My Grounds

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Leatherhead - Fetcham Grove

Leatherhead FC
Fetcham Grove
Guildford Road
KT22 9AS

Ground: 106
Date: Saturday 8th February 2020
Leatherhead 3-1 Bishop's Stortford
Isthmian League Premier Division

Leatherhead - History

Leatherhead were founded in 1946 as a post-war merger between local clubs Leatherhead Rose and Leatherhead United, initially joining the Surrey Senior League. After winning the title in each of their first four seasons, the club moved up to the Metropolitan & District League for the 1950/51 season, before becoming founder members of the Delphian League the following season.

After seven unremarkable seasons in this league, the club joined the Corinthian League and became its last-ever champions in the 1962/63 season. With the league disbanding after this, the club joined the newly-formed Division 1 of the Athenian League and won the first Division 1 title to earn promotion to the Premier Division at the first attempt. 

After eight strong seasons in the Premier Division, the club joined the Isthmian League for the 1972/73 season, before being placed in Division 1 the following season after restructuring. In the 1977/78 season, Division 1 was renamed the Premier Division and the club remained there for a further five seasons, before finishing bottom in the 1982/83 season to drop down to Division 1. At the end of the decade, the club suffered a further relegation to Division 2 South (which became Division 2 for the 1990/91 season).

It took until the 1996/97 season - which saw the club finish as runners-up in Division 2 - for the club to return to Division 1 level. However, after a respectable 9th-place finish in their first season back, the club struggled and were soon relegated back to Division 2 after a third-from-bottom finish in the 2000/01 season. After one season back in Division 2, the league was re-organised and the club were placed in the new Division 1 South.

After a series of bottom-half finishes, the club finished 5th in the 2009/10 season and reached the play-offs, but lost out to Folkestone Invicta in the semi-finals. The following season, the club finished 4th and reached the play-offs again, beating Dulwich Hamlet in the final to earn promotion to the Premier Division. The club were relegated back to Division 1 South at the first attempt, but won the play-offs again in the 2013/14 season (beating Guernsey and Folkestone Invicta) to return to the Premier Division, where the club have remained ever since.

In the FA Cup, the club went on a famous run to the 4th Round in the 1974/75 season, beating Croydon, Hornchurch, Dagenham, Walton & Hersham, Bishop's Stortford, Colchester United and Brighton & Hove Albion before losing to Leicester City. The club reached the semi-finals of the FA Amateur Cup in both the 1970/71 and 1973/74 seasons, but lost to Skelmersdale United and Ilford respectively. As for the FA Trophy, the club reached the final in the 1977/78 season, beating Banbury United, Dartford, Wigan Athletic Bedford Town and Spennymoor United before losing 3-1 to Altrincham. As for the FA Vase, the club twice reached the 2nd Round, most recently in the 1994/95 season when they beat Redhill and Thame United before losing to Stamco.

My Visit

As with Farnham last week, this was a ground that had been on my radar ever since I started University late September 2017. Initially, I had been eager to visit in the 2017/18 season, as there were strong rumours at the time suggesting that the club were set to move ground (though, obviously, this never transpired). 

At the time, I tried unsuccessfully to get tickets to their 1st Round match against Billericay Town, after which I decided to save it for later in the season. However, by that point it had become clear that they wouldn't be moving ground, so I decided to put it off for the 2018/19 season. A few times last season and early this one, I would look at visiting the club, only to see that their pricing was above what I would consider good value for money for Step 3 football (£12 for adults is way too much at this level, in my opinion).

This meant that I was actually reluctant to visit at all, despite knowing that the ground was an excellent one with plenty of character. However, at some point before Christmas, their website was completely reorganised and it became clear that they also offered £8 admission for students. With that, I decided to definitely get a visit in before the end of the season.

In amidst a huge pile of coursework in January, I would take small breaks here and there and start planning my groundhops for when I returned to University at the end of the month. Within that process, I initially pencilled in a visit to Leatherhead on the 7th of March. However, these plans changed several times due to other potential plans (and later ones are still likely to, for now) and I eventually ended up pencilling in this fixture instead.

Part of the appeal of choosing this particular match was the fact that, at the time I made the decision, former Norwich City striker Jamie Cureton was playing for Stortford, and I was interested to see him play for the first time since my first of ten or eleven seasons as a Norwich season ticket holder (way back in the 2007/08 season). However, as per my usual luck, he ended up leaving the club in midweek. This was rather disappointing, but I decided to stick with the plan regardless.

