Cork City 0 St Patrick's Athletic 0

Sunday 27th July 2008
Cork City 0 St Patrick's Athletic 0
FAI eircom League of Ireland Premier Division
At: Turners Cross
Kick-off: 7-00 pm
Attendance: 4000 (estimate)
Weather: Warm and sunny
Duration: first half: 46:05; second half: 47:00

Friday 25th July 2008

Waterford United 4 Longford Town 0
FAI eircom League of Ireland Division 1
At: the RSC
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Attendance: 320
Weather: warm, dry and sunny
Duration: first half: 47:26; second half: 47:14

Waterford United tried to put behind them a difficult few weeks as they recorded an impressive victory over Longford Town to maintain their unbeaten home record and move into second position.

The original plan was to watch games at both Cork City and Cobh Ramblers during our long weekend in the south of Ireland. However, with the Cork game put back two days for TV purposes, we quickly changed our plans (prior to departure I may add) and from Cork headed for Waterford.

The club was founded in 1930 as Waterford FC and enjoyed a purple patch in the late 1960s and early 1970s by winning the League of Ireland title six times in eight seasons when based at their former Kilcohan Park home. Former England and Manchester United forward Bobby Charlton played for the club during the mid-1970s at the end of his playing career. The club adopted the present title of 'Waterford United' in 1982.

Since 1993, United have played their home games at the RSC (or Regional Sports Centre) which is located on the N25 Cork-Waterford road about three miles from the city centre. The ground, with an athletics track surrounding the pitch, boasts two substantial seated stands; the main stand on the Cork Road side seats around 1300 while the recently-completed and larger Kilbarry Stand on the far side seats around 1800. There are four floodlight pylons on each side, grouped together in pairs next to the ends of the stands.

After tea at close-by Eddie Rocket's and I walked towards town with the family who were keen to further investigate the history of Waterford with its old walls and towers. As is my habit, I arrived at the ground early – so early this time that the turnstiles hadn’t opened! Admission was 15 euro and through the gate was a table selling programmes (3 euro, 28 pages) and raffle tickets. The sellers were certainly chatty and interested in my trip. I bought a strip of raffle tickets for the prize of a luxury hamper – how on earth would I get it home if my ticket was drawn? I didn't win.

The man on the turnstile told me that "you can sit in either stand, but not standing." There was plenty of time to circumnavigate the RSC. The turnstile man suggested the stand on the far side would give the best view but I opted for a seat in the main Cork Road Stand, seat ‘L36’ to be precise. I copied down the team line-ups in the Press Box but in any case they were read out over the tannoy.

Reading the programme, I established that, like a lot of clubs, Waterford were suffering financially. In fact, after discussions with between the club, Manager and players, the immediate future of the club had been secured.

With leaders Dundalk defeating Monaghan United yesterday (24th July), it was important that third-placed Waterford gained maximum points from this game with Longford. Second-placed Shelbourne, level on points with Waterford with a marginally better goal difference, were also in action at Kildare County. Longford occupied sixth position in the ten-team Division One.

Waterford got the game under away attacking from left to right as I looked down from my seat in the stand. And it didn’t take them long to take the lead. In the 9th minute, skipper David Breen headed home with a looping header. The lead was almost doubled eight minutes later when Luke Fitzpatrick had a goal disallowed for offside.

A nasty injury to keeper Packie Holden forced an early change in the 26th minute but home fans were celebrating again a few minutes before the interval. Karl Bermingham stayed onside to latch onto Fitzpatrick's throughball and slot past the helpless Longford keeper.

At the break Waterford were certainly in the driving seat. There was a loud cheer when the half-time scores were read out – second-placed Shelbourne were losing 1-0 at bottom-of-the-table Kildare City.

Michael Foley exchanged passes with Bermingham and slotted home at close range just after the hour mark to put the outcome as good as beyond doubt. A spectacular strike from David Grincell wrapped up the win. The substitute gave Neil Gallagher no chance from fully 35 yards out with a well-struck shot that flew into the top-right corner of the net.

News came in that Shelbourne had come from behind to win 2-1 at Kildare but Waterford leapt over the Dublin club into second position on goals scored. It should be an interesting end to the season as both Dundalk and Shelbourne have to visit the RSC during the final few weeks of the season.

