Travels to the soul and heartbeat of English football...alright primarily Leicestershire!!!!
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STRATFORD TOWN 1-3 ECCLESHALL Saturday 15th September 2012 FA Vase 2nd Qualifying Round The DCS Stadium, Knights Lane, Tiddington, Warwickshire
Another Saturday and another case of having too much choice of where to go. Firstly it was a case of deciding which direction to head - north or south? I narrowed it down to head south west, firstly stopping off in Coventry for an under-18's match in the FA Premier Academy League between Coventry City and Sheffield Wednesday @ the Alan Higgs Centre on Allard Way. Then more indecision - no sarcastic comments please!!! of where to go for the second game. My original choice was to stay in Coventry for a very rare venture into the Coventry Alliance for a game between Triumph Athletic and Highway Coundon Court, but on doing some further research I noticed that Stratford Town were at home in the FA Vase. Stratford moved to their current ground a couple of years ago and thought it was about time I paid a visit.
Stratford-upon-Avon, or Stratford for short is a market town and civil parish in Warwickshire. It lies on the River Avon and is located twenty-two miles south east of Birmingham and eight miles south west of Warwick. The estimated population is around 25,500.
The town is a popular tourist destination due to it being the birthplace of playwright and poet William Shakespeare, and receives around three million visitors a year from around the world. It grew up as a market town in medieval times with the original charters granted in 1196.
Stratford used to play on Masons Road in the town itself, a venue I visited back in August 1999 when Oadby Town played their first away fixture in the Midland Football Alliance. On a Tuesday evening the hosts recorded a 6-2 victory, though Oadby would have the last laugh come the season end as they finished the campaign as champions some ten points ahead of Stratford. Their present ground is currently called The DCS Stadium and is on the south-western edge of Tiddington. To avoid going through Stratford itself, I decided to turn off the A46 at the island with the M40 and head onto the A429. This took me to Wellesbourne, from which I turned right at the island with the airfield onto B4086 towards Tiddington. Knights Lane is a left hand turn in the middle of the village and you go past both the NFU Mutual Sports Ground and Alveston C of E Primary School before reaching the ground entrance.
The ground is only a few years old and is also home to Birmingham City Ladies FC who compete in the Women's Super League. All the buildings and facilities are on the north side of the ground - clubhouse (of which access is from outside the ground), club shop, catering hut, board room, changing rooms and stand. The stand is set back slightly from the pitch and gives and excellent view of the proceedings on the pitch, helped as it was designed and built to house the changing rooms underneath. The club displayed the team line-ups on a white board positioned next to the club shop, and the tannoy announcements were clear and concise.
Stratford went into this game as firm favourites, firstly playing a level higher than their opponents from Staffordshire and also went into the game top of the Midland Alliance. An unbeaten start after eight games saw them six points ahead of Boldmere St. Michaels. The start Eccleshall have had is a complete opposite, gaining just point from their seven league games.
As the score suggests Eccleshall turned the form book on its head to record a deserved victory. Stratford struggled to get any rhythm going and looked devoid of any ideas. The visitors broke the deadlock on twenty-five minutes as Daniel Jones turned in a cross. Six minutes later and it became 0-2 as Jones got his second of the afternoon, lobbing the ball over the oncoming Brendan Hazlett.
Half time came and it was time for some grub. I had been told the tea bar was top draw by fellow groundhopper Chris Bedford on Facebook, and with these high expectations in mind I was not disappointed. It cost me £4.20 for a tray of chips, hot dog and a coffee. The second half was spent sitting in the stand after taking photos from various points around the ground during the first period.
The second half saw Stratford try to break a resolute Eccleshall defence down, but could not find a way through. You know it is not going to be your day when a) your main striker misses a sitter and b) a certain own goal crashes against the bar. Chances came and went with Stuart Plant dealing with everything that came his way. With eleven minutes remaining it was game over as the visitors caught Stratford on the counter attack. Dale Roberts drilling the ball past Hazlett. When the home side finally got on the score sheet it was a case of "too little too late", as Anthony Robinson slid the ball through the legs off Stuart Plant with just four minutes remaining.
An enjoyable day out played in glorious sunshine. It was also good to meet up again with Stevenage based Bob Davies who was at this game with his wife. I hope they enjoy the rest of their holiday in this part of the country.
A slideshow of fifty odd photos of the ground and game can be viewed in the slideshow below: