Welcome to volume one of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume two of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Stratford Town

Stratford Town FC is a non-league football club that was formed by Paul Bartlett in 1941; originally as Stratford Rangers, who are based in the market town of Stratford-upon-Avon, which is located twenty miles south east of Birmingham.

The club changed to their current title in 1949 while playing at the Alcester Road Ground, as they competed in the West Midland Alliance under player-manager Len Livingstone. Town finished as league runners-up and then champions in 1953-54 thanks to goals from Gordon Hillman.

Town became members of the Worcestershire Combination in 1954-55 with Allan Sands being appointed as the new manager; going on to finish as runners-up in their second season before being crowned as champions in 1956-57.

The success led to Town being accepted into Division Two of the Birmingham & District League. The league changed its name to the West Midlands (Regional) League in 1962-63, and Town became Stratford Town Amateurs a year later.

In 1970 ‘Amateurs’ was dropped from the club title before they re-entered the Midland Combination, as the Worcestershire Combination had been re-named. Stratford joined the Premier Division of the Hellenic League for the 1975-76 campaign.

After finishing in a relegation place in 1976-77 Town rejoined the Midland Combination, from where they were relegated to Division Two twelve months later. Promotion back to Division One; which would later become the Premier Division, arrived at The Ground in 1980-81.

Stratford became Midland Combination champions in 1986-87 before becoming founder members of Midland Alliance in 1994-95 following improvements to facilities at The Ground. The team finished as runners-up in the league in the 1999-00 season under manager Lenny Derby after the club had been restructured following financial troubles.

Derby departed to be replaced by Ian Britton in January 2005 before former player Dennis Mulholland was appointed as the new manager a year or so later. Micky Moore became the new manager for the 2007-08 campaign.

Town moved into its new Knights Lane facility in the summer of 2008, with the ground being named The DCS Stadium in a sponsorship deal. Rod Brown replaced Moore following a disappointing season, before he departed in September 2009.

Former player Morton Titterton became the new boss; leading Town to a top six finish, before Carl Adams was brought in as co-manager for the 2012-13 campaign. Titterton departed to leave Adams in sole charge as Stratford Town lifted the Midland Alliance title.

Promotion to Division One South West of the Southern League followed, with Town backing up a mid-table debut season with a third place finish. Taunton Town and then Larkhall Athletic were defeated in the play-offs as Stratford were promoted to the Premier Division for the 2015-16 campaign.

Town achieved their initial aim of securing their Premier Division status before following it up with a fourteenth place finish in 2016-17.

Stratford Town FC will play in the Southern League Premier Division in the 2017-18 season.

My visit

Stratford Town 1 Scarborough Athletic 4 after extra time (Tuesday 3rd October 2017) FA Cup Third Qualifying Round Replay (att: 498)

I’ve been very lucky to be able to travel far and wide to hundreds of football games. Most drift away out of reach unless prompted by something. Every now and again you know you’ve witnessed something special. As a Scarborough fan, this was one of those occasions.

Awaking after a few hours following night shift, I headed down to Marylebone station, just knowing it was going to be a good night. I don’t know why? Just sometimes you get a gut feeling for such things.

My pleasant journey necessitated a change at Dorridge; a name which reminded me of how a famous East Anglian city would sound if I had a blocked nose, before heading back south to Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Throughout my travels I always try wherever possible to do more than just go to a football game. It was my first visit to the town, so I wanted to see what it had to offer? It was certainly quaint and very English with its main thoroughfares leading to the river.

As expected the traders of the town made full use of using the name of William Shakespeare; as Stratford is the birthplace of the famous bard. Many Café’s, hotels, pubs used references to him. I wandered round taking photos and trying to get a feel for the place.

To be honest, I’d never read Shakespeare or seen one of his adapted plays. I had heard of many of the titles but I wouldn’t have the foggiest of the plots; and nor to be honest was I likely to in the future. Without sounding ignorant, the works of John Cooper-Clarke appeal more to me than Shakespeare.

However, I was in good form; even after sampling half in the Golden Bee Wetherspoons establishment, while using the facilities. I’d seen what looked like a far more suitable hostelry on the walk from the station. I wasn’t to be disappointed.

As soon as I walked into the Stratford Alehouse Micropub I felt at home. There was nice background music and a warm welcome from Bill the joint owner. He only had four different beers but all proved to be in excellent nick.

Bill was a former regular at Nuneaton Borough and was at the famous 1977 FA Trophy quarter final replay, when Scarborough won 1-0. My Dad went to the game and told me of heroic defending and then having the coach windows put through with bricks after the game.

Bill confirmed the details of the game. He’d also been to North Marine Road a year later when Yorkshire played Australia in a three day game; a match I attended. We were like long lost friends as some of the regulars sighed and shook their heads.

I had lovely chats with the regulars as well as a gent who was taking early retirement at the end of the week. The fine ales from the Wye Valley, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Nethergate and Binghams Breweries and nice music meant it was a couple of hours very well spent.

Feeling rather relaxed I opted for a taxi to the ground; passing some stunning detached houses along the way; including a mansion belonging to Premier League goalkeeper Ben Foster. On entering the village of Tiddington we turned down Knights Lane to the stadium.

The car park was already very busy, with many using the outside artificial pitches along with the crowd for the main match. I paid my £10 admission and was assured that I gained access to the bar through the gates. The programme was an additional £2.

It was somewhat of a surprise to find the bar desolate. It was gone 7pm. Surely some Boro fans had arrived by now? I was beginning my beer when an official told me that there was another bar through the back where the fans were gathered, and he kindly led me through.

It was great to catch up with faces old and regular. It was apparent that a large following had headed to the game. It then dawned on me that I was to all intense and purposes back outside the ground. This was not good!

Kick off was to be delayed because of the late arrival of the Boro team. The locals were not best happy, but many of us cheered the lads into the ground. They appeared in very defiant mood. I knew that my vibes were correct about the match.

After a quick word, the Stratford secretary; Brian Rose wrote me out a slip to gain admission. He was a most welcoming bloke as we chatted about it being such a big game for both clubs; neither of whom had progressed as far in the competition before.

The full realisation that there was around 200 Seadogs in attendance hit home when we went outside and took up position behind the goal on a narrow hard standing with two roof covers. Confidence seemed to be high; and the fans weren’t hiding it.

The MoodChimp Stadium, as the ground had been rebranded in a sponsorship deal was a decent ground. The main seated stand had all the facilities down one side; with a smaller seated structure opposite. The rest of the ground was open flat standing; save for the aforementioned covers behind the goal.

I’d been told that the first game was a hard tight encounter, and the replay began in the same fashion. The Town players were very functional and stuck to a game plan; while taking ample opportunity to try and influence referee Josh Smith.

The catering queue eventually went down to a dozen or so, as I grabbed a much needed hot dog and warming Bovril. Just as I neared the front of the queue, the home side went ahead through some poor defending from a near post corner; leading to Jazz Luckie forcing home.

Boro were giving it everything, but getting very little change out of a very organised Stratford back line and midfield. I wasn’t convinced that the tactic of the high ball down the middle was going to be productive. They needed to get the ball on the floor.

At half time we made our way to the other end. It was a pleasure to chat with the directors; several of whom were good mates. Chairman Trevor Bull was in the same form I’d known for ten years; friendly, sensible but kicking every ball.

Tommy Taylor was making some very important stops in the Boro goal. The next goal was going to be vital; with Stratford looking the more likely to score it if truth be told, despite a couple of half chances beginning to open up at the other end.

Emile Sinclair came on to add attacking power; but the big man looked a little off the pace. Max Wright’s wide delivery wasn’t the best, and Michael Coulson had to look for scraps. Ross Daly began to impress in midfield.

The equalising goal would come from an unlikely source. Craig Nelthorpe generally played out wide, but was being used as an emergency full back because of injuries. It’s fair to say that he wasn’t a big fans favourite. His form had been poor.

