Around the Grounds, Nos. 20-22: Selection of Carl Marstons’ favourite non-league venues

PUBLISHED: 20:12 22 October 2018 | UPDATED: 20:18 22 October 2018

Earlsmead Stadium oozes character and personality. You can also get a good cup of tea! Picture: CARL MARSTON

Earlsmead Stadium oozes character and personality. You can also get a good cup of tea! Picture: CARL MARSTON

Archant

Football writer Carl Marston dons his anorak to visit clubs in the region (and beyond) in his quest for good football and a good cup of tea.

The quaint little hut from which match-day programmes are sold at Earlsmead Stadium, the home of Harrow Borough. Picture: CARL MARSTONThe quaint little hut from which match-day programmes are sold at Earlsmead Stadium, the home of Harrow Borough. Picture: CARL MARSTON

In the absence of visiting any new grounds, with my pen and lap-top in recent weeks, I have decided to divulge a few of my favourite non-league venues, of the last 30 years.

I have chosen grounds from outside Suffolk and North-East Essex, for reasons of tact – I didn’t want to start a ‘local’ argument based on why such-and-such stadium was included, and others not.

A cop-out, if you prefer!

One common factor is that they have all appeared in a past edition of the ‘King’s of Anglia’ magazine, always a good read. Another is that they all involve reporting on the road with Leiston FC, giants of the Suffolk non-league scene.

The quaint and very under-stated approach to Moatside, the home of Merstham FC. Picture: CARL MARSTONThe quaint and very under-stated approach to Moatside, the home of Merstham FC. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Well planned, or mere coincidence? You decide.

EARLESMEAD STADIUM

Club: Harrow Borough

The sight that greets visitors to Merstham FC, a quaint football ground in leafy Surrey. Picture: CARL MARSTONThe sight that greets visitors to Merstham FC, a quaint football ground in leafy Surrey. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Founded: 1933

Carl’s visit: December 16, 2017 v Leiston

Carl’s experience: This capped a busy couple of days for me, which all kicked off with a visit to Wiltshire on Friday evening.

Having reported on Colchester United’s League Two encounter at the County Ground, the home of Swindon Town (a 3-2 away win), under the floodlights on Friday night, I then ‘attempted’ to take part in the Swindon parkrun the following morning.

The main stand at Summers Lane, the home of Wingate & Finchley. Picture: CARL MARSTONThe main stand at Summers Lane, the home of Wingate & Finchley. Picture: CARL MARSTON

To cut a long story short, I missed the start of the parkrun, even though it was only staged a couple of miles from my hotel at Lydiard Park.

This was no fault of mine. Icy conditions underfoot had prompted organisers to cancel the weekly 5K run, half-an-hour before the scheduled start (9am), only to then reverse their decision and let the event go ahead, 40 minutes later, with me stuck on the other side of the park talking to a couple of dog-owners.

- Around the Grounds: FA Cup visits

For the record, I did complete that parkrun, although I had to charge back to the start, a mile away, and begin 15 minutes after everyone else.

But I digress.

Back along the M4 and then M25, I made it to Earlsmead in good time for the visit of Leiston.

The ground is a gem, complete with a fantastic little wooden hut, where programmes are sold.

- Around the Grounds: Plain-speaking at King’s Marsh, AFC Sudbury

Harrow is famous for its independent boarding school, so it was quite apt that I should detect a few professor-like characters on the terraces that afternoon.

Passionate about football, yet far from your ‘average’ supporter, I’d like to think that they were house masters or hour tutors, teaching Latin or Maths during a weekday.

Of course I could have been wrong – they might have been retired bank managers.

MOATSIDE

Club: Merstham

Founded: 1892

Carl’s visit: April 4, 2017 v Leiston

Carl’s experience: This is another ground which oozes personality, but the location contrasts starkly with the above Harrow.

Instead of being in a busy London borough, Merstham is a small village in rural Surrey, north of Redhill and within a stone’s throw of the splendid North Downs Way.

The approach to the main entrance, at Moatside, is about as low-key as they come – along a narrow shaded path that feels like you are aiming for a village hall or a church, not a football ground hosting Isthmian League fare.

To add to the experience, there were a total of six commentators/summarisers from the local radio station in attendance that night, filling the press box to capacity. I therefore roughed it with the locals in a tiny 90-seater stand.

It was a joy.

SUMMERS LANE

Club: Wingate & Finchley

Founded: 1991

Carl’s visit: January 24, 2017 v Leiston

Carl’s experience: Also known as the Maurice Rebak Stadium, the ground (in the Borough of Barnet) was also initially named after Harold Abrahams, a long-time supporter of (former club) Wingate. Abrahams won the 100 metres at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, a feat depicted in the film ‘Chariots of Fire.’

Having mastered the 80-mile trip from Bury St Edmunds, and parked my car rather conveniently (I thought) at the Finchley Rugby Club next door, I had my lap-top fired up, and my tea flask open when, just 10 minutes before

kick-off, the stadium announcer revealed that any cars parked in the rugby club would probably be locked in after rugby training. Great!

I thought it best to slip out of the ground and move my car down the road – I didn’t fancy an 80 mile stroll back to West Suffolk.

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