Saturday 19th July 2008 (3-00 pm)

Prestwich Heys 3 Hindsford 2
Goldline Trophy Group 1 at Sandgate Road
Attendance: 70 (headcount)

Weather: sunny

For many years, I’ve noticed fixtures for the Goldline Trophy without really knowing much about it. I had an idea it was a competitive competition with the final at Bolton’s Reebock Stadium. In fact it began in 1988 and something the clubs that enter really want to win. Prestwich won the 2006/07 competition with Euxton Villa being successful last season.

Sixteen clubs have entered the 2008/09 competition which begins in pre-season with round-robin group games- four teams per group with the top two in each group going forward to the quarter finals. The group games are competitive affairs with five substitutes available. Unlike a friendly, once a player is taken off in a Goldline game he can’t return at a later point in the game.

Two fixtures were scheduled for Saturday 19th July but the one at Bolton County was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. Fortunately, the one at Prestwich went ahead as planned.

Founded in 1938, Prestwich Heys have a proud history which includes a run to the FA Amateur Cup quarter finals in 1970. They were founder members of the North-West Counties League but dropped down to the Manchester League in 1986. They won the Premier League title for three consecutive seasons, 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07. Originally based at Grimshaws on Heys Road, they moved to the present Sandgate Road home during the early 1990s.

Travelling by car, I approached the ground from M60 Junction 17. From the roundabout, follow A56 northbound then turning right at the second set of lights, by McDonalds and Aldi, onto the A665 signed Crumpstall. At the next set of light by the Mercedes Benz garage, turn left into Thatch Leach Lane. Go under the railway bridge and continue to the Frigate public house. Turn right into Sandgate Road at the mini roundabout, cross the motorway and the round entrance is on the left. I guess the nearest railway/tram station is Besses O’ The’ Barn.

There is a spacious car park with the pitch behind the concrete-panelled fence. The pitch is fully enclosed by the aforementioned fence with hard-standing all the way round. All the facilities are on the touchline nearest the entrance, namely changing rooms and a neat clubhouse. At present there is no cover or lights.

An excellent 20-page programme with full-colour cover was included in the £2 admission charge and it is certainly a credit to Heys, as it the website.

Both Prestwich Heys and Hindsford are members of the Manchester League Premier Division. Last season Prestwich finished a ‘difficult’ season in 7th position after manager Adie Moran tragically died in summer 2007. This season the squad has been completely rebuilt after a lot of first-team regulars had opted for ‘pastures new’, as manager Liam Morrissey acknowledged in his programme notes. Hindsford began the new season with a new management team in control at Squires Lane. Former player Simon Hampson is the manager with Assistants Neil Critchley and Alan Brown.

Prestwich (red and white striped shirts with red sleeves, black shorts, red and white hooped socks) got the game underway defending the car park end of the ground and they broke the deadlock in the 9th minute. A mix-up between the Hindsford keeper and defender allowed Mat Jolly to nip in and slot home from a narrow angle into an unguarded net. An opportunist goal by Jonny Morris levelled things up in the 19th minute. By the midpoint of the first half, the weather started to brighten. So much so that I felt a little overdressed in fleece and cagoule – but it soon turned dull again with the wind still as blustery. The visitors took the lead a couple of minutes before the interval. Andy Grainger latched onto a ball over the top and lobbed the advancing keeper.

Hindsford wore an all navy blue kit but numbers, ‘HAFC’ logo and sponsors details really stood out in vivid pink. Checking the sponsor’s website on my return home, it was as I thought - pink ties in very nicely with the sponsor – a cherry liqueur.

The match was all-square in the 54th minute. Anthony Cutler slipped a pass to Sam Smith inside the area who got past the keeper and slotted home. The goal that proved to be the winner came three minutes later. James Barker was impeded inside the area and Jolly put away the resulting penalty. As the second half progressed, rain looked on the cards but thankfully held off apart from some light drizzle at the end. The game looked like being a rare ‘cornerless’ affair, until the one and only corner was conceded in the third minute of stoppage time at the end!

Saturday 12th July 2008 (3-00 pm)

Hednesford Town 0 Walsall 3
Pre-season friendly at Keys Park
Attendance: 613
Weather: warm and sunny

After changing their whole team after a goalless first half, Walsall's youngsters scored three times after the interval without reply in the Hednesford sunshine.

