Non League Club

Praise the Lordswood

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on April 7, 2013

8622788588_4a228b5a17_bIt’s been an easy week at TBIR Towers. Easy because I haven’t been there. I’ve been a few thousand miles away beavering away in New York, suffering as usual from chronic jet lag. I’ve become so much of a friend to Mr. 3AM that I even went out for a run. That is how bad it’s been – running around Battery Park at 6am with other sad, depressive, obsessive insomniacs. The view from my 24th floor hotel window of the World Trade Center is impressive, but hardly moves at the pace I needed to keep me interested.

The other issue with time zones is you are never really sure what is going on in the old of football and when. The Champions League simply passed me by this week, whilst important scores in the Ryman Premier failed to make it onto my radar. As if I needed to really check anyway. I mean Cray Wanderers were hardly likely to go to play-off chasing Bury Town and win, were they? And Thurrock’s chances of anything at title-chasing Lowestoft Town were as slim as Kate Moss. So landing at Heathrow n the early hours was. Rude awakening as I checked the scores on my phone. Mr Relegation was well and truly on the A27.

Alas the delay in my return trip (thanks UK Border control for not having enough people working at T5 to cope with the inbound flights!) meant that I wasn’t able to join the legions of the Lewes Lunatic Fringe on the Road To Wembley where Hendon, themselves a perennial relegation candidate, were already tucked up safe and sound for the season. Perhaps they will have already packed their bags for their summer trip to Clacton, meaning the Rooks would return from Middlesex with three points. We can but hope.

For me, my fun was going to be found a bit closer to home. I was dropping down into the Kent Premier League. Potentially, Lewes could be playing against one of the teams currently fighting it out at the top of the league. Current leaders Erith & Belvedere were all set for the next step up, ground sharing with Welling United. Second-placed VCD have been in the Ryman League a few years ago, holding their own too before a ludicrous ground grading decision saw them forcibly relegated (ridiculous considering a recent decision given in favour of another certain Ryman League team anyway). Tunbridge Wells, finalists in the FA Vase in 4 weeks time, carrying the hopes of a County with them, have a minimum of 3 games a week from now until the end of the season as a reward for being successful in the cup.

But my destinations were straight down Watling Way, the Roman Road that allowed those Roman cricket fans to travel down to Canterbury, or Durovernum Cantiacorum as it was known in those days. I was going to see a game on either side of the Medway, the aquatic barrier separating the Men of Kent from the Kentish Man.

8625602236_29d0cbf910_bDespite having Gillingham on the doorstep, Charlton Athletic running coaches on every matchday from the Medway towns and the new non league giants of Maidstone United just at the bottom of Bluebell Hill, Rochester United and Lordswood continue to slowly make progress on and off the pitch.  Rochester were the club formerly known as Bly Spartans, formed by a Geordie with a lisp. The club was only formed 30 years ago, and slowly made up the leagues until they were invited to take part in the inaugural Kent Invicta League in 2010.  Last season they were crowned champions of that league and moved into the top-level of the county game for the start of this season.

Lordswood’s development is a few years ahead of Rochester’s.  They joined the Kent League back in 1996.  For the last few seasons they have struggled at the lower end of the able, but the expansion of the league from 12 to 16 teams has given the club fresh motivation. This season they have done something they have never done before, reaching a senior cup final for the first time (where they will be playing Tunbridge Wells next Sunday) and reaching the 4th round of the FA Vase where they eventually lost to finalists Spennymoor Town.

Rochester United 0 Corinthian 3 – Rochester Sports Ground – Saturday 6th April 2013
8625582864_ffc7647016_bThe visitors Corinthian were never really troubled in this game, as the frustration of Rochester manager Glen Barlow was all to obvious.  “You are a f#cking d!ckhead” he shouted at one point during the first half towards the referee.  With no more than thirty people watching the game it is hard to excuse either the outburst, or the officials who didn’t hear it (I was on the other side of pitch and heard it).  He had little to complain about.  Corinthian bossed the first half of this game on a pitch that played as if we had had weeks of hot weather.  However, it was a set piece that led to the opening goal in the tenth minute when Alfie May tapped home from a corner, with the home side distracted by the centre-back’s huge afro.

The Rochester Sports Ground is really no more than a Sunday League pitch with a small stand on one side.  Floodlights have been installed enabling them to play at this level, but significant work needs to take place to bring them up to a standard where they could apply for promotion to the Ryman League.  This is a real issue for the Kent FA.  They want to comply with the FA’s request to have a 20 team County League (currently there are only 16 teams in the league) but there aren’t enough teams with facilities in the county who could compete.  In fact there are rumours that Crowborough and Rye, both in Sussex, may switch across to the Kent League.  In some way it is a mark of their success, with 8 teams playing in the Ryman League South (plus still Chatham Town in the North) but it is hard to see who else can make the step up.  So Rochester United’s facilities are less of a concern than they would be in other regions.

Two late goals sealed a comfortable win for Corinthian, and their impressive season continued.  But what was happening on the other side of the Medway?

Lordswood 1 Canterbury City 0 – Martyn Grove – Saturday 6th April 2013
I came across the existence of Lordswood a few years ago.  The club is in the constituency of football mad Tory MP Tracey Crouch and she had mentioned them to me when I interviewed her back in October 2011 so I started following them on Twitter.  Through one of those bizarre off-beat conversations one day I found out that the man behind their Twitter feed, Paul Caulfield, had once won a date with Joanne Guest.  He was my hero after that moment, and a soft spot had been developed for the club.  But this was my first visit to Martyn Grove, located in a leafy part on the edge of the Medway Towns.

