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, February 5, 2017

Hendon 2016-17

Hendon FC moved into their new home at Silver Jubilee Park, the former home of Kingsbury Town FC for the start of the 2016-17 season, where they shared the ground with Edgware Town FC.

As a local resident I had been attending Edgware games over the previous two seasons. When Hendon moved in it offered me and several friends an opportunity to watch some good quality football at affordable prices.

Everyone at Hendon, be it players, officials or long standing supporters have been most welcoming and new friendships have been built as we stand together at games, or socialise in the bar.

Silver Jubilee Park was leased by two local football coaches, Rob Morris and Antoni Manzi, with Tom Stockman managing the facility. Their hard work and friendships have made the venue even more appealing; especially as they started bringing in real ale on a match day.

This page features the Hendon home matches, of what has certainly been an interesting season!

To go to the main Hendon FC page, please click here

Hendon 3 Tooting & Mitcham United 0 (Monday 8th August 2016) Pre Season Friendly (att: approx. 80)

The scoreline for this fixture which offered free admission for all spectators was not as one sided as it appeared. Despite goals from Dale Binns, Andre De Costa and Kezie Ibe, Tooting gave as good as they got and played some nice football.

Sadly for a friendly game, a skirmish involving a lot of players from both sides took place, leading to Finbarr Robins being sent off with eleven minutes remaining.

Hendon 1 Burgess Hill Town 1 (Tuesday 23rd August 2016) Isthmian League Premier Division (att: 164)

Following a meeting in town I was ready for some relaxation. My non league and cricket watching mate Tony Foster met me at Preston Road and we went together down to Silver Jubilee Park.

Hendon didn’t put in a great performance, but their perseverance paid dividends when a low Robins cross was put in by Karl Oliyide with just a few minutes remaining. 

Hendon 1 Dulwich Hamlet 1 (Monday 29th August 2016) Isthmian League Premier Division (att: 335)

A Bank Holiday fixture on a lovely afternoon in front of a decent gate, which saw Dons boss the first half hour of the game and going 1-0 up with a Spencer McCall strike. Karl Oliyide terrified the Hamlet defence with his pace, before they put an extra man on him.

In the second half, Hamlet, who were cheered on by a decent away following, some of whom had travelled by bicycle and train, probably had the better of the second half.

I managed to drag Steve Speller and Steve Barnes to the game, and we continued our post match drinking in The Midland Hotel by Hendon station. The seated stand had been moved to the top end of Silver Jubilee Park owing to a complaint in the height of the structure from an awkward neighbour.

Hendon 2 Harlow Town 2 (Tuesday 20th September 2016) Isthmian League Premier Division (att: 202)

This match followed the first day of the vital Middlesex v Yorkshire County Championship decider. A beer festival was being held throughout the match at Lord’s, so both Steve Speller and I arrived in good form a few minutes into the game by taxi. I was keen to attend the game as I’d been to Champion Hill the previous Saturday to see Hendon knock Dulwich out of the FA Cup.

We had a good chat with Tom Stockman, the amiable manager of the Silver Jubilee Park ground about real ale at the ground as a physical Harlow side went 1-0 up at the interval.

Karl Oliyide equalised soon after the restart with a fine run and shot, before increased pressure saw a weak bending Chris Seeby shot deceived David Hughes in the Harlow net to trickle in off the post.

With six minutes remaining Alfie Young was stupidly sent off when he received a second yellow card for kicking the ball away. Dons were maid to pay as Harlow grabbed an equaliser and nearly went on to take all three points.

Hendon 3 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0 (Saturday 1st October 2016) FA Cup Third Qualifying Round (att: 417)

This was a game me and the two Steve’s were really looking forward to; we love the FA Cup and Tom had texted me the good news that there would be a barrel of Portobello ale on the bar after the three of us had put up the cash to guarantee the ground would not lose cash.

Diamonds had a decent sized away following but they would head back to Northamptonshire a thoroughly defeated side.

Karl Oliyide smashed a shot against the crossbar, but it was the pacy front man who put the Greens ahead ten minutes before the break after Casey Maclaren had a goal chalked off having being adjudged to be offside.