I always enjoy visiting Keys Park. It’s a modern comfortable stadium, good view from the stand, plenty of car parking and easily accessible. So with the added interest of former Stafford midfielder Ross Draper making his debut for the Pitman and a former Stafford striker as new manager, the logical choice for getting 2008/09 underway was, indeed, Hednesford Town v Walsall.

There were no real worries about whether the game would be on or not, but for good measure I checked Hednesford’s website and found the news I was looking for. It said: "Having left the club at around 6.15pm tonight I can confirm that the pitch looks in superb condition," wrote the Chief Executive. "It has been cut again today and should be in great condition tomorrow."

"Our new look A5 programme will be on sale tomorrow. In full colour it has a glossy laminated cover, 40 pages in total, and will be on sale at £ 2.00.

Keys Park is located a few hundred yards from the old Cross Keys ground which Hednesford left in 1995. Take the A4154 from Hednesford to Heath Hayes, pass the Cross Keys pub on the right and turn left at the next roundabout following the brown football sign. At the next roundabout turn right along the drive into the car park. The programme was on sale outside the ground and I had plenty of time to read what was a superb well-presented publication. Fans were promised a glossy laminated cover and the programme certainly lived up to its billing on the website. This was Hednesford's first pre-season friendly and in fact the first game in charge for new manager Dean Edwards, who had brought in plenty of new players.

It opted for a seat in the main stand which is next to the car park on the western side of the ground. The pitch is orientated south-east to north-west and looking out on the pitch from the stand, there are more covered seats behind the left-hand goal (Hednesford End). All along the opposite touchline (Wimblebury Side) and behind the right-hand goal (Heath Hayes End) are large covered terraces. The well-stocked Club Shop is located to the left of the main stand.

Teams were announced over the tannoy at least twice. Walsall got the game under way attacking the Hednesford End in the first half. The first chance of my season came in the 8th minute when Jabo Iberhe burst through down the inside right channel and fired across the face of goal. Less Hines delivered the first corner a minute later and Sophien Zaaboub became the first player of my season to fire the ball out of the ground. Neither keeper had a serious save to make during the opening 45 minutes.

Walsall changed their whole team at the interval in a pre-announced move while Hednesford made just one substitution. The opening goal came in the 53rd minute courtesy of my first penalty of the season. Alex Nicholls got up after being brought down by Danny Harvey and sent the resulting spot kick past Stuart Brock. Hednesford looked for an equaliser but the visitors struck again in the 70th minute. Ishmel Demontagnac curled a left-foot shot into the top-left corner from 15 yards out. Demontagnac scored his second goal seven minutes later after exchanging passes with Nicholls.

What? Waterlogged pitch?

Wednesday 9th July 2008
Willenhall Town v Halesowen Town Postponed
Pre-season friendly at Noose Lane

The saying goes that the start of the English cricket season is normally greeted by wet and windy weather. So logically, the football season should begin in baking hot and sunny conditions. Well that is the theory any way.

Six weeks had elapsed since I was that seven-goal thriller at Girvan. In between, Euro 2008 had come and gone, and I had been climbing the walls waiting for the next instalment in my new life as a ‘born-again groundhopper’.

Having checked the fixture on the Willenhall and Halesowen websites, I set off to Noose Lane, admittedly in miserable weather, and duly arrived about half-an-hour before the 7-45 pm kick-off. I’d arranged to meet a long-standing football friend and, no sooner had I parked up, ‘Walsall Neil’ (or should it now be ‘Addis Neil’) arrived.

“Is it on?” he enquired. Like me he thought things we a little quiet. There was at least another football traveller parked up in the car park. Into the clubhouse we went, only to find out the match had succumbed to a waterlogged pitch. It was no surprise as an awful lot of rain had fallen in the hours leading up to the game.

Anyway the evening wasn’t lost as we had plenty of time back in Bloxwich to chat and catch up with news, without the distraction of having to note down goals, substitutions and team line-ups!

After getting back home, the respective club websites announced: “Due to the persistent rain today, the pre-season friendly against Halesowen Town has been cancelled.” and… “With the game against Willenhall Town postponed due to the inclement weather, Halesowen’s pre-season programme for 2008-2009 will begin when they make the very short journey to Beeches View Avenue to take on Cradley Town of the Midland Football Alliance, kick off 3pm on Saturday (12th July 2008).”

I suppose it will be the competitive action that will start in baking hot weather!