8625604662_9dc557e8bc_bThe game was scoreless when I arrived, with neither team testing the respective keepers. It was certainly a homely little ground, with one smallish covered stand, although for the real ground-hoppers out there (remember I AM NOT A GROUNDHOPPER!) they will be disappointed to hear that you cannot walk around the far end of the ground, so no swapping ends at half time.

Lordswood looked the much stronger of the two sides, and it was no surprise when Rob Norman put them in the lead on the hour mark from close range when the away team defenders seemed to go walkabout.  Canterbury had a great shout for a penalty in the 70th minute, but the referee decided that the player went to ground too easily (I heard him tell the Canterbury Physio this as he was treating the offended player).

So another three points for Lordswood, and their best ever season simply gets better and better.  They can now look forward to the Kent Senior Trophy Final against Tunbridge Wells next Sunday.  Certainly in these parts, the future is bright, the future is Orange (and black).

Back to reality then and the continuing fight against Ryman Premier League relegations…sigh.

A night in Middle England

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on April 4, 2012

Royal Tunbridge Wells is very familiar to me.  Every two weeks I can take a long hard look at the fine architecture of the town as I get stuck in the through traffic on my way down to Lewes.  The town of just over 50,000 is one of only three that can call themselves a “Royal” place (along with Leamington Spa and Wootton Bassett) thanks in part to the nights out on the razzle Prince Albert and Queen Victoria used to have down here.

House prices around the town are some of the highest in the south east. The town sits almost on the crest of the High Weald, which all of you Geography A-Level students will know is the chalk inner core of what was once a domed plateau that extended into France. Today, pavement cafes and smart shops line the Pantiles, the famous historical part of the town centre and four by fours park badly in the car parks. The town has one of the highest Daily Mail readership rates and it was here that the acronym NIMBY was created.

A five minute walk from the town centre will find you at the Nevill Ground, one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in England, where Kent bring the county roadshow every year. But the team, whisper it quietly, also has a football team. Kent Premier League Tunbridge Wells have actually been around for 125 years, but play on the furthest reaches of the town in the Culverden Stadium. I am sure the town is proud of its football team but they have a funny way of showing it. (more…)

Running up that hill

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on January 3, 2012

With the Lewes v Horsham game all done by 2pm, and my agreed ETA back at TBIR Towers 5.30pm I had a few options as to where I could lay my hat for the afternoon.  My initial plan was the Kent derby between Landlords Sittingbourne and tenants Maidstone United at Bourne Park but bloody Sunday drivers on the A26 up through Tunbridge Wells meant I was never going to make that.  A quick look at the great non league fixture computer in the sky (i.e Google) threw up one real alternative – Sevenoaks Town v Greenwich Borough

I have become quite a fan of the Kent Premier League in the past few seasons, primarily because it is local.  In some instances, such as Cray Valley, Erith & Belvedere and Holmsdale I can even cycle to games.   However, a cycle down (and thus at some stage, back up) the North Downs wasn’t too appealing so I had the perfect opportunity to visit on this trip.

Sevenoaks Town have been knocking around for nearly one hundred and thirty years.  However, it wasn’t until 2003 that they joined the ranks of the Kent League.  Since then they have expanded their ground, located in the picturesque Greatness Park to the north of Sevenoaks to fulfil all the grounding requirements known to man.  Floodlights, smart new changing rooms, a couple of little stands and a decent tea bar.  All ticks in the boxes.

Sevenoaks is a nice place.  In fact last week it was voted 5th in “We have more million pound houses in a single road than you” competition.  Alas the original Seven Oaks, located around the Vines cricket ground were blown down (bar one) in the 1987 great storm although today they have planted some more – in fact eight more although there are no plans to rename the town as Nine Oaks.

It was here, the grounds of Knole Park, that the Beatles made the films Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane (today called “pop videos”), as well as being here where the brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll were born and spent their time close by watching the cars on a new fangled road called the M25 that inspired the name of their group, Orbital.

Sevenoaks Town 1 Greenwich Borough 0 – Greatness Park – Monday 2nd January 2012
I arrived with barely a minute of the game gone thanks to a learner driver who was being allowed to drive at 10mph along the Tonbridge bypass.  The car park was full, leading me to believe it was a big crowd.  Alas it wasn’t.  The car park also served the children’s playground, a skateboard park and numerous dog walkers.  The ground sits at the base of a steep hill, which offers uninterrupted views of the game from a TV-gantry height free of charge.  No wonder it was so popular with the dog walkers, who would all volunteer to take the canines out on a Saturday afternoon.

I made my way initially around the ground, getting a view from all vantage points.  For clubs with such a small supporter base it must be frustrating to have spectators who essentially have a free ride whenever they are at home.

The first half was a tight, scrappy affair.  These two had come into the game propping up the table.  Both had awful home records, mustering just three points between them from their seventeen home games this season.  So the money would have surely been on a draw and judging by the first period anyone’s bets (but not mine remember) would be safe.

After a flurry of first half yellow cards the second half was a much more sedate affair.  With the moon lighting up a cloudless sky and the temperature dropping quickly Sevenoaks looked more eager for the win and made a significant change in the 74th minute when George Savage was brought on.  His first impact on the game?  Running into the area and being brought down by the keeper.  His second?  Getting up and slotting the spot kick home.  Not a bad start for the youngster.

So three points for the home side lift them out of the relegation zone and I could make my way home happy with a couple of games under my belt on a Bank Holiday.  Beats B & Q anyday.