However, he decided to quieten his critics in the best possible way, as he scored with a curling free kick from distance that found home custodian Louis Connor a little too far off his line. The area behind the goal went absolutely wild as Boro gained a lifeline.

The match entered extra time as we swapped ends once again; with my pal Jamie Daniels prophesising that the big home side were starting to tire. They weren’t the only ones struggling. There was a delay in play with the ref stood by the home dug out.

We saw home manager Carl Adams rush across the pitch. We thought he’d been sent off but keeper Connor told us that the referee had injured himself and was struggling to carry on. Confusion was about to reign.

It transpired that referee Smith wanted to abandon the match, but both managers wanted to carry on. It would need a qualified official from the crowd to run one of the lines. Boro secretary Jack Fewster was an obvious choice as a local league referee.

Town already found someone. It was the clubs under 9’s coach Justin Kearney while senior linesman Richard Walker took over with the whistle. The situation was far from ideal, especially with prize money of £7,500 going to the winners, but it was the same for both teams. I was impressed by the attitude of Carl Adams and Steve Kittrick.

We headed to the other end of the ground for a third time for the second period of extra time as Boro gradually had more of the ball. There was only five minutes remaining and we thought it was certain to go to spot kicks. We were trying to pick out our five penalty takers.

Boro attacked. Sinclair passed to Tom Cadman on the edge of the box. He switched the ball from right to left and then back again before firing into the net. Cue absolute bedlam behind the goal. The Stratford players looked absolutely distraught; and totally worn out.

Straight from the kick off the Seadogs won the ball. It was played forward with Coulson passing to Sinclair who rolled it into the path of Cadman to score again. The atmosphere by now was absolutely electric among the travelling support.

To round off an incredible few minutes another flowing move saw Cadman lay the ball square to Coulson who took one touch before deftly dinking the ball over Connor and into the empty net before taking the plaudits in front of the delirious support.

It’s a long time since I’d seen such celebration; highlighting the beauty of being able to stand up and enjoy the euphoria of a long distance midweek away victory. The players and fans saluted each other. Injured skipper Dave Merris even hurdled the barrier into the crowd.

The chanting continued as we left the ground; while the locals trudged away. I was rather hoping I’d catch sight of the home fan who told me before kick off that we’d travelled a long way just to get beat.

One of the outstanding things about football supporters of Scarborough, and now Athletic, is how many don’t live anywhere near the town but still try and get to matches. It was to be my saver after the match.

My intended route back to North London was through a ride with Ian Anderson who lived in Northampton, before catching the 11.30 train on a pre booked ticket. The delayed kick off, extra time and injury meant this was improbable.

Fortunately Simon ‘Sub’ Moore was at his first Athletic match with his son Tom and one of his school pals. They lived in Witney in Oxfordshire and offered a solution. We had a good laugh about old times, just how great the night had been while listening to some top tunes before they dropped me at Thornhill Park & Ride on the edge of Oxford.

Before long an Oxford Tube double decker bus arrived and took me back to Marble Arch in less than an hour. Two night buses got me home around 2.20am. I was glad I had the next day off work. I was shattered but with adrenalin still pumping. I got to sleep at 3.30am.

It had been a wonderful night and I was so happy for the loyal fans who’d endured a torrid time for many seasons, with many keeping the faith over ten years in exile. I was also elated for the directors; both old and new who’d had many stressful days.

Scarborough Athletic were to play Hyde United ten days later, with the winners to appear in the First Round of the FA Cup. That, what anybody said, was a remarkable 

FC Romania

FC Romania is a non-league football club that was formed in August 2006 by Ion Vintilă. The team are based at Cheshunt Stadium close to the northern suburbs of London, where they are tenants to Cheshunt FC.

The club was formed to serve the Romanian community living in and around London and started off life playing in the Sunday London Weekend League and playing at Hackney Marshes. The team progressed to the Essex Business Houses League in 2008 and moving to the Low Hall Recreation Ground in Walthamstow.

‘The Wolves’ joined Division One (Central and East) of the Middlesex County League in 2010 while playing on an artificial pitch on Oliver Road behind Leyton Orient’s Brisbane Road home. FC Romania won promotion to the Premier Division at the first attempt.

