Willenhall Town 0 Shifnal Town 0

Tuesday 29th January 2013
Willenhall Town 0 Shifnal Town 0
West Midlands (Regional) League Premier Division
At: Noose Lane
Kick-off: 7-45 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: £1 (20 pages)
Weather: mild, showers
Attendance: 40 (headcount)
Duration (45): first-Half: 44:50; second-half: 50:52

The after effects of the recent bad weather were still being felt this evening with a few local games being postponed due to waterlogging. One fixture which survived a couple of pitch inspections was this league game at Noose Lane where the only thing lacking in a feisty contest was a goal. Willenhall hit the bar and Shifnal had a shot cleared off the line during the first half while home goalkeeper Matty Rodgers produced a great save to prevent the visitors from scoring an injury-time winner.

All four of tonight’s league and cup games in the Midland Alliance were postponed, as were all of the Midland Combination league games. Just two games survived in the West Midlands (Regional) League, the Division One game between AFC Wombourne United and Warstone Wanderers (5-1) and this one at Noose Lane.

I didn’t know what a relief playing tonight was to Willenhall. Since defeating AFC Wulfrunians 2-1 at Noose Lane on Tuesday 13th November, they’d only played two away games in eleven weeks. Players were ‘going a bit stir crazy with frustration', according to the programme. Do you blame them?

The enforced break must have been frustrating because that win against AFC Wulfs came during a purple patch of good form which produced five straight league and cup victories – a far cry from the opening months of the season when Willenhall won just one of the their opening 14 league games (5-0 at Darlaston) and lost the rest. The current management team of Neil Perks and Josh Skidmore have certainly made an impact since their appointment back in September.

So, the league table prior to kick-off showed Willenhall in 20th position with 15 points from 20 games. One place above were visitors Shifnal Town on 19 points from 23 games.

Inside the programme (on sale at the turnstile), I particularly enjoyed reading the article Steve MacKenzie, the former Manchester City and West Brom midfielder who scored a spectacular goal for City in the 1981 FA Cup Final replay against Tottenham Hotspur. Steve played for Willenhall after his League career and the reason for me mentioning him is that he also had a spell at Stafford Rangers as well. More recently, I remember him as a regular at Marston Road covering games for the Press Association during Rangers' two-year spell in the Nationwide/Blue Square Conference Premier.

My first three visits to Noose Lane all came in 1987 when it was possible to drive into the ground and park behind the goal at the far end. Shepshed Charterhouse, Crawley Town and Mile Oak were the teams who faced the Locksmen back then. Noose Lane isn’t as old a ground as I thought, being opened as recently as 1975 by Wolves legend Stan Cullis. The main stand originated from Hall Green Greyhound track.

I was very indebted to Chris, Willenhall’s part-time Secretary, wearing a red replica top, who not only provided the lineups and also told us of a change to the Lockmen’s subs as well.

Willenhall (in all red) got the game underway defending the clubhouse end, right to left in relation to my seat in the main stand opposite the dugouts. They soon got forward into the Shifnal area where Sean Pugh hit the top of the bar.

The first decent scoring opportunity came in the 17th minute. Liam Morris, on the left, played a diagonal ball towards the far right post from which Jake Morgan sent a diving header just wide. Willenhall went close again a minute later against through Morgan who went close with a well-struck shot from Pugh’s throughball. Morgan, incidently, returned to Willenhall in October and last season played for Gornal Athletic.

My bad luck with football raffle’s is well known to regular readers and after Saturday’s near miss at Enfield came another one tonight. The winning number was 976… I had 961–965!

It was Willenhall creating all of the chances and the dangerous Morgan went close again on the half-hour. He battled on the edge of the area to get in a shot which the diving Shifnal goalkeeper Scott Hoof got down to hold.

Having survived, Shifnal almost took the lead before half-time against the run of play when a shot from Andy Davies was cleared off the line.

Walking around the pitch perimeter at half-time, I noticed a plaque attached to the back of the small covered terrace behind the dugouts. It read: THE GREEN STAND was financed and erected by the supporters club under the direction of J. Green, J. Birch August 1985.

Both sides created the odd chance at the start of the second half before Willenhall applied a decent spell of pressure around the hour mark. Aron Grey sent a fierce shot over the bar after Morris’s corner wasn’t cleared. They also appealed for a penalty when Luke Guy went down in the area under the challenge of Davies but referee Dragan Kuzmanovic waived play on.

Shifnal brought on Dan Martin and Tom Worthington who both looked lively and could have snatched a win for the visitors. Worthington, in the 74th minute, forced a diving save out of Matty Rodgers who turned round a well-struck shot from the left at the expense of a corner.

Rodgers, named as ‘Man of the Match’ on Willenhall’s website, produced a couple of further saves which earned his side a valuable point. He blocked a low shot from Worthington at the near left post with his legs then, in stoppage time, made a fantastic save. Martin’s 40-yard drive looked to be heading for the top-right corner until the Willenhall goalkeeper leapt to push the ball away for a corner.

Though Willenhall remain in 20th position in the table, they did extend their unbeaten home record to five league games with this goalless draw. From the league table I knew it was their first league draw of the season and it was in fact their first 0-0 in a league game since April 2010.

I look forward to more return trips to Noose Lane as Willenhall Town look to move up the table.

Willenhall Town (red/red/red): 1. Matty Rodgers, 2. Tom Rann, 3. Rob Perks, 4. Jordan Siviter, 5. Rory McFarland, 6. Ben Mantom, 7. Craig Oldfield (capt), 8. Aron Grey, 9. Jake Morgan, 10. Sean Pugh, 11. Liam Morris. Subs: 12. Ryan Pallett (for Pugh, 57), 14. Dan Jones (not used), 15. Sam Tye (not used), 16. Josh Skidmore (for Grey, 74), 17. Luke Guy (for Mantom, 57).