Rushden were not without creating opportunities of their own, but Berkley Laurencin had a decent day in the home net. Spencer McCall made it 2-0 after an hour before the game was settled by Niko Muir with ten minutes to go.

Diamonds large centre back Liam Dolman was puffing and blowing most of the game before being mercifully replaced during the second half.

Hendon 1 Kingstonian 4 (Tuesday 1st November 2016) Isthmian League Premier Division (att: 185)

The new Ken Batten Stand, named after the Edgware Town President, with a few steps of terrace had been erected behind the Park End goal, meaning that Silver Jubilee Park now had cover on all four sides.

This was an absolute shocker of a performance from Hendon, against a quicker and better K's side who fully deserved their margin of victory. There was excellent vocal support up from SW London.

Kingstonian wore an absolutely shocking all grey kit, but there was no excuses about Dons players not spotting their opponents. They scored all four goals in a mad ten minute spell in the first half, thanks in part to some woeful defending and goalkeeping.

The Dons consolation in an evenly balanced second half was an excellent tight knit passing move which was finished off by Niko Muir. To round things off we were limited to bottled beer in the bar!

Hendon 1 Havant & Waterlooville 1 (Saturday 5th November 2016) Isthmian League Premier Division (att: 239)

This was a cold and windy afternoon at SJP, with pre match entertainment being offered by way of a game of seniors walking football & a juniors match, showing once again the benefit at this level of a 4G pitch.

Havant dominated the first half and probably should have gone in more than 1-0 up at the break but Dons defended and put in a proper shift of damage limitation as our little crowd of cricket and football fans was growing by the match.

In Fairness Hendon put up an extremely spirited second half display, forcing an equaliser with ten minutes to go as Arthur Hill forced the ball home at the far post.

We were hopeful that this would be the start of a little run following the previous Tuesday's capitulation.

It was a nice afternoon in the increasingly sociable clubhouse, helped by a couple of fine pins from the Portobello Brewery.

Hendon 0 Canvey Island 0 (Tuesday 22 November 2016) Isthmian League Premier Division (Att: 131)

A tetchy encounter thanks in no small part to the continual whinging and verbals of the Canvey Island side who were worse than the Aussie cricket team.

Both sides had efforts cleared off the line and the officials failed to give Hendon a stone wall penalty ten minutes from time, so the visitors will no doubt feel their harassment worthwhile.

With both sides having a bit of a rough trot, we expected that both would have been happy enough with a point. Hendon's new signings showed signs that fortunes may have been improving sooner rather than later. This was their first clean sheet of the season.

Fine ale in the bar in the shape of Portobello Star, with the promise of a selection against Enfield ten days later!

Hendon 1 Enfield Town 1 (Saturday 3rd December 2016) Isthmian League Premier Division (att: 256)

There was a smashing atmosphere pre match in the busy clubhouse with elders watching the WWE contest between Manchester City and Chelsea from Eastlands on TV, while the young players of Hendon and Princes Park ran amok after their game out on the 4G.

I was a bit disappointed that Hot Shot Hamish hadn't travelled with the visiting youth squad; one for readers of Tiger comic there! It was also good to see a good number of away fans enjoying themselves, with the three barrels of Portobello ales being appreciated.

The game was a proper tough encounter refereed brilliantly by a youngster destined for the top in my humble opinion. Chances were at a premium, with the home side not helped with the defection of forward Niko Muir, who obviously has a fetish for long slow car journeys, to Leiston on the previous Thursday.

Both goals came from the penalty spot. Sam Murphy scored for the Dons ten minutes after half time, with the equaliser converted by Billy Crook with twelve minutes remaining. The Towners pushed on and could have won all three points, if not for determination from the Hendon collective. It was a game that they'd have definitely lost three or four weeks earlier.

There had been a swift bout of chaos before kick off when the programmes arrived in the bar. They sold about ten when a visiting fan announced that they were selling the wrong issue as the Folkestone team were listed on the back. Order was soon resumed when someone pointed out that it was a joint issue for the following Tuesday's game.