In 2011-12 the club finished as Middlesex County League runners-up but failed to win promotion because of ground grading issues. In 2012-13 the team finished in second place and were promoted to the Essex Senior League after arranging a groundshare with Cheshunt FC.

The club reached the second qualifying round of the FA Cup in 2014-15 in their first ever season in the competition; going out to Sutton United. In 2015-16 and 2016-17 the team ended in third place in the league.

Another FA Cup run to the second qualifying round came to an end in a replay to Hayes & Yeading United during the 2017-18 campaign.

My visit

FC Romania 1 Takeley 0 (Wednesday 4th October 2017) Essex Senior League (att: 48)

I’d had the day off work and spent most of it recovering from night shifts and my previous evening’s attendance at the epic FA Cup tie between Stratford Town and Scarborough Athletic. It was time to get some fresh air and exercise.

My timing wasn’t going to plan; nor was my organisation. I’d left home without my IPod, earphones and reading glasses. It was apparent just how essential these things were to me. I felt semi-naked!

Arriving at Liverpool Street I only had a few minutes before my train. I had considered going to Waltham Forest v Burnham Ramblers in the Essex Senior League as time was tight, but I stuck to my original plan.

I arrived at Theobalds Grove at 7.30 and walked briskly down the lane to Cheshunt Stadium. Admission was £5, but the programmes had all been sold. The car park was full so I expected a decent crowd once I’d entered the ground.

Cheshunt Stadium had been transformed since my previous visits; which can be viewed HERE. The area on the entrance side had been laid with new tarmac; the stands taken down and a new seated structure placed next to the pitch.

A perimeter fence had been installed to enclose the arena with small terraced covers put behind either goal. The far side still had the original little stand and it was still a long way back from the pitch. The new makeover was excellent.

It was time for some food. A cheeseburger and a Bovril cost me £5 as I settled to a place between the seats and the corner where the teams came out. Late kick offs are a usual feature of the Essex Senior League; with this encounter kicking off at 7.50.

Takeley went into the game unbeaten at the top of the league; while FC Romania were just above mid table with games in hand following their cup run. I expected a competitive game as is the norm in that competition; and I wasn’t let down.

The home side were cheered on all night by ten to fifteen ‘ultras’ who stayed behind the same goal all evening; singing their songs and generally adding to the occasion. A few had travelled down from north Essex.

The visiting fans were enraged within a few minutes as the home left back took down a Takeley player with high studs. I personally thought that referee Michael Scott could have given a yellow or red card. He decided to caution the player to the disgust of the visitors.

The Romanians generally used their nous and it began to enrage the visitors, who had that initial decision weighing on their minds. The match quickly became tetchy with chances at a premium. Plenty of niggly challenges were going in as I walked round the ground.

As I got round to the far goal a lovely pass sent Liviu Florin Pop through. He slotted neatly past the oncoming keeper to make it 1-0. The first cold winds of winter were blowing across the ground so I got a cup of tea.

The bloke in front asked the lady behind the hatch what a ‘tausage’ was? She grumpily told him it was a misprint. She didn’t look like raising a smile when I suggested that it may have been a Romanian sausage?

The Romanians played some lovely football and the Takeley defence was creaking at times; but they kept their composure. The sides headed off at the interval, with referee Scott still taking flak from the away team and their supporters despite him showing a total of six cards in the half.

At the interval a few neutral hoppers were in agreement that FC Romania could be the best team in the league, but they were prone to losing their discipline. The assistant manager of Eynesbury Rovers got chatting to the group.

His side had been drawn away to FC Romania in the next round of the FA Vase so he wanted to take a look. He left with plenty of advice; most of it probably no use at all! At least I gleaned some potential afternoon fixtures for the following week.

The second half was better viewing, with both sides looking to play football and attack. The clear cut chances were still rare, but at least the intent was there. Some of the home players had lovely skill on the ball.

