After an abortive attempt back in February, I finally made it to The Coppice, on Tythe Barn Lane, the home of Highate United. There was no danger of a waterlogged pitch today as it was a fine, if chilly, spring afternoon.

Highgate United were formed in 1948 in the Highgate area of Birmingham, but are now based in the Solihull district of Shirley (Shirley Town's ground, is just around the corner from The Coppice).

They reached the (now) Midland Combination in 1964 and remained there until 2008 when they won promotion to the Midland Alliance.

This season however they are in danger of being relegated back to the Combination but are managing to put up a fight with some good results in recent weeks.

The Coppice ground is basically one-sided with cover along one touchline which incorporates seats and standing. There is a clubhouse and, whilst in the clubhouse, I noticed a plague on the wall (left) dedicated to the memory of Tony Allden, who died on the blackest day in Highgate's history.

It was during an FA Amateur Cup tie versus Enfield in 1967 that a bolt of lightning struck the pitch at The Coppice and three players were knocked out.

Two of the players recovered by sadly Tony Allden did not and died in hospital 24 hours later. The club have produced a booklet detail the full tragic story (see below).

Today Highgate were up against the team who are directly above the relegation zone, Atherstone Town, but who were 10 points clear of them, so it was a must win game for the homesters.

The first period was a pedestrian affair that was dominated by Highgate, in possession terms, but the best chances fell to Atherstone. Ben Ashby really should've put his side two goals up at the break, but he fluffed his lines in two one-on-one situations.

The second was, to put it politely, much more livelier as Atherstone pressed the self destruct button to hand the points to the homesters. With the game still goalless on 53 minutes, Adders skipper Chris Sockett had words with the referee, who then sent him off.

Three minutes later Highgate were awarded a penalty for a foul in the box, admittedly it was a soft one but, from where I was sat, it looked like there was contact. Oliver Casey stepped up to convert.

The Adders then conceded another penalty on 65 minutes when goalkeeper Paul Hathaway appeared to shove Highgate's Junior Bennett. Atherstone's Carl Stringer exchanged words with the referee in protest at the decision and another red card was produced. Casey stepped up to score his second spot kick of the game.

Atherstone, now down to nine men, pulled a goal back on 70 minutes when Daniel Douglas headed home. Any hopes of a dramatic comeback were extinguished just moments later when they were reduced to eight men, Ashby receiving a red card for an alleged elbow.

The homesters finally put the game to bed in the 78th minutes when a low cross was scuffed home by substitute Liam Florey. A vital three points for Highgate, whilst Atherstone must be looking over their shoulders nervously especially now, with a raft of suspensions looming.

As the train was taking the strain, the final act of the day was to head into Birmingham for some real ale and a re-visit to the fantastic Post Office vaults in the city centre.

TAKE ONE: Oliver Casey fires home his first penalty of the match (57)

TAKE TWO: Same player, same result (65)

Saturday 31st March 2012
Midland Football Alliance
Highgate United 3-1 Atherstone Town
Attendance: 78

I think this is a worthy cause, and the booklet is an interesting read, so I thought i'd give it a wee plug...

The club have produced a 16 page booklet documenting the tragic events of 25th February 1967. It costs £1 and is available from the clubhouse or by emailing highgateunited@hotmail.com to arrange payment and postage.

All profits go towards purchasing a memorial plaque.

MONMOUTH TOWN (Chippenham Sports Ground)

There was a bonus of a Sunday game today and, as I happened to be in South Wales, it would've been awfully rude not to pay a visit!

I wasn't the only one who thought the same and there were lots of other groundhoppers present today.

Monmouth Town were entertaining Bettws in a Welsh League Division Two game at their Chippenham Sports Ground.

The ground is situated on the banks of the River Monnow, which was once a breeding ground for Kingfishers, hence the clubs nickname. There is also a very interesting tale as to why the Kingfisher nickname is quite pertinent to Monmouth, this is taken from the club's website

"Some local folklore has it that in about 1936 there were extremely bad spring floods on the Monnow and Wye which effectively wiped out all of the Kingfisher nests along the rivers. Until then Monmouth had been a magnet for ornithologists from all over the country to see Britain’s most beautiful bird in all its glory. Official government sources from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Timber recorded their alarm at the plight of the Kingfisher population and a detailed study was carried out to assess the damage. Amazingly the only surviving pair of breeding Kingfishers were found nesting in a deflated football that had floated down the Monnow into the Wye and lodged itself with its laces in some branches overlooking the river. It was in the days before the Magic Marker so it could not be proven that the ball had been lost in a game at the Town’s sports ground but it was deemed the obvious cause. And so ….one loose shot saved the entire Kingfisher population of the Wye and Monnow rivers"

The towns GBG entry,
The Kings Head.
The football club's rise has been rapid as in just seven years they have gone from the bottom tier (Division 3) of the Gwent League to the top of the Welsh League Division 2, where they stand on the brink of promotion to the second tier of Welsh football.

