I think it is safe to say that Summerleaze Park is one of the more unusual non-league stadiums that I have visited, not for the ground itself but for the approach to the ground. The ground is very well signposted from Maidenhead, which is probably just as well. The directions point you to a service road protected by an automatic gate. The service road winds around for around half a mile past North Maidenhead Cricket Club before you finally come to a small car park. I noticed that the Ivybridge team coach was parked here, so it looked like the best place to stop. However, there was no sign of floodlights. Luckily a few more cars had pulled up and I saw a gentleman, who looked like he knew where he was going, head off down another service road, so I followed him. After leaving the car park I could now see the floodlights in the distance, probably a further 300 yards away. The service road is unlit so, if you go to an evening game, I suggest a torch would be useful, especially on the way out. To be fair, there is more parking available closer to the ground but I actually quite enjoyed the walk and taking in the quirkiness of the place.
When you finally approach the ground itself, there is a small copse and a building containing the toilet block, boardroom and players facilities to your right, the stadium, under floodlights, glows like a green oasis behind the trees. Note that there is no clubhouse, as far as I could see. Once inside, you find yourself entering the ground behind one of the goals. There is a snack bar immediately to your right and a covered stand immediately to your left (complete with three random chairs. I love non-league grounds). Down the right-hand side of the pitch there is a covered seating area and the the dugouts, which are set back from the pitch creating one of the biggest technical areas I have ever seen.
A note about the pitch at Summerleaze Park. I tweeted when I arrived that it was the second Step 6 ground I had visited in three days and the second immaculate pitch I had seen. It has to be said that the pitch here looked to be close to perfect, as flat and smooth as a billiard table. A great credit to the ground staff at Holyport.
Onto the reason that we were all in Berkshire on a Tuesday evening. The game in question was an FA Vase Round 1 Replay between the locals, Holyport FC, and Ivybridge Town, who had made the long trek from Devon. On Saturday the teams had fought out a 0-0 draw, even after extra-time.
Holyport, who play in the Hellenic League Division One East, were looking to equal their best ever FA Vase record, which was set in the 2010-11 season when they eventually went down 8-0 in a Second Round tie at Tunbridge Wells. In this years competition they had already seen off Step 5 Hellenic Premier side Ardley United, winning 4-1 away from home. They followed this with a 2-1 home defeat of Combined Counties Division One side, Fleet Spurs.
In the league it's fair to say that form has not been brilliant, with 7 points from 6 games played. Although they can boast an unbeaten home record, with a win and a draw in their two games so far.
Holyport do have a recent FA Vase winner in their ranks though. Not a player but their physio, Natalie Stearn, who was with Thatcham Town when they won the trophy last season. On the down side, they were coming into the game without top scorer Jon Feaver (7 in 10 games) who had aggravated a hamstring injury on Saturday.
This season they came in at the Second Qualifying Round stage and saw off fellow Devon side Collumpton Rangers, winning 4-0 away from home. They did have the benefit of their top scorer, Sam Stevens (6 in 15) being available as well as fellow striker Kelvin Fyneboy (4 in 14).
As a side note and a little bit of trivia, Ivybridge is also the adopted home of my daughter's godfather. So, a little family connection there.
By all accounts Saturday's encounter was quite a tight affair and, from the opening few minutes of the replay, it appeared that this too would be quite close and hard-fought. Ivybridge seemed to settle a little quicker than the home side and the majority of the first ten minutes was played in the top half of the pitch, closer to the goal that Holyport were defending. Having said that, there were no real goal-scoring opportunities.
In fact, it took a mistake to break the deadlock. Just before the quarter-hour mark an Ivybridge attack looked to have been thwarted when a cross from the left was half-blocked by a defender. The ball looped up in the air towards the Holyport goal but, with no real challenge coming in, seemed to be a fairly simple take for Jake Quelch in the home goal. Unfortunately for the keeper and Holyport, the ball squirmed from his grasp, hit him and bounced over the line. It was a bad mistake from the stopper who had, I believe, dug out a great last gasp save on Saturday to earn the replay. 0-1 (Quelch, og).