It had been encouraging to read in the said programme that Hendon's gates were up 40% on last season.

Hendon 3 Folkestone Invicta 3 (Tuesday 7th December 2017) Isthmian League Premier Division (Att: 147)

Wow. That was good entertainment. Hendon missed their customary sitter in the first few minutes, also following the pattern of a good start before letting their opponents in. Consequently a decent Invicta went in 2-0 up at the break. The consensus in the bar was that Hendon were not completely out of it, but Kezie Ibe needed support up front.

Sure enough the Greens got back into it with a strong Casey Maclaren header, before the defence once again took part in a mannequin challenge to allow the visitors to extend their lead once more. Home boss Gary McCann used his subs wisely and when the ever lively Karl Oliyide was brought down in the box, Sam Murphy reduced the deficit from the spot. With ten minutes remaining Ibe, who had put in a herculean shift finished after the keeper spilled a shot from Oliver Sprague.

Hendon nearly snatched a late winner, which would have been rough justice, although it has to be said that Invicta had a plethora of shots that either went very close or hit the woodwork as the normally reliable keeper Behcet stood motionless. It was suggested that someone was controlling him on a rod from behind the goal, Subbuteo style? I'm sure it was just a bad night at the office, and God knows I've had plenty of them myself!

Despite the low crowd there was some terrific one on one banter between both two sets of fans, located behind either goal. Perhaps it was the relief of finishing seven night shifts, the company, the beer or the match but I loved every minute, and many more back at Moon's in Kingsbury.

Hendon 0 Grays Athletic 4 (Tuesday 13th December 2016) Isthmian League Premier Division (Att: 126)

Mmmm. These were worrying times for Hendon fans at SJP. It was a relatively even game, but Grays were faster around goal and did the important things correctly when needed. It may have been a different outcome when at 0-2 Hendon had a Sam Murphy penalty saved and then a header ruled out incorrectly in my opinion for offside.

Once again there was excellent away support at SJP. Hopefully Grays were now on the upturn and would be destined to return home in the next couple of years. Their fans certainly deserved a break.

The poor old Hendon management looked mortified after the game.

I enjoyed the evening regardless of the result as I introduced a debutant and his two Aussie nephews to SJP. I think they enjoyed it?

Unfortunately I enjoyed the fine ale a little too much, forgetting to set my alarm and missing my early morning flight to Munich, meaning a later flight to Zurich from Luton and then the highly recommended DB bus service to Munich through the valleys, alongside lakes and through The Alps for just €24. The day cost me plenty of cash but it was certainly an experience!

Hendon 4 Harrow Borough 5 (Monday 26th December 2016) Isthmian League Premier Division (Att: 308)

If Alan Hansen and Match of the Day had covered this one, the programme would have ended in the early hours of the following morning. It saw some astonishingly bad defending from Hendon inspired by a weak goalkeeping performance from another youngster between the sticks; Andrew McCorkell

The afternoon began for me in Moons at Kingsbury where I met up with John and Jeff Cards who were heading down to the derby with me. We arrived to very bu8sy clubhouse around 2.15.

Harrow went one up as a saveable free kick from Joshua Webb, son of former England international Neil, was helped in by McCorkell, before Dave Diedhiou powerfully headed home the equaliser from a corner.

Harrow went straight up the other end to regain the lead before Reis Stanislaus was brought down in the area for Sam Murphy top make it 2-2 from the spot after just seventeen minutes. My QPR supporting guests said they’d already seen more entertainment than at Loftus Road all season.

Just after the half hour mark, Hendon’s defending was found wanting once again as Boro made it 3-2. The third equaliser a minute later was an absolute thunderbolt as Casey Maclaren smashed a shot home from twenty five yards.

Hendon would go in 4-3 up at the break as Stanislaus curled a beauty over visiting keeper Luke Williams. There was certainly a buzz in the bar at the break.

Boro dominated the second half after drawing level from the penalty spot pretty much immediately after the break. With fifteen minutes to go Sahr Kabba scored as the home defenders decided to play statues.

Hendon tried to rally without any real potency. Harrow deserved to take the spoils. In fairness the game could easily ended up 4-8.

