My Grounds

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Kidlington - Yarnton Road

Kidlington FC
Yarnton Road

Ground: 62
Date: 17th November 2018
Kidlington 6-1 Yaxley
Southern League Division 1 Central

Kidlington FC - History

Kidlington were founded in 1909, initially playing in village leagues before joining the Oxford City Junior League after World War 2. In 1951, the club moved up to the Oxfordshire Senior League and finished as champions in the 1952/53 season, before moving up to the Hellenic League in 1954 and being placed in its Premier Division when a second division was added in 1956. In the 1961/62 season, the club finished second-from-bottom and were relegated to Division 1, remaining at this level for two seasons before earning promotion back to the Premier Division.

Relegation back to Division 1 occurred again after just two seasons and, after league reorganisation in the 1971/72 season, the club were placed in Division 1B, before Division 1 reverted back to the one division for the following season. It then took until the 1978/79 season for the club to earn promotion back to the Premier Division, a runners-up finish once again sufficient. However, the club only lasted three seasons in the Premier Division before being relegated back to Division 1 again.

The club then spent the next two decades in Division 1, moving into Division 1 West when Division 1 was further regionalised in the 2000/01 season. Eventually, the club finished 3rd in Division 1 West in the 2004/05 season, and this was enough to earn promotion back to the Premier Division for the first time in 23 years. The club then spent the next decade in the Premier Division before winning the title in the 2015/16 season to earn promotion to Step 4 for the first time. The club were then placed in Division 1 Central of the Southern League and finished 12th, before being transferred to Division 1 West the following season and again finishing 12th. At the start of this season, the club were transferred back to Division 1 Central again.

In the FA Cup, the club have twice progressed as far as the 2nd Qualifying Round: in the 2015/16 season, they beat Ascot United, Chertsey Town and Godalming Town before losing to Gloucester City; in the 2017/18 season, the club beat Wantage Town and St. Margaretsbury before losing to Paulton Rovers. In the FA Trophy, the club won for the first (and currently only) time in the competition in the 2017/18 season to reach the 1st Qualifying Round, beating Winchester City before losing to Slough Town. As for the FA Vase, the club made it all the way to the Quarter Finals in the 2015/16 season, beating Ashford Town (Middlesex), Deal Town, Thame United, Knaphill and Cleethorpes Town before losing in a replay to Bowers & Pitsea.

My Visit

With this being one of the grounds that I could feasibly access from University for a Yaxley away game, my visit was inevitable and set in stone as soon as the fixture list was released and, to make matters even better, it fell at a time when continuing strikes on South Western Railway meant that my easiest option was to head out west towards Reading and Oxford. It was then just a matter of if Matt would be able to join me or not; when we had talked about it when we were last at a game together, he expected he would be free, but perhaps inevitably he ended up bogged down by coursework by the time it came around, so I would be on my own again.

With the ground being pretty far away from the nearest station (35 minutes away from Oxford Parkway station, according to Google Maps at least), I was keeping an eye on the weather to decide whether I'd take the bus or just walk to the ground on the day, as I knew the bus stopped right outside the ground. Ultimately, when yesterday came around it was bright and sunny, so I had no qualms walking to the ground once I eventually reached Oxford Parkway.

I left the house at 11:35am, my train leaving Guildford half an hour later (incidentally, roughly around the same time the Supporters' Coach would have been beginning its journey down from Yaxley), arriving in Oxford Parkway at around 1:50pm after a couple of changes. From there, it was a straightforward 25-minute walk to the ground (so my concerns about possibly needing to use the bus ultimately proved unnecessary).

Upon arrival, I paid £4 for admission and £1.50 for a decent programme before doing my usual circuit of photos ahead of kick-off. Once I was done, some other Yaxley fans had arrived and I waited for kick-off with them behind the near goal, moving towards whichever side was Yaxley's right-wing when we were attacking (in the expectation of seeing Matt Sparrow perform his usual magic).