Holyport responded to the goal by trying to up the pace a little bit and, to be fair, they did come into the game more although the majority was still being played in the centre of the pitch. An interesting personal battle between Holyport's Alfie Adams and Ivybridge's Scott Pocock was developing in midfield, with a few little off the ball pushes and niggles. However, it didn't turn into anything more, as you would expect in a clash between two sides with one of the best disciplinary records in their respective divisions.
Just on the half-hour mark, the game sprang into life. First of all, on 29 minutes, Holyport's Daniel Rapley found the ball at his feet in the box, but Ivy goalkeeper Kane Gregory was quick to spread himself and block the effort. Two minutes later a deep cross from the right found Rapley unmarked at the far post. His diving header looked like it was going in before Gregory flew across his goal and tipped the ball away for a corner. An excellent save from the keeper. The resulting corner also almost produced a goal but Holyport stabbed the ball just wide of the goal.
The game was really livening up now and, after 34 minutes, it was Ivybridge who launched an attack with Elliot Cunnigham unleashing a vicious drive from the edge of the box. Quelch brilliantly made up for his previous error with an acrobatic save.
Two minutes later Quelch was in the thick of it again, after a corner was floated in from the right, the initial Ivybridge header was cleared off the line before Quelch made a good stop with his legs to prevent a second goal. Five minutes later the Holyport goalie was called into action again, this time tipping over a Bromhead header from a left-wing corner.
HT Holyport 0 Ivybridge Town 1. Despite his error for the goal, it is fair to say that Jake Quelch kept his team in it with a string of top saves. Not to be outdone, Ivybridge stopper Gregory also pulled off a brilliant save from Rapley. A relatively slow start to the game but a rousing end to the half.
At the other end, on 56 minutes, there was a big shout from the Holyport players for a penalty. The incident was at the opposite end of the ground from me and, with a crowd of players in between me and the ball, I didn't have a clear sight of the potential handball. The referee and assistant had clearer views and neither was moved. To be fair to Holyport, despite the initial call being vociferous, there was no crowding of the referee or complaining, they just got on with the game. Credit to them for that.
With Holyport trying to press for the illusive equaliser, just after the hour mark, Gregory had to be sharp at his near post to block a stinging shot but, try as they might, Holyport could not seem to fashion that big opportunity that they needed.
With 12 minutes to go, Ivybridge scored the goal that probably sank Holyport and it was a cracker. A ball in from the right was expertly chested down by Sam Stevens and, although the striker had his back to goal, he swivelled quickly and showed why he is top scorer by lashing a volley past Quelch into the far corner.
A tremendous piece of skill and a clinical finish. 0-2.
Holyport tried desperately to respond but the feeling from myself and, I think, most of the assembled crowd, was that it was game over. In fact Ivybridge almost sewed it up on 85 minutes when they struck Quelch's bar with an effort from outside of the box. Two minutes after that, they did hammer in the final nail when Kelvin Fyneboy produced a deft finish to make it 0-3.
FT Holyport 0 Ivybridge Town 3. A scoreline reflective of the game. Holyport never really got going in the game after conceding the fairly early goal. I'm sure Ivybridge's fellow South West Peninsula Premier rivals, Saltash United, will be pleased that they have the relatively short trip to Devon to make rather than a 500 mile round trip to Berkshire.
It was great to see and hear a mutual respect between the clubs. I heard plenty of Holyport supporters saying how welcome they had been made in Devon and I see from Tweets that the welcome was reciprocal. That's great to see and great respect to both clubs for conducting themselves in the right way. A credit to their leagues. Best of luck to both for the rest of the season.
Holyport: Quelch, Ensby, Masters, Adams, Sharp, De Franco (c), Deverall, Akerman, Driffill, Evans, Rapley. Subs: Drake, Bradley, Lowther, ?, ?
Ivybridge Town: Gregory, Eseleghe, Lane, Cunningham, Bell, Bromhead (c), Pocock, Rowe, Fyneboy, Stevens, Truelove. Subs: Esson, Beza, Conway
Ground Number: 168