Shifnal Town (sky blue and white stripes / sky blue / navy blue): 1. Scott Hoof, 2. Ricky Dumbrell, 3. Jordan Jones, 4. Andy Davies, 5. Patrick Ellis, 6. Jamie Russell, 7. Jay Evans, 8. Sean Powell, 9. Tom Lowe, 10. Graham Couch, 11. Ben Mcauley (capt). Subs: 12. Matt Catley (for Mcauley, 77), 14. Dan Martin (for Evans, 60), 15. Tom Worthington (for Lowe, 74), 16. Richard Gardner (not used), 17. Chris Worrall (not used).

Referee: Dragan Kuzmanovic.

Goals: none

Willenhall: Jordan Siviter (YC, 54), Craig Oldfield (YC, 66), Josh Skidmore (YC, 90)
Shifnal: none

Enfield Town 0 Bognor Regis Town 1

Saturday 26th January 2013
Enfield Town 0 Bognor Regis Town 1
Ryman League Premier Division
At: Queen Elizabeth II Stadium
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £9 + £1 (main stand transfer); Programme: £2 (40 pages)
Weather: cold, dry, occasional sunshine
Attendance: 434
Duration: first-half: 47:56; second-half: 49:25

A first trip south to the capital for three months and one which only happened due to the staff and volunteers of Enfield Town who worked tirelessly to get the pitch playable for today’s game. Visitors Bognor Regis Town, however, won this Ryman League Premier Division clash with a single goal scored in the 35th minute by James Crane.

Twitter once again proved invaluable as I read yesterday about all of the efforts being put in by Enfield Town to clear tons of snow were cleared from the playing surface to prevent post-thaw waterlogging. The pitch passed a morning inspection and the club were rewarded with their biggest home league attendance of the season. However, there wasn’t the added bonus of a point or three which you could argue the hard work deserved.

In my area, as expected, the three FA Vase ties were postponed as were all of the scheduled fixtures in the Midland Alliance, Midland Combination and West Midlands League as well all but one in the Evo-Stik League Northern Premier (the game between Lancaster City and Prescot Cables surviving the weather). Stoke City’s lunchtime FA Cup Fourth Round tie with Manchester City was an option, as was the League One game between Shrewsbury Town and Bury (which finished 0-0) – the Britannia and Greenwood Meadows can wait for another time. I fancied hopping on a train instead, like I'd done that last two Saturdays.

Enfield ended up luring me to London as the positive news tweeted this morning by Enfield fan @JackLucas encouraged me to head south and on the way I picked up, again from Twitter (@ETFCOfficial), that it was: ‘Game on! We play Bognor Regis in a 3pm kick off. Massively well done to everyone who cleared the snow! See you there, bring a friend!’

Journeys from Staffordshire to Euston with London Midland got faster in the new timetable which came into force last month. My train still stopped at every station along the Trent Valley line apart from Polesworth and headed straight to the capital after Rugby, calling at Milton Keynes Central only, as the Northampton loop is now avoided.

On my football trips this year, I want to seek out something other than the match, such as an unusual tourist site, a walk around a previously unvisited location, a pub or just simply something out of the ordinary. Today, I took a short walk from Euston Station to the Bree Louise pub on the corner of Cobourg Street and Euston Street. Named as CAMRA’s North London Branch Pub of the Year in 2009/10, it boasts an impressive selection of real ales and ciders which regularly change. A half of Marlow’s Sticky Wicket sent me on the way. Sadly, this smashing little pub faces demolition when Euston Station is redeveloped to accommodate extra platforms for HS2. Hopefully the Bree Louise will continue to serve pints for many years to come!

The nearest station to the QEII Stadium on foot is Enfield Town (one mile, 15 minutes walk) – Victoria Line from Euston to Seven Sisters (journey time 10 minutes) then a Greater Anglia trains to Enfield Town (journey time 16 minutes). Turning right out of the station, I walked along Southbury Road, negotiating the traffic lights by Tesco and noticing the road-side stream, before turning left into Ladysmith Road. A path on the right between no. 215 and no. 217 leads to the stadium. Two trains per hour also serve nearby Southbury station from Seven Sisters, which like Enfield Town is within walking distance.

‘Southbury Road’. That name brought back memories of some epic games between Stafford Rangers and Enfield FC during the 1980s, including one game at Enfield when Rangers won 1-0 in 1986 to lift the Jim Thompson Shield. Of the top of my head, Enfield back then had Andy Pape in goal and David Howell in defence.

Enfield FC no longer exists and the Southbury Road ground has been redeveloped. Today’s home side Enfield Town, formed in 2001, are one of two ‘phoenix’ clubs to emerge during and after the old club’s problems. Last season, 2011/12, proved to be a monumental one for Town. They gained promotion from Ryman League Division One North to the Premier Division and also played their first game at the refurbished and improved QE II Stadium in November 2011.

Before going any further, I must mention the QE II Stadium which I think is just about the best conversion of an athletics stadium to non-league football use I think I’ve seen. Fans can stand inside the running track in two stands immediately behind the goal and along the pitch barrier. Over on the far side is another stand on the outside of the six-lane track containing around containing around 120 seats (each sponsored) – similar to the one at Brocton except that Town’s has blue rather than green seats. However, the stand-out feature has to be the impressive art-deco building which houses the changing rooms, upstairs Butler’s Bar and seats in the ‘main stand’.

Looking at the mounds of snow, I certainly felt very thankful to groundsman Jack Lucas and the volunteers who cleared the pitch. Well done everyone!

Programmes were on sale at the Club Shop, as were badges and 50/50 tickets. A teamsheet was displayed next to the shop hatch and some loose copies were also available. Lineups were announced over that PA just before-kick-off. Up in Butler’s Bar, I bought a golden goal ticket and generally found a really positive atmosphere around the whole stadium with a fair number of Bognor fans also in attendance.