The table left no room for doubt that this was already a relegation six-pointer, but with how poor Kidlington had been in the league up until this point, I was expecting that we would be able to win, although I was perhaps slightly overconfident about our chances.

Even this morning, I'm still too annoyed with how bad we were to give an actual match report, so here's a brief summary of the goals from what I was able to see of them:

18 mins: Anaclet Odhiambo scored from a free header to give Kidlington the lead
31 mins: Odhiambo scored again, a through ball splitting our high defensive line and leaving him one-on-one with Ollie Sutton, who he just had to round to score
33 mins: Mark Janes scored for Kidlington, our defence completely disappearing and giving him an easy finish
39 mins: Dan Cotton pulled one back for us direct from a free-kick from the edge of the box
66 mins: Odhiambo completed his hat-trick after our defence let the ball bounce from a corner, and he simply had to head in from close range
73 mins: Elliott Osborne-Ricketts was able to get a shot away and score because our defence once again disappeared entirely
89 mins: Joey Cowlishaw scored from close range as our defence didn't even attempt to do anything to stop it

So, on the whole, an absolutely disastrous day from a Yaxley perspective, in what was undoubtedly the worst performance I've ever seen from us. There can be no excuses for this nightmare of a game, as the collective lack of responsibility or fight was alarming and unacceptable, even more so after such a commendable performance against Bromsgrove a couple of weeks ago. I want to remain confident about our survival chances, I really do, but such a bad performance (and already the fifth time in all competitions this season that we've conceded six or more goals) it's very hard to see any cause for optimism at all. 

In fact, I was thinking of going to our away game at Berkhamsted in a few weeks, but after that I'm not interested in wasting close to £30 when it's very likely that a performance like that will be my reward (especially in the build-up to Christmas, which would likely mean I'd not be able to afford it even if I actually wanted to go still).

That being said, credit where credit's due: Kidlington played at a high intensity with a strong desire and it paid off massively, especially as they never let off even when it was long-since clear that the game was won. They'll almost certainly be able to stay up based on that, but I just hope we aren't the ones to take their place in the bottom two.

As for what's next, I'm not entirely sure. There are still strikes on SWR next Saturday, so I will still be limited in where I can go. Henley Town vs Twyford & Ruscombe in the Thames Valley Premier League Division 3 is appealing as a cheap way to tick off a former Hellenic League ground, but it depends on if I can be bothered to drop down to the 14th tier or not, which will likely depend upon which routes are effected by the strikes (which will in turn influence where locally I can actually go).

The Ground

Yarnton Road is likely one of the more basic Step 4 grounds, with a standard 100-seater Arena stand providing the only seating at the ground. There is also a covered Arena terrace behind the near goal, and next to the main stand is an additional area of covered standing. Other than this, the rest of the ground is open hard standing, with the only other feature of note being that there is a fence on both sides of the hard standing behind the far goal (one between it and the pitch, and the other between it and the training area behind).

In other words, it's pretty much the bare minimum required for this level of football, but there is nothing wrong with that really: it's more than enough for the crowds Kidlington get, after all. The ground has an overall capacity of 1,500, with a record attendance of 2,000 for a friendly against a Showbiz XI back in 1973 (presumably before more modern safety requirements lowered the capacity).


Sunday, 4 November 2018

Bromsgrove Sporting - Victoria Ground

Bromsgrove Sporting FC
Victoria Ground
Birmingham Road
B61 0DR

Ground: 61
Date: 3rd November 2018
Bromsgrove Sporting 2-1 Yaxley
Southern League Division 1 Central

Bromsgrove Sporting FC - History

Bromsgrove Sporting were founded in 2009, initially as a supporters' consortium which intended to buy Bromsgrove Rovers to save them from administration. However, when a new owner was found for Rovers soon after, the consortium decided to create a new club instead. In June 2010, the club gained the lease to the ground and were initially going to allow Rovers to play their home games there too. However, Rovers were expelled from the Southern League and folded, giving Sporting the sole use of the ground.

