With Mum’s declining health, trips to Accident and Emergency are happening more often. No one is under any illusions as to where this is all heading, it’s a case of treating what you can, when you can. Its coming to a stage where, as a family we know what to do when she falls ill, and how to do it. Nevertheless these places do have a life of their own. Continue reading
Monday 25th February 2013
National Football Museum
then at 19.45
North-West Counties League Premier Division
MAINE ROAD 6 (Warburton 42secs 85 Chappell 23 61 Bentham 27 51)
ALSAGER TOWN 1 (Aspinwall 84)
Programme (excellent) £1.50
Sometimes everything conspires to allow a quite wonderful day out. I’d wanted to visit the National Football Museum for some time, and with Maine Road kicking off in the evening that made the decision to head north a simple one. Fareham Town secretary Paul “Splodge” Proctor offered to drive too, making it an even easier day’s hopping. Many thanks Splodge, and for those who haven’t visited his club, and the excellent Cams Alders here’s why you should go.
The National Football Museum moved rather controversially from Preston North End’s ground, Deepdale and now occupies the former Urbis Art Gallery close to Manchester Victoria Railway Station. Surprisingly, Continue reading
Sunday 23rd February 2013 ko 13.00
Women’s FA Cup 4th Round
OXFORD UNITED 2 (Stanley 8 Caswell 14)
NEWCASTLE UNITED 1 (Havelock 51)
@Kassam Stadium (Oxford United FC)
So for me it was two games at the same ground, over two days in the freezing cold. There was just part of the lower tier of the South Stand open for this game, but this was game not to be missed, as it was the first time Oxford United Ladies had played in the main stadium, and this has been a season as successful as their male equivalents has been disappointing.
Like the men, the women play in the fourth tier of their league, the South-West Women’s Combination, having been promoted last season. They’re top, and to get to the 4th round of the WFA Cup, their most successful run yet, they had to beat Premier League National Division Charlton Athletic (the 2nd tier) away which they did, 2-1 a frankly outstanding achievement. Their reward was a home tie, at the main stadium, against a side 8th in the 3rd tier Premier League North Division.
It was obvious from the outset that the big stadium wasn’t going to worry Oxford in the slightest. Over the last couple of seasons a winning mentality has been built up, and at no point did they look from a division lower. Centre half and captain Sahara Osborne-Ricketts led by example. She’s played for Arsenal and Watford, and a mixture of experience, skill, and often sheer bloody-mindness was far too much for the Geordie forward line to cope with. They barely got a sniff, and she played the last hour clearly injured following a nasty challenge from Lizzy Frazer. Frazer was booked but nothing was going to stop Osborne-Ricketts.
At right back flame-haired Isi Meade has lost possession twice in the 180 minutes I’ve seen her play, and that allows 32 goals in 19 games Lauren Allison to prosper. She’s quick, actually make that very quick, but today it was strike partner Karen Stanley who benefited, a sublime lob setting Oxford on their way. That lead was doubled by Natasha Caswell’s strike, yes the keeper dived all around it, but if you don’t shoot……are you reading this Oxford United men? It was just reward for Caswell, look at all good things that come from OULFC, most originate from Caswell’s right foot.
The beginning of the 2nd half was the visitors’ purple patch. A free kick was swung in from the right, and when it wasn’t properly cleared Jess Havelock pocked home at close range, to give Newcastle a life-line they barely deserved. It proved to be a false dawn as Osborne-Ricketts marshalled the defence superbly, and as the clock wound down it was Oxford on the attack. Allison had a shot well saved before substitute Dani Anderson saw her shot cleared off the line. In the final attack Holly Pickett’s shot hit the crossbar, but soon, after the final whistle signalled joyous celebrations.
And yes, even this cynical watcher grinned. For this is a side you can believe in, yes they have frailities, all teams do but there’s something infectious in that. Oh, and finally no-one complained about the pitch. Odd that!
