Woking – the most dangerous place in England?

Trawling through website as I do I came across a very unusual statement.  In their official directions to their Kingfield Stadium, Woking FC have added the following “safety warning” in bold letters:-

Please note: We recommend that, for personal safety reasons, women and young children do not walk unaccompanied to Kingfield Stadium. It would be advisable to take a taxi from Woking Station direct to the ground, costing approximately £4.

Now bear in mind the route actually takes supporters past a Magistrates Court and the Police Station, what other dangers lurk on the route that would avoid such a warning?  Woking fans are hardly the ICF from my frequent visits to watch them, so is there some other obstacle that the police in Surrey have failed to clear up that requires such a warning?

Well, we went and asked the Woking fans the reason for such a stark warning…Apparently there have been a number of assaults in the park mentioned in the direct route to the ground.  Whilst in daylight this risk is minimalised, the club and it should actually be applauded for doing so, would be negligent if they didn’t issue such a warning for the most “at risk” groups.  How many other clubs would issue a similar warning I wonder?

A game of two halves….

Every week across Europe, football fans keen on squeezing the most out of their favourite past time will watch more than one game in a day.  Whether it be via Sky’s “Super Sunday” – because Wigan v Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City v Fulham aren’t on at all to keep up their quotas, or actually attending two games in a day, it is seen as a good way to spend an afternoon.  For those who actually go to the games there is always a smug inner feeling when you are at the second game that you have somehow beaten the system, that there is an unwritten rule that you cannot go to another game as you have already had your enjoyment.

One of my aims this season was to try and see three games in a day.  An early 12pm (ish) kic off followed by a 3pm and then a 5.30pm TV game.  The idea came to me on the first day of the Championship season when there were three Midlands based games scheduled for these times.  Since then the fixtures have not made this possible but it is always one for me to watch out for.  This was one of my five aims for the football season.  The others were:-

  • To complete the 92 club again by going to Shrewsbury, Colchester United (both new stadiums), Swansea City and Morecambe – Completed on 28th March 2009
  • To finish off visiting all of the current Bundesliga 1 stadiums (plus the 10 biggest in the 2nd Division) – Karlsruhe, Borussia Monchengladbach, Duisburg, Bochum and Mainz ticked off, Arminia Bielefeld, Hoffenheim and Augsburg arranged just leaving Energie Cottbus to do
  • To see West Ham play at one new ground – Step forward Hull City back in October
  • To see a game at all of the Blue Square Premier League grounds

So as you will know if you are a regular reader I have invested a lot of time and miles into trips to see tier 5 of English football.  And I have to say I have thoroughly enjoyed it.  Some of the clubs, and fans, have been very welcoming such as Lewes, Forest Green Rovers and Eastbourne Borough, and some of the football has been pretty good.  However, with time ticking down on the season I still had three to visit.  Not just any old three though – the three that were the the furthest from home – Barrow, Altrincham and Northwich Victoria.  There was no way I was going to fit them all in but an opportunity arose for a twist on the two games in a day….Altrincham and Northwich were both at home on the same day, and seperated by just 12 miles of (almost) dual carriageway it was surely possible to do a half at each. Not one for all of the purists but it would serve a purpose and surely I stand a better chance of seeing at least half a good game than one at all.

So on Tuesday 7th April, the Little Fuller’s and I headed off for a day at Alton Towers, followed by a night of 44 men and some leather (a title taken from one of Football Jo’s DVDs).  Altrincham was going to be first on the agenda, with the first half of their game with Eastbourne Borough before heading down to the second half of Northwich’s six pointer with Woking.

Altrincham are one of the great names in Non-League football.  They were one of the founder members of the Conference in 1979 and won the league for the first two seasons.  However, at the time there was still an end of season vote to get into the league, and not surprisingly the League Chairman closed ranks and outvoted the motion for their promotion.  During the next few seasons they underlined their cup giant killing reputation, pulling off one the FA Cup results of the century when in 1986 they beat First Division (the top league at the time) Birmingham City at St Andrews.  The past few seasons have seen the club collecting more four leaf clovers that a busy leprechaun in the run up to St Patricks Day.  In season 2005/06 the club were deducted 18 points after it was found they had fielded an illegible player (during the games he played they won 18 points, hence the penalty) which saw them finish bottom.  After all avenues of appeal had failed the club woke up one summer’s morning to find that Canvey Island could not longer compete and withdrew from the league, and Scarborough had breached the league rules on ownership and had all of their points taken away, meaning that Altricnham got a stay of execution.