This was my first 4-5 since November 1984, when Hull City came from 4-1 down with 20 minutes remaining at Brisbane Road against Orient.

The great company continued, enjoying cracking beer and watching Hull City v Manchester City on TV with a good atmosphere in the increasingly popular SJP bar followed by more shenanigans in the Midland Hotel. It was exactly how a good Bank Holiday should be amongst pals.

Hendon 1 AFC Sudbury 2 – abandoned after 90 minutes (Saturday 21st January 2017) Isthmian League Premier Division (att: 208)

Hendon went into the game with confidence after finally breaking their SJP League duck a fortnight earlier against Mertsham while I was at work, and an excellent victory away to Enfield Town in the Middlesex Senior Cup the previous Tuesday.

New goalkeeper Tom Lovelock was making all the difference. However, he’d picked up a terrible gash against Tonbridge Angels, which had recurred during the county cup win. It meant a recall for Berkeley Laurencin.

Sudbury arrived full of clever tricks in frustrating Hendon, who unfortunately fell for the bait. The referee was an experienced official who had impressed on previous visits. He loved to talk to the players; perhaps a bit too much?

The Dons defence allowed a free header from a corner as they went 1-0 down midway through the first half despite once again dominating the early exchanges. The lead was soon doubled thanks to more shocking defending.

A shocking challenge on returning centre back Elliott Brathwaite caused a flare up that was not properly dealt with. This would come back to haunt the referee later.

After the break Hendon, supplemented by a couple of substitutions went on the offensive. Challenges from both sides were going in thick and fast and the verbal’s were becoming more intense.

Dons pulled a goal back when Elliott Charles finished off a fine move as he converted a pinpoint Reis Stanislaus cross. The pressure was increased although the visitors used all their experience to take the sting out of the game.

Just after the referee indicated that there was to be five minutes minimum stoppage time, a huge scrummage took part in the far corner following another silly away team challenge and attempt at time wasting.

Players of both sides, as well as both benches became involved. The referee sent off the already substituted Kevin Maclaren for throwing a punch in the melee as well as a home side coach. Before the game could restart, the pushing and shoving escalated once more on the half way line. The referee abandoned the match.

The atmosphere in the bar was quite sullen after the match. The Sudbury fans weren’t very happy and neither the match officials nor away team came in for their customary hospitality.

It was all really sad, especially as the Dons squad were going out for the evening on a pre arranged team bonding exercise. We soon cheered up as the club hosted Steve and Theresa Speller’s 30th Wedding Anniversary Party!

Hendon 2 Billericay Town 0 – abandoned after 35 minutes (Tuesday 24th January 2017) Isthmian League Premier Division (att: hard to tell!)

It was always going to be an interesting evening at SJP following the previous Saturday’s fracas. The club and Kevin Maclaren had had come to a mutual agreement that his time with the club should come to an end, which was really sad. I really liked Kevin as a player and he was always friendly and approachable off the pitch.

Our usual assemble gathered to finish off the beer from the party, with a fear of fog being forecasted later in the evening.

Hendon came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders, putting in a high pressure and fluent performance as the gloom gathered. They went 1-0 ahead when hard work won possession in their own half. Matt Ball played a fantastic wide ball to Marcel Barrington who laid in Reis Stanislaus with an excellent pass, for the front man to fire into the top corner.

The following twenty minutes were dominated by the Dons as the visitors bench were going barmy with their side in between screaming to the referee that they couldn’t see across the pitch.

Arthur Lee made it 2-0 with a powerful header from a corner, but just five minutes later the referee correctly took the players off for ten minutes to see if the conditions improved.

Sadly for Hendon, there was no option but to abandon the game. We did our bit by hanging around and finishing off any beer that may not have lasted until the next game!

AJ Auxerre (France)

Association de la Jeunesse Auxerroise, from the town of Auxerre in France is a professional football club that was formed on the 5th November 1905 by the priest Father Ernest Abbé Deschamps.