Saturday 23rd February 2012 ko 15.00
OXFORD UNITED 0
YORK CITY 0
Att 5,808 (319 away)
Programme £3 (inc Oxford Mail)
I’ve been in colder grounds, and I’ve seen worse games of football, but this encounter was definately the worst combination of the two I’ve seen in many a long year. The club designated the game as “Military Day” so real heroes were much to the fore, with Chelsea Pensioners, and the Royal British Legion providing a guard of honour for the two teams. It really should have been the other way round.
It was plain embarrassing to watch the officials rope in substitute keeper Max Crocombe to first measure one goal, then once it had been proven it wasn’t level to help the groundstaff to level to offending frame. Having Rugby at the ground does mean the goals do get removed regularly, but to not check something as basic as this is indefensible.
It came as no surprise that Chris Wilder selected an unchanged team from the eleven that provided a welcome, away win at Plymouth. It’s fair to say that whilst the United’s defence had precious little to do, the attack, save for Josh Parker looked as unlikely as ever to trouble the scoresheet. Passes were miss-placed, shots disappeared into the ether, and there was a distinct lack of ideas of how to change things to beat a frankly poor York side, that were more than happy with a point.
Alfie Potter replaced the anonymous Tom Craddock, and Deane Smalley was brought on to play out of place on the wing to replace a specialist in that position, Sean Rigg. Oxford puffed, York prevaricated, and the crowd shivvered, frustrated in the cold. Chris Wilder glumly looked on, hands in pockets, shoulders hunched against the cold and the brickbats.
It really was a nothing game in a nothing season. They’ll be no playoffs, or looking the other way, relegation. Just a series of underwhelming games to see out the season, before there’ll undoubtedly be a mass cull of the personnel. The only question is who, and does it involve the non-playing staff too? Given the lack of information eminating from the club, your guess is as good as mine.
Thursday 21st February 2013 ko 19.45
Combined Counties League Premier Division
DORKING 3 (Harper 10 70 Jackson 23)
MOLESEY 2 (Tawonezui 51 Spencer 65)
There are so many similarities between Dorking’s Meadowbank and Wakefield’s Belle Vue, the traditional football grounds both set in the centre of town. From then on, the similarities cease, this is the land of composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, actor Laurence Olivier, and the builder of much of Belgravia, Thomas Cubitt.
There’s nothing remotely Cubitt-inspired about Dorking’s football ground. The influences here are the needs of the Isthmian League, one notch higher up the pecking order than the club’s present status, the club leaving the Isthmian League when that competition disbanded their Division Two at the end of the 2005/6 season. What’s left is a gorgeous 200 seat stand dating from the ground’s opening in 1956, and shallow terracing on most of the other sides. On the far side there’s the asbestos and concrete covered enclosure seen at so many Isthmian League grounds. It’s slowly being grasped by the ivy, but the club badge can still be seen, the famous Dorking chicken, popular on Victorian dining tables, and identifiable from the breed having five claws rather than the normal four.
I strolled into the clubhouse to read my programme and found the club stalwarts setting up a portable television to watch the closing stages of Tottenham Hotspur’s Europa League game. I ruefully spotted the frame where the projector-style set once stood. Still the welcome was effusive, and for once the game lived up to the surroundings, even of there was a caveat of sorts!
When copying down the line-ups outside the referee’s room I’d managed to hear the Dorking manager’s team talk; it does help when someone has punched a hole in the door! Two words were used a lot. One I can’t repeat here, but I’m sure you can guess; the other was naivety. There was no trace of that though straight after kick off, as Dorking raced into a two goal lead and it wasn’t for some appalling finishing it could have been double that at half time.
Molesey looked a far better team in the second half, but what happened next….well imagine you are the referee, what would you do? The Dorking defence didn’t clear the ball properly and so Arnold Tawonezui attempted to lob the keeper, Kieran Campbell. Campbell could only push the ball up and back, so the ball slowly dropped down into the……and that’s when the floodlights failed!The goal was given, although the Dorking management undoubtedly had a point when they wondered how the officials managed to see the ball cross the line!
It became obvious that this wasn’t a simple case of floodlight failure as the darkness extended to many of the surrounding streets. Nevertheless, the lights had to be allowed to cool down before re-lighting but during the 15 minute wait I discovered a wonderful piece of football ground design. Yes, the gents is designed so you needn’t miss the action, complete with paper towels to wipe away the condensation!
After the re-start Molesey carried on what they’d started, centre half Moses Spencer half heading, half bundling home from a corner, to give parity that looked barely plausible just before half time. Dorking’s naivety suddenly was lost, and they won the game with a twenty-yard screamer from Tommy Harper that seemed out-of-place with the charming errors it followed.
I travelled home, dropping off a fellow hopper on the way, and why on earth I’d waited so long to pay them a visit. It really is a gem.
Tuesday 19th February 2013 ko 19.45
Northern Premier League-Division One North
WAKEFIELD 1 (Marsden 75) Grant missed penalty 10
OSSETT ALBION 1 (Tracey 28)
Joni Mitchell once sang “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,” and I feel that way about the urban football ground. As a small boy visiting Oxford United’s Manor Ground, you felt the anticipation as you walked through the narrow back streets to the turnstiles, often at the end of a cul-de-sac. The rusting turnstile, with the brass plate from a manufacturer from a northern town, and the brickwork painted over time and time again so only a rough pattern remained. A floodlight at each corner, and a stand with a pitched roof completed the painting.
Time, tide and the Taylor Report have seen a general drift of the larger grounds to out-of-town locations, and many of the classic football grounds have disappeared. The same process is happening with Rugby League grounds, but so far Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ Belle Vue ground is still there to be enjoyed. It’s all there, the town centre location, and the narrow side streets, even the oft-painted brickwork!
Wakefield Trinity were formed from men who worshipped at The Holy Trinity Church in the West Yorkshire city in 1873. When the schism between the northern professional (League) clubs and the amateur (Union) south happened in 1895 Wakefield as a city found itself with both an amateur Union club, and a professional club,Trinity. It meant that the club needed its own ground, and Belle Vue was purchased in that year. The club had in fact played there since 1879, and when I entered the stadium via the one open turnstile in the corner I stopped, stood, and sucked in the atmosphere.
This is the football club’s second stint at the ground. Emley FC moved here in 2000 and re-named themselves Wakefield & Emley. When a new club was started back in Emley the suffix was dropped, and around the same time the club moved to the former Wakefield Rugby Union ground, College Grove. The club was evicted in 2011, and spent a season sharing at Ossett Town, before returning to Belle Vue for this season.
Three sides of Belle Vue are the quintessential large football/rugby ground, with the fourth a staple of the rugby ground of both codes, the multi-storey hospitality block. With just 92 present, all sides were accessible, including the bar area in hospitality, assuming you were prepared to pay the high prices for food and drink demanded at professional sport, I was not.
I contented myself with getting a teamsheet, ” No problem mate, I’ll print you one off,” (contrast that with Maidstone!) and walking round and enjoying a generous slice of sporting history. Enjoy it while you can, as Belle Vue doesn’t satisfy future Superleague ground criteria, so Trinity are looking to either move or redevelop.
Behind the goal on the huge terrace a small crowd of young boys shouted their support for Ossett in a game that didn’t quite live up its exhalted surroundings. Two struggling sides took just the one pass too many to create enough impact to force the win. Josh Grant missed an early penalty for Wakefield, and Albion took control of the game, scoring through former Sheffield United forward Richard Tracey. They’ll wonder how they failed to force the win as a defensive howler allowed Tom Marsden to nip in to slide home.
It was one of those draws that seemed to be of little use to either club. Thatr’s a real shame as both club’s have been notably friendly when I visted previously, Ossett Albion at Dimple Wells, and Wakefield at their former home of College Grove. I’ll look forward to seeing them again. Hopefully Belle Vue won’t be paved in favour of a parking lot in the meantime.
Saturday 16th February 2013
Entry, Parking and 2 Museums £6.50
Then at 14.30
North Devon League Intermediate Division 1A
CLOVELLY AFC 4 (Kearney 8 18 77 88)
TORRINGTON RESERVES 2 (Frost 7p Reddick 64)
At Clovelly Parish and War Memorial Hall, Higher Clovelly
Nothing for Sale
With a bed for the night in Dorset it seemed logical to look for something interesting to see in the South-West, as well as a football match afterwards. I ended up settling on Clovelly because I hadn’t been there since childhood, and I fancied a low-level game; sometimes you need to re-connect with the grass-roots and get muddy feet!
During the 100 mile 2 hour journey, I questioned my decision regularly. I stopped at the Cerne Abbas Giant, partially as part of yesterday’s “Prehistoric” tour, and as a final attempt to find something “Unworldly” in Hardy’s Wessex. Once again I was foiled, the thick fog making the chalk carving in the hill invisible.
I crossed in to Somerset, then into Devon, and gradually became aware of the Holiday Parks and Theme Parks, that have become the tourist industry’s way of coping a climate that whilst temperate, can’t compete with the Spanish Costas. In turn that scene changes once you turn right off the Barnstaple Road, and head downhill to Clovelly.
Roughly 1,600 people live in this pretty fishing village, famous for its cobbled streets, and steep gradient down to the sea. Due to this, and the narrowness of the streets, motor transport is banned by the Hon. John Rous, a descendant of the Hamlyn family who have owned Clovelly since 1738. That is where there’s some controversy, as its highly unusual to be charged simply to visit a viable village where people live and work normally.
Certainly the visitor centre is dreadful, simply a tourist catch-penny, I scuttled through quickly, but the village whilst beautiful, has more to it than meets the eye. With access restricted, if you live here you have to find a way of getting anything heavier than a bag of shopping down to your house. The solution is two bread baskets tied together with wooden runners to form a sled. I spent some time trying to take pictures avoiding them, until I worked out what they were. Another surprise was the sheer number of cats! Yes, there is no lack of fish, and our feline friends would have no issue with the slope, but everywhere I looked there was a cat in need of a cuddle!
One of the two museums your entry fee gives access to (the other is a fisherman’s cottage) is the home where Charles Kingsley grew up. He was a social reformer, and a supporter of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. His book The Water Babies is influenced by Clovelly, and Westward Ho! by the North Devon peninsula.
For all of that I clambered back up the hill, pausing to watch a lady tending to a garden with a 1:3 gradient, still pondering what it would be like living in a village that’s part tourist attraction, part working environment.
With the inevitable boxes of fudge for my family stowed in the back of the car I drove the mile or so up the hill to Higher Clovelly. This is a far more typically Devonian village without the yoke of restrictions imposed on its sister down the hill. As is so often the case, the football club plays on a pitch by the village hall, but in this case there are two factors to consider. Firstly its quite a village hall, with billiard room, kitchen, bar and mini-theatre. In fact, the referee changes in the stage area, with the curtains drawn! However it’s view from the little stand that is the ground’s selling point.
You can see the Puffin sanctuary island of Lundy isolated in the Bristol Channel. These days it only has a population of 28, with plenty more visiting on day-trips to view the wildlife and to visit the Bronze Age Burial Mounds, and Mesolithic flint work. With a full hour before kick off, and the ground deserted, I stood and watched a boat sail across the channel between the island and the mainland, and took a deep breath. Here was my unworldly moment, in the place I’d expected it least!
It got better as the players and officials arrived. To a man and woman, all were friendly and both teams put on an entertaining game on a heavy, bobbling pitch that seemed to have been cut for rugby rather than football. The undoubted star of the show was Clovelly player-manager Robin Kearney whose clever late runs were incomprehensible to the Torrington defence. He scored all 4 of Clovelly’s goals, ably assisted by captain Ian Chan’s long throws. Torrington tried hard, and will feel that 2 goals is scant reward for good play, taking account of the level (10 promotions from the Football League) and the playing conditions.