Twelve months later it was a similar story.  Relegation was confirmed on the last day of the season, but Boston United saved the day after their financial situation on losing their Football League status saw them immediately demoted to the Conference North thus earning Altrincham their second successive reprieve. Did they learn?  Not really as twelve months later it was the turn of Halifax Town to go into financial meltdown to save Altrincham from relegation.

So what of this season?  Well to start with you have had the disasterous situation at Lewes from day one which reduced the number of relegation places to three.  Then the situation at Northwich (see below) reduced the places to two.  Add in the impending demotion of Weymouth (they have lost their last ten games, conceding 37 and scoring just 2 goals in the process) and there was only going to be one place to avoid.  And avoid they had done on the most part.  Never dropping too many points to be sucked into the relegation mix the club had a decent home record that kept them out of trouble.

Northwich’s season couldn’t have been any more dramatic.  Forced out of their home for a period in early 2009 (they actually played home games at Altrincham) and still carrying a ban on signing any players they were all but relegated coming into this game.  In fact anything less than a win against relegation rivals Woking would see them return to the Conference North (hopefully, but based on some of the strange financial criteria of the non-leagues, even that is not a given) where they had been playing a few years previously.  Not that the problems have been that recent.  In 2003/04 the club finished in the relegation places, but in a similar story to Altrincham’s they were saved by the fact that Margate, Telford United and Hucknall Town could not compete in the league the following season.

The following season they were forced into Administration, and whilst the ten point penalty was not fatal, the clubd had to chose at the end of the season between voluntary relegation or complete expulsion from the non-leagues after some harsh to say the least deadlines on the club ownership were not met – after all the registering of a name change of a club is a mjor issue and affected everyone right?

Their stay in the National League North was brief and they were soon back in the top level.  That is when the fun (sorry Northwich fans it is only a pun) begun.  The club was bought by a consortium but the new stadium – the Marston Arena (having moved from the historic Drill Field in 2005) was owned by a property development company who went bust in 2008.  So with relegation looming it would be interesting to see how the fans would react.  I had tried to get a bit more information on the club but with the website offline it was a tad difficult so I apologise if any of the above in inaccurate.

So the hour finally arrived after a day at Alton Towers with the Little Fullers and a slap up tea at Little Chef (yes they are still going), and we eventually found the Marston Arena.  It is certainly remote, down a few country lanes and then down an industrial estate road.  CMF will have been gutted she missed this as slap bang outside the ground was a Fireman’s training school, and there they all were polishing their helmets just waiting for a damsal in distress.

Northwich Victoria 2 Woking 0 – Marston Arena– Tuesday 7th April 2009 – 7.45pm to 8.30pm

Northwich open the scoring

Northwich open the scoring

With the lure of Manchester United v Porto in the Champions League on ITV, the crowd at the Marston was very sparse.  I got the Little Fuller’s on a maths exercise and they soon told me that there were 439 people in the stadium including stewards and players – not sure how they worked that out so quickly, but when the official attendance was announced of 450 I bowed in admiration at their achievement (although by then we had already left so should they have revised the figure by 3?).

Woking came into the game managerless after the sacking of Phil Gilchrist last week and just one place above the home team but never looked at the races.  The strong wind that whipped around the arena didn’t help matters and that hampered play to an extent.  We wandered around the ground, trying to find some shelter, which was hard with such a small crowd.  Littlest Fuller decided to try and put off the linesman on our side of the pitch by shouting “boo” at him and for the first ten minutes that was the highlight of the game.  News filtered through that West Ham loanee Jack Jeffrey’s had opened the scoring at Moss Lane (filtered means I checked on my mobile internet!) and I already had pangs of regret that I had not chosen that game first.