As it stands though, it is doubtful whether they would be allowed promotion to the top tier, should they want it, at their current home ground as there is no way it meets current licensing standard, being more or less a railed off pitch in a public park, with a small covered stand (no seats) and no floodlights. This is not a criticism as I actually liked the feel of the ground, especially today in the glorious Welsh sunshine.

The ground is also shared with the rugby club which, I'm led to believe, means the club want to move off this pitch to the adjacent pitch so the have a pitch all to themselves. If this is the case, then it makes today's visit even more worthwhile. A vulture job!

As touched upon, Monmouth are currently top of the league, whilst their visitors from Bridgend, Bettws, are languishing near the bottom of the table (currently 3rd from bottom). Given Bettws's plight it seems even more odd as to why this game is being played on a Sunday.

Talking to a fellow hopper at the game, he told me that Bettws did not want to travel to play Monmouth in a midweek, so they therefore arranged a more convenient time, which was today, but just 24 hours after they lost 2-1 at Newcastle Emlyn, which is one of Bettws's longer away treks.

Two games in two days was bound to take it's toll, and indeed it did, but Bettws did put up a good show in an even first half. They were actually undone by the awarding of, in my eyes, a dubious penalty after 11 minutes, scored by Elliott Ford. Bettws never recovered from this despite keeping it at 1-0 until the break.

The second half was a different story as every time Monmouth went forward they looked like scoring, as Bettws began to wilt in the scorching heat. Goals from Dan Spence (50) Jack Alderdice (58, the goal of the game, a stunning 30 yard effort) Craig Lewis (67) Elliott Ford with his second (79) and Rob Laurie (90) sealed a comprehensive win for Monmouth to leave the Kingfishers in control at the top of the league.

A top afternoon spent in top company.

A minutes silence in memory of Monmouth's junior coach
Kevin Johnson who passed away earlier this month

Elliott Ford (11) gives Monmouth the lead from the penalty spot

Sunday 25th March 2012
Welsh League Division Two
Monmouth Town 6-0 Bettws
Attendance: 142 (h/c)

SWANSEA CITY (Liberty Stadium)

Saturday 24th March 2012
FA Premier League
Swansea City 0-2 Everton
Attendance: 20,509

A re-visit for me today, but a welcome one, and a chance to see my beloved Blues play at the Liberty Stadium for the very first time. The last time the Blues played in Swansea was at the Vetch Field back in 1982, Everton running out 3-0 winners, but that was in the days before Rupert Murdoch invented football and the Premier League.

I first visited the Liberty back in 2005, when it was simply called the New Stadium, for a drab goalless League One clash against Oldham Athletic. Leon Britton is the only survivor from the team that day who also started today.

The Swans rise has been steady as Brendan Rodgers continued the good work started by Roberto Martinez (who was also playing that day back in 2005) to guide the Swans the promised land of the Premier League.

Rodgers' Swansea side have been receiving plaudits galore for their style of play but today, in David Moyes, they came up against experienced campaigner as he set up a team to play high up the pitch and stifle the Swans, who like to play from the back, and then hopefully pick them off. His game plan worked a treat.

The first half was, in truth, a non-event as Everton stopped Swansea, despite all their possession, getting into any sort of rhythm. Danny Graham had the best chance of the half but he shot tamely at Tim Howard. As the half wore on Everton started to come into the game more as an attacking threat and this continued at the start of the second period.

Once Leighton Baines scored a sublime free-kick (59) there was only going to be one winner. Everton began to dominate the attacking play more as Swansea ran out of ideas. Darron Gibson, Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic all went close before the Croatian doubled Everton's advantage. Game over.

The Blues could've added to the scoreline but 2-0 it finished as Everton became only the 3rd team, after United and Norwich, to win at the Liberty (so far) this season. A great 3 points.

The only disappointing aspect on a personal level was that I was sat in amongst the Swans fans so couldn't cheer any of the goals and had to sit there pretending to be glum, I certainly enjoyed the silence though!!

The Liberty Stadium is a fantastic modern arena, but like other new grounds such as Derby, Middlesbrough, Colchester, Shrewsbury etc etc they are just soulless bunkers, though at least Swansea supporters do generate some noise.

Swansea's home from 1912 to 2005 was the Vetch Field and, yes in some eyes, it was a dump, but it could also be argued it was a fantastic example of a proper old ground, that had bags of character. Another of these dying breeds that bit the dust.

I visited the Vetch on a February Friday night back in 2000 to watch Chester City succumb to a stoppage time winner.

A crowd of 6,336 watched Siggi Eyjolfsson give Chester a first half lead and hold onto it until six minutes from time, when Nick Richardson put through his own net, and then watch in horror as ex-Wrexham man Steve Watkin scored in the 95th minute to give the Swans an undeserved victory.

Re-visiting Swansea today has given me the opportunity to publish these photos of the Vetch, taken in 2008, three years after the ground hosted it's last competitive game. The ground wasn't demolished until 2011 and the land on which it stood is now an area of allotments.