The founder was good friends of Charles Simon who attended the opening match, in whose memory the Coupe de France would be created in 1917. Father Deschamps obtained some land near Pont de la Tournelle close to the town centre called l’Ocrerie for Auxerroise to play their home games.

In 1912 the club were forced to move from l’Ocrerie, so Father Deschamps purchased six hectares of land further south along the banks of the Yonne to build a permanent base for the club.

A temporary ground at Sainte-Nitasse was used until the new venue was opened on the 13th October 1918. In 1920 AJA became members of the la Ligue de Bourgogne-Franche-Comté and were also affiliated to the Fédération Française de Football (FFF).

In 1930 the first grandstand was opened at l’Yonne, with the team somewhat inspired by adding their first Bourgogne the year afterwards. Throughout World War Two the club competed in the local Yonne championship. During the conflict in 1944, goalkeeper Pierre Bureau died in gunfire, while Gaston Martin and Charles Paquot were killed by the French militia for being members of the Resistance.

Pierre Grosjean was appointed as Auxerre’s first official coach in 1946 as an academy was introduced at the club. On December 1st 1949 Abbé Deschamps died, with the stadium being named in his honour the following year. Georges Hatz became the new head coach in the same year.

Several coaches had spells at the club throughout the 1950’s as the club hit financial problems, which led to relegation to Promotion d’honneur de Bourgogne in 1958, before their previous status was regained the following year.

1961 would prove to be a turning point in the history of AJA as Jean Garnault became club president; appointing twenty three year old Guy Roux as the new head coach. The rest of the decade was spent building a strong base at the club, while Roux also served his national service.

In 1970 AJA won the Bourgogne championship, elevating themselves to the third level of French football for the first time. By 1974 Auxerre reached Ligue 2, before reaching the last sixteen of the Coupe de France for the first time in 1976 before being defeated by Olympique Marseille.

A year later a crowd of 15,000 flocked to Stade de l'Abbé-Deschamps for a last sixteen clash against the all conquering Saint Etienne side of the time. In 1979 AJA put together a magnificent run to go all the way to the final, where they eventually lost 4-1 after extra time at Parc des Princes to FC Nantes.

The following season Roux’s squad won promotion to Ligue 1, signing the legendary Polish international striker Andrzej Szarmach in November 1980. He would go on to score 94 goals in just 138 appearances in the next five years.

In 1983-84 Auxerre ended the season in third place with Patrice Garande the top goalscorer in the division. He was joined in the Ligue 1 select side by team mates Jean-Marc Ferreri and Joël Bats, while a young Eric Cantona continued to impress.

The club’s first ever European game took place in September 1984 in the UEFA Cup as the team were beaten away by Sporting Club de Portugal. Continued high finishes in the league gave Auxerre further UEFA Cup experiences, with defeats coming against Milan and Panathinaikos.

In 1989-90 a fine run in the same competition saw AJA defeat Dinamo Zagreb, KS Apolonia Fier of Albania, Finish side RoPS and Olympiakos before Fiorentina proved too strong in the quarter final.

Youth product Basile Boli departed the club in 1990, with Enzo Scifo and Alain Roche arriving in his place. The following season saw the club go out of the UEFA Cup to Liverpool.

In 1992-93 AJA embarked on another magnificent UEFA Cup run. Lokomotive Plovdiv, FC Kobenhavn, Standard Liège and Ajax were seen off with Gérald Baticle, Christophe Cocard and Corentin Martins amongst those weighing in with the goals. In the semi final Auxerre lost out to Borussia Dortmund after a penalty shoot out.

In May 1994, Auxerre lifted their first major honour following a 3-0 win over Montpellier HSC in the final of the Coupe de France at Parc des Princes as well as another third place finish in Ligue 1.

Laurent Blanc strengthened the playing squad by joining AJA in May 1995. This would prove to be a pivotal signing for his one season at the club as Auxerre went on to complete the League 1 and Cup double. The title was sealed with a home win against FC Nantes, while third tier Nîmes Olympique were overcome in the Paris cup final.

In the 1996-97 UEFA Champions League AJA saw off Grasshopper, Ajax and Rangers in the group stage before going out to eventual winners Borussia Dortmund in the quarter finals.