Enfield (17th position in the table with 21 points from 22 games) haven’t found this easy this season though they did defeat FA Cup heroes Hastings Town 1-0 in their last home game. Visitors Bognor Regis Town (4th with 35 points from 22 games) also gained promotion to the Premier Division at the end of last season and are very much in contention for a return to Blue Square South from which they were relegated in 2009.

I paid an extra £1 to sit in the main stand and saw Enfield (in white and blue) get the action underway attacking from left to right, defending The David Wilkinson Stand end. Bognor enjoyed plenty of early possession of the yellow ball. A 25-yard drive from Ashley Robinson which flew past the left-hand post got the Bognor fans chanting “come on you Rocks”.

If the result of last Saturday’s 50/50 draw at Greenock Morton was agonising for being 30 tickets away from the winning number, today was even more agonising. “Winner of the 50/50, 12386, one two three eight six”. Sounds familiar, I thought. It was, as I had 12395 and 12396.

A couple of Enfield free-kicks delivered into the Bognor area by Jay Siva caused problems without leading to a clear cut shooting chance. "Good delivery," said a couple of Town fans sat in the stand. Then, Dan Beck missed a great chance to put Bognor in front, volleying wide when unchallenged at the far post from a deep right-wing cross.

It was no surprise when Bognor, in the thick promotion race, took the lead in the 35th minute. The Enfield defence failed to deal with a deep left-wing cross from Robinson which was played back low for Lewis Stockford to stab towards goal where James Crane sidefooted home from barely a yard out. Enfield appealed for offside but the goal stood after the referee consulted his assistant. No joy with my golden goal ticket which had '57' printed.

I’m sure that Enfield fans would agree that their team was second best during the first half. Could they bounce back after the interval? They certainly tried at the start of the second half by applying pressure which led to four corners in six minutes. These got the Enfield fans under the David Wilkinson Stand making some noise.

Bognor survived and continued to create chances with Noel Imber keeping out shot from Crane just before the hour mark.

Enfield were denied a goal in the 63rd minute by a fantastic flying one-handed save by Bognor’s Nick Jordan on his debut. The on-loan goalkeeper dived to his left to keep out what looked like a perfect header from Scott McGleish that looked destined for the far side of the net. McGleish recently joined Enfield with previous experience of over 500 League games.

Thumbing through the glossy full-colour programme during the interval, I noticed a mention for good friend Laurence, the ‘groundhopper’ who watched Enfield behind closed doors friendly last Saturday, and also the article by fellow blogger The Cold End.

Imber kept his side in contention with saves from Robinson and Stuart Axten in an impressive performance that would see the goalkeeper named ‘Man of the Match’.

Bognor had the ball in the back of the Enfield net in the 83rd minute. Axten powered home a header from Kane Wills’ corner only for the referee to spot some pushing.

Steve Newing made a third and final change in a bid to grab an equaliser but Bognor held on for the win, forcing more saves out of Imber from Harvey Whtye and Dan Thompson.

I made my way back to Enfield Town station and returned to Euston, thinking that Enfield Town would be a club I’d add to my list of regular destination if I lived in the area.

Back at Euston, with 50 minutes to occupy before my train home, I headed for nearby Drummond Street and specifically one of three Indian restaurants – alas the buffets at Chutneys, Ravi Shanker and Diwana finished at 5pm and I didn’t have time to eat a cooked curry.

Back home, the drive home from the station was a real contrast to the one from home eleven hours earlier. Gone were the snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures to be replaced by torrential rain and a mild 5°C.

Enfield Town (white/blue/white): 1. Noel Imber, 2. Lee Allen, 3. Jay Siva, 4. Lee White, 5. Mark Kirby (capt), 6. Mark Henry, 7. Tyler Campbell, 8. Joe O’Brien, 9. Scott McGleigh, 10. Liam Hope, 11. Adam Wallace. Subs: 12. Joe O’Cearuill (not used), 14. David Kendall (not used), 15. Neil Johnston (for Henry, 71), 16. Michael Bardle (for Campbell, 79), 17. Walid Matata (for Hope, 86). Manager: Steve Newing.

Bognor Regis Town (navy blue / yellow / yellow): 1. Nick Jordan, 2. Louis John, 3. Lewis Stockford, 4. James Crane, 5. Stuart Axten, 6. Ben Andrews, 7. Dan Beck, 8. Kane Wills (capt), 9. Dan Thompson, 10. Ashley Robinson, 11. Harvey Whyte. Subs: 12. Jordan Clarke (for Robinson, 55), 14. Doug Tuck (not used), 15. Daryl Wollers (not used), 16. Jon Marzetti (for John, 40), 17. Tom Boyle (not used). Manager: Jamie Howell.

Referee: Andy Aylott.
Assistants: Jeffrey Aldous and Lee Jessup.

0-1 James Crane (35)

Enfield: none
Bognor: Dan Beck (YC, 66)

Motherwell 3 St Johnstone 2

Sunday 20th January 2013
Motherwell 3 St Johnstone 2
Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League
At: Fir Park
Kick-off: 2-15 pm
Admission: £22; Programme: £3 (68 pages)
Weather: cold, dry
Attendance: 3649 (including 125 away fans)
Duration (45): first-half: 45:07; second-half: 48:25

The second football leg of my two-night trip was a short half-hour train journey south from Glasgow to Fir Park, home of Motherwell who survived a late scare to defeat St Johnstone by the odd goal in five with striker Michael Higdon netting an impressive hat-trick.

I suppose of all of the teams in the Scottish Premier League, the one I wanted to watch was Motherwell because of several current connections with my old club Stafford Rangers. Both Chris Humphrey and Henrik Ojamaa had spells on loan at Marston Road earlier in their careers, while midfielder Nicky Law is the son of former Stafford captain Nicky Law and current Alfreton Town boss.

Fir Park also had an attraction as well. Apart from changes to meet on-going safety requirements, the fabric of the ground has been largely unchanged for almost twenty years as the most recently-constructed new stand was opened around 1995.