From that point, it was simply a matter of keeping an eye on the weather and hoping that Storm Ciara would be merciful and wait to arrive until after Saturday's football. Fortunately, this proved to be the case and it was another dry and sunny Saturday. This allowed me to order my train tickets early in the morning without any need to worry about a postponement.

After lunch, I left the house at around 1:25pm and, after collecting my tickets and getting cash out, got on the 2pm train to Leatherhead. This arrived 25 minutes later and it should have been a ten-minute walk from the station to the ground. However, I lost a few minutes trying to get through the ticket barriers, as Leatherhead is one of those stations where perfectly valid tickets simply don't work for some inexplicable reason. 

After that, I lost a few more minutes here and there trying to cross some awkward and busy roads, as well as a further couple to Google Maps leading me the completely wrong way (I only figured this out by sheer chance, having noticed someone in a Leatherhead scarf heading in the opposite direction as I was about to go over a bridge). Eventually, I arrived at the ground at around 2:40pm, paying £8 for admission and £2 for the programme.

With less time than I would like before kick-off, I had to be reasonably quick with my circuit of photos, which wasn't easy at a characterful ground like this, not least because it isn't actually possible to do a full circuit: after getting all the way from one goal to the other, I had to go all the way back due to a gate blocking off the main stand. On the way to this point, one of the Leatherhead players had a quick chat with me, which caught me by surprise (the only other time I remember this happening was at Brockenhurst when the Hamworthy players spoke to me and asked me to take some photos). 

When I was finally finished, I took a seat in the main stand near the far goal with minutes to spare, scrambling to get my phone photos onto Twitter and Instagram before kick-off, as well as scrambling to get a photo on my camera of the players lining up for the usual pre-match ceremonies. I remained in this seat throughout the match, despite the somewhat distracting presence of a loud supporter who spent most of the match berating the Stortford players and the officials. 

Throughout the match, I struggled with the issue of my thermos flask constantly leaking out of the sealed lid, so it looks like I'll be needing my third one since December already (seriously, how hard is it to find a thermos that both keeps the drink warm long enough and also doesn't leak?).

With both teams having made numerous new signing during the week leading up to this match, it was hard to know what to expect in all honesty. When I was chatting with one of the players, he asked me who I thought would win and all I could really say was that I thought Leatherhead would because they were higher in the table. If I had known beforehand that Cureton had been Stortford's top-scorer before his departure, that would have undoubtedly enhanced that view.

Here's my report on a match that, despite being very stop-start throughout, was able to break my February curse and actually be an entertaining contest deservedly won by the home side:

Bishop's Stortford made the initial attacking pushes in this match, but there were no clear-cut chances early on as both teams struggled to establish a flow in a stop-start contest. Leatherhead were the first to establish a flow to their play, attacking with pace down the channels and causing the Stortford defence a lot of problems. This led to a good chance for Zach Robinson in the 19th minute, but he volleyed over from the cross.

The home side then had two chances in two minutes, one of which led to the opening goal: in the 22nd minute, Stefan Brown headed over from close range after a cross; then, after play resumed, Robinson had space to shoot from outside the box and neatly placed his effort into the top corner. Stortford had the next good chance in the 32nd minute when Craig Calver curled a shot goalwards from the edge of the box, forcing a fingertip save out of Leatherhead keeper Zaki Oualah. The rest of the half settled into a tense, stop-start impasse, so it remained 1-0 into half-time.

The second half got off to an exciting start as Leatherhead made it 2-0 in the 53rd minute, debutant Dan Rowe picking up the ball on the left wing, cutting inside and shooting low beyond Stortford keeper Fred Burbidge. Three minutes later, Stortford pulled one back against the run of play, Calver somehow breaking the offside trap and shooting into the post and in to score on his own debut.

Stortford tried to spur themselves on and push for an equaliser, but they struggled to match the work rate and intensity of Leatherhead's players, with the home side quickly regaining control. In the 68th minute, an aerial ball was played to Sam Blackman on the edge of the box and he controlled and volleyed narrowly wide, though there were strong calls for a Leatherhead corner as it looked like Burbidge got a hand on it. With fifteen minutes to go, the home side scored their third to secure the three points: Rowe volleyed a cross into the box and Brown got his head on it to score. 

Despite there being minimal flow to proceedings due to the constant intervention of the referee's whistle, this was an enjoyable match to watch. Leatherhead were deserved victors, attacking with pace and purpose and just looking much more fit and determined than a Stortford side who offered little in front of goal besides the occasional set-piece.

As with last week, there was a lot of stoppage time in the second half, but fortunately I had plenty of time to spare to catch my train. After the ten-minute walk back to the station, I still had over twenty minutes to spare, losing a few of those to the station's moronic ticket barriers. The journey back was relatively quiet and, after stopping at Sainsbury's to pick up a few bits and pieces, I was back in the house at around 6:15pm, getting all my photos sorted and my match report written up before relaxing with dinner and a movie to end the evening.

