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Back in Town! Darlington to Host Newcastle and Sunderland

Darlington 1883 are preparing for the new season when the Quakers will be playing in a hugely competitive National League North after their...

Monday, 22 August 2016

The Football League Trophy

Or the EFL Trophy as it is now called.

For many years the Football League Trophy (the Johnstone's Paint as it became known) went along in its own quiet way, the early round fixtures not always being watched by too many supporters but often offering a family-friendly and affordable way to watch competitive action under the floodlights.

I've written on the blog before that it was Coventry City's offer of £5 tickets to their home matches in the competition that got me thinking about a site where similar offers and initiatives were publicised.

Over 30,000 watched the Sky Blues area final against Crewe Alexandra in 2013 and the last two Wembley finals have been watched by a combined total of over 130,000 people.

Competitions are no longer allowed to have their own quiet place in the football calendar, however, and the EFL (itself re-branded from the historic Football League) decided in the summer that the format of the Trophy would be changed to include 64 teams, up from 48 and to move to a group stage for the opening round.

I would have had no problem with the first part of those changes (previously 16 teams had byes to then make a 32-team knockout) if National League clubs had been invited to enter but the clubs who will now compete are actually from the Premier League and Championship and who will be allowed to field Under-23 players.

Quite rightly, in my opinion, there has been a lot of anger about a move which could well pave the way for 'B' teams to be shoehorned into the pyramid in future years, all under the misleading premise that it will somehow benefit the national team at some point.

A number of Premier League clubs have actually turned down the chance to compete and the group stage draw (which also increases the playing burden on clubs with extra matches) has also thrown up some gems such as Shrewsbury having to travel to Middlesbrough (Under-23's) on a Tuesday night.

Sadly, Coventry City were one of the clubs who agreed to the proposal and the Sky Blues are also guilty of promoting their fixture against West Ham United without mention of the fact that it is not the Hammers' first-team who will be attending.

For my own small protest I won't be putting details of ticket offers for matches involving U23/Academy/B teams on Twitter although I will happily say that Gillingham are running a 'Floodlight Football for a Fiver' promotion for their match with Luton Town on Tuesday 30 August and that AFC Wimbledon are donating net profits from the game against Swansea City U-23's (the Dons have actually said that fans, if they do attend any of the group stage matches should do so against Plymouth Argyle) to local charities.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

FA Cup: Handsworth Parramore v Stocksbridge Park Steels

Sandy Lane, Worksop

Sunshine and (heavy) showers were in evidence at Sandy Lane, Worksop, this afternoon as Handsworth Parramore of the Northern Counties East League sprung an FA Cup surprise against Stocksbridge Park Steels, one step higher in the footballing pyramid.

Parramore, 4-1 victors, were formed in 2014/15 from a merger of Handsworth FC and Worksop Parramore with the history of both those clubs being very much in the Sheffield area despite the current location being in Worksop.

Adult admission to matches is £5. It is £3 Concessions and free for U16's with a paying adult and Parramore are back in league action at home to Liversedge this coming Tuesday (23rd).

Before then, Worksop Town FC are also in FA Cup action at Sandy Lane where they meet Ashton Athletic on Sunday (21st) at 3pm. Admission is £5 Adults, £3 Concessions, £2 for 11-16's and free for U10's.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

FA Cup Preliminary Round

This Friday (19 August) sees the first fixtures of a weekend of FA Cup Preliminary Round action take place when Heanor Town host Long Eaton United and Aveley entertain AFC Hornchurch.

Guernsey FC are the main attraction on Saturday when they play their first ever match on home soil in the competition, against Thamesmead Town.

I've got my eye on a Sheffield derby clash between Handsworth Parramore and Stocksbridge Park Steels, the game taking place at Sandy Lane, Worksop, for which admission is £5 Adults, £3 Concessions and free for U16's with a paying adult.

A full list of fixtures is available at the FA website so please have a look at your local area to see if there is a match that takes your fancy.

That applies even more so on Saturday 3 September when the next round of the FA Cup coincides with Non League Day 2016. An annual part of the football calendar now, NLD takes place during an international break from action in the Premier League and Championship and encourages people to watch their local non-league side.

Many clubs will be offering free admission, 'Pay What You Want' entry and other special offers. Keep an eye on Twitter over the next couple of weeks. The first offer I have seen coming through is at Wealdstone FC where adult admission for the National League South clash with Poole Town has been reduced to a minimum donation of £5. Under-18's entry is £3 and Under-16's go free.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

FA Women's Super League Update

It has been a fragmented season in the Women's Super League with some large gaps in the fixture schedule and a lack of focus to the campaign but the race is still on for the WSL1 title and promotion to the top division for the 2017 season, the first to be played in the winter.

Clubs are continuing to work hard to attract supporters and here are a few offers that I have come across in recent weeks.