With time to spare this morning, I enjoyed a vege breakfast at the Sir John Moore near Central Station before taking a short walk down Oswald Street to the River Clyde and particularly the Tradeston Bridge with an unusual ‘S’-shaped span.

The nearest station to Fir Park is Airbles, the stop before Motherwell station on train from Glasgow Low Level via Rutherglen and Hamilton, journey time 30 minutes. Pre-match Saturday departures from Glasgow are at 37 and 57 minutes past the hour and on a Sunday at 34 and 54 minutes past the hour. It is around a 1/2 mile walk to the ground; turn right out of the station and along the Airbles Road dual carriageway and turn right at the roundabout by the Elin Christian Centre, then first left.

Approaching Fir Park along Edward Street, I passed one of many programme sellers dotted around the surrounding streets. The thing which stood out when I first got close to Fir Park were the names of the sides of the two closest stands (see top photo) – the main Phil O’Donnell Stand and Davie Cooper Stand behind the goal at the north end. Both are sadly no longer with us but always fondly remembered by Motherwell fans. The well-stocked club shop is situated behind the Davie Cooper Stand.

Wandering around the perimeter of Fir Park, a structure which turned out to be the Dalzell Steel Works Water Tower caught my attention in the distance and warranted closer inspection. Nearer the ground, the old parish church and memorial, now the South Dalziel Studios, is worth a quick look as well.

Yesterday’s four SPL fixtures included a 1-0 win for second-placed Inverness Caley Thistle who moved three points clear of third-placed Motherwell (34 points from 22 games). Like the Well (or should I say Steelmen), St Johnstone (30 points from 22 games) are very much in contention for runner-up spot as well and with it a place in next season’s Champions League.

Unlike yesterday’s game at Greenock Morton, fair-play rituals were observed before kick-off.

St Johnstone (in blue and white) got the game underway attacking the Davie Cooper Stand in the first half and created some decent chances.

The home fans, however, didn’t have to wait long for the opening goal, scored in the 8th minute. Chris Humphrey was released down the right and crossed low into the area for Michael Higdon to fire home first time and low into the bottom right corner.

One thing I didn't expect and wasn't previously aware of was the slope on the pitch from touchline to touchline down towards the Phil O'Donnell Stand

Saints continued to threaten but Higdon was on target again in the 20th minute to double Motherwell’s lead. Like the first goal, it was a former Stafford Rangers player, Henrik Ojamaa, who set up the chance which Higdon planted into the bottom left corner at the second attempt.

As someone said close by me in the stand, “St Johnstone have the second best defence in the SPL but they gifted us two goals”.

Looking to move back into joint-second place and level on points with Caley Thistle, Motherwell opened up a seemingly unassailable three-goal lead in the 69th minute. Again Ojamaa was involved in the build-up as the Estonian blocked a header from teammate Shaun Hutchinson. The ball rebounded perfected for Higdon to fire home his 16th goal of the season which completed a hat-trick at the same time.

Before that decisive third goal, St Johnstone brought on Nigel Hasselbaink, cousin of former Leeds and Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd, which led to someone commenting: “Hasselbaink, he’s dangerous”. That fan was right as Hasselbaink reduced the deficit in the 77th with a super right-foot shot from the edge of the area.

The lady sat a row or two behind moaned “oh no” within two minutes when Liam Craig hit an unstoppable low 22-yard left-foot shot into the bottom left corner. The 125 away fans in the huge Maxim South Stand couldn’t believe what they’d just seen – could Saints grab an equaliser which had seemed unlikely after Higdon netted the third?

As full-time approached, the husband/partner/friend of said lady just wanted Motherwell to “get the ball up here” – we were sat nearest to goal Well were attacking – while she continued with “oh no” when the ball was up the far end!

Substitute goalkeeper Lee Hollis, who could do nothing to prevent Saints’ two goals, produced a brave save to deny Hasselbaink an equaliser in the closing stages.

Back at Airbles station, there were a couple of Dutch groundhoppers and a small group of German-speaking fans who has also been to Fir Park.

In the past I’d always looked towards Europe for my long distance football trips. The enjoyment and success of this weekend’s Greenock Morton and Motherwell ‘double’ may well tempt be north of the border far more frequently in future. I’ve now got my eye on completing the ‘42’!

BBC report and statistics (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/21002567) and highlights (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/scotland/21114411).

1-0 Michael Higdon (8)
2-0 Michael Higdon (20)
3-0 Michael Higdon (69)
3-1 Nigel Hasselbaink (77)
3-2 Liam Craig (79)

Motherwell: none
St Johnstone: Dave Mackay (YC, 72)

Greenock Morton 2 Livingston 1

Saturday 19th January 2013
Greenock Morton 2 Livingston 1
Iru Bru Scottish League First Division
At: Cappielow Park, Sinclair Street
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £15; Programme: £2 (24 pages)
Weather: cold, dry
Attendance: 1913
Duration (45): first-half: 45:52; second-half: 47:49

I needed an excuse for a weekend away and Glasgow seemed to be an obvious destination as the city had avoided all of the heavy snow that had fallen over much of the UK. None was forecast so I travelled yesterday by train, slowly, up the West Coast main line, changing at Crewe and Carlisle, for a two-night break. Football was an obvious attraction, as was the opportunity to explore a city I'd only ever briefly visited on two or three previous occasions.

Out of today’s fixtures, the one at Cappielow Park had a particular attraction as a ground which by and large remained very much unchanged during an era of replacing old stands and terracing or building new stadiums. It certainly lived up to expectations and can rightly be added to a bucket list of grounds to visit. On the field, while not playing at their best, Greenock Morton extended their lead at the top of the Iru Bru Scottish League First Division to five points with a 2-1 victory over fourth-placed Livingston.

From my base, the relatively quiet and peaceful Glasgow Youth Hostel, I walked into the city centre via the pleasant Kelvingrove Park and Sauchiehall Street. Earlier I’d established that the Morton game had been given the green light before leaving Glasgow Central but wasn’t aware of the drama surrounding one source announcing it was off.