The following season Deportivo la Coruna, OFI Crête and FC Twente were defeated in the UEFA Cup. However Roux’s magnificent term in charge of the team was coming to an end. Relegation was averted on the final day of the 1998-99 campaign before he great man called it a day after an eighth place berth the season after. Daniel Rolland was appointed in his place.

Young players Philippe Mexès, Jean-Alain Boumsong, Olivier Kapo and Djibril Cissé burst onto the scene offering the side a promising new future. After heart bypass surgery Roux returned to the head coach role at the club.

The side finished in third place once again in 2001-02 with Cissé finished as joint top scorer in Ligue 1. This won a place in the Champions League in 2002-03 where Auxerre went out in the group stage, despite a fine win away to Arsenal.

The same season saw AJA lift the Coupe de France for a third time as Paris Saint-Germain were defeated 2-1 at Stade de France as late goals from Cissé and Boumsong in the last minute turned around a 1-0 deficit.

A top four finish in 2003-04 ended with their star quintet of stars departing; Mexès to AS Roma, Boumsong to Rangers, Kapo to Juventus and Cissé to Liverpool.

In 2005 the fourth Coupe de France landed in the Stade de l'Abbé-Deschamps trophy cabinet by courtesy of a 2-1 victory against CS Sedan thanks to goals from Benjani and a last minute winner from substitute Bonaventure Kalou. Roux retired as head coach at the same time.

Jaques Santini arrived as new coach, but was replaced by Jean Fernandez at the end of the 2005-06 campaign. After a close skirmish with relegation, the team returned to a strong finish before ending in third place in 2009-10.

Zenith St. Petersburg were defeated in the knock out round of the 2010-11 Champions League before AJA went out in a group containing Real Madrid, Milan and Ajax.

Fernandez departed when his contract ran out in May 2011, with Laurent Fournier taking over the team stewardship. Fournier was replaced by Jean-Guy Wallemme in March 2012, but he could not save the team as they were relegated after a spell of thirty two years in the top flight.

Bernard Casoni was appointed as head coach in December 2012. Relegation to the third tier was only just averted in 2013-14 as Jean-Luc Vannuchi arrived to replace Casoni, leading the side to an incredible late run to save their status.

Incredibly Vannuchi led the team all the way to the final of the 2015 Couple de France, where they were defeated by a solitary Edinson Cavani which settled the final against Paris Saint-Germain. The club’s second string reached the third tiered CFA following promotion.

The successful run was tempered with great sorrow as major shareholder Emmanuel Limido passed away.

In 2015-16 Auxerre finished in eighth place in the league, but Vannuchi departed to be replaced by Viorel Moldovan, who was in turn replaced by former French under 21 player Cédric Daury after a poor start to the 2016-17 campaign.

AJ Auxerre will play in Ligue 2 in the 2016-17 season.

My visit

AJ Auxerre 0 Bourg-en-Bresse Peronnas 2 (Friday 20th January 2017) Ligue 2 (Att: 3,638)

Following a really enjoyable few hours on my first visit to Paris it was time to head south east to the town of Auxerre. My FlixBus ticket for €9 had been booked advance so I turned up at Port Mellot bus station ready to set off on a cold but lovely sunny day ready for the 1pm departure.

My basic room at the Hotel 2 Gares was just over the road from the station, so following a siesta I had a walk through the pretty but quiet town. Three fantastic large churches and the River Yonne were the main features along with narrow cobbled streets in the historic centre.

Nothing particularly stood out bar wise, but everyone seemed friendly in Bar De L’Auto, Bar Le Paul Bert and Le Mazagran as I tried a small beer in each establishment before heading through a park and then along Route de Vaux on the fifteen minute walk to the match.

Once my pre printed €12 match ticket was scanned I was free to walk around the inside perimeter of Stade de l'Abbé-Deschamps. Inside the turnstile I was handed a free A4 size four page programme.

It was a nice enough stadium, ideally suited to a club of AJA’s size, with double decker stands; Tribune Vaux and Tribune Leclerc behind either goal, a large raised Main Stand; Tribune D’Honneur with new corporate facilities built in at the back, with a smaller raised Tribune Tennis opposite. The corners were open.

