This blog will be a round-up of the other 3 new grounds. First up was a Midland Combination
tie between Southam United and Studley. Southam's Banbury Road ground on the edge of the town, has an official capacity of 1000. The ground has the rather unique, and unfortunate, record
of having caused the team to be relegated. In the 80s, after a bowling green was constructed at one end of the ground, the pitch was found to be too short and the club were demoted. It took several years for them to return to their previous level.
The main stand at Southam is opposite the entrance and the dugouts and houses the seating area. With the exception of some low covered standing areas behind the dugouts, the rest of the ground is hard standing and open to the elements. There is a friendly clubhouse behind the players car park, behind on of the goals. On the night I was there England were playing Poland in the crucial World Cup qualifier. The match was on in both the main bar and the members bar. The main bar has, what is now classed as an old fashioned, non-flatscreen TV with a less than perfect picture quality. This actually added to the atmosphere of the televised match. Almost like watching the 1973 game all over again.
On the pitch, a well organised Studley team, particularly in defence, withstood early Southam pressure and then hit back with 3 goals of their own to run out worthy winners on the night. This was my first taste of the Midland Combination but it certainly won't be my last.
My next new ground was The Meadow, home to Southern Premier side Chesham United. Having lived in the area and been a member of the local athletics club, I knew where the ground was but had never been there before. It's certainly a good stadium for the level that the club are at and would serve them well in the next step if required. What strikes you most about The Meadow is the natural bowl. There are raised terraces on all 4 sides of the ground offering both covered and open standing and seating areas. The clubhouse, changing rooms and other buildings form a backdrop for almost the full length of one side of the ground. The evening that I was there saw Cambridge City as visitors. At the time this was 2nd against 3rd in the league and saw a decent size crowd which created a good atmosphere inside the stadium. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to stay for the entire game so I missed the key moment when the visiting keeper was sent off early in the second half. From what I saw in the first half, Chesham looked like the best team. Neat and tidy at the back and dangerous pushing forward. They were certainly worth the 2-0 lead (3-0 at FT) at half-time.
My third new ground in 2 weeks was The Loop, home of Didcot Town. Diddy, as they are known, were having a particularly torrid time at the start of the season and, at the time I visited, were sitting at the bottom of the league.
The drive from home, down the A34, to Didcot was made in torrential rain, so bad that my wipers were struggling to clear it off the windscreen. The short dash from car park to entrance, a distance of 30 yards, was enough for me to be soaked through before I had even got into the ground. I was concerned that the game would be called off. However, upon entering the ground it was apparent that there wasn't, yet, any standing water on the playing surface and everyone seemed confident that it would be going ahead.
The Loop has the majority all of the facilities along the car park side of the ground. Turnstile, changing rooms, clubhouse, tea bar, toilets and main stand are all on this side of the ground. Facing the main stand are the dugouts, backed by hard standing. The railway end of the ground has 2 small covered standing areas on either side of the goal with a further sheltered area, which was currently under construction, directly behind the goal. The opposite end was hard standing only.
One quirk of Didcot is that, to get to the clubhouse, spectators appear to have to use the same tunnel as the players. As I didn't actually visit the bar, I can't verify this from personal experience but I did see the crowd going that way at half time and there didn't seem any other entrance from within the ground.
The match itself was one way traffic for the entire first half. Visitors, Evesham, were perhaps unlucky to only be 2 up at the break. Didcot's best chance appeared to be for the rain to continue and for the match to be abandoned. However, after half time, the rain stopped and a different Diddy appeared. They eventually got a goal back and were looking the most likely to score again before being hit on the break in the last couple of minutes. 3-1 to Evesham was perhaps a bit harsh on Didcot who, on their second half performance, should pull themselves clear of the relegation zone.
Southam United - @southamunitedfc
Chesham United - @cheshamutdfc
Didcot Town - @didcottownfc