The first chance of the half fell to Northwich when a short back pass was almost ceased upon by Jonny Allan but the ball was scrambled away for a corner.  On twenty four minutes the deadlock was broken as Joel Bryom’s deep free kick from the right was headed home by Simon Grand at the far post.  Cue wild celebrations – wel as much as a couple of hundred could muster anyway.

The rest of the half was really a battle against the elements although Woking nearly got an equaliser on the stroke of half time.  As soon as the whistle went for the break, we were off….through the gate, into the car, no time to wait for seatbelts, and off down the lanes to the A556 that runs 12 miles from Northwich to Altrincham.  Keeping within the speed limit and using our friend TomTom to good effect, exactly 14 minutes later we pulled up outside Moss Lane, where we immediately found a parking space opposite the main stand.  Mission accomplished.

Altrincham 2 Eastbourne Borough 2 – Moss Lane – Tuesday 7th April 2009 – 8.45pm to 9.30pm

Altrincham 2 Eastbourne Borough 2

Altrincham 2 Eastbourne Borough 2

I had already emailed the club and vice-chairman no less Grahame Rowley had said just come to the players entrance and ask for him if we had any issues getting in.  As all the gates were locked we went to said entrance and the officials couldn’t have been any nicer – shown straight into the bar, beer for me, cokes for the Little Fullers, programme thrust in hand and a quick summary of events of the first half from one of the Altrincham coaching team!  It definitely sounded like I had missed the wrong game as this seemed like a belter.  Two one to Eastbourne, but the quality of all three goals sounded impressive.  Ben Austin’s 2nd for Eastbourne was the pick of the bunch and would have been lauded 6 miles down the road at Old Trafford let alone Moss Lane.

We followed the teams down the tunnel and took our (free) seats in the main stand.  Altrincham’s ground is brilliant.  Everything that is right about non-league football with small terraces and loads of obscure advertising boards.  The away fans (all 16 having made the 300+ mile trip from the south coast) were on the “Carole Nashe & Family Terrace”.  Obviously they could have been part of the Nashe family, but I think it does take segregation to the extreme if one person and her family get their own part of the ground.

We hadn’t missed any of the action in the second half which was perfect.  Both teams were obviously desperate for a win despite their safe mid-table status.  This was the first opportunity I had had to watch young Jeffrey but he seemed relatively anonymous.  He will certainly have to raise his game if he expects to be competing with the current crop of youngsters at West Ham such as Junior Stanislas and Zavron Haines for a first team spot.  On sixty minutes the referee decided he could not continue.  As with the case at Woking earlier in the season a call has to be made for a local referee to act as Fourth Official whilst the other officials swap around.  One of the groundstaff was called by name over the PA and shortly appeared in jeans and smart jumper and was swiftly given the coat and the Sub’s board to manage.

On seventy minutes Altrincham earnt a free kick on the edge of the area which seemed harsh to say the least.  Up stepped Shaun Densmore to curl the ball over the wall and into the net to draw the scores level.  It seemed both teams then were happy to play out for a draw – Altrincham created a couple of openings, none better than a fantastic drive from 20 yards on the run by Colin Little in the last few minutes.

So with the final whistle blowing we were off and the teams happy with a draw, we were off for our long drive south.  Both girls were on the snooze express by the time we hit the M6 and we would have been home by 12.30am if it wasn’t for the usual night time M1 and M25 roadworks that see 3 out of 4 lanes coned off and no one working.  So at 1am we arrived home.  CMF greeted us at the door (she worries when I have to drive home late at night) and both girls woke up excited to tell her about their day.

So I did it – two games in 90 minutes.  Northwich had scored a second in the second half to win 2-0 and keep their slim hopes of survival still alive.  It’s not something I would recommend doing all the time but hats off to Grahame Rowley and the officials at Altrincham who were marvellous.  Shame their Forum administrator doesn’t want to let me on their message board to post my thanks but such is life.

About Moss Lane
Another classic Non-League ground, having been home to the club for many years. On one side of the ground is the Carole Nash Insurance Main Stand. This is a small single tiered all seated stand that sits astride the half way line. An old classic looking stand, it has glass windshields on either side, plus a number of supporting pillars, one of which is centrally located at the front of the stand.