The closest station to Cappielow Park, Cartsdyke, is served by trains on the Inverclyde Line from Glasgow Central to Gourock (Saturday departures 06 and 36 minutes past the hour, journey time 39 minutes). With time to spare, however, I took the faster train to Greenock Central (departure 25 minutes past the hour, journey time 30 minutes) so I could explore the centre of Greenock before the match. The town was the birthplace in 1736 of James Watt, the famous engineer and steam engine pioneer, and the Wetherspoon’s pub is named after him. The buildings around Clyde Square also caught my attention, particularly the Victoria Tower (photo right), Wellpark Mid Kirk and Dutch Gable House. With the car at home, my lunchtime pre-match routine was somewhat different with halves of Houston Peter’s Well and Harviestoun Haggis Hunter at the Sir James Watt.

Catching the train back to Cartsdyke station, I made my way to the ground via MacDougal Street and East Hamilton Road. As the turnstiles didn’t open to until around 2 pm, one steward pointed me in the direction of the nearby Norseman pub – don’t be fooled by the closed fish and chip shop and take the side door upstairs to the bar. During the 40 or so minutes I spent in the pub, it gradually filled up and I got chatting to a couple of Livingston fans. They told me they’d started following the team when it moved from Meadowbank to Livingston, having previously supported Aberdeen and the ‘Jambos’ [Hearts]. They’d certainly travelled to most of the Scottish ‘42’ as Livi had been up and down and up the four divisions so know all about ‘groundhopping’. Recently some long disitance travellers from Watford and also Holland had visited The Braidwood Motor Company Stadium (Almondvale Park).

I should mention the giant Titan Cantilever Crain at James Watt Dock close to the station and a prominent landmark visible from the main stand at Cappielow.

Turnstiles were open by the time I walked up Sinclair Street from the Norseman. The first set allowed access behind the near goal and ‘Cow Shed’ down the side (photo right) with the ones closest to the railway bridge being for just the main stand. Price £15 for adults regardless of seat or terrace. The far end, known as the ‘Wee Dublin end’ with its open bench seating was closed. I picked up a badge from the mobile shop on Sinclair Street and a programme and 50/50 ticket through the turnstile. Once in my seat, I could fully appreciate why someone texted me to say the Cappielow Park was a ‘fantastic ground’.

I did read that Morton purchased a stand and two floodlights from St Mirren’s old Love Street ground. The lights have been erected on either end of the ‘Cow Shed’ while, at some point, the stand will be installed at the ‘Wee Dublin’ end.

Greenock Morton (39 points from 20 games) are having a fantastic season and went into this afternoon’s game top of the table, three points clear of second-placed Dunfermline. Livingston (27 points from 17 games) occupied fourth position with games in hand on each of the three teams above them.

Ton’s local rivals are St Mirren and there was a noticeable cheer when the result of their lunchtime kick-off was announced… St Mirren 1 Ross County 4.

Sometime took me a bit by surprise just before kick-off and reminded me of the Rugby league Super League. Match officials and players ran on to the field and within a flash, Livingston (in yellow and black) got the game underway attacking the Wee Dublin end in the first half.

Morton took the lead in the 15th minute. From David Graham’s left-wing corner Craig Reid’s shot was only parried by Livingston goalkeeper Andrew McNeil and Martin Hardie tapped home the loose ball from barely a yard out.

The visitors enjoyed plenty of possession, causing the Morton fans sat near me to feel nervous, and they almost equalised when a rising shot from Anthony Andrew was tipped over the bar by Derek Gaston. The goalkeeper was beat away another well-struck shot from Iain Russell. Just before the break, Marc McNulty was inches away from guiding a low angled shot into the far right corner of the net.

Once again, I have to report another agonising near miss with a ‘raffle’. My ticket of 177029 in the 50/50 draw was just 37 away from the winning ticket of 177066 which scooped a nice prize of just under £350.

“Only yourselves to blame, Morton,” was the consensus in my part of the main stand when Livingston levelled things up eight minutes after the restart. Russell was allowed to pick his spot and nestled a low left-foot shot into the bottom right corner from 22 yards out past the diving Gaston.

Morton had moved to the top of the table with one defeat in their last nine league games, so recovered from conceding the equaliser by scoring what proved to be the winner in the 68th minute. Michael Tidser delivered a free-kick deep the far right-hand post where Peter MacDonald headed home.

The win extended Morton’s lead at the top as Dunfermline’s game as Cowdenbeath was postponed. Partick moved above the Pars into second place with a 4-1 home win over Falkirk. Top-flight football may well return to Cappielow Park for the first time since 1988 if Allan Moore’s side can maintain their winning form until the end of the season.

After the full-time whistle, I retraced my steps back to Cartsdyke station and caught the 17:19 train back to Glasgow Central.

Cappielow Park certainly lived up to my expectations and is undoubtedly a ‘must-visit’ ground.

1-0 Martin Hardie (15)
1-1 Iain Russell (53)
2-1 Peter MacDonald (68)

Morton: Fouad Bachirou (29), David Graham (60), Scott Taggart (90)
Livingston: Liam Fox (62), Kevin McCann (85)

Chesterfield 3 Northampton Town 0

Saturday 12th January 2013
Chesterfield 3 Northampton Town 0
npower League Two
At: Proact Stadium, Sheffield Road
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £22; Programme: £3 (68 pages)
Weather: cold, dry
Attendance: 5467
Duration: first-half: 47:08; second-half: 48:18

Chesterfield moved within a point of the League Two play-off zone with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Northampton Town. All the goals came within seven first-half minutes with new permanent signing Jay O’Shea opening the scoring and Marc Richards adding the other two.

I really don’t know where the sudden urge came from to leave non-league football behind in favour of a first ‘League’ game since a December 2010 trip to Pride Park. Reading about the rule changes to the 92 Club, which I’ve never been eligible to join, must have put an idea into the back of my head that I was about time I started again making inroads into the 18 or so current stadia in the Premier League and three npower divisions I’d not visited.