Yeovil Town Ladies, of WSL2, have three home fixtures remaining, starting with the visit of London Bees on 11 September. A special family ticket is available, covering all three matches, costing £30 for 2 Adults & 2 Children.

In WSL1, Birmingham City Ladies have two more matches to play at home, against Chelsea on 28 August and Liverpool on 25 September.

A ticket is available that covers both games and costs £10 Adults, £5 Concessions and £25 for a Family.

Durham Women FC are battling for promotion and have a crucial clash against Oxford United on 28 August. All season ticket holders and supporters who have previously purchased tickets online are being contacted with a voucher that will allow them to bring a friend for free to this match.

There is a Family Fun Day planned for Watford Ladies home fixture against Millwall Lionesses on 28 August. Turnstiles open at 12pm for a host of activities before the game kicks off at 2pm.

Watford FC season ticket holders can watch for free while a Family (2+2) ticket is available for £10. 

On the knockout front, the semi-finals of the Continental Cup take place over the weekend of 3/4 September at London Bees and Manchester City respectively. 

City's Academy Stadium will host the final on 2 October for which tickets are available at £7 Adults, £3 Concessions and £15 for a Family.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Altrincham FC

Altrincham FC

Taken last Saturday at Moss Lane, the home of Altrincham FC as they began their National League North campaign against a well-supported Darlington 1883 side.

The game ended 2-2 with both sides having been in action twice more in the league since then. On Tuesday evening, Altrincham are back at home against AFC Fylde.

A visit to Alty offers a superb bar, part of the new community hub at the ground, for a pre-match drink. Supporters of the club are made to genuinely feel a valued part of it with chairman Grahame Rowley a highly-visible presence on matchdays (he was helping out behind the bar at half-time of the Darlington game).

The National League North is sure to be a fiercely-contested division in 2016/17 and a series of Greater Manchester derbies will give it the feel of a league two or three steps up the ladder.

Friday's match between FC United of Manchester and Stockport County, for example, attracted an attendance of 3,030 and FC United now go on to meet Salford City on Tuesday evening.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Premier League 2

Premier League 2 is the name given to the new competition that replaces the Under-21 Premier League from this season onwards.

Clearly, for an organisation with pretensions to global superiority such as the Premier League, any mention of the word ‘reserves’ is out of the question but, while the name given to the league is perhaps a little over the top, it is a competition worthy of a mention.

With the age limit now revised upwards to Under-23, clubs are also allowed to play a goalkeeper and up to three outfield players who are over that age and the aim is to get as close as possible to a ‘proper’ league structure with two divisions of twelve teams each and promotion and relegation between them.

Most importantly, from my point of view, at least three matches per season must be played at a club’s main ground and only a maximum of three can be staged at training grounds or academy venues.

That means plenty of opportunities for supporters, especially families, to watch matches that do have a competitive element to them (with the occasional star player turning out), in proper stadiums and for only a small cost.

Manchester United, for example, have been very good in the past couple of seasons at making all of their Under-21 games, whether played at their main venue of Leigh Sports Village (Leicester City are the visitors on Monday 15 August for a 7pm kick-off) or at Old Trafford, free of charge for everyone.

Norwich City have made a real occasion out of the matches they have played at Carrow Road, with family fun areas and free admission. Reading have done likewise and I would hope for more clubs to follow suit this season.

The action gets underway this weekend with matches such as Liverpool v Southampton at Tranmere’s Prenton Park on Sunday (kick-off 1pm, admission £4 Adults, £1 Children & Concessions) and a full list of fixtures is available at the official Premier League website although I would always urge keeping up to date with the home club themselves as fixtures can be changed at short notice.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Record Opening Day Crowd at Huddersfield Town

After taking the plunge over the summer and offering season tickets at a vastly reduced rate of £179 for Adults, the impact of Huddersfield Town’s initiative was clear to see from Saturday’s opening Championship fixture of the season. 

The visit of Brentford (so, not a local derby or an opponent who would bring a large away following) attracted a record first-day attendance for the John Smith’s Stadium of 18,479 with head coach David Wagner and a number of players commenting on the atmosphere created in a 2-1 victory for the Terriers. 

To put the figure into some sort of context, 13,397 watched the same teams play in early May. Neither side had anything but pride to play for that day (Brentford running out 5-1 winners) but Wagner’s methods and results had been bearing fruit and generating optimism that merely surviving in the Championship was not the limit of Huddersfield’s ambitions. 

Chairman Dean Hoyle shrewdly capitalised on that with his season ticket initiative, explaining at the time of its launch that it would essentially be underwritten by the increased television revenues coming into the club should it not succeed. 

Saturday’s evidence points to it succeeding in a big way.

A relatively quiet week ahead on the affordable football front although many clubs are offering £10 adult tickets in the opening round of the League Cup and there are a number of replays in the FA Cup extra preliminary round (such as AFC Liverpool against West Didsbury & Chorlton on Wednesday evening where admission is priced at £5 for Adults.