Views of the pitch may be further impaired by two small floodlight pylons that are located at the two front edges of the stand. On one side of this stand is a smaller separate structure, the Goodwin Family Stand. This is a very small covered all seated stand. On the other side of the Main Stand is a small open terrace that is only a couple of large steps high. Opposite the Main Stand is the Popular Side. This is a covered terrace that runs the full length of the pitch, made unusual by having a section in the middle that has a higher roof compared to either side.

At the Golf Road End is a small covered terrace, whilst opposite the Hale End is a small open terrace. Moss Lane is completed with a set eight floodlight pylons, which run down each side of the ground (four on each side).

Many thanks to Duncan Adams for the above information from his excellent Conference Football Grounds website.

How to get to Moss LaneIf you are driving from from the south, exit the M6 at junction 19 and take A556 signposted Manchester Airport. When you get to the M56 roundabout go straight on and pick up the signs for Altrincham and then the football ground. From the north exit M6 at junction 20a onto M56 and exit at junction 5 then as south. It’s street parking for all around the ground.

How to get a ticket for Moss Lane
As with virtually all Conference grounds sell outs are unheard of so you can buy your tickets on the gate.  Adults can either pay £12 to stand or £14 for a seat and its £5 for concessions and just £2 for the under 12’s.

About the Marston Arena
The relatively new stadium that was opened in 2005. On one side is the large Dane Bank covered terrace. Interestingly it was transported piece by piece from the Club’s old Drill Field Ground and erected at the new stadium. Opposite is the tidy looking Victoria Stand. This all seated covered stand runs for around half the length of the pitch and sits astride the half way line.

Running across the back of the stand is a glass fronted area which includes some corporate hospitality areas. Both ends are small open terraces. The ground has a set of four modern looking floodlights. Away fans are mostly housed in the West Terrace at one end of the ground, with some seats also being made available in the Victoria Stand.

It is throwing distance from Witton Albion’s ground across the canal making it the closest two “proper” football grounds in England.

Many thanks to Duncan Adams for the above information from his excellent Conference Football Grounds website.

How to get to the Marston Arena
Northwich station is the best railway station as it is served by trains from Manchester Picadilly, although it is not the nearest to the ground, being around two miles away. The nearest is Lostock Gralam which is about a mile away. Simply take a left out of the station and carry on into Wincham Lane for the ground.

If you are driving then leave the M6 at junction 19 and take the A556 towards Northwich. After three miles, turn right onto the A559 signposted towards Northwich. At the traffic lights turn right in the direction of Warrington. Then turn left at the crossroads by the Black Greyhound pub. Follow the road until the garage appears on the lef and turn left into Wincham Avenue. The ground is at the bottom of the road. There is a large car park at the stadium which costs £2 per vehicle.

How to get a ticket for the Marston Arena
It’s pay on the door for everyone and will cost £14 for a seat and £12 for standing for Adults, with concessions being £3.50 and £2.50 respectively.

A Christmas Card

The FA Trophy, for those not in the know is the Non League FA Cup Final. It has been for many years the highlight in the calendar for the smaller teams and now it is back at Wembley Stadium, as opposed to Villa Park or The Boleyn Ground it has rediscovered its magic. The tournament started in 1970 and since that first final at Wembley when Macclesfield Town beat Telford, the trophy has been won by the likes of Wycombe Wanderers, Colchester United and Morecombe who have gone onto gretaer things. It has also been won by the likes of Enfield (on two occasions), Dagenham (before they wed Ms Redbridge), Wealdstone and Matlock Town who haven’t gone onto better things. In recent years the competition has been won by surprise outfits such as Burscough of the Unibond League, Canvey Island who are now in the Rymans and Hednesford Town. Last season Ebbsfleet United won the trophy for the first time in front of over 30,000 at Wembley.