I smiled as I watched the last five minutes as a couple of hours before I wondered whether paying £6.50 to visit Clovelly was good value for money. I’d realised that when you take Clovelly AFC into account too, it’s a real bargain.
Ben Osborne, Christchurch, County Ground, Dorchester, Dorset, Durnovaria, Hamworthy United, Harry Cornick, Jeffreys, Joseph Shovelton, League, Maiden Castle, Mary Channing, Maumbury Rings, Monmouth Rebellion, Poundbury, Preseli Hills, Russell Cook, Stonehenge, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, The Bloody Assizes, The Mock Wife, Thomas Hardy, Wessex
Friday 15th February 2013
Stonehenge, near Amesbury, Wilts
Maiden Castle, near Dorchester, Dorset
Maumbury Rings, Dorchester, Dorset
then, at 19.45
Wessex League Premier Division
HAMWORTHY UNITED 2 (Shovelton 26 43)
CHRISTCHURCH 3 (Cook 60 Osborne 65p Cornick 82)
Entry & Programme £6
The roots of this lie in Hamworthy’s tenancy of the Dorset County Ground, just outside of Poole. An under-18 County Cup tie was scheduled for the Saturday, so with their fixture being a local derby, it was shunted backwards, affording me a finale to a day’s sightseeing! My friend Mike offered me a bed for the night nearby, so with a full tank of diesel, £50 in my pocket, and a headful of ideas, I had all the ingredients for a road trip!
With the counties of Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset being covered, there was no doubt I was going to be exploring Thomas Hardy country, but having visiting many of his haunts previously, I fancied something different, and dare I say, unworldly?
I don’t want to think too much how many times I’ve passed the monoliths of Stonehenge on the A303. I do wonder how many times cars have crashed, their drivers distracted by the prehistoric feat of engineering to the side of the road. Once you adhere yourself to the audio guide, you’re given still more reasons to stand and stare. The henge we see today was built 2500-1600 BC, but wooden henges existed prior to that, and the site started as an earth and ditch structure as early as 5000 BC.
The stones aren’t local, they’re bluestones up to 45 tonnes in weight transported from the Preseli Hills in South-West Wales. Let’s consider that for a moment, that’s 180 miles, with nothing more than wooden rollers, and brute human strength to transport the stones, then place them in exactly the right place to catch the sun at the solstice.
But why? The archeologists don’t think it was Druids, surprisingly. I’ve long since worked out that the best buildings tend to be religious, the glorification of a god seems to bring both the best and worst of people, but Stonehenge seems to have fulfilled a military need too. Again that’s not unusual, churches have towers so as to provide a place for a look-out and to defend the area if under attack, but the more you study, the more of a mystery the place seems to be! I do recommend the guide-book here, an absolute bargain at £5. The only quibble I can muster about the place is I could find absolutely nothing unworldly about Stonehenge. Maybe if I arrived at the solstice when the druids are chanting I would, but spirituality aside, it’s a fascinating place. Hardy clearly felt something spiritual here, as he used Stonehenge in Tess of the d’Urbervilles for the Tess’ final day of freedom, lying on the Alter Stone, with all the controversial (of the day) connotations that would produce.
From there it was an hour’s drive to Dorchester, or Casterbridge if you’re a Hardy aficionado (The Mayor of Casterbridge). I eschewed the delights of Hardy’s House, Max Gate, mainly because only a room or two is ever open, and opted for Maiden Castle, to the south of the town. It’s an Iron Age hill fort, dated around 600BC, and be warned it’s quite a hike to climb to the top, but worth the effort! It was expanded, tripling in size around 450BC making it by some definitions the largest in Europe. The views over Dorchester and the suburb of Poundbury, designed by Prince Charles are spectacular.