The local ultras had a small souvenir stall underneath Tribune Tennis where I bought some much needed but rather expensive food. A thin merguez sausage and chips cost €5, with a small coffee a further €1.50.

My seat was in Tribune Tennis, and although the stewards made sure that tickets were for the correct section, the low crowd meant sitting wherever you could to try and keep warm. It was an increasingly freezing night with temperatures plummeting to -7.

The first half of my first live French match wasn't really too exciting. AJA played some nice enough stuff but over elaborated while FBBP were quick to snuff out threats and defended well.

The visitors went one up after a silly challenge from a home defender bundled over an attacker while going for a header he'd no real hope of reaching on twenty six minutes. The penalty from Jason Berthomier sent Zacharie Boucher the wrong way.

Ten minutes later a Kevin Hoggas header sneaked in at the near post. Boucher should really have done better. The Ultras stood downstairs in Tribune Leclerk were most unhappy, while the four away fans waved their flags with absolute delight.

Soon after the second goal, a daft frustrated challenge from AJA's Ludovic Obraniak led to mass handbags. Referee Thomas Léonard sensibly gave out a couple of yellows but was still receiving plenty of feedback from the locals.

At the break I bought another portion of frittes and had a walk around the ground to try and get my blood flowing.

After the interval, AJA had lots of ball and pressure without really ever looking like scoring. Bresse's left back Vital N'Simba impressed me in his work as he snuffed out threats on a part of the pitch which was rapidly freezing over.

A late Bourg-en-Bresse break could have made the score even more conclusive but the one on one was saved by Boucher. That would be the last of the meaningful action.

The weather was of great encouragement to help me have a quick march and occasional jog along the bank of the Yonne towards my hotel. The two bars over the road from the station were both closed, including the one below my room.

On the plus side it afforded me an early night for my 4.45 FlixBus back to Charles de Gaulle the following morning. I made the bus easily enough and caught the 9:55 flight back to Luton in readiness for my afternoon back home between Hendon and AFC Sudbury. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

London Bari

London Bari FC is an amateur football club from the east end of London, based at the Old Spotted Dog Ground, where they are tenants to Clapton FC. The club was formed in 1995, playing in the South Essex Football League.

Bari moved to Division One of the Asian League in 1998, before joining the Essex Corinthian Sunday Football League, which they won in 2011-12. Following their title win, Bari were admitted to the Essex Senior League.

 The team finished mid table in their début season, but ended bottom of the pile in 2013-14, leading to club Chairman Kashka Anthony Ray appointing Christopher Davis-Emokpae as team manager.

The 2014-15 campaign saw an improvement leading to Ray investing in the playing squad for the following season, as Bari continued to support grass roots football by fielding ten different age group sides.

London Bari FC will play in the Essex Senior League in the 2015-16 season.

My visit

London Bari 3 Sporting Bengal United 1 (Wednesday 13th January 2016) Essex Senior League (att: 12)

My visit to the match was close to being aborted several times. Work had sent me all the way to Canning Town for a training course in the morning. The trainer had pushed the wrong button with one of her comments, and I left livid at midday. It was only severe will power and hunger that kept me out of the pub.

While I wasn’t exactly tickety boo after an extended siesta, I needed fresh air rather than the temptation of staying in or heading to the pub to watch the Liverpool v Arsenal game on TV. It was a cold night, and earlier wet weather had put pay to three other matches in the Essex Senior League. Once I got past Wembley Park there was no turning back.

Because I’d awoken later than intended I headed to Plaistow on the tube as I’d found out that there was a chip shop nearby. The walk to the ground with an open tray of battered sausage and chips made me brand new. The fella on the gate was pleased that I had £7 in correct change, to pay for my admission (£6) and programme.

 The Old Spotted Dog ground was deserted aside from the players warming up. I went inside the clubhouse to buy a cup of tea for £1. A league official was just on his way out. I got chatting to the man behind the bar who turned out to be the much maligned Clapton FC owner Vince McBean.