For the club's first season (the 2010/11 season), they entered Division 2 of the Midland Combination League, finishing 3rd to earn promotion to Division 1. A 3rd-place finish in Division 1 the following season was once again enough to earn promotion, this time to the Premier Division. The club finished 6th in their first season at this level, before finishing as runners-up the following season.

In the 2014/15 season, the Midland Combination League merged with the Midland Alliance to form the Midland Football League, with the club placed in Division 1. The club finished as runners-up for two seasons running before winning the title in the 2016/17 season to earn promotion to the Premier Division. The club then went on to win the Premier Division title last season to earn promotion to Division 1 Central of the Southern League.

In the FA Cup, the club have reached the Preliminary Round in each of their five campaigns, but never progressed beyond it; this season, they suffered a 4-3 loss away at Alvechurch. The club competed in the FA Trophy for the first time this season, but they lost 3-1 at home against Corby Town in the Extra Preliminary Round. As for the FA Vase, the club's best run came in the 2016/17 season when they reached the Semi-Finals, beating Ellistown & Ibstock United, Tipton Town, Cadbury Athletic, Lichfield City, Nuneaton Griff, Sun Sports, Bristol Manor Farm and Buckland Athletic before losing to Cleethorpes Town over two legs.

My Visit

As soon as it became clear that Yaxley would be in the same league as Bromsgrove Sporting this season, I was desperately hoping that the fixture list would make it possible for me to visit the ground, as it had been on my radar for quite some time. As such, I was quite disappointed to see this game in early November, but I then remembered that I get a week off from University at the start of November and, fortunately enough, this worked out perfectly for getting to this game.

The only obstacle between then and now was the recent issues surrounding our (Yaxley's) FA Trophy game against Kidsgrove Athletic, which was postponed because of an FA investigation that seemed to drag on and on, to the point that I assumed that the conclusion would see our tie for that round replacing this game instead. However, it became apparent earlier in the week that this would not be the case, even though it didn't become clear what outcome the FA investigation had reached until Friday night (Kidsgrove kicked out for fielding an ineligible player two rounds running, with Wisbech reinstated and Yaxley heading there on Tuesday night to decide who hosts Ramsbottom United next Saturday).

I left the house yesterday morning at around 10:20am, arriving at our ground half an hour later and waited for the arrival of the Supporters' Coach. Eventually, this arrived just after 11am and, upon doing so, the players, supporters and club officials got on the coach as it headed out. Considering that it was on the other side of Birmingham, the journey to Bromsgrove was actually surprisingly easy, as we avoided the main roads near and into Birmingham and as such didn't get caught up in traffic.

Once we got into Bromsgrove at 1pm, we got a little lost as the coach tried to find the ground, eventually doing so after ten minutes and then getting off to allow the coach driver to be directed to somewhere to park. After paying £6 admission and £2 for a programme, I was in the ground with just under 2 hours to go until kick-off. While this wasn't particularly ideal (mainly due to how cold and windy it was), it did have the positive of meaning I could get all of my photos of the ground well before the crowd started pouring in as I knew it eventually would (the official attendance ended up being 748).

Taking photos occupied me for about 20 or so minutes, after which I attempted to hold out until 2pm before getting some food. Ultimately, I failed due to the cold and bought myself a hot dog and some chips to warm me up. Both were pretty good by football food standards, and after this it was just a matter of waiting until the teams were announced and the game kicked off. When it eventually did, I initially moved to in front of the bar where a couple of other Yaxley fans were, but we soon moved to behind the goal due to how limited the views were from in front of the bar. Near half-time, we moved again to the far side, and for the second half we moved to the other side of the main stand, where we remained for the entirety of the second half.

The table left no room for doubt about just how difficult this fixture was going to be for us, but I was slightly optimistic due to Bromsgrove's recent drubbings against Corby and Bedford. Because of that, it seemed like as good a time as any for us to be playing them, and I saw no reason why we couldn't get a result out of the game.