My last site was the smallest, but had the most varied history. The Maumbury Rings, started life as a henge, a smaller version of what I’d seen earlier. Their location, near the centre of Dorchester has meant they’ve changed use frequently over the centuries. In Roman times they were converted to an amphitheatre for the people of Durnovaria (Dorchester), before being converted once again to a fort during the English Civil War (1642-1649).
In 1685 after the Monmouth Rebellion the Rings were converted back to an amphitheatre. This time the “Entertainment” was public executions, as The Bloody Assizes saw Judge Jeffreys sentence 80 of the rebels to be executed here. Soon afterwards, in 1705 saw the odd case of Mary Channing, which Hardy based his poem The Mock Wife on.
Mary came from a well-to-do family in Dorchester, and received an education commensurate with her status. The problem was she took a liking to the male population of the town, several of them! Her despairing parents decided the best solution was to marry her off quickly so as to avoid a scandal, so Thomas Channing from nearby Maiden Newton was found, and despite neither party being at all keen they were married.
It’s fair to say the marriage wasn’t a success. With in 4 months of the nuptials, Mary bought a vial of Mercury and poisoned Thomas, him living just long enough to disinherit her. She was quickly caught, tried, and sentenced to death, the execution delayed due to her successfully pleading her belly, and the wait for her child to be born. Eventually her son arrived and soon after she was strangled then burned at the Rings.
Writing this I’m struck at the similarities between the Channing case, and that of Mary Blandy in Henley-on-Thames.
Perhaps every town has a Mary Channing or a Mary Blandy whose ghost haunts its past?
I drove east to the outskirts of Poole for the evening’s game, and the whole ambiance changed, from the historical to the modern. From the harbour, with the Sunseeker powerboats propped up for sale in dry dock, to the modern harbour bridge with its blue Krypton lights showing you the way.
The County Ground is a fine home for Hamworthy, and could easily stage games at a higher level. There’s generous cover behind one goal, but the undoubted star of the stadium is the main stand. It’s beautifully maintained, and painted in club colours. It was a pleasure to watch a game with that as a backdrop.
And what a game it was! Christchurch came into the game with a defensive injury crisis and it showed as Hamworthy raced into a 2 goal lead at the break with Joseph Shovelton applying the coup de grace on both occasions. But if you can’t defend then you may as well attack, and Christchurch did exactly that in the second half.
AFC Bournemouth have just signed teenage winger Harry Cornick, but loaned him back to Christchurch for the rest of the season, and he tormented the defence. His cross found Russell Cook for the first and he was fouled for Ben Osborne’s penalty. His reward was a goal, showing composure to slide the ball home from an angle.
It was an entertaining coda to a busy day, even if I’d found nothing that was remotely unworldly today. With a busy itinery for Saturday though, there was still opportunity.
Tuesday 12th February 2013 ko 19.45
OXFORD UNITED 1 (Davis 89)
FLEETWOOD TOWN 2 (Crowther 28 Brown 55)
Att 5,003 (76 away)
Programme £3 (reissue from postponed game with insert that cost £1 if sold separately)
A few years ago I watched a man get fired. It wasn’t the brief, loud, slanging match, with the loser being shown the door, that you see in tv dramas, it was a slow painful process. The man concerned was gradually demoralised, and when he realised that there wasn’t a suitable job for him to resign and slip into, he grimly held on, until one Monday he wasn’t there. The whispers amongst the staff over the next few days confirmed the awful truth.
Since then I’ve learned the signals, the isolation of the dismissee, with the head bowed, the body language, and the repetition of the mistakes that got him into that position in the first place. I saw many of those signs in Oxford United manager Chris Wilder last night. A man lost in his own thoughts, alone yet surrounded by his management team and just over 5,000 supporters.