Next week's groundhop is going to be dependent on how far I can stretch my money in the next week or so. I'm hoping I'll have enough to be able to pay a visit to Chichester City, but if not I'll be ending up at Kintbury Rangers instead.

The Ground

As I've already mentioned a few times, Fetcham Grove is an excellent traditional ground with plenty of character throughout, and one that is clearly well-maintained too. There's cover on three sides of the ground, with the main stand being on the near side and consisting of a mixture of covered seating and covered terracing. I would guess that there's around 200 seats in all. The tea bar is also under cover on this side, between the seating and terracing.

Behind the near goal is a large area of terracing, around half of which is under cover. Behind the far goal is a more compact area of covered standing comprised mainly of scaffolding. This has a couple of steps of terracing on an otherwise flat side of the ground. Besides this, the rest of the ground is open hard standing, with grass banks behind the near goal and on the dugout side of the ground.

The ground apparently has an official capacity of 3,400.


Sunday, 2 February 2020

Farnham Town - Memorial Ground

Farnham Town FC
Memorial Ground
Mead Lane

Ground: 105
Date: Saturday 1st February 2020
Farnham Town 1-0 Eversley & California
Combined Counties League Division 1

Farnham Town - History

Farnham Town were founded in 1906 as a merger of local sides Farnham Bungs and Farnham Stars. They were initially members of the Surrey Intermediate League, winning the title in the 1929/30 and 1930/31 seasons. After World War 2, they joined the Surrey Senior League in 1947, leaving in 1962 but returning a year later. After their return, the club won successive titles in the 1965/66, 1966/67 and 1967/68 seasons before joining the Spartan League in 1971.

After finishing bottom of the league in the 1979/80 season, the club were transferred to the Combined Counties League. When the league split into two regional divisions for the 1981/82 season, the club were placed in the Western Division and finished 3rd. The club won back-to-back league titles in the 1990/91 and 1991/92 seasons, earning promotion to Division 3 of the Isthmian League. However, the club resigned before the season as they were unable to sufficiently upgrade the ground.

The 1993/94 season saw the club return to the Combined Counties League and their first two seasons back saw the club struggle near the bottom. Three top-half finishes followed, before the club found itself languishing in the bottom half for the next five years. In the 2002/03 season, the club were placed in the Premier Division when the league gained a Division 1.

After finishing bottom of the Premier Division in the 2005/06 season, the club were relegated to Division 1. They won Division 1 at the first attempt, but ground-grading issues denied the club promotion. They spent four more seasons at Division 1 level before finishing 2nd in the 2010/11 season to return to the Premier Division. 

They spent seven seasons in the Premier Division - recording a highest finish of 8th in the 2012/13 season - before finishing bottom in the 2017/18 season to return to Division 1. Last season saw the club finish 4th in Division 1 to narrowly miss out on an immediate return to the Premier Division. 

In the FA Cup, the club's best run saw them reach the 2nd Qualifying Round in the 1999/2000 season, beating Cobham and Selsey before losing to Herne Bay. As for the FA Vase, the club progressed as far as the 4th Round in the 1976/77 season, beating Reigate Priory, Fisher Athletic, Chichester City and Eastbourne Town before losing to Farnborough Town.

My Visit

Originally, upon returning to Guildford on Monday for University, I was going to head to Maidenhead United on Tuesday night for their County Cup match against Marlow. However, after a tiring and busy Monday, I ended up deciding against this, partially out of fatigue but also because I probably could not actually afford it. This proved to be a wise decision, as I noticed that the match ended up going to extra-time and penalties; I doubt I would have been able to get a train back to Guildford after that if I had gone.

This meant that, after a slow start to my footballing year, my next match would not be until yesterday. I had taken a cursory look on the Futbology App and online over Christmas to begin gauging my options, but I had this match slated in as first choice for a while. However, with it raining heavily on the day after my arrival in Guildford, I decided to prepare a list of back-ups to be safe.

Fortunately, as the week progressed towards the weekend, it became both drier and milder, so it didn't seem like my back-ups would end up proving necessary. And, with yesterday being mild and sunny, this proved to be the case. This allowed me to order my train tickets early and to get ready at a leisurely pace. With Farnham being one of my closest options from Guildford, I was able to have lunch at a normal time and did not need to head towards the train station until well after 1pm.