With around ten minutes to go I decided to call it a night so that I could catch an earlier train back. I wanted to enjoy a few pints back at Kingsbury on my night off where I went to meet Steve Barnes. It appears that I didn’t miss anything too vital.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Kirkley & Pakefield

Kirkley & Pakefield FC is a non-league club which is based in the suburb of Kirkley, in the Suffolk port and seaside town of Lowestoft. The club has had an interesting history since the original incarnation of Kirkley FC was formed in 1886.

That club merged with East Suffolk to form Lowestoft Town FC. A second Kirkley FC was formed shortly after; playing home games at  St Aubin's College. For a short time they were the town’s prominent club as they reached the semi-final of the FA Amateur Cup in 1896-97.

The team of the time competed in the North Suffolk League; going on to become champions in 1894-95 and 1896-97. The club continued to field a side in that league despite joining the higher rated Norfolk & Suffolk League.

There had been plans to merge with Lowestoft Town; which were abandoned in 1907. The club joined the East Anglian League before disbanding at the completion of the 1913-14 campaign; when Stanley Rous played in goal for the club.

A third version of Kirkley FC came into being in 1919; going on to join the East Anglia League in 1921, before going on to be crowned as champions in 1923-24 before moving to the Norfolk & Suffolk League for the following season.

A merger with Waveney Athletic in 1929 led to the club being renamed Kirkley & Waveney, before reverting to Kirkley three years later. Like the original Kirkley FC, the club went on to merge with Lowestoft Town; in 1935.

In 1975 Anglian Combination club Brooke Marine were playing at the Kirkley Recreation Ground on Walmer Road and applied to change their name to Kirkley FC. That name was owned by Lowestoft Town FC following the 1935 merger, so the title of Kirkley United was adopted in 1978.

The change of name led to a successful period for the club as two promotions were secured to take the team to the Premier Division of the Anglian Combination by the end of the 1979-80 season. Despite a relegation, the team regained their Premier Division status in 1988-89.

Kirkley became Anglian Combination champions in 1999-00 before further titles arrived in 2001-02 and 2002-03; with the team also winning the Suffolk Senior Cup on a couple of occasions. Kirkley were promoted to Division One of the Eastern Counties League for the 2003-04 season.

Promotion to the Premier Division followed in 2003-04 before a merger took place with Pakefield FC to form Kirkley & Pakefield FC in 2007. The team strung several mid table finishes together as they consolidated their position.

‘The Royals’ finished in fourth position in 2009-10 and then again in 2014-15, before ending in half way up the table at the end of the 2016-17 campaign.

Kirkley & Pakeham FC wil play in the Eastern Counties League Premier Division in the 2017-18 season.

My visit

Saturday 16th September 2017

My visit to Kirley & Pakefield coincided with a trip to the seaside to watch the FA Cup Second Qualifying tie between Lowestoft Town and Harlow Town, a couple of miles further north. It also enabled me to take in some much needed exercise.

The weather was decent enough when I arrived on the train from Norwich, so I decided to walk along the sea front. The beach was more or less deserted, but plenty of people were having a stroll in the blustery conditions.

It took me the best part of half an hour to cut away from the sea, walk along London Road South and then Acton Road into Walmer Road. A heavy shower dropped as I was outside of the sports ground, so I took shelter for fifteen minutes under a tree.

Once the rain abated I walked up the lane to where it looked like a junior match was about to commence on one of the artificial pitches across the car park from the main ground. I passed the clubhouse and changing rooms to enter the ground.

The Recreation Ground was a fine little venue for its level of football, with plenty of room for further scope. The near side had a couple of small covers in front of another building funded by the Football Foundation.

The near end goal also had a small standing cover, with the far touchline having a new looking seated covered stand straddling the half way line. The rest of the ground consisted of flat hard standing and grass.

Once I’d taken my photos I made the decision to set off on what I decided was a short cut past the Pakefield Village Green and along Blackheath Road, when another downpour started falling. This was heavy rain. I was pretty soaked when I took shelter at the shops at Carlton Road.

Once the rain had abated I walked back to London Road South and back towards town in search of my pre-match pub before the afternoon’s entertainment.