The groundstaff managed to produce a new line in appalling pitches, this one had trenches made by tractor tyres pulling the spikes to aerate the grass/mud. With Justin Richards out for the season (was he given a medical?), Deane Smalley accompanied James Constable up front, without there ever being a jot of understanding between the two. United had enough possession, but on the odd occasion it produced a chance it was wasted. Alfie Potter’s choice to pass when it looked simpler to shoot, spoke volumes for both his, and the team’s lack of confidence.
You knew it was going to end in tears. Fleetwood moved the ball neatly, but hardly devastatingly from right to left, and there was Matt Crowther in a Damian Batt shaped hole to slot past the Oxford United keeper. On the subject of the keeper, Max Crocombe spent the end of the first half warming up, and the player brought in his place played the second half with his left thigh heavily strapped up. If that’s his hamstring, then I suspect Crocombe will get the nod on Saturday.
With few options on the bench and still fewer ideas on the pitch, the second half carried on in much the same vein as the first. Even Fleetwood’s second goal bore similarities to the first, a high ball was nodded back across the 6 yard box, and the defence stood a watched at Junior Brown stooped to nod home.
James Constable hit the post then watched as Sean Rigg blazed the rebound into the stand, and Damian Batt watched his strike well saved by Scott Davies. Eventually United did score, Liam Davis’ fine 25 yard pile-driver, which was out of character from the dross that had preceded it. And here’s the rub, Fleetwood were no more talented than Oxford. Better organised, fitter, and definitely more aggressive, all traits that United should be showing. Either they want to make the playoffs, or there’s a relegation battle looming. There are no half measures in League 2 this season.
I left pondering how long you can leave someone in a position this hopeless, when it would clearly be kinder to take the burden away. With as many as 14 players’ contracts up in July it’s now the time to look at what should be retained, and what should go. Its become clear, sadly the man to do that isn’t Chris Wilder.
Sunday 10th February 2013 ko 14.00
South-West Women’s Combination
OXFORD UNITED 2 (Beaver 26secs Caswell 53)
NEWQUAY 1 (Taylor 23)
Att 10 (h/c)
Normally speaking Oxford United’s women’s team play their fixtures at the former Rover Cowley Ground, on Romanway, but with the pitch waterlogged the tie was switched to to Oxford City’s new 3G pitch at Court Place Farm.
The Community Arena incorporates a pavilion and 6 netball courts together with the full-sized, caged 3G pitch. It opened in January 2012 at a cost of £2.1 million, but there are two flaws if you’re a spectator, there is no cover, and you have to watch from the outside of the cage. The latter isn’t too bad, I’m old enough to remember fences at football grounds, but it’s difficult to track the ball from left to right as the fence gets more dense. That I won’t remember, what I will, was the freezing cold, and the driving rain that slowly turned into sleet.
Oxford are top of the division, 4 points ahead of Keynsham Town, who have 2 games in hand. That is because Oxford have had a run in the Women’s FA Cup, in fact they play Premier League Newcastle United at Grenoble Road on Sunday 24th, their first appearance at the main stadium. With the Cornish Peppermints down in eighth place I expected a straightforward home win, even if, sensibly the visitors had stayed in Oxford the night before. That would be in marked contrast to their male counterparts!
It started so well, Lauren Allison outpacing her marker; her shot was saved but Catherine Beaver was sharp enough to bury the rebound. I waited for the goals to come with a metronomic efficiency but despite Oxford having the vast majority of the possession, the goals didn’t come. Chances were spurned, and the inevitable happened. A Newquay free-kick was tipped on to the bar by keeper Hannah Cox, a follow-up shot hit the post, but Victoria Taylor was on hand to bundle home the equaliser.
The second half followed a similar patten, albeit with Natasha Caswell coming more to the fore, pushing the side forward from the centre. Eventually the pressure paid off, a clumsy challenge allowing Caswell to convert from the penalty spot. It’s a win that maintains United’s lead, and you can see how they’ve progressed so well in the cup, they maintain pressure on the opposition so well. Whether that run can be continued will be fascinating to watch.