However, I ended up leaving slightly later than I had originally intended to, so this meant that I arrived at the station with just over five minutes to spare, having stopped to withdraw some cash on the way. This meant I was slightly rushed in collecting my tickets and getting onto the train, but other than that the journey towards Farnham was uneventful, being a simple twenty minutes on the train.

From the station, it was a fifteen-minute walk to the ground, which made me note that getting the 5:05pm train back to Guildford would be difficult if there was any notable amount of added time in the match. Either way, I arrived at the ground at 2:30pm, paying a steep £7 for admission (steep for Step 5 football, let alone Step 6 football) and an additional £1 for the last programme.

After taking a moment to put on my hat and scarf (as it had already started to get colder at this point), I did as much of my usual circuit of photos as the ground's layout allowed, before positioning myself by the turnstiles in the hope that the team sheet would be filled out before kick-off. Fortunately, it was, and after I got a photo of it I moved across to the other side as the match kicked off due to the low sun shining directly into my eyes on the near side. For the second half, I sat in the main stand overlooking the pitch.

The form guide and table suggested that only one outcome was likely here, with it seemingly just being a matter of how many Farnham could score. However, in the back of my mind I was aware of the fact that February has been a month of poor games in both my years of University so far, so I was wary of this match following that trend.

Here's my report on a poor match which saw Farnham labour to victory against a hard-working but limited Eversley & California side:

Eversley & California almost took the lead within the first minute of the match after earning a free kick on the edge of the box, but the chance was wasted. After this, the opening exchanges were fairly even as Farnham probed to find a way through a compact Eversley & California defence, while the away side sought to contain their opponents and score on the counter.

This meant the match remained at an impasse for a while, but as the match progressed Farnham started to take control, comfortably sweeping up the away side's attempts to attack while constantly pushing forwards. However, their first half-decent chance didn't come until the 28th minute, when Matt Glass shot wide on the half-volley after a ball over the top. Seven minutes later, the home side made their pressure count and took the lead, Glass beating the offside trap and then passing across goal for Charlie Oakley to tap in.

Farnham remained in control as the second half began, but they continued to struggle in front of goal: they were able to transition from the defensive third to the attacking third with ease, but every time they reached the final third their decision-making let them down, allowing Eversley & California to get back and defend. In the 57th minute, Oakley should have scored his second with a free header at the far post, but he somehow put it well over the bar.

In the 68th minute, Eversley & California were reduced to ten men after Dale Small - who had defended valiantly up to this point - fouled a Farnham attacker on the edge of the box and was judged to be the last man by the linesman. After a delay to get the player to leave the side of the pitch, the free kick was taken by Ross Drury; he shot low beneath the wall, but it was an easy save for Eversley & California keeper Liam Vaughan.

Farnham having the man advantage did little to change proceedings, as they continued to be profligate in front of goal. They did start pushing more and more men up the pitch in search of a second, match-winning goal, but this left space for Eversley & California to attack on the counter. Despite this, the best chance still came the home side's way in the 82nd minute with a free header from a cross, forcing Vaughan into an excellent close range save.

So, it is already looking like February this year will follow the pattern of the previous two years, as this was not an enjoyable match to watch at all. Farnham had plenty of chances to increase their margin of victory, but they rarely looked like they would score. As for Eversley & California, they worked hard to try and get something out of the match, but I don't think the Farnham keeper had a save to make.

Because of the stoppage time in the second half, I ended up just missing the 5:05pm train back to Guildford, meaning I had a 30 minute wait for the next one. To pass the time, I crossed the road and went to a fish and chips shop close to the station, ordering some whitebait and a sausage and eating them on the platform while I waited for the train. The journey back to Guildford took twenty minutes again and, after stopping at Sainsbury's on the way back to the house, I got in at around 6:25pm.

Up next is hopefully going to be a long-overdue visit to Leatherhead next Saturday, as they take on Bishop's Stortford. It's a ground I've been looking forward to visiting for a while, and that match is the perfect opportunity for it with former Norwich striker Jamie Cureton likely to be playing for Bishop's Stortford.

The Ground

The Memorial Ground is a quirky, characterful ground which is looking a little worse for wear in some places. There is cover on two sides of the ground, with the main stand positioned on the hill behind the near goal. This stand contains around 50 seats (some of which are damaged) and provides an excellent view from above the pitch.

The rest of the ground is flat, with an additional area of standing cover on the far side. Some benches inside this small stand offer seating, but it is mostly used for standing. Directly across from this, a new stand seems to be being built, with the sides and back in place.

That aside, the rest of the ground is open hard standing, though the area behind the far goal is out of bounds to spectators. The clubhouse is located within the car park just outside the ground. The ground has an official capacity of 1,500.