sides of law I hasten to add.

Wigan took the lead after 21 minutes when Phil Howard blasted home a free kick from 20 yards but Abbey Hey were level after 38 minutes when Martin Pilkington was put through to round the 'Keeper and slot home.

View from the clubhouse
 The second half was once again a cat and mouse affair and it was going to take a touch of genius, or a mistake, to give either side a winner. Unfortunately for Abbey Hey it was a defensive error, as a routine clearance was misjudged by their central defenders and Howard ran through onto the loose ball to fire home the winner, with just 9 minutes remaining. 

Abbey Hey did respond quickly with a headed chance but it crashed back off the crossbar and the chance had gone. The result meant Wigan leapfrgogged Abbey Hey to the top of the table however it's still all to play for, especially with third placed Norton United having 6 games in hand on Wigan and just 7 points to make up.

Today's visit to The Abbey Stadium means i'm now closing in on all the grounds in the NWCFL as, not including groundshares, i've just got three to go. I can taste that Champagne!

Saturday 25th February 2012
North West Counties League Division One
Abbey Hey 1-2 Wigan Robin Park
Attendance: 40


Today was a long planned trip to Birmingham, though to be honest football wasn't really the primary reason. A few of us decided to arrange a jaunt to  visit the absolutely superb Wellington real ale pub in the city centre but, me being me, I had to get a game in somewhere!

Beer list at the Wellington
(I did my best to get through 50%)
The nearest team with a home game were Highgate United, but this game sadly bit the dust around 1.30pm due to their pitch being waterlogged.

No point in spitting one's dummy out, you always have to have a Plan B and today that happened to be Sutton Coldfield Town, with their 3G pitch. As the picture on the cover of the programme shows, they play in any weather condition!

The Wellington
This was not the first time i'd visited Coles Lane, as i'd previously seen tenants Romulus play an FA Vase game here in 2006, so this was a perfect opportunity to put right that particular wrong.

Apart from the playing surface, Coles Lane looked pretty much the same as it did in 2006 with a large main stand and covered terrace in the corner and behind one of the goals.

Sutton Coldfield were entertaining Goole in a Northern Premier League Division One South game (bet you never thought Yorkshire to be in the south!) and both teams are more or less neck and neck in the table, just on the fringes of the play-off mix.

Some of the myriad of Clubs that call
Coles Lane 'home'
The game wasn't the greatest as Goole came with a plan of defend and hit on the break. Sutton Coldfield therefore had most of the play but Goole's plan worked a treat as they hit the homesters to take a 33rd minute lead, Aaron Martin racing through to slot home.

Goole defended stoutly in the second period but, as the game went on, they started to drift back further and further. Sutton Coldfield's pressure eventually paid off in stoppage time when they were awarded a penalty.

Goole 'keeper Aaron Chapman saved substitute Luke Chapman's initial effort, but could do nothing with the resulting rebound. On balance though, a fair result.

It was then back on train to continue the real ale 'sampling', this time at the Post Office Vaults, where there were just the 8 handpulls on offer...hic!


Saturday 18th February 2012
Northern Premier League Division One South
Sutton Coldfield Town 1-1 Goole AFC
Attendance: 123

CPD PWLLHELI (Y Rec, Canolfan Hamdden Dwyfor)

With the cold snap continuing to cause problems for 'hoppers' across the UK, I was very lucky today that my first choice of game was ON and, by all accounts, was never in any doubt.

The micro-climate that is North West Wales and Anglesey once again came up trumps, as there had been no snow or frost on the Llŷn Peninsula in the 48 hours leading up to the game.

This meant a trip to Pwllheli for their Welsh Trophy Quarter Final clash with Ton and Gelli BGC. A classic North v South Encounter!

Pwllheli play in the Welsh Alliance League Division One (which is two leagues below the Welsh Premier) and Ton and Gelli play in the South Wales Amateur League Division One (which is four leagues below the Welsh Premier) but in truth both sides are effectively on a par, the anomaly being due to the way Welsh Football is structured due to geography of teams in the North and South.

This was the first time i'd been to Pwllheli since childhood, when my family and I went on holiday to the legendary Butlins holiday camp in 1981. The only thing I can remember is some dodgy cabaret band doing a bad cover of "It's a mystery" the big Toyah hit of the time. Strange how one remembers such crap! The camp is still there, but ceased to be Butlins in 1998 (it's now called Hafyn-y- Môr).

The only thing I knew about 'Y Rec' prior to visiting today was that it was situated at the back of a Leisure Centre (Canolfan Hamdden) so that immediately got me thinking about athletics tracks and rubbish views, but there was none of that and Pwllheli's ground was ok for the level the team are at. There was a small covered terrace, but no seating, and all the crowd congregated on the one side of the pitch that had hard standing, ie up against the leisure centre wall.

There was an admission charge of £2.50 and the bonus of a programme, which sold out very quickly. I can't argue that I didn't get value for money as the game was pretty good.

Both teams were evenly matched and it was a well fought contest, with both teams not holding back. There were no bad fouls, just two teams battling for the right to progress into the semi's. However it was Pwllheli that found themselves 2-0 up at the break. Josh Banks gave them the lead on 21 minutes when he headed home a corner kick. Mark Jones doubled the advantage on 42 minutes when he tapped home from three yards, after a shot was parried.

Unfortunately for the visitors from Ton Pentre, the game was effectively over after 48 minutes when Danny Rylance headed home at the second attempt, after his initial effort was blocked on the line. Although Ton did pull a goal back through a Jarrod Hill free kick on 59 minutes, Ben Chippendale fired home Pwllheli's fourth goal on 62 minutes to book their place in the last four.

The scoreline was harsh on Ton and Gelli as the game was a lot closer than the scoreline suggests but, for them, lady luck was not on their side today.

An enjoyable day at the Rec,  the welcome from the club officials was very warm, and I wish Pwllheli every success in the semi-final and for the future.

Jarrod Hill's free kick beats the keeper
for Ton & Gelli's consolation goal

Saturday 11th February 2012
FAW Trophy Quarter Final
Pwllheli 4-1 Ton & Gelli BGC
Attendance: 95 (h/c)

Dedicated to the memory of Neil Faulkner 1943-2012. RIP.