Here's my report on a game that was engaging but, from a Yaxley perspective, was ultimately frustrating as a poor refereeing decision turned the game and virtually cost us the point we deserved:

We took the lead after 4 minutes, a through ball reaching Dan Cotton who chipped over Bromsgrove keeper Dan Crane to score. However, this lead only lasted 12 minutes, as Jason Cowley rode the tackle of Josh Pike, cut inside and took a curling shot from the edge of the box, which then appeared to take a slight deflection on its way in. Chances then came and went for both teams, but the only other notable incident of the half was Kyle Nolan being forced off with an injury, Sam Spencer returning from injury and slotting into defence, with Charley Sanders then moving forwards into the attack. This was fortunate in that it gave Spencer some much-needed game time, but was mostly unfortunate as Nolan had been playing excellently in the first half hour and had been integral to a lot of our good midfield play. 1-1 at half-time.

Ten minutes into the second half, the controversial penalty decision that turned the game was awarded: a scuffed clearance set Richard Gregory through on goal from Bromsgrove and Dan Cotton tussled with him to try and stop him, but Gregory went over and, after considerable deliberation with his assistant, the referee gave the penalty. Admittedly, I could not tell from where I was standing whether Gregory had gone over in the box or not, but what I do know for certain is that the tussling and pulling started well outside the box, so if a foul was given it should have been a free kick not a penalty (perhaps unsurprisingly though, the referee caved to the pressure of the home crowd). Regardless, Gregory converted from the spot to give the home side the lead. In the next ten minutes, Bromsgrove's Charlie Dowd received two yellows and was sent off for twice hacking down Matt Sparrow from behind: this gave us the impetus to lay siege to the Bromsgrove goal, but it simply didn't fall for us and we couldn't score. The closest we came was a Charley Sanders header that rattled off the post and an audacious volley from him that went just wide, but it ultimately wasn't to be.

This was another frustrating result for us, as we did not deserve to lose and definitely deserved at least a point, but ended up missing out because of a poor decision from the referee. In fact, this was one of the best performances I've seen us put in all season as we played at a pace and intensity we've not often managed before: this side has improved massively since the defeat to Bedford back in August, and results are going to improve because of that (we'll certainly have to beat Kidlington in a couple of weeks though, just to make sure they don't narrow the gap on us).

Going into this groundhop as an away fan, I have to confess that I did have some reservations, especially after what I saw when Bromsgrove visited Thatcham in the FA Vase last season (I felt a little nervous after celebrating our goal early on, at least). However, I am pleased to say that there were no issues whatsoever, and in fact the hospitality we received was impeccable and the atmosphere intense yet friendly throughout. So, while they may have a few fans who cause issues sometimes, that is absolutely not representative of their fans as a whole, and most definitely not representative of their club officials at all. Some delightfully friendly people involved at Bromsgrove, and I wish them all the best for the rest of the season (the reverse fixture notwithstanding, of course).

With Yaxley set to be at home next Saturday, my next groundhop is now two weeks away and, so long as the weather holds up, it will see me paying a visit to Kidlington for Yaxley's away game there (as that's one of the ones I can access via the train from University).

The Ground

The Victoria Ground is a remarkable one for Step 4, no doubt because of its past use at Step 1 during the high years of Bromsgrove Rovers. The imposing main stand provides seating for around 400 people, most of which is elevated high above the pitch. Other than this, there's an impressive covered terrace behind the far goal, which I imagine could hold around 1,000 people. There's then an uncovered terrace behind the near goal, which could hold a few hundred people, and there's a small area of cover on the near side as well. In terms of football furniture, this should be good enough or almost good enough for Step 2 I would assume, but apparently Bromsgrove are one of the clubs who currently fall foul of the changing room rules that the FA recently reiterated (so that could prove quite the hindrance until it's resolved).

The rest of the ground is open hard standing, and it has an overall capacity of 3,500 (this used to be 4,800, but this was apparently restricted in 2017 (presumably for health and safety reasons). The record attendance for a Sporting game at the ground was 3,349 for the first leg of the FA Vase semi-final against Cleethorpes Town in 2017. The ground is also currently being shared by Worcester City of the Midland League Premier Division.