I considered Chesterfield as a destination on Boxing Day and again yesterday. The nostalgic part of me thought it a good idea to watch the fixture against Northampton Town on my first visit to The Spireites’ new Proact Stadium as the Cobblers were the opposition on the last of my three visits to the old Saltergate ground back in 1991.

Saltergate was opened in 1871 and used as Chesterfield’s home ground until May 2010 when the club moved to a new purpose-built 10,500 capacity all-seater stadium (Proact Stadium) about 25 minutes walk north of the town centre. The new stadium was built as part of the regeneration of the former Dema Glass site; the company was largest manufacturer of machine-pressed glass in the British Isles before it closed in 2001.

I travelled by train from Staffordshire via Stockport and the Hope Valley line to Sheffield, though that decision led to a few nerves when the Chesterfield-bound train was held up near Hazel Grove because a preceding train had failed. Thankfully that delay didn’t cause any problems. Passing through stations like Edale, Bamford and Hathersage brought back memories of the trips I used to do on the line 30 years ago heading back and forth from Staffordshire to a student life in Sheffield. Back them, trains were either DMU or hauled by a class 31 operating a service from Manchester Piccadilly to Hull, now they are class 158 Express Sprinters serving a route from Manchester to Norwich via Nottingham.

From a tourist’s point of view, I guess the main attraction of a trip to Chesterfield would be to see the crooked spire on the Parish Church of St Mary and All Saints. With time to spare, I walked up hill from the station, crossing the road by the Chesterfield Hotel onto the walkway over the bypass and along the road bending round to the right to the top. There was no missing the church on the left. I’m not sure if this was the norm but the church was open during Saturday lunchtime so I popped in for a quick look. Not having a head for heights, I passed on a tower tour.

I’d pre-booked my ticket before setting out this morning and used ‘Print at home’ [no extra cost]. I’m always nervous about choosing my own seat in advance but no such worries at the Proact as I got a perfect view from the HTM West Stand. Programmes were on sale at various points outside the ground and badges obtained from the club shop, also at £3. No problem obtaining the lineups as there were first announced around 25 minutes before kick-off and repeated at least twice. They were also displayed on the scoreboard at the Rubicon North Stand end for a good ten minutes (if not more) before and during the fair-play handshakes. Names that stood out were Chesterfield’s substitute Jack Lester as well as Northampton’s Clake Carlisle (famous for his appearance on Countdown) and striker Adebeyo Akinfenwa.

League-table wise, little separated Chesterfield (11th with 36 points from 27 games) and Northampton (9th with 39 points from 25 games). As the visitors had only won two of their 11 away league games, I wondered if a home win was the correct prediction.

Before kick-off, I thought about things/facts to do with Chesterfield FC of the top of my head – the odd trip to Saltergate when I was a student in Sheffield during the 1980s and the club reaching the FA Cup semi final before controversially losing to Middlesbrough. The name of ‘Tony Reid’ came into my mind as well. During the mid-1980s, he hugely impressed as a talented midfielder during two spells at Stafford Rangers and listed Chesterfield amongst his former clubs. Also a striker, Danny Barrett, had a more-recent spell on loan at Marston Road when Ian Painter was manager in 2000. John Scott, the manager of Summer League side Coach Rangers, once told me that one of his players, Paul Godfrey, played for Chesterfield as a youngster.

Northampton (wearing a change kit of all lime green) got the game underway. Attacking the Rubicon North Stand in the first half, Chesterfield took the lead in the 18th minute. Jay O’Shea celebrated his permanent move from MK Dons by converted a pass from Danny Whittaker. It was 2-0 barely a minute later when Marc Richards got the better of Clarke Carlisle before planting a shot past goalkeeper Lee Nicholls. Richards completed the scoring in the 25th minute though Northampton’s Chris Hackett hit a post during the second half.

I walked back to the station in plenty of time to catch the 17.39 London-bound train as far as Derby on the first leg of my journey home via Tamworth.

Line-ups, etc. on the BBc website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/20919003).

1-0 Jay O’Shea (18)
2-0 Marc Richards (19)
3-0 Marc Richards (25)

Bilston Town 1 Sutton Coldfield Town 1

Wednesday 9th January 2013
Bilston Town 1 Sutton Coldfield Town 1
(Sutton won 5-4 on penalties, no extra time)
Walsall Senior Cup Quarter Finals
At: Queen Street, Bilston
Kick-off: 8-25pm (delayed by 40 minutes)
Admission: £3; Programme: £1 (20 pages)
Weather: cold, foggy
Attendance: 120
Duration (45): first-half: 45:10: second-half: 48:06

Sutton Coldfield Town booked their place in the last four of the Walsall Senior Cup, winning 5-4 on penalties against Bilston Town at a foggy Queen Street after the tie finished 1-1 after 90 minutes. Because of a 40-minute delay caused by floodlight failure, the game didn’t kick off until around 8-25 pm and by the 23rd minute both sides had found the net. Nick Turton’s opener for Bilston was cancelled out by Reece Leek. Neither side could find a winner during the second half and sensibly the tie went straight to penalties because of the time, 10-10 pm, and thickening fog. The Steelmen had third penalty saved while all the other nine were converted so Sutton won the shoot-out 5-4. The Royals join Walsall FC in the semi finals who won 2-0 at Walsall Wood last night.

I’ve got Tim on the Non-League Matters Forum to thank for flagging up this game and tempting me into a short trip down the M6 to the Black Country when I’d decided to give a midweek game a miss.

Bilston are really on the up at the moment and remain top of West Midlands (Regional) League Division One with an unbeaten record (15 wins and two draws from 17 games). Tonight, as one contributor to the programme highlighted ‘It’s the first time in many years that we can welcome Southern League (sic) opposition to Queen Street’. I know what he means even though visitors Sutton Coldfield Town are members of Evo-Stik League Northern Premier Division One South, three promotions above The Steelmen. Bilston and Sutton were regular opponents over many seasons 10–25 years ago.