As I missed out on my “road to Wembley” for the FA Cup run – failing to follow Grays Athletic to Carlisle was never going to be an option, I thought I might try it with the FA Trophy. I realise that the competition actually started on the 4th October when Marlow beat Cirencester but better late than never I always say, especially when I get the last train home after “only going for a swift half after work”. At the first round stage I decided to randomly pull a tie out of the hat to go to. On first attempt I got Durham City v Harrogate Town – er no…Second attempt was Workington Town v Kings Lynn which again was ruled out as being too far up north! Then I realised that the draw was regionalised and after sorting out anything north of Watford (well Birmingham actually) I drew out Woking, also for some bizarre reason known as The Cards.

Woking had been a club I had never been to – no real logic behind that as it was close enough to London to do after work and they had consistently played at this level for a number of years. They also had some history in the FA Trophy, winning it in 1994, 1995 and 1997. Woking are also one of those clubs that has challenged for a Football League spot on a number of occasions in the past decade, yet has always fallen short in the end. The past few seasons have seen a number of high profile coaches come and go including Glenn Cockerill, Frank Gray and more recently Phil Gilchrist. The problem the team had faced this season was simply a lack of goals, with some key players still ruled out through injury. However, they could take some hope from the fact that their opponents Salisbury City had been forced to off load a few more players since my visit to their rural home a few weeks before. They had recently lost at home to Woking in the Setanta Shield as well as the league meetings so came into this match with some trepidation of a hatrick of defeats to Woking.

It would be interesting to see what the crowd would be as the clubs are only separated by fifty or so miles. The Kingfield Stadium is certainly a much better place to watch games that Salisbury’s rural setting. The new main stand (situated behind one of the goals) is the focal point of the stadium but is one of the more impressive stands in the Blue Square Premier.

But as with all good plans I was thwarted by events out of my control – in this case the torrential rain that not only caused this game to be cancelled, but its subsequent re-arranged date meant my trip to Eastbourne on Tuesday was now off as well. This was a shame as I was looking forward to a afternoon out in Surrey. The club had been very helpful so far and that is always a good sign of a well run club (Paul the press officer even phoned me to tell me the game was off before I travelled), and I was also due to go and see Mr Grumble’s new baby as he lived close by. As always I have a plan B but this (Welling Utd v Weymouth) fell by the wayside, as did C (Chesham) and D (Bognor Regis). Amazingly Histon, with that dreadful pitch from Tuesday was still on. But I couldn’t justify another trip up the M11 so an afternoon of ironing in front of Jeff Stelling beckoned.

So Tuesday night beckoned and my original plan to see the little balding, grumpy ones (the one in nappies and the one who will be in them soon) fell by the wayside again thanks to an accident on the A3, so I headed up to Woking for 7pm and availed myself of some of the fine cuisine on offer.  Whilst the stadium really had the feel of a lower league club, the food was top notch and was well worth the early entry into the ground.

The ground…Well it is certainly unique!  The new very modern stand behind the west goal is certainly the focal point of the stadium, and would not look out of place in most top league grounds.  I am sure that somewhere within the club there is a vision to transform the stadium with three similar sized and designed stands, but finances are obviously very at the top of the agenda in the Non-Leagues.  Woking chairman David Taylor had been very vocal about the concept of regionalising the league even at this top level to cut down on the unnecessary costs teams are incurring.  There is alot of logic in this view, especially for those teams who decide to go part time.  In fact I would go back to my comments from last week when I said that there was no real reason why some lower league clusb could not compete on a part time basis.

Woking 1 Salisbury City 2 – The Kingfield Stadium – Tuesday 16th December 2008

Welcome to Non League cup football

Welcome to Non League cup football

This was never going to be a game to catch the local imagination.  A cold and dark midweek night, in the middle of the Christmas party season for a game that most fans did not care if it was won or lost.  However, the 500 brave souls, including the 67 from Salisbury who seemed happy standing around the portakabin toilets on the far terrace were treated to a game of high tempo, if at times low quality football.

You could not fault either side for their commitment from the first whistle.  Both sets of players tore into each other, determined to try and avoid a draw that would add further pressure to the already crowded fixture list.