Mr McBean turned out to be a charming and friendly man. It was evident that he loved football and had great pride in what he and his committee continued to achieve at Clapton. He had a sympathetic ear from me. I understood from my dealings at Scarborough Athletic and other volunteer roles over the years, just how time and mentally consuming such jobs could be. The Clapton Ultras hadn’t impressed me too much on my visit a month or so earlier.

He seemed to think that he was winning some of the ‘Ultras’ over, especially since a second ‘Scaffold’ enclosure had gone up. He himself had worked as labourer to keep down the costs; some achievement for an admittedly young looking sixty year old.

 Vince explained how they had saved the club and the ground. When his committee took over, the club were enforced to play games at Aveley as the Old Spotted Dog was derelict. Ironically, some of the current protestors against the current regime walked away at this point. The Ultras had even been though of.

Gradually the ground was tidied up to satisfy the authorities and new drainage pipes were laid so that the pitch could stand up to extreme weather and also allow London Bari to become tenants. Work was still ongoing. Vince also related how he had to fight off the freeholders, while plans were being prepared to make sure that the ground could never be built on.

I was told to get myself along any time I wanted. There would certainly be a warm welcome. By now the teams were out, so I wandered out to watch the first half and examine Vince’s work in the new Scaffold terrace after passing a new gate and turnstile leading out onto Disraeli Road.

A fine job had been carried out. The view had even been raised above pitch level so fans could see over the dug outs. How could anyone have a serious gripe when money from the bulging attendances was being reinvested? I guess that some people have to purvey that ‘with it’ and anarchist’ persona to impress?

On the pitch I was viewing a really good encounter as the gate soared into double figures. I listened along to the match from Anfield, which sounded pretty good as well.

Bari almost took the lead, but were denied by a fine stop from the Sporting keeper. He was left helpless a few minutes later as another header was placed into the corner of the net by Andy Greenslade. The visitors equalised with a terrific Tunde Adewumni shot which soared over the Bari keeper and into the top corner.

Almost immediately the ‘Ray’ went straight back up the other end to regain the lead when Junior Decker was put clean through to finish calmly. The Bengal custodian pulled off a tremendous save on the half hour mark, as the game flowed from end to end. The visitors defence dithered as a Bari player held them off to put through a clever little ball to release Greenslade to slot home to make it 3-1 at the break.

I’d popped back to the clubhouse, where the hard working owner had to go and unlock the changing rooms before serving me with a can of Guinness and to make cups of tea. One cold punter opted for a brandy! We had a quick chat and I thanked him for his hospitality and told him to carry on the great work.

I decided to view the second half from the back row of the seats, even though the chill was biting in. The restart was delayed as it would appear that the Bengal substitutes name didn’t tally with the referees list. Alex Winterbotham was having a decent night in charge.

Sporting looked to have been offered a lifeline as the Bari keeper completely miskicked a clearance, but the forward fell over on the surface, which was glistening from the falling rain. The same nearly happened at the other end.

It was a tighter start to the half with less clear cut chances. One improvement that really was needed to the ground was some netting to prevent balls being kicked into the adjoining back gardens of the terraced housing. I was amazed how many they were going through. It was causing a home official on the bench to get rather animated.

The visitors gained the majority of the possession, but they couldn’t convert it into goals. They had a deflected shot that landed on top of the Bari crossbar. The game became scrappy with tiredness and lack of clear tactics meaning lots of play in the centre of the pitch. Sporting’s keeper pulled off another top stop, as he pushed a powerful header over the bar, but that was the last of any real chances.

At full time I walked back to Forest Gate station, laughing profusely as Arsenal conceded a last minute equaliser. I made it back for the 22.04 service before changing at Stratford so I could enjoy the phone in on Talk Sport all the way home.

I was so glad that I had made the effort. I’d seen a decent game being amongst the lowest paying crowd I could ever remember being part of. The game was a brilliant example of how football brings all walks of life and religions together. It was diverse London at its very best. Mr McBean had made me smile for the first time all day and Match of the Day was excellent.

Thank goodness for non-league football!

For further images of The Old Spotted Dog Ground, click here