I love Queen Street with that fabulous tangerine-painted main stand, a relic from a past non-league era and long may it continue to look over the playing surface. Perhaps that love of Queen Street is shared by others as quite a few groundhoppers – Ratty, Rob, Mugsy, Coxey and Tim to name a few – were also at the game. The announcer allowed us to copy down the line-ups (much appreciated) before reading them out to a crowd that numbered over one hundred, many wearing tangerine and white scarves.

Around five minutes before kick-off, as the teams assembled in the tunnel, ‘pop’ – out went the floodlights! Fortunately, an electrician was called out to replace a blown fuse and the game got underway 40 minutes late around 8-25 pm. Bilston (in tangerine) kicked-off attacking the left-hand goal in relation to my seat in the stand.

Bilston took the lead in the 6th minute. Nick Turton took the ball into the area on the right, beating two defenders before firing into the far left-side of the net to score his 21st league and cup goal of the season. “There’s only one Nicky Turton,” sang the delighted home fans sat in the stand.

The lead lasted until midway through the first half. Louis Keenan crossed from the left into the area where Reece Leek rose to head past Bilston goalkeeper Ben Astley.

So 1-1 at half-time.

I found out the expected news that my raffle ticket (556–560) was unsurprisingly not the winner (581–585) so still nothing to add to my last prize of a Cheryl Cole poster and head massager won at Aberystwyth University ten months ago.

On a more positive note, I hope the half-time bucket collection for cancer research was well supported.

Sutton could have taken the lead a couple of minutes after the restart but Astley’s boot got in the way of Luke Chapman’s shot. Astley produced another save to block a shot from substitute Ben Lund while, in the 69th minute, Keenan’s free-kick hit the far left-hand post.

The Bilston fan set next to me – a lady who’d only recently started watching the Steelmen – started to get worried and commented that it was “getting a bit precarious”.

Astley continued to produce saves to keep in his in contention and pushed a curling effort from Chapman round for a corner.

Then, in the 89th minute, Sutton thought they had scored the winner. From Craig Milligan’s corner, a header from Joel Kettle was blocked by a defender. The ball rebounded to Kristian Ramsey-Dickson who powered a header onto the underside of the bar and Astley somehow prevented it from crossing the line.

I don’t know if extra time is used for drawn Walsall Senior Cup. Whatever the rule, sensibly, extra time was skipped – good news bearing in mind the time and fog.

Taken at the left-hand end nearest the entrance, both sides converted their first two penalties (all left-footed) before Daniel Westwood had his saved by Jake Bedford. All the remaining penalties were converted with Sutton’s Scott Lycett scoring the match-winner at 10-20 pm.

Bilston Town (tangerine/white/tangerine): 1. Ben Astley, 2. Neil Evans, 3. Leon Pugh (capt), 4. Rhys Hall, 5. Chad McCormack, 6. Neil Eccleston, 7. Matty Rutter, 8. Lee Onions, 9. Nick Turton, 10. Stuart Skitt, 11. Jamall Pinnock. Subs: 12. Daniel Westwood (for Pinnock, 67), 14. Matt Curley (for Turton, 85), 15. John Griffiths (for Rutter, 58), 16. Ryan Trumpeter (for Rutter, 73), 19gk. Karl Frankham (not used). Manager: Andy Rutter.

Sutton Coldfield Town (blue/blue/blue): 1. Jake Bedford, 2. Scott Lycett (capt), 3. Louis Keenan, 4. Craig Milligan, 5. Joel Kettle, 6. Jamie Murrall, 7. Reece Leek, 8. Jamie Sheldon, 9. Kristian Ramsey-Dickson, 10. Mark Danks, 11. Luke Chapman. Subs: 12. Danny Edwards (for Leek, 63), 14. Phil Male (for Murrall, ht), 15. Ben Lund (for Danks, 63), 16. Andy Ling (not used), 17gk. Lee Evans (not used). Manager: Neil Tooth.

Referee: Dave Kerrigan.
Assistants: Alan Sheffield and Glyn Thomas.

1-0 Nick Turton (6)
1-1 Reece Leek (23)

1-0 Leon Pugh SCORED
1-1 Louis Keenan SCORED
2-1 Stuart Skitt SCORED
2-2 Craig Milligan SCORED
2-2 Daniel Westwood SAVED
2-3 Luke Chapman SCORED
3-3 Lee Onions SCORED
3-4 Jamie Sheldon SCORED
4-4 Ryan Trumpeter SCORED
4-5 Scott Lycett SCORED

Bilston: Chad McCormack (YC, 26)
SCT: Mark Danks (YC, 53), Reece Leek (YC, 59)

Walsall Wood 4 Wigan Robin Park 1

Sunday 6th January 2013
Walsall Wood 4 Wigan Robin Park 1
FA Carlsberg Vase Third Round
At: Coles Lane (Sutton Coldfield FC)
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £5; Programme: £1 (20 pages)
Weather: mild/cold, cloudy, dry
Attendance: 176
Duration (45): first-half: 46:10; second-half: 52:00 (plus 14 minute delay)

In a much postponed FA Vase tie switched to the 3G pitch at Coles Lane, Walsall Wood kept the Midland Combination flag flying in the competition by storming into the Fourth Round with a giantkilling 4-1 victory over Wigan Robin Park. Wood scored late in the first half and again on the hour mark to take control before a lengthy delay caused by an injury to referee James Thornhill halted proceedings for around 14 minutes while a replacement assistant was appointed. When play resumed, both sides quickly scored to make it 3-1 and Wood ended any threat of extra time with a late fourth goal. A home tie against Hanworth Villa at Oak Park awaits the successful Walsall Wood side in two weeks time.