After Woking went close in the 5th minute when a incicive run down the left flank was so nearly met by Denton in the penalty area.  The tall centre forward, on loan from Huddersfield Town was obviously miffed by this and shortly after took out his frustration on the Salisbury full back with a late challenge and saw the first yellow card of the night.  At this point I picked up the programme and saw an article about the Woking player Tom Hutchinson.  Wow – spooky!  Mr Hutchinson has been part of my Sutton United team on Football Manager for the PSP for three seasons now.  He is permenantly injured and will not leave despite being on the transfer list for most of this time (my predecessor had put him on a 5 year contract the fool).  I looked at the picture in the programme and realised it was the one and same guy sitting behind me helping out on the match commentry.  Now I had a dilemma, a dilemma where my virtual world meets the real world.  Should I say something about his fitness regime or just stay star struck?  In the end play moved on with me biting my tongue, forever in the knowledge that I could have changed destiny!

The remainder of the first half was played at the same pace without much quality, with chances few and far between.  Salisbury’s Ademeno went close with a smart turn and shot that was well saved but the main talking point of the half was when the referee decided to substitute himself on the half hour mark.  He showed no sign of injury or illness and was controlling the game well.  Personally I think that he was also a PSP FM08 player and could not compromise himself by refereeing his team.  Of course his replacement meant the fourth official took over, and the club had to make an announcement if there was a qualified ref in the house (which there wasn’t).

The half seemed to be drifting towards an end goal less, but from a rare Salisbury corner, centre midfielder Michael Fowler rose unmarked to head home.  The goal was against the run of play but that didn’t matter to the 66 Salisbury fans (I counted – one had definitely gone missing somewhere) who celebrated a rare away goal.

The second half started much were the first half left off with Woking controlling the midfield yet failing to get the ball into the penalty area.  Woking’s Quamina became the fifth player booked for a late challenge that may have seen him see red on other occasions.  However he soon fed the ball out wide and a decent cross for once saw Marum smartly head home to bring the scores level again.

Both teams seemed resigned to the draw and another match at some point before Christmas.  With a few seconds on the clock I took leave from the old wooden stand and made my way to the corner ready for a swift full time exit.  As I walked around the back of the club house there was a small ripple of applause, which I put down to a good tackle or pass.  I therefore waited at the corner until the ref blew for fulltime and the fans started to troop out, bemoaning the defending and “letting them steal it at the end”…so for the first time this season I had missed a goal.  I could pretend and say it was marvellous but the simple truth is I have no idea.  Salisbury’s Herring had scored the winner in injury time to take them through to a game versus Burton Albion or Farsley Celtic in round two.

About the Kingfield Stadium
The ground has an impressive and fairly new single tiered stand situated at one end of the ground. This stand, the Bellway Homes Stand, towers above the rest of the ground. At the other end is a small covered terrace, called the Kingfield Road End, whilst on one side there is a small open terrace. This terrace looks a little ugly as it has quite large warehouse type structures, sitting behind it. On the other side are a couple of small strange looking, covered seated stands, a portion of terracing to one side and some portakbins offices at the other end. However, one nice feature is the abundance of greenery, with lots of trees surrounding the ground.

How to get to the Kingfield Stadium
Woking train station is about a mile away from the ground and is around a 15-20 minute walk. The station is served by trains from London Waterloo. Exit the station on the opposite side of the station to the town (Station Approach/Oriental Road side). Turn Right down Station Approach and at the bottom, turn left onto Claremont Road (the A320). At the end of Claremont Road turn left on Kingfield Road and the ground is over the road on your right.

If you are driving then leave the M25 at Junction 10 and take the A3 towards Guildford. On approaching Guildford turn right onto the A320 towards Woking. On entering Woking turn right at the roundabout into Wych Hill Lane, towards Old Woking (A247). This road leads into the A247 Kingfield Road and the entrance to the ground is down on the right.

Thanks to Duncan Adam’s http://www.conferencegrounds.co.uk for the above details.

How to get a ticket for the Kingfield Stadium
With average attendances rarely breaking the 2,000 mark, and a capacity of doubel that, getting a ticket on the day of the match is not problematic. Prices are £15 for a seat in the main stand and £13 elsewhere. Prices are reduced for games such as the Setanta Shield or the FA Trophy matches.