A late decision to head out this afternoon and had kick-off been 2pm rather than 3pm I wouldn’t have had enough time to drive to Coles Lane, park up, buy a programme, get the line-ups and settle down before the action got underway.

Originally scheduled for Saturday 10th December, the day when Rocester beat Long Eaton 2-1, this much-postponed tie had to be switched from Walsall Wood’s Oak Park ground to Coles Lane to ensure it was played this weekend. The pitch at Coles Lane is a 3G surface, as you’ll know from reading recent blogs of games invloving Sutton Coldfield Town.

As expected, there were plenty of familiar faces in the crowd including ‘Albion Steve’, ‘Ratty’, Albion Paul’, ‘Cannock Rob’ and ‘Groundhopper Dave’.

Home side Walsall Wood play in the Athium Midland Combination Premier Division (step 6) like my locals sides Stafford Town and Brocton. While currently in third position (36 points from 15 games), they do have eight games in hand on leaders Bromsgrove Sporting who are just seven points better off.

Visitors Wigan Robin Park achieved last season what Walsall Wood are striving to achieve this season – gain promotion from step 6 to step 5 of the non-league pyramid. After yesterday’s games, they stood in 15th position in the North-West Counties League Premier Division on 26 points from 21 games.

Defending the car park end in the first half, Wigan Robin Park (in a change kick of yellow and green) got the game underway but their goalkeeper, Jason Foulds, was soon called into action to turn round a low angled shot from the dangerous Ahmet Bilgimer.

Both sides made a lively start though the game developed into a midfield contest with defences on top and few decent scoring opportunities.

However, there was a breakthrough before half-time and it was Lewis Taylor-Boyce who gave Wood a 38th-minute lead. Tom Evans got down the right and crossed low into the area where Taylor-Boyce turned a defender and thumped a close-range shot past Foulds.

Just before the break, a club official with white hair and glasses announced to my section of the stand that the tie would be decided today with extra time and penalties if necessary.

Those comments seemed to become irrelevant just before the hour mark when Walsall Wood doubled their lead. Ian Rowlands chopped down Taylor-Boyce inside the area and Jamie Hawkins made no mistake with the resulting penalty. The home side immediately made a change – Scott Cooper replaced Danny Forrest – but the game didn’t resume. Clearly a problem had arise but what?

Some puzzled looks on the pitch (photo right)and also in the stand; @Sam_Hodkin tweeted to let me know that 'Injured lino according to the NWCFL Media Officer at the game'. It turned out that referee James Thornhill was unable to continue. After a delay of around 14 minutes, senior assistant Martin Watts took over in the middle and someone from the crowd ran the line.

The delay didn’t harm Wood as they scored a third goal within three minutes of the resumption. A terrible backpass (if indeed it was a backpass) ended up at the feet of Evans who hammered the ball past Foulds from 20 yards out.

Game over? Well no, as Wigan Robin Park quickly pulled a goal back. Ryan Small crossed low from the left and to the unmarked Joseph Hull in front of goal who steered the ball wide of Dale Faultless into the far right corner of the net.

Three goals in six minutes though they took 22 minutes to score them!

Undeterred, Wood kept pushing forward without showing signs of nerves and Foulds kept Wigan’s feign hopes alive with a save to keep out a shot from Bilgimer.

However, Bilgimer put the outcome beyond doubt with his side’s fourth goal scored in the 81st minute. He chased a seeming lost cause down the left, which lured Foulds out of his area. The striker won the ball, ran towards goal and slotted it into an empty net chased by the goalkeeper.

The Fourth Round draw is now complete (ties to be played on Saturday 19th January 2013):
Gornal Athletic v Wisbech Town
Bodmin Town v Ashington
AFC Emley v Hadleigh United
Tunbridge Wells v Dunston UTS
Rye United v Guernsey
Bitton AFC v Shildon
Larkhall Athletic v Peacehaven & Telscombe
Brantham Athletic v Whitley Bay
Newport (IW) v Brighouse Town
Bemerton Heath Harlequins v Blackfield & Langley
Ampthill Town v Enfield 1893
Ely City v Spalding United
Spennymoor Town v Lordswood
Rocester v Runcorn Town
Borrowash Victoria v Ascot United
Walsall Wood v Hanworth Villa

Walsall Wood (red with white diagonal stripe / red / red): 1. Dale Faultless, 2. Craig Deakin, 3. Tom Evans, 4. Shawn Boothe, 5. Lee Stretton, 6. Danny Forrest, 7. Ahmet Bilgimer, 8. Jamie Hawkins, 9. Lewis Taylor-Boyce, 10. Drew Aiton, 11. Andre Gonzales. Subs: 12. Scott Cooper (for Forrest, 60), 14. Michael Murray (for Hawkins, 84), 15. Tom Howard (not used), 16. Nathanial Jones (not used), 17. Matthew Bennett (for Bilgimer, 90+4). Manager: Mark Swann.

Wigan Robin Park (yellow/green/yellow): 1. Jason Foulds (capt), 2. Ian Rowlands, 3. Sean White, 4. Stephen Kay, 5. Michael Wood, 6. Colin Quirk, 7. Joseph Hull, 8. Andrew Neafcy, 9. Philip Howard, 10. Ryan Small, 11. Dean Callaway. Subs: 12. Callum Mahoney (for Callaway, 67), 14. Daniel Curren (not used), 15. James Edgar (for Hull, 67), 16. Philip Johnson (not used), 17. Daniel Whiteside (for Neafcy, 39). Manager: John Neafcy.

Referee: James Thornhill (replaced by senior assistant Martin Watts after 60 minutes).
Assistants: Martin Watts and Robert Massey.

1-0 Lewis Taylor-Boyce (38)
2-0 Jamie Hawkins (59)
3-0 Tom Evans (63)
3-1 Joseph Hull (65)
4-1 Ahmet Bilgimer (81)

Walsall Wood: Danny Forrest (YC, 25